Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Your Host for Open Mic Nite at the Red Garnet

The Red Garnet is one of the niftiest venues in Peterborough, and just the right size for a cozy open mic. I'll be hosting this Thursday, February 2 session, and I hope you'll come check it out - or better yet, bring your unique talents to the stage.

If you'd like to pick a few tunes you can borrow my guitar, or bring your own esoteric instruments. It need not be musical, either - if you can spin plates, juggle lobsters, fold origami, breakdance, hold your breath for ten minutes, karate chop through a stack of cinder blocks, recite poetry, throw knives, blow fire, curate a flea circus, fit your body through a toilet seat or a coat hanger, say the alphabet backwards, bend spoons, tell jokes, imitate bird calls, share anecdotes, levitate, stage a puppet opera, read entrails, channel spirits, think out loud, arm wrestle, impersonate celebrities, exorcise demons, do a handstand, tell fortunes, fingerpaint, name all ten provinces, belly dance, tear a phonebook in half, eat glass, saw a woman in half, do card tricks, guess my weight, rant about politics, make confessions, open a beer bottle with your forehead, pay your bills on time, read auras, give massages, shoot from horseback, throw your voice, beat the devil, cheat death or read mass in Latin, then I think you should come out.

Things get started at 10:00. Once we figure out a regular rotation, I'll let you know when I'll be back, too.

If none of the above tickles your fancy, here's a little more inspiration:

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Season 3, Episode 4: Smooth as Butter Part I

Max Raabe's microphone hypnosis
This week, after two episodes on the gravelly-voiced, smooth-voiced singers got their turn. No crooners this time out, but a selection of nasal songbirds, sonorous baritones, and lush falsettos. Tell me you've seen a finer lineup of golden throats:

George Formby - Biceps, Muscle and Brawn
Mississippi John Hurt - Ain't No Tellin'
Washington Phillips - Mother's Last Word to Her Son
Leon Redbone - My Blue Heaven
Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons
John Southworth - Life is Unbelievable
Rufus Wainwright - Rebel Prince
Max Raabe - Oops, I Did It Again
Jamie Lidell - Wait for Me
Antony Hegarty - If It Be Your Will
Beirut - Mount Wroclai
Timber Timbre - Demon Host
Bon Iver - Flume
Dead Man's Bones - My Body's a Zombie for You
Petunia - Mercy

Since this series is a followup to the gravelly-voiced episodes, we'll keep going boy-girl-boy-girl and listen to ladies with lovely voices next week. If you've got ideas for someone who must make the list, send 'em my way - my credibility hangs in the balance.

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Mondays 9:00-10:00 p.m. on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, or online at

Listen to this episode:

Season 3, Episode 4

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Season 3, Episode 3: Would You Like a Glass of Water? A Brief History of the Gravelly Voice Part II

Karen Dalton
Last night the Would You Like a Glass of Water? series concluded with a look at gravelly, growly, and smoky-voiced female singers. I did a little extra research for this one, and I now have a half dozen new favourite singers. Here they are:

Koko Taylor - Wang Dang Doodle
Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog
Big Maybelle - Gabbin' Blues
Lavern Baker - Bop-Ting-a-Ling
Etta James - Two Sides to Every Story
Wanda Jackson - Let's Have a Party
Janis Joplin - Take Another Little Piece of My Heart
Yma Sumac - Five Bottles of Mambo
Karen Dalton - Same Old Man
Sandy Dillon - I Fell in Love
CocoRosie - Japan
Lhasa - Con Todo Palabra
Kate LeDeuce & the Beer Barons - Minnie the Moocher

I hope Kate LeDeuce doesn't mind getting lumped in here, because if she's more of a belter than a growler. Hopefully she'll still think she's ended up in good company. I'd also advise you to look up Peggy Lee's "Ready to Begin Again." Although it didn't quite have the grit to make it onto the show last night, I found the lyric "My hair lies somewhere in a drawer" strangely moving....

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Mondays 9:00-10:00 p.m. on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, or online at

Listen to this episode:

Season 3, Episode 3

Friday 20 January 2012

Building a Soapbox Banjo, Part II

(If you haven't read Part I of this series yet, check it out here first)

Last week I waxed eloquent about history, that of the banjo and of my great-grandfather both. Spurred on by these anecdotes, I finally got down to building the soapbox banjo I had dreamed about so long.

As I mentioned, I worked from a kit, and when I first took the neck out of the box I was disappointed. It was pencil-marked and slightly splintery, not the kind of thing you could easily picture jutting proudly from a full-fledged instrument. As it turned out, I only lacked vision and faith in the power of sandpaper. The rough cut was just the thing to keep me occupied and flatter my sense of industry.

Sanding away
I threw on some mood music from the Smithsonian, so the banjo would know what it was being born into. As per the instructions from Bell & Son, I sanded the edges down with 100, 120, and 250 grit sandpaper. Sanding brought out the qualities of the wood and the neck began to look downright handsome - the scrolling on the peghead particularly benefited. The neck was squarish, so I tried to round it out at the back where my fretting hand would be, at least up to the fifth string peg. I had read that because of the difficulty of keeping the banjo in tune, traditional fretless players seldom played beyond fifth position anyway. Also, although the action eventually proved so high it was unnecessary, I dug out a scoop where the neck would meet the body. Another trick traditional players use is to play with their right hand at this spot, which lends a sweet, mellow tone. This spot is also where "the cluck" lives, the chicken-y, surprisingly musical byproduct of a well-placed stroke. Because the best tool I had was a hunting knife I bought on a street corner in Mexico, I decided the scoop would only be under the fifth string, what I have heard called a Nechville Scoop. I whittled out a span about two inches long and sanded it to my satisfaction.

Ready for staining
With both neck and dowel stick (a piece that runs through the body and connects to the neck for stability) sanded, I was ready to get staining. I am partial to dark colours, but Bell & Son's instructions advised that a lighter wood like maple would not take to a serious contrast, so I chose a tone in between called Puritan Pine. Funnily enough, my mother later told me that was the stain on the floors in the house where I grew up. The neck had come wrapped in a copy of the Tuscola County Advertiser, which I read with interest before laying it down as drop paper. I applied three successive coats of Puritan Pine and the neck and dowel took on a lovely golden colour.

Finished pieces
I applied a couple coats of shellac, sanding in between, and then a third when I couldn't seem to get it even. At least when I turned it in the light, the shellac seemed to prefer some areas to others. I finally got it right by sanding with an impossibly delicate grit of sandpaper, and the neck was ready to be fitted to the body.

Or almost ready. My great-grandfather's soapbox lacked a lid and the bottom was very thick, so I needed a thin piece of wood to glue over top and act as a soundboard. I went to the big hardware stores around town, but it seemed I would either have to buy an 8' x 8' sheet of quality wood or a very poor piece of pressboard. That, and the fact that shopping at a box store did not seem to suit the mojo of the box itself, started me dreaming ways to find a soundboard with mojo to match. I didn't and don't understand the acoustic properties of different types of wood, but I knew that spruce was the most common material for guitars, you can build a cajon drum out of white birch, and the non-musical, accidental proportions of the soapbox itself would be the limiting factor anyway. I looked at cannibalizing a cheap guitar, but found that expensive and a waste. I went around to thrift stores looking for a smaller object to cannibalize, and thought I found an old jewelry box about the right size made of handsome thin wood. But when I turned it over I realized some tween of the nineties had pasted it over with New Kids on the Block stickers.

There was one more place I knew to look. My girlfriend Rebecca and I were planning a trip to visit our friends in Montreal over New Year's, and once I had bought her a birthday present at curio shop that was floor to ceiling mojo. I used to walk past it on my way home from work every day, and the display of Javanese puppets in the window intrigued me every time. Eventually I decided Rebecca had to have one, and I went in.

It was dark inside; I remember it with birdcages hanging overhead, but there probably weren't. "I want to buy a puppet," I said.

"Ah-ha," said the proprietor, before I could point it out. "For one man, there is one puppet. You will go outside, and I will divine which one speaks to you."

I stood out on the sidewalk while he climbed into the window and hovered over the display. He paused with a serene look on his face, and his hand drifted over the row of puppet heads. Slowly his lowered his palm onto the head of a pointy-nosed lady in a yellow dress. I shook my head.

Calmly the man nodded and withdrew his hand, touched his nose, and indicated the puppet three rows down. "No," I said. He raised his eyebrows and stroked his chin. Intrigued by my sideways spirit that was so much harder to read than most, he closed his eyes and the lids fluttered. A moment later he put his hand decisively on the last puppet of the row.

I pointed out the right one to him and came back in. "I knew it," he said. He lifted it carefully off the wine bottle that supported it and took it to the counter. He laid it there and looked at me seriously.

Happy Birthday Rebecca
"Now he is  yours, you must never pack him away," he said. "The people who owned him last, it was gypsies. They kept him packed up in a chest - it's very bad luck."

"I think we'll keep it on the dresser," I said.

"Also they would smoke," he said. "Smoking near the puppets, you never smoke around them. Look, his dress, you can see it is dirty." He lifted the hem of the puppet's faded skirts with dismay.

"That's terrible."

"Yes, on the dresser. Always you keep his eyes pointing to the door. When you go away, maybe you have a problem, and when you come back, maybe he help you." He smiled mysteriously.

I paid the forty dollars and left. His last words as I have written them are a direct quote - we have always followed the advice religiously and it has never steered us wrong. All of which is completely beside the point when it comes to building a banjo, but the story was inside me and dying to get out.

There was a different man behind the counter when I went in this December, and he very reasonably pointed me to the selection of cigar boxes and supplied me with a tape measure. I thought I might be able to remove the lid for use with my soapbox, and I found one whose dimensions were within a third on an inch and bought it.

Nostalgia had apparently gotten the better of me, because a third of an inch is a lot when you're looking for an exact fit. Also, every surface of the cigar box was branded, and since the soapbox already read "Dominion Crystal White Starch" I didn't want to go into brand overload. The cigar box is in my studio waiting until the next time I'm feeling handy.

Removing the vestigial lid
So long asides aside, for the next phase of the soapbox banjo project I drove down to visit my parents, to make use of my dad's tools and gung ho attitude. He had a slab of white birch lying around leftover from one of his own inventions, and he donated it to the banjo. We cut it out to the 7" x 11" dimensions of the box, and I finally had soundboard. Next I had to make some slight modifications to the box itself so the board would lie flush - the box at one time had probably had a lid, and there was a little lip that raised one side higher than the other. I sawed it off carefully and managed to preserve all the text on either side of the box.

Making holes for the dowel s
The next and probably most crucial step was to make holes on either side so the dowel stick could run the length of the box. Starting with a drill and graduating to a jigsaw, I made a square hole 3/4" down from edge of the box where the neck would meet. As per the instructions we raised the exit hole on the other side by an 1/8", which would make for better action and string tension. When both holes were made I gently filed them both to make a snug fit for the dowel stick, and then I tapped the stick into place with a rubber mallet.

With this done we were entering the home stretch, but there was still some finicky work to be done with the smaller components. The kit came with triangular wedge of wood to make a tailpiece, and I drilled five holes along the top for the strings, two along the bottom to tie it in place, and several in the middle for decoration. I sanded it smooth and was quite pleased with the appearance.

Don't make this mistake
Then I made an idiot mistake which you must never make if you build your own banjo. Hypnotized by the tailpiece, I reasoned that if there were five holes at the one end, the nut (a strip which holds the strings in place at the opposite end) would need five notches as well. One of the strings on a five-string banjo, of course, is the drone string, which being shorter and higher ends closer to the body than the rest. I filed and sanded the nut carefully, with the grooves angling back towards the peghead, but I soon realized that the useless extra notch would make the spacing for my fretting hand quite cramped.

Thankfully, the nut is hardly bigger than a matchstick, and I'll be able to make another from a scrap of hardwood without too much trouble. The last element was the pegs, which needed holes drilled in them for the strings to pass through. Bell & Son suggested this be done with the peg lying in a groove, rather than rolling against a flat surface, so we filed a notch in a board and clamped the pegs to it. With this technique it was easy to drill all five pegs without cracking them.

The final bit of woodworking for the day was to make a sound hole, which at least according to my lazy understanding of physics, could be just about anywhere and any shape. After some discussion of what was desirable and what was possible, we agreed that a simple moon and star motif was evocative without being hackneyed. I traced out the pattern and jigsawed it out, but the saw went a little hard on the thin wood and I was forced to file out my celestial shapes by hand until the chipping wasn't visible anymore. I discovered it is nigh impossible to get a five-pointed star to look even, but I worked until I felt the design looked artfully handmade rather than sloppy.

With that done, we retired for the day. With all the major cuts made, the rest I would be able to assemble at home. Assemble it I did, but I think I'll save a bit of suspense for the next installment of this series. Depending on whether my faux-catgut strings arrive in time from Alaska or wherever they're coming from, I may even be able to post a recording by next week. Stay tuned for more soapbox banjo...

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Season 3, Episode 2: Would You Like a Glass of Water? A Brief History of the Gravelly Voice

I may be a honey-voiced songbird myself,  but I have nothing but admiration for the gravelly singer. Whatever genetic mutation it is that allows these guys to keep singing like that long after their vocal chords should be a bloody, pulpy mess, they make the most of it. Marvel at the gruff, animalistic delivery of these musicians:

C. B. & Axe Gang - Rosie
Blind Willie Johnson - Sweeter as the Years Go By
Louis Armstrong - It Don't Mean a Thing
Howlin' Wolf - Spoonful
Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Alligator Wine
Captain Beefheart - Electricity
Tom Waits - Falling Down
William Elliott Whitmore - Old Devils
Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People - Fatwa
Buck 65 - Spread 'Em
Bloodshot Bill - Be Mine Tonight
Yat-Kha - Karangailyg Kara Hovaa
(Special Bonus Track) Helen Kane - Dangerous Nan McGrew

 I happened to have a sore throat myself, so I talked a little less than usual, but I would still like to pat myself on the back for getting through the show without using the phrases "gargle with Drano" or "bourbon-soaked." As I mentioned, I would like to do a separate episode on the female gravelly voice, but I'm currently short a singer or two and would welcome your suggestions.

 The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Mondays 9:00-10:00 p.m. on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, or online at

Listen to this episode:

Season 3, Episode 2

Friday 13 January 2012

Building a Soapbox Banjo, Part I

When I first laid eyes upon this box, I knew that one day I would turn it into a banjo. Maybe only dimly, because I have had it since it was a teenager, but over years the conviction has only grown stronger so that this month I was forced to act. The process has brought me great pride and pleasure and I will describe it to you in minute detail.

Kit from Bell & Son
My grand ambition at first was to chop down a tree and hew the parts from it where it fell, but to expedite matters I used a kit. My girlfriend Rebecca bought it for me for Christmas from Bell & Son Minstrel Banjos out of Caro, Michigan. Michigan must be a banjo mecca of sorts, because my "real" banjo was made by Bart Reiter out of East Lansing. In any case, Bell & Son claim all pegs and parts are made by hand, preserving the handmade mojo of the soapbox and probably saving me cutting off a few of my fingers in the bargain.

Out of curiosity and to differentiate it from my other banjo, I had decided I wanted to make my soapbox banjo fretless. The earliest banjos did not have frets, which apparently can make for dodgy tuning further up the neck but compensates with a loose, supple sound. As I have heard it, the contemporary banjo is evolved from a West African instrument called the akonting, with three strings and a gourd-and-hide body. West African slaves in the United States built akontings from scratch, where they met European immigrants playing the fiddle. Apparently, space was at a premium on most ships sailing out from Europe and the tuba couldn't make it on the voyage, making the fiddle the most practical and popular instrument. These two historical currents combined to produce what we now think of as traditional American fiddle music.

An akonting
The word "banjo" tends to get left out of the equation, but its rhythmic accompaniment is an essential ingredient to old-time music. Until the early twentieth century, in its various forms and incarnations the banjo was probably as ubiquitous in American music as the guitar is today. Although your straight-up five-string bluegrass or openback banjo is now the standard, the cigar box banjo lives on. Instructions on how to build an "Uncle Enos Banjo" were first published in the 1870's and are still available today, along with plans for cigar box fiddles and cigar box ukeleles. These tend to be technically less advanced but their romantic appeal is unmatched.

Your average cigar box is only a couple inches deep while my soapbox was a whooping five and half, even deeper than a guitar. I wanted a playable instrument, so I hoped this wouldn't make for an unnatural angle when it came time to strum it. Still, as I have said, the thing fairly radiates mojo, more than enough to override all technical concerns. The box was handed down from my grandfather, and it never occurred to me to ask what he was doing with six pounds of crystal white starch until I started this project. My dad said it more likely came from my great-grandfather, which meant the box could be over one hundred years old. My great-granddad worked in shipping, traveling from St. Andrews, New Brunswick to Boston, and from there down to the Bahamas or thereabouts. Sometime after 1910 he bought his own ship, followed by another larger one. The starch box was part of his booty. This info was plenty enough to impress me, but my dad went above and beyond the call of duty and turned up this anecdote: 

[St. Andrews] Beacon, Oct 10/1907

Young Lady in Peril

It was a rather a remarkable coincidence that upon the same day on which Miss Andrews, of Minister’s Island, had such a narrow escape from drowning, Miss Van Horne, daughter of Sir William Van Horne, the only other land owner on the island should also have had [a] somewhat alarming experience, in the water. With some friends she was returning from a short cruise in her yacht Covenhoven, and was about to be rowed ashore from [t]he yachts mooring off the island when her foot slipped and she fell overboard. A Scotch lad who was employed on the yacht was carried over at the same time. To make matter worse the dingy was half filled with water by the two people tipping it up. The youth succeeded in getting into the boat, but with the burden of water in it it was deemed unsafe for you young lady to attempt to get in. Though the situation [was] alarming she bore it good humouredly and assured her friends that there was no cause for anxiety. With one of the yacht’s crew, Herbert Snell, supporting her, and another one rowing he boat, she succeeded in getting shore.  The young lady suffered no ill effects from her dunking.

Herbert Snell, of course, is my great-grandfather, and I was chuffed to learn he was not only a captain in his later days but a dashing hero of the high seas in his youth. What's more, Sir William Van Horne was president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and oversaw the construction of the first Canadian transcontinental railway. When I found this out the soapbox practically began to glow in the dark.

I'm no great shakes as a carpenter, so this series will be more discursive than instructive. However, I've had myself a time sawing, sanding, and tinkering, so I'd like to share some of the details. The soapbox banjo is not yet finished, but it is coming along splendidly and I hope you'll enjoy watching it take shape. Did I sand the sharp angles off the nut? What kind of varnish did I use? Will it sound like anything when it's done? Find out in the next exciting installment!

American Civil War-era Cigar Box Fiddler

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Season 3, Episode 1: The End of the World

It felt good to be back on the air last night, even if our subject matter was a tad grisly. Thinking about the end of the world frequently moves musicians to song, and last night I played thirteen prime examples. Now that we've hit the big 2012 and the end draws nigh, use this playlist to ease your passage:

Bozie Sturdivant - Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down
Hobart Smith - Heaven's Airplane
Fats Domino - When the Saints Go Marching In
Civil Defense Spot - How Much Time Do We Have? (Disaster on a Grand Scale)
The Louvin Brothers - Great Atomic Power
Sheldon Allman - Crawl Out Through the Fallout
Tom Lehrer - We'll All Go Together When We Go
The Buchanan Brothers - When You See Those Flying Saucers
The Handsome Family - When that Helicopter Comes
Tiny Tim - The Other Side
Les Cowboys Fringants - Plus Rien
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Dead Flag Blues
Tom Waits - Earth Died Screaming
Skeeter Davis - The End of the World

Making this episode reminded that on New Year's Eve, I met someone who had just visited the CFS Carp Diefenbunker outside of Ottawa. Apparently the 'bunker, which was meant to shelter our most important civil servants in the event of a nuclear attack, is now decommissioned and open to the public. The huge blast doors, clunky computers, and sheer number of toilets is said to be quite impressive. A visit is definitely in order...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Mondays 9:00-10:00 p.m. on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, or online at

Listen to this episode:

Season 3, Episode 1

Sunday 8 January 2012

Return of the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour

Fire consumes the people of Earth
Just a reminder that the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour kicks off its third season tomorrow, January 9, at 9:00 pm. Listen to Trent Radio 92.7 in Peterborough, stream it live online at, or if Monday's not your night look it up here later in the week.

To celebrate the first episode of 2012, our theme will be The End of the World. Songs of apocalypse, judgment, atomic paranoia and more! Tune in and spend your last year on earth listening to local radio...

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Dancing About Architecture, Reading About Music

As I was reflecting over the year that has passed (because I was hard up for something to post in the new one), I flattered myself it had been a good year for musical development. Most of that has to do with practicing, performing, recording, and playing with some fine musicians, but a little credit might be due to the books I read, too. They say talking about music is like dancing about architecture, but when the fit is on me I will find any way to relate my every activity to my current fixation. Books are one way to do that. This is unlikely to light a fire under anyone without an interest in making music, but since I'm not talking about method books here, it should at least relate to musicians on any instrument. So here I come screaming out of the gate to start 2012 with a note on a few books I read last year...

Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery is particularly popular with the jazz crowd, partly because Werner is an accomplished jazz pianist himself and partly because his emphasis on mindset and improvisation lends itself well to the genre. Even so, it seems to me any open-minded musician stands to benefit from Werner's ideas. According to him, expression trumps technical wizardry every time, a view that will seem natural if you've ever found yourself tuning out halfway through a display of blazing guitar virtuosity. The ideal is not about naivety but shifting the focus away from bloodless perfection. If the thought of modes, augmented chords and post-tonal composition begins to seem terrifying, Kenny Werner's your balm. The book is inspiring as hell when Werner describes his own development or praises being in the now. That means it occasionally verges on New Age, and runs short on precise details on how to reach the state of grace it describes. Looking for precise details is probably beside the point in this case, though, so if you're looking to attain a rarefied musical headspace you could do a lot worse than read Kenny Werner's book.

I found a slightly more down-to-earth approach in Madeline Bruser's The Art of Practicing. It turned out to make an excellent match with Werner, since I was hot to trot from reading Effortless Mastery and willing to sink the time into drier matters of posture and breathing. Bruser's background is classical, but again there's enough here to appeal to musicians of all stripes. I found her ideas on three types of struggle - overstated passion, avoidance, and aggression - particularly interesting. The best performance dodges all three, and although this is the type of thing most musicians have probably already grasped intuitively, it's pleasing to give it a name and a description, in the interest of keeping a sharper eye out. Bruser's book might make the best overall package when it comes to blending inspiration with technique, and I'd recommend the Art of Practicing highly.

Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch often shows up in the same context as Effortless Mastery, but I didn't have the stomach for it. Maybe I'm just too hidebound, but the book's glowing descriptions of art-in-the-raw tend to exalt anyone who has every put pen to paper or strummed a chord, and occasionally seems downright masturbatory. I was vaguely uneasy when I saw the first sentence was "I am a musician," full stop, and the ensuing discussion of Sufism, Greeks, and William Blake seemed a bit of a mashup, so I stopped and read something else.

Unfortunately it was The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey. I didn't realize initially that "The Inner Game" was originally applied to tennis, and the three, eight, ten, or however many step methods it relentless counted off made me embarrassed to be reading self-help books in public. I put it down after three or four chapters, once I found that Green spent more time praising the wondrous efficacy of his method than explaining it.

I rallied with Psychology for Musicians by Lehmann, Sloboda, and Woody. It's unlikely to help a musician in their practice, but if you've ever wondered how musical aptitude develops in children, or how the minds of virtuosos analyze music compared to the layperson, it's a good read. The writing is textbook, but tidbits surface regularly to maintain interest. For instance, I was fascinated to read about a study done on music in movies. Participants in the study watched a short clip of a man and a woman leaving an apartment, and depending on the music applied, guessed that either they were lovers parting forever, or walking in opposite directions to work.

I preferred Psychology for Musicians to The World in Six Songs by Daniel J. Levitin. I remember enjoying Levitin's first book This Is Your Brain on Music for the same reasons I enjoyed Psychology for Musicians, but found that the followup's premise (that all songs serve one of six functions) was a rather tacked on way to muse about various aspects of music. Then again, I might've just been tired of reading about the subject by the time I got to it.

One more and then I'm done: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp seemed to promise something similar to Free Play in less melodramatic form, but although the book was enjoyable it was fairly slight. It too gave me the lurking suspicion I was reading self-help.

There you have it, my secrets laid bare and infinite musical prowess just a few books away. To recap, if you've got too much actual practicing to do and can't read everything on this list, I thought Effortless Mastery and The Art of Practicing made a fine pair. I wish you all the best in the new year, and since I'm assuming only musical types made it all the way to the bottom of this post, many and varied musical adventures in 2012!