Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!
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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AUG
10

Playing without a plan can be great

Playing without a plan can be great

Are you a musician who is tied to the page?  Do you need to have notes printed in front of you in order to play?  Or do you have to depend on a carefully rehearsed repertoire?  Do you require a chord chart so you know the right harmonic structure?  Or are distinct melodies your only option when you play?

Here's an example of how totally 'out of the blue' playing can be beneficial:

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23413 Hits
JUN
13

Phrasing for drama and meaning

Phrasing for drama and meaning

[By the way, in the photo I'm playing my tune "Big Meadows Twilight" in the twilight at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park in 2000 --- photo by our daughter Karen.]

There are many approaches a musician can take toward a melody and arrangement:  Perhaps your choice today is choosing a genre to play it in, for example doing a reel as Old-Time vs. Bluegrass vs. Celtic; or perhaps you need to decide whether you’re playing toward an audience, or playing as if closed into your own little world and the audience just gets to listen in; or perhaps you need to figure out if you just want to play a beautiful tune as beautifully as you can, or if you want to communicate some additional meaning through it.  These and many other decisions come into play as we face the performance of a particular piece of music.

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113721 Hits
APR
23

Lessons learned from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!

Lessons learned from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!

In 2011, when I was considering tunes for the Civil War album Tenting on the Old Camp Ground, I thought of the spiritual “Wade in the Water” (and ended up doing it in a lively duet form with Bill Gurley, in an arrangement Bill originated).  I remembered that I’d first heard the marvelous melody on a record by the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s --- so I went looking for the track and ended up re-collecting in digital form all of their albums!  I began to realize that these, and especially the two records I owned at that time, What Now My Love and The Brass Are Coming, had had a profound influence on my musical sense and styling ever since.  I play different instruments and genres than Herbie and his group of first-rate session men, but the approach I use to production, arranging, and playing is definitely similar!

To convince myself that I wasn’t  just imagining this influence, and to perhaps share the ideas with others, I started a brainstorming list --- and it quickly became a large set of both general concepts and specific applications.

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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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