Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dulcimerica 208 - "One Hot Trio: Memphis"

Dulcimerica 207 - "Playing In Memphis"

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Deconstructing "River Song"

As a child, I remember sitting in a darkened movie theater in Hollywood, California watching the opening titles of "Tom Sawyer" and thinking to myself "that's the most amazing piece of music I've ever heard."  For years, the tune haunted me and I hunted it down all over the place until, finally, I found the soundtrack online.  Nominated for a 1973 Golden Globe for Best Score and later nominated for Best Music, Best Scoring and Best Original Song Score or Adapation Oscars to honor songwriters Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman alongside composer John Williams.  The opening and closing tune, "River Song" was sung by country great Charley Pride and that's the tune that stuck with me for years.

It's filled with that simple Sherman Brothers magic and Williams' arrangement in the extended clip above is him at his color-weaving best.  I've been of a mood lately to deconstruct pieces of music to see what makes them have the emotional punch that they possess, so it's no wonder that I'm now looking at the works of the Sherman Brothers.  Those guys really knew how to tug on your heartstrings.

I got so into this deconstruction that I actually reconstructed it and made a little demo to see if some of the very basic chord changes would retain that familiar Sherman brothers "lift."  But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.  Let's start with the key(s) of the tune.

It didn't take much to suss out that our piece begins in C proper with the ensemble choir before modulating to Ab when Charley begins singing.  Then, it modulates again to the key of A.  Since I'm working on this tune to include in my performances, I decided to round it off starting where Pride does - in the key of Ab (which is actually my optimal key for singing.  Nice.)

Real quick - here are the words:

River runs warm in the summer sun
river runs cold when the summer's done
but a boy's just a dreamer by the riverside
cause the water's too fast and the water's too wide

then the world turns around and the boy grows tall
he hears the song of the river call
the river song sings "travel on, travel on"
you blink away a tear and the boy is gone


oh a river's gonna flow cross the land, cross the land
oh a river's gonna flow to the sea
and a boy is gonna grow to a man, to a man
only once in his life is he free
only one golden time in his life is he free

(Beautiful stuff, isn't it?  Robert sure know how to turn a phrase.  Richard was the tune guy.)

Here's the chord rundown:

Ab - Bb - C - Db - Eb - F - G
 I    -  ii  - iii - IV  - V  - vi - vii°

Which would naturally give us

Ab - Bbm - Cm - Db - Eb - Fm - Gdim

I sat down at the piano and knew this wasn't going to be an easy case of following the passing tones, because I've never been able to easily figure out any Sherman Brothers tune.  I was determined, however, to dig in and really get to the root of the two big changes that have the most punch.  So, I began to listen to the track (extracted into a MP3 which I then introduced into Transcribe! so I could slow it down, isolate sections, analyze data and so forth.)  The first verse is pretty easy:

Ab - Fm

Ab - Fm - Bbm - Eb

Ab - Fm

Db - Ab - Bbm - Eb - Ab

So far, so good - it follows the pattern of major and minor chords to a "t".  But then comes the key change to A - and the chord that connects the two keys is:


(I once met Richard M. Sherman and told him, half-jokingly, that he and his brother had "taught me that seventh chords" were "the center of the universe."  He got a kick out of that.)

Just a quick look at the rundown for the key of A:

A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G#
 I -  ii  - iii  - IV  V - vi - vii°

Which gives us:

A - Bm - C#m - D - E - F#m - G#dim

Then, we move on with "then the world turns around...":

A - F#m

A - Bm - E7

And now, I began to prep myself for the first major deconstruction - that wonderful Sherman Brothers lift at the end of the line "the river song sings 'travel on, travel ONNNNN'"

My first thought was another magical seventh chord with a different bass root, maybe a third or something like that.  But my fumblings with it proved that that was not the case.  And why?  Because when I played the melody, it clashed with my chords.  Something was amiss and I just wasn't hearing it.  Knocking about with some more chord and root combos, I finally stumbled upon it:

A - D - F#m6/D# - A/E - Bm - E - A - G/A

Wow!  That's so delicious!  The key ingredient of that yumminess is the minor sixth chord, which already includes the raised fourth note that is doubled by the bass root.  The second, third and fourth chords in that progression allow for a chromatic lift: D - D# - E and it was this particular kind of chord voicing that made The Sherman Brothers such an amazing songwriting team.  It was all about the motion with these guys and not a note was wasted.  By using first and second inversions, you can pay attention to ascending and descending lines in the melody, harmony and bass, attaining conflict and resolution with breathless skill.  Quick review:

Normal 1-3-5 chord structure for a C chord:  C - E - G

First inversion takes the third and puts it on the bottom: E - C - G

Second inversion takes the fifth and puts it on the bottom: G - C - E

Now, for the chorus:

D - A - Bm - E - A - G/A

Okay, here comes the next heart-stopping moment - "and a boy is gonna grow..."

D - A - C# - F#m - Dm6/F - A

Hello!  I think my heart skipped a beat.  Just listen to that movement; soaring, inspiring and ultimately bittersweet.  The formula has been repeated in dozens of Sherman Brothers songs and by looking at the chords, I'm thinking I understand what's going on.  They have returned to a minor sixth chord but this one has an even more heartbreaking flavor than the last; why is that?  Well, first off - the root chord is not part of the scale like the F#m6.  We should be looking at a D Major instead of a D minor (if we were following the rules, but playing by the rules does not yield goodness like this.)  Underneath the D minor sixth, we've got an E root,  part of our scale harmonization and, in this case, acting as a first inversion, placing the third on the bottom of the chord.  Following the progression of F#m - Dm6/F - A can you hear the now-descending chromatic note leading?  It's F# - F - E.   Pure emotional stringing along, man - brilliant!  Notes have emotional as well as physical properties; runs leading up sound buoyant and happy/hopeful - runs going down sound depressing, wistful, sad.  Not all the time, depends on the notes, but in this case, along with the choices of chords, The Shermans have lifted us up and then taken us down a peg with a simple example of voice leading.  Wrapping it up with some tasty stuff here:

A - Bm - C#m - D - Dm6/F - A/E - A+/F - D/F# - Esus4 - E - A

Ach!  I'm spent.  These guys...

So, what have we got for the finale?  Those first four chords are just walking up the A scale harmonizations leading us to another wonderfully heartbreaking Dm6/F which then resolves into
ANOTHER climb with a chromatic lead-through (E - F - F#) that connects a lovely A augmented chord and a D first inversion before slapping a nice ending by way of conflicted and resolving E chord and finally, back home, absolutely loving the journey.

I had such fun digging around in this AND discovered the secret of so many of my favorite tunes.  Transcribe! is a great program for doing this kind of dissection.  I also used Band In A Box to assemble the chord progressions and put them together in a quick arrangement to see how it would do without all of the extras that Mr. Williams is using to really sell the changes.  In fact, here is the MP3 file so you can hear how it works out with the above chords.  Since Charley Pride is one of the greatest country singers ever, I decided that I'd update the style of the song with a bit of Nashville flavor, though I'm using very simple instruments to play the melody.  Listen to how that melody winds in and around the changes - it's the main emotional tie that binds it all.

River Song - Exercise.mp3

Thanks for checking this out! I know I bounce back and forth between beginner stuff and then stuff like this - but I know the audience is out there for all of it.  And it's never too soon to start thinking about the  magic of music theory.  Until next time.....

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Deconstructing "Liberian Girl"

While jogging this morning in the stiff breeze preceding the impending arrival of Hurricane Isaac, I suddenly found myself pondering the chord progression to Michael Jackson's song "Liberian Girl."


Jackson always knew how to wring the most out of a progression and the type of chord movement in this song is typical of his most famous hits.

I came home, sat down at the piano, and began trying to figure out the key of the tune which turned out to be G# minor.

How'd I come to that conclusion?

I listened to the first chord (G#m) and asked myself what the relative Major key would be.  There are a couple way of doing this (besides having it memorized, which I didn't):  one, you play the G# natural minor scale - G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E - F# - and then either go backwards six notes, including G#, or forward two notes to determine the first note of the associated Major scale.  Or you use the circle of fifths to travel "20 minutes" clockwise around (including the starting note) to find your relative minor.  You'll come up with Ab, but since we're working in a key full of sharps, just adjust the spelling to G#.  Using scale degrees, you can chart out the chord possibilities thusly:

B  -  C#  - D#  - E  - F# - G#  - A#
I  -    ii   - iii   -  IV - V  - vi    - vii°

Now, remember that we're in the relative minor key of G#, so we want to count that note as first in its scale.  Our scale degrees and chords remain the same for each particular note; they just happen in a different order.

G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E - F#

 i  -   ii° -  iii  - iv  - v  -  VI - VII

This gives us the template from which to begin sussing out the chord progressions of the tune.  Now,  what drew me to this song was some of the luscious harmonic action taking place towards the end of the chorus and I knew there would be some substitutions looming and that's mainly what this bit of discovery is all about.  Still, Jackson plays it by the book for the most part, so figuring out those elements of the tune were quite easy. Here is the verse progression:

i - iv - v
i - iv - v

Simple as that.  Now, I write it out with scale degrees so that if I want to transpose it, I can do so.  Match the above progression with our G# minor scale and you'll come up with these chords:

G#m - C#m - D#m
G#m - C#m - D#m

Now, onto the chorus, and I'm excited doing this because I want to crack the Jackson code and discover some of the secrets of why his music was so tasty.  Here's what I come up with:

VI - i - iv6 - Vsus4

Whoa!  More than just formula going on here, but let's have a closer look.  We've got a modulation from the VI to the i which is part of the minor scale degree situation; so chorus begins E to G#m.  Then, Jackson pops a chord substitution, which is any chord that's not part of the associated harmonic chord structure.  Instead of simply playing the iv chord, he makes it a minor 6th chord, which is just fraught with delicious drama.  If that's not enough, he bounces that up against an even more dramatic chord substitution in the form of a V chord as opposed to a v chord.  Often times in music, changing one of your established chords from Major to minor or minor to Major is enough to really shake up your arrangements.  Here, he not only does that with the V chord, but he also makes it a sus4 that resolves at just the last beat before kicking back into the verse.  Slurpy!

E - G#m - C#m6 - D#sus4 - D#

One more thing.  To wring the maximum effect out of that minor 6th chord, he places the bass note (in this case A#) on the bottom, thus making it a "slash chord."

E - G#m - C#m6/A# - D#sus4 - D#

Finally, the song repeats a three-song progression as Jackson sings variations on the lyric "I love you Liberian girl":

G#m - C#m - D#sus4

So, there you have it!  This is the kind of stuff that I hear in my head and then feel compelled to go chase down the formulas in order to better understand and utilize music theory.  I'll be doing this quite a bit over the next few months as I continue to dig deep in the studio while writing and producing.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Not Global Warming - It's 2 HOT Florida Winter Events!

Che hun ta mo!

Winter in Florida is going to be sizzling in 2013 as we present two radically different events in the Sunshine State:

The first will be our fourth annual Key West shindig, now known as the Key West Dulcimer GatheringJanuary 24th - 27th, 2013 in Key West, Florida. Butch Ross and I will be presenting mountain dulcimer and ukulele workshops, private lessons and a concert at Casa Cabanas, which was the site of our outing earlier this year with Robert Force and Scott Snyder. No registration fee! The workshops and lessons are pay as you go and we'll once again be sightseeing and enjoying an authentic Cuban cookout at the casa. It'll be laid-back as it can get, for that's the tropical island style! For more information, visit our website at and our Facebook event page at

Then, the following weekend, January 31st - February 3rd, 2013, I'll be joined by Guy and Sharrie George for the first annual Florida Gulf Coast Dulcimer Retreat in Homosassa Springs, Florida, presented by Folkcraft Instruments. $99 registration includes all 26 workshops and Saturday night concert with the focus on mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, Native American flute, penny whistle, ukulele, steel drum and guitar. The site for all of this will be the Homosassa Riverside Resort where we have a discounted block of rooms. This will showcase the old Florida river style, with plenty of opportunity for boating, fishing, scalloping and swimming with manatees. For more information, visit and our Facebook event page at

On February 4th, Guy, Sharrie and I will be leading a RV caravan to the Ft. Wilderness Resort at Walt Disney World for yet MORE musical fun as we camp out on the shores of Bay Lake, jam, hang-out and enjoy all of the fun that a stay at The Magic Kingdom has to offer.

It promises to be a wonderful three weeks of fun in the sun and I hope you'll be able to join us!

Sho na bish,


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Long Time, Lots See

Che Hun Ta Mo!

The blog has been rather unattended of late and I blame that squarely on the busy nature of my schedule. So, I've got a bit of a break in the action here at Patapsco State Park in Ellicott, Maryland to catch up readers of this blog with the latest.

First off, summer tour has been amazing in every way. Each show has been a revealing gem with lots of music, great visits and moments that I'll always treasure. Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a celebrity superstar; making the money, the headlines and doing whatever I felt like doing. But somewhere along the line, my true calling manifested itself and it's been a pure joy to not only perform across the country and see fans from all around the globe appreciate my music, but also to teach, and to learn from, people who are discovering their own musical voices. To be in touch and not removed from people is my reality and it gives me great purpose.

I've been on the road for three weeks now, living in Rita, doing laundry at the coin-op, cooking meals (and eating lots of Mexican food), playing shows and exploring both familiar and new parts of this country. I won't paint a completely pretty picture - reality is that we're fighting tough times, much like our predecessors did in the 1920's on the North American continent. One of the things that the folks of the United States won't give up is their music, and it's been a delight to help people explore, engage and enjoy the passion of melody, harmony and rhythm.

When I get back home from the Indiana Dulcimer Festival next week, I'll be starting a low-key period where I'll dig down deep into production and finally knock out so much of what has been caterwauling in my head, heart and soul for so long. Though I'll hit the road again briefly in October for an East Texas tour, I am planning to drop from the radar for a bit while I do some very important recording, writing, practicing and planning.

I'd like to thank every one of you who comes to this blog for believing in me and for all of your encouragement and support. In the interest of always looking for better ways to do what I do, I'm always in flux, or that may just be the ADHD talking. In any case - the past four or five years has been absolutely tremendous and I'm truly blessed to live this life. As summer tour draws to a close, I want to thank you all for your participation in this thing I call my life. It has enriched me and brought me to a higher plane. So much of that comes from meeting you folks on the road and at home. Even those who were unaware of that particular dulcimer festival or pub or cafe show still came up to share some of your life experiences with me and, you know what? I'm a better man for it.

Thanks again, everybody - for your texts, e-mails, phone calls, cards and posts. Thank you for trusting me with your questions; thank you for believing my answers. But above all, thanks for keeping it real. If there's one thing that I believe in with all of the craziness going on in the U.S. right now, it's that the beautiful, the skillful and the upwardly/inwardly seeking people are alive and well. To quote Doc Brown (and, parenthetically, Andrew Hagen) "remember, the future is what you make of it - so make it a good one!"

Sho na bish,


From iPhone with love.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Fish Fry

Gone Fishin'

I love being on the road and everything that it brings. The excitement of new places and the interaction with people from all across the country and around the world brings inspiration and a genuine sense of understanding. So many stories and so many melodies that spring out of them!

This part of the tour has had its share of inspiration and education; from the snowy mountains of West Virginia to the rolling, sunny pine woods of east Texas, where I'm currently in major chill mode.

Some music has been made, sure, as I continue my journey through America's state and national parks. But I've largely been fishing, something that I've only done twice in my life up to this point. Now, I'm eying every body of water and contemplating the returns on sitting with pole cast into the deep.

Heading there now, but thought I'd check in. I may post a picture if I think about it (or if there's signal.)

Hope you're having a great day!

Sho na bish,


Sunday, March 04, 2012

You Are Good Enough

My dad was a hard-ass.

Is it enough to even say that, in all the time I knew him before he died, I still didn't get to know him enough or understand him?  He tucked a lot of shit away and didn't share.  As a father, he really lacked some things.  I understand; that kind of thing gets passed down.

But, as an artist, he did his best to pass on to me the secrets of the craft.  Even though he never  truly made his mark in that respect, he certainly tried to convey the importance of listening to your muse and going with that flow and surfing its waves onto the shore of the great unknown.

I've never quite known why the hell I'm bound to do what I do, but there's never been much of an argument as to why I shouldn't.  It's never a question of wanting to.  It's always a matter of simply how to make it happen and damn the consequences.

If you feel that way, then why don't you just do it?

If any kind of art is burning within you, regardless of why it's even an issue, then perhaps it's meant for you to pursue it.  And if you're coldly calculating the artistry, well - you're dead in the water, mate.  There is no heartless approach to this.

Where does this come from?  Man, I'm only cracking the egg at this point; just wanting to lay some things out from a perspective.  If you follow this blog, then you might just be a fertile bed of soil looking for a few seeds.  Here's my contribution:  go with it.  Blow up and whirl like a haystack of ideas and let those ideas sink into the soil.  Who knows?  A bloom may sprout and form something in your heart.  Wouldn't that be grand?

Who can even question why some people might find themselves possessed of the nature to expose, compose, repose and go to the ends of their abilities just to understand and comprehend the "why"?

Well, I just did - and why are you even reading this unless you want to do something about it?  Don't bother unless you have the desire to move forward.

Art isn't something you "do."  Art is something you "are."  Modern times and media will pretend to associate the concept of expression with some kind of yearning, but honestly - it's in you already.  Nurturing is the key - not some limp attempt to embrace an inner "you" that can only be expressed by the amount of pop culture knowledge that you cling to like a life preserver.

It can't be done alone.  And the Feedback Fairy is waiting in more rooms than you even care to know.

Are you ready?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love, love, love....all you need.

The wonders of Orlando in mid-winter; toasty warm sunshine and freezing breezes. Ironically, it's the coldest set I've ever had and judging from the responses of other artists on the bill, the feeling was mutual.

Still, it was a great time at the 10th Annual Orlando Folk Festival, hearing great music, checking out the art, catching up with old friends and making new ones; ain't that what it's all about?

Saturday had a full slate of acts, so this was the second day featuring Highway 19, Flat Mountain Band (with Russ Gaspard and Carter Everett), Magda Hiller, Dish and Laurel Lee and the Escapees.

It got me to thinking about how little I perform in central Florida any more. Besides the monthly show at McWell's, I'm pretty much doing private parties and weddings when I'm home with the other shows taking place on the road somewhere. Not that I'm complaining, since seeing so much of North America last year was the highlight of a lifetime. Still, there's something to be said about getting home after every gig, so I'm starting to look at doing more shows here in the state. This was a nice taste of what is was like starting off in the local Orlando scene circa 1998. Everybody supporting everybody else, cool relaxed vibe, great music and passion and humor. I do suppose those days continue to exist inside all of us!

What Is Going On?

Just a general query, I'm sure. So, I'm about two-thirds through with the blues method book for mountain dulcimer - it's an intro method with an advanced method to follow probably in the late fall. Target completion and publishing is late-winter at which point I'll go into production on two books commissioned by Folkcraft: a beginner's method book and a chromatic method book. Needless to say, I'm recording in between the breaks of book copy and still drilling away at "Dive!", which gets weirder and weirder with each new bit of carving.

Next, and last, show in Orlando for a month will be March 1st at McWell's at 6 pm in the front room. This will be the first show with the new addition to the gear pile, the Handsonic 10. I've been lusting after one of these things for awhile now and am happy to have finally added one to the set-up. It's not a drum machine, rather it's a drum trigger with pads and a bank of killer sounds so I can set up a beat and layer it with the looper pedal, quickly providing any kind of backup percussion I need for a song. From standard drum sets to exotic hand drums and special effects, it's much more groovy for creating rhythms because you're actually playing on a rubber drum head like a conga or djembe shape. Much more organic and dynamic than trying to knock out beats on an iPad.

So, in between the cracks of everything else going on, I'm rehearsing with the Handsonic and experimenting with ways to implement it. It's quite incredible and more than a lot of fun, not to mention a good workout!

Shortly after the McWell's show - I'll be hitting the road for a couple of weeks. Looking forward to seeing the beginnings of spring across the country, as I'm sure are many of you as well. I know it's all relative but, cold to you is cold.


We don't need the retail industry to tell us how cool love is, and any day of the year I'd wish you love. So how about bold strokes of splashy, dauby love for this week? All the better to hang on a wall proudly and admire with appreciation for those colors and the soulful sentiments that go along with them. It's all you need. Love!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Where Did The Month Go?

Had a brilliant time down in Key West; relaxing as it should be with some great friends making great music. Of course, Robert Force was there, bringing with him that walkabout spirit of discovery and wizened wonder. With him was Scott Snyder, a fan-turned-friend of Force's with a dynamic style all his own on mountain dulcimer and a number of other instruments as well. An encyclopedia of tunes and their origins, Scott and Robert were the entertainment for those who weren't actually playing in the jam and had no interest in listening to hyperactive fiddle tunes. Gary Zimmerman, who gigs seven nights a week there in Key West, had his fiddle on-hand and jammed with both groups; first the traditional jam on the deck and then sitting in with the pop music set, which also included lots of original tunes and folk songs.

There was a nice gathering of folks who came to take private lessons and jam, enough to fill the backyard at Casa Cabanas with the presence of those sharing music and really good Cuban food. Much like the Kindred Gathering, the legendary traveling celebration of anarchy and music in the Pacific Northwest, it's been said that this approach to an annual Key West Dulcimer Gathering is probably the best. Based on the good time had by all this year, I think they're right!

Again With The Extremes

So sooner had I gotten back from tropical climes and island breezes, it was time to hop a plane and head to Ft. Collins for the Colorado Dulcimer Festival. Steve Eulberg and Bonnie Carol put this event together with the help of volunteers and it was an awful lot of fun, especially with the absolutely radical amount of snow that dumped over the weekend. The workshops, concerts and food were awesome, but there was just an extra little layer (or five) of magic that came with the snows. That and I met some of the most interesting people on this trip, from the airport to the classrooms - it was a wonderful experience!

Thanks to everyone who made this weekend a blast!

Booking March

I'll be performing at the Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival in Palestine, Texas on the weekend of March 29th. Looking for pubs, clubs, festivals, library and school shows, house concerts and workshops starting March 16th and working our way from Florida. If you are interested in filling or suggesting scheduled dates along the route, please drop me a line!~

Next Shows: Orlando Folk Festival and McWell's

The Orlando Folk Festival is February 10 - 12 at the Mennello Museum of American Art (900 E. Princeton Street, Orlando) and I'll be performing on Sunday morning. That's the only February show in central Florida, so I hope to see you out if you can make it. The only central Florida show in March will be at McWell's (4757 S. Orange Ave., Orlando) on March 1st and then I'm gone for Texas by way of who knows what?

If you see some empty dates around my calendar and would like to arrange a workshop or concert, school program or presentation, please drop me a line!

Thanks for your continued support; sho na bish and blessings to you!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jam at Casa Cabanas - January 28th

Saturday, January 28th at:

Casa Cabanas
2510 Harris Ave.
Key West, Florida

5 - 11 pm

Jams galore! I'll be there - looks like Robert Force and Scott Snyder will be there as well. Just one of the many opportunities to get together and have some musical fun!

If you're interested in private lessons, I will be in Key West from Thursday to Monday (Januuary 26th - 30th) - e-mail or call (407-342-1447) if you'd like to set something up.

Looking forward to living la vida local in Key West. : )

Sho na bish,


Monday, January 16, 2012

Key West: gathering

Here's the latest on the dates of January 26th through 29th:

There are a handful of dulcimer players who will be in Key West, myself included. There will be some get-togethers, jams and private lessons available. No dates and times have been set - that will happen once I'm down there and better know where everyone is. If you're interested in any of the above, the best thing to do is drop me an e-mail and I'll put you on a list to be notified when a group is getting together or heading somewhere on the island. I don't know of any other instructors who will be down there during this time.

Refunds have gone out, so please keep your eyes on the mailbox if you were a registrant.

We're looking forward to a laid-back hang-out in Key West - keep in touch!

Sho na bish,


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Wednesday Morning Theory Workout

Got an e-mail this morning from a friend looking for some answers. Check this out:

"I'm working on a new song and the melody follows a rather "different" scale. I was hoping you could help me identify the key and the direction I should take with noting the incidentals.... Yes...I tried to look it up, but am coming up short or just shy of what I'm looking for and KNEW you would be able to point me in the right direction. :) SO.... On the piano keyboard, the scale would go:
Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, G, Ab:"

My answer:

Well, typically - six flats would be the key of Gb - but this is that scale:

Gb - Ab - Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - F

I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii°

If your melody begins with Ab - then consider the following possibilities -

Ab - Bb - C - Db - Eb - F - G

I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii°

four flats in Ab - now compare to your scale

Ab - Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - Fb - G

First of all - remember that B and C are a half step apart - as well as E and F. So the corrected Ab scale would look like this:

Ab - Bb - (B) - Db - Eb - (E) - G

Now, if you listen to the scale - it's a minor (Abm) - a harmonic minor, to be exact, because your seventh note (G) is raised a half step from the natural minor.
intervals: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7
half-steps: 2-1-2-2-1-3-1

Normally - the natural minor seventh degree would be flattened.

So, we're in Ab minor. For reference sake - what major scale has Ab as its sixth note? We can determine the correct number of flats by looking at the relative major scale.

intervals: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7
half-steps: 2-2-1-2-2-2-1
notes: B,C#,D#,E,F#,G#,A#

6th note - G# = Ab

So, I think you probably want to be thinking of this in terms of sharps as opposed to flats. Let's take another look at the relative minor. Same notes, starting on the sixth note of the scale.

intervals: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7
half-steps: 2-1-2-2-1-2-2
notes: G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E,F#

And, taking into consideration the raised seventh note - making it a harmonic minor scale:

G# Harmonic Minor Scale
intervals: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7
half-steps: 2-1-2-2-1-3-1
notes: G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E,F##

Did you follow all that? Would you like to learn the language of music? Contact me for music theory instruction!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Another New Year

"Where do we go now?" - Guns 'N' Roses

2011 was the biggest year that I've ever had and that's largely due to the many of you who read this blog, buy my merchandise, come out to concerts and take lessons/workshops with me. Thank you. It's an honor, a privilege and a real joy. Happy New Year!

So, now what?

As you might've noticed, there was no huge rolling out of intent OR content on January 1st, 2012 from this camp and I'm just now getting around to posting the first blog of the new year. Going back in time to read past posts from the flipping of the calendar pages revealed the typical plans going forward, like here, here and here.

This time around, during the first week of the year, it's all about a little less talk and a lot more action: namely, those projects that have been brewing for awhile and some new ones that suddenly got ushered to the front of the velvet rope line. More than anything, this low-key approach to the beginning of 2012 is all about scoring precious time simply sitting with my instruments and working on the basics. If there's one thing I learned while on The RV Project Tour (besides how much people hate driving behind Winnebagos) it's that, despite all best intentions, not a whole lot gets done on the road. Practicing, writing, creating - it's all there in fits and spurts, enough to keep the plane leveled out and soaring, but most of my downtime in the spring, summer and fall last year was spent doing a whole lot of nothing. No thing.

That's not exactly true. There was visiting with folks in RV parks, campgrounds and festival parking lots. Many hours spent relaxing under the green canopy and red/orange sandstone and granite cliffs of our nation's state sanctuaries. Quite a lot of time madly pedaling my mountain bike on actual mountains. Soaking in the beauty of the United States of America and resting up before the next event. And sure - some recordings were made and some light administrative business was conducted but, for the most part, I came home in November to not only a huge glut of unfinished business but also to some tough choices that I had to make regarding activities in other areas of my career. Something like a total of two hours of video was shot on tour and that was by design. I wanted to live life as it happened. Not later while editing together Dulcimerica episodes. I had to pick and choose my battles last year in order to get through without imploding.

As the economy continues to take its nose dive, there has been a lot of evaluating going on here - looking at ways to work smarter and faster. Knowing when to step in and when to step out - sort of like a cosmic Hokey-Pokey because, you know, that is what it's really all about.

That's why no books were published and only a handful of videos were produced in 2011. I had to make some choices in order to move forward. Upon returning home from tour to find a deficit of registrations for the Key West Dulcimer Fest, there was a decision to make there too; not a popular decision in the least.

And after enjoying the holidays with Mrs. Futch, puttering around the house, getting caught up, re-oriented and blowing out my vice-ridden ya-ya's, I'm emerging, blinking, into the sunlight of a new year with some better plans. I'll let you in on a few of them before I get back to it.


I've been producing "Dive!" now for almost four years and it's going to drop this year; period. If the Mayans are correct, then I've got 12 months before we're all turned to sheet rock or something. I will be a happier piece of sheet rock having birthed this bad boy, so it's priority number one.

Though "Storm's Sigh" and "Live At Old Songs!" have been available since the end of last year, the official release dates of both projects will be accomplished this month. (Mainly for digital distribution to pipelines such as iTunes, Spotify, Napster and more.)

As for Mohave, the trio (along with Roger Zimish and Tom Sharp) has been dead in the water since drummer Gil Oliver left town for the northeast. I've been busy on the road and with solo performances even as the guys have wondered aloud when we would get together next. Really, the next time needs to be magic in order for us all to pour the time and energy into it. It would take the right drummer and the right environment to make it work. That time may come this year and it mayn't. I know better than to make promises where there's more personality than just me involved, so stay tuned on that one.

I don't have as many festivals booked this year, but am still going to quite a few places for the first time including the Colorado Dulcimer Festival next month, Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival in March, Augusta Spring Music Week in April and in May, the NGFDA Spring Thing and the Lone Star State Dulcimer Festival. Of course, I'll be back at Folkcraft headquarters for the Indiana Dulcimer Festival in July (with a return trip to teach ukulele in August at a brand new fest - stay tuned for details.) I haven't even begun to plan the in-between concerts and workshops but the idea is already to travel less across the country and more right here in my (now) home state of Florida.


From no books in 2011 to at least three to be published this year, I'm right now working on some method books. Two of them concerning diatonic mountain dulcimer and one in support of the chromatic dulcimer. Before I get a load of ball-busting e-mails, yes - the oft-mentioned diatonic blues book will finally land. There may be more, but I kind of doubt it. I haven't knocked out more than four books in a year since 2010, I think, and I had a lot more time on my hands then.


I officially got out of the video production biz (for hire) some time ago and realized last year that the state of the art was beginning to change without me. You know how it is with technology, right? First you need to upgrade the software. Then you've got to upgrade the hardware. Then you have to search for patches for the software because someone went "oops" at the hardware design phase. When it comes to media tech, especially video, which accounts for so much of our entertainment medium these days, it can be a full-time job just keeping the equipment happy and in working order so you can do what you do. The shift has slowly been tilting towards getting rid of tape altogether in favor of a fully digital format and I am very excited to embrace that. Once you shoot - you just move it onto the hard drive and you're in like Kevin Flynn. No more real time encoding and logging. It was largely the sheer amount of time that it took to produce individual episodes of Dulcimerica that kept me from doing more last year; just prohibitive in terms of actual hours in pre and post-production, especially during 19,000 miles on the road with only occasional whiffs of wi-fi. With a staff, I could make that work no problem. As the only elf in the shop, well - there I am picking and choosing battles again.

Sometime this month, I'll be taking delivery on a fully digital means of recording HD video. It's an experiment and I hope it works, greatly reducing the amount of production time so that I can shoot, cut and post as quickly as possible. In the immortal words of Dr. Walter Gibbs (Barnard Hughes) from "Tron", "Won't that be grand?" He said something else, eerily predicting the future, right after that but I'll leave it to you to find that chestnut.

So, new Dulcimerica. Soon.

Back To It

Many of you came up to me last year while on the road, or e-mailed, saying that I sounded a little off my game in this post from April of 2011 and you couldn't have been kinder or more on the money. Everyone has their breaking point and something, many things, had brought me to the brink of it back then. Thankfully, the cri de coeur was a brief one, partially soothed by the outpouring of love that was The RV Project. Then, as now, I plan to be less visible (as opposed to Les Visible, for there can be only one) so I can get to work on all of this cool stuff that's brewing. My headspace is 180° from almost a year ago. If indeed this is the last year of civilization, then I'm going to continue living the dream, making the music and loving the life. Honestly, I think we're about to enter another age of enlightenment and this is no time to be cowering under hollowed-out spaces for fear of what "might get us." If there ever was a time to be alive, alert, awake and thrilled for each second we are blessed to live - this is it.


And on that note. Thanks for reading. I appreciate you and hope that you are receiving something of value from me. If not: be kind enough to tell me so and I'll do my best to deliver.
Wishing you peace, joy and, most of all, love, in this new year. Let's all win together!

Sho na bish,