Thursday, August 26, 2010

Afghan Star

Afghan Star

A fascinating look at Afghanistan's continuing culture wars. The U.S. liberated Afghanis from Taliban oppression in 2001. So what does the country need next? Well, I wouldn't have answered "An 'American Idol'-style singing competition", but that is exactly what "Afghan Star" depicts. And the Afghani people are up for it! They love the new feeling of democracy they experience while voting for their favorite singers. The filmmakers do a great job depicting the cultural norms and expectations on the contestants. Their work "pulls back the veil", providing an unfettered view into a culture that so few outsiders understand.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My friend Shaun's new music video

Hello world. My friend Shaun has just completed a music video for a song by the band called Disgust of Us. They're an Oakland-based band. I used to play in several different groups with their lead singer. We had many lovely times, but that chapter has ended. Meanwhile her current group chugs along.
I would embed the video here, but it has a bit of blood in it and I don't want to scare the young'uns. Here's the link. The song is called "Skin and Bones".
I'm proud of Shaun and the improving quality of his filmmaking over the last couple years. I've documented my recent film scoring collaborations with him here. And I'll seize any opportunity to post this awesome trailer he made last year to commemorate one of our joint piano/guitar recitals:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August Ear Power - Week 1 & 2


Billie Jean (Single Version)
Things we've discovered thus far:
- Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is in the key of F# minor
- The song features a very distinctive bass line in the Introduction and Verses. It is comprised of notes from the F# minor pentatonic scale
- The R.H. chords in the Intro. are all first inversion triads moving in parallel motion
- The verse alternates between only two chords:  i  (F#m) and  iv  (Bm)
- The beginning melody note in the verse is C#
Several motivated students have already figured the other 2 chords that appear in the song as well as much more. The more time you spend learning songs by ear, the better you become at it. 

Here's a simple truth about life: invest time and effort in a structured way, and ye shall improve at whatever ye pursue.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Axis of Awesome - 4 Chord Song





My brother in law showed me this video while we were in Santa Barbara over the weekend. An Aussie comedy troupe - "Axis of Awesome" - bring to light an issue that has plagued pop songwriting over the last couple decades. Excessive use of a particular sequence of 4 chords!! Watch the above video and you'll see how one popular song after another features the same exact chord progression.

For the record, they are playing in E Major, and the progression is | I |  V |  vi |  IV | (E, B, C#m, A). Hmmm... that reminds of a certain song I worked on with my students a couple months ago.



Either these songwriters are geniuses, or we are buffoons for digging their lack of invention, over and over again. I'm undecided. I like a lot of the songs they poke fun at in the video. Enjoy.
Jesse

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another Keyboard option



Nothing matches the sound, touch and feel of a real piano. But there are occasions where a pianist does not have a real piano at his or her disposal. On these occasions, the common substitute instrument is a digital piano. These vary drastically in quality, just as real pianos do.
Now and again I'll post entries here on my blog promoting the most outstanding models I've recently played. I hope this proves especially useful to readers who are in the market for a digital piano.


Kurzweil PC2X
During the last weekend in July, I played a series of concerts with the Douglas Morrison Theatre Chorus. The keyboard instrument used for the concert was a Kurzweil PC2X belonging to the chorus's conductor, Cesar. The Kurzweil company is a widely respected keyboard manufacturer. Their instruments are especially prized for their outstanding piano sound.
I used to own a Kurzweil keyboard. It was a Kurzweil PCX. I was never happy with it. The truth is, I'm never fully at ease playing a keyboard; the sound is always disappointing, no matter how luxurious the instrument. Both Cesar and I remarked to one another that we weren't happy with the sound we were getting from his instrument. We're talking about a $3,000 keyboard!! But we're spoiled - we know the sound and touch of a genuine acoustic piano too well and can't help but compare everything to that ideal.
Kurzweil seems to release a new model in their PCX keyboard series every couple years. Now they've moved on to a PC3X model. Suggested retail price? $3,630. Or, you can buy a car instead.
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I must state once more that nothing beats the sound and feel of a real piano. Ask any seasoned pianist and they will tell you the same. Nonetheless, the digital pianos on the market are getting better and better. If you decide to go with a digital model, make sure you do the same amount of research you would if you were buying an acoustic piano.
Jesse

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ear Power song for August 2010

Billie Jean (Single Version)




**Beginning this month I won't be embedding videos on my blog of the selected song of the month. As a music teacher I think it's important that I don't promote music piracy any more than it has already become the norm. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it has unfortunately led to artists of all disciplines losing important revenue streams via rampant file-sharing. By not embedding videos with audio of the monthly song I hope to encourage more individuals to actually purchase the songs and begin to build their own library of music (mp3 or otherwise). I will always provide links to acquire the songs legally.