Category Archives: Music

Benefits of Learning Music Theory

When learning to play an instrument, we occasionally have “ah ha” moments as Ian Stich from Youtube’s Sitch Method likes to call them. Today I’ve had another of them as I run piano scales. If you’ve ever had a child in piano lessons, there’s a good chance they would have balked at the notion of doing scales. The piano teacher would say, there’s a long term benefit to learning scales which you’ll come to understand later. Well, unfortunately…later doesn’t arrive for too many music students because they view the task a just too boring with not enough melody.

Here is the thing: When running scales on the piano, we are hitting every note in a scale consciously and the mind develops awareness visually which aids in recalling chord triads and sevenths instantly. The visualization of roots, thirds, fifths and seventh via the keyboard would be akin to visualizing the notes on a staff. 

Additionally, if students run major and minor scales chronologically around the Circle of Fifths, the circle itself is memorized concurrently with scale tones. Consequently, chords within a key using the context of the circle take shape with repetition. Of course, there is the technical side of developing muscle memory around piano keys and efficient fingerings concurrently.

Imagine then moving the versatility of scale /chord / key mastery over to another instrument having put in the repetitions of running scales. Whole steps and half steps intuitively developed from running piano scales could be subconsciously applied to the new instrument with the Circle of Fifths lurking as an improvisational tool.

Guitarists could potentially take the theory of scale tone distances learned in piano and apply them to the fretboard accounting for the third / second string pitch differential or stick with the standardized three note per string pentatonic patterns taught more traditionally.

If a person can honestly espouse that they lack perfect pitch, lack some sense of relative pitch, and cannot intuitively “play by ear”, then that person might consider concepts of music theory practically to further advance play.

Over at my youtube channel, I hope to deploy more improvisation guitar / piano as I continue to apply concepts.  https://www.youtube.com/c/BlairSveinson

Music and Dance Reminisce

My piano music book, “Pop Standards” by Hal Leonard has select classic pieces from the ‘70s. It’s sent me back on a childhood revisit this past weekend. As I write this I’m listening to the classic “Love’s Theme” by Barry White and Orchestra. The time was so innocent in many regards which was spawned by the music of the decade. There were so many happy (major keys) melodic songs. There was the one hit wonders. There were the indecipherable lyrics. There was the disco and Abba. There was Le Freak by Chic and Mike Oldfield, and “The Hustle”. There was Saturday Night Fever and Fleetwood Mac. There was Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd. There was the Eagles and Kiss. My sister was into Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and I actually saw the appeal although I was mostly playing baseball instead. The latter part of the decade had me thinking that dancing looked fun. I had no problem with it at all in spite of friends looking at me strange. There was the band “Heart” and the program “Midnight Special”.  I was enthralled.

The years 76 and 77 had me focused on Littlle League ball but I had memorized the lyrics to Hotel California. I had the album and played it all the time along with Kiss, Destroyer. With the move to Kamloops from Cranbrook in grade eight – I didn’t think twice when school dances came around. I went to them all and I danced to Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”, Bee Gees – “Night Fever” and “Stayin Alive”.  There was Donna Summer, Blondie and Cheap Trick (Surrender), Foreigner, Journey, Asia, Trooper, and ELO. I was remarkably composed in refuting a friend’s insinuation that dancing wasn’t cool. I even overcame nerves and rejection in asking girls to dance.   

Free form dancing apparently is not in right now. It could all change again one day. Culture could go through another period of revitalization having gone through a pandemic and the realization that part of the soul’s earthly journey is one of connection through dance.            

I Have A Copyright Strike On Youtube

Upon learning piano and guitar I thought it would be neat to share my progress on youtube. I went about learning how to record with some basic tools and voila….I made this whole thing happen.

One day, I head over to my channel and I see this “copyright claim” made by the rights holder to Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”.  After a belly laugh…I thought – okay, I best go over to my settings and see if I have my channel in monetization mode despite not coming near qualifying for youtube revenue. Indeed, there was a check box that had been set by default to “permit monetization”. Hence; I unchecked the check box thinking that this might resolve the matter. Then I actually listened to some of the commentary over at Youtube’s “Creator Insider” channel and learned that no check box was going to effectively deal with copyright law that is in fact restricting novice musicians such as myself from putting up covers.

Fast forward a couple of months and I check my “dashboard” and learn that I’ve been bad again. This time, it’s a copyright “strike” and not a “claim”. You see…three strikes and you’re out. Your channel comes down. This time it was my piano rendition of The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why”. There was no warning. No claim. It was a simple strike and I was informed to head over to “copyright school” as a condition of having the claim potentially removed after a waiting period.

While I may be amused by all of this given my elementary participation, there are people who have taken up careers by creating youtube content and whose livelihoods depend on being treated fairly. 

Two examples of youtubers operating in the space of music education are Rick Beato and Paul Davids. These folks provide valuable educational content and are subject to these claims even when using snippets of songs for educational purposes. It’s become apparent that these record companies now have the option to impose a “revenue sharing” formula with a creator if they deem that there is a violation and hence a “claim” or they can impose a “strike” like what happened to me perhaps because my “permit monetization” check box is unclicked.

As you can see there’s nuance to all this but youtube likes to keep things fairly vague in their representations through their “creator insider” channel. Their editions are short and informal with broad strokes and big smiles. 

Music Training Beginning in Adulthood

Apparently the plasticity of the brain is lesser in adulthood. Hence; you are going to be more challenged to identify pitch. In fact, musical scholars are claiming that an adult may not be able to develop perfect pitch but with training and could obtain proficiency in “relative pitch”. So, don’t despair, this relative pitch is what we need the most when picking out the next chord in a progression. A key has limitations with respect to which chords are available and consequently the adult brain now gets to work with finite possibilities in relative terms. 

My youtube channel has one song which I posted that I knew didn’t sound right but given the nature of my channel oriented around progress and learning, I didn’t think much of it during the upload. Today, I revisited the song and searched around on “ultimate guitar” (website) to review some reader feedback  associated with the chord structure of the selected piece and discovered two flaws. Somebody with a better ear than mine not only knew it didn’t sound right as scored but he was able to offer the two corrections. I now look forward to the “redo”. The process gives me comfort in that I may be going from the phase of “not knowing what I don’t know” to “knowing what I don’t know” in the context of chord recognition. At this stage of my development, I am still only reaching for a chord because of a memorized sequence and not because of ear sense.  This contrasts to a professional musician who made an exclamation on his youtube channel that he showed up at a weekend festival and was introduced to 18 new songs of which he went right to work on learning and in short order played rhythm for the band in support. The take away is that I must listen more carefully to the sounds instead of anxiously searching my memory.         

How’s The Guitar Coming Along You Ask?

Well, it’s been about 2 1/2 years since getting serious about guitar. This is my old Fender Gemini III from 1987 which basically sat in storage until 2016. Looking back at the “set up” of the guitar and learning much about the “build characteristics” of acoustic guitars, it’s not surprising that I turned away from learning the instrument so quickly back in 1987. The “action” was “high” meaning that it needed a “truss rod adjustment”. Now I’ve made it easier to play and is a nice complement to my new Yamaha FG800. I’ll let the video do the talking from here on out.

Beach House Stirs

Another band discovered by watching a cover over at Youtube. Thanks Ani Lyn for your cover of “Myth”. The genre is described as “Dream Pop” and is strong medicine for those legitimately in need of an escape. If you’re like me and spend too much time enraptured by musicians dallying in minor keys, you will be delighted by this experienced group. Some youtube commenter has referred to the album “Bloom” and going from one great song to a better one.

Two young scholars came together in Baltimore’s Indie Rock scene and wrote music fervently  only to have a block on the defining of a band name. As you would expect with “Dream Pop”, we’re talking organs, synthesizers and slide guitar with an underlying soft mellow beat. Both Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally are versatile musicians deploying various instruments. Can one draw a parallel between “Shoe Gaze” and “Dream Pop”? Well, Scally with Beach House employs D flat tuning as does Slowdive.

As I write this piece, I’m listening to “Wishes” from “Bloom”. I’m tellin’ ya…this group is spectacular.  LeGrand has a soothing voice and fans were avid enough in 2016 to suggest that Pitchfork make them the headliners in Chicago. If distant travel beckons, book your ticket to Beach House and a dream theatre by the water.     

Her Smell

The mere brashness of protagonist Becky in full flight fix is something to behold. This ‘90’s grunge band lead woman exposes the darkness of drug induced euporhia and the consequential effect on close relationships.  This movie’s scenes could have been done in one big take because of Director Alex Ross Perry’s apparent affinity for rawness on set. Fortunately, he found an ideal actress in Elisabeth Moss to play this unique role of a rocker gone bad.   

Backstage glam and drama is raucous . Recovery is a requisite for the real. Despite dysfunction, the bond of band mates is visceral with appeal. You’ll be left wondering about that. You’ll be perplexed by the acquiescent demeanour of a manager in quandary over a recording studio overtaken. Then there’s mom infusing support when she can digesting the chaos in context of her maternal past. 

Oh yes, there’s music but it’s secondary to the lifestyle plot and the preponderance of the prized backstage pass.  Consider the flick one ripe tomato.

Back In Black At The Jack

Once you get past the imagery of hard rock being played in an opera house (Jack Singer Calgary) and digest the signature rasp of Brian Johnson’s sound alike, you’ll be perplexed and comforted that Classic Albums Live has done their homework in covering ACDC’s Back in Black. Why an all black album cover? It’s was produced in memory of lead singer Bon Scott who died of an “alcohol misadventure”. If you’re fifty plus, you danced to the pulsating beat of “Shoot To Thrill” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”.

It’s worth repeating that finding the on key screech to sing machismo minded lyrics must have been no easy task at auditioning. This man performed with distinction in this difficult role.

The opening was obviously anticipated with the dongs of the bell and the signature opening riff to Hell’s Bells. They weren’t going to master the 1980 studio version considering the work ACDC went through in the Bahamas back in the day to acquire the perfect sound with a real bell and studio tricks at their disposal. However; credit is cast in the delivery of the complementing solo piece which requires precision in developing the riff with timely rests. 

“Shoot To Thrill” is perfectly positioned as the two track. Things really get rumbling with an accelerated tempo and knee quivering trill of this somewhat forgotten gem. 

Having settled in, the next big moment of intrigue was upcoming on track one of the flip side. “Back in Black” has the memorable guitar solo and all three six stringers on stage took their turn on their Gibson SGs –of course. It was evident by now that all three guitarists were versant in playing lead and there was one in particular who was a bit more familiar with particular lead lines throughout the song list.  As we all know, exuberant solos get the crowd going and this rendition of Back in Black had the audience shimmering.

The sound engineer was getting things figured out a few short chords into You Shook Me. He’d moderated the extreme frequencies certainly giving some relief to patrons like me who had forgotten ear filters at home.

“Have A Drink On Me” exemplified the general sharpness of the band and to keep it tight with three six strings competing for attention cannot be easy.

“Shake A Leg” was played with more vigour here than I can remember on the album.  I believe this cover band turned the studio version into something better – not by making changes to the score but by turning up the dynamics.

Jumped free from my aisle seat right before the intermission and headed home after a long day of doing tax work. The audience would anticipate a second half featuring various other hits.              

Backstage At Loverboy

Forty years ago in Kamloops, B.C. as a teenager when at home listening to Loverboy’s self titled album with my aunt and mother on what can now be described as a vintage cabinet record player enraptured by songs titled “The Kid is Hot Tonight” and “Turn Me Loose” in no way could I have imagined that last night I’d be back stage of a concert in Calgary shaking hands with the lead singer Mike Reno and guitarist Paul Dean.

As if intended through some unknown protagonist, upon taking up guitar and piano there’s been opportunity to circulate in music circles and attend performances which have proved to be sources of inspiration and everywhere I turn I discover fellow amateur guitar players where we share about the instrument’s intricacies. 

Don’t be shy if you’re a single male in the crowd with a backstage pass encircling your wrist. Work it with the ladies preferably in a fashion that at least gets you a date. You see Tom Cochrane was actually the closing act and he apparently offered leverage power to backstage pass holder.

The question I had for Mike Reno last night was, “have you ever had voice training”? His answer was “no”. He still carries the high pitch exemplary of his singing. It’s not falsetto but just a high range he’s obviously carried throughout his career.

It was thanks to a client with connections that made this night out extra special. It was also fun to wear a neck badge with photo of the band purchased for me by my client’s wife from the souvenir stand. In response to perplexed inquiries I represented the keepsake as my “premium backstage pass” much to their astonishment and my silent guffaw.   

No photo….didn’t turn out.