Friday, March 29, 2019

Actually, guitars can go with bows OR Finding a friend in the band room (Equestria Girls)

I have fiction!  I have one, long, scene of three characters (Silver Spoon, Sunset Shimmer, and Octavia Melody) having a wide ranging conversation in their school's band room.  Not the most interesting thing in the world, but it is fiction that I actually got written.

~ * ~   Meta Stuff and Context   ~ * ~

If I let myself talk about background (in or out of universe) without restriction, I'll end up with a massive wall of rambling words.  (If you want to see what that looks like, go here.)  I'll be trying to keep this abbreviated.  (I'll probably fail.)

The Meta Stuff
I seem to be starting to write again, if that's really the case then it's most likely going to start with eleventy billion alternate versions of a bad My Little Pony: Equestria Girls tie-in comic.  This is part of that.

This is, however, basically a tangent to a tangent.  It's one unnecessary scene from a fairly random subplot.  In some ways, that's a good thing.  Since it isn't tied up in the main plot, I you don't need to know anything about that.  Since it isn't plotty at all, you don't really need to know about the subplot either.  It should be safe to jump in.

While there were some breaks, this was more or less one spurt of unfiltered brain-dumpy writing.  And it's not edited.  You have been warned.

The Setting
Equestria Girls takes place in the human-verse of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continuity.  Other than the naming conventions (for people), skin and hair colors, and a bizarre (in universe) fixation with horse-related names (for things), it basically takes place in present day Any-Town, USA, with deviations being exception rather than rule.

Canterlot High School (CHS) seems to be a six through twelve school (combined high school and middle school) that distinguishes between high school and middle school students in certain areas while still being a unified whole most of the time.

The CHS music room is very well stocked and open outside of school hours.

The Characters
Silver Spoon, Sunset Shimmer, and Octavia Melody are CHS students.  Sunset plays guitar, Octavia plays cello, and (for this particular fic) Silver plays violin.

Sunset and Octavia are high school seniors, Silver is a middle school student.  At the time of this scene, Sunset and Silver have become friends (and partners in crime.)

What they look like.
(Left to right: Silver Spoon, Sunset Shimmer, Octavia Melody)

Immediate Context:
The scene takes place after school in the CHS music room.  Sliver is explaining the absolute basics of violin playing to Sunset, and Octavia is setting up her cello on the other side of the room.

~ * ~ Actual Story ~ * ~

“I play guitar,” Sunset said; “I don't know anything about those things.”  She pointed to the bow Silver was holding.

“People bow guitars,” came a voice from across the music room.

Sunset and Silver found themselves looking at Octavia Melody in shock.  Octavia herself was oblivious, having either looked back at her cello immediately after speaking or never looked away in the first place.

Octavia seemed to notice the silence after a few seconds and looked up.  Judging by her expression, she found the attention somewhat embarrassing, but she addressed the unstated question none the less.

“I don't know a great deal about it,” Octavia said, “since I've never been terribly interested in how rock music is made, but I assure the both of you that people can and do use bows on guitars.”

“That's . . .” Silver said, but was unable to come up with any examples of what it was.

Sunset nodded at Silver's incomplete comment and then said, “It's like whole new world opened up,” with a sort of awe.

Sunset and Silver were still looking at Octavia in wide eyed astonishment, and she was starting to get flustered by the staring.

“I . . . I um . . .” was how she started.  After stalling out with that attempt, she quickly said, “I really don't know that much about about it.”  She paused a moment  “Would you like to hear what it sounds like?”

After slowly nodding in near unison, Sunset and Silver seemed to break free of the spell they'd been under.  They both stopped staring and started putting away the instruments and equipment they'd taken out, answering while they did:

Sunset said, “I'd love to.”

Silver said, “That would be great.”

As the two of them crossed the room, having finished putting stuff away, Octavia rummaged through a side pocket of her cello case.  By the time she emerged victoriously with a CD, a CD player, and a small speaker, the others had joined her on her side of the room.

“There will be no comments on my interest in old music, old formats, or old devices,” Octavia said sternly.  Given that the CD player she'd produced was probably older than she was, it was clear she wasn't referring to her classical tendencies when she said that.

Sunset's first impulse was to be sarcastic in response, some habits lingered forever, but she pushed that aside and said:

“Not one.”

Silver Spoon had an entirely different approach:

“You don't have to worry about that,” she said.  “Where a lot of students like music from before they were born, Sunset here likes music from before Celestia was born.”

Octavia gave Sunset a quizzical look.

Sunset's response started with strength and confidence, “That's . . .” and almost immediately faltered; she finished with, “probably not true,” in a way that completely lacked the earlier qualities.

After a moment of silence that was awkward for Sunset and amusing for Silver, Sunset asked:

“How old is Celestia, anyway?”

Silver started giggling.

Octavia, on the other hand, simply said:

“We should share playlists sometime.”

“Ok, fun as that was,” Silver said, “you were going to show us something.”  A moment later, she forfeited her standing as the least awkward individual in the conversation by saying, “Wait, 'show'?  It's made of sound, you can't show it.  How do you--”

“I was going to present an example of a particular mode of guitar playing to the two of you,” Octavia said.

“Yeah, that,” Silver responded.

Sunset smiled and gave a slight nod toward Silver.

“And I still am going to do that,” Octavia said, “but I will not butcher the song by playing only a snippet of the middle.  You'll simply have to keep your ears open for the guitar solo.”

Sunset and Silver both motioned their assent.  Octavia pushed a few buttons, her antiquated CD player spun to life, and sound started coming out of the little speaker.

Almost as soon as it started, just drum and string at that point, Sunset was into the music.  She nodded along to the music and snapped --every finger on her left hand each time to create a noise that was softer but more layered than a single snap-- in time to the beat.

Then the words kicked in:

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Doctor, baker, fine shoe-maker,
Wise man, madman, taxman, please,
How can I know just what to be?
Please stop and give advice to me.

And so the song began.

When it was over Sunset said, “Three things.  First, that was an awesome song, thank you for sharing it with us.”

“It was alright,” Silver said with a good deal less enthusiasm.

“Second,” Sunset said, turning to Silver, “Did you hear those sustains?  I've only heard guitars being strummed plucked or hammered before; the sound starts to die as soon as it's made.”

“Hammered?” Silver asked.

“You do it with a finger, but it's called a 'hammer on',” Sunset explained.

“Oh,” Silver said.

“What was the third thing?” Octavia asked.

Sunset looked at Octavia with a silly smile and then said, “I always figured you for a record girl.”

“Oh, I have it on 45,” Octavia said, “but I don't think a record player would fit into my cello bag very well.”

“Have you tried?” Sunset asked in a way that was just playful enough to invite others to laugh at her suggestion, and just serious enough to legitimately evoke thoughts of Octavia trying to to stuff a record player into her cello bag.  If the laughter of Silver and Octavia were anything to go by, that image was hilarious.

When she and Silver had stopped laughing, Octavia said:

“In seriousness, there is one other thing I happen to know about bowed guitar.  It's not in any way useful, but I think you'll understand why it's of interest to me.”

“Well--” Sunset started.

“Tell us!” Silver finished.

“The guitarist you just listened to took up the bow after a violin player suggested it, but what he used was actually a cello bow,” Octavia said, lifting her own bow for emphasis.

“Yup, I can see why that would interest you,” Sunset said.

“It's been a pleasure talking to you, Octavia Melody,” Silver said with a formal air.  “This conversation has been a gift, thank you.”

Octavia acknowledged Silver's thanks with a nod, then said:

“If you don't mind me asking, why the sudden interest in violin from you,” she indicated Sunset, “and teaching from you?” she indicated Silver.

Sunset drew out the word, “Well . . .” for far longer than a single syllable should permit.

“It's sort of a strange story,” Silver said immediately after the end of Sunset's 'Well'.

“But,” Sunset said in a way that sounded like she was going to sell something infomercial style as she emphatically raised an index finger, along with the hand and arm to which it was attached, “it all started,” at this point her voice and posture returned to normal, the sudden change taking place without skipping a beat, “with the expression 'second fiddle'.”

“Sunset decided to imply that me playing second fiddle to her would be weird given that she can't play fiddle,” Silver said.  She paused a beat then added, “Which, you know, is true.  Playing the second fiddle part on its own would sound quite strange.”

Octavia nodded.

“Silver offered to teach me how to play,” Sunset said.  “I didn't even know she played violin.”

“And Sunset's going to teach me to play guitar,” Silver said with excitement clear in her voice.

“So you'll each be teacher and student?” Octavia asked.

Silver and Sunset nodded.

“I wish you luck, then,” Octavia said.  “I've never taught anyone but I imagine it's at least as difficult as learning.”

“I definitely find the prospect of teaching more daunting,” Sunset said.

“You do?” Silver asked.

“Well, even if I utterly fail to learn to play violin,” Sunset said, “it's not like it'll be wasted time.  I'll learn more about violins, violin playing, and you, regardless of the end results.”

No one spoke for a moment or two.

“Also,” Sunset said, “guitar will always be my first love, so if I can't learn a second instrument I'll be fine.”

“So trying to learn to play has no downside for you,” Octavia said.  “That certainly explains why you'd be less concerned about your prospects when it comes to learning, but . . .” It didn't seem like Octavia was lost when came to what to say --she looked like the meaning intended for of the rest of the sentence was well understood-- but she definitely appeared to be at a loss when it came to how to say it.

Silver Spoon picked up the slack in the conversation:

“I think we all noticed that you used the word 'daunting'.”

“Well . . .” Sunset began as her posture changed.  Most notably she reached an a arm behind her back and grabbed onto her opposite elbow, but truly everything about how she was holding herself suddenly screamed, Bashful!

Or, at the very least, Sunset's posture meekly opened the door, cautiously stuck its head into the room while hiding most of its form behind the door frame, whispered:
        Um... I'm bashful, if anyone . . . you know, is interested in that information
paused a moment, added:
        Sorry for bothering you
shrunk back a bit at any attention, real or imagined, it had gathered, quickly finished with:
and sprinted away as fast as its figurative legs would take it.

Because posture like that doesn't really scream anything.

“It is, isn't it?” Sunset continued.  “I mean, guitar is really important to me, so it'd be terrible if I turn out to be such a bad teacher that I make Silver hate it.  And what if Silver's, like, some guitar god waiting to discover her talent, but because I'm not a good enough teacher she ends up thinking guitar isn't the right thing for her?  Or--”

“Sunset Shimmer,” Octavia said loudly and forcefully enough to get Sunset to stop entirely, stand straighter, and ask:


“Take deep breaths,” Octavia said much more gently.

While the others spoke, Sunset closed her eyes and took Octavia's advice.

“You're definitely not going to ruin my life by trying to teach me guitar,” Silver said.

“While your feelings are perfectly natural and you have every right to feel them,” Octavia said, “they're leading you astray.”

“Way, way astray,” Silver said.

A much calmer Sunset opened her eyes and resumed normal breathing.

“This . . .” Octavia said, but trailed off as something seemed to occur to her.  “This might not work,” she resumed, “but it's something that has always helped me.  Sunset, ask yourself if you'd hold someone else to the same standard.”

“Yeah,” Silver said, “that can work.  Would you-- did you think like that about the possibility I might be a terrible violin teacher?”

“Well, no,” Sunset admitted.

“It's important to be fair to yourself,” Octavia said, “and part of that is treating yourself as well as you treat others.  I judge myself far too harshly all the time, but then I remind myself that I'd never be so cruel when judging another.  It's not a panacea, but it can help keep the brain weasels at bay.”

Sunset, despite herself, snorted.  “Brain weasels?”

“I assure you that that is the correct and proper technical term for the phenomenon I'm describing,” Octavia said, which was made all the funnier by the fact that she'd clearly mustered all of the 'prim and proper'ness her voice could contain.

Sunset and Silver both laughed at that, while Octavia was content to merely giggle.

When she stopped laughing, Sunset said, “Thank you.  Both of you.  I guess I was getting worked up over nothing.”

Silver said, “Eh, it's something.”

Octavia said, “There's nothing wrong with what you were feeling, I feel like that all the time, the only thing that matters is how you respond to it.”

“By laying out brain weasel food and clanging a dinner bell,” Sunset said, “obviously.”

“I'm glad I was here to help you, Sunset,” Octavia said, “though don't believe I'll ever understand why people find it so surprising when I use the vernacular.”

“It's because of how you carry yourself, and how you speak,” Silver said.  “You have an air of sophistication about you.”

“Just because I am concerned with presentation,” Octavia said, “does not mean I am incapable of other modes of communication.  I'll have you know that I swear when I deem it appropriate.”

Sunset was trying not to giggle.  Her efforts were successful, but close enough to failing that there could be no doubt as to what she was doing, and what she was attempting to not-do.

Silver, on the other hand, responded with complete seriousness:

“It's not a bad thing,” she told Octavia.  “In fact, I've always looked up to you for it.”  She paused, seemed to toss something around in her mind, and then added, “I definitely learned more about how to fit into high society from you than I ever have from Diamond Tiara.”

Octavia was visibly surprised for a moment, but quickly composed herself and said:

“I am honored you think of me as a role model.”

“And I appreciate what both of you did for me just now,” Sunset said.  “I've been under a lot of stress lately--”

Silver nodded while Octavia said:

“I can imagine.”

“--and sometimes it seems like I'm always skating at the edge of a breakdown.”  Sunset took a breath.  “That you two talked me down from . . . from that and then got me back to being calm and laughing again . . . it means a lot.”

“Any time,” Silver said.

“Sunset,” Octavia said, “I'm not really one to reach out, but that doesn't mean I don't care.  If ever you feel the need to come to me--” She stopped short.  “'Need' is too strong of a word.  If there's a chance I can help, you can always come to me.”

Sunset nodded and blinked back tears that were forming in her eyes.  When she was sure she wouldn't cry, she said:

“Thanks.  It means so much to hear you say that.  Especially these days.”

Octavia gave a nod of acknowledgment, then addressed both Sunset and Silver:

“And if either of you would like another player to practice with, I'd be happy to oblige.”

Silver and Sunset said, “Thanks,” at about the same time.

Then Sunset said, “What would a cello, a violin, and a guitar sound like?”

Silver snorted.  Octavia laughed.

“Whatever they want to,” Silver said.

“It's actually a very common combination and has been for hundreds of years,” Octavia explained.

“I did not know that,” Sunset said, though it was probably redundant at that point.

“If you look online you can find pretty much any sufficiently famous pop song done by a violin-guitar-cello trio,” Silver said.  “The violin does the vocals.”

“And now I know what I'll be listening to tonight,” Sunset said.

“Classical or modern?”  Octavia asked.

“Yes,” Sunset answered.

Octavia smiled, then looked to Silver and asked, “What have we just unleashed upon the world?'

“Look,” Sunset said, adopting an incredibly serious tone, “as much as I would like to join forces with you two and take over the musical world,” she completely dropped the serious tone and finished with, “I've always felt that small string ensembles should end in 'et'.  So I'd want a quartet at the least.”

“Rainbow plays guitar,” Silver said.

“Yeah,” Sunset said, now playing at being wistful, “but I really like the idea of a different instrument for each person.”

Octavia had to try several times before she could address the idea of their future world-takeover-band without laughing, but eventually managed to say, “Lyra plays lyre.”

Sunset raised an eyebrow.

Silver asked, “Really?” in surprise.

Octavia nodded.

“I think she originally picked the instrument because she was hoping to be immortalized in a tongue twister,” Octavia said, “but she's quite proficient at it now.”

“And if you ever felt the need to bump things up to a quintet, or just add percussion,” Silver said, “we know that Lyra and Bon Bon can both play piano.”

“Pianos are good,” Sunset said, “I mean, all due respect to the keytar--”

“You can be honest,” Silver said, “neither of us are going to tell . . . um, her what you say.”

Octavia nodded.

“I am, in fact, capable of hearing the name 'Rarity' without freaking out,” Sunset said.

Silver rolled her eyes.  Octavia simply shrugged.

“Anyway,” Sunset said, “it is my incredibly humble and absolutely correct opinion,” Silver chuckled, Octavia smirked, Sunset continued, “that if one is not hitting things with hammers, they have missed the entire point.

“Whether you consider it a stringed instrument infiltrating the field of percussion, or a percussion instrument hiding out amongst the strings, the simple truth is that entire concept of the piano can be boiled down to: Hammer, meet String.”

“I don't disagree, love,” Octavia said, “pianos are--”

“All about whacking strings with hammers,” Silver cut in.

“Yes, that,” Octavia said.  “Remind me again how my air of sophistication was an inspiration to you.”

“Oh, you were and are and inspiration,” Silver said, “but you're not my only inspiration.”

“Be that as it may,” Octavia said, “I actually . . .” she faltered, “had no reason to begin this sentence with 'be that as it may',” she admitted.

Octavia took a moment to compose herself and then said:

“Regardless of the true spirit of a the piano, I do think that allowances must be made for portability.  Certainly if the absolute lightest model of cello weighed three or four hundred pounds, I'd be tempted to find some kind of substitute for use in venues that didn't have the real thing on hand.”

Sunset conceded the point with a nod and a shrug.

And then, it seemed, they all ran out of things to say.

When the silence started to drag, Silver said:

“You know, I think we said our goodbyes, or at least started to, something like three quarters of the conversation ago.”

Octavia and Sunset both looked to Silver, then to each other.

Sunset shrugged, then said:

“Well, it is true.”

“I do have practicing I intended to do,” Octavia said.

“And Silver and I came here for a reason too,” Sunset said.

“So she'll pick up her cello, and we'll pick up a violin, and we'll try to kill each other like civilized people?” Silver asked.

Sunset and Octavia burst out laughing.

After she stopped laughing, Octavia said, “I've enjoyed talking to the two of you a great deal.  Truly, this conversation was a joy.”

While Sunset seemed to be trying to think of something to say to match that, Silver only waited half a second before saying, “Ditto.”

Sunset smiled, pointed at Silver, and said:

“What she said.”

Before Sunset and Silver returned to their original side of the band room, Sunset said, “Let us know if we start to bother you, ok?” to Octavia.

“I very much doubt that will be necessary,” Octavia said, “but, as you have requested it, if you do, then I shall.”

And with that they finally, actually, parted ways.

~ ⁂ ~
~ * ~    ~ * ~
~ * End Notes * ~

There are a lot of these.

While it seems kind of clunky to write "Silver Spoon" every time, I'm wondering if I might have to.  Calling her "Silver" throughout this . . . I don't know exactly, it's a different feel to the character somehow.


Sunset is eventually going to try to construct an orphica. I had that in mind long before I came up with any of what went into this scene.  (portable piano = awesome)  Now that this scene exists, it's probably going to be what put the idea in her mind.


I had this explanation in mind, but the right place to put it never reared up:

[one of the S people]: I thought you weren't interested in rock music.
Octavia: No, I'm not particularly interested in how it's made.  The end result is a different story entirely.


I think I originally planned to have Sunset bring up flute as a rock instrument at some point.  It was probably going to be an example of something that you probably wouldn't think of/expect that none the less works.


"Silver" and "Sliver" look a lot alike.  If not for "Find and Replace" (really just the "find", since I fixed each instance manually) there would be an extra character in the scene, with a name evocative of snakes, who did nothing but randomly appear to do things you'd expect Silver to do.


I had absolutely no idea that violin-guitar-cello trios were a thing.  I mean, I knew that they must exist, which is why I took to the internet to learn what they sound like, but that they're an established form, and have been for centuries, was not something I had any idea about.

So I knew that they logically were a thing that existed, but I didn't know that they were an "a thing" thing.


The promise of being an equal partner instead of an apprentice, underling, or whatnot is basically the foundation on which Sunset and Silver Spoon's relationship was built in this story.  Even if they were the same age, Silver Spoon wouldn't have expected that to be what Sunset offered her (not that she was expecting an offer at all) and given that she's significantly younger than Sunset she definitely didn't see it coming.

The respect it implies is why she decided to team up with Sunset for their . . . extra curricular activities.

That matters because this particular scene came from, basically, imagining something like this exchange:
[Someone]: ... and as if that weren't proof enough, you've gone and taken on Miss Mini-Bully as your apprentice.

*Sunset and Silver look at each other*

*Sunset and Silver look back at [someone]*

Sunset and Silver: Partner!
Rainbow Dash: Seriously?  That's what you're going to take issue with?

[explanation of relationship ending with]

Sunset: Silver isn't second fiddle to anyone.


Sunset: Especially not me, because I don't play fiddle a--

Silver: Wanna?

Sunset: What?

Silver: Fiddle.  I could show you how.

Sunset: You play violin?
And things progress from there.  As you might guess from the above, that scene hasn't been written yet.


The thing that starts this conversation is actually kind of a big deal.  It's also surprisingly rare, given how obvious it is in hindsight.

Playing a bowed instrument like a non-bowed instrument for a few notes has been a thing for over four hundred years.  When it comes to the reverse . . . guitars have been bowed for around fifty years.

So, here's the thing about that:

Guitars are basically designed around the idea:
We need to keep the notes alive and loud!
That's because the way they're sounded doesn't lend itself to long notes or loud notes, so "the notes are too short and quiet" was an obvious problem to try to solve.

Solving that problem is a big part of why guitars have frets, and having frets is part of the definition of guitar.  (And the field of "guitar music" exploits fret-having-ness to the fullest.)

It's pretty obvious how frets help with consistent notes, what they do sustain notes is less so.  It is, however, simple.  If the sounding length of a string is "from the bridge to a hard and solid fret" instead of "from the bridge to a fleshy finger", you've removed a source of dampening.

It comes at a huge cost (you can't play intermediate notes, slides don't actually slide, so on, so forth) but the story of guitar design is the story of people who looked at that cost and said, "Worth it!"

Bowed instruments don't have that problem.  At all.

I can touch a violin string in a way that would utterly mute a guitar string, and so long as I keep pulling the bow across the string it'll sound long and loud.  (Really loud, though that could be because I don't know how to properly play a violin.)

As you might imagine from the above, introducing a bow to a guitar completely changes the constraints on the player.  It expands the field of what is possible while losing nothing (because having a bow doesn't mean having to use it.)  Thus: kinda a big deal.

Entirely unrelated: we now live in an age which has fretless guitars. (Take that, definition!)


While "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor" fits perfectly well into the Equestria Girls world, everything we know suggests that "Jimmy Page" could not.  You might be able to fit in a "Jimmy", and you could certainly fit in a "Page", but MLP naming conventions don't really allow for "Jimmy Page".  (Jimmy Page was the guitar player and co-writer.)

On the one hand, "The Yardbirds" is probably a perfectly fitting band name, on the other, I tend not to like suggesting that the world of Equestria Girls mirrors our own too closely.

To the point made by the second hand, try to imagine the politics of the 20th century in a world where people could be any color of the rainbow and children could look as radically different from their parents as is canonical.

It's much easier for me to go with the idea that the cartoon's universe is one that happens to resemble ours a lot right now.  It didn't so much in the past, and it won't so much in the future, but the narrative is ensconced in the (historically speaking) brief period when it does.

Why does the story take place in that short period of coincidental similarity?  For the same reason that it takes place in a time and place where English is the common language.  Narrative convenience.


  1. I haven't finished this yet but today I parked next to a luthier.

  2. I'm not sure whether you get any type of linkback notifications, so I thought I'd let you know that I included this post in my latest link roundup under the things-that-made-me-laugh section. (That bit about bashful posture was great.)

    1. > That bit about bashful posture was great.

      Thank you. I was actually worried about that. I liked it, but I wasn't sure if anyone else would.


      I don't seem to get any linkback notifications.