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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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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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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