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Things I really didn’t need to know about my student instruments

Back in the day, there was Mystery Science Theater 3000. And when MST3K was no more, lo, there came unto us RiffTrax, but also Cinematic Titanic! And the brains behind RiffTrax (all hallowed be the name of Mike Nelson) said unto the people, “We shall have a Kickstarter, for lo, Twilight in an unriffed state makes us sore afraid.” And the people looked upon this Kickstarter and gave unto it their moneys, and even though they could not riff Twilight and had to riff Starship Troopers instead, they pronounced it GOOD.

And now, RiffTrax has started handing out the shiny rewards for the Kickstarter backers. Among these is a brand new riff treatment of “Mr. B Natural”–which is a short all you diehard MST3K fans out there should remember (and shudder at). I cannot provide you the pointer to the riffed version of this, because hey, it’s a Kickstarter reward and I donated good money for that. 😉 But I CAN point you at this–the entirely uncut, unriffed, 26-minute-long original version of the short. Brace yourselves, people.

What’s REALLY scary about this (well, aside from the androgynous music demon appearing in a 12-year-old boy’s room, that is) is that Dara started googling around for the music instrument company so prominently plugged all throughout this thing. She determined that they are the originators of a whole bunch of various brands of student-grade band and orchestra instruments, and from that, we learned that my original flute (the Yamaha that I played from fourth grade clear up into high school), my current silver flute (the Artley that I got at a pawn shop in college), and my piccolo (an Armstrong) are all brands originated by these people.


I would also like to note categorically and for the record that at no point in fourth grade, when I was deciding to be a flute player, did this chick appear to me. I make no guarantees however about the boys who were in my school’s music classes at the time.

And here’s another thing that never happened to me when I was in band, either! In the uncut short you can see the band teacher consulting a chart to try to figure out what instrument Buzz should play. Dara and I both boggled at that, so Dara googled for that too and found this thing, which is apparently a later iteration of the same chart.

Me, I just got handed a checklist and was told to tick off my first, second, and third choices of instruments! One presumes we were not actually a Conn-Selmer school. On the whole, though, I think I still came out ahead.


My next Quebec tunes challenge

I have identified the next Quebec tunes set I wish to learn: the recording “Gigue à trois”, which appears on the Le Vent du Nord album Les amants du Saint-Laurent!

The first tune in this set is locatable in sheet music form right over here. However, checking it out, I note a problem in that very last measure: i.e., it’s going down to low B and G, and those are notes below the bottom end of my range on ANY of my flutes, really. My silver goes down to middle C. My piccolo goes down to D just above middle C.

(And I can’t really play the piece on any of my keyless flutes either–the first tune I linked to is in G, but the other two are in F and A minor, and you know what I’m not doing on a D or A flute? Playing stuff in F and A minor. I DO still suck at half-holing!)

So in order to play that tune I’m going to have to do one of two things: either a) I will need to kick the whole thing up an octave, or b) doink around with that measure and play notes instead that’ll work okay as chords with that B and G. Option B is more likely, and this is why!

The latter two tunes of that set, according to my initial explorations (aided by an Extremely Awesome Person Who Shall Remain Nameless, but Merci Beaucoup, Awesome Person!), have a part that goes up to the C that’s two octaves over middle C.

And that is a problem. Because if I try to kick the piece up an octave, that means I’d need to play the C that’s THREE octaves over middle C, and that is not happening on my piccolo. It’s barely going to happen on my flute. Hell, I don’t even remember successfully hitting that note on my piccolo in school, although I got up there a few times on the flute.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about re: middle C and octaves and such–an octave is scale in music, basically. Think of the “Do, a deer, a female deer” song in The Sound of Music. Go all the way through do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do, and that’s an octave.

Middle C is the C that’s right smack in the middle of a piano. It’s kind of the landmark note around which most standard musical notation is centered. Wikipedia has a good description of it over here, including some midi files of what various octaves of C sound like.

If you look at their “Designation by octave” chart, middle C is C4. That’s the low C I can hit on my flute. The lowest C I can hit on my piccolo, on the other hand, is C5. I can do C6 easily enough too. C7 is the problem.

And here’s the really fun part. A piccolo is pitched an octave above a flute–meaning that if I use the same fingering to produce a note on both my instruments, the flute will have the low “do” note, and the piccolo will have the high one. And if that wasn’t complicated enough, piccolo music is actually written an octave down, on purpose. So a piccolo C5 looks like a flute C5, when written out in music. But the piccolo C5 is going to SOUND like a C6.

Which means that that C7 I’m trying to hit on my piccolo is actually a C8. I get woozy just THINKING about trying to hit that note. ;D

(The reason piccolo music is written an octave down on purpose is because if you’re writing notes that go too high to fit on the staff, you have to use extra lines called ledger lines to notate them. And there are only so many ledger lines you can comfortably use in a given piece of sheet music before you pretty much have to ctrl-alt-fuckit, write everything an octave down, and mark it 8va, which translates to ‘kick this up an octave because SERIOUSLY, I’m not sticking 15 extra lines over the staff, are you NUTS?’)

In any event, this is going to be quite, quite fun and I look forward to playing with this piece more. BUT FIRST, I gotta finish pulling Vengeance of the Hunter out of my head, and then work on Bone Walker soundtrack stuff! More bulletins as events warrant!


Tune work tonight

With two brand new flutes to break in, I’ve found myself wanting to practice as well as write for the last couple of nights, and so tonight I’m doing active tune work. This means trying out all previously learned tunes on both the new instruments, as well as seeing which of the next ones work better on which instrument.

Here are an assortment of things I have thus learned.

One, there is a certain pure, clear tone that a properly played piccolo can make. I’m NOT good enough to do it consistently, but I can get there. It requires not only a good embouchure, but also that you make sure and drink enough water, which is a problem in our fairly dry, cold house! I’m learning from Chirp, though, that if I play Chirp correctly, I can in fact approach a piccolo-like tone on it. Which is pretty impressive given that Chirp is made of applewood.

Two, I like the Lisdoonvarna/Swallow Tail Jig/Morrison’s set better on Chirp than I do on the new big flute. But I like Blarney Pilgrim better on the big flute, and will probably also like Da Slockit Light and Si Bheag Si Mhor better on that one as well.

Three, I am more nimble on Chirp, unsurprisingly, since Chirp is piccolo-sized. Even though the big flute is intended for “small hands”, it’s still a bigger instrument than I’ve been used to playing for a while, and it’ll take me a bit to work back up into it. I cannot yet achieve that purity of tone I was talking about above on the big flute, not yet, not while I’m trying to also play quickly.

Four, I’m playing with Apples in Winter and Cliffs of Moher tonight, and am learning from both of these tunes that I’m trying to punch their primary beats too hard. They both want to flow better than I’m letting them do. I need to work on that. I can pick out both tunes fairly easily on the sheet music, but that’s not the same thing. Reading off the sheet music is for purposes of just learning the tunes. Finding their music, i.e., making them actually sound good, is another question entirely. I’m still working on a lot of that with all of these tunes I’m trying to learn.

Fifth, I’m also playing with Jig of Slurs, in no small part due to my interest in the “Fortierville” set on La Volée d’Castors’ so very awesome live album–and while I’m starting to get Jig of Slurs down at least as a tune, again, it’s going to be a bit before I can whip through this thing as music. Especially if I want to play along with the La Volée recording. Which I DO. Relatedly, I have also observed that at least based on comparison to that recording, I’ve been playing Chirp kind of flat.


The naming of instruments is a Serious Matter

My new applewood fife and mopane flute have now been officially broken in at session, to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Those who attended session along with userinfosolarbird and me last night (which would be userinfosutures1, Matt, and Marilyn) expressed their approval in particular over the voice on the flute, which was very nice indeed in the pub. 😀

I learned pretty quickly though that I’m not quite up to speed with my known tunes on these instruments yet. This is in no small part due to the fingerings on keyless flutes. The fife and flute both are in D, which means that the good part is, the fingerings are therefore very close to my piccolo. All fingers down means D on these instruments and on Shine alike, for example.

The bad part is, however, that the fingerings are not exactly like the fingerings on the piccolo! Shine being a concert C instrument (kicked up an octave) of course means that it’s oriented around the C scale, NOT around the D scale. So one finger down on Shine means C, not C#. I therefore will have to get the cross-fingerings for accidentals into my muscle memory on the fife and the flute in order to make these tunes work properly. Relatedly, I’ve also discovered that “Da Slockit Light” requires a G# and THAT in particular is going to be amusing to finger on these instruments.

Likewise I have learned that while the new instruments are going to be in regular session rotation, this does NOT mean Shine gets to stay home. I discovered VERY fast that if I’m trying to follow the others by finding sheet music for tunes in TunePal, I will be much, much more able to play on Shine than on either of the new guys. This is very clearly because when I see sheet music, my visual association with those notes is still solidly attached to the fingerings on keyed flutes. So next time, Shine comes to session along with the new ones.

On a much easier note though I have also discovered that the “Road to Lisdoonvarna / Swallow Tail Jig / Morrison’s” set we’ve been doing is surprisingly easier to play on the fife than it is on the piccolo. No half-holing is required for any of these tunes, and I seem to actually have an easier time playing Chirp, the fife, than I do Shine! The required embouchure is not as intense.

Which of course leads me to report that the fife is well and officially Chirp, now. The jury is still out on what to call the mopane flute, though. Ellen has opined (and I am inclined to agree) that this instrument should be named something Irish, since I am after all intending to use it primarily for Irish music, even if it’s made out of African mopane! She has proposed ‘Selkie’, which I must consider with due consideration–since this flute’s got a deep, rich voice and a deep golden brown color, both of which I could see being evocative of a selkie. I need to commune with the flute some more though and see if it agrees with me on this important matter.

Dara and I were discussing instrument names last night, too, and I shot down naming the flute either Herp OR Derp, pointing out that if any instruments in the world would be named those, they would clearly be kazoos. Dara now wants kazoos for the express purpose of naming them Herp and Derp.

And for that matter, I further opined that an accordion is too complex an instrument to be named Herp or Derp. To which Dara immediately replied that an accordion is NOT too complex to be named PAMCAKES!

I think her squeezebox has a name now.


Starting to feel like a proper piccolo player again

When I play piccolo in session, I typically hang out in my lower octave–which, for those of you who are musically inclined, is notated at starting at D above middle C on the staff, i.e., the D just below the bottom of the staff. BUT: that’s actually an octave up from a flute playing the same octave, because a piccolo’s pitched an octave up from a standard concert C flute. So if I’m hitting what’s written out as a D above middle C, I’m actually hitting a D that’s an octave up from that.

Because it’s been so long since I regularly played piccolo, I’ve been staying in that octave for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t yet regained my old ability to not get louder if I get higher–and a piccolo playing higher notes is pretty damned high. Two, my embouchure also hasn’t been steady enough to not only hit those notes, but hit them cleanly and purely, which is vital on the piccolo. I hit a higher note wrong, you will be able to tell. And the last thing I want to do in session is be the person hitting the obvious high, squeaky notes. *^_^*;;

But this is starting to change. Thanks to regularly going to session–and, more importantly, regularly practicing at home every few days–I’m starting to get my proper piccolo embouchure back. We finished up last night with “Da Slockit Light”, which gets up into what’s written out as my middle octave (which is the third octave on a flute). I was quite happy to get some good notes out up in the neighborhood of G and A! I did notice I was slightly flatter in that octave than I am in the lower one, though. Not sure yet whether this is because I still need to improve that embouchure or if my piccolo needs some tuneup work, or both.

Meanwhile, a fiddle player I hadn’t met yet (I don’t know if she’s new to the Renton session or if she just hadn’t been there when I’ve been before) gave me an awesome pointer. I told her I was learning several tunes off of sheet music since that’s where my background is, and I’m not as solid learning things by ear. She recommended I record myself playing various tunes I’m interested in, reading off of sheet music if need be, and then work on learning the tunes just by listening to myself play. Which sounds like an awesome idea, and I’m going to have to try that!

Note also: “Da Slockit Light” is a gorgeous little tune, and I’m going to have to learn it properly. It’s also got a bit of “aww” with its origin. It was written by Tom Anderson, and according to that Wikipedia page, “Slockit” means “extinguished”, and the title is a reference to people moving away from the area where he grew up.

Also noted from last night’s session: “Dunmore Lasses”, “Out on the Ocean”, and “Kid on the Mountain” are my latest additions to TunePal. Once I get a better handle on more of the tunes in Matt’s PDF, I’m going to start burning through the TunePal set as well!


Back to the eight-stringed path

This post starts, like many of my days do, with the Handsomest of Marketboys yakkin’ at me the other day on my morning walk through the market. I was, I believe, telling him about my forthcoming furlough, in which I shall be not only taking time off from work but also from the Internet–so it’ll be me, my writing, my userinfosolarbird, and my guitar. He told me by way of reply that if I ever wanted a thousand-dollar Stratocaster, I should let him know.

Now this gave me pause for a couple of reasons. One, I already kinda knew that the HofM seemed to have a bit of musical inclination; I’ve heard him sing a time or two off the top of his head. Two, Jesus Jumping Christ on a pogostick, if you’ve got a thousand-dollar Strat sitting around and you’re not playing it, you are doing it a sore injustice. (Said the owner of a near-thousand-dollar Taylor 210, who is very conscious of the General STERNLY awaiting her return to him.)

So I told him I had no need of another guitar, since I had two, and he should be playing his!

Which of course sent me down the path of remembering I haven’t been playing my guitar much lately–not out of lack of interest, but because of change in focus at session. In the back of my brain, though, I’ve been pondering that I’ve got all these other songbooks and things, and other instruments, and it’d be nice to bring at least one other instrument with me to session that I could pair up with the piccolo to trade off between. Maybe not the General since the General’s too much instrument when I’m really playing him and he’s really more of a I WANT TO COMMAND THE RHYTHM LINE instrument anyway, at least in my hands. Which is not what I want to use the General for when I’m in a session.

Bring in Le Monsieur Beaudry and his bouzouki. As I’m looking through Le Vent du Nord’s site gallery tonight, I’m thinking–y’know what, I’ve got a goddamn bouzouki myself. AND an octave mandolin, neither of which have been played much in the last few years. So I tuned up both Autumn and Spring tonight, and looked in my mandolin fakebook, and lo and behold, there is “Banish Misfortune” waiting for me to start playing with it. It’s a slightly different arrangement than what we’ve been doing in session, but that is entirely okay. This is where my fledgling “pay attention to what my fellow session players are doing” powers can start activating!

Tried playing both Autumn and Spring tonight and realized that right now, Autumn’s fret spacing feels more comfortable to me, possibly because I’ve been more used to the General lately so I’ve been used to a narrower neck. So when Dara and I have our off-weeks for session practice, I’m going to start spending time on Autumn as well as with Shine, who will remain my primary session instrument for the time being.

I feel very good about this plan. \0/


This past Wednesday's session

Writing this now since I haven’t had a chance or the brain to blog about it until this afternoon, but here we go!

There were a couple of extra fiddlers at this past Wednesday’s session at A Terrible Beauty–people who turned out to be stunningly awesome, a couple of professional performers, Andrea Beaton and Glenn Graham. What really sold me on Andrea and Glenn’s playing was its liveliness and the excellent foot-stomping rhythm they had going at the same time–very, very familiar to me from all the listening I’ve been doing to La Volee d’Castors and La Bottine Souriante and Le Vent du Nord. It turned out that the reason their music resonated so strongly with me was because they are in fact Canadian, Cape Breton specifically, so no wonder. 😀

I’d already been pleasantly challenged trying to keep up with Matt and Annie, as I’ve written before–but trying to keep up with Andrea and Glenn? WHOA. WHOA AND DAMN, people. I’m just this fortysomething chick who likes to noodle around on her guitar in her living room, y’know? And there I am in the session trying to provide a decent rhythm line underneath two hardcore fiddle players, who, I might add, proceeded just last night to go perform with Matt at Benaroya Hall for the Mastery of Scottish Arts concert.

I have been in sessions now with people who have performed in Benaroya Hall, people!

Only by focusing with laser-guided intensity on every motion of Glenn and Andrea’s bows was I able to keep up, and more than once, I lost track of their key changes. But I was at least able to come back around when they jumped back to a key I could recognize. A lot of what I’ve been doing at the sessions so far has just been playing the same six or seven chords in different keys and strum patterns, just trying to be decent rhythm backup for all the people who actually know the tunes. But these two took it up a whole extra order of magnitude for me, and I haven’t had so much fun on a guitar in ages.

Afterwards a couple of older gentlemen came over to say hi to Dara and me, and to admire the General! I got asked what kind of Taylor it was, and I was happy to say it was a 210, and I thanked the gents nicely for the kind things they said about my playing. I also went over to Andrea to make a point of telling her how awesome their playing was, and she was very gracious too.

I am so, SO outclassed at these sessions, it’s kind of scary! But in a good and exciting way, one which is making me go OH SHIT I’d better practice. So this afternoon I whipped out the piccolo, worked my way through an octave of scales, and then tried to stumble my way through “Road to Lisdoonvarna”, “Morrison’s Jig”, and “Drowsy Maggie”. I made it through the first two, more or less, before my embouchure fell over and started sending me “you haven’t played piccolo in a long goddamned time, have you?” signals.

I’ve also gone through my songbook and yoinked out the little sheet music bits of the various tunes GBS have used as bridges on their songs, in the hopes that I can then track down fuller versions, and use those for practice fodder. I have “Si Bheag Si Mhor” too, along with “Fisherman’s Frolic”, which those of you who read the TGM Jam Reports may remember as our outro to “Acres of Clams”. I have a LOT of source material to learn from. And it’s awesome to be able to have a reason to use it.

ETA: OO OO OO and I forgot to mention that when called upon to do a song by Matt, I stood up and did GBS’ arrangement of “The Night Pat Murphy Died”. *^_^*;; I cannot roar it like Séan McCann does and I really need to learn to project, but at least I managed to go through the whole thing without falling over. And when I went DARA, Dara whipped into the bridge on cue; she’s been practicing the Bitchin’ Bouzouki Solo.

Another practice assignment I want to do is to see if I can whip up a proper version of “As I Roved Out”; the arrangement I’m most familiar with is the one by the Fables, but I can’t sing it in their key so I’ll need to finagle it some.