This winter I’ve been writing less and devoting more time to playing and recording music. It’s great fun, and I feel it is high time I documented my music after so many years of playing.
The software available for musicians is plentiful. I tend to use only FOSS software (FOSS stands for Free And Open Source), a trait which as time passes becomes more feasible and less a statement of religious conviction.
Some of my favorite and most-used pieces of software cluster around an ASCII-text file format known as ABC. Chris Walsh came up with the format back in the 1980s. He needed a way to represent traditional melodies without going to the trouble of drawing staves and using normal musical notation. ABC is musical shorthand. Notes are represented by letters, and various typographical symbols indicate bars, rests, and most other musical features. ABC is quite portable; it can be scrawled on a restaurant napkin or included in the text of an e-mail. The format has been most popular with musicians in the British Isles.
With todays gargantuan multi-gig computer hard drives the advantages of ABC have declined somewhat, but there are so many tune and transcription collections available on the net in ABC format. For a fiddler like me the files are a cornucopia of musical delights. So portable, too! Millions of tunes in ABC format can be stored on a CD or a USB stick.
Software is available which converts an ABC file to a printable Postscript file. The results are excellent. Here’s an example. This is an ABC file represnting the bare bones of a tune I came up with several years ago:
N:First played circa 2004 --
N:Notated January 2013
GA|"G"B2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|"C" E2 C2 E2|G6|"Em"E2 B2 B2| B2 B B3|
"D"ABA GFE|D2 B,2 A,2|"G"G,2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|
"C"E2 C2 E2|G6|"D"D2 d3 d|d2 d2 d2|"G"BA G"D"F "G"GA|G6||
|:"G"Bdg dgd|Bdg dgd|"C"ceg ege|ceg ege|"Em"B2 e2 g2|b2 b2 b2|"D"a2 ag fe|
d2 dc BA|"G"B2 d2 g2|gf ed cB|"C"c2 cdef|g4 ^g2|"D"a3 gfe|d3 cBA|"G"B2 G F G2
A program called abcm2ps translates the ABC typography into a file which looks like this:
The tune sounds like this (more or less, as I seldom play anything the same way twice!):
Goldberg Waltz recording
I’ve been using a multi-platform program called Audacity, which can be obtained here:
It’s a very versatile multi-track recording and sound-editing application.
Videos are ubiquitous on the net these days due to the popularity of Youtube and, to a lesser extent, Vimeo. I thought it would be fun to make some music videos and upload them, but I had a problem. I’d never successfully edited video before, and the few times I tried I felt stymied. The software has been written by people who grew up editing video and certain user-interface assumptions are made by the developers which were not at all intuitive for me.
I finally figured out my problem, which was that I assumed that the editing paradigm used in text and audio editors carried over into video editors. This isn’t true. Video editors mostly have been developed using an analogy with film editing. Cutting and splicing film (with discarded strips of film falling in curls to the cutting-room floor) is used as a metaphor for dealing with streams of video frames. The computer’s cursor is exchanged for a knife or scissors which “cuts” the sequence of frames.
This may seem obvious, but it took me a while to embrace and be able to use that metaphor! I can be dense at times.
I’ve been using two video editors, Openshot and Kdenlive. They are both good programs, but each has its strong points.
I started out using the audio track recorded by the camera, a Canon G11. That audio was fairly decent considering the tiny microphone on the camera, but I wanted multiple audio tracks. Lately I’ve been recording and editing with Audacity, then substituting the Audacity track for the camera’s recorded audio. I also have been using an external microphone. Of course the audio has to be synchronized with the video, but I found that Kdenlive does that automatically.
Here are a couple of videos. This first one was shot using the built-in camera and mike on Bev’s Imac:
You can see Sage the collie in the background in that one. Pets wandering into the scene are commonly seen in Youtube videos!
This is a later one shot with the Canon G11 on a tripod, and with the audio recorded with Audacity:
One last video… this one shows me playing an Irish set-dance tune called “The Blackbird” on the guitar. I dubbed in a fiddle track as well:
All rather amateurish, I admit, but fun!