Tag Archives: musicians

Things (demo)

New music! You can hear it here.

I’ve had the idea of ‘looped acoustic guitars’ going around my head for a few weeks now. Finally, I have had time today to grab my scribbled notes & make a basic demo. This way, I not only get to start fleshing out my draft, but it makes me less likely to forget about it altogether!

Still footage from the demo video of ‘Things’

When finished, this piece will be part of a new original music project I am working on. As it happens, I am still recruiting musicians for this project. If you’re interested, based in the North East of England and NOT a guitar player, drop me a message via this site or answer my Gumtree advert or my advert on Join My Band.

The main idea centres around two acoustic guitars using natural harmonics (where you touch a string over a deer without pressing down to create a bell-like chime). This guitars, panned hard left & right respectively, are then overlaid not only with additional instrumentation, but unexpected harmonic colours.

The basic harmony of the guitar ‘loops’ on their own is very predominantly E minor. I intend to add a few variants of this to the finished piece, but the draft I uploaded today features an upbeat, uplifting section base around the chords of G major & C major. Laid over the looping guitars, this gives a feel of extended chords such as G6, Gmaj9, Cmaj11 and others. For this reason, the bass, drums & keys you hear on this demo are kept relatively simple as a result. Following in my previous minimalist drafts, I’ve true not to throw too much in – why over complicate something which doesn’t need it?

Still footage from the demo video of ‘Things’

You can hear my first draft for ‘Things’ (with my pretty basic video of things around my house) online now via my Vimeo page. As always, comments are more than welcome – I’d really love to hear what you think. I’d also like to get the word out so please feel free to share, like, tweet & reblog to your heart’s content!  

Thanks guys! More coming very soon xx

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Three things we can learn from George Martin

Sir George Martin, most famous for acting as the producer of all but one of The Beatles’ albums, passed away yesterday, aged 90.

Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966

Already, reports and obituaries have been published, quoting Martin and highlighting his amazing achievements with and without The Beatles. Though Martin was a producer for over a decade before meeting them, it is undoubtedly his work with this music-changing band, the very Zeitgeist  of musical development in the nineteen-sixties and beyond, for which he will be best remembered and discussed for years to come.

There’s been plenty of debate on whether or not The Beatles succeeded artistically because of suggestions made by Martin, or if he was simply very effective in channelling their natural talent. In reality, it was probably a mix of the two. That in itself is not a bad legacy to leave behind.

Though Martin now sadly has passed away, we can still learn something valuable from the work he left behind. Here are my three things which we can learn from the life and career of George Martin:

Have an open mind

I’ve mentioned this in several previous posts, but an open mind and a willing pair of ears is without a shadow of a doubt the most important tool for any artist. This is especially true for musicians and producers, and a sentiment to which Martin himself prescribed more than once, including in his own books.

It is well established in rock history canon that The Beatles were been turned down by several record companies prior to being signed by Martin to EMI. Think about this for a moment: every almost ‘industry expert’ had refused to take on another guitar band, believing them to be going out of fashion. Fair enough, it is called the music business for a reason. Money has to be made and trends will always be followed. This is as true today as it was in the nineteen fifties and sixties. However, ‘following the money’ is a great way to be a follower, but you are default already a follower from the start, and not a leader.

The best leaders, artists, teachers, and indeed the best in any profession listen first. In seeing the potential that The Beatles had, Martin was able to continue listening to them throughout their eight years working together making hit after hit, and classic album after classic album. This is especially noticeable when at the point mid-sixties where the band stopped performing live altogether, becoming a studio band only. The resulting works, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Beatles and Abbey Road, are unique in sounding very much of their time, but still fresh and exciting in 2016.

And it wasn’t just Martin doing all of the listening. The Beatles themselves were avid consumers of art and music. In being open to anything interesting, they brought elements of avant-garde, atonalism, looping, sampling and a whole world of musical styles to their music. By opening your ears, and combining the sounds you love, it is entirely possible to produce a new work, which speaks to the future while recognising that which has gone before.

Know your limits, and push them

Looping, you say? Sampling? In the nineteen-sixties?! It is worth noting that the vast majority of The Beatles’ recorded output was recorded on a four-track (or, at very best towards the seventies, eight-track) tape machine. This was state of the art back then, but lacking in the limitless options of the digital recording software in use everywhere. Leaving aside all the other technological innovations and improvisations Martin would conjure up to accommodate the visions of The Beatles in their songwriting, there is the question of the sheer number of instruments and sounds on some songs. The solution to squeezing so many different elements onto a four-track recorder? Multi-tracking.

Multi-tracking was first developed by guitarist Les Paul some decades before Martin made such effective use of the technique. Put simply, the process involves recording onto three of the available tracks, then ‘bouncing’ that mix onto the fourth track. The process can be repeated using tracks one and two, then bouncing to the third. Then it can (if needed) be taken even further by mixing tracks three & four onto one of the other tracks, meaning there are now three left to add on more parts (and here is where I start to go cross-eyed myself!).

The biggest issue with this method of recording is the physical degradation of the tape onto which the sound was being copied. By layering track upon track, the overall mix becomes more dense, and done incorrectly, can leave with a muddy sounding, uninspiring record. George Martin, however, seems to have been perfectly capable of getting clean, crisp recordings of individual mixes, which hold their brightness as they get ‘bounced’ and mixed into a deeper and more complicated arrangement. Even with Martin’s confident ‘know how’, there was still a limit to how many additions could me made. In these days of endless tracks and almost any possible sound available to laptops worldwide, I personally don’t see the same level of mechanical creativity. Sometimes working with what you have, pushing the limits, is better than having no limits at all…

Have a sense of humour

There’s a famous anecdote – which Martin was often fond of telling – detailing the first time The Beatles first met their producer (retold once more in the Washington Post’s obituary of George Martin today). After Martin had spoke at length about the recording process, he asked the Fab Four is there was anything they didn’t like. The response, from George Harrison, was “Well, I don’t like your tie for a start…”. From there, Martin knew that they would get along famously.

A sense of humour can not only ease any tensions rising in the studio, which can be high-pressure for some acts expected to produce hit after hit. It can also serve to bridge the gap between generations. In that respect, Martin must have impressed the Beatles from the start, having quite an extensive background in comedy and novelty recordings – some of which became unexpected hits – including John Lennon’s comedy heroes, The Goons. In quite a lot of interview footage from the early sixties, The Beatles were set apart from their questioners, an exclusive club with a shared sense of humour and in-jokes which created a barrier to those outside of the group. Martin, I believe, was very much inside their ‘circle of trust’, otherwise they would not have allowed him such authority in the studio. A shared sense of humour must have been a major in-road to gaining the trust of these young Liverpudlians.

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Final Thoughts

As a musician, producer and in some ways, mentor, Martin helped the Fab Four to realise the sounds they heard in their heads. His creative, yet critical thinking fuelled The Beatles’ insatiable appetite for art, and helped their music transcend to heights which otherwise may have remained untouched. Though I have spoken mostly about Martin’s work with the Fab Four, we should be no means overlook all of the other artists he worked with & film scores he wrote/arranged. Without Martin, popular music, and therefore the world we live in today, would be very different indeed…

R.I.P. Sir George Henry Martin (1926-2016).

Ukulele Problems: Tuning

Ukulele beach(pic courtesy of ukulelemusichawaii.com)

So you’ve bought your first ukulele & learned a few chords. But now you’ve noticed that it’s gone out of tune. No matter, you have a tuner, you tune up. Done. But after a pretty short time, it’s out of tune again. Why?

I get this query a lot from my new ukulele students. Just as they are getting started with their first steps into music-making on this instrument, they become frustrated with it’s apparent lack of tuning stability.

New ukuleles come with new strings, which haven’t been ‘played in’. Just like a new set of strings of a guitar, they need to be ‘stretched’. As ukulele strings are made from nylon, which is a very flexible material, this is even more apparent.

The quickest way to to this is following these basic steps:

  1. Tune your ukulele
  2. Take a hold of the strings & gently pull them up, away from the fingerboard, repeating across a few different parts of the string (see an example video here)
  3. Re-tune the ukulele
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until re-tuning is no longer required

Hey presto! problem solved! Your ukulele should now not only remain stable after playing, but also hold it’d tuning better when travelling (though extreme changes in temperature will still cause the strings to expand and contract).

The video included via hyper link in point 2, above (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px0ds0T3ric) is one of many available online to help you better visualise what I mean by stretching the strings. It’s not as difficult as you might think!

Other things to remain mindful of:

While stretching the strings is by far the most common solution to fixing a consistently out of tune uke, you may still notice occasional tuning issues. Perhaps simple, mostly open chords sound correct, but those with three or four fretted notes, or barre chords, have one or two out of tune strings when played. More perplexing, this can happen when the open strings are still correctly tuned up.

The problem? In this case, it’s intonation.

Provided you have a decent instrument, where the frets are set up and spaced correctly (watch out for the false economy of the bottom range ‘budget models’), then this can easily be fixed by paying close attention to how you fret the notes. You may find, on new or more interestingly shaped chords, that you are pressing down too hard on certain strings, pushing that note slightly out of tune with the rest of the chord. Some positions might require you to stretch or bend a finger in a way which means it is not sitting behind the fret as per the standard method. This too, can be fixed with a little bit of practise, and a small amount of mindfulness. Happy Uke-ing!

Advice for young musicians

We all know how it is. You want to prove yourself and show the world (and your peers) that you ‘have what it takes’ to work in music; Self assured and not in need of any advice of pointers from anyone else. How would they know your ‘story’ anyway? How could someone advise you when your style, your sound, your ‘voice’, is unique to you.

True, confidence can be a great asset to our chosen profession. Even in an industry where we work together because it’s the fundamental nature of how music operates, it can get lonely out there sometimes. But a false confidence, or bluff, will leave you alienated and likely to make the same sorts of mistakes thousands of musicians have made before you.

So swallow your pride, take a seat, and listen to a few words of wisdom from those who have made music work – and pay – for themselves.


Keybaord player and composer Ben Folds wrote some advice a few years ago on his Facebook page. Boiled down to the essentials, I found three things especially true:

    Work on finding your own voice
    However much you try, you will always be you. Stop trying to be anyone else and accept this fact. Once you have come to terms with this, work on being the best ‘you’ that you can be.

    Learn your technique, then forget it
    learn as much as you can, as widely as you can. Read about it & practise it. Then follow the advice of the previous point and learn to present these techniques in your own, unique way.

    Before you can express yourself in words, you first have to learn the language; it’s vocabulary & grammar. But think of how many books & poems were all the more interesting for their yearning up of the rules? The same applies to music first. However, to reach this point, you need to know which rules you are breaking…

    Don’t they to force people into liking you or your music
    There will always be people out there who find what you do interesting, provided you are doing it well, and playing from the heart. don’t bend over backwards trying to commercialise your sound, compromising your music in the process. The audience will come to you, so just persist at it.

    This is even more true in our digital age – search for good advice on putting you material online. You should never have to pay to do this, due to the high number of platforms out there. It might be slow at first, but you will eventually reap the fruits of your hard work.


NobleViola.com also features a really interesting article entitled ’10 things I wish I knew when I was a young musician’ which, while echoing the sentiments of Folds, adds the following gems:

  • Practicing isn’t a matter of how many hours you put in, but how many good hours you put in. It’s quality, not quantity.
  • Your body is also your instrument – learn how it works and take care of it.
  • Being professional is a 24 hour job.
  • Keep busy, and do a variety of things. Diversify as much as you can.
  • Love what you do – and remember to nurture that love.
  • As Pat Metheny says on his website, “for me, after everything, the only thing that finally remains really true is the feeling that at the end of the day, I know that I played really good, or I didn’t ; or that I made some progress and understand something that I didn’t understand at the beginning of the day; or I didn’t. This, to me, is the real currency of what it is to have a life as a musician”.

    Well said, Pat.

    As always, comments and responses are more than welcome. Feel free to check out my previous articles too! Enjoy the rest of your week & happy playing!

    Audition tips (for both sides of the table)

    This is a post from just over a year ago, concerning the auditioning process for bands, and how to make it run more smoothly. I hope you enjoy. Tim xx

    Tim Higgins

    Auditioning. In this line of work, almost everybody has to go through it at some point. I don’t know a single person who enjoys the process – and by that I mean the groups holding the auditions as well.

     

    Whilst looking for members for JazzBaby, I’ve held a few auditions recently, plus I was invited to join another group recently so have added to my own experience of being the auditionee this very year. Here are some simple tips to make the whole thing go that little bit more smoothly.

     

    1) Be clear about what you are looking for from the outset

    Obvious but true. Many bands, in an attempt to appear open (and more likely to attract as many interested candidates as possible) will be vague about who/what they are, and what they are looking for. Others may outright lie.

    If you’re getting regular paid work and…

    View original post 643 more words

    Music & Wellbeing (Part 7): Final thoughts & additional reading

    I hope you have enjoyed reading these extracts from my dissertation on the value of music on our overall wellbeing. I wanted to finish off this mini-series with a few final thoughts.

    First of all, it goes without saying that a lot more research needs to be conducted in all of the areas I have covered. From music’s impact on the brain to it’s beneficial applications within the education system, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what could be possible. Music’s transformative power needs much more investigation and research than, unfortunately, we seem able to support financially in the country at the present. Having said that, there are a few great organisations out there, most of them charities, which are performing Stirling work even in these most difficult of economic times.

    Nordoff-Robbins are the UK’s largest and oldest Music Therapy charity. Most of the MT courses on offer at UK universities are provided in conjunction with them, usually following their methods of practice. Another fantastic charity is Sunbeams. Working in the North-West area (Lake District, Cumbria) with a range of people, including children and adults with severe or multiple physical and mental difficulties, Annie Mawson’s organisation has won great praise and acclaim for it’s community music practice. I wholeheartedly suggest you check these guys out and donate if you can.

    All the papers, texts and books I referenced in my mini-series were worth a greater look and I would encourage you to look through my references list at the end of each article, and read as many of the titles as possible. However, of all of these, may I humbly suggest Daniel Levitin’s astounding book on music and neuroscience ‘This Is Your Brain On Music’ and Oliver Sack’s ground-breaking tome ‘Musicophilia’.

    As for the practise itself, get out there! Get volunteering! Use your hard-learned musical skills in the community to enrich the lives of those around you, especially those less fortunate, children, the elderly, disabled, ill and the isolated. Music is very much the world’s universal language – let’s use it to the best possible effect.

    Pitching the argument: The reality of 432 Hz vs. 440 Hz tuning

    I recently noticed a post on my Facebook page arguing in favour of what is called Scientific Tuning. This is where A4 (just below ‘middle C’) =432 Hz. as opposed to 440 Hz, the modern standard to which all tuners automatically calibrate, and most of the music you hear is tuned to.

    The post itself was of a kind I had seen before, and it featured the popular tuning of the universe argument. The idea that as our brains vibrate at 8 Hz, and the solar system vibrates at a perfect multiple of this, music pitch based around a=432 Hz has ‘greater resonance’ with the spheres and our own physiology. Some even use ‘representations’ of how water molecules and snowflakes look based on varying frequencies. What is especially interesting about some of these sites, other than some highly dubious arguments which often have little scientific backup, is their connection to a product – the invariably wish for you to ‘see the light’ about the ‘truth’ of 432 pitch, then buy their music recorded at this frequency! (Quick – it’s for the good of your wellbeing!)

    I agree that we are tuned into the universe’s vibrations. As creatures which have evolved on this planet, based on matter being constantly recycled for thousands of millennia before humans appeared, it could only ever be so. But our ears are incredibly complex and amazing instruments, capable of discerning minute pitch differences. We also have an in-built system for relative pitch (the sequencing of one sound connected to the preceding and following sound).

    This is not only how we appreciate and enjoy music, but how we developed speech patterns as a species across the globe. It stands to reason, therefore, that the pitching of music is entirely relative. An out-of-tune guitar (with itself as opposed to any other sounds) would sound unpleasant. This is because while one note in isolation is always on set pitch, a chord will include several pitches which are not quite correctly aligned, and therefore out-of-tune. The overall tuning of the instrument only matters when performing with another, and even then they only have to be in tune with each other to produce pleasing-sounding harmonies.

    Another classic argument propagated by those opposed to the A=440 Hz tuning is that is was first proposed by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief. It is true that Goebbels commented on the effects of 440 tuning, but many had done so before. Several orchestras were already tuning closer to 440 than 432. The general tuning of ‘middle C’ seems to have risen slowly since the 18th century, highlighting the benefits of standardisation in pitch across the globe. This had already begun to happen before WWII, and was only officially standardised in the 1950’s, after the war had ended (and Goebbels’ suicide). It was also increasingly commonplace for instrument manufacturers to use 440 tuning by the 1920’s as this blog states.

    In terms of inducing ‘mass hysteria’, or even attempting to illicit a greater emotional response from a populace through music, 440 tuning would only work at large-scale events, with hundreds of people present, if not more. It could then be argued that the hysteria comes from the crowd (consider the almost war-like ‘crowd mentality’ witnessed and experienced at sporting events) rather than the music’s pitch itself. As social animals, we are designed to be ‘swept along’ by crowds and emotions. It is how we connect. Once again, everything is relative, and I can’t see any proof that the tuning of the music to a specific pitch is the cause of social control, unrest of poor human wellbeing.

    Finally, there comes the acid test: Use a controlled experiment, playing listeners the same clip of music but tuned to different pitches. Professor in sound and acoustic research Terry Cox did this very experiment. His results found no preference whatsoever in listeners hearing music played at 432 Hz, compared to 440 Hz. You can hear the clips he used and read his full explanation and results here.

    In conclusion, I agree there are good physic-based reasons that music pitched at A=432 Hz. should sound better. However, I strongly encourage you to worry about the bigger problems in life and enjoy music for what it is: the organisation of pitch and rhythm. These pitches, like physics, and indeed like the human condition, are all relative: They are not only what you make them, but what you interpret them to be.