Tuesday, February 21, 2006

the latest musical addition

As if two guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, flute, fiddle, various whistles, and small drums were not enough, we now have a keyboard in the house. Starflower began taking lessons two weeks ago, so we got my keyboard out of storage and somehow managed to make room for it.

I took a few piano lessons when I was a preteenager, and I could still probably play an acceptable tune or two, but somehow I never caught on to it like I did with flute or stringed instruments. It did teach me the fundamentals of music theory, however, and I still think piano is one of the best instruments for learning the basics. Although Starflower just had her second lesson yesterday, and this picture was taken last night while she was practicing, I can tell she has a sense of rhythm and she was doing a good job of playing simple melodies.

You would think, with all of the instruments in the house, that this place would be alive with music every evening and the TV and video games would be silent. Alas, it has not been that way this weekend. I'm in somewhat of a musical rut lately; I need some inspiration, something to get me going again. Or maybe I just need a swift kick: "Quit making excuses, get out an instrument, and PLAY IT!"


Melissa said...

I'm the same way. I have a banjo my husband bought me two holidays ago, and I still haven't learned how to play it.

I grew up playing the piano and I am so glad I know how. That's so great your daughter is learning! Music is such a wonderful part of life. I've been enjoying reading your blog lately, by the way!

Laura said...

I agree about piano giving you the basics. I've struggled to move beyond it. This weekend I was at a songwriting retreat, though, and when I got back things just flowed. I could play things just by instinct on the guitar, things I didn't know I knew. Listen, listen, listen - and "write, write, write" - that's what James Dean Hicks wrote in his autograph for me. I'm smitten. But I got a new song out of it - my best ever, I'd say, but that's what I always say.

madcapmum said...

She's pretty cute, that girlio. Poppy has the same fashion sense, by the look of things - PJs with matching hair accessories.

Floridacracker said...

She is too cute. The musical apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Deb said...

melissa- Thank you. And by the way, we had your cauliflower pasta dish again tonight, and my 8 year old son said, "Are we having Mighty Cauliflower? I love it!!!" :)

Laura- A songwriting retreat? I am absolutely green with envy! I'm thinking maybe a month by myself in some isolated cabin might finally get the juices flowing for me. Although I know you probably won't read this for a while, what with Garth back and all. Have fun.

Madcap- Yes, she does have quite the fashion sense, and I'm glad it includes PJ's and ponytails.

FC- I'm still all weepy about your last post, realizing that in not too many years my darling daughter will be the beautiful young woman yours is.

Dan Trabue said...

So, who plays the fiddle in your household? And how easy/hard is the bouzouki after knowing a bit about mandolin? I really want to get one of those one day.

Have I mentioned to you that the sometimes cantankerous but always interesting Eleutheros who visits my blog is a Tennessee luthier?

Dan Trabue said...


Any chance of sharing the lyrics to your new and I'm sure wonderful song?

Deb said...

Dan- We're hoping to get Calvin started on fiddle soon, but the instrument needs a bit of a tune up.

I've found the bouzouki to be pretty easy after learning the fingerings for mandolin. The major difference is, of course, the length of the scale, which requires a lot more hand movement, and you can't play any of the closed position (chop) chords.

Perhaps you could have Eleutheros make one for you!

Laura said...

Oh, it wasn't an isolated cabin - it was "The Brass Monkey" bar and grill in downtown Saskatoon, a block away from the Midtown Plaza in a concrete canyon, with two dozen aspiring songwriters hoping for a ticket to success from the trio of Nashville veterans leading the retreat. Leading the retreat - hmmm - sounds like something ignominious.

Eleutheros said...

One of my daughters (8 yo) has a keyboard that looks for all the world like the one in your photo. I'm of two minds about lessons to teach the basics. At present I'm encouraging her to play things by ear and learn the 'basics' later.

I myself became inspired to brush up on my music and am going on the Eleutherus Unplugged Tour this summer. Well, that's hardly surprising since I'm unplugged most of the time. I have a vigorous schedule of back porches, front steps, park benches, the fire pit in the front pasture, all culminating in the big concert at the convience store in Piney Flats where concert goers can dine lavishly on a moon pie and red soda and join the chant "Play Rocky Top!" Yes, indeed.

Dan, bouzoukis are made in different scales from a true octave mandolin (same as a tenor banjo) up to a neck longer than a 5-string banjo. Alas, many mandolin players (and fiddle players, for that matter) have the bad habit of curling the thumb of their right hand around the neck. When they come to the longer scale of the bouzouki, they have no reach. The thing is to keep the thumb nearly behind the neck when playing the mandolin, then it's just a matter pivoting the wrist to get the longer reach on the bouzouki. But as Deb points out, huge would be the nand that could manage the closed chords but they'd sound perfectly awful on a bouzouki anyway. Also in playing jigs and reels in E-min (which is very common), on a mandolin it is possible to bar the second and third course at the second fret (E and B) with the first finger and note those courses with the third finger at the fifth fret (G and D) which occurs in diadokokenesis in a lot of the tunes. Can't do this with a bouzouki and you have to develop the technique of rocking the hand pivoting on the thumb behind the neck to accomplish this.

The right hand technique has a lot in common with the cello, thumb is anchored in one of several standard positions and the hand pivots to note the strings. There is also a rolling chord technique that doesn't work so well for a mandolin but brings out the unique sound of a bouzouki.

Your mistake was getting me started!

Dan Trabue said...

I hestitate to ask, but what's a rolling chord technique?

You're a knowledgeable fella, Ellie. I'd reckon you might make for a good neighbor.


Eleutheros said...

Rolling chords? Very, very traditional Celtic music is a strictly solo tradition, a single line played by a single musician. A great deal of what passes for modern Celtic music adds chord accompaniment in the form of a strumming guitar or chopping mandolin and thus becomes a sort of 'Celto-rock' or 'Celto-grass' music. Musical expressions in their own right but not the traditional Celtic sound or feel.

Groups of musicians who try to preserve the old traditional sound all play the melody line together or only slightly vary it as to not be playing an actual counter melody. An effective technique developed on bouzouki is to play the notes in the chords as single notes in a pattern that corresponds to the time signature. Musically it is similar to the chordal Scruggs style 5-string banjo roll (but NOT like the McReynold's mandolin rolls) but differs from the banjo roll in that there is no strictly drone string. The result is a riff that goes with the tune flawlessly and yet will not be heard as a separate element which would foul the traditional sound.

Deb said...

Wow, this has developed into more of a musical discourse than I ever imagined! Thanks Dan for asking the questions, and Eleutheros for the answers. I'll have to get the 'zouk out today since I'm home with a sick kid. Maybe I'll post a picture of it.

Eleutheros, does that keyboard happen to be a Roland EP-5? I like it; portable, good sound, without too many unneccessary frills.

Dan Trabue said...

"The thing is to keep the thumb nearly behind the neck when playing the mandolin..."

I had a guitar-playing friend who tried to get me to not curl my thumb up so far around on the guitar's neck, told me it'd limit my playing.

He was likely right, as I'm a very limited player.

But it is a habit that I've carried over to mando. I just like the balanced feel it gives me.

What a weenie.