Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Hello to CILLA in CHINA?

Looks like I have a fan in China???

I wish I could leave a comment at that blog, but if you read this, Cilla:

Thank you!

Friday, 26 December 2008

All songs for download in a zip file

approx 80 mb. 192 kbps. enjoy!




Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Song 24 in Fm/Everything is gonna be all right

Song 24 in Fm/Everything is gonna be all right

A little something special! I'll be doing an epilogue later on, stay tuned.

Merry X-mas everybody!!!

Vocals by Trine S. Kvaloe (that's my missus!)
Guitars by Per Stornes
Shaker by Mac Hine

Words and music by Per Stornes, copyright 2008.

Everything is gonna be all right

Tell me have you ever been alone at night
Feeling only darkness and despair
You're in so deep
You could not sleep, or even weep
And life was so much more than you could bear

I wish that I could come to you and comfort you
I'm wishing there was something I could do
But all I got are words
That you already heard
Still I have to say that it is true

For as long as you are living
You must never stop believing
Everything is gonna be all right
No more pain and no more sorrow
We will work it out tomorrow
Everything is gonna be all right

Song 23 in F major

Song 23 in F major (mp3 file)

Solo nylon string guitar.

I'm drawing near the end of this project, and I'm happy that I managed to pull it off this far, hopefully without embarassing myself too much.

This one has sort of a classical, christmasy mood somehow, more so than any of the other songs. F major to me is sort of a stately key. I originally fooled around with some sort of ragtime idea, but it wasn't working out. Instead I reverted to one of my favorite tricks: spread-out triad voicings on nylon string guitar. I've been doing so much steel string work so far, so it felt good to go back a little bit. I had to record the guitar through the built-in mic, and I was in a hurry, so it is not the most polished performance. A slight feeling of fatigue is also settling in.

I've got something special coming for you on the 24th, though, stay tuned!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Song 22 in Ab major

Song 22 in Ab major (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

This one came out very spontaneously. I was thinking about doing something jazzy, but that didn't work out. I started fooling around with an Abmaj7 chord voicing with an open G-string, and the sound appealed to me. Then I tried a Db major chord with the open G string added, which yields a Dbadd#11. I would never have come up with these sounds in any other key, I think, although I've used the same device of adding open strings to chords in other keys before. The whole tune consists of these two chords, and I more or less improvised a melody on top when it came time to do the lead guitar. Very smooth sounding, but I'm not adverse to doing that once in a while. I wish I could have recorded on a real mic, but due to circumstances beyond my control, that has been hard to do for the last few days.

Song 21 in C minor

Song 21 in C minor (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

And now, for something completely different! I just could not resist the urge to do this sort of polka-ish piece. It was done very quickly too, one take for each of the guitars, and then I just had to do a little bit of editing for the intro.

I'd like to dedicate this to Stig for his 60th birthday - hope you have a good one, flu or no flu!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Song 20 in F sharp major

Song 20 in F# major (mp3 file)

Solo steel string guitar.

This song sort of embodied the idea behind the project. I wanted to write a song for solo guitar in F# that brought out sounds that you would not hear in any other key. I came up with the first chord: F# on the 4th string, C# on the 3rd string, open B string, and A# on the 1st string. It's sort of a sus chord, except both the third AND the fourth interval are included in the chord, maybe F#add4 (or 11, whichever way you want to look at it) is a better name. You could get that voicing in other keys as well, but the open B string adds a nice clustery ring to the proceedings.

Then I did something that I very rarely do: Sort of Chet Atkins solo guitar with alternating bass. I never really got into playing that style, maybe because it resembles classical guitar in that it requires a lot of discipline, and leaves less room for improvisation (unless you're really good at it, like Australian Tommy Emmanuel, who is a monster at this style.) The first part was not so tricky to get working once I practiced a little bit. But then I wanted to bring it up an octave for the second part, and that resulted in some very awkward fingerings. DAMN hard to get right. I could probably get it 100% right if I practiced for a few months, but... I had to settle for just getting by. Needed to record that part separately and edit it in. The whole track is made up of three separate takes: the first half, the second part where it goes up an octave, and then the outro. Should not be too hard to spot the edits.

The tune is perhaps not all that original, but it brought out a different side of me, and I think it has a sound and timbre that is a little unusual. Wish I could have nailed it in one take, though!

Song 19 in E minor

Song 19 in E minor (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

A riff I liked and a little improvisation. I had to edit it a little bit, so it's not as coherent as it could have been... but I liked the overall mood.

Will have to make more notes later!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Song 18 in B major

Song 18 in B major (mp3 file)

Notes later!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Song 17 in Db minor

Song 17 in Db minor (mp3 file)

Steel string and electric guitar.

Okay, it's time for some instrumental rock - well, sort of. This is the first tune of this batch to feature overdriven lead guitar, which was like my favorite thing to do once - in excess, too. Now, Itry to restrain myself a little bit, because it is so easy to get carried away with this kind of sound... and I do it too sometimes... But this song called for some screaming guitar, altough I tried to hold back a little bit.

I had an idea for C# minor (had to rename it Db to avoid screwing up blog links, because the "#" sign has special meaning in links...) which I decided was too much like the folk/minor/russian/swedish type things I've done before. Then I started fooling around with another one of my other favorite tricks, which is strumming with open drone strings. C# minor lends itself beautifully to this. The chords are C#m (open 1 string) - Badd11 (open 1st and 2nd strings throughout) - F#m7add11 - Aadd9 and Badd11. The chorus starts with an E instead of C#m. I liked the change from B to F#m. After figuring out the chords and the beat, I knew there was a melody waiting to be discovered, and I labored with it for a while before I arrived at what you're hearing here.

Once more, I had to record using the internal mic of the steel string, but it seems to work rather well in this context. I added some chorusing for a sort of 12-string effect. The lead guitar is my Ibanez ES copy, through a Fender Cyber Deluxe in the higain "tweed" setting. All effects were added in the mix.

After struggling a bit for the past few days, I felt reasonably good about this one. I think I might return to this idea later on, it would be fun to hear this with a full band...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Song 16 in Db major

Song 16 in Db major (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

Okay, I made it! The power supply on my main computer died today, so I had to go out and get a new one in the time I had set aside to record. Now, I've got an old computer in another room, which I use for practicing sometimes. I can record on that one as well, but there IS a difference between my digi001 soundcard and a regular old soundblaster... There's also the issue of moving and setting up the microphone, plus the old box is REALLY noisy. So that means if I'm going to record, it's more practical to use some sort of direct input.

Now, I had a little time before I could go get a new power supply, so I decided to jot down some ideas very quickly on the old box, using the built-in piezo mic... I have tried to avoid using it for serious recording. As it turned out, I had to use that recording for this project. That means that what you're hearing is a built-in piezo mic recorded through a soundblaster card. And in that respect, it doesn't sound too bad!

I originally planned to do something jazzy for Db major, but the idea I had in mind wasn't working, so I decided to cheat a little bit. I put on a capo on the 6th fret and starting fooling around with G, C and D chord shapes, which transposes to Db, Gb and Ab in concert pitch. In addition to not having to think so much about awkward fingerings, the use of a capo in this way also has a sonic impact. Regular chord shapes take on a new sound, often resulting in a crisp and sparkling sound, which is ideal for strumming. (A little bit mandolin-like, actually.) One of my favorite uses of this technique is "Here comes the sun" by the Beatles. It also works great if there are two guitar players, with one playing regular fingerings, and the other with a capo.

For the melody, I decided it should be played in the lower register, and to get that crisp sound that I like best for this type of music, I decided to play the melody with the capo at the first fret, giving me access to well known C major scale fingerings, with the notes on the first fret becoming "open" strings. I think I recycled some melody ideas from one of my older tunes, it's hard to know when you're trying to do something new every day!

I needed to edit the recording quite a lot, and since it wasn't recorded to a click, I feared it might be difficult to patch things together. As it turned out, it was pretty straight forward. The main problem was that I tried doing an improvised solo that wasn't working, so I took one bit from that which I sort of liked, and then I edited in some bits from the melody line, so it ends up being more of a variation than a separate part.

In the end, I think it turned out OK, at least I managed to rustle up a slightly different sound, although it isn't all that original in terms of melody.

Now, we'll have to see what tomorrow brings...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Song 15 in Bb major

Song 15 in Bb major (mp3 file)

Two electric guitars.

Looks like I will have to updates in the evening!

I've been thinking about things I would like to do within the confines of this project, and I decided I needed a little more blues. The blues has been a BIG part of my musical life. First, through rock music (Hendrix, Zeppelin, Clapton), then through the people who invented the genre (Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King, and many more). Then, I got interested in jazz music, where the blues is much more sophisticated. My first exposure to this was through playing in a big band, then I started listening to the jazz cats, and there's lots of blues in Charlie Parker's music to name one, and later on I became enamored with Monk and Mingus, people who have a strong, if very different, blues tinge in their music. Then I got into people like Robben Ford, who fused the energy of electric blues with the sophistication of jazz, and that's something I really enjoy.

Bb is a key that's very much used for jazz blues playing, but very rarely in "original" blues. But I decided I wanted to do a blues piece in Bb, trying to combine different shades of blues. There are three sections. The first features slide guitar in open Bb tuning, which is rather uncommon. But with the way my guitar is set up, it proved a good choice for slide playing, because the strings need to be rather stiff and tight for slide playing, and Bb meant raising some strings as much as three semitones! This is meant to represent a real old-timey blues feel, although it's done with electric guitar and some effects. (People will probably bring up the Ry Cooder reference, which is fine by me.) Then the second section features some 50/60's Chicago/Texas blues feel, with boogie type comping and three chords only. The last section brings in a jazzier feel, with extended chords. The whole thing is quite spontaneous, I did one or two takes of each of the "feels", and edited them together after the fact. But it's a fair representation of what I sound like when I'm fooling around. I hear many many things that could be improved, but this is about as good as I am when the red light's on!

A tech note: All the effects (reverb and tremolo) you hear on the track came directly from my guitar amp. The only thing I added was a little bit of compression to even out the sound levels.

That's it!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Song 14 in D minor

Song 14 in D minor (mp3 file)

Two (or maybe three) nylon string guitars.

I'm in a hurry today, so I had to cheat a little bit. Will have to post an explanation later! See you tonight:-)

Okay, I'm back! Today's cheat: this is actually an old recording, from around 2004 I think, but it was never published anywhere, I just think that one of my friends received it by e-mail. However, I had actually been thinking about using this particular tune. But my intention was to rerecord it, I was never 100% happy with the performance and arrangement, or the sound. It was recorded using a piezo mic (installed in the guitar's bridge), and although I can get a decent sound, it does not really compare with a real mic, which I've actually got now! (My Røde K2 is a pretty decent tube mic.)

But the alternative was to not post anything at all, and I figured it was decent enough to use, even with the reservations noted.

I couldn't find the original multitrack session, so this is an old mix that I tried to brush up ever so slightly with a couple tricks I've learned since 2004. I haven't listened that closely, but I think there might actually be three guitars towards the end. I did one track of drop D tuning, you can hear the low bass towards the end. My philosophy is really to try to get as much as possible out of as little as possible, so three tracks of guitar is really a little too much.

What can you say about D minor that puts it more succintly than the great Nigel Tufnel of legendary heavy rock band "Spinal Tap": "D minor is the saddest of all keys".

Friday, 12 December 2008

Song 13 in Eb minor

Song 13 in Eb minor (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

For this one, I've also managed to make a music video with my mobile phone, featuring my boy Erik!

I've been looking at the lists of songs that I've got left to do, as well as the ones that I've finished. While looking at the list, I quickly decided to do a little tribute to Django Reinhardt in Eb minor. I proceeded to sit down and write the tune in five minutes or so. Funny how some things
have to be labored over, and how some things just come out.

My chops are not quite at their peak for doing uptempo jazz, so there are a few warts along the way. I'm reasonably proud, though, that I didn't have to do a lot of editing for this one. The rhythm guitar was pretty much a first take. For the lead guitar, I did one take of intro, melody and outro.

For the solo, I had one almost complete take (the third one, I think) that I just needed to fix a couple bars of. Although this is sort of Django-esque in style, my playing is nowhere near the virtuosity that Django and other top dogs in "jazz gitane" display. For Norwegians, this style is probably best well known through the "Hot Club de Norvege", featuring Jon Larsen on guitar. He's no slouch either, let me tell you.

It felt good doing something more upbeat after all these ballads!

PS. The "cafe noises" at the beginning were created at home by yours truly and my better half:-D

Song 12 in A minor

Song 12 in A minor (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

Okay, I'm struggling a little bit here. This is more like an etude, I guess, than a "real" tune. I'm fooling around with the circle of fifths, as I was yesterday doing A major. It's more or less the same progression though. It's been used in thousands of songs.

I found it hard to come up with something original here, but this is what I had time to do. It sounds pleasant enough, but that's about all it does too! I'm a little pressed for time now, so see you later. Got something sorted for tomorrow I hope, but things are a bit busy here, so I fear I might fall behind schedule. Will have to wait and see how it turns out!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Song 11 in A major

Song 11 in A major (file)

For two steel string guitars.

A is one of those very guitar-friendly keys, yet I still had a hard time coming up with something. Maybe it's because I'm in the middle of a marathon, and it's hard to come up with something new every day. I started fooling around with the circle of fifths, which is like the mother lode of almost all modern western music. Then I started fooling around with some of my favorite chord voicings for "pure" major and minor chords, where you play the root, the fifth and then the third in the octave above (also called a tenth interval). Once you start moving these chord around, you get some nice inversions too, which have the nice quality of sound full and fat, even though there are only three notes in the chord. So I cooked up a chord progression with these ingredients, and then I recorded it. Then (and only then!) came the task of cooking up a melody that would fit these chords. I picked up on the first idea that came to mind, and started recording.

I also had this other idea laying around, where I would exploit an open A chord voicing with an added 9th (a sound I've been using quite a lot lately...), added some hammer-ons and pull-offs for a very "guitaristic" sound. I wasn't able to develop that into something further, but I decided to try to use it as an intro and outro. (The missus disapproved of the idea.) After some heavy editing I was left with the piece as you have it here. It has something of a "swedish" sound to me.

Not a very original work by any means, but for cooking up something out of thin air, I could have done worse. The most frustrating bit is that because the composer hasn't fleshed out the form or the arrangement totally before the performer stars recording, so the engineer has to spend a little too much time cutting and splicing together parts, and it's a bit laborius. I'm glad I'm not doing hip hop or electronica, where almost EVERYTHING is a result of heavy editing sessions. I much prefer playing a song from start to finish, and know where I want to go next.

Now, I have no idea what to do next - we'll see tomorrow!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Song 10 in D major

Song 10 in D major (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

Phew, I managed to deliver before midnight! This time around, I'm using a different tuning on my guitar. It's called "Drop D", which simply means the low string which is normally tuned to E is detuned two half steps to D. D major has a crisp sound, lots of open strings, and the third (F#) of the tonic chord (D itself) is often played on the first string, which gives a bright and snappy sound. With the added low D, you get a nice fat bottom end to go with the crispness. Also, you get a sound that is suitable for fingerpicking, although I don't apply that so much here.

This tune was written for this project. It's a variation on a simple idea, which is first played solo in the low register, at at free tempo, and then I do the same melody in a higher register with a more uptempo groove. I like the sound you get when you start whacking that basic D chord (the first one I learned) with the added boom of the low D. You can have the open A string ring along too, so you get a nice fat fifth interval in the bottom end of the chord too. You have to figure out new fingerings for lots of chords, but that's just fine. All the chords seem to change their sound when you change the tuning, so it's definitely a good way to find some new inspiration.

There's definitely something folksy about this sound, with just a hint of the blues thrown in I think. I only had a very short time to record this, and it took some editing to sort out the structure, but all in all I didn't think it was too bad for a total of about two hours work of recording and editing.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Song 9 in Eb major

Song 9 in Eb major (mp3 file)

Two electric guitars.

And now, for something completely different! I decided to dig out my electric guitar for this one. It's a jazzy blues with a slightly warped turnaround, I haven't counted the bars, but I think it might be a 14-bar blues or something. I was fooling around with the intro chords, decided I liked the sound of them, and then decided they would fit nicely into a blues. It's been a while now since I dug into the blues. I like mixing jazz and blues, but I need to hone my jazz skills... Some slightly advanced harmony going on here that I would like to take more advantage of.

The intro goes something like this: Cm7 - Abm7 - Ebadd9/G - F#m6 - Fm7 - Bb7sus - Eb6.

Doing a song like this, I would really prefer to have a full band, but I've decided (at least for now) against using any programmed drums or bass.

Eb is one of those "unguitaristic" keys, the only open string is the G string, and you have to play almost every chord with some sort of bar chord. Since Eb is a good key for horns, it's pretty common in jazz, so I thought it natural to explore a jazzy sound for this key.

Song 8 in Bb minor

Song 8 in Bb minor (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

Another minor key tune, but this one is a little off the wall. This one is based around a short melody line. Unusual for me, I've use my audio editing software as a composition tool, as I've taken the phrase and chopped it up and moved it around. For variation, I threw in a slower improvised section in the middle. I'm not an expert at this kind of thing, but it's fun to fool around with, although time-consuming. I guess I could have arrived at the same results more or less by arranging everything before recording, but I've only got a short time where the house is quiet enough that I can set up the mic and record. If I don't finish everything in time, I've got to sit down with the headphones on later on and try to sort it out.

This is not perfectly executed by any means, both in terms of playing or editing. The missus didn't like it too much, but what can you do? ;-)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Song 7 in B minor

Song 7 in B minor (mp3 file)

Solo steel string guitar.

The picture shows the view from my window while recording this one. It's pretty cold, around -5C, but the air is quite dry and not windy, and we get a little sunlight, plus the snow brights up the landscape, so it's not the worst of winter conditions!

I originally wanted to alternate strictly between major and minor key songs, but due to the logistics of this operation, it seems I have to change my plans. My thumb is doing OK, but it's still covered in band-aids, which has meant postponing a couple faster songs which happened to be in major keys.

This song is more a collage of ideas than a finished work, really. The first theme is another one of those where the chords move in the typical tonic (root/Bm) to dominant fifth (F#7 with an A# bass) fashion . As I noted in a previous post, this is a device which comes oh so naturally when you're fooling around in a minor key. Now, it is what I came up with, so I had to use it! The next theme expands a little on the harmony, going Bm-F#7-G-Em-Bm-F#7-Bm for the ending. Then I return to the first theme for a reprise.

The third theme borrows rather heavily from the norwegian folk tune "Haavard Hedde", but I liked the combination of the melody and the ascending bass line.

The last theme has an arpeggio feel with some descending bass lines, where I try to employ open strings where I can for a maximum legato effect.

I might revisit some of these ideas later on and develop them a bit more. As it is, it is pleasant enough sounding, but as I noted in the beginning, it's not a fully formed composition.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Song 6 in G# minor

Song 6 in G# minor (mp3 file)

Solo steel string guitar.

You might notice that the file refers to Ab minor instead of G#. You CAN use both terms. The reason I used Ab for the url was that internet addresses can't contain # signs. But the reason that I use G# minor for the NAME is that G# minor contains 4 sharps, whereas technically, Ab is the parallel key of Cb, which has SEVEN flats. It's easier for me to think of 4 sharps and than 7 flats. Cb is the same note as B, but this has to do with musical notation. It's a complicated subject. Look it up on Wikipedia if you like!

This is the slowest and perhaps darkest piece yet. I chanced upon the sound of the first two chords, which I liked the sound of, and took the rest from there. It's Abm to G6, I liked the contrary motion of the bass and the upper voices. This was written for this project, and I think I might keep working on this piece later on, because I rather liked a few of the ideas, but I don't think I've finalized the form of the tune. Also, it was tricky getting the performance just right. A few awkward stretches and fingerings going on here.

I'll leave it at that. Have a nice weekend, I've got one in the can for tomorrow!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Song 5 in C major

Song 5 in C major (mp3 file)

Solo steel string guitar.

Okay, it's back to the ballads. This one was written specifically for this project. It is rather simple, as it is really based one just one single idea. I wish I could elaborate more on the theme, but that's the nature of doing a project like this. This is what I came up with in the time I had available. As such, I was pleased by it. It doesn't sound all that original, in fact I kept thinking that it's like my version of "Blackbird" by the Beatles. I use a sixth interval that moves up and down the scale over a drone. But whereas "Blackbird" is in G major, and has the root note as a drone, this one is in C, and it still uses the G as a drone, but in this context it functions as the fifth interval, which gives a slightly different sound. I had to alter the harmony a bit for the lowest notes, it sounds a little bit clunky, but so be it.

When I listened back to the solo pieces for steel string guitar I've done, it struck me that it sounds quite a lot like a harpsichord, especially this one, which has a little bit of a classical flavor to it. I'm still working on how to record this guitar. I wish I had a better room for recording my acoustic guitars, as it is, I am sitting in my living room, and you can hear the computer whizzing in the background. The proximity and the position of the mic alters the sound a big deal, as well as the sound of the room itself. I think it might be better to place the mic a little further away from the guitar, but the room is so big and lively sounding that the mic starts picking up a lot of reflections from the walls, the floor and the roof. Also, more distance means more background noise.

Anyway, that was today's tune, gotta get back to working on the next one!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Song 4 in F# minor

Song 4 in F# minor (mp3 file)

Two steel string guitars.

Okay, it's time to turn up the heat a little bit! This one has a decidely non-authentic latin flavor to it. (I make no claims to being an expert on Latin music. Maybe someone can tell me if there's even a name for this style?) It was written expressly for this project. I came up with the main riff while fooling around last week or so, and the melody was done by using that old songwriter's trick called "sequencing", where you just take the melody and move it up and down the scale, like in that old chestnut "Autumn Leaves". The middle section which goes in E major I probably stole from someone.

It's not really a good idea to record something just after you're written it, unless you're just doing it to document your ideas. To get a good performance, you should work on the song for a while and let it sink in. That's a kind of luxury I can't afford while doing this project, so it took a few takes to finish this! I'm happy that I managed to do it in continous single takes for each of the guitar tracks, so I didn't have to start splicing and editing. Sometimes that takes longer than just doing a new take...

I also snuck in a little improvised solo. I've been focusing on songwriting lately, so improvising has gone on the back burner. And as is often the case, Per the composer came up with some tricky chords for Per the improviser. The first part goes F#m to D (sort of), which is simple enough. But then it goes D6 to Dm6, F#m to F#m6, Ddim7 to C#7, rather quickly too I might add. Not my best solo ever, but since I wanted to do the track without a lot of editing, I found it acceptable.

The initial riff certainly came about because I was fooling around in F#m, but then I changed the fingering. The F#m to D chord change sounds pretty good in this key, but the rest of the tune doesn't really have a "typical" F#m sound I think.

Soundwise, I rather liked the rhythm guitar, but the lead guitar was a little tricky to get to sound right. Seems a little harder controlling the frequencies on a steel string than a nylon guitar, especially when you start hitting it harder. My nylon guitar has a little more even frequency response I think.

All in all, considering the circumstances, I rather liked the results. I definitely wouldn't have come up with something like this if I hadn't started this project. Wether it will have any lasting value remains to be seen.

Comments are welcome!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Song 3 in E major

Song 3 in E major (mp3 file)

Solo nylon string guitar.

This one I've been tinkering with for a while. The actual composition was pretty much finished, so it was a matter of fine-tuning the arrangement a little bit. Recording something is a great way to make decisions on small details. While you're noodling away at home, you often skip little bits, or you're unaware of small details like fingerings that need to be finalized before you record. Being both composer/arranger, recording engineer/producer AND performer is hard, it's easy to get near-sighted and lose oversight of the big picture.

The biggest challenge for this one is the performance. It's not a very hard piece to play, technically, but you're supposed to play with feeling too! The way I've started working now is try to get a sound that I can live with first, warm up a little bit and then just hit record and let the "tape" roll. Instead of stopping and starting the recording for every error or new take, I just try to focus on the performance. With today's recording technology, it's easy to edit your recording and discard the bad parts anyway. For this piece, I wound up working on small details for the first 20 minutes of the recording, before I managed to record 3 complete takes towards the end.

Recording is a dangerous process in that you can only keep your concentration for so long. So it's a matter of getting warmed up and focused, and then trying to nail it in as short a time as possible. I read somewhere that Sting used to record three takes with the band back to back while he was in the studio, without stopping to listen between takes. This way, he was able to maintain some energy for the second and third take without losing focus. But after three takes, if you haven't nailed it, it's better to take a break and work on something else. But hopefully, one of the three takes will be worthwhile. I've tried to adopt this approach, and it works better than recording a take, listening, trying a new one while thinking about doing things better than in the first one etc.

About the song: I was rather pleased with the melody on this one. But I am surprised sometimes with the things I come up with. To me, this one sounds like it could belong in a musical, maybe I should ask Tim Rice to add some lyrics! It could work as a vocal tune I think, but a lot of tunes from musicals are destroyed by overblown arrangements...

And it's in E major. E major is a very popular key for the guitar. You've got the low E and A bass strings that come in very helpful for solo guitar, as well as some jangly open B and high E strings. It seems to be one of the LEAST favorite keys for almost all other instruments. Horn instruments are often transposed, so that when notating an E for a trumpet for example, it would say F#. So E major would be F# major, with no less than 6 sharps! Apparently, these keys are hard to play for horn players, with awkward fingerings and whatnot, and they apparently also don't sound so good, I think there might be problems with intonation for some notes. But E major is a godsend for us guitar players. The biggest problem is getting the intonation right for the G# on the first fret of the third string.

The performance was passable I think, but there is still lots of room for improvement... But if I'm going to finish this project on schedule, there's going to be some warts on display!

This is the last one that I've got in the can, so today I've got to whip out the guitar again and start recording. I hope to record some more uptempo pieces as I go along...


Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Song 2 in G minor

For two steel string guitars.

My project was almost literally cut short yesterday. While I was preparing dinner, I was not cautious enough with the knife, and I cut myself in the left thumb, slicing into the fingernail. It was a clean cut, fortunately, "just a flesh wound" as they say in that Monty Python movie, but still I decided to have it looked at. After waiting for two hours, the ER nurse had a look at the wound and dismissed me quickly. The missus had bandaged me up so nicely that she got kudos from the nurse though, saying it was a shame to remove such a nice piece of work!

I haven't tried playing yet, but I think I should be OK, if I take it a little easy. (The left thumb is used to support the fingers on the fretboard.) Will have to wait and see how it works out. Anyway, I had this song in the can, fortunately.

G minor sounds pretty good on the guitar, the important bass notes are in a nice range. Not as many open strings to exploit for guitar tricks, but the 3rd and 4th string can be put to good use, as I (hopefully) do in the intro and outro. Those parts actually came from a separate recording while I was toying with ideas, and I edited them in with a bit of "musical word processing". I didn't have time to record a full take without "cheating". Anyway, the middle part consists of overdubbed guitar, so it's not 100% "real" anyway.

Creating things in minor keys can be a little tricky, it's easy to get into a typical "minor key" sound. This one has a little bit of a folk music vibe for the main theme, just switching between Gm and D7 chords, a very natural thing to do that I couldn't resist. Sort of a "Russian" sound to me. The bridge is slightly more complex, going Bb6-Cm-Am7b5-D7-Ebmaj7-Cm7-Edim7-D7. Made for a nice variation, and some voice-leading that I'm not ashamed of.

I realize I might need to make a conscious effort to do some more uptempo stuff later on, but for now, I'm happy to do some ballads.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Song 1 in G major

Solo nylon string guitar.

For my first song, I decided to finish up on an idea that has been around for a few months. The problem was deciding on the ending. I've become more aware that a song should have an "arc", that is to say that it should rise and fall and climax in the right places. I managed to annoy the missus a little with the choices I made for this one, so I figured I was onto something!

G major is one of those very guitar friendly keys. The tune started, as is often the case with me fooling around ("noodling"), and coming up with a sound that I liked. In this case, it's a Gadd9 sound, which I think would have sounded different in any other key, although you could transpose it quite easily. It's got a rather fat yet bright sound, due to the root note being on the 6th string, and lots of open strings avilable for the chords.

Gear: Kimbara nylon string and Røde K2 microphone.

Mission Statement

24 songs in 24 keys for the guitar - A kind of X-mas calendar

I am an amateur guitar player, born in Harstad, Norway in1968, and currently living in Trondheim, Norway. Welcome to my blog!

Mission statement in two parts: On Christmas, and on music.


I celebrate Christmas, and I don't...

I've been asking myself why I celebrate Christmas. I give (although modestly) and receive gifts (not always so modestly). We decorate the house with a tree and other seasonal paraphernalia. Although I have to say that I don't parttake (sic) too much in the decorating, the missus handles that for the most part. I enjoy the seasonal food. I enjoy spending time with my family and having time off. But I am not a religious man. I'm not really sure what to call myself, you could say that I'm either an atheist or an agnostic, but the important thing for me is that I don't live my life adhering to any belief in God. That is not to say that I flat out deny any such existence, it's just that it's not a part of my life. Without going into the depths of it, I guess I am a sort of humanist, because I believe that we as humans are equipped with the ability to do good. That also means that we have the ability to do bad, but I believe that people CAN be good, and that it is people's choice of being good that gives meaning to life, and even sustains life. So I believe that we, as humans, have a responsibility, and that it takes humans to save our planet. It is within our power. You could say that this belief in humans is no more rational or provable than believing in some higher deity, and as such, it doesn't really make that much of a difference. But there you have it, that is what I BELIEVE in.

Then there is Christmas. Why do I even observe Christmas, when I don't believe in Christ? This question has been popping up in my mind for the last few years. Maybe it's because I became a father some three years ago that I started thinking about how to explain this to my boy when he comes of age. Maybe it's because I need to make sense of it for myself.

One very big part of the answer is of course tradition. I grew up with Christmas festivities, and it surely was one of the high points of the year. One big reason was of course the anticipation of the gifts. For many years, we used to go to my grandparents farm in the country for x-mas dinner, and I loved my grandparents. I didn't think so much about religion back then, I don't think I ever believed in God actually, it was just like a necessary backdrop to the occasion. We never went to church on X-mas Eve, and we never said table prayers or anything. My father, coming from a baptist family, was never baptized himself, so we had a very casual relationship with the church. It was not like we disowned it, it was just something we didn't participate in.

So, all these things by themselves should be plenty good reason to keep celebrating Christmas, and don't worry too much about it. But when I started asking myself the question, “why?”, I found some pretty interesting things, and I have in fact only scratched the surface of Christmas history. Christmas, as it is commonly observed by a majority of people in the western world, is a real hodge-podge of pagan and religious traditions. The most prominent example of this is the way Christmas coincides rather closely with winter solstice. I've read the argument that the church actually chose to place Christmas at this time, so that the old tradition of solstice celebration, called Saturnalia in Rome, and Yule in Scandinavia, could be carried on, just with the addition of the figure of Christ. This was a way to sell Christmas to the pagans. Now, I don't know enough about history to decide whether this is true or not, but it seems very plausible to me. It certainly explains why so many decidedly non-Christian items such as the Christmas tree have been officially endorsed by the church.


With all of these thoughts in the back of my mind, I was pondering the idea of doing a musical Christmas calendar. 24 new songs, one for each day, given away for free on the web. Then I started thinking about how the number 24 keeps occurring in many different ways in our lives, and in music. Christmas Eve, which is what we celebrate in Norway, occurs on the 24th. Then there's the way we divide the day in 24 hours, which really isn't significant for this project. But what does the number 24 mean in musical terms? Well, there are 12 notes in the chromatic scale, going from C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb all the way up to B before it starts repeating from C again. In western music, we have a tradition of dividing music into two different types of keys: major and minor. For every chromatic note, there is a corresponding major and minor key. Now, this is of course a simplification of matters, because there is so much more to music than simple major and minor keys. But if you accept the classical western system, you will have 12 major and 12 minor keys, adding up to the number – 24!

So my project is to write and record 24 different tunes, one for each major and minor key. I started tinkering with this idea sometime in November, and decided I liked the challenge. The ultimate way of doing it would of course be to write and record a new song each day, but that's a little bit too much! So I've been toying with ideas, and by December 1st, I've got three songs “in the can”, a few that I've finished writing, but still have to record, some loose ends, and then some totally blank pages.

I don't even know if I will be able to follow this project through, and how much I will have to cheat along the way. I've already used some ideas that I started on long before this idea came to mind, and I'll probably be digging up some more unfinished stuff.

But the idea really appeals to me. On the guitar, every key has a sound of its own. (If you start tuning your guitar in non-standard ways, things get even more complicated...) It's obvious that a song in E will sound different from a song in Eb, because in E you have access to the big fat sound of the open 6th bass string, while in Eb you're “limited” to the wimpier sound of Eb on the 4th or 5th string, almost one octave higher than low E. So the range of the instrument definitely means different keys sound different. Also, some keys on the guitar give you access to lots of open strings, which sound quite different from fretted notes. In jazz, it is customary to avoid open strings anyway, but if you're playing solo fingerstyle guitar in almost any style, classical, jazz or blues, open strings influence the sound of your arrangement a lot. For example, in A major, the open bass strings E, A and D all are the bass notes of three very important chords in that key. Also, you can play an E minor or a C major scale using a lot of open strings, which give you opportunities for playing wide stretches of harmony without stretching your fingers. You can also use open strings for drones, which is something I am rather fond of. All these devices shape the idea and the sound of a solo guitar tune.

To hopefully bring out the different sounds of different keys, I have decided to try to do as many of tunes as I can as solo guitar arrangements, with a few added duets. I will have to see what kind of ideas I come up with as I go along, maybe I'll delve into non-standard tunings on my guitar, maybe I need to dig out my accordion (which I can't play) or my banjo (which I can barely play) for some of the tunes.... I'll be using nylon string, steel string and electric instruments throughout for variety. At the end of the day, it's all about the creative challenge of coming up with something new every day... Wish me luck! I'll soon be posting the first tune...