music

Regaining my timing

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Like most musicians, I usually struggled to ‘keep time’ especially when playing solo compositions. But a few years ago, events which resulted in a stress induced condition (which I won’t bore you with here) has resulted in further degradation in my ability to keep time, even in a band situation where there is a drummer doing all the hard work.

I am determined to improve that though, and have been going back to basics and working on scales using a metronome to reduce that neural disconnect between my brain and my fingers. Over the weekend, I decided to challenge myself even further.

I’ve been a fan of The Police for a long time. There was something about their reggae infused punk beats that captured my imagination, and I admire all three musicians for their eclectic ability. I’ve never really played any of their songs on stage (mainly because I’ve never really had the chance to play with a drummer as talented or frenetic as Stewart Copeland), but I found a drum backing track online over the weekend for one of my most favourite songs of theirs and decided to give it a shot.

“Walking On The Moon” - As far as Sting’s bass work, this is actually one of the easiest ones to play, as the bass riff pretty much starts on the first beat of the bar (as opposed to a lot of other songs where the bass starts mid bar (e.g. Roxanne)). The guitar parts though, were the challenge. The chimey, chorus washed bits that come in every second bar is actually on beat four of the bar. It is a huge challenge to sit back and wait for the right timing to hit that Gmajsus4 chord, and then letting the delay slapback echo it for the first beat of the following bar! Even the staccato chord whips later in the verse are on the 2 and 4 - and every music teacher in the world always tells you to emphasise beats 1 and 3, NOT 2 and 4. Yet, this song is made by the choked chords on the 2 and 4. By far, the biggest challenge though, was playing along to Copeland’s frenzied thrashing. I had to keep time outside of his syncopated fills - a further testament to the skill of the original band.

Playing this was a great exercise in freeing up my mind from the usual constraints, and also to reduce those milliseconds of delay that had infused my neural system after that incident all those years ago. Breaking up my usual ‘straight timing’ with offbeat work like this really has seemed to reprogram the synapses in my brain. Time to go learn more Police numbers.

Revisiting keyboards and synth

I have posted many articles on here of my recordings with acoustic and electric guitar, but this month I wanted to go back to my earliest musical experience, which was playing the piano.

Like most kids my age growing up in Malaysia, I was forced into taking piano lessons from a very early age.  I had many teachers over the years, and some were really nice, but there were a couple of awful ones, especially one rather evil lady who used to rap me over the knuckles whenever I played a wrong note.  That experience, more than anything else, made me shun formal music studies and move away from the piano and on to the electronic organ and then eventually guitar.

This month though, I had the urge to dig out my old MIDI keyboard and make an effort at recording a keyboard rich track.  I have always been a fan of David Bowie, but I had never really done anything significant to commemorate his passing recently.  I went through a catalogue of his songs in my mind, but all of a sudden I remembered a song that I really loved that was not written by him, but was the soundtrack of a movie he was in.  The track is "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" by the movie of the same name, starring Mr. Bowie.  It was written by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

I scoured the net and found some piano scores.  These were... challenging... to say the least.  I forgot about the depth of complexity to the piece.  Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and dived in.  To disguise my poor playing, I decided to interpret the track as a 'techno' version of the original.

To warm up my fingers, I spent an hour or so recording this simple, yet charming piece by Erik Satie.

Then I spent the whole weekend putting together the main piece.  It was all recorded in Logic X on my iMac, using SampleTank for most of the sampled piano and instrument sounds.  I also used a bit of the Zebra synth from U-He.  Enjoy.