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Blog - LMP - The Fodor Quartet

Here's the collected blog posts I did about the first piece of the Lazarus Music Project: Josephus Fodor's String Quartet No.1, Op.11


Blog - LMP - Concerns and Considerations 

November 15,  2020

I'm finding this task to be daunting, for several reasons.  There are a lot of practical and technical hurdles to overcome as well as some conceptual things to hammer out.


Warning: Some rather technical nerdery ahead


Conceptual Issues


In trying to resurrect these pieces for posterity I have some decisions to make, especially as I am a layman.  How much fidelity to the scores do I want to maintain?  Should I choose the tempos to be more period appropriate for the original time of composition or should I err to the side of what sounds best to me?   Most of the pieces use the general Italian tempo markings like "Allegro" which is anywhere between 110 beats per minute (bpm) to 130 bpm, at least in modern times.   Which speed to I choose?   



I'm going aim for the middle of the standard modern BPM range for the tempos, though I'll be taking it piece by piece.  Some of the faster pieces will probably have an upper limit on how quickly I can play them.  Hopefully the limit imposed by my technical ability will still be within the "sounds good" window or I'm going to have to re-arrange some measures, taking 16th notes to 8th notes etc.   My biggest concern is that I'm going to record, say, three out of four parts for a quartet and then find there's a passage I absolutely cannot play in the last section. 


I'm going to be combing through each score before I start recording to try to find potential trouble spots and realistically assess my ability to play them before I waste time and money flailing at them.



Do I follow the structure rigorously, respecting all repeat signs or do I pick and choose the refrains I want to follow?   


Honestly, I'm probably going to go by my ear with regards to the microlevel structural elements like repeat signs. I think I'll stick to the period appropriate macro level elements, like playing Minuet and Trio as one complete movement rather than two separate pieces.   

Technical Competency and Compromise


Bowed vs. Plectrum Instruments


I'm anticipating some technical challenges, even setting aside my own technical skill.   I'm playing the pieces on the "wrong" instruments, using plectrum [1] mandolin-style instruments rather than the bowed strings the pieces were written for.   It theoretically is the same, but plectrum instruments have different strengths and weaknesses than bowed strings.   


The right hand technique for a plectrum instrument is less complicated than for a bowed one.  The right hand on both types is largely responsible for the tone quality of the sound.  The palette for a plectrum instruments is more limited, especially on a high string tension instrument like a mandolin.  You have control over how hard you hit the string, the pick speed, and.... that's kind of it.  On a violin, the bow pressure, the distance from the bridge, the bow speed, and the bow angle relative to the strings all contribute to the tone, with extremely nuanced gradations.  (Right hand technique on a violin is really freaking hard to get right.)


From a general top level "pure notes" perspective, violin music tends to be easier to play on a mandolin than a violin.  There's a lot less to keep track of between the simplified right hand and the frets which make intonation (i.e. playing the notes in tune) orders of magnitude easier.   Also on a mandolin chordal passages are far easier on than a violin, both because of the frets and the ability to hit all 4 strings at once, which isn't possible on a violin.   


Slow melodic singing lines sound better on the violin though, as you have as much sustain on a note as you can manage with the bow, as opposed to a mandolin where you pluck the string and rings for a finite amount of time and then dies out.  Note shadings like vibrato are part of the violin toolkit, but is rather difficult if not impossible on the mandolin.  


In the broad strokes, fast repeated string crossings are easier on the violin than the mandolin as they can be done with a very slight tilting of the bow angle whereas on the mandolin the required cross-picking technique means have to almost do a figure 8 back and forth which requires a lot more motion.


So playing the scores with plectrum instruments is going to be an exercise in compromise.  Slow melodic passages will be easier to play, but more difficult to replicate the singing feel of the original, while fast string crossings are going to be much harder.



Recording Challenges

In addition to the compromises and challenges of learning and playing the pieces, there are undoubtedly going to be many challenges in the recording process.  Not to get to Rumsfeldian, but I'm already having anxiety about the issues I know about.   I have no idea what might crop up that I haven't anticipated.


(For more on the technical side of recording see this blog post I wrote when Beemo was tracking our full length album in 2018)


First and foremost I'm not sure how to mic it.  In the past I've used a close condenser mic [2] pointed at about the 12th fret, catching the sound coming right out of the instrument. However that has always been when the mandolin is a support instrument, which is definitely not going to be the case here.  Will a close mic be able to capture the chamber music in a performance hall vibe I'm going for?  Or will we need a less directional room mic that will capture the reverberations not only from the instrument but from off the walls?  I have no idea.   (Fortunately this is a challenge that I don't have to figure out by myself.  I'm going to be recording with Mike Walker at Dreamwalker Studios in Gotha, and he is a really experienced sound engineer.   In Mike I trust.)


Recording acoustic instruments is difficult; there's no hiding behind distortion or gain like with an electric.  Every fret buzz, every accidental mute, every unintentionally ringing string will come through loud and clear.   I'll have to be really well rehearsed and have my wits about me to make sure my fretting is done cleanly and in the right place (to avoid mutes and fret buzz) and that my fret releases are good to avoid a staccato feel and to keep the string ring under control.  This is potentially a huge gotcha when playing violin music on the mandolin; with a violin as soon as your bow stops or moves on to another string, the sound stops.  A metal stringed mandolin will ring for a while, potentially causing dissonance or muddiness when a note goes on past it's intended end point.


And speaking of strings, mandolin strings are tuned in pairs and any slight deviation in tuning within a pair can throw off your intonation [3] and throw dissonances onto your notes.  It is way more noticeable on a recording than it would be live.  Those kinds of issues can get more severe depending on where you are on the neck and how you are fretting the notes.  It's one more thing to be paranoid about in the recording booth.


I'm also a little worried about my endurance.   Recording is tiring; it requires a lot of concentration to get a good clean take and some of these orchestral pieces are north of 10 minutes long, far longer than the style I'm used to.   


That's a long time for me to be recording, especially as it will be more or less continuous playing and there's no ensemble to hide in.   No autopilot chord chug chugs on this stuff.   I'm going to have to make sure I build up my endurance during rehearsal and plan the recording sessions carefully.  The Fodor Quartet 1 that I'm learning has a nasty section in the first violin part right at the end of the piece's second movement, about 10 minutes in.   It would be wise of me to record that piece out of order, doing the second movement first, and early on in the session so I'm not already exhausted before trying to most difficult section.  


I've already decided I'm not going to be a purist about "I will record this in one take like a real musician would!"   I don't have the skill for that, and I'm breaking so much new ground for myself, that I would be doing a disservice to the material I'm trying to preserve purely on a pride issue that I don't have the ability / experience to back up.  


Maybe as I do more of these I'll get to that point, but since my goal is to resurrect these dying pieces and get the best experience for the listener, I'm not above going back and punching in a flubbed phrase.  The ship has already sailed on 100% fidelity as I'm already playing it on the "wrong" instrument, so I am going to try my best to let myself slide on some of the challenges the mandolin style family will impose.


I'm also not sure how I'm going to work out the dynamics, the ebb and flow of the volume swells and decrescendos.  I can execute the ones that are explicit in the score, but as I'm tracking [4] this one instrument at a time the push-pull of the melody line and the natural dynamics [5]  may be hard to do.   I'm not sure how to handle this yet.   One thing at a time.


Reading over the above again, I'm reminded how much I have no idea what I'm doing.  I really hope this works....




[1]  A plectrum is a pick.


[2] Condenser mics are really sensitive microphones that are also really directional, meaning that they'll only cleanly pick up what they are pointed right at.  And I do mean sensitive; I've screwed up takes where I shifted in the chair and the seat squeaked a little bit, but it was enough to show up loud and clear on the track.


[3]  Intonation is accuracy of pitch.  If you have good intonation, all your notes are in tune.  This is a bigger problem on fretless instruments where even millimeter shifts alter your pitch slightly.


[4]  "Tracking" means recording a track, usually a single instrument at a time.  Again, for more see this blog post.


[5]  Chamber music doesn't use a conductor, so the musicians are listening and reacting to each other without an external time keeper.

Blog - LMP - No Slammed Doors 

November 20,  2020

I had an overly ambitious plan for my first cut at recording.


My agenda going in was to do the A and B section of Maple Leaf Rag on all three instruments as a proof of concept that Mike Walker and I could get the sound I was looking for out of the instruments.  That sound being the illusion of three people sitting in the same room and playing a song together.   


Then I wanted to get the Cello [1] part for the Fodor Quartet and, time permitting, the Cello part of the Lacome Tango.   Spoiler: time did not permit.


I really had no idea how long this work was going to take to record.  The excerpt from Maple Leaf Rag was only about a minute long at the speed I was playing it, but as we would be doing all three instruments for the first time there was some setup involved in all the parts.  


The Fodor Quartet was more like 11 minutes of solid playing.   The quartet part itself wasn't all that hard, but it was on the instrument I was the least familiar with, having really only  started practicing it in earnest about a month earlier.   


The Tango was only about 3 minutes long, but again it was on the mandocello and, being an adaptation from a piano work, it was pretty acrobatic and I was a little concerned about how long it might be to get clean takes.  (See my Concerns and Considerations post)


I had scheduled three hours at Mike's Dreamwalker studio, figuring about 45 minutes for Maple Leaf, about an hour for the Quartet Cello, and maybe 30 minutes for the Tango with about 45 minutes of slop built in, just in case.  Something you don't expect always happens when you are recording, whether it's some weird setup problem, a part you inexplicably have trouble with, ProTools [2] crashing unexpectedly etc, so it's wise to account for the possibilities during scheduling.


I was really organized going in, having printed up two copies of all the parts I was playing, one for me and one for Mike, with the measures marked off.  I was terrified that I'd get lost in the middle of a 10 minute piece and wouldn't be able to "meet" Mike in the right place in the score; measure numbers seemed like the best way to go.  (And would have been if I wasn't an idiot, more on that later).  I also had all the tempos and time signatures figured out and written out in advance so Mike could set up the ProTools sessions quickly.


Turns out it was good that I had all that stuff because the tempo and the number of measures in each movement in the Quartet was the first thing he asked me.  We set up separate session files for each piece I was going to do in this first LMP round.  


From a setup perspective it was pretty easy.   We used a room mic in the vocal booth a few feet from the bridge of each instrument, and for the mandolin and mandocello which have pickups we also plugged in to a DI [3].   We didn't know if we would use the DI input, but it doesn't add any setup time and better to have it and not need it.


So for the Maple Leaf Rag, the session file setup tracks were something like this:


Track 1: Mandocello - Mic

Track 2: Mandocello - DI

Track 3: Mandola  - Mic

Track 4: Mandolin - Mic 

Track 5: Mandolin - DI


The Mic and DI's would be recording simultaneously, so I'd still only have to theoretically play through each piece once to get both tracks.  There was pretty much zero chance I was going to one take any of this stuff, but never hurts to hope.


I have no intention on recording a full version of Maple Leaf Rag, so I was going to try to not worry too much about getting a great performance; I just needed it to be good enough that we could do a quick and dirty mix and see whether this project was dead on arrival.  I wanted to know whether we had the technology, or rather, that my instrument technology was up to the task.  (I had never recorded using my mandola or mandocello before).


Because it was just a demo, I was underprepared for the Rag.  I only barely had a handle on the Mandola part, and had only realized a few days earlier that I should practice along with a recording for the mandolin part as the syncopations are crazy hard to count out and if I had a rhythm problem, I probably wouldn't have noticed practicing the mandolin standalone.   And then I would have flailed at the studio.  This exercise also made me realize that the initial tempo I had picked was fine for the mandola and mandocello, but WAY too fast for me to keep up with on the mandolin.   So I adjusted about 2 days before the recording session.


The recording came out ok.   Well, to clarify, the performance was unsurprisingly dogshit, but the sound quality of the instruments was fine and Mike was able to make it sound the way I wanted: as if three people playing three different instruments were around a mic in the room and playing at the same time.   (I'm vaguely embarrassed by the performance so I won't be posting it anywhere; I was expecting it to be a little rough but I overestimated myself.  It was good enough for a demo though.)


Recording the Cello part of the quartet was... interesting.  As I said above, the part itself from a purely technical perspective really isn't all that hard.  There's a measure in the first movement that has some tricky fingering and there's a couple of fast sixteenth note runs in the second movement, but nothing I was super worried about.


The thing I hadn't fully accounted for was how tiring it was to play 11 minutes of straight melodic material.  There was no hammering on easy chords for 30 measures and without the other parts, no scaffolding as it were to keep me in the right spot.  Meaning as this was the first instrument and in chamber string music, the harmonies (i.e. underlying chords) and structures only really become apparent when all the parts are playing.  The chords show up from the four notes the four instruments are playing at the same time, rather than just existing in one instrument like they do on a guitar or mandolin in rock or pop music.


This made it really hard to keep my place, as by itself the cello part doesn't sound like much and by the very nature of this project, I've never heard this piece before.  (No one has for potentially a very long time).  It sounds stupid, but concentrating really intently on counting measures while trying to avoid fret buzz on doing crisp clean releases on notes on an instrument you barely play is pretty taxing.


Speaking of stupid and measure counting, I discovered when I was there that the measure markings I made on the quartet were wrong.   I had miscounted, causing great confusion.  I even thought while I was marking them down, "I should double check these" and then I didn't.  Lesson learned.


We finished the quartet recording at exactly the three hour mark, so no tango.   Maple Leaf took about an hour and a half, including setting up the session files for all of Round 1, the three mic setups, and a post recording mix.   The quartet Cello took the remaining 1.5 hours. So it went slower than I was hoping, but it was well within what I was mentally preparing for and I'm happy with what we got out of it.   


Next up: recording the violin 2 part for Barbella's sonata and maybe the tango again.


11/20 - 3 hours

Maple Leaf Rag Demo  COMPLETE

Fodor Quartet Cello COMPLETE

Tango Cello Pushed






[1]  I'm playing the Cello part on the Mandocello, but I'll be using the terms interchangeably, partially out of laziness and partially because Mandocello (and mandola for that matter) is a silly word.  


[2] ProTools is the industry standard recording software suite.  It's really powerful, if occasionally a bit byzantine if you get in the weeds, a la Photoshop.  


[3] DI is a direct in.  It is a piece of electronics that boosts the signal out of the instrument pickup to make it louder.

Blog - LMP - Practice and Preparation

December 01,  2020

The key to any successful recording is being prepared.  Recording is draining and a touch stressful so any holes in your prep work will manifest in a big way.  I always say that once that record button is pressed, I will play 8% worse than I do when I practice so the key is to make sure that 8% doesn't take you out of the A grade range.


This project has the added challenge of being definitionally about playing pieces that do not have recordings; I don't know what they sound like.   I've had to put in some extra lifting at the front end to make sure I don't get caught off guard by something in the booth, or, worse, discover I've learned a part incorrectly which will then ripple outward into the other parts.


Also, because this project involves two instruments I currently barely play (mandola and mandocello), learning and recording the parts is necessarily going to be a serial process.  I'll have to start recording, say, the quartet Cello part and Viola 2 part before i'm fully able to play the Violin 1 and Viola part.  If I don't start until I know all the parts to all the pieces cold I'll never get started.   Build the wings on the way down.  (I'm also going to need the early parts to have something to practice the harder, later parts along with.)


First Listen

To get a sense of what the pieces sound like, I manually transcribe them into a program called Sibelius, which is a powerful but pretty easy to use software that, critically, has a midi playback function.   You input all the notes for all the parts, press play, and then you get to hear a weirdly digital sounding version of the song.  This is my first cut at seeing whether I like a piece enough to record it and get a sense of the tempo and difficulty.  


Inputting the score manually is time consuming; I'm teaching myself the Sibelius software as I go so there's a bit of a learning curve.  The score input exists in the painful Venn diagram overlap between "very tedious" and "requires a great attention to detail."  It is very deflating to lay down 197 measures of the second violin part only to have it not be the same length as the cello part.  Which one is wrong? Which part did I miscount, or did I skip a measure, or skip an entire line by accident?   Sometimes it's an error in both parts which takes bloody ages to find and fix.  (Amateur tip: Number your measures on the scores in advance before you start inputting and check as you go).


I've also encountered errors in the scores I'm looking at.  These take the form of measures that have the wrong number of notes in them, i.e. a measure that should have 4 beats in it only has 3.75 or has an extra.  Usually the fix for these is pretty obvious and doesn't require any mental heavy lifting.  The potential mistakes that worry me are a note error, which might not be obvious.  I can only hope I can tell from the MIDI playback and the context, but especially as we get to 20th century music, which tends to have fuzzy key centers and lots of accidentals, I'm not sure I'll notice.


Piece Selection

Nothing too scientific here.  I go to IMSLP and search for an instrumentation combo I want to do, then I basically immediately discount anything by a composer I've heard of.  (I doubt Haydn or Mozart have ANY surviving scores that have not been recorded).   Then I spend some time googling around looking for any recordings.  If there are none, I then either sight read a bit of what appears to be the main melody of each section on the mandolin or input it into Sibelius and play it back.  As long as I don't hate it, it goes on the list.


I'm looking for variety in instrumentation and in era, and also, at least for now, looking for pieces that aren't too long.   Until I get better at recording this type of music I don't want to break myself on a 20 minute piece right away and shatter my already fragile confidence.  


Also, a piece gets bonus points for having something interesting about it.  The Barbella Serenade has a first violin that is tuned to ADF#C# rather than the standard GDAE, which to be honest I didn't even know was a thing in Baroque music.  (Though it is kind of a pain in the ass; maybe that's why this hasn't been recorded before.)   Sometimes the point of interest is even more arbitrary or silly.  I chose the Josephus Fodor Quartet because one of my best friends is a J. Fodor.  Felt like finding that was a message from the universe.


Practice, Practice, and Some More Practice

One I've selected the piece, I do a pass / play-through each part of the score.  I'm looking for fast passages that may give me trouble or parts that have tricky fingering. I had to abandon ship on one quartet that had a section that was so fast and difficult that it wasn't worth the opportunity cost of the immense practice time it was going to take.   Abandoned... for now?  Maybe after I do a bunch of these and level up I'll be good enough to revisit it.


I am extra careful and conservative vis a vis viola since i can barely read the music; I'm terrified of a lurking passage that will be too tough to play that I won't be able to tell until I've already practiced the hell out of the other parts.  Though mandola technique is basically identical with the mandolin and i've been at it the mandolin long enough that something has to be both very acrobatic and pretty fast for me to really struggle with it for long; both things I should theoretically be able to tell by looking at the score.


Once I've identified the trouble spots, I create a practice plan and then drill, drill, drill, drill, and the drill some more.  The plan has the measures I need to rehearse, the speeds I need to start and arrive at and the progress I'm making.  (One ✓ means I've just started, 2 means I've got a good handle but am not there yet, and three is done).  I have to be disciplined about what I prioritize and what I attack if I want to be successful in the recording booth.


My practice plans looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2020-12-05 at 10.06.41 AM.png

The actual drilling involves something my piano teacher calls "climbing the ladder."  I start at a slow speed on the metronome, a speed where I can play the identified measures perfectly.  Like no shit, no mistakes at all four times in a row.  Once I can do that, I bump up the beats per minute (BPM) by 5 and then try it again.   Once I hit a speed where I can't play it perfectly, I back it up a few BPM and keep going.  It takes a long time, but learning complicated and/or fast passages is about building muscle memory as well as an intellectual understanding of what to play.   In the recording booth, you can't think your way through a hard and fast passage.  You have to have internalized it to the point where your fingers know the way by themselves.  (This is extra important for me, as I have a really loud and persistent inner monologue and can easily psych myself out.)


Fortunately, and perhaps because of my intrusive inner monologue, I find the act of running a part over and over again sort of calming.  I have a very very long attention span and an immunity to boredom so I don't have trouble staying attuned during a focused practice session.


The rehearsal process is more complicated on the mandocello and mandola.  The mandocello because the technique is so different than the mandolin, due to the much much larger size of the instrument, and the mandola because I am almost illiterate on the music.   I haven't internalized the mandola's alto clef the way I have with the mandolin's treble clef or even, to a much lesser extent, the mandocello's bass clef.   Drilling a part takes much longer as I have to fight to read the music.  Because of this I've shifted the priority of the mandola parts to later in the process.  Hopefully I'll crack the code when I'm dedicating more time exclusively to it and this won't be an issue as I get further along.


Learning a new clef when you already read music isn't so quite learning a new language; I'd say it's more akin to learning a new alphabet system and applying it to a language you already know.


Recording Plan


When it comes to recording anything I'm actually pretty organized.  For Beemo albums I always put together a list of the tracks we're going to need, the beats per minute (BPM) (i.e. tempo) and work out what order would be the most efficient for recording.  All that practice is going to come in handy for the LMP.   


I'm going to have to be even more intentional about what order I record the parts in, which in turn will dictate what order I learn them.  I have to balance what I can play at my current skill level against what parts I need to play first to make recording the full arrangements easier.  This in theory will become less important as my skill level increases on the mandola and mandocello.


My recording plan looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2020-12-05 at 10.06.18 AM.png

Notice I have the Cello parts first as they are the base for the other instruments followed by the (easier) mandolin 2 parts, then the mandolin 1 parts, and the mandola parts last to give me the most time to learn to read the music.  When I start on this plan, I'll only really be comfortable with about 4 things on this list; I'm going to be drilling all the rest in parallel and hopefully I'll have timed the learning curves to where there won't be huge gaps in the recording sessions while I wait to get a part up to speed.


I think it's a pretty good plan and I'm going to be as prepared as possible.  But then again, von Moltke had a point: "No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force."


We'll see..



Blog - LMP - Time is the Enemy 

December 04,  2020

Today went pretty well though, again, I overestimated how quickly I could record a piece.  It was a shorter session today, and I think probably too short.   I was hoping to get through all four movements of the second violin part of Barbella Sonata and the cello part of the Tango.


I only made it through movements 1,2, and 4 of the Sonata.  I'm wasn't totally surprised, as the second movement of the Sonata is actually fairly difficult. It's not acrobatic or anything, but it's tempo is Presto (i.e. really fast) which I played at 160 bpm.  There are a couple of fast sixteenth note runs which at Presto speeds almost sound like a straight tremelo, but I was militant about making them exact sixteenth notes, as the other violin part is also playing 16th notes there and I was concerned that if I didn't sync really well to the metronome, I wouldn't be able to get the two parts to line up.


We finished the second movement with only about 25 minutes to spare.  I decided to jump to the 4th movement because it's shorter and, while slightly harder than movement 3, still pretty easy and I was having a pretty good day behind the mandolin so far.   Also, the violin 1 part for movement 3 is pretty easy and I wasn't too worried about needing the violin 2 track to practice with.


For movements two and four we did something different for tracking.   Rather than record it all the way through once and then listening back and punching in spots as we came across them, we did something more akin to how places do vocals.  Basically you just play through the entire piece a bunch of times and then just take the best parts from each take.   I'm glad Mike suggested that, as though I wouldn't want to do that on something that was 5 minutes long, both the movements we did it with were short.   I did 4 takes on the movement two Presto, and then some punch-ins [1] on the sixteenth notes, and 3 takes of the movement four Allegro.  


The Presto takes were a mixed bag and the final product is a fairly even mix of all four of them, but the Allegro is mostly take two, which I was probably the best performance of it I'd done, in practice or in the studio.   


I'll obviously have to go back and do movement three.  I'm hoping we can get the sound of the instrument close enough to what we got on the other three movements that on a listen through the whole piece it won't be noticeable.  I had just changed my mandolin's strings, so as long as I do that I should be good.


Not that it matters now, it is going to be what it's going to be.


I wonder if the Tango Cello thinks I am avoiding it....




12/04 - 2 hours

Barbella Violin 2   75% Complete

Tango Cello Pushed


[1] A punch-in is when you just play a small part, like a note or a quick run, and insert it instead of what was already there.   So if I played a 14 measure part, and screwed up measure 8, I could just replay measure 8 and punch it in.   Usually you give your self some lead up. So for the earlier example, the Mike would select measure 8 as the punch point, and play the track from, say, measure 4.   I'd play along with the track but it would only record when I got the measure 8.

Blog - LMP - Know When You're Beaten

December 11,  2020

If the my rule of an efficient recording session is "Be Prepared," the second is "know when you're beaten."  I played the Allegro movement of the Fodor Quartet pretty well, only really spending any real time on the tricky triplet section punch ins.   In what hopefully will be the last time, I overestimated what I could get done in 2 hours.  In my defense, I did both movements of the quartet for the Cello part in about 1 hour 45 a few weeks earlier.   In my offense, the violin 2 part is considerably more difficult, though I had a good handle on it.


We had to do some up front work on the ProTools session before we recorded to fix a conceptual error I had made when I did the Cello part, where I forgot to account for measures that had pick-up notes in them in the violin, but not in the Cello. 


One challenge I was not anticipating was that i was getting distracted by the melodic mandocello part while I was trying to lock into both it and the metronome.  I had only practiced with the metronome at home, not with the cello track which in retrospect was a pretty big whiff on my part.   It was actually kind of nerve wracking to be splitting my concentration, and also being pleasantly surprised by hearing the parts interlock together for the first time.  It was sometimes hard not to just hang back and listen to the parts interweave, which was fine except it damaged my concentration to stay ahead of changes or tricky passages that were imminent.  It did provide one advantage in that it helped me keep my place in the song, as the parts wove together in a way that made sense.  So even not having heard it before, as I was playing, I could almost feel where the cello part was pulling me and it actually saved me a few times when I miscounted a measure and wasn't totally sure where I was.    


I was having an off day.  When we did the Minuet and Trio, I had a really hard time locking in.  I was thrown by the 3/4 time signature for some reason; the allegro is in 4, and though I'm perfectly capable of counting to three, it was really discombobulating me.  Which made me feel like a distinctly unqualified musician.  I was pretty shaky and then when I got to the Trio half of the movement I absolutely train-wrecked.  I had been considering adding another 45 minutes or so to the session to finish the movement, but after failing so epically, and realizing I was having an off day, I decided to call it.   I only had about 15 minutes left in my two hour slot, and I was flailing and tired.    


The music just wasn't making sense to me.  I got caught in what I call the Too Easy Paradox.  A part that isn't very hard is hard to make yourself practice because it's really tempting to just half-ass it and say "I got this, I can just read it in the recording session."   Except you can't.  Or, I couldn't in this case.  I was having problems with some tricky rhythms that I hadn't put that much time into, and while i maintain that they aren't that hard, after a tiring session and an off day, my lack of prep reared up mightily.  (The rather difficult part in the middle I actually played pretty well, but again, I practiced it a lot because it was difficult).


Addendum: I found out later that one mistake i made in the Cello part was adding an extra rest beat in between sections of the movement, which threw off all the downbeats that came after.  This was certainly not the only reason I played crappily, but certainly didn't help either.


So kind of a disappointing day, but I made some good progress and the quartet is starting to come to life.  


Here's an excerpt of the before (just mandocello):


And here's the after (mandocello and mandolin 2):


I'm going to practice the shit out of the "not too hard" violin part and try again next week.  Also, the mandola music reading is going faster than I thought it would so I may attempt the first movement of the Fodor Quartet on the viola as well.   I've got a three hour block this next time.





12/11/20 - 2 hours

Fodor Quartet Violin 2   50% Complete

Blog - LMP - Vengeance is Mine

December 17,  2020

This was the recording performance I was trying for last time.   I was rather irritated with myself after I laid an egg on the Fodor Quartet Minuet-Trio Mandolin 2 part at the previous session.  This time I put down a really good take on the first try.  No train wrecks this time.


I learned my lesson from last session, and this time in addition to practicing the part with the metronome, I also practiced it along with the Cello track I had done before.  In doing so I found a mistake i made in the Cello part: I put in a measure of rest in between sections of the movement, which threw me off when I didn't do that on the first try of the Violin 2 part.  This was certainly not the only reason I didn't do well last time; I played crappily overall but I didn't completely fell apart until I didn't notice the rest measure and powered through it, which made the Violin 2 and Cello out of sync with each other and created a cacophonous nightmare mess. 


There's a tricky 80's shredder sounding run in the middle of the Minuet section, but I played it pretty well; we only had to run the punch-ins a few times to get a take I really liked, rather than one I thought was just acceptable.  (I can be pretty particular when I'm recording.)   I dusted the off beat rhythms that were giving me trouble last session with no problems at all.  In my practice sessions working up to this, I made sure not to take anything for granted, no matter how easy it looked and the extra worked paid off.  We got through the section in a little over an hour.


I decided a week earlier that I might be ready to play the Mandola part to the Fodor Allegro for this session, provided I didn't stall out on the violin 2 part.  I was nervous about this; the part isn't all that hard but I don't read the alto clef very well yet, and the mandola is the instrument in this project that I have the least amount of time on.  It is only slightly larger than my mandolin, but is "thicker," for lack of a better term, and so I feel a little bit slow on it. [2]  


To my own surprise my first take of the Mandola Allegro was pretty good, and we used it as the baseline.  We listened through and punched in where needed. There were a few parts with long unbroken sixteenth notes where I lost count and twice I got tangled up in the notes, when I got confused by the alto clef.  (I'm going to try to avoid recording Treble and Alto clef pieces in the same session in the future if I can, at least for the short term.  Was a recipe for confusion).


There weren't many punch ins, but we double, triple, and quadruple checked the parts where both the mandolin and mandola were playing sixteenth notes in harmony with each other; the instruments being slightly out with each other causes "fwamming" which makes it sound muddy.   Mike and I actually found that some of the fwamming was because the mandolin was what I refer to as "up the beat's ass," or so fronted on it that it sounds a touch early compared with the other instruments.[1]   The mandola was much more consistently in the middle of the beat and more synced with the mandocello.  Mike posited that maybe because the strings are heavier and the instrument itself a little beefier that it forced me to lay back a bit, which is probably correct. 


There's some triplet runs that are tricky, but I had a lot less trouble with them than I thought I would.   Again, it took just over an hour, which I was happy with considering I barely play the instrument.  


We used the remaining time to smooth out the punch points and listen for parts where we needed to nudge the timing of some instruments.   Neither Mike nor I wanted to touch too much, after all, as much as I want it to be a good representation of the written music, I also want it to sound like a human played it, so a couple of warts are ok.   I just didn't want the parts that needed to sound locked to be muddy.   As I mentioned, we actually found that the mandolin was pretty consistently ahead of the mandola so we did a few nudges to clean it up.


All in all, I'm really happy with a session that I finally correctly estimated what I could get done.  And I played pretty well, and very nearly erased my muted embarrassment over my failed attempt on the previous recording session.   I'm going to have a little extra time to practice for the next session on account of Christmas, so I have to decide what to focus on.  I think I'm going to try to nail down the very nasty Viola Minuet-Trio movement, and the Violin 1 for the Allegro movement.  If I can pull off the latter, I'll be done with recording the Allegro and it'll be a load off my mind.

12/17/20 - 3 hours

Fodor Quartet Violin 2 Minuet-Trio   COMPLETE

Fodor Quartet Viola Allegro COMPLETE 






[1] It helps to think of the beat not as a single point in time, but as kind of a pulse with a duration.  You can be right on top of the beat, (i,e. on, but at the very front of the pulse) in the middle of the beat, or more laid back at the end of the beat.  All of these can feel "correct" for the beat, but all of the instruments playing kind of have to agree on where on the beat you are or it can sound fwammy.  

Blog - LMP - Last Thread of the Allegro

January 08,  2021

I had another off day.  Not a lot off, just a little.  Fortunately the part I was playing, the violin 1 of the Fodor Quartet first movement Allegro, really isn't all that hard.  There's one rather tricky section in the middle when the piece modulates to Eb and the violin plays double stops, but overall recording this part was more of a focus challenging rather than a technical challenge.  It may go without saying, but the main melody is incredibly important and the violin is playing it just about the entire time in this piece.


While I was recording, it felt like the last piece snapping into place.  The still empty spaces in the recording filled in and the melody thread tied the entire movement together.   


It went pretty quickly, though we did spend a decent amount of timing on the double stop section.  Tricky as it is, I comforted myself on how brutal a time I would have had on my violin; with no frets and a bow to worry about, this section would have been a nightmare.  


When we listened back to it in it's entirety, now with all the parts on it, I was kind of stunned by the implication:  Mike and I are potentially the first people who have heard this quartet in a really, really long time.




01/08/21 - 2 hours

Fodor Quartet Violin 1 Allegro   COMPLETE

Blog - LMP - Scaling an Abrupt Difficulty Spike

January 15,  2021



The second hardest section in this quartet is in the viola part of the Trio section [1].  It's only 8 measures long, but it's fast and it's a finger twister, with a couple of long stretches and some brief second position[2] switches.


We did a first pass through the part so Mike could get mic levels.  I was feeling alright today and played it serviceably.  The hard part went only ok, but I was still warming up so I didn't let it get to me.   


Our first recorded take was actually pretty good.  (I was really prepared). The first four (easier) measures of the hard part were...fine I guess?  The tangle-up part was a little bit of a mess, but I was expecting it to be.


I wanted to proceed a little differently with this session.  Usually I do a pass through the entire piece, and if the take is pretty good we listen back from the beginning and touch up parts as we go.  (The "Seek and Destroy" method as Mike calls it).  This time I wanted to go right to the hard part and do that first while I was still fresh; I wanted to tackle it while I was at the peak in both my performance capability and focus.  (Recording is tiring, as I've said before).


We spent probably twenty minutes running that part.  I re-did the third measure because I (very slightly) muted the top note when I didn't quite stretch far enough with my pinky and then had to run the tangle up section about 8 times.   Among all 8 takes I played it perfectly, but never all at the same time.  We tried to just punch in the one measure that was tangling me up at the end, but I couldn't sync up if I just started on the one measure.  I had to play in longer bursts to keep the feel and get in the groove.   We finally got it to something that I think I'm ok with.  It's not flawless and I'm kind of annoyed with myself, but I think it will do.


The rest of the movement was a breeze.  I think we only punched in like 2 things in the 5-plus minutes of the piece that were not the nasty part. 


I had banked on finishing in less than an hour and a half so we could do some level and timing adjustments on the Allegro movement.  I finished recording the mandola in 1 hour and 23 minutes, so I was on track.   The nasty part actually took a little longer than I was planning for, but as we pretty much just used my first take on all the rest we still came in right with my estimate.   


We adjusted the Allegro levels from the previous bounce where the mandocello was really loud, the mandola was almost inaudible and the orientation of the instruments in "space" [3] wasn't what I wanted.  (We had the levels set for me to record against, not for a human to listen to for enjoyment.)   We also used ProTools magic to fix a couple of measures where my timing was a little off, I was ahead of the beat, or terribly un-synched with one of the instruments.  I want it to be good, but I don't mind if it sounds like a human actually played it, though sometimes I wish the human was better at this than I am. 


On this bounce the mandola is now a little too loud, but the instruments are in the right space and it's good enough for me to practice with and hear what I might need to re-do or tweak.


It always works out that in the car ride home when I listen to the track I feel like shit about what I recorded.  I know where the punch points are, so I can hear them, and I feel like a trickster, a poser, a fraud.  I feel like I'm going to be embarrassed when anyone hears this, that their going to (correctly) react with a "what is this crap?"  I've learned to ignore it as best as I can.  I'll always hate my work a little less the next day, and have come up with a plan to fix anything that I'm not okay with.  This recording session was no different.


We'll see what tomorrow's listening brings.




01/15/21 - 2 hours

Fodor Quartet Viola Minuet-Trio COMPLETE


[1] There's a part in the first violin section of the Trio that is more difficult, with lots of fast string crossings, which are potentially the one thing that is harder to do on a mandolin than a violin.  The viola part was a bit harder to figure out because I don't read the music as well, and the mandola is a heftier, slightly larger instrument.   I feel slow on the mandola, and learning the part involved not only a lot of coordination, but also fighting the instrument a bit.


[2] First position on a mandolin / mandola would be with your finger on the second fret, with the other fingers covering the frets up to the seventh fret.  Third position is index on fifth fret, etc.  For me, odd positions are kind fo the default for violin and are MUCH easier to translate from score to finger placement than even positions. When you are first learning, you do first position and third position, where the lines on the staff are either your index and ring (first and third) fingers and spaces are your middle and pinky (second and fourth).  In the even positions, the fingering of spaces and lines switches.

Figuring out the fingering for the sixteenth note run in the Trio that shifts oh so briefly to second position and then back to first took a while.  Especially since I still read alto clef pretty poorly.


[3] By adjusting where the instruments are panned you can make them sound like they are coming from different parts of the "recording space" that you hear.   This is probably pretty intuitive, we've all likely heard panning on recordings before.   The instruments had been set with the mandolin 1 on the far left, mandolin 2 center left, mandola center right, and mandocello far right.  This is how most quartets would sit during a performance, but on the recording having the two mandolins right on top of each other meant they interfered with each other as they are in the exact frequency range as each other.   Also having most of the melodic content (the mandolins carry most of the melody in this piece) all piled up on the left made it feel a little unbalanced.   We set it to mandolin 1 far left, mandola center left, mandocello center right, and mandolin 2 far right.

Blog - LMP - Righting My Wrongs

January 22,  2021

Today I just wanted to touch up some sixteenth notes sections of the Fodor Allegro where the Violin 2 and Viola are doubling / harmonizing with each other.  When I listened to the initial recording I did after all the parts were on, I heard five sections where the two parts were still slightly out of phase (i.e. fwamming) even after the adjustments we made on 12/17.


I brought both instruments to the session because I couldn't tell whether the mandolin or mandola (or both?) were the culprits.


We zoomed in on the sections and solo'd the mandolin and then the mandola and listened with the click on.   Turns out it was the mandola was still behind the mandolin on the beat.


(It's a big "note to self" that I have to pay much more attention up front next time I track something like this.)


First we tried to see if by doing little micro adjustments to the timing in ProTools (what Mike had hear referred to as the "white boy nudge") we could correct it.  It didn't take too long before I decided to abandon ship and just re-record the mandola.


Recording long 16th note runs on mandolin style instruments can be a little challenging in the lowest register because of the doubled strings.  Your pick speed and control have to be such that you sound both strings as close to simultaneously as you can or you're going to get fwamming on just one instrument.   The lowest strings are thicker so it's easier to accidentally do this self-fwam than on the treble strings and the Fodor quartet drones are all on those strings.


I re-did the mandola, making sure to stay toward the front of the beat.  After that it snapped into place and I didn't need to do the mandolin.  There's still a couple of places that it wobbles slightly, but I'm not sure anyone who doesn't already know where they are will hear them, especially after we mix the volumes correctly.  


At least I hope not....


We spend the last bit of the session making some small timing and volume adjustments on the Minuet and Trio section to make my life easier when I go to do the violin 1 part next week.   The part is really difficult so I don't want to get distracted by any little off parts when I track it.


Fingers crossed.




01/22/21 - 2 hours

Fodor Quartet Viola Allegro touchup   COMPLETE

Fodor Quartet Violin 2 Allegro touchup Unneeded

Fodor Minuet-Trio Initial Mix COMPLETE

Blog - LMP - The Final Push

January 28,  2021

The session I had been dreading had arrived.  The Trio section of the Fodor quartet has 4 really difficult passages in it, and there are 2 more moderately tricky passages in the Minuet.  I had been drilling these 6 parts in the background since I started this project, even while I was learning the other parts.  I knew this was going to be the make or break section for whether I could pull this piece off.


I was pretty sure I was ready.


I decided to just start with the Trio section which kicks off with difficult passage #1 to make sure I was as fresh as possible.   It... actually went pretty well.  


I played through the entire Trio and then stopped and we went back to hit the hard parts.  We did the comping method similar to the Barbella Serenade; I ran the part four times and then we assembled the best combined take.  Weirdly, the difficult measure 5 I was most worried about I hit pretty much the first time.  Measure 6 was the one that I spend the most time trying to get right.


Easily the hardest measure was the descending run that doubled the skittering mandola towards the end of the Trio A section.  I don't even want to tell how long I spent running it.  The measure has a lot of pinky - ring finger alternations (easily the weakest fingers on the hand) and a string switch towards the end.  In addition to just getting all the notes, I had to make sure it was sync'd with the mandola.  I had a couple runs that were technically right on their own but didn't match the mandola.


The third nasty package, requiring a large reach, a tucked pinky and a string switch, actually went better than I anticipated.   The fourth only took two tries.


After all that I finished out the movement and then went back and did the Minuet in one take.  (Admittedly, even with the two tricky passages it's considerably easier than the Trio).   


And with that, the quartet was fully tracked.  I hope I don't find anything I need to go back and touch up, but I will if I have to.   In addition to my own personal bent towards perfectionism, I feel a certain responsibility to this music.  I want to get it as right as is in my power.   




01/28/21 - 2 hours

Fodor Quartet Violin 1 Minuet-Trio COMPLETE

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