Three Shows In…

I have to say that we’re finally getting our “tour-legs” under us. Last night’s show at the Crystal Bay Casino felt like that magical thing was happening that was happening last tour. And we totally nailed “Mound.”

Tom Cleary has his own blog where he talks about learning Mound:

It’s interesting to get everyone’s take on learning this beast. I thought I’d write about my own process.

I was given a studio recording of the song, and later a live recording, and four pages of hand written sheet music that is the score for the middle section. The score includes the guitar, piano and bass parts as well as, minimally, the drum parts.

While I was pretty adept at reading for the trumpet and piano when I was a kid, I’ve never read music for guitar and so for me there’s a missing piece that is the eye-to-hand thing that happens when you read music all the time. So I have to look at every note and figure out where it is on the guitar. And beyond that, since there are various places to play the same notes on the guitar, I also have to figure out where on the neck to play things.

This is a very slow process but in a way it has the advantage of forcing me to memorize the part rather than be dependent on the sheet music.

So the first thing I did was to modify the media I was given to make it more “friendly.” I took the PDF files of the sheet music and edited them in Photoshop to create a “guitar-only” version of the score. This reduced the number of pages from four to one and made it a lot easier to follow.

I then took the corresponding section of the recording and using some digital recording software first applied some filtering to isolate the guitar parts as much as possible, and then forced it to fit on “the grid.” This accomplished a few things: I could slow that part of the recording down (very helpful!). I could also overlay a metronome onto it to clarify some of the rhythmic stuff. It also allowed the measures of the recording to be numbered in a way that corresponded to the sheet music, so that if I was working on measure 37 I could loop that measure in the recording and play along while reading the sheet music for the same measure.

Also, because I’m not a reader for guitar music, I notated all of the chords on the sheet music. The entire part is mostly three note chords and so I notated them with interpretations of the structures that recalled certain positions in my brain.

For example, one such chord has an A on the bottom, a C more than an octave up from that, and an Eb above that. You could interpret those notes as an A diminished chord, but the form that I’m using is more like an inverted F7 without the root, so that’s how I notated it.

Once everything was notated I started the task of committing everything to muscle memory. This is a very tedious process of taking two chords at a time and repeating them ad nauseum until the movement between them becomes second nature. Then I tie the whole thing together by starting with the first two chords, repeating them over and over, then adding one chord at a time until I have a whole “section” under my fingers. Then onto the next section.

Once everything is in the muscles then the challenge is… not over. Now I focus on the sound of each string of chords and how to express through them. That’s always a challenge. It’s one thing to learn and memorize a set of notes, but the extra thing is to take that pre-written piece of music and make it mine; express through it; play it as though I had written it.

Of course that’s just the middle section of Mound. At the same time I had to memorize the lyrics and learn the harmony parts for the verses, AND I had to learn to sing the backup harmonies in 5/4 while playing a guitar part in 4/4! (Still messing that up occasionally…)

Okay, enough about that. I’m in Santa Cruz now. I’m on the bus with the windows open and it’s just lovely.


17 thoughts on “Three Shows In…

  1. It’s all greek to me but the end product is awesome. I listened to the recording and thought it was great. Looking forward to hopefully hearing this “beast” in person at the Higher Ground…all this and you have a family and a day job…AMAZING! glad to hear you are feeling the magic πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks! Just tonight I was looping two measures of a bass riff. I was doing it in a multiple-effects/practice tool kind of thing. I could get the beginning and end to match up to make a smooth loop. Will retry with real digital recording software so I can trim the ends more accurately. This kind of thing alone has helped me tons in past few months!
    I expect to have iPad software that will do it sweetly very soon!

    Looking forwardvto Brooklyn Bowl! Enjoy in the meantime! Peace,

  3. “I’m in Santa Cruz now. I’m on the bus with the windows open and it’s just lovely.”

    Color me jealous! Sounds like you’re hitting your stride. It was interesting to check out Tom’s site & post as well. Nice that you have a musical theater geek (etc., don’t mean to suggest he’s limited to that!) to help round out your group πŸ™‚

  4. I enjoy the insight that your blog offers about your music with regards to how you approach the challenges of learning a new song. All your hard work is definitely paying off with all the grate music we are hearing. keep having fun


  5. A ton of work for a song. Thats great it payed off @ Crystal Bay. Wendy and I are coming from Columbus, Ohio and making the pilgrimage to the Nashville show – also seeing the Bright Eyes show the night before at the Ryman . See ya there. We all had dinner before the Covington KY show last fall. fun fun fun.

  6. I knew you would play mound beatifully. You are so smart and musically talented. Would love to have you pick up a trumpet in a song, that would be totally cool. πŸ™‚

  7. glad you missed the santa cruz tsunami, and the milford one too. you are sorely missed most tuesdays! stay well.

  8. Pingback: Play It as Though I Had Written It « G i l l i e s
  9. Pingback: TAB vs MGB |
  10. Thanks for doing that thing you do along with the sleepless approach that quircks us all. Milk weg,excuse the spelling, kicks ass. See you around the corner,,,B

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