Chromatic

Chromatic: (adj) a musical scale including all existing pitches

I have sung for decades.

This doesn’t mean I’m a good singer–and I’m not trying to be humble. Singing is similar to chasing a butterfly–because you may be able to
see what you want to capture, but it can quickly flit away.

Sometimes your voice is not in good shape. Humidity can affect it–and stubbornly insisting you are on pitch is the best way to be out of tune.

So one of the best exercises for singing is practicing the chromatic scales up and down. Moving your voice only a half-step teaches you precision–and exposes those occasions when you might find yourself rubbing up against the correct tone but not actually owning it.

Now, if you’ve never sung, this may not mean anything to you. If you’re a singer, some of this may not mean anything to you.

But the reason I continue to sing is because it’s a wonderfully humbling chamber for the human ego, because there are three obvious realizations:

1. You’re at the mercy of your voice

2. There is no excuse for bad tone or bad pitch

3. There is always someone who will sing better than you.

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Cello

Cello: (n) a bass instrument of the violin family, held upright on the floor between the legs of the seated player.

I wrote a screenplay called “The Drive.” I will not go into detail about the storyline because that is not the essence and purpose for this little sharing.

Yet there was a passage in this movie where I envisioned a cello solo to extend over about a four-and-a-half minute period of time.

I do not play cello.

My experience with the cello is seeing them from a distance in the orchestra, and hearing it performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

But I trudged ahead, wrote the composition, and hired a well-recommended cellist. I sent her the music, she arrived and we set out to record.

I found it difficult to hide my disappointment.

You see, I had always envisioned the cello to be this smooth-sounding, basal instrument of gentle tones. But as this professional played my passage, she was plagued with buzzes, growls and all sorts of foreign intonations.

A friend of mine who had been in orchestras for many years, explained to me that many cellos could be bowed and sound nearly smooth as silk–but if you planned on using it as a solo instrument, it often produced various noises of lamentation. She pointed out to me that on the Beatles song, “Yesterday” and the Rolling Stones, “Ruby Tuesday,” that the cello is quite prevalent, but very buzzy.

I cannot tell you that I ever got used to all the personalities of the cello. I still prefer it to sound like a warm-hearted bass-singing angel.

But when it was all said and done, the piece of music was perfect, and did exactly what it was supposed to do.

Honestly, I can’t say that about myself.

 

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Button

j-r-practix-with-border-2

Button: (n) a small disk sewn onto a garment for closure

When I was younger, I asked my wife to sew me a pair of pants.

I did so because the slacks that were able to cover my blubbery frame were ugly and made me look like I was always on my way to a construction site.

So she bought the cloth and laid out the pattern so I could have a pair of bell-bottom trousers. She was ready to put a zipper in when I stopped her.

I said, “No. I want buttons on the front.”

She gave me a little frown, but then she smiled, apparently catching a vision for my cavalier choice.

I put on the pants. They were kind of tight. But I was able to button them up and I headed off to a local coffeehouse where I planned on doing some singing.

Before I went over to the piano, I decided to perch on a stool to chat with the audience. When I did so, two of the buttons on my pants popped off with such ferocity that they flew into the audience, striking a couple of unsuspecting maidens, causing them to shriek.

I’ve always been proud of the fact that I possess a good comeback for almost every situation.

But on this occasion, I did not know what to communicate about my flying buttons.

 

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Bass

Bass: (n) a voice, instrument, or sound of the lowest rangeDictionary B

Tom was my friend.

I think that’s why we hated each other so much.

There are people we meet that we were never meant to be linked with, but because of projects, proximity and maybe even personality, we get slammed together with them in an uncomfortable relationship of tension. Unwilling to call them adversaries, we resort to the generic term, “friend.”

Tom and I sang together in a quartet. It was a group of our own making, and considering the fact that we were just teenagers, we did a good job of holding it together and doing more than practicing–on occasion actually performing in front of living people.

Tom wanted to be in charge of the group, but unfortunately, I already held that position–with accompanying diadem. So there was always friction about every decision and every musical composition we selected to mutilate in our inimitable style.

When Tom joined the group, I sang bass. There were many reasons for this.

First of all, I was the only one who could sing a Bb below middle C, which is mandatory for those with testosterone tones.

I also thought the girls really dug guys who sang low, feeling confident they were masculine simply by hearing them warm up on scales.

Tom didn’t think I was a good bass singer. He was always trying to undermine my efforts.

One day, he brought in a record to introduce us to a song that had a very low bass note, which was showcased in the middle of the tune as a solo without accompaniment. He coyly asked me if I could hit the note, and being young of years and mostly insane, I insisted it was within my range.

It wasn’t.

Honestly, it wasn’t within anybody’s range unless they were in a recording studio with the help of knobs and buttons.

So the first time we sang the song in public, Tom waited for that part to come along, where I was supposed to growl something in the basement of human vocals, and when the music stopped and it came my turn to lay in the part–well, let us say that I didn’t even come close.

Tom was ecstatic.

No one could really say that I missed the note, since I was not even able to frog out anything near its pond.

Tom later convinced the other members of the group that I was not a bass singer, and shortly thereafter, I left.

It was only a few weeks later that Tom and the boys returned to me, asking me to sing again–since I was the only one who knew how to read music, play piano and arrange vocals.

They now wanted me to sing lead instead of bass, and we launched the group again.

A few days passed of peace and tranquility.

And then Tom decided I couldn’t sing lead …

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Atrophy

Atrophy: (v) gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.dictionary with letter A

He requested to sing a song.

It was a tune he once intoned as a younger man when he was healthier and well-voiced. I was sitting at the piano and he eased his way to my side and asked me to play the selection for him.

I paused. In that short span of reflection, I was thinking about how embarrassed my friend would be when he realized that all the talents of his youth had taken a southerly route and atrophied.

It is a cruel reality: that which we ignore or fail to use simply decays and disappears without giving us notice.

Fearing that my friend, who was ailing and aging, would make a fool of himself, I tried to change the subject by playing a different song and moving things along. He became insistent, nearly incensed.

  • He wanted to sing the song.
  • He wanted to prove that he “still had the chops.”
  • He wanted everybody in the room to know that he was virile and alive.

There are three things that are immutably true. They are clichés, so people often either ridicule them or ignore them.

  1. If you don’t use it you lose it.
  2. The victory goes to the perseverant.
  3. If you want to get to Carnegie Hall–practice.

They seem almost silly by themselves, but when applied together, you realize that the most important thing in life is to never stop until you’re dead.

Atrophy will set in.

I stalled, but eventually everyone insisted I play the song so that my friend could perform.

As he began, his voice cracked, forewarning of disaster, and when he went up for the high note, there was a horrible squawk.

He felt foolish–it ruined his day.

Even though people told him it wasn’t that bad, and insisted he was brave for trying, I made note:

Don’t do anything in public that you aren’t able to perform in private.

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Atonal

Atonal: (adj) music not written in any key or mode.dictionary with letter A

His name was Jim.

He was a huge lug of a man–more or less a teddy bear stuffed in a human skeleton, sporting incomplete sideburns.

He wanted to sing. Jim had never sung before.

There were two reasons for that. Growing up as a rough and tumble boy, he felt it was “sissy” to sing, but secondly, he could not carry a tune.

I was young, optimistic and also thought it would be great to make a few dollars giving singing lessons to Jim, with the aspiration that by his sister’s wedding, he would be able to share a song at the reception.

I thought it would be no big deal. I believed that anybody could eventually follow a melody if they just concentrated hard enough on the structure.

Jim was atonal.

Jim understood that there were tones, but his voice was either in rebellion to them or had prematurely gone deaf.

So I worked with him for at least two months, and even though I greatly enjoyed the influx of cash to soothe my weary budget, I eventually had to sit down with him and explain that even though God gives gifts sometimes, that we must be the ones to mature these offerings, to make them acceptable.

When I shared this he looked at me blankly. So realizing that I was not making my point very well, I bluntly spurted out, “Jim, you just can’t sing.”

He was curious if I meant that this was a temporary problem which could be alleviated through further practice. It was time to use even more candor.

“Jim, you will never sing. As a matter of fact, it’s God’s will that you stop trying.”

For a moment his feelings were bruised, but then he started to giggle.

After the giggling subsided, he looked at me with his eyebrows furrowed, and challenged, “Does this mean I get my money back?”

 

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Ante

dictionary with letter A

Ante: A stake of value or money placed by players in a poker or similar game prior to the beginning of the game.

I do believe it is one of the three things that everybody contends they do pretty well. At least they would not allow you to speak disparagingly of their effort.

The first one of these is love-making.

If you were to believe the populace as a whole, every one of us is a great lover. Obviously this is impossible, but I’ve even counseled people who have committed adultery, who were sorry for the action, but also wanted to make it clear that they “blew the mind of their lover.”

I think the second one of these self-concluded abilities is singing.

Even though you run across people who admit they can’t sing, if you listen to them warble and then laugh, insisting they were correct in their assessment, some offense will ensue. Yes, most people think they are “shower” recording artists.

The third one may surprise you. I believe it’s poker.

Nothing will get you more ridicule than admitting that you don’t totally understand the game of poker or that you might find yourself clumsy while participating. For after all, that usually is the persona of a card shark.

So when I am invited to join a poker game, I have to immediately run to the Internet and catch up on the rules, especially when it comes to the realm of “ante” and betting. Honestly, sitting here writing this essay, I don’t exactly remember how the process of placing money into the pot really works.

I know some of you will write to me to explain it in vivid detail, and I appreciate your knowledge on the subject, but it will not prevent me from being tense when the cards are dealt in my direction.

Somehow or another, I can’t figure out how you can make money at poker when you can be “called” at any time. How does the betting continue, enabling you, if you have a good hand, to procure more money if everyone else has folded?

It baffles me.

And I, for one, have found myself in situations where I pretend to know things that I don’t, only to be exposed later as both a fool and a charlatan.

So in a sense, I am going to “ante up” this morning by admitting my lack of comprehension of poker.

Yes, and I feel so candid that I will include singing and love-making, too.

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