Song for Evelyn

Here is my latest track for the Lost and Found album, an instrumental piece which I wrote for my baby girl Evelyn who died in March 2019. (Download: mp3 | tablature)

About the Song

450x600-IMG_20190325_154418019Evelyn died unexpectedly at 4 months gestation. The cause was uncertain, but presumed to be placental failure. I wrote about the experience on my medicine blog.

I had been picking out this melody on the guitar through February and March 2019, and when she died in late March I decided to dedicate the song to her and to record it for my album. The piece fits well with the album’s theme of loss, and through the experience of losing a child I also found great strength and peace through my faith in Jesus Christ.

I imagine that the synthesizer represents Evelyn’s spirit, which runs through the whole song just as her spirit will live forever. The guitars represent the physical world, including her little body that was growing. After the second repetition of the verse there is a short bridge, and the sudden appearance of the only minor chord in the song represents her death. But through the grace of Christ we find peace, work back to a major chord, and continue on with life through the last repetition of the verse. The second guitar starts improvising at the bridge and continues to improvise for the rest of the song, indicating that life doesn’t always turn out how you planned it. As the song fades out, I imagine my happy reunion with Evelyn in God’s Kingdom some day, where we will live together forever in love.

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About the Recording

My Linux studio is getting better and better with every track. This recording was made on Linux Mint 19.1 using Ardour 5.1 and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. The synth track uses ZynAddSubFX, and this was my first track to use this very powerful software synthesizer. I also used the AVL Drumkit LV2 plugin for the first time, and I really liked it. Kudos to Glen MacArthur and Robin Gareus for making such a useful and powerful tool.

I think the main guitar part is the most difficult fingerstyle piece I have ever tried to record, but I am overall pleased with how it turned out.

About the Album

Even with this unscheduled addition to the track list, I still think there is time to record the title track and finish remastering the previous tracks before the end of this year. I have learned a lot about mixing and mastering in the past few months, and I want to apply what I have learned to some of the older tracks on the album. These remastered tracks will be posted together when the whole album is released. I also need to get working on the album artwork. Stay tuned!

What I Did Wrong

Here is the latest track from my album-in-progress, called “If You Remember (What I Did Wrong).” (Download: mp3 | lyrics & chords | tablature)

If You Remember (What I Did Wrong)

(words and music by Alan Sanderson)

It’s really forever, this life that we live
And if you remember, then I hope you forgive

You said it’s forever, but time proved you wrong
And if you remember, it didn’t take long

But memories live on
They tell me what I did wrong

It’s really forever, this life that we live
And if you remember me, then I hope you forgive
Forgive me

About the Song

Alan - wide hallway to the garageDuring the fall of 1994, when this song was written, I was a moody teenager who had been playing guitar for just less than a year. Songwriting was an outlet for the intense and raw but very private emotions that seemed to be clawing me apart from the inside. Back then the focus of the song was on the guilt I felt (the original title was simply “What I Did Wrong”).

The song was more or less forgotten until about 2002, when I was listening to a lot of Chet Atkins and trying to work out my own fingerstyle guitar technique. I found that I could play the vocal melody at the same time that I played an arpeggio on the chords, so this song was added back to my repertoire as an instrumental.

For this recording I decided to bring back the lyrics, in a slightly altered form. Rather than focusing on the guilt of past actions, the revised words focus on reconciliation and forgiveness, which are the last steps in the process of being Lost and then Found. I had several specific people in mind as I recorded this song, and if they remember, then I hope they forgive.

While working on this recording the thought struck me that my 15-year old self is a great songwriting collaborator. He has some good musical ideas, and he doesn’t complain at all when the direction I want to take them isn’t exactly what he had in mind. I think the collaboration works better spanning across the years than it would in real time; I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like what I’ve done to his song.

About the Recording

I originally intended a hybrid guitar/synth fusion sound for this recording (think New Order), but a few things made me stray off of this intended course.

First, I discovered Guitarix, a software guitar amplifier for Linux systems, and I think this piece of software will change my life forever! All of the electric guitars (including the bass) used Guitarix plugins, and it was so fun that I just wanted to add more and more guitar to the sound and less and less synth. Eventually I took all of the synthesizers out, with the exception of the drum samples (which were sequenced using Hydrogen).

Second (and related to the first), I got thinking about some other songs which use the same or similar chord progressions, which tend to be guitar-based songs. (The chords are I – vi – ii – V; actually, these chords are also used in “My Abode!”) “Earth Angel” has a similar progression (I – vi – IV – V), and the tremolo guitar in the verse kept reminding me of the scene from “Back to the Future.” Adding too much techno to that sound just didn’t seem right.

Alan with guitarThe resulting arrangement became something of a sonic retelling of the song’s history: The opening chords on acoustic guitar are largely as I would have played them as a beginner in 1994; the body of the song salutes a few of my early guitar influences: Peter Buck, Robert Smith, Simon Gallup; the fingerstyle acoustic version I worked out in about 2002 forms the coda. The result is very satisfying for me personally, as an homage to where I have come from musically, and where I have gone. I also think it harmonizes well with the evolution of the song’s meaning.

This recording was done entirely on Linux Mint using Ardour and Hydrogen, with Guitarix plugins, and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface. With each new recording I discover more useful features of Ardour, and new plugins. Desktop Linux has turned into a wonderful, rich environment for audio recording.

About the Album

I am getting really close to finally finishing the album I started nearly 15 years ago! There are just one or two more songs to record, and I am also working on remastering some of the previous tracks. It is still my goal to finish it by the end of this year, so stay tuned for updates.

U-Turn

Here is another track for the Lost and Found album.

download: mp3, tablature, lyrics &  guitar chords

U-Turn

words and music by Alan Sanderson

I was lost on a lonely highway
Trying to find my place in the sun
And when I thought I’d found my destination
I found my journey had just begun

I wasn’t looking for adventure, oh no
I was just looking for a place to live my life
But I didn’t know which way was home anymore
I didn’t know which way was home

So I turned myself around
I did a U-turn on that highway
And I said to myself,
“Where are the mountains that I love?
Where’s the smell of rain in the desert?
And where are the people that I call my own?
Where are the people that I call my own?”
So I said to myself,

“I’m gonna find my way back home
I’m gonna find my way back home
I’m gonna find my way back home
I’m gonna find my way back home
Here I come!

“I’m gonna find those mountains that I love
I’m gonna find those people that I call my own
I’m gonna find my way back home”

About the Song

The guitar riff that that this song is based on was literally lost and found. I recorded a sketch of it on a cassette tape and mailed it to my cousin before I left on my mission, and then forgot all about it. After I got home my cousin sent the old recording back to me, and I relearned how to play it. (Thanks, Tom!) Here is that old recording, if you would like to hear it:

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Seeing mountains again! Picture taken on my move from the Midwest to Utah in 2015.

I had a basic idea of what the song was about, and had the second verse mostly worked out years ago, but I made a big breakthrough on the lyrics in 2015 when I was moving back home to Utah after living in the Midwest for 11 years. The first verse came to me at a rest stop west of Indianapolis. The lyrics capture a lot of how I felt at the time, but they don’t quite express how much I felt that I was guided by God to move when and where I did.

About the Recording

This was the quickest recording of the album so far, taking a little over a month from start to finish. I had initially planned for more aggressive drums and an electric lead guitar, but opted for the lighter acoustic sound.

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In my new studio!

The recording was done in Ardour on Linux Mint, in a downstairs room of my house that I recently claimed as my studio. The drums were programmed using Hydrogen, and a brush kit sound bank. This song was my first attempt to use Ardour’s MIDI function, which took a bit of time to figure out, but I am pleased with the result. I used the “rock organ” sound from Christian Collins’ GeneralUser GS soundfont.

About the Album

Only two more songs to record for this album! Here is my goal: Finish it during 2019!

More Tablature

After my recent post about authoring guitar tablature on Linux, my son asked me for the tablature for a few other songs because he is taking a guitar class this semester in school. Here are the scores, all authored with MuseScore:

I also added a link to them on the Lost and Found album page.

While working on “Something Wrong” I had a bit of a flashback about the circumstances that inspired me to write the song back in 1997-98, so I wrote the story and posted it on my Latter-day Doctor blog. Enjoy!

Guitar Tablature Editing on Linux

I am a self-taught guitarist, learning to play mostly by ear. When I was 10 years old my dad gave me a chord chart and a few John Denver songs to learn, and I was off to the races. As long as I had the chords and knew the tune, I could play any song. When I was 15 years old my friend showed me a guitar magazine that had the music for a song we both liked, and it was written in tablature. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Tablature,” he explained. “The lines are the strings, and the numbers are the frets.” I stared at it for a few minutes, and then tried to play a few bars. My friend let me take the magazine home, and I learned how to play the whole song that day. Reading standard music notation has never been easy for me, but tablature is simple to understand because I think of guitar music in terms of where I put my fingers on the fretboard, not in terms of the names of the notes I am playing. Learning about tablature opened up a whole new world of guitar music and playing technique for me. When my garage band broke up I spent a lot of time writing down all of our songs in tablature so that I wouldn’t forget how to play them.

There are two Free software tools which I use for writing guitar tablature on Linux, which I will review here.

Tux Guitar

DSC04907-2I have been using Tux Guitar since at least 2012, when I arranged some music for a Christmas guitar duet with my friend Erik Aagard (who is ten times a better guitarist than I am). It was a simple arrangement, and I needed a simple tool to write it down. Tux Guitar was just what I needed to get the job done, and that splash screen of Tux holding a Les Paul is pretty awesome.

Tux Guitar splashIt wasn’t easy to set up, though. Tux Guitar is really just a notation editor and sequencer, and does not include a synthesizer. When you install Tux Guitar you also need a software synthesizer in order to hear any sound output. I connect it to Qsynth, which is a GUI front-end for Fluidsynth. The connection can be made through JACK or directly between the two programs. When I start a Tux Guitar session I have to start Qsynth first, and then make sure the two programs are talking to each other before I can proceed with the notation project I have in mind. If this sounds complicated, then that’s because it can be. On one of my computers I have never been able to get the two programs to successfully talk to one another, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It can be pretty frustrating to struggle with the Qsynth and Tux Guitar settings when really what I want to do is fire up a piece of software and get my creativity going. Tux Guitar will still work just fine without a synthesizer attached, you just won’t be able to hear any sound output (which kind of defeats the purpose). Note that I have only ever used Tux Guitar on Linux. I have no idea whether the Windows or Mac OS versions have the same issue.

Tux Guitar screenshotOnce you get Tux Guitar up and running it is a very capable program. It can do polyphony up to four voices in a single track, and also has multitrack features. The tablature notation is very rich, and includes all of the standard fretboard techniques such as hammer-on/pull-off, pitch bending, vibrato, muting, etc. If you can’t figure out how to do something using the GUI, the local help files and online documentation are very good.

For most of the last 5 years I have been using Tux Guitar exclusively for my tablature notation projects, most of which are solo fingerstyle guitar pieces. As an example, here is a score for the solo fingerstyle guitar version of Lullabye: [Tux Guitar file | PDF]. As you can see, Tux Guitar outputs a clean but not especially beautiful score, which looks like it was made by a computer. (For the record, I am using Tux Guitar 1.3.1)

I have been overall content to use Tux Guitar, aside from the synthesizer annoyance described above, but I recently discovered a few other limitations. This post was originally conceived as an introduction to Tux Guitar, sort of like my previous post about LMMS, and I set to work on the tablature score for a song I recently recorded called “My Abode,” which was going to be the centerpiece of this blog post. But I found that Tux Guitar’s multitrack tools don’t scale very well, and the interface becomes quite clunky when you have more than one track in a song. It also didn’t handle the vocal track very well, and required me to program it using tablature instead of standard music notation. The interface for copying and pasting in Tux Guitar is horrible, and it is almost easier to just type in all of the notes a second time rather than copying and pasting. These limitations were all potentially tolerable, but the show-stopper came when I tried to export a complete multitrack score, which apparently Tux Guitar cannot do. It also would freeze every time I tried to print a score to file, and Tux Guitar does not have native tools to export to PDF. Here is the Tux Guitar version of “My Abode,” which I didn’t complete: [Tux Guitar file ].

MuseScore

Enter MuseScore, a cross-platform music notation editor. I have been using this program since 2016, when I became the choir director at my church. (No, I don’t conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, just my local congregation’s choir.) It is a fantastic program for music notation, and beats the pants off of Denemo in terms of usability and the visual quality of the scores it generates. Until recently I have been using it only for choral church hymn arrangements, but when I ran into the problems with Tux Guitar I described above, I decided to test out MuseScore’s tablature capabilities. (For the record, I am using MuseScore 2.0.2)

First of all, unlike Tux Guitar, MuseScore has a built-in synthesizer. It is so nice to just fire up your software, and it’s ready to go with no fuss involved. Also, I already knew that MuseScore is a powerful notation editor with great multitrack capabilities, an easy and intuitive copy/paste interface, which produces the most beautiful musical scores you can find in the Free software world, so the Tux Guitar limitations I described above don’t apply to MuseScore.MuseScore screenshot

I was pleasantly surprised at how well MuseScore does with tablature, although its feature set in this arena is not quite as rich as Tux Guitar’s. I couldn’t figure out a way to do pitch bending, hammer-on/pull-off, or slides, and the online documentation pulls up no results when I searched for these terms. The best I could do was put a slur between notes. Fortunately “My Abode” only has a few hammer-ons and pull-offs, so I was able to fudge it with slurs. The mandolin solo has a few slides, which I just glossed over. I’m glad there wasn’t any pitch bending in the song.

But the overall strength and ease of use, not to mention the aesthetics of the final product, more than overcame these minor limitations. Here is the final version of “My Abode” as programmed in MuseScore: [MuseScore file | PDF].

Conclusion

Linux has capable tools for guitar tablature. Tux Guitar is a specialized tablature editor with a rich palette for this type of notation. MuseScore is a general purpose musical notation editor with a capable though somewhat limited tablature tool set. At this point in time I think Tux Guitar is the better tool for notating complex guitar work, especially for solo guitar. But MuseScore clearly shines when you are trying to write longer multitrack scores, with mixed instruments. If MuseScore would fill in some of the blanks in its tablature notation palette then it would be the clear winner.

 

 

When I Was Lonely

I just finished a new recording for the Lost and Found album, a song called “My Abode.” (Download the mp3)

My Abode

words and music by Alan Sanderson

The road is my abode
It will love me — it will kiss me
The road is my abode
It will hold me — hold me

I turned to you when I was lonely
And you sent me on my way —
Your way

The street is my retreat
And I go there when there’s nowhere else to go
And I know
I belong — I belong

I turned to you when I was lonely
And you sent me on my way —
Your way

And I don’t know which way I’m going
And I don’t know which way I’ve been
And I don’t know where you want me to be
But I know I’m far from home

I turned to you when I was lonely
And you sent me on my way
You said my way was your way
But your way —
Your way is my way home

(Dedicated to the memory of Meggan Mackey, 1974-1999)

About the Song

This song was on the original track list for the Lost and Found album, and I feel that it is one of its most important songs. I wrote it when I was 18 years old, and it captures the emotions and thoughts I had during an important transition in my life. Over the previous year or so I had suffered the loss of some important friendships, including a girlfriend who broke up with me. The first verse is about the loneliness and bitterness I felt about this, and it was intended to be a little melodramatic.

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Picture I took in 1998 on my bike ride home from work. This stretch of road is where the song was written.

After I graduated from high school I started cycling 50-100 miles a week, which I found to be very therapeutic for my loneliness. (I actually composed the song during my 7-mile ride home from work one day.) The second verse is about cycling, and the chorus is meant literally in that context.

The third verse is about the spiritual changes that were starting to happen in me as I studied the scriptures every day and prepared to serve a mission. It was becoming clear to me that the Lord wanted me to give up my pride and turn to him. I had been spiritually lost, but the Lord had found me and shown me the way home. This was the first song I ever wrote on a religious theme, and at the time I found it to be an uncomfortable subject to write about plainly, hence the somewhat obscure language.

On the day when I wrote the lyrics I went to visit my cousin‘s apartment and worked on the fingering for the song on her roommate Meggan’s guitar. Meggan died of cancer about a year later while I was serving my mission, and so I have always connected her memory with this song.

About the Recording

I made a rough analog multitrack recording of this song in early 1998, which had a faster tempo and more raw guitar sounds. (My nose was a bit stuffy from a head cold that day.)

My Abode – 1998 recording

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Picture from my sketchbook, 1998.

In about 2005 when I was teaching myself fingerstyle guitar I reworked the fingering and slowed down the tempo, which turned the song into more of a ballad. The new arrangement sounded like it needed a mandolin part, so I bought one and learned to play it for the new recording. (I have been wanting to buy a mandolin for over a decade.) I think you will agree that the new recording beats the old one by a fair distance.

The recording was done on Linux Mint using Ardour and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. The more I use this setup, the more I like it.