Monday, January 23, 2012

You're the Only One by Shawn Persinger

 This essay from 2009 started as a self-pitying, complaining piece that evolved into a, "Get over yourself and get on with good work," bit of catharsis. I had big success with similar subject matter the same year with my first article for Taylor Guitar's Wood & Steel magazine entitled, "Guitar Therapy". WOOD & STEEL

I sent this piece, unsolicited, to John Zorn after reading several of the essays in ARCANA IV offering it as contribution to a future ARCANA book. The ARCANA books are essays by the crème de la crème of the Avant-Garde music world. Essays that, "...illuminates via personal vision and experience through the undiluted words and thoughts of the practitioners themselves." Mr. Zorn was kind enough to respond that the next ARCANA book would be on musical mysticism and as a result my essay would be inappropriate for the compilation. 

As I mentioned this piece has the perceived tone of self-pity but when I read it aloud you can hear more of the humor and tongue-in-cheekiness, please read it with that in mind. If it is not perfectly clear, in our Post-Postmodern world, the title is ironic, as we all, at times, feel like we are the "only ones".

You're the Only One by Shawn Persinger

You are sitting there, right now, reading this book and thinking, “I’m the only one.”

You like this book, you feel as though you’ve found like-minded people…but…not completely. You’re thinking, “Yes, yes I agree with that guy and the first essay too…but I don’t like their music. They’re too weird. No, no, that’s not it, I like weird; they just play too much noise. Why can’t they just write a good, normal, “pop” song? Because they can’t! They can’t. I can…I’m the only one. I’m the only one doing this. I’m the only one who is trying to bridge the gap between the Avant-garde and Pop music. I know others have tried, but come on, they don’t write good songs!”
And now you’re angry. You’re angry because no one knows how great you are and you’ve done everything you can. Everything you know how to do. All the things you’re supposed to do.

Twenty years ago you played every gig you could. You made countless flyers. You drove hours to play 30 minutes and make no money. You even sent out a real mailing list, through the mail! You were okay, not great, but okay. So you listened to new music constantly, looking for ideas, looking for inspiration; challenging both your playing and your composing; taking on all the greats and learning what they did, and what they didn’t do. Slowly you got your own thing going and you got better and better. You saw your entire future; you could go one of two ways, Pop icon, or Avant-Garde iconoclast. Then it hit you. BOTH! You would do both. You, the cover of Time magazine, “The Future of Music”. This would work.

Five years passed. You put out a few CDs. The first of these on your own label, following in the footsteps of your underground heroes and also remembering that The Beatles started their own label. Then a “real” label noticed you. A real “independent” label that is. A small label that you respected. You even liked some of the bands on it, and you thought, “I’m going to make that label famous. I’m going to sell more records for that label than all their previous releases combined.” And you did! You sold about 400 CDs.
You were now a voracious music student and that made you happy because you knew you were already great but you were still humble enough to know there were new concepts to learn. You read obscure books by 20th Century nobody composers who you realized (when you finally heard their music, that you tracked down using some record store fanzine, from the North of England, and paid twenty-seven dollars just for the shipping) didn’t deserve to be famous because their music was unlistenable. Great ideas, awful execution. But you used their experiments as a jumping off point, filling in the missing pieces, like a treasure hunter who found the second half of a severed map. Only you know the way.

Five more years pass. You realize you just want to make a living playing music. You don’t care about becoming famous (but really you do) you just want to play music, make a living and have respect from your peers, whoever they are, “Because no one, I MEAN NO ONE,” you tell your second wife, “is doing what I’m doing. I’m the fringe of the fringe. I’m too mainstream for the out players; I’m too out for the mainstream. Sure a couple of those guys play in pop bands but they aren’t their bands, they’re sidemen.”
You practice insistently, because gigs are few and far between, and you find it difficult to connect with other musicians. This saxophonist only wants to play free improv, this cellist can only play written music, one drummer (who has the best CD collection you’ve ever seen) actually tells you, “I’m not so good at keeping the beat.”
You release another CD, it’s good, and it gets more attention than anything you’ve done so far. You’re reviewed by every major music magazine in the country, honestly, no exaggeration; Rock mags, Indie mags, Folk mags, Jazz mags, even Classical magazines. Why aren’t you selling more records? You have a website (this Internet thing is relatively new, so no one really cares about that yet. You actually have to go to someone else’s house to find out what the Internet is) so you’re on the cutting edge of new technology too! Now to turn those reviews into gigs and CD sales.

Five more years. You wish you were resigned to this obscurity. “I’ll just be like Robbie Basho or Nick Drake. Famous after I’m dead. Maybe I should just kill myself.” Of course you don’t really mean this because you are not that type at all, clinically despondent with genuine, scientifically provable depression issues. Maybe that’s the reason you aren’t a famous musician. You don’t really have non-musical, emotional issues that drive you, like abusive or dead parents in your adolescences. You tick off the names, “McCartney, dead mom; Lennon, dead mom, absent dad; Clapton, absent dad; Waters, dead dad; Bono, dead mom; Parker, absent dad; Streisand, dead dad; Hendrix, dead mom; Beethoven, abusive father. The list goes on and on. But then, being the levelheaded, logical, normal person you believe you are, you think, “This is stupid. There are plenty of great musicians with two, kind and living parents. Besides I’d rather have a caring, existing mom and dad than dead ones and a musical career.” You also face the fact that most of your favorite musicians are not one-pronoun household names.

Five more long, long years. Here you are reading this book. You’re still the only one doing what you’re doing and you are doing it better than ever. You record. You also write out all of your music, like a real composer, on paper, with notes and staff and archaic Italian instructions. You even transcribe the improvised solos from your first record. You play shows. You sell the odd CD. Sometimes you even get the occasional fan e-mail, out of the blue, “Just found out about you through a friend who bought your second disc at a pawnshop in 1996. It’s awesome. Do you still play?”

Five years from now…and you’re still the only one.

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The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Poor Man's Tremolo: Modern Primitive Guitar I

Note: This is one of the first lesson articles I ever wrote, circa 2001. As a result, given the brevity of the text, the material is probably a little more difficult than I would attack today. That said there is a lot of useful information here and a fun excerpt from my song, "Nearer to Nothing". If any of you would like to see a full transcription of the song just drop me an e-mail. 

You may also note that this piece is labeled, "Modern Primitive Guitar I". I plan on doing a series of specific blog entries on this style, outlining and demonstrating its distinguishing characteristics, e.g.: Dark yet Playful, Sophisticated yet Naive, Technically Demanding yet Sloppy, Haphazard yet Exact.

Poor Man's Tremolo

Tremolo is one of the most difficult and time-consuming guitar techniques to master. Most often associated with classical and flamenco guitar, many steel-string fingerstyle players have also incorporated this technique into their playing. I am not one of them. As much as I have practiced I have never found the discipline it requires to achieve this skill. So allow me to introduce what I call “The Poor Man’s Tremolo”. But first let’s make sure we all know what customary tremolo practice is.

Example 1 shows traditional tremolo picking. This technique can be achieved two ways. The most common picking pattern is P-A-M-I, for the hand naturally performs closing motions towards the direction of the thumb. P-I-M-A also possible but, generally, not as effective. Example 2 shows a Flamenco tremolo which adds one more note! Usually plucked P-I-A-M-I.

Now back to my Poor Man’s. Poor Man utilizes only three fingers, P-I-M or P-M-I, and two strings, example 3. Of course the effect is not the same, how could it be? You are playing one to two notes less than the standard tremolo. So what? It still sounds great, it still sounds fast and it still sounds interesting. Interesting is what I’m most drawn to, not “correct” or “traditional”.

Examples 4 & 5 come from my song, “Nearer to Nothing” (C minor tuning: C G C G C Eb) from my CD “The Art of Modern Primitive Guitar”. The first example shows the tremolo utilizing an octave note. The second example shows how to incorporate a bass line melody line while continuing the tremolo.

By the way, “Nearer to Nothing” was written specifically as a “show-off” piece. The title hints at my feelings at the time that I wrote it...I thought of it as little more than a cheap, flashy trick. But when I listen to the recording of it now I think, “Hey that guy’s pretty good.”

                    Download, "Nearer to Nothing", or the entire CD, from iTunes. 

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The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

Note: To download the sheet music simply: 1. Click on the image, 2. Right click the image once it becomes bigger, 3. Click "Save image as..." That's it!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guitar Reharmonization: Simple to Complex to Outside

How Harmony and Melody Work Together
Twinkle, Twinkle Harmonized and Reharmonized

Before we begin I offer two oversimplified definitions: 
Melody: the part you sing. - Harmony: the chords.

While there is a significant body of music that consists of melody without harmony, for example early church music or a saxophonist busking solo, most Western music will inevitably find a harmonic compliment. This harmony will initially be determined by the composer but all songwriters; classical, pop, metal, etc. have an almost endless number of chord choices for any melody. It is arguable that there is one (perhaps two) “correct”, obvious choice, a preference that is naturally pleasing to the ear, but that does not discount the fact that any note can played against any chord. 

Though my melodic example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, may seem corny I chose it due to its familiarity and to show, by example 5, just how far out you can take your harmonies. Once you understand the concept you should take this technique and apply it to any your own compositions or any other songs of your own choosing.

Example 1 shows the melody and chord progression for “Twinkle, Twinkle” with its traditional harmony (in all the examples the melody is the top [highest] note of every chord). Example 2 on the other hand offers a variation using the relative minor chords (note: for every major chord there is a sibling minor chord that shares two of the same notes, C = Am, F = Dm, G = Em). And just in case it isn’t obvious you can use a combination of both (with a few neighbor key chords also thrown in), Ex. 3. 

By the way this kind of playing, chords and melody at the same time, if often referred to as “Chord Melody” in jazz but there are countless examples of it in country music (Wildwood Flower), contemporary fingerstyle (Tommy Emmanuel, et al.) and rock (Hendrix’s Little Wing). That said the two final examples have heavy jazz leanings. 

Example 4 uses common jazz chords to harmonize our melody but I will be honest my choice of chords was complete arbitrary and random. There are plenty of books available that give detailed instruction regarding “correct” functional harmony, with voice leading devices and rules of counterpoint but I chose to ignore all those formulas and just go with chords I liked. Example 5 on the other hand does have a secret blueprint. Perhaps you know that the melody for “Twinkle, Twinkle” is also the one we use for “The Alphabet Song” (if you did not know this do not be embarrassed, once a month or so I blow someone’s mind with this exquisite tidbit of information), with this is mind the bass line follows the lyrics to that song, as far as musical language will allow me, and then descends using the leftover, accidental, notes. 

On a final note I am not suggesting that you have to use all of these very “outside” harmonies in your everyday playing. The unambiguous triad alternatives in Ex. 3 can enliven a tune just as easily as the radical examples in 4 & 5. I am simply offering various alternatives to the prosaic harmonic environment we often find ourselves in. 

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The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

Note: To download the sheet music simply: 1. Click on the image, 2. Right click the image once it becomes bigger, 3. Click "Save image as..." That's it!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Intervals for Guitar (and others). Free sheet music too!

This week's blog is simply a handout I use for the theory classes I teach. That said, it is chocked full of useful musical information. Though not specifically guitar-centric (all musicians can learn from this) the sheet music is written in notation AND guitar tab. 

To download the sheet music simply: 1. Click on the image, 2. Right click the image once it becomes bigger, 3. Click "Save image as..." That's it!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have:


A good way to internalize the sounds of the various intervals (the distance between any two pitches) is to use a melodic mnemonic (memory) device. For example, the song "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" begins with the interval of a Major 3rd (1-3) and the first three notes of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" are the scale degrees 1-3-5: Mi = 1, chael = 3, row = 5. Below is a list of familiar songs containing all the intervals found in a one octave chromatic scale. If you're not familiar with these particular songs (some are more ubiquitous than others) find songs that you do know very well to use as your personal mnemonic devices. 


Ascending: Happy Birthday, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Jingle Bells

Descending: No descending.

As a double stop: Boud Deun Train, Rain, Zero

Minor 2nd = m2

Ascending: Jaws, As Time Goes By, “A kiss is just a kiss…”,
Nice Work if You Can Get It

Descending: Joy to the World ( the opening line is actually a descending Major scale),
Für Elise, Fly Me to the Moon

As a double stop: Boud Deun Train, Rain, Zero (also uses the unison). 

   Major 2nd = M2

Ascending: Frere Jacques, Silent Night, Do-Re-Mi,
Stairway to Heaven, “There’s a lady…”

Descending: Three Blind Mice, Mar-y Had a Little Lamb, The-a First Noel

Minor 3rd = m3

Ascending: Smoke on the Water (Riff), What child is this?,
Iron Man (Riff), Georgia on My Mind, “Georg-(i)a…”

Descending: Hey Jude,  (and then it goes back up a minor 3rd [same notes], This Old Man, Here Comes the Sun,
A Day in the Life, “I read the news today…”
The Star-Spangled Banner, “O’ say can you see…”
Fros-ty the Snowman, Sesame Street Theme, “Sun-ny days…

Major 3rd = M3

Ascending: Oh, When the Saints, Kum-ba-ya,

Descending: Beethoven's 5th, Summ-er-time (also goes up),
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,

Perfect 4th = P4

Ascending: Auld Lang Syne, O Chris(t)-mas Tree, A-ma-zing Grace,
Here Comes the Bride, Some-day my prince will come which is very similar to “Some day you’ll know…” I’ll Follow the Sun, All the Things You Are, “You are the promised kiss of springtime…”

Descending: Theme From A-Team, Eine kleine Nachtmusik,
O Come All Ye Faithful, I've Been Working on the Railroad, All of Me

Tritone = #4 or b5 = Augmented 4th or Diminished 5th

Ascending: Maria, Cool, “Bo-(o)y…” Simpson’s Theme,
Purple Haze (Intro Riff: harmonized)

Descending: Jets theme (West Side Story), YYZ

Perfect 5th = P5

Ascending: One by Metallica, My Favorite Things,
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Theme from Star Wars
Theme from 2001, Blue Skies,

Descending: Superman theme, The Flin(t)-stones Theme, Feel-ings, Mozart's Minuet in G. It Don’t Mean a Thing

Minor 6th = m6

Ascending: Be-cause the world is round… The Beatles, In My Life (Intro Hook)

Descending: Where Do I Begin? from Love Story,
Please Don't Talk About me When I'm Gone

Major 6th = M6

Ascending: NBC Theme, My Bonnie, Two of Us: The Beatles (Intro hook), Take the A-Train, “You must take the “A” train…”
My Way, “And now the end is near…”

Descending: No-body Knows the Trouble I've Seen,
Cra-zy: Patsy Cline (Willie Nelson)

Minor 7th = m7

Ascending: Somewhere from West Side Story: “There’s a place for us.”
Star Trek Theme, New Year’s Day” “All is qui-et…” (Each note sung twice: AA GG), The Take Over, The Breaks Over (Fall Out Boy)

Descending: Watermelon Man,

Major 7th = M7

Ascending: Take on Me (A-Ha), Bali High from South Pacific NOT a Major 7th, it jumps an octave then descends one half step to the Major 7th,
 “Ba- li High

Descending: I Love You (Cole Porter)

Octave = P8

Ascending: Some-where Over the Rainbow, When You Wish Upon a Star
Let it Snow, “Oh the weather outside is frightful.”, Paper Moon

Descending: Bulls on Parade intro Rage Against the Machine,
Wil-low Weep for Me

Songs with interesting and/or uncommon chord to melody notes relationships.
(Note: These examples are a bit advanced theory heavy…that is to say, not easily explained in a short sound bite. Feel free to e-mail me with questions:

1.    Moon River: B over an F chord, b5

2.    Viva la Vida: B over a C chord, Major 7th

3.    I’ll Follow the Sun: Eb over an F chord, Minor 7th

4.    Misty: Descends a Major 7th chord

5.    Mrs. Robinson: (Note: this song is capoed at the 2nd fret, my key/chord examples are without the capo). Verse descends an E mixolydian scale (A Major) starting on the D, the 7th, over an E Major chord. That means they start by singing the dominant 7th note. The next two chords get similar treatment. Over the A chord they sing A mixolydian, over the D chord they sing D mixolydian, that means the song changes keys three time over three chords!

6.    The Sound of Silence: “Hell-o dark-ness my old friend…” is an ascending Minor arpeggio, each note sung twice, DD FF AA (G). The second line is a Major triad, same idea, “I’ve come to talk with you a-gain…” CCC EE GG (F).

7.    Casper the Friendly Ghost: Descends a C Major triad.

8.    Song from West Side Story

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The End.
See you next week. 
For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: