Many of my pieces are born out of repetition and focus.
I start my practice sessions connecting with my inner calm, and approach my practice sessions from a place of beginner’s minded discovery. What was the first time you played anything? I was so free. I want to get back there every time I make sound.
Start playing and notice where your hands go, without controlling them. Observe what happens. My muscle memory takes over, and I make something that sounds somewhere between spaghetti western, recitative, koto and space. Rhythm free. It takes me 5-10 minutes to warm up this way, then I can focus on some trance-inducing exercises.
I begin by playing through modes of the major scale, and really kind of wander around them, looking for patterns to percolate up that have the slightest inkling of musical value to my ears. I always give myself a small challenge to keep things fresh – lately, I work through the circle of 5ths in one position, so I might start on Bb ionian:
..then move to F in the same position
And so on. When I started out, I was shown to cycle through intervals and sequences in groups of 3 and 4, but I grew to apply that thinking with groups of 1 and 2 (great aid to learning where notes are on the neck), as well as 5 and 6 and on up. Here are some verbose examples with this F scale:
Notes per string:
You get the idea – there are multiple approaches to playing with scale material which I permute with groupings of 1-6 (I usually stop there, but you need not). You will find something worthy of repeating and permuting with time spent. I will quickly find something deserves technical attention and needs to be played slower and with more presence of mind. In slowing it down, I will hone in on something to repeat, which leads to permutations, and ultimately to something resembling a piece of music.
I’ve writing a bunch of music this way, which I’ll be diving into here. For me, these scale fragments permute into something engaging for the ear and hand.
So: the takeaways for practice time:
- Start by sitting and observing what you naturally do.
- Begin to add structure with simple scale exercises.
- Look for interesting things to focus on and repeat, then evolve these to new exercises.
- Any of this, of course, can be fodder for new music.
Here’s the last one from my notebook:
The first half of 2017 was a busy time for me as I delved deeper into composing for a group of electric guitars, culminating in Mandalas being performed as part of the UW’s Alumni Alchemy (we are all alchemists now – very validating). What did I learn?
- Have a goal lined up, or interest dwindles (duh).
- Tab everything out
- The more the merrier in the case of this piece/anything where Ebows are concerned.
Those last two months leading into May were awesome, and after taking the summer off (mostly) we’re working on a new round of music, and I’ll be writing and sharing here as we continue. For now, check out two of the recordings we’ve got posted on my soundcloud page:
This is the original demo I cobbled together from home recordings:
Here we are at the Meany Theater at UW:
…and at the Chapel later that month:
and, finally, a shot of the group after our Chapel show.
I’m writing to you today to tell you about a group I’m forming. I’m hoping it’s something you, or someone you know, might be interested in: an ensemble of electric guitars, couched somewhere between:
Rhys Chatham’s A Secret Rose:
Glenn Branca’s Symphony 1:
Robert Fripp’s League / Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists:
and most of all Fred Frith’s Guitar Quartet:
If you’re someone who’s wanted to do some deep listening with other guitarists, if you’ve wanted to delve into the range of this instrument in a group setting, if you’ve wanted to play a different role in a group than you have before – this is your group.
I’ve been writing pieces for this ensemble over the last ten years, knowing I’d get it together when the time felt right. The first set of pieces we’ll dig into is a set of fairly minimal works I call Mandalas. They all start at a center, expand out to the edges, and retract back to a center. 4 movements of the larger work are demoed here:
You’ll notice some Ebow (http://www.ebow.com) work as well as some work (4th movement above) with a similar device created by Portland inventor Paul Vo, the Wond (http://www.paulvo.com/). I’ll be supplying Ebows to those who do not have them, and will work with each of you on technique if need be. I’m working on Mr. Vo to see if we can’t secure some of his experimental devices as well.
I have one performance scheduled either May 25 and 26 at Good Shepherd Chapel in Seattle, and will be scheduling others once I know the size of my group and availability. I’m looking for at least 7 of you, and hoping for twice that.
Leading into May, I’m looking to rehearse twice a month, beginning the week of Feb 2/21. If you are interested, please respond – I look forward to hearing from you. I have a small space in Fremont which should accommodate us, but have access to bigger rehearsal space if need be.
All parts will include tablature, so the majority of the reading will be around rhythm, dynamics and technical notes. Some of the pieces are challenging and we’ll want to be tight and practice on our own outside of rehearsals, but you won’t need to read any crazy busy passages without tab to help.
Thanks for reading!
If you are interested, let me know by emailing me at email@example.com
If you know any interested guitarists – please pass the message on!
I practice meditation by sitting down and shutting up for 10-20 minutes a day. I practice guitar an hour a day. I practice running for about 1-2 hours, at least 3-4 times per week. I visit similar headspace with each activity, and each sympathizes with my music practice.
In my music practice, I always start out with some itenirary in mind. Warmups for 1/2 hour, scale drills for 1/2 hour, harmony for 1/2 hour, then work on a specific piece. Very often, though, I feel a pull to ‘zoom in’ on one particular area, one very specific little aspect of what I’m working on. Usually it’s a rough section of a piece I’m working on, and I turn it into an exercise. It feels like identifying a little rough spot on my musical surface that needs sanding – repeating the thing slowly and methodically makes me comfortable after a while, with speed and facility not for behind. It feels like some combination of play and meditation.
I first about someone else adopting a similar thought-process in John Stropes article on Michael Hedges’ Ragamuffin.
When practicing these opening two bars, you encounter a series of challenges. Here are the two bars, followed by a correlating bit from Stropes’ essay:
Maybe it seems obvious, but if you’ve ever practiced this tune, you know that this piece contains a series of brain teasers, brain teasers for your muscle memory – if that makes sense. Whether you’re a fingerstyle diehard or not, I suggest checking Stropes’ book out.
One goal of this blog is to share my thoughts around music, and this reductive practice is key for me. It’s key for me personally, in developing my ability like I just said, but also key in my composing. For some reason, with me, I am repetitive in practice but avoiding outright repetition in my music. More on that another time!
If you aren’t familiar with Mick Goodrick’s writing on the guitar, you’re missing out. His book The Advancing Guitarist is one I’ve come back to again and again since I bought it 25 years ago (!) after reading his amazing articles in Guitar Player magazine in the 80s. This book is well known to many, so I won’t belabor what so many before me have said, but to sum up: this is the rare (RARE) book that continues to give back no matter how many times one revisits. The only truly humble guitar book I own.
I’ve been diving deep into his triad material beginning on p. 39 for the last 2 weeks, and have had a series of epiphanies thanks to just… taking some hours and doing exactly as Mick suggests. He begins this section by reiterating fundamental music theory around triads – root position, and 1st and 2nd inversions. One page later, the reader is invited to
go ahead and learn all C major, C minor, C augmented and C diminished triage, all inversions, all registers, all locations, in closed as well as spread voicings that follow.
Four staffs lay out the voicing verbosely:
After revisiting my voicings, and practicing the triad row exercise on the following page, I’ve found a groove in voice leading through what initially sound like arbitrary progressions. Mick lays out a 48 item ‘triad row’, using every permutation of maj/min/aug/dim across the 12 possible roots, then generates progressions ala circle of fifths, but with varying intervals. I’ve been struck by how interesting these progression can sound, particularly playing with how you apply the type of triad. Here are the roots according to consistenly applied intervals (all on C):
Min 2nd: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C Maj 2nd: C D E F# G# A# C Min 3rd: C Eb Gb A C Maj 3rd: C E G# C Perfect 4th (circle of fourths): C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C Tritone :) : C F# C Perfect 5th: C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# F C Minor 6th: C Ab E C Major 6th: C A F# D# C Minor 7th: C Bb Ab Gb E D C Major 7th: C B A# A G# G F# F E D# D C# C
You don’t have to use the same interval every time, of course. Mick alternates between maj and min 3rds. You can alternate between as many or few intervals as you like. How about:
Major 3rd, perfect 5th: C E B D# A# D A C# G# C G B F# A# F A E G# D# G D F# C# F C
Applying the 4 triad types to these progressions in a serial fashion yields some interesting results. I’ve been generating progressions (whether randomly ala Mick’s Triad Row, or with some recipe as above) and applying the triad types, THEN voice leading through the results using one set of 3 strings.
C E B D# A# D A C# G# C G B F# A# F A E G# D# G D F# C# F C
My triad series:
M m M m + o M o M +
C Em B D#m A#+ Do A C#o G# C+ G Bm F# A#m F+ Ao E G#o D# G+ D F#m C# Fm C
I pick 3 strings (D, G and B strings, here), and voice lead through my triads. A bit of a workout first time through, but interesting results come from diving deep.
In 2004, I was invited to participate in the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival’s Sound Shift piece, and had no solo albums to bring. I had group recordings where my out-guitar voice occasionally shone through (DAE mainly) but had nothing to say ‘here’s what I’m doin’. With this gig as goal, I set my mind to channeling my recent software experiments, my film work, and my love of Fred Frith and Hans Reichel into a focused release. I gave a few concerts (audio below), playing improvs crafted with my software I dubbed ‘the glitchy delay’. This software was inspired by Scandinavian minimalist electronic stuff I’d heard on the Komplott and Fukkgod netlabels – I was particularly taken with Tsukimono.
At any rate, the pieces on the album quickly found their way into two scores I was doing: one for Brandon Schmid’s Taos. I pressed a few hundred, sold them, and got on. Still available at Cd Baby, as well as iTunes, and remixed/sold as “Listen Faster – Alkaline” when Wizard Prison opened for Animal Collective.
Have a listen:
..and the followup, Nazca Aerial: