NanoMuse Blog by Randy Chance

Music, Art, Guitars and cool stuff

Guitar Chords March 24, 2011

Some Chords

Some Chords

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Note Durations December 15, 2009

Filed under: note durations — nanomuse @ 9:12 pm
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Note Durations

Note Durations

 

More on Note Durations

More on Note Durations

More on Note Durations

 

Sixteenth Notes

Durations

Durations of Notes

 

If the Guitar World Were Like the Computer World October 15, 2009

Filed under: guitar essays — nanomuse @ 12:54 am
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What It Would Be Like If The Guitar World Were Like The Digital Music World –

[It occurs to me that every time I come back from the music store with a piece of guitar equipment, I’ve got this really – “Oh boy! I can’t wait to try this out!” type of attitude. And every time I come back from the music store with a piece of computer music equipment, I’ve got this really – “I wonder how much craziness this is going to take before I finally actually get this thing to work?” type of attitude. So I put some wood on the fire and I came up with this little piece:]

So you go into this music store and you try out this Telecaster through this Twin reverb, and it sounds great and it plays great, so you buy it. And you take it home and plug it into your Marshall Plexi and you can’t get any sound out of it. So you call up the guy at the music store who sold it to you and he says, “Well, when you were here in the store you were trying it out through a Fender amp. You need to log on the Web and get Fender’s Marshall driver for the Telecaster.” So you log on and you can’t find the right web page. They’ve got Tele-Mesa.bin and a zillion other drivers, but not one that interfaces that particular model Tele with the Marshall.

However, as you’re looking around, you realize that there’s a link to a third party that has written a driver for the Stratocaster and the Marshall. It’s from some website in Holland, but that doesn’t make any difference.  You think, “Well, that should work.” So you download that one, decompress it and install it. Now, not only will your Telecaster not work on your Marshall, but your old Les Paul won’t work through your Marshall anymore, either. You go over to your friend’s house and you try your Tele out on his Twin, and you realize it won’t even play through the Fender anymore.

So you e-mail tech support at Fender and you get an automatically generated return message that tells you they’re aware of your problem and they’re working on it. They send you the address for their question and answer website and you surf over there, and you learn a whole lot of stuff, but nothing that has to do with your problem. Then Fender gets back to you four days later and they tell you to hold down on the pick-up selector switch while pressing the tone control and it will restore the default settings on both the Telecaster and the Les Paul. Then you get this advertisement in your e-mail about a new distortion pedal that Boss just came out with, and you can run a Tele through a Marshall with it. You try it out at the music store with a Tele and a JCM-800 and it smokes. So you buy it, and you take it home, but it only works with your neck pick-up.

So you e-mail tech support at Boss and they tell you it’s a hardware problem and you have to call Marshall. So you call Marshall (you can’t find any e-mail address on Marshall’s Web site) and after keeping you waiting on the line for thirty five minutes, they tell you that you were trying it out in the store with a much newer Marshall. The Plexi’s operating system is too old for that driver and it needs a work-around that can be downloaded at http://www.severedhead.com/marshall.vintagedrivers.html/, or they’ll send it to you on a Zip disk for sixty bucks.

The Web site is no longer up, and you don’t have a Zip drive anymore, but your friend does, so you send in the sixty bucks and a week later you get the driver, only your friend has a Macintosh and you have a PC. He’s assured you, “No problem, my Mac can read PC files as easily as it reads Mac files. C’mon over, we’ll experiment.” You don’t like the way he says “experiment” but you’re out of options and so you give it a shot. Everything seems to go fine and you transfer everything from his Zip to your CD, but when you get home your computer says, “This disk is unreadable.” Then you realize that you left your guitar in your car when you got home from your friend’s house. You run outside, but somebody’s already stolen it!

(I know it’s a bullshit ending, but I ran out of ideas – I need to re-poke my EPROM and crank it up to eleven).

 

Music Theory Part One September 16, 2009

An Outline of Music Theory

A musician can really only go in a combination of four directions. Like an explorer who gets to choose between North, South, East or West, a musician can make choices within four contexts:

1) Improvisation
2) Written notation
3) Roots – Previous Influences
4) Music Theory

Most music exists in combinations of these four elements. Even the most “preconceived” orchestral music is usually open to at least some interpretation, if not improvisation. Even the loosest, most improvised jazz generally has some basic structure to it. Even the earthiest blues singer has some sense of music structure or theory to hang his laments on. Even the most abstract serialist has some kind of previous emotional/musical influences that may be affecting his musical choices.

George Gershwin incorporated elements of blues and jazz into his very schooled orchestral pieces; John Lennon incorporated elements of classical music theory on top of a blues foundation; Miles Davis developed a very improvisational jazz, which nevertheless had strong structures; even the coldest serialist sequences evoke memories of musical idioms.

Of course there are exceptions to all these rules and examples. They are given here as a kind of model with which to approach musical structure.

So many musicians (including myself, for a long time) spend most of their time sitting with our guitars or keyboards or whatever, listening to a record, and pulling riffs, licks, chords progressions, and other ideas off of it. Then we string these ideas together when we’re jamming in the hopes that we will homogenize them into a personal sense of style. This is a good thing. There is nothing that can take the place of being informed of one’s roots, and creating music that presents those roots in a meaningful fashion. Because if music isn’t connected to emotion, then it’s just a bunch of notes. We’d be better off practicing typing than jamming. Emotion is always connected to memory. This is why roots music is so powerful and so popular.

But what happens when a musician (like myself) who is oriented this way wants to progress further? How do you get beyond your roots and riffs into some new, unexplored territory?

When I reached a point in my life when I wanted to get beyond rock, blues and folk in order to bring other musical realms back to my music and make use of them (to increase the number of tools at my disposal), I started studying jazz. And I found out very quickly that jazz guitar teachers don’t really teach much theory. (This came as a big surprise, because I’d always thought of jazz as being pretty cerebral). They mostly just want to give you a song to learn and then when you come back again next week, you work on that song and they give you another song.

For me there were two problems with this. This first problem was that this process never seemed to answer any of my questions about why jazz is the way it is. (Why is that called a sharp five when it seems like it would be must easier to call it a flat six? How can you have a major third and a minor third in the same chord? Why does this chord have both sharps and flats in it? Etc.). The second problem was that I wasn’t that crazy about most of the songs I was learning. I’d just wanted to get into jazz to learn more, not cause I really loved the idea of sitting around playing, “Misty”, etc. (not as much fun as “Roll Over Beethoven” – at least for me).

The thing that amazed me was that when I asked jazz teachers these questions, they fell back on their roots, too. It was that way simply because that’s the way jazz is played. If you ask a blues musician why there are twelve bars in a twelve bar blues progression, he’ll just say, “That’s the way you play the Blues, boy!” (Here’s why: when the slaves
were working out in the fields, the “leader” would call out a line, everyone would repeat that line, and then the leader would call out a response to that line. That’s how blues got it’s A A B structure – 4 bars for each section. If nineteenth century slaves had a reason for what they did, certainly Duke Ellington should have a reason too!?(.

Anyway –

I wanted to see what it was like to compose music based on the building blocks of music – from the ground up. I was tired of figuring out this or that blues, reggae or rockabilly riff. I still loved that music, but I wanted to go someplace new.

So here’s some stuff that I came up with. It’s been a big help to me. Maybe it’ll be of help to you, too.

* * *

Basic Building Blocks:

The smallest building block that we usually use in Western music is the half step. The half step is simply the interval between any two keys of the piano (including the black keys), or any two frets on the guitar. The half step is also called “semi-tone”.

Two halves make a whole, and two half steps make a whole step. Half steps and whole steps are what we use to create modes and scales in music composition. More about modes and scales later. The diatonic formula, at the cornerstone of the western musical tradition, states that an octave is made of seven steps. What is an octave? This is a phenomena of sound that dictates that if a note is vibrated exactly twice as fast as another note, it repeats the same pitch, only higher. We are all used to octaves, and seldom consider what a peculiar arrangement this is.

Nevertheless, assuming the diatonic scale to be the primary configuration of the basic building blocks of music (half steps – or semitones, and whole steps – or wholetones), we will proceed to illustrate how modes are arranged.

These building blocks are just that – building blocks. What one person does with them may be entirely different from what another person does. This information is presented purely to give a musician tools to work with. What you do with these tools is entirely up to you.

In any event, the seven steps of the diatonic scale are arranged as follows:

whole step whole step half step whole step whole step whole step half step.

or,

two whole steps and a half step, three whole steps and a half step

In this form, the diatonic formula creates the Major scale.

If you look at a piano keyboard, this configuration accounts for why there is no black key between the B and the C, and also no black key between the E and the F. Counting up from C, one whole step (two half steps) brings you to D, another whole step to E, then one half step (to retain the diatonic formula) to F (notice, no black key). One whole step from F to G, (two half steps, including the black key again), one whole step from G to A, one whole step from A to B, and a half step (completing the diatonic formula) from B to C (again, no black key).

C (whole step) D (whole step) E (half step) F (whole step) G (whole step) A (whole step) B (half step) C

Here’s another way to look at it:

C D E F G A B C
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
Think of the diatonic scale, for the time being, as home ground.

In keeping this formula intact, we can map out every key signature.

* * *

Let’s look at the G major (diatonic) scale.

If we retain the diatonic formula in the key of G:

two whole steps and a half step three whole steps and a half step

we realize that in order to maintain this formula beginning with G, the F has to be sharped. The sixth to seventh scale step in a diatonic scale has to be a whole step, and the seventh to eight is a half step. This cannot happen if the F remains natural.

So, a G diatonic, or major, scale is :

G A B C D E F# G
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
* * *

Let’s look at what happens if we start on a D note.

If we maintain the diatonic formula, here’s what we get:

D E F# G A B C# D
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
You will note that in order to make a D major scale we have to make both the F and the C sharp.

* * *

Let’s look at one more scale, the A scale.

If we use the diatonic formula moving upward from the A note, we get:

A B C# D E F# G# A
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
If you look carefully, a pattern begins to emerge here. With each new note we picked, we kept the previous sharps and picked up one new one. The C scale had no sharps. The G scale had one sharp and it was F#. The D scale had two sharps, keeping the F# and adding a C#. The A scale kept both the F# and the C# and added a G#.

So, each major scale has a specific number of sharps (or flats – we’ll get to those in a minute).

But how did I know which notes to pick that would give us an increasing number of sharps?

Here’s the key:

G is five scale steps up from C.
D is five scale steps up from G.
A is five scale steps up from D.

So, every time we move up five scale steps, we have to add another sharp to keep the diatonic formula: two whole step, half step, three whole steps, half step.

This is the phenomenon known as the Circle of Fifths.

Here’s the complete formula:

C no sharps
up five scale steps
G one sharp
up five scale steps
D two sharps
up five scale steps
A three sharps
up five scale steps
E four sharps
up five scale steps
B five sharps
up five scale steps
F# six sharps
up five scale steps
C# seven sharps

You will notice that when we get to C#, every single note is exactly one half step above C. We have succeeded in raising the entire scale up one. You will notice also that seven sharps is the highest number of sharps we can get in a scale that involves seven scale steps (!). The only thing we can do from here on is to start using double sharps – but that’s for
another lesson.

So, the key of C has no sharps, the key of C# has ALL sharps.

* * *

I said I would talk about flats. If we go down five scale steps from C, here’s what happens:

F G A Bb C D E F
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
So now we have one flat – Bb.

Down another five scale steps and we get:

Bb C D E F G A Bb
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
So it’s the same thing with flats if we go down five scale steps each time. This is also part of the Circle of Fifths:

C no flats
down five scale steps
F one flat
down five scale steps
Bb two flats
down five scale steps
Eb three flats
down five scale steps
Ab four flats
down five scale steps
Db five flats
down five scale steps
Gb six flats
down five scale steps
Cb seven flats.

Once again, after seven flats, the maximum possible for a seven step scale, we get to Cb, a point exactly one half step below C, where we started, and each scale step is one half step below it’s counterpart in the key of C.

* * *

Modes

There’s a lot of superstition concerning modes. I mean there are a lot of times when someone will say, “That’s very modal.” And it might be hard to understand what he or she is saying. Of course there’s always the possibility that they’re not sure either, but, anyway, a mode is a very simple thing, and an understanding of modes can really increase one’s array of musical tools.

A mode is just a scale formed on the diatonic formula, but starting at a different point in the formula.

Let’s take our diatonic model and spread it out twice identically over two octaves:

1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ One Octave 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ Two Octaves

Two octaves of C scales, end to end, superimposed over the diatonic formula, would look like this:

C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½
.
Now, let’s start a scale on the second scale step of C and, maintaining the diatonic scheme, end an octave above where we started:

D E F G A B C D
1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1
.
This scale, based on the second scale step, is called the Dorian mode.