Categories
Bluegrass Music Coronavirus Musicians

Enjoying Music Visually

With the COVID thing going on, most musicians and bands have had to cancel live performances. To make up for the lost income, the more industrious performers are either doing virtual concerts, stepping up to online teaching, or being creative on sellable swag.

So most of you know that I am a contributing writer for Fiddler. In my years of writing for the magazine, as well as my involvement with the bluegrass music scene, I have become friends with a lot of bluegrass fiddlers.

Two fiddlers that stand out in my friendship are Brittany Haas of Hawktail, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Mile Twelve. Both are amazingly talented, as well as absolute sweethearts. They can call me any time if there is something that I can do for them, and are always there if I need a quick quote for an article. Something both of them have done (apart from each other) that I absolutely applaud can prove to be a great gift for the holidays.

Fans can only purchase so many CDs and T-shirts to keep bands afloat. A few months back, Hawktail made available 12-by-18-inch prints showing musical notation of songs from the albums Unless and Formations. Printed on parchment style paper, it looks as if it was taken from sheet music printed over a hundred years ago.

As for Bronwyn, she has recently released her solo album Fiddler’s Pastime. One of the more clever items available on her website is a handwritten page of musical notation from one of the songs on the album. Viewing it, you actually see what Bronwyn sees, hears, and thinks as the pen meets the paper.

Why do I bring up these two visual items up? Because they are awesome to say the least! Frame them, and you have a fantastic gift for someone into either or both artists. If you cannot find a fan, them get them for yourself!

Hanging a painting of a portrait or landscape on your wall is so typical. As I am a music aficionado, what hangs on my walls is mostly music-related, such as concert photographs and posters. Now, I will include framed music notation. There are a number of reasons why putting this on your wall is a plus. Here are just a few:

  • It is a lot more eye-catching than the typical painting.
  • As you look at it, you tend to create the shown melody in your head.
  • If you are not so competent on a musical instrument, you can at least follow what is written when you listen to the song.
  • You are getting inside the performers’ heads.

While some people do frame and hang old piano music, it is usually done as more of a historic representation, or perhaps enjoyment of the cover illustration. That type of printed music was meant to be read and performed, not framed. However, in the case of Hawktail and Bronwyn (and perhaps any other musician/band doing the same thing that I am not aware of), the music has already been presented in a listenable format. Now, these artists want to show you what the music looks like, perhaps even why they took it in a certain direction.

The most heartwarming thing about these printed notations to me is that the artists wanted the listener to be a part of their process and outcome. It makes the music more encompassing, just like reading liner notes of an album WHILE you are listening to it. There is so much more to soak in from the music as you look at the notation. I hope that others appreciate these personal connections like I do.

For more information on the music notations:
Hawktail – https://hawktail.bandcamp.com/merch/sheet-music-print

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes – https://www.bronwynkeithhynes.com/shop

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

A Brief Look at Bluegrass Fake Books

Today, internet connection is as common in life as the toilet. You can get any information that you seek (whether it is reliable or not) with a few keystrokes and the power of Google. However, a bit more than a decade ago, people still relied on old-fashioned books. Yes, there are still old fogies like me that like to read from the paper pages instead of the computer screen.

Beginner bluegrass musicians appreciate any help that they can get to comfortably jam with others at a festival or other get-together. That means if he/she doesn’t have a mentor readily available to explain chord changes, one had to secure a fake book. If you don’t know what a fake book is, well, it is a book that contains a large number of songs, usually appearing in musical notation as well as lyrics and chord changes. There are still a lot of these out there and available in print. I still have my copy called, appropriately, Bluegrass Fakebook by Bert Casey (available from www.cvls.com), which is one of the most popular. It shows its age, with pages falling out and the cover worn to almost nothing. While I consider myself to have a good ear and able to predict chord changes confidently, I still love having the book around for reference to lyrics and those songs that I am not too familiar with.

These days, you can find the words, chord charts, musical notation, and even lists of artists that recorded the songs with a quick search online. If you have a printer, you can create your own fake book. I’ve seen some people store all of the songs on iPads and take the device to the jam sessions. Hey, whatever works!

While I recommend everyone having some form of fake book, especially beginners, the problem that I always had with the ones published were the choice of songs contained within. While about half of the songs are pretty standard, the other half in the books seem to be personal choices of the author(s). This can vary from modern bluegrass songs, country songs that sound familiar, or even pop and rock songs that someone thought would make a great bluegrass song (and after one performance, they don’t!). One also has to be observant of the key that the music notation and tablature is presented. I have found a number of instances where a popular bluegrass song that was recorded by Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, or any other well-known artist in a common key of G, A, Bb or C, is presented in the book in the key of Eb or F. Why?

The best way to learn dozens of bluegrass songs is playing along with them. Whether you are working with a recording or sitting in on a jam, your ear will give you the best instruction. Getting familiar with common chord progressions and knowing where to put a capo in the case of a key change are essential to working well in a jam or even performing in a band on a regular basis. While you may start working on original material with a band, bluegrass music is one of those genres that knowing and jamming on old standards is a part of normal life. Whether you buy one or create your own, have a fake book in your arsenal and give it a regular workout. While I am one that promotes original music, there’s nothing wrong with sitting down and jamming on “Wabash Cannonball” or “High On a Mountain” with some fellow musicians when the chance arises.

Chew on it and comment.