The Coursera Blues Jam

I wrote last time that I was involved with a little side project with some fellow students of the Developing Your Musicianship course offered by the Berklee College of Music through Coursera. That project is now complete, and I share it with you here.

First, a few notes from our producer:

In early May, a small group of us in our FaceBook study group decided to put together a little blues jam track, the idea being to have a little fun together irrespective of whether we were beginners or veteran musicians. We built a backing track within a couple of days and people were off.
Different skill levels. Different cultures. Different time zones. It still surprises me how easily this came together.
12 people.
11 different instruments.
18 days.
48 tracks.
2.3 GB of audio. (Mostly because of my inefficient workflow)
25+ hours of production, not counting the time we took to learn & perform our pieces.
10 minutes of bliss.

Credits:
Bass – Serban-Ionut Georgescu
Rhythm Guitars – Jim Bond, Aseem Mhaske
Drum Programming – Aseem
Clarinet – Miqueias Amorim
Background Vox – Miqueias, Caroline Lee, Rika Sato, Aseem
Additional instrumentation – Michele, Aseem
Production / Mixing: Aseem

Solos, in the order they appear:
Keys – Lauren Lastimosa
Vocals – Michele Dirks
Acoustic Guitar – Carlos Aragao
Harp – Robin Stadnyk
Vocals – Silje Benedicte
Flute – Rika Sato
Alto Sax – Caroline Lee
Vocals – Miqueias Amorim
Tenor Sax – Jibraan Saeed
Guitar – Jim Bond
Guitar – Aseem Mhaske

And now, the music, folks!

Be True

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Time Out

The songwriting project I’ve written about is on hold for at least another week.

I’m finishing up another Berklee class offered through Coursera, “Developing Your Musicianship”. Our final assignment is to record a minor pentatonic blues riff over a prerecorded backing track. That’s due Friday.

The Facebook group dedicated to the course is also working on a project similar to the Cafe karaoke project. Several of us are submitting tracks that will allegedly blend into a collaborative blues tune. I’ve committed to submitting a rhythm riff and a lead line, which may or may not be used in the final project. That, too is due Friday, to coincide with the end of the course.

Once those two projects are wrapped up, I should be able to return to my [untitled song].

The Coursera Cafe Group Karaoke Project

While I take a small break in figuring out how exactly to build a drum track in GarageBand iOS, I thought I’d share a little project I was involved in.

In previous posts I’ve mentioned Coursera, a great resource for online learning. I’ve taken various music courses, and in the process made some friends that I wanted to keep in contact with after the courses were over. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. One enterprising student formed a Facebook page she christened The Coursera Cafe. Several of us joined and formed a nice little community for arts lovers.

Late last year, someone in the cafe came up with a wonderful concept. Several of us, from around the world, contributed vocals and visuals, which evolved into this video. It’s truly a testament as to what can be accomplished with the internet other than forum trolls and cat memes. How about a little peace, love and understanding?

[the list]

After meditating on the matter, I’ve decided to use the riff as is for now, but, like I said, anything can change during the writing/recording process. I’m planning simple instrumentation, a couple of guitars, bass and programmed drum tracks.

I’ve decided to start out nicking the bass line from the Beatles’ “Taxman’; modified a little bit, it could fit in. At least it seems that way in my mind’s ear. We’ll see when I hear the two together. (What? Paul McCartney on his bass riff in “I Saw Her Standing There”: “Here’s one example of a riff I pinched from someone: I used the bass riff from ‘Talkin’ Bout You’ by Chuck Berry in ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people, I find few of them believe me. Therefore, I maintain that a bass riff hasn’t got to be original.”

But I digress. One of the things I like to do when I start a project like this is pretend I’m organized. So I make a preliminary list of the order in which I plan to build the various tracks. This one looks like this:

Drum & Percussion Track
Riff
Rhythm Guitar
Lead Guitar
Write lyrics
Vocal
Process and mix

Of course, best laid plans, etc. But it’s a starting point.

On to the GarageBand drum machine!

[untitled song]

For several years – stretching back to my college days, actually – I’ve been writing these little songs. Some are pretty good, some are just OK, some will never see the ears of day. Ever since technology allowed anyone to turn their computer into a recording studio, I’ve been recording some of these gems with varying results (you can check out my SoundCloud page for examples).

My interest lay dormant for a few years until a took I few online courses through Coursera; specifically, Berklee College of Music courses in Songwriting and Music Production.

Since then, my passion for music-making has been renewed, and I’ve been working more in my “studio”, which lately has been my iPhone, set up with Garageband iOS, Audiobus, AmpliTube, AmpKit, and various other apps. Readers of this blog (the three of you) will already be familiar with my arsenal of axes.

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve completed a song, and I’m ready to begin work on another project. I’ve decided to take the reader along with me on this journey, which may take a couple of months, or the rest of the year. It might yield something I’m happy with, or I may scratch the whole thing. We’ll see.

At the moment, the only thing I’m starting with is a guitar riff, which is demonstrated in this video:

(The instructor, by the way, is Griff Hamlin, my guitar “teacher”. I’ve been working with a couple of of his DVD courses, and they’re really excellent. Check out Blues Guitar Unleashed.)

The riff is my starting point; it’s likely that exact riff will be different by the time the song is finished. Or maybe not. I may play around with the riff a bit, then set it aside and write some lyrics. I never know where I’m going to end up once I’ve started, or how I’m going to get there; that’s part of the fun, the excitement, and the self-discovery.

I’ll be back when I have something for you.

Gee-Tar Six

So I found myself with a nice little collection: a Strat, an acoustic, a Les Paul, something I thought looked pretty cool, and a fake Tele.

There remained one style I needed to satisfy my GAS: a hollow-body electric. And if you know me, there was only one on my list. That, of course, would be an Epiphone Casino.

 

I visited my local Guitar Center and spent some time with a Casino, and fell in lust with the way it felt, and the way it played. I must have this piece! Unfortunately, the retail price of $599 was a little budget unfriendly. 

But I was desperate. I turned to a source I’d never used when guitar shopping before: eBay. Not that there’s anything wrong with eBay; I’ve purchased many items through auctions. The thing about guitars, though, is that I prefer to hold my prospective purchase, play around with it a little to check out the action, the weight, and all those little things that connect a guitar to its player. Having auditioned a Casino at GC, though, I knew I wanted one.

After  a few days, a listing for exactly what I wanted appeared: a nearly new Casino with case for a Buy It Now price of $445, plus shipping. The seller had 99.5% feedback, everything looked good, so I took the plunge. 

A week or so later, my package arrived, and I was ecstatic. The Casino was perfect, and to this day remains my favorite acquisition (don’t tell the others, though). 

2013-01-30 18.51.12

At this point in my life, although there are a couple of guitars I wouldn’t mind having (like a Steinberger, a Hofner bass, and especially a Vox Phantom), I’m out of GAS. And looking at my wallet, it’s going to be a while before I can refuel.

 

Gee-tar Five

I had lost out on a half-price American-made Fender Telecaster, but a Tele was still on my Wish List.

Problem was, life circumstances had changed a little, and even if I had found another deal like that, I couldn’t really justify shelling out that kind of money for another guitar. Even a cheaper made-in-Mexico model would be stretching the ol’ budget.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m a working musician. I’m a bedroom musician. The only person who hears me play is my son when we occasionally jam together. And I already had four guitars.

But I also had the dreaded GAS. I wanted my Tele!

 

 

One day I was thumbing through Guitar World magazine, and an ad caught my eye. It was the Tele I was looking for, but it was a clone manufactured by Xaviere guitars. Intrigued, I checked out their website, and liked what I saw. I prowled various guitar forums looking for independent opinions; those who had tried Xaviere were almost unanimous in their praise.

So I took a leap of faith and ordered their XV-820 and a hardshell case for it. Including shipping, the total cost was…$266.00! And I must say, I’m very happy with it. It’s not real great at staying in tune, but I’ll replace the tuners and it should be fine.