Sunday, August 27, 2023

Play by Ear Using Audible With Complex Multiple-Instrument Music

     Not sure if that's the clearest title ever.  In case it's not clear enough, this article explains the process by which I learn a song by ear, when the song has a full band playing several (or many) instruments.  Especially if they're being jazzy and the melody switches between instruments, while they're all playing at the same time.  Even more so if I'm trying to play it in the original fashion, instead of in my own style.  I'm assuming that you already play by ear, and can pick out a melody by listening to the original music.  My rule of thumb used to be, if I can whistle it, I can play it.  These days, there's a caveat... I also have to be able to remember the whole tune without forgetting what it sounded like.  This is the process I follow when simply hearing a song isn't enough to be able to play it back.  It's especially useful if you're struggling with memory issues and can't remember the entire song in one piece right off the bat.

    Case in point, I'm trying to learn the University of Georgia Bulldogs "Glory Glory Dixieland" at the moment.  I've played my own version of Battle Hymn of the Republic for years, in a Southern Gospel style.  There's some commonality with Dixieland, but a lot of differences too.  Since I'm trying to learn it in order to help a friend play it, it's necessary to be as exact as possible with the melody, which is where memory loss can really complicate learning a new song.

    Most of the time, I learn by listening, matching the keys, doing a ton of repetition to help remember the melody.  Easy enough, the only hard part is matching the key if it's not one I'm good at, and remembering the full melody if it's not a tune I already know well.  But this version of the Battle Hymm is in a key I'm not great with... and the melody drifts in and out with the different instruments like a fox laying a trail for the hounds. 

    There might be better options, but I'm a big fan of "Free", and Audible is free, open source, and a fantastic audio editor.  As usual, I only learn what I need as it's needed. Audible is way beyond me in all the many things that it can do, it helps to focus just on the useful parts.  I mainly use it to edit audio clips, digitize audio from analog sources, and to make sure all my audio is output in WAV.  WAV is uncompressed and lossless, and excellent for audio editing.  Learning to play a song with Audible is a new process for me, but as I get older and my memory declines, it's become a great help for learning songs in smaller chunks of sound.  And in the case of "Glory Glory Dixieland", slowing the audio down enough to hear the distinct notes being played is a Godsend.

    When a song doesn't have a clear melody being played by a single instrument, listening to a small segment over and over will also help you pick out which line you prefer to follow.  In "Glory Glory Dixieland", at times there's kind of a jumble of sound.  I'll listen to it until one part stands out over another part, and pick that as the melody to follow.

    To start, open Audible and load the music file.  If you simply play the song, it will play the complete file and stop.  If you click and drag in the audio track, you'll highlight a section of the audio.  Now when you play, it will play the highlighted section and stop.   At the end of the playback controls, clicking on the "Loop" command will add  a looping region that matches your highlighted section. (It shows as two bars in the timeline above the audio track.) Now it can play that one loop over and over, and you can focus on that one brief clip until you've figured out the notes you need.  

   Right click on the loop track, select clear, and you can choose another section to highlight.  Or select either side of the selected range and drag to reposition them. Listening to the music, piece by piece, you can learn the entire song in this fashion.  

    If the music is fast, or too complex at normal speed, you can slow it down.  For a quick fix, there's an information line below the tracks, and in that line you'll see a green arrow.  Hoving over it shows "Play-At-Speed."  To its right, you can change the speed it plays back by sliding the button.  This will change playback speed on the fly.  It's great if you just need a quick comparison, but as you change the speed, the pitch will also change.  Meaning it won't play back in the same key.


  I like to highlight the entire audio track, and from the "Effect" dropdown menu, choose "Change Tempo."  This will let you adjust the speed to your liking.  (I like to reduce the speed by about 30%.)  If you click "Preview", you can hear a short sample with the new setting.  If the new speed sounds right, click "Apply." Now you have the entire song slower, but still playing in the original key!

    Save your work when it's done processing.  I export a WAV file, then save a "Project" file.  If you want to change the speed again at a later point, reload your original audio and make the change.  Reason being, changing the tempo while keeping the pitch results in artifacts in the file.  I haven't noticed them at one iteration, but the Audible website says it gets worse with each iteration, like making a xerox copy, then a copy of the copy, then a copy of the copy... it winds up losing a lot of quality.

    Now it's just a matter of learning the song at an easier pace.  Choose a small segment, listen over and over until you can match it.  If there's too many instruments, keep replaying the section, but listen for a melody that stands out over the rest of the instruments.  When you're trying to convert a whole band into a single person playing on the piano, you have to choose which parts work and which parts aren't necessary.  I'll learn several segments, then practice playing them all in one run, then adjust the highlighted playback to the longer segment, and learn to play all those parts in time with the audio clip.  I'll learn the song as I go, and wind up being able to play along with the original music at it's original pace.  

As always, I'm primarily writing this to accommodate my own memory loss.  If the time comes I can't remember how, this guide will remind me.  If it helps anybody else, that makes it even better.  :^)



Friday, August 18, 2023

Dealing With Lifechanging Events

 And now for something completely different:
As of August 11, 2023, exactly one week ago today, I retired.

    "Retired" is a tricky word.  A year ago, I went from full-time at my job, to part-time.  Voluntarily, in an attempt to reduce stress, and focus more on my time with Monique.  We tried calling it 'retirement', but that didn't sit well.  Settled on calling it 'semi-retirement'.  Seemed more accurate.

    Now I've given up the job, retirement still isn't exactly the right word.  I'm in my 60's, so retiring is age-appropriate.  But what really happened is I stopped working at the paper, and started working full-time with Monique.  We can't afford to actually retire.  I'm calling it retirement, but what it means is "working full-time on eBay to make ends meet."  One week in, and we're starting to figure out the shape of our future.  It's great to spend a whole day focused on eBay, but as it turns out, other needs continue, as they always have, to interrupt our plans.  Some things will need to become part of the permanent routine.  Others are one and done. The cost of... everything... will keep going up.  The unplanned-for continues to surprise us.  :^)

    So a week into our new normal, I have to say I'm liking it a lot.  Working at the paper was a good job.  And the people I worked with... really great.  As in, I've only been gone a week and really miss getting to see everybody while we did our daily work.  I miss the job itself, but not nearly as much as I miss the people.  Over the years, the job changed to deal with all the changes in the industry.  Newspapers went from being powerful, to struggling to hang on.  Many couldn't, and closed.  The paper I worked for was a labor of love, and our leadership worked extremely hard, and very creatively, to keep the doors open.  We continue to succeed, where so many haven't.  And of course, the aftermath of Covid had an indelible impact, personally and professionally.  For a long time, I adapted.  Not always willingly, but always got there in the end.

    It helped when I went part time last year, but change kept happening.  People I care about move on, the job itself continued to change.  I found myself struggling, and failing, to adjust.  The merry go round wasn't fun anymore and I was ready to leave the circus behind.  My willingness to change, and keep changing, was gone.  A good friend put it bluntly, telling me I was burnt out.  Sounds about right. 

    Monique and I talked it over a lot.  I tried to hang in as long as possible, but more and more, the thought of dropping out and spending all my time with Monique sounded better and better.  We planned and prepared as much as possible.  Decided we needed a trial run.  A week off of work, to see how it would go.  Gave my manager (another very good friend) a rather indeterminate heads up that Monique and I were considering making the leap.  Found out later she thought I was literally turning in my resignation on the spot.  We cleared that up, I promised her at least a month's notice.

    Spending that week with Monique was awesome.  It convinced us I could make the switch, treat eBay as seriously as any other job. It also convinced us both that it was time, so when the vacation was over, I gave just over a month's notice.  The timing was serendipitous.  That month and a few days made my final day at work a Friday, and Saturday would be Monique's birthday.  It seemed appropriate to celebrate both events together.

    The anticipation was keen.  It was hard to delay that month, but I also didn't want to leave my friends behind.  There were discussions about ways of keeping me on in some capacity, but the upshot was, I'm more than happy to give advice, share expertise, and will always pick up the phone when my friends call, but not for pay.  My paid job is eBay, and I need to treat it like a job.  But I'm always glad to hear from friends, and to feel needed.

    They threw an amazing farewell party.  I've worked with people (yes, more friends) for 15 years that I never met face to face - some of them made the trip to the office just to say goodbye, and share a hug.  I tried to search out everybody and tell them how great they've been.  Then it was over.  Did a few last jobs, because they were there and I didn't want to leave Joy with any of my unfinished work.

    Now, a week later, I had an epiphany:
I left the job while I was still good at it, and would be remembered fondly.  

    If I'd stayed, my ability to do the job would have diminished, my anger and stress would have grown, and nobody would have liked me any more, not even me.  Carol Burnett had a very successful entertainment show for years, and it was still going great when she decided to stop.  As she said, "I thought it was much classier for me to say bye-bye first.”  I agree.  

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