Category Archives: Feeling

Afro Cuban Rhythm

Bouncing from one YouTube video to another, I recently came across a great series of films on Afro Cuban Rhythm – with very clear explanations of how the rhythms are layered. The central protagonist is maestro of Cuban rhythm, drummer Ignacio Berroa. There are some very good musicians involved, but I’ll let him introduce them to you.

Key to understanding the whole thing are the two main rhythms of the clave (although the qutoed graphic below from Wikipedia includes three – the extra one begin in 6/8). Note the interesting etymology of the word clave:

cla·ve [klah-vey]
noun – one of a pair of wooden sticks or blocks that are held one in each hand and are struck together to accompany music and dancing. Origin: 1925–30; American Spanish, Spanish: keystone < Latin clāvis key

This little graphic from Wikipedia may help to outline the key rhythms:

At the end of the 5th video (and running well into the 6th) there is a chance to see if you can keep the clave part going once they temporarily drop out of the music. Now there’s a challenge for you.

Nietzsche and the TARDIS

I follow Nietzsche on Twitter. He doesn’t return the compliment. My days are peppered with @NietzscheQuotes – yet I still can’t spell his name in a hurry. This recent one set me thinking:

Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.

Upon seeing this, I was immediately transported back to the late 70s when I used to attend guitar summer schools.  Even then, as a callow youth, I noticed a polarity in reaction to outstanding recitals by visiting artists. The response of some would be, “I’m going to give up” – a skewed compliment suggesting that the peak reached by the artist lay outwith than the numbers of years left to them for catching up. I knew they were joking but it sounded defeatist and disappointing.

I hadn’t thought about this for about 35 years but reading the above quote coincided with an unusual conversation with a pal who asked, “how did you get to be so cultured?” I laughed at what seemed like obvious irony – but he was serious and was looking for an answer. The best I could think of was “just being interesting in things.” He then said, “Yes, but how do you get interested?” And I was quite stumped.

Any ideas?

Radio Links

What will the fate of classical music (and the arts in general) if Scotland becomes an independent nation? There is a short discussion on the topic at 1:30 of this edition of Radio 3’s Music Matters. I wouldn’t describe it as conclusive, but it does get the topic on air and shows that, already, there are some entrenched positions – including intended emigration in the event of independence.

What does the idea of key in music mean to you? Do you think keys have identifying colours? Ivan Hewett (Telegraph music critic) explores the business of keys in the first of a new series of Key Matters. Here, in episode 1 of 5, he concentrates on A major. There is also a short article about the programme here.

The story behind the song – interesting account of the late Gerry Rafferty’s massive 1978 hit, Baker Street. I met Hugh Burns (of the iconic guitar solo) a couple of times and he is every bit the gentleman he comes across as in this programme.

YouTube Annotations

I’ve long believed that we learn a lot just by watching and copying – surely that’s how we evolved as a species? That’s certainly how tai chi chuan has been handed down.  A certain amount of dialogue and understanding is certainly necessary, but if watching and feeling the movements is not taking place then, experience tells me, various technical misapprehensions can arise.  Chancing upon the theory of mirror neurons strengthened this belief.

In that regard, it has crossed my mind that annotated videos might be a useful learning tool. By way of experimentation, I’ve added a couple to a video I made of a duo by Carulli which was to be performed by a couple of senior pupils. In each case I play one part while a laptop (using Sibelius) plays the other – not in the least expressive, but instructive. The annotations in this video aren’t instructive either – just a test run. They occur at 1:45 and 2:23.

Incidentally, I hit (accidentally) upon a keyboard short-cut which works with YouTube:

Home – returns the video to the beginning

End – shoots to the end

…and, of course, Right Cursor to jump forward – in handy-sized 17” chunks :-); Left Cursor for the reverse; Space bar to Pause and to Resume Playing.

p.s. I’ve noticed since writing this that these shortcuts only work if you’ve clicked on the video once (which will pause it, of course). I suppose it makes sense as, initially, these shortcuts are directed at the page as a whole. Clicking on the video seems to redirect these commands to the video itself. However, as you know, clicking on an embedded video, such as this, will simply redirect you to the source i.e. Youtube

p.p.s. see David Gilmour’s comment below for a link to further shortcuts

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What is music for?

An interesting discussion topic, surely: today on Radio 3 at 12:15 and on listen again for 7 days.

The discussion takes place as part of Free Thinking – A Festival of Ideas 2010, the theme of which this year is, The Pursuit of Happiness.

An earlier discussion in the festival asked the question, is the book dead?

American Suite

The perfect CD (track), for me, has to have a holy trinity of ingredients: great composition/arrangement; great performance; great recording. This HD & HQ recording of Marek Pasciezny’s American Suite is video’s equivalent. I particularly like the subtitle – tribute to harmony – as the harmony is far more adventurous than your average guitar composition. The playing is virtuosic, adventurous and sensitive. I’ll be recommending this to pupils!

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Grease @ Wallyford – during Health Week :-)

I’m not long back in from a triumphant first night (of two) of Wallyford PS’s production of Grease. My role was very straightforward – to play the bass guitar alongside pianist Ewan Armstrong, of MGS, who has been rehearsing the cast on a weekly basis for most of this session.

The retention of so many lines by such young minds was extremely impressive – as was the singing, timing and general stagecraft. Most of all, though, everyone looked like they were delighted to be taking part. Well done to all involved!

Top Of The Pops for Haiti

Last night I attended an astonishing event in Haddington’s Corn Exchange organised by Mike Cullen and a host of talented and generous friends  in aid of the victims of Haiti’s earthquake. I’m sure Mike won’t mind my mentioning here that the amount raised is already over £5,000 and rising. Perhaps Mike could let us know the final figure and the names of all those involved in putting on such an excellent night.

The Corn Exchange was transformed into a TOTP studio:


The quality of the bands was outstanding – including State Freed, featuring some Knox lads:


The audience were invited to dress up and many really pushed the boat out. I was keen to do my bit with this barely noticeable tweak to standard school dress code:


All 500 tickets were sold and the atmosphere was fantastic. I found this quite a moving event – not least because I had the chance to catch up with some old friends – including school friends. The dynamic between music, geography and emotion is a strange one. I lived in Haddington until I moved away to study in 1979 – quite a while ago. Yet last night, I’d never felt more part of, nor proud of, the place.

Well done to everyone involved!