Saturday, September 22, 2018

P4 Tuning Guitar

I've been playing tenor banjo for over ten years now.  Tenor banjo is tuned in fifths, either CGDA or GDAE.  This tuning is very symmetrical, but the fifth interval between the strings means that notes in closed positions don't really fit under the fingers.  To remedy this and yet retain a similar symmetry, I've been thinking that an all fourths tuning would be fun to try.

The day before yesterday I received a left-handed Vagabond guitar made by Kevin Smith of and tuned it EADGCF.  Note how the two highest strings are tuned up a semitone (from B to C and from E to F, respectively).  One of the first things I did was try and play the major scale across all six strings and as expected it fits very well under the fingers all up and down the neck.

After quickly familiarizing myself with where notes one through seven of the major scale are located, I then analyzed one of my tunes called Frosted Cherry and wrote out the melody in terms of where the notes fall on the major scale.  This is something I learned from David Reed's book Improvise for Real.  See image below, where the numbers begin 3 6 1 3 2 2 2.  In the Cmajor scale this would equate to the notes E A C E D D D.  In the Amajor scale these notes would be C# F# A C# B B B.  And so on.

With the Perfect Fourths (P4) tuning on guitar, you can play all of the notes of the major scale anywhere on the neck.  This also means that in this tuning the above melody to Frosted Cherry can be played in any key, in any position on the neck without ever having to use open strings.  This type of lead sheet replaces both guitar tab and sheet music and transcends key.

To make the recording below I found a random place on the neck to play the major scale.  I then figured out where the notes to Frosted Cherry would fall within that scale and played the tune.  As mentioned above this tune starts on note 3 of the major scale.  I don't even know what key I was in while playing it.  It was about playing out of a position, not a key.

Here's another sound sample.  A tune called Bye Bye Sol.  Recorded 09/23/2018.

That's all I have to say about this right now, but the possibilities seem endless.  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tunes 62 Through 70

Back on June 10th I posted about a year of writing tunes.  In the three months since then I've added 8 more pieces to my catalog, bringing the total to 70.  That matches the number of compositions published by Thelonious Monk.  Just sayin'.

Time for a rundown I suppose.

Number 62: Emily Redoux, written on 6/24/18
For the A-part of this one I believe I took some of the notes from the written vocal melody to portions of Phish's album version of the title track to Story of the Ghost and re-arranged the rhythm and pacing to match a sound I had in my head.  Then the B-part seemed to just play itself.  There might be a tag at the end that was totally stolen from a melody that came up on Spotify.

Number 63: Show Ponies, written 6/28/18
I had the name Show Ponies before I had the tune.  So I had to write a melody to fit.  I gained inspiration by listening to Gitkin's 5 Star Motel.  However, one part of this tune may actually be completely original that I came up with on my own!

Number 64: Beach Breeze Motel, written 7/5/18
This piece was written to commemorate a vacation to Nova Scotia.  Played here on K-Board using the SampleTank app "Alto Sax" sound.  Ideas in this have been borrowed from or at least galvanized by Eamon O'Leary's song The Second Bottle.

Number 65: Yam Cakes and Ackee, written 7/23/18
Beginning with Yam Cakes and Ackee, I got on a little three-tune Caribbean kick.  I came up with this tune after listening to some St. Croix Quelbe music and the reggae group Black Uhuru. It was fairly effortless.

Number 66: Bye Bye Sol, written 8/9/18
I had a head full of ideas after seeing Phish for three nights in Alpharetta, Georgia in early August 2018. Bye Bye Sol and its sister tune La Luz are both composed almost entirely of sounds I heard (or thought I heard) in the music played during those three nights.  I couldn't wait to get home and get these ideas onto paper.

Number 67: La Luz, written 8/9/18
As mentioned above, tunes 66 and 67 were both distilled from music played by Phish on their stunning Summer 2018 tour.  With a name like La Luz, it's likely this tune owes its existence to the version of the song Light played by Phish on 8/7/18 in Camden, NJ.  Hot off the press.

Number 68: The September March, written 9/3/18
Sometimes for a song written by someone else, if I really want to know what the notes are, I'll request a transcription from Built to Last Music Notes.  I did that a few weeks back for a ragtime sounding number from the year 1916 called Guatemala-Panama March by the Hurtado Brothers Royal Marimba Band.  However, soon after sending that for transcription I decided to come up with my own melody based on the sound of that Hurtado Brothers composition.  Four days later this had become The September March.  I'm curious to see what the actual notes are when I get the transcription.  That'll help me know how "original" this one is.

Number 69: Not a Care in the World, written 9/12/18
For some reason this week I thought of and then felt like listening to the album of O'Carolan music released by mandolinist Butch Baldassari back in 2007.  The very first track - a set of two tunes for Young William Plunkett - caught my ear and made me want to write a melody just like it.  So I did.  Maybe this is too much like it!  What I ended up with was a notey, three-part, repetitive tune.  It's called Not a Care in the World because I was writing it on the Wednesday before Tropical Storm Florence was supposed to arrive.  I like that major to minor transition which happens between the two tunes in Baldassari's setting. Something similar happens here but it is between parts A and B.

Number 70: Little Cat Nicholas, written 9/12/18
On the occasion that a melody comes to me out of the blue, I'll usually try and hum it into my phone's voice recorder for later use.  Forget about that for a moment.  Earlier this week, late in the evening just before bed, I was putting away my banjo when I pulled it back out and began improvising a quiet, pretty, waltzy melody on the instrument for a few minutes. I didn't record it. I put the banjo away and went to sleep.  A day or two later - this would have been 9/12 - I decided to recall that melody.  I'm pretty sure this is that. I called it Little Cat Nicholas:  our temperamental cat Nicholas is approaching 20 years of age and is not long for this world, so this tune is dedicated to him.  Anyway, after all that I noticed a recording on my phone titled generically as "hummed melody" and it's pretty much this same tune.  So this was floating around for a little while and needed documenting.

Biting Cat Nicholas having a typically lazy day.  September 15, 2018.

Seventy.  Whew.  These are so much fun to play!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell Make Guitar Duo Album

Somewhere around mid-to-late August I learned that two of my favorite musicians, guitarists Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell, had released a duo record called The Maid with the Flaxen Hair.  That's past tense.  Made.  Released.  As in available as of July 2018 and therefore already out now at this very moment.  Why was I just then finding this out?  Weeks earlier I could have been listening to it, if only I had known.  Maybe you are finding out right now, as you read this.  I instantly went in search of this music. 

It wasn't easy to instantly find.  Spotify didn't have it.  (The album is on the Tzadik label, whose stuff isn't usually on Spotify.)  It also wasn't on Bandcamp.  Fine, I'll order it on vinyl, I thought.  Nope it's not available on vinyl.  That sucks.  It is on CD, but who buys CDs any more?  Still I wanted to hear it ASAP so I was willing to purchase the CD and then convert it to digital upon delivery (the only CD player I still have is on an old laptop).  But then, luckily, after first searching and not finding it, I found it on Amazon ready to be downloaded.  Finally, instant gratification.

And it's as awesome and refreshing as I had hoped it would be!  

Instead of each contributing original material, Frisell and Halvorson meet on middle ground by covering music associated with the sophisticated and dare I say easy listening 1950's era guitarist Johnny Smith, whom they both admire.  I'm not that familiar at all with Johnny Smith, nor am I that well versed in the jazz canon, so most of these melodies outside of Shenandoah were new to my ears.  Not complaining, but how many times does Bill Frisell need to record Shenandoah?!

I like the idea of interpreting songs from the golden era in a project like this because these standard(?) tunes bring with them very strong melodies.  Having that classic structure in place can give two adventurous musicians plenty of material to work with and build up from.

Now to the listening part.  Would it be cliche to say that Mary and Bill contribute exactly equally?  By that I mean neither guitarist outshines the other.  If anything they attempt to out humble each other.  This is not the multi-generational competitive battle of virtuosity or egos that it could have devolved into.  No, the two guitars blend in a delightfully cooperative way that is way more meditative, and far less noisey, flashy or "out" than one might expect.

It's not always easy to tell who is playing what, but if I had to guess I would say it sounds like Bill is playing more lead stuff and Mary is doing more accompaniment, but I'm not sure if those traditional roles even apply here.  And who knows, I could have it backwards.

I definitely know it's Mary when I hear her signature pitch-shifting.  She has yet to ever stray too far from that, no matter what the setting is.  In Bill's case he seems to play things fairly cleanly, but there is the presence of the delay/looper effects he is known for.  Hearing these innovative guitarists' immediately recognizable and iconic individual characteristics being played in tandem, as on Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair, is quite satisfying.

Frankly, I'm not really listening to hear who is doing what...instead I'm just bathing in the calming sound this beautiful work induces.  I'm so happy this music now exists and it came out better and more tasteful than I could have ever imagined.