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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Organ Transplant Complete

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Yah di Buckety…

I have a new adventure to report. I have entered the world of tube organ ownership.

Here’s the story.

In the Twenties, a man named Laurens Hammond invented a circuit that kept good time. He used it to create the first accurate electric clocks. He created the Hammond clock company.

At some point, he realized he could generate accurate tones using his gadgetry. He decided to make some kind of novelty machine that made sounds, but his accountant suggested he create musical instruments instead.

This is how the Hammond organ was born.

The Hammond company made organs for about forty years. They used tube amplifiers and other weird old analog circuitry. And they were amazing. They were nothing like as big or expensive as pipe organs, but they were able to compete with them musically. They exuded mojo. Eventually jazz and blues musicians discovered organs, and we ended up with classics like “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “House of the Rising Sun.”

Eventually transistors and digital circuits ruined the market for Hammond organs, and Hammond’s competitors beat it to death with cheesy features that allowed people to push a couple of buttons and essentially make their organs play without much human input. Hammond folded, and later, his competitors folded. Now you practically have to pay people to take tube organs, except for four or five Hammond models that have developed a following. Even those can be had for one to three thousand dollars, which is very little, considering the complexity and quality of the instruments.

I have a friend named Travis. He plays on my church’s worship team. I believe he plays 12 instruments. Right now, he’s on scholarship at the Frost music school at the University of Miami. He has been pushing the team to go for a little more soul, and sometimes he throws in some organ licks on a small, crummy keyboard they use. Our pastor is also trying to steer the team in this direction.

I told the worship leader they could get a great old organ cheap if they watched the ads, but he thought it would take up too much room. Unfortunately, by the time he turned the idea down, I was already hooked on Craigslist, and I had found several nice Hammonds for sale.

The one that finally got my attention was an E133. This is a variant of the E100, which is one of the last good Hammonds. Someone was advertising it for a hundred bucks. I believe she originally wanted a thousand, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you watch Internet organ ads, you will see them start very high and end very low. Sometimes owners will actually pay to have organs hauled off.

Her organ sold for something like two thousand dollars when it was new (c. 1965), so she was probably shocked to learn that it was nearly worthless.

I had a hard time getting in touch with her. Her Craigslist ad expired, and she was slow to respond. Finally, I got ahold of her, and I made a deal. I would give her a hundred bucks for the organ if it was basically sound.

Enter Travis.

The E133 is one of Hammond’s heavier organs. Not the heaviest, but it’s a console, which means it’s bigger than a spinet. The M3 the hit “Green Onions” was played on weighs around 250 pounds. The E133 is maybe a hundred pounds heavier, before adding the pedals and bench. I decided Travis was going to help me carry it.

Here’s something really sad. I got a pickup so I could haul heavy things, and as it turns out, that plan has not panned out all that well. The organ errand demonstrates my point. It was supposed to rain on the day we planned to get the organ, so there was no way I could use an open truck. I had to rent a van. So aggravating.

I could not figure out how to get the organ to the van, but then I remembered those nylon forearm straps they advertise on TV. The invention is called the “Forearm Forklift.” You run the straps under heavy things and attach the free ends to your forearms, and this allows you to stand relatively straight when you lift. It makes moving heavy things easier. On Youtube, people move refrigerators with people sitting on top. I figured those straps were for me. I bought a pair.

We drove up to Davie, where the seller lived, and we threw the straps under the organ. Yes, it did move. But because it was so low to the ground, it was necessary to bend down pretty far, negating part of the benefit of the straps. Also, the organ threatened to tip to the side, which was not encouraging.

By a miracle of God, we got it to the driveway and put it behind the van, hoping to tilt it gently onto its back, via the rear doors.

At this point we learned something fascinating about lifting straps. Travis said he wanted to put his end of the organ in the van first and then help with mine, and that sounded okay, but when he got his end onto the van floor and let go of one strap, all the tension on that strap disappeared, and of course, the organ headed for the pavement with me shrieking as I strained to hang onto it.

I was positive we were about to drop over three hundred pounds of fifty-year-old cabinetry and tube amps on this lady’s driveway. All my organ dreams, up in smoke. Embarrassing.

By a second miracle of God, we stopped the organ and got it into the van, and then we requested and received a third miracle to get it down onto my driveway.

Here is Travis, trying the organ out. This is probably one of the happiest moments of his life. He likes that organ.

10 02 14 hammond e133 in garage with Travis

The organ had a few issues. For one thing, it had that “I’ve been in a house with cats” smell, big-time. For another, it made a funny hummy sort of noise. It also had a coating of crud on it. Some mysterious yellow substance. I obliterated paper towel after paper towel, removing filth from the keys and plastic surfaces. It may have been nicotine. That’s not as bad as the other things that it may have been, so I prefer to think that’s what it was.

The vibrato didn’t work, although I didn’t realize that. Also, after we ran it a while, it made hooting sounds. Oh well. A hundred bucks, right? How can you go wrong?

Since Thursday, I have been taking the organ apart and putting it back together. I learned some fascinating stuff.

Mr. Hammond’s organs do not have sealed bearings. Maybe they didn’t exist in the Sixties. Instead, a Hammond organ has a trough running down the midde of it, and that trough is filled with Hammond oil (actually about the same thing as air tool oil). The trough has a sponge in it, and from various points in the organ, cotton threads run to the sponge. At their other ends are weird bronze bearings. There are two plastic funnels over the trough. You pour oil into each funnel, and it goes into the sponge, and then it takes a three-week-long journey down the threads and into the bearings.

I’m not kidding. It really works that way. If you buy a Hammond organ today, and it needs oil, expect it to be ready to play three weeks after the day you oil it.

The hooting sounds came from bearings in the tonewheel generator. I’ll bet you want to know what that is.

You may know what a hurdy gurdy is. Probably not. It’s a gourd-shaped instrumend with strings. Inside it, there is a shaft with discs mounted transversely on it. When you crank the shaft, you can select strings and make them contact the moving edges of the disks. The disks act like violin bows; the rubbing makes the sound.

A Hammond organ is basically an electric hurdy gurdy. It has a motor at one end, and a shaft runs down the length of the organ. On the shaft, there are tonewheels. These are disks with notches around the edges. There are magnetic pickups, like guitar pickups, next to the disks. As the disks turn, the notches vary the voltage in the pickups, and you get a signal that produces a tone. The more notches a disk has, the higher the frequency of the tone.

The beauty of this system is that you can blend signals from multiple disks.

Over the keyboards (“manuals”), there are drawbars. These are sliding bars that determine how the tones blend. If you pull a drawbar all the way out, it maximizes the output from a certain wheel. Or certain wheels. I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s sort of like a graphic equalizer. If you always pull the drawbars out to certain lengths, you will always have the same sound. Jimmy Smith, the jazz organist, made a splash by using the pattern 888-000-000 on the nine drawbars of his organ. I should also add that the organ has two manuals, and each manual has its own set of drawbars.

The drawbars explain part of the organ’s appeal. An organ’s tones are not pure. Because you’re combining tones, every time you press a key, what you really get is a chord. If you’re a musician, you know that chords have a more satisfying sound than discrete notes.

The organ I bought is not the most desired Hammond. That would be the B-3. Generally, big rock acts used these to perform the classics we all remember. There are similar organs that are a little less desirable, like the RT2, the A100, and the C-3. The E-133 has some of the B-3’s good points, but it lacks others. And it has some silly features that have to be removed in order to make it sound its best. It’s a fantastic instrument, though. And for a hundred bucks, it’s the deal of the century.

A B-3 will run you two grand or more. I am not blowing that kind of money on what is essentially an impulse buy. But I’m willing to spend a hundred to get 85% of that experience.

Working on the organ is a nightmare. It’s very tight in the cabinet, and nothing is modular, in any sane sense of the term. It would probably take two hours to get the tonewheel generator out. The vibrato is generated in a little can at one end of the organ, and I had to remove it twice and bang around on it to get it working. It takes one hour to remove and one hour to replace. It probably has eighty parts, and they are very small, and they like to fall out of your oily hands and roll under things.

Today I got the vibrato working, and I am well on the way to having the hooting fixed. I still have to fix one pedal. If you don’t know, the pedals on an organ are bass notes. They’re very cool. One of mine is missing a small piece of metal that actuates the switch that plays the note.

I washed the whole organ with Murphy’s Oil Soap, and I should really do it again. I polished it with Scott’s Liquid Gold. The cat stench is just about gone, and now I’m not afraid to eat after touching the keys.

I told Travis he has a lifetime pass to play it.

Once it’s reasonably healthy I may move it out of the garage.

The folks at my church say they want it. NOW. Oh, no. Sorry. You get to wait for the next one, and someone else has to deliver it. I’ll find it and I’ll make it work. That’s more generous than it sounds.

If you like old organ music, get out there and find an old Hammond. Steer clear of other brands. If you’re not handy, you can get a Hammond digital B-3. The Suzuki company bought the name, and they make a fake B-3 as well as a compact version for the stage.

Sooner or later people will rediscover these things, and then you’ll be sorry. Or not.

Anyway, I got mine.

What You Speak and Believe Matters More Than What You Do

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Put the Horse Before the Cart and Move

Felt like blogging some more.

I love music, but I had some problems with my left hand. The knuckles on three fingers swelled up. I think I got this problem because I was using an online guitar lesson program intended to strengthen my hands. It was full of harsh, repetitive movements done to exhaustion.

I quit playing the guitar and pretty much forgot about performing, shifting instead to writing music. That’s rewarding, and it’s more important than playing, but playing is not something to be discarded lightly.

A few months back, as is often the case, my pastor got a word that he was supposed to pray for physical healing, and I went up. After the service, my hand felt better. I resumed practice. Now I’m playing the banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, piano, lap steel, and dobro.

I’ve put the mandolin and electric guitar on the back burner. I focus mainly on the piano and slide guitars, and I keep up with the banjo, because practicing everything I know only takes around 20 minutes, and it appears that practicing my first instrument improves my ability to remember and play pieces on other instruments.

The mandolin is not a big priority, but I did hear a piece in my head, so I wrote it down in Finale, and I put up a Youtube in which the computer plays it. I should record a version using an actual mandolin, but I haven’t done that.

I have had to go for prayer again, and I have found that stretching and a thing called “friction massage” protect my left hand, but basically, I am healed. It’s a big blessing. If I had to pick one thing I wanted to do more than anything else, it would be music. And God tells us he will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

You may not believe it, but you can bless yourself with added ability. One day I got the idea of speaking increased talent to myself, and increased strength, agility, and endurance to my hands. When I sat down to practice the piano, I played a boogie woogie bass line I wrote, and suddenly my hand just took off. I was flying. And I didn’t get tired. The rest of me sat still and watched while my left hand kept going and going and going.

The Old Testament is full of this kind of thing. They blessed and cursed all the time, and they expected it to work. The entire Arab/Jewish situation is based on a few things Isaac said to Jacob and Esau before he died. Over a billion people are living in circumstances he spoke into existence. It shouldn’t surprise us that we have power over ourselves and the little things we see around us.

I got the idea of learning to play dobro from my desire to get used to using fingerpicks on the guitar. Dobro players use the same picks banjo players use, and I’m a banjo player. I figured I would get going on the dobro, and that would get me used to playing six strings instead of the four and change the banjo provides. But it seems like the dobro is turning out to be a goal in and of itself. The various types of slide guitars can do things a fretted guitar can’t.

The best instructional material I’ve found (I bought several things) is a DVD set by a player named Rob Ickes. You can find it at Amazon. I can’t find any Rob Ickes videos I like, so here is Jerry Douglas playing “The Boxer.”

I thought the lap steel would be included, sort of, in learning the dobro. It looked so similar. I shopped around and ordered one. I almost got a used one; some of the best can be picked up for $300. But I heard bad things about the pickups, so I decided to get a new Eastwood with a humbucker. It’s very nice. Totally Chinese, but the workmanship is as good as a Gibson guitar, and the pickup has a sweet, warm sound.

It turns out the lap steel, at least for me, is considerably harder than the dobro. To play dobro, you use a steel bar with a nice handle carved into it. The lap steel is played with a round cylinder of metal with a hemispherical end, and it’s hard to hold onto. You have to master vibrato and string-muting in order to play the lap steel, to a much greater degree than is necessary than the dobro. So the dobro is going very well, and the lap steel is taking more time.

Here’s a guy who inspired me to take up the lap steel. His name is Doug Beaumier. He’s playing an old Gibson Century 6 guitar. His work shows what can be done, if you have the skill.

Here’s another exceptional player, Bishop R.P. Hall.

I don’t know what kind of future I have with the lap steel, but it’s nice to have good amps ready to use. My latest amp is perfect for the job, and it also works with the dobro.

The dobro I bought is a Gretsch. I didn’t want to invest heavily in a new fling, so I went Chinese. I can’t complain. It’s an excellent instrument. The fit and finish are just about perfect, the materials appear to be top drawer, and it sounds great. It has a Fishman pickup installed (these run over $150 all by themselves), and I got the guitar and pickup for $420. My amp is perfect for it. It doesn’t sound like an electric guitar. It sounds exactly the same way it does with the amp turned off, only louder.

You may have dreams you’ve written off. They may not seem important to you. What you may not know is that God gives people dreams, and the ones you dropped may be very important to him. It depends on what they are, of course. If you’ve dreamed of opening a strip club, it’s not God’s idea. But God does have a mission for you, and he will give you desires that are compatible with that mission. God is a good father and a good boss; he does not want you to spend your life doing things that aren’t rewarding.

If you can develop closeness with God, you can jump-start your God-given dreams. You may have blown it in the past, but God is like GPS: he re-routes. Whatever you can get from God at this stage of your life will be far better than anything you will receive if you do it on your own.

Pray in tongues. Fight the spirits that try to control you through your flesh. Learn to bless and curse. Dedicate yourself to God’s purpose. Keep at it consistently, asking for prayer when needed, and things will start to blossom. And it will never stop.

This is what being seated in high places with Christ means. We were created to live in authority, not defeat. We aren’t supposed to be proud about it, but it is our intended destiny, and there is nothing wrong with seeking it.

It’s working for me, and God didn’t create this scheme because of one person’s needs. Everyone is eligible.

Give it a try and see it work.

Achievements of Note

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Progress!

I’ve hit a new stage in my music studies.

For several months, I’ve used Musition software to improve my timing. It throws up rhythm patterns, and I have to tap them out on a keyboard. It’s fantastic. I got to the point where I did a good job of reading syncopated rhythms and everything from 3/4 to 12/8.

I used a a piece of Android software called Interval Recognition, to train my ear. It works very fast. I can now identify any interval between unison and an octave by ear. I do 60 intervals a day, and it’s very unusual for me to get one wrong, unless I’m distracted.

I also used an old program called Note Play to improve my ability to sight-read pitches. It puts up notes, and you play them within an allotted time. If you succeed, you move to the next level, and it gives you scores.

These things were great helps, but they had limitations.

Note Play has a big (huge) jump in difficulty between some of the levels. It gives you individual notes. Then you get one-hand intervals. Then you get a left-hand chord plus right-hand notes. Then it goes to counterpoint, which means individual notes for each hand. That’s a tough jump. And the time allowed is very short, so you end up failing over and over and having to restart the game, which is annoying.

I found a program called Alfred Interactive Musician. It has an activity similar to Note Play, but it doesn’t shut me down over and over, and the increases in difficulty are more gradual. That’s very helpful.

Interval Recognition was great for ascending and descending intervals, but it’s not so great for harmonic intervals, where you hear two notes played simultaneously. The poor sound quality of my phone and tablet, even with high-end earbuds, tends to make notes indistinct. It also seems to turn major sounds into minor sounds. Don’t ask me why, but cheap electronic tones always seem to have a little bit of a minor quality. If you go into a casino, you’ll hear rows of machines playing the notes E, G, and C in various combinations, because major chords are supposed to sound cheerful. You’ll also notice that there’s a funny edge to the sound which is not cheerful. I don’t know why this happens, but it seems to be a real phenomenon.

I’m still using Interval Recognition for ascending and descending intervals, but for the others, I’m using my digital piano. The sounds are better, and I believe I get better results.

Musition has several major limitations. It does not produce ties, and you can’t read rhythms unless you master ties. It also uses a metronome sound, which keeps you under pressure. Unfortunately, it also prevents you from keeping your own time, and it causes your ear to remember the metronome instead of the sounds you’re making. On top of that, it doesn’t produce extended tones. It’s just “tap, tap, tap,” so a whole note sounds like a 32nd note.

My answer to that is to print out JPGs of Musition exercises and read them without the PC. I can sound out the notes so they sound the way they should, and I have to keep my own time. This improves my ability to hear the rhythm patterns in my mind before I utter them. I don’t really need the perfection of metronome-driven timing. No real musician grades himself on how accurate he is. That’s stupid and counterproductive. I needed the metronome at first, to get me started, but now it’s a hindrance.

I am trying to get into sight-singing, but I’ve had some technical issues to overcome. I’ll figure it out eventually. I also found a program to teach me how various chords sound, but it’s an Android program, so the tones are not very realistic. I don’t really want to sing from a printed page. That’s not the point. The point is to get the printed music to make sounds in my head, and this is a way to do it. People who comment here have suggested it.

If you don’t understand music, and you’re too lazy to master an instrument, you can improve your musical comprehension by doing the things I’m doing. You don’t need an instrument at all. It may be that after you get this stuff into your head, an instrument won’t intimidate you any more. Every kid should learn this stuff. There is no excuse not to. It’s not a lifetime commitment. A one-hour course that lasts one school year would do it.

As I’ve written before, Arthur Rubinstein used to “practice” piano works by reading the scores away from the piano. You shouldn’t underestimate the power and importance of ear training and studying written music. This stuff is more useful than playing. A monkey can be trained to repeat the same movements over and over, but he won’t understand it. That’s what happens when you play without study. You can’t write music well. You can’t read it. You won’t understand it. That’s not where you want to be.

The Stephen Hawking Piano Method

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Study Music in Spinning Class

My musical studies are as exciting as ever.

The more I learn about the importance of timing (or “rhythm,” depending on your favored term), the more I realize conventional music teachers are blind. In fact, the musical world, generally, is blind. They’re obsessed with pitch and harmony. They have it all backward. Timing and dynamics, for most musicians, are more important, and a failure to master them is the main reason musicians fail to progress. I’m sure of it.

If you read about famous pianists, you’ll see a lot of bragging about absolute pitch, which is the correct term for what people refer to as “perfect pitch.” A person with absolute pitch will be able to listen to a chord on the piano and tell you every note. In fact, if someone drops a tray of dishes, a person with absolute pitch may be able to tell you the note every dish sounded when it hit the floor. Musicians get very excited about this ability, because they think pitch is what it’s all about. But very often, you will also run into statements by musicians, saying absolute pitch was of no value to them, or that it actually caused problems. And many great musicians don’t have it. Schumann didn’t.

Oddly, there seem to be no accounts in which famous musicians brag about their rhythmic talent. I suppose you would run into stories like that if you read about drummers, but I’ve never seen a biographer brag about a pianist’s ability to handle difficult rhythms. Sometimes they compliment a pianist’s rubato, but that’s not really the same thing. In fact, “rubato” can actually be a fancy way of excusing a musician who can’t keep regular time. Classical pianists are often overrated as technicians. Some of the best played sloppily.

There are some instruments that require good relative pitch. This is the ability to compare notes. If you play a horn or a fretless string instrument, you’ll need to be able to identify and produce accurate pitches, the way a singer does. But this is not a rare gift. In fact, just about everyone has it. And if you play the piano or a fretted instrument, it means almost nothing. You can’t play a sour note on a piano. The pitches are predetermined at regular tunings. And you can use a machine to tune a guitar, and after that, any note you fret will be in tune.

If you want to write or play music with real skill and understanding, you will have to be able to read, hear, and feel complex timings. That’s just how it is. If you can’t do these things, you will always be confined to the shallow end of the pool.

I’ve managed to get to the point where I can reliably tap out any rhythm I read, from 2/4 to 12/8, syncopated or not. On my teacher’s advice, I haven’t fooled with rhythms that contain 32nd notes. But everything up to that point, I can read. I hear the rhythms in my head before I tap them out. And I can write rhythms that I hear. This is a tremendous advance. If I head music in my head, and I want to write it down, the rhythm is the hard part. The pitches, I can figure out later. A monkey could do that.

The other day I went to church, and I ran into a friend who teaches piano. We talk about music a lot. He had a rhythm assignment he had written for a student who hadn’t shown up. He said I could have it. I took a look at it, and I could read it instantly. I leaned back and tapped the whole page out on the wall. No problem. It was a one-handed exercise, which made it easy, but it still shows how much I’ve improved.

I don’t care about absolute pitch, and there is precious little hope of developing it at my age, but now that I have rhythm under control, I realize I need to program intervals and harmony into my brain. I can identify any interval between unison and an octave (my fridge’s icemaker plays a major 6th), but I still have trouble identifying fast intervals in songs, and I can only identify about 60% of the harmonic intervals I hear. A harmonic interval is two notes played simultaneously. I haven’t been taught much about them, but it seems evident that if you can identify harmonic intervals, you are well on your way to hearing chords in your head, and that will be helpful with composing. I have always had the ability to write one staff of music and then automatically come up with harmony in the other staff, but I need to go beyond that.

More and more, I am realizing that music is a thing of the mind, or maybe of the mind and spirit. It is not a thing of the body. Glenn Gould said we play the piano with our minds, not our fingers, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, you don’t need an instrument to be a musician, and in fact, it may slow you down at first, because it will distract you from the process of getting music into your head.

I’m not using the piano as much as I was a few weeks back. I’ve realized I do my best work away from it. When I develop the mind of a musician, THEN I’ll be ready to work on the hands. I can now practice music while driving or showering; I don’t have to be anywhere near an instrument. I simply do mental exercises, like a physicist doing a gedankenexperiment.

Arthur Rubinstein said that he could perform pieces he had never practiced. He would get the score for a piece and read it over and over without an instrument handy, and by the time he got to the piano, he was able to play it. I think that says it all. He got inside the music, to the point where playing it was almost an afterthought.

It has always bothered me that my parents made no effort to get me musical instruction. People commonly believe that you can’t become a really good musician unless you learn early, and I have bought into it. But now I think that’s not quite true. It may be that an older student will have a hard time mastering an instrument, but the progress I’ve made lately shows that we can learn the other stuff very quickly. I’ve learned rhythm in a few months. I beat intervals in a few weeks. I’m sure I’ll beat harmonic intervals in a short time. My age is not slowing me down. I don’t see myself becoming the next Horowitz. There are some things you can’t fix. But if I can write music as well as someone who started young, I still have something very valuable, and it’s what I was after in the first place.

If you’re old, and you want to become a musician, my advice is to learn to tap out rhythms at sight, then worry about sight-reading pitches, and then concern yourself with pitch and harmony. THEN think about buying an instrument. You should be able to do these things in six months, and then when you hire a teacher, you should be able to zip past a lot of the truly tedious stuff. In fact, these are good things to do even if you have no desire to play or compose, because they’ll enable you to understand the music other people make. And EVERY kid should have to do these things. I can understand choosing not to force a kid to spend years playing an instrument, but if the little goofs can sit through math and history, they can sit through music class and train their ears and learn theory. It won’t kill them.

God really does restore. More things are possible than you think.

Saved by Syncopation

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Keep Your Knees Bent

I’m on fire today. Two whole blog pieces.

I thought I’d write a little about my music studies.

I haven’t written any music in a while. I’ve become obsessed with learning to read rhythms, as I’ve said earlier. Quarter-note triplets have been driving me nuts. They’re so slow, it’s hard to get a feel for them. I made a lot of progress with an exercise my teacher taught me. You beat out “Carol of the Bells” with two hands. One hand plays quarter-notes, and the other plays quarter-note-triplets. You switch hands. You use your feet. Eventually, you start to hear both rhythms, and that helps.

That was useful, but I went beyond that. I made a Youtube video with a soundtrack featuring this rhythm. I made the triplets higher in pitch than the quarter notes. When you play the rhythm with your hands, the pitches are the same, so the rhythms are not as distinct.

My Musition software is trying to push me to a new level full of 32nd notes, but my teacher told me to forget it. It’s more important to get a grip on 16th notes and rhythm figures made of them.

A rhythm figure is a four-beat fragment of music which takes up the space of one quarter note. You can have a quarter note, or you can have a mixture of eighth notes, rests, and sixteenth notes. There are about 15 of these things, because the combinations are limited. When you can read these fluently, you will understand written music a lot better.

He has me studying the slash notation versions of these things. Slash notation consists of rhythm figures with slashes and X’s instead of note heads. Each 16th note is a strum. A slash is a fretted string or chord. An X is a deadened string or chord. It’s musical shorthand. Practicing reading these things will get common rhythms into your head. I was supposed to start doing this yesterday, but I was really busy, and I discovered something very distracting: syncopation.

As you may know, “syncopation” refers to unusual rhythms. It means rhythms a classically trained ear won’t expect. We are used to hearing waltz timing and 4/4, with the emphasis on the first beat, but you can also emphasize any other beat. A jazz musician named Buddy Bolden is famous for popularizing “Big Four” rhythm, which emphasizes the second and fourth beats in 4/4 time. I think. Anyway, there is a lot of syncopation in American popular music. It’s mesmerizing, because it teases your ear. It makes you wait for things instead of getting them when you expect them. It’s hard to describe, but if you listen to some syncopated music, you’ll see what I mean.

My software will provide syncopated exercises, but I tried it a while back, and I was hopeless, so I dropped it. This week I decided to try it again, leaving out the quarter-note triplets. I’m using 4/4 time, but you can do it with other timings, like 3/4 and 2/4. If you can do 4/4, you can do the others. You don’t have to exhaust the possibilities.

This stuff is amazing. It sounds like real music. Compared to non-syncopated rhythm, straight timing (my term) sounds like really bad marching band music, or Muzak. It sounds primitive and simple. I’m no expert, but my experience so far suggests that studying syncopated rhythms is about a thousand times as effective as studying straight timing. It keeps you off your balance. It familiarizes you with more fragments of rhythmic “vocabulary.” Studying straight timing is like studying formal French or Spanish. It will not prepare you to deal with real people using real rhythms. Just as a student of French will be hopelessly confused when he hears slang, a person who studies straight timing will be helpless when those weird beats show up. And they don’t just show up in jazz and the blues. They pop up in other types of music, even though music teachers don’t focus on them.

05 03 13 musition syncopated rhythm exercise

This is probably why you can sight-read the crap in the books your teacher supplies, but you can’t get anywhere with the music you want to play. That’s my suspicion.

So now I can’t quit doing these exercises. They make me hear music in my head. Even though they have no pitches, I hear the beats in my head, and pitches sort of show up on their own, because the beats imply them. I think this is the way to go.

I’ve reached the point where I can imagine rhythm measures in my head and hear them. That’s very nice. If I can get this under control, pitch and harmony should follow. Then I’ll be Mozart.

Well, maybe not. But I won’t be totally lost. I’ll be musically literate. This should open the door to real sight-reading, which should open the door to faster improvement.

God’s Perfect Timing

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Here is How Music Works

Life continues to zip along. I can’t believe how well things are going. ALMOST can’t believe. I am careful to avoid saying things like “can’t believe,” “unbelievable,” “incredible,” and “fantastic,” because they all imply unbelief.

I’ve learned some remarkable things about music.

Sometimes I’m shocked at the density of the human race. Every so often, I realize there is something we should have realized ages ago, yet which we somehow managed to miss. For example, we’ve done things to make trash bags easier to tie. We put cinching loops in the mouths, or we put ears on the bags so we can tie them in knots. That took decades. Why didn’t someone do it within months of the debut of plastic trash bags? It’s so obvious, it should have happened much sooner.

Now that I’m starting to understand written music, I’m stunned at how bad teachers are. I worked with a classical pianist for several years, and he never told me important things I needed to know.

First of all, rhythm is much, much more important than pitch. The correct pitches, without rhythm, are noise. The correct rhythm, with random pitches, is music. When you compose, the ability to write rhythms is crucial. If you can write a rhythm down, even if the pitches are wrong, you can easily fix the pitches later. If you can’t get the rhythms right, you’re incompetent and helpless.

Second, written music is like English. It’s broken up into short rhythmic patterns which are homologous to words. If you practice reading rhythms, without changing the pitch, you start to recognize these patterns, and you begin hearing them in your head before you play them. You no longer have to count out the beats, which is impossible at performance tempos.

Third, you should take this language-like quality into account when you write music. An experienced musician will be looking for familiar patterns, just as a reader looks for words, not random letters. If you write familiar patterns, the musician will be better able to play fluently, and your ideas will be clearer to him. They will also be clearer to you, as you work with them.

I use various methods to get this stuff into my head. My Musition software has been incredibly useful. I guess I can say “incredibly” in that context. I can program it to throw up one rhythm pattern after another. It plays a metronome for me, and I tap out the rhythms. Then it tells me how I did. I can program it to repeat things I’m having trouble with, or I can simply progress from one pre-programmed level to the next.

I also take my studies to the keyboard. I have a book of awful classical pieces. They’re simple. I put it on the music rest, and I use one finger to tap out the bass rhythms and one finger to tap out the treble rhythms. This helps me to work the hands independently.

I’m still using my Note Play software to learn note reading. I can’t believe how effective it is. It has levels of increasing difficulty. As I’ve improved, I’ve started to get into things like octaves and playing melodies with both hands. If I can get reasonably fluent, the jump to actual sheet music will be very manageable.

I’ve had some trouble with triplets. I can play triplets over eighth notes on the piano, regardless of whether the triplets are written in sixteenth, eighth, or quarter notes. But doing it from sight… that’s a pain. The short notes aren’t bad, but quarter notes are hard, because they’re so slow. The feel is hard to get into your mind.

I looked at all my software and all of my books, and there were no good answers. I scoured the Internet. No luck. Today I decided to visit my music teacher, and of course, he had the solution on tap, instantly.

He told me I needed to tap out “Carol of the Bells” with my hands and feet. One limb plays triplets, and the other plays duplets. You switch hands. You change things up. Eventually, you get to where you have a sure feel for the rhythms. Then you’re in business.

Now I practice this exercise. I feel stupid doing it, but I know it will work, and as he said, you can do it anywhere. In the car. Wherever. In a few days, I should have a much better grip on triplets. I can read eighth-note triplets very well, but the software says I’m going to have to learn to read quarter-note and eighth-note triplets in the same measure, and that’s tricky. I don’t want to barely get by. I want to nail it, every time. Now I know how to get there.

Once I get fairly sure of my timing, I’ll be able to devote more time to pitch and harmony, but with a simple cell phone and a knowledge of timing, I’ll be able to write tunes anywhere. The phone will let me check pitches, so if I can write the rhythms down, I’ll be ready to go.

Today my teacher told me the stuff I’m doing typically shows up a year or two into a method. I’ve been doing this for what? Two months? I should have been doing it from the start. He said it was insane to put other things before this, and I agree. I’m learning exactly what I wanted to learn when I first took an interest in the piano. If I had continued doing it the other way, I would have died musically illiterate.

I’m obsessive with this stuff now, because I’m sure there is a point after which things get much easier, and I want to reach that point ASAP.

There are a lot of software-based approaches to teaching music, but most of them stink. With the two tools I’m using now, I’m learning quickly and without a lot of frustration. It’s very sad that software companies aren’t doing a better job. It should not be that hard to come up with a good program. And here’s something amazing: Note Play isn’t available any more. They replaced it with something fancier which isn’t as good. Note Play is so small it fits on a floppy, and it’s a breeze to use. I’m amazed it didn’t become popular.

People criticize computer-based music training, claiming it ruins you for real music, but that’s stupid. It does not happen. If you can play with a beat or other aids which are supplied by electronics, you can play when they’re turned off. I had an ear for music before I started, and it’s not going to disappear just because a machine helped me become literate. I know there are some people who practice with metronomes until they sound like machines, but in all likelihood, those people never had soul to begin with, and they never had much of a chance of understanding music. I doubt that the metronome ruins musicians. I think it’s more likely that it permits people with no talent to play music by mimicry, with no depth or understanding. I think this explains a lot of the bad Asian musicians who have incredible technique. There is much more to music than pushing the keys at the right times.

The closer I get to God, the better things get. I come closer and closer to seeing my dreams realized. Stress is leaving me. Things that used to be impossible are working out. Within the next few months, I expect to be able to move to another level in composition. The music won’t necessarily be much better, but it will be much, much easier to write. And I may actually be able to play some things.

If that’s not a good testimony, I don’t know what is.

Keep praying in the Spirit, every day, and remember, the promises of Malachi 3 apply to this, more than they do to money.

Bending the Knee Just Got a Little Easier

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Mr. Hate Gets a Miracle

Trying to catch up again.

Things continue to bloom in my life. There is no way I’ll capture it all.

My church is completely nuts. The Holy Spirit interrupts every service. We get prophecy and guidance, and now, even better, miracles.

In 1989, I went to Key Largo. My dad owned part of a condo at Ocean Reef. My friend–I will call him Elmer–came down from Massachusetts, and we spent a few days running around together.

Elmer is gay. In 1989, he was still denying it, but everyone who knew him from college realized it was a done deal. This was not a concern to me. As far as I knew, he was not acting on his urges, and anyway, I was not the strongest Christian around. I was about to fall away for a very long time.

We rented some jet skis. The water was rough. The machines were not maintained well. They were supposed to have rubber padding to help riders stay on their feet, but the padding was gone. As a result, the footing surfaces were slick fiberglass. It was very hard to stand up, so I spent a lot of time on my knees, trying to get up. The bouncing flexed my knees too far, and ever since then, I’ve had a little bit of stiffness that shows up at certain times. It’s a very minor thing, but it has been aggravating, and of course, I pray for God to get rid of it. I have always regretted renting that stupid jet ski.

It’s funny if you think about it. It was a winter day, and the water was not clear. I was bouncing around, on my knees, in rough water where I could not stand. The Bible says dark waters have covered the earth (Genesis 1:2). Waters represent speech. They represent blessings and cursings. Satan has wrapped the earth in a flood of lies, and the gay push is a big part of that.

On Tuesday, right in the middle of the gay marriage kerfuffle, I went to church. People were praying and praising, as usual. We went on for a very long time. The pastor and musical guest managed to do their jobs; God didn’t completely obliterate what they were trying to do.

While the pastor was talking, I felt something going on in my right knee. I felt a pulsing, massaging sensation. I knew it might be God, but I also knew it could be a twitch or some other purely physical thing. I moved my leg. The sensation returned. I moved it again. It returned again. I decided to accept it, and it kept going for maybe ten minutes. I don’t recall, but I was probably thanking and praising God the whole time, because that’s what I do in church.

We have to stand up and sit down a lot in my church. When I stand, my knees tend to get stiff, so I get a little pain when I sit again. We stood up for some reason or other, and when I sat, my left knee felt a little pain, and there was no pain in the right knew.

For the rest of the service, I made a point of standing and sitting over and over, to see what was going on. I would stand for a few minutes and then sit. And I always got the same results.

I got up the next day and got on the exercise bike. I felt a little stiffness in the left knee. The right knee? Nothing.

I can tell the difference when I go up and down stairs. It’s very obvious.

For a long time, I’ve been praying for God to manifest himself more powerfully in our services and our daily lives, and he has been doing it. The peace and prophesy and improved worship have been with us for a while now, but I’ve also been praying for him to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out devils through us.

He has now covered “heal the sick.” He gave me a bona fide miracle. I didn’t think I’d be the one he chose, but I’ll take it!

And the funny thing is that he did it at the time of the gay marriage mess. I’m very outspoken in my opposition to this change in our laws. A total acceptance of sexual perversion will lead to increased persecution of Christians. It already has. It will prevent gays and those who support their bad behavior from getting to know the Holy Spirit. It will keep power out of their lives. It will keep things like healing and peace away from them. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. You can’t demand iniquity AND the Holy Spirit. You have to choose.

People are accusing me of “hate,” which is not only dishonest but idiotic. Some of the most likable people on earth are homosexual. It would not be easy to hate Nathan Lane, for example.

The healing fixed my leg, and it also gave me an opportunity to mention the circumstances. It’s hard for the liars to reconcile my willingness to spend a weekend with a gay man with “hate.”

I still hear from Elmer from time to time. He has no problems with me. Maybe hate doesn’t bother him! I keep praying for him. He is very angry and bitter. He talks about killing his ex-boyfriend. He made tons of money and lost it all, and then he got banned from the industry in which he made it. Life is hard for him. I would like to see God turn that around for him. He’s a hardcore atheist.

It’s funny. I’m standing up for God, over the dark waters. And he fixed one of my legs. What does that mean? Does it mean I’m part of the way to where he wants me to be?

The music goes well. I will probably repeat things I’ve written about earlier. I got a new digital piano. Sam Ash sold me a floor model. I tried to save money. At first I was just composing on it, so I didn’t work the keys much, and I didn’t see any problems. Then I started working on “Bumble Boogie,” which is something I really want to learn. A finger started getting sore. I discovered a chip in one of the keys. Because I was hitting the key a lot, it was hurting my finger.

I was within the return period. I figured the Sam Ash people would give me the runaround, but I prayed before taking it back, and they were incredible. They gave me a new piano for the same price. Now I use it all the time.

I’m playing again. I can play “Linus and Lucy.” I can play “Walking Bass Blues.” I am getting a few other pieces back. I found sheet music for “Roll ‘em Pete,” which amazed me. I’ve always wanted to play this piece, but I thought no one had transcribed it.

My interval training has solidified to the point where it’s just maintenance. I can identify any interval within an octave by hearing it once, ascending or descending. I dug out some sight-reading software (notes without rhythm), and I’m doing really well. I’m doing rhythm training with two different programs, and it’s paying off.

In the past, I could not get all of my teaching software to work. It had MIDI bugs. When I dusted it off and got it going again, I found that there were updates that fixed the problems. Now it runs as it should.

I learned to play Clair de Lune a long time ago. I could not count out the notes. Not well, anyway. It’s 9/8 time. I just tried to play it the way it sounded on CDs. I sat down with it the other day, and now I have no problem counting them out. When I learned it the first time, I had to guess. My teacher was a great guy, but he really led me in circles. He didn’t know any better. Now things are working. The other day, my pastor prophesied that we would now be able to plant seeds, and they would grow. It’s not like the old days, when everything I did withered. I’m living in Joshua, not Deuteronomy.

If you want to learn an instrument, learn to sight-read. Learn to read rhythms, especially. Rhythm is much more important than pitch. Get it into your heart so you feel and hear it when you read. Otherwise, you’ll have to work by monkey-see-monkey-do memorization all your life, and when you forget things, you’re toast. The fundamentals matter. A drummer who can read rhythm patterns is a better musician than a pianist who memorizes.

Prayer in tongues continues to pay off. The message of tongues is confirmed over and over again by my experience. The growth never stops. It brings supernatural faith, revelation, correction, and miracles. Without it, you will be weak when the rains come. Right now, Satan is raining lies all over us, trying to promote gay marriage. Weak Christians who lack the Spirit are washing away, like houses built on sand. They will believe anything people tell them. They are herd creatures who can hear peer pressure but not the voice of God. They haven’t seen God work in their lives, so they feel he is far away and aloof, and that it’s okay to go along to get along. They don’t think he’ll show up to defend them or to punish those who go against him.

I can stand because God helps me through the Holy Spirit. He has shown me that by fighting habitual anger, I lose fear and anxiety. They are a package. You can’t have one without the other. When you’re angry or worried, you’re weak. Worry and fear counteract faith, which is the thing that gets prayers answered. I’m not as afraid as I used to be. People are small before God, and Satan is not a roaring lion. He appears AS a roaring lion, but he’s really a barking Chihuahua in a lion suit, holding a megaphone. He’s the weak one. He is a mere angel. He is nothing before the one who created him, or before those who are close to God.

We tend to think of the world as a place ruled by two great powers: God and Satan. That’s completely wrong. There is only one great power. Satan is puffed up with BS. He’s like Liberace. Take off the jewels, the toupee, the sequined suit, the cape, and the wire harness that allows him to fly, and what do you have? An old mortal man. A second-tier pianist.

When the time comes, God will send one angel to take him by the neck and dump him in the Lake of Fire. He could not do that to a God. Right now, Satan serves a purpose, so he is permitted to survive, but when his day comes, he will look as small as he really is, and people will say, “‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms? (Isaiah 14:16).”

Eventually, the world will say that, but if you are strong in the Spirit, you can say it NOW. Satan will still be a problem, but he will be a problem of a much smaller scale. Jesus was not afraid of him in the least, and we are not supposed to fear him, either.

I hope people will pray that God will soften the hearts of homosexuals so they can be reached, and that he will help us to repent and pray so he can give us the supernatural tools we need to get people delivered from sinful compulsions. If we can give gays a real way out, many of them will take it, gladly. We have failed them by turning down supernatural power, whining about our unworthiness and how much we deserve to be weak. What we deserve is irrelevant. We are heirs, not wage earners, and if we turn down our inheritance, we displease the testator. Groveling and accepting crumbs is not the way to make him happy. You have to learn to accept what you did not earn.

God WORKS

Friday, March 15th, 2013

It’s not All Persecution and Fasting

Sorry for staying away so long. I will try to catch up.

The music is going incredibly well. I haven’t done much in the way of composing over the last week or so, but I have a good reason. I have realized I will never get anywhere until the music–notation as well as sound–is in my head. Therefore I am going back to various exercises intended to improve my ear, familiarize me with rhythm, and help me sight-read.

Sight-reading is important because, like transcribing, it helps you see music instead of notes when you look at a page. Some people get to the point where they hear music as they read it. That would be a great thing to have. Whether I get it or not, I am determined to get to the point where I’m not totally dependent on notation software to tell me what my written music will sound like.

I’m studying intervals, or at least, I was. I’ve been learning to recognize the twelve basic intervals by ear, using an incredible phone app called Interval Recognition. It plays an interval, and you have to push one of twelve buttons, identifying it.

I used this a while back, and it worked well, but this time, it’s going way better. Over the last week or so, I’ve improved a lot, and today I reached the point where I don’t get any questions wrong. I am also replaying the intervals forward and backward in my head after I hear them, involuntarily. I think that represents a big improvement in my musical memory. Things are going so well I’m going from 15 minutes a day to 5.

Rhythm…what a pain. The first time I studied piano, my teacher–swell guy though he was–did not push rhythm study much. He was a classical pianist, and although I may get yelled at for it, I’ll say it: I don’t think their timing is that good. I think you can learn a lot more from someone who teaches a drum line in a public school. I know that’s a horrible thing to say, but you CAN’T PLAY DRUMS IN A GROUP UNLESS YOU CAN READ RHYTHMS. Or you have to have a flawless memory. Am I right, or what?

My current teacher, who is, for good reason, incredibly opinionated, says the wrong pitch in the right place is a right note, whereas the right pitch in the wrong place is a wrong note. He’s right. Pitch is much more easily understood than rhythm. You can memorize all the intervals by ear in a couple of days. Try that with notes and rests. Good luck.

I fired up Musition, a training program made by the Sibelius people, and for the first time since I’ve had it, I got it to work with no latency. In the past, the sound didn’t work right, and the notes played late, and it was useless. I downloaded an upgrade, and I was off..

Musition has a PHENOMENAL rhythm-teaching tool called “rhythm tapping.” It shows you a few measures of notes (all the same pitch), and you have to tap out the notes as a “metronome” plays. You have to screw around with it to make it fast, so it moves from one exercise to the next quickly. Once you figure that out, it’s blazing fast. It has one major problem: the jump from the fifth level to the sixth level is impossible. You go straight from eighth notes to sixteenth notes, and it throws them at you in 9/8 and 12/8 time, at high speed. You can get around that by creating a custom level. Which I did. So now it’s perfect.

I happened to come across an old floppy containing a program called Note Play. This works with a MIDI keyboard. It puts notes on the screen (different pitches), and you have to play them back. It’s a game. You get a score, and you get bonus points and extra time. It’s highly addictive. My PC has no floppy port, but I have an old computer in my bedroom, and guess what it has? I easily defeated the moronic security measures intended to prevent people from installing it without the floppy, and now I have it on my regular computer. It’s very good. You can get it from Alfred Music. Presumably, they have a CD version by now.

I dug out my old piano sight-reading book. I finally realized you don’t need a piano to study rhythm reading. I take the hardest pages, and I sit down and tap them out with my finger, on the book itself. It sounds awful, but it’s actually fast and highly effective. It got me to the point where I could sort of handle sixteenth notes, and today I moved to the custom level on Musition.

I pulled out a few piano pieces I used to play, figuring it would help to look at them. I found out something interesting. I used to play a simple piece called “Walking Bass Blues,” which I really liked, and for which I wrote variations. A lady named Arletta O’Hearn wrote it. I used to think she was just some goofball who wrote practice books, but it turns out she’s a real composer. No wonder I liked that piece. I started fooling with it a few days ago, and my fingers seemed to remember nothing. Every day, I got better, and today I can play it again! I can even play triplets over quarter notes again. I got so excited, I dusted off the grand piano and went to work. I emailed my tuner, and he’ll be out as soon as he can make it.

I’m thrilled about the rhythm stuff. You can’t do anything with sheet music unless you can read and understand rhythms fluently. That’s just a fact. I have to be able to look at a rhythm and hear it in my head. I started by counting things out, but now I’m switching between counting and feeling the rhythms. I find myself going back and forth, doing one or the other. That suits me just fine, because I want to be good at both.

I’m also remembering measures well. When Musition gives me three measures to play, sometimes I find myself looking away from the computer before the third measure starts, because I know what it’s going to sound like. That’s something I need. You have to be able to look ahead when you read music, especially if, like me, you are having problems remembering pieces you’ve learned.

Franz Liszt could take an orchestral score, play a piano version of it at sight, and provide comments and alterations at the same time. I don’t see that happening to me any time soon, but it shows how far some people have gotten. I wish I had done this when I was six. Reading was a total breeze for me. I never moved my lips. When I was a kid, I had a bigger vocabulary than most adults. I read smoothly. I heard the words as I saw them. I would have been really good at reading music, had I started earlier. I’m hoping aptitude will provide some compensation for age.

I see the things that are happening to me as a release from bondage. Very powerful things are happening at my church. The push for prayer in tongues continues. People keep getting revelation. The other day my pastor prophesied that things would change for us. He said we should not hesitate to plant seeds, because this time, they would grow. Well, now. Isn’t that what’s happening to me? Over the last two weeks I’ve been beating things I couldn’t beat in three years of musical study. I have copyright registrations on the way for six pieces of music. I’m even exercising again.

Funny thing happened while I was using my pricey exercise bike. The pulse sensors never worked right, and Nautilus was not willing to fix them, and when I got on the bike the other day, one of the LEDs on the display had pooped out. Great. I prayed about it, thought. Now the LED works, and the pulse meter is working, too. How about that?

My pastor had a word for us. He preached about “Baal-Perazim,” which means “possessor of the breakthrough.” He told us we were going to experience breakthroughs. This comported completely with things that had been going on with me, and with revelations God had been giving me. I had come to see the earth as surrounded by the lies–the floods or waters–of the enemy, and I had come to see God as lifting me above them, into the area where he works miracles. I believe I have broken through.

My prayer life keeps blowing up. Sometimes it seems like it can’t get any better, but I know it will. The progress never stops.

I’ve learned a few useful things.

First of all, prayer in tongues continues to work. The more, the better. No denying it.

Second, the name of Jesus is important. No Biblical figure ever said God would not hear you unless you used it, but if you’re a Christian, and you are trying to serve, it helps. I’ve found that something very strange happens during prayer in tongues. If you pause once in a while to say you’re praying in the name of Jesus, faith will shoot up inside you in a sort of explosion. It’s wild. It’s as if prayer in tongues fills a bowl with gasoline, and adding the name of Jesus tosses in a lit match. You may not be able to discern it now, but I’m sure it will happen anyway.

Third, you should thank and glorify God throughout the day. In this way, you can hold the windows of heaven open. It’s a challenge to handle daily responsibilities and still stay close to God. If you thank God and glorify him, even a few times every half-hour, you will find yourself drawn back into his presence. It works. Try it.

We expect too little from God. Over and over, he tells us he will do things that far exceed our expectations, yet we think we make him happy when we brag that we don’t ask much. Life can be much, much better than it is. God is a good boss. He does not expect us to be like workers who have unsatisfying jobs they hate, and he is far more powerful than the enemy. A while back, I realized Satan is like a Chihuahua that barks very loud. He’s not a god. He’s not that smart. He’s not that tough. He has to be taken seriously, but he is not as strong as we make him out to be. All that barking has paid off. The Bible says he roams the streets AS a roaring lion. It doesn’t say he IS a lion. And besides, lions roar to make themselves seem bigger and stronger. They even have manes for that.

I think music is going to continue exploding for me this year. God is working wonders. I hope you get the same results, or better ones.

All Ears

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Cooking With Sound

I finished another piano piece yesterday and stuck it on Youtube. Here it is. Love those free photos.

I had about half of that when I got up yesterday morning, and I was having problems because the harmony is weird, but I knuckled down and got it done. I had a music lesson scheduled for today, and I did not want to show up empty-handed.

My teacher says this is written in G harmonic minor. I’ll take his word for it.

I think I would go to my lessons just for the conversation, even if I didn’t learn anything. My teacher is an extremely interesting guy, and we have a lot in common. He has a math degree, and his dad was either a physicist or an engineer. I forget which. He’s a conservative Christian. He has an “interesting” family, as I do. He spent years doing transcriptions for music publishers. If you see a “recorded version” book of some rock musician’s tunes, there’s a good chance my teacher wrote it.

He’s always telling me not to underestimate myself. That’s good to hear. I don’t have any real training, and I don’t have enough character to study theory with any kind of intensity, so I don’t know much about the technical side of music. It’s easy to feel like I’m not going to write anything worthwhile. But he keeps telling me the ear is what matters.

Evidently, a lot of tedious musical training is intended to give untalented or inexperienced people something many people already have: the ability to know what’s good when they hear it. I didn’t realize that. I thought everyone could tell what was good or bad, or what was discordant. My teacher says that is not the case. Today he told me it was a waste of time for me to study certain things, because they teach things I already have.

I studied under a classical pianist for three or four years, and while it was a great experience, I did not learn what I needed to learn. I learned a little bit of sight-reading, and I mastered (sort of) several tunes, but I never got to the point where I felt at home inside written music. I didn’t develop the ability to transcribe.

I got a lot of terrible advice. I talked to my teacher about it today. People told me that if I played scales, everything would start to make sense. I learned all the scales. I got to where I could play any major scale with my right hand while playing any other with my left, and I got absolutely nothing out of it. He says he’s not surprised. He studied guitar scales until he could rip them off at 10 notes per second, and he didn’t get anything out of it either. He says the main reason to learn scales is to learn sets of notes that sound good together. Some people are not born with this feel for harmony.

He says he gets in a lot of arguments with people who push the theoretical approach. They assume he’s against it because he doesn’t know anything about it, but then if they start quizzing him, God help them. He knows everything, backwards and forwards.

Today he told me he has taught a lot of people who got degrees in music and were still unable to write or do the other things they wanted to do. Apparently, many music instructors teach ABOUT music without teaching people how to make it or feel it.

This makes complete sense to me. Music existed before theory existed, just as the physical world moved and changed before physics existed. Notation and theory are very clumsy compared to music itself. It takes a great deal of knowledge to notate what people like Ella Fitzgerald have done instinctively.

Like I told him at my lesson, I can sit down and hear a SYMPHONY in my head right now. That’s not a problem. What I need is the ability to write it down.

Here’s what he told me today:

Sounded great, my friend and using harmonic minor and hearing it so well is something I hope you do not take for granted. You are cashing in on some great influences to hear something that isn’t easy to hear and most people struggle with it for a very long time before their ear can even come close to what you can already do. NICE!

If I were plodding along with a method or a course, I would not be writing music yet, and I would have no idea that I had any potential. It’s wonderful to get a little confirmation from a real expert.

I have two challenges to overcome, as far as I can see. First, I need to man up and master timing. Sometimes I avoid writing complex passages I can hear in my mind, because it’s too hard to do the notation. I think it would be smart to study drums, although I’m afraid I’d kill myself after a week. I really do not like drums. But drummers can–well SHOULD BE ABLE TO–play any written rhythm you put in front of them, so presumably, a person who studies drums will have timing by the throat. Second thing: I need to get intervals under control. If you know how intervals sound, and you know how to write rhythms, you can write music on the fly.

Right now I tend to write things with fairly simple timing, and I try to be somewhat repetitive. That’s because it’s self-indulgent to write one original measure after another. Nobody wants to hear that. If you hear a nice musical idea, you want to hear it one or two more times before the piece ends. If every passage is a fresh variation, the audience gets cheated. I try to keep things simple because I’m trying to write popular music, not Chopin, but sooner or later I’ll want to do something a little more liberating.

It’s good to have a teacher who believes in me. I love what I’m doing, but I don’t have his competence, so I’m not as good a judge of my ability. When I hear good things from a source that can’t be assailed credibly, it gives me motivation to do more work. I’m supposed to be doing written interval and key exercises. I actually did a little this week. He gives me great advice all the time, and I do about 10% of what he tells me to do, so eventually, I would like to start doing more.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. I have six tunes registered with the LOC right now. A year from now, it should be at least thirty, and they will be more complex.

God will give you the desires of your heart. He didn’t create you to be a cubicle slave, unless that’s your thing. He is not a bad boss. Trust in him, get to know the Spirit, spend time in prayer, and good things will happen. Give it a shot. You’ll be surprised.

The Little Foxes That Spoil the Vines

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Always Nice to Get Constructive Feedback

I’m getting trolled again.

I guess I should be honored. After all, “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.”

Someone who is so concerned about discovery he or she (I will use “she,” arbitrarily, since “he or she” is tiresome) won’t even use an Internet handle is coming to my blog and posting comments ridiculing the Holy Spirit and, of course, me.

I don’t understand the anonymity. I don’t go after people. I’m not going to get in the truck and go shoot someone. I don’t even engage them on the Internet. There is little to fear from me personally. I can understand using a handle, but if you won’t even go that far, you’re overdoing it.

I think she may be an anti-Semite. She made approving reference to a name which appears on a weird, obscure, anti-Semitic blog.

I’ve received 2 trolling comments. It may be that they came from different people, but I don’t think so.

Summary:

1. Prayer in tongues is stupid and crazy.

2. My music is really bad and will never amount to anything.

3. I am conceited because I think my music is better than the worst music I’ve heard on TV.

4. I claimed I was going to be a famous humorist, and that didn’t happen.

5. It’s good that I didn’t have kids.

6. I am insane.

I think that’s most of it.

I don’t think I claimed I was going to be a famous humorist, although I did have hopes. If that had happened, I would have been lost. I’d want nothing to do with God. I’d be spending money and living for myself. I’d be praying for three minutes on a good day. Thank God it didn’t work out.

When I saw the last comment, the obvious Bible verse came into my head: “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.”

Criticizing someone for praying in tongues is reproach for the Son of man’s sake. Jesus died partly so we could be saved, but also in order to give us the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. His primary mission on earth was to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to live in us and make us like Jesus. This is a horrifying thing to Satan. It’s the reason he killed and tortured early Christians. Once the Holy Spirit was driven out, persecution dropped off, and the church went mainstream, with much less opposition. When people insult you because you’re obeying God, you know you’ve hit a nerve. Satan doesn’t activate his puppets for nothing.

I used to have endless trolls. I was something of a troll myself. By that I mean I engaged in pointless carnal disputes, and I went out of my way to provoke foolish people. I try to avoid blogging about politics these days, and I think it has reduced the troll population, but not all trolls are political. Some hate God. And they hate God’s people, for no reason.

I don’t plan to approve troll comments. That may seem unfair to people who think everyone has a God-given right to have their point of view published, but as I’ve said for many years, my blog is not a forum. If you want to insult me, do it with your own money, somewhere else.

I also block troll IPs. A stubborn troll can always find a way to get here, but I might be able to discourage the weak ones.

It’s kind of remarkable that a person would show up to hit me with discouraging lies, when the things I’m writing are so non-confrontational. I understood it back when I was making fun of Al Gore and the BDS people. When someone attacks you or someone you idolize, you may get angry. But this nameless person is angry because I pray in tongues and because I like the music I write. That’s strange.

The music is going really well. With God’s help, I have figured out how to come up with original melodies, so it looks like I’m going to have a copious supply of material. More than I know what to do with. When God says our cups run over, he is not kidding. I’m not going to be able to finish all the tunes I come up with. I’ll have to start doing triage. If things keep going the way they are, I’ll end up with a tremendous library of original music. My hope is that some of it will be accepted and used, but it will be nice to have, even if I’m the only one who enjoys it.

My new Internet friend may not like what I’m doing, but my teacher–an actual musician with outstanding credentials–does. Here’s something crazy. He composed a new tune and put it on Youtube. At my last lesson, he said I had inspired him. If it weren’t for me, he probably would not have done it. That’s amazing! God used me to wake someone up. And the worship leader at my church is also excited. He composes, but he has been putting it off. Now that I’m doing what he’s supposed to do, he says he has new motivation!

As for prayer in tongues, the things that are happening at my church are astonishing. My pastor has been teaching about the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, he’s telling us things I tried to tell the people at Trinity Church for several years. The things that got me ostracized are now being proclaimed from the pulpit, by an authority figure. The leadership at Trinity Church had no respect for me or the Holy Spirit. The whole operation was a mechanism intended to promote the pastor and his family, and they did not want to spook people. Now I’m at a church where the Holy Spirit is taking over.

On Tuesday, the pastor had us pray in tongues as a group. I would guess we went about 15 minutes. I didn’t know what to say. I was watching a dream come true. The shoots are coming out of the ground. The final fire is lit, and this time, Satan will not be able to put it out, because this time, God is not going to rely on man to keep it going. It’s like the restoration of Israel. In the past, Israel’s situation depended on how the Jews treated God. Now it’s different. In order for prophecy to come true, God has to get in there and make things happen, regardless of how badly his people behave. It’s grace this time, more than before.

My own prayer life gets better and better. Sometimes I get so far into the Spirit, I feel as though my attachment to the physical world is almost broken, and I tell God I’m ready to leave if he wants to take me. I get new breakthroughs in faith and revelation all the time. Every time one comes, I think it can’t get any better than that, and then the next one comes, and it’s better.

Things keep improving. God has made it clear that certain things are going to happen for me. I wish everyone could get what I’m getting. It’s so easy, but people reject it. Or they never find out about it.

One of the things that comes out in my music is the sorrow over the people who aren’t going to make it. In nature, many are born, and few survive. Even in the moment of conception, millions of sperm cells die, and only one survives. In the kingdom of God, it doesn’t have to be like that. Provision has been made for all of us. But most of us will not know God, and most of us will go to hell. There isn’t much we can do about it. If the situation could be fixed, God would have taken care of it. Many of the people I see around me now are going to disappear permanently. I won’t know them much longer.

I am starting to see unsaved people as unreal. In a way, this is correct. Is anything real, if it doesn’t last? The unsaved show up for a while, make a little noise, and then vanish for good. A person’s life shouldn’t be like condensed breath on a windowpane, that appears for a minute and then dissipates. But this is how most lives go. The unsaved matter. But their presence is temporary, and the things they do will be erased, as though they had never happened. Ten thousand years from now, who will even think about them?

I don’t plan the music I write. The tunes come to me, and I write them down. I don’t think they express some true “voice” within me. They’re not what I expected to write. Maybe God is expressing something through me. I hope that as my skills improve, his music will come through me more clearly and in better quality. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

Pray for the trolls. In God’s kingdom, like the fairy tale, a troll can live under a bridge, but she won’t cross it.

Latest Oeuvre

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Now With Added TULIPS

I finished a new piece of music, applied for a copyright registration, and stuck it on Youtube.

Here it is. I hope you like it.

I got the photos from a public domain photo site.

It’s funny how this works now. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to get anything written. Then I pray, and I get to work. I usually put in about 90 minutes, and then I feel God’s peace descend on me, and I realize it’s time to quit.

I got myself a new digital piano. The toy keyboard I was using was driving me nuts.

Some of the computerized instruments can be shrill. Hopefully real musicians with actual instruments will play it some day.

Psalm 37:4.

Pennies From Heaven?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Sow a Seed at the Library of Congress

Yesterday at church a couple of friends showed me a banner that had been created for a campaign called “I Love my Church.” They wanted to protect the design, and they were talking about the money involved. They were talking about thousands of dollars. It has been maybe eleven years since I practiced IP law, and I’ve forgotten most of what I knew, but I knew enough to tell them the figure was a little high. My first boss loved money more than air, and he only charged $120 for a copyright application.

I thought about the music I’ve been composing. It’s all on Youtube. People have suggested I protect it. I turned on my PC and researched it. It turns out getting a copyright registration is easier than ever.

You don’t have to do ANYTHING in order to get a copyright. Everything you create is automatically copyrighted. But you may have to prove priority in court, and back when I was practicing, the federal courts wouldn’t even entertain a suit until you showed them a copyright certificate. Getting an official registration is smart. It’s also cheap.

I’ll tell you what I learned. The Library of Congress (the folks who are in charge of copyrights) has a new (to me) website. The location is http://www.copyright.gov. If you have a musical recording (or anything else) you want to copyright, this is where you go. Depending on the nature of the work, you may be able to upload a copy electronically, so you don’t even have to buy a stamp.

You have to create an account, and any information you supply will be in the public record. You’ll have to give them a mailing address. It might be smart to get a P.O. box.

The fee is $35 per work, but you can cheat. If you write 300 songs, you can put them in one body and call them one work. I had one tune that was finished in 2012 and three that were finished in 2013, so I grouped them separately and applied for two registrations.

The ins and outs of the process are extremely confusing. You’ll have to figure out which category to put your work in, and you may find yourself pulling your hair out before you’re done. I’m a lawyer, and it drove me nuts for about an hour.

If you create a musical composition, turn it into a recording, and master the recording yourself (as I did), you can cover all three things (melody, recording, and production) in one registration. You don’t have to send them sheet music.

I’m not charging for this info, and you’re not my clients, so it may be totally wrong. Don’t rely on it. But it may be helpful to people who have stuff to protect.

It’s very exciting, having those certificates on the way. I’ve never registered anything before. Not on my own behalf. Now if I turn on the TV and hear one of my tunes playing, it will be easy to turn the perpetrator into my employee, taking the royalties and doing no work, apart from what I’ve already done.

I don’t think this will happen, but you never know. A lot of the crap you hear on TV is not as good as my work. A sleazy jingle writer could find worse things to steal.

I’m going to have to leave my tunes on Youtube as long as possible, because they will also be evidence of priority. The copyright certificates will provide the years in which things were written, but they won’t provide dates. What if some goof copyrighted one of them right after I uploaded it? I’d need something to wave in the judge’s face.

I suppose it sounds a little arrogant, suggesting someone might want to come after my obscure, simple tunes. Think of the bad music you’ve heard on the radio. If that garbage can be stolen by infringers, so can my work.

If people end up paying for my work, it means that right now, God is giving me wealth. I have to make sure I don’t leave it out on the curb for people to steal.

God has helped me understand that copyright is the best form of IP protection. To get a patent, you have to do a gigantic amount of work and spend thousands of dollars, and you get a limited period of protection. Trademarks aren’t useful for most people, and they’re a lot of aggravation to get. To get a copyright, you spend five minutes filling out a form and uploading a file, and the copyright will outlive you. And creating a work of writing or music is WAY easier than inventing something. To a person who understands the mathematical nature of the world, it should be obvious that there is huge potential in copyright, and a bigger return for the effort.

In other news, I’ve had a big faith breakthrough. I’ve learned a few things.

First of all, prayer in tongues keeps paying off. It’s the single most powerful, most important thing I do. If I ever got to the point where my life was so crazy I had to make hard choices, prayer in tongues would be the last thing I gave up. Everything I’ve believed about it has proven to be true. Everything. The more you do it, the better off you’ll be, in every way. It will fuel your life and put a foundation under it.

Second thing: last week, God showed me that when I’m struggling to believe, I shouldn’t necessarily think about the big prayers he has answered. I’ve found that it’s more helpful to think about the little prayers he answers consistently. Does God help you find your car keys every time you pray? Think about that when you pray for him to heal you of cancer. God spoke the galaxies into existence. He can put a new leg on you just as easily as he can tell you where your sunglasses are.

This is much more powerful than it sounds. Try it.

Third thing: when you pray in tongues, keep this in mind: the words are God’s, not yours. God is speaking. He is using your voice, but it’s still him, and his words have power proportional to the faith you supply as you speak. If you think about this while you pray, your faith will be supernaturally increased. Somehow, the Holy Spirit responds to it. He will rise up inside you and support your faith. Your mind will be “stayed” (propped up) on God, as Isaiah said: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee (Isaiah 26:3).”

This is not a feel-good tip or a motivational tool. It is not carnal, like the garbage the self-help preachers teach. It is a key to supernatural power.

God has set his seal on some things he is doing for me and some people around me. He has told me this in faith. When your faith reaches a certain point, God will stamp a prayer as “done.” I’m not going to list the things that are coming my way, but I know they’re done. He has sealed things for me before, and he has come through. I think the funniest example was the Coral Gables pickup truck ban. He told me he was going to defeat the people who were trying to bring it back, and even though they voted to restore it, they failed. I have to admit, I laughed. These people were so sure their carnal efforts mattered, and they got so wound up. But it was all a waste of their time. They might as well have stayed home.

Don’t expect it to happen if you neglect the gift of tongues. God has gone to great trouble and pain to put a weapon in your hand. If you won’t use it, don’t whine when you fail. God is not a puppeteer; he will not pick up your limp body and move the limbs and the tongue to cause you to do and say what you should in order to be blessed. He has done so much already; he has taken a thousand steps toward you. If you won’t take one step toward him, you are not worth saving. If you won’t take the easy path he has provided, he may not help you. He may literally allow your enemies to murder you. You would not be the first.

A Waltz for When the Coffee Wears Off

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Listen and Dream of Lunch

I published a new piece of music. As I have said elsewhere, it’s not really the kind of thing I wanted to write, but it was too good to throw out.

I’m surprised how well the composing is going. My teacher told me not to underestimate myself, and he’s right. Yesterday I listened to a piano piece written by Rachmaninoff, adapted by Kreisler, and played by Ashkenazi. It was horrible. I could not understand why Rachmaninoff wrote it in the first place, although I did recall something he once said. Someone asked him what inspired him to write a certain piece, and he said something like, “Two hundred dollars.” I am too lazy to Google the exact quotation.

Much of the classical music critics, conductors, and musicians have chosen to preserve and play is really bad. I may never write anything that will become famous, but I’m positive I can produce work which is better than the worst things great composers wrote.

Anyway, here it is.

New Piece in E Minor Goes on Youtube

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

NEXT CHALLENGE!

I got my latest musical composition whipped into shape. I want to make it longer, but the basic idea is finished.

It’s a really sad piece. It makes me think of the way believers are going to have to leave others behind. I named it “Out of Sodom.” Maybe I’ll come up with a name I like better.

I put it on Youtube, with a bunch of photos I hope are in the public domain.

I’m starting to feel like I’ll be able to write good music whenever I want. Things are breaking loose.

It’s so great to be able to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. God opens doors, redeems, and restores.

GPS Without Transistors

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Follow the Pillar of Fire

I want to pass on a little advice. It’s a piece of knowledge that has been useful to me.

As many Christians know, the Bible is like the Constitution (or any other set of laws). It provides many benefits, but you won’t necessarily receive them unless you apply. It’s like the Fifth Amendment. The cops can’t question you after say you want an attorney, but if you don’t assert your right, they’ll question you anyway. There are many things God will do for you whether or not you ask, but on the whole, it’s best to make your needs known and stand on God’s promises.

Here’s a promise which is particularly useful: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” That’s Psalm 37, verses 23 and 24. It’s clearly a general promise available to all. It doesn’t say “a good Jewish man” or “a good man who sacrifices at the temple” or “a good man with freckles.”

Lately, I’ve been bringing this promise up in prayer, more than once a day. I ask God to honor it until the next time I ask. I believe prayer is like manna in that you shouldn’t rely on yesterday’s ration, so I think it’s important to ask repeatedly and not to expect the prayer to keep you going for the rest of your life. There are some things you only have to ask for once, or which you can stop asking for, once God confirms he will do what you want, but it pays not to take chances.

I remind him of similar promises. The Bible says that when your father and mother forsake you, the Lord will take you up. It says you will hear his voice behind you, telling you which way to turn. It says he will lead you in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

I also ask God to lead my enemies onto the points of their own swords and to hold them there until they repent.

What I’ve found is that when I make this request, things go better. There is less dead time in the day. I get things done. I spend less time goofing off or wandering in confusion. Life is more organized. There is less stress.

This prayer got me over the hump with CAD software. As I wrote earlier, I’m finally able to use it. And it has also led to greater musical productivity. I’m getting all sorts of good melodies written down. I really think I’m going to get to the point where I’ll be selling music. It’s going to be good enough to publish. That’s amazing. Music can be extremely lucrative. You only need one successful work to keep you fed and clothed when you’re retired.

I suggest you try asking God for guidance, daily. See what happens.

I’m very excited about music, because I’ve come to realize that writing music requires the same gift as cooking. It’s really no different. When you write recipes, it comes from inspiration. You’ll be sitting around thinking about other things, and suddenly you’ll imagine a flavor or a texture, and the way to create it, and you’ll write it down and try it. Your imagination tells you what will taste good, and your work only serves to confirm it. When you write music, melodies that “taste good” to the ear come into your mind, and all you have to do is write them in musical notation. If it sounds good, it IS good. That’s the only test.

I find that God is as willing to give me tunes as he is recipes. And here’s one great thing about music: you don’t have to make a mess in order to create it. You don’t have to drive to the store and buy food. You don’t have to wreck the kitchen. And when it’s done, you can preserve it forever, and you can email it and publish it with very little effort.

I don’t know how I would go about finding a market for music, but I’m sure there’s a way. When I have a portfolio built up, I should be able to do something with it.

I consider myself a writer and a creator of music. I think those are the things I should focus on. The other stuff is great, but I believe it deserves less priority. No one will ever pay me to run a lathe, and no one will ever draw closer to God while listening to me make a pizza.

I’ll put up the piece I’m working on now. I was shooting for something resembing a spiritual, but it has more of a classical sound. I love classical music. There’s no reason why I can’t enjoy writing it. I know it’s not fashionable, and composers are expected to come up with inventive new forms of music no one can stand to listen to, but only a moron would say the genre is exhausted. There is a lot of classical music, but only some of it is truly great. There is still a big need to fill. I’m always frustrated because my favorite composers (Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Beethoven) didn’t leave more work, and I’m sure other people feel the same way.

Chopin actually had some of his works burned when he died. Unbelievable.

This piece isn’t done. It’s very short, and there are lots of things I may want to do with it. But it does show that things are going well.

12 31 E Minor Piece

Get connected to the power supply and see what God will do for you. I think he is leading a lot of people out of the spiritual dark ages.