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