Monday, June 25, 2018

What Is COUNTRY MUSIC Anyway?

Fiddle player
Photo  by rfduck 
When many people think of country music, they think of sad songs about lost loves, broken down trucks and runaway dogs. In their minds, they are hearing all of these woes sung in the traditional twangy country accents of the south. However, these perceptions of country music are far from where this style of music has evolved. Today, country music is one of the most popular genres of music, normally outsold only by rock and pop genres.

Created in the late 19th century, country music has undergone many changes over the years. There are now many sub-genres to this type of music, with some of the sub-genres being commonly played on top 40 radio stations.

To understand country music, it is helpful to know about the instruments commonly associated with it. In country music, one of the most common instruments used is the fiddle (or violin). Some of these instruments can be expensive, but most are relatively inexpensive and are very easily transports since they are light in weight and not overly large. When country music first ‘hit the scene’, the fiddle was practically the only instrument used as accompaniment. 

However, as the country music style became more popular, the addition of other accompanying instruments became normal. The banjo became popular in some country music pieces in the mid-1800s, while the guitar did not break into the country music scene until the early 1900s. Electric guitars did not become a regular instrument in country music until much later in the 50s. Other various instruments used in country music are the piano (introduced in the 1930s) and the drums (used since the 1960s). Rarely used, but distinctive sounding instruments are used in certain country songs: the accordion, the harmonica, and the washboards.

Country music has roots in several different styles of music. Its beginnings started with the settlers that came from Europe. During that time, many couldn’t read or write, so songs were created to pass history down from one generation to the next. Although country ballads have changed a great deal, going from the original songs about objective, though gruesome, events to more personal, subjective ballads without all the gore.

Today, the sound of country music can sometimes be very similar to other genres of pop and rock. Some country musicians, like Shania Twain, have many songs playing on stations that aren’t considered “country”. There are also musicians, like Sheryl Crow, who are considered pop/rock but have songs popular on country stations.



Saturday, June 23, 2018

Good GUITAR TECHNIQUE Will Allow You To Play Anything!

Cheyenne Guitar Society 1-4-11
Photo  by ljguitar 
There are many philosophies when it comes to practicing guitar. Some people don't practice at all, others practice for 10+ hours per day! Steve Vai's legendary 10-hour guitar workout comes to mind. But consider this...who do you think is the better guitar player? The person who hardly practices, or the person who practices on a regular basis? Of course, it's the person who practices regularly!

I'm a strong advocate of practicing on a regular basis because, with good guitar technique, you can play anything! If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you can alternate pick most any lick or picking pattern, then any time you’re trying to learn something new you’ll be able to pick it up much more quickly then if you don’t have good technique.

Obviously, you want to practice things that you have difficulty playing, or create your own exercises that are similar to those things you struggle with. By focusing your practice time on these things, you will improve much quicker. Then in the future when you encounter things you previously used to struggle with, you’ll breeze right through it!

Think about it…if all you practice are power chords, you just really limit yourself as to what you can potentially play. By focusing on certain techniques, you’ll be able to do so much more. But you can still play power chords if you choose. I don’t know, maybe some people are happy only playing power chords, but I digress…

Now I'm not saying that you should go out and start practicing for 10+ hours per day. I never practiced for more than 3-4 hours per day. I think that what you practice is more important than how long you practice. Of course, it’s ultimately up to you. This is just how I view the guitar.



Friday, June 22, 2018

How to Restring an ELECTRIC GUITAR

Music's mistery
Electric Guitar - Photo by angelocesare 
For a newbie, this may seem a little intimidating.  But with the right tools, a little knowledge, and some practice, you'll be able to restring an electric guitar like a professional guitar tech.  When I was gigging regularly, I would restring my guitar every week.  My body chemistry is acidic and the sweat and oils from my hands would tend to dull the brightness of the strings as well as make them feel "dirty".  For me, the bright sound and smooth feel of a new set of strings would inspire my playing.  It became a ritual for me the night before the weekend's gigs started.  I would sit in front of the TV and restring my electric guitar; my acoustic was much less frequent.

OK, so you've decided you don't want to pay the guys at the music store and you want to know how to restring an electric guitar yourself.  Here is the list of tools and supplies you will need:

· A new set of strings (naturally!) Click here for info on string sizes
· A string winder (not required but very handy)
· A pair of wire cutters
· A guitar tuner (again, not required but helpful)

You will need to set aside about an hour of time to do this correctly, but as I stated earlier, with practice you will know how to restring your electric guitar in about 20-30 minutes.  

The first thing to remember, do NOT remove all six strings at the same time.  The guitar neck is designed to withstand the tension of the strings and if all of the tension is removed for any significant amount of time you could damage your guitar.

Also, there are some guitars that are literally held together by the string tension. I remember reading a story about a guy who had recently gotten hired as a guitar tech for the Ramones.  Wanting to make a good impression on Johnny Ramone he decided to restring his guitar for him right before the show.  He removed all six strings and Johnny's Mosrite guitar literally fell apart in his hands.  The string tension held the whole guitar together!  What's worse, the bridge of the guitar bounced across the floor and fell down the air conditioning duct.  

If I remember the story correctly, they spent quite some time using a coat hanger and chewing gum trying to rescue the bridge from the duct.  He retrieved it and managed to keep his job, living to restring the guitar another day.  But not all six strings at once!

But I digress.  Some people work in pairs of strings at a time, I prefer to work on individual strings.  You will quickly decide what works best for you.  Use this article as a guideline to get you up to speed quickly.  

OK, let's get down to it.  I always start with the high E string (personal preference); it helps keep me organized.  

If your guitar has a locking nut tremolo (whammy bar) system you will have to unlock it.  It works best if you remove the clamps completely and work with just the nut until the restringing process is done and the strings are stretched and tuned.  Then replace the locking clamps and fine tune using the tuners on the tremolo bridge.

· Use your string winder and loosen the string until there is enough slack that you can unwind the string from the tuning post by hand. 

· Use your wire cutters to cut off the curled end of the string and discard.  Do this to minimize the chance of scratching the finish of your guitar.  Push/pull the string back through the bridge slowly making sure it does not drag across the body.  You don't want to restring your guitar to result in refinishing your guitar!

· Next, unwrap the appropriate new string.  Insert it through the bridge of the guitar, over the saddle, up the neck, over the nut and into the hole in the tuning post.  Again make sure the trailing end of the string doesn't drag across the guitar body.

· Start turning the tuner by hand making sure the string wraps over the top of the tuning post.  Ideally, you want to have 3-4 wraps of the string around the tuner, but this is nothing to stress over. 

· Turn the tuner until the slack is out and the string is properly seated in the nut and over the bridge saddle.  

· Next clip the excess string off close to the tuner and use your string winder to bring the string up to pitch.  

· Use your digital tuner and tune to pitch.

· Next, grab the string with your picking hand halfway between the bridge and the nut and lightly tug the string away from the fretboard.  Do not pull real hard, just hard enough to pull the stretch out of the string and tighten it around the tuner post.

· Tune to pitch and repeat the stretching process until the string stays in tune.


Now repeat the entire process for the remaining five strings.  Know that the pitch of the new strings may fluctuate as you work on the remaining strings.  This is especially true with a Floyd Rose or similar type floating bridge. When you have replaced and stretched the last string make sure all six strings are still in tune.  If you have a locking tremolo system, replace the clamps for the locking nut, tighten, and use the bridge fine tuners to get the proper pitch.

The final step is the best one; sit back, crank up your amp and enjoy. Make sure you play something with lots of note bending in it and make sure the stretch is all played.  

Take satisfaction in knowing that you now know how to restring an electric guitar.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

TRUMPET CLEANING - Preventative Maintenance Makes It Easy

Old Trumpet
Photo  by Igor Gusarov 
A drab, dirty, and unpolished trumpet has never been inviting to play. Yet, most players, especially in high school, never do anything to care for their horn. The trumpet is one of the most visible instruments on the marching band field. Clarinets do not need to be polished, flutes are too small, mellophones are pointed straight ahead, and tubas are mostly hidden in the back. However, the trumpet is at the front of every show, with its dirty bell pointing up (hopefully) at the judges.

Your trumpet does not need to be unattractive in appearance. In fact, a few minutes every day and an hour every couple of months will keep your horn looking fifty times better than all the rest.

A preparatory note: if the trumpet appears to have the lacquer (finish) chipping off or wearing through, take it to a repair shop. Polishing the horn further will only harm the exposed metal.

Major Cleaning:
I recommend a major cleaning about three times per year. Once just after school ends, once after marching band ends, and once in the spring. A major cleaning should take an hour or less if you do it right.

First, disassemble the horn and place all parts on a soft towel or cloth. Take all parts of the valves apart, including the felt and valve caps. Keep all parts organized by valve number because some pieces fit better on a certain valve. In a bathtub or large sink, heat water until it is fairly warm. Add a drop or two of mild dish detergent, if desired. Take a spray nozzle and use it to spray through all of the tubings on the trumpet and slides. Let the horn soak in the water for twenty minutes.

Now assemble three cleaning tools: a mouthpiece brush, valve, brush, and snake. The snake is a small brush connected to plastic tubing that allows you to push the tool through the piping of the horn. Clean the mouthpiece, valves, and piping with the tools, pushing and twisting the brushes as you go to ensure that all grime is removed. Use the snake to clean the valve holes.

Rinse all the parts of the horn and place them on towels to air dry. Reassemble the trumpet. Place a fair amount of valve oil directly on the valves and work the valve up and down for at least thirty seconds to get the oil worked in. Use a very small amount of tuning slide grease on all four slides (including the second valve slide). If the slides are prone to sticking, skip the slide grease and add a very small amount of valve oil to loosen the slides up.

You can now choose to polish the horn or wipe it down.

After Practice Polishing:
Polishing the horn with a polishing cloth will reduce the number of times you need to give a major cleaning or polishing. This polishing can be extensive or very brief. Purchase two polishing cloths for your horn finish (brass or silver). Also, have another cloth that is just as flexible and small for general cleaning. Hold the trumpet with one hand near the mouthpiece, protected by one cloth. Use the non-polishing cloth to work between the slides, valve holes, and in any other hard-to-reach areas. Then, use the second polishing cloth to shine the instrument. You must apply some pressure to actually get any polishing done. Go over the same area five or ten times. Move down the horn so you are not touching any of the areas already completed. Spend the most amount of time on the outside and inside of the bell and the mouthpiece tube. They are the most visible parts of the horn.

Silver Polish:
Before marching band competitions or large performances, I always do a whole horn polish. This makes the most difference for silver horns, but can be done with brass polish on brass horns as well. This is an extremely messy process for both you and your horn.

Obtain some silver polish. I recommend using a kind that is not too liquid. The best types are those that are a semi-solid and are applied with a foam sponge. Get several small towels, hand towels work well enough, that can get very dirty. You will also need a pair of bad quality thin gloves and the three cloths used above.


You must polish only the outside portions of your horn, so do not remove any of the valves or slide parts. Also, do not polish your mouthpiece. Lay out a hand towel or two on the floor and stand the trumpet on its bell. Hold it by the pipe curve near the mouthpiece. Use one gloved hand to apply enough polish to thinly cover all easily accessible surfaces. Do not waste time trying to get polish between the slides or piping. You must work quickly so that the polish does not get cemented on. Work from the top down, ending with the outside of the bell. Then, lift the trumpet up; and complete the inside of the bell, making sure not to put polish very far into the bell. Set the trumpet back down.

Take about a one-minute break. You want to make sure that all the polish dries, but it will get hard if you wait too long. Take another towel and carefully wipe as much of the polish off as you can. Be sure that the towel remains relatively clean during the wiping process to avoid smearing used polish back on the horn. Remember to wipe off the inside of the bell.

Use the rag cloth to work out the polish that may be in the little crevices of the piping. Make sure to get off all of the polish; it will become a nightmare if left to bake on for a long time. Touch up some areas with the polishing cloths. Then you are done! Wash the towels and gloves so that they can be used for later polishing.

Benefits:
Caring for a horn properly does take some time. However, you only will need to give your trumpet a bath or use silver polish a few times per year if you wipe the horn down after every practice or two. One major benefit of keeping a horn clean is that the valves and slide will move faster and get stuck much less often. This helps keep the horn out of the shop and lasting longer. The second advantage is appearance. Such a benefit may seem obvious, but even the most beat-up trumpet can still look great if polished.

Resources and Products:
If you are in a high school band, hopefully, your trumpet section leader or director can point you in the right direction to get supplies. I recommend Blue Juice or Yamaha valve oil. I have found that the Blue Juice does a great job at keeping valves working quickly, but it needs to be applied often and sometimes gets gunk buildup. I have had good success with the Yamaha oil lasting a very long time and causing no buildup. It is not as fast-moving and will not unstick a valve quickly, but it is a good all-around choice. Silver polish is mostly your choice and can be purchased at grocery stores. 

Purchasing a trumpet "care kit" should get you the requisite cleaning brushes; Selmer makes one that should be fine for most. Finally, I like large polishing cloths of no particular brand. It is easier to get into small areas with a larger cloth.

William O'Brochta is a recipient of the William T. Hornaday Silver Medal for Distinguished Service to Conservation in the Boy Scouts of America and William T. Hornaday Badge. He is an Eagle Scout with nine Eagle palms and has earned sixty-five Merit Badges. William is currently an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 17 in Roanoke, Virginia working with Troop elections, new Scout advancement, and Eagle projects. He also serves as an active member of the Blue Ridge Mountains Council Conservation, Advancement, Eagle Board of Review, and Troop Committees. He has been involved in Scouting for more than ten years.

William attends Patrick Henry High School and the Roanoke Valley Governor's School and is ranked first in his class of 500. Currently, he is working on a three-year environmental research project dealing with using plants to remove pesticides from the soil. He has presented this research at the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting. A musician, he plays trumpet and serves as Drum Major for the Marching Band.

Committed to community service, he has volunteered for six months for Habitat for Humanity in Hungary and helped Breakell, Inc. General Contractors achieve LEED Platinum energy efficiency certification.



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

IRISH BAGPIPES - Which Irish Bagpipe Should You Buy?

English: Uillean pipes - practice set
Uillean pipes - practice set (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bagpipes are known for being highly traditional instruments. Some people may even think that bagpipes are crude instruments. On the contrary, though, bagpipes produce one of the sweetest melodies among the windpipe instruments.

Irish bagpipes
The Irish bagpipe, or the Uilleann bagpipe, is the national bagpipe of Ireland. It produces a wide range of notes that are distinctly sweet in tone, distinguishing it from other types of bagpipes.

Irish bagpipes are made with a set of bellows designed to be wrapped around the right arm and the waist to inflate the pipe bag. Its chanter produces sound in two full octave ranges including the flats and the sharps. It is typically designed to be played indoors while sitting down.

Kinds of bagpipes
Irish bagpipes come in three different kinds, each ranging from the level of knowledge of the user in playing bagpipes.
1. Irish practice set bagpipes - these are bagpipes best used by beginners and young players. They usually consist of a pipe bag, a chanter, and bellows. The beginner set's chanter can be played in the concert pitch D or B flat.
2. Irish half set bagpipes - this set is designed for average or intermediate players, mastering the practice set for at least a year. It has a tenor, baritone, and bass drone. A stock connects these drones to one another and ties them to the bag. The drones can be switched off using a key attached to the stack.
3. Irish full set bagpipes - for expert players, the Irish full set bagpipe is perfect. It is made of complete Uilleann pipes. It is essentially a half set made with additional three regulators.

Tips
When looking to buy an Irish bagpipe, look for one that is leak resistant. Make sure that it is not susceptible to air leaks. Choose a pipe bag made from elk-tanned leather and bellows made of a heavy-duty leather gusset.