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Musical Technicalities & Conversations Thread

Started by SueC, January 17, 2020, 02:11:49

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SueC

This thread was created so people can ask questions and provide answers on musical technicalities.  There's people learning and playing musical instruments on this forum who may be able to help others with questions they have always wanted to ask.

The other purpose of this thread is for people to be able to have general conversations about playing music - if you are learning / playing a musical instrument (or have done so in the past) you might like to tell us what instrument(s), what you liked and disliked about it, what it taught you about music and about life to be learning an instrument, whether it made you appreciate the music you listen to more, things like that.  Also, the learning process is often very interesting - are you mostly self-taught (noodling around, books, CDs, online tutorials etc), did (/do) you have regular lessons with a proficient person, or are you somewhere in-between?  If you had actual tutors helping you, tell us about any you loved and why, and also any that you weren't that happy with and why.  And just tell us anything else you want to about playing your instrument(s) - professional players that inspire you, your favourite pieces of music featuring the instrument you are learning (clips would be great!), etc etc.

  :angel :cool  :beaming-face


So I know that @jestoon425 is learning bass, and I wondered if I could ask him something, and so that I don't hijack his thread, here are my questions (and of course anyone can chip in  :))...


1) My first question is about sliding notes.  I've never played an instrument with frets - I've got a fiddle, where you have to find the notes yourself - no compartmentalisation.  So when you want to play a sliding note, you can slide it all the way up and down the string (and do wonderful ambulance siren impersonations, etc  :-D).  To what extent does having frets limit your sliding notes?  Are sliding notes commonly played on bass guitars?  Is there just one technique, or are there several?


2) I know the square root of bugger-all about electrically amplified instruments and their associated bags of tricks (other than some applied physics) and would like to know if there are any technical reasons why Simon Gallup gets his bass so low to the ground on a lot of occasions - and/or does he just enjoy multi-tasking stretches and general physical exercise alongside giving a musical performance?


3) On all the live recordings we have of Plainsong - including the recently released Hyde Park set - the bass sounds like a bass to me, but on the original studio recording I find it difficult to tell it from a guitar in sound.  Why is that, and to what extent do the electric bass and the electric guitar potentially overlap?


I'll leave it at questions for now, because that's long enough already, but at some point will be addressing the questions I've asked other people about their learning experiences etc, for my own case, and of course, within the limitations of what I do and understand on my instrument, I'm happy to field any questions that might come up.
SueC is time travelling

Matti

To start with some thoughts...

1) There's several ways to slide on a fretted guitar: for instance you can bend a string upwards by pulling it towards its neighbour string. Depending on finger position, string tension, and guitar, that bending can pitch the note up to quart. The second way is to use a vibrato that allows you to slightly move the bridge position while playing. And finally, you can also use a bottleneck or metal slide which you can move freely all over the strings, working as a "virtual" and highly mobile fret.

Playing bass, you might most probably use a fretless bass which kind of combines the features of a bass guitar and an upright double bass.

2) I think that Simon is just the band's stage animal, and there's no technical reasons for doing what he does. Have you ever seen Hendrix playing? Or Jimmy Page? They seem to do all kinds of things with their instruments while they perform, but I doubt this has a substantial influence on their sound.

3) That's because on the album version of Plainsong we hear a Fender Bass VI playing the lead part. Now that's an interesting instrument to start with: originally introduced in the early sixties to provide guitarists with a bass option that doesn't require too much of adaption (standard tuning one octave below guitar, relatively short scale), it got rarely used as a proper bass (John Entwistle of The Who being the most prominent exception) and was almost forgotten. If it hadn't been for The Cure (and New Order, from whom allegedly Robert's first Bass VI had been nicked), probably no-one would remember this thing. Actually, the Bass VI is an instrument where "the electric bass and the electric guitar overlap" quite literally.  ;)

When played live, Simon is doing the lead part on his standard bass, playing it one octave below the original melody, which also adds to the difference in sound. On some occasions, the part has been doubled: Simon on standard bass, Perry on Bass VI. You can hear it on the recordings from Paris 1996 and Toronto 2004 quite nicely.

Other than that, thank you for starting this thread  :happy  I might come up with some questions myself...
...hold me like this for a hundred thousand million days...

SueC

Hello Matti :)

Thank you so much for your informative answer!  All the musical people whom I know in real life play acoustic instruments, so I can't ask anyone in my face-to-face circle about this stuff (plus, these days I'm mostly surrounded by animals), and I really don't want to start reading tomes on electrically amplified instruments.  It's really nice to get concise information from people who have an understanding of the area.  :cool


Quote from: Matti on January 17, 2020, 10:10:431) There's several ways to slide on a fretted guitar: for instance you can bend a string upwards by pulling it towards its neighbour string. Depending on finger position, string tension, and guitar, that bending can pitch the note up to quart. The second way is to use a vibrato that allows you to slightly move the bridge position while playing. And finally, you can also use a bottleneck or metal slide which you can move freely all over the strings, working as a "virtual" and highly mobile fret.

That is really interesting!  If I tried Option 1 on my violin (unnecessary as there are no frets), I'd be forever re-tuning it and that would drive me up the wall. Then again, the wooden pegs for the rough tuning have a tendency to slip significantly under excessive tension; perhaps the equivalents on guitars are a little more solidly engineered?  Most of the time we just use our fine tuners down the bottom of the violin to make slight adjustments and avoid having to turn the pegs (every now and then, when we've run out of turns at the bottom, we are forced to adjust the pegs :1f635:).

On violin, I can't go 15 minutes without making minor adjustments to the tuning because the mechanical strain of playing pulls the strings slightly from their moorings sooner or later.  What's that like when people play bass or electric guitar?  I suppose in part it will depend how much they hammer the thing, by, for instance, playing sliding notes using that first method you've described?  One of the reasons I have to re-tune (slightly) relatively often is because, in the words of one of my teachers, I have an "attacking style" with the bow. :-D  I don't like tickling the thing and I don't like the sounds violins make when they are played softly.  Therefore, I pay for it with frequent re-tuning.

When I've gone to see string quartets etc, I notice they also do fine tuning adjustments in the breaks between pieces of music.  Why am I not seeing this in, for example, a Cure concert?  Is it because I don't know what I'm looking for and it's a soundless process, or is it because they just change guitars and then someone out the back re-tunes it before its next use?

Re Option 2, if my violin bridge moved a millimetre I'd be having to tune everything back up from scratch!  (Our bridges are held in position by the mechanical tension of the strings.)

Re Option 3, thanks - it actually hadn't occurred to me that you can simply temporarily obliterate the frets by putting a solid unfretted surface on top of them. :cool

So, what are sliding guitars?  (And are there any non-bass guitars that don't have any frets on their fingerboards?)


QuotePlaying bass, you might most probably use a fretless bass which kind of combines the features of a bass guitar and an upright double bass.

That makes total sense.  :cool


Quote2) I think that Simon is just the band's stage animal, and there's no technical reasons for doing what he does. Have you ever seen Hendrix playing? Or Jimmy Page? They seem to do all kinds of things with their instruments while they perform, but I doubt this has a substantial influence on their sound.

I think Jimmy Page looks especially silly when he's doing unnecessary exaggerations, and they come across as such.  He's all, "I'm so great, look at me!"  Have you ever read Desmond Morris' The Human Zoo;)

I think it's nice that Simon Gallup can be a stage animal without looking pretentious or big-headed.  He just seems to be a person who feels a great need to move around a lot, and I can empathise with this.  I'm pretty sure he would have been hard to keep out of the cupboards as a toddler.  :)

But yeah, I had wondered about the low-to-the-ground thing and whether that was anything to do with... you know when you're singing in a bathroom and the sound comes back at you off the walls so you can pitch back off that echo, and you can stay for a long time on the same note without coming off it?  That sort of thing.


Quote3) That's because on the album version of Plainsong we hear a Fender Bass VI playing the lead part. Now that's an interesting instrument to start with: originally introduced in the early sixties to provide guitarists with a bass option that doesn't require too much of adaption (standard tuning one octave below guitar, relatively short scale), it got rarely used as a proper bass (John Entwistle of The Who being the most prominent exception) and was almost forgotten. If it hadn't been for The Cure (and New Order, from whom allegedly Robert's first Bass VI had been nicked), probably no-one would remember this thing. Actually, the Bass VI is an instrument where "the electric bass and the electric guitar overlap" quite literally.  ;)

When played live, Simon is doing the lead part on his standard bass, playing it one octave below the original melody, which also adds to the difference in sound. On some occasions, the part has been doubled: Simon on standard bass, Perry on Bass VI. You can hear it on the recordings from Paris 1996 and Toronto 2004 quite nicely.

Again, that is very interesting, and thank you for the explanation!   :smth023   For a while I thought I was going mad - every time I heard the studio version I'd go, "Surely that's a guitar!" and every time I saw it live, I saw it being played on the bass.  I'll have a listen for the doubled-up versions - we've got Paris.  I also had another look on Trilogy before I saw this and Perry Bamonte was playing too, but I can't visually tell a 6-string bass from a "normal" electric guitar - any pointers?

I'm probably going to disappoint some guitar buffs when I say I prefer the version played on an ordinary bass, transposed down.  Not that the studio version / Bass VI version doesn't sound great, but I just have a thing for lower notes and reverberation - with this song, in human singing, in talking voices (my husband on the phone is one reason I married him  :heart-eyes), even in violin.  Those are GDAE and the string I like the least is the E-string, which can make some of the most horrific noises this side of an opera soprano doing vibrato.   :1f629:  So, I tend to transpose things one string (half an octave) down as a matter of course unless that means I'm going to run out of low notes.  My favourite violin teacher told me I should buy a viola, but the E-string occasionally comes in useful as counterpoint (and replacing it with a gold E much improved its sound too - far smoother).

I didn't buy a viola - it seems to be a violin having an identity crisis.  Maybe what I really need is a 5-string violin with an extra string below the G.  (...do guitar players make jokes about their G-strings too?)

Or a Hardanger Fiddle.  Those are pretty neat - they have sympathetic resonating strings!

For non-classical musicians, there's a joke that the difference between a viola and a violin is that the viola takes longer to burn.  :angel   Also, that the difference between an acoustic guitarist and a large pizza is that the large pizza can feed a family of four..


QuoteOther than that, thank you for starting this thread  :happy  I might come up with some questions myself...

You are most welcome, and thank you again for explaining all that to me.  You clearly play something, and maybe sometime you might be interested in telling us a little about that.  :cool
SueC is time travelling

Matti

That's gonna be fun, there's a lot of interesting info in what you write. As you spotted, I'm a guitar player (electric and acoustic), and I used to play some bass (standard as well as Bass VI).

QuoteIf I tried Option 1 on my violin (unnecessary as there are no frets), I'd be forever re-tuning it and that would drive me up the wall. Then again, the wooden pegs for the rough tuning have a tendency to slip significantly under excessive tension; perhaps the equivalents on guitars are a little more solidly engineered?
Well, for guitars it depends on the machine heads' quality. There are special locking tuners available that provide extra string fixation to avoid tuning problems. With decent tuners installed, you can (or at least I can) play a guitar for quite a while without having to re-tune. But as you suppose, it all depends on how you play, and what instrument you're using. The same goes for bendings. As I wrote, some players will bend their strings up a fourth, whereas I don't get past a minor third. After all we're talking about steel strings - and physical pain.

Re-tuning btw is nothing unusual in rock shows I think. Again, you're on the right track:
Quoteit's a soundless process, or is it because they just change guitars and then someone out the back re-tunes it before its next use?
Players can do it themselves using tuning devices on their pedalboard (which usually mute the signal), or just delegate it to the stage hands.

Quoteif my violin bridge moved a millimetre I'd be having to tune everything back up from scratch! 
Well, vibrato bridges are constructed in a way that they ideally retain their original position when you don't touch them.

QuoteSo, what are sliding guitars?  (And are there any non-bass guitars that don't have any frets on their fingerboards?)
You kinda answered each question by asking the other ;)
Of course you can slide on any guitar, but there's a special kind of slide guitars that are played while sitting in front of them, or having them on your lap, with a rather high string action. These have indeed no real frets, but they are printed on the fingerboards as orientation points.

QuoteI'll have a listen for the doubled-up versions - we've got Paris.
Just to be sure, I didn't mean the official Paris album, but a bootleg recording from the Swing Tour. I think it's up on YouTube, and it's an excellent soundboard recording, well worth a listen.

QuoteI can't visually tell a 6-string bass from a "normal" electric guitar - any pointers?
You're not alone, it's difficult, unless you exactly know what instruments the players use. There's two main differences: scale length, and string dimensions. But that's really hard to spot from a video, or someone who's standing on a stage. I remember watching Show over and over again, and wondering how the f**k Robert managed to play those notes for, say, Pictures of You way above the 12th fret... "That surely should sound different!?"

As for the G string jokes, I'm sure they're familiar to guitarists as well. Also, keep an eye on the number of "R"s in the above-mentioned vibrato. ;)

I've never met someone who plays violin. I loved that identity crisis remark about violas. And for your "attacking style with the bow", isn't that what the world loves about Apocalyptica?  :happy
...hold me like this for a hundred thousand million days...

SueC

Quote from: Matti on January 17, 2020, 22:12:36That's gonna be fun, there's a lot of interesting info in what you write. As you spotted, I'm a guitar player (electric and acoustic), and I used to play some bass (standard as well as Bass VI).

Well, how nice to be able to talk to someone from the "electric universe." ;) Conversations with fellow nerds from other universes can be great fun - bring out all the jokes and anecdotes etc, while learning about how other people do stuff.  :cool


Quote from: undefinedWell, for guitars it depends on the machine heads' quality. There are special locking tuners available that provide extra string fixation to avoid tuning problems. With decent tuners installed, you can (or at least I can) play a guitar for quite a while without having to re-tune.

That seems to be a very useful option.  I swapped from a cheap starting-out violin to a reasonable quality one when I'd played enough years to know I would want to keep doing it - by the way, I'm an entirely recreational player with absolutely no interest in joining any sort of group.  Usually when I get the urge to do music with other people, I go to a choir for a while.  I took up violin in my late 20s to learn more about music and because I had the urge to produce notes rather than just hear them in my head - and I find it's actually an effective form of meditation, and one in which I don't feel like I am wasting my finite life span, because I am growing new neural connections and improving skills while doing that (and this does not happen nearly as much if I sit in lotus position concentrating on my breathing - and again, breathing is focused on in choir too while also having a lot of other wonderful things going on at the same time that simply don't happen in "normal" meditation).  My violin is just me-time and it was one thing where I was determined I wasn't going to get competitive or goal-orientated, I was simply going to enjoy playing it, and learning to do new things. :cool

When I met my husband, who enjoys hearing me practise (he says stringed instruments have a lovely warm tone), he encouraged me to buy a better violin (I have a resistance to spending money and he will wear down my resistance for me in cases where he thinks it's actually a really good idea), so I put a tax refund towards buying an Eastman with a really lovely tone.  And yes, it made it even more fun to practise, because it has such a nice voice, which just reverberates all through your chest when you're playing, because it's sitting on your collarbone etc (I don't think electric instruments would give you that effect, so maybe you should borrow a violin sometime!).

However, the tuning pegs were terribly slippery and I'd open up the case to find all the strings collapsed.  :1f62d:   It takes me a lot of time to tune back up from completely collapsed strings (and my teachers all do it within a minute or two, bwhahahaha).  I have long dispensed with a tuning fork and I use a guitar tuner, that has little lights that come on when you're getting within range, and it actually does a high beep at you when you've hit the note correctly.  :angel  ...at least it used to do that before I accidentally dropped it on the floor, and now I have to shake it a bit sometimes before it will work.  :-D

Anyway, those tuning pegs were killing me, and I didn't want to void the warranty by sandpapering the opposing surfaces to increase the friction, so I sent it back to the shop for them to do this instead.  Gradually, between that and a lot of cursing and fiddling around, the pegs have worn in to a reasonably acceptable standard.  But, I kind of salivate when I hear about systems to make the tuning pegs moor better...


Quote from: undefinedBut as you suppose, it all depends on how you play, and what instrument you're using. The same goes for bendings. As I wrote, some players will bend their strings up a fourth, whereas I don't get past a minor third. After all we're talking about steel strings - and physical pain.

Yeah, haha - a violin E-string is like cheese wire.   :-D   I'm pretty sure you guys approach the strings more at an angle than we do - we have to get as perpendicular as possible with ours - so extra-short fingernails on the left hand that you have to file down to nothing every second day if you're playing, and you're supposed to hit the string 1-2 mm away from your fingernail, and that's very sensitive because there's loads of nerves in your fingertips.  So I remember saying to my teacher in the first week or two, "Are you kidding me?"  :1f631: G, D, A are reasonably OK (although they too will blister a beginner), but the E, OMG... The E, apart from being so thin, is also the only solid-metal string on a standard violin stringing job - G, D, A are nylon wrapped in metal (and you can play the metal off to the point it unwinds, and then you replace the string - you can always hear it when the metal starts unwinding, because suddenly it's making some little bonus sounds you've not asked for...)

Anyway, the only way to deal with all that is to go through the "play till sore, rest the skin a few days, repeat until sufficiently callused" and then not take overlong breaks from playing, because otherwise you're nearly back to square one. (I have been known to put a thin layer of superglue on my index fingertip in an emergency...)


QuoteRe-tuning btw is nothing unusual in rock shows I think. Again, you're on the right track:
Quote from: undefinedit's a soundless process, or is it because they just change guitars and then someone out the back re-tunes it before its next use?
Players can do it themselves using tuning devices on their pedalboard (which usually mute the signal), or just delegate it to the stage hands.

That's interesting about the on-stage DIY tuning!  :cool

Because acoustic instruments always make sounds when being tuned, I've been to a few shows now where someone in the ensemble will make the old joke, "And the next piece we're going to play for you is a little Chinese piece called Tu-Ning."  :lol:


QuoteWell, vibrato bridges are constructed in a way that they ideally retain their original position when you don't touch them.

That sounds very sensible. It really is interesting to discover nitty-gritty things like that. :cool


QuoteYou kinda answered each question by asking the other ;)
Of course you can slide on any guitar, but there's a special kind of slide guitars that are played while sitting in front of them, or having them on your lap, with a rather high string action. These have indeed no real frets, but they are printed on the fingerboards as orientation points.

When people begin violin, their teacher usually puts paper tape against the underside of the fingerboard, near where the thumb goes in first position, so that the student has something to orient themselves by while starting out.  It helps you maintain a consistent thumb position, and from there you've got something to relate your finger positions back to.  Half the fun as a violin beginner (and most of the torture for bystanders) is learning to find the notes... hooray, I nearly had it this time!  :lol:


QuoteJust to be sure, I didn't mean the official Paris album, but a bootleg recording from the Swing Tour. I think it's up on YouTube, and it's an excellent soundboard recording, well worth a listen.

Yeah, this morning Brett was saying to me, "But Plainsong isn't on Paris, you know!"  :-D  (He's been a Cure fan much longer than me, and these were originally in his collection.)  I shall look up the versions suggested on YouTube - thank you!  :smth023


QuoteYou're not alone (telling 6-string bass from "normal" guitar), it's difficult, unless you exactly know what instruments the players use. There's two main differences: scale length, and string dimensions. But that's really hard to spot from a video, or someone who's standing on a stage. I remember watching Show over and over again, and wondering how the f**k Robert managed to play those notes for, say, Pictures of You way above the 12th fret... "That surely should sound different!?"

One thing that learning to play an instrument has done for me is to stratospherically increase my appreciation of other people's music.  Until you've tried something like that yourself, there's a whole world of complexities you're not really aware of - and reading about such things would not bring that home to you the same way as engaging with that physically yourself, even if only at a fairly basic level.  It has completely changed the way I listen to music.  I hear a lot more, and I'm a lot more aware of the years of effort players put in to be able to do certain things that some listeners don't even really hear, because they're not deconstructing it as much in their heads as they hear it, etc.  I enjoy music even more now because of it - it's like wearing goggles while skindiving, as opposed to just opening your eyes underwater.   :cool


QuoteAs for the G string jokes, I'm sure they're familiar to guitarists as well. Also, keep an eye on the number of "R"s in the above-mentioned vibrato. ;)

Like, "Pirates playing guitars?"  Arrrrrrrrr.  ;)

(...and yes, I did eventually get your joke, bwahaha.  It's just that the comparative lack of pollution in my mind means I have to think about things like this.  :winking_tongue)

I have a really good G-string anecdote, and am looking for more stories like that... :) 

When I'd just started, in the late '90s, a senior colleague and I were sitting in an otherwise empty staffroom during a free period that had to double as lunch because we'd been busy with duty etc.  She'd been playing for half a year and was a bit ahead of me.  Now Penny was from the art department, which is one of the reasons we became friends.  So we were discussing our woeful early efforts at trying to get our heads around violin, and she has comparatively short fingers and was saying, "I really have trouble getting my fingers around that G-string."  And just at that very moment, Bob from Science walked in.  I have to describe the people to you so you can picture it - Bob was like a big teddy-bear of a guy, heading for 60 and just so nice.  Penny was nearly 50 and a totally solid citizen type, and very arty - she does lovely paintings etc.  And Bob's jaw just dropped to the ground.  I realised why and just couldn't stop laughing.  :rofl

Later that year, we had a Friday the 13th party, cross-department.  Humorous awards were being handed out, and I'd organised a few myself.  My favourite was the one I'd made for Penny:  I'd actually gone to a shop and bought a lacy G-string. :1f633: I'm not a fan of that sort of underwear myself, because why would you sign up for a permanent wedgie?  :'(   There were certificates to go with the awards, so she got the "Violin Player's G-String Award" from me, to enthusiastic crowd applause as I was formally handing over her certificate and new underwear. :angel

She thanked me with an undertone.  :beaming-face  We've been reminding each other periodically for two decades and it's still funny, and thankfully, not just to me... :)


QuoteI've never met someone who plays violin. I loved that identity crisis remark about violas. And for your "attacking style with the bow", isn't that what the world loves about Apocalyptica?  :happy

Yeah, I love their version of One.   :heart-eyes   Headbanging with classical instruments!  :cool  I actually think the tune is much improved by Apocalyptica's treatment - it gets my "Best Cover Of All Time" award, I think.   :smth023  I'd never have started playing violin just from casual acquaintance with classical radio stations.  It was Irish folk violin that got me into it - I already liked Celtic music and had gone to see Riverdance.  It was the first 30 seconds of music on the following clip that determined me - the little lilts in it just made my heart stop:


...and I was going, "You can do that on a violin?  You mean it doesn't just have to be an annoying thing going eeeeek-eeeeek in the back of an orchestra?"  And of course I was a total ignoramus.  There's actually so much mind-blowing music for violin, including in classical music - I'd just never heard any! :)  Isn't music great?

So what made you take up guitars?  :cool

PS:  And don't be shy to jump in, @jestoon425 or anyone else.  :)  My current showpiece is What Shall We Do WIth The Drunken Sailor, with a bit of simple double stopping - and I really do need to get back into regular practice to get back to the level I was playing at when I was last at lessons (which wasn't far above the Drunken Sailor - just Suzuki Volume II and various jigs and reels and odd things).  That was before we decided to become smallholders and build our own house with our own hands nearly ten years ago.  Life can get in the way.  I'm still not advanced enough for The Countess Cathleen, but that would make a nice goal for a conscientious re-start... to finally learn to play the thing that made me take up the instrument in the first place! ;)  (And thank goodness it wasn't one of Paganini's 24 Caprices!)  It doesn't matter how basic you think your musical skills are, you've every right to be in this conversation, and clearly people who pursue this kind of thing as adults are doing it because they have a passion for music, not because their parents are making them! :)

This is the kind of thing that started getting me really excited in the Suzuki course, when I finally got to Volume 2.  You too can play a simple piece of Paganini! I love the feel of this piece, and the acrobatics required to play it.  This one pushed me, and I loved every minute of it.  You spend 6 hours straight working on it just so you can get a reasonably flowing rendition, and you completely forget to have lunch.  Disclaimer:  The person in this clip is clearly not me!  :lol:


...and this is Paganini's 24 Caprices, which clearly is light years over and above that level:


It tends to be acrobatics and showing off over and above aesthetics, but go to 1:02:43 to hear something really beautiful as well... :heart-eyes
SueC is time travelling