Thursday, 28 April 2016

Sapphire Ng | Berklee Guitar Private Instruction - (Week 2) SPRING 2016 [Class Materials & Concepts]

Guitar Private Instruction Lesson

Berklee College of Music
SPRING 2016 Semester

Private Instruction Teacher: Tim Miller

[Week 2]

The class started off with a really fun exercise incorporating voicings from last lesson. I was given 2 voicings each for minor9 and minor11, and today we started off in the key of A minor whereby I was supposed to play a groove using the 4 voicings. My instructor then called out a different key every couple of bars and my task would be to continue using the 4 voicings to form comping patterns in all the different keys called out. After the exercise I did ask about the calling out of keys, and he said that he initially went on a minor 3rd interval for the key changes, i.e. from key of A to key of C to key of Eb; and then some chromatic root movement, i.e. from key to A to Ab to G; and then eventually he just went random ! The idea would be to listen intently and change the keys of the voicings accordingly. 

Similar exercises were also done for the Dorian mode and for playing improvisational melodies. Different keys would be called out, and the idea is to respond to the key change by playing the Dorian scale and melodic lines in the different keys.

Concepts/content covered in class:

~ Know the Dorian scale in both the 6th string position and 5th string position of the guitar. Notice the similarities of fingerings in certain string sets that should help with retention of scale shape. 

[An exercise would be to set the metronome and then play 16th notes both ascending and descending the Dorian scale, and in any order you like. Play the scale across the fretboard from the 6th string to the 1st string and then vice versa. Change keys at any time you like, for example after playing 4 bars ascending and descending the Dorian scale in the key of A, you can play 2 bars of the scale in the key of B and then 2 bars in the key of F#, and then 4 bars in the key of G and so on. This exercise would help build the ability to improvise a single scale over key changes.]

[Start by playing simple melodies in the key of A Dorian, and then do the same for key changes. You can have a accompanist who is calling out the key changes and changing the key of the progression as you improvise melodies. My instructor said though that for the case of melodies, key changes does not have to be called out that often.]

~ My instructor gave me two strategies to increase variation in my improvisation, and he demonstrated licks incorporating the two techniques: 
1. Playing the arpeggio of chord voicing (not the usual arpeggios of chord qualities)
2. String skipping

Playing the arpeggio of chord voicing

[For playing the arpeggio of chord voicings, it simply means individually playing only the notes held down on any chord voicing, which means playing at most one note per string. This is definitely more technically challenging, but satisfying when practice pays off.]

[For example an A-7 chord, for a usual A-7 arpeggio played from the root note in the 6th string at 5th fret, one would play the 5th and 8th fret on the 6th string, 7th fret on the 5th string, the 5th and 7th fret on the 4th string, 5th fret on the 3rd string, the 5th fret and 8th fret on the 2nd string, and the 5th and 8th fret on the 1st string. In contrast, in this case of playing the arpeggio of chord voicings, we would only play the notes held down when playing a A-7 chord, i.e. 5th fret on 6th string, 7th fret on 5th string, and the 5th fret on the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings.]

[In another example using one of the minor11 voicings, that means playing the 5th fret of the 6th, 4th and 3rd strings, and then playing the 3rd fret of the 2nd string for an A-11 voicing.]

String skipping

[Practice playing 3 notes per string, skipping strings each time you move from one string to the next, i.e. playing notes on the 6th string, then 4th string, then 5th string, then 3rd string, then 4th string, 2nd string, 3rd string, 1st string. Do the opposite when descending strings.]

~ Be aware of guitar tone coming out of my playing fingers. Today was the first time I was being told as a guitarist that my instructor says that his observance of my guitar left hand position shows that my fingers are relatively strong and that equates to good technique. He continues by saying that should mean that I should be able to play fuller sounding notes and hold down notes longer for the duration of the same note value. Being able to play notes fuller would help greatly with guitar tone. This was one of the areas I worked considerably on a few years ago and I realize that bad habits do return over time. I am thus glad to be pointed out to this once again and I will definitely make a mental note of it and consciously work on it. 

Class Homework:

~ I was asked to use the Looper function in my GT-100 multi effects pedal to record a progression with chords moving from A minor to C minor to Eb minor and then to practice my Dorian scale and improvisational melody lines to it.

~ Practice playing the arpeggios of chord voicings and string skipping exercises, and attempt to incorporate them into actual improvising. 

~ Practice playing fuller notes mindfully and using targeted exercises in order to produce a greater touch and better guitar tone. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

REVIEW: "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" by Erik Larson

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson
Broadway Books
ISBN: 978-0307408877
Reprint Edition Copyright March 2016
Paperback, 480 Pages

Dead Wake is a phenomenally masterful and incomparably heartbreaking reenactment of the tragedy that befell Lusitania. A maestro in the craft of narrative and writing, Larson dexterously maneuvered the steady escalation of suspense and sense of foreboding that ultimately led to the climactic tragedy of the sinking of the Lusitania.

Brewing a sense of dreadful anticipation in readers, Larson adeptly weaved together the unfortunate convergence of events that culminated into the Lusitania eventually and fatefully sailing directly into the path of Kptlt. Walther Schwieger who commandeered the German submarine Unterseeboot-20, thereby positioning itself in a sweet spot as an assault target.

Larson skillfully drew the reader's attention to the many paradoxical elements in the narrative that magnify the heart-rending consequence of the brutal torpedo attack: 1,195 deaths out of the total 1,959 passengers and crew. The book frequently mentioned Room 40 in the Old Building which offered British access to intercepted coded and enciphered German messages; Room 40 officials had closely followed Schwieger's U-20, was well aware of Lusitania's schedule broadcasts by a German wireless station, and gained inside knowledge of newly dispatched U-boats en route to coincide with Lusitania's path to Liverpool. Four destroyers - the HMS Laertes, Moorsom, Myngs, and Boyne - were assigned to escort the HMS Orion, but none were allocated to the Lusitania.

Larson emphasized the informed parties' negligence. Captain William Thomas Turner of the Lusitania was not timely nor adequately informed of potential threats, nor was he notified or advised to take a “newly opened and safer North Channel route.” Regretfully, Captain Turner received the first warnings about German submarines only the night prior to the assault. As impending danger neared, messages received were similarly vague, conflicting, and confusing; The location reports of the submarines were not up-to-date, and Lusitania's Captain still was not informed of the sinking of two Harrison Line vessels, the Candidate and the Centurion, and the Earl of Lathom.

Larson strategically included in the book research and information that amplify the extent of tragedy that befell the Lusitania. A German tally cited indicated that “60% of attempted torpedo firings resulted in failure.” Applied to Schwieger's current patrol, it meant that were all seven torpedoes fired, “only three would succeed in striking a ship and exploding.” Readers will gasp at the extraordinarily ill-fated Lusitania as Larson shared incidences of torpedo attack failures Schwieger suffered on the same journey: He had misfired, had missed his target, and on multiple occasions abandoned intentions to attack due to unfavorable circumstances.

The day Schwieger's U-20 torpedoed the Lusitania was mournfully identified as the “last full day” of the week-long voyage due to arrive in Liverpool immediately the next morning. Moments before the tragedy, Lusitania passengers distinctly expressed an overwhelming “relief of having made it to England safe and sound.” To readers' further dismay, just the day before, Schwieger actually decided to begin his return trip, and more importantly, “as far as he was concerned, this patrol was over.”

Nonetheless, readers knew that Germany's supreme military leader, Kaiser Wilhelm, authorized U-boat commanders to “destroy anything that resembled a troop transport,” and to sink any ship regardless of flag or markings as long as the vessel was even remotely believed to be British or French. One may shudder to learn of Schwieger's unhesitant willingness to torpedo “a liner full of civilians,” and that he played a role in gaining greater notoriety for U-20's ruthlessness by sinking three merchant steamers without warning on January 30, 1915. His brutality was however ironically contrasted with friends' and junior officers' perception of Schwieger as one who “couldn't kill a fly”, who possessed “the soul of kindness”, and who qualified as “a wonderful man.”

Larson transparently explored Cunard's stance as Lusitania's owner. Regarding German warnings published in the papers, Cunard unscrupulously convinced potential passengers that steps would be taken to “protect the ship during the crossing”, along with providing false promises that Lusitania would be in the care of the Royal Navy upon entering the “zone of war” as designated by Germany; No escort was offered or planned for the Lusitania. Cunard also failed to disclose the decreased maximum speed with which the ship will travel, which led to passengers' prevailing belief that the Lusitania still traveled at its top speed of 25 knots.

Readers will be brought on a journey to cultivate a deeper understanding of German U-boats, such as learning the phenomenon of the “U-boat sweat” that occurs when submerged. One will be introduced to the mechanics and specificities of submarine diving, and learn that a U-boat was at its most vulnerable while diving. The firing of a torpedo would relieve a U-boat of around 3,000 pounds, and the U-20 customarily dived to its cruising depth of 72 feet that ensured its passage underneath vessels of even the deepest draft. One will learn that U-boats commonly spend nights on the ocean floor in the North Sea, traveled solo, and typically traveled underwater only in extreme weather or when attacking ships or dodging destroyers.

In reading the book, the reader will get further acquainted with concepts such as a fundamental maritime code known as the “cruiser rules” or “prize law”, the maritime superstition about Friday departures, and the Admiralty forbiddance of British warships from rescuing U-boat victims. Larson included interesting anecdotes such as the HMS Dreadnought's successful ramming and sinking of the German U-29, and the “accident” that befell U-3 that led it to sink on its maiden voyage. One will also learn a disadvantage of Lusitania's design specifically involving its longitudinal coal bunkers, and the fact that under certain conditions, “a single open porthole could admit water at a rate of 3.75 tons a minute.” Interestingly, Captain Turner was sought as an expert witness to testify on behalf of the families of dead American passengers in a deposition for the Titanic case.

The reader cannot help but feel throbbing and growing discomfort with the knowledge that Lusitania passengers mostly preferred to dismiss the news of the foreboding German warning as “maniacal” and a travesty. They avoided confrontation with the brutal reality, and refused to believe any indication towards a perilous journey. The Lusitania Captain himself referred to the prospect of being torpedoed by a German submarine as the “best joke I've heard in many days.”

In light of a Lusitania passenger named Mrs. Arthur Luck traveling with two sons, Kenneth Luck and Elbridge Luck, Larson dramatically expressed, “Why in the midst of great events there always seemed to be a family so misnamed is one of the imponderables of history.”

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sapphire Ng | Berklee Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz (Week 5) SPRING 2016 [Class Materials & Concepts]

Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz

Berklee College of Music
SPRING 2016 Semester

Class Teacher: John Baboian

[Week 5]

Class started with all students having to play through the licks in the handout "II V I Improv Lines" as given last week. We then proceeded on to play as a class all the arpeggio lines in the material "Lady Bird turnaround arpeggios". 

Then it came the time to improvise to the tune "Lady Bird" and demonstrate that we could apply the turnaround arpeggios in the actual context of the song. I had fun, and was given feedback by John that it seemed that I was soloing and then it felt like a "sudden flip of the page" when I incorporated the 3-bar lick right at the turnaround. I was advised to work on the smooth transition between my own improvised lines and the learned turnaround arpeggio line. I was aware that part of the reason that contributed to the stark difference between my lines and the turnaround line was because the entire time when I was improvising through the form of the song, I was actually waiting for the turnaround to come by hahaha. With more practice, this problem should be able to be minimized. I was also told to continue working on my articulation. 

Concepts/content covered in class:

~ John was talking about as musicians, we would need to figure out and discover what would compel people to want to watch our performances. Specifically for himself, John mentioned that scatting along with his guitar improvisations is one of his unique selling points that makes the audience go crazy about his performance. John further illustrated the point by citing examples such as Pat Metheny who has something unique about his playing that make people in awe with his performance. 

[John demonstrated scatting by soloing to four choruses of "Lady Bird". He solo-ed in the usual manner for the first and second choruses and thereafter incorporated scatting in the third and fourth choruses.

[The idea of scatting was introduced in class because a guitar student was hurt and could not play his instrument. John then asked the student to scat an improvised solo to the tune in contrast to the other guitarists in the classroom.]

~ First handout given in class is "Modes of the Real Melodic Minor Scale". Our attention was first drawn to the symbols of stars and pluses at the left margin of the page, whereby it is said that the modes marked with stars are considered the most important modes, whilst the remaining modes marked with pluses are considered important but they are not the most important. 

[A comment given regarding the Lydian b7 mode of the melodic minor, in other words, the 4th mode of the scale, is that when you encounter a chord progression where mixolydian would seem the most straightforward and obvious choice, a quick way to spice it up would be to add a #11 and turning the mode used to Mixolydian #4.

[Moving onto Mixolydian b6, we were asked why is this mode important. The answer is that it is because the mode represents the 5th degree of the melodic minor scale, and the 5th degree is always important in any scale discussed. John also drew our attention to the fact that for this particular mode, it represents the co-existence of the natural 9th and b6.

[For the 6th mode of the melodic minor scale, Locrian nat9, an example was given to illustrate the meaning of "implied nat9" as indicated in the handout. John wrote the chord progression towards the ending of the tune "Stella by Starlight" by Victor Young, where the progression goes E-7(b5) to A7(b9), D-7(b5) to G7(b9), and then C-7(b5) to F7(b9). 

[In the case for this tune, we would play a regular Locrian mode over the chord E-7(b5). As for the chord D-7(b5), it is said that the 9th note of the scale, the "E" note is actually the root of the preceding E-7(b5) chord, and is the 5th of the preceding A7(b9) chord, therefore there would be an "implied" natural 9th for the D-7(b5) that follows those two chords. Thus in this case, we can play the Locrian nat9 mode over D-7(b5). Similarly, for the third pair of-7(b5) and dom7(b9) chords, because the 9th of C-7(b5), i.e. the "D" note is actually the root of D-7(b5), and is the 5th of G7(b9), there is thus an implied natural 9th and so, a C Locrian nat9 mode should be played over the C-7(b5) chord. 

["Stella by Starlight" is thus a recommended tune if a student wants to practice using the mode Locrian nat9 to improvise.

[Moving onto the last mode of the melodic minor scale, the altered scale or the Super Locrian scale, we were first "quizzed" on the equivalent of the b5 and the #5, i.e. b5 is also known as #11, and where #5 is also known as b13. John went on to elaborate that any scale with altered 9ths, 5th and 13th can be called an altered scale, however if a scale for example only has altered 9ths and 5ths, it would not be able to be referred to as an altered scale, or could probably be called "semi-altered". John continued by playing some chords on his guitar, and asked the class to call out names of modes that can be played over the chord sounded. There was a "trick question" at the end whereby the appropriate scale to solo using would be the diminished scale, but that is not covered under the modes of the melodic minor scale just went through in class.]

~ We were given a handout titled "Minor II V I Improv Lines", and were told that for the same licks, if you can play it in major, you can play it in minor. John went on to demonstrate all the licks on the handout as we played the bassline for the progression. The 5th lick was specially pointed out for its 2nd bar where triplets were played throughout the bar over a G7 altered chord. 

~ The lead sheet "All Blues" by Miles Davis was given out and we were also asked to flip to page 12 on the book "Jazz Conception" by Jim Snidero, which is titled "Total Blues". The difference was pointed out that while "All Blues" is in the key signature of 6/8, the Transcription in the book is notated as 3/4. John went on to explain that the two time signatures are essentially the same, depending on whether you are seeing the tune as eighth notes or quarter notes. 

[John went on to draw note rhythms including quarter notes, eighth notes, dotted quarter notes and dotted eighth notes on the board. We were then asked to engage in a rhythm exercise by clapping the corresponding rhythm as our teacher pointed to the specific note value.] 

~ Transcription given this week is "Just Friends" by Pat Martino. I chuckled at this one because Pat Martino is one of my most favorite jazz guitarists. The audio of the solo was played for us in class and we were asked to pay attention to the sweeps, tensions and chromatics utilized by Pat. It is again reiterated that for our mid term exams, we can choose to play our chosen tune in whichever way we like, be it with our own backing track, along with the song or with our teacher. 

Class Homework:

~ Learn all the licks in "Minor II V I Improv Lines" and be ready to play them in the following class.

~ To practice improvising over the tune "All Blues" by Miles Davis by using four types of note rhythms, specifically quarter notes, eighth notes, dotted quarter notes and dotted eighth notes. 

~ To play as notated, "Total Blues" in page 12 of Jazz Conception

~ To start preparing for the mid term exams by learning one of the transcriptions given and to practice improvising over one of the tunes played in class from the start of the semester (and that is not blues). 

Class Materials/Handouts:

Modes of the Real Melodic Minor Scale

Minor II V I Improvisation Lines

"All Blues" by Miles Davis

"Just Friends" Solo by Pat Martino