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Beyond Ear Training – Studying with the Masters

As a producer, I am in the habit of exercising my ear on a daily basis. Developed hearing is an extremely important key of production skills. Exercising your hearing is similar to working the body out at the gym. I love to listen to great music! I listen to everything from classical to heavy metal. I love Motown, soul, Delta blues, and Gospel to name a few more. I am known mainly for my work in the progressive heavy rock field. I have my own definitive style and constantly continue to develop. I am not into jumping on the bandwagon of the latest trend. I am not and could not be a Top 40 cover band artist or a Variety band musician although there is nothing wrong with that for someone else. I am who I am yet put no limitations on the category of my listening enjoyment. This expands into a broad range which builds my musical vocabulary. Whatever captures my ear in the here and now of a particular moment is part of the development process.


A couple of days ago, I was captured by the classical music work of Antonio Vivaldi Opus 111 and listened carefully picking out all the vocal parts from the soulful alto to the angelic soprano. Then I picked out several different string lines and sang to them. This is a great way to develop your ear.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to exercise my ear for an extended time while driving home from Carmel by the Sea.

I had not heard Queen’s Innuendo for awhile. So I decided that was choice material for the coastal drive along Highway 1. I immediately found myself in the presence of exceptional engineering and production skills of the intricate tracking. Brian May’s guitar work in Innuendo is as incredible as it gets. In fact I must say that for all the musicians on that recording. The entire orchestration, drum sound, instrumental arrangements paired with Freddie Mercury’s voice and the choir is absolutely sublime. This is a perfect example of musical mastery at its finest. As a producer, I dream of going into a studio of that quality with the budget to go along so that I may completely go into tunnel vision mode for months and forget about the outside world knowing that all my bills are paid and all is cool when I return again after the creation process is completed.

As a vocalist I love to study Freddie Mercury’s voice. This is an example of how I fine tune my ears. His voice has an edge. The other day I was listening to a blues singer on a piano instruction CD and her voice was good with lots of bluesy embellishment. However, I did not hear superstar quality. She did not work the resonance chambers for one thing which gave it a very monotone sound although she had a good range. Perhaps there was too much embellishment as well. I find that there is something in the silence between the notes that says something. Not that overplaying is bad at times but if it continues it doesn't seem to work.

One of the best performances I had ever seen was at the Staples Center at the Grammy’s. Right before the show the lights went out and the auditorium went pitch dark, the large crowd was still as if you could hear a pin drop. At that moment, Simon and Garfunkel came on with “Hello darkness my old friend I came to talk with you again” very quietly and soft, then as the song went on it began to crescendo. It was one of those moments that gave me goose-bumps. Queen’s work in Innuendo does the same thing.

Listening to “The Show Must Go On” always leaves an imprint on my psyche. Especially if there’s been a time lapse since I had last heard it and my ears are fresh. As a vocalist, I study Freddie Mercury’s voice intensely. There is so much magnificent texture, dynamics, and phrasing in his recordings. Everything from his pronunciation and vowel tones to the rich overtones of the resonance chambers which range from the most exquisite buzz tones to the clearest bell tones are present. There is a wonderful growl that is placed at just the right note and a graceful float into the next note containing an angelic lead tenor of the seraphim choir quality. Immediately it is followed by a fluent phrasing into the next overture ending in classical Italian opera influenced momentum. The voice of Freddie Mercury possesses one of the most interesting attacks in singing sometimes adding a portomento at the beginning of a note to begin a phrase with the ease of a vocal acrobat and then ending that phrase by exhaling a sharp quick audible breath bringing that phrase to an abrupt halt. I find this to be a great technique for extreme precision in timing. This is one of the most challenging voices to study as it has contains some of the highest mastery in the art.

One of the great producers is Quincy Jones. Like other great producers, he’s done so much for the entertainment industry beyond expectations. As a producer, he is in tune with everything and everyone around him. He is an extremely observant and detailed which is one of the significant elements that lead him to his ultimate success. He started to see something in Michael Jackson during the making of “The Wiz”. In the book, The Complete Quincy Jones” he states that Michael was so observant that he learned everyone’s lines right down to the accents and dialect. He learned every single isolated dance move in every song as well. He knew the songs completely. He was totally into the entire creation and got up every morning at 5 o’clock to be on time in costume for the set. This is when Quincy realized the beyond genius in Michael and that he was much more than the already developed superstar he was. With 2 extraordinary music forces working together Quincy and Michael managed to break the world record on album sales. Thriller sky rocked past the 40 million point. I wonder where it is now. Paying attention to every detail and every part of every detail is a key of genius. Then there is the application of the knowledge and the grasping for more knowledge while becoming totally involved in the great work. Geniuses create masterpieces. You have to love it, you need to understand it, completely dedicate yourself to the point of absorption which is part of being totally obsessed. On the morning of the forth day after his death, I took time off from work to write a nice “In Memory” in my own words which I placed on the Quincy Jones website .

IN MEMORY:

From an early age on the Jackson 5 became an inspirational part of my life. ABC had a great hook line and I'll Be There was just downright soul stirring. As their music continued to permeate the airwaves it began forming a foundation into the blueprint of my own life as a recording artist.

Years later, the first time I heard Thriller, the hairs stood up on my arm as I felt shivers go through my entire body. At that moment, I knew what that album was and what it was destined to become.

I cannot think of a better performing artist that has ever stepped foot on this planet. Michael Jackson is without a doubt one of the greatest of the all time greats.

When I first heard of his untimely death, those same shivers returned. I was shocked to say the least as it was totally unexpected. One thing I do know is that his strong spirit
continues to live on.

For all of you fans, friends, and family out there who feel at loss of words or direction just remember what he expressed through his music "Where there is love... I'll Be There" Now you know what to do. Send your “love and light”.

“Love and light” are your words Mr. Jones that you wrote to me during the signing of your book back in December of this year at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica. I gave it an excellent review on my website. Currently, it is right here in my home where it belongs and where I intend it to be for the rest of my life. Any guests in my home are welcome to read this highly enlightening book at their leisure. God Bless you and my heartfelt condolences to all.

One thing I forgot to add was that when I was a kid I used to roller skate to Rockin’ Robin. Put a quarter in the jukebox and go!

Okay I have time for one more great artist/ producer before I close for this evening. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a concert in a classy environment at The Conga Room at LA Live. Partially owned by Jennifer Lopez, this refined club specializes predominately in live Latin music and offers a superb house Sangria. An elegant restaurant in a quaint setting is part of the establishment as well. Enjoy fine Latin casual gourmet under the red glass chandeliers while watching the club through the glass windows. This is the type of place you could be comfortable in business casual to cocktail hour to formal attire and still fit in. Outside the glass door is where the concert begins.

I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see Prince perform in an intimate nightclub setting. He had three concerts that night so he managed. And how did this innovative artist approach this particular concert? He decided to lead the band as guitarist/ singer in what I would call… Jimi Hendrix inspired psychedelic funk rock rhythm and blues trio. How cool is that? I love that kind of music and Prince pulled it off well in his own unique style.

Studying the voice of Prince requires extremely sharp ears as he has so much edge in his technique. He is sheer soul, intensity, and coolness. He is youthful, generous, and psychedelic. There are many colors is his rainbow from which he has to call upon.

"The Beautiful Ones " is extremely hypnotic, laden with soulful sensuality, beauty and intensity. "Darlin' Nikki" cracks me up. His voice is incredible. Prince’s unsurpassable musical performances and charming personality is highlighted in the movie “Purple Rain”.

“Kiss” has an awesome guitar groove and again the vocals and lyrics soar! Julia Roberts made a hilarious spin on this song in the movie “Pretty Woman”.

He is one of the most remarkable musicians in the world because he has the creative savvy, musical/vocal chops, fascinating way with words, and intensity to honestly express exactly how he feels without holding back whatsoever. These pertinent combined ingredients, working harmoniously together make for what I call the “soul element” of music and this is what makes Prince one of the greatest artists of all time.

Now we’ve covered the important topic of Beyond Ear Training. Listen to your masters of music. Hear thoroughly. Find different parts in the music whether it be vocal or instrumental and get into the groove to the point where you can sing along or play along and do it well. Then get creative and play off of them as if you were writing another track that is not part of the original recording yet would work well. Then find a totally different part in the music and play off of that. Listen for the minute details that separate the good musicians from the exceptionally great. There is an edge to greatness as it requires a superior heightened sensitivity to sound. Get that and you have a good foundation to work with.

IN THE LITERARY WORKS:

It also helps to look into the literary department for related reading material. Besides creating my own music and listening to great music, there is nothing more interesting than tapping into the mind of an inspirational fellow artist, one that inspires you. I just completed “The Poet in Exile” by one of my favorite keyboard players, Ray Manzarek of the Doors. Although it is marked fiction, it makes me wonder. It is considerably intriguing and rather mystifying. As a writer, did Ray just dream the story up or did it actually happen? I’m not going to say much more because I’d rather just leave it at that. For those of you Doors fans with curious minds, I highly recommend that you check it out.

Currently, I just began reading the first few pages of my most recent find “Zappa A Biography” by Barry Miles and look forward to tapping into this one as I am sure it will be a truly interesting read.

So there it is. Know your musical passion and become obsessed with your work. Live and breathe every aspect and every detail as it pertains accordingly. Follow your heart as it will lead you to your dreams and while you are getting there don’t forget to stop and smell the roses as it is part of the trip. Free yourself from limitation. Free yourself from judgment. Make a point everyday to do something related to your vision, no matter how crazy your life may be on that particular day. Even the smallest of things add up in the great overview. Remember to live you life to its fullest, enjoy the ride, and keep creating that wonderful music!
 

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