Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nice Trip to Tucson and Las Vegas

One of my former students got married in Las Vegas last Saturday and asked me to play for the ceremony - a gig I couldn't refuse - so I had my manager set up a warm up in Tucson. Everything went well, but hilariously, I arrived at the Lowes Las Vegas with a flat tire, which I had to change after the gig. Hey, at least it happened at the destination instead of somewhere on the road. Changing the tire in the parking lot was much more desirable than changing it alongside some busy roadway.

Had a few moments to see the sights, which basically consisted of the Hoover Dam. On the way to Las Vegas...

... and on the way back to Tucson a few hours later.

I needed a road trip, and feel positively refreshed and ready to get back to work.

According to FedEx Tracking, my 17" HiRes MacBook Pro is somewhere between Fort Worth and San Antonio right now. Hope it arrives tomorrow.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Ultimate Guitar and Guitar Synth Mobile Recording Rack

After over a year of experimenting with various components for The Ultimate Guitar and Guitar Synth Mobile Recording Rack System, I have finally gotten it to where I want it... which is perfection. My criteria were simple, really: 1] All components had to be single rack space units, and 2] they had to be the last word in quality for that configuration.

Ta da!

Top to bottom:

1] Bryston 2B-LP 60 watt per channel stereo power amplifier. The ultimate 1U solid state stereo power amp. There is none better. The best recording studios in the world almost all use these to power their smallest near field monitors for a reason. That reason is, there is nothing better in terms of sound quality. I don't even know what's in second place... and I don't care. I have two of them, and the other has proved it's ruggedness by bouncing around in the bed of my pickup over thousands of miles and always performing flawlessly at hundreds of gigs. This was an easy choice to make.

2] Behringer BTR2000 Racktuner. You could argue that the Korg models are better except for one thing: They do not calibrate to the A= 432Hz philosophical pitch I tune to. In fact, this is the only 1U rack mount tuner in the world that you can calibrate to A= 432Hz, so it wins because all of the others default. It's inexpensive, and to its credit, totally transparent sonically: It adds no noise and takes away no dynamics. Impossible to beat if you tune to 432. I have four of them, one for each of my rack systems.

3] Lexicon MPX-G2 Guitar Effects Processor. Still, after over 10 years since they were introduced and over 5 since they were discontinued, the ultimate 1U guitar effects device in the world. This unit functions as my preamp and all of my effects. I haven't played through anything else in over a decade. I have four of these too, so this was also a no brainer.

4] Terratec Axon AX 100 Guitar to MIDI Converter. You wouldn't expect some small company to beat Roland at their own game - a game Roland pioneered over 25 years ago - but Terratec has. With the RMC Polydrive equipped guitars I play, it was basically a plug in and play Christmas experience. I did have to switch from the magnetic pickup setting to the piezo-electric pickup setting and adjust the sensitivity, but compared to the conniptions I went through back in the 80's getting Roland guitars to work with my Synclavier, this was magical. You can do the usual assignments of different sounds to different strings, but you can also set the fretboard into zones with different sounds and dynamic responses. To be honest, I haven't even scratched the surface yet because I've been more concerned with just getting everything to work perfectly. This works perfectly in terms of tracking - so long as I don't try to sustain notes too long (nylon is more problematic than steel in that regard) - but I'm now psyched about digging into it more. Yeah, it has a GM sound card in it, but I hate most samples, so I hardly ever use it.

5] Yamaha FS1R Formant Shaping/FM Synthesis Tone Generator. This was the last FM synthesizer that Yamaha made, and everything they learned from the DX-1, DX-7, TX-816, and TX-81Z (Plus all the rest of the DX/TX/TF series) went into it, and more. I have been through the manual once already, and this is a true musical instrument, with enough depth that I'll be exploring it and growing with it for years, just as I did with the Synclavier and TX-816. This is the ultimate 1U digital synthesizer in the world... perhaps the universe.

6] 1U Vent Panel. My convection cooling setup - hottest gear high - means this will allow the rack to stay reasonably cool, even in warm halls or at outdoor gigs (Though admittedly, I probably won't schlep this collection of uber-rare and valuable gear to any outdoor shows where it could get rained on).

7] Lexicon I-ONIX FW810S Firewire Recording Interface and Mixer. This was the last thing to come together for me. I tried two different mixers and also the Digidesign 002 Rack, but ProTools LE doesn't record onto laptop internal drives, and I hated the sound of the 002's preamps. Very harsh and grating to my ears, which is the same complaint I have about my original M-Box (I understand the 003 and M-Box 2 are better though). Plus, the 002 Rack was 2U, so that was a criteria failure. I've decided for simplicity's sake to go with GarageBand live - since I'll be my own engineer (!) - and then do any editing I need to do in ProTools LE. Since GarageBand exports .wav files and ProTools imports them, this will be no problem. With garageBand '09, I may not even need ProTools anymore. Plus, the Lecxicon has six inputs on the rear panel, which is exactly what I need: Stereo for the MPX-G2, stereo for the AX 100, and stereo for the FS1R. The real killer deal here is, however, the sound! The preamps in the Lexicon are simply amazing. I had an eargasm the moment I started playing through it. Just as a stand-alone mixer it's the best 1U device I've ever tried! The one rub here is that the included mixer software only works with Intel Macs, and I was planning to use my 17" 1.6GHz G4 PowerBook; nothing doing, so I'll just have to get a 17" HighRez MacBook Pro with a 7,200 RPM HDD. It should be here when I get back from Vegas next week.

8] Furman PS-Pro Series II Power Conditioner and Line Voltage Regulator. This 20 amp unit is total overkill for this little rack system... which means it's the ultimate, of course. I could have used a Furman AR-1215, but couldn't find one for a reasonable price when I needed this, and this was way discounted, so there you are.

Ahhhhhh. Now, after spending all winter rebuilding my set from scratch, I look forward to doing some serious recording this spring and summer... and manual reading.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Yankee Doodle Dixie

This brilliant gem by the late, great Chet Atkins is really unique in all of the pop guitar repertoire, so far as I am aware. Chet basically took two preexisting melodies and combined them into counterpoint - cantus prius factus as it's called - which is a really clever trick that doesn't work very often. In this case, Dixie is in the lead in the A sections, while Yankee Doodle is the bass part. Now, from a Bachian contrapuntal perspective there are a few crudities, but to our modern ears and in this country and western jazz idiom, those don't bother in the least. In fact, they add to the coolness, IMO. The B sections are just a countrified swing version of the Dixie B section, so the combo is only in the A's.

The original recording is with a band, but it was very easy to extract the basic tune and have it as a solo piece. In the arrangement here I wanted to keep it on two pages, so the form is A, A', B, A, Coda: The bare bones. In actual performance, I play it, A, A', B, A', B, A, Coda. the coda - well, codetta, actually - is the opening lick of the US national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. Since this is the last piece in my set before any encores, I eventually plan to have an arrangement of the whole US national anthem here, and that's getting close to the top of my to-do list now, but it's not done yet. Chet ends the piece with a dominant seventh/diminished fifth sonority, which is hilarious, but it just didn't work in my set, so I changed it.

Here's the MIDI to AAC conversion of the score.

Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins

And the score.

I made no changes to the music in the A sections at all. The only thing I had to do was work out a legit classical style fingering. I did make a few changes in the B section though, as Chet was fond of putting lots of little trills and stuff in, and that sort of goes against my esthetic. You could call the changes simplifications, but I just consider them streamlining the music and making it more mechanically efficient. At the end of measure 10 there is a G-natural in the lead on the last quarter. Chet plays that an octave lower using the open G string. Yeah, it's funny and all, but I just didn't like the effect, so I changed that too. He does this again on the next page.

At the end of measure 14 is the other G-natural I raised an octave, and other than scrubbing the trills, that's it for changes to the music. This is not an easy piece to execute - especially at the manic tempo Chet played it at (I don't scream through it, and think it's actually more effective just a smidge slower) - but it sure is fun once you get it down. It's also kind of un-PC, which is an added bonus if you are libertarian minded, as I am.


I haven't been blogging much the past few weeks because I got a gig offer I couldn't refuse. No, not a mobster's party, but a student's wedding in Las Vegas. So, since I had been rebuilding my set from scratch, I had to pour on the practice hours to get ready. I combined it with a little coffee house warm up gig in Tucson, where I have a free place to crash, and I may also do another little deal there on the way back: Friday and Sunday in Tucson, and Saturday in Las Vegas. I need a road trip about now. I've been all work and no play for far too long. Added bonus to that tight schedule will be that I won't have time to gamble. lol.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Joseph Schillinger Inspired Guitar Pieces

One of the Facebook groups I belong to holds online classes about aspects of The Schillinger System of Musical Composition, and since I have studied Schillinger on and off for over twenty years now, I thought I'd share some of the solo guitar pieces I've written that Schillinger inspired.

I put a page together with PDF files of the scores and MPEG4 streaming audio - my usual MIDI to AAC conversions - so that my Facebook Friends could peruse them at their leisure, and that open directory is here, but I'm going to list them all below, with an example fully analyzed.

The way this twenty year journey started was - back in 1986 when I was still a rock guitarist living and working in NYC - I was visiting a musician friend and noticed a copy of The System on a bookshelf in his studio. Being a Berklee alum, I had heard of it - Berklee was originally called Schillinger House - but I'd never actually seen a copy. Long story short, I borrowed it, and ended up making so many notes in the margins that I kept that copy and ordered my pal a brand new one. Not cheap!

These three sets began when Schillinger used the fugue subject from the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as an example of a melody in which the zero axis was played, rather than simply implied. I realized that this played zero axis device would lend itself to a series of idiomatic studies for solo guitar, and so I was off and running.

Since the played zero axis could be the root, third, or fifth of a tonic major or minor triad ,that meant that each set would have six pieces in it. For the high E string then, the keys would be E major, A minor, C major, C-sharp minor, A major, and E minor if organized in a quasi-symmetrical way, which is what I ended up doing. I started composing these in 1986 or 1987 - I really don't remember exactly anymore - and I distinctly remember hearing about Segovia's death when I was working on learning one of them.

So, here are the Six Studies on an E-Axis:

E-Axis Study Number 1 in E Major - m4a

E-Axis Study Number 1 in E Major - PDF

E-Axis Study Number 2 in A Minor - m4a

E-Axis Study Number 2 in A Minor - PDF

E-Axis Study Number 3 in C Major - m4a

E-Axis Study Number 3 in C Major - PDF

E-Axis Study Number 4 in C-sharp Minor - m4a

E-Axis Study Number 4 in C-sharp Minor - PDF

E-Axis Study Number 5 in A Major - m4a

E-Axis Study Number 5 in A Major - PDF

E-Axis Study Number 6 in E Minor - m4a

E-Axis Study Number 6 in E Major - PDF

NOTE: For some reason, PDF files often don't render properly for me from hucbald.com in Safari. If you end up with bizarre figurations instead of music, just hit the BACK button on your browser, then FORWARD. This always clears them up for me, though I may have to also scroll down to the bottom to make all of the text elements show up.

Since I was just starting out with classical music back then - I was 29 when I wrote these - they range from completely diatonic to major, as Number 1 in E Major, through diatonic to melodic minor, as Number 6 in E Minor, to having only one implied secondary dominant, as in the remaining four. These are excellent technical studies, and they are accessible to any intermediate level student of classical guitar. They are also fun to play and pleasant to listen to. I still perform all of these in my set to this day.


Once I had completed these six pieces and a few others not related to them, I decided to give up the rock lifestyle and go back to school for a Master of Music in traditional theory and composition. Since I was still working on aspects of Joseph Schillinger's work, it was only natural that my final project was, Aspects of Joseph Schillinger's System of Musical Composition as Applied to Composing for Solo Guitar. I presented this as a lecture recital in which I performed the following pieces and explained how I used Schillinger's techniques in creating them.

These studies are on a B-Axis - the open B string of the guitar - and the melodic trajectories are above the zero axis, instead of below them as in the E-Axis studies. As a result, the melodies have larger ranges and the pieces are far more difficult to execute.

Six Studies on a B-Axis:

B-Axis Study Number 1 in B Major - m4a

B-Axis Study Number 1 in B Major - PDF

B-Axis Study Number 2 in E Minor - m4a

B-Axis Study Number 2 in E Minor - PDF

B-Axis Study Number 3 in G Major - m4a

B-Axis Study Number 3 in G Major - PDF

B-Axis Study Number 4 in G-sharp Minor - m4a

B-Axis Study Number 4 in G-sharp Minor - PDF

B-Axis Study Number 5 in E Major - m4a

B-Axis Study Number 5 in E Major - PDF

B-Axis Study Number 6 in B Minor - m4a

B-Axis Study Number 6 in B Minor - PDF

In these I have a lot more chromatic action going on, and I'd discovered augmented sixth intervals by this time, so those are quite prevalent. Also, whereas in the E-Axis studies the parallel mode versions were mostly gender transpositions - I was still figuring out classical major and minor - here all six are individual compositions. There's also some humor here, especially in Number 4 in G-sharp Minor, where I did some "weird" stuff just because it tickled me. Again, these are excellent technical studies, and audiences seem to enjoy them, but you do have to be a fairly advanced player to pull them off convincingly. I perform all of these in my set as well.


After being awarded a Master of Music in 1991 for the above project, I decided to go for a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at The University of North Texas. While there, I composed the final set of six.

Six Studies on a G-Axis:

G-Axis Study Number 1 in G Major - m4a

G-Axis Study Number 1 in G Major - PDF

G-Axis Study Number 2 in C Minor - m4a

G-Axis Study Number 2 in C Minor - PDF

G-Axis Study Number 3 in E-flat Major - m4a

G-Axis Study Number 3 in E-flat Major - PDF

G-Axis Study Number 4 in E Minor - m4a

G-Axis Study Number 4 in E Minor - PDF

G-Axis Study Number 5 in C Major - m4a

G-Axis Study Number 5 in C Major - PDF

G-Axis Study Number 6 in G Minor - m4a

G-Axis Study Number 6 in G Minor - PDF

Here I began to transcend the original conception I started with: No. 1 has two interludes an octave apart, No. 2 has a melody that breaks away from the axis entirely in a few places, No. 3 is a "free-voiced" piece that ranges from two contrapuntal voices to five and has no interlude, No. 5 requires some extended techniques (Fretting with the right hand i finger), and many of the interludes are in different time signatures. Nos. 1, 3, and 5 go beyond mere guitar studies into being concert etudes, and all of these are wicked difficult. I still don't perform No. 3 in E-flat Major all these years later, but it is coming along.


Here's the analysis I did for my Schillinger cronies of B-Axis Study Number 1 in B major.

This particular Axial Study is a good example of the employment of several Schillinger principles in a simple work that makes the techniques very clear. In this case, the played zero axis of the melody, the open B string of the guitar, is the root of the tonic B major triad, while the texture is two-part counterpoint, not counting the played zero axis as an incipient third voice.

Here, the played zero axis begins as a pickup eighth note, and the genesis of the melodic trajectory is out of that and above the axis. For the construction of the melody, I employed Schillinger’s technique of Quadrant Rotation, which is using an original figure in all four of its possible permutations: Original, Inversion, Retrograde Inversion, and Retrograde in this instance. The simple rotational melodic figure of measures one and two reads, re, mi, fa, mi in the key of B, so that is the original form. Measures three and four answer that with, la, sol, fa, sol, which is a diatonic inversion of the original. Then, in measures five and six, the figure morphs into, do, ti, do, re, which is the retrograde inversion, and finally, the figure appears in seven and eight as, mi, fa, mi, re, which is an exact retrograde of the original an octave higher. Measures nine to eleven simply bring the trajectory back toward balance for the repeat with a stepwise scalar passage.

For the bass melody there are a pair of rough diatonic augmentations of the melodic figure, which you can see just by looking, in measures one through four, and again in five through eight. Even very casual approximations like this lend effectiveness to a piece of music: It is not necessary to strive for formulaic exactitude all the time.

Note another idea that Schillinger made me aware of, and that is asymmetrical phraseology: The A section is 11.25 measures in length, counting the pickup bar. The melodic peak of E in measure seven, then, comes at measure 7.75 out of 11.25, which is at about 69% through the phrase. This is very close to the natural norm, which is 66.6%, or 2/3rds of the way through: This is a “happy” section as a result of this natural melodic form combined with the diatonic major mode.

At the second ending the melody turns around to go into the interlude. Note that this creates an augmented retrograde-inversion of the original melodic germ.

The interlude starting at ten functions as a respite from the original texture, and here I establish a secondary axis on F-sharp that has 1/3rd the number of attacks as the primary axis. This is obviously the perfect fifth of the tonic major triad. I also made a point to work a version of the original rotational figure into this, though, as in measures nineteen and twenty we get, la, sol, fa, sol, which is exactly the same inverted form heard in measures three and four. Tres cool, non?

Another idea I got from Schillinger that is here applied intentionally, but in a casual non-rigorous way, is the idea of modifying themes by intervallic expansion. I touched on this briefly when I described the bass melody of the A section. Here, in measure twenty-five, the melody starts out as if it is going to make a retrograde statement of the original figure, but the following intervals are expanded to minor thirds, creating a diminished triad as the tail of the motif. This is a prefiguring of what is to come in the B section proper. Note that the F-double-sharp creates a DINO – Dissonance In Name Only – over the E in the bass: A notated augmented ninth is in sound a minor tenth. This allows both voices to proceed up stepwise – a semitone in the lead and a whole tone in the bass, into the true dissonance of a major ninth. Just a little contrapuntal affectation I’m fond of which produces an effect I enjoy.

At twenty-nine then, the proper B section begins, and it starts out as a regular sequential section for the first three phrases. Even the bass melody is perfectly sequential after the initial intervallic adjustment of a falling minor third in measure twenty-nine.

For the climactic phrase I wanted something more dramatic, so I employed a symmetrical structure; an augmented triad in this case. These are highly unusual in early common practice music, which is where most listeners are familiar with two-part counterpoint textures from, so it really is a surprising device, especially in a major key piece like this: Even in early Romantic homophonic music, these are more common in minor keys.

After using the augmented triad to quickly and dramatically increase imbalance with its rapid departure from the melodic axis, I answered it, so to speak, with another symmetric structure, a fully diminished seventh chord, on the descent back to balance in measures forty-five and forty-six.

Again, fully diminished seventh arpeggios are far more common in minor key pieces, so this continues the drama, albeit at a reduced level of intensity, even as the trajectory returns to balance for the next statement of the A section. So, I set this climax up – foreshadowed it, in other words - with the diminished triad I employed back in the interlude: We’ve heard a diminished triad, an augmented triad, and a fully diminished seventh chord in the melodic trajectory in this piece. By employing devices like this strategically and sparingly, very satisfying musical effects can be achieved, even in tiny miniatures of very limited scope, such as this guitar study.

This B section is eighteen measures in length, which, while an even number, is still not divisible by four, so it isn’t exactly square: The first three phrases are four measures each, but the final climax and denouement phrase is six measures, which divides as four plus two. Since the melodic peak is at measure 15.5 out of eighteen, that gives the 86% point, which is much later and more dramatic than the more normative climax back in the A section.

In conclusion, Schillinger has much to offer a composer, whether that composer has a proclivity for the rigorous formulaic aspects of The System or not. By simply internalizing a few of the concepts he presents, and employing these tactical devices in an organic stratagem, anyone can increase the effectiveness of their compositions, regardless of style or scope.


I was editing the G-Axis Studies until 2000, so after six plus years, I returned to the concept for the fugal finale of Sonata One for Solo Guitar.

Axial Fugue in E Minor - m4a

Axial Fugue in E Minor - PDF

I did an epic analysis post of this piece here on MMM back in 2008.

From the first diatonic E-Axis Study to the epic 405 measure Axial Fugue was almost exactly twenty years. When you get a, "Big Idea" like these Axial Studies as a composer - we're lucky if we get a half dozen of these in a lifetime - you want to follow it as far as it takes you. If you listen through all of these, the musical evolution is quite evident, and there would never have been any Axial Fugue without those other eighteen pieces that lead up to it. Also, since I used the E-Axis trajectory-below-axis paradigm for the Axial Fugue in E Minor, I am also aware that the B-Axis trajectory-above-axis paradigm is also a possibility for another epic Axial Fugue in B Minor. Yeah, that's cooking in my noggin right now, but it will probably be a few more years before I commit pencil to paper pixels to screen on it.

The primary reason to study things like The Schillinger System and Convertible Counterpoint (The other book that contributed to the Axial Fugue, but that's a story for another post) isn't to understand music better, that's just a byproduct: The primary aim is to get inspiration for compositions.