Friday, June 3, 2011

Why The Hell Not?!?!

Seeing that my two-quarter project is rapidly coming to a close I thought I would take a moment from posting music theory stuff and get back to the songs that made me want to study music theory in the first place. So I am going to take the opportunity to post a 30 Day Song Challenge I found earlier this week. Since I don't have 30 days to fill this out, I will do it in one day. I think it will be fun to look back at this a year or a few years from now and see how much of a difference a few rotations around the sun can do when it comes to my taste in music. The funny thing is, all of these songs in the challenge are Day 01. Laughter, next to music, is the best medicine after all!!

Day 01 - Your favorite song: "Be Quiet And Drive" by Deftones
Day 02 - Your least favorite song: "This Love" by Maroon 5
Day 03 - A song that makes you happy: "Do You Realize??" by The Flaming Lips
Day 04 - A song that makes you sad: "The Last Day On Earth" by Marilyn Manson
Day 05 - A song that reminds you of someone: "So Much Beauty In Dirt" by Modest Mouse
Day 06 - A song that reminds you of somewhere: "Svefn-G-Englar" by Sigur Ros
Day 07 - A song that reminds you of a certain event: "The Great Below" Nine Inch Nails
Day 08 - A song that you know all the words to: "Parabola" by Tool
Day 09 - A song that you can dance to: "Space Cowboy" Mighty High
Day 10 - A song that makes you fall asleep: "Joseph Merrick" by Mastodon
Day 11 - A song from your favorite band
: "Hexagram" by Deftones
Day 12 - A song from a band you hate
: "All-Star" by Smash Mouth
Day 13 - A song that is a guilty pleasure: "Better Off Alone" by Alice DJ

Day 14 - A song that no one would expect you to lov
e: "Joyful Girl" by Ani DiFranco

Day 15 - A song that describes you: "Present Tense" by Pearl Jam
Day 16 - A song that you used to love but now hate
: "The End" by The Doors
Day 17 - A song that you hear often on the radio
: "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles

Day 18 - A song that you wish you heard on the radio: "Eulogy" Tool
Day 19 - A song from your favorite album: "Knife Party" by Deftones
Day 20 - A song that you listen to when you’re angry: "Cheyne Stokes" by Chelsea Grin
Day 21 - A song that you listen to when you’re happy
: "Float On" by Modest Mouse

Day 22 - A song that you listen to when you’re sad: "No Giving Up" by Crossfade
Day 23 - A song that you want to play at your wedding: "Act Nice and Gentle" by The Black Keys
Day 24 - A song that you want to play at your funeral: "What A Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong 
Day25  - A song that makes you laugh: "Friends" by Flight Of The Conchords
Day 26 - A song that you can play on an instrument: "My Own Summer" by Deftones
Day 27 - A song that you wish you could play: "Mouthful Of Cavities" by Blind Melon
Day 28 - A song that makes you feel guilty: "Televators" The Mars Volta
Day 29 - A song from your childhood: "Revolution #1" by The Beatles
Day 30 - Your favorite song at this time last year
: "Diamond Eyes" Deftones

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Turning One Cool Riff Into Several Cool Riffs

Once again, as I searched through my old stack of Guitar World Magazines looking for inspiration I happened to find this article by John Petrucci of the band Dream Theater. I'm still not a fan of his band but the more I read stuff by him and see his tutorial videos online, the more I have respect for him as a guitarist.

In the article John talks about permutating one simple riff and turning it into several cool ideas. He provides the following advice to those who may have fallen into a musical playing or writing rut. While tinkering around with a riff and still retaining its original melodic and harmonic intent try:

1) Play the riff an octave higher or lower

2) Harmonizing it either diatonically with intervals such as thirds or sixths, or with parelled power chords (root-fith)

3) Add different effects to the riff

4) Split up the notes in the riff and have a different guitar play each section

5) Change the riff's time signature


Monday, May 30, 2011

Technique:Music Element #4: A Lesson by Victor Wooten

"All of a sudden I realized something about my own methods of learning. I usually tried to block out all other things so I could cram new information into my head. It rarely worked. My brain, being cramped already, would usually spit the information back out. I could imagine a "No Vacancy" sign posted on the door to my brain saying  "No more information please."

...When I play at my best, I'm not thinking. I'm in the 'zone.' Music is flowing through me, but this flow is broken sometimes when I make a mistake. My mistakes are often caused by frustration, and making mistakes often causes me to become frustrated. Many times, poor technique is at the root of the problem. Poor technique robs me of free expression. It's like I hear what I wanna play, but my technique doesn't allow it to come out.

Now, in order for me to play freely, I need good technique, but I don't wanna be thinking about my technique while I'm playing any more than I wanna be thinking about my mouth when I'm talking. So, when I practice, I use 'concentration' to learn what technique is. Then I use 'not concentrating' to get completely comfortable using the technique. Combining the two concentration methods allows me to get a complete grasp of the technique.

If 'not concentrating' is where I want to end up, I need to add it to my practice routine. Combining 'concentrating' with 'not concentrating' is necessary to complete the circle. This is yin and yang. Both parts are needed to complete the whole. We know how to concentrate and we know how to practice concentrating, but do we know how to practice 'not concentrating'?"

(*pages 84-85)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crash Course in Chord Theory: Part 2

The most commonly used chords are constructed from stacked thirds. Chords can also be constructed from seconds, fourths or fifths but these types of chords are less common. 

However, if you happen to stack another third onto any of the basic chords you will now have a Seventh Chord.

The names of the chords from left to right are: 
M7=Major-Major Seventh
7=Major-minor Seventh
m7=minor-minor Seventh
m-M7=minor-Major Seventh

Anything past a seventh chord is considered and extend chord. If you happen to stack a third upon any seventh chord you will get a ninth chord. If you then stack another third upon your ninth chord you will get a eleventh chord. And finally, if you stack on more third upon an eleventh chord you will get a thirteenth chord.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Turkish Rhythms: Thanks For The Tip, Brubeck!!

After listening to "Blue Rondo A La Turk" at least a dozen times I decided to find more information on the song. This is what I found.

1) One source I found said that the song was a play on Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" (which is the 3rd Movement Sonata for piano NO. 11 in A Major).

2) "Blue Rondo A La Turk" is written in “rondo form,” which consists of a repeated melody interlaced with different tunes and variations. In other words, one or two sections keep on coming 'round' again and again. 

Here is an example below:

3) The tune begins in a 9/8 time signature, arranged in a rapid “2+2+2+3” pattern, which changes to a “3+3+3” pattern every fourth measure. Near the middle of the song, the beat then shifts to a more traditional 4/4 time signature.

4) A 9/8 time signature is a common time signature in Turkish music. This is more likely than not why the word "Turk" is in the title. The meter 9/8 in Turkey is often associated with the clap and dance folk style "Karsilama."

*Here is an example I found of Karsilama*


Saturday, May 21, 2011

9/8 Time "Blue Rondo Ala Turk"

How I have gone this long without knowing who Dave Brubeck is is a mystery to me. I feel as if I have been missing out on such good music and am trying to catch up. After listening to "Take Five" and loving his use of 5/4 time I started to look for more of his music. I recently found a song of his called "Blue Rondo A La Turk."

The songs makes use of a 9/8 time. It is a compound time signature that can be counted in a more than one way. Some musicians prefer to count in multiples of three (3+3+3) while others may count in multiples of two with an extra beat added at the end (2+2+2+3).


EXAMPLE OF 2+2+2+3


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Palm Muting Examples

Though many guitarists in various styles of music use the palm-muting technique, no other genre of music utilizes it more than metal. Because palm muting can be percussive and chunky sounding, many guitarists will use a "chugging" pattern that is homorhythmic with the drums and bass in order to achieve a heavy sound. Other guitarists will use palm muting with various articulation that can actually subdue a certain phrase of music until the palm mute is removed, turning the once percussive piece into something else completely.

Here is an example of extensive palm muting that is subdued and light sounding:

 "The Patient" by Tool

Here is an example of palm muting that is "on" and "off" and "on" again, very fast and technical:

"Master Of Puppets" by Metallica

Here is an example of extensive palm muting that rarely lets up, very fast and very intense

"Corridor of Chameleons" by Meshuggah

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Palm Muting

What is palm muting?

"Palm muting" is a guitar technique, executed in the picking hand, used to muffle the strings slightly, while simultaneously hitting the strings with the pick. It is a technique used primarily on electric guitar but can also be useful when playing acoustic guitar. It is also one of the most common methods used by rhythm guitars players to silence strings rather than letting the notes ring out. Palm muting, when done correctly, can produce an almost percussive, deeper sound. Guitarists in the metal genre use palm muting extensively, particularly when using power chords. The use of distortion on an amplifier greatly accentuates the percussive sound made possible by palm muting. Metal guitarists who use palm muting often employ down-picking (as opposed to alternate picking) in order to achieve a chunkier, heavier sound. 

*The palm mute is most effective when you can turn it "on" and "off." Most metal guitarists will not palm mute and entire riff but rather select notes.

*If your strings buzz, this means that  you did not apply enough pressure with your palm. 

*If the sound is too open, it means that your are not uniformly stopping  one or more strings. Try to change your hand position, or practice your palm muting on each string individually, so you can get the feel of it.


1) To execute a palm mute, you have to allow your picking hand to lower itself down against the bridge. Only the side of your palm should touch. It's the "karate chop" part of your hand that should touch!

2) You will notice that if you pick the strings while in this position -- palm halfway on the bridge and halfway on the strings -- the sound will muted and chunky. This is the sound of a successful palm mute!

3) Most of the time the low strings only need to be palm muted. Don't bother trying to reach your palm across all the strings! Besides, you hardly ever have to palm mute the thin strings anyway!

4) How hard should a guitarist press down when palm muting? Though it depends on the song, the music will give directions, i.e., slight P.M., or heavy P.M. but more often than not, a good medium pressure will work.

 *Here Is An Example of What Palm Muting Looks Like In Notation*

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Devin Townsend: On Heavy Sounds

I found this great video by Devin Townsend of the band Strapping Young Lad. I saw his band open for Fear Factory about 5 years ago and thought they put on a really good show. When I was researching "heavy sounds" I happened to find this video. He has a great sense of humor and gives some great insight as how he achieves a "heavy" sound on his guitar.

1) To get a heavier sound it matters how you hold your guitar pick.

2) How you attack with your pick will greatly effect the heaviness

3) Don't pick strings strait up and down but instead use the "James Hettfield method" of letting the pick drag/scape across the strings slightly

4) Palm muting the strings is a very effective in achieving a heavier, percussive sound

5) When playing with drummers, it helps when they play a little behind the beat, it gives the sound a sense of size

6) Relax and playing will get easier

*Here is an example of Devin's heavy sound in action!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Power Chords

In my last post I listed some of the elements that make music heavy, particularly music in the metal genre. In this post I will address one of these elements and try to reach a greater understanding of the music I love.

Question: What is power chord?
*Power chords typically contains only two different notes, the root note, and another note called the "fifth". For this reason, power chords are referred to as "fifth chords" (written C5 or E5, etc). 

*The power chord does NOT contain the note which traditionally tells us whether the chord is major or minor. Thus, a power chord is neither major nor minor. It can be used in a situation where either a major or a minor chord is called for.

*Power chords work well in certain circumstances (in rock music on electric guitars for example), but don't work well in others, particularly folk-style songs played on acoustic guitar. 

*A power chord is also often referred to as a "fifth" or "5" chord. If, for example, you see a chord written as C5, this is a C power chord. 

Take this chord progression for example: Cmajor - Aminor - Dminor - Gmajor
You could play this progression with power chords as follows:
C5 - A5 - D5 - G5

*You can optionally omit the pinky finger, and play a power chord simply as a 2-note chord. Most guitarists stick with the 3-note version, as it sounds more full.

*Another common fingering for a power chord is to play the root note with the first finger, while the third finger barres the other two notes. 

*Power chords are generally used in pop, rock, and blues music. Because they are rather small chords, they are not commonly used in acoustic strumming situations. 

*Many guitarists prefer to use all downstrokes when strumming power chords. This results in a more "chunky" sound.   

*Here Are Some Common Power Chords*

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Am A Metalhead At Heart

One thing I have noticed over the last 15 years as a metal enthusiast is that my concept of "heavy music" has changed significantly. I used to think it didn't get any "heavier" than Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica. These particular bands had songs that were fast, aggressive,  and had maniac drummers to keep the beat. Now, keep in mind that I started listening to "heavy" music when I was 9 or 10 years old (1995, 1996). At one point in time I didn't think music could get any "heavier" than these songs:

"Tales From The Scorched Earth" by The Smashing Pumpkins

"4th of July" by Soundgarden

"Until It Sleeps" by Metallica

I still love loud, distorted, chunky guitars, and a pounding rhythm sections to drive song. Bands like Deftones, Korn, and Slipknot helped evolve my concept of what "heavy" music was and could be. If a song had enough energy and aggression in it that I wanted to get in a mosh pit immediately, then that was what I called "heavy."

When I decided to pick up the guitar I wanted to learn how heavy bands got their sound. What does "heavy" mean anyway? After researching the topic for a while I have found out that there is not exact formula for achieving a heavy sound. However, there are several elements that can give a song "heavy" feel to it.

For guitarists this includes but is not limited to:
1) Power chords
2) Pick Attack
3) Palm Muting
4) Down-Tuning
5) Heavy Distortion

The rest of the band can make a song heavy too by utilizing:
1) A drummer who knows when to add a kick drum on particular downbeats to make a song "punchier." Metal drummers will often use (and overuse) double-kick pedals to add a sense of chaos to an arrangement.
2) A bassist who locks in with the guitar and essentially plays the same part, perhaps even an octave lower
3) A vocalist who can write intense lyrics and perhaps scream, growl, or match their lyrics with an equally intense delivery

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Articulation/Duration: Music Element #3: A Lesson by Victor Wooten

I opened my eyes and noticed Michael staring at me. Stopping the music, he asked me a strange quation. "You ever read Horton Hears a Who?"

I didn't know what that had to do with anything (particularly music), but understanding that Michael had his own way of teaching, I answered him, "Of course I have, Dr. Suess."

"Do you remember what that poor elephant found on the little speck of dust?"
"There was a whole civilization living on it," I answered.

"Exactly!" he said. point at me. "Notes are the same. If you listen closely, you can find a whole universe living in each one. Notes are alive, and like you and me, they need to breathe. The song will dictate how much air is needed. There is no rule hard and fast, but usually, the sharper the attack, the shorter the sustain. The vice versa is also true."

"Now here's what I want you to do this time. Breathe with the Music. Listen to the song one more time and take a breath with each note as the bass player plays. It will help you understand what I am talking about. After that, I want you to play along with the song, breathing with your own bass notes. If you change the length of your notes, you also much change the length of your breath. Do that and pay attention to what it does to you and to Music."

"Breath with the Music? What did he mean by that," I thought. "Once I did as he'd suggested, things started to change. Breathing with the music caused me to hear it and feel it in a way I never had before. I could actually feel the notes mixing with my heartbeat. It was like meditation."

**After reading this excerpt, I realized that I rarely let my notes ring. My approach to music has always been to attack fast and sharp. From now on I will try to control my breathing when I play and see if it effects my playing. I will also try to let my notes have more breathing room. I think David Gilmour of Pink Floyd could teach me a lot about this concept.**

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interactive Circle Of Fifths

 With the power and glory of the internet I found a fantastic INTERACTIVE CIRCLE OF FIFTHS!! With this great invention I can program in any Tonic or Mode and it will give me the the scale, the formula for that scale, the notes in that scale, and then chords to play over that scale. It's pretty freakin' sweet!!

Here is what happened when I plugged in the C Tonic and the Major/Ionian Mode:

 Here is what happened when I plugged in the E Tonic and the Phrygian Mode:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Key Signatures and Circle Of Fifths

While researching Key Signatures I found this very helpful diagram to help me remember how to figure out what key a song is in when reading sheet music. 

Another useful tool I found is called the "Circle Of Fifths." It is used to decipher the precise number of sharps or flats in any given major scale. 

I read in one of my books that one of the best ways to memorize the order of sharps and flat is word association. "The sillier and weirder the better,' says the Hal Leonard Corporation.

Order of Sharps: F, C, G, D, A, E, B, F 
(Fat, Cats, Go, Down, Alley, Endings, Boldly, Fighting).

Order of Flats: B, E, A, D,G, C, F 
(BEAD Games Come First).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Key Signatures

I have seen this image on many pieces of sheet music and always wanted to know what it meant.  

It is called a Key Signatures. It contains the flats or sharps you see after the clef and before the time signature. The purpose of the key signature, aside from telling you what key to play in, is to avoid writing too many accidentals. For example, instead of writing Bb over and over again, the flat sign (b) is placed on the third line of the Treble Clef indicating that B's need to be flatted. The sharps or flats placed on the line or space in the key signature indicates that notes on that line or space needs to be sharped or flatted. It also indicates that all the other notes of the same letter, even if they are in other octaves, needs to be sharped or flatted. Sometimes composers change the key signature throughout a piece of music.

  • Major Key - If the key signature has sharps, look at the position of the last sharp and raise it by a half-step to get the key. For example, if the last sharp is E, raise it a half step which is F, the key is F sharp major. When the key signature has flats, simply look at the second to the last flat and you get the key. So for example A flat is the second to the last flat sign in the key signature, this means the music is in A flat major. The exception to this rule is F major because it only has one flat and C major because it has no flats or sharps
  • Minor Key - Simply find the name of the key in major and lower it three half steps to get the minor key. For example E flat major lowered three half steps will be C minor. A minor key that has the same key signature as a major key is called a relative minor. For example E flat major and C minor both have 3 flats but C minor is three half steps lower than E flat major. 
  • Keep in mind that there are only seven flats: B-E-A-D-G-C-F, and it is always in the same order in a key signature. On the other hand, the order of sharps (F-C-G-D-A-E-B) is the order of flats (B-E-A-D-G-C-F) backwards

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How To Solo Over A Song

Recently I have found a great website that I allows me to select any scale, in any key, on any position on the fretboard and will then magically provide me a list of chords that I can use to solo over it.

From my last post on solos, I learned that most solos are just scales dressed up differently with various articulation, phrasing and emotion. With the help of this website I can take a chord and figure out what scales sounds good over it or I can do the opposite and find a scale I like and then find chords that compliment it.

*Here is an example of some D Minor chords:

Question: I want to solo over a D minor chord. What scales can I use to turn a unique solo?
 Answer: There are tons of scales that can be used. Here is just a handful of ones I found.

C Ionian
D Dorian
E Phrygian
F Mixolydian
D Melodic Minor
G Lydian Dominant
F Major Pentatonic
A Harmonic Minor

*Here is an example of an E Minor Pentatonic Scale:

Question: When soloing with an E Minor Pentatonic Scale, what chords can I use over it?
Answer: There are several chords that can be used. Here is a handful of chords I found.

G Major
D Suspended 2nd
A Suspended 4th
B Minor Sharp 5th
E Minor 7th
A 9th Suspended 4th
D 5th
A 5th

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Solos: Van Halen Killed Them For Me

I was never really into solos on guitar. Sure, it was impressive that certain guitarists could burn up and down the fretboard but they usually failed in one really important area for me: If I can't tap my foot to it or bob my head then the song is not catchy and I lose interest pretty fast. I grew up just about the time "hair metal" was being killed by "grunge." Bands like Van Halen, Motley Crue, Poison, Bon Jovi and guitarist like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai were all shredders that were on their way out in terms of popularity. As technical as their solos were I just did not care. Solos only started to impress me later on when I heard Pantera and even later than than Job For A Cowboy. Eventually I learned to also appreciate mellower solos that had more feel to them. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd seemed like he could say more in five notes than Eddie Van Halen could say in a hundred.

Question: How are solos created?
1) Using Scales: To solo over any chord sequence you'll need a scale first. This sets the range of notes that will fit with the backing chords. If a song uses chords from the key of C Major, all the notes of the C major scale can be used as the basis for your solo. You don't need to play all the notes of the scale, or play them in any set order. The aim is to make your solo sound fresh and innovative, not scale-like!

2) Phrasing: Be sure to leave spaces between notes so that you start to create short phrases. Within these patterns use notes of different lengths: some long notes that you sustain, balanced by some very quick and short notes. This rhythmic variety will add interest and shape to your phrases. Try to incorporate rhythmic variety into your improvisations, remembering that you should also vary the direction in which you play. Remember, there is no need to play up the whole range of the scale before you play some descending notes. Adopt a melodic approach in which your improvisation can weave up and down the scale.

3) Using Intervals: One thing that always makes a solo sound too scale-like is using notes that are adjacent to each other in a scale. This type of playing instantly gives away to the listener that the improvisation is derived from a scale. Using interval gaps when playing a scale is a perfect way to break from sounding too much like a scale.

4) Repetition: By repeating short series of notes you will begin to establish phrases that will give your solo a sense of structure. By repeating these phrases, or variations on them, you will give the listener something to recognizable to latch onto, instead of a seemingly random series of notes with no direction.

5) Specialist Techniques: Make wide use of string bends, vibrato, slides, slurs, ect.

6) Emotion/Feel: Solos are supposed to be an emotional extension of the player. Once you know the key, once you have an idea of what scale you want to base your solo off of, then it comes down to what emotion and you want to convey with your solo. Some guitarists will convey their emotion by blazing through their solo at whiplash speeds while others will take a more laid back feel and make use of silence and spacing between notes. Be creative and be honest but most of all be sure to have fun!!

*The two best solos I can think of off the top of my head are:

1) "Floods" by Pantera

2) "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd

*"Eruption" may have been the solo to end all solos of the 1980s, but frankly I don't give a shit!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pentatonic Lesson For Guitar

While searching through a mountain of Guitar World Magazines I found a great article on Pentatonic Scales. There are great exercises on major and minor pentatonic scales as well as advice on different positioning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Minor Pentatonic Scale

Minor Pentatonic Scale: Is a five-note scale derived from the natural minor scale. It is made up of the root, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flat 7th scale degrees. This omits the "awkward" half step intervals, which are normally located between the 2nd and the flat 3rd, and the 5th, and flat 6th scale tones. A 'C' minor pentatonic scale has the notes C, E-flat, F, G, B-flat.

*An Example of a C minor Pentatonic Scale

*An Example of a C Minor Pentatonic Scale on a fretboard

*Here is a video lesson on the minor pentatonic scale:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Major Pentatonic Scales

The term "Pentatonic" has Greek origins. "Penta" means five, and "tonos" means tone.

Major Pentatonic:
The Pentatonic Major Scale is a five-note abbreviation of the standard major scale, with the fourth and seventh degrees of the major scale omitted. For example, the notes in the C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B. To convert this into the C pentatonic major scale omit the notes F (the 4th) and B (the 7th) results in C, D, E, G, A.

*An example of what a C Major Pentatonic Scale:
*Major Pentatonic Scale in multiple positions:

*Here is a audio/visual example of a C major Pentatonic Scale

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Beauty Of Dissonance

Question: Sometimes as I learn a new piece of guitar music, there are notes played together that are very dissonant. It can discourage me from learning the piece. For instance, in one piece I'm singing an A note while the guitar plays the low G on the bass string just below it. The guitar feels like it wants to jump out the window! How do I deal with that?

Answer: First let me say that dissonance is an essential part of most music that we listen to, so don't be put off by it. When you practice a new piece really slowly as you learn it, you hear intervals (two notes) and chords (three or more notes) out of context. This can emphasize the dissonances built into the piece, which can be a problem. It's easy to dwell on an individual chord when learning a piece, much more so than actually happens when the piece is played at performance speed.Once you realize that, it may make it easier to work through the dissonance at a slow speed. I call this the difference between listening "vertically" and "horizontally."

If you look at a piece of music on a piece of paper (or onscreen in this computerized age), intervals and chords are lined up vertically on the page. Melodies and other moving lines are read horizontally as they move across the page. If you play one interval or chord out of the context of the piece,the dissonance within it may drive you crazy. But, if the composer or arranger did his/her job well, the dissonant interval or chord will sound fine and correct in the context of the moving music.

Let me explain dissonance. Dissonance can be described as notes whose frequencies are less than "harmonious"to our ears. For instance, playing notes that are one half-step apart (open first-string E played with the fourth fret of the second string, a D#) is considered dissonant by most people. Playing notes that are a major seventh interval apart, 11 frets, is also considered to be quite dissonant; for instance, play the opensecond string (B) together with the 6th fret of the first string(A#). However, dissonance is a requisite part of most music that we hear, providing it with "tension" that leads to "release."Without it, we end up with music that tends to command little attention.

Many good examples of "vertical"dissonance can be found in three- and four-part vocal music: Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bassch oral music, for example. In this day and age of Crosby, Stills and Nash-style parallel harmonies, there isn't as much dissonance as can be found in some music of 500 years ago. In the choral music of that era, the melodic flow of each voice (the "horizontal")was actually considered to be more important than the chord (the"vertical") that the four notes made at any given time.This is the antithesis of the CSN approach, where the chord produced by the voices is of utmost importance.

In modern pop music of the CSN variety,the harmony voices largely are singing a line that is exactly parallel to the melody. This leads to continuously harmonious chords. In other writing, each voice has its own melodic shape,not necessarily parallel to any of the others. This can lead to some "vertical" dissonance, chordal dissonance caused by the independent melodic flow of the voices. But if it is done correctly, this dissonance is wonderful--the exact right thing for that moment in the music. If you are interested in hearing this kind of writing, get a CD of Renaissance choral music. One composer of that era who used dissonance liberally was Carlo Gesualdo. Look him up! Dissonance is all in the ear of the beholder, of course. A half-step interval may be beautiful to one listener,and unbearable to another. Also, how a dissonant interval is perceived can be quite dependent on the other notes around the dissonance.But that is another article. Keep those ears open!

By: Mark Hanson 

**HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A Crosby, Stills, and Nash song called "Teach Your Children:

**HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF Carlo Gesualdo called "Tristis est anima mea":


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dissonance In Heavy Metal

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dissonance as being “a mingling of discordant sounds” and “a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord”. Although which intervals or sounds are discordant has some scientific basis, dissonance is largely a culturally subjective phenomenon. Heavy metal has its origins firmly rooted in Western culture, so it is from this Western standpoint that I will examine the use of dissonance.

The tritone is a musical interval that spans three whole tones and was so synonymous with dissonance in the history of Western music that it has come to be known as ‘Diabolus in Musica’, translated as ‘the Devil in music’. It is quite fitting that when Black Sabbath wrote the title song from their first album ‘Black Sabbath’ about being visited by the devil, they relied heavily on the dissonance of the tritone. (Rohrer 2006) The main riff of the song is a very simple but highly effective G, G an octave higher and then a sustained tritone, C#.

 (The main riff from "Black Sabbath". Duhautpas 2007) 

The song’s tension filled dissonant riff and demonic lyrics, coupled with the gothic horror presentation of the band had live audiences terrified but screaming for more. The band Black Sabbath, and indeed the song of the same name, are widely regarded as being the founders of heavy metal and the genre’s disposition for gore and the occult. (Walser 1993)

For a genre born of the tritone, it’s no surprise that dissonance has played a major role in many heavy metal compositions since. Thrash metal and Nu-metal giants Slayer and Korn have both relied on the tritone to bring as sense of unresolved tension to compositions, with Slayer even naming the album ‘Diabolus In Musica’ after the interval.

Heavy metal’s propensity for dissonance doesn’t end with the simple tritone, as the flattened supertonic or second is also used extensively to evoke a sense of doom and omen. The flattened second rarely occurs in popular Western music, but is quite common to other musical styles like the Spanish Flamenco, Indian and Eastern European Jewish. Led Zeppelin were masters of contrasting tension and release and would often use these exotic modes to add interest to their compositions. The Led Zeppelin sound was quite influential to heavy metal and the tension created by the flattened second is now a commonplace heavy metal and death metal technique. (Moore 2009)

The shift from the tonic to the flattened supertonic in the bass line or rhythm guitar parts often creates the basis for many metal compositions. The guitar solo is often based in the ‘dark’ sounding Phrygian or Locrian modes, which both feature the semi-tone first interval. These modes may be chosen by many heavy metal guitarists for their natural ease of fingering position, enabling lightning fast solos, but it is likely that the unresolved tension created by the unusual modes and dissonant intervals appeal to the generations of fans.

Heavy Metal bands use the doom and tension evoked by dissonance to connect with an audience which feels that not all is good in the world and seem alienated by utopian views of modern society.

by: Andrew Bluff

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dissonance In Music

The more I listen to music, particularly metal, the more I notice sounds which don't sound quite 'right' and creates feelings of tension. Yet they still sound cool. The beginning of Meshuggah's song "Future Breed Machine", Norma Jean's "Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste", and "Panasonic Youth" by The Dillinger Escape Plan are prime examples of that tension I feel when I hear their music. 

Here are the songs that I mentioned earlier. FULL OF TENSION!!!