Saturday, October 06, 2007

How I Practice Scales

2:12 pm - practiced scales, C major in DADGAD. The value of practicing scales, as far as I can tell, comes only as you practice them enough so that they are totally automatic - no thinking at all about what note is next. I have the following method for scale practice, keeping this in mind:
  • Start with 1 octave, and practice ascending and descending that octave, using one of the following techniques:
    • All fretted strings (good for learning patterns that can move up and down the neck)
    • Conventional pattern using open & fretted strings (for this technique you are learning a pattern that is specific to a particular key, but it is good to practice this way)
    • Harp technique (play adjacent notes across different string, letting notes ring out as much as possible)
  • At first, start with a steady beat and subdivide into two notes: 1 and 1 and 1 and ...
  • Once you are no longer thinking about what string comes next, and your body is relaxed, then divide that same beat into three: 1 and a 1 and a ...
  • Once this is comfortable, divide by 4, then 5, then 6, then (if you can) 7, 8...
I usually top out at dividing the beat by 6. It is also fun to emphasize different notes within whatever division you are using.

Once I've got one octave down, say at 4 notes per beat, I go to a different octave in the same key and practice it using the same technique. Then I will practice both octaves together. Then I may learn another octave, only adding it to the first two once I've got it down by itself.

The keys that are best for the second two techniques in DADGAD are: Bflat, F, C, G, and D.

Still good but not ideal are: A, E, and Eflat.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Up at 3:30am (ouch), left at 4:30 to carpool with a co-worker to Logan Airport, where we caught a 6am shuttle flight to Planet New York. Did some work, then caught a return shuttle at 11am, home by 2pm. Slept for about an hour, then read while listening to Rachmoninov's Vespers (The Robert Shaw Festival Singers recording -- absolutely sublime).

7:49 pm - have practiced one hour: harp-style scales in D minor/F major, G minor/Bb major. Have found a tune from the Real Book in Bb to play during my final 1/2 hour of practicing. Also played Cello Suite 1 Prelude (Bach) for about 2o minutes, then practiced my new arrangement of Father Fielding's Favorite (out of O'Neils).

I have discovered a music notation program that is far superior in terms of output quality, to any other software (certainly free software) I have thus far used. It is called LilyPond, and it works by reading text files in its own text-based markup format and producing PDF, PNG, even MIDI files.

Here is an example of my DADGAD Cello Suite 1 Prelude transcription rendered in LilyPond:

Just gorgeous. The source for this part looks like:

\version "2.10.29"
\header {
title = "Cello Suite no. 1 - Prelude"
composer = "J.S. Bach (Arr. Astolfi)"
notes = {
% uncomment the temp indication when layout engine is fixed
% \tempo 4=80
\key d \major
\relative c' { d16 a'\3 fis' e fis a,\3 fis' a,\3 }
\relative c' { d16 a'\3 fis' e fis a,\3 fis' a,\3 }
\relative c' { d16 b'\3 g' fis g b,\3 g' b,\3 }
\relative c' { d16 b'\3 g' fis g b,\3 g' b,\3 }
\relative c' { d16 cis'\3 g' fis g cis,\3 g' cis,\3 }
\relative c' { d16 cis'\3 g' fis g cis,\3 g' cis,\3 }
\relative c' { d16 d'\2 fis e fis d\2 fis d\2 }
\relative c' { d16 d'\2 fis e fis d\2 fis cis }
\relative c' { d16 b'\3 fis' e fis d cis d }
\relative c' { b'16\3 d cis d fis, a gis\4 fis\5 }
\relative c' { gis'16\4 d' e\3 d e\3 d e\3 d }
\relative c' { gis'16\4 d' e\3 d e\3 d e\3 d }
\relative c' { cis'16\3 e\2 a gis a e\2 d e\2 cis\3 e\2 d e\2 a,\4 cis\3 b\4 a }
\relative c' { b16\5 fis'\4 d' cis d fis,\4 d' fis,\4 }
\relative c' { b16\5 fis'\4 d' cis d fis,\4 d' fis,\4 }
\relative c' { b16\5 gis' a b\3 a gis fis e d' cis b\3 a' gis fis e\2 d\2 }
\relative c' { cis'16\3 b\3 a a' e\2 a cis,\3 e\2 a,\4 b\4 cis\3 e\2 d cis\3 b\4 a }
\score {
\new StaffGroup << \new Staff << \override Staff.VerticalAxisGroup #'minimum-Y-extent = #'(-10 . 10) { \notes } >>
\new TabStaff << \set TabStaff.stringTunings = #'(+14 +9 +7 +2 -3 -10) { \notes } >>
\layout {}
\midi {}

Go download it and play around with it!

In my (non-)abundant spare time, I have created a simple web-based front end for LilyPond which I hope to expand upon in the future. I am working with a friend to get that online - I'll repost here when/if that happens.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Two friends' wedding (part I)

Just got back from Amherst last night after spending the weekend with friends in a frenzy of activities around the wedding of Gary & Elise B. For this joyous event, the bride and groom assembled the old IVCF worship team:

(navigating the chaos of setup and rehearsal -- this really took us back -- notice the Rao's coffee cup in the hand of the guitarist on the left)

(practicing with Sarah)

(during the processional: Come thou fount of every blessing, with Matt)

(The guitars, happily back home!)

The songs:

Prelude - County Down, slow
Processional - Be thou my vision - a new arrangement (as of the Thursday before the wedding) in key of C, played on the DADGAD guitar
Bride's march - Come thou fount of every blessing - I played melody in DADGAD, while Matt strummed chords. Key of D
Special music during ceremony:
Blessed be the name of the Lord (key of A, strumming & singing, standard tuning)
How deep the Father's love for us (key of G, I just soloed tastefully in the background)
Recessional - instrumental reprise of Blessed be

The music went quite well - sound was a bit spotty, but our audience was not picky about this. Now I am looking ahead to the next friends' wedding later this summer.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Saturday A.M., 10:10 - Practiced a little over an hour: cello prelude, a little Sonata VI, the 2nd Law, and some Merrily Kissed the Quaker. Very unfocused - I am quite sleepy still from this week (and last night - it was another ~midnight bedtime). Hands felt moderately achy and swollen this morning when I woke up. I should ice them again today (I also iced them last night).

The cello suite prelude, like many of Bach's compositions, provides a great way to strengthen scales and arpeggios in a very musical way. In DADGAD particularly, it affords an opportunity, mostly towards the end, to practice the harp-style scales that give this tuning its distinctive, piano-like quality.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

8:34 am - Practiced 10 mins x 2: D and G major scales in DADGAD, review of Sonata VI pages 1 & 2, and Toy for Two Lutes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

We are in our new apartment in Framingham! It is a very open, benevolent space. It welcomes us; more generally, God has gone before us and welcomes us into his world.

My practice space is now set up:


(Prospect & Refuge:)

(The Muse:)

Practiced for about an hour yesterday - unfocused. DADGAD - Toy for Two Lutes, Invention #4, County Down, Dance of the Capricorn, Rakkish Paddy, Merrily/Cunla, & a new Jig out of O'Neils. Spontaneously played the first few bars from the Prelude to Bach's first cello suite. DADGAD triumphs again! It is obscenely right for this piece - transposed, of course, so that the first note becomes a D. I am looking forward to adapting the rest of this beautiful piece to DADGAD steel string.

Need to pick up new nylon strings today to begin practicing for weddings. I am going to take at least two days off from playing to let my body recover from the move, all that lifting and such. This is a good (and necessary) discipline, I've found. About a week is the peak interval - after one week of inactivity, I long so much to play music again and the relaxation produces an incredible freshness and energy, so that picking up the guitar at the end becomes a celebration!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Practiced ~1hr in the morning. Our apartment is a chaotic maze of half-packed boxes. The depression associated with moving makes it hard for me to concentrate. Worked on Sonata VI briefly, practiced Toy for Two Lutes, Invention in Dmin, Kadourimdou, a little Last Pint.

Discussion last night about authenticity. What does it mean for a person to be authentic? A: an absence of deceit. In other words, to be authentic is to be neither deceived nor deceiving. What is the way out of the trap of self-deception? There is no internal solution - there must be some external Truth that comes in to the picture and awakens you. So what can one do? Expect a poke or a gentle hand on shoulder: "thou art deceived."

Also talked about hero worship and identity theft. How to be yourself? What does this mean?

God has created each person. We do not know our true Name, but we stumble about trying to live up to the one we give ourselves (or that we are given). Or we try to live up to someone else's name. Of course the person in your head you are trying to be is not even close to the person in reality that you think you are trying to be. Uck. What a mess.

Best to focus on music, not on personality. Our art is not who we imitate - it is the Work to which we are called.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Found O'Neils free in PDF form:

Check it out! (of course it is still pretty nice to have it printed out and bound) The nice thing about this collection is that many of the tunes have chords (but strangely, not all of them...)
A jog and then a new jig this morning: Castle Donovan (key G, played in DADGAD). Used backward learning technique, going one phrase at a time, probably playing each about 10 to 15 times. In 25 minutes, was able to play though the A part, more or less, and then took a five minute break, while taking a look at the B part (only new stuff is the first four measures, the final four, as is typically the case for these tunes, are just a variation on the second half of the A part). 15 minutes spent on the first half of B, then 10 on the whole thing. Wrote out chords, going to play it together with Sh.

Explored possible keys for Come thou fount (G + E's wedding request - this is the processional, a very beautiful choice!) A in DADGAD seems most promising. Will most likely play variations on the melody while M Atwood strums chords (we need to ensure the proper balance so the melody will come through, but as we will both be amplified, this shouldn't pose a problem).

Need to talk with Jerod about duets from the Renbourn renaissance guitar anthology for J + T's wedding (prelude music?)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Back from a three day visit to Planet New York (city - an entirely different version of reality for me). Played for a little over an hour this morning, DADGAD mostly, 2nd law towards the end. Discovered while on Planet NY that I have a co-worker who shares an interest in fingerstyle guitar playing. He is from Australia, and is a big Tommy Emmanuel fan. We hope to meet up at some point and exchange music.

This summer two weddings, both long time friends, who have asked me to play. I am beginning to practice hymns for both: Be thou my vision, Great is thy faithfulness, Come thou fount. Back to practicing soon before (hopefully) a visit to L'Abri for Friday night lecture (it is Dick Keyes tonight -- !!!)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Yesterday morning: Improvised (and then wrote down) a simple warm-up type exercise in G major. It is basically running up and down the scale in 16th notes with a simple bass line underneath in quarter notes. You can get the transcription here (it doesn't say so on the PDF, but the tab is for DADGAD tuning).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yesterday practiced in evening after work before heading out to L'Abri. Began page 3 of Sonata VI (not IV as I had previously written). I am working backwards on this page as I did for page 2. Starting at the end and working backwards is an interesting method for learning a piece of music. Here are possible positives of this approach:
  • As you practice, you move from unfamiliarity to familiarity. This sets up a helpful dynamic of the release of tension.
  • As you learn the measure before (or the phrase before, or page before, whatever) the last one you learned, it changes the measure that comes after. This ties in to a question I have been thinking of lately:
What makes a thing new?

Possible negatives:
  • It helps to memorize a piece this way, but it does nothing to help with the problem of focusing attention on what is coming around the corner. This quality of attention is absolutely essential, I am learning, in many aspects of music, not the least of which is improvisation. But perhaps I am wrong in saying this - perhaps it is better to envision the end and work backwards? An intersting question...
And problems one deals with in either case:
  • Fingerings may need to be adjusted in response to what comes (before/after) what is already known.
I would love to hear from any readers (if I still have or ever had any!) your thoughts on learning music backwards, or the problem of learning music in general, what is most effective, what are the tradeoffs, what principles must be upheld.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hello after a two month break from posting!  

Here are the major happenings for me musically:
  • Visited my favorite music shop, Fretted Instruments in Amherst, as part of an Amherst birthday trip.  Played a surprisingly nice Chinese guitar (only around $1000!) - no match for the Bourgeois or the Froggy, but impressive nonetheless.  Picked up a copy of O'Neil's music of Ireland
  • Embarked on a project of continual challenge: I am endeavoring to play some new piece of music every day I practice.  Right now this means working through fiddle tunes in O'Neil's.  The rules are:
  1. I have never seen the tune or section of a tune before that day
  2. I will attempt to learn and play it for that day only
  • Went to afternoon guitar workshop taught by Brooks.  Very inspiring time - most of the technical information was not new to me, but I tried to keep things lively by staying in DADGAD and translating what Brooks was showing us.  Met a few cool people (not that the people I didn't meet weren't cool, but I didn't actually meet them, so...) and got a chance to talk with Brooks afterward.  He has been thinking (as have I) about the problem of the communal needs of the fingerstyle steel-string player.  We are going to meet up next month for a lesson.
  • I have been learning much music with friends.  Ben and I have Bach's Invention No. 4 in D minor (his most evil invention ever) and Toy for Two Lutes, a nice Renaissance piece that we both happened to have (my copy is in an anthology of Renaissance music arranged for guitar by John Rehnborn).  Ben, Dan, and I are two pages in to Bach's 4th Sonata, and Dan has given me "Trombone Duet #2" (that is literally all we know about the piece!) to work on.  No progress so far on Duet #2... hoping to start in this weekend!
  • I am in touch with Al to get together again to continue work on our second duet, Penny Lane.
  • I have ordered two sets of strings in gauges suitable for DADGAD tuning.  The Froggy stays in DADGAD pretty much continuously at this point (or AADGBD, for Hedges' "The 2nd Law", which is even lower!) so it needs strings that can keep up.  The strings are:
  1. Pierre Bensusan signature strings from Wyres - these have a coating on them sort of like Elixirs I think
  2. John Pearse phosphor bronze "New Medium" gauge.  John Pearse seems to offer a variety of interesting string gauges, including on for New Standard Tuning (CGDAEG)
  • Work has begun, inspired my the work of Brad Meldau, to create an arrangement of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android"
  • I have gotten together twice now with another friend, Joe Renzoni, to create spontaneous improvisational music.  This is very scary and fun; I have the feeling it is actually extremely good for me to be leaping into the creative unknown in real time without knowing what will happen.
Tonight I have more time than anticipated for practice, so I am taking advantage of this to practice the Sonata in preparation for (probably after journey group) tomorrow night.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Morning practiced 20 minutes: 2nd Law, Bourree in Em (in DADGAD)

Goal for May: to perform 2nd Law with quality at some open mic at least once.

Afternoon practiced ~1hr: Bach in DADGAD: Bourree and Invention #4, Kadourimdou, Jigs, Murtach McKann. Part 1 of Bourree is nicely fitted to DADGAD - I will attempt two transcription projects within the next week or two:
  1. Invention #4 tab in DADGAD for both parts
  2. Bourree (at least 1st part) tab in DADGAD
I have an ongoing question regarding efficiency vs technical ability as related to musical interpretation of a piece: When does one say "I must find a way to play this passage more efficiently so it will be within my current technical reach to perform" and when does one say "I must increase my technical abilities in order to play this passage". Is the quest for efficiency sometimes (or even always) at odds with musical expression?

In an attempt to eliminate some personal waste and increase my energy for practice/play, I have begun to investigate the Dvorak keyboard configuration. This was inspired by a particularly lucid moment during which I realized that much more than half of the keystrokes I had just used to type a line of code where typed by my left hand! This could explain why my left (fretting) hand has been very prone to injury during periods of coincident intense computer/guitar use.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Played in church for the first time in a long time. It was good to do this again. We played four songs in C, one in D. Playing with a band is a more comfortable thing for me at this point than playing solo. I feel much more able to improvise and experiment. Had good conversations with some friends about black Gospel music and modern white church music. We must be true to who we are, but we have much to learn from each other.

Practiced in DADGAD at home this afternoon. A little pyromania, some Merry kissing of the Quaker, and good ol Murtach even made an appearance.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Monkeyed around a bit with Sentimentales Pyromaniques, played Dance of the Capricorn, re-tuned to play The 2nd Law (my 6th string was really not into going down to that low A), then moved back up to drop-D, played Aguinaldo Jibara, Some other Time, and a little of Kingsfold and Jerusalem. Re-tuned to standard.

Low energy today. Daylight savings time has struck yet again.
Finished an improved transcription of Michael Hedges' The 2nd Law. One thing I should mention that is not written in the transcription itself, is the tuning (biggest to littlest string): A-A-D-G-B-D. The 6th string is an octave below the usual pitch of the 5th string (yikes!)

Saturday played for ~60 minutes, all DADGAD. County Down, Frenzy at the Feeder, Murtach MacKhan, Merrily Kissed the Quaker/Cunla, Rakkish Paddy, The Day after the Feast, The Voyage to Ireland, The Orphan, The Dance of the Capricorn, and Kadourimdou. Just playing, not so much practicing.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The only thing fast than the fastest thing

One of my favorite aphorisms was discovered (by me) in an interview with Bjarne Stroustrup (see his website for pronunciation key), and it has to do with computer programming, the writing of 'code':

"The only code faster than the fastest code is no code."

On a similar note, I was reading Robert Fripp's diary this morning and discovered this fascinating account:

[A student] was having difficulty with alternate picking on the third string open: when they reached a certain tempo, moderately fast, their right arm began to get tense. Listening, the up stroke was louder than the down stroke, and this was the clue to the difficulty. The words down stroke & up stroke, although conventional terms for picking, are misleading: they imply that we do something, and this something is two discrete actions: a striking-down followed by a striking-up. The GC terms are release & return: we release the wrist, and then allow the hand to return to the beginning point. Since the hand is holding a pick, when the wrist releases the hand, the pick moves through the string & then returns to its original position. Nothing is done, and while nothing-is-being-done, two notes are struck: effortlessly.

Listening to the [student], it was clear that, in addition to the doing-something of striking down, even more effort was being put into striking up; and that this effort was a result of a particular way of thinking about the action/s. So, we began by thinking there was one action: striking down; the return “stroke” was therefore an inevitable result of striking down, and didn’t count as an action: two notes for one strike, as it were. Then, we moved to thinking of a four-note unit, initiated by the initial down stroke, with the 3 succeeding notes as inevitable results of the beginning down stroke: four notes for one action. Then, to a 6-note unit, then 8 note unit, then a 16-note unit, all generated by one beginning action. Then, by releasing, the initial action becomes a non-action, the doing something becomes doing nothing. The wrist releases the hand, the hand moves with gravity, followed by an inevitable series of notes, and all generated by the initiating release.

Similarly, watching Luciano in t’ai chi, I notice that he doesn’t lift his arms, moving against gravity, to make the form: the form is already there waiting & Luciano allows himself to be drawn into it. When Luciano moves his balance from one leg to another, he doesn’t move his balance from one leg to another: one leg is released & the balance changes as an inevitable result of this. Nothing is done: and while nothing is being done, a form is assumed.

"You've just taken your first step into a larger world" -- Obi-wan Kanobi

Friday, February 23, 2007

Check out this interview with Pierre Bensusan from Acoustic Guitar magazine. My favorite bit (Pierre speaking):

I have had the great fortune to play with a fantastic improviser, Didier Malherbe, who plays woodwinds. And he taught me two things. He said, “First, you are not here to be unhappy onstage. You are onstage to be happy and to share this happiness. Turn this happiness into music and through the music give it to the people.”
The second thing was, “I try to have my head as empty as possible, so that things can come to me, penetrate me.” When you expect something, your head’s busy expecting! You’ve closed the door to something that could happen. So this is the attitude of the great improvisers.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A New Look

The original idea for the aesthetic of this blog was to make it as stripped-down and simple as possible. While I still put a great value on simplicity in my musical life, I've decided it makes no sense to have a blog essentially about artistic expression (or the development of one particular mode of it), and for that blog to be ugly. And I had to face facts: the old template was pretty ugly. So I picked one of blogger's templates and customized it with a photo of my guitar (tweaked in Paint Shop Pro).

Hope you like it!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Solution to Stage Fright

...was discovered simultaneously last night by myself and a friend. He has recently taken over the sound at the TCAN open mike, so he has to get there early on Monday nights. Since we were hanging out before hand, I went early too, to help him set up. We were running around like crazy trying to find where the right cables live, get everything set up and sound-checked, and just right before people got there. As a result, we literally had no time to worry about our performances (we both played acoustic instrumentals at the open mike)! It was one of the best performance experiences yet! I played Frenzy at the Feeder - good groove, not too fast. There were a couple of fudged phrases, but they were lack of practice, not nervousness.

So I will have to try to get to open mike really early all the time and help set up!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saturday morning - On Wednesday, I listened to a very good radio interview with Michael Millard of Froggy Bottom Guitars. What a cool guy! Of course it is pretty cool already that he makes superb guitars and lives in VT, but there is much that one would do well to imitate in his personal philosophy towards craftsmanship, service, and life.

Wed, Thur, Fri all very good practice days. Fun, anyhow - it is going to be hard to buckle down at this point and really polish Merrily/Cunla and Murtach. But it is also important to have fun playing (what is the point, otherwise, really?) even if a tune is not 100% perfect yet.

I am going to get some electonics put in the new guitar very soon hopefully (maybe even this afternoon). After that, perhaps I will start going to the TCAN open mic again - I have realized the importance of choosing the right venues to play at. I really wish I didn't have a conflict now with the ATAC open mic on Thursdays. It is by far my favorite place to play, and I miss very much going there.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Saturday morning - pancakes bacon and coffee springboard me into ~70 mins of practice. Restrung the Bourgeois (I've been playing the Froggy almost exclusively since November) and played it in DADGAD. First 20 - execises, mostly right-hand arpeggio patterns, but some harpisant scales (F major). Practiced Merrily Kissed the Quaker/Cunla and Murtagh MacKhan for ~45 min. Made progress in both.

Spoke on the phone the other night with a friend who is (I think) an audio engineer by trade, and an accomplished woodworker to boot. He is trying his hand at building a few guitars. He was getting ready to cut the top of the first one when he called, and wanted to talk about my experience and preferences in guitars to get a player's perspective before starting. He has researched the topic of guitar building quite extensively and has taught me several interesting things in the process. This first guitar design is based on a Taylor 814ce. I am really looking forward to seeing the end result!

I am conspiring with another audio engineer friend to record a couple videos of my playing for posting on Youtube. I'll be sure to embed them here when they are ready.