Friends and Family

Music, Stories, Pictures, and Stuff!

December 29, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Got No Coffee

 Got No Coffe – December 28, 2014

This may be the first true blues song I’ve written.  Blues, filled with double entendres.

What is often surprising is how songs start.  McCartney’s Yesterday started at the breakfast table “Scrambled eggs, all I really need is scrambled eggs”.  Granted, not as romantic as the words he ended up with.

Catalina had to go for some tests.  No drinking coffee with sugar or creamer.  She was bemoaning this in the morning while I was playing guitar.  Out it came, “Got no coffee, got no cream, got no sugar, life sure is mean”  She pointed out that she could have coffee, just not the sugar or the cream.  Blues is all about need.  So it got switched around in the meaning behind the words.  But there’s the source.

December 26, 2014
by NcStevenB
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NPR — WOW!

I’m in bed reading a book. This is a life long habit since I was six, first learned to read. Maybe I should check my Facebook. I did see that MaryLu left a comment. Let’s see, I open it up, go to the notifications and she says, ” I’m listening to Steven’s Go tell it on the Mountains on NPR right now! What a treat!”

What!!? Oh my god! I find out that they played Cata’s and my arrangement that we’d recorded for our new CD. A little over a week ago I sent the Winston Salem station three of the songs from our CD and included a blurb about Brandon’s participation, where we were all from, and that it was recorded locally. Then I forgot about it; I didn’t hear back and what are the chances they would use any of them. Um ZERO.

I tell a few of my friends on Facebook using the messenger. Let me see, Matthew would be interested. He was in my band. Matthew responds. “When and where?” A few moments later he has a link for me. I can download the show and listen. Wow!

I wallpaper the Facebook world with the link. I have to say that this is an unbelievable moment for me; NPR! Wow! It took me quite a while to calm down that night. Here is the link to the recording.

Triad Arts Holiday Celebration

And I still say WOW!!!

November 26, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Try it! You’ll Like It!

This is the week of Thanksgiving of 2014! I feel great. Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for a long time. All that food. And pies, don’t forget the pies! But what is most interesting is that it has been a week of giving. I didn’t even realize it until today, the day before Thanksgiving.

A while ago, I’d offered a page to my friend Earl where he could post his recordings. Earl has such a good voice. And his finger-style guitar work couldn’t compliment it more. So Earl took me up on it. He got me a song. I created a page for him and a category for him. Then I added the song with a blurb he got to me. He was so pleased, which really pleased me. That inspired him. He recorded and got another song to me, which I added today. So he has two songs up there at Intended Consequences.

On Monday I went to a jam in Winston-Salem. Joseph, a coworker went too. His daughter wants to learn bass. She already plays flute and piano. I told him that I could teach her, that I’d taught my wife bass. He asked how much. “Free”. “What?!”, he seemed stunned. I have a job, don’t need lesson money. I’d prefer to help others enjoy music more. So we’ll probably set something up for his daughter

On February 8, 2011, I wrote the song Ain’t Always Easy on my Soul. It was recorded by Six Lives Required on our Seatbelts Required CD. One of the lines is “When I give, I get more”. Wow is that true! I’m enjoying this Thanksgiving more than I should. And this time, it’s because I gave. I didn’t give to get a good feeling, but what a great side-effect. Try it! You’ll like it!

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

October 16, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Gather Up Her Tears

Gather All Her Tears – October 15, 2014. For Ioan Cascuescu (Tata)

TataSiCata

Catalina’s father died on Thursday, October 9, 2014. It struck a heavy blow to my wife. She talked to her mom and dad ever day either through the phone or the computer. It will take time for her to recover, not to get over, as you don’t get over this.

I was downstairs playing my morning guitar when I heard her cries. I knew instantly what had happened. The song, which somehow I had started the day before demanded to be written. It’s hard to write a song when you are crying yourself. I finished it yesterday, recorded it today at Two Egrets studio. Mike did a great job.

This one is for Tata. I will and do miss him.

October 13, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Creativity is a Sometimes Thing

CreativityYou can’t force it. If you force it you get mediocrity at best. Much more likely is that you get real garbage. You can’t follow the rules. Yes music has rules, more like guidelines. But if you follow them, again you get mediocrity or garbage. You never get something worthwhile.

Okay, so how do you find creativity? What is it? And how do you channel it? And the answer is….. I don’t know. Well that’s kind of sucky! What I do know is that it’s evasive, slippery, and demanding. I do know how creativity finds me.

For me creativity is living in the rules, the boundaries, but then stepping outside of them in ways that are unexpected. Go listen to Chopin’s Nocturnes. Each is a gem. They constantly push the rules and boundaries in unexpected ways, creating melodies that pull you uncontrollably. And yet they would not be anywhere as good if, if, if, if they didn’t have endings that push the boundaries even further. They make each unforgettable.

I find creativity when I look at those things that catch my interest. For me, the unexpected is found in a guitar riff or a few chords. I play with them, push the melody in an unexpected way. Or push the chords in an unexpected way. Or better yet, do them both at the same time.  Please, don’t think that just by doing the unexpected you are being creativity. That doesn’t work for me either. Same results; mediocrity and garbage, though more of the latter.

How do I channel creativity? I can’t actively pursue it. No. Look, I practice guitar every morning. Right now I’m working on the mundane of playing the F scale up the neck of the guitar as I try to better master the notes on the fingerboard. And after that I go to work on some of the songs that I’ve already started, playing them over and over, trying modifications of the melody. It is a time when I am still sleepy, more open to whatever, less cerebral. Just the act of playing them, honestly listening to my ear fosters the creativity. You have to take the risk of being honest and revealing yourself. Usually when I’m done, I’ll let my fingers stray to some new chords, often in a different key. Or maybe they will play a new riff. It is in THOSE moments that the seed of creativity is found. From there a whole song may develop.

Now there is one other type of creativity that sometimes happens with me. I wake up with a song in my head. I didn’t do anything to get it that I’m aware of. I have two or three songs that came to me this way. It’s rare. And this morning I woke up with the right words for a song that I’m working on in my head. What a gift to receive.

Playing with sound, creating a new song is demanding and obsessive. It is one of the most exciting things that you can do, even though you can’t force it. So if you are in the creativity business, you’re kind of screwed, as you can’t force it. Also if you are in the creativity business you have the best job in the world.  You know that no computer can replace what you do. Only you can be creativity and only if you choose to be open to it.

July 30, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Some Peculiarities of Song Writing

let-me-out-1Songwriters… we come in all flavors, varieties, and sizes. I’m of the variety that starts with a riff, builds a harmonic structure, adds a melody, and finally finds out what the song is about when the words come to me. At my best is when I listen to myself and discover what the next part of the riff or harmony or melody is. A similar discovery happens with words that just sort of bubble up. At worst is when I try to construct the riff or harmonies or melodies, to force the words. Those songs should be thrown away.

So I wouldn’t make a very good songwriter for a show or movie. That requires being able to write for a specific emotion or to a specific style. That just doesn’t happen with me. Some of the famous songwriters that create this way are Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. Did you know that “Yesterday” started out as “Scrambled Eggs”?

I often find really good riffs, feel like I have something really promising. I’ve lost some really good songs in the past through the conceit that if it is good enough, I’ll remember it later. I almost lost my song Peace of Mind that way. Now I record them on my phone. Some of them I title with notes to myself, “Work This One”. Others are simply “Something in E minor”. And I’ll often sing the chords instead of words. That way I’ll know what I’m playing when I listen to it later.

Some beginnings I don’t record. They just aren’t good enough, don’t demand that I do anything with them. I go about my day and promptly forget those

Now here is where there is peculiarity. There are songs that are full of promise. But they refuse to go past promise. The riff seems right. The chords seem almost right. The melodies are almost there. But no matter how much I play with them, they just never seem to gel, to get over the next hump. I have one song that I’ve been working on for three years. It refuses to finish. Either it isn’t good enough or I’m not approaching it correctly.

And then there is the flip side of this peculiarity. Despite that I’ve decided that the riff and harmonies aren’t good enough for considerations, the song just keeps coming back. Piece of crap… Will that darn thing get out of my head. These fragments just seem to keep cropping up when I’m working on other things. They are truly a pain. One song I even finished up so I could throw it away, get it out of my head: Happiness. That turned out to be one of my better received and most requested songs. I don’t really know why.

Maybe some songs just won’t leave you alone until you write them. They will interrupt the good songs that you are writing. Why? Maybe this is the crux; they are songs that are alien to the ones that you normally write. For me, I love to write a slow song, one with engaging harmonies, chromatic lines. But songs that are bouncy, quicker, simple; those don’t draw me. But what if that is the song that is demanding my attention?

I have a song like that. It seems to require that I finish it. It has a memorable riff with a good ascending middle line in it. It is up-tempo, with relatively simple chords, nothing startling. Why won’t it get out of my head. I’ve even had one set of words that go with a portion. Strangely those words have been there since the beginning, the opposite from the way I normally write as detailed earlier. This morning as I finished a bit of playing and practicing, three finger scales up the neck to help with better learning the fretboard, it circled around to me. This time some other words appeared, words of joy. Suddenly it seemed to have some direction. New melodies became possible. A change of mind set and expectations? I don’t know. Will it finish? Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is that some songs just demand to be written. If I finish this one I’ll record a rough version and append it to this blog.

Writing music is wrestling, sometimes dancing, with peculiarities.

June 4, 2014
by NcStevenB
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What Chords Should I Learn?

So I have a friend that is learning to play the uke. I particularly like the baritone uke because the chords are fingered the same as the guitar. But that is for another blog.

One of the problems I have teaching people is that I want them to learn a bit of theory as they are learning chording instruments. So I came up with this chart that is kind of interesting.

Key

Reationships

C       V/V V I IV  
D   V/V V I IV      
E V I IV          
F         V/V V I IV
G     V/V V I IV    
A V/V V I IV        
Chords B E A D G C F Bb

Hmmm so if you learn these 8 major chords, you can frequently play the same song in 6 keys. Wow! That isn’t so tough.

What, how do you make heads or tails of this? Geesh, I was just getting to that. This chart shows the grouping of the most commonly used chords for each key and their relationship. If you look at the first row, which is for C, you will see that the main chord are G, C, and F. Additionally, D is used relatively commonly. I might make a chart for bluegrass which tends to use the flatted VII chord quite a bit too.

What?! What use is that? Are you trying to be difficult? Look, the three main chords in a key are the I, IV, and V. In the key of C that would be C, F, and G respectively. If you play each of those chords in that order you will hear how each sounds. You might want to play I, IV V, and I. That way it will feel finished.

Now once you start hearing the sound of a I, a IV, and a V, you are ready to transpose to any of the keys above. Say you’ve been playing a song in C. But that is too low. Let’s go to E. You look at the chart and see that I, IV, and V for E are E, A, and B respectively. Now you play. When you hear I you play E. When you hear IV you play A. And when you hear V you play B. Believe it or not, this is how most people transpose by ear, even though they don’t realize it.

What? You don’t want to play in E, you want to play in G!!! You are trying to be difficult aren’t you? Okay so look at the chart. I, IV and V for G are G, C and D. You can do the rest. I have faith in you, even if you are a pain in the butt!

April 13, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Silent Night

This song has been recorded and is the title track on our Christmas CD, Silent Night released December 2015.

You won’t hear this arrangement anywhere but here. Generally, I regard some songs as sacred; don’t change them. This was in that category until I found myself trying it in C Minor. I changed the key to A minor to better suit Cata’s voice. And at the last moment we decided to switch it to the 12-String for accompaniment.

A few months later, Brandon came down and went into the recording studio with us.  She created some new harmonies.  The song went from being exceptional to spectacular.  I’m proud of this one!

Instrumentation and Vocals:

  • Lead Vocals – Catalina, Steven
  • Harmonies – Steven, Brandon
  • 12-String Guitar – Steven
  • Bass – Catalina

March 11, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Strings and Recordings

New strings on my guitars.  They are like new tires on a car.  When you put new tires on a car the ride is so smooth.  Everything is so quiet.  And the car glides to exactly where you want it.  When you put new strings on a guitar your fingers just slide into place.  The sounds are exquisite.  You can do anything on it so easily.  They are wonderful.  Fortunately, it is not as expensive to replace the strings on a guitar as it is to replace the tires on a car.

How often do I change my strings?  Well my hands sweat more than most people’s.  In the summer I can go through a set in two weeks.  What happens when I’ve gone through them?  Oh, well, they start sounding thunky, particularly in the bass.  You can actually see that they have lost their brightness.  Also, they won’t stay in tune.  Sometimes, I’m really bad.  I let my strings get a few months old.  Then when I change the strings I have to beat up on myself.  I hear how much better my guitar sounds.  How could I have let it get so bad?

Which brings me to routines.  Cata and I are recording three CDs this year.  I made the good choice of changing the strings on both of my guitars one week before the recording session.  They were perfect for the recording.  The strings had stretched just right so they didn’t change tuning just from playing them.  The sound was still brilliant and flexible.  A week before the second recording session I changed the strings on both again.  And yes, I am changing to another set of exactly the same strings; phosphorus  bronze mediums from WebStrings.  Again, the same results.  Now it is a hair under a week before our third recording session.  Today I changed the strings again.  I’m sure the results will be the same.  I plan to follow this routine as part of good recording procedures until we are done with these CDs.

Why two guitars?  Did someone feed you a couple of question pills today?  Look, each guitar has it’s own sound.  My sunburst Taylor with the maple top has a really big bright sound.  It is totally unforgiving; you play it, or it will play you.  On the flip side, it is totally wonderful and responsive.  It is so even.  It will show every shading that I’m capable of putting in.  So it is perfect for bringing out lines, playing harmonies, creating rhythmic riffs.  But it isn’t so great for strumming, energy songs.  For those it is just too loud.  My second guitar is my song writing guitar.  It is very forgiving.  I can get away with a lot on it.  While it is good for playing individual bass lines and rhythmic motifs, it isn’t as good as the other guitar.  But boy can you get energy with it.  So I use it on the more up-tempo songs that are more strumming oriented.  And I use the first guitars wherever I want subtlety and shading.  You’ll hear the difference when you listen to our CDs.

More later.

 

January 7, 2014
by NcStevenB
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Listen to Your Ear

I’ve had lots of students over the years.  And I always want to teach them music theory.  What?  No, no… music isn’t a theory.  Then what is music theory?  Well it is how scales and notes relate to each other.  Weight?  No, music doesn’t have weight.  What?!  What do I need scales for then?  God Lord!

Look, scales are all the notes in a pattern that a song might follow.  And then if you skip every other note, you make chords.  Tie some one up?  What?  No, CHORDS, not cords!  Geesh.

Here is the problem with music theory, and don’t interrupt me again!  You want to learn it so that it can help you play.  But if you pay to much attention to it, then what you will play will be not worth listening.  Yeah, like the practicing to perfection that I talked about yesterday.  Sure I can give you an example.  Hey, didn’t I tell you not to interrupt me.

So Cata is playing bass and she turns to me and says she doesn’t like that G.  I ask her what G.  The G on the first line.  There isn’t one there.  I took it out.  Ahhhh yes, I must have forgot to tell you dear.  What should you play there.  Well play the A; it is A minor for the first line.  And that is just what music theory would tell you to do.

She doesn’t play.  She just looks puzzled.  After a while she plays a little.  Then she beams.  I’m going to play a C there.  And she does, with a little walk up from the A to the C.  No, this isn’t a little cottage by the sea.  What she plays sounds a lot better than what just playing by theory would have.  And that C is part of the A minor chord, so it is still within the rules of theory.  But she didn’t pay attention to theory, she paid attention to her ear.

So you see, listen to your ear.  What?  I don’t care which ear; whichever one you want to.