Music to my Ears

Posts tagged with "Music"

Reindeers are better than people

After seeing Disney's Frozen last week, I can't stop singing all of the songs from the soundtrack. So I decided to learn one of them on guitar and do a quick cover song! Enjoy.

I also figured out how to do simultaneous multitrack recording on my Mac, and so this is the first song I've recorded utilizing multitrack recording. And I have to say: multitrack recording is amazing! I don't know how I ever lived without it! Now I just need to figure out how to get my video editing software to actually retain the HD quality that my camera records in.

Backstage with Ryan Lerman

Last week Thursday, I attended a concert by artist Nataly Dawn. She is touring with two other singer-songwriters, Ryan Lerman and Lauren O'Connell, and you couldn't ask for a better power trio. They were brilliant. I bought two tickets to their show, one for me and one as a very-belated birthday present for my friend Bob. And I also quickly snagged a chance to purchase a private, backstage guitar lesson from the very talented Ryan Lerman, who was offering that opportunity as first-come, first-serve.

I've been playing guitar myself, on and off, for over 13 years now, so suffice it to say that I am pretty comfortable with my own playing abilities. I know my way around the fretboard, and I can usually pick up most songs pretty quickly. Going into the guitar lesson, my motivations were less about learning new techniques and more centered on discussion of audio equipment, audio production, recording techniques, and songwriting in general. I thought I probably didn't have much to learn about actual playing techinque. And I was most certainly wrong! I got to witness firsthand what the difference between being an amateur musician and a professional musician really is.

I did still talk with Ryan about all the production value things I wanted to talk about, and he had a wealth of knowledge to draw from. I'm grateful I brought a pen and paper to write some of it down. But the best part of the lesson was talking about music theory and chord progressions with him. Like I said, I thought I knew my way around the fretboard, but I was wrong. That man knows his way around the fretboard, and traverses it so effortlessly and with such polish. And dammit, that man has swagger.

Now, let me share two quotations with you. The first is from a 20th century science fiction author, and the second is from a 19th century female pastor.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
-Robert Heinlein

"...there is no excellence without labor in a direct line. One cannot scatter his fire, and at the same time hit the mark."
-Mary Baker Eddy

At first these quotes might seem contradictory, but I actually try to live by both. I love the Heinlein quote because he's talking about being a Renaissance man, wearing many different hats, being well-rounded. I love that idea; it's fun to learn and try new things. But I also recognize the truth in the Eddy quote as well. At the end of the day, I'm a computer programmer. It's what I do really well, partially because I spend at least nine hours a day writing code. I have all sorts of varied hobbies and obligations that I do after work, but the bulk of my day is always spent programming.

I'm decently good at guitar, because I've played it for so long, but I realized last Thursday that I will probably never be as good as Ryan Lerman. And the reason is that at the end of the day, I am a programmer and he is a musician. That's what he spends at least nine hours each day doing. And there really is no substitute for that; no shortcut to excellence for hobbyists like me. If you want perfection, you have to practice, practice, practice.

But I don't find this discouraging, not in the least. I know that I won't be a rock star, or have that same polish that has already become second nature for both Nataly and Ryan. But I'm not setting out to be a rock star. I'm setting out to be a computer programmer who happens to write songs on the side. And so, interactions with real, professional musicians like this are invigorating, because they give me so many new ideas. One of the things that was extremely helpful was when, during my lesson, I started playing some of the various fragments of songs I had written -- songs I started long ago but ran into writer's block halfway through -- to see if Ryan would have any pointers. He did! Here are a couple of things I remember:

  • Songs are like bringing someone into your house. The verse is your living room, the chorus is your kitchen, and both are visible pretty much immediately upon entering. The bridge section shows people a brand new part of your house that they hadn't noticed before, maybe the backyard or basement, and so that's your chance to modulate and try all sorts of new things.
  • Not every song needs a bridge. If it feels complete, don't try to force it.
  • Try to have the melody land on, and sustain, the "cool" notes -- the transition notes outside the main triad, like the 9th or 11th (aka 2nd or 4th). That keeps things moving.
  • Diminished and half-diminished chords are fun.
  • Common tones are nice and Louis Cole uses them a lot.
  • Open triads often sound better than closed ones.
  • Try not to repeat notes in a chord.

It was so inspiring hanging out with Ryan. I'd really like to introduce you all to some of his music, so I thought about including one of his YouTube videos here. But rather than do that, I figured it would be worthwhile to record my own cover of one of his songs and perform that myself, just to show that his lesson paid off. And actually, the one I want to share isn't really his. It's a duet of him and Lauren, and Lauren wrote it. Now please keep in mind, I am a computer programmer first, a guitar player second, and a vocalist... well not really a vocalist. What I'm trying to say is that this won't be American Idol quality vocals. But without any further adieu, here's a video of me performing "I Belong to You" by Lauren O'Connell. Enjoy.