5 Tips for Left-Hand Guitar Technique

5 Tips for Left-Hand Guitar TechniqueBrushing up on your guitar playing abilities? One area where you might want to put in some work is the left hand.

While the left hand is less influential on tone than the right, good left-hand technique is a must for clarity and precision. The left hand is the source of buzzing and incorrect notes.

So here are five simple tips for improving your left-hand technique:

  1. Stay relaxed. While the job of the left hand is to push the strings down all the way to the fretboard, it does not follow that you must have a grip like a vice. Tension and unnecessary pressure in the left hand will just wear you out. Strive for a loose, relaxed feeling in your left hand and fingers at all times.
  2. Play on your fingertips. Playing on the flat part of your fingers may cause a muffled, buzzy sound. It also practically ensures that your fingers will get in the way of each other. Keeping your fingers curled and playing on the tips allows for a clean sound.
  3. Play low on the frets. Every fret is bounded by two metal fret strips. No matter what note you are playing, you will want to place your fingertip just above the lower of the two fret strips, the one nearer to the body of the guitar. This results in the cleanest sound with the least effort.
  4. Keep your pinky finger close to the strings. If your pinky finger is aimlessly wiggling around at some distance from the fretboard, it is not terribly useful to you. Keep your pinky close at hand where it can be called into service at a moment’s notice. This involves playing with the palm of your hand parallel to the neck of the guitar rather than at an angle, but it also involves keeping the tip of the pinky low, just a fraction of an inch above the strings.
  5. Watch your thumb position. In classical guitar playing, the proper technique is to keep the thumb completely hidden behind the neck so that the fingers can easily reach up and over to the sixth string. With other styles of music, a compromise is typically in order, partly due to the slim necks of many acoustic steel-string guitars and partly due to the preference of some musicians for fretting bass notes with their thumbs. The ideal position will depend on the size of your hands and the width of your guitar neck. Bear in mind, however, that it should always be easy to fret the sixth string with your fingers with minimal rearranging of your hand position.

While it is always best to build good technical habits early on, all is not lost if you have developed some sloppy tendencies. Here’s a good practice routine for improving your technique:

  1. Choose one technical aspect to work on at a time.
  2. Practice your chosen technical challenge on simple scales, playing very slowly so that you hit every note correctly and with the proper technique the first time. Use a metronome for this step.
  3. Once you can play a scale smoothly and with the correct technique at a slow tempo, gradually speed up the tempo a few beats per minute. Take the time to master proper technique at the new tempo before speeding up some more.
  4. Start implementing your new technical skill into your repertoire, playing your songs as slowly as you need to at first to get it right.
  5. Gradually speed up your songs until you are playing at performance tempo with consistently correct technique.
  6. Choose a new technique to practice and start the process over.

Have fun!

What is Vermicompost?

What is Vermicompost?Vermicomposting is the process of creating compost with the aid of earthworms. While all composting relies on microbes to do much of the work, vermicomposting allows worms to come to their assistance.

The worm starts the composting process by ingesting organic matter and breaking it down with digestive enzymes. However, the digestive system of an earthworm is rather inefficient, only absorbing about 5% to 10% of the food the worm eats. This is good news for vermicompost, because the rest of the organic matter, now moistened and considerably broken down, is excreted and offers a rich buffet for hungry microbes.

Note that vermicompost and worm castings are not the the same. Worm castings are simply the excrement of the earthworm. Vermicompost includes worm castings, but also worm bedding, food, and remains in various stages of decomposition, all supporting a vibrant community of microbes.

 

How Vermicompost is Made

Vermicompost is typically made in a “worm bin” filled with bedding (usually shredded paper) and organic material for the worms to eat. A suitable worm habitat is further created by keeping the bin dark and moist.

Two worm species are typically used:

  • Red wiggler (Eisensia fetida).
  • Red worm (Lumbricus rebellus).

The red wiggler is particularly popular because it is easy to care for and produces castings quickly and efficiently.

Of course, you can theoretically dig up any old earthworms in your backyard to populate the worm bin, but there is no guarantee that you will find effective compost-building species this way. A surefire solution is to order red wigglers online.

Finished vermicompost looks very much like high-quality soil, but it is incredibly rich in microbes.

 

Feed the Worms

Most kitchen scraps and waste paper products make good worm food. However, you will want to avoid anything that produces a foul odor, especially if your worm bins are indoors. That includes meats, oils, dairy products, onions, garlic, potatoes, and anything in the mustard family, such as broccoli. Also note that worms are not a replacement for the neighborhood recycling facility—they cannot process plastic or aluminum.

 

Benefits of Vermicompost

  • Quick and easy. Vermicomposting does not require the precision or labor that hot composting requires to turn out a successful batch. And it has a distinct advantage over cold composting methods—it’s quick!
  • Year-round composting. Worm bins can be kept inside in the winter, allowing you to make compost for use first thing in the spring.
  • High in beneficial soil microbes. Microbes thrive where worms work, and they are particularly abundant in worm castings. Adding vermicompost to depleted soils can yield dramatic results in garden health.
  • All the benefits of organic matter. Soil that has been amended with vermicompost will not dry out quite so quickly in the hot summer sun, and it has improved texture and nutrient content. (Note that this is true of all forms of composting.)
  • A good use for kitchen scraps. Well-fed worms will repay you by improving your garden soil, which in turn will bring more (and healthier) produce into your kitchen.

 

Some Drawbacks

  • Expense. Remember, you will only have reliable results with certain worm species. This means you will likely have to buy worms, adding to your gardening costs. (You will also need to purchase a bin the first time out.)
  • Small quantities. Regular composting methods can produce more compost much quicker than earthworms can. You will want to use your vermicompost selectively to feed the plants that need it the most.

 

Making the Most of Vermicompost

Vermicompost is equally suited to trees, vegetables, flowers, and potted plants.

Because vermicompost is made in relatively small quantities, gardeners will want to use it wisely. A good rule of thumb is to use it to fuel rapidly growing plants.

The best place to apply vermicompost is around the drip line of the plant. Imagine a circle on the ground around the plant roughly marking its circumference. This circle is called the drip line because, if you were to spray the plant with water, this is where the water would drip off of the leaves. Many hungry roots are waiting just below the drip line. Spread the vermicompost on top of the soil along the drip line.

So will vermicomposting meet your needs? Likely not if you have a large garden. For a small garden (or for a good hands-on science project), however, it can be a quick way to improve poor soil.

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu Tips

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu TipsHaving fun eating your reds, oranges, and greens? On to blues and whites!

 

Blue and Purple

Blue and purple colors in produce are created by the pigment anthocyanin. The darker the color, the greater the amount of pigment present.

Nutrients found in the blue/purple group include:

  • Fiber.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Vitamin C.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are serious soldiers on the front lines of your body’s defense systems. They keep the immune system in peak condition, actively fighting carcinogens and combating inflammation throughout the body. The blues and purples improve the absorption of calcium and other minerals, keep the blood pressure balanced, and keep the digestive system running smoothly. They may also promote circulatory health by preventing clotting. To top it off, the anthocyanins concentrated in these fruits and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eager to tap into the powers of the blues and purples? Try some of the purple varieties of this produce:

  • Asparagus.
  • Blackberries.
  • Blueberries.
  • Cabbage.
  • Eggplants.
  • Figs.
  • Grapes (and raisins).
  • Plums.
  • Peppers.
  • Pomegranates.
  • Potatoes.

 

White

Can white fruits and vegetables offer any nutritional value? Yes! They receive their unique color from anthoxanthins—pale pigments with antioxidant effects.

Check out some of these nutrients:

  • Allicin (a natural chemical that promotes heart health).
  • Beta glucans (necessary for white blood cell health).
  • Potassium.

The whites have surprising amounts of immune-boosting ability. Furthermore, they offer nutrients critical to maintaining a proper balance of hormones throughout the body.

What fruits and vegetables have white varieties? Try some of these:

  • Bananas.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Corn.
  • Dates.
  • Garlic.
  • Ginger.
  • Kohlrabi.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Pears (brown-skinned varieties).
  • Potatoes.
  • Shallots.
  • Turnips.

 

Suggestions for Eating Your Colors

Take a look at the color of your current diet. Could it best be described as beige? That probably means you are eating too much processed and packaged food (e.g., crackers). Time to incorporate the rainbow into your diet!

There is no specific formula to follow here. The key word is variety. The idea is to regularly incorporate a mix of colors into your diet, and this can be incredibly simple. One recommendation dieticians sometimes make is to check your grocery cart and make sure you’re buying several categories of produce—if you only have one color represented, swap a few items out with produce of other colors before you make your purchase. Gardeners, notice that each category includes both cool-season and warm-season plants; if you aim for variety in your planting schedule you should be able to harvest a rainbow throughout the season.

Note that to gain the maximum benefit from most of these fruits and vegetables, you should eat the skin whenever possible, as that is where many of the pigments and nutrients are stored. We recommend using this natural veggie wash to remove wax, dirt, and other contaminants first.

What about winter? Never fear! Frozen fruits and vegetables retain much of their color and nutritional value, making frozen produce a viable and very healthy option for those times when you just can’t get it fresh.

Cooking up a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals can be simple! Just enjoy a mix of colors on your plate on a daily basis.

 

Helpful Resources

Vegetables
Our own guide to growing, storing, and preparing produce simply.

Cookbooks
Need more tips for making the most of fruits and vegetables? Try out some of these real-food-focused cookbooks.

Eastern Gamagrass

Eastern Gamagrass

Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) is a tall bunchgrass species that ranges from four to eight feet in height. It forms clumps one to four feet across and connected with tough, knotty rhizomes. The plants have roots that extend as far as 20 feet below the surface of the ground, and they are further anchored by corms—short, swollen stems that grow vertically downward.

Continue reading Eastern Gamagrass

Adding Value to Wool

Adding Value to WoolWhen direct marketing wool, you have some options. You can sell just the fiber, or you can add varying degrees of value.

So what is the value-adding sequence for fiber, and which product or products are right for you? Let’s dig in.

 

Raw Fleece

Just offering the plain old raw fleece is very common, and it is an option that appeals strongly to customers who happen to be handspinners or weavers. Many wool growers who direct market are surprised to find that raw fleeces are their most profitable and best-selling products.

But note that selling raw fleece is not as simple as shearing a sheep and shipping out the fleece—attention to quality is far more critical in niche wool production than commodity production. The fleece absolutely must be clean and free of any and all debris. It also must be skirted, which is the process of removing anything undesirable, such as stained wool, second cuttings, or belly wool.

If selling raw fleece is your interest, note that sheep breed will come into play here. Most handspinners prefer long wool, as this type is the easiest to work with.

 

Adding Value to WoolRoving

Roving is wool that has been washed, carded, and twisted up to hold the fibers together in a sort of rope.

Roving is a versatile product used primarily for felting, but also for stuffing, spinning, and more.

 

Batting

Batting is used to fill pillows, blankets, and the like. Coarse wool works particularly well for making batting. Batting can be made to salvage wool too short to make into roving.

The batting concept can be taken another step further by making finished bedding and pillows.

 

Felt

Felt is a good product for adding value to coarse-wool batting, as it has many applications. It can be sold in sheets such as those you might buy at the craft store, but most producers who get this far choose to add still more value.

Do you have a passion for working with fiber yourself? Then you may be able to take value-adding to the next level by creating finished products, such as sponges, placemats, or felted crafts.

Another way to offer felt is in the form of do-it-yourself felting kits for beginners. These can be quite popular if they are quality kits that produce attractive results.

 

Adding Value to WoolSpun Yarn

The spinning step is going to cost you in one of two ways—time or money. Having your fiber spun into yarn at a spinnery or fiber mill can be very expensive, and the mill may require a minimum amount of wool to process. Some companies also have long delays depending on the demand. Spinning it yourself will take some know-how plus valuable time.

Offering the yarn without any dye can be an advantage to some, because there are customers who prefer to dye their own yarns either for fun or to avoid chemicals.

However, dying your yarn can increase its value to customers who are interested in knitting but not dyeing. All-natural botanical dyes can be popular among this group. (You may even be able to take the art of dyeing still further and grow your own dye plants.)

 

Woven Fabric

In some markets, fabric has a broader appeal than yarn. Yarn is primarily for craft hobbyists, while fabric is useful in a wide range of applications and on a variety of scales. Most producers have their wool processed by a professional mill. Fine wool is particularly well suited to fabric-making.

 

Handknits

Selling knit or crocheted clothing, afghans, and other gifts is an excellent way to sell your farm’s story—if you can pull it off.

One of the most common challenges with this level of value-adding is keeping up with the demand. The pre-Christmas rush will likely see your biggest boost in sales. Can’t make enough products yourself? You may need to find a team of knitters to help.

What type of products you can produce will depend primarily on your interests, but the breed of sheep you raise will also have a huge impact. Fine-wool breeds produce soft, versatile yarns, while yarn from coarse-wool breeds may be best suited to making rugs.

 

A Final Reminder

Quality is key in direct marketing wool or wool products, no matter what form they take. The best wool comes from healthy, happy sheep that receive optimal nutrition and have access to fresh water at all times (even in winter). It usually also comes from sheep that wear lightweight coats to protect their fleece from damage due to wet conditions or intense UV light. Caring for the sheep may therefore cost more in a direct-marketing business than in commodity production, but it can yield profits that more than compensate.