(Updated July 2017)

PRACTICAL MUSICIANSHIP by Bill Kibby-Johnson

 

What follows is a rough, text-only draft for part of my book, which aims to provide practical help and information for anyone who does not want their musical performances to depend on reading sheet music.

 

It mainly refers to jazz and popular music, and talks about the "nuts and bolts" of putting music together…

 

A Comprehensive Course & Reference Guide to The Melodic, Harmonic, Chordal & Rhythmic Structure of popular music, jazz & rock, etc. with particular emphasis on the creative aspects of the art, such as improvisation, playing by ear, composition, arranging, etc..

 

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What's It All About, Alfie?

 

It used to be quite commonplace for teachers to be rude and unpleasant to pupils.  I suffered this from two particular teachers at school.  Over the past half-century, I have come across a shocking number of people who were told by their music teachers that they were useless at music, and they should give it up.  Often, this is not a failure of the pupil, it is a failure of the teacher’s elitist attitude, but it can leave people feeling scarred and second-rate throughout their lives.  It’s as if the teacher decided to promote the best pupils, and reject anyone who didn’t conform to some unspoken standard.  I have had pupils who tried again and succeeded late in life, and were frustrated to find that they could have been enjoying making music quite effectively for all those years, if they had received a more gentle, caring approach from the teacher.

 

There is a widespread myth that learning music is all about learning to read notes on a page, and playing what is written down.  That is not what this course is about.  Suppose you wanted to learn to draw, and someone told you that for every picture you want to draw, you must buy a booklet costing several pounds, which tells you exactly what to draw and how to draw it, what shapes, colours and positions - everything!  Imagine, you must never pick up a pencil and doodle, you must only do what the booklet tells you!  That doesn't sound much like art to me, and it's certainly not CREATIVE art, yet the same type of argument is used all the time for music, and many people seem to think that you can't play “properly” if you don't have music in front of you. 

 

How could anyone compose new music if they didn't have the booklet to tell them what to write?  Did Mozart buy a booklet which told him how to find his inspiration?  No!  He learned how music was put together, and used that knowledge to create things himself, from his inspiration.  He used paperwork to write it down for others to read, but the music came first, not the paper! 

 

Irving Berlin was the most prolific Russian-born composer, yet he was a terrible pianist, and couldn't read or write a note of music, he just had a natural talent for songwriting.  Errol Garner was one of many famous musicians who composed, played and improvised without any bits of paper to guide him.  Since he did not write down his music, it was left to other people, and what they wrote was not what he played.  Take for example the middle eight for “Misty”.

 

I'm not famous, but I was brought up in a family to which making music was as natural as breathing.  That doesn't mean it was always good, but it was creative, and nobody ever discussed keys, chord names, or even names of notes.  To be part of these family parties (or "jam sessions" as people might call them now) I had to join in and learn as I went along, although I had the advantage that my Dad was the principal musician of the bunch.   He didn't teach me much theory because he didn't know much of it himself, he just played lots of different instruments, especially the banjo, at which he excelled.  He was one of the few people in the world who could make a banjo a complete solo instrument.  The music he played was mainly the popular music that his generation was brought up on, but all the rules of music were in there somewhere, and I found it easy to apply them to learning the current popular music that was around in the fifties, and right through to the new millennium. 

 

I am no expert on hymns, most of the ones I know were learned at school, which ended in 1963, but in a time when live music is rare, churches tend to have more gatherings of musicians than most other places, so I will often refer to hymns and carols in this course.

 

Over the past forty-odd years, I have worked on trying to write down the rules of music as I see them, and I have put together a course which goes through them in a logical sequence, so that no-one is expected to do things they haven't learnt yet, and one skill is learned at a time, as opposed to the system which expects complete beginners to read music, work out which notes it represents, find them on the keyboard, and play two hands all at once! 

 

There is no quick or easy method, but mine is a CREATIVE one.  Being good at music requires a lot of time and effort, and you need to have the type of mind that asks questions and seeks answers.  Unfortunately, because most people hear music for years before they start to play, your brain wants to run ahead, and you will have to start by playing things that seem very simple and boring, but you will soon move on to brain-teasers.

 

I go through a lot of early practical stages that come before the beginnings of normal music lessons, and attempting to deal with reading music.  I also tell you many things that go beyond what a Grade VIII pupil has been taught.  If you want to learn to be a CREATIVE musician, I can help!

 

The Author

 

People who know Bill Kibby as a musician are aware of his unusual mixture of musical talents, extending to many styles of music, and on many different instruments.  In this, he is uniquely placed for providing an over-all view of popular music, as can be heard on his pianogen website. 

 

“I just love those wonderfully fluid, liquid sounds that flow from the piano whenever Bill is playing” - Carol

 

“I never thought I’d hear jazz guitar like that around here!” – Ed

 

“The sounds that Bill gets from two keyboards are beyond imagination” - Wendy

 

“Bill’s banjo playing was just perfect for New Orleans Jazz” – Rick.

 

“I can’t understand why Bill is not famous” - June

 

“I couldn’t believe Bill could just walk in, front the band at an hour’s notice, and play like that without rehearsal” - John

 

“I don’t think I could improve on Bill’s guitar playing” – Pete.

 

“Bill may not be the best drummer in the world, but I’d be happy to have him with me on a gig” - Eric

 

“Bill’s piano playing is so good, I don’t know why he bothers with all those other instruments” – Rod

 

“Bill’s singing took me back to Matt Monro” - Edie

 

“Bill’s the best musician in town, he’s got it all” – Dave.

 

“Bill’s playing is verging on genius, he IS the band” – Ian

 

“There are so many songs I want to sing, but who else but Bill could I ask to accompany them for me?”  Laurie

 

“Music is not the same without Bill” – Jane

 

“We love Bill’s organ playing, why would he want to play guitar?” – Organ club.

 

“I am not used to banjo players doing proper intros, or playing proper solos!” – Alan

 

“The rhythm section swings when Bill is on bass” - Murray

 

“How many bass players can keep the audience interested when they are soloing for a whole 32 bars?” – Chas

 

Bill was born into a musical family in 1947, and by the mid-fifties, he was participating in what other people would call "jam sessions", but to the Kibby family, they were just parties, and making live music was what parties were all about, not playing party games or listening to records.  Being unwisely encouraged to get a "proper job", Bill headed straight for the music trade instead of music itself, and trained as a piano tuner.  As such, he has, since 1963, collected what is probably the world's largest archive of piano history, yet he never lost the desire to put music first, so piano playing became an important aspect of his work, but like Glen Miller, Bill wasn't content to just play one instrument, he wanted to play the whole band!  Bill's holistic, eclectic approach to music left him with only three possible ways of achieving this aim, namely (1) multi-track recording, or (2) making the best possible use of both hands and feet by playing a pedalboard and two keyboards (like an organist) or (3) the use of electronics and MIDI technology to arrange his own pre-recorded backings for use with stringed instruments.

 

Bill says...

 

I remember an organist who received a standing ovation for playing one simple tune on trumpet, but there is a strange division of attitudes about being a multi-instrumentalist.  I know people who learn all sorts of related skills such as building, decorating, plumbing, gas fitting, electrics, etc..  Medical practitioners often take a holistic approach to studying the whole subject from many different angles, and vets have to do all that for many different animals, but if I explain that I have spent most of my life learning to play a wide variety of music on several instruments, the phrase "jack of all trades" immediately pops up, with its implication that I must be a "master of none"!

 

I wouldn't argue against the point that someone who only ever plays guitar might become a better guitarist than I could ever be, but I gain a wider picture of the world of music, and cannot resist picking a particular instrument for a particular style of music.  In order to function as a musician, I have to be able to please the audience, whether I agree with their taste or not, and as long as I can mix in some of my favourites, there are few greater thrills for me than the applause of an appreciative audience.

 

INSIDE A MUSICIAN’S BRAIN

 

There is a relationship between intelligence and musical ability, and yet it is dangerous to say this to people because so many exceptional musicians are modest, think they are not very clever, or even think they are dim.  You only have to look at talent shows like “The X Factor” or “The Voice” to realise that people are the worst judges of their own ability.  Many wonderful singers are astonished if they get through.  Others think they are God’s gift, and cannot understand why other people can’t hear how “good” they are!

 

For a long time, I have felt that when people are written off as “clever”, they tend to fall into one of two categories.  After many years of wrestling with the problem, I have been unable to identify any significant overlap between the two, or any way of rating the percentage of either aspect in a person’s mind, and most of these individuals can be classified as what (for want of better terms) I describe as either “ACADEMIC” or “CREATIVE”, depending on which side of their brain is used most.

 

The “academic” types have a thirst for information, which they store neatly in their brains, and can regurgitate on demand.  They can consume the contents of a whole broadsheet every day, and can recount the smallest trivia and details of something that happened years ago. 

 

They make excellent journalists, archivists or quizzers, because they can just tap into their brain just as if it were a huge computer hard-drive.  In music, they are those “clever” ones who can remember the written key, the notation, the chord sequence that was there on the paper, and even the lyrics.

 

They make good classical or ragtime musicians or sight-readers, and can often take in knowledge instantaneously, and play an exercise in note-perfect form straight away.  They are less capable of producing original thought, logic and creativity, and can be rigid or dogmatic about sticking to a particular way of playing something.

 

 

By contrast, the “creative” types are absolutely hopeless at remembering facts such as mathematical formulae, but overcome this by having the logic and the nous to work them out from scratch.  Their brains seem to have the puniest of hard-drives for storing known facts and trivia, but have an enormous RAM area for random, spontaneous, creative thought processes, and for inspiration. 

 

In music, they often cannot remember the lyrics, and probably don’t care what key they are in, or what chords the original songwriter used, they unashamedly do their own thaing and set out to create their own individual versions, arrangements and improvements.  They make good improvisers, jazz players or composers, and can play without the need for paperwork, but are not good at doing what they are told by a piece of paper.

 

For me, some of the most special people are those who combine logic with creativity, and manage to cope with, and become comfortable with, the apparent conflicts between those two things, without becoming dogmatic.  The piano historian in me is the scientist and sceptic, who has to seek definite provable facts, and to learn to be wary of any piece of information that has arrived from an unproven source.   There has to be a kind of temporary acceptance of certain things, combined with the realisation that they may later prove to be wrong.  In music, I may start off with the way a piece of music is written or heard, but I inevitably go on to seek improvements and embellishments, and give way to inspiration.  Any logic about why the changes are correct or acceptable is an afterthought, because initially, I just respond instinctively to the inspiration, and…

 

Art should never be explained.

 

I struggle to understand what goes on in my brain sometimes, and I can't really blame it on senility because I think I've always been the same.  Music is a spontaneous thing for me:  I was brought up in a family where music had no paperwork, and no mention of note-names or keys, so I can do more than most people in that way, throwing things in without prior warning, and coping with sudden musical crises.  It has often been said that when I stand in with a band as a “dep” for a single occasion, on one of several instruments, without rehearsal, I do better than the regular guy. 

 

However, rehearsing once or twice doesn't seem to be any guarantee that things will improve, it's as if there is a right way to do that song, at that moment, and any attempt to go against that is denied access to my hard-drive. 

 

If there is a chord written on the paper, but my brain knows it clashes with the melody, I find it physically impossible to cope with the conflict, and always have to defer to the melody.  It's not that I mind if someone changes the melody a little, but the chords MUST be capable of blending with the melody, or I can't cope at all.

 

Anything that comes from notes or notation on a piece of paper is automatically over-ridden by my instinct to respond to a sudden and unexpected change in the melody note, or something that someone else spontaneously throws into the equation.  That’s the thrill of playing with jazz musicians.

 

For me, jazz is a spontaneous conversation between instruments, based on learning the melody, producing enhanced chords that add to the impact of the melody, then improvising new melodies that fit the enhanced chords. 

 

Although I enjoy playing many different types of music, most of the best musicians I know are jazz players.

 

When it comes to keys, I really don't care what key I play in (within reason) so I can't always remember what key different people play or sing in.  Having done a song in several keys with several people over a period of half a century, I often have no clue what key I should be in on this particular occasion, and it is necessary for me to have some logical basis on which to decide on the key, such as the highest and lowest notes. 

 

When I am working on my own, I take control by having a fairly standard way of playing each particular song, and fortunately, my own voice conforms to the well-established convention of top notes up to Eb, so that is the logic I use for choosing keys, even if I am not going to sing. 

 

However, working on the same song with several different musicians or singers, I can easily lose track of who does it which way.

 

I have an incredible memory for some things (such as over 2000 songs) but my brain throws away certain types of information without consulting me first, and I can't always remember what key a song was played in two days ago, this is the down-side of the spontaneity thing.

 

Furthermore, my brain throws away certain songs that don't conform to some unspoken criteria, yet it remembers some rubbish that seems of little value to me in the real world. 

 

Fortunately, this book is not about improving memory.

 

 

CONTENTS

 

Although it is quite in keeping with modern digital technology to number things from zero onwards, it seems a bit weird, even to me, to have a “Chapter Zero”!  However, there is a practical, logical reason for numbering the rest of the chapters from one onwards.

 

Chapter Zero                Introduction and background information.

 

Chapter One                Single-note melodies, intervals and scales.

 

Chapter Two                Pairs of notes in harmony.

 

Chapter Three             Triads - Simple three-note chords, and the beginnings of chord sequences.

 

Chapter Four                Sevenths & other four-note chords.

 

Chapter Five                Ninths & other five-note chords.

 

Chapter Six                  Elevenths & other chords based on 6 notes.

 

Chapter Seven            Thirteenths & other chords based on 7 notes.

 

Chapter Eight               Advanced Chord Index, Note Index and Chord Charts

 

Chapter Nine                The Rhythm Section.

 

 

Don't be afraid to dip into the RHYTHM SECTION whenever you feel like it, it is quite separate, and deals with the rhythm aspects of music, not just for drumming, but also rhythm playing on bass notes and chords.

 

Can you....?

 

Before you get started, tick these in pencil if you can...

 

Name all the white notes on a keyboard?

Name all the black notes on a keyboard?

Name all the notes on your instrument?

Play a major scale?

Understand Interval Numbers?

Play a major scale in any key?

Play four types of minor scale in any key?

Embellish a melody with grace notes, trills & slurs?

Add harmony notes to a melody?

Make up counter-melodies?

Write a Round?

Understand Major Triads?

Play at least four types of triad?

Find different inversions of chords?

Write logical chord sequences?

Play all twelve Seventh chords?

Play all twelve Minor Seventh chords?

Play all twelve Augmented chords?

Play all twelve Diminished chords?

 

 

Now read on...

 

Let's start at the very beginning

 

Very often, when people come to me when they have already learnt some music, and they ask me about learning to improve, and use more advanced chords and harmonies.

 

Before they can do this, they need to understand about building and using simple chords to their best effect.

 

Before they can do this, they need to be completely at ease with intervals and simple harmony.

 

Before they can do this, they need to be familiar with note names and some basic note skills which have so often been left out along the way.

 

All I can say is - start from the beginning, follow the course in the order it is laid out, and only skip over things that you are quite sure you already know thoroughly.

 

Everything is there for a purpose, and most items are arranged in the most logical and sensible order I can design.

 

It is not the order used for conventional music teaching of the classical grades, it goes into more detail before what would usually be the earliest stages, and concentrates more on helping you to understand music, instead of just doing what it says on a piece of paper.

 

In this sense, it goes on much further than orthodox lessons, and a Grade VIII pupil can still find that they learn a lot from what is contained here.

 

Use the Contents page or the Indexes to find things when you are stuck.

 

LITTLE CHILDREN

 

Children have an amazing thirst for knowledge, and by the time they are four, many of them are quite capable of learning music, computer programming, or just about anything else, provided they can concentrate long enough to learn.

 

One big problem with music is that they need to use letters, and there may be conflicts between the way schools teach infants letters and the way they need to use them in music.

 

Quite simply, if you want a small child to get an early start in music, you can teach them the names of the capital letters from A to G, and not try to connect them with the small letters, which they may learn purely as sounds for early reading purposes.

 

Having said that, it is very useful if they can play around with words made up of those letters, and I use several different word games to develop the use of the letter names for notes, and get beginners used to finding the notes on the keyboard by these names.

 

These games may appear childish, but they are also very helpful, and surprisingly challenging to adults.  Avoid any system which tries to bypass the names of notes, it will leave you at a disadvantage later.

 

Many people imagine that it is helpful to put labels on the instrument with the names of the notes, but it usually has the opposite effect…

 

Who needs to learn the names when they are written there?

 

In fact, the layout of the keyboard is very easy to learn, but if you have an electronic keyboard with the notes printed on it, try to cover them with sticky tape or paper.

 

WALK DON’T RUN!

 

However young or old you are, you will have to start with simple tunes, and get them right before you try going on to bigger things.

 

This may seem childish to a grown-up, but that doesn't mean it will be easy, you will find that a creative approach to music requires a lot of brain-work, even if the resulting sounds are not always impressive.

 

The thing to understand about adults is that, without even knowing it, they have been learning things about music all their lives, and there are lots of odd bits and pieces of knowledge floating around in their heads, but without a filing system!

 

Music teaching is partly about putting names to things that pupils already know, so they can file the knowledge away in their heads, and have some hope of retrieving it when they need to.

 

The important thing is to take it at a pace you can manage, and concentrate on getting each exercise or tune RIGHT, and at a regular, even tempo (speed).

 

DON'T WORRY if you think you are too slow. 

 

Speed will come in its own good time, with practice, but it's no good trying to be clever and rushing through it, if you are practising wrong notes or playing unevenly.

 

Remember...

 

 

If you practise it right, it will get faster on its own.

 

 

If you practise it too fast, it will never get right!

 

 

JUST PLAYING THE NOTES:

 

Many people would be content to think that learning music is about nothing more than "just playing the notes" - the right notes, at the right time, and held for the right length of time.

 

Work hard at this, and you will eventually learn to play recognisable tunes, in time, with no flair, no feeling, no expression...

 

NO SOUL!!

 

That is not what music is about for me, and certainly not what most audiences are hoping to hear.

 

Most people will appreciate the efforts of anyone who can play music, but you should not assume that audiences don’t know good from bad.

 

They may not understand why it works, but they know when it doesn’t!

 

I find it difficult to define what I am aiming for in a performance, but when I feel it is going well, and people show appreciation for what I do, the most common words I hear are “liquid” and “fluid”. 

 

Expression is not just about sweet, pretty things, it is attempting to give the feeling of what the song is about, whether it is happy, angry, sad, or whatever.

 

It applies as much to Punk, Grunge or Rock Blues as it does to beautiful love songs.

 

I can't tell you everything single thing there is to know about self-expression in music, you have to learn to feel it, but I can try to point you in the right direction, by showing you some of the things you can do with notes to make them more interesting, and to bring your own style to your playing.

 

ANARCHY

 

I remember talking to a punk musician in the 1970s, and his approach to music was that if he learned what the rules were, he would never create anything new or fresh, so he didn't want to know about the rules, or be taught anything that might "corrupt" his natural approach to music. 

 

(Amazingly, Shirley Bassey recently said much the same about reading music.)

 

As a result, he spent months and years groping around in the dark, trying to create music, but getting nowhere, and all because he had some crazy idea that learning is bad for you!  Sometimes, this is a good excuse for not making the effort!

 

Words like “sometimes”, “usually” or “often” crop up frequently in this book, and they imply that there is no rigid rule.  Rules, guidelines and suggestions don't have to cramp your style, they just save you wasting so much time and effort trying things that are not going to work anyway!

 

An obvious exception would seem to be a pop singer learning to sing in an operatic style, because the singing then becomes far too posh and formal for popular music, which is supposed to be in the language of the ordinary person. 

 

Imagine, for example, a singer with a lovely Detroit accent being told to avoid it and "sing English" in order to conform, at a time when so many British popular singers are trying to sound American!

 

I could quote a terrible modern version of the old Elvis ballad "I can't help falling in love with you": It's not that I'm against people doing their own arrangements, but if an amateur turns up in front of an audience playing the chords wrong, and then compensates by singing the tune wrong to match, that is just poor workmanship, so why is a famous band allowed to encourage their followers to proliferate the same mess?

 

WHEN WILL I BE FAMOUS?

 

There is no way to even guess how long a person will take to learn music, and anyway, no-one should ever close their mind and say "I know it all", because there is never a point where you can say "I have learnt music", in fact it is all the more intriguing because nobody ever knows it all, there is always more to learn.

 

I often think in terms of three hundred weekly lessons as a reasonable course to cover everything I can, but everybody is different, and most people give up learning music when they find out how hard it is.  There seems to be a growing attitude that teachers should not criticise people because it undermines their confidence.  How can anyone learn anything if they are not told where they are going wrong?  This must, of course, be tempered by compliments about their good achievements.

 

Like mixing, and like life in general, music is never perfect, so there is no point in getting in a panic if it isn't, just focus on trying to gradually improve your weakest points, one at a time.

 

The real trick is in knowing what they are, and that is where a teacher can help, because unlike books, videos and websites, teachers can watch and listen.

 

It follows, then, that in order to help you improve, a teacher must tell you what you are doing wrong, not to put you down, or make you feel small, but to show you which areas need work.

 

I have been making music since 1954, and I still find new things to learn - there is no end to it.  Everyone who ever hears music is learning too, although not always in such an organised way.

 

What is important is to know that you are making progress, and getting better at it.

 

A good way to assess this is by recording yourself on tape, computer, minidisk, mp3, or whatever new technology offers us to record with in the future.

 

Looking back, you will probably be embarrassed by your earlier efforts, but don't throw them away, because the worse they sound, the better you are probably getting!

 

Singers, especially, need to go through a period of adjustment to cope with hearing their own voices, and most singers hate to hear their own work.

 

Musicians need to practise with other musicians, otherwise bad habits may go unnoticed, and will be practised to perfection!

 

CHOOSING YOUR INSTRUMENT

 

Very often, the instrument that someone ends up learning is a fairly random choice, perhaps because a teacher or band-leader needs a bass or a tenor horn. 

 

Try to think about what you want from an instrument, and have a go at different ones.  If, like me, you are not fond of saliva, you probably won’t want to play a wind instrument!

 

A MONOPHONIC instrument is one that can only play one note at a time, and there are lots of these.

 

The human voice is an example of a MONOPHONIC instrument, and whistling is another, although one stage entertainer found fame in the 1950s by whistling a tune while he hummed another at the same time!

 

MONOPHONIC instruments also include saxophones, recorders, flutes, clarinets, trumpets and other wind instruments, some cheap, small electronic keyboards, plus stylophones, and the older types of synthesizer keyboard introduced in the 1960s, recently enjoying something of a revival with chart bands.

 

To begin with, we will be just learning to play TUNES or MELODIES one note at a time, so a monophonic instrument is fine for starting off, but you will soon need to think about something that can produce handfuls of notes at a time, and these instruments fall into three main groups...

 

Keyboards, Fretboards & Button Chords

 

KEYBOARDS

 

To many small children, a "KEYBOARD" is one of those plastic instruments with a set of keys that make sounds electronically.  These are more correctly known as ELECTRONIC KEYBOARDS, and there are several much older types of keyboard instrument.

 

Pianos are the most common, and were invented about three hundred years ago, although they have changed a lot over the years. 

 

Their keys are cut from a single wooden board (which is where the term KEYBOARD comes from) and the parts of the keys you see are usually covered in celluloid, plastic, or ebony and ivory. 

 

Harpsichords and spinets are even older keyboard instruments.

 

Organs were invented long before any of those, but they were pipe organs, which produced their sound by blowing air through pipes.

 

Organs usually have 2 or 3 keyboards or MANUALS, at least one for each hand, plus an extra one for the feet - a PEDALBOARD.

 

The modern organs which people play in their homes use electronics to make the sounds instead of pipes, and they don't just sound like organs, they can imitate almost any instrument sound, so they are sometimes called "multi-keyboards".

 

When I ask you to play something on a "keyboard", I mean any keyboard, an organ, piano, harpsichord, clavichord or whatever you have available, and it is well worth the effort of getting some practice on a pedalboard too, to see if you can play bass parts with your feet, because it's like having an extra hand.

 

After years of organ playing, then a period of a few years during which I didn’t play a pedalboard, it was amazing when my foot just went off and did its own thing.

 

The xylophone family also use the same note arrangements as keyboards, so you can learn a lot from playing a xylophone, glockenspiel or vibraphone, provided it has the “black” notes.

 

The following comments may help you to decide which instrument you would like to learn, but my advice is to learn a fretboard as well as a keyboard, and don't limit yourself with button chords or one-finger backings.

 

KEYBOARD RESPONSE

 

You may think that playing one keyboard instrument is just like playing any other, but that is not the case.  In particular, the way they feel, and respond to your fingers, can be quite different, and that affects the way you play.

 

CLAVICHORD is the oldest type of keyboard instrument, its keys are short because it was intended to played only with the fingers – no thumbs.  The keys are light and wonderfully responsive because you are pushing a metal tangent directly against the string.  You can feel the tension of the string, feel the vibration, and produce a vibrato by wobbling your finger on a key.  This means that you have to play very gently, otherwise you can send the note sharp, or even break a string.  If you have ever heard a solid guitar played without an amplifier, that will give you some idea how quiet a clavichord is.  It’s a very personal instrument, you could practise in the middle of the night, and nobody would know, but it is not suitable for public performance.

 

HARPSICHORD has a very strange touch, and when you press a key, your finger is pushing a quill plectrum to pluck the string.  You can feel yourself pushing against the springy resistance until you reach the point where it plucks the string, and the key drops the rest of the way down with no resistance.  The way you press a key has no effect whatsoever on the sound, so there is no point in hitting it harder, it simply produces a louder thump.  There is no expression in the keyboard, but harpsichords have rather more volume than clavichords.  Because of their very brittle, metallic sound, they can often be heard whispering through a small orchestra.

 

PIPE ORGAN blows air through pipes to produce the notes, and unless you come across a fairground organ or a cinema organ (theatre organ) the most likely place to hear a pipe organ is in a church.  One of the things that seems strange to a player used to electronic keyboards is the noticeable delay between pressing the key, and waiting for the air to blow through the tubes and fill the pipes.  This is more of a problem on the low notes, and especially on the pedalboard, where the pipes can be up to 32 feet long, and take a huge amount of air to produce the notes.  Organs often have as many as 3 or 4 keyboards, known as manuals.  Having 3 manuals means you can have 3 different sounds set up, and use any 2 of them at one time.  An idea first invented for pianos is a swell pedal, which opens a device like a venetian blind, allowing the sound to escape from a box, and giving some control over volume.  Some cinema organs are mechanically linked to other instruments, such as drums, cymbals, xylophones and even pianos.  Changes in tone are achieved by pushing STOPS, each of which stop a certain set of pipes sounding.

 

REED ORGAN also uses air pressure, produced by pumping a bellows with your feet, but instead of pipes, the notes arise from metal reeds like those found in mouth organs and concertinas.  In Britain, we tend to call reed organs “Harmoniums”, a French invention, but there is a very similar instrument known as an “American Organ”.  Some people call them “Pump Organs”.  There are also electric reed organs in which the air is pumped by an electric blower.  Reed organs have no expression in the keyboard.

 

PIANO (pianoforte) was invented around 1700, and provided something of the expression of a clavichord, in the outward form of the harpsichord, but with more power and dynamic range.  Technically, in Italian, “piano” does not mean soft, it means “at a level”, implying playing at a normal level.  [The decks on an Italian ship are known as piano 1, piano 2, etc..]  “Forte” means strong, and “pianoforte” implies that the instrument can be played at the normal level, or more strongly.  In the 1700s, there were 2 main types of piano, the grand was based on the wing shape of a harpsichord, the square piano [querpiano]  was smaller, like a rectangular table with a keyboard set into the longer side.  Upright pianos as we know them came later.  All pianos have touch response, so that the harder you hit a note, the louder it sounds, but the weight and feel of the keyboard varies from one model to another.

 

ELECTRONIC ORGAN of the type in popular use in the 1960s has the fastest responding keyboard, because each key is basically just a switch that touches one wire on another, so it can move as quickly as your fingers, allowing very rapid notes to be played.  There is no expression in the keyboard, but the electronic version of the swell pedal gives a much better range of continuous control over the dynamics than is available on a pipe organ.  The Hammond organ, invented in the 1930s, produces its sounds by combining notes of different pitches, controlled by drawbars, which can produce millions of subtle variations in the sound, rather than a limited number of sounds.  Although multiple contacts are made when a key is pressed, it is still a very fast-responding keyboard.  Originally, Hammond was a clock company, the organ did not produce its notes electronically, instead it used motorised gear wheels to produce the vibrations, which were picked up by magnetic pickups and amplified electronically.  Part of the sound that people associate with a modern Hammond is really coming from the rotating speaker invented by a Mr Leslie while he was working for the Hammond company.  He described it as “the pipe voice of an electronic organ”.  They did not want to use it, so he went into business on his own, and was so successful that Hammonds ended up having to buy Leslie speakers from him, as did many of the top organ makers.

 

ELECTRONIC KEYBOARDS are found in most households now, the cheaper ones have no touch response, and no pedal, but they often have automatic rhythms and backing styles operated by the left hand, so they can produce a very full sound.  Keyboards can offer you much more for your money than organs, which run into thousands of pounds if you buy them new.  They can be made more expressive by adding a swell pedal.  Having spent many years using keyboard rhythms to augment my solo performances, I find that although they can give a much fuller sound, the more the instrument controls the notes, the less satisfying it is for me to know that some programmer in Japan can decide how my playing sounds.  Don’t limit your playing by only having one keyboard.

 

MIDI KEYBOARDS revolutionised the music world because they measure the time it takes for a key to move from its rest position to fully down, and this tells the machine how hard you have struck the note.  The information is used to adjust the tonal quality and loudness of the note according to the velocity of the key, making it a very expressive instrument, like a piano.  There is a very slight delay from striking the note to actually hearing it, but most people are not aware of this at all.  A disadvantage of MIDI is that once you have struck a note too hard, you cannot back off, so any continuous tone setting, such as organ or strings, can be difficult to control.  In order to imitate a pipe organ, harpsichord, or electronic organ accurately, you have to be able to switch off this touch control so that the notes are all of the same volume.  To play it just like an electronic organ, you will need a swell pedal as well, otherwise you have no control over the dynamics, something that is essential to modern organists.  MIDI allows several instruments to be operated from the same keyboard, and also allows keyboards to be controlled by computers.  MIDI recordings do not record the sound itself, but rather the times when each note is pressed or released, and the velocity of each key movement.  By using computer software, it is possible to minutely edit the performance afterwards, and alter every aspect of every note.  It is a wonderful facility, but some people end up spending months or years re-editing recordings, instead of just playing them again.

 

SYNTHESIZER can be traced back to the Clavioline of 1940, and the later Univox, but they really got going with the MOOG in the 1950s, and the early versions only produce one note at a time, but can imitate not only any instrument, but almost any sound of any kind.  This is achieved by understanding the structure of sounds, and building them up from their component parts, so it is not easy.  Whereas a normal keyboard may have a single button marked with an instrument sound such as “trumpet”, a synthesizer has many controls and switches with scientific names, these have to be set in order to shape the sound, so to get the very best out of a synth, you need a thorough knowledge of musical acoustics.  A good synth has more expressive capabilities than any other instrument, because it has the facility to imitate anything any instrument can do, and the sound produced by the instrument can be very different according to who is operating it.  This means you could imitate a piano, but bend the pitch like a trombone, and add vibrato like a violin, so if you are ever unsure what instrument you are listening to, it is probably a synth.  Unfortunately, some keyboards are being described as synthesizers now, just because they can imitate instruments to some extent.

 

FRETBOARDS

 

Fretboard instruments (such as guitars) have strings, stretched along a neck that has metal FRETS set into to it. By pressing a string against a fret, the free length of the string is shortened, and it sounds a higher note.  They don’t have the pitch flexibility of the violin family, but they give you a very clear, definite position for each note.

 

Fretboard instruments include various types of guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, (ukelele) bouzouki, and balalaika, as well as various hybrid instruments such as ukulele banjo, (banjolele) guitar banjo, tenor guitar, mando-cello, and mandolin banjo.

 

If you want to learn a keyboard and a fretboard instrument, it's a good idea to learn both at the same time, and this course will help you to do that, but although the fretboard instrument is optional, it is essential to have some basic knowledge of the keyboard in order to understand the names of notes on any instrument.

 

Fretboards can't give you as many notes at one time as a keyboard, and the names of the notes seem harder to learn, because they are not arranged in a single line.

 

You can only play one note at a time on each string, so on a 4-stringed instrument, you can only play up to 4 notes together, but fretboards have other advantages.

 

There are often choices about where a particular note can be played, whereas a keyboard only has one of each note, and one place to play it.  Sometimes, fretboards allow groups of notes to be played which could not be reached with two hands on a keyboard.

 

When it comes to scales or melody playing, provided you do not use open strings, once you have learned to play a tune in one key, it is easy to move it up to the next key, or any key, whereas scales on a keyboard are all different shapes.

 

As we will see, Fretboards also allow you to do things with notes that cannot be done on most keyboards.

 

Why not start with a ukelele, they are cheap to buy, easy to play, and small and convenient to carry around, but beware – some of them cannot play in tune.  If you think the instrument is too limited, look on the internet for “ukulele boy” Jake Smiabukuro.  He’s amazing!

 

BUTTON CHORDS

 

Accordions, melodians, concertinas and some electric organs have rows of buttons that can be used for playing a simple accompaniment or "backing" with the left hand, while the right hand plays the tune on a keyboard.  These are known as "6 bass" or "48 bass" etc. depending on how many buttons they have.

 

Since the most advanced chord playing will require about 70 main types of chord, in 12 different keys, plus 12 bass notes, "852 bass" would be ideal, but unfortunately, they aren't made with that many buttons, and 144 is the best you can hope for! 

 

More modern keyboards often have a one-finger option that does the same kind of thing from the keyboard. 

 

Playing one-finger chords may seem an easy idea, in fact a lot of schools are using them now, as part of the National Curriculum, but they will restrict your learning, and many of the most interesting chords are impossible on these instruments. 

 

Learn to play chords properly, then you can make just the sound you want to, without letting the instrument limit you.

 

Automatic accompaniments on keyboards can be very useful at times, if they are good enough, and they can produce a very full sound from a single keyboard, based on the chords you play with your left hand.

 

The problem is that the more the machine chooses notes for you, the less satisfying it becomes.  I am especially aware that the bass parts in Yamaha keyboards respond more accurately to what I intend them to do than some other makes.

 

If you want to use automatic backings, think about buying a really good keyboard, so that you can learn to program it to play the way YOU want it to!

 

AN EAR FOR MUSIC

 

I was working on a piano one day, not actually tuning it but going through each note in turn, playing them several times to test them. Young Jamie sat on the floor by the piano, listening, staring wide-eyed, fascinated, as most 5-year-olds would be.  Suddenly, he began singing along with the notes I was playing in a soft, almost whispered falsetto voice. I tried to ignore him, but as I went up another semitone, so did he, singing very well in tune for an untrained voice. I wondered how high he could go, and smiled to myself as he suddenly went quiet.

 

Then, to my surprise, he dropped down an octave, and continued again, still following the notes accurately, but an octave lower. I couldn't control myself any more, I had to stop and talk to him. It was so amazing, what he done. Why? Can't 5-year-olds sing? Well, yes, but this one was a cairn terrier! The owner claimed to be unsurprised by the feat, but it was never repeated on future visits, and most people, quite understandably, don't believe it happened:

 

IT DID!...   I WAS THERE!

 

Nobody should be surprised to hear that dogs have a good sense of pitch, or the ability to recognise a sound, or use octaves, or even that they can produce a wide range of pitches with their voices. 

 

There are many reports of dogs doing arithmetic and barking the answers, but I have never ever heard of another one that could produce notes on demand. 

 

Most reports of "singing dogs" involve the poor animal howling at a sound it hates!

 

My old dog, like many others, would sometimes produce notes up and down parts of the harmonic scale, like C E G C or something similar.  Animals don't think the same way we do, and I often made a complete fool of myself by singing to her, and trying to get her to repeat what she had already sung, but to no avail!

 

An article that appeared in “The Musical Herald” in 1905 tells of an army horse that had learned all the bugle calls, and when they required any special movements or stops from the horse, he didn't wait for his rider's command, he just responded to the bugler.

 

Obviously a musician!

 

DO DO THAT VOODOO!

 

When we speak, we vary the pitch of our voices to give more meaning to what is said. Rap has no melody, and its mood is based only on rhythm. Good rap, if it exists, is mainly rhythmic, and any variations in the pitch of the voice cannot be judged in terms of melody.

 

If you like vocal rhythms, listen to Sheila Chandra’s “Speaking in tongues”.

 

One day, I was playing for a care home, not just old people but a variety of ages with strange and terrible mental and physical conditions.  There was a woman making a sort of rhythmic animal whimpering sound, but when she came closer, I realised that she was actually talking –

 

"some  one  is com  ing  to  play  the  pi  an  o”!

 

An old woman kept saying “idididididi”.  An old man sat in his wheelchair, nodding his head continuously and not speaking at all except to say one word very loudly "PEEANNA!".  A woman sat tapping her hand loudly on the chair at a regular rate and talking rubbish.  A young man, whose body was twisted and tortured, had his arms wrapped around his head, but he knew what he wanted - "Elvis"! 

 

I sat there wondering what the hell I had got myself into, and as I considered starting the music, a nurse asked if I would mind waiting for a few minutes:  "We're bringing people back from the other side" she said.  I thought "I'd like to see that!" but she meant the other side of the building.  

 

The whole point is that when that unlikely bunch assembled there and I played, music reached them, they responded more to music than to anything else.  That's the power it has.

 

One of the tricks a melody plays on our emotions is very simple: When a series of notes go UP, they make the listener feel lifted to a higher, brighter, more excited state of mind, in a way that words alone can't do.

 

When the notes go DOWN, it has the opposite effect - calmer, but more restful, perhaps melancholy, sad, or even depressed! (As we shall see in later chapters, the same can apply to a series of notes within the chords or accompaniment.)

 

A good melody can do these things even when it is played on an instrument, without lyrics.

 

As Harry Plunket-Greene put it in 1934, "There is an implied crescendo in the rising, and an implied decrescendo in the descending note or phrase; this is the first elementary rule on which phrasing is based. Like most other rules, it often pays to break it."

 

For example, "I could have danced all night" is obviously a joyful subject, but look at the notes: Each little group runs up in a series of quite large steps, then down just a little, followed by more of the same. Although a tune can't keep going up and up, it feels as if it does! "The very thought of you" has a long, gradual build-up, comes down a bit, up, then down a bit, but again, a feeling of hope comes from the tendency for upwards phrases.

 

"A foggy day" sounds like a depressing subject, but its phrases are mainly upward and hopeful, until the lyrics say "Suddenly I saw you", and then after that, the pitch goes up again as the sun starts "shining", then settles down to a restful end.  "On a clear day" should be the opposite to fog, but it has those upward runs of notes to lift you most of the time.

 

Chris Rhea's "Road to Hell" is a strong melody that tends to be a "downer", both in the lyrics and in the way the notes move, but the middle part just can't help sounding brighter, because whatever the words may say, the tune takes three little upward journeys, before the "This ain't no ..." part brings you down again.

 

Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on heaven's door" has a very limited range. There are only four notes in the whole song, (some versions) but predictably, they ALL run down that slope towards death! Why, then, does the song appeal to me? How can it be a "good melody" with only four notes?

 

It is difficult to believe that anything new can be done with a simple major scale, but Lutricia McNeal's "Ain't that just the way" plays real mind games, teasing you with a little run up, a step down, then a zigzag up-down-up-up followed by a downward phrase leading into the downward "all it would have taken was some time". The melody almost tells the story!

 

If you are composing, or improvising, try to put this idea into practise, start with low notes and use upward phrases if you want to lift the mood.

 

Music can have some very strange effects on people, and many of these have not been researched enough to give us a full understanding of how and why they happen: 

 

Some people see colours when they hear notes, others experience real physical pain from certain pieces, while shivers down the spine are a common "complaint".  It’s strange that some people are very embarrassed to confess that they feel this shiver down the spine from some music.  I find myself listening to the most unlikely songs, such as Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey", and feeling that uncontrollable horripilation (it's a lovely word isn't it) down my back.

 

Logically, I might say the lyrics are slushy, and the melody is unexciting, but somehow, it hits the spot!  If a singer wants to grab my attention, goose-bumps are the way to do it!  Cliff Richard says that nothing gets on his albums unless it gives him that shiver.

 

It is also true that whereas artists tend to be moved by visual images, and sculptors by the sensations of touch, it is sounds that are more important to me.. I don't know how much of it is my DNA, how much my musical upbringing, and how much my training as a piano tuner, but there is very little that moves me, excites me, frightens me or pleases me more than sounds do.

 

Most things in nature have a resonant frequency, a note that causes more than the expected amount of response to a sound:  This applies to parts of the human body, and there are, for example, frequencies which make people vomit.

 

Very low frequencies, although too low to be heard, will give a feeling of pressure in the ears, and eventually cause stress or mood swings. 

 

Very high frequencies can also cause discomfort in the ears, and extreme pain if too "loud", (although inaudible!) and all that is in addition to the effect that rhythms or words can have on our mood, or the effect of ideas we associate with a particular tune:

 

Lots of people have special memories about certain tunes:  I played "I'll see you in my dreams" on my Dad's banjo at his funeral, and now I can't hear it or play it without thinking of him, but what fascinates me is the way in which that experience is shared by various uncles, aunts and cousins when they hear the song now.

 

There have been experiments in the use of musical sounds as a therapy for depression and certain physical problems, testing a person's response to each note by dowsing with a pendulum, to detect the notes that have most effect. I would like to develop this idea further, and actually produce therapeutic music for a specific person, but I am still struggling to get the dowsing right!

THE WORD “TONE”

 

Some people use the word TONE to mean loudness, and may speak of a “strong tone” or a “weak tone”. 

 

This is not proper use of the word.

 

“A TONE” is another word for a sound, especially a sound of fixed pitch.

 

It’s the same in German, where “ton” means a sound.

 

More usually, “tone” means tonal quality – the type or quality of a sound, also known by the French word timbre.

 

Unfortunately, the interval or difference in pitch between two notes is often measured in units called tones, or more properly WHOLETONES. 

 

It is more usual to measure these differences in SEMITONES.

 

The safest thing to do is to avoid using the word tone as much as possible.

 

CAN’T TELL THE BOTTOM FROM THE TOP?

 

Many people imagine that they have no musical talent, or are tone deaf because they SAY they can't tell high notes from low notes.  I have never met anyone who really can't tell the difference in sound, but a lot of people just haven't learnt the right WORDS!

 

At this point, I will have to assume that you know which hand is left and which is right. (You probably WRITE with your RIGHT - unless you are left-handed!)

 

Children who are in any doubt should ask an adult to help them sort that one out.  Mind you, some adults aren't very good at it either!

 

Some beginners think that "HIGH" means the powerful, growling sounds at the left-hand end of a piano, and "LOW" means the soft, tinkling sounds at the right-hand end.

 

In fact, it is the other way round - the left-hand notes are LOW and the right-hand ones are HIGH, so I expect you can work out from this which way is "DOWN" (left) and which is "UP" (right) on a keyboard.  The note at the left-hand end is the BOTTOM note, and the one at the right-hand end is the TOP note.

 

To understand why they are labelled in this way, it is necessary to think about how the piano produces its sound.

 

When you press a note, a set of levers causes a hard felt hammer to strike the strings, making them vibrate.

 

This, in turn, causes the air around them to vibrate, and creates SOUND WAVES in the air, which your ears pick up, and your brain understands as sound.

 

The lowest note on most pianos vibrates about 27 times per second, which may seem very fast to you, but the highest note vibrates over THREE THOUSAND times per second.

 

That vast difference is where the terms "LOW" and "HIGH" come from.

 

FREQUENCY & PITCH

 

"High" & "Low" refers to the number of vibrations per second, which is known as the FREQUENCY of a note.

 

Frequency can be measured very accurately, and given an exact figure, in fact frequencies have been quoted for over a hundred years, and I would love someone to explain to me how these early ones were measured.  Now, we have free phone apps to do it! 

 

All the following units are all exactly the same, but the modern trend towards naming units after famous scientists resulted in the "Hertz" becoming the standard modern name for the unit of frequency.

 

C.P.S. or C/S              Cycles Per Second.

 

V.P.S.                         Vibrations Per Second.

 

Hz.                              Hertz.

 

When people talk about the PITCH of a note, this is a much more personal thing, and although it still deals with the same subject, it is not a precise science like frequency, it is more of an art, or a personal opinion, so there are no accurate units of measurement.

 

Two sounds may have the same frequency, but if they are very different types of sound, they may seem different in pitch. 

 

Our sense of pitch is easily confused by various things, such as other notes played at the same time, or notes of very different loudness or volume. Loud notes seem lower, and if you suddenly turn the radio up loud, the music will seem to go flat.

 

Frequency is an OBJECTIVE measurement.

 

Pitch is a SUBJECTIVE impression.

 

Small changes in pitch are know as "SHARP" if they are upwards, and "FLAT" if they are downwards.  These terms arise from the fact that reed instruments, such as mouth-organs, accordions and some organs, are tuned by sharpening or flattening the reeds. 

 

Notice that FLAT doesn't just mean out of tune, it means BELOW the intended note.

 

FREQUENCIES OF NOTES

 

Assuming that an instrument is tuned to A440, the frequencies of the notes from the A below Middle C to the A above it are as follows:

 

???????????????

 

The octaves can be calculated by halving the frequency to go down, or doubling to go up an octave.

 

OVERTONES, HARMONICS AND PARTIALS

 

Have you wondered what it is that makes one instrument sound different to another? Mainly it is the TONAL QUALITY, or TIMBRE.

 

But what is tonal quality? To understand more, think about one note at a time: What we call “one note” actually has many different notes or frequencies mixed in with it.  There is the FUNDAMENTAL note that we recognise most easily, and a series of OVERTONES, which are higher in pitch.

 

These are more accurately known as HARMONICS or PARTIALS. 

 

If you measure exactly halfway along a guitar string, this should be a point above the 12th fret, not between the frets, but above the fret itself.  If you touch the string lightly at that point while you pluck the string, it should produce a higher note than the string would normally do, because the string will vibrate in two separate halves.

 

This note is always there, but not usually so obvious, because the main note (fundamental) is normally louder.

 

Touching the string halfway prevents the fundamental sounding, so the harmonic is heard. The fundamental is known as the FIRST HARMONIC, and the higher note is the SECOND HARMONIC, half the string length, vibrating twice as fast.

 

This true for any stringed instrument.  In the same way, touching the string at a third of its length produces the THIRD HARMONIC, and so on, although they gradually get harder to produce.

 

Because these higher notes are only part of the whole sound, and only produced by part of the whole string length, they are sometimes known as PARTIALS, but the numbering of partials is different:

 

The 2nd harmonic is the 1st partial, the 3rd harmonic is the 2nd partial, and so on. 

 

Confusing!

 

The traditional type of Hammond electronic organ, invented in the 1930s, produces its millions of different tones by combining harmonics of different pitches on each key, not just octaves, but other notes as well, controlled and balanced by drawbars, which are like volume controls for the different overtones.  The effect has been compared to a graphic equalizer on a stereo system, but the difference is that whereas an equalizer only filters out or boosts sounds if they are there, drawbars always produce a definite change to the sound of each note.

 

Let’s look at a more precise practical example of frequencies and harmonics.

 

Find Middle C on a piano, it is usually the C nearest to the middle of the keyboard. 

 

Below that, find a G, then another G below that one.  This is our starting note. 

 

The frequency of that G is about 100Hz, so the strings of that note vibrate a hundred times per second.

 

That note also has a frequency within it that is twice as high, 200Hz.  This is the 2nd harmonic, equal to an octave higher, the G above our starting note.

 

The 3rd harmonic is 300Hz, and this sounds like the next D up… 300Hz.

 

The 4th harmonic is yet another G, two octaves above the starting note… 400Hz.

 

The 5th harmonic is a B above that G… 500Hz.

 

The 6th harmonic is the D above that… 600Hz.

 

This is double the frequency of the 3rd harmonic, because 6 is twice as much as 3, so we can also think of the 6nd harmonic as the 2nd harmonic of the 3rd harmonic!

 

So far, all these notes are part of a Major chord – G, B and D.

 

The 7th and higher odd-number harmonics are regarded as dissonant, because they are less accurately in tune with the scales we know, and are at intervals that would not be pleasant if you played them together. 

 

A sound that has a lot of these higher harmonics will always have a certain harshness or unpleasantness to it.

 

The ratios of the frequencies of the harmonics mean that we can work out the frequencies of other notes. 

 

We know that the 4th harmonic G and the 5th harmonic B are in the ratio 400:500, or 4:5, so this is the ratio of the interval between G and B. 

 

The same principal applies to other intervals.

 

UPSIDE DOWN YOU’RE TURNING ME!

 

With keyboards, high and low is fairly easy to follow, but with fretboard instruments, such as guitar, the situation is much more confusing:

 

If the instrument is laid down flat, with the main body on the right, each string is rather like a keyboard, with the low notes produced by stopping the string against one of the frets near the left-hand end.

 

They go up in semitones, just like the black and white notes on a keyboard, but there are no colours to guide you, only occasional spots or markers.

 

Moving to the right makes the note higher, as you shorten the string.

 

Unfortunately, the guitar is not played in that position, it is held against the player's body, with the guitar body lower than its head…

 

To go UP a string for higher notes, you have to move DOWNWARDS towards the body of the guitar!

 

To make matters worse…

 

the "BOTTOM" string, the thickest one, which produces the lowest notes, is at the TOP, and…

 

the "TOP" string is at the bottom!

 

AAAGH!!

 

TONE DEAFNESS

 

I suppose we've all heard people described as "tone deaf" when they don't appreciate music in some way, or if they produce non-musical sounds, but what is tone deafness?

 

The word "tone" is badly chosen here and the idea is that a person who is tone-deaf cannot recognise the pitch of a note, or the change from one note to another.

 

Many scientists and researchers say it doesn't exist, and I would be inclined to agree if I hadn't met my old friend Arthur.

 

He had tried to learn piano tuning in order to develop a better sense of pitch, but it was impossible for him, and although he loved music and dancing, had a good sense of rhythm, and could recognise a tune, he had no idea how to pitch his voice to imitate a note.

 

He couldn't tune a piano string or an electronic note to a given note, because he couldn't tell whether it was higher or lower unless the difference was extreme.

 

He had a good sense of rhythm, and loved dancing, but did he have a sense of pitch?

 

He laughed along with the rest of us when a friend imitated someone who whistled out of tune. 

 

He seemed to know when he was wrong too. 

 

If it had been important enough to get more attention, perhaps he could have been shown how to make some degree of improvement, but I will never know, because Arthur died some years ago.

 

PERFECT PITCH

 

There are various technical terms that are applied to forms of ear for music, and perhaps the most over-used of these is PERFECT PITCH.  This can mean one of two quite different things.

 

It is sometimes used to describe a very good sense of the relative pitch of notes, judging one against another.  Musicians need to be able to do this, some are better than others.

 

When famous musician / conductor Andre Previn was married to actress Mia Farrow, an interesting fact that emerged was that she had the other kind of  “perfect pitch” and he didn’t!  When she sang a tune, she automatically sang it in exactly the same key she heard in the first time.  This is more accurately described as ABSOLUTE PITCH - the ability to learn to recognise notes and remember their exact pitch.  This pitch sense is a natural gift, but the notes still have to be learned, and ideally from an instrument that has been tuned correctly.  Even without knowing anything about the theory of music, or the names of notes, Mia could reproduce a tune in the original pitch, but such people are often cursed because they cannot choose to change to a key that suits their voice, they are stuck in the original key although, interestingly, they can sing an octave higher or lower.  If such a person wants to be a piano tuner, they can only tune pianos at standard pitch, and many old pianos are not capable of this, quite apart from the need occasionally to tune a piano to something else that is not standard.

 

Many people setting out to be musicians stumble at the first hurdle, because they cannot adjust to, for example, an old piano that is not kept at the correct pitch.  The late June Nottage was a well-known organist, she explained to me that the first instrument she owned was not at standard pitch, and she had years of problems adjusting her brain to playing organs that were at the right pitch.

 

Another problem is that if two musicians learn the same song from different singers, there is a risk that they are in different keys.  For a modern example, when Adele covered Bob Dylan’s “To make you feel my love”, she sang it in Bb instead of Db, so if 2 people with absolute pitch learned the 2 versions, they would not be able to sing it together, because they can only sing it as they learned it, and cannot adapt to a different pitch.  Absolute pitch is a gift, but also a curse.

 

Andre Previn, on the other, can sing a tune in whatever key suits his voice, or indeed play in any key he wants to.  Like me, he is unimpaired by Absolute Pitch.

 

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Most people have some sense of high or low pitch, like this sloping line, which represents low notes on the left, going up to high notes on the right, even if those people don’t know which words to use for high and low.

 

=====

 

The second diagram represents the idea that pitch is divided up into semitones, and a musician needs to be able to start from any given note, and know the pitch of a note which is so-many semitones above or below the first one.  This takes knowledge and practice, but some people simply cannot do it.  Fortunately, they are a very small portion of the population, perhaps around 1%. 

 

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For people with a sense of absolute pitch, the notes have to be labelled as particular notes, represented by this diagram.

 

LOOK AFTER YOUR EARS  (You'll miss them when they're gone!)

 

My old dog hated acoustic guitars, and I think all dogs are very uncomfortable with music, and especially loud music.  Like small children, they tend to seek out the source of the loudest sound, then sit right up against it, with a pained expression that seems to plead for it to stop! 

 

A bass drum attracts a dog like a magnet, and I fear for the safety of young children who stand up against the speakers at a disco. It is certainly true that, for a complete experience, many people like to physically FEEL the music, not just hear it, but although I use amplification, I know that the level of sound is nowhere near those discos with bass notes that thump through my stomach if I get too close!

 

Isn't that going too far?

 

Learn to feel the pain when a sound is too loud.  Be aware of that feeling, and take action to avoid the problem. New regulations have recently reduced the recommended safe noise level to 85 decibels, although they say that actual pain is experienced at well over 100 decibels.  Personally, I doubt that my threshold of pain is as high as that.

 

The modern world is increasingly filled with loud electronic noises, as well as traffic. 

 

Even enjoying a cup of tea in a restaurant is not a quiet experience anymore, the level of noise produced by a simple operation of filling a jug with hot water is excessive, and then there are those sounds like a lorry reversing, loud beeps that are intended to alert staff that something is cooked, although they often ignore it.

 

Supermarkets regularly have loud electronic alarms going off for long periods, and for no apparent reason.

 

I attempted to play some relaxing piano in a restaurant where every time the staff went in or out of the kitchen, the door gave a loud, long creak, followed by a loud bang as it closed.  The customers were not impressed.

 

At another gig, while I was trying to create a quiet, relaxed atmosphere for a meal, the kids all gathered next to the piano and played “Hungry Hippo”, a particularly noisy board game.

 

EAR TESTS for frequency range

 

If you have a computer with speakers or a sound output, and some form of programming language, such as qbasic or linux, you may be able to write a simple program to produce sounds of varying frequency, and use this to test and compare people's upper range of hearing. For best results, the tests should go upwards from about 6,000 Hz to at least 30,00 Hz, and the subject presses a key as soon as the sound is inaudible.

 

The test should then be repeated in reverse, coming downwards, so the subject presses a key when the sound is first heard. This should be repeated a few times.

 

My own results showed my upper limit in 1994, when I was 47 years old, to vary from around 12,585 Hz to 13,540 Hz. (Mean 13,062.)

 

My daughter, who was 14 at the time, varied from 15,295 Hz to 15,945 Hz. (Mean 15,620.)

 

As expected, some older people were much more variable and restricted, and a man who worked in the office at a boiler-making firm couldn't hear 3,000 Hz, which is equivalent to the top notes of a piano.

 

What's really sad is that even some teenagers seemed surprisingly unable to hear the 13,000 Hz range that I could hear: No wonder I worry about playing with loud bands, a musician is nothing without EARS!

 

Do, PLEASE, be aware of the danger of headphones and earpieces:  An mp3 or personal stereo is a lovely idea, giving us all the option of hearing our favourite music anytime anywhere, especially for musicians who are learning new pieces, but the danger is that one's hearing can be severely affected is the volume is turned up too loud.

 

The government is currently working to make output restrictions a legal requirement, but that won't stop people finding louder headphones, or altering the machines in other ways.  After all, just look at the number of people who buy those little boxes marked “SMOKING KILLS”.

 

LEFT-HANDED?

 

If you are left-handed, it will probably make a difference to your music, especially on fretboard instruments.

 

If you pick up a guitar, which way will you hold it? 

 

A right-handed player holds the body of the guitar near the right hand, but if you are a left-handed player, you should consider several possibilities before starting out, otherwise you may have to start again, and learn a different way:

 

1).     You could re-string the guitar the other way round and play it with the body on your left. The big problem with this is that you have to learn to read diagrams back-to-front.

 

If you have a computer with a scanner, images can easily be flipped horizontally, but it's more work.

 

2).     You could play it with the body on the left, but keep the stringing the same way as a right-handed person would have it. 

 

Some left-handed people practise simple tunes or chords on right-handed guitars, and find it quite easy to play simple stuff on a normal guitar just by turning it round, but the tuning and finger positions are not really designed for this, and it will cause big problems as you progress to more difficult playing.

 

3).     Play right-handed!  People don't realise how much work the left hand has to do on a guitar, and some left-handed people get on better by developing a style where the left hand does more of the work.

 

Small-Scale Instruments

 

Some people feel that small children would do better to learn on small-scale instruments, others say it is best to learn on the "proper" size. 

 

The real problem comes if you learn on a small instrument, then have to make the change and re-learn things because of the different amount of stretch required.

 

Certainly, I think full-sized people should have full-sized instruments, but when I had muscle problems for some years, I found a lightweight, short-scale guitar a joy to play.

 

Another reason for buying small-scale instruments is portability, and I have a very small guitar, simply because it is lighter and easier to carry around, so I can have music available all the time.

 

Practice should ideally be done on a little-and-often basis, so having a smaller instrument could be a good idea, especially for keen beginners.

 

Keyboards are available with narrower keys, such as the Yamaha PSS range, and these are perfectly useable instruments, sometimes with very good sounds, but they are difficult for grown-up fingers to squeeze into.

 

Guitars and violins are available in the so-called quarter, half, and three-quarter sizes.  Low-pitched instruments, such as double bass, do not have the bass response for the bottom string if they are very small. 

 

Another thing that many people do not allow for is the depth of a guitar.  If you are very thin, and you play a very thin guitar, you will have some very difficult wrist positions. 

 

If, like me, your stomach area is somewhat convex, you may find a deep guitar difficult, and a round-backed instrument almost impossible.

 

I have given up waiting for makers to produce a guitar with a concave back, I will just have to lose weight!

 

 

DIFFERENT TYPES OF GUITAR

 

The following lists show two main types of acoustic guitar, and there are reasons for their differences, so don't run away with the idea that it's simply a matter of changing the strings! 

 

Many guitars have some features of both, for example steel-strung guitars with round soundholes have become very common since the 1970s.

 

Steel strings are usually played with a plectrum (pick), nylon strings are intended to be played with the fingers and thumb.

 

The spacing of the strings is also different on a fingerstyle guitar, to allow the fingers to get between them.

 

Classical / Spanish / Fingerstyle            Steel-strung 'Cello Guitar

 

Round sound-hole                                   F-shaped sound holes

 

Flat front or “flat-top”.                               Carved convex front.

 

Wider neck and fretboard                        Narrower neck and convex

gives more space for fingers                            fretboard for easier stretch

 

Nylon strings, (traditionally gut)               Steel or metal strings.

(softer on the fingers)                              (more volume)

                                                                   Also available in different thicknesses.

 

Slotted head, machine heads with                   Solid head, machine heads with

fatter rollers for nylon,                              thinner shafts for wire,

 

Tuning at the rear.                                    Tuning at the sides.

 

Strings anchored at the bridge,              Strings anchored at

which is glued to the front.                      tailpiece for greater strength.

 

Marker dots on side of                                       Marker dots on front of

fretboard                                                    fretboard

 

Twelfth fret at edge of body.                             Higher notes can be reached. Some guitars

                             have a cutaway shoulder.

 

GUITAR STRING THICKNESS

 

One make of nylon guitar strings is about the same thickness as another, but if you are planning to play a steel-strung guitar, the strings are available in a bewildering array of different thickness, so it useful for a beginner to have some kind of starting point.

 

As a rough guide, people often sum up a set of strings by referring to the thickness of the 1st string by a number, so you can ask the dealer for “a set of tens” or whatever size you choose.  The following summary gives some idea of the advantages and disadvantages, but there is also a lot of personal taste involved, so before you decide, ask what other guitarists use, and try their guitars.

 

For the more advanced guitarist, there are also special sets that vary their gauge more or less than average as you go through the set. 

 

One option is to start by using light strings and work up gradually, Thin strings allow the left hand to play fast runs of notes with very little effort from the right hand, but unless your guitar has a very low action, thin strings will go out of tune while you are pressing them, and bending a note can cause the string to slip out of tune. 

 

8       is about the thinnest string you will find, and not many shops sell them.  The strings are easy and soft to press, but the tone is poor, and it is easy to make the string go out of tune, so playing chords in tune is almost impossible, and eights are mainly for single-note rock blues soloing, with electronic effects added.

 

9       is still very flexible for bending notes in rock blues, and an electric guitar fitted with nines can almost play itself, but you have to play very lightly, and they are not very good for chord work or heavy acoustic rhythm playing.

 

10     is a compromise between flexibility and stability, and quite a good general-purpose gauge of string, with a better tone than nines for acoustic guitar, as well as being more stable for tuning.  If your style of playing will involve bending notes, you will need a string you can bend up a whole-tone.  I find this harder to do with tens.  Another change that happens is that the 3rd string (g) is a covered string instead of plain wire.

 

11     is starting to get a lot tougher on your fingers, especially for bar chords, but allows louder rhythm playing on an acoustic guitar, useful for buskers with loud voices.  Elevens hold in tune better than tens, but forget any ideas about bending notes, or sliding notes around, every note has to be plucked separately.

 

12     is pain to my fingers, and although they produce a good tone, are very stable for tuning, and loud for acoustic work, I find it very uncomfortable to play for more than a few minutes on twelves.

 

COMPARING CHORDS ON DIFFERENT FRETBOARD INSTRUMENTS

 

 

FOUR CHORDS ON FIVE FRETBOARDS

 

 

Names of the white notes

 

Whichever instrument you play, wherever you live, the notes are named after the note arrangement on a keyboard.  The white notes on a keyboard are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet, that is A B C D E F G.

 

Many pianos start on A at the left-hand end, so the next note is B, and so on up to G. The eighth white note sounds a bit like the first one, but higher, so it is also called A, and all the letters repeat in this way...

 

ABCDEFG ABCDEFG ABCDEFG ABCDEFG  and so on.

 

Many electronic keyboards start at C.

 

Take a look at any keyboard, such as a piano, and you will see that the black notes are arranged in a repeating pattern which has a group of two, then three.  This pattern only appears to go wrong when it runs off the ends of a keyboard, and it is this arrangement of the black notes which helps us to know which notes are which.

 

The three white notes around the two black notes are C, D & E, but this can go wrong at the ends of some keyboards.

 

The most reliable part of the pattern is that the four white notes around the three black notes are always F, G, A & B.

 

There is no black note between B & C, or between E & F.

 

It's Only Words

 

The white notes on a keyboard are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet, A B C D E F & G, so see how many words you can make up from those seven letters, using each letter as many times as you like, then TRY PLAYING EACH WORD AS IF IT WERE A TUNE, and try to find different ways of arranging the notes so that the word sounds more musical:

 

For example, EGG has 2 letters the same, so try going from an E up to a G, then down to another G, or down from E to G, then up to another G.

 

These exercises are very important in helping you to learn the positions and names of notes on your instrument.

 

Later, if you want to read music, you will need to know these very thoroughly, so that you can do them without thinking, otherwise music reading will be a lot harder to do.

 

Even if you have no intention of reading music, you will still need to know names of notes in order to discuss music with other musicians, or write down ideas.

 

BEFORE YOU TURN THE PAGE...

 

How many words can you make from just those seven letters?

 

Ten? Twenty? Thirty?

 

Write them down before you look at the next page!

 

How many words did you find?

 

Here are over fifty, but there are lots more if you can find them!

 

A       ABBA         ACE           ACCEDE  AD    ADA           ADD           ADAGE      ADDED            AGE           AGED        BABE         BAD           BADE         BAG  BAGGAGE           BAGGED  BBC           BE    BEAD         BEADED  BED           BEG            BEGGED  CAB           CABBAGE          CAD           CAFE         CD    DAB            DABBED  DAD           DAG           DEAD        DEAF  DEBAG  DEBAGGED            DEED        DEFACE   DEFACED                    ED  EFFACE      EFFACED            EGG           EGGED     FAB                     FAÇADE   FACE         FACED      FAD            FADE         FADED      FED           FEED         GAB           GAD           GADDED            GAFF         GAG           GAGGED  GEE

 

Musical Wordsearch

 

In this table, there are words containing the letters...

 

A  B  C  D  E  F  G

 

Some go straight along a line, or down a column, others are diagonal.

 

See how many you can find, and then, Try to PLAY the words.

 

Score one point for each letter of the word, IF you can play it.

 

[]

 

Now have a go at making up tunes from words and letters.

 

Write down any words that you like the sound of, and then try joining them together to make longer tunes.

 

Black is black

 

Before you can learn the names of the black notes, you must be sure that you are quite clear about the white notes.

 

Each black note has two different names.

 

The black note to the left of a white note is called a FLAT, and the sign for a flat note is a small b. 

 

This is because the first black note to be added to keyboards, hundreds of years ago, was next to B, so it was shown as a small b.

 

In Germany, they took the next letter of the alphabet, the note was called H, and this can still be found marked on some German instruments, such as reed organs.

 

The note to the left of G is G FLAT, and this is written as Gb

 

The black note to the right of a white note is called a SHARP, and the sign for a sharp note is a hash…  #.

 

The black note to the right of G is G SHARP, and this is written as G#

 

See if you can work out the two names for each black note.

 

Flat or sharp?

 

If, like lots of other people, you get confused between flat and sharp, here is a simple idea to help you remember which is which.

 

Touch the fingertips of both hands together, and hold them out flat, with the palms downwards.

 

Now raise the fingertips up to a sharp point.

 

To make them FLAT you must go down.

 

To make them SHARP, you must go up.

 

KEYBOARD COMPASS (Range)

 

Pianos have been made with a wide variety of keyboard ranges, but these are the main ones:

 

Cristofori's original pianos from 1709 had a range of 49 notes C-C.

 

Many early pianos from the last quarter of the 1700s used the same range as traditional harpsichords - 61 notes F-F. This has remained unchanged in modern harpsichords, and occasionally, a modern piano is produced with only 61 notes, such as the Kemble portable model of the 1970s, and a Knight from the 1960s.

 

Up to about 1860, many pianos had a range of 73 notes F-F. This short keyboard was revived in the 1920s, and some were still made in the 1970s, purely as space savers, although it costs almost as much to make a 73-note piano as it does an 88-note, so they are relatively expensive.

 

 

 

From at least 1842 to 1883, many pianos, especially uprights, had a range of 82 notes C-A.

 

By about 1840, some pianos had a range of 85 notes A-A. This remained the most common keyboard compass in British pianos until the 1970s, although it is often considered strange in the U.S.A., where many owners write to me, thinking that they have acquired something rare and valuable.

 

By about 1880, some pianos had a range of 88 notes A-C, which is the normal AND the maximum range today, as far as most pianos are concerned.  One of the arguments for having a keyboard up to C, with such high notes, and consequently short, stiff strings, is that the other top notes sound better if these are added above them.  This is because the top A's strings are further from the end of the bridge, and also further from the edge of the soundboard. As you can judge from the dates mentioned above, most of the "great" or "classical" composers didn't even have these notes, and sheet music which shows them has obviously been rewritten, so it is not as the composer intended.

 

The Bosendorfer Imperial concert grand has an unusually large range, extending 3 notes lower, with 97 notes C-C. It is very difficult to produce a worthwhile note this low, but it is useful for reinforcing its octave. As far as I know, no-one has produced any "noteable" instruments with more than 97 notes.

 

COUNTING IN OCTAVES

 

In the examples above, compass or range has been defined purely in terms of the number of notes, and that is probably the easiest for most people to understand, but it is more usual for musicians to talk in terms of OCTAVES, so what is the difference?

 

The keyboard is laid out in a repeating pattern, and one of these patterns is known as an octave.  If you start at any natural key (white note) and count through the keyboard to the next note of the same name, from the first to the last includes 8 white notes, which is what OCTave means.

 

More importantly, counting the black notes as well, there are 13 notes in an octave, and that is a figure that works starting from ANY note, including a sharp (black note).

 

Having said that, to count 2 octaves, say from C upwards, you will pass a second C, and end on another C. The number of notes doesn't add up to twice 13, and to calculate the number of notes in so-many octaves, you must multiply by 12, then add 1 to the total, so

1 octave is (1x12) +1 = 13 notes, and

7 octaves is (7x12) +1 = 85 notes.

 

That is all very well for WHOLE octaves, but when it comes to odd bits of an octave, there is some confusion about how they should be labelled. A mathematician might say a THIRD is 4 notes, meaning a third of 12 notes.

 

A musician would say that a third can be 3 or 4 notes, in the sense of the musical intervals of a major or minor third. Is 88 notes seven-and-a-quarter octaves, or seven-and-a-third?  Music owes a lot to mathematics, and I'd prefer to go for the mathematical answer, and say

 

(7x12) + (12/4) +1 =88!

 

So what do you call 82 notes?  I'd say six-and-three-quarter octaves, but some musicians only seem to see the 5 "extra" white notes, and call it six octaves and five eighths!

 

I give up, I'll stick with quoting the number of notes for a quiet life, because it also has the advantage that there are no fractions to type!

 

Give Me More!

 

So much for the figures, but how much range do we really NEED?

 

I can offer a logical argument for this in terms of popular songs, because most untrained voices don't work well outside a range of an octave an a half.

 

(In fact, there is a point of view which says that although trained voices CAN produce a wider range, there are those of us who wish they wouldn't, because that really nice bit in the middle is still rarely more than an octave and a half.)

 

Furthermore, any popular song that wants to survive and prosper needs to be singable by the general public, and that limits it to about an octave and a half.

 

For example, “Something’s gotten hold of my heart” has TWO-and-a-half octaves, and although it is a popular record to listen to, many people do not have Gene Pitney’s vocal range, and will not attempt it.  “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” has the same range, but shared by 2 voices.

 

Having written a song within an octave and a half, in order to be able to play it in any key, another octave is required.

 

In order to play a simple chord accompaniment, at least another octave is needed, one of each note-name.

 

In order to add a bass line below the chord, at least another octave is needed. This adds up to four-and-a-half octaves, but if you want to reinforce the melody in octaves, or have an alternative position in which to place the melody, that's another octave.

 

Similarly with reinforcing the bass line, and so my argument reaches six-and-a-half octaves - not very different to the normal pianos today.

 

From a purely personal point of view, choosing my own notes for my own arrangements and compositions, I find 5 octaves to be the absolute minimum, and somewhat restricting.  It is possible to make good music in 3 octaves, and you can buy a MIDI keyboard with that range.

 

The total vocal range of a choir, from the lowest bass to the highest soprano, is almost five octaves, from E to C.

 

Heads & tails

 

The white notes are thinner at the point where they go between the black notes, and this part is known as the TAIL of the key.

 

The fatter bit at the front is the HEAD.

 

Geometry of the keyboard

 

If you have ever tried drawing an accurate diagram of a keyboard, you will have noticed that the geometry is not as simple as it seems.

 

At the far edge, the keyboard has 13 notes in an octave.

 

At the front edge, there are 8 notes per octave.

 

A simple approximation is this:

 

Think of the sharps (black notes) as being 8mm wide, and the heads of the naturals (white notes) as being 13mm wide.

 

The naturals would be 88mm long, and the sharps 56mm.

 

//////////

 

That gives you a rough layout for the top and bottom of the diagram, but it is difficult to line up the points where the sharps meet the naturals.

 

In reality, key makers cheat a little bit, by making the area from C to E equally spaced, and the area from F to B equally spaced, so many pianos have two different sizes of sharp key.

 

DIATONIC INSRUMENTS

 

Some instruments only have the equivalent of the white notes, forming a useful scale for playing some tunes in one key, but without the ”black notes”.

 

These instruments are known as diatonic instruments, because the differences between the notes fall into two varieties, semitones and wholetones.

 

Diatonic instruments include Autoharp, Concertina, Harmonica or mouth organ, Melodeon, Penny Whistle and Flageolet, some Xylophones, Various toy instruments, etc..

 

Any of these will allow you to play tunes in this course, but only in one key.

 

 

DIATONIC TUNES

 

In simple terms, a diatonic tune is one which could be played just on the white notes of a keyboard, without using any of the black notes, if you start on the right note. 

 

There are a great many popular tunes written this way, but it takes practice to spot them, so the following list may be of some interest to beginners who want to look through music sheets or songbooks in search of these. 

 

The songs are listed in year order where possible, and you will probably have to play them in the key of C (or A minor) if you only want to use the white notes.

 

 

////////////////////////

Chromatic instruments

 

A peek inside a piano

 

If you have the opportunity to look inside a piano, even if it is only by opening the top, try to make a list of at least seven differences between the top and bottom notes, and then read on:

 

The design requirements for the bottom note (which vibrates about 27 times per second) are quite different to those for the top note, (3,500) and in the course of running through the whole range of the keyboard, most of these differences cannot occur gradually, so they result in changes or BREAKS at certain points. These are also know as TONAL BREAKS, although strictly speaking, it is not always the tonal quality which changes. Almost all instruments, including the human voice, have breaks.

 

Looking at the bottom note, and comparing it with the top note, you should find that...

 

The string is longer.

 

There is one string instead of three.

 

The wire is much thicker.

 

The wire is covered with two layers of copper wire wound around it.

 

There is a soft felt damper which stops the note when the key is released.

 

The hard felt hammer which strikes the string is much larger and heavier.

 

The angle of the string is different, and in an overstrung piano, the bottom strings cross over the higher ones.

 

The angle of the key may differ, to line up with the strings.

 

A good designer tries to achieve these changes as gradually as possible, and going through the range of the keyboard from left to right, the thickness of the string decreases occasionally, and the length of the string decreases gradually. All the time, the hammers are getting lighter, and there may be different lead weights in the keys to try to compensate for this.

 

A dozen or so of the bottom notes have only one string, (monochord) and this tends to be double-covered with copper wire. The next set of strings are bichords - two per note, often with only one layer of copper wire. This requires a change in shape of the dampers from a clip which fits around a single string to a wedge which goes between two.  At some point, there will be the biggest break of all, a noticeable change of tonal quality where the strings change direction, and transmit their sound to a different bridge, on a different part of the soundboard. This is much more noticeable in an overstrung piano.

 

Trichords have three strings per note, and are usually plain steel wire, but designers experiment with variations, and there may be covered trichords, or uncovered bichords, to spread the changes as smoothly as possible. Trichords also need flat dampers, to rest against all three strings.

 

In the top twenty notes or so, there is not much space for dampers, and the sound of these short strings is so short-lived that some people argue that dampers are unnecessary. There have been experimental pianos with dampers all the way through, but these are rare, and most pianos have a certain point in the right-hand range where the notes suddenly start to ring a little because there are no dampers.

 

Bars in the iron frame can make breaks worse, and some piano makers tried to do away with some of them by replacing cast iron with a barless steel frame, but the idea didn't survive very long, and there are not many barless pianos around.

 

Name The End Notes

 

Here's a little test to see how much you have learned about the layout of a keyboard:

 

Can you work out the names of the bottom and top notes on these little keyboards?

 

Perhaps you might like to write them each side in pencil.

 

 

 

 

Hint:  Wherever there are 3 black notes together, the white notes around them are always F G A B.

 

Sharp or flat?

 

 

Funnel follow

 

Enharmonics

 

Enharmonic Keyboards

 

Up and down a Guitar string

 

The idea here is to start by playing the open 6th string,

 

then stop it at the 1st fret with your index finger, then…

 

2nd fret, middle finger

 

3rd fret, ring finger

 

4th fret, little finger

 

Then work backwards:  Don’t do the same note again, go back to

 

3rd fret, ring finger

 

2nd fret, middle finger

 

1st fret, index finger

 

then back to the open string.

 

 

Chromatic scale on a Guitar

 

Now do a similar thing again, but this time, go up the 6th string, then up the 5th string, and so on across the guitar.

 

When you get up to the 4th fret on the 1st string, go backwards again, moving down each string, to end on the open 6th string, where you started.

 

This is known as a chromatic scale.

Chromatic scale on a Keyboard

 

The idea of a chromatic scale is to play all the notes on the instrument from lowest to highest, or from highest to lowest.  On a keyboard instrument, such as piano, this means playing all the black notes as well as the white ones.

 

The important thing is to use the correct fingering:  For this exercise, all black notes should be played only by the middle finger.

 

Use the thumb for a white note, and bring in the index finger where there are two white notes together.

 

When you do this, make sure you don't cross the finger and thumb, use them in the order they are on your hand:

 

On the left hand, the thumb stays on the right of the index finger.

 

On the right hand, the thumb stays on the left of the index finger.

 

As with any fingering exercise, take it slowly, so that you can program your brain to work the correct fingers.

 

Don't hurry, but concentrate on doing the scale evenly and smoothly. Speed will come naturally with practice, but hurrying will only encourage bad habits and wrong fingering.

 

Interesting, although we all have muscles, there are none in a hand, and learning to move your fingers independently has little to do with muscles, it is a matter of training the brain to send out the right signals.

 

Whole Tones

 

When you play a chromatic scale, using all the notes on the instrument, the difference in pitch between any note and the next is called a SEMITONE: 

 

Chromatic scales go up or down by a semitone at at time.  Semitones are not notes, they are intervals BETWEEN notes.  Two semitones make a WHOLE TONE, so let's look at these:   Start from the bottom note of the keyboard, and go up not one semitone (as you did in the chromatic scale) but two.

 

For example, going upwards from C,

 

Miss the C# and play D.

 

Miss the D# and play E.

 

Miss the F and play F#.

 

Miss the G and play G#.

 

Miss the A and play A#.

 

Miss the B and play C.

 

============

 

Going upwards from C#,

 

Miss the D and play D#.

 

Miss the E and play F.

 

Miss the F# and play G.

 

Miss the G# and play A.

 

Miss the A# and play B.

 

Miss the C and play C#.

 

Having identified these two sets of notes, practise them all through the range, and experiment with different fingering, to see what is most comfortable.

 

Keyboard Finger  Exercise

 

Here is a finger exercise to be played on the black notes only, first of all by the right hand:

 

Place the thumb on an Eb somewhere near the middle of the keyboard.

 

Place each finger on a different black note, F# Ab Bb Db.

 

Play the thumb note, then a finger note, and work through all the fingers:

 

Play the notes in this order:

 

Thumb    Index

Thumb    Middle

Thumb    Ring

Thumb   Little

 

Then come back in the opposite direction:

 

Thumb    Ring

Thumb    Middle

Thumb    Index

Thumb

 

Now reach over your thumb with your Index finger, and play the Db,

 

then start again.

 

Keep repeating this slowly and evenly.

 

When you are happy about this, try it back-to-front with your left hand, using Db as the Thumb note.

 

Then do both hands at once!

 

Plectrum & Finger Work

 

If you are planning to play guitar, or any other fretboard instrument, you will need to decide whether you are going to pluck the strings with your fingers and thumb, or use a plectrum (pick).  It’s a bit like choosing between a mitten or a glove, having your whole hand in one lump, or having the use of individual fingers.  Some players can achieve very clever things by skilful movement of the plectrum, others prefer to use fingers and thumb.  The ideal is to practise both methods, and choose which you use for a particular tune or style of playing. 

 

Plectrum provides a solid, clear note, and allows a note to be repeated very quickly, which is especially useful on banjo or mandolin.

 

One of the disadvantages of a plectrum is that you can so easily drop it in the middle of a number, so I have Velcro on mine, which gives more grip, and I can attach several plectrums to the instrument, in convenient places where I can grab them quickly.  Plectrums have an infamous ability to disguise themselves by landing on a patch of the floor that exactly matches their colour and shape!

 

A compromise is to use finger picks, which fit over the fingers and thumb, but there is some skill in fitting them properly, a skill I have failed miserably.  I either find them too loose, so they fall off, or too tight, so that they hurt my fingers.  A friend was quite excited for a while that he had rediscovered finger picks, but he has gone very quiet on the subject now.  Some players like to use just a thumb pick, to accent the bass notes, leaving the fingers to play the other notes.

 

Some jazz guitarists like to use 4 fingers together to play 4 strings together, but retaining the individual control of each string.

 

One of the worst things is strumming chords with the thumb.  Because of the thumbnail, the up-strokes are of a completely different tonal quality, and are accented far too much, producing a very amateurish sound.  Thumbs are also quite clumsy for strumming rhythms, and many bass players struggle with this. 

 

Instead, try using your index finger as if it were a plectrum.  By getting the nail cut just right, you can have the strength of a plectrum sound, but with the option of a different sound on up-strokes.  On electric guitar, the pad can touch the string lightly after the nail plucks it, and this can give some interesting effects.  You can use nail hardener to vary your sound, and to protect the nail from breakage.

 

On the other hand

 

Both Sides Now

 

Semitones

 

Tuning & Pitch

 

Tuning a Guitar

 

It is no good sitting down to practice on a stringed instrument without first of all tuning it.  If you practice listening to the wrong sounds, you may all too easily come to accept them as right!  Unfortunately, tuning is a major hurdle for some people, almost enough to put them off playing at all.  Electronic tuners are now available in many varieties to make this easier, but they are not without their problems.

 

Before you try to tune a guitar, make sure the bridge is in the right place - some aren't! Touch the bottom string lightly, halfway along its length, over the 12th fret, and pluck the string. It should sound a harmonic. Now play the 12th fret normally, and the two notes should be the same. If they aren't, the bridge will need to be adjusted or moved. Try it on each string.

 

Most guitarists, when playing on their own, will start by assuming that one of the strings is in tune, and then tune the others to it.  Usually, this will start with the "bottom" E string which, of course, is at the top!

 

The bottom E is taken as the starting point, and then stopped at the 5th fret to give the note for the next string. This process is repeated for each string, until you have tuned the 4th (G) string.

 

Then, the 3rd string is tuned to the 4th fret of the 4th string.

 

Finally, tune the top E to the 5th fret of the 2nd string.

 

The tuning pegs on a guitar are known as machine heads or machines. The trouble is, if you have accidentally knocked the machine head of the bottom E, you'll end up tuning the whole guitar wrong, so the ideal is to have some sort of fixed standard for at least one of the notes.

 

Traditionally, tuning was done with pitch pipes, which have a pipe for each string, and produce their notes by blowing reeds like those in a harmonica. The problem with these is that, in the same way that a harmonica can easily be blown out of tune, the pipes are only a very rough guide to pitch.

 

A tuning fork gives a very accurate frequency for just one note, but the ones most often found in music shops are for A440, which is the A on the 5th fret of the top E string. This means that if you tune to this type of tuning fork, you will need to tune the rest of the guitar from the top string, whereas most people work the other way. It is possible to obtain a tuning fork for bottom E, but they are expensive.

 

The best, and simplest, way to tune a guitar is with an electronic tuner.  One simple version of these is the E tuner, which seems a good idea, and simply stays on the guitar all the time, to give you accurate tuning of the E strings. 

 

However, these are just as expensive as a "proper" tuner.  Some multi-effects pedals for electric guitars now have built-in tuners, which also allow almost silent tuning of electric guitars, without inflicting those horrible sounds on the audience.

 

One of the problems about some electronic tuners is that it is possible to tune a string precisely to the wrong note.  I was working with a guitarist once, and pointed out that he was playing minor chords instead of major, and he realised that he had tuned the 3rd string perfectly - to the wrong note.

 

Tuning by television

 

If you have an ordinary television set, you can use it to set the pitch of the bottom E quite accurately, provided it is done regularly, so the string does not go too far out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work with digital TV, so it might be worth keeping an old set.

 

Switch on the TV, and turn the sound off. 

 

Hold the guitar in front of the screen, with the neck vertical, and twist it until you can see the bottom E string against the screen.

 

Stop the string at the 3rd fret, which is the lowest G on the guitar.

 

This should, ideally, vibrate about 49 times a second, but if you settle for 50, the difference is so slight that it won't make much difference.

 

The TV makes 50 complete pictures per second, scanning them rapidly from top to bottom. 

 

Pluck the string, and you'll see a sort of wave moving along the string as you look at it against the background of the screen.

 

Tune the string very slowly until the wave stops moving. Going up means the note is too high.  Going down means it is too low.

 

Once the bottom string is tuned in this way, the others can be tuned to it.

 

Tuning by beats

 

When two strings are almost, but not quite, in tune with each other, a kind of pulsation occurs in the sound of the note, as the two strings move in and out off step with each other. This is known scientifically as HETERODYNING, but the more common name is a BEAT.  Piano tuners and organ tuners use beats all the time as a very accurate way of tuning. If you go into the subject more deeply, there are set beat rates for different combinations of notes, but we are concerned here with tuning a guitar.

 

Starting from the bottom E, stop it at the 5th fret, as before, and play it with the next string. 

 

If they are close to the correct notes, there will be a beat in the sound they produce together, a sort of "wah-wah-wah" effect.

 

Tune the 5th string until the beat slows down, and stops, which tells you that it is in tune.

 

Then move across the strings in the usual way, but using beats as a more accurate way of tuning two strings together.

 

When you have finished, you can do all sorts of checks with beats.

 

For example any pair of strings that were 5 frets apart in their tuning should be played together, and tuned so that there is no noticeable beat.

 

This will not work with the 4th and 3rd strings, which must have a few beats per second.

 

Now look for any two notes anywhere on the guitar which have the same note name, and tune out any beats.

 

Remember though, beats are extremely accurate, whereas guitars are imperfect, and you could drive yourself mad trying to get every note on every string perfectly in tune.

 

Mental attitudes

 

Whole tones

 

The Circle

 

This diagram shows all the twelve notes

 

of one octave, arranged around a circle

 

like a clock face, but not in their usual

 

order. Instead, they are laid out in intervals

 

of 4ths or 5ths, depending on which way

 

you go around the circle. This circle is

 

known by several names, including...

 

The Circle of Fifths,

 

The Chord Clock,

 

The Cycle of Fourths,

 

or simply "The Circle".

 

The Circle has many important uses in understanding and writing

music, and you should get to know it thoroughly.

 

 

It may help you to learn it if you notice that, either side of

F#, the word BEAD is spelt upwards on the left, and (ignoring

the flats) downwards on the right.  F# is used (rather than Gb)

because the note is more likely to be encountered in connection

with sharp keys and chords such as B or A.

 

The Circle of Keys

 

The Circle is also very handy for working out key signatures, that is the number of sharps or flats in any given major scale: C (at the top) has no sharps or flats, but going clockwise, there are progressively more flats: F has one, Bb has 2, and so on. Conversely, going anti-clockwise from C, there are progressively more sharps: G has one, D has 2, and so on.

 

This makes the keys at the bottom of the circle very unpopular with musicians who read music!

Pick up the Tab

 

Tab for Guitar

 

Tab for Bass Guitar

 

 

SONGS

 

Many people feel that poems don't have to rhyme or have a METER or rhythm, but those are the two things which (to me) make it a poem, so how else is it to be defined?

 

Even if the writer intends a rhythm, the question is whether the reader can immediately feel it in the words.

 

If the lyrical idea is good, rhythmic problems may sometimes be overcome with a bit of negotiation, I've just done that with a friend's poem, found a variation on the words which is acceptable to him, but doesn't break up the rhythm.   When I say that, I mean also that the English language depends on inflections, stressing certain syllables.  “Mysterious girl” is an obvious example of one that is not right.

 

To me, a song can only express me if I can speak it.  Try a Hal David lyric like "Alfie" as a good example of one that works but is not rhythmic.

 

To use repetitive tunes that are accessible to the general audience, the verses must all have a similar rhythm.  My feeling is that you shouldn't plan the song, concentrate on the poem!   I feel that usually, I write better songs if I am not involved at all in the lyrics beforehand.  Also, I wrote a couple of songs about certain events which, in order to tell the story, were so long that audiences could get bored. 

 

In the end, you might not like my songs, they may not be what you aiming for in music.  That's alright, lots of people do like them. 

 

I love some little bits of Beethoven, but don't want to wade all through a symphony just to get to the bit I like.  Popular music is condensed, and the best bits are repeated, so they can be enjoyed more. 

 

Although repetition is a vital part of popular music, I like to do short versions and play more different tunes in a night, especially when there is no vocal to help put over the meaning.

 

Instrumentals free the mind of constraints, and a dark, sombre song like "Road to hell" can become a bright up-tempo jazz number.

 

My worst "fault" in music is probably my love of slow expressive things, that some kinds of audience would say aren't lively enough, so I have to limit how many I play.  The plus side is that it is good for relaxing listening music.

 

SOUND ADVICE

 

I have worked in studios that lavished thousands of pounds on equipment and fittings, but very often, the people who ran them had little or no musicianship, and little idea of the basic principles of acoustics and stereo sound.

 

If you put a single sound into a single amplifier, with a single speaker, that is a MONOPHONIC system.  The speaker cone vibrates in and out hundreds of times per second, and causes the air to vibrate in the same way.  Logically, we could not possibly know in which direction the cone is moving at any given moment.

 

But what if you connect two identical speakers to the same amplifier?  Immediately, PHASE is a new problem you may have to sort out:  If the two speakers are wired correctly, and are also facing in exactly the same direction, they are IN PHASE and the cones move as if they were one unit.  If you place one each side of the stage, and feed exactly the same sound to each, the sound will be recognized by your brain as the same sound, and you will not hear a speaker on the left, and a speaker on the right.  Instead, you will hear the sound as if it is coming from a point midway between the two speakers.  If you think about this, it seems strange, because there is no speaker there.

 

If, instead, you place the two speakers facing each other, they will be OUT OF PHASE, and you may be surprised to hear that a lot of the sound is cancelled out by the two speakers working in opposite directions.  Phase is not about what you hear, it exists even if you are not in the room, but when you listen, your brain (amazingly) can detect that the two cones are not vibrating in time with each other, and your brain decides that they are separate sounds, from separate sources, so you will hear what seem like very similar sounds, but coming quite separately from the two speakers.  If you play notes near the top end of the piano, the strings vibrate more than three thousand times per second, so if the speakers are out of phase, they might be less than a six-thousandth of a second out of time with each other, but your brain still detects it.

 

Being in phase allows a sound to seem to come from a point between the speakers, and that’s what STEREO is all about.  Let’s suppose you want to record a piano, bass and drums.  Recording equipment allows you to feed the sound of the piano equally to both speakers.  Then, you could send the bass instrument to the left speaker, and the drums to the right speaker.  What you hear in the finished recording is a piano in the middle, with bass and drums on opposite sides of the stage.

 

Stereo recording equipment has PAN controls to allow us to adjust the left/right balance of a particular sound, and I feel satisfied that if I record a larger number of instruments, in my mind, it is worth panning them to slightly different positions, so that each instrument is heard in a different position.  However, back in the sixties, scientific research established that although most listeners will recognize a sound as being near the centre, or far left, or far right, any others will only be described as “left of centre” or “right of centre”.  These five points are known as the STEREO SPECTRUM, and for practical purposes, these are the most important positions for placing sounds.

 

Stereo guitar

 

 

Rotary speaker

 

 

FRETBOARD DIAGRAMS

 

For guitars and other fretboard instruments, there is a simple system of diagrams to show where the fingers should be placed.  Imagine the head of the instrument at the top, the vertical lines represent the strings, while the horizontal lines are frets.  Working in this way allows anyone to see how to play a chord, without knowing anything at all about music, or even name of notes.

 

//////////////////////

 

In this example, the thickness of the strings is graduated, to make it clearer which way round the diagram is.  The spacing between the frets is also graduated, as it would be on the real fretboard.

 

///////////////////////

 

Here is a cruder diagram, but the information is the same.  If you are left-handed, you will have to make decisions about whether you are going to reverse all your diagrams.

 

KIBBY KEYBOARD SHORTHAND

 

People have said many times over the years that it would be nice to have a simple method of showing keyboard chords, like the system used for fretboard instruments.  The following idea is my own, and I have used it very effectively in teaching for over forty years.  It is even easier to draw than fretboard diagrams, and has extra uses.

 

    

 

A keyboard is made by repeating two shapes - the notes C to E, and the notes F-B.  The pattern only appears to change when it runs off the ends of the keyboard.

 

 

 

If we draw lines joining the points where fingers would be placed to play the notes, the result is this.

 

 

 

If this pattern of lines is taken away and drawn on its own, it  provides a simple,

yet very effective framework on which to draw dots to represent notes.

 

 

 

These simple squiggles can be repeated to show chords and other notes on a whole keyboard, or even the two keyboards and pedalboard of an organ.

 

A horizontal line at the end of a keyboard is used to show an extra white note, such as top C. 

 

A special bass note can be shown by drawing a line downwards from the note.

 

An important high note such as a melody note can be marked by an upward line.

 

 

 

In this example, the notes C, E and A form an A minor chord, with a bass note D, and a melody note B.  The diagram is easy to draw, but tells us something quite complicated.

 

Microphone Technique

 

If you are singing, especially into a microphone, then you need to develop a good understanding of DYNAMICS:  By that, I mean the way that the music varies in volume or loudness.

 

The human voice is, of course, capable of whispering so quietly that the person next to you cannot hear, and yet the dynamic range of a voice can be pushed to extremes, and heard at great distances.  Electronics cannot begin to cope with that kind of dynamic range, that's why if you're watching a television programme, you'll find that they have to turn the whispers up louder, (as if you were leaning closer to listen) and hold back on loud noises. Even so, people often complain that the volume varies too much!

 

If you sing into a microphone, whether it's for recording or amplification, you need to be aware of this problem, especially at the lower end of your range.  Singing softly, very close to the microphone, you can exaggerate the little, intimate sounds of the mouth that make the song seem personal and friendly, or loving, like whispering into someone's ear.  Singing to a mike gives you that very valuable option, but you need to realize that you cannot just stay close to the mike all the time if you plan to sing at great volume.  There are five main ways to deal with this:

 

1:      Get someone to try to track your every note, and adjust the volume control constantly.  Even experienced professionals find this almost impossible!

 

2:      Try to control your voice so that it does not produce such a wide range of dynamics as you would use normally without a microphone.

 

3:      You could hold the mike so that you can move it away for the louder notes, but this may cause noise as you touch and handle the mike.

 

4:      Put the mike on a stand, and move your mouth away from it when necessary: Headsets don't allow this option

 

5:      An electronic device called a "compressor-limiter" will "compress" the loudest notes down to something like the volume of the others.

 

Almost all recorded or broadcast sound is compressed.

 

ONE NOTE AT A TIME

 

I used to know a drum teacher who maintained that before you learn to play the whole drum kit, you should try to learn everything there is to know about playing just ONE drum!

 

This sums up my attitude towards teaching people music on any instrument.

 

There is so much that can be done in the early stages of learning that can make things easier for you later on, and there are few things worse than trying to teach someone advanced playing with whole groups of notes in both hands, only to discover that they have never learned the simple, basic skills of playing just a single-note melody well.

 

In many cases, I blame the teachers, or the curriculum, but having said that, I know for a fact that some pupils have given up and left me after a few lessons, gone on to a more conventional teacher, and taken several years to realise the benefits of what I was trying to get them to do!  Obviously, I failed to make them understand about my approach to CREATIVE MUSICIANSHIP.

 

Melody is everything, it is the foundation upon which all the other notes are built, and a change in just one note of the melody will sometimes require quite radical alterations to the harmonies, bass and chords.  Give me a good melody, and I can show you simple, logical guidelines which you can apply to it, to add harmonies, counter-melodies, chords, bass lines, rhythms, etc.

 

I can even program a computer to do these things, and in particular, given a good program which defines the rules, the computer's random capability can compose some highly original chord sequences - I've done it!

 

How can a melody have notes, and yet seem tuneless?  Unfortunately, the secret of a good melody seems impossible to define, except that it is one which allows a good range of chords and harmonies.  I'm inclined to say that it is very much a matter of personal taste, but if that were true, there would be no old "standard" songs that survive for a hundred years or more, and are still loved by many audiences.  There seems to be no logic or science to a good tune, it's pure art, and I have never (yet) heard a good melody composed by a computer…

 

… but I’m working on it! 

 

 

NEW MELODY?

 

It’s almost impossible to create a NEW melody.  In television for example, to what extent was the Crimewatch theme inspired by the Quincy theme?

 

Or to what extent was the Jesse Harris song “Don’t know why” inspired by “Sale of the century” or “Pearl’s a singer”? 

 

If you enjoy the Norah Jones version, you probably don’t care, but people do make these comments, without understanding how impossible a task it is to create “new” music.  The News of the World newspaper ran a competition many years ago, asking people to write just four bars of original music.  Nobody won.

 

I was recently asked to play “You raise me up”, so I pointed out that although I like the song, I have trouble remembering it because it seems like bits of 4 or 5 different well-known songs joined together.  This brought a round of applause.  A woman in the audience sang me what she thought was the first line, but it was actually from “When a child is born”.  Later, a man said he would play it, but he used the first line of “How great thou art”.  I think the first line of “You’re my best friend” is nearer, but there also bits of “Danny boy” in there, and perhaps even “Wind beneath my wings” and others.

 

If you enjoy George Harrison’s “My sweet Lord”, and think it is an original tune, you probably haven’t heard the Chiffons’ “He’s so fine”.

 

I wrote a song, and was reasonably happy with the melody until Randy Newman came along, years after, on an identical opening tune, with slightly similar lyrics - “Some day I’ll fly away”. She didn’t steal it from me, it just happened, and it made money - I didn’t!  On another occasion, I had to change a song of mine when “Don’t cry for me Argentina” came out. 

 

Another was accused of copying the “Coronation Street” theme, and although the first few notes were similar, the rest was not, and the tempo and feel were quite different.  Yet another had the audacity to go downwards on a scale, and was compared to “I only wanna be with you” although it was not in any way similar, to a musician’s ears.

 

Anyone who plans to write songs must be prepared for this type of criticism from people who do not understand music at all. 

 

DO DO THAT VOODOO!

 

When we speak, we vary the pitch of our voices to give more meaning to what is said.  Rap has no melody, and its mood is based only on rhythm, unless the rapper's rhythm is so good that you listen hard enough to catch the words. Good rap, if it exists, is mainly rhythmic, and any variations in the pitch of the voice cannot be judged in terms of melody.  It amazes me that someone like Vanilla Ice can sample just ONE BAR of a Queen song, repeat it as a whole backing, describe it as “my song”, and without singing a note, sell 160 million copies.

 

If you enjoy vocal rhythms, listen to Sheila Chandra “Speaking in tongues”.

 

One day, I was playing for a care home, not just old people but a variety of ages with weird and awful mental and physical conditions.  There was a woman making a sort of rhythmic animal bleating sound, but when she came closer, I realised that she was actually talking –

 

"some  one  is com  ing  to  play  the  pi  an  o”!

 

An old man sat in his wheelchair, nodding his head continuously and not speaking at all except to say one word very loudly "PEEANNA!".  A woman sat tapping her hand loudly on the chair at a regular rate and talking rubbish.  A young man, whose body was twisted and tortured, had his arms wrapped around his head, but he knew what he wanted - "Elvis"!  I sat there wondering what the hell I had got myself into, and as I considered starting the music, a nurse asked if I would mind waiting for a few minutes:  "We're bringing people back from the other side" she said.  I thought "I'd like to see that!" but she meant the other side of the building.   The whole point is that when they assembled there and I played, music reached them, they responded more to music than to anything else.  That's the power of music.

 

One of the tricks a melody plays on our emotions is very simple: When a series of notes go UP, they make the listener feel lifted to a higher, brighter, more excited state of mind, in a way that words alone can't do.

 

When the notes go DOWN, it has the opposite effect - calmer, but more restful, perhaps melancholy, sad, or even depressed! (As we shall see in later chapters, the same can apply to a series of notes within the chords or accompaniment.)

 

A good melody can do these things even when it is played on an instrument, without lyrics.

 

As Harry Plunket-Greene put it in 1934, "There is an implied crescendo in the rising, and an implied decrescendo in the descending note or phrase; this is the first elementary rule on which phrasing is based.  Like most other rules, it often pays to break it."

 

For example, "I could have danced all night" is obviously a joyful subject, but look at the notes:  Each little group runs up in a series of quite large steps, then down just a little, followed by more of the same. Although a tune can't keep going up and up, it feels as if it does! "The very thought of you" has a long, gradual build-up, comes down a bit, up, then down a bit, but again, a feeling of hope comes from the tendency for upwards phrases.

 

"A foggy day" sounds like a depressing subject, but its phrases are mainly upward and hopeful, until the lyrics say "Suddenly I saw you", and then after that, the pitch goes up again as the sun starts "shining", then settles down to a restful end. "On a clear day" should be the opposite to fog, but it has those

upward runs of notes to lift you most of the time.

 

Chris Rhea's "Road to Hell" is a strong melody that tends to be a "downer", both in the lyrics and in the way the notes move, but the middle part just can't help sounding brighter, because whatever the words may say, the tune takes three little upward journeys, before the "This ain't no ..." part brings you down

again.

 

Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on heaven's door" has a very limited range. There are only four notes in the whole song, (some versions) but predictably, like a funeral march, they ALL run down that slope towards death!  Why, then, does the song appeal to me?  And how can it be a "good melody" with only four notes?

 

It is difficult to believe that anything new can be done with a simple major scale, but Lutricia McNeal's "Ain't that just the way" plays real mind games, teasing you with a little run up, a step down, then a zigzag up-down-up-up followed by a downward phrase leading into the downward "all it would have taken was

some time". The melody almost tells the story!

 

If you are composing, or improvising, try to put this idea into practise, start with low notes and use upward phrases if you want to lift the mood.

 

MICROPHONE TECHNIQUE

 

If you are singing into a microphone, then you need to develop a good understanding of DYNAMICS:  By that I mean the way that the music varies in volume or loudness.

 

The human voice is, of course, capable of whispering so quietly that the person next to you cannot hear, and yet the dynamic range of a voice can be pushed to extremes, and heard at great distances.  Electronics cannot begin to cope with that kind of dynamic range, that's why if you're watching a television

programme, you'll find that they have to turn the whispers up louder, (as if you were leaning closer to listen) and hold back on loud noises.  Even so, people often complain that the volume varies too much!

 

If you sing into a microphone, whether it's for recording or amplification, you need to be aware of this problem.  Singing softly, very close to the microphone, you can turn the volume control up higher, and exaggerate the little, intimate sounds of the mouth that make the song seem personal and friendly, or

loving, like whispering into someone's ear.  Singing to a mike gives you that very valuable option, but you need to realize that you cannot just stay close to the mike if you plan to sing at great volume.  There are five main ways to deal with this:

 

1:      Get someone to try to track your every note, and adjust the volume control constantly.  Even experienced professionals find this almost impossible!

 

2:      Try to control your voice so that it does not produce such a wide range of dynamics as you would use normally without a microphone.

 

3:      Hold the mike so that you can move it away for the louder notes, taking care not to cause noise as you touch and handle the mike:  Headsets don't allow this option.

 

4:      Put the mike on a stand, and move your mouth away from it when necessary:  Headsets don't allow this option.

 

5:      An electronic device called a "compressor-limiter" will "compress" the loudest notes down to something like the volume of the others.

 

Almost all recorded or broadcast sound is compressed.

 

DON’T GO CHANGING?

 

As you learn more and more about being a creative musician, you will be finding out how to change the music to give it your own style.  Inevitably, this means that the melody will sometimes change, so it's important to realise the impact this can have.

 

Used wisely and sparingly, your new-found knowledge about the effect of melody will be able to help you "improve" the melody, and make it more interesting, perhaps just by timing, or by actually changing notes.

 

Of course, it is for every individual to decide how far to take it, but the more you do this, the more you risk criticism from the more pedantic listeners, who want their music played note-for-note as it is on the CD or sheet music.

 

It’s important to realise that there will be some parts of a melody that give the song its individual character and individuality, so be careful what you change.

 

One of the worst sources of narrow, rigid, uncreative thinking is a modern one - karaoke.  People who may nothing about music go up in front of an audience and try to sing well-known songs exactly as they were on the record.

 

Bearing in mind that this will often be an inexperienced amateur, singing in the wrong key for their voice, and often with a second-rate backing arrangement found free on the internet, I have reservations about how good it can ever be!

 

The overriding problem with many karaoke singers is that they need every bit of the backing to be exactly as it was on record, and they have no means of coping with a live musician, or a different sound.

 

Most professional singers and musicians don't want to copy other people, they accept that this will always produce a second-rate imitation. The way to be accepted for yourself is to give the song some new slant, or perhaps a different rhythm. To use that well-worn phrase, ”make it your own”.

 

Above all, the key must be chosen to suit the voice of the person who has to sing it, and too many singing guitarists don't play in keys that suit their voices. 

 

WON’T YOU PLAY A SIMPLE MELODY?

 

It would be very difficult to make a tune with just one or two notes, and the simplest tunes normally have at least THREE:  Try playing the notes below, and counting one beat for each, plus one beat for each DOT between them:  As always, DON'T rush it, play slowly enough to get it right, always practise evenness and accuracy, and speed will eventually come along on its own.  This is part of an old French tune called "Au Clair De La Lune", also used in a Springfields song called "Say I won't be there" in 1963.

 

C C C D E . D .

 

C E D D C .  .  .

 

Repeat the tune a few times, and practise playing it in two different ways:

 

STACCATO means making all the notes as short as possible, with spaces between them, and leaving a silent beat for each dot.  This makes the tune sound rather jerky.  If you like, imagine that the keys are very hot, and you don't want to touch then any longer than you have to.  Try it at different places on the instrument, and listen to the effect - it doesn't have to be loud, staccato playing can be very effective when it's soft.

 

LEGATO means holding each note longer, until the next one starts, even when there is a dot there.  The dots are still important for timing, but the whole thing should sound much smoother when played legato, so that the notes almost join together, but without overlapping.

 

It is a good idea to practise every tune in both ways, although LEGATO is much better for most purposes.

 

MORE DIFFICULT TIMING

 

The following exercises stay on just one note, but the dots between the notes should show you how long to hold each note, so that the timing is right. Remember, each note and each dot is meant to show the same length of time. If you like, play a silent note in the air for each dot, or tap on something.

 

Practice slowly,

 

get the timing right,

 

don't rush!!

 

 

 

Let's Go!

 

A   .   A   .  A  A  A  .

 

A  A  A  A  .   A  A  .

 

 

How's Your Father?

 

B  .   .   .  B  .  .  B 

 

B  .  B  .  B  .  .   . 

 

B  .  .  B  B  .  B  . 

 

 .   .  B  .  B  .   .  .

 

 

HEY! BOSSA NOVA!

 

What the Bossa Nova rhythm does is to try to space out 5 notes equally through 16 beats, but they don't quite fit, so one space between the notes has to be longer.

 

 

C  .   .  C  .   .   C  .

 

.    .  C  .   .  C   .   .

 

If you have a keyboard or a drum machine with a Bossa Nova beat on it, you could start it at a slow speed, and try following it, playing the exercise with the drum beat:

 

Gradually speed it up, to see how fast you can play it.

 

Some versions play the second line first, so it doesn't start on the first beat, like this...

 

 

.    .  C  .   .  C   .   .

 

C  .   .  C  .   .   C  .

 

INTERVAL NUMBERS

 

If you have ever watched the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", you may remember the scene where music is being used to communicate with the alien spacecraft.  The keyboard player responds to commands about how to change the note up or down, and these instructions are in NUMBERS.

 

Musicians use a system of numbering the notes of a scale, which can be applied in any key, so instead of the notes of a scale being described with names like...

 

DO RE MI, or longer names like

 

TONIC SUPERTONIC MEDIANT,

 

the notes are simply called 1 2 3.

 

These numbers are known as INTERVAL NUMBERS, and I want you to try to get used to this idea, because it has many useful applications.

 

Recently, I heard a song on television, and wanted to write down how the middle part went.  Interval numbers meant that just typing…

 

5342534253425

 

was enough to remind me, so that I could learn it.  As you will see later, the names of chords often rely on the use of these numbers, which can also be used to explain some chord sequences, for example, on a television interview, songwriter Neil Sedaka described one of his songs as a…

 

1   6   2   5

 

Some simple teaching systems use numbers which are not the same, and so the music written for a particular instrument may be in a system which only works for that instrument.

 

Examples include toy wind instruments, toy pianos, stylophones, miniature electronic pianos, and even some larger keyboard instruments.  Learning those systems will not help you in any way with other music, but interval numbers can be applied to playing any instrument, in any key.

 

APPLYING NUMBERS TO A TUNE

 

To find the three notes on a keyboard for the following tunes, you need to look at the furthest end of each key, where the widths are all the same.  Start by playing any note, black or white, miss a note, play the next note, miss a note, and play another.  Now, with the tune in numbers instead of note names, you can learn to play it in any key.

 

Say I Won't Be There

 

1  1  1  2  3  .  2  . 

 

1  3  2  2  1  .   .  . 

 

 

Here’s another 3-note tune...

 

Merrily We Roll Along

 

3  2  1  2  3  3  3  .

 

2  2  2   .  3  3  3  .

 

 3  2  1  2  3  3  3  . 

 

2  2  3  2  1   .   .  .

 

 

Three positions for interval numbers on a guitar…

 

 

 

Notice that each position allows you to play all 8 notes of a scale with one finger per fret, so you do not need to move your whole hand.

 

MORE THREE-NOTE TUNES

 

Jesamine

 

3  .  1  .  1  .  .  2

 

3  .  1  .  1  .  1  2

 

3  .  1  .  1  .  .  2

 

1  .   .   .   .   .  .  .

 

 

Jack Be Nimble

 

1  .   2  3   .   3

 

1  .   2  3   .   .

 

1  .   2  3  2  1

 

2  .   2  1   .   .

 

PLAYING IN OTHER KEYS

 

When we talk about "playing in the key of C" or "playing in C" it means using group of notes in which note number 1 is C.

 

Whatever note is number 1, that is the KEY NOTE.

 

In Chapter 0, you learned the names of the notes.

 

Practise all the 3-note tunes from any starting note:

 

Playing the tune is the easy bit, what you have to think about is finding the three notes that you need to make the tune sound right.

 

THE TETRACHORD

 

When it comes 4-note tunes, finding the 4th note is not really difficult, but the catch is that it is the very next note after the 3rd, so there is no note missed out between the 3rd and 4th.

 

These 4 notes together are known as a TETRACHORD and it is very important to learn them thoroughly before moving on to the next stage - SCALES.

 

In C, for example, the first 3 notes are C, D, and E: The 4th note is F, and there is no black note between E and F.

 

The same applies if you start on G, there is no black note between B & C, but what about in F?

 

Try to work out all 12 of the tetrachords in the following way:

 

Start from G, and find the 4 notes:

 

Play one, miss one, play one, miss one, play one, and play the next.

 

You should end up on C, so the next thing to do is find the 4 notes you would use if you start on C. Play the tetrachord.

 

You should end up on F, so the next thing to do is find the 4 notes you would use if you start on F.

 

Keep on going like this, starting each new tetrachord on the 4th note of the previous one, until you get back to G.

 

THE CIRCLE

 

At this point, we need to look briefly at something that will have many uses as you progress through the course, and it concerns the order in which you have just found the notes in the previous exercise.

 

Starting on any note, find the 4th note of its tetrachord.  Then start from that note, and find the 4th note of its tetrachord.

 

Continuing in this way, you will eventually go around all twelve of the starting notes, in a kind of circle, which returns to the original starting note.

 

This is known as

 

THE CIRCLE OF FOURTHS, or...

 

THE CYCLE OF FIFTHS

(if you go the other way) or

 

THE CHORD CLOCK

because of its resemblance to a clock face, and its many important uses in writing chord sequences, which we will look at in Chapter 3.

 

Because it has so many uses, I will refer to it simply as...

 

"THE CIRCLE".

 

A FOUR-NOTE TUNE

 

By now, you should have found the 12 sets of 4 notes which would let you start on any note and play a tetrachord, so it would be nice to use these to play some 4-note tunes.

 

Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any popular tunes which just use the 4 notes of a tetrachord, so I made this one up!

 

Use this tune as an exercise for your brain, and try to play it starting from any note.

 

Get someone to test you by picking different starting notes for you, or go around the circle.

 

 

Fourth Write

 

1  2  3  4  3  2

 

3  2  1  2   .   .

 

4  3  2  3  2  1

 

2  3  2  1   .  .

 

 

Three positions for interval numbers on a guitar…

 

 

 

Notice that each position allows you to play the whole scale with one finger per fret, so you do not need to move your whole hand.

Joining Two Tetrachords

 

Once you have mastered all of the tetrachords, you can soon learn how to do something that many experienced musicians cannot do - finding all the notes of a Major Scale in any key! 

 

A Major Scale consists of two tetrachords, with a note missed between them, so the second tetrachord doesn’t start on the same note, or the one above, but the next.

 

For example, in C, the first tetrachord would be...

 

C  D  E  F

 

Missing the note above that, (F#) move on to the next note to start the new tetrachord...

 

G  A  B  C

 

Those 2 tetrachords together form the 8 notes you need to play a C Major Scale. 

 

Go around the circle, starting each new scale at the fourth note of the previous set, and find all the major scales, in F, Bb, Eb, etc. 

 

As you do each one, think about the best and most comfortable fingering with which to play the notes of that scale.

 

Usually, the thumb will only be useful for naturals ( white notes).

 

Practise going through the 8 notes of a scale, and get used to the numbers as you play them.

 

STARTING NOTES

 

A useful way of practicing pitching the notes by ear is to make a list of tunes that you know, and work out what the interval is between the first 2 notes.

 

Then, you can use the tunes to remind you what the intervals sound like.

 

1.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are the same.  (If you need it!)

2.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are a 2nd apart – a wholetone.

3.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are a 3rd apart.

4.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are a 4th apart.

5.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are a 5th apart.

6.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are a 6th apart.

7.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are a 7th apart.

8.      Find a tune in which the first 2 notes are an octave apart.

 

TWELVE MAJOR SCALES

 

The aim of this page is to look at each scale in turn, and try to write something that summarises what notes it contains, not by listing every single note, but by finding a shorter description:

 

C scale is made up only of white notes.

 

F scale

 

Bb scale

 

Eb scale

 

Ab scale

 

Db scale

 

F# scale has all the black notes plus B & F.

 

B scale

 

E scale

 

A scale

 

D scale

 

G scale uses F# instead of F

 

FULL LISTS OF NOTES IN EACH SCALE

 

 

Keys In Detail

 

 

 

describe each scale

 

KEY SIGNATURES

 

Looking at all the notes on a piano, if you are playing by ear, or improvising, it seems a mind-boggling task to decide which notes to play, and various techniques are employed to simplify that task, by ignoring certain notes.  Perhaps the simplest on a keyboard is to ignore the black notes, and only play white notes.

 

When you start reading music, you will find that at the beginning of each piece, there is a key signature, designed to tell you which set of notes you can use to play all (or most) of the piece.  The key signature consists of a number of sharps or flats, lined up with particular notes.  If there are none, the piece is just using naturals (white notes) so it is based on the scale of C Major. 

 

If there is just one flat sign, placed against the note B, it means that all Bs should be flattened to Bb, as they are in the key of F major. 

 

 

 

 

On this view of the circle, I have marked the number of flats or sharps for each key or scale.  For example, one flat indicates that the tune is in the key of F.

 

If you are playing a keyboard, you can use this diagram as a guide for practice purposes, and play a tune first in the key of C, being all on white notes.  Then, move down one side of the circle, trying the same tune in each key in turn.  In this way, successive keys involve more flats or sharps, depending on which side you use, so the exercise gradually gets harder. 

 

Simpler tunes will stay within the confines of the specified key or scale, and are known as “Tonal”, in the sense of the TONIC or KEY-NOTE.  These are also known as DIATONIC TUNES. 

 

Many hymns, popular and traditional tunes can be played just on one scale, but if, for example, you tried to play Bach’s “Air on the G string” on just one fixed scale, it simply wouldn’t work!

 

This course depends very much of the fact that it is possible to build up a repertoire of songs which stay on the scale, before branching out to those which stray to more varied scales and chords. 

 

In later chapters, we will look at the way that the number of chords a song uses can provide a very effective guide to the complexity of the song.

 

ACCIDENTALS

 

It is important to realize that many tunes do not stay entirely on one scale or set of notes, and an early example is “Greensleeves”, allegedly composed by King Henry VIII in the 16th century. 

 

To write this tune in normal notation, it is necessary to use accidentals – sharps or flats written on some notes, conflicting with the general key signature. 

 

The major scale was well-established by that time, but that does not mean that every tune fits neatly into it.

 

It’s a fairly Victorian idea to introduce just one accidental for variety in the middle section of a song.  Often, this takes you back one space on the circle, so a song in Bb might spend a little time in the key of F, perhaps on the end bars of the middle section.  In terms of melody notes, this often involves flattening the fifth note of the scale.

 

Another simple variation is the very occasional use of the flattened sixth.

 

Playing by interval numbers, as we are often doing here, is tremendously useful to you in learning how music is put together, but it does not work out very well with notes between the scales, although there are lots of tunes that can be played purely on a major scale.  These are known as Diatonic tunes.

 

The whole idea of creating music is a daunting one if your piano has up to 88 notes, and there is a need to simplify the task so that you can start trying to make musical sounds by ignoring some notes.  On a keyboard, there is an obvious distinction between black and white notes, so you could ignore the black notes for a while, and concentrate on playing diatonic tunes only with white notes, playing only within the range you can reach by spreading 2 hands in the middle area.

 

PENTATONIC SCALES

 

An even simpler idea is the pentatonic scale, which we will look at again later, with only 5 notes per octave, based on the layout of the black notes.  This is somewhat limiting if applied strictly to melodies, but it will be extremely useful to you for improvisation, or just having fun with music.  Perhaps the easiest way to remember the notes is to sing the opening line of Don McLean’s “Vincent” (1972) – “Starry starry night”.

 

Many modern pop songs are based on people playing a chord and singing bits of pentatonic scales to it.  This even applies to many of the very elaborate and clever runs sung by Mariah Carey.  I used to know a young jazz saxophonist who only played pentatonic scales.  If they didn’t fit the song, he just didn’t play that song!  The effect was impressive if you didn’t know the theory.  Pentatonic scales are a great start to your musical experimentation, but they are not a complete basis for all music.

 

One of the oldest well-known tunes around today is the traditional Irish tune “Slane”, which dates all the way back to the eighth century, and was used much later for the non-Christian hymn “Be thou my vision” praising God, and also “Lord of all hopefulness”.  While King Alfred was burning the cakes, over in Ireland, someone wrote “Slane”.  It is still being played and sung today.  Almost every note of it fits within the pentatonic scale.

 

PENTATONIC SCALE: THE THEORY!

 

The Pentatonic Scale is very badly named, and the name is confusing to many people, yet this scale is tremendously important in all kinds of music from very simple folk songs or popular tunes to great orchestral works or rock guitar breaks.

 

What's more, it has less notes than a normal scale, so it is easier to work with!

 

"The Pentatonic Scale of C" is actually all the notes that are NOT used in the scale of C major, in other words, all the black notes.

 

These have nothing whatsoever to do with the key of C major, and far more to do with F# major (or Eb minor) so it makes much more sense to call it the F# Pentatonic, or the Eb minor Pentatonic, and although these are the "wrong" names, many musicians feel that they make more sense.

 

"Pentatonic" means the scale has 5 notes, and even that could be said to be wrong, because although each one has 5 note-names, most scales start from the first note, and end on its octave, and if you include an octave, the "Pentatonic Scale" has 6 notes, not 5!

 

So much for the theory, or lack of it, but what is the practical use of the pentatonic scale? 

 

USING THE PENTATONIC SCALE

 

By now, you should have no trouble finding the notes of an F# major scale on a keyboard, so play the following notes:

 

1 2 3 5 6 5 3 2 1

 

Try it, and you will find that they are all the black notes.

 

This set of notes, in any key, is tremendously useful as a simple framework for improvising, or making up tunes.  Even if you end up adding some other notes, experiment first with these 5 notes and their octaves, and see if you can find any well-known tunes that use them.

 

Irving Berlin was the most prolific Russian-born composer, and wrote hundreds of songs, often with very good melodies, but he played piano badly, and mainly used the black notes.  This style of playing used to keep my Gran amused for hours, bashing away at the black notes with an oom-pah-pah left hand on songs like "After the ball", "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" and the like, and a definite shortage of chords, but I don't know what the neighbours thought of it!

 

When Irving Berlin wrote a tune that needed a key-change, he used a special transposing piano, with a lever to shift the keys!  It's difficult to imagine how he could have played like that, they are quite difficult to move, and are normally set up in a particular key, and left there for the whole piece of music.  In spite of all that, he wrote many great hit songs, including "Blue Skies", "They say it's wonderful", "White Christmas", "Always", & "Puttin' on the Ritz" - a cracker of a song!

 

As for those 5 notes, You'll find them in big orchestral arrangements for cowboy films, or traditional scottish songs like the “Skye Boat Song”, or “My Bonnie is over the ocean”.  “Loch Lomond” was written about the battle of Culloden, 1749, and only has one note which is not part of the pentatonic scale. 

 

Dvorak used lots of pentatonics in his New World Symphony, Sibelius was not averse to pentatonics, and parts of his Karelia Suite (1893) could be very effective if it was picked on bluegrass banjo!  A lot of Chinese  music is based on pentatonics, and even very modern Chinese and Japanese music makes great use of them. Try moving around the black notes with two fingers, playing pairs of notes with one left out between the two you play, and you will hear the oriental kind of sound I'm talking about.

 

It causes a lot of 4ths and 5ths to come into the harmony, and that is part of the character of the Beatles' music too. Many rock guitarists haven't heard of pentatonic scales by name, but they still rely on them for a large proportion of their guitar breaks, especially in minor keys.  A very simple, catchy tune that is completely pentatonic is “First there is a mountain”.

 

Remember the keyboard finger exercise using the black notes? That was pentatonic, in the key of Eb minor (or D# minor).

 

To summarise...

 

The Major Pentatonic (like the black notes from F#) has...

 

1st        2nd        3rd      5th      6th

 

 

and the Minor Pentatonic (like the black notes from Eb) has...

 

1st       minor 3rd      4th        5th       minor 7th.

 

 

BEWARE when using the pentatonic scale as a clue to which key, chord, or major scale to use, because there isn't enough information in 5 notes: The notes CDEGA might suggest a C major scale, but they also appear in the major scales of F and G.  In the same way, the C major scale includes 3 different pentatonics, CDEGA, FGACD, & GABDE.

 

For this reason, you can experiment with improvisation on pentatonics either side of the main one on the circle: In the key of A, an E pentatonic can have its uses, as well as a D pentatonic.

 

Pentatonic Scales

 

Actual Keys                  Actual Notes       Bb Instrument     Eb Instrument

 

Major          Minor          Keyboard / Guitar        such as Tenor Sax      such as Alto

Sax

 

                                     

 

C       Am    C D E G A D E F# A B          A B C# E F#

 

F       Dm    F G A C D G A B D E D E F# A B

 

Bb     Gm   Bb C D F G         C D E G A G A B D E

 

Eb     Cm    Eb F G Bb C       F G A C D C D E G A

 

Ab     Fm    Ab Bb C Eb F     Bb C D F G         F G A C D

 

Db     Bbm Db Eb F Ab Bb   Eb F G Bb C       Bb C D F G

 

F#     D#m F# G# A# C# D#          Ab Bb C Eb F     Eb F G Bb C

 

B       G#m           B C# D# F# G# Db Eb F Ab Bb   Ab Bb C Eb F

 

E       C#m E F# G# B C#     F# G# A# C# D#          Db Eb F Ab Bb

 

A       F#m A B C# E F#       B C# D# F# G# F# G# A# C# D#

 

D       Bm    D E F# A B          E F# G# B C#     B C# D# F# G#

 

G       Em    G A B D E A B C# E F#       E F# G# B C#

 

                                         

 

 

 

DIATONIC TUNES

 

What follows is a chronological list of some old diatonic tunes:  There are many more, and you can easily see that although it is a very old idea, it continues to produce well-loved melodies.  Predictably, many of the earlier ones are hymns or carols, but some of these were borrowed from existing popular or traditional melodies of the period. 

 

All of these tunes could be played purely on the white notes of a keyboard, provided they are played in a suitable key.  This does not mean that the chords and harmonies could all be played on the white notes, we are only looking at melody notes in this chapter.  The years given here are the earliest known references to the songs, often the date of publication of the individual song, or of an album containing it. 

 

1551 All people that on earth do dwell

1600 Ding dong merrily on high

1710 Holly and the ivy

1740 O come all ye faithful

1743 God save the king

1749 Loch Lomond

1760 My lodging is in the cold cold ground

1768 Ach du lieber Augustin

1770 The Keel row

1776 Rock of ages

1780 Deck the halls

1784 March of the Men of Harlech

1790 Auld lang syne

1806          The Star

1818 Silent night

1819 Blest are the pure in heart

1820 Shenandoah

1826 Holy holy holy

1833 I saw three ships

1835 Santa Lucia

1840 D'ye ken John Peel

1840 Rakes of mallow

1840 Wearing of the green

1843 Marble Halls

1846 O Susanna

1849 Clementine

1851 Old folks at home

1853 Once in royal David's city

1855 Home sweet home

1856 Ash grove

1856 Cockles & mussels

1856 Land of my fathers

1856 What can the matter be

1857 One horse open sleigh

1857 We three kings of orient are

1859 Comin' through the Rye (polka)

1859 Poor black Joe

1861 Jimmy crack corn

1861 Skip to my Lou

1862 Camptown races

1862 I wish I was in Dixie

1862 My bonnie is over the ocean

1862 Turkey in the straw

1863 Battle Hymn of the Republic

1865 D' ye ken John Peel

1865 Drink to me only with thine eyes

1865 Early one morning

1865 Floral dance

1865 Oh! No John No!

1865 Scotland the brave

1865 Wearing of the green

1868 O little town of Bethlehem

1869 Little brown jug

1870 What a friend we have in Jesus

1874 I vow to thee my country

1874 In the bleak midwinter

1875 Away in a manger

1876 Grandfather's clock

1877 The king of love my shepherd is

1884 Love's old sweet song (just a song at twilight)

1887 Dear lord and father of mankind

1888 Skye Boat Song

1889 Ask a policeman

1890 What shall we do with the drunken sailor

1893 Daisy Bell

1893 Dvorak’s Largo

1895 She was one of the early birds

1897 Sons of the sea (bobbing)

1899 O Tannenbaum (O Christmas tree)

1899 Whistling Rufus

1900 Goodbye Dolly Gray

 

5: HALFWAY UP THE STAIRS

 

Now that you have joined two tetrachords together, you can play tunes with up to 8 notes, but let's start with just 5.

 

The number before the title tells you how many notes of the scale the tune will use.  With up to 5 notes, you could place your hand on the keyboard in such a way that every note is covered by a particular finger or thumb.

 

 

5 1 2 3 4 . 3 1

 

2  . 2 3 1 .  . 5

 

5 1 2 3 5 4 4 3

 

2  . 3  . 1 .  . 5

 

5 . 4 3 3 2 . 3

 

4  .  3 2 1 .  . 2

 

3  . 1 2 3  . 1 2

 

3  . 2  . 1  .  .  .

 

5: CHRISTMAS IS A TIME TO REMEMBER

By Bill Kibby

 

1 . 3 . 5 . 2 4 . 3 . 2 1 . 2 .

 

1 . 3 . 5 . 2 4 . 3 . 1 2 .  . .

 

1 . 3 . 5 . 2 4 . 3 . 2 1 . 2 .

 

4 . 3 2 1 . 2 . 3 . .  .  .  . . .

 

Try playing this tune just as it is, in C, and when you are happy with it, try it in the following way:  When the tune finishes, on the 3rd note of the scale, change to a scale a wholetone higher, so that the new scale starts on what was the 2nd note of the previous scale.

 

For example, if you start on C, you will finish on E, then change up to start the tune again, but this time, note number 1 is D.

 

Change key like this every time you play, and you should go through 6 different keys, ending up in the original key, but an octave higher.

 

Next, play the whole thing again, but this time starting in one of the keys you have not used yet, to go through the other 6 keys!

 

6: THE STAR

 

The poem commonly known as “Twinkle twinkle little star” was written by Jane Taylor in 1806, and was called “The Star”.

 

The number 6 means that you will have to use the notes 1-6 for this tune, so it will immediately become obvious that with only five digits on one hand, you will need to move about a bit.

 

A lot of this is common sense, for example, it is easier to reach over the thumb with the fingers, but not easy to take the thumb over the top of your fingers.

 

Also, where sharps or flats are involved, the thumb is often more comfortable staying on the naturals (white notes).

 

1 1 5 5 6 6 5 .

 

4 4 3 3 2 2 1 .

 

 

5 5 4 4 3 3 2 .

 

5 5 4 4 3 3 2 .

 

1 1 5 5 6 6 5 .

 

4 4 3 3 2 2 1 .

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS FINGERING?

 

People often say that a note will sound just the same whichever finger it is played with, so what is the point of learning special fingering?

 

The answer is that although it is true that a different finger will not usually have any effect on the sound of an individual note, as your playing gets better, you will need to find ways to move quickly and smoothly from one note to another, and this is where some finger movements are better than others, because they do affect the over-all smoothness of the music.

 

A lot of it is common sense: If you think about it, it is much easier to reach your fingers over your thumb than it is to move your thumb over your fingers.

 

When you are learning a tune, think about this, and try to plan out the movements so that you can see them in your mind.

 

Practise them in your mind, even when the instrument isn't there.

 

Some musicians spend hours planning how best to move their fingers in order to play the music the best way they can.

 

4   6   3   4   2   3   1   0

 

In this exercise, you have 6 different notes to play, and if you use the little finger of your right hand for the highest note, (6) you will probably end up having to reach over your thumb with your index finger to play the zero note.  Try to find a way that your thumb can remain free to deal with the lowest note, by using one of your fingers for 2 different notes.

 

TRANSFERRED FINGERING

 

Transferred fingering is a useful technique on a keyboard if you get stuck, and you can't work out how to reach the next note without tripping over yourself.  The idea is to press the note with one finger, then hold it down while you place another finger on the same note, leaving the original finger free to move to another note.  To do this, you may need to think of it as if you were playing the note a second time, so that you remember the finger movement.

 

The same sort of idea works if a note has to be repeated - don't just play it with the same finger, think ahead, think about how a change of fingering might help you to reach the next few notes.

 

Moving from a sharp, up or down to a natural can often be done by just sliding the same finger, so practise doing this smoothly.

 

Later, you may be able to use the same technique for whole groups of notes, or longer runs and slurs.

 

Try working out a way of playing all the notes from C up to G, using only the 5 digits of one hand, and sliding of the flats.

 

6. CHRISTMAS CAROLS

 

Many of the popular Christmas Carols happen to go up to the 6th note of the scale.

 

 

6. Blowin’ in the wind

 

5.556.665.321..5

5.556.545.......

 

5.556.665.321..5

5.554.332......5

 

                   The third part is similar to the first.

 

5.556.665.321..5

5.556.545......3

 

4.432..233321..1

4.4322101.......

 

 

6: Michael Row The Boat Ashore

 

               1  .  3  .

 

5  .  .  5  5  .  6  . 

 

5  .  .  .  3  .  5  .

 

6  .  .   .   .  .  .   . 

 

5  .  .  .  3  .  5  .

 

 

5  .  .  5  4  .  3  . 

 

2  .  .  .  1  .  2  .

 

3  .  .   .  2  .  .   . 

 

1  .  .  .              .

 

 

Playing By Dice

 

Now that you have played up to the 6th note in a scale, try using several dice to make up tunes:

 

Throw the dice and see if you can play the numbers as a tune.

 

Write down any sets of numbers that sound good, and try them in all the different keys.

 

8: Pop Goes The Weasel

 

This tune uses all 8 notes of the major scale.

 

Try it in every key.

 

1 .  3  2  .  4  3  5  3  1 . .

 

1 .  3  2  .  4  3  .   .   1 . .

 

1 .  3  2  .  4  3  .  5   1 . .

 

6 .  .   2  .  4  3 .  .  1  .  .

 

8  .  7  6  .  8  7  .  6  5 . .

 

8  .  7  6  7 8  7  .  .  5  . .

 

4  .  3  4  .  5  6  .  7  8 . .

 

6  .  .  2  .  4  3  .  .  1  .  .

 

8: Three Blind Mice

 

3  .  . 2 .  .  1  .  .  .  .  .

 

3  .  .  2  .  .  1  .  .  .  .  .

 

5  .  .  4  .  4  3  .  .  .  .  .

 

5  .  .  4  .  4  3  .  .  .  .  5

 

 

8  .  8  7  6  7  8  .  5  5  .  5

 

8  8  8  7  6  7  8  .  5  5  5  5

 

8  .  8  7  6  7  8  5  5  5  .  4

 

3  .  .  2  .  .  1  .  .  .  .  .

 

8: Chariots of fire

 

14.565...3......

14.565... .......

 

14.565...3......

34.311.........

 

 (Twice)

 

 

8.7.657. .56. .45.

8.7.657. . . . . . . . .

8.7.657. .56. .45.

.34.311. . . . . . . .

 

8:  Oh! Susanna

 

123    .5.5.6.5.3.1.

123     .3.2.1.2.....

 

123    .5.5.6.5.3.1.

123    .3.2.2.1.......

 

 

 

 

4...4...6.6...6.

5.5.3.1.2.....

 

123    .5.5.6.5.3.1.

123    .3.2.2.1....

 

8: Wooden heart

                      1  2  

3  .  3  5  4  .  4  6 

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .   

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5 

4  .  4  3  2  .  5  .    3

 

  .  .  .  .  .  1  2 

3  .  3  5  4   .  4  6  

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5  

4  .  4  3  2  .  3  .

1   .   .   .   .   .  . 1  3

2  .   .   3  4  .   2  .

3  .   4  .   5  .   5  5

6  .   6  .  8  .   7  6

5  .   .   .   .   .   1  2

 

3  .  3  5  4   .  4  6

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5

4  .  4  5  6  .  7  .

8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

                      1  2  

3  .  3  5  4  .  4  6 

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .   

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5 

then play

4  .  4  3  2  .  5  .    3

 

play first block then  4  .  4  3  2  .  3  .

 

1   .   .   .   .   .  . 1  3

2  .   .   3  4  .   2  .

3  .   4  .   5  .   5  5

6  .   6  .  8  .   7  6

5  .   .   .   .   .   1  2

 

Play first block then  4  .  4  5  6  .  7  . 8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

THE NINTH NOTE

 

It is often useful, with interval numbers, to use the 9th note of the scale. This is an octave above the 2nd, and so it has the same note name as the 2nd.

 

For example, in the key of C, the 2nd note is D, and the 9th is the next D up.

 

The "Zero" Note

 

Now that you know the notes 1 to 9, wouldn't it be handy to have a "zero" note, so you could play ANY number as a tune?

 

Strangely enough, there are some tunes that go just one step below the keynote, a semitone lower in fact.

 

If you think of this note as number 0, you can use any kind of long number as an exercise.

 

Try using telephone numbers, house numbers, times or dates as notes.

 

Write down any groups of numbers which sound good, then see if you can make a longer tune by repeating them, or joining them together.

 

 

You can also develop a code by using notes on a scale to represent messages. 

 

One practical use for this is in computer programming, and if you know how to use a basic programming language, you can get your computer to make sounds which tell you all sorts of things by using notes to represent numbers.

 

This is especially effective if it is plugged into a MIDI keyboard.

 

8: To Be A Pilgrim

 

This well-known hymn tune uses the "zero" note:  The first section is played twice.

 

 

1  .   .  2  3  .  1  . 

3  4  5  .   6  .   .   .

5  .   .  .   5  .  1  . 

0   .  1   .   .  .   .   .

 

(Twice)

 

5  .   .  .   8  .  6  . 

7   .  8  7  6  .   .   .

.   .  5  .   3 2  1  . 

3   .  4  .   5  .   .   .

.   .  8  .   5  .  .  5 

6  5  4  3  2  .  6   .

5  .  1  .   0  .  1  .  

.   .   .   .   .  .   .   .

8:  Call Of The Flowers

 

This tune uses a note which is an octave below the 6th, known as a “lower 6th” and shown by underlining the 6.

 

For harmony purposes, hold the 3rd note of the scale as a harmony above the first phrase, (10106) which includes a lower 6th.  Try the rest in 3rds.  It may help to play the keynote as a bass with the first beat of the tune

 

..10106. 234.

..10106. 234.

..3434 565432

121212 0.....

 

..10106. 234.

..10106. 234.

..3434 565432

121212 0...5.

 

Play the next section as a single major chord, moving down the inversions, and up again

 

6.....  .41614

8.....6.....

 

Now play the same section again, but this time, flatten the 6th and lower 6th notes, then the keynote major chord

 

5....  .31513

8..... 5..336

6..... .31613

6..... 5.....

 

10: Dvorak's Largo

 

Once the note numbers get into double figures, it is a little more difficult to know if “1 2” is a twelve, or two separate notes.  Here, the double figure 10 is in brackets to try to make it clearer.

 

3..55...3..21...

 

2..35..32.......

 

3..55...3..21...

 

2.3.2..11.......

 

6..88...7.5.6...

6.8.7.5.6.......

6..88...7.5.6...

6.8.7.5.6.......

 

3..55...3..21...

 

2..35..32.......

 

3..55...8..9 (10)...

 

9..89.6.8....... 

 

then play the same tune an octave lower

9..89.6.8.......

 

11: Silent Night

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .   .    .    .

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .   .    .    .

 

9   .   .   .    9   .     7   .   .   .    .    .

 

8   .   .   .    8   .     5   .   .   .    .    .

 

6   .   .   .    6   .     8   .   .   7   6   .

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .   .    .    .

 

6   .   .   .    6   .     8   .   .   7   6   .

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .    .   .    .

 

9   .   .   .   9    .    (11)  .   .   9   7   .

 

8   .   .   .   .     .    (10)  .   .   .    .    .

 

8   .   5  .   3    .     5   .   .   4   2   .

 

1   .   .   .   .     .     .    .   .    .    .   .

 

Remember that the 10th and 11th notes in brackets, near the bottom of the page are not single numbers like 1  0   or 1  1.

 

The Lower Fifth

 

Quite a few tunes could be written quite easily in interval numbers, if only they could go down an octave below the fifth sometimes.

 

For example, a tune in C, with C as the number 1 note, will sometimes need to go down to a G, but no numbers are available.

 

One solution is to underline the note 5, to show that it is to be played an octave lower.

 

 

Examples:####################################

 

 

This is alright if the tune doesn't ever use any other notes below the "zero" note, but in most cases, the only safe way to write it is by starting at note 8 instead of note 1, and using higher numbers, so that you can go down to 4, 5, 6, etc..

 

 

MORE CHRISTMAS CAROLS

 

As I said before, there are a lot of Christmas Carols that go up to the 6th note, but some of them also have the same bottom note, which is the “lower 5th”.

 

 

10: Danny Boy

 

Uses an octave below the 6th, underlined here.

 

0123..23653216..

 

1345..653132....

 

0123..23653216..

 

0123..432121....

 

5678..77656531..

 

5678..776532....

 

555  (10)  ..99868531..

 

012365321601....

 

In the line before last, there is a TEN!

 

 

6: Groovy Kind Of Love

 

(Written with a lower 6th note)

 

                   1   2   3   4   5   .   .   .  

 

                   4   3   2   1   0   .   .   0  

 

                   1    .   6   0   1   .   .   .  

 

                   2   1   0   1   2   .   .   .  

 

                   2   3   4   5   6   .   .   .  

 

                   5   4   3   2   5    .   5    .  

 

                   4   3   2   3   5    .   5    .  

 

                   4    .   3    .   2    .    .    .  

 

                   1   2   3   4   5    .    .    .  

 

                   4   3   2   1   0    .   0   0  

 

                   1   0   6   0   1    .    .    .  

 

                    .   .    .    .    .   1   1   1  

 

                   1   0   6    0   1   .   .   .

11:  Tipperary

 

345.5..5678. (10) ...

 

(10) 98.6...8.5.....

 

345.5..5678. (10) ...

 

789.6.7.8.9.......

 

5.5...678. (10) .....

 

(11) . (11) .8.9. (10) .....

 

89(10) . (10) . (10) 8986...

 

5.8.(10) 8...9.8...

12. I vow to thee

 

356..875898.

 

7.676.5.3...

 

356..87589 (10.10.)

 

(10) 98.9.8...

 

 

532.2.132.2.

 

532.2.356...67

 

8.7.6.5.8.3.

 

2..1235...

 

14.  Santa Lucia

In this tune, the red 5 must be flattened, and any harmony must be flattened as well.  Notes in brackets are double figures.

 

5 . 5 . . 8 8 7 7 . . .

4 . 4 . . 6 6 5 5 . . .

3 . 6 . . 5 5 4 4 . . .

4 . 3 . 2 . 6 5 5 . . .

 

(Twice)

 

(10) . 9 . 8 . 7 6 9 . . .

9 . 8 . 6 . 5 5 8 . . .

(10) 8 8 5 5 3 4 9 9 . . .

9 . (10) . . 9 9 8 8 . . .

 

5 6 7 8 9  (10 10 .11 . . .)

(14 13 10 11 14 13 13 .12 ...)

6 7 8 9 (10 11 11 10 13.. 12)

8 7 (10 . .) 9 8 . . . . .

 

The green 3 or 10 notes can also be treated as if they were flattened 4 or 11 when you are working out harmonies later.

Embellishments

 

Embellishments are a kind of "decoration" which can be added to any tune, to make it more interesting, and perhaps add something of your own style to it.

 

Grace Notes:

 

The technical name for grace notes is APPOGGIATURA, but most people don't know how to spell it or pronounce it, so the term "Grace Note" is easier to understand, not that grace notes are always "graceful", they just add a bit of style to a melody. 

 

The idea is choose a note just below the one you really want in a tune, play it very short, and quickly move onto the melody note. When grace notes are printed on music, they are much smaller than the other notes, and no time is allowed for playing them.

 

A grace note is usually below the melody note, often a semitone below it, but sometimes one step along whichever scale is in use at the time. (That, of course, will be either a semitone or a wholetone.)  Sometimes, it is difficult to know whether the two notes overlap, or whether the first one ends as the second begins, but if there IS an overlap, don't make it too long, unless you are aiming for a comic effect.  The only grace notes that always work quite well with an overlap are octaves, and it is more likely that you would play the octave below the intended note, then jump up an octave.  This gives very little choice of fingering!

 

As well as decoration, Grace Notes can also be used to mislead the listener into thinking you are going to play one note (perhaps one you played recently) then slide onto another one. You might play a few notes, then play them again, but fool people by using the last note as a grace note played very briefly before changing to a new note.

 

Ideas like that can catch the listener's attention, and make the music more interesting.

 

 

FLATS RATHER THAN SHARPS

 

Grace notes are also a convenient excuse for moving hastily off a wrong note, and if you ever hit a note that sounds bad, (as you probably will) it is usually fairly safe to slide it up a semitone. Some people call this the "First Rule Of Jazz".

 

Of course, it doesn't just apply to jazz, or any one type of music.

 

This is something that comes up again and again with music, and for many purposes, it is safer to think of the notes between a scale as flats, (rather than sharps) and connect them in your mind to the notes above them.

 

Often, Mozart's music sticks very carefully to a major scale, and then uses a note between the scale for contrast, but quickly moves it up a semitone, to a "safer" note, and the same sort of thing happens in all kinds of music.

 

We will return to this idea of "flats rather than sharps" again later, when we look at harmony and chords:  To harmonise with a note between the scale, you will normally have to think of it as a flat.

 

In chords, even if a note is sharpened, or raised a semitone, to resolve any tension it causes in the music, you will often need to treat it as a flat, and raise it up another semitone.

 

In interval numbers, the easiest way to describe notes between the scale is as flats, or with minus signs:

 

-5 or b5 means flattened 5th.

 

Tremolo playing

 

Instruments which produce notes by plucking or striking strings cannot hold a note for more than a few seconds, so when a longer note is needed, especially if you are playing something which is normally sung, the nearest effect to a long note is what is known as "TREMOLO" playing, repeating the note many times, very quickly.  Fingerstyle guitarists can achieve this effect using several fingers. 

 

Banjoists and guitarists, using a plectrum going backwards and forwards across the string, can almost make the note seem continuous, a bit like a drum roll.  Mandolins are played like this most of the time, and they have double strings to make the tremolo even smoother.  Some instruments even have triple strings.  Tremolo playing is difficult to do with single notes on a keyboard, so the usual way around it is to play two notes an octave apart, shaking your hand left and right between thumb and little finger. This means there is little or no choice about fingering!

 

Some electric guitars have a lever called a TREMOLO ARM, but this is for an entirely different use, to slacken the strings, and "bend" the pitch of the notes, especially downwards. In the 1950s, when guitar amplifiers were something very new, the only sound effect they had was also called TREMOLO, which causes the notes to keep going loud and soft very quickly.

 

Just for a Trill

 

 

No Slurs?

 

NOTE MEMORY

 

There is something that happens in music, but nobody seems to talk about it, and I have been unable to find an existing name for it, so I refer to it as “note memory”.

 

It works like this:  if you are singing a note, then stop, but do not sing another note, the note doesn’t stop in people’s heads, they still hear it until it is changed.

 

The effect of this in practical music is that you still have to proceed as if that last note was continuing, and this will affect you more and more, as you advance to harmonies, and especially chords.

 

When there is a space in the singing of a song, the last note still continues in your head for some time, so it affects the notes you can play, and may clash with some notes.

 

For example “There’s a kind of hush” is the first few words of the song, then the chord changes in a way that clashes with the note which the singer may still be holding.  The answer is to hold off changing the chord for a couple of beats, or cut short the note.  It is not written down like that, but it makes the music much better.

 

You don’t need to do anything much about it at this stage of your learning, but try to remember it when you get on to playing more notes.

 

PHRASING

 

If you sing a song as a soloist, rather than in a choir, phrasing is a technique that helps you to bring the meaning and emotion of the words more clearly to the audience.

 

It can also be applied to choirs or groups of singers, but only if it is pre-arranged, so that they all agree how the song will be sung, whereas a solo singer can make changes without any prior notice, provided they don't clash with the accompaniment.  Phrasing is a creative tool, and as such, requires you to make changes to the song, so it is important to understand that if you are singing a well-known song, the people in the audience may also be singing along with it in their heads, so certain types of change will clash with what they hear in their minds, and this can make them uncomfortable, or irritated by what you do.  Even with an unknown song, they will often try to anticipate the next note in a similar way.

 

It is not a good idea to change too many of the notes, but occasional subtle changes or embellishments will just create a little surprise, a moment of tension that grabs the audience's attention.  Ideally, these new notes should be far enough away from the original ones so that they don't clash if played or sung together with the originals.  In the English language, we accent certain words or syllables more heavily than others.  These "inflections" are the most difficult things for a foreigner to learn, and they can completely change the meaning of a line. 

 

Just as an actor has to practise lines in order to find the correct inflections, so it is with singing, but even if you are playing the notes on an instrument, the same kind of technique can be used, especially if you know the words.  Timing of the notes is the most important way of improving the phrasing, and creating the correct inflections, but don't be ahead of the note the listeners expect, it can irritate and annoy them. If anything, be late with the note, so that they hear it in their heads, then notice that you haven't sung it yet.

 

Having grabbed their attention again, sing the words in such a way that the pauses in the sentences make sense, and improve the understanding of what the song is about.  Being late with a note, you will then need to sing the following notes more quickly, in order to catch up, and this is the main message:- 

 

Fall behind, then catch up.

 

A simple idea to play about with is - at the very moment when you should be starting the first word, start taking in a good lungful of air, then come in late, savour the notes as much as time allows, then hurry to catch up.

 

Breathe In!

 

Whether you sing, or play a wind instrument, you need to think about it:  We all have to breathe all the time, we don’t think about it, it just happens, so it seems strange to talk about learning how to breathe properly, but I recall a man with bronchial asthma who had managed to reach the age of 70 without learning.  I thought he was practising some special technique, as he raised his shoulders and threw out his chest to try to breathe, but after years of this, a doctor finally showed him how to breathe properly, and it changed his life so dramatically that he wanted to tell everyone about it.

 

Ask anyone to take in a deep breath, and you will probably see them do the same - as if shoulders were a necessary part of it.  They may even pull in their stomach.  Your lungs are quite long, and stretch from the bottom of the rib-cage right up into the shoulders, but at that point, they are surrounded by bones, so their capacity to swell is limited, and breathing with your upper chest will not fill your lungs properly.  I have known many singers who TALK about using the diaphragm, but haven’t got a clue how they should be doing it.

 

When your body needs a sudden rush of oxygen for a yawn or a sneeze, it instinctively does it right:  The diaphragm pushed your tummy out quite visibly, and your waist measurement may expand by several inches.

 

Hold your upper chest and shoulders still, and work on breathing in the lower part of your lungs, where the most expansion is possible.  Measure how much your waist expands, and try to improve this.

 

I realise that this is no excuse for an ordinary pot belly, but do take notice of the shape of opera singers in general!

 

Another point about breathing is that normally, there should be a balance between the sound coming out of your mouth and your nose.  If you close your throat, the sound may only come out through your nose, and it will sound NASAL!

 

Practice singing with your nostrils held shut, and see what you learn from the experience.

 

CAFFEINE OVERLOAD

 

Count time at a steady speed, using the numbers one and two:

 

1       2       1       2       1       2       1       2

 

Now do the same, but instead of one and two, use the word COFFEE.

 

Co     ffee   Co     ffee   Co     ffee   Co     ffee

 

Now try it again with the word TEA, but make it last as long as the two beats of COFFEE.

 

TEA            TEA            TEA            TEA

 

Combine the two, but COFFEE still takes the same length of time as TEA.

 

TEA  COFFEE   TEA  COFFEE

 

Now add a new drink - COCA-COLA:  This has four syllables, and has to be spoken quicker, so that it takes the same time as TEA or COFFEE.

 

Coffee                 Coffee                 Coffee                 Coffee                

Coffee                 Tea                      Coffee                 Tea

Coca-Cola          Coffee                 Coca-Cola                    Coffee

Coffee                 Tea                      Coffee                 Tea

 

Can you work out what tune might fit the rhythm of these words?  Try writing tunes you know in this way, so that you can show the rhythm by using these words.  What has all this to do with printed music?

 

TEA represents a note two beats long, known as a minim, and shown as a circle with a stem.

 

COFFEE represents two separate beats, each known as a crotchet, and shown as a filled-in circle with a stem.

 

COCA-COLA represents four half-beats or quavers, each of which is represented by a filled-in circle with a stem and a tail.  These tails can be separate sloping ones, or they can join two or more quavers together.

 

Now try the printed music

 

Playing in minor keys

 

 

Relative Minors

 

The chart below shows the 12 Major keys, and their Relative Minors.

 

To find the relative minor of a major scale, go anti-clockwise 3 places around the circle.

 

(Or down 3 semitones.)

 

To find the relative major of a minor scale, go clockwise 3

places around the circle.

 

(Or up 3 semitones.)

 

??????????????????????????????

Other Minor Scales

 

Melodic Minor Scales use different notes according to whether you are going up or down.

 

The Ascending Melodic Minor Scale only flattens the 3rd, the rest remain the same as a major scale.

 

The Descending Melodic Minor Scale is the relative minor scale, which follows exactly the same notes as its relative major, so A minor uses the same notes as C major.

 

Try playing up an A major scale, but flattening the 3rd to C, then come downwards just on the white notes.  Something about it sounds right, changing the scale according to which way you are going.

 

The Harmonic Minor Scale is a stranger scale associated with Middle Eastern music.  This uses a flattened 3rd and a flattened 6th, which produces an unusually large interval of 3 semitones between the 6th and 7th. Try running up and down it, and you should hear that distinctive sound of the harmonic minor, often associated with Jewish music, such as “Hava Nagila”. 

 

There is another scale, for which I have been unable to find a name, which also raises the 4th, so there are 3 semitones between the flattened 3rd and raised 4th, then there are 3 consecutive semitones for 4th, 5th and flattened 6th.  This is a very interesting scale for improvisation, which also appears in some Jewish music, I like using it on mandolin or especially bouzouki.  It almost turns up in “Big noise from Winnetka”.

 

A word about Modes

 

Many complicated explanations have been given for modes in music books, and some pupils are put off by them, but they really are quite simple:  Once you are familiar with the idea of playing on a major scale, you may try making other scales from it, simply by starting from a different note of the scale.

 

For example, the C major scale uses all the white notes, but try the effect of doing an 8-note scale starting from D through to the next D. This has the sound of a minor scale, and is known as The Dorian Mode.

 

Try playing a Spanish guitar style, but using a melody from the notes of the C scale, with accompaniment based around the E chord.

 

Most of the other modes have very little practical value, and I don't think you will need to worry about learning their names, because when it comes down to it, a "mode" is just another major scale, but started from a different note!

 

Pick up the Tab

 

Tablature ("Tab" for short) is a simple diagram for use on fretboard instruments, which uses a line across the page to represent each string, so there will be 6 lines for a guitar.  Think of the guitar as if it is lying down in front of you, with the body on your right, and the thickest strings nearest to you.  To make this clearer, I will use lines of varying thickness like the strings, but tab is not usually done like that.

 

 

The Need For Notation

 

Elton John's "Sorry seems to be the hardest word" provides a perfect example of how messy and difficult some timing is to show in simple interval numbers and dots, even with just 3 notes:

 

. . . . . . 3 3 3 3 . 3 3 . . . . 1 3 . . 1 .

 

3 . . . 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

. . . . . . 2 2 2 2 . 2 2 . . . . 1 3 . 2

 

1 . . 1 . . . . . . . . . .

 

Even if you can follow the timing, it would be very difficult to play it at quickly from this notation, and what is needed is some way of showing more difficult timing, with more types of symbols.

 

Conventional music notation does this, and is very useful, as long as you don't expect it to be perfect!  It has been around for over five hundred years, and is unlikely to disappear, but there are other ways to write music down, and we will be looking at several which will be useful in different ways, for different purposes.

 

Before you can read music properly, with timing, you will need to look at how the notes are arranged on the page. This is done by first of all considering the white notes (naturals). Music notation is always based on scales of 8 notes, ignoring the notes between until they are needed, and the simplest tunes are written in the key of C, using only white notes.

 

The Great Stave

 

A few hundred years ago, music was written on a series of eleven lines, each line or space representing a natural (white note).  The middle line was C, so it came to be known as "Middle C", although it is not usually in the middle of a keyboard.

 

G is a note above the top line, F is a note on the top line etc..

 

 

THE GREAT STAVE

 

G

 

F       __________________________________________________________

 

E

 

D       __________________________________________________________

 

C

 

B       __________________________________________________________

 

A

 

G       __________________________________________________________

 

F

 

E       __________________________________________________________

 

D

 

Middle C    _______________________________________________________

 

B

 

A       __________________________________________________________

 

G

 

F       __________________________________________________________

 

E

 

D       __________________________________________________________

 

C

 

Normal music notation

 

 

Creative music reading

 

 

Midi notemaps

Klavar notation

 

 

 

PEDAL EXERCISES

 

 

                              C       D       E      F       G       A       B      C

 

The brown pedals are the NATURALS, equivalent to the white notes on a keyboard, and most home organs have only 13 pedals like this.

 

Try this exercise, playing it slowly and evenly, repeating it until you can do it smoothly.  The second C is the top note.

 

C E D F E G F A G B

A C B G A F G E F D

 

The black pedals are sharps or flats, like the black notes on the keyboard.  Try repeating this in the same way:

 

C  D#  F#  A  C

B  G#  F  D

C#  E  G  A#

 

 

BLUES SCALE

So far, we have thought mainly in terms of choosing notes that go together well: Forget all that, this is the BLUES!

 

The blues scale is a minor pentatonic, (like Eb minor on the black notes) but with an extra note (A) added. This comes between the 4th and 5th, so the whole scale is made up of...

 

 

1st      minor 3rd      4th     flattened 5th      5th      minor 7th

 

These don't quite line up with ANY normal scale, but don't worry about it - the blues scale works by staying on the same set of notes while the chords change just about anywhere you want them to!  Choose a key, find the notes of the blues scale, and play them with a simple chord sequence that starts and ends in the right key.  Notice how the notes combine almost randomly with the chords, and provided the chord sequence is well constructed, the blues scale will usually work, if you grit your teeth and keep going!

 

Don't get the idea that the blues can only be played with a blues scale, or that a blues scale can only be played with the blues. As you learn to create more complex sequences of chords, keep on trying the blues scale with them.

 

 

A BETTER BLUES SCALE

In order to make the blues scale more complete, and give more opportunity to vary it, 2 other notes can be added, the 2nd and 6th.

 

In D on a keyboard, this means all the white notes, plus G#.  Try running up and down this 9-note scale from D to D.

 

Now try keeping your right thumb on the lower D, and swapping between that thumb note and each of the others.

 

If you want a more conventional scale of 8 notes, you could simply ignore the 6th, but it has its uses.

 

 

BLUES GUITAR

On guitar, the extended form of the blues scales is best practised in E first, with the bottom E then stopping it at F# & G. Move on to the 5th string, play the open A then stop it at Bb & B. Play the open D, then stop it at E. Open G, then A, Bb. Open B, then Db, D. Open E, then F#, G.

 

Play the same notes backwards and forwards, using the lowest E and the highest G only once each time, before turning back in the opposite direction. This makes a convenient round figure of 32  notes.

 

Now look for some patterns that will help you remember the positions of these notes on each string, and remember three other things:

 

Don't try to go fast, try to do it RIGHT!

 

Use a different finger for each fret.

 

Practise with alternate down and up strokes on the plectrum or finger.

 

 

SPANISH STYLE

An unusual use of the major scale occurs in some Spanish guitar music, where an E chord is used with the notes of the C scale.  The chord may also slide up a semitone, (F) and perhaps another to (G), sometimes leaving the open B & E strings sounding as well.

 

In terms of modes, this type of melody can be described as ///////////////////

 

 

 

 

Plutarch was a philosopher in ancient Greek, and he said that

 

"In order to create harmony, music must investigate discord."

 

The word "HARMONY" simply means putting notes together in a way that is pleasant to listen to.

 

DISCORD is the opposite - notes that don't go together very well, and sound unpleasant.

 

Notice that the word DISCORD doesn't have an H in it - it has nothing directly to do with CHORDS, and there is no such thing as "A DISCHORD".  To put it another way, what Plutarch was saying was that in order to find the good sounds, we have to be prepared to try putting all sorts of notes together, and experimenting to find out which ones sound good: 

 

On the way, this will involve making some horrible noises too, but it's the only way to learn!  Fortunately, people have been making music for a long time, and we can learn a lot by listening to music, or reading books about music, provided those books actually tell you anything about the music itself.  Sometimes, you may actually want music to sound unpleasant, if it is a song about an unpleasant subject, or a background for a play or film where something bad is happening, but even that is quite difficult to do, and it is useful to experiment with different sets of notes, to learn more about the effects you can produce.

 

Certain parts of a melody may have simple, standard harmonies that are tried and tested, for example if the melody goes up the scale…

 

1       2       3       4

 

try starting your harmony on exactly the same note, or an octave above or below it, and as the melody goes up the scale, make the harmony go down in semitones.

 

The same works for the other tetrachord, the notes

 

5       6       7       8

 

There will be lots of occasions when a tune goes up the scale like this, so practise this idea, with the harmony moving below the melody, or in the octave above it.

 

There will be other situations where one part goes along the scale, while the other moves in semitones.  It sometimes works for  2  3  4  5  or  4  5  6  7.

 

UNISON

 

Suppose two people want to sing the same song together, they could just sing exactly the same notes:  This is called singing in UNISON (literally "one sound").  Most of the notes on a piano have three strings, all tuned in unison, so that they make a stronger, fuller sound than just one string.  Mandolins and bouzoukis have double strings, tuned in unison.

 

It is actually almost impossible for two people to sing exactly in tune, but slight errors can make the sound fuller and more interesting, especially in a large group of singers or instruments.  This "CHORUS" effect is often imitated by electronic effects, and an electric guitar or keyboard can be also plugged into a chorus pedal to get the effect of two or more instruments playing in unison.

 

Any musical sound that can be converted into an electrical signal and fed along a wire can be altered in many ways, by effects pedals, octave change, graphic equalizers, echo, chorus, reverberation, distortion, etc.. 

 

OCTAVES

 

The problem with singing in unison is that not everyone can reach the same notes, so one way around this problem is to sing in OCTAVES:  In other words, the two people sing the same note NAMES, but one may be in a higher or lower octave.   Many men's voices are an octave lower than many women's, so singing in octaves is very useful.

 

For example, if one person sings an A, the other sings a higher or lower A.

 

The same can apply when two different instruments play the same tune together.

 

Some instruments (including accordions, harpsichords, organs and electronic keyboards) can be made to produce built-in octave playing by producing two notes on each key, one an octave higher than the other.  12-string guitars and bouzoukis have some of their pairs of strings tuned an octave apart.

 

Octave pedals are made to add this effect to guitars, microphones and other electric instruments, but more often, these add an octave lower, and some don't work if more than one note is played at a time.  Some are also out of tune!

 

DRONE

 

Another idea for using two notes is a drone:  Usually, this is the keynote, held or  repeated all through the tune.

 

Try playing a simple tune from Chapter 1 on a keyboard, with a single note “1” held continuously in the left hand, or played repeatedly.  On a guitar, this can be a lot more difficult, and the drone will usually need to be an open string.

 

In an instrument such as organ or bagpipes, which can hold a long note, the drone may be continuous, or in instruments that only produce short notes (such as guitar, sitar or piano) the drone may be played repeatedly, beating time or providing a note to go in time with the melody.

 

Bagpipes and Aeolian Pipes use a drone, and so does a very old instrument called the Hurdy-Gurdy, which is a stringed instrument, bowed by turning a handle on the end. 

 

The bagpipes often use the 5th note of the scale as a drone.

 

Drones can have more than one note, often octaves, sometimes 5ths. 

 

The Indian instrument called a Sitar has low-pitched drone strings, and some banjos have a shorter, high G string which is played, but not fingered with the left hand. 

 

It is also possible to buy a device called a banjo capo which alters the drone note.

 

Bouzoukis are sometimes tuned with drone strings.

 

SEMITONES

 

Pop songs are often sung with a harmony note above the melody, but purely for the purpose of working out harmonies that will follow a melody up and down, it is usually best to think of the tune as the "Top Line", and add a lower note.  How could you decide which note to use each time?

 

What would happen if you played a tune on a keyboard, and you wanted to play another note with it?  Would a note a semitone lower work?  Try it with a simple tune.  It sounds so horrible that it is really quite funny, but apart from comic effects, it is not much use for good music!

 

A slightly different effect involves playing both notes, then immediately releasing the lower semitone, leaving the proper melody note sounding.

 

Just for fun, try playing a short tune in one hand, and playing exactly the same a semitone lower in the other hand, in a different octave, so if you play F in one hand, play E in the other hand.  This is very difficult, but worth practising because people find it so funny.  Try “Pop goes the weasel”.

 

 

WHOLETONES

 

Now try playing a tune, and adding a note a wholetone (2 semitones) below it. 

 

Is it better or worse than semitones? 

 

That depends on the tune, and how it is played, but it is not a very nice effect!

 

 

THIRDS

 

As we have seen in Chapter 1, there are two types of 3rd:  a Major 3rd is 4 semitones, and a Minor 3rd is 3 semitones. 

 

Try playing a tune with each of these as a harmony below the melody. 

 

Pick a simple tune, and play each note with another note, 3 semitones lower.

 

Now play it again, with the harmony note 4 semitones lower.

 

Each type of third will sound alright sometimes, but neither will sound right all the time.

 

DIATONIC HARMONY

 

The real answer here is to check every note and decide whether it sounds better with a major or minor third below it. 

 

This sounds complicated, but it is easier than it may seem, because the scales you should already have learned will usually tell you which 3rd to use, so all you have to do is choose harmony notes from whichever scale you are using for the tune. 

 

If the tune is in C, using only white notes, then that will be a good rule to apply to the harmony - a third below the melody, but staying on the same set of notes. 

 

The scale decides for you about which type of 3rd is appropriate for each note.

 

Practise playing any simple tune in the key of C, adding a 3rd below it as a harmony, in fact go through all the tunes in Chapter 1 in this way.

 

As an exercise, see if you can use your fingers in pairs: 

 

Place each finger above a note of the scale, then play alternate fingers together…

 

Thumb and middle finger.

 

Index and ring finger.

 

Middle and little finger.

 

Index and ring finger.

 

Thumb and middle finger.

 

 

Then, try other keys, with sharps or flats.

 

Don't worry if it doesn't always sound perfect, it is an exercise, a step towards learning harmony. 

 

Some people never progress beyond harmony in 3rds, it is very widely used in pop songs, and often shows a lack of imagination if there is no variation. 

 

The worst thing about it is the finishing note of the tune, which rarely sounds comfortable or complete with a 3rd below it.

 

THE HORN FIFTH

 

Harmonising below the melody in 3rds has one very major drawback, because a harmony a 3rd below the 1st or keynote is not normally an acceptable ending.  It’s not so bad if the tune starts starts on the keynote, and you can always leave the harmony note off until the melody moves, but most melodies end on the keynote, and this is more of a problem.  There is a long-established way of dealing with it, with many examples throughout the history of all kinds of music, and that is to end with a 6th below the melody, so try a few simple tunes in simple keys, finding the 6th interval below, and doing it that way.

 

The question is, when the melody goes down the scale 3 2 1, how does one change from playing harmony a 3rd below the 3rd, to opening that out to a much wider interval of a 6th below the keynote?  The obvious answer would be to choose a harmony note for the 2nd which is at an interval somewhere between the sizes of those two intervals:  although a 4th seems possible, a 5th works so well that it has become the standard answer to the puzzle.

 

This effect is found in many classical pieces, often played by a pair of French horns, and early horns only had a limited number of notes to choose from, so the "Horn Fifth" was born.  There are many examples of this type of harmony (which uses a scale of 4 notes plus the octaves) ranging from Beethoven and Dvorak right through to modern popular tunes, as well as hunting horns.  Here are the notes, with the melody above the harmony...

 

E       D       C       with

 

C       G       E

 

In interval numbers,

 

3 with a 3rd below it.

 

2 with a 5th below it.  -  The Horn Fifth!

 

1 with a 6th below it.

 

Now play it with 2 hands, on the notes 1 2 3 2 1 2 3 . 1 .  1

 

Try this on all of the simple 3-note tunes from Chapter 1, and practise getting your fingers around these rather uneven spacings.  The whole idea of this type of harmony is to use only four notes of the scale, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th, and their octaves. Practise going up and down this scale, using pairs of notes like these.  If you like, use the black notes, but leaving out Eb. 

HARMONY IN SIXTHS

 

Once you are completely comfortable and practised playing in 3rds, try the same type of idea, but a wider spread of notes, using 6ths all through each tune instead of 3rds, still below the melody note, and only using the notes of the scale. 

 

Practise 6ths with all the tunes in Chapter 1, in the key of C.

 

Now practise them in other keys.

 

One of the problems you will have to work through is fingering, because whereas you can probably manage to use pairs of fingers to play in 3rds, this is much more difficult with 6ths, try playing a 6th with your thumb and ring finger, then another with your index finger and little finger. 

 

Go backwards and forwards between these two positions.

 

You may often have to settle for moving your whole hand about, so that the same pair of fingers plays all the 6ths.

 

USING THIRDS OR SIXTHS

 

Once you have practised 6ths, and feel comfortable with them, work on tunes, playing about halfway through in 3rds, then finish off by harmonising in 6ths instead.  Go through as many tunes as you can, and try to decide when is the best moment to change to 6ths.

 

MIXING THIRDS AND SIXTHS

 

Then, try just mixing 3rds and 6ths in a more varied way. 

 

Experiment with changing between 3rds and 6ths as often as you can, but always finishing with 6ths.  Aim to end on a 6th.

 

 

THREE-PART HARMONY

 

Once you are comfortable with playing harmony in 3rds or 6ths, you can experiment with the idea of using a 3rd AND a 6th below the melody.  It will not work with every part of every tune, but it is a useful tool. Try this…

 

CATCH A FALLING STAR

 

3 3 3 3 3 . 4 .

5 5 5 5 5 . 6 .

5 5 5 5 5 . 4 . 3

 

Now try the tune in the key of C:  move a note up and down the white notes, just using your little finger, and add a 4th below it, and a 3rd below that.  Then try, a bunch of 4 notes, the melody, the 3rd below it, the note below that, and a 3rd below that.

 

 

If you know the first part of the melody for William Walton’s “Crown Imperial” (1937) you can try this:  Walton wrote it in the key of C, and for the first section, moved his right hand around in a simple, fixed shape on the white notes, as described above. 

 

Holding a low C bass, add a 4th below the melody, and a 3rd below that. 

 

The intervals are simple, but timing is difficult to show with numbers and dots…

 

1.112…….1.2.3.2.3.5….4.5..4543

 

Perhaps a more familiar example is Ivor Novello’s “We’ll gather lilacs”, and in the verse (the part some people don’t play!) the bass stays on the keynote, while the root notes of the chords follow exactly the melody notes.  Try it in C, and play

 

1.23452

 

but with a chord which has a 4th and a 6th below the melody, but still remaining on white notes.

 

PARALLEL HARMONY

 

The idea of parallel harmony (chromatic harmony) is to follow the melody up and down, rather like the item on the previous page, except that this time, the notes are at a fixed number of semitones below it, instead of following the scale.

 

One of the most common uses is with a 3rd and a 6th, but this time, always keeping the notes the same number of semitones apart. 

 

Try this with a melody around the 3rd, 4th 5th and 6th notes of the major scale.

 

As the melody moves, the harmony notes must always move exactly the same number of semitones. 

 

It can start by choosing a 3rd and 6th from the scale, then moving away from the safety of the scale, then returning to it.

 

3.4.5.6.5.4.3

 

As an example, play “Catch a falling star” again, but in this different harmony…

 

3 3 3 3 3 . 4 .

5 5 5 5 5 . 6 .

5 5 5 5 5 . 4 . 3

 

For orchestral music, parallel harmony is a relatively modern concept, more associated with the 1900s than the 1800s. 

 

For jazz, such concepts seem to have been unknown until the fifties.

 

Another use is with 4ths or 5ths, sometimes more than two of them.

 

Play along the blues scale, but with a 4th below it, and another 4th below that.

 

It is surprisingly effective with rock guitar sounds, or as a keyboard backing to them, using a rhythmic pedal note.

 

These parallel harmonies usually only work for certain very short phrases, with a simple bass, rather than a chord backing.

 

MULTIPLE HARMONIES

 

When it comes to larger groups of voices, such as choirs, the top line is sung by the soprano, often on the main melody, with an alto voice below it, but this is not the end of the story, so it is not so vital that these two voices are in 3rds or 6ths, and it is quite common to hear 5ths and especially 4ths between them, because we still have the tenor and bass to fill in any missing notes, and make the harmony complete. 

 

Even 3 voices make it much easier for each harmony line to work well, without each part having to be a complete harmony for the melody.

 

Because the soprano most often ends on the keynote, the alto is often a 4th lower, to fit the chord, so another voice is essential to finish off that chord.  (An alternative is to spread the chord by using a 6th, and another below it.)

 

However, if you find yourself writing duo parts such as two voices, it is much more important to realise that the harmony must sound as complete as possible between just two notes, even without accompaniment.

 

This limits you almost exclusively to 3rds and 6ths, and you must move on hastily from any brief, tense moments of 4ths and 5ths, or weak moments of unison and octave, back to the safety of a 3rd or 6th.

 

All these arguments apply equally to instruments playing in harmony. 

 

Another important thing to remember is that if there are a number of singers, the last thing you want to do is have them all singing the same words at the same moments all the way through a song. 

 

Don’t just think about harmonising directly with the melody, make more interesting and varied parts where different voices or groups of voices are interwoven. 

 

At the very least, have a “backing group” that is separate from the main song parts. 

 

One of my pet hates is people doing backing vocal parts such as echoing lines, but with only one voice and no harmony, it sounds so amateurish.

 

CREATING COUNTER-MELODIES

 

Once you have established which SCALE or set of notes is being used for a melody, there is a simple little trick which should enable you to compose two counter-melodies to go with the original, using the same timing but different notes.

 

In this way, a simple tune can be built up into a much bigger arrangement for several instruments.

 

Let's suppose, for easy writing, that the scale is C major, which consists entirely of white notes, and the melody notes are ABCDECDBC:

 

Write them down, spaced out slightly, and with room for a blank line above and below:

Now write above each letter the note which is a THIRD above it...

 

C   D   E    F   G   E   F   D   E

A   B   C    D   E   C   D   B   C

 

In a similar way, write below each note the name of the note which is a 3rd below it.

 

C   D   E    F   G   E   F   D   E

A   B   C    D   E   C   D   B   C

F   G   A    B   C   A   B   G   A

 

Remember, the melody is the MIDDLE line, so your task is to find a sequence of notes from the other two lines that will sound acceptable as a tune in its own right. There are two ways you might do this.

 

The fiddly way is to keep re-writing the list, swapping notes from the top and bottom rows, so that the top row forms the counter-melody.  The easier way is to draw lines joining the notes, so that you can follow the path of the counter-melody. 

 

It isn't necessary to follow the melody up or down at all, in fact it is far better to go in the opposite direction sometimes, or stay still on the same note when the melody moves, or move if the melody stays still.

 

Now practise playing the melody with the right hand, and the counter-melody with the left hand, or swap them around. 

 

If you have an extra hand available, or some means of recording parts, the next job is to line up all the left-over notes, and see if you can make them sound like a reasonable second counter-melody when played on their own, with no big or uncomfortable jumps.

If there are any notes that don't work well, try swapping again with the notes from the first counter-melody, but don't alter the original tune.

 

PLAYING A ROUND

 

 

WRITING A ROUND

 

 

 

INTERVAL NUMBERS

 

If you have ever watched the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", you may remember the scene where music is being used to communicate with the alien spacecraft.  The keyboard player responds to commands about how to change the note up or down, and these instructions are in NUMBERS.  Musicians use a system of numbering the notes of a scale, which can be applied in any key, so instead of the notes of a scale being described with names like...

 

DO RE MI, or longer names like

 

TONIC SUPERTONIC MEDIANT,

 

the notes are simply called 1 2 3.

 

These numbers are known as INTERVAL NUMBERS, and you should try to get used to this idea, because it has many useful applications.  For example, I recently heard a song on television, and wanted to write down how the middle part went.  Interval numbers meant that just typing…

 

5342534253425

 

was enough to remind me, so that I could learn it.  If you have trouble remembering how a tune starts, then jotting down a few numbers can be a tremendous help.  As you will see later, the names of chords often rely on the use of these same numbers, which can also be used to explain some chord changes, for example, in a television interview, songwriter Neil Sedaka described one of his songs as a…

 

1   6   2   5

 

Some simple teaching systems use numbers which are not the same, and so the music written for a particular instrument may be in a system which only works for that instrument.  Examples include toy wind instruments, toy pianos, stylophones, miniature electronic pianos, and even some larger keyboard instruments.  Learning those systems will not help you in any way with other music, but interval numbers can be applied to playing any instrument, in any key.  Like any teaching method, you must start with simple things, and the more you practice them and get them right, the quicker you will progress.  Start on a keyboard instrument, such as piano, learn the layout of the notes, and then you can begin to adapt to other instruments when you get the hang of it.

 

    

 

People often think it will be difficult to learn the names of all the notes on a piano, but it is really a matter of alternating between these two very simple patterns.  The patterns only go wrong when they run off the ends of the keyboard.  Don’t write the names on the keys, or stick labels on them, or you will never learn them.  We start by playing one note at a time.

THREE-NOTE TUNES

 

To find the three notes on a keyboard for the following tunes, you need to look at the “tails” – the furthest end of each key, where the widths are all about the same.  Start by playing any note, black or white, miss a note, play the next note, miss a note, and play another.  Now, with the tune written in numbers instead of note names, you can learn to play it in any key – starting from any note.  In these examples, dots represent a beat on which there is no new note.

 

AU CLAIRE DE LA LUNE

 

1  1  1  2  3  .  2  . 

 

1  3  2  2  1  .   .  . 

 

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

 

3  2  1  2  3  3  3  .

 

2  2  2   .  3  3  3  .

 

 3  2  1  2  3  3  3  . 

 

2  2  3  2  1   .   .  .

 

JESAMINE

 

3  .  1  .  1  .  .  2

 

3  .  1  .  1  .  1  2

 

3  .  1  .  1  .  .  2

 

1  .   .   .   .   .  .  .

 

JACK BE NIMBLE

 

1  .   2  3   .   3

 

1  .   2  3   .   .

 

1  .   2  3  2  1

 

2  .   2  1   .   .

 

PLAYING IN OTHER KEYS

 

When we talk about "playing in the key of C" or "playing in C" it means using group of notes in which note number 1 is C.  Whatever note is number 1, that is the KEY NOTE.

 

Practise all the 3-note tunes from any key note:

 

Playing the tune is the easy bit, what you have to think about is finding the three notes that you need to make the tune sound right.

 

THE TETRACHORD

 

When it comes 4-note tunes, finding the 4th note is not really difficult, but the catch is that it is the very next note after the 3rd, so there is no note missed out between the 3rd and 4th.  In C, for example, the first 3 notes are C, D, and E: The 4th note is F, and there is no black note between E and F.  The same applies if you start on G, there is no black note between B & C, but what about in F?

 

These 4 notes together are known as a TETRACHORD and it is very important to learn them thoroughly before moving on to the next stage - SCALES.

 

Try to work out all 12 of the tetrachords in the following way:

 

Start from G, and find the 4 notes:

 

Play one, miss one, play one, miss one, play one, and play the next.

 

You should end up on C, so the next thing to do is find the 4 notes you would use if you start on C. Play the tetrachord.

 

You should end up on F, so the next thing to do is find the 4 notes you would use if you start on F.

 

Keep on going like this, starting each new tetrachord on the 4th note of the previous one, until you get back to G.

 

 

THE CIRCLE

 

 

 

At this point, we need to look briefly at something that will have many uses as you progress through the course, and it concerns the order in which you have just found the notes in the previous exercise.

 

Starting on any note, find the 4th note of its tetrachord.  Then start from that note, and find the 4th note of its tetrachord.

 

Continuing in this way, you will eventually go around all twelve of the starting notes, in a kind of circle, which returns to the original starting note.

 

This is known as

 

THE CIRCLE OF FOURTHS, or...

 

THE CYCLE OF FIFTHS or

 

THE CHORD CLOCK

because of its resemblance to a clock face, and because of its many important uses in writing chord sequences, which we will look at in Chapter 3.

 

Because it has so many uses, I will refer to it simply as...

 

"THE CIRCLE".

 

A FOUR-NOTE TUNE

 

By now, you should have found the 12 sets of 4 notes which would let you start on any note and play a tetrachord, so it would be nice to use these to play some 4-note tunes.  Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any popular tunes which just use the 4 notes of a tetrachord, so I made this one up!  Use this tune as an exercise for your brain, and try to play it starting from any note.  Get someone to test you by picking different starting notes for you, or go around the circle.

 

FOURTH WRITE

 

1  2  3  4  3  2

 

3  2  1  2   .   .

 

4  3  2  3  2  1

 

2  3  2  1   .  .

 

JOINING 2 TETRACHORDS

 

Once you have mastered all of the tetrachords, you can soon learn how to do something that many experienced musicians cannot do - finding all the notes of a Major Scale in any key! 

 

A Major Scale consists of two tetrachords, with 2 notes missed between them, so the second tetrachord doesn’t start on the same note, or the one above, but the next.

 

For example, in C, the first tetrachord would be...

 

C  D  E  F

 

Missing the note above that, (F#) move on to the next note to start the new tetrachord...

 

G  A  B  C

 

Those 2 tetrachords together form the 8 notes you need to play a C Major Scale. 

 

When you have practiced this, go around the circle, starting each new scale at the fourth note of the previous set, and find all the major scales, in F, Bb, Eb, etc. 

 

As you do each one, think about the best and most comfortable fingering with which to play the notes of that scale.

 

Usually, the thumb will only be useful for naturals ( white notes).

 

Practise going through the 8 notes of a scale, and get used to the numbers as you play them.

 

Three positions for interval numbers on a guitar…

 

 

 

Notice that each position allows you to play all 8 notes of a scale with one finger per fret, so you do not need to move your whole hand.  The “zero” note and 9th will also be useful later.

 

TWELVE MAJOR SCALES

 

Have a look at each scale in turn, and try to write a list that summarises which notes it contains, not by listing every single note, but by finding a shorter description:

 

C scale is made up only of white notes.

 

F scale

 

Bb scale

 

Eb scale

 

Ab scale

 

Db scale

 

F# scale has all the black notes plus B & F.

 

B scale

 

E scale

 

A scale

 

D scale

 

G scale uses F# instead of F

 

KEY SIGNATURES

 

Looking at all the notes on a piano, if you are playing by ear, or improvising, it seems a mind-boggling task to decide which notes to play, and various techniques are employed to simplify that task, by ignoring certain notes.  Perhaps the simplest on a keyboard is to ignore the black notes, and only play white notes.

 

When you start reading music, you will find that at the beginning of each piece, there is a key signature, designed to tell you which set of notes you can use to play all (or most) of the piece.  The key signature consists of a number of sharps or flats, lined up with particular notes.  If there are none, the piece is just using naturals (white notes) so it is based on the scale of C Major. 

 

If there is just one flat sign, placed against the note B, it means that all Bs should be flattened to Bb, as they are in the key of F. 

 

 

 

 

On this view of the circle, I have marked the number of flats or sharps for each key or scale.  For example, 2 flats indicates that the tune is in the key of B flat (Bb).

 

 

ACCIDENTALS

 

Playing by interval numbers, as we are doing here, is tremendously useful to you in learning how music is put together, but it does not work out very well with notes between the scales, although there are lots of tunes that can be played purely on a major scale.  If you need to learn fuller music notation, you will find it very much easier to understand if you have already learned intervals.

 

DIATONIC TUNES

 

What follows is a chronological list of some old diatonic tunes:  There are many more, and although it is a very old idea, it continues to produce well-loved modern melodies.  Predictably, many of the earlier ones are hymns or carols, but some of these were borrowed from existing popular or traditional melodies of the period. 

 

All of these tunes could be played purely on the white notes of a keyboard, provided they are played in a suitable key.  This does not mean that the chords and harmonies could all be played on the white notes, we are only looking at melody notes in this chapter.  The years given here are the earliest known references to the songs, often the date of publication of the individual song, or of an album containing it. 

 

  800 Slane (Traditional Irish)

1551 All people that on earth do dwell

1600 Ding dong merrily on high

1710 Holly and the ivy

1740 O come all ye faithful

1743 God save the king

1749 Loch Lomond

1760 My lodging is in the cold cold ground

1768 Ach du lieber Augustin

1770 The Keel row

1776 Rock of ages

1780 Deck the halls

1784 March of the Men of Harlech

1790 Auld lang syne

1806 The Star

1818 Silent night

1819 Blest are the pure in heart

1820 Shenandoah

1826 Holy holy holy

1833 I saw three ships

1835 Santa Lucia

1840 D'ye ken John Peel

1840 Rakes of mallow

1840 Wearing of the green

1843 Marble Halls

1846 O Susanna

1849 Clementine

1851 Old folks at home

1853 Once in royal David's city

1855 Home sweet home

1856 Ash grove

1856 Cockles & mussels

1856 Land of my fathers

1856 What can the matter be

1857 One horse open sleigh

1857 We three kings of orient are

1859 Comin' through the Rye (polka)

1859 Poor black Joe

1861 Jimmy crack corn

1861 Skip to my Lou

1862 Camptown races

1862 I wish I was in Dixie

1862 My bonnie is over the ocean

1862 Turkey in the straw

1863 Battle Hymn of the Republic

1865 D' ye ken John Peel

1865 Drink to me only with thine eyes

1865 Early one morning

1865 Floral dance

1865 Oh! No John No!

1865 Scotland the brave

1865 Wearing of the green

1868 O little town of Bethlehem

1869 Little brown jug

1870 What a friend we have in Jesus

1874 I vow to thee my country

1874 In the bleak midwinter

1875 Away in a manger

1876 Grandfather's clock

1877 The king of love my shepherd is

1884 Love's old sweet song (just a song at twilight)

1887 Dear lord and father of mankind

1888 Skye Boat Song

1889 Ask a policeman

1890 What shall we do with the drunken sailor

1893 Daisy Bell

1893 Dvorak’s Largo

1895 She was one of the early birds

1897 Sons of the sea (bobbing)

1899 O Tannenbaum (O Christmas tree)

1899 Whistling Rufus

1900 Goodbye Dolly Gray

 

Now that you have joined two tetrachords together, you can play tunes with up to 8 notes, but let's start with just 5.  The number before the title tells you how many notes of the scale the tune will use.  With up to 5 notes, you may be able to place your hand on the keyboard in such a way that every note is covered by a particular finger or thumb.

 

5: HALFWAY UP THE STAIRS

 

5 1 2 3 4 . 3 1

 

2  . 2 3 1 .  . 5

 

5 1 2 3 5 4 4 3

 

2  . 3  . 1 .  . 5

 

5 . 4 3 3 2 . 3

 

4  .  3 2 1 .  . 2

 

3  . 1 2 3  . 1 2

 

3  . 2  . 1  .  .  .

 

 

5: CHRISTMAS IS A TIME TO REMEMBER

By Bill Kibby

 

1 . 3 . 5 . 2 4 . 3 . 2 1 . 2 .

 

1 . 3 . 5 . 2 4 . 3 . 1 2 .  . .

 

1 . 3 . 5 . 2 4 . 3 . 2 1 . 2 .

 

4 . 3 2 1 . 2 . 3 . .  .  .  . . .

 

Try playing this tune just as it is, in C, and when you are happy with it, try it in the following way:  When the tune finishes, on the 3rd note of the scale, change to a scale a wholetone higher, so that the new scale starts on what was the 2nd note of the previous scale.

 

For example, if you start on C, you will finish on E, then change up to start the tune again, but this time, note number 1 is D.

 

Change key like this every time you play, and you should go through 6 different keys, ending up in the original key, but an octave higher.

 

Next, play the whole thing again, but this time starting in one of the keys you have not used yet, to go through the other 6 keys!

 

6: THE STAR

 

The poem commonly known as “Twinkle twinkle little star” was written by Jane Taylor in 1806, and was called “The Star”, although the popular tune was added later.  The number 6 above means that you will have to use the notes 1-6 for this tune, so it will immediately become obvious that with only five digits on one hand, you will need to move about a bit.

 

1 1 5 5 6 6 5 .

 

4 4 3 3 2 2 1 .

 

5 5 4 4 3 3 2 .

 

5 5 4 4 3 3 2 .

 

1 1 5 5 6 6 5 .

 

4 4 3 3 2 2 1 .

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS FINGERING?

 

People often say that a note will sound just the same whichever finger it is played with, so what is the point of learning special fingering?

 

The answer is that although it is true that a different finger will not usually have any effect on the sound of an individual note, as your playing gets better, you will need to find ways to move quickly and smoothly from one note to another, and this is where some finger movements are better than others, because they do affect the over-all smoothness of the music.

 

A lot of it is common sense: If you think about it, it is much easier to reach your fingers over your thumb than it is to move your thumb over your fingers.

 

Also, where sharps or flats are involved, the thumb is often more comfortable staying on the naturals (white notes).

 

When you are learning a tune, think about this, and try to plan out the movements so that you can see them in your mind.

 

Practise them in your mind, even when the instrument isn't there.

 

Some musicians spend hours planning how best to move their fingers in order to play the music the best way they can.

 

4   6   3   4   2   3   1   0

 

In this exercise, you have 6 different notes to play, and if you use the little finger of your right hand for the highest note, (6) you will probably end up having to reach over your thumb with your index finger to play the zero note.  Try to find a way that your thumb can remain free to deal with the lowest note, by using one of your fingers for 2 different notes.

 

 

TRANSFERRED FINGERING

 

Transferred fingering is a useful technique on a keyboard if you get stuck, and you can't work out how to reach the next note without tripping over yourself.  The idea is to press the note with one finger, then hold it down while you place another finger on the same note, leaving the original finger free to move to another note.  To do this, you may need to think of it as if you were playing the note a second time, so that you remember the finger movement.

 

The same sort of idea works if a note has to be repeated - don't just play it with the same finger, think ahead, think about how a change of fingering might help you to reach the next few notes.

 

Moving from a sharp, up or down to a natural can often be done by just sliding the same finger, so practise doing this smoothly.

 

Later, you may be able to use the same technique for whole groups of notes, or longer runs and slurs.

 

Try working out a way of playing all the notes from C up to G, using only the 5 digits of one hand, and sliding off the flats.

 

Many of the popular Christmas Carols happen to go up to the 6th note of the scale.

 

 

6. Blowin’ in the wind

 

5 . 5 5 6 . 6 6 5 . 3 2 1 . . 5

 5 . 5 5 6 . 5 4 5 . . . . . . .

 

 5 . 5 5 6 . 6 6 5 . 3 2 1 . . 5

 5 . 5 5 4 . 3 3 2 . . . . . . 5

 

The third part is similar to the first, but ends differently.

 

5  .5 5 6 . 6 6 5 . 3 2 1 . . 5

 5 . 5 5 6 . 5 4 5 . . . . . . 3

 

4 . 4 3 2 . . 2 3 3 3 2 1 . . 1

 4 . 4 3 2 2 1 0 1 . . . . . . .

 

6: Michael Row The Boat Ashore

 

               1  .  3  .

 

5  .  .  5  5  .  6  . 

 

5  .  .  .  3  .  5  .

 

6  .  .   .   .  .  .   . 

 

5  .  .  .  3  .  5  .

 

 

5  .  .  5  4  .  3  . 

 

2  .  .  .  1  .  2  .

 

3  .  .   .  2  .  .   . 

 

1  .  .  .              .

 

 

Playing By Dice

 

Now that you have played up to the 6th note in a scale, try using several dice to make up tunes.  Throw the dice and see if you can play the numbers as a tune.  Write down any sets of numbers that sound good, and try them in all the different keys.

 

 

8: Pop Goes The Weasel

 

This tune uses all 8 notes of the major scale.  Try it in every key.

 

1 .  3  2  .  4  3  5  3  1 . .

 

1 .  3  2  .  4  3  .   .   1 . .

 

1 .  3  2  .  4  3  .  5   1 . .

 

6 .  .   2  .  4  3 .  .  1  .  .

 

8  .  7  6  .  8  7  .  6  5 . .

 

8  .  7  6  7 8  7  .  .  5  . .

 

4  .  3  4  .  5  6  .  7  8 . .

 

6  .  .  2  .  4  3  .  .  1  .  .

 

 

8: Three Blind Mice

 

3  .  .  2  .  .  1  .  .  .  .  .

 

3  .  .  2  .  .  1  .  .  .  .  .

 

5  .  .  4  .  4  3  .  .  .  .  .

 

5  .  .  4  .  4  3  .  .  .  .  5

 

 

8  .  8  7  6  7  8  .  5  5  .  5

 

8  8  8  7  6  7  8  .  5  5  5  5

 

8  .  8  7  6  7  8  5  5  5  .  4

 

3  .  .  2  .  .  1  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

8: Chariots of fire

 

1 4 . 5 6 5 . . . 3 . . . . . .

1 4 . 5 6 5 . . .   . . . . . . .

 

1 4 . 5 6 5 . . . 3 . . . . . .

3 4 . 3 1 1 . . . . . . . . .

 

(Twice)

 

 

8  .  7  .  6  5  7  .   .  5  6  .   .  4  5  .

 8  .  7  .  6  5  7  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

8  .  7  .  6  5  7  .   .  5  6  .   .  4  5  .

.  3  4  .  3  1  1  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

 

 

8:  Oh! Susanna

 

1  2  3         .  5  .  5  .  6  .  5  .  3  .  1  .

1  2  3           .  3  .  2  .  1  .  2  .  .  .  .  .

 

1  2  3         .  5  .  5  .  6  .  5  .  3  .  1  .

1  2  3         .  3  .  2  .  2  .  1  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

4  .  .  .  4  .  .  .  6  .  6  .  .  .  6  .

 5  .  5  .  3  .  1  .  2  .  .  .  .  .

 

1  2  3         .  5  .  5  .  6  .  5  .  3  .  1  .

 1  2  3         .  3  .  2  .  2  .  1  .  .  .  .

 

 

8: Wooden heart

 

This seems a simple little tune, but it is quite complicated to write down.

 

                                        1  2

3  .  3  5  4  .  4  6

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5

4  .  4  3  2  .  5  .    3

 

.  .  .  .  .  1  2

3  .  3  5  4   .  4  6

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5

4  .  4  3  2  .  3  .

1   .   .   .   .   .  . 1  3

2  .   .   3  4  .   2  .

3  .   4  .   5  .   5  5

6  .   6  .  8  .   7  6

5  .   .   .   .   .   1  2

 

3  .  3  5  4   .  4  6

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5

4  .  4  5  6  .  7  .

8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

1  2

3  .  3  5  4  .  4  6

5  6  5  4  3  .  .  .

5  6  5  4  3  .  3  5

then play

4  .  4  3  2  .  5  .    3

 

play first block then  4  .  4  3  2  .  3  .

 

1   .   .   .   .   .  . 1  3

2  .   .   3  4  .   2  .

3  .   4  .   5  .   5  5

6  .   6  .  8  .   7  6

5  .   .   .   .   .   1  2

 

Play first block then  4  .  4  5  6  .  7  . 8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

THE NINTH NOTE

 

It is often useful, with interval numbers, to use the 9th note of the scale. This is an octave above the 2nd, and so it has the same note name as the 2nd.  For example, in the key of C, the 2nd note is D, and the 9th is the next D up.

 

 

The "Zero" Note

 

Now that you know the notes 1 to 9, wouldn't it be handy to have a "zero" note, so you could play ANY number as a tune?  Strangely enough, there are some tunes that go just one step below the keynote, a semitone lower in fact.  If you think of this note as number 0, you can use any kind of long number as an exercise.  Try using telephone numbers, house numbers, times or dates as notes.  Write down any groups of numbers that sound good, then see if you can make a longer tune by repeating them, or joining them together.

 

8: To Be A Pilgrim

 

This well-known hymn tune uses the "zero" note:  The first section is played twice.

 

1  .  .  2  3  .  1  .

3  4  5  .  6  .  .  .

5  .  .  .  5  .  1  .

0  .  1  .  .   .  .  .

 

(Twice)

 

5  .  .  .  8  .  6  .

7  .  8  7  6  .  .  .

.  .  5  .  3  2  1  .

3  .  4  .  5  .  .  .

.  .  8  .  5  .  .  5

6  5  4  3  2  .  6  .

5  .  1  .  0  .  1  .

 

10: Dvorak's Largo

 

Once the note numbers get into double figures, it is a little more difficult to know if “1 2” is a twelve, or two separate notes.  Here, the double figure 10 is in brackets to try to make it clearer.  It is the same note name as the 3.

 

3 . . 5 5 . . . 3 . . 2 1 . . .

 

 2 . . 3 5 . . 3 2 . . . . . . .

 

 3 . . 5 5 . . . 3 . . 2 1 . . .

 

 2 . 3 . 2 . . 1 1 . . . . . . .

 

 6 . . 8 8 . . . 7 . 5 . 6 . . .

 6 . 8 . 7 . 5 . 6 . . . . . . .

 6 . . 8 8 . . . 7 . 5 . 6 . . .

 6 . 8 . 7 . 5 . 6 . . . . . . .

 

3 . . 5 5 . . . 3 . . 2 1 . . .

 

2 . . 3 5 . . 3 2 . . . . . . .

 

3 . . 5 5 . . . 8 . . 9   (10) . . .

 

9  .  .  8  9  .  6  .  8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

9  .  .  8  9  .  6  .  8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

then play the same line an octave lower

9  .  .  8  9  .  6  .  8  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

10. I vow to thee

 

3 5 6 . . 8 7 5 8 9 8 .

 

7 . 6 7 6 . 5 . 3 . . .

 

 3 5 6 . . 8 7 5 8 9 (10 . 10 .)

 

(10) 9 8 . 9 . 8 . . .

 

5 3 2 . 2 . 1 3 2 . 2 .

 

5 3 2 . 2 . 3 5 6 . . . 6 7

 

8 . 7 . 6 . 5 . 8 . 3 .

 

2 . . 1 2 3 5 . . .

 

 

11:  Tipperary

 

3 4 5 . 5 . . 5 6 7 8 .  (10) . . .

 

(10) 9 8 . 6 . . . 8 . 5 . . . . .

 

 3 4 5 . 5 . . 5 6 7 8 . (10) . . .

 

7 8 9 . 6 . 7 . 8 . 9 . . . . . . .

 

5 . 5 . . . 6 7 8 . (10) . . . . .

 

(11) . (11) . 8 . 9 . (10) . . . . .

 

8 9 (10) . (10) . (10) 8 9 8 6 . . .

 

5 . 8 . (10) 8 . . .  9 . 8 . . .

 

 

11: Silent Night

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .   .    .    .

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .   .    .    .

 

9   .   .   .    9   .     7   .   .   .    .    .

 

8   .   .   .    8   .     5   .   .   .    .    .

 

6   .   .   .    6   .     8   .   .   7   6   .

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .   .    .    .

 

6   .   .   .    6   .     8   .   .   7   6   .

 

5   .   .   6   5   .     3   .   .    .   .    .

 

9   .   .   .   9    .    (11)  .   .   9   7   .

 

8   .   .   .   .     .    (10)  .   .   .    .    .

 

8   .   5  .   3    .     5   .   .   4   2   .

 

1   .   .   .   .     .     .    .   .    .    .   .

 

Remember that the 10th and 11th notes in brackets are not single numbers like 1  0   or 1  1.

 

 

The Lower Fifth

 

Quite a few tunes could be written quite easily in interval numbers, if only they could go down an octave below the fifth sometimes.  This often happens in Christmas carols.

 

For example, a tune in C, with C as the number 1 note, will sometimes need to go down to a G, but no obvious numbers are available.

 

One solution is to underline the note 5, to show that it is to be played an octave lower.

 

Another way to write it is by starting at note 8 instead of note 1, and using higher numbers, so that you can go down to 5, 6, etc..

 

 

10: Danny Boy

 

This song uses the lower 6th, an octave below the 6th, underlined here.

 

0 1 2 3 . . 2 3 6 5 3 2 1 6 . .

 

 1 3 4 5 . . 6 5 3 1 3 2 . . . .

 

 0 1 2 3 . . 2 3 6 5 3 2 1 6 . .

 

 0 1 2 3 . . 4 3 2 1 2 1 . . . .

 

 5 6 7 8 . . 7 7 6 5 6 5 3 1 . .

 

 5 6 7 8 . . 7 7 6 5 3 2 . . . .

 

 5 5 5    (10)  . . 9 9 8 6 8 5 3 1 . .

 

0 1 2 3 6 5 3 2 1 6 0 1 . . . .

 

In the line before last, there is a TEN!

 

 

6: Groovy Kind Of Love

(Written with a lower 6th note)

 

1   2   3   4   5   .   .   .

 

4   3   2   1   0   .   .   0

 

1    0   6   0   1   .   .   .

 

2   1   0   1   2   .   .   .

 

2   3   4   5   6   .   .   .

 

5   4   3   2   5    .   5    .

 

4   3   2   3   5    .   5    .

 

4    .   3    .   2    .    .    .

 

1   2   3   4   5    .    .    .

 

4   3   2   1   0    .   0   0

 

1   0   6   0   1    .    .    .

 

.   .    .    .    .   1   1   1

 

1   0   6    0   1   .   .   .

 

KEY DETERMINED BY VOCAL RANGE

 

Different keys are not usually a major problem to me, (although I am not so keen on B, F#, Db or Ab) but for my own vocals, I follow the typical range where Eb is about as high as I want to go for the top note, in the interests of health and safety.  Last year, I played and sang for an organ club, and a group of non-musicians in the audience were discussing the fact that I played in what they described as "their key", so they asked me what key it was.  Sadly, life is not that simple, and it is necessary to examine each song in turn, and find out its range of notes.  There used to be a very simple convention among publishers of song sheets, that the melody should go no higher than an Eb.  I have found this to be such a good rule, not only for my own singing, and for the majority of men and women I have accompanied over the past half-century, but especially for situations where the audience wants to sing along.  Now, I aim to apply it to everything I play, and when I accompany hymns or Christmas carols, audiences feel obliged to comment that they are surprised to find that they can sing in the keys I play in.  This Christmas, as usual, I attended several carol services where everything was pitched predictably high to suit the sopranos, instead of giving the altos the melody, with the result that large numbers of people were either straining to reach the notes, or singing in their boots, or just shaking their heads and giving up.  Why is this acceptable when the solution is so simple?  People go to carol concerts to sing!

 

If you are going to sing a song, it is very important to think about your choice of key before you start.  Far too many musicians seem to ignore the needs of the singer, and put songs into keys that are unsuitable for the individual voice.

 

In a similar way, there are far too many singing guitarists who play the song in the original key, or an easy guitar key, even though they cannot sing at their best in that key.  Practising quietly in your front room is very different to projecting your voice for an audience, and many people find that their voices need to go up 3 or 4 semitones in order to project the voice for a public performance.  Guitarists can easily solve this by buying a capo, but it is not so easy on a piano.

 

Traditionally, popular music is printed in keys which suit average male voices, and the main factor is the highest note.  It turns out that these are also a good key for many female voices, because they sing about an octave higher.

 

Quite simply, the convention has for many years been to adjust the key so that the highest note in the tune is no higher than Eb.  I have also found it quite a good general rule that many voices do not like to go below A, so cross-check whether the song can be played in a key where it fulfils both of these rules.  Think about this with each tune you play, and practise choosing a key on this basis. 

 

For example, Parry’s “Jerusalem” (And did those feet) was written in D, but most amateur singers struggle to reach the top E, so it could be taken down a semitone to Db, but a more popular choice would be to go down another semitone to C.

 

Of course, there are other factors, like what vowel sounds you need to make, or where the note comes in the song.  “Blue Moon”, for example, begins almost at the top of its range, and many singers panic at having to go straight in at such a high note.  “September in the rain” only gives you a couple of notes to lead up to its highest.  Many other songs surprise you right near the end!

 

Go through the whole tune, and find the highest note, then work out how much higher or lower you need to start in order to make that note Eb.  Having done this, if you find yourself in a key that you really hate, go down a semitone.

 

Of course, like any rule, this can go wrong, and the perfect example was during the early years of The Beatles, whose songs were written down for them by George Martin.  He followed tradition, and because Paul McCartney sang a 4th higher than most men, George changed the keys to suit more usual voices, so we have situations like “She loves you” being written down in the key of Eb:  It is impossible to play the important guitar parts for this song in Eb, yet very difficult for most people to sing it well in the original key, G.

 

Of course, it is possible to divide a song into sections and place each one in a different key, but most people opt for setting the whole song in one key at a time.  “I’ll stand by you” is an unusual case where after the first verse, the song changes down a tone.  This has the effect of keeping the voice near the top of its range for each section.

 

In this chapter, I usually start the heading for each tune with the interval number of the highest note of the scale which is required for the tune. 

 

The following list suggests the highest key you should try according to that note. 

 

The notes on the right are an octave higher than those on the left, so they use the same keys.

 

3rd              B                 10th

4th              Bb              11th

5th              Ab              12th

6th              F#               13th Applies to a lot of songs and Christmas Carols.

7th              F                 14th

8th              Eb              15th

9th              Db              16th

 

As before, if you find these keys too difficult, try going down a semitone, so if, for example, the song goes up to the 6th, F# is the highest key you are likely to use, but you may prefer to play it in F.

 

The smaller the range of the song, the more you can risk going down in key.

 

Many tunes also go down to an octave below the 5th, and this means that D is usually the lowest key that will suit most people.

 

 

Triads covered in this chapter include Major, Minor, Augmented, Minor Augmented, Diminished, and Suspended Fourth.

 

CHORD 'BLIGE ME!

 

Most chord books do not deal in any depth with the subject of how chords are designed, or how they can be used, they simply show which notes to play.

 

Before you work on advanced chord sequences, you need to understand the simple chords, how they are constructed, how they are used, how they change, how they relate to melody and harmony, and what they are called.

 

Only then can you expect to move on, to use better and more interesting chords.

 

Remember, when you are learning chords, you will get used to hearing them on their own, but to people who don't understand music, strumming chords is meaningless without a tune, so don't be surprised if people don't really want to listen to chords on their own.  The same applies to playing bass on its own, perhaps even more so.

 

 

 

The Kibby Keyboard Shorthand that I introduced to you in Chapter 1 is very useful for jotting down keyboard ideas for yourself, as long as you remember that most other people will not understand it yet, unless it has become internationally renowned overnight!

 

Numbers have many uses in music, and even using the interval numbers you have learned already, we could talk about “the 3rd note of a major 7th chord rooted on the 4th note of the scale”, but when the chord symbols become more involved, and include MORE numbers, it can get very confusing.

 

In these situations, it is quite normal to use the long names for notes of a scale, especially dominant and sub-dominant. 

 

In this way, we can talk about something like a “dominant minor 7th” rather than a rather clumsy phrase like “minor 7th rooted on the 5th note of the scale”, but it’s all a bit “heavy” for beginners.

 

Interval numbers will also be used to show the notes of chords without being restricted to a particular key.

WHAT IS A CHORD?

 

Dictionaries sometimes define a chord as "two or more notes played together", but as we have seen in the previous chapter, a pair of notes is not strictly speaking a chord, it is known as an INTERVAL.  An idea used in guitar music sometimes is called a “5” but it is just a note played together with the 5th above it, not a type of chord at all. 

 

A5 means A played with the 5th above it – E.

 

For all practical purposes, a CHORD is a group of THREE or more notes played together, so the simplest chords have 3 notes, although you might sometimes get away with missing out one of the notes for a short time.  A chord with only 3 notes is called a TRIAD - nothing to do with secret Chinese organisations.  This chapter just deals with triads.  Saying that a chord has 3 notes doesn't mean you can only play 3, because you may decide to play several of the same note-name. 

 

For example, if a triad has the 3 notes C, E & G, using a keyboard, you could play the notes…

 

C       C       G       C       E       G 

 

or some other combination.  On a guitar, you might play a 6-string E chord with the notes...

 

E       B       E       G#    B       E

 

but it is still classed as a triad, because there are only 3 different note-names.  Most chords are made up from the odd-number notes of a scale, so the scales and interval numbers that you have seen in previous chapters are essential to your understanding of chords.  Different kinds of triad may be made from the notes of different types of scale, but most use the 1st, 3rd and 5th of whatever scale it is.  The 1st or root note is essential, but the 3rd identifies the type of chord, which does not sound complete without a 3rd, although at a pinch, it is useable without a 5th.

 

One of the things that has always intrigued me about chords is the way that the whole character of a note seems to change when it is used with other notes, to form different chords, and singers are often amazed at the difference an unexpected chord can make to the note they are singing.  Having worked on developing this effect, I have often been accused of producing “a lovely tone” or having “a lovely touch”, when it is not really about tone or touch, it is about the combination of notes.  Pianists have no other way of producing the effect of different tones without varying the volume, and although scientific measurements can detect hundreds of different levels of playing velocity, the pianist cannot purposely, consistently select any one of these levels at will.

 

If you look through a microscope at a forest, you won’t see any trees.

 

WHAT ARE CHORD SYMBOLS?

 

Imagine that you are listening to an orchestra playing a piece of music:  if you could stop the music midstream, and go around to each musician, writing down a list of the names of all the notes they were all playing at that moment, these groups of notes would often fall into simple patterns, which have standard names.

 

For example, if some were playing a C, others an E, and the rest a G, the notes C, E, and G form a “C chord”, which (as we will see later) is more correctly known as a C Major Triad.  In chord symbols, this is written simply as the letter C, so if you were reading chord symbols and you came across C, you would have to learn that this means a C Major Triad, and you would play the notes C, E & G.

 

This would not be exactly the same as the orchestra, because you might play the notes on a single instrument, or in a different order, but it would serve as a rough outline of what the orchestra was playing, to use as an accompaniment to a melody.

 

What chord symbols do, then, is to provide a kind of shorthand version of the whole sound, which the player then has to interpret in his or her own way.

 

Reading chords is easier than reading the score, and it gives the player more choice about how the notes should be played, but the player is lumbered with the responsibility of deciding how best to use those notes to imitate the original.

 

To make matters worse, many famous songwriters' works are poorly written down, and the chords printed on paper often do not provide the best representation of the songs. 

 

George Gershwin, who was quite capable of producing wonderful orchestrations, doesn’t seem to have taken his songs as seriously as we do now, and these are often printed with chords that really do not do justice to his great talent. 

 

If you read the chords to Errol Garner’s “Misty” (1960) you will not be playing what he played, he used many rapid and difficult chord changes in it, which very few people would be able to play, in fact I doubt if many people in the world could even follow them by ear to write them down.  Although it is understandable that the music is simplified for the average player, by leaving out some of those, it is widely known among musicians that the surviving written chords for the middle section do not gel, and cry out for improvement.  He didn’t play it in the “written key” either!

 

In printed music, chord symbols are usually shown above the stave, and although it seems somewhat illogical to place a chord above a melody, it is the normal way of doing it, and unlikely to change, so we have to get used to it.  

 

Some old popular song-sheets have tiny fretboard diagrams for guitar or ukulele, printed above the stave, instead of chord symbols.

 

MAJOR TRIADS

 

The most common triads are Major Triads, which consist of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a major scale, and we will look at these, and their many uses, in some detail before going on to other triads. 

 

For Country & Western, you can probably survive without going any further!

 

The C Major Triad is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the C major scale –

 

C, E & G. 

 

It is often known simply as a "C chord".

 

 

 

Here are the Major Triads on keyboard for C, F & G.

 

Using the interval numbers 1, 3 & 5, work out and try Major Triads for all 12 scales.

 

 

 

On guitar, because of the tuning, the easiest major triads are E, A, D, and G.

 

Notice that on the A chord, there is an X above the 6th string to show that ideally, it should not be played.  On the D chord, a similar thing happens, but this time, the X is on the 2nd fret, to show that if you can’t avoid hitting that string, you will need to stop it at the 2nd fret, probably with your thumb.

 

Before moving on to other types of triads, let's look in more detail at some of the practical uses of major triads.

 

WRITING CHORD SYMBOLS

 

 

 

This example shows the way that chord symbols can be written in bars to tell a chord-player what to do for a simple song.  Many musicians work from chord sheets like this, with no actual music notation.  The chords can be written on proper manuscript paper with bar lines added, but the lined staves are not essential, simple boxes or bar lines will do just as good a job.  Chords are often only shown where there is a change of chord, in which case the following bars keep the same chord until a new one is announced.  Some versions have little lines to represent extra beats on the chord, so C/// means “play C, then 3 more times”.

 

Like many musicians and singers, I feel that because lines of songs are usually 4 bars in length, the printed music should follow the same pattern, and show a 4-bar line of the song on each line of the page, like the above example, to make it easier to follow.  There is a visible pattern to a song when it is laid out in this way, and it would open up music reading to a much wider audience, but sheet music is often much more hit-and-miss, and seems to randomly print however many bars will fit on a line.  This is very confusing for many readers.  I compare it to a poem in which all the lines have been run into each other, and it is difficult to separate one line from another.  Looking at a page like this, I often find it hard to see where I am in a tune.

 

C                F                 G                C

 

Even the bar lines are not essential if enough space is allowed to separate the bars, but it is important to arrange the chords in bars, rather than just lining them up with the lyrics, otherwise people who do not know the song will not be able to follow them.  After all, the whole point of writing things down is so that people can play songs they don’t already know.  All sorts of extra "frills" can be added to give more information, and we will look at some of them later, but the basic idea is still there, a sort of shorthand way of writing down a much more complicated set of information.

 

The modern American system of chord symbols has become widely adopted in recent decades, because their publishers have bigger budgets, but as I will explain, to those of us who have been reading and playing chords for half a century, it is irritating in its occasional lack of clarity or logic, and failure to observe certain basic rules.

 

INVERSIONS

 

Once you have learned how to build up a chord from its root note, you will be tempted (especially on a keyboard) to play the notes in that same order all the time, that is

1st   3rd   5th,  the so-called "Root Position", because it is easier to find on a keyboard:  it is also BORING!  The notes are very close together, and that is not always the best way to hear them.  Experiment with starting from one of the other notes, and play the notes of the chord in lots of different places on your instrument.  These INVERSIONS can give a very effect to a chord, so they help to create variety.

 

 

For example, the C Major Triad is made up of the notes C, E & G, but think of it repeating like this...

 

C  E  G  C  E  G  C  E  G  C  E  G

 

and play any 3 different note-names anywhere from this list, such as  E G C, or G C E.

 

 

FIRST INVERSION

 

Being close together, the root position (CEG) is the least inspiring inversion, and its first inversion (E G C) is a bit better.  This is arrived at by moving the bottom note to the top.  Repeating this process, we find…

 

 

 

SECOND INVERSION

 

In many situations, I prefer the second inversion - (G C E) because it sounds fuller.  In later chapters, we will look at chords with more notes, and these have more possibilities for different inversions. 

 

So much for the system of numbering inversions, I suggest you ignore it, and just experiment with all kinds of combinations of the notes of any chord, even if they don't fit conveniently into the numbered inversions. 

 

INVERSIONS WITHIN AN OCTAVE

 

Inversions become more and more important as you advance, and you want to change smoothly from one chord to another.  A good way to practise inversions on a keyboard is to take all of the notes of a chord, and rearrange them so that they all fall within an octave, between F and E in the middle of the keyboard.  In this way, you can form useful chord shapes that allow you to move smoothly between them, but like everything, it takes practice to get to know these inversions.  Most people would think a keyboard with only 12 notes was pointless, so it’s fascinating to realise that we could play a proper, full chord accompaniment on just 12 notes.

 

GUITAR INVERSIONS

 

 

Never under-estimate the importance of inversions on fretboard instruments, there are a lot of interesting effects that you can produce by playing a guitar or banjo chord, then playing it again in a different position, then another, and so on.  By now, you should know where the notes are on your instrument, and once you know which notes are needed for a particular chord, you can experiment with different permutations of those notes.  Try to learn all the positions of each chord you use, especially on the top four strings.

 

Avoid having notes too close in pitch on the bottom two strings of a guitar.  I would advise you not to play any interval smaller than a 5th between the 6th and 5th strings.

 

SPREADING CHORDS

 

The idea of spreading chords is to separate the notes, making them further apart than normal inversions, and producing a fuller sound, over a wider range.

 

On a keyboard, where all the notes are conveniently arranged in logical order, spreading is often done by taking alternate notes of a chord, and playing a note then missing a note. 

 

For example, if you think of G major as being the notes...

G   B   D   G   B   D   G   B   D

 

repeated through the range, try just playing

 

G   -   D   -   B   -   G

 

 

 

Spreading gives each note a more separate identity, as if they were played on several instruments, so it is useful for writing orchestral parts, or for imitating orchestral sounds on a keyboard.

 

Dvorak produced some wonderfully full, rich orchestral sounds by this simple little trick, and the notes are quite easy to find on a keyboard.

 

[I can’t hear the name of Dvorak without thinking of the young librarian who asked me “is that the name of the band that did the song?”]

 

With some guitar chords, the same sort of thing can happen accidentally, just because those might be the only notes you can reach. 

 

On the other hand, it is quite difficult to purposely spread larger chords on a guitar, because some combinations of notes are difficult or impossible to reach, so if you are looking at a type of guitar chord, it will sound better in some keys than in others.

 

A spread inversion of the A chord could use the open 5th (A) string, E on the 2nd fret, 4th string, and C# on the 3rd string, 6th fret.

 

Sometimes, a guitar has the advantage that if you play a chord in a position high up the fretboard, the open strings can provide notes that you would not be able to reach otherwise.

 

ROOT, BASS & TONIC

 

In talking about chords, it is important at times to clearly understand the difference between these three terms.

 

 

 

ROOT means the note after which the chord is named.

 

For example, a G chord has the root G, and a Bb chord has the root Bb. 

 

A chord symbol always starts with the root note, which may include a flat or sharp.

 

 

BASS is the lowest note of the chord being played. 

 

It is often the ROOT, but not always. 

 

Even when you play chords quite high up the range, the lowest note you play in that chord has a certain power to influence the way we perceive the chord, by enforcing a particular identity for it.

 

My Dad played G Banjo in jazz bands and banjo bands in the twenties and thirties, when it was normal to mainly play the chords on the top 3 strings, because the thicker bottom string has a very different sound, which tends to be too prominent in some instances, and imply a bass note.  It is sometimes quite tricky to create a 3-note inversion of a larger chord.  Because of the drum-head arrangement, banjos have a tendency to “bark” the low notes.  That’s why 6-string guitar banjos don’t really work as substitutes for banjos.  The problem of tonal changes caused by varying string thickness is worse for tenor banjos and mandolins, which are tuned wider apart, in 5ths, and I have been tempted to change the tenor banjo stringing so that it has a higher string instead of the lowest one.

 

TONIC is the key-note.

 

It is sometimes the name of the scale being used to make the notes of the chord.

 

It is always the note in whose key we are playing. 

 

For example, the definition of a song in the key of C is that it mainly uses the notes of the C scale, and almost always ends on a melody note C, with some kind of C chord, and a C bass.  That may sound boring and predictable, but it works so well, it is almost universal.  It’s as if you go on a journey, which ends by coming home.

 

To find out what key the song is in, you can usually just look at the last note or chord.

 

PLATFORM CHORDS

 

Not to be confused with the chords played by buskers on railway platforms!

 

Sometimes, it is very difficult to give a simple name or symbol to a chord that has an unusual bass, so if the bass note is not the obvious root note, and some special note is required, a more familiar chord symbol may be underlined, with the bass note written under it, like a fraction. 

 

These are sometimes described as “Platform Chords”, and can provide alternative methods of describing some of the more complex chords. 

 

See the Chord Chart in Chapter 8. 

 

If you are typing such sequences, it is easier to use a slash, (such as C/E) but sitting the chord on its little “platform” with the bass underneath is often clearer. 

 

Try the following example without bass notes, then try it again with the bass notes.

 

C                C                F                 D                G

                   E                                    F#              

 

On guitar, you might need a thumb for the F#. 

 

F                 C                Bb              G                C

                   E                 D                B

 

When you work out your own bass lines, try to treat them as if they were tunes in themselves, and make them move in small, comfortable steps that would be easy to sing.

 

The underlining or “platform” can also be used without a chord above it, as if to tell the bass player…

 

"Never mind what the chord is, I want you to play THIS bass note!".

 

For an occasional one, the slash is quite effective, or coloured ink is another idea.

 

THE POWER OF BASS

 

Anyone who ever considers being a bass player will need to have a clear understanding of several important things:

 

1)      Bass players should hardly ever play the melody note when providing backing for other musicians.  The melody is not usually a suitable note for the bass, in fact bass is often at the opposite end of the chord.  Ideally though, for slow-moving music, try to be a 6th or a 10th away from the melody when you can, especially when the melody lands on the root note of the chord.

 

2)      The bass is a vital part of the rhythm section, so its playing must be rhythmic, and therefore IN TIME!  One of the more obvious problems that often spoils the time-keeping of bass guitarists is the fact that some are fixed on the idea of playing everything with the thumb.  Thumbs are not easy to control, and are quite clumsy when it comes to rhythms.

 

3)      Most of the time, the bass needs to play the root note of the chord on the first beat of the bar, unless it’s reggae!

 

4)      Most of all, the bass player has to have the musicianship to understand the fact that, simply by changing a bass note, all the chord player's efforts can be destroyed in a moment!

 

By playing the wrong note of the chord, the bass can also imply that a change is about to occur, when it isn't!

 

More to the point, the whole identity of a chord may be changed when the bass note is wrong, even if it’s not a very low note. 

 

For example, if the chosen chord is C major, and the bass plays an A, suddenly, the chord isn't C major anymore, it's A minor 7th, something we will look at in Chapter 4, and there is absolutely nothing the chord player can do about it! 

 

Many people find it difficult trying to follow chords by ear if the bass is wrong. 

 

Bass parts can be very simple and still remain effective, but they must be correct, and in time, otherwise they will certainly destroy everything that the other musicians are trying to achieve.

 

Bass players hardly ever need to play more than one note at a time, so bass parts are relatively easy to read from music notation or tab.

 

BLOCK HARMONY

 

In Chapter 2, we mainly looked at harmony in terms of following the melody up and down in 3rds or 6ths.  Block harmony is a block of notes that stays in time with the melody in the same way, but doesn’t always move quite as smoothly as 3rds or 6ths, although most will have 3rds or 6ths in them. 

 

The two simplest form of Block Harmony can be based on the scale, or the chords:

BLOCK HARMONY BASED ON THE SCALE

 

By identifying the scale on which the melody is played, you can then use chords that are made up from the notes of the same scale to provide a block of notes that can be played below the melody note.  The scale dictates which chords are used, to suit the melody.

 

This means that the melody tells you which scale to use, and the individual melody note dictates which chords are available at any given moment for block harmony, because you can only use chords that contain the melody note.

 

Taking the obvious keyboard example of the C major scale on the white notes, play up and down the scale is if it were a melody.  Look at the melody note, and find any chords containing that note, but made up only of notes of the scale.  The simple option is major triads, and we have a choice between C, F & G, the only major triads whose notes are all white notes. 

 

Let's go through the notes, and see which chords could be suitable for each melody note.  For example, a melody on D requires a G chord.  Three of these notes have alternative chords written underneath.

 

Melody       C       D       E       F       G       A       B       C

Chord         C       G       C       F       C       F       G       C

   Or            F                                     G                          F

 

For keyboard beginnings, C is a good key to practise in, so pick a simple tune and see how it suggests chords, then try other keys and scales.  Some people go on for years playing with just this simple method, and it is certainly worth spending a lot of time on it.  For players of the melodeon it is almost the only option.  Concertinas and harmonicas only have two sets of notes – blow and suck.

 

Autoharps are another type of instrument that can produce harmony in this way, provided the song only has simple chords.  Remember, though, that it is not perfect, and simply going for the easy block harmony is not always the best way, but it’s a very good start, so spend a lot of time practising the idea. 

 

Show a little restraint, because sometimes, a busy melody can create too many chord changes.  Some hymns suffer from this problem, and although it is often easier to move blocks of notes on a keyboard instrument rather than a fretboard, too much chord changing makes the music “blocky” and stilted. 

 

Somewhere at the other end of the spectrum, Gary Barlow’s “Run for your life” screams out to me for more chords to accompany the changes of melody note in the chorus, to give this powerful song more emotion.

 

 

BLOCK HARMONY BASED ON THE CHORD

 

For a slightly cruder method of creating block harmony, you can just look at a chord that is being used to accompany the melody, and use notes of that chord below the melody.  The block harmony does not move as smoothly, it is just playing part of the chord, but in time with the melody. 

 

Some electronic organs and other keyboards provide automatic harmony that does this by reading your left-hand chord.  Probably the first was the Lowrey organ, with AOC – “Automatic Orchestra Control”.

 

Sometimes, you need to simplify by trying to find a chord that will sound right if it remains unchanged with several consecutive melody notes.  I heard an extreme application of this back-pedalling one Christmas, when “Unto us a child is born” was played with all the block harmony on just one chord. 

 

Here is a useful trick if you want backing vocals based on the chord:  Imagine that each voice is one string of a guitar, and only uses a range of 4 or 5 notes on that string. The E string, for example, will only use a note that is no higher than about G or G#, and this simplifies the choice of notes. 

 

Even if you don’t understand guitars, you can pitch guide-notes at intervals of about a 4th apart, using each one as the lowest note for a certain voice.

 

Block Harmony is also an important technique to work on for solo guitar playing, often with the melody on the top string.  For this, you may need to choose a key that allows the melody to stay as far as possible on the top string, so ideally going no lower than E, and no higher than the highest note you can reach on the fretboard.  A guitar with a cutaway shoulder gives you more scope.  Playing on the long neck of a bouzouki gives you more range than most songs need, so you have more choice of keys.

 

 

 

Here is “Good morning to you” (1893) in tablature for the guitar.  You may know it by another name.  One advantage of tab is that you can learn to play more advanced harmonies by rote, without having to know their names or theory.  Ignorance is bliss?

 

This example uses some of each type of block harmony, sometimes choosing a different chord for each note, sometimes, staying with the same chord while the melody moves.

 

Practise any of the simple tunes in Chapter 1, with block harmony, and begin by using only the 3 major triads that can be made from notes of the C major scale. 

 

Try the same with every tune you know, and add something extra to your block harmony by playing the bass note of each chord you use. 

 

This is not the end of block harmony, it is a simple beginning.  As you learn more chords, they will give you more options. 

 

NOTE MEMORY

 

In Chapter 1, I referred to something that happens in music, but nobody seems to talk about it, and I have been unable to find an existing name for it, so I refer to it as “note memory” and it works like this.

 

If you are singing a note, then you stop, but do not sing another note, the note doesn’t stop in people’s heads, they still hear it for a few seconds, or until it is changed.

 

The effect of this in practical music is that you still have to proceed as if that last note was continuing, and this will affect you more and more, as you advance with harmonies, and especially chords.

 

It means that when you are deciding what chord to use in a given bar, you may have to allow for a note that was sung in a previous bar, even though it is not visible in the current bar.

 

 

CHORD CHANGES

 

We have seen chords changing to fit the melody, but the chords can have a major effect upon the choice of notes for the melody, so if you are having trouble following a difficult tune, take a closer look at the chords.  A surprisingly challenging example is Burt Bacharach’s “What’s new pussycat” (1965).  The simple but unusual scale-and-chord changes (A C Bb) produce a melody that many singers to find difficult to pitch correctly, perhaps because as the melody goes up, the chord goes down.  As we go through many songs, discussing the chords and sequences, it is important to understand that there are many versions of well-known songs out there.  When we talk about a song being played “wrongly”, it is wise to remember that many performers are doing their own songs differently within months of writing them.  Sometimes, a song is composed, recorded, and written down, then developed differently, especially when an artist or band goes on tour with a new album.  Sometimes, a key that suits in the studio is not high enough on stage.  Of course, there are people whose thinking is so rigid, they suggest that live music is a bad thing because it is not the same as the original recording.  Surely that’s the whole buzz about hearing it live?  If we kill off live music, there will be no proper musicians left to record the CDs.

 

What is more, even the same song may be printed with different chords in different books, or even in different keys.  An old, well-known song becomes so widely sung that people develop even more variations on how it is sung, and some of these, by popularity, come to be regarded as correct, or normal, although they are not the same as the original.  “Amazing grace” has been changed quite a bit, and a 16-bar middle has been added to some arrangements.  Most people learn songs by listening, not by reading music.  These changes of melody notes may affect the choice of chord, and lead to discussions and arguments about whether the chords should be played as they are written, or "improved". 

 

“Get happy” (1930) is a good example.  Bb may be the logical choice of keys, but well-known versions exist in F and Eb, so forget playing it in “the written key” or “the right key”.  The middle 8 is in the same key, and if we look at it in F, the chords run through F and Eb, and many people would expect it to go down another wholetone to Db, but it makes an interesting and unexpected change via G to C.  Later jazz and pop versions changed this to the more mundane, predictable Eb.  This unusual change is an important part of the character of the song, but the melody also works well with F Ab G C.  Stan Getz even changed the whole of “get happy” into a decidedly unhappy minor key for effect.  Perhaps you can begin to see that “as written” is not always how the songwriter intended it!  I also dispute the idea that a songwriter is necessarily the person best qualified to produce the best arrangement of chords and harmonies.  Some good songwriters are terrible musicians.  It’s also nice to provide interest by adding some “moments of tension” into insipid chords, which are then resolved to more relaxed chords.  This adds more flavour to a tune that is being played instrumentally, without the benefit of having the words, and in this situation, using the same note with a different chord seems to transform the tonal quality of the instrument. 

WRITING A WRONG

 

There are people who will describe something as “their arrangement” of a song, or even try to call it “jazz”, when all they are doing really is playing it WRONG! 

 

It’s a difficult area, and I often produce my own arrangements, using chords that are (hopefully) more interesting, and give the melody more impact. 

 

That’s what the audiences often say anyway, and at times when I feel it is going well, people often use words like “fluid” or “liquid”.

 

My pet hate is people who play the wrong chords, then sing the tune wrongly to fit the wrong chords. 

 

Eva Cassidy produced some beautiful tracks, but some are very uncomfortable for people who already knew the songs in their original form, and seem to be based on the principle that it doesn’t matter if you sing the tune wrongly, as long as the lyrics are right. 

 

Nina Simone can “make a song her own” as Jools Holland tactfully put it, by ignoring the original entirely, and singing a new melody to fit the wrong chords.  Most younger people would not recognise the original melody for “My baby just cares for me”. 

 

Boyzone’s version of the Bee Gees’ “Words” misses out a whole section, and destroys the sense of the song.

 

Melody is important.

 

If people don’t like a melody as it stands, why use it?

 

Part of the trouble arises when people go into a studio and do the first thing that comes into their head, without bothering to learn it thoroughly first.

 

This is all very well if it’s your own song, but if you want to put prawns into a fish pie, you need to find a new title for it.

 

If you are recording a track, remember that whatever you put down first can have a tremendous influence on the end result.

 

SECTIONS OF A SEQUENCE

 

Most popular songs have a number of sections or themes, with different melodies, and different chord sequences.  Unfortunately, musicians and singers often do not agree on what the names should be for these various sections, and this leads to a great deal of confusion, and quite a few giggles. I would love to be able to tell you that there is a right way, or a “most common” way, but there isn’t.  Some people duck out of the argument very effectively by naming the sections with letters or numbers, as if we didn’t already have too many meanings for numbers in music.  Common sense would also suggest that any use of letters should avoid the first seven letters of the alphabet, because they can confuse things again by suggesting notes, but that is not the case.  I recently played at a jam session where chord sheets were marked A and B for the sections of the song, but the musicians complained that they appeared to be suggesting notes, chords or keys.  Let’s suppose, then, that you have a song in three sections, and you call them “1 2 3” or “A B C”.  What happens if you find a song with a similar layout, but it has another section BEFORE the others?  Do you shift all the letters or numbers so that the new beginning now has what was the number or letter of the original first part?  If the song layout is described as AABA, it means that whatever the first theme is, it occurs twice, then there is a different section, then the first one comes again.  If you then put a different type of section in front of this, it would have to be labelled ABBCB, which looks like something completely different.  An alternative is CAABA.  It is much better to use names for the types of section, but these are not at all standard, and although one musician will insist on one set of names, another will say that is wrong, and use something else.  It is possible to describe a group of 8 bars quite correctly as an OCTAD, but that is not a term that you are likely to hear anyone use.  I wish they did!  Yet another option is the term STANZA commonly used for a group of 4 or more lines from a song or poem.

 

CHORUS                   

 

Traditionally, a chorus is the part of a song in which everybody joins in, often with the same tune and words each time.  In a comic song, it is often the punch-line.

 

REFRAIN

 

After the chorus, most of the people refrain from singing, leaving a soloist to sing alone.  The “refrain” may have the same tune as the chorus, especially in hymns and traditional folk songs.

 

VERSE

 

This refrain can also be called a VERSE, as it is in poetry.  A typical folk song might have the chorus repeating after every octad, sometimes with the same tune, sometimes different.  A typical popular song of the 1900s would have two octads or stanzas on a similar theme, then a middle section, then another octad, each section being 8 bars in length, making a total of 32 bars.  The first octad might be modified to end with a note that is not the key-note, suggesting that it has not finished, and providing the clue that there will be another octad.  The second octad probably ends on the key-note.  “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” has a different melody and chords for the second half of each of the 3 octads, but some singers can’t be bothered to learn them properly, and that makes it hard for the accompanist to choose suitable chords.

 

MIDDLE EIGHT

 

The middle section is usually 8 bars in length, so a logical and popular name for it is the “MIDDLE EIGHT”.  Some, however, do not have 8 bars!

 

BRIDGE

 

One popular and effective answer to this problem is to call it the BRIDGE, on the basis that it bridges the gap between the other octads.  Someone recently described the middle 8 to me as “the verse”!

 

TURN-AROUND

 

“Turn-around” is a term used for different things by different people:  often, it refers to a chord sequence that takes you from the end of a song to repeat it from the beginning. Sometimes, it is difficult to know what is meant by it, and if I ask people “what do you mean by turn-around?” they may not be able to explain the term, although they use it. 

 

So far so good, we have names for some of the most widely-used sections of songs, and wouldn’t it be nice and easy if that was the end of it, but there are many deviations from this ideal.  “Refrain” is defined in many different ways, and may, for example, be the whole song, or the chorus, which seems to have the absolute opposite meaning!

 

VERSE

 

A common practise in songwriting from Victorian times through to the sixties, rarely used now, is a short section before the first octad, introducing the mood and subject matter of the song, but having its own unique melody, which is often not heard again in the song.  Here lies a problem, because this is known almost universally as “THE VERSE”, so if you use that term for other things it can get very confusing!  As a result, we need to have a different name for the 8-bar tune that recurs 3 times during the song, and a lot of people opt for calling it the CHORUS.  If only they’d called it a “zebra” or some other name that was not already in use, like STANZA.  OCTAD is looking like a very attractive option, but since it is like a repeating theme, perhaps THEME is another.  Then again, some people call the WHOLE song a chorus, and if they want to do it all through 3 times, they will describe this as “3 choruses”!

 

I am tempted to refer to parts of a typical song as Verse, Refrain and Middle.  That way, the initial letters do not look anything like notes, so a song structure can be described as something like  RRMR or VRRMR.

 

Good luck with all that!

 

CONVENIENCE

Music publishers like to have sections of a song that repeat, and use “traffic signs” to jump around the page, rather than print the whole song in sequence.  Musicians also like sections that repeat, because they are easier to learn, but “Little things mean a lot” (1953) is a good example of a Charles Stutz song that is all the more interesting and challenging because it does not conform.  The first octad ends on the 2nd note of the scale, then repeats, but ends conventionally on the keynote, suggesting quite rightly that we are about to start a new section.  Then comes what appears to be a middle 8, but don’t be fooled into thinking life is going to be easy, because it is followed by ANOTHER 8-bar section only vaguely similar to the original, with a completely different melody.  Breathing a sigh of relief, we are finally onto the last octad, and its first 4 bars are pretty much as we expect, but the last 4 bars are completely different!

 

CHORD STRUCTURE

 

Imagine a lorry-load of scaffold poles.  They don't look like scaffolding because they haven't been put together yet, so they have no structure.  Once the poles are connected together, they form an understandable structure, with a particular size, shape and function.  It's the same with chords.

 

Also, a group of words in random order may not form a sentence, so they may have no meaning.  In the same way that words form a sentence, and need to go in a particular order for them to make sense, so it is with chord sequences. 

 

A single, solitary chord means very little on its own, however nice it may be.

 

You may create a chord structure or pattern in a random way, but it is only justified by being repeated, so that the listener gets used to the pattern, and comes to expect it to go on repeating.

 

The words "fail banana cutting pile" mean nothing at all as a phrase, but your brain sees them and cannot resist trying to find a meaning:  However, if you keep repeating them like a mantra, your brain switches off from trying to understand, and settles into repeating the phrase over and over again. 

 

It's a bit like the idea in improvisation that if you make a mistake, the way to make it seem more acceptable is by repeating it, creating the impression that you really intended to play it! 

 

The same could be said of some of the horrible, slightly-off electronic beats that are sometimes written on computers by non-musicians.  They must be repeated over and over again in an attempt to make them become comfortable.

 

 

LOOP THE LOOP

 

A simple, modern chord structure may be a series of 4 chords, chosen at random, and then repeated in the same pattern all through a song, or just in one part of a song.  Try doing it with your favourite 4 chords in any order. 

 

Sometimes, the order of the chords makes no sense, because it is not planned, it is just repeated mindlessly, whether it works well or not.  The idea has become more and more common in popular songs since the eighties, a great success for Simply Red, and seems commonplace with amateur songwriters at jam sessions now.  This is why many recent pop songs have no actual melody, they are just random notes improvised on a chord sequence, mainly on the pentatonic scale.

 

Such shrt repeated sequences used to be known as a “groove” but recently they are more likely to be described as a loop, and there are special electronic looping machines to enable a piece of music to be built up live in front of an audience.  You can find some on Youtube, but they do tend to be these very short loops, often 4 bars.

 

JLS “Take a chance” (2011) works on the same sort of principal.

 

ONE-CHORD WONDERS

 

Some chords almost demand a hasty move onto some other chord, but a simple Major Triad is a lazybones, sleeping in the sun, it isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere at all, so it won’t complain if you go on with it for several bars at a time.

 

Some of the earliest types of blues did not have a sequence at all, they were played on just one chord, usually E if it was on a guitar with normal tuning.

 

A lot of Indian, Turkish, Greek and Irish music remains on a single chord or drone throughout, and depends entirely on the melody for its structure.

 

Peggy Lee’s “Fever” (1958) hardly shows any sign of a chord, but there is just one implied throughout the whole record, although chord changes can easily be added to the song.  Bo Diddley was one of several performers from the fifties who used the single chord to great effect on his square guitar for songs like "Bo Diddley" or "Mocking Bird", relying more on the lyrics and rhythm than chord changes. 

 

"Who do you love", revived in the 1970s, is one of Bo's numbers.

 

"Swamp Thing" (1994) was a rare opportunity for a banjo to top the charts, and the melody has similar rhythm to Bo Diddley, as does “Mama do the hump” (2011).

 

"Baby please don't go" was recorded by a group called THEM, and was in the charts for 9 weeks in 1965.  When I did it at a jam session once, someone said "What are the chords?" and I replied "Let me see, there's E...  well, that's about it really!".

 

When I began working on this course, years ago, there were very few examples of one-chord songs, but they are sadly becoming more and more common, as digital technology allows less-able musicians to create and record their own songs at home. 

 

All too often, a wonderful singing voice is wasted on some trite and aimless song that does not do justice to their talent, although a better backing might help. 

 

Words are not enough!

 

A singer-songwriter needs a mixture of several talents, and most will have strengths in some areas, and weaknesses in others.  The chances of a single person producing good music, good lyrcs, good singing and good playing are remote.

 

Some more recent chart hits have no sense of a chord at all, and often leave some doubt as to which chord would be suitable. 

 

Ideally, there should always be enough notes played at any given moment to tell us what chord is intended, otherwise it sounds like an instrument or a note is missing.

 

CHORD SEQUENCES

 

The best way to understand sequences is to learn how songs and sequences are put together, and what I will aim for here is to give you some understanding of the way chords change most naturally and comfortably, and the way they suggest the chords that are likely to follow. 

 

A sequence must ideally have at least 3 chords, and counting the number of different chords in a song can give you a good indication of how difficult it might be.

 

The most important rule about chord changes is THE CIRCLE...

 

 

THE CIRCLE

 

The diagram above shows all the twelve notes of an octave, arranged around a circle like a clock face, but not in the obvious order.

 

Instead, they are laid out in intervals of 4ths or 5ths, depending on which way you go around the circle.

 

 

This circle is known by several names, including...

 

The Circle of Fifths,    The Cycle of Fourths,    The Chord Clock,

 

or simply "The Circle".                    It is also important to piano and organ tuners.

 

In conventional music lessons and theory books, the circle is often shown the other way round, but this doesn't affect its usefulness, and I prefer the version which, clockwise, shows the most likely changes in a chord sequence, hence the name "Chord Clock". 

 

If you start from C at the top of the circle, and move to F, that could be upwards by an interval of a 4th, or downwards by a 5th.

 

Either way, it is fair to say that almost any kind of C chord is most likely to be followed by some kind of F chord. 

 

The circle does not tell us the exact type of chord, simply the position of its root note on the circle.

 

This simple rule can be applied to finding the most likely chord to follow any given chord, simply by going one step clockwise around the circle.  This is not just for popular music, it was already of major importance in the music of Bach, such as his Prelude No.1, better known as the accompaniment to Gounod’s “Ave Maria”.

 

Of course, if this were the only rule then music would be very predictable and boring, and every sequence would be the same.

 

Fortunately, it doesn’t dictate the type of chord, and we will look at many other suggestions about chord changes, but one shouldn't rule out the possibility of a chord chosen completely at random. 

 

It is in this area that experienced musicians must always be prepared to learn from amateurs who are not restricted by any knowledge of the rules! 

 

Or for that matter, there is often a logic other than the circle. 

 

However, the circle is ALWAYS the most likely way to go, even for people who don't know what they are doing, or why. 

 

The circle diagrams we will look at are not intended for you to read as a type of music notation, they are more like footprints in the snow, they track where the chord changes have been in a song.  This has many practical uses.

 

Piano accordions use button chords and bass notes for the left hand, and each row is arranged in the same order as the notes of the circle, with the result that many chord sequences run logically along the row, but the catch is that even the biggest accordions have a very limited number of types of chord.

 

FOUR RANDOM CHORDS

 

In more modern times, mainly since the eighties, huge numbers of punk, rock, pop and disco songs have been made by combining four chords from some close area around the circle, but in random order. These structures, involving such chords as

 

A       D       G       C

 

on an overdrive guitar sound, or a techno keyboard sound, should have made music more interesting, but although they are great fun for improvisation, they often seem quite aimless to me, (Oh! Oh! I’m in trouble!) and do not flow in any comfortable way.

 

There is a geometry about the positions of these 4 notes on a guitar or bass which makes them so easy to do that they are used over and over again, ad nauseam, in slight variations, often done with quavers in 5ths on the bottom strings of a guitar. 

 

Every time I hear another young band start up one of these I feel a wave of disappointment that they couldn’t think of something more original.  Who was it who said… 

 

“I wanted to play Nirvana, but I couldn’t get the hang of playing 2 strings at once!”?

 

And who wants to re-tune for different songs?  Many of Simply Red's hit songs have been working with group of chords like this for a quarter of a century, just 4 bars, repeated to form what is known as a "groove", and the whole song is improvised over them. 

 

Sister Sledge’s “We are family” (1979) is another example, and the chords bear no relationship to the melody, although they could easily be improved. 

 

Fontella Bass “Rescue me” is another example.  Bob Dylan’s “All along the watchtower” is 3 chords, then the second one again, over and over. 

 

Some variations on this idea only use three chords, and return to the first one, such as Rod Stewart’s “Stay with me” (1971), or Robbie Williams’ “Let me entertain you”.

 

Kaysha’s “One love” has half a bar of Fsus, (a type of chord covered later in this chapter) half a bar of C, and a bar of F.  This 2-bar pattern repeats throughout the whole song, although coloured by backing vocals etc..  Fsus is almost never followed by C, so you could say this was original or innovative, but there is a reason why nobody else uses it.

 

TWO-CHORD SEQUENCES

 

Robbie Williams’ “Millenium” simply takes two chords and a riff pinched from the intro to “You only live twice” and repeats them throughout.  Beethoven's "Emperor" suite has large sections based on just two chords, usually next to each other on the circle.  In 1931, the dance called the Rhumba came to Britain, in the form of "The Peanut Vendor":  Although faster and livelier than the modern type of rhumba that Rosemary Ford fans might have seen on "Come Dancing", it was a great success, and consisted of only two chords.  In 1952, Jo Stafford reached number 11 in the charts with "Jambalaya", revived in 1962 by Fats Domino and, later, The Carpenters.  "Jambalaya" normally has just two chords, although many jazz musicians have taken this simple framework and added all sorts of variations, sometimes changing chords on every two beats. 

 

In 1972, America’s hit “Horse with no name” was based on just 2 chords.

 

In 1992, "Achey breaky heart" was a number 3 hit for Billy Ray Cyrus, and only had two chords.

 

In 1998, The Mavericks had a big hit with "Dance the night away", and the lyrics are quite good, the melody is fine, but it is amazing that they manage to keep the energy going throughout, with exactly the same 2-chord sequence as "The Peanut Vendor".  In most of these cases, if played in the key of C the chords were the same two, which would be C and G.  On the circle, you can choose a key-note, and go back (anti-clockwise) one place to find the other chord.  In the key of G, the repeating chord sequences would be...

 

Peanut Vendor                                G       D

 

Dance The Night Away                           G       D

 

Rakes of mallow                             G       G       D       D       G       G       D       G

 

Jambalaya                                       G       G       D       D       D       D       G       G      

 

Big bad handsome man                Gm   Gm   Gm   D       D       D       D       Gm

 

You never can tell (C’est la vie)    G       G       D       D       D       D       G       G      

 

Livin’ on Tulsa time                         G       G       G       D       D       D       D       G

 

Achey Breaky Heart                       G       G       G       D       D       D       D       G

 

Count 4 beats on each chord, and repeat the pattern all through the song.

 

“Eriskay Love Lilt” (1908) can also be played with 2 chords, although 3 is better!

 

MINOR TRIADS

 

The next type of 3-note chord we need to look at is the minor triad. 

 

Predictably, this uses the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a minor scale, which makes it similar to a major triad, but the 3rd is flattened a semitone, so having created a major triad, you can turn it into a minor triad simply by flattening the 3rd by one semitone. 

 

The most common description of minor chords is that they sound sad, depressing, or even dramatic. 

 

“Interesting” is another word that comes up a lot.

 

Creating chord sequences with minor chords is exactly the same process as with major chords. 

 

An easy minor triad on guitar is Em, which uses one or two fingers to stop the 4th and 5th strings at the 2nd fret. 

 

Am is another one, Dm is perhaps a little more awkward for beginners. 

 

A 3-chord song may involve more than one minor chord, there are four options, and the way to understand them is by looking at the kind of minor scale that is formed when all the notes of all three chords are lined up together. 

 

This will give you some clue about which notes to use for improvised solos.

 

In the key of A minor...

 

The notes of   Am   D   E   together form an Ascending Melodic Minor scale.

A B C D E F# G# A

 

The notes of   Am   Dm   Em   together form a Descending Melodic Minor scale.

A B C D E F G A

 

The notes of   Am   Dm   E   together form a Harmonic Minor scale.

A B C D E F G# A

 

The notes of  Am   D   Em   together form a Dorian Minor scale.

A B C D E F# G A

 

This is easier to see on a keyboard, where all the notes can be held, but you can hear it on any instrument by making a list of all the notes of all the chords and playing each note in turn.

 

 

TIERCE DE PICARDY

 

Tierce is a little-used musical term for an interval of two octaves and a major third.  It is also the name of an organ stop that adds a note of that pitch to the main note, although such pipe organ stops are more often described in terms of the lengths of the pipes.

 

An old idea used with tunes in a minor key was to end with a major chord, to create more of a feeling of stability and finality. 

 

This is known as a “Tierce de Picardy”. 

 

An example familiar to many people is an old favourite from the proms, “The Arethusah”, which dates back to the mid-1700s, and continues on a minor scale until the last couple of beats.

 

A rather more modern song that does the same is “Sealed with a kiss”.

 

When you play a tune in a minor key, try ending it on a major chord for effect.

 

NOWT AS QUEER AS FOLK!

 

I really love the logical kind of chord sequences, not just for their logic, but because the chords sound as if they are going somewhere, and have a definite direction, a natural sense of following on from each other:

 

To put it another way, they are in SEQUENCE!

 

Putting any old chords one after another could still be described as a "sequence", but it doesn't make it a GOOD sequence!

 

Some of my friends enjoy playing certain types of Irish folk songs and tunes, many of which seem to fall into 2 main categories:

 

Firstly, there are the two-chord sequences which are exactly like "What shall we do with the drunken sailor", but in various keys and tempos.

 

The sequence, if written in A minor, goes like this...

 

Am             Am             G                G

 

Am             Am             G                Am

 

Then there are those which have 3 or 4 simple chords, thrown together in completely random order, and changing rapidly, with no rules or logic to help a poor logical soul like me predict what is coming next without learning them bar by bar.

 

What seems to happen in a lot of Irish folk music is that most of the instruments are only producing the melody, and the guitarist is free to throw almost anything in, as long as it is rhythmic.

 

This works well for the type of person who remembers a sequence by rote, and doesn’t need logic or common sense.

 

I suspect that a closer examination of the melody might often allow a more effective chord sequence to be written for many of them, but who asked me?

 

THREE-CHORD TRICK

 

Traditionally, the three-chord trick has been based on the chords either side of the keynote on the circle, and quite apart from many traditional songs, a huge proportion of popular music from the fifties onwards uses just these three chords.

 

 

 

In this diagram, the red lines show the three root notes G, C & F as being used, but it is not difficult to imagine moving this little group to a different point around the circle. 

 

A song in A would use E and D as well. 

 

A song in Eb would use Bb and Ab as well. 

 

Older examples include

 

1870          “What a friend we have in Jesus”

1884          “A hundred pipers”

1905          “Mine eyes have seen the glory”

1908          “Eriskay love lilt”

1909          “Swing low, sweet chariot”

1910          “Put your arms around me”

1916                    “La cumparsita”.

1928                    “Black eyes”  (better known now as “Dark eyes”).

 

As always, it is important to remember that people produce different arrangements of songs, some are dumbed down to 3 chords, but many are made more elaborate.

 

One of the simple 3-chord tricks is in the form…

 

C       F       G       or       1      4       5

 

with an optional change back to F.  Examples include…

 

          "Twist and shout"

          "La bamba"

          "Conversations"

          "Guantanamera"

          “Wild thing”

          “The game of love”

1978          "Summer nights"

1978 Blondie's "Denise Denise" uses the C chord for a whole bar, then half

a bar for F and G.

 

More modern 3-chord songs still tend to choose 3 chords from the same area of the circle, but not necessarily either side of the keynote, so similar groups of chords are used, but in different ways. 

 

For example, “Tainted love” uses G   C   F   C.

 

When more chords are needed, they are usually added to the anti-clockwise side of the key-note, so in the key of C, that would be D, A, E, etc..

 

As we will see later, it’s a fairly modern idea to go the other way, and use Bb or Eb.

 

TWELVE BAR BLUES

 

Each line of a song is often 4 bars in length, and a lot of blues uses a particular type of 3-chord trick in which the first line of the song is repeated with different chords, then a rhyming line follows, so the three lines add up to 12 bars.  An early but well-known 12-bar is part of “St. Louis blues” (1914).  “Frankie & Johnny” is another.  In order to compare simple sequences regardless of key, I will refer to the root notes of the chords by interval numbers:  Perhaps the simplest 12-bar blues chord sequence takes the form…

 

1…1…1…1…4…4…1…1…5…4…1…1…

 

A variation with a minor chord, often used in New Orleans jazz is…

1…4…1…1…4…4(minor)…1…1…5…5…1…1…

 

More common versions include

1…4…1…1…4…4…1...1…5…4…1…1…

 

but there are many other combinations with the 3 chords, as well as more advanced version with more and bigger chords.  Some old blues and rock’n’roll use this one, which also appears in “Little red rooster”…

 

4…4…1…1…4…4…1…1…5…4…1…1…

 

 

TWELVE BAR VARIATIONS

 

The Beatles’ version of "Roll Over Beethoven" had the last 5 and 4 in reverse order, an interesting variation, although this does not seem to be the original sequence.

1…1…1…1…4…4…1…1…4…5…1…1…

 

"Stuck in the middle" uses a chord rooted on the flattened 7th instead of the last 5th...

1…1…1…1…4…4…1…1…7…4…1…1…

 

"Sorrow" (1965) uses the first 8 bars three times in some arrangements, making 28 bars.

1…1…1…1…4…4…1…1…

1…1…1…1…4…4…1…1…

1…1…1…1…4…4…1…1…

5…4…1…1…

 

“Sweet child of mine” is a slightly-disguised version of a similar sequence, with a fourth chord added here and there, rooted on the flattened 7th…

1…1…7…7…4…4…1…1…

1…1…7…7…4…4…1…1…

5…7…1…1…

5…7…1…1…

 

 

SIXTEEN BAR BLUES

 

Sometimes, a 12-bar blues is extended by adding an extra 4 bars at the beginning, often with stops for each line.  This may happen on every verse, or just certain ones.

 

"Blue Suede Shoes" is an early, popular example of this.

 

"Jailhouse Rock" is another Elvis example.

 

Parts of "Walkin' the dog" (1963) work like that.

 

 

24-BAR BLUES

 

Occasionally, the structure of a 12-bar blues is extended, just by holding each chord for twice as many bars.  For example, Humphrey Lyttleton’s “Bad penny blues” (1955) just doubles the length of each chord to make a total of 24 bars.  Similar things occur in some rock’n’roll of the fifties, and country blues.  “Mystery train” (1955) is difficult to pin down, it seems to have different numbers of bars in different verses, and in different versions, almost as if the whole band just waits for the vocalist to decide when to start the next line.

 

"Mustang Sally" works on the 24-bar principle, but some versions reduce the long pauses between vocals by having only 22 bars to the main pattern. 

 

“Pink Cadillac” starts like this, but is a slightly more complicated 3-chorder.

 

LAYERING ONE SEQUENCE ONTO ANOTHER

 

Another little trick for spicing up something simple like a 12-bar is to design a very short sequence of just a few chords, then move that whole sequence around in the manner of a 12-bar.  It was a popular idea in the sixties.

 

For example, “Green onions” takes this group of chords…

 

E   E   G   A

 

one chord per beat, and then moves it around like a 12-bar:

 

E    E    G   A   E    E    G   A   E    E    G   A   E    E    G   A

 

A    A   C    D   A    A    C   D    E    E    G   A   E    E    G   A 

 

B    B   D    E    A   A    C   D    E    E    G   A   E    E    G   A

 

A more common idea since the rock’n’roll era moves a bass phrase around in a similar way, instead of changing the whole chord.

 

PERMUTATIONS OF THREE-CHORD TRICKS

 

When complete, these will be listed in alphanumerical order, and in the form of major triads represented by the interval numbers of their root notes.

 

CCCCCCGGCCFFCGCC

CCCCFFCCGGCC

CCCGGGGCCCCFFCGC

CCFFGGCC

CFCC FFCC GFCC

CCCCFFCCGGCC

CFCCFFCCGFCC

CCCCFFCCFGCC

CCCCFFCCCCCCFFCCGFCC

 

------------------------------------

 

HOME SEQUENCES

 

 

A chord rooted on the tonic or key-note is regarded as a "home chord".  Home sequences are ones which aim to head for home, so a home sequence in the key of C heads for C, travelling clockwise on the circle.  

 

A home sequence in the key of F# travels clockwise until it reaches F#. 

 

Eric Idle’s “Harry” illustrates one of the simplest home sequences, with two bars per chord:  starting in the key of D, it moves to E, which leads around the circle to A, and then back to D.  Eric seems to trivialise his own song by playing it very fast, but if you slow it right down to 110bpm, it makes a delightful thirties-style jazz guitar number, although sadly with only that same 8 bars, repeated.

 

Many old standards of the 1900s use home sequences as a basis, so a song in the key of C might jump from C to some chord on the left of the circle, apparently chosen at random. 

 

The only real logic for the choice is the number of chord changes it will take to get back to C. 

 

For example, a song might have a sequence like

 

C       A       D       G       C       or

 

C       E       A       D       G       C

 

 

 

Just by knowing the second chord of the sequence, we can begin to guess at the whole sequence, because it will probably go clockwise around the circle from there, until it gets "home". 

 

The choice of second chord also helps to determine the number of chords that the song is likely to use in total, and this is also a useful guide to how difficult it may be to play. 

 

Of course, songs often start on the home chord, but things are not always quite so simple or obvious if the song starts somewhere else. 

 

If you are playing guitar chords, and having trouble with bar chords, the area of the circle between E and C is the only area where you do not need bar chords.  If a song needs just 5 root notes, see if you can change it to another key so that it only uses E, A, D, G & C.

 

The furthest that such a sequence is likely to go from the home chord in the key of C is B - a semitone below the key-note. 

 

C       B       E       A       D       G       C

 

This has the advantage of a quite smooth change from C down to B, but although a change like C to B is used in some old songs, it doesn’t usually go on around the circle, it returns to C.  Let’s not run away with the idea that these things only apply to popular music.  Stravinsky’s randomness was almost anarchy, Dvorak often favoured chords that stayed within the notes of a scale, but Tchaikovsky made great use of the circle sometimes, and used the sequence above in his “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy”, although it was in the less convenient key of Db.  Even if you don’t know how it goes, you would recognise the tune if you heard it.  The types of chord are more advanced than we have used so far, but in C, after an initial change from C to G and back, root notes and bass notes would go down a semitone to B, then follow the circle.

 

 

 

The nearest popular example I can recall is “Red roses for a blue lady” (1949).

Here is that sequence, marked on the circle.  It starts at C, then jumps to B, and most of the changes are circle changes.  Extending the idea, I wrote a tune in C, which started on Db and continued with a home sequence from there, all the way back to C.  The tune was unremarkable, but the idea was interesting.

 

 

 

Have a look at some more home sequences on a circle diagram.  This one shows the progress of the root notes for “Five foot two” (1924) in C, and it is little more than a home sequence repeated.

 

 

 

“Who’s sorry now” (1923) is similar, but also adds an F. 

 

 

 

A home sequence in the key of Eb, on the right of the circle, will jump to some point in the top half of the circle, then proceed clockwise until it gets "home" to Eb.

 

A home sequence in the key of A, on the left of the circle, would jump to some point in the bottom half of the circle, then proceed clockwise until it gets "home" to A.

 

However, these lower areas of the circle are unpopular, and guitar players are more likely to use the area from B7 or E onwards.

 

CHORDS ON A SCALE

 

It is often quite useful to look at a sequence in terms of chords made up only of the notes of a major scale.

 

 

 

In the version of the circle shown here, the notes of the C scale are represented by interval numbers. 

 

If you play a chord rooted on the 7th note of a scale, (such as B in the key of C) the circle dictates that the most likely sequence would follow it with chords rooted on the notes

 

3                 6                 2                 5                 1                 4

 

It is, however, interesting to look at circle sequences using triads made up only of notes from a major scale, because this gives the sequence the feeling of belonging to that key, while at the same time following the circle. 

 

For keyboards, we turn to the obvious, easy white notes of C major.

 

Try to find all the triads you can make from the white notes, then place them in alphabetical order. 

 

You should have…

 

Am    Bdim    C    Dm    Em    F    G

 

Don’t worry if you don’t know what Bdim is yet.

 

The same chords in circle order are…

 

Bdim    Em    Am    Dm    G    C    F

 

The B diminished triad is not very useful as it stands, so we’ll put that aside for the moment, and come back to it later. 

 

Try to become very familiar with this remaining group of 6 chords, and experiment with making sequences from them.

 

 

 

TWO FIVE ONE

 

In modern times, several courses have been written which obsess endlessly about the term “2 5 1”:  this refers to the fact that if the root note of a chord is on the 2nd note of a scale, it is most likely to move to a chord rooted on the 5th note of the scale, then a chord on the 1st note of the scale. 

 

There is nothing new or revolutionary about this concept, it could more accurately be called  “7 3 6 2  5 1 4” because it is just a home circle sequence, described in relation to the intervals of a particular scale.

 

The circle exists regardless of what key you are in, or which scale you are using. 

 

“2 5 1” only describes the fact that a small part of a certain song moves in that way, provided it stays on notes of the scale.

 

AWAY SEQUENCES

 

Away sequences still move in a clockwise direction, but they start at "home" and move away from it, ending at some point that often requires a fairly random jump to get back to the home chord. 

 

As whole songs, or as the main sequences in songs, these are a relatively modern invention, although the very term "invention" is perhaps misleading in that it implies that somebody knew what they were doing! 

 

The disadvantage is the feeling they give that they have arrived almost accidentally at some remote point on the circle, and have no neat and convenient way to get back, so they often just jump.

 

Away sequences appear in some very crude punk songs, some techno numbers, and all sorts of tracks from the eighties onwards.

 

 

 

An earlier example is the Beach Boys' "California girls".  Having hovered around chords either side of the home key, E in this diagram, it goes away around the circle as far as F, then very neatly drops down a semitone to get home again.

 

E       A       D       G       C       F       E

 

These semitone drops are perhaps one of the smoothest ways to duck out of a sequence that seems to be getting lost.  If you insert a semitone drop at some point earlier in a sequence like this, it may lead to a further section of circle changes to get back to the original chord.  A useful way of extending a chord sequence.

 

HOME AND AWAY

 

There are many songs that combine the two types of chord sequence, by moving clockwise away from home, and then jumping to a point where they can follow the circle clockwise, back to home.  (Technically, it is “Away and Home”)

 

Where else can we turn for a simple but well-known example but the theme to television's "Magic Roundabout"!

 

C       F       Bb     G

 

Having moved away from C, it makes an apparently random jump to G, the only logic being the opportunity to move clockwise from G back to C. 

 

As part of a song, we find "Home and Away" sequences as early as the fifties, but many much older songs have taken the middle part one step around the circle, then gone down 3 semitones to lead to a home sequence, such as a song in C going to F D G.

 

 

 

Here we see Buddy Holly's "Every day" (1957) mainly on 3 chords, E, A and B, but it moves into an Away sequence for the middle. 

 

In the key of E, the main part is a 3-chord trick E, A, and B, but the middle 8 is...

 

A       A       D       D       G       G       C       B

 

This also uses the same idea of dropping down a semitone - from C, which provides a pleasant route to B, and will then lead us conveniently back to the key of E. 

 

“A windmill in old Amsterdam” (1965) starts with a simple Away sequence  -  F  Bb  Eb  Ab  Db  -  then drops down a semitone to C7, to lead back to F.

 

The theme for TV’s “Coronation Street” (1960) goes around the circle from Ab to E, (arguably Fb!) then drops to Eb.

 

Ab     Db     F#     B       E       Eb

 

These semitones drops can be slipped into all sorts of places, and not just to end a sequence.  Often, what could have been a simple set of chords is suddenly transformed and extended by a series of circle changes to get back.  If, for example, you are putting together a simple 3-chord trick with G, C and D, the act of changing from C to B or B7 can lead to E and A, before getting back to the original chords.

 

Stevie Wonder is often more adventurous than most modern songwriters when it comes to chords, and many musicians struggle to play the first line of “My cherie amour” by ear, yet it is only a 3-chord away sequence, followed by a short home sequence.  It is the unusual melody notes that disguise the chords and cause them to be a little surprising.

 

 

 

The main part of Herb Alpert's "Spanish flea" starts as a simple home sequence, shown here starting from F to A, then runs away around the circle, but it goes UP a semitone near the end, from F# to G minor, not such a comfortable change.

 

Most of the movement is around the circle.  1 beat per chord...

 

F  F  Bb  Eb  Ab  Ab  Db  Gb  Gm  Gm  Gm  Gm  C  C  C  C  F

 

The middle is arranged in a similar way to the examples above.  No matter what you think of the tune, it is a challenging exercise to squeeze all these changes in at so fast a tempo!

 

 

 

"The happening" is another similar example, quite busy for a fairly modern-style pop sequence.  Having started in the guise of a short three-chord trick, it soon plunges into a rapid Away Sequence.  (2 beats per chord.) 

 

The following examples end with one or two steps around the circle to get back to the home key.

 

C       F       G       C

 

C       F       Bb     Eb     Ab     Db     Dm    G

 

Here are some other examples of sequences which use the semitone drop to break out of the circle sequence, and change from away to home. 

 

Try them.

 

Eb     Ab     Db     F#     B       Bb     Eb

 

Eb     Ab     Db     F#     F       Bb     Eb

 

Eb     Ab     Db     C       F       Bb     Eb

 

Eb     Ab     G       C       F       Bb     Eb

 

Eb     D       G       C       F       Bb     Eb

 

  

REPEATING CHORD PATTERNS

 

Often, a short circle sequence may use a series of 2 or 4 chords, then play a similar sequence again, but transposed down or (occasionally) up. 

 

Sometimes, the first changes can take you away from the home key, and the next set can lead you home again.

 

A simple example used in many bridges (middle eights) is…

 

1…1…4…4…

 

2…2…5…5…

 

These ideas can be made much longer, but the idea is often to lengthen a sequence, without taking it too far from its original key.

 

All too often, old jazz standards do it like this, the second set of chords being 3 semitones lower, or a minor 3rd.

 

For this reason, it has become quite common to run down in semitones on the last 2 beats of the F chord, leading to the D chord.

 

Such downward runs are often done in 7th chords, which we will meet in Chapter 4.

 

 

MORE ADVANCED SEQUENCES

 

The circle diagrams show us the root notes of the chords, not the types of chord. 

 

As we will see, many old standards which seem to have very complicated chord sequences are actually just using little bits of the circle sequence, and then jumping to other places on the circle. 

 

By looking at the number of root notes of a chord sequence on the circle, and how they change, we can get a good idea about how difficult it is likely to be to play.

 

 

 

For example, many people shy away from attempting Jerome Kern’s “All the things you are” (1941):  it uses all the 12 root notes, an indication that it will not be easy, but as you can probably see from the red lines in this diagram, it is mainly made up of bits of sequence around the outer edge of the circle, although occasionally dodging across in an apparently random way here and there. 

 

Looking at the concentrations of notes on the circle, changing the key one or two places anti-clockwise might make it slightly more comfortable for some people, but most people have enough trouble playing it at all, so they tend to stick to the written key.

 

 

 

If placed in the same key, F, Cat Stevens’ “Wild world” (1970) begins in an identical way.

 

 

 

“Come rain or come shine” (1946) is a lovely song, but is certainly the hardest chord sequence I have ever learned, not so much because of the 9 root notes involved, but more for the random jumps which often defy explanation, and which only exist to justify the beautiful but unusual melody. 

 

Circle diagrams are laid out in circle order, but a lot of this song’s sequence does not go round the outside of the circle, so the changes appear to be random.  Bear in mind that, as part of the randomness of chord changes, a circle change is occasionally abandoned, and re-started from the keynote, or some other note.

 

Most sequences will pair up each chord with at least 1 more that justifies their existence by being neighbours on the circle.

 

 

 

Another one which uses all 12 root notes is “Have you met Miss Jones”, and in spite of the fact that most of the changes are circle changes, the circle chart above looks a complete mess!

 

Dusty Springfield’s “In the middle of nowhere” is baffling to some people.  For one thing, each stanza has 16 bars, so in simple terms, the first 16 repeats, then leads into the middle 16, then the first 16 again.  The first stanza starts as a simple home sequence …

 

A Dm G C F

 

then changes down a semitone and does another home sequence

 

E A Dm G C

 

then slips down to B & E to lead back, and do it all again, this time it slips into

 

C# F# B E A

 

then oddly jumps to B & E to lead back to the beginning. 

 

 

CHANGING BASSES

 

If I play a chord, and you play a note that is not part of my chord, you are changing my chord, and there is nothing I can do about it.  The most powerful form of this is the changing of a bass note.

 

Sometimes, you may feel that you need a change of chord, yet there doesn’t seem to be one that suits the occasion.  Some of the most interesting variations in the use of simple chords can be obtained simply by choosing a less obvious bass note from one of the other notes in the chord, instead of the root note.  Since this chapter only deals with triads, your only options with them so far will be the 3rd or 5th.

 

The effect is surprisingly effective, and moving the bass note to the 3rd usually reinforces the likelihood that the next move will be a circle change:

 

For example, if D major is played with a D bass, then again with an F# bass, (thumb work for a guitarist) this leads naturally to a step up the scale - a G chord with a G bass.  The change of bass suggests to the listener's ear that the next chord might be one place around the circle, and at the same time, the bass line smooths the chord change.

 

This change is also reversible:  A G chord with a conventional G bass could be followed by a D chord with an F# bass. The next step would probably require the bass to move downwards again, either chromatically to F, or down the scale to E. 

 

What if the bass is on the 5th instead? If a C chord is played with a G bass, it suggests a change backwards around the circle, to some kind of G chord, probably G major. 

 

Now start again with a C chord and C bass.  This will work on guitar as well as keyboard, play the bass note then the rest of the chord.

 

Change to a C chord with a G bass,

 

then drop the bass down a semitone to Gb (F#) and play a D chord with it.

 

Follow that with a G chord and G bass. 

 

Then a G chord with the bass on its 3rd, B.

 

End on a C chord with a C bass.

 

It is sometimes difficult to believe that what you are hearing is the same chord, but it may have an alternative name when the bass note has changed.

 

More information about the effects of changing basses can be found with the Chord Chart in Chapter 8, but Handel had worked out most of it by 1759.  In popular songs, changing basses downwards in small steps provides one of the most important opportunities to give the music a feeling of direction.

 

BASS AND CHORD EXERCISE

 

The following keyboard exercise is related to block harmony on keyboards, but also to bass lines, and will use only the 3 major triads that can be made from white notes - the C major scale, as described above.

 

Each note can only stay still, or move downwards, never upwards, and the whole thing is guided by the bass note, which goes down the scale at almost every step.  This is often harder to do on a fretboard. 

 

The exercise is illustrated in full on its third page, but for now, here it is, line by line.

 

Start as near as you can to the top of the keyboard. 

 

Find the notes of a C chord, namely C, E and G in that order left to right, the root position of the chord.

 

 

 

Play another C an octave lower with your left hand, as the bass note.  (Bass notes don't always have to be very low, as long as they are the lowest note being played.)

 

 

 

Change down to a B bass, and find the chord which has a B in it - the G chord:  the new chord will be a different shape or inversion, and the chord will now be made up of the notes B, D & G, in that order left to right.

 

 

 

Now change to an A bass, and an F chord, the notes A, C & F.

 

 

 

With a G bass, you have the option of a C chord or a G chord, use C first.

 

 

 

Now play a G chord with the same bass.

 

 

 

F bass with F chord.

 

 

 

E bass with C chord.

 

 

 

D bass with G chord.

 

 

 

C bass with F chord.

 

 

 

Stay on C bass, but with C chord.

 

This is identical to the first chord, but an octave lower. 

 

Repeat the whole thing, using the same 3 chords, C G & F, but always changing the notes downwards, if they change at all, until the notes are so low that they sound horrible and messy.

 

THE PREVIOUS EXERCISE IN ONE SHEET

 

Without the interruption of the text, you can see the bass note moving to the left, and the chords following it.

 

 

PEDALPOINT

 

Pedalpoint is to chords what a drone is to melody, keeping a single bass note going while the chord moves around.  The name arises from organists playing the bass on a pedal keyboard, and in early organs, the pedals were not capable of any fast movement, so they were often held on one note for long periods, while notes on the keyboards changed.

 

Some grand pianos have a third pedal (the middle one) that provides a way of sustaining a bass note while subsequent notes can change over it.

 

Pedalpoint is now used in all kinds of music, and since our interest here is mainly popular, here are some examples of open strings on guitars being used as pedal notes:

 

The Beatles' "Eight Days A Week" (1964) starts with pedalpoint which, if played in the key of A, would involve playing the open A string on guitar through 4-string chords which changed...

 

A    B    D    A

 

As we have seen, when the bass note is not the root, it should be written under each chord, like this...

 

A       B     D     A

A       A     D

 

The Who used pedalpoint on the introduction and chorus to "Substitute" (1966):  in this instance the D string was repeated through chords played on the top 3 strings...       

 

D    A    G    D

      D    D

 

Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" (1972) used several pieces of pedalpoint.

 

With the increased use of bass-and-chord accompaniments on pianos and other keyboards in popular music from the 1970s, following on from the Beatles, Elton John and the Moody Blues, etc., pedalpoint has been used a lot as a simple left-hand bass part, often staying the same through various chord changes. People like Howard Jones made great use of it.

 

Phil Collins' version of "Groovy Kind Of Love" used it to great effect by holding the keynote in the bass while the chords changed.  “In the air tonight” did the same.  Some of his other pedalpoint is less comfortable to me.

 

The intro to Elton John’s “Your song” is a 3-chord trick with pedalpoint.

 

Similarly, Bryan Adams' big hit "Everything I do" starts by changing through three chords with a repeated pedalpoint bass on the keynote.  

 

The first part of Celine Dion's hit song "My heart will go on" from the Titanic film is a simple 3-chord sequence, made more interesting by pedalpoint, then changing basses: watch out for the unusual key change.

 

Many modern dance tracks use pedalpoint, with either a sustained keynote, or bass notes jumping octaves, or a simple bass phrase repeating around the keynote, while the chords move away from the keynote then come back to it.

 

Some keyboards allow two or more sounds to be combined or layered, so that the bass can have a sustained sound, plus one which is more percussive, to allow the rhythm to be clearer.

 

A typical sequence in this type of number, beating time on the bass note, would be

 

Am             G                F                 G

 

or perhaps

 

A                 C                D                C

 

Around 1994, there were several chart songs which would fit to the sequence...

 

Em             Em             C                D

 

and could also work as pedalpoint with an E bass.  These included "Absolutely Fabulous", "Get Away", "No Good", & "Mr Vain". With very little alteration, (except to put them into the same key) they can be played as a medley, with a similar backing throughout.

 

In folk bands, a didgeridoo is sometimes used like a pedalpoint bass, and some players don’t think of it as a note, but it is, and a lot depends on the pitch of the instrument, so try to choose one that is tuned to something useful like E or D.  There’s nothing worse than a didgeridoo bass on an unsuitable note.

 

Sometimes, pedalpoint is not on a note of the main chord, and this can affect the identity or the chord.  For more information, see the Chord Chart in Chapter 8.

 

A little sequence used in many songs moves chords down the D major scale from A …

 

A     G    F#m    Em

 

Try it with pedalpoint – an A bass repeated through the whole sequence, using the 5th string if you do it on guitar.

 

If you play guitar, there is a lot to play with in pedalpoint, and it is nice to have the lowest bass note possible – the bottom E.  However, this doesn’t always work so well with the open A string, so a better selection of chords is available for pedalpoint if you tune the bottom string down to D.  Try this with some or all of the following chords…

 

D   E   A   D   G   C   F   Bb    C    D    F    E    Eb    D

 

For the moment, just enjoy experimenting with these, and don’t attempt to understand what the unchanging bass does to the identities of the chords.

 

Another idea is to use a particular type of capo, which allows you to raise the pitch of the top 5 strings, and leave the open E unchanged, playing these same chord shapes, but pitched a tone higher by the capo.

 

AN EIGHT-BAR SEQUENCE OR TWO

 

Two particular songs come to mind that are in minor keys, and share something of the same feel of the mood, lyric metre and melody notes as each other.

 

“House of the rising sun” (1935) is not as modern as many people think, although most people tend to quote the Animals’ 1964 version, featuring Alan Price’s organ solo.

 

He claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song “The Rake” about a Soho brothel.

 

It has been banned from some jam sessions because even after all these years, too many guitarists still want to do it.  (Much the same can be said of “Stairway to heaven”.)  Unfortunately, their original key A is far too high for most singers.

 

"St. James Infirmary Blues" is also a very old song, based on an 18th century traditional English folk song called “The unfortunate rake”, put into print at least as early as 1906, and in the same 8-bar sort of feel as “rising sun”, which some people say was also based on The Rake.

 

In fact, you could sing one to the other’s backing and some people wouldn’t think anything of it, there are so many versions of the melodies. 

 

Sounds like a cue for a medley, or a dual-purpose chord sheet, or even a pre-recorded backing. 

 

Throw away your inhibitions and have a go at the following sequence for both songs.  The F7 should really be F9b12… !

 

Em    G       A       C7     Em      G     F#m7         F7

 

Em    G       A       C7     Em    B7     Em

 

It works very well in a driving rock 8-beat rhythm.

 

DIMINISHED TRIADS

 

The idea of a diminished triad is that it starts off like a major triad, then the chord is “closed in” so that all the intervals from the root note to the other notes are diminished (made smaller) by one semitone.

 

Play a major triad in root position on a keyboard with your right hand, with the thumb on the root note, then pull the fingers towards the thumb.

 

 

 

For example, a C major triad includes the notes C, E & G but a C diminished triad has C, Eb & Gb.

 

Another way of arriving at the notes of the diminished triad is to take a minor triad and flatten the 5th.

 

The main application for a diminished triad on its own is just briefly to provide harmony and tension before resolving it back to the major triad.  This idea dates back to Mozart and beyond.

 

Anyway, this type of diminished chord is really not of much practical use, the large interval from Gb to the C above cries out for another note, and after Mozart, most diminished chords will (as we will see in Chapter 4) benefit from that.

 

REVERSE CIRCLE SEQUENCES

 

A grumpy musician once told me that Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" displayed a complete lack of respect for the rules of music, playing chords the wrong way around the circle, and using uneven numbers of bars.

 

So what?  She produced a quite haunting effect, whether she knew the rules or not, and she probably made more money than he ever did, so if it works, there should be no rules to prevent you doing whatever sounds good! 

 

Going backwards around the circle is quite unusual, because it doesn't seem to sound natural, but it is an effect, and who can dispute the success of the song? 

 

For my inspiration, I turn to that infamous den of anarchy, Playschool: - "Clap, clap, clap if you feel you want to"! 

 

Rules in music are useful, but nothing is set in stone, and if, in your opinion, it works, then everything else is irrelevant.  Other people may have different opinions.

 

Having said that, if you want to learn how to come up with something reasonably musical, it is much easier if you know the rules first. 

 

Then again, if you want to be a revolutionary, how can you break the rules if you don't know what they are?

 

BLIND ALLEY

 

Some Victorian and Edwardian songs make a brief reverse turn from the dominant chord (5) to the supertonic (2), then back again, almost implying that a key change is about to happen, then cancelling it… 

 

“I think I’ll… no I won’t!”

 

This “blind alley” idea dates back much further - three centuries to Charpentier and others.

 

C       G       D       G

 

1914                    “I’ll take you home again Kathleen”.

1919          “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm”.

 

“Never smile at a crocodile” uses a similar idea, but it is applied differently, to bring the middle back to the original key.

 

As for reverse or anti-clockwise circle changes, they are not common, although they are becoming more popular since the 1970s, and that in itself is interesting. 

 

For example, Bryan Adams' "Everything I do" has 7 chords in a row, all reverse circle changes. Can you find them?

 

Noel Gallagher’s “Wonderwall” starts on E minor, then goes to G, D A, although holding to G on the top string in a rather Dylan-ish way. 

 

The first section of “Mad world” (1982) also starts on Em then goes to G, and back through the circle to D and A. 

 

Green Day “Boulevard of broken dreams” uses the same sequence.

 

An older example is Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe", which repeatedly uses the chords

 

C    G    D    A    E

 

A complete song based on reverse changes on the circle.  Short sequences like Arethra Franklin’s “Save me”, or "Gloria" or "Ghostbusters" use just 3 chords adjacent to each other on the circle, but (in a similar way) working anticlockwise...

 

E       E       D       A       leading anticlockwise back to E

 

"Fly away" by Lenny Kravitz does a similar thing, but shorter.  "Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on heaven's door" does this in 2 smaller groups of chords...

 

G       D       Am

 

G       D       and then C          (leading anticlockwise to G)

 

“Rise” is similar, and a lot of “Easy like Sunday morning” can be played that way too. 

 

"Time warp" from the Rocky Horror Show uses reverse circle changes for the line "Let's do the time warp again".

 

F       C       G       D       A

 

TV’s “The Sweeney” uses a clever little trick where each 8-bar sequence is in a different key, moving backwards around the circle, so it starts off in the unusual choice of Eb minor, and ends up in G minor.  No fun for guitarists, and a lot of people might prefer to start in C minor, and end on E minor.

 

SUGAR AND SPICE

 

“NICE” can be a good word, or it can be a very weak, over-used word, and if you set out to produce “nice” sounds in all of your music, there is a very real danger that it becomes TOO nice!

 

“Nice” means being easy, relaxing and comfortable, and… predictable, so the best way to achieve this is to choose a set of notes, which constrict not only the melody, but every single note that is played anywhere.  Chords and harmonies must not stray from the same set of notes.  Accidentals are banned.  Sequences must change in a relaxed, predictable way, so there is no tension, nothing to surprise the listener.  Some circle sequences are possible, or chords stepping up or down the scale. 

 

Relaxing music which doesn’t surprise or excite.

 

In other words, country and western? 

 

Or do it along a minor scale, and you have the typical model for a relaxation CD.

 

Music needs a bit of spice sometimes, so how do we achieve it?

 

Stravinsky is perhaps a good example of the other end of the spectrum, where huge tracts of random notes seem to be aimed at shocking the listener, and clashing with each other on purpose.  Try reaching out to a keyboard, and grabbing a couple of handfuls of notes at random.  I have known two musicians who used this technique to find sounds, then write down the ones they like.  This, of course, is subjective, and the whole approach is based on the idea that a chord is important in itself, whereas many musicians would argue that a chord only has value if it leads well to another chord.

 

On a more reasonable level, Oscar Peterson talked of “moments of tension” in music, where the listener’s ear is suddenly surprised, and attention is drawn to what may seem like a mistake, or may not lead where we think it should. 

 

Throwing in an unexpected (and slightly uncomfortable) chord can have that effect, and it does catch the listener’s attention, even if they have no knowledge of the theory behind it.  Then, it is important to resolve the problem, so that it seems to make sense after all, and soon leads logically to somewhere more comfortable.

 

Without these moments of tension, music can all too easily become predictable, boring and expressionless, but a decision has to be made about how much of this tension is right for you.

 

Stravinsky?  Or Country & Western?  Or somewhere in between?

 

RELATIVES ARE ALWAYS WELCOME!

 

The scales used with A minor are often identical to those of C major, and their relationship is so close that they are known as RELATIVES.  More specifically,

 

A minor is the RELATIVE MINOR of C, and

 

C major is the RELATIVE MAJOR of A minor. 

 

In printed music, the key signatures are usually the same.

 

Chromatically, the root notes of relatives are 3 semitones apart.

 

On the circle, their roots are 3 places apart.

 

Because those chords (and other similar pairs) are so alike, they are often used in chord changes, in one of two ways:

 

by replacing one with the other, or

 

by changing from one to the other.

 

You could insert an Am in front of the C in any sequence, adding an extra change, but allowing it to continue on as it would have done before.  If you replace a C major chord with an A minor chord, or move from C to Am, this allows the chord sequence to move on easily to some kind of D chord.  This is especially useful with endings:  when the melody reaches what should be the final key-note, play the relative minor chord instead of the usual major.  This leads easily to a further circle sequence to get back to the end again. The process is often used twice.

 

If a melody is on the root note of the major chord, a softer effect can often be achieved by substituting the relative minor chord instead.  For example, a G note with a G chord may feel softer if Em is used instead, so the bass is not the same as the melody note.  Conversely, if an E melody is used by an Em chord, it may be worth considering a G bass, or a G chord.

 

EXERCISE:

 

Make a circle change to a major triad.

Change down to its relative minor.

 

Repeat until you get back to the original chord. 

Then, move up a semitone and repeat.

 

RELATIVES OF THE 3-CHORD TRICK

 

We have seen that a 3-chord trick consists of major triads that are adjacent to each other on the circle. 

 

Another feature of this little set of chords is the fact that they are the only 3 major triads that can be found in the notes of one major scale. 

 

The obvious example on keyboard is the white notes for a C major scale, and the only major triads in there are C, F & G.

 

 

 

If we add the option of minor triads formed from white notes, they are Am, Dm and Em. 

 

These are also the relative minors of the major triads on that scale, so we have a useful set of 6 chords that work well together. 

 

Placing them in alphabetical order, we have...

 

Am    C       Dm    Em    F       G

 

They are more useful in circle order…

 

Em    Am    Dm    G       C       F

 

You can change almost anywhere in this group, but try making some home sequences with them.  It's a kind of 6-chord trick, giving you all sorts of options for more interesting sequence without straying from the major scale, because all the chords use notes of the same major scale.

 

 

 

Here is the same set of chords for guitar, and although they are listed here in circle order, you can experiment with playing them in any order. 

 

These 6 chords are extremely useful, you can construct Home and/or Away sequences with them, and although they will work reasonably well in almost any order, you should start by experimenting with circle sequences that only use this part of the circle, with these particular chords. 

 

The obvious, well-used one is known as a “1   6   2   5” because of the positions of the root notes in the scale…

 

C                Am             Dm             G

 

or there is the “Heart and soul” option, using F instead of Dm, “1 6 4 5”…

 

C                Am             F                 G

 

Another popular one is like “If I had a hammer”, “1 3 4 5”…

 

C                Em             F                 G

 

This set of chords is the basis of endless pop and country songs from the fifties and sixties. 

 

Other examples which include this type of sequence...

 

1957          Paul Anka's "Diana".

 

1962          Neil Sedaka's "Breakin' up is hard to do".

 

1978          "Don't it make my brown eyes blue"

 

1979          "Y.M.C.A."

 

1984          "Last Christmas".

 

1985          "Saving all my love" Whitney Houston.

 

1988 "Beautiful South's "Sail this ship alone”.

 

1992 “I will always love you" - Dolly Parton's song that provided a hit for

Whitney Houston.

 

As an exercise, try to think of a convenient way of getting from F back to Em. 

 

You could just change straight to it, by going down a semitone, or perhaps you can find a more interesting route.  Now, you can play the whole set of 6 chords endlessly.

 

Em             Am             Dm             G

 

C                F                 Em             Am

 

Dm             G                C                F       etc.

 

Now, look at using this set of chords to provide block harmony.  It gives you another set of options in any simple tune that stays on the scale.

 

What sometimes happens is that a circle sequence suddenly drops three semitones, leading to a further 3 steps around the circle to get back to where it was.  This is a useful way of extending a circle sequence to make it longer and more interesting, and as described above, it is often done by going from a major to its relative minor: a G chord, instead of leading to C, goes to Em, then A, D, then back to G.

 

AUGMENTED TRIADS

 

Augmented triads, written down as a root note followed by a plus sign, are like Major triads, except that the 5th is raised a semitone, so the interval from the 1st to the 5th is augmented - made larger.  The 3rd remains unchanged. 

 

Technically, the interval from the root note to the new note could be described as a minor 6th, but for this chord, we regard it as an augmented 5th.

 

The tension in an augmented chord is most often resolved by a circle change.

 

An interesting by-product of the arrangement of the notes is that they are all equally spaced, in the sense that the interval between any note of the chord and the next is the same.  Such chords are known as SYMMETRICAL CHORDS, and augmented triads have all the notes spaced 4 semitones apart, so the whole chord is made up of major 3rds, even if you repeat it all through the range of an instrument.  

 

Try that series of notes on your instrument.  It takes a lot of thought on a fretboard.

 

A further effect of the symmetry is that just by changing the bass to another note of the chord, you can completely change the identity of the chord.  In terms of chord sequences, this means that by changing the bass note, you can imply that the chord will go to a different part of the circle.

For example, G+ is made up of the notes G, B and D#. 

 

The chord G+ suggests a change to some kind of C chord.

 

By changing the bass to B, the G+ chord becomes B+, and suggests a change to some kind of E chord, so it can take you to E minor.

 

By changing the bass to Eb, the chord becomes Eb+, and suggests a change to some kind of Ab chord, a possible route for going up a semitone from G to G# or Ab, although it is rarely used.

 

The only normal scale that fits an augment triad is the Harmonic Minor scale, but the notes of the chord will be found at the 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the scale.  For this reason, G+ will lead easily to C minor, but it is only a slight change of just one note, and without the bass notes, it is not a strong change.

 

Did an augmented 5th happen in Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou", or did I imagine it?  I auditioned for a band in the sixties, they played the song:  I added an augmented 5th, and they liked it so much, I got the gig!

 

The instrumental section of Randy Crawford's "One day I'll fly away" creates a variation by augmenting the second chord.

 

Augmented chords often go well with wholetone scales, so try to create these rare opportunities for improvising bits of melody that run up and down in wholetones.

 

Two important uses for augmented triads are really the same, but in reverse:

 

Play a C major triad, then raise the 5th a semitone so that it becomes a C+.  Now raise the same note another semitone so it becomes an inversion of A minor.  Rimsky Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” used this a long time ago.

 

Now try the other way, starting on A minor, then flattening the A in the chord to Ab, making it Ab+, then again to G, making it a C major. 

 

The next step is to take the note down again, to the minor 6th, which we will look at in chapter 4. 

 

Old standards in minor keys, such as Irving Berlin's "Blue skies", are often improved by the idea, although Berlin himself would not have been capable of playing it like that! 

 

This sequence is so popular, it has become the favourite thing to do when a minor chord goes on too long, and needs to be made more interesting, whether it's in jazz or popular songs.  Of course, one can have too much of a good thing!

 

Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to heaven" begins with this little trick.

 

"My funny valentine" thrives on it.

 

You can also join the two ideas together...

 

C       C+     Am    C+     C

 

Or keep going up, to a 4-note chord - the 7th.

 

C       C+     Am    C7

 

Examples include

 

Buddy Holly's "Rainin' in my heart"

 

The Dave Clark Five's "Because"

 

The Spice Girls' "Too much".

 

A more unusual way of achieving an augmented triad is to start from a major triad, then flatten the 1st and 3rd notes, leaving the 5th where it is.  As we will see in Chapter 5, this provides a useful lead-in to a 9th chord.

 

MINOR AUGMENTED

 

It is perfectly possible to augment the 5th on a minor triad as well, and although they are not commonly mentioned or written down in that way, they do occur.

 

Strictly speaking, raising the 5th of a minor triad creates an inversion of a Major triad, rooted on the new note.  For example, Am+ is really F major with an A bass.

 

Frankie Laine’s “Make me a child again” (1959) begins with a sequence that alternates between minor and minor augmented, almost sounding like the Death March.

 

 

 

In this keyboard diagram, we see a Cm chord, then it is augmented, then the same note goes up another semitone to produce a minor 6th chord (see Chapter 4) then back again.

 

This is much the same process we used in the previous page with an augment major triad.

 

Before Michael Buble’s strange version, “Cry me a river” used a minor, then augmented it, then raised the same note again (making a minor 6th). 

 

 

 

This guitar tab in E minor shows that is the basis of the backing for the James Bond Theme.   Genrally, the note can be raised again (minor 7th).  These chords will be explained in Chapter 4.

 

 

 

SUSPENDED FOURTH (sus4 or s4 or simply sus)

 

The idea of a suspended note is that it creates tension, by hanging or dangling in an uncomfortable position, waiting to be resolved by moving the note (usually downwards) to create a more stable chord. 

 

The suspended 4th is created in an unusual way, by moving the 3rd of a chord upwards to the position of the 4th, removing the 3rd from the chord. 

 

It doesn’t matter if the chord was major or minor, it is now a sus4.

 

This is an unusual chord, it doesn’t have an interval of a 3rd at the bottom end.

 

The tension is resolved by simply moving the 4th back to a 3rd…

 

D       Dsus4        D       Dus4          D    or

 

Dm    Dsus4        Dm    Dsus4        Dm

 

Although I can’t recall it being used, this could also provide a way of going from major to minor, or minor to major…

 

D       Dsus4        Dm    Dsus4        D

 

Dm    Dsus4        D       Dsus4        Dm

 

Experiment by making up any sequence of major and minor triads.

 

Then, start each bar with a sus4 before turning it into the major or minor triad.

 

The best way to approach this is to find the most comfortable sus4 chords on your instrument.

 

Perhaps one of the most familiar modern uses of sus4 is the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Black or white”, and if you play this in D on a guitar, the usual open D chord is modified by playing on the 3rd fret of the 1st string, instead of the usual 2nd fret.  The intro continues by going back to the D chord, then removing the finger from the 1st string, so it it plays an open E.  Then go back to the D chord.  The in-between chord is neither major nor minor, and as we will see in Chapter 4, it could be described as a simplified form of Dsus2, which we will look at in Chapter 4.

 

Similar things can be done with the A chord on guitar, by moving around the 2nd string, and these changes have featured in several records around the sixties, including “Needles and pins”, “Things”, and “When my little girl is smiling”.

 

INHERENT KEY CHANGES

 

Some songs are designed in such a way that they include a key change, so if you repeat them you can easily find yourself wandering from one key to another.  Songs like that are a very interesting subject for practice, but need care and attention when played in public.  Another interesting aspect of these is that in stating the key, there is an argument about whether it is the starting key or the finishing key!

 

For example, “Unforgettable” (1951) lives up to its title for anyone who plays by ear, because it ends a 4th higher than the starting key, so Nat King Cole’s version starts off being in F, but ends in Bb.  Unless you create some means of changing back to the original key, every repeat will be in a different key, impossible for singers.  Some of the written chords are also terrible! 

 

“Laura” (1945) is not only a face in the misty night, she is inclined to lead you into a different key.  If you start it in G, you will find yourself ending up in C. 

 

 “How high the moon” (1949) uses similar changes, but is cleverly engineered to return to its original key.  “Call me” (1966) does something very similar.

 

 

ANCHOR NOTES

 

An anchor note is one that remains the same when the chord changes, part of both chords, and with a bit of luck, you may be able to keep a finger anchored on that note, and pivot the hand around it, to help you feel your way onto the next chord.  The Hammond Organ Company produced a whole series of tuition books based on anchor notes, but this was not a new idea, and it applies to guitars and other instruments as well as keyboards.  Some chord changes have more than one note in common, and if you can find the right inversions, anchor notes also make the music flow more smoothly, because you don't have to let go of every note when you change.

 

Some of John Williams’ film themes make great use of anchor notes, “Can you read my mind” for example, from “Superman”.

 

Have you ever played a word game where you start with a word, then change just one letter to make a new word, and so on?  As an exercise, try doing a similar thing with chords, changing one note at a time, by one semitone, to make a new chord. 

 

The anchor note is often the melody as well, so the melody note continues through a change of chord, in fact one simple way of designing a different chord change is to go to a chord which contains at least one anchor note from the previous chord, ideally the melody note.  A useful exercise is to start with a major triad, and change to another which has one note in common.  For example, if you start with C, it had 3 notes, so choose which note you want to keep, then change the other 2 to form a new major triad.  For each anchor note, there are 2 new chords you could decide on.  C could change to F or Ab.  Each of these could go to one of 2 chords, and so on.

 

For each starting triad, there are 3 notes that you could choose to keep, so in a C major triad (CEG) you could keep the C and change to F or Ab.  Or you could keep the E and change to E or A.  Or keep the G and change to G or Eb. That results in 6 different chords you could end up on, just in one change…

 

C       A

C       Ab

C       E

C       Eb

C       F

C       G

 

That’s 36 possible routes in 2 changes…

 

C       A       C

C       A       D

C       A       Db

C       A       E

C       A       F

C       A       F#

C       Ab     B

C       Ab     C

C       Ab     Db

C       Ab     E

C       Ab     Eb

C       Ab     F

C       E       A

C       E       Ab

C       E       B

C       E       C

C       E       Db

C       E       G

C       Eb     Ab

C       Eb     B

C       Eb     B

C       Eb     Bb

C       Eb     C

C       Eb     F#

C       F       A

C       F       Ab

C       F       Bb

C       F       C

C       F       D

C       F       Db

C       G       B

C       G       Bb

C       G       C

C       G       D

C       G       E

C       G       Eb

 

…or 216 in 3 changes.  Of course, a lot of the ending chords will be the same, but arrived at by different routes.

 

If you want a challenging exercise in music reading, look at the left-hand chords of Chopin’s Prelude No.4 in E minor.  (The inspiration for Jobim’s “How insensitive”.)  After the initial E minor chord in the first inversion, (G B E like the top strings of a guitar) flatten the G, then the E, then keep the Eb while the Gb and B become F and A.  Then Eb down to D.  A down to Ab.  F down to E.  Ab down to G.   D down to Db.  And so on! 

 

Here is the first part, written in terms of lists of notes, followed by chord symbols:

 

G       B       E                 =       Em

Gb    B       E                 =       Bsus4

Gb    B       Eb              =       B

F       A       Eb              =       F7

F       A       D                =       Dm

F       Ab     D                =       Fm6

E       Ab     D                =       E7

E       G       D                =       Em7

E       G       Db              =       Edim

 

The right-hand melody contributes to the chords, some of which are more advanced than we are dealing with in this chapter.

 

ANCHOR NOTES FOR KEY CHANGE

 

Anchor notes are also useful when you are changing key.  Suppose you are playing a song in C, and want to just use major triads.  The song ends on a C chord, which also has an E and a G in it.

 

Most songs end on the key-note.  There are two other major triads with a C in them, namely F and Ab.  Using one of these after the C chord can lead you easily onto Bb or Db. 

 

There are two other major triads with an E in them, E and A.  These can lead to A or D.

 

There are two other major triads with a G in them, G and Eb.  These can lead to back C or onwards to Ab.

 

 

 

Looking at this diagram, we see that Anchor notes can provide very convenient changes from C to E, A, G, F, Eb, or Ab.

 

By changing in this way, from C through a second chord to one of those six major chords, you can keep a finger on an anchor note, and yet produce an interesting chord change.

 

Practise all these changes, putting in root notes as the basses, then try again with different bass notes in smaller steps, to try to smooth the changes over.

 

Next, start on your new major chord, and work out which six chords you can change to, rotating the diagram as a guide. 

 

 

For example, here we see anchor changes from Eb, which can lead to G, C, Bb, Ab, F# or B.  Imagine you have just come to Eb from C.  This means that doing just 2 consecutive changes with anchor notes can take you to anywhere you want to go on the circle.  Think of any two major triads, and work out how you can change from one to the other within two steps, using an anchor note each time.

 

Try to put together a sequence of eight major triads, with a different anchor note at each change, ending on the chord you started on. Experiment with anchor notes on other types of triad, and see how many interesting changes you can find.

 

Write another sequence of eight triads, but try to keep each anchor note going for as many changes as possible. Examples of interesting key changes based on anchor notes can be found in many popular songs, as well as great orchestral works, for example...

 

Bernstein's "Tonight" from West Side Story uses anchor notes to create key changes.

 

"On my own" from Les Miserables uses anchor notes to create key changes.

 

When you are accompanying singers or melody instruments, it is always a challenge to find some interesting chords to play while the final note is held.  The ending note of Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen" ties together a sequence of major chords that go up and down in semitones, with the melody note modifying them by staying the same. 

As an exercise, play a major triad.  Move up a semitone to a minor triad, so the 3rd stays the same, and provides an anchor note.  Change it to a Major triad, and repeat. 

On guitar, this is easier with bar chords.

 

These anchor notes can also be used in exactly the same way to mislead the listener into thinking the key has changed, or is going to change.  If a section of a song in the key of C ends on the note B, the obvious choice is a G chord, but sometimes an E chord is used instead, to give the impression of a key change, before ignoring that chord and going back to a C chord.

 

ANCHOR EXERCISES

 

Practise the following chord changes: 

 

Try to find the anchor notes.

 

Carefully choose inversions that help you to keep the anchor notes going for as long as possible.

 

C                F                 Db

 

C                F                 A

 

C                F                 D

 

C                F                 Ab

 

C                F                 Bb              F#

 

C                F                 Bb              Eb

 

C                F                 Bb              D

 

C                F                 Bb              G

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              F#

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              F

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              E

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              Ab

 

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 F

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 D

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 F#

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 C

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 C

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 Db

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 Ab

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 B

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 G                Eb

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 G                C

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 G                D

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 G                Bb

 

C                F                 Bb              Db              A                 E                 G                B

 

 

PASSING CHORDS

 

Passing chords are little sequences, usually 4 chords used to smooth over long gaps in melodies, especially between the end of the song and a return to repeat it from the beginning.

 

In that situation, they may be known as a “turn-around” although some people use that term differently.

 

There are often 4 chords, 2 beats each.  Often, they are related to home sequences on the circle, and will want to lead towards the starting chord of the song, or the next part of the song.

 

A typical set of 4 passing chords in the key of to C might well start with C, so the bass is likely to leap from C to a point on the circle from which 3 steps will lead back to C.

 

In other words, the most common and predictable root notes, or bass line, would be

 

C                A                 D                G

 

and the most common sequences of chords would be

 

C                A                 D                G

 

C                Am             D                G

 

C                Am             Dm             G

 

C                A                 Dm             G

 

As you progress through this course, you will find more candidates for passing chords.

 

If a melody note is being held through these changes, you must bear it in mind, and choose a chord that does not clash with the melody.

 

It will affect your options, and you may end up with a completely different sequence, by using the melody as an anchor note.

 

THE CIRCLE OF INSTRUMENTS

 

Another use for the circle is to show the most convenient keys for various types of instrument: 

 

Having said that, more complex songs can go through so many chords and scales that it doesn’t matter so much what key you start in. 

 

Keyboard instruments (such as piano) are laid out in the key of C, and for simple music, the area near the top of the circle (G, C & F) is easiest and most comfortable for them. 

 

Flutes and recorders also prefer the same keys, as do the xylophone family.

 

 

Although some fiddle            

Brass and woodwind

players will not admit     

instruments are so-

to having easy keys,    

called “transposing

or favourite keys,   

instruments”, often

guitars and most   

designed to be

stringed instruments  

played most

are tuned to notes  

conveniently in flat

found on the left of   

keys such as 

the circle, and prefer   

Bb, Eb or Ab: 

scales and chords   

They have their

such as E, A, D and   

music written down

G, the sharp keys.                                   

as if that key is C.

Younger musicians

Older musicians are

are often more used

often more used to

to sharp keys.

flat keys.

 

Beginners on saxophone are taught where to find the note called “C”, and often have to learn at a later date that it is different to other people’s C

 

Brass and saxes tend to prefer flat keys, on the right of the circle, but music from the big band era often seems to like to go back to a convenient piano key at the top, such as G or C, for the bridge, before making its way back around the circle to the original key. 

 

It’s as if the bridge was always intended to be played on piano. 

 

Listening to various versions of "Dream a little dream of me", (1931) the old ones like Ella, Satchmo, Doris Day, Nat King Cole, do it the other way around. 

 

If played in G, they change to Bb7, leading into a midde 8 in Eb, and end the middle 8 by going down a semitone to D7, which leads back to G. 

 

The more modern versions by Mama Cass or Beautiful South have done something very strange, they take the whole middle 8 up a semitone higher than it should be.

 

This results in a change that is much more like conventional standards, but it is technically wrong.

 

They have to compensate by ending the middle with 2 steps down in semitones.

 

It should be fairly obvious that when guitarists get together with brass and woodwind players, someone has to play in awkward keys, and they often compromise by going for the keyboard area around C, at the top of the circle.

 

The keys at the bottom of the circle are unpopular with almost everybody, and mainly used for the so-called "pub pianist" style, which is based on the black notes, and which earned Irving Berlin a great deal of money. 

 

There are, of course, many good musicians playing in pubs! 

 

USING THE CIRCLE FOR TRANSPOSING

 

If you want to use the notes of a melody in a different key, this can be done by inspecting every note, and changing it up or down a certain number of semitones.

 

In the case of chord symbols, you don't need to work out all the individual notes to write it down, just change the root notes.

 

 

 

The circle provides an alternative way of transposing, by moving around the circle a certain number of steps, clockwise or anti-clockwise.

 

This is often easier to picture, and at the same time, having an image of where the chords are placed in relation to each other on the circle gives you some idea how difficult the sequence is likely to be.

 

This technique can be used to find a key that allows all the chords to be played as far away as possible from the bottom of the circle.

 

If you are a guitarist, you may, instead, want to find a set of chords on the left of the circle.

 

Brass and saxes can use the same technique to stay away from the left-hand side.

 

 

CHORDS ALONG THE MAJOR SCALE

 

One of the obvious ways of finding chords is by listening out for the key-note or the scale, because that tells us the most likely set of notes for the chords. 

 

Using only the notes that exist in a major scale, it is possible to make useful chord sequences, simply by moving the chords along the scale.

 

This, again, will be mainly based on the 3-chord trick and its relative minors.

 

“The folk singer” moves upwards from the tonic major, so in C, it begins

 

C       Dm    Em    Dm

 

The Beatles’ “Here, there and everywhere” uses a similar effect…

 

C       Dm    Em    F 

 

Cher’s “All I really want to do” goes downwards repeatedly…

 

F       Em    Dm    C

 

Georgie Fames’ “Sweet thing” uses the same chords, starting in a different place…

 

C       F       Em    Dm

 

This sequence appears in many big band swing arrangements and spirituals.

 

Jazz players often use this route to get from C to Em, then go around the circle.

 

C    F    Em    Am    Dm    G    C

 

Some of these ideas work very well with pedalpoint, by holding the bass on a C or G.

 

There are many other ways of using the same chords, so experiment with them.

 

BASS GOING DOWN THE SCALE

 

Another idea is to move the bass down the scale, starting from the key-note, and use notes of the scale to make a chord to fit between the bass and the melody.  The bass notes give clues as to which chord might be suitable at any given moment.  The second chord is likely to be the dominant major triad.  The chord has to fit in with the bass line as well as the melody. 

 

This simple little trick for building a chord sequence dates back at least as far as J.S. Bach, whose "Air on the G string", originally written around 1750, was arranged in 1871 as a piece in its own right.  It was adapted for jazz piano by Jacques Loussier in the 1960s, and is better known as the Hamlet advert, or more recently the backing for "Everything's gonna be alright".  Procol Harum's "Whiter shade of pale" seems to try to imitate it.  My ears still hurt when I think back to tuning their piano in mid-rehearsal! 

 

Pachelbell’s Canon does the same kind of changes, with the addition of the 10th above the bass line, so try this:  Play a C bass on a keyboard, with an E melody note an octave and a 3rd higher.  Now move them both slowly down the scale, one step at a time.

 

“God gave rock’n’roll to us” (Kiss, 1992) mainly copies Pachelbell but deviates at the end of the sequence.  Most of the chords can be quite simple, staying within a major scale, and they depend on the fact that the bass starts on the keynote, and then goes down the scale one step at a time.  I've lost count of the number of popular songs that have used this as a starting point, and even though some of them don't play the bass in that way, they still follow the same sequence.  

 

In 1996 alone, for example, "Give me a little more time", "Lemon tree" and "Nobody knows" were big hits which all used it, and are very similar sequences, in fact they would almost blend into one backing, but for the rhythm and tempo differences. 

 

“Don’t look back in anger” is such a strong song that many more advanced-chord versions have appeared, but the Oasis original uses a bass line going down the scale.  See how many more examples you can find, and “I'll see you when you get there”!

 

Can't help falling in love with you

As I love you

I'll never fall in love again

Let it be

Let it be me

Whiter shade of pale

You were always on my mind

Let it be me

I’ll see you when you get there

 

1980          "The winner takes it all" by ABBA.

1982          "Where everybody knows your name" - the "Cheers theme uses the first part of the same sequence.

1986          "I dreamed a dream" from "Les Miserables".

1988          "Somewhere along the road" by Rick Kemp, recorded by Maddy Prior.

 

1992          “God gave rock’n’roll to us”

1996          "Give me a little more time"

1996          "Lemon tree"

1996          "Nobody knows"

                   “Don’t look back in anger”

                   “Wake me up when September comes”

2011          “Take a chance” (JLS) uses just 4 bars on a similar principle.

 

BASS LINE DOWN IN SEMITONES

 

Another idea for constructing chord sequences is to take the bass line down in semitones.

 

C       G       Gm   A

C       B       Bb     A

 

          “Rainy days and Mondays”

 

C       B+     Gm   A       Fm    G       C

C       B       Bb     A       Ab     G       C

 

          “Too close for comfort”.

 

Experiment with taking the bass down in semitones, while the melody goes up in semitones, or up the scale.

 

It will involve some chords we have not dealt with yet!

 

WALKING BASS

 

Don’t confuse walking bass with a boogie type of bass line that goes up and down the chord, or has a little tune of its own, then simply moves that tune around to different starting notes.

 

As the name implies, the kind of walking bass used in jazz swing “walks” around in small steps, and is almost always associated with 4 beats in the bar, in swing or tied triplets, so the basic form has 4 bass notes in each bar. 

 

Although straightforward in rhythm, it requires a lot of thought and practice.

 

As a simple beginning, play the root note of the chord as the first beat of the bar.

 

Walking bass does not repeat a note, it keeps moving in small steps, often semitones.

 

Here is a very simple example, in which there are 2 chords in each bar,

 

C    A    D    G

 

so 2 beats on each chord.  In the first bar, play the C bass on the first beat, then use the next note to “walk” towards the root note of the next chord – A.  You could use the note B in this specific instance, but let’s look at a more general rule.  With so little time, and only one note to work with, you will probably have to choose a note just one semitone away from the A, so either Ab or Bb.  Technically, if you go down to the A you should use Bb then A.  If you go upwards to the A, you should use Ab then A.  However, this is one of those rules that often deserves to be broken.

 

Then play the A, and use your last note in the bar to walk towards the next chord, D, using either Db or Eb.  Then play D, and walk towards G, using Gb or Ab as your stepping stone.  Finally, choose a note that will lead easily back to C to repeat the whole thing.  In terms of note names, there are 8 ways of playing this exercise, namely…

 

C  Ab A Db D Gb G B 

C  Ab A Db D Gb G Db 

C  Ab A Eb D Ab G B

C  Ab A Eb D Ab G Db 

C Bb A Db D Gb G B

C Bb A Db D Gb G Db

C Bb A Eb D Ab G B

C Bb A Eb D Ab G Db

 

Practise these slowly, one line after another, and then choose lines at random.

 

WALKING FURTHER

 

If the chord remains unchanged for the whole bar, then having played the root note, you have 3 beats available for walking bass, and each of these completely ignores the chord you are on now, heading towards the chord that will start the next bar, moving in small steps such as semitones, or along the scale.

 

Circle changes such as C to F are the most common ones you will need to deal with and, as before, you will either walk upwards or downwards.

 

The most common upward movement simply works in semitones, but not from the first note, you have to think backwards from your target note.  For example, going up towards F, you need 3 notes, so use D Eb E.  This is very handy because it uses the minor and major third notes, so it works equally well for minor or major chords.

 

You can apply the same logic going downwards, and play C Ab G Gb F, but it is more common (and more musical) to play C A G Gb F, or C Bb A G F, the most popular option.

 

Chord changes going down 3 semitones are also very common, such as F to D.  The problem here is that there is not enough space to put 3 different notes in, so you may have to opt for F F E Eb D, although repeating notes is not ideal.

 

Instead of repeating the same F, you could go up or down an octave, and this may help you if your bass is starting to walk off too far in either direction.

 

Another choice is F E Eb Db D.

 

Going upwards from F to D means you can use semitones, F B C Db D.

 

Or, play up the notes of the F chord, F A C then Db D.

 

Work out the next circle change from D to G, then another from G back to C, and repeat the whole exercise.

 

Try to find as many different ways of doing it as you can.  

 

 

WALKING WITH A FLAIR

 

Playing just four notes in each bar may sound boring, but it gives a solid, reliable beat for other players to bounce off, especially when improvisation wants to play “across” the beat.

 

If you want to work on making your walking bass more interesting and complete in itself, you will need to throw in an occasional upbeat at random. 

 

Try just tapping a straight beat with one hand, and occasionally throwing in a beat with the other hand.

 

Jazz drummers often do a similar thing, playing a straight beat on the cymbal, but throwing in occasional upbeats on snare.

 

On a bass guitar, the beats will usually be downwards but with the occasionally upbeat between.  That can be done by taking the previous note up or down an octave, which may help you if the walking bass is walking too high, or so low it is in danger of running out of notes. 

 

On a keyboard, right-handed players may find this very difficult to do in the left hand, I certainly do, and if I am playing walking bass on a keyboard, I prefer to do it with my best hand, and that can get awkward.

 

TENOR LINES

 

Sometimes, the bass does not go down in semitones, but there is a fairly low-pitched line which does:  this is known as a TENOR LINE.  In a choir, anything the tenors sing can be described as a "tenor line" but, here, we are talking about something else.  Often, music will include...

 

1) A "top line" or melody

 

2) A bass line, and

 

3) Somewhere in the middle, there may be another important line, often moving slowly in simple steps, which may modify the chord, or emphasise a change in the chord. 

 

This is the TENOR LINE, and when no convenient anchor notes are available, it often provides a way of tying chords together neatly.  For example, TLC’s “Waterfalls” in the key of D would have the chords…

 

D       A       C       G

 

Although there are fixed anchor notes available, there is also a useful sequence of notes going down in semitones from D, which provide a useful tenor line to smooth out the changes.  Guitarists can find these on the 2nd string.

 

Trombone players in jazz bands are often playing tenor lines, which also occur commonly as an extra decoration in an organist's left hand part, or somewhere between the thumbs in piano chord work.

 

Tenor lines often move about between the 5th and 9th notes of the scale, or downwards in semitones, but the chord is not always changed, and even if it is, the bass often clings to the root note.  Such lines can often be doubled u with a 3rd or 10th above them.

 

We have already seen how augmented chords help us to move between relative major and minor triads, and the changing note, moving in semitones, will often be an important part of the over-all sound, played quite strongly as a tenor line.

 

Don’t run away with the idea that tenor lines are old-fashioned, for example, Norah Jones’ “Don’t know why” uses one that runs down in semitones from the 7th note of the major scale.  A similar, older idea involves a tenor line going down in semitones from the 6th note of the scale.  In the key of C, the notes go down from A, and the chords would be…

 

F       Fm    C       D       Dm

 

This appears with slight variations in “That’s my home”, “Glad rag doll”, “Sleepy time down south” and other old standards.

 

EXPANDING A CHORD SEQUENCE

 

There is a process that has several stages, but most people do not go through all these stages.

 

First, try to find out the chords that were originally used for the song. You may be able to do this by listening to it, or by reading the chords, or following the actual notes on a music sheet.

 

Next, you will need to study the melody in detail, and check that the chords you have found will not clash with the melody.  The most effective way to do this is to play the melody and chord close together on an instrument.

 

Having satisfied yourself that the chords work with the melody, you may decide to add a little more spice to a song by choosing chords that give more impact to the melody, and perhaps add a little more tension here and there.  This is often done by effectively changing the key signature so as to use a different set of notes to accompany the same note, instead of just using the obvious notes of the main scale.

 

In jazz, or improvisation of any kind, the next step is to create new melodies to fit the expanded chord sequence. 

 

There are many degrees to this process, and it is certainly an area where one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  In the jazz world especially, many musicians love to take this to extremes, so that a familiar tune begins to take on some very strange and haunting nuances.  Whereas we started by making sure the chords did not clash with the melody, there is now an extreme where clashing is regarded as desirable to some people.  I like a little tension here and there, but we all have our limits.  This often applies to church organ parts, when the last verse of a hymn or carol suddenly plunges into shocking discords.

 

Chords are usually paired, so ideally, it should be possible to look at any chord in a sequence and understand either where it came from, or where it is going to, so try to think how you can improve this, especially if the change seems random.  Suppose you start off the process with a song that spends several bars on C, then several on F. 

 

One way of making this fuller and more interesting is to think about a chord that might follow the C. 

 

The other is to think of a chord that might precede the F.

 

Using just what we have learned so far about triads, we might put an augmented chord in, to emphasise the need for a circle change.

 

C       C+        F

 

This demonstrates the two options in one, following C, and leading to F. 

 

Think about how bass notes might move as well.

 

Another choice is to move the bass of the C chord up to its 3rd:

 

C        C/E     F

 

We have seen that the C+ chord is identical to the E+ except for its bass, so

 

C        E+        F        is an option.

 

Another way to alter the original change from C to F is to use relatives, not to change from C to F, but rather to change to alternatives.

 

C        Am        Dm        F

 

Notice that we still have a circle change, but now it is from Am to Dm.

 

So how else could you move from C to Am? 

 

With a circle change from C, or a circle change to Am. 

 

As long as they fit the melody, you can use both, even though this means using the original change as the start and/or end of the amended sequence.

 

Change around the circle from C to F, then use a circle change leading to Am from E or Em. 

 

This means changing down a semitone from F to E.

 

C        F        Em        Am        Dm        G        C        F

 

Between any of those circle changes, you can add a bass change, or a 7th, an augmented chord, or a relative.

 

C           C+        F        E        E+        Am        A+       

 

Dm        D+        G        G+        C        C+        F

 

All this from the original two chords, and you can go on with the process, expanding any one of the changes you have created, but always referring to the melody, to make sure it is comfortable with the new chords.

 

In fact, if you are composing, what starts as a single change such as the one from C to F can end up as the basis of a whole song!

 

SPACING OF NOTES

 

In this chapter, the chords we have looked at have almost all been based on the 1st, 3rd, & 5th notes of various scales, and could be represented by the interval numbers 1 3 5, although this doesn't give the exact spacing of the notes, or define the scale on which they are based.

 

The notes of these triads can be said to be spaced out in 3rds, and for example, a major triad could be represented in terms of the types of 3rd used…

 

Root Note + Major 3rd + minor 3rd,

 

or by the number of semitones between notes -

 

R + 4 + 3

 

or you could simply call it a “43”, but although that kind of notation is fine to write down for yourself, there are so many uses of numbers in music that there is a danger of confusion if it is simplified that much when you are writing things down for someone else.

 

Before you move on to the following chapters, with bigger and better chords, try to get used to understanding triads thoroughly in terms of the types of 3rds that go to make them.

 

Look at larger chords, and break them up into their component 3rds, perhaps representing them by the number of semitones, usually 3 or 4.

 

SUMMARY OF TRIADS

 

To summarise the possible types of triad, we can look at them in terms of the number of semitones used to build them in 3rds above the root note…

 

R + 3 + 3 = Augmented triad.

 

R + 3 + 4 = Minor triad.

 

R + 4 + 3 = Major triad.

 

R + 4 + 4 = Augmented triad.

 

R + 5 + 2 = sus4, which is not made up of 3rds.

 

The so-called “minor augmented” is only an inversion of a major.

 

R + 3 + 5

 

 

Four-note chords covered in this chapter include sixth, suspended second, seventh, major seventh, minor seventh, seventh augmented, major seventh augmented, minor sixth, minor with suspended second, seventh with suspended fourth, minor seventh with flattened fifth, minor with natural seventh, minor seventh augmented, major seventh with added 13th, and diminished. 

 

Although the term TETRAD could be applied to four-note chords, it is rarely used.  It can also mean a group of 4 bars.

 

As these chapters get noticeably shorter, you may think you are in for an easier ride, but short doesn’t mean easy!  There are many complex issues concerning chords and their basses, and you will need to take things slowly if you want to absorb the necessary knowledge. 

 

Don’t just read it continuously, take one sentence at a time, and try to understand what it is trying to tell you.

 

 

BUILDING FOUR-NOTE CHORDS

 

In the previous chapter, most of the chords we have looked at have been based on the 1st, 3rd, & 5th notes of various scales.  Many 4-note chords extend this idea simply by adding the next odd-number note of the scale, either using the normal 7th found in the major scale, or flattening the 7th.

 

Adding some other note may cause tension, the feeling that the chord is tense, hanging in mid-air, waiting to settle down to a more relaxed chord, as we have seen in the previous chapter with sus4. 

 

In that situation, the extra note is said to be “suspended”.  Remember not to use a plus sign for added notes, this is already in use for augmented chords, and means that they have a raised 5th.  You could use “sus” or “s”.

 

Often, the melody itself will add an unexpected note to the chord that is being played, and in a sense, if it does not change the effect of the chord at all, it isn’t a big enough event to be described as a chord change, it just adds that extra note for a brief moment.

 

For example, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” moves the melody onto the 6th, but don’t just do the obvious and go to the relative minor, it is really corny to have the melody, chord and bass all doing the same.  (Sorry Leonard!)  Try just leaving the chord and bass where they are, and letting the movement in the melody modify the chord.  We haven’t dealt with them yet, but the third chord could be a Major 7th.

 

This is part of “my arrangement” of the song, or

as some people would say “playing it wrong”!

 

The fact that while a simple major triad is played, the melody moves briefly onto the 6th or 7th note of the scale (as it does in “September in the rain”, or “Walkin’ my baby ba