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...


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