The last few days have been surprisingly good for composing. I’ve got three new compositions under development; one almost finished, one halfway there, one just an idea.
I have long periods when I feel that I’ve had my last idea, there will be no more. Then, out of the blue, comes something new. It takes a while to work out those ideas, but it’s fascinating, hugely rewarding work.
If you’re a guitar teacher, you’ve probably run into this problem more than once: out of the box, new student guitars, especially from the Central Europe, are often incredibly badly set up!
Here’s a recent example: yesterday, we got a brand new 3/4-size guitar from a large European online music store. The guitar sounds good (it has a solid cedar top), but it’s impossible to play! The strings are so low as to almost sit right on top of the frets, and the resulting buzz is phenomenal. Another large contributor to that buzz is the fact that some of the frets, especially the second and third, are really way too high, making any note fretted on the first fret buzz badly.
I’ve seen this too many times: often the guitar is otherwise all right, the fit and finish is good, but the setup is terrible, rendering the brand new instrument useless! Action too high or too low, high frets, low frets, factory installed strings seemingly made of fishing line.
Fortunately, I have worked as a luthier, and I have the necessary tools and experience to turn this disaster into a usable guitar. With my fret rocker I can find the too-high frets and also know when I’ve got them where they need to be; with a fretting hammer I can pound those bad boys in line; some maple veneer, cut into thin strips, helps to raise the action (the height of the string above the fingerboard) to a more normal range, and, finally, some new strings also help to make the guitar sing. Otherwise, I would’ve just had to send the guitar back, perhaps for the next unfortunate buyer to struggle with.
What really baffles me about this is, how can the guitar factories keep doing this, sending out these very badly set up guitars? Don’t they get a large proportion of their product back as customer returns? If you’re going to make a new guitar from scratch, wouldn’t it be a relatively easy and quick part of the process to set it up so that it can be played? What’s going on here?
It took a few years, but it seems that Benton and Ray* did finally find the hand of Franklin. Benton did promise to let us know, and I would’ve liked to hear from him, but I guess this recent newspaper article will have to do:
I’m back from my summer holiday and I see that its high time I started blogging again! I’ll begin with a short story.
Last year, I thought about ways to improve my pedagogical composition skills. Those thoughts led to many good things (like my master’s degree!) but I also decided to take some composition lessons, seeking to improve my skills in musical composition, specifically educational composition.
I prepared for the composition lessons by selecting what I thought were the best of all my compositions. I had perhaps gotten too used to the positive response that I’ve had from my students, but when I showed the pieces to my teacher, his response was baffling to me, at first. The pieces he liked best were the ones that had met with least success with my pupils, and the ones that all the pupils always liked to play were – according to my teacher – if not altogether lackluster, then at least in need of some serious reworking.
Needless to say, I went home in a thoughtful mood.
I had already realized earlier that it would be a special challenge to find a teacher who could see and understand the needs and tastes of the people I’m, writing for: young guitar players. I’m not sure that such a composition teacher exists, but in any case I had failed to find one. On the other hand, I feel that I have a pretty good grasp of what kind of music most guitarists like to play.
This experience taught me something that I already knew, but needed reminding of. I have to trust that I know what I’m doing!
How about you – have you had experiences like this, with teachers or elsewhere?
The recent news about the deep-sea submersible Nereus being lost in the depths of the Pacific Ocean has captured my imagination. So much so that I’m now writing a composition tentatively named ‘Lost Nereus’.
Nereus was an unmanned vehicle. Had it been manned, I probably wouldn’t be composing this music; the human tragedy would be too real to allow such treatment. I still remember seeing ‘Titanic’ back in the 90’s and wondering how could they make a movie about such a disaster, turn it into entertainment. But an unmanned submersible is another matter; no deaths, but still a loss in the unimaginable depths, in an unknown, hostile, wonderful environment.
‘Lost Nereus’ is still in the beginning stages of being born, but it seems to be developing into an interesting one. There’s again use of lydian dominant scale and chords in parallel movement. There’s something of the sound and feeling in Sea of Light in it, but darker and stranger this time.
I haven’t been writing a lot in the past months, so it’s interesting to me that way also. I wonder how it will turn out!
Photographer Ming Thein’s blog is one of my absolute favourites. He is a phenomenal photographer, but also a very good writer. His latest post, ‘Art, celebrity and fame’, deals with being an artist, trying to remain true to your vision, but also having to serve other interests, like commercial clients.
That’s something that every musician can relate to, I think! Professionals have to try to play music that will find an audience, while hobbyists often play music that’s socially acceptable, music that their friends and family will enjoy. Kids going to music lessons are more or less at the mercy of their teachers; indeed it would be difficult for them to choose their music for themselves, since they don’t yet know the repertoire or what’s technically feasible for them.
What’s that all got to do with this site? Well, I’m also trying to find an audience for my music, but at the same time I want to compose in a way that will satisfy my own sensibilities. Ming Thein is pretty pessimistic in the aforementioned article: he seems to almost think that remaining uncompromised in your art means never achieving any kind of recognition, except perhaps posthumously.
I disagree, perhaps because my medium is music. I think that compromising your artistic integrity, trying to please (an imaginary) audience, is the surest way to lose that audience. No listener or player will long remain interested in music that doesn’t really reflect the composer’s inner world, or soul, if you will. If, on the other hand, the composer writes music for himself, those sounds will also move others.
I think that’s equally valid of every kind of music, be it simple or complex, symphony, hip hop – or educational guitar music. What’s your view? Please leave a comment if you agree – and especially if you disagree!
Today I finished my master’s thesis and submitted it for review.
It’s a big relief that it’s now done; at the same time, I can’t help but feel a bit, well, nostalgic. I know it’s time for me to move on, but this project has occupied my mind for a good while and it’s grown to be a part of me.
My master’s thesis is on educational guitar music.
Educational music and pedagogical composing have been largely neglected by studies so far, for some reason. I feel that they in fact present a very interesting field and certainly would deserve more attention even at the highest levels of study.
If I will ever have the opportunity to continue my own studies, I’m sure that I’ll go on along the same path. It’s not only captivating; it also has the added benefit of being directly applicable to my composing, as witnessed by this site.
What do you say?
In the future I plan to introduce material from my thesis in this blog. It would be very beneficial, not to mention extremely interesting, to hear from you! Do you know of any studies that have been done into this particular subject? What are your personal thoughts on the matter; what should composers of educational music strive for? What should they avoid? Please comment!
In African-American culture there’s a practice and tradition called signifying. I think my compositions often come close to that tradition. What? Sounds a bit far-fetched? Maybe so, but hear me out.
Signifying is usually a kind of wordplay, but it can be music too. Like Gena Dagel Caponi writes:
“Signifyin(g) is also a way of demonstrating respect for, or poking fun at a musical style or practice through parody, pastische, humor, tone- or word-play… Signifyin(g) shows, among other things, either reverence or irreverence toward musical statements and values.”
My guitar music is of course first and foremost pedagogical and educational, but its musical content is quite well described by the quote above. Some pieces show it more than others; River for example is clearly derivative of several musical tropes and recollections of past musical experiences, my way of showing respect for them. Homage to D. Scarlatti pokes a little fun at Scarlatti’s characteristic sudden changes of affect, while A Pretty Good Morning in The Highlands takes a folksy, Mark Knopflerish sound and gives it a classical spin as the composition closes.
Ever since romanticism in the 19th century, originality has been overrated in the art world. Trying to be different just to be different – that ain’t where it’s at. Take any old thing, tell it again, with honesty – and you’ve got something! That’s the way I see it anyway 🙂
Like I wrote in the last post, I hoped to get my music online before the summer. As it turns out, it’s already done! Thanks for that go to modern tools available to webmasters, like WordPress and Easy Digital Downloads plugin. With tools like these it’s incredibly easy to put up a website like this!
I added this site to Google – now I’ll have to start promoting myself. That’s not very easy for me usually, but I guess I’ll have to try, otherwise newcenturyguitar.com will remain an isolated, lonely island in the web… So, watch out, I’ll be promoting like mad from now on 🙂
This is the first posting on my new blog on my brand new website, newcenturyguitar.com. Hopefully many more posts will follow!
This website is about my pedagogic compositions for guitar. I’ve been writing music for a few years, and now, finally, I’m putting them out there, getting them published. I’ve already uploaded my compositions on this server and put up this small website that the pieces can be purchased from. I’ve also begun to make recordings and upload them to SoundCloud. Before summer is here I hope to have all of my compositions accessible to people.
That’s me, by the way, with my custom 8-stringer that I built in 2008. Probably a topic for some future blog post 🙂