Play: Moonlight Serenade with Tony Pegler

It’s amazing how much you can learn just by listening. Have you ever sat down and really listened closely to a recording of your favourite song? Try it and you’ll be surprised at how many little things you can pick up which can help make your own keyboard performance even better!

strawberry-music-logo.jpgThis superb article is brought to you courtesy of Strawberry Music. It is one of hundreds of similar articles available on the Techplus Magazine on CD Available Here. This archive of Techplus magazines has a vast array of information and help for all Technics Instruments.


Moonlight Serenade Video - Ending (Slow Version!)

Moonlight Serenade Video

Click Here for the Free Sheet Music - Moonlight Serenade (and more)
(Opens in a New Window)

It’s probably true to say that you’ll learn most from those you admire.

This is something I discovered a long time ago when I began to realise that I was playing the same things in the same way day after day. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoying my playing, it was just getting a bit stale with no new ideas coming along. I’ve spoken to lots of players about this and it seems to be quite common – even with the most experienced professional.

So, what to do. Well, how about this; learn from your musical heroes. You don’t need to be any kind of musical genius or expert to do this, just a few recordings of things that you like and a bit of time and patience. The end results can be quite amazing; and not only will you discover a degree of musical talent that you might have thought you never had but you’ll also learn lots about your instrument too.

It’s you that has to make it sound like a trumpet, not a keyboard player’s idea of a trumpet

Technics instruments have always been imitators; use a trumpet sound and you have to work with it. Your keyboard will produce a beautiful trumpet sample but it’s you that has to make it sound like one by playing it in such a way that becomes a trumpet and not a keyboard player’s idea of what a trumpet is. This applies to any of the sounds that you want to use; play strings like an organ and they won’t sound like strings; play the flute with the same technique as a piano and it won’t sound like a flute. And how about this; if you’re an ex-organ player and think that the rhythm styles are just a glorified rhythm box then the chances are that you won’t hear the beauty of the backing styles.

So, how can you learn more of the things that you want to know; how to make sounds more real; how to create an arrangement that sounds convincing? Well, like I said, learn from the people to whom you like to listen. A practical example might be the best way to proceed with this and to that end let’s have a look at a good old standard like Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade. For this to work you’ll need a recording of the song and a copy of the music. The beauty of learning like this is that it doesn’t really matter what you use as your reference source because all you’re really after is information.

Quite a few players don't read music and I can’t see much wrong with this approach!

Now, I’m using Moonlight Serenade because it’s a song that most of you will know and want to play and are likely to have a recording of and you’ve probably got the music too. It’s worth having the printed music even if you don’t read because it helps you see where things happen and gives you bit of a visual reference – even if you’re only following the lyrics. (In fact, I know quite a few players who don’t really read music as such and simply use a song sheet just for the chords with the words acting as a guide to where you actually are in the song as you busk along.

I can’t see much wrong with this approach personally, providing what comes out is music that sounds OK to you!) My main point with the sheet music though, is you need something to follow. So, I’m using a Glenn Miller’s Greatest Hits cassette and a copy of the G.M. Easy Keyboard Library book for this exercise, both of which you should be able to get from your local library.

[Ed: Did you know that in the UK your local library will provide you with published music and music books? If they don't have it in stock just ask the Librarian and they will get hold of it for you. Support your local library!]

Pour yourself a glass of wine and just listen!

Right, here’s what you do. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on the record, cassette or CD of said piece and sit in your favourite armchair and just listen. You’ll need to be able to stop, start and rewind so don’t sit too far away, and have the music and a pencil at the ready. You’ll need to be near your instrument as well so that you can try out some sounds and effects. Hit play and let’s see what happens.

Moonlight Serenade Video - Full Version

Recording of Moonlight Serenade

Well, the first thing I noticed when I tried to play along with the recording was that the notes in the music (or the first chord if you’re not reading the notation) don’t match up. This is because the printed music has been written in a different key to the recorded version. Now, given that we’re using the EKL book as our reference, the trick is to get the notes (or chords) in the book to sound the same as the recording and the easiest way of doing that is to use your ears and the transpose button. Don’t go fiddling about with the notes in the music to try and see what notes match the record, just play the first ‘F’ chord and transpose the sound up and down until it sounds about right.

You might have to do this by trial and error but you’ll soon know when the first chord in the book sounds like the first chord on the recording. (You’ll find that the music is in ‘F’ and the recording is in ‘Eb’ which is two transpose steps down; and even if you’re not using the printed music and doing your own version instead this will still work; just match your first chord with the recorded version via the transpose button).

Build your performance: Start storing in Panel Memories

Store this in Panel Memory 1. (check your owners guide for details.) Next, sort out the general backing style and tempo. Now, because the backing styles aren’t dedicated to any one particular song it’s always going to be a bit of a compromise but you’re going to come close if you just remember that a slow swing style isn’t a fast swing slowed down a bit; so, have a listen to a few bars of the recorded version and then have a hunt round for something similar on your instrument.

A really good idea here is to use ‘One Touch Play’ because it sets up the backing at the right tempo for the style. On my 1939 recording, the tempo is 80bpm and OTP on my KN7000 brings up a few styles around that tempo. Which one you choose is up to you but a clue to the most suitable one is in the recording. Listen to the drums in the fi rst section of the song; can you hear any cymbals? Probably not, which says to me that the drummer is using mainly brushes on the snare drum in which case look for a style that has the swishing drum sound in variation 1 or 2. Try ‘Slow Big Band’, ‘Swing Ballad’ or the most obvious one, ‘Miller Band’.

Actually, the ‘Big Band Ballad’ uses a great brush kit but the bass is wrong; Moonlight Serenade has a four in the bar bass and the B.B. Ballad has two. Listen to the recording now I’ve pointed it out and you’ll hear what I mean. Listening really listening, that’s the trick; and concentrate on just one thing at a time. For example, what’s the guitar player doing? Well, given that he’s either going to strum or pluck you’re only listening out for either vamps or a melody on the guitar.

Auto Play Chord

If it’s a melody then you’ll be doing that with the right hand and not as part of the backing, so you’re looking for a style that’s got a strumming guitar in it. In fact, this is about all you really need from the APC backing for this song – drums, bass and guitar so you can mute all the other APC parts; and although I like the drums and guitar from the ‘Big Band Ballad’ style, ‘Miller Band’ variation one still comes out on top because of the bass.

As for tempo, either set it by ear so that it sounds right to you, or, play your recording and hit the start button on the fi rst beat of a bar and adjust the tempo so that your instruments drums are going at the same rate as the record and then store this in Panel Memory 1. (PM 1 should now have transpose down two semitones, OTP ‘Miller Band’, variation one with parts 2-5 muted and tempo 80 in it.).

So, now you’re up and running and the next thing to do is to work out the format of the song which in turn will lead on to the sounds you’re going to need. Most songs are made up of verses, choruses and bridges in some order or other and you just need to sit and listen to the recording and make notes on the printed music as to what happens. Again, if you don’t read music then follow the lyrics, but however you play – make notes.

The Intro... there isn't one!

OK, intro – well, there isn’t one! Surprised? Most people are. The tune just goes straight in and, the very fi rst note, the lead-in note that everyone plays isn’t in the original instrumental version so cross it out in the music. In fact, that fi rst bar doesn’t even need to be there because unless you’re going to sing this song, there’s nothing to play.

As for the sound, well, it’s the traditional Miller reed section. This very straightforward configuration can be used with lots of different sound combinations and is quite easy to follow. Go to your keyboard and hold down the notes of the following five note ‘C6’ chord; from the bottom up – C E G A C. There are usually five reed players in a dance / swing band who cover all the clarinet, sax and flute parts and each note of the chord you’re holding gets played by a different player on the following instruments.

The Miller Sound

The top note is a clarinet, the next two down are alto saxes and the bottom two are tenor saxes. So, you’ve got a clarinet playing the lead, a tenor sax playing the lead but an octave lower with other reeds filling in the rest of the chord. And, miracle of miracles this is the sound set-up that the ‘Miller Band’ OTP comes up with. Well, almost. The three middle notes of the chord are played by ‘Technichord’ using a mellow clarinet sound but the effect is similar

Now, if you have a play around with this sound, i.e. play the tune with the right hand and the chords with the left, you’ll notice that if you play the notes in the printed music, although it sounds vaguely Milleresque, it’s a bit low and muddy. This is because it’s an octave too low. The ‘Miller’ sound is actually quite lyrical and used in the middle to high register rather than the darker tone you normally associate with saxes, therefore you either need to play an octave higher or, if you want to play what’s on the page, use the ‘Right 1/Right 2 octave buttons to move everything up an octave.

Which is great except that ‘Technichord’ has been automatically assigned to ‘part four’ so stays at the same pitch. You’ll need to go to the ‘part setting’ screen of the ‘sound menu’ via the ‘program menus’ button and key shift part four to ‘+ twelve’. Put all of this into Panel Memory 1. (Each time, we’re just adding a bit more information to this panel memory.) And now that the first sound is sorted out, write ‘PM1’ in the printed music where the tune starts.

Follow the song in the book as your recording plays and you’ll get to the end of the second bar of line four and the sound changes for a couple of bars. Listening to it, it sounds like some tinny trumpets, which usually means trumpets with ‘harmon’ mutes stuck up the bell, so, you need to write ‘PM2’ by the ‘C7’ chord. For the sound, try this:

  • Right 1: Harmon Mute Trumpet Vol. 100
  • Right 2: Harmon Mute Trumpet Vol. 90
  • Technichord to Big Band Brass
  • Technichord Orchestrator to Rt.

For the sound to be at the same pitch as the written notes, turn Rt.1/Rt.2 octave Off. All of this goes in Panel Memory 2.

Section A

Let’s call this section ‘part A’ and if you listen a bit more you’ll hear that ‘part A’ gets repeated but the printed music goes straight on to the next bit so you’ll need to put in some kind of repeat mark.

In standard musical notation this would be a double bar line at the beginning and end of this section with a couple of dots in front. (You could just write ‘go back to the beginning’ of course.) By the way, just so that you can get back to the beginning in the most musical way, the first time you play bar 1, line 5, play the chords ‘F’ and ‘C7’ and the second time play the chords in the book.

Section B

The next section, that’s from line 5, bar 2 to the end of the first line of page 31 we’ll call ‘section B’. It’s an 8 bar phrase and uses two different sound set ups which are the same sounds that are already in panel memories 1 and 2; use PM2 for the ‘Let us stay…’ bit and PM2 for the ‘You and I….’ bit.

You do need to write this information down in the music so that when you get to these bits you know what panel memory button to press. Don’t leave it to your memory – because you won’t remember in a few weeks time!

Section C

‘Section C’, the next bit, is really just a repeat of ‘A’ and uses a couple of new sounds. Refer to your recording again and you’ll hear the reeds playing the tune in a kind of two-octave unison. You can hear this quite easily if you just home in on the melody. For the sound, copy PM1 into PM3; turn off ‘technichord’ (because the reeds aren’t playing chords) and via ‘part setting’, take Right 1 down an octave.

Put this into PM3. Listen to the original again and you’ll hear a secondary tune played in chords by some trumpets. Well, unless you transcribe the actual notes and then record them via the sequencer, you’re not going to achieve an exact replica of your recorded version, however, as a compromise, variation 4 has some trumpets that play in accompaniment parts 2 and 3 which are currently muted.

Tell you what... why don’t I just write the trumpet bit out for you below and maybe we’ll have a look at how to record this in the next article.


But for now, just select variation 4, un-mute the trumpets and put this in PM3. This sound then gets used right up to the last two bars when the brass takes over. For this, you might as well use the set-up in PM2 because a lot of the work’s already done so, copy PM2 into PM4, change Right 1 to a normal trumpet and Right 2 to a trombone. Technichord is working on Rt.2 so the trombone will play in chords with the trumpet playing the tune. Reselect variation 4 and as before, put all of this into PM4. (Incidentally, as accompaniment parts 2 and 3 were already muted in PM2 and stayed muted when you copied them into PM4, you don’t end up with two trumpet sections – one in the backing and one for the tune.).

Leveraging the Panel Memories

The next section is a repeat of ‘B’ so put some kind of repeat sign at the end of the very last bar in the song and at the beginning of the ‘B’ section. Also, change the very last note to a ‘D’ with a chord of ‘Cm7’ on beat one and ‘F7’ on beat three; this will give you the same ‘turn around’ as the original. This repeated ‘B’ section starts with a clarinet solo. It’s the same clarinet as PM1 and at the same pitch with the same backing style so, copy PM1 to PM5, turn off Rt.1 and technichord, and put this into PM5.

The ‘valley of dreams’ notes use a little trumpet fanfare sound which is very similar to PM4 but just an octave higher. So, copy PM4 to PM6, put it up an octave via the Rt.1/Rt.2 octave button and also change the variation to 1 (as per the previous bit) then put all of this into PM6.

The clarinet solo takes up the tune again at ‘you and I…’ with some extra reeds playing in the backing – a bit like the reeds in variation 4. So for this, just copy PM5 into PM7, change the variation to number 4, un-mute the reeds and put all of this into PM7.

Write it all down!

Write it down in the music book; there’s no point in doing all of this work if you can’t remember where and when to use each of these dedicated sounds.

The final part of the songs is the ‘A’ section again but with that big trumpet counter melody which we don’t have. But, variation 4 does have some trumpets in the backing so copy PM1 to PM8, change the variation to number 4 and un-mute the brass in accompaniment parts 2 and 3 leaving the reeds in parts 4 and 5 muted (otherwise, you get two reed sections in the same band – one playing the tune, which is what your right hand is doing, and another one in the backing).

The Big Ending

Now comes the tricky part. The ending. It’s tricky because neither the Miller Band style endings are anything like the original so, what to do.

Well, you could buy the Miller disk from Technote [Ed: Now from Strawberry Music] which has the proper ending on it or you could work out the melody notes of the ending and play them with the PM8 sound over an ‘F’ chord.

You could just use the pre-styled ending or, a trick I sometimes use is to use a ‘fi ll in’ and then press ‘stop’ just after the beginning of beat one in the next bar. It’s simple and effective and is what I would probably do here. Not ideal but a practical solution.

Taking Stock

Take stock. All of this was achieved by listening. Listening in a way that you may not have listened before. You really can hear individual parts if you stop listening to the thing as a whole. I’m used to it of course so it’s a bit easier for me, but this particular song has some very defined sounds associated with it and are quite easy to spot once you ‘get your ear in’.

To acquire this much knowledge just by listening is a great achievement and might just open up a whole way if ‘hearing’ some of the things you’d like to play just a little better. 

Tony Pegler - April 2004

strawberry-music-logo.jpgThis superb article is brought to you courtesy of Strawberry Music. It is one of hundreds of similar articles available on the Techplus Magazine on CD Available Here. This archive of Techplus magazines has a vast array of information and help for all Technics Instruments.

Also Available: Glenn Miller Disk and Music Book, including Moonlight Serenade! - Click Here