Musescore – Music Composition Software (FREE!)

Being in the computer field, I frequently look to technology to help me in my life’s endeavors. So it is with my ongoing efforts to improve my guitar playing.

Some background: I began playing piano as a child due to my parents’ insistence that all three of us siblings learn the instrument. Odd, because neither of my parents played! Eight years of keyboarding, recitals and basement practicing took their toll on me. Especially the basement practices, where I had to go to a clammy, dank, knotty pine-walled room sitting at an upright piano with my back to the door.

Eventually, the piano disappeared as we moved, and it wasn’t until I was in high school that I heard the beginnings of the “rock and roll revolution.” Spurred by the Beatles and surf music, I was hooked. My best friend sold me my first guitar, a Sears Kay acoustic, for $10. With my limited knowledge of music learned from piano playing, I taught myself to play guitar. I would buy sheet music of songs I liked that included guitar diagrams, and would follow along, learning the chords.

Guitar is not the same kind of instrument. A piano is a linear progression of keys (88 in total) that span the full range of musical notes. In western music, there are 12 tones per chromatic scale, and eight notes per tonal scale. The guitar, on the other hand, (usually) has six strings that are staggered in tone. This means that the same note can be played in different locations on the fretboard.

My guitar instructor is teaching me in the “classical” way–he’s giving me standard sheet music on which he writes the fingers and frets to use, referring to scale fingering terms such as “two over five” (second finger beginning the scale on the fifth fret). This is a new way of learning the guitar for me, and I continue to lean on technology for assistance.

Some of the software I have purchased to further this goal in the past are titles like Neck Diagrams, which as the name indicates, lets one create images of a guitar neck with notes and chords.

Songs Pro is another guitar-based program. Sadly, the author has discontinued support for this program due to changes in macOS. It’s a little quirky, but its strength is the chord search function that lets one choose from a large number of chord diagrams for a given tone.

My latest dilemma became how to transpose written music (staves, notes, rests, etc.) to guitar tablature? (Side note: I never learned TAB either, as it was not standardized when I was teaching myself to play). I’m not sure how I found it, but the answer to my newest problem is a piece of free software called Musescore.  Available for Mac and Windows, this is software capable of producing professional music scores (hence the name).

Originally, I found it hard to learn (it’s still hard, but getting easier); there are so many features available.  But once the work flow and keyboard shortcuts are learned, the process starts becoming faster and easier.  Here is my transcription of Freddie Hubbard’s classic “Little Sunflower.” I wanted TAB to use the proper fingering.

little sunflower

Little Sunflower © 1967, Freddie Hubbard

On a final note, I have also found some useful online sites for finding guitar chords, diagrams and names. Among those are Chorderator, chordsearch (it does more than just search!), and The G-Net, which displays chords in TAB!

Ain’t technology great?!

I Travel Because

I couldn’t think of a suitable title for this post, and may come back and change it (and this post) if I can think of something more appropriate.  Why?  The reason is simply complex:  I decided to take a mini-vacation to accept my “elevation,” and since it was hard to justify a “down-and-back” overnight trip (cost-wise, time-wise, etc.) and since I had a surplus of vacation time coming to me, decided to extend the trip.  Fine.  But then what?

Well, I decided to do what I’ve done before:  Let someone else house and feed me for a few days.  So, here I am, less than a week away from another Caribbean cruise.

carnival cruise lines logo

Carnival Cruise Line’s iconic smokestack and logo.

This is a four-night excursion, most of which takes place asea. There is one stop, Cozumel, Mexico, which I have visited several times. I doubt I will even get off the ship. But I might go ashore for a couple of hours just to walk around.  I’m feeling lazy, so my plans are to just wander the ship, eat, and relax in my stateroom, practicing guitar.

Speaking of which — I just ordered a new guitar specifically for this purpose.  Somehow, I learned of a kickstarter-funded company that was making carbon fiber travel guitars.  The carbon fiber makes them virtually impervious to temperature and humidity changes (they have wooden necks — I ordered my with carbon fiber truss rod reinforcement).  The key here is that the neck is removable, make the guitar a “foldable!” So it’s downsized and foldable, which means it should be packable in a suitcase!  These are KLŌS Guitars, and they get surprisingly good reviews!

KLŌS Foldable Guitar

KLŌS Foldable Guitar

Order fulfillment said 2-6 days, and not wanting to risk not getting it in time, I paid extra for expedited shipping. I hope it’s worth it! I’ll post a review when I return.

Finally, I hoped to be included in the special Chef’s Table meal (I did it last time, and it was FABULOUS). I received an email saying they had filled all the seats, but I’ll be waitlisted. If I make it, great. If not, that’s fine too.

Sail away!

An Elevation Surprise

Four years ago, in 2014, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had been “invited” to become a Knight of the Order of Salvador, a chivalric group of patrons of the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I have been a long-time member, supporter and patron of the museum, so this was a recognition of that.  Not that I thought I’d done anything extraordinary to deserve it, but it was a nice gesture, and it resulted in a silver (real!) medallion that I am to wear on formal social occasions and government events.

Today, I received an envelope from the museum.  I expected it to be the annual notice of the Ceremony of Investiture and Elevation.  Just earlier, I had debated going.  But it was more than an invitation, it was notification that I will be “elevated.”  This is like getting promoted.  I anticipate being invested as a Knight of the Order of Salvador First Class.

Outside the museum it’s a pretty meaningless award, but I’m thrilled and honored.

I’ll post more after the ceremony (I’ve already made my hotel reservation.  Next is my flight…).

A Four Song Playlist

I’ve been giving this some thought:  There is an “open mic night” at the church every week.  And though it’s aimed more for the younger crowd, I’ve been thinking of taking the stage and practicing my live performance capabilities.  Performers are only allowed three or four songs per set, so what songs would I play?

These are the songs I’ve been playing and practicing.  Some are new (to me) and others I’ve been playing for years (but have gotten of practice):

  • Daydream (Lovin’ Spoonful)
  • Presence of the Lord (Clapton)
  • Dino’s Song (Quicksilver Messenger Service)
  • Pride of Man (Quicksilver Messenger Service)

As backup songs, I might also consider:

  • Thinking of You (Loggins & Messina)
  • My Sweet Lord (George Harrison)
  • Melissa (Allman Brothers)
  • Little Wing (Hendrix)

The latter four are more complex, and would require more practice before I feel comfortable playing them in public.  Heck, I would have to practice all of them before playing publicly.  But no dream is to great, eh?

Daydream - Lovin' Spoonful

The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream”

Presence of the Lord - Clapton

Eric Clapton “Presence of the Lord”

Pride of Man / Dino's Song - QSM

Quicksilver Messenger Service: “Dino’s Song” and “Pride of Man”

Loggins & Messina - first album

(Kenny) Loggins & (Jim) Messina

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass solo LP

Melissa - Allman Brothers Band

Allman Brothers Band – Eat a Peach (Melissa)

Little Wing - Jimi Hendriz

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold As Love (Little Wing)

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

They said it can’t be done.  I beg to differ.

In fact, I think I knew intuitively that I could change and grow by getting professional help, but I resisted.  For years.

That has all changed.  I have now had four guitar lessons from a professional guitar player and teacher. (for more see this autobiography of Steve Tjernagel). This past month has been an eye-opening experience, and almost makes me regret not having done it sooner (I don’t believe in regrets; as they say, “It is what it is”).

Going back to square one.  I approached my first lesson with trepidation, thinking to myself that if he wanted me to do scales and finger exercises I might have second thoughts.  Walking out of my first lesson, my homework was scales and finger exercises!  And he was absolutely right!

The finger exercises are getting more complex, and the music theory that goes along with some of them is increasing my knowledge.  I took several music theory courses in college, but that was over 40 years ago!

Memorizing the Cycle of Fourths was one task I put my mind to.  Having examined it and played it using the four-note chords he’s taught me has begun to make things “fit.”

(The above image is located at deftdigits.com, a page that nicely explains how the Cycle of Fourths and its counterpart, the Circle of Fifths works).

Other concepts that Steve is hammering into my brain:  Knowing where the root, third, fifth (and currently 7th) notes are on any give chord form.  This coincides with the basic premise that one should memorize the entire fretboard (sorry to keep using the deftdigits site, but it has a nice visual layout and the descriptions are easy to read).

After playing guitar (on and off) for 50 years, I am not embarrassed to admit to friends that I’m taking lessons.  Heck, even Tiger Woods has a golf coach!

The 7th chords I’m learning.  And playing in the Cycle of Fourths.

Four notes, four fingers. These are “core” chords

Android Horrors Redux

In an earlier post I wrote that I would never again have an Android device.  That was a bit premature it turns out, as in a fit of (temporary, I hope) madness I thought to myself, “Maybe it was the older version of Android that was the problem, and that Google had improved it.”  The Google Nexus 7 I had literally thrown against the wall in a fit of pique was incapable of running newer versions of the Android OS.

I came across a cheap Chinese “phablet” on Amazon running Android 7.0 (nougat) and so I bought it.  Made by an unfamiliar company called Irulu, it was the same size and form factor as the Nexus 7.  It was named the eXpro (no, it’s not your browser, the site’s page appears to be completely munged).

Not a phone, eXpro is capable of accepting a SIM card and becoming one. I pity anyone who does so, though.

For starters, the eXpro is very bad at holding wi-fi connections.  Sometimes a reboot is necessary when traveling from one physical location to another.

But the worst part is Android.

On my Nexus 7, which I completely scrubbed and factory reset, apps have an annoying habit of just quitting in mid-use.  Annoying, for sure.

On the Irulu, there is a piece of malware that defies removal. It is called QuickTouch and is installed as “system software,” which means the typical anti-virus/crap cleaners fail to remove it; some even fail to recognize it as the intrusive infection it is.  Searching Google results in only user complaints about it, with the solution being – wait for it – a factory reset.

There is a QuickTouch on the Google Play store that gets high marks.  I can’t tell if it’s the same program or not, but the version on my eXpro installs software without my asking, shows notifications for programs I don’t want, and now having disabled (since I can’t remove) every one of its features I can, starts throwing messages about programs not responding that I never activated.

I could go on, but I won’t.  If QuickTouch is pre-installed by Google/Android and can’t be removed, then shame on Google for including such a piece of noxious trash in their OS.  It’s bad enough that apps spy on us every minute of our lives, but when they take over our devices, I draw the line.

(I still harbor the dark feeling of satisfaction I might derive by destroying these devices by shattering them with a few well-placed shots from a .45 caliber weapon).

Woohoo – NGD!

For those not into the lingo (or the acronyms), NGD is shorthand for “New Guitar Day.”

Yep, I did it again.

Stratocaster XII

Fender Stratocaster XII – 2018 MIJ 12-string

This is a new (2018) Fender Special Run (FSR) Made in Japan Stratocaster XII.  If you didn’t notice outright, look again – it’s a 12-string Stratocaster. That’s what the XII denotes in the model name.

The first guitar I bought brand new was a 1971 Framus 12-string acoustic.  That guitar is now 47 years old.  I played it both as a 12- and as a 6-string for years.  But it’s 100% acoustic, which means no onboard electronics as is common with acoustic guitars today.

1971 Framus 12-string

1971 Framus “Blue Ridge” 12-string acoustic guitar

There is something about the sound of a 12-string guitar. The Byrds, back in the 1960s, used Rickenbacker 12-strings on a number of their songs, which helped give them their “signature” sound.

As I played with the church band recently, I used my acoustic 12-string to add that “chiming” sound to the songs we played.  But I had to sit near a microphone that picked up the sound and broadcast it through the P.A. system.  Sitting, while more comfortable than standing, limits one’s ability to sing.  Especially when also using an electric guitar for other songs.

This is a lower-end Stratocaster 12-sting.  Its body is basswood and the pickups are standard single-coil (Fender makes a slew of pickups for a variety of sounds).  The neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard (all my other fenders have maple boards, although my Gibsons use rosewood, too).  The neck is a “U” shape, with a 7.5″ radius.  Compare this guitar with my Eric Clapton Artist Series Stratocaster, which has an alder body, a “soft V” neck, 9.5″ radius, and “Vintage Noiseless™” single-coil pickups.  And more features, which add to the cost.

The only colors available for this FSR guitar are Olympic White and Sunburst.  I have an unexplained aversion to ‘bursts, and my EC Strat is Olympic White, so I dithered a bit before buying.  But the seller announced he was accepting offers on the OW, so I offered and we negotiated a price.  Deal!

So now I have two Olympic White Stratocasters.  They aren’t twins, however, as the photo below show.  The difference in neck color as well as the color of the pickguard (it’s listed as “3-ply eggshell,” but it looks Mint to me.  Perhaps when I remove the plastic protector? I consider them “brothers.”  The EC Strat is the older, the 12-string the younger.

two strats

Brothers. Eric Clapton Artist Series Stratocaster and FSR Stratocaster XII

The Greatest Invention. Ever.

Of course, the title is a bit hyperbolic.  After all, one can argue the wheel was the greatest invention.  Or fire (is fire an “invention”?).  So, maybe let’s narrow it down to the greatest invention of the past 150 years, okay?

Take a moment and think of what you might consider the greatest invention of the past several generations might be?

Here’s my take:  The battery.

battery

The Common Battery

That’s right, the means by which electric power can be stored, transported and disbursed.  Where would we be today without the batteries powering our cell phones, watches, laptop computers, iPads and the like?  Think about it.

I bought a battery-powered electric vehicle (BEV) a year ago because the house I purchased had a charging station.  My internal combustion engine (ICE) car sits in the garage most of the time, because the majority of my trips are short (< ten miles). My EV is one large battery on which a car has been attached.

When the lights go out, what’s the first thing we reach for?  A battery-operated flashlight (or torch, for the British English speakers).  I run with iPods, powered by batteries.  In fact, I have battery backup power systems for computers, smoke detectors, security devices, and more.

Can one argue there isn’t a more important invention in the modern age? For the record, the invention of the modern day battery is usually credited to Alessandro Volta (from where we get the term “volt”) in 1800.  A great, brief history of the battery may be found here.

UGHpdate

Two days after my previous post, the owners of the Washington Nationals all but admitted the 2018 season is lost.  They did so by trading away two of their more prolific players, Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

It’s weird how things work.  There is this thing called “revocable waivers,” which means a player placed on this list can be obtained by another team, but the owning team has three options:

  1. Work out a trade deal with the claiming team.
  2. Pull the player back off waivers (thereby revoking it).
  3. Do nothing, and let the player negotiate a contract with the claiming team.

In this case, they let Murphy and Adams go by negotiating with the claiming teams. The Chicago Cubs took Murphy in exchange for cash and a minor league player, and the St. Louis Cardinals took Adams for “cash considerations.”

Pulling a layer back off the baseball “onion,” this is all business. Both Murphy and Adams would have been free agents after the end of the season.  This frees up money the Nationals can use for next year.

It also signals surrender.  The Nationals have now given up hope of a 2018 postseason, and are looking toward next year.

Ugh.

My apologies, but I’m in somewhat of an “I told you so” mood, and since this is my place to spout and spew, I’m gonna do just that.  And what do I want to spout and spew about?  The Washington Nationals baseball team.

curly w logo

Washington Nationals “Curly W” Logo

I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid. I remember sitting out on our screened-in porch, in the dark, with my dad, listening to Washington Senators games on a transistor radio. Every so often we’d go to a game at Griffith Stadium, where I’d watch Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Gil Hodges, Camilo Pascual, Eddie Brinkman, and others. I still remember the saying, “Washington: First in war, first in peace, last in the American League!”

Washington, D.C. lost the Senators not once, but twice. The current Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins began their existence in Washington. For years, D.C. had no professional (or even minor league) baseball, and many locals adopted the nearby Baltimore Orioles. Not I, however. I want baseball that’s a “home team.”

In 2005, the Lerner family, wealthy from their real estate works, brought the Montreal Expos to D.C. It was a rocky start, and for the first few years, it wasn’t certain if this was going to be a D.C. team or a transplanted Canadian team. Some people latched on quickly, and when the Nationals drafted University of Virginia’s Ryan Zimmerman, things began to look up.

This isn’t supposed to be a history lesson. The above is simply background. The recent history is that the Nationals developed into one of the game’s top teams. They won their division (NL East) twice. And lost the league title twice by one run in game five. They were on the brink.

So, now this is a eulogy. There are 37 games left to play in the 2018 regular season. The Nats are 62-63, and have been hovering around the .500 mark since about July 3, when they hit 42-42.

Statistically, they could still make the playoffs.  Yeah, and there’s a statistical chance that I could be elected Pope.

Today (August 19, 2018) the Nationals got drubbed by the last place Miami Marlins, 12-1. This, on the heels of a tenth inning loss to the same Marlins the night before.  To say the Nationals are foundering is to say the Titanic has sprung a leak.

Prior to the season opener, many in the media were crowning the Nats the obvious World Series Champs (Sports Illustrated cover jinx, anyone?).  These same prognosticating experts should be eating their words.  They won’t, of course.

Technically, I think part of the problem is that opposing teams got better in the off-season and the Nationals didn’t keep pace.  There was a pleasant surprise in the activation of rookie Juan Soto, but he’s been the bright spot in a year otherwise marked by injury and less-than-stellar play.

That a team which can boast as much talent as the Nationals can be a mediocre .500 speaks volumes about sports, human nature and relying on predictions.