Saturday, February 25, 2012

George Harrison's Day

George Harrison’s many contributions have been generally underrated and overshadowed, in part, by the other geniuses around him...namely John Lennon and Paul McCartney. No need to go into all that here, except to say that we may have not embraced world music, meditation, yoga, and experienced epic Super Star, socially driven, ‘Live Aid’ type rock concerts without George Harrison leading the way; ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ was the very first of these.

The song ‘Sir George...Liverpool Farewell’, from the CD ‘Here Comes the Sun’, began as my sole musical tribute to George Harrison. Using the type of chords he was prone to use, diminished and augmented, chords that had fallen out of favor in pop music, gives this piece a subtle Harrison sound similar to his 70’s hit song, ‘Isn’t It a Pity’.

Later in the studio as the arrangement and production of Sir George developed, I expanded the concept of this piece as a tribute to include the other George...Sir George Martin, the brilliant producer who was instrumental in guiding the overall revolutionary sound the Beatles created in the studio.

But today is George Harrison’s here is the stripped down solo piano version of my song for the quiet, and the spiritual Beatle...the late and very great, George Harrison!

P.S. If you are interested in the spiritual side of George Harrison, I can highly recommend the book ‘Everyday Mystic’...and I may write a review of that for another blog entry in the future.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Little Bit About Melody

The melody of your song is what most people will remember, and really is the heart and soul of the composition.  There are a few rules and guidelines that help in writing a good melody.  Ask yourself, is it catchy and singable?

This can be equated with repetition and flow.  Does it have shape, develop thematically, and is it dynamic?  The bottom line is does it create an emotional response?  Does it tell a story and invite listeners on a journey?  And most importantly, can you hum or whistle your melody when away from the piano? 

Getting started.

Nothing replaces the ‘inspired’ melody, but that is between you, your soul, and your imagination.  While you are waiting for inspiration to strike, sometimes a simple chord progression will give you a clue to help start your melody, other times, it may just be more intuitive.  Improvising over a chord progression, or just humming or playing along until an interesting phrase catches your ear can also be a good way to start.  Be aware that melodies don’t always start at the piano.  They may pop into your head at anytime or, anywhere!  Although we want some repetition, it’s a fine line between catchy, and annoying so we need to give it SOME variety as well.  Changing dynamics within the melody, loud and soft accents, using harmonic and key changes, speeding up, slowing down, pauses, playing some sections in a different rhythm while keeping the same notes etc. and adding harmony to some of the notes to create texture are things to keep in mind. 

Rhythm is a very key element of your melody!

Try tapping out the melody as if it is being played on a drum.  Does is flow and have a groove, or does it seem a little jumpy?  If the song is an instrumental, and your melody seems a little awkward, you might try making up words just to see how it sings.  If you are writing lyrics, try removing any words that are not absolutely essential.  You might need to even out your melody.  Often times just changing the rhythm by removing (or adding notes) can smooth it out, but less is usually more.

I have spent years listening to the melodies of many great songwriters, analyzing those, and then writing my own.  Keep listening to uncover the patterns and shapes great melodies have in common and in the process discover what you like and don’t like about certain melodies and of course keep writing your own! 

A little analysis.

In the song 'Cristofori's Dream' the melody is based on the scale tones of the key it is written, D-minor.  The verse uses the harmonic minor scale (D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C#), notice the melody follows these scale tones with a certain amount of repetition.  For a melody to really work, it has to have some degree of repetition.  Here the first 3 notes are repeated 3 times and then it continues up the scale adding a little variety and theme development.  Once the melody is stated, it repeats itself. Then the melody gets repeated again in the key of A-minor, and then the D-minor and the A-minor melodies are repeated AGAIN in a lower octave...repetition!  The melody of the chorus brings in chord tones (i.e. D-F#-A) which blend and flow nicely with the scale tones.  Writing large interval jumps in the melody usually is not a good idea.  The melody should be singable, and too many large jumps will make it awkward generally speaking.  That being said, in the song ‘Return to the Heart’, the melody begins with an octave jump from E up an octave to E ( Key of A Major).  This resolves to the 3rd of the key (C#) and is repeated 3 times.  The sound is pleasant and still melodic, so there are exceptions to every rule.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Using Your Musical Influences to Energize Your Piano Playing!

Your musical role models can inspire and impact how you play, perform, and if you dare...  how you might compose your own music!

Like the effect of our primary relationships with parents and families, our earliest relationships with music runs deep and may leave lasting impressions.

Among my influences in this regard, was the Beatles’ genius song writing team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and band mate George Harrison.   

Numerous books and articles have been written pointing out the influence of the Beatles on modern day music, and their effect can be heard in the recordings of many contemporary music makers.   

(A case in point are my two latest projects, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, and the 2010 release, ‘Liverpool, Re-Imagining the Beatles’.)

It is very flattering to hear that my own original music and style of playing has been a strong influence on many other pianists. However this is cause for me to point out my own, as well as my role model’s musical roots, so that all these elements may be uncovered, explored, and understood more fully.

Looking closely at the Beatles, you will find they were highly influenced by American Rhythm & Blues Rock and Roll, Big Band, and English Dance Hall music.  

Some of the classical touches in their recordings, like the string quartet used in the songs Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby, were due in large part to their producer, George Martin, who’s own classical training and roots mingled with the Beatles song writing, and studio experimentation, helping to shape their overall sound.

This classical influence I heard in the Beatles, and in other 60¹s rock recordings, later helped re-kindled my love for the real classical masters, which in turn had a definite effect on my approach to composing for the piano.

I guess you could say that the Beatles brought me back to Beethoven :-)

It is an interesting journey tracing back your own musical roots, but very important to also follow and identify your role model’s role models.

As a teenager when I listened to the Beatles, I was not aware of all the different ingredients in their sound...but like a good stew, many ingredients come together to make up the whole. And in turn, if we can trace back our influences, this process will enrich our experience and deepen our appreciation for what has come before.

I point all of this out to encourage you to allow different musical styles and composers, to inspire and shape your own musical pursuits, not only in learning to play their music, but even trying your hand at composing with these different styles and influences in mind.

It may take you years of playing, as it did for me, to discover your own unique musical voice, but by playing music you love, experimenting with writing your own, and challenging yourself by trying different styles of playing, you can keep your enthusiasm and excitement for the piano alive and well!

David Lanz