Taking Stock: The First Three Months of CaseTunes

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It’s hard for me to believe, but CaseTunes.com has been up and running for 3 months already! Now for some of you, you’re probably thinking, “what’s the big deal? It’s only 3 months!”

Let me tell you, for me to be consistent with this is a rather large victory for me. Now to work on the next 3 months!

I’m encouraged by the fact that some of you keep coming back. As I learn how to write on topics that are helpful, you patiently wade through each post, occasionally commenting on your experiences. Let me encourage you as well- I love to keep the conversations going about music, so comment often!

I’m also encouraged by the growing list of folks who subscribe to this blog via email. Instead of having to find me every few days, my posts come right to their email inboxes on Monday and Thursday mornings. If you are interested in subscribing (and your email address will never be shared by CaseTunes with anyone), so that you can enjoy the posts with your morning cup of coffee along with your other email, just click on the “Subscribe” box in the column on the right. You’ll be taken through a double verification process by MailChimp (the service I use), so that everyone knows you’re a real person and not a spam-bot or some other internet weirdness.

Some Posts You May Remember

Since the end of June, we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve included some links here in case you missed a post or two.  We talked about what Next-Step Musicianship is and why it’s important to figure out for yourself. We talked about the need to get clear on the fundamentals of music so that you can express exactly the sorts of moods or emotions you’re after, and so the listener will hear your music and really get it.

We talked over the difference between traditional and improvisational processes of making music, how to control your schedule enough to find the time to practice, and how to handle your nerves before a lesson or a performance.

We listened for different intervals and chords, looked at principles for creating a set list that would work well, and even talked over how to treat your fans when you make it big (as well as while you’re on your way up).

We talked over the art and science of reading music and understanding the layers on the page. We even talked about the layers you can hear in headphones.

And we went through the first 4 parts of a mini-course on how to sing harmony, with much more to come.

Some of my posts are specifically geared toward the church worship musician, how to handle various issues and skills that will be necessary. And I even included the song I wrote for the love of my life, my wife Sue.

And there were other topics. It’s been a good three months.

We’re Just Getting Started…

I am excited about the future and so many other topics to share with you about music and musicianship. Teaching music, composing and performing have been such a huge part of my life that this seems to be a logical extension.

But a two-way conversation is always more profitable than a one-way diatribe, uh…, monologue, so I would really like to hear from you, too!

If there are brick walls you’re hitting with your own music and want some advice on how to deal with them, or if you’re looking for inspiration or training in any musical area, please let me know how I can help.

Please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

Shadowing The Melody (How To Sing Harmony, pt. 4)

Photo (c) 2013 Steve Case

 Today we’re going to attempt a dry run at singing harmony, using a method that I’ll refer to as “shadowing the melody”.

Listen to the first part of this tune and the chord that accompanies it.  Is the first chord major or minor?  Can you sing all 3 chord tones (one at a time, of course…)?  Now listen again, focusing on the very first note.  The challenges begin with finding a note to sing that is above the original melody note, but not too far.  If the starting note is the root of the chord, you would sing the 3rd.  If the starting note is the 3rd, you would sing the 5th. And if the starting note is the 5th of the chord, you would sing the next root going higher.

You may or may not be able to tell exactly what the intervals are yet, that’s okay.  Just listen closely, so that whatever you sing sounds different from the beginning note of the tune, but it still sounds good because it’s a note in the same chord.  Make sense?

Singing Harmony Above The Melody

Using Yankee Doodle as an example (don’t worry, the songs will get better!), listen to the first note of the tune and the chord that is happening at the same time.  Find the next note higher in the chord. The song starts on the root, so the next chord tone higher is the 3rd.  That means you’ll start singing on the 3rd.  We’ll go slowly at first.  Here is the first chord, followed by the first part of the song.
Did you hear the pattern of the first 7 notes?  The first two notes are the same, then it moves up to the next scale tone, then up again to the next scale tone, then back to the first one, then up a 3rd and down a scale tone.  If I were to write it in numbers, I’d write:  1   1   2   3   1   3   2, and sing “Yan-kee Doo-dle went to town”.
Now for the harmony.  Starting on the 3rd of the chord, you’ll sing 3   3   4   5   3   5   4   for “Yan-kee Doo-dle” went to town.
Here is the harmony by itself.
Now both together.
Sounds pretty good!  Well, except for the last note.  It doesn’t sound quite right yet.  Let’s adjust that last note up another scale tone and see if that fits better.  So now you’ll sing 3   3   4   5   3   5   5.
Ah, that’s better!  A small adjustment on one note and it’s sounding just right!
Here is the entire verse to the song.  First you’ll hear both parts together (yours is the higher one), but in the middle of the verse, the harmony will fade out.  Do your best to finish it the same way, so that you’re singing the higher harmony all the way through.  Next, you hear it again, but with the harmony included all the way through so that you can check yourself.

Singing Harmony Below The Melody

The same principles are true for singing a harmony part right below the melody.  Here is the first part of Ode To Joy, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
This tune begins on the 3rd of the major chord, so you’ll start to sing on the root below it.  First you’ll hear the first melody pitch, then you’ll hear your pitch, then the song will start.  Shadow the melody on chord tones that stay below the tune this time.  You can sing it all with the syllable “doo” if you’d like, or you can find it in many hymnals under the title, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”.
Now here it is with the harmony included.
This shadowing technique is really common for singing harmony that moves with the melody.  For each sung melody note, two more notes are sung in harmony, thus completing a chord for each syllable.  Try it out on some of your favorite songs! Now that you know what to listen for, I’m confident you’ll recognize this sort of harmony more and more.
Hey, let me know how you’re doing with all this harmony stuff!  Is this all making sense to your ear?  Are you starting to hear where the harmony should go?  I’d love to hear from you!
Please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].
© 2013 Steve Case

Finding Your Notes In The Chord

2013-09-15 23.15.09

How To Sing Harmony, pt.3

Now that you can sing a part independently and sing each note in tune, it’s time to get off the melody and find some other notes to sing that work.

Our pop style of music is based on chord progression, that is, a series of chords that are usually in a repeating pattern. A typical pop song will have three or four of these repeating patterns: one for the verse, one for the chorus, one for the bridge, and sometimes something else for an intro or instrumental.

The component parts to a chord progression are, of course, chords (big revelation there). Each chord is built by playing the 1st, 3rd, and 5th of the major scale at the same time. Any tone can be on the bottom, any tone can be on the top. Simply the combination makes the major chord.

In the following audio example, you’ll hear several examples of the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the major scale played one at a time, then together. Try to sing each tone as they happen separately, then land on any of them when you hear the chord.


We’ve been singing chord tones for major chords so far. But just as common are minor chords, built 1, b3 (flat-3), 5. The third of the chord is lowered, and now the chord sounds sad, not happy.

Listen to the same sorts of combinations in the following audio example, but now listen for the flatted 3rd in the middle of the chord. All of these are minor chords.


Next you’ll hear various major and minor chords. We’ll start by singing the root of each chord, that is, tone 1. You’ll hear a chord played, then fade out except for the root, then the chord will fade up again. Sing the roots of all the following chords.


In the following exercise, sing the 3rd of each chord. Same process as the previous exercise.


Now sing the 5th of each chord, again using the same process.


Now for the test. In each chord, sing the part of the chord listed. You’ll hear the chord played for a couple of seconds (hopefully long enough for you to find your pitch), and then you’ll hear the chord fade out, leaving only the desired tone. See how many times you get it right!

1. Sing the 1st (root) of this major chord.
2. Sing the 1st of this minor chord.
3. Sing the 3rd of this major chord.
4. Sing the b3rd of this minor chord.
5. Sing the 5th of this major chord.
6. Sing the 5th of this minor chord.
7. Sing the 3rd of this major chord.
8. Sing the 1st of this minor chord.
9. Sing the 5th of this minor chord.
10. Sing the 5th of this major chord.
11. Sing the b3rd of this minor chord.
12. Sing the b3rd of this minor chord.
13. Sing the 1st of this major chord.
14. Sing the 5th of this minor chord.
15. Sing the 1st of this minor chord.
16. Sing the 3rd of this major chord.
17. Sing the b3rd of this minor chord.
18. Sing the 5th of this minor chord.

Okay, how successful were you? If you find these hard to find, repeat the exercise daily for the next few days, and see if you improve. And let me know how you are doing!

Please leave your comment below, or feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear how you are doing!

© 2013 Steve Case


How To Match Pitch

One of my guitar tuners, made by SNARK. I highly recommend them.
One of my guitar tuners, made by SNARK. I highly recommend them.

Today may well feel like we’re taking a step backward. But in order to sing harmony, a fundamental skill is that of singing in tune. If we know all the music theory and are acquainted with how the song is structured but we can’t land on the intended pitch with any accuracy, it will sound more like howling cats than pleasing harmony.

The first step is to master the art of matching pitch, that is, closing the gap between what you intend to sing and what you actually sing. Listen to the following example. You’ll hear a single, steady tone which is the target pitch. Soon you’ll hear a second, more abrasive tone enter, but it won’t be in tune. It starts out too high, then swings too low, then swings high again but not quite as far. The gap will get smaller and smaller as you listen, until a perfect unison is found.

Matching pitch with your voice is very much like what you just heard, it just happens faster. And in a melody that keeps changing pitch, this process has to happen for every note very quickly in order to move on to the next note of the tune. A melody like Yankee Doodle, for instance, has 55 distinct notes in it (more or less, depends how you sing the song) that all have to be sung in tune. And the whole tune is sung in just under 30 seconds!

Hearing It Before You Sing It

So matching pitch is important and has to happen quickly. It becomes much easier when we know what pitch is coming next, kind of hearing it in our head before we sing it (that’s called audiation, for any music geeks reading this. A quick yet accurate explanation of this process can be found here).

To make it easier to “hear” it before we sing it, we can practice singing certain patterns of intervals. In part 1 of this study, you sang (hopefully) Row, Row, Row Your Boat as part of a round. You were able to keep track of where you were in the piece by thinking about the words you were singing; and being familiar with the speed of the music’s beat, or pulse, you could remember what to sing next before you were even there. That’s what I’m talking about.

Now let’s sing up and down the major scale. Match each pitch as you hear it. The track will play the major scale three times, first slowly, then faster, then even faster.

What you just sang was a pattern of whole steps and half steps. More detail on those later. But you’ve heard the whole pattern over and over again throughout your life. It sounded very natural to you, and though it may take several tries, you should be able to anticipate how much higher or lower each next tone is even before you sing it.

Practicing A Song

Now for the test. You may have heard “My Grandfather’s Clock” (written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work). The tune is mostly made up of whole and half steps, but there are a few bigger jumps. I’m trusting that you’re familiar enough with this song that those jumps won’t seem too much of a problem. The first track will be a little slower, the second a little faster, and the third will be about as fast as it is usually sung. Lyrics are below.

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short, never to go again
When the old man died.

Reality Check

How can you know if you are singing in tune? Here are a couple of methods.

1) Use your smart-phone. Play the recorded track and sing along, using your phone to record yourself. Video is always available, and free audio recorder apps are abundant.

2) Get another opinion. Ask someone you trust to listen to you sing and give their honest feedback. Someone who is already a musician would probably be the most helpful.

Let me know how you are doing with this! Please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

How To Sing Harmony, part 1

 Frere Jacques

It’s either one of the simplest ways to sing along with a song, or it is absolutely the hardest. When it comes to singing harmony, it seems you either “have the ear” or you don’t.

The musicians I work with every week are dedicated and talented, working hard at their music. But one of the issues that comes up repeatedly is whether or not a person can sing harmony.

If you’ve grown up in a musical household, hearing music in many forms all of your life, singing harmony can be as easy as breathing. You just know it, and when you sing it, it fits. Harmony is just another way to compliment the melody, giving it more texture and dimension.

But if music was not heard much in your house growing up, if it was an artistic endeavor that began with you as a child or as an adult, you probably have had a tougher time figuring out how harmonies are built. Why do some sound great and others just mediocre? Why do some harmonies sound edgy and intriguing while others sound mundane? (These are some of the questions that keep me up at night…)

Let’s take a stab at some guidelines for how to sing harmony. Though we can start today, there is a lot to cover if we really want to understand the mechanics and successfully sing harmony.

Defining Melody and Harmony

The melody of a song is the tune, the part of a song that gives it its identity. Harmony is pretty much everywhere else on the tonal spectrum. The instruments are all producing some sort of harmony to the vocal, all with different textures and in various ranges of high to low. The rhythms might be the same as the melody or different, but it is pitch relationships that we’re concerned with here.

How easy is it for you to sing something like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or Frere Jacques (Are You Sleeping)? Those are simple melodies that we learn as children. But when they really get musical is when they are sung as a round. To sing a round, one person starts with the melody and sings the first phrase. As they begin singing the second phrase, another person begins the first phrase. When the first person reaches the third phrase, the second person is on the second phrase, and so on, until the second person has reached the end of the song, singing the final phrase alone.

Listen to the melody alone for Frere Jacques, played on a clarinet. (Okay, not a real clarinet, its a keyboard thing. But it will have to do.)

Now here is the same song in a two-part round. Try singing along with either part. The second will sound like a flute.

And just for a little more challenge, here is the same song once again, but this time in three parts. The third part will sound like a bassoon (I tried a French Horn as it might sound fitting, but it was pretty bad).

How did you do? Was it hard to follow? Because you know the tune so well, you were able to focus on your part, even while the other part(s) were happening. You were able to filter what you heard and get it to make sense. And that is the key to singing harmony. Knowing what to expect, filtering what you hear and focusing on making your own contribution fit with the rest.

This is just the first step on a long climb, and we have a bit of a hike in front of us. But the view from the top is worth it!  We’ll continue on next time.  Until then, let me ask you:

Are you a person who can pick out a harmony easily, or is it still a mystery to you?

Please share your experience below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

How to Craft an Effective Set List


Photo (c) 2013 Steve CaseFor those of you who are in the position of figuring out set lists for the band to play, or even if you’re not but you’re curious as to how it’s done – today I’ll take you through my process. These principles are the same whether you’re leading worship with a band, with a full orchestra, or by yourself. For that matter, they are largely the same if you are playing out in clubs.

To start with, know your band. Think about your band’s capabilities; each team has its own strengths and weaknesses. Are they great at the blues but weak in reading charts? Are they good technical players but in need of songs that reignite their passion?
As well, know your audience. For the nightclub musician, the genre of the club is everything, from dance clubs to jazz clubs to hotel lounges. Your song list will largely be determined by what sort of guests frequent the place. But remember that the primary time worship teams play is on Sunday morning. Sunday morning.

Most people will be getting out of bed on their day off in order to come to church and be led in song by you. So are they looking for an explosive, in-your-face set that will melt your toenails, or might they be wanting to wake up a little more gently? I think the answer largely depends on the time of the morning, to be honest, and probably how fast the caffeine is kicking in…

One more prerequisite for the worship team leader: know your track record, how often you have played certain songs, how recently you’ve played the songs you’re about to choose from now. It is important in every setting to balance the fresh and new with the more familiar but not yet stale songs.

 Choosing the songs

However long or short your set list, craft it with the notion that the person singing along with you will be led through a series of emotions because of both the lyrics and the musical construction. When you get done with one song, don’t simply launch into another that happened to be in the same key. Rather, when you finish one song, ask yourself what do I naturally want to sing next? Where does my heart want to go? Those questions will take you a long way toward hitting the target you’re aiming for.

It’s a pretty easy task to choose the key for a song, or the tempo, or get the groove going. But another facet to consider is the text direction. Am I singing about God, or am I singing to God? In a few cases, where scripture has been set to music, it might be God singing to us! Though not a hard, fast rule, I usually want to lead people from chaos into order, from the noisy world we all live in to the restful peace we find when we are focused on the Lord. So I’ll start us singing songs about God and lead into songs that are sung to God personally and often quietly.

 From the listener’s point of view

When you are creating your set list, think through every transition, every benchmark moment, from the point of view of the listener. They will not have the bias you do and will not care if you don’t do the song with the screaming guitar lead or the one with the really funky beat. If your list works, they’ll never miss it.

Be prepared to take some significant time to figure out your set, don’t just shoot from the hip and throw some songs together calling it a set. A collection is not a set.

The most effective set lists- for worship services, for concerts, or even for dance club sets- are the ones that are carefully thought through with these principles in mind and yet feel as if they are fresh, being created in the moment. Yes, it is an art!

 Do you take enough time when crafting your set lists? What are some of the principles that guide your song selection?

Please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].  I would love to hear from you!

© 2013 Steve Case

How To Treat Your Fans

My son, Mike (right) with Adam Young of Owl City
My son, Mike (right) with Adam Young of Owl City

Someone once said,

“Treat others graciously on the way up, ’cause they’re the same people you’ll meet on the way down.” As important as excellence is to me in music, even more important is how we treat each other. A song, even a recorded one, is here and gone, but relationships can last a very long time.

My son, Mike, took his family to see Owl City at the NY State Fair. They got to the stage a little early, decided to take a walk around back where the artists’ buses are, and within minutes were rewarded with a visit from Adam Young, who is both the face of the group and the artist behind their sound and songs.

Now if you haven’t heard of Owl City, possibly you’ve heard the song “Fireflies”, a very fun and catchy electronic-pop tune that was all over the radio not long ago. Mike tells me that they are quite worth seeing in performance.

But as impressive as their music is, and it is, I’m even more impressed with this guy. I don’t know Adam, but I do know that he took unscheduled time before his show just to be kind and gracious to my son. He acted the way that we almost always envision our favorite performers acting, sharing warmth and connection with a fan, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. And that speaks volumes to me about his heart.

Maybe you’ve made a connection with a favorite artist, or author, or entertainer. It’s really fun when you catch a glimpse of them as real people that have a life off-stage.

Owl City in concert at the NY State Fair 2013
Owl City in concert at the NY State Fair 2013

I’ve met and spent time with some very famous musicians who treated me like family (in a good way!), and I’ve met others who couldn’t care less that I was (operative word here is in the past tense) a fan. And I remember making the same walk around the back of the Chevy Court stage that my son took, trying to see a favorite artist, only to be blown off. Being a great musician is not only about the artistry of the music or the popularity that sometimes accompanies it; great musicians are first great people.

I send warm regards to Adam Young and the rest of Owl City. Thank you for taking the time to show your character to your fans as well as your wonderful music!

What has your experience been in meeting favorite artists? Were you treated well?

Please leave a comment, or email me about your experience at [email protected].
© 2013 Steve Case