Tag Archives: samba


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:

  1. melody

  2. four harmony parts

  3. bass line

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

National Instrumental Conference 1

In a previous post I mentioned how a necessary part of being an instructor, who truly wants to be part of school life (as opposed merely to using the buildings) is to absorb whole-school ideas and consider how they relate to the very specific nature of our work. Our five annual In Service days are slightly different in that, without feeling divorced from our institutions, we are more at liberty to discuss the specifics of our practice without alienating the remaining 99% of the staff. 

There are currently 21 people in the East Lothian’s Instrumental Service so you can imagine the relative intensification of taking part in a one-day conference of Scotland’s 900 instrumental staff. The conference was the fruit of a partnership between Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland (HITS) and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama (RSAMD) – with the generous support of The Scottish Arts Council. The venue was Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall with some of the activities spilling over into the nearby RSAMD and National Piping Centre. 

Fittingly, the day opened not with words, but with music and dance – specifically samba drumming, dance and capoeira performed by Rhythm Wave – a mixture of students and staff of Perth College, led by founder, Ronnie Goodman, a lecturer at the college. It would be difficult to imagine a more rousing beginning to the day. 

This year’s chair of HITS, Mike McGeary, then welcomed us before introducing Adam Ingram, MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years. We were then invited to make our way to the first of our two chosen workshops. Across the day, the choice comprised: 

  • ASL – Drake Music Scotland – Making Music Accessible – with Brian Cope

  • Bagpipes – with Paul Warren

  • Brass – with Steven Mead

  • Conducting – with William Conway

  • CPD: Online Support – with Sheila Smith

  • Curriculum for Excellence – with Alan Armstrong & Aileen Monaghan

  • Early Years: Focus on Instruments – with Andrew Cruickshank

  • Early Years – with Naheed Cruickshank

  • Expanding the Electric Guitar’s Creative Potential – with Jonathan Quinney

  • Group Teaching – with Richard Crozier

  • Guitar – with Martin Taylor

  • IT – Music Notation Another Way? An Introduction to Finale – with Chris Swaffer

  • Jazz – with Malcolm Edmonstone

  • Kodály: The Relevance of Kodály Musicianship to the Training of Young Instrumentalists – with David Vinden

  • Lower Strings – with Elizabeth Harre

  • Percussion for All – how orchestral percussion can give access to a range of musical opporunities – with Elspeth Rose

  • Piano For All – with Havilland Willshire

  • Technology for the Rock & Pop Musician – with Craig Blundell

  • Traditional Music – with Josh Dickson

  • Upper Strings – with Géza Szilvay

  • Voice – with Christopher Underwood

  • Woodwind – with Pete Long

  • World: Samba, Reggae Brazilian Rhythms – with Ronnie Goodman

  • World: The Indonesian Gamelan – Cultural Connections In Scottish Education – with Gamelan Naga Mas

I’ll go into the particulars of the two workshops I chose in subsequent posts, but I’d like simply to sum up here some of the feeling of the day. Naturally I had come along prepared to learn but had not really figured on the inspirational and emotional content of the day. Much of the inspiration came from John Wallace‘s keynote speech. Trumpet in hand, he reminded us how music, and the arts in general will allow our students lasting freedom and individuality of expression. In the hurly burly of lessons, rehearsals and concerts it’s all too easy to forget that! Possibly the inspirational nature was due to John being not only a distinguished educator (Prinicipal of RSAMD) but also a world class musician. The old Shavian maxim “he who can does, he who cannot, teaches” was never more resoundingly refuted. 

However, furthering musical youth being our raison d’être, the greater part of the afternoon session was given over to to young talent: Nicola Benedetti (violin); Karen Geoghegin (bassoon); Ian Watt (guitar) and Pure Brass. 

In addition to the expressive performances, there was the additional emotional content of meeting up with old college pals (some of whom I hadn’t seen since 1979) and former colleagues (some of whom I hadn’t seen since the Lothians went their separate ways in 1996).