New Resources for Learning Dorico

If a picture can convey a thousand words, a good video can answer a thousand questions (give or take a few hundred). This figure may well be close to the truth for John Barron’s “Discover Dorico” series. This particular link is to the video from his streamed session on Dorico 1.1.10 during which he demonstrated the new features in the update as well as answering questions in real time such as the one on layout that he mentions in the title. This series is well worth watching as it is loaded with tips as well as information that will speed up your workflow and your enjoyment of working with Dorico. So far he has been conducting these sessions on the last Thursday of the month, and the next one is confirmed for September 28. For more information I’d suggest you check Facebook, where John Barron administers a group for Dorico at https://www.facebook.com/groups/dorico. The posts include links to further resources as well as answers to members questions about using Dorico. Members also share tips and discoveries from their own work, so it can be a very useful resource, especially if you spend a lot of time on Facebook anyway.

UPDATE: John’s next session will be here. It starts at 11:00 am EDT.

If you have tips that you would like to share or have John demonstrate you can send these to him at discoverdorico@steinberg.de, which is also the address for asking questions during his streaming sessions.

As John mentions in Discover Dorico, there is another update coming “in the autumn” which is said (at this time) to include drum notation, orchestral cues, and piano fingering.

NB: The discounted cross-grade price for users of Sibelius, Finale, or Notion has been extended to September 30. This does not mean that the update will be out before then, but even if not it will be a free update so don’t let that hold you back.

Don’t forget to subscribe to youtube.com/dorico for the latest tips on new features and their use. And of course Daniel Spreadbury’s ongoing blog Making Notes will keep you up-to-date on Dorico features and updates as well as real-world users using Dorico in innovative ways.

 

 

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How to Write Your First Song

OK. Several people have asked why I have not reviewed my own book here. Seriously, what do you think I’d say? After working on it for months, trying to create a book that would help the novice songwriter, as well as one who has “hit the wall”, to find their own process and create a song that they are truly proud of. One that they would not hesitate to play for friends or critics. Of course I think anyone thinking of writing their first song, or getting back into it should buy the book. But for good reasons, not just because I wrote it. I felt that there was a need for this book and I remember the agony of writing my very first song, that took one year to write, compared to my second which I finished in one day. But it took me a year to learn what I needed to write a song that I still like, decades later, and one that helped me to get into the Music Composition program at the university of my choice.

I wished I’d had a book like this when I was starting out, so I wrote it in the hopes of helping people in similar situations. I have unique training, with advanced degrees in computing and music, as well as Music Criticism, Music Theory, Computer Music, and Education, but my most practical qualification comes from decades as a music reviewer and listening to over 1,000 LP’s and CD’s most of which were from people trying to break into or make it in the music world. I’ve heard the same mistakes repeated countless times, but I have also found some true gems, all of which defied convention in their own way but still evoked a strong response in the listener. So while I can’t tell you how to write a guaranteed great song (no one can)  I can tell you what will ruin even a great idea that could have been a hit. To get that hit, or even songs that you like consistently, you need to know your own process for writing, and I can help you to find that.

How many Grammy speeches begin with “I’d like to thank the author of the book …” Not many, and yet so many song writing books promise, implicitly or right out there, that you will end up creating a huge hit, and if you don’t, it’s your fault. It’s more realistic to listen to the “overnight sensations” who tell you that they have written 100 songs and finally learned their craft by trial and error. My goal was to help you find your own process to write a good song without having to go through the 100 duds; to shorten the “error” period. Maybe it won’t be a hit, maybe not “commercial” enough, but it will be a song that you like and are proud of. And with a start like that, you can only improve.

Hits are a combination of craft, hard work, and luck. Good songs are a combination of craft and hard work — no luck required. You may not get wealthy, you may not even make a living at it, but you will be able to write songs that you like and even build up a modest fan base who enjoy your music. That’s a lot better than sitting and dreaming of “making it.” And you have to start somewhere. (And yes, I suppose you could use the concepts to analyze hits you like and maybe write a hit yourself. Maybe.) I’ll tell you what my aims were in writing the book, and you can see if they reflect your situation and might help you.

The BIG ONE is to get you over the hump of wanting to write a song but not doing it. (This includes established songwriters who have hit a wall and may even feel “washed up.”)  Maybe you’ve tried and got bits and pieces of several songs that you just can’t finish to your liking. Or you’ve written one according to a formula or copying a song you like that you can’t be proud of. An important step that you might be wondering about is to determine if songwriting is something that you really want to do. I won’t try to talk you into it, and you might discover that you’d rather just listen to songs. Even if that is all you get out of the book it will save you lots of time and frustration and let you get on with what you really want to do more.

But if you find that you truly want to write songs, I will help you to find and refine a process that works for you. There are lots of ways to approach songwriting, and the book is written so that you can try different things and see which ones produce results you like. It’s a very personal activity that reflects who you are, and only you can decide what you want to express and how you will do that. I don’t want you to copy how I go about writing a song, but rather to discover how you do. At the end of the book you will have written the first song that you really like and are proud to play for anyone, from a close friend to a record producer.

How do you get that kind of confidence? Together we look at building on your strengths and getting past your weak spots. Maybe you don’t have the theoretical background you feel you need. I’ll show you what you need to know without any extras like, say, the range of the piccolo or the notes to beware of when writing for clarinet. Or maybe you have lots of theoretical training, so much that you become “rule-bound” and have to loosen up your concepts so that you can move ahead just as music has moved past the “rules” that were established for music of the past. (Music theory always lags behind practice!) In fact, songwriters have a different perspective on music theory from classical composers, whose works form the basis of most standard music theory. The introduction of guitars and drums, as well as digital music sources, has given new life to older concepts that have been refined in new directions, as in jazz or progressive rock, or kept as a basis for new uses in popular music from country to hard rock and its more metallic derivatives.

At its most basic level, music comes down to repetition versus novelty, with enough repeated material so that we can recognize it as the same song but new parts that give variety so that we don’t get bored. Every genre or style does this in different ways, popular and classical, Western or Eastern. Music is truly infinite in its possibilities.

The book has access to all the musical examples online, where they can be played or downloaded. I personally created over 100 audio examples so that you hear our topic rather than just read about it. More importantly, you can decide whether you like it, and how you might improve it to make it more to your liking. You need to learn to critique your own ideas, but it is often much easier to start by critiquing the work of others. The difference here is that we will be concentrating on one aspect at a time, so that you refine what harmonies you like, what rhythms speak to you, how lyrics fit the melody (or don’t!), and many more aspects that are personal to you. I can tell you that the reason I prefer to be a reviewer to a critic is that I don’t assume that everyone shares my musical taste, so I point out what I find interesting in a song but leave it open to the reader and listener to agree or not, and to find more in it. Read old critics’ views of many songs that have become legendary over time and you will inevitably find articles saying how awful they are and how the artist will disappear, just as that very artist is starting a decades-long career as a major star. You might not like songs that I do, but you should like, or love, every song that you write. It should speak to you, even if to no one else.

Rather than go on and on, I’ll let you read the first page of the introduction to the book here. You can find a little more on the Hal Leonard site here, and order it from there or from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, or find it in your local music store.

 

Legendary Bassist “Duck” Dunn Bio and Transcriptions

Few people become legends in their own time, and even fewer are unaware of it when it happens, but this itself is part of the legend of one of the most influential bass players ever – Donald “Duck” Dunn.

Soul Fingers is sub-titled “The Music & Life of Legendary Bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn” and the ordering is as it should be since the bulk of the book consists of transcriptions of some of Duck’s most famous lines along with some basic analysis of his style. Author Nick Rosaci writes “I have to admit, I’m not much of an author. I was the student who barely passed my English composition classes so I could spend more time in the practice rooms.” This explains the one problem with the book: the biography section is somewhat disorganized with some events out of order, and several places where information is repeated a couple of paragraphs later. This seems to be the result of one of the strengths of this section, which relies on the reports of family and close friends who were there at the times mentioned. Their statements are kept intact, and they often wander or span Duck’s entire lifetime. But the important events are there, and even those of us who admire his playing will likely be surprised at the range of artists whose recordings Duck’s bass added groove to. For example, his work at Stax with Steve Cropper is well-known as is his work with The Blues Brothers, but Tom Petty was also a great fan who wanted Duck on at least one track of each of his albums “for luck”! Even his passing from this world befits a legend, waiting until after his tour of Japan was completed before slipping away in his sleep after the final performance, a pro right up to the end.

Possibly the strangest session Duck was on was for Elvis Presley, who sent a demo which he wanted the band to copy exactly, note-for-note. Here’s one of the greatest bassists being told to suppress his own legendary style to play a different part entirely. To top it off, Duck didn’t even get to meet “The King” because he sent an Elvis impersonator to do a guide vocal during the recording of the backing track, over which Elvis added his voice later, alone!

Being given so much work and pressure to crank out “hits”, it may be understandable that Duck had no idea of his growing reputation outside of Memphis, at least until the Stax European tour where sold out shows and wildly enthusiastic audiences showed him the effect that his music was having worldwide. Once he started playing sessions it seemed that everyone wanted to record with Duck. The range of artists he played with is attested to by the 57 transcriptions included in the book (which includes online access to 28 play-along tracks performed by Duck’s son Jeff, Will Lee, and the author). The play-along tracks are great, with the bass on one speaker and the band on the other, so that you can study the bass alone, or mute it to play along, or hear the entire thing together. The performances are very good, but of course you need to listen to Duck’s original recordings to get that “deep pocket” feel that sets his playing apart.

Hal Leonard keeps improving their online music delivery system, which you access via your personal code at the front of your book. When you have more than one book with audio access, you can form a collection called “My Library” that contains all of the tracks arranged by book. You can download the play-along tracks one at a time or choose to “Download All” to save time, OR you can play them right from your “My Library” site using the PLAYBACK+ software that appears if you click on a song and choose “Play” rather than “Download.” It allows you to adjust the speed without affecting the pitch; to reset the pitch by semi-tone up or down as much as an octave; set loop points to concentrate on a particular section; and adjust the balance between the speakers, and thus between the amount of bass and of the band.  It’s a great way to learn a tricky song correctly at a slow tempo, and then speed it up gradually, or to do the same with a difficult phrase. Pitch adjustment is great if you play with a singer who needs the song in a different key.

The transcriptions range from Booker T. and the MG’s, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Bill Withers; Muddy Waters, Albert King, and The Blues Brothers; Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; to the Manhattan Transfer and many more artists. No matter what style or artist Duck plays with, he holds down the groove and keeps the rhythm section solid, a master of the “less is more”school of playing. Usually his most memorable performances are close to frugal in their use of notes, but each note is just the right one for the song, a lesson for all bass players regardless of their level of achievement.

This book is essential for Duck Dunn fans, firstly because it is the only complete biography of this legendary player, incredible as that seems, with assistance from family and friends and a foreword by fan and fellow Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd. Also, it is a terrific collection of accurate transcriptions that show you how Duck played in many different styles and genres. It can also be an introduction to genres that you may not be familiar with that still have Duck’s inimitable bass playing holding them together.

Pick up a copy of this fine book at your local music store (and if they don’t have it, tell them to order a dozen copies!). Of course you can order it online if you have no local store. Click on either of the images above (or here) to go to the Hal Leonard site to order online or for more information on the book with the full transcription list and Table of Contents, Dan Aykroyd’s Foreword, some sample pages, and even a couple of audio examples.