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ALSO BY WAYNE CHASE
Roedy Black’s Complete Guitar Chord Poster
Roedy Black’s Complete Keyboard Chord Poster
Roedy Black’s Guitar & Keyboard Scales Poster
Roedy Black’s Musical Instruments Poster
Roedy Black’s Chord Progression Chart
The Gold Standard Song List
The Essential Handbook
for Songwriters, Performers, and Music Students
SECOND EDITION
Wayne Chase
Roedy Black Publishing Inc.
Vancouver, BC, Canada • Blaine, WA, USA
Copyright © 2006 by Roedy Black Publishing Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a
retrieval system without written permission from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief
quotations in a review.
How Music REALLY Works! is a serious critical study of popular songwriting technique as exemplified
by various songwriters. Brief quotations of lyrics are intended to illustrate or explicate the critical
argument and information presented by the author of How Music REALLY Works! and thus constitute
fair use under existing copyright conventions.
Cover illustration © 2003 by Irene Ha.
Chase, Wayne O.
How music really works: the essential handbook for songwriters, performers, and music students /
Wayne Chase.—2nd ed.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-897311-55-9 (trade paperback)
ISBN 1-897311-56-7 (PDF)
The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
Published by Roedy Black Publishing Inc.
46800 - Unit D, 2405 Pine Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6J 5G6
604-228-8444
604-228-8424 fax
[email protected]
www.RoedyBlack.com
Printed in Canada.
Visit this book’s websites:
www.HowMusicReallyWorks.com
www.GoldStandardSongList.com
www.CompleteChords.com
www.MooseNobel.com
TO ANNA
CONTENTS
PART I
THE BIG PICTURE
Introduction:
Yes, You
Create Compelling, Emotionally Powerful
3
Music and Lyrics ... You Know What YouÊre Doing
Intro.1
Intro.2
Intro.3
Intro.4
Intro.5
1
What Music REALLY Is, Who Makes It, Where,
When, Why
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.5
2
Music Notation? Not Here! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
An Essential Skill Songwriters and Performers Lack . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Technique First, Then Emotional Abandon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What You Need to Know to Understand Everything in This Book . . . . .
The Territory Ahead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.1
2.2
2.3
2.4
2.5
2.6
11
What Is Music? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Who Makes Music? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Where Does Music Come From? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
When Did Music Get Started? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why Is There Such a Thing as Music? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What the Popular Music Industry REALLY Is, and
Where It Came From
3
5
5
8
8
12
13
16
53
71
101
Origin of Popular Music as an Industry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
African American Dominance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Your Musical Roots: How the Major Genres Emerged . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why There’s No Such Thing as “Progress” In the Arts, Including Music .
Musical Genres as Cultural Infrastructures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Brief Look at the Major Genres of Western Popular Music . . . . . . . . . .
102
104
106
111
117
120
viii CONTENTS
PART II
ESSENTIAL BUILDING BLOCKS OF
MUSIC
3
How Tones and Overtones REALLY Work
3.1
3.2
3.3
3.4
4
5
Tones and Their Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Overtones: The Harmonic Series . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How Musical Instruments Work (Including the Voice) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tone Properties and Their Emotional Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How Scales and Intervals REALLY Work
4.1
4.2
4.3
4.4
147
154
162
171
177
Scales: Brain-averse, Brain-friendly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Intervals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Interval Dynamics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Emotional Effects of Intervals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How Keys and Modes REALLY Work
5.1
5.2
5.3
5.4
5.5
147
177
192
208
221
223
Scales from Around the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Modes: Scales of the Diatonic Order . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Keys, Major and Minor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tuning, Temperament, and Transposing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Modulation and Tonality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
223
230
241
259
266
PART III
HOW TO CREATE EMOTIONALLY
POWERFUL MUSIC AND LYRICS
6
How Chords and Chord Progressions REALLY Work
6.1
6.2
6.3
6.4
283
Where Chords Come From . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Triads and Sevenths: The Foundation of All Western Tonal Harmony . . .
Introduction to Chord Progressions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Nashville Number System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
283
290
305
308
ix
CONTENTS
6.5 The Four Types of Chord Progressions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.6 Scales of Chords? Yes! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.7 Inside the Circular Harmonic Scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.8 Chase Charts: Chord Progression “Maps” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.9 Chase Charts of the Four Types of Chord Progressions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.10 Examples: Chase Charts of Great Songs without Modulation or
Chromatic Chords . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.11 Examples: Chase Charts of Great Songs without Modulation, with
Chromatic Chords . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.12 Modulation Ways and Means . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.13 Examples: Chase Charts of Great Songs with Modulation, without
Chromatic Chords . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.14 Examples: Chase Charts of Great Songs with Modulation and
Chromatic Chords . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.15 When Chord Progressions Go Bad ... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
6.16 What About Chord Progressions Based on the Church Modes? . . . . . . . .
6.17 Chords and Chord Progressions: Maximizing Emotional Impact . . . . . .
6.18 10 Chord Progression Guidelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7
How Beat, Pulse, Meter, Tempo, and Rhythm
REALLY Work
How Phrase and Form REALLY Work
382
407
420
429
443
449
453
462
466
473
7.1 Evolution, the Brain, and Rhythm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.2 Your Brain’s Evolved Memory Functions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.3 Beat vs Pulse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.4 Types of Pulse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.5 Meter and Time Signature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.6 Varieties of Meter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.7 Tempo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.8 Rhythm, the Soul of Melody . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.9 Meter and Rhythm in Popular vs “Classical” Music . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.10 Meter, Tempo, and Rhythm: Unity and Variety . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8
316
327
348
362
371
473
475
484
489
494
498
514
522
532
536
541
8.1 Distinguishing Between VM (Vocal-melodic) Phrases and Structural
Phrases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.2 Why Binary Structure Is the Soul of Great Popular Song Form . . . . . . . .
8.3 Other Matters of Phrase and Form . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8.4 Form: Unity, Variety, and Emotional Impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
541
545
558
563
x
9
CONTENTS
How Melody and Melody-harmony Integration
REALLY Work
567
9.1
9.2
9.3
9.4
9.5
Evolution, Music, and Emotional Arousal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Melody, Memory, and Memes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Melodic Unity and Coherence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tune and Chord Progression . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
VM Phrases Within Structural Phrases: From Weill and Brecht to
Bowie and Beck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.6 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#1):
Don’t Let Your Comfort Zone Select Certain Song Elements . . . . . . . . .
9.7 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#2):
Recognize the Primacy of Rhythm Patterns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.8 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#3):
Use Sequences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.9 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#4):
Use the Same Rhythm Pattern with Multiple Melodies . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.10 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#5):
Mix Up Steps, Leaps, and Repeats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.11 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#6):
Mix Up Note Values . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.12 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#7):
Use Modulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.13 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#8):
Use Non-chord (Non-harmonic) Tones on Accented Beats . . . . . . . . . . .
9.14 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#9):
Use Modal Scales with Diatonic Chords . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.15 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#10):
Incorporate a (Repeating) Melodic Climax . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9.16 Putting It All Together: A Suggested Approach to Composing Tunes . . .
9.17 Melody: Unity, Variety, and Emotional Impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10 How Lyrics REALLY Work
10.1
10.2
10.3
10.4
567
575
578
580
585
598
602
604
607
609
614
616
617
621
623
628
636
641
Evolution and Language: The Biology of Lyrics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Lyrics in Semantic Space: The Central Importance of EPA . . . . . . . . . . .
Lyrical Emotion: Choice of Words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#1):
Use Four Essential Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.5 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#2):
Use a High Proportion of Personal Words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.6 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#3):
Use a High Proportion of Personal Sentences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.7 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#4):
Prefer Concrete Symbols and Imagery to Abstract Ideas and Concepts . .
641
645
650
658
659
663
666
xi
CONTENTS
10.8 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#5):
Sail Beyond the Horizon of Logic and the Real World—But Use
the Wundt Curve to Chart Your Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.9 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#6):
Know How to Proportion Unique Content-words, Function-words,
and Repeated Words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.10 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#7):
Live for Parallel Construction, Die for Parallel Construction . . . . . . . .
10.11 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#8):
Find Time to Rhyme . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.12 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#9):
Adhere to the Accent-matching Law (for the Most Part) . . . . . . . . . . .
10.13 10 Techniques for Creating Emotionally Powerful Lyrics (#10):
Don’t Hesitate to Revise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10.14 Putting It All Together: A Suggested Approach to Composing Lyrics . .
10.15 Lyrics: Unity, Variety, and Emotional Impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
11 How Repertoire, Signature, and Performance
REALLY Work
11.1
11.2
11.3
11.4
668
674
676
683
696
704
706
732
737
Repertoire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Your Signature Sound and Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Performing Live . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Performing in the Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
737
745
765
774
PART IV: MAKING A LIVING IN MUSIC
12 How the Music Business and Music Entrepreneurship
REALLY Work
12.1
12.2
12.3
12.4
779
Starters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Your Public Image . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Your Own Label . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Indie Labels and Major Labels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
780
787
797
809
Epilogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 821
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
Appendix 1: Roedy Black’s Chord Progression Chart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 825
Appendix 2: Useful Websites and Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 829
xii CONTENTS
Appendix 3: Winners of the Moose Nobel Prize in Music, 1901-2006 . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
831
839
847
869
Acknowledgments
It’s my pleasure to thank all those who inspired and helped me to convert a
somewhat fragmented web-based First Edition of How Music REALLY Works! into
this extended hard-copy Second Edition. The loving encouragement of my wife
Anna Hudson, who made countless valuable comments on all chapters, kept me
believing, contrary to the evidence, that the dang book would get done eventually,
even as the months turned into years ... more than four years. I’d also like to thank
Doug Chase, Margaret Chase, Rose Blower, and Len Blower for their help on this
project. The cheerfulness and enthusiasm of my friend John Swift buoyed me as I
struggled to keep the book from getting totally out of hand. Other friends who
contributed in various ways include Doug Eakins, Tim McDaniels, Bill Allman, and
John McLaughlan. A number of musicians reviewed various chapters and made
many helpful suggestions: Stephen “Digger” Souza, Gary Talley, Rod Copes, Alan
McCann, Craig Pinegar, David Kreller, Evan Bowen, David James, John Bercik,
David Thwaite, Peter Block, Robert Curtis, and Simon Williams. I am grateful to
Irene Ha for her brilliant watercolour cover illustration, and to Fiona Raven for cover
layout. To those I have forgotten to thank, I offer apologies. Please see Section 7.2
on memory and its limitations.
Advisory/Disclaimer
This book provides information primarily on the art and craft of songwriting, and
secondarily on marketing and promoting popular music. It is sold with the
understanding that the publisher and author are not engaged in rendering legal or
other professional services. If you require legal and other expert assistance, you
should seek the services of a competent professional.
Since this book is but one of many on the subject, you are urged to survey as
much material as you can about writing and marketing your songs, recordings, and
live act, and tailor the information to your individual needs. Appendix 2 lists some
resources you may find useful.
Every effort has been made to make this book as accurate as possible. However,
there may be mistakes, both typographical and in content. Therefore, this text should
be used only as a general guide and not as the ultimate source of songwriting and
marketing information. Furthermore, this book contains information that is current
only up to the printing date.
The purpose of this book is to educate and entertain. The author and Roedy Black
Publishing Inc. shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity
with respect to any loss or damage caused, or alleged to have been caused, directly
or indirectly, by the information contained in this book.
PART I
THE BIG
PICTURE
Introduction
Yes, You
Create
Compelling, Emotionally
Powerful Music and Lyrics...
You Know What YouÊre
Doing
Making music should not be left to the professionals.
—MICHELLE SHOCKED
INTRO.1
MUSIC NOTATION? NOT HERE!
Most musicians play by ear. Suppose you play by ear. What use would you have for
a book on musical technique full of examples in the form of music notation? Doesn’t
make sense. Other ways of explaining music work just as effectively. Or even better.
Fluency in music, like fluency in language, does not require the ability to read or
write. So, How Music REALLY Works! has no music notation.
4
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 1
Zone
·A Music-Notation-Free
In case somebody has ever advised you that learning how to read and write music
notation will make you a better songwriter or performer, here are just a few of the
many songwriters who did alright without notation skills:
Irving Berlin
Johnny Cash
Errol Garner
Jimi Hendrix
Robert Johnson
John Lennon
Paul McCartney
Muddy Waters
Brian Wilson
Stevie Wonder
And some non-songwriters ... performers who managed to play and sing their
way to glory without knowing how to read or write music:
Louis Armstrong
Bix Beiderbeck
Dave Brubeck
Glen Campbell
Bing Crosby
Judy Garland
Kate Smith
Luciano Pavarotti
Elvis Presley
Django Reinhardt
Buddy Rich
Frank Sinatra
Ella Fitzgerald
Chet Baker
Musical skill is normal in the human species. Not a rare talent. Most people have
the potential to sing and to play an instrument with reasonable competence, even if
they’ve never tried. Even if they’ve tried and failed (usually due to inept instruction).
Ability to read or write music notation has nothing to do with it.
Same with songwriting. Contrary to common belief, it’s not a special gift.
Anybody can write a song. Even a five-year-old child.
But hardly anybody has one vital skill required to create brilliant, classic songs.
INTRODUCTION
5
INTRO.2
AN ESSENTIAL SKILL SONGWRITERS AND
PERFORMERS LACK
The main part of this book focuses on techniques you can use to create accessible,
memorable, emotionally powerful music and lyrics. The biological connection between
music and emotion in the human species goes back hundreds of thousands of years,
as you’ll see in Chapters 1 and 9. Music evolved as an emotional communication
system. And 99.9% of songwriters have no idea how it works or how to exploit it. It’s
the essential skill they most need, and most lack. That’s why, for example, the
companion to this book, the Gold Standard Song List (GoldStandardSongList.com)
has only 5,000 songs on it (from a full 100 years of songwriting), instead of 5,000,000
or 500,000,000 songs.
You have but one instrument at your disposal that you can use to create
emotionally powerful music: the 100,000-year-old neural organ inside your skull. If
you don’t understand how it works musically, you have no advantage over a million
other aspiring songwriters and performers. If you don’t know how to manipulate
certain elements of music and lyrics to evoke emotion, you will fail in the
marketplace as a songwriter and as a performer of your original songs. Potential
audiences do not want to hear emotionally anaemic songs, no matter how well
performed.
Technology will not save you. All the digital hardware and software in the world
can’t come remotely close to emulating what your brain can do when it comes to
creating emotionally evocative music and lyrics.
In short, if you want to break away from the masses of struggling musicians, you
have to learn how to use your brain’s evolved musical and linguistic modules to
create accessible, memorable, emotionally powerful music and lyrics.
INTRO.3
TECHNIQUE FIRST, THEN EMOTIONAL ABANDON
First, you need to learn the technical elements covered in this book. Learn the skills
Lennon and McCartney spent years acquiring before they ever wrote a song. They
didn’t read music, but by the time they started recording original songs, they had
absorbed an awful lot of technical stuff about music.
Their technical knowledge did not come to them magically. Growing up in
Liverpool in the 1940s and early 1950s, Lennon and McCartney absorbed a good
deal of their musical know-how from the classic songs of great masters such as the
Gershwin brothers, Noel Coward, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. McCartney learned
6
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
much about how music works from his father, a proficient amateur pianist who also
played trumpet in a jazz band.
Additionally, the lads devoured the best of American country, folk, and blues,
thanks to young Liverpool sailors who brought home the latest records. Lennon and
McCartney met in 1957, a couple of years after rock ’n’ roll (as it was known then)
had become an international phenomenon. An early poster of Lennon’s pre-Beatles
band, The Quarry Men, advertises the band’s repertoire in this order:
Country • Western • Rock ‘n’ Roll • Skiffle
In the years before getting signed to a label, The Beatles played hundreds of gigs
in England and Germany—covers of now classic songs. Once signed, they recorded
covers of early rock ’n’ roll tunes such as “Long Tall Sally,” “Roll Over Beethoven,”
and “Matchbox.” They also covered some decidedly non-rock material such as “A
Taste of Honey” and Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway show tune, “Till There
Was You,” from The Music Man. Learning all those covers—everything from
wartime dance hall tunes to American rockabilly and blues—and playing them over
and over and over instilled in Lennon and McCartney a deep understanding and feel
for the way great songwriters meld technical and psychological elements to create
memorable songs. Any intelligent songwriter who learns how to do this (one way or
another, not necessarily the way Lennon and McCartney mastered it), and applies
it in his or her own original creative style, can compose brilliant songs consistently.
Songwriters who do not learn how to do this (the vast majority) turn out mediocre
material.
As you go through this book, don’t focus on rote-memorization of details. Just
take in the major concepts (more on this in a minute). After a while, the most
important techniques, summarized at the ends of Chapters 6 through 11, will become
second nature to you. Habitual.
Once you’ve mastered the technical stuff, then write with unpremeditated
emotional abandon. Without thinking about whether your methods are “technically
correct.” It’s like learning and applying any skill. Riding a bike or a horse. First you
nail the technique, then you take off and explore. (Even when you’ve become highly
skilled, you’ll find yourself editing and revising initial drafts to make each musical
and lyrical component as powerful and memorable as possible.)
WHY THIS BOOK IS A CLASSIC WESTERN (AND WHY
YOU WILL NEED A HORSE)
In Chapter 2, you’ll learn why music does not “progress” the way
science and technology progress. Instead, artists, including
songwriters and performers, aim to create classics. (Artists who
don’t aspire to create classics are hacks.)
INTRODUCTION
7
The popular songs of English-speaking nations of the West
serve as this book’s reference base for examples and
illustrations. Especially the 5,000 classic songs of Western
popular music you’ll find at www.GoldStandardSongList.com.
Classic songs by Western songwriters such as Bob Dylan, 2Pac, The
Beatles, Hank Williams, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Ferron, the
Gershwin brothers, James Brown, Wu-Tang Clan, David Bowie,
Annie Lennox, Bob Marley, Duke Ellington, the McGarrigle sisters,
Tom Waits, and a thousand others.
, then, is a Classic Western.
That means, to get the most from this book, you will need a
horse. If you don’t already have one, Sadie and Ellie Sue over at
the Dodge City Horse Store can probably fix you up. If they don’t
have one to your liking, two stagecoaches leave Dodge every
morning, one eastbound to Wichita and the other southbound
to Amarillo. Good horse stores in both towns.
If you need a drink (and you probably will because you’ll find
some bits of this book as dull as a lecture on the geology of
gravel), ride on over to the Wrong Ranch Saloon. Ms Puma owns
the place and pours the Jack Daniel’s. She has a heart of gold
because, in accordance with her life’s role as a cliche in a Classic
Western, she used to be a prostitute but has changed her ways.
These days, as she tends bar at the Wrong Ranch, Ms Puma has a
lot of interesting things to say on all kinds of topics, such as
intelligent design and particle physics. For instance, she can
explain to you in plain English why it is that, as quarks and gluons
get closer together, the forces between them get weaker and
weaker. Which, as folks in these parts realize, simply defies
common sense.
If you have a problem with horse stealers or other nasties, get
hold of Marshal McDillon. You’ll most likely find him over at the
Wrong Ranch Saloon, visiting with Ms Puma a lot. If you can’t find
the Marshal, look for Deputy Fester, who hangs around Sadie and
Ellie Sue’s horse store. Which is ironic, considering Deputy Fester
can’t ride a horse to save his pathetic soul.
If you have a medical problem, Doc Yada-Yadams might be able
to treat you. If he’s sober. Which is seldom. But without him, this
Classic Western would lack another important cliche, the town
drunk.
8
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
INTRO.4
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO UNDERSTAND
EVERYTHING IN THIS BOOK
In short, not much. Here’s a list:
•
How to count to 32 (well, maybe all the way up to 64).
•
How to locate and play the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G on a piano or guitar
or other instrument.
•
Roman numerals from “I” up to “VII”.
•
The meaning of simple ratios, such as “2:1", as in “At the Wrong Ranch
Saloon, Moosehead beer outsells Diet Coke 2:1”.
•
How to find, explore, and exploit the Gold Standard Song List (hint: it’s at
www.GoldStandardSongList.com).
•
What songs to play on your mouth organ for your horse as you ride along in
the Deep Purple of Twilight Time through the Blue Shadows on the Trail.
The farther you travel, the more you will need to get acquainted with the Gold
Standard Song List and the instructions at that website on how to listen to free, legal
excerpts of songs, and how to get the lyrics for any of the songs.
INTRO.5
THE TERRITORY AHEAD
All songs spring from songwriters’ information-processing brains. Great songwriters
reveal in their songs (both music and lyrics) an intuitive understanding of the
evolutionary biology of music. That’s the subject of Chapter 1.
Songs become timeless classics if they tap into shared human universals, aspects
of evolved behaviour that have not changed in tens or hundreds of thousands of
years. As you go through this book, you’ll learn how to apply insights about how
your brain works in the process of creating and performing your songs. And how
your listeners’ brains work when they hear your songs.
Is it tough to learn?
In a word, nah. It ain’t rocket science.
INTRODUCTION
9
Here’s the thing. You can’t separate biology from the arts. That includes music.
The human brain’s built-in receptors for patterns and sequences become activated at
several levels when the brain senses patterns in melodies and chords and rhythm and
lyrics. How Music REALLY Works! shows you how to exploit your brain’s adaptation
for music in your songwriting and performing technique.
You’ll probably write much better songs, memorable, powerful songs, once you gain
an understanding of how the brain processes music and lyrics, and the emotional
connections it makes. (You’ll perform better, too).
That does not mean you have to memorize all the technical details in this book.
Instead, you only need to understand the essence of what you’re reading. You can
go through the material at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. No need to rush.
Your brain will retain the gist of the material that interests you, the stuff you find
yourself having fun with—especially the territory that’s new for you. When you’re
done, of course you’ll need to look up specific details from time to time to refresh
your memory. But you don’t need to memorize lengthy passages to acquire useful
information.
The oft-quoted philosopher, Huckleberry Finn, best sums up where you’re headed
in the following pages, and why:
I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest because
Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.
I been there before.
„DON‰T TAKE YOUR GUNS TO TOWN‰
Before you get going, here’s some friendly advice from Deputy
Fester: don’t take your guns to town.
He’s referring to an incident that happened at the Wrong Ranch
Saloon on the main street of Dodge some years ago. Deputy
Fester told the whole story to an admiring reporter from the
Dodge City Musical Saw Weekly in an interview at the Wrong
Ranch.
“See that dusty cowpoke on the barstool yonder? Watch what
you say around him. He’ll try to laugh you down. He’s the dude
Billy Joe’s ma warned Billy Joe about in the Johnny Cash song,
‘Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.’
“She warned Billy Joe quite a few times in the chorus. ‘Leave your
guns at home, Bill,’ she said. ‘Don’t take your guns to town.’
“But did he listen to his ma? Noooooo.
10
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
“Here’s the story. Billy Joe straps on his guns and tells his ma he’s
a man, and gets on his horse and he rides into Dodge.
“He hitches his horse outside the Wrong Ranch and strides in like
he owns the place and orders a double Jack Daniel’s and Ms Puma
serves it up. Which Billy Joe knocks back too fast, and starts
coughing like an idiot.
“So the dusty cowpoke over there starts laughing him down.
Next thing you know, they get into that famous gunfight, and
the cowpoke plugs Billy Joe real good, because that’s how the
song goes.
“We planted Billy Joe up on Boot Hill. That part isn’t in the song,
but we had to do something. You can’t just leave a body shot full
of holes to rot on a saloon floor. It would stink like a sack of
rotten eggs in a day or two. Ms Puma would lose her license
pretty quick.
“We couldn’t even report the shootout to Marshal McDillon,
because that’s not in the song either, and Johnny Cash wouldn’t
let us change the lyrics. He told us he already shot a man in Reno
just to watch him die, in one of his songs, and he didn’t take
kindly to strangers messing with his plot lines. Especially in a
song where a dude gets shot. Bad karma, Johnny Cash said. So
the dusty cowpoke never even got arrested.
“So that’s why I advise everybody who reads this book to please
leave your guns at home. You never know what sort of
dangerous characters and ideas you might come across, itching
to pick a fight. Thank you.”
1
What Music REALLY Is,
Who Makes It, Where,
When, Why
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is
not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music.
Music is the best.
—FRANK ZAPPA
1.0.1
PIQUING THE POLARIZED
Chapter 1 addresses these five basic questions about music:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
WHAT is music?
WHO makes music?
WHERE does music come from?
WHEN did music get started?
WHY is there such a thing as music?
The other question, “HOW does one go about creating music worth listening to?”
takes nine chapters to answer—Chapters 3 through 11, the main part of the book.
Tackling the five “Ws” of the phenomenon of music necessitates delving into
Darwinian natural selection and sexual selection. If you have a strong religious faith,
12
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
you may find bits of Chapter 1 offensive because of all the evolution stuff. On the
other hand, if you have a strong atheistic belief, Chapter 1 may offend you, too,
because it does not advocate for atheism.
If you already know all about natural selection and sexual selection and brain
modularity, then Chapter 1 might simply bore you. If so, why not grab a bag of chips
and ride on ahead to Chapter 2, which discusses the rise of the Western popular
music industry and its various genres. Or Chapters 3 through 11, the sections on how
to create memorable, emotionally powerful music and lyrics.
1.1
What Is Music?
1.1.1
BIOLOGICAL, NOT MYSTICAL
Music has played a central role in human existence for hundreds of thousands of
years.
So...what is music?
According to the evidence, it’s probably an adaptation—although some
researchers argue music is a byproduct of other adaptations.
What’s an adaptation?
It's a biological trait that evolved to promote survival or reproductive success. A
tiger’s fangs. A peacock’s fan. A mosquito’s ability to draw blood and escape into the
night, just as you’re trying to get to sleep.
As a human, you possess many formidable adaptations, such as bipedalism (twolegged walking), language, and a lot of other inborn skills that your fellow primates
do not have. (Unlike horses, all primates— several hundred species—have highly
flexible 5-fingered hands, opposable digits, and sharp eyesight. Some, such as
monkeys, apes, and humans, also have relatively large brains.)
Before biologists confer “adaptation” status upon a human trait, in a solemn
ceremony at Stonehenge under a full moon, said trait must fulfil several criteria,
among them:
•
Humans in all present-day cultures must use the adaptation.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
13
•
Evidence from history and anthropology must indicate the adaptation’s
existence in ancient cultures.
•
Evidence from palaeontology must indicate the adaptation’s existence to
some degree in extinct hominid species—that is, in other species of bipedal
human-like primates, all now extinct.
All of the above apply to language and bipedalism. They also apply to music.
Every human culture ever known has had music. Even societies that do not have
well-developed visual arts show sophisticated musical development.
Today, practically all normal adult human beings:
•
Can and do sing to some degree (Pop Idol/American Idol contestants
notwithstanding), even if only in the privacy of an elevator or on the back of
a horse in the hills south of Tulsa.
•
Can and do tap at least one foot to a tune, once in a while (an important
qualification as you’ll see in a minute).
•
Listen to self-chosen music, purchase music, and otherwise show appreciation
for music at some level. (“I could’ve played guitar like Jimi, but I chose to go
into accounting instead, to meet more women.”)
1.2
Who Makes Music?
1.2.1
HOOTIN’ AND HOWLIN’: HOW ANIMAL SOUNDS
DIFFER FROM OTHER SOUNDS IN NATURE
In nature, when you listen to the wind in the trees or water rushing in a stream, what
do you hear? Random and diffuse background sound. Like traffic in the city. A wide
range of frequencies all mixed together. (Frequency just means number of vibrations
per second. A given frequency number corresponds to a particular tone or note, such
as A-440, the A above Middle C. More on this in Chapter 3.)
14
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Animals evolved ways of signalling each other using calls that focus on narrow
bands of frequencies. Energy concentrated in this way results in sounds that carry
long distances. You can hear the hootin’ and howlin’ easily against the random
background sound.
Species also evolve sounds specific to their own kind, so that they can identify
each other. In a tropical rainforest, for example, a small area of, say, one square
kilometre may contain scores of different bird species. Each species has evolved a
signature sound, a distinctive song or repertoire of songs. (More on developing a
signature sound in Chapter 11.)
1.2.2
HOOTIN’ AND HOWLIN’: INSTINCTIVE VS LEARNED
Studying vocalizations of non-human animals provides some clues about how music
originated in humans. For instance, some animals use vocalizations to signal alarm,
some to signal discovery of a food source.
All birds with complex songs learn their songs from each other. But they don’t
learn just any old tunes—they learn species-specific songs only. And, once learned,
their songs change little. The fact that they learn songs at all, though, makes birds
musically akin to humans, whales, and dolphins. (But that does not mean humans
became musical by imitating birds!)
Oddly, some of our closest primate relatives, monkeys and chimpanzees, do not
learn their vocalizations from each other. They’re born with an instinctive and
limited repertoire of grunts and calls. Chimpanzees have about 30 calls. Even the
charming vocal duetting of gibbons is not learned; it’s innate.
Animal calls and songs normally communicate an emotional state. So it’s
possible that the musical vocalizations that humans evolved did not co-evolve with
language, since language communicates mostly information. Human music may
have predated human language, but it’s highly unlikely that language evolved before
music.
1.2.3
HUMAN SOUNDMAKING: DISCRETE PITCHES
(NO MORE HOOTIN’ AND HOWLIN’)
Non-human primate vocalization takes the form of unpitched grunts and calls, rather
than discrete pitches. Your human brain does not respond happily to continuously
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
15
sliding hootin’ and howlin’ when presented in musical or speech contexts. It gets
confused.
Unlike all other animals, humans evolved a vocal communication system that
uses mainly discrete pitches. You can hear it in both speech and music. That’s why the
melodies of songs found in all musical traditions follow scales, groups of discrete
pitches (the subject of Chapter 4).
1.2.4
HUMAN SOUNDMAKING: ENTRAINMENT (THAT’S
EN-TRAIN-MENT, NOT ENTERTAINMENT)
Humans entrain to isometric beats.
•
To entrain (from the same root as “train,” referring to being dragged or carried
along) means to join in and synchronize to a rhythmic source outside the
body—to play, clap, tap, sing along. Or, as a musician would put it, to lock in
with the band.
•
Isometric refers to steady, evenly-spaced regular beats.
The ability to entrain rhythmically to an external beat—vital in both music and
dance—has evolved only in humans. No other animal can do it. Selective pressure
for teamwork and group coordination may have triggered the evolution of the
rhythmic entrainment function in humans.
(Selective pressure refers to the environmental demands—including conditions
in the social environment—that favour the Darwinian evolution of physical and
mental traits over a long period of time. In short, selective pressure drives Darwinian
evolution. For example, selective pressure for group bonding may have driven,
among many other social behaviours, the evolution of the human ability to
harmonize, or blend discrete pitches—a skill unique to humans.)
The innate ability to entrain means people can participate in a musical
performance without knowing how to play a musical instrument—clapping along,
nodding to the beat, and, of course, dancing. A few animals can chorus in synchrony,
such as frogs and crickets. But only humans can vary the tempo (number of beats per
minute) from slow to several times faster, without losing the sense of synchronous
timing.
Only humans have the ability to play musical instruments. Non-human primates
cannot keep a steady beat or learn new melodic sequencing. That’s why they’re
incapable of playing the most basic of instruments, and cannot be trained to learn
even the simplest human music (although they can learn simple human language).
16
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Every human culture ever known has had music. We humans take for granted
our effortless discrete-pitch vocalizing and isometric time-keeping skills. Non-human
animals have no such abilities, and consequently no true appreciation of bluegrass,
ABBA, or hip-hop. Except for certain breeds of dogs who join in when they hear
particular songs from musical theatre and R & B.
1.3
Where Does Music Come From?
1.3.1
NOT OUT OF THIN AIR: MUSIC COMES FROM
EVOLVED BRAIN “MODULES”
Some people believe music comes wafting magically out of thin air in the form of
mysterious, disembodied “inspiration.” It then presumably lodges in the skull of the
composer or songwriter, who feverishly jots it down or records it on a tiny digital
device, and later claims, “It just came to me in a flash. I wrote the whole song in 23
seconds.”
That’s where music seems to come from. But the musical inspiration you enjoy
actually comes to you courtesy of the parallel processing that goes on in certain
integrated “modules” within the fascinating neuro-computational organ located
inside your head.
Your brain processes music and also creates music.
So, what’s a module?
It’s a network of brain cells, a brain structure, that has evolved to carry out some
specialized function. The Canadian cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, in How the
Mind Works, describes the mind as “what the brain does,” or, more specifically,
...not a single organ but a system of organs, which we can think of as
psychological faculties or mental modules.
Evidence from cognitive science, neuroscience, evolutionary biology,
evolutionary psychology, and other disciplines points to the existence of numerous
such brain structures. Possibly hundreds of them. A mental toolbox that enables you
to survive and replicate your genes in your offspring.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
17
Consider your body’s architecture. You have many physical body parts, external
and internal—hands, feet, lungs, heart, etc. You can easily identify numerous subparts as well: each of your hands has fingers, fingernails, knuckles, a thumb, palm,
muscles, ligaments. Every normal human is born with these physical internal and
external body parts.
The same applies to your brain’s architecture. Even though you can’t see your
brain’s modules, they’re as real, and as different from each other, as your hands and
your liver. And, like the rest of your body parts, you have these brain structures at
birth.
All other humans on the planet are born with the same brain modules as you, just
as they’re born with the same internal and external body parts that make all of us
identifiably human. And that means, as discussed later in this chapter, humans show
remarkable similarities in behaviour in every culture globally.
Brain modules or faculties vary slightly from individual to individual, just as
other body parts do. The feet you were born with, for example, have the same basic
structure and anatomy as everybody else’s feet. While easily identifiable as “feet,”
your feet vary slightly from everyone else’s; they’re identifiably yours.
Same with the mental faculties or modules you were born with. While each one
performs the same specialized function in every human brain, your modules vary
slightly from everyone else’s. But, like your feet, your mental modules still perform
in a recognizably human way. That’s why human culture shows so much similarity
everywhere in the world. And that includes musical similarity, discussed in more
detail later in this chapter.
MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
What exactly is intelligence? Usually, it’s defined as the ability to
understand, reason, and solve problems. So IQ tests focus on
logical and verbal abilities.
However, according to the theory of multiple intelligences
(controversial, but nonetheless intriguing because it jibes with
evidence that the mind has evolved as a complex modular
system), humans have other kinds of intelligence—interpersonal
intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, visual intelligence, and so
on. One of these is musical intelligence.
Most people excel at only one or two kinds of intelligence. For
instance, if you’re gifted as a musician, and also have an
outstanding ability to empathize, then you might have
18
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
exceptional potential for writing songs—and yet score only
average on a standard IQ test.
1.3.2
YOU WERE BORN WITH A PERSONALITY
The genetic code to build a head full of specialized modules evolved in response to
selective pressure over millions of years. Being born with music-acquisition,
language-acquisition and other skills and abilities already wired in your brain means
you were born with a basic personality. You inherited it from your parents. But the
personality you had at birth differed substantially from the personalities of your
parents.
Your modular brain structures are not completely developed, connected, and
constructed at birth. That’s why it takes some time before you can talk and sing.
The same applies to other aspects of your development. It takes several years
before your permanent teeth come in. If you’re female, you don’t begin to develop
breasts until puberty. If you’re male, you don’t grow facial hair until then.
Nevertheless, at birth, you have the brain wiring in place for all this to happen.
From childhood on, the surrounding culture shapes the personality you were born
with, but does not replace it. The personality you have today owes its character partly
to your genetic inheritance (perhaps half), and partly to your personal environment
(perhaps half)—especially your peer group.
(NOTE: This does not mean that your genetic inheritance causes 50% of your
personality and your peer group causes the other 50%. Instead, it refers to observed
variance in measures of personality and behaviour due to diversity among individuals
in all kinds of areas related to upbringing, such as education, religion, leisure
activities, and so on.)
Genetic inheritance influences everyone’s behaviour today, as it always has. That
is, no matter how “enculturated” we humans think we’ve become, we have not by
any means “outgrown our genes”!
1.3.3
MODULES AIN’T COMPUTERS
At birth, your brain came equipped with numerous pre-wired adaptations—precisely
the opposite of a “blank slate” (more on this a bit later). Your brain does not function
like a “general-purpose computer” with a single processor. As an example of the
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
19
inborn modular nature of the brain, consider the brain circuitry for modelling objects
visually. It exists in the brains of all people at birth—even people born blind. That is,
some people blind from birth can accurately draw objects in proper 3-D visual
perspective, a skill they could not possibly learn from the surrounding culture. For
example, a Turkish artist named Esref Armagan, who has been blind since birth, can
paint realistic compositions of things he has never seen, with accurate three-point
perspective and scale size.
Your brain’s modular architecture does not resemble conventional computer
design. Pinker again:
The word ‘module’ brings to mind detachable snap-in components,
and that is misleading. Mental modules are not likely to be visible to
the naked eye as circumscribed territories on the surface of the brain,
like the flank steak and rump roast on the supermarket cow display. A
mental module probably looks more like roadkill, sprawling messily
over the bulges and crevasses of the brain. Or it may be broken into
regions that are interconnected by fibers that make the regions act as
a unit...the metaphor of the mental module is a bit clumsy; a better
one is Noam Chomsky’s ‘mental organ.’
If you own an ordinary desktop or notebook computer, it’s a serial computer that
mimics a parallel computer. Unlike your brain, a computer processor executes only
one instruction at a time. But it does its work so fast that it usually fools you into
thinking it’s doing several things at once.
That’s not how your brain works. Brain structures tend to evolve as
specializations for various tasks, such as detecting danger, recognizing faces,
protecting kin, mating, predicting the behaviour of others, and playing the harmonica
for your horse.
Taken together, your brain’s constituent modules do not function like a
conventional computer. Nor like computer software. Nor like a mechanical clock.
Rather, they connect up in vastly complex networks of neurons that communicate
with each other and vie for your attention. Your brain is a massively parallel neural
organ of computation, not a serial one. That is, unlike a small conventional humanmade computer, your small conventional human brain processes information and
interpretations using many different modules simultaneously. That’s why you can
drive your car, drink coffee, talk on your cell phone, and run over a pedestrian, all at
the same time. Try programming a computer to do that!
1.3.4
EVIDENCE FOR BRAIN MODULARITY
Where does the evidence of brain modularity come from?
20
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Studies of patients who have experienced brain lesions (structural changes in the
brain) due to injury or disease reveal brain modularity. Many patients exhibit the
same behavioural changes or deficits after suffering a brain lesion that occurs in the
same physical area of the brain, often due to a stroke. Observations of the effects of
injuries and diseases occurring in different parts of the brain have disclosed a number
of modules.
Another source is measurement and observation of brain activity using positron
emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
These techniques reveal which specific parts of the brain are active during the
performance of a mental or physical task. If, in many individuals, the same specific
areas “light up” during the performance of the same task, it indicates a module or
modules at work.
Some other information sources that scientists in a variety of specialties use to
investigate the functioning of the brain’s mental organs are:
•
Observed effects of abnormalities in specific genes that implicate certain
modules, such as the FOXP2 gene and language (discussed a bit later in this
section)
•
Observed effects of taking drugs that act on specific modules
•
Optical and aural illusions that trigger conflicts between modules
•
Studies of behaviour and abilities of newborns and pre-lingual infants—
particularly useful in revealing the inborn, adaptive aspects of music
•
Comparative studies of identical twins, fraternal twins, biological siblings, and
adopted siblings
•
Human behaviour studies that control for cultural variables (psychological
experimentation)
•
Findings from palaeontology—e.g., discovery of a 44,000-year-old bone flute
at a Neanderthal site, indicating they had similar mental functioning in music
as humans
•
Findings from archaeology
•
Studies of behaviour and learning in animals, especially our close primate
cousins such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, gibbons
•
Genome data—e. g., chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans share more than
98% of the same genetic material
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
21
The human brain took millions of years to evolve into an incredibly complex,
powerful thing of beauty. Dissecting a cadaver’s brain provides no information about
the workings of the living, functioning brain. And neurosurgeons cannot open up
skulls of living humans simply to poke, prod, and probe through all the billions of
tangled microscopic neurons, to see how everything works. So evolutionary
psychologists and biologists can and do use data from the sources listed above to, in
effect, reverse engineer the brain as best they can.
MYTH OF 10% USE OF THE BRAIN
Perhaps the source of this myth is that, at any given moment,
you only use a fraction of your entire brain. But throughout the
day, you do use all of it.
If you’re sitting down, you don’t need to use the modules
required to get you walking or running. If you’re in a quiet room
reading a book, you don’t need to use your music-processing
modules.
Your brain functions pretty efficiently. So you don’t require the
use of every module in your brain at every moment. Think of
driving a car. You don’t use your car’s accelerator at every
moment, nor the brakes, horn, radio, signal lights (some drivers
never use them!), and so on.
You don’t use all of your brain all of the time, but you certainly
do need all of the modules in your brain. You do use all of them.
Otherwise, they would not have evolved in the first place.
Brain modules are adaptations—necessary units of biological
function—that evolve in response to selective pressure.
1.3.5
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? MUSIC MODULES IN
INFANTS
If music were not a true adaptation, it would have had to have arisen only recently.
However, the evidence indicates music probably predates our own species, Homo
sapiens. That is, other hominid species, now extinct, such as Homo neanderthalensis,
had music.
22
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
As well, neurological evidence supports the hypothesis that modules for creating
and processing music exist in the brain at birth.
Setting aside lyrics for the moment and considering music only, most people think
of the melody—the tune—as the essence of a piece of music.
•
Harmony without melody or rhythm just doesn’t work.
•
Rhythm without melody or harmony gets tiresome after a while due to
something called habituation (discussed in later chapters).
•
But you can create palatable music with melody only—no harmony or regular
beat (e. g., background music in film and television).
Infants perceive melodic patterns much as adults do. They respond to changes in
melodic contour and changes in key like adults do, indicating genetic origins.
Newborns have pre-wired neuronal circuitry to perceive the following (if you’re not
familiar with some of the musical terminology below, all will be revealed in the next
few chapters):
•
Melodic contour in both music and speech
•
Consonant intervals (Chapter 4 goes into detail about intervals)
•
Rhythmic patterns in both music and speech
Pre-lingual infants in all cultures can:
•
Recognize changes in a melody
•
Resolve tiny pitch differences (and small timing differences)
•
Recognize the same melody even if sped up or slowed down
•
Recognize the same melody when transposed to a different key
•
Perceive diatonic tunes more easily than non-diatonic tunes
•
Perceive consonant intervals more easily than dissonant intervals
•
Respond to their mothers’ melodious, song-like vocalizing to a much greater
degree than their mothers’ speech vocalizing
•
Adapt to the musical conventions of whatever society they’re born into
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
23
Culture modifies the expression of these predispositions, but the predispositions
exist in the brain at birth (characteristic of adaptations).
Babies worldwide spontaneously initiate musical sound-play. Young children are
forever inventing games and rhythmic play. Adults do not teach them this stuff. In
fact, children have difficulty separating rhythmic body movements from music and
singing until age four or five. Next time you observe a preschooler having a musical
experience, notice how he or she jumps around, claps and makes other rhythmic
gestures.
1.3.6
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? MODULARITY AND
UNIVERSAL MUSICAL GRAMMAR
Music can best be understood as a system of relationships between
tones, just as language is a system of relationships between words.
—ANTHONY STORR
Groups of inter-connected modules for processing music probably developed
independently over time. Separate sub-modules likely process tone duration, pitch,
loudness, and timbre. Interestingly, lesion studies indicate that separate modules
even process the closely-related elements, meter and rhythm.
Pitch patterns that group hierarchically (discussed in Chapter 8) appear to form
the basis of musical syntax (set of musically “grammatical” rules).
Our brains have a genetically determined ability to create, learn, and process
language, called “Universal Grammar,” one of Noam Chomsky’s seminal
discoveries in linguistics. It appears that our brains also have a genetically
determined specialization for music. Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, who coauthored a classic book on the subject, labelled it Universal Musical Grammar. They
were inspired to a degree by the Polish music theorist Heinrich Schenker.
However, just as people learn a specific language in childhood and don’t
understand other languages without learning them, so people learn specific musical
styles of their culture and don’t understand the musical styles of other cultures
without learning them.
On the other hand, musical universals bespeak the genetic underpinnings of all
music (musical universals are listed a bit later). If you make music that breaks the
brain’s inborn rules, regardless of culture, the music you make will likely not appeal
to more than a handful of humans.
If you play recordings of bird songs of different species to young songbirds raised
in captivity, they will only learn the songs of their own species, evidence of genetic
origins. Blackbirds in captivity, no matter how much loving care and patient training
24
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
they receive, stubbornly refuse to learn the Lennon-McCartney tune “Blackbird,”
because a blackbird did not write the song.
The same appears to apply to human infants. Human babies recognize and learn
speech and melodies characteristic of the human species, rather than a particular
culture. If you learn two languages in childhood, you’ll learn both effortlessly and
speak both without an accent as an adult. But if you learn one language in childhood
and a second language as an adult, you will learn the first language effortlessly and
speak it without an accent, and the second only with considerable effort, and speak
it with an accent.
Since all of the world’s musics share a set of universals, like languages, it’s likely
that this phenomenon applies to musical cultures. Suppose you have grown up
learning the tonal system of the West, with little exposure to the tonal system of, say,
India. And suppose, as an adult, you decide to move to India and learn to play the
sitar. You’ll probably find yourself expending considerable effort to learn what young
Indian sitar players seem to learn effortlessly. And, after some years of training, you
will likely play the instrument “with an accent,” so to speak, compared with nativeborn players of your age and musical experience. (Try it!)
1.3.7
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? LATERALIZATION IN
ANIMALS AND HUMANS
Brain lateralization refers to the location of neuronal circuitry for specific skills and
behaviours in either the left or the right hemisphere of the brain. Handedness reveals
brain lateralization, or lack of it, in a clear way. In most species, handedness—
favouring the right or left hand, hoof, wing, paw—is non-committal. For example,
you’ll find left- and right-handedness equally distributed in chimpanzees and other
apes. A few animals other than humans have pronounced handedness, such as the
walrus, of all creatures.
Humans manifest extremely specialized right-handedness, reflecting the
importance of left-brain sequencing and left-brain language adaptations. Humans
probably communicated symbolically with hand gestures before, and during the
process of, converting to symbolic spoken language.
Brain lateralization in humans may have resulted from growing numbers and
complexities of modular specializations competing for space as the brain swelled in
size in response to selective pressure to cope with larger and more complex human
social organization. Something related to the social nature of humans drove the huge
expansion of the brain. It could well have been either music or language.
The left hemisphere tries to solve problems and processes sequential patterns,
including language and rhythm. It’s also active in positive emotional processing.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
25
The right hemisphere has modules for, among other things, spatial cognition and
the interpretation of harmony.
WHY MOM HOLDS BABY ON THE LEFT
Why does Mom hold baby with baby’s head on Mom’s left side?
It’s not because of a connection the baby feels with Mom’s
heartbeat. And it also has nothing to do with right-handedness
versus left-handedness. Left-handed mothers also tend to hold
their babies on the left.
It has to do with brain specialization for emotional processing.
As you know, the brain’s right hemisphere connects to left body
functions, and vice-versa. The right hemisphere is active in
negative-emotion processing (fear, sadness). So the right
hemisphere of Mom’s brain (and Dad’s brain, too), wired to her
left field of vision and hearing, can more sensitively attune to
her infant’s negative emotional signals, enabling Mom to take
action accordingly. Baby can’t talk yet, so mother-child
communication is necessarily completely emotional.
By the way, this is why, when you’re talking to someone, you
look at their right eye (your left field of vision), not their left eye.
The brain has roughly 10 billion neurons (nerve cells). Although women have
smaller brains than men, women’s brains have significantly more neurons per unit
of cortex than men’s brains (up to 12% more). And women’s brains have a somewhat
different organizational architecture than men’s brains. In any case, sheer brain size
doesn’t seem to matter much in humans. Albert Einstein’s brain weighed less than the
average adult male brain.
The overall architecture of your brain mimics the architecture of the rest of your
body: a mirror-image pair of everything on each side, but only one of the things in
the middle. You have one corpus callosum, the main bundle of nerves (there are
others) that connects the left and right hemispheres. If you’re a woman, your corpus
callosum is quite a bit larger than it is in the brain of a man. This may account for the
superior ability of women to reconcile conflicting left-right brain analyses of
situations.
The female brain is significantly less lateralized than the male brain. Functional
modules are more globally distributed.
Female and male humans have different attitudes and behave differently because
of differences in evolved brain functions, wired-in from birth (more on this later in
the chapter). Apparently, this fact still stirs controversy.
26
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
1.3.8
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? LATERALIZATION
AND MUSIC
The common belief that the right hemisphere processes music and the left processes
language does not hold up.
If Doc Yada-Yadams, a fully qualified neurosurgeon, were to sedate the left
hemisphere of your brain (don’t try this at home), you would likely be able to sing
a song (i.e., melody with words), but would not be able to speak. If the Doc sedated
your right hemisphere, you would be able to speak, but not sing.
Language and music “time-share” many characteristics in both hemispheres.
Singing tends to be more right-hemisphere, with speech more left-hemisphere. Both
the left and right hemispheres appear to process pitch intervals.
Most people have a preferred listening ear, usually the right ear, which is
connected to the speech-processing left hemisphere. When you answer the phone,
you usually use your right ear.
In male musicians, music shows much more lateralized processing in the brain,
compared with female musicians.
As for modularity, whether they’re in the right, left, or both hemispheres, separate
modules apparently process the time-based elements of music (meter, rhythm),
compared with the melodic elements (pitch, intervals). No one knows exactly how
many modules do the work.
Professional musicians show left-hemisphere dominance for music, amateurs
right-hemisphere, probably because trained musicians approach music more
analytically. As well, highly skilled musicians appear to use a significantly larger
proportion of the brain in processing music than do people who listen to music but
don’t play.
In broad terms, the evidence on brain lateralization in music processing indicates
the following (Table 1):
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
27
TABLE 1 Brain Lateralization In Music Processing
Left hemisphere (connected to
right ear and right side of body)
processes:
Right hemisphere (connected to
left ear and left side of body)
processes:
•
Time-based elements of music
(rhythm) using sequenceprocessing modules
•
Pitch-based elements such as the
shape of a melody (melodic
contour) and tonal patterns
•
Rhythmic aspects of melody
•
•
Rapidly-changing information
such as speech—sequences of
words.
Harmony; the right hemisphere is
better at spatial cognition; in a
sense, the right hemisphere
processes pitch and harmony as
“spatial” elements of sound
•
The emotional tone of voice (via
the left ear, which is connected to
the right hemisphere) better than
the left hemisphere
Brain Lateralization and Music Mixing
Record producers and recording engineers, if they know what they’re doing, take
into account brain lateralization in producing a stereo mix:
•
Rhythm-heavy tracks sound more natural if biassed a little to the right speaker
(right ear; left brain hemisphere).
•
Harmony-rich tracks sound better if biassed a little to the left speaker (left ear;
right brain hemisphere).
•
Tracks requiring both melodic and rhythmic processing, such as lead vocals
(including rapping, which has a lot of melodic content), sound better in the
middle.
•
If lyric intelligibility is a problem, right-speaker bias may help, as the right ear
is connected to the speech- and sequence-processing left hemisphere.
28
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
1.3.9
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? AMUSIA
Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing
—FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, arguably one of the world’s worst singers
Amusia is the scientific term for what most people call tone deafness and other
“musical brain” disorders. It refers to any of several disorders that result in loss of
ability to create music, or to perceive and understand music (or both).
Sometimes brain trauma causes amusia. Sometimes disease triggers it. Sometimes
it’s congenital. If you have congenital amusia, you’re born without the normal brain
wiring to process pitch and rhythm. Consequently you can’t sing in tune or tap in
time with a steady beat (you can’t entrain). Amusia is not common; it is believed to
affect only about 5% of the population. Florence Foster Jenkins may have had
congenital amusia.
Stroke victims develop acquired or receptive amusia if they suffer brain damage to
modules that process music. If you develop amusia this way, you can recognize the
lyrics of a song you had known before you acquired amusia—but only when
somebody speaks the lyrics to you. If they sing the lyrics, you can no longer recognize
the tune. You have a hard time grasping or perceiving music. You can’t follow a
melody, identify the sounds of various musical instruments, or make sense of chords.
Expressive amusia refers to the inability to create music by singing in tune, or
entrain to an external source of music by tapping in time. However, if you have
expressive amusia, you can usually still enjoy and understand music, and even
remember tunes.
1.3.10
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? MODULARITY AND
UNIVERSAL LINGUISTIC GRAMMAR
The ability to acquire and use language is a species-specific human
activity.
—NOAM CHOMSKY
Since this book deals with lyrics (Chapter 10) as well as music, it’s fitting right about
now to have a quick look at the whereabouts and identity of language in the brain.
In the 1950s, the American linguist Noam Chomsky proposed that language was
located as a module or system of modules in the brain. Turns out he was right. His
work was a turning point in the cognitive revolution and the downfall of
behaviourism, the doctrine that humans have blank-slate brains at birth.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
29
According to Chomsky, a generative grammar—a set of language rules—is
encoded in the neuronal architecture of the brain, and is present at birth. Brain wiring
for generative grammar makes it possible for young children to automatically become
fluent in any language they are exposed to, effortlessly, and without the need for
adult teaching. Literacy has nothing to do with language learning. Illiterate people
worldwide have no difficulty communicating orally at the same grammatical level
as those around them.
If you were born in Dodge City but raised from infancy in the Canadian Arctic,
you would grow up speaking Inuktitut. If you were born an Inuit in the far north but
raised from infancy in Dodge, you would speak English, grow luxuriant flowing hair,
and sing Classic Western songs about lost love and horses. With a Kansas accent.
Unlike your vocabulary, you don’t have to learn your “mental grammar,” as it’s
called. You were born with it. That’s why, long before you started school, you
already knew the difference between, “Mommy plays the piano,” and “The piano
plays Mommy,” even though both sentences use the same four words. Universal
Grammar means your brain automatically rejects patterns such as these:
•
•
•
•
Plays piano the Mommy
Piano the Mommy plays
The plays Mommy piano
Piano Mommy plays the
and so on. Your brain has evolved the miraculous capacity to automatically
distinguish a “thing” (noun) from an “action” (verb) from a “qualifier” (adjective,
adverb, determiner). So, even if you never go to school and learn so-called “proper
grammar,” you will speak in grammatically correct sentences, indistinguishable from
the sentences spoken by others in your society who have had the benefit of a formal
education. “Proper grammar” is built into your brain.
Chomsky’s generative grammar theory has had an enormous impact in all of the
cognitive sciences (i.e., sciences concerned with perception, intelligence, learning,
and other aspects of mental function), not just the specialties relating to language.
Scientists have since discovered many other modular adaptations throughout the
brain.
Every language in the world has the same design features. That is, although
languages seem to have completely different syntaxes (grammatical rules), close
analysis shows that all languages share the same deep structure. For example, all
languages have verbs and nouns and either a subject-object or object-subject order.
Since people of many cultures create languages independently, this means the
capacity for acquiring and using language must have a genetic basis. Language
appears to have its own neural architecture, or set of modules and sub-modules.
These modules operate independently of other cognitive functions such as
perception, reasoning, and knowledge-acquisition.
30
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The brain has the innate capacity to easily store words and their meanings, as
well as the rules or patterns that recognize word types and word orders (I. e.,
grammar). Our mental dictionary and our mental grammar, while independent, work
together in the parallel-processing neural organ of computation that is the human
brain.
Dramatic evidence supporting the theory that the ability to create language from
scratch is pre-wired in the brain at birth comes from studies of two sign languages in
widely separated populations of deaf people, one in Israel, the other in Nicaragua.
In these two populations, people created new languages from scratch, languages that
could not possibly have been transmitted culturally. Linguists discovered that both
languages function by the same grammatical rules as languages worldwide. The only
difference is the channel of transmission of meaning—via signing instead of
speaking.
Although selective pressure drove evolution of the brain adaptation for spoken
language, which all humans use today, the same does not apply to written language,
which only some humans have. To acquire written language, you have to learn it,
because it’s a technological development, not an adaptation. (Written language
emerged from idiographic representations of spoken language.)
THE STROOP EFFECT: MODULES IN CONFLICT
Your brain’s many modules are specialized to perform different
tasks. The Stroop effect demonstrates how the information
arising from the processing of different modules can cause
interference.
Here are 25 words. Time yourself reading the words aloud, left to
right, line by line, without errors: “grey, black, white,” etc.
Now time yourself reading the COLOR of each of the 25 words
aloud, left to right, line by line. For example, the first three
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
31
words would be “black, white, grey.” Not so easy this time—it
takes considerably longer.
How come?
The American psychologist John Ridley Stroop devised this test
in the 1930s to demonstrate the interference effect your brain
experiences when linguistic information conflicts with
information from other senses.
When you ignore color and simply read the words, you only
need to use your language processing system, so it’s easy to say
each word aloud. But when you try to say the color of each
word, your brain’s executive system discerns a conflict between
what your color processing modules are telling you and what
your language processing modules are telling you about the
meanings of the words associated with the colors. Two different
kinds of information are entangled.
To sort out the conflicting information, you have to first
suppress the meaning of each word normally associated with the
sequence of letters. This takes some effort. Then you have to
translate the color of each group of letters into the word with
the meaning that matches the color. Only then can you say the
correct word.
Primates such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos do not develop any kind of
language-like communication system in the wild. They lack the language brain
modules that humans are born with. However, in captivity, with much time and
effort, trainers can get them to understand, in a rudimentary way, that arbitrary
symbols represent objects. Apes can also “learn” elementary grammar-like rules,
such as linking two symbols representing something different from either of the
individual symbols. With about 30 years of patient training, a great ape can
memorize a couple of hundred word meanings, and can almost acquire the language
understanding of an 18-month-old human child. Bonobos fare somewhat better at
“language learning” than chimpanzees.
1.3.11
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? FOXP2 AND MYH16
In 1990, Steven Pinker hypothesized that language evolved in humans by
conventional Darwinian natural selection (Section 1.5 discusses natural selection).
Chomsky, who first described brain-based universal grammar, did not go that far.
32
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Twelve years later, in 2002, a team of German and British geneticists published
genetic evidence strongly supporting Pinker. They discovered that a particular gene,
FOXP2, plays a vital role in processing speech and grammar.
FOXP2 exists in other primates such as the chimpanzee, but the human form of
the gene differs. The human form may have appeared 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.
Communication by language gradually replaced communication by gesture.
Language was the breakthrough technology that resulted in symbolic thinking and
the cultural explosion that defines what it is to be human.
If you happen to be born with abnormal human FOXP2, you will suffer from
severe language impairment. That means that the normal human form is a naturally
selected mutation, a “target of natural selection.” (A mutation is a randomly
occurring change in the gene, resulting in a change in physiology or anatomy or even
behaviour.) And that strongly indicates that the innate human capacity for effortless
language learning is an adaptation, the product of Darwinian natural selection.
About two million years ago, the hominid brain suddenly (in glacial evolutionary
terms) began to get larger and larger, a process called encephalation. This did not
occur in any of the other large primates, such as chimpanzees and gorillas. A
mutation occurred in hominids around that time, a mutation that may have made
encephalation possible.
A gene called MYH16, active in chimpanzees, ensures huge jaw muscle build-up,
necessary for powerful chewing. These muscles constrict the skull, something like
bungee cords, preventing growth in cranial capacity. In hominids, a mutation
appeared line that deactivated MYH16. This may have freed the hominid skull to
expand. And expand it did, tripling in size over the next 2 million years. To this day,
chimpanzees still have the active version of MYH16 and comparatively small skulls.
All humans have the deactivated human mutation of MYH16 and comparatively
huge skulls.
As well, there’s evidence of a connection between MYH16 and FOXP2. It turns
out that if you have abnormal human FOXP2, you not only have grave cognitive
language difficulties, but you also have physical problems with your mouth and jaw
muscles.
Taken together, the uniquely human variants of MYH16 and FOXP2 look like
smoking-gun mutations with respect to encephalation and language development.
1.3.12
WHERE IN THE BRAIN? APHASIA
Aphasia is the language equivalent of amusia, discussed a bit earlier. Aphasia refers
to any of several disorders that result in loss of ability to communicate in speech or
writing (or both). There are two main types:
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
33
1. Broca’s Aphasia (also called expressive aphasia):
•
If you have a stroke or otherwise suffer damage to a specific area of the left
hemisphere called Broca’s area, you will have difficulty speaking. However, the
content of what you’re saying, slow and disjointed as it may come out, will
make sense.
•
Interestingly, if you have Broca’s aphasia, you will have great difficulty
reciting or speaking the words of a song you had learned before developing
aphasia, but will usually be able to sing the words fluently.
2. Wernicke’s Aphasia (also called fluent aphasia):
•
If you have a stroke or otherwise suffer damage to an area of the left
hemisphere called Wernicke’s area, you will be able to speak fluently, but the
content of what you’re saying will not make sense.
•
Numerous politicians, some defence attorneys, Ann Coulter, television
evangelists, many advertising copywriters, talk radio hosts, and talk radio
callers appear to suffer from Wernicke’s aphasia.
1.3.13
THE COMBINATORIAL NATURE OF MUSIC AND
LANGUAGE
Chomsky pointed out the following:
•
Pretty much every sentence that everyone utters is a different combination of
words, never heard before.
•
That means it’s impossible to store all sentences in the brain.
•
That means the brain must have a mechanism for putting words together in
a meaningful way.
•
That means the brain can tell the difference between a group of words that
makes sense, and a group of words that pickles without lamented occidental
Custer’s stapler.
34
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Here’s how Steven Pinker describes the combinatorial nature of the brain’s
language module:
A finite number of discrete elements (in this case, words) are sampled,
combined, and permuted to create larger structures (in this case,
sentences) with properties that are quite distinct from those of their
elements. For example, the meaning of Man bites dog is different from
the meaning of the same words combined in reverse order.
It’s possible, therefore, to construct a practically infinite number of sentences with
a relatively limited vocabulary.
The same applies to music:
•
A scale has a finite number of different pitches.
•
Each pitch can last for a finite number of different time values.
•
Each pitch can be combined with a finite number of other pitches to create a
finite number of intervals and chords. And so on.
Even though each type of musical property (melody, harmony, rhythm) has a
finite number of elements, when you multiply out all the possibilities, you get a
practically infinite number of possible tunes a songwriter could write. That’s what
combinatorial means.
•
Chomsky’s universal generative linguistic grammar describes the brain’s
ability to compile an inventory of words and apply a set of combinatorial
rules.
•
Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s universal generative musical grammar describes the
brain’s ability to compile an inventory of tones and apply a set of
combinatorial rules.
The whole human brain is a combinatorial system, a parallel-processing neural
organ of computation. Using mentalese (described below), a discrete number of
mental symbols can be combined and recombined, using as many modules and submodules as necessary. In other words, humans have the ability to think up, or
imagine, an almost infinite number of possibilities, because thought is itself
combinatorial. That’s why behaviour is infinitely variable.
Both music and language use small numbers of elements to generate an infinite
number of combinations of word phrases and musical phrases. Therefore, it’s likely
that the brain function of combinatoriality evolved before the evolution of separate
music and language specialties.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
35
THE GENETIC CODE IS LIKE LANGUAGE
The genetic code, like language, is combinatorial. That’s why
every bacterium, plant and creature is genetically different, even
within the same species, and even though each uses the same 64
three-letter DNA “words.”
Here are some analogies between language and the genetic
code:
Language
Genetic Code
LETTERS
26 letters (symbols), A, B, C,
etc.
NUCLEOTIDES
4 nucleotides: cytosine,
guanine, adenine, and
thymine
WORDS
A word consists of one or
more letters. Thousands of
words are in a dictionary.
Speech and written
documents are comprised of
words from the dictionary.
CODONS
A codon consists of three
adjacent nucleotides. 64
codons form the genetic
dictionary. All living things
use the same 64-codon
dictionary.
SENTENCES
Sequences of words are
called sentences or lines of
poetry, etc. They code
meaningful representations
of thought.
GENES
Sequences of
codons—strands of DNA—are
called genes. They code
chains of amino acid
molecules called proteins,
which comprise various body
parts.
CHAPTERS
Many sentences form a larger
unit called a chapter.
CHROMOSOMES
Many genes form a long
strand of DNA called a
chromosome.
36
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
BOOK
All of the chapters
containing all of the
sentences form a
book—perhaps 10,000
sentences.
GENOME
All of the chromosomes,
containing all of the genes,
form the genome of the
organism. Humans have 23
pairs of chromosomes, one
member of each pair from
each parent. The human
genome consists of some
20,000 to 25,000 genes.
The fact that all life on earth is based on the same 64-codon DNA
dictionary makes it a virtual certainty that all life, all microbes,
plants, and animals that have ever existed—dinosaurs, oysters,
apple trees, sharks, daffodils, rats, chimpanzees, and
humans—evolved from the same single molecular strand, a
monad (first simple organism) that fused, through natural
chemical mechanisms, from non-living molecules nearly 4 billion
years ago.
1.3.14
HOW PLASTIC IS YOUR BRAIN?
The human brain exhibits some degree of plasticity. For example, a young child who
trains as a pianist experiences some modification in the cortex as a result of that
musical training.
While your brain is in some measure, “adapted to adapt,” plasticity does not
mean your brain consists of a lot of generalized matter that can do pretty much
anything. Plasticity simply means a module can take on some functioning for which
it was not specifically adapted, provided that functioning relates to what the module
would ordinarily do.
Cross-modal plasticity refers to the ability of your brain’s modules to reorganize
themselves somewhat to take advantage of cortical modules not being used due to
sensory loss. For example, loss or absence of vision can stimulate some brain module
reorganization, enhancing a blind person’s sense of pitch and direction. Blind
individuals often have extraordinary musical skills.
The effect of plasticity is much more evident in childhood. In blind people, pitch
discrimination (the ability to judge the direction of extremely rapid pitch change) is
much keener than in sighted people, especially if the individual became blind before
the age of two. It’s easier to learn to play a musical instrument or to speak more than
one language in childhood because the brain is receptive to applying its built-in music
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
37
and language processing modules to any language and any musical culture during
childhood. After a period of time, called the critical period, plasticity diminishes
sharply as the various modules become fully functional. If you don’t learn early, your
brain is pre-wired to move on to the next stage, and you lose the window of
opportunity.
1.3.15
MENTALESE: THINKING WITHOUT LANGUAGE
Contrary to popular mythology, the language you speak does not mould or shape the
way you think. An Arabic-speaking person, for example, does not “think differently”
from the way an English-speaking person thinks.
You do not even need language to think.
Humans (and other animals) use a “brain language,” the language of thought,
usually called mentalese. If thoughts depended on words, nobody would be able to
translate anything from one language to another. The words of the French language
do not all have exact equivalents in, say, English. The translation, then, is thought for
thought, not word for word. The translator uses mentalese to make decisions on how
to structure the thoughts across the languages.
You, like everybody, sometimes have problems putting thoughts into words.
That’s not because your thoughts don’t exist; of course they do. Putting them into
words means translating mentalese into language. That can be a chore.
When you finish reading this chapter of this book, you might remember only one
or two of the specific sentences. But that does not mean you will have forgotten the
content of the chapter (unless you haven’t been paying attention). What you will
remember is the gist of this chapter. You will easily be able give your friends a fairly
detailed oral summary of the chapter (and urge them in the strongest possible terms
to buy this interesting and highly informative book), but you will not likely use any
of the exact sentences you read in this chapter, because you won’t remember them.
You will remember the gist of this chapter in mentalese, the language of thought.
The same applies to other experiences you have, such as seeing a movie or attending
a party. Not only do you absorb the gist of the story line as revealed in the dialogue
of the movie (or conversations you had at the party), but you also remember
information that other modules have captured during the experience, such as the
visual and auditory elements. Later, you can describe not only the gist of the
dialogue, but also the gist of the visual setting, the soundscape, and how the
experience made you feel emotionally. Mentalese captures the gist of all of this. You
don’t store all of it permanently, of course; memories fade over time. Chapter 7
discusses the various types and functions of memory.
Similarly, you can identify a familiar piece of music, even though you hear it in
a completely transformed arrangement, played with unfamiliar instruments. You
38
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
recognize the unfamiliar rendition because you retain the gist of it. For example, you
can recognize “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music even if it’s played in
a jazz arrangement you’ve never heard before. By John Coltrane.
Humans, of all the animal species on this planet, have the largest brain proportion
comprised of neocortex (80% of the whole brain). However other animals also have
a neocortex brain part, which means they, too, think—even though they don’t have
language. Your dog thinks. Your horse thinks. The mountain lion that has been
tracking you and your horse thinks. She thinks (translated from mentalese), “Easy
dinner or what?”
1.3.16
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE AND CULTURE
Evolutionary conservation means that, even after a species splits into two species (then
splits again and again) due to environmental selective pressures that differ in
geographically separated populations, many traits continue on in each species. For
example, we humans share most of our genetic material with chimpanzees and
bonobos, and we also share many chimpanzee and bonobo behavioural traits, even
though the last common ancestor of apes and humans lived some six or seven
million years ago.
All species, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor. So it’s not
surprising to find examples of human-like “mindfulness” in species other than
humans. Lots of species make tools spontaneously, without any instruction from
other adults of their species (or humans). Some species can learn to make tools, as
well (cultural transmission).
Animals don’t compose human-like music, and few appreciate Coltrane, Joni
Mitchell, or the harmonica music that comes wafting out of nowhere when Marshal
McDillon, Deputy Fester, and Ms Puma are sitting around the campfire roasting
squirrels. However, some animals have recognizable cultural traits.
A few examples:
•
Monkeys and apes in captivity, including chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans,
and capuchin monkeys, like to paint pictures. Some can produce recognizable
shapes such as crosses, circles, and non-random patterns.
•
Dogs can learn word meanings after a single exposure (called fast mapping,
which is how children pick up vocabulary so quickly) and fetch specific
objects from verbal commands only.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
39
•
Chimps, bonobos, and gorillas, with a lot of training, can learn to associate
some words with some objects. (However, they don’t even begin to “get” the
symbolic essence of language.)
•
Capuchin monkeys can learn to use money. Male capuchins even purchase
sex with money.
•
Ravens and apes deliberately cheat or fool each other when it’s advantageous.
•
Chimpanzees use tools and teach tool-making and tool-use to other
chimpanzees.
•
Crows make and use tools without being taught by other crows or by humans.
•
Male zebra finches are aware of the social relationships of others of their
species, and modify their relationships with females accordingly.
•
Baboons can transmit local baboon cultural practices to outsider baboons who
join the troop.
•
If you whisper the right things in your horse’s ear, you can lead him to water
and make him float on his back.
1.3.17
NOWHERE IN THE BRAIN: THE “BLANK SLATE”
MYTH
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified
world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random
and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor,
lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief,
regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations,
and race of his ancestors.
—JOHN WATSON, father of behaviourism
In the first half of the 20th Century, and well into the second half, a school of thought
called behaviourism taught, wrongly, that
•
Humans are born with “blank slate” brains, and
40
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Everything we learn comes from the punishments and rewards we receive
from the environment.
Behaviourists conveniently forgot to explain how a blank slate brain could
actually learn anything: a truly blank slate would have no mechanism for learning.
If the brain were a blank slate at birth, you would not be able to learn either language
or music.
According to behaviorists, observing behaviour from the outside, via stimulus and
response, was the only valid way to proceed in psychology. Behaviourists believed
that biology controlled animals, but culture controlled people. Presumably,
behaviourists did not consider people to be animals.
(Perhaps the Jesuits invented behaviourism, as evidenced in their oft-quoted
myth: “Give me the child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.”)
Many people still believe in behaviourism, even in the face of mountains of
evidence supporting the existence, at birth, of a wide variety of naturally selected
brain adaptations such as those for the acquisition of language and music. Some
academics even teach that cultural evolution has superceded biological evolution.
For example, even today, “social constructionists” cling to the Standard Social
Science Model, the dogma that biology doesn’t matter. In the minds of social
constructionists, a biological trait such as the state of being male or female—your
gender—arises somehow through the prevailing culture’s “social construction.” That
is, social constructionists actually believe you are not born male or female, you
“learn” your gender, and you “learn” your sexual orientation.
This makes about as much sense as insisting people are born with “blank slate”
bodies. At birth, humans have a head (containing a blank slate brain, of course) that’s
attached to a formless blank slate body. A blob. When you’re born, presumably, the
attending obstetrician or midwife begins to shape you—a blob—into a torso, then
arms and legs and fingers and toes. Others in the social environment join in, shaping
other bits of you-the-blob into your heart and lungs and, let’s not forget, your
naughty bits. Over the years, society colonizes and socially constructs your blank
slate brain and teaches you what gender you are...
Thinking about the brain and behaviour has changed since the days of the
behaviourists, as summarized by the cognitive neuroscientist, Michael S. Gazzaniga:
No scientist seriously questions whether we are the product of natural
selection. We are a finely honed machine that has amazing capacities
for learning and inventiveness. Yet these capacities were not picked up
at a local bookstore or developed from everyday experience. The
abilities to learn and think come with our brains. The knowledge we
acquire with these devices results from interactions with our culture.
But the devices come with the brain, just as the brakes come with the
car.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
41
1.3.18
CULTURAL RELATIVISM
Believers in the Standard Social Science Model refuse to make value judgments
about anything that goes on in a culture other than their own. This is called cultural
relativism or the relativistic fallacy. It’s really moral relativism, although believers in
cultural relativism deny it.
According to cultural relativism, all cultures are “equal.” So you must not
condemn the practices of any culture other than your own. Practices such as barring
women from positions of social, political, or religious power. Banning music.
Arranging and forcing marriages between three-year-old children. Ostracising,
torturing, or executing homosexuals. Cultural relativists insist that, if you’re an
outsider, you have no business criticizing such cultural practices. If you do, you’re
an intolerant, ethnocentric racist bigot.
Cultural relativists assume, contrary to empirical evidence, that:
1. Culture creates the individual instead of the other way around, and
2. People do not have shared cultural values, the same biologically-driven wants,
needs, and aspirations everywhere in the world, regardless of culture.
Cultural relativists simply deny, in the face of all evidence, that there’s any such
thing as human nature—a large group of inborn behavioural traits that are common
to people of all cultures. According to cultural relativists, everything’s political.
Everything’s subjective. There’s no such thing as an objective fact.
The implication of cultural relativism is that universal, inborn ethical or moral
standards do not exist. Cultural relativism is based on the mistaken notion that
people learn morality and therefore you ought to expect people in different cultures
to have different senses of morality.
The evidence, however, indicates every normal member of the human species is
born with an evolved moral sense. Morality is not something you acquire from your
culture. You don’t learn morality from your Mom or by attending your local church,
mosque, or synagogue. Atheists, agnostics, and orphans behave just as morally as
everybody else in society.
1.3.19
A DESERT ISLAND THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
Consider what would happen in the following hypothetical situation, proposed by
the anthropologist, Robin Fox.
42
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Suppose a population of children were to find itself in total social isolation,
having to raise themselves, without ever having had any contact with adults and a
pre-existing culture. No previous enculturation whatsoever. Impossible in real life,
of course, because we humans need others to feed and nurture us for a long time until
we become self-sustaining. But this is only a thought experiment— nobody will die
of starvation or exposure.
What would happen? Because humans have inborn brain adaptations, including
adaptations for language and music, the individuals making up this hypothetical
culture-free society would create culture, just as individual humans create culture
everywhere in the world. The society would, among other things:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Generate a language
Have music
Have dancing
Create a legal system
Create the institution of marriage
Create systems of social status
Proclaim and enforce taboos, such as the incest taboo
Create some sort of religious faith, complete with ceremony and ritual
Make and use tools and weapons
Exclude women from various practices and institutions
Have homosexual citizens
Find itself inventing ways of coping with adultery, murder, suicide, psychosis,
etc.
1.3.20
THE NONSENSE OF BIOLOGICAL DETERMINISM
AND SOCIAL DETERMINISM
People who don’t understand what evolutionary biology and evolutionary
psychology are about fear they might be about biological determinism, the doctrine
that your genes determine 100% of your abilities and behaviour, summoning ugly
spectres of racism, eugenics, social Darwinism, and the like.
The scientific evidence does not support biological determinism, and no sane
biologist embraces the concept. Its opposite, social determinism, the doctrine that
society alone socially constructs 100% of your abilities and behaviour, also has no
scientific support.
Evolutionary biology and psychology seek to understand what humans have in
common as a species, not how we differ as individuals. This means taking into
account the interactions between our biological adaptations and our cultural
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
43
environment. Evolution by conventional Darwinian natural selection created
humans and all other living things on earth, past and present. Therefore, genetically
inherited predispositions influence human behaviour as much as learning and
cultural influences. Both genes and culture matter.
Moreover, you have the ability to override your genetically programmed
inclinations. You have free will. For example, you can live and work in tall buildings
with floor-to-ceiling windows, overriding your genetically inherited fear of heights.
You can ride in an elevator despite natural claustrophobia.
The ability to override genetically inherited predispositions invalidates excuses,
such as:
•
I smashed that other guy’s car with a tire iron in a fit of road rage because, as
a human male, I’m naturally aggressive.
•
I can’t become a physicist because, as a human female, I’m not supposed to
be good at math.
•
I keep having affairs because, as a naturally polygynous human male, I just
have to sow my wild oats.
•
I eat wild oats from the nosebags of other horses because, as a horse instead
of a human, I have no evolved ethical sense, only horse sense.
SOCIAL DARWINISM: SPIN-DOCTORING SCIENCE
Social Darwinism is the notion that the same principle of natural
selection that applies to biological evolution extends to
individual and group behaviour—even though no evidence
supports any such extension.
Political and social thinkers of the late 19th Century concocted
the idea of social Darwinism: superior social and racial classes and
systems succeed and survive, while inferior social and racial
classes and systems fail and ought to die out. So, for example,
you should not help sick or disabled people because if you did,
you would interfere with the natural process of evolution. Social
Darwinism was used to justify imperialism, racism, eugenics, and
genocide.
Darwin himself never made any claims that natural selection
applied to anything other than biological evolution. Nor do
today’s evolutionary biologists.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
1.3.21
HUMAN UNIVERSALS
Humans have so many naturally-selected behavioural characteristics in common,
regardless of culture, that the anthropologist Donald E. Brown documented
hundreds of them in a book, Human Universals. These include musical universals,
coming up in a few minutes.
Brown describes the human species as Universal People, a nod to Chomsky’s
Universal Grammar. Here are a few from Brown’s and others’ compilations of
human universals, the things you find in all cultures worldwide (Table 2):
TABLE 2 A Small Sampling of Human Universals
Aesthetics
Conflict and conflict
mediation
Cooking
Death rituals
Distinguishing right and
wrong
Division of labour by
age and by sex
Ethnocentrism
Facial expressions of
emotions, including
happiness, fear,
sadness, disgust, etc.
Fairness (equity)
concept
Family (or household)
Females do most child
care
Food sharing
Good and bad
distinguished
Gossip
Groups that are not
based on family
Hospitality
Jokes
Kinship statuses
Language employed to
manipulate,
misinform, or
mislead
Law (rights and
obligations)
Love and affection felt
and expressed
Magic, belief in
Males dominate
public/political
realm, more
aggressive, more
prone to lethal
violence, engage in
more coalitional
violence, and more
prone to theft
Marriage (husband older
than wife on
average)
Mentalese
Moral sentiments
Murder and murder
proscribed
Oligarchy
Preference for own
children and close
kin (nepotism)
Rape; rape proscribed
Reciprocity, positive and
negative (revenge,
retaliation)
Religion/supernatural,
belief in
Resistance to
dominance and
abuse of power
Risk taking (males)
Sanctions for crimes
against the
collectivity
Self control
Sex (gender)
terminology is
fundamentally
binary
Sexual attractiveness,
jealousy, modesty,
and regulation
Social structure
Statuses on other than
sex, age, or kinship
bases
Taboos, including food,
incest, utterances
Territoriality
Weapons
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
45
These are only a few that Brown (and others) have documented. Brown’s book
lists many more. These traits exist in every culture, however separated geographically
and historically. Obviously, such commonality of characteristics could not have
emerged independently everywhere in humanity without genetic foundations—an
evolved basic human nature.
1.3.22
“THE GENES HOLD CULTURE ON A LEASH”
Does culture, including music and language, create human behaviour, or does
human behaviour create culture?
Culture is what we learn from each other. It applies to both humans and to nonhuman animals that have culture (and many do).
But where does human culture come from in the first place?
According to outmoded, biologically-unsupported thinking:
•
Human babies are formless blank slates at birth.
•
Therefore human culture comes from the “outside.”
•
Culture completely creates the human individual; the individual is the
“product” of his or her culture.
•
Cultural or social transformation can change the essential nature of people
(this is precisely what ideologues, such as a political and religious extremists,
aim to do).
In other words, according to this line of thinking, culture creates and controls people.
The evidence paints a far different picture. All culture, including music, is
biological in origin because culture originates, ultimately, in human brains, and
manifests amazing similarity worldwide. What we humans think, what we know,
and how we behave comes partly from our genetic inheritance, and partly from what
we learn (using our brains) from the people we personally associate with, and the
cultural artifacts we come in contact with, such as the television we watch and the
music we listen to.
Our genes do not control us. But the culture around us does not control us, either.
No amount of social engineering can change that. As the American biologist E. O.
Wilson aptly put it in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, On Human Nature, “The genes
hold culture on a leash.”
We humans use our brains to create new, original culture all the time. But it’s
rarely so new and so original that it has nothing to do with our genetic
46
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
predispositions, notwithstanding the efforts of postmodern artists, including
musicians.
1.3.23
INHUMAN MUSIC OF THE BIOLOGICALLY
UNINFORMED: POSTMODERNISM
It’s one thing to create original art. It’s another to create inhuman original art.
Artistic movements such as postmodernism in music and other arts represent
brave attempts by artists to break free of our evolved human nature.
It doesn’t work.
Human brains evolve with glacial slowness. Biologically, we humans still have
brains adapted to Stone Age conditions, like it or not. Humans have been huntergatherers for more than 99 percent of human history. No amount of enculturation
can change that.
Most people don’t hang postmodern canvasses of meaningless stripes and blobs
on their walls—unless under peer pressure. Nor do they read disjointed gibberish.
Nor do they listen to atonal (“serial”) music.
Cultural relativists insist all art is equal. No such thing as “good” art or “bad” art.
A Sunday painter’s crude rendering of Elvis has just as much aesthetic value as a
Monet.
Consider these two paintings. One is Jan Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson.” The
other is Barnett Newman’s “Voice of Fire.”
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
47
The Vermeer speaks for itself. As for “Voice of Fire”—it’s exactly what you see:
three vertical stripes, a work of “art” devoid of a scintilla of imagination or skill. The
National Gallery in Ottawa, Canada authorized the payment of $1.76 million for
“Voice of Fire.” Cultural relativists deemed it a bargain.
If you criticize the spending of that amount of money on a panel consisting of
three stripes—the type of design you would see at a shopping mall food court—
you’re obviously some narrow-minded Philistine, judging something of which you
have no cultural knowledge, something that’s out of your cultural experience. “Voice
of Fire” is a genuine Barnett Newman, after all. A national art gallery paid $1.76
million for it, so it must be worth the money. Hey, for that kind of money, it has to
be a masterpiece!
The emperor has no clothes. If no one knew it was a genuine Barnett Newman,
“Voice of Fire” might fetch as much as $10 at a yard sale—the value of the canvas
or plywood or whatever it’s painted on (the thing is pretty big).
It’s unlikely anyone in their right mind would hang a poster-size reproduction of
“Voice of Fire” on their wall. But lots of people hang reproductions of “The Music
Lesson.”
From a commercial standpoint, the National Gallery in Ottawa has probably
recouped its financial investment in “Voice of Fire” from the admission fees of
incredulous visitors who just had to find out for themselves if the gallery actually did
purchase a panel painted with three stripes for $1.76 million, and did provide wall
space for it, instead of a work of art.
As for music ... a cultural relativist would insist that you have to consider a
musical piece within its cultural milieu, so all music is equally valid. There’s no such
thing as a “good” song or a “bad” song. Artistic merit is too subjective to be judged
or measured. A 12-year-old’s first attempt at songwriting has just as much artistic
merit as “Georgia On My Mind.”
This kind of thinking is utterly delusional because it ignores or denies the reality
of evolved human nature.
POSTMODERN ANIMAL ART, POSTMODERN CHILD
ART, POSTMODERN
If you saw a chimpanzee-painted picture, you probably wouldn’t
pay $5 for it—unless you knew that a chimp painted the picture.
In that case, you might pay lots of money for it. The “art” of
Congo the chimpanzee (1954 - 1964) has sold for tens of
thousands of dollars.
Similarly, four-year-old Marla Olmstead’s postmodern paintings
(“abstract art”), indistinguishable from postmodern paintings in
48
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
New York’s finest galleries of indistinguishable postmodern
paintings, have sold for thousands of dollars each.
Postmodern artists get much attention in the media ... but what
about postmodern socio-political critics and cultural analysts?
Doesn’t their gibberish deserve more attention, too?
Alan Sokal, a New York University physicist thought so.
Fed up with denials of reality and the downplaying of scientific
evidence by postmodern intellectuals insistent on promulgating
claptrap about the “social construction of reality,” Sokal decided
to try a little experiment to determine whether or not
postmodern relativists had any ability to recognize pure,
unadulterated bullshit when it hit them in the face.
Sokal wrote an article titled, “Transgressing the boundaries:
Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity.” He
submitted it to the well-known postmodern cultural studies
journal, Social Text. The 35-page article was a hoax, full of wooly
postmodern jargon and scientific-sounding absurdities about the
implications of quantum physics on social culture, and the role
of postmodern science. The bafflegab and the scientific
credibility of the author impressed the editors of Social Text.
They did not bother to have the article reviewed by scientists
who would have known immediately that it was ludicrous
twaddle from beginning to end. Instead, Social Text published
the article—even though they could not possibly have had any
understanding of it, since it was meaningless.
Musicians unaware of evolutionary biology and its implications often create
incomprehensible, inhuman music in an attempt to come up with something
original—musical equivalents of “Voice of Fire” or chimpanzee art or Marla
Olmstead’s “abstract” paintings. “Surely,” the argument goes, “it’s time to move on
from tonal music. We have to progress!”—without realizing that the notion of
progress does not apply to the arts, including music (more on this in Chapter 2).
A postmodern chef would presumably create bold new original dishes by
incorporating ingredients such as coal dust, Styrofoam, and plutonium. Not many
humans eat inhuman food. And not many humans appreciate inhuman music and
inhuman visual art. (Some do, though ... )
If you write and perform “postmodern” songs, you will probably have a problem
making a living. Inhuman music means inaccessible music. Inaccessible music does
not communicate emotionally (except to irritate the listener) because the human
brain cannot find meaning in it on any level. It’s not because listeners aren’t
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
49
sophisticated enough. It’s because the music itself amounts to pretentious,
meaningless rubbish.
1.3.24
MUSICAL UNIVERSALS
Similar musical elements show up to some degree in the music of all cultures. For
example, Westerners listening to Hindustani music report feeling the same specific
emotions as the emotions Hindustani musicians report they are intending to convey.
Similarly, young children specify the same emotions elicited by a piece of music as
do adults. If you could time-travel, you would find the same musical universals in the
music of cultures that went extinct tens of thousands of years ago.
Today, music likely tops the list of all the artistic activities humans practise
globally. Here are some musical universals (Table 3)—musical traits found in all
musical cultures worldwide (not necessarily characteristic of every individual, but in
pretty much all cultures):
TABLE 3 Some Musical Universals
Cadence
Children’s music as its own genre
Dancing to musical accompaniment
Emotions aroused by the same
musical information are the same
emotions (i.e., not dependent on
previous exposure or knowledge
of the music being played)
Harmonic sensing automatic (i.e.,
ability to sense a note and relate it
harmonically to other notes)
Infants’ ability to discriminate
differences in pitch and timing
Intervals with small-integer frequency
ratios, such as octaves, fifths, and
fourths
Melody, and grouping of melodic
notes into sequences
Music considered as art
Music listening involves rhythmic
bodily movement (entrainment)
Music not a rare talent
Music used in ritual or religious
practice
Music used to mark important events
Musical instruments
Phrase as the basic unit of musical
structure
Resources and time dedicated to
music are substantial (applies as
much to industrial societies as to
hunter-gatherer societies)
Rhythm based on isometric beats
Rhythmic pulse groupings of 2 or 3
beats
Scales of 7 or fewer different pitches
to the octave
Scales with unequal steps, such as the
pentatonic scale
Song classification/categorization
Songs with short repetitive phrases
within a range of a perfect fifth
Symmetry in musical structure/form
Vocal music, practised by both men
and women
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
1.3.25
HOW MUCH OF MUSIC IS INNATE, HOW MUCH IS
CULTURALLY ACQUIRED?
You owe your ability to appreciate and create music to the genes you inherited from
your parents and their ancestors, going back many thousands of generations. But the
specifics of your musical tastes and musical creativity come primarily from the cultural
preferences of your peer group—not from your parents. This applies to your nonmusical cultural preferences as well.
Imagine this sequence of events.
•
You are born in a small village in South Korea. As a child, you become fluent
in the Korean language, absorb the Korean folk music traditions of your
parents, and observe their Buddhist religious practices.
•
When you are six years old, your family emigrates to America and settles in
Dodge City, Kansas. Your parents learn practically no English, retain their
strong Buddhist faith, and socialize only with other Koreans in Dodge City’s
small Korean neighbourhood. At home, you and your parents converse
exclusively in Korean.
Fast forward a few years.
•
Now you are 11 years old. You’ve been going to school in Dodge for five
years. Your parents can still hardly speak a word of English, still hang around
with their Korean friends, and remain firm Buddhists.
As for you...
•
You now speak fluent English with an accent indistinguishable from the
accent of your native-born American posse in Dodge. You also dress like
them, swagger around like them, ride horses like them, and have habits and
tastes and religious interests like theirs.
•
You walk and talk and identify with your Dodge peer group—not your
parents and the Korean world they still inhabit.
•
In short, you inhabit a personal environment of your own, an environment
that overlaps with the personal environments of your peer group. It shows.
You still have the genetic inheritance of your parents, of course, but the
specific cultural information you have acquired has come mainly from your
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51
peer group. And that includes not just your language, but also your musical
tastes.
How much of is music innate, and how much is culturally acquired? Probably
something like half and half. But you can’t disentangle genetically inherited influence
from culturally acquired influence because musical universals show up in varying
degrees in the music of all cultures.
1.3.26
WHERE IS MUSIC? WOVEN IN THE FABRIC OF LIFE
GLOBALLY
Most people experience music every day. One study revealed a 44% probability of
experiencing music in any two-hour period.
This doesn’t mean that people are actually paying attention to the music they
hear. That doesn’t happen much. Music hangs around in the social environment.
•
People often focus on music as a diversion when doing mundane work or
chores.
•
People also listen to music to regulate their own mood—to get out of a bad
mood, get into a romantic mood, get into an excited mood.
According to one study, adolescent girls tend to use music as a mood regulator.
Boys use music to make an impression on others. Boys also like to listen to music
when alone, assimilating identity-building cultural stereotypes.
Music weaves its way through the fabric of everyday life everywhere: waking up,
getting ready for work or school, eating, working, travelling, playing, courting,
meditating, praying, horse grooming, shopping, exercising, socializing, trying to get
to sleep.
WHERE? WHAT ABOUT OUTSIDE THE BRAIN?
Music originates solely in the brain.
Or does it?
Could global consciousness, or mass consciousness generally,
influence music-making? Is there such a thing as global
consciousness?
52
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
In 1998, researchers at Princeton University set up an
international global consciousness monitoring system. They
began placing dozens of electronic random event generators
(REGs) in many countries around the world. These devices
continue to generate sequential data completely at random. The
REGs are independent of one another, so they cannot influence
each other. Each REG periodically uploads its random data to the
lab at Princeton.
The purpose of the experiment was (and still is) to test the
following hypothesis:
The composite variation of the distribution means
of data sequences (segments) recorded from
multiple REGs during broadly engaging global
events will deviate from expectation.
In other words, if global consciousness exists, and if it’s
detectable with existing technology, then it should affect REGgenerated data during events where large numbers of people
are thinking about the same thing at the same time. Examples of
events would include:
•
•
•
•
A major terrorist attack such as 9/11
An election
A natural disaster such as a major earthquake or hurricane
A mass-media event such as an international fundraising
musical extravaganza
When comparing the data from one REG with the data from
another, you would expect to find no statistical correlations
beyond what would be expected by chance, if human thinking
did not influence the electronically-generated data from the
REGs.
But the results of the Princeton experiment, which have been
reported continuously since 1998, show numerous statistically
significant REG data correlations associated with major humanly
important events. The closer the event is physically located to a
REG, the greater the effect on the REG data.
While the results neither “prove” nor “disprove” specific causeand-effect claims, they do provide solid evidence supporting the
hypothesis of the investigators.
The scientific rigour with which the monitoring and reporting
system was established, and the results it has produced, make
the Princeton experiment one of the most fascinating ever
devised. You can find out about it and have a look at the results
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
53
to date (and even the raw data) at their website:
http://Noosphere.Princeton.edu/.
1.4
When Did Music Get Started?
1.4.1
THE “WHEN” QUESTION: SCIENCE VS RELIGION
Science shares with religion the claim that it answers deep questions
about origins, the nature of life, and the cosmos. But there the
resemblance ends. Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and
they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.
—RICHARD DAWKINS, eminent British zoologist
Why is there something instead of nothing?
—HANS KUNG, eminent Swiss theologian
Empirical evidence indicates Darwinian evolution created in you and in all other
humans an adaptation for music in the form of an integrated network of brain
modules (neuronal circuits) that enable you to make music and respond emotionally
to music.
According to certain religious doctrines, talk of Darwinian evolution amounts to
nonsense or even blasphemy: God made man, and God bestows the gift of music as
God sees fit. (Or, certain specific gods, depending upon the religion.)
Science has succeeded spectacularly in explaining nature and making factual
information available for the creation of incredible technologies, from flying
machines to nuclear weapons to life-saving medicines to guitars and pianos. Science
keeps us atop the food chain and able to protect ourselves (most of the time) from the
most lethal of natural non-human predators.
Most religions hypothesize (but promulgate as truth) divine creation, external,
objectifiable forces of good and evil, an afterlife, and some sort of heaven and hell.
But sincere belief in religious doctrine does not make it true.
The evidence supporting Darwinian evolution directly contradicts such claims,
earning the enduring hostility of strongly committed religious adherents who believe
54
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
in the unchangeable doctrines and “received truths” of their faith, and do not tolerate
free inquiry, evidence, or critical thinking.
In one notorious case in America in the 1920s, a high school science teacher
stood trial for teaching evolution, in violation of Tennessee law. The court convicted
him (Scopes Monkey Trial). Some U. S. states still occasionally pass anti-evolution
statutes, though courts now tend to pay more attention to the constitutional principle
of separation of church and state.
RELIGION AS AN ADAPTATION
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
—SHAKESPEARE (Hamlet, III, I)
Religion may actually be a behavioural adaptation. Religious
beliefs are hypotheses that try to explain things people can’t
understand or figure out, for lack of information or evidence,
“attempts of the human mind to impose some kind of order on
the chaos of existence.”
No credible evidence exists that any species, including Homo
sapiens, has a higher purpose beyond survival and
procreation—i.e., sending genes into the next generation. If, as
biological evidence suggests, religious faith is a biological
adaptation, the selective pressure that created it has some
obvious functions. Religious faith...
•
Helps protect adherents (the overwhelming majority of
humankind) from depression, anxiety, and
suicide—although some adherents use suicide as a ticket
to “paradise,” such as the 9/11 terrorists and countless
suicide bombers.
•
Provides a sense of well-being by“answering” profound
questions. The human species made it to the top of the
food chain by understanding cause-and-effect. Where no
cause-and-effect evidence exists, religious faith stands in.
Believers report higher levels of happiness and life
satisfaction, compared with non-religious peers.
•
Provides adherents with membership in a powerful
group, and all the survival advantages that go with such
affiliation.
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55
The hypothesis that religion is an adaptation would predict that
religious faith would be prevalent in all societies, regardless of
level of technological advancement, in nations such as India as
well as in nations such as America.
Religions compete with each other much as businesses compete
with each other for mind share and market share. Winning
religions flourish and spread through proselytizing and warfare,
then die away and become mythologies (e.g., Roman and Greek
religions are now considered mythologies). A mythology, it is
said, is a religion that has gone out of fashion. Odds are, in the
unlikely event humankind does not fight or poison itself into
extinction over the next few centuries or millennia, today’s
religions will pass into official mythology. New religions will
prevail, deifying Captain Kirk, Harry Potter, and Paris Hilton.
(Perhaps the Hilton hotel in Paris will assume the religious
significance now associated with the Vatican.)
Religion has been around for tens of thousands of years—far
longer than any of today’s Johnny-come-lately religions such as
Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam (and secular
religions such as Marxism and Naziism). And much longer than
any of recorded history’s extinct religions. According to one
anthropological estimate, humankind has created perhaps
100,000 religions over tens of thousands of years. A 35,000-yearold cave painting in Italy, for example, clearly shows a maskwearing shaman or wizard, hands outstretched, likely
performing some sort of ritual. As well, there is evidence that
the species Homo neanderthalensis, a species distinctly different
from our own, had religion some 60,000 years ago.
As for brain location of the “religion” adaptation, damage to the
right frontal lobe significantly alters a person’s religious and
political beliefs and values. Who knows, perhaps a little poking
around in the right frontal lobe would transform Pat Robertson
from an intemperate Christian fundamentalist into an
intemperate Islamic fundamentalist.
1.4.2
RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL ASSAULTS ON MUSIC
From time to time throughout history, religious and political leaders, recognizing the
power of music to engage people emotionally, have sought to quash it, sometimes
brutally.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
A few examples:
•
The Christian church obstructed the development of polyphony and harmony
because religious leaders realized music elicits emotion, including pleasure,
which was contrary to church doctrine.
•
The Nazis banned jazz in the 1930s because black people played it and Jewish
people encouraged and financed its development.
•
The communist Chinese dictatorship, when it seized power in1949, banned
jazz, the music of the bourgeois capitalist West.
•
Various American churches with white congregations and racist agendas have
periodically banned specific types of “immoral” African American music,
sometimes targeting particular performers.
•
In Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban seized power and imposed a hideous
form of religious fascism on the country. For the next five years, the Taliban’s
Islamic police force visited incredible horrors and atrocities on various sectors
of the population, especially women. The Taliban banned education for girls,
blew up works of art, and outlawed music. Playing or enjoying music was
deemed “un-Islamic.” Musicians resisted by going underground and
continuing to make music.
•
In Algeria in the 1990s, Islamic death squads specifically targeted, hunted
down, and murdered musicians for their “un-Islamic” musical activities.
1.4.3
ULTIMATE ORIGIN OF THE ADAPTATION FOR
MUSIC: COMMON DESCENT
DNA and palaeontological evidence indicates all life on earth began from one
replicating molecule nearly four billion years ago. Every living thing on earth uses
the same 64-word DNA “dictionary” of codons, practically conclusive evidence that
all life on earth descended from the same molecular ancestor. This phenomenon is
known as common descent. The origin of life amounted to the origin of heredity.
Today, for example, humans and flies share much of the same genetic material.
So do humans and mice. As previously mentioned, humans, bonobos, and
chimpanzees share more than 98% of the same DNA. The genomes of chimpanzees
and humans have been sequenced and compared, and show remarkable similarity.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
57
Humans share some similar behaviour characteristics with chimpanzees, such as
male aggression and tool use. Yet, despite genomic similarity, enough genetic
differences exist to make humans and chimps far different species.
EVOLUTION IS „JUST A HYPOTHESIS‰? RUBBISH
Evolution is a bankrupt speculative
philosophy, not a scientific fact. Only a
spiritually bankrupt society could ever
believe it. ...Only atheists could accept this
Satanic theory.
— JIMMY SWAGGART, American fundamentalist
preacher
Science admits and encourages criticism and testing, making it
essentially self-correcting. Scientists do not consider anything as
absolutely true for all time. Religionists and political ideologues
do.
Scientists consider well-supported hypotheses, usually called
theories, to be as factual as you can get without resorting to
religion-like proclamations of absolute truth. Newton’s theory of
gravitation applies on a scale humans can relate to, but Einstein’s
theory applies on a cosmic scale. As for evolution, the evidence
for its reality is massive. James D. Watson, American biologist, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, and Nobel prize winner, puts
it this way:
Today, evolution is an accepted fact for everyone
but a fundamentalist minority, whose objections
are based not on reasoning but on doctrinaire
adherence to religious principles.
Mr. Swaggart apparently does not agree with most Christians of
the major denominations, who, in the face of overwhelming
evidence, accept the reality of evolution without abandoning
their faith. Some 18 years after his election, even Pope John Paul
II finally allowed as how...
fresh knowledge leads to the recognition of the
theory of evolution as more than just a
hypothesis.
Perhaps the Pope was mindful of the actions of one of his
predecessors, the “infallible” Pope Urban VIII, who sentenced
Galileo to a life of house arrest for daring to agree with
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Copernicus that the earth is not the centre of the universe, and
in fact all the planets, including the earth, revolve around the
sun.
From the moment Darwin published his theory in 1859, religious
adherents have opposed it because, in their minds, evolution
“dethrones God.” For some 70 or 80 years after Darwin’s theory
was published, most people—even biologists—refused, on
various religious and moral grounds, to consider that Darwinian
natural selection might be right. Philosophers held out even
longer, until the middle of the 20th Century.
Research on human mindset indicates humans hold on to core
political and religious beliefs even in the face of compelling,
contra-indicating factual evidence because they don’t want to
have to cope with the emotional stress involved in modifying
beliefs.
Those who simply do not wish to believe scientific evidence that
conflicts with strongly held religious faith try to discredit
evolutionary theory (“shoot the messenger”).
It’s interesting to note that more than 80% of U. S. teenagers
believe God created human beings, either directly, by creating
us in our present form within the last 10,000 years, or indirectly
by guiding the evolutionary process so that we would end up
the way we are. Only 20% of adults with a high school education
or less believe that Darwinian evolution is a well-supported
scientific theory. The remaining 80% presumably believe
evolution is “just a hypothesis.” Education tends to dispel belief
in creation mythology. The proportion of believers in creation
mythology plummets to 35% among adults with a post-graduate
education. But that still means 35% of adults with a postgraduated education refuse to believe the scientific evidence
supporting Darwinian evolution.
The first replicating molecule originated in one of two ways:
1. In situ hypothesis. Until recently, pre-biotic chemists believed life originated
in the chemical cauldron that was the earth’s surface several billion years ago.
2. Panspermia hypothesis. Today, in light of new evidence, the panspermia
hypothesis seems more likely. Life may not have had an earthly origin. On
more than one occasion, astronomers have observed “sugar clouds” floating
around in the Milky Way—some of the same organic material contained in
comets that smash into the earth every so often (not too often!). If this is how
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
59
life on earth got kick started nearly 4 billion years ago, it probably happened
on countless other planets in our galaxy and other galaxies.
How did non-life turn into life?
In popular mythology, life begins with “ensoulment,” which occurs at the
“moment of conception.” In fact, there’s no such thing as a moment of conception.
The biological process of conception takes up to 48 hours to complete. Similarly, no
sharp demarcation exists between non-life and life. Viruses, for example, have either
DNA or RNA, but are not considered to be “alive” until they infect host cells, where
they replicate and behave like life forms, sort of.
Scientists can create organic compounds in the lab, including some of the lifeessential amino acids, by simulating conditions on earth billions of years ago. Twocarbon sugar, such as the sugar in the observed galactic sugar clouds, is not far
removed from RNA. In the presence of minerals such as borax, simple sugars stop
reacting at five carbons, the carbon sugars of life. Not only that, a form of evolution
by natural selection (but not life) was set in motion in the lab in some remarkable
experiments by the molecular biologist Sol Spiegelman.
DNA replication, like the generation of sentences and musical phrases, is
combinatorial. A finite number of genes creates a practically infinite number of
combinations. That’s why the absolute number of genes in the genome of a given
species has practically nothing to do with the complexity of the organism. Humans
have only about 25,000 to 30,000 genes. Other species have more.
However, scientists will never be able to artificially create life as we know it in a
lab, for several good reasons:
•
The first life on earth evolved without oxygen. Even today, living organisms
at the bottom of the ocean surrounding undersea vents metabolize sulphur
instead of oxygen.
•
DNA almost certainly had a replicating forerunner, long extinct.
•
Life today consists of cells, which are extremely complex, exquisitely
functioning units that took billions of years to evolve from scratch. They
contain many thousands of molecules and ions. No one is going to artificially
create a living cell in the lab from scratch anytime soon.
„SUPER BOWL‰ JANET, APPEARING AT YOUR LOCAL
MADRASAH
One day, millions of atoms that now constitute Janet Jackson’s
naked right “Super Bowl” breast will mingle merrily with atoms
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
of the eyeballs of fanatical fundamentalists, ensconced in their
madrasahs.
After you die, your body’s trillions of atoms slowly but surely
make their way back into the atmosphere, and way beyond.
Nature recycles atoms.
Right now, you probably have, built into our own body, millions
of atoms of Plato, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, and Guido d'Arezzo.
And anyone else you care to name who lived many centuries
ago.
And, in the future, your atoms will frolic with the atoms of Judy
Garland, Janet Jackson, Elvis (if he ever dies), Salman Rushdie, and
every sanctimonious mullah who ever issued a fatwa.
1.4.4
TIMELINE OF MUSICAL EVOLUTION
Here are some significant points in evolutionary history, focussing on events of
musical significance (all dates approximate, of course).
•
3.8 to 3.9 billion years ago: The original replicator starts replicating.
•
500 million years ago: Life forms begin to sense sound.
•
5 to 7 million years ago: Hominid line splits from other primates. Last
common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans probably lived about 7 million
years ago.
Oldest known hominid could be Sahelanthropus tchandensis, about 6 million
years old. Or it could be Ardipthecus kadabba, also about 6 million years old.
Or some other two-legged critter with a fancy Latin name.
Hominids arose in Africa. Key characteristic of hominids is that all were
bipedal—the first significant trait that separated early hominids from great ape
species. This led to rearrangement of internal organs now characteristic of
modern humans, the only hominid species that has not (yet) gone extinct.
Due to bipedalism, humans have a unique respiratory tract, compared with
our non-bipedal close relatives such as chimpanzees and gorillas. Humans
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
61
have better control of breathing, and this probably facilitated the evolution of
language and vocal music.
Proto-music and language may have begun soon after the hominid branch
split from the common ancestor of humans and today’s great apes. However,
bipedalism did not lead directly to encephalation (brain expansion). Hominids
were walking upright for several million years before encephalation began.
For the first 5 million years of hominid evolution, the dominant species were
various runty little Australopithecines (“austral” means “southern,” as in
southern Africa; nothing to do with Australia).
•
2.4 million years ago: The genus Homo appears. That’s our genus. About a
dozen Homo species eventually evolved, all of which became extinct except
H. sapiens.
Most human evolution took place in the Palaeolithic Age, also known as the
Old Stone Age, a time period recognized by palaeontologists and
archaeologists that began about 2.5 million years ago and ended about 12,000
years ago. (In geology, the equivalent period is called the Pleistocene
epoch—1.8 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago.)
It is possible that music has existed in all species of the genus Homo. However,
it’s hard to know exactly when music began because musical instruments
made of reeds or trees or animal hides decay into dust and leave no fossil
evidence. Also, the vocal apparatus is made of soft tissue, which decays into
dust, except for the hyoid bone, which occasionally fossilizes.
Evidence from the fossil record indicates a modern respiratory system in the
genus Homo at least 1.5 million years ago, with traits such as a barrel chest
and projecting nose—requirements for producing both vocal music and
words. So it’s conceivable that singing and language go back that far. Apes,
due to their vocal tract anatomy, do not have the ability to produce
consonants, and, therefore, spoken language.
•
2.4 million years ago: MYH16 mutation in genus Homo that may have
enabled encephalation.
•
2 million years ago: Evidence of encephalation already underway in genus
Homo. Skull size eventually triples to present-day size.
Selective pressure drove the evolution of a variety of social bonding
adaptations, including music and language, and thereby drove encephalation.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Although a few animals have brains that exceed the size of the human brain,
the important thing is the ratio of brain size to body weight. By this measure,
Homo sapiens easily tops the podium as the brainiest species on the planet.
The American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, among others, studied the
ratio of brain size to body weight in other hominids and other primates, and
concluded, “...our brain has undergone a true increase in size not related to
the demands of our larger body. We are, indeed, smarter than we were.”
•
800,000 to 1 million years ago: Evidence from archaeology that hominids
controlled fire. A milestone in music: the first campfire songs!
•
200,000 years ago: Early modern Homo sapiens appears.
•
200,000 years ago: Unfairly maligned Homo neanderthalensis appears. Became
extinct approximately 30,000 years ago.
H. neanderthalensis was a hardy, intelligent species distinct from H. sapiens, and
with a larger brain. DNA evidence shows Homo sapiens did not “descend” from
Neanderthals, nor interbreed with Neanderthals.
A Neanderthal hyoid bone—the horseshoe-shaped bone above the larynx—
from about 45,000 years ago has pretty much the same shape as a modern
human hyoid bone. Neanderthals also had other cranial characteristics
required for vocal music and speech, which fall well within the human range.
Neanderthals probably spoke and sang and had similar mental abilities as H.
sapiens.
It is entirely possible that our species, H. sapiens, killed off H. neanderthalensis.
Early genocide.
•
115,000 years ago: Fully modern Homo sapiens (Africa).
•
60,000 to 100,000 years ago: A relatively small number of modern humans
leaves Africa. DNA and other evidence strongly indicates all humans today
are descended from this small group.
Since they were biologically the same as us, they must have had language.
And since music either preceded or co-evolved with language, they must have
had music.
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63
•
75,000 years ago: Evidence of human use of symbolism (Africa), the
hallmark of human culture. Humans were using beads made from shells, not
merely for decoration, but to communicate meaning.
•
44,000 years ago: Oldest known well-documented musical instrument, a bone
flute. This means it’s likely people commonly made flutes from other
materials such as hollowed-out plant stems. (Cultures already had highly
developed visual art by this time.)
The fossil record shows Homo neanderthalensis made this bone flute—not Homo
sapiens. As a musical instrument, the Neanderthal bone flute is sophisticated
and not obvious. (Other inventions that seem simple and obvious, such as the
wheel, only arose in the past few thousand years.)
The Neanderthal bone flute has four holes spaced such that the sound
corresponds to whole and half-steps of the diatonic scale.
Percussion instruments likely predated melodic instruments by hundreds of
thousands of years. Human vocal music certainly predated music played on
percussion instruments.
•
32,000 years ago: Symbolic markings on bone, clay, stones, and ornaments
reveal that elementary literacy is well in place by this time.
MUSIC NOTATION: THE „FROZEN ARTIFACT OF THE
SCORE‰
Music without notation, like language without writing, goes back
hundreds of thousands of years.
The technologies of notating music and language are relatively
recent non-instinctive cultural constructs, invented in the past
few thousand years. Being non-instinctive inventions, written
language and music require specific schooling to master.
A piece of notated music, like an architect’s drawing, amounts to
a technical, symbolic representation of the real thing.
When you play or sing a piece of music from notation, the
“frozen artifact of the score,” what you play never corresponds
exactly to the notation. A computer can do that, you can’t. The
difference between what’s notated on the page and what you
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
actually sing or play constitutes your personal style (not counting
unintended errors).
When you notate music, you code sound, which gets decoded
during performance. At the same time, the brains of listeners recode the sound, thereby experiencing music.
A lot of music teaching obsesses on the technical “codingdecoding” aspects of music. And especially on eliminating
“errors.” Playing each note absolutely “correctly.” Exactly as
notated. Never mind emotional substance and content. Many
students who take years of conservatory lessons can sight read
the most complex classical pieces, yet have no real
understanding of how music works, and could not play a Hank
Williams song without the sheet music.
Notating music used to be the only way to make a permanent
record of a song or other piece of music. If you were a
songwriter and did not know how to notate, you had to either
learn how, or find someone to do it for you.
When personal recording technology came along, you could
create a permanent record of a song without having to learn
music notation.
Now, with digital technology, you can use any number of
hardware and software products to turn the music you play into
musical notation—for the benefit of musicians who don’t know
how to play by ear.
It’s the age of post-literate musicianship. If you own a computer
and have the right software, you can create elaborate music
without ever having to learn to play a musical instrument.
1.4.5
DID MUSIC AND LANGUAGE CO-EVOLVE?
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MUSIC AND LANGUAGE
Darwin believed language and music had a common origin in sexually selected
mating calls, but that language developed first. However, today researchers believe
the preponderance of evidence indicates language and music co-evolved from a
common vocal ancestor adaptation.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
65
Evidence indicates early hominid species could dance and sing several hundred
thousand years before the appearance of modern Homo species. Music, language, and
dance may have a common origin in the modules that evolved for pounding,
throwing, and tool-using generally. The underlying skill manifesting as an adaptation
would have been rhythm.
Language syntax (order or arrangement) and musical syntax appear to share
common processes in the brain. Studies of brain activity during music and language
processing show similarities in the way the brain handles temporal (time-related)
aspects of both language and music. “When we listen to language and music, not
only do we expect words or chords with specific meaning and function, but we also
expect them to be presented on time!” For hilarious confirmation, track down Bob
and Ray’s comedy sketch, “Slow Talkers of America.”
Music could have evolved from speech, or speech from music, or, more likely,
both speech and music could have co-evolved, sharing a common ancestor that had
some characteristics of speech, some of music. In early humans, the music-language
precursor, termed “musilanguage” by the neuroscientist Steven Brown, would have
conveyed referential meaning (i.e., information) and also emotional meaning, using
discrete pitch levels and expressive phrasing. Eventually, the musilanguage precursor
would have split into two specialties:
•
A specialty for conveying mainly referential meaning symbolically,
(language), initially by expressive phrasing, and later using a vocabulary of
words
•
A specialty for conveying emotional meaning, mainly without symbolic
meaning (music), via discrete pitch levels
Music and language likely co-evolved, and therefore interacted. So crossover
occurred, as evidenced in songs with lyrics—“verbal song.” Today, there’s a
continuum:
Pure
speech
Expressive
speech
Rhythmic
poetry
(including
rap)
Melody
with
lyrics
Non-verbal
vocal
music
(e. g., scat
singing)
Pure
instrumental
music
Music and language both evolved as systems to communicate meaning via sound
organized in the dimension of time. They have in common:
•
•
•
•
Metrical structure: strong and weak beats
Melodic contour: rising and falling pitch
Group structure: phrases within phrases
Phrase duration
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Communication of emotion (although music dominates)
However there are some clear and important differences between music and
language:
•
Language conveys information as well as emotion. Music communicates
emotion only.
•
Everybody can easily create language competently (talk meaningfully),
whereas not everybody can create music competently. It may well be that this
difference stems from the fact that everybody gets constant practice in
language in everyday communication, whereas, after infancy and after
learning to talk, musical communication as a survival necessity falls off
dramatically, and therefore into disuse.
•
Language does not have an equivalent of the musical phenomenon of
harmony. In harmony, two separate pitches are produced at the same time
and the brain makes sense of the resulting sound. However, in speech, two
separate words produced at the same time sound garbled. The brain cannot
make sense of the resulting sound.
Overall, the similarities between music and language in the brain are striking, and
outweigh the differences, indicating a common origin.
1.4.6
DID MUSIC AND LANGUAGE CO-EVOLVE?
EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES OF ANIMALS
Both music and language have extremely similar phrase-based hierarchical structures
and other similarities—so many that it’s highly unlikely they did not co-evolve.
The evidence indicates primate singing evolved several times independently (a
phenomenon called convergence) from adaptive calls originally used to signal alarm
or to advertise territorial claims. Ultimately, such calls evolved into music and
language in various species of the Homo genus.
In today’s great apes, for example, hoots and calls transmit information among
groups about where individuals and sub-groups are hanging out, who’s looking for
a mate, and what the neighbourhood primatologists are up to. Physical movements
such as stomping and shaking branches often accompany vocalizations. In our
hominid ancestors, such actions may well have evolved into rhythmic motion,
reinforcing vocal calls.
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Primates other than humans have vocal communication systems that fit the
description of the musilanguage precursor. For example:
•
Both gibbons and chimpanzees make vocalizations that biologists consider to
be “protomusical,” that is, ancestral or early stage, the kind of vocalizations
that our hominid ancestors probably made before their brains enlarged and
human-like music and language became possible.
•
Vocalizations of East African vervet monkeys convey both emotion and
referential meaning.
•
Mated pairs of gibbons “sing” duets.
To summarize, language requires a large brain, as does rhythmic, scale-based,
harmonic human music. No other species has a brain-to-body-weight ratio as high
as humans, and no other species has either music or language. With so much in
common, it’s likely music and language co-evolved from precursor animal calls.
1.4.7
DID MUSIC AND LANGUAGE CO-EVOLVE?
EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES OF CHILDREN
Competence in both language and music develop in all normal children
spontaneously. No conscious effort necessary. No formal training.
Both music and language function in accordance with rule-based brain systems
comprised of elemental units (words, pitches, intervals) that group into larger
structures (musical and lyrical phrases, sentences, choruses).
Children learn both music and language without any conscious awareness of
what they’re doing. They effortlessly combine musical elements to create entirely
original tunes. With equal ease, they learn words and combine them to create entirely
original sentences.
In both cases, they don’t realize that they’re applying combinatorial rules, already
in their brains from birth, to word-vocabularies and pitch-vocabularies.
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1.4.8
WHY YOUR “MODERN” BRAIN HASN’T CHANGED
IN 50,000 TO 100,000 YEARS
Darwinian evolution happens sssssllllllllloooooooooowwwwwwwwlllllllllyyyyyy.
Human brain modules evolved during Palaeolithic times, when our ancestors
were hunter-gatherers. Pinker: “The mind is organized into modules or mental
organs, each with a specialized design...Their operation was shaped by natural
selection to solve the problems of the hunting and gathering life led by our ancestors
in most of our evolutionary history.” These adaptations still influence our behaviour
and often complicate our lives in an increasingly high-tech social environment. We
humans disregard our Stone Age genetic inheritance at our peril.
Are humans still evolving by Darwinian natural selection? There is evidence we
are:
•
One genetic mutation that regulates brain size (MCPH1) arose 37,000 years
ago, and has spread “rapidly” (by slow evolutionary standards).
•
Another brain-size-regulating gene (ASPM) emerged in its modern form only
about 5,800 years ago.
Still, the overall Darwinian evolutionary change in the short term (over the past
few tens of thousands of years) cannot be great, because it takes such a long time for
an important adaptation to become encoded in the genome of a species.
Suppose you were to jump into a time machine and zip back to the Stone Age.
Say, 64,813 years back. You look around and what do you see? Why, a newborn
Homo sapiens baby. Alas, she’s orphaned and wailing, poor dear. You scoop her up,
jump back into your time machine, and whip back to the present.
Now what do you do? Contact Marshal McDillon, of course. His cousin’s family,
the Donkersloots, agree to raise the Stone Age baby.
What’s she like anyway, with her 64,813-year-old brain and body?
She’s no different from anybody alive today. She looks the same as any newborn
in Dodge City. Or even Wichita. As she grows up, she’ll learn language normally,
play piano, hang around in malls, ride horses, have her pick of ardent male admirers,
graduate from university, and become a psychology professor.
Evolutionary lag is the period of time it takes for a mutation in an individual that
results in a significant survival or reproductive advantage to become encoded in the
human genome. The interval is of the order of several hundred centuries—tens of
thousands of years.
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69
On the other hand, the selective pressure of local climatic conditions can bring on
less significant adaptations over shorter time periods. For instance, variations in skin
color (a topic discussed in Section 1.5).
„INTELLIGENT‰ DESIGN? RUBBISH
Any sufficiently advanced technology is
indistinguishable from magic.
—ARTHUR C. CLARKE
I have...a foreboding of an America in my children’s
generation, or my grandchildren’s generation ...
when, clutching our crystals and nervously
consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in
steep decline, unable to distinguish between
what’s true and what feels good, we slide, almost
without noticing, into superstition and darkness.
—CARL SAGAN
It’s hard to know where to begin with the notion of “intelligent
design” (usually abbreviated ID).
ID is a religious creation myth that goes like this: “Wow! How
wonderfully complex the living world is! Must be the work of an
intelligent designer! Couldn’t possibly have occurred by
unguided natural selection.”
The concept of intelligent design is not remotely scientific. Not a
single paper supporting the notion has ever passed peer review
for publication in a scientific journal. Like all creation myths,
there’s simply no evidence for ID, and the hypothesis is
untestable. ID is creationist movement funded, especially in the
United States, by wealthy conservative Christians.
Use of the word “intelligent” in a term for a creation myth makes
ID sound scientific. Strongholds of Christian fundamentalism,
including many southern U. S. states, periodically succeed in
mandating the teaching of creation mythology (usually dubbed
“creation science”) in public schools. However, the courts,
recognizing the principle of separation of church and state,
usually strike down such laws. Religious fundamentalists pull out
all stops to out-manoeuver the courts by insisting that ID does
not name God as the intelligent designer. It just implies that God
is the intelligent designer. (Perhaps the time has come for
Hindus and Buddhists to insist on the teaching of the “science” of
reincarnation in the public school system!)
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All religions invoke the supernatural without tangible,
empirically verifiable evidence, and are hostile to scientific
principles that challenge religious doctrine, such as hypothesis
testing and critical thinking. Science is about nature and reality,
not the supernatural and mythology, so scientific and religious
beliefs often conflict.
Far from being “intelligently designed,” anatomy reveals how
creatures are cobbled together, sometimes even jury-rigged,
exactly as predicted by blind Darwinian natural selection. A few
examples:
•
Humans (and other animals) have more miscarriages than
live births.
•
The retina of the human eye is “installed” backwards.
•
The laryngeal nerve takes a ridiculous roundabout loop to
get from the larynx to the brain.
•
Human males have nipples.
•
In human males, the urethra passes through the prostate.
gland—probably the last place an intelligent designer
would route it.
Humans like to try to solve difficult problems with binary
classification. Often, this takes the form of a false dichotomy: “If
you have no scientific evidence, then God is responsible.” (This
leaves out the possibility that a scientific explanation does exist,
or will one day be found.)
Such is the flawed thinking behind intelligent design. Science
does in fact have an extremely well-supported scientific
explanation of complex design in nature, namely Darwinian
natural selection. Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker is one
of many books that spells out the scientific explanation in detail.
Darwinian evolution by natural selection gave rise to all life on
earth, including the human species. Without foresight, without
consciousness, without purpose. And without any need for
assistance from a deity or the supernatural.
Natural selection gave rise to the vast complexity and variety of
organisms in nature. Richard Dawkins refers to the process of
natural selection as the ‘blind watchmaker” because cumulative
mutations over billions of years lead to vastly complex
organisms, creating the illusion of design, without nature seeing,
hearing, or otherwise “knowing” what’s going on.
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This applies to humans and especially the human brain. The
process seems magical, but it isn’t. Darwinian evolution created
humans. Advances in knowledge about human biology are
replacing notions of a separation of mind and brain.
1.5
Why Is There Such a Thing as
Music?
1.5.1
DARWINIAN EVOLUTION AND ADAPTATIONS
(INCLUDING MUSIC)
I don’t like nature. It’s big plants eating little plants, small fish being
eaten by big fish, big animals eating each other ... It’s like an enormous
restaurant.
—WOODY ALLEN (Love and Death)
Many consider Charles Darwin one of the three greatest scientists of all time, in the
company of Newton and Einstein. Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace
independently came up with the insight now called Darwinian evolution. Darwin
wrote a number of landmark books identifying and describing natural selection,
sexual selection, and other aspects of evolution.
Darwinian evolution is the most important theory in all of biology. Voluminous
evidence from modern science shows that Darwin got it right, despite having no
knowledge of DNA or genes. Darwin discovered that life evolves in distinct lines,
with each species on its own individual twig of an ever-widening bush, each species
descended from a common ancestor, but destined never to meet. (However, at the
bacteria level some evidence indicates “gene-swapping” goes on between unrelated
organisms.) Humans did not “descend from apes,” and chimpanzees will never
evolve into humans.
Darwin came under fierce attack for pointing out (correctly, it turns out) that
humankind is merely one of millions of species that evolved from earlier life forms.
Moreover, nothing creative or directional goes on in evolution. No ultimate goal
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exists in the evolution of any species. Homo sapiens does not represent the culmination
of anything and is not evolving towards anything.
It’s an interesting paradox that humans, with dazzling cognition and insight
about everything from Einsteinian relativity to genetics to artistic expression, are
clearly unlike any other species on the planet—and yet humans evolved by exactly
the same processes as all other species on the planet and carry the same genes as the
humblest of them.
Darwinian evolution causes the emergence of adaptations such as bipedalism,
music, and language in two ways: natural selection and sexual selection.
1. How Natural Selection Works
All living things compete to survive and pass on their genes. In a given species,
each individual differs slightly from all the other individuals. Therefore, in the
prevailing environmental conditions, the ability to survive and procreate varies from
individual to individual. This variability means some individuals thrive better than
others under the same environmental conditions. Those that do best—the winners
in the evolutionary struggle for resources and opportunities to reproduce—are thus
“naturally selected” to pass on their genes to the next generation. Those individuals
that do not fare well in the same environment do not pass on their genes.
2. How Sexual Selection Works
Although some species do not reproduce sexually, most do. Members of species
that reproduce sexually compete with each other to mate with individuals of the
opposite sex. Individuals of both sexes vary in their attractiveness and availability as
potential mates. This variability means some individuals are more successful than
others in mating and procreating, and are thus “sexually selected” to pass on their
genes. Those individuals that fail to mate do not pass on their genes.
Woody Allen’s observation that the world is an enormous, chaotic restaurant is
bang on. All animals, including humans, survive and evolve by eating plants or other
animals or both. Species evolve defences to keep from getting eaten. Other species
evolve ways to get around those defences, which triggers the evolution of more
elaborate defences, and so on—an evolutionary arms race. “Nature, red in tooth and
claw,” as Tennyson put it.
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THE NATURALISTIC FALLACY
The naturalistic fallacy goes like this: whatever happens in the
natural world, well, that’s the way it ought to be.
The problem is, it doesn’t follow logically that, just because
something happens in nature, it’s a Good Thing—that its moral
value is somehow asserted. Belief that “natural = good” is called
the naturalistic fallacy. This fallacy led to social Darwinism,
discussed earlier.
Nature is utterly mindless and blindly indifferent. Heart defects
are natural. So is cancer. So is malaria. Nature is by far the world’s
greatest bioterrorist.
We humans have “natural” inclinations to lash out violently
against those we perceive as doing us harm. Fortunately, humans
also have natural propensities for resolving conflict, helping each
other, and overriding impulses that could hurt us in the long
run. Our evolved moral sense enables us to get along with each
other (more or less).
Scientists, lawyers, politicians and others spend their days
finding ways to overcome or defeat the horrors of dog-eat-dog
nature:
•
Scientists try to come up with vaccines and medicines to
counteract the effects of natural pathogens.
•
Surgeons try to repair congenital heart problems and any
number of other natural conditions.
•
Politicians (in theory) pass laws to help us in our struggle
to survive and to protect us from our natural impulses to
harm or exploit each other; police forces try (in theory) to
enforce those laws.
•
Teachers pass on information that enables us to acquire
what we need to survive.
Humans’ evolved empathy and moral sense are adaptations that
enable most of us to rise above utterly selfish, brutish behaviour.
By behaving humanely, humans defy nature.
Non-human animals such as lions, eagles, and bears have no
ethical sense, and behave with breathtaking selfishness,
callousness, and savagery towards all but their immediate kin.
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Normal human behaviour is saintly by comparison. Most people
behave “humanely” most of the time, not just towards family
and friends, but also towards perfect strangers and animals.
If humans had not evolved an ethical sense, Homo sapiens likely
would have died out long ago. Constant warfare, natural
pathogens, predators and other natural phenomena would have
done in the human species by now. (Of course, darker human
impulses of those with access to massive technology-based
power may one day win out and lead to our quick extinction.)
Humans evolved the ultimate weapon in the evolutionary arms race: intelligence.
We have the ability, through language, to share and pool survival-related
information and pass it on to future generations through culture. This has allowed
humans to get around most defences of most other organisms (although
microorganisms still kill millions of our species). We can kill predators such as lions
and bears that would easily be able to kill us if we did not have the intelligence to
make and use weapons.
For Darwinian evolution by natural selection or sexual selection to proceed,
several conditions must obtain:
1. Selection. Selective pressure must exist. Species evolve to fit imposed
environmental conditions (differential fitness, or survival of the fittest).
2. Variation. Genetic variability must exist. Chance mutations and errors in
gene replication cause genetic variability to be present among the individuals
of a population.
3. Heredity. Replication must occur in order to pass on genetic mutations to
future generations.
The replicating entities are genes. Living things do not replicate. Only their genes
replicate through their offspring.
Inherited traits that enhance the ability of future replicating entities to replicate
are the adaptations. For an adaptation such as music to continue in future
generations, it must confer either naturally-selected survival benefits or sexuallyselected reproductive benefits (or both). Music probably confers survival benefits in
infancy and reproductive benefits later in life.
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75
1.5.2
DAWKINS’ “SELFISH GENE”: GENE’S-EYE VIEW OF
EVOLUTION
...the fundamental unit of selection, and therefore of self-interest, is
not the species, nor the group, nor even, strictly, the individual. It is
the gene, the unit of heredity.
—RICHARD DAWKINS
E. O. Wilson pointed out decades ago that evolution is really all about gene
preservation and replication. This “gene’s-eye view” of natural and sexual selection
is usually referred to as “selfish gene” theory, after the book, The Selfish Gene, by the
British zoologist, Richard Dawkins. Selfish gene theory has become the dominant
framework used in explaining adaptations and adaptive behaviour in evolutionary
biology and psychology.
“Selfish gene” metaphorically explains how genes become successful by behaving
in a pitiless, “selfish” way. Of course genes don’t “think” and “act”—they’re blind,
deaf, mute chemicals that build living organisms. If the organism dies before the gene
it hosts successfully replicates, the gene fails. If the organism lives long enough to
replicate, then the gene it hosts succeeds in continuing on to another generation.
Genes, then—not bodies—are the actual units of biological selection and replication.
The individuals that genes construct (plants, animals, bacteria, etc.) serve only as
vehicles to pass on genes.
Genes create adaptations—units of biological function that have survival or
reproductive benefits for the individual. Adaptations such as music and language
actually benefit the gene, because the gene replicates, not the body. In that sense,
genes behave “selfishly.” But that does not necessarily mean the organisms the genes
create behave utterly selfishly. It’s often to the advantage of genes to select for
unselfishness as a behavioural trait in the organisms they build. For example:
•
Parents behave unselfishly towards their own children, who carry their parents’
genes.
•
Children benefit from their parents’ caring, nurturing, unselfish behaviour by
surviving to reproductive age, still carrying their parents’ genes.
•
Those children pass on their parents’ genes to yet another generation.
Organisms eventually die, but the genes they once carried keep replicating. Most
humans and all non-human animals have no idea that genes made them, and that
if they have offspring, they will have successfully served as vehicles for gene
replication. It’s important to keep in mind that genes are not living things. They are just
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strands of DNA—a decidedly non-living molecule. Humans are neither cold,
calculating “gene machines” nor “blank slates,” programmed by the social
environment.
In the discussions coming up about why music evolved in humans, keep in mind
how adaptations evolve in light of selfish gene theory. Genes build adaptations of the
body and brain that enable humans to successfully survive, reproduce, and pass on
copies of ... genes.
1.5.3
HOOTIN’ AND HOWLIN’ REVISITED: SOUND AS A
SIGNALLING DEVICE IN ANIMALS
Why did animals evolve the use of sound in the first place?
As a signalling device for warning and for mate-attraction.
To be a successful adaptation, the signal must not only benefit the individual(s)
being signalled; it must also benefit the signaller (selfish genes at work).
•
A signal used as a threat warns a competitor to back off, or face a potentially
injurious (or lethal) fight.
•
A signal use as a warning advises close kin (carrying the signaller’s genes) of
a nearby predator.
•
A contact signal keeps a group together; safety in numbers.
•
A courtship signal in humans takes the form of a display of musical ability,
signalling mental fitness.
Animals use other signalling devices as well: smell and sight. But sound has
several advantages:
•
Sound works when the signaller and receiver are far apart, even though they
can see each other.
•
Sound works when the signaller and receiver cannot see each other because
it’s too dark or because objects such as bushes or rocks stand between them.
•
Sound can carry messages that vary with the signaller’s call.
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77
Our Homo sapiens ancestors, with incredibly effective sound-based signalling and
communication adaptations we call music and language, out-survived all other
hominid species. Evolutionary biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and
musicologists have come up with several well-supported hypotheses about selective
pressures that gave rise to the human adaptation for music. These explanations do
not mutually exclude each other. Following are some of the main ones.
1.5.4
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION FOR MOTHER-INFANT
COMMUNICATION: WE’RE ALL “PREEMIES” AT
BIRTH
Selective pressure for group living favoured a large brain size (encephalation) and
also two-legged walking and running (bipedalism). In hominid females, bipedalism
narrowed the birth canal substantially. This placed an upper limit on the size of a
newborn’s head that could squeeze through the birth canal.
It also place an upper limit on gestation length. In the human species, babies are
actually born significantly prematurely. We’re all “preemies.” As a result, at birth,
human babies are completely helpless, and remain so for a significant length of time.
Meanwhile, if a pre-lingual human infant has any hope of surviving, it needs
some way to continually communicate its many and constant needs with its mother.
And the mother needs a way of knowing for certain that she is meeting those needs
successfully. Since newborns do not have language, meaningful mother-infant
communication must take other forms.
1.5.5
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION FOR MOTHER-INFANT
COMMUNICATION: “MOTHERESE”
According to the mother-infant communication hypothesis of the distinguished
scholar Ellen Dissanayake, selective pressure gave rise to music as a vocal and
rhythmic communication and coordination system between mothers and pre-lingual
infants. This enabled better maternal care over a longer period of time, and better
survival rates of infants into childhood and adulthood.
Pre-lingual infants have and use musical abilities at birth. So do handicapped
children and adults born without any capacity to learn language.
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Worldwide, mothers vocalize with their infants in a particular, distinctive style
called “motherese.” Mothers do not learn motherese culturally—they’re born with
it, evidence that selective pressure evolved the brain circuitry to do this.
Motherese has a number of clearly musical characteristics:
•
Melodic (variably pitched)
•
Repetitive
•
Grouped in phrases of 3 to 4 seconds, like the phrase groupings of poetry and
music found in every culture.
As well, mothers communicate with infants via rhythmic, rocking motions,
possibly a precursor to dancing. Both vocalization and rocking, rhythmic motions are
hallmarks of music as a temporal art.
MYTH OF THE „MOZART EFFECT‰
“Listening to Mozart makes you smarter,” was the claim. The
“Mozart effect” became a fad.
The governors of a couple of American states requested the
issuing of Mozart CDs to all new mothers. One entrepreneur
cashed in on the craze with a book and series of recordings.
It started in the early 90's when a team of researchers published
findings that indicated spatial and temporal abilities improved in
subjects after passive exposure to music composed by Mozart.
Other researchers could not replicate the findings. Further
research found that the so-called Mozart effect had nothing to
do with Mozart’s music, but could be replicated with any
stimulus of the subject’s preference (e.g., a narrated story, or
some other music).
However, if a child begins creating and learning music actively at
a young age, the brain responds by allocating more neural
matter to musical processing than the child would have if he or
she did not actively study and learn music. As well, research
indicates that children from inner-city backgrounds who get
ongoing, long-term musical instruction through projects such as
MusicLink (www.MusicLinkFoundation.org) do much better than
their disadvantaged circumstances would otherwise predict.
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79
Initially, an infant, being a preemie, has little capacity to respond to motherese.
After a couple of months, the infant begins to vocalize positively, smile, and respond
positively to rhythmic interaction. A mother-infant feedback loop of emotional
communication develops.
Infant-to-mother emotional communication via musical code sends messages of
hunger, frustration, distress. And also positive communication: contentment,
happiness. Mothers know how to decode the messages, and also how to
communicate back to the infant in the same non-verbal, emotional, musical way.
This two-way non-verbal communication strongly reinforces mother-infant bonding.
Neither infant nor mother need to learn how to communicate emotionally with
each other using this “musical” system. It’s inborn in both.
The presence of the infant probably changes the mother’s emotional state.
Motherese successfully engages the attention of the infant, which begins to respond
after several weeks and provides the mother with vital feedback on the infant’s
survival needs.
Mothers in every culture communicate to their pre-lingual babies in the same
specific way: raised pitch level, distinctive pitch contours, repetitive patterns,
rhythmic patterns. These elements differ markedly from normal adult-to-adult
conversation.
In all cultures:
•
Mothers communicate with infants using motherese, and, after a couple of
months, infants use the same mechanism to communicate back.
•
Infants can mimic their mothers’ singing—pitch and melodic contour—early
in life, as young as two months of age.
•
Infants pay more attention to female vocalizing than to male vocalizing.
•
Infants respond more attentively when mothers sing than when mothers
speak.
•
The lullaby as a mother-to-infant song form takes on the same characteristics.
•
Songs for infants and small children constitute a distinct genre of music.
Taken together, all of these characteristics suggest that maternal singing is
adaptive. The origin of the music-emotion linkage in adult humans could well be
motherese, the music of mother-infant emotional communication of the infant’s
survival state.
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INSTINCTIVE SMILING AND LAUGHING
Babies who are born both deaf and blind begin smiling at the
same period of their development as babies born with normal
hearing and sight. A blind infant would not smile (make a facial
signal that communicates happiness or contentment to the
mother) if smiling were not inborn.
Later in life humans continue to communicate happiness to
others by smiling and laughing. Humans laugh 30 times more
often in the company of other people than when alone.
Laughter is involuntary, indicating its adaptive nature. And, like
other expressions of emotion, laughter is contagious.
In adult humans, competently composed music triggers emotion. Since emotional
circuits are essential for survival, people find themselves drawn to music that evokes
strong emotions. (Chapter 9 goes into some detail on music and emotion.)
Most songwriters have no clue how to create memorable music because musical
notes, unlike the words of a language, have no referential meaning.
Most popular music takes the form of songs with words instead of purely
instrumental music. It’s likely that songwriters, aware to some extent of their inability
(due to lack of knowledge) to create emotionally powerful instrumental music, rely
on lyrics to help deliver some kind of emotional punch. Songwriters have a better
intuitive grasp of the emotional information words carry than they have of the
emotional information musical elements such as intervals carry.
1.5.6
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION FOR SOCIAL
BONDING: SURVIVAL THROUGH COOPERATION
Music, perhaps, provides a unique mnemonic framework within which
humans can express, by the temporal organization of sound and
gesture, the structure of their knowledge and of social relations. Songs
and rhythmically organized poems and sayings form the major
repository of knowledge in non-literate cultures. This seems to be
because such organized sequences are much easier to remember than
the type of prose which literate societies use in books.
—JOHN SLOBODA
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81
To transfer knowledge across generations, you need human societies. But to get to
the point of having human societies, you need group bonding and socialization.
That’s why music, dance, and language had to predate the formation of cohesive
societies, which only emerged in the past few thousand years.
Language and music make it possible for individuals to bond into large,
cooperative groups. Extensive research findings strongly indicate music promotes
and coordinates group bonding, cooperation, and social cohesion:
•
Everybody’s a performer. In most hunter-gatherer societies, everyone
participates in music—no one’s an audience member. As well, dancing nearly
always accompanies music making.
•
Group emotional arousal. Music causes a state of general emotional arousal
in all the members of a group simultaneously. So music has always served
well in situations involving more than one person and ritual: marriages,
funerals, groups marching, religious ceremonies.
•
Solidarity through emotional synchrony. Being able to keep a steady beat
and sing to it would increase evolutionary fitness by enabling larger and larger
social groups to participate as a single, coordinated entity, increasing
solidarity and camaraderie through emotional synchrony. Music has the effect
of imposing order and structure on time. At an event featuring music,
everyone experiences the same feeling at the same time. Some examples in
various cultures today:
-
Crowd singing at popular music concerts
Congregational hymn singing
Singing of solidarity songs on picket lines
Karaoke singing
“Happy Birthday,” sung at social gatherings millions of times a year
Campfire singing (except by outlaws on the lam)
National anthem singing
Crowd singing at sports events such as British football matches and ice
hockey games
THE EQUESTRIAN SPORT OF ICE HOCKEY
Spectators at professional ice hockey games heartily sing the
national anthem at the outset of every game. And throughout
the game, they sing various “fight” songs to encourage the home
team.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
If you live in a tropical country such as Brazil or Nigeria, you may
not have heard of the sport of ice hockey. It’s a team sport
played in northern countries such as Canada and Sweden. Ice
hockey resembles the game of polo, except that it’s played on a
large ice surface called a “hockey rink.” The players’ horses are
fitted with “skates”—long sharp blades welded to the bottoms of
the horses’ iron shoes. The horses are specially trained to skate
rapidly and gracefully around the hockey rink.
Each team has six riders: three forwards, two defense riders, and
one goalkeeper. Instead of a long-handled polo mallet, each rider
carries a long wooden stick with a blade at the end, called a
“hockey stick.” The object of the game is to bat a small rubber
disk, called a “puck” into the other team’s net, scoring a goal.
In ice hockey, riders frequently jostle each other (called “body
checking”), causing players to fall from their horses. Often, the
fall kills the player outright because the ice surface is rock hard.
A player who survives a fall frequently does not make it off the
rink fast enough and falls victim to thousands of pounds of
horseflesh skating over him or her.
The average professional ice hockey player earns several million
dollars a year. But the average playing career doesn’t last more
than a year or two, due to injury or death.
The rock group, The Doors, wrote and recorded a now-classic
song about the equestrian sport of ice hockey, called “Riders On
The Storm.”
Popular music charts also reflect group participation in music. When not listening
to the same hit songs en masse at concerts, people listen to the same songs at the
same time on radio, television, webcasts, etc. Masses of young people purchase the
same songs during the time those songs ride high on the charts. Rather than listen to
a recording, people tend to prefer to go out and get a fix of the same music performed
live—to experience the primal pleasure of identifying with, and entraining with, the
musicians (and dancers). It’s akin to the pleasure of watching professional athletes.
Our savannah-dwelling hominid ancestors walked on two feet but did not stand
tall, and had no claws or fangs. Easy meals for lethal predators. So, to protect
themselves against strong, fast predators, and to successfully hunt game, hominids
had to become sophisticated in group-living and cooperation. Human beings use
each other as tools in the survival game. Naturally-selected traits arise in response to
environmental pressure, which includes ourselves. Hundreds of thousands of years
ago, our fellow humans were an integral part of our environment, just as they are
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
83
today. So we have evolved many brain adaptations that enable us to interact
successfully with each other.
The expansion and evolution of human social structure drove the evolution of
many mental tools for social behaviour (such as music and language). The cerebral
cortex and the skull, therefore, kept getting bigger and bigger: encephalation.
Humans have an encephalation factor of 7, meaning our brains are 7 times larger
than would be expected for an animal of our size. Dolphins and porpoises are next,
at 4 to 5, with chimpanzees and gorillas at 2.5. The one thing that animals with high
encephalation factors have in common is that they’re all highly social.
1.5.7
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION FOR SOCIAL
BONDING: EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES OF
CHILDREN AND ANIMALS
Usually, people make music in groups. Children show a pronounced drive to repeat
sound elements in rhythmic synchrony. This ensures involvement and belonging
with the group. (The same applies to conversation. One of the major ties that binds
humans in groups is plain, ordinary talking.)
Both music and language probably have a common origin in long sequences of
primate vocalizations in which individuals tried to repeat or match each other’s calls.
These became formulaic phrases. You can hear echos of this phenomenon in the
song-like patter of auctioneers, or in universal children’s chants such as “Ring
Around The Rosie”:
na
na na
naaa
na
naaa
Early hominid vocal music would have consisted of chorusing (and, later,
drumming accompaniment). Various animal species exhibit chorusing and duetting:
•
Gibbons do a lot of duetting, mainly in mated pairs. Gibbon songs show clear
coordination.
•
Chimpanzees have distinctive pant-hoot calls, but don’t show much
coordinated vocalizing. When an individual launches into a pant-hoot,
another will sometimes respond.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Gelada baboons, like humans, sometimes find themselves in socially stressful
situations that result in conflict. They spend large amounts of time and energy
engaging in friendly vocalizing (“vocal grooming”) in order to cultivate and
continue relationships. This tends to dispel conflict to some degree.
•
Birds sing in groups (the dawn chorus, for example), but their singing is not
coordinated or synchronized the way human group singing is. The exception
is duetting. Male and female songbirds of many species, especially tropical
birds, sing in duets. These monogamous pair-bonded birds sing to advertise
their claim to a territory, and possibly to maintain their monogamous
relationship.
1.5.8
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION FOR SOCIAL
BONDING: GROOMING, TROOP SIZE, AND
DUNBAR’S NUMBER
Primates and other animals often live in groups or “troops” for protection against
predators. As social groupings increase in size and complexity, competitors within
the aggregation turn on each other. So cliques form for intra-group protection.
The hypothesis of British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin
Dunbar is that, in primates other than humans, alliances hold together because
members groom each other. Not because everybody in the group is bug-infested.
Because grooming feels good. (Same reason humans like massages.)
Those who groom each other also defend each other when conflicts arise.
Grooming takes a lot of time and energy, so primate troops that physically groom
each other can’t grow beyond a certain size, 50 individuals, tops.
Humans, on the other hand, given sufficient social pressure, can track as many
as 150 individuals socially (widely known in anthropology as Dunbar’s number, after
Dunbar’s calculations, based on much evidence). So the question is, how come
humans can keep track of so many more fellow humans than, say, chimps can of
fellow chimps?
According to Dunbar, because language evolved as a substitute for physical
grooming. Language enables maintenance of contacts and friendships among many
more individuals than would be possible by physical grooming. But it takes a lot of
brain power to keep track of so many social relationships. So natural selection came
up with some sophisticated brain-based adaptations, especially language. In the
grooming-substitute hypothesis, the large human cortex evolved in response to the
selective pressure of ever-increasing “symbolic grooming” (language and related
adaptations). As other researchers have pointed out, this would especially apply to
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
85
child rearing in culturally complex environments, and would include the evolution
of music.
Language and music probably have a common origin, as discussed previously.
If selective pressure of ever-increasing social structure and complexity drove
encephalation, then language and music were probably the main specific adaptations,
language for symbolic (referential) communication, music for emotional
communication.
Even language has its limits with respect to social interaction. Typically, if four
or fewer people are engaged in a conversation, all may participate meaningfully.
However, once the group grows to five or six or more, it splits into separate smaller
conversational sub-groupings—even though all five or six individuals are physically
close together.
This may help explain why popular music groups tend to lose cohesion, musically
and socially, as membership increases beyond three or four musicians.
1.5.9
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION FOR SOCIAL
BONDING: COALITION SIGNALLING
Vervet monkeys produce calls that communicate both referential and emotional
meaning. These calls warn their kin of an approaching predator (emotional
meaning—fear). Each type of call specifies a different type of predator (referential
meaning—snake, eagle, etc.). The vervets react to each type of call with a different
escape pattern, depending on the predator indicated in the call.
In humans and in non-human animals, the auditory system connects directly to
regions of the brain that control muscles. If you hear something unusual, your body
can automatically react quickly. When somebody sneaks up behind you and yells
“Boo!”, you jump instantly, without a moment’s thought.
Music and motor control also go together, as evidenced in dancing, clapping
along to a beat, head nodding, and so on. How might our rhythmic and entrainment
skills have arisen?
Possibly through coalition signalling.
As selfish gene theory predicts, we humans, like other animals, tend to favour
those who carry our genes or those whose genes we carry—our close kin, in other
words. Especially our progeny. But humans also have the unique ability to form
many friendships and alliances with individuals in whom we have no kinship investment
whatever. Coalitions.
Music may have evolved as a mechanism to synchronize the mood of all the
members of a coalition, to prepare everybody, regardless of kinship status, to act as
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
a group. Motor activities that have a strong rhythmic aspect, such as walking and
running, may have become ritualized in body movements such as group dancing.
The biologists Edward Hagan and Gregory Bryant have provided experimental
evidence supporting the hypothesis that music and dancing in groups evolved
initially as a coalition signalling system—a way of communicating to others the
competence or “quality” of a group. Coalition signalling would likely have evolved
from territorial defence signalling, common in other primates.
Coordinated emotional expression of a group amplifies coordinated action.
Groups that can successfully demonstrate coordinated solidarity show strength and
intimidate would-be attackers. This is why riot police form into coordinated
phalanxes, march rhythmically, and beat their shields in time.
Before language evolved, our increasingly social hominid ancestors would have
needed some mechanism of identifying, among non-kin, whether all or some of an
aggregation of other individuals actually constituted a group, a clique with a purpose.
Coalition signalling would help explain the origin of human abilities to identify and
evaluate the membership and purpose of a group, and whether or not it would be
mutually beneficial to become a member.
1.5.10
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION SHAPED BY SEXUAL
SELECTION: SEX DIFFERENCES AND THE INNATE
TABOO
People looking to justify socially unacceptable behaviour sometimes cite
evolutionary theory on the biological differences between men and women.
“Your honour, my client’s genetic inheritance as a male human compelled
him to get roarin’ drunk and commit armed robberies to get money to buy a
guitar so that he could impress his sweetheart with his original songs about
good-hearted women in love with good-timin’ men. So all charges oughta be
dropped.”
Evolutionary theory does not provide justifications or excuses. Only explanations.
Nature has nothing to do with good or evil; it unfolds with utter indifference.
Anyone of either sex has the ability to override natural propensities, as discussed
earlier. Humans have free will.
Both males and females have music and language capabilities, but this is not the
case for all traits. Arnold Schwarzenegger and all other men carry genes for a uterus,
but these genes don’t express themselves in males.
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87
Yet, if males and females have the same musical capabilities, why are there so
many more male musicians than female musicians in every society globally? How
could sex differences be implicated?
For many people, even broaching the subject of sex-based behavioural
propensities constitutes a strict taboo. If tangible, empirically verifiable evidence
indicates something is true and significant, then declaring the subject off limits for
discussion, instead of dealing with reality, amounts to odious Talibanism.
No place for that taboo here. The next few sections discuss sexual selection and
music.
THE HILLARY CLINTON PHILANDERING GENE
RESEARCH FOUNDATION
Thanks to common descent, humans share many of the same
genes with numerous other animals. Maybe that’s why some
animals exhibit human-like behaviour.
Such as philandering.
Take the humble vole, a tiny furry mouse-like critter. In one
species, the meadow vole, the male gets around like Screamin’
Jay Hawkins (reported to have fathered some 75 children). But
the male of a closely-related species, the prairie vole, typically
settles down with one good woman for life. Just like in certain
wholesome country songs where things turn out better than
they do in certain George Jones songs.
Scientists in Atlanta decided to see what would happen if they
transferred a specific gene, suspected to influence philandering
behaviour, from the prairie vole to the meadow vole. Sure
enough, the investigators found that, by manipulating the
expression of a single gene, they could make promiscuous male
meadow voles behave like faithful prairie voles.
Since humans have the same gene, could a similar injection be
developed to change the philandering behaviour of human
males? Send your donation to the Hillary Clinton Philandering
Gene Research Foundation..
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
1.5.11
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION SHAPED BY SEXUAL
SELECTION: SEX DIFFERENCES VS RACE
DIFFERENCES
And another thing. Those who would damn any discussion of sex-based behavioural
differences also tend to discourage and discredit such discussion by equating it with
advocacy of race-based behavioural differences—for which no credible evidence
exists. The clear implication is that, if you’re going to give credence to sex-based
differences, then you’ll also give credence to race-based differences. And who knows
what else. So you’re promoting sexism and racism. So goes the smear.
The truth is, sex differences that affect behaviour have been a fact of life in all
mammal species for more than 200 million years. In humans, strong evidence
indicates evolved sex differences apply as much to the brain and behaviour as to
anatomy and functioning from the neck down.
Unlike sex, the concept of “race” has no social value. It poisons social relations.
The races humans identify today do not differ significantly from each other
genetically. Unlike the sexes, not a single race, however defined (which isn’t clear),
is represented in significant numbers in every culture globally. There is no “race” gene.
DNA and human genome studies indicate all humans are descended from a small
group that left Africa perhaps 100,000 years ago. All of our ancestors had dark skin.
All of today’s so-called races, from blue-eyed blond Scandinavians to Australian
aborigines are descended from that one small group of Africans.
Not nearly enough time has elapsed for meaningful adaptations to have occurred
that would differentiate one “racial” group from another with respect to mental
functioning. Selective pressure that leads to behaviour-modifying adaptations has
nothing to do with skin color.
Obviously some adaptations in humans have occurred in the past 100,000 years
in response to selective pressure. These adaptations show up in traits such as eye
color, skin color, facial features, etc. Superficial features of this nature—variable
characteristics of external body parts—reflect selective pressure to adapt to conditions
of regional physical environments.
Clearly, the highly visible traits that identify racial differences, which neo-Nazis
and other such loonies try to spin into “scientific proof” of their nonsensical
doctrines, have nothing to do with “superiority” or “inferiority” of human
intelligence or character.
In any case, so much intermarriage takes place across racial boundaries that the
concept of “racial purity” has little meaning. For example, research indicates some
30% of African Americans have at least one “white” ancestor.
For that matter, you only need to go back a little more than 30 generations (about
700 years, at 20 years per generation) before you discover that the number of your
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
89
ancestors exceeds today’s global population. In other words, literally everybody alive
today is related to everybody else.
IN THE BLOOD? NOT BLOODY LIKELY
The age-old mistaken belief that human blood possesses some
special power beyond its biological function has not faded away,
even in countries with high educational standards.
“Bloodline”
The concept of “bloodline”—holy bloodline, ancestral
bloodline—has no basis in reality. Heredity has nothing to do
with blood. It’s all about genes.
At the level of DNA, every generation gets “diluted” by a factor
of one-half. You have only 50% of the DNA of each of your
parents, 25% of the DNA of each of your grandparents, and so
on. If you could trace your family roots back, say, 200 years (10
generations), you would find that the contribution to your
genetic make-up by any of your ancestors from only 10
generations back would amount to a less than 1/10th of 1%. So
much for claims about the significance of “royal bloodlines” in
the world’s monarchies.
Blood Type
Millions of people in Asia believe that blood type affects human
behaviour. Believers even make important life decisions based
on the “psychology” of blood type, such as deciding whom to
befriend, hire, or date. There is no scientific evidence
whatsoever supporting the daft notion of “blood type
personalities.”
In countries such as Japan and South Korea, blood type believers
who consider themselves to have “acceptable” blood types abuse
and discriminate against those who have “unacceptable” blood
types. The irrationality and harm of such discrimination ranks
with that of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
There is evidence that fear of people who don’t look like us has an evolutionary
basis. In Palaeolithic times, our hominid ancestors, living in large groups for survival
purposes, perceived outsiders as threatening. They probably were. Research findings
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indicate modern humans appear to have retained this inclination of distrust and fear.
The evidence points to a biologically-based propensity in all humans to discriminate
against those “not like us” by virtue of everything from skin color to sexual
orientation to religion. However, as discussed earlier, humans have the ability to
override such instincts, and many of us do, at least some of the time.
Now, continuing with music and sex differences...
1.5.12
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION SHAPED BY SEXUAL
SELECTION: EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES OF
ANIMALS
Darwin noted that in many species of birds and mammals, males vocalize (“sing”)
and females don’t—or not nearly as much. Moreover, male vocalization occurs
mainly in breeding season. The best singers have the best mating success. This is a
form of sexual selection. The same sexual selective pressure gave rise to the capacity
for music in humans.
There are more than 9,000 species of birds, of which about 4,000 sing. In birds,
songs evolved to attract mates or to repel rivals for mates. Sexual selection in birds
results in females choosing males with the most elaborate and varied repertoires of
songs. Once the female and male have set up house, the male stops singing (sadly).
Unless, for some reason, the male loses his mate. Then he goes nuts with singing
again (hurrah!).
Male humpback whales sing competitively to attract females. Humpback whales
even seem to improvise, like jazz musicians. They sing extended pieces lasting up to
half an hour, anytime female humpbacks are in the neighbourhood—not only during
mating season.
To be a sexually selected adaptation, music would have to confer reproductive
benefits. According to the sexual selection hypothesis, music arose as a courtship
display, evident in birdsong, for example. Most animals only ever produce calls
during breeding season: birds, frogs, toads, insects, and many other species. And it’s
almost always males vocalizing to attract females.
Synchronous chorusing (which is not the same as entrainment) in non-human
animals may have been the precursor to human entrainment ability. Male
synchronous chorusing during mating season is found in some species of frogs and
insects. It’s automatic and requires no cooperation among individuals. Human
synchronous music-making, by contrast, is deliberate and requires true cooperation.
Isometric time-keeping and entrainment may have evolved for the same reason
as music-making evolved in other species—to attract mates. Rhythmic singing and
dancing would facilitate sexual selection: males display and females choose. The most
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91
co-ordinated and talented vocalists and dancers would become targets of female
selection.
The capacity to do music originated with primitive calls in early hominids and
evolved to the point where, today, people in all cultures create extraordinarily
sophisticated music. This mode of evolutionary adaptation indicates a sexually selected
arms race between, as the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller puts it,
“unfulfillable sexual demands and irresistible sexual displays.” The great British
geneticist and statistician, R. A. Fisher, developed the theory of “runaway sexual
selection” to describe how this happens. He cited the peacock’s fan as a classic
example. It’s a flashy trait that signals a high-functioning male.
•
Peacocks display big showy tails and peahens select the peacock with the
biggest, showiest tail to mate with. The peacock’s tail indicates the male’s
more-than-adequate survival resources, and, therefore, reproductive fitness.
•
Their offspring have genes that ensure continuance of the process, creating a
positive-feedback loop. (NOTE: Both sexes carry the “big showy tail” trait, but
the trait is only expressed in males.)
•
Eventually, the peacock’s tail becomes a handicap instead of a benefit, and the
loop gets interrupted.
In humans, musicianship requires a large, highly-functioning brain. Males who
display musical skills signal to females that the signaller would make a high quality
mate, a mate with a comparatively creative, high-functioning brain. A mate who
could make life creative and interesting year after year. Experimental evidence on
music preferences indicates that women prefer men who have the ability to surprise
them with new songs—to keep them from getting bored with the same old tune.
Homo sapiens is a neophilic species: we just love novelty. It’s what fuels the
entertainment industry.
Today, in humans, the most common theme of songs is romantic love. Geoffrey
Miller, one of today’s leading champions of Darwin’s sexual selection theory as the
primary driver of the evolution of music in humans, notes that:
As a tool for activating specific conceptual thoughts in other people’s
heads, music is very bad and language is very good. As a tool for
activating certain emotional states, however, music is much better
than language. Combining the two in lyrical music such as love songs
is best of all as a courtship display.
Musical productivity in males drops off significantly after marriage.
Only about 3% of mammals are monogamous (compared with 90% of birds). In
mammal species that are monogamous, empirical evidence indicates that vocal
duetting serves to strengthen pair-bonds. Female gibbons, for example, produce
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“great calls,” to which male gibbons then respond. Male and female bonobos also
sing, and are monogamous.
Moreover, the various monogamous primate species that duet are not closely
related biologically, which means duetting and monogamy evolved several times,
independently (convergence). This indicates that male-female duetting and
monogamy go hand and hand. Isn’t that sweet? If you want to keep your spouse
around, all you have to do is duet with him or her. Like Johnny Cash and June
Carter Cash. Or Tammy Wynette and George Jones (oops!).
„GOODBYE TO LOVE‰: THE BONOBOÊS SONG
In the evolutionary arms race, the human brain has become the
ultimate weapon. Humans can and do use cognitive powers to
smash the defences of practically all species, which cannot
evolve counter-defences against humans fast enough.
Consequently, wherever humans show up, species become
extinct.
So it is, alas, with the peace-loving bonobo, also known as the
pygmy chimp, or jungle hippie. Wild bonobos live only in the
Congo. When conflict arises within a group of bonobos, they
react by having sex. Lots and lots of sex, including non-vanilla
sex. They’re famous for it. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos almost
never fight or kill. All they seek is peace, love (i.e., sex), and
happiness.
Humans routinely hunt bonobos and eat them. Bushmeat.
Today, the bonobo population has dwindled to a mere few
thousand in the wild (from perhaps 100,000 in 1980). If humans
succeed in wiping out the bonobo, the jungle hippie will have
the distinction of being the first great ape to suffer the fate of
the passenger pigeon.
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1.5.13
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION SHAPED BY SEXUAL
SELECTION: DIFFERENCES IN MALE-FEMALE
COGNITIVE SPECIALIZATIONS
Over millions of years of evolution, male and female hominids have experienced
different selective pressures, resulting in sex differences in behaviour, interests, and
preferences.
Although men and women are equally intelligent, male and female brains are
wired differently. Males and females are also on different drugs, males on androgens
and females on estrogens.
Empirical evidence of male-female cognitive differences contradicts the dogma
that cultural and social influences account for all differences in behaviour, skills, and
predispositions by sex. Contrary to wishful thinking and political correctness,
differences in male-female preferences are hardwired from day one of life. For
example, the stereotype that small boys prefer to play with trucks and mechanical
objects whereas small girls prefer to play with dolls happens to be true. The great
majority of female children, given the choice, select dolls over trucks; male children
select trucks—long before they even know what sex they are.
This also occurs in our close primate relatives. For example, young vervet
monkeys have no concept of “boy-appropriate” or “girl-appropriate” toys. Yet, given
a selection of toys, they show the same stereotypical differences in preferred toy
choice by sex as human children show.
Some well-documented evolved human female predispositions, skills, and
interests include:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Verbal communication
Non-verbal communication (e. g., facial expression)
Empathizing
People-reading and social interaction
Identification of objects
Interest in habitat
Nurturing
Mathematical calculation
Indirect, relational aggression
Evolved human male predispositions, skills, and interests include:
•
•
•
Tracking moving objects
Spatial cognition
Devising systems (“systemizing”)
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
•
•
•
•
•
Risk-taking
Competitiveness and status-seeking
Figuring out how objects and events work
Mathematical reasoning
Con games and theft
Direct, physical aggression
This does not mean, “All men are more competitive than all women.” It does not
mean, “All women are better at verbal communication than all men.”
It means that:
•
If you were to select one of the above traits, such as, say, “risk-taking,” and
•
If you were to find a quantifiable variable that would provide evidence about
risk-taking by sex, such as, say, “number of race car drivers,” and collect the
data,
•
Then the theory would predict you would likely find a difference in the
number of race car drivers by sex, namely, significantly more males than
females; and
•
The theory would also predict that, because of the sex-specific, genetic basis
for risk-taking behaviour, you would find the same pattern when measuring
“number of race car drivers,” everywhere in the world, regardless of country or
culture. In other words, evidence that males have evolved brain circuitry that
inclines them towards risk-taking behaviour.
The theory would predict similar findings on measures of any of the above-listed
sex-based traits (and many more). For example, to measure the trait, “aggression,”
by sex, you could compare proportions of male and female prisoners incarcerated for
violent crimes. If the theory has predictive value, you would find a much higher
proportion of males doing prison time for violent crime (and, as it turns out, males
in their late teens and twenties), again, regardless of nation or culture. (Interestingly,
once pair-bonded, male criminal activity drops sharply.)
‰MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A NATURAL MAN‰
Here are some personal ads (found floating around on the
Internet), supposedly from the Dublin News. Each ad has the
potential to inspire at least one good country song lyric.
CHAPTER 1—WHAT MUSIC REALLY IS, WHO MAKES IT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY
95
Heavy drinker, 35, Cork Area. Seeks gorgeous sex addict
interested in a man who loves his pints, cigarettes, Glasgow
Celtic Football Club and has been known to start fights on
Patrick Street at three o'clock in the morning.
Bitter, disillusioned Dublin man, lately rejected by longtime
fiancee, seeks decent, honest, reliable woman, if such a thing
still exists in this cruel world of hatchet-faced bitches.
Ginger haired Galway man, a troublemaker, gets slit-eyed and
shitty after a few scoops, seeks attractive, wealthy lady for
bail purposes, maybe more.
Bad tempered, foul-mouthed old bastard, living in a damp
cottage in the ass end of Roscommon, seeks attractive 21
year old blonde lady, with a lovely chest.
Limerick man, 27, medium build, brown hair, blue eyes, seeks
alibi for the night of February 27 between 8 PM and 11:30 PM.
Optimistic Mayo man, 35, seeks a blonde 20 year old
double-jointed super model, who owns her own brewery,
and has an open-minded twin sister.
A couple of sex-based inborn traits may partly explain the overwhelming male
preoccupation with music (discussed in the next section).
•
Males have a particular interest in, and propensity for, tracking moving
things. Music is the “moving art.” It’s largely about tracking beats—“moving
objects”—as they sequence through time.
•
Males have a natural aptitude for spatial cognition (which, by the way, is
associated with the hormone testosterone). As discussed in the section on
brain lateralization, the right hemisphere of the brain is the location of both
spatial cognition and the processing of harmony and pitch. This indicates the
modules responsible for spatial cognition may handle harmony and pitch as
“spatial” elements of sound.
THE MORALISTIC FALLACY
When you turn the naturalistic fallacy on its head, you get the
moralistic fallacy, sometimes called wishful thinking or political
correctness. In the moralistic fallacy, “ought” = “is.” That is, you
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believe that what ought to be true actually is true—even though
there’s no logical connection between “ought” and “is.”
A familiar example: human males and females ought to have the
same brain structure and psychological constitution at birth. So
(magically)...they do! Believing otherwise means condoning
sexism. And, therefore, all of the empirical evidence showing
that human males and females are in fact psychologically
significantly different from each other at birth, shaped in the
course of evolution by sex-based differences in adaptive
pressures—all that evidence must somehow be wrong (shoot the
messenger).
People believe all sorts of things about wonderful human
nature—people aren’t greedy, people don’t lie, people don’t
cheat—merely because they ought to be true, despite evidence
to the contrary.
As in many other species, human females have evolved as mate choosers. Human
females have to make enormous investments of time, energy, and sacrifice in raising
offspring. In North America, for example, women with children earn about 75 cents
to men’s dollar. However, childless career women earn just as much as men.
While females have evolved as mate choosers, males have evolved to display.
Human males tend to become status-and-power competitors. Where opportunities
arise, females tend to choose (except in cultures where parents arrange marriages)
high-achieving (i.e., displaying) male mates.
In Palaeolithic times, men used physical power, aggressiveness, and competitive
instincts to achieve status and power, and impress women. Today, men use the same
inborn aggressiveness and competitiveness to achieve status and power in business,
religion, politics, and justice—and impress women. As listed in Brown’s Human
Universals, human males dominate the institutions of power in every culture, a fact
that will not likely change any time soon, despite wishful thinking. This is a trifle
unsettling for the future of H. sapiens as a species, considering human males
exclusively build and control all the nuclear weapons in all the nations that have
nukes.
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97
1.5.14
MUSIC AS AN ADAPTATION SHAPED BY SEXUAL
SELECTION: PROPORTIONS OF MALE AND FEMALE
MUSICIANS
According to Darwin’s sexual selection theory, males write and perform songs to
impress females, ultimately for purposes of acquiring women to mate with.
Musicianship in males tends to skyrocket after puberty, crests in young adulthood,
and declines after marriage.
A male musician is not usually aware that his love of music-making probably
stems from an inherently male competitive inclination to impress choosy females
with a flashy display, like a peacock, that indicates survival and reproductive fitness.
If runaway sexual selection began to shape the evolution of music one or two million
years ago, the positive feedback loop would take the form of increasing demands for
more impressive displays of musical talent, triggering ever greater cognitive
functions, resulting in ever-swelling brain size. The theory would predict that, by
now, a lopsided sex imbalance favouring male musicians would exist, regardless of
musical genre, regardless of nation, regardless of culture.
And that’s precisely what’s observed.
For example, one analysis of samples from more than 7,000 albums (rock, jazz,
classical) revealed that the overwhelming majority of the principal music makers
(more than 90%) were male, regardless of musical genre.
The fact of pan-cultural male dominance of music gets little media attention. Yet
flip through any magazine devoted to music, and you’ll find that the great majority
of composers, songwriters, and performers are male. It’s like flipping though the
sports pages of any newspaper, and for similar reasons that have roots in the
evolutionary history of hominids.
Check out your own collection of recordings. Count the musicians by sex—not
just the act’s headliner, but all the musicians who play on each recording. (More
often than not, a female star will have an all-male or mostly-male backing band, and
will co-write her songs with male songwriters.) You’ll likely find that the
overwhelming majority of songwriters, vocalists, and instrumentalists in your own
music collection are male, unless you make a point of deliberately searching out and
collecting music composed and performed by women only.
Apart from your own collection, another sample worth checking out for malefemale proportions is the Gold Standard Song List (www.GoldStandardSongList.com),
which lists 5,000 songs written over a 100-year period, spanning 14 genres.
All of the above notwithstanding ... just because far fewer women than men
become career musicians, that does not mean women ought not to have a career in
music. If you’re a woman, and you write and/or perform music, you may well have
heard some variant of the naturalistic fallacy with respect to women and music: if it’s
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
found in nature (i.e., more men than women make a living in music), then that’s the
way it ought to be. Rubbish. There’s no logical connection between “is” and “ought,”
which is why it’s called the naturalistic fallacy. Sadly, in some cultures, adherence to
the naturalistic fallacy prevents women who want a music career from having it.
Although the evidence clearly indicates males have a stronger drive than females
to become musicians, males do not become better musicians than females who
become musicians. Musical ambition does not equate with inherent musical ability.
1.5.15
WHY IS THERE SUCH A THING AS MUSIC? HOW
ABOUT “ALL OF THE ABOVE”
When the smoke clears, why the heck did music evolve in humans— music that’s so
unlike the vocalizing of any other species?
Summary of three of the leading suspects:
1. Mother-infant Communication
No denying the reality of motherese, nor the universality of it, nor the survival
value of it. Much evidence supports Ellen Dissanayake’s hypothesis that motherese
is, at its core, musical communication. Newborns and adults share many of the same
musical preferences and skills.
The music-emotion connection originates with motherese and is linked directly
with survival. In adults, this would help explain why humans have a high regard for
intensely emotional music. Music competently composed and performed evokes
survival-linked emotions in listeners. That’s why audiences highly value performers and
composers who can actually achieve such a feat. (Not many can.)
2. Social Bonding
Skinny little hominids would not have survived on the African savannah had they
not clumped together in larger and larger groups. By what mechanism did they
achieve and maintain group cohesion in the absence of language? Music certainly
looks like a good candidate.
Plenty of evidence indicates music and group dancing serve as bonding
mechanisms, ways of intensifying group solidarity and coordinating emotional
arousal.
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For tens or hundreds of thousands of years, since humans acquired the music
adaptation, the only way to listen to music was in a group of a minimum of
two—usually more than two. The ability to listen to music in solitude did not
become possible until the advent of recording technology in the late 19th Century.
Everywhere in the world, most music-making takes place in group contexts.
Groups such as bands, choirs, orchestras, and sports crowds perform for audiences
who not only listen but often participate.
3. Sexual Selection
Darwin observed musical courtship displays in many species of animals, notably
monogamous bird species, mostly during mating season. Conspicuously by males.
According to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, the capacity for music in humans
evolved as a sexually selected male courtship display, just as in other animals.
In every society, far more males than females have the urge to make music. Young
males, predominantly. They say it’s for art’s sake, but they do it to get girls. It works.
It’s what would be expected in a sexually-selected trait.
Fisher’s runaway sexual selection hypothesis, an elaboration of one aspect of
Darwin’s theory, would help explain the huge discrepancy in male vs female
participation in human music making. While males and females are equally
competent at creating and performing music, males tend to become obsessive about
it after puberty. Male fascination with music continues until pair-bonding, after
which it tends to drop off.
There’s no reason to suppose that the various hypotheses about why music
evolved in humans mutually exclude each other. It is a fact that the capacity for
music, like the capacity for language, is in the brain at birth. After the motherese
phase of life, the brain circuitry for music does not go away. Music remains a powerful
means of emotional communication throughout life.
Mother-infant musical communication is inherently social, so it’s reasonable that
the social nature of music would continue to resonate in adulthood. This would help
explain the group bonding properties of music in adults, even if music originally
evolved for infant survival.
It would also help account for the use of music in courtship, as both emotional
and social communication. As Dissanayake points out:
In humans, love songs and courtship speech use childish words and
refer to childish things to create and display intimacy, for example, ...
popular songs that express the [sentiment] ... “Baby, I love you.”
When a guy sings lyrics using words such as “baby,” and “mama,” he doesn’t
realize how literal the lyrics are—an adult version of motherese, the musical motherinfant communication system.
100 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
(By the way, this has nothing to do with Freud’s weird, unsupported hypotheses.
While on the mark about each person having an active unconscious mind, Freud’s
bizarre theory of child psychosexual development, complete with Oedipus complex,
Electra complex, phallic stage, and so on, amounts to fanciful hokum.)
Fisher’s theory of runaway sexual selection may best explain encephalation in
humans. Females select the smartest, most capable males to mate with. Their
progeny, both male and female, become smarter and more capable over time. Women
make ever-escalating demands for smart, capable mates. Men adapt by becoming
even smarter and more capable (actually a courtship display). A feedback loop. Over
a couple of million years, the cortex gets larger in both sexes.
If this explains encephalation in humans, then the human brain is the human
equivalent of the peacock’s tail, with human males responding to human females’
obsession with brilliance by evolving more ways to display mental prowess, one of
those ways—a major one—being music.
A final word on the “what-who-where-when-why” of music, from one of the
greatest investigator-songwriters of all time...
In search of love and music, my whole life has been
Illumination, corruption, and diving, diving, diving, diving
Diving down to pick up on
Every shiny thing
Just like that black crow flying
In a blue sky
—JONI MITCHELL (“Black Crow” from Hejira)
2
What the Popular
Music Industry
REALLY Is, and Where
It Came From
All music is folk music; leastwise I ain’t never heard a horse sing.
—LOUIS ARMSTRONG
2.0.1
A TINY BIT OF HELPFUL MUSICAL HISTORY
This book focuses on specific practical techniques you can use to create and perform
emotionally evocative, memorable music and lyrics. As for popular music history
and the history of particular genres, any good library or bookstore has hundreds of
titles.
That said, this one chapter (out of 12), and one appendix, provide a bit of
historical background on popular music of the West. Western popular music—
especially African American popular music—is found practically everywhere in the
world. Paradoxically, humans tend to resist attempts at so-called “cultural
imperialism”—yet plunder each other’s cultures when they find something they like.
Universal people, universal music.
102 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
This chapter briefly surveys more than a dozen major popular music genres that
emerged throughout the 20th Century, mainly in America.
2.1
Origin of Popular Music as an
Industry
2.1.1
WHERE THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY
CAME FROM
People have created music and lyrics for tens of thousands of years, passing songs
on—usually altered—from generation to generation. The oral tradition. Folk music.
In the late 1700s, the Industrial Revolution took hold in England and Western
Europe. Millions migrated to the cities for factory work. They brought their folk
songs with them. At first, the only places factory workers could go for entertainment
were ale houses. They’d get smashed and sing their songs and try to forget their
miserable factory lives.
Soon they noticed that other musical entertainment alternatives existed around
them in the big city. For instance, the merchant classes attended operas. Staged in
actual opera houses. So urban workers started demanding more and better
entertainment for themselves. By the middle of the 19th Century, various types of
music halls were springing up to meet the demand.
Singers needed material. So, composers and lyricists, some with considerable
formal training, supplied the music hall and cabaret performers with new songs
resembling classical art songs but informed by familiar folk material. A professional
songwriting industry was taking shape. The new musical material did not fit the
description of either art song or folk song. Songs composed by professional
songwriters for music hall entertainment became more popular than the traditional
folk songs.
As well, a new middle class was emerging, better educated and able to purchase
and learn to play instruments such as the upright piano. Literate urban dwellers
demanded sheet music of popular songs and folk songs. This created a commercial
market for mass-disseminated print music.
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103
New music halls for the masses ... professional songwriters turning out songs for
stage entertainers ... sheet music for sale to the masses so they could perform the
songs at home ... it all added up to a new industry, the popular music industry.
2.1.2
PAYING SONGWRITERS: A MERCIFULLY BRIEF
HISTORY OF LEGISLATED COPYRIGHT,
MECHANICAL RIGHT, PERFORMING RIGHT
Some songwriters of the 18th and 19th centuries wrote hundreds or even thousands of
songs. Publishers printed and sold sheet music of their songs, but the composers and
lyricists did not get royalties. In those days, if you wanted to make a living in popular
music, you had to play or sing, not merely compose songs.
Although the idea of copyright originated in Europe hundreds of years ago, it
wasn’t until the 19th Century that national governments legislated the right (in theory,
at least) of writers and composers to a share of the revenue from the sale of printed
copies of their works (copyright).
In 1851, a court case in Paris resulted in songwriters winning the right to get paid
for the public performance of their works (performing right), as in a café or music hall.
In America at the time of Stephen Foster (1826 - 1864), you could make money
as a songwriter, but you had to sell your songs outright to a publisher. The publisher
was then free to make a fortune selling thousands or even millions of copies of the
sheet music. Countless minstrel and music hall troupes touring America and Europe
introduced the new songs to the public, songs by Foster, Daniel Emmett (composer
of “Dixie”), and others. Millions of people worldwide bought the sheet music, which
they played and sang at home. Countless professional musicians and singers made
money performing Foster’s tunes.
Although Foster sold some of his best songs outright, he has the distinction of
being one of the first professional songwriters to demand and get songwriting
royalties. At his peak, he actually made a living from sheet music royalties at a time
when other songwriters relied on performance fees for their income.
In 1886, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
internationalized this principle (since revised at least half a dozen times). This led to
the establishment in France of the industry’s first performing rights organization.
Italy, Spain, and Austria followed suit, all before 1900. The UK established a
performing rights society in 1914 (PRS), the United States in 1917 (ASCAP).
The advent of recorded music in the form of piano rolls and gramophone records
made it necessary, beginning with the Berlin Act of 1908 (part of the international
Berne Convention), to recognize the right of songwriters to get paid for the
“mechanical” distribution of their songs (mechanical right).
104 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
When radio broadcasting came along in the 1920s, performing rights were
extended to include broadcast performances of songs, both live and recorded. This was
an extension of the principle of getting paid for sheet music sales.
Today, the mechanical right extends to all “mechanical soundcarriers”—CDs in
record stores, songs used in movies and commercials, Internet-based song sales, and
so on.
The medium that began it all—sheet music—doesn’t generate much revenue for
songwriters anymore.
2.2
African American Dominance
2.2.1
HOW AMERICA BECAME THE CAPITAL OF
WESTERN POPULAR MUSIC
At the time Columbus “discovered” America, the Americas were fully populated,
like Europe, with tens of millions of people. The native inhabitants had been making
their own music for thousands of years before Europeans invaded the Americas and,
with diseases and guns, killed the mass of indigenous Americans. Native American
music throughout the Americas has struggled to be heard ever since.
Europeans also colonized large parts of Africa and forced generations of Africans
into slavery abroad. They shipped millions of Africans to America to work as
plantation slaves.
After the Civil War and the assassination of America’s greatest president by a
white Southerner, virulent institutionalized racism and legislated segregation became
entrenched in many American states. It stayed that way for more than 100 years.
Shut out of mainstream American life, African Americans developed a number
of new musical genres, composites of their own African traditions and various
European forms, genres that stood out from those of the white majority.
The Europeans who colonized America, initially from the British Isles, France,
and Spain, brought with them a variety of musical traditions. Before the advent of
the popular music industry, music of white America consisted of European forms
such as operetta songs, marches, and dances such as the waltz, schottische, and
polka. Music of the Old Country.
From about 1880 to World War I, huge numbers of people crossed the Atlantic
to settle in America. Among them were Jews fleeing persecution in the Russian
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
105
Empire, many of whom settled in New York. They were to have an enormous
impact on American popular song.
American popular song started to come into its own in the 1880s. No other single
nation had such a musically fortuitous combination: large population, economic
wealth, and, above all, an extraordinary diversity of musical roots. A large,
economically prosperous population (today, almost 300 million), with one dominant
language has historically meant a huge market for popular songs with lyrics in a
single prevailing language
If you were to remove all the popular music genres still going strong today that
did not originate with African American and Jewish songwriters and performers,
what would be left? Some folk, classical, country, and some world music That’s
about it. Today, genres that originated with African Americans pervade or at least
inform the popular music of many if not most nations of the world.
The descendants of African American slaves have always created music and
musical genres so innovative and compelling that they have tended to dominate
popular music, both in America and abroad. Hip-hop is only the latest.
2.2.2
WHY AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC TENDS TO
DOMINATE POPULAR MUSIC GENERALLY
Over the past couple of centuries, African Americans have combined the versatile
melodic and harmonic aspects of European tonal music with their own polyrhythmic
and improvisational traditions to create a number of irresistible genres that have
spread around the world. Practically everywhere you go on the planet, a large
proportion of the recorded and live popular music you hear consists of genres that
originated with African Americans—hip-hop, rock, electronica, jazz, blues.
The secret of the global success of popular music genres of African American
origin is that they tend to emphasize numerous powerful musical universals
simultaneously—so many universals that non-African Americans in nations
worldwide can relate to the music.
Human nature does not vary from culture to culture. If a human takes a liking to
something technical or artistic from another culture, said human will adopt it,
without bothering too much about where it came from. If it’s an artistic element, and
it’s emotionally powerful, nothing else matters much.
106 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
2.3
Your Musical Roots: How the
Major Genres Emerged
2.3.1
“MY MUSIC IS BETTER THAN YOUR MUSIC”
You’ve probably heard comments such as “rap isn’t music” or “electronic music isn’t
music.” Similarly, some lovers of jazz ridicule country music. And rock fans sneer
at sub-genres of rock that devalue “the true spirit of rock.”
Mostly, it’s a guy thing.
If you’re a male, once puberty hits, your hormone-addled brain amplifies the
significance of the music you and your peer group identify with. That’s your music
all over the radio and TV and the Internet. Other music sucks, compared with your
music.
As discussed in more detail in Chapter 7, the songs you’re listening to during
emotionally significant times or events, such as falling in love for the first time at age
13 or so, get burned into your memory. Whether your music happens to be rock,
hip-hop, jazz, country, or some emerging genre, the music of your youth eventually
becomes your life’s soundtrack, or at least a good part of it.
•
The life soundtrack of a teen in the first decade of the 21st Century might
include the music of Eminem, the White Stripes, Kanye West, or the Dixie
Chicks (or any of hundreds of other acts)
•
In the 1990s ... maybe Nirvana, Jay-Z, or Smashing Pumpkins
•
1980s ... Wham!, Madonna, or AC/DC
•
1970s ... Bee Gees, Sex Pistols, or David Bowie
•
1960s ... The Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan
•
1950s ... Nat King Cole, Everly Brothers, or Elvis Presley
•
1940s ... Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, or Frank Sinatra
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
107
Every decade, countless new acts emerge, create new genres, and attract legions
of youthful diehard followers. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published a list of its
“50 Greatest Artists of All Time” (I. e., popular musicians and groups).
•
Who were the judges? Mainly middle-aged male music writers and critics.
•
What musical acts did they select? Mainly those who were big during the
judges’ youth.
•
What was the breakdown by sex of the acts selected? Of the 50 musicians or
groups on the Rolling Stone list, 46 were male.
Darwin’s theory of sexual selection predicts both the preponderance of male
judges and the preponderance of male artists. As people grow up and get married, the
music of the present assumes less and less interest and importance, compared with
the music of adolescence and young adulthood. For most, by middle age, the music
of the present day—“the crappy stuff them young ‘uns are listening to”—sounds
weird and definitely inferior to all those “great wonderful songs of my youth.”
Yet new musical genres that emerge every decade or two, seemingly like
clockwork, somehow manage to stick around. Generation after generation.
2.3.2
PHASES OF GENRE POPULARITY: UNDERGROUND,
BREAKOUT, CREST, MAINSTREAM
Emerging musical genres go through a characteristic series of phases. The Gold
Standard Song List (www.GoldStandardSongList.com), if taken as a more or less
representative data sample of genre popularity, reveals a genre popularity profile. This
profile applies to most musical genres over time (Figure 2 below).
108 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 2 Genre Popularity Over Time
1. Origins, or “Underground” Phase
•
Typically, a musical genre begins as an underground movement. This
formative phase often lasts many years, even decades.
•
New genres and sub-genres emerge in several ways. Among them:
-
Musicians from outside a geographical region move in and bring new
instruments and new styles of playing, singing, and songwriting to an
established local musical tradition.
-
A genius comes along and decides to shake things up (Charlie Parker, Bob
Dylan).
-
New technology makes it possible to create new sounds.
2. Breakout
•
At some point the genre breaks out as a widely recognized musical
phenomenon in popular culture.
•
The new style attracts the attention of masses of people, including musicians
just getting started, musicians working in other genres, music consumers, and
music business people.
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
•
109
Suddenly, performers everywhere are playing in the new style. Lots of the
new music get recorded and sold. Over a comparatively short period of time,
the new genre or sub-genre becomes all the rage.
3. Crest
•
Inevitably, within a decade or two, the popularity of the genre crests and starts
to subside.
•
Along the way, it spins off numerous sub-genres.
•
The original one does not go away.
4. Mainstream Genre
•
Instead, with few exceptions, it remains a permanent mainstream genre,
co-existing, influencing, and being influenced by, many others. For example,
when bluegrass was “invented” in the 1930s and 40s, it did not replace
traditional country music. Neither did “new country,” a couple of generations
later. When hip-hop and electronic dance music came along, they did not
replace mainstream pop or rock.
•
So many people accept and adopt the elements of the genre that it becomes
a cultural infrastructure (more on this a bit later). It settles into the mainstream
of popular culture—not as popular as it once was, but permanently accepted
and established.
•
Every so often a long-established mainstream genre experiences a period of
renewed popularity ("revival") that may extend for some years.
The Gold Standard Song List (GSSL) a sample of 5,000 songs over 100 years,
provides a visual representation of genre popularity profiles over time (Figure 3):
110 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 3
Songs by Genre and Decade
Today, many young people, while identifying mainly with their music (the music
of their youth), like to sample music across genres and eras. On a single iPod you
might find the Clash, Beethoven, Aretha Franklin, Eminem, Iggy Pop, Bjork, Frank
Sinatra, Johnny Cash ....
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
111
2.4
Why ThereÊs No Such Thing as
„Progress‰ in the Arts, Including
Music
2.4.1
PROGRESS MEANS TECHNICAL USEFULNESS
As discussed in Chapter 1, natural selection ain’t pretty. Animals have to eat other
living things, or die. Evolution amounts to a constant arms race. Natural selection
equips predator species with adaptations such as powerful leg muscles, sharp fangs,
or long claws. Natural selection equips prey species with keen hearing, sight, and
smell, the better to escape predators and pass on their genes to the next generation.
Such favourable adaptations accumulate in the genomes of both prey and predator
species.
In this sense, cumulative mutations amount to a kind of progress, even though
natural selection has no inherent sense of direction. Suppose keener hearing prevents
a prey species such as a rabbit from getting eaten because it can hear an approaching
predator and escape to safety under bramble bushes. Then keener hearing marks an
improvement, or “progress,” over the previous state of hearing, which would not
have been keen enough to enable the rabbit to hear the predator creep close enough
to pounce and kill the unfortunate rabbit.
Progress means usefulness of the adaptation in the evolutionary arms race. If a
mutation results in keener hearing and saves rabbits from getting caught and eaten,
then it’s likely to remain as an adaptation. If another mutation shows up in some
unlucky rabbit that reverses hearing sensitivity to the previous state, that individual
rabbit will likely get eaten before it passes on the mutated gene, thus preventing the
reversal of evolutionary “progress” from spreading to other rabbits.
Evolutionary progress, then, goes one way only. It does not reverse.
Something similar happens in human culture. Certain aspects of human culture
improve or progress, such as science and technology. “Progress” means that, once
scientists make a discovery that results in a technology that proves more useful than
an existing technology, people stop using the existing technology in favour of the
new one.
As with predator-prey arms races, such progress does not reverse. Technological
progress moves in one direction only. There’s no going back. For example,
112 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
transportation technologies have shown “progress” over time. Horses and wagons
gave way to cars, trucks and trains. Sailing ships gave way to engine-powered ships.
Hot air balloons gave way to passenger jets.
Why is there such a thing as progress in science and technology?
Ultimately for the same reason rabbits with keen hearing procreate and rabbits
with mediocre hearing get eaten. Survival advantage. If you want to compete with
FedEx in the courier business, you’d better not rely on Model T Fords and clipper
ships.
2.4.2
WHY DOESN’T MUSIC PROGRESS?
Progress applies to the scientific and technical aspects of culture. But what about the
artistic aspects of culture? Do the arts progress? Does music progress?
The answer is no.
Music does not progress, nor do the other arts. The reason has to do with the
unchanging nature of the connection between the arts (including music) and
emotional communication.
As Darwin correctly pointed out, emotions are adaptations. Emotions are
permanently encoded in the human genome, and in the genomes of many other
animal species. Emotions such as fear, sadness, joy, and anger evolved because
they’re critical for survival.
Sound communication systems in non-human animals (hootin’ and howlin’)
evolved as adaptations to communicate these emotions. The evidence indicates this
holds for the human animal as well. As discussed in Chapter 1, music evolved in
humans as a sound communication adaptation, a way to communicate emotion.
Since the same connections between emotions and music in humans have likely not
changed in the human species for hundreds of thousands of years, these connections
are, in effect, permanent.
(Technically, they’re not permanent, because a species continues to evolve by
natural selection until the species becomes extinct. But adaptations such as emotions
and music evolve so slowly that, on time scales of tens or hundreds of thousands of
years, you can think of such adaptations as unchanging, for practical purposes.)
Since the brain wiring that connects emotion with music evolved in the Stone Age
and has not changed, musical art can never progress, the way science and technology
progresses.
The only thing music or any art can ever do is communicate emotion.
Emotions evolved as survival adaptations, so when an effective work of art makes
an emotional connection, people recognize, perhaps unconsciously, the connection
with survival. A work of art, such as a song, then, succeeds or fails on the strength of
its emotional resonance. If it connects emotionally, it succeeds. If it does not, it fails.
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
113
When a work of art succeeds in connecting emotionally, it stays connected
permanently, because human emotions don’t change over time.
A successful work of art, one that connects emotionally in most people, is called
a classic. The Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye has this to say about classics of
dramatic art, equally applicable to classics of popular song:
Science learns more and more about the world as it goes on: it evolves
and improves. A physicist today knows more physics than Newton did,
even if he’s not as great a scientist. But literature begins with the
possible model of experience, and what it produces is the literary
model we call the classic. Literature doesn’t evolve or improve or
progress. We may have dramatists in the future who will write plays as
good as King Lear, though they’ll be very different ones, but drama as
a whole will never get better than King Lear. King Lear is it, as far as
drama is concerned; so is Oedipus Rex, written two thousand years
earlier than that, and both will be models of dramatic writing as long
as the human race endures ... Whitman’s celebration of democracy
makes a lot more sense than Dante’s Inferno. But it doesn’t follow that
Whitman is a better poet than Dante: literature won’t line up with that
kind of improvement.
When a new work of art comes along, it does not have any inherent “progressive”
advantage over older works of art. The concept of progress has no meaning in art. A new
song, for its newness, has no advantage over an old song.
Any artist working in any medium at any time in human history or in the present
day has the potential to create a classic. Once created, a true classic never goes away.
It connects emotionally, and human emotions do not go away and do not change
from generation to generation. Humans who lived thousands of years ago had the
same inborn music-emotion brain wiring that humans have today. And humans
thousands of years in the future will still have the same music-emotion brain wiring
(assuming humans haven’t gone extinct or re-engineered the species genetically).
That’s why, as Frye points out, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, written almost 2,500
years ago, remains a successful work of art today, as do Shakespeare’s plays. The
same goes for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Michelangelo’s “David,” both
more than 500 years old.
All of this applies to great songs. Classic songs serve no purpose, scientifically or
technologically. The concept of progress has no meaning in songwriting. New songs
can never improve upon classic songs, but might themselves become classics.
If a new song moves people emotionally every time it’s played or performed for
an audience, it will probably never be forgotten. It will probably become a classic,
like the majority of the songs on the GSSL. Once a classic, always a classic.
Progress and change are two different things. In the arts, progress is meaningless, but
change is both normal and necessary. Music and all the other arts are in a perpetual
state of transmutation and diversification. Always were, always will be. That’s how
a dozen major new popular musical genres emerged in the 20th Century alone.
114 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
If you aspire to greatness as a songwriter or performer, you will find that you will
have to introduce change and innovation throughout your career, or you will
stagnate artistically.
Change does not mean “the old” loses its meaning. Art has nothing to do with
fashion. With one or two minor exceptions, all of the new musical genres that
emerged in the 20th Century remain in place today. The new genres that emerged were
not more “progressive” than the older genres. They were just different.
Similarly, great artists enjoy long careers because they have the imagination to
embrace change, to constantly reinvent themselves artistically: Johnny Cash, for
example. Joni Mitchell. David Bowie. And especially Bob Dylan, the Shakespeare
of popular song.
Artists of this calibre do not abandon their great classic songs. They realize that,
once a classic, always a classic. So they perform and re-record their classics in new
ways. And they also continue writing and recording new material and exploring
other genres for ideas.
But, to reiterate, newness of artistic output has nothing to do with progress. New
material may be inventive and innovative, but it’s emphatically not better than older
material, just because it’s new.
2.4.3
HOW SONGS ARE USEFUL: MODELS IN
CONTROLLED CONTEXTS
As discussed in Chapter 1, biological adaptations such as emotions and music do not
evolve unless they confer survival benefits or reproductive benefits, or both.
How does a work of musical art such as a song confer these benefits?
If a work of art succeeds in evoking emotions, it connects with the survival
benefits of emotions, but in a controlled context.
•
A successful work of art enables you to feel negative emotions such as fear,
sadness, and anger without experiencing the dangerous or unpleasant realworld circumstances that would normally trigger such emotions.
•
A successful work of art also enables you to feel positive emotions such as
excitement and joy, which you may not experience often under real-world
circumstances.
A successful work of art, then, functions as a model, as Frye points out. A work
of art must in some way model or demonstrate a possible human situation or
experience. Otherwise it will not evoke a response.
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Great art, whether literary, visual, or musical, reflects human universals. If a
work of art reaches you emotionally, it teaches you something about survival. You
may not be able to put it into words, but you remember it.
A work of art is to emotional life what a scientific paper is to intellectual life. Songs
and paintings and novels serve as emotional “lab demonstrations,” so to speak. They
teach us how to survive.
Just as science illuminates some aspects of reality using torches of reason, art
illuminates other aspects using torches of emotion. Humans learn from both. Great
works of art provide society with benefits every bit as useful as the benefits derived
from scientific research.
2.4.4
THE AGE AND BEAUTY OF CLASSIC SONGS
The older a still-remembered song, the more likely it’s a song people regard as a
timeless classic. (The GSSL, for example, contains nearly 1,200 songs composed
between 1900 and 1949.)
Today, millions of people under the age of 30 hum and sing and buy zillions of
recordings of songs that were written before they were born—the songs of Bob
Dylan, Hank Williams, the Gershwins, Jimi Hendrix, Lennon and McCartney, Cole
Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Joni Mitchell. Classics.
Classic plays such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and classic ballets such as
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake transcend time, place, and interpretation. So do classic
songs, such as Gershwin & Heyward’s “Summertime,” written in 1935. Like Hamlet
and Swan Lake, “Summertime” has never lost its appeal and today is known and
performed the world over.
NOTE: Many songs on the GSSL written in the last quarter of the 20th Century
will not become classics. More time must pass (several decades) to know for sure.
Some of these songs will undoubtedly fall away and be forgotten. Selecting songs for
the GSSL from the late 20th Century that might become classics was necessarily a
matter of educated guess work.
2.4.5
HIT SONGS VS GREAT SONGS
Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows religiously the
new.
—THOREAU
116 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
A person who equates “classic” with “too old” does not understand the difference
between fashion and art. In popular music, fashion means current chart hits.
If you want to learn about songwriting from other songs, steer clear of pop music
fashion shows such as the Billboard charts and MTV and all other charts and listings
of current singles, albums, and videos. Nearly all of the songs you find there will be
long forgotten in 5, 10 or 15 years. Stripped of slick production values, they’re banal
songs.
While most of the tunes that make it onto the Billboard charts eventually vanish,
never to be heard again (deservedly), a small fraction of them—a tiny fraction in
relation to the total number that make the charts—don’t fade away. Years and years
later, people still play and sing them. Artists still record them. You hear them in
clubs and bars, at concerts and festivals, in movie soundtracks and commercials.
Youth of the 1960s were fond of reminding each other never to trust anyone over
30 (a mantra that curiously faded away in the 1970s). With respect to songs as
models to learn from, a practical guide—not a hard and fast rule—would be, “Never
trust a song under 30.”
“Georgia On My Mind,” “Dancing In The Street,” and “September Song” were
once hit songs. Now they’re classics. They continue to connect with a lot of people
emotionally, year after year.
Billboard and MTV chart-topping singles and albums may sell millions of copies
today—but that says nothing about the long-term staying power of either the
recordings or the songs.
People buy new CDs or download new singles by big-name artists for a lot of
reasons that have nothing to do with the songs themselves.
•
MC Mook says you gotta get it. So you get it.
•
Advertising hype says you gotta get it. So you get it.
•
The artist has a cool rebellious image that you identify with. So you buy the
CD in the expectation that some of that coolness will rub off on you.
•
In the video, the artist is unbelievably hot, so you buy the CD.
•
Your non-conformist peers all have the CD, so, to maintain your
non-conformist credibility, you buy the CD.
•
Your sister’s birthday is coming and you have to buy a present.
•
Christmas is coming and you have to buy a bunch of presents, and CDs solve
the problem relatively cheaply and easily.
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Next thing you know, the hit recording has sold 8 million copies—95% of them
to 12-to-19-year-old males. Five years later, nobody can remember a single song from
the CD. The now 17-to-24-year-old owners of the CD have moved on to fashionably
new artists and their music.
So ... never mind the hit machinery that creates the Billboard and MTV charts.
Unless you’re only interested in commerce and fashion. In which case, you are not
an artist. You are a hack.
But hey! It ain’t so bad, being a hack. Although Woody Allen’s no hack, he
recognizes the value of art to those who would seek immortality:
I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to
achieve it by not dying.
Mind you, look at Elvis. He actually achieved immortality by not dying. He’s
been spotted thousands of times since 1977, when he decided to retire to a more
normal life. Today, he drives a cab in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Every so often he
makes a public appearance, such as the time he entered an Elvis impersonator contest
in Wichita, Kansas, and came in third.
2.5
Musical Genres as Cultural
Infrastructures
2.5.1
NEIL YOUNG GOT IT RIGHT: THE NATURE OF
CULTURAL INFRASTRUCTURES
My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
—NEIL YOUNG ("My My, Hey Hey")
It's not just rock ‘n’ roll that's here to stay. It's also hip-hop and jazz and country.
A musical genre is a cultural infrastructure—something so many people know
about and support that it becomes a more or less permanent artistic (or technological)
fixture in the mainstream of society.
118 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
You cannot easily dislodge an infrastructure, even if you and a lot of others would
prefer something else in its place. Technological infrastructures especially have
monopoly characteristics. The internal combustion engine and the Microsoft
Windows operating system are technological infrastructures. A lot of people don't
particularly like either of them. But, as is characteristic of infrastructures, they stick
around because so many people use them, and alternatives have unappealing
drawbacks (inconvenience, lack of support, expense, etc.).
2.5.2
HERE TO STAY: THE LANGUAGE YOU SPEAK
The language you speak is a cultural infrastructure. Everybody who speaks the
language you speak shares the same vocabulary (more or less) and uses the same
grammatical rules.
Artists working with language manipulate words and grammar to create works
of art such as novels, plays, and song lyrics. Successful language-artists innovate with
words and grammar, but preserve enough of the language's commonly-used
vocabulary and observe enough of its grammatical rules to ensure reasonable
audience accessibility.
As mentioned in Chapter 1, artists who break all the rules do not communicate
with anyone on any humanly accessible level.
If an artist working with language employs too much fractured grammar and too
many twists of vocabulary, the novel or play or song lyric becomes
incomprehensible. Without adequate adherence to convention, audiences find the
work inaccessible and simply turn away from it, confused and irritated.
2.5.3
HERE TO STAY: THE MUSICAL GENRE YOU
WORK IN
When several languages blend to form a new language, the new language tends to
have a unique identity with a unique vocabulary. Those who don’t know the
language cannot understand it until they learn the language, because words have
referential meaning.
Not so with music.
When several musical genres blend to form a new one (such as rock, originally
a blend of R & B and country), the new genre can easily be understood. You can
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recognize a tune whether it’s played as a rock, jazz, or country arrangement because
musical notes do not have referential meaning.
Like languages, musical genres are cultural infrastructures.
Most musical genres, once established as infrastructures, do not fade away
(although, like some languages, some musical genres have become extinct for various
reasons. A couple of examples are noted below). A musical genre functions
something like a language. Each musical genre has a particular set of stylistic
elements, which millions of songwriters and performers working in the genre
observe. These elements define a genre, just as vocabulary and grammatical rules
define a language.
An established genre does not go "out of date," any more than an established
language goes out of date. Musicians use various technologies to create music, and
those technologies go out of date. New instruments and electronic gear render old gear
obsolete. But musical genres, being art forms and not technologies, do not progress.
•
Punk rock, for example, emerged in the 1970s. Today new punk bands are
forming all the time. Their members write new punk songs and record them
on equipment that’s different than the gear that existed in the 1970s.
Moreover, when hip-hop and electronic dance music came along, they did not
replace punk.
•
Same with bluegrass. New bluegrass bands are constantly forming,
performing and recording both classic and new tunes in the bluegrass
tradition. When bluegrass was “invented” in the 1930s and 40s, it did not
replace traditional country music. Neither did “new country,” a couple of
generations later.
All of this applies to every major genre and sub-genre: heavy metal, hip-hop, jazz,
blues, reggae, folk, electronica.
Songwriters and performers create new genres and sub-genres of music all the
time. Some stick around and become cultural infrastructures, some don’t.
2.5.4
KNOWING SOMETHING ABOUT “FOREIGN”
GENRES WILL HELP YOUR MUSICAL
DEVELOPMENT
Listening to the great songs of other genres will spark your musical imagination. You
will be able to better envision how you could incorporate elements from other genres
120 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
into your own musical art, the way language artists incorporate elements of style,
grammar and vocabulary from other languages into their works.
The more you listen to, remember, and absorb at least a sampling of the best
songs of genres other than your own, the more likely you will be able to create a
unique body of original songs and a performing style that sounds like nothing
anyone’s heard before. A sound that grabs the ears of audiences and holds them. A
signature sound and style (see Section 11.2).
2.6
A Brief Look at the Major Genres
of Western Popular Music
2.6.1
WHAT “GENRE” MEANS (HERE, AT LEAST)
What conditions define the emergence of a new genre in popular music?
•
The new music contains a set of several significant stylistic elements not
widely heard in that particular combination in other musical genres.
•
A lot of performers and songwriters adopt the new set of stylistic elements in
their playing, singing (including rapping) and songwriting (including
beatmaking).
•
A large number of performers and songwriters maintain the use of the set of
stylistic elements over time.
Recall from Chapter 1 that music is combinatorial. A finite set of stylistic
songwriting and performing characteristics define a particular genre. For example:
•
•
•
•
Musical instruments of choice
Dominance of vocal vs instrumental songs
Characteristic vocal style
Dominant subject matter of lyrics
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•
•
•
•
•
•
121
Variable emphasis on elements such as rhythm, harmony, melody, vocal
style, instrumental solos
Dominant type of rhythmic pulse
Characteristic tempo range
Degree of emphasis on improvisation
Degree of emphasis on syncopation
Variable use of modes and scale types
And scores of others.
Since music is combinatorial, all it takes is a handful of musical elements and a
set of rules governing each that a significant number of musicians agree to play by.
The result: music strikingly different from any other.
Imagine, for example, what country music would have sounded like if, in place
of the steel guitar as a key element of the country sound, bagpipes had had that role
from the beginning. That single instrumental difference would have made country
music sound a whole lot different from what we’re accustomed to hearing today.
A major genre of popular music typically spins off numerous sub-genres. For
example:
•
•
•
•
•
In jazz, a couple of spin-offs were bop and fusion (among many others)
In country, honky tonk and bluegrass (again, among many others)
In rock, metal and punk
In R & B/Soul, Motown and funk
In hip-hop, gangsta and crunk
There are hundreds and hundreds of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres.
At last count, there were 647,512 genres and sub-genres in popular music.
No, wait! Some guy with his laptop in his bedroom in Milton Keynes, England,
has just created another one. That makes 647,513.
No, wait!
A trio of 14-year-old girls in Amarillo, Texas, has just created a sub-genre of a
sub-sub-genre. Now we’re up to 647,514.
No, wait! ...
2.6.2
GENRES EMERGING OVER TIME
Figure 4 below shows the major genres of Western popular music (at least in the
main English-speaking countries) from approximate breakout dates to the present.
The GSSL only applies to the right half of Figure 4.
122 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 4 Genre Breakouts In Historical Perspective
A FEW SIGNIFICANT DATES IN THE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC
A 1850s Stephen Foster’s greatest hits
B 1886 Berne Int’l Copyright Convention
C 1890 Commercial recording begins
D 1914 ASCAP established
E 1920 Commercial radio begins
F 1926 First movies with sound
G 1939 BMI established
H 1948 Regular network TV begins
I 1950-54 Fender Tele & Strat; Gibson Les Paul
J 1964 Moog synthesizer
K 1981 MTV begins
L 1994 Internet becomes mainstream
Occasionally, a major genre, after flourishing for a time, becomes extinct, such
as ragtime and American minstrelsy. Usually the reason is that another genre comes
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along with similar, but not identical characteristics, and absorbs the first one. For
example, vaudeville took over from minstrelsy. Later, the Broadway-style musical
succeeded vaudeville. That does not mean the Broadway musical represented artistic
progress over vaudeville. Many Broadway style revues use elements pioneered in
vaudeville, but presented with technologically updated stagecraft.
Following are brief sketches of each of the genres represented in Figure 4 above.
2.6.3
FOLK/ROOTS MUSIC, CA. 200,000 YEARS AGO TO
THE PRESENT
Origins
Folk music has several alternative names, such as community music, people’s music,
and music in the oral tradition.
Folk music likely goes back 100,000 to 200,000 years—before Homo sapiens
walked out of Africa and colonized the rest of the planet.
To get an idea of how old folk music is, have a look at the horizontal bar at the
top of Figure 4 above. It represents only 200 years. Now imagine this: to accurately
represent 100,000 to 200,000 years, that horizontal “Folk/Roots” bar would have to
stretch to the left roughly 190 to 380 feet (58 to 116 metres)! If you went riding out
of Dodge, looking for the origin of folk music, you would get so lost that not even a
halfway competent posse on fresh horses hand-picked by Sadie and Ellie Sue from
the Dodge City Horse Store, a posse led by Marshal McDillon himself, would ever
be able to find you. That’s how old folk music is, compared with all other musical
genres.
With the advent of the printing press in the 15th Century, vendors hawked
“broadside ballads” in the streets—folk ballads printed on one side of a sheet. Early
journalism.
Breakout
In English-speaking countries, the folk music of the UK and Ireland had a major
revival that began in the late 1950s and rocketed in popularity in the early 1960s.
Countless musicians in the UK, America, Canada, and other English-speaking
nations wrote countless original songs in the English-Celtic folk tradition.
124 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Crest
The folk music revival crested in the latter part of the 1960s and gave rise to
sub-genres such as folk-rock (Dylan, the Byrds, etc.) and the folk-soul music of artists
such as Van Morrison (for example, the beloved album Astral Weeks).
Mainstream Genre
Today, the term “roots” often appears in conjunction with folk music. The folk
music revival subsided in popularity, and folk/roots settled into the mainstream of
popular culture by the 1980s.
2.6.4
“CLASSICAL”/ART/FORMAL/SERIOUS MUSIC,
CA. 2,500 YEARS AGO TO THE PRESENT
You could define classical music ultra-narrowly as the music of an era, the period of
European art music of ca. 1750 to 1825 (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) that followed
the baroque era and preceded the romantic. Or you could define classical music
broadly as formally-notated art music, starting with some of the music of the Greeks,
2,500 years ago. In which case, the bar second from the top in Figure 4 above would
need to stretch to the left about 4.8 feet (1.5 metres). Not a long time compared with
folk music, but much longer than the genres of popular music with which we’re
familiar today.
Historically, racism prevented music from crossing cultural lines. For centuries,
Europeans and white Americans considered African music “primitive” and inferior
to music of European origin, especially the music of the baroque, classical, and
romantic composers of the common practice period (1600 - 1900). People with
classical music backgrounds have historically tended to value melody and harmony
over rhythm and rhythmic lyrics. The European aristocracy of the common practice
period who patronized composers actually believed they were fostering the
“progress” of music.
At classical music concerts, audiences were (and still are) expected to sit quietly
and listen to The Music. No nodding to the beat (or nodding off), no tapping,
clapping, or (horrors) singing or dancing. Pretty much the exact opposite of, say, a
hip-hop or rock concert.
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2.6.5
MINSTRELSY (AMERICAN), CA. 1830 - 1905
Origins
American minstrelsy emerged in the 1830s. White musicians, mainly solo or duo
acts, would black-face themselves and perform songs and dances from African
American culture.
Horrible racist stereotyping (“See the happy dancing plantation slaves!”) didn’t
bother audiences of the day. Even Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), author of the
famous phrase, “All men are created equal,” kept a couple of hundred slaves and did
not see fit to free them.
Breakout
By the 1840s, troupes of 5 or 10 players were common, mainly white males, but
not exclusively.
Abolishionist minstrel troupes had some success.
America successfully exported the minstrel show to Europe. Of course minstrels
had been a fixture in Europe for centuries, but the American style minstrel show was
something else.
Crest
After the Civil War, troupes grew larger, and there were more African American
troupes.
Here is one description of American minstrelsy:
The typical entertainment included instrumental numbers, novelty acts
(acrobats, characters in animal costumes, dancers, and circus or
museum oddities), short skits, opera burlesques, parodies of urban
concert life, comic and sentimental songs, and ensemble dance
numbers.
Mainstream Genre
James A. Bland, America’s first great African American songwriter (“Carry Me
Back To Old Virginny,” official state song of Virginia), wrote hundreds of songs but
126 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
did not make any money on royalties. However, he did earn a good living as a
member of various minstrel troupes.
Stephen Foster, an abolishionist northerner, wrote many songs for minstrel
shows, with lyrics in dialect that did not mock or denigrate plantation slaves.
In the decades following the Civil War, the racist nature of much of minstrelsy
led to its demise, concomitant with the rise of vaudeville, which had taken over from
minstrelsy as variety stage entertainment by the first decade of the 20th Century.
2.6.6
MUSIC HALL/VAUDEVILLE/OPERETTA/
CABARET, CA. 1850 - 1955
Origins
The Industrial Revolution began in the latter half of the 18th Century and
dramatically transformed European and North American society. Decade after
decade, people migrated from the countryside to work in urban factories and
foundries.
Workers demanded more and better entertainment than simply congregating in
ale houses and singing traditional songs. By the mid-1800s, music halls were meeting
that demand with a variety of entertainment for the working masses.
Breakout
Some musicians became professional songwriters, furnishing music hall
entertainers with new songs. This marked the beginning of the modern popular music
industry.
Crest
In America, a decade or two after the Civil War, music hall entertainment
became established in North America in the form of vaudeville. It eventually
superceded American minstrelsy.
Other varieties of music hall entertainment included operetta (in both Europe and
North America) and cabaret (mainly Germany and France).
Great composers and entertainers of the music hall/vaudeville age include:
Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Gay, Harry Lauder, Vera Lynn, Victor Herbert, George
Formby, Noel Coward, George M. Cohan, Albert and Harry von Tilzer, James
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Reese Europe, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Bert Williams,
and Rudy Vallee.
Mainstream Genre
At the turn of the 20th Century, vaudeville was the most popular form of
entertainment in North America, as was music hall culture in England.
All major cities and towns in Europe and North America had music halls to
accommodate “light” entertainment variety shows.
In America, other ways of presenting variety entertainment, especially radio and
film, began to displace vaudeville in the 1920s. However, the music hall genre lived
on in Europe for several more decades.
The Broadway style musical replaced the vaudeville show as stage entertainment.
Eventually all of the elements of vaudeville and music hall had migrated to other
media or were no longer referred to by their original names (e.g., musical revues,
movie musicals, and television variety and talk shows).
The Beatles recorded a landmark album in the British music hall tradition: Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
TIN PAN ALLEY
Jewish immigrants who arrived in America between 1880 and
1910 found themselves discriminated against and barred from
many professions. Some turned to what were then considered
“low-life” entertainment industries: movies and popular music.
They founded Tin Pan Alley, America’s popular music songwriting
and publishing industry.
In the 1880s, the vaudeville houses clustered around New York
City’s Union Square, which became the first home of Tin Pan
Alley. As the entertainment venues moved north, so did Tin Pan
Alley, to 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway.
Tin Pan Alley did not get its name until around 1903, after it had
moved to 28th Street. The name came from the sound of the
out-of-tune pianos in the publishing houses on both sides of the
street. (London, England, had its version of Tin Pan Alley—
Denmark Street.)
From the1930s to the 1950s, Tin Pan Alley moved north again, up
to 42nd Street, hub of the theatre district and the broadcasting
and east coast recording industries.
128 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
By the 1960s, record company A & R directors had taken over
from publishers and the name Tin Pan Alley faded.
The Tin Pan Alley era was the golden age of non-performing
songwriters (ca. 1885 - ca. 1965). In the 1960s, bands and
songwriters who wrote and performed their own material took
over the popular music charts.
Since the 1980s a number of producer-songwriters—nonperformers who write and produce songs for pop stars—have
become successful. So, in a limited way, this marks a return to Tin
Pan Alley.
2.6.7
JAZZ, CA. 1890 - PRESENT
I’m very glad to have met you, Mr. Sartre. I like your playing very much.
—CHARLIE PARKER
upon meeting Jean-Paul Sartre at a gig in Paris, 1949
Origins
Jazz started in the early 1890s in the port of New Orleans, a city that was once
a French colony. The African American musical culture of syncopation, polyrhythm,
melodic embellishment, and improvisation mashed up with European (especially
French military) musical traditions and instrumentation: marches and rhythmically
“square” dance forms, brass instruments, and the upright piano.
New Orleans Creole musicians (American born, of African American and
European—especially French—ancestry), such as Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Kid
Ory, and Jelly Roll Morton, lived with, and played music with, self-taught African
American musicians. Altogether they created a new genre, jazz.
Breakout
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band made its first recording in 1917. By the 1920s,
the Mississippi riverboats had carried jazz north to Kansas City, Chicago, and New
York. Not long after, jazz had spread all over America and on to Europe. (Recall
that in the 1930s, the Nazis banned jazz.)
White musicians played alongside black musicians, helping to focus more
attention on the appalling state of racial discrimination and segregation that had
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existed since the botching of emancipation at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Later,
jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong played a role in sparking the civil rights
movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Crest
By the late 1920s and early ’30s, jazz musicians were transforming hundreds of
well-crafted songs for Broadway musicals (written mainly by Jewish immigrants and
their progeny, who had fled persecution in Europe and Russia) into what would later
be known as jazz standards.
Composers and band leaders such as Duke Ellington were writing brilliant pieces
for the jazz orchestra. Historically, most of the great innovators in jazz have been
African Americans: Louis Armstrong, Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker,
John Coltrane, Miles Davis.
By the late 1930s, with the success of swing-era big-bands lead by the Dorsey
Brothers, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and others, jazz was the most popular
musical genre in America, eclipsing “square” interpretations of Broadway show
tunes.
Mainstream Genre
At the end of World War II, the popularity of jazz was starting to decline. The
advent of bebop sustained a healthy interest in jazz well into the 1950s, after which
several other emergent genres took the spotlight. Today, jazz remains a solid
mainstream genre, showing no signs of fading away.
Jazz brought improvisation back from near-extinction in Western music.
Improvisation combines the creation of music with the performance of music. The
hallmark of jazz is that the performer composes while performing—improvises—
although the performer follows some sort of model or form (see Section 7.9.2).
2.6.8
BLUES, CA. 1890 - PRESENT
Origins
After the emancipation, African Americans found themselves shut out of
mainstream society, living in nightmarish conditions of poverty and racial
segregation. The Ku Klux Klan organized lynch mobs that murdered thousands of
African Americans, beginning in the 1880s and continuing into the 1960s.
130 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The blues began in the Mississippi delta in the late 1880s or early 1890s, with
former slaves and their progeny singing about their tragic lives of discrimination,
broken dreams, shattered families, and alienation. And disappointment with lovers.
And satisfaction with lovers. And ambiguity about lovers.
Unlike jazz, the blues was mainly rural in origin. It began as a wholly African
American folk music genre.
With voice, guitar, and harmonica, blues musicians combined pentatonic and
diatonic scales to create blues scales—hybrid scales with “blue” notes (see Chapters
4 and 5). This black folk/country music didn’t sound much like either jazz or white
country music.
Breakout
With the proliferation of recording studios and the advent of radio in the 1920s,
the blues began to find audiences to a limited degree outside the deep south. But the
blues never did break big time, not the way jazz did.
The ASCAP musicians’ strike (American Society of Composers, Authors and
Publishers) helped the cause of the blues. The strike led to the formation of BMI
(Broadcast Music Incorporated) in1939. New labels and BMI publishers signed many
African American blues musicians to make recordings to meet the demand for fresh
music for radio broadcast.
Crest
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the folk music revival rekindled
interest in authentic African American folk music. Many blues musicians who had
been playing in obscurity for decades suddenly found themselves performing and
recording for large and appreciative audiences.
Mainstream Genre
As with other genres, interest in the blues waxes and wanes. Like jazz, the blues
will be around for generations to come.
Some important blues songwriters and performers include Blind Lemon Jefferson,
Pine Top Smith, Leadbelly, Charley Patton, Leroy Carr, Bessie Smith, W. C. Handy,
Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey, Blind Willie McTell, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie
Dixon, Muddy Waters, Etta James, and B. B. King.
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2.6.9
RAGTIME, CA. 1895 - 1920
Origins
Ragtime was a style of piano-based syncopated jazz that emerged in the mid
1890s. Some musicians played ragtime on other instruments, such as the banjo.
Like New Orleans jazz, ragtime had roots in the “square” marches and dances
of Europe, combined with African American syncopation.
In ragtime piano style, the left hand plays a “square” march rhythm or dance
rhythm against the right hand’s syncopated melody, resulting in a characteristic
“ragged” sound.
One of the main differences between ragtime and New Orleans jazz was that
ragtime was usually (but not always) formally composed and notated, whereas jazz
was usually (but not always) improvised. Some musical historians argue that much
ragtime music was completely improvised, but only the composed pieces remain for
the record, as do ragtime piano rolls.
Rhythmically, both New Orleans jazz and ragtime were syncopated, yet sounded
markedly different.
Breakout
Ragtime became all the rage for a few years, both in America and Europe during
the first decade of the 20th Century.
Crest
As spectacularly as ragtime had broken out, it died away, and by the 1920s had
all but disappeared.
Mainstream Genre
As a major musical genre, ragtime was rare in that, after a wildly successful
breakout, it ultimately did not survive, not even as a sub-genre of jazz. By the 1920s,
ragtime had pretty much disappeared, while jazz moved into mainstream popularity.
Some ragtime greats: Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, James Scott, Eubie Blake, Vess
L. Ossman, and Ben Harney.
132 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The movie The Sting (1973) briefly revived interest in ragtime. Some ragtime
tunes, such as “The Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer,” have become great
classics.
Good songs don’t go out of style, but occasionally good musical styles go out of
style for good. Or something. For a good rag time, track down the music of ragtime
xylophone player Morris Palter, one-time percussionist in the Canadian alt-rock band
Treble Charger.
2.6.10
MUSICAL/FILM (BROADWAY/WEST END), CA.
1920 - PRESENT
Origins
Europeans brought music hall style variety entertainment to America, where
music hall became vaudeville. Tin Pan Alley supplied the songs.
By the late 1920s, America had created its own version of music hall
entertainment in the form of the Broadway musical, which supplanted the vaudeville
show.
Whereas a vaudeville show was a variety revue, a Broadway musical was a
full-length, plotted, character-rich story with a central theme and a set of songs
written for the show by professional Tin Pan Alley songwriters.
Breakout
The first great Broadway musical was Showboat (Jerome Kern and Oscar
Hammerstein II, 1927). Within a few years, Broadway-style musicals were playing
everywhere, including London’s West End and Dodge City’s Wrong Ranch Saloon.
Crest
Jazz eclipsed Broadway musical theatre in overall popularity in the 1930s, but
Broadway kept right on churning out shows (and filmed musicals), supplying the
jazz world with a steady stream of wonderful songs that have become jazz standards.
Richard Rodgers, one of the greatest songwriters ever, composed all of his songs,
except "Blue Moon," for musicals. The GSSL lists more than 50 of his tunes.
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
133
Mainstream Genre
Some great writers of songs for Broadway musicals and films include: Jerome
Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harry Warren, Kurt Weill, Irving
Berlin, Vincent Youmans, Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Sammy
Fain, Sammy Cahn, Julie Styne, Frank Loesser, Jimmy van Heusen, and Stephen
Sondheim.
Broadway-style musical theatre is still with us, and probably will be for the
foreseeable future. However, with the emergence of so many other great musical
genres in the second half of the 20th Century, the profile of the Broadway musical has
diminished markedly within mainstream popular culture.
2.6.11
COUNTRY/BLUEGRASS (POPULARIZED), 1925 PRESENT
Origins
In the 1700s, settlers from Britain, Ireland, and Scotland brought their folk songs
and instruments to America. Soon they were composing their own tunes, telling their
own stories, and singing and playing their instruments in their own new ways.
This gave rise to a new, uniquely American musical genre, originally called
hillbilly or mountain music, then country and western, then just country music.
Breakout
As a national mainstream genre, American country music broke out in the 1920s
when radio spread throughout America. In 1925, George D. Hay started the Grand
Ole Opry, a radio showcase for country music. By the late 1920s, country music had
its first national star act, the Carter Family.
The talent scout and record producer Ralph Peer recorded some of the first great
country music acts. Peer discovered both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.
Crest
Country music continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1930s and 1940s,
spinning off exciting sub-genres such as bluegrass and Texas swing.
134 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Starting in the late 1940s, Hank Williams, Sr., Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Marty
Robbins, George Jones, and other giants of the genre took country music into its
golden age, which crested in the 1960s.
Mainstream Genre
Among the greatest country songwriters and performers are: Uncle Dave Macon,
Jimmie Rodgers, the Delmore Brothers, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Hank Williams, Sr.,
Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, the Carter Family, Lefty Frizzell,
Ernest Tubb, Chet Atkins, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Flatt and Scruggs, Merle
Travis, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson,
Dolly Parton, and Lucinda Williams.
Though not quite as popular as it once was, country remains a powerful force in
the mainstream of popular music.
THE DEEP CONNECTION BETWEEN SCIENTISTS AND
COUNTRY MUSIC SINGERS: LUXURIANT FLOWING
HAIR
As we all know, many female country music singers flaunt their
luxuriant flowing hair. Especially in the presence of bald male
admirers. Shameful, but true.
Like country music singers, some scientists cannot resist the
seductive appeal of luxuriant flowing hair. They even have their
own secret society, the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists:
www.Improb.com/Projects/Hair/Hair-club-top.html
Yes, it’s shocking. Shocking.
However, we must remember that scientists occasionally behave
like regular humans. For instance, they go to scientific
conferences in exotic locales such as Paris and Dodge City and
get plastered, just like regular people. And, yes, an undisciplined
few pull on mullet wigs (those who don’t have natural mullets)
and dance on table tops and smash their empty glasses into the
fireplace and say inappropriate things in loud voices to their
colleagues from France and Brazil and regret it all in the
morning. Just like the rest of us.
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2.6.12
GOSPEL (“GOSPEL BLUES”), CA. 1930 - PRESENT
African American gospel music started as the spiritual songs of plantation slaves,
songs that sounded distinctly unlike the gospel songs heard in white churches, which
grew out of Anglo-American hymns.
Once the blues had become established in the north, especially Chicago, African
American gospel music and the blues blended into the animated, passionate,
melodically embellished style of today’s African American gospel music.
Rev. Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899 - 1993) of Chicago, the seminal figure in
establishing gospel blues as a distinct genre, claimed he had coined the term “gospel
song” in the late 1920s. Not true. As far back as the 1870s, P. P. Bliss had published
collections of songs in books that had the phrases “Gospel Songs” and “Gospel
Hymns” in their titles.
Nevertheless, Rev. Dorsey, a one-time secular blues artist, deserves full credit for
founding modern African American gospel music in the 1930s. Dorsey fused his
lively, improvised, syncopated blues musical style with evangelical lyrics to create an
important musical genre.
Probably the greatest interpreter of gospel music was Mahalia Jackson (1911 1972), who, in the early part of her career, worked with Rev. Dorsey.
2.6.13
SWING, 1935 - 1946
Origins
Jazz bands grew bigger and bigger in the 1920s and 1930s. Big band music
became its own style of jazz.
Swing was actually a short-lived dance music era (sometimes called the big band
era), not a style or genre of music. It began in 1935.
Breakout
Big band arrangers orchestrated many Broadway tunes for their swing orchestras.
Audiences went crazy for dancing to big band music. By the late 1930s, swing was
king, and Benny Goodman was the king of swing. He pioneered mixed-race big
bands.
136 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Crest
The swing era crested in the first half of the 1940s. Then, with the end of World
War II, swing abruptly fizzled out. The big bands broke up and by 1946, the swing
era was over for good. Jazz, however, continued on as a mainstream musical genre.
Although swing was more a dance era than a genre of music, it is represented on
the GSSL as a “genre” simply to emphasize the impact of the 11 years of the swing
era in popular music. Swing marked the height of the jazz age, when jazz was the
most popular of all the American popular music genres. Many songs of the swing era
became standards.
Bands of the swing era introduced electric guitars and big drum sounds that found
their way into club-centred music. These sounds became important elements of R &
B. A typical swing band consisted of five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones,
piano, bass, drums, often rhythm guitar, and, later in the era, a singer, the most
celebrated—deservedly—being Frank Sinatra.
2.6.14
R & B/SOUL, CA. 1945 - PRESENT
Origins
In the 1920s and 1930s, many African American folk-blues musicians migrated
to the big cities of the north and found themselves getting drowned out when playing
in the rowdy bars.
What to do? Put down the acoustic guitar and pick up an electric one (invented
in the 1930s and widely used in the Swing era). Get a good microphone and P. A.
system. Get some loud horn players and a drum kit. Big bands had all of these
components.
Breakout
By the late 1940s, electrified urban blues (African American pop music) had
become a new mainstream genre. Billboard magazine labelled it rhythm & blues in the
late 1940s, later shortened to R & B.
Still, white racist fears of African American “sexualized” music and lyrics kept
R & B records on the sidelines, while sanitized covers by white artists such as Pat
Boone climbed the charts and made piles of money.
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
137
Crest
In the 1950s, gospel singers began writing and singing songs in the gospel blues
style but with secular R & B lyrics—a reversal of what Thomas A. Dorsey had done
in creating modern gospel music a generation earlier. Gospel blues style with secular
lyrics came to be called soul music.
R & B and soul music crested in the 1960s.
Mainstream Genre
Some of the leading songwriters and performers in the R & B/soul genre: Sam
Cooke, Otis Redding, Fats Domino, Holland, Dozier, and Holland, Marvin Gaye,
Jackie Wilson, Al Green, James Brown, Ray Charles, George Clinton, Smokey
Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Van Morrison, and Stevie Wonder.
R & B/soul fell off somewhat in popularity with the dominance of rock/pop in
the 1970s, but had a resurgence in the 1990s, concomitant with the rise of hip-hop.
2.6.15
ROCK/POP, 1954 - PRESENT
Origins
In the mid 1950s, R & B mashed up with country, resulting in a new genre,
initially called rockabilly, then rock ‘n’ roll, then rock. The early greats of rock were
both African American (Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry) and white (Bill
Haley, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly).
Cleveland DJ Alan Freed, who dared to play R & B on a white radio station in
the early 1950s, popularized the term “rock ‘n’ roll.”
Breakout
Although Bill Haley had some success with “Rock Around The Clock” and other
seminal rock singles, Elvis Presley’s astonishing talent and star power vaulted rock
to the forefront of popular music in just a few years, starting in 1956.
Some racist white people, fearing further undermining of white authority inherent
in African American based music and lyrics, staged record-smashing and burning
events.
138 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Crest
Rock crested in the 1970s, then began a slow decline as two new African
American genres emerged, dance/electronica and hip-hop.
Mainstream Genre
Rock has been so popular for so long that it’s unlikely to run out of steam any
time soon.
The term "pop music" usually refers to light, safe, sanitized ultra-commercial
rock.
2.6.16
REGGAE, 1968 - PRESENT
Origins
Reggae has roots in several Afro-Caribbean genres, notably calypso (Trinidad and
Tobago), mento, ska, and rocksteady (Jamaica).
For a few years in the late 1950s and early '60s, calypso became quite popular
outside the Caribbean, thanks to Harry Belafonte and a few other artists who
introduced calypso to North American and UK audiences. But calypso did not
become established as a mainstream genre outside of the Caribbean.
In the late 1960s, another genre did take hold beyond the Caribbean, a
slowed-down and somewhat altered style of ska, known as reggae.
Breakout
“Do the Reggay” (early spelling) by Toots & The Maytals, released in 1968,
marked the breakout of reggae, much as “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 marked the
breakout of hip-hop.
Not long after, Bob Marley and The Wailers took the world by storm.
Crest
Reggae crested in the 1970s, Marley’s brilliant decade. He died of cancer in 1981
at the age of 36.
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
139
Mainstream Genre
Reggae and related genres such as ska remain popular and influential in
mainstream Western popular music.
2.6.17
DANCE/ELECTRONICA, 1975 - PRESENT
God had to create disco so that I could be born and be successful.
—DONNA SUMMER
Origins
The culture of DJs playing records in clubs for dancing patrons dates to the 1930s.
In parts of Europe, where jazz was banned at the time, jazz lovers established
underground clubs where they could play jazz records and dance to the music.
By the 1960s, discotheques, having spread from Europe to America, had sprung
up all over, in cities large and small. In New York in the late 1960s and early ’70s,
African American and gay clubbers kept demanding funky R & B and soul tracks to
dance to.
Bands responded by releasing records that emphasized “four on the floor” bass
drum and relentless thumping electric bass, set against swirling synth strings.
Breakout
Dance/electronica as a musical genre broke out in the mid-1970s with the release
of numerous disco classics, such as “Love To Love You Baby,” “Disco Inferno,”
“Lady Marmalade,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” and “Dancing Queen.”
Inevitably, there was a backlash against disco in 1979, partly fuelled by racism
and partly by homophobia (faggy and unmasculine, they sneered). Disco
reactionaries burned records, as had happened in the racist backlash against rock, a
generation earlier.
Although the popularity of disco declined (but did not disappear), other
sub-genres sprang up from the club dance scene, and, over time, dance/electronica
became a musical genre in its own right, not just a dance fad.
140 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Crest
Dance/electronica probably crested in the 1990s, the heyday of numerous
electronic sub-genres, some of which had emerged in the 1980s, such as techno
(Detroit), house (Chicago), drum ‘n’ bass, trip-hop, and scores of others.
Mainstream Genre
Dance/electronica artists continue to experiment and innovate. The clubs rave
on.
2.6.18
HIP-HOP, 1979 - PRESENT
Origins
Modern hip-hop represents a genre that has come full circle. It’s as popular today
in its African homeland as it is everywhere else in the world.
Hip-hop originated centuries ago in West Africa with the advent of griot
(pronounced GREE-oh) culture. Today, as in the past, the Wolof griots of Senegal
dance, recite poetry, narrate epics, and play percussion instruments such as drums
and clappers. Their function is to impart stimulation and energy to governing nobles.
The slave trade brought the griot oral tradition to the Caribbean and the
American continents.
Modern hip-hop’s immediate precursor was Jamaican sound system culture—dance
parties featuring DJs (rapping over the music) and toasters (rappers).
Some Jamaican DJs, notably Kool DJ Herc, emigrated to America (Brooklyn)
and brought sound system culture with them.
In the 1970s, hip-hop musicians introduced several key innovations, such as
separation of the roles of DJ and MC, breakbeat DJing, and scratching.
Breakout
Traditionally, hip-hop refers to the so-called “four elements” of African American
urban culture that first emerged in New York in the 1970s, namely, rapping (MCing),
scratching (DJing), break dancing, and graffiti art. It’s more accurate to refer to the
musical genre as “hip-hop” instead of “rap” because some hip-hop artists:
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
•
•
•
•
•
141
Rap, but don’t sing
Sing, but don’t rap
Rap and sing
Incorporate DJing in their act
Don’t have DJing in their act
and so forth.
In 1979, several rap records, especially “Rapper’s Delight,” became popular
nationally, marking the breakout of hip-hop. Within a decade, hip-hop had swept the
world.
Crest
Hip-hop, yet another genre created by African Americans, has not crested yet,
and probably won’t for some years.
Hip-hop is only the latest in a string of African American popular music genres
to have gone global.
WHITE RAP: TALKING BLUES
n. A style of popular music characterized by
rhythmic recitation of rhymed lyrics to music with a
pronounced beat or rhythm.
If you accept the above as a fair definition of rap, then white
guys independently created a genre of rap decades before the
advent of hip-hop.
More irony: white rappers were southerners who played country
music—probably the most reviled music among today’s hip-hop
artists and fans. Not only that, the white rappers co-opted a
black-created musical idiom for their backing track: the 12-bar
blues form. Eventually, white folk musicians co-opted white rap
and turned it into a genre associated with leftist protest and
social justice causes—anathema to many if not most white
southerners, who created white rap in the first place.
How did all this happen?
In 1927, a pipe-smoking country singer-songwriter from South
Carolina named Christopher Bouchillon had written a countryblues song and played it for his record producer who liked the
142 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
lyrics but couldn’t stand Chris’s singing. So he directed Chris to
talk the lyrics while playing guitar in his usual rhythmic up-tempo
style. So he did. The record was called “Talking Blues,” and it
became a national hit. The year was 1927.
Soon, bunches of other country acts got on the bandwagon and
recorded their own talking blues records. In the 1930s, one guy
named Robert Lunn even billed himself professionally as “The
Talking Blues Man” and popularized the new genre on the Grand
Ole Opry.
Then the great folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie started
writing and performing talking blues with decidedly left-wing,
pro-labor messages, such as “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,” “Mean
Talking Blues,” and “Talking Subway.”
In no time, folksingers all over the United States—Pete Seeger,
John Greenway, Rambin’ Jack Elliot—and overseas (Lonnie
Donegan, the Scottish skiffle pioneer, for instance) were writing
and performing talking blues songs.
Bob Dylan, who idolized Woody Guthrie, began writing talking
blues songs early in his career. One of his best, “Talkin’ World War
III Blues,” was first released on the album The Freewheelin’ Bob
Dylan in 1963. If you want to hear what it sounds like and read
the lyrics, go to www.BobDylan.com and click on “songs.”
Another of Dylan’s great talking blues tunes got censored for
political reasons. In 1963, Ed Sullivan invited Dylan to play a song
on his wildly popular television show. A fantastic opportunity. It
was The Ed Sullivan Show, after all, that had introduced The
Beatles, Elvis, and many other rock and pop acts to tens of
millions of Americans and Canadians.
Dylan agreed to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show if he could
perform a new talking blues tune called “Talkin’ John Birch
Paranoid Blues.” Well, when the Ed Sullivan Show people heard it,
they told him he could perform another song, but not that one.
Apparently, the Ed Sullivan Show people didn’t want to offend
the John Birch Society, an organization of ultra right-wing
extremists (which still exists today). So Dylan told them to stuff
it. He never did appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.
By today’s standards, this would be the equivalent of refusing
the opportunity to appear on the Super Bowl half-time show.
This no doubt baffles a lot of acts of dubious integrity, who
would do anything to play for an audience of that size. Even sing
the company song of Enron or Haliburton. Dylan’s record
company pulled “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” from The
CHAPTER 2—WHAT THE POPULAR MUSIC INDUSTRY REALLY IS
143
Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan before they released the album. Fans
who did not hear a bootleg tape of the song had to wait until
1991, when an early live recording was finally “officially” released
on the album The Bootleg Series. You can hear the song and read
the lyrics at www.BobDylan.com.
The talking blues genre lives on in folk music circles, although it’s
not terribly popular. Nevertheless, although it’s not known
officially as “rap,” talking blues fits the definition precisely: “a
style of popular music characterized by rhythmic recitation of
rhymed lyrics to music with a pronounced beat or rhythm.”
Although “white rap” antedates modern “black rap” by some 50
years, no evidence exists that talking blues had any influence
whatsoever on the African-American rap pioneers of the 1970s.
Which means that white rappers and black rappers each came up
with the rap genre independently. Which happens with great
ideas from time to time. Newton and Leibnitz developed the
mathematical branch called the calculus independently of each
other. Darwin and Wallace independently discovered evolution
by natural selection.
2.6.19
WORLD MUSIC, 1982 - PRESENT
There's no general agreement on what the term "world music" means exactly,
except that it refers to folk music. World music used to refer to the indigenous music
of developing or third world nations. However, a more accurate definition would
include the folk music of all nations whose people, whether indigenous or colonizing,
don't share the language of one’s own nation.
For example, Australians or Canadians would consider the folk music of
developed countries such as Spain or Portugal to be "world music." And vice-versa.
The name “world music” may have originated with the first WOMAD festival
(the World of Music, Arts and Dance), organized by Peter Gabriel and others, which
took place in England in 1982. The proliferation of WOMAD festivals fired the
musical imaginations of some Western pop musicians who began to incorporate
elements of the traditional music of other nations into their own music.
One of the most famous and successful “world music” albums by an
English-language artist is Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986).
So much for biological and historical context. On to the nitty gritty of technique.
Yee-ha.
PART II
ESSENTIAL
BUILDING
BLOCKS OF
MUSIC
3
How Tones and
Overtones REALLY
Work
All music—whether folk, pop, symphonic, modal, tonal, atonal,
polytonal, microtonal, well-tempered, ill-tempered, music from the
distant past or imminent future—all of it has a common origin in
the universal phenomenon of the harmonic series.
—LEONARD BERNSTEIN
3.1
Tones and Their Properties
3.1.1
“ANYTHING YOU CAN DO”
As discussed in Chapter 1, humans use discrete pitches, or discrete tones, in both
speech and music, unlike the sliding vocalizations of most primates.
A music dictionary will tell you that a tone (or note) is a sound of a definite pitch.
And a pitch? A tone.
Not terribly helpful.
148 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The truth is, you can use words to describe a tractor or a tiger lily or a tuba. But
not a tone. Like that other critical element of music, time, tone defies verbal
description because it’s a phenomenon you perceive with one of your senses. You
sense tone, just as you sense color, odour, taste, and touch.
You have to actually hear a tone to understand what a tone is. Once you know
what a tone is, you can get to know its properties.
DONÊT GET LOST BETWEEN TONES
Potential Point of Confusion: The term tone has several
different meanings in music. Here in Chapter 3, tone and
overtone refer to the musical sound sensations your brain
processes when a string or membrane (such as your vocal folds)
or column of air vibrates.
When you get to Chapter 4, the term tone will refer to
something completely different, namely, the pitch distance
between two notes.
If you don’t understand the distinction, you will get lost. And
then Marshal McDillon will have to organize a search party to
fetch you back from the wilderness. Which he doesn’t want to
have to do because the whole search party might get lost, and
horses aren’t much good at getting their bearings straight. And,
of course, as in any Classic Western, global positioning systems
haven’t been invented yet.
Irving Berlin inadvertently wrote a song about tone properties, called “Anything
You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” a duet between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler,
from the 1946 musical, Annie Get Your Gun. If you haven’t heard this excellent song,
look up the details at www.GoldStandardSongList.com. Have a listen to it at one of
the music download services such as iTunes or PureTracks.
3.1.2
PITCH: “I CAN SING ANYTHING HIGHER THAN
YOU”
Here’s the tone property pitch, as Annie and Frank explain it:
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
149
Any note you can reach, I can go higher.
I can sing anything higher than you.
(High) No you can’t.
(Higher) Yes I can.
(Higher) No you can’t.
(Higher) Yes I can (etc.)
As creatures with keen visual imaginations, humans like to convert the properties
of tones into visual metaphors, like this:
Pitch = “height” of sound
We all use expressions such as “high pitched” and “low pitched.” A tune goes
“up” and “down” as it steps from tone to tone.
VISUAL METAPHORS: THE HEIGHT, DEPTH, AND
LENGTH OF SOUND
Sonic Height
So, if the sound equivalent of the visual perception of height is
pitch, what’s the sound equivalent of depth? And what’s the
sound equivalent of length?
Sonic Depth
The sound equivalent of the visual perception of depth is
harmony, the subject of Chapter 6. A group of related tones
played simultaneously—a chord, in other words—gives sound a 3D depth-like quality. As you’ll see in Chapter 6, tones more
related to each other provide a clearer sense of sonic depth than
tones less related to each other. Completely unrelated tones blur
off into noise, the sound of the wind in the poplars or Niagara
Falls.
Sonic Length
The sound equivalent of the visual perception of length (or
width, if you prefer) is beat or rhythm, the subject of Chapter 7.
Beat measures time, the duration or length of a piece of music.
Metaphorically, when you listen to a song, you go on a train trip.
You go up and down hills (melody) and travel though a threedimensional landscape (harmony). The “length” of the train trip
150 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
depends on the total number of beats (the clickity-clack of the
rails) and the speed of the train (tempo).
Everybody talks about the time dimension of music in terms of
how “short” or “long” it is. Music notation visually captures the
train trip as a one-way, left-to-right, measure-by-measure, everchanging series of symbols embedded in five-rail train tracks
called the staff.
Some people have absolute pitch, informally called perfect pitch. A rare skill. If you
have it, you can name a particular note without reference to any other sound.
For example, if you had absolute pitch, someone could blindfold you, then play
any single note on a piano or other instrument. You would be able to identify the
exact note:
“That’s F sharp, two and a half octaves above Middle C.”
An extraordinary few with absolute pitch can even hum an exact note on
demand, without even hearing it played:
“Hum E below Middle C.”
“Okay. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
“Dang, you’re good!”
To acquire absolute pitch, you need training as a young child, during a critical
period of roughly 3 to 6 years. Also, it appears you need a particular gene variant. If
you don’t have both—training during the critical period and the genetic
endowment—you won’t acquire absolute pitch.
Hardly anybody has absolute pitch, although many claim to, as if it confers
musical superiority.
Fortunately, absolute pitch has little practical value for musicians. If you don’t
have it, you’re in good company. Composers such as Tchaikovsky and Wagner did
not have it, yet did pretty well.
This is only a guess, but it’s unlikely Lou Reed has it, or Kris Kristofferson. Or
William Hung.
THE LOWEST NOTE IN THE UNIVERSE
A huge pipe organ can produce infrasound. An infrasound
frequency is so slow that it sounds like a gigantic cat purring.
You feel the sound it more than you hear it. (When it stops
purring, you worry.)
In nature, tornados and storms generate infrasound.
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
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But if you want the most “infra” of infrasound, you have to listen
to the stars. Some clever astronomers claim to have discovered
the lowest note in the universe. It’s coming from a black hole in
the Perseus galaxy cluster, roughly 250 million light years from
earth.
And what is that note, exactly?
Why, it’s Bx, 57 octaves below the Bx nearest Middle C on the
piano.
If you wanted to duplicate that Bx here on Earth, you’d have to
build a gigantic piano. If you succeeded in building a big enough
piano, and then you hit that low Bx, you’d have to wait 10 million
years for the first sound wave to complete its cycle. And, of
course, you wouldn’t be able to hear the sound because it would
be about 53 octaves below the threshold of human hearing.
3.1.3
LOUDNESS: “I CAN SAY ANYTHING SOFTER THAN
YOU”
Annie and Frank on the tone property loudness:
Anything you can say, I can say softer.
I can say anything softer than you.
(Soft) No you can’t.
(Softer) Yes I can.
(Softer) No you can’t.
(Softer) Yes I can (etc.).
Like most people, you probably refer to loudness as volume. As in the “volume”
control on your radio or remote. You experience loudness subjectively as sound
intensity. The louder the sound, the more intense it seems.
You may have a sound system with both a “volume” control and a “loudness”
control. That loudness control does something quite different from the volume
control. The loudness control compensates for a natural pitch bias that everyone has.
As a human, your hearing system evolved to hear mid-pitched sounds—the pitches of
human speech—as relatively louder than bass and treble pitches. In short, you’re born
with a hearing mechanism that’s more sensitive to mid-pitched sounds. Especially
at a relatively soft volume level, you don’t hear extremes of bass and treble nearly as
152 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
well as you hear mid-pitched sounds. So, when you listen to music at soft volumes,
the music seems to lack adequate bass and treble.
To compensate for this, the loudness control boosts both bass and treble, but not
the middle pitches. With the loudness control engaged, you can listen to music at a
soft volume level, but still hear the bass and treble pitches at satisfactory levels. As
you turn up the volume (increase overall sound intensity), your sensitivity to middle
pitches lessens, relative to bass and treble. So you can cut back on the artificial boost
of the loudness control—unless you happen to like bass-heavy and treble-heavy
music.
Loudness as a property of tone has no obvious visual analog, except, perhaps, the
offensive, garish appearance of colorful, “loud” clothes. That metaphor doesn’t really
apply to music, though. Loud music ain’t (necessarily) garish and offensive. You
seldom hear anyone saying, “Turn it down, it’s as loud as a fluorescent Hawaiian
shirt!”
Like pitch and the other properties of a tone, loud sound and quiet sound elicit
different kinds of emotions. More on this in a while.
3.1.4
DURATION: “I CAN HOLD ANY NOTE LONGER
THAN YOU”
Annie and Frank:
Any note you can hold, I can hold longer.
I can hold any note longer than you.
No you c - a - a - n - ‘t.
Yes I c - a - a - a - a - a - n.
No you c - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - n - ‘t.
Yes I c - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - a - n (etc.)
Usually, duration refers to the length of time a single pitch sounds, as in a “short”
note or a “long” note—the sound equivalent of visually-perceived length, as discussed
above. But you can also perceive a unity of duration when you hear multiple pitches,
as, for instance, when you hear a sung syllable that stays the same but varies in pitch:
“Oooo-oooo-oooo-oooo-oooo-ooooh, baybah”
where each group of “ooohs” represents a different pitch. The musical term for this
is a melisma. You hear a lot of melismas (sometimes pluralized melismata) in highly
expressive genres such as R & B, gospel, soul, and certain species of country music.
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153
3.1.5
TONE COLOR: “I CAN SING ANYTHING SWEETER
THAN YOU”
Annie and Frank demonstrate tone color like this:
Anything you can sing, I can sing sweeter.
I can sing anything sweeter than you.
(Sweetly) No you can’t.
(Sweeter) Yes I can.
(Sweeter) No you can’t.
(Sugary) Yes I can (etc.).
WHAT DID THE BIG BANG SOUND LIKE?
As you know, the particular universe we allegedly live in (perhaps
one of zillions of parallel universes) started with a big bang, 13.7
billion years ago. If someone had thought to set up a
microphone and maybe a cassette recorder (or whatever the
prevailing recording technology was back those days) to tape
the event, what would it have sounded like?
John Cramer of the physics department at the University of
Washington, has re-created the sound of the big bang, just for
you. It’s not exactly a “bang”—it’s more a like the sound of a
chorus line of 100,000 bass crickets in top hats. The sound
gradually builds to a crescendo, then gradually fades away. If you
listen closely, you can hear the faint tenor of a lone cricket,
singing “When you wish upon a star ... ”
Here’s the big bang sound link:
www.NPL.Washington.edu/av/altvw104.html
Why does a gruff voice sound different from a sweet voice? You can easily tell
one from the other when each voice sings, in turn, the same pitch at the same
loudness level for the same duration.
Why does a guitar sound “different” from a piano, even when you play exactly
the same note on each instrument?
Before getting into the “why” of tone color, a little bit on the subject of acoustics.
154 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
3.2
Overtones: The Harmonic Series
3.2.1
THE TONE PATH TO YOUR BRAIN
Acoustics is the study of sound and its transmission.
When you pluck a string of an acoustic guitar to initiate a tone, here’s what
happens:
•
The string vibrates really fast. Hundreds of times per second. So fast that your
eye can’t follow the movement.
•
The vibrating string connects to the body of the guitar via the bridge. This
enables the vibrating string to set the body of the guitar flexing back and forth
at the same frequency (number of vibrations per second) as the vibrating string.
•
When the guitar body flexes one way, it compresses the air molecules that
surround it (compression). When it flexes the other way, the air pressure drops
(rarefaction). As the guitar body flexes back and forth, the compression and
rarefaction of the surrounding air particles repeats itself over and over. And
over and over. Really fast.
•
As a result, spherical pulses—pressure waves—of air particles radiate outward
in all directions from the flexing guitar body. Really fast. These pulses—not
the air itself!—move through the atmosphere at 743 miles an hour, the speed
of sound. (In Canada, that’s 1,188 km per hour, which seems faster than in
America, probably because of the cold, crisp Canadian air.)
•
The tone travels as a pressure wave through the air until it hits your ear drum.
At that point, it transmogrifies into mechanical motion, setting your ear drum
vibrating, just like the diaphragm inside a microphone.
•
And then those three teeny bones in your middle ear get into the act.
Remember the “hammer, anvil, and stirrup” from elementary or middle
school? Smallest bones in your body.
•
Finally, your inner ear transduces the vibrations into nerve impulses. The
nerve impulses then travel to a number of different parts of the brain, each
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155
specialized to analyse a specific element of the sound, some related to pitch
(tones, intervals, chords), some to time (beat, pulse, tempo meter, rhythm).
At this point, your brain interprets your original plucking of the guitar string as
a tone. Or, if you’re British, a note.
The whole process happens so fast it seems instantaneous. You pluck the guitar
string, you hear the corresponding tone or note instantly.
If you’re listening to a song, depending on how well crafted the tune is, you may
then experience an emotional reaction as your brain processes the music.
Being a parallel processor, your brain easily and automatically handles all the
different sound processing tasks simultaneously.
Your brain may look up tones in a neural dictionary. The cortex of marmoset
monkeys contains pitch-sensitive neurons, that is, neurons that actually code for
pitch. These nerve cells respond to specific frequencies, which means that if the same
holds true for humans (it’s likely), then the human brain stores a vocabulary or
dictionary of different pitches, the way the brain stores a vocabulary of words.
3.2.2
A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME, AND A TONE IS NOT A
TONE
So, that’s what happens when you hear a tone (or note).
Or is it?
Music—as distinct from sound—begins, not with tones, but with something
called harmonics or overtones (these two terms mean the same thing) and their role in
the construction of scales (the subject of Chapter 4).
When you play the note “Middle C” on the guitar (B string, first fret), the string
vibrates 261.6 times per second (assuming you’ve tuned your guitar), or 261.6 cycles
per second. Also called 261.6 Hertz, after physicist and wave theory pioneer Heinrich
Rudolf Hertz. Also abbreviated 261.6 Hz.
The vibrating string sets the body of the guitar pulsing at the same frequency,
261.6 Hz.
When you play the same note, Middle C, on the piano, a hammer hits some
strings attached to the sound board inside the piano, which starts vibrating at the
same frequency, 261.6 Hz.
You hear the same note, Middle C, on each instrument. Yet, you can easily tell
the sound of the guitar from the sound of the piano.
How come?
156 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The answer has to do with tone color. The technical term for tone color is timbre
(pronounced, TAM-ber, unless you know proper French). It’s a function of
harmonics, or overtones.
3.2.3
SO, WHAT EXACTLY ARE HARMONICS/
OVERTONES?
Try this little experiment:
Grab your guitar again. Acoustic or electric, it doesn’t matter. If it’s electric, plug
it into an amp and crank it a bit. If you’re a keyboard player, borrow a guitar.
If you don’t know how to play guitar, that’s okay—you don’t have to know how
to play to do this:
•
Tune the high “E” string down to “C” (Middle C). (Never mind why Middle
C is called Middle C. Or why it vibrates at 261.6 Hz instead of some nice
round number like 250. That’s coming up in a bit.)
•
Now pluck the string. When you do this, you set the whole string vibrating at
261.6 Hz.
•
If you look closely, you can observe the string blur, immediately after you
pluck it. The blurring becomes less intense as the note dies away.
Whether you realize it or not, when you pluck the string, at the same time as the
string vibrates at 261.6 Hz, the string also automatically divides itself in half. The two
halves vibrate at exactly twice the frequency, 523.2 Hz. You can’t see this—the string
vibrates way, way too fast for the naked eye to see. You observe only a blur.
This secondary high-speed vibration, at a frequency of 523.2 Hz, also produces
a tone, of course. But that tone has a considerably higher pitch than Middle C. The
secondary tone is called a harmonic or overtone.
A harmonic or overtone has two properties:
1. It’s higher in pitch than the original (261.6 Hz) tone, and
2. It’s way softer in volume than the original (261.6 Hz) tone.
Now, with overtones in the picture, the original tone needs a name to distinguish
it from the overtones. That name is the fundamental. You can think of the
fundamental as the primary tone, and the overtone as secondary, because it’s softer.
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
157
The overtone is so soft that the much louder sound of the full-length string
vibrating at 261.6 Hz, the fundamental, drowns out the overtone. (In a few
situations—when playing an electric bass, for example—an overtone can sound
louder than the fundamental. But that’s the exception to the rule.)
3.2.4
NOT JUST ONE OVERTONE—A BUNCH OF ’EM
Now things finally start to get interesting from a musical perspective. That vibrating
string, at the same time it divides itself in half, also divides itself into thirds. And
quarters. And fifths. And sixths. And so on, and so on, and so on. All at the same time.
In other words, the string vibrates in a complex way. The secondary vibrations
happen much too fast for the eye to see.
Each of the string-subdivisions produces a different, soft, high-pitched overtone.
The comparatively loud fundamental drowns out all of them. So it seems that you
don’t even hear the overtones. But you do. Your brain does process them (coming
up in just a moment).
To summarize: a single vibrating string (or other vibrating thing—such as a pair
of vocal folds) simultaneously divides itself many times and produces a whole series
of soft, high-pitched overtones. Dozens.
3.2.5
THE HARMONIC SERIES (OVERTONE SERIES)
If you have the right equipment, you can identify and measure all the overtones
present when you pluck a single guitar string and produce Middle C. The frequencies
of all the dozens of overtones turn out to be simple whole-number multiples of the
fundamental.
Taken together, the fundamental and all the overtones are called the harmonic
series or the overtone series (these two terms mean the same thing).
Table 4 below shows the frequencies of the first 15 overtones of Middle C. It’s
important that you sit down right now and memorize every single number in the
“Frequency” column.
(No, wait! It’s not important.)
158 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 4 Fundamental and First 15 Overtones of the „Middle
C‰ Overtone Series
Tone /
Overtone
Fundamental
1st Overtone
2nd Overtone
3rd Overtone
4th Overtone
5th Overtone
6th Overtone
7th Overtone
8th Overtone
9th Overtone
10th Overtone
11th Overtone
12th Overtone
13th Overtone
14th Overtone
15th Overtone
Multiple of
Fundamental
Frequency
(Hz)
1 (f)
fx2
fx3
fx4
fx5
fx6
fx7
fx8
fx9
f x 10
f x 11
f x 12
f x 13
f x 14
f x 15
f x 16
261.6
523.2
784.8
1,046.5
1,308.0
1,569.6
1,831.2
2,093.0
2,354.4
2,616.0
2,877.6
3,139.2
3,400.8
3,662.4
3,924.0
4,186.0
These are just the first 15 overtones—they continue on and on, ever higher in
pitch, ever softer. The next overtone in the series above would be the 16th overtone,
with a frequency 17 times that of the fundamental, or 4,447.2 Hz.
3.2.6
YOUR BRAIN’S AUTOMATIC TONE-PROCESSING
SKILL
Although you think you only hear Middle C, (the fundamental, at 261.6 Hz), your
brain sort outs all the overtones. Automatically. Without the slightest conscious
effort on your part. A miraculous feat of naturally-selected engineering.
Any note you play on any musical instrument is named for the fundamental, even
though each note comes with a bunch of overtones.
Your brain has evolved mechanisms to identify harmonic relations. It breaks a
tone into its various harmonics or overtones, analyses them, then puts them back
together to identify the sound as a specific tone (as opposed to random noise).
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
159
Because the separate harmonics are related to each other in simple frequency
multiples (Table 4 above), the brain understands that a single soundmaker must be
producing them. The necessity of identifying soundmakers probably drove the
evolution of the brain’s naturally-selected ability to parse a tone into its overtones.
In Palaeolithic times, having the capacity to tell the difference between an owl’s hoot
and a lethal predator’s growl would have saved you from getting eaten.
The harmonic series is sometimes known as the chord of nature, because it’s not
cultural in origin; it’s a phenomenon of nature. Any tone, whether coming from a
musical instrument or not (e.g., pinging a wine glass), consists of a fundamental plus
a batch of overtones that are always related to the frequency of the fundamental as
integer multiples of the fundamental.
HOMING IN ON THE HUMAN HEARING RANGE
The range of human hearing spans roughly 20 Hz at the low end
to 20,000 Hz at the high end. That means your brain does not
respond to tones or overtones with frequencies lower than 20
Hz or higher than 20,000 Hz.
Of all the common acoustic musical instruments in the world, the
piano has the widest frequency range. Its 88 keys span a range of
27.5 Hz to 4,186.0 Hz.
What do you hear when you plink that last, highest key of the
piano? You hear the fundamental tone at 4,186 Hz, and your
brain also picks up and processes the first few overtones. But
only the first few.
Recall that overtone frequencies are always whole-number
multiples of the fundamental. So the first overtone of the
highest note on the piano has a frequency of 8,372 Hz. The
second overtone, 12,558 Hz. The third overtone, 16,744. Your
brain probably does not process the fourth overtone—it’s too
high.
The highest key of the piano actually produces dozens of
overtones, but your brain does not react to any of the ones with
pitches higher than about 20,000 Hz.
Suppose, by accident or disease, your hearing became restricted
to, say, 5,000 Hz at the high end. Would you still be able to hear
every note on the piano? Yes, you would. But the instrument
would sound muffled, lacking in treble. That’s because your brain
would not be able to process the rich array of overtones in the
5,000 to 20,000 Hz range.
160 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Roedy Black’s Musical Instruments Poster, available at
www.CompleteChords.com, shows the pitch ranges of more
than 70 musical instruments and six vocal ranges. The Musical
Instruments Poster organizes the information by note and by
frequency, including the frequencies of each of the 88 notes of
the piano.
3.2.7
BRING OUT THOSE OVERTONES!
Normally, you do not hear overtones directly, the way you hear fundamentals. But
you can hear for yourself what overtones sound like.
Try this (if you’re a guitar player, you probably know how to do this):
•
If you’re right-handed, pluck the guitar string—the one you tuned to Middle
C a few minutes ago—with your right hand. At the same time, with any finger
of your left hand, lightly touch the vibrating string just over the 12th fret (over
the metal fret itself, not the space between frets).
•
What you now hear is a high-pitched note. You have “exposed” the sound of
the first overtone by damping (“killing”) the sound of the fundamental. You
have effectively cut the string in half, and you can hear both halves vibrating
at the same frequency. What you’re hearing is the first overtone of Middle C,
vibrating at double the frequency of Middle C.
•
The point at which you damped (muffled) the fundamental using your finger
is called a node. You can clearly hear the overtone, even though it sounds
softer than the fundamental was before you damped it.
•
Pluck the string again, but this time, lightly stop the string over the seventh
fret. Now you hear a completely different overtone. It’s even higher-pitched
than the first one. And it’s softer. It’s the second overtone.
•
Pluck the string again. This time, lightly stop the string over the fifth fret. Yet
another, even softer overtone. So soft, you can barely hear it. The third
overtone.
You can keep doing this, teasing out even higher, fainter overtones.
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161
ANOTHER WAY OF EXPOSING OVERTONES
Next time you have access to an ordinary acoustic piano (upright
or grand), try this:
•
Lightly press down on Middle C, and also on the E and G
immediately above Middle C—so lightly that the hammers
do not hit the strings.
•
Hold down the three keys. The strings associated with
Middle C, E, and G are now undamped and free to vibrate.
•
With your left hand, hit the note C below Middle C. Give
that key a short, hard, quick, unsustained “bonk.”
The vibrating strings of C below Middle C cause the sound board
to vibrate only for the brief duration of the “bonk.” However,
the C-below-Middle-C bonk sets the open strings of the three
keys you are holding down into sympathetic vibration. This
causes the soundboard to vibrate and produce sound waves at
the same frequencies as some of the overtones of C below
Middle C. So that’s what you hear—a series of faint harmonics of
C below Middle C.
3.2.8
OVERTONES IDENTIFY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
AND VOICES
When you play a single note on any musical instrument, the note consists of a
fundamental tone plus a whole series of simultaneous overtones. No matter what the
instrument is. Not only that, it’s the same group of simultaneous overtones, regardless
of the musical instrument.
So, if it’s the same group of overtones, why does a guitar sound different from a
piano when you play Middle C on each instrument?
Because the loudness (volume) of each individual overtone is different for each
type of instrument, depending on the instrument’s shape, size, construction, etc.
Your brain’s evolved music-processing modules instantaneously analyse the
varying loudness levels of the overtones and accurately sort out which overtone series
belongs to which instrument.
162 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Each instrument produces its own “overtone signature”—its own characteristic
array of relative loudness levels of each overtone. That’s what gives rise to an
instrument’s unique tone color or timbre. And that’s why you can instantly
differentiate the sounds of numerous musical instruments.
Your brain can do this for all manner of different sound sources, not just musical
instruments. Practically any source of sound. They all produce overtones, each with
its own characteristic overtone signature.
Your voice and all other human voices have unique overtone signatures. You can
easily tell different human voices apart, even when you can’t see who’s talking or
singing. This capability of the human brain makes possible industries such as radio
broadcasting and sound recording.
3.3
How Musical Instruments Work
(Including the Voice)
3.3.1
WHAT’S A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT, ANYWAY?
The voice was certainly the first musical instrument, followed by percussion
instruments, then melodic instruments, then chordal instruments.
Musical instruments are probably as old as modern humans. At least a couple of
hundred thousand years old, in all likelihood. Possibly much older.
So, what’s a musical instrument?
All musical instruments are resonators, or resonating machines. A resonator is a
contraption (in this case, all or part of a musical instrument) that vibrates in
sympathy with (i.e., as a result of similar vibrations of) another nearby part of the
instrument that you set in motion.
So, with most musical instruments (not all, as you’ll see), two different things
vibrate:
•
•
The initial sound source that you, the musician, set in motion, and
A resonating body connected to the first sound source.
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163
Any given resonator vibrates more readily or efficiently at certain characteristic
frequencies, called resonant frequencies, than at other frequencies. Musical instrument
designers shape instruments to resonate best at certain frequencies, and damp the
others as much as possible. That’s why trumpets, French horns, and saxophones are
shaped so differently.
A few of the variables that determine the instrument’s resonant frequencies and,
therefore, the instrument’s overall sound, include:
•
•
•
•
Size of the instrument
Shape of the instrument
Material the instrument is made of
Internal construction of the instrument
Your brain responds best to the uncomplicated vibrations that simple shapes
generate. Simply shaped soundmakers create tones that you can make sense of. If
you strip away frets and valves and tuning mechanisms from musical instruments,
you find that they have pretty simple shapes compared with other soundmakers in
nature, such as your average poplar tree or Niagara falls, which generate noise
instead of pure tones.
3.3.2
SETTING RESONATORS IN MOTION, DIRECTLY
AND INDIRECTLY
You can get sound out of a musical instrument’s resonator in two ways.
1. The Direct Way
You can simply whack it. Clobber, shake, or otherwise beat the dang thing
directly. For instance, when you hit a drumhead, causing it to vibrate, you also set
the body of the drum (the resonator) vibrating, because it’s fixed securely to the
drumhead.
•
With some instruments, such as cymbals and gongs, you strike the resonator
directly. The resonator is the instrument.
•
With others, such as marimbas, you use mallets to hit tuned wood bars,
causing the bars to vibrate. Underneath each wood bar, a resonator in the
164 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
shape of a tube vibrates in sympathy, producing a dominant fundamental
frequency that you recognize as a specific tone or note.
Instruments such as these—the ones you hit directly—do not sustain sound for
long (except for tuned percussion instruments such as the xylophone family,
kettledrums, and steel drums). So, if you want to create a continuous stream of
sound, you have to keep delivering blows (e.g. a snare drum roll).
2. The Indirect Way
You can set into vibration a certain part of the instrument other than the resonator.
The part that you set in motion connects to the resonator via an intermediary of some
sort, which transmits the original vibrations to the resonator, which vibrates in
sympathy.
With a stringed or wind instrument, unlike most drums, you can sustain the
sound pretty easily. The string or reed that you set in motion has much less mass
than the resonator to which it is indirectly attached. So you don’t need to deliver too
much energy to keep the string or reed or your lips vibrating, and thus the resonator
vibrating in sympathy.
(In the case of the flute family of instruments, you blow across a sharp edge. The
resulting turbulence creates an air reed which sets the column of air inside the flute
vibrating, which causes the body of the flute—the resonator—to vibrate in
sympathy.)
In general ...
•
A small resonator (e. g., hi-hat or flute) creates small, fast compressions and
rarefactions that your brain perceives as high frequencies of sound—high pitch.
•
A large, heavy resonator (e. g., bass drum or acoustic bass), moves big masses
of air, creating big, slow compressions and rarefactions of air molecules which
stimulate your ears and finally your brain, which perceives low frequencies of
sound—low pitch.
3.3.3
CATEGORIES OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
When most musicians think of categories of acoustic musical instruments, three
come immediately to mind: strings, winds, and percussion.
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165
That’s pretty close to the formal system developed by Erich von Hornbostel and
Curt Sachs, which has served as the classification standard since 1914. Their system
divides acoustic instruments into four categories:
•
•
•
•
Idiophones: percussion instruments without a membrane
Membranophones: percussion instruments with a membrane
Aerophones: wind instruments, including the human voice
Chordophones: stringed instruments
An additional category is now generally recognized:
•
Electrophones: instruments that produce sound electronically
3.3.4
IDIOPHONES: PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS
WITHOUT A MEMBRANE
All cultures have idiophones. But not all cultures have membranophones. Australian
aboriginal percussion instruments, for example, consist of idiophones but not
membranophones.
It’s likely idiophones were the first non-vocal musical instruments. Probably rocks
(the first rock music). But knocking two rocks together doesn’t make much sound
because rocks have too much mass to vibrate and resonate much.
Pieces of wood work better. Bones work even better, especially hollow bones.
Hollow leg bones. And skulls. Human skulls.
You can make numerous other nifty idiophones from various bones. For instance,
you can fashion a rattle using spine bones and a cord.
Idiophones include:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Rattles
Cymbals
Bells
Xylophones
Steel drums (they do not have membranes, like other drums)
Musical saws
Gongs
Washboards (yeee-ha!)
166 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
PLAYING THE MUSICAL SAW: WHY AND HOW
A few years ago, in an interview with an admiring reporter from
the Dodge City Musical Saw Weekly, Marshal McDillon explained
how and why he plays the musical saw.
“So you’ve been riding the trail all day, and you finally set up
camp and take care of the horses and eat some beans and roast
some squirrels. And later on, everybody’s sitting around, poking
at the fire with willow switches, and somebody pulls out a
mouth organ. Or, if nobody has one, then mouth organ music
just comes out of thin air and everybody looks at each other,
puzzled-like. It’s a cliche of every Classic Western, the mouth
organ music coming out of thin air around the campfire. You’re
supposed to act like you don’t even hear that mouth organ
music.
“Anyhow, when this happens, I just head on over to the chuck
wagon and find a hand saw and a fiddle bow.
“I sit down on a log and clamp the handle of the saw between
my knees so that the saw points straight up and the teeth face
towards me.
“Next, I grab the top of the saw with my left hand and bend it to
my left into a ‘C’ shape, then slightly back at the top so that it
makes a slight ‘S’ shape.
“Then I pick up the bow with my right hand and let ‘er rip. When
I bow the bent saw, it makes a howling sound. Like a coyote. Or a
theremin. No discrete pitches like you get with a piano.
“It’s hard to play it good enough so that it doesn’t sound like a
heartbreakingly lonesome wild animal.
“But I’d recommend to everybody that, before you try this out
on the trail, you may wish to practice in the privacy of a dark
windowless cellar. Give yourself some time to get the hang of it.
Say, four or five years.”
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
167
3.3.5
MEMBRANOPHONES: PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS
WITH A MEMBRANE
The first membranophone was probably a drum fashioned from an animal skin
stretched over something conveniently hollow. Maybe the skull of somebody the
drummer didn’t particularly like. (If your band has a drummer, watch out.)
Membranophones include:
•
•
•
Nearly all drums
Marimbas
Kazoos, including the venerable comb and tissue paper. New York’s Julliard
School offers a four-year comb and tissue paper (CATP) degree program with
a classical music emphasis. San Francisco’s UC Berkeley has a six-year CATP
program that focuses on jazz.
3.3.6
AEROPHONES: WIND INSTRUMENTS, INCLUDING
THE VOICE
Here’s how aerophones work:
•
You blow into the instrument, setting a reed (or reeds) vibrating (woodwinds,
saxes, harmonicas).
OR
You blow into the instrument while buzzing your lips (brass instruments).
•
A column of air (the intermediary) inside the instrument transmits the
vibrations of the reed(s) or your lips to the resonator, such as the body of a
saxophone or trumpet.
•
The resonator, being much more massive than the reed(s) or your lips,
amplifies the vibration of the reed(s) or your lips.
Aerophones include:
168 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Brass instruments
Woodwinds
Flutes, recorders, penny whistles
Harmonicas (a harmonica is easily the best instrument to play at night around
the campfire, to drown out the sound of the musical saw)
Reed pipes
Accordions, concertinas, etc.
The voice
As for your voice, air pressure serves as the power supply, the same as in other
aerophones:
•
You take a breath and, as you let it out, the air pressure sets your vocal folds
(also called vocal cords) vibrating.
•
A column of air (the intermediary) inside your respiratory tract, elevated in
pressure, transmits the vibrations of your vocal folds to several resonators: the
hard cartilage of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchial tubes in your chest, the
bones of your rib cage, your pharynx (throat), and the various bones in your
head.
•
These resonators, being much more massive than your vocal folds, amplify the
vibrations of your vocal folds.
(The above is a rough description. There’s no unanimous agreement on precisely
how everything happens in the production of human vocal sound.)
The consonants and other sounds you require for speech and singing depend on
how you position your tongue and shape your oral cavity.
EVOLUTION OF STRING PLAYERS AND BRASS
PLAYERS
Why can’t they get along?
According to a survey of Glasgow-based symphony orchestra
musicians, here’s how string players view brass players:
•
•
•
•
•
•
Slightly oafish and uncouth
Heavy boozers
Empty vessels
Like to be in the limelight
Loud-mouthed and coarse
Don’t practise
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
169
And here’s how brass players view string players:
•
•
•
•
•
•
Like a flock of bloody sheep
Precious
Overly sensitive and touchy
Humourless
Think they’re God’s gift to music
A bunch of weaklings
As if that weren’t bad enough, in 2004, the string section of the
Beethoven Orchestra of Germany went to court to get more
money than the brass players. The string players argued they
deserved higher pay because they play more notes than the
brass players.
Perhaps a Ph. D. candidate in search of an interesting research
project could devise a method for testing the implied
hypotheses of the Glasgow musicians: that brass players evolved
from drunken oafs, and string players evolved from humourless
sheep.
3.3.7
CHORDOPHONES: STRINGED INSTRUMENTS
Chordophones include all stringed instruments, not just instruments that you can
play chords on.
Chordophones work like this:
•
You pluck, bow, or hammer the string(s), setting the string in motion.
•
A bridge (the intermediary) transmits the vibration of the string to the
resonator, such as the body of a guitar or fiddle, or the soundboard inside a
piano.
•
The resonator, being much more massive than the string, amplifies the
vibration of the string(s).
Some important chordophones are:
•
•
•
Guitars, banjos and other lute-type instruments
Harps (Celtic, concert, etc.)
String section instruments: violin, viola, cello, double bass
170 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
•
Pianos (the piano is often mistakenly thought to be a percussion instrument
because hammers hit strings)
Zithers
3.3.8
ELECTROPHONES: INSTRUMENTS THAT PRODUCE
SOUND ELECTRONICALLY
If a musical instrument does not require electricity to produce its sound, you can
almost always classify it as an idiophone, membranophone, aerophone, or
chordophone.
After that, it gets tricky.
Keyboard instruments in which sounds are produced wholly by electronic
oscillators are practically always considered electrophones.
Nailing down what other kinds of instruments constitute electrophones poses all
sorts of problems:
•
An electric guitar is usually considered a chordophone. But whether that
would apply to purely digital electric guitars is contentious.
•
Same applies to other instruments that look like acoustic instruments, or
something like acoustic instruments, but produce sound by digital means, and
may or may not mimic the sounds of acoustic instruments.
•
Technically, samplers and turntables would be considered electrophones, even
though much of the “sound of origin” is acoustic.
•
Electronic devices used for sound generation, sound processing, and sound
playback are widely “played” live by musicians, and would never previously
have even been considered musical instruments—mixers and computers, for
example. Here, the line between musical instruments and electronic sound
shapers or processors gets infinitely fuzzy.
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
171
3.4
Tone Properties and Their
Emotional Effects
3.4.1
EMOTIONAL VALENCE AND INTENSITY
To close out this chapter on tones and overtones, a word or two on the emotional
effects of tone properties.
Chapter 9 goes into considerable detail about music and emotional arousal.
However, every chapter from this one through Chapter 10 discusses the emotional
effects of some element or elements of music (including lyrics). Emotions have a
couple of properties:
1. Valence
Valence just refers to kinds of emotions, such as anger, sadness, or joy, and
whether they’re positive or negative. (Emotions aren’t neutral.)
•
Some positive emotions: adoration, tenderness, amusement, glee, delight,
bliss, gratitude, serenity
•
Some negative emotions: depression, despair, anxiety, panic, abhorrence,
bitterness, embarrassment, guilt
As discussed in Chapter 1, emotions evolved as adaptations. They tend to
manifest automatically, usually in response to some kind of surprise. Sometimes they
spark quick action, not only in humans but in many species—for example, the
universal fight-or-flight response to something in the environment that engenders
rage or fear, respectively.
172 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
2. Intensity
Intensity refers to the force with which you feel the emotion. For instance,
depending on the circumstances, you might experience only slight amusement about
something, such as a TV sitcom, or you might experience extreme amusement.
You might feel only mildly guilty about something you’ve done—or you might
feel extremely guilty. (So ... what did you do?)
The next three sections discuss research findings on the emotional effects of three
properties of tones: pitch, loudness, and tone color (timbre). Chapter 7 discusses tone
duration because beat and rhythm measure it.
3.4.2
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF PITCH
Table 5 below lists research findings of some of the main emotional effects of pitch.
These effects overlap to a degree with emotional effects associated with intervals
(Chapter 4) and melody (Chapter 9), both being pitch-related elements of music.
Variations in pitch, like variations in tempo, tend to have substantial emotional
effects.
TABLE 5 Emotional Effects of Pitch
Pitch Characteristics
Associated Emotions
Low pitch
Fear, seriousness, generally
negative emotional valence;
also majesty, vigour, dignity,
solemnity, tenderness
Low pitch, monotonic
Anger, boredom, sometimes
fear
Low pitch, especially octave
leap downwards
Sadness, melancholy
High pitch
Generally positive emotional
valence, happiness, grace,
surprise, triumph, serenity,
dreaminess
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
High, rising melody,
especially octave leap
upwards
Happiness, excitement
Wandering, unfocused
Sadness
173
3.4.3
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF LOUDNESS
Table 6 below lists some reported emotional effects of loudness.
As with emotional effects of pitch, those of loudness can be positive or negative
for the same loudness characteristic, depending on the musical context.
TABLE 6 Emotional Effects of Loudness
Loudness Characteristics
Associated Emotions
Soft (quiet)
Generally negative emotional
valence—sadness, melancholy;
but also tenderness,
peacefulness
Soft, not varying much
Tenderness
Moderate, not varying much
Happiness, pleasantness
Loud
Joy, excitement, happiness,
triumph, generally positive
emotional valence
Very loud, to distortion levels
Anger
Wide changes, soft to loud,
especially if quick
Fear
174 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
3.4.4
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF TONE COLOR
To maximize emotional punch, you can use different properties of tone to reinforce
the same emotion. For example, low pitch and wide variations in loudness evoke fear
(e.g., the Jaws shark theme).
You can also easily counteract certain emotional associations of tone properties
by emphasizing other tone properties. For example violin tone color by itself has
negative emotional associations (such as sadness or melancholy), which you can
easily counteract with high-register playing and loudness level (e.g., Irish jigs and
reels).
You’ll see as you go along that you can use many other musical variables to
counteract or to reinforce various emotional effects to your liking.
TABLE 7 Emotional Effects of Tone Color
Tone Color Characteristics
Associated Emotions
Simple tone color, few
overtones (e.g., flute)
Pleasantness, peace, boredom
Complex tone color, many
overtones (e.g., over-driven
electric guitar)
Power, anger, fear
Bright tone color, crisp, fast
tone attack and decay in
performance
Generally positive emotional
valence, happiness
Dull tone color, slow attack
and decay in performance
Generally negative emotional
valence, sadness, tenderness
Violin sounds
Sadness, fear, anger
Drum sounds
Anger
Sharp, abrupt tone attacks
Anger
Next time you see a movie, hone in on the background music from time to time,
and see if you can relate the music to what you remember of the information in
Tables 5, 6, and 7 above. Professional composers of film scores tend to have a good
grasp of the connections between emotional valences and elements of tone such as
pitch and loudness. (Chapter 9 has more information on emotion and film music.)
CHAPTER 3—HOW TONES AND OVERTONES REALLY WORK
175
EFFECTS OF MUSIC ON GENERAL HEALTH
In addition to specific emotional effects, evidence indicates
music has some effects on general health. For instance, research
findings indicate that ...
•
Compared with passive listening, active participation in
music-making boosts your immune system.
•
Listening to music while running can increase the
effectiveness of the exercise you do by reducing muscle
tension and blood pressure.
•
Patients about to undergo an operation experience less
anxiety if they listen to music of their choosing for half an
hour before surgery, compared with patients who don’t
listen to music before surgery.
•
If you listen to music while exercising, it puts you in a
better emotional state, and you’re more likely to stick
with your exercise regime.
•
People who sing in choral groups report elevated levels of
emotional well-being, an indication of the adaptive
history of group singing.
•
Music is one of many brain-stimulating activities that may
help stave off dementia. To get the benefit, you have to
actively play an instrument or sing, not merely listen to
music.
Next, a look at the connection between overtones and the construction of scales.
4
How Scales and
Intervals REALLY
Work
There is geometry in the ringing of strings.
—MONTY PYTHAGOR
4.1
Scales: Brain-averse,
Brain-friendly
4.1.1
WHAT’S A SCALE?
Whether speaking or singing, humans automatically and effortlessly use discrete
pitches, with only the occasional slide. By contrast, our primate cousins, such as
gibbons and chimpanzees, either vocalize in pitch glides or without distinct
pitches—just grunts and pants.
178 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Discrete pitches in speech and music serve to organize sound in such a way that
the brain can recognize patterns and make sense of them. Once you have more than
one discrete tone, you can have a scale of some sort.
Humans undoubtedly turned discrete tones into songs long before anybody
recognized the existence of musical scales. At some point, it must have become clear
that the tunes people remembered tended to use the same sets of notes: scales.
A tune or melody is a coherent or distinctive succession of tone pairs called
intervals. The notes of a tune (melody) move up and down in pitch, stepping or
leaping from note to note, using the same notes time after time, like stepping up and
down the same staircase.
That means the notes themselves must come from some set of related notes of
different pitches. This set of notes is called a scale. But how does the brain recognize
a set of pitches as a scale?
4.1.2
CHALK MARKS ON A CELLO FINGERBOARD
Imagine you have a cello. (Maybe you do have a cello.) As you know, the
fingerboard of a cello has no frets. Which makes the cello an ideal instrument for this
thought experiment.
•
Take a piece of imaginary white chalk and make some horizontal marks at
random places along the fingerboard of your imaginary cello. Say, oh, maybe
eight chalk marks.
•
Remove the excess imaginary chalk from your fingers by wiping your hands
on your black pants or dark skirt. Nobody will be able to see the chalk marks
on your clothing because, even though your clothing is real, the chalk is
imaginary.
•
Now, pick a string, any string. Press your finger on the string over the chalk
mark nearest the narrow end of the fingerboard (the end nearest the tuning
pegs). Pluck (or bow) that string. Then move to the next chalk mark. Pluck the
string. Then the next chalk mark, and so on, until you’ve played all eight
notes.
Technically, that’s a scale.
Good thing that was a thought experiment. Because the scale you created and
played on your imaginary cello sucks. Your brain just does not recognize it as a
meaningful scale. How come?
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
179
4.1.3
BRAIN-AVERSE: WHY RANDOM SCALES SOUND
BAD
If you create a random scale, a scale comprised of notes having no natural, physical
relationship with each other (the way you did using random chalk marks on the cello
fingerboard), then try to play a tune using that scale, your brain interprets the sound
as chaos, not music.
Studies of both children and adults indicate your brain is hardwired at birth to
reject random scales. Infants prefer non-random scales, as do adults. The frequencies
of the notes comprising a scale have to have some kind of internal order—ordered
relationships with each other—or your brain interprets the sound as noise.
But not just any ordered relationships.
Particular ordered relationships that your brain recognizes: “brain-friendly”
ordered relationships of tones, as opposed to “brain-averse” chaotic nonrelationships.
4.1.4
IN SEARCH OF AN ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE THAT
WILL YIELD A BRAIN-FRIENDLY SCALE
Recall what happens when you pluck a guitar string that you’ve cut in halves, thirds,
quarters, fifths, and so on, by damping the string over various frets. You get a whole
series of soft overtones—overtones that sound different from the fundamental.
As the guitar-string-damping experiment reveals, each overtone not only sounds
different, it also sounds good. Brain-friendly. So it would be a reasonable guess that
a brain-friendly scale might have something to do with the relationships of overtones
to each other.
Hmmm. Maybe relationships among the overtones hold the secret that will yield
a useful scale, a group of tones in a brain-friendly ordered relationship.
Time to bring back the overtone series and have a look at overtone frequency
relationships (Table 8 below). Frequency relationships among the first few overtones,
the strongest ones, are of greatest interest. They’re the ones you can hear by damping
a guitar string at various fret positions.
180 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 8 Fundamental and First 15 Overtones of the „Middle
C‰ Overtone Series
Tone /
Overtone
Multiple of
Fundamental
Fundamental
1st Overtone
2nd Overtone
3rd Overtone
4th Overtone
5th Overtone
6th Overtone
7th Overtone
8th Overtone
9th Overtone
10th Overtone
11th Overtone
12th Overtone
13th Overtone
14th Overtone
15th Overtone
1 (f)
fx2
fx3
fx4
fx5
fx6
fx7
fx8
fx9
f x 10
f x 11
f x 12
f x 13
f x 14
f x 15
f x 16
Frequency
(Hz)
261.6
523.2
784.8
1,046.5
1,308.0
1,569.6
1,831.2
2,093.0
2,354.4
2,616.0
2,877.6
3,139.2
3,400.8
3,662.4
3,924.0
4,186.0
•
Start with the ratio of the first overtone to the fundamental frequency, which
is 523.2 Hz : 261.6 Hz, which boils down to a simple ratio of 2:1. This simple
ratio comes from the first two numbers of the middle column.
•
Next, the ratio of the second overtone to the first overtone. It’s 784.8 Hz :
523.2 Hz, a ratio of 3:2. (middle column, second and third numbers).
•
Keep doing this for the first few overtones, and you end up with a list of
simple ratios of frequencies, like this (Table 9):
TABLE 9 Simple Ratios of Frequencies
2:1
3:2
4:3
5:4
6:5... (and so on)
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
181
Next step: try out simple ratios of frequencies as an organizing principle to build
a scale ...
4.1.5
USING SIMPLE FREQUENCY RATIOS TO BUILD A
BRAIN-FRIENDLY SCALE
Any organizing principle worth its salt should work universally. That is, you should
be able to pick any old frequency as a starting point for scale building.
THEMSELVES
·NOT THE OVERTONES
Potential Point of Confusion: Always bear in mind that it’s the
ratios of overtone frequencies that matter—not the overtone
frequencies themselves!
For purposes of scale-building, it’s all about ratios of frequencies
(Table 9 above). Ratios, ratios, ratios.
If you don’t keep this distinction in mind, you could get lost. And
then the new marshal will have to organize a search party.
You heard right. Dodge City has itself a new marshal. In a Classic
Western plot twist, Ms Puma’s the new marshal now, ever since a
posse tarred and feathered Marshal McDillon and ran him out of
town on a rail. Why? For carrying on behind Ms Puma’s back.
That’s why.
So, now’s not the time to cross Marshal Puma by needlessly
getting lost in a wilderness of frequencies.
•
Start building the scale with the tone Middle C, the first tone in Table 8 above,
with a frequency of 261.6 Hz.
•
Next, in accordance with the organizing principle of simple frequency ratios,
add a second note, derived from the simplest possible ratio, 2:1. What you get
is a two-note “scale.”
182 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
This scale clearly has its limitations. But you have to start somewhere (Figure
5).
FIGURE 5 Scale of „Middle C‰ and „C Above Middle C‰
261.6 Hz
Ratio of Frequencies 2:1
C
523.2 Hz
C
Middle C
C Above
Middle C
•
Next, add a tone derived from the next simplest ratio of frequencies, 3:2. (The
simplest possible frequency ratio that can identify a relationship between two
tones is 2:1.) For reasons that will become clear in a little while, you can label
the 3:2 tone G.
•
Notice that when you add G to the scale, the relationship between G and the
C above Middle C also happens to be a simple ratio of frequencies, 4:3.
•
Now you’ve got a scale of three notes. It sounds good, too. The organizing
principle looks promising (Figure 6).
FIGURE 6 C - G - C Scale
261.6 Hz
C
Middle C
3:2
392.0 Hz
G
4:3
523.2 Hz
C
C Above
Middle C
•
Notice the big gap between Middle C and G. Fortunately, a tone derived from
the simple frequency ratio 5:4 fits beautifully, right between Middle C and G.
Call it E.
•
When you add E to the scale, the relationship between E and G turns out to
be a simple ratio of frequencies, namely, 6:5. Amazing.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
•
183
The scale grows to four notes (Figure 7 below). Sounds great, too. These four
notes correspond to the words “say, can you see,” in the American national
anthem, music composed by John Stafford Smith, a London, England, church
organist.
FIGURE 7 C - E - G - C Scale
261.6Hz
C
Middle C
5:4
329.6 Hz
6:5
E
392.0 Hz
4:3
G
523.2 Hz
C
C Above
Middle C
•
Next, have a look at the big gap between G and C above Middle C. It so
happens that yet another tone derived from a simple frequency ratio, 5:3, fits
right in there. This tone happens to be the lovely and talented Concert A (also
commonly called A-440). More about lovely, talented Concert A later on.
•
The scale grows to five notes (Figure 8):
FIGURE 8 C - E - G - A - C Scale
5:3
261.6 Hz
C
Middle C
E
440.0 Hz
G
A
523.2 Hz
C
C Above
Middle C
•
You can fill in another big gap, the one between E and G, using another note
derived from the simple frequency ratio, 4:3. The note F relates to Middle C
by the this simple ratio.
•
When you insert F into the scale, it relates to Concert A by the simple ratio
of frequencies, 5:4.
•
Now the scale has grown to six notes. So far, so good (Figure 9).
184 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 9 C - E - F - G - A - C Scale
4:3
261.6 Hz
C
349.2 Hz
E
Middle C
F
5:4
G
523.2 Hz
440.0 Hz
A
C
C Above
Middle C
•
Only a couple of big gaps remain, one between Middle C and E, and another
between Concert A and C above Middle C. The simplest frequency ratio
available to fit between C and E is 9:8, which yields the note D.
•
You can use the same 9:8 frequency ratio to stick a tone between Concert A
and C above Middle C. Call it B.
•
When you insert these two notes (D and B), you notice a few things:
•
-
The scale has no more big gaps between notes;
-
The smallest gap between notes has a ratio of frequencies of
16:15—not exactly simple;
-
The order of the letter-names of the notes makes some sense, though
not plain, common horse sense. The alphabet starts at C, stops at G,
then starts again at A.
Now you’ve got an 8-note scale. Which includes the 8th note. Which is the
same as the first note, but higher in pitch (Figure 10):
FIGURE 10 C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C Scale
261.6
C
9:8
Middle C
293.7
D
16:15
9:8 16:15
329.6 349.2
E
F
440.0
G
A
493.9 523.2
B
C
C Above
Middle C
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
185
This scale definitely sounds brain-friendly. Looks like the organizing principle of
tones derived from simple frequency ratios has worked. (Whew!)
4.1.6
THAT FAMILIAR “DO-RE-MI” SCALE
If you’re European, you’ll recognize the scale in Figure 10 as the “do-re-mi” scale,
using the solmization system, which designates notes using syllables instead of letter
names:
do re mi fa so la ti do
Or, if you’re going down the scale:
do ti la so fa mi re do
Or, as the von Trapp family sang in The Sound of Music:
Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray, a drop of golden sun
Me, a name I call myself
Fah, a long long way to run...
(They could sing better than they could spell.)
You get the same scale when you play the white notes on the piano starting at C.
Any old C. You don’t have to start with Middle C (Figure 11):
FIGURE 11 The „Do-Re-Mi‰ Scale in All Its Glory
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1 (8)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
Since the scale has eight notes (including the first and last notes), the pitch gap
between the first note and the eighth note is called an octave.
In music, the pitch gap between any two notes is called an interval. Think of an
interval as a relationship between two pitches. You can play the two pitches
successively—usually the lower one first—or simultaneously.
186 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
So, that makes the pitch relationship between the first note and the eighth note
an interval of an octave.
MELODIC INTERVALS VS HARMONIC INTERVALS
Another Potential Point of Confusion: The term “interval” also
has a meaning with respect to chord progressions, as you’ll find
out in Chapter 6. Harmonic intervals occupy a different musical
space than the melodic intervals discussed here.
By the time you finish Chapter 6, if you don’t understand the
distinction, you could get lost. Which might not cause you too
much trouble if you happen to meet up with Ex-Marshal
McDillon, who’s still out there, wandering around in the
wilderness in his tar and feathers. He’s got excellent survival
skills, though, even without his horse, and, as a musical saw
player, he can tell you pretty much everything you need to
know about the distinction between melodic and harmonic
intervals. But you have to find him, first.
That last note of the scale sounds exactly like the first note, and yet ... well ...
“higher” in pitch. The same, but somehow different. The terminology, familiar to
everybody who plays music, goes like this: the last note of the scale is an “octave
higher” than the first note.
As you can see in Figure 11 above, the eight notes of the do-re-mi scale are not
evenly spaced. Still, when you play this scale, it sounds agreeable whether you play
it from bottom to top or top to bottom. It sounds as though the notes are proceeding
smoothly up and down the pitch “staircase.” As though all the notes are the same
distance apart. Even though they obviously are not.
How come? What if all the pitches were actually the same distance apart?
4.1.7
MORE BRAIN-AVERSE: EQUAL-INTERVAL SCALES
So far, you’ve tried two different organizing principles to construct an agreeablesounding scale:
•
A scale of random notes—the experiment with the chalk marks on the cello
fingerboard. Result? A brain-averse scale. Chaotic and completely
“unmusical.”
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
•
187
A scale of notes related to each other by simple ratios of frequencies. Result? A
brain-friendly scale. Clearly “musical,” beautiful- sounding. A scale consisting
of a distinctive but uneven order of tones.
Now, just for good measure, try a third organizing principle: a completely regular,
evenly-spaced order of tones.
Start at Middle C and divide the octave into seven equal intervals, for a total of
eight notes (Figure 12 below). The lowest note is Middle C and the highest note is
C above Middle C. All eight notes are spaced the same distance apart, frequencywise (37.4 Hz between each note).
No point in naming notes 2 through 7 because this scale is only theoretical.
And a good thing, too. Because, like the random scale of chalk-and-cello fame,
this scale also sucks (Figure 12):
FIGURE 12 The „Eight-Note, Seven-Equal-Interval‰ Scale
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8 (1)
C
?
?
?
?
?
?
C
Table 10 below shows the frequencies for the eight notes of this scale, compared
with the “do-re-mi” scale frequencies. As you can see, they’re all different, by
roughly five to 24 Hz, except for the first and last “C” notes.
TABLE 10 „Eight-Note, Seven-Equal-Interval‰ vs „Do-Re-Mi‰
Scale Note Frequencies
Note
1 (C)
2
3
4
5
6
7
1 (8) C
„Seven-Equal-Interval‰ Scale
Note Frequencies (Hz)
„Do-Re-Mi‰ Scale Note
Frequencies (Hz)
261.6
299.0
336.3
373.7
411.1
448.5
485.8
523.2
261.6
293.7
329.6
349.2
392.0
440.0
493.9
523.2
188 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
4.1.8
BRAIN-FRIENDLY: A NATURALLY-SELECTED
SPECIALIZATION FOR SIMPLE FREQUENCY RATIOS
Substantial research findings show that, if you try to create music using scales that
have no tones in relationships of simple frequency ratios, your brain stops recognizing
“musical” sound and hears chaos. Like the static you get when you move your
analog radio dial between stations.
Infants respond to changes in pairs of tones only if the tones are related by smallinteger, simple frequency ratios—the tones that emerge from the harmonic series.
Tones not related by simple frequency ratios simply do not elicit responses from
babies. This strongly indicates that the human brain has a naturally-selected
specialization for simple frequency ratios—that these preferences are not cultural
constructs.
Not only that, infants remember scale tones when the intervals of the scale are of
unequal size, compared with scales having intervals of equal size. This is consistent
with the unequal-interval scales that emerge from the harmonic series. As you’ll see
in Chapter 5, most scales used commonly worldwide have only five to seven different
tones (i.e., not including the second octave note), which are unequally spaced.
Infants also have difficulty resolving tones that are close together. Tones spaced
close together are not related by simple frequency ratios.
To summarize, your brain can make sense of, and prefers, scales of non-random
but unequally-spaced tones—pitches related to each other in simple multiples or
simple fractions of a fundamental frequency.
4.1.9
FILLING IN THE LAST GAPS: THE CHROMATIC
SCALE
Look at all those (comparatively) wide intervals between some of the notes (Figure
13 below). Between C and D. Between D and E. Between F and G. Between G and
A. Between A and B. Five intervals.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
189
FIGURE 13 The „Do-Re-Mi‰ Scale
1
2
C
D
do
re
3
4
5
6
7
8 (1)
E
F
G
A
B
C
mi
fa
so
la
ti
do
Those five intervals look suspiciously like they’re exactly twice as wide as the two
smaller intervals, the ones between E and F, and B and C. If the five bigger intervals
are exactly twice as wide as the two smaller ones, and if you were to insert a tone into
each of those wide gaps, you’d have:
•
A 12-equal-interval scale (a total of 13 tones, including the first and last ones,
which are the same note, an octave apart);
•
A scale composed of close-together tones.
Precisely the recipe for non-musicality. So, would such a scale actually sound
chaotic?
The answer is yes, it would sound chaotic. Not at all musical.
However, that does not mean such a scale would have no musical value. As
you’ll see shortly, the 12-equal-interval scale serves a valuable purpose as a pool of
tones you can dip into and use in the construction of many different, truly musical
scales. You can also use the same 12-equal-interval scale as a pool you can dip into
for colourful extra notes when writing a song.
(While most equal-interval scales are inherently chaotic and unmusical, a few are
actually palatable. Chapter 5 discusses an example of a musical-sounding equalinterval scale—an exception to the rule.)
For now, go ahead and fill in the five wide gaps in the above scale (Figure 13)
with five new notes.
But before you do that, you’ll need names for the new notes. Problem is, there’s
no letter of the alphabet between C and D, or D and E, or F and G, etc. What to do?
•
Suppose you start at C, you’re going up to D, and you want to stick a note in
between. Since you’re going “up” in pitch, call the in-between note a sharp
note (symbolized v).
•
If you’re going “down” in pitch, from D down to C, call the same in-between
note a flat note (symbolized x).
190 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
(This nomenclature will become a lot clearer shortly.)
So ... here’s what you get when you fill in the last five gaps of the “do-re-mi” scale
(Figure 14):
FIGURE 14 The „Do-Re-Mi‰ Scale With the Gaps Filled In
Cvv
Dvv
or
or
C Dxx D Exx E
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
or
or
or
F Gxx G Axx A Bxx B
do
fa
re
mi
so
la
ti
C
do
On the piano, if you start with the note Middle C (or any other C), you’ll notice
that the in-between notes correspond to the black keys.
•
The smallest interval in the above scale, the interval between any two adjacent
notes, is called a semitone or half-step (for example, between C and Cv, or
between E and F). So, an interval of an octave is comprised of 12 semitone
intervals.
•
The next smallest interval, the distance covered by two semitones, is called a
tone, or a whole tone, or a step.
And the name of the above 13-note (12-semitone) scale is the chromatic scale. The
five new notes added to the do-re-mi scale are called chromatic notes.
4.1.10
E UNUM PLURIBUS ... MANY SCALES OUT OF ONE
To play the chromatic scale, just start at any C, then play every note...C, Cv, D, etc.,
all the way up to the next C. When you do this, you play 13 notes, but only 12
intervals of one semitone each. (Remember, an interval is not a note. It’s the pitch
distance between two notes.)
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
191
LA-DI-DA: CHROMATIC SOLMIZATION (YOU DONÊT
NEED TO KNOW THIS, BUT ITÊS KIND OF
INTERESTING)
More than a thousand years ago, a nerdy Italian friar and music
theorist named Guido (Guido d'Arezzo, 995-1050), with more time
on his hands than he knew what to do with, invented
solmization (“do re-mi”). Guido also invented the basics of
modern music notation.
Everyone’s familiar with “do re mi fa so la ti do”. However, if you
haven’t studied music in Europe, you may not know about the
additional syllables for the chromatic notes, syllables such as li,
te, le, fi, and so on. (Yikes!)
Not only do the chromatic notes have their own syllables, but
the syllables are different for the same note, depending on
whether you’re ascending the scale, or descending it. Here they
are:
ASCENDING (“do di re...”)
(chromatic notes in bold)
di
do
re
ri
fa
mi
fi
so
si
la
li
DESCENDING (“do ti te...”)
(chromatic notes in bold)
ti
do
ti
te
la
le
so
se
fa
mi
me
re
ra
do
Do people actually study this stuff?
Oh yes they do. They even claim it’s useful, and so it is, once you
get into it. For instance, when you learn scales other than the
standard do-re-mi scale (scales that include some chromatic
notes), you can learn an equivalent do-re-mi syllable-based way
of remembering each separate scale.
192 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
As you’ll see in later chapters, heavy metal musicians (among
others) make use of scales called modes, and each mode can be
translated into a do-re-mi type of scale using the above syllables.
So, the chromatic scale does sound chaotic—not naturally musical. However, you
can grab notes from the chromatic scale to craft numerous naturally musical scales.
These agreeable-sounding scales contain only eight or fewer notes, selected from the
chromatic scale. Chapter 5 discusses some of them.
For now, though, a bit more about the “do-re-mi” scale.
Its common name is the major scale. It consists of eight notes, spaced by seven
intervals of tones and semitones in this order:
tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone
This type of scale is called a diatonic scale. “Dia” comes from the Greek word for
“through” or “by.” And “tonic” refers to the tonal anchor of the scale—the first note
of the scale—called the tonic note. So a “diatonic” scale’s notes are related to each
other “through” the first, or “tonic” note of the scale.
More on this in Chapter 5, which discusses tonal music in detail.
4.2
Intervals
4.2.1
THE BASIC INTERVALS
So far, three intervals have made an appearance:
•
Octave: Pitch distance between the first note and the eighth note of the major
scale (or first note and 13th note of the chromatic scale)
•
Semitone: Pitch distance between any two adjacent notes of the chromatic scale
•
Tone: Pitch distance of two semitones
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
193
Other intervals exist, and they all have names, but not interesting ones like
Natasha or Engelbert. Since the semitone is the smallest interval, you can measure
the other intervals in multiples of semitones.
Even the tone and the semitone have their own special alternative “interval”
names.
Table 11 below lists all of the intervals within an octave. Usually (but not always),
you reckon an interval—which is always two notes—as starting from the lower note
and going to the upper note, as in the “Example” column in Table 11.
TABLE 11 Names of Basic Intervals
Interval
Minor Second
Major Second
Minor Third
Major Third
Perfect Fourth
Augmented Fourth
Perfect Fifth
Minor Sixth
Major Sixth
Minor Seventh
Major Seventh
Octave
Number of
Semitones
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Example
C – Cv
C–D
C – Ex
C–E
C–F
C – Fv
C–G
C – Ax
C–A
C – Bx
C–B
C–C
4.2.2
INTERVAL NAMES EXPLAINED
Figure 15 (below) clarifies the logic of interval names a bit:
194 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 15 C Major Scale with Intervals Named
C
D
Tonic Min Maj
Note 2nd 2nd
Min
3rd
E
F
G
Maj Perf Aug Perf Min
3rd 4th 4th; 5th 6th
Dim
5th
A
Maj
6th
Min
7th
B
C
Maj Octave
7th
For reasons that will become clearer as you get better acquainted with intervals
and scales and chords, all of the intervals are named with reference to the first note
(the tonic note) of the major scale. For example, major second refers to the second note of
the major scale, if you start from the tonic note.
The major scale has only eight notes. That’s why none of the intervals has a name
higher than “seventh,” even though there are 12 different intervals.
(The intervals are not named after the notes of the chromatic scale because the
chromatic scale by itself has no use as a “musical” scale.)
Here’s how each interval gets its name:
•
Major Second and Minor Second: Both named for the second note of the major
scale. The major second is an interval of a whole tone. The minor second is
an interval of a semitone.
•
Major Third and Minor Third: Both named for the third note of the major
scale. The major third is an interval of four semitones. The minor third is a
semitone less, at three semitones.
MINOR CONFUSION
Yet Another Potential Point of Confusion: The term “minor,”
when referring to intervals (such as “minor third”), has a
different meaning from the term “minor” when referring to
keys, (such as “key of D minor”). Chapter 5 discusses keys.
If you confuse the meanings of “minor interval” and “minor key,”
you’re apt to get lost.
If you were to get lost, Marshal Puma would probably conscript
Deputy Fester and Doc Yada-Yadams to saddle up and fetch you
back. Deputy Fester never learned to ride so good and nobody
can figure out how he got to be a deputy. As for Doc, he’s threefifths drunk, 80% of the time and can’t stay on his horse unless
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
195
somebody does up his seat belt for him. Neither Fester nor Doc
would be much good in a search party. So, if you steer clear of
any confusion about minor intervals and the minor keys, you’ll
stay found.
•
Perfect Fourth: Named for the fourth note of the major scale. It’s an interval
of five semitones. It’s called “perfect” because, compared with the augmented
fourth, it sounds a lot more, um ... “perfect.” At least in the context of a chord
or a tune.
•
Augmented Fourth: A wild, unruly interval, it’s also named for the fourth note
of the major scale. However, the augmented fourth overshoots the perfect
fourth by a semitone, for a total of six semitones. This interval has several
other names. It’s often called the tritone because it spans three whole tones (six
semitones). It’s also known as the diminished fifth, because it’s a half-tone short
of being a “perfect” fifth. In the Middle Ages, they called it diabolus in
musica—the “devil in music.” Somebody had a sense of humour way back
then. Or ... maybe they believed it was the musical devil hisself.
•
Perfect Fifth: Named for the fifth note of the major scale. It’s an interval of
seven semitones. It’s called “perfect” because, compared with the diminished
fifth, it sounds a lot more “perfect” in the context of a chord or a tune. (But,
as you’ll see, “perfect” doesn’t necessarily mean “interesting.” Just like
people.)
•
Major Sixth and Minor Sixth: Named for the sixth note of the major scale. The
major sixth is an interval of nine semitones. The minor sixth, one less at eight
semitones.
•
Major Seventh and Minor Seventh: Named for the seventh note of the major
scale. The major seventh is an interval of eleven semitones. The minor
seventh is one less, at ten semitones.
MORE MINOR CONFUSION
Yet Another,
Potential Point of Confusion: Here we
go again. As you’ve learned, there’s a difference between minor
intervals and minor keys.
196 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Well, there’s also a difference between minor intervals and
minor chords, such as, for example, the chord “D minor seventh,”
which is neither an interval nor a key.
Chapter 6 discusses chords in harrowing detail. For now, just be
aware that, if you confuse the meanings of
•
•
•
minor interval,
minor chord, and
minor key,
you could get lost.
You don’t want to get lost right now, because Marshal Puma’s in
no mood for organizing search parties. She just found out that
Ex-Marshal McDillon and Doc and Deputy Fester have all been
partying on Doc’s moonshine in a gully south of Dodge with a
bunch of mid-west farmers’ daughters from the Beach Boys
song, “California Girls,” who really make them feel alright. Looks
like it’s all over between Marshal Puma and Ex-Marshal McDillon.
4.2.3
PERFECT FIFTHS AND SCALE CONSTRUCTION:
MONTY PYTHAGOR’S METHOD
You may wonder who first figured out the relationship between lovely-sounding
overtones, simple frequency ratios, and their application to scale building.
People usually credit the Greek philosopher, mathematician, and comedian,
Monty Pythagor. As you know, Mr. Pythagor also formulated the Pythagorean
Theorem about the square hide of the hippopotamus and the sum of the other square
hides, which apparently revolutionized the footwear industry.
Mr. Pythagor (582 BC - 496 BC) may have figured out the mathematics of
overtones and scales 2,500 years ago but he certainly was not the first to discover
musically-pleasing scales. As discussed in Chapter 1, Neanderthals had bone flutes
with diatonic scale notes tens of thousands of years ago.
As for Mr. Pythagor, it seems he realized that if you kept adding tones in
consecutive frequency ratios of 3:2 (perfect fifths), you would get a pleasing-sounding
musical scale. Next time you’re near a keyboard, try this:
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
•
197
Play the note:
C
•
Now play the perfect fifth (seven semitones) above, which is G:
C
•
G
Next, play the perfect fifth (seven semitones) above G, which happens to be
D, like this:
G
•
D
Next, play the perfect fifth above D, which is A:
D
•
A
Then the perfect fifth above A, which is E:
A
•
E
Then the perfect fifth above E, which is B:
E
B
So far, you’ve played the following sequence of six notes:
C G D A E B
The highest note, B, is almost three octaves above the C you started with.
The next step is to play all six notes in the same octave, and in scale order. Then add
another C to complete the scale. Now you have the following seven-note scale:
C
D
E
G
A
B
C
There you go. That’s almost the diatonic major scale.
You can construct a good many of the world’s popular musical scales simply by
using notes derived from consecutive frequency jumps in the ratio of 3:2, the ratio of
the perfect fifth interval.
198 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
And, as discussed earlier, when you plunk a bunch of these notes into the same
octave, you end up with other simple frequency ratios within the scale as well, such
as 2:1 (octave), 4:3 (perfect fourth), 5:4 (major third), and so on.
So, since Mr. Pythagor figured out the principle of creating scales derived from
simple frequency ratios, such scales are called Pythagorean scales. The “do-re-mi”
major diatonic scale is a Pythagorean scale, even though it’s not perfectly based on
consecutive intervals in ratios of 3:2.
“Not perfectly” means something goes awry. Here’s how:
So far, you’ve seen that if you use the strict Pythagorean method, you get these
six different notes (the octave note is repeated):
C D E G A B C
It’s almost the major diatonic scale. But one note’s missing, namely F.
So, why not try to get that last note by playing the next note, a fifth interval
(seven semitones) up from B, which was the last note you played in the series?
Try it.
What’s the note you get?
Alas, it’s Fv, not plain old F.
Worse, the fifth above Fv is Cv, not C.
Dang.
Worse still, suppose you go away from the piano and instead decide to derive the
series of notes using a calculator. You start with the frequency 261.6 (Middle C) and
use your calculator to derive the series of fifth intervals as exact ratios of 3:2. Then
you compare your list of calculated frequencies with the actual frequencies of the
corresponding piano notes (available on Roedy Black’s Musical Instruments Poster).
What you discover is that all the theoretical notes you calculated are slightly but
noticeably sharper than the notes on the piano!
Dang again.
In any case, the fact that you can almost get a complete major diatonic scale
simply by using notes derived from consecutive overtone frequencies with the single
simple frequency ratio 3:2 (the perfect fifth) illustrates the central role of simple
frequency ratios in scale building.
4.2.4
THE PYTHAGOREAN COMMA
Suppose you were to start with the frequency for Middle C and just keep on going,
up and up in leaps of perfect fifth intervals, until you eventually reach the note C
again, in a much higher octave.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
199
The first question is, would you ever get to C again, somewhere over the rainbow,
way up high?
Yes, indeed. Especially in Kansas.
It takes 12 leaps of perfect fifths to get to another C. You end up seven octaves
above the C that you started with.
If you start from Middle C and use a calculator to multiply each successive
frequency by a ratio of 3:2 (the simple frequency ratio of the perfect fifth interval),
you get the data in Table 12. (It’s theoretical, because the last note is well above the
upper limit of human hearing. Way over the rainbow.)
TABLE 12 Consecutive Perfect Fifth Intervals Going Up
Seven Octaves
Note
Middle C
G
D
A
E
B
Fv
Cv
Gv
Dv
Av
F
C, seven
octaves up
from Middle C
Frequency
(Hz)
261.6
392.4
588.6
882.9
1,324.4
1,986.5
2,979.8
4,469.7
6,704.5
10,056.8
15,085.2
22,627.8
33,941.6
Now, just for fun (are you having fun?), try getting to that same C, seven octaves
above Middle C, except do your leaps in octaves, instead of perfect fifths.
Start with Middle C at 261.6 Hz and keep doubling the frequency to preserve the
2:1 simple frequency ratio that defines an octave interval. Table 13 shows what you
get.
200
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 13 Consecutive Octave Intervals, Going Up Seven
Octaves
Note
Middle C
C , one octave up
C, two octaves up
C, three octaves up
C, four octaves up
C, five octaves up
C, six octaves up
C, seven octaves
up from Middle C
Frequency
(Hz)
261.6
523.2
1,046.4
2,092.8
4,185.6
8.371.2
16,742.4
33.484.8
Have a look at the last frequency in Table 12 and compare it with the last
frequency in Table 13.
They’re both supposed to be the note C, seven octaves above Middle C, right? So
the two frequencies are supposed to be exactly the same, aren’t they?
But they ain’t.
The ratio between them, 33,941.6 Hz : 33,484.8 Hz, boils down to a ratio of
1.0136:1, instead of 1:1.
Dang, for the third time.
That ratio of 1.0136:1 is called the Pythagorean comma. (In music, a tiny interval
is called a comma.)
The Pythagorean comma caused all sorts of havoc with instrument tuning for
more than 2,000 years after Monty Pythagor died of laughter, without telling
anybody how to fudge the Pythagorean comma and stay in tune.
(Chapter 5 discusses some clever jiggery-pokery, called equal temperament, that
gets around the Pythagorean comma and cures all problems with scales forever.
Well, sort of.)
4.2.5
WHY PYTHAGOREAN SCALES EMERGED
INDEPENDENTLY ON SEVERAL CONTINENTS
As discussed in Chapter 3, the human brain has the ability to automatically analyse
a tone’s constituent harmonics and identify the soundmaker. That means the brain
has the ability to understand (and appreciate) simple ratios of frequencies, whatever
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
201
form they take—overtones of a single tone, or scales consisting of notes in simplefrequency relationships.
So, whenever humans stumble upon a way of generating a series of notes in
simple-frequency relationships, they find the notes pleasing and make music. Homo
neanderthalensis knew how to do this, and they weren’t even of our species, Homo
sapiens.
The harmonic series is a phenomenon of nature that anybody anywhere can
generate with nothing more than a string or a piece of catgut or sinew attached via
some sort of bridge to a resonator. Easy to make. Pleasing, You get simple-frequencyratio discrete notes.
It’s no wonder, then, that Pythagorean-type scales, especially pentatonic scales
(discussed in Chapter 5), have emerged independently in the musical cultures of all
the major civilizations, from Africa to Europe to Asia. Humans everywhere prefer
music made with tones in relationships of simple frequency ratios. Even a 22-tone
scale used in India shows an underlying Pythagorean structure, no doubt derived
from the harmonic series.
4.2.6
CONSONANCE AND DISSONANCE
Some intervals sound stable, balanced, at rest, when you play the two notes either
together or successively. That’s called consonance.
Others sound unstable, unbalanced, restless. That’s dissonance (Table 14).
TABLE 14 Consonant and Dissonant Intervals
Interval
Minor Second
Major Second
Minor Third
Major Third
Perfect Fourth
Augmented Fourth
Perfect Fifth
Minor Sixth
Major Sixth
Minor Seventh
Major Seventh
Octave
Number of
Semitones
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Example
C – Cvv
C–D
C – Ex
C–E
C–F
C – Fvv
C–G
C – Ax
C–A
C – Bxx
C–B
C–C
Consonant/
Dissonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
202
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Pick an interval, any interval. Play the two notes of the interval simultaneously
on a guitar or keyboard, the way you would play a chord. Or successively, the way
you would play a tune. Go through the list yourself and try out all the intervals.
Consonance vs dissonance goes straight to the heart of what helps make music
exciting and emotional (a good amount of dissonance), or predictable and dull (too
much consonance). In music, “dissonant” does not mean “grating” or “harsh.”
Rather, it refers to the sense you get of tonal unrest, the seeking of tonal resolution
which imparts motion to melody and harmony.
Later on, you’ll find that chords, because they’re comprised of two or more
intervals (three or more notes), also have consonant or dissonant characteristics,
depending on the intervals within the chord.
The notes of a tune (melody) against the backdrop of a chord progression produce
consonant or dissonant sounds, too.
HAPPY THIRDS AND SAD THIRDS: GREAT COUNTRY
HITS OF AUCTIONEERS AND CHICKADEES
If you live near the sea, you may hear foghorns every so often.
What’s that interval, the descending
Dah
Dah ?
It’s a descending major third. People just love that major third.
It’s also the cheerful “ding-dong” of your doorbell.
And it’s the main interval the auctioneer uses as he or she
disposes of the family farm. In 1956, Leroy Van Dyke and Buddy
Black wrote a country classic called “The Auctioneer,” which
highlights the auctioneer’s major third sing-song patter. Gordon
Lightfoot recorded a fine version of this tune on his 1980 album
Dream Street Rose.
The minor third, on the other hand, has a decidedly sad sound.
It’s the chief interval in the children’s chant, “Ring Around the
Rosie” (the interval on the word, “ros - ie”), also known as “NyahNyah-Nyah-Nyah Nyaaaaah Nyah.”
The male chickadee uses a sliding descending minor third during
mating season. The call goes from A down to Fv, or Bx down to G.
Women chickadees love that sad tune. The slide into the
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
203
second note of the interval is characteristic of sad country
songs. Male chickadees may have been the first true country
singers.
4.2.7
DISSONANCE: FREAKY FREQUENCY RATIOS
What causes intervals (and, by extension, chords) to sound consonant or dissonant?
Have a look at the ratios of frequencies that correspond to consonant vs dissonant
intervals (Table 15).
TABLE 15 Frequency Ratios of the Intervals
Interval
Unison
Minor Second
Major Second
Minor Third
Major Third
Perfect Fourth
Augmented Fourth
Perfect Fifth
Minor Sixth
Major Sixth
Minor Seventh
Major Seventh
Octave
Semitones
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Example
C – same C
C – Cvv
C–D
C – Ex
C–E
C–F
C – Fvv
C–G
C – Ax
C–A
C – Bxx
C–B
C – C1
Freq.
Ratio
1:1
16 : 15
9:8
6:5
5:4
4:3
45 : 32
3:2
8:5
5:3
9:5
15 : 8
2:1
Consonant/
Dissonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Some intervals have simple frequency ratios, such as the major third (ratio of 5:4).
Others have complex ratios, especially the augmented fourth (ratio of 45:32), the
freakiest of them all.
In general, you get consonant intervals from the simplest frequency ratios, the
ones with small numbers. You get dissonant intervals from complex frequency ratios,
the ones with larger numbers.
Degree of perceived consonance vs dissonance is a function of pitch relationships
among tones. Also, as discussed a bit later (Chapter 6), consonant intervals have
overtones in common, or overlapping. Dissonant intervals tend not to.
204
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Infants show clear preferences for consonant intervals, based on simple frequency
ratios, such as fourths and fifths, and show a distinct aversion to dissonant intervals,
such as the tritone. This indicates such preferences are wired in the brain at birth. It
also underscores the futility of trying to build audiences for unpalatably dissonant
music.
In an experiment comparing consonant-dissonant preferences of humans and
cottontop tamarins, the monkeys showed no clear preference for consonant intervals
over dissonant intervals. In the same experiment, humans showed a clear preference
for consonant intervals, supporting the theory that music is a species-specific
adaptation in humans only.
4.2.8
INTERVALS WITHIN SCALES
So far, the discussion of intervals has focussed on intervals in which the first of the
two notes is the lowest note of the scale, the tonic.
Can an interval start on any note?
Sure. You can start on the note A, the sixth note of the C major scale. If you then
go up three semitones to C, that’s an interval of a minor third. Any span of three
consecutive semitones is a minor third interval, no matter where it occurs in a scale.
Consider, for example, the intervals within this scale (Figure 16):
FIGURE 16 C Major Scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
Table 16 below shows intervals drawn exclusively from the C major scale—no
chromatic notes.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
205
TABLE 16 Intervals Occurring Naturally in the Major Scale
Interval
Minor Second
Major Second
Minor Third
Major Third
Perfect Fourth
Augmented Fourth
Perfect Fifth
Minor Sixth
Major Sixth
Minor Seventh
Major Seventh
Octave
Semitones
Example
Freq.
Ratio
Consonant/
Dissonant
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
B–C
C–D
A–C
C–E
C–F
F–B
C–G
E–C
C–A
D–C
C–B
C–C
16 : 15
9:8
6:5
5:4
4:3
45 : 32
3:2
8:5
5:3
9:5
15 : 8
2:1
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Of the 12 different intervals, 11 anchor naturally to the tonal centre (the note C)
at one end of the scale or the other.
And the only one that doesn’t? It’s that diabolical diabolus in musica, the very devil
hisself, the augmented fourth. The one with the weirdest frequency ratio, 45:32.
The same interval can occur in several places in one scale. For example, in the C
major scale...
•
The minor second (one semitone) occurs in two places: E – F, and B – C.
•
The perfect fifth (seven semitones) occurs in four places: C – G, D – A, E –
B, and F – C.
4.2.9
COMPLEMENTARY INTERVALS
Any two intervals that add up to an octave (which consists of 12 semitones) are
called complementary intervals (Table 17).
206
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 17 The Complementary Intervals
Minor 2nd (1 semitone)
Major 2nd (2 semitones)
Minor 3rd (3 semitones)
Major 3rd (4 semitones)
Perfect 4th (5 semitones)
+ Major 7th (11 semitones)
+ Minor 7th (10 semitones)
+ Major 6th (9 semitones)
+ Minor 6th (8 semitones)
+ Perfect 5th (7 semitones)
= Octave
= Octave
= Octave
= Octave
= Octave
A few “rules” of complementary intervals:
•
•
•
The complement of any minor interval is a major interval. And vice-versa.
The only two “perfect” intervals—perfect fourth and perfect fifth—
complement each other (wouldn’t you know it).
There’s no complement for the diabolical tritone (6 semitones).
Complementary intervals are important in understanding chord changes or chord
progressions, the subject of Chapter 6.
4.2.10
WHY INTERVALS ARE THE REAL MUSICAL UNITS
OF MELODIES AND CHORDS
A tone in isolation is just a tone. Only when two tones are sounded, either together
or in sequence, does a relationship form. Your brain analyses that relationship. As
each tone sounds in succession, your brain tries to anticipate the new tone that might
come next in the context of the ones you’ve just heard.
If you play a progression of chords without a tune, does your brain interpret that
chord progression as “music”?
No, it doesn’t.
Hardly ever, anyway. All you hear is formless harmony.
To hear music, you need a tune. Your brain demands it. You’ll see why in the
discussion of harmony, chords, and chord progressions (Chapter 6).
On the other hand, if you play or sing a tune by itself, with no chords, does your
brain interpret that tune as “music”?
Yes, it does.
For example, most people sing national anthems without instrumental
accompaniment. Great national anthems, such as those of France, Britain, America,
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
207
Italy, Russia, and South Africa, have stood the test of time. These anthems have such
powerful tunes that they sound beautiful with or without chords.
„OÊER THE LAND OF THE FA-REE-EEE-EEE-EEE-UH‰
You’ve probably heard pop stars perform over-the-top versions
of your national anthem. Usually, such renditions ruin the
anthem.
When some singer with no compositional know-how deviates
from the classic tune of a great national anthem in an effort to
“make it his (or her) own,” he or she is attempting to re-compose
the tune on the fly, incompetently improvising. It’s the musical
equivalent of painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa.
That said, occasionally a genuine musical genius comes along
and succeeds in rendering a national anthem in an awe-inspiring,
yet original way. Jimi Hendrix did it at the Woodstock music
festival in 1969. But that’s rare.
Most of the time, music consists of a tune with instrumental accompaniment. The
tune seems to float or bounce along on top of the chords, which provide depth and
color. With or without instrumental accompaniment, the tune or melody actually
consists of a succession of intervals, not a succession of notes.
The first six notes of “The Star Spangled Banner”—“O-oh say can you
see”—form five successive intervals. Here they are (Table 18):
TABLE 18 First Five Intervals of „The Star Spangled Banner‰
O – oh
oh – say
say – can
can – you
you – see
Minor third, moving down (three semitones)
Major third, moving down (four semitones)
Major third, moving up (four semitones)
Minor third, moving up (three semitones)
Perfect fourth, moving up (five semitones)
Whether a tune is interesting or boring depends on its arrangement of intervals,
not individual notes. Intervals come from scales. And scales come from overtones.
Not only that, but, as you’ll soon see, intervals determine how chords sound, and
whether a chord progression imbues a piece of music with purpose and feeling ... or
fails to.
208
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Only when you get to intervals does the possibility of music even arise.
Here’s a little flow diagram that summarizes these relationships (Figure 17). The
arrows mean “give rise to”:
FIGURE 17 Pathway to Tunes and Chords
4.3
Interval Dynamics
4.3.1
MUSICAL DRAMA
Recall that an interval is a relationship between two pitches. Why the stress on
“relationship”? Because that’s where the “music” in tunes and harmony comes from.
Each note in a scale, and, ultimately, in a tune, sounds restful or restless, relaxed or
tense, depending on the note’s position with respect to the other notes in the scale or
tune. These note-to-note relationships, the urges and forces your brain perceives
when it hears a tune, are called interval dynamics.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
209
The activity that goes on in your brain to process these interval relationships
is your musical experience.
In general, if music contains a large amount of unrest as the tune (melody) moves
from interval to interval and chord to chord, you have an emotionally charged
musical experience.
Intervals perform like the characters in a novel, sit-com, movie, or play. You get
interested and emotionally involved in a dramatic story only when you perceive
tension and unrest among the characters. Similarly when you perceive tension and unrest
among the intervals as the tune and chords progress, you experience emotional
involvement.
4.3.2
SCALE DEGREES
Figure 18 (below) shows all eight notes of the major scale, beginning and ending with
C. However, there are other scales besides the scale of C major. So, to discuss
interval dynamics in general, not just for the C major scale, it’s necessary to assign
numbers to each of the tones of the scale.
When you number each note of the diatonic scale, the numbered notes are called
scale degrees.
FIGURE 18 The Major Scale Showing Scale Degrees
(Numbers)
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1 (8)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
The first and last notes of the scale share the same number, so “(8)” is added to
the last note in the following discussion of interval dynamics to distinguish first from
last.
Each scale degree has its own name. Only some of these names are important
enough to keep in mind, the ones in bold type (Table 19):
210 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 19 Names of the Scale Degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1 (8)
Tonic
Supertonic
Mediant
Subdominant
Dominant
Submediant
Leading Tone
Tonic
4.3.3
CURVATURE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
How does your mind interpret what you hear when you play a major scale? Call this
scale what you like ...
do
re
mi
fa
so
la
ti
do
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1 (8)
... it’s the same scale. Figure 19 (below) gives you a better visual representation than
Figure 18 (above). Here’s how your mind actually hears this scale:
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
211
FIGURE 19 Interval Dynamics: „Going Away, Then Coming
Back‰
You hear the pitch rising higher and higher as you proceed upwards through the
scale degrees, from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, all the way up to 1 (8).
Or you hear the pitch falling as you proceed downwards from 1 (8) to 7 to 6 to 5,
all the way down to 1.
As you proceed upwards through the scale degrees, each tone sounds like it’s not
only ascending in pitch, but also moving further away from the vertical line that runs
through 1 and 1 (8).
Then, when you get to scale degree 5, something happens. The direction of motion
reverses. And, although the pitch continues to rise, the tones sound like they’re
somehow returning home, towards 1 (8).
And yet, it’s a different version of home, a different version of the tonal centre.
Oddly, you get this “going away, then coming back” sensation whether you
ascend the scale from one end to the other, or descend it from one end to the other.
4.3.4
INTERVAL DYNAMICS: CURVED ARROWS
THROUGH YOUR BRAIN
The following discussion pertains to interval dynamics in tunes without chords. Tunes
with harmony are discussed in Chapters 6 and 9.
212 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
When you play a single note, that’s all your brain perceives. Just a note. Not
music (ignoring, for the time being, the tiny little matter of rhythm). But when you
play at least two successive notes that are different from each other—an
interval—suddenly you have at least the possibility of music.
In Figure 20 below, the arrows show the tensions, the unrest your brain perceives
in the relationships between the tones (that is, the intervals), as you play the scale up
or down.
The term interval dynamics refers to the fact that, once your brain understands
which note is the tonic note, it perceives the succession of tones as energized, dynamic
players that move in force fields—not as static, lifeless beads on a string. Without interval
dynamics, there’d be no music.
In Figure 20, the thicker the arrow, the greater the dynamic tension or unrest.
FIGURE 20 Interval Dynamics: How Your Brain Actually Hears
the Major Scale
4.3.5
INTERVAL DYNAMICS: MUSICAL ROAD TRIPS
Recall that simple ratios of frequencies gave rise to a scale in the first place. However,
some frequency ratios within the scale are simpler than others. When your brain
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
213
hears two frequency ratios, one simple, the other not-as-simple, it perceives an urging
of the not-as-simple frequency ratio to become simpler. That’s the onset of a tune.
As the tune moves from note to note, your brain stays interested only if most of
the ratios of frequencies do not resolve to simpler ones, while holding the promise of
ultimately resolving.
To get a tune started, you need a minimum of two frequency ratios so that your
brain can tell which one is simpler than the other. This can happen only if you hear
at least three successive notes:
•
A single frequency ratio is a ratio of two different notes (one interval).
•
Therefore two frequency ratios require at least three notes (two consecutive
intervals).
Every interval except the octave creates tension or unrest. This tension creates a
musical story line or musical narrative, as musicologists call it, especially when
referring to long-form instrumental works, such as symphony movements. Here’s
how Anthony Storr describes the nature of musical adventuring:
Hero myths typically involve the protagonist leaving home, setting out
on adventures, slaying a dragon or accomplishing other feats, winning
a bride, and then returning home in triumph ... The end of the piece
is usually indicated by a return ‘home’ to the tonic; most commonly to
the major triad, less commonly to the minor. A hero myth is an
archetypal pattern, deeply embedded in the psyche, because it
reflects the experience of nearly all of us. We all have to ‘leave home’
by severing some of the ties which bind us to it ...
Musical narratives apply to any musical form, including short songs. Here are
three of many versions:
1. “The Muso of Oz” story line. The protagonist leaves Kansas—the tonic note,
the first note of the scale—on a mysterious journey. Immediately, tension
arises (the curved arrows in Figure 20), and the tune finds itself on a yellow
brick road trip, trying find its way back home.
Will the tune find its way back home? Will it run into more tension and unrest
before it finds its way home? Will it get hopelessly lost and have to rely on
Marshal Puma to dispatch Doc and Fester, neither of whom can even stay
upright on a horse?
Usually, the tune does find its way back to tonic Kansas. End of tune.
214 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
2. “The Escapee” story line. The protagonist moves through various dynamic
tonal fields, hiding, disguising itself, trying to escape re-capture.
Will the fugitive, Dr. Richard Cymbal, get caught somewhere along the road
and hauled back to Tonal Headquarters to face the music? Will everything
somehow resolve in a Hollywood ending of dramatic climax, car chases,
explosions, truth, and justice?
Yes, of course. End of story and tune.
3. The “Lord of the Tunes” story line. The protagonist is the sovereign, the queen
or king (could it be Elvis?), the holder of authority over the tune.
The plot concerns itself with the loss and regaining of rightful authority. The
sovereign’s source of authority, the Tonic Note, somehow passes into the
possession of other notes. The story is still a road trip—a tune would not be
a tune if it didn’t move continuously and, to a degree, restlessly. The identity
of the holder of sovereignty gets called into question.
Will the rightful sovereign get back sovereignty? Yes, usually. End of story
and tune.
Every tune’s a road trip. If the tune’s really short, the story’s over in seconds (for
example, numerous nursery tunes). If the tune takes a lot of twists and turns, the
story might go on for 20 minutes before the tune finally finds its way back home (a
symphonic movement).
4.3.6
INTERVAL DYNAMICS: CURVED ARROWS AND
CONTEXT
Music arises when your brain compares frequency ratios of a succession of notes, an
order of intervals. That means your brain needs context. If it’s a tune without chords,
the first note you hear supplies the beginning of context. The second note provides
more information. The third, still more information. And so on.
All the while, your brain is comparing frequency ratios. If it perceives several
different simple frequency ratios (for example, 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, etc.) among the note
relationships (i.e., the intervals), it figures out there’s an organizing principle at work
that is giving rise to the succession of simple frequency ratios it’s perceiving.
What is this organizing principle?
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
215
A scale of some sort.
It then expects to hear more notes from the same scale, but not necessarily in the
same order.
In fact, your brain will get bored and lose interest in the tune unless it perceives
some surprises in the relationships between the pitches (the intervals) as the tune
moves on.
As soon as the tune begins (sets the musical road trip in motion), your brain goes
to work figuring out which note is the tonic—the tonal centre. All of the frequency
ratios that define the other intervals depend on the tonal centre for context. The tonic
note acts as a kind of gravitational force on the tune as a whole, which is why it’s
called the tonal centre.
Your brain perceives a hierarchy of stability, with scale degree 1 (the tonic note)
perceived as most stable.
THE MUSICAL ADVENTURES OF „TRITONE,‰
THE CAT
As discussed in Chapter 1, chimpanzees create abstract paintings
that sell for big bucks.
So, why couldn’t a talented cat compose music on the piano? If
people buy chimp paintings, somebody might buy cat music.
Marshal Puma inherited a piano-playing cat after Ex-Marshal
McDillon left town in a ball of feathers and humiliation. The cat,
Tritone, walks along Marshal Puma’s piano keyboard.
Yes, but is it music?
Your brain hears a succession of random notes and can’t figure
out which one is the tonal centre. Therefore, it can’t apply an
organizing principle—a scale—to the notes it hears. So it can’t
make sense of any of the intervals Tritone is playing.
Not only that, but Tritone, being a cat, has no ability to entrain.
So he can’t even walk along the keys in a recognizably rhythmic
style. Still, people do pay thousands of dollars for chimpanzee
paintings. Who knows, Marshal Puma might want to record
Tritone’s piano playing and send a demo to a record label in
some other city, such as Wichita or even Austin. One that
specializes in postmodern music.
216 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Here’s another way of looking at the way the tones of the major scale gravitate
towards the tonal centre (Figure 21):
FIGURE 21 Interval Dynamics: „Gravitational Force‰ of the
Tonic Note
Figure 21 illustrates the appropriateness of the term “diatonic.” All the notes of
this type of scale ultimately relate to each other diatonically—“through” or “by” the
“tonic” note.
When you play a simple major scale, how does your brain automatically figure
out and interpret what it’s hearing? Table 20 below shows the basics. You need
context. Your brain needs to process all of the notes successively for you to feel these
effects.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
TABLE 20 Interval Dynamics, Major Scale
Note
Movement
Interval
Name
Fig. 20
Graphic
State of Unrest/Tension
(with Respect to Tonic Note)
1–2
Major
second
(whole
tone)
Thick
arrow
Upper note of major second
(frequency ratio of 9:8) seeks to
resolve down to the tonal
centre. Motion against the
natural force, 1 – 2, creates high
tension. Motion with the natural
force, 2 – 1, resolves it.
4–3
Minor
second
(semitone)
Thick
arrow
Upper note of minor second
(frequency ratio of 16:15) seeks
to resolve down to the closest
note, scale degree 3, with its
much simpler frequency ratio of
5:4 with respect to the tonal
centre. Motion against the
natural force, 3 – 4, creates high
tension. Motion with the natural
force, 4 – 3, resolves it.
7 – 1 (8)
Minor
second
(semitone)
Thick
arrow
Lower note of minor second
(frequency ratio of 16:15) seeks
to resolve up to the tonal centre.
Motion against the natural force,
1 (8) – 7, creates high tension.
Motion with the natural force, 7
– 1 (8), resolves it.
3–1
Major
third
Medium
arrow
Upper note of major third
(frequency ratio of 5:4) seeks to
resolve down to the closest tonal
centre. Motion against the
natural force, 1 – 3, creates
moderate tension. Motion with
the natural force, 3 – 1, resolves
it.
217
218 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6 – 5 or
6 – 1 (8)
Minor
second
or
Minor
third
Medium
arrow
Scale degree 6 has a roughly
equal urge to resolve either
down to the simpler frequency
ratio of the nearby scale degree
5, or up to the closest tonal
centre. Motion against the
natural forces, 5 – 6 or 1 (8) – 6,
creates moderate tension.
Motion with the natural forces, 6
– 5 or 6 – 1 (8) resolves it.
5 – 1 or
5 – 1 (8)
Perfect
fifth or
Perfect
fourth
Thin
arrow
Scale degree 5 has a only a slight
but roughly equal urge to resolve
to either tonal centre. Motion
against the natural forces, 1 – 5
or 1 (8) – 5 creates slight tension.
Motion with the natural forces, 5
– 1 or 5 – 1 (8) resolves it.
Your brain perceives all of the notes except the tonal centres, 1 and 1 (8), in some
state of unrest as you play the scale. You can use any of several terms to characterize
these interval dynamics:
restless vs at rest
unbalanced vs balanced
tense vs resolved
unstable vs stable
dissonant vs consonant
The instant these forces come into play—the instant you hear a series of notes
played or sung (a succession of intervals)—your brain may sense a tune (musical
motion). It depends on the frequency ratios of the intervals and whether or not your
brain can sense in those intervals an underlying organization.
Your brain automatically tries to determine if the intervals correspond to simple
ratios of frequencies. It will also try to determine the tonal centre, the note that serves
as the anchor for purposes of identifying the simple ratios. If it identifies several
familiar simple frequency ratios, it instantly understands the organizing principle (a
diatonic scale) and perceives some sort of tune—a succession of intervals manifesting
a variety of levels of dynamic tension.
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
219
4.3.7
INTERVAL DYNAMICS: MANIPULATING TONAL
TENSION
Just as a writer of a movie script or play manipulates tension through the actions of
characters, a composer or songwriter manipulates tension through the actions of
intervals. Some intervals deliver more tonal tension than others.
Normally, a composer or songwriter comes up with a tune without
intellectualizing about it. The tune just comes out as an effusion. However, like any
good writer, a skilled songwriter or composer will then go over the tune and
recognize weak spots—places where the tune drags (not enough high-tension
intervals), or becomes confusing (too much material for short-term memory to
handle), as it moves from note to note.
A knowledge of interval dynamics becomes vital in revising the tune. Historically,
great composers (e. g., Beethoven) and songwriters (e. g., Leonard Cohen, Paul
Simon), have sweated over revisions until they sense the tune has its own identity
and doesn’t get tired-sounding, even after repeated listenings.
Any tune retains a distinct identity no matter where it’s played or sung in the
spectrum of pitches. Therefore, any pitch whatsoever can serve as the tonal centre,
the tonic note. It’s the frequency ratios that matter, not the specific frequency that
serves as the foundation (tonic note) for determining the ratios.
The intervals with the simplest frequency ratios have the lowest dynamic tension,
the greatest stability. The octave, with a frequency ratio of 2:1, is, of course, the most
stable interval.
The perfect fifth, with its 3:2 frequency ratio, has little inherent tension, and
therefore serves as a kind of counter terminus to the tonic notes at either end of the
scale. The perfect fifth has so much natural stability that many tunes end on it
(instead of the tonic, which is where most tunes end), and the listener does not feel
as though the tune has failed to come to rest.
At the other extreme, the minor second can supply a lot of tension, especially in
its role as scale degree 7 going up to 1 (8). Because scale degree 7 strongly seeks to
resolve up to 1 (8), scale degree 7 is known as the leading tone.
It’s important to reiterate that your brain does not “learn” any of this. It’s
hard-wired. You will always sense these states of rest or unrest, tension or resolution,
etc., whenever you hear a variety of simple ratios of frequencies in succession.
220
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
4.3.8
THE TYRANNICAL OCTAVE
You don’t have to think of the octave as tyrannical. But, like other natural
phenomena (gravity, for instance), it is. As Figure 20 above illustrates, all arrows
curve to the octave notes. In music, you can’t break free of the tyrannical octave.
No matter how hard your tune may try to break the chains of 1 and 1 (8), there’s
just no escaping. Your tune merrily leaves home, lights out for the territory, and ends
up ... where? Strangely, back home. Without having turned back. Without having
gone in a circle.
The irreducible simplicity of the 2:1 (octave) frequency ratio induces a feeling of
balance or repose. All other pitches arise from more complex frequency ratios such
as 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, and so on. Your brain distinguishes them from the octave interval
notes in two ways:
1. By associating a “different-from-octave” qualitative sound with each note
representing each “non - 2:1" frequency ratio, within the context of the octave
interval.
For example, as you play the white keys on the piano from C up to the next
C, you hear the notes D, E, F, G, A, and B all sounding qualitatively different
from the C you started the scale with.
But when you get to the C at the top of the scale, even though it’s a different
note, it sounds qualitatively the same as the C you started with. Yes, it’s higher
in pitch, but it still sounds to your brain like the identical note you started
with, C.
2. By associating a feeling of imbalance or unrest with each non-octave note. This
feeling of unrest or tension increases in intensity as frequency ratios become
more complex with respect to the octave interval.
You can stuff as many notes as you want between 1 and 1 (8), but you still won’t
escape the octave. You can never pry the octave open any wider, because you can’t
reduce a frequency ratio to anything simpler than 2:1.
Paradoxically, making peace with the smallest intervals of the octave, the
semitones (through a bit of fudging called equal temperament), provides more than
ample relief, if not escape, from the octave’s tyranny (coming up in Chapter 5).
(Tuning purists will note that some tuning systems slightly “stretch” the octave,
such as one used by Indonesian Gamelan percussion orchestras. But such tunings are
highly variable and, in any case, unheard of in Western popular music.)
CHAPTER 4—HOW SCALES AND INTERVALS REALLY WORK
221
4.4
Emotional Effects of Intervals
Table 21 below lists some reported emotional effects of various types of intervals, and
specific intervals.
Keep in mind that the emotional effects of the intervals listed below, like the
emotional effects of other musical elements, vary with the musical context—the
succession of preceding intervals, the prevailing chords and chord changes, rhythmic
variables, instrumental tone colors, and so forth.
TABLE 21 Emotional Effects of Intervals
Interval or Interval Type
Associated Emotions
Consonant intervals
Pleasantness, generally positive
emotional valence; not as
strong or active as dissonant
intervals
Dissonant intervals
Generally negative emotional
valence, strength, activity
Major intervals
Brightness, strength
Minor Intervals
Dullness, weakness
Large intervals
Power
Small intervals
Weakness
Minor second
Melancholy, displeasure,
anguish, darkness
Major second
Pleasurable longing,
displeasure (neutral as a
passing tone; see Chapter 9)
Minor third
Tragedy, sadness
Major third
Joy, happiness, brightness
Perfect fourth
Buoyancy, pathos (neutral as a
passing tone; see Chapter 9)
Tritone (
)
Violence, danger, tension,
devilishness (of course!)
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Perfect fifth
Cheerfulness, stability
Minor sixth
Anguish, sadness
Major sixth
Winsomeness, pleasurable
longing (neutral as a passing
tone; see Chapter 9)
Dominant seventh
Irresolution, displeasure,
mournfulness
Major seventh
Aspiration, displeasure, violent
longing
Octave
Lightheartedness (i.e., sudden
melodic leap)
5
How Keys and Modes
REALLY Work
Art is the opposite of chaos. Art is organized chaos.
—IGOR STRAVINSKY
5.1
Scales from Around the World
5.1.1
WHAT SCALES HAVE IN COMMON: TONES IN
SIMPLE FREQUENCY RATIOS
Thousands of years ago in Africa, Europe, Asia and elsewhere, people made
discoveries, independently, about the connections between tunes (songs) and scales
(ordered collections of pitches used in the tunes). Some scales eventually fell out of
use. Others became fixtures of the prevailing culture.
All musical-sounding scales consist of a small selection of notes—typically five
to seven intervals (six to eight notes) to the octave. The notes that comprise scales
everywhere tend to have simple frequency ratio relationships with the first note of the
scale. You can play most widely-used musical scales on a piano or guitar, regardless
of the scale’s culture of origin.
224
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
THE MEANING OF „OCTAVE‰
The term “octave” originally described the span of the eight-note
(seven-interval) diatonic order of tones and semitones. Now the
term simply applies to the interval associated with the
frequency ratio 2:1.
So, whether a scale has five, six, seven, eight, thirteen, or
twenty-two notes, the span from the lowermost to the
uppermost note—the note with a frequency of double the
lowermost note—is still referred to as an “octave.”
Figure 22 below shows the chromatic scale. It’s just a rack of 12 equally-spaced
semitone intervals—13 notes, including the tonic notes at each end, called the prime
(or interval of unison) and the octave.
To play the chromatic scale, you start with any note and simply play adjacent
semitones until you get to the next octave note. Postmodern feline composers the
world over use this non-musical scale.
FIGURE 22 Chromatic Scale
Prime
Octave
The scales in the following discussion use a variety of samplings of tones from the
chromatic scale.
5.1.2
MAJOR PENTATONIC SCALE
You will find this Pythagorean scale in every major musical culture worldwide. The
name pentatonic derives from the fact that it has five intervals, although the scale has
six notes, including the prime and the octave.
You can play this scale on your guitar or keyboard starting from any note, as long
as you preserve the interval order, like this (the dots indicate the notes; the labels
between indicate the type of interval between notes):
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
225
! tone ! tone ! aug 2nd ! tone ! aug 2nd !
Figure 23 clarifies which tones you would select from the chromatic scale to get
the major pentatonic scale, and the size of the intervals from tone to tone.
FIGURE 23 Major Pentatonic Scale (5 Intervals, 6 Notes)
C Cvv D Exx
^
^
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B
^
^
C
^
This scale is widely used in Africa and Asia (it’s the Chinese Mongolian scale),
in Celtic music, and in North American folk, gospel and blues music. Some familiar
songs that use the major pentatonic scale are:
•
•
•
“Auld Lang Syne”
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
“Amazing Grace”
Here’s an easy way to remember the interval order for this important scale: play
the black keys only on the piano, starting with Fv (that’s the first (leftmost) key in the
group of three black keys).
5.1.3
MINOR PENTATONIC SCALE
The minor pentatonic scale (Figure 24 below) uses the same notes as the major
pentatonic scale, but in a different order. The interval order is as follows (5 intervals,
6 notes):
! aug 2nd ! tone ! tone ! aug 2nd ! tone !
To remember the interval order for this scale, play the black keys only on the
piano, starting with Dv (that’s the second—rightmost—key in the group of two black
keys).
226
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 24 Minor Pentatonic Scale (5 Intervals, 6 Notes)
A Bxx B
^
C Cvv D Exx
^
^
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A
^
^
Both the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic scales use the same five
black keys on the piano. Each scale has the same number of “tone” intervals (three),
and the same number of “augmented 2nd” intervals (two). Yet these two pentatonic
scales sound markedly different from each other. How come?
Because, with any scale, each of the constituent tones forms an interval with the
tonic note. So, if you change the order of the intervals, you change the character of the
entire scale. Even if you use the same number and same sizes of intervals.
It goes back to ratios of frequencies.
Each tone of a scale has a unique frequency ratio with respect to the tonic note. If
you move even one tone to a different position within a scale, you change its frequency
ratio with respect to the tonic note—and with all the other notes in the scale. This
changes the sound of the entire scale. Consequently, it changes the character of
melodies crafted using the scale.
In other words, if you move even one tone in a scale, it becomes a different scale
with different melodic potential.
5.1.4
WHY “SIMILAR” SCALES SOUND SO DIFFERENT:
THE STAIRCASE ANALOGY
Think of staircases with differing heights of the individual steps. The floor at the
bottom of the staircase represents the tonic note. The upper floor is the octave note.
The intervals are the vertical distances you go as you climb the steps. Each staircase
is the same overall height, connecting the lower floor to the same upper floor.
Figure 25 visually represents the difference between the major pentatonic and
minor pentatonic scales.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
227
FIGURE 25 Scales As „Staircases‰
Major
Pentatonic
„Staircase‰
Minor
Pentatonic
„Staircase‰
Even though both pentatonic staircases have three regular-sized steps and two
large steps, the difference in the order of the two step sizes means you have a different
experience climbing each staircase.
Just as re-ordering step-sizes makes for unique staircases and climbing adventures,
so re-ordering intervals makes for unique scales and musical experiences.
A HORSE-FRIENDLY HOTEL WITH CHROMATIC
STAIRCASES
WARNING: DO NOT try to ride your horse up a pentatonic
staircase. As you can see in Figure 25 above, a pentatonic
staircase is too steep, and the steps are too uneven. Ex-Marshal
McDillon had to ban horses from all the hotels in Dodge City
because so many horses got hurt on the pentatonic staircases.
Marshal Puma has decided to keep the ban in place, despite her
falling out with Ex-Marshal McDillon and her affinity for cheap
plot twists in Classic Westerns.
If you’re looking for a horse-friendly hotel, try the Fairmont
Royal York, a luxury hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Since the
late 1940s, the Fairmont Royal York has welcomed strangers from
the West, especially strangers from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to
ride on up to the registration desk on their horses. According to
some reports, this policy also applies to chuckwagon drivers with
teams of horses. The hotel even has specially-constructed
smooth chromatic staircases to make it easy for guests on
horseback to get around inside the hotel.
228
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
5.1.5
BLUES SCALE
The blues scale (Figure 26 below) is almost the same as the minor pentatonic scale,
except that it has an extra note in the middle. The addition of that extra note,
sometimes called a blue note, gives this scale a considerably different sound from the
minor pentatonic.
FIGURE 26 Blues Scale (6 Intervals, 7 Notes)
A Bxx B
^
C Cvv D Exx
^ ^
^
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A
^
^
5.1.6
AN ARABIC SCALE
Figure 27 below shows a scale used in the Middle East. Try playing it on your guitar
or piano.
Compare this Arabic scale with the familiar major diatonic scale (all the white
keys on the piano, beginning with C). The Arabic scale has four semitone intervals,
including two consecutive semitones as you pass through the tonic note. These
dissonances give the scale an exotic, other-worldly sound to Western ears.
You can play this scale starting with any note on your guitar or piano. As usual,
just make sure you preserve the order of the intervals, like this:
! semitone ! aug 2nd ! semitone ! tone ! semitone ! aug 2nd ! semitone !
FIGURE 27 An Arabic Scale (7 Intervals, 8 Notes)
C Cvv D Exx
^ ^
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B
^
^ ^
^
C
^
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
229
5.1.7
INDIAN OR WHOLE TONE SCALE: AN EQUALINTERVAL SCALE THAT WORKS
Normally, an equal-interval scale sounds like rubbish. But here’s an Indian equalinterval scale that sounds musical (Figure 28). It has a dream-like, fanciful quality.
Almost surreal.
This scale contains consonant intervals with simple frequency ratios (major
thirds, minor sixths) and dissonant intervals (major seconds, tritones, minor
sevenths).
This whole tone scale below is one of many scales used in Indian music. Another
divides the octave into 22 “microtones”—intervals smaller than a semitone.
Impressionist composers such as Claude Debussy used the whole tone scale in
many compositions.
FIGURE 28 An Equal-interval Indian or Whole Tone Scale (6
Intervals, 7 Notes)
C Cvv D Exx
^
^
E
^
F Fvv G Gvv A Avv B
^
^
^
C
^
5.1.8
A CHINESE PENTATONIC SCALE
The major pentatonic scale (Figure 23 above) is the same as the Chinese Mongolian
scale.
The following pentatonic scale is also widely used in China (Figure 29):
FIGURE 29 A Chinese Scale
C Cvv D Exx
^
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B
^ ^
^
C
^
230 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
5.1.9
HUNGARIAN GYPSY (ROMA) SCALE
And, finally, to get your blood a-boilin’, here’s the Hungarian minor scale, better
known as the Hungarian Gypsy scale or the Hungarian Roma scale (Figure 30).
Get somebody to play a fast tune with this scale. Dance until dizzy.
FIGURE 30 Hungarian Gypsy (Roma) Scale
C Cvv D Exx
^
^ ^
E
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B
^ ^ ^
^
C
^
5.2
The Modes: Scales of the
Diatonic Order
5.2.1
THE DIATONIC ORDER: A DISTINCTIVE PATTERN
OF TONES AND SEMITONES
Chapter 4 discussed how the major diatonic scale with which Westerners are so
familiar developed from the application of simple ratios of frequencies.
Historically, this scale did not emerge quickly or easily. The “do-re-mi” major
scale pattern of five tones and two semitones took centuries of tinkering. Recall from
Chapter 4 the order of tones and semitones for the major scale—the white keys on
the piano beginning and ending with C:
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
231
Two whole tones, then a semitone, then three whole tones, then another
semitone: this pattern of tones and semitones is called the diatonic order.
5.2.2
FLAVOURS OF THE DIATONIC ORDER
Now, suppose that, instead of playing
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C,
you were to start on a different white key of the piano, such as D, like this:
D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D.
The pattern of tones and semitones shifts to:
! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone !
Is this still the so-called “diatonic order”?
Yes it is. You still have five tones and two semitones. They’re still spaced the
same way.
But when you play this scale, it no longer sounds like the familiar “do-re mi”
scale. It sounds a little weird, a little strange. By starting on a different note—D—you
change the order of the frequency ratios of several of the notes of the scale with respect to
the tonal centre.
It’s a different staircase.
Recall the pattern of curved arrows near the end of Chapter 4, representing the
dynamic relationships among the tones that make up the “do-re-mi” major scale.
That pattern of curved arrows does not apply to this new scale.
Suppose you were to play all the white keys starting with E, like this:
E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E.
Now the pattern has shifts to:
! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone !
Again, it’s the diatonic order: five tones and two semitones, all spaced the same
way. But again, with a different tonal centre, this scale sounds different from both the
C-based scale and the D-based scale. The E-based scale sounds Spanish. Or maybe
Middle Eastern.
232 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
You can keep doing this, playing a different scale on the white keys only, starting
on a different key each time—a different tonal centre each time.
Next comes this one:
F–G–A–B–C–D–E–F
Then:
G–A–B–C–D–E–F–G
Then:
A–B–C–D–E–F–G–A
And finally:
B–C–D–E–F–G–A–B
At this point, you’ve run out of scale possibilities—the next one would be a
repetition of the C-based scale, the one you started with.
So ... seven variants of the diatonic order, each starting on a different white key
of the piano. What’s the musical significance?
5.2.3
CHURCH A LA MODE
When the diatonic order was being sorted out several centuries ago, composers and
musicians were working with many scales. But it took quite a while to settle on one
or two favourites, for reasons ultimately having to do with simple frequency ratios,
harmony, and something called tonality (coming up later in this chapter).
In medieval times, there were eight modes called the Church modes or Gregorian
modes. As the diatonic order gradually became more entrenched, seven “modern”
modes were recognized—the seven variants of the diatonic order you just played on
the keyboard, each beginning on a different white key.
The seven modes have names. The scale you get when you play the white keys
on the piano starting and ending with C is called the Ionian mode. The modern name
for the Ionian mode is simply the major scale—your basic familiar “do-re-mi” scale.
The scale you get when you play the white keys on the piano starting and ending
with D is called the Dorian mode. And so on.
You can play any of these modal scales anywhere on your guitar or piano (i.e.,
starting on any note), as long as you preserve the interval order for the mode.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
233
Figure 31 below shows all seven modes and the interval orders for each. These
modes will be referred to henceforth as the “Church modes” (which will no doubt
irritate some history-of-music-theory purists). Note that in Figure 31
T = Tone
S = Semitone
FIGURE 31 The Seven Church Modes (7 Intervals, 8 Notes),
Each a Different „Cut‰ of the Diatonic Order
Ionian Mode (now known as the major scale)
C Cvv D Exx
^
^
T
T
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B C
^
^
^
^ ^
S
T
T
T
S
Dorian Mode
D Exx
^
T
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B C Cvv D
^
^
^
^ ^
^
S
T
T
T
S
T
Phrygian Mode
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B C Cvv D Exx
^
^
^
^ ^
^
S
T
T
T
S
T
T
E
^
Lydian Mode
F Fvv G Axx A Bxx B C Cvv D Exx
^
^
^
^ ^
^
T
T
T
S
T
T
E
^
S
F
^
234 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Mixolydian Mode
G Axx A Bxx B C Cvv D Exx
^
^
^ ^
^
T
T
S
T
T
E
^
F Fvv
^
S
T
G
^
Aeolian Mode (now known as the natural minor scale)
A Bxx B C Cvv D Exx
^ ^
^
^
T
S
T
T
E
^
F Fvv G Axx A
^
^
^
S
T
T
Locrian Mode
B
^
C Cvv D Exx
^
^
S
T
T
E
^
F Fvv
^
S
T
G Axx A Bxx
^
^
T
T
B
^
5.2.4
SOME POPULAR SONGS WITH CHURCH MODE
MELODIES
Of the seven Church modes, two are no longer thought of as such—the Ionian and
Aeolian modes—because the great majority of the music of the West uses these two
scales, now called the major and minor, respectively.
As for the other Church modes, they faded into disuse roughly around the
Shakespearean era, some 400 years ago. Today, you can hear some of the Church
modes in some genres, such as heavy metal, some British and Celtic folk music, and
some so-called “art” music.
Chapter 6 discusses the inherent properties of the Church modes that make it
difficult for musicians to use them to create palatable chord progressions. Chapter 9
discusses how you can use Church mode scales to create compelling melodies, while
using chord progressions derived from the two modes now referred to as the major
and minor scales.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
235
The Church modes have occasionally found their way into popular songwriting.
Here are a few examples of tunes that use Church modes as scales (some recordings
of these songs may be in keys other than the original modal key):
Dorian mode (D to D, white piano keys only)
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
“The End” (The Doors)
“What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor” (traditional)
“Scarborough Fair” (folk song popularized by Simon and Garfunkel)
“Smoke On The Water” (Deep Purple)
“The Way I Feel” (Gordon Lightfoot)
“Green Onions” (Booker T & the MG’s)
“Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways,” and numerous others as performed by Carlos
Santana (“King of the Dorian Mode”)
Phrygian mode (E to E, white piano keys only)
•
“White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane)
Lydian mode (F to F, white piano keys only)
•
“The Simpsons” theme
Mixolydian mode (G to G, white piano keys only)
•
•
•
•
“Norwegian Wood” (The Beatles)
“Satisfaction” (Rolling Stones)
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot)
“Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
If you’re unfamiliar with some of these songs, go to the Gold Standard Song List.
The website (www.GoldStandardSongList.com) has details on how to get the lyrics
and how to listen to excerpts.
Locrian mode (B to B, white piano keys only)
•
The Locrian is a theoretical mode, too unsettled-sounding for practical
melodic use. It differs from all of the other modes in that its fifth degree is not
236 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
a perfect fifth interval (which usually imparts some cohesion to a scale). It’s
a diminished fifth—the dreaded tritone.
5.2.5
MORE SCALES THAN A CATFISH (2,047 TO BE
EXACT)
In theory, how many different scales could there be?
More than you’ll find on the skin of your average catfish.
Why so many?
Because scales are combinatorial. You start with a finite number of items (all the
notes of a chromatic scale), plus some rules about picking and combining the items
(the notes you choose from the chromatic scale to make up your own scale). The
more notes in your original chromatic scale, the more “sub-scales” you can create.
Here are some scale construction “rules”:
•
Start with an equal-interval chromatic scale. It can have any number of notes,
up to a maximum of, say, 30 in the octave. (The more notes to the octave, the
harder it is for your brain to distinguish adjacent notes.) In the diatonic
system, there are only 13 notes in the chromatic octave, including the first and
last notes. But other musical systems divide the octave into more than 13
notes. In theory, you could start with a chromatic scale of, say, 30 notes to the
octave, instead of 13.
•
Pick any number of notes from the chromatic scale to create a scale of your
own. However, your scale must have a minimum of three notes—the first and
last notes of the octave, plus one other note in between. The maximum number
of notes would be all the notes in the full chromatic scale.
•
The scale must be confined to one octave, with no notes repeated except the
prime and octave notes at each end.
Suppose you start with a chromatic scale of only three notes. Call the notes A, B,
and A, where the two “A” notes are the notes at each end of the scale. According
to the above rules, you could only have one scale, comprised of three notes.
ABA
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
237
Now suppose you start with a chromatic scale of four equally-spaced notes, A,
B, C, and A (three equal intervals). According to the rules, you could create two
scales comprised of three notes and one scale with four notes:
ABA
ACA
ABCA
Next, start with a chromatic scale of 5 equally-spaced notes, A, B, C, D, and A.
The number of possible scales you could create more than doubles to seven:
ABA
ACA
ADA
ABCA
ACDA
ABDA
ABCDA
Next, try a chromatic scale of 6 notes, A, B, C, D, E, and A. The number of
possible scales more than doubles again, to 15:
ABA
ACA
ADA
AEA
ABCA
ABDA
ABEA
ACDA
ACEA
ADEA
ABCDA
ACDEA
ABCEA
ABDEA
ABCDEA
And so it goes:
Chromatic scale of 7 notes
Chromatic scale of 8 notes
= 31 possible scales
= 63 possible scales
...
Chromatic scale of 13 notes
= 2,047 possible scales
As you know, the chromatic scale of 13 notes is the one from which all Western
musical scales are drawn. Here’s a breakdown of the 2,047 possible scales you can
create using the 13-note (12 semitone) Western chromatic scale (Table 22):
238 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 22 Number of Possible Scales Using a 13-Note, 12Interval Chromatic Scale
Number Number
of Notes
of
in the
Possible
Scale
Scales
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
11
55
165
330
462
462
330
165
55
11
1
---------2,047
So ... the familiar 8-note “do-re-mi” major scale is only one of 462 possible 8-note
scales you could construct by selecting 8 notes from the 13-note chromatic scale.
There are 330 possible pentatonic scales. (Recall that the number of notes in a
pentatonic scale is not five; it is six, because the octave note occurs twice.)
Of all the 2,047 possible scales, only a small number lend themselves easily to
modulation (key changes) and harmony. Those are the ones you’ll find most useful.
Roedy Black’s Guitar and Keyboard Scales Poster, available at
www.CompleteChords.com, displays guitar and keyboard fingering diagrams in all
keys for five of the most useful, commonly used scales:
•
•
•
•
•
Major scale
Minor scale
Major pentatonic scale
Minor pentatonic scale
Blues scale
Now, just for fun ...
Q: How many scales could you theoretically create if you started with a
chromatic scale of 30 notes to the octave?
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
239
A: Precisely 268,435,455 possible scales. When you die, if there is a hell, and you
end up there because you’ve been bad, they will have a 30-note chromatic
scale. You will have to memorize all the possible scales you could create from
it. On the other hand, if you’ve been good and you go to heaven, you will
meet Maurice Ravel, who will try to get you interested in learning how to
compose heavenly music with the whole tone scale, which you may or may
not find appealing, depending on how long eternity lasts.
5.2.6
WHY THE CHURCH MODES DIDN’T MAKE THE
BIG TIME
For purposes of creating harmony, the five Church modes that fell into disuse lacked
the vigour and dynamism of the scales that stuck around.
A “successful” scale (as far as your brain is concerned) needs a mixture of two
kinds of intervals:
1. Easily-processed simple-frequency-ratio intervals. These intervals provide
your ear with a sense of tonal recognition, a “home,” a centre of gravity.
A note associated with the next-simplest frequency ratio after the octave,
namely, ratio 3:2 (scale degree 5) must be positioned in the middle of the
scale. It functions as a stable counterweight to the tonic note.
At scale degree 5, a tune has travelled as far away from “home” as it can get.
Now it can only proceed either downwards towards scale degree 1, or
upwards towards scale degree 1 (8).
Table 23 shows the first few overtones in the harmonic series—the strongest
overtones. You can see that the overtones with frequency ratios associated
with the consonant scale degrees, 1 and 5 especially, and also 3, appear most
prominently.
Only at the sixth overtone does a dissonance finally make an appearance.
More on these phenomena in Chapter 6.
240
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 23 Fundamental and First 9 Overtones of the „Middle
C‰ Overtone Series
Tone /
Overtone
Multiple of
Fundamental
Fundamental
1st Overtone
2nd Overtone
3rd Overtone
4th Overtone
5th Overtone
6th Overtone
7th Overtone
8th Overtone
9th Overtone
1 (f)
fx2
fx3
fx4
fx5
fx6
fx7
fx8
fx9
f x 10
Frequency
Ratio
1:
2:
3:
2:
5:
3:
9:
2:
9:
5:
1
1
2
1
4
2
5
1
8
4
Associated
Scale Degree
1
1
5
1
3
5
x7
1
2
3
2. Highly unstable, unbalanced intervals, especially a “leading tone.” They
function as pointers, directly or indirectly, to “home.” In particular, a highly
unbalanced interval between scale degrees 7 and 1 (8) is required to propel the
tune upwards to that “home on high,” scale degree 1 (8).
Unstable, dissonant intervals give a tune (melody) note-to-note impetus. As
previously mentioned, unstable intervals make it possible to create a tune that
sounds like it has a “sense of purpose” or “story.” A road trip.
As a musical scale, the chromatic scale fails miserably. It has 12 semitones—all
highly unbalanced intervals. Way, way too many to function as a musical scale. To
be sure, the chromatic scale also contains all the simple-frequency-ratio intervals. But
your brain can’t resolve them amid the din and cacophony of 12 dissonant semitones.
The Church modes don’t succeed because:
•
All of them except the Lydian wimp out at scale degree 7, the all-important
leading tone. Instead of a semitone pointing strongly at 1 (8), they have a
much-less-dissonant whole tone. Not enough tension and propulsion to
establish 1 (8) as the note-of-notes, the alpha dog, the head honcho, the top
banana, the big cheese, the great enchilada, the prime kahuna: Elvis, King of
Scale Degrees.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
241
If you’re a musical mode on the make, and you can’t even recognize that the
cab driver showing you around Muscle Shoals is Elvis, how can you expect
anybody to take you seriously enough to buy your music?
•
Two of them, the Lydian and Locrian, form a tritone interval with the tonic
at scale degree 4. There’s no counter-balancing middle tone in these scales.
More on Church modes and harmony towards the end of Chapter 6.
5.3
Keys, Major and Minor
5.3.1
THE TWO SURVIVING MODES
Of the seven Church modes, only two are commonly used today, the two now called
the major mode and the minor mode.
Recall that if you start your scale with the note C, then you get the major scale.
The interval order of the major scale is:
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
Recall also that if you start your scale with the note A, then you get the natural
minor scale. The interval order of the minor scale is:
! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone !
The seemingly trivial difference in the order of the five tones and two semitones
makes a profound emotional difference when you hear the resulting music.
Both the C major scale and the A minor scale use exactly the same set of notes, but
the minor scale starts at scale degree 6 of the major scale, and the major scale starts
at scale degree 3 of the minor scale.
Figure 32 clarifies the matter, showing how these two scales relate to each other
when you overlap their interval patterns:
242
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 32 How the C-Major and A-Minor Scales Relate to
Each Other (7 Intervals, 8 Notes)
C-Major Scale
1
2
C Cvv D
^
^
Exx
3
4
5
6
7 1(8)
E
^
F Fvv
^
G Axx A Bxx
^
^
1
A
^
Bxx
B
^
C
^
2
3
4
B
C
^
^
Cvv D
^
A-Minor Scale
5
Exx
6
E
F
^
^
7
Fvv
1(8)
G Axx A
^
^
5.3.2
KEYS AND SCALES
Sometimes you find yourself playing or singing a tune that, for one reason or
another, is “too high” or “too low.” So what do you do? Change keys, of course.
But what does “change keys” mean?
First, the word “key” in the following discussion has nothing to do with the 88
black and white mechanical devices on a piano called “piano keys.” So, from now
on, to avoid confusion, the term “note” or “notes” will refer to the tones associated
with the 88 black and white mechanical devices on the piano.
The term key refers to a given tonic note (key note) and the rest of the notes of its
associated major or minor scale. (As you’ll see in a bit, “key” encompasses the tonic
note, the related scale, and the related chords.)
For example, if you’re playing or singing in the key of C major, the tonic note is C,
and the scale you use is the C major scale (corresponding to the white notes on the
piano beginning and ending with C).
Suppose you want to “change keys.” Maybe you want to switch to the key of G
major. To do this, you have to do two things:
1. Use the note G as the tonic note of the scale, and
2. Preserve the same order of intervals as when you were playing in the key of C
major, namely:
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
So, to play in the key of G major, here’s the scale you need to use (Figure 33):
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
243
FIGURE 33 G Major Scale
1
2
3
G Gvv A Avv B
^
^
^
4
5
6
C Cvv D Dvv E
^
^
^
7 1(8)
F Fvv
^
G
^
Notice what happens at scale degree 7. Instead of F (a note in the key of C
major), you have to use Fv when you’re in the key of G major. If you don’t, you will
violate the major scale interval order:
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
That’s because, in the key of C major, the note F is in a completely different
location in the scale—it’s at scale degree 4, not 7.
On the piano, to play in the key of G major, you start the scale on the note G and
continue through all the white notes except F. Instead of F, you play the black note,
Fv.
G major and C major are both called major keys and you use major scales to play
in these keys. The term mode is still used to refer collectively to keys and scales of the
same type.
•
•
Major keys and scales are referred to as keys and scales of the major mode.
Minor keys and scales are referred to as keys and scales of the minor mode.
5.3.3
MUSIC’S “THEORY OF RELATIVITY” (NOT TO BE
CONFUSED WITH CULTURAL RELATIVISM)
As you saw in Figure 32, the key of C major and the key of A minor use the same set
of notes. All the white notes on the piano. No sharps or flats. To play a scale in the
key of C major on the piano, you start on the note C and play the white notes only,
up to the next C. To play a scale in the key of A minor, you start on the note A and
play the white notes only, up to the next A.
Every major key, such as the key of C major, has a “related” minor key, such as
the of A minor. Both keys always use exactly the same set of notes.
The key of A minor is called the relative minor of the key of C major. By the same
token, the key of C major is called the relative major of the key of A minor.
244
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Both keys use the same notes, but in a different order:
Key of C major: C D E F G A B C
Key of A minor: A B C D E F G A
Now consider the key of G major and its relative minor. Since the relative minor
scale always starts at scale degree 6 of the major scale, it’s clear from Figure 33 above
that the relative minor of G major must be E minor.
And, since a major key and its relative minor always use exactly same set of
notes, it would stand to reason that the Fv note that appears in the key of G major
must also appear in its relative minor key, which is E minor.
And sure enough, here’s the stunning evidence, the E minor scale (Figure 34):
FIGURE 34 E Minor Scale
1
E
^
2
3
4
5
F Fvv G Gvv A Avv B
^ ^
^
^
6
7
1(8)
C Cvv D Dvv E
^
^
^
There’s the Fv note, exactly as predicted by modern science. It’s uncanny. Like
predicting the return of Halley’s Comet, except of greater practical value for
musicians.
Here’s how the two keys relate to each other (Figure 35):
FIGURE 35 How G Major and E Minor Relate to Each Other
G Major
1
3
4
G Gvv A Avv B
^
^
^
^
2
C
5
6
Cvv D Dvv E
^
^
7 1(8)
F
1
E
^
Fvv G
^ ^
2
F
5
6
Fvv G Gvv A Avv B
^ ^
^
^
^
E Minor
3
4
C
7
1(8)
Cvv D Dvv E
^
^
It’s important to note here that Fv in the above pair of scales is not a chromatic
note, even though it has the “sharp” sign (v) after it.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
245
A chromatic note is a note that does not belong to the prevailing diatonic scale.
Since a given diatonic scale has seven notes, there must be five notes that are
chromatic with respect to that scale. In the above case, the five chromatic notes are:
Gv, Av, Cv, Dv, and F. They are the notes in between G, A, B, C, D, E, and Fv.
The same applies in harmony. In Chapter 6, you’ll learn about chromatic chords.
These are chords that do not belong to the prevailing harmonic scale.
SAM GOLDWYNÊS THEORY OF RELATIVITY, AND
MORE
Sam Goldwyn reputedly told Albert Einstein, “Professor, you have
your theory of relativity and I have mine: never hire ‘em.”
Goldwyn, born Samuel Gelbfisz in Poland in 1882, emigrated to
America and changed his name to Sam Goldfish and then to Sam
Goldwyn. Good thing, or MGM would have been
Metro-Goldfish-Mayer.
Goldwyn became almost as famous for his oxymoronic English as
for his studio’s films. Here are a few of Goldwyn’s lessons on
show business and life.
Classics
•
•
•
•
•
•
A hospital is no place to be sick.
A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head
examined.
Gentlemen, include me out.
I’ll give you a definite maybe.
Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be
delivered by Western Union.
On music
•
•
Please write music like Wagner, only louder.
This music won’t do. There’s not enough sarcasm in it.
On movie-making and movie stars
•
•
•
•
•
•
Give me a couple of years, and I’ll make that actress an
overnight success.
We’re overpaying him, but he’s worth it.
A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.
Don’t pay any attention to the critics—don’t even ignore
them.
Go see it and see for yourself why you shouldn’t go see it.
If people don’t want to go to the picture, nobody can
stop them.
246
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
•
•
Our comedies are not to be laughed at.
Spare no expense to save money on this one.
Where they got lesbians, we’ll use Albanians.
One final example. Suppose you want to switch to the key of F major. Now you
need to make F serve as the tonic note. And you have to preserve the major mode
order of intervals:
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
To do this, you have to flatten scale degree 4. Now you have Bx instead of B,
which preserves the major mode order of intervals.
And here’s the scale you get (Figure 36):
FIGURE 36 F Major Scale
1
2
3
4
F Gxx G Axx A Bxx B
^
^
^ ^
5
6
7 1(8)
C Dxx D Exx
^
^
E
^
F
^
The relative minor of F, as noted earlier, starts at scale degree 6 of the major. So,
as unassailable logic would have it, the relative minor of the key of F major has to
be D minor. Not only that, it must also contain the note Bx (Figure 37):
FIGURE 37 D Minor Scale
1
2
3
4
5
6
D Exx
^
E
^
F Gxx G Axx A Bxx B
^
^
^ ^
7
1(8)
C Dxx D
^
^
Here’s how the two keys relate to each other (Figure 38):
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
247
FIGURE 38 How F Major and D Minor Relate to Each Other
F Major
1
F
^
2
3
4
Gxx G Axx A Bxx
^
^ ^
B
5
6
C
Dxx D
^
^
7 1(8)
Exx
1
D
^
E
F
^
^
2I
Exx
3
E
F
^
^
D Minor
4
Gxx
5
6
G Axx A Bxx
^ ^
^
7
B
C
^
1(8)
Dxx D
^
You can start any major scale on any of the 12 different notes of the chromatic
scale (the 13th note of the chromatic scale repeats the first note to complete the
octave).
That means you can play in 12 different major keys.
The only rule is, whichever note you start on, you have to maintain the major scale
interval order, which is (yet again):
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
even if that means you sometimes have to use a whole bunch of sharp or flat notes.
Which is the case for some keys.
And, not surprisingly, all of this applies equally to the minor keys. You can start
any minor scale on any of the 12 different notes of the chromatic scale.
That means you can play in 12 different minor keys.
Again, the only rule is, whichever note you start on, you then have to maintain the
minor scale interval order, which is (yet again):
! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone !
even if that means you sometimes have to use a whole bunch of sharp and flat notes.
Which is the case for some keys.
5.3.4
ALL 12 MAJOR SCALES IN ONE CONVENIENT
TABLE
Table 24 below shows all the notes and scale degrees for all 12 keys of the major
mode. (The shaded bars are only a visual aid; they have no musical significance.)
248
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
The row above the first shaded row names the scale degrees: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, and 1 (8).
•
The first shaded row is the scale of the key of C major.
•
The next, slightly darker shaded row is the scale of the key of C sharp major.
•
The next row is the scale and key of D major.
And so on.
TABLE 24 Major Scales, All 12 Keys
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1(8)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
Cvv
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
Bvv
Cvv
D
E
Fvv
G
A
B
Cvv
D
Exx
F
G
Axx
Bxx
C
D
Exx
E
Fvv
Gvv
A
B
Cvv
Dvv
E
F
G
A
Bxx
C
D
E
F
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
B
Cvv
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
G
A
B
C
D
E
Fvv
G
Axx
Bxx
C
Dxx
Exx
F
G
Axx
A
B
Cvv
D
E
Fvv
Gvv
A
Bxx
C
D
Exx
F
G
A
Bxx
B
Cvv
Dvv
E
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
B
About that Ev and that Bv in the second row of the above table ... everybody
knows there are no such notes as Ev and Bv—those notes are actually F and C,
respectively. The only reason they’re called “Ev” and “Bv” in Table 24 is to ensure
that all the notes of the Cv scale have different letter-names. So you don’t get
confused.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
249
Whenever you see two identical notes, intervals, scales, or keys with different
names (or “spellings”)—and it happens quite a bit in music—the two are called
enharmonic equivalents. So, for instance, the key of Cv is the enharmonic equivalent
of the key of Dx. And the note Ev is the enharmonic equivalent of the note F. Two
different names for exactly the same thing.
Sometimes you even see double ... double sharps or double flats (after downing
eight shots of tequila). For example, Fvv, which normally looks like this: Fr
r , is the
enharmonic equivalent of G. (See Table 26 below.)
(Tuning purists will note that enharmonic equivalency only applies in equal
temperament tuning, and that in other tuning systems, Cv and Dx are actually slightly
different pitches. Fine. But in popular music, equal temperament rules. So in this
book, Cv and Dx are always exactly the same note.)
5.3.5
ALL 12 DESCENDING MELODIC MINOR SCALES IN
ONE CONVENIENT TABLE
Table 25 below shows all the notes and scale degrees for all 12 scales of the natural
minor mode. Notice the difference in the pattern of tones and semitones, compared
with the major mode (Table 24). Again, the shaded bars are only a visual aid; they
have no musical significance.
The scales in Table 25 are the relative minors of those in Table 24.
And, of course, it’s equally correct to say the scales in Table 24 are the relative
majors of the scales in Table 25.
Another name for the natural minor scale is the melodic minor. And, to make
matters even less straightforward (if that’s possible), the melodic minor comes in two,
count ‘em, two flavors: descending and ascending. More about this in a minute.
First, the descending version (Table 25). NOTE: Read the scales in this table from
right to left.
250
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 25 Descending Melodic Minor Scales (Right to Left),
All 12 Keys
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Semi- !
tone
Tone
!
Tone
!
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1(8)
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
Avv
Bvv
Cvv
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
B
Cvv
D
E
Fvv
G
A
B
C
D
Exx
F
G
Axx
Bxx
C
Cvv
Dvv
E
Fvv
Gvv
A
B
Cvv
D
E
F
G
A
Bxx
C
D
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
B
Cvv
Dvv
E
Fvv
G
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
Axx
Bxx
C
Dxx
Exx
F
Fvv
Gvv
A
B
Cvv
D
E
Fvv
G
A
Bxx
C
D
Exx
F
G
Gvv
Avv
B
Cvv
Dvv
E
Fvv
Gvv
So ... what’s with this “descending melodic minor” business?
The natural minor mode sounds pretty natural when you’re going down the scale.
However, when you’re going up the scale, you don’t feel “propelled” up to 1 (8).
Why? Because the interval between scale degrees 7 and 1 (8) is a whole tone, instead
of a semitone.
Going up the scale, there’s no strong leading tone.
As noted earlier with the major scale, a semitone interval formed by scale degrees
7 and 1 (8) has considerable inherent tension, because a semitone is derived from a
more complex frequency ratio (16:15), compared with a whole tone (9:8). That’s why
the note occupying scale degree 7, if it forms a semitone interval with 1 (8), is called
the leading tone.
NOTE: The leading tone is vitally important in understanding how chord
progressions work! Chapter 6 discusses leading tones in detail.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
251
Here’s one tiny little tip about the descending melodic minor scales in Table 25
above. Have a look at the D minor scale. It’s identical to the Dorian mode except
that scale degree 6 is flatted. So, any time you want to play the Dorian mode in any
key, all you need to do is play the descending melodic minor for that key, except
sharpen scale degree 6 by a semitone.
5.3.6
ALL 12 ASCENDING MELODIC MINOR SCALES IN
ONE CONVENIENT TABLE
To solve the problem about the lack of a leading tone in the minor keys, somebody
decided a long time ago to keep the natural minor scale (the Aeolian mode) exactly
as it is for purposes of descending (Table 25 above), but sharpen scale degrees 6 and
7 for purposes of ascending.
Together, the two scales became known as the melodic minor scale.
Here are the 12 ascending melodic minor scales (Table 26).
252
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 26 Ascending Melodic Minor Scales (Left to Right), All
12 Keys
(NOTE: r = vv)
vv)
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
!
Tone
Tone
!
1
2
3
4
5
A
B
C
D
E
Avv
Bvv
Cvv
Dvv
B
Cvv
D
C
D
Cvv
Tone
!
6
Tone
!
Semitone
!
7
1(8)
Fvv
Gvv
A
Evv
Fr
Gr
Avv
E
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
B
Exx
F
G
A
B
C
Dvv
E
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
Bvv
Cvv
D
E
F
G
A
B
Cvv
D
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
Bvv
Cr
Dvv
E
Fvv
G
A
B
Cvv
Dvv
E
F
G
Axx
Bxx
C
D
E
F
Fvv
Gvv
A
B
Cvv
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
G
A
Bxx
C
D
E
Fvv
G
Gvv
Avv
B
Cvv
Dvv
Evv
Fr
Gvv
Notice something familiar about the upper half of the ascending melodic minor
scale, from 5 to 1 (8)? It’s identical to the upper half of the good ol’ do-re-mi major
scale.
And that means, if you want to play an ascending minor scale in any key, all you
need to do is make like you’re playing the major scale for that key, but lower scale
degree 3 by a semitone.
See, for example, the C minor scale in Table 26. It’s identical to the C major
scale, except that scale degree 3 is flat (Ex) instead of natural (E).
While you’re at it, have a look at the D minor scale in Table 26. Again, it’s
identical to the Dorian mode except for one scale degree. This time, to get the Dorian
mode, just lower scale degree 7 of the ascending melodic minor scale by one
semitone.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
253
Aaah, but it ain’t over yet. No no no no no.
MORE SAM GOLDWYN (TO HELP ALLEVIATE THE
TEDIUM OF THESE SECTIONS ON MINOR SCALES)
On television
•
•
•
Color television! Bah, I won’t believe it until I see it in
black and white.
Television has raised writing to a new low.
Why should people go out and pay money to see bad
films when they can stay at home and see bad television
for nothing?
On being right
•
•
•
I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to
tell me the truth even if it costs them their job.
I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I
am never wrong.
If you don’t disagree with me, how will I know I’m right?
On death, real and imagined
•
•
•
•
The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.
The reason so many people turned up at his funeral is that
they wanted to make sure he was dead.
I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography
until after they’re dead.
If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man
alive.
Deep, high philosophy to live by
•
•
•
•
•
I never put on a pair of shoes until I’ve worn them at least
five years.
I never liked you, and I always will.
A bachelor’s life is no life for a single man.
If you fall and break your legs, don’t come running to me.
You’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.
254
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
5.3.7
ALL 12 HARMONIC MINOR SCALES IN ONE
CONVENIENT TABLE
There’s yet another “official” version of the minor scale.
This final annoying version of the minor scale is the same as the descending natural
minor up to scale degree 6, but sharpens scale degree 7. The idea is to give the
natural minor scale a leading tone. Doing this, however, creates an awkward gap of
three semitones (an interval of an augmented second) between scale degrees 6 and 7.
Some songwriters and composers think this version of the minor scale, called the
harmonic minor scale, is just hunky dory. Not only do you have a nice leading tone,
but you don’t have to concern yourself with separate ascending and descending
versions of the minor scale. Still, there’s that ungainly three-semitone interval ...
TABLE 27 Harmonic Minor Scales, All 12 Keys
!
1
Tone
!
Semitone
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
Aug.
2nd
!
Semitone
!
2
3
4
5
6
7
1(8)
A
B
C
D
E
F
Gvv
A
Avv
Bvv
Cvv
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
Gr
Avv
B
Cvv
D
E
Fvv
G
Avv
B
C
D
Exx
F
G
Axx
B
C
Cvv
Dvv
E
Fvv
Gvv
A
Bvv
Cvv
D
E
F
G
A
Bxx
Cvv
D
Dvv
Evv
Fvv
Gvv
Avv
B
Cr
Dvv
E
Fvv
G
A
B
C
Dvv
E
F
G
Axx
Bxx
C
Dxx
E
F
Fvv
Gvv
A
B
Cvv
D
Evv
Fvv
G
A
Bxx
C
D
Exx
Fvv
G
Gvv
Avv
B
Cvv
Dvv
E
Fr
Gvv
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
255
How to remember the harmonic minor? It’s the same as the Aeolian mode, also
known as the descending melodic minor (white keys on the piano, starting and
ending with A), except that you raise the seventh note by a semitone.
So, those are all the scale variants of the diatonic order still in use today. Four of
them: one type of major scale and three types of minor scales. That’s it. No more!
Well, okay. One more.
5.3.8
HOW DIGGER’S 10-NOTE “GRAND MINOR SCALE”
SIMPLIFIES MATTERS
When you’re writing a song or composing a piece of music in a minor key, it doesn’t
much matter which version of the three minor scales you use—natural minor,
melodic minor, or harmonic minor. All of these minor scales differ only in the upper
half of the scale. The lower half is identical in all of them.
Your brain hears the critical difference between the sound of the major mode and
the sound of the minor mode, not in the upper half of the scale, but in the lower half.
Only one note makes all the difference, and that note is scale degree 3.
•
In the major mode, the interval from the tonic note to scale degree 3 is a
major third—a pitch span of four semitones.
•
In the minor mode, whether ascending or descending, the interval is always
a minor third—a pitch span of three semitones.
The “character” of the moody-sounding “minor” mode comes exclusively from
scale degree 3, the minor third interval common to all versions of the minor scale.
So...go ahead and use any minor scale you please. All of them have that
distinctive “minor” sound.
In fact, you can merge all the minor scales together, like this:
•
For the lower half of the scale, just use the five notes that all three minor
scales have in common. For example, in the key of A minor:
A B C D E
•
For the upper half of the scale, use all of the tones and semitones, like this
(key of A minor):
F Fv G Gv A
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Slap the lower and upper halves together, and what do you get? An all-purpose
handy-dandy 10-note minor scale. It slices! it dices!
A B C D E F Fv G Gv A
This scale contains all of the notes of all three minor scale types. (Tables 25, 26,
and 27). What’s it called? Why, the Grand Minor Scale, of course.
Go ahead, play it on your guitar or piano. Play it ascending, play it descending.
You may think it sounds more “minor” than any of the other three minor scales.
You’ll find the Grand Minor Scale most useful in the discussion of melody in
Chapter 9.
We owe the 10-note Grand Minor Scale to Stephen “Digger” Souza. (No, not the
guy who fronted the heavy metal bands Testament and Exodus.) Digger Souza is a
musician from Massachusetts who, in his rush to get a ride home from a concert one
time, crashed over some chairs and dug his face into the rug, picking up some burn
marks and a nickname at the same time.
BLUE NOTES
Now that you know all about scales, pay another visit to the
beginning of this chapter, the section on the blues scale, where
the term blue note was introduced.
A blue note can be a flat third, flat fifth, or flat seventh scale
degree of the diatonic major scale.
For example, the C major scale consists of these notes:
C
1
D
2
E
3
F
4
G
5
A
6
B
7
C
1(8)
The C blues scale consists of these notes:
C
Ex
F
Gx G
Bx
C
1
x3
4
x5
5
x7
1 (8)
The blues scale has all three traditionally-recognized blue notes,
commonly heard in blues and jazz, and to a lesser degree in rock,
hip-hop, and British and Celtic folk.
The blues scale has only six notes and no leading tone. However,
all those chromatic notes stick out and grab listener attention.
(More on this in Chapter 9.)
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
257
5.3.9
RELATIVE NUMBERS OF POPULAR SONGS IN
MAJOR KEYS, MINOR KEYS, AND MODES
So far, Chapter 5 has focussed on major keys, minor keys, and Church modes. In
popular music, by far most songs are written in major keys, followed by minor keys,
followed by modes. Figure 39 gives you a rough idea of the proportions.
FIGURE 39 Relative Numbers of Popular Songs In Major
Keys, Minor Keys, and Church Modes
Major Key
Minor Key
Mode
Suppose you’re a performing songwriter, and you want to distinguish your songs
from everyone else’s. Most songwriters write pretty much all of their songs in major
keys. So ... why not specialize in writing your songs in minor keys? Even some songs
in Church modes?
Minor-key songs can be wickedly effective. Here are half a dozen classic
examples:
•
•
•
•
•
•
“London Calling” (The Clash)
“Summertime” (words by Du Bose Heyward, music by George Gershwin)
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (words and music by Norman Whitfield
and Barrett Strong)
“House of the Rising Sun” (traditional)
“Ghost Riders in the Sky” (words and music by Stan Jones)
“All Along the Watchtower” (words and music by Bob Dylan)
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
All of these songs are on the GSSL. A couple of them, “Grapevine” and
“Watchtower,” are discussed in detail in Chapter 6.
5.3.10
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF MODES
Research strongly supports the “happy” vs “sad” distinction most people (both adults
and children) associate with major vs minor modes. Mode and tempo are two of the
most important musical variables with respect to emotion-elicitation. Both could
easily be exploited by songwriters to great effect, but usually aren’t, because most
songwriters have no idea how powerful they are. More on these variables in Chapters
7 and 9.
(Bob Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and Vaughn Monroe’s original
recording of Stan Jones’ “Riders In The Sky,” aka “Ghost Riders In The Sky” are
examples of songs that maximize the emotional power of fast tempo combined with
the minor mode.)
It may be that the unsettled feeling people have when hearing a minor interval or
chord arises from the fact that the intervals that make up minor chords and scales are
derived from less simple frequency ratios than those for major chords and scales,
which stand out prominently in the first overtones of the harmonic series (see Table
23) and enable easy identification of the origin of the sound as a single soundmaker.
If you can’t be sure the source is a single soundmaker, you find it unsettling. Fear of
the unknown.
Whatever the reason for the sharp emotional distinction between major and
minor, it’s a fact of human nature, not a cultural construction. Table 28 spells it out
in more detail.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
259
TABLE 28 Emotional Effects of Modes
Mode Type or Characteristic
Associated Emotions
Major mode (major key)
Happiness, grace, serenity,
solemnity
Minor mode (minor key)
Sadness, anger, dreaminess,
tenseness, suffering
Major and minor modes
alternating
Tenderness
Mode unclear due to tense,
dissonant harmonies
Fear
5.4
Tuning, Temperament, and
Transposing
5.4.1
“HOW COME I CAN’T TUNE THIS #@*&!%
THING?”
If you write a piece of music in a single key, you’ll likely have no problem with
musical unity. The arrangement of intervals in the diatonic scale ensures a strong
tonal centre. A nice, small assortment of six related notes (scale degrees 2 through
7) all point to the tonic note.
Moreover, assuming your song has words, you’ll likely organize the words into
verses and choruses, each sung to the same musical phrases. This reinforces musical
unity.
But too much musical unity ain’t necessarily a good thing. It can get boring.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
To get some variety happening, you have the option of changing keys partway
through the song. And, since every key has its own tonal centre, you preserve unity
at the same time as you create variety.
Several hundred years ago, when musicians and musical theorists were
experimenting with changing keys within a piece of music, a nasty problem kept
bedevilling them. Whenever they tried to switch to a new key, their instruments
sounded out of tune. Hellish out of tune.
The problem was the dang Pythagorean comma. As discussed in Chapter 4, if
you tune an instrument using exact Pythagorean 3:2 frequency ratios, you end up
with an octave that is slightly bigger than it ought to be. About a quarter of a tone too
big.
For example, Middle C has a frequency of 261.6 Hz. So the frequency of the C
above Middle C ought to be exactly double: 523.2 Hz.
But if you use exact Pythagorean fifths, you end up with C above Middle C having
a frequency of 530.3 Hz. Noticeably too sharp.
If instead you tune in perfect 2:1 octaves, then the other notes derived from
simple frequency ratios such as 3:2, 4:2, and so on, end up either too sharp or too
flat.
What to do?
5.4.2
DON’T LOSE YOUR EQUAL TEMPERAMENT
Musicians and theorists tried all sorts of variations on the theme of just intonation,
methods of tuning with simple whole-number frequency ratios. Such tuning
systems—and there are many—enable the tuning of an instrument so that it’s
playable in one key, or perhaps even several keys. But if you try to play in keys the
instrument isn’t tuned for ... forget it. Doesn’t work.
Eventually, one of the numerous tuning solutions attempted over the centuries
emerged the clear winner. The solution was to:
1. Stick to an exact 2:1 octave, despite the Pythagorean comma.
2. Divide the octave into 12 exactly equal semitones.
This system is called equal temperament (from temperare, the Latin root meaning to
mix or mingle).
To get the frequencies for each semitone:
•
Start with the first note of the scale and multiply its frequency by the 12th root
of two.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
261
•
Take that frequency and multiply it by the 12th root of two, which gives you
the frequency for the next semitone up.
•
Repeat until you get to the next octave.
The 12th root of 2 is the number 1.05946 (rounded off). So the ratio of any
semitone to the semitone below is 1.05946:1.
Table 29 shows the frequencies of all the notes from Middle C to the octave above
Middle C, with each successive frequency multiplied by the 12th root of two:
TABLE 29 Equal Temperament Frequencies for Tones from
Middle C to C Above Middle C, and Associated Simple
Frequency Ratios
Note
Equal
Temperament
Frequency
(Hz)
Interval
with
Middle C
Simple
Frequency
Ratio
(SFR)
Associated
SFR
Frequency
(Hz)
Middle C
Cv
D
Ex
E
F
Fv
G
Ax
A
Bx
B
C
261.6
277.2
293.6
311.1
329.6
349.2
370.0
392.0
415.3
440.0
466.1
493.8
523.2
Unison
Minor 2nd
Major 2nd
Minor 3rd
Major 3rd
Perfect 4th
Tritone
Perfect 5th
Minor 6th
Major 6th
Minor 7th
Major 7th
Octave
1:1
16:15
9:8
6:5
5:4
4:3
45:32
3:2
8:5
5:3
16:9
15:8
2:1
261.6
279.0
294.3
313.9
327.0
348.8
367.9
392.4
418.6
436.0
465.1
490.5
523.2
So, when you’re playing in any given key, only the two octave notes are in an
exact 2:1 simple frequency relationship. Every other note is slightly out of tune,
compared with the simple frequency ratio expected from the harmonic series.
For example, in Table 29 above:
•
The frequency for the note G would be 392.4 Hz if it were tuned in an exact
3:2 ratio with Middle C. But the equal temperament frequency of G is 392.0
Hz (slightly flatter).
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
The frequency for the note E would be 327.0 Hz if it were tuned in an exact 5:4
ratio with Middle C. But the equal temperament frequency of E is 329.6 Hz
(slightly sharper).
•
The frequency for the note Cv would be 279.0 Hz if it were tuned in an exact
16:15 ratio with Middle C. But the equal temperament frequency of Cv is
277.2 Hz (slightly flatter).
Similarly, in equal-temperament tuning, all of the other notes are either slightly
flat or slightly sharp, compared with their simple-frequency-ratio counterparts.
The equal temperament solution works. Your brain accepts the small “pitch
errors”—slight deviations from simple ratios—when they’re equally distributed over
all 12 semitones. Since every semitone interval is exactly equal, you can construct
diatonic scales using any of the 12 semitones as the tonic note, and the octave notes
will always have a frequency ratio of exactly 2:1. Equal temperament makes
something called modulation possible (coming up shortly).
Consequently, equal temperament has been the norm for about three centuries
in Western music.
Equal temperament works only because the pitch errors are small—so small that
your forgiving brain processes them as though they were simple frequency ratios.
When you try to tune a guitar or other stringed instrument using harmonics from
string to string, it doesn’t quite work out because you’re not using equal
temperament. That’s why the best tuning device is a digital tuner, with
equally-tempered frequencies built into the electronics that are accurate to many
decimal places.
GET THAT MAN A DIGITAL TUNER
Some people think equal temperament is a Bad Thing because
every single note between the octave notes in any key is slightly
dissonant. Others think equal temperament is a Good Thing for
two main reasons:
1. It solves the dang tuning problem, already; and
2. Every single note between the octave notes in any key is
slightly dissonant—and therefore music played on equallytempered instruments sounds more colourful and
interesting than it would if all the notes were exactly in
tune.
Obviously, J. S. Bach agreed with the latter view. Nobody had a
keener ear. Bach would surely have been able to easily hear the
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
263
out-of-tuneness of equal temperament. Yet he famously
celebrated equal temperament by composing The Well-tempered
Clavier, a two-book masterwork of 24 preludes, one in each
major and minor key, and 24 fugues, one in each major and
minor key.
One other tuning-related problem took even longer to solve: what to do about a
reference frequency. One note and its associated frequency needs to serve as a standard
to derive the frequencies for all the other notes, using equal temperament.
After centuries of hair-pulling and fang-gnashing, everybody agreed in 1939 that
the note A above Middle C would always be tuned to exactly 440 Hz, and would
therefore serve as the reference pitch for setting all the other pitches. (Then World
War II started.)
This tuning pitch is called Concert A or A-440.
A FREE EMERGENCY DIGITAL TUNER
When you’re lost in Juarez in the rain and you don’t have a
digital tuner with you but you must tune your guitar, what can
you do?
Why, just reach in your pocket and whip out your trusty cell
phone. Or wander around until you find a pay phone. Get a dial
tone, and you’ve got your reference note. The dial tone is F.
Specifically, it’s the F on the first fret of the low E-string of your
guitar, the F that’s one and a half octaves below Middle C.
5.4.3
“IT’S TOO LOW (OR HIGH) FOR MY VOICE”:
TRANSPOSITION
It happens to everybody. You swagger into the Wrong Ranch Saloon and start
singin’ a tune and everything’s goin’ along fine until you get to the lowest notes (or
the highest notes), and you can’t hit them.
People turn and laugh at you. Especially the dusty cowpoke, the one who outdrew Billy Joe. You laugh along with them, vainly attempting to hide your
humiliation. Tears stream down your face. It’s no use. They know, they know. Yes,
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
they know you started singing in a key that did not match your vocal register for that
particular song.
But it’s too late. Marshal Puma senses trouble brewing and allows as how you
might live to see tomorrow if you get outta Dodge tonight. So you stumble out of the
saloon into the dusty main street. Sadie and Ellie Sue offer you a fresh horse and
away you go to join Ex-Marshal McDillon in exile.
If only you had thought to start over, in a different key.
Transposition refers to moving a whole group of notes (such as the entire melody
of a song) up or down in pitch.
•
If you play guitar, you can do this easily without even changing chord
fingering. All you do is move your capo up or down the fretboard.
•
On the piano, it’s not so easy. You have to change the way you finger the
melody and chords for every dang key you play in.
You can use tables 24, 25, 26, and 27 for transposing. They show you, row by
row, the scales for each key. If you’re singing in the key of C major and you want to
know what notes you’d be singing if the tune were transposed to E major, just go to
Table 24 and compare the C Major row with the E major row. For instance, if you
want to transpose the notes C, D and E in the key of C major to the key of E major,
the equivalent notes would be E, Fv, and Gv.
It’s that simple.
One important thing to keep in mind at all times with respect to key changes and
transposing:
There’s no such thing as a “high key” or a “low key.”
A key is just an interval order with respect to a key note or tonic note. The key of
E major is neither “higher” nor “lower” than the key or C major or any other key.
The way a songwriter or composer has arranged the intervals of a particular
melody determines which key you will be able to sing it in, without the tune being
too high or too low for your particular voice.
You can sing some songs easily in the key of C major, but not in the key of G
major. You can sing other songs easily in the key of G major, but not in C major.
The determining factor is not the key. It’s how the melody itself is structured. The key
of C major is not inherently “higher” or “lower” than the key of G major.
That goes for all the keys, major and minor.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
265
5.4.4
HOW TRANSPOSING INSTRUMENTS WORK
If you happen to read music notation, the idea of a “transposing instrument” will
make more sense than if you don’t happen to read music notation.
Most musicians don’t read music notation, which is why this book has no music
notation. Still, even if you don’t read music, you might find a brief description of the
meaning of “transposing instrument” mildly entertaining. George Martin, the
classically-trained producer of The Beatles, once tried to explain the workings of
transposing instruments to John Lennon, who did not read a note of music. Lennon
thought it was all pretty daft.
A true transposing instrument (as opposed to an octave transposing
instrument—more on the distinction in a minute) is a wind instrument (aerophone) for
which the musical notes on the page differ from the notes the instrument makes. You
see a note on the page, you finger the instrument to play that note, and a different note
comes out of your instrument.
What’s going on?
Any given musical instrument is constructed so that it can handle only a certain
range of pitches. The guitar, for instance, only has a certain number of frets, limiting
the upper and lower range of the instrument.
This applies to wind instruments, like any other. So it’s common to have
“families” of wind instruments—families of clarinets, flutes, and saxophones, for
instance—of varying sizes. The smaller-sized instruments handle higher pitches, the
larger ones, lower pitches.
For instance, each of the four common sizes in the saxophone family—soprano,
alto, tenor, and baritone—is good for a certain range of pitches, from a high-pitched
range (soprano sax) to a low-pitched range (baritone sax).
All saxophones use the same fingering for a particular written note. So, if you learn
to play, say, alto sax, and you decide to switch to another sax in the same family, you
don’t have to learn a whole different way of fingering.
Problem is, because each instrument is built for a different pitch range, when you
finger the alto sax to play, say, the written note C, the note you actually hear coming
out of your horn is E , 9 semitones below C. On the tenor sax, when you finger the
instrument to play C, the note that comes out is B , more than an octave below the C
written on the page.
Therefore, composers and orchestrators must notate the music so that it accounts
for the difference between the notes that come out of the transposing instrument and
the notes on the page.
Suppose the composer wants the sound coming out of the alto saxophone to be
in the key of C. The composer needs to notate the music nine semitones higher (an
interval of a major sixth) on the page—in the key of A. The alto sax player sees an
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
A on the page, fingers the horn to play A, and out comes the sound of the note C,
nine semitones lower—as the composer intended.
So, written music for the alto sax must be transposed up by an interval of a major
sixth (all notes!), in order to sound the way the composer intended.
This all seems pretty odd, but it makes a lot of sense for wind players who read
music. They don’t have to cope with learning new fingerings for each instrument in
a family. Instead, it’s up to the composer or orchestrator to ensure that the music is
transposed on the page properly for the intended instrument and the intended sound.
Some instruments are “octave transposing” instruments. The guitar, for instance.
Notated music for the guitar is written an octave higher than it sounds when you play
the music. When you play the note Middle C from the page, you still hear the note
C, but it’s the C an octave below Middle C.
5.5
Modulation and Tonality
5.5.1
THE KEYS, THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ (GOOD THING,
TOO)
Why in blazes did so many people struggle for so long to come up with a musical
system of 12 major keys, 12 minor keys, and equal temperament?
To open and explore new frontiers of brain-friendly musical variety without
sacrificing musical unity.
As will become clearer in later chapters, with too little variety, listeners get bored.
With too little unity, they get confused. The equally-tempered 24-key system enables
composers and songwriters to move around melodically and harmonically from key
to key, while maintaining a cohesive musical narrative.
Changing keys within a piece of music is called modulation.
Modulation enables a songwriter to slip through tonal doorways into the parallel
universes of other keys. It’s one of the most powerful ways to create interesting,
compelling music. Most songwriters don’t use modulation simply because they don’t
know how. It’s not difficult to learn, and you certainly don’t need to know anything
about music notation to make full use of modulation.
Each of the 12 major and minor keys has a unique set of notes. Think of each key
as its own musical universe. If you write a song that stays in one key throughout the
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
267
song, you effectively stay within one musical universe—even though there’s nothing
stopping you from travelling to any of 23 other musical universes using modulation.
For example, you could start off in the key of C Major. You compose a tune
using the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Then, you could switch to the key of Ex
major, and continue the tune using the notes Ex, F, G, Ax, Bx, C, and D (see Table
24 above). When you do this (modulate), the tune suddenly takes on new life,
because the key of Ex introduces a parallel universe of notes.
•
It’s a parallel musical universe because, as you can see in Table 24, the Ex
major scale uses the same interval order as the C major scale:
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
•
But it’s a different musical universe, because every note of the Ex major scale
is pitched three semitones away from its counterpart in the C major scale.
It’s as though you’re playing your guitar without a capo and singin’ a tune in the
key of C major, and then, part way through the tune, exactly when you want it to
happen, a capo magically clamps down on the third fret (while you continue playing
chords in the key of C), changing the key to Ex major.
PARALLEL UNIVERSES ON A SOMEWHAT GRANDER
SCALE
Speaking of parallel universes, you might be living in one
universe and copies of you in other universes.
Physicists have hypothesized that the existence of parallel
universes would explain a number of observed phenomena in
quantum mechanics and cosmology that otherwise don’t make
horse sense.
One of the best known and respected hypotheses is that of the
American physicist Hugh Everett. According to his “many-worlds”
or “multiverse” interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are
many copies of you, each existing in a separate parallel universe.
However, a phenomenon known as “quantum decoherence”
prevents you from communicating with your other selves.
(Dang!)
Mathematically, Everett’s theory respects scientific determinism
(important in formulating theories in physics), and also does not
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
require the acceptance of hidden variables, a weakness of other
interpretations of observed phenomena in quantum mechanics.
Some evidence indicating the existence of parallel universes:
•
Physicists have conducted many successful
demonstrations of teleportation, from data-encoded laser
beams to calcium and beryllium atoms. (Alas, they have
not yet succeeded in teleporting Captain Kirk ... )
•
A number of investigators have successfully
demonstrated quantum computing on a small scale. A
quantum computer could theoretically handle huge
numbers of complex calculations millions of times faster
than conventional computers because the computations
would take place simultaneously in parallel universes.
•
Solitary particles passing through a “double slit” apparatus
at random intervals of time create interference pattens
that could only be made by groups of particles. Copies of
particles from parallel universes passing through the
double slits at the same time as the solitary particles
would explain the collective characteristics of the
interference patterns.
David Deutsch and Michio Kaku (see the References section),
among others, have written good, readable books on parallel
universes, in case you’re interested in what your other selves
might be up to.
5.5.2
A BRIEF, STAR SPANGLED MODULATION
Modulation is both melodic and harmonic in nature. What follows is an example of
a brief modulation. Chapter 6 goes into more depth about the various types of
modulation and the kinds of chord progressions you can use to modulate.
How exactly do you modulate? One way is to exploit the brain’s recognition of
the semitone move from 7 to 1 (8), from the leading tone to the key note of the scale.
For example, stick a semitone move in an unexpected place and use it to signal a
modulation—a change to a new key with a different tonal centre.
This is what happens near the beginning of “The Star Spangled Banner,” on the
notes to the words, “early light.” The tune does not proceed along the scale like this
(the numbers represent scale degrees):
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
269
3 4 5
ear - ly light
Instead, the tune has a sharpened scale degree 4, creating a semitone between 4 and
5:
3 v4 5
ear - ly light
Suppose you’re singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in the key of C major. If the
tune had been composed without using any chromatic notes (notes outside the notes
of the C major scale), then you would sing these notes:
E F G
ear - ly light
and the tune would sound completely different from the tune you know. Instead,
songwriter John Stafford Smith did this:
E Fv G
ear - ly light
That’s the sequence of notes you actually sing.
A sharp (v) or flat (x) symbol that designates a chromatic note that a composer
adds into a tune is called an accidental. So, in the above example, the “v” sign in “Fv”
is an accidental.
PURPOSEFUL ACCIDENTALS
You could run across any of five kinds of accidentals:
1. Sharp (v): raises a note by one semitone;
2. Flat (x): lowers a note by one semitone;
3. Natural (w) restores a raised or lowered note back to its
“natural” state;
4. Double sharp (vv, normally symbolized like this: r ) raises a
note by two semitones;
5. Double flat (q ) lowers a note by two semitones.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Notice that move from Fv to G. A chromatic note causes a semitone move. That’s
the important thing here. Did songwriter Smith make this move to signal a change
to another key (a modulation)? If so, which key is the music moving to?
First, have a look at the interval order of the major scale (for the umpteenth time):
! tone ! tone ! semitone ! tone ! tone ! tone ! semitone !
There are two semitones in this interval order. One is between scale degrees 3 and
4. The other is between scale degrees 7 and 1 (8).
Next, have a look at Table 30 below (an excerpt of Table 24). It shows that only
two keys have the specific interval, Fv to G. One occurrence, in the key of D major,
corresponds to the move from 3 to 4. The other, in the key of G major, from 7 to 1
(8).
TABLE 30 Major Keys with Occurrences of Fv
Fv-to-G Interval
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Tone
!
Semitone
!
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1(8)
D
E
Fvv
G
A
B
Cvv
D
G
A
B
C
D
E
Fvv
G
So, if that Fv is signalling a modulation, it could be to one of two keys. It could
be to the key of D via 3 to 4. Or it could be to the key of G, via 7 to 1 (8).
Which is it?
One way to signal a new tonal centre is to hold a note a bit longer after making
a move from VII to I (8). In this example, the word “light” gets held for a couple of
beats.
So, it would appear, the modulation is to the key of G, because the note G is held
for a couple of beats. This is what songwriter Smith has done.
But the modulation does not last long. Hardly long enough to consider it a bona
fide modulation. Within a couple of notes, the tune goes back into the key of C.
The modulation is just long enough to accomplish the songwriter’s aim: to infuse
the tune with some variety without sacrificing unity.
A limited modulation of this nature, a modulation that does not completely
establish another tonal centre, is usually called a tonicization. In this example, the Fv
“tonicized” G—made G the tonic note—although only briefly. No clear-cut
boundary exists between tonicization and full-blown modulation. Think of
tonicization as a mild modulation. Modulation lite. It adds color, variety, interest.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
271
In an inspired stroke of modulatory repetition, the songwriter duplicates this
tonicization later in the tune, on the words “was still there” (I. e., in the phrase, “our
flag was still there”). This reinforces unity (repetition) plus variety (modulation).
5.5.3
SIGNALLING A SHIFT IN TONAL CENTRE
Another way to strongly signal a shift in tonal centre is to exploit the other semitone
interval in the major diatonic scale, the interval from 3 to 4.
Suppose, for example, your tune starts by running up the scale from 1 to 3 and
back a few times. Then it moves from 7 to 1 (8) to establish 1 as the tonal centre.
Then suppose the tune repeats a move from 3 to 4 several times, then continues
up the scale to 5, then 6, touching on x7, then back down to 6 and up to x7 and back
once or twice. Then back down to 5, then 4.
For example, starting in the key of C major, the tune would run up and down the
scale from C to D to E and back a few times. And also from B to C to establish the
initial tonal centre.
Then it would go from E to F several times. Then it would proceed up to G, A,
and touch on Bx, back and forth once or twice. Then back down to G, then F.
It’s that Bx that sends a signal to your listener’s brain that something has changed.
The note Bx is not a note in the C major scale. It’s a foreign, chromatic note. This
heightens musical interest.
By introducing that Bx note, you have signalled that the tonal centre has shifted.
•
•
•
The notes E and F have become the new scale degrees 7 and 1 (8).
The notes G, A, and Bx have become the new scale degrees 2, 3, and 4.
That means you have modulated from the key of C major to the key of F
major.
Look it up. Table 24 above. Try it out to get the drift of it.
The thing is, you have control over these musical variables. If you want to, you
can pick a couple of keys, decide you’re going to write a tune that modulates from
one key to the other and back again, then write a tune and a set of chord changes that
does exactly that. If you know what you’re doing, the tune is likely to be a lot more
musically interesting than it would have been had you stayed in one key throughout.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
5.5.4
“THE CENTRE CANNOT HOLD” (OR CAN IT?)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
— W. B. YEATS (“The Second Coming”)
Yikes! Mr. Yeats, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
Well, actually, it could. Modulation means changing the tonal centre within a song
or other composition. And when you change the tonal centre, mere anarchy just
might be loosed upon the world if you aren’t careful.
Some songwriters modulate skilfully. Most are afraid to even try. Some modulate
clumsily, throwing in melodic twists and chord changes without the slightest idea of
what they’re doing musically. This has nothing to do with ability or inability to read
or write music.
If you move the melody at random to some chromatic note or other, or throw in
an out-of-context chord, thinking you’re introducing musical variety, chances are,
you’ll screw things up. You will muddy the waters. Mere anarchy will be loosed
upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide will be loosed. And, yes, everywhere the
ceremony of innocence will be done drowned. And maybe your horse, too.
When you’re experimenting with new tunes and chord changes, you need to have
an awareness in the back of your mind of the musical implications of introducing
chromatic notes into a tune. Particularly when you also accompany chromatic notes
with chromatic chords (chords comprised of notes that are outside the key you’re
playing in). You might actually be signalling a modulation. Whether you know it or
not. Whether you mean to or not.
When you do this, the brains of your listeners will be searching for a new tonal
centre—even though they aren’t conscious of it.
So if you don’t understand how to handle switching tonal centres, you’re likely
to confuse (and alienate) your audience.
As you’ll see in Chapter 6, it’s a lot easier and faster to switch tonal centres—to
modulate—when you use chord changes to accompany melodic moves, because
chords wield multi-tonal power.
Try out these examples of modulation:
1. Play the chord C major on your guitar or piano for a few bars, while
humming the note G.
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
273
Now change to the chord E major while simultaneously changing your
humming-note to Gv.
2. Play the chord Cv minor while simultaneously humming the note sequence:
E,
then down to Cv,
then down to Gv,
then back up to Cv,
then back to E.
Repeat this E – Cv – Gv – Cv – E tune a few times.
Now change the chord to C major, while simultaneously changing the tune
to E – C – G – C – E.
5.5.5
KEYS IN COZY RELATIONSHIPS
The more notes two keys have in common, the more closely they’re related. Coziness
of relationship between keys plays a big role in modulation. Keys that share the
identical set of notes have the coziest relationship—the majors and their relative
minors.
For example, the key of C major and A (natural) minor use exactly the same
seven notes. The two keys are simply organized around two different tonal centres.
Equally important are keys that have all but one note in common—six out of
seven notes. For example, the key of C major has these seven notes:
C D
E F G A B
The key of G major has these seven notes:
G A B C D E Fv
Six out of seven notes belong to both keys. So the keys of C major and G major
have a cozy relationship.
Similarly, the key of F major has these seven notes:
F G
A Bx C D E
Six out of seven notes belong to both the key of C major and the key of F major.
So the keys of C major and F major also have a cozy relationship.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Every key (major or minor) has a close relationship with five other keys (out of
a total of 24 keys). Specifically, every key has a cozy relationship with:
1. Its relative minor or major key. The scales of both keys use the same seven
notes (e.g., key of C major and key of A minor);
2. The key whose tonic note is scale degree 5. The scales of both keys have
six out of seven of the same notes in common (e.g., key of C major and
key of G major);
3. The relative minor or major of the key whose tonic note is scale degree 5.
The scales of both keys have six out of seven of the same notes in common
(e.g., key of C major and key of E minor);
4. The key whose tonic note is scale degree 4. The scales of both keys have
six out of seven of the same notes in common (e.g., key of C major and
key of F major);
5. The relative minor or major of the key whose tonic note is scale degree 4.
The scales of both keys have six out of seven of the same notes (e.g., key
of C major and key of D minor).
5.5.6
OCTAVES AND FIFTHS: SIMPLE FREQUENCY
RATIOS, CLOSE RELATIVES
Overtones and their frequency ratios (yet again) underlie close key relationships. The
frequency ratios of the first few overtones of any fundamental tone correspond
mostly with scale degrees 1 and 5, which have the two simplest frequency ratios, 2:1
and 3:2, respectively (Table 31 below).
Consider, for example, three fundamental tones, C, G, and F, and their
overtones. The note G appears as two of the first five overtones of the fundamental
tone C. The note G also appears as two of the first five overtones of the fundamental
tone G itself.
Just as G is scale degree 5 of C, so C is scale degree 5 of F. Therefore, as
expected, The note C appears as two of the first five overtones of the fundamental
tone F. The note C also appears as two of the first five overtones of the fundamental
tone C itself.
To generalize, any two keys (and their relative major or minor keys) whose tonic
notes are an interval of a perfect fifth apart, such as C and G (G is scale degree 5 of the
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
275
key of C) or F and C (C is scale degree 5 of the key of F) have a close and special
relationship.
TABLE 31 Overtones and „Fifth‰ Relationships
Tone /
Overtone
Fundamental
1st Overtone
2nd Overtone
3rd Overtone
4th Overtone
5th Overtone
Multiple of Freq. Associated Examples: Tones
Scale
in Key of ...
Fundamental Ratio
Degree
C
G
F
1 (f)
fx2
fx3
fx4
fx5
fx6
1:
2:
3:
2:
5:
3:
1
1
2
1
4
2
1
1
5
1
3
5
C
C
G
C
E
G
G
G
D
G
B
C
F
F
C
F
A
C
5.5.7
WHY HEINICHEN’S CIRCLE OF FIFTHS, WHILE
SOMEWHAT USEFUL, IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD
AND MISUSED
We owe a small debt of gratitude to German music theorist and prolific but
under-appreciated composer, Johann David Heinichen, who, in 1728, published the
Circle of Fifths. This simple “clock face” shows the special relationships between
keys with tonic centres a fifth apart (Figure 40 below).
If Mr. Heinichen were to rise from his grave today, who knows how many
thousands (or, perhaps dozens) of songwriters and composers would show up and
form a queue leading to his tombstone to shake his hand and thank him for his
somewhat useful musical clock face.
And also to ask him, by the way, if there’s life after death, what it’s like if there
is, why did he rise from his grave, and would he like to stay or go back.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 40 HeinichenÊs Circle of Fifths
The bottom three elements of the Circle of Fifths show enharmonic keys. For
example, Fv major is the enharmonic equivalent of Gx major.
The Circle of Fifths shows the key signature for each key—the sharps or flats that
belong to the key. The key signature shows you which notes to sharpen or flatten
when you play in a key, so that you maintain the diatonic interval order for the key
(e.g., tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone—the diatonic order for all
major keys).
Looking at the top of the Circle of Fifths, you can see that the keys of C major
and A minor have no sharps or flats, so there’s just a treble clef with no sharps or
flats. As you move down each side of the Circle of Fifths, the number of sharps and
flats increases by one, for each successive key.
For any key in the circle, the adjacent keys (major or minor modes) are the keys
most closely related. For example, look at the key of A major on the right side of the
Circle of Fifths. The adjacent keys, D major and E major, are the keys most closely
related to A major. That means D major and E major share six out of seven of the
same notes as A major. To confirm this, have another look at Table 24.
Is the Circle of Fifths useful if you don’t read music?
In a word, yes.
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277
For example, you can use the Circle of Fifths to find out the key of a song when
you use a book of lead sheets that show the song’s basics— chords, lead vocal
melody line, and words. Suppose the lead sheet of a song has a key signature with
four sharps. The Circle of Fifths tells you that the song must be in the key of either
E major or Cv minor. The chords will make it pretty obvious which of these two keys
prevails.
It’s easy to overestimate the usefulness of the Circle of Fifths. It has its place as
a device for identifying keys, but it’s not something you need to regard as an essential
tool.
A lot of musicians mistakenly think the Circle of Fifths has something to do with
chords and chord progressions. Sadly, they labour for weeks, months, and yea, even
years of their lives, 16 hours a day, miserably attempting to reconcile the data in the
Circle of Fifths with odd notions of chord construction and progressive harmonic
intervals. Or something.
In Chapter 6, you will get to know another circular device that looks a bit like the
Circle of Fifths but is much, much more useful. It’s called the harmonic scale.
5.5.8
TONALITY AND TONAL MUSIC
Also in Chapter 6, you’ll learn that, when you modulate, you don’t have to stick to
closely-related keys, such as adjacent keys in the Circle of Fifths. In fact, it’s often
harder to move the tonal centre (i.e., modulate) to a closely-related key because the
two keys have so many notes in common. This sometimes makes it difficult for your
listeners to figure out which key you’re in. For this reason, a successful modulation
usually takes several measures.
Have another look at the Circle of Fifths (Figure 40 above). The further apart the
keys are on the circle, the less closely they’re related. For example, the key of C
major is more closely related to the key of G major than to the key of Ex major.
Modulation to a distant or unrelated key often enlivens a piece of music
substantially—if done skilfully. Modulation introduces the element of surprise.
ITÊS NOT ONLY NBA PLAYERS WHO PIVOT
As you’ll discover in Chapter 6, more often than not, a
modulation requires something called a pivot chord. A pivot
chord is a chord that has one role in the original key, but a
different role in the new key.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The melody usually moves chromatically in conjunction with a
chord change to the pivot chord. This enables the tune and its
harmony to magically pivot like an NBA player out of the original
key and into one of 23 other possible keys.
Sometimes a series of chord changes and melodic moves will
pivot the tune quickly through a series of keys: a modulation
chain. These are called transient modulations, and normally
result in the tune finally setting up shop in a new tonal centre.
Before you can modulate, you first have to establish a tonal centre. There’s a term
that encompasses everything that goes into establishing a tonal centre. That term is
tonality.
Music based on 24 keys, equal temperament, and tonality is usually referred to
as tonal music, or sometimes Western tonal music.
The great majority of the popular music of the West is tonal music, including
nearly all 5,000 songs on the GSSL. (And the music of composers such as Bach,
Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky.)
Tonality refers to all of the organized relationships of pitches around a key note
or tonic centre, including:
•
•
•
The tonic note or key note itself
The scale named for, and related to, the tonic note
The chords related to the tonic note
Just think of “tonality” as meaning the same thing as “key.”
For instance, if you pick up your guitar or sit down at your piano and
•
•
•
Play the chord C major for a few bars, while you
Hum or sing a tune comprised of notes from the C major scale (C D E F G
A B),
Including the tonic note, C,
then you’re playing and singing in the tonality of C or the key of C.
This concept is vital with respect to modulation because, to modulate
successfully, you have to first establish one tonality, then move tonality to a different
tonal centre (change keys), then—usually—return to the original tonality.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, this process can get dicey because:
•
There are 24 possible keys (12 major, 12 minor), and your listener’s brain can
only make sense of the tonal relationships of one key at a time—one tonality.
(Well, usually. In Chapter 6, a brief analysis of the song “Gimme Shelter”
illustrates how two tonalities can coexist simultaneously.)
CHAPTER 5—HOW KEYS AND MODES REALLY WORK
•
279
Those 24 keys are all based on a selection of the same 12 pitches only (the
individual notes of the chromatic scale), so if you’re playing in a given key
and you introduce chords and notes from other keys without knowing what
you’re doing, you can easily muddy the tonality and confuse the listener’s music
processing modules.
When your melody emphasizes certain notes of the scale, such as 1, 3, and 5, and
when you play certain chords, such as the chord built on the key note (the chord C
major in the key of C major), you’re establishing tonality in the collective mind of
your audience. (They don’t know consciously that you’re doing this, of course.)
Once you’ve established tonality, your listeners expect that the notes to follow
will be related to the tonal centre in simple frequency ratios—the notes of the
diatonic scale for the key you’re in.
When you’re composing a tune, with the intention of modulating, you have to
firmly establish tonality early. A song runs only three or four minutes. You can’t
successfully move to a different key until your listener’s brain has first locked into the
identity of the original tonality.
Most songs have an instrumental introduction of four, eight, or sixteen bars. One
of the main reasons for having that instrumental introduction is to establish tonality.
5.5.9
DISTINGUISHING TONAL MUSIC FROM MODAL
MUSIC AND ATONAL MUSIC
You might consider modal music as a kind of tonal music, but only in a decidedly
restricted sense. Each of the modes has a tonic note and a scale based on small
integer frequency ratios.
But ...
•
For reasons discussed earlier, the true sense of a tonal centre doesn’t
materialize in modal scales;
•
True modal chords and chord progressions are seriously problematic. This is
explored towards the end of Chapter 6.
Nevertheless, modal scales can be put to good use in Western tonal music, as
you’ll see in later chapters.
Then there’s atonal music. No diatonic order, no tonal centre, no tonality.
Atonality refers to music composed deliberately without a tonal centre. It’s usually
associated with, among others, Arnold Schoenberg and his serial system. Serial
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
composers seek to compose music with every note having the same importance,
avoiding the likelihood of the listener recognizing a tonal centre. The result, atonal
music, is practically unlistenable except by a hardy minority of masochists. But
Schoenberg and the atonalists deserve credit for bravery, attempting as they did
(unwittingly) to modify preferences in the human brain that evolved over millions of
years.
Hardly anybody actually listens to atonal music because of the near exclusion of
small-integer ratio intervals in melody and harmony. The brain hears atonal “music”
as chaotic, irritating static.
The brain responds to small-integer-ratio tunes. That’s biological reality. It’s
inborn, true of infants, true of adults, and applies cross-culturally.
Brain recognition of organized relationships of tones is not a science or
technology. It does not become obsolete with the invention of “upgraded tonal
technology” such as atonal composition. Tonality is linked in the brain directly with
human emotions, which have not changed from generation to generation for many
thousands of generations.
5.5.10
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF TONALITY
Table 32 lists a few emotions found to be associated with clear vs unclear tonality
(and atonality).
Even if you’re playing in what you think is a major key, and are deliberately
trying to express positive emotions, your music may unintentionally have negative
emotional effects on the audience if tonality is unclear and you don’t realize it.
On the other hand, if you want to express negative emotions musically, you can
certainly put unclear tonality (or atonality) to good use.
TABLE 32 Emotional Effects of Tonality
Tonality Characteristic
Associated Emotions
Clear tonality (major or
minor mode)
Happiness, sadness,
tenderness, joy, peace
Unclear tonality (highly
dissonant)
Fear, sadness, anger
Atonality
Anger
PART III
HOW TO
CREATE
EMOTIONALLY
POWERFUL
MUSIC AND
LYRICS
6
How Chords and
Chord Progressions
REALLY Work
I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played to please the Lord
but you don’t really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift;
the baffled king composing Hallelujah!
—LEONARD COHEN (“Hallelujah”)
6.1
Where Chords Come From
6.1.1
WHAT’S A CHORD?
For practical purposes, think of a chord as three or more different-pitched notes played
or sung simultaneously. Not two. Consider two notes, whether sounded
simultaneously or in succession, an interval.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Successions of chords—chord progressions—are the units of harmony. Just as
successions of intervals are the units of melody.
Psychologically, as discussed in Chapter 3, harmony provides aural “depth” to
melody’s height and rhythm’s length. Harmony has nothing to do with pitch-like
“height.” You’ll find out why later in this chapter.
6.1.2
THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE WITHOUT JIMI:
WHY MELODY-FREE HARMONY DOES NOT STAND
ON ITS OWN
When you play a melody comprised of the notes that make up a chord, such as C –
E – G – E – C, your brain recognizes the underlying chord because the sequence goes
by quickly. But when you play all the notes of a chord simultaneously, your brain
hears a single unified sound—not the individual notes that comprise the chord.
You can recognize a tune—a succession of notes—as a piece of music all by itself.
No harmony whatsoever. A national anthem, or “Happy Birthday,” or a bugle call,
for instance.
And yet, paradoxically, a harmonic progression—a succession of chords without
a tune—does not sound like “complete” music at all. It sounds like the Jimi Hendrix
Experience without Jimi.
Unlike harmony-free melody, melody-free harmony does not stand on its own.
If you were to play the chords to “The Star Spangled Banner” without playing or
singing the succession of pitches that forms the tune, no one would recognize it as
one of the world’s most widely-known songs.
On the other hand, a lone, completely unaccompanied tune is like a movie
storyboard—a sequence of sketches, much like the sequence of panels forming a
comic strip. The storyboard outlines the shot-by-shot sequence of a scene—the
essentials of the “story” for that scene. You can discern what the story is from the
storyboard, but it lacks color, depth, and liveliness.
6.1.3
HARMONY’S OWN ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE
Chapter 4 discussed the “organizing principle” that underlies the construction of
brain-friendly, “musical”-sounding scales: use the simple ratios of frequencies of the
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
285
harmonic series, such as 2:1, 3:2, and 4:3, to define the notes. When you do that, you
get Pythagorean scales, including the scales of the diatonic order.
Is there a similar organizing principle that applies the construction of
brain-friendly, musical-sounding chords?
Yes there is.
But with chords, it’s a matter of “organizing,” so to speak, the scale degrees
associated with the overtones of the harmonic series, instead of the overtones
themselves.
Recall that the term “scale degree” refers to the designation of the notes of a
major or minor diatonic scale using numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 1 (8), where 1 is
the tonic note of the scale, 7 is the leading tone, and so on. It turns out that most of
the strong overtones—1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 9th—of a given fundamental
tone (scale degree 1) correspond to the pitches associated with scale degrees 1, 3, and
5 of the major diatonic scale (Table 33 below). And when you play these three scale
degrees—1, 3, and 5— simultaneously, you get a chord.
TABLE 33 Fundamental and First 9 Overtones of the
Tone „C‰
Tone /
Overtone
Fundamental
1st Overtone
2nd Overtone
3rd Overtone
4th Overtone
5th Overtone
6th Overtone
7th Overtone
8th Overtone
9th Overtone
Multiple of Freq.
Fundamental Ratio
1 (f)
fx2
fx3
fx4
fx5
fx6
fx7
fx8
fx9
f x 10
1:
1:
2:
1:
4:
2:
5:
1:
8:
4:
1
2
3
2
5
3
9
2
9
5
Associated...
Note
Scale
Degree
1
1
5
1
3
5
x7
1
2
3
C
C
G
C
E
G
Bx
C
D
E
Consonant/
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Consonant
When you play the notes C, E, and G (scale degrees 1, 3, and 5) simultaneously
on your guitar or piano, you hear a beautiful harmonic sound. It’s the major triad,
so-called because it consists of three notes (scale degrees 1, 3, and 5) of the major
scale. Specifically, it’s the C major triad or C major chord.
This simple triad forms the basis of all harmony in the Western tonal system.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.1.4
PROPERTIES OF THE MAJOR TRIAD (THIS LOOKS
FAMILIAR)
When you hear a major triad, your brain interprets it as a single, unified sound, even
though the chord consists of three different pitches played or sung simultaneously.
The phenomenon of a unified “chord” sound is analogous to the unified “tone”
sound you hear when someone plucks or plays a single note (Table 34).
TABLE 34 Comparing the Properties of a Single Tone with
the Properties of a Chord (Major or Minor Triad)
A Single Tone ...
A Chord (Major or Minor
Triad) ...
Consists of a fundamental
tone plus a series of
overtones at higher
pitches.
Consists of a root note (so-called
because it’s the chord’s lowest
note, scale degree 1) plus
additional notes (scale degrees 3
and 5) at higher pitches (in the
chord’s “root” position).
Most of the overtones are
different notes from the
fundamental (i.e., not in an
octave relationship).
The other notes of the chord
are different notes from the
root (i.e., not in an octave
relationship).
The fundamental and all
the overtones occur
simultaneously.
The root and the other notes
are played or sung
simultaneously (usually).
Although you don’t hear
the separate overtones,
your brain nevertheless
recognizes and processes
them.
Although you don’t hear the
notes as separate pitches, your
brain nevertheless recognizes
and processes them.
The overtones create “tone
color,” which enables you
to distinguish the
difference between the
sound of, say, a guitar,
from the sound of a piano.
Sounded together, the notes of
the triad create “harmony,”
which imparts a feeling of color
and depth to music.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
Without the context of a
key, the sound of a tone is
“at rest"—no tension.
287
Without the context of a key,
the sound of a triad is balanced
and stable—no tension.
When you think about it, then, a single vibrating string or membrane contains
within it all of the acoustical components of both melody and harmony:
•
It incorporates the same ratios of frequencies that yield all the major and
minor scales of the diatonic order.
•
It includes the same scale degree notes, sounded simultaneously, that
correspond to the root and the other notes of the major triad and other chords.
Once your brain had evolved the circuitry to distinguish simple ratios of
frequencies from each other, it also had the necessary built-in capability to
automatically process intervals, tunes, keys, and chords.
It was probably inevitable that at some point in human history musicians would
eventually discover and develop Pythagorean-type scales and associated harmony
that made possible Handel’s “Messiah,” Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over
Me,” and John Lennon’s “In My Life.”
6.1.5
EXPLORING THE INNARDS OF THE MAJOR TRIAD
Have a look at Table 35 below. When you play a C major triad, here’s what the
music modules in your brain actually pick up and process (fundamental and strongest
overtones):
1. The “C” fundamental, together with a series of overtones, including C itself
(repeated several times as an overtone), plus the notes E and G.
2. The “E” fundamental, together with a series of overtones, including E itself
(repeated several times as an overtone), plus the notes Gv, and B.
3. The “G” fundamental, together with a series of overtones, including G itself
(repeated several times as an overtone), plus the notes B, D, and other
overtones.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 35 Fundamental and First Five Overtones of C Major
Triad
Tone /
Overtone
Fundamental
1st Overtone
2nd Overtone
3rd Overtone
4th Overtone
5th Overtone
Multiple of Freq.
Fundamental Ratio
1 (f)
fx2
fx3
fx4
fx5
fx6
1:
1:
2:
1:
4:
2:
1
2
3
2
5
3
Associated
Scale
Degree
C
E
G
1
1
5
1
3
5
C
C
G
C
E
G
E
E
B
E
Gv
G
G
D
G
B
D
C Major Triad
B
•
In the “C” column, you can see that all three notes of the C major triad (C,
E, and G) appear as overtones of the single C tone.
•
In the “C” and “G” columns, both the E tone and the G tone of the C major
chord add the overtone corresponding to scale degree 7 (the note B). This is
the scale degree associated with the semitone interval that “points” strongly
at C (scale degree 1): the leading tone.
•
Other overtones include D, which also points strongly at C, and Gv, which
seeks to resolve to G (scale degree 5).
So, when you play the notes C, E, and G simultaneously on your guitar or piano
(forming a chord, a major triad), all of the overtones common to the three tones
reinforce each other. This is the acoustical phenomenon called resonance, discussed in
the Section 3.3 on musical instruments and how they work.
The major triad is a completely balanced, satisfied-sounding chord that doesn’t
want to go anywhere.
MORE POTENTIAL MIXED UP CONFUSION
, whereas scales and keys are centred on
Chords have
. Do not refer to the first note of a scale as a “scale
root”—there’s no such thing. Scales do not have roots. Chords
have roots.
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289
As you’ll see shortly, a chord is named for its root note. When
the root note of a chord happens to be the same note as the
tonic note of a scale, that chord is called the tonic chord.
6.1.6
STACKING INTERVALS, THEN TURNING THEM
UPSIDE DOWN AND DISTURBING THEM
The three notes of the major triad are called the root, the third, and the fifth. As long
as you play these three notes simultaneously (more or less) ...
1. It doesn’t matter which octave you play them in;
2. It doesn’t matter which order you play them in.
Your brain will still recognize the same chord.
Although recognizably the same chord, the order of the component notes does
affect the overall sound of the chord.
1. If the root of the chord is “at the bottom”—in the lowest pitch position—the
chord will sound completely balanced. This is called root position.
2. If the third is at the bottom, the chord will sound, paradoxically, balanced and
yet somehow distinctly disturbed. (You’ll see why in a minute.) This is called
the first inversion.
3. If the fifth is at the bottom, the chord will sound balanced, but still slightly
disturbed, compared with root position. This is called the second inversion.
All chords are just stacks of intervals—major and minor thirds. Any time you pile
thirds on top of each other, in any combination, you get chords. The intervals have to
be thirds.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.2
Triads and Sevenths: The
Foundation of All Western Tonal
Harmony
6.2.1
RESTLESS INTERVALS MAKE RESTLESS CHORDS
If the chord contains only consonant intervals, it will sound consonant. But if it
contains even one dissonant interval, the whole chord will sound dissonant (Table
36 below; Figure 41 below).
TABLE 36 Consonant and Dissonant Intervals
Interval
Minor Second
Major Second
Minor Third
Major Third
Perfect Fourth
Aug 4th or Dim 5th
Perfect Fifth
Minor 6th or Aug 5th
Major Sixth
Minor Seventh
Major Seventh
Octave
Number of
Semitones
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Example
C – Cvv
C–D
C – Ex
C–E
C–F
C – Fvv
C–G
C – Ax
C–A
C – Bxx
C–B
C–C
Consonant/
Dissonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Consonant
Consonant
Consonant
Dissonant
Dissonant
Consonant
The chord C major in root position (C, E, G) consists of a major third interval (C
– E) with a minor third interval stacked on top (E – G). Two consonant intervals.
(These are called the internal intervals.)
The interval from the root to the top note (C – G) is a perfect fifth, also
consonant. (This is called the outer interval.) See Figure 41.
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291
FIGURE 41 Intervals·C Major Scale
1
2
3
4
5
6
7 1(8)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
The chord C major in first inversion (E, G, C) consists of a minor third (E – G)
with a perfect fourth stacked on top (G – C). Two consonant internal intervals. The
outer interval (E – C) is a minor sixth, also consonant.
The chord C major in second inversion (G, C, E) consists of a perfect fourth (G
– C) with a major third stacked on top (C – E). Two consonant internal intervals. The
outer interval (G – E) is a major sixth, also consonant.
Everywhere you look, nothing but consonant intervals. So why the heck don’t
the first and second inversions sound balanced and “consonant,” like the chord in
root position?
6.2.2
THE PARADOX OF UNSETTLED-SOUNDING
CONSONANT INVERSIONS
Here’s what happens. In a chord, whichever note occupies the bass position with
respect to the other notes of the chord will carry more harmonic weight by virtue of
its necessarily more powerful (loud) fundamental and overtones (i.e., compared with
the fundamentals and overtones of its higher-pitched chord-mates).
In fact, the lowest note of a triad with respect to the other two notes wields so
much power over the sound of the chord that the distribution of the other two notes
doesn’t really matter.
For example, in first inversion, the order of the notes could be either E, G, C or
E, C, G. The chord will still have a characteristic “first inversion” sound (in this
example, the sound of “the chord C Major with E in the bass”).
In the context of a scale, every note is unbalanced to some degree, with respect
to either scale degree 1 or 1 (8). Except, of course, scale degrees 1 and 1 (8)
themselves, with respect to each other. So, having an unbalanced chord note (third or
fifth) in the bass position (as is the case with first and second chord inversions) creates
a certain amount of disturbance in the sound of the chord, despite the absence of
dissonant intervals.
To a hear a completely balanced, completely stable, completely consonant triad,
you have to play it in root position.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.2.3
THAT MOODY MINOR SOUND AGAIN
To get a major triad, such as the C major chord, you stack two “third” intervals on
top of each other. A major third interval (four semitones) goes on the bottom, and
a minor third interval (three semitones) sits on top. Note that the minor third interval
has scale degree 3 as its bottom note.
To get a minor triad such as the C minor chord (C, Ex, G), you flip the two
intervals. The minor third goes on the bottom, the major third on top. Now the
minor third interval (C – Ex) has scale degree 1 as its bottom note.
The minor chord sounds stable, at rest ... except ... it has that spooky “minor”
sound. When you play a C major chord followed immediately by an C minor chord,
you hear, unmistakably, a drastic difference in perceived mood.
Recall the discussion in Chapter 5 about the three versions of the minor scale. It
doesn’t matter which scale you use—natural minor, melodic minor, or harmonic
minor (or “grand minor”)—they all still retain the characteristic “minor” sound
because they all have a minor third interval in relation to the tonic note (scale degree
1).
Exactly the same applies to the minor chord in harmony. The minor triad consists
of exactly the same internal and outer intervals as the major triad. The only
difference is that the two internal intervals are flipped the other way around, so that
the minor third relates to scale degree 1 instead of the major third relating to scale
degree 1. The perceived “mood” of the chord changes completely.
Unlike the major triad, the minor triad does not have all that internal
overtone-reinforcement (Table 35). This could well be what causes the brain to
perceive the minor triad as emotionally negative. That is, the discrepancy between
what you’d expect an “ideal” triad to sound like (the sunny sound of a major triad)
and what the minor triad actually sounds like (sad) could be due to lack of
overtone-reinforcement. (More on chords and their emotional implications near the
end of this chapter.)
6.2.4
DIMINISHED AND AUGMENTED: DISTURBED
CHORDS (BUT IN A NICE WAY)
So far, you’ve heard the results of stacking a minor third atop a major third, creating
a major chord. And stacking a major third atop a minor third (creating a minor
chord). In both cases, you get a stable, balanced-sounding, consonant chord.
What happens when you stack two minor thirds, one atop the other?
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293
A sound loaded with tension. Completely unbalanced and dissonant. Not
“bad”—just unbalanced and dissonant. Even though it’s comprised of two consonant
intervals, this chord doesn’t sound in any way self-contained, like the major and
minor triads. How come?
It’s that cloven-hoofed interval from Hell itself, the tritone—the most dissonant
of intervals (also known as the diminished fifth), making its appearance as the
chord’s outer interval. The chord you get when you pile two minor thirds atop each
other is the diminished triad, or simply the diminished chord.
How about stacking two major thirds, one atop the other?
You get another rootless, restless-sounding chord. Again, unbalanced and
dissonant, but not as dark sounding as the diminished chord.
As with the diminished chord, both of the internal intervals are consonant (major
thirds). The outer interval is a minor sixth, also known as an augmented fifth. Also
consonant.
This chord is called the augmented triad. It presents yet another harmonic paradox:
the augmented triad is a mighty disturbed-sounding chord, yet it’s comprised entirely
of consonant intervals, both internal and outer.
What’s going on?
As discussed in Chapter 4, dissonance and imbalance usually result when you
divide the octave into small equal intervals to create a scale. This is also what
happens when you divide the octave into large equal intervals, such as three equal
intervals of major thirds or four equal intervals of minor thirds.
Since the internal intervals are identical, both the diminished and augmented
triads have no roots. That’s why they sound so unbalanced, and that’s what makes
them harmonically interesting and useful.
6.2.5
THE MOST BORING TUNE IN THE WORLD
What do you hear when you play either a major chord or a minor chord in root
position? A completely balanced sound. No tension.
What do you hear when you play a tune consisting of an octave interval, 1 – 1
(8), or even several octave intervals? Same thing. No tension whatsoever.
If you decided you wanted to write a monumentally boring song, how would you
go about it?
•
Use only octave intervals.
•
Use one chord, the major triad. (Don’t use the minor triad; it’s too inherently
emotional because of the minor third.)
294
•
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Make sure the major triad is in root position—scale degree 1 at the bottom.
Such a tune would, in the immortal words of Monty Python, send bricks to sleep.
What goes for intervals goes for chords: music doesn’t begin until dissonant chords
take the stage. At every level, what’s called “music” emerges only when your brain
perceives something interesting, challenging, compelling: sonic unrest, imbalance,
instability.
The major or minor triad (depending on whether you’re playing in the major or
minor mode) serves the same purpose in harmony as the tonic note of the scale serves
in melody. It establishes and reinforces tonality.
Deviating from the major triad to create dissonant harmony serves the same
purpose harmonically as deviating from predictable scale patterns serves in melody.
It creates interest and suspense. Any time you’re not playing a simple triad, you’re
playing a dissonant chord. The ear expects that, eventually, dissonance will resolve
back to consonance.
6.2.6
HARMONY’S GOTTA MOVE (COHERENTLY,
OF COURSE)
Your brain cannot experience sonic imbalance without a frame of reference. It has
to experience “balance” before it can perceive and appreciate imbalance. That’s why
a piece of music must first establish tonality. Hence, as mentioned previously, the
typical four- or eight-bar instrumental introduction to a song.
Once your brain knows where scale degree 1 is, it wants to light out for the
Territory of tonal tension. The road trip takes place on several sonic levels:
1. Movement of pitches. A succession of intervals (not individual notes) creates
variety by generating tonal tension and relieving it at a fast pace.
2. Movement of chords. A succession of chords (chord progression) creates variety
by introducing dissonances, manipulating tonal tension at a slower pace than
the tune itself.
A well-constructed chord progression simultaneously maintains tonal
coherence by “pointing” to the tonal centre of the dynamic field.
When chords change without purposeful direction, harmony still moves, but
it doesn’t seem to get anywhere. It wanders around, sounding unpalatable,
lost in the desert, with vultures circling. It’s Deputy Fester himself, lost,
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
295
removing his hat, fanning his face and muttering to his horse, “The tonality,
the tonality ... ”
3. Movement of keys. Tonicization and modulation create variety on a larger scale
by taking tonality itself into parallel universes—different keys altogether.
Usually (not always), tonality returns to Dodge City, like Marshal McDillon
after Ms Puma forgave him and let him have his old job back because she
missed the big galoot, and because she didn’t want the responsibility of being
the marshal and having to keep track of Deputy Fester’s whereabouts.
The music in harmony, like the music in melody, has a hard time getting noticed
if it does not move. Chords may move slower than the notes of a tune, but move
chords must.
(Or ... not always. For instance, Bob Dylan’s scary, unforgettable “Ballad of
Hollis Brown” uses one chord throughout, a minor triad. Look it up on the GSSL.)
6.2.7
THAT OTHER CHORD TYPE: THE SEVENTH
So far, this chapter has discussed two flavours of one type of chord—the triad:
1. Balanced, consonant triads: major and minor chords
2. Unbalanced, dissonant triads: diminished and augmented chords
There’s only one other main type of chord: the seventh. To get a seventh chord,
you simply pile three “third” intervals atop each other.
Now you’ve got a four-note chord. Unlike basic three-note major and minor
triads, all seventh chords are dissonant.
Here’s why:
First, as an example, have another look at the intervals of the C major scale
(Figure 42).
FIGURE 42 Intervals·C Major Scale
1
2
3
4
5
6
7 1(8)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The C major chord consists of the notes C, E, G, which is made up of two
consonant intervals, C – E (a major third), and E – G (a minor third). If you’re going
to stack on another third interval, it can only be either G – Bx (a minor third interval),
or G – B (a major third).
In either case, two things apply:
1. The last remaining note of the chord is either a flatted seventh of the scale (Bx
in this example), or a natural seventh (B). Which is why this type of chord is
called a seventh.
2. Whether the note you add is a flatted seventh (Bx) or a natural seventh, (B),
this added note will always be dissonant because it’s either a whole tone or a
semitone removed from the tonic note (C, in this example).
And you found out in Chapter 4, whole tone and semitone intervals are always
dissonant (Table 36).
If even one interval of a chord is dissonant (internal or outer), the whole chord
is dissonant. That’s why all chords except major and minor triads are dissonant.
6.2.8
AND WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE JAZZ CHORDS
SUCH AS 9THS, 11THS, 13THS?
They’re just triads and sevenths dressed up in fancy duds. They all have four or more
notes, so they’re all dissonant.
In fact, you can reduce all of the substance of harmony in the Western tonal
system down to two measly chord types, the triad and the seventh, and their
embellishments. Imagine that ... Beethoven, Mozart, Ellington, The Beatles ... all just
two-chord wonders.
To get a “ninth”-type chord, for example, you just grab another note, as though
it’s from the next octave up. There’s nothing to stop scale degrees from continuing
on, like this...
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1 (8), 2 (9), etc.
However, unlike in melody, where you have low-pitched notes (the lower end of
the scale) and high-pitched notes (the upper end), there’s no such thing as a low-pitched
chord or a high-pitched chord. This concept is so important in harmony, it bears
repeating in boldface:
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
297
There’s no such thing as a low-pitched chord or a high-pitched chord.
A chord is just a chord, as you’ll find out later in this chapter.
Meanwhile, the best way to envision where the notes come from to create extended
chords such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths is to consider octaves as “overlapping.” So, for
example, in the key of C,
the note “C” is scale note 1
the note “D” is scale note 2
the note “E” is scale note 3
When you get to the end of the scale (the “C” at the end of the octave is the 8th
note of the scale), you just continue on with higher numbers. So the note “D”
becomes the 9th note of the scale, in addition to being the 2nd note. The note F
becomes the 11th note (in addition to the 4th), etc. Like this:
C
1
D
2
9
E
3
F
4
11
G
5
A
6
13
B
7
C
1 (8)
For example, here are the component notes of some seventh and ninth chords ...
•
The chord C7 (C seventh) is comprised of these notes played simultaneously:
C
E G
Bx
The term “seventh chord” always means that the seventh note of the scale is
a flatted seventh.
•
The chord CM7 (C major seventh) is comprised of these notes played
simultaneously:
C
E G
B
The term “major seventh chord” always means the seventh note of the scale
is a natural seventh (not flatted).
•
The chord C9 (C ninth) is comprised of these notes played simultaneously:
C
E G
Bx D
The “seventh” chord (the four-note chord with the flatted seventh) is the
underlying chord, and the “ninth” note (the D) is added.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
With this chord, or any chord, the arrangement of the notes can be in any order,
because there’s no such thing as a low-pitched chord or a high-pitched chord. The
chord remains the same chord. For example, you could play the above C9 chord on
the piano as above, or you could play it like this:
C
G Bx
D
E
E
Bx D
G
C
or like this:
It’s still the same C9 chord. You’ll see why in the discussion coming up about how
chords actually change.
•
The chord CM9 (C major ninth) is comprised of these notes:
C
E G
B
D
This one is called a “major ninth” chord because the underlying chord is a
major seventh (the chord with the natural seventh). The “ninth” note (the D)
is added to create the chord C major ninth.
•
The chord Cm9 (C minor ninth) is comprised of these notes:
C
Ex
G
Bx
D
In this case, the chord is called a “minor ninth” because the underlying chord
is a minor chord (actually a minor seventh chord, Cm7).
The nomenclature of such chords comes from the application of a few basic rules.
If the name of the chord has the word ...
•
“minor” in it, such as “C minor seventh” (Cm7) or “C minor ninth” (Cm9),
then it’s a minor triad, usually with an added flatted seventh (and more notes
may be added)
•
“major” in it, such as “C major seventh” (CM7) or “C major ninth” (CM9),
then it’s a major triad, usually with an added natural seventh (and more notes
may be added)
•
“suspended” in it, such as “C suspended fourth” (Csus4) or “C suspended
second” (Csus2), then it’s a triad in which the note in scale position 3 has
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299
been removed and replaced with the note in scale position 4, or 2 (e. g.,
instead of C, E, G, you’d have the notes C, F, G or C, D, G, respectively)
To get extended 9th, 11th, and 13th chords, all you do is stack more thirds atop
the underlying 7th chord.
•
If you pile a third on top of a 9th, you get an 11th chord:
C11 = C E
•
G Bx
D
F
If you pile a third on top of an 11th, you get a 13th chord:
C13 = C E
G Bx D
F
A
Now you’ve got six- and seven-note chords. So you need two hands to play them
on the keyboard. As for six-string guitar, to play a 13th chord, you have to leave out
one of the notes (normally the 11th).
Your brain processes 9th, 11th, and 13th chords as though they’re some fancy
species of 7th chords. All such chords are dissonant.
Just keep in mind that all chords are triads and sevenths, or variations of triads and
sevenths.
These extended chords are common in jazz and romantic music of the 19th
Century.
WHAT IS THAT MYSTERIOUS BEATLES CHORD?
It’s one of the most famous chords in rock music. That
“krrraannggg!” chord right off the top of the Beatles’ classic, “A
Hard Day’s Night.”
What is that chord?
No one in the Beatles’ organization would tell. Not even George
Martin. So, arguments raged for decades about the mysterious
chord. Fights broke out in the streets of Wichita and Dodge City.
Frightened horses galloped away in clouds of dust. Doc YadaYadams spent hours treating the injured and sipping hooch from
his still. Nobody could agree on the identity of that chord. Even
Ms Puma, who normally knows everything, had to admit she was
stumped.
Finally, from out of the frozen northern wastelands of Nova
Scotia, Canada, a stranger rode into town, a mathematics
300 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
professor named Jason Brown. And what did the stranger do?
Why, he took off his hat and tossed it on a peg, and then he sat
down at a computer and digitized that dang chord real good.
And then Dr. Brown spent six months deconstructing it. When it
was all over and the dust had settled, the mathematical stranger
had solved the mystery.
What did Dr. Brown find?
•
George Harrison played the notes D, A, C, and G on his 12string Rickenbacker electric guitar.
•
Paul McCartney played the note D on his bass.
•
George Martin played the notes D, F, E, and G on the piano.
•
John Lennon may have played the note C on his 6-string
guitar.
•
Put them all together and you get: D F A C E G, which is the
chord Dm11 (D minor eleventh), which is the same as the
chord D minor (D F A) and the chord C major (C E G) played
simultaneously.
The next chord on the record is the tonic chord, G major, which
begins the verse. The Dm11 chord, then, is a jazzy variant of the
dominant seventh chord.
Some ornery folks dispute Dr. Brown’s findings. Marshal McDillon
was thinking seriously of locking them all up for the commotion
they cause, because that’s a cliche of law ‘n’ order in a Classic
Western like this one. Then Ms Puma wisely reminded Marshal
McDillon of the importance of free inquiry. She poured him a
double bourbon and he drunk it down in one swallow and didn’t
cough like the late Billy Joe up there on Boot Hill.
6.2.9
SLASH CHORDS
In most song books showing words and chords, or words, melody line, and chords,
you will see chord notations such as these:
C/A
G/D
D/Fv
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301
These chords are called slash chords, as in “C slash A” or “G slash D”. Although
musicians usually say, “C over A” or “G over D”.
In slash chord notation, such as G/D:
•
The note before the slash signifies the actual chord (in this example, the chord
“G”).
•
The note after the slash is a bass note (in this example, the bass note “D”)
played simultaneously with the chord.
Therefore, a slash chord is not generally considered to be a “unique” chord.
Literally any chord can be turned into a slash chord.
If the bass note following the slash is one of the notes in the chord itself, then you
just need to make sure the note following the slash is the lowest note in the chord.
For example, G/D means:
“Play an ordinary G major chord and make sure the lowest note (the
bass note) is D.”
If the bass note following the slash is not one of the notes in the chord itself, then
the note following the slash is just a bass note that you add to the chord.
For example, C/A (“C over A”) means:
"Play an ordinary C major chord and at the same time, add an A note
as a bass note."
You can play the added “A” in the bass on your own instrument (guitar or
piano). Or, alternatively, your bass player can hit the “A” bass note as you
simultaneously play the “C” major chord. The musical effect is the same.
The bass note following the slash can be any of the 12 notes in the chromatic
scale. It does not have to be even remotely related to the chord.
So, for instance, you can play “slash chords” such as D/Ex or D/C. When the
bass note following the slash is not a note in the chord itself (for example, the “A”
in C/A), it’s often a brief passing note as you step through a series of chords, such as
the chord progression C – C/A -- F.
You can add any bass note to any chord under the sun and call it a “slash chord.” For
example, major chords:
D/Ex
D/E
D/F
D/Fv
D/G, etc. etc.
302 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Or minor chords:
Dm/Ex
Dm/E
Dm/F
Dm/Fv, etc. etc.
In musical composition generally, and harmony particularly, the bass part plays
a central role in establishing and maintaining tonality, and also in signalling changes
in melodic and harmonic direction. That’s where the bass power of slash chords can
be useful.
6.2.10
POWER CHORDS (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH
POWER CORDS)
A power cord is cable that connects an appliance such as a guitar amp to a power
source such as a power bar or wall socket.
A power chord is a type of chord that had to be invented after electric guitar
players started overdriving preamplifiers and speakers to create massively distorted
sound. Heavy metal, heavy rock, and punk music characteristically employ power
chords.
The legendary rock guitarist Link Wray is generally credited with inventing the
power chord. He pioneered the use of distortion and feedback in electric guitar
playing. For example, he would deliberately punch holes in the speakers of his guitar
amp in order to achieve a satisfactorily distorted sound.
Recall earlier in this chapter, the following distinction:
For practical purposes, think of a chord as three or more
different-pitched notes played or sung simultaneously. Not two.
Consider two notes, whether sounded simultaneously or in succession,
an interval.
The power chord is the exception. A power chord consists of only two different
notes played simultaneously, the tonic and fifth notes of the scale.
•
•
•
•
The root of the power chord (tonic note of the scale) is usually in the lowerpitched position.
However, the fifth may be in the lower-pitched position.
The root may be doubled, an octave higher or lower.
The fifth may be doubled, an octave higher or lower.
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The defining property of a power chord is that the third is missing. The reason has
to do with distortion. If you play an ordinary major or minor triad on an electric
guitar through an amp with tons of distortion, the overtones are so muddied-up that
your brain has a hard time figuring out that it’s even hearing a chord, let alone what
kind of harmony it’s supposed to be. All your brain can discern is formless noise.
However, if you leave out the third, then your brain can usually distinguish a basic
harmonic interval, a perfect fifth—even with all the distortion. Although it’s only an
interval, and not a chord in the normal sense of the word, at least it is harmony. The
overwhelming dissonance of the electronic distortion provides the sense of power (see
“Emotional Effects of Intervals,” Chapter 4).
Since power chords consist of only two different notes, you can learn to play them
pretty easily. You can finger a power chord anywhere on the guitar fretboard. But
without a doubt, the heaviest, darkest, most powerful sounding power chords are
those you play on the bass strings. Low pitch plus massive dissonance combine to
create a dark, ominous feeling.
A couple of final points about power chords:
•
A power chord is usually symbolized by combining the letter-name of the root
note with the number 5. For example:
C5 or C fifth
•
Since the third is missing, you can’t tell whether the prevailing mode is major
or minor. Heavy metal songwriters exploit this characteristic by making use
of the Church modes for melodic purposes, resulting in a distinctive or
signature sound.
6.2.11
DRONE ON
Before continuing on to chord progressions, a word or two about harmony by
drone—ubiquitous in some musical cultures.
Western Europeans did not “discover harmony” in the 16th and 17th centuries by
developing the Western tonal system, with its 12 major keys, 12 minor keys, and
equal temperament. Our ancestors doubtless were harmonizing vocally tens of
thousands of years ago.
Instrumentally, drone-based harmonic systems have existed for ages. The major
difference between drone-based harmonic systems and the Western tonal system is
that you can’t change key while playing a drone-tuned instrument. You have to stop
and retune.
304 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
A drone is a sustained note (or group of notes) that accompanies a developing
melody. Drones can take several forms:
•
•
•
•
A single note
Two or more notes of identical pitch
Two or more notes pitched in octaves
Two notes in related pitches
Sometimes the drone note sounds continuously:
•
•
Various kinds of bagpipes.
Hurdy gurdy: the player cranks a wheel that vibrates strings that sustain the
drone note.
Sometimes a musician strums or plucks a single note rhythmically (a “rhythmic
drone”) to sustain the drone effect and also provide rhythmic accompaniment.
While normally instrumental, some drone traditions feature vocalists singing
drone syllables.
Drone sounds are found in many of the world’s musical cultures:
•
•
•
•
Indian classical music
Jew’s harp (jaw harp) playing
Fiddle traditions such as Celtic, eastern European, and Appalachian
Australian aboriginal didgeridoo playing
Usually the drone tone is the tonic note—though not necessarily in the Western
diatonic tonal music tradition. Sometimes a single drone tone is not the tonic.
When the drone is the tonic note, it serves the same function as the tonic note in
Western diatonic harmony. It acts as the musical centre of gravity, an important
unifying role when employed with scales other than diatonic major or minor scales
(or close relatives such as pentatonic scales).
A drone sound makes it possible to play modal melodies while providing
harmony, because every melodic note automatically harmonizes with the drone, except
melodic notes identical to the drone. Some are close harmonies (related by simple
frequency ratios), others are dissonant harmonies.
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6.3
Introduction to Chord
Progressions
6.3.1
WHAT ARE CHORD PROGRESSIONS GOOD FOR?
When you hear a tune, you hear a sequence of individual pitches. In the context of
tonality, all of those pitches—except scale degree 1—sound restless.
But when you hear a chord, you don’t hear the individual pitches. Even when you
finger-pick chord changes on the guitar, or play the chords as arpeggios on the
keyboard, you still don’t hear a tune. You hear chords being unrolled and spread out
in time. But they still sound like chords—not a melody.
Your brain processes harmony differently from the way it processes melody.
That’s why there’s no “music” in harmony without melody.
When you hear a chord progression and a tune simultaneously, your brain
processes the chords as blends of related tones, a kind of third dimension of music,
unfurling and sprawling beneath and around the tune, a colourful sonic panorama.
Musical depth.
Your brain hears melody and harmony as related but separate entities. The tune
is a restless traveller. The chords provide a dynamic, moving landscape through
which the tune travels.
Chord progressions, though not absolutely necessary in the making of music,
serve three main functions:
1. Chord progressions help define tonality and unify a piece of music. They
provide a sonic frame of reference that makes unrest and dissonance possible.
2. Chord progressions impart drive and propulsion to a piece of music. In the
context of tonality, most chords, like most intervals in a melody, sound, to a
greater or lesser degree, tense and restless. They seek resolution. Like the tune
itself, they’re also trying to find their way home.
3. Chord progressions furnish music with the qualitative aural equivalents of
color and depth.
306 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.3.2
DYNAMIC QUALITIES OF CHORDS
A chord has a unified sound and retains its identity even when inverted. However,
the all-important root note of the chord (the lowest note of the chord in root position,
not inverted) simultaneously wears another hat, namely, as a degree of a melodic
scale.
When the scale degree of a key coincides with the root of a major or minor
triad—which only happens when scale degree 1 coincides with the triad built on scale
degree 1 (for example, the C major triad in the key of C)—the chord has no dynamic
quality, no motion. It’s merely a stable triad in root position.
But the moment the tune moves away from scale degree 1, all accompanying
chords, whatever they may be, take on a dynamic quality, a feeling of unrest—even
major and minor triads. Even the triad built on the tonic note.
How come?
Because all notes in a diatonic scale except scale degree 1 are unbalanced. And
when it comes to getting attention, the tune trumps the chord.
Repeat:
The tune trumps the chord (see Chapter 9).
As you will learn in Chapter 9, bearing this fact in mind will help you enormously
in your songwriting. Your brain zeros in on the tune, which, again, is why a
chord-free melody stands on its own, but a tune-free chord progression does not.
As long as the tune is in a state of imbalance, no accompanying chord can bring
it back into balance.
At the same time, your brain has to be able to identify a succession of notes and
accompanying harmony as “music” in the first place. For the collective musical mind
of an audience to find a piece of music memorable and emotionally potent ...
•
•
The piece must have enough tonal unity to be coherent;
It must also possess a sufficient variety of tonal disturbance and tension to be
mesmerizing.
Unity and variety. Both are essential. The trick is to have them in the right balance.
That means a melody and its chords must necessarily be tonally related in some way.
What way?
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6.3.3
UNDERSTANDING HARMONY: TERMS OF
ENDEARMENT
Melody and harmony, while identifiably different, relate to each other so intimately
that similar terms are used to describe and understand their individual natures.
Just as melody is organized by scale degrees, intervals, and scales, so harmony is
organized by harmonic degrees, harmonic intervals, and harmonic scales (Table 37 below).
TABLE 37 Basic Terms, Melody vs Harmony
Melodic Terms
Harmonic Terms
Notes are identified as
Each note
has an assigned Arabic
number, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.,
identifying its scale
position.
Chords are identified as
Each chord
has an assigned Roman numeral,
I, II, III, IV, etc., identifying the
whole chord, although named
for the root note.
Note-to-note succession—a
tune or melody—proceeds
by
Chord-to-chord succession—a
chord progression—proceeds
by
A diatonic order of seven
notes, plus the eighth note
which repeats the first at a
higher pitch, is called a
(major or
minor).
The harmonic order of seven
chords is called the
(As you’ll soon see, there
are 12 harmonic scales.)
Chapters 4 and 5 covered the melodic terms in Table 37 in detail. Now to tackle
the harmonic terms, one at a time.
308 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.4
The Nashville Number System
6.4.1
“HARMONIC DEGREE”: JUST A FANCY NAME FOR
“CHORD”
In harmony, Roman numerals represent whole chords, which are named after their
roots. Here’s how scale degree Arabic numbers and chord Roman numerals are related:
•
A chord with scale degree 1 as its root is called the I chord (the “one chord").
For example, in the key of C major, the chord C major is the I chord (the “one
chord”).
•
A chord with scale degree 4 as its root is called the IV chord (the “four
chord”). For example, in the key of C major, the chord F major is the IV
chord (the “four chord”). Etc., etc. So far, so good.
Now for the important part.
The relationship between harmony and melody begins with the identification of
the seven harmonic degrees. As you’ll see in a minute, this is the basis of the Nashville
Number System.
So ... what’s a harmonic degree? Just a technical name for “chord.” These chords
are the triads (three notes, separated by intervals of a third) whose roots are the seven
individual scale degrees of a given diatonic scale.
6.4.2
THE SEVEN HARMONIC DEGREES
Have a look at Table 38 below. Each vertical column shows which three notes (scale
degrees) form a triad (a chord, or “harmonic degree”), each built on a different note
of the diatonic scale:
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
309
TABLE 38 The Seven Harmonic Degrees (Also Known As
Triads or Chords)
Notes That Comprise
Each Chord
The Seven Chords
5th Note Up From Root
(Interval of a third)
5
6
7
1
2
3
4
3rd Note Up From Root
(Interval of a third)
3
4
5
6
7
1
2
Root of Triad
(Scale Degree)
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Chord (Harmonic Degree)
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
An example is coming up in a minute. For now, bear in mind that each Arabic
number represents a note of the major scale. So, in the key of C major, for example,
1 = C, 2 = D, 3 = E, etc. Each Roman numeral represents a chord. So, for example
Roman number I = the chord C.
As you study Table 38 with considerable diligence, forsaking even a trip to the
Wrong Ranch Saloon for a double Wild Turkey, you will notice that the chords with
roots 1, 4, and 5 are shaded lightly, whilst chords with roots 2, 3, and 6 are marked
with darker shading. And out there on the right, the chord with root 7 bears the
darkest and scariest shading. The reasons for these shading variances will become
blindingly clear in a minute.
Also, notice that scale degree 1 (8) is missing. In harmony, unlike melody, scale
degree 1 (8) has no meaning because the notes of a chord, including the chord root,
apply universally to any and all octaves equally. Again, this will become clearer as
you fight your way through this chapter with masochistic but admirable
determination.
As you’ve discovered, chords consist of “third” intervals stacked atop each other.
In any diatonic scale, if you select any note as a starting point, you will always get
an interval of a third simply by skipping one note of the diatonic scale.
For example, in the key of C major, if you start on the note D and skip to the note
F, you get an interval of a minor third (three semitones). If you start on F and skip
to A, you get an interval of a major third (four semitones). Remember, even though
one interval is a major third and the other is a minor third, both are still considered
to be “thirds.”
Everywhere along the scale, skipping one note gets you an interval of either a
major third or a minor third.
310 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
So, any triad will consist of ...
•
•
•
A root note, which can be any note of the scale, plus
The third note up from the root (skipping over the second note), plus
The fifth note up from the root (skipping over the fourth note).
6.4.3
AN EXAMPLE: THE SEVEN HARMONIC DEGREES
IN THE KEY OF C MAJOR/A MINOR
Using the key of C major as an example, you can find out exactly which chords are
this key’s seven “harmonic degrees” (just a fancy name for “chords”), and which
notes make up those chords.
To start, here’s the scale you’re dealing with (Figure 43):
FIGURE 43 C Major Scale
1
2
3
4
5
6
7 1(8)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
And here are the seven harmonic degrees (chords) in the key of C major, showing
which three notes comprise each triad (Table 39 below):
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311
TABLE 39 The Seven Harmonic Degrees (Triads or Chords) in
the Key of C Major / A Minor
Notes In
Each Chord
Names of the Seven Chords
C
Major
D
Minor
E
Minor
F
Major
G
Major
A
Minor
B
Dim.
5th Note
G
A
B
C
D
E
F
3rd Note
E
F
G
A
B
C
D
1st (Root)
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
Chord
(Harmonic
Degree)
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
Why “C Major/A Minor” in the title of Table 39? Because in harmony, the major
and relative minor keys are so intimately related that they share the same “harmonic
scale,” sometimes called the scale of harmonic degrees, as you’ll see shortly.
You’ll note that, of the seven triads in Table 39 above:
•
•
•
Three are major triads (major chords)
Three are minor triads (minor chords)
One is a diminished triad (diminished chord)
For example, the notes that make up the chord with root C consist of an interval
of a major third (C – E) on the bottom and a minor third on top (E – G). So it’s a
major triad (C, E, G).
The notes that make up the chord with root D consist of a an interval of a minor
third (D – F) on the bottom and a major third on top (F – A). So it’s a minor triad (D,
F, A). And so on.
Now it’s becoming clearer how chords add a “third dimension,” a sense of depth
and color to music.
Speaking of color, in Table 39 above, shading identifies the chord types. The
major triads are lightly shaded, the minor triads medium-shaded, and the diminished
triad darkly shaded.
One of the first things you’ve probably noticed about the chords that make up the
seven harmonic degrees is that three of them, the three major chords, C major, F
Major, and G major, are the same three chords you find in 87 gazillion popular
312 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
songs. The famous “three basic chords” that everybody learns to play on the guitar
pretty soon after first picking up the instrument. (And, for a lot of guitar pickers, the
only chords they ever learn.)
•
These three chords, C, F, and G, happen to collectively contain all seven
notes of the C major scale and its relative minor, the A natural minor scale.
•
Same goes for the three minor chords—they also collectively contain all seven
notes of the A natural minor scale and its relative major, the C major scale.
6.4.4
THE NASHVILLE NUMBER SYSTEM OF CHORD
NOTATION: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT AND HOW IT
WORKS
A lot of session players in Nashville do not read music. So they use a system of chord
notation that originated in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Starting in the 1950s, Nashville players began adapting it for their own needs. Now
everybody knows it as the Nashville Number System.
The Nashville Number System is “chord shorthand” based on the chords of the
seven harmonic degrees (Tables 38 and 39 above). The Nashville Number System
makes it possible for any player to play the correct chords of a song in any key,
simply by numbering the chords according to their harmonic degrees.
The advantage?
Once a lead or lyric sheet is notated using the Nashville Number System,
performers can use it to play or sing the song in any key. Players do not have to
re-notate lead sheets every time someone decides to try out the tune in a different
key. Which happens an awful lot.
The Nashville Number System works like this:
•
Each chord of the seven harmonic degrees (Tables 38 and 39 above) gets
notated on the lead sheet according to the number of the chord’s root.
•
You can (and should) use Roman numerals to represent the chords, but in
Nashville they usually use Arabic numbers (which is a bit confusing, since
Arabic numbers apply to scale notes as well).
•
For the minor triads, add a lower case “m” to the number.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
•
313
For the diminished chord, add the symbol “º”. Add other symbols as needed
for different extensions of chords such as ninths.
Table 40 below shows the Nashville Numbers for all seven harmonic degrees.
TABLE 40 The Seven Harmonic Degrees (Triads or Chords):
The Nashville Number System
Harmonic Degrees (Chords)
Nashville
Number
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
1
2m
3m
4
5
6m
7º
What They
Call It
the
“one”
chord
the
the
the
“two” “three” “four”
chord chord chord
the
“five”
chord
the
the
“six” “seven”
chord chord
Chord is
Always...
major
minor minor
major
minor diminished
major
Now, the above chart is not exactly right. In Nashville, all Nashville Numbers are
considered to be major chords unless you specify otherwise.
So, for example, if you say, “Play the two chord,” the Nashville session player
will play the two major chord unless you say, “Play the two minor chord.”
If you say, “Play the seven chord,” the session player will play the seven major
chord unless you say “Play the seven diminished chord,” or “Play the seven minor
sixth chord,” or “When can we take a break and grab a beer?”
In the remaining discussion of harmony, the Nashville Number System applies.
However, only Roman numerals are used for chords, not Arabic numbers. For
example, the Nashville Number of the “seventh” of the chord built on scale degree
5 is notated as V7 (instead of 5 - 7).
When referencing a specific key, such as the key of C, alphabetic letters replace
Roman numerals to identify chords. Like so (Table 41):
314 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 41 The Seven Harmonic Degrees: Modified Nashville
Number System
Harmonic
Degree
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
Modified
Nashville
Number
I
IIm
IIIm
IV
V
VIm
VIIº
Example:
Chords in
Key of C/Am
C
Dm
Em
F
G
Am
Bº
One other thing: It’s standard in “normal” chord notation to:
•
Capitalize the letter of the root chord (“A” for A major, instead of “a”)
•
Use a capital “M” for a chord with a major seventh interval, as AM7 (A
major seventh)
•
Use a lower case “m” for a chord based on a minor triad, as Am7 (A minor
seventh)
When using Nashville Numbers, always capitalize the equivalent Roman numerals.
For example, in the Nashville Number System, the chord Am7 in the key of C
major/A minor becomes "VIm7" (“six minor seventh” or “the minor seventh of the
six chord”) in the Nashville Number System. The chord AM7 in the key of C
major/A minor becomes VIM7 (“six major seventh” or “the major seventh of the six
chord”).
Some people use lower case Roman numerals to signify “minor”. That is, vi =
minor and VI = major. For instance, they'll write in an e-mail to a friend: “yesterday
I was working on a chord progression in the key of c and I was playing a vi chord ...”
Now, would that be the chord A minor or the chord A major?
Don’t do this. Do not use lower-case Roman numerals, ever. It only breeds
confusion.
Always use CAPITAL Roman numerals when using Nashville Numbers.
Note, however, that there’s no "world standard" on this issue, as there is, for
example, in tuning musical instruments, where "Concert A=440 Hz" is the
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
315
recognized world standard. So if you insist on using lower case Roman numerals for
minor chords, Marshal McDillon will not arrest you. But you might get confused.
THE OLDEST JORDANAIRE
Neal Matthews is credited with devising the Nashville Number
System. For some 47 years, until his death in 2000, Matthews sang
tenor as a member of The Jordanaires, who gained international
fame as background vocalists for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis,
Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Roy
Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, and hundreds of
other great songwriters and performers.
The Jordanaires are still performing today. The oldest Jordanaire,
the legendary counter-tenor Little Willy Jim Bob Peabody, cut his
first record in 1886, at the dawn of the age of wax cylinder
recordings.
In 2006, Peabody celebrated his 120th year in show business with
a backing vocal performance on Celine Dion’s cover recording of
the Metallica classic, “So What.” Dion’s husband and manager,
Rene Angelil, had to hire extra security for the recording session
to keep the frisky 143-year-old Jordanaire charmer at a
respectable distance from Dion, who enjoyed all the attention,
as she often complains she doesn’t get enough. Attention.
316 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.5
The Four Types of Chord
Progressions
6.5.1
“HARMONIC INTERVAL”: JUST A FANCY NAME
FOR CHORD CHANGE OR CHORD PROGRESSION
The term interval has a considerably different meaning in harmony, compared with
melody. Simply put, a harmonic interval is a chord change.
A succession of melodic intervals is represented like this:
1–4–2–5–1
Each symbol represents a single note, called a scale degree. Each dash represents
a pitch change from one single note to another single note.
So far, such pitch changes have been referred to as “intervals.” From now on,
they’re melodic intervals, so as to distinguish them from harmonic intervals (chord
changes). So, in the above example, there are five notes and four melodic intervals.
A succession of harmonic intervals (chord changes) is represented like this:
I – VIm – IIm – V7 – I
Each symbol represents a harmonic degree, commonly known as a chord. Each
dash represents a harmonic change, from one chord to another chord.
Such harmonic changes are called harmonic intervals, or chord changes, or chord
progressions. All of these terms mean the same thing. In the above example, there are
five chords and four chord changes or harmonic intervals.
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317
6.5.2
HOW CHORDS ACTUALLY CHANGE
When you play your guitar or keyboard and change chords, you do not necessarily
go from one chord in its root position to another chord in its root position. Instead,
you typically switch among roots and various inversions.
Figure 44 below shows a typical chord progression, G – C – F.
•
•
•
The top line shows the notes of the chord G major.
The middle line shows the notes of the chord C major.
The bottom line shows the notes of the chord F major.
The arrows show which notes of one chord are changing to which notes to form
the next chord. The dark letters show the chord roots.
•
Some chords have the same note in common. So there’s no change in these
notes when the chords change.
•
The first and last chords (G major and F major) are in root position (their root
notes are furthest to the left) while the middle chord (C major) is a second
inversion chord (the note G is in root position).
FIGURE 44 Typical Chord Changes: G Major (Root Position) to
C Major (2nd Inversion) to F Major (Root Position)
318 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
So, a chord progression (such as the one above) is a movement of chords in their
entirety, not merely a movement of notes, or chord roots, or specific inversions.
In fact, there’s no such thing as movement of “chord roots.”
In harmony, chord-to-chord movement is of an entirely different sort, compared
with melodic note-to-note movement. It sounds different, it feels different, it is
different.
As the chord changes from G major (top line in Figure 44) to C major (middle
line) to F major (bottom line), it’s clear that the overall sound of the chord changes
have nothing to do with rising or falling pitch.
As the chords change, the notes within the chords don’t move much in pitch. In
four cases, the notes remain in exactly the same position as the chord changes. In
most of the other eight cases, the pitch change from chord to chord is only a semitone
or a tone—up, in some cases, down in others.
What your brain hears as the chords change in sequence are changes in musical
“color,” not rising or falling pitch.
6.5.3
THE TRICKY BUSINESS OF NAMING HARMONIC
INTERVALS (CHORD PROGRESSIONS)
Melodic intervals have logical, straightforward names (more or less). A perfect fourth
is the interval between the tonic note and the fourth note of the diatonic scale. A
perfect fifth is the interval between the tonic note and the fifth note of the diatonic
scale.
Naming harmonic intervals (chords) is not so straightforward. Chord movements
are named according to the intervals between their roots, even though root
movement has no meaning by itself.
It’s the whole chord that moves, regardless of root or inversion. The chord is simply
named after the root.
The tricky thing here is that the name of the interval between chord roots can
have two meanings:
1. It can refer to the movement of a given chord “up” to the next chord in the
progression, with respect to the root name—for example, C “up” to G if you
go like this: C, D, E, F, G.
2. It can refer to the movement of a given chord “down” to the next chord from
the original chord, with respect to the root name—for example, G “down” to
C if you go like this: C, B, A, G.
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319
Either way you figure it, you’re still changing from a “C” chord to a “G” chord.
But the order of the chords in the progression matters with respect to naming. The
chord change from C to G has a different name, and a different musical effect, compared
with the chord change G to C.
6.5.4
FIFTH PROGRESSIONS, UP AND DOWN
As noted, harmonic intervals (chord changes) are named after their roots.
In Figure 45 below, you can see the dilemma. The root is just one of several notes in
a chord. So how do you name these harmonic intervals?
•
When you change from the chord G major to the chord C major, is that an
interval of a fourth or a fifth?
•
Is it going “up” or “down”?
•
When you change from the chord C major to the chord G major, is that an
interval of a fourth or a fifth?
•
Is it going “up” or “down"?
FIGURE 45 Dilemma: How to Name These Harmonic Intervals
(Chord Changes)
320 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Since root movement by itself has no meaning in harmony, movement “up” or
“down” from one chord to another chord amounts to exactly the same thing, with
respect to root movement.
Recall the discussion of complementary intervals from Chapter 4. Any two intervals
that add up to an octave are called complementary intervals. In harmony,
complementary harmonic intervals have the same names, as you’ll see in a minute.
The harmonic interval (chord change) G – C spans the same harmonic distance
as the harmonic interval (chord change) C – G. That’s pretty obvious: when you play
the chords C – G – C – G – C – G, you’re just playing the same two chords
alternately.
This is different from melody, because in melody, the octave matters. In melody,
the interval C – G is a perfect fifth (with C as the lower pitch), but the interval G –
C is a perfect fourth (with G as the lower pitch). So you hear two different melodic
intervals:
C–G
G–C
or the ascending melodic sequence:
C–G–C
where the second C is an octave above the first C. Two distinct melodic intervals,
three distinct pitches.
Not so in harmony.
You hear only one harmonic interval when you play the chords:
C–G
G–C
And when you play the harmonic sequence (chord progression):
C–G–C
you hear only two chords. The second C chord is exactly the same chord as the first
C chord. The octave in which you play these chords does not matter. The two chords
are both still either C major or G major chords.
And yet, despite the single harmonic interval, there is an important distinction
between these two chord sequences:
C–G
G–C
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In harmony, the distinction is that C – G is considered a harmonic movement
“up” because you get to the root note of the next chord by going “forward”
alphabetically from the root note of the first chord to the root note of the next one in
the progression. Like this: C – D – E – F – G.
The progression G – C is considered a harmonic movement “down” because you
get to the root note of the next chord by going “backward” alphabetically, from the
root note of the first chord to the root note of the next one in the progression. Like
this: G – F – E – D – C.
Unlike in melody, the harmonic terms “up” and “down” with respect to interval
movements (chord changes) have nothing whatsoever to do with pitch change. Unlike in
melody, the chord change G – C does not mean that the chord C is “higher” or
“lower” in pitch than the chord G.
CHORD SICKNESS AND BARFING AUDIENCES
Suppose you have $20 million burning a hole in your jeans. That’s
what it costs to visit a space station as a tourist. (NASA is ready to
take your order. Operators are standing by.)
Once you’re up there, the space station orbits in a certain
direction. But inside the spacecraft, your body floats all over the
place. You do not perceive your motion to be “up” or “down.”
There’s no “up” or “down” in space. So you get space sickness and
you barf. And your fellow astronauts move away from you and
mutter to each other about how disgusting you are.
That’s how chord progressions work. Chords move, and, under
certain circumstances, they move in a perceived direction. But
they do not move “up” or “down,” the way melody does. There’s
no “up” or “down” in harmony. So, if you don’t know what you’re
doing when you create a chord progression, your listeners may
get chord sickness and barf.
In harmony, both chord changes—the chord C moving to the chord G (thought
of as going “up,” which means counting forward from the first chord: C, D, E, F, G),
and the chord G moving to the chord C (thought of as going “down,” which means
counting backward from the first chord to the next one in the progression: G, F, E,
D, C), are called, by convention, fifth progressions. Even though, in terms of melodic
scale degrees, G – C is a fourth.
So, unlike the situation with melodic intervals, you never refer to a chord change
such as G – C as a harmonic interval of a fourth (a “fourth progression”). No such
thing.
322 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Figure 46 shows an example of how fifth progressions get their names. The chord
change is from G major in root position (top line) to C major, second inversion
(middle line) to F major in root position (bottom line), or the reverse, from F to C to
G. Although all the notes change simultaneously as you move from line to line, the
arrows show only the chord roots (after which the chords are named).
FIGURE 46 Fifth Progressions, Up and Down
To summarize:
1. If you go from the top line to the bottom line, the chords change from G
major to C major to F major. These are called fifth progressions, down
(counting backward from the first chord root to the next one in the
progression).
This is a fifth down chord progression:
G–C–F
2. If you go from the bottom line to the top line, the chords change from F major
to C major to G major. These are fifth progressions, up (counting forward
from the first chord root to the next one).
This is a fifth up chord progression:
F–C–G
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When you play these two chord progressions, they sound quite different from
each other. That is, a fifth down progression has a different harmonic character from a
fifth up progression. Even though both progressions consist of exactly the same three
chords. Even though the notes within each chord are identical.
The sequence of the chords matters. That’s what gives each type of progression its
own distinctive character.
It’s worth repeating that the terms “fifth up” and “fifth down” do not imply pitch
change. The terms “up” and “down” are simply unfortunate quirks of nomenclature.
•
“Up” means counting forward in letter-sequence order to arrive at the name of the
next chord in the sequence (which is named for its root).
•
“Down” means counting backward in letter-sequence order to arrive at the name
of the next chord (which is named for its root).
Pitch is the “height” dimension of sound, so “up” and “down” make sense.
Harmony is the “depth” and “color” dimension of sound, so using the terms “up”
and “down” do not make sense. However, we’re stuck with the “up” and “down”
nomenclature with respect to chord progressions, even though it’s completely
misleading.
If you get confused about how chord progressions are named, just remember that
“up” in chord progression terms means counting forward from the first chord-root
name to the next one, and “down” means counting backward from the first chordroot name to the next one. (Nothing whatsoever to do with “up” in pitch or “down” in
pitch.) Here are a few examples:
Count the fifth up, A – E , by reading forward: A > B > C > D > E
Count the fifth down, E – A , by reading backward: A < B < C < D < E
Count the fifth up, D – A , by reading forward: D > E > F > G > A
Count the fifth down, A – D, by reading backward: D < E < F < G < A
6.5.5
THIRD PROGRESSIONS, UP AND DOWN
Just as harmonic progressions with roots a fifth or a fourth apart span the same
harmonic space, so harmonic progressions with roots either a third (e.g., Am – C) or
sixth (C – Am) apart span the same harmonic space.
By convention, these are both called third progressions. And again, unlike the
situation with melodic intervals, by convention, there’s no such thing as a harmonic
interval called a sixth (a “sixth progression”).
324 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
A third progression up means counting forward by letter-name from the first
chord root to the next one in the progression. So Am – C is a third progression
up.
•
A third progression down means counting backward by letter-name from the first
chord root to the next one in the progression. So C – Am is a third progression
down.
Even though the same two chords are used, the sequence of chords matters. The
progression Am – C sounds different from the progression C – Am. Just as a fifth
progression up sounds different from a fifth progression down, so a third progression
up sounds different from a third progression down.
6.5.6
SECOND PROGRESSIONS, UP AND DOWN
Harmonic movements with roots either a second (e.g., C – Dm) or seventh (Dm –
C) apart span the same harmonic space, because there's no “up” and “down” in
harmonic space, the way there is in melodic space (high pitch vs low pitch).
By convention, they’re both called second progressions. There’s no such thing as a
harmonic interval called a seventh (a “seventh progression”).
•
A second progression up means counting forward by letter name from the first
chord to the next one in the progression. So C – Dm is a second progression
up.
•
A second progression down means counting backward from the first chord in the
progression. So Dm – C is a second progression down.
6.5.7
CHROMATIC PROGRESSIONS
Diatonic harmonic intervals for a given key can only arise from triads built on roots
belonging to the diatonic scale.
Why is this?
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
325
•
The tonic note of a scale contains overtones that strongly reinforce scale
degrees 1, 3 and 5. (Music always gets back to the brain recognizing
simple-ratio overtones.)
•
This in turn gives rise to the triad built on the tonic note, consisting of scale
degrees 1, 3, and 5 of the diatonic scale, the overtones of which all reinforce
each other internally.
•
This gives rise to triads built on the other six notes of the diatonic scale.
•
This provides a basic vocabulary of seven triads (three major, three minor, one
diminished) in any given key, each with root-third-fifth structure and
overtones all reinforcing each other.
•
The brain interprets and processes all of these simultaneously-sounding tones
with reinforcing overtones as the sonic delight, harmony.
However, chords can also progress by non-diatonic intervals—intervals whose
roots are not in the diatonic scale of the prevailing key. Such chord changes are
called chromatic progressions.
For example, in the key of C major, you would call the progression from the
chord C major to the chord to Ex major a chromatic progression.
Why not call this a third progression? After all, the root moves three semitones,
just like the chord progression C – Am, a third progression. Why call C – Ex a
chromatic progression instead of a third progression?
Because in harmony, all three of the notes that make up each triad must belong to
the diatonic scale for the prevailing key. Otherwise, there’s no tone/overtone acoustic
resonance. Your brain simply does not recognize the chord as belonging to the
prevailing key. The chord Ex is therefore chromatic.
The chord Ex major consists of the notes Ex, G, and Bx. If the prevailing key is C
major, your brain does not recognize the chord Ex major, with its chromatic notes Ex
and Bx, as belonging to the prevailing key.
Since chromatic chords have roots outside of the key’s scale notes, harmonic
movement “up”or “down” (such as a “fifth up” or a “third down”) does not apply
to chromatic chords. Instead, chromatic chord movement is defined as:
•
Exiting the prevailing key when the progression moves from a chord within
the key to a chromatic chord, and
•
Returning to the prevailing key when the progression moves from the
chromatic chord back to the key.
326 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.5.8
SUMMARY AND EXAMPLES OF THE FOUR TYPES OF
CHORD PROGRESSIONS
Table 42 summarizes the only four harmonic interval (chord progression) types:
•
•
•
•
Seconds (up or down),
Thirds (up or down),
Fifths (up or down),
Chromatic (exiting or returning).
Keep in mind that the intervals in the “Examples” column are chord movements,
not single note movements.
TABLE 42 The Four Types of Harmonic Intervals (Chord
Progressions)
Root
Movement
A Few
Examples: Key
of C / Am
Progression Name
SECOND PROGRESSIONS
I – II
II – I
VII – I
I – VII
C – Dm
Dm – C
Bº – C
C – Bº
Second progression, up
Second progression, down
Second progression, up
Second progression, down
THIRD PROGRESSIONS
I – III
III – I
VI – I
I – VI
C – Em
Em – C
Am – C
C – Am
Third progression, up
Third progression, down
Third progression, up
Third progression, down
FIFTH PROGRESSIONS
I–V
V–I
IV – I
I – IV
C–G
G–C
F–C
C–F
Fifth progression, up
Fifth progression, down
Fifth progression, up
Fifth progression, down
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
327
CHROMATIC PROGRESSIONS
I – xII
xII – I
I – xIII
xIII – I
I – vIV
vIv – I
I – xVI
xvI – I
I – xVII
xVII – I
C – Dx
Dx – C
C – Ex
Ex – C
C – Fv
Fv – C
C – Ax
Ax – C
C – Bx
Bx – C
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
Chromatic progression,
exiting
returning
exiting
returning
exiting
returning
exiting
returning
exiting
returning
IMPORTANT: In Table 42, the chord progressions in the “Examples” column
represent only a smattering of the possibilities in the key of C / Am. What’s missing?
Well, for example, the chord change Dm – G is a fifth progression down. So is Am
– Dm. And the chord change F – Bx in the key of C / Am is a chromatic progression,
exiting. So is Dm – Ex.
EVEN MORE IMPORTANT: You don’t have to remember or memorize all that stuff
in Table 42. Why? Because, in a while, you’ll learn a visual way of making sense of
chord progressions. A way to sketch a “map” of a song’s chord progressions.
All of this will begin to make much more sense shortly. Next up: the harmonic
equivalent of the melodic scales you studied so conscientiously in Chapter 4. You’re
ready to learn all about harmonic scales.
6.6
Scales of
? Yes!
6.6.1
THE KEY TO BOLDLY GOING WAY BEYOND THE
“THREE-CHORD WONDER”
Usually, you think of a scale as an ordered sequence of single notes. Chapter 4 was
all about identifying melodic intervals, scale degrees, and the organization of melodic
scales.
328 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Does the same apply to harmony? That is, having identified the various harmonic
degrees (chords) and harmonic intervals (chord changes, also called chord
progressions), can they be organized into harmonic scales—harmonic equivalents of
melodic scales?
And if so, does that mean there’s a guaranteed way to write a chord progression
that holds together? Sounds like it “knows where it’s going”?
The answer is yes.
Few songwriters know about it, though.
The harmonic equivalent of a melodic scale is called a harmonic scale, or scale of
harmonic degrees. It’s a powerful musical phenomenon. You’re about to learn to
make creative use of it.
There are 12 such harmonic scales, one for each pair of relative keys—major and
relative minor (or vice versa).
In the following sections, you’ll learn how easy it is to create chord progressions
that sound “different” from your run-of-the-mill “three-chord wonders.” And yet
natural and attractive to the ear.
True, many great songs have only three basic chords. But the same three basic
chords also show up in zillions more awful songs.
Tune and lyrics notwithstanding, most songwriters simply don’t know how to
create beautiful chord progressions because they have zero knowledge of harmonic
scales and how to use them. Once you understand how easy it is to use harmonic
scales, you won’t ever have to worry about writing lame chord progressions again.
6.6.2
UNREST AND DIRECTION: THE MAGIC OF V – I
Recall from Chapter 4 that, in melodic scales, two scale degrees (notes of the scale)
“point” strongly towards scale degree 1, namely, its two neighbours, scale degree 2
(from above) and scale degree 7 (from below). Scale degrees 2 and 7 have both unrest
and direction.
For example, in this scale:
C–D–E–F–G–A–B–C
the note D strongly seeks resolution (unrest) down (direction) to C, and B strongly
seeks resolution (unrest) up (direction) to C.
Unrest and direction.
In harmony a parallel situation obtains. But in harmony, only one harmonic
degree, or chord, “points” strongly towards harmonic degree I, not two chords.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
329
The only chord in harmony that has both unrest and direction is
harmonic degree V (“the five chord”).
1. As Table 43 below shows, the notes comprising harmonic degree V include
scale degree 7 and scale degree 2. Both of these notes point strongly to the
tonic note of the key, scale degree 1.
TABLE 43 Notes Comprising Harmonic Degree V („The Five
Chord,‰ As They Say In Nashville)
5th Note Up From Root
(Interval of a third)
5
6
7
1
2
3
4
3rd Note Up From Root
(Interval of a third)
3
4
5
6
7
1
2
Root of Triad
(Scale Degree)
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
2. Recall from Chapter 5 that the more scale notes two keys have in common,
the more closely they’re related. And keys having tonic notes a fifth apart
have six out of seven scale notes in common. (For example, the key of C
major and the key of G major have 6 of 7 scale notes in common.)
3. The simplest frequency ratio after the octave (1:2) is the ratio that corresponds
to the fifth (2:3).
For all of these reasons, the harmonic interval (chord change or chord
progression) V – I plays the same role in harmony as do melodic intervals 7 – 1 and
2 – 1 in melody.
The V – I chord change is the strongest, most natural chord
progression in harmony.
Just as melodic intervals 7 – 1 and 2 – 1 impart both unrest and direction with
respect to the tonic note, so the harmonic interval V – I imparts both unrest and
direction with respect to the tonic chord—the chord built on scale degree 1.
330 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.6.3
HARMONIC “SCALE NEIGHBOURS”
Just as scale degrees 7 and 2 are scale neighbours of the tonic note in melody, so in
harmony the V chord is the scale neighbour of the tonic chord.
And that means the chord change V – I is the smallest scale move you can make in
harmony. The V chord and the I chord are, therefore, harmonic scale neighbours.
This is precisely the opposite of the situation in melody.
For example, in the key of C major:
•
Melodically, the notes B and C are close together. They’re melodic scale
neighbours. The notes C and G are as far apart as you can get—definitely not
melodic scale neighbours.
•
Harmonically, the chords C major and G major are close together. They’re
harmonic scale neighbours. But the chords C major and B major are far
apart—definitely not harmonic scale neighbours.
WANTED: MUSICAL MARRIAGE COUNSELLOR
Think of harmony and melody as opposite sexes.
In melody, the fifth is the furthest note from the tonic. But in
harmony, the fifth is the closest chord to the tonic.
Opposites in a fundamental way.
When they’re together, harmony and melody usually get along.
Sometimes they fight. Paradoxically, such fighting often sounds
delightful.
When they divorce, melody functions fairly well on its own. But
harmony does not. By itself, poor harmony flounders, and must
find a way to reconcile with melody.
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6.6.4
THE HARMONIC SCALE: WILL THE CIRCLE BE
UNBROKEN?
To construct a harmonic scale (scale of chords), here are the chords to start with, the
basic chords for any given key (in Nashville Number notation):
I
IIm
IIIm
IV
V
VIm
VIIº
The next step is to arrange these chords with each chord the smallest distance
apart harmonically (just as, in a melodic scale, the notes are the smallest distance
apart as you go up or down the scale stepwise, from note to note). That means the
root of each chord would be a fifth apart, since, in harmony, a fifth progression is the
smallest harmonic distance.
A major difference between a melodic scale and a harmonic scale would be this:
•
A melodic scale begins with scale degree 1 and ends with scale degree 1
(8)—two different notes. That’s because, in melody, the octave matters.
•
In harmony, the octave does not matter. Therefore, a harmonic scale would need
to begin with harmonic degree I and also end with harmonic degree I—the
same chord. As pointed out above, a chord is a chord is a chord. No distinction
is made between a chord played in one octave and the same chord played in
a different octave.
Since the first and last chords in the harmonic scale are the same chord (the tonic
chord, I), what shape, then, must a harmonic scale take?
If a harmonic scale must begin and end with the same chord ...
The harmonic scale must necessarily take the shape of a circle.
That’s the only way the harmonic scale could begin and end with the same chord.
Figure 47 shows how the chords of a harmonic scale are arranged in fifth
progressions, and in the shape of a circle.
332 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 47 The Harmonic Scale: Basic Structure
6.6.5
FAMILIES WITHIN THE CIRCLE
The first thing you notice about the chords in Figure 47 above is that they clump
together. The major chords form a little family of three on the right side of the
harmonic scale. The minor chords form another little family of three on the left side.
(Isn’t that sweet?)
The diminished chord (VIIº)—no doubt trained as an expert in family group
dynamics and conflict resolution—appears to bridge the two families.
The next thing you might notice is that all but one of the intervals between the
roots of the chords is five semitones apart (a fifth progression down, going clockwise;
a fifth progression up, going counterclockwise). The exception is the interval between
the root of the IV chord and the root of the VIIº chord (six semitones).
Later in this chapter, you’ll see how this little anomaly helps explain why
composers have a hard time working with the Church modes (Dorian, Phrygian,
Lydian, Mixolydian, Locrian) when it comes to constructing palatable-sounding
chord progressions.
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6.6.6
WHICH DIRECTION HOME?
How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
—BOB DYLAN (“Like A Rolling Stone”)
Next, try an example. Replace the Nashville Numbers with the chords of a
representative key—actually a pair of relative keys— and try out the harmonic scale.
Use the keys of C major and A minor (Figure 48):
FIGURE 48 Harmonic Scale, Key of C Major / A Minor
So far, so good. But this harmonic scale needs some tweaking.
If you play the harmonic scale clockwise, starting from C major and ending with
C major, your brain senses natural, directed harmonic motion. The progression is
definitely “going somewhere.”
It pulls out of Dodge City (the C major chord) and moves smoothly to Fowler
(the F major chord). It feels like you’re on your way to somewhere. The sense of
motion continues as the harmonic train moves from town to town on a grand circle
tour. Tyrone, Richfield, Johnson City, Garden City, Cimarron. Finally, it pulls into
Dodge City once more. With that last harmonic interval (G – C), there’s no
mistaking the feeling of arriving back home.
Now, try going the other way around, from the chord C major to G major to D
minor, and so on. You’ll soon find that something’s amiss. When you try to take the
grand circle tour counterclockwise, your train gets lost and ends up somewhere
334 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
between Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and Dildo, Newfoundland (yes, such towns
exist).
Even though you eventually arrive back home, your brain does not sense that
your train has arrived home. It’s Dodge, seemingly. But nobody’s around that you’d
recognize. Where’s Marshall McDillon? How come Doc Yada-Yadams is sober and
hardly ever performs brain surgery? Since when did Ms Puma start playing the flute?
How come Sadie and Ellie Sue’s store is full of mules instead of horses?
In a minute, you’ll find out what went wrong in the counter-clockwise trip. But
first, a brief revisit to the interval dynamics of the melodic scale.
6.6.7
THE MELODIC SCALE: TWO DIRECTIONS HOME
In melody, as you move up the scale, from scale degree 1 to 2 to 3, and so on, your
brain senses a feeling of “going away”—paddling against the current— until you
reach scale degree 5.
Then, as you continue in the same direction (away from scale degree 1), you
sense that the current reverses itself. And you find yourself somehow paddling with
the current, even though you haven’t turned around.
It’s the current that reverses, not you. The current even carries you home. But it’s
not the same home you left. Instead of “home” being scale degree 1, it’s scale degree
1 (8). Yet your brain still perceives 1 (8) as “home.” That’s the important thing
(Figure 49 below).
Your brain has evolved to expect complex frequency ratios to resolve to simpler
frequency ratios. And what’s the simplest? The tonic note of the octave: scale degree
1, or scale degree 1 (8).
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
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FIGURE 49 Melodic Scale: Two Directions Home
This also happens when you move down the melodic scale, from scale degree 1
(8) to 7 to 6. Again, your brain senses that you’re padding against the current. Until
you reach scale degree 5. Then you sense reversal of the current and paddle
downstream until you get home to scale degree 1.
So, in melody, you can get home by either ascending or descending the melodic
scale. The most powerful forces for resolution are the melodic intervals 7 – 1 (8) and
2 – I.
In melody, there are two directions home.
In harmony ... maybe not.
6.6.8
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO MOVE CLOCKWISE ROUND
THE HARMONIC SCALE?
Have another look at Figure 48 above, (key of C major/A minor). Suppose you start
at the C major chord. To stay within the circle, you have two choices:
1. You can progress clockwise to F major; or
2. You can progress counterclockwise to G major.
336 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Suppose you start by playing four bars of the C major chord on your guitar or
piano to establish tonality. Then progress clockwise to the F major chord and play
a few bars. How does it feel?
Your brain senses a purposeful, natural harmonic move. A feeling of moving
ahead, of going somewhere.
It doesn’t matter if you start by playing the C major chord in a high octave, then
move to the F major chord in a lower octave, or vice-versa. Either way, you sense a
purposeful, natural, comfortable harmonic progression.
How come?
When you progress from C major to F major, you move from these notes
C–E–G
to these notes:
F–A–C
When you leave the C major chord and move to the F major chord, your brain
wonders, “What’s going on? The chord has changed. Looks like the new chord is
assuming the role of the tonic chord—at least for the moment.”
Therefore ...
1. The scale relationship of the note E in the C major chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note F (the foundation note) in the new chord,
F major, is 7 – 1 (8).
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note E in the C major
chord resolves to the root note F in the new chord, F major.
2. Similarly, the scale relationship of the note G in the C major chord (the chord
being left behind) with respect to the root note F in the new chord, F major,
is 2 – 1.
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note G in the C major
chord resolves to the root note F in the new chord, F major.
These two simultaneous moves—E moving up to F (7 – 1) and G moving down
to F (2 – 1) combine to provide your brain with a feeling of assured, inevitable
harmonic motion.
Resolution from complex to simple frequency ratios has taken place.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
337
6.6.9
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO MOVE
COUNTERCLOCKWISE? (HINT: THE CAT WANTS
BACK IN)
What happens when you go the other way around the circle?
Again, start by playing four bars of the C major chord to establish tonality. Then
progress counterclockwise to the G major chord and play a few bars. How does it
feel?
Your brain senses a desire to get right back to C major. It’s like opening the door
to let Tritone the cat outside. A minute later, the cat wants back in.
What’s going on?
When you progress from C major to G major, you move from these notes (the
notes that comprise the C major chord):
C–E–G
to these notes:
G–B–D
When you leave the chord C major and move to the chord G major, your brain
at first tries to accept the G major chord as assuming the role of the tonic chord.
But it doesn’t work out. Your brain feels no sense of purposeful, forward motion.
When you leave the C major chord and move to the G major chord, your brain
senses that:
1. The scale relationship of the note E in the C major chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note G in the new chord, G major, is 6 – 1.
This does not in any way reinforce G as a potential new tonal centre.
2. Similarly, the scale relationship of the note C in the C major chord (the chord
being left behind) with respect to the root note G in the new chord, G major,
is 4 – 1.
With this interval move, your brain senses no reinforcement of G as a
potential new tonal centre.
If the new chord, G major, is supposed to be the new tonic, how did the old
chord, C major, yield its power as tonal centre?
338 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The answer is, C major did not yield its power.
The notes C and E in the C major chord do not provide any significant propulsion
to resolve to the root note G in the new chord, G major.
In fact, when you progress from C major to G major, your brain senses exactly
the opposite of “harmonic resolution.” It correctly senses that the chord change from
C major to G major has created harmonic tension—not resolved it.
How does it feel? It feels unstable, restless. Your brain expects resolution back to
the C major chord. (The cat wants back in.)
If you then do exactly that, progress from the G major chord back to the C major
chord, the same interval dynamics apply as if you were progressing from C major to
F major. When you move from G major to C major ...
1. The scale relationship of the note B in the G major chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note C (the foundation note) in the new
chord, C major, is 7 – 1 (8).
So, your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note B in the G
major chord resolves to the root note C in the new chord, C major.
2. Similarly, the scale relationship of the note D in the G major chord (the chord
being left behind) with respect to the root note C in the new chord, C major,
is 2 – 1.
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note D in the G major
chord resolves to the root note C in the new chord, C major.
These two simultaneous moves—B moving up to C (7 – 1) and D moving down
to C (2 – 1) combine to provide your brain with a feeling of assured, inevitable
harmonic motion. Just like moving from the C major chord to the F major chord.
Again, resolution from complex to simple frequency ratios has taken place.
6.6.10
THE HARMONIC SCALE: ONE DIRECTION HOME
In melody, you have two directions home—by ascending through 7 to 1 (8), or by
descending through 2 to 1.
But in harmony, as you’ve just seen, you have only one direction home—by
descending the circular harmonic scale (moving clockwise).
In harmony, your brain senses the descending fifth progression of V – I as “coming
home.” Just as, in melody, it senses scale movements of 7 – I (8) and 2 – 1 as
“coming home.”
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So, it’s necessary to tweak the harmonic scale by adding arrows to show
clockwise (descending fifth) natural direction of motion (Figure 50 below).
FIGURE 50 Harmonic Scale: One Direction Home
In harmony, when you paddle clockwise, you paddle with the current. When you
paddle counterclockwise, you paddle against the current (with one small
exception—third progressions—coming up in a while).
Or, you could say that, clockwise, you sail with the wind; counterclockwise, you
sail against the wind. You have to mind your sheets, too. In sailing, sheets are lines
attached to sail corners that control sail positions relative to the wind. So if three of
them are blowin’ in the wind, your boat will not be terribly manoeuvrable. That’s
what you get when you knock back too many margaritas ... you sail three sheets to
the wind.
6.6.11
FIXING ANOTHER “MINOR” PROBLEM
So, the natural direction of motion as you progress from chord to chord through the
harmonic scale has been nailed down. It’s clockwise.
Still, the harmonic scale needs more work. Some of the harmonic intervals have
less directional strength than others.
As always, an example reveals the problem. Once again, swap the Nashville
Numbers of Figure 50 above for the chords of a pair of relative keys—C major and
A minor, this time with the directional arrows added (Figure 51 below):
340 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 51 Harmonic Scale: Key of C Major / A Minor
You’ve probably noticed that the progression Em – Am does not quite measure
up to the confident, resolved sound of, say, G – C.
When you progress from E minor to A minor, you move from these notes:
E–G–B
to these notes:
A–C–E
As usual, your brain checks out the new chord against the one left behind for
signs that the new chord is assuming the role of the new tonic chord—at least for the
moment. And here’s what it finds:
1. The scale relationship of the note G in the E minor chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note A (the foundation note) in the new
chord, A minor, is x7 – 1 (8), not 7 – 1 (8).
Your brain senses only a moderate sense of satisfaction when the note G in
the E minor chord resolves to the root note A in the new chord, A minor.
2. The scale relationship of the note B in the E minor chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note A in the new chord, A minor, is 2 – 1.
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note B in the E minor
chord resolves down to the root note A in the new chord, A minor.
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341
Together, these two simultaneous moves—G moving up to A (x7 – 1) and B
moving down to A (2 – 1) combine to provide your brain with only a moderate
feeling of harmonic motion.
Why isn’t it a strong feeling of harmonic motion? Because the G – A move is x7
– I (8), not 7 – 1 (8).
Recall from Chapter 5 that a semitone interval has considerably more inherent
tension than a whole tone interval, because a semitone is derived from a more
complex frequency ratio (16:15), compared with a whole tone (9:8).
In the major diatonic scale, a semitone between 7 and 1 (8) points strongly at 1
(8). That’s why the note occupying scale degree 7 is called the leading tone, but only if
it’s a semitone from 1 (8).
So, it’s necessary to provide that Em chord with a leading tone, to make it
strongly directional with respect to the Am chord. The way to do this is to sharpen
the G in the Em chord, converting it into an E major chord.
When you do that, and progress from E major to A minor, you move from these
notes:
E – Gv – B
to these notes:
A–C–E
Now the relationship of the note Gv in the E major chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note A (the foundation note) in the new chord, A
minor, is 7 – 1 (8), a semitone.
The chord progression in the harmonic scale therefore becomes III – VIm (instead
of IIIm – VIm). Now the chord change has a strong directional quality (Figure 52).
342 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 52 Harmonic Scale with III in Place of IIIm
In the key of C major / A minor, when you play the chord changes, you can
easily sense that the chord progression E – Am has much stronger directed quality
than Em – Am.
To generalize, any descending fifth progression of two chords must have a major
triad as its first chord in order to impart strong directed motion that terminates in a
feeling of resolution. The second chord may be either a major or minor triad.
For instance, if you want to convey a feeling of strong directed motion to the
chord progression IIm – V (e.g., Dm – G), you have to change the IIm to II,
converting the progression to II – V (e.g., D – G).
VOICE LEADING, COUNTERPOINT, AND ALL THAT
Voice leading refers to continuity in the way one note moves
successively to the next—such as the notes of one chord moving
(“leading”) to the notes of the next chord. It’s also called part
writing because a “voice” is also called a “part,” such as the “guitar
part” or the “bass part” or the “lead vocal part.”
You usually associate voice leading with counterpoint —the
musical technique of writing or playing two or more “voices” as
melodies that move simultaneously. J. S. Bach’s fugues, for
instance. Or rounds, such as “Row Row Row Your Boat Gently
Down the Stream” or “Three Blind Mice” or “Frere Jacques (Are
You Sleeping?).” That’s counterpoint. Voice leading refers to how
those various melodic lines behave with respect to each other.
For example, if three different melodic lines are moving
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343
together, each contributes one note to a continuously changing
three-note chord.
Composers tend to heed certain maxims of counterpoint, such
as:
•
Voices that move in parallel third or sixth intervals sound
fine—go ahead and use ‘em.
•
Voices that move in parallel fifths or octaves sound
bad—avoid ‘em.
•
A major seventh (leading tone) should ascend to the
octave.
•
A flat seventh should descend to the sixth.
And so on.
Bands or groups that perform harmony vocals tend to observe
these rules when they work out the harmony parts—even
though the singers may not realize it.
You can’t really separate counterpoint from harmony. Even if
you’ve never heard of voice leading as it applies in counterpoint,
you’ve almost certainly used it in your own music.
For example, when a backup singer sings harmony “by ear” to the
lead vocal line, he or she uses contrapuntal motion.
•
It’s
when the lead and harmony voices
move together, separated by the same type of interval,
such as major and minor thirds, or major and minor sixths.
•
It’s
when the lead and harmony voices
move together, but are separated by varying types of
intervals.
•
It’s
when one voice or part remains at
the same pitch while the other moves upwards or
downwards.
•
It’s
when one voice moves down the
scale while the other moves up.
344 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.6.12
HARMONIC MOTION AND “MUSICAL
PUNCTUATION” (CADENCE)
That dang harmonic scale still isn’t quite finished. Before completing it, now’s the
time to introduce an important component of musical structure. (Much more on
structure in Chapter 8.)
As you no doubt know, small groups of notes and chords form musical units
(usually two to eight bars) called phrases. These units combine into larger structures
such as periods, verses, bridges, choruses, sections, movements, and so on.
Musical structure parallels the organization of verbal discourse, with its phrases,
sentences, stanzas, and paragraphs. That’s not surprising, considering the intimate
linkage in the brain between music and language.
The resolution at the end of a musical phrase is called a cadence. A cadence has
melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic properties. It normally signals a return to the
prevailing tonal centre.
By a wide margin, the descending fifth progression, V – I, is the most common,
most important, and strongest harmonic cadence in music. When a musical phrase
ends with a V – I progression, it sounds like “the end”—the end of that phrase, verse,
chorus, or whatever the prevailing structure may be.
The V – I cadence has quite a few names:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Full close
Full cadence
Perfect cadence
Perfect close
Authentic cadence
Dominant cadence
Final cadence
(They couldn’t make up their minds.)
Other cadences include:
•
Deceptive cadences such as V – VIm and V – IV. They’re called “deceptive”
because your brain expects to hear V – I, but gets “deceived,” and hears V –
VIm or V – IV instead. This prolongs and heightens the expectation of
eventually getting to the tonic chord.
•
Imperfect (incomplete) cadences such as I – V and II – V. When a phrase ends
with a progression like this, your brain knows it ain’t the end yet, and fully
expects the music to continue to a more “final-sounding” resolution..
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•
345
Plagal cadence, IV – I, so called because this is the “amen” sung at the
conclusion of a hymn.
But V – I is the only cadence in music in which directed tension gets completely
resolved.
The V chord is known as the dominant chord. (The female V chord is known as the
dominatrix chord.) That’s because it’s through the V chord that the I chord derives its
power as the tonal chord.
The V chord dominates harmonic action through its exclusive directional
relationship with the tonic chord. If you were playing musical chess, the V chord
would be the queen (the most powerful player on the board) and the I chord would
be the king.
The V – I cadential progression maintains tonality in the midst of a maelstrom of
rapidly changing melodic intervals and shifting harmonic tensions.
In melody, all scale degrees have both tension and direction with respect to the tonic
note (except the tonic note itself, of course). But in harmony ...
•
Only one harmonic degree, the V chord, has both tension and direction with
respect to the tonic.
•
Only one harmonic degree, the tonic chord in root position, has no tension and
no direction.
•
All other chords have tension but no direction with respect to the prevailing
tonality.
The restful, balanced tonic chord makes possible the necessary contrast that gives
all the other chords their edgy, restless, tense, and exciting qualities.
For example, in the key of C major, the F major chord, even though it’s a simple
triad, has tension, simply because it’s not the tonic chord.
The constituent notes of the F major chord belong comfortably in the key of C
major. But playing the F major chord does not point your brain back to the tonic
chord, C major.
Same goes for the other chords in Figure 51 above—except G major. As the V
chord, it’s the only chord that points directly at the C chord.
The chord movement V – I serves pretty much the same punctuation function in
music as the period does in written language. In music, a cadence marks the end of
a phrase. It’s a definite break, usually followed by a period of several seconds before
the next phrase starts.
Spoken language does not have an equivalent to music’s cadence. When you talk, you
use phrases and sentences, of course, but you don’t pause for several seconds at the
end of every phrase and sentence. You just keep on talking until you’re finished.
346 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
IMPORTANT:
•
In a spoken conversation, you don’t need to remember and keep track of every
word because mentalese records the gist. Each word has symbolic (referential)
meaning that relates to your already-memorized vocabulary of words.
•
But in music, you do need to structure the music so that the listener can keep
track of the phrases as they unfold in time because music does not carry
referential meaning. You need to repeat phrases often, and you need to pause
between phrases, usually via cadences. Without cadences in music, your
brain has a hard time taking it all in.
That’s one function of the cadence. The other main one is to reinforce tonality.
In a full cadence, the melody usually comes to rest on the tonic note, a longerthan-usual note in an emphatic metrical position. These emphatic characteristics
remind the brain which note is the tonal centre.
An imperfect cadence (also called a half cadence or partial cadence) creates a
sense of expectation. You’ve only stopped at a roadhouse for a burger and fries, but
home is coming up, a little farther up the road. Often at the end of the next phrase.
When a full cadence does not appear at the end of the next phrase, the brain really
begins to wonder where things are going.
You can easily hear cadences performing their functions in any well-structured
popular song, such as "Happy Birthday" (Figure 53), which has the following
cadences:
I—V
V—I
I — IV
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347
FIGURE 53 Cadences in a Popular Song: „Happy Birthday‰
Happy
I
birthday to
V (imperfect cadence)
you.
Happy
V
birthday to
I (full cadence)
you.
I
birthday dear
IV (imperfect cadence)
El - vis.
Happy
I
V
birthday to
I (full cadence)
you.
Happy
It’s not that V – I is always used as a period or full stop. In music, the V – I
cadence also shows up in many subtle, often transient ways, depending on the
musical context.
Deceptive and imperfect cadences serve roughly similar functions in music as
commas and semicolons serve in written language. But, again, no equivalent exists in
spoken language.
In the minor mode, the chord progression III – VIm serves as the “V – I” (the
“perfect cadence") equivalent, because scale degree 6 of the major mode is the tonic
note of the minor mode.
Enough about cadences, already. It’s almost time to move on to the final tweak
of the harmonic scale. After which it’s on to the fun stuff (finally): how to use
harmonic scales to create beautiful, powerful chord progressions. With lots of
examples in the form of some of the world’s greatest songs.
348 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.7
Inside the Circular Harmonic
Scale
6.7.1
THE PROBLEM OF HARMONIC AMBIGUITY
When you play two major chords a fifth progression apart, an ambiguity arises.
Here’s a little experiment to try. Play this progression of major chords:
C – G – C – pause – G – C – G – pause – G – C – G
You’re playing exactly the same two chords. But which key are you in, C major
or G major?
The progression appears to start out in the key of C major, then seems to change
to G major. Or does it? You can’t really be sure.
The problem is that all major triads are consonances. So your poor brain has trouble
identifying which of the two chords is the tonic chord.
Music depends for its vitality on establishing tonality, then disturbing it, then
recovering it. Just like drama. If it’s done right, music is drama. You start out in some
sort of “normal” situation. Then someone or something comes along to upset
things—which makes the situation dramatically interesting.
As every dramatist knows, you cannot wreak delicious havoc upon an established
order unless you first establish the order upon which you can wreak the delicious
havoc.
In music, you first have to establish order—tonality—unambiguously before you
can disturb it. If you don’t establish tonality, your brain has no context in which to
process subsequent sonic information.
If you just play random chords, the music sounds just as unpalatable as a tune
sounds if it’s based on a random scale. (Recall the imaginary chalk marks on the
cello fingerboard.)
Chords and scales only sound coherent if they’re organized in accordance with
the simple frequency ratios that your brain has evolved to comprehend.
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In the above example, C – G – C – pause – etc., tonality is not established. The
C major chord could be the I chord if the key is C. Or it could be the IV chord if the
key is G. And the G major chord could be the I chord if the key is G. Or it could be
the V chord if the key is C.
Ambiguity prevails.
6.7.2
DISSONANCE TO THE RESCUE!
Good music works like good story-telling. There’s conflict, suspense, intrigue. That’s
the function of dissonant harmony. As long as there’s dissonance, you don’t feel a
sense of finality or resolution. So the brain expects more musical story-telling and an
eventual release from suspense.
Resolution only comes with a return to scale degree 1, the tonic note (the centre
of gravity) and the simple non-dissonant major triad. This usually happens
periodically throughout the song, not only once at the end.
But if it happens too much and too often, the chord progression gets boring. Like
leaving home but never venturing more than a few hundred metres before returning
home.
The other extreme is going away for too long a time, getting lost and never
finding your way back home.
So, in good songwriting, you have to know how much consonant harmony to
balance with dissonant harmony. You want to make things interesting, but not so
“interesting” that following the music gets so difficult and confusing that the listener
zones out.
Getting back to the problem of ambiguity inherent in the progression ...
C – G – C – pause – G – C – G – pause – G – C – G
... fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Just turn the V chord into a dissonant chord.
In the above example, if the G major chord were converted into a dissonant
chord, your brain would know for sure that the key could not possibly be G major.
That’s because the I chord is always a consonant triad.
Recall that there are only two basic types of chords, namely, triads and sevenths.
All triads (except diminished and augmented) are consonant. All seventh chords are
dissonant because they all contain at least one interval that arises from a complex
frequency ratio.
So, to convert that consonant V chord to a dissonant chord, the simplest thing to
do is to add another note, converting it into a dissonant V7 chord (“five-seventh,” in
Nashville Number parlance).
350 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.7.3
THE DOMINATOR: WHY THE V7 CHORD
CONTROLS HARMONY
Figure 54 below shows the four notes that comprise the V7 chord. This chord has
three internal intervals:
1. Major third (5 – 7, four semitones)
2. Minor third (7 – 2, three semitones)
3. Minor third (2 – 4, three semitones)
FIGURE 54 Notes of the V7 Chord: Scale Degrees 5, 7, 2,
and 4
1
2
3 4
5
6
7 1
2
3 4
The V7 chord has some remarkable properties. Compare Figure 54 above with
Figure 55 below:
FIGURE 55 Interval Dynamics
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351
•
The V7 chord contains the first note of all three of the most highly unbalanced
intervals—scale degrees 2, 4, and 7; and
•
The I chord contains the second note of all three of these intervals—scale
degrees 1, 3, and 1 (8).
That’s why the V7 chord desperately seeks to resolve to the I chord. It’s down on
its knees in the dirt, its horse having bolted, weeping and pleading, “Resolve me,
resolve me.”
(The V7 chord also seeks to resolve to the Im chord, but not quite as strongly. The
Im chord has that x3 note, so the distance from the 4 note to the x3 is a whole tone
instead of a semitone.)
When you progress from G7 to C major, you move from these notes:
G–B–D–F
to these notes:
C–E–G
1. The scale relationship of the note B in the G7 chord (the chord being left
behind) with respect to the root note C (the foundation note) in the new
chord, C major, is 7 – 1 (8).
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note B in the G7 chord
resolves to the root note C in the new chord, C major.
2. Similarly, the scale relationship of the note D in the G7 chord (the chord
being left behind) with respect to the root note C in the new chord, C major,
is 2 – 1.
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note D in the G7
chord resolves to the root note C in the new chord, C major.
3. Finally, the scale relationship of the note F in the G7 chord (the chord being
left behind) with respect to the middle note E in the new triad, C major, is 4
– 3.
Your brain feels a strong sense of satisfaction when the note F in the G7 chord
resolves to the middle note E in the new triad, C major.
No wonder, then, that these three simultaneous moves:
352 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
•
•
B moving up to C (7 – 1),
D moving down to C (2 – 1), and
F moving down to E (4 – 3),
combine to provide your brain with a feeling of “perfect” cadence.
The V7 chord also contains that most unstable of all intervals, the pitchfork-toting
tritone. It’s the interval formed by the fourth and seventh notes of the scale.
As if that weren’t enough, the V7 chord subsumes the entire unstable diminished
triad (VIIº)—scale degrees 7, 2, and 4.
All of this makes the V7 chord ...
•
•
Highly unbalanced and dissonant, and at the same time
Strongly focussed, directed at the tonic centre, the I chord.
The V7 chord is the only chord in harmony capable of establishing
tonality all by itself. It doesn’t even need the I chord to do it!
The moment your brain hears a single V7 chord, without any other musical
reference, without any reference whatsoever to the tonic chord or even the tonic
note—the instant that V7 chord sounds, your brain knows where the dynamic centre
is. It knows what the key is.
When the seventh is added to the V chord, the chord’s name changes from the
dominant chord to the dominant seventh chord.
Try that little experiment with the C and G chords again, but this time, substitute
G7 for G, like this:
C – G7 – C – pause – G7 – C – G7 – pause – G7 – C – G7
Adding that seventh makes all the difference in the world. There’s no ambiguity
whatsoever. The key can only be C major.
The dominant seventh chord (V7) assumes its “dominant seventh” powers only
if it’s a major V chord with the seventh note added. If you add the seventh note to a
minor V chord (such as Gm, changing it to Gm7), the minor seventh chord does not
become a dominant seventh, thanks to the x3 note in the Gm7 chord. That x3 does
a couple of things to sabotage the dominant seventh quality:
•
It changes 7 – 1 (8) to x7 – 1 (8) with respect to the tonic note, C. The leading
tone disappears, removing directionality.
•
It removes the tritone, making the chord much more stable-sounding.
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353
That’s why the dominant seventh chord of a minor key is a major V chord with the
seventh note added. Just like the dominant seventh chord of a major key.
If you were to hear only the single dominant seventh chord G7, without reference
to any other chord (unlike the above “C – G7 – C” example), the key could be either
C major or C minor, because G7 is the dominant seventh of both keys. These are
called parallel keys. (More on this later in the chapter, in the discussion of various
types of modulation.)
6.7.4
LAST TWEAKS OF THE HARMONIC SCALE
In light of all this, it’s now possible to make three more adjustments to the harmonic
scale, finalizing it.
1. The V chord must be changed to V7, the dominant seventh, so that it points
unambiguously to I, the tonic chord of the major key.
2. Similarly, the III chord must be changed to III7, the dominant seventh, so that
it points unambiguously to VIm, the tonic chord of the relative minor key.
3. And finally, since the harmonic scale subsumes the basic chords of two keys,
a major key and its relative minor, it would help to identify the two tonic
chords.
As for the VIIº chord, it’s always acutely dissonant, unbalanced. It can either be
left it as it is or changed to a diminished seventh chord (VIIº7). It doesn’t really
matter. Either way, the chord remains eminently unstable.
One interesting thing about the VIIº chord. Because the four-note dominant
seventh (V7) contains all three notes of the VIIº chord (and three out of four notes
of the VIIº7 chord), you can often substitute the VIIº or VIIº7 chord in place of the
V7 chord to create a striking harmonic effect.
By the way, the IV chord is called the subdominant chord of the major key because,
even though it only contains notes from the major scale and forms the only other
major triad (besides the I and V triads), the IV chord does not have “dominant”
power to focus harmonic traffic towards the tonic, the way the V7 chord does.
As a major triad containing two notes not found in the other major triads, the IV
chord belongs with I and V7 as one of the three basic chords of the major key. But,
since it doesn’t have dominant power, it’s necessarily “subdominant,” like Deputy
Fester.
The IIm chord serves as the subdominant of the relative minor key and belongs
with VIm and III7 as one of the three basic chords of the minor key.
354 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.7.5
THE HARMONIC SCALE: FINAL (“DEFAULT”)
VERSION
At last, with the final revisions in place, it’s show time for the harmonic scale (Figure
56).
FIGURE 56 Harmonic Scale („Default‰ Version)
In a little while, you’ll learn how to creatively mess with the “default” version of
the harmonic scale—customize it to create compelling chord progressions.
To try out the default version of the harmonic scale, once again swap the
Nashville Numbers for the chords of the keys of C major and A minor (Figure 57):
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
355
FIGURE 57 Harmonic Scale („Default‰ Version): Key of
C Major / A Minor
In the sections ahead, you will learn how to use harmonic scales the way you use
melodic scales (major or minor).
When you write a tune, do you simply go up and down the scale without skipping
any notes? Without repeating notes? Without doubling back? Without reaching
outside the scale to grab chromatic notes? Of course not! You’d never dream of
limiting your melodic creativity that way.
Similarly, when you use a harmonic scale, you will not simply go round the circle
clockwise, without skipping any chords, without doubling back, without grabbing
chords from outside the harmonic scale.
A harmonic scale is not some formula that you have to adhere to rigidly, any
more than a major scale is a rigid formula. A harmonic scale is just a scale, like a
melodic scale. If you use harmonic scales intelligently, your music will just get better
and better.
Both melodic and harmonic scales provide coherent frameworks that enable you
to write music of infinite variety without sacrificing unity. Ultimately, that’s why
songwriters and composers use scales of any description, melodic or harmonic.
Your brain—and the collective brain of your audience—has evolved to reject
tonal confusion and accept the tonal order (founded on simple frequency ratios)
inherent in the octave, diatonic scales, the triad, and the harmonic scales.
356 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.7.6
TWO DIFFERENT ANIMALS: COMPARING THE
CIRCLE OF FIFTHS WITH THE HARMONIC SCALE
You might have noticed a vague resemblance between the Circle of Fifths and the
circular harmonic scale. Except for their shape, the two are totally different. Different
in structure, different in function. Table 44 summarizes the differences.
TABLE 44 Summary of Differences Between the Circle of
Fifths and the Harmonic Scale
Circle of Fifths
Harmonic Scale
Shape
Circular arrangement
of Key signatures.
Circular arrangement of
chords.
Other Names for
the Same Thing
• Heinichen’s Circle
of Fifths
• Modulatory
Circle of Fifths
• Real Circle of Fifths
• Key-specific Circle of Fifths
• Virtual Circle of Fifths
NOTE: Do not use these names.
They do not reflect reality, and
will only confuse you.
Constituent
Elements
Key signatures and
letter names of keys.
Chords.
Number of
Constituent
Elements
12 key signatures
representing 2 keys
each.
7 chords.
Number of Keys
Represented
24 keys—12 major
keys and 12 relative
minor keys.
2 keys—1 major and 1 relative
minor key. (There are 12
different circular harmonic
scales, one for each pair of
keys—major and relative
minor.)
Natural
Direction of
Motion
Clockwise or
counterclockwise.
Clockwise is the “natural”
direction.
Visual
Representation
of Major and
Minor Keys
Represented in
parallel. Major and
minor keys form
concentric circles.
Represented in series. Chords
of one major key and one
minor key form part of the
same circle.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
Main Purposes
• To show key
signature formation.
Proceeding
clockwise, sharps
increase by one.
Proceeding
counterclockwise,
flats increase by one.
• To show degree of
relatedness of keys
to each other. Keys
adjacent to each
other share all the
same scale notes but
one, so are musically
closely related. Keys
across the circle
from each other
share few of the
same scale notes, so
are musically remote.
357
• To show the natural direction
of harmonic scale neighbours
within a single pair of “relative”
keys. Proceeding clockwise
resolves harmonic imbalance
and tension. Proceeding
counterclockwise creates
harmonic imbalance and
tension.
• To provide an easy way to
identify third and second
progressions. Second
progressions are separated by
one position on the circular
scale. Third progressions are
separated by two positions.
• To show how dominant and
subdominant chords relate to
tonic chords.
• To show secondary dominant
chords.
• To show how the chords of
major and relative minor keys
relate to each other.
• To provide an easy visual
means to spot pivot chords for
purposes of modulation. Any
two harmonic scales, no
matter how musically distant
their constituent keys, will
always have at least two chord
roots in common. These
chords can be used to pivot
smoothly between keys
without losing tonal unity.
6.7.7
CIRCLE OF FIFTHS: THE MISTAKE OF TREATING
KEYS AS “CHORDS”
For generations, students, songwriters, and even music teachers, unaware of the
harmonic scale and how it works, have used the Circle of Fifths as a crude
harmony-organizing tool.
Big mistake.
If you treat the key names in the Circle of Fifths as chord names and proceed
around the Circle of Fifths counterclockwise, you get descending fifth progressions.
(Such progressions even have a name: Circle-of-Fifth progressions.)
358 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
This is counter-intuitive, because the “natural” direction of the hands of a clock
is obviously “clockwise” (the 12 positions of the Circle of Fifths are arranged to
resemble a clock face). But apart from that, the Circle of Fifths has several major
disadvantages as a harmonic scale stand-in:
1. No key-specific organizing framework. As you progress around the Circle of
Fifths, you exit the key after the second chord! And you don’t return unless you
go all the way round the circle. (More on this in a moment.)
2. No connection between the chords of a major key and the chords of its
relative minor. Not only is the bridging diminished chord missing, but the 12
minor chords are visually organized in their own separate circle. Again, if you
start a chord progression in any given minor key, you exit the key after two
chords and don’t return until you go all the way round the circle.
3. No identification of dominant sevenths or subdominant chords for any given
key.
4. No way to identify third and second progressions.
5. No way to identify pivot chords for purposes of modulation.
The Circle of Fifths has its uses, but not for showing pathways to meaningful,
coherent chord progressions and harmonic movement.
Many musicians mistakenly think that the Circle of Fifths actually has something
to do with chord progressions. Even authors of books on songwriting and music
theory make this mistake, propagating rubbish and confusing their readers to no end.
To be clear: the Circle of Fifths shows key signatures and key relations—but not
chord relations.
Here's an example of what happens when you treat the elements around the clock
face of the Circle of Fifths as chords instead of keys. Presumably, you would want
to progress around the Circle of Fifths as though it's a big circular chord progression.
To simplify matters, consider the outer circle only, the elements that would be the
major “chords” if the Circle of Fifths had anything to do with chords (Figure 58):
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
359
FIGURE 58 Circle of Fifths: Outer Circle Only
F
C
G
Bx
Bx
D
Ex
Ex
A
Ax
Ax
E
Dx
Dx
Fvv
B
Start at the top of the Circle of Fifths with the first chord, which is C, the tonic
chord in the key of C. Then, moving counter-clockwise around the circle, progress
to the next “chord,” which is F. Now you have a perfectly good two-chord
progression in the key of C, namely C progressing to F.
So far, so good.
However (continuing counter-clockwise), the next “chord” you progress to is Bx.
Now you’ve got a problem. The chord Bx is not a chord in the key of C. Therefore,
at this point you've actually exited the key of C.
As you progress the rest of the way round the Circle of Fifths, you do not re-enter
the key of C until you get to the “chord” G.
Clearly, then, any notion that the elements of the Circle of Fifths having anything
to do with chord progressions is wrong. The Circle of Fifths shows relationships
among and between keys, not relationships among and between chords within a given
key.
To summarize, the Circle of Fifths does not work as a chord progression device.
That’s the job of the harmonic scale—which also happens to be circular in shape, but
has no functional relationship with the Circle of Fifths.
6.7.8
COMPARING MELODIC SCALES WITH HARMONIC
SCALES
Before discussing how to make practical use of harmonic scales for fun and profit,
here’s a summary of the differences between melodic scales and harmonic scales
(Table 45):
360 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 45 Summary of Differences Between Melodic Scales
and Harmonic Scales
Melodic Scales
Harmonic Scales
Scale Units
Notes (pitches).
Chords (triads, sevenths, etc.).
Number of Units
in Scale
Normally 5 to 7
notes, not
including
repetition of the
octave note.
Always 7 chords. However, each
harmonic scale position may be
occupied by one of numerous
variants of the “default” chord.
Number of Scale
Types
Many types,
including major
and minor
diatonic,
pentatonic, modal,
Indian, Arabic, etc.
Only one type: the harmonic
scale.
Number of
Scales in
Western Tonal
System
24 in total: one
melodic scale for
each major key
and one for each
minor key. (Note:
there are several
minor scale
variants: natural
minor, melodic
minor, harmonic
minor.)
12 in total: one harmonic scale
for each pair of relative
keys—major and relative minor.
Scale Degree
Numerical Labels
Arabic numbers
represent scaledegree notes. For
example, the
notes of the
diatonic scale are
represented as 1,
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1(8).
Nashville Number System: Roman
numerals represent chords
named for their scale-degree
roots. Alphabetic letters, Arabic
numbers and other symbols
represent chord functions. For
example:
I
Major triad with root of scale
degree 1
IIm Minor triad with root of scale
degree 2
V7 Dominant seventh chord
with root of scale degree 5
VIIº Diminished chord with “root”
of scale degree 7 (in reality,
diminished chords are
rootless)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
Scale Degree
Alphabetical
Labels
Alphabetic letters
represent the
notes of a specific
melodic scale.
Accidentals follow
the letter-names
of the notes
where applicable.
For example, the D
major scale is: D, E,
Fv, G, A, B, Cv, D.
Alphabetic letters represent the
chords of a specific harmonic
scale. Accidentals follow
letter-names of chords where
applicable. Alphabetic letters,
Arabic numbers and other
symbols are then added,
representing chord functions.
For example, the harmonic scale
for the key of D major and its
relative minor is: D, G, Cvº, Fv7,
Bm, Em, A7, D.
Normal Interval
Movement
Between
Adjacent Scale
Degrees
Melodic interval of
a semitone or a
tone.
Harmonic interval of a fifth
progression.
Natural
Direction of
Movement
Ascending or
descending are
equally natural.
Descending only (clockwise) is
natural.
Visual
Representation
Vertical curve:
One-way circle:
361
362 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.8
Chase Charts: Chord Progression
„Maps‰
6.8.1
YOU CAN USE “MAPS” OF HARMONIC SCALES TO
CREATE BEAUTIFUL, POWERFUL CHORD
PROGRESSIONS
In the following sections, you’ll find out how you can use visual “maps” of harmonic
scales to:
1. Create compelling chord progressions that move by fifths, thirds, seconds,
chromatically, or in combinations.
2. Modulate from any key to any other key and back again.
3. Create endless variety in chord progressions by substituting chord variants at
any of the seven positions in the “default” circular harmonic scale. (You can
substitute 30 or more different types of chords at each of the seven
positions—chords such as minor sixths, minor sevenths, major sevenths,
ninths, and so on.)
4. Use multiple chord variants at any of the seven positions in the harmonic
scale within the same song.
You’ll also learn a fast, easy way to visually differentiate chord progressions that
sound strong and appealing from chord progressions that sound weak and
unappealing.
To do all this, you need to learn how to draw a little map-like diagram called a
Chase chart.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
363
6.8.2
WHAT’S A CHASE CHART?
It’s a circular harmonic scale diagram, a “map” of a chord progression, that enables
you to eyeball a chord progression for any song.
With a Chase chart, you can actually see chord progressions at work!
Chase charts are easy to learn to sketch, and wickedly effective. You don’t need
to know anything about reading music. If you use Chase charts in your own
songwriting, the results will amaze you.
You can sketch a Chase chart for any of your own songs or any other songs you
choose. Suppose, for example, you hear a song that has a particularly striking,
compelling chord progression. Want to know exactly what makes it striking and
compelling?
You can find out in a only few minutes by doing a Chase chart.
You can use Chase charts to visually explore the chord progressions of any kind
of song, any genre—pop, rock, jazz, country, folk, blues, you name it. Even classical
music.
The discussion coming up shows you examples of Chase charts for the following
selection of great songs of diverse genres (Table 46), most from the GSSL.
TABLE 46 Chase Charts of a Selection of Songs (CominÊ Up)
“All Along The Watchtower”
“Blue Moon”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
“Carefree Highway”
“Crazy”
“Danny Boy”
“Dear Landlord”
“Five Foot Two”
“Free Man In Paris”
“Georgia On My Mind”
“Gimme Shelter”
“Girl From Ipanema”
“Heart And Soul”
“Heartbreak Hotel”
“Hey Jude”
“Hey Joe”
“I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”
“I Heard It Through The
Grapevine”
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
“It Was A Very Good Year”
“Jambalaya”
“Kaw-liga”
“Kodachrome”
“Lovesick Blues”
“Midnight Train To Georgia”
“Moondance”
“One Fine Day”
“Return To Sender”
“September Song”
“Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay”
“Star Spangled Banner”
“Sundown”
“Three Bells (Jimmy Brown Song)”
“Tracks Of My Tears”
“Trouble In Mind”
“Walking After Midnight”
“When A Man Loves A Woman”
“Wild Horses”
“Yesterday”
364 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Using Chase charts, you will soon see precisely how and why the chord
progressions of these brilliant songs work. And how you can apply the chord
progression techniques in your own songwriting.
6.8.3
WHAT DOES A CHASE CHART LOOK LIKE?
To do a Chase chart of any song’s chord progression, you need the following:
1. A pencil or pen and some paper.
2. A lyric sheet showing the chords for the song. You can use a lead sheet if you
want to, but you don’t need the melody. Just the chords.
3. Instructions on how to do Chase chart. Coming up momentarily.
But first, here’s an example of what a Chase chart looks like (Figure 59). As you
can see, it’s just an innocent-looking little diagram—a harmonic scale diagram that
“maps” the pattern of the song’s chord progression. Small and simple—but it packs
a powerful punch. (Chase charts can get pretty elaborate.)
FIGURE 59 Chase Chart of „Heartbreak Hotel‰ (Words and
Music by Hoyt AxtonÊs Mom, Mae Boren Axton, 1956)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
365
Think of a Chase chart diagram as a “map” of a song’s chord progression. The
above example illustrates Chase chart basics:
•
The circle is the harmonic scale for a particular key. You can use whatever
key you like. In this example, the key happens to be E major / Cv minor.
•
Numbered arrows point from one chord to the next chord in the progression.
•
The first arrow (numbered “1") has a little circle at its base, signifying the
beginning of the chord progression.
What makes Chase charts so useful in songwriting is that they reveal certain
specific patterns and characteristics, which you’ll learn from the upcoming examples.
These patterns visually disclose the strengths, weaknesses, and potential appeal of
various chord changes.
6.8.4
HOW TO SKETCH A CHASE CHART
Draw a small circle, perhaps a couple of inches (5 cm) in diameter. Make seven tick
marks around the circle:
•
•
•
One at the bottom in the middle,
Two at the top, like little horns,
Two on the left side, and two on the right side.
Try to space the seven tick marks more or less equally, as in Figure 60.
FIGURE 60 Chase Chart Outline
366 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Next, add the harmonic scale’s Nashville Numbers to the inside of the circle.
Draw a small circle around VIm and I. These are the minor and major tonic chords
(Figure 61 below).
IMPORTANT: The Nashville Numbers around the inside of the circular
harmonic scale never change. Ever. The Nashville Numbers around the inside of the
circle are the “default” chords. They serve as your reference points. However, as
you’ll see in a second, the chords around the outside of the circular harmonic scale
can vary quite a bit.
If you forget which Nashville Numbers belong to which tick marks, you can look
them up at the back in Appendix 1, Roedy Black’s Chord Progression Chart.
FIGURE 61 Chase Chart Showing Nashville Numbers and
Circled Tonic Chords
Next, add the specific chords for the key of the song whose chord progression you
want to have a look at. These go around the outside of the circle. You can get them
from the Chord Progression Chart, Appendix 1 (Figure 62):
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
367
FIGURE 62 Chase Chart with Nashville Numbers Around the
Inside, and Chords for the Key of E Major / Cv
Cv Minor Around
the Outside
So far, you have the harmonic scale for the key of the song. Next, you will need
to draw some arrows inside the circle, connecting the chords of the song in sequence.
But first ...
6.8.5
SOURCES OF HARMONIC SCALE CHORDS WITH
NASHVILLE NUMBERS FOR EVERY KEY
Roedy Black’s Chord Progression Chart, reproduced in Appendix 1, shows the harmonic
scale chords and Nashville Numbers for all 12 pairs of keys (major and relative
minor).
The Chase chart in Figure 62 above is the same as the first diagram in the middle
column of the Chord Progression Chart.
Another source of harmonic scale chords with Nashville Numbers in every key
is Roedy Black’s Complete Guitar Chord Poster, which is available at
www.CompleteChords.com
The left side of this large laminated chart shows the fingering positions for the
specific harmonic scale chords in every key.
368 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
(Harmonic scales are exclusive components of Roedy Black’s series of music
reference charts.)
Figure 63 below shows a segment of this poster (upper left, smaller than actual
size). Under the heading “PRINCIPAL CHORDS,” you can see the following
Nashville Numbers:
I
IV
V7
(tonic chord of the major key),
(subdominant chord), and
(dominant seventh chord).
Under the heading “RELATIVE MINOR,” you can see the following Nashville
Numbers:
VIm (tonic chord of the relative minor key),
IIm (subdominant chord of the relative minor), and
III7 (dominant seventh chord of the relative minor).
The column under each Nashville Number shows the specific corresponding
harmonic scale chords and fingering positions for each key. (Each horizontal color
band shows the chords of a different key.)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
FIGURE 63 Upper Left Segment of
, Showing Harmonic Scale Chords
("PRINCIPAL CHORDS‰ and „RELATIVE MINOR")
369
370 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Figure 64 below shows a segment of Roedy Black’s Complete Keyboard Chord Poster
with the same information as displayed in Figure 63 above.
FIGURE 64 Upper Left Segment of
, Showing Harmonic Scale Chords
(„PRINCIPAL CHORDS‰ and „RELATIVE MINOR‰)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
371
These two charts also show you the Nashville Number for each individual chord in
each key (Figure 65 below). So you don’t have to figure anything out or look anything
up.
FIGURE 65 Close-up Section of
Showing Nashville Numbers for Each Chord
6.9
Chase Charts of the Four Types
of Chord Progressions
6.9.1
HOW TO DO A CHASE CHART OF YOUR OWN
SONG (OR ANY OTHER SONG)
Now that you’ve drawn a basic Chase chart with Nashville Numbers and the
harmonic scale of a particular key, the last step is to draw arrows from one chord to
the next chord inside the circular harmonic scales diagram.
Draw the arrows in the order that they occur in the chord progression of the song.
Never mind the melody. Never mind the time signature. Never mind the tempo.
Never mind the meter.
In a Chase chart, the only thing of interest is the chord progression.
As discussed earlier in this chapter, there are four kinds of chord progressions:
372 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
1.
2.
3.
4.
Fifth progressions, up and down
Third progressions, up and down
Second progressions, up and down
Chromatic progressions, exiting and returning.
(If you happen to be a physics aficionado in search of mnemonic for fifth, third,
and second progressions, up and down, Ellie Sue at the Dodge City Horse Store
claims Ms Puma remembers them by associating them with up and down quarks,
anti-up and anti-down antiquarks, and up and down escalators, respectively.
Apparently, she associates chromatic progressions with all other flavours of fermions.
Hope this helps.)
The key to the effectiveness of a Chase chart lies in recognizing and
understanding the significance of the visual patterns the arrows make. Each type of
chord progression has a distinct visual pattern.
6.9.2
CHASE CHARTS OF FIFTH PROGRESSIONS,
UP AND DOWN
Recognizing the patterns of the various chord progression types is important because
each type of chord progression has advantages you can exploit and disadvantages
you can avoid.
Figure 66 below maps the visual patterns of fifth progressions, up and down. The
chords around the outside happen to be in the key of C major / A minor in this
example. However, you could plug in the chords for any key you choose.
•
•
Fifth progressions down: the arrows go clockwise around the circle.
Fifth progressions up: the arrows go counterclockwise around the circle.
Around the inside of the circle, the Nashville Numbers always remain the same.
Recall that “fifth progression” simply means a progression of two chords whose
roots are five scale notes apart. Figure 66 below shows the Chase chart patterns of
fifth progressions down and up.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
373
FIGURE 66 Chase Chart: Fifth Progressions, Down and Up
Fifths Down
Fifths Up
The fifth down is the strongest chord progression in harmony. In the Chase
charts of examples of GSSL songs, you’ll see sections of the above patterns
everywhere—especially fifth-down patterns.
The fifth down has one main drawback. Because it’s so powerful, everybody uses
it. It’s the most commonly used type of progression. Safe and familiar. A string of
fifth-down progressions sounds so familiar as to create an effect of predictability—but
it’s a comfortable predictability.
Fifths up, on the other hand, are usually weak progressions. But not always ...
6.9.3
CHASE CHARTS OF FIFTHS UP, TO AND FROM THE
TONIC CHORD
Fifths up to the tonic from the IV chord, and fifths up from the tonic to the V7 chord,
have considerable power, owing to their special relationships with the tonic chord (as
discussed in snoring detail earlier in this chapter). Figure 67 below maps the Chase
chart patterns of fifths up, to and from the tonic.
374 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 67 Chase Chart: Fifths Up, To and From the Tonic
Note that in Figure 67, the arrows in the “minor key” diagram point downwards
on the page. But those are still fifth-up progressions—the arrows go counterclockwise,
the fifth-up direction.
6.9.4
CHASE CHARTS OF FIFTHS UP, AWAY FROM THE
TONIC CHORD
Fifth-up progressions that do not involve the tonic tend to be weak (Figure 68):
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
375
FIGURE 68 Chase Charts: Fifth Progressions Up, Away from
the Tonic Chord
Clunky sounding chord progressions are often found to have consecutive
fifth-ups, away from the tonic. Not always, but more often than not.
6.9.5
CHASE CHART OF SECONDARY DOMINANTS
Secondary dominants apply only to fifth down progressions. Discussions of
secondary dominants often get complicated and mystical.
No need. It’s completely straightforward:
A secondary dominant is a V or V7 chord of a harmonic degree
other than the tonic chord.
In Figure 69 below, the A7 variant chord in place of the default chord Am
becomes the secondary dominant of the D-based chord that follows. The progression
A7 – D is a fifth down progression. The chord A7 is the secondary dominant of D.
Similarly, D7, the variant chord in place of the default Dm, becomes the
secondary dominant of the G-based chord that follows. The progression D7 – G7 is
a fifth down progression. The chord D7 is the secondary dominant of G7.
A variant chord is a chord having the same root (letter-name) as the default chord
at any of the seven positions around a circular harmonic scale. For example, in
Figure 69 below, at the IIm position, Dm is the default chord. However, you could
376 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
substitute any other chord beginning with the letter D at the IIm position, such as
D7, Dsus4, Dm7, D9, D13x9, or any of 30 or more other “D” chord variants. (Chord
progressions are combinatorial.)
In Figure 69, the default chord in the IIm position is Dm. To make this a
secondary dominant, you substitute the variant chord D7 in place of the usual Dm
chord. The chord D7 then become the secondary dominant of G7.
FIGURE 69 Chase Chart: Secondary Dominants
Secondary dominants are also called tonicizations (discussed in Chapter 5) because
they briefly make the next harmonic degree chord the tonic. Examples coming up
will show you how secondary dominants are used in songs.
6.9.6
CHASE CHARTS OF THIRD PROGRESSIONS,
UP AND DOWN
Figure 70 below maps the patterns for third progressions, both “up” and “down.”
In a Chase chart, the visual characteristic of a third progression is that the arrow
goes across the circle, skipping two chords on one side of the arrow, and three on the
other.
Thirds and other chord progressions except fifths crisscross the circle in all kinds
of patterns, as you’ll see in the examples coming up.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
377
FIGURE 70 Chase Chart: Third Progressions, Up and Down
Third progressions, up or down, tend to be pretty weak, because the two chords
that make up a third progression have two notes in common. For example, the chord
C major consists of the notes C, E, and G. The chord A minor consists of the notes
A, C, and E.
On the other hand, the fact of having two notes in common makes third
progressions sound pretty smooth, which has its advantages. The familiar third-down
progression C – Am, for example, sounds remarkably smooth.
Third progressions involving a major and a minor chord can sound quite
palatable because of the major-minor mood contrast.
As well, third progressions sound stronger if one of the two chords in the
progression is altered such that the two chords no longer have two notes in common.
For example, the progression C – Em is a typical third progression with the two
chords having two notes in common:
•
C chord = C, E, G; Em chord = E, G, B.
•
Changing Em to E7 removes one of the notes in common: E7 = E, Gv, B, D.
Also, as a seventh chord, E7 contains the tritone (like all seventh chords), so
it’s conspicuously dissonant, adding to harmonic interest.
Chord progressions by thirds have opposite directionality to progressions by fifths:
•
Thirds down progress counterclockwise (e.g., C – Am)
•
Thirds up progress clockwise (e.g., C – E7)
Repeat: this is exactly the opposite of fifth-progression directionality.
Thirds down tend to be more popular than thirds up.
378 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.9.7
CHASE CHARTS OF SECOND PROGRESSIONS,
UP AND DOWN
Figure 71 below maps the Chase chart patterns for second progressions, up and
down.
In a Chase chart, the visual characteristic of a second progression is that the
arrow skips one chord in the circle.
Chord progressions by seconds have the same directionality as progressions by
fifths:
•
•
Seconds down progress clockwise (e.g., C – Bº)
Seconds up progress counterclockwise (e.g., C – Dm)
FIGURE 71 Chase Chart: Second Progressions, Up and Down
Second progressions, both up and down, have a lot of power (almost as much as
fifths down) because the two chords in the progression have no notes in common.
For example, the chord C major consists of the notes C, E, and G. The chord D
minor consists of the notes D, F, and A. So the progression C – Dm marks a
significant harmonic change. It’s a strong progression.
The main disadvantage is that clumsy use of second progressions can blur the
sense of tonality.
In general, in any Chase chart, the closer the arrows are to the edge of the circle,
the stronger the progression: fifths first, then seconds, then thirds.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
379
6.9.8
CHASE CHARTS OF CHROMATIC PROGRESSIONS,
EXITING AND RETURNING
A chord whose root lies outside the diatonic scale of the prevailing key is a chromatic
chord. In a Chase chart, a chromatic chord is located outside of the circular harmonic
scale.
The visual pattern shows an arrow connecting the exit chord of the harmonic
scale with the chromatic chord. Another arrow connects the chromatic chord with
the return chord of the harmonic scale (Figure 72).
Visually, the chromatic chord is usually positioned between the exit and return
chords. Sometimes the same harmonic scale chord is used as both exit and return
chord. This is represented by two side-by-side arrows pointing in opposite directions.
FIGURE 72 Four Chase Chart Examples of Chromatic Chord
Progressions: Exit Chord Is the Tonic Chord
380 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Less frequently, the exit chord of a chromatic chord progression is a chord other
than the tonic. Figure 73 below shows some examples.
FIGURE 73 Four Chase Chart Examples of Chromatic Chord
Progressions: Exit Chord Is Not the Tonic
Like second progressions, chromatic progressions stand out. Chromatic chords
are foreign to the key. They command listener attention.
However, tonality can easily fall apart with clumsy handling of chromatic chords.
That’s why it’s prudent, when introducing a chromatic chord, to return to the
harmonic scale quickly, usually within a bar or two. If this doesn’t happen, it
probably means the tonality (key) is changing (modulation).
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
381
6.9.9
CHASE CHARTS OF THE GENERAL PATTERNS OF
CHORD PROGRESSIONS
Figure 74 below maps the general pattern of a chord progression in a popular song
or any other piece of music—from the humblest folk song to the grandest symphony.
Typically, the chord progression begins with the tonic chord, then progresses to
several other chords and chord variants, and finally finds its way back to the tonic via
the V7 chord:
I – [any number of other chords] – V7 – I
FIGURE 74 Chase Chart: General Pattern of a Chord
Progression, Major Key
In a minor key, the chord progression typically starts with the VIm chord and
finds its way back to the VIm chord via the III7 chord (Figure 75 below):
VIm – [any number of other chords] – III7 – I
382 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 75 Chase chart: General Pattern of a Chord
Progression, Minor Key
6.10
Examples: Chase Charts of Great
Songs without Modulation or
Chromatic Chords
6.10.1
CHASE CHARTS OF FOUR GROUPS OF GOLD
STANDARD SONGS
The purpose of art is to stop time.
—BOB DYLAN
You’re about to learn chord progression techniques from some of the world’s greatest
songwriters, including:
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
Otis Blackwell
Hoagy Carmichael
Bob Dylan
George Gershwin
Jagger and Richards
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Carole King
Lennon and McCartney
Gordon Lightfoot
Joni Mitchell
383
Van Morrison
Willie Nelson
Cole Porter
Otis Redding
Smokey Robinson
Richard Rodgers
Paul Simon
Kurt Weill
Norman Whitfield
Hank Williams, Sr.
...and others
The following sections examine the chord progressions of four groups of brilliant
songs, using Chase charts.
•
•
•
•
Group 1: Songs without modulation or chromatic chords
Group 2: Songs without modulation, with chromatic chords
Group 3: Songs with modulation, without chromatic chords
Group 4: Songs with modulation and chromatic chords
Chapter 2 discussed why there’s no such thing as “progress” in music. If you
aspire to artistry in songwriting, as opposed to hackdom or fashion, then you seek to
create classics, songs that transcend time, performer, and genre:
1. Time Independence. People who first hear the song decades after it was written
take to the song and want to hear it and play it and sing it repeatedly.
2. Performer Independence. The song works well if someone other than the
original performer does a cover.
3. Genre Independence. A performer working in a genre other than the genre
associated with the original recording can render the song in a palatable way.
With the exception of a couple of centuries-old public-domain songs, the four
groups of songs coming up for chord progression analysis were composed over a
roughly 50-year period, from the 1920s to the 1970s. Most people would consider
these song to be classics.
A reminder: a Chase chart only represents the chord progression of a song—not
the tune and not the rhythmic elements.
384 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.10.2
GROUP 1: LIST OF GREAT SONGS WITHOUT
MODULATION OR CHROMATIC CHORDS
Here’s the first group of songs, nearly all of which are on the Gold Standard Song List.
All of the songs in this group stay in the one key and do not borrow chords from
other keys.
“Heartbreak Hotel”
“Tracks Of My Tears”
“Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”
“When A Man Loves A Woman”
“Walking After Midnight”
“Five Foot Two”
“Hey Joe”
“Return To Sender”
“Blue Moon”
“Heart And Soul”
“Midnight Train To Georgia”
“Danny Boy”
“Moondance”
“All Along The Watchtower”
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
“Yesterday”
“Star Spangled Banner”
Study the Chase charts that follow. You’ll pick up a lot of useful information
about what makes the chord progressions work in these tunes. You’ll also learn how
easy it is use Chase charts to map the chord progressions of your own tunes or any
other song with a chord progression you’re curious about.
6.10.3
“HEARTBREAK HOTEL”: I – IV – V EIGHT-BAR
BLUES
“Heartbreak Hotel” was introduced as an example a little earlier. Have a look at
Figure 76 as you go over the basic “rules” for doing Chase charts.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
385
FIGURE 76 Chase Chart of „Heartbreak Hotel‰
Chase Chart Basics
1. Start with a drawing of the circular harmonic scale with Nashville Numbers
(Roman numerals) on the inside of the circle and the chords of the particular
key around the outside. Remember: the Nashville Numbers on the inside never
change but the chords around the outside do change. You will find the circular
harmonic scales for all 12 major/minor pairs of keys in Appendix 1. You can
choose any key you like. In “Heartbreak Hotel,” the choice of the key of E
major/Cv minor is purely arbitrary.
2. To map the chord progression, start with the song’s first chord and draw an
arrow to the chord it changes to other than a variant of the first chord.
In the example of “Heartbreak Hotel,” the first chord is E major. The next
chord is E7, a variant of E major. For this chord change, you don’t need to
draw an arrow, since E7 is just a variant of E major. All you need to do is
label the chords at Nashville Number I as E and E7 to signify that the chord
E and its variant E7 both appear at this position.
Next, the progression goes to A7. So the first arrow you draw goes from
Nashville Number I to Nashville Number IV on the inside of the circle.
(Nashville Number IV corresponds to the “A7” on the outside of the circle,
a variant of what would normally be the chord “A”.)
3. Label the first arrow with the number “1” and draw a little circle at the base
of the arrow labelled “1.” This serves as an easy visual marker that shows
where the chord progression within the circular harmonic scale begins.
386 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
4. Next, the progression goes to the chord B7, so draw an arrow from the A7
position (Nashville Number IV) to the B7 position (Nashville Number V7).
Number that arrow “2.”
5. Finally, the progression goes from B7 back to the tonic chord, E. So draw one
more arrow from the B7 position (Nashville Number V7) to the tonic chord,
and number that arrow “3.”
6. If the same chord change repeats, do not give the arrow another number.
For a simple chord progression such as the one for “Heartbreak Hotel,” you’ll
only need to use one circle to map the whole progression. As you’ll see later, if the
chord progression gets complicated, a Chase chart can get cluttered with too many
arrows. When that happens, all you need to do is start another circle and continue
on. Draw as many harmonic scale circles as you need. You may need several
harmonic scale circles to do a Chase chart of one song.
Also, wherever the chord progression takes an obvious turn, which often happens
when verse changes to chorus or bridge, start a new harmonic scale circle.
“Heartbreak Hotel” is an excellent example of a chord progression that orbits
clockwise around the gravitational centre, the tonic chord. The progression moves
from harmonic degree I to IV to V7 to I.
You can think of the chord progression for this song as a variation of the classic
12-bar blues pattern. It’s just compressed into 8 bars.
6.10.4
“TRACKS OF MY TEARS”: SUSPENSE OF
HALF-CLOSES
The Chase chart of this song’s chord progression shows the same three-chord orbit
pattern as “Heartbreak Hotel.” But “Tracks Of My Tears” has a subtle change in the
chord progression of the chorus that makes a big difference (Figure 77):
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
387
FIGURE 77 Chase Chart of „Tracks Of My Tears‰ (Words and
Music by Smokey Robinson, Warren Moore, and Marvin
Tarplin, 1967)
In the verse, half closes alternate with full closes. A half close or half cadence is
an imperfect cadence, a cadence that ends on the dominant chord. It leaves the ear
in suspense, waiting for resolution.
In the chorus, unlike the verse, half closes continue until the end of the chorus.
This infuses the chorus with a greater urgency to resolve. It keeps your brain in
suspense.
It’s better to use a string of half closes like this in the chorus than in the verse. It’s
an effective technique used masterfully in this song.
6.10.5
“JAMBALAYA (ON THE BAYOU)”: THE STRONGEST
CHORD PROGRESSION IN ALL OF MUSIC
Wanna write a two-chord classic song? You could not pick two better chords than
I and V7. Hank Williams, Sr., shows how it’s done (Figure 78).
388 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 78 Chase Chart of „Jambalaya (On The Bayou)‰
(Words and Music by Hank Williams, Sr., 1952)
Chord progressions don’t get any simpler. And yet, over the centuries, that I – V7
– I progression has taken on all the other chord progressions in harmony and
arm-wrestled them into submission.
In “Jambalaya,” fully half the song has unstable dominant seventh harmony,
which keeps the listener on edge, expecting resolution.
In this song, Hank’s doing some interesting things melodically, too, which is why
everybody knows the tune. It’s way, way easier to write a boring ol’ country song
with a I – V7 – I chord progression than a great classic country song with a I – V7 –
I. Chapter 9 discusses in detail what goes into making a memorable tune.
6.10.6
TWELVE-BAR BLUES: DECEPTIVE CADENCE AND
“TURNAROUND”
You saw how the chord changes in “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Tracks Of My Tears”
simply orbit the tonic chord. Same thing with zillions of songs. Usually the orbit goes
clockwise.
But sometimes the orbit reverses itself (Figure 79):
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
389
FIGURE 79 Chase Chart: 12-bar Blues
The final four-bar phrase of a 12-bar blues tune usually contains a deceptive
cadence. That is, the V7 chord (B7 in the above example) does not resolve directly
to the tonic.
The progression instead takes a detour through the IV chord (A in this example),
comes to rest briefly on the tonic, then immediately “turns around” on the V7 chord
to start the cycle over again. This keeps the tune driving on.
A cadential chord formula of this nature, usually in the last bar or two of a
section, is called a turnaround. Some players call it a turnback.
6.10.7
“WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN”: ANOTHER
KIND OF DECEPTIVE CADENCE
The Chase chart of the verse of this song maps another way of using a deceptive
cadence to keep your brain in suspense and the progression moving right along
(Figure 80).
390 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 80 Chase Chart of „When A Man Loves A Woman‰
(Words and Music by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, 1966)
This time, the progression moves from the V chord to the VIm chord, then to the
I (tonic) chord, which takes the form of its unstable seventh variant (C7).
The tonic seventh in turn demands to move on to the IV chord. This keeps the
progression moving, mostly via fifths and seconds, with only a single third
progression (Am – C7).
6.10.8
“WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT”: PROGRESSION
REVERSAL
In this tune, the Chase chart shows that three variant chords occupy harmonic degree
IV: two in the verse and one in the chorus (Figure 81). These three chords are IV7,
IVm7, and IV (F7, Fm7, and the default F, respectively).
“Walking After Midnight” is really a three-chord song, with variant chords at
Nashville Number IV to provide harmonic variety. (Lyrically, the song is in the best
tradition of country music, describing what it’s like to stagger out of the saloon at
midnight, only to find that your horse got bored and lonesome waiting around in the
street and went home without you.)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
391
FIGURE 81 Chase Chart of „Walking After Midnight‰ (Words
by Don Hecht, Music by Alan Block, 1956)
“Walking After Midnight” uses a chord progression technique you’ll find in many
country songs: the progression reverses itself in the chorus.
The verse progresses mostly in the common fifths-down pattern. But in the second
part of the chorus, the pattern reverses to fifths up through the tonic. This creates a
solid harmonic contrast between verse and chorus, providing more harmonic
variety).
6.10.9
“FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE”: CONSECUTIVE
SECONDARY DOMINANTS
Consecutive secondary dominants impart substantial forward momentum to a tune.
They’re sevenths, and therefore unstable. And they move in fifth-down progressions.
Here’s a classic example (Figure 82):
392 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 82 Chase Chart of „Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue‰
(Words by Sam Lewis and Joe Young, Music by Ray
Henderson, 1925)
This chord progression happens to skip the chords F and Bº. What would happen
if it didn’t? What happens when the progression goes from the I chord, C major, to
the IV chord, F major, in the form of a secondary dominant, F7?
An interesting situation arises.
If you want to continue with a string of secondary dominants, then the chord F7
would normally be the secondary dominant of Bx, not B. Therefore the progression
would be on its way out of the key.
How come? Because the progression IV – VIIº is the only progression in the
circular harmonic scale where there are six semitones between the root notes of
adjacent chords, instead of five semitones (Table 47).
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
393
TABLE 47 Semitones Between Chord Roots in the Harmonic
Scale
Chord
Progression
Example:
Key of C / Am
Semitones Between
Chord Roots
I – IV
C–F
5
IV – VIIº
F – Bº
6
VIIº – III7
Bº – E7
5
III7 – VIm
E7 – Am
5
VIm – IIm
Am – Dm
5
IIm – V7
Dm – G7
5
V7 – I
G7 – C
5
So, if F7 were to progress to Bx7, then Bx7 would be the secondary dominant of
Ex. So Bx7 would function as a pivot chord, taking the progression into the new key
(key of Ex).
However, F7 can also proceed pretty smoothly to Bº7, which is harmonically
close to Bx7:
Bº7
Bx7
= B, D, F, Ax
= Bx, D, F, Ax
And, being highly unstable, Bº7 seeks to move on to the next chord, which is E7.
So the progression remains in the prevailing key.
6.10.10
“HEY JOE”: A FIFTHS-UP PROGRESSION THAT
WORKS
With so many fifth-up chord changes, why does this song, immortalized by Jimi
Hendrix, sound palatable (Figure 83)?
394 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 83 Chase Chart of „Hey Joe‰ (Words and Music by
Billy Roberts, 1965)
Three reasons:
1. Movement to any chord from any other chord of the same type sounds
palatable—especially if such movement forms a regular pattern of some kind
(see the 10 chord progression guidelines near the end of this chapter). In this
case:
•
•
All of the chords are the same type (major triads), and
The progression moves in the same fifth-up steps.
2. Using only consonant chords (major triads) helps offset the sonic weirdness of
so many consecutive fifths up.
3. The first fifth-up progression is from the tonic chord, which makes it perfectly
palatable, as discussed earlier in this chapter.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
395
6.10.11
“RETURN TO SENDER” (AND LOADS OF OTHER
SONGS THAT USE THE SAME PROGRESSION):
A MELLIFLUOUS THIRDS-BASED PROGRESSION
This smooth progression owes its lack of forcefulness to the two consecutive third
progressions at its heart, clearly mapped in this Chase chart. In this example, the
third progressions are C – Am, and Am – F (Figure 84).
FIGURE 84 Chase Chart of „Return To Sender‰ (Words and
Music by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott, 1962); „Blue
Moon‰ (Words by Lorenz Hart, Music by Richard Rodgers,
1934); „Heart And Soul‰ (Words by Frank Loesser, Music by
Hoagy Carmichael, 1938); and a Zillion Other Songs Using
This Progression
Variation:
396 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The first version of this progression uses consecutive thirds ... C – Am, followed
by Am – F ... which makes the progression sound a bit too predictable and dull.
In the second version, making Dm the third chord in the progression (instead of
F) creates three consecutive downward fifths of default chords.
Either way ... C – Am – Dm or C – Am – F... this progression plays it safe.
On the other hand, while not vigorous, this progression has much to offer in some
songwriting situations. It rolls right along with a stability and inevitability that’s well
suited to lightweight lyrics. Many 1950s ballads and pop tunes have this progression.
6.10.12
“MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA”: TOTALLY
AVOIDING FIFTHS UP
The Chase chart of “Midnight Train To Georgia” shows how this unusual
progression avoids all fifths up, even fifths up to and from the tonic (Figure 85).
Both the verse and chorus are mapped on a single harmonic scale chart. It’s
getting a tad cluttered. If you are doing a chart and find it’s getting too filled up with
arrows, break it up into two or three (or more) separate harmonic scale circles, each
showing the chord “map” for a different section of the song. In this example, the
Chase chart could well have been broken into two parts, one for the verse, the other
for the chorus.
FIGURE 85 Chase Chart of „Midnight Train To Georgia‰
(Words and Music by Jim Weatherly, 1973)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
397
Although the progression has several fifths down, they do not form chains of
three or more (as in the previous example). This preserves their strength while
preventing predictability.
The song also features a dynamic, repeating upward second progression (Em7 –
F – G), which propels the harmony forward with considerable vigour.
There are even a few third progressions, up and down.
Diversity makes this a powerful chord progression. A good mixture of fifths,
thirds, and seconds keeps the harmony interesting while never straying from solid
tonality.
6.10.13
“DANNY BOY”: A LITTLE MODE MIXING
WITHOUT MODULATING
First, the words and chords:
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This time, the Chase chart is broken into two parts. The first one maps the verse,
the second maps the chorus (Figure 86).
398 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 86 Chase Chart of „Danny Boy‰ (Words by Fred
Weatherly, 1913; Music by Rory Dali OÊCahan, ca. 1600)
The Chase chart of “Danny Boy” reveals a good mixture of fifths and thirds, with
a brief second progression in the last phrase.
The notable thing about this progression is the smoothness (thanks to the third
progressions) with which it integrates chords from the relative minor. The minor
chord influence suitably matches the melancholy mood of the lyric.
This song goes back to Shakespearean times. The blind Irish harper Rory Dali
O’Cahan wrote the tune that became known as “Londonderry Aire.” Fred
Weatherly, an English lawyer and lyricist, arranged his already-written lyric, “Danny
Boy,” to fit the tune. The match became one of the world’s greatest songs.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
399
6.10.14
“MOONDANCE” A CLASSIC OF THE MINOR MODE
Second progressions and the minor mode combine to make the harmony for
“Moondance” distinctive and evocative. The Chase chart reveals that the variant
chord VIIm7 (Bm7) replaces the default chord VIIº (Bº) in the verse.
The progression shuttles between this variant chord and the tonic, itself a variant
in the form of a minor seventh (Am7). These two somewhat dissonant minor seventh
chords set the mood (Figure 87).
FIGURE 87 Chase Chart of „Moondance‰ (Words and Music by
Van Morrison, 1970)
Then what happens? In the bridge/chorus, the harmony switches over to the other
side of the tonic (the fifths down side), leaving the VIIm7 chord out of the picture.
400
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The bridge/chorus provides excellent harmonic contrast to the verse. The song
remains solidly in the minor mode. The progressions in the bridge/chorus are fifths
down and seconds up. No thirds.
6.10.15
“ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER”: A
MASTERPIECE WITH SECOND PROGRESSIONS
ONLY
The following discussion refers to the original Dylan recording on the album John
Wesley Harding, not the more famous (and equally magnificent) Hendrix cover.
This song spends half its time in minor and half in major harmony. But it doesn’t
really modulate because it does not establish a tonal centre outside of the key of A
minor.
The Chase chart of this three-chord song reveals no fifth or third progressions at
all—only second progressions. The chords simply move back and forth between A
minor (the tonic chord) and F major, via the transient G major chord (Figure 88
below).
The G major chord plays a vital role because, although it serves in a transient
capacity only, its presence turns what would otherwise be a relatively weak third
progression (Am – F) into a pair of strong second progressions (Am – G and G – F).
FIGURE 88 Chase Chart of „All Along The Watchtower‰
(Words and Music by Bob Dylan, 1968)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
401
As for harmonic contrast, because the G major chord is transient, as noted, the
song spends about half of its time in the minor mode, the other half in major.
With no fifths in sight, the song does not use any form of conventional cadence.
It goes on and on restlessly, shifting back and forth, back and forth, major to minor
to major to minor, until the song ends on the minor chord, the key’s tonic chord.
6.10.16
“I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN” A 20-CHORD
MASTERPIECE
Now for the other extreme. How in blazes does Cole Porter stuff this
exquisitely-wrought three-minute masterpiece with 20—count ’em, 20— chords
without modulating, and without borrowing chromatic chords?
First, an inventory of the chords he uses in “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
Starting with the major tonic chord and moving clockwise around the harmonic
scale, here are all the chords (Table 48):
TABLE 48 Inventory of Chords: „IÊve Got You Under My Skin‰
Nashville
Number
Default and Variant Chords
I
C
CM7
C7
IV
F
Fm
Fm6
VIIº
B
Bm7
III7
E7
VIm
Am
Am7
IIm
Dm
Dm7
V7
G
G7
Cº
A
A7
G+
G7x9
Even though the song has a lot of minor chords, it does not modulate because,
by definition, modulation means establishing a new tonal centre. This song does not
do that.
The progressions takes quite a few twists and turns, so four harmonic scales are
enlisted to map the whole thing (Figure 89 below).
402
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The first harmonic scale in the Chase chart shows that the song begins
conventionally enough with a repeating sequence of fifths down. A couple of
interesting points:
•
•
Porter starts the vocal on the IIm chord instead of the tonic.
He uses minor seventh variant chords in place of minor default chords for
added push.
This four-chord progression repeats fours times, firmly establishing tonality.
Then, as the Chase chart maps, in the second and third harmonic scales, Porter
brings in the other three degrees of the harmonic scale, and simultaneously
introduces a lot of variant chords at every harmonic degree except III7 (E7). The
effect is a rich harmonic experience without the slightest sense of loss of tonality.
Finally, the song returns to the same cycle of chords it began with (more or less).
FIGURE 89 Chase Chart of „IÊve Got You Under My Skin‰
(Words and Music by Cole Porter, 1936)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
403
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” makes use of the chords of all seven degrees of the
harmonic scale—a comparative rarity. Here’s another one that does the same thing.
6.10.17
“YESTERDAY”: ONE OF THE MOST COVERED
SONGS OF ALL TIME
As this Chase chart shows, within the first verse, “Yesterday” goes through all seven
harmonic degrees. McCartney uses notable variant chords at two harmonic degrees:
•
•
G major in place of G minor at harmonic degree II;
Em7 in place of Eº at harmonic degree VII.
404
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The minor seventh serves well as a variant of the diminished chord at harmonic
degree VII because the minor seventh contains two out of three of the notes of the
diminished chord (Eº = E, G, Bx; Em7 = E, G, B, D). This is the same variant chord
Cole Porter uses in “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
It’s notable that the first chord change is I – VIIm7, an unusual move. As
discussed in “10 Chord Progression Guidelines” at the end of this chapter,
movement to any chord from the tonic chord sounds palatable, although it usually
happens after tonality is firmly established. Not the case here. (Figure 90 below)
FIGURE 90 Chase Chart of „Yesterday‰ (Words and Music by
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1965)
The verse ends with a plagal cadence (IV – I), which is somewhat unusual.
The chords used in this song are just ordinary majors, minors, and sevenths. But
chord progression diversity—an interesting mixture of fifths, thirds, and seconds (and
a couple of well-chosen variant chords)—makes this tune harmonically interesting.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
405
6.10.18
“THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER”: A BRITISH
TEEN’S GREATEST HIT
Here’s the chord progression arrangement used in the Chase chart of “The Star
Spangled Banner” (melody composed by John Stafford Smith in his late teens):
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As discussed in the introduction to modulation in Chapter 5, “The Star Spangled
Banner” uses a tonicization or two, but doesn’t really modulate (Figure 91).
406
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 91 Chase Chart of „The Star Spangled Banner‰
(Words by Francis Scott Key, 1814; Music by John Stafford
Smith, ca. 1768)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
407
As the above Chase chart shows, the strength of the chord progression—derived
from an exceptionally well-constructed melody—resides in its robust seconds and
descending fifths.
Third progressions appear only briefly.
6.11
Examples: Chase Charts of Great
Songs without Modulation, with
Chromatic Chords
6.11.1
GROUP 2: LIST OF GREAT SONGS WITHOUT
MODULATION, WITH CHROMATIC CHORDS
A chromatic chord—a chord whose root lies outside the harmonic scale for the key
of the song—introduces harmonic variety that attracts your brain’s attention.
Chase charts of the following classic songs, all selected from the GSSL, will show
you how great songwriters make use of chromatic chords:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
“Hey Jude”
“Carefree Highway”
“Wild Horses”
“September Song”
“Crazy”
“Trouble In Mind”
“Sundown”
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
In some of the examples, the first chord in a chromatic progression is the tonic
chord (Table 49).
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 49 Songs with Chromatic Progressions Where the
First Chord Is the Tonic
Chromatic
Progression
Song Title
I – xVII – I
“Trouble In Mind”
I – xVII – IV
“Hey Jude”
“Carefree Highway”
“Wild Horses”
I – xVII – V7
“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”
I – xII – I
“It Was a Very Good Year”
I – xVI – I
“September Song”
I – xII – II
“Georgia On My Mind”
In others, the first chord in a chromatic progression is not the tonic chord (Table
50).
TABLE 50 Songs with Chromatic Progressions Where the
First Chord Is Not the Tonic
Chromatic
Progression
II – xII – I
III7 – xII – IIm
Song Title
“Girl From Ipanema”
“Georgia On My Mind”
IV – xVII – IV
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
IV – xVII – I
“Trouble In Mind”
“Sundown”
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
409
6.11.2
“HEY JUDE”: NAAA-NA-NA NA-NA-NA-NA FOR
SEVERAL MINUTES
If you’re going to use a chromatic chord (or more than one chromatic chord) in a
song, it’s vital to firmly establish tonality first. Otherwise your poor brain will have
a tough time trying to figure out what key the song’s in.
Also, for the same reason (hanging on to tonality), it’s a good idea to return to the
harmonic scale soon after borrowing a chromatic chord.
The first part of “Hey Jude” uses conventional harmony that firmly establishes
tonality, so the Chase chart below omits it. However, the last part, the “na-na-na-na”
part, which goes on for several minutes moves outside of the harmonic scale and
grabs the xVII chord (F major in the example below, Figure 92).
FIGURE 92 Chase Chart of „Hey Jude,‰ Last Part (Words and
Music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1968)
The chromatic chord lasts only one slow bar (the second bar) of each four-bar
“na-na-na-na” chorus. But, from a harmonic perspective, it’s that chromatic chord
that grabs the listener’s ear.
In a Chase chart involving a chromatic chord, you might wonder where exactly
to put the chromatic chord (the chord F major in the above example). It goes outside
the harmonic circle, but there’s no hard and fast rule as to exactly where. For visual
clarity, the best place is right between the chord at which the progression exits the key
(the exit chord is G major in the above example) and the chord at which the
progression returns to the key (the return chord is C major in the above example).
410 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.11.3
“CAREFREE HIGHWAY”: SLIPPIN’ AWAY ON A
CHROMATIC CHORD
The Chase chart below (Figure 93) reveals that Lightfoot uses conventional chords
and chord progressions in the verse of “Carefree Highway,” firmly establishing
tonality.
In the chorus, however, he reaches outside the harmonic scale for the same xVII
chord that McCartney uses in “Hey Jude.” The chromatic chord, C major in this
example, sticks right out and grabs the ear.
FIGURE 93 Chase Chart of „Carefree Highway‰ (Words and
Music by Gordon Lightfoot, 1974)
Wisely, Lightfoot brings in the chromatic chord for only one bar in each phrase
in which it appears. Tonality remains firm.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
411
6.11.4
“WILD HORSES”: UNUSUAL USE OF MINORS
You will recognize this as the song Sadie and Ellie Sue pipe through the sound
system over at the Dodge City Horse Store.
Even though the song is solidly in the major mode, the vocal of the verse begins
on a minor chord.
As the Chase chart below reveals (Figure 94), the chord progressions in both the
verse and the chorus eschew the tonic of the relative minor (Em) while incorporating
the other two minor chords. This gives the progression a truly distinctive sound.
FIGURE 94 Chase Chart of „Wild Horses‰ (Words and Music by
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, 1970)
As if that weren’t enough, in the chorus, the progression grabs the same xVII
chromatic chord used in “Hey Jude” and “Carefree Highway.” In this case, being in
412 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
the key of G, the chromatic chord is F major (on the words “drag me”). An elegant,
attention-getting touch.
As with the other two songs, the progression visits the chromatic chord only
briefly, then returns to the chords of the harmonic scale.
6.11.5
“SEPTEMBER SONG”: HOW TO USE MORE THAN
ONE CHROMATIC CHORD
In his poignant, brilliant “September Song,” Kurt Weill uses many chords, 12 in all,
of which two are chromatic chords (Figure 95).
He also uses four variants of the tonic: C, CM7, Cm, and Cm6.
By using two minor-chord variants of the tonic (Cm6 and Cm), “September
Song” flirts with modulation to the parallel key of C minor. The wistful, sad lyric
matches the harmonic progression perfectly.
One of the two chromatic chords may be found in the first section, near the
beginning of the song. This harmonic direction has the potential to threaten tonality.
However, the progression then quickly moves to a V7 – I perfect cadence (G7 –
C), ensuring the ear knows the true harmonic centre, despite the presence of the
chromatic chord (Ax).
FIGURE 95 Chase Chart of „September Song‰ (Words by
Maxwell Anderson, Music by Kurt Weill, 1938)
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413
The second chromatic chord appears in the second section, only briefly, near the
end of the song. In both cases, the chord following the chromatic chord is the tonic
C major.
One other interesting point about the “September Song” chord progression: the
second part of the song uses only second and third progressions—no fifths.
In the olden days (first half of the 20th Century), many songs had a so-called
“verse” followed by a “refrain.” These terms had different meanings from what
everybody now thinks of as “verse” and “refrain”. The old-style verse was a long
introduction or narrative, a story with its own melody. It was typically sung only
once. Then came the refrain.
Over time, singers and audiences tended to neglect the verse and get straight to
the refrain. Often, singers would not even bother singing the verse. Eventually, the
old-style verse got dropped and the so-called refrain became what everyone
considered the whole song.
“September Song,” written so long ago, has a particularly affecting old-style verse
that you don’t hear too often. Listen to the Frank Sinatra recording of “September
Song.” He does both verse and refrain, and tears your heart out.
6.11.6
“CRAZY”: WHEN THE TEMPO’S THIS SLOW, YOU
NOTICE EVERY CHORD
The chromatic chord in this song makes its appearance in the instrumental
turnaround after the second phrase. You’d hardly notice the Cvº chord if the tempo
weren’t so slow.
But, as the Chase chart below shows (Figure 96), the chord does catch the ear as
the middle part of a chromatic second progression, C – Cvº – Dm7.
414 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 96 Chase Chart of „Crazy‰ (Words and Music by Willie
Nelson, 1961)
Like many country songs (“Walking After Midnight,” for example), the second
part of “Crazy” starts on the IV chord, (F major in this example) for the sake of
contrast.
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415
The Chase chart above shows that second and fifth progressions predominate for
most of this song.
The last part of the song has a long run of seconds: FM7 – Em7 – Dm7 – CM7
– Dm7.
THAT STUPID MIDNIGHT PLANE TO HOUSTON
Willie Nelson claims his original title for “Crazy” was “Stupid.”
Jim Weatherly’s original title for “Midnight Train To Georgia” was
“Midnight Plane To Houston”!
6.11.7
“TROUBLE IN MIND”: MORE SECONDARY
DOMINANTS
Like “September Song,” the blues classic “Trouble In Mind” moves to a chromatic
chord from the tonic, right off the top. But then it moves directly back to the tonic
(Figure 97).
A few bars later, the same chromatic chord pokes up again, as a transient chord.
FIGURE 97 Chase Chart of „Trouble In Mind‰ (Words and
Music by Richard Jones, 1926)
416 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
“Trouble in Mind,” like so many blues tunes, gets its harmonic drive from its
almost exclusive use of tritone-unstable seventh chords, including a run of secondary
dominant sevenths: E7 – A7 – D7.
Even the chromatic chord is a seventh (F7).
6.11.8
“SUNDOWN”: SLIPPIN’ AWAY ON THE “CAREFREE
HIGHWAY” IN REVERSE
In “Carefree Highway,” Lightfoot uses this chromatic progression:
I – xVII – IV
In “Sundown,” as the Chase chart below reveals (Figure 98), he reverses the
direction of the same chromatic progression:
IV – xVII – I
The particular xVII chord in this case is the chord D major.
FIGURE 98 Chase Chart of „Sundown‰ (Words and Music by
Gordon Lightfoot, 1974)
As with “Carefree Highway,” the chromatic chord (found, again, in the chorus)
is the essential attention-getting harmony in “Sundown.”
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417
6.11.9
“I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE”:
FOUR-CHORD INGENUITY
The Chase chart below (Figure 99) maps two possible interpretations of the chord
progression for this song:
1. The song is in a major key, C major in this example, but uses the tonic of the
parallel minor key (Cm) as a variant chord. All three of the other chords are
normal for the major key, except that the chord F is replaced with F7, a
common variant.
2. The song is in a minor key, C minor, but uses a seventh variant containing a
major third (F7) in place of the default minor subdominant chord (Fm, which
has a minor third). In this interpretation, the progression also uses a chromatic
chord (Am).
FIGURE 99 Chase Chart of „I Heard It Through The
Grapevine‰ (Words and Music by Norman Whitfield and
Barrett Strong, 1967)
418 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
From a melodic standpoint, the minor third interval relationship with the tonic
means the song is clearly in a minor mode. So the second of the above two
interpretations is technically more correct, even though the first interpretation is
harmonically simpler in that it does not have a chromatic chord.
Either way you care to interpret this chord progression, it’s ingenious and
ear-grabbing. No fancy extended chords. Just two ordinary seventh chords and two
ordinary minor chords.
6.11.10
“BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER”: HARMONIC
HEAVEN AND HELL
The verse of this Paul Simon classic has a lot of plagal “amen” (IV – I) cadences,
perhaps in keeping with Simon’s direction to play it “like a spiritual.”
The chorus, on the other hand, has lots of diabolus in musica tritone harmony in
the form of sevenths, ninths, and diminished chords (Figure 100).
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419
FIGURE 100 Chase Chart of „Bridge Over Troubled Water‰
(Words and Music by Paul Simon, 1970)
For the most part, the harmony’s pretty conventional: lots of descending fifths
and a smattering of seconds and thirds.
However, the verse and chorus each borrow one chord from outside the key.
•
•
In the verse, it’s good ol’ versatile xVII (the chord Bx on the word “tears”).
In the chorus, it’s a rootless diminished chord (Exº on the word “over”).
The song owes its harmonic richness in part to the large number of chords (13 in
all), uncommon in a song that does not modulate.
Speaking of modulation, here comes a short course.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.12
Modulation Ways and Means
6.12.1
MODULATION: THE SOUL OF THE WESTERN
TONAL SYSTEM
Modulation is the single most extraordinary and musically potent aspect of the
Western tonal system of 12 major keys, 12 minor keys and equal temperament.
As discussed near the end of Chapter 5, modulation means changing the key,
moving the tonal centre within a piece of music.
Too bad most songwriters don’t know how to exploit the capacity for
modulation. It’s one of many reasons they turn out boatloads of unforgivably
monotonous tunes.
Modulation enables limitless harmonic and melodic variety while preserving
unity. A successful modulation provides the brain with a new orientation of tones
and chords, a leap into a musical parallel universe. Adventure! Danger! Thrills! Or
... at least musical novelty. Like taking the morning stagecoach to Wichita. Or
Amarillo (that’s where a bounty hunter shot “Running Gun” Marty Robbins for
neglecting to modulate).
Making the transition from the original tonality (key) to a new one usually takes
from a couple of bars to a full four-bar phrase. Songwriters who know how to
modulate will often change keys at a natural sectional boundary, such as the end of
a verse, going into a bridge or chorus. At the end of the contrasting section, tonality
moves back to the original key.
If the tonality does not move back to the original key, you probably have a shift
modulation, a decidedly distasteful way of moving tonality (see below).
6.12.2
NEAR VS REMOTE MODULATION
If a song modulates to a closely-related key (a key that shares many of the same scale
notes and chords with the original key), it’s called a near modulation.
If the tune modulates to an unrelated key (a key that shares few of the same scale
notes or chords with the original key), it’s called a remote modulation.
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421
If it modulates to a key that’s neither remote nor near, it’s called ... um ... a
moderately distant modulation. Or something.
To get an idea of what’s considered “near” or “remote,” have a look at
Heinichen’s Circle of Fifths (Figure 101). Pick a key, any key. Whatever key you pick
is closely related to other nearby keys in the Circle of Fifths. For example:
•
The key of D major is “near” such keys as B minor, G major, E minor, A
major, and Fv minor.
•
The key of D major is “remote” from keys on the other side of the Circle of
Fifths, such as the keys of Ax major, F minor, Ex major, C minor, Cv major,
and Bx minor.
•
The key of D major is “moderately” related to keys such as F major and D
minor. (Even though the keys D major and D minor share the same tonic
note, they use significantly different scales, so they’re only “moderately”
related).
FIGURE 101 HeinichenÊs Circle of Fifths
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
In general, regardless of the method of modulation, you absolutely must establish
tonality firmly in the original key before modulating to another key. Otherwise,
confusion reigns. You establish the original key by using the I, IV, and V7 chords at
the outset of a tune. Simple triads and dominant seventh chords serve as the most
useful chord types in establishing and supporting an initial tonal centre.
In the new key, you need at least one cadence (especially V7 – I, where I is the
new tonic chord) to clearly confirm or validate the new tonality. Otherwise your
brain assumes it’s only a possible shift in tonality, a transient modulation.
If you use jazzy, extended chords from the outset, such as 11th chords or
suspended chords or 13th chords, you will find it harder to establish tonality (at least
in the collective mind of your audience—regardless of whether you think you’ve
succeeded in establishing a tonal centre). And you’ll find it even more difficult to
successfully modulate.
It’s not always easy to modulate to a nearby key. You can, for example, easily
modulate from the key of C major to its relative minor, the key of A minor, and
vice-versa, because the modes differ: major and minor keys sound way different, even
if they share the same scale notes.
However, if you’re modulating between closely-related same-mode keys, such as
C major to G major, it’s easy to lose the sense of tonality because the two keys share
not only the same mode, but also most of the same chords and most of the same
scale notes. So, if the harmony and melody don’t clearly emphasize the key, the brain
asks itself, “Which key am I in, G major or C major?” and wanders off in confusion
to find a better song.
Modulating to a remote key stands out to a greater degree than modulating to a
nearby key. Remote keys have few chords and scale notes in common (for example,
the key of D major and the key of C minor). Your listener’s brain senses fresh new
harmonic territory and stays interested.
Here are some modulation ways and means.
6.12.3
RELATIVE KEY MODULATION
In relative key modulation, the song establishes tonality in a major key (such as C
major), then moves to its relative minor (A minor) and establishes tonality there. Or
vice-versa.
NOTE: A large proportion of popular songs have a casual mix of major and
relative minor chords. But casual use of relative minor or relative major chords in a
song that does not actually establish tonality in the relative key does not constitute
relative key modulation.
Chase-charted examples of relative key modulation coming up:
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
•
•
•
423
“Dear Landlord”
“Lovesick Blues”
“Georgia On My Mind”
6.12.4
PARALLEL KEY MODULATION
In parallel key modulation, the song establishes tonality in a major key (such as C
major), then moves to its namesake minor, C minor, and establishes tonality there.
Or vice-versa.
Chase-charted examples of parallel key modulation coming up:
•
•
“Kaw-liga”
“It Was A Very Good Year”
6.12.5
SHIFT MODULATION (DON’T DO THIS!)
Shift modulation is the most common and most abused technique of changing keys.
Typically, a shift upwards occurs near the end of a song to create a contrast with
the rest of the song. For example, the song starts off in, say, the key of C. Then, for
the last verse or chorus, tonality shifts upwards to the key of D. Why? Because an
increase in pitch is exciting (recall “Emotional Effects of Pitch” near the end of
Chapter 3).
The hallmark of shift modulation is that the song almost always does not return
to the original key, as is the case with other kinds of modulation. Ballad-like songs
sometimes shift-modulate to relieve monotony.
It’s not uncommon for a songwriter to write a song in a single key, only to have
an arranger introduce a shift modulation (without authorization) for some artist
covering the song. In such a case, the shift modulation is called an “arranger’s
modulation.”
In some recordings, shift modulation occurs multiple times. For instance, the
song starts in the key of C major, then shifts up to D, then up to E, and so on, once
every verse or two.
Here are a few songs with shift modulation:
•
•
•
“And I Love Her” (The Beatles)
“Fever” (Peggy Lee recording)
“My Generation” (The Who)
424
•
•
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
“Soul Man” (Sam & Dave recording)
“You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” (Stevie Wonder)
Great songs, aren’t they?
But wait.
Shift modulation has a problem. It was relatively novel up to the 1950s and
1960s. But since then, it has been done to death.
Shift modulation is the easiest way to change keys. Even a complete dolt of a
songwriter or arranger can shift modulate. Consequently, that’s exactly what has
happened over time.
Today, shift modulation is the mark of a rank amateur.
Don’t do it.
Well ... don’t do it unless you have a good reason, or you really know what you’re
doing.
Here are two examples of shift modulation done well, both by the great Johnny
Cash (and both, incidentally, from the 1950s, when the technique had not yet been
completely abused):
•
“Five Feet High And Rising” ... In this tune, Cash keeps shifting the tune
upward with each verse to match the ever-rising flood waters in the song’s
lyrics. “Two feet high and rising ... Three feet high and rising ... Four feet high
and rising ... ”
•
“I Walk The Line” ... In the original recording of this song, here’s what Cash
does:
-
Starts in the key of F, then
Shifts down a fifth to Bx, then
Shifts down a fifth to Ex, then
Shifts back up a fifth, returning to Bx, then
Shifts back up a fifth again, returning to F, ending the song in the
original key.
(No doubt, the guitar players at the recording session had capos on the first
fret and were playing the chords, E, A, and D, instead of F, Bx, and Ex,
respectively.)
But here’s the kicker: The second time Cash sings the tune in F, he sings the
melody a full octave lower than the first time in F. The words are identical in the
two F-key verses, creating a striking contrast. Overall, it’s a masterful piece of
arranging. Within this song, Cash’s singing range is two octaves plus a major
second.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
425
TRUCK DRIVERÊS GEAR CHANGE HALL OF SHAME
Shift modulation has become such a horrible cliche that there’s a
website dedicated to exposing recordings of shift modulation.
The website is called The Truck Driver’s Gear Change Hall of
Shame, so named because shifting gears while driving a truck is
an apt metaphor for this type of modulation.
Before you consider writing another Truck Driver’s Gear Change
song, you may want to check out the website:
www.GearChange.org
6.12.6
SEQUENTIAL MODULATION
In sequential modulation, a melodic phrase or a configuration of chords (or both)
repeats at a different pitch to bring about a modulation, which eventually returns to
the original key.
Several chords of the same type can be used palatably, such as C - D - E - Fv
(sequence of major seconds). Or chords of the same type can progress along a scale:
Gm7 - Fm7 - Em7 - Dm7 - Cm7 ( C minor scale).
Chase-charted examples coming up:
•
•
“It Was a Very Good Year”
“The Girl from Ipanema”
6.12.7
PIVOT CHORD MODULATION
A pivot chord is a chord that’s common to both the prevailing key and the key to
which tonality eventually moves. For example, the chord F major is common to both
the key of F major (the tonic chord) and the key of C major (the IV chord). So F
major can be used to “pivot” out of the key of C major and into the key of F major.
Figure 102 (below) shows an example of using a pivot chord to modulate to a
remote key and back again (no particular song, just a generic example).
In this example, the original key is C major. The remote key is Cv major / Av
minor. The pivot chord is F in the original key and F7 in the remote key.
426
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 102 Chase Chart: Using a Pivot Chord to Modulate to
a Remote Key
Pivot from
key of C major
to key of
C# major ...
Pivot from
key of C# major
back to
key of C major ...
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
427
Two keys, no matter how unrelated, will always have at least two chords that
share the same root note (usually more than two chords). You can use these chords
as pivot chords.
You can often exploit the diminished chord for pivot potential. The diminished
chord has equal-sized minor third intervals, so, technically, it has no root. Therefore,
it repeats itself every three semitones (see Figure 103 below). Since it’s so unstable,
you can use it to take a number of different harmonic paths.
(Also, as noted earlier, the VIIm can sometimes substitute for VIIº, as these
chords have two notes in common.)
FIGURE 103 Chase Chart: The Versatile Diminished Chord
Figure 104 below shows the potential pivot chords for two keys that are
moderately closely related: the key of G / Em and the key of E / Cvm.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 104 Chase Chart: Potential Pivot Chords, Modulation
to a Moderately Close Key
Chase-charted examples of songs using pivot chords coming up:
•
•
•
•
•
“I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”
“Three Bells (Jimmy Brown Song)”
“Kodachrome”
“Dear Landlord”
“One Fine Day”
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429
6.13
Examples: Chase Charts of Great
Songs with Modulation, without
Chromatic Chords
6.13.1
GROUP 3: LIST OF GREAT SONGS WITH
MODULATION, WITHOUT CHROMATIC CHORDS
Here are some songs from the Gold Standard Song List that modulate without
employing the Truck Driver’s Gear Change. All of theses songs return to the original
key, and none borrow chords from outside the prevailing tonality.
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
“I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”
“Three Bells (Jimmy Brown Song)”
“Kodachrome”
“Dear Landlord”
“One Fine Day”
“Free Man In Paris”
“Kaw-liga”
“Lovesick Blues”
“Gimme Shelter”
6.13.2
“I GOT PLENTY O’ NUTTIN’”: TWO KINDS OF
MODULATION
The Chase chart below (Figure 105) reveals that this song starts with a series of
strong second progressions.
Then Gershwin uses the B7 chord common to the keys of G major (actually its
relative minor, E minor) and E major to pivot to the key of E major.
430 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Then, to get back to the key of G major, he employs a transitory shift, from the
variant chord Cv major (in place of the default chord, Cv minor) in the key of E
major up to D major, the dominant chord of the key of G.
FIGURE 105 Chase Chart of „I Got Plenty OÊ Nuttinʉ (Words
by Du Bose Heyward and Ira Gershwin, Music by George
Gershwin, 1935)
The E – A – Cv – D – G progression sounds perfectly palatable to the ear because
Gershwin uses chords of the same type—all major triads.
6.13.3
“THE THREE BELLS (THE JIMMY BROWN SONG)”:
PIVOTING TO A CLOSELY RELATED KEY
Related keys are keys that have many scale notes and chords in common. As
mentioned earlier, you can run into trouble modulating to a closely related key if you
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
431
don’t know what you’re doing. Your audience could start to wonder what key you’re
in.
This French beauty, “The Three Bells,” makes it all sound so natural.
Two of the chords that the keys of C major and F major have in common are
their namesake chords, C major and F major. Beginning in the key of C major, this
song uses the chord F major to pivot to the key of F, and the chord C to pivot back
to the key of C (Figure 106 below).
FIGURE 106 Chase Chart of „The Three Bells (The Jimmy
Brown Song)‰ (Original French Words by Bert Reisfeld,
English Words by Dick Manning, Music by Jean Villard, 1945)
For the sake of maintaining tonality, the progression makes emphatic use of the
dominant seventh chord in each key.
There’s another reason this song so smoothly shifts tonality between the keys of
C and F. There is a pronounced tempo change between the verse and the chorus.
This sharp delineation makes it even easier for the ear to accept that the verse and
chorus inhabit separate tonal worlds.
432 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.13.4
“KODACHROME”: USING THE SAME CHORD
(ROOT) TO PIVOT BOTH WAYS
In “Kodachrome,” Paul Simon uses the variant chord E7 in place of Em in the key
of G to pivot to the closely-related key of C, its harmonic scale neighbour.
In the new key, he uses a lot of consecutive descending fifths to keep the
progression moving forward powerfully, and to maintain tonality in the new key.
Then he uses E minor to pivot out of C and back to G, again using descending
fifths to re-establish the original key (Figure 107).
FIGURE 107 Chase Chart of „Kodachrome‰ (Words and Music
by Paul Simon, 1973)
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433
The song returns to the original key for the second verse, then modulates to the
“chorus key” and stays there. The song ends without returning to the original key.
WHAT MAKES „ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL‰ SO
DANG SPECIAL?
Every time there's a hoedown on the main street of Dodge, Ellie
Sue picks up her fiddle and plays "Orange Blossom Special" for 60
to 90 minutes straight, with Sadie on washboard, Doc
Yada-Yadams on jug, Marshal McDillon on musical saw, Deputy
Fester on guitar, and two mules from the Dodge City Horse Store
on kazoo and gut-bucket bass. The citizenry dances up a storm
and Ellie Sue's nostrils and eyes get wilder and wilder and
eventually she starts frothing at the mouth. At that point, Doc
Yada-Yadams calls a halt to the song and performs a quick bit of
neurosurgery on Ellie Sue to bring her back to normal. That's the
way it always plays out. So now everybody considers "Ellie Sue’s
Orange Blossom Special" a bona fide Dodge City tradition.
What is it about that song that causes some otherwise perfectly
respectable folks to go plum loco?
“Orange Blossom Special” makes use of two musical devices not
often found together in a country song:
•
•
A long vamp on a single chord over which a fiddler
improvises; and
Modulation to a closely related key.
The instrumental and vocal versions are somewhat different.
Instrumental Version
The tune typically starts out in the key of E with a fiddle solo
over a vamping tonic chord. This goes on for as many bars as the
improvising fiddler wishes. (A vamp is a simple accompanying
chord progression that can continue indefinitely, over which a
soloist improvises. In “Orange Blossom Special,” the vamp consists
of nothing but the E major chord, played fast for many bars.)
When the fiddler finishes improvising, the progression goes
from E to E7, then quickly moves to A, establishing a new
tonality. With the chord A now the tonic chord, the tune goes
into its characteristic breakneck-speed melody. The progression
goes like this (where A = I):
434 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
I – IV – V7 – I
I – IV – V7 – I
I – V7
V7 – I
I – IV
IV – I – V7 – I
Then the tune immediately ducks back to the E chord, where it
vamps again for a long time while the fiddle improvises. This is
the secret of the power of “Orange Blossom Special.” Going to
the E chord seems like a return to the original tonal centre but
at the same time, it feels like the dominant chord (the V7 chord)
of the key of A. The fact that it stays on that V7 chord for a long
time builds up a powerful expectation of chord resolution in the
brain of the listener, who must wait and wait in delicious
anticipation for that V7 chord to finally resolve to the I chord of
the new tonality (A), and the return of the breakneck tune.
In effect, the listener doesn’t realize it at the outset, but the
tune effectively begins on the dominant chord, E major, of the
main melody’s tonality, the key of A major. Because there’s no
other referencing harmony at the beginning of the song, the
listener accepts the E chord as the tonic. Then comes the first
surprise: E moves to A, revealing a different tonality for the main
melody of the song. Then another surprise: The chord A moves
back to E and vamps for a long time, building up anticipation for
the return to A major and the main melody.
Vocal Version
In the vocal version, the song starts in the key of E and
establishes tonality unambiguously with a 12-bar blues verse,
using the three principal chords, E, A, and B7:
Look a-yonder comin’, comin’ down the railroad track
Hey, look a-yonder comin’, comin’ down the railroad track
It’s the Orange Blossom Special, bringin’ my baby back
It then moves to the key of A major and establishes tonality for
the main (instrumental) melody. Then it returns to E for another
long vamp and repeats the cycle.
In both versions, it’s those long excitement-building vamps on
the V7 chord of the key of A that make “Orange Blossom Special”
one of the all-time great fiddle tunes.
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435
6.13.5
“DEAR LANDLORD”: A TOUR THROUGH FOUR
KEYS IN 60 SECONDS
“Dear Landlord,” one of Dylan’s most musically intriguing tunes, begins innocently
enough in the key of C Major.
•
Within a few bars, the progression modulates to the key of A minor, its
relative minor.
•
The progression then uses the chord F major to pivot to the key of D minor.
•
Then the tonal centre moves on to the key of F major, the relative major of D
minor.
•
Finally, it moves back to the key of C major via a nifty turnaround: Dm – F
– G – C (Figure 108).
FIGURE 108 Chase Chart of „Dear Landlord‰ (Words and
Music by Bob Dylan)
436 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Dylan accomplishes this tour of four keys in just 60 seconds, the time it takes to
get through one 20-bar stanza. The cycle then repeats two more times.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Dear Landlord,” it would be worth your while to listen
to this track a few dozen times. Get a sense of how a gifted songwriter at the height
of his powers brilliantly uses modulation. It’s on the album John Wesley Harding, or
you can download the song from iTunes and other online vendors.
6.13.6
“ONE FINE DAY”: PIVOT-SHIFT-PIVOT
The Chase chart below (Figure 109) shows how “One Fine Day” uses the chord F
major to pivot from the key of F major to the key of Bx major, its harmonic scale
neighbour.
The progression then shifts into the key of C major, which happens to be the
harmonic neighbour of the original key, F major.
Arguably, you could call this a sequential modulation: the chord sequence Cm7
– F7 – Bx moves to the sequence Dm7 – G7 – C (all chord roots move up one whole
tone).
A sequence is a melodic phrase or a chord progression (or both) that repeats at a
different pitch. (Sometimes sequences occur with modulation, sometimes without.)
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437
FIGURE 109 Chase Chart of „One Fine Day‰ (Words and Music
by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, 1963)
438 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
To get back to the key of F major, the C major chord becomes C7, the dominant
seventh of F major—a natural pivot.
Although this song uses the dreaded shift method, it does so in the service of
expediting a return to the original key, thereby cleverly absolving itself of sin.
6.13.7
“FREE MAN IN PARIS”: TAKING ADVANTAGE OF
TRIAD STABILITY
You can get away with a lot if you use a handful of triads. Triads have internal
stability. In “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin,” Gershwin uses a progression of simple triads
to modulate back to the song’s original key.
In “Free Man In Paris,” Joni Mitchell, empress of open-chord tuning, uses five
major triads to shift between the key of A major and the key of C major.
The Chase chart below (Figure 110) shows the variant chords A major and D
major in place of the default chords A minor and D minor in the key of A
minor—which effectively becomes the parallel key of A major.
All five of the chords for this song can be accommodated in one harmonic scale.
FIGURE 110 Chase Chart of „Free Man In Paris‰ (Words and
Music by Joni Mitchell, 1973)
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439
The Chase chart above shows that the last four chords in the verse, C – G – F –
A, get reversed in the chorus, A – F – G – C. It’s a mirror image, a novel way to
create verse-chorus contrast. Did Mitchell plan this, or did it just “happen”? She’ll
never tell, we’ll never know. Alas.
6.13.8
“KAW-LIGA”: PARALLEL KEY MODULATION
The Chase chart below (Figure 111) reveals that the chord progression for
“Kaw-liga” begins much like the one for “Jambalaya”: just two chords, the tonic and
the dominant seventh. The only difference is that “Kaw-liga” is in a minor key.
However, in the chorus, the tonic chord switches from minor to major with the
same root note. The song modulates from the key of D minor to the key of D major,
a parallel key modulation.
FIGURE 111 Chase Chart of „Kaw-liga‰ (Words and Music by
Hank Williams, Sr. and Fred Rose, 1952)
440
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Parallel key modulations can sound remarkably smooth (as in the example of
"Kaw-liga") because the tonic chords of two keys share two out of three notes:
D minor = D, F, A
D major = D, Fv, A
Also, both keys share the same dominant seventh chord, the natural chord to use
to pivot between the two keys. In the above example, the dominant seventh chord
for both keys is A7. This is the chord Hank uses to get back to the key of D minor at
the end of the chorus.
6.13.9
“LOVESICK BLUES”: RELATIVE KEY MODULATION
Hank Williams, Sr., did not write “Lovesick Blues,” which became one of his
greatest hits. It was written a full generation before Hank recorded it.
Remarkably, “Lovesick Blues” has 11 chords—probably the most chords Hank
ever played in one song. But none are fancy. They’re just major triads, minor triads,
and dominant sevenths (Figure 112).
“Lovesick Blues” has several instances of well-placed secondary dominants (B7
– E7 – A7).
FIGURE 112 Chase Chart of „Lovesick Blues‰ (Words and
Music by Irving Mills and Cliff Friend, 1922)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
441
In the bridge, “Lovesick Blues” modulates to the relative minor key, the key of
B minor. This provides a welcome contrast, as the verse has no minor chords.
6.13.10
“GIMME SHELTER": SIMULTANEOUS PARALLEL
KEYS, FORCEFUL SECOND PROGRESSIONS—AND
ONLY THREE CHORDS
“Gimme Shelter,” one of the musical wonders of the rock genre, has but one chord
in the verse (Figure 113 below). It’s a major chord, Cv major, although the melody
clearly uses the parallel minor scale, Cv minor.
Over and over, the melody emphasizes the minor third note (E), characteristic of
the key of Cv minor, while the harmony plays the major third chord of the parallel
key, Cv major—as though the key is Cv major. This sets up an incredibly powerful
major-harmony, minor-melody clash that seizes the attention of the listener.
You can hear this same sound—a melody that emphasizes the minor third against
a major triad—in a lot of blues (not surprising, as the Stones always were a bluesrock band) and old-time country music. It’s also the same dissonant harmony you get
when you play a major tonic triad and use the Dorian scale for melody. Scale degree
3 is in a minor third relationship with the tonic note in the Dorian mode.
In the Chase chart below, melody trumps harmony (see Chapter 9). That is, the
tonic chord is on the left side—the minor key side—because melodically, the song is
clearly minor. Yet the tonic chord shown is the variant Cv major instead of Cv minor
because that’s the chord they’re actually playing. In fact, this is a minor-key song that
has no minor chords at all!
As the song moves into the chorus, the chords descend slowly by second
progressions. At the end of each four-bar phrase, the slowly descending seconds
repeat.
442
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 113 Chase Chart of „Gimme Shelter‰ (Words and
Music by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, 1969)
The only third progression appears at the end of each phrase to begin the next
slowly descending second progression.
Like “All Along the Watchtower,” with which it shares a certain chordprogression similarity, “Gimme Shelter” has no fifth progressions, up or down. No
conventional cadences, either.
Both “All Along the Watchtower” and “Gimme Shelter” demonstrate the raw
harmonic forcefulness that a songwriter can generate using second progressions and
only three well-chosen chords.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
443
6.14
Examples: Chase Charts of Great
Songs with Modulation and
Chromatic Chords
6.14.1
GROUP 4: LIST OF GREAT SONGS WITH
MODULATION AND CHROMATIC CHORDS
Modulation and chromatic chords in the same song make for some elegant,
attention-getting progressions. Here are some Gold Standard songs that have both:
•
•
•
•
“Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay”
“It Was A Very Good Year”
“Girl From Ipanema”
“Georgia On My Mind”
6.14.2
“SITTIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY”:
MODULATION AND THE POWER OF SIMPLE TRIADS
The chord progression of “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” has much in common
with the progression of “Free Man In Paris.” Both songs use only simple, internally
stable major triads. No minor chords, and no seventh chords. And both use chords
that effectively convert the relative minor key into its parallel major.
As the Chase chart below reveals (Figure 114), the verse of “Sittin’ on the Dock
of the Bay” has no fifth progressions, not even fifths to or from the tonic.
Consequently, no conventional V – I or IV – I cadences.
The song modulates weirdly between the key of G major and the key of E
major—which also has no conventional V – I or IV – I cadences.
Yet the modulation works because only major triads are used, and also because
the progression returns to the tonic chord, G major, with sufficient regularity to
establish the key of G major as the primary key.
444
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 114 Chase Chart of „SittinÊ On The Dock Of The Bay‰
(Words and Music by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, 1968)
In the bridge, the pattern changes to a standard, single-key I – V – IV progression.
This reinforces G major as the song’s main key.
Near the end of the bridge, the progression reaches outside the harmonic scale
and grabs the chromatic chord F major for one bar.
6.14.3
“IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR”: SEQUENTIAL AND
PARALLEL KEY MODULATIONS
A dominant-seventh-to-tonic progression (A7 – Dm) at the outset of “It Was A Very
Good Year” establishes tonality in a minor key.
Then the progression moves outside the harmonic scale to the chromatic chord
Ex for a couple of bars, then back to the tonic.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
445
Sequential modulation follows with a series of second progressions that ends on
the parallel major chord (Figure 115 below):
F – Ex – D – C – D
FIGURE 115 Chase Chart of „It Was a Very Good Year‰ (Words
and Music by Ervin Drake, 1961)
Getting back to the original key of D minor (from D major) then becomes a
simple matter of moving to the dominant chord, A7, which is the dominant chord
for both keys, and then to D minor.
6.14.4
“THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA”: TRANSIENT
SEQUENTIAL MODULATION
“The Girl From Ipanema” progresses through quite a few chords—13 altogether.
The sequential modulation used in this song could more accurately be termed
transient modulation, because keys other than the original key do not get firmly
established. Much like “It Was A Very Good Year.”
The chords progress in accordance with a melodic sequence that keeps rising in
pitch ...
Oh, but I watch her so sadly
How can I tell her I love her
Yes, I would give my heart gladly
446
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
... followed by a different sequence that steps the melodic line back down—and back
to the original key.
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at me
The Chase chart below (Figure 116) shows how pairs of chords change
sequentially with the melodic line. Here is the sequence of key transitions (it’s
actually pretty logical):
•
•
•
•
•
F major (original)
Fv major
Fv minor
G minor
F major
The Chase chart uses five harmonic scale diagrams to map everything out. Get
the recording with Astrud Gilberto in the starring role and follow the progression.
You’ll learn a lot from the famous Brazilian beauty.
FIGURE 116 Chase Chart of „The Girl From Ipanema‰
(Portuguese Words by Vinicius De Moreas, English Words by
Norman Gimbel, Music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1963)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
447
Not counting the chords used in the transient modulation sequences, the song
only uses one chromatic chord, Gx7, and only for one bar per verse.
6.14.5
“GEORGIA ON MY MIND”: MORE RELATIVE KEY
MODULATION
“Georgia On My Mind” has 15 chords. Yet it only uses one harmonic scale.
The song has as many as four chord variants at several degrees of the harmonic
scale. At IIm, for example, there’s Gm, Gm7, Gm6, and G7. At III7, there’s A7,
Am, and Am7. (See also Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”)
448
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
As the Chase chart below reveals (Figure 117), the chord progression also makes
use of all seven degrees of the harmonic scale.
In the bridge, the song modulates to the relative minor key, D minor.
The only chromatic chord is a diminished chord that makes an appearance briefly
towards the end of the verse, and again towards the end of the bridge.
FIGURE 117 Chase Chart of „Georgia On My Mind‰ (Words by
Stuart Gorrell, Music by Hoagy Carmichael, 1930)
A savvy mixture of fifth, third, and second progressions makes the harmony
varied and interesting, without imperiling tonality.
In 1960, Ray Charles made the definitive recording of “Georgia on My Mind,”
30 years after it was written. The Righteous Brothers and Willie Nelson, among
others, also recorded excellent renditions of this great classic.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
449
6.15
When Chord Progressions Go
Bad ...
6.15.1
HOW TO USE CHASE CHARTS TO VISUALLY SPOT
WEAK CHORD PROGRESSIONS
Now, for your entertainment and pleasure, here are a few examples of the kinds of
chord progressions inexperienced songwriters string together, mainly because they
don’t know about the harmonic scale.
Having studied the above examples by songwriting masters, you will probably
figure out pretty quickly why these progressions go off the rails (Figures 118 - 121).
Using Chase Charts, you can spot the weakness by looking at the patterns of arrows
that correspond to consecutive fifths up, multiple third progressions, sequences of
chromatic progressions, non-involvement of dominant and tonic chords, and so on.
This is not to say that such progressions could never work under any
circumstances. A songwriter might figure out a way to make them sound palatable
in the context of a cleverly-worked-out tune. But why bother with a lot of pointless
effort, trying to fix a lame progression? They shoot lame chord progressions, don’t
they?
Technically, there's no such thing as a “wrong” chord progression in the sense of
“prohibited.” But there certainly are chord progressions that are easier for the brain
to make sense of. That's what this chapter has been all about.
6.15.2
EXAMPLES OF CHORD PROGRESSIONS THAT DON’T
QUITE MAKE IT
What’s problematic about this one (Figure 118)?
•
•
Two consecutive fifth-up progressions (E – B – F) without involving either
tonic chord
Lots of weak third progressions
450
•
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
No V7 – I progression to establish tonality
FIGURE 118 Chase Chart of a Weak Chord Progression:
Example 1
And this one (Figure 119)?
•
Two consecutive chromatic chords without establishing tonality ... Key? what
key?
•
No dominant chord involvement on either the major or the minor side to
establish tonality
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
451
FIGURE 119 Chase Chart of a Weak Chord Progression:
Example 2
How does this one get lost (Figure 120)?
•
An eight-chord progression that uses all seven harmonic degrees ... pretty
ambitious ... too ambitious
•
Lots of fifths-up progressions, including tonic-to-dominant progressions on
both major and minor sides—but no dominant-to-tonic
•
Tonality must be out there somewhere, but not in this progression
452
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 120 Chase Chart of a Weak Chord Progression:
Example 3
One final example from chord progression hell (Figure 121):
•
Early chromatic chords set the progression adrift in a puddle of harmonic
mush, horsefeathers, and month-old gravy
•
No fifths-up this time, but no fifths-down, either
•
No dominant chords, no tonality
FIGURE 121 Chase Chart of a Weak Chord Progression:
Example 4
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
453
6.16
What About Chord Progressions
Based on the Church Modes?
6.16.1
MODAL HARMONIC SCALES
In Chapter 5, in the discussion of Church modes, it was noted that the Dorian,
Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Locrian modes have certain properties that cause
problems when it comes to creating chord progressions.
Now that you’ve slogged your way through this long, excruciating chapter on
harmonic scales and you know all about Chase charts and how they work, you might
be wondering whether or not you could construct viable harmonic scales using the
Church modes.
Time to find out.
First, a brief summary of the rules governing the construction of a harmonic scale:
1. A “default” harmonic scale consists of seven chords, each rooted on one of
the seven different notes of the diatonic scale.
2. Each “default” chord is a simple triad. For example, in the key of C major/A
minor:
-
There are three major triads, C, F, and G
There are three minor triads, Am, Dm, and Em
There is one diminished triad, Bº
3. The chords are arranged in a circle with chord roots five semitones apart (fifth
progressions down, going clockwise). The only exception is the six-semitone
interval between the triad rooted on the note F and the triad rooted on the
note B.
4. The dominant chords with respect to the tonic major and tonic relative minor
chords both get converted to V7 chords to provide the dynamic directionality
required to establish tonal centres.
454
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Figure 122 below shows the default circular harmonic scale for the key of C / Am
(the Ionian and Aeolian modes, respectively). Inside the circle are the Nashville
Numbers and also the number of semitones between chord roots. For example, the
number of semitones between the C major chord root and the F major chord root is
five.
FIGURE 122 Chase Chart of Harmonic Scale with Numbers of
Semitones Between Chord Roots
The three chords of the major mode and the three chords of the minor mode each
form a grouping of three consecutive chords. The major and minor modes sound
entirely different, which makes for striking natural harmonic contrast within a
cohesive harmonic framework. The oddball six-semitone interval, and the rootless,
dissonant diminished chord, are located, conveniently, between the chord groupings
of the two modes.
Proceeding clockwise, the overall effect is palatable and satisfying.
Do the Church modes fare as well?
6.16.2
DORIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALES
To hear what a Dorian mode scale sounds like, play the white keys on the piano
beginning and ending with D:
D–E–F–G–A–B–C–D
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
455
(Remember, you can play a Dorian mode scale beginning with any note—it
doesn’t have to be D—so long as you preserve the order of tones and semitones for the
mode. This applies to all the modes.)
The Dorian mode is considered to be a minor mode because the third note of the
scale forms a minor third interval with the tonic note (in the above example, D – F).
So the “tonic chord” of the Dorian mode is a minor chord, Dm, in this example (the
notes D, F and A).
As shown in the example below (Figure 123), there are two possible relative keys:
one with the note B as the tonic, the other with the note F as the tonic. No others are
possible because their chords would overlap with one or more of the chords of the
modal key.
When you apply the above-listed harmonic scale rules to the Dorian mode, you
get two possible versions. One version has the VI chord (B in the example below) as
the tonic of the relative key, the other has the III chord (F in the example) as the
relative tonic.
FIGURE 123 Chase Charts of Dorian Mode Harmonic Scales
B as Relative Key
F as Relative Key
Here are the main problems with Dorian harmonic scales:
•
The tonic chord of the Dorian scale is minor (Dm in the example), which
clashes with the subdominant (G, a major chord).
•
The dominant chord, A7, has a non-modal note, Cv, which removes the
“Dorian” sound of the mode. But if you replace Cv with C or D, you lose the
tritone. You also lose the leading tone and the power to establish tonality.
•
The tonic chord of the “B” relative key is the rootless diminished chord (Bº).
456
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
The subdominant of the “F” relative key is the rootless diminished chord.
•
In both of the possible relative keys, there is a six-semitone span between the
roots of two of the chords.
6.16.3
PHRYGIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALES
The Phrygian scale corresponds to the white keys beginning and ending with E:
E–F–G–A–B–C–D–E
Like the Dorian mode, the Phrygian is considered a minor mode. The third note
of the scale forms a minor third with the tonic (in this example E – G), making the
tonic chord a minor triad (Em).
And, like the Dorian, there are two possible relative keys, one with VI as the
tonic, the other with III as the tonic.
When you apply the harmonic scale construction rules to the Phrygian mode, you
get the two possible versions shown in the example below (Figure 124).
FIGURE 124 Chase Charts of Phrygian Mode Harmonic Scales
C as Relative Key
G as Relative Key
This time, things look somewhat more promising than the Dorian harmonic scales.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
457
•
The three principal chords in the above example, Em, Am, and B7, are
identical to the chords of the key of E minor. So at least it’s possible to
establish tonality around the I chord.
•
If you consider C as the relative key, its three principal chords are identical to
the chords of the key of C major.
•
If you consider G as the relative key, its three principal chords are identical to
the chords of the key of G major.
But the Phrygian mode has an Achilles heel. As with the Dorian mode, it’s the
dominant seventh chord—B7 in the above example.
Recall that the dominant seventh chord is the only chord in harmony that has
these two properties:
•
Directionality: it “points” to the tonal centre.
•
Unrest: it “demands” resolution, specifically to the tonic chord.
The dominant seventh is therefore crucial in establishing tonality. That’s why it’s
called the dominant chord. It serves as the gateway, the means of gaining access to a
defined tonal centre. Without the dominant chord, no tonal centre exists. There’s no
cadence effect and your brain senses no meaningful harmonic cohesion.
The main problem with the Phrygian mode is that the dominant seventh chord,
B7, contains two non-modal notes, Dv and Fv. So, using B7 as the dominant chord
does not establish tonality in the Phrygian mode. It establishes tonality in the key of
E minor. To create Phrygian tonality, you would need to do something about those
two non-modal notes in the B7 chord to fix things up.
But you can’t:
•
In the above example, if you change the Dv to D or E, you lose the leading
tone and the tritone.
•
If, instead, you raise the Fv to G, you get the chord B7v5 (B seventh,
augmented fifth), which removes the tritone and the resolution potential to
the third note of the tonic scale. (And, of course, the Dv note remains a
problem.)
•
If, instead, you lower the Fv to F, you get the chord B7x5, which removes the
perfect fifth interval and introduces a second tritone (B – F, in addition to the
B7 chord’s normal tritone, Dv – A). The battling tritones negate the
directionality of the chord.
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•
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
If you try to change both of the non-modal notes, you get similar undesired
effects. For example, if you lower both Dv and Fv, you get the chord Bm7x5.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. (Try it!) Indeed, the blood-dimmed
tide is loosed, and W. B. Yeats rises from his grave, looks around, and spots
Johann David Heinichen, also arisen from his grave, autographing copies of
the Circle of Fifths.
6.16.4
LYDIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALE
Moving on to the Lydian mode, corresponding to the white keys beginning and
ending with F:
F–G–A–B–C–D–E–F
The Lydian is considered a major mode. The third note of the scale forms a major
third with the tonic, F – A, in the above example, with the tonic chord being F major
(Figure 125).
FIGURE 125 Chase Chart of Lydian Mode Harmonic Scale
Of the three principal chords of the Lydian mode, two are markedly unbalanced,
one of which is the rootless diminished IV chord.
In the above example, the C7 chord (the V7 chord) contains a non-modal note,
Bx, so establishing true Lydian-sounding tonality is a problem.
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
459
•
If you try to fix it by moving Bx down to A, you get the chord C6. This
removes the unrest of the tritone and a good part of the directionality because,
in progressing to the tonic chord, the effect of the semitone resolution from
the note Bx to the note A vanishes.
•
If you try to fix it by moving Bx up to B, you get the chord CM7, which has
no tritone. And you lose the resolution of Bx to the note A, the tonic chord’s
crucial third-scale-degree note.
As for possible relative keys, if the VI chord (Dm in the above example) serves as
the tonic, it clashes with the IV chord, G, which is major. If the III chord, Am,
serves as the tonic, the three principal chords are identical to the three principal
chords of the key of A minor, which means the dominant seventh chord becomes
E7— which contains a non-modal note.
6.16.5
MIXOLYDIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALE
Next up: another major mode, the Mixolydian, corresponding to the white keys on
the piano beginning and ending with G:
G–A–B–C–D–E–F–G
The chords of the Mixolydian harmonic scale are identical to the normal
(Ionian/Aeolian) harmonic scale except for the transition VII chord at the bottom,
which, in this example, is F major instead of Fvº (Figure 126).
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
FIGURE 126 Chase Chart of Mixolydian Mode Harmonic Scale
Once again, the V7 chord, D7 in the above example, contains a non-modal note,
Fv, making the harmony indistinguishable from the key of G major. If you try to fix
the problem by lowering the Fv to F, or raising it to G, you lose both the leading tone
and the tritone. Goodbye tonality.
6.16.6
LOCRIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALE
Finally, the Locrian mode, the mode you get when you play the white keys
beginning and ending with B:
B–C–D–E–F–G–A–B
Harmonically, the Locrian mode begins in the ditch, clutching a bottle of
absinthe, and never manages to crawl out. (Doc Yada-Yadams seems stone cold
sober by comparison.)
The tonic of the Locrian is the diminished chord (Figure 127).
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461
FIGURE 127 Chase Chart of Locrian Mode Harmonic Scale
With the diminished chord as the tonic, the Locrian mode can’t even think of
establishing tonality.
To summarize, in all five of the Church modes, you can’t establish mode-defining
tonality using harmonic scale chord progressions due to problems with the V7 – I
progression and numerous other unfortunate harmonic incongruities.
Nevertheless, these modes—all of them—can serve as excellent source scales for
creating beautiful tunes. The secret is to combine modal tunes with standard
major-minor (Ionian-Aeolian) chord progressions. Chapter 9 discusses how to do this.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.17
Chords and Chord Progressions:
Maximizing Emotional Impact
6.17.1
OPTIMIZING UNITY AND VARIETY IN CHORD
PROGRESSIONS
The writer Tom Wolfe once advised that, just as a doctor learns, “First, do no harm,”
so an artist must keep in mind, “First, entertain.”
In songwriting, this applies to every aspect: harmony, rhythm, melody, form,
lyrics, performance. “To entertain” means pretty much the same thing as, “Create
sufficient variety. Be interesting. Do not bore the listener.”
At the same time, every element has to be accessible. “To be accessible” means
pretty much the same thing as, “Create sufficient unity. Do not confuse the listener.”
The human brain seeks patterns.
Figure 128 summarizes this concept:
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
463
FIGURE 128 Scales of Unity and Variety
Accessible
(Sufficient
Unity)
Boring
(Lacking
Variety)
Accessible but
Boring
(Irritating)
Accessible
Interesting
(Compelling and
Emotionally
Powerful)
Confusing and
Boring
(Complete
Turn-off)
Somewhat
Interesting
but Confusing
(Forgettable)
Interesting
(Sufficient
Variety)
Confusing
(Lacking
Unity)
Aim for the upper right.
Your song (or the song you’ve chosen to play, if you didn’t write it) won’t grab
your audience emotionally if it confuses them musically or lyrically, or if it bores
them, musically or lyrically.
A great song, performed competently, gets everything right. It strikes a unityvariety balance with respect to each component.
•
•
•
•
•
•
Harmony and chord progressions
Beat, pulse, meter, tempo, rhythm
Phrasing and form
Melody
Lyrics
Performance values (live or recorded)
When each of these elements strikes the listener as both accessible (not confusing)
and compelling (not boring), the song is irresistible.
At the end of each of Chapters 6 through 10, you will find a table summarizing
the key ways of achieving balance—avoiding confusion and boredom—with respect
to the chapter’s topic.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
This being the end of Chapter 6, here’s Table 51, summarizing the main ways you
can avoid confusing and boring your audience with your chord choices and chord
progressions.
(NOTE: As always, these are not hard-and-fast rules. For instance, there’s
nothing inherently “wrong” with using thirds or fifths up, so long as you know what
you’re doing.)
TABLE 51 Optimizing Unity and Variety in Chord Choice and
Chord Progressions
Prefer...
Instead of...
Tonality
•
Firmly established
tonality; use of
dominant chord
•
Weak tonality; dominant
chord absent or deemphasized
Organizing
Framework
•
Harmonic scales
•
•
Circle of Fifths
Church mode based
harmony
Chord Choice
•
Variety: consonant
triads, dissonant 7ths,
occasional use of highly
dissonant or chromatic
chords
•
All consonant or all
dissonant chords
Chord
Progression
Types
•
•
•
Seconds, up or down
Fifths down
Fifths up, to or from
tonic
Occasional use of
chromatic progressions
•
•
Thirds, up or down
Fifths up, away from
tonic
Immoderate use of
chromatic progressions
Pivot
Relative
Parallel
Sequential
•
•
•
Modulation
•
•
•
•
•
Shift
No modulation at all
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6.17.2
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF CHORDS
Table 52 below summarizes some emotional effects associated with various chord
types. Emotional effects vary for a given chord, depending on musical context.
TABLE 52 Emotional Effects of Chords
Chord Type
Associated Emotions
Major
(e.g., C)
Happiness, cheerfulness,
confidence, brightness,
satisfaction
Minor
(e.g., Cm)
Sadness, darkness, sullenness,
apprehension, melancholy,
depression, mystery
Seventh
(e.g., C7)
Funkiness, soulfulness,
moderate edginess
Major Seventh
(e.g., CM7)
Romance, softness, jazziness,
serenity, tranquillity,
exhilaration
Minor Seventh
(e.g., Cm7)
Mellowness, moodiness,
jazziness
Ninth
(e.g., C9)
Openness, optimism
Diminished
(e.g., Cº)
Fear, shock, spookiness,
suspense
Suspended Fourth
(e.g., Csus4)
Delightful tension
Seventh, Minor Ninth
(e.g., C7xx9)
Creepiness, ominousness, fear,
darkness
Added Ninth
(e. g., Cadd9)
Steeliness, austerity
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.18
10 Chord Progression Guidelines
Use these 10 guidelines or rules of thumb as you craft your chord progressions. If
you do, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever create an unpalatable progression.
Here’s the first guideline.
6.18.1
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (# 1):
START WITH THE CIRCULAR HARMONIC SCALE AS
YOUR BASIC CHORD PROGRESSION FRAMEWORK
To secure and preserve harmonic unity, always use the harmonic
scale as your starting point, a basic chord progression framework.
In popular music, you only have three or four minutes to make a complete
musical statement. Using the harmonic scale as your basic organizing framework
makes it easy for you to establish tonality. As already mentioned, that’s the purpose
of a four- or eight-bar instrumental introduction to a song.
If you don't establish tonality, the ear just hears random chords and tones, and
gets confused or bored quickly.
Establishing a harmonic centre early also enables you to create harmonic contrast
(see Guideline #4 below).
6.18.2
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#2):
LEARN HOW TO USE CHASE CHARTS TO SEE HOW
A SONG’S CHORD PROGRESSION ACTUALLY
WORKS
A Chase chart is a diagram that maps how the chord progression for any song
actually works, revealing the nature of its effectiveness—or lack of effectiveness.
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467
Use Chase charts to map the chord progressions of your own songs,
or songs you’ve heard that intrigue you.
As you’ve seen in this chapter, you don’t need to know how to read or write
music notation. Chase charts are easy to sketch and will save you a lot of time while
providing you with some real insight on how to create palatable-sounding chord
progressions for your own tunes.
6.18.3
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#3): USE
THE CHORD PROGRESSION CHART (APPENDIX 1) TO
SAVE TIME AND AVOID FRUSTRATION
Roedy Black’s Chord Progression Chart, reproduced in Appendix 1, shows the harmonic
scales, including Nashville Numbers, for all 12 major and minor keys.
Use the Chord Progression Chart to quickly sketch Chase charts and
work out chord progressions for your own material.
6.18.4
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#4): TAKE
ADVANTAGE OF TONIC CHORD STABILITY
Here’s another good reason to make sure you do establish tonality right away (see
Guideline #1):
Moving to any chord—even to a chromatic chord—from the tonic
chord sounds palatable to the ear, once you’ve established tonality.
The tonic chord is the stable bedrock chord of the key. So if you move to a
chromatic chord from the tonic chord, like this
C – Bx – C (in the key of C major)
it’s usually a good idea to return to the tonic chord (or at least to a chord in the
harmonic scale) right away to preserve the sense of tonality (assuming you’re not
modulating).
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.18.5
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#5): TAKE
ADVANTAGE OF DOMINANT CHORD INSTABILITY
The dominant seventh chord is inherently unstable (all dominant-seventh type chords
contain the tritone; minor sevenths do not) and can therefore serve as a transition
chord to another chord. The dominant seventh is probably the most useful and
versatile of all chords.
Any chord can always progress to any dominant seventh chord
without sounding unpalatable.
But watch out when you go the other way. Moving from a dominant seventh to
its own major or minor triad does not sound palatable. For example, try to avoid
doing this:
G7 – G
or
G7 – Gm
or at least have a good reason for doing it.
6.18.6
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#6): MAKE
STRUCTURED USE OF CHORDS OF THE SAME TYPE
You can use sequences of the same type of chord any time:
Moving from any chord to any other chord of the same type sounds
palatable to the ear.
You should do it in some organized manner, such as progressing in intervals that
are the same distance apart.
For example:
C – G – D – A – E (the classic song, “Hey Joe”)
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
469
sounds palatable, even though it’s moving against the “natural” (clockwise) flow of
the harmonic scale, because all the chords are of the same type (major triads).
If you reverse the chord sequence, like this:
E–A–D–G–C
the progression sounds more natural because it goes with the flow, the natural
direction around the harmonic scale. The chords of most great songs progress in this
general direction.
Another way to string together three or more chords of the same type is to
progress along a scale of chord roots (up or down). For example, going up:
C9x5 – D9x5 – E9x5 – F9x5 – G9x5
or going down:
G9x5 – F9x5 – E9x5 – D9x5 – C9x5
Yet another way to do this is to use a sequence of chords—one set of chords
followed by a second, different set of the same chord type, repeated in the same
pattern. Like this:
Cm7 – Dm7 – Fm7
followed by (in a parallel phrase or sub-phrase):
Bm7 – Cvm7 – Em7
When you string together three or more chords of the same type, the chord type
itself doesn’t matter. You can even use extended chords such as 9th, 11th, or 13th
chords, so long as you preserve the same chord type throughout the progression.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.18.7
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#7): TAKE
ADVANTAGE OF MAJOR TRIAD CONSONANCE TO
PROGRESS TO CHORDS BUILT ON THE SAME ROOT
Progression from consonant to dissonant works.
Moving from a major triad to any other chord built on the same
root sounds palatable to the ear.
For example:
C – C9
or
C – Cm7
A major triad is a consonant chord, so moving from a consonant chord to a
dissonant chord (i.e., any chord except a major or minor triad) built on the same root
(in the above examples, the root is the note C) does not introduce the potential
problems of harmonic confusion that dissonant-to-consonant progressions (built on
the same root) create, such as C7– C or C7–Cm.
6.18.8
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#8): TRY
NOT TO COMMIT THE SIN OF MONOTONY—USE
MODULATION, VARIANT CHORDS, CHROMATIC
CHORDS
There are several ways to create variety in your chord progressions:
Without losing harmonic cohesion, go for some variety in your
chord progressions.
Here are some ways and means, covered in this chapter:
CHAPTER 6—HOW CHORDS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONS REALLY WORK
471
1. Modulation:
Once you’ve established tonality, you can use at least four tasteful methods of
modulating (changing keys):
1.
2.
3.
4.
Pivot chord modulation
Relative key modulation
Parallel key modulation
Sequential modulation
Avoid using shift modulation unless you really know what you’re doing and have
a good reason for doing it
2. Chord Variants:
You can make a chord progression harmonically interesting simply by replacing
the default chords at any of the seven harmonic scale degrees. You have upwards
of 30 variant chords to choose from for each of the seven harmonic scale degrees.
You can use more than one chord variant at each harmonic scale position in the
same song.
3. Chromatic Chords:
Using chromatic chords is not difficult, but you have to be careful not to go
overboard, or you’ll blur tonality. Review the examples earlier in this chapter.
These are only guidelines. You don’t have to try to modulate or use chord variants
or chromatic chords every time you sit down to compose a tune. As you know, many
many excellent songs only have two or three chords—a couple of simple triads and
maybe a seventh. But they usually have something else going for them, such as a
knockout melody or a gripping lyric.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
6.18.9
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#9): KEEP
IN MIND THE EMOTIONS PEOPLE ASSOCIATE WITH
CHORDS
Refer to the list of descriptors in Table 52 once in a while.
As you create your progressions, keep in mind that most people
associate certain harmonies with more or less identifiable
emotions.
6.18.10
10 CHORD PROGRESSION GUIDELINES (#10): USE
A ROEDY BLACK CHORD CHART TO SAVE TIME,
AND TO AVOID INTERRUPTING YOUR CREATIVE
FLOW
Two reference charts provide instant access to the fingering diagrams for all the
different types of chords in each key. They also show the chords of the harmonic
scale for every key, together with their Nashville Numbers.
Use Roedy Black’s Complete Guitar Chord Poster or Complete Keyboard
Chord Poster to avoid wasting time looking up chords in books,
computers, or chord-finder gizmos.
7
How Beat, Pulse,
Meter, Tempo, and
Rhythm REALLY Work
Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting
without being aware that it is counting.
—GOTTFRIED LEIBNIZ
All right, you cats been talkin’ ’bout you got rhythm. You got this
and you got that. I got rhythm! I’m gonna see what you all got.
—LOUIS ARMSTRONG
7.1
Evolution, the Brain, and Rhythm
7.1.1
WHERE RHYTHM COMES FROM: THE
TIME-KEEPER IN YOUR BRAIN
Your brain’s evolved mechanisms for coordinating and synchronizing movement
enable you to walk, jog, run, jump, dance, and tie your horse to a hitchin’ post—all
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
tasks that require sophisticated coordination. When disease or injury disrupts your
brain’s time-keeping system, you experience motor impairment (multiple sclerosis,
for example).
Music and language both require elaborate time-keeping. They parallel each other
rhythmically. Rhythmic motion is an important element in mother-infant
communication, indicating a linkage between rhythm and the other elements of
music in the evolutionary origin of music-making.
In modern humans, bodily movement typically accompanies song: head nodding,
tapping, clapping, dancing, swaying. It’s the rule, not the exception. It’s unusual to
listen to a musical performance that has a pronounced rhythmic element without
participating to some degree in the rhythmic flow.
7.1.2
EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVES ON THE AUDITORY
SYSTEM, SENSE OF BALANCE (VESTIBULAR
SYSTEM), BIPEDALISM, AND LOCOMOTION IN
HUMANS
The human brain has a general coordinating mechanism that links everything
required for speech and music-making—auditory and visual information, motor
channels, timing.
Your vestibular system, which controls balance, connects physically to your inner
ear. Rhythmic control of balance and body movements required for bipedal
locomotion was in place before the evolution of the rhythmic element of musicmaking (vocal music and dance).
Walking, jogging, and running require an inborn clock for coordination. If you
walk any distance, you usually set a rhythmic pace: each step takes an equal amount
of time. Same with jogging and running. You can think of dancing as fancy jogging
or running in place, and in sync with other jogger-dancers.
As discussed in Chapter 1, the capacity for rhythmic entrainment is an evolved
trait exclusive to humans. A baby enjoys a much richer musical and bonding
experience when Mom bounces or rocks baby rhythmically to music, compared to
simply having music played for baby in the crib. Enjoyment of the direct experience
of music carries over from infancy to childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. People
tend to prefer attending live music events that encourage or at least tolerate audience
entrainment, compared with events at which audiences are expected to sit quietly
and be still while the musicians play.
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475
7.2
Your BrainÊs Evolved Memory
Functions
Everything in life is memory, save for the thin edge of the present.
—MICHAEL S. GAZZANIGA
7.2.1
MUSIC AND MEMORY LIMITATIONS
To comprehend and appreciate music, you have to remember sequences of events such
as chord changes, melodic phrases, riffs, lyric lines, and so on. Music unfolds in time,
bit by bit, unlike other art forms such as painting, which you can grasp as a whole,
without having to hold some of it in memory over time. On a time-space continuum
of the arts, music is at one extreme, painting at the other:
TIME
music
SPACE
poetry
novels,
stories
theatre,
movies
dance
architec- sculpture
ture
painting
Alas, unlike computer memory, human memory has severe natural limitations.
Nowhere is this more evident than in music. Humans can remember only a few
recent musical events without reference to previously-heard events. The brain’s shortterm memory buffer is limited in capacity to only a handful of items and a time span
of only a minute or so.
Because of human memory limitations, each element of music needs to be
inherently repetitive. Beat. Chord changes. Motives. Riffs. Melodic phrases. Verses.
Choruses.
Short-term memory limitations render overly complex music incomprehensible.
Songwriters and composers who don’t understand this find themselves with
vanishingly small audiences.
If you write music that has a lot of novel (i.e., unrepeated) melody, or numerous
changes in meter, or no discernable tonality, then prospective listeners will turn
away, irritated, unable to find any meaningful patterns that might provide something
approximating an enjoyable musical experience.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.2.2
SHORT-TERM AND WORKING MEMORY
Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by
forgetting ideas which one has not time to write down.
—HECTOR BERLIOZ
When you recall something from memory, you actually reconstruct the memory. You
don’t retrieve it, the way you retrieve a file from a cabinet or from a “folder” on your
computer. Each time you reconstruct a memory, it’s a bit different. You may think
you’re certain something happened the way you recall it, but that ain’t the case. As
discussed in Chapter 1, you remember the gist, not the exact details, even if you think
you remember the exact details.
Your brain does not have a single “memory processor,” nor a single memory
storage area. There are several kinds of memory, and your brain stores memories in
many places.
Short term memory is limited in capacity to about seven items, plus or minus two.
(Using sign language, the number is only about five.) It’s limited in duration to a
minute or less. What you hold in short-term memory is always being over-written.
(Why did the Post-It note become phenomenally successful? It enables you to capture
on paper a small amount of information currently in your short-term memory, before
it gets over-written.)
CHANGE BLINDNESS: GORILLA? WHAT
GORILLA?
Thanks to short-term memory limitations, focussing your
attention on one thing in your environment causes you to fail to
notice other things, even if they’re happening literally right
under your nose. The psychologist Daniel Simons and his
colleagues refer to this phenomenon as “change blindness.”
Picture this. A stranger stops you to ask for directions. You and
the stranger talk for 10 or 15 seconds. Then two workmen
carrying a door walk between you and the stranger. After the
workmen pass by, the stranger is a different person. The new
stranger is wearing different clothes, is different in height, and
has a different sound to his voice. What are the odds that you
will notice that the person you are now talking to is actually a
different person from the one you were talking to before the
workmen carrying the door walked through?
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
477
Only about 50-50.
Daniel Simons and his colleagues have conducted numerous
other experiments, replicated by other researchers,
demonstrating change blindness due to short-term memory
limitations. The gorilla experiment, for example. A group of
people are watching a video of an informal basketball game.
They’re instructed to count the number of passes made by one
of the teams. Partway through the game, a woman in a gorilla
suit strolls into sight among the basketball players. She even
stops, faces the camera, and thumps her chest before moving
out of the picture. Altogether, the gorilla is clearly visible for
nine seconds. Viewers of the video who are not instructed to
count passes all report that they noticed the gorilla. But half or
more of those instructed to count passes are so focussed on that
task that they fail to notice the gorilla.
You can see the gorilla video and other change blindness demos
at this website:
http://Viscog.Beckman.uiuc.edu/djs_lab/demos.html
The Phonological Loop
One aspect of short-term memory enables you to overcome these limitations to
some degree through repetition. This is called the phonological loop. It’s only good for
about five seconds’ worth of information, which you have to keep repeating. For
example, you can look up an unfamiliar number in the phone book and keep
repeating it to yourself until you actually dial the number. Once you dial the number
and the phone conversation starts, your short-term memory becomes occupied with
the demands of the conversation, and the phone number fades forever. And you
won’t be able to recall it because you did not commit it to long-term memory. If you
need the number again, you have to look it up. Dang.
With enough repetition, something you hold in short-term memory, such as a
phone number, can become encoded in long-term memory.
That applies to songs.
Which is exactly why songs need so much repetition.
With a single exposure to a new song that typically includes several repetitions
of a verse and chorus, a listener retains a small bit of the tune and lyrics. The gist of
it. Only after many exposures to the entire song will the listener have the whole
melody and lyric encoded in his or her brain.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Working Memory
Working memory encompasses short-term memory and other memory-related
functions. Working memory is sometimes called working attention because it refers not
only to what you can hold in short-term memory, but also to how you can use the
information, including information you can summon from long-term memory.
Working memory involves the concept of attention—your ability to repress
irrelevant stimuli and focus on enabling stimuli and information. That includes
whatever is important in your immediate environment that is not stored in your longterm memory, plus recollections you bring into your working memory as needed. All
the while, though, your short-term memory buffer limits what you can do without
looking up information recorded in notes or books or images or other stored data.
SHORT-TERM MEMORY AND GAMBLING MACHINES
Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it
from betting on people.
—W. C. FIELDS
The psychopaths who program electronic slot machines know
exactly how to exploit the limitations of short-term memory.
They deliberately set up the machines so that the player
experiences a high proportion of near misses, deceiving the
player into thinking the odds of winning are much much higher
than they actually are. If the machine has a “stop” button, the
player is duped into thinking he or she has some control over
where the spinning reels halt. In fact, the outcome is
electronically determined the moment the player pushes the
spin button. The “stop” button is utterly fraudulent, designed
only to speed up the rate at which the player loses money.
Gambling machines are programmed to keep the player hooked
with near misses and small wins. The player wins small sums
frequently enough that he or she forgets the long trend: steady
losses. Within the span of short-term memory, it always seems as
though the machine is paying off and could cough up a jackpot
at any moment. The conned player loses track of time and
money, and eventually walks away busted.
The larcenous swindlers who run casinos and other gambling
businesses concoct euphemisms such as “gaming entertainment”
to put a friendly face on the cheat-machine industry.
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479
7.2.3
“CHUNKING” TO THE RESCUE (MORE OR LESS)
You can remember only about seven items at once. But if you group related items into
larger units, your short-term memory treats those units as individual items, which
frees up your working memory to admit more information—up to a point. Such
grouping is called chunking. (It’s the reason phone numbers and credit card numbers
are separated into groups of three and four.)
You could pretty easily remember a series of five random letters of the alphabet
by repeating them in a phonological loop. You’d have a much harder time
remembering 45 random letters because the phonological loop is limited to only a
few seconds. But you could easily memorize 45 letters if they took the form of five
random words, each consisting of nine letters.
In practically every aspect of music, including lyrics, chunking
plays an central role.
As you’ll see shortly, your brain automatically chunks (groups) a steady sequence
of discrete beats into larger units called pulses. Pulses chunk into still larger units
called bars or measures, which chunk into still larger structural units (the subject of
the next chapter).
But chunking has its limits. People find it much more difficult to remember a 15minute symphonic movement or a 50-minute symphony, no matter how wellchunked it is, compared with a three-minute popular song.
7.2.4
LONG-TERM DECLARATIVE (EXPLICIT) MEMORY
Most of the stuff you’ve got stored in long-term memory is unconscious. In chapter 10,
you’ll learn a procedure you can use to take advantage of your unconscious mind to
create unique, emotionally powerful song lyrics (including rap lyrics) that will
surprise and amaze you (and your listeners).
Two kinds of long-term memory are broadly recognized:
1. Declarative memory. Sometimes called explicit memory. This is your memory
of events, facts, concepts.
2. Procedural memory. Sometimes referred to as implicit or non-declarative
memory. This is your memory of how to do things—your skills and habits.
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Starting with declarative memory ... there are two kinds: episodic and semantic.
Episodic Memory
Episodic memories are memories of one-shot events and experiences that your
brain encodes permanently. Thanks to episodic memory, you can recall the story of
your life, a series of experiences (“episodes”) stretching back to your early childhood
and involving many people and places. In large measure, who you are is what you
remember.
In your brain, your hippocampi pass on such memories to your cortex, where
they become encoded as long-term memories. (You have two hippocampi, one
camped in each hemisphere. If you look at images of them at just the right angle,
they look like two hippos sitting around a campfire, roasting squirrels and singing
“Kum Ba Yah.”)
If a surgeon were to remove your hippocampi, you would remain forever stuck
in the present, unable to remember new experiences, but with memories of your past
intact. This was the fate of a patient named H. M. After an operation that
successfully relieved his epileptic seizures but involved removal of his hippocampi,
H. M. was unable to form new episodic memories. He could only function within the
limits of short-term memory. H. M. remained stuck in the moment, in the year 1953,
for the rest of his life.
During an emotionally meaningful event, an emotion-processing part of your
brain called the amygdala comes into play and burns both the event and the
associated emotion vividly into your long-term memory. Events such as the wedding
or death of someone close to you; 9/11; a car crash in which you broke both your
arms but survived. When you recall such an event, you experience the associated
emotion as well.
It’s not hard to see why this capacity evolved in humans and other animals. You
have a better chance of surviving a future event that threatens your life (or, on the
other hand, a future event that improves your odds of passing on your genes) if you
recognize from memory a similar event taking shape, and that recollection triggers
an emotional reaction. Even in ordinary everyday life, when something in your
environment, such as a newspaper headline, reminds you of a traumatic situation
you once experienced, you will feel the associated emotion. If what you experienced
was extremely traumatic, such as war or violent crime, you may suffer emotionally
for many years, every time you recall the experience (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Semantic Memory
Semantic memory is your memory of facts, concepts, meaning. Different kinds
of information that relate to the same concept or fact are linked in your semantic
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memory. For example, your memories of the images of people you know are linked
with your memories of their voices and other information about them.
When you see a movie, the visual images become linked in your memory with
the musical soundtrack.
You can recall millions of things stored in semantic memory. For instance:
•
You know at least one language, which means you know tens of thousands
of words and hundreds of thousands of dictionary definitions (many words
have several different meanings).
•
You know a lot of stuff you’ve absorbed from reading. It’s the content that
exists as semantic memories, not the specific words and sentences.
•
You know a lot of songs and song fragments. You may not know all the
words and music to thousands of songs, but you could probably recall at least
bits and pieces of thousands of songs if prompted with their titles.
Semantic memory is the kind of memory that encodes in your brain facts such as
the names and birth dates of your band members and their horses. Unlike episodic
memory, it often takes effort and repetition to commit information to long-term
semantic memory. A good popular song has a lot of repetition to make it easier for
listeners to memorize it—whether they want to or not.
7.2.5
LONG-TERM PROCEDURAL (IMPLICIT) MEMORY
Most of the time, what you commit to procedural memory goes on without your
conscious awareness. For instance, you move into a new apartment and gradually
“get to know” the place. At first, the stove seems a bit awkward because the controls
on the stove at your old place were positioned somewhat differently. And the old
stove had smaller burners. Your new kitchen has more lights and you have to learn
where the switches are. The toilet runs, so you have to keep flicking the dang handle.
Gotta get it fixed.
But after a few weeks, you know where everything is and how every appliance
works. You move around your new place without the slightest hesitancy.
Unconsciously and automatically, your brain has stored all the information you
need about living comfortably in your new place as procedural memory.
You can also deliberately create procedural memories. This is the kind of memory
that enables you to play a musical instrument. Practice, practice, practice. If you
finger the same chords and play them rhythmically over and over, after a while it
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becomes second nature, like riding a horse or driving a car. Stored permanently in
procedural memory.
Table 53 below summarizes the various kinds of memory.
TABLE 53 An Oversimplified Sketch of Human Memory
Short-term/Working Memory
•
•
•
•
•
Limited to a minute or two in duration, and to about 7
items; constantly gets overwritten
Phonological loop—a few seconds
Chunking
Attention
Information “brought to mind” (recollected) from long-term
memory
Long-term Memory
Declarative
•
•
•
Events,
experiences
Hippocampus
Amygdala—
emotions linked
to memories of
experiences
•
•
Concepts
Facts such as
the songs you
know from
memory
Procedural
•
“How-to,” such
as your ability
to drive a car,
ride a horse, or
play a musical
instrument
7.2.6
REPETITION AND MEMORY IN MUSIC
Recall that the visual metaphor of rhythm is length. As you walk along a street, you
can see visual repetition all around you: the spacing between street lamps, the regular
dashed white lines in the middle of a paved road, the equally-spaced floors of an
apartment or office building. Humans divide space into regular lengths.
In music-making, your brain divides time into regular lengths. Since music takes
place in the dimension of time instead of space, memory limitations require that the
major musical elements be constantly renewed and reinforced at regular intervals. In
other words, repeated.
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•
Harmonically, you have to keep repeating the I chord and the V chord, or
your brain forgets where the tonal centre is.
•
Melodically, you have to return to scale degree 1 every so often.
•
Rhythmically, you have to keep repeating the underlying beat, or your brain
forgets there is an underlying beat.
HOW TO GET RID OF AN EARWORM
James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati,
is credited with popularizing the term “earworm” (from the
German ohrwurm) to describe a tune that gets stuck in your head.
An earworm is an irritating melodic pattern in your brain that
won’t go away. A mental itch. The only way you can scratch it is by
playing the earworm in your mind. If you’re lucky, you will
eventually find relief within a few hours.
Simple tunes are the best candidates for earworms, such as “The
Lion Sleeps Tonight” (aka “Wimoweh” or “Mbube”), “We Will Rock
You,” and “It’s A Small World After All.”
Here are several known ways to remove an earworm:
•
Distract yourself by doing something that requires the use
of speech and/or music modules, such as singing some other
song or reciting the Gettysburg Address.
•
Sing the earworm all the way through to the end, then say,
“Thang-ya. Thang-ya verra much.” Then say, in an
authoritative, yet avuncular voice, “Elvis has left the
building.”
•
Shoot yourself in the head. Note, however, that Doc YadaYadams, a fully qualified neurosurgeon, advises that this
method may not get rid of a particularly nasty, persistent
earworm, and could damage some of the delicate structures
that comprise other modules in your brain.
Marshal McDillon advises that this procedure is illegal. You
could get arrested. Ms Puma advises that the Marshal’s logic
is faulty. Deputy Fester advises he’ll carry out Marshal
McDillon’s orders. Ellie Sue advises she’ll marry Deputy Fester
if he writes her a nice song. Jack White of the White Stripes
advises he’s going to Wichita. Sadie, President of the Dodge
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City Chamber of Commerce, advises, “So what does that
make Doge City, Jack? Chopped liver?”
7.3
Beat vs Pulse
7.3.1
HOW UNMEASURED MUSIC DIFFERS FROM
MEASURED MUSIC
Not all music is rhythmic. You sometimes hear music that has no beat. For instance,
quite a bit of background television and movie music consists of nothing more than
irregular successions of chords or melodic flourishes. You hear similar sounds in subgenres of New Age and environmental music. And medieval plainchant. And some
Chinese and Japanese music.
Free-flowing unaccompanied music with no regular beat is called unmeasured
music or measureless music.
When other voices or instruments begin to accompany free-flowing chords or
melodies, the brain senses a desire to have the sounds synchronized. Otherwise,
chaos may reign.
Sometimes chaos does reign. For instance, when—deliberately or accidentally—
several instruments play simultaneously without any intention of synching up. Or
when the players of a symphony orchestra tune their instruments to the oboe player’s
A-440 just before a performance.
Music that has a steady beat throughout, even during brief silent passages
(fermatas or pauses), is called measured music. The uniquely human ability to entrain
to a steady beat gives rise to the organizing principle that makes possible everything
rhythmic in music, just as human attunement to simple ratios of frequencies makes
scales and chords possible.
Measured music is the default, the musical universal; unmeasured music is the
exception.
Interestingly, there seems to be no half-way point between measured and
unmeasured music. Music either has a steady beat you can entrain to, or it has no
discernable beat. Hardly any music is partly measured and partly unmeasured.
Hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years ago, hominids undoubtedly used
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rocks as the first musical instruments (other than singing, hand clapping, footstomping). Imagine: rocks as percussion instruments. Beat-keeping devices.
Today, practically all the music most people hear is measured music, music with
a steady underlying beat. That’s “home,” rhythmically speaking. It’s the ceaseless,
steady, unchanging beat that makes rhythmic adventure possible, just as tonality
makes melodic and harmonic adventure possible.
7.3.2
HOW YOUR BRAIN “PREDICTS” THE BEAT IN
MEASURED MUSIC
Brains are prediction machines.
—GEOFFREY MILLER
Rhythmic motion originates in the brain, not in dancing leg muscles. Just as singing
a song originates in the brain, not in the movement of vocal folds in the larynx. In
measured music, stimulus does not lead to response; stimulus coincides with response.
Perception and action couple together.
The human brain has evolved the capacity to predict when the next beat will
occur. If this were not the case, you would not have the ability to tap your foot in
time to, say, the steady click of a metronome. Your foot-tapping would fall behind
or speed ahead erratically. You have the capacity to synchronize your behaviour to a
steady beat, and so do your fellow humans—your audience.
Since stimulus and response coincide in a regular beat, the beat functions, in
effect, as the stimulus for synchronizing behaviour. Groups of humans have the
ability, then, to lock into an isometric train of beats, coordinating behaviour en
masse.
It has been hypothesized that hearing a steady beat induces neural “clocks” in
your brain that enable you to synchronize your physical movements to the sequence
of beats. So you can sing, dance, or play a musical instrument in sync with an
external regular beat. You have the natural ability to move in response to music (e.g.,
dance), and also to move whatever body parts you need to move to create music (sing
or play an instrument).
Because you have a sophisticated beat-prediction ability, a simple steady beat can
bore you pretty quickly. So great songwriters and performers tend to deliberately foil
your beat prediction mechanism, as you’ll see later in discussions of irregular meter,
syncopation, and improvisation.
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7.3.3
HOW BEAT DIFFERS FROM PULSE
This chapter focuses on measured music, music with a beat. If you want to
understand how to manipulate beat in your songwriting and performing to create
emotionally powerful music, you need a good grasp of the nature of these
fundamental elements and how they work:
•
•
•
•
•
Beat
Pulse
Meter
Tempo
Rhythm
They’re all different, but interrelated.
Beat
First: distinguishing beat from pulse.
For purposes of this discussion, beat refers to the basic, undifferentiated
metronomic temporal setting of a piece of music.
Here are some ways to conceptualize “beat”:
•
If you’ve done some recording, you’re probably familiar with click tracks.
Think of beat as the click track of a song, the simple, steady ticking of the
metronome. Suppose you play a recording of a song through a sound system.
As the recording plays, suppose you set a digital metronome so that it ticks in
sync with the recorded song. That metronome’s ticking is the beat.
•
Beat has no emphasis, no accent. It’s just tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick. It’s
not TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick.
•
Beat continues on in your brain even when the music temporarily ceases.
•
Beat is the rhythmic unit that gets you tapping your foot or clapping your
hands or nodding your head or pumping your fist.
•
As you’ll see later, beat is not necessarily the smallest unit of time in a piece
of music. But it’s the basic unit.
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Pulse
Some authorities make no distinction between beat and pulse. For purposes of
this discussion, think of pulse as different from beat, but related. Here’s how.
When you switch on an ordinary metronome, at first you hear this:
tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick ...
But within a moment or two, your brain perceives groups of two ticks, like this:
TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick ...
Or, depending on your mood, groups of three ticks, like this:
TICK tick tick TICK tick tick TICK tick tick ...
Or groups of four ticks, like this:
TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick TICK tick...
That’s your brain automatically chunking beats into pulses. Even though you know
that the ticks of the metronome do not vary in loudness, your brain will have none
of it. Instead, your brain assigns every second or third beat a seemingly louder “tick,”
a stress or accent, thus chunking (grouping) a sequence of undifferentiated ticks into
larger, more comprehensible units.
Pulse is the first of several levels of beat chunking.
The same thing happens in speech. Every time you open your mouth and utter
a phrase or sentence, you automatically stress some syllables more than others. You
emphasize every second or third syllable. When you say “metal,” you don’t say
“met-al” in a monotone. Instead, you say:
metal
“Met” is not louder than “al”; rather, “met” is higher in pitch. It doesn’t matter
whether you speak English or Hindi or Inuktitut. Your brain’s language modules
have evolved to distinguish words and phrases from each other in part through
differential pitch-accenting of syllables.
With words, it’s pitch that varies from syllable to syllable. With pulse, it’s
loudness (and, with one type of pulse, duration also) that varies from beat to beat.
Pulse always has at least one accented beat and one unaccented beat.
There are three (and only three) varieties of pulse:
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•
•
•
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Duple pulse: two beats of equal duration, the first of which is accented;
Triple pulse: three beats of equal duration, the first of which is accented;
Skipple pulse: two beats of unequal duration, the first of which is accented.
Musicians who play rhythm parts tend to play pulses, not beats. For instance, in
rock, when you hear the drummer’s familiar “kick-snare-kick-snare,” you attend
more to pairs of beats (pulses), not individual beats.
When you listen to music (especially live music), sometimes you tap or clap or
nod or pump on every unaccented beat of a pulse (the off beat or back beat).
Sometimes you tap on every accented beat of a pulse. But not often on both accented
and unaccented beats (a good workout!).
If you’re at a bluegrass festival and you tap your foot on the unaccented beat during
a fast rendition of “Fox On The Run,” unkind strangers might point at you and
laugh.
If you’re at a gospel revival and you clap on the accented beat during “Oh Happy
Day,” unkind strangers might point at you and laugh.
Before elaborating on each pulse type, a word on habituation.
7.3.4
HOW HABITUATION WORKS
Your brain attunes and responds to change. If a stimulus in the environment does not
change, your brain starts to ignore it. This phenomenon is called habituation. It
applies to all sorts of stimuli. For example, you wake up and smell the coffee. But
within a little while, you don’t smell the coffee any more, even though the aroma is
still in the air, because you’ve become habituated. Nothing has changed, so your
brain ignores it.
If you hear a sound repeated over and over, habituation kicks in. Your neurons
get fatigued. Response diminishes. After a while, your brain ignores the repeated
sound unless something unexpected happens. This applies to every element of
songwriting, and to whole songs. A successful song introduces novelty at some level
at frequent intervals as it unfolds in time. But not too much novelty, or listeners get
confused and lose interest. Novelty (variety) is vital, but repetition (unity) is equally
vital.
To avoid rhythmic habituation, you use various rhythmic phrases that contrast
with the steady beat. That way, you get unity and variety happening simultaneously.
The first level of beat-contrast is pulse.
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7.4
Types of Pulse
7.4.1
DUPLE/QUADRUPLE PULSE
Of the three varieties of pulse, duple pulse is by far the most common—one accented
beat, followed by one unaccented beat: ONE two.
Accents
!
•
Counted Beats
1
2
Duple pulse almost invariably chunks (groups) into pairs of duples: four beats,
with the first and third having an accent: ONE two THREE four ONE two THREE
four. Beat one has a heavier accent than beat three. Like this:
Accents
!
•
!
•
!
•
!
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4
This is the default pulse—quadruple pulse—the pulse your brain finds easiest and
most natural, the pulse of the great majority of popular songs. Classical music, too.
7.4.2
TRIPLE PULSE
Triple pulse is not as common—one accented beat, followed by two unaccented
beats: ONE two three. Like this:
Accents
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
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While not found in many popular songs, triple pulse plays an important role in
several kinds of meter, the level of chunking immediately above pulse. You’ll see how
shortly.
7.4.3
SKIPPLE PULSE
The first two pulse types—duple and triple—you know well. But skipple?
Skipple is also known variously as “swing” or “shuffle” or “triplet groove.” But
such descriptors don’t cut it.
In North America and Europe, “swing” narrowly connotes swing music of the
1930s and 1940s—“Big Band” music. But the fact is, skipple pulse can be found in
every major genre of popular music, past and present: blues, jazz, hip-hop, rock, folk,
country, you name it. It’s also common in traditional native American music.
Skipple pulse is found in all sorts of non-Western music as well, such as:
•
•
•
Bhangra, a style of centuries-old Punjabi folk music that has lately become a
global phenomenon
Much indigenous African music (e. g. Burundi drumming)
Music of the Tuvan horse culture (see, for example, the documentary Genghis
Blues).
In short, skipple pulse is second only to duple/quadruple in pervasiveness
worldwide— ahead of triple pulse.
If you’ve had formal music theory, it’s unlikely your instructors gave skipple pulse
much of a mention, except perhaps in a discussion of swing or shuffle.
Skipple pulse plays a central role in popular music. A good grasp of skipple pulse
will help you a lot in your songwriting efforts. Skipple has a distinctive uneven gait.
Songs with skipple pulse tend to grab the ear.
In all three pulse types, the first beat gets the accent. What distinguishes the
accented beat in skipple pulse is that it persists for twice the duration of the unaccented
beat. Skipple has the effect of propelling you forward. It gets you moving and
dancing.
To get a sense of skipple, try this when no one’s around—you don’t want them
to think you’ve lost your mind:
•
Remember when you were five years old and you would skip along the
sidewalk? Step with left foot, hop with left foot, step with right foot, hop with
right foot. STEP-hop, STEP-hop, STEP-hop, STEP-hop ... Go ahead, try it.
Indoors with the curtains drawn. Skip around the room. Watch out for the
cat.
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•
As you skip around like a fool (but who cares, nobody’s watching), you’ll
notice that the “STEP” takes twice as long as the “hop.”
•
While you’re at it, you can sing some songs in skipple pulse, songs that you
learned way before you started school. Songs such as “Ring Around The
Rosy” and “Pop Goes The Weasel” and “The Farmer In The Dell.” In all of
these songs, you can easily feel the skipple pulse.
Of the three pulses, skipple most closely resembles your heartbeat:
thuummp-a thuummp-a thuummp-a thuummp-a
Mashing Duple and Triple Yields Skipple
Skipple embodies both duple and triple pulse, without being either. When you
mash duple and triple, you get skipple.
•
•
•
Here’s a duple pulse, which has two beats of equal duration, the first of which
is accented:
Accents
!
•
Counted Beats
1
2
Here’s a triple pulse, which has three beats of equal duration, the first of
which is accented:
Accents
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
When you mash duple and triple together, you get skipple pulse, which
technically has three beats, the first of which is accented and the second silent.
The effect is that the first beat is doubly accented. It’s both louder and longer in
duration than the third beat:
Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
Step
•
2
3
hop
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Embedded Skipple Pulses
Skipple pulses usually chunk into groups of four. Each skipple pulse is embedded
in a single “big” beat, like this:
!
• !
Counted Beats 1
2
Accents
•
!
• !
3
4
•
Skipple pulses also chunk into groups of three, each embedded in a single beat,
like this (“jazz waltz”):
Accents
!
• !
• !
Counted Beats
1
2
3
•
When skipple pulses are present in a song, they are almost always embedded in duple
or triple pulses, as indicated in the above diagrams (there are some unusual
exceptions). So whenever you hear the characteristic thuuummmp-a thuuummmp-a of
skipple pulse in a song, you’re actually hearing two types of pulses simultaneously:
•
•
On the “micro” level—the level of the individual beat—the pulse is skipple.
On the “macro” level—the level of grouped beats—the pulse is duple,
quadruple, or triple.
With embedded skipple pulses, the effect sounds far different from ordinary duple
or triple pulse.
BEETHOVEN: BARRELHOUSE/BOOGIE COMPOSER
Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Opus 111 (1821-22), has a fantastic
barrelhouse/boogie-woogie section, probably the first ever
committed to paper. It’s an example of skipple-pulse piano style
at its finest. To hear it, go to this link:
www.LVBeethoven.com/Oeuvres/Music_MidiSonatasPiano.html
Scroll to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find two midi files
of the entire 21- to 24-minute sonata (depending on how fast it’s
played), each sequenced by a different musician. Click on either
one to hear the sonata. When it starts playing, grab the slider
and whip it over to about 60% of the way through the piece. The
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493
boogie-woogie section is really obvious and lasts about two
minutes. It’s pretty funny.
7.4.4
ARE THERE ANY OTHER PULSES?
No. Other pulse-wannabes have these problems:
•
Accent on the wrong beat. For instance, suppose you turn skipple around,
like this:
Accents
•
!
Counted Beats
1
2
3
If you clap your hands to this pulse, you soon notice that the second, longer
beat, sounds like a powerful echo of the first, short beat. After a short while,
this pulse becomes indistinguishable from skipple.
What’s goin’ on? The double-length duration of the second beat carries a
heavier accent by virtue of its duration than the first beat carries by virtue of
its position. So your brain tends to “flip it over” into standard skipple. The
first note then acquires a double accent (loudness and duration). So skipple’s
the natural pulse; its inverse is not.
•
More than three beats. Suppose you try a pulse like this:
Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
•
2
3
4
Here, the first beat is triple the duration of the second beat, not double. This
pattern is sometimes called shuffle, although there’s no general agreement.
Some folks refer to skipple as shuffle.
The number of beats inherent in the above pulse-wannabe is four, which is
divisible by two. Your brain senses it’s binary nature and promptly breaks it
down into two duple pulses. (More on the importance of binary structure in
songwriting in Chapter 8.)
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The thing to remember about pulses is that they are the smallest beat chunks that
your brain recognizes in any sequence of beats. By definition, a pulse is a group of
beats in which one beat is accented. So, clearly, a pulse must be comprised of at least
two beats. But a pulse cannot have more than three beats because your brain chunks
four or more beats into pulses of two or three. So there can only be three pulse types:
duple, triple, and skipple.
7.5
Meter and Time Signature
7.5.1
WHAT METER IS AND HOW IT WORKS
As discussed above, when your brain hears a train of beats, it automatically groups
the beats into pulses. Beats have no accents and are not inherently “musical.” (In a
sense, “beat” in rhythm is analogous to the chromatic scale in melody and harmony.)
Your brain automatically groups beats into pulses. Pulses have accents. Performers
play music in pulses, not beats.
Pulse Chunking
Your brain groups pulses into larger chunks called bars or measures. A bar (or, in
America, a measure) may be comprised of one, two, or three pulses. Most
commonly, it’s two pulses.
For example, instead of hearing a sequence of duple pulses (ONE-two ONE-two,
etc.), you perceive pairs of duple pulses as larger chunks (ONE-two-THREE-four).
European classical composers came up with a method of notating chunks of
pulses, which became known as “meter.” But European composers did not invent
meter. Darwinian natural selection invented meter. The human brain spontaneously
chunks beats into pulses and pulses into bars (measures). A musician playing by ear
and improvising a piece of music often has no idea that a formally-trained composer
or songwriter would code the pulse groupings he or she is playing into measures of,
say, four beats (two duple pulses). North American aboriginal people, for example,
were drumming and dancing and singing in measures of two duple pulses (and other
pulse types) for thousands of years before the European invasion.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
495
7.5.2
HOW BEAT, PULSE, AND METER RELATE TO EACH
OTHER
Some musicians equate pulse with meter, just as some equate beat with pulse. Not
a good idea in either case. Occasionally, pulse and meter do coincide, in which case
you can say that the pulse is the meter. But most of the time, meter consists of a group
of pulses.
To summarize so far (Figure 129):
FIGURE 129 How Beat, Pulse, and Meter Relate to Each Other
2 or 3
>
>
chunk into
which chunk into
In speech, something similar occurs. Two words, such as “metal” and “worker,”
group like two duple pulses. Individually, each word has the same accent pattern:
METal
WORKer
...
But when you combine these two words into a single word, “metalworker,” the
syllable “met” gets the primary accent, and “work” gets the secondary accent (the
stronger accents take the form of slightly higher pitch):
Accents
!
•
!
•
Syllables
met-
al-
work-
er
In music, a grouping of pulses like this is called a bar or measure:
Accents
!
•
!
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
Pulse and meter coincide when three beats chunk, as in “Blue Danube”-type
waltz meter. This is both a single pulse and a single bar or measure:
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Accents
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
Triple pulses can chunk into larger metrical units, such as this one, commonly
called 6/8 time (more on time signatures momentarily), which consists of two triple
pulses:
Accents
!
•
•
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
5
6
and this one, commonly called 9/8 time, which consists of three triple pulses:
Accents
!
•
•
!
•
•
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Unlike triple pulse, skipple pulse almost always embeds within single beats of duple
pulses ...
Accents
!
• !
Counted Beats
1
!
• !
2
3
4
Accents
!
• !
• !
Counted Beats
1
2
3
•
•
... or triple pulses:
•
7.5.3
HOW TIME SIGNATURE WORKS: MERELY A
SILENT NOTATIONAL CONVENIENCE
At the beginning of a piece of notated music, you see what looks like a fraction, such
as:
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
497
3
4
It’s not a fraction. It’s the time signature of the piece, and it gives you a clue about
the beat, pulse, and meter. Only a clue, though. It does not tell you everything you
need to know.
Sometimes the time signature is erroneously called the “meter signature.” That
leads to confusion about the difference between meter and time signature.
So, what is the difference between meter and time signature?
•
You can hear meter because it consists of pulses. Musicians play pulses.
•
You cannot hear time signature. Time signature exists only on paper (or
computer screen) as a convenient way of notating information about beat,
pulse, and meter.
Suppose, for example, you see the following time signature at the beginning of
a lead sheet:
4
4
What does it mean?
First, as mentioned, it’s not a fraction: it does not mean “four divided by four.”
•
In 4/4 meter (also called “4/4 time”), the time signature tells you that the
notated music divides time into bars (or measures) of four beats (the top
number), and that a certain type of note, called a quarter-note (bottom
number) is the time-value of one beat. The bottom number gives you a clue
about how fast to play the music. Generally, the larger the bottom number,
the shorter the time value of each note; hence, the faster the composer wants
you to play the music.
•
In 3/4 time, the top number tells you that each bar has three beats. The
bottom number provides the same information as in 4/4 meter—it indicates
the time-value of each beat.
The thing to keep in mind about time signatures is that, because a time signature
only exists on paper, you can notate a piece of music on paper in any time signature
that suits your fancy (if you happen to know how to notate music). If you do it
correctly, and if the musicians play it correctly, it will sound “correct” to the listener,
regardless of which the time signature you use.
For instance, “The Star Spangled Banner” is usually notated in 3/4 time.
However, you could notate it in 3/2 time or 3/8 time. If you correctly follow the
498
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
rules of notation, and if the players interpret it correctly (including the notation of tempo,
which would vary with each time signature in order to ensure the music would be
played at the same tempo, regardless of time signature), the song will sound exactly
the same to listeners, whether the music is notated in 3/4, 3/2, or 3/8 time.
If you really knew what you were doing, you could even notate “The Star
Spangled Banner” in 5/4 time and make it sound to listeners as though it were in 3/4
time—provided the musicians playing the piece knew what they were doing (all the
while cursing you for your notational eccentricity).
As you’ll see shortly, if you want to, you can divide a metronome’s ticks into bars
of, say, five or seven beats. But you have to make a conscious effort to make such
groupings sound coherent. And even when you do, your brain still breaks these large
groupings into pulses of two or three beats.
7.6
Varieties of Meter
There are four varieties of meter, each representing different combinations of pulse
type and number of pulses to the bar:
•
•
•
•
Simple meter
Compound meter
Combined meter
Irregular meter
7.6.1
TYPES OF SIMPLE METER
A single duple pulse is called simple duple meter:
Accents
!
•
Counted Beats
1
2
A pair of duple pulses is called simple quadruple meter, the most common meter in
music:
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
Accents
!
•
!
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
499
A single triple pulse is simple triple meter:
Accents
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
Table 54 below lists the characteristics of simple meter, and examples of classic
songs.
TABLE 54 Simple Meter: How Beat, Pulse, and Time Signature
Relate to Each Other
Simple Duple/Quadruple
Duple/Quadruple Meter
Overview
•
•
•
Time
Signature
•
•
A measure consists of one duple
pulse (=simple duple meter) or
two duple pulses (=simple
quadruple meter)
In simple duple meter (1 pulse, 2
beats), the 1st beat gets a stronger
accent than the 2nd beat: - 2
In simple quadruple meter (2 duple
pulses, 4 beats), the 1st beat gets a
strong accent and the 3rd beat a
weaker accent: - 2 - 3 - 4
•
The top number in the time
signature is
2 or 4
Popular time signatures:
•
2
4
•
Simple Triple Meter
•
•
4
4
Other time signatures:
2 2 4 4
2 8 2 8
A measure of simple triple
meter consists of one triple
pulse
The 1st beat gets an accent:
-2-3
The top number in the time
signature is
3
Popular time signatures:
3
4
•
3
8
Other time signature:
3
2
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Examples
•
Most songs in popular music are in
simple quadruple meter (4/4),
known popularly as “4/4 time” or
“common time.”
Fast polkas are normally in duple
meter (2/4), known popularly as “2/4
time.”
•
Simple triple meter is basic
waltz meter (“3/4 time”).
Classic songs:
“She’s Leaving Home”
“El Paso”
“Tennessee Waltz”
“Dark As A Dungeon”
“Moon River”
“Blue Danube”
“God Save The Queen”/”My
Country ‘Tis Of Thee”
•
Simple 4/4 is humankind’s default meter. Most popular songs are in 4/4.
7.6.2
TYPES OF COMPOUND METER
Compound meter refers to a group of two or more triple pulses. You can chunk triple
pulses into groups of two, like this (compound duple meter):
Accents
!
•
•
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
5
6
Or groups of three, like this (compound triple meter):
Accents
!
•
•
!
•
•
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Or groups of four, like this (compound quadruple meter):
Accents
!
•
•
!
•
•
!
•
•
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Table 55 below summarizes compound meter and lists some examples of classic
songs.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
501
TABLE 55 Compound Meter: How Beat, Pulse, and Time
Signature Relate to Each Other
Compound Duple/
Duple/
Quadruple Meter
Overview
•
•
•
Time
Signature
•
•
A measure consists of two triple
pulses (=compound duple meter) or
four triple pulses (=compound
quadruple meter)
In compound duple meter (2 triple
pulses), the 1st beat gets a strong
accent and the 4th beat a weaker
accent: -2-3 - 4-5-6
In compound quadruple meter (4 triple
pulses), the 1st beat gets a strong
accent and the 4th, 7th, and 10th beats
get weaker accents:
-2-3 - 4-5-6 - 7-8-9 - 10-11-12
•
The top number in the time signature
is
6 or 12
Popular time signatures:
•
6
4
•
6 12
8 8
Other time signatures:
6 12 12
16 4 16
Examples
•
•
Compound
Triple Meter
Classic songs:
“Norwegian Wood”
“When A Man Loves A Woman”
“Can’t Help Falling In Love”
(especially Elvis Presley’s
version)
“House Of The Rising Sun” (the
rendition by The Animals is a
good one)
“Memory” (from the musical, Cats)
Slow jigs
•
•
A measure of compound
triple meter consists of
three triple pulses
The 1st beat gets a
strong accent and the
4th and 7th beats get
weaker accents:
-2-3 - 4-5-6 -7-8-9
The top number in the
time signature is
9
Popular time signature:
9
8
•
Other time signatures:
9 9
4 16
•
Classic songs:
“The Impossible Dream”
“Send In The Clowns”
“Beautiful Dreamer”
“Jesu, Joy Of Man’s
Desiring”
Slow slip jigs
•
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.6.3
COMBINED METER
Combined meter, as the name suggests, combines two different pulse types, namely,
skipple pulses and either duple or triple pulses.
Combined duple meter consists of two “macro” beats, which chunk into one duple
pulse. Each macro beat is itself comprised of one skipple pulse. So you have two
skipple pulses embedded within a single duple pulse. Like this:
Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
•
•
!
2
Combined triple meter consists of three macro beats, which chunk into one triple
pulse. Each macro beat is comprised of one skipple pulse. So you have three skipple
pulses embedded within a single triple pulse:
Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
•
•
!
2
•
!
3
Combined quadruple meter consists of four macro beats, which chunk into two
duple pulses. Each macro beat is comprised of one skipple pulse. So you have four
skipple pulses embedded within two duple pulses.
This is the most common meter in blues, jazz, R & B, soul,
gospel, and hip-hop.
Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
•
!
2
•
!
•
3
!
•
4
Important Note on Time Signature and Combined Meter
With simple and compound meter, the time signature tells you something about
the beat, pulse, and meter. Not so with combined meter.
Time signatures only provide information about simple meter and compound
meter. They do not tell you anything about combined meter, which contains embedded
skipple pulses.
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503
A song in combined meter may be notated in any simple or compound time signature:
3/4, 4/4, 6/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, you name it.
Immediately, then, you wonder:
•
When you see a lead sheet in, say, 4/4 time (according to the time signature),
how do you know whether it’s simple meter (two duple pulses) or combined
meter (two duple pulses comprised of four embedded skipple pulses)? It could
be either.
•
If it’s in 6/8 time, how do you know if it’s compound meter (two triple pulses)
or combined meter (two skipple pulses)? It could be either.
•
If it’s in 3/4 time, how do you know if it’s simple meter (one triple pulse) or
combined meter (three skipple pulses)? It could be either.
The short answer is, you can’t tell just by looking at the time signature.
Occasionally, the songwriter lets you know at the top of a lead sheet with this
notation:
When you see this, the songwriter or arranger clearly wants you to play skipple
pulses. So if the time signature is 4/4, you would play four skipple pulses to the bar
instead of two duple pulses (four beats) to the bar.
Table 56 summarizes how combined meter differs from both simple meter and
compound meter. Find (or download) and listen to some of the examples listed in the
table (nearly all are on the Gold Standard Song List). The examples will provide you
with a good feel for combined meter and how it differs from simple meter and
compound meter.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
TABLE 56 Combined Meter: How Beat, Pulse, and Time
Signature Relate to Each Other
Combined Duple/
Duple/
Quadruple Meter
Overview
•
•
•
Time
Signature
•
•
A measure consists of two skipple
pulses (combined duple meter) or,
much more commonly, four skipple
pulses (combined quadruple meter).
In combined duple meter, there are 2
“macro” beats to the bar. Each macro
beat is comprised of one skipple pulse.
So the 2 skipple pulses are “embedded”
within the macro duple pulse.
In combined quadruple meter, there
are four macro beats to the bar. Each
macro beat is comprised of one
skipple pulse. So the 4 skipple pulses
are embedded within the 2 macro
duple pulses.
•
The top number in the time signature
is
2, 4, 6 or 12
Popular time signatures:
•
2 4 6 6 12
4 4 4 8 8
•
Combined
Triple Meter
2 4 4 6 2
8 2 8 16 4
•
The top number in the
time signature is
3 or 9
Popular time signatures:
3 3 9
4 8 8
Other time signatures:
2
2
•
A measure of combined
triple meter consists of
three skipple pulses.
There are 3 “macro”
beats to the bar. Each
macro beat is
comprised of one
skipple pulse. So the 3
skipple pulses are
“embedded” within the
macro triple pulse.
12
16
•
Other time signatures:
3 9 9
2 4 16
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
Examples
Classic songs:
“London Calling”
“Albert Flasher”
“The Needle And The Damage Done”
“Waterloo” (ABBA)
“Crazy” (Patsy Cline’s recording)
“Help Me, Rhonda”
“Lilli Marlene”
“King Of The Road”
“Liberty Bell March” (Monty
Python theme)
“Return To Sender”
“God Bless America”
“Christopher Robin At Buckingham
Palace”
“Waltzing Matilda”
“Pink Panther Theme”
“Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”
Countless jazz, blues, R & B, soul,
gospel, and hip-hop classics
Many early rock and rockabilly classics
(“All Shook Up,” “Reelin’ And Rockin’,”
“That’ll Be The Day,” etc.)
Fast jigs
Much bhangra dance music
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
505
Classic songs:
“Still Crazy After All
These Years”
“I’m So Lonesome I
Could Cry” (Hank
Williams, Sr. version)
“You Make Me Feel Like A
Natural Woman”
“If You Don’t Know Me
By Now”
“Rocky Road To Dublin”
“Amazing Grace”
“Only Love Can Break
Your Heart” (Neil
Young)
Fast slip jigs
You can change the arrangement of most songs from simple or compound meter
to combined meter. Or vice-versa.
How Double Skipple Pulse Works in Hip-hop
Much hip-hop music seems to be in simple duple/quadruple meter. Yet it’s
actually combined meter, with fast double skipple pulses embedded in slower
“macro” beats (e.g., “California Love” by 2Pac & Dr. Dre; “Hey Lover” by LL Cool
J & Boyz II Men).
Accents
!
Counted Beats 1
• !
•
!
2
• !
•
!
3
• !
•
!
• !
•
4
Lyrically, you can cram as many as 24 syllables into a single bar. Some hip-hop
lyricists do exactly that (see Chapter 10).
You will find this type of combined meter, played at a fast clip, everywhere in
bhangra.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.6.4
IRREGULAR METER
Your brain recognizes only three types of pulse: duple, triple, and skipple. Grouping
“like” pulses together—duple with duple, triple with triple, skipple with skipple—
results in various types of simple, compound, and combined meter, as discussed
above.
But if you combine a mixture of pulses to create measures of five, seven, ten,
eleven, or thirteen beats, your brain has to work pretty hard at tracking the oddly
grouped beat sequences, called irregular meter.
To simplify the task, your brain chunks the beats into mixed patterns of two-beat
or three-beat pulses. For example:
•
Measure of 5 beats = 2+3 or 3+2
•
Measure of 7 beats = 4+3 or 2+2+3 or 3+4 or 3+2+2, etc.
With the exception of jazz, not much Western popular and classical music is
written in irregular meter. In the musical traditions of some countries, such as
Turkey, India, and Greece, irregular meter is more common, although the measures
then tend to group into twos, fours, and multiples of four.
Table 57 summarizes the main characteristics of irregular meter.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
507
TABLE 57 Irregular Meter: How Beat, Pulse, and Time
Signature Relate to Each Other
Irregular Meter
Overview
•
A measure consists of a mixture of duple and triple pulses.
Time
Signature
•
Typically, the top number—the number of beats per bar—is not
divisible by 3 or 4.
•
Some time signatures include:
5 7 7 10 11
4 4 8 8 8
Examples
•
Classic songs:
“Take Five” (Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck Quartet)
“Money” (Pink Floyd)
“Mission Impossible Theme” (Lalo Schifrin; the original version)
“Have A Good Time” (Paul Simon)
As with simple or compound meter, you can also turn each beat into a skipple
pulse, creating combined irregular meter. “Take Five” and “Money” are well-known
examples.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
THE „BREWSKI‰ METHOD OF COPING WITH
UNUSUAL METER
If you have trouble counting in an uncommon meter such as 7/8,
9/8, or 5/4 meter, try the “brewski” method. Use a phrase with
strong accents that match the chunked metrical divisions. For
instance:
•
To count in 7/8 time, say, “NOW-I-can-HAVE-a-BREW-ski,”
which chunks 7/8 meter into 3-2-2. If the chunking is 2-2-3,
you have to start the phrase at a different place. For
example, Pink Floyd’s “Money” is chunked 2-2-3, so you
have to say, “HAVE-a-BREW-ski-NOW-I-can.”
•
In 9/8 time, say, “NOW-I-can-HAVE-me-a-NOTH-er-one.”
•
In 5/4 time, it’s just “NOW-I-can-HAVE-a.” Try this one with
“Take Five.”
In 1959, jazz alto sax genius Paul Desmond demonstrated how to swing in
irregular meter. As a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Desmond wrote and
recorded “Take Five,” one of the great classics of jazz. “Take Five” combines skipple
pulse on every beat with irregular measures of five beats, chunked into one triple and
one duple pulse. The skipple pulses are embedded like this (one measure):
!
• !
• !
Counted Beats 1
2
3
Accents
•
!
• !
4
5
•
Pink Floyd’s “Money”: How and Why It Works Brilliantly
Pink Floyd’s “Money” also combines skipple pulse with irregular meter, but
“Money” has seven-beat measures instead of five-beat measures. Written by Roger
Waters for the group’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon, “Money” stands as one of
the greatest, most original classics in rock history.
If you’ve never studied how this masterpiece works, now’s the time. Saddle up.
You will learn a lot about what goes into the creation of an immortal song, a song
that soars miles above the vast ocean of pop mediocrity.
If you don’t have the words and lyrics for “Money,” go fetch ’em so that you can
follow the discussion below. You’ll need the original recording from Dark Side of the
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
509
Moon. If you don’t already have it, you can download it for a buck at iTunes or
PureTracks or Yahoo! or any other legal vendor.
Also, get the lyrics: go to www.GoldStandardSongList.com and click on “How
to Get Lyrics” (under “Basics”).
Listen to the song once or twice, and follow the lyrics to refresh your memory.
Now you’re ready.
Here are some of the reasons “Money” has been wildly successful for decades,
both commercially and artistically.
1. Seven-beat meter that works. Practically unheard-of in successful rock
music. The irregular meter is the first thing that catches your brain’s attention,
the first thing that makes “Money” stand out against the overwhelming
majority of popular songs, which are in regular meter. Some songwriters take
a stab at irregular meter, but hardly any succeed in making it work. Here’s
why seven-beat meter succeeds in “Money”:
•
Clear chunking. The seven-beat measures are clearly chunked into two
duple pulses followed by one triple pulse. No ambiguity. If you want
to make irregular meter work (five- or seven-beat), you have to be
absolutely clear about the chunking right from the beginning.
•
Embedded skipple pulses on every beat. From the beginning of “Money”
(after the opening cash register bit) the bass repeats a sequence of eight
notes to the bar, one on each beat except for the third beat, which gets
two notes, played as a skipple pulse. NOTE:
1. The bass is the first instrument you hear. It begins on the second
note of the measure, not the first.
2. The black dots in the diagrams below represent pulses and
accents only, not pitch:
!
!
!
• !
!
!
!
Counted Beats 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Bass accents
That skipple pulse on the third beat, repeated in every bar, is crucial,
because it signals that this song is in combined irregular meter, not just
ordinary irregular meter. This metrical characteristic—combined
meter, with skipple pulses on every beat—is another element that sets
“Money” apart from the great majority of popular songs, which are in
simple meter (no skipple pulses).
510 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
As the other instruments join the bass, they reinforce the fact that each
beat is actually a skipple pulse. None of the instruments plays skipple
pulses on every beat—only on one or two beats per seven-beat
measure. That’s all it takes. As well, the vocal, when it comes in,
contributes skipple pulses once or twice per measure.
This is one of the most important characteristics of skipple pulses: they
are so distinctive and powerful that it’s not necessary (and often not
desirable) to play skipple pulses on every beat to establish the
propulsive skipple feel. “Money”commendably walks the line. The
voice, bass, guitar, keyboards, sax, drums—each contributes skipple
pulses once or twice per measure. That’s enough to keep the skipple
feel of the meter alive throughout the song. If one or two (or more) of
the players had played skipple pulses on every beat throughout the
song, it would have overwhelmed the rhythm and ruined the
arrangement.
Here’s a metrical picture of one of the verses. Note that the first word,
“Money,” begins on the second beat of the measure, not the first beat.
This is one way of thwarting rhythmic prediction, making the word
“money” stand out:
!
• !
Counted Beats 1
Lyrics
Accents
Get
I’m
my
!
• !
2
3
Monback
al-
ey
•
right,
stack
!
• !
• !
4
5
6
7
Jack,
Keep your hands
•
off
•
of
Whenever two syllables appear on one beat, they’re sung as a skipple
pulse: in the above example, keep your and off of. This happens in all of
the verses, reinforcing the skipple feel.
2. Successful changes of meter. Few popular songs change meter abruptly midsong. This one does it with ease. It’s another characteristic of “Money” that
sets this song apart from the mass of songs. At about the three-minute mark,
partway through the instrumental bridge, the song smoothly transitions from
seven beats to four beats per bar: combined quadruple meter. The skipple
pulses remain on every macro beat. The meter switches back to seven beats
at the end of the instrumental section, then switches again to four beats at the
end of the last verse.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
511
3. Successful changes of tempo. Few popular songs change tempo abruptly
mid-song. “Money” does. The song begins at about 118 beats per minute
(BPM) and gradually drifts up to about 126 BPM by the two minute mark,
where it remains for the next 60 seconds or so. Then, at the same time as the
song changes meter from seven to four beats per bar, the tempo also suddenly
speeds up to about 136 to 138 BPM. The combination of change of meter and
simultaneous abrupt increase in tempo is startling, to say the least. At the end
of the long instrumental bridge, the meter returns to seven beats and the
tempo slows down somewhat to about 126.
4. Minor mode. Few songwriters have the nerve to write in the minor mode.
Too bad. As noted in Chapter 5, the minor mode is emotionally powerful.
Songs in minor keys such as “Money” (the recording is in the key of B minor),
grab the ear because they stand out against the great majority of popular
songs, which are in the major mode.
5. Appropriately simple chord progression. With so much unusual stuff going
on with the meter and tempo, the songwriter wisely decided to keep the
harmony simple and straightforward. The song has only three simple
chords—the three principal chords of the minor key.
6. Superior melody. See Chapter 9.
7. Sharp, focussed, satirical lyrics. See Chapter 10.
In short, Roger Waters got practically everything right with “Money,” everything
needed to set this song apart from what you usually hear on rock radio. No wonder
Dark Side of the Moon has sold tens of millions of copies since 1973, and continues to
sell in the hundreds of thousands every year.
7.6.5
RELATIVE POPULARITY OF THE FOUR TYPES OF
METER
Songs in simple quadruple meter (“4/4 time”) are far and away more numerous than
songs in all other varieties of meter put together. That doesn’t mean simple
quadruple is better than the others. It’s simply the easiest to play and most accessible
for listeners. It’s the default meter.
Songs in combined meter are more prevalent in popular music than songs in
compound meter. Despite this, music schools and instructors teach students about
512 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
simple meter and compound meter, but rarely recognize combined meter in its own
right.
If you were to randomly sample a large number of recordings of great songs in a
variety of genres—hip-hop, pop, rock, folk, jazz, blues, country—from, say, 1900 to
1999, you would probably get a relative distribution of the popularity of meter types
that would look something like Figure 130.
FIGURE 130 Relative Popularity of Meter Types (An
Approximation)
SIMPLE
DUPLE/
QUADRUPLE
TRIPLE
COMPOUND
DUPLE/
QUADRUPLE
TRIPLE
(Multiple Triple Pulses)
COMBINED
DUPLE/
QUADRUPLE
TRIPLE
IRREGULAR
(Multiple Skipple Pulses)
A lot of songwriters gravitate to simple quadruple out of ignorance about the other
metrical possibilities—especially combined meter.
So, if you want your songs to stand out ... make a deliberate effort to write more
songs in meters other than simple quadruple.
The most naturally driving, forceful meter is not simple quadruple. It’s combined
quadruple.
Combined Quadruple: Not the Most Common, but the Coolest Meter
As previously mentioned, combined quadruple is the signature meter of African
American genres: jazz, blues, R & B, soul, hip-hop. It’s not nearly as pervasive in
rock, country, and folk. It’s rare in dance/electronica.
The defining characteristic of combined meter is the embedded skipple pulse on
every macro beat, skipple being the only pulse-type with a double accent:
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
513
1. Metrical position accent. The first beat of any pulse type, including skipple, is
the accented beat.
2. Duration accent. Sounds of long duration are more emphatic than sounds of
short duration. In skipple pulse, the first beat is twice the duration of the
second. Technically, this is called agogic accent.
Powerfully-accented skipple pulses have a lot of inherent drive or propulsion,
even at slow tempos.
In the 1960s and 70s, many a rock songwriter with a strong affinity for the blues
wrote great songs in combined quadruple. Brian Wilson, for instance: “California
Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Good Vibrations,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and others.
Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” is in combined quadruple meter, unlike
his original electric version (simple quadruple).
Here are some Lennon-McCartney songs in combined quadruple. The variety is
breathtaking.
“All You Need Is Love”
“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”
“Can’t Buy Me Love”
“Fixing A Hole”
“Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
“I Am The Walrus”
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
“Oh! Darling”
“Penny Lane”
“Revolution”
“This Boy”
“When I’m Sixty-four”
“With A Little Help From My Friends”
“Yellow Submarine”
“Your Mother Should Know”
Lennon and McCartney used combined quadruple meter much more often in the
last four years of their songwriting partnership than in the first four years.
Bob Dylan also wrote many classics in combined quadruple. Granted, it’s his
lyrics that have defined him as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. But it
didn’t hurt that he also chose the coolest meter—combined quadruple—as the
metrical setting for some of those lyrics.
Here are a few of Dylan’s combined quadruple meter songs (all written in the
1960s, when the songwriter was in his early and mid twenties):
“It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”
“Ballad Of A Thin Man”
“Highway 61 Revisited”
“Rainy Day Women #12 & #35 (Everybody Must Get Stoned)”
“Leopardskin Pillbox Hat”
“Just Like A Woman”
“Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”
“This Wheel’s On Fire”
“Dear Landlord”
514 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
To get a feel for how Dylan uses combined quadruple meter, skipple on over to
www.BobDylan.com. There you can listen to audio samples of hundreds of his
recordings.
The original, first recordings of the songs listed above are in combined quadruple
meter, so listen to them first. Then listen to later recordings of the same tunes, usually
linked just below the originals. Many are not in combined quadruple.
For instance, the original recording of “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A
Train To Cry,” from the album Highway 61 Revisited, is in combined quadruple. This
is the soulful, blues-infused rendition. Compare it with Dylan’s version of the same
song from The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, recorded 26 years later. It’s much faster, and
Dylan has changed the meter to simple quadruple, a straight-ahead rock interpretation.
7.7
Tempo
7.7.1
WHAT TEMPO IS AND HOW IT WORKS
Tempo refers to the speed at which you play a piece of music. A notation of tempo
can refer to the speed in beats per minute (simple or compound meter) or the speed
in pulses per minute (embedded skipple pulses in combined meter).
At the beginning of a notated song in 4/4 time, you might see this:
= 120
which simply means, “Play this song at 120 BPM.” Which could mean either 120
beats per minute or 120 skipple pulses per minute.
If the same piece of music were notated in 6/8 time, you might see this:
= 120
which means, “Play this song at 120 BPM.” Exactly the same. But the feel of the
meter would be different from simple quadruple, because 6/8 means triple pulses
instead of duple pulses.
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515
7.7.2
HOW TEMPO AFFECTS METER
Recordings of popular songs tend to have a pretty narrow tempo range, usually about
110 to 140 BPM. This range amounts to the “default tempo” of popular music.
In the recording process, producers sometimes obsess about maintaining a rocksteady tempo throughout the recording of a song. More for technical than artistic
reasons. That is, if the tempo varies on the bed tracks, then players and singers doing
overdubs could have problems playing or singing in sync. The decades-old studio
method of maintaining an unchanging tempo is to first record a click track, a digitalmetronome track.
Usually, it’s not necessary. Consider “Money,” for instance. In the first two
minutes, it speeds up by roughly 8 BPM, then leaps another 12 BPM. Then it slows
down noticeably again during the last couple of minutes. All those tempo changes
didn’t affect the song’s success. The leap of 12 BPM in the middle clearly made the
song more appealing.
Tempo changes within a piece of music are usually slow—a gradual increase in
tempo (accelerando), or a gradual decrease (ritardando). However, if there’s a large
tempo change, it almost invariably occurs in a simple ratio: the beat doubles or it
halves. Or a halved tempo triples.
If the music does not expressly call for accelerando, as in Joe Cocker’s
interpretation of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” or ritardando, as in
Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” (which also has accelerando), then
playing at a steady tempo is, supposedly, a mark of skilled musicianship.
Unintentionally speeding up is called rushing. Unintentionally slowing down is
dragging.
What happens to the meter when you decide to perform a song from beginning
to end at a completely different tempo than, say, the original recording?
Significantly changing the tempo can actually change the meter.
Changing the meter greatly affects how the whole song sounds, even when it’s the
same vocalist, same players, same instruments, same lyrics.
If you do this intentionally, fine. But if you don’t want to change the overall feel
of a song, you have to be careful about making radical changes to the tempo, changes
that go beyond minor rushing and dragging. You might inadvertently change the
meter.
On the other hand, maybe you do want to change the feel of a tune.
Maybe it sounds too mechanical or march-like. Reducing the BPM could help
you achieve a more soulful sound by enabling you to switch from, say, simple
quadruple meter to combined quadruple meter, embedding a skipple pulse on every
beat.
Radical tempo changes have noticeable effects because they reflect changes in the
number of beats your brain can process per unit of time.
516 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
At slow tempos, your brain can track more individual beats and pulses than
it can at fast tempos.
•
At fast tempos, the beats start to blur until your brain finds it more
comfortable to convert, for example, three-beat pulses into two-beat pulses.
Or four-pulse measures into two-pulse measures.
Try counting to eight out loud in two seconds. It’s easy. Now try counting to 16
in two seconds. It’s a lot harder unless you kind of slur through all the even numbers.
Change of meter as a direct result of tempo change often happens automatically.
You don’t even have to change the musical arrangement.
For example, suppose you play a song at a certain tempo in compound quadruple
meter:
Accents
!
•
•
!
•
•
!
•
•
!
•
•
Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
If you play the same song at a faster tempo, without changing the musical
arrangement, your brain will convert the meter into combined quadruple. This is what
your audience will actually hear—whether or not it was your intention:
Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
•
!
2
•
!
3
•
!
•
4
Table 58 provides some guidelines on what could happen to the meter if you
speed up or slow down the tempo.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
517
TABLE 58 How Changing the Tempo Changes the Meter
Duple/Quadruple
Dupl e/Quadruple Meter
Simple
At a faster tempo . . .
•
The meter will still be
perceived as simple. You
would need to make a
significant effort to change it
to compound or combined.
At a slower tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will not
change naturally. However,
you could easily change it to
compound or combined.
Compound
(Multiple Triple
Pulses)
At a faster tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will
change to combined meter,
then to simple meter as
tempo increases.
At a slower tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will
change to simple triple.
Combined
(Multiple
Skipple Pulses)
Triple Meter
At a faster tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will have
a tendency to shift from
simple to compound or
combined.
At a slower tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will not
change. You would need to
make a significant effort to
change it to compound or
combined.
At a faster tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will
change naturally to combined
meter, then to simple triple as
tempo increases (with the
primary accent on the 1st beat
and secondary accents on the
4th, and 7th beats).
At a slower tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will
change to simple triple.
At a faster tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will
change to simple quadruple.
At a faster tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will
change to simple triple.
At a slower tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will not
change naturally. However,
you could easily change it to
simple triple.
At a slower tempo . . .
•
The perceived meter will not
change naturally. However,
you could easily change it to
simple triple by breaking each
9-beat measure into three 3beat measures
518 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.7.3
FOUR TEMPO RANGES IN TERMS OF HUMAN
LOCOMOTION
You might find it helpful to think of the tempo ranges in terms of the pace of human
locomotion. Something like this:
60 BPM
120 BPM
180 BPM
240 BPM
± 30
± 30
± 30
± 30
“Strolling” Tempo (Slow)
“Walking” Tempo (Moderate)
“Jogging” Tempo (Lively)
“Running” Tempo (Fast)
Table 59 below lists the BPMs of some classic recordings. It’s likely the great
majority were recorded without a click track. So, if you try to sync a digital
metronome to most of these recordings, you’ll find that the BPM value tends to vary
a beat or three during the course of the recording. Small variations of this nature
always occur. Most listeners don’t even notice them. They certainly don’t signify
inadequate musicianship.
TABLE 59 Perceived BPM Values: Recordings of Classic
Songs
Song Title
60 30 BPM:
„Strolling‰ Tempo
(Slow)
“Put Your Dreams Away”
“Helpless”
“The Long And Winding Road”
“Born To Lose”
As Recorded By
Frank Sinatra
Neil Young
The Beatles
Ray Charles
BPM
52
57
68
86
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
120 30 BPM:
„Walking‰ Tempo
(Moderate)
“D-I-V-O-R-C-E”
“My Girl”
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“Stop In The Name Of Love”
“I Heard It Through The
Grapevine”
“If You Could Read My Mind”
“Here Comes The Rain Again”
“Wayfaring Stranger” (Cold
Mountain soundtrack)
“Takin' Care Of Business”
“Lively Up Yourself”
“Uncle John's Band”
“Rocket Man”
“Anarchy In The U.K.”
“The Weight”
“Mame”
“Dancing In The Dark”
180 30 BPM:
„Jogging‰ Tempo
(Lively)
“Fun Fun Fun”
“If I Had A Million Dollars”
“We Will Rock You”
“Johnny B. Goode”
“Blue Skies”
“Honky Tonkin'”
“Man Of Constant Sorrow” (O
Brother, Where Art Thou?
soundtrack)
“Whole Lotta Love”
“San Antonio Rose”
“You Can't Always Get What
You Want”
“Me And Bobby McGee”
“Tangled Up In Blue”
BPM:
240 30 BPM:
„Running‰ Tempo
(Fast)
“The Highwayman”
“Wildwood Flower”
“Be My Yoko Ono”
“Graceland”
“Viva Las Vegas”
519
Tammy Wynette
The Temptations
U2
The Supremes
Marvin Gaye
100
106
110
118
120
Gordon Lightfoot
Eurhythmics/Annie
Lennox
Jack White (White
Stripes)
BTO
Bob Marley
Grateful Dead
Elton John
Sex Pistols
The Band
Louis Armstrong
Bruce Springsteen
124
128
Beach Boys
Barenaked Ladies
Queen
Chuck Berry
Dinah Washington
Hank Williams
Soggy Bottom
Boys
158
160
164
166
170
170
170
Led Zeppelin
Willie Nelson and
Ray Price
Rolling Stones
178
180
Janis Joplin
Bob Dylan
186
200
Johnny Cash,
Kris Kristofferson,
Waylon Jennings,
Willie Nelson
The Carter Family
Barenaked Ladies
Paul Simon
Elvis Presley
220
128
130
132
136
138
138
144
150
150
182
228
235
250
292
Far more songs have BPM values of between about 110 and 140 than above or
below this range.
This is another opportunity for you to differentiate your own songs. Write a lot
of comparatively fast tunes and comparatively slow ones. They’ll stand out from the
mass of 110-to-140-BPM songs everybody writes by default. Just as songs in
combined meter stand out from the mass of songs in simple meter.
One thing about singing fast tunes vs slow ones: slow tunes are less forgiving
because note durations are longer. Pitchy (off-key) singing stands out. If you have
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
great vocal chops, you’ll shine when you sing at a slow tempo—provided the song’s
a good one. But if you’re vocally challenged, a slow-tempo effort might make your
audience flee.
SLOW DOWN ... AND YOU’LL SPEND MORE
If you own a restaurant or supermarket, you can induce your
customers to spend more money by playing slow-tempo
background music. Slow music leads to lingering and higher
spending. Customers lock into the tempo of the music they hear.
So if the music’s fast, they move faster and get out of the store
or restaurant sooner than if the music’s slow.
In the restaurant industry, the type of music matters, too. A
study in Britain revealed that classical background music, with its
connotations of affluence and sophistication, led to the highest
spending, compared with popular music or no music.
7.7.4
HOW TO MAKE SLOW TEMPO SEEM FAST (AND
VICE-VERSA)
Suppose you’re playing a tune at 120 BPM, with a natural accent every second beat.
If you then have one or more rhythm instruments accent every beat instead of every
second beat, the tempo will seem faster. This is called diminution. More diminution
in Chapter 9.
O FAST-MUSIC DRIVER: GET A HORSE
Researchers studying the effects of music listening on driving
behaviour found that the faster and louder the music in the car,
the greater the probability the driver will crash. Twice as likely as
a “slow-music” driver. “Fast-music” drivers tend to run red lights
more often ... no doubt a contributing factor to their crash
rates. And it doesn’t matter what kind of music—rock, jazz,
classical, dance. If the tempo of the music you’re listening to
while driving is fast, you’re more likely to crash.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
521
So, there you have it, up-tempo drivers. Heed the advice of Sadie
and Ellie Sue: get a horse.
7.7.5
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF TEMPO
Tempo, like mode, has an especially intense emotional impact. In general, positive
valence is associated with fast tempo, negative—especially sadness—with slow.
Large deviations in tempo also tend to convey sadness, whereas rock steady tempo
is associated with positive emotions (Table 60).
TABLE 60 Emotional Effects of Tempo
Tempo
Associated Emotions
Fast and flowing
Happiness
Fast
Happiness, excitement, elation,
grace, fear, anger
Gentle, slow
Tenderness
Slow
Sadness, dignity, solemnity,
serenity, dreaminess,
sentimentality, heaviness
Little variability in tempo
Happiness, anger
Large tempo variability
Tenderness, fear
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.8
Rhythm, the Soul of Melody
7.8.1
HOW TO TELL METER FROM RHYTHM
Rhythm cannot be divorced from melody. You can think of rhythm as the soul of
melody.
Broadly speaking, rhythm is the aspect of music that has to do with the
distribution of beats and pulses through time. But for purposes of this discussion, it’s
more useful to think of rhythm in a narrower, more specific sense. A rhythm pattern
is an irregular succession of tones. You perceive rhythm as being superimposed on a
steady, regular beat, which remains steady and regular even as beats group into pulses
and pulses into meter.
In performance, normally once you establish the meter and tempo of a song in
the song’s 4- or 8-bar intro, the meter and tempo do not change throughout the
song—unless, of course, changes in meter or tempo are part of the song’s structure.
Rhythm, by contrast, consists of irregular patterns of sound—irregular, at least,
over the duration of a bar or two or three or four, after which rhythm patterns usually
repeat. Since the internal irregularity of rhythm patterns contrasts with the regularity
of meter, rhythm patterns grab listener attention.
For example, consider the most famous guitar riff in rock, Keith Richards’ riff
that opens “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and repeats throughout most of the song.
Try this: tap out a regular beat with your hand or foot while humming the 10 notes
of the riff. What you tap is meter; what you hum is rhythm. The guitar riff is an
irregular pattern that repeats every two bars. Its irregularity contrasts with the
uniformity of the meter, which is simple quadruple:
Meter: Accents
!
•
!
•
!
•
!
•
Meter: Counted Beats
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4
Rhythm: Guitar Riff
!
!
! ! !
! ! ! ! !
(The above diagram does not convey the fact that the notes of the riff sustain from
note to note, including that big gap between the fifth and sixth notes, across the bar
line for the next beat and a half. But ... you get the picture.)
In the above example, rhythm is as much melodic as it is temporal. The term
melodic rhythm refers to the temporal pattern of a melody, such as the pattern of the
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
523
“Satisfaction” guitar riff. Melodic rhythm applies to any melody, whether sung or
played on an instrument.
Here’s a summary of some of the main differences between meter and rhythm
(Table 61).
TABLE 61 Differences Between Meter and Rhythm
Meter
Rhythm
How does it
mark the
flow of
time?
•
By repeating the same short
grouping of pulses from the
start of a tune to the end of it
(unless the time signature
changes within the piece).
•
With a variety of beats in
varying configurations of
duration and accent, in
patterns ranging from short
clusters to long phrases.
How
predictable
is it?
•
Completely predictable and
uniform.
•
Not generally predictable or
uniform at the outset.
Becomes predictable only
when the whole pattern
repeats.
On which
beat does a
group begin?
•
By definition, every metrical
group always begins on the
first beat of the pulse
grouping—the first beat of
the bar.
•
A rhythm pattern may begin
anywhere in a measure, on any
metrical beat or between
metrical beats.
How do
musicians
communicate
the pattern?
•
Typically drums, bass, and
guitar or keyboard
communicate meter.
However, each instrument
usually contributes only part
of the pulse train, not all of it..
•
In a band, lead and
background vocalists and lead
instrumentalists normally
communicate a variety of
rhythm patterns directly, but
usually not simultaneously.
No. Normally, there are no
gaps between metrical groups.
Meter flows on during gaps
between lead vocal and solo
instrumental phrases.
If the meter stops dead for a
measure or two, the brain
continues to track the pulses,
expecting the meter to
resume within a bar or two on
an appropriate and
predictable beat.
•
Yes, there are gaps. Vocals and
lead instrumental solos do not
continue without
interruption, so their rhythm
patterns flow and stop
throughout the song.
However, some Instruments
contribute rhythm patterns
that continue uninterrupted
throughout the song—
instruments that mainly
communicate meter, such as
drums and bass.
Are there
gaps
between
groups?
•
•
•
•
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
The combination of drums, bass, and so-called “rhythm” guitar is called the
rhythm section. A better term would be the “meter section” or maybe “pulse section.”
A single instrument hardly ever plays only meter or only rhythm. Drummers and
bass players typically play distinctive rhythm patterns while simultaneously
emphasizing and maintaining the steady train of metrical pulses. By the same token,
vocalists and solo instrumentalists repeat melodies in patterns that recur every bar or
every few bars—patterns that become metrically predictable as a song unfolds in
time, thus reinforcing the meter.
7.8.2
HOW SIMPLE RATIOS WORK IN MARKING THE
FLOW OF TIME: THE LAW OF SIMPLE MULTIPLES
OR FRACTIONS OF THE UNDERLYING BEAT
No matter how irregular a rhythm pattern may seem, your brain’s evolved obsession
with making sense of beat sequences ensures that the rhythm pattern cannot violate
the following law. It’s The Law of Simple Multiples or Fractions of the
Underlying Beat:
The durations of all the different beats in any rhythm pattern will
always manifest as simple multiples or fractions of the underlying beat,
regardless of rhythmic complexity or tempo.
For example, consider the “Satisfaction” guitar riff. It has 10 notes, distributed
over eight beats as follows:
•
•
•
•
•
Note 1
Note 2
Notes 3 and 4
Note 5
Notes 6 - 10
1 beat (1:1 ratio with the underlying beat)
1½ beats (3:2 ratio with the underlying beat)
½ beat each (each at 1:2 ratio; total of 1 full beat)
2 beats (2:1 ratio)
½ beat each (each at 1:2 ratio; total of 2½ beats)
Each of the riff’s 10 notes is a simple multiple or fraction of the underlying beat.
The same law applies to gaps, called rests, within and between rhythm patterns.
In music, every note of every duration has a corresponding rest of the same duration.
Usually, when you sit down to write a song, among the first decisions you make,
whether consciously or unconsciously, have to do with meter and tempo. Most of the
time, you just launch into the tune in “default” meter (simple quadruple) at “default”
tempo (110 to 140 BPM).
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525
You can play or sing any ol’ irregular rhythm patterns you want, without the
slightest concern about whether or not they’ll correspond to the meter. The Law of
Simple Multiples or Fractions of the Underlying Beat ensures that beat, pulse, and
meter will automatically emerge from whatever rhythms you concoct.
To paraphrase E. O. Wilson, beat holds rhythm on a leash. And, paradoxically,
vice-versa.
You can play funk, polka, reggae, Bo Diddley, it doesn’t matter. The individual
notes that make up the rhythms you play or sing manifest as simple multiples or
fractions of an underlying beat that emerges automatically, along with pulse and
meter.
How does this happen?
7.8.3
HOW ACCENTS “AUTOMATICALLY”
COMMUNICATE BEAT, PULSE, AND METER
Some of the notes that make up a rhythm pattern are accented in one or more ways
that communicate the beat:
•
•
•
•
Metrical position accent: Strong vs weak metrical position
Duration (agogic) accent: Long vs short duration
Pitch accent: High vs low pitch
Dynamic accent: Loud vs soft volume level
Often, two or more accent types coincide on a single note. For example, the fifth
note of the “Satisfaction”riff is both the highest note of the riff (pitch accent) and the
longest note (duration accent). As well, the fifth note begins on a metrically weak
beat but sustains to incorporate the first note of the second bar (metrical position
accent).
You’ll find it virtually impossible to deliberately counteract or hinder the steady
procession of metrical pulses that emerges as you play rhythm patterns. You do not
have to think about whether or not you’ve played enough beats with the correct
accents to create uniform measures. Your brain automatically and correctly adds up
the fractional and multiple beat durations and rest durations of the notes of your
rhythm patterns and forges them into neat, uniform measures. Your playing and
singing communicate those measures to your audience, without any conscious effort on
your part.
That’s why, when you play a song, you don’t need to make an effort to play every
beat of every measure. In fact, if you were to do that, your listeners would pelt you
with cooked cabbages. Or, worse, Brussels sprouts. Because, if you were to merely
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
play every beat, your playing would sound exactly like a metronome—unforgivably
boring.
Instead, you play and sing a variety of irregular rhythm patterns. Your listeners’
brains automatically perceive that the individual long and short notes that make up
the irregular patterns are actually simple multiples or fractions of a regular underlying
beat. They tap their toes to the underlying beat while enjoying (you hope) the
contrasting metrical irregularity of the phrases you sing. The very difference between
the regularity of the beat and the irregularity of your rhythmic phrasing is what
makes the music you play and sing rhythmically interesting. The closer your rhythm
patterns match the meter, the more boring your audience finds them.
Before you know it, your irregular rhythm patterns have neatly and automatically
grouped themselves into four successive measures, each with exactly the same number
of beats (usually four, sometimes three), grouped into regular pulses.
You continue with another four measures. Now you’ve played eight measures,
each with exactly the same number of pulses—even though you aren’t paying the
slightest attention to pulses and measures. Certainly not counting them.
Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether you’re playing a single instrument all by
yourself in a little room, or you’re playing in a band with a drummer, bass player,
and rhythm guitar player. Even the craziest, most complicated rhythm patterns of
vocalists and solo players automatically conform to the metrical structure, the steady
underlying beat. You simply cannot stop yourself from communicating the beat, pulse,
and meter unless you make a conscious effort to do so. That’s the power of the Law
of Simple Multiples or Fractions of the Underlying Beat.
Since you don’t have to think about beat, pulse, and meter, you have amazing
freedom to get as creative with melodic rhythm as you see fit.
7.8.4
UNDERSTANDING OSTINATO, YOUR CLOSE
PERSONAL FRIEND
A few pages ago, you learned a specific definition of a rhythm pattern: “an irregular
succession of tones.” An ostinato is a rhythm pattern that has several important
properties:
•
It’s short. An ostinato usually lasts only a bar or two. Often only a fraction of
a bar.
•
It repeats. Ostinato is Italian for “obstinate” or “stubborn.” An ostinato is an
irregular rhythm pattern that stubbornly recurs, many times in succession
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
527
(unlike other rhythm patterns in a song). Sometimes an ostinato persists for
the full duration of the song.
•
It can be purely rhythmic, or rhythmic and melodic, or rhythmic and
harmonic. For example, Keith Richards’ “Satisfaction” riff is an ostinato that
is both melodic and rhythmic. However, if you clap the 10-note pattern of the
“Satisfaction”guitar riff (and repeat the pattern continuously), your clapping
constitutes a purely rhythmic ostinato. An ostinato can also take the form of
a repeated sequence of chords, such as the famous “Blue Moon” progression:
I – VIm – IIm – V7.
A song can have several ostinatos going on at the same time—for example, a
Latin percussion pattern, a distinctive bass rhythm pattern, and a three-note trumpet
figure repeating every two bars.
Listen to any great recording of a popular song and you’ll usually be able to pick
out several ostinatos, instrumental and vocal. Some appear only in verses, some only
in choruses, some only in the middle eight, and some throughout the song. For
examples of vocal ostinatos, have a listen to “laundry list” songs, such as John
Lennon’s “God” or Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall.”
Ostinatos that continue for the duration of a song are sometimes called
“grooves.” Some ostinatos, associated with specific performers, genres, sub-genres,
or styles of dance, have names such as:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Boogie woogie
Bo Diddley beat
Memphis beat
Jazz waltz
Louie Louie beat
Tango
Bolero
Polka
Samba
Bossa Nova
But most ostinatos do not have names. They’re just short vocal or instrumental
patterns that repeat successively:
•
•
•
Background singers repeating “baybah, baybah” throughout a verse or chorus
Travis-style guitar finger-picking accompanying a folk or country vocal
The drum part in Ravel’s “Bolero” (a spectacular ostinato)
Think of the ostinato as the lowest form of rhythm, as opposed to meter. Ostinatos
serve a vital purpose: they provide structure to a song.
528
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.8.5
SUPERIMPOSED OSTINATOS IN HIP-HOP AND
DANCE/ELECTRONICA
If you aspire to be a hip-hop or dance music producer, you need to become a master
of ostinato, the rhythmic mainstay of beatmakers. Hip-hop and dance tracks usually
contain multiple ostinatos, superimposed in accordance with the good ol’ Law of
Simple Multiples or Fractions of the Underlying Beat. Some of the ostinatos change
from section to section, some remain throughout the track.
In Figure 131 below, for example, A, B, C, and D represent completely different
superimposed ostinatos (i.e., each is an irregular rhythm pattern, not just a pulse) in
various percussion, synth, and bass parts.
FIGURE 131 Superimposed Ostinatos
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
A...
B ...... B ...... B ...... B ...... B ...... B ...... B ...... B ......
C ............... C ............... C ............... C ...............
D ................................. D .................................
In dance music, the meter is simple quadruple. But in hip-hop, as discussed in
Section 7.6.3, the meter is often combined. Each “underlying beat” is a skpple pulse,
and therefore has built-in swing. That’s why hip-hop beatmakers have to be careful
to keep superimposed ostinatos irregular but simple. Otherwise, the overall rhythm
could become cluttered and confusing—not inviting of entrainment.
Table 62 below shows how the ostinato fits into the larger structural picture.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
529
TABLE 62 Metrical and Rhythmic Elements and Their
Properties
Metrical
Elements
Rhythmic
Elements
Type of
Pattern
Accented
Beats?
Duration of
Pattern
Type of
Repetition
Beat
Regular
No
1 beat
Continuous
Pulse
Regular
Yes
2 or 3 beats
Continuous
Meter
Regular
Yes
1 bar
Continuous
Ostinato
Irregular
Yes
A few notes
contained
within 1 or 2
bars,
sometimes 4
Continuous
Vocal or
Melodic
Phrase
Irregular
Yes
From a few
notes to a
dozen or so
Usually
returning;
sometimes
continuous
7.8.6
KEEP YOUR BASS PLAYER AND FIRE YOUR
DRUMMER (IF YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE)
Drums and bass both communicate meter, while adding rhythmic interest (usually
via ostinato).
Q: If you’re lost in Jaurez in the rain and you have to fire either your drummer
or your bassist to remain financially solvent, which player would it be wiser to axe?
A: The drummer. (Or, like Sarah McLachlan, just marry him.)
The White Stripes notwithstanding, bass is not only a mainstay of meter, it also
contributes hugely to tonality and harmony by stepping through the important
notes—chord roots, thirds, and fifths.
Although melody forms the skyline and gets the glory, bass provides the
foundation of the overall sound.
530 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
DRUMMER DAISUKE INOUE, INVENTOR OF
KARAOKE
Next time you’re having a few at the Wrong Ranch Saloon on
karaoke night and decide to stagger up to the stage to see if you
can make the crowd forget Sadie and Ellie Sue’s eccentric duet
rendition of “Love will Tear Us Apart,” spare a thought for the
man who made it all possible. That good-natured Japanese
sometime drummer, Daisuke Inoue.
Born in Osaka in 1940, Inoue played drums badly in cover bands
in the 1960s for businessmen who liked to sing songs with live
accompaniment. in 1970, at the request of a client, he made a
tape of his band playing songs without vocals and packaged it
with a microphone and amplifier: the first karaoke machine.
(Karaoke literally means “empty orchestra.”) The idea caught on,
and he and his friends made a bunch of the machines and leased
them to bars around town.
Alas, Inoue neglected to patent his invention, which soon
became all the rage in Asia, and in time swept the world. Today,
karaoke is a multi-billion-dollar industry.
For his efforts, Inoue received the Ig Nobel peace prize in 2004,
an incredible honour for a drummer.
7.8.7
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF VARIOUS KINDS OF
RHYTHM AND ARTICULATION
Table 63 below lists some reported emotional effects of rhythm in the broad sense of
the word: “the aspect of music that has to do with the distribution of beats and pulses
through time,” which includes meter.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
TABLE 63 Emotional Effects of Rhythm and Articulation
Perceived Quality
Associated Emotions
Legato (smooth, no pauses
between notes)
Happiness, dignity, peace,
majesty, solemnity,
melancholy, longing, sadness,
tenderness
Fluent, flowing
Dreaminess, serenity,
sentimentality, grace, sparkle,
happiness
Lilting
Tenderness
Gentle
Sadness
Lively, skipping
Happiness
Jerky
Fear
Sudden changes in rhythm
Anger
Complex
Anger
Rough
Uneasiness; amusement
Sharp contrasts in note
duration
Happiness
Staccato (played notes
alternating with short rests)
Agitation, energy, intensity,
activity, anger, fear, happiness
Firm
Dignity, solemnity, vigour,
majesty
531
532 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.9
Meter and Rhythm in Popular vs
„Classical‰ Music
Parsifal is the kind of opera that starts at six o’clock. After it has been
going for three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20.
—DAVID RANDOLPH
7.9.1
ONE BIG DIFFERENCE: BIG BEAT
Many people think that, in the days of Bach and Beethoven and Mozart, most people
listened to the music of Bach and Beethoven and Mozart. Not true. The mass of
people never heard of ’em. The masses did not live in cities and did not attend
concerts of so-called “serious” music. They lived on farms and in small villages.
They played and sang their own folk songs, and danced to their own home-made
music.
Unlike “classical” music, most popular and indigenous music was, and still
is, comprised of words set to music. Humans prefer music with lyrics.
Also, as discussed in Chapter 2, most “classical” music, in addition to being
purely instrumental, emphasizes melody and harmony and de-emphasizes beat, pulse,
and meter. Beat-impoverished music does not invite entrainment. A symphony
orchestra may have 50 or 60 or 70 players, but only one is a percussionist (sometimes
two), and the percussionist does not even play throughout a typical symphonic piece.
No wonder, then, that if you were to chart the relative popularity of “serious,”
formally-composed music against “popular” music over centuries gone by and even
into the future, the comparisons would probably look something like Figure 132:
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
533
FIGURE 132 Relative Popularity of „Serious‰ vs „Popular‰
Music (An Approximation)
Circa 1600 to 1900
‰Serious,‰
formallycomposed
music
Popular
songs and
dance
music
20th Century
‰Serious,‰
formallycomposed
music
Popular
songs and
dance
music
23rd Century
‰Serious,‰
formallycomposed
music
Popular
songs and
dance
music
THE REALLY TERRIBLE ORCHESTRA
If you cannot play a musical instrument well ... take heart! There’s
a special place for the likes of you.
Yes, it’s The Really Terrible Orchestra, affectionately known as the
RTO. They even have a CD on the market. Curiously, it’s hard to
find. RTO concerts always sell out for the same reason Florence
Foster Jenkins’ recitals always sold out.
For more information on the RTO, gallop on over to their
modest website:
www.TheReallyTerribleOrchestra.com
534 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
7.9.2
OTHER BIG DIFFERENCES: IMPROVISATION,
SYNCOPATION, AND POLYRHYTHM
In fifteen seconds, the difference between composition and
improvisation is that in composition, you have all the time you want
to decide what you want to say in fifteen seconds, while in
improvisation, you have fifteen seconds.
—STEVE LACY defining improvisation in 15 seconds
As discussed in Chapter 2 in the section on jazz, improvisation all but disappeared
from European and North American classical and popular music until, in the early
20th Century, jazz came along and resurrected it. Why did it nearly vanish in the first
place?
In his book on improvisation, Derek Bailey offers this explanation:
The petrifying effect of European classical music on those things it
touches—jazz, many folk musics, and all popular musics have suffered
grievously in their contact with it—made the prospect of finding
improvisation there pretty remote. Formal, precious, self-absorbed,
pompous, harbouring rigid conventions and carefully preserved
hierarchical distinctions; obsessed with its geniuses and timeless
masterpieces, shunning the accidental and the unexpected: the world
of classical music provides an unlikely setting for improvisation.
He then goes on to note that in early European classical music, improvisation
actually did play a major role. But over time, with the ascent of the conductor as the
“chief of police” of the orchestra, improvisation in classical music declined rapidly
until it disappeared altogether.
Improvisation almost always implies syncopation in melodic rhythm: accenting
beats that normally don’t get accented, foiling the brain’s prediction machinery and
heightening rhythmic interest. While syncopation is most radical in jazz, syncopated
rhythms are also found in most good popular songs.
A simple example: the fifth note of the “Satisfaction” riff is rhythmically
important because it’s the longest note (duration accent) and highest-pitched note of
the riff (pitch accent). But it falls on the metrically weak position between the fourth
beat of the first bar and first beat of the second bar. This results in rhythmic dissonance,
or syncopation. The fifth note is more interesting and gets more attention than it
would have gotten had it fallen predictably on the metrically-strong first beat of the
second bar, a half-beat later.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
535
Cross Rhythm
A common way of creating syncopated rhythmic interest is to use a type of
ostinato called cross rhythm. In cross rhythm, the strong accents of the rhythm pattern
fall on weak accents (or between accents) of the meter, resulting in a pronounced
syncopated effect. The rhythmic cycles of each instrument or voice synchronize at
the beginning of every bar or every other bar. Here’s an example:
Metrical Accents
!
Cross Rhythm Accents
!
Counted Beats
1
•
•
!
•
2
•
•
3
!
•
!
! ! !
4
•
•
!
•
1
•
!
2
•
•
3
! !
4
7.9.3
POLYRHYTHM: BREAKING THE LAW OF SIMPLE
MULTIPLES OR FRACTIONS OF THE UNDERLYING
BEAT
“Polybeat” or “polypulse” would be more appropriate terms for what’s usually
called polyrhythm.
Try this.
1. Get your right foot tapping at a steady moderate tempo.
2. As you tap your foot, count 1-2-1-2. Continue for several bars.
3. Start tapping your right thigh with your right hand in unison with your right
foot, still counting. Continue for several measures. It’s dead easy with foot
and hand tapping in regular steady sync. Like this:
Right Foot
1
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
Right Hand
1
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
4. Now, with your right hand, tap three times (counting aloud) in the same time
interval that your right foot taps twice, every second measure. Note that the 3hand-tap durations are equal and distributed over two foot-taps, not one. So it’s
not as easy as it seems. The hand-taps are a little faster than the foot taps, but
not a lot faster.
536 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Right Foot
1
2
1
Right Hand
1
2
1
Right Foot
1
2
1
Right Hand
1
2
2
3
1
2
1
1
2
1
1
2
1
2
2
3
5. Finally, try this:
2
3
1
2
2
3
1
2
3
1
2
2
3
You may find it easier if you don’t have to do both parts yourself. For instance,
you could get a metronome to do the 1-2-1-2 part, while you tap the 1-2-3-1-2-3 part.
You can hear examples of #4 and #5 above on The Doors’ original seven-minute
recording of “Light My Fire,” beginning at around the 5:15 mark, near the end of the
long instrumental bridge.
The left hemisphere of your brain, which controls your right foot and right hand,
is dominant for temporal sequencing. So, if you’re right-handed, you will probably
find it more difficult to do the above experiment with your left foot and left hand,
especially as the tempo increases. (Try it!)
In general, contrasting duple and triple pulses played simultaneously result in
polyrhythm. Between bar lines, the pulse accents conflict. Every measure or two, the
accents sync up.
Rappers commonly employ polyrhythm in their rhythmic delivery. If you can find
a way to work a bit of polyrhythm into your songwriting, by all means, do it.
7.10
Meter, Tempo, and Rhythm: Unity
and Variety
7.10.1
OPTIMIZING UNITY AND VARIETY IN METER,
TEMPO, AND RHYTHM
In general, when the synchrony of beat, pulse, and meter get disturbed, emotional
response increases with the intensity and frequency of the disturbance. Table 64
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
537
below summarizes how you can optimize unity and variety in your songwriting by
making astute choices with respect to pulse, meter, tempo, and rhythm.
TABLE 64 Optimizing Unity and Variety in Meter, Tempo,
and Rhythm
Prefer...
Instead of...
Human
Memory
•
Keeping in mind the
types, functions, and
limitations of human
memory—especially
working memory—in all
aspects of songwriting,
not just meter, tempo,
and rhythm
•
Writing songs without
regard to memory
limitations
Beat and Pulse
•
Distinguishing between
beat and pulse (learn
how to make effective
use of all three pulse
types)
•
Considering beat and
pulse as merely two
terms for the same
element
Meter
•
Simple quadruple and
simple triple meter
Combined meter—
especially combined
quadruple
Occasional use of
compound and irregular
meter
•
“Default” simple
quadruple meter only
No simple triple meter
No combined meter
No compound or
irregular meter
Tempo variety: from 60
to 240 BPM or faster
Variety of combinations
of meter types and
tempo ranges (“strolling,
walking, jogging,
running”)
•
•
•
Tempo
•
•
•
•
•
“Default” tempo only in
all your original songs
(approximately 110 to
140 BPM)
538 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Rhythm
•
•
•
•
Regular use of ostinatos
Returning phrases of 2 to
4 measures, with
significant intervals
between phrases
Use of cross rhythm
Occasional use of
polyrhythm
•
•
•
•
•
Few or no ostinatos
Long, non-returning
phrases
Short rests between
phrases
Little use of cross
rhythm
No use of polyrhythm
7.10.2
THE WUNDT CURVE OF UNITY AND VARIETY
Your songwriting and recording will benefit greatly if you get into the habit of using
the Wundt curve to evaluate unity and variety inherent in each element of your
songs—harmony, meter and rhythm, form, melody, lyrics, recorded performance,
musical arrangement. And the song as a whole. Especially the song as a whole.
The Wundt curve (named for the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, widely
regarded as the founder of experimental psychology) looks like an inverted “U.” In
a musical context, the Wundt curve shows how the relative complexity of a musical
stimulus affects your listeners’ perception of pleasure, their “hedonic response.”
As the novelty and complexity of the song or song element (the stimulus)
increases, listeners get more interested in what they’re hearing. And they experience
more pleasure (the response).
But only up to a point.
After that, as you continue to increase musical or lyrical novelty or complexity,
hedonic response decreases because listeners’ brains simply can’t take it all in and
decode it (Figure 133). Human memory does not work like silicon chip memory.
CHAPTER 7—HOW BEAT, PULSE, METER, TEMPO, AND RHYTHM REALLY WORK
539
FIGURE 133 Wundt Curve of Unity and Variety
Optimally Accessible,
Interesting, & Pleasurable
Maximum
Listener
Response:
Interest &
Pleasure
Nil
Boring
Too Much Unity
Too Repetitious
Too Accessible
Confusing
Too Much Novelty/Variety
Not Enough Repetition
Not Accessible Enough
Stimulus: The Song
(or Song Element)
(The citizens of the city of St. Louis, Missouri, were so impressed with the Wundt
curve that, in 1964, they commissioned the construction of an enormous monument
to the Wundt curve—630 feet high!—and called it the “Gateway Arch” because it
sounds better than “Wundt Arch.” To see what it looks like, go to the official
website, www.GatewayArch.com. Click on “Photographs” in the left-hand column.)
Most of the time, songs that fail (i.e., do not move audiences emotionally) have
too many elements that cluster too far to the right on the Wundt curve. Too many
extended chords (as opposed to simple triads and dominant sevenths). Too many
melodic phrases that go on too long with too few breaks. Too many unrepeated
words in the lyric. Too many instruments playing simultaneously in the performance
of the song (live or recorded). Just too much going on in general. Repeat: human
memory does not work like silicon chip memory.
Great songwriters have an understanding of the degree of novelty each element
of a song can stand without ruining the song as a whole. Many things happen
simultaneously as a song unfolds: chord changes, meter, rhythm, melody, lyrics,
instrumental performance, vocal performance. So it’s better to practise restraint with
540
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
respect to the individual elements. Restraint tends to work better than excess. After
all, the audience hears the combined effect of all the elements. So if you go overboard
with each of the individual elements, you end up with incomprehensible, confusing
mush.
Lennon and McCartney were the supreme masters at knowing where to draw the
line musically and lyrically with each element of each song. Most listeners perceive the
combined effect of most Lennon-McCartney songs as occupying the top of the
Wundt curve: maximally interesting (variety), yet maximally accessible (unity)—the
observation deck at the top of the Gateway Arch. You can never go wrong studying
the Lennon-McCartney catalogue.
You can turn up the novelty in one element if you tone it down in another. For
example, Pink Floyd’s “Money” has highly irregular meter, corresponding to a
position on the right-hand side on the Wundt curve. But the arrangement of voices
and instruments is such that the chunking of pulses is obvious and easy to follow,
corresponding to a position on the left-hand side of the curve. So the listener finds it
easy to follow the pulses and at the same time takes pleasure in the novelty of the
unusual meter. Metrically, the listener experiences the top of the Wundt curve.
As you create your own songs, use the Wundt curve as a mental check at every
stage. Table 64 above and related tables on optimizing unity and variety near the
ends of Chapters 6 through 10 will help you make informed decisions about how far
to go with each element.
Whatever you do, ignore rubbish about the need to “challenge the listener” with
“challenging music” and “challenging lyrics.” Songwriters who adopt this mindset
end up stocking challenging shelves at Wal-Mart because nobody wants to listen to
inhuman songs that communicate nothing emotionally, except irritation.
8
How Phrase and Form
REALLY Work
Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung
himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.
—STEPHEN LEACOCK
8.1
Distinguishing Between VM
(Vocal-Melodic) Phrases and
Structural Phrases
8.1.1
VM (VOCAL-MELODIC) PHRASES
As discussed in earlier chapters, music and language likely co-evolved. It’s not
surprising, then, that language and music resemble each other structurally.
In language, phrases group into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs
into larger units such as short stories or chapters. In written language, punctuation
marks such as commas, colons, semicolons, and periods signal boundaries between
word groups and clarify meaning.
542
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
But punctuation in language does not imply lengthy time lapses between word
groups. When you read a phrase or clause that ends with a comma, you do not wait
for several seconds before continuing to read to the end of the sentence. And when
you get to the end of the sentence, you simply read the next sentence without
pausing.
Similarly, when you listen to someone delivering a speech or narrating a story,
you do not expect the speaker to stop speaking for several seconds at the end of every
phrase, clause, and sentence. You would quickly lose patience and start throwing
cabbages.
But when you set words to music (or music to words), everything changes,
timewise. Words with music, unlike words without music, do not (or should not) go
on continuously. Instead, pauses (rests) break up the flow of musical notes and
accompanying words into vocal-melodic phrases, each consisting of a handful of “notesyllables”—syllables or words (or one-syllable words) sung to individual notes. An
appreciable time interval separates each vocal-melodic or “VM” phrase. Depending
on the tempo and other variables, intervals (rests) separating VM phrases from each
other within verses or choruses last from about one second to five or six seconds.
VM phrases convey novel musical ideas. They are fundamentally rhythmic, not
metrical. A VM phrase typically consists of five to 10 note-syllables in a unique rhythm
pattern.
When you remove the words, a VM phrase becomes simply a melodic phrase
played on a musical instrument, instead of sung. A melodic phrase has all of the
characteristics of a VM phrase except, of course, the sung syllables. A VM phrase or
melodic phrase comprised of only two or three or four notes is called a motive or motif
or figure. A famous example is the four-note “fate motif” that opens Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 5 and gets batted around like a volleyball throughout the first
movement.
8.1.2
STRUCTURAL PHRASES
Suppose you play piano or guitar, but not terribly well. Only well enough to play
chord changes to accompany your vocals. You can’t play solos. And suppose you’re
playing and singing a new song for an audience of dubious sobriety at the Wrong
Ranch Saloon. Suddenly you forget the words to the next verse. So you just keep
playing the chord changes, maintaining a steady beat, trying to remember the words,
unable to incorporate melody into your instrumental playing. And dodging Brussels
sprouts for your efforts.
Without the tune, the chord changes you’re playing group into structural phrases.
A structural phrase is a metrical unit, not a rhythmic unit. It’s a chunk of bars. Usually
CHAPTER 8—HOW PHRASE AND FORM REALLY WORK
543
four consecutive bars. Sometimes two bars if the tempo is slow. Eight bars if the
tempo is fast.
When you remember the words again and resume singing, you resume
superimposing your VM phrases over the structural phrases of your instrumental
playing.
Here are the main properties of the two phrase types (Table 65):
TABLE 65 Phrase Types and Their Properties
VM or Melodic Phrase
Structural Phrase
Rhythmic or
metrical?
Rhythmic
Metrical
Pattern type?
Irregular
Regular
Melodic?
Yes
No
Comprised of?
A sequence of sung musical
notes (or instrumentallyplayed notes if it’s a melody
with no lyric, such as the
“Satisfaction” guitar riff)
A chunk of bars
Typical length?
5 to 10 “note-syllables” (or
notes, if no lyrics); VM
phrases are almost always
shorter than structural
phrases, seldom the same
length, never longer
4 bars is standard, but can
be 2 or 8 bars, depending
on tempo; occasionally 3, 5,
or 6 bars
Continuous or
discontinuous?
Discontinuous: substantial
time intervals normally
separate VM phrases
Continuous: a piece of
measured music is
comprised of a series of
structural phrases,
uninterrupted from
beginning to end
Metrical
positioning?
VM phrases are
superimposed on structural
phrases; a VM phrase
frequently straddles two
structural phrases
Not applicable because
structural phrases are
metrical units
IMPORTANT: In Chapter 9, you will see why it’s vital that you
keep in mind at all times the characteristics that distinguish VM
544
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
phrases (and melodic phrases) from structural phrases—if you aspire
to write great tunes consistently. Especially the fact that VM and
melodic phrases are rhythmic and structural phrases are metrical.
Structural phrases chunk into periods. A period is a pair of structural phrases with
superimposed VM phrases. The VM phrases form a complete musical statement, the
musical equivalent of a sentence in language.
The musical period is the structural cornerstone of great popular
songwriting.
Periods chunk into verses, choruses, and middle eights—the largest structural
elements of songs.
Musical punctuation within phrases and periods takes the form of various types
of cadences (discussed in Chapters 6 and 9).
The structural resemblances between music and language may explain why, in
children, musical training has been shown to improve verbal memory.
8.1.3
MUSICAL STRUCTURE AND GESTALT PRINCIPLES
Your brain is always looking for patterns that make a seemingly chaotic world more
comprehensible, more coherent. Experimentally-based Gestalt psychology describes
how your brain seeks patterns, or “Gestalts”—structures that have greater meaning
than the proverbial sums of their parts.
Several Gestalt principles apply to the understanding of song form and musical
structure generally:
•
Proximity. Your brain looks for meaning in groups of things that are close
together. Musically speaking, proximity means close together in pitch and in
time—for example, a group of notes that coheres into a meaningful musical
unit. A melodic or VM phrase is a Gestalt. Each note in isolation has no
meaning, but the group has meaning.
•
Similarity. Your brain looks for meaning in groups of things that are similar.
In music, similarity means repetition. Sometimes exact repetition, sometimes
“similar” repetition—repetition with variation. Repetition of VM phrases, of
structural phrases, of chord changes, of lyrics.
•
Continuation. Your brain looks for meaning in patterns that continue. In song
structure, for example, if melodic lines are well-constructed, your brain will
CHAPTER 8—HOW PHRASE AND FORM REALLY WORK
545
perceive the phrases as flowing, one from another. And if a verse is followed
by a chorus, then another verse, then a chorus, and so on, your brain expects
the alternating pattern to continue.
•
Closure. Your brain looks for a pattern to come to a meaningful state of
completion. Musical closure usually takes the form of a perfect cadence, which
you learned about in Chapter 6. A coda, a short passage at the end of a song,
is another structural element that signals closure.
Keep Gestalt principles in mind as you create and perform music. Audiences find
meaning and satisfaction in sonic pattern recognition. It’s why structured,
comprehensible, tonal music attracts appreciative audiences, and unstructured,
incomprehensible, atonal music does not.
8.2
Why Binary Structure Is the Soul
of Great Popular Song Form
8.2.1
BINARY STRUCTURE AT EVERY LEVEL
Four bars is the default structural phrase length. But a structural phrase can be as
short as two bars or as long as six bars (at medium tempo).
Eight bars is the default length of a period, which consists of two consecutive
structural phrases. The second structural phrase contains a VM phrase that
“answers” or completes the VM phrase contained in the first structural phrase.
The VM phrases contained in the two structural phrases of a period usually
musically balance each other in some way: same (irregular) rhythm pattern, parallel
melodic contour, parallel lyrics, same sequence of chord changes, or some
combination. This is referred to as binary structure, binary form, or question-answer
structure.
You’ll find binary form everywhere as structural scaffolding in popular music
(and in classical music):
•
Pulse. Two beats chunk into a duple pulse.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Bar. Two duple pulses chunk into one bar. That’s enough metrical space to
hold the germ of meaningful melody such as a motive or a short ostinato.
•
Structural phrase. Two pairs of bars form a four-bar structural phrase, by far the
most common phrase length. Why do four bars—two pairs of bars—constitute
the standard structural phrase length, instead of two bars? For the same
reason four beats constitute the standard number of beats to the bar: chunking.
Four beats chunk into two duple pulses. Similarly:
-
A structural phrase of four bars works metrically like a single long,
scaled-up “super-bar,” the constituent bars of which chunk into duples.
-
Bar one is metrically more emphatic than bar two. So the first two bars
of a structural phrase chunk into a duple unit, like the first two beats
of a bar.
-
Bar three is metrically more emphatic than bar four. So the third and
fourth bars of a structural phrase chunk into a duple unit, like the third
and fourth beats of a bar.
-
This is why a short VM phrase contained within the first two bars of
a four-bar structural phrase is often repeated in bars three and four in
the same rhythm pattern, with the same tune.
In language, a long spoken phrase or clause of nine or ten syllables usually
has three or four accented syllables. An average VM phrase contained in (or,
if you prefer, superimposed on) a structural phrase has a similar number of
metrically accented and unaccented notes. (Ordinary conversation is the
language equivalent of a jam session in music.)
•
Period. Two four-bar structural phrases form a period, containing VM phrases
that form a complete, meaningful “question-answer” unit, which sometimes
stands as a complete verse or chorus or middle eight.
•
Verse or chorus. Two periods form a major 16-bar section of a popular song.
Like pairs of beats in a bar and pairs of bars in a structural phrase, pairs of
periods chunk into a verse or chorus.
The above assumes a moderate tempo. At a fast tempo, you’d double most of the
above numbers.
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547
8.2.2
CHUNKING AND “REPETITION OF REPETITION OF
REPETITION”: COPING WITH THE LIMITS OF
SHORT-TERM/WORKING MEMORY
When the music’s fast, more bars go by per unit of time than at medium tempo. So
at a fast tempo, you can safely increase the absolute number of notes in a VM phrase
without overtaxing the duration capacity of short-term memory. But short-term
memory is still always limited in the number of items it can hold, regardless of
elapsed time.
Amateur songwriters often write long, 30-note or even longer VM phrases at
moderate tempo with little internal repetition. Unless the tempo is fast and repetition
deft and copious, that many sung notes without a break overloads short-term
memory.
It’s no accident that binary structure is found throughout the overwhelming
majority of successful popular songs. Binary structure is all about chunking and
repetition. Repetition of repetition. Repetition of repetition of repetition. Repetition
of repetition of repetition of repetition. Repetition of repetition of repetition of
repetition of repetition.
Binary structure is all about overcoming the limits of short-term memory. For
instance:
•
Suppose you start with a short VM phrase of, say seven notes, contained
within two bars.
•
You let the next two bars go by without introducing any more vocal material,
to let the VM phrase sink in. Now you have a seven-note VM phrase
contained within the first two bars of a four-bar structural phrase.
•
You repeat the original VM phrase with a slight variation, followed by two
bars of rest (first instance of vocal repetition). This completes an eight-bar
period: two structural phrases, chunked.
•
You repeat all eight bars exactly (repetition of repetition). Now you’ve got 16
bars. Still, you’ve only introduced a single VM phrase of seven notes (albeit
with minor variation). Listeners have already heard the melody four times,
and you’ve just started.
•
If it’s a verse, that same short melody, with different but related lyrics, will
repeat another 8 or 12 or 16 times (repetition of repetition of repetition ... ),
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
alternating with choruses or other structural elements, before the song is over
in three or four minutes.
The chorus usually introduces a new melodic idea, but still uses binary
structure—a period, or two periods—to repeat new melodic material as much as
possible. Same with the structure of the middle eight (normally one period), which
provides relief from potential boredom, but without abandoning the principle of
repetition.
By the end of the song, the amount of unique melody is in the range of only 8 to
15 seconds, but the song has gone on for 200 to 240 seconds. Roughly 5% unique
melody, 95% repetition and melodic rest.
8.2.3
TECHNIQUES OF VARIATION WITHIN BINARY
STRUCTURE
Go to the Gold Standard Song List, find some tunes you know, and go over them
in your mind, listening for binary structural phrasing and binary vocal phrasing at
every level, even the sub-phrase level.
Note especially how the period pervades great songs. And note the methods great
songwriters use to introduce variety within inherently repetitive binary structure.
Here are some of the techniques you’ll find:
•
A short melodic theme is introduced, then repeated exactly, but with a change
in the accompanying chord progression.
•
A short melodic theme (three to five notes) is introduced with an ear-catching
syncopated rhythm pattern, followed by exact repetition of the same rhythm
pattern but with a contrasting melody.
•
An extension of one or two bars is tacked on to a four-bar structural phrase to
provide relief from a longish VM phrase, forming a structural phrase of five
or six bars. Repeated, with variation, to form a 10-bar or 12-bar period.
•
An extension of one or two bars is added to the end of an eight-bar period to
let the melody sink in, forming a 10-bar period.
NOTE: It’s common in great songwriting to create periods that vary from the
conventional “four bars plus four bars.” For example:
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-
549
First structural phrase, five bars; second structural phrase five bars
First structural phrase, six bars; second structural phrase four bars
First structural phrase, four bars; second structural phrase three bars
First structural phrase, four bars; second structural phrase six bars
And any number of other combinations. Usually, when a structural phrase is
longer than four bars, the extra bar (or bars) adds needed space between VM
phrases. When shorter than four bars, a bar is removed to avoid leaving too
much space between VM phrases.
When a period is lengthened or shortened in this way, the unusual period
length creates interest (variety) because it foils the brain’s prediction
machinery, which expects eight-bar periods. The unconventional period is
usually repeated to ensure that unity is not compromised.
•
An eight-bar period is followed by a four-bar structural phrase with no
melody, creating a 12-bar unit (e.g., a verse or chorus).
•
A VM phrase that goes on for four bars is followed by four bars of melodic
rest, followed by repetition of all eight bars with a variation in the melody (but
not the rhythm of the melody) and/or accompanying chord progression.
•
A VM phrase contained within two bars is repeated immediately with a slight
variation, followed by repetition of the first two bars, then repetition of the
third bar (i.e., the first bar of the variation), creating a seven-bar period.
•
A VM phrase within a four-bar structural phrase is followed by a completely
different VM phrase within the next four-bar structural phrase; all eight bars
are repeated with slight variation to complete a 16-bar period. (This is more
common with fast-tempo songs because the clock time of 16 bars is reasonably
short, so short-term memory can handle it.)
•
An eight-bar period is followed immediately by a contrasting eight-bar period
(i.e., different VM phrases within each period). The two periods form a verse,
which is repeated throughout the song without a chorus or middle eight, but
with instrumental solos between the verses.
•
Two eight-bar periods are followed by a stand-alone four-bar structural phrase
containing a contrasting VM phrase (20-bar unit).
•
An eight-bar period is followed by a four-bar structural phrase containing a
VM phrase with a similar or identical rhythm pattern but contrasting melody
(standard 12-bar blues).
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•
HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
A four-bar phrase is repeated with variation, then repeated again with
variation, forming a 12-bar period.
8.2.4
CHUNKING AND STRUCTURAL UNIT SIZE
Only your imagination limits the number of ways you can manipulate structural
pairs, and pairs of pairs, for the sake of variety. There’s a good reason why so much
variety is possible at the level of the phrase and period:
Chunking weakens as structural units get larger.
So variations at “macro” structural levels do not disrupt unity and coherence, as
happens with variations at “micro” levels.
•
At the “micro” level of beat and pulse, with the shortest time intervals
between rhythmic events, the effect of chunking—binary and triple—is at its
most powerful. So strong that beat and pulse continue with entirely
predictable, clockwork regularity throughout the song.
•
At the level of the bar, with a longer time span, both binary and triple
chunking are still pretty strong. But it’s possible to abandon a song’s initial
meter and switch to a different meter without confusing the listener. It’s not
that uncommon for meter to change within a song, for example, from 4/4 to
3/4 and back again. In Roger Waters’ “Money,” the meter changes from 7/4
to 4/4 twice.
•
At the level of the phrase, chunking in groups of three all but vanishes.
However, binary chunking remains intact. Songs written in triple pulse or
triple meter—waltz time— usually have a binary structure at the phrase level
(two duple bars) and higher (two-phrase periods, two-period verses).
•
At the level of the song as a whole, binary chunking finally loses its grip. Your
brain does not expect patterns of two consecutive verses to be followed by two
consecutive choruses. However, Gestalt principles continue to apply.
Listeners still want to recognize patterns.
To summarize, when working on a song and thinking about structure, keep in
mind these principles:
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551
1. Think of the period as the most useful structural unit—not the verse or chorus.
Think question-answer. Within phrases. Within periods. Think pairs. Pairs of
pairs. Repetition of repetition. It’s worth repeating that in music, the period is
the equivalent of the sentence in language. It’s the standard unit of
meaningful communication, a product, ultimately of Darwinian natural
selection. A musical period, like a sentence, is short enough to be captured in
short-term memory as a complete, coherent, expressive unit, yet long enough
to permit limitless variety.
2. Vary the way you construct your periods internally, or you will bore your
audience. The list in the preceding section provides a few examples of how to
do this. The best way to master musical periods is to listen to successful songs,
such as those on the Gold Standard Song List, especially the older ones that
have stood the test of time. Note how great songwriters vary the second halves
of periods melodically and harmonically, without losing unity. And how they
often increase or reduce a standard four-bar structural phrase by a bar or two,
creating seven-bar, nine-bar, or ten-bar periods.
3. Remember the Wundt curve. For instance, if you write a song in which all the
phrases are exactly four bars long (left side of the Wundt curve), you will
probably want to vary the vocal phrasing in the second halves of your periods
quite a bit to offset the potentially monotonous squareness of consecutive
four-bar structural phrases. If your structural phrases are of an unusual length,
such as three or five or six bars (right side of the Wundt curve), then you may
need to reduce or eliminate variation in vocal phrasing (left side of the curve).
4. Provide plenty of internal rest. If you fill an entire four-bar structural phrase
with dense vocal melody, follow up with two or four bars of melodic rest. In
general, leave significant intervals between bursts of melody within periods,
not just between verses and choruses.
8.2.5
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN VM PHRASE
BEGINNINGS AND STRUCTURAL PHRASE
BEGINNINGS
A VM phrase can begin near the end of one structural phrase and carry over into the
next structural phrase. This happens commonly. “Happy birthday to you,” for
instance, is a VM phrase that begins at the end of one structural phrase (the word
“Happy”) and carries over to the next structural phrase (“birthday to you”).
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
But there’s no such thing as a VM phrase crossing two structural phrase
boundaries. In the mind of the listener, a structural phrase extends to contain a
continuing VM phrase until the VM phrase ends. Then the structural phrase
normally continues on to complete a structural unit of an even number of bars. For
example, if a VM phrase extends through five bars, it will usually be followed by
either:
•
One bar of melodic rest, for a structural phrase length of six bars; or
•
More commonly, three bars of melodic rest, for a structural phrase length of
eight bars. Then, most likely, the entire eight bars will repeat, with the first
five bars containing the melody of the same VM phrase (or a minor variation)
with different lyrics.
A VM phrase can begin in any of three positions with respect to the beginning of
a structural phrase:
•
Before beat one of bar one of a structural phrase (the default, called anacrusis)
•
On beat one of bar one of a structural phrase
•
After beat one of bar one of a structural phrase
1. Beginning the VM phrase Before Beat One of Bar One (Anacrusis, the Default)
This is the safest, most common way (the default method) of starting the first VM
phrase of a tune. The ear expects to hear the first “important” note of the tune on
beat one of bar one of the structural phrase—the metrically strongest position of the
phrase. Having one or two metrically weak anticipatory notes before beat one of bar
one telegraphs the “real” start of the tune—“Happy Birthday,” for example.
An example of a song that uses this telegraphing technique in an unusual way is
“Early Morning Rain,” by Gordon Lightfoot, a classic covered by Elvis Presley, Bob
Dylan, Count Basie, The Grateful Dead, Tony Rice, and many others.
The tempo of this song is fast, about 220 BPM, which is why the verse consists
of four eight-bar periods instead of the usual two eight-bar periods. Each VM phrase
begins in the last bar and a half of the previous structural phrase, and ends on beat one
of bar one of the following structural phrase (Figure 134).
In “Early Morning Rain,” the VM phrases begin way before beat one of bar one
of subsequent structural phrases—six-note anacruses. This catches the listener’s
attention because it’s unexpected. The pattern repeats so soon and so often that it’s
clearly not an anomaly, and therefore not confusing.
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553
FIGURE 134 ‰Early Morning Rain‰: Six-note Anacruses
In
the ear- ly morn- in’
Struc Phrase 1 rain
with
Struc Phrase 2 hand
with an ach- in’ in my
Struc Phrase 3 heart
and my pock- ets full of
Struc Phrase 4 sand
I’m
Struc Phrase 5 home
Struc Phrase 6 so
Struc Phrase 7 rain
a dol- lar in my
a long
way from
and I miss my loved ones
in the ear- ly morn- in’
with no
place to
Struc Phrase 8 go
Here is a summary of the main structural characteristics of “Early Morning
Rain”:
•
VM phrases begin way before—a bar and a half before—crossing the border
to the next bar.
•
The eight four-bar phrases are chunked into four two-bar periods.
•
The last note of each VM phrase gets a huge metrical position accent: it lands
on the first beat of the first bar of each structural phrase, after six anticipatory
notes.
•
Each of the eight VM phrases begins and ends in the same metrical position.
•
A couple of characteristics create variety: each VM phrase is wildly offset
from four-bar-squareness, and the melody is altered in six of the VM phrases.
The rhythmic pattern of each VM phrase is repeated exactly in all eight
phrases, which provides unity. Net effect: top of the Wundt curve.
•
Each VM phrase contains only seven notes/syllables. Although the last note
of every second melodic line is held, the net effect on the listener is that the
interval between each VM phrase is slightly longer than the VM phrase itself.
Lots of “breathing space.”
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Is it possible that the structure of “Early Morning Rain” could be represented
accurately like this?
Struc Phrase 1
In
Struc Phrase 2
with
the ear- ly morn- ing
a dol- lar
in my
rain
hand
The answer is no. The chord progression, cadences, and metrical emphases of
final VM phrase notes—the way your brain actually interprets the meter and
rhythm—clearly point to the unusual offset positioning of VM phrases with respect
to structural phrases shown in Figure 134 above.
Have a listen to Lightfoot’s original recording of this tune at a music download
website such as iTunes. Because of the song’s fast tempo, even the 30-second free
excerpt will give you a clear understanding of how it works structurally.
Other songs that use the same long-anacrusis technique are the Gershwin
standard, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and Stevie Wonder’s
“Superstition.”
2. Beginning the VM phrase On Beat One of Bar One
When tone one of a VM phrase coincides with beat one of bar one of a structural
phrase, the VM phrase gets off to a strong rhythmic start—stronger than starting
before beat one of bar one. No anticipatory notes. So the listener is less certain which
note the VM phrase will start on.
3. Beginning the VM phrase After Beat One of Bar One
The listener expects the first significant note of the first VM phrase to begin on
beat one of bar one of the structural phrase, usually with one or two anticipatory
notes that telegraph the “real” start of the tune.
But what if the tune does not come in on beat one, bar one, as expected?
The melody can then only begin on a metrically weaker beat. So, starting a VM
phrase after the first beat of the first bar of a four-bar structural phrase creates both
surprise and a syncopated effect.
This technique is practically a trademark for some songwriters—a signature
songwriting technique. Neil Young is an example. Here are a few of Young’s classics
in which VM phrases start after beat one of bar one of structural phrases:
CHAPTER 8—HOW PHRASE AND FORM REALLY WORK
“Cowgirl In The Sand”
“Don’t Be Denied”
“From Hank To Hendrix”
“Harvest Moon”
“Heart Of Gold”
“Helpless”
555
“My My, Hey Hey”
“The Needle And The Damage Done”
“Ohio”
“Old Man”
“Southern Man”
“Tell Me Why”
For the sake of syncopation, jazz singers from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra to
Diana Krall have made it a practice to start VM phrases after beat one of bar one of
structural phrases. Consider how a vocalist might handle the Gershwin jazz
standard, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” Download a recording and have a
listen.
•
The pulse is skipple, typical of jazz.
•
Each structural unit is an eight-bar period—a pair of four-bar phrases.
•
In the example below, the first structural phrase contains a binary VM phrase.
•
In the second structural phrase, you’ll find binary vocal phrasing from one bar
to the next, and even within single bars.
VM phrases begin on beat one of bar one of each structural phrase and sub-phrase.
Here’s a typical period:
You say laughter and
I
Laughter,
after,
larfter
say
larfter
You say after,
and
arfter
Let’s call the whole
thing off
I
say
arfter
Now, suppose you’re a singer interested in creating a syncopated effect. Instead
of starting your VM phrase on the first beat of the structural phrase, you would hold
off for a beat or two or three (begin after), and cram the first few notes of the VM
phrase into the last two beats of bar one of the structural phrase. Something like this:
You say
laughter and I
say
larfter
Or even the last beat and a half. Or even the last beat! Or somewhere in between.
This is called delayed phrasing or singing behind the beat. You probably wouldn’t
want to do this on every bar, or it could start sounding pretty silly. (Although,
considering Ira Gershwin’s wonderfully silly lyric, that would be entirely appropriate
with this song.)
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Jazz vocalists also like to rush the beat or sing around the beat—anything but on
the beat—to create syncopated melodic rhythm.
8.2.6
METRICAL POSITION VS PITCH IN MELODY AND
SPEECH: THE ACCENT-MATCHING LAW
As discussed in Chapter 7, a melodic phrase is a group of irregularly-sequenced tones.
It is rhythmic in nature, as well as melodic. Although it is not a metrical unit, a
melodic phrase nevertheless is leashed to the meter. So setting words to a melody
requires an understanding of the difference between accent in spoken word and
accent in vocal measured music.
First, consider the way you stress syllables when you speak. When you
pronounce words with two or more syllables, you stress one of the syllables (or more
than one if the word has four or more syllables). In speech, stressed syllables are
higher in pitch, not louder. Something like this, if spoken:
Some-
owhere
rainver
bow
the
All multi-syllable words, and single-syllable words spoken consecutively, have
melodic stress patterns like these. Therefore, every sentence we speak throughout our
entire lives is actually a melody, as sequence of (mostly) discrete pitches.
If you’re learning a new language and you’re not certain where the stresses are
supposed to go, you tend to use the stress patterns of your native tongue. So, if you
were not fluent in English, you might say something like this:
where
Some-
o-
ver
the
rain-
bow
This is not English with a standard accent. More like English with a French
accent. Or, because of the upward inflections on normally unaccented syllables, it
could be a question. Or the sound of an adolescent “up-talker.”
Harold Arlen wrote a tune to E. Y. Harburg’s famous lyric. The musical intervals
of the melody defy the natural pitches of the English language everywhere except on
the word “over.” And yet, when you hear the sung lyrics, they sound as natural as
if they had been spoken.
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557
Here’s how the VM phrase begins to unfold over two bars of the structural phrase
(in some recordings, the phrase begins on the second beat of the first bar):
Metrical Accents
!
•
Words and pitches
!
•
!
•
!
where
•
bow
o-
rain the
ver
Some -
Why do the sung lyrics sound natural, even though the words “somewhere” and
“rainbow” have the wrong pitch accents?
Because, in vocal music—unlike in speech:
Metrical position accent trumps pitch accent.
The metrical position accent of beat one of bar one of the structural phrase is so
powerful that, even though “where” is a full octave higher in pitch (pitch accent),
and falls on an accented beat (a metrical accent, but not as strong as the metrical
accent of beat one, bar one), the pitch accent of “where” does not outweigh the
metrical accent of the first beat, which also has the duration accent of the sung word
“some” (held for two beats).
So the word “somewhere” still sounds natural, with the accent on the first
syllable, even though “where” is an octave higher in pitch. The metrical position
accent of “some” trumps the pitch accent of “where.”
Exactly the same thing happens with the word “rainbow.” The metrical position
accent of “rain” in the sung version prevails in emphasis over the higher pitch of
“bow.” So the sung word “rainbow” sounds as though the accent is on the first
syllable, its normal position when spoken.
By contrast, consider “somewhere” in the song “Beyond the Sea.” The emphasis
is on the “wrong” syllable: “where” gets the strong metrical position accent. This
attracts the ear’s attention precisely because it’s unusual and unexpected. As the old
joke goes, it amounts to
pha-
laon the wrong
em-
sis
syl-
ble
As you’ll see in Chapter 10, it’s okay to do this once in a while, but lyricists who
don’t know much about matching the pitch accents of speech with the metrical
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
accents of music do this all the time. The result: entire verses and choruses that sound
downright dumb and amateurish.
Put simply, here’s the “Accent-matching Law”:
For song lyrics to sound “natural,” the normal pitch accents of spoken
words do not need to match the pitch accents of the melody. Instead,
they need to match the metrical position accents of pulses and
measures.
This is not a hard-and-fast rule, of course. But when you break it, make sure you
know what you’re doing. Otherwise, people will point and laugh, and you will cry
as you get on your horse and ride off into the sunset.
8.3
Other Matters of Phrase and
Form
8.3.1
VM PHRASE LIMITATIONS THAT DO NOT APPLY
TO INSTRUMENTALLY-PLAYED MELODIC PHRASES
This chapter has focussed on VM phrases, as opposed to instrumentally-played
melody, because most of the world’s popular music takes the form of songs with
lyrics. Since VM phrases are sung, you need to keep in mind some considerations
that do not apply to instrumentally-played melody:
•
Listeners need time to process the semantic content of lyrics. Listeners’ brains are
already absorbed processing all the musical variables. When you add words
to the music, you require listeners to deal with semantic content as well. It’s
not difficult for the human brain to process the meaning of sung lyrics with
instrumental accompaniment. Listeners obviously enjoy doing such
processing, and certainly prefer songs with words over purely instrumental
music. However, working memory and music-lyric processing power do have
limits. So, in your songwriting, it’s important to keep individual VM phrases
CHAPTER 8—HOW PHRASE AND FORM REALLY WORK
559
fairly short most of the time, and leave adequate intervals between VM
phrases.
•
Singers need time to breathe. Blindingly obvious as this may seem, some
songwriters create VM phrases with such short rests between them that
vocalists who have to sing them find themselves short of breath (and cursing).
Another reason to leave sufficient space between VM phrases.
•
Singers can’t deliver intelligible lyrics at breakneck speed. The human vocal
apparatus has its limits. Even the rapper Twista, reputedly one of the fastest
in the business, can’t deliver lyrics nearly as fast as a competent
instrumentalist can play melodic phrases on, for instance, a keyboard or guitar
or sax. Not only that, as vocal delivery speed increases, intelligibility
decreases, defeating the presumed artistic function of lyrics. So, when
constructing VM phrases, it’s wise to refrain from jamming 24 syllables into
a single bar. Compared with ordinary speech, singers deliver song lyrics
significantly more slowly.
If you play purely instrumental music, the distinction between melodic phrases
and structural phrases matters much less than it does in vocal music such as popular
songs. In music composed for instrumental performance, melody usually continues
uninterrupted throughout the piece, passing from instrument to instrument if the
piece is performed by an ensemble such as an orchestra or a jazz group.
Some musicians feel that, in any piece of instrumental music, it’s the melody that
matters most, so having gaps in melody hardly makes sense. Melody is still
structured in phrases, but without substantial rests between melodic phrases.
Groups performing popular music understand the central role of melody, and
inserting instrumental solos between VM phrases, and often in accompaniment with
VM phrases. Although the above-noted restrictions on vocal phrasing do not apply
to inserted instrumental solos, players have to be careful that solos do not compete
with lyrical delivery and erode intelligibility.
8.3.2
AABA AND ALL THAT
As you know, practically all songs are comprised of certain identifiable components:
•
•
•
•
Verse
Pre-chorus (a phrase between the verse and chorus)
Chorus
Middle Eight (or bridge, or release)
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Many songwriters think you have to construct songs according to specific
formulas. You’re supposed to write in “AABA” form (verse, verse, middle eight,
verse) or “ABAB” (verse, chorus, verse, chorus) or AAA (verse, verse, verse), and
so on.
The problem with this way of conceptualizing form in popular music is that it’s
too simplistic to reflect how great songwriters use binary form in many ingenious
ways to accommodate the brain’s evolved music- and language-processing
machinery, especially given the constraints of short term/working memory.
What is “AABA” form supposed to mean? For instance, what does “A” mean?
Is “A” a VM phrase? Is it a structural phrase? A period at slow tempo? Two periods
at slow tempo? Two periods at fast tempo? Four bars? Four periods? Eight bars?
Sixteen bars?
If you reckon “A” as a verse, then Gershwin’s “Summertime” is in “AA”
form—two 16-bar verses. But if you consider the internal form of each verse, the four
four-bar phrases are structured as “ABAC.”
Now, no one would argue that verses and choruses and middle eights have no
reality. Everybody knows about verses and choruses, even people who have never
written songs and never will. It’s just that, if you want to improve your songwriting
technique, you’ll find it more useful to master the constituent structural units that make
up verses and choruses and middle eights, namely, VM phrases, structural phrases,
and periods.
As long as you keep binary form and the Wundt curve in mind, you can string
together verses and choruses and middle eights in any order you please, without fear
of boring or confusing listeners.
In rap, beginning the song with the chorus is common. In non-rap songs, it’s not
standard, but it works. It worked for Lennon-McCartney: “Don’t Let Me Down,”
“Good Day Sunshine,” “Good Morning Good Morning,” “Help,” “Can’t Buy Me
Love,” to name a few. It also worked for George Harrison: “Here Comes The Sun.”
Returning vs Continuing Form
If you consider only the large blocks that make up songs, you can categorize song
form in quite a few ways. For instance, you can distinguish between continuing or
chain form, and returning or circular form.
Continuing (chain) form refers to songs that have only one VM phrase (or one
melodic phrase if there are no lyrics) or one period that’s repeated (“chained
together”) throughout the entire song. That gives the song unity. Lyrical diversity
and minor melodic modifications provide variety.
Here are a few examples:
•
•
“Helpless” (Neil Young)
“The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot)
CHAPTER 8—HOW PHRASE AND FORM REALLY WORK
•
•
•
•
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“Drifter’s Escape” (Bob Dylan)
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan)
“500 Miles” (West-Bare-Williams)
“Bolero” (Maurice Ravel)
Returning (or circular) form refers to any song that has at least two periods, each
containing a different VM phrase (or related set of short VM phrases). If you label the
first period “A” and the second one “B”, the song is structured such that it “returns”
to “A” at some point, completing the circle. Returning form would therefore apply
to more than 99% of all songs. Any song with verses and choruses, or verses and a
middle eight.
Even songs that appear to be in AAA (continuing) form—a series of verses
without a chorus or middle eight—are actually in returning form. The verse is almost
always comprised of either two or four different periods, which alternate.
UNITY AND VARIETY IN RAVELÊS „BOLERO‰
Why did Ravel’s “Bolero” become one of the world’s best-known
instrumental pieces?
It balances unity and variety almost to perfection. Top of the
Wundt curve.
•
Two things strongly unify the piece: 1) the snare
drum ostinato, and 2) the single melody that repeats over
and over and over. So, even though it’s a 15-minute
orchestral piece, you have no trouble remembering that
dang tune upon hearing the whole piece only once—
unlike a 15-minute symphonic movement.
•
“Bolero” is scored for a large orchestra. Various
wind instruments play the melody sequentially. You’re
never sure which instrument is going to pick up the tune
next. The melody varies a bit (but not much) as the piece
unfolds. As well, the piece starts softly with only a few
instruments. Gradually more join in, and by the end, the
whole orchestra is playing loudly. That’s why the piece has
considerably less impact if it’s played by a small
ensemble—unless it’s shortened substantially.
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“Standard” vs “Classic”
People often use the terms “standard” and “classic” interchangeably, as in “As
Time Goes By” is a standard, or “As Time Goes By” is a classic. But there was a
time, in the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, when “standard” meant a specific song form,
the standard song form that music publishers demanded of their songwriters: AABA,
or verse, verse, bridge, verse. Depending on tempo, each section could be eight bars
or sixteen bars.
“As Time Goes By” is both a classic song and an AABA “standard.” Each
section is an eight-bar period.
8.3.3
MAIN FORMS IN “SERIOUS” WESTERN MUSIC OF
THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD (1600 - 1900)
Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding,
he sings.
—ED GARDNER
Composers of formal music of the common practice period developed a number of
musical forms that became more or less standard models for extended works. Here
are some of the main ones:
•
Fugue. A composition in imitative counterpoint, where one instrument (voice)
states a melodic theme, then others follow in succession, repeating
(“imitating”) the theme. A specialty of J. S. Bach.
•
Sonata. An instrumental composition in three or four movements for a solo
instrument (e. g., a piano sonata; a violin sonata) or a small ensemble (e. g.,
sonata for piano and violin). Sonata also refers to a specific musical structure,
sonata form, with three sections: exposition, development, recapitulation, then
a coda (a short section that ends a piece). Sonata form is characteristic of the
first movements of sonatas, symphonies, string quartets, etc.
•
Symphony. An extended composition for full orchestra, usually in four
movements.
•
Suite. A set of short, disparate instrumental pieces or movements with some
unifying characteristic (e. g., all dance pieces), usually performed as a unit.
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563
•
Concerto. A composition in several movements (usually three) for one or more
solo instruments and orchestra.
•
String quartet. A composition in four movements for two violins, viola, and
cello.
•
Rondo. An instrumental composition in which an initial theme alternates with
new themes (A B A C A etc.). The last movement of a sonata or a concerto
is often in rondo form.
•
Opera. An extended dramatic work in three or four acts in which characters
sing their dialogue with continuous accompaniment of orchestra and chorus.
•
Cantata. A composition for several solo vocalists, chorus, and instrumental
accompaniment, based on a sacred or, less often, a secular text. Another
specialty of J. S. Bach.
•
Oratorio. A composition for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, usually (but not
always) based on a Biblical theme. Similar to a cantata but on a larger, more
extended scale. Probably the best-known oratorio is Handel’s Messiah.
8.4
Form: Unity, Variety, and
Emotional Impact
8.4.1
OPTIMIZING UNITY AND VARIETY IN SONG FORM
Table 66 below summarizes the main points to keep in mind when considering
structure in song form.
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“Default” Form
If you don’t have a lot of experience writing songs, stick to “square” form: fourbar structural phrases, eight-bar periods, 16-bar verses. Countless successful songs
have this exact structure, so you can’t go wrong, form-wise. It’s the “default form”
of popular song, the structural equivalent of the diatonic major scale in melody, or
the circular harmonic scale in harmony, or simple quadruple meter.
Once you’re satisfied that you can write palatable songs in default form, you’ll
feel more comfortable experimenting with structural variety, such as creating periods
with fewer than eight bars or more than eight bars.
TABLE 66 Optimizing Unity and Variety in Song Form
Prefer...
Instead of...
Phrase Types
•
Distinguishing between
VM phrases and
structural phrases
•
Gestalt
Principles
•
Recognizing the unifying •
value of Gestalt patternrecognition principles:
proximity, similarity,
continuation, and closure
Song Form
•
Using binary structure as
the foundation of song
form
Using the period (a pair
of related phrases) as the
principal building block
•
Considering the large
structural units of verse,
chorus, middle eight,
etc., as the principal
building blocks
Leaving significant space
between VM phrases
•
Creating run-on VM
phrases with
inadequate intervals
between them
•
VM Phrase
Spacing
•
Thinking of phrases only
in terms of melodic
groups or only in terms
of structural units
Ignoring pattern
recognition principles
and creating
unstructured music
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565
VM Phrase
Beginnings
•
Varying VM phrase
beginnings from song to
song:
- Before beat 1 of bar 1
(anacrusis)
- On beat 1 of bar 1
- After beat 1 of bar 1
•
Using the same type of
VM phrase beginning in
every song, especially
the default (before beat
1 of bar 1)
Lyrics and Their
Metrical Position
Accents
•
Adhering to the Accentmatching Law most of
the time when setting
words to music (or viceversa)
•
Ignoring the Accentmatching Law
8.4.2
EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF SONG FORM
Table 67 below lists some reported emotional effects of structural phrases.
TABLE 67 Emotional Effects of Various Characteristics of
Structural Phrases
Structural Phrase
Characteristic
Associated Emotions
Clear, predictable, low
complexity
Happiness, joy, peace,
relaxation
Unorganized; lacking clear
patterns; chaotic
Anger; fear
Complex
Tension, sadness
9
How Melody and
Melody-harmony
Integration REALLY
Work
A melody is a series of tones that makes sense.
—VICTOR ZUCKERKANDL
9.1
Evolution, Music, and Emotional
Arousal
9.1.1
WHY MUSIC IS ALL ABOUT EMOTION: EVOLUTION
AND THE ADAPTIVE PURPOSES OF THE EMOTIONS
Only emotion endures.
—EZRA POUND
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Evidence on the evolutionary origin of music lends support to the view that if music
is “about” anything, it’s about the melody. That melody is the soul of music.
(Everything is the soul of something, it seems. Ethanol is the soul of beer.)
Apart from lyrics, it is the melody, including melodic rhythm, that most people
remember about a song. Harmony, while important, does not usually stick in longterm semantic memory the way melody does.
As discussed in Chapter 1, animal calls—the non-human equivalent of tunes—
are emotional in nature. Emotions evolved as adaptations with enormous survival
value.
We humans are animals that vocalize in part to communicate information
(language) but also to communicate our emotional state. A human mother and her
baby use melodious vocalizing, among other things, to attune to each other
emotionally. Since music communicates emotion, it may well owe its evolutionary
origin to the survival value of inherently musical mother-infant communication.
Music, the saying goes, is the language of emotion. Even pre-school children can
accurately identify specific emotions that music elicits. If the adaptive purpose of
music is to communicate emotion, and if music is “about” melody, then clearly a
melody that fails to communicate emotion fails as music. This chapter explores some of the
ways you can improve the odds that you will create melodies that succeed musically
by communicating emotion.
ANIMAL LANGUAGE TRANSLATORS
Male mice sing when they encounter female mice. Isn’t that
nice? Men mice sing love songs to attract women mice. Alas,
male mice sing at frequencies of 30 to 110 kHz—far above the
range of human hearing. So humans never hear their melodious
serenading as they scurry through the house at night, avoiding
traps.
Dogs and cats don’t sing, but they make emotional noises well
within human hearing range. So, naturally, humans have found a
way to cash in on the unworldliness of pet owners who think
dog barks and cat meows mean something specific, other than
“hey!” A Japanese company successfully markets “dog translators”
and “cat translators” to gullible pet owners, providing more
evidence that pets are more intelligent than their owners. So far,
hundreds of thousands of credulous humans have shelled out
$75 to $100 for the devices, but no dogs or cats have paid for
“human translators.”
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Dialogue Is Not Enough: Emotion and Film Music
In a novel, the writer describes for you, without dialogue, the interior lives of
characters: what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling emotionally. In a film, you
have action, dialogue, facial expressions—and music. Movies hardly ever lack a
musical sound track. Music arouses the emotions of an audience. Through music, the
audience shares characters’ emotional experiences.
Even in the era of the so-called “silent movie,” a musician—typically a pianist or
organist—played along with the movie to provide the emotional experience
associated with characters’ actions. Then “talkies” came along and the film-music
industry briefly died away. Movie makers quickly discovered that, even with audible
dialogue and other sound effects, something was missing. Talkies without music
were emotionally impoverished. Soon, movie makers restored music to the cinematic
experience, and music became as essential to talking pictures as it had been to silent
films. Music has remained a central aspect of the movies ever since. Psychologist
Annabel Cohen, a specialist in music cognition, sums up the role of music in film:
The capacity of music to accomplish the emotional task ... may be
based on the ability of music to simultaneously carry many kinds of
emotional information in its harmony, rhythm, melody, timbre, and
tonality. Real life entails multiple emotions, simultaneously and in
succession. Miraculously, yet systematically, these complex relations—
this ‘emotional polyphony’—can be represented by the musical
medium.
Music is usually lacking in stage plays other than musicals because of synchronizing.
In live theatre, no two live productions are the same each night. Also, music costs
more money than theatre companies can afford.
9.1.2
EMOTIONAL REACTIONS AS RESPONSES TO
SURPRISE OR CHANGE
You have an emotional response when you experience surprise or uncertainty—the
discrepancy between what you expect to happen and what actually happens. You
experience positive or negative emotions, depending on whether the unexpected event
improves or threatens your survival prospects or your capacity to send your genes
into the future.
One of the main reasons you remember exciting events much better than ordinary
experiences is that adrenaline enhances the formation of memories. It speeds up
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memory-making. When you experience a big surprise—positive or negative—you
feel a surge of adrenaline and react emotionally.
•
You’re walking along the main street of Dodge, minding your own business,
when suddenly—surprise!—a pack of snarling wild dogs bursts out of the
Wrong Ranch Saloon and charges straight at you. Rush of adrenaline.
Negative emotional reaction.
•
You check your lottery ticket numbers, expecting nothing again this week (as
every week for the past 14 years). Instead—surprise!—you discover you’ve
won $87,412,162.19. Rush of adrenaline. Positive emotional reaction.
When you hear a piece of music, it begins by creating a world of tonality and
regular beat. Sequences of chords and tones and phrases set up “normal”
expectations.
As the song unfolds through time, your brain tries to predict what will happen
next, based on what’s already happened. Too much successful prediction causes
disinterest and boredom. Too little leads to confusion.
For instance, when you hear a V7 chord, you anticipate that it will resolve to the
tonic chord. If your brain’s prediction turns out wrong—the resolution does not
happen when you expect it to happen—you’re surprised, uncertain about when the
resolution will happen. You experience emotional arousal.
The longer the delay, before the V7 chord resolves, the more intense the
emotional arousal. If the V7 chord then progresses to a chord other than the tonic
chord (deceptive cadence), emotional intensity increases even more. When resolution
to the tonic finally comes, you get another emotional jolt, a rush of pleasure.
The best music elicits both negative and positive emotions by
continually creating uncertainty— violating expectations—and then
resolving the uncertainty.
This goes on simultaneously in all the elements of a song as it unfolds in time:
•
Harmony: The chord progression wanders away from the tonic chord,
challenging tonality with chords other than simple triads. (As discussed in
earlier chapters, different chord types elicit different kinds of emotions.) But
sooner or later, tonality gets the upper hand and uncertainty is resolved.
•
Melody: The tune challenges tonality by wandering away from the tonic note,
forming complex-ratio intervals, creating uncertainty, which is allayed when,
every so often, the tune returns to the tonic note.
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571
•
Rhythm: VM phrases and instrumental solos create uncertainty in the way
their rhythm patterns contrast with the (completely predictable) underlying
beat. VM and instrumental solo phrase patterns usually repeat every two or
four or eight structural bars, alleviating the uncertainty.
•
Form: In many songs, structural phrases vary unexpectedly from the four-bar
norm, creating uncertainty. (An example discussed later in this chapter is
“Hey Ya” by Outkast.) An unusual structure usually repeats many times
throughout the song, creating a pattern that becomes familiar and relieves the
uncertainty.
•
Lyrics: Meaning keeps changing in the verses, creating uncertainty. Some
phrases keep recurring in the form of a chorus, creating familiarity that dispels
the uncertainty to a degree. If there’s no chorus, repeated words or phrases in
the verses serve the same purpose.
As discussed in Chapter 7, emotionally significant experiences are stored in
episodic memory and “emotionally tagged.” If you perform a set of songs that
arouses an audience emotionally, they will remember that experience, especially if
you give them some musical moments so surprising and startling that they experience
an adrenaline rush or two. They will remember you and your performance. And they
will buy your music.
But if you perform a set of songs that fails to stir them emotionally, they will not
remember the experience. Or you.
Music increases general emotional arousal, but not everyone necessarily has the
same specific kind of positive or negative emotional experience. Music can and does
trigger many kinds of emotion simultaneously and also in succession. For example,
a song may induce a similar intensity of emotional arousal in two people, but one
may feel intense anxiety while the other feels intense excitement.
People enjoy emotionally-charged music, even if the valence is negative and the
intensity is strong. Like going to a movie or listening to a story, the context is
controlled. (See Section 2.4.3).
Avoiding Habituation
As a songwriter, you want your songs to elicit some kind of emotional response
in your audience. Empirical evidence shows that music actually creates expectations.
If you play a melody for a listener, then stop it suddenly, the listener has a pretty
clear expectation of how the tune “ought” to continue.
Although repetition is essential in music, if a musical element becomes too
predictable, if there’s not enough change or variety, habituation sets in, which
decreases emotional arousal (left side of Wundt curve). To avoid habituation, it’s
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necessary to keep introducing novelty in one or more elements throughout the song:
new melody, lyrics, chords, instrumental solos, background harmonies. For example,
it’s common for lead instruments to play solos in the gaps between VM phrases, and
between the main sections such as the verses, choruses, and the middle eight.
9.1.3
EVERYBODY’S ON DRUGS: NATURAL,
BRAIN-MANUFACTURED DRUGS
Pleasurable activities such as eating stimulate pleasure centres in the brain, rewarding
and reinforcing behaviour that has clear survival value. Listening to music and
making music cause the brain to generate natural pleasure-inducing drugs. As
discussed in Chapter 1, the pleasure you get from music, like the pleasure you get
from eating, has survival value, or music would not have evolved as an adaptation.
Non-medical hedonic drug-taking stimulates pleasure centres but has no survival
value. The effects wear off due to habituation, but you remember what caused the
pleasure, which may lead to addiction—clearly a survival disadvantage. Natural
selection designed pleasure to be fleeting. If whatever made you happy did not wear
off, you would only do it once.
Hedonic drug-taking only began when humans discovered how to manufacture
and ingest drugs that the brain mistakes for natural, brain-created drugs. It’s a
cultural phenomenon that has been around only for a few millennia in some regions
of the world, and a few centuries in other regions.
THE SACRED DRUNKEN MOOSE OF SWEDEN
In 2004, soprano Birgit Nilsson became only the second Swede
ever to win the coveted Moose Nobel Prize in Music, the world’s
most prestigious music prize (see Appendix 3).
Speaking of moose, every autumn across central Sweden, moose
get drunk on apples that have fallen and fermented. The moose
lose their inhibitions and wander into cities and towns, looking
for a good time and getting into trouble. Sometimes they attack
people without provocation. Occasionally they stagger into
houses and wreck the Ikea furniture.
But Swedes love and forgive their intoxicated moose. Why?
Because Swedes consider the moose a sacred animal, which
explains the shock and awe the H.U.M.S. members experienced
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573
when the original Moose Verdi galloped up to them, outside the
Swedish Academy of Music back in 1901.
In Sweden, hunters are not allowed to shoot sacred moose, just
as hunters are not allowed to shoot sacred cows in India. In fact,
the Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea uses an image of a
sacred moose as its sacred company mascot and sacred
corporate logo. Ikea has worked out an arrangement with the
Swedish government whereby, if a hunter in Sweden goes out
into the bush and shoots a moose, Ikea will fly in a bounty
hunter from Dodge City to track down and shoot the moose
hunter. (Marshal McDillon loves this gig, as it gives him the
opportunity, while in Sweden, to shop for Ikea home furnishings
that you can’t get in Dodge.) Fortunately, Ikea has only had to
dispatch bounty hunters a dozen or so times, as the great
majority of Swedes are law-abiding and respect the sacred place
of the moose in the Swedish way of life. In fact, if you look hard
enough on the Internet, you will even find Swedish moose fetish
cults, usually affiliated with Swedish thrash and death metal
bands such as the seminal band, Moose at the Gates.
Here’s a brief account of how various hedonic drugs work in the brain,
summarized by Steven Johnson in Mind Wide Open:
[The drug] ecstasy floods the brain with excess serotonin. Cocaine
increases the availability of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin.
Hallucinogens like LSD achieve some of their effects by imitating the
serotonin molecule. Amphetamines release dopamine and
noradrenaline. Nicotine mimics dopamine molecules, as well as
activating nicotine receptors. Alcohol and other tranquillizers have a
more generalized effect, decreasing the activity of GABA [gammaaminobutyric acid, an inhibitory neurotransmitter] in the brain.
Opiates, as their name suggests, pass for the brain’s naturally occurring
opioids.
Research on motivation for choosing a career in music indicates many performers
claim to choose music as a profession for hedonic reasons. They simply want to keep
experiencing the pleasure, the emotional rush that music induces.
The brain’s main pleasure-drugs are the opioids and oxytocin, the “love drug”
associated with childbirth, romantic attachment, and social bonding. Animals fail to
form pair bonds when researchers block their brains’ oxytocin receptors. Evidence
indicates music may trigger the release of oxytocin. David Huron, a specialist in
music cognition, explains that:
Although in contemporary society music tends to be experienced in
a personalized or individualized listening context, we already know
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that this context is historically unprecedented. Most music making in
hunter-gatherer societies occurs in a social or group context. Until the
invention of the phonograph, the vast majority of music in Western
culture was also experienced in social or group contexts.
The pleasure associated with music in a “group context” drives people to seek
music to regulate moods—get out of a bad mood, relieve anxiety—by, for example,
going out with others to a club or concert.
The emotional effect of music subsides when the music ceases, but you remember
what it was that aroused that emotion. Which is why you can listen to the same piece
of music time after time and derive pleasure from it. Each time, the music triggers a
little drug rush in your brain and you feel the related emotion.
ROMANTIC LOVE = OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE
DISORDER
Speaking of being on brain-manufactured drugs, what is the
difference between being in love and suffering from obsessivecompulsive disorder?
Not much, apparently.
A controlled study comparing patients with obsessivecompulsive disorder with people in love and “normal” people
(not in love) revealed strong neurochemical similarities between
the obsessive-compulsives and the “in-loves.”
See “Love Is The Drug” on the Gold Standard Song List for more
information.
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9.2
Melody, Memory, and Memes
9.2.1
HOW SONGS FUNCTION AS POWERFUL MEMES,
REPLICATING AND MUTATING LIKE GENES
In his landmark book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins introduced the concept of
the meme (rhymes with “team”), the unit of cultural transmission. Memes have genelike properties. Anything humans create, hold in memory, and pass on to future
generations and other members of the same generation is a meme.
A song that becomes a classic is a successful meme.
Memes have properties analogous to the those of the gene, the unit of biological
transmission. Robust memes live on, get transmitted throughout the population and
become part of the “meme pool.” Feeble memes are forgotten—they become extinct.
Feeble memes include nearly all of the mediocre original songs written by nearly all
(clueless) songwriters.
Memes propagate via a process analogous to, but not the same as, Darwinian
natural selection. The mechanics of Darwinian natural selection apply:
1. Selection. Selective pressure must exist. Memes evolve to fit imposed
environmental conditions (differential fitness, or survival of the fittest). For
example, if a song causes enough people to experience enough pleasure, they
will remember it and the song will become a classic, such as Dylan’s “All
Along The Watchtower,” especially the Jimi Hendrix cover recording.
2. Variation. Variability must exist. Songs are created in many genres. Any
given song can be performed and recorded in any number of styles by any
number of artists. The searing Hendrix recording of “All Along the
Watchtower,” much different from Dylan’s original acoustic rendition, has
always been far more popular.
3. Heredity. Replication must occur in order to pass on memetic mutations to
future generations. Many more people learned “All Along the Watchtower”
and passed it on to others because of the Hendrix version (a mutation) than
would have been the case had Hendrix not covered the song.
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A large number of memes can exist as “meme complexes.” Religions and
political parties, for instance. In music, a style or genre is a meme complex.
This does not mean that there’s such a thing as “cultural evolution.” There isn’t.
Memetics merely explains how ideas—memes—spread through populations. Songs,
for example, do not come about because of song mutations. Creative songwriters
dream up songs. The natural selection analogy does not apply to the origin of memes
such as songs—only to the way memes propagate.
A meme is a physical, biological entity. Every song you know, for instance, exists
in your brain (your long-term semantic memory) in the form of a network or
networks of neurons. When you teach somebody a song, that person forms the same
or similar neuronal structure in his or her brain. You have propagated your songmeme.
Unlike genes, which can only propagate from generation to generation though
time, memes can propagate “horizontally”—throughout a population of the same
generation. Anything that humans create and can hold in memory and pass on to
future generations is a meme. A song, for instance.
9.2.2
WHY MOST OF THE WORLD’S BRILLIANT TUNES
HAVE NOT YET BEEN COMPOSED
The memes we call tunes can exist in practically infinite variety because music is
combinatorial, like language and the genetic code. Some songwriters think that all the
great melodies have already been composed ... there will never again be songwriters
and composers as great as, say, Mozart or Lennon-McCartney or Chopin or
Ellington or Schubert or Kern or any other great composer you care to name.
Rubbish.
How many possible tunes are there? To get an idea, consider the number of
combinations you have to choose from. Suppose you start with some conservative
restrictions, such as:
•
A compass of 19 semitones, the pitch range of “The Star Spangled Banner”
•
A note value no longer than one bar in duration (four beats in simple
quadruple meter)
•
A note value no shorter than one-eighth of a bar in duration
Almost anyone could sing any tune you might create within these parameters.
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At the beginning of bar one, you have a choice of 20 notes (19 semitone intervals
= 20 notes) or a rest, for a total of 21 note possibilities, if you think of a rest as a “silent
note.” Each note (or rest) can have one of eight duration values.
So, off the top, you have 21 notes x 8 duration values = 168 choices.
Select one.
Now that you’ve made your first choice, you again have 168 choices for the
second note (or rest). The first note (or rest) you selected does not in any way affect
your selection of a second note (or rest). Therefore, the number of two-note
combinations is 168 x 168 = 28,224.
Continuing on, by the time your tune reaches eight note-rest combinations, the
number of possibilities has grown to (in round numbers) 634,600,000,000,000,000.
That’s 634.6 quadrillion possible melodies (at least in America and Canada, but not
in the UK, France, or Germany, where quadrillion means something different; but
who’s counting?).
Most tunes have way more than eight note-rest combinations. So the number of
possible combinations of singable songs is vastly greater than a mere 634.6
quadrillion.
The number of possible tunes that could be composed in only a few bars is so
enormous that, even if only a tiny fraction of them would sound appealing to human
ears, humanity would have to exist for many millions of years for songwriters to get
around to composing and recording all the possible great melodies.
In other words, most of the world’s brilliant tunes are still up for grabs, waiting
to be composed ...
„BETTER THAN THE BEATLES‰
Well, what can anyone say about The Shaggs? Dot, Heather, and
Betty (and sometimes Rachel), the Wiggin sisters, from Fremont,
New Hampshire.
An unbelievable band. Unbelievable. A band that played
impossible original music for five years (1968 - 1973). Impossible
music. Nobody in the history of the world has ever played such
impossible music.
Frank Zappa is said to have proclaimed that The Shaggs were
“better than The Beatles.” Indeed. The Shaggs recorded an alltime classic album, Philosophy of the World, an impossible album,
an album that will probably live on, long after Abbey Road is
forgotten.
If you’ve never heard The Shaggs, here’s the website:
www.Shaggs.com
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Click on the orange “Foot Foot” image at the top of the page and
listen in awe to one of The Shaggs’ all-time classics, “My Pal Foot
Foot.”
9.3
Melodic Unity and Coherence
9.3.1
ESTABLISHING TONALITY WITH MELODY
In Chapter 5, you learned about the importance of establishing tonality. You can’t
create musical uncertainty and the emotion that goes with it until you first establish
musical certainty in the form of tonality. Harmonically, you can establish tonality by
using the V7 chord, which points unequivocally to the tonic.
Melodically, you can help establish tonality by using scale degrees 1, 3, 4, and/or
5 early in the melody. Particularly in metrically accented positions. You don’t have
to rigorously use all of these key-defining notes, of course. But the more of them you
use, and the earlier, the sooner you will be able to modulate.
Modulation in “Street Fighting Man”
•
The verse of the Jagger-Richards classic, “Street Fighting Man,” is in the key
of C, using only the I and IV chords, and only scale degrees 1 and 4 in the
melody.
•
For the chorus, the song modulates to the key of G. The melody of the chorus
is drawn exclusively from scale degrees 1, 3, 4, and 5 of the new key (the notes
G, B, C, and D). This firmly establishes tonality in the new key, G major.
•
The modulation is further reinforced when the harmony moves to the V chord
of the new key (the chord D major) and melody to the leading tone, Fv, a note
that is foreign to the original key, C major.
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The song’s musical effectiveness derives from the alternation between two
keys, C major for verses and G major for choruses. Skilful use of scale degrees
1, 3, 4, and 5 make the modulation effective.
It’s not just for the sake of modulation that it’s wise to establish tonality early,
using the notes of the key’s tonic triad. Once established, you can stay in the same
key and go nuts with non-chord diatonic tones, leaps, sequences, and other
techniques discussed later in this chapter.
9.3.2
MELODIC COHERENCE AND INTELLIGIBILITY
Music, like prose, has to be intelligible. Audiences don’t remember unstructured,
inaccessible tunes (extreme right side of the Wundt curve). That applies to the way
melodies work within structural phrases, and also to the ways melodies themselves
are structured.
Even infants without previous musical exposure prefer coherent melody and
harmony. You need a certain amount of melodic and harmonic novelty to create
interest, but too much causes confusion and reduces interest.
The smallest melodic unit that has any meaning, much as the smallest unit of
words in language that has any meaning, is the phrase. And, as with language,
successive musical phrases need to be related to each other if they are to stick in a
listener’s memory.
When you write a song, you have to incorporate enough change in the various
musical and lyrical elements to keep things unpredictable and exciting, but not so
much novelty that coherence melts away.
Later in this chapter, you’ll learn some specific techniques you can use to strike
the right balance. Top of the Wundt curve.
9.3.3
IMPORTANCE OF A PRACTICAL VOCAL RANGE
The melodies of most great songs range from seven semitones (an interval of a
perfect fifth) to 19 semitones (an octave and a fifth). Most people can handle 19
semitones. That’s the range of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Tessitura refers to pitch compass or range. Male voices are lower in tessitura than
female voices. For example, a woman with a soprano voice and a man with a
baritone voice can each sing a tune that spans 19 semitones, but each in his or her
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
own tessitura. The soprano could not sing the tune in the baritone’s tessitura, and
vice-versa (except perhaps in falsetto).
Tessitura also refers to the pitch compass of a song or composition. You’ll notice
that the notes of the verses of some songs cluster in the lower pitch range—
tessitura—of the song. Then, in the chorus, the notes cluster in the upper tessitura.
The melody may only have a range of 12 to 15 semitones, but the sections are
divided tessitura-wise to create contrast.
Think twice before deliberately setting out to write a melody with a low-tessitura
verse and a rousing, high-tessitura chorus. Like shift modulation (the dreaded Truck
Driver’s Gear Change), this practice has been over-done to the point of abuse. As
you’ll see, there are many other ways to conjure melodic magic.
9.4
Tune and Chord Progression
9.4.1
MELODIC VS HARMONIC FORCE OF INTERVALS
Melody is comprised of intervals, some of which have more harmonic force than
melodic force:
•
Intervals with strong harmonic force in a melodic context: fifth, fourth, major
and minor thirds. As discussed in Section 9.3, these intervals help establish
tonality.
•
Intervals with moderate harmonic force in a melodic context: major and minor
sixth. About equally harmonic and melodic.
•
Intervals with weak harmonic force in a melodic context: major second, minor
second, major seventh, minor seventh. Seconds are the quintessential melodic
intervals.
For the sake of maintaining unity within variety, when melody proceeds in
intervals of seconds that land on metrically accented positions, you can use
consonant simple triads to ensure that the dissonant seconds—non-chord tones—
stand out. (A section on non-chord tones is coming up.)
Conversely, when the melody proceeds in thirds and fifths, you can use dissonant
chords to offset the harmonically consonant melodic intervals.
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9.4.2
RELATIVE SPEED OF MELODY AGAINST
HARMONY: EMOTIONAL EFFECTS
In a well-structured song, chords progress in a non-random, coherent way. They
relate to each other, drawn mainly from the circular harmonic scale of the prevailing
key (Appendix 1). Simultaneously, the tones of the melody also proceed nonrandomly, drawn from the diatonic scale of the same prevailing key. Although
melody and harmony unfold at different paces, the two nevertheless relate to each
other in such a way as to sound unified.
The correspondence between harmony and melody can take three forms.
1. Harmony Moves Slower than Melody (“Normal” or Default)
This is the default in popular music and most other music that has harmonic
motion. Typically chords change every bar or two, sometimes twice in a bar,
sometimes only once every four or more bars. The faster the tempo, the more bars
go by between chord changes. But, because of the quick pace, elapsed time between
chord changes is about the same as at moderate tempo.
2. Harmony Moves Faster than Melody
This is what happens when a tone of the melody is held or extended while the
chords change. This technique creates surprise and resulting emotional response—
“Why isn’t the note moving? When is the note going to change?”—that gets
satisfactorily resolved when the note finally resolves and the “normal” succession of
tones resumes.
3. Harmony and Melody Move at the Same Speed
When chords change with every melodic note, the overall pace tends to be slow
and the emotional effect solemn. Chords have a lot of musical weight or mass, as it
were, compared to melodic notes. So when chords change with every melodic note,
the brain perceives that a lot of power or energy is being expended to move so much
mass so frequently.
Although type 1 above prevails most of the time, great songs sometimes have
instances of types 2 and 3, each of which surprises the listener and elicits an
emotional reaction.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
9.4.3
CADENCE IN ITS MELODIC CONTEXT
In Section 6.6.12, you learned about cadence in its harmonic context, especially the
role of the all-important V chord, called the dominant chord for good reason.
Most of the time, the chord that accompanies the last note of a VM phrase is
either the V chord (an imperfect cadence, also called a half cadence or half close) or
the tonic chord (a perfect cadence, also called a full cadence or full close).
The frequency with which cadences occur has major implications for melodic
coherence.
If cadences involving the V chord occur too far apart, a series of
VM (vocal-melodic) phrases will not sound cohesive—one of the
most common songwriting mistakes.
As you’ll see later in this chapter, VM phrases tend to occur in groups of two or
four within eight-bar structural phrases. The first VM phrase of a pair (or pair
grouping) usually ends on the V chord or the tonic chord. Sometimes it ends on
some chord other than V chord or the tonic, such as the IV chord or the IIm chord.
If a VM phrase starts with tonic chord accompaniment and the melody includes
notes of the tonic chord (scale degrees 1,3, and 5), tonality is established firmly
enough that the intermediate cadence can be some formulation other than V7 – I.
But, for the sake of melodic coherence, the V chord is likely to enter the picture in a
cadence position somewhere in the eight-bar period.
There are no set cadence formulas. But there’s no question that the V (or V7)
chord and the V7 – I perfect cadence work wonders in holding a melody together
structurally. Few great songs go on for 16 bars without a single instance of a V or V7
chord resolving directly or indirectly to the tonic chord.
Cadence, Continuation, and Conclusiveness
Melody has harmonic implications, and vice versa. You can’t really disentangle
the two. Cadence is equal parts harmonic and melodic. The note on which a VM phrase
ends, and the chord that accompanies it, together constitute a cadence.
For a feeling of continuation, the chord progression accompanying a VM phrase
usually ends on:
•
•
•
The V or V7 chord; or
Some other chord non-tonic chord such as IV or IIm or VIm; or
A variant of the tonic chord, such as the seventh (e.g., C7 in the key of C
major).
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Melodically, in a “continuing” cadence, the VM phrase lands on some note other
than the tonic.
A continuing cadence tends to occur at the end of the first of a pair of VM
phrases, with the second VM phrase ending on the tonic note.
For a feeling of conclusiveness, the chord progression typically moves from V7 to
the tonic chord. But when the chord progression moves to the tonic chord,
conclusiveness may not be absolute. It depends on where the melody lands.
The melody usually lands on one of three scale degrees:
•
•
•
Scale degree 1, the most conclusive-sounding
Scale degree 5, less conclusive-sounding
Scale degree 3, still less conclusive-sounding
If a cadence consists of the tonic chord combined, melodically, with scale degree
5 or 3, it often functions as a continuing cadence, despite the tonic chord harmony.
One of the most common and structurally sound ways to write a period is to end
the first phrase with some type of continuing cadence, and the second with a
conclusive V7 – I cadence with the melody landing on scale degree 1. But this is by
no means a stock formula.
Melodically, the two VM phrases may be similar, in a sequential relationship
(more on sequences later in this chapter). Or they might contrast, as for example,
when the first VM phrase ends on a note either considerably higher or considerably
lower than the first note of the phrase, and the second VM phrase takes the melodic
line back to the opening note.
Masculine vs Feminine Cadence
A masculine cadence occurs when the final note of a VM or melodic phrase falls on
a metrically strong beat:
•
•
The first or third beat of the second, third, or fourth bar in quadruple meter
The first beat of the second, third or fourth bar in triple meter
A feminine cadence occurs when the final note of a vocal or melodic phrase falls on
a metrically weak beat:
•
•
The second or fourth beat of the second, third, or fourth bar in quadruple
meter
The second or third beat of the second, third or fourth bar in triple meter
Practically every popular song has masculine cadences. Which is why feminine
cadences tend to stand out. If you hear a feminine cadence, it’s usually in an
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
intermediate structural position, such as the second bar of a structural phrase. In
which case it’s usually followed by a masculine cadence in the fourth bar.
A good example of an intermediate feminine cadence is the opening two-bar VM
phrase of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” The last note of the
VM phrase (the word “love”) falls on the fourth beat of the second bar. What makes
it stand out, apart from being a feminine cadence, is that the last melodic interval
leaps from scale degree five (“mind”) up to the tonic (“love”), an interval of a perfect
fourth, which gives the last note a striking pitch accent on the off-beat.
Occasionally, a creative songwriter will use a feminine cadence at the end of a
structural phrase or period, where such cadences seldom occur. An example is the
last four-bar phrase of the verse of the Lennon-McCartney song, “Golden Slumbers”
—the vocal line, “Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry ... and I will sing a lullaby-ee.”
Here are the last two bars. The chord progression is the standard full-close V7 –
I:
Chords
V7 (Dominant 7th)
Metrical Accents
!
•
Words and Pitches
I (Tonic)
!
•
!
•
!
•
sing
Will
a
ee
I
And
lulla
by-
The effect is particularly striking because, not only does the feminine cadence
occur at the end of a period (and the end of a verse, repeated at the end the chorus),
but the last interval (“by-ee”) is a big leap, from the scale degree three up to the tonic,
an interval of a minor sixth (eight semitones). A startling, unexpected pitch accent
that seizes the listener’s attention.
CHRIS BLISS: THE BIG FINALE
If you have never seen the Chris Bliss “Golden Slumbers” finale,
go to www.ChrisBliss.com, look for the video press kit, and click
on The Big Finale video. Turn up the sound and be astonished for
the next four and a half minutes.
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9.5
VM Phrases Within Structural
Phrases: From Weill and Brecht
to Bowie and Beck
9.5.1
BINARY STRUCTURE AT THE PERIOD LEVEL
Experimental evidence indicates that, to make a tune memorable, chunking and
Gestalt grouping principles must apply. Chapter 8 emphasized the main unifying
structural factor in songwriting: four-bar structural phrases forming eight-bar periods.
They dominate, regardless of genre, meter, tempo, verse-chorus structure, etc. Within
a pair of structural phrases, VM phrases can be short or long, and arranged in a
variety of ways.
This section presents 16 pairs of structural phrases (periods) from 16 different Gold
Standard songs, showing the positioning of VM phrases within each eight-bar period.
9.5.2
WUNDT CURVE ANALYSES
Each of the 16 songs examined has been successful over the long term, both
artistically and commercially, because the songwriters managed to balance unity and
variety. Each song perches atop the Wundt curve.
How did the songwriters do it?
The Wundt curve analysis for each example provides an explanation with respect
to the structural aspect. Read and understand the commentary for each example,
apply the techniques to your own songwriting, and you’ll have another tool at your
disposal that will help you create tunes that are far superior to the lame melodies of
99% of songwriters.
If you’re keen, draw your own grids and sketch in the remaining periods and VM
phrases for each of the 16 songs. You may also wish to re-visit Section 8.2.3,
“Techniques of Variation within Binary Structure.”
Try doing your own Wundt curve analyses of the VM phrases not shown in the
16 examples.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
How do great songwriters achieve unity (left side of the Wundt curve)? As
you’ll see in the examples, the answer in most cases is not simply “exact
repetition.” It’s more subtle than that. Those subtleties spell the difference
between greatness and mediocrity in creating VM phrases and positioning
them in structural phrases. So reflect on the details.
•
And how do great songwriters simultaneously achieve variety (right side of
the Wundt curve)? Again, you’ll learn how if you study the details in the
commentary.
Pay particular attention to the balance between unity and variety in each example.
To get even more practice, do some sketches, like the ones in the examples, of
other songs that have stood the test of time, and that you personally admire.
Determine meter, tempo, vocal start points with respect to beat one of bar one of
structural phrases, VM phrase positioning within structural phrases, VM phrase
lengths, intervals between VM phrases, use of sequences, and so on. Most
importantly, do Wundt curve analyses to learn the details of unity-variety balance.
The more you do this, the more you will improve your understanding of how to
consistently create emotionally powerful tunes.
9.5.3
16 EXAMPLES
These 16 examples represent nearly all the major genres, the most commonly used
meters, all four of the tempo ranges, and all three of the possible VM phrase start
points with respect to structural phrases.
In each diagram:
•
The VM phrases are indicated in black, the intervals between the VM phrases
in white.
•
Capital letters (A, B, C ... ) identify different VM phrases within an eight-bar
period. If the VM phrase repeats after an interval, the repeated VM phrase(s)
has the same letter designation. In such cases, the melody usually repeats but
the words are usually different. Not always, though.
•
Where numbers follow capital letters (A1, A2), the second VM phrase repeats
melodically as a sequence (repetition at a different pitch).
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Each diagram represents only eight bars of the song—not the whole song. Go to
a music download website, get any of the recordings of the 16 songs that you don’t
have (the original recording by the songwriter, except where indicated in the
examples coming up) and use them to follow the commentary about each eight-bar
period.
1. “Space Oddity” (David Bowie)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Slow (65 BPM)
Vocal starts: After beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: The first VM phrase (“A”) occurs 3 times—
both words and music—in only 8 bars. Right side/variety: The
“B” VM phrase starts in the same metrical position as the first
“A” VM phrase (more unity), but is longer and has a
contrasting melody and different words.
A
B
A
A
2. “Take the ‘A’ Train” (Billy Strayhorn; REC: Duke Ellington; Ella Fitzgerald)
Meter:
Combined quadruple
Tempo:
Lively (174 BPM)
Vocal starts: On beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: Both “A” and “B” VM phrases are the same
length; they begin and end in the same positions within their
respective structural phrases. In both VM phrases, the first note
is held for a little more than 1 full measure. Right side/variety:
The “A” and “B” VM phrases contrast—different tunes, words,
melodic rhythm, numbers of note-syllables. This song is in uptempo combined quadruple meter, now common in hip-hop.
A
B
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3. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (Hank Williams, Sr.)
Meter:
Combined triple
Tempo:
Moderate (112 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: 3 iterations of the same prominent melodic
interval (a major third) in the first VM phrase, 2 iterations in the
second VM phrase. Right side/variety: The second instance of
the VM phrase begins in the same metrical position as the first,
and has the same tune, but contrasts because it is truncated by
1 bar. The 2 VM phrases also have different words. As well, this
song is in combined triple meter—not common in popular
songs—which makes it stand out.
(A)
(A)
A
A
B
4. “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Fast (200 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: The “A” and “B” phrases have identical
numbers of notes (6) in their melodic rhythms. An identical
instrumental riff occupies the long interval following each VM
phrase. Right side/variety: The tunes and words of the 2 VM
phrases are different. Also, the 2 VM phrases begin a full bar
before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrases. A long anacrusis
commands attention because it’s unusual.
(A)
(B)
A
B
A starts repeat
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5. “Brown Sugar” (Jagger-Richards/The Rolling Stones)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Moderate (128 BPM)
Vocal starts: After beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase
Song part:
Chorus
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: The musical elements of the“A” and “B” VM
phrases repeat exactly in the second structural phrase. Also, the
lyrics are the same in the 2 iterations of the “A” VM phrase (the
words, “brown sugar”). Right side/variety: 2 different VM
phrases within each structural phrase. The words are different
in the 2 iterations of the “B” VM phrase. Also, the first VM
phrase within each structural phrase begins far into the
structural phrase—the second beat of the second bar. Unusual
and ear-grabbing—the opposite of the “Superstition” VM
phrases, which begin way before the structural phrase.
A
A
B
B
6. “Mack The Knife” (Weill-Brecht; REC: Louis Armstrong; Bobby Darin’s cover of
Armstrong’s arrangement)
Meter:
Combined quadruple
Tempo:
Lively (172 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: 3 consecutive iterations of the first VM phrase.
The third iteration is in the same metrical position as the first,
within their respective structural phrases. Right side/variety:
In the Louis Armstrong (Bobby Darin) arrangement, the fourth
VM phrase (“B”) is both shorter (3 notes instead of 4) and has
a different melody. All 4 VM phrases have different words.
(A)
(A)
A
B
A
A
C starts
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7. “When A Man Loves A Woman” (Lewis-Wright; REC: Percy Sledge)
Meter:
Compound quadruple
Tempo:
Slow (64 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: The musical elements of all 3 VM phrases,
“A”, “B”, and “C”, repeat exactly in the second structural
phrase. Right side/variety: The words are different for all 6
VM phrases. The song is in compound quadruple meter, and
the tempo is slow—characteristics that set this song apart from
all the moderate-tempo songs in simple quadruple meter.
(A)
(A)
B
B
A
A
A
C
C
8. “Going Back To Harlan” (Anna McGarrigle; REC: Emmylou Harris)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Lively (166 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Chorus
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: The words “I’m going back to Harlan” repeat
with the same melody and melodic rhythm. Right side/
variety: No variety in this 8-bar period! An unusual case, as
most 8-bar periods do have some internal variety, if only in the
lyrics. In this song, the variety is in the other periods, and in the
musical and lyrical contrasts between verses and choruses. This
is one song you need to listen to from the top to appreciate how
ace songwriter Anna McGarrigle deftly balances unity and
variety.
(A)
(A)
A
A
A
starts again
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„A WOMAN WITHOUT ... ‰
Many years ago, the Dodge City Musical Saw Weekly sponsored a
song contest. To enter, you had to write a song beginning with
the words, A woman without. Both Ms Puma and Marshal
McDillon entered the contest. By sheer coincidence they both
came up with the same opening line:
A woman without her man is nothing
But the VM phrasing of the two entries was different. Marshal
McDillon’s went like this:
Ms Puma’s went like this:
The two versions of that line became well-known in Dodge, then
spread to Wichita, then Kansas City, and eventually around the
world.
The judges of the contest, Doc Yada-Yadams and an admiring
reporter from the Dodge City Musical Saw Weekly, passed on
both songs and instead selected a country-rap tune by Deputy
Fester as the winner:
“A Woman Without A Deputy Marshal Don’t Know What She’s
A-missin’, Hint, Hint, Sadie And Ellie Sue, Either One Of You
Will Do”
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9. “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” (King-Goffin; REC: Aretha Franklin)
Meter:
Combined triple
Tempo:
Moderate (112 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Chorus
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: 3 consecutive exact iterations of the first VM
phrase, both musically and lyrically (“You make me feel”).
Right side/variety: The “B” VM phrase begins without a rest
after the end of the third “You make me feel,” which is
unexpected, given the intervals following the first 2 iterations of
the “A” VM phrase. The “B” VM phrase contrasts both
lyrically and musically from the “A” VM phrase. “B” is almost
twice as long and has a different melody. This song and Hank
Williams, Sr.’s recording of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
share both meter (combined triple, which is unusual) and tempo
(112 BPM). Play them back to back for a study in similarity and
contrast.
(A)
(A) B
A
A
A
10. “Be My Yoko Ono” (Page-Robertson; REC: Barenaked Ladies)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Fast (236 BPM)
Vocal starts: After beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase
Song part:
Chorus
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: Not much, except that the “A” and “B”
phrases start at the same point within their respective structural
phrases. This is the opposite of“Going Back to Harlan” (all
unity, no variety). Like “Harlan,” you need to listen to this song
from the top to appreciate the unifying elements. For example,
the title phrase “be my Yoko Ono” repeats 9 times. Right
side/variety: In this period, the 2 VM phrases contrast, both
musically and lyrically. The tempo of this song is flying, about
double the “default” tempo range. Speed like that gets a song
noticed.
A
B
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11. “Over the Rainbow” (Arlen-Harburg; REC: Judy Garland)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Slow (88 BPM)
Vocal starts: On beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (or after in some
recordings)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: The second VM phrase, “A2" is a musical
sequence: it repeats the melody of the first phrase, but at a lower
pitch. The melody of the third bar of “A1" echos that of the first
bar, but at a lower pitch. The melody of the second and third
bars of “A2" form a sequence. Right side/variety: “A1" and
“A2" do not form a “perfect” sequence. The third bar of “A2"
does not follow the third bar of “A1" sequentially. Also, the
lyrics of “A1" differ from the lyrics of “A2".
A1
A2
12. “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Fast (222 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: 3 consecutive iterations of the “A” VM
phrase. The first and third have the same metrical positions
within their respective structural phrases. Right side/variety:
The “B” VM phrase contrasts melodically with the “A” VM
phrase. Also, all of the lyric lines are different.
(A)
(A)
A
B
A
A
C
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13. “Loser” (Hansen-Stephenson; REC: Beck)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Lively (170 BPM)
Vocal starts: On beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase
Song part:
Chorus
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: Not much within this 8-bar period—just the
slide guitar riff (ostinato) that repeats every 2 bars behind the
vocal. However, this entire 8-bar period repeats immediately
without variation each time it appears. It repeats a total of 8
times in the song. Although 2 VM phrases occupy more than 7
of the 8 bars of the period, VM phrase “A” has only 6 notes.
“B” has 12. Two notes in each phrase are held for multiple
beats. The lyric has only 13 words (3 in Spanish, 10 in English).
Right side/variety: VM phrases “A” and “B” contrast both
musically and lyrically.
A
(B)
B
14. “For The Good Times” (Kris Kristofferson)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Slow (88 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Chorus
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: Like “Loser,” the VM phrases in “For The
Good Times” do not repeat either musically or lyrically. But, of
course, the entire period repeats several times during the song.
Because of the slow tempo, it takes more than 20 seconds to
hear the 15 words of the lyric in this 8-bar period—about 5
times slower than ordinary conversation. That’s a lot of time for
the listener’s mind to process the semantic and emotional
content of the lyric. Right side/variety: The 3 VM phrases are
all different from each other, musically and lyrically. Also, the
tempo is considerably slower than default tempo, which attracts
attention.
A
A
C
B
C
D
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15. “Come Fly With Me” (Van Heusen-Cahn; REC: Frank Sinatra)
Meter:
Combined quadruple
Tempo:
Moderate (136 BPM)
Vocal starts: Before beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase (anacrusis)
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: As with the previous 2 examples, there’s little
unity within this period, save that the melody of the first part of
melodic phrase “B” repeats the first part of “A,” sequencestyle—although the 2 VM phrases do not form a sequence.
However, the third structural phrase (not shown below), repeats
VM phrase “A” lyrically (with only slight variation), and also
musically, sequence-style. Right side/variety: VM phrases “A”
and “B” contrast both musically and lyrically.
A
B
C
(A)
(B)
16. “Into The Mystic” (Van Morrison)
Meter:
Simple quadruple
Tempo:
Lively (168 BPM)
Vocal starts: After beat 1 of bar 1 of the structural phrase
Song part:
Verse
Wundt curve: Left side/unity: Melodically and rhythmically, the 2 iterations
of VM phrase “A” are identical within the 2 structural phrases.
Right side/variety: The lyrics of the 2 phrases are different
from each other.
A
A
Table 68 below presents summary information on the above 16 examples.
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TABLE 68 Summary Info on VM phrases Contained in 16
Eight- Bar Musical Periods from 16
Songs
How often does a VM phrase begin
,
, or
beat 1 of bar 1
of the first structural phrase?
•
•
•
Before:
On:
After:
How much of a 4-bar structural
phrase contains VM phrasing? How
much is “rest”—non-vocal intervals
before, between, and/or after VM
phrases?
•
•
VM phrase
Non-vocal
intervals
How many VM phrases are
contained in an average 8-bar
period?
•
2 VM phrases, about half the time
(1 in each four-bar structural
phrase)
4 VM phrases, about half the time
(2 in each structural phrase)
Only occasionally is the number of
VM phrases not 2 or 4
•
•
55%
20%
25%
65% (range: 40-90%)
35% (range: 10-60%)
How many note-syllables are in an
average VM phrase?
•
•
7, on average (only about 5 words)
Range: 3 to 12, rarely more
(maximum of 9 or 10 words)
Within 1 period, how likely is it
that a VM phrase will repeat,
melodically?
•
60%,likelihood the VM phrase will
repeat usually with different
words in the second half of the
period.
40% of the time, there’s no
repetition within the period, but
the whole period usually repeats
immediately.
•
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9.5.4
DO THE MELODIC TECHNIQUES PRESENTED IN
THE NEXT 10 SECTIONS GUARANTEE
EMOTIONALLY POWERFUL TUNES?
Guarantee? Not the way Sadie and Ellie Sue guarantee each horse they sell for five
years or 50,000 miles, the best dang guarantee anywhere west of Wichita and north
of Amarillo. Get on down to the Dodge City Horse Store before Thursday, make a
deal, and they’ll extend their guarantee to 6 years or 60,000 miles. Can’t beat it with
a hickory switch.
Not that kind of guarantee.
However, you will find the techniques you are about to learn in evidence in the
best work of the greatest, most consistent composers of popular songs: Gershwin,
Porter, Rodgers, Kern, Simon, Lennon-McCartney, Dylan, Waits, Hank Sr., Young,
Bowie, Mitchell. All of ’em. And in the works of composers such as Bach, Mozart,
Beethoven, Schubert, and the rest. Regardless of genre, the following techniques and
principles of effective melodic composition work. If you learn them and use them, the
odds that you will actually produce great tunes, and do it consistently, improve
dramatically.
This is not about learning art. It’s about learning technique. For practical purposes,
think of the relationship between art and technique like this:
Art: Emotional communication via imaginative use of media such as vocal or
instrumental sound, body movement, paint on canvas, film projection, etc.
Technique: Manipulative skill with the media used in creating art.
As a songwriting artist, you are forever manipulating elements such as melodic
and rhythmic components, chord progressions, and various aspects of lyrics, such as
rhyme and parallel construction. The more technical skill you have with musical and
lyrical elements, the more successful you will be in translating what you imagine and
feel into successful real-world art.
You have to master technique before you can expect to hit artistic heights:
People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me.
Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I.
There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and
over.
—WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
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You first need to learn how the following techniques work, then become so
familiar with them that they get lodged in your skull, in your long-term procedural
memory. Like working with circular harmonic scales and other useful techniques
covered in Chapters 6, 7, and 8. After a while, you will automatically incorporate
them into your songwriting.
If you don’t apply the techniques presented in the next ten sections, you will
almost certainly not create memorable, convincing melodies. Or only rarely, just by
chance—like the great majority of songwriters who, when it comes to composing a
tune, have no idea what they’re doing.
9.6
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#1):
DonÊt Let Your Comfort Zone
Select Certain Song Elements
9.6.1
WHY PRE-SELECTING SOME ELEMENTS WORKS
BETTER THAN LETTING YOUR COMFORT ZONE
SELECT THEM
First, your tune needs to be accessible enough to capture an audience’s attention. In
measured music, every melody has identifiable metrical characteristics and modal
characteristics. That is, every melodic phrase unfolds in time within a milieu of
meter, tempo, start point (with respect to a structural phrase), and melodic mode or
scale type.
If you write songs randomly, by simply banging away at a guitar or keyboard,
letting the metrical and modal characteristics take whatever shape they take, you will
find yourself defaulting to a narrow range of metrical and modal characteristics that
you find easy to work in, or that you’re comfortable with—but that listeners find
tedious or muddled. Your personal, boring, confusing comfort zone.
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And you will probably compose mediocre tunes that all sound similar,
structurally and melodically.
What’s the alternative?
As guest lecturer Igor Stravinsky remarked at the beginning of Chapter 5, art is
organized chaos. So get organized, already.
9.6.2
THE FOUR PRE-SELECTIONS
Before you even begin to dream up a tune, make the following four pre-selections.
If you incorporate this practice into your songwriting routine, you will keep yourself
out of the metrical-modal rut that most songwriters wallow in.
1. Pre-select Meter
In measured music, a melody is an irregular rhythmic entity that you can’t separate
from meter. So, since there’s no melody without meter, pre-select a meter before you
start composing a tune.
You have seven options:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Simple quadruple (the default)
Simple triple
Compound quadruple
Compound triple
Combined quadruple
Combined triple
Irregular
2. Pre-select Tempo
Every song proceeds at a certain tempo. So pre-select a specific tempo. Use a
metronome and settle on a BPM number. (You can always change it later.) You have
four tempo ranges to choose from (see Section 7.7.3).
1.
2.
3.
4.
Slow (60 ± 30 BPM)
Moderate (120 ± 30 BPM) Default range is 110 to 140 BPM
Lively (180 ± 30 BPM)
Fast (240 ± 30 BPM)
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3. Pre-select VM Phrase Start Point with Respect to the First Structural
Phrase
Since a VM phrase must proceed within a framework of structural phrases, preselect one of the alternatives for starting a VM phrase with respect to beat one of bar
one of a structural phrase. Choice of start point is just as important as choice of meter
and tempo. A melody is a rhythmic entity, so each type of start point has a different
effect on how the melody will ultimately sound (see Section 8.2.5).
You have three choices.
1. Before beat one of bar one (anacrusis, the default)
2. On beat one of bar one
3. After beat one of bar one
If you select either “before” or “after,” you don’t need to decide exactly how
many beats before or after, prior to writing a tune. Just “before” or “after” will do.
4. Pre-select Mode or Scale Type
A melody is comprised of a coherent succession of notes that belongs to a group
of related tones called scales. Think of scales as belonging to three broad categories.
Pre-select one category to work with:
1. Major mode—any major diatonic scale (the default)
2. Minor mode—any minor diatonic scale
3. Some other scale type, such as major or minor pentatonic, blues, or Churchmode (e. g., the Dorian scale)
You don’t need to decide on a specific scale. Just decide whether you’re going to
work in a major key, or a minor key, or some other alternative, such as a Church
mode.
9.6.3
AIM FOR VARIETY IN YOUR PRE-SELECTION
COMBINATIONS
In making your four pre-selections, try to avoid the defaults in two or three of them. Or at
least select a combination you’ve never used in a previous original song.
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You won’t run out of combinations to pre-select from. Not any time soon. If you
multiply out all the choices in the above four characteristics—seven meters, four
tempo ranges, three start points, three mode/scale categories—you get 252 possible
combinations. You could write a song every week with a different pre-selection
combination for almost five years before you’d start repeating them.
If you already have a body of original songs, go through each one and make a
note of the combination of “pre-selection” characteristics for each song (even though
you did not pre-select them). See how many of your own songs have “default,”
characteristics. And how many use the same combination of four characteristics, or
have three out of four characteristics in common.
9.6.4
SKETCH YOUR FOUR PRE-SELECTIONS ON PAPER
Once you’ve made your four pre-selections, draw a little sketch of an eight-bar
period—two four-bar structural phrases—on paper (the back of an envelope, so that
when you write your first immortal song, you can claim that you scribbled it on the
back of an envelope), noting your four pre-selections. Mark the approximate VM
phrase start point with an “X.” Something like this:
Combined quadruple, 100 BPM, after beat one, major key,
X
Now that you’ve made your four pre-selections, you’ll probably feel comfortable
enough to try creating your own tune(s).
But don’t do it yet. Instead, go through the next nine techniques, then try the
approach to songwriting that follows technique #10.
SARTWELLÊS LAWS
Prof. Crispin Sartwell’s laws come in handy if you’re interested in
evaluating the quality of a rock band. Maybe your own band ...
Sartwell’s First Law: The quality of a rock band is inversely
proportional to its pretentiousness. The pretentiousness of a
rock band can be expressed as the ratio of its artistic ambition to
its artistic accomplishment.
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Sartwell's Second Law: The quality of a rock song varies
inversely as the square of its distance from the blues. The
bluesier the better.
Application of Sartwell’s Laws leads to the conclusion that, as a
rock band, The Rolling Stones beat The Beatles. The evidence:
•
Beginning with Revolver, The Beatles’ artistic ambition
outweighed the band’s artistic accomplishment.
Moreover, The Beatles, once a great R & B band, strayed
far from the blues tradition.
•
The Rolling Stones never aspired to be anything more
than a blues-rock band. They did not let artistic ambition
get ahead of artistic accomplishment. Further, in all their
years of playing, they rarely strayed far from the blues.
According to Sartwell, the application of his two laws yields a
short list of the worst rock acts in history: King Crimson, Pearl
Jam, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, early U2, and early Bruce
Springsteen.
9.7
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#2):
Recognize the Primacy of
Rhythm Patterns
A melodic phrase has two components: a tune and a rhythm pattern. How important
is the rhythm pattern to melodic unity?
Suppose you play a melodic phrase, and then have a choice of playing it a second
time either with changes to the rhythm pattern or with changes to the melody.
•
If you were to play the same melody with a totally different rhythm pattern,
listeners would have a hard time recognizing the second melodic phrase as
being related to the first. A major coherence problem.
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•
603
If you were to retain the same rhythm pattern but change the melody, listeners
would easily recognize the second melodic phrase as being related to the first,
preserving coherence.
The rhythmic aspect of a VM phrase (or a melodic phrase)
plays a central role in creating melodic identity and
coherence.
So, when you’re working on your own tunes, make an effort to craft unique
rhythm patterns. They don’t have to be complex, but they need to contrast with the
metrical regularity of the underlying structural phrase in order get noticed and make
the melody interesting.
Review the rhythm patterns of the VM phrases in the 16 examples in Section
9.5.3. Keep in mind that the starting point of the rhythm pattern with respect to the
structural phrase helps determine the character or identity of the rhythm pattern
(Section 8.2.5).
THE SONG TAPPER
If you become obsessed with rhythm patterns, you can visit a
therapeutic website called The Song Tapper. Like thousands of
others every day, you too can go nuts tapping rhythm patterns of
popular songs on the space bar of your computer keyboard, just to
see what titles come up.
Here’s the URL: www.SongTapper.com.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
9.8
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#3):
Use Sequences
Ilsa: Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.
Sam: I don’t know what you mean, Miss Ilsa.
Ilsa: Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”
—JULIUS EPSTEIN, PHILIP EPSTEIN, & HOWARD KOCH (Casablanca)
If two consecutive ML phrases have the same rhythm pattern, the second is usually
related to the first in one of the following six ways:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Same melody with the same lyrics
Same melody with different lyrics
Same melody repeated at a different pitch, with the same lyrics
Same melody repeated at a different pitch, with different lyrics
Different melody with the same lyrics
Different melody with the different lyrics
Humans have inborn sequence recognition. Infants can recognize the same tune
played at a different pitch (i.e., the whole melody or phrase, raised or lowered in
pitch).
Options 1 and 2 in the above list are common in songwriting, but not as
interesting as the other four alternatives. This section discusses options 3 and 4.
Section 9.9 deals with 5 and 6.
A sequence is a melodic phrase that is repeated at a different pitch. Sequences are
exceedingly effective in melody building, although in popular music, you don’t hear
sequences as much as simple bald melodic repetition (1 and 2 above). Like
modulation and many of the other 10 techniques in this chapter, the sequence is
highly effective but under-exploited because most songwriters don’t know what it is
or how it works.
•
Sequences provide a strong sense of melodic coherence or unity because a
whole group of tones— a pattern or melodic unit—is repeated. A sequence is a
melodic chunk, instead of a random group of notes.
•
Sequences also provide variety because the repetition happens at a different
pitch.
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One of the beauties of the sequence is that you can use the merest motive of three
or four notes and construct an entire verse, chorus, or whole song out of it. This is
an ideal to strive for: maximum melodic milage from the fewest possible notes. Unity is
assured and, if you apply certain techniques, so is variety. For instance, you can:
•
Build leaps into the motive or phrase, ensuring repetition of the leaps at
different pitches (technique #5, coming up)
•
Build in augmentation and diminution, ensuring their repetition at a different
pitch (technique #6)
•
Position the motives or phrases metrically so that non-chord tones get
metrical position accents, which then get repeated at a different pitch
(technique #8)
•
If the sequences move upwards in pitch, take the melody to a satisfying
climax (technique #10)
Table 69 lists a few examples of songs with sequences:
TABLE 69 A Smattering of Great Songs with Sequences
Song
Sequences
“As Time Goes By”
(Hupfeld)
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
“Settin’ The
Woods On Fire”
(Rose-Nelson)
Comb your hair and paint and powder
You act proud and I’ll act prouder
You sing loud and I’ll sing louder
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“Hey Ya” (Outkast)
The first “hey ya” and the second “hey ya” of the chorus form a semisequence. “Hey” is the same pitch in both instances, but “ya” is
different. This song is comprised of 6-bar structural phrases, the
fourth bar of which has 2 beats instead of 4. Here’s how the 2 VM
phrases of the chorus fit the structural phrase:
Bar 1
Bar 2
Bar 3
Bar4
Bar5
Bar 6
This unusual structural phrase gives the song a unique sound, much
different from regular 4-bar phrases with 4 beats to the bar.
Repetition of the oddball structural phrase throughout the song,
unaltered in both verses and choruses, provides unity. Differing
somewhat from the above VM phrases of the chorus is the single VM
phrase of the verses, contributing additional variety:
Bar 1
Bar 2
Bar 3
Bar4
Bar5
Bar 6
“El Paso” (Marty
Robbins}
Out in the west Textown of El Paso
I fell in love with
“On Broadway”
(Leiber-StollerMann-Weil)
They say there’s always magic
But when you’re walking down that
“Satisfaction”
(Jagger-Richards)
I can’t get no and satisfaction form a sequence at verse beginnings
Also: cause I try ... and I try ... and I try ... and I try
“The Girl From
Ipanema” (JobimDe MoraesGimbel)
when she passes, each
One she passes goes
Also:
Oh but I watch her so sadly
How can I tell her I love her
Yes, I would give my heart gladly
Also:
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at me
“Across The
Universe”
(LennonMcCartney)
rain into a paper cup, they
slither while they pass, they slip
Also:
Jai Gu- and -ru DeAlso:
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
“Get Back”
(LennonMcCartney)
Jo Jo was a man (the rest of this line varies from the next two lines)
Thought he was a loner
But he knew it couldn’t
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“Eleanor Rigby”
(LennonMcCartney)
607
rice in the
church where a
wedding has
Lots of Lennon-McCartney tunes have prominent sequences: “Penny
Lane” (beginning of verse), “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (chorus) ,
“Norwegian Wood” (“Isn’t it good ... Norwegian wood”), “You Never Give
Me Your Money,” to name a few.
To avoid monotony, it’s wise to limit the number of motives or phrases in a
sequence to two or three, as in the examples above. Sometimes three pushes the
limit. If more, you need to alter the tune to keep if from getting too predictable.
9.9
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#4):
Use the Same Rhythm Pattern
with Multiple Melodies
Speaking of altering the tune, melodic rhythm patterns are so memorable that if you
repeat the rhythm pattern but completely alter the tune, the listener will perceive
charming variety within unity. This is one of the most potent and under-exploited
techniques you can use in creating a tune for a song.
Table 70 lists a few examples from the Gold Standard Song List.
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TABLE 70 Rhythm Patterns that DonÊt Change and Melodies
that Do: A Few GSSL Examples
Song
VM Phrases with Same Rhythm Pattern,
Different Melodies
“I Got Rhythm”
(Gershwin-Gershwin)
I got rhythm
I got music
This song repeats the same rhythm pattern in the middle eight,
with new melodies:
Ol’ man trouble
I don’t mind him
You won’t find him
Round my door
“Early Morning Rain”
(Lightfoot)
You can work many different melodic phrases into a song if you
preserve the identical rhythm pattern. This song has six unique
short melodies that share the same rhythm pattern:
In the early mornin’ rain
with a dollar in my hand
with an achin’ in my heart
and my pockets full of sand
I’m a long way from home
and I miss my loved ones so
There are two more lines (7 & 8) that are melodic repetitions of
the first two lines.
“Heart Of Gold”
(Young)
I wanna live
I wanna give
“Strawberry Fields
Forever” (LennonMcCartney)
Let me take you down
Cause I’m going to
(This pair borders on being a sequence)
“A Day In The Life”
(Lennon-McCartney)
I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made
“Born To Lose” (BrownDaffan)
Born to lose, I’ve lived my life in vain
Every dream has only brought me pain
All my life, I’ve always been so blue
Born to lose, and now I’m losing you
(With an attitude like that, who wouldn’t leave this person?)
“Mercedes Benz”
(Joplin-NeuwirthMcClure)
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porches; I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
“Is That All There Is?”
(Leiber-Stoller)
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
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9.10
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#5):
Mix Up Steps, Leaps, and Repeats
Once a melody gets going, it can move pitchwise in one of three ways:
1. Stepwise (Conjunct) Motion. As you know, a step is a melodic interval of a
major or minor second (one or two semitones), either up or down. When
melody moves by intervals of a step, it’s called stepwise motion or conjunct
motion.
2. Leapwise or Skipwise (Disjunct) Motion. Melodic motion by any interval larger
than two semitones, either up or down, is variously called leapwise motion or
motion by leap or motion by skip or skipwise motion or disjunct motion. Take your
pick.
3. Repeated Tone Motion. When a tone simply repeats, even if the next tone is of
a different duration, it’s called repeated tone motion.
9.10.1
STEPWISE (CONJUNCT) MOTION
Listeners expect a melody to move mainly by steps. Stepwise motion creates melodic
cohesion. This is the Gestalt principle of proximity: listeners recognize patterns or
threads in sequences of tones that are close together in pitch.
Listeners perceive melodic motion by step as easy and flowing, which is why it’s
called conjunct motion.
But if conjunct motion goes on for too many steps, it gets monotonous because
it becomes too predictable. How many consecutive steps are too many? Four or more
in the same direction start to sound like someone practising scale exercises.
As discussed at the outset of this chapter, the pleasure you get from music relates
to the emotion that comes of foiling the brain’s prediction machinery (surprise!).
There are a couple of ways you can mess with your audience’s foretelling faculty and
make stepwise motion interesting, without sacrificing melodic coherence:
610 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Don’t use tones of the same duration (technique #6, coming up).
•
Ensure that some steps include non-chord tones in metrically accented
positions (technique #8, coming up).
9.10.2
LEAPWISE (DISJUNCT) MOTION
Leapwise (or skipwise) motion refers to motion in intervals of three or more
semitones up or down within a VM phrase, not between VM phrases.
Although leapwise motion is usually termed disjunct, it can sound decidedly
conjunct when the melody moves in thirds, using the same tones as the
accompanying triads or seventh chords. “The Star Spangled Banner” begins with a
sequence of downward and upward leaps. But those leaps (the tones that go with the
words, O - oh say can you see) are mostly thirds that simply follow the chord tones in
succession. This is called an arpeggio. Because the tones of the melody do not deviate
from the tones of the prevailing chord progression, there’s no sense of disjunction,
no loss of melodic cohesion.
After the initial leap-filled eight-bar period, which repeats, the remainder of “The
Star Spangled Banner” is comprised mainly of steps, with only a few leaps and a few
repeated tones.
Leaps wider than a third are perceived as disjunct. They’re dramatic—especially
leaps upward—because they’re unexpected, and unmistakably wider than steps. They
create pitch accents. The more leaps, the more excitement.
But, as with steps, there are several ways you can spoil a melody with leaps if you
aren’t wary:
•
Too many consecutive leaps, up and down and up and down, can sound
clumsy, disjointed, and incoherent, unless handled carefully (e.g., the verse
of “Street Fighting Man,” comprised of numerous repetitions of the same
perfect-fourth leap, which keeps the tune unified).
•
Too many leaps in the same direction can render a tune unsingable if the pitch
range becomes too wide.
•
A leap to or from a chromatic note may weaken tonality. This does not apply
if you’re using the modal technique, because all Church mode scales have
some chromatic notes. (technique #9, coming up).
Here are four guidelines to keep in mind when you’re working on a tune with
leaps:
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1. Use some leaps—but not too many. Enough to give your melody some drive
and energy. But keep in mind that if your tune does not have significantly
more steps than leaps, it will usually fail to cohere in your listeners’ brains.
2. A leap carries greater melodic weight if it’s accompanied by a chord change
because the second note of the leap gets a multiple accent:
-
The harmony changes at the same moment the melody makes a
significant change.
-
A chord change usually occurs on a metrically accented beat (metrical
position accent)
-
The second note of a large leap is usually of longer-than-average
duration (agogic accent; technique #6, coming right up)
3. Leaps of thirds, fourths, fifths, and octaves are safe, compared with leaps of
sixths, sevenths, and ninths, which elicit stronger emotion, but pose a risk of
sounding awkward if not used with a bit of care.
4. After a leap, especially a large leap, it’s usually wise, for the sake of melodic
cohesion, to“fill in” the pitch gap, mainly with stepwise motion. Filling-in
need not proceed immediately after the leap. It can move in waves that
gradually fill in. For example, “Over The Rainbow” begins with a dramatic
octave leap. By the end of the second measure, the top half of the octave leap
is filled in with stepwise motion. But it’s not until the second phrase, second
measure, that the bottom half of the leap gets filled in.
In “Over The Rainbow,” the stepwise filling-in proceeds mainly upwards in
pitch, on the words -ver the rainbow and that I heard of. If you reverse these two
phrases and sing that I heard of, followed immediately by -ver the rainbow, you
have the complete octave leap filled in stepwise—it’s the diatonic major scale:
do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.
You can also fill in an upward leap by moving stepwise downwards. Think
of ascending and descending a staircase. You can easily leap upwards, several
steps at a time. But coming back down, it’s prudent to step downwards, one
step at a time, or you and your horse will break your necks.
If a leap is small—a leap between chord tones of a triad or seventh chord—
then filling in the pitch space after the leap is not necessary for melodic
coherence, or at least not as urgent.
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9.10.3
REPEATED TONE MOTION
Recall from Chapter 3 that pitch is about the “height” of sound. It’s the vertical
dimension of music, although it also has a horizontal dimension because it consists
of intervals in temporal succession.
Melody is less interesting when successions of intervals do not vary in pitch.
Repeated tones are inherently non-melodic. Too many repeated tones tend to retard
melodic development. Melody is much more interesting and emotionally compelling
when the tune keeps changing direction. The listener’s brain has a harder time
predicting the next note or series of notes. It’s the element of surprise. And surprise
elicits emotion.
Most great songs have a small proportion of repeated tones. They usually occur
in twos or threes, with alternate tones on metrically weak beats, so that the repetition
is not as perceptible. Or they occur in larger groups in fast-tempo songs, which have
a high total number of notes, and can handle more repeated tones.
A melody that has a high overall proportion of repeated tones quickly becomes
boring and forgettable. When successive notes don’t change pitch, there’s no tension
to resolve. Most songwriters, who have no idea how important it is to keep a melody
moving, unwittingly shackle melodies with many noticeable groups of four, five, or
more repeated tones, preventing the melody from taking flight.
In a popular song, VM phrases tend to be short, and the melodies
are repeated often, even if the lyrics change. So wasting valuable
VM phrase time on a lot of repeated tones has the effect of repeating
repeated tones, practically guaranteeing melodic monotony.
Inserting more chord changes to make a dull melody interesting does not work
as well as changing the direction of the melody. The brain tracks melody more keenly
than harmony. Recall from Chapter 6 that melody-free harmony does not stand on
its own, but harmony-free melody does (if well-composed). Unlike melody, chords
have no inherent upward or downward quality.
When to Make a Point of Using Repeated Tones
Perils of repeated tone motion notwithstanding, you can make deliberate,
effective use of repeated tones in several ways:
1. If you want to focus the listener’s attention on the words and rhythm, not the tune,
use a lot of repeated tones. All rappers do this, of course. Some great non-rap
songs have significant passages of repeated tones, such as U2's “One,” “Miss
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Otis Regrets,” and “One Note Samba.” Some songwriters who are famous for
the quality of their lyrics have used this technique conspicuously:
-
Bob Dylan: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “The Times, They Are Achangin’,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Political World”
-
Leonard Cohen: “The Future,” “Closing Time,” “First We Take
Manhattan,” “Teachers”
2. Groups of repeated tones can work well if sequenced. By repeating a whole group
of repeated tones at a different pitch, you effectively chunk the group. Some
examples:
-
Lennon-McCartney’s “Get Back” (verse); “Golden Slumbers” (the
repeated line, Once there was a way); many other Beatles tunes with
sequenced repeated tones
-
Most of the first two VM phrases of the verse of “Born To Be Wild”: Get
your motor running and Get out on the highway form a sequence, with each
phrase comprised mainly of repeated tones
-
The first three VM phrases of the verse of “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”
(see Table 69)
3. Repeated tones sound exciting if the notes are short and fast.
-
Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” (verses)
-
Lennon-McCartney’s”Help!” (verses)
-
Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”—the first 20 or so notes of each verse
9.10.4
MIXING MELODIC MOTION
To improve your odds of creating a great tune, make a point of:
•
Using mostly stepwise motion, but make it interesting, using the techniques
discussed in this section.
614 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
Including some leaps beyond thirds.
•
Refraining from using any more than a minimal proportion of repeated tones
(remembering that the faster the tempo, the more repeated tones your tune
can absorb without getting monotonous), except when you deliberately want
to downplay the tune to focus attention on lyrics, or when groups of repeated
tones form sequences, or when the tempo is fast and notes short.
9.11
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#6):
Mix Up Note Values
9.11.1
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
If all or most of the notes of a VM phrase are of the same value (duration), the notes
tend to match the underlying beat in lock step, which can sound rigid and boring.
Once again, not enough variety. Too predictable.
The solution, of course, is to mix up note values. The usual problem is that there
are too many notes of short duration, hardly any of long duration. And if there are
any long-duration notes, they invariably occur only at the ends of VM phrases.
Here are some ways you can use note values to create melodic interest:
•
Start VM phrases on unaccented beats. Every so often, begin and end VM
phrases on offbeats, between metrically accented beats. This disrupts the lockstep effect of consecutive equal-value notes.
•
Begin a phrase with a long note. Another highly effective technique is to use a
note of long duration at or near the beginning of a VM phrase, instead of the
usual position at the end. Some examples: “Loser” by Beck (chorus); “I Still
Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 (chorus); “Ooh Las Vegas” by
Gram Parsons (chorus); “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” by The
Band (chorus); “Moon River” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer;
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“Smooth Operator” by Sade & R. St. John (chorus—the second “smooth”
phrase in each pair); “Golden Slumbers” by Lennon-McCartney (chorus);
“Take the ‘A’ Train” by Billy Strayhorn.
•
Use leaps. Leaps are usually notes of longer duration. So if you include some
leaps in your tunes, you usually ensure note-value variety. As for notes of
short duration, they sound best if they proceed stepwise, or with the
occasional small leap of a third or fourth. Short-duration notes that proceed
mainly by leap tend to sound choppy and incoherent.
In highly active melodic passages (many short notes per bar), you can contribute
to unity by restricting the frequency of chord changes. Conversely, in passages with
few notes, but long ones, you can add variety by changing chords more often.
9.11.2
HOW MELODIC AUGMENTATION AND
DIMINUTION WORK
Augmentation refers to switching from short note values to long note values—usually
double the previous note value. Which means the number of notes per bar suddenly
decreases by half. Which makes music sound like it has suddenly slowed down.
Diminution is the opposite: switching from long notes to short notes (usually half
the previous note value). Which means the number of notes per bar abruptly doubles.
Which makes the music sound like it has suddenly sped up.
Both effects capture listener attention because they’re unexpected.
In popular music, song parts tend to alternate frequently, so augmentation and
diminution can be striking. For instance:
•
In the Lennon-McCartney song, “Across the Universe,” you hear the
“slowing down” augmentation effect when the song goes into the Jai Guru
Deva chorus, in which the notes are twice as long as the notes of the verse.
When the chorus ends and the tune goes into the next verse, you hear the
“speeding up” diminution effect, with the number of notes per bar suddenly
doubling, compared with the chorus.
•
The Patty Larkin song, “Who Holds Your Hand?” has the same verse-chorus
diminution-augmentation effect as “Across the Universe,” only more
pronounced.
•
Same with “Who Do You Love?”
616 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
•
And the Queen song, “We Will Rock You.”
•
The Bee Gees disco anthem, “Stayin’ Alive,” has several passages of
augmentation and diminution in the chorus.
•
In The Drifters’ recording of “Under The Boardwalk,” you can hear the
augmentation effect going into the chorus, followed by diminution.
•
Diminution in the middle eight of “Over The Rainbow” provides a refreshing
contrast to the long notes of the verses.
Like many other powerful techniques, this one is seldom used except by the few
songwriters who know what they’re doing.
9.12
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#7):
Use Modulation
You already know about modulation from Chapter 6 (Sections 6.12 to 6.14). In
popular music, modulation’s pretty rare (except the ubiquitous Truck Driver’s Gear
Change), so if you can do it successfully, your song will stand out.
When you modulate, you start out in one key, move to a different key (or keys)
and then return to the original key (important!). You become a citizen who goes touring
abroad, taking your audience with you. But you do not lose your citizenship just
because you cross an international border.
If you modulate going into the chorus, you return in the next verse to the tonality
you began with. But the words are different. You have taken your audience back
home, but have landed at a different airport. Soon, you all go travelling abroad
again, each time returning to a different part of your homeland.
When you successfully modulate, your listeners enjoy an adventure they seldom
get in a popular song. Study some of the great modulating songs discussed so far,
such as “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” and “Street Fighting Man” and “Georgia On My
Mind” and “Orange Blossom Special.” If you want to write truly great popular
songs, you need to learn modulation (except shift modulation). It’s not terribly
difficult, and it can be extraordinarily effective and memorable.
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9.13
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#8):
Use Non-chord (Non-harmonic)
Tones on Accented Beats
9.13.1
WHY NON-CHORD (NON-HARMONIC) TONES ON
ACCENTED BEATS LIGHT UP A TUNE
Suppose you’re playing the chord C major, which is comprised of the notes C, E, and
G. Suppose the tune you’re singing only moves among those three notes (in any
order). The melody is using chord tones only. This is called consonant harmony.
•
Consonant harmony provides strong tonality and is often used at the
beginning of a song for that reason—to establish tonality.
•
The opening phrase of “The Star Spangled Banner” uses chord tones only.
•
With consonant harmony, if you remove the chords altogether, you still get
a sense of the harmony, and the tune easily stands on its own.
A non-chord tone (sometimes called a non-harmonic tone), as the name indicates, is
a melodic note that does not belong to the prevailing chord. Suppose you continue
to play the chord C major, C–E–G, but melody uses the notes C, D, E, and G. The
note D is a non-chord tone. It belongs to the C major scale, but not to the C major
chord.
If you were to introduce the note Ex to the melody, still playing the chord C
major, then Ex would be a chromatic non-chord tone.
Non-chord tones create dissonance, which disturbs order, creates tension, requires
resolution. The surprise of hearing the dissonance of a non-chord tone triggers an
emotional reaction in the listener’s brain.
618 HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
If a non-chord tone occurs in an unstressed metrical position, such as the second
or fourth beat of a typical 4/4 measure, the non-chord dissonance is barely noticed
because of the unstressed position.
If the non-chord tone occurs on an accented beat, such as the first or third beat
of a 4/4 measure, the dissonance sticks out. It gets noticed big time. Such stressed or
accented non-chord tones often spell the difference between a great melody and a
mediocre one.
Non-chord tones that occur on accented beats create disorder and cause conflict,
setting up the inevitable resolution to consonance that restores order. The melody
moves from consonant harmony to dissonant harmony, then back to consonant
harmony. The melody becomes more memorable and distinct because there is so
much emotional tension constantly arising, then being resolved.
A few points to keep in mind about using non-chord tones:
•
Consonant chords work best with accented non-chord tones. Just simple majors
and minors instead of dissonant chords. Suppose you’re playing the dissonant
chord C9th, which is comprised of the tones, C, E, G, Bx, and D. If the
melody then moves to the note D, the dissonant effect is weakened
substantially because the chord C9th already contains the note D. There’s no
surprise when the melody hits that note, even if on an accented beat.
•
If a melody is syncopated, the metrical strong-weak effects are reversed or inverted.
For example, if a VM phrase starts on the normally weak beat two, then a
non-chord tone on beat two will stand out and have a strong dissonant effect.
•
Non-chord tones make stepwise motion powerful while preserving melodic
coherence. An ordinary major or minor or seventh chord consists of tones in
intervals a third apart. So if the melody moves stepwise—in intervals of
seconds—it cannot help but create non-chord tones. For example, if the prevailing
chord is C major, C–E–G, and the melody moves stepwise, E – F – G – A –
G, then the notes F and A are non-chord tones. But these two notes take on
melodic significance only if they occur on strong metrical accents. Otherwise,
they’re hardly noticed.
A well-placed non-chord tone has such a strong effect because it defies the
gravitational pull of the chordal mass. It creates a dissonance, a melodic sparkle or
flash.
You will find metrically accented (strong) non-chord tones in the
best melodies of Lennon-McCartney, George Gershwin, Cole
Porter, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell,
Elton John, Van Morrison, and practically every other outstanding
songwriter.
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9.13.2
TYPES OF NON-CHORD TONES
Of these main types of non-chord tones, the two types to actively recruit for your
tunes are accented neighboring tones (also called appoggiaturas) and suspensions.
Unaccented Neighboring Tone—Auxiliary (Weak)
When the melody moves from consonance to dissonance to consonance by a
semitone or tone and the dissonant note falls on a metrically weak beat, the
neighboring tone is called an auxiliary. It’s weak. Nearly all songs have auxiliaries.
Accented Neighboring Tone—Appoggiatura (Strong)
When the melody moves a semitone or a tone from consonance to accented
dissonance to consonance, or a phrase begins with an accented dissonant note, then
resolves to consonance, the dissonances are accented neighboring tones. These
movements may be either upward or downward in pitch.
The first vocal note of the Lennon-McCartney song, “Yesterday,” the syllable yes,
is an accented (dissonant) neighboring tone—an appoggiatura—that moves down a
tone to resolve to a consonance of the prevailing chord (-terday). The same thing
happens on far (dissonant) and away (consonant); here (dissonant) to stay (consonant),
etc. This song has many accented non-chord tones.
Another example plucked at random from the Gold Standard Song List ... the
Talking Heads classic, “Once In A Lifetime.” This time, the accented neighboring
tone moves up to resolve to prevailing-chord consonance. The chorus begins with the
tonic chord (D major) as the prevailing chord. This chord is comprised of scale
degrees 1, 3, and 5. Melodically, the note on beat one of bar one is scale degree 2, a
non-chord tone, on the word days (and, later in the chorus, the words blue and life-).
This dissonance then resolves up to scale degree 3 on the word go (and, in the other
lines, the words again and -time).
Passing Tone (Weak)
A passing tone is just a transitory (weak) dissonant note between a stressed
consonant tone of one chord and a stressed consonant tone of the succeeding chord.
Practically every tune, great and mediocre, has passing tones.
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HOW MUSIC REALLY WORKS!
Suspension (Strong)
When you hold over a tone that belongs to one chord but not to the next chord
in the progression, you have a suspension. The melodic note becomes an accented
non-chord tone with respect to the new chord. It stays that way, in a “suspended”sounding state, delaying resolution for a while, then “lets go” of the suspended state.
It usually resolves by moving one or two semitones up or down to a tone of the new
(prevailing) chord.
In the Preston-Fisher song, “You Are So Beautiful,” the same melodic note, scale
degree 3, prevails on You are so beaut-. The harmony on You are so is the tonic chord,
which contains scale degrees 1, 3, and 5. So the harmony is consonant up to that
point. Then, on the syllable beaut-, the chord changes to IV, comprised of scale
degrees 1, 4, and 6. Since the melody stays on scale degree 3, the note becomes a
suspended non-chord tone. The melody then steps down to scale degree 2 (weak accent),
then scale degree 1 (strong accent), resolving the suspension on the syllable -ful.
For an example of a dissonant suspension that steps up to resolve to consonance,
have a listen once more to the chorus of the same instructive Talking Heads song,
“Once In A Lifetime.” At the end of the first bar, the chord is about to change. The
prevailing harmony is the tonic chord (D major), comprised of scale degrees 1, 3, and
5. The melodic note is scale degree 5 (on the words let the). So at this point, there’s
no dissonance. Then, at the beginning of the next bar, the chord changes to the IV
chord (G major), comprised of scale degrees 1, 4, and 6. But the melody remains on
scale degree 5, which is not a note of the IV chord. This creates suspension, an
accented non-chord tone (the first beat of the IV-chord bar). On the next beat, the
melody moves up to scale degree 6, which resolves the dissonance.
It would be worth your while to download “Once In A Lifetime” for a buck.
Listen to that chorus for the accented neighboring tone and the suspension. Both
recur in every line of the four-line chorus. Melodically, repeated use of these two
types of non-chord tones is precisely what makes the chorus catchy and memorable.
One final example of a highly effective suspension: Lennon-McCartney’s good
ol’ “Golden Slumbers,” a tune that does everything right. At the outset of the chorus,
the prevailing chord is the tonic, comprised of scale degrees 1, 3 and 5. The melodic
tone, on the word golden, is scale degree 3, so there’s no dissonance. Then, on the
syllable slumb-, the chord changes to IV, comprised of scale degrees 1, 4, and 6, but
the melody remains on scale degree 3, creating a suspension, a dissonant accented
non-chord tone. The melody then moves to scale degree 6, resolving the dissonance
by leaping down an interval of a fifth.
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621
Anticipation (Weak)
An anticipation is the opposite of a suspension. A melodic note is already a nonchord tone, but when the chord changes, the dissonance is resolved. So the nonchord tone “anticipates” its harmonic resolution.
9.14
10 Techniques for Creating
Emotionally Powerful Tunes (#9):
Use Modal Scales with Diatonic
Chords
9.14.1
HOW MODAL MELODY WORKS
Using Church mode scales with