Sunday, October 22, 2023

Off Topic - Dreams and Things


It's been a long time since the last post.  I'm still here, and still working on related projects.  Mainly the Glory Glory Dixieland version of Battle Hymn of the Republic, performed by the University of Georgia.  It's been an ongoing project for a couple of months.  I thought it would be easier, since Southern Gospel and Dixieland Jazz have some similar elements, but the differences are dramatic.  Aside from the issue of one piano trying to match the output of a whole band, the melody line is breaking my brain.  It sounds so fun, and so perfect, just to listen the the band play.  Then I try to break down the parts, and they wander over, under, in, and around the melody without actually hitting the melody, yet it all blends together and sounds fabulous as a whole.
Honestly, my hat is off to the Redcoat Marching Band.  Tons of respect for their superhuman skills!

Yesterday marked a major accomplishment.  I've finally learned the entire song.  Now, it's time to learn to play it all smoothly, as a single cohesive song, and match my timing up to the band.  I'll probably never be able to play it as fast as the band does.  I'm using two hands, and trying to manage base (which again, is more complex than Southern Gospel), back-up chords, and melody, in an impossible attempt to live up to the example set by the University of Georgia's marching band.  

In particular, I'm using the last two fingers of my right hand, with a greater spread and more complex patterns, than usual.  Resulting in a good bit of pain, especially at the base of my wrist, on the side under the pinkie finger.  Time enough to rest it later.  Right now, on a roll and want to push through. I may not be an entire band, but am pretty pleased with how the song is working out.  Even if it's slower, I'm going to practice to improve, and then record it.


In the meantime, totally off the usual topic, I'm up early this Sunday morning with a problem that wouldn't let me sleep.  Writing usually helps, and this is my blog, so I'm diverging from the beaten path today to help get this off my mind:

Woke up too early.  Restless night with a recurring dream.  Dreamed I was working a full-time job, but that wasn't the focus of the dream so I've no idea what the main job was.  This dream focused on a part-time job I went to after work.  It was run like a Blockbuster, with the checkout area very much like the old days.  The people I worked with were nice, though a little distant.  The drive was long, but it was through gorgeous wooded country roads, so overgrown it was almost tunnel-like.  As much as I hate and fear driving, this was an enjoyable trip.  Never met anybody else driving on this road. It was just me, and the days were always a pure blue color, with occasional small white clouds drifting along.  At work, it was a combination Blockbuster and old country store.  They sold an eclectic collection of things, and were rarely busy.  I might have had four co-workers, who came in at one time or another.   In the first dream, one of my co-workers had a customer who was kind of a trouble-maker, in an Andy Griffith mean-old-man kind of way.  They had to step away from the till to discuss his problem, but first he was determined to prove his identity by showing his signature, hand-scribbled on the back of the comics page from an old newspaper.  Then he went on at length about a walking cane he bought, and how much he disliked it.  He complained that it splashed him when it rained, and he'd get muddy walking along with it.  

The dream faded there, and I woke up for a while.  When I went back to sleep, the dream continued but on another day.  Same drive to work, but for some reason it was crowded and busy, and we had four lines running, each deep with people waiting their turn.  I thought to myself that I had taken this second job for added income, but also, because it was enjoyable. When it got that busy, I was regretting being there.  Then a man roughly late-30's or early-40's stepped up to my till, and before he'd tell me what he wanted, he had to go through the same rigamarole about proving his identity by showing his signature on the back of the comics page from an old newspaper.  This time around, I noticed he was using the Sunday funnies, because they were in color.  Then he had a complaint, but couldn't figure out how to tell me what it was.  He wanted me to wait there while he went outside, but the person who came back was the old man from the first dream, who also wanted to show me his signature on the piece of paper again, then launch into the same tirade about his cane.  I wondered why he hadn't returned the cane last time, took a look at the huge line of customers waiting at all the tills, and said "Oh, please, sir, not with all these people waiting. I heard the whole story the first time."  

He seemed to agree, was about to speak, and I woke up again.  I lay there a moment, trying to go back to sleep; then realized I didn't want to go back to that same dream and continue to listen about his cane.  Checked my watch, it was almost 6:00. Got up but the dream kept haunting me.  Now I'm sitting here writing it out, because it's going to haunt me until I get it written down.    

Now I'm done.  But I'm still not going back to sleep.  I quit, they can get someone else to listen to that guy complain about his cane.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Midstream Progress Report - GloryGlory Dixieland is going slow

     Last post was detailing how I use Audible to help learn new songs by ear.  In it, the example was based on the song I'm currently learning, the University of Georgia's "Glory Glory Dixieland", a really jazzed up version of the "Battle Hymn of The Republic" as performed by the Redcoat Marching Band.  (If anybody wants to hear the source material, it's on Georgia - Songs of the Georgia Bulldogs.  Just scroll down to the Dixieland version.)

    I've known the song for years from church, and have always played it in a Southern Gospel style. The song is public domain, and I've already posted a Youtube version in my usual Southern Gospel style.  When I finished learning my last song, and was considering which song to play, Monique suggested this version.  It's been on my mind, because it's fun, and sounds a lot like southern gospel style, just revved up.   All I have to do is learn to play the song like the college band does, on a piano, at the same speed they play it, and record it for Youtube...   :^)

    Okay, maybe not that simple.    With my memory, I have to learn very small segments at a time.  Been working on it since early/mid August. It's now mid September, and I've learned about 45 seconds.  The full song is a bit over 2 minutes.  On the other hand, I managed to match the single-key melody line in the middle, all the way up to where they start singing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah", so it's mostly a matter of memorizing those elements, and figuring out the fingering.

    Another aspect is the speed of the song.  I've always tended to play too fast, but these kids are too much for me.  Either my age or the complexity of the song is too much. I can't keep up.  Dixieland and Southern Gospel sound similar in some ways, but there's a wide gulf between the details of the two styles.  Probably going to have to get the song as good as possible, and settle for the best speed manageable.  It had been my intention to make a video overlaying the band with the piano, to show that my arrangement follows the band's playing properly.  May have to give up that thought.  Haven't decided yet.

    What I HAVE been able to do, is due to Audacity. It's been a Godsend.  I'm trying to pluck a consistent melody line out of a New Orleans style rendition of an entire band playing all at once, to play on one piano, with only two hands.  There's no way I can match an entire band, so it's a matter of following the notes that stand out the most.  At times they're playing way too fast for me to hear individual notes, much less focus on a single melody line.  It's like they're hitting EVERY note except the melody, but so fast that it blends INTO a melody. 
    With Audacity, it's possible to isolate a segment and listen over and over for the dominant melody.  It's possible to slow the song down while keeping the same pitch.  It's kind of like a bionic replacement for bad hearing, bad memory, and slower hands.  Audacity makes it possible for me to learn and play like I used to; just in smaller stages, at a speed I can handle.   :^)

    When I post a new song, I usually print out the sheet music for people who want to learn. In this case, after I worked out most of the song by playing along in the same key the band uses (B-flat), I discovered some band-type instruments are natively tuned to B-flat, but read the sheet music in C.  It felt like I'd put a ton of work into something that may not be usable by anybody who might like my arrangement, and I was depressed about it.

That final complication just got solved a few minutes ago.  Since the band plays Glory Glory Dixieland in B-flat, I've been playing in that key while listening/learning.  (I'm usually key-of-C, but B-flat isn't too far off for me to learn.)  Googled transposition software just now, and found there are two I already have that can do the job:

    MuseScore 4 is free, and does a wonderful job converting Midi to sheet music.  It has two drawbacks for me, though.  First, it doesn't understand all my my playing.  It sometimes messes up on grace notes, which is kind of important in Southern Gospel piano, and sometimes plays the notes slightly out of sequence.  Kind of jumbled together at the wrong pace.  Second, it doesn't retain the Sustain pedal in the Midi files created in Ableton.  It's still excellent software, and free, but has limitations that won't work for me.  In all fairness, maybe my computer's just not keeping up when the notes are garbled, but that doesn't happen in every midi player.  Some players get it right, even on my computer.

    On the other hand, Notation Musician 4 is everything I want, but it's not free:

  • It plays my style perfectly. 
  • It plays back Ableton's midi files and retains the sustain. 
  • It also converts midi into sheet music... and allows you to print the files.  
  • And it can transpose sheet music, which I only discovered this morning.  :^)
    It does far more, but these are my requirements.  No free software met all of the first three requirements.  Most paid software was either out of my price range, and/or didn't offer a free trial with the features I needed unlocked so there was no way to test it. 
    Notation Musician was still out of my price range.  But I absolutely knew it worked perfectly for my needs because they have a free trial.  It was almost $100, so I had to wait a few months, but it was worth every penny once I bought it.  And now I know how to transpose with it, so it's even better!

With all that said, I'm still not sure how much longer learning the song is going to take.  Making satisfactory progress (just slow).  But it's been so long since posting anything, I wanted to let all my readers and fans (Hi Monique!) know I'm still here!

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 mainly useful if you're struggling with memory issues and can't remember the entire song in one piece right off the bat.  Occasionally, it's exceptionally helpful to break down a too-complicated part of the music so I can hear exactly what notes they're hitting.

    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. 

    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 Hymn 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. I'm not familiar with the patterns the band is using.

    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 use it to adjust audio clips, digitize audio from very old VHS tapes, and to make sure all my audio is output in WAV.  WAV is uncompressed and lossless, and excellent for aligning a sound track with a video.  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 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 file, it will play the complete song and stop.  If you click and drag sections in the audio track, you'll highlight a portion 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.  Hovering 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.


  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% for breaking down fast segments.)  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 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 best 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.  (Unless it's original speed is too fast for me to keep up!)

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.  :^)



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