Category Archives: Folk Music

What’s your biggest guitar issue?

ATTENTION GUITAR FRIENDS!

This is a call for submissions!

One aim of my blog is to offer guitar & music-related advice and for the next few posts, I’d like to pass the power in dictating the topic of discussion to YOU. So tell me: what is the is the biggest issue you face in learning the guitar?

I’m happy to examine any relevant queries which have been bugging you. They could be technical (finger tapping, getting the right tone out of an amp), or more vague (who do you feel the best guitarists to listen to when learning Afro-Cuban jazz, etc). You might want to ask about bass guitar, ukulele or band performance/management in general. Feel free!

You can message me here, leave a comment in this post, or drop me a DM/tweet via my Twitter account: @tim_guitarist.

I look forward to hearing from you & talking your queries over the next few weeks!

Tim x

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Music that made me (part one): Early years

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo. 

Humans are a musical species. Throughout our history we have created such beautiful sounds which are simultaneously abstract and intimate. You could say we are the music we listen to. If that’s true, then that first music we absorb as children must play a large part in informing our futures, a least to some extent. If nothing else, it helps form your musical tastes for the future! 

As I sit here typing this, ‘Deacon Blues’ by Steely Dan ha started playing on the radio. I’m instantly transported back to a younger version of myself, still as moved by this song as I was the first time it fell upon my ears. (if you don’t know it, here’s a live version you can enjoy by clicking here).

As musicians & composers, we should be both mindful & appreciative of this. With that in mind, here is my very own early music

Using that term, I’m excluding nursery rhymes and songs from school. I was also planning to leaving aside hymns & church music. But the more I thought about it, the less it made sense to do so. This was a huge part of my formative years. To ignore the music of my church and community growing up would mean I was only presenting to you half of the music that made the man sat here typing this right now.

I was raised by a family of regular churchgoers in a close Catholic community in the north of England. Music was a large part of our times attending Mass or in Church-related events, and without a doubt my favourite ingredient of the Christiam experience.

Folk & Celtic Music

My community had a strong Celtic connection, with regular social events, often ceilidhs featuring additional Northumbrian dancing. If you’re unfamiliar with these traditional Irish & Scottish dances, here’s a classic, the Gay Gordons (Yes, that was a part of my childhood!)

There were also more reflective songs, performed by certain members of the parish. These included several traditional Irish songs, such as ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Molly Malone’.

My interest in folk music stems directly from hearing so much of it as a child. As a professional guitar player, I’m often called upon to play these tunes. Here is my own version of ‘Danny Boy’ (called  Londonderry Air here) from my Vimeo site.

…and here’s the traditional Notthumbrian tune Waters Of Tyne

Hymns

While there was no one particular hymn that stood out, I quickly discovered which melodies, chord sequences, and – crucially – their relation to each other, I preferred to listen to and sing along with. Some, especially Christmas Carols, managed to embody powerful music with a soft sweetness many classical composers have struggled to attain. Obvious (non-Christmassy) examples include ‘Abide With Me’ and of course, Jerusalem.

‘Jerusalem’ gets bonus points for being thought of as such a patriotic ode to England here in the UK. This is despite the fact that the words are taken from William Blake’s thoroughly sarcastic prom, mocking the mediaeval belief that Jesus visited these lands as a teenager with Joseph of Arimathea. However, the music by Sir Hubert Parry is sublime. In particular, the downwards harmonic movement towards the end of the second line in both verses never fails to raise goosebumps on my arms!

Finally…

This is just one part of my life, but the music here still stirs memories of growing up, and the sense of community spirit we had. My father is still a regular at my old church, and like me, his favourite part of the experience is the music – the singing together, and belonging.

But that’s not the whole story…

Coming up next: the other side of my early years. Specifically, the albums I first heard as a child. Until then, stay happy and keep making music xx

New community music centre now open in Cumbria

Some of you may know I am involved with a few community music therapy projects in the north-west of England. Now think it’s time you met ‘me gaffer’, and had a wee peek at the new £2million centre which has recently opened its doors in Penrith, Cumbria.

Annie, Michael & the whole team at Sunbeams Music Trust have been working tirelessly for several years, and not just in fundraising for their brand new centre. Sunbeams Music Trust now provides community music across the region. Their ‘Music for Life’ & ‘Music for Dignity’ projects reach children and adults in schools, day centres, care homes & much more, bringing music (and improved wellbeing) to so many people who need & enjoy it. But there is always more work to be done and more communities & people to reach out to. This new centre will go some way to meeting that obvious need.

Featuring a large performance room, state-of-the-art digital recording studio and small music & therapy rooms, the new centre comes well equipped to meet the needs of the charity. A well-equipped kitchen & boardroom means they can also raise much needed revenue through conferencing & hosting events. The recording studio is also directly linked up to the performance hall, meaning the centre can also serve as a commercial studio capable of recording anything up & including a small orchestra!

Guitars laid out in ‘Lily’s Room’, at the Sunbeams Centre, Cumbria.

My only contribution to the new centre so far has been laying out the guitars on the floor (as above, however the remnants of which can also be briefly glimpsed in the video, via the link below). However, I hope to start leading a few of the projects there from 2017 and truth be told, I can’t wait! The new centre is, in a word, AWESOME!

Sunbeams runs entirely on donations & charity funding. If you haven’t yet chosen a charity to donate to for Christmas, or raise money for throughout 2017, please give Sunbeams some serious consideration.

Fundraiding information can be found on Sunbeam’s donation page.

Thanks, guys! xx

…And here’s the recent feature on the new Sunbeams Centre, courtesy of ITV News.

Special offer on guitar lessons (Newcastle)

Thinking of learning guitar? Or know someone who is? Here’s the ideal Christmas present for the guitar student in your life (and, crucially, are based in the North East of England)…

***SPECIAL OFFER FOR NEW STUDENTS***
I’m offering discounted rates for all new students who book lessons between the 1st of December and the 15th of January.

Whether you’re a complete beginner, or an experienced player looking for a short run of courses to focus on one specialist technique. Either way, all styles & all levels of player catered for in electric, acoustic & classical guitars. Ukulele lessons also available, also for all levels & styles.

***BLOCK BOOK TEN 1/2 HOUR LESSONS FOR ONLY £90.00***

(45 minute & one hour slots available too)

Message me on my Facebook page for details & to discuss.

New Music update (minimalism)

Those who have been reading my more recent blogs will have no doubt seen recent updates on my in-progress minimalist work. If you have, then you’ve most likely heard (and hopefully enjoyed) the trailers and demos for two of the pieces four movements. The most recent article on the wider work can be read here.

Now, these four movements all have final names. The overall pice itself also now has a working title: Urban Sequencing (a city distilled).

This working title reflects the mental images which occur to me when writing these movements. Urban landscapes and the movement of people/transportation is a recurring theme.

I’ve often thought of cities as living organisms, for good or bad. Seen from a distance, they can look like bright, smoke-beltching monsters fed and cleaned out by ant-armies of people. Most psychological and sociological studies on the matter will tell you that we also behave differently in a crowd. With that in mind, I wished to explore different aspects of the modern urban environment through minimalist music. Using simple, repeated phrases overlapping one another, in conjunction with the mathematic movement titles, I am attempting to recreate the nature of living in the city.

The piece’s four movements can be represented as follows:

#6×5 (allegro)

train1train2

(Pics by Beijing Cream & rediff.com)

This opening movement implies images of rapid moving transport, much like the above pictures of asian railway stations implies. But it could equally represent crowds of people, or indeed, the frantic state of mind that city life and cause in some individuals.

You can hear a short trailer for #6×5, as well as read a little bit more about this movement, in this article.

#5×4 (adagio)

Though this piece was initially concede as a reflection on the life of a dear family member who had passed away, this adagio movement also serves to highlight reflection in modern life. Even in urban environments, it is possible to find time to pause and reflect. But even in this act, we are still in the presence of a sequence, so in keeping with the theme, the city never leaves us in this work.

You can read more about #5×4 and hear a demo recording of the full movement (as it is right now) via this article.

#6×3 (animato)

roundabout

Pic by Tony Burns.

The third movement, #6×3, is a dance. A dance of sequences in triple time. Lively and animated (hence the subtitle ‘animato’), this short jig is also the scherzo of the work.

In #6×3, I hope to reflect how beauty can be found in random patterns, from the movement of pedestrians as they avoid each other, to traffic in roundabouts (like in the beautiful picture of a roundabout in Shanghai from National Geographic, above).

I am still putting the final few touches to this movement, but i hope to upload a demo for you guys to listen to very soon.

#5×2 (allegretto)

Squares by Adam Magyar

Pic by Adam Magyar (via Rupert Cook).

Finally, #5×2 brings us back to the frantic, hurried feeling from the first movement. This time round, however, there is more order. Unlike #6×5, this final movement is made up of five phrases of just two notes each, unlike the five note patterns from the earlier piece.

The resulting music, to my ears, implies that the city has played a part in shaping you, in organising it’s components to more effective use. Oiling the cogs, if you will. however, if you feel ending this piece feeling like a small cog in an uncaring machine, perhaps there is another way of viewing this. Going though all four movements in sequence, we start frantic and chaotic, before slowing down to reflect. We then enjoy the ‘joke’ of the piece, the dance, before ending in a more organised manner – and therefore with a less stressed attitude (at least, that’s one theory!).

As with the third movement, this piece still requires a little more ‘tweeking’ before I’m ready to release it into the world, even in demo form. However, I don’t think it’ll be too long before you get to hear it and let me know what you think.

Final thoughts

Overall, this entire piece should last just under fifteen minutes. Though my demos have so far been showcased on piano, I originally intended for this music to be recorded by an ensemble of tuned percussion, and hope to record a version in that style this year. I may decide to experiment further with alternative instrumentation – any suggestions?

I’d also be interested to know what you think of my concept overall. As always, you can comment or contact me through my social media channels to discuss, if you so wish.

Until next time, stay happy, and keep playing!

#5×4 (demo) – New Music

New music! Listen to it by clicking here.

In recent posts, I’ve discussed one of my current works-in-progress, a four movement minimalist work. You can read about the opening movement, #6×5, here.

The new video is the next movement to be almost entirely completed, #5×4. Again arranged for solo or duo piano, this is the slow movement of the work. Though using the same principles as #6×5, this piece is the exact opposite in a number of ways.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is the ambience of the movement itself. It was created as a reflective piece while I thinking about the recent passing of a dear family member. The rhythm has an unchallenged 4/4 feel throughout. All of th parts work together well harmonically, so there is nowhere near the level of dissonance as we hear in #6×5.

Secondly, the ‘rules’ (for want of a better description) of the overall piece are more relaxed in this movement. Where #6×5 features six separate motifs, each of which are five notes in length, #5×4 is more general. True, there are only five motifs throughout. However, the number of notes in each ofthis piece’s musical phrases is an average. For example, the lead phrase uses five notes, so to balance this out one of the other motifs is comprised of a mere three notes. Also, the four notes (on average) in each motif refer to unique notes. For example, one of the repeating phrases runs: D A D A F# D B. While there is reputation of D’s and A’s, there are only four separate pitches in the entire motif.

 

Image from the video for #5×4 (Tim Higgins)

So, why have I used such a relaxed approach in this movement? And does it go against the principles of minimalist music?

Here are the main arguments justifying my compositional choices:

  1. First and foremost, good music is good music. I like how this piece sounds, very much the way it first came to me.
  2. Rules are made to be broken (a topic I have covered in several previous posts)!

This piece came very quickly for me. In refining it, I’ve tried to ensure a small element of development while retaining the simplicity of the soft, repeating lines. To me, I still think of the same person who inspired the creation of this music. The remaining two movements will be a combination of the frantic style of #6×5 and the hypnotic repetotion of #5×4. However, as always, I’d love to hear what your thoughts so do get in touch!

Give the new trailer a listen. Visually, I used pictures from a recent visit to Marciac and the surround region of Midi-Pyrenees, in the south of France. The gorgeous vineyards & crop fields on those beautiful sunny days seems to lend itself well to the calm and reflective elements of the music. I also noticed that juxtaposing this piece over pictures of Marciac and Bassouse added a certain air of melancholy to the images, as if the towns had been abandoned (they most certainly haven’t been). Feel free to leave a comment below – updates on the remaining two movements to follow very soon!

 

Image from the video for #5×4 (Tim Higgins)

 

My demo video for #5×4, as well as all of my current demos & videos, are available on my Vimeo page.

Happy (belated) birthday to Billie Holiday

Yesterday, 7th of April, was the birthday of the great Billie Holiday.

  
Holiday was undoubtedly one of the greatest singers – in jazz or otherwise – of all time. There’s a few great posts which tell you about her troubled life, but for me, the most important thing is always the music.

With that in mind, here’s is the song with which she is most regularly associated – the seminal tune ‘Strange Fruit’. Written in 1937 by Abel Meeropol (originally using the pseudonym Lewis Allan) as a poem, then later set to music, the song is a direct response to the practise of ‘lynching’. That is, the hunting, murder & stringing-up of African-American people in the USA. Meeropol has since highlighted a photograph of one particular lynching, of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in the state of Indianna, as the main source of his disgust which prompted him to create the song.

Now, imagine yourself growing up & living in America at that time, as an Africa-American woman. This song is Billie Holiday’s song. Though it’s message is powerful enough to remain in our consciousness, I don’t believe there will ever be smother version of this time which carries as much emotional weight. You can feel every bitter word & syllable on Holiday’s delivery.

A picture might paint a thousand words, not to mention inspire them in verse, as in the case of this song. But some words, carefully chosen, masterfully set to music, and delivered by a performer who truly believes in the subject matter of their art, can sometimes deliver even more. Like good literature, the best music allows you to paint the pictures in your own mind. Thanks to Holiday, this song can be counted as a supreme example of this within popular song.

Happy belated birthday, and rest in peace, Billie Holiday (1915-1959).

For those of us who remain, please lend your ears to Holiday’s original recording of ‘Strange Fruit’ from 1939 by clicking on this link.

Enjoy, reflect, and never forget.