Tag Archives: Classical

Great Guitarists Week, Day 1: Earl Klugh

It’s Blue Monday today, statistically, the most depressing day of the year. The reasons include Christmas already feeling like a distant memory, while many of us are feeling the pinch financially, with payday still almost a fortnight away. So how better to combat this than a week-long celebration of some amazing guitar players?

This mini series will feature one guitar player a day from Monday to Sunday. I’ve selected artists who have been both an inspiration and influence on my own guitar playing or musical practice, and I’ll try to include a few details about them as well as a track for ‘essential listening’. I hope you get something out of it. Do feel free to comment on my picks for Great Guitarists! First up…

Earl Klugh

Earl Klugh was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1953, and first picked up the guitar at the age of ten. His early influences included legendary Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida, pioneering jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and Country/crossover star Chet Atkins (with whom he would later record). Many jazz players (including the pianist Bill Evans) as well as an array of Latin and classical players continued to inform the way Klugh developed his guitar technique. Like many Latin-influenced guitarists, Klugh has stuck largely with nylon-strung guitars for his entire career, but his wide mix of influences give him a unique voice of his own.

Klugh made his professional debut on flautist Yusef Lateef’s 1970 album, Suite 16, aged just 15, after Lateef heard him playing in his local music store. Later, Klugh joined the band of the legendary guitarist George Benson (keep an eye out for Benson later on in this week’s series). As well as performing guitar live with Benson’s band, Klugh also played on two of his classic jazz albums (before Benson started to focus more on singing & becoming a more commercial star), White Rabbit (1972) & Body Talk (1973).

Releasing his eponymous debut solo album in 1976, Klugh has since released over thirty records, in a variety of formats, including solo, duo and ensembles of various sizes. Over his career, he has received twelve Grammy nominations, winning the award for ‘Best pop instrumental performance’ with 1981’s One On One, recorded with jazz pianist Bob James.

I first discovered Klugh in the late 90’s and often used his composition ‘Kiko’ (from his 1976 album Living Inside Your Love) as a solo guitar piece for auditions. It featured in my repertoire for performances long before I caught the bug for Latin music, and Klugh (along with Santana) were the gateway to discovering the wonderful genres of South America.

As a classically trained guitarist, the sound of Klugh’s instrument felt comfortably familiar, although his main way of plucking the strings (using his thumb in both directions, like Wes Montgomery) was a rather alien concept to start with. Try it though – it’s worth persevering with, as it opens up a whole new, and potentially faster, way of playing the lower strings.

The track featured in this video is ‘Dr Macumba’ from his 1977 album Finger Paintings. It’s a great example of Klugh’s style, opening with a funky latin-infused riff, through to his cloud yet melodic jazz phrasing. Although it appears to start as a fairly small ensemble piece, this tune turns out to be a bigger production than expected, including rather brief string arrangement providing a classic 70’s lift in the middle of the piece!

Dr Macumba’ by Earl Klugh

I thoroughly encourage you to take a look into Klugh’s extensive back catalogue of LPs and concert videos. Even if the Latin stylings aren’t your thing, there’s a lot to be learned about jazz soloing from his playing. As always, let me know what you think. I’ll present another Great Guitarist tomorrow, but until then, enjoy the video!

‘Lagrima’ by Fransico Tárrega

Happy New Year, everybody!

To celebrate the beginning of 2018, here’s my long-promised interpretation of the Fransico Tárrega classic ‘Lagrima’. As always, feel free to let me know what you think! Here it on Vimeo here.

I’ll be back with more regular blog posts soon. Until then, stay happy and let’s make this year a great one, full of wonderful new music! xx

How to practice effectively [video]

This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.

This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!

If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.

Enjoy! xx

New Year’s resolutions for guitar players

As a general rule, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. My philosophy is that changes can be made at any time, so why wait until January?

However, there is something about the end of a year which causes us all to reflect on the previous twelve months and start focusing on our plans for the next twelve. For us working musicians, many of us have recently reached the end of one of our peak times, the ‘Christmas Party Season’.

Like many bands who find most of their work comes from weddings & function work, 2016 ended for me with a NYE gig. In January, things start to feel a little quieter by comparison, which gives us time to ponder on the gigs we’ve enjoyed, what we didn’t enjoy, and what we hope to change for the new year.

So, with that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for guitar-related resolutions for musicians looking to grow as better musicians in 2017:

  • Learn a new style.

Always wanted to start learning those jazz chord voicings? Perhaps you keep meaning to work on your reggae & ska rhythm playing? Or your country picking? Blues slide? The list goes on…

Take the time to work on these new genres & styles of playing. We are very fortunate to live in a time where we can access a world of free tutorials on the Internet, or videos in YouTube. However, don’t rule out the possibility of taking lessons to focus on specific areas – working one to one with an experienced guitar tutor does wonders for improving your playing! 

  • Mix things up.

Learning a style doesn’t mean you have to abandon all you know & travel the world playing strictly Django/gypsy jazz for the rest of your life (though I imagine there are plenty of worse ways to live)!

Have you found that the majority if your playing has been on acoustic guitar? Trying swapping to electric more often (or vice versa). Do you always practise at the same time of day? If possible, can you change to a different time? Your brain operates differently throughout the day – you may well find yourself going down very different musical avenues simply by switching from a morning to an afternoon practice session.

Sometimes learning to play a song you are very familiar with in a new style works brilliantly in helping your playing. Not only do you freshen up material which might be getting a bit stale, but you’ll have a safer means of exploring new options in your guitar playing.

One area of guitar playing I can’t recommend highly enough is solo performance. By this, I don’t mean the lead guitar solo in a song, but playing the melody, harmony, rhythms, etc on one unaccompanied guitar. It’s something a piano player wouldn’t think twice about, but I’m frequently amazed at how many guitarists simply haven’t tried it properly! If you’re unsure about how to start doing this, there are several books, online tutorials (like this blog!), and of course YouTube videos to help inspire you. Which brings us nicely in to…

  • Widen your horizons.

Music is a language. Even when playing on your own, you are creating sounds for yourself to hear, effectively taking to yourself. But there’s only so long you can do that before you end up going round in circles, or going crazy!

Set yourself the following challenge for the year: discover a new artist each month of 2017. Learn from what you hear. Take examples of their playing & try to incorporate it into your own. It can only make you a better guitarist! The beauty of this is that you don’t have to focus on other guitar players. In fact, it might be better not to! Many of the jazz & Blues guitarists I admire take inspiration for their improvisational playing from horn players, translating their melodies & ideas into their own instrument. Try it!

It also helps to get out amongst other musicians, jam, join or start a new band, particularly in a new style. It also goes further than this – always wanted to sing while playing? Start! Learning a new instrument? Do it! The best way out of a rut is to climb upwards!

  • Get your music ‘out there’.

…And if you’re meeting new musicians & launching new projects, you’re already doing this. Go to more live gigs, gig more yourself, especially new and original music. I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in one ‘world’ (in my case playing in a covers band), and finding it hard to do other things, but I promise it’s worth the effort.

Remember to have fun while you’re out there expanding your guitar playing horizons!

Best of luck and wishing you all a very happy new year! Let’s make 2017 – like every year – a great year for music, for the guitar, and for you!

Tim xx

Please do get in touch to tell me what your own guitar/music new year resolutions are, and stay in touch to let me know how you’re getting on with them! Don’t forget I’m here to help if you need it! xx

Albêniz’s ‘Leyenda’- open to interpretation

Interpretation is key to making music more than the robotic sounding of written notes on a page. It plays a large part in ensuring music remain an art, rather than a means of sequencing sound (this too can be a form of art, when done well, but that’s another article altogether).

I was recently asked to perform Spanish guitar music at a friend’s wedding service. Amongst other choices was Leyenda (meaning ‘legend’), one of the ‘big’ pieces classical guitar repertoire. Originally written by Spanish composer Isaac Albêniz (1860-1909) for piano, but transcribed for guitar within Albêniz’s lifetime.

The most famous transcription of this piece is by Andrés Segovia. Hear the great player performing it himself on this YouTube video. You may notice that Segovia’s interpretation is slower than more recent recordings. I’ve had some pretty interesting discussions with guitarists in the last few weeks and months regarding artistic interpretation. In almost all of these chats, the focus has been on the interpretation of the performer

However, what we hadn’t considered is the interpretation of the composer, or the arranger. When I say arranger, I mean one who transcribes music for other musicians to perform, rather than a player making interpretive changes solely for their own performance.

I came across a great article by composer & arranger Stanley Yates about this piece, which I wholeheartedly recommend you read here. In this article, Yates not only provides a large (and most welcome) amount if background information on the piece, but explains why his new arrangement differs more from Segovia’s than you might expect. The chief differences for me are the absence of sixteenth triplets in the opening section, which was Segovia’s invention (be honest, how many of you knew that?!) and a few differences to the interval of certain ‘grace notes’.

You can download Yates’s arrangement of Leyenda for free via this link to his website. I strongly recommend that you do this, in order to see these differences for yourself, and experience a very different side to a piece you thought you knew intimately.

The source for Yates’s arrangement is the original published piano work. He argues that he has attempted to stay true to the original piece without being pressured by the subsequent traditions of this piece which have grown over the last century. To say any more would be to rob Yates’s article completely – take some time to read it for yourself, and as always, please let me know your thoughts. Artistic interpretation has been a keen area of interest to me for a long time, and I am happy to open up a long-running conversation on the topic with readers & fellow music lovers. Get in touch!

Tim x

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.