Sleepless, by chugo – Pseudonyms aren’t for me

June 28th, 2018

I released “Sleepless” by chugo as a single. chugo is the name that generally floats by my avatars in my personal internet life. It’s pretty awesome. So here is that song, and now you know who wrote it:

Sleepless by who? chugo?

I figured I would try rebranding myself a little bit with the name “chugo” to see if it would work well with the dance/electronic genre. Unfortunately someone else had the exact same idea, and we’ve been lumped together. I say unfortunate because it really is bad for both of us. Cute innocent me with a drawing of a raccoon (compliments of my niece!) for album art has been merged with someone clearly trying to market themselves as a naughty-bottom (you know what I mean). I can’t even get to it on youTube because my filter is blocking it! So yeah…pseudonyms are a mistake I won’t be repeating.

I wrote sleepless in the fall of 2015 while teaching an electronic music class. It got its name because I wrote a larger section of it one night when I couldn’t sleep. It had the name “Can’t Sleep” for a long time. But that was terrible. So now it’s sleepless. And that’s really all there is to say about it without giving a formal analysis (which I should probably do sometime). It’s also the first track I’ve ever had mastered. It’s louder I guess…

So why did I wait so long to write a post about it and share it on my website? Just didn’t cross my mind…enjoy!

Singing Hymns in Parts With Guitars?

May 3rd, 2018

hymn-book-with-guitarI get nervous when I hear someone say something like “I don’t care for that instrument” or “I don’t like that genre.” There is merit in every genre and beauty in every instrument. To discount such a broad category of culture without a good deal of explanation indicates an insufficient understanding of the subject. These situations prevent great opportunities. For example, singing hymns in parts with contemporary accompaniment. It is a powerful idea that I wish I had more time to develop, but an individual who both plays guitar and sings using traditional harmonies is a rare find. These people have little time or opportunity to merge the two skills.

Singing Hymns in Parts with Contemporary Accompaniment is 100% Feasible

We have an easy place to begin for putting this vision into practice.  A modern contemporary arrangement of Be Thou My Vision that I’ve heard has a drone chord peddling throughout the first half of the verses (scale degrees 1, 2, and 5). If we sang in parts to this version over that pedal tone, it would be very lovely. This technique is not unprecedented in the least. Much classical literature uses pedal tones. They are a powerful way to create more pull toward resolution when used underneath a progression. Since these drone chords are common in both contemporary and traditional music, we have a very simple common denominator. We could use this idea to get people interested and begin developing the concept.

But They Changed the Harmonies!

It is important to consider technical objections when singing in parts with contemporary versions of hymns. For example, take this version of Be Thou My Vision. A common technique in contemporary versions is to substitute the relative minor chord in place of the tonic somewhere in the middle of a verse. When we are singing traditional harmonies with this change, we end up with a minor 7 chord, which is fine for either genre. However, the bass is likely playing the root of that minor chord. Traditional ears will likely consider this incorrect, and justifiably so since it destabilizes the harmony during a strong moment. The bass should be playing the 3rd of that chord, which is also the tonic. A properly balanced minor 7 chord would actually please everyone. This is just one example of how we can merge the two genres. There are solutions to every harmonic conflict; we simply must educate each other about the two genres.

The melody can be accompanied by multiple harmonizations and there is no “correct” solution. Any chord progression is likely to work with contemporary arrangements if the arrangement is orchestrated with the original harmonization in mind. Since the types of musicians that play contemporary styles well are masterful improvisers, they can adapt their playing to appropriately interact with their audience/congregation. All we need is an openness to hearing and understanding extended tertian harmony (i.e. that 7 chord we just talked about). I suspect that this opportunity rarely manifests since others who know only the old version are likely not singing.

Let Yourself Be Changed; Keep Singing Hymns in Parts

This beautiful merging of traditional worship with contemporary worship is completely workable. But we need a cultural shift toward singing hymns in parts from the congregation to make it happen. So next time you hear guitar and drums accompanying your favorite hymn, educate others with your singing.

The accompaniment can change you if you allow it the chance. If we soften ourselves, stay ourselves, and insert ourselves, artistic musical expression during worship will deepen in ways you can’t imagined.


Plastic Reeds are Better than Cane for Saxophone

April 26th, 2018

Plastic Reeds Sound the Same as Cane…With Practice

I was in undergrad when I tried a plastic reed. All of my peers and teachers met the switch with more or less hostile skepticism. This skepticism became worse when my sound was clearly different because of the product. But after a few months of using plastic reeds and a lot of listening, I began to sound just like I was playing a cane reed. It just took some time and experimentation to get the hang of it. The turning point was when I used a plastic reed during my lesson and my teacher (with a masters in saxophone performance) didn’t notice until I pointed it out at the end of the lesson. She let me use one from then on.

What I Play

plastic-reed-on-mouthpeiceThe only brand I have ever used is Légère so I can’t speak for any other since I haven’t tried them (once a problem is solved I stop shopping). I play on a 4 strength Légère studio cut. This strength works for me because I need a lot of back pressure to force my throat into the correct shape for altissimo notes. That and I destroy 3.5’s in a week.

Why Plastic Reeds are Better Than Cane

The sound is our number one priority, but we’re past that now. They sound great. You just have to put in the time with them. They are better for several reasons:

  • Barometric pressure and humidity have no effect on them.
  • You don’t have to suck on them to make them work*…I still do out of habit.
  • They last 6 months if you practice 3 hours a day.
  • Each one is exactly the same. There are no bad ones.
  • They’re way cheaper because one plastic reed is worth 20-30 cane reeds in value.
  • They respond in the altissimo range better.
  • They’re invincible to accidental breakage.
  • You don’t need to adjust them with glass, reed rush, weakening the heart, or any other nonsense.
  • Cane reeds can have air pockets that cause chirping. There’s no worse sound on a saxophone than a chirp, and it can make for a very embarrassing performance if you don’t know it’s there beforehand.
  • Your students can’t blame the reed for their problems (but neither can you, so there’s give and take there).

So make the switch and stop wasting your time and money! But, please, listen to my recordings so I can establish some credibility before just taking my word for it on plastic reeds. Note that every one of my recordings was done with a plastic reed.


*There is one very small disadvantage that I would love to gloss over…their performance is negatively affected by cold temperatures. But the solution there is to suck on it…so they don’t actually lose points to the cane reeds there either!

Is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” going into the Public Domain This Year?

April 19th, 2018

Earlier this week, I announced on Facebook my plans to rewrite the How to Sing Harmony app (again). The main reason is that I made it nearly impossible to add more songs to the app. As more hymns enter into the public domain, I need to be able to easily add them in. (Or even better, I need to make it easy for you to add them in!) But besides that, there are several other reasons for doing this:

  • I am a much better programmer than I was two years ago. It’s a weakness many of us share that we feel the need to rewrite the same app over and over again.
  • The user should be able to change the key.
  • There should be a search field to filter the song list for easier selection.
  • The sounds that aren’t piano aren’t that good. I want them to be better.
  • The notation should be generated. Right now they are just a bunch of pictures (Thanks VexFlow!).

I am excited to get going on this project, and I need everyone to know that this is going to take a very long time. I’m hoping to be finished in time for Christmas, but no promises!

What Songs Should be Added First?

Research on hymns to add to the app has revealed a wonderful surprise! According this very interesting article on public domain dates, Great Is Thy Faithfulness will be going into the public domain at the end of this year! This will also mean that I will be able to re-release an arrangement I wrote several years ago. I ended up taking down when I realized that it violated the copyright. So if you are new here can look forward to that this coming January.

If you’d like to help add songs to the app, please leave your email address on the hymns app home page. Or to simply give me ideas on what public domain hymns you would like me/us to add in, just use the box below to post requests. Or reach out on the Facebook page.

If you know for sure about “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” going into the public domain at the end of this year, please let me know! I want to hear from you.

Practicing Saxophone While Babysitting

April 15th, 2018

Until this past month, I really hadn’t touched my saxophone since my son was born. But then I was recently asked to teach saxophone lessons. At first I was reluctant to accept the opportunity because I didn’t see how I could possibly make time to practice. Between working full-time, helping take care of a baby, and my endless pile of side projects I didn’t see a way to make room in my schedule to get out my saxophone every day. Then I began wondering if it would be possible to watch a baby while practicing. I should make sure to mention that if you plan to be practicing saxophone while babysitting (not your own kid), make absolutely sure that the parents are OK with this.

There’s a general principal here: You never know what you’re capable of until you try.

baby touching saxophoneTo give you an idea of what I’m up against, my son is quite mobile now. Not walking, but he’s trying really hard.  Here are the tips I have so far:

Practicing Saxophone While Babysitting

My eyes are needed at all times, so I have to practice from memory. Glancing at a measure or two, I play through the music (while I know the boy will be safe for ten seconds) to learn what it sounds like. I just let the metronome do its thing and repeat what I saw and heard from memory. While it was difficult at first, I quickly learned to play the music by ear. And just like that my music is memorized. I then drill it down until I have another ten second window and then learn the next few measures.

Now, not only am I practicing saxophone while babysitting my son, but I am watching him more attentively, interacting with him through the music (he thinks it’s great), and learning the extremely valuable discipline of memorizing my music (a skill I need to have anyway).

Key Clicking During Nap Time

Another exercise I’ve been doing in the morning before anyone is up is key clicking exercises. Even the quietest saxophone makes a little noise when pressing the keys. I set the metronome at a slower tempo than I’m used to and work on my technique. I click through scales, arpeggios, and tougher passages of music I’m working on. This allows me to practice silently during nap time or before the kid is up while refining my technique faster. Faster because listening for a key click instead of a pitch change forces my fingers to respond more quickly than if I were putting air through the horn since the sound of the key click happens first.

The exercise exposes even the most subtle sloppiness so that I can clean it up. But even more than that, it allows me to focus on my hands instead of the sound. Sometimes it’s appalling at how far my fingers are coming off of the keys! As a bonus, I can even listen to an audio book or a podcast at the same time.

I’m sure that having more than one child would drastically change the dynamic (see what I did there) of practicing saxophone while babysitting, but you never know until you try!

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