For want of a nail

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of the horse, the rider was lost,
For want of the rider, the battle was lost,
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!

We have recorded everything except one piece, an original tune called “Cherry on Top,” composed by our guitarist on the day his daughter was born.

It’s something he’s often noodled around on during down time; the more we heard it the more we liked it, and decided we should work up a trio version “sometime.” Now that everything else is done, “sometime” has arrived.

I’m not that great at improvising on something like this by ear, so my first task was to try to transcribe it.

I pieced something together by listening first to the bass notes, then to the highest pitches, then to whatever I could pick out in the middle. Sometimes I could catch the rhythm but not the notes, and sometimes vice versa. Most frustrating, there seemed to be odd moments where there was an extra beat or a missing one.

Nevertheless, with transcription in hand I wrote out some tentative dulcimer and fiddle parts and sent PDFs and MIDI files to the guys.

When we tried it last night, we figured out what was going on with those frustrating rhythmic oddities; many of the notes that I thought were falling on the downbeat actually occurred an eighth note before the downbeat.


Even watching Craig tap his foot didn’t help me catch the right rhythm — once you’ve got an idea of a tune in your head, it’s hard to shift the feel of it by something so small as an eighth note (or a horseshoe nail).

Today, with the help of a new recording with a metronome, the freeware Audacity which lets one slow down a tune without changing its pitch, and a drumbeat ‘metronome’ to my NoteWorthy Composer file, I straightened out my transcription — and now I can feel the tune the right way, and those rhythmic anomalies have disappeared.


Otherwise, last night’s session included recording additional tracks for Hills of Lorne and for Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze, after a late start — soon after we arrived one of Craig’s kids got hurt and it understandably took them a while to determine it was not a broken arm; good thing it’s not!

For Hills of Lorne, we added mandolin picking the melody, mandolin playing some long tremolo notes, fiddle playing a sustained harmony part, and recorder playing the same part. I wanted to play the part on the whistle instead, but I’m still new at the whistle so it didn’t sound as good, plus my whistle is a cheapie with the mouthpiece glued on, so it’s not tunable.

I’m not sure if we’ll use all four additional tracks or not. That will require a lot of listening to a lot of combinations.

For Irksome, I just added some dulcimer bass notes.

There’s plenty of work yet to be done: get some photos taken, do the graphic design (with the new old Photoshop, version 6.0, that I just won on Ebay), write the liner notes, and record Cherry on Top — but it feels good to be almost done with this CD.