Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Study reveals methods used by musicians to stay in tempo with each other

A team of researchers with members from the U.K. and Germany has found that musicians playing in a string quartet keep time with one another in two distinctly different ways. One, way, the team explains in their paper published in Journal of the Royal Society: Interface, is to play follow-the-leader—everyone adjusts their tempo to one leader. The other way is far more democratic—all of the players constantly change their tempo to keep time with everyone else.

In watching and listening to a string quartet, it generally seems as if all they players have an internal metronome—they all seem to keep perfect time with one another without having to make adjustments. In reality, players must make adjustments all the time, at least most of them.

Different kinds of music require different types of tempo control—rock and pop music follows the percussionist—generally the drummer. Orchestras rely on a maestro with a baton to maintain a steady pace. String quartets, on the other hand, have no set leader, so, how do the players maintain a steady tempo?

To find out, the researchers enlisted the assistance of two highly skilled quartets—each had a tiny microphone placed on their instrument which was able to record just the instrument to which it was attached. All of the sounds from each of the four instruments was sent to a computer which was able to not only compile the music into its traditional quartet format, but was also able to track the individual tempo for each instrument and compare it with what was occurring with the other instruments.

In analyzing the results, the researchers found it became very clear how tempo was maintained. For one quartet, three players varied their tempo to match the fourth, who never varied hers. Thus, the group had a leader that served very much like a drummer in a rock band. In the other quartet, however, there was no leader, thus all four players were found to continually adjust their tempo to match that of the other three players. Players in both quartets claimed they didn't realize that they were adjusting their tempo and didn't realize that some groups have a leader while others are more democratic in their technique.

What's not clear is whether one approach produces superior music quality—the researchers next plan to find out by having different quartets perform for small audiences which can then be queried regarding the quality of the music as they perceive it.

Explore further: Same beat set to different tunes changes walkers' pace

More information: Optimal feedback correction in string quartet synchronization, Published 29 January 2014 DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2013.1125

Control of relative timing is critical in ensemble music performance. We hypothesize that players respond to and correct asynchronies in tone onsets that arise from fluctuations in their individual tempos. We propose a first-order linear phase correction model and demonstrate that optimal performance that minimizes asynchrony variance predicts a specific value for the correction gain. In two separate case studies, two internationally recognized string quartets repeatedly performed a short excerpt from the fourth movement of Haydn's quartet Op. 74 no. 1, with intentional, but unrehearsed, expressive variations in timing. Time series analysis of successive tone onset asynchronies was used to estimate correction gains for all pairs of players. On average, both quartets exhibited near-optimal gain. However, individual gains revealed contrasting patterns of adjustment between some pairs of players. In one quartet, the first violinist exhibited less adjustment to the others compared with their adjustment to her. In the second quartet, the levels of correction by the first violinist matched those exhibited by the others. These correction patterns may be seen as reflecting contrasting strategies of first-violin-led autocracy versus democracy. The time series approach we propose affords a sensitive method for investigating subtle contrasts in music ensemble synchronization.

A great description of Irish Jigs from Chief O'Neill

Most Irish jigs in six-eight time are “Double Jigs,” commonly termed “Doubles” in Leimster and some other parts of Ireland. Such jigs are also popularly known, at least in Munster, by the appellation of Moinin or Moneen jigs, a term derived from the Irish word moin - a bog, grassy sod, or green turf - because at the fairs, races, hurling matches, and other holiday assemblages, it was always danced on the choicest green spot or moinin that could be selected in the neighborhood. A separate classification of “Single Jigs,” and the first ever made in a printed volume, was initiated in O’Neill’s Dance Music of Ireland.

The following description of that variety is taken from The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland, published in 1855. Like the common or “Double Jig,” the “Single Jig” is a tune in six-eight time, and having eight bars or measures in each of its two parts. But it differs from the former in this, that the bars do not generally present, as in the “Double Jig,” a succession of triplets, but rather of alternate long and short, or crochet and quaver notes. “Battering,” as applied to this variety of jig, is called “single battering.” The floor is struck only twice - once by the foot on which the body leans, and once by the foot thrown forward.

In considering Hop Jigs or Slip Jigs, as they are called, according to locality, a quotation from Wilson’s Companion to the Ballroom may not be out of place. The author, who styles himself “Dancing Master from the King’s Theatre Opera House, London,” was not handicapped by any shrinking modesty which would restrain him from criticising others in his profession, says in his preface: “In the progress of this work a number of tunes have been collected together in nine-eight, as they require in their application to the figures, either in country dances or reels, what are technically termed Irish Steps. Few tunes of this measure are to be found in collections of Country Dances; and the reason is, those who are but indifferent dancers are not acquainted with proper steps.

“Some are apt to imagine that an Irish tune must be uniformly danced with Irish steps. This, however, is a mistake. It is to the tune, and not the nationality of the tune to which the steps in question are applied, and tunes in nine-eight always require Irish steps, whatever may be their origin; while Irish tunes of six-eight or common time are danced like others. This variety of Irish time has little or no recognition in modern music, and some persons appeared incredulous when arrangement in nine-eight time was mentioned.”

“The Rocky Road to Dublin,” probably the most widely known of Hop or Slip Jigs, is not one of the oldest. The earliest printed versions which we have found are in The Citizen magazine, published in Dublin, in 1841. The musical editor, Dr. Hudson, says it is a “modern Irish dance.” It is said the name is taken from a road so called in the neighborhood of Clommel. It is the air which is sung by the nurses for their children in a great portion of the southern parts of Munster, and they frequently put forward as one of their recommendations that “They can sing and dance the baby to `The Rocky Road’.” Under the above name a version of it was printed without comment in Petrie’s Complete Collection of [risk Music, and a variant also appears as “Black Rock,” a Mayo jig. As “Black Burke” it was found in a publication the name of which is forgotten. Our setting of this famous tune, obtained from John McFadden, consists of three instead of the ordinary version of two strains.

An uncommonly fine tune of this class, in three strains, obtained from John Ennis, is “Will You Come Down to Limerick?” Simpler versions are known to old-time musicians of Munster and Connacht, and in Chicago. Ennis had no monopoly of it, for it was well known to Delaney, Early, and McFadden. As an old-time Slip Jig it seems to have been called “The Munster Gimlet,” a singularly inapt title; but when it came into vogue by its song name, we are unable to say.

It would be too tedious to discuss in detail the many excellent and hitherto unpublished Hop Jigs gathered and printed through patient and persistent efforts maintained from year to year, so we will conclude the discussion of Jigs by a brief allusion to “The Kid on the Mountain.”

This unpublished tune in six strains was introduced among our experts by the “only” Patsy Touhey, the genial, obliging and unaffected wizard of the Irish pipes. A version of this tune, with the puzzling title, “Bugga Fee Hoosa,” I find is included among the numbers in Dr. Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.

To hear Touhey play this jig as he got it from his ancestors was “worth a day in the garden” to any one interested in the Dance Music of Ireland.

“Oft have I heard of music such as thine,

Immortal strains that made my soul rejoice,

Of wedded melody from reed and pipe, the voice,

And woke to inner harmonies divine.”

Francis O'Neill: The Police Chief Who Saved Irish Music

John Callaway narrates the fascinating story of this turn-of-the-century Renaissance man and the wide-reaching effects of his life's work.

Francis O'NeillImmigrant. World Traveler. Chicago Police Officer. Scholar. Author. Historian. Musician. Husband and father of ten children. Francis O'Neill, Chicago's Police Superintendent from 1901-05, is virtually unknown today. Yet this remarkable man not only served as a heroic police officer and reforming chief of police, but also made an enduring contribution to his native Ireland and Irish culture through the gathering and publication of the largest collection of Irish music ever assembled.

The youngest of seven children, O'Neill was born in Tralibane, County Cork, in 1848, the last year of Ireland's devastating Potato Famine. Pushed by ambition and pulled by adventure, the spirited young man passed up a chance to become a teacher. Instead, at the age of 16, he set out to seek his fortune as a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel. On one of his voyages, he met Anna Rogers, an Irish girl he then married in Bloomington, Illinois. The couple moved to Chicago soon after the Great Fire to start a family.

In 1873, O'Neill signed on as a Chicago policeman, and distinguished himself from the start. Nicholas Carolan, Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin and author of a new book on O'Neill entitled A Harvest Saved, relates: "In [O'Neill's] first month on the police force, he showed his bravery by tackling an armed burglar. He was shot, and carried the bullet encysted near his spine for the rest of his life." O'Neill's intelligence and political savvy helped him rise in the ranks quickly. In 1901, he was named General Superintendent, where he earned respect for his efforts to reform what had been a corrupt police department.

At the same time, O'Neill was also pursuing his other passion, the performance and collection of Irish music. He retained strong memories of his childhood in Ireland where he learned to play the flute and listen to the musicians at Crossroad Dances near his home. In later years, he wrote, "traditional Irish music could have survived even the famine if it had not been capriciously and arbitrarily prescribed and suppressed" by the English and some elements of the Church. O'Neill went to great lengths to unearth the music -- and musicians who could play it. Siobhan McKinney, a native-born Irish musician and co-owner with her husband Brendan of Chief O'Neill's Pub in Chicago, explains, "As soon as he heard of pipers coming to America, he would bring them all to Chicago. And immediately he would snap 'em up, put 'em on the police force, and write down their music." Historian Richard Lindberg adds, "He would travel the streetcars of Chicago in civilian clothing, listening to people on the street cars humming and whistling little tunes. He really collected these songs in much the same way an archeologists digs for things in tombs." O'Neill's great granddaughter Mary Mooney Lesch concludes: "He'd go back to his office and play them for his sergeant, who would write them down." O'Neill eventually published eight books of some 3,500 traditional Irish tunes, most of them after he retired from the police force in 1905 and could devote himself to the cause on a full-time basis. Carolan states, "It was the largest snapshot ever taken of Irish traditional music and we still have it."

Francis O'Neill is revered today, 65 years after his death, because at a critical time for Irish culture, his books helped to keep Ireland's music alive. Noel Rice, President of the Academy of Irish Music, has taught O'Neill's music to his students for the past 25 years. "He did a magnificent job. . .of gathering it together and trying to keep it from dying." Kevin Henry, an Irish piper who plays in the sessions at Chief O'Neill's Pub, says, "I have to take off my cap to the Chief; there was nobody like him." Paddy Ryan, music officer of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the organization that promotes traditional music in Ireland, concurs. He put Chicago on the map in the musical sense. Chicago is a very important place in the history of Irish traditional music. Extremely important place. Because of Francis O'Neill."

Admiration for the "Music Mad" Francis O'Neill
(from A Harvest Saved: Francis O'Neill and Irish Music in Chicago)

In all his wanderings and throughout his police career and long retirement, O'Neill was obsessed with music, 'music mad' as he said of himself. He continued with his childhood instrument the flute as his main instrument, and privately considered himself 'a fair freehand fluter.' At different times he played the fiddle, the Scottish Lowland pipes and Scottish Highland pipes on which he described himself as 'a tasty performer.' He was also 'an excellent performer on the [uilleann] pipes,' according to his friend the Rev. Dr. Richard Henebry, professor of Celtic at the University of Washington, D.C. The enthusiastic Henebry is likely to have been the anonymous admirer of O'Neill's piping made fun of by the piping historian Seamus O Casaide:

Captain O'Neill is a musician himself, and a good one. He has at least one admirer who places him above all the musicians of the world. If Paderewski were to give one of his masterly performances of a Mozart sonata, or if Kubelik were to play the Hungarian Rhapsody with that wonderful artistic feeling which is so characteristic of his work, and if one were to say to a certain distinguished votary of music, 'Isn't that exquisite?,' the chances are a hundred to one that the reply would be, 'Ah, yes, but you should hear Chief O'Neill play "The Fox Chase"!'

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, Prolific Folk Singer, Dies At 94

by Paul Brown

A tireless campaigner for his own vision of a utopia marked by peace and togetherness, 's tools were his songs, his voice, his enthusiasm and his musical instruments. A major advocate for the folk-style five-string banjo and one of the most prominent folk music icons of his generation, Seeger was also a political and environmental activist. He died Monday at age 94.

Pete Seeger came by his beliefs honestly. His father, Charles Seeger, was an ethnomusicologist and a pioneering folkorist whose left-wing views got him into trouble at the University of California, Berkeley. Charles Seeger introduced his son to some of the most important musicians of the Depression era — including and

Seeger and Guthrie eventually became fast friends — though they didn't agree on all things — and crisscrossed the country performing together. Seeger said that as early as 1941, they found themselves blacklisted as communists. Seeger actually was a member of the Communist Party in those early days, though he later said he quit after coming to understand the evils of Josef Stalin.
Pete Seeger leads the crowd at Newport Folk.

Following World War II and service entertaining the troops, Seeger teamed up with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman to form the astonishingly successful folk group . Ronnie Gilbert said that from the start, Seeger's performances were transcendent — whether you were on stage with him or in the audience.

"You got the sense that he was saying and singing way beyond the moment that he was in, the place that he was in. Alone on a stage in front of thousands of people ... everybody got it, everybody got his passion for music, his passion for being on the stage, making people sing, having people listen to each other's music. He was a passionate person, and that was what people saw. People absorbed his passion and his ideals," Gilbert says.

The Weavers' version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" hit the top of the pop charts in 1950. Other hits followed, including "On Top of Old Smokey," "So Long (It's Been Good to Know You)" and "Wimoweh."

If The Weavers hit an emotional and cultural sweet spot in postwar America, the Red Scare quickly soured it. Seeger refused to answer questions before Congress in 1955 about his political beliefs and associations. He was held in contempt and nearly served a jail sentence before charges were finally dropped in 1962 on a technicality.

But his troubles with Congress finished The Weavers as a major touring and recording group, so Seeger went out on his own again. Shut out of the big gigs, he played coffeehouses, union halls and college campuses to support his family. His wife, Toshi, managed his affairs and raised their children in the cabin they had built in Beacon, N.Y.

He co-founded and wrote for Sing Out, one of the first and most important magazines to grow out of the folk revival. He produced children's songs and books. But his commitment to political and social causes never waned. Seeger sang and marched nationwide for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. As he told NPR in 1971, "Sometimes I think [about] that old saying,'The pen is mightier than the sword.' Well, my one hope is the guitar is gonna be mightier than the bomb."

In 1968 he went local, but, of course, in a big way. Upset at the filth clogging the Hudson River near his home, he spearheaded the building of the Sloop Clearwater, which volunteers sailed up and down the Hudson. Politicians and polluters had to take notice. Seeger, not surprisingly, saw a larger purpose: "Bringing these people together, all these people, is the essential thing, and this is what the Clearwater almost miraculously has started to do on the Hudson," he said.

For all of his social activism, Seeger said more than once that if he had done nothing more than write his slim book How to Play the 5-String Banjo, his life's work would have been complete. Seeger's grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger plays banjo and performed with his grandfather. He says the paperback, which is chock-full of chords and techniques, is a challenge.

"It's not a thick book but it's thick stuff. He doesn't really explain it too well. It's sort of quick, it's got a little diagram, 'Here's how you do it.' But it's great. It's an awesome resource. I have a copy," Rodriguez Seeger says.

Not just through his books but also through his sheer force of presence, Seeger became a model for younger folk musicians. Singer and songwriter Tom Paxton said he learned invaluable lessons from Seeger about how to reach an audience. "Look 'em in the eye. Make a gesture of inclusion, which he did all the time. And above all, have a chorus," Paxton says. "So I learned from Pete to have something for them to sing."

Bringing people together and getting them to sing out may be one of Pete Seeger's greatest legacies. But when it came to saving the world, Tao Rodriguez Seeger says, his grandfather ultimately seemed to question whether the guitar was mightier than the sword.

"[It] troubled him, troubled him deeply that technology was so advanced but our emotional state was so inadequate to cope, that with a push of a button, in a fit of rage, we could wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth. And he really wanted to fix that and always felt like he failed," Rodriguez Seeger says.

But if Pete Seeger didn't save the world, he certainly did change the lives of millions of people by leading them to sing, to take action and to at least consider his dream of what society could be.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Minor Scales: Western Tonal Music

All scales in the diatonic/chromatic are constructed from a pattern of intervals. If you're not aware, our Western system of harmony consists of a chromatic scale with 12 tones:

    C - Db(C#) - D - Eb(D#) - E - F - F#(Gb) - G - Ab(G#) - A - Bb(A#) - B

The distance between these consecutive tones is known as a half step (for example, the distance from C to Db). When we use interval patterns to construct scales, the easiest unit to measure the distance between notes is by counting the number of half-steps.

With that in mind, the three minor scales - Natural Minor (Aeolian), Melodic Minor & Harmonic Minor - can be viewed as an interval pattern like the picture

In this example I used A Minor as our reference because in its natural form it has no sharps or flats. For those who can't read music, the tone names are written above the staff. If you look below the staff, you'll see a number between each note. That is the interval pattern needed to construct that scale:

    NATURAL MINOR: 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2

    HARMONIC MINOR: 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 3, 1

    MELODIC MINOR: 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1

These patterns remain consistent regardless of key. You can start on any note, and so long as you apply this interval pattern, you will have assembled this scale.


You may find that using the interval patterns is not the simplest way for you to remember the scales themselves. Here are a few tricks you can use on each scale to help you remember which is which:

Natural Minor - Natural Minor is what we call a mode of the Major Scale - specifically the 6th mode, or Aeolian. If you take any major scale, start on its 6th degree and play it up to the next 6th degree, you will have played a natural minor scale. Example:


You will notice that the note it starts on is 3 half-steps down from the scale's starting point (distance between A and C). Therefore, one simple way to figure out a natural minor scale from a major scale is to count 3 half-steps down from its starting note, or simply find the 6th note and play the major scale from there as shown in the picture.

Harmonic Minor - Harmonic Minor is the only minor scale with an interval larger than 1 whole step (two half-steps). One sure way to identify this scale is to listen for the leap between the 6th and 7th tones. The nature of that leap provides the scale with a sound that is often described as arabesque, middle-eastern, etc... This is worth noting, as harmonic minor and its modes have several names & purposes in other cultures -- especially Klezmer, the music of Eastern Europe, & India to name a few. Give the scale a listen and notice that discrepancy that sets it apart from the others.

Melodic Minor - This one is arguably the simplest. Melodic Minor is simply a Major Scale with a lowered 3rd. If you're in the key of C Major, for example, and you lower the 3rd degree of the scale (the E => Eb), you will be in C Melodic Minor - the parallel melodic minor scale of C Major.


In reference to melodic & harmonic minor scales, there are two commonly accepted "spellings" for the scales. The more traditional, which stems from the classical tradition, is to 'resolve' these two scales by playing the natural minor on the descent. The modern tradition, as is popular among jazz artists and some contemporary composers, is to play the same tones ascending and descending. The diagram below highlights these two concepts visually:

Melodic and Harmonic Scales - Jazz and Traditional

In this day and age, it is important to be aware that this discrepancy exists and be comfortable with performing them either way. In essence, there are two separate and unique ways to perform each of these scales. In an audition situation, if asked to play these scales, make sure you clarify the preferred method of performance - Traditional (resolve on descent) or Modern/Jazz (same tones on descent).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

9 Challenges The Music Industry Faces In 2014

Live music at parties and events is usually non-existent.  It's harder and harder for a musical artist to make a decent living and the internet has spawned a whole generation of consumers who believe content should be free.

The biggest need the music industry has is more ways to expose students (young and old) to the joy of playing music.  Whether it's a garage band, an orchestra, a mandolin group, or a Klezmer band, the joy of playing together is what motivates people to play.

Our success is dependent on how fully we embrace the digital lifestyle that commands so much of today's consumer spending.  This new generation (millenials) manage to find the funds to buy what they think they really need.  Right now, it's the latest iPhone or iPad, and next year it might be Google Glass or other body computing products.

The music markets are stagnant at best and many continue to shrink because music making now competes with the digital lifestyle.  It's easier to check Facebook, read a Tweet or watch a YouTube video than it is to pick up an instrument and create.

When I was a kid, cellphone and PC sales were non-existent.  Now cellphones, tablets, and laptops are allowing people to make music, videos, create new software, generate new sounds, and record.  A lot of young people are using these tools to create music.

Traditional instruments are far from dead, however we've got to recognize this technology shift and embrace it or risk missing the opportunities.  I would argue that there's as much creative energy today as there's ever been.  A lot of the music and video you hear and see today is bad.  But what's new?  Growing up, all my friends owned an instrument, and 98% of them couldn't play.  But we all wanted to have the experience.  It's the same now.

Musical industry members who can become passionate experts in particular musical genres, and the instruments that produce that music, can define themselves and become very meaningful to that particular market.

Historically musicians were focused on becoming "star" performers.  Today, we seem to be serving the "organic musician," the individual interested in the intrinsic joy of learning and playing music.

Current popular music in many genres is gravitating toward acoustic stringed instruments.  There are many young female acoustic guitarists who are nurturing an uptick in female interest.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Do I really need to read music?

I get asked this question all the time. "Why do I need to read music?"

Well, imagine if you couldn't read English. First, you wouldn't be reading this post. Imagine if someone had to read everything to you everyday, from street signs to magazines, to text messages and Facebook status updates. How would that be for you? In a word, debilitating.

Certainly there are lots of good people in the world - brilliant, even - that can't read or write. But those people, almost without exception, would encourage you not to follow their path. Reading and writing are the gateway to learning and communication on a much higher and more efficient level.

The same is true for music. Of course, there is much to be learned from listening and imitating. And there are many great musicians who never learned to read or write music. But the written version of what you're hearing can allow you to be more expressive and accurate than you could ever be without seeing it. Written music also fills in more of the "why" of the music, sort of like how books can tell you a character's thoughts, but the movie rarely can.

For my money, reading music is as critical to the musician as reading and writing your spoken language is to the average human being. Not doing it won't end your career, but gaining the skill can only make you better.

Happy reading!

Les Poules huppées

CRESTED HENS, THE (Les Poules huppées). French, Bourrée à 3 temps (3/8 time). E Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). Composed in 1983 by French...