Posted tagged ‘music theory’

Stanley Hammer Singer Part Two

January 31, 2009

        Since I came up with the Stanley Hammer vocal harmony method in Moose Dooley’s garage, I have expanded the concept to other venues.  For example, when we were in the studio, I fixated on a set of blinds that covered a window on the far side of the room.  I picked out several of the dividers as reference points and cut my baritone part by the intervals between the blinds. 

        Whenever we play a show I will focus on something in the distance, such as a set of bleachers, and concentrate on predetermined focal points to find my pitch.  I guess it is an obsessive doctor way of doing things, but it works, though I am no great singer by any stretch.

        However, as I mentioned in my last post, the method can have its pitfalls, and it did let me down once.  One time we played the Galax Old Time Fiddler’s Convention competition.  It was the year after we cut our record, so we were on top of our game.  After the first round, the rumor mill was we were in the top five.  The buzz around the campsites was that Neuse River might just win the thing.

        We picked a gospel number for our second selection.  It was Doyle Lawson’s ‘Sea of Life.’  If you have ever been to the Galax Fiddler’s convention you know there is big concrete grandstand where folks sit and watch the bands on the stage.  It was an excellent set up for the Stanley Hammer method.  All I had to do was focus on the steps.  In particular a handrail that divided the concrete stairway was perfect, and I set my notes all up and down the handrail.

        All that went fine until the second chorus.  Moose looked over and knew I was in a panic.  He leaned away from his mic.  “What’s wrong, Doc?”

      “Look at row twelve.  That’s my Stanley Hammer note.  Those kids have gotta move.”  Moose looked up in the stands.  Two kids had been walking holding hands and stopped at at my B natural note, leaned on the rail right at the spot that served as my focal point, and began to make out.

        “Oh, no.  Man, I can’t find my note.  Dang it kids, move for heaven’s sake.”

        Well, they didn’t take their clothes off or anything, but it still was a distraction.  Sure enough I was flat on my opening note when we came back in.  We finished 12th.

        I was dejected, but Moose was philosophical.  “Don’t worry Doc.  We weren’t gonna give up our days jobs.  It’s just a thing.”

        Of course Moose was right.  I’m still a Doc, and I got over the loss pretty quick.  I don’t know what happened to those two teenagers.  They wrecked my gig, but I forgave ’em, and hope they lived happily ever after.  It was the only time the Stanley Hammer method has failed me, so it still has a good track record.

Dr. B


Stanley Hammer Harmony

January 28, 2009

       I am doctor.  I am not a singer.  However, a doctor can be trained to be a reasonable part singer.  There are many different methods.  I chose the Stanley Hammer method.

        I can already hear you.  “What in the world is the Stanley Hammer harmony method, Doc?”  

        This is a free blog.  I don’t have a patent on my theory for voice training, and you are most free to use it.  But I hope if you learn to sing by this method you will let folks know how you came about it, ’cause I might have invented it.

        Several years back I went to a bluegrass seminar.  It was in Roanoke, Virgina, and put on by an outfit called Accutab.  They are in the music instruction business and specialize in bluegrass.  It was a fine session.  My wife studied bass under Marshall Wilborn, and I split my time between mandolin and harmony vocal workshops.

        My vocal instructor was  guy named Don Rigsby, who is not only a fine touring musician, but teaches traditional music classes at Morehead State University.  Believe me, the opportunity to sing harmony with Don Rigsby in front of a small group of musicians is a bit intimidating, but a wonderful learning experience.

        Mr. Rigsby thought my work was good overall, but he is a pro, and there was plenty I could learn from him.  My singing was, as you have heard before, good for a Doctor.  (As in “Good, Doc, but don’t give up your day job.”)

       On one chorus I held a line he approved of without change.  “Doc, he said, “I especially liked it when you hit the seventh on the word ‘home.’  Nice touch.”

        “Thanks.  That was my Stanley hammer note.”


        “My Stanley hammer note.  We practice in Moose Dooley’s garage, and there is a Stanley hammer on the pegboard.  When I sing, I fixate on that hammer and think of the pitch I want.  In fact, I go up and down the tools on the pegboard to hit all six notes in my range.  Moose is very meticulous and always hangs his tools in the same spot without fail, so I was able to train my voice to match the pitch by visualization of the position of each tool on the pegboard.  The vertical space in between the tools represents the intervals between the notes.”

        He was quiet for a moment.  “Doc, he finally said.  “I’ve been around this business a long time.  I got admit that is first time I have heard of that method.  I’m gonna have to think on that one.   But if it works I can’t argue with it.”

        I figure it is a bit akin to Roy Huskey’s thought process.  He thought of different notes in term of colors.  ‘That was a blue note, or a green one,” he’d say.  If you are just starting out, I’d recommend Roy’s method over mine; he was a far better musician that me.  But if you can’t get it by that method, and especially if are are one of these obsessive compulsive types such as a doctor or an accountant, you might give the old Stanley hammer voice trainer method a whirl.   If does have a few pitfalls which I will explain in my next post, but you still might want to try it out.

        If you do, and it works for you, the next time you run into Mr. Rigsby tell him you love his his singing, and it sounds like he has studied the Stanley hammer method.  I am certain he will not know what to say.

        On by the way, Marfar’s birthday is this week.  Like Jack Benny, she is perpetually 39, but unlike Mr. Benny is still as cute as a teenager.  (Don’t worry Mr. Benny, you were the best comedian ever.)  Y’all wish her the best.

Dr. B

The Ultimate Music Fake-out Mandolin Method

November 23, 2008

        O.K. here it is in one easy lesson.  How to play the mandolin and fake out the world.  I know- I’m an expert!

        Now before we go any further, this will not work for doctoring.  In fact, if your doctor gestalts his way around his right brain like this to prescribe your medical treatment, RUN!

        First of all, as we have discussed, don’t forget the mandolin is tuned in fifths.  Do not confuse this with corn liquor quantities, and whatever you do don’t partake of Galax strawberries.  (That is another lesson- they are soaked in moonshine)  Smell ’em if you aren’t sure – it’ll remind you of lighter fluid.  Don’t go to a doctor who’d eat them by the way.

        Now that you know the thing is tuned in 5ths, you have it made.  Unlike how that ‘B’ string on a guitar runs me crazy, the whole dang mandolin fretboard has geometric symmetry.  (It don’t change)  So, once you learn a chord all you gotta do is move it up two frets and lo and behold you are in a brand new key- ex. ‘G’ to ‘A’.)  It is so easy Bill Monroe made it against mandolin law to use a capo.)

        So find a “G” chord, then if you can count from one to seven you got it, at least if remember the phrase one major, two minor, three minor, four major, five major, six minor (relative minor- important there) and 7 is a diminished deal us bluegrassers don’t use much except for guys like Mike Marshall, and probably that Thile guy too.

        The modes are another lesson.  My daughter knows all of ’em , but here’s how to get by.  Think Ionian (ie start on the 1st note of the scale) for most of your western music like bluegrass and fiddle tunes, and the 5th note, or mixolydian, for your darker songs.  Tim Stafford of Blue Highway says most bluegrass bands have at least one murder tune per set to get all that traveling out of their system.  Use you mix mode there, and use a lot of Monroe down strokes.  Shawn Lane does the style very well- musta come from hanging out with Stafford.  Alan Bibey is great on those too.

        And if you get lost just learn to use the Penatonic scales (Five notes, not five sides as in Pentagon for heaven’s sake) and hang out with David Grisman or the Grateful Dead crowd, too.  Gris is an all time expert on the method and will point you in the right direction. 

         If your goal is for a bunch of women to chase you play those big rock n roll Barred Power chords.  They work best if you let out your mandolin strap a few notches so the thing hangs around your knees- a bluegrass Mick Jagger like Sam Bush comes to mind- he rocks.

        Only problem is that doesn’t work so well for gray haired doctors who wear pagers and shirt pocket pencil protectors.  Somehow it doesn’t come out sounding the same- better not give up my day job.

        The only thing I’ve found tough is to get my fingers to walk the talk- that has taken some practice, and is gonna take some more.  As they say about the PGA tour- those guys are good.

        More theory later.  Sorry to cut the lesson short, but my lovely daughter is here to visit and I don’t get to see her enough.  Talk to you soon.

Dr. B