When I Need Your Love

Audio Recording, Composition, Education, Guitar, Songwriting 1 Comment

So… congratulate me!!

I just finished the second of two Master Certificate programs at Berklee College of Music’s online campus – Berkleemusic. The first was Theory, Harmony and Ear Training, completed last term. This one was Arranging & Orchestration, where I just posted the last scoring assignment for Film Scoring 101. I’ll be re-doing that submission in SONAR with EWQLSO before posting it here. Right now it’s still being exported from Sibelius, which is great for writing but not so great for rendered audio.

However, the final project for Brad Hatfield’s Songwriting for Film & TV came out rather well, I think. It’s a tune called When I Need Your Love and works as a replacement for Can’t Hurry Love, which plays over a montage in the film Alchemy (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m referring to).

Thanks to my brother Tony for providing the May-style guitar work in the interlude, and to Ken Daniel for providing drum fills that made the drum track come to life. Also thanks to Brad for suggesting the bells (actually, he meant glock, which I interpreted as tubular bells… but it works).

When I Need Your Love – MP3 – VB – 4.8MB – 2:38 min.

Have a great summer everyone!

Hard Road Down

Audio Recording, Composition, Guitar, Performance, Songwriting Comments Off on Hard Road Down

Been a while. I’ve been getting a handle on songwriting harmony in BerkleeMusic’s BMW-133 Songwriting Workshop: Harmony with (the awesome) Shane Adams. This week was the first I’d actually put something complete together. I’ve upgraded to Win 7, which meant saying good-bye to the Tascam FW-1804 and replacing it with a PreSonus FireStudio Mobile. This is the first stuff recorded with that unit, which – especially considering it’s about 1/10th the size and has almost the same capability – is pretty darned nice.

Harmonically, this tune stays primarily Ionian for the most part, but borrows the Lydian II and the Mixolydian bVIImaj7 at different points.

The verse section uses two distinct “power progressions”: I IV and I VIm IIm V, which are both in the list of Ionians in the book. The second pass through the verse replaces the Ionian IIm with the Lydian II – actually II7sus4 & II7, followed by a V with falling bass.

The chorus uses an idea that’s similar but not identical to the last Ionian power progression in the book – the one with the falling bass line, i.e., prosodically (Shane?) ‘going down’. The progression is IV IV/bIV IIm V I I/VII VIm VIm7, repeating, and ends with bVII IV V.

Sorry if the audio is a little hard to follow and the vocal is a bit strained. I literally wrote, threw it together and rough mixed it in about 4 hours – that’s two acoustic guitars, electric guitar, bass, electric solo, MIDI drum track and a vocal. *pant* It sounded incomplete without at least these parts. Strings and piano will be added later, I’m thinking, and of course this needs about two more verses, another chorus and maybe a modified repeat of the bridge. Right now I’m just trying to figure out where to go with the lyrics.

Hard Road Down – MP3 – 192kBps – 6.5MB – 4:31 min.

Rainy Day Rag

Audio Recording, Composition, Guitar Comments Off on Rainy Day Rag

At least that’s the title for now.

Inspired by this guy, of course. First attempt at a Travis / fingerstyle composition.

Rainy Day Rag – MP3 – 160kBps – 5.2MB – 4:31 min.

Volo Flamenco – new and improved

Audio Recording, Composition, Education, Guitar, Software, Synthesizers 1 Comment

Hey, I just uploaded the final project MP3 for Orchestration 1. Here it is below – the new and improved version, first 2:30 of the full Allegro for Guitar and Orchestra.

Also linked below is the full six+ minute, guitar-only version, for reference. Might be fun to listen to that first if you haven’t heard it before.

It’s getting there.

Volo Flamenco – guitar only – MP3 – 128kBps – 6.4MB – 6:42 min.

Volo Flamenco – using SONAR 8 & Kontakt 3 – MP3 – 160kBps – 2.9MB – 2:27 min.

Tommy – Live!

Guitar, People, Performance Comments Off on Tommy – Live!

We met with some friends to (finally) catch Tommy Emmanuel in person at the Patriot Place Showcase Live venue last night. Tommy was in superb form. It was quite an experience to be sitting only about 40′ from the world’s greatest living guitarist.

Some highlights were And So It Goes, which brought tears to my eyes; Somewhere Over the Rainbow, ditto; the low end in Initiation (the one point where the P.A. volume was appropriate) literally shook me in my seat; and the Rick’n’Tommy duet to close the main show was great fun with some classics like Wake Up Little Suzy and Love Me Tender. Tommy did an extended encore, which included his awesome Beatles medley, and he even received a $1 tip from one of the waitresses! Yeah, that (read: she) was a little weird.

What. A. SHOW!!!

Only three minor disappointments: the house system was cranked up WAY too loud (I was sitting right next to the sound guy, so there really was no excuse – except that he must be partly deaf), Those Who Wait was MIA, and Guitar Boogie was played on an ancient 1934 Kalamazoo into a flat condenser dynamic-looking mic (fun, but the tune literally loses ALL its punch that way).

Everything else was an absolute delight – including Rick Price who has a great voice and an excellent stage presence. We all liked his music and his performance a lot.

BIG THANKS to Brian for spotting the tickets for this when the tour was added!

Links to additional pics below. Here’s hoping he was able to get that shirt back to Wal-Mart before heading on to Norfolk-Norfolk-Norfolk. ūüėČ


Ear Training: Only The Beginning

Audio Recording, Cello, Composition, Education, Guitar, Software, Songwriting 2 Comments

This week is the last one for Basic Ear Training at Berkleemusic – the Spring term is winding down. As I mentioned to my instructor Roberta Radley, it’s been one of the more enjoyable educational experiences I can recall. Matt Marvuglio and Roberta have put together a great introduction to exactly what’s been missing from my own musical endeavors over the decades: a formal understanding of what I’ve been hearing, musically, all my life. Literally: ear training.

We’ve been doing pretty interesting assignments each week in this course – conducting, singing lots of solfege (“do – re – mi – …“) to learn interval relationships between notes in the scale(s) (yes Bob, you told me!), transcribing popular music to understand both rhythm & melody, recording ourselves singing various scales and harmonies, learning the chord and rhythmic structure of “The Blues” and analyzing some basic song forms.

Unlike the other weekly lessons, our final project assignment is one of our own design. Normally the ‘anything goes’ type of assignments kind of bug me, but here at the end of the term it feels appropriate – especially because the last week or so has made it crystal clear what I’ll be offering: a discussion of how ear training helped in the composition of Volo Flamenco and a short analysis of that piece as well as some transcription excerpts.

Basic Ear Training (BME-115) – Final Project

My favorite pastime has always been – and is still – composing music of various forms, which probably sounds silly coming from someone who’s never studied music theory. Until recently, when I began taking cello seriously a few years ago, I’d also never studied a musical instrument, couldn’t read music very well (at all) and generally did everything “by ear”.

One of the many problems associated with being musically illiterate has been the limitation it imposes with respect to (a) making sense of the original music that I hear in my head, and (b) getting it into some form where I and others can actually hear it. The SONAR software program has been great for that, since you can write entire orchestral MIDI compositions using something called a “piano roll” that gives you a graphical representation of the notes (as opposed to the indecipherable notes on a staff for which I have always seemed to have a mental block). But even with that, there’s this timing issue…

The trick for me in writing anything remotely complex is in remembering the melodic themes, accompanying lines and harmonic combinations from the point of inspiration until I can physically get the thing written down or recorded as musical information. The two times I’m most often inspired with a new melody or rhythm are (1) while driving to and from work and (2) when I’m asleep – and dreaming. I guess the common denominator there is “delta state”.

Needless to say, neither of those two activities is conducive to getting a musical idea “written down” in some form – especially when my standard “m.o.” is to fire up SONAR and draw the notes in the piano roll. Also needless to say, a lot of nice melodic themes have vanished into the ether between the time the inspiration hits and the time I can get to the computer.

But now I have solfege.

Do – – Sol Do Sol Le Sol-Fa …

Parallel with Basic Ear Training I also enrolled in Berklee’s Producing Music with SONAR course this term so I could finally, hopefully get beyond just scratching the surface of the software. For the final project in that course I’d decided to create a production based on an acoustic guitar piece I’ve been playing for about a year or so – Volo Flamenco – which you can hear here. Go ahead and fire it up in the background, and I’ll continue. It’s kind of important to hear it in its ‘raw’ form in order to appreciate what’s coming.

The problem was that although I had some ideas, and there’s a literal swirl of orchestral stuff lighting up my brain every time I play the thing, I’d been having a devil of a time coming up with anything that I could actually build into a recognizable theme, let alone all the rest of the stuff I thought should go with it. The problem is the guitar part is very rhythmically dynamic, but it’s just arpeggiated chords. And ‘cool-sounding’ as those chords were, there was no real melody line to speak of. Until there was.

Anyone who’s had ear training can ‘hear’ that heading caption up there: do–sol do sol le sol-fa. It’s solfege for the initial phrase of a melody that was still echoing in my head at 6am last Monday, as I was awakened from a really deep sleep. I’d only gone to bed 3 hours earlier, because I’d pulled another late-nighter trying to find the rest of the music for Volo. Waking up with music still echoing in my head is normally the point where I think, “oh, that’s nice… but I’ll forget it by the time I can drag myself out of bed, get dressed, fire up the computer, make coffee…” And besides, I was on vacation, and not really interested in jumping out of bed at 6am after only three hours’ sleep.

So while trying to fall back asleep, I drowsily resigned myself to losing what sounded like another great theme, as I had in the past. But unlike in the past, because BET has drilled it into our heads for weeks now, without consciously choosing to, I also started doing what I’ve been doing now for a couple months every time I focus on a melody of any kind: I started “solfeging” it. Right away I recognized “do – sol – do” from one of the many warm-up exercises we’ve been doing in BET. That led to a few more notes… and a few more… and finally I had mapped out an entire musical thought, all while still laying comfortably, half asleep.

But the best part was this… I didn’t forget it. Because the inspiration had been translated into information – because I had an actual “sentence” to remember later – I was able to get the melody written down. But it gets better.

When I say “written down”, what I mean is that – for a change – I didn’t open up the piano roll and start drawing notes one-at-a-time, listening to the playback to get it right “by ear”. Instead, because the intervals were already built into the solfege information I’d kind of memorized, and because working through the various BET transcription assignments has helped erase the irrational (neuro-associative? Patty?) response I’ve always had to seeing musical notes on a staff, I was able to go about this in a completely different way, and it’s transcribed here.

I knew the tonic, I chord for this tune was E Maj (to paraphrase my cousin Alessandro’s disdain for the key of C Maj, on guitar, E Maj would be considered the Key of the Destitute) . That made do E, and do-sol-do became E-B-E. I thought hey, cool, I can just transcribe this using SONAR’s handy Staff View, and skip the whole piano roll thing – and that’s exactly what I did. In fact I was able to solfege my way through a lot of the string lines as well, transcribed here and here (please pardon SONAR’s choice of formatting in that first one).

To be sure, there was still a good deal of aural hunting-and-pecking involved – SONAR’s Staff View will enunciate the notes as you drag them around, just like Finale Notepad does, and that’s handy for recognizing accidentals. Also, SONAR doesn’t understand notated slurs, so it’s necessary to actually enter MIDI notes to simulate those; you’ll see these as strings of 32nd notes in the transcriptions (yes, MIDI gurus, there’s a better way to do this… one thing at a time). But even with all that, it’s hard to describe sitting down for the very first time and composing a complex piece of music by transcribing the notes on a staff rather than the functional equivalent of scribbling them in crayon, “by ear”.

Who am I kidding… it’s easy to describe: it was awesome!

I know – musicians out there are thinking, “yeah, big deal – you scribbled out a few lines of music.” To those folks who’ve forgotten what it’s like NOT to be able to do that without thinking, I’ll reiterate the discussion comment I left the other day for Lesson 11, which I’d forgotten about and Lyn reminded me of (thanks, Lyn!). The question was, “How has your music making changed as a result of all this ear training study?” My response: “It’s a bit like hearing Italian all one’s life. It’s a beautiful language even if you don’t have any idea what’s being said. Reaching a point where one just begins to understand what the words mean is … exciting.” I think this timely experience – a complete departure from the way I’ve pursued composition in the past – answers that question.

With all this done, I finally had the pieces I needed to put together at least a rough sketch of what Volo Flamenco will eventually sound like: click here to hear the first two-and-a-half minutes of what will be a seven-minute Allegro for Guitar and Cello. I’m still getting a handle on shaping synthesizer instruments, mixing, and all the rest, so the synthesized solo cello sounds a bit like an oboe, and the whole thing still sounds a little ‘thin’, but this should provide some sense of the amorphous symphony I hear in my mind’s ear, when all my physical ears can hear is me playing this piece on guitar. It’s not James Horner (uhm… I hope), but I think it’s pretty exciting.

When I first registered for Music Theory 101 at Berklee last year, just to see what the school was like, I watched the excellent series of videos recorded during John Mayer’s clinic there. At the end of the third one, after discussing and performing Stop This Train, he says, “There’s information and there’s inspiration, and I could not have written that song if I didn’t go to Berklee School of Music. That is a fact.” When I first watched that I thought it was just hype. It wasn’t, of course, and now I can see that both objectively and subjectively.

Song Form

In terms of the song form – one of the other topics we discussed this term in BETVolo Flamenco is fairly conventional. At least rhythmically. It begins with a 36-measure Intro, followed by an AA section, that is, two similar 8-measure statements. Each of these contains antecedent/consequent pairs of 4 measures each. This first AA section is the initial statement of the theme. That’s followed (after a small explosion effect) by two 32-bar AABB sections which follow the 32-measure form described in our Lesson 10 lecture: “four eight-measure phrases or statements”.

It’s nice that the song structure is pretty conventional rhythmically because harmonically… well, things get a little weird.

The 4-bar phrases mentioned above each have two measures in the I chord (tonic), which is E Maj, followed by two measures in a chord which – as it turns out – doesn’t really follow a conventional western musical harmony pattern. This threw me for a loop, and trying to figure it out in the context of I – IV – V type changes has been an education in its own right.

Here’s the second chord, followed by the rhythm of the arpeggio as played on guitar:

VI Chord Arpeggio

Ultimately, it turns out this second chord is rooted in the type of harmonic style that inspired this piece in the first place: flamenco. After a bit of Googling about flamenco style, I ran across some comments regarding the nature and history of flamenco. The Moj√°car Flamenco site was particularly instructive. I discovered that flamenco has a harmonic ambiguity – at least as compared to the standard cadences of western music. I think this is probably due to Spain’s history as a “bridge” between eastern and western culture, having had strong cultural influences at different times from both Europe (Espa√Īa) and Persia (Al-Andalus). That’s a complex and fascinating subject in its own right, but it’s beyond the scope of this project.

The important thing is that this harmonic ambiguity inherent in flamenco style pretty much explains the confusion I had in identifying what I’ll just call¬† the “tension” chord in the second half of each 4-bar measure of the A section(s). As it turns out, the flamenco F chord is often played in exactly the way I’ve voiced it here. Notably, I originally composed this “by ear” through trial-and-error, not through any sort of instruction or study of flamenco guitar style – very much like the originators of flamenco itself, who typically were not classically trained. Er… like me.

The A sections shift back-and-forth between the tonic and this “tension” chord, which my mathematical left brain wants to call f(F Maj) – the flamenco of F Maj.

The B sections move to the IV7 and the rhythm changes considerably as the chords go from the IV7 to another ambiguous flamenco chord that can be heard as Am or FMaj7, depending on the melody and accompaniment which, as of right now, don’t yet exist. Eventually these will be antecedent/consequent pairs ‘spoken’ by the guitar and cello as a kind of musical conversation. I’m still working on that, as well as the remaining 200-odd measures in the piece. Fertile ground for continuing on with this in Orchestration 1.

Well, that’s about it. Assuming I don’t discover that the theme is actually unconsciously lifted from one of Horner’s Zorro scores, or from some old Morricone score I forgot about (always a danger when running with something one remembers from a dream), I’m extremely happy with it. And I could not have composed this in anywhere near the time I did – if at all – if I hadn’t taken Matt and Roberta’s Basic Ear Training course at Berkleemusic. That is a fact.

Volo Flamenco gets wings

Audio Recording, Composition, Guitar, Software, Synthesizers 1 Comment

[UPDATE: messed up – those were the ‘raw’ files I originally posted. The mastered versions have been added for that subtle… ‘mastered’ feeling.]

We’re winding down on the Spring term at Berklee and closing in on the final projects. The piece I’ve been working on for the SONAR course (mentioned back in April) is called Volo Flamenco which, by the way, means ‘Flamenco Flight‘, not ‘Flamenco Skittle‘ (it’s a Babel Fish joke).

This is the first 2:30 or so (the whole thing is over 6 min. long!).

Everything except the guitar is coming from two TTS-1 synthesizers (including the flamenco dancer), which is a software synth that comes with SONAR. It’s interesting trying to get TTS-1 strings to sound anything close to realistic, and these are still a little one-dimensional and “video-gamey” to me, but hopefully they’ll suffice for the purposes of this exercise. At least until I can pick up a copy of Kontakt 3 next term (for Orchestration 1… yay!!).

Hard to get a good gauge on the overall EQ. My speakers are junk (I’m shopping for some KRKs) so this is mixed using a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M40fx headphones, which are supposed to be pretty flat. Since 99% of the world listens to music as MP3s through IPods and cell phones these days, it seems a little obsessive to worry about it, but I did burn a CD with the 24-bit WMA version of this and it sounded pretty good on the home studio DVD player downstairs as well as Patty’s CD player.

The WAV file for this comes out to almost 26MB, which is kinda hefty, and since this week we’re supposed to be mastering these for commercial production I figured I’d just post the non-dithered, 24-bit WMA version, which is how a lot of music is published these days, and weighs in at a more download-friendly size of 4.6MB. To be honest, my system doesn’t produce any difference between that and the 16-bit, Pow-r 3 dithered version, rendered to MP3 at 320kbps.

We record, you decide.

Volo Flamenco (no dither) – WMA – 261kbps – 4.6MB – 2:30 min.

Volo Flamenco (Pow-r 3) – MP3 – 320kBps – 6MB – 2:30 min.

Mastered versions:

Volo Flamenco (Mastered with VC-64 “Master Mix” no dither) – WMA – 265kbps – 4.8MB – 2:30 min.

Volo Flamenco (Mastered with VC-64 “Master Mix” and dithered to 16-bit with Pow-r 3) – MP3 – 320kBps – 6MB – 2:30 min.

Alternate version with different mix, EQ, compression choices:

Volo Flamenco (Mastered with VC-64 “Master Mix” and dithered to 16-bit with Pow-r 3) – MP3 – 320kBps – 6MB – 2:30 min.

Volo Flamenco

Audio Recording, Guitar, Performance 7 Comments

It took almost as long to come up with a name for this as it did to finally get around to recording a scratch copy – again, this is SONAR running while I practice. Kinda sloppy here and there, but it has the basic feel.

This was inspired in part by Steve Stevens’ Flamenco-A-Go-Go (thanks again for turning me on to that, Bryan). I plan to use this file as a scratch track to build a much more complex piece (more guitars, orchestra… the woiks! use your imagination), as my final project for the Producing Music with SONAR course.

It’s pretty dynamic, so if it sounds really low-volume when it first starts (about 8 seconds in, or so), don’t turn your volume up too high. It’ll get louder soon enough. Enjoy!

Volo Flamenco MP3 – 128kBps – 6.1MB – 6:41 min.

New Music – Indiana Fields

Audio Recording, Guitar, Songwriting 1 Comment

I’ve decided to leave the recorder running when I practice. If nothing else, it gives me a reference for what I need to work on and whether or not I’m making progress in specific areas.

While doing so today I was able to rattle off a somewhat clean rendition of an original composition for guitar called Indiana Fields. The piece is unique in that it virtually played itself out of the Larrivée when I first got it 14 months ago.

This was something inspired by my cousin Alessandro’s current movie project, working-titled Red Gold (more info available here, but you may want to ride the volume control on your computer, as the ambient music is a bit loud, IMHO, and there’s no ‘off’ widget).

The script, which is a love story loosely based on events that occurred at Camp Atterbury, has apparently gone from a one- to a three-hanky tear-jerker since I read the first draft, which was compelling enough in its own right.¬† Prior to reading it, in fact, I was completely unaware that either Italian or German POWs were held in the continental U.S. at any time. But apparently there were POW camps established in Indiana during WWII. I’m anxious to see the film, once completed.

Anyway, my apologies for the room’s ambient artifacts and low-rez mic. This was taken with the dynamic just laying on my rack setup, not the condenser on a stand. The latter stays in its moisture-controlled container unless I’m actually recording.

Indiana Fields, 1943 – MP3 – 192kBps – 5.5MB – 4:00 min.

Take One

Audio Recording, Guitar, Performance 4 Comments

Ok – finally got something recorded that I can stand to listen to. This was the best single take of Those Who Wait I could throw down this morning. Not as dynamic as usual, but then I’m playing “sound engineer” while performing, so it may take some time to minimize that distraction. One step at a time…

Those Who Wait (Tommy Emmanuel) – MP3 – 256kBps -10.2MB

Those Who Wait (Tommy Emmanuel) – MP3 – 128kBPs – 5.4MB

Larrivée OM-09E -> Rode NT-1 Condenser Mic -> M-Audio AudioBuddy Preamp -> Tascam 1804 -> SONAR 6

96kHz x 24bit Stereo Track -> Compressor* -> Reverb* -> Eq* -> Export to 44.1kHz x 16bit WAV -> MP3**
* All Cakewalk effects
** Used AudioGrabber for conversion from WAV to MP3.

Feedback appreciated.

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