A Study Tool for Intervals

So while GuitarCardio for the iPhone and iPad is in the works, I’m also putting together a bunch of smaller, one-off tools for music and music theory study. The first of these is: IntervalQuiz! Do you know what note is a diminished fifth below C#? Check your interval IQ now!

It’s perfect for anyone learning their way around the chromatic scale, whether for chord building, harmony construction, improvisation and comping, or passing a quiz in your music appreciation class.

I’m keeping IQ pretty bare-bones – this is meant to be a simple tool – but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to suggestions. If there’s something you’d like to see it do, drop me a note in the comments.

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I’m Back…

It’s obviously been a long time since GuitarCardio (or this blog) has gotten any love from a product perspective. I’ve been working on a new business, and other things (including this site, and my guitar practice) have suffered. And yet, GuitarCardio continues to get thousands of hits from around the world – people still find the tool useful.

But there’s good news! I’m working on the iPhone/iPad version of GuitarCardio – with more scale shapes, built-in metronome, and animated tabs. This is your all-in-one, go-anywhere practice tool. I’m still deciding whether to add certain features (built-in tuner? alternate tunings? hmm…), and the price (it won’t be much, and the web site will always be free), but I’m going to have this thing in the app store in the next few weeks.

And after *that*, this site is going to get an overhaul – including the addition of all the new scale fingerings I put in the mobile app.

So please, let me know if there are must-have features that you’d like in the app (or on the web version), and give a shout if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and you’d like to test early versions of the app.

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New Feature – Drill Instructions

Two features in two days! What am I thinking?

I just rolled out something I’ve wanted to add for a while: Instructions for each drill. Now, in addition to the name of the drill and the tabulature for it, you get some description of the rules of that drill (e.g., walking up the scale in runs of three notes). This new description is to the right of the fingering diagram, just below the scale description that I rolled out yesterday.

I hope this helps. In principle, if you know the root note, the scale, and the rule for the drill, you should be able to play through it without even looking at the tab. (In fact, I try to do this as often as possible, to cement my knowledge of the various scales and the fretboard.)

As always, I welcome your thoughts & suggestions for improvements in the comments.

Oh, and I’ll be messing about with the theme for this blog, so if it suddenly changes appearance while you’re reading tonight, there is no cause for alarm.

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New Feature – Scale Computation

I rolled out a new feature to GuitarCardio.com just a few minutes ago: Now, when you are drilling a particular key and scale, the notes associated with it are shown to the right of the fingering diagram above the tab. (For example: When you are drilling a C Major scale, it will let you know that the notes involved are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.) I’m pretty sure I got all the flats and sharps right, but if not, I’m hoping a sympathetic user with a stronger music theory background than mine will kindly fill me in on anything I fumbled.

More features are on the way, as are another gear review and a video tutorial. You will, of course, hear about them here first.

And as always, feel free to leave your feature requests in the comments. (And before you get to it: I haven’t forgotten the bass players. BassCardio.com is on the way as well.)

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News: Downtime, Upcoming Stuff

First things first:  While I was fast asleep early this morning,  GuitarCardio.com couldn’t connect to its database server, and I know a few people got error messages when they tried to log in.  It looks like the issue only lasted for eight minutes or so, and things are back to normal now.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

As for new features:  I’m slipping in small, largely invisible improvements without announcement here and there.  Bigger stuff is in the works that should be rolled out right after the new year.  (It’d be sooner, but I have family visiting for the holidays and international travel and whatnot planned for the next few weeks.)  Watch for password recovery, usability enhancements (including scale and drill descriptions on the drill page), and more little tweaks around the edges.

I’m also making some big changes under the hood – teaching the GC software some music theory, in essence.  This is in support of still more features slated for the spring.  But more on those another time.

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Vote for us!

TopOfGuitar.com is sort of like Digg or Reddit, but for guitar-related news and sites. Take a minute to check it out, contribute your own links, and (if you’d be so kind), vote up GuitarCardio, which is still on the front page as of this writing.

And while you’re clicking links, see if you agree with Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time (to which I was directed by TopOfGuitar.com). I always find lists like that are useless in any objective sense, but fun because they get you thinking about what makes a great song great.

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New Features: Modes and Minors

Now that I’ve moved from a day job to a consulting situation that allows me more flexibility in pursuing my own projects, you may expect more updates to this blog and more features on the site.  To wit:  I have rolled out the much-requested modes feature (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian), as well as adding in the Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor scales.

(Side note: In the traditionalist-vs.-purist debate on the descending Melodic Minor scale, I fall in with the purists – it’s the same descending as ascending.)

Up next, I’ll probably include some more drill types, as well as an explanation of the current drill next to the fingering diagram above the tab.

Enjoy, and keep the feature requests coming!

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FingerWeights: Gimmick or Goodness?

The one-line review: I recommend these. 4/5.

The FingerWeights concept seems too simple not to work: You use weights to improve the performance of other muscles, so why not use them on your fingers?

Then again, the idea also seems a little outlandish and silly. It’s one thing to lie down on a weight bench, grab a barbell, and blast your pecs – but your fingers? Really?

It was too interesting for me to not give them a try.

What are they?

FingerWeights
Click for full size

FingerWeights are, predictably, weights for your fingers, intended to be worn during your guitar practice sessions. They may be worn on either hand or both hands. According to their ad copy, FingerWeights are “guaranteed to improve flexibility, dexterity, and strength in the fine motor muscles of the hands”.

How are they used?

Besides being marketed to musicians, they’re also promoted as a tool for occupational and physical therapy. Indeed, the exercises in the enclosed pamphlet seem geared in that direction, offering a variety of strength and range-of-motion exercises, as well as instructions for varying the exercises’ resistance in a controlled, progressive manner by changing the number of attached weights and altering their placement on the finger.

I eschewed these exercises in favor of going through my regular practice routine with the weights. I may yet go back and try the prescribed exercises, but really, in sports, music, or anything else there’s no better exercise to prepare you for a task than the task itself. Typically, I’d go through a set of 10 drills with the weights, then ten more without. If I happened to be working on a melody with quick or difficult fingering (most recently, the opening of Heart’s “Crazy on You”), I would practice it wearing the weights until I got tired – and I did get tired with an ounce of steel strapped to each fretting finger – and then remove the weights and continue for a bit longer.

Are they any good?

My experience with FingerWeights was positive overall, but there are some down sides. I’ll address the negatives first:

  • The fit feels weird at first. My hands are of average size, but I didn’t feel that the claw-like closures were made to fit me. They didn’t seem strained to the breaking point or anything, it just didn’t feel like they went on smoothly or fit very naturally. That said, they don’t pinch (despite how they look in the photo to the right) and they do stay put, and I got used to the feel quickly enough.
  • They tend to catch on the top string when you’re playing. This can be positive in that it encourages you to arch your fingers and practice good form, but it can be a twangy annoyance if you aren’t on top of it. I wasn’t worried about breaking the string, but if you’re playing on .008s or with fragile strings generally, you might have a different experience.
  • Some finger configurations are less reachable than when you’re not wearing the weights, but I only found this to be an issue with a few uncommon reaches – most open chord shapes and melody fingerings presented no special problem for me.
  • Forget about barre chords if you’re wearing them on your left hand.

So, assuming that the weights are compatible with the kind of practice you’re doing, how well do they work?

In terms of strength and range of motion… I’m not sure I can say objectively. I work with my hands a lot, and they feel pretty strong and limber generally. It’s tough to say whether that has improved due to a few weeks with FingerWeights. I can tell you unequivocally, though, that after taking the weights off, my playing was faster and cleaner.

Now, that may sound obvious – of course I’ll play faster without weights than with them. But there’s more going on here – I find that my form is better and my playing cleaner. I don’t necessarily attribute this to strength gains (though that may be a factor), but to the fact that FingerWeights force you to pay attention and put more effort into doing things right.

This effect – coaxing the player into extra effort and better form – is the whole point of practice, and as soon as I realized that the weights were helping me in this way, I stopped getting annoyed with the clumsy feel of my burdened fingers and started focusing on playing cleanly with the extra impediment. Because, after, all, paying attention and doing it right is the whole point of practice, isn’t it?

I should note that while I focused mainly on left-handed fretting, I also got the effect for right-handed fingerpicking. Both activities benefit from the extra care forced onto your playing by the added resistance.

Your experience may be different from mine, but I’m going to keep using FingerWeights as part of my regular practice, and I am recommending them to anyone that asks.

If this review has interested you in FingerWeights enough to buy a set, I hope you’ll consider using this affiliate link to do so.

Keep practicing!

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User Profiles Are Live!

Site Features

As promised, here‘s the new update with user profiles. Now, you can sign up and have GuitarCardio.com remember your favorite exercise settings. You can also opt to receive a infrequent newsletter from the site, which will likely contain mostly the same material as the blog (though I do have a few ideas for exclusive newsletter content for those loyal users interested enough to sign up).

And just so it is clear: If you give your email address at signup (which you really don’t have to do), I don’t share it with anyone, and I don’t contact you unless you’ve signed up for the newsletter. I hate it when that crap happens to me, and I won’t do it to you.

The other interesting feature is that now when you finish a set of exercises and come back to the main form, it keeps the settings you used to start the last run of exercises – less clicking!

I’ve also made a layout change to the front page that I think gives a more balanced look and takes up less screen space, and fixed a rare crashing bug that nobody complained about so I’ll pretend that nobody noticed it.

I still have a few other things to implement before I call the current iteration done, but it’s mostly under-the-hood stuff. If I do anything visible to you, I’ll post about it here.

Upcoming Review

Right now I’m trying out a set of Fingerweights, because I thought they looked interesting, and I’ll be posting my impressions here after I’ve had a chance to get a feel for them.

And by the way, if you want to suggest something you’d like reviewed, please do so in the comments – I’m always interested in learning about new toys and tools.

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Upcoming Features

First, thanks to everyone who visited GuitarCardio, who voted it up on StumbleUpon, who blogged and tweeted about it, and who came and commented here. I’ve had 18,000 new visitors since putting this site on StumbleUpon a few days ago, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It was a complete shock to me that people would respond this way.

If you’d like to keep up with developments on the site, I encourage you to subscribe to my RSS feed. (If you’re not sure what an RSS feed is or what it’s good for, it’s basically a way of keeping up with what’s going on with your favorite websites without having to visit them every hour. You can learn more here. I recommend Google Reader for tracking RSS feeds.)

On to the business at hand: Upcoming features. The current version of the site was never meant to be more than a first step – the smallest set of features that I would find useful for my own features. I have a long, long backlog of ideas for the site, and they vary a great deal in how useful they are and how hard they are to implement.

Feedback via email and this blog has been extremely helpful in figuring out what to do next. Thanks to everyone who cared enough about this site and saw enough potential in it to contribute their thoughts. (Amazingly, nobody complained about the color scheme. I was so sure I’d hear about that.)

In addition to everyone’s feedback, I have to take into account the difficulty of implementing each proposed feature, how useful it really is, and how it will affect site performance. I also have a demanding day job that has nothing to do with this site, and has to take priority. All that said, over the next few weeks, I think I’ll be able to implement some things people will find very useful, and lay the groundwork for some of the more difficult features. (Please note that I’m not committing to any schedule here – these things will happen as they happen.)

Revision 2 – User Profiles

The next iteration of the site will have user profiles. This is up next both because of requests and because I have it half-coded already. What are the benefits? First off, you’ll be able to set preferences for how the drill selection form is set up when you get to the site. I’ll also allow registered users to opt into a newsletter (which will probably contain mostly the content from this blog, perhaps with a few exclusive goodies).

Down the road, I’d like to hook in a personal practice diary and maybe some social networking functions – but to start, it’ll just be the preferences.

And of course, nobody will have to log in to use the site – casual users can still come by and get a new set of exercises anytime.

On the Blog – Reviews and Lessons

I’d like to put up content that users of GuitarCardio would find interesting. I’m going to start with some product reviews specifically geared toward practice and exercise. I go back and forth on the idea of including lessons, because anyone who can figure out Google can find a lifetime’s worth of lessons, and also because I’m really not qualified to teach (except the most basic theory elements). Still, if you’re a guitar teacher in the NYC area who thinks he can offer something not seen elsewhere, and might like to be a guest blogger here, drop me a line in the comments section and we can discuss it over a beer.

Revision 3 – Modes and Scales

I don’t know if I’m just attracting a lot of theory jocks or what, but I keep hearing modes, modes, modes! These are relatively easy (if a bit time-consuming) for me to implement, so they come next. Expect some other scale types (Harmonic Minor, Jazz and Blues scales) to come along for the ride.

After That: Metronome and Chords

I really want to implement these features, but I need time to either flesh out how they should look, or figure out technical details surrounding them.

I’ve gotten a few requests for an in-page metronome (or alternatively, drum/backing tracks). Keeping a constant rhythm in the exercises is critical, and I’d love to be able to put a metronome right next to the exercises and make the site a real one-stop shop. (You should still have your own metronome for practice, of course.) There are technical questions around this, though, especially regarding how to add multimedia to the site while keeping it fast and responsive for you. I’m looking at options.

One suggestion I’ve had that I particularly like is chord transition/progression exercises. I’m picturing them based mostly around the CAGED shapes to start. I still have thinking to do about what form this will take.

Beyond That

I have a lot of love for the idea of supporting alternate tunings, but it’s tough to implement well. Not impossible, but not easy. I’ll probably get to this, but not for some time.

I’ve had a suggestion for an arpeggio generator; I like this, and will probably get to it at some point.

And there are all kinds of learning tools that could be integrated in: Theory quizzes, chord flash cards, a chord computer, audio of the exercises, et cetera. I’m keeping track of all these ideas, and the ones that people send me. And I’ll be writing about it here every time I decide on a new piece of GuitarCardio’s future.

Thanks for reading.

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