Music Monday: Deja…kind of vu?

I heard a song the other day and it reminded me of a past event. The odd thing was that I had never heard it before, yet it made me reminisce. I guess that the words or the melody fit into my memories so that I could picture myself experiencing it in a different time.

It has happened when I write music as well. I was sitting playing my acoustic guitar when I came up with this short piece. There was something about it that evoked a sense of sadness or loss, to the point that I teared up as I played. I did finally finish it up—it was short, but I didn’t feel a need to make it longer.

Loss

Later, it reminded me of a poem I wrote for a friendship, that despite my many efforts, I have deemed lost. The fact that I couldn’t salvage the relationship makes me sad. We had fun together and I’m going to miss that. I would love for them to see it. I sometimes I imagine, like in a movie, that they stumble across it, and I know that they will know it is about them.

I put the two together, and here is the result:

Never the Same

-Leon

Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and PicturesJourneys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.
www.linesbyleon.com

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Music Monday: What Goes Around Comes Around

Did popular music run out of ideas after the first few decades? Last week I wrote about songs that sound the same. Today, we visit how we hear artists reaching back to sample from the musical buffet of the past. Sometimes it is because an artist is heavily influenced by a certain band, or like fashion, certain styles become trendy again.

Some may say the blues never went away, but some musicians made it more popular again from time to time. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and more recently Gary Clark Jr. have all done their job at showcasing the first real North American style of music.

Folk and Celtic music had a resurgence in the late 80s early 90s, especially in Canada, with bands like Spirit of the West, Great Big Sea, and The Rankin Family, along with the explosion of folk festivals in North America. Now bands such as The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons are carrying on the folk-rock tradition.

When Oasis came out, people drew parallels to The Beatles. I think one of the Gallaghers said that they were what The Beatles would sound like if they hadn’t broken up. I can say that I hear some of that influence.

Do you miss Led Zeppelin? Have a listen to Greta Van Fleet. If you are a purist, then you will definitely have disdain for what they are doing. What are they doing? I think they are doing a fine job of bringing back a unique sound that hasn’t been heard for a while. If music can be reincarnated—here is your proof. 

Grunge. You mean Punk, right? C’mon. Weren’t Nirvana and Green Day just The Ramones? For the record, I like all three. Then bands like Linkin Park, Soundgarden, and Limp Biskit add Rap to their heavy grunge/metal sound, bringing in a new audience.

Disco always seems to pop up every so often. You can hear it in some of the beats being used in dance clubs and pop music.

What’s coming back next? If my love of science fiction gives me any clues, there will be one music station—sanctioned by “The One True People’s Conglomerate”—that is broadcast directly into our aural implant (genetically designed, of course—by robots or our alien overlords).

Theremin Radio: All Theremin, All the Time

 (with the theme from Star Trek in heavy rotation)

-Leon

Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and PicturesJourneys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.
www.linesbyleon.com

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Music Monday: I’ve Heard That Song Before

12 notes. How many combinations can you get? Quite a few. Most of the popular music we listen to is made up of 7, so that makes a few less combinations.

Just a quick theory lesson: Western music – not Country and Western – which originated in Europe, is based on the major scale, which we learn at a young age in music class – or from The Sound of Music. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc.

We label the notes from A to G. So if we play the notes in sequence A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A we get the major scale, right? Nope. That give us a minor scale. The major scale starts on C: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. Nothing is ever as simple as it could be. Don’t get me started on why instruments like the trumpet play the note C but it is written as a B flat in their music.

All you need to know is that if you want to write a happy sounding song, write it in a major key. Been done wrong? Heartbroken? Write a sad song in a minor key. Can you use both in the same song? Sure!

Anyway, with 7 notes, there are many combinations, but there are still instances where two songs can sound very similar. You probably have experienced that before, hearing a song and thinking that is a different one, or hearing a part and trying to figure out where you have heard it.

Sometimes it’s just a few notes – this is common because less notes=less combinations. Maybe it is a certain beat, or a chord progression. Is this done on purpose or is it accidental? I don’t think that musicians purposely try to copy another, this just invites the copyright lawsuit, and you don’t want that. It can be an homage to close influences – if you listen to a certain artist a lot, then it will influence your writing.

Get to the music, Leon.

OK. When I first heard “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” by Miley Cyrus, all I could hear is “Joleen” by Dolly Parton. It’s very close. Very.

Wait! How many Miley Cyrus albums do you own?

None. Tell me what you think.

Are there two songs that you think sound the same?

-Leon

Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and PicturesJourneys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.
www.linesbyleon.com

Purchase paperback directly for the author!

Music Monday: You Oughta’ Tune – Yer Makin’ Me Cry

Sometimes a song will just grab you for several different reasons. Lyrics hit close to home, a melody moves you, or the rhythm makes you want to dance. I listen to a wide variety of music, as I wrote about in a previous Music Monday: Music Monday: So Many Genres.

Here are a couple of recent favorites that may or may not make your list:

Did auto-tune ruin music? Some say that it did. It may be overused by some artists, but there is something about it in this song that makes it effective. If I’m driving when it comes on, I do turn it up.

I was going to use the video, but it was very blinky and strobey, so I didn’t want to inflict that on anyone with sensitivities.

This next song made me cry the first time I heard it. The second time too. Maybe the third. Perhaps the fourth. I can’t listen to it without tearing up.

I can’t follow up a song like that, so I’ll call it a day.

-Leon

Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and PicturesJourneys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.
www.linesbyleon.com

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Music Monday: Riviera Galliard

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.”

Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar

-Leon

Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and PicturesJourneys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.
www.linesbyleon.com

Purchase paperback directly for the author!

Music Monday: Nobody’s Perfect

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.

Stay tuned.

-Leon

Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and PicturesJourneys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories.
www.linesbyleon.com

Purchase paperback directly for the author!

Music Monday: Opus 6 – Progress

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”.

-Leon


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Music Monday: Places (acoustic guitar)

I hope you have been enjoying my composition series Opus 1 through 5. The next one will follow once I have all the parts connected into a cohesive piece of music. How long does that take? Beats me, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll share a project I have been working on called Places. It was written for the acoustic steel-string guitar. The composition process doesn’t differ from how I write for classical guitar. The only difference is the sound that you get from each guitar; sometimes a piece of music just fits better on one over the other.

I discovered the joy of playing acoustic guitar after beginning my classical training. My musical influences came from hearing folk, Celtic, country, and bluegrass at various music festivals. In the 80s, electric guitarists were taking guitar to a whole new level, and in the late 80s/early 90s, acoustic players were doing much the same thing.

Places (which I have shared in a previous post), is a fingerpicked acoustic piece. The beginning is actually the first part of a song I was writing called Pieces, which I absconded for this new piece because it just fit.

While I played it, it brought back memories of places I have seen, so it was natural to put together a visual montage to go along with it. I tried various video editing programs (free) but settled on the movie maker that my OS came with.

It’s a rough draft, but I think that it will work for the meantime. I hope you think so too.


Music Monday: Opus 2

I sommelier once told me, don’t let anyone tell you what you taste. If you taste black cherry, then it has notes of black cherry. He also said that price shouldn’t be a factor. If you like it, it’s a good wine. That’s advice coming from someone whose job it is to sell us on the vineyard’s vintages.

I approach composing in much the same way. If I like the way it sounds, then it’s right. A composition teacher told the class that in order to break the rules, you first must learn them. Thus, began the arduous task of mastering music theory, harmonization, voice leading, etc.

Who made these rules? Every composer before me. The lucky ones were the ones from the beginning. Each composer wrote what sounded right to their ears, and others copied (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). As with anything, music evolves. New ideas of what sounds right or wrong are added, and voila, we have Barbara Wharram’s Elementary Rudiments of Music.

There are still things that sound pleasant-or correct-to our ears. That could be because we have become accustomed to the way chords and notes move and interact over hundreds of years.  Don’t believe me? Play– or have someone play– this chord sequence: G / / / C / / / D / / /, then stop. For you musicians out there, don’t worry, you can play the tonic chord now, I’m not cruel. For everyone else, it leaves you wanting something else, doesn’t it? Hint, it’s a G.

I learned all the rules. I composed fugues and inventions according to convention. Sound boring? You wouldn’t be completely wrong, sometimes it was. In the 20th century, composers began to rebel against these rules and made their own. Some went toward the minimalist approach, others used math to determine the outcome, and the rest took the forms that they liked and used the notes they wanted.

Let circle back to the sommelier, not because I like wine – I do – but because he was right. Don’t let anyone tell you the music sounds wrong because if that’s how you want it to sound, then it’s right.

Next week: The Beginning of a Composition (or, Where did That Idea Come From?)


Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures, The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories, and Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar

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Music Monday: Sell-out or Just Business?


A few news stories have come out over the last few weeks about musicians selling the rights to their song catalogs. Now, this is nothing new, one of the first bombshells was when Michael Jackson purchased some of The Beatles songs – which I believe were repurchased years later. Recently, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Mick Fleetwood have all sold parts of their own catalogs.

Why is it good business to own song rights? $$$$$$. Royalties are paid every time a song is played/performed publicly. Radio (yes, we still have that), online streaming, T.V. (yes, we still have that too), and movies are some examples. Ever wonder why you only hear snippets of songs during your favorite sports events? After a certain amount of time, royalties need to be paid, so the venue plays 10-15 seconds. Loophole? Maybe. But the first 10-15 seconds of Thunderstruck is the best part. Come to think about it, it is the only part. Why do you hear weird variations on that birthday song in restaurants? You guessed it-royalties.

I don’t remember the first time I heard a song that I liked used in a commercial. I do remember that many years ago (no, I’m not telling) cries of “Sell-out!” were repeated by music fans when the bands that they loved allowed popular songs to be used to sell…whatever. It’s not so surprising now–it’s just business. Can we fault an artist for trying to make money? OK, don’t answer that. That’s a whole new can o’ worms.

What can I handle? I can tolerate a song being used in its original form to sell a truck, insurance, banking services, or whatnot, but please, please, if you sell your song, sell the lyrics as well. Don’t know what I’m getting at? One of my favorite songs is–was–Rocket Man by Elton John. Now, when I hear that song, all I think about is the lady who “…shops at Rakutan”. Thanks a bunch, Elton.

Given the opportunity, would I sell the rights to my songs? Probably. Maybe. It depends. If my creations made me a decent wage that allowed me not to want for anything (FYI–that’s a low bar. I’m very frugal), I don’t think that I would. Never say never, though, right?

So, for all you restaurants looking for a cheap alternative to The Birthday Song, for only $0.27/use, I present to you, Happy, Happy Birthday:

 
 Happy, happy, happy,
 Birthday, birthday, birthday
 You were born [insert number here] years ago
 Happy, happy, happy,
  Birthday, birthday, birthday
 We’ll stop here 
 So we don’t have to pay… 

Darn, I didn’t think this through…

-Leon