Insert your custom message here. close ×
+

Why guitar lessons?

Beginners

It isn’t hard to start, but it’s difficult to continue. There are many reasons for this, but the two most common are a pre-existing routine that crowds out practice time, and uncertainty about what and how to practice.
Once you know what and how to practice, guidance from someone who has been doing the same thing for much longer, and has training and experience gives you the ability to move along the path quicker. This gives you success, and the motivation to continue. Theory, technique, learning chords, songs and solos are the core of the learning process.

Intermediate/advanced

If you feel stale, need new ideas, or need to talk about what you’re working on, getting feedback from someone who understands – and has been in your position before – can help.

Organizing yourself

For each student, I construct a weekly practice plan. This takes the form of a flow chart that they can refer to during the week.
For a beginning lesson in strumming, it might look like this, depending on the student.

 

This clearly outlines what to practice (everything on the chart is discussed in-depth during the lesson), and how long to practice it each day. It’s important to see how long it will take. That way, you can figure out how to fit it into your schedule.
Breaking it into chunks implies that you don’t have to do it all at once, although it’s a good idea just to make sure it gets done.

The optimal result – independence

The goal is to get students to the stage where they can confidently teach themselves. It is not to keep them around as long as possible so that you can make more money.
At the end of every month, the student and I assess their level of interest and commitment, and discuss the best course of action. This could be ending lessons, continuing on the present course, or introducing new types of material. If they decide to leave and get stuck later, or want to learn something new, they can come back for however many  lessons they feel they need.
Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

Music and the Brain

There are good reasons to study music aside from being able to play.

 

Simply listening to music “involves nearly every region of the brain that we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem” (Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music, p. 86).

 

For instance, following along with music engages certain parts of the brain – the hippocampus (memory center) and the frontal lobe; tapping along with music engages others – the cerebellum’s timing circuits.

 

Performing music uses the frontal lobes for planning behaviour, as well as the motor cortex and sensory cortex. Listening to, or recalling lyrics, involves language centers in the brain.

 

And the emotions we feel in response to music involve structures deep in the primitive regions of the cerebellum and the amygdala.

 

Simply by listening to music, we strengthen our brain. By learning to play, the benefits multiply. So even if you don’t become a professional musician, music lessons have a lasting benefit that positively affects your entire life.

 

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

Time signatures: what they are and why they’re cool

The time signature lives right at the beginning of every song.

You know. That thing that looks like a fraction.

As it turns out, there’s a lot to say about this thing. Check out the Wikipedia article.

Or not.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meter_(music)

 

What’s it for?

In the simplest terms, the time signature tells you two things:

 

  • how many beats are in a bar, and
  • what those beats are worth

 

By “worth”, I mean quarter-notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc.

So a time signature of 4/4 means that there are 4 beats in the bar (the first number) and each beat is worth a quarter note (the second number). 3/8 means that there are three beats in the bar, and each beat is worth an eighth note.

 

The second number

The first number can be anything (though it doesn’t usually go above 11). The second number points to a note value. The possibilities for this number and what it corresponds to are:

 

  • 1 – whole-note (rare)
  • 2 – half-note
  • 4 – quarter-note
  • 8 – eighth-note
  • 16 – sixteenth-note
  • 32 – thirty-second-note (rare)

 

Getting interesting

But all that is just background.

Time signatures get interesting when you realize that there’s more to life than 4/4 and ¾ These get the most use by far, but there’s a lot more to consider.

I’ve defined the possibilities for the second number. You’ll notice they’re all multiples of two. Except for the whole note.

The first number can combine twos and threes. This can produce crazy looking time signatures, but that’s not what makes a song interesting.

What makes a song interesting, what creates its unique feel, is how you put the twos and threes together.

 

4/4 can get boring

Let me explain.

If you play in 4/4 all the time, it probably means you’re emphasizing the same beats every song.: the first beat and the third beat, or the second beat and the fourth beat.

Now take a simple time signature like 5/4. 5/4 is a combination of two and three. It’s either 2 + 3, or 3 + 2.

So what, you say?

 

Strumming

Well, strum a chord in 5/4 and emphasize beat 1 and beat 3.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.30.47 AM

 

Now strum a chord and 5/4 and emphasize beat 1 and beat 4.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 6.32.26 AM

 

Two completely different feels in one time signature.

 

Possibilities. Lots.

Imagine emphasizing beat 1 and beat 3 in the verse, and beat 1 and beat 4 in the chorus. Or 4/4 in the verse, and 5/4 in the chorus. Or maybe just use 5/4 in the bridge…

The point is, with one simple time signature, a whole bunch of possibilities open up. Why not take advantage of that?

 

 

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

Making ambient

My approach to creating ambient music involves the following resources:

  • Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 5
  • preparing the guitar

 

Check out my post on prepared guitar for an explanation.

 

Prepared guitar

 

Guitar Rig 5 and prepared guitar describes my basic rig. I also use…

  • MAX to create either guitar effects, or separate instruments altogether
  • Audiomulch for creating separate instruments

 

…and two iPad apps:

  • Samplr
  • Curtis

 

Orchestral soundscapes

This provides me with tremendous resources for creating non-conventional guitar sounds. I combine these sounds with the Boss Loopstation to make soundscapes of orchestral complexity.

I set this up by placing one instrumental section on one of three phrases. “Phrases” are what the Loopstation calls the place where you can record and overdub sounds. You can see them on the lower right of the device.

 

loopstation

 

I’m thinking conceptually here. I don’t use conventional orchestral instruments (although lately I’ve been thinking about it). I create 4 -6 unique sounds for each phrase using the above resources. Then I arrange and overdub them.

Each sound can be either a prepared guitar sound processed through Guitar Rig or MAX, or sounds created in Audiomulch, Samplr, or Curtis. Then I can fade sections in and out as desired while playing a live part against them.

There’s a lot of detail to talk about. In future posts I’ll describe the materials I’ve mentioned here in some detail.

 

 

 

 

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

Tim Hecker

Tim Hecker’s work is more clearly ambient than Christian Fennesz’s. Greater use of conventional instrumentation with the judicious use of noise makes it possible for his work to fade into the background, while still being compelling.

Prism

Hecker is concerned with timing, placement, and taste. Often there is one overriding idea. Prism, from Virgins is an example. It starts with a processed organ pad (?) that gets interrupted by a seven-beat phrase at regular intervals.

The seven-beat phrase itself is attention-grabbing in its combination of simplicity and strangeness. It’s essentially an uncomplicated melody that’s sliced somewhere in the middle and time-shifted slightly, giving it an arresting quality. Bits of the phrase continue ghost-like after the fact. The ear tries to capture these, and the listener becomes an active participant.

Try to hold the organ pad in your ear, and you’ll hear it evolve slightly. Or is that just an aural hallucination?

 

Smearing

Imagine a painting, something representational, a landscape or a portrait with undried paint. Now imagine smearing the paint across the canvas.

Hecker uses this effect aurally by creating upward gissandos with entire organ chords beginning around the two-minute mark. The effect is a wiping away of some of the existing sound. The ghost of the seven-beat phrase remains.

Tim Hecker is an ambient composer who creates music that encourages you to listen to it. While it’s possible to ignore, it never becomes aural wallpaper.

 

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

Christian Fennesz

Take a listen to Ferment_action_OZmotic on Christian Fennesz’s album Aireffect. This is along the lines of what I’m thinking of as fractured ambient. Maybe a better name for this is noise ambient.

This is part the process I engage in when I’m forming ideas: close listening to stuff that I like. It gets inside clarifies my own way of doing things. Pretty common approach, really. But a lot of people don’t write it down.

Ferment_action_OZmotic

Brian Eno described ambient music as being “as ignorable as it is interesting.” This piece is interesting, but ignorable? I’m not sure.

The piece begins inside what sounds like a faltering airplane engine. A tearing sound after 20 seconds forms a boundary between that and (in order of appearance) granular raindrops; a chirping metal sound; a rusty, clockwork machine; and a bassy synth replaced immediately by a metallic scraping.

Bass synth balloons out from there, followed by a pedal-tone (guitar?), and obsessive morse code bleeping. These elements recede and emerge.

All this in the first two minutes of a six minute piece.

Can we call this ambient? It’s certainly textural (as ambient music tends to be). It’s also interesting. Ignorable? Probably not in a quiet space where it would stand out.

 

Moving on

Around the 2:23 mark we get a sloshing sound and synth pads, followed by what sounds like cutlery on plates, dog barks, bell-of-the-cymbal strikes, a bit of farting static, and at 3:37, a gong repeated three times, accompanied each time by a change of harmony in the synth pads.

Sounds like he’s moving toward something more conventional…

Large bass synth at 4:10 with random drum synth-produced woodblocks and metal, and another bass note at 4:23. More drum synth, and more bass at 4:36, 4:45, 4:54, 5:00, followed by huge synth pad swells that consume the bass. Continue drum pad, add static, dial down synth pad, end with static. The granular raindrops from the beginning never go away.

Ok.

 

Ambient?

Is this ambient? There are clearly marked sections (the gongs starting at 3:37, the bass synth at 4:10), and a variety of different sounds that don’t evolve. This runs against type. But the slowly evolving sound structure – the gradual addition of similiar types of sound (metal) in the first 2 minutes – reminds me of ambient music.

So I’m thinking of it fractured or noise ambient. The evolving sound (granular raindrops, metal sounds) is interrupted (fractured) by sounds alien to the existing, noisy structure. These sounds – gongs, bass – are more conventional, and send the piece in a different direction. Previous elements remain as what can be thought of as an ambient structure.

I know I’m pushing it. It’s as easy to reject this as ambient altogether, as it is to call it fractured or noise ambient. But taking a close look at stuff that might be described as ambient – textural, or timbre-based music – and trying to squash it into an ambient box – is one way to clarify for myself what it is I’m trying to make.

 

 

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

1 2 3 5