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When we think about rhythm and form, it’s easy to think of them as two separate aspects of a song. Specific rhythms and rhythmic “feels” define a song’s character, while form provides the structure, right? This is all true, but there’s a relationship between the two that’s important to recognize.
First let’s talk about rhythm. Human beings – and all nature, really – are naturally rhythmic. We breathe and walk in rhythm. Our hearts beat in time. Rhythm is a cycle at its core, a grouping of beats that repeat again and again. Take a moment to listen to yourself breathe and notice that there’s a natural rhythm to the in and out breaths. You’ll observe the same thing when walking or running: step, lift, step lift, all coordinated in a way we usually don’t even notice.
We are also symmetrical creatures accustomed to pairs and opposites: two eyes, two ears, two legs, and so on. Left and right, night and day. We talk about the “rhythm” of the seasons and cycles in nature. This is all interconnected, and it shapes our approach to music because music is something we feel as much as hear.
Whether you’re stomping out steady counts of four or playing congas in a Latin percussion section (much more involved!), you are producing a repeated cycle of sounds and a rhyhmic pattern that we feel on multiple levels: the strongly accented first count, or as musicians say, “on the one” or the “downbeat”. This is the beginning of the cycle and is easy to feel even if you don’t think you have a good sense of rhythm. Listen closely to the next song you hear and you’ll recognize the cycle by the way your body responds to the beat as well as what your ears hear. Then listen for the next layer, the meter or regular groupings of beats. This is the “one-two-three-four” count you’ll sometimes here when a group starts a song. We would say that the song is “in four” because of this grouping. A waltz is “in three” with a strong accent on the one: ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three. If you’ve ever danced a waltz, this is what makes the motion flow: STEP-turn-lift.
So how does this relate to form? As every songwriter or player knows, most popular music consists of a series of sections – verse, channel, chorus, etc. These sections are often symmetrical, with alternating pairs of phrases that fit into two, four, or eight bar groupings…essentially, this is the way poetic forms match up with musical structure. This is old news to any experienced songwriter. That’s not to say that groupings can’t be uneven – there’s no reason everything has to be “squared up” all the time – but the average listener likes symmetry, and not just it’s because what they’re used to. It’s because symmetry FEELS right: one phrase smoothly answered by another in a way that completes the lyrical and musical idea. When things are uneven, it can feel like trying to ride a three-legged horse. (I have never actually ridden a three-legged horse, but I imagine it wouldn’t be very smooth…or pleasant for the horse).
The big point is that good musicians feel the symmetry and are generally listening for it as they play. When I sit in and play along with people whose material I don’t know, I’m listening for two things: chord structure and form. In a well-constructed song, the form is generally pretty clear, and not because I’m counting bars but because I can feel the end of the section when it reaches that eighth or sixteenth measure. There are other hints too…changes in dynamics (for example, a build into a chorus) or specific patterns that signal a new section…but it’s mostly about feel.
If you don’t feel or hear in this way, learning how is mostly a matter of knowing what to listen for. If you need to count, count. Listen for cycles, recurring patterns, and sequences. If there’s a count-off at the beginning, or a musical equivalent, notice how it sets the pace for the rest of the song. If you’re trying to coordinate playing and singing, or focused strongly on the physical aspects of either, you might be distracting yourself from the underlying pulse. Start to listen for it, and let your body help you. Tap your foot, nod your head, or do a chair dance. Bounce around the room. Remember that rhythm is visceral, so anything your body does in time with the music will help you feel it. Like so many other aspects of music, learning to feel the beat like this is really just a matter of knowing what to pay attention to. So start listening….can you feel it?
Nashville-based Dave Isaacs is a dynamic performer with an electric presence and a craftsman’s touch….a master musician and world-class guitarist of exceptional versatility, taste, and soul. He has released six independent CDs and played countless gigs across the country, from dive bars to festival stages and concert halls.
Dave has built a reputation one of Nashville’s top guitar teachers and maintains a busy private studio on Music Row, helping songwriters and aspiring artists develop and hone their musical skills and artistic identity. He is a regular member of the workshop faculty for the Nashville Songwriters Association’s annual Songposium conference and is an active mentor in NSAI’s Pros On The Road program. In the formal academic realm, Dave holds faculty positions at Tennessee State University and the Art Institute of Tennessee – Nashville. He is a regular contributor to the Nashville Muse, Songwriters E-Tip, and Dream Row online magazines, and the founder and artistic director of TSU’s annual Guitar Summit.
The Muscle Shoals music scene is in the international spotlight on all fronts with the critically-acclaimed documentary, stunning live performances by Shoals area artists and a new generation of talent cranking out world-class recordings in local studios. While it's impossible to capture it all in a four-page newsletter, we hope to give you an overview that you can get your head around - along with some links to additional information.
A very special thanks to Swampers Bar and Grille and Big River Broadcasting for sponsoring our efforts. Their generous support allows us to kick this publication up a notch so we can share Muscle Shoals music happenings with music fans around the globe.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and suggestions. We want this newsletter to be a meaningful tool for Muscle Shoals musicians and fans.
Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Bassist David Hood has kept all of his work diaries from the mid-sixties to the present. Because they contain information that spotlights the rich history of Muscle Shoals Music, he will share one segment of his diary in this column each month.
By David Hood When you think of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios most people think of the little building located at 3614 Jackson Highway across the street from the Oakwood Cemetery in Sheffield. Dozens of musicians, artists and producers have been photographed in front of that famous location since its opening in 1969.
MSS operated at that location for just over 9 years. Thirty-five years ago, in May of 1978, Muscle Shoals Sound moved to its new location down on the Tennessee River at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield. The "official" grand opening was July 15, 1978. The first sessions were demos recorded by W.C. (Carrol) Quillen, and soon afterward tracks for Dr. Hook.
MSS operated at that location, continuing after its sale to Malaco Records in 1985. In 2005 the facility was purchased from Malaco and reopened as Cypress Moon Studios.
'Muscle Shoals Sessions' Concert Series The second show in the Muscle Shoals Sessions Series will feature the high-spirited, sometimes outrageous, always fabulous talent of St. Paul and The Broken Bones. The band is currently working on their first full-length album which is being produced by Ben Tanner on Single Lock Records, a label owned by Tanner and John Paul White.
Russell Smith and Kelvin Holly at the first installment of the Muscle Shoals Sessions concert series. The Amazing Rhythm Aces played to a sold-out crowd at the FloBama. Opening act was The Local Saints.
"We are Jamie McFarlane, Rob McFarlane, Justin Holder, Chad Burdine, & Zach Walton. Our Pops were preachers but they're not going to be putting us up for sainthood anytime soon. Our new band is The Local Saints, and we sing about life and love and sometimes whiskey and we might throw in a dog or a train, or an angry girl because we are from the South and that is how we live."
Muscle Shoals Music Rocks New Visitor's Center
Muscle Shoals music will take center stage at the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism’s new 2.4 million dollar Visitor’s Center at McFarland Park. The center, which is expected to be completed by late November, will feature a round-shaped room that will showcase scenes of Muscle Shoals music history.
An IPAD in the area will provide in-depth information about music, musicians, writers, producers and influencers. The exhibit will allow visitors to access information about local studios and to play samples of music that was recorded here.
Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Director Debbie Wilson is putting together information for all aspects of the exhibit and has (or will be) contacting MSMA members for images and information. Please contact her if you have ideas for this exhibit. Renderings of the Center are on display at the tourism office. Debbie’s contact information is email@example.com.
Muscle Shoals to Music Row "Live" is a two-hour live radio broadcast/webcast showcasing hit songwriters & artists between these two cities and across the nation! Every single MS2MR event features major recording artists backed by some of the best musicians in the business. The show is produced by Big River Broadcasting and is a product of the Sam Phillips Music Corporation.
September 5, 2013 Angel Mary & Tennessee Werewolves
AMHOF Awards Show Scheduled For September 26
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Awards Show is scheduled for Thursday, September 26, at the Birmingham Jefferson Center Concert Hall. Five Alabama Music Achievers will be inducted during this star-studded event which will feature entertainment by some of Alabama's most noted performers. More details to come in future issues of the MSMA newsletter.
Jason Isbell's compelling new alburm was released earlier this month. Southeastern contains 12 new Jason Isbell compositions and the most personal songs of self-reflection and discovery he has written to date. He’ll be hitting the road this summer with long-time members of the 400 unit Derry deBorja, Chad Gamble, Jimbo Hart, and newcomer Sadler Vaden. Tour dates have been announced in support of Southeastern. Festival stops will include the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, AL and Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN.
JUST DO IT!
FLORENCE LAUDERDALE LIBRARY OFFERS GUITARS FOR CHECK-OUT Always dreamed of playing the guitar but wimped out because you can't afford one and need some lessons? Local musicians, including Dillon Hodges, John Paul White, Doc Dailey, David Hood and many more, offer advice to beginner guitarists in the first music interview videos produced by the Florence Lauderdale Public Library. The library also offers Yamaha acoustic guitars for check-out. The instruments can be checked out for two weeks and come with straps, picks and tuners. For more information, call 256-764-6564, ext. 27.
IN THE STUDIO
FAME Rick Chudacoff Jamey Johnson Bill Labounty Judd Hall St. Paul & the Broken Bones George Gee Meagan Jolley Melody Aires Brook Vandiver Amy Black Marco Giovino Jackson Lambert Herb Hughes Zac Hacker Stephen Padilla Jimmy Wz
@MSMM - Donnie Gullett Travis Wammack Daniel Cox Terry Patrick
@Noiseblock Brett Eldredge Chasing Change Chris Thomason Hey Romeo Tyler Boyd John Milstead Gnarly Charlies
@The NuttHouse Redmouth Don Von Tress Donna Jean Godchaux Band Featuring Jeff Mattson The Fiddleworms Don Ray Band Shelley King Band John Paul White & Jason Isbell
@Studio 144 - Jay Burgess/John Springer Rob Aldridge Rob Malone Dylan Leblanc Jay Burgess Jon Davis Lovell and Sparks Mary Katherine Rowe
@Wishbone The Cains with Billy Lawson producing Atlanta Hawks Cheerleader Crystal Hopkins with Billy Lawson producing Jingles for BiCoastal Media, Coos Bays, OR & Pacific Empire Broadcasting, Lewiston, ID
Support the MSMA
Donations are accepted. Simply click the link below to pay through PayPal. Donate through PayPal OR Send check or Money Order to: MSMA PO Box 2383 Muscle Shoals, Al 35662
***Please include your name, address and email.
To preserve and promote the legacy and future of Muscle Shoals music.
Happy Summer! Well, almost anyway. Memorial Day is always the beginning of summer to me. When I was a kid, it meant only a few more weeks of school. Remember the countdown until the last day of school? When I think about it, I still get the magical, happy feeling of anticipation that summertime always gave me back then.
What gives you that kind of feeling? Now that I’m all grown up (relatively speaking), I can still visualize something I’m anticipating and be filled with excitement and joy.
I like to think of it as the power of positive persistence.
My mom always taught my sister and I to think on the positive side. And that gets harder to do as we go through life meeting disappointments and let downs. I believe the power of positive thinking takes practice and persistence. You have to work at it, finding the good in the bad, the acceptance in rejection and the unexpected in the unexpected.
And I think the power of positive persistence goes for being creative as well. If there was ever a time to use positive persistence, it is when you have hit a wall with your art.
One Day at a Time If you crave being creative, but don’t have lots of time everyday, don’t worry about writing the world’s greatest song in one sitting. Work out a schedule where you have time, even if it is only 15 minutes during your lunch break, to spend positive energy on your creation. You will have a better attitude at the end of the week because you will have created momentum in the consistency.
Plant the Seeds, Don’t Forget to Water Think of positive thoughts like seeds that are planted in your mind, heart and soul. Now, it is your job to “water them daily” by persistently putting these positive thoughts into action. Soon you will enjoy the “fruits” of your positivity!
Constant Craving When you get into the habit of practicing positive persistence, you will begin to notice the effect it has on your life and your creativity. You will crave the feeling of joy in having created something that could be moving or helpful to another human being. You will crave the true happiness that positivity has on your life and those around you.
And let’s face it, the world doesn’t always support the positive or the positive thinking person. You can be a part of changing that! Try responding to negativity with a smile, a kind gesture or words or do something crazy that makes someone’s day! (Maybe break into your latest song, I dare you!)
I hope you will practice the power of positive persistence in your life and your music.
Please write to me and share what experiences with “accentuating the positive.”
Whatever you do, stay inspired!
Love and success, Kirsti
About Kirsti Manna
Kirsti’s 6 week number 1 smash hit “Austin” introduced Blake Shelton (of NBC’s “The Voice”) to country radio. She is a dynamic performer/speaker and founder of Songwriter Girl.
She’s also the co-writer/co-publisher for Big & Rich’s rock-in hit, “Loud” (WB/Nashville) which is the theme song for CMT’s, ” Gone Country” and has been used in everything from video games (EA NASCAR 2008), to Nike NFL ads. Artists such as Gretchen Wilson (Sony/Nashville), Colt Prather (Sony/Nashville), Cowboy Crush (Curb/Nashville) and many others have recorded Kirsti’s songs which have been heard around the world in such places as ESPN, “The Tonight Show,” “The David Letterman Show,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Dance Wars.”
Ever want to sit one-on-one in a room with a #1 hit songwriter, and let her help you map out a creative path to success? Now you can! From online programs, to critiques and personal consultations, Kirsti Manna offers coaching and consulting for songwriters AND those looking to empower themselves creatively. Please note: you do not have to be a songwriter to consult with Kirsti.