What’s that title mean, Brandon?
As usual, I don’t know. It’s just words, ya know?
Anyway, here’s the newest jam on the synth rig. This setup is pretty close to what I think the final iteration will be:
Breath lead: Novation Peak
Chords: Arturia Microfreak (sequencing by Digitone)
Bass: Roland SE-02 (sequencing by Digitone)
Weird noises: Behringer Neutron
As you can see, the Digitone is doing some heavy lifting. It’s also processing audio FX for the Neutron and the Microfreak.
The blue lens flare you see at the bottom right is the power LED from the midi thru box I built. I’m using a Zoom H6 as an audio interface going into my iPhone 11. Mackie Mix 5 mixer is also here, with every input used - and that’s with the Digitone mixing itself with two of the other instruments. Might be time to trade up to the Mix 8 or something similar.
I hope you enjoy this weird, electronic music! Let me know!
This weekends jam features what seems to be the setup into which I have settled: Berglund Instruments NuRAD, Behringer Neutron, Novation Peak, Arturia Microfreak, and Elektron Digitone.
I am layering the Neutron and Peak together and controlling them with the NuRAD. Sometimes I use the Peak for chords with the analog Neutron on top, but this jam uses both as monos for a powerful, expressive combined sound.
The chord sequence is being played on the Arturia Microfreak, sequenced by the Digitone. Because the Microfreak and Neutron lack onboard effects (mostly - Neutron has an analog delay, but I don’t use it often), I am using the Digitone to process their audio.
Digitone is pulling a lot of weight in this jam: arp, bass, drums, audio FX, and sequencing the Microfreak. I’m really enjoying the Digitone. Digitone gets bonus points because it also works well as an eight-voice poly synth that can be breath controlled - but I’m not using it that way in this jam.
There is still room to bring the Roland SE-02 into
the mix, and I can sequence it with the Digitone once I get a midi thru box. I’m still learning to write with this setup; right now, most of what I’m doing is less than complete compositions. I have started to figure out how to treat each instrument as playing a role in the ensemble, and I’ve been building layered chord loops like this one. The next step is learning to build more complex arrangements. I’m enjoying it!
I hope you enjoy it, too!
Recently, I've spent all my free time either riding a bike or writing music. The outdoor activity sometimes bleeds into my writing, and I think that is what happened with this piece. I extracted the chords from a longer progression I wrote for an in-progress ballad, and the melody just floated into my head while I was riding in the beautiful parks around my home. Upon listening to the final product, I think the ostinato between chords and bass, along with the floating melody are influenced by the music of Erik Satie.
I am using an Elektron Digitone for this piece, all performed in one take. Everything is from the Digitone, including effects. I used factory presets for the drums, and I created the bass, chords, and lead voice from scratch. I am playing the lead voice with the NuRAD midi/cv breath controller from Berglund Instruments. I've only been working on the Digitone for a couple weeks, but so far it feels like a very natural fit for the exceptional NuRAD.
I hope you enjoy this short, meditative piece, and the accompanying visualization I created in Kmachine on my iPad.
I made and shared this video on YouTube a week ago, but I wanted to have it here, too.
The tune is Horace Silver's "Peace", a beautiful and unconventional ballad written in 1959 and released on Blowin' the Blues Away. Most classic jazz ballads fall into two types of forms: the AABA "song" form (some examples include Johnny Green's "Body and Soul" and Billy Strayhorn's "In a Sentimental Mood"), or the ABAC variant (some examples include Gross/Lawrence's "Tenderly" and Warren/Gordon's "There will Never be Another You"), both typically 32 bars long. Unlike most music in the Western tradition, which is almost exclusively made up of four- or eight-bar phrases, Silver's tune uses two four-bar phrases and a two-bar phrase/tag. As with any ballad originally composed with lyrics, understanding the lyrics is a great aid to understanding the phrasing. I have included Silver's lyrics below the video on this page.
The harmony of "Peace" is stunning. Flowing back and forth from minor to major, with ii-Vs and common tones making abrupt key changes palatable, "Peace" manages to cram a ton of beautiful content into one of the shortest ballads around, both subverting the listener's expectations and delivering beautiful resolutions colored by harmony derived from the melodic minor scale.
For another beautiful ballad in 10 bars with a magnificent harmonic journey, check out John Coltrane's "Central Park West", recorded in 1960 and released on Coltrane's Sound in 1964. And, if we're talking about unconventional-yet-beautiful ballads written by saxophonists, we have to include a work from one of the greatest albums from one of the greatest jazz composers/musicians of all time: "Infant Eyes," recorded in 1964 and released on Wayne Shorter's seminal album, Speak No Evil, in 1966. Check it out if you haven't.
There's a place that I know
Where the sycamores grow
And daffodils have their fun
Where the cares of the day
Seem to slowly fade away
In the glow of the evening sun
Peace, when the day is done
If I go there real late;
Let my mind meditate
On everything to be done
If I search deep inside;
Let my conscience be my guide
Then the answers are sure to come
Don't have to worry none
When you find peace of mind
Leave your worries behind
Don't say that it can't be done
With a new point of view
Life's true meaning comes to you
And the freedom you seek is won
Peace is for everyone
Peace is for everyone
Peace is for everyone
It has been a while since I posted, thanks to the @#??!!@! coronavirus pandemic sucking away all of my time and motivation to be creative...
But I had to decide to get on with my life. I hope people are responsible, I hope our global and national leadership can get things together and get us to the other side of this, but I can't just sit and wait. We had a great socially distanced jam last week, and it just served to remind me how important playing music is to me. So, on to this project!
One of my new prized possessions is the NuRAD wind controller from Berglund Instruments. It is a modern (and evolving constantly, thanks to creator Johan!) evolution of the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) invented by Nyle Steiner and later licensed by Akai. Akai's instruments are great, but the market is not not large enough for Akai to invest much into developing the instrument, so Johan and a handful of other musicians and designers tackled the project (originally to revive the Electronic Valved Instrument, or EVI, as there was no option on the market for brass players since Akai discontinued production many years ago).
I won't go into great detail on the NuRAD here (probably another post and video in near future), so here is the run down on the recording I made this morning:
Sitting on the deck of this cabin, I am looking at an incredible view of the Tennessee River Gorge, known as the "Grand Canyon of Tennessee." While drinking a cup of coffee early yesterday morning waiting on my family to wake up, I decided to break out the mini synth rig I brought with me. I also sampled some birdsong using the Koala Sampler app on my iPhone. I wrote a short sequence in the key of F Major on the SE-02, and played around with the sound design and effects a little.
This morning I started the recording and improvised with the sequence. I am controlling my Behringer Neutron with the NuRAD, and using the really cool harmonizer function in the beta firmware I got from Johan recently - and, as an example of how the NuRAD project is a living, evolving thing, I got another email from Johan with beta firmware with improvements on the harmonizer just this morning while I was uploading this video!
More detailed note on the sequence can be found in the description of the video linked below.
I hope you enjoy the video - I surely enjoyed creating it.
I recorded a very short video in four parts and managed to accomplish the following:
Today's project is a continuation of the last theme: using my new H6 recorder to multi track saxophone quartets. I arranged one of my original compositions, Old Bricks, for saxophone quartet, and I recorded a rough take today. I originally planned to use this as my test case for figuring out the video/audio sync for a four-way split screen video, but I found a couple errors in the arrangement I want to fix before I tackle that. I also think I may need to do a "proof of concept" with something very short and simple (like four bars) before I try to tackle something like a whole tune.
Here is my rough take of Old Bricks arranged for saxophone quartet.
Brandon Dorris, soprano saxophone
Brandon Dorris, alto saxophone
Brandon Dorris, tenor saxophone
Brandon Dorris, baritone saxophone
Brandon Dorris, composer/arranger
Brandon Dorris, recording engineer
Brandon Dorris, dorky blog author
Hopefully I'll have the first test (successful?) of the four-way video to post very soon!
My best friend, Dave Williams II, gave me the most amazing gift: a Zoom H6 audio recorder! Now I have no excuse for poor audio quality in my videos, other than not having a clue how to use the thing...
...so project No. 1: make a simple saxophone quartet arrangement of Lennon/
McCartney's And I Love Her and track all the parts into the H6. Done! Here is the recording:
To be clear, that took me four hours to record the two-minute arrangement.
Upcoming: adapting two or three of my compositions to saxophone quartet and recording those. Also another Beatles tune, probably.
Big upcoming: learning to make 2/3/4/100 video split screens of my arrangements. I downloaded Shotcut today. First I have to figure out the video, then syncing the audio to the video.
Those items should keep me busy for a little while!
Ah, the big, terrifying elephant in the room. Let me dispel the first myth: THE MINOR BLUES SCALE IS NOT THE BEST CHOICE FOR A MAJOR BLUES PROGRESSION (or any progression, really). Many band directors teach this for several reasons: some know it is a good way to give students a simple approach that can help build confidence, some want to have a simple approach so they can spend a smaller amount of time on the subject and get back to preparing for marching contest, and some simply don't know better and they are doing their best.
I'm here to help, and I believe my approach is superior. Also, I am an expert. Listen up (I'm very modest, and a stable genius).
The Major Blues Scale
Whaaat!? What is this thing?
I'm so glad you asked. The major blues scale is based on the dominant chord, which is also the fundamental building block of the blues progression. Let's take D7, the first chord (for alto) of the solo changes for Williemakeit Blues.
This chord is a dominant chord. I'm not digging into theory, but this is a chord about which entire books on improvisation and jazz theory can and have been written. For now, just know that is is a major triad (D F# A) with a lowered seventh added (C natural). Let's start building.
Hit the brakes!!!
I'm going to adjust these changes (sorry, Brian). The chords in bars 1, 11, and 12 are unnecessary. While there is nothing wrong with them, they are not necessary to the progression, and they interfere with most students' ability to learn from the progression. So, the new progression is four bars of D7, two bars of G7, two bars of D7, one bar of A7, one bar of G7, then two bars of D7. That is the most basic three-chord, twelve-bar blues.
OK, back in...
Notable missing notes: G natural (pretty much the worst note, and for some reason, the one most young improvisers gravitate to), C# (the major seventh), and Ab/G#, the "blue" note from the minor blues scale.
Notable blues saxophone solos using only the minor blues scale: 0.
Notable blues saxophone solos using only the scale we just built: literally too many to list.
The catch? You have to learn three scales for the progression instead of just one. D, G, and A, the three keys we traverse in a three-chord blues progression. Nearly the entire canon of rock and roll/blues saxophone solos uses these three scales for 99% of the notes.
Some thoughts on Arkansas Junior High All Region music for saxophones...
First, let's look at Williemakeit Blues. A few things to note about the piece:
The most important thing, and the most commonly ignored, is how to articulate swing 1/8th notes. As the key area exercises now used in Arkansas All Region indicate, the basic idea is to slur from the "and" to the beat, which means you lightly tongue all of the "ands" and none of the beats. Sometimes the line will need an extra articulation or slur, and in real-world charts these are generally not indicated.
Tonguing every swing 1/8th note is practically never done. Don't do it, don't teach your students to do it, and don't expect it in the audition room. This is even true if the exercise/chart does not have any slur marks at all.
Why "practically never done?" Because we're talking about a very expressive form of music, and there are no hard and fast rules. So take things like "never" and "always" with a grain of salt.
How can students practice this articulation? First, they need to listen. Glenn Miller's In the Mood is easy enough, and most band libraries will have the chart to read along. Learning to play along with the intro is an education in itself. Feel free to sub in your favorite swing recordings. Advanced saxophone students will get a lot from listening very closely to Charlie Parker then playing along. Ideally, by transcribing the solo themselves, but reading out of the Omnibook is a great way to help your ears guide your articulation and sense of swing.
Note length, accents and dynamics
As I noted earlier, Brian has done an excellent job of marking these stylistic considerations. Note the F# (I'm looking at an alto part) on the and of four in bar two. The crescendo is not just an artistic license taken by the composer; it is actually appropriate and nearly universally expected when reading this rhythm, even if not marked. The only thing missing here (again, in my opinion) is and accent mark on the F#. In swing style, accent any entrance that happens on the and, or beat two or beat four, and forte piano - crescendo through any held notes.
Now, let's look at the quarter note on beat three of bar three. This housetop accent is also stylistically appropriate, even if not marked. This marking means accented with space before and after the note. Note: this does not mean the note is short! Think DAHT, not dit. The length of quarter notes is not always the same, but playing a quarter note on beat one or three with this articulation is a good place to start. If you are playing in a big band, it is the job of the lead trumpet to dictate the length of these notes.
On to bar five, beat four. The composer has again notated an articulation that should be assumed in this situation: legato on the first 1/8th note, staccato on the second. In swing style, 1/8th notes followed by a rest are to be played short and accented.
Next post: Improvisation
I play saxophone.*