Welcome To The Creative Act

A pro-musician making sense of the creative process within the context of his life experience.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Importance Of Practice

Something I've noticed on Native Flute discussion boards is how little the discipline of diligent practice is mentioned. When I used to frequent music stores as a youth, I would hear guitarists playing sections of their favorite songs but never actually playing a whole song. One day, a guy came in and proceeded to play Hendrix's 'Little Wing' on an acoustic guitar. I was amazed! Even though the shop had a number of guys in it, I found myself to be the only one who talked with him. During our conversation, he revealed to me that he knew lots of songs and that the only way to learn them is to PRACTICE them diligently and intelligently. He said that most players know bits and pieces of songs and tend to practice those parts but they never go all the way and learn the whole song because they hit a brick wall whenever a difficult part or technique is required. They take the lazy way. He also gave me credit for talking with him because his experience was that most 'music store players' were intimidated by his chops and would never talk to him!

I took to heart what this player told me and it has informed my study all these years. Now I will tell you something I told a flute player in my friend's music store here in Santa Fe last year. The player was talking about all the great flutes by famous makers that he had collected. I asked him to play me a song. He said he didn't know any songs but he would improv for me. I listened and when he was done I asked him to play another improv for me. He looked at me kind of funny but proceeded to do another improv. Low and behold, it shortly turned into the prior improv! I told him that I just wanted to be helpful but I wanted to know if he knew what had just happened. He admitted that his improvs tended to favor one another but he figured that was the nature of the NAF because of the limitations of the pentatonic scale of a five hole flute. I proceeded to show him some things that would be possible with his improv by applying technique and what song ideas could present themselves with some thoughtful practice. He wrote me a couple of months ago and told me that our visit inspired him and that his flute had turned into a butterfly when it used to be a caterpillar!

I mention this because I have met dozens of flute players over the years who were treating their flute like a caterpillar when there was a butterfly waiting to get out. These instruments do not play themselves. Like any other fine instrument, they require diligent, intelligent practice to allow their true nature to be manifested. Of course, if a person is just playing for their own kicks, they are free to do whatever they want. However, if the person is seeking to elevate the art form, diligent practice is the ONLY way!

Flute Dynamics

My observation is that many flute players do not pay adequate attention to the concept of 'Dynamics'. The definition of Dynamics as applied to music is the variation in force or intensity in sound production. Effective Dynamics allows a flute song to display an added dimension that emotionally moves the listener. I hear a lot of flute music on the web that would be much better received if only the player displayed some dynamism. Dynamics allows tension to be built and resolved which calls for an emotional response from the listener. It's more than just playing loud and then soft. It's about knowing the song's emotional requirements. It's about knowing the story that the song wants to tell. This is why actual song making is important. If a player intimately knows the song, the song's dynamic requirements will eventually become apparent.

Variation in force or intensity is brought about by effective use of the diaphragm, the muscle that controls breathing. Pushing air from the diaphragm is basically the flute's volume control. Of course, it's more than than just pushing air. Dynamism is also realized by effective use of vibrato. Many flute players offer one force with no vibrato which leaves the listener bored as a result. This one dimensional approach does not help in elevating the art form as a bored listener will not seek out more flute music. A simple, effective way to achieve smooth vibrato is to practice breathing into the flute while making a 'hohohohoho' or 'hahahahaha' sound from the diaphragm. Practice until the process is smooth and not forced. It takes practice...there is no other way around it!

Here is a link to my Flute Forum Music Player that I hope will illustrate the effective use of Dynamics. (http://www.fluteportal.com/music/246) The song I am referring to is called 'The Hole In The Sky'. Listeners of this song often remark that they appreciate hearing the flute played with this kind of emotionalism and intensity. It actually helps them spark their imagination. That's what we, as flute players, should be doing. We should be sparking people's imaginations. Are you doing it?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Story of 'Where The Water Cuts Through'

'Where The Water Cuts Through' is one of my all time favorite songs. It is named after the Pueblo of San Ildefonso where my Patrilineal line is from. Po-woh-ge-oweenge is the Tewa name of the village which means 'Where The Water Cuts Through'. This is because the Rio Grande cuts through the Pueblo lands so the name is very descriptive and beautiful.

In this song, the guitar represents the water cutting through the Pueblo. The flute represents two birds calling to one another. These birds further represent the two peoples that make up the Pueblo. These birds symbolize the Winter People and the Summer People who constitute the Pueblo. Eventually the two birds, the two people, are united in spirit and purpose through the course of the song.

Although it took a while to refine and rehearse it, this song came to me in the course of one afternoon. The guitar part came first. I was hoping to capture the spirit of the river, the water, cutting it's way through the Pueblo. This is why harp like chordal structures are evident in the composition which I believe mimic the action of the water. It also serves as a foundation for the flute to find its place.

The flute part came next and was actually the easiest part. I was seeking to mimic the sounds of two different birds calling to one another. I was really trying to capture the essence of both Peoples. After a few frustrating attempts, I just let the flute do its work naturally in trying to find its place in the guitar arrangement. At that point, a melody broke free that actually left me a little shaken with its beauty and simplicity.

This concert performance was held in front of over 200 people. I prepared this concert program very carefully so that I had great confidence in my technique which resulted in nerves not being an issue. The song just played itself which allowed me to inject the necessary emotional treatment. Diligent practice cannot be overstated when playing this kind of song! I used an AKG C419 wind instrument microphone through a Fender PassPort 250 PA. At that time, I was using a Sony MZ-1 MiniDisc player/recorder for my backing guitar performance tracks. For effects processing, I used a Boss RV-3 pedal for Delay/Reverb. The 5 hole flute is made by my friend, Larry Spieler, and is in the key of A. It's one of my favorite flutes and is clear and bright and has lots of volume so it doesn't get lost in the guitar mix. It's made of Grenadillo which is a very hard wood and is responsible for the flute's brilliance. Most of my guitar/flute duets are in the key of Am or Em which lie really well on the fretboard.

Guitar/Flute duets are very effective because the instruments complement one another very well. The rapid decay of the plucked notes on the guitar against the long, sustained notes of the flute seems to have a very pleasing effect on the ear. The challenge is in letting the flute find its place in the arrangement. My experience has shown me that forcing the issue results in frustration. Letting the flute fly like a bird is what its all about with this kind of song!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ronald Roybal Facebook Profile

Ronald Roybal

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Because of time and energy constraints, I have indefinitely suspended adding more blog entries to 'The Creative Act'. I invite you to friend me at my Facebook profile where I continue to post videos, notes, photos and more. In the meanwhile, please feel free to browse through my past blog entries. I hope to see you on Facebook!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Demo Xaviere budget Guitar through Gibson tube amp Boss Ds1

I've been setting up and playing my new toy all afternoon. It's a semi-hollowbody Xaviere XV600 that is shaped like a Fender Telecaster. It has two P90 pickups and it sings! It's a low budget guitar that only cost me $213 with shipping directly from the dealer, Guitarfetish.com. My guitar is the same color as the one in the video and is turquoise blue. I'm amazed at how cool and well put together this guitar is for the price. I've been enjoying it because the semi-hollowbody gives it a different character from other electric guitars that I own. It's a fine addition to my cheap guitar collection!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Documentary About Fender

Here's a pretty cool documentary about Fender guitars. It's part of Fender's rollout of the New American Standard series. Guitarists talking about their guitars...I like that!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fender Factory Tour on Guitar Universe

Take a tour of the Fender Guitar factory and see how a Stratocaster is made. I love my Fender Deluxe Players Stratocaster with Super Fat Super Strat pickups. I also own a Telecaster with P90 pickups. They're my favorite electric guitars!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Four Sacred Mountains (R. Carlos Nakai - Song For The Morning Star)

The Navajo people believe that the Creator placed them on land between four sacred mountains: Blanca Peak in Colorado, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and Hesperus Peak in Colorado. Here's a beautiful video of the four sacred mountains accompanied by R. Carlos Nakai.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless - Pretty Polly

This amazing song is done the way the Oldtimers did it. I love this music for its feeling and its ability to tell a great story. Pretty Polly by Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless is a jewel!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ten Bears

Words of Life and Words of Death are spoken during this exchange between Commanche leader Ten Bears and the outlaw Josey Wales. A lesson in straight talk between people.