Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Minstrel Boy

Written by Thomas Moore sometime in the early 1800's, supposedly as a commemoration of the 1798 Irish rebellion against British rule.

The minstrel boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him
His father's sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp's slung behind him.

"Land of Song!" said the warrior bard
"Though all the world betrays thee.
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under.
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again
For he tore its chords asunder.

And said "No chains shall sully thee
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!"

I fired up the new sound gear and checked it out, and did my best Irish imitation. Which is not very good, because the first time I ever even *heard* this song was tonight, so you'll notice my voice searching for the right pitch in various locations (and an occasional hesitant chord change) because I simply forgot what the song sounded like, and I sound Irish only via rough approximation. However, the process did allow me to test out all my gear. Here is what I found:

The Lexicon Lambda does well with a high-output condenser mike, but lousy with a low-output condenser mike or a dynamic mike. Because it is USB bus powered, it just doesn't have the juice to hike those up. I ended up plugging a patch cord to my old mixer to get the guitar mike, the Lexicon handled the output from the mixer just fine.

Dynamics are lousy altogether because I turned the guitar input down to get rid of the hum from the mixer, then had to turn the vocals down to match. I think I'll just leave the guitar input up next time, the hum isn't audible over the sound of the guitar.

The best mike for miking my boomy acoustic guitar is still a hoary old dynamic mike like a SM58C, though maybe an open capsule condenser mike might do the trick. A closed capsule condenser mike booms like the little Boehringers that I got for cheap whoofs too bad. Not restricted to those mikes, BTW, my Oktava does the same thing.

I couldn't adjust the volume in post-processing because GarageBand won't do that beyond a certain point. GarageBand's limitations are pretty serious. So next I'll install the Cubase LE software that came with the Lexicon to see what happens. I hate the thought of spending serious money on music software given how cheap the music hardware is nowdays, I'll have to see whether Audacity runs on MacOS if Cubase LE doesn't do the job. Oh what am I saying, you know I'm going to be buying Logic Express...

Gotta go. Time to install software.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


  1. The Red bank High School chorus used to sing that back in the middle 1960's.

    Some things never change,

  2. Hello, Mr Penguin.
    Conventional wisdom holds that the SM-58 is for vocals & the SM-57 for instruments.
    I used to have an old Electro-Voice that was good for both (well, some instrument applications). I don't remember the model.

    Anyway, a technique I learned years ago when learning some Turlough Ocarolan stuff was to tune the guitar to an open G or open D, and then make the chords higher up on the neck, around the 5th to 10th frets, mixing the open strings in with the chord. This is somewhat of an approximate simulation of the harp sound for guitar. It produces a fuller, ringing tone.

    "Tears" from the 2112 album does something similar, playing an open C chord slid up to where the 3rd finger is at the 8th fret in a standard tuning. You really don't get a good idea of the technique from that though.

    Is this the same Thomas More that was beheaded?

  3. The only difference between a SM58 and a SM57 is that the SM58 has the round snozzle grill with foam in it in front of the capsule and the SM57 just has a grill there. Same capsule behind the snozzle tho. The SM57 will theoretically be very slightly brighter due to the lack of the foam, while the SM58 will theoretically give a slightly mellower sound, but frankly, for miking my guitar, I can't tell the difference. I took the snozzle (windguard) off the SM58 to turn it into a faux SM57 once, and the sound of my guitar was absolutely the same as far as my ear could tell. I don't think I used the SM58 for this one , I think this is an Audix OM-2, which is a cheap SM58 clone. I can tell the difference between the Audix and the Shure if I'm singing vocals (the Audix is slightly harsher), but it seems to do a decent job on the guitar.

    In other words, microphone selection, like computer language selection, is not subject to any hard-and-fast rules. What "common wisdom" says, and what actually sounds good when you check out various mikes with a specific set of equipment and instruments, may not match up at all.

    Regarding tunings, I wanted to test out this new gear, and I wanted to learn a new song. So I did what I usually do when I learn a new song. No, not track down sheet music, I can read sheet music (every good boy does fine/face) but find it painful to learn a new song from it if I'm playing guitar, rather, I tracked down a mp3 of someone singing the song on the Interwebs along with its lyrics and listened to it. Then I piddled with singing to the chord progressions (what you're hearing is my standard robot right hand chord picking technique which runs on autopilot while I'm concentrating on other things). I moved my capo up and down the neck to experiment with the song in other keys, then realized this worked best with an open neck and took the capo off. I listened to the song a couple more times, and tried singing and playing it through a couple of more times, piddling with my gear as I was doing this since it's new gear and I'm trying to get it all working together, poking at levels and patching things together in different ways. I think this was like the 5th time I played it through. Remember, the first time I'd even heard this song was an hour previously.

    The next thing to do when learning a new song is to keep playing a standard chord progression until the lyrics are sung correctly every time and the chord transitions are done correctly ever time. Then once that's done, then it's time to experiment with guitar techniques to get something a bit more interesting than just playing the notes of the chords in a standard sequence.

    I dunno, maybe this is helpful for the non-musicians out there in figuring out how musicians learn a new song. Except that, like with microphones, I don't think there's any hard-and-fast rules for how that happens either. For example, while I don't find sheet music particularly helpful in learning a new song, keyboardists may find it slightly more useful, especially if they're proficient at sight-reading. But my keyboard is currently upright in a corner and would be gathering dust if it didn't have a plastic bag over it to keep the dust off.

    - Badtux the Musical Penguin

  4. It always helps to use a decent preamp with whatever mic you use, but you probably knew that already.

    Also, the Studio Projects C1 mic is a cheap mic that sounds quite smooth & pro for vocals.

    All common knowledge, I guess.

    I'll try to be more helpful (or at least more original) next time.


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