I don't know if anyone actually reads this blog. I see that I had visits on December 31st but no one has left messages or joined the e-mail list, so who knows? For this year, I have decided not to release any more music that has been recorded at home utilizing programmed percussion tracks to augment the music tracks that have all been played by myself. It is a good tool to make demos of songs but I miss the interaction and the surprises that can appear when you are playing music with others. I can hear that unknown something in old tapes from different sessions that I just can't touch with my home recordings. So, I intend to get out there and make some music with real people in a room some where and if I'm lucky, I can share the results with whoever in a live recording or video.
In the last segment, I talked about practice sessions and how if the band was working on a new number we would give this composition a working title so we wouldn't forget. You might ask, " Well, why didn't somebody just record it?" My brother Tom did have a Craig two channel reel to reel tape recorder. So, sometimes we would record rehearsals but the acoustics and cheap mics would give a distorted sound and nobody thought about sound proofing or how loud we should be playing. In 1969 April, our Manager, David Lonie, scheduled us to do a recording session with a recording outfit called Audio Alley. He secured the use of The Matrix Club during the day when the club was closed and the engineer used the 4 track system that many live performances were captured by different entertainers & bands. Most recently, recordings that were made of The Velvet Underground when they toured in 1969 were recorded there. So, we arrived around noon and set up the amps and drum set on the stage. We watched the engineer set up the mics to record the drums and then at some point he told us to play something to get a sound level. None of us were wearing head phones and the vocal recording mic that I used was not being fed to an amplifier so, I couldn't actually hear myself. As a result, I blew out my voice screaming during the sound check. The engineer came out at least three times from the booth to tell us," You're too loud! Turn down!" I remember at one point the drummer said," If you guys get any softer, I'll have to play with pencils instead of drum sticks." But, we did the best we could and recorded about eight songs. I can only listen to two of them because the vocals are strained and I'm somewhere between a rasp and a croak like I'm about to expire before the next take. We were all pretty green and not very experienced. It would have been nice to say, " hey, let's go back and re-do the vocal tracks at another time." The overall mood of the band was that it wasn't a good session. When we heard the play back, it didn't sound as bad as we thought instrumentally but the vocals were painful for me to listen to. Nothing much came from the session in terms of letting anyone else hear it and we chalked it up to a learning experience and hoped to do a better one later on down the road. However, that didn't happen.
When I was in The Sounds Unlimited Blues Band circa 1968, we practiced at a rental on Capp street in San Francisco. The band equipment was set up in my brother Toms bedroom. He could literally wake up, get out of bed and grab his guitar at anytime and start to play. When the band had an upcoming gig, the session would be more like a review where the group would run through the sets of the songs that we were going to play. This would be the stuff that had been worked out and you were just refreshing your memories to be more confident when the night came. The sessions that I was more interested in was the ones where there was the unknown to deal with. Tom might be playing some chords or a riff that he was messing with. Jorge would listen and start trying out some licks. Fred, the bass player, would watch Toms hands to get the chords and begin to develop a bass pattern and based off of that, Jim, the drummer, would start laying down a beat to get this idea into some kind of shape. If we hit a good groove, that is we found the rhythmic basis that you could tap your feet to, we'd play out over and over. At some point, some one would say," What if, we played a little faster?" We'd try that. Or maybe Jorge would try some fuzz on the chords which would make the drummer get more flashy to match him. This unknown idea was beginning to take shape and might be on the way to becoming a song. I listened to what the band was playing trying figure out what I could do. In my head, I listened to the sound and lyric ideas would be running through my brain and how to get hold of them. Finally, I'd pick one line, maybe a title? And start to sing it out, playing with the words or crooning wordlessly finding a melody. If we were really into this thing we were creating, we might play it for a couple of hours, refining and discarding ideas and parts. We would give it a working title like Toms riff or Jorge heavy number so we wouldn't forget since we didn't always have a tape recorder going. More about that on the next section.
All music starts in a room somewhere. It could be a bedroom, basement room, garage, shed, even a recording studio is essentially a room. Why is this important? You need a safe zone where you can make all the mistakes, sing out of key, struggle with chords you haven't as yet mastered where nobody is watching you. It's called practice for a reason. You must go through this ritual to get to the point where you might be willing to let other people listen to what you have learned. That's when you are ready for the recital, presentation, or public performance. Practice is the hard work that the audience doesn't see and has no clue of the effort you have made. There is a reason why that band sounds so tight and professional. It's practice! So, you're in your room and you try a few chords and enjoy the sounds you are making. Nothing like strumming and hearing the sound coming from the guitar which you, yes you, are making and it sounds good. I confess, I never took lessons or had any kind of formal music instruction. I can't read music notation. Anything I have learned was out of curiosity and watching other people who played better than I did who were willing to show me how to play. So, another kid watched me play and said," Why don't you use bar chords? It'd be easier." I replied," What's a bar chord?" I learned something. How do you play that rhythm like Chuck Berry? My brother Tom taught me that one and minor chords, major seventh chords, and that made me buy chord books to learn even more. Every musician I met was a teacher who knew something that I didn't know and I learned from all of them. And, it's the best kind of learning because it involves work on something you really want to learn how to do and its fun. It's fun when after struggling you can play a song just right or hit that lick just the way it should be done. You feel good. And, you want to do it again and again.
Welcome! This blog will be about any and everything to do with the practice of making music. First thing you do is, tune up. From orchestras to rock bands, marching bands, or you and your friends in a room or basement garage, nothing happens or can happen until you do this most important step. I was watching the film Monterey Pop and the performance by Ravi Shankar. Ravi and the musicians are on stage and this eastern wash of melody comes through the sound system very meditative and exotic. Then, they stop and the audience responds with applause. After that dies down, Ravi steps to the mic and thanks the audience for applauding while they were tuning up and now we will play. Before the invention of portable tuners and at least in most guitar bands everyone tuned to one of the guitars that was the most likely to be in tune. That is a chord was strummed and if it didn't make you shake your head in disgust, it was probably close. Later on I got a tuning fork and tuned to the A440 by striking the fork on the palm of my hand to cause the vibration to register the correct tone and tuned the A string to that. This could be a problem in a noisy club or school gymnasium with people shouting calling out drink orders or trying to make a date. So, thank goodness for tuners. In the next segment we'll talk about what happens after this simple procedure which is where the fun begins.
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