Inverted Major Seven Chord Is Actually Minor

August 28th, 2014

Some chords are just like that. You change the bass, and the whole chord is completely different. An easy example is when the bass changes to the root of the relative minor (the 6th scale degree) underneath the tonic triad. Chances are that you’ve heard this tonic prolongation technique before. Maybe even used it!

(Take note that I’ve added the 7th scales degree in the example. This simply make the chords M7 and m9. Also, in the image I’ve added a C on the top of the chord when going to the m9. This is to replace the C that has been left vacant in the bass.)

The inverted major seven chord is actually a minor add 6 chord.

inverted-major-seven-chordAll you change is the bass, but all of a sudden you have a minor seven chord. While this is neat and useful, the relationships that occur when the bass plays the third scale degree reveal much more exciting possibilities. The same four notes reorchestrated can literally form a completely new chord. So new, in fact, that an inverted major seven chord should actually be analyzed as a minor chord with an added sixth.

Changing the bass to the third of the chord means that we have not added or subtracted any notes from the tonic major seven. Simply reorganized. This is more exciting because our previous example added a note to get that minor sound. That’s just a boring regular ol’ chord change!  This is different.

Here is a major seven chord:

Here is an “inverted major seven chord” (first inversion) that is actually a minor add 6 chord:

Now listen to the chords interact with one another. Hear how they are the exact same chord, but the bass position entirely changes your perception of it. Also listen for the delicious ambiguity at the end; which is it!?

M7 to m9

This shift in cognition occurs because when the bass moves to the third of the chord, a fifth is formed between the seventh and the bass. This fifth relationship is a simpler proportion than the third relationship formed with the root. This, in turn, outlines the fifth of the inverted major seven chord and our brains reinturpret the fifth as the third in a new chord. This redefines the chord as a minor chord to our ears. Now the minor triad on the top of the inverted major seven chord is perceived as the most important feature of the sonority. What was formerly the root is now simply a spicy treat added on to the new chord.

Metronome – When to Not Use One

August 14th, 2014

metronome-when-not-to-use-oneDon’t get excited. It’s a rare thing. Turning off the metronome is for professionals only. That is unless a professional told you to turn it off. If you’re a beginner musician, leave your metronome on. If you’ve been playing a while and can keep fairly steady time, this is where a metronome just might be holding you back from progressing.

The traditional argument (and it’s a good one) is that if you can’t keep you part together with something predictable and solid, how are you possibly going to keep your part together with another person? That’s what Mommy told me in the 6th grade, and she was absolutely right. If you can’t keep it together with a metronome, you can’t keep it together with anything. But once a musician gets to a certain level of time keeping proficiency, there is a time to set it aside. There’s another aspect to metronome practice that can actually hold a musician back; aligning your body with itself.

The metronome is an external thing that each musician internalizes in order to all be on the same page. Each beat should be exactly as far away from the previous one so that everyone agrees on when to play the next note. But there are tiny details that have nothing to do with the metronome that get overlooked. Details that occur between each note outside of the pulse and they must occur in a certain sequence in order to be correct. For example, On a woodwind instrument, the throat position must change a split second before the fingers. Otherwise the next note will have a weak and anemic attack. A metronome might get in the way of learning this technique.

Turn Off the Metronome: An Example From Percussion


Rudiment Rock-It

Drum rudiments should almost always be practiced with a metronome. But there comes a time when a percussionists weaker hand becomes conditioned to be satisfied with not being as powerful. Their single stroke roll becomes permanently swung. Their double stroke roll is sloppy with a consistent decrescendo between the four taps. A metronome hides that defect from a student. Yes, leading left helps, but it doesn’t fix all of the problems. At some point, the parts of a person’s internal striking mechanism must be aligned to itself. A metronome will get in the way. Turn it off. Play the singly stroke roll slowly. Speed it up. Slow it down. Let yourself go into a sort of trance by focusing on the sound you’re making. Play at speeds you are comfortable with until you can’t figure out which hand is making which sound. Do the same with the other rudiments. You have already internalized the symmetrical proportion of time. You have mastered it. Trust your intuitive judgment, turn off the metronome, and efficiently make your weak hand stronger. Then turn it back on to see how much faster you’ve become in the past five minutes. It works, I promise.

rudiment-rock-it-no-metronomeThanks to Rudiment Rock-It, beginners can now use this technique too. Teachers need not be worried about students developing bad habits. The game allows the player to speed up, but keeps track of the time passed between each tap. If the player becomes unbalanced in their timing, the rocket crashes and they lose. But before they crash, the game gives them a chance to slow down and regroup to try to win. So the gameplay encourages perfect and efficient practice without a metronome. There has never been a more fun or efficient way to learn the basic rudiments of percussion.

This game is so efficient because it applies this theory of a metronome getting in the way of a musician’s body aligning with itself. Instead of an outside force beating a student into submission, the game tells the player what their striking mechanism is actually doing. A persons hands align themselves to each other without needing to think about the outside influence of a metronome, and one problem can be dealt with at a time.

Practicing with a metronome still solves the majority of timing problems. However, any problem that has to do with a person’s body sequencing events with itself might be better dealt with using alternate methods.

There will be more games like this. Stay “tuned.”

Lifelong Learners – You’re Not Too Old to Learn Music

August 8th, 2014


Too often older folks tell me that they have no musical talent what-so-ever. This is usually in the context of discussing my own musical abilities. I appreciate the compliments (don’t we all). Compliment me further and ask to be taught! This is actually very important for the same reason that it is important to learn music in a person’s early years. The key to being a lifelong learner is knowing how to learn. Music teaches us this skill.

A lifelong learner probes and prods every detail in an object. They look at a broken appliance, figure out how it works, and fix it themselves. They look at a programming language and study it rather than declaring it to be magical. A lifelong learner listens to music, and starts asking questions about how it’s done. It’s not enough to appreciate beauty. They want to know why its beautiful. They want to make it themselves, and this is a wonderful thing.

Music is for the Lifelong Learner

Music is a marvelous way to teach us how to be curious. It teaches us how to listen. It’s not possible to reproduce a sound you haven’t listened to. Lifelong learners are sponges. They soak up all of the information around them and in all of its forms. The arts in general are a raw form of teaching the skill of observation and emulation. It forces the learner to make seemingly arbitrary connections. “How will adding blue to this spot of the canvas create beauty.” But it does, and learning happens. This sort of intuitive knowledge is what grants the ability to manipulate the world around us. Lifelong learners reconstruct illogical data in a way that is beautiful and useful.

Are you a lifelong learner who doesn’t know music? Probe into the raw materials of creative thought. You’re not too old to learn music. You can start here.

Offbeat or Upbeat? – An Ambiguous Disambiguation

July 24th, 2014

When talking about the adjective versions of each word, it quite obvious what the difference is. When something is offbeat, its strange or unseemly. A search for the word yields synonyms such as “funny” and “weird.” Upbeat is peppy and cheerful! Ambiguity of either makes for some cheeky musical humor.

Musically the two words are actually related to their respective adjective forms. Offbeat is most often a criticism of accuracy. It’s a very broad musical term that literally means “off the beat”. You can refer to a specific one in some cases: the second sixteenth note in beat three would be considered an offbeat. But really, an offbeat can mean any part of the beat that’s not on the beat. This includes all of the wrong places to play a note. So when your music instructor says that you are offbeat, it’s probably not a good thing. Or even worse (or better for some of us), you’re just an odd creature who’s also inaccurate. But don’t take it too personally. Everyone’s offbeat in both ways at the same time at some point in their life. Just check out this trombonist’s sneeze. Offbeat and offbeat. It happens to the best of us. (Cheeky, yeah?)

upbeat-bird-is-not-offbeatUpbeat is more specific. An upbeat is always an offbeat, an offbeat is not necessarily an upbeat, an upbeat is never offbeat, and offbeats are rarely upbeat. Upbeat refers to a moment as far away from two downbeats as possible. Tap your foot. Clap. Tap again. Clap. Tap. You’re clapping upbeats (unless you’re offbeat). Sometimes upbeat can also refer to the imaginary offbeat an upbeat conductor gives to give his offbeat musical group to come in on the downbeat (or sometimes the next upbeat if the offbeat group is playing very upbeat music).

On that note, take a look at Upbeat Bird which is only as off the beat as you make it.

Counterclockwise – Circle of Fifths or Fourths?

July 20th, 2014

counterclockwise-2048-infinite2048 Infinite – The Circle of Fifths is soon going to have a counterclockwise mode if the Kickstarter is funded. It’s going to sound very different, and here is why:

Going up a fifth repeatedly yields the clockwise circle of fifths. But what about down a fifth? Counterclockwise, of course, but can we really call it the circle of fifths at that point? It really depends on how you look at it. Taking cognition into account really messes the whole thing up.

Whenever we’re working with the raw materials of sounds, music theory should be looked at with a blank slate. No style in mind. Just air reverberating at certain frequencies. Get past all of your personal bias and look at sound the same way a machine would. Pure and cold objectivity (hey, that’s a great description of Stockhausen!).

This is sound we’re talking about! So, let’s listen to the circle of fifths counterclockwise:

Like I said before, I know that an inverted fifth is a fourth, and that there are fourths in the example. But remember; pure and cold objectivity. This means interval classes, not intervals. No tonicization means no hierarchy.

Just because it’s pretty sweet, here’s the tone row in fifths straight down in literal fifths:

Since I’m on a tangent anyway, serialism (the logical conclusion to 12-tone music) is the attempt at eliminating the hierarchy of pitches in music. It is to balance the sonic spectrum. The previous example does not do this. It makes the C at the end the most important note and the note we remember. This does not give us an accurate impression of what the circle of fifths sounds like.

Back to the circle of fifths! Compare the counterclockwise circle of fifths to the clockwise circle of fifths:

Presented in this pure and unbiased form, they sound very similar. Comparable harmonic material results. For all practical theoretical purposes, the counterclockwise circle of fifths is still the same circle of fifths. Just in retrograde.

But then we make music out of it and everything changes. Particularly the bass…which it why everything changes. Here is the Berg style tone row from last time…backwards!  And I mean really really backwards; I forgot to save the MIDI and only had the mp3 file to work with:

Here it is forwards for comparison:

Hear how the middle is a lot crunchier than it is when it’s backwards?

The Counterclockwise Circle of Fifths and Perceived Bass

The bass is quite literally the harmonic foundation and context for everything else you hear in a musical texture. So, the dissonance made out of a counterclockwise circle is welcome because the perceived bass is constantly changing to meet the new sounds. We don’t have to change the bass because our ears do the work or us.

Why do our ears do this? The ratio of the frequencies caused by the notes that make a fifth are 2:3. In other words, the sound waves line up every three oscillations of the higher note. This ratio is easier to understand than the 3:4 ratio of the fourth. Since the fifth’s ratio is simpler, our brains are more drawn to that sound and automatically rearrange any fourth they hear into the simplest ratio. This is possible because the octave above any given note is actually present in the sound via the harmonic series. Our brains reorchestrate sounds into their simplest ratio, and this changes the perceived bass as we go backwards in the circle.

We can also approach it from tonal theory when we are thinking melodically. An ascending melodic fifth (clockwise) ends on the note the ear perceives as least important. This means it sounds unresolved as opposed to the descending fifth (counterclockwise) which ends on the important sounding note (tonic). Here it as ascending:

And now descending, which is the one that sounds resolved and therefore less dissonant (Isn’t the Xylophone sweet):

CounterclockwiseSo counterclockwise fifths are persistently resolving to each other. It puts the music in a state of perpetual resolution. As opposed to clockwise which puts the music in a state of perpetual tension.

Basically, fifths are actually fourths because of some crazy cognition stuff, and going backwards in the circle fixes all dissonance.

So, is it fifths or fourths? If you take cognition into account, it’s fifths. In fact, it’s even more fifths than clockwise. Clockwise is really the awkward direction.

Here is that cool improvisation from last time–backwards! And therefore more resolved:

If all of this stuff sounds jazzy, you are correct. Now listen to Bill Evans.

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