Category Archives: Music

Sorry for my lack of updates.

I had a problem logging into WordPress (fixed by deleting some plugins).

I am also in the throes of recording an album, having written 13 songs with my friend Alex. Some of this is the best material I have ever composed. As we near the end of our time in Raleigh I hope it will make for a good product.

Meanwhile I have a couple of draft blogposts I’m working on, one of which involves Yorkshire Tea for the Yorkshire Lad in me!

Famous jazz musicians from North Carolina

I currently live in Raleigh, North Carolina and would like to pay tribute to the amazing jazz musicians from this and surrounding regions. It may not be an epicentre of jazz like New Orleans, Manhattan, or Los Angeles, indeed none of a recent top 10 southern jazz players were from North Carolina. Nevertheless some notable players are from here.

Jazz musicians with connections to the Research Triangle:

  • Jeb Bishop is a jazz trombonist who grew up in Raleigh and studied at NC State.
  • Pee Wee Moore left medical school to pursue jazz saxophony full time. He was born in Raleigh and returned to the city in the 1970s after living in New York.
  • Billy Strayhorn was a composer, lyricist, and arranger. He spent his summers at his grandparents home in Hillsborough, just northwest of Durham.

Jazz musicians with connections to the Piedmont triad (Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem):

Other notable NC jazz musicians:

  • Nina Simone was born in Tryon on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Widely acclaimed singer, pianist, and songwriter she was also active in the civil rights movement.
  • Percy Heath
  • Theolonius Monk

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Pre-performance nerves

Today I fly back to the UK for a visit. Air travel can be pretty stressful. At least I can take comfort in the fact that even if I get a nasty case of travel sickness, the jitters, or whatever, the personnel and passengers will probably never see me ever again.

Shows are stressful!

More stressful is the time just prior to going on stage, when you’ve practiced your set and it all comes down to whether you excel or embarrassingly fail. And those in the audience – your fans and potential fans – will definitely remember it. The impressions you make on stage can be lasting impressions. Before shows I get nervous and seek reassurance from those around me, rehearsing tricky little bits with my fingers, tuning and retuning my guitar. Should I try to curb my stress?

Should you relax?

Many people engage in funny rituals before a performance to try to relax. From people who have to drink a certain drink or listen to a particular musical piece, to those who want to chitchat about anything other than their show. I don’t have any of these superstitions, but should I find a quiet corner in which to calm myself?

No, get fired up!

The opposite option is to get excited and act like a boxer about to get into the ring by shaking your arms, jumping up and down, and beating your chest. Recent research suggests getting pumped up in this way actually boosts performance more than a relaxing massage or soak in a bath. So before a show it might be a good idea to get your heart bumped and your brain in gear to attack, go out there and give it all you’ve got. (If you make a mistake at least you were energized and able to keep going.)

As far as plane journeys go, I don’t recommend stoking up your air rage. However, I might try tactically psyching myself up before the parts of the journey that make me most apprehensive.

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Review: Clutch at the Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh

Well, my ears are still buzzing! Here is my take on a phenomenal show:

Crobot

Quite cool as support acts go, and a good match with the other two bands, but not quite my kind of thing. A very outgoing singer who never missed a chance to talk with the crowd. My wife thinks he looks like Russell Brand except with a less full beard, a hairless chest and greasier hair. To me his voice and moves were like Sebastian Bach, except with dark hair and a beard.

The Sword

I own and love all this band’s albums so I went with high hopes. They were the most unassuming three front men I’ve ever seen including a very deadpan bassist. They did not disappoint me though, delivering a slick set with energetic and engaging bass and drum playing. My only regret is that we were on the wrong side of the stage to properly hear the lead guitarist, but all band members talent shone through and I would encourage you to hear this band’s live music if you ever get a chance.

Clutch

This was my first time seeing Clutch and they were one solid powerhouse of a band. I regret not listening to enough of their back catalogue to appreciate everything they played. I only got into them having got tickets to see The Sword, and Clutch became my favourite band of 2013. The lead singer Neil is a fantastic entertainer. He watches the crowd, at times hardly blinking, and communicates by hand gestures, the occasional comment, and looks on his face like a man possessed by rock. In some songs he plays guitar, in others a cow bell, and all the time sporting a pair of black Adidas shell toes. An all round appealing sound and visual experience, even the drummer was great to watch. The final song, Electric Worry, was by far my favourite of their set.

The Venue

The Lincoln Theatre is lovely smaller venue with a capacity of about 1000. There is a small upper level for those who want a seat and view from above, and a lower level where you can get really close to the performers. The bar serves a range of beers, including a very nice Porter.

Remainder of the Tour

The Clutch will continue their US tour and there are tickets still available for most of the shows. They then venture to Australia, then to the UK, Ireland and Germany. I’d highly recommend you see them!

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Learning styles in the music classroom

Your brain constantly interprets a range of stimuli, from the feel of the chair you’re sat on to viewing the light from the screen to read these words, from the smell of old socks to the call of a crow. Some people have a tendency to learn better using some senses than others. There are three basic kinds of learning.

Three learning styles

  1. Visual (drawing, watching, reading, writing),
  2. Kinesthetic (moving, touching), and
  3. Auditory (listening).

Auditory learning might seem the one most people choosing to study music would lean towards. However, some “non-musical” people often have a passion and desire to learn an instrument, even though it might be more difficult for them than learning other things like a foreign language or a handicraft. An even if all your music students have a musical flair, things learnt in the classroom can be reinforced by appealing to a range of learning styles. While you might figure out that a student prefers one mode of learning over another, most people prefer a variety of activities. This prevents boredom, and strengthens weaker skills.

How to incorporate learning styles into lessons

For each learning objective think of an exercise that appeals to each learning style. For instance, you might want your student to recognises the features of a particular rhythm. You might achieve this by writing out the notes on a stave, or reading a phrase where the intonation follows the rhythm (visual), feeling the rhythm on a drumskin or play along themselves (kinesthetic), or listening to a short piece of music (auditory). Many students will be bright enough to pick up and remember the rhythm after one or two exercises, but it’s good to have a range of routes to go down depending on what questions or interests arise during the lesson.

Should teachers emphasise one learning style over others?

Sometimes students would like to focus on a particular mode, for instance a student might have a performance coming up and be tempted to practice playing their piece(s) over and over. It might be appropriate to devote most of the lesson to practice playing the whole piece, or running over particularly challenging sections. Or a student might really enjoy picking up new things in a certain way, like needing to hear a piece played before they can play themselves. Here teachers might begin to play everything before the student has a go.

Mix it up a little

You should punctuate a lesson with other activities, not just teaching one thing in one way. This can be refreshing, prevents them becoming “one-trick ponies”, and can even bolster the student’s preferred exercises. If your student is working towards an upcoming performance you might watch footage of a professional guitarist to see their fingering. Or you might write out the notation for a couple of lines from memory, and identify areas that were omitted or written incorrectly as areas to focus on. Or instead of demonstrating something first, you might encourage a student to sightread and play a new piece from scratch, or challenge them to include a twist into a piece they can already play.

I teach to a range of learning styles because it produces excellent, well-rounded musicians.

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Why the long song?

How long should a song be?

Many songwriters seem to get a short tune in their head or a theme for some lyrics, and build some verses and choruses around them. Managers and producers might prune compositions so the final song is conducive to mass broadcast. Most radio shows only play songs lasting 2-3 minutes and many people streaming music over the web or listening to a music player flick to a new track once they’re bored. If I was a radio producer I’d want to play a variety of songs to keep listening figures up, and if I was out running I wouldn’t want a dull song to slow my cadence.

What can be said for more lengthy pieces of music? Has our tendency toward quick musical fulfilment made longer songs inadvisable? Some of the newer songs I’ve been writing last eight minutes. I think they’re progressive and dynamically and musically interesting (think Pink Floyd, Tool, Muse). I wonder where the audience is who will listen to the whole of these songs. If I decide to record long versions who should I market them to? If I decide to shorten it, which section of the draft should I trim? I feel there must be a more refined approach than just omitting a verse.

When do people stop listening?

It would be really interesting to see the distribution of times through a song at which people “switch off” and choose to listen to something else instead. At what points in a song do people get fed up? My inkling is that there is a quick drop off of people who just don’t like something within the first 20 seconds (there must be some reason why iTunes gives people a 20 s sample to potential purchasers). Then there will be some who quit during the first chorus because they’re heard enough and don’t like it. Finally there is a thin tail of committed listeners who stay to the end. I feel this is the kind of topic that must have been studied in music psychology, but sorry to say I don’t know the literature that well. If anyone has any empirical graph they can point me to I’d be very interested in seeing the actual proportion of people who stop listening at particular points through a song.

Over to you

What’s the longest song you’ve written? How do you go about tailoring the length of songs to suit a particular audience?

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Music worth dancing to

Swing dancing is a popular activity in North Carolina. Each December the state hosts one of the largest swing dance festivals in the world, Lindy Focus. Barely a weekend goes by without friends in Raleigh telling me they’re spending their evening in some dance hall or other.

Some people dance to recorded music, but often swing dances are places to savor the thrill of a live performance, where musicians and dancers together generate a captivating atmosphere. You can get swing dance lessons, or just turn up to an event. Here are swing dancing opportunities in the area:

Events

Carolina Music and Dance Productions
Triangle Swing and Shag meetups
Central Smooth Groovers meetups
Raleigh Swing Dance Events

Societies

Triangle Swing Dance Society and their Facebook group
NCSU Student Dance Club
Dancing in North Carolina
Piedmont Swing Dance Clubs

Some other dance groups

Raleigh-Durham Triangle Dance
Raleigh Dance 4 Fun

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