I love Deadmau5. I think it was his Masterclass that was the final tipping point to get me to sign up for classes this fall.

I want part of my LOT300W to include some EDM-inspired parts. I was wondering, well, how did Deadmau5 do it? What is the pattern of kick drum and snare, etc. I found this video

…which was amazingly well done. The graphics were funny and vivid, and it was packed with information. I let out a holler of delight when I found out that Joel used Strobe2 (my latest softsynth purchase). Also hilarious — Joel’s source of handclap sounds. He smacks himself on the ass with a microphone.

I did find all the terminology used to describe EDM very confusing and complex. I’d like to get the taxonomy straight. I would benefit from taking notes on this vid and listening to a few more.

Meanwhile I stumbled on this

…an orchestral mix.

and this…

“If you want me to stay

I need you to know

You can never ever leave me alone”

I love how the singer repeats the words with different inflections, bringing out different shades of meaning each time. The repetition reminds me of a prayer. The lyrics were heartrending to me because I know someone who just came out of a dysfunctional relationship where one partner was destructively dependent on the other. The lyrics are a cry from the heart — “don’t abandon me” — but is this a healthy state of mind? Or a form of obsession? I know that different species can live in symbiotic relationships and in fact that is the only way they can thrive (ex coral and algae). But what about humans? Is it bad (harmful, hurtful) for us to be dependent on each other? To want (demand?) fidelity and wholeheartedness from your partner? I’m not sure — because lately I’ve seen it go horribly wrong. When I hear this vocalist’s plea, I don’t know whether to empathize… or to recommend a good therapist.

I remember times when I was dependent on another’s deep focus and engagement, and how anguished I was when these times of connection ended. I can relate to these lyrics.

In this song the rhythm moves along, like a car down a highway or the minute hand of a clock, or a heartbeat, marking off the passage of time. Floating over that unchanging rhythm is a human voice, hesitant, changeable, at times anguished and at times angry. It is a compelling combination.

I remember talking to one of my profs last semester — I mentioned New Age music and she gave a look of mild disgust. She asked — why listen to something so boring and repetitive when there is music that is so much more varied and expressive?

Because for me, the repetition is…meditative? Like a form of transportation (worm hole, time warp) into a different mindset? The format is familiar and so my mind goes down familiar paths — I remember other times I have lived / worked to this music — ex. painting the aviary while listening to “I Remember” and wondering about how a friend was doing at that moment in time. The music is a familiar companion, a mood-altering substance, a way of centering. “I remember who I was the last time I listened to this”. Usually working and moving, sometimes even dancing.

I remember “house sitting” a beautiful, near-empty house (the owners were in the process of moving their things out to sell it). I had my boom box with me, and was playing this mix from Paul van Dyk. The sound echoed, and the hardwood floors made the open plan rooms like a dance studio. I had the lights out and danced, looking out the sliding glass doors into the dark, with distant lights from neighbors’ houses shining through the trees. This feeds a part of me, the wordless part that exists in the present. It gets me out of the hamster-wheel of my usual thoughts.





Recent Fun with Finale

Ah yes, Finale. Drag and drop notes while banging your head on the desk.

I did make some good progress while working on a project for church. The goal was to make a version of “Thanks for the Memory” that was created to honor our former choir director. I wanted to keep the tune and rhythm as close to the original as possible, but I did have to make some changes. I got stuck several places, but because the project was so important I actually RTFM’d and searched for the answers online. Here’s some notes.


Quick way to add measures, one at a time


Get rid of an extra page



I want it to start playback where I was working, rather than going all the way back to the beginning.

This dropdown menu also allowed me to vary the amount of swing. I wrote the melody with straight eighth notes, but it did not sound that way when sung by Bob Hope!



I wanted to use piano rather than the cheesy Vox setting they gave me when I set the staff up as “voice”.






6 weeks between semesters

It’s been a while since I’ve written here! The semester is over and I’m starting to recover. The last 2 weeks of the semester felt like the final miles of a marathon. Then when I stopped “running” I stopped doing music, taking care of my health, playing with my dog, talking to friends. Now I’m starting to feel restless — I want to be studying something, I want to be exercising — and I’m tired of feeling queasy from feasting on unhealthy food! (And poor Bonnie the Dog feels restless, too.)

I’m hoping that I can do better next semester — pace myself instead of dashing from crisis to crisis. I figured out that if I read / take notes on 5 pg a day for the month of January, I can review the second half of last semester and read ahead through next semester! Of course the hardest part of the music theory text is not learning the terminology, but putting it into practice. But at least I’d have an idea of what was going on.

I also need to review what we did in Ear Training (I flamed out when we got to minor scales), and scan the second half of the textbook and print it out in magnified form. Having a large-print version of the text last semester was such a big help.

More about next semester: I did contact the prof. who teaches composition. I have mixed feelings about that — excitement (there’s so much I want to learn and work on) but also fear (can I balance that with my other classes?) I’m trying to get a head start on the composing project. On Saturday I drew a beautiful diagram that maps out where the composition will go and what its main sections are. There’s an intro; and mirroring it, a recap. There’s 3 main voyages, each separated by travel music (like the Promenade in “Pictures at an Exhibition”). Each voyage is made up of 3 scenes. What I can do over break is start generating and collecting material — theme bits, chord progressions, musical textures.

As a way of generating fresh music textures, I signed up for lectures on Coursera called “Creating Sounds for Electronic Music”. I made a first pass through the videos yesterday. The instructor is Loudon Stearns of Berklee College of Music. He is very clear and organized, but the course material is unfamiliar enough that I’ll have to go through the lectures again very slowly! Stearns is demonstrating the softsynth called “Strobe2” and you get to use a demo of the software for several weeks. I picture running the tutorial vids on my desktop while working with the software on my laptop.

I also need to get a DAW up and running if I’m going to be composing. I bought a copy of Reaper last summer and even bought the guide book (which is several inches thick!), but haven’t actually jumped in yet. I do have FL Studio, but I plan to be using a lot of mp3 clips (from my own recordings) and FL Studio handles them in a very clunky way. What I really wish I could have is a fusion of Audacity and my old sequencer software from the 90s called Cadenza.

So, to recap

  • Text review and reading ahead (notecards)
  • Ear training review and working ahead — make large print version
  • Composing
    generate bits to collage together later
    learn Strobe2 and start generating textures
    work on Reaper, start to get familiar with it

I had been planning on getting a used piano over break, and had planned on continuing with piano lessons next semester (though only 1 credit rather than 2). But, looking at my list, maybe it would be smart to postpone the piano purchase, and the lessons. I can certainly still work on scales and arpeggios on my own, and bought a series of 8 lesson books on sight reading (Christmas gift to myself!). I guess I can still change my mind on that, but Text / Ear / Composing is probably enough.

It would be great to go through the semester without my little bubble of drama following me everywhere.

Oh and did I mention I set up a blog for our music theory class? But no one (except for one student) has been willing to post on it, so I guess it’s not going to be a big energy sink?




Birdbrain Musician Episode 1 and discussion

I made this video partly in response to the Paganini assignment

I was trying to explain to myself why so much of this performance was grating. It really does seem that the violin is in pain. Not a beautiful pain like “while my guitar gently weeps”, but more like a hoarse scream. To me, the violin (and cello and viola?) seem so similar to the human voice. I guess it makes sense — we have vocal cords and resonators, and they have vocal cords and resonators as well. In our case the strings are set in motion by air, and in their case because of friction from the touch of a bow.

We were asked to find some additional examples of the Paganini — the same piece performed by other musicians, or adaptations of it (variations, fantasies, …remixes?)

I had commented to one of my friends in class, “You just KNOW there’s going to be a version on electric guitar.” Here one is. The comments under the video said that the guitarist did a good job playing it fairly straight instead of turning it into a “power metal version”.


Here’s an adaptation for flute. I saw videos by several other flautists but I wanted a video where you could see the body language of the musician.

A leaf on the wind — leaping birds — spiral stems, vines dangling

2:59 arpeggios made me think of water bubbling in a stream

3:15 staccato? sharp breaths. Not harsh but jazzy, dance-like

3:48 riding along on the melody line, as if I were ice skating. A push, then gliding, pull into a turn…

playful, mournful, energetic but graceful, confident

Compared to this — the Markov version was brash, arrogant, “emo”

If his version was a person near me on the bus I would move away to another seat. Dude, have you been taking your meds? Maybe you need anger management therapy.

I did not listen to this entire selection. I got about 3 minutes in and began to feel confused about whether we were still in a variation of Caprice # 24. Some of the harmonizations made me feel sort of queasy. I’m not sure what harmonies cause that feeling (disoriented, ill-at-ease). Note that the person who posted this included a huge amount of information about the different variations — what was different about each one, and what was especially challenging about each one.

Brahms was not a showman, and rarely wrote music which aimed at being technically difficult. But when he did, he out-Liszted Liszt. The Paganini Variations, as you can tell from their main title, are not just a fully-fledged concert work but also a set of exercises for study, featuring technical challenges that are often more than a little obscene [19:24]. As always, the variations are also musically dazzling in their variety and invention. Kissin plays the faster variations with astounding bravura, [11:29] dynamic control [16:05], and articulation [16:49], and is exquisitely delicate in the slower ones [07:45].


This is a version that’s being played through MIDI software. It’s unpleasantly robotic to listen to, but the hand patterns were fascinating to me. My previous keyboard experience was on organ (with separated keyboards). It’s interesting to see how the 2 hands share and trade the notes back and forth.

Caprice # 24 begins at the 20:22 mark.

20:30  I can imagine doing these arpeggios — relaxed and graceful

20:53 — light tripping staccato notes

21:18 — low rumbling, running like a motor. “Perdendosi”?

21:32 — “stabby”. I don’t think the piano is in any danger, but this sounds like it might hurt the fingers.

21:46 — anxious sounding rapid chromatic runs

22:00 — “magical” — little sparkly phrases on the rt. hand, darker phrases on the left

22:20 — headbanger! Envigorating.

22:43 — wiry, vine-like

22:53 — OK, sounds like the piano is giggling

“Scherzando” does mean “playfully” (or, as Dr. Greenberg says, it literally means “I’m joking”), but this is really silly and cute.

23:00 — more headbanging! “Fuocoso” apparently means fiery or passionately.

23:12 — burbling

23:30 — twinkly. The extended trill does give me a feeling of unease or suspense, though.

24:06 — the piano is roaring and thundering. Waves on a stormy sea

24:35 — those are some weird harmonies!

24:54 — this must be the big finish. I can hear the main theme buried deep in the mix.

Now — huge waves — this part makes me think of winding up to throw a shot put. Gathering energy…


And he throws it!











Quick reply to assignment

Hello All,

this is a test! I’m checking to see how the Canvas discussions work.

Here is the version of the Paganini caprice that I will be discussing. The original video showed Alexander Markov played Caprice no. 24. The link I’m posting is a piano performance by Daniil Trifonov. He is playing a series of variations on Paganini, composed by Franz Liszt. The section that is adapted from Caprice no. 24 begins at the 20:22 mark and continues to the end. I loved watching this video because it shows the sheet music in realtime. I’ll be back with my full discussion later.

Note, I don’t understand how the discussions on Canvas work. Are we posting them to the group at large, or is this just a communication with the prof? If the former, it’s worrisome that no one else has responded yet.




Assignment on Paganini’s Caprice #24

Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for violin

In order to receive full credit, you must answer the questions thoroughly in your own words.

What other composers wrote variations, fantasies, or other versions of this caprice?

Please post other performances and/or versions of this work.  Comment how they are similar to the original caprice.

Which piece do you like the most and what makes it an interesting, exciting, or beautiful performance?


Link to Alexander Markov’s performance that we heard in class :

Yuja Wang:  Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini  (15:22 is the most famous variation, but please watch the entire work; it’s incredibly beautiful)

Click below to  listen to the Accordare Piano Duo, Dr. Rehwoldt and Dr. Suter performing Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini at a live concert in San Diego.



Terrible Earworm

I am having trouble knowing how much time to allot for my homework assignments. Several times I’ve would up working past 1 am. I have been a night owl for many years and and I seem to have my best focus around 1 and 2 am, but…now I have to get up at 7 in order to catch the bus. 5 hrs of sleep makes for a long stressful day. This past week I came into a Wednesday very short on sleep and had not allotted enough time to practice for voice lessons. Since one of the new songs I’m learning is in Italian, I spent time on the bus (and in the stairwell) practicing the Italian, saying the syllables as clearly as possible, with very pure vowels. Over and over. In rhythm, with the tune in my head. The combination of the lack of sleep, over-studying, and adrenaline about the lesson led to the worst earworm I have had in a very long time. I COULD NOT get the song to stop. It kept playing in continuous repeats. When I came home I was able to take a nap, which helped. I also took a break from that song for a few days. This afternoon was the first I had sung it since Wednesday. The first page is gently playing in the background right now. I wish my brain would move on to pg. 3 which is the part I actually need to work on. “Di belezza non s’aprezza lo splendor / se non vien dun fido cor, dun fido cor. / Di belezza non s’a…prez…ZA lo-o-o splendor, se non vien (carefully) d’un fido (very carefully) co-o-or, d’un (F# major) fido cor!”

I wonder what actually causes the “earworm” phenomenon, and why some days are worse than others.

Update after the First Week of Class

The first week of class was not what I was expecting.

  • Missing the first class because of parking trouble — and then having brake problems on the way home. This was very much like one of my anxiety dreams. Greg’s comment was “What are you complaining about. You had your clothes on, didn’t you?”
  • Needing Greg to drive me to classes because my car was in the shop
  • Last minute decision to take keyboard lessons
  • At that late date can’t register online — has to be in person — with paperwork. Chasing down signatures, making a stop at an office and then at what we used to call the Bursar’s office. “How do I get my schedule?” “It’s right there on the papers I gave you”.
  • Keyboard class is not lecture based. Instead, there is a list of skills that we must be able to demonstrate by the end of the semester. (Greg said it’s like my son’s proficiency requirements for his black belt exam.) We have the list, and we spend class working on our own — with the presence and availability of the prof. This is why I decided to add keyboard lessons! Piano’s very different from organ.
  • Ear training (so far) has not been the neat methodical progression that it is in Ear Master. It is more like a race through a wind tunnel.
  • I got 2 faculty members’ names mixed up in an embarrassing way even though I tried to do my research ahead of time and study their photos.
  • Voice lessons make my sinuses feel weird.
  • All the handouts are posted in the ether, in this shadow-realm with many facets, and we’re expected to print them out ourselves. I’m still not sure I’ve found all the places the documents can be hidden.

Things I did expect.

  • Being hungry — not figuring out what to take for lunch
  • Feeling awkward talking to students
  • Feeling awkward participating in class (The “Hermione Effect”)
  • Enthusiasm because of enthusiastic profs
  • Absolutely exhausted

More unexpected things!

  • Playing scales before bed makes me sleepy, in a good way.
  • I got a lovely orientation (about composition) from the prof. who designed the ear training class. This woman is a treasure. I didn’t expect her to take me seriously or to understand what I was getting at.
  • Basically feeling VERY welcomed!
  • Choir rehearsal started up again, had not seen my friends since 15 lbs ago. No comments except from one guy who asked me if I’d been sick (!).
  • Working on scales, getting distracted by improvisation, then feeling frustrated because I can’t play what I hear in my head. Left hand pinky finger hurts.
  • Trying to copy out some choir music by hand, feeling frustrated with my grade-school printing. Feeling like I’m already behind the other students and running to catch up.

I did not expect MUSIC BOOT CAMP


Do, super strong, like a fist

Here’s a great set of mnemonics for the hand signs for solfege syllables

DO   super strong like a fist

RE   always sliding up and down

ME   super stable so it’s flat

FA   always feels falling down

SO   also strong, like a slap

LA   a balloon floating up

TI   always pushing to the top

DO   super strong like a fist