Most of the recording is not studio quality (since it wasn’t done in a studio), and recording isn’t something I enjoy doing, but I made the mistake of not putting my earlier compositions on tape (yes, that early) or onto the computer. Trying to remember those pieces has been futile effort. So now I at least score my pieces as I write them.
Earlier this year I did a series of posts on my writing process:
I write better than I play. I play better than I record. I record better than I perform. Which is why it takes me a long time to get my music into audio form.
It was the mid [insert decade here]s. I was two years out of high school, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. A couple years of college (not the college AKA university), left me wondering where my path lay (I was going to say destiny, but that seemed a bit grandiose).
Enter music. I liked playing guitar, and I was decent at it, so I decided to enroll in Music Performance course. This was my first exposure to classical guitar. Learning about something you enjoy makes everything easy. Not just playing guitar, but the other history and theory. It was fun. The parties were fun too.
I was immediately drawn to the Renaissance composer, John Dowland, along with his contemporaries, so it was natural to write in that style, just like later, my acoustic work was influenced by Don Ross, Adrien Legg, and Leo Kottke.
I wrote a few pieces for classical guitar, and later on for acoustic. Some I wrote down, others became faded memories with time, and a few finally got transcribed electronically, with a few of those being lost to the scourge of computer crashes. It’s funny how some pieces came back to me, while others were left alone too long and were now not like a puzzle with missing pieces, but the handful of the pieces themselves.
Here it is. Way too many years in the making. Riviera Galliard:
“She told me her name was Riviera. I was smitten and intrigued. I wonder what became of her.”
I finally changed the strings on my guitar. Wow. What a difference.
Will that give me motivation to play more? I still enjoy playing, but sometimes it feels too much like a chore.
It takes me a long time to learn a new piece of music (or re-learn something). If I step away for a while or start a new piece of music, the hard work dissipates and I feel I have to start over again. When I finally get to the point where it’s not going to improve anymore, it’s still not to my liking, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s not perfect. I know that my skill set is not set up for perfection.
Nothing is ever perfect though, is it? I wrote a quote that read:
“Perfection leaves you nowhere to go.”
Where do my imperfections lie? I can play a certain part correctly several times, but then make a mistake where I never before. I misplace a finger on a string. I forget a part or section that I thought was memorized. When I go to record one of my pieces, just the pressure of pressing the record button is enough to make it seem that I didn’t practice it at all, so it takes many takes to get a complete piece.
I have been trying to practice and record one of the first pieces that I wrote, “Riviera Galliarde”, and hopefully, by putting my goal in writing, I’ll be able to share it with you very soon.
I sat down the other day and was able to write a few potential transitions to get me from one part to the next.
There are so many different forms that a piece of classical music can take. Some take the forms of dances: Gavotet, Mazurka, Allemande, while others are named for their tempo: Allegro, Largo, Adagio. Pieces can be called for what they are used for, such as a Study, or a diversion – Divertimento.
Like poetry, compositions often have repeated parts. Part one repeated, then part 2 repeated would be AABB. A rondo has a main part repeated 3 times ABACA.
Here is a sneak peek at the score:
As you can see there are 5 distinct parts, with the blue outline being the ending. Some parts may be combined depending how I want the repeats to go.
As for a name, not to give away the style, but I think I will be calling it “Lullaby”.
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John Cage’s 4’33. A pianist comes out and sits at a piano and begins to…do nothing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Is this taking minimalism too far, or is it just someone beating everyone else to the punch. Probably the latter.
My first exposure to minimalism was Philp Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi. I didn’t hear it as a piece, but as part of the movie. Either way, it’s mesmerizing.
My all time favorite is Ann Southam. Here is just a taste:
Usually, when I hear one of her pieces, I have to stop what I doing and just listen.
Enter my composition. Fast Ride on a Slow Train, which was almost called Slow Ride on a Fast Train, although I’m not sure it makes a difference, makes use of two things: Repetition and dissonance. Dissonance is the sound of two (or more) notes that the ear perceives as not pleasant sounding. I know that this can be subjective but since much of western music is based on certain scales, we do have a common perception of what sounds “right”. I’m sure this could have turned out differently if we had divided the scales into 13, 14, 15 etc. notes instead of twelve. Anyway, I like how notes can clash, but after repeating them many times, the ear gets acclimatized to the sound. Well, mine does. So here we go-let’s take a ride. Thank you, Ann.
When I started my musical education journey, I didn’t have the advantages of computer transcription programs. There was no easy access to popular sheet music. Other that a few guitar magazines, if I wanted to learn a song, I had to get a recording and learn it by ear. That’s not an altogether bad thing—it’s a skill that is indispensable. And that wasn’t that long ago. Unless you think 40 years is a long time (it’s not. Really.)
When I decided to do my post-secondary education in music, one of my first required purchases was a calligraphy pen. Thankfully, not the feather dipped in ink kind. I’m not that old. We studied older manuscripts, practiced our musical notations, and practiced some more. Take a look at a handwritten musical score and see how much artistic skill is required.
The ink was just the final step though. You don’t want to be writing down rough drafts in permanency. I do suspect that the early composers did. No, for the majority of the time, a pencil—and eraser—are your best friends. If I had to choose, it would be the eraser (sorry, pencil).
Playing and writing are alternating tasks. Play a bit, write a bit, play a bit, erase a bit, and so on. Besides writing down the note’s pitch, you also have to figure out the complicated rhythm you just came up with. Enter the foot tapping. One and-a two-e and…Nope. One and two and-a…One-e and-a, and so on.
Of course, most of the time you know the rhythm; it’s those parts that make your piece sound cool that always give you trouble.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I have to make sure I don’t play to much, otherwise I forget the first part. That means I’ll write things down in short sections as I come up with it, and then connect the dots so to speak. If I’m having difficulty deciding where the melody will go, I often jump ahead and try to join them up later. Which leads me to a piece of paper that looks like this:
Eventually, I’ll have a complete handwritten piece ready for the final task. No more ink and splotches, dreading making a mistake (but I don’t want to start over!). Now there are many different computer transcription programs for that. They range from free to not so free to really expensive. I’ve used Finale, Encore, Sibelius, MuseScore, to name a few. I don’t write enough to warrant forking out the big bucks, so I am currently using the free program MuseScore.
I liked Encore, it was very user friendly and easy to learn, but it was glitchy and the price kept going up. MuseScore has a polished end-result, but it’s has some issues, mainly not being as straight forward as I think it could be.
My book, Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar was put together using Encore, but at some point, I would like to transcribe them into a different program. I don’t want to have to key in everything again, so I need to find a way to convert one program to the other.