The Perfect Christmas Present

My wife and I generally don’t do big Christmas gifts for each other. We think of Christmas as mostly for the kids and would rather spend our money on them than on each other. We always manage to come up with something small and meaningful to exchange on Christmas morning, but rarely are they the kind of “oh wow!” presents that my wife gave me this year.

To me the perfect gift has three elements. First, it needs to be a surprise. My wife has a wish list on Amazon and generally I get her something from her list, which ensures that she’ll like it, but it kind of removes the sense of unexpectedness. The gift she got me this year was very much a surprise — I knew it had something to do with my solos project because she asked me for a list of the songs and albums six weeks ago, but I had no idea what she was going to do with that information.

Second, the gift needs to require effort. Most gifts require merely traveling to a store, or more likely in these times, to a web site. A little wrapping and you’re done. The best gifts are those that are hand-made, need significant work to assemble, or require trips to multiple stores. Angie’s gift to me this year involved all three. That doesn’t even include the effort it took to keep the whole thing hidden from me — using her parent’s credit card, having things delivered to friends’ houses.

Finally, the gift needs to be meaningful. When people talk about getting bad gifts, often they mean that the present didn’t have any meaning. The giver didn’t choose something that reflected the recipient’s personality — a favorite color, hobby or style. The gift that my wife gave me had meaning on multiple levels. First it related to my project that is a central focus for me right now. It also drew upon my love for vinyl records, specifically the large beautiful cover art. And it involved the very albums that are my favorites for the very reasons I chose them for this project.

The perfect gift that Angie gave me was framed album art for all of the solos that I’m doing for this project. She went out and bought some used albums, and found high-resolution artwork for those that she couldn’t find and had them printed. Twenty-four framed albums in all (not 25 because two of the songs are from the same album). It was an amazing surprise that took a lot of effort and was extremely thoughtful. I can’t express how that makes me feel.

Speed Work and the Metronome

After a week and a half of daily practice, I have this solo down… except… for… one… freaking… part! If you view the song here, the part I’m pulling my hair out about is at 2:22. It’s a fast-moving downward run that I just can’t play cleanly. I know all the notes, but I can’t move my fingers fast enough with enough precision to play it … not yet anyway.

So, I’ve broken out the metronome for the first time in this project. It’s not a real metronome — my iPad app AmpKit+ has a built-in one that works great. The song runs at about 195 bpm, so I started practicing that run at 120 bpm. I could do it pretty easily at 120, so I moved up to 130 and then 140, upping the tempo each time I was able to play it cleanly 5 times through at that speed. I’m now working at 180 bpm. I think a couple more days practice and I should be able to do 195 — at least I’m hoping.

This kind of problem was one that I was anticipating and actually looking forward to overcoming. Some of the solos that are still to come have incredibly fast parts, and I’ll need to have good learning techniques in place, and a heightened dexterity to be able to play them. It is the first time, though, that I’ve run up against a real wall, where I’ve learned every other part of the solo to performance quality, but can’t quite get one part. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

There’s a word in the guitar world for super-fast finger work. It’s called shredding, and certain guitarists have based their entire careers on it. It’s pretty amazing if a little one dimensional. Check out this guy to see what I’m talking about.