Celtic Puns

Celtic music is a rich landscape, full of Hills and Vallelys. Here’s a selection of puns to date. (I’ve kept it brief, lest you think I’m making a mountain out of a Noel Hill.)

BAND NAMES

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Tradivarious

ALBUM TITLES

A Reel Piece of Work

A Sound Skin

Affairs Of The Harp

All You Need is Láimh

At My Grandfather’s Knee and Other Such Joints

Back To The (Seventeen) Eighties

Between the Jigs and the Reels

Changing Time

Drumshanbows

Green Grass, Blue Grass

Heirs & Graces

In Am Trátha (Well–Timed)

Louth Mouths From Drogheda

Morning Rory (Michael McGoldrick’s son Rory was born when the popular Oasis album was released)

Pleckin’ About

Pluckin’ Mad

Reed Only

The Great Danes

Timing is Everything

Trí Tones

Triple Harp Bypass

Wind & Reeds

Wonderwaltz

TUNES

Heir Conditioning Anne-Marie O’Farrell composed this tune while pregnant)

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Hibernian Rhapsody

How the West Was Won

Welcome to the Hotel Connemara

Speedy and Seasonal: 2nd Edition

After a year of experimenting with locally-grown vegetables, I’ve expanded my collection and slightly altered the format.

This time, I calculated every possible combination of vegetables grown monthly in Galway, Ireland.

I paired 2 vegetables with potato and a selection of protein sources available in Galway – plant-based, egg, cheese and fish.

I calculated how much of each protein source, combined with potato, would be needed to provide 20g of protein (the optimal amount for muscle protein synthesis[1].)

I then indexed all the combinations per month, and in order of popularity (as roughly indicated by Google search results).

I also listed them in alphabetical order (for that day when you sleep in, arrive late to the market and all that’s left is Jerusalem artichoke and swede. This way you don’t need to think about how much protein and potato you need for your basic dietary requirements – just look it up!)

So now, with 181 different vegetable combinations, here’s “Speedy and Seasonal”… take 2! Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh tairbhe as seo!

Úna

[1] https://www.precisionnutrition.com/protein-limit

Just how accurate is ‘in tune’?

Short answer: within 5.9 Hz of your target frequency.

The long answer, though, is a little more involved…

According to Jake Mandell, at 500 Hz, a normal person can reliably differentiate two tones 6 Hz apart. For harpists, this little tidbit of information is potentially revolutionary. It means that …

if I tune my harp string incorrectly by 5.9 Hz, or less, the average person won’t be hear that it’s out of tune. 

This may sound unimportant, but…  

I spend around 13 hours a year tuning my harp!

It takes me 3 minutes, around 250 times a year. If I can shorten my time by one minute every time I tune my harp, and still achieve a sound acceptable to most humans, I’ll save 4 hours of my life every year… and I’d gladly watch a few films rather than tune my harp, thank you very much!! 🙂

Quick caveat: 500 Hz is around the B natural above middle C. Does the normal person’s sensitivity to pitch change according to the register of the two tones; e.g. if we pluck 2 of the high strings on the harp, or 2 the lowest strings? Probably. Also, perhaps a normal person’s sensitivity to pitch changes according to whether two notes are sounded simultaneously OR one after the other. I’ve emailed an expert asking these questions and am currently waiting on their answer. But while I’m waiting, for a fun experiment, let’s presume that the average person’s differentiation of two tones is >6Hz at all registers of the harp, and for tones plucked simultaneously and consecutively. So…

For the average person to hear something as ‘in tune’ we have to make sure that the interval between 2 imprecisely-tuned strings is less than 6 Hz. 

That’s easy, right? I’ll just tune each string within 5.9 Hz of its correct pitch! Bingo!

But … we hear strings in relation to one another. If one string is 5.9 Hz sharp, and the next string played is 5.9 Hz flat, the interval between both pitches will be bigger than normal by 11.8 Hz, and therefore the average listener will hear the interval as ‘wrong’.

So my second idea is: let’s make sure that each string is tuned to within 2.95 Hz of its intended correct pitch. Now, if one string is 2.95 Hz sharp, and the one played after it is 2.95 Hz flat, the difference will be 5.9 Hz, which is less than 6 Hz, and therefore (in theory!) our listener will think it sounds beautiful, even though in theory it’s out of tune!!!

Next step: the unit of measurement we’ve been using so far is “Hertz”. However, the majority of harp tuners use a unit of measurement called ‘cents’. So we have to translate the 2.95 Hz into cents. 

I did this in an Excel file, which I include below; the column marked ‘2.95 Hz in cents’ is the hypothetical margin of error for a harpist so that they sound in tune… even when, precisely speaking, they’re not!! I’m a bit sceptical, myself… according to these calculations, the lowest C on my harp can be 77 cents out of tune and the average human won’t notice. I have more faith in humanity – I think they’ll notice the harp sounds a bit dodgy. Help me out here…  try tuning your harp with my crazy experiment and tell me how it goes!

Note: Hertz are logarithmic (they multiply from one tone to the next), cents are linear. So the margin of error for each string is different. 

LEVER HARP 8VENote2.95 Hz in cents
LEVER HARP 8VE 5C 276
LEVER HARP 8VE 5C # 2 /D b 272
LEVER HARP 8VE 5D 268
LEVER HARP 8VE 5D # 2 /E b 264
LEVER HARP 8VE 5E 260
LEVER HARP 8VE 4F 257
LEVER HARP 8VE 4F # 2 /G b 254
LEVER HARP 8VE 4G 251
LEVER HARP 8VE 4G # 2 /A b 248
LEVER HARP 8VE 4A 245
LEVER HARP 8VE 4A # 2 /B b 243
LEVER HARP 8VE 4B 240
LEVER HARP 8VE 4C 338
LEVER HARP 8VE 4C # 3 /D b 336
LEVER HARP 8VE 4D 334
LEVER HARP 8VE 4D # 3 /E b 332
LEVER HARP 8VE 4E 330
LEVER HARP 8VE 3F 328
LEVER HARP 8VE 3F # 3 /G b 327
LEVER HARP 8VE 3G 325
LEVER HARP 8VE 3G # 3 /A b 324
LEVER HARP 8VE 3A 323
LEVER HARP 8VE 3A # 3 /B b 321
LEVER HARP 8VE 3B 320
middle CC 419
LEVER HARP 8VE 3C # 4 /D b 418
LEVER HARP 8VE 3D 417
LEVER HARP 8VE 3D # 4 /E b 416
LEVER HARP 8VE 3E 415
LEVER HARP 8VE 2F 414
LEVER HARP 8VE 2F # 4 /G b 413
LEVER HARP 8VE 2G 413
LEVER HARP 8VE 2G # 4 /A b 412
LEVER HARP 8VE 2A 411
LEVER HARP 8VE 2A # 4 /B b 411
LEVER HARP 8VE 2B 410
LEVER HARP 8VE 2C 59
LEVER HARP 8VE 2C # 5 /D b 59
LEVER HARP 8VE 2D 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 2D # 5 /E b 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 2E 58
LEVER HARP 8VE 1F 57
LEVER HARP 8VE 1F # 5 /G b 57
LEVER HARP 8VE 1G 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1G # 5 /A b 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1A 56
LEVER HARP 8VE 1A # 5 /B b 55
LEVER HARP 8VE 1B 55
LEVER HARP 8VE 1C 65
LEVER HARP 8VE 1C # 6 /D b 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1D 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1D # 6 /E b 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 1E 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 0F 64
LEVER HARP 8VE 0F # 6 /G b 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0G 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0G # 6 /A b 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0A 63
LEVER HARP 8VE 0A # 6 /B b 62

How To Find An Amazing (Arts) Accountant

A few years ago, I went to my accountant with a costing question. He took a 5-second glance at my carefully-prepared folder of data, and utterly ignored my question. I was grumbling about this to a harp student’s parent, when she said ‘Well, I used to be an accountant … how about I take a look?’ She took away my file, pored over it, spotted a serious mistake he’d overlooked, and got me a refund of over €700. My take-away? It’s vital to 

find an accountant who really cares about you.

In my experience, the self-employed artist is a financial paradox: they have to submit accounts, but there’s generally very little in them. ! All a typical self-employed artist really needs from an accountant is…

  • one initial meeting with explanation of business models, record-keeping, allowable expenses, preparing accounts
  • initial registration with ROS and a demo of how to file a tax return
  • answering a question via email once or twice a year.

So how does one find the perfect arts accountant? Well, in theory your accountant will have knowledge in, and experience of, the arts. However, in my experience, this is only secondary to them caring deeply about your welfare. The lady who helped me with my accounts question was a stay-at-home parent who used to do budgeting for a fuel company. She didn’t have a clue about artists’ exemption, and wasn’t au fait with lodging personal tax returns. However, she is a really lovely person, plus hyper-brainy. So with a couple of phonecalls to Revenue, a bit of Googling, lots of tea, and a bit of craic, we figured it out together.

If you’re both on the same page, you can figure out the finer points of an artist’s tax return with a few calls and the ability to read.

It’s also really important to be clear on an accountant’s fees, and what’s included in their service. In my experience, there’s a massive disparity in accountancy fees. From what I can see,

some accountants are like handbags. Their price is based on prestige, rather than the actual product.

For example, the exact same accountancy service – auditing – can cost €800 or €2000, based on the status of the firm. Filing a tax return can cost €240 or €0, depending on the accountant. This makes it even more important to research your accountancy options!

So if I could go back in time and get an accountant for the first time, I would… 

  1. Ask MULTIPLE, seniorself-employed people in my artform to recommend an accountant
  2. Interview multiple accountants, doing my best to evaluate who has integrity, getting information on how they structure and charge for their services, and asking about their experience working with artists. 

So if you’re at that stage, you may appreciate these brainstorming questions … 

  1. Is there any senior self-employed artists in your artform you have a good relationship with, whom you could ask for recommendations?
  2. Is there any self-employed artists outside your artform you could ask for recommendations? E.g. do you know any playwrights, authors, poets, composers, classical musicians, pop musicians, trad musicians, rock musicians, visual artists, sculptors, actors, directors, or theatre technicians you could contact? 
  3. Do you know any self-employed people, whose opinion you respect, who could recommend someone?
  4. Best of all… do you know of anyone in your artform who double-jobs as an accountant? E.g. a theatre maker who did accountancy in college, an uilleann piper who’s an accountancy teacher?

I would ring up 3 people from that list and ask for their recommendations. (If I couldn’t think of any self-employed referees, I would simply Google ‘accountant arts <my local area>’).

I would ring up my shortlist of recommended (or Googled) accountants, and informally interview them on the phone / during a free initial consultation. 

I would then choose an accountant based on these factors, in this order …

  • their integrity – this is crucial.
  • how much of a good communicator they are – if you don’t understand what’s going on with your money, you are dangerously vulnerable. It is vital that they communicate clearly and promptly about your finances.
  • their availability – it’s no use having a genius accountant if you’re not a priority for them. 
  • their location – I like to meet my accountant in person for an initial consultation, and thereafter once every year / two years. 
  • their cost – all other things being equal…
  • how much I like them – bring on the craic!
  • their experience in the arts – this is a cherry on the comptrolling cake! 

So that’s my two bitcoins. I hope you learn from my experience, and that these ideas help you find a brilliant book-keeper!!

Intentional Dialogue

Lately, a good friend sent me a link to a video on ‘Intentional Dialogue’, a relationship tool invented by Harville Hendrix. I found it really helpful for changing an argument into a constructive conversation.

For me, the best approach was to watch the video. Here’s a brief summary:

  • The person who wants the dialogue is the ‘sender’, the other is the ‘receiver’.
  • The sender asks for an intentional dialogue. The receiver agrees to do intentional dialogue within the next 24 hours. (pro tip: ensure neither of you are hungry or tired before beginning the intentional dialogue.)
  • Sender says ‘When … , I feel ….’
  • Receiver says ‘What I’m hearing you say is . . . ‘ and repeats the sender’s words back to them
  • Receiver asks ‘Did I get it?’
  • Receiver asks ‘Is there more?’
  • When the sender has finished speaking, the receiver puts themselves in their shoes, and empathises. ‘I can imagine that when …. ‘

There are full instructions here: https://www.relationshipjourney.com/dialoguetipsdawn-print.html

I suspect that if we all listened more deeply, our relationships, plus our music, would improve! Here’s to more listening in our world.

xxÚ

Eating Seasonally in Ireland

Broccoli tomato

Eating local is key for lessening carbon footprint and opimtising scrumptiousness. But for meal-planning, that requires knowing what comes out of the earth, when! Cáit Curran, an organic and biodynamic farmer in Co. Galway kindly took the time to list all the veggies that come into season simultaneously for me. Here’s the low-down and dirty on the, well, low-down and dirty! 🙂

JANUARY: beetroot, cabbage – winter, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, mixed leaves, parsnips, potatoes, sprouts, swedes

FEBRUARY: beetroot, cabbage – winter, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, mixed leaves, parsnips, potatoes, sprouts, swedes

MARCH: beetroot, broccoli – sprouting, cabbage – winter, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnips, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, swedes

APRIL: asparagus, broccoli – sprouting, cabbage – winter, kale, leeks, lettuce, mixed leaves, potatoes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach

MAY: asparagus, broccoli – sprouting, cabbage – spring, carrots, lettuce, mixed leaves, rhubarb, scallions, spinach

JUNE: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage – spring, carrots, cauliflower, courgette , cucumber, garlic, lettuce, mixed leaves, peas, potatoes – early, scallions, spinach

JULY: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, courgette, cucumber, garlic, lettuce, mixed leaves, peas, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomato

AUGUST: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, lettuce, mixed leaves, peas, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomato

SEPTEMBER: beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnip, peas, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, sweetcorn, tomato

OCTOBER: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, kale, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnip, pepper, potato, scallions, spinach, swede, tomato

NOVEMBER: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, lettuce, mixed leaves, parsnip, potato, scallions, spinach, sprouts, swede

DECEMBER: beetroot, cabbage, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, lettuce, mixed leaves, parnsip, potato, scallions, spinach, sprouts, swede

My next step is going to be some recipes incorporating seasonally-available yumminess … watch this space!

xxÚ

Decision-making: advice from a priest, a Google exec, and Tony Robbins

One thing I really struggle with is making decisions. For years I’ve read books and articles, listened to podcasts, and asked wise people (including a karate black belt and a priest) for advice on how to make good decisions. Lately I decided (! 🙂 ) to synthesize all the pertinent ideas I’ve found into one system.

1. Avoid and minimise

Decision-making is what shapes our lives, but it also takes time and energy. So how about conserving your decision-making mojo for the big ones? Be like Barack Obama, who only wears 2 colours of suit, and if you can avoid a decision, do.

2. Limit the time allowed

Well, if I’m trying to decide whether to do an hour-long gig, it’s totally ridiculous to spend more than an hour on this decision-making process. I could have done the gig while deliberating.! I agree wholeheartedly with former Google exec, David Girouard: WHEN a decision is made is much more important than WHAT decision is made. So before making a decision, I ask myself…

  • How much time is this decision worth? I agree with David Girouard’s advice: “There are decisions that deserve days of debate and analysis, but the vast majority aren’t worth more than 10 minutes.” And a decision should definitely take less time than the duration of the longest outcome, e.g. in the above case, less than one hour.
  • I also ask myself: what’s the deadline?

3. Make minor decisions in 1 minute or less…

If I have to make a minor decision quickly, I use my friend Father Ciarán’s trick: I imagine myself vividly doing option (a), then option (b), and simply choose what feels best.

4. Make major decisions using OOC/EMR

If it’s a complex decision I use Tony Robbins’ OOC/EMR system, which I find supremely helpful. Here’s an article on Tony’s site where it’s outlined: https://www.tonyrobbins.com/ask-tony/making-tough-decisions/ My summarised, slightly amended version follows…

Step 1: GET A PEN AND PAPER.

You’re going to write out all your workings on good ‘ole-fashioned paper. As Tony cleverly observes, if you try to keep it all in your head you’ll just end up looping over the same facts and conclusions. Boy do I identify with that…

Step 2: DESIRED OUTCOME?

Write your desired outcome on top of the page. If there’s a few, write them all down.

Step 3: WHY?

Write the reason(s) you want this / these outcomes. Tony Robbins says knowing the ‘why’ means you’re more likely to execute the ultimate decision. I agree, but I also find knowing the ‘why’ is a good reality check to see if this outcome is really what you want. E.g. Desired outcome: do a triathlon. Why? because I want to improve my swimming. Mental review: well, Úna, you could just go to swimming lessons… or do the swimming section of a triathlon relay team… or … you get the idea. It’s a great tool for clarifying what you really want out of the situation. Once you’ve confirmed your desired outcome is what you really want, and you know why, it’s time to brainstorm your…

Step 4: OPTIONS

Write out each potential course of action for achieving your desired outcome, no matter how nutty.

Step 5: CONSEQUENCES

Write out the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option.

Step 6: EVALUATE

Evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option. I answer the following questions for each pro and con:

Will this fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (y/n)

How likely is it to fulfil my desired outcome(s)? (0-10)

What’s the probability this will occur? (0-100%)

What’s the emotional consequence of this option?

When evaluating I may need a bit more information; if possible, a real-life sample is invaluable. E.g. when deciding ‘When doing artistic research on chords, should I also make a harp tutorial on the nice chords I discover?’ I played around with one chord (5 seconds), and then made a mock tutorial of that process with my phone (37 seconds). Knowing the difference in the duration of the tasks, and my focus while doing the tasks, was invaluable in helping me make the best decision.

Step 7: MITIGATE

Review the ‘cons’ and brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate them. E.g. I was asked to do a last-minute gig when my harp was at the harp-maker’s being restrung. I would be performing on a loaned harp, so it wouldn’t be my usual performance standard, and I was worried an influential guest would form a low opinion of my playing. I rang the event organiser to check if The BigWig would be present, and … was told they wouldn’t be there. Con eliminated! Did the gig to the delight of all concerned!

Step 8: RESOLVE

This, for me, is one of the great gifts of the OOC/EMR. In the words of Tony: “This is your best option – and because you’ve looked at so many other possibilities, you know that to be true. Resolve that, no matter what happens, this option will give you a win.” So the final step is to decide, and then to be confident in your decision. Then, of course, you EXECUTE. He makes the great point that it’s better to make a decision, and subsequently change approach if necessary, than to remain in ‘paralysis by analysis’.

…. So that’s it!! I have finally decided upon The Úna-Guide to Decision-Making! 🙂 Below is a chart I designed to help myself out the next time I use OOC/EMR. Click here to download and use, and I hope it brings you as much clarity and motivation as it did me. Go n-éirí leat with your decision-making, and may your decisions bring growth, and joy!!

Úna

Lost your keys?!

Let’s set the scene: one of my fave songs starts in F# minor, flirts with F# mixolydian, and then starts the chorus firmly in F# dorian. I’m currently sifting through 16 songs like this to figure out which to put on the album, plus experimenting with harp accompaniment. My head is MELTED! Fortunately a few years back I made this quick-reference table for a workshop on trad accompaniment. I hope to goodness I get this done ASAP, and here’s hoping the table might help you too some day!

ÚNA’S TABLE OF TONAL CENTRES

 MAJORMIXOLYDIANDORIANMINOR
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭, F♭C flat majorG flat mixD flat dorianA flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭,C♭G flat majorD flat mixA flat dorianE flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭D flat majorA flat mixE flat dorianB flat minor
B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭ A flat majorE flat mixB flat dorianF minor
B♭, E♭, A♭E flat majorB flat mixF dorianC minor
B♭, E♭B flat majorF mixC dorianG minor
BF majorC mixG dorianD minor
NO # OR C majorG mixD dorianA minor
F# G majorD mixA dorianE minor
F# C# D majorA mixE dorianB minor
F# C# G# A majorE mixB dorianF# minor
F# C# G# D#E majorB mixF# dorianC# minor
F# C# G# D# A# B majorF# mixC# dorianG# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E#F# majorC# mixG# dorianD# minor
F# C# G# D# A# E# B#C# majorG# mixD# dorianA# minor

Ferry or Flight?

Great news – just got asked to play Teesside Irish Festival. Wahoo!! Can’t wait, and thank you, Teesside Irish Society, for the invitation!! So now I ask my perennial life question … how on earth will I get there with the harp?

I find flying with the harp slightly stressful – how much of an overweight fee will they charge me this time? (It seems to depend on the person on the desk, rather than the airline.) Will my beloved instrument arrive at the other end?! (Not always!) So I like to minimise air travel if I can. Whereas with other areas of the world, the key question is ‘Which flight is cheapest?!’, when I’m going to the UK or France, there’s a little-known option… SailRail. Ferry companies Irish Ferries and StenaLine have really good ‘foot passenger’ deals which include the railfare from the port to your ultimate destination.

I’ve always wondered about the exact figures of SailRail versus flight, and because I don’t want to clean my house, it suddenly became very urgent that I research this question!! 🙂 So this is the summary:

 SailRailFlight
Duration14 hours, 24 min8 hours, 23 min
C02 emissions25.7kg   55.9kg
Price€96 (Price of buying food in transit on long journey is a potential added cost.)€113.50 using bus for transfer; €208.50 with rental car; €90.50 if host can pick me up
HarpNo extra feeSome airlines charge extra fees at check-in
RelaxingI find trains and ferries very relaxing…. yum, seasaltFor me, planes are not as relaxing as trains and ferries
Last-minute bookingFare is consistently €97, even if travelling at short noticeFares increase dramatically if travelling at short notice

My first thought? The difference in the carbon footprint of SailRail versus flying is significant, but not as big as I thought it would be. It’s 30.2kg – same as driving an average car for a little over an hour. Conclusion: ideally I’ll choose SailRail, but if I can’t due to schedule considerations, I’ll offset the carbon on www.atmostfair.de (massive thanks to Méadhbh O’Leary Fitzpatrick for this idea!) – and/or try to cut a car journey from my week.

Image from http://www.yousustain.com/footprint/howmuchco2?co2=30.2+kg

Thought 2: Surprisingly, when I factor in all costs, the price of a flight is more or less the same as SailRail. However, this is only if I book in advance. If I buy the self-same flight with only 2 days’ notice, the fare increases by €87. So my conclusion is: if I have to go to the UK at short notice, SailRail is worth a look; but otherwise price is not a factor in ‘the fearsome fight of ferry versus flight’. (There’s a song in there somewhere.!)

Thought 3 – timing? Well, taking a flight reduces the journey from Galway to Middlesbrough by 6 hours. That’s either a massive or irrelevant difference, depending on the individual. Personally, I find travelling by train and ferry a lovely way to spend a day with someone, and a great way to relax or do admin. However, if I need to be practicing, or some Galwegians need attention, I can’t afford that day of travel. So the decision of SailRail vs flying will depend on my professional schedule and personal life at the time of the trip.

So after all my research, my surprising conclusion is that planes aren’t as bad as I thought for C02 emissions – but in the process, I found out that cars are relatively terrible. Oh dear. Watch this space for the next research question: what’s better for the environment – driving a ’99 Toyota Corolla into the ground or buying a new car??! But in the meantime… bring on the Teesside Irish festival!!

How to survive a harmonic analysis assignment – if you’re not a classical musician

I’m from a traditional music background. For my undergraduate music degree it was required that I do a western art music analysis course – PANIC!!! These are a few things that helped me hack that skill-set, and pass!

  • Go to all the lectures. You’re starting on the back foot, so you can’t afford to miss any.
  • Read the assignment very carefully. Ask the lecturer for a sample answer if they don’t give one.
  • You’ll probably be asked to analyse a piece from the canon of western art music, e.g. a string quartet by Shostakovich, or a Bach chorale. If your lecturer hasn’t recommended a particular recording, go to Youtube / Spotify / the library and find a recording from an authoritative source, that you enjoy listening to. Listen to the presribed music on repeat in the background.
  • Read all of the assigned readings / literature available on the assigned work. (Make note of the title, author and publisher of everything you’ve read for your bibliography.) Highlight any text that seems relevant to your assignment, and keep it all in one Word doc. You can refer to this later if you need to write a commentary / essay.
… If the notes on your score are tiny and low-contrast, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief by creating your own score in Finale / Sibelius.
  • If you struggle with sight-reading, you may find it helpful to create your own score. But don’t worry – I don’t propose that you transcribe every individual note into your computer! A lot of the canon of western art music is public domain, and has already been transcribed by enthusiasts. So…
  1. Go to www.musescore.com , and search for your assigned work (If you don’t find the piece on www.musescore.com , search the internet at large for <title of your piece> and <.xml> or <.mxl> )
  2. When you find a version, spot-check a few chords in the new version against the original score, to ensure it’s accurate (I haven’t come across an inaccurate transcription yet)
  3. On MuseScore, click ‘Download’, select ‘MusicXML’, download the .xml file
  4. Open your music notation software, and import the MusicXML file (In Finale: go to File menu, click ‘Import’, click ‘MusicXML…’, select the relevant file in your downloads folder, click ‘open’)

… and ta-DA … you should now have your own score in front of you, which you can edit to help you learn!

  • You’ll need to look up bars, and then reference bars, as quickly and clearly as possible. I suggest that before you start your assignment, you put a measure number on every single bar. If you’re old-skool then handwrite it on your printed score. If you’re a techie, use your music notation software to add it (In Finale 25, click to ‘Measure’, select all, click on ‘Measure’ menu, then click ‘Show Measure Numbers’.)
  • If you’re analysing a piece with viola clef and reading this slows you down… how about using tech to change the viola staff to the bass clef? (In Finale 25, select the ‘Clef’ tool, double-click bar 1 of the viola staff, the ‘change clef’ window will pop up, select bass clef, then click ‘OK’)
  • More than likely, the learning objective of your assignment is the skill of chord diagnosis, and the concepts of harmonic analysis. Because I wasn’t a fast sight-reader during my undergrad, diagnosing each chord was painfully slow, and I had less time to work on understanding broader harmonic concepts. So I encourage students to work at their music literacy, but seperately to their analysis assignments. How about putting your piece into AlphaNotes font, which has the letter name of the note in its notehead? (In Finale, select all, then click on the Plugins menu, select ‘Note, Beam and Rest Editing’ and select ‘AlphaNotes’). Your chord diagnosis will now be exponentially faster.
Úna’s sneaky hacks: notes in AlphaNotes font, and viola staff in bass clef
(sssh, don’t tell anyone 🙂 )
  • There are loads of different schools of musical analysis; Schenkerian, etc. . However, they nearly all require analysing chords, cadences and tonality.
  • If you’re diagnosing a chord, but are uncertain about your results, try checking your diagnosis against the free online tool, the Chord Identifier. Input up to 6 notes, and this amazing gadget gives you a list of what chords these notes could comprise. In my experience the Chord Identifier gives many results, but is not exhaustive; I use it as a brainstorming tool, rather than an ultimate authority.
Chord Identifier inputting system
  • If you’re diagnosing a chord, and are unsure what it is, then I say – totally ignore the notes. Get the recording, close your eyes and LISTEN. At the relevant point, ask yourself… what note is most prominent? What feels like ‘doh’? Does it sound major / minor / diminished / augmented? Where does it want to go? These questions may bring you some clarity.
  • This is a decent index of various cadences, with audio examples. Again, if uncertain about the nature of a cadence, you could close your eyes while listening and asking yourself a few questions: How does it feel? What feels like home? Where does the melody want to go?
  • Is the melody modulating or not? Answer: if a melody has a chromatic note, THEN a cadence (even an unfinished cadence!), the melody has modulated. But … if a melody has a chromatic note, and no cadence following, it’s an inflection.

Agus sin é!! I hope these tips save you some grief, and help you actually enjoy the beautiful music of Bach / Shostakovich / Beethoven!

Úna