New midi files of Pick Up The Pieces for the Knox Spring Concert (Wed 1 Apr at 19:00) have been posted on the Guitar Group midis page
New midis of Ca’ The Ewes for the NBHS PTA Burns Supper (Fri 30 Jan) have been posted on the Guitar Group Midis page
Syncopation (even earlier etymology here – as daft as that sounds) is the root of most rhythmic excitement – and trouble. The trouble is that, often, the only suitable counterpoint to a syncopated rhythm is another opposing one. How can pupils in an ensemble survive that? You can switch off to surrounding parts and concentrate on your own one but this means missing out on much of the enjoyment. Even if you manage to switch off to the distracting parts and get in the groove of your own part, even its patterns break off into different syncopations in order to avoid monotony. And some of them could turn out to be helpful if only you could single them out.
Take these 32 bars of samba – extracted from a new piece introduced at today’s East Lothian Guitar Ensemble rehearsal. There are six parts with six or seven people to a part. samba-full-ensemble
Closer inspection reveals that the six parts really fall into three teams – each with its own rhythmic patterns and breaks:
four harmony parts
The trouble is that the pitch of the melody part falls more or less in the middle of the four harmony parts.
So we remove the tune in the hope of hearing how the bass interacts with the harmony parts: samba-bass-harmony-only
Then you can’t help feeling that it might be helpful to hear how the harmony parts bond: samba-harmony-only
In order that the pupils can practice with or against each of these combos – at a variety of speeds – I’ve posted 15 versions of the piece on the Guitar Group Midis page.
While preparing the play-along files I recalled how, around 10 years ago, I was struck to notice a school guitar group incorporating quite detailed articulation* into a medley of Burns tunes – even although there was none written in the music. It occurred to me that years of aural exposure allowed them intuitively to include what the written parts had omitted. I determined thereafter to be as fussy about the articulation as possible. The resulting paradox is that using a completely unmusical tool (a computer) has resulted in more expressive articulation than leaving it to chance and feeling. The pupils can afford to be intuitive but I can’t.
* articulation = the way in which the notes overlap, join up or separate; whether the transition between any two adjacent notes is elided with slides and slurs; the way notes are perceived to be grouped together through combinations of heavy or light touch
Peter Lovatt’s improvisation workshop, which followed hot on the heels of The Science of Improvisation, concentrated on verbal as opposed to musical improvisation. I imagine the reasons for this included:
not all present would have brought instruments
not all present were musicians
breaking into groups, working verbally would produce less racket than would its musical equivalent
However, being an guitar teacher, I’ve since thought about how to make use of parallels. I should perhaps point out here as a prelude to outlining my memory and analysis of events that, unlike the two longer seminars, I did not make an audio recording – the nature of the workshop simply wasn’t going to lend itself to that, as we were frequently to break into changing groups to try out the various ideas. I know how unreliable memory can be, but I feel I can remember most of what happened.
At the heart of the workshop was Continue reading Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind – 2
I conducted a short experiment over the last couple of days, concerning who gets what part in the first of our East Lothian Guitar Ensemble arrangements. The piece is in three parts – top, middle and bass. I’ve also created four heterophonic parts so you could say the structure of parts is:
1, 1a, 2, 2a, 3, 3a, 3b
there are 7 beats per bar – grouped as follows 12 12 123
it is based on a very unusual scale (E Lydian Dominant) – resulting in unusual harmonies – one effect of which can be to make the less confident pupil occasionally doubt that they have landed on the correct note
Before the music began pupils were asked to identify which parts would meet the following criteria for them:
the part would (eventually*) be manageable
it would provide some element of challenge and interest
it might appeal to their natural strengths e.g. by being essentially melodic, harmonic or rhythmic in nature
it would avoid any feeling of distress
Somewhat to my surprise, every group and individual chose as I would have predicted. This could mean one (or possibly more) of three things:
that pupils are aware of their current levels
that they are aware of the likely speed of progress over the remaining months (even although some have not yet played in the East Lothian group)
that I am unconscious of Derren Brown-style levels of manipulation
Over the holiday, I hope to upload not only play-along midi files but parts of the piece so, if you play the guitar, you could simulate the experiment. For this particular piece, Hungarian Wedding Dance, most of the parts will be in TAB as opposed to traditional notation. This is due to the fact that many of the notes have been relocated onto strings other than the one where they would normally be found. This is done for two reasons:
increased resonance e.g. using 2nd string E at fret 5 instead of open E on string 1 – the sound of which is a little thinner
the note is more easily reached from the previous note than it would be in its normal location
* eventually, in this case, is the Showcase Concert on Friday 27 March at 7:30 in Musselburgh Grammar School
Imagine you’d been allocated one of the four inner-harmony parts in this six-part arrangement. Would the sea of syncopations, rests and fussy articulation seem daunting? one-note-samba-all-in
How about if you could play along to just those parts in class? one-note-samba-harmony-only
…before trying it against the contrasting – and therefore off-putting – bass line one-note-samba-harmony-bass
…and then trying it with the treacherous tune present – I say treacherous as its rhythms are similar to those of the harmonies but not identical – and therefore untrustworthy: one-note-samba-all-in
One of the things I love about Sibelius is that you can mute some lines, allowing pupils to hear others in isolation – before re-introducing rival lines, when familiarity and confidence build. If there are lessons in life to be extrapolated from musical situations, might one be that problems can be as much about context as substance?
Do I have any evidence of emerging technologies improving ensemble skills? Nobody has ever asked me this but I found myself reflecting upon the topic recently as a result of gradual changes in practice. In days gone by, I always began secondary school guitar ensemble rehearsals in Week 1. Increasingly, the result of this was that pieces peaked too soon and so, more recently, I’ve tended to start in week 3 or 4.
The single biggest factor has been pupils being able to access play-along midi files on this blog, facilitating more meaningful home practice. This year I hope to experiment by producing mp3s which pupils can import into their mp3 players. I don’t imagine that they’ll listen for pleasure, but they’ll probably drive their families not quite so far up the wall in households where the family computer is in the living room.
Freed from the rush to begin rehearsals, we have spent a little lesson time trying out a few ensemble pieces for size – playing along with Sibelius scores on a laptop with external speakers attached. This allows pupils to try out not only varied pieces, but different parts within the same piece – with some surprising results. Some pupils have bid for parts more difficult than they would have been allocated – the appeal of the part sweetening the extra practice required. Another surprise is that arrangements, shelved a few years ago as too ambitious for school use, are beginning to seem possible. Pieces with syncopations* and cross rhythms** intended to wrong-foot the listener can have a frighteningly similar effect on some players if sufficient familiarity does not materialise. As most instructors spend only one day in each secondary school, today’s technologies create a space where that familiarisation can take place.
* Int 1 concept ** Int 2 concept
What better way to start the day than to sail past your normal school, and enjoy the beautiful drive from Haddington to Gifford on a sunny morning? Senior moment? Wrong turning? In fact it was a Transition-based event featuring three S2 guitarists from Knox, returning to their old school to play for current Yester pupils.
They seemed delighted to be there, as was I – it’s a lovely, bright and welcoming school and it was clear from converstaions beforehand that Dorothy Hilsley, the Head Teacher, remembered not only these pupils well, but also their older siblings.
We played a selection of repertoire from lessons and finished with an ensemble piece – the three pupils involved were among the only five S2 pupils to take part in this year’s East Lothian Guitar Ensemble. The ensemble piece allowed us to demonstrate how pupils practise ensemble music at home using the Guitar Group Midis page. The class teacher, Mr Purves, was also very interested in this aspect as he is the technical brains behind Yester Primary’s very impressive blog.
In addition to having a fun hour out of school, we hoped that the audience will have a more vivid idea of what guitar instruction is all about when they arrive at Knox. The trio also racked up extra house points – a triple whammy as, by an amazing coincidence, all three are in Lammerlaw – as was I thirty-odd years ago.
New play-along midi files (for MGS Summer Concert – Thu 19 June) have been posted on the Guitar Group Midis page