Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Five Songs for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, a time to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our nation. For centuries, music has been an important form for complex expression – the gratitude and sadness we feel for those who make this sacrifice, the frustration and angst we experience with war, the joy we have in our unity as a country. Here are some songs for Memorial Day:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

5 Tips for Improving Improv!

Playing a challenging piece with ease, but freezing up when you see “cadenza” or “ad lib” written on the page? Getting through written music just fine, but struggling to “jam” with your buddies? Improvisation is fun for both performers and audiences, but it can be daunting. How are some musicians able to play on the fly so easily? Here are some tips for improving your improvisation skills:

1. Strong fundamentals (Technique) – practice your scales, arpeggios, melodic studies, etc. ... in every key, at various tempos, and with different articulations. Solid technique will allow you to focus on creativity rather than worry about what your fingers are doing.

2. Strong fundamentals, part 2 (Harmony and Melody) – a robust understanding of music theory, especially chord progressions and melody, is helpful. Know the functions of and relationships between chords. Learn how to prepare and resolve dissonance. Listen to and transcribe your favorite solos, then play the transcribed solos in multiple keys. Don’t limit yourself to soloists that play the same instrument as you. This will help you develop your musical intuition.

3. Creativity and Spontaneity – don’t be afraid to try new things or make mistakes! Think outside of the box. Repetition can be a powerful tool – if you make a mistake, for example, do the same thing again a step down or a step up. The audience will think it was intentional, and it will simply sound like a sequence. Don’t worry too much about “correctness” and following established rules or well-known patterns. Strong technique and strong musical intuition will guide you.

4. “Rely on your ears” – though important to know and understand the chord progressions, don’t simply follow the chords. Instead, listen to and interact with your fellow musicians to create a solo that is more musical than contrived.

5. Practice improvising! As with many skills, you probably won’t master it the first time around. Keep improvising – alone, with a group, in front of an audience. Pretty soon, you’ll sound like a natural!

Did we miss any tips? How did you master improv? Let us know!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

10 Best Prince Songs

Prince was renowned as a musical innovator, and was widely known for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, and wide vocal range. Trying to pick 10 of the best Prince songs was no easy feat. Did your favorite make the list?

10. "Controversy"

The song addresses speculation about Prince at the time such as his sexuality, gender, religion, and racial background, and how he could not understand the curiosity surrounding him.

9. "Little Red Corvette"

Released as a single from the album '1999' in 1983, the song was his biggest hit at the time, and his first to reach the top 10 in the U.S. It was also his first single to perform better on the pop chart than the R&B chart, due to the pop/rock format of the song!

8. "1999"

"1999" is the title track from his 1982 album of the same name. The song is one of Prince's best-known, and a defining moment in his rise to superstar status!

7. "Diamonds and Pearls"

"Diamonds and Pealrs" is an upbeat ballad, given a rock edge with guitar and heavy drumming. The song also features the vocals of NPG member Rosie Gaines. The ballad is an expression of love and not lust, as is the theme on some of the other singles from the 1991 album. The infamous pearls in the music video come from Connie Parente, a Los Angeles jewelry collector and designer.

6. "Purple Rain"

The song is a combination of rock, pop, gospel, and orchestral music. It reached No. 2 in the U.S. for two weeks. "Purple Rain" is widely considered one of Prince's signature songs!

5. "Cream"

"Cream" is a song by Prince and The New Generation from the 1991 album 'Diamonds and Pearls'. Prince says that he wrote the song while standing in front of a mirror!

4. "Let's Go Crazy"

"Let's Go Crazy" was the opening track on both the album and the film 'Purple Rain'. "Let's Go Crazy" is one of Prince's most popular songs, and is almost always a staple for concert performances, often segueing into other hits.

3. "Raspberry Beret"

"Raspberry Beret" is a song by Prince and The Revolution. It was the first US (and second UK) single from their 1985 album, 'Around the World in a Day'. The sound of the song was different from any previous Prince tracks, incorporating Middle Eastern finger cymbals, string instruments and even a harmonica on the extended version.

2. "Kiss"

"Kiss" started as a short acoustic demo, about a minute in length, consisting of a single 12-bar blues verse. Prince gave the song to the funk band Mazarati for their debut album. When Mazarati delivered the finished song to Prince, he was amazed at their work and decided to take back the song for himself. He replaced their lead vocal, added the guitar break in the chorus and edited the song to its present form.

1. "When Doves Cry"

Prince's longest running No. 1 hit "When Doves Cry" the lead single from his 1984 album 'Purple Rain'. It was a worldwide hit, and his first American number one single, topping the charts for five weeks. According to Billboard magazine, it was the top-selling single of the year.