Radek’s Learning Log

Introduction

My earliest memory of music traces back to the mid 80’s and elementary school. I was growing up with the first program of Polish Radio always playing in the background. I remember listening to classical music and jazz programs late at night, and traditional Polish folk music early in the morning while studying for my classes. Western songs could be heard sometimes in public broadcasts, “Moonlight Shadow” by Mike Oldfield and Meggie Reilly really stuck in my head.

When cassette players became more available and purchasing records was relatively easy I got really interested in electronic music. I even remember presenting some electronic songs during one of the music classes at school. I still sometimes check the latest trance and electronic retro-wave releases.

Guitar was never an instrument I wanted to learn, I wanted to play clarinet in my elementary school, unfortunately or fortunately I was not accepted at my school’s free education music program as one without any sense of rhythm and melody.

I had a short episode with an electric guitar borrowed from my friend but it lasted only about one week. The only thing I “learned to play” was the legendary “Smoke on the Water” and that was really it.

I spent the whole 90’s listening to various genres of metal music (I had long hair, dressed in black and all that stuff) but also artists like Kitaro, Yanni, Vangelis, Enya, Era and Mike Oldfield. At this point music soundtracks were a big part of my music library, Crimson Tide, The Rock, Armageddon, Titanic - the more epic the better it was. I wrote whole collections of poems while listening to Enya’s music, it inspired me to explore deeper meanings of words.

00’s to 2018 I was just consuming big amounts of movie and video games soundtracks, trance and metal music with classical and folk tracks in between. This was the period when Irish folk and French pop inspired me the most and were a constant part of my daily playlist.

My music interests started shifting around 2018 when I accidentally discovered K-pop music. I wasn’t initially impressed by the music itself, rather by it’s visuals and mv production quality. I’m a designer by trade so visuals and aesthetics are always important to me. I think it took me about two years to really get into drama and K-pop music (and Chinese popular music later on) to fully appreciate it.

In early 2020 I was borrowing a small ¾ classical guitar from my daughter. I fixed myself upon learning one song from the “Witcher” video game franchise. I had no idea about tabs or musical notation, I just wrote everything down from YouTube numerically into a small notebook and kept practising.




Learning process

After some consideration I got myself my first acoustic guitar, Fender CD-60 Dreadnought V3 DS. I was recommended as a good choice for the beginners and the brand was very recognisable. Compared to the small cheap classical I played before, the quality of finish and sound was great. Although from the time perspective, it is a very simple instrument that is good at strumming .





Winter - Spring 2020

In the age of internet and mobile apps I thought that learning this way would be most efficient. It was only to a certain point, after trying various apps and websites I concluded that hitting the right notes at the right time while looking at a mobile screen was very frustrating. I kept looking but everything I ran across had an issue with the lack of structure and messy content. My education didn’t look bright until I found JustinGuitar, then it really all began to start taking the proper shape and structure I was after. I was on track, well, sort of.

Summer 2020

I was following the beginner course although my progress was slow. My practice sessions were getting longer by up to two hours almost everyday. I was systematic and dedicated but along with other hobbies (mountain biking) there was not much time to have a life. So I stopped playing, sold my bike and all the equipment and returned to illustration.




Autumn - Winter 2020/21

After two months without practice my fingers started itching. I had a strong feeling that I’m missing something, so I slowly got back to daily practice and the beginners course. At some point Justin mentioned the benefits of having an electric and acoustic guitar. I was learning the F chord and vision of finally being able to play it was very tempting. Not to mention the vision of myself playing Sabaton songs that started to crystallise very quickly in my head.

After some research I managed to find and purchase PRS Mark Tremonti Standard and Boss Katana 50 MKII amp. And the troubles just started.





The sound amp was producing was pretty awful. I spent around two days googling and testing only to realise that all electric sockets on the upper floor of the house are not grounded and that was a reason why Katana was buzzing without any input. However, even after plugging into a grounded socket the sound was rather dirty and not as refined as I imagined. I got back to reading only to realise that I would need noise gate, effect pedals etc. With regret I packed everything and sent it back, dreams of power metal vanished as quickly as they appeared. I hoped and honestly believed that electrics these days are easy plug and play devices.

In February I decided to extend my learning and purchased a Yamaha keyboard. I wanted to understand music theory better and Justin even encouraged guitar players to practice piano due to similarities of these two instruments. So I started practising piano three times a day and continued my guitar practice but eventually found myself in the same place as before, with almost 4 hours of everyday practice there was not much time to do anything else.

Luckily my new guitar (Takamine GN30CE) just arrived and I had less regret about giving up the piano. As they say a good instrument can encourage you confidence and boost your practice, and so was it in my case. The guitar felt way more refined and the fretboard felt much faster and easier to play then Fender. More importantly, it was an electroacoustic so I could just plug it and record something.




Spring 2021

I obtained a simple music interface (Focusrite Scarlett Solo), it was widely commented as one of the best solutions for home recording. And it really was, I just plugged the guitar in, with shaking hands recorded the first song, spent some time experimenting in Adobe Audition and After Effects and produced a video. When I look at it right now it feels rather silly and awkward but it was a step forward and in a way, a happy moment. I recorded a couple of more videos in the same manner but at this point already knew that I needed to start recording real performance videos in order to analyse my playing and to improve.

Summer 2021

I can’t really point a finger on anything specific that motivated me to start on flamenco. Perhaps this was this video of Ben Woods explaining basic flamenco techniques. I found some basic instructions for flamenco strumming and started practising on my acoustic.

There is a good reason why not to practice this on metal string guitar, the sound is very loud and the strings can really hurt sometimes. But I was determined, so I kept practising on our family Summer holiday. We were living in a small camping cabin. I’m pretty sure that not everyone enjoyed my evening practice concerts, so I tried to keep it as quiet as possible, but flamenco… Well, I’m sure everyone knew what I was going in a 30 m radius.

After vacation I purchased Cordoba Fusion 5 classical hybrid (narrow neck) and started imagining myself playing beautiful temperamental flamenco tunes, this time in a proper way.




The guitar came with detached pickups dangling on the wires inside the body. Not a good sign about the quality, I temporarily fixed it with double sided tape but notified the shop about the issue. The guitar itself was much smaller than my acoustic, lighter and a bit quiet. However, flamenco strumming was way more authentic and I enjoyed the tone of the guitar. But I was practising not only flamenco, but also some pieces that were written specifically for nylon strings. And this is when all fell apart. I was using a capo which is not a very popular choice for classical and I had a lot of string buzz in 3rd fret, which at the time felt like a must, although it really wasn’t. I tried to fix it but the results were miserable, a lot of buzz with capo, even some buzz without it. What it was only good at was strumming. So I sent it away. I needed an instrument that was good at strumming and fingerpicking.

I was convinced it was just bad luck and the guitar I had was faulty. So I ordered a Yamaha NTX1 which was my second option from the beginning. I got the guitar and despite the pickups being in place the story repeated itself. Same buzz with capo no matter what I tried. So again, my dreams were crushed just like before with the electric guitar, it didn’t look like I would be able to entertain the crowds like Rodrigo y Gabriela anytime soon.

Autumn - Winter 2021

First 1000h of practice was approaching soon in December. I wanted to document it somehow, so a few months in advance I started completing necessary gear for proper recording. I already had a music interface but no real microphone. After some research I decided to use a Shure SM81 small diaphragm condenser. For the optics I used my mobile phone with the intention of replacing it with real lenses if the process was successful. My house has little natural light so artificial lighting was a necessity. With this in mind I obtained a pair of Godox Led lights with stands. Finding a good spot for recording was tricky, after a few attempts I had accepted the fact that the only reasonable place at this point is the living room. As for the timing, only late evenings (after 22.00) were reasonable due to kids’ activities.

Setting the scene was time consuming. Light placement, microphone placement (major failure but more about it later), finding a way to always sit in the centre of the frame, it took hours before the setup was acceptable.

Recording itself was straightforward but quite stressful. A lot of repetitions, brakes, check-ups and back pain. When I practise I have a back support, but in the living room there is no such option so the position was new and unfamiliar. Somehow I managed to record 5 pieces in total with this specific setup.

I edited all the videos in Adobe After Effects. Raw mobile footage leaves much to wish for, to make it presentable I had to fix levels, saturation, shadows & highlights etc. Audio wasn’t easier to handle, tons of background hiss and noise to clean up, luckily Adobe Audition managed with this task relatively easily.

In December I recorded two Witcher soundtrack cover songs (Believe, Lullaby of Woe), one short classical piece (Spanish Romance), a simple Spanish-like melody and the well known classic Lady Greensleeves.

Now the funny thing, all this time, the time of the recordings, I was 100% positive that I was recording via the microphone. Only a couple of months later I realised that the default recording device in Audition was set as a laptop microphone, not Shure. And to think that I spent so much time positioning the mic… Everything really recorded was done by laptop standing on the side of the guitar. When I realised this I laughed for a long time. It taught me one thing, double and triple check before you start doing anything.


Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue


It was already March and for the next recording I wanted something new and different, not only recording spots but the repertoire too. I moved recording to the bedroom I practise in, purchased a proper guitar chair with back support. I wanted to record where I practise in the most comfortable way possible, without shifting things around every time I want to do something. Adjusting to the new setup took about a week, learning how to compensate for wobbling guitar, setting the chair backrest and leg support etc.





Once I felt confident I started recording. It proved to be far more difficult than I expected. I had a 2 month break in recordings and the song was rather tricky. And I got covid for the second time. After a few failed attempts I really started doubting myself to the point of putting guitar off for some time.
But instead I doubled up my efforts, one hour of every practice session was dedicated to the song I was about to record. I kept going with this routine for about a week. I tried again, but failed (my mind was elsewhere). I kept hammering the piece for another few days before I finally got it. What a relief, it is hard to describe, but suddenly I felt very light. The song in question was “Celebrity” by Korean singer IU (Lee Ji-eun).

So that’s it, my journey so far.

Practise goals

Short term goals
Get better at fingerstyle, to finish learning songs I stuck in the middle of, improve on already learned songs.

Long term goals
Keep recording, learn songs I always wanted to learn, get back to classical guitar, learn basic flamenco techniques.

Practise routine
3h everyday except Fridays. 1h of fingerstyle and barre chords exercises, 2h of songs practise.


Collected recordings

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Wow, thanks for all the detail, what a great story and finished up with some fine playing.

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Radek, your story, so well told, says so much about you. Clearly you are a man with passion, drive and a will to succeed, even when the challenges seem impossible to overcome. The way you approach your music and how you express yourself though it, gives your recordings a sheen, they are lustrous and breath-taking.

I’m so glad you stayed the distance.

I wish you every joy and a deep satisfaction in your continued journey.

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Wow, Radek, that is quite a story and well-told, the ups and downs. As @batwoman says, you have the passion for the music, and the drive to push through and overcome the inevitable challenges.

You’ve developed your technique over time and showcase that in the songs you share.

Keep doing what you’re doing.

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Radek

Hope you are well my friend. Great write up and as Maggie said truly reflects your dedication and passion. I have saved this to review your recordings again, as it was you that inspired me to dip my toes into the world of a little Spanish/Classical playing, with the aid of Mr Cirillo so thank you !

Cheers

Toby
:sunglasses:

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Thank you Tony. I’m really glad you liked this lengthy story! :slightly_smiling_face:

Thank you Maggie, I’m humbled, your comments always make me smile even on the dark day :blush:.

Thanks David! Changes are inevitable and often scary. I’m leaving my comfort zone of period stylised pieces and trying my strengths at more pop oriented songs. As they say, one thing worst then failure is regret :slight_smile:.

Thank you most kindly Sir! Again, I’m very glad you are enjoying classical pieces, they are full of beautiful melodies, sometimes little forgotten today. I’ve seen you recent exercises recordings, it is really inspiring :smiley:.

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Newest addition to the family, Taylor Swift Baby Taylor TS-BT. My wife expressed a will to practise and I thought it would also be quite hand to have some handy travel guitar for vacations. Quality of the finish is very good, hard to scratch unlike Takamine which is very prone to any scratches. Sound is surprisingly deep for such a small body guitar.

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Thanks for the LL.

Good idea to get the wife involved :laughing:

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Nice i trust you will be looking after it for her :rofl:

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I already do, as you correctly guessed :sweat_smile:.

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First of all, really cool Log! Always nice to read, how others go through their journey.
Interesting statement concerning your Fender CD 60. I started with a Fender CD 60 SCE, because in several tests this one was also recommended as a beginner instrument, but not one of the cheapest, so I decided to order it. As I was a beginner who had never touched a guitar before, I started playing without having any comparison to other instruments. I really like the sound of the fender, but I’ve got the impression, while playing for several months now, that I really have to “work hard” on this guitar, I need quite a lot of energy to press strings down, especially in the first fret, that makes chord changes quite exhausting, because by using this much power to press strings down, it’s like I’m sticking onto the strings. Action was controlled by my local dealer and I use thinner strings now, but it does still not feel comfortable.
Would you say, that your Takamine was like a game changer for you?

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Andrea, if you feel that your guitar could be holding your progress back because it’s difficult to play then yes you might be due for a new one. Mostly acoustic guitars are very similar to play but obviously some are better than others! Electric guitars are definitely easier to play so maybe it would be best to go and try some out of both and see what conclusions you arrive at. If you need any advice on what to look at you could start a new topic stating your budget, musical preferences and if you have any local guitar stores. Hope this is helpful to you!

Hello Andrea, thanks for kind words. As for your question, I had to change strings on Takamine (D’Addario XT / D’Addario XS 10-47) because the set it came with was really hard to play. Definitely better fretboard and the shape feels more natural. It was more of an evolution then revolution I would say, at this price point (about €500) it is quite good choice though. After some conversations with my experienced guitar friend I already started thinking about new instrument, still have to verify his claims, but there are guitars significantly better and easier to play (unfortunately this comes with hefty price tag).

Referring to Darrel’s comment, yes, electric guitars are easier to play. I stick to acoustic due to the repertoire I like and the acoustic sound of which I was always fond of.

Thank you, Radek for sharing your experiences. I also have D’Addario 10-47 strings on my Fender. This made things a little bit easier for me and I can manage to play. I think I have to try some other models in my local guitar shop to get a feeling for it.

Hi Darrell, thank you for your answer. I don’t tend to say, that my guitar is hindering my progression. I always think, that maybe it’s rather me than the guitar… I think, I have to try some other acoustics at my local dealer to get a feeling for this.
I know, that maybe an electric would be easier to play in the beginning, but I decided to first buy an acoustic. I really like the sound of the acoustics too. So I decided to give it a try and not to choose the easiest way :slightly_smiling_face:. Plan was, to first start with an acoustic and rewarding me after staying in the process for at least one year, or reaching a certain goal, with a new electric and amp.
I had the opportunity to lend an older electric strat and amp of my son, but the amp is really poor and so the enthusiasm playing this guitar wasn’t as expected.
All I wanted in the beginning was to be able to play some simple chords… (which was very naiv)
Now I’m thinking about buying a better acoustic, or a new electric, or a better amp for the one strat I lended from my son…, but if I’ll buy an electric should I opt for a strat or a LP? :joy:, that’s crazy. But there is so much fun with this guitar issue, I never expected. For the first time in my life I’m able to understand, why people own a couple of guitars (and maybe one for travelling too, and a Ukulele? :rofl:). All jokes aside, first I stay with the acoustic and try to get some order in my ideas. And…I tell myself that I first have to progress a little bit more to benefit from new gear :slightly_smiling_face:

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Andrea, I understand exactly what you are saying, it’s a sensible option really - I tend to research anything I buy until I am absolutely 100% about my choice! The idea that an expensive guitar will make you play better is rubbish, you only have to look at some of the reviews on YouTube and it’s dispelled!
I don’t think that just a Strat or Les Paul is a good idea, there are so many just as good or better instruments to consider. PRS SE, Ibanez, Musicman Sterling, G&L, Schecter, and so on.
Looking at better acoustic guitars than the one you have, Seagull, Breedlove, Martin, Sigma, Taylor, Epiphone, PRS SE, and a good many others are all worth looking at (subject to availability to you to try). You now have enough experience to go into a shop and comfortably try them out!
When you feel like you’re ready, just do it :+1:
Edit: A ukulele is great fun, best to look at would be a Baritone (same tuning as the 4 thinner strings) or if you don’t mine learning something a bit different perhaps a Tenor. Maybe a Guitalele, that’s like a guitar but smaller and tuned like a guitar with a capo at the 5th fret.

Sure, give it a go and try as many as you like. I have three models on my list I would like to try, Cort Gold Edge, Taylor 214ce DLX, Lakewood M-32 CP. At the moment I’m leaning towards Cort due to quality/money relation.

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I meant just a strat or LP style or type of guitar, not a real one, the one I have is a “Vintage reissued series” not real Fender Stratocaster.

I agree with this … there might be differences and sometimes the first instrument doesn’t fit exactly, but I think it’s worth first working on one’s own skills and abilities before changing the instrument too hasty. For this reason, I didn’t buy a very cheap guitar as a first instrument. My personel approach is, first to work on my skills and maybe buy a better guitar later. The easiest way insn’t always the best one…

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I’m slowly getting back. I was absent due to career issues and changing the industry. I was practicing all the time but haven’t recorded anything due to various reasons. Hopefully I will be able to by the end of this year.

I continue developing my fingerpicking, looking for a new instrument (current one developed few issues and generally fights with my instead of playing with me :slight_smile: and ways to record (pickup is not optimal for the acoustic but at least it won’t record my noisy background).

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Good to see you back Radek. :sunglasses:

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