Friday, December 16, 2011

Bach Minuet in D Minor

Acoustic Guitar senior editor Teja Gerken plays his arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Minuet in D Minor BWV Anh. 132 in DADGAD tuning

Friday, December 9, 2011

Irish Guitar Lesson - Miss Monaghan's

Patsy Obrien teaches the classic Irish Tune "Miss Monaghan's" - Both the Rhythmic Accompaniment and also the Melody.

Hits and misses at the Chamber Orchestra

Philadelphia OrchestraCover of Philadelphia Orchestra
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra presented its second concert of the season led by Mischa Santora in the Mayerson Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Over-the-Rhine. The highlight was a world premiere flute concerto, performed by the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jeffrey Khaner. Lowlights included a ragged performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 — and too much talking between movements.

It’s amazing that they were able to field an orchestra that day. Because, simultaneously, within about a few blocks in each direction, there were performances by the Cincinnati Pops in Music Hall, and by the CCM Philharmonia and choruses at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Downtown.

The orchestra commissioned the Flute Concerto by Eric Sessler of Philadelphia. Two of the movements are named for the alternate guitar tunings that inspired his music: DADGAD/Poetic and Orkney. But aside from that — which was not obvious to those of us who don’t play guitar — the work was immediately appealing. It had a distinctly mid-century American feel, in the vein of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, with a few moments minimalism. It seems destined to find a home among the established repertoire for the flute.

Hits and misses at the Chamber Orchestra | Arts in Focus

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Get Yer Irish On - Premier Guitar

I'm a fiddle player. Not many people know it, and even fewer have heard it. I don't suck—far from it, if I may be so immodest. I had rotator cuff issues in my right shoulder for years that made playing incredibly painful, so it's not for lack of love that I didn't keep my chops up. But after some therapy and a solid year going to a gym to rebuild the strength in my shoulders, I picked up a fiddle and noticed that it didn't hurt after two minutes. I played 10 minutes and it still didn't hurt. Then I played 30. No pain. Hot diggity, I'm a fiddle player again!

This column finds me digging back into my favorite fiddle tunes, most of which happen to be Irish tunes. And so, PG Nation, the topic of this month's ramble is the huge difference between the way a guitar player needs to support Irish fiddle tunes versus American fiddle tunes. As a guitar-playing fiddle player, it's frustrating as hell to play Irish tunes with guitar players who don't get it. Luckily, it's kind of fascinating to break it down.

Viva la Difference!
There's nothing cooler than a really hot bluegrass rhythm player, with that big, fat string on the bottom that cuts through like garroting wire. Oh, yes, I do love that. And behind tunes like “Billy in the Low Ground,” “Bill Cheatham,” and “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” that kind of player literally rules. That rapid-fire “boom-ching, boom-ching” thing is like a 400hp engine: You either bring it and keep up or they will run you over and squash you like a bug. It's pretty awesome to work with that kind of guitar player.

The acoustic guitar in a bluegrass band is the equivalent of a drum kit, and the guitar player and bass player lock in together much like the bass player and drummer in a rock band. They may not even know they do it, but in the best bands, they do—like a machine.

In an Irish band, however, the guitar player is the equivalent of a bodhran player—yes, still a drummer, but there's no kick drum, so the drive in Irish music comes from a very different place. If you listen to a really good bodhran player, you'll hear the same kind of rolls and gracings that you hear from the fiddle player—downbeats get pushed like crazy, and it's the backbeat that drives it. American fiddle tunes are all about the 1 and the 3, but Irish tunes are all over the 2 and the 4, and there is no boom-ching at all.

So what do you do instead of boom-ching? You just play chords, man. You play chords like Martin Taylor—all over the place with as many substitutions as you can think of. What's really tricky is, in a lot of Irish tunes there's no real clear major/minor feel—they are crazy modal things—so you have to find your 5-chords. And you have to start thinking of two chords at once for every change, because if you are in G, you could decide to play a round or two out of Em instead, and if the tune seems to go to a C chord, it might sound better if you played an Am, and it's every bit as likely that the tune will call for an F instead of a Dmaj, in a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon style twist of melodic madness. And don't ever, ever, ever play a dominant chord, because the fiddle player will poke your eye out with the bow immediately, and you don't even want to know what the piper is capable of...

Let's Get Jiggy With It
And then there are the jigs, and the slip jigs, and the slides. A jig is in 6:8 time, and the groove goes like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6. A slip jig is a little more complicated, in 9:8 with a groove like this: 123 456 789 123 456 789. A slide is lightning fast and in 12:8 with the stresses on 4 and 10: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. See how the stress is never on the downbeat? It's all about the backbeat, no matter what time signature a tune is in.

There are two ways to approach playing guitar behind a jig. One way is the pretty, melodic, cross-pickin' sort of thing that is almost like a counterpoint in chords. The other way is to just strum the chords, generally like so: 1 3 456 1 3 456 —dunh-da dadada dunh-da dadada dunh-da dadada dunh-da dadada.

That being said, it's not that easy. Here's how I might play rhythm behind a jig:

1 3456 123456
1 3456 1 3 6
123456 123456
1 3456 3456

Now remember how I said the stress in a jig was going to be on the 4? And notice how I'm never stressing the 4? “Ah ha,” you say, so that's what gives Irish music it's rolling-tumbling feel. Besides, the fiddle player is hitting all those 4s with a little extra roll or a tug on the bow, so the guitar player doesn't have to. We are free to express our funky selves.

Hornpipes, Polkas, and Gavottes
Hornpipes are tricky to play guitar behind, and honestly, I'm not a huge fan of them. In 2:4 time, there's not a lot of leeway for bringin' on the funk, so they bore me. But, when I have to play behind a hornpipe, I try to complement whatever the instrumentalist is doing, whether it's counterpointing the melody, or straight-ahead strumming. The melody line in a hornpipe is what is called “dotted and cut,” which means that most of the time there's a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth, dotted eighth, sixteenth, yadda yadda yawn. It has a jerky, slightly militaristic feel to it, but it's not exactly Sousa, either. There aren't all that many hornpipes that people bother playing, thank goodness.

Polkas are the closest thing resembling bluegrass out there. They're fast, in 2:4 again, but bouncy instead of jerky. They're far, far less ornamented, and usually played pretty darn straight. Think “Roll Out the Barrel” with a few more notes. Polkas are a blast to play—rowdy, simple and obnoxiously catchy. Not a lot of boom-ching going on here, either, but it can work until the right arm wears out.

Gavottes are a Breton phenomenon that leaks over into the Eire-verse once in a while. In 4:4, they're hauntingly pretty, a little repetitive, and usually sort of dark and swirlingly modal. They are unforgettable after hearing them once or twice. You probably won't run into many of them, but if you do, pretty counterpoint and funky grooving will make you a fiddler’s best friend.

Required Listening
One of the very best Irish guitar players was the late-great Micheal O'Domhnaill, part of the engine that drove the incredible Bothy Band, who tragically passed away in 2005. He made two records with fiddler Kevin Burke, Promenade and Portland, that are master classes in how to back up a fiddle tune. Bonus: He does most of it in standard tuning, so those unfamiliar with D–A–D–G–A–D can more easily hear what's going on. Irish tunes are usually played in sets, three or four tunes one after another, and a single set can wind through two or three different keys (or more), so the guitar player has to think about the best way to get all that done. O'Domhnaill frequently put a capo at the second fret, and played the tunes in G out of the F-position and the tunes in D out of C, so he could play the tunes in A from G for a bigger sound.

What's up with all those modalities, anyway?
Celtic music is old. So old that they only had a few notes and a drum to work with in the earliest times—early flutes were between five notes and one octave for the most part, and nobody really bothered with sharps and flats and all that nonsense. So when you have limited notes to work with, you end up writing out of necessity in what we now call modes. . Once they figured out how to make a flute and a bagpipe that could be “over-blown” to reach a second, and sometimes even part of a third octave, things opened up. By that time, the modality had been etched onto the Celtic soul forever, making the music gorgeous, challenging and addicting.

So get yer Irish up and yer groove on. There's a céilidh at my house tonight...
Gayla Drake Paul is a guitarist, songwriter and writer, working as a soloist and with the Gayla Drake Paul Trio. Her CD, How Can I Keep From Singing, is in the Ten Essential CDs for Acoustic Guitarists at Her new CD, Trio Plus Three: The Luckiest Woman, can be purchased at

Get Yer Irish On - Premier Guitar

Monday, October 17, 2011

2 Tunes on Irish Bouzouki

The Dawn Chorus/The Rolling Waves

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Irish 14-year-old’s YouTube tribute earns him trip to Breeder’s Cup

"A young racing fan from a small town in the middle of Ireland got the biggest birthday present of his life today when the Breeders’ Cup invited him to be part of thoroughbred racing’s biggest stage, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships

Mark Boylan, celebrating his 14th birthday at home today in Banagher (pop. 1,636), County Offaly, has two passions in life--horseracing and music. He combined them on YouTube in his song “Stateside,” a heartfelt tribute to the Breeders’ Cup. One YouTube viewer posted “This kid is absolutely great! He should definitely perform this in Kentucky on BC weekend, the crowds will love it!”
The Breeders’ Cup had the same reaction.

Monday, May 16, 2011

PRS Tony McManus Private Stock Review

"At a Glance
The Specs:
Solid European spruce top. Solid cocobolo back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. Dovetail neck-joint. Hybrid scalloped-X and fan bracing. 25.25-inch scale. 13/4-inch nut width. 27/32-inch string spacing at saddle. Nitrocellulose finish. Keith Robson tuners. PRS pickup system. D’Addario light-gauge strings. Made in USA.

This Is Cool:
Amazing sustain. Great dynamic range.

Watch For:
No adjustable truss rod. Pickup may require EQ.

$10,500 list.

Paul Reed Smith Guitars: (410) 643-9970;"

Cultural alliance presents Sarah McQuaid in concert

"CHINCOTEAGUE -- The Chincoteague Cultural Alliance presents Sarah McQuaid in concert at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, in the Senior Center located on Church Street.

Renowned for her warm, engaging stage presence, McQuaid is a versatile and beguiling performer. In addition to her own elegantly crafted originals, she interprets traditional Irish and Appalachian folk songs, Elizabethan ballads, 1930s jazz numbers, surprise covers and lively guitar instrumentals with panache and poignancy.

Her earthy voice delivers a powerful emotional punch that's matched by her distinctive, eloquent guitar style. Add this to a real rapport with her audience, and you have all the ingredients of a great night out."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Mystical Musical Secrets of Robert Johnson

If timelessness is the mark of true musical greatness, then Robert Johnson deserves to be canonized on the same level as Bach and Beethoven. His popularity has continued to grow since his death in 1938, as evidenced by the continuous stream of Johnson reissues and tribute albums, and the festivals and symposia organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this May 8.

Over the decades, the Mississippi guitar innovator’s music has been covered and coveted by a huge range of artists: Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Big Head Todd, Rory Block, Led Zeppelin, Juliana Hatfield, Peter Green and the Rolling Stones among them. And the latest and best reissue package of Johnson’s own 41 recorded versions of 29 songs — all he left behind besides a few suits and his Gibson L-1 acoustic guitar — has just been released by Sony’s Legacy label. Robert Johnson: The Centennial Collection includes those tracks, superbly mastered, plus two perspective-granting discs of his contemporaries ranging from Sleepy John Estes to the Light Crust Doughboys. It also includes the DVD biography of Johnson and his work; Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?

There’s still much speculation about how Johnson became the Delta’s undisputed master of guitar. All that’s known is he left the region as a fumble fingered youth and came back so cutting that he literally frightened Muddy Waters when Waters encountered him performing on a street corner. All the junk about selling his soul to the Devil aside, it stands to reason that Johnson achieved his status through a mix of innate talent, instruction and practice. And that’s still what it takes to play like Robert Johnson. That and some soul.

Assuming you’ve got the ability and the feeling, here are a few tips you might consider when approaching the technical aspects. First, if you don’t fingerpick, learn. That is the only way to play Mississippi Delta or hill country blues in an unimpaired manner and with the proper tone, which is a combination of meat and dynamics.

Another is to work with open tunings. Johnson may have used as many as 17. Eyewitnesses weren’t so adept at sussing out how he tweaked his strings, and the details in his recordings will always be the victims of the primitive technology and the scratchy, distorted quality of the shellac discs it yielded for the market.

But listening to the sides Johnson cut in San Antonio and Dallas in 1936 and 1937, it is clear he was playing in keys apart from those to which he was often open tuned, violating common Delta blues practice. To approach his sound, it’s good to start with an even-toned and well-balanced acoustic guitar, like the Gibson L-1 that he was famously photographed with. That guitar sold at auction in 2006 for a cool $6-million, which makes the Robert Johnson L-1 hand built today by Gibson’s acoustic luthiers in Bozeman, Montana, a relative bargain.

The Mystical Musical Secrets of Robert Johnson

Monday, February 7, 2011

Guitar legend Gary Moore dies at age 58

"Gary Moore, a legend of blues-rock guitar and a former member of the Irish group Thin Lizzy, was found dead in a hotel room in the Costa del Sol region of Spain today (6 February). He was 58 years old.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the left-handed Moore learned to play righty. Influenced by players as disparate as Albert King, George Harrison, Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix, he joined the Dublin band Skid Row in 1969 at the age of 16.

In 1973 he signed on to play with Thin Lizzy following the sudden departure of guitarist Eric Bell. His first stint with the band lasted just four months, but he would return four years later to play on the group's Black Rose album."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pierre Bensusan Vividly Review

"Few guitarists can claim to have a career as long and storied as French virtuoso Pierre Bensusan. Known mostly for his work in the “DADGAD” tuning, which readers may also know as the favorite acoustic tuning of rock-legend Jimmy Page, Bensusan’s latest release Vividly celebrates his 35th years as a professional performer and is also his 10th solo album, not easy milestones to come by for any genre or in any era.

The album features the incredibly gifted guitar work that Bensusan has become known for over the years, and will make a nice addition to the library of any fan of solo and acoustic guitar albums.

Recorded and mixed in his home studio, the album has a relaxed, café type atmosphere to it, while still creating the atmosphere of a concert hall performance. One can easily imagine themselves sitting in a small Paris coffee house as Bensusan performs each track for their listening pleasure."

Friday, January 7, 2011

California Chronicle | Couple Make Beautiful Music

In a small recording space on Valley Road in Clifton, a unique sound fills the air: The nimble rat-tat-tat of a drummer against a Persian daf is joined by a smoky voice singing Nat "King" Cole's "Nature Boy." Soon, the melody turns into a rapid, hypnotic rhythm, with syllables that seem to imitate a drum.

This fusion of rhythm, jazz and voice is the work of Glen Velez and Lori Cotler, the husband-and-wife duo behind the Ta Ka Di Mi Project. Velez is a four-time Grammy Award-winning percussionist who has mastered a range of international frame drums, from the bodhran to the tambourine. Cotler is a veteran singer who is well-versed in numerous styles of singing, from scat to solkattu, South India's drumming language. Solkattu is typically used as a tool to instruct percussion students in South India, but Cotler has made it her own, taking a melodic approach to the intricate technique.

Together, Velez and Cotler perform internationally, touring as far as Japan and as close as their adopted hometown, Montclair. Between engagements, both find time to teach master classes at universities and take part in their non-musical pastimes: running and watching movies at their hometown cinema.

Q. Your music is so distinctive -- what reaction do you get from audience members?

Cotler: It's always been extremely positive. There's a lot of, 'I didn't know it was possible to get sound out of a tambourine like that,' or 'I didn't know you could move your voice that fast.' A lot of people say that they feel exhilarated because ... it combines so many different parts of the world and includes American jazz -- they just haven't heard that combination before.

Q. How did you meet?

Velez: Lori was teaching at The New School [in Manhattan] and I was brought in to do a workshop for the teachers and students. The head of the department where Lori was teaching knew Lori's music and thought we'd be an interesting collaboration.

Cotler: We don't tend to have the issues that other [musical couples] do, I think because we play different instruments. Our styles are different, yet it comes together so nicely. We really do have a lot of fun being together and working together as musicians, but also as a couple.

Q. You both write a lot of your music. What's the composing process like?

Velez: Each composition comes about differently, so it's hard to generalize. It might be some rhythmic idea that we start with and then we hook into those. We might start with an architecture that's interesting to us in terms of the sound compositions we put together. We'll also, in the process, do a lot of recording and listen back and do an editing process like that.

Cotler: We start from the rhythm and the pulse and work our way out, whereas in other forms, it's the other way around.

Q. Have you noticed more interest in frame drumming in the last few years?

Velez: There's much more interest now. It's a gradual thing because you don't hear this type of thing on Top 40 radio. Even if it was played on pop radio, you probably ... wouldn't be able to visualize what it was. When people see it live and understand the possibilities, they're really interested in it.

Q. Lori, how did you create what you call "rhythm singing"?

Cotler: I've studied many styles, but the culmination of everything is a rhythmic approach to the voice. A teacher in high school turned me on to scat singing and that was it. I kept going, learning jazz and bebop. I was always really attracted to the idea of rhythm and improvisation. When I met Glen, he introduced me to the drum language of South India and I just felt like I was coming home.

Q. Friday's performance will involve duets and solos. You'll also get to perform with longtime collaborators Shane Shanahan and Yousif Sheronick. What else can audiences expect?

Velez: There are five or six types of frame drums I'll be using. One from Persia, one from Ireland, one from the Middle East, one from South Italy, North Africa. I had studied the different styles and I use them in the context of these compositions.

Cotler: We'll do a world premiere for the new arrangement of Glen's piece, called 'Doctrine of Signatures.' It's the first composition to use ensemble playing with frame drums and will involve vocalizations and some stepping, which is very exciting.

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California Chronicle | Couple Make Beautiful Music