Monthly Archives: March 2013

Three Is A Magic Number, or Music Theory From A Pragmatic Perspective, Part I

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In this post I want to hand you a little toolbox of music theory as far as I use it. This box is surprisingly small, but very efficient. I cannot read music, although I tried hard several times in my life to make a connection between the black dots and what goes on in my head, but for my everyday work I don’t need those dots at all. What I need is a basic understanding of how the notes relate. If you want to able to dissect, improvise, compose and arrange any kind of music there is no way around music theory, but I make do with what little follows. This goes out to self-taught guitar/bassplayers who think in frets most of the time. I have the feeling that players of all other other instruments learn this stuff by heart by the age of 8, but we poor string-fellows somehow rarely do… Okay, brace yourselves, here we go:

I. Basics.
There are 12 semitones (or frets) to the octave. In western music (classical, pop and most jazz) you pick 7 of these to make up the basic ingredients of your key. Depending on which 7 you pick you either have a minor/major scale, or one of the other modes. If you play around on your guitar and pick any 7 notes that make sense to you on an emotional level you will always end up with one of these, although there are more sets of 7 in these 12 notes.

II. Intervals.
The distance between any one of these notes, and any other note is an interval. The distance is measured in semitones, and their number determines the interval.

semitones above the root: name of interval
0: root
1: minor second
2: perfect second
3: minor third
4: major third
5: perfect fourth
6: diminished fifth
7: perfect fifth
8: minor sixth
9: major sixth
10: minor seventh
11: major seventh
12: octave = root

Now pick your set, but always just one of every numeral degree: pick a root, one of the seconds, one of the thirds and so on. In your two most basic keys, major and minor, you always have the perfect intervals and the root. For a major key, add the major intervals:
root, perfect second, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, major seventh, or if you think in tabs and take an open string as the root: 0 2 4 5 7 9 11

For a minor key, add the minor intervals.:
root, perfect second, minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, minor seventh, or if you take an open string as the root:
0 2 3 5 7 8 10

III. Analysis
Now in order to understand what this means you have to dissect music you play. It doesn’t matter if it is your own music, or stuff other peoplepersons wrote. If you want to understand a chord, take the lowest note that is played as the root, and define the intervals you have by counting semitones. If you want to find out the key, play the piece until you come to the chord that feels like home, where all tension is gone. Usually that is the final chord of the piece. If that final chord consists of majors and perfects, your piece is most likely in a major key over the root of that chord. If minor, minor. In most music outside of jazz you will find that the whole piece sticks to those seven notes of that key. Any other note that is used will stick out like a sore thumb, and be there for a single reason: to introduce some tension.

Now, play your favourite piece veeery slowly and try to think along which intervals you are using right now. I learned most of what I know about harmony from thinking through pieces I wrote or played, and trying to be aware of the relative position of ANY note I play in that piece. In my head that sounds like this: Okay, the melody goes minor seventh, minor sixth, perfect fifth, root, perfect second, ARG what the fuck was that, lemme count, aha, four semitones, that is a major interval while, as all the others were minor, weare in a minor key, what a cunning bastard, but here comes the perfect fourth again, and back to the root, horay.

IV. Furtherer

Understanding what relation any note you finger has to the root, and getting a feeling for how certain intervals and tension tones feel is maybe the most important thing I learned over the last years. This is the root (haha…) of all arranging, improvisation and composition: training that inner ear. The fun part is that it works both ways; the better you can analyse a piece you play, the easier it gets to write your own stuff. All I do when I write is listen to what comes next. There is always a vague suggestion in my head how whatever I hear right now might continue, and the better I analyse and hear that, the faster I can write what I want to happen at that spot.

I learn music by ear. I always tell all my students to do the same, and although I understand why people ask for tabs for my youtube-videos I rarely ever write them; not because that would be too much work, but because playing from a tab helps you learn to do the mechanics of a piece, but you skip all the musical relations and tensions and the inner structure. If you don’t know which of fingers plays the melody and which does the harmony you don’t really know what you are doing. So: Transcribe!!

More on constructing stuff with what I wrote above later on, for now what I scribbled down on this is much too confused for anyone to follow.

Love,

J

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Off To Pastures New

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Hey everyone,

I just wanted to let you know what it actually is I revived this blog for: I have a new project that is a side-branch of the four windows to the wind-thingy.

I originally intended the fifth, and last EP of this project to be the Center, after North, East, West and South. While the cardinal directions were meant as explorations into specific areas (acoustic guitar + voice + electronics for north, voice + drones + beats for east and so on), this center was meant to be an exploration of what is closest to home, and therefore it was meant to be sung in my personal dialect of my native tongue.

This new project will be a collaboration with an old friend. The role of this friend is basically to be a filter of quality, and to produce and mix the stuff to a level that I could not even get close to on my own. While I feel confident in writing the lyrics and the music, it really helps going over that with somebody I don’t have to explain it to, and get those fine details right that I wouldn’t care too much about on my own. I usually have to be pragmatic about the time I invest into the single steps of getting a song done (writing, playing, singing, producing, mixing, mastering, release) in order to keep my own deadlines. This gruesome balance between perfectionism and efficiency becomes a lot easier when you team up.

The production side of things is more of a hobby for me, and I have serious blank spots in the most basic matters concerning recording and mixing, and this is a great chance for me to learn a LOT, even if nothing else ever comes out of this project. Right now I rely on fiddling around with presets a lot, while my friend basically opens a plugin, and starts from scratch. Posts on this will follow.

We’ll finish recording and producing the first song these days, hopefully in March. Then the tiny machinery of no-budget-DIY will start to roll again: I will grab my iphone 4s and record some videos outside, cut that together to a neat little video, and put that on youtube (end of April). I will create another bandcamp-site, and an extra homepage (basically a static wordpress-template that I’ll tweak a little) to promote it, and come May the package should be online. We’ll do some more songs over the summer, a first EP in fall, and total world domination when winter comes.

The next posts, as mentioned above, will concern themselves with basic mixing techniques as far as I understand them. Which settings, what kind of plugins, in which order, to what end. Looking forward to that,

Love,

J

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Back To Square One

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Hey everyone,

after several months of being on the road, in the studio, moving house and generally not sleeping very much at all I decided to revive this blog and get back to work on my music.

My whole life, business and private, is changing fast and drastically, and while the private stuff is great, the business part is not. This leads me back, as it did many times before, to one of the most important trains of thought  for any self-employed humanperson:

1. You have to have several things going on that can fall back on each other should one or two of the others not work out temporarily. If you rely on one thing only, that puts a lot of pressure on that one thing. And chances are, one band alone won’t make you filthy rich.
2. You have to focus like crazy in each of these disciplines to make sure that you are getting work done or at least getting better.
3. Just because you are juggling stuff, working yourself tired, and running to and fro 24/7 doesn’t mean you are actually getting things done.
4. Getting things done is essential, as it eventually leads to the stuff that allows you to buy bread in supermarket.

Now the art in all this is to get the word “eventually” out of sentence 4, and create a working environment in which it is a prerequisite that if you work, you earn money. If you don’t (and I didn’t) you will have a steadily improving number of moments per year that make you painfully aware that potential revenue and great prospects are just thin air.

That being said, I will now return to writing and producing my own music, where there is no way on earth that it will make any considerable amounts of money. Apart from reading in the hammock on my balcony while hailstones perforate the earth there is nothing that calms and elevates my mind like recreating the music that the drunken orchestra plays in my head when I’m not looking. And a calm mind is quite something.

All the best to all of you, more to come in the next weeks.

J

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