New Guitar Orchestra Commission

New live video of a CWGO composition.  A guitar orchestra of all ages and abilities, meeting together for one rehearsal and then performing…

This is a Music Education Hub initiative produced by SoundStorm, supported using funds from Arts Council England.

Teaching Music History – Without the Lies

Every year I teach the history of music at a school in the UK. It’s a subject that comes with some serious responsibility.

Students are now more ‘global’ than ever and us musicians and music educators who grew up in a far less global land, are providing information and ideas that may shape the views of these truly international citizens. So, we best bloody get it right…

In this blog, I’m going to share my thoughts and experiences on this quite frankly serious subject, they’ve evolved over some time to get here…

I will let you know why I think the bias towards western classical music, in teaching the history of music, is basically a massive porkie pie and needs to go. How our obsession with that familiar western classical historical timeline is actually just silly – and how now is the time to move on and get it ruddy right. If, of course, you haven’t already.

I’m gonna show you my approach and offer some tools for you to use, if you like it of course – you might hate it, you might love it – who knows, you might want to offer me your tools, I’d be happy to consider adding it in. At the very least I hope it starts a debate between us. This is an opinion piece and Im open to changing it.

What’s wrong with how things are?

Lets lay the cards on the table…

Music history is not a linear development. It is a multifaceted and global collection of individual and unique puzzles. (woh there!)

Some schools Ive had the pleasure of working with are developing and adjusting to this idea in a big way, offering an enriched mix, working with hubs and more to bring an inspiring curriculum and context alongside those ‘wig wearing, rather good at music, dead chaps from Europe’. They, against the odds, are vibrant and provide music with context in their day to day running.

However…

Sadly some are not so lucky, many schools still suffer from a stale music department, devoid of vision, and still offers music history completely at odds with the global and abstract reality (blimey that’s a bit heavy! Sorry).

Often completely biased to ‘western classical’ and presenting this in a linear timeline, whilst occasionally referencing a token Paul McCartney…

You know…like ‘today’s lesson is the history of music’ followed by ‘Renaissance (1400–1600)’ then boom ‘Mozart blah blah’…oh and ‘here’s the Beatles’.

Ultimately the end result of offering a western classical timeline without global, or indeed wider context, teaches children an understanding of musical culture and heritage that is in principal not truthful, and one that is unintentionally contributing to negative attitudes towards culture, class and even race. So, this stuff is important!

Of course, teaching about western classical is fantastic and crucial, and please don’t mistake this as an attack on the music or teaching about it. If you teach the western classical musical era’s, I think its’ wonderful (how could you not!?), but my question would be, have you provided context? If not, why should it be aired more than something else? Context in history, is everything.

I’m currently of the belief that music history in schools when biased towards western classical, holding it in higher regard or prioritising it, is wrong and contributes to building a world view that is unintentionally imperialistic and can help prop up misguided and racist viewpoints, and we haven’t even begun to talk about gender… Are you angry yet?…

Sorry, before anyone gets too excited, I did say unintentionally. I don’t believe any are doing this intentionally, as I’ll mention later, us music educators are products of our own education. But its time to step back and to break the mould.

If you leave school only learning about western classical music for your historical knowledge, would you unintentionally hold a belief that western classical music is of higher value than another type of music?… What about Asian musicians or African musicians?… did they get music from the europeans?…weird how those country folk in europe didn’t ever do any music too? did Africans need to be brutally dragged to the US to create the blues? Is a kora a type of fruit?

I know these are extremes, and please if you are a teacher who currently delivers ‘that’ timeline without a global context insight, please be assured I’m not accusing you of ‘racism’, or indeed ‘being’ anything. But I think its an amazing time to change approach, now is an opportunity to provide a truly global approach to music history, for your truly global students.

Our social media accounts, our newspapers, our TV, quite frankly all media is throwing biased information at our busy brains, and the arts are a last bastion of truth.

We live in a world of mis-information, educators lay the foundations, on which future information will sit. I think it is important they are ones of global context and not ones of unintentional bias – they can be fertile ground for some pretty nasty outlooks. In other words, we have a grave responsibility now more than ever.

The music curriculum in the UK is actually helpfully vague, so to purely blame the curriculum here would be silly, even though in GCSE’S for example the bias is still hugely obvious. This is often a cultural choice amongst us educators, again sometimes by accident. Many of us, in fact, anyone who went to school, were most likely brought up on a staple diet of ‘Renaissance to Romantic’ an obsession with ‘ the composers’ and western classical music, so its logical that it would still be endemic in schools as we are now the teachers.

But why is it a problem? Surely Beethoven trumps Bob Dylan? Or the Romantic Era trumps Flamenco? (does anyone use the term ‘trumps’ anymore?… has Donald ruined it?)

I imagine everyone’s answers to be different. But really any comparison is, well, pointless. What’s important is why we learn about these musicians in the first place. In fact why we feel it’s important to teach students about music history at all.

Most agree its undoubtedly good for children of all ages to learn about the history of music; to be introduced to new sounds, to have an understanding of music from around the world and how it developed, how it symbiotically developed alongside cultural, technological and personal developments.

But WHY!!!??? well music history has a wider benefit for all of us. For me the aim in teaching it is to help make sense of the world, to nurture an enquiring and empathetic mind, and to help present old ideas to new minds in the hope they might reach new conclusions.

So, I think I can safely summarise and say…

The purpose of learning the history of music is to understand the world we live in.’

The ‘world we live in’, is a crucial statement. Not Western Europe, or the United Kingdom. ‘The world’.

So when we learn about ‘the world’ its probably safe to suggest we might need to explore beyond the walls of the EU. Actually, ladies and gentlemen, there is a whole world of culturally rich musical heritages which have enriched our own personal musical lives far more directly than Handel or Bach, and its a teachers responsibility to ensure that is explained.

So to sign things off before I get stuck into in my humble offerings of approaches. I want to say this…

Of course Western Classical Music is relevant. Its a fantastically crucial piece of the puzzle. In a puzzle the pieces come in different shapes and sizes. They are interlocking, they are a part of a whole.

In music education giving children one piece of the puzzle, without demonstrating equal value to the other pieces, or in fact informing them there are other pieces out there, is a massive failure to culture and children.

We can not present every part and piece, nor should we, but we can offer a variety of pieces, show them how they fit together and encourage enquiry to find more.

If we do this we help students to continue a life long approach to enquiry, we show them that culture is intertwined and not hierarchical. We crucially have the opportunity to show them they too are a piece of a puzzle.

How do we fix it?

Here’s several key points I think are really helpful in explaining musical history to all ages, some are completely original some have been inspired by many of the amazing teachers I have had the pleasure of working with. You can obviously use your initiative on whats suitable for what age, but the principals will remain the same. At the very least it might be good brain food.

‘Smash the linear timeline into a chaotic and abstract explosion.’

yup, even for the little ones. Because music didn’t develop in a straight line, anything other than that is a lie. Of course when looking at one specific culture you will find a relatively linear development. But when we present musical history its likely in a school you will have to do so i a short timeframe, you’ll want to give an overview and make it simple… the danger is in your attempt to simplify it, you will completely miscommunicate the idea of how music developed.

Instead focus on small elements within music. And of course offer specific timelines within that. For example a lesson on a specific instrument. Looking at the guitar for example, we can see it develop in various different countries simultaneously and at different times. Or in fact looking at one genre of music, or one specific technology that developed music.

‘Look at four points of investigation and explore musical history.’

The Person
The Society
The Technology
The Art

These four points or aspects of study are fantastic lines of enquiry to offer to older students, or in fact use to underpin or choose the area you are teaching for all ages. These four categories are the most obvious umbrella terms of development in musical history. For example you could look at the personal/emotional life of a specific musician. The affects of recording technology on folk music. The scales in Hungarian folk.

‘Examine your own musical history.’

Its a tried and tested technique of history teachers. History is all around us. It makes us what we are today. My first lesson is to examine our own personal musical histories. Getting students to speak to parents, grandparents, examine their own musical experiences, if technology, politics, personal circumstances and feelings etc played a roll in who they are today, musically.

‘Understand that your musical knowledge is limited’

I can’t say for sure, but it’s very very likely that like me and everyone I have ever met, you are purely a product of your limited experience. You have your own musical history which informs what you believe should be taught as ‘important’. Don’t listen to yourself. Try to offer inspiration to enquire for the older children and inspiration to experience for the younger, rather than facts which you think are key.

So that’s all from me. It’s just ideas. Offerings. But whatever you’re opinion, the responsibility of teaching a cultural history is real and I hope somehow this blog at least made you question how you teach it as an educator or indeed how you respond to it as a student.

Thanks for listening.

C

Capo Evolution – Part 2

We invited guitarists from all over the world to join our online guitar orchestra… this is what happened.

Capo Evolution’ is a piece I composed, commissioned by the G7th, The Capo Company, for an infinite number of guitars. All styles and abilities of guitarist were welcome; players were invited to learn one of four parts, film it on a smartphone and upload the video to be a part of our online guitar orchestra.

It’s been an amazing process, with players joining from across the world. Thank you to everyone who took part, thought about taking part, and supported in a way they could and of course thank you to G7th for their vision and support.

In this blog, I want to talk about WHY. Why I believe getting together to make music, regardless of ability or background is so important, and why the results are often so stunning?

If you’re not familiar with some of my other more community-minded orchestral projects, have a cheeky look here to see.  https://chriswoodsgroove.co.uk/guitarrevolution/

UNIVERSAL SUPERPOWERS and UNICORNS

Music is an exclusive thing. I know it’s not what you expected to read at the start of this blog, but it’s something I have observed. Music in so many parts of the western world exists as something excruciatingly exclusive. And no, I’m not talking about the class system, the one percent or free musical education in schools…

Fame and success is a divisive thing that dominates music, people’s perceptions of something being good or bad, measured by success, usually alongside fame or Ferraris.

This measurement of music continues in the supposedly more ‘serious’ realms too, away from Facebook Likes and fast cars. Schooling, grades, your musical ‘pedigree’, ‘are you classically trained?’, ‘Oh did you go to the royal college?’… etc.

Then we even have the very simple perception of music as an innate thing; perfect pitch, the ability to be a ‘singer’ or ‘not a singer’, the ‘I’m tone-deaf’ crowd.

Of course, it is all utter, tripe, poppycock, hogwash and baloney (hopefully some slang for everyone there).

These divisions, this exclusivity, exists because it makes us musicians feel better about ourselves and makes the non-musicians feel better about not being musicians. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement that helps everyone to make sense of music. Because music is…. magic, and sometimes it’s hard to understand or articulate.

This is where I appreciate I might lose you as a reader. Sorry, but yup I said ‘music is magic’, and I’m very serious. I think music is a thing that connects people on a level that we can NOT explain or in fact measure. I know that will wind up some of the sofa physicists, but hey, its fun to ruffle some feathers…

(I’m not a total nutter, I understand sound is measured in a million different ways, as indeed are brain patterns in reaction to it. But, the process of musical communication (i.e. playing together) or even the way we individuals react to listening is something of a mystery – seriously, it is.)

So., as far as I’m concerned, if it’s a mystery, it is, therefore, magic…. along with Santa Claus, unicorns, Brexit and money trees.

More than just magic, it appears to be a UNIVERSAL SUPERPOWER. Because unlike Santa Claus, unicorns or Brexit, or growing a tree that excretes money, it’s something we can all actually do; a supernatural power and not just an illusion… we can all ‘do a music’, you just might not like it.

Even Katy Price ‘did a music’ once.

So… now we have established that, let’s look at why I like to do these projects involving any old dick and harry joining in…

ROOM TO FOCUS

Hopefully, you took my suggestion that music is a universal superpower fairly seriously. I’m sure there is a way to word it slightly less sensationally, but where’s the fun in that! This ‘fact’ is the sole reason I love to work with music that is accessible to all players.

I totally accept musicians operate on different ability levels of course, particularly in the realm of accuracy. But if for a moment you think about music as a magical, amazing thing, which is about emotion, humanity and not precision…

(which it is, isn’t it?)

… you can then understand that if a piece of music is built with some reasonably simple physical limitations (by which I mean using ‘minimalist ideas’), all musicians are on an even footing. The pros and the erm… not so pros. The music becomes an exercise in the ability to ‘focus’ and to really ‘get into it’… also called ‘flow’ if you fancy some further reading – Instead of an exercise in, well, exercise.

“Capo Evolution” was another project based on this principle. Using relatively simplistic parts, it gave room for players to express themselves without having to sit in a state of panic about what comes next. The result is, I think, something that sounds great musically and offers something extra; the sound of people coming together to play music without ego or exclusivity… and that, ladies and gentlemen, is real magic.

Happy Christmas x

Chris

Capo Evolution – Part 1

Capo Evolution…

Some background…

I had been toying with the idea of writing a piece of music for a guitar orchestra for ages, but it wasn’t until Steve Harvey (then editor of Acoustic Magazine) called me up that I thought I would ever do it.

Steve got in touch while I was doing a clinic tour in Switzerland for Martin Guitars. The timing was incredible; I’d just had a week of performing concerts almost exclusively for guitarists. Every time I do a clinic concert, (and in Switzerland that’s usually to between 50 and 100 guitarists) I have the distinct feeling that the audience would be far more comfortable with a guitar in their hands. Bloody guitarists. 😉

With that in mind, that very week I had started composing a piece of music for many guitarists, I just needed the ideal opportunity to air it and, ermmm, finish it!! It just so happened that Steve also got in touch that very week with an offer for the Groove Orchestra to perform at The Olympia for the London Acoustic Show… the perfect opportunity.

The rest is history… many of you know the story from there. If you don’t click here… I then went on to extend the idea into “Orchestral Evolution” in 2018 – 2019 and then here we are today with ‘Capo Evolution’ working alongside G7th.

So… what do I want to share with you about this project?

Well.. composing a piece of music that is to be recorded through a phone has its challenges. On top of that, composing with the capo in the spotlight is difficult, and the community element of just getting people to do it! Here are some experiences I’ve gained from taking on these challenges that you might be interested in reading. At the point of writing this, you can still join us… click here to do that.

Bringing people together…and that whole apathy thing

If you followed my blogs on Guitar Revolution back in 2017-18, you would know that this kind of community-minded project flits from being inspirationally well-received to, well, being received with utter apathy.

I explained in blogs at the time of getting that project together, I would feel pretty down about the brick walls I would be hitting, the apathy, the ‘nearly take parts’. That in itself was a huge learning curve, which led me to a conclusion. A conclusion that helped immensely this time around and I’d love to pass on…

My conclusion on this stuff, one which I’ve taken my time over, is that people… like me… have lots of sh** going on. It’s obvious, but you’ll find most conversations after gigs with low attendance are not so empathetic, and I’ll be there agreeing too. The reality is that, actually, people are busy, happy, sad, tired, doing exciting things, doing pointless things, amazing things, terrible things, battling things, fighting things, loving things. So, when someone breaks out of that to get involved in something I’ve created, I’ve come to learn to be insanely grateful and hugely understanding when they don’t… although the reality is underneath I’m battling with the ‘oh you’re just staying in to watch Netflix’ kind of vibe, I do believe that even getting 20mins of one persons’ time is a real privilege.

This project has been easier; fewer brick walls and as for apathy, well, I guess by making it online it’s been more accessible. After all… it’s easier on many levels. But, there are still countless people who have ‘nearly’ done it. I can genuinely say this time around, I understand that. If you’ve taken part in any Guitar Revolution projects previous or indeed this one, I am genuinely overwhelmed by gratitude for you taking the time and effort to do this. If you ‘nearly did’ or ’never intended to’ because ‘you didn’t have the time’ or etc. I understand, I really do – thank you for even thinking about it. Thank you!

In a world of Facebook Likes and YouTube views and cats playing the piano, we often tend to place too much value high quantities and miss the detail, the human connection.

This gratitude has led to really being able to see how amazing doing this online has been… it’s a community music composition without boundaries. The below video is a pairing that Simon at G7th did to show hows parts 1 and 2 sound together… it includes Glenn Roth from the US and Tanaus Luis from Spain. That’s just one pairing that shows two players from geographically disparate spaces coming together, there are plenty more which you will see and hear about on release… but you have to admit, the idea of these two guitarists appearing together is really quite beautiful?

Composing for a Mobile Phone…

There’s lots of conversation around mixing for the modern mobile or laptop speakers, but for a good reason, there is very little around composing for a piece of music that is to be recorded through a mobile phone.

For me to make this project viable, it has been a huge driving force…. being able to film your part on a mobile phone is integral to the success of the project. It’s also potentially a weakness since mobile phone mics are, well, not a studio-quality mic… and they also tend to add bucket loads of compression. Hmmm….. tough call!

So, my process of composition was to focus on ‘peaks’ and ‘troughs’. To play to the compression, and account for lack of detail. So, essentially creating something very percussive, but with the scope to be as melodic as I like.

I tested and tested and tested on my own mobile and finally found a riff, (part 1) which really played to the strengths of the humble mobile mic – and I then began building around it with the same principals in place. When the clips started to come in, even the most melodic parts were cutting through nicely!

Composing for Capo…

This has been fantastic. When I compose for more than one guitar a huge focus it to create a part which can be as simple as possible. Because, humans have limits… and if the parts is simpler the player however good has a chance of playing it with more expression, better tonal quality, better, well… better. I’d be excited to hear someone disagree, but its certainly what Ive found. So with the capo in hand I have the opportunity to keep things even simpler. I can have parts that span the guitar neck giving huge tonal variation but keep things simple which in my mind makes things… better!

watch Daniel Burne play all four parts to see what I mean…

give it a go.

hope you enjoyed reading my ramblings… I’m always keen to hear from anyone with all thoughts, feelings or ramblings.

cheers
C

Buxton fringe Festival Award Winner

The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra solo show won best instrumentalist at this years Buxton fringe Festival. The solo show will be continuing on tour throughout 2019 and into 2020. 

New Album Available Now

The debut ‘The Chris Woods Groove Orchestra’ album is now available to download and stream as well as for CD pre-order. Click the relevant word, to link up.
Spotify – Itunes  – Amazon – Physical CD

‘In Pareidolia’ Part 1 – Album art and what it’s about

In this short blog, Im going to explain a little about the album ahead of its release, give you a look at the artwork and an insight into the tracks…

This album, I guess like most albums, has been a long time coming. Over the past few years I’ve been playing, and I mean that in the most fun sense, with sound.I have been exploring the guitar in every way possible like always, and matching it with some unexpected instruments too.

The guitar has always been the focal point of course… and this album ‘In Pareidolia’ is not an exception. Each track has been an exploration of the guitar in a different way. Whilst you’ll hear a substantial helping of drums and double bass… the majority of what makes up this body of work is the humble guitar.

Sometimes twenty of them, sometimes an electric one, sometimes a really expensive one, sometimes a broken one from a charity shop…

On my journey of the past few years of sonic experimentation I have found myself in a world of tones, textures, shapes and edges… not a world of notes and numbers. Its not always a nice place, its sometimes uncomfortable, unnerving, its always emotional. Importantly the sounds and songs Ive been creating have not sat into a simple or explainable context. Whilst there is a story attached to many, the experience is abstract, personal to the listener. This is what I wanted to portray in an album; an impressive exploration of colour, tone, texture and emotion….but also something that each listener can find something new in – something that is a personal perspective for you.

It’s not fully released just yet but will be in a matter of days….

to hear about it first, join the mailing list…

Scroll down further to view the artwork, track listings and more…


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ARTWORK:

Carrying on with the theme of things being about an original experience, from YOUR perspective, I wanted to try my hand at creating original artwork for each CD… crazy I know. In reality I will be releasing about 10 to 20 hand made CD’s. Whilst the main image below will be for the main CD.

I’ll get more stuck into how this is done later, but for now… here’s a couple of the images that came out and will be appearing on the digital release.

TRACK LISTINGS:

1: Rhythm Museum. (MUSIC FOR GUITAR ORCHESTRA)
Those of you who have caught a recent show would have heard this one. Its a piece for a guitar orchestra, with treated guitars (aka paper between the strings). The concept is a rhythmic and cultural museum coming to life at night.

2:Mirror and Wish. (MUSIC FOR ELECTRIC GUITAR AND DRUM KIT)
This blends a classical guitar technique with some seriously odd, yet subtle, electric sounds, strange time signatures and drumming from my friend Matt Pittori. The idea was to create something orchestral sounding with just the two instruments.

3: The Hunted (MUSIC FOR GUITAR ORCHESTRA)
Mainly nylon strung guitar here… but a mix of steel strung too. In my head this track built up out of images of some intensely edgy nature. Who knows what you’ll see…maybe puppies and chocolate.

4:Banneret (For Mum) (MUSIC FOR GUITAR AND DOUBLE BASS)
No prizes for what this one is about. I wrote it originaly for solo guitar and then begun to develop a double bass part later. It is is of course written for my mum. Its emotive and strong. Bass frequency friend Ben Taylor on Double bass on the recording.

5:Ukulele Septet (MUSIC FOR 7 UKULELES AND DRUM KIT)
I had been toying with a riff on the Uke for a while, and after jamming it out with drummer hero Matt Pittori it became a bit of an obsession. It’s supposed to be an explosion of energy, just like the Uke itself. When we recorded the drums I kept describing the drum part to Matt as a frustrated out burst….

6:Saol (MUSIC FOR GUITAR AND DOUBLE BASS)
This has been gigged for a year or two. Originaly as a solo guitar piece. Its about as traditional as the album gets. Ultimately a jazz guitar piece that represents the ups and downs of day to day life. Ben on bass again.

7:Hold For Now (MUSIC FOR GUITAR ORCHESTRA AND DRUM KIT)
A guitar orchestra with a drop C is always a good idea 🙂 and theres a splashing of slide guitar here. The drums courtesy of Matt are as lazy as we could make them. Its a break from time, one of those starring out the window moments.

8: Some Idle Tuesday (MUSIC FOR GUITAR ORCHESTRA AND DRUM KIT)
The title is taken from the Baz Lurman song Sunscreen….
‘Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing
Bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that
Never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday’

Its fine advice. And I sadly found it to be true… one tuesday, around 4 pm.

9: In Conversation (MUSIC FOR GUITAR ORCHESTRA)
If you’ve been to my recent one man show you would have experienced this track. Its a conversation between two people. Sat indoors on a rainy day. Two guitars take on the conversation and the guitar orchestra emulates the surroundings and reacts dynamically to the conversation.

9:OPTIC (MUSIC FOR GUITAR, DOUBLE BASS, DRUM KIT and TONGUE DRUM)
This piece is the first time on the album I have bought in something other than guitars, drum kit or double bass. We have the subtle skills of David Youngs on tongue drum. The piece has no intentions whatsoever… its just a look at sound, a look at life. The triplets at the end of the piece nearly killed me.

Chris Woods Groove Orchestra – Solo tour dates

A host of new dates including a workshop weekend are now announced, tickets on sale now. Buy them here.

London Guitar Night Re-opening 9th September

The London Guitar Night; curated and hosted by Chris Woods has found a new home at Woodberry Wetlands, a stunning nature reserve managed by The London Wildlife Trust. The event is strictly advanced ticket only, from here