Music theory is mind blowingly interesting and at the higher levels quite difficult. I was doing modulation today. Its a great skill to have and enables you to work out how to get to different keys by using the ii, V, or IV, V chord patterns.
I was also practising writing out chords and recognising modes from chord patterns by the chords, the dominant 7 and the half diminshed seventh which are the key - so to speak - to working it out.
I have recently been working out the keys of a folk song which modulates from B minor, to C minor, to D minor and then to F# minor. Its good practice.
I was improvising soul music this week. That was interesting.
Soul has its origins in Gospel, Blues and Jazz.
We played in the Dorian mode. This is built off the second degree in a scale. Don't glaze over - this stuff is not that difficult. Soul chord progressions can be simple - mainly ii, V (so - in the key of C - the chords would be likely to be Dm7, G7 (dominant chord). The Dorian mode would run D - D (ie from the second degree of C) and uses the notes of C major scale. It works the same for any key.
That's just the start though. We also used the blues scale here and there, and if the chords are Dominants +9 you can use mixolydian (basically a flattened 7th).
Then there is the rythmns and voicings. This takes a bit of research and there are loads of great soul artists out there to listen to. Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes. More on that later
We had a country music quiz in class recently. I managed to get all the questions right except one - aaaaaaagh! What was the question? Who produced the record "Keep on the sunny side" which was recorded by the Carter family in 1928.
If you don't know the answer its actually not that easy to Google. But - its Ralph Sylvester Peer.
Here he is.
So who was he? He was a producer, engineer, and talent scout who spearheaded the U.S. recording industry's shift away from classical and opera to indigenous American roots music, while essentially creating the country market that continue to flourish today.
He's an important figure but is not that well known by the public at least as he did not seek the limelight.
In 1927 he arrived in Tennessee to scout fresh local talent on behalf of the Victor record label. A few years prior, he had not only assisted in the first blues recording by Mamie Smith of “Crazy Blues” and later ones by Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, but also produced the first commercially successful country session with “Fiddlin’ John” Carson. During the next two weeks, he recorded what has become known as the Bristol Sessions with Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter family, credited as the birth of modern country music, earning Peer the nickname of “Father of Country Music” and his place in the Country Music. He founded his own company Peermusic - which still survives.
So now you (and I) know.
It was the end of an era at the Tass on Wednesday 15 February. I have played in a session there most Wednesday nights for years. The pub has been sold and is closing so this was the last night. We had a good night. One of the things I did with the other musicians at the Tass was to record a CD and we sold these over bar for a couple of years - money went to charity.
One of our fiddlers who featured on that CD died unexpectedly on Thursday. I shall miss him and his music. RIP Ken. I have been asked to perform at this funeral this Saturday.
The BBC broadcast a programme last week about Jack Bruce, the internationally renowned bass player and vocalist. I caught up with it today on the iPlayer.
Best of Cream was the first album I ever bought. I still have it. Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker ware big influences on my life. Sunshine of your Love is still one of my absolute favourite tracks and so evocative of that time - along with Deep Purple, the Who, Led Zepp, Jefferson Airplane ……
Must be one of the most recognisable bass riffs ever.
Jack Bruce has had some life. He has a fearsome reputation as a great player. He also writes great songs with Pete Brown, lyricist and poet. He has had his fair share of challenges. A struggle with hard drugs, the death of a son, the breakup of his first marriage, and liver cancer resulting in a liver transplant. He came through all of that and has survived. All the members of Cream have made it through - goodness knows how. Many people didn't.
Jack Bruce is Scottish. He returned to Celtic connections this year and played with Lau - a really talented trad band with Aidan O'Rourke on fiddle (one of my favourite fiddlers), Kris Drever on guitar and backing vocals, Martin Green on accordion and Jim Sutherland on bodhran. The complete programme is on the iplayer for another few days.
Watch the clip os Sunshine of Your Love below. Its completely epic - spans the generations. Respect to them all. Trad and Cream - what could be better?
Monday was spent listening to and talking about country music. There are lots of different styles within country music. Its a huge topic in its own right. I blogged about Bluegrass earlier. Today we listened to Rockabilly and Nashville.
Elvis and Johnny Cash were early rockabilly artists. Both began their recording careers in the 1950s with Sun studios (run by Sam Philips). Evis' recording contract was sold to RCA and he then morphed into more of a rock and rolls star. Heartbreak Hotel was his first "pop" no 1 - its very bluesy. Johnny Cash wanted to sing gospel originally but was turned down by Sam Philips. He re auditioned and went into country instead. Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl perkins all went on tour together in 1956 and were known as the Million dollar quartet. I like the rockabilly style. Its quite raw and gutsy, with strong lyrics.
By contrast the Nashville style of the mid 1950s was more commercial. It had more instrumentation, and more backing vocals - Nashville attracted lots of session musicians. It was smooth and, in my view a bit bland and safe. But it sold. Jim Reeves and Don Gibson were important artists.
The Nashville style led to more sophisticated recording techniques - an art in itself. This has influenced recording today.
Went down to the Sage with my daughter on Sunday. We both play guitar a bit and we decided to try a ukelele workshop for something different.
If you haven't been to the Sage it has loads of great music teaching events.
Anyway, we were given ukeleles (yes - you don't even need to have your own) and we did loads of simple songs. We were all grooving along to Bob Marley. The tuning was high G, C, E, A .
They are very easy to play, very small and light, cheap to buy and easy to carry. I can see why they are so popular. And they sound quite good. I'd recommend it as a day out and to try something different - although Sam and I could have done with going to a more advanced workshop probably. But it was great to have the chance to try one. There were all age groups there.
Sam and I plan to buy a ukelele to join the ever growing list of instruments that live with us. Lucky ukelele....
Tim Paxton (cello) with Simon Coverdale (piano) gave us a lunch time recital today - Beethoven's variations on "Bei Mannern" from Mozart's The Magic Flute plus a cello sonata by Shostakovich.
We also had a talk in advance and followed the score. This was really useful. I didn't know the music, and so it was great to talk it through and know what to watch for - interrupted cadences and appoggiaturas!! The Beethoven was beautiful.
Simon and Tim were great performers. Tricky stuff played with such skill and charisma. I loved the flourish at the end of one movement where Tim shot his bow straight up the air. Maybe I might try it!
I really enjoyed the introduction each of them did of the pieces. It added to the performance and painted a picture for us - particularly the Shostakovich piece. At one point, Tim described one the movements as a human heart bleeding in the desolate freezing snow! You can just imagine it!
The music depicted the hard times of a difficult political regime in the Soviet Union. It wasn't very accessible and I'm not completely sure if I liked it. Its hard core classical. But I can appreciate the skill and passion that it was performed with and it was interesting.
I'll listen to it again. But I like some of Shostakvich's music. He sounds an interesting man who had to walk a tighrope all his life - trying to please his political masters - while also being true to his feelings and the suffering of the people. He has written his memoirs, which sound an interesting read. It said that he always carried a toothbrush around with him in case the black cars came to arrest him and he was never heard of again!
We were filmed today improvising country music. It was good fun. The backing was in G meaning that Improvisation was mainly in G pentatonic. Good key for the fiddle - not so good for some of the other instruments. Ah well. It was the other way round when we were playing B flat blues.
I also played in the backing band for both classes. We played a couple of different chord sequences (one straight G, C and D, and one using G, Em, A7, D D7). Sounded really nice. I thought everyone did well. There were some great improvisers!
Improvisation tomorrow. We will be filming country improvisation.
I have come across some great fiddlers while I've been doing my research on country music. I mentioned Kenny Baker in my previous blog about bluegrass music.
I have been listening to his playing today. Amazing. He was known for his long smooth bows.
He played with Bill Monroe's band for a while and became one of the most emulated country/blugrass fiddlers. He died last year aged 85. Here he is playing Jerusalem Ridge with Bill Munroe playing mandolin (in 1985). What a couple of legends.