September 24, 2016
The teaching of jazz has changed. What began as almost an apprenticeship between musicians now gets taught in music colleges and universities worldwide. Any minor topic can have several books devoted entirely to its study and many people (my past self included) seem to collect as many of them as possible in the hope that it will take their playing to the next level.
Some of these books have sat on my shelf for years barely opened but some have been absolute gems.
Here are some of my favourites from over the years and what they have taught me. Some of them are directly related to jazz guitar (my specialism), others apply to any instrument, and all are among the comprehensive collection of jazz resources available from Forsyth.
I took some private lessons with Iain a while ago which probably made me put so much work into using this book. Essentially the book is a manual of scales and modes. It goes through modes of the major, melodic minor, harmonic minor and harmonic major scales together with each arpeggio as well as the visual chord symbols. Playing through this book every day in every key really ingrained the sound of chord and scale relationships.
Now obviously just being able to play lots of scales isn’t going to automatically make you a great improviser but I can honestly say that time spent with this book helped me to open my ears up to note choices.
If you are just starting out as a jazz guitarist then this is the book for you, particularly part 1. The book is split into a part 1 (chords) and part 2 (soloing). It’s important to remember that the role of the jazz guitarist is primarily accompaniment and this book gives you some great practical chord voicings from the get go. It even provides charts with some great chord substitutions as well as many practice suggestions. It stresses a step-by-step mastery which I believe is one of the most important things when learning to improvise. This book is just what you need to start your jazz guitar journey. I even heard that Lenny Breau used to recommend it to some of his students.
I’m still slowly working my way through this one. It’s basically an encyclopedia of scale patterns beginning with diatonic scales and moving on to more exotic sounds. Barry seems to take you through every kind of interval as well as including chromatic approach notes and triad studies. The most important thing about this book is how to use it. When I first discovered this book I thought if I could play through the entire book then there was no way that I wouldn’t become a great improvising musician. You can actually get a lot more out of taking just one of these exercises and applying it to everything, and more importantly practising improvisation with it, than you will just trying to learn the whole book.
As Bill Evans said, “I would rather play one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in an hour”.
This book really upped my game. The 5 minor patterns seemed to inject loads of bebop vocabulary into my playing within a couple of weeks. The main subject of the book its Pat Martino’s concept of minor conversion. If you have minor vocabulary you can pretty much play it over any chord. If you have a major 7 chord, just think of minor vocabulary starting on the 2nd. If you have a dominant 7th chord that isn’t resolving, play minor vocabulary starting on the 5th and you’ll be playing great sounding Lydian Dominant lines without needing to know what that means! It’s a great way to really dig deeper into the material you might already know.
This is a wonderfully-written book with loads of great anecdotes and truisms about the improviser’s journey. I love the writing style and there are some absolute gems to be found in the content. I read Berkman’s book quite a long time ago and as I’ve improved over the years I’ve heard advice similar to his come up time and time again. In particular the way he advises practising a continuous scale throughout a whole tune, changing to fit the harmony. I’ve heard similar things taught by Joe Pass but with continuous 8th-note improvisation and it can really put your knowledge of the chord changes to the test.
Some more great jazz books:
These are just some of the books that have helped me over the years and of course there are many more. However I strongly feel that what will take you the furthest is actively listening to jazz and learning from the greats. Stay tuned for a future blog post about some of our best jazz recordings – at least in my opinion!
September 16, 2016
If there’s one thing every guitarist should know how to do, it’s changing strings! It’s one of those jobs that is easy once you have the knack, but if you haven’t restrung a guitar before it can be an intimidating proposition. In our next few blogs we’re going to show you how to go about it. We’ll start with a steel string acoustic.
September 12, 2016
Free ABRSM presentation on scales, sight-reading and aural tests: 16 October 2016, 11am - 12.30pm or 2pm - 3.30pm
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UPDATE: All places for this event have now been filled
To add your name to the waiting list, please contact us on 0161 834 3281 (extension 204) or firstname.lastname@example.org
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We are very much looking forward to hosting this free ABRSM event designed to support musicians of any instrument or voice, along with their parents and teachers, as they prepare for the technical portions of their exams: scales and arpeggios/broken chords, sight-reading and aural tests.
There has always been a tendency among exam candidates to consider their pieces to be the ‘real’ exam and to make these the sole focus of their preparation. It can be easy for candidates, particularly those who are just starting out, to feel that scales, sight-reading and aural tests have little to do with making music: that they are just hoops to be jumped through for the purposes of the exam and not worth preparing for. It is easier still to feel that these parts of the exam, especially the aural tests, cannot be prepared for: either you can just do them or you can’t – and if you think you can’t, they can be a terrifying prospect.
Of course, the truth is that these skills are not simply obstacles to passing our exams but an integral part of our musical development. They extend our expressive range by improving our technical facility and the sensitivity of our responses to the notes on the page and to the sounds produced both by ourselves and by our colleagues in choirs, ensembles and orchestras. And it is possible to practise these skills: in fact, the more we practise them, the more they enhance our own and therefore our audiences’ appreciation of the music we play.
In this presentation, Anthony Williams, a highly experienced ABRSM examiner, pianist and teacher, will discuss various approaches by which we can improve our performance in scales, sight-reading and aural tests in our exams and enjoy the longer-term benefits of our work in these areas. The ABRSM offers a number of publications intended to guide players, parents and teachers in each of these skills, and all those attending this presentation will receive a 10% discount on ABRSM products. The major series include:
Scales and arpeggios/broken chords
The Manual of Scales, Broken Chords and Arpeggios for Piano (covers Grades 1-8)
Joining the Dots: A Fresh Approach to Sight-Reading, available for Piano (Grades 1-8), and Guitar, Singing and Violin (Grades 1-5)
Specimen Aural Tests (with or without CD) for all grades
Aural Training in Practice (with CD) for all grades
In addition, the ABRSM have developed a suite of supporting apps, including the new Scales Trainer, launched in July, the Aural Trainer, the Violin Practice Partner, and the Piano Practice Partner, recently updated to include the new Piano Syllabus 2017 & 2018.
>>> Meet the presenter: Anthony Williams MMus DipRAM GRSM (Hons) LRAM
Anthony was born in Essex and studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Alexander Kelly. Following international competition success he has gone on to give recitals, broadcasts and concerto appearances around the world. He is also an experienced accompanist, performing with soloists such as Peter Cropper and Ann Murray.
As a piano teacher Anthony has established an international reputation, his pupils achieving notable competition success and many becoming professional musicians. Having taught at the Royal Academy of Music and Reading University, Anthony is now based full-time at Radley College as Head of Keyboard and Instrumental Studies, combining this with a busy freelance career.
As an educator he has written numerous articles and books on piano teaching and regularly presents masterclasses, lecture-recitals and seminars on performance, repertoire and the art of teaching, internationally and throughout the UK. Publications include the Best of Grade and Fingerprints books for Faber as well as Teaching Notes for ABRSM and appeared on radio in a series of ten short talks on piano performance and interpretation as part of the Radio 3 Piano Festival.
Anthony is a Moderator (both jazz and classical), Trainer and Examiner for ABRSM, a regular and experienced presenter at their Conferences and Teacher Support events and has been the joint syllabus selector for the piano exams since 1999. He is an experienced and busy adjudicator, a member of the Federation of Festivals, and President of Chipping Norton Music Festival.
Event – ABRSM presentation on scales and arpeggios/broken chords, sight-reading and aural tests:
Anthony Williams discusses the musical awareness and skills a musician needs to support and enhance musical progress and independence. He’ll explain the relevance of assessing aural, sight reading and scales and explore teaching strategies and technology that can be used to enhance an instrumental/vocal lesson or a student’s practice.
Date – Sunday 16 October 2016
Time – This presentation will be given twice:
11am - 12pm, with free refreshments 12pm - 12.30pm
The morning session is now full
2pm - 3pm, with free refreshments 3pm - 3.30pm
The afternoon session is now full
Venue – Forsyth Brothers Ltd, 126 Deansgate, Manchester M3 2GR (staff will direct you to the workshop space in the basement)
Eligibility – Open to musicians of any instrument or voice, and parents and teachers
Entry – Free
Registration – Although all places for this event have now been filled, you can add your name to the waiting list via: 0161 834 3281 (extension 204) or email@example.com
September 3, 2016
Welcome to the first of a new series of posts from the Recordings department at Forsyth. This week we digest some of our favourite new classical releases available now in store, by phone and on-line.
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Pumeza Matshikiza (soprano)
Tobias Ringborg (conductor)
Decca 478 8964 – 52 mins
Pumeza Matshikiza’s debut album, Voice of Hope (2014), introduced her to an international audience with a mixture of music from her home country, South Africa, and arias by Mozart and Puccini, with whose works she had already established her reputation at the Stuttgart Opera. Her follow-up builds on this range with a beautifully assembled programme showcasing the diversity of her recent and forthcoming roles – including Dido (Purcell), Rusalka (Dvořák) and Concepción (Ravel) – as well as an even broader selection of individual songs: the Cuban-inspired La Paloma (Yradier) and Punto de Habanera (Montsalvatge), the pastiche baroque of À Chloris (Hahn), and newly-commissioned orchestrations of Si tu le voulais (Tosti) and Après un rêve (Fauré). Writing in The Sunday Times, Hugh Canning enthuses, “The verismo arias… reveal one of the most luscious sounds we’ve heard from a young soprano in years”, while noting approvingly that, unlike many of her contemporaries, “she sings words!”
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Benjamin Frith (piano)
Northern Sinfonia, David Haslam (conductor)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Andrew Mogrelia (conductor)
Naxos 8.573262 – 66 mins
Recently the subject of Alistair McGowan’s Radio 4 documentary Field Notes: The Irishman Who Invented the Nocturne, John Field spent the majority of his working life in Russia, selling pianos for Clementi, with whom he had previously studied in London and travelled in Paris and Vienna. Russian audiences were particularly receptive to Field’s highly nuanced playing, and in turn a Russian influence is apparent in the second movement of his Piano Concerto No. 7. The so-called Irish Concerto is a one-movement work based on the first movement of his Piano Concerto No. 2: among the revisions is the addition of a central nocturne, reflecting Field’s practice of performing a pre-written or improvised nocturne in the middle of his two-movement sonatas and concertos to compensate for their lack of written slow movements. This recording concludes Frith’s complete series of Field piano concertos but also includes the Piano Sonata No. 4 not previously represented in his two volumes of Field’s solo piano music.
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English Symphony Orchestra
English Chamber Orchestra
Kenneth Woods (conductor)
Avie AV2362 – 60 mins
Donald Fraser has form when it comes to orchestrating Elgar, having already provided arrangements for The Elgar Society, Yehudi Menuhin and Channel 4, and reviews of this world premiere recording agree that, even while taking the liberties demanded by expanded forces, his orchestral language is faithful to Elgar’s own. The Times deems that Fraser “has added the kind of touches of colour and splashes of figuration Elgar himself might well have introduced” while BBC Music Magazine finds the finale of the Piano Quintet “exhilaratingly Elgarian”. Fraser’s new version of the Sea Pictures, originally scored for contralto and an orchestra including solo winds and harp, transforms the song cycle into a choral work accompanied by string quartet and string orchestra, the more unified ensemble intended to highlight the extent to which Elgar integrated his vocal and instrumental material.
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Osmo Vänskä (conductor)
Bis BIS-2006 – 82 mins
Osmo Vänskä’s latest release with the Minnesota Orchestra brings to a close not his first but his second series of the complete Sibelius symphonies and, according to The Sunday Times, “confirms his status as our greatest living Sibelian”. BBC Music Magazine made the recording their Orchestral Choice (August 2016) and Gramophone their Editor’s Choice (September 2016), both publications praising Vänskä’s new performances in particular for their clarity – “of rhythm, of texture, of intention” (Gramophone). If you’re wondering whether to re-invest in Vänskä’s re-interpretations, James Longstaffe writes in Presto Classical that “even if you already own Vänskä’s earlier cycle with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, I think that these new performances are simply unmissable.”
August 20, 2016
We are delighted that pianists preparing for their Grade 2 and 3 exams in 2017-2018 can choose to include pieces from our own publications among their set works.
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Grade 2 candidates will find ‘The Stowaway’ by Stanley Wilson (1899-1953) printed as piece B:3 in the ABRSM’s selection of Piano Exam Pieces 2017 & 2018, Grade 2. Evidently anxious to remain hidden below deck, the stowaway tiptoes around sempre pianissimo and sempre staccato, often at the very depths of the piano’s range. But perhaps he is being over-cautious: Wilson’s music plays on the melody of the traditional drinking song ‘Down among the dead men’ – a reference to empty bottles rather than corpses – suggesting the drunken sailors are oblivious to his presence for now.
Players wondering what becomes of the stowaway can enjoy the rest of Wilson’s nautical series of pieces in Ship Ahoy! In this volume, published by Forsyth, ‘The Stowaway’ (No.7) is ominously followed by ‘Davy Jones’ Locker’ (No.8) - perhaps a dark hint that the stowaway is eventually discovered by the sailors and cast to the bottom of the sea.
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At Grade 3, players have the opportunity to present a piece by Forsyth’s signature composer, Walter Carroll (1869-1955), dubbed the Beatrix Potter of piano music. Manchester-born Carroll was head of composition at the Royal Northern College of Music for many years and specialised in music for children, regularly working with teachers at some 400 schools. Having chosen a piece from Carroll’s In Southern Seas for their 2015-2016 syllabus (Grade 3, piece B:1), the ABRSM has turned this time to his volume of Forest Fantasies, selecting ‘Dwarfs of the Mist’ (No.8) as piece B:5. The nine ‘tone-pictures’ that make up the Forest Fantasies are populated by elves, fairies and other mythological beings, including the ‘Dwarfs’, who are introduced by this couplet from Sir Walter Scott:
Dimly seen through twilight bending,
Lo, what varied shapes attending!
In place of a tempo marking, Carroll simply adds the instruction ‘Grotesque’, inviting players to make the most of the frequent bursts of noise that increasingly interrupt the tranquility of the dusky scene.
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Meanwhile, ABRSM also continues to recognise the importance of Forsyth’s recorder publications, which provide 16 pieces on the current 2014-2017 syllabus. These range from Sasha Johnson Manning’s ‘A Tale’, from A Birthday Garland for Descant Recorder, at Grade 3 (descant) to Christopher Brown’s Caprice Op. 68, from Recital Pieces for Treble Recorder, Vol. 1, at Grade 8 (treble).
All set works for ABRSM exams are among the 100,000+ titles available through the sheet music department in person, by phone and via this website.
August 20, 2016
The acoustic pickup market is a crowded and rather confusing place to be dipping your toe into but for this blog we thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at our best selling pickup brand, LR Baggs. Baggs have really come into their own in the last few years, appearing on numerous high end brands of acoustic guitars as well as being a very popular after market option for amplifying a favourite acoustic guitar.
There are a number of models of Baggs pickups including microphones, transducers that fit under the saddle or to the bridge plate, magnetic pickups and systems that blend sounds from more than one source. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ones.
The Lyric is a microphone that sits on the bridge plate (a hardwood reinforcement of the soundboard that sits directly under the bridge) of the guitar. Internal microphones have an advantage over simply miking up a guitar in the conventional sense in that the mic is sheltered from extraneous sounds by the body of the guitar so they are a lot less feedback prone. However the drawback of this is that they tend to pick up a lot of harmonic content that never makes it to the outside of the guitar, giving a cluttered and rather boomy sound that doesn’t really reflect the tonal characteristics of the guitar as you hear it when you play. The Lyric counters this problem with a very clever preamp design that clears up the output of the mic, giving a much more natural and pleasing tone.
The Lyric is probably the best choice for giving an honest representation of the actual guitar it is installed into. Although much less feedback prone than a condenser mic on a stand in front of the guitar, it still suffers from feedback problems in loud environments, so it works best in environments where the pickup is reinforcing the natural volume of the guitar rather than helping the guitarist compete with a loud rhythm section.
We really like the Lyric when paired with a good acoustic amp with a DI output, giving a fair amount of flexibility in terms of volume to the front of house without having too much level and therefore feedback issues on stage.
The I-Beam is a compromise option that falls between the Lyric and the more conventional under-saddle transducer pickups. Like the Lyric it mounts to the bridge plate inside the guitar but, whilst the Lyric is a microphone picking up sound waves inside the guitar, the I-Beam is a transducer picking up vibrations from the top. Like the Lyric, it has the benefit of reading a little more of the tone of the individual guitar than the more common under saddle transducers do, so it’s more natural and honest to the guitar than other pickup systems. Tonally it’s quite close to the Lyric and it is a little less feedback prone, although it’s still one of the more sensitive options when it comes to feedback.
The I-Beam works well if you want something that has most of the tonal benefits of the Lyric but want a little more feedback resistance without the expense of the Anthem.
We find the I-Beam very sensitive to location inside the guitar and have encountered problems with it on instruments where space is tight and we can’t get it located exactly where we want it. If you’re considering an I-Beam definitely run it past our tech first, who will be able to advise as to how well it will be likely to work in your guitar.
The Element is the classic under saddle transducer that sits inside the bridge of the guitar. It works by reading vibrations largely from the saddle, the advantages of which are that it gets lots of signal to work and is better insulated against sounds that can cause feedback, but because a large percentage of the vibrations are coming directly from the saddle rather than the guitar body it’s less true to the sound of the particular guitar.
The Element can be ordered with either a single volume or with a tone control that allows you to tame the high frequencies. We prefer the volume and tone version but we appreciate that not everyone likes an array of dials to contend with, so we carry both in stock!
The Element is great for people playing in a band context with lots of loud instruments to compete with and for open mic type scenarios where you never quite know what sort of a PA you might be faced with. It’s a little more generic sounding than the Lyric and I-Beam but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in some contexts.
The Anthem is a system that blends a Lyric Microphone with an Element under saddle transducer. It’s really the best of both worlds, with the Lyric providing realism and fidelity and the Element topping up the level and allowing the guitar to be used at far higher volumes without feedback than the Lyric would be capable of on its own. The Element also adds a little crispness to the tone so it sounds better as well as being more versatile than either pickup on its own.
The Anthem is not a cheap pickup but it is an exceptionally good one. It’s definitely our favourite system, and its popularity with makers such as Lowden, Patrick James Eggle and Furch is testament that we’re not the only ones who are fans.
The M-1 takes a different approach to the other systems. It’s main source of sound is a magnetic pickup that reads the strings themselves in the same way and electric guitar pickup works, then feeds the signal through an EQ that shapes it to give a pleasing acoustic sounding tone. It also has a small transducer that read vibrations from the soundboard, allowing a little bit of flavour from the guitar itself and making it a little less generic sounding than many magnetic acoustic pickups.
The M-1 shares similar benefits to the Element in that it’s very resistant to feedback and easy to work with where other loud instruments are involved. It has a significantly different sound to the Element with a smoother response and warmer bass, so although it doesn’t quite have the character of the Lyric it’s a great choice for those who find under saddle transducers a little on the harsh side.
It’s all very well reading my wittering and what you really need is to hear them! Fortunately we’re one step ahead of you there: we have a test guitar set up with the three most popular - the Lyric, the Element and the M-1 - so you can try them for yourself in the shop. We also usually have guitars fitted with Anthems should you want to try that one, and our tech is happy to discuss any technical questions. So come in and see us!
August 9, 2016
We do a lot of set ups on acoustic guitars, and a common task that we do as part of a set up is reducing the saddle height to lower the action of the guitar. The saddle might need lowering for a number of reasons: perhaps the soundboard has expanded slightly due to an increase in humidity in the ambient conditions the guitar has been stored in, or perhaps it was simply left too high at the factory to begin with. In addition to that however, as guitars age the components can start to move in relation to each other causing the neck pitch (ie the angle the neck sits in relation to the body) to be shallower than it originally was. Eventually this becomes so significant that there is no longer any room to lower the saddle further, so more drastic measures are necessary to lower the action.
In the old days, the obvious solution was to get out the plane and start shaving: either the bridge was thinned in height or the fingerboard was planed at the nut end to add an extra degree or two of angle. The problem with this is shaving the bridge can impact the tone and structural integrity of the guitar and shaving will also change the feel of the neck as well as the other two issues, so neither solution is very good. As the vintage market began to gather pace in the 1970s and the value of older Martin and Gibson acoustics started to creep up, more sophisticated repair techniques were developed and gradually the process of resetting the neck became established as the preferred approach. In this process the neck is removed from it’s mortice in the neck block and the angle can then be adjusted and the neck refitted at an appropriate angle. Unlike shaving and other solutions, it’s a process of restoring a guitar to its original state rather than modifying it to compensate for a problem, and it’s the only one we’re happy with on a high quality guitar.
In this blog we’re going to look at a neck reset on a 1976 Fylde Goodfellow. Later Fyldes are designed with a bolt on system but the early ones have a traditional dovetail joint as you might find on a vintage US guitar, so it’s a good example of the process.
August 8, 2016
Our busy piano hire fleet includes two white grands - perfect to make any occasion feel extra special. Here is a photo from a recent wedding in a marquee. We are proud to maintain our piano hire fleet in superb condition and always ensure that they are prepared to the highest standard before every hire. We take the added precaution for hires into temporary structures such as marquees by adding a ‘Dampp Chaser’ lower energy heater to the piano to help it survive the variable atmospheric conditions. The relatively higher humidity in the evenings can cause havoc with a pianos action causing parts to swell and therefore cease up/cause unreliable and unpredictable playing…. not what the happy couple need on their big day!
Find out more here https://www.forsyths.co.uk/pianos/32513-piano-hire
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