Rain Music Notes

After spending a couple of hours recording, and feeling that I wasn’t getting anywhere, I took a break and wove a small piece of cloth through the strings of the guitar, over, under, over, etc.

Prepared guitar. The cloth muted the sound in a very interesting and organic way and within half an hour I had a new piece recorded, using a rain rhythm I had created last year. Jon wrote that it reminded him of the Opium album recordings. I’ll take that. My partner says it’s her new favorite.

Lesson: sometimes a small change of sound can inspire something new.

I also learned that with the relatively close mic position – about a foot distance – I have always preferred I don’t have to worry so much about background noises. I even started using the trusty Neumann M149 a while ago. It picks up more ambient sound than the laser-focused Earthworks mic but it’s fine. Classical guitarists usually record with the microphone several feet away and that, I’m sure, would be problematic.

Daily Guitar Piece

This afternoon I recorded myself playing a musical idea into the phone. I do this quite often to remember certain chord changes or melodic ideas, but most of the time I use the Voice-Memos app to do this. Today I used video – as I did here last November. 

I simply leaned the phone against a window to record both visual and sound. There was nothing artful or sophisticated about it. No art director, no technician, no microphone, no lighting, no makeup, not even a tripod for the phone. You get the idea.

I liked the result, which I thought looked and sounded surprisingly decent, and had an idea. A guitar vlog for Backstage where I challenge myself to come up with a new piece of music every day. To be recorded with my phone propped up wherever I am. Simple. Doesn’t have to be long and shouldn’t be staged. In fact, the simpler the better. 

Morning Melody

My favorite way to work with music is, perhaps, akin to Sumi-e – painting with sumi ink on rice paper. The strokes have to flow quickly and the brush can’t linger anywhere or it might break through the rice paper. At least that’s the way I understand the process.

In this case, on Thursday evening I had played around with four chords that I could play in such a way that all of them had the open E as the top note. D maj 7, Bm, G, A9. Of those four chords only the last one would normally be played with an open E at the top. I have always liked a top note that connects several chord changes. Sounds great in string sections. While the violas and cellos define the chord change, some of the violins keep the connecting note going.

Yesterday morning I wanted to give this idea a go. Sometime last month, I had put together a rain rhythm, with a tempo of 65BPM, that also included the call of corvids on Jon’s street in Santa Fe (he let me use his recording) and that tempo worked for my idea. I played the chord changes as an arpeggio. Then I played the E as a harmonic, to fall exactly where the open string was played at the end of every chord. Next I improvised some melodies. Et voilá, two hours later I walked to a favorite cafe for lunch, listening to the piece on repeat.

What do you hear? I hear a late Summer’s afternoon. Perhaps one sits, happy and satisfied after a late lunch, under the awning of a cafe when a rain shower starts. While the drops are falling, sunlight is breaking through the clouds, filtering through the leaves of tall trees, which makes everything shimmer. Corvids are having a conversation. There is absolutely no need to get up and do anything. Just play the music again…

I think when creating something, anything, it’s important to mute the judgement section of one’s brain. You know, the part of us that says it’s not complicated enough, it’s not impressive enough, it just won’t do! Those are the thoughts that make the brush break through the rice paper and ruin the movement.

Or, as Nike says, Just Do It. You can always bin it later. :-)


More Santana history on Music Aficionado:

This is one of Santana’s least known albums outside of Japan, for the simple reason that until 1991 it was not released in the US. Carlos Santana: “It was beautiful and ambitious and the music was fresh, but it was nothing that Columbia could handle. With the album cover and packaging and the three disks, it was just too expensive for them. They didn’t believe it would sell enough. Even after the Japanese finally released Lotus in the summer of 1974 and it became the bestselling import at the time, Columbia wouldn’t budge, and even Bill Graham couldn’t make them.”
Santana 1972-1974, Part 5: Lotus

I did not know this. I went to Santana’s concert in Köln, on 23 September 1975, and a little later that year I got the Lotus album. In fact, I still have it, although I cut a page from the huge booklet (weren’t the big booklets that sometimes accompanied 12″ vinyl LPs amazing?!?!?) for Carlos to sign:


This is a saddle. The strings run over the saddle and are tied behind the bridge. The saddle is carved from a piece of bone. As you can see, there is a small section that is carved differently, so that one particular string has a slightly longer length that can vibrate than the other five strings. That’s for the G-string.

I had been using a particular bone for many years when Keith Vizcarra, the luthier, looked at my guitar a while ago and suggested that we lower the strings ever so slightly. In order to do that he carved a new bone.

Fast forward to the Florida tour two months ago. Florida was plenty humid and the A on the 1st string, and a few other notes, started to buzz. Thinking ahead to the concert with the NM Phil I thought I should switch back to the older saddle that would certainly eliminate the buzz, because it is higher.

I took the strings off, removed the newer, lower bone and replaced it with the older, taller bone, and strung up the guitar with a new set of strings. I gave myself a few days to get used to the new, old setup.

I discovered that I couldn’t get used to it. It felt difficult to play. The difference between the saddles could not have been more a fraction of a millimeter (maybe a tenth of a mm?) in height but it therefore also added a tiny bit of tension that I had to overcome when fretting the notes with the left hand.

I decided that this change in playability was more troublesome than the small buzz and decided to change back to the newer/lower saddle. The neck, meanwhile, had started to recover from the humidity and the buzzing note played nearly clean. After I spent almost a week in Santa Fe, the neck was totally fine and the guitar sounded great.

I realized that Keith’s lowering of the guitar’s action had really helped my hands and made it a little easier for me to play.

Rain Melody

I had this idea to play a melody to a rain recording, as if I was sitting in a room with the windows open, listening to rain hitting different surfaces on the porch. Just a guitar player creating a little rain melody, not composing a song.

I don’t know whether this is something anyone else would enjoy, but I quite love the unadorned quality of this. It’s not composed, the way I am considering and selecting these words, it’s simply a conversation with the rain, an improvisation born of a moment, in an, albeit imagined, environment.

I picked a rain recording I hadn’t yet listened to and set up the microphone. As before, I used the Earthworks SR40, plugged into the MixPre-6, which was connected to my laptop via USB-C. I am really pleased with the sound of the guitar. The mic was pointed at the end of the fretboard diagonally and from a little less than a foot a way.