Sunday, January 22, 2012

Two In A Row

Something new has brought some inspiration, as does watching concert videos. Tonight's was leftovers from last night's session and with the new song along with just wishing to get back with the music. Having consecutive days without playing, allows one to lose touch with both the music and the instrument.

This night's practice and recording session was rather spontaneous, though as I shifted out of past activity, I made a conscious thought to revisit the old song Birdie. The darn song just wore me out. For some reason my left hand was feeling weak, though I am sure I understand and would rather not say. The song is long and all bar chords. Having not played for a while tells me I am simply out of shape. The muscles, that is. I had a hope to record the rhythm guitar track though two times through, along with some interpretation errors, I was unable to record any of it. My arm screamed stop. But rather than stop, I moved on to a different tune.

Since the new piece of last night is simple and easy to play I thought I could practice it some in the least. I had thought of this a couple times during the day, being unable to recall the melody of this piece. As soon as the song was loaded in the computer, and heard the first notes, the flood of memory snapped back into place. I was able to record a pretty solid rhythm Guitar track after a couple reviews through the piece. It does have some changes but they are naturally occurring. Then I went on to further refine the lead Guitar part. I again attempted a couple of times to record solid lead tracks though unsuccessfully. I was able to get some errors recorded.

In any case, that was the evening at work with the music. I was able to accomplish a better lead Guitar melody sequence. I believe it is rich in its theme though I need more practice to gain the emotion the piece deserves. The finger picking is getting easier also. I find it hard to believe that just a bit over a year ago I let go the pick. It has been a rather smooth transition for me in ways. Although I believe that these last two nights has caused a blister on my middle finger, something I have never experienced before. Then, Play On.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Another New Piece

I did not actually think of writing into the blog until I was in bed last night, to late to capture the moment, as is the intended desire for writing this. But in any case I did a bit of musical creation last night. I was, as nearly always after watching some sort of musical programming, inspired to play. I had just finished watching the movie, A Prairie Home Companion, an amusing construct, typical of the GK tradition. And immediately after turning off the video screen's power source, I opened my guitar case and for some very odd reason sat on my couch, which doesn't actually lend to playing the guitar very well.

I quickly found myself involved in something new, imagined. As these things usually seem, it was like something given to me, yet there is no giver and the melody felt complete. It was a lead riff, bluesy, later discovered to be in the key of C. I went through its progression several times, there, on the couch, where this melody must have been waiting me to find it. In any case, I realized this was something worthy to capture for all time, and thus I got up, guitar in hand, carefully carrying it across the room by its neck, with the weight yielding to gravities pull, I guided it into the guitar stand for reliece. I quickly then went about preparing the recording equipment, as nothing was turned on. I fired up the computer, its monitor, moved the microphones on stands, into an appropriate position, then went to the PA system, turned it on and adjusted the volumes to isolate the Shure SM-57 for recording the guitar. The old computer takes a long time to boot up so I had ample time to sit this time in the armless swivel chair and go through this melody again, keeping it ripe in my mind for what I wanted to become a captured musical thought. At this very moment, as I write this, the following morning, I can not recall the structure or even the melody of that tune, but I did successfully capture it. That is why I find it so gleeful to have the capability to record music, since my mind is one of holes, where memory takes time to capture the seemingly fleeting melodies that float around in there.

Having prepared the computer and other hardware for input, I first recorded a rough draft of the lead guitar melody I had found. Its durration was 2:20 something. I replayed it and discovered an appropriate metronome cadence (96 BPM) then with the metronome to hold the beat steady I recorded a separate track of rhythm guitar beside the melody. Both were rough, having not really played my guitar for a couple of weeks due to some other struggles in living. Yet with this I then over wrote the original draft of the melody, somewhat bringing it into a better state having the beat consistently delivered in the headphone. I was then somewhat satisfied with this result as a very rough draft that captured the essence of this piece. I wanted to then construct a Bass line that could further round out the piece. Back to the controls and the computer I went. The Bass line has to be constructed of MIDI having no Bass in my house. I chose an acoustic Double Bass because I prefer its tone and ability to reach for the bottom. All in all I think they possess a better sound than a Bass Guitar. With the MIDI window in the “piano roll” function I wrote out the Bass line. At first I wanted to initiate the use of some walk up lines to the theme, though I later realized that to be improper so I went a different way creating a very simple bass part.

The structure of this piece is like this. It is in 4/4 time in the key of C. The chords are C, 4 beats, C7, 4 beats, F, …., Fm …., repeat, then somewhat resolving to a G. There is also a b section though right at the moment I can't recall its structure. The above process took well over an hour. I refined the parts by muting the existing recorded tracks at will and now with a solid Bass line to follow, re-did both of the above guitar tracks. I then realized that the Bass line is lacking although, I was unable to recognize what exactly was incorrect about it. Thus I concluded that I could likely improvise the equivalent of a Bass line with the guitar, during play, where as after I could transpose that to MIDI, hopefully to create what my mind's eye sees. The obstacle of the night was having not played guitar the past couple of weeks. My fingers gave out as did my brain due to the late hour.

I then moved to the Piano where I played along with what I had recorded, just for the learning experience. I am still quite amateurish on the piano, though what better way to learn than to play something new. So I did that for a while by repeating the recorded material and playing along.

Another night in the music.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More, New Years Madness

I struggled to get into playing tonight. I turned on the computer early and prepared to do some rehearsal, then tried most of the afternoon to get up the motivation and energy to actually do it. Finally after watching a movie, I mustered up the motivation and had a good session. It seems this blog writing is going to become redundant if I continue in the same pattern used previously. Yet my initial goal has been to chronicle this activity. So...

I reviewed a bunch of older music through the evening with the hope of finding some spark. I did set down then with guitar in hand, opened the New Years Madness files and away I went. The first thing I realized in the review was that the tempo increases needed some adjustment. I just didn't like the result of what was. That took quite a while to get through because of the number of changes needed to bring the tempo up from 120 BPM to 240 BPM, transitioning smoothly. Any shift of the tempo in the midi track removes all possibility that the wave tracks within the same file set can be used, thus after making those changes I then had to tell myself this is okay, and then I went ahead and deleted the existing wave files of the song and started over. That was truly fine as none of those recordings were correct and flawless. Along with that I needed to change the corresponding flags to indicate where the changes actually are in a visual way, for tracking while playing along with the midi. Dealing with the computer part of the recording is tedious. I also find it detracting from the pleasure of capturing the music. Finally, I practiced the rhythm Guitar part. I went through it 4 or five times, then noticed yet another need to alter the tempo changes in two places. The end result of editing made a good difference. I practiced through the song a couple more times before deciding I was sufficiently ready to record the track.

And again the set up gets in the way of flow. I had to adjust the mics physically for recording as well as adjust the sound levels to use the mic to record the acoustic 6 string. Finally all is ready so I practiced another time through the tune, before actually pushing that mighty record button. I didn't get the track quite right through that tempo increase. In any case I saved the recording, wanting to then get a good vocal track recorded. That will allow me to better follow the timing through that transition on the guitar. I then had to change the recording setup, adjust the input levels for the vocal mic. I practiced that two times to be certain of the transition area. It is relatively easy to hear the drum beat while singing, where as I find it more challenging while playing Guitar. I was successful at getting a good vocal recording in one take. That is progress. All there is to show for the night actually, editing the tempo changes and recording a poor quality rhythm guitar track and a good vocal track.

At that point I had a desire to work at some electric Guitar parts. It may have been better had I gone back to the rhythm Guitar part but... So I went through the counter rhythm Guitar part, highlighting with off beats and putting emphasis on the 3 beat to create a contrast to the 1. I never felt quite on top of that part though I played through it 4 or 5 times. To prevent total burn out I then shifted to a lead guitar part for the introduction and an ending. I have yet to actually compose what these parts will be though I have some general ideas that will complement the split two part lead riff between the verses.

This kind of process does become really challenging to me, the switching back and forth between being the musician and the sound tech is mind shifting, distracting from the mental flow that can otherwise be achieved in rehearsing. All in all I must have played through that song 20 times tonight, at 4 plus minutes per. That is a lot of time when adding the technical adjusting of the electronics and the digital. I even remembered, with desire to write this while it was still ripe. :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recall From Memory

Another couple of sessions with music and its production has passed without my entering any information into the blog regarding those events. I rarely recognize what I do with music as eventful though there are times when I am able to capture the real essence of my work that personally seem as crossing some sort of milestone. I am not reporting on any milestones today though. It is also true that counter to my desire to write these essays while the event remains fresh in mind, a couple of days have passed and thus I may be unable to write fully of all that occurred during those sessions, due to the illusiveness surrounding my personal ability to write completely of what is now a fleeting memory.

I got back to the song New Years Madness on New Years day. The eventual result was a lot of practice with the Guitar. I had recorded a lead Guitar riff through a short break section all those years ago, though the recording has many errors. This is a short break, maybe 20 seconds in duration. I made a duet electric Guitar part using a wah-wah and quite a lot of distortion with heavy overdrive. These simultaneous Guitar parts use a 1 and 3 straight harmony, with the 1 track adding the wah. Quite honestly I am quite a novice with electric Guitar, having only owned one for 14 years, I seldom use it, as I retain a preference for my Guild Acoustic Guitars. Still I enjoy learning the tools and fully appreciate the American Standard model Fender Stratocaster for the quality instrument it is. I did record what I played, though it remains less than satisfactory for a finished recording. I was able to identify and correct the faltering errors in that original recording where its end is a diverging direction. This type of sound is unattainable with an acoustic Guitar, yet the electric stuff is still quite foreign within my own acquired use and my own abilities. All in all I found that session to be a success. There is a lot yet to accomplish before that song has reached the state equal to what I know it should be as recognized in my mind's eye.

From there after an hour or so of fooling around with the practice of it, I felt I had accomplished all I could in that session and I was in need of moving on to something else for a while.

There are so many songs that I have yet to move from the rough draft form to being a completed work that captures my image of what I know they will become. I have been doing the music, writing, composing, and playing for myself, my own entertainment mostly, for so long now that the numbers of songs yet to complete is immense. One at a time they all need attention, yet none hold a position of priority. That was not the case last month, when I grabbed the now failed idea of completing New Years Madness before the new year arrived.

On this particular evening, I did shift to the song I call Birdie, a song about playing Disc Golf. Disc Golf is a sport that I used to avidly participate in, before becoming physically disabled. Thus the song holds a unique place in me that goes beyond the music there in. It is a simpler song in its structure that repeats 2 core themes, the part "a" and the part "b" and eventually resolving with a variation on the a. I made this song with many layers of Guitar parts, all being played simultaneously atop Bass and rhythm Guitar track. There are three lead Guitar tracks, though one is a complement to the rhythm Guitar, the other two are quite different from one to the other. On this night I basically reviewed the old recordings, again having to sort through the old versions, though only two of them. From there I again realized (as I had when I left this song behind or otherwise quit working on it) that the lead parts had many errors that need correcting. I practiced one of them, the main "lead" part, for several repetitions of the song, regaining the theme in my mind. I didn't record anything of this song work session.

I believe that was the extent of the session, which I believe was on the evening of New Years Eve. I did similarly on New Years day, in reviewing and practicing, though the focus was more on Birdie, and yet another song. This one is called Thinking On Rhyme. This is a song I wrote in the Fall of 2010. It is a word painting on being trapped, thus taking the form of prison as metaphor. I actually believe the lyric is in reality about my own feeling of being trapped in this broken physical body, though I can but speculate on the lyrics. As Bob Dylan said, the songs are out there and we (songwriters) find them as we move through time, or something to that effect. I believe that many of the songs I write simply flow into me from some other place of consciousness, rather than coming out of my own conscious effort to create them. This particular song, Thinking On Rhyme, employs acoustic Guitar with a finger picking style atop a Bass track. It is a very simple song musically, having but three chords through the main portion of the piece. The ending leaves that pattern walking up the theme's key scale through three or four cycles, from position 3 to 6(7) (on Piano). Thus far I have yet to write any other instrumentation into the song though I believe it is deserving of something more. I have made two versions of this song also. One uses a musical halt of about one second in every line of the melody, the result of which is now not preferred. It was fun to make the other version, as the process is so enjoyable. Recently I learned this song on the Piano and may incorporate that part into the eventual final recording.

Now it is another day, with another opportunity to practice, something I have yet to do, though I believe I will. I really want to try to write these blog entries in the moments immediately after the conclusion of practice or recording rather than ignoring this potential to capture the event while fresh. I guess it is a discipline I have yet to master. It is far easier to simply let the time pass by shifting to the physical and mental comfort of watching a movie from the recliner chair with a glass of red wine, my usual evening pastime.