Telluride Rag using Notion

Telluride from Gondola in Winter
I recently completed my first tune in the Scott Joplin ragtime style, Telluride Rag. Say what? Well I was inspired by the purchase of a new “old” violin from Telluride Music, and wanted to create something that would show off this fiddle. I have always wanted to do a ragtime style tune, so I just decided to write one, but how? The music notation program, Notion 5, was the ticket. I had the basic tune in my head and could pick out the melody notes using my mandolin.

Creating a piano part in Notion was a piece of pie. This is a great composition tool, one used by my good friend and local (nationally known) composer, Gary Smith. When I saw how Gary had created multi part scores for his jazz and orchestral compositions, I decided to give it a whack. I entered the notes using a mouse click, after selecting the note type (quarter note, half note, etc.). Notion lets you create ties, slurs, add key changes, and best of all, you get to select from some fine, real (sampled) instruments from the London Symphony Orchestra. I liked the stock piano sounds, so I went with that, and then created both the melody line and left hand chords. Now bear in mind that I am in no way a trained piano player, so I was constructing this simply by picking out the notes and chords from what I wanted to hear.

Once I had the piano part to where I liked it, I exported the stereo .wav file played by Notion, and dropped that into a Cubase stereo track for my new Telluride Rag project. Then I recorded a couple of fiddle overdubs of the melody line, using both “Telluride” (the name of my new “old” fiddle), and my go-to violin, “Reno”.

After tweaking these parts I then let Lynn (wifey) critique it. The tune consists of an A, B1 and B2 parts, then repeated again A-B1-B2. I let the piano play all the way through these parts once, then again with the fiddle overdubs. Lynn said I should have the fiddle parts come in sooner. Well I had originally recorded them from the beginning, but took out the first set of A-B parts so the listener could hear just the piano part establish the tune and rhythm. So we decided to bring the fiddles in during the first B part, then have them play the rest of the way. That sounded good, but then what to do to the second go round to make it build interest?

Bring on the horns! OK I could have really used some actual horns here, but did not have the time or inclination to bring someone into the studio. I was hearing some pumping tuba, and jazzy slide trombone. So I found something that worked using the Garritan Personal Orchestra patches for trombone and tuba. These are played on the keyboard, of course, with the mod wheel on the trombone to simulate the slide. The sounds are pretty good as they are, like the piano part, samples of real instruments, not synthesized.

After some final mixing here is the result: Telluride Rag on Soundcloud I have received some nice comments after posting to Facebook. Here are a few:
  • “It sounds like- what a nice warm autumn day in Telluride feels like. Jim’s music feels like he is happy!” Teresa, Grand Junction, CO.
  • “Very cute tune Jim. I like it and think I’ll give it a try” Sarah, Oracle, AZ.
  • “Great traditional rag with the ‘diamond jim’ twist!” Kate, Oracle, AZ
  • “Makes me wanna put on a white linen suit, stroll out to my home’s wrap-around porch, while entertaining my guests as I sip my mint julip, and act all genteel.”  Mike, California.

Playing in tune

So I was laying down a violin part to a new tune last night, trying to follow a synth piano line that I had recorded several months ago. I was also trying out my new Neumann microphone to see how it sounded with the fiddle.

Its amazing how much worse my intonation was when I compared it to the synth piano part. It was not pretty!

But then when practicing alone, without a partner (synthetic or real), I think we tend hear what we want it to sound like. We don’t notice the out of tune notes until they are compared against a perfect standard.

One thing, be sure your instrument is in perfect tune before trying this. I compared my out-of-tune notes using Melodyne, and notice that I was consistently sharp most of the time rather than flat. That indicates to me that either I am playing sharp tonight, or else I am tuned up 5-10 cents.

The other thing, is sometimes you are just not spot on. I was thinking the whole time, that a classical violinist would not have this problem. But I know better. Maybe a trained professional, who practices 6 hours a day, would have less of a problem, but we all experience those times when we just can’t play in tune, to varying degrees.

The final thing, I did find that by the 5th or 6th take that my notes were much closer to being in tune. I was finally able to get a take that I did not have to “repair” using Melodyne. I also realized that my headphone mix was not very good, that the audio I was playing along with was too loud compared to my instrument mix. So I am going to work on getting a better headphone mix. I am certain that if I had a client/musician in the studio that they would perform better with a well-balanced mix. In this case, I was the client.

So yes, practice does make perfect, or at least better than “it sucks”. But there are times when you will suck, and others not so much. As musicians we have to keep reminding ourselves of that. We are not synths.