Let's face it; everyday should be women's day. Where would any of us be without them? They say behind every great man is a great woman rolling her eyes, and today is the day we celebrate those patient, loving, smart, powerful, beautiful women in all of our lives. What better way for a guitar shop to celebrate than with some songs by some fem-nominal female musicians.
For the 12th year in a row, our little town has been lucky enough to host the annual Mandolin Symposium! For those who aren't familiar with the Symposium, it takes place up on the UCSC Campus and it's basically a mandolin fantasy camp. The instructors are David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Roland White (Bluegrass), Don Stiernberg (Swing and Jazz Master), Rich DelGrosso (Blues), Drew Emmitt (Jamgrass), Caterina Lichtenberg (Classical), Tim Connell (Irish Trad/Brazilian/Improv), Sharon Gilchrist (Mandolin Fundamentals), Dudu Maia (Brazilian Choro), Eric Stein (Klezmer), Mike Mullins (Artist in Residence).
These are 12 of the best mandolin players in the world (factual) and they spend the week teaching classes and workshops to the lucky few students from around the world who attend. The focus ranges from bluegrass to classical to klezmer to blues and way, way beyond. Tomorrow (Wednesday) night is the instructors concert where they each come out and play solo and with each other to demonstrate their mastery of the instrument. It's the type of performance that will make you either want to give up the mandolin completely or go home and practice for 12 hours straight! I will be attending this concert and recommend you do the same; it's only $15!!!!
For you mando players, stay tuned to their website and sign up for next years Symposium. If you're serious about improving and learning from the greats, it's the best way to do it.
In the musical world women are not often associated with the double bass or bass guitar. This week I thought I would highlight some amazing female bass players.
Tal Wilkenfeld is probably best known for playing with Jeff Beck, but has also shared the stage with other notables like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Macy Gray, and Toto. With her smooth style and mixture of chording and tasty licks, she left Australia and landed New York at age 18 to make a name for herself.
Esperanza Spalding is an Grammy Award winning solo bassist that draws on many different genres for her own compositions. She experimented with many instruments growing up but finally landed on the bass in high school. Not only did she become a phenomenal bassist, she can also sing in 3 languages!
Bridget Kearney is the bassist from the up and coming soul quartet Lake Street Dive. Being in a band that doesn't have a full time guitarist makes the bass player work over time to fill in the gaps, but Bridget has no problem picking up the slack, all the while providing back up vocals.
“So David”, Al asked me last week, “why do we have flats and sharps?”
Well the reason we have these is because our 'system' of Western music is comprised of both whole steps and half steps. That's the way it evolved from Gregorian chant. (For we fretted instrument players, a whole step is two frets and a half step is one fret. It's a whole step from fret 1 to fret 3 and a half step from fret 1 to fret 2.)
So why are flats and sharps important ….? Well, to start with we need flats and sharps in order to have half steps and we need half steps in order to make music that sounds 'right' to our traditional Western ears.
OK, guitar players, try this: starting with C on the 2nd string first fret and staying on the 2nd string, play every other fret (whole step) until you reach C on the 13th fret. How does that sound? Doesn't it make your ears want to hear some half steps somewhere in there?
Also as a result of the evolution of 'Western" music is the fact that the intervals of fourths (C to F) and fifths (C to G) became very fundamental to Western music. (Without those intervals we wouldn't have all the three-chord songs that are so near and dear to our hearts.) You simply can't get from either C to F or C to G without using a half step.
Think that's complicated? Then don't ask me about double sharps and double flats!
So that's it; Western music 'needs' half steps … and you need flats and sharps to create them in every key but C and A minor.
Life without music would be intolerable.
Wanna make great music??? Listen very, very carefully and remove the silence where it doesn't belong.
As a performing musician, I sometimes get asked a difficult question -- how did you become proficient on your instrument? The obvious answer would be: practice, lots of practice. And of course that is suitable advice to give to anybody who is looking to learn something that is as technically demanding as playing the guitar. I am aware that we each have a unique capacity for learning new things, however simply telling a prospective guitar player to practice scales, always use a metronome, and always play for at least an hour may not always be the best advise. My point is this: establishing rigid practice habits is fine, but if I had a nickel for every hour I spent just holding a guitar and "noodling" I would have at least a month's worth of rent (and that's saying something in Santa Cruz!!!).
Allow yourself the time to become familiar with your instrument on a more subconscious level (open-tunings lend themselves well to this approach) and "practice" using your intuition and judgment as well as your metronome and chord charts. For me, music is something that exists in the head AND the heart, and I would urge anyone who is looking to pick up the guitar or ukulele or banjo or tuba to simply exercise the habit of being with or near your instrument...always. Have it around and accessible, and remember this cheesy adage: practice makes perfect, but playing makes you happy--just ask Allen Iverson!
Until next time!
I've been asked countless times by prospective customers whether or not a instrument is easy to learn. I know it may seem like a simple straight forward question, but its more difficult to answer than you think. The short answer is no, it isn't easy, otherwise everyone would know how to do it. Regardless of what instrument you decide to play, there is a certain level of commitment that comes with it. Some instruments, like bass guitar and ukulele, have a shallower learning curve to begin with, while guitar requires a little more effort up front. In the end, however, it takes just as much fortitude to be proficient in any instrument, as long as you still have the passion.
As much as we would love to have them, no guitar we sell comes with talent. We try our hardest to match you with the right instrument, as to increase the likelihood that you will continue to play it. We also offer lessons from skilled teachers to help you on your journey, but ultimately, whether or not something is easy depends on you.
When was the last time you went to see live music? If your answer is not at least "sometime in the last few months" then you are doing yourself and the musical community a disservice. And you deserve a paddlin'! There is so much good music being played right now and odds are there's even some happening in your town..... tonight!
Not only is it soothing for the soul, but it's increasingly becoming the best way to directly (financially) support music and musicians you like. AND, you can can look at it as a lesson as well as entertainment. I've learned so much just from watching musicians up close at concerts. Technique, chord shapes and changes, and gear choices are usually very easy to gleam from a musician at a concert, assuming it's not a huge venue. And on that point, the smaller the venue, the better. It's very hard to connect with a band in a stadium, especially if you're not in the first 30 rows.
In closing, get out there and see some gosh-dang live music! Tonight!!
Man, you know what really grinds my gears? Merriam Webster's definition for harmony:
"the combination of different musical notes played or sung at the same time to produce a pleasing sound"
First half we're doin' alright, different notes, same time. Yes, I am on board.
However, I take issue with the concept of "pleasure" being included in this definition. I very specifically enjoy harmony others (of perhaps less refined palettes) might find displeasing. Maybe it makes them cringe in their seat a little, maybe there isn't that safe cadential figure leading back to "one."
Guess what friends, there is no "one."
Western music theory and harmony, and everything we listen to in this tradition, while a very neat and impressive collection of rules and ideas concerning organization of sound, is totally arbitrary. One may contend that the overtones in the harmonic series (those perfect 5ths and 3rds) are why we hear certain combinations of notes and sounds and we be like, "oh hey that sounds nice, what sweet pleasing sound." But naw dawg! The early Christian church (from which pretty much all contemporary music theory is derived) just had to control everything and codify things into rules, because God loves rules. So that really "dissonant" harmony, the one where there's two notes separated by six semitones, we're gonna call that "diabolus in musica," and you are NOT allowed to play it because it is so ugly and gross.
Well, fortunately musicians quickly determined that the church was a goofball, and the "tension" present in this harmony (commonly referred to as the tritone) was resolvable, and as such could reflect the ebb and flow of life, like an exhale after holding your breath for too long, it could become something expressive. And it's true, to the Western ear, hearing an F against a B resolve into a C and E, sounds pretty satisfying, but also... saccharine. Why does that tritone have to resolve? Why can't it just hang out there and sound nice, be fine on its own, I think it sounds nice. Here are some of my favorite pieces of music that dare to subvert these Western traditions, as well as some resources if you're curious about some of the subjects mentioned:
Schoenberg was a German composer from the Late Romantic period and began composing in that tradition before switching gears entirely, and inventing his own serialized approach to harmony organization. This piece predates his more organized 12-tone serialism, but it does a pretty beautiful job of ignoring a tonal center while remaining particularly Romantic in its expressivity and dynamics.
Portal is a death metal band hailing from Australia. While this piece of music has trace elements of tonality, particularly around a minute and a half in, there is a very purveying sense of dissonance and atonality. The deliberateness in which they do not pander to Western tonality I find both hauntingly beautiful and terrifying. Also the video.
Honestly I should've put this first. Ornette Coleman, and all pioneering Jazz musicians, were immediately pushing harmonic boundaries (all boundaries for that matter). This is an example of "free jazz," a musical movement with which Coleman was strongly associated. I will not begin to try to explain "free jazz" beyond mentioning that it is rooted far more in independent improvisatory melodic lines, but the resulting harmonies as we can hear in this piece are supreme. That poor lonely woman tho :(
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1521 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
©All Rights Reserved