Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!
JAN
12

Music sounds better in the winter!

Music sounds better in the winter!

You’ve read that right: apparently everything sounds better in the winter, especially in more humid climates (like Virginia, USA, where we live), and here’s why:

When it gets colder, the heating unit in a building turns on or is turned on, like a furnace or a wood stove.  Because of that, the humidity in the indoors drops to a pretty low level, like fifteen to twenty-five percent relative humidity.

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2261 Hits
AUG
15

Three features of Beatles ballads

When in 1995 I composed ‘Sky Through the Pines’ (originally ‘Such a Gift’) I envisioned it as a sung song with guitar or as an instrumental ensemble piece with guitar, hammered dulcimer, flute, and other instruments; both versions were recorded, in 1996 and then 2002, and the latter was released on the album Sycamore Rapids.  But I never imagined playing it as a solo --- and was frustrated that I couldn’t play it again except on a CD player!

In 2000 I began developing my new stylized method of separated-hand solo hammered dulcimer playing, and at first limited it to quite simple tunes to keep it manageable.  Then the occasion came, for a couple of weddings, to arrange Beatles pop ballads in such a manner.  Many of us agree, I think, that some of the finest of the pop ballads are by those guys, and they have a sort of pure simplicity that ought to go well with my separated-hand technique!

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2997 Hits
APR
04

How I arranged 'There Is a Fountain (Cleansing Fountain)'

How I arranged 'There Is a Fountain (Cleansing Fountain)'

It seems as if everyone who knows the old Appalachian folk hymn ‘There Is a Fountain’ loves it, with its Civil War manner of simplicity and sentimentality.  The refrain that repeats the last line of each verse for a lingering contemplative moment is a dear American musical statement.

I certainly join with the throngs who are endeared to this piece.  And all my life I’ve heard it performed, at times as a beautifully quaint folksy instrumental, or as a formal congregational hymn, or a sweeping operatic showpiece, or a Bluegrass gospel number, or a jazz improv, or an Indie acoustic pop song, or a fundamentalist inspirational solo…

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33443 Hits
SEP
04

Playing in an ensemble

Playing in an ensemble

Although nowadays I play solo most of the time, I love to join with other musicians in ensembles when I can, and have a series of different groups planned throughout the rest of this year: church worship team, acoustic duets, trios, quartets, even an Old-Time/Celtic sextet!  If you play with other musicians, you need to make many decisions about how each player’s role fits into the overall picture.

I as an improviser tend to look for ways I can come up with special countermelodies and textural enhancements --- as well as creative, meaningful interpretations of the melody when it’s my turn to play lead, or improvisational breaks when called for.

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22991 Hits
AUG
22

Coming up with musical fill-in parts in an arrangement or improv

Coming up with musical fill-in parts in an arrangement or improv

When a musician is putting together a typical arrangement it’s good for him to 1) make sure he has a solid rhythmic pattern going, and he needs 2) a good chord structure moving along within that rhythm, and of course he needs 3) a straightforward melody.  If they’re handled with taste and skill, this group of factors combine for a fine rendition of the piece.

However, there are often long notes at key points in the melody’s progress, and players like me crave an extra voice “singing along” during those long notes (and perhaps elsewhere as well) to add interest and color.  I’ve found that there are a lot of ways to work with that, and I’m always working on these creative “fill parts,” so I thought I’d jot down a collection of ideas to consider if you want to.  Here they are!

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23296 Hits
MAY
08

Musical modes are the same as scales!

Sometimes we hear musicians say things like "That's a modal tune" or "That's in a minor key, but one note's different," etc.  Let's talk about what that means!

In the Middle Ages and earlier, music was essentially just melody and rhythm, with no harmony, and besides that the instruments could play in only one key.  (I find the no-harmony thing hard to imagine, but that's what music historians say.)  To get variety and color in the music, then, one thing musicians did was to set up a system of "modes" using that single-key scale.  And the mode system is used in most music today as well.  This is actually very easy to understand, and it's a helpful thing to know if you play music yourself!

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18793 Hits
APR
19

The scale, the melody, the chords, and time!

The scale, the melody, the chords, and time!

Often people think of music design as a mysterious, arcane art that can only be done by gifted geniuses who just have a special knack --- or, alternatively, that new music (improvisation or composition) can be made only by highly trained technical experts.  Not really!  There are only a few basic concepts that make it all come together, and here's what I've seen as a lifelong improviser:

1) Everything in normal "tonal" music is built out of a diatonic (do-re-mi) scale: seven scale steps in an octave, and nothing more.  In elementary school music or elsewhere I hope you've gotten the chance to hear that that scale is a "whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step," easily seen in the key of C on the piano.

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28847 Hits

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