Pop Practice

It’s not uncommon for a programmer to have their own soundtrack to listen as they thrash out code and try and keep in the zone. A friend of mine listens to metal and other ‘angry’ music but personally I tend to listen to film and game soundtracks.

Recently though, I’ve been listening to hour+ long dub step/house/electro mixes of 2013-14 songs on youtube and last night I heard a mix that started with Zedd’s Stay the Night ft. Hayley Williams. That’s a great video by the way; Hayley’s amazing voice, some contemporary dance acting, crazy cinematography. What’s not to like.

At that point I totally failed at my goal of programming my next gaming masterpiece and instead opened up Sibelius; I was going to get transcribe this song for one of my Thursday night sax students.

I’m too slow to transcribe this stuff by ear though, so I took the best route and searched for a midi file. These never get parsed by Sibelius very well so after some copy paste and heavy editing, I had an easily readable Sax solo of the melodic line of Stay the Night.

With that 40 minute distraction/mission accomplished, I went back to trying to get my game to behave itself.

Lesson time

I wasn’t just going to give this piece to my student as a sightread though because I had something more interesting planned. We were going to try and write out the beginning by hand.

My student has been studying theory so this was a good opportunity to put some of that into practise. I played the opening two bars of Stay the Night (lots of syncopation) and my student wrote down the rhythm on manuscript. It’s a bit much to ask for pitch at the same time so we left that to last.

Commendably my student got everything correct despite the challenging syncopation. What she did though, was purposely miss out the bar line.

“Okay, good, that’s correct. Now, where are you going to put that bar line?”

“Ummm…” …she puts in the bar line.

“Mmmm, so how many beats do with have in the first bar?”

“…Four and a half.”


Syncopation is good for demonstrating tied quavers across bars. What had happened is the student had written a crotchet on the last quaver of the bar instead of chopping it into two quavers, putting the barline in between, tying the quavers together then fixing the beams on the either side of the bar line. That became the next exercise.

Pitch was easy for her though. I gave the starting note (and A) and away she went. Awesome.

Playing the piece then descended into the typical impulse playing with careless mistakes but we got their in the end. Ah, the ol’ playing how you think it goes rather than what is written (and how it actually goes). Well, if the student got it correct the first time, then there wouldn’t be much need for me, would there?

I’ve been meaning to start a collection of modern pop songs to give students for ages now. It’s not that straight forward because the melodic lines of many pop songs have a lot of repeated notes and aren’t that much fun to play on a wind instrument. Stay the Night though, is a fantastic song and well worth adding to the teaching repertoire.


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