Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!
MAY
29

EXCELSIOR! Ideas concerning the concept of “Up” in music arranging

EXCELSIOR!  Ideas concerning the concept of “Up” in music arranging

“Excelsior” is a Latin word meaning “ever upward.” Aspiration is an important part of every aspect of our lives!  We need a sense of hope for better things, more noble things, more joy and adventure and ultimate fulfillment.  Certainly our music arranging can reflect this.  I have compiled ideas here that I employ to give a sense of “excelsior” in my arranging and playing music, and I often experience a new elation as I perform, no matter what the form of the music is.  Some of this concept is already built into the source melody or chords --- perhaps that’s why I choose to use them in the first place --- but I can consciously incorporate many other techniques as well to flesh out the progressive joy or drama.  I do hope that you too can find your own elation through using some of these!

(A couple of references in the text are for players of hammered dulcimer --- but all of these thoughts can be used by any musicians.)

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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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MAR
20

The beautiful sound of a hammered dulcimer's triangular shapes

Do you walk past your hammered dulcimer sometimes, deciding not to play it because you feel that working on a tune would just be more work than you need right now?

Then don't work on a tune! Just mess around with beautiful sounds without a definite plan! The hammered dulcimer is perfect for that!

Three-note chords on the dulcimer come in triangular shapes. The only simple skill needed to get a gorgeous sound is to coordinate your right and left hammers into a simple shape, say, R on bass bridge, then L on right side of treble bridge, then R just above that, then back to L on the same course it had just done --- thus the only movement is the R hammer, and the L is playing the same note in between the R notes. Repeat over and over on those same notes for a while.

A specific example of a regular chord would be the notes D-F#-A-F# (R-L-R-L). If you repeat this for a while it gives you a beautiful D major chord. But don't think specifics! Think shapes! A major or minor chord shape is the triangle described here, but there are also lots of other shapes.

If you make the triangle more acute by playing courses right next to each other on the treble bridge part, it sounds "natury" and impressionistic (like G-D-E-D); if you spread that part of the triangle farther apart, it sounds more hollow and stark --- say, if you play all marked courses, like the notes G-D-G-D or any shapes of that kind.

Then try all sorts of other triangular shapes and listen for the interesting sounds.

You may want eventually to develop one of these explorations into a finished composition that you come back to and maybe you'll even perform it for others! BUT what I want to encourage you to do here is to to break away from a project-driven mentality and develop a sense of freedom and joy in the moment --- and you can do it at any time with no sense of pressure, thus you will be playing your dulcimer and enjoying it at any time!

Don't walk past the dulcimer!

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