Friday, January 29, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Dust in the Wind

I'm finishing up my third pass through the new practice routine - reading off of the PDF files this time - and... it's just so fraking cool! More on this later, but let's get to this installment's piece.

This post will knock Joe Satriani's A Day at the Beach off of the bottom of the page, so I'll be creating a sidebar section for the series just as soon as I'm done composing this post.

Here's another 100% mine arrangement, and it's the concluding number for the second suite in my set, the one in C major, which looks like this.

II] C Major Suite:

10] Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] Alegretto in C Major
14] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
16] Unchained Melody - Zaret/North
17] G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
18] Dust in the Wind - Kansas

Finding, "rocking" C major contemporary crowd pleaser pieces proved to be difficult for me. It took over four years before I stumbled across Unchained Melody and Dust in the Wind by Kerry Livgren (Ack. I have to fix the score: I put "Terry" in there) of the progressive rock band Kansas. This was a huge hit my sophomore year in college ('77-'78), and it was also the only top ten hit Kansas ever had. I remember making out with college sweethearts to this. LOL!

I chanced upon this piece one day a couple of years ago when I was waiting for my friend Mark at his shop, Transpecos Guitars (Link in the sidebar). There was an "Acoustic Guitar Classics" collection on the shelves - I'm always leafing through stuff like that looking for material - and I found this. Well, the melody is just above the original guitar figuration, and it only took me a few seconds to realize that, with very few modifications, the original vocal melody could be combined with the original guitar part with almost no modification. And so, here we are.

Actually putting the arrangement together only took a few days - it was the easiest, most natural arrangement of all of the pop songs I've ever done - but it didn't lend itself to any kind of "classicization" like Unchained melody did: This is super straight-ahead, harmonically speaking.

The MIDI to MPEG4 conversion I made in iTunes even came out really well, so here it is:

Dust in the Wind - Kerry Livgren/Kansas

I again had an older version of this in my Arrangements folder, so I had to put a 'z' at the beginning of the file name to get the new version in there. If you open a second window or tab, you can follow the score and listen.

One thing I liked about the arrangement I found at Mark's shop was that it was ever so slightly simplified. Kerry makes an attack on the last eighths of the measures, which makes the chord changes a bit easier too. From my perspective, though, it allowed for a developmental strategy: I strategically add attacks on the last eighths to build up to a constant-eighth bridge, as you'll see. The sixteen bar intro, however, is just like the simple arrangement I found.

The arrangement is written out using three voices, for the most part, but by the time I get to measure nineteen, I need four to get the vocal melody combined with the guitar figuration. See how close the melody is to the guitar part? This almost never happens. Of course, being a 21st century guitarist, I use the 'c' finger a lot to make execution more logical.

Measure 21 is four quarter notes in the original vocal melody, but I made that a pair of halves to keep simultaneous attacks to only two. Many arrangers stumble over issues like this, and slavishly follow the original. This is a pretty serious mistake, from my point of view, because the idea is to make the arrangement idiomatic, and as if it was always a solo guitar piece. Likewise, in measure 22, the original vocal melody is four straight quarter notes, but I alternate eights and dotted quarters to keep simultaneous attacks down to two, and make the thing more idiomatic for solo guitar.

Measures 25 to 31 are an internal repeat, but 32 is the transition into what would be the 'B' section. Note that I add an attack on the final eighth to begin the build up I was talking about. In 34 I again modified the original melody's rhythm to keep it at two simultaneous attacks: The third beat was a quarter before. Note that the final eights are attacked in 36 and 38, as a part of the build up. Then we get the repeat in the first ending. The form of this arrangement is exactly like the original. One reason it's good to do this with arrangements that are intended to be crowd pleaders, is that many listeners familiar with these things will be singing the pieces in their minds. Yeah, the rhythmic modifications might throw them slightly, but it's not a bad compromise nonetheless.

At 41 the bridge begins, and the original song has a viola (!) solo there (Totally unique among popular songs, so far as I'm aware). Well, that wasn't possible on solo guitar, so this is the constant-eighth texture I have built up to instead. I think it works really well, if I do say so myself. For the internal repeat, I added an alternating bass note pattern, and it actually sounds kind of gnarly I think.

At the end of the bridge there is a D.C. Going back to the intro is highly unusual in a musical form, but here you have it. I made the score like this for brevity's sake, but in actual performance I add attacks on the final eights in the repeated intro to increase interest a tad.

The coda has added final eighth attacks as well, and the final eight measures, starting at 65, are the second half of the bridge, which I used to wind the piece down. Call it a codetta, but it's not in the original, which uses the old, standby rock cop-out: A fade out. It's like pop composers don't know how to compose an ending, or something.

So, there it is. I love this piece, and it's really fun to play. Not only that, but it's the most requested repeat in my set behind Classical Gass and Stairway to Heaven.

We need more Georgia.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple iPad: The World Changed for Artists Yesterday

It wasn't quite this monumental...

...but it was close, if you are a musician, an artist, or a writer.

That's right, the legendary Steve Jobs descended from the One Infinite Loop mountain and introduced the long-awaited, much-anticipated, endlessly-speculated-about, Apple tablet form-factor device yesterday... the iPad.

Now, I won't deny that I'm a long-time Apple loyalist. You could even call me a, "fanboi." I have three Mac G4 Cubes (One is my mom's computer), a late '05 G5, an original titanium G4 PowerBook, and the last model of the 17" aluminum G4 PowerBook... and the original 5GB iPod, the original 8GB iPhone, a 5th generation 30GB Video iPod, and a new 32GB iPhone 3GS... OK, and a Newton 120, which is responsible for my switch from PC's to Macs back in the mid '90's. You get the idea.

Dismiss what I'm about to say at your peril, however: Musicians, artists and writers will never, ever approach their quests the same anymore forever. Just what I can see for myself: I will have a composition sketchpad with me wherever I go, which will actually be a partial circular evolution for me, as I return to the intuitive nature of composition I used to use with pencil and paper. Only now, the pencil will be replaced with touch, and the sketches will be exported as MIDI files (Or, one of several other formats), and I'll be able to audition the audio as I work. Just as soon as somebody writes the app, of course, but it'll happen (I'd be happy to consult on such a project, BTW, hint, hint). This will be a step up from the keyboard-and-trackball method I currently use with my desktops, and the keyboard and touchpad approach I use with my notebooks. Plus, there are lots of times when I don't want to lug around either my 17" machine, or its 15" older sibling. The 1024x768 screen on the iPad is only 9.7" and weighs a mere pound and a half. I'll carry that around almost as much as my iPhone!

Another thing: I'll always have a digital recording studio with me now, and I'll be able to record all of my live performances, and select the best tracks for demos and CD's. With my MESA/Boogie 20/20 rig, I'll have the slave outs to go direct into the iPad, and I'm sure an iOS version of Garage Band is on the way (Along with the other iLife apps). So, there won't be any audience noise, there won't be any ambient noise, it will be exactly like being in a professional recording studio... live. Every time I perform. For a guy who started out on TASCAM four-track tape machines back in the 70's, that's incredible. With the amount of memory getting up to 64GB in the iPad, this will not only be possible, it'll be easy. 64GB is more storage than any of my Mac HD's give me, with the exception of my G5's 150GB model.

I have to chuckle at some of the pundits who seem, "underwhelmed" by the iPad, because I bought the original 8GB iPhone back in '07 the morning it became available to order. It cost me $499 - the same as the entry-level 16GB WiFi-only iPad - and there was no app store, there were no productivity suites, there were no eReader books for it; it was nothing but a phone with Mac Mail, Safari, and an iPod. It was also on the slow EDGE network: 3G wasn't even an option. Dude, that's less than three years ago. Imagine what kind of apps will appear for the iPad within the next three years! Seriously, nobody has any idea what the iPad will become, I just know that it's going to be insanely cool.

So, I followed all of the live blogging yesterday - most of the sites crashed from all the traffic - and I watched the video as soon as Apple put it up. Yeah, it was touted as a consumer media device, but it was also obviously announced ASAP because the lid was coming off of the thing: It was probably only about 85-90% of what Jobs wanted it to be in yesterday's demo.

The iPad is going to get music and art apps that will blow us all away, so I'm ordering a 64GB WiFi-only model the morning they become available (I have an iPhone 3GS, so I don't need another 3G device). I put myself on the email alert list as soon as Apple had the link up.

The only thing cooler than an iPad is a beautiful redhead... but you knew I was going to say that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Unchained Melody

Finished the second time through my set with the new - and still evolving - practice routine, and now I have all of the PDF files created for all of the scores. Every time through is getting a little easier - and faster - which is what I expected, and I'm thinking seven to nine times through and the system will be fully evolved and I'll be back in gigging shape. I haven't been this inspired playing the guitar in a few years.

OK, onto today's piece.

This is one of the arrangements in this series that is 100% mine: There are so many versions of Unchained Melody around it's not funny - over 500! - and many of them are highly bastardized from the original. So, I went back and found the original music from the 1955 film, Unchained and started from there with this arrangement (Zaret and North won an Oscar for this piece, by the way).

So, this arrangement has the original 12/8 time signature and the original form, both of which many arrangements don't. However, I found this piece highly amenable to being "classicized," so I added many primary dominants, secondary dominants, secondary half-diminished chords, secondary and passing diminished chords, and even a secondary subdominant triad in one place. The result sounds positively, "Mozartian," which was my intention, and I think this is better than any other solo guitar version I've ever heard. It may be the best one out there.

The piece is number seven in the second suite in my set, which looks like this:

II] C Major Suite:

10] Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] Alegretto in C Major
14] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
16] Unchained Melody - Zaret/North
17] G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
18] Dust in the Wind - Kansas

Though it's obviously a contemporary crowd pleaser, it's a slow, romantic ballad, so I put it inside the suite, and ended with Dust in the Wind here (Which isn't exactly a rockin' piece either, but it's the best C major contemporary piece I've yet discovered, and it's much more up tempo than this sedate number).

Here's the MIDI to M4A version that I made from the score in iTunes:

UPDATE: 01/24/10 - Somehow I am unable to erase an old version of this from - I trash it, re-upload, and the old version is still there - so I had to add a z to the beginning of the file name and put two versions in the Arrangements folder. If you listened to this before today, you heard an older version that does not match the score in a few places. The version and the link are fixed now. Sorry for any confusion.

Unchained Melody - Zaret/North

Open two windows or tabs to listen and follow the score.

This is one of those very rare instances in which the vocal melody can be combined with the original piano figuration with very few changes on the guitar. In fact, it's the best example of that I've ever found, though Dust in the Wind, which will be the subject of the next post in this series, is nearly as good.

Zaret and north made the original almost completely triadic, harmony wise, which seems strange to me, because the music positively cries out for secondary dominant harmonies. The original uses triads even on the primary dominant V chords! Well, I fixed that. On the final beat of measure three, I added a passing F-sharp half-diminished harmony, and at the end of measure four, I made the V chord a dominant seventh. It sounds like Mozart already.

Since there was already a diatonic passing G triad in first inversion at the end of measure five in the original, I answered that with a chromatic passing F-minor triad at the end of measure 6, which is obviously a subdominant minor chord: Nice and dark. The last beat of measure seven was harmonically and melodically identical to measure three, where I used a passing half-diminished chord, so I went ahead and used a passing fully diminished seventh this time, to increase interest and darkness later in the section. Of course, I made the V at the end of eight a dominant seventh too.

Measure nine begins a varied repeat of the A section just passed, so this is an A'.

The first five measures are the same as before, but in measure fourteen, the melody stays up on C there, which enabled me to use an A-flat major triad here, versus the previous F minor triad in first inversion. This is technically a bVI secondary subdominant harmony, but I actually thought of it as a subV7/V chord, only with no seventh (The harmony called a German Augmented Sixth by the old classical theorists). In fact, I wanted the seventh in there, but it was not technically executable with any acceptable level of ease. The resulting parallelisms are just like what Mozart sometimes did in those "side slips" he is famous for (Though, he used them most often to affect direct modulations). In any event, I really like the effect.

Measure's fifteen and sixteen are my figuration solution for the end of the section, and they are not exactly easy to execute, but they sound very excellent when I pull them off perfectly. The second half of sixteen was a dominant seventh in the original because of the F-natural in the melody, but I made it a V(m7m9) for added impact.

The B section begins at seventeen, and I got to imply a G-sharp passing diminished seventh seventh at the end of eighteen. I say implied because the minor third is missing, but the ear fills that in. Getting from the end of eighteen to the beginning of nineteen, where there is a 4-3 suspension resolution, is actually quite difficult to pull off smoothly, but the musical result is worth the effort, IMO.

With the melody so low in twenty and twenty-one, I had to include the melody notes in the figuration, but I really love the rumbly result with the compass so low there. I got another implied passing G-sharp fully diminished sonority in at the end of twenty-one, despite the low range, and I think it sounds really cool like that.

You'll notice that there are no position indicators in the piece, and that's because the G in the melody at the end of twenty-two is the highest note in the piece: So much of it is in open position, that I decided not to put any in.

Like many film themes, the form is just A, A', B and then into the bridge, because time is not a luxury a composer usually has during the opening credits. We modulate from C to F here, it seems, but the bridge is really just a common-for-film-music-of-the-period Lydian-based multi-modal lick (I may have just used up my daily allotment of hyphens). The progression from twenty-five into twenty-six is just IV, V, IV in the home key, and then the end of twenty-six is an E-flat major triad, which is the secondary subdominant that lives at bIII. It was this section that gave me the idea for the A-flat triad I used earlier. If you are a fan of old 40's and 50's era swahsbuckler films, you hear licks like this all the time in those film scores when ships are pictured crossing the sea. I guess because of growing up with that, I find this evocative of that sort of film. LOL!

In the original piano part, all of these triads are voice-lead completely parallel, which is just idiomatic of this sort of writing. The guitar ends at E-natural, however, so I had to make the E-flat major triad a first inversion. I actually like this solution better than the original, because it creates an F, G, F, G ostinato, which I find even more evocative.

At the end of thirty-two is the D.C., and starting in thirty-three is the brief codetta I wrote to wind the piece down.

So, just like jazz cats can make a jazzy arrangement by swinging a piece out and adding secondary chords with parallel voice leading, classical guys can "Mozartize" pieces that are amenable to the process by using secondary harmonies with more traditional voice leading (Though the bridge here is admittedly idiomatic to 20th century film score writing, and not the classical era).

I debuted this a few months back, and audiences love it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Desert Song

I'm now into the second time through my set with the new practice method, and I'm quite giddy with how amazingly high tech the whole thing is turning out. Think about this for a second or two: I have every single finger move of both hands for every single piece in my sixty-nine piece set written out, entered into Encore, and this time through I'm creating PDF's of each score as I make certain I have all of the errors corrected and everything is absolutely perfect. From now on, no wasting time rifling through a pile of print music or music collections if I suffer a memory fade, because there will be no memory fades: Whenever I practice, the super-detailed score will be right in front of me on the computer screen. Yes!

Next time through, I'm going to create what I call, "MIDI scores" to play along with. This will involve adding a count-off measure to the beginning of every score, and changing the score's prefs to have the click track playing along with the music. Not sure how long it will be until I start playing along with them, but it will be a step up technology wise from my old metronome slow-play regimen. So, now that I'm creating the final PDF's, I can continue with the Ultimate Arrangement series.

Today's piece is one of my very favorites among the crowd pleaser contemporary numbers in my set, Desert Song by Eric Johnson from his second album, Tones. So far as I'm aware, it's the only thing he's ever recorded on a nylon string guitar, and it's also unlike anything else he's or anyone else has ever recorded for the instrument: It's a totally unique piece that seems to have come from another planet, or something.

Whenever I learn one of these contemporary pieces, I have to not only love the music, but as a composer I have to want to learn from the piece and be influenced by it. Then, of course, it has to fill a need in my set. Desert Song is the first contemporary crowd pleaser in the first suite of my set, which looks like this.

I] A Minor Suite:

01] Figuration Prelude No. 1 in A minor
02] E-Axis Study No. 2 in A minor
03] Sarabande in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
04] Sonatina in A Minor
05] Gavotte II in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
06] Irreducible Fugue No. 1
07] Desert Song - Eric johnson
08] Irreducible Fugue No. 2
09] Classical Gas - Mason Williams

Now, Desert Song is a little too hip and obscure for the masses, so I put it inside of the suite, which builds up to Classical Gas, which just about everybody knows. Five of the pieces are my originals, and the other two are Bach lute miniatures that I like. So, it's an eclectic suite, but it gets most of the audience on my side early, because there's something for most guitar aficionado's tastes in it.

I've written about this piece before, because it's an extemporized sort of thing, and there are many rhythmic irrationalities present as Eric floats in and out of lock with the beat, and improvises lines that have many strange tuplets present in them. Of all of the transcriptions that I did for this mega-project, I spent by far the largest amount of time on this piece. More than the two tap tech pieces combined!

From the "classical guy" perspective, I had to deal with the fact that Eric holds a pick between p and i, and uses m, a, and c to get the rest of the figuration. Since he uses a lot of five-voice harmony in this piece, then, it was only natural to employ the c finger a lot. Sorry if you're a Segovia School player, but I'm a contemporary guitarist who just happens to play nylon string guitars, so I use every resource at my disposal: I have five digits on my right hand, and I use them all.

The other thing about Eric holding a plectrum is that he can transition into the speedy licks and use alternate picking with great alacrity, whereas i/m alternation for me has always been... problematic. So, I kept his licks intact, but I added a lot of legato elements - hammer-ons and pull-offs - to make them, well, possible for me to execute. If you happen to be blessed with the proper genetics to alternate i and m quickly, by all means add some attacks in those lines to make them more impressive.

Finally, I don't "do" Flamenco - I'm actually just learning some basic Flamenco strumming now for a couple of pieces - so in the final Flamenco section, I removed all the strums and replaced them with finger rolls. If i can ever figure out what that super-quick up/down deal is that Flamenco guys do, I'll add that back in, but for this version at this point, I really don't think much is lost by ditching the strums. If you know how to do those, of course, put them in (And send me an email! LOL!).

OK, so here we go:

Desert Song - Eric Johnson

This MPEG4 MIDI conversion is the same as the one in the previous post, though I did change two measures and a couple of durations that were not right. I'll point those out as we come to them. The admin tools for are just arcane enough that I didn't want to mess with inserting a new version over an old version for just a couple of minor changes.

The first thing to notice in the opening figuration is that I don't use the m finger at all: My technique revolves around the simple logic of assigning one finger per string, and so if a string is skipped, then that finger is skipped. So, I do this a lot. The capital P's are for pull-offs (Or push-offs; whichever the case may be depending on context), and the capital H's are for hammer-ons. On the second system there are five voices, so all five digits of the right hand are used, but starting in measure five the harmony has the B-string skipped, so the a finger is left out of the figuration. See how simple and logical this is? I don't know why everybody doesn't do it this way.

The five-voice B-flat major-seventh chord that starts in measure twenty-one (pickup for the flam in measure twenty), requires an angled flange - or "Barre" if you prefer - that has finger number 1 fretting both the B-flat in the bass at VI and the A in the lead at V. With my jazz background, I don't think this is anything even remotely strange, but some classical cat's eyes glaze over when they see stuff like that, so I thought I'd spend a little extra time and effort making it absolutely clear what's goin' on.

The "A" section, if I can call it that, ends at measure 37, and the "B" - which just amounts to an elaborated variation - starts in 38. It took me a while to come up with the 5/4 opening measure with the quarter note triplet figuration, but that really is closest to what he actually plays there.

As I mentioned in the previous post about this piece, the lick starting in measure 46 gave me fits and took several days of trial and error before I honed in on what Eric and I were playing. It's one thing to feel and execute a lick like this intuitively, but 'tis a whole other enchilada entirely to actually write it out in a form that a computer can render convincingly. The 5:3 quintuplets were pretty easy to figure out, but the 7:3 septuplets can only be described as some wild-ass shite, and then there's the solution of a measure of 9/8 plus a measure of 7/8 to equal two measures of 4/4 (8/8). Yeah, I'm proud as frak of that passage. LOL! Note also that I use the symbol S to indicate slides in the left hand. That's traditionally labelled as gliss for glissando, but I speak English, so I ditched ALL of that Italian and German junk. besides, with p, i, m, a, c, P, H, and S, I can look forward to the day when I compose a passage that will spell, m, i, S, S, i, S, S, i, P, P, i when I write the fingering out. ;^)

At measure 56 a harmonic is hit in the lead, and notice how my enumeration of it makes everything clear: It's a harmonic, as the note indicates, you pluck it with the m finger of the right hand, and it's chimed at the 12th fret. I like this better than any other system anyone else has ever come up with... but, of course, right?

Measure 70 is one of two measures I changed between rendering the MIDI to M4A file and this final version of the score. I made it 5/4 instead of 4/4 so that the third note A could be held like Eric jazzes around with it. This is much closer to the recording.

And so begins the concluding Flamenco-ish section. Whereas everything preceeding this has been very close to what Eric plays - I did make the flams more consistent and I changed a couple of figurations to make them "better" IMO - here I changed quite a bit. Everything up to the first quarter note of measure 78 is as Eric plays it, then the licks are mine, as Eric's were very difficult and didn't lend themselves to legato technique. I kept the Phrygian-Flamenco flavor, but made the licks more linear and less intervallic. Hey, "A man's got to know his limitations." - "Dirty Harry" Callahan In 82 is where I ditched the Flamenco strumming for finger rolls, but the notes are right.

And so the concluding page. 84-85 are what Eric plays, but not how he plays them, as I modified the execution for classical-based technique. the p/i indicates that the harmonic is chimed with i and plucked with p. In 86-87 I again do away with the Flamenco strums and replace them with finger rolls, but 88 to the end is what Eric plays. Measure 91 is the second measure I changed the time signature for, just like the preceding one that is basically identical.

Hope you enjoyed this one. I certainly learned a ton from it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Got Myself a Little Computer Upgrade for Christmas

Holiday shipping is a nightmare. All of the components for my new, upgraded main system finally arrived this afternoon.

As you can see, I got a second 23" Cinema HD Display for my G5. As you can also see, the colors don't match at all. The original is on the right, and it's been to Apple for a repair, so I know it's right. It also matches the color on my ancient lucite 23" Cinema HD Display that my hot rod, upgraded G4 Cube runs. For some reason, the "new" monitor is ridiculously pink. Yes, I went through all of the calibration steps with both monitors, and it doesn't matter; they still don't match. Not even close. Oh well, it works, and it was quite cheap. You get what you pay for, I guess.

Anyway, as you can also see, I can get four full-page PDF's next to each other for practicing so that I don't have to worry about page turns, and by simply narrowing the windows and increasing their numbers, I can also get six to eight and still have them large enough to read. Just piddling around with this has raised a lot of questions in my mind about PDF rendering. The Mac OS X Preview app does not render PDF's with anything like good resolution, which I figure is because of some licensing agreement with Adobe. OK, fine. However, if I change the PDF's page by page into JPG files within Preview, they look fantastic (That's how I do them for blog posts, and then I size them to match my blog template in iPhoto).

Now, you would think, then - or, I did - that simply getting Adobe Reader would solve the problem. Wrong. Music PDF's look like dog poop in Adobe Reader. I wonder why that is? It's marginally better than Preview in some respects, but the note heads are so off that you cant tell if some of them are on a line or in a space. Completely unacceptable.

The solution? Safari. Those are four Safari windows. I just drag and drop the PDF's into live Safari windows, and they look even better than the JPG's I create in Preview (Exactly like those JPG's, in fact, but at a stunningly precise resolution). You know, PDF is supposed to stand for Portable Document Format (Or File), so why there should be ANY difference in how they are rendered by various programs is a mystery to me. It seems abjectly stupid that there should be any difference, to be frank, but there you have it/oh well.

I also got some speaker shelves for my Anthro table so that I could move them off to the side, and I must say the stereo field is a lot better with them farther apart. Those little Tannoy Proto-J's run by the Bryston 3B-NPB are an amazing combination, and those Proto-J's are ten years old this year.

I checked one of my Sitemeter hits just for grins, and I was dismayed to learn that my monitor resolution is still listed as 1920x1200 and not 3840x1200. I don't understand that either.

What's up with this guy? - A fairly regular visitor, BTW.

Look at the resolution: 30720x768! Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot?! A vertical resolution of 768 usually goes with a horizontal resolution of 1024. Well, 30720 divided by 1024 equals 30: Thirty monitors? Surround or tiled?! I must admit, that bakes my brain... but I digress.

Working into the new practice method, and it's wonderful. It'll take a while for it to fully evolve, but I expected that. Now I'll be able to keep pieces more solidly in my memory via visual reenforcement, and I'll be able to add new pieces faster, because when I get to where they belong in the set, I just read through them. Memorizing new stuff will just happen naturally and organically as I cycle through the set multiple times.

I'm psyched.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Set Transcription Project Finished!

Finally! It took nine weeks to transcribe my 69 piece set into Encore. With three versions for each piece - urtext, fingerings, and position indicators - that came to a total of 207 Encore files, weighing in at 4.4 MB. Nobody could have entered that much music into any other notation program so fast, except for Sibelius perhaps. No way any Finale user could have kept up with me, because there are just a lot more steps to do most tasks in Finale.

The biggest positive surprise was how much easier Steve Howe's Mood for a Day is than I thought it would be, and the biggest negative surprise was how ridiculously difficult my Jethro Tull-ized Bouree is in the drop-D tuning. As a result, I'm going to have to put it in E minor - the same key as Bach's original, of course - and figure out how to work it back into position in the set. And that, my friends, is why there aren't 70 pieces as I expected.

So, here's my set, which is v4.0 since I started rebuilding and reorganizing it just over five years ago (The pieces without attribution are my originals):

I] A Minor Suite:

01] Figuration Prelude No. 1 in A minor
02] E-Axis Study No. 2 in A minor
03] Sarabande in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
04] Sonatina in A Minor
05] Gavotte II in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
06] Irreducible Fugue No. 1
07] Desert Song - Eric johnson
08] Irreducible Fugue No. 2
09] Classical Gas - Mason Williams

II] C Major Suite:

10] Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] Alegretto in C Major
14] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
16] Unchained Melody - Zaret/North
17] G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
18] Dust in the Wind - Kansas

III] E Minor Suite:

19] Figuration Prelude No. 3 in E minor
20] E-Axis Study No. 6 in E minor
21] Bourree in E minor, 1st Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
22] B-Axis Study No. 2 in E minor
23] Gymnopedie No. 1 - Eric Satie
24] G-Axis Study No. 4 in E minor
25] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

IV] E Major Suite:

26] Figuration Prelude No. 10 in E major
27] E-Axis Study No. 1 in E major
28] Caprice - Rodolphe Kreutzer
29] B-Axis Study No. 5 in E major
30] The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Ennio Morricone

V] G Major Suite:

31] Figuration Prelude No. 4 in G major
32] B-Axis Study No. 3 in G major
33] Minuet in G major, Anna Magdalena No. 4 - Chr. Petzold/Attr. Bach
34] G-Axis Study No. 6 in G minor
35] Jesu, Mein Freude - J.S. Bach
36] G-Axis Study No. 1 in G major
37] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani

VI] B Minor Suite:

38] Figuration Prelude No. 5 in B minor
39] B-Axis Study No. 6 in B minor
40] Menuetto in B Minor
41] Figuration Prelude No. 12 in B major
42] B-Axis Study No. 1 in B major
43] Menuetto in B major
44] Minuet in B minor, Anna Magdalena No. 15 - J.S. Bach
45] Sonata Zero III: Scherzo
46] Suicide is Painless/M*A*S*H Theme - Johnny Mandel

VII] D Major Suite (Drop D Tuning):

47] Figuration Prelude No. 6 in D major
48] Bianco Fiore - Cesare Negri
49] Figuration Prelude No. 23 in D minor
50] Bourree II in D minor, 3rd Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
51] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos

VIII] F-sharp Minor Suite:

52] Figuration Prelude No. 7 in F-sharp minor
53] Figuration Prelude No. 9 in C-sharp minor
54] Figuration Prelude No. 11 in G-sharp minor
55] G-Axis Study No. 3 in E-flat major
56] B-Axis Study No. 4 in G-sharp minor
57] E-Axis Study No. 4 in C-sharp minor
58] Mood for a Day - Steve Howe

IX] A Major Suite:

59] Figuration Prelude No. 8 in A major
60] E-Axis Study No. 5 in A major
61] Guardame Las Vacas - Luys de Narvaez
62] Trajectorial Variations in A Minor
63] Etude VI - Leo Brouwer
64] Irreducible Fugue No. 3
65] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins
66] Irreducible Fugue No. 4
67] Heavy Nylon

X] Finale/Extras

68] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page
69] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani

This is by far the largest, most difficult, and least fun musical project I've ever done. It was nine weeks of 24/7 mind-numbing drudgery, but now that it's over, I'll be able to start a much more high tech practice routine that adds visual memory reenforcement and practicing along with the MIDI files instead of just a metronome. Since MIDI files can be sped up or slowed down in any increment without affecting the pitch, this will completely replace my metronome slow practice routine with a similar method that adds aural feedback so that I can really hear if I'm executing the rhythms with computer-like precision. Of course, I'll can put a metronome over the MIDI file too, so the metronome won't really go away, it's just that the notes will be added to it. I'm very excited about this idea. I think it's one of the best ideas I've ever had for guitar practice, and I intend to expand this to scale practice too after I get the set back under my fingers.

First thing I did when I finished was to upload the files to the shared HD attached to my Airport Extreme and populate them to all four of my computers, and all of my external HD's including my Video iPod: I have seven copies, and am going to put an eighth on my iDisk. I spent about 200 hours on this project, so I really, really don't want to lose it!

From now on, when I add a piece to my set, I'll just do the three Encore versions, and add them to the Set Folder.

I now know what torture victims mean when they say, "it feels so good when it stops."

You may not hear from me for a few days. I bought a killer bottle of fine tequila to celebrate, and I'm not going to stop celebrating until it's gone.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Spanish Fly

Since my first post in this series was A Day at the Beach, a tap tech piece by Joe Satriani, I thought I'd get all the tap pieces out of the way up front, since I only play two of those in my set so far. So today we'll look at my version of Eddie Van Halen's very strange little ditty, Spanish Fly, from the Van Halen II album.

When I was rebuilding my set and adding as many of the cool crowd pleaser type pieces I liked and could find, Spanish Fly was a natural, since I already played A Day at the Beach, and I wanted another tap technique piece. Back in my rock guitarist days, I played Eruption, and this is a very similar kind of thing, but done on a nylon string, so there aren't any string bends. The opening section with all of the fast alternate picking was monumentally problematic for me, so I eventually ditched the whole thing and replaced it with legato technique linear licks, which I can actually do comfortably with i/m alternation. I have gotten much faster now using p/i alternation, which is gobs easier - it's like alternate picking without a pick in your hand - so there may yet be a third version in the future with Eddie's licks played p/i, but for this second version, I just wanted to get all of the final section's tap licks correct. My v1 was highly bastardized there, because I learned it quickly and from an ASCII TAB.

This time I got the authorized transcription, but the transcriber is not named, so I don't know who did it. I greatly simplified the formatting, which I'll point out as I go through it, and since it's a quasi-improvisatory piece, I really did change quite a few details not always to make it easier to play, but just so that it made more sense to me musically. Remember, these are all for my own personal use, so this is how I perform it.

The MIDI to AAC version of this sounds positively hysterical to me, because none of the idiomatic tap, hammer, and pull/push-off, or harmonics are rendered in a MIDI file, but you'll get an idea from it, at least.

Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

The first of many changes I made was to notate the tapped harmonics on the first two systems as sixteenth notes versus eighth notes and then a tempo change. This particular official transcription was just WAY to freaking busy and complicated. And, in most instances, needlessly so. I also tap a high E at the end of measure 5, because that makes the introduction more like an antecedent/consequent phrase. Eddie just plays the top system twice. As in the Satriani piece, the bold Arabic numerals indicate at what fret the taps happen.

Then, the tap licks that start in measure 7 are played by Eddie as quintuplets, but this seemed totally unnatural to me, so I made them sextuplets. If you want to play this section like Eddie does, just eliminate the final note of every figure. One of the things I like about doing it this way is that on the final note of measures 7 and 8, I'm able to tap on the next lower string and get my finger into position for the next lick.

Measures 9-11 are as Eddie plays them, and measure 11 had an obvious error in the official version. It had the first E harmonic indicated as a repeated note chimed at the seventh fret. I can guarantee you this is an error, because the chimes at five and seven are theoretical unisons, but they are second and third harmonics respectively, so they sound different to a sensitive ear. Not only could I hear this, but the unison continues to ring (I live to serve). The last open E is where my own legato technique licks begin and completely replace what Eddie plays.

Measures 12 and 13 are the very same lick an octave apart, which is a very common legato trick I learned from Allan Holdsworth. So, it's i H H, m H H, i H H, m H H Slide, and you're up an octave. Then it's i H H, m H H H P P P as you put the ergonomic and idiomatic chromatic lick in, and then i P P m to prepare for the repeat an octave higher. The rhythms here are simplified and smoothed out. In actual execution, there is a rhythmic hiccup at that final 32nd note, but with the groupings this obvious, I thought it was worth making it simpler to learn. That last 32nd is executed more like a 16th note, but I didn't want to get into ridiculousness like a 33/32 time signature. LOL!

You'll notice that I never slur notes in my guitar music. I fraking hate those darned things. They are always getting in the way of the left hand finger numbers, so I simply never, ever use them in guitar music. I detail the right hand fingerings, so what's going on is obvious.

like I said, 13 is a repeat of 12 an octave higher, but there's a somewhat tricky position shift from VI to VII there because of the major third between the G and B strings.

At 14 my licks smoothly synch up with what Eddie plays, and I actually like what I do better in some ways. I was massively influenced by Eddie's tap technique licks, but not his linear style, which always seemed cool, but like Fractured Fairy Tales to me. For a hilarious musical send-up of Eddie's guitar soloing style, I simply must post Weird Al's Eat It in which Rick Derringer totally skewers Eddie (Am I the only one who knows that was Rick Derringer?). I still find that hysterical after all these years... but I digress.

The harmonics in measure 18 are my idea. Eddie doesn't play those at all, but I just did it one day because it felt right, and I think it thematically answers the earlier harmonics very well. Hey, it's hard for a traditional composer to ignore ideas like that. ;^)

Measure 19 is as Eddie played it, but then in 20 my chromatic legato licks begin again, but this time in a descending run pattern. Again, the rhythm is smoothed out and simplified for the sake of making the groupings clear and avoiding a ludicrous time signature. From 21 to the end, though, it's as close to exactly as Eddie plays it as I was able to notate.

I really love the final section that starts in 23. From a traditional musical viewpoint, it's completely bizarre, but for guitar music, it's really very idiomatic and organic. Eddie made a great contribution to guitar technique with this style, and I'm hoping more classical cats will take it up (Which is one reason I'm posting this). It seems ridiculous to me that so many classical guys are frozen in time with Segovia's technique and repertoire. He was born in the 1800's for crying out loud, and lived to be nearly a hundred years old. The guitar occupies a completely different space in the musical universe now.

Notice again that in repetitive sections like this, I only put fingering indications in when something changes. Seriously, this is the way it should always be done, because it makes reading and memorizing so much easier, which is only logical (and polite!).

Oh, and the official transcription has the right hand taps as anticipations, which I think is grossly weird, so I put the taps on the downbeat, which is the only way I can feel them, and the only way that seems to make sense.

And so, there it is.

These two pieces, A Day at the Beach and Spanish Fly, influenced me greatly. So much so, that I used the techniques in them for the Tocatta of my first guitar sonata. In fact, that's one of the main reasons I learned these pieces: So I could compose in these styles, but with the added possibilities of classical right hand technique and with a traditional composer's thematic and formal organizational abilities.

Hope everybody had a good New Year's celebration. I did way too many tequila shots... which was, after all, the point. LOL!