Mysteries and Solfège

The greatest mysteries in life are often the things that we take for granted. As a child, you learn about colour; you learn which colours are which at first, a simple game of identification. As you grow older, you learn that you can mix colours together to make different colours. As you get older still, you learn that the property of colour is derived from reflected light. Later still, you might begin to wonder whether or not others see what you call “purple” as purple in the same way that you do; colour as a gateway to questioning subjective experience in and of itself.

You might have had a similar trajectory when learning music. You start with your “Do-Re-Mis”, very much in the vein of The Sound of Music. Later, you might realize that very few people actually use Do-Re-Mi as a system to define notes (no one I know has ever used “Do Sharp”). You might then realize that “Do” can either be “C Natural” (Fixed Do) or the start of a scale (Movable Do). You might realize later still that Western scales aren’t the be all and end all of music, and that a staggering number of microtones exist between the naturals and sharps.

The system of Do-Re-Mi is known as a solfège. Solfège is, simply put, a teaching method where syllables are attached to notes to make them easier to remember. You could, ostensibly, develop a chromatic solfège that includes 12 notes, Do-sharps and all, but going past this into microtones seems to obviate the point of the solfège in the first place (easy memorization). The problems that we see with interpreting the infinite space of microtones, however, doesn’t prevent us from trying the same thing with rhythm.

Rhythmic solfège, then, is the “Do-Re-Mi” of rhythm, and like Do-Re-Mi, you’ve probably heard it before. When you count quarter notes “1, 2, 3, 4”, you’re using rhythmic solfège; assigning memorable syllables to a rhythm. In a similar vein, you can count eighth notes as “1 and 2 and 3 and 4”, and triplets as “1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4”.  Let’s say you need a chord to be played on the 3rd note of the first triplet; you can say “The chord comes in at 1 a” to make it easier to remember.

Of course, we can get a little bit more wild with our rhythmic solfège than just counting; after all, this is a tool we want to use to count almost any rhythm imaginable – and not just to count it, but to really feel it, too. You can, for example, use rhythmic solfège to help you count in difficult time signatures. Let’s say you have 4/4 time; you could count it by saying “Brandon Brandon”. There are two syllables in Brandon, so saying it two times gives you 4 syllables, matching with your four quarter notes. Let’s say you throw a Winnipeg into the mix: “Brandon Winnipeg”; now you’re counting in 5/4 times! “Brandon Brandon Winnipeg” gives you 7/4, and so on. This type of rhythmic solfege is particularly useful for keeping time during odd time signatures.

The solfège I just used, as you might have guessed, was one I came up with on the spot. That’s what I want you to get from this post – it’s not about a specific system, but about modes of thinking. You don’t have to know the most used solfèges to feel rhythms; you can create your own in order to wrap your head around a piece you’re trying to play. Use what you already know to learn something new.

Solving all of life’s great mysteries is impossible, but making sense of them by delving in – with a keen, curious mind, a willingness to learn and grow, and a bit of creative flair – that’s something we can all get behind. You might start by diving into our violin lessons; they’re taught at home, in order to give you the feeling of security that’s needed to delve head first into the unknown. From there, you might learn a lot about the hidden rhythms and notes that surround us at all times. You might learn to hear things a bit more musically. You might make your own solfège. You might uncover things you never knew about yourself. You never know.

 

Distorting Sound

Imagine you’re in Jamaica, circa sometime in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You want to make some cash, maybe selling wares and food, get a little bit of a party going. You need to attract customers to your spot, so how are you going to do it? Well, one way you might is by getting a sound system going – some speakers on a flatbed truck, for example. You need to play some music, so you might get yourself a turntable with a DJ, and play the hottest records around. Now that you have all that set up, you go to a nice sunny spot, and you start to play. A crowd starts to show up, and you can sell a bit of merch; things are going well, until just down the way, someone else shows up with the same kind of truck and starts playing – but louder. They’re drowning out the sound of your music, so you up your volume to win the crowd back. More trucks start showing up, and the crowd is moving from place to place, and the music is getting louder and louder. You try to keep up, but your sound starts clipping at the highest volumes, and eventually – BANG! Your speakers blow out. You just got killed by sound in a Jamaican sound clash.

The clipping sound you heard right before you blew your system? That’s distortion, and it’s been around since the first electric guitar amplifiers. When you try to play sounds louder than your system’s power supply can allow for, the tops and bottoms of the sine waves that the vibrations from your music make get cut off, leading to that dirty, crunchy, warm sound. Distortion is one of those beautiful things that sound like a mistake at first, but can actually add a lot of colour to the music you make. Early blues guitarists experienced distortion because their amps didn’t have very large power supplies; amplifying the music would result in distortion even if they didn’t want it. Later on, musicians started experimenting with distortion intentionally, with guitarists like Link Wray intentionally poking holes into their amplifiers in order to mess with their sounds.

Today, distortion and rock music are so intertwined it would be almost impossible to find a band that hasn’t used it in some way or another. We’re no longer so prone to jabbing our amplifiers full of holes or intentionally blowing them out; in fact, there’s a whole industry dedicated to not having to do that. Many effects pedals produce distortion in some manner or another; the techniques that they use to do this can be pretty varied, and the sounds you can create are as disparate as the techniques used. You can have distortion on your low notes, distortion on your high notes, fuzz effects; you name it, there’s probably a pedal that can produce it. All of this from something that was considered dissonant, unwanted and problematic.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from the history of distortion: you need to keep an open mind when making music. When you’re writing or improvising, and you make a note that sounds off, see if you can incorporate that note into the overall structure of the song. Repeat it. Riff off of it. Play with it. When you make a noise that doesn’t sound like music, think about distortion; that didn’t sound musical to many, at first. Producers would shy away from the noise. Link Wray’s “Rumble” got banned from radio play because the distortion was so scary; can you imagine? One of the keys to unlocking new and exciting music is to be willing to use sounds no one has thought of as musical; incorporate the dissonant, the surprising, and the surreal into your compositions.

Music lessons shouldn’t just be about teaching you to play music – they should be about teaching you to appreciate music. Training your brain to hear music everywhere is like training your brain to think in a different language; it allows you to perceive the world in a new way. When everything is music to you, the world takes on a lighter, more playful tone. Every sound you hear becomes more beautiful. The buzzing of the city becomes an orchestra. You can hear the sum of the parts, the greater whole they form, the unity of it all, from distortion to crystal clear sounds.

The Triplet Flow

Those of you who haven’t been living under a metaphorical musical rock recently have probably noticed the substantial uptick in a little genre called “trap”. The genre originated in the 1990s in Atlanta; at its origin, the term “trap rap” referred to the lyrics of trap music. Rappers would tell tales of the hardships of drug dealing and poverty, the word trap a reflection of how difficult it was to leave that lifestyle. The word “trap” also referred to the place where drug deals were made. Today, the word trap refers to the music that derives from those origins, even if the lyrics are much less commonly about drug dealing. As of the writing of this article, in fact, the top song on the Billboard charts is a “country trap” song called “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, a far cry from the genre’s origins (debate continues as to whether or not it’s country) If the lyrical themes are no longer the hallmark of the genre, how do we know what is and isn’t trap?

The answer lies in the instrumentals and flows, the new signifiers of trap. Instrumentally, trap music focuses on a sound I would describe as pretty dark and a bit jittery; deep 808 kick drums, clattering hi-hats and crisp snares. While the genre has become more experimental in recent years, with psychedelic efforts like Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” playing with a wide array of sounds and instruments, the rhythmic palette remain mostly unchanged. Flow can vary pretty wildly between artist to artist, but almost all of them employ, at one point or another, the flow we’re going to talk about today: the triplet flow.

The triplet flow is pretty intuitive to grasp if you understand a bit of music theory. In essence, a triplet is any series of three notes that is played in the same time that it would normally take to play two of those notes. That means an eighth note triplet is three notes played in the same amount of time it would take to play two eighth notes. A way of grokking this if you’re not so well versed on music theory is to take a two syllable word, then say a three syllable word in the same time it would take you to say the two syllable word. To experiment with this, let’s take an iconic fashion brand like “Dolce and Gabbana”; say Dolce 5 times, then say Gabbana 5 times in the amount of time you said Dolce 5 times. Congratulations; your Gabbanas were in a triplet flow!

I’ll admit that choosing a fashion brand for that demonstration was a bit cheeky on my part; the reason I did so is that the triplet flow was popularized largely by the song “Versace” by Migos, the chorus of which is the word “Versace” repeated several times in a triplet flow. The effect of the flow is pretty exceptional. It’s fast and disorienting to the point of being almost dizzying; it’s often rapped in an extremely staccato style, so every syllable of every word is stressed. While Migos may have popularized the style, it goes back a long way; some of the grandfathers of trap rap, like the group Three 6 Mafia, rapped with triplet flows way back in the 1990s.

The effect of the triplet flow, juxtaposed with the beat, will often create complex rhythms that ramp up the intensity of a song. For this reason, triplet flows don’t only see use in rap; you can sing in triplets, too. Pop singers like Ariana Grande and Charli XCX have both used the triplet flow on their songs. That’s a tricky proposition; a lot of singers find it difficult to sing rapidfire while still retaining the quality and tone of their notes. There’s a reason that the two of them are near the peak of the pop pantheon right now.

Whether you’re trying to learn to rap triplet flows or sing them, there are music lessons that can get you stage ready. You can learn everything from the deeper music theory and history of the flow, to the best vocal warm-ups to get you ready to perform. The lessons take place in your home, so you don’t have to worry if you stutter over your first few attempts; stay at it, and you’ll be able to rap any fashion brand’s name astonishingly fast.

Consonance and Dissonance

Humans crave simplicity. We crave complexity too, but under very different circumstances. The beauty of simplicity is that it’s easy to understand, and understanding things easily is important to our survival. Simplicity is especially useful in language, because tight definitions allow us to convey information in fewer words. I once had a friend ask me what the “shape that was like a square but two sides were longer and the other two were shorter” was; he meant, of course, a rectangle. Reducing complex ideas to a single term helps us better understand each other; not all concepts can be so easily reduced, though.

Consonance and dissonance are not things that can be easily described with one definition; their meanings are relative to each other, and relative to culture, upbringing, sense of aesthetics and more. A discussion of consonance and dissonance must also be a discussion of complexity. Instead of offering you an easy answer for what they mean, we’re going to analyze them through a variety of different lenses, to see if we can create a deeper understanding of the terms.

The first lens we’ll employ is purely mathematical. Two notes might be said to be consonant if the ratio between them is simple; our desire for simplicity, back at it again. A perfect fifth is highly consonant; it has a ratio of 3:2, meaning that the upper note makes three vibrations in the same amount of time it takes for the lower note to make two. The major seventh, conversely, has a ratio of 15:8; quite an odd ratio, and quite dissonant to the ears. Without knowing these ratios, you could probably still tell which interval was consonant, and which was dissonant. Things get really strange with the perfect fourth, though. It has a ratio of 4:3, which is quite simple, and to listen to it without context, it sounds quite consonant. In practice, however, the perfect fourth is often considered dissonant. Why?

Put simply, it’s because more often than not, a perfect fourth feels like it needs resolution. It feels inchoate and unstable; we expect it to resolve to a more stable note. You can try this yourself; play an A, then a D, and you’ll almost certainly feel the desire to resolve the two to a third note, something like a C. This shows that simple mathematical ratios aren’t sufficient to explain consonance and dissonance; what else, then, explains it?

The answer to this isn’t simple, though we might very much like for it to be. We can look at cultural understanding to get some idea. When most of the music you’ve listened to for most of your life has treated certain intervals as “tension” and other intervals as “resolution”, you’re likely to interpret perfect fourths or other dissonant intervals as tense, even if you didn’t even understand the concept before reading this. Things that we might find “dissonant” can be seen as desirable in other cultures. For example, if you play two notes whose wavelengths are ever so slightly different, the ear can’t readily distinguish between the notes, but the respective waveforms will construct and destroy each other when overlapped, creating a “beating” or “tremolo” effect. Western musicians strive to eliminate beating, while in Indonesian gamelan music, the beat effect is sought for its added texture.

Here’s where things get really complex: what is music? When we make music, what are we trying to do? There’s no easy answer to this question, but what we are doing, in most cases, is trying to use sounds to invoke an emotional response. We can analyze consonance and dissonance from a variety of different angles, but in the end, it all comes down to how you feel. You can feel dissonance because you want resolution; you can feel consonance because it feels like home, like you’ve arrived. Without dissonance, the music might not be very good, because there’s no real journey to embark on; you never leave home. Without consonance, the music feels listless, unpredictable, not fully formed, because you have no sense of where you’re trying to get to. This means that consonance and dissonance will change constantly over time, as we gain new conceptions of what home is, and what the journey to home feels like. As you learn more about music, through piano lessons, music theory classes, even just listening to new songs, you’ll begin to appreciate how deep the concepts of consonance and dissonance truly are.

Music Festivals in Manitoba

Manitoba is a province dedicated to culture and music; Winnipeg is known as a city of festivals. Here at Academy Music, we don’t just strive to be a Winnipeg music school; we strive to support music in our province in as many ways as possible. We know that musicians are music lovers, first, and that inspiration will often strike when listening to gorgeous music played by someone else. Put all of this together, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t create a list of some of Manitoba’s most exciting music festivals.

The Big Ones

CountryFest – Dauphin, MB (June 27-30, 2019): One of Manitoba’s most well-known music festivals, CountryFest is a celebration of all things country. This festival features A-list international acts as well as independant and local acts, all of whom celebrate country music in its many forms. From bluegrass and outlaw to gospel and pop country, this legendary event has something for country fans of all stripes. There’s camping passes, too, so you can spend the whole weekend in the midst of other country lovers; it can get pretty rowdy, so the campsite probably isn’t the place for kids, but all in all it’s an extraordinarily good time.

Folk Fest – Bird’s Hill Park, MB (July 11-14, 2019): From it’s humble origins as a celebration of Winnipeg’s Centennial, Folk Fest has gone on to become one of Manitoba’s biggest celebrations of music. While the focus is still folk, recent years have seen an influx of groups from all genres – indie rock, electronic, rap, and more can all be found. There are a myriad of stages and shows playing all weekend long, workshops where you can learn to play music, and collaborative jams – the environment is a music lover’s paradise. There’s weekend camping, too, which is divided into two campgrounds – Festival and Quiet. The Festival Campground can get pretty extreme, so it’s probably not best for children; the campground experience is pretty surreal (you’ll know what I mean when you go).

JazzFest – Winnipeg, MB (June 18-23, 2019): Those who said that jazz is dead tolled the bell far too early; jazz is alive and breathing, and the 30th anniversary of JazzFest is shaping up to be one of the best yet. The best part of JazzFest? Even if you don’t have any money, you can catch incredible live acts at The Cube in the Exchange District; there are also paid shows you can go to in venues around the city. There’s a lot of energy that went into this year’s festival, from a special venue set up by the folks who do RAW: Almond, to shows in our very own Museum for Human Rights. As usual, JazzFest will feature internationally acclaimed acts, as well as independant and local jazz musicians who are ready to break onto the scene.

MEME – Winnipeg, MB (TBA, 2019): Memes mean many things, to many people, but this MEME is the Manitoba Electronic Music Expo. The event usually takes place in August, and it focuses on electronic music of all kinds, from techno to trip-hop. They offer a lot of free shows at the Cube in the Exchange, so if you feel like dancing the night away you’ll be in good company; there are also shows you can pay for at a variety of different venues. Well-known acts from around the world, local producers with a fresh beat – an eclectic and exciting array of electronic musicians show up every year for the MEME experience.

Home Grown

Rainbow Trout Music Festival – St. Malo, MB (August 16-18, 2019): Started by a few friends who wanted to see if a power generator could elevate their camping experiences near a watering hole at an abandoned quarry, the RTMF is entirely volunteer run, and dedicated to showcasing local musicians. The festival is focused on inclusivity, creating a welcoming environment for anyone who loves swimming, camping, music, and people. Their focus on local artists means you’ll hear music of all genres at the festival, much of which will be cutting edge. As with all campground experiences, you may not want to bring your young kids; things tend to go pretty late!

Real Love Summer Fest – Teulon, MB (July 26-28, 2019): Real Love are a local concert promoter focused on accessibility and compassion – they even offer free tickets to shows for those who can’t afford them! Their Summer Fest in Teulon showcases independent artists of all stripes, from Manitoba and abroad. There’s camping, there’s local vendors providing food for people with all types of diets, there’s music you probably haven’t heard and are sure to love in an environment that fosters community.

Harvest Sun Music Fest – Kelwood, MB (August 16-18, 2019): Their tagline “Family. Community. Sustainability.” tells you much of what you want to know about this beautiful festival in Kelwood. Local musicians, local merchants, and locally-sourced and grown food; this festival is all about reaping the wonderful harvest of Manitoba’s vibrant music and agricultural scene. The festival has camping, and it’s great for kids and parents alike.

Harvest Moon Festival – Clearwater, MB (TBA, 2019): When there’s a festival for the Sun, there’s gotta be one for the Moon, too! This festival focuses on uniting the rural and urban populations of Manitoba, showcasing local farmers, growers and makers, as well as local musicians! The Festival generally takes place in September, and camping is available – this is one of the last outdoor festivals of the year, so take advantage of the nice fall weather and enjoy good food, good music and good people!

With so many incredible music festivals in Manitoba, it’s almost to know about all of them. Have a music festival you want us to add to the list? Get in touch with us, and we’ll make sure it appears here; we want everyone to be able to enjoy the incredible sounds of our city and province.

Famous Winnipeg Musicians

Winnipeg has had an outsized effect on the music world considering our population. From classic rock to hardcore underground metal, Winnipeg musicians have had substantial influence across genres and eras. We want to help you carry the torch of these greats; after all, a Winnipeg music school should pay tribute to the amazing people from the city we live in. We’ll go through some well known classic, some more obscure, experimental influencers and some exciting up-and-comers!

The Legends

These are the folks from Winnipeg we know you know – if you don’t know, you’re about to have some amazing listening experiences.

Neil Young: If you don’t know Neil Young yet, it’s time to pick up After the Gold Rush and give it a listen. Folks often think of Mr. Young as a folk musician, but he’s also known as the Godfather of Grunge – if you want to understand why, listen to the heavily distorted guitars on “Southern Man”, hear his voice strain as he almost shouts at the end of the verses going into the guitar solo. His influence on folk and modern music can’t be understated; read this CBC article on his impact on other Canadian artists for a small glimpse into his overall effect on modern songwriting. Young lived in Winnipeg during his formative years as a teenager and young singer-songwriter.

The Guess Who: You’ve probably heard “American Woman” and “These Eyes” enough times that just reading the titles got them stuck in your head. The Guess Who, and their spinoff, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, produced hit after hit, canonized in the upper echelons of the classic rock hierarchy. Listen to “Undun” for a deeper cut by these legends; its hypnotic repetition of the phrase “she’s come undone” over subtly shifting instrumentals will make you consider songs in terms of the mood they set instead of their progression.

The Left-Fielders

These two don’t play baseball for a living, but they do make music from out of left-field; they’ve left an indelible mark on experimental and cutting edge musicians around the world, even though you might not have heard of them.

Venetian Snares: Aaron Funk, better known as Venetian Snares, is probably not the most willing representative of the city; after all, he did release an album called “Winnipeg is a Frozen ****hole”, a sentiment we can probably all commiserate with when it’s -50 outside. Nonetheless, his music is among the most experimental you can find, and he’s a prolific composer, having released dozens of EPs and LPs. His style is characterized by fast, odd-time signature beats and strange samples; he’s incredibly influential in the world of breakcore and its derivatives in electronic music.

KEN Mode: This three-piece has made some of the most pummeling, aggressive music you’ve ever heard in your life; merging hardcore punk, sludge metal and noise to create visceral, dissonant music you can bang your head to. This album certainly isn’t for everyone; as you might have guessed from the styles they draw from, it can have a misanthropic feel, with curt, shouted vocals and menacing bass. For those who enjoy them, though, there’s nothing quite like KEN Mode’s aggressive, complex music.

Up-and-Comers

These bands haven’t achieved the fame, notoriety or influence of the other members of our list – yet. We highly recommend keeping an eye on them, because we expect great things to come; they’re really good bands.

Royal Canoe: This Winnipeg indie pop band is here to show that music can be experimental and catchy. Their tunes will get stuck in your head for days, but the subtle nuances – a synth note here, a bit of distortion there – will leave you bewildered at their compositional abilities. Their beats can sometimes feel like they’re still buffering, but you’ll still be tapping your feet; it’s a strange feeling, but one we’re sure you’ll appreciate.

Red Moon Road: Folk rock is far from dead: it’s living and breathing in this three piece band that will use any acoustic instruments they can get their hands on to create breathtaking songs that you’ll want to take with you down country roads. Between their imaginative, evocative storytelling and their layered, thoughtful songwriting, we’re sure you’ll be hooked.

There are so, so many more Winnipeg musicians; there’s just not enough room to talk about them all. As you learn more about playing, reading and composing music, you too might join the echelons of great musicians from our great city; we hope you will.

Winnipeg In-Home Music Tuition Service Successfully Diverting Children Away From Games Consoles

Winnipeg Canada – Academy Music, a home tuition service that inspires and educates children about the joys of playing a musical instrument is pleased to announce that they are receiving a lot of praise from parents who are thrilled with their children’s musical progress. But perhaps just as importantly, the highly talented and passionate team of teachers are not only teaching the children how to play an instrument, they are also helping them to develop a passion for music.

For many teenagers, their life is focused almost entirely on the internet, or endlessly playing computer game consoles, and for some parents, this is a concern. Although computer games have been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, the benefits are minimal compared to the skills acquired from learning how to play a musical instrument.

Academy Music inspires a passion and confidence in their students, which encourages them to work hard, learn discipline, appreciate and enjoy the music. Many parents of the children have commented that when given a choice their children are increasingly choosing to practice on their musical instrument of choice, in preference to playing the games console.

“Learning how to play a musical instrument is a skill that will stay with you for a lifetime,” said Shawn Coughlin of Academy Music. “All of our instructors are passionate about music, and the young people understand this, and it becomes infectious. For us it is not just about teaching them how to play a musical instrument; it is about learning discipline, focus, and determination. We are confident that these skills, once learned will not only help them to play their instrument of choice but will also benefit them at exam time and into their chosen career. The parents of the children we teach are delighted with the transformation of their child, and happy that they are choosing not to spend as much time playing computer games.”

Shawn Coughlin founded the Academy of Music in 1990. Having taught himself already for many years in a variety of settings, Shawn saw a need for in-home lessons and started in September of 1990 offering in-home piano and guitar lessons. Since then, the company has grown to include voice, violin & drum lessons! Shawn is classically trained going through the Royal Conservatory Piano program and is well versed in jazz and contemporary styles. He started teaching piano at the age of 16 and has never stopped. He is a former junior high and high school band teacher, and besides teaching piano, Shawn is a professional pianist, accompanist, composer, church music director & piano tuner-technician. For more information about the company and the various services that they provide, visit their website at https://www.academymusic.ca

How Miles Davis Changed Music (Twice)

You know that we offer trumpet lessons in Winnipeg here at Academy Music – but did you know we offer history lessons as well? Okay, we don’t really offer history lessons, but this post will serve as a history lesson and a music lesson rolled into one. You’re going to learn about theory, about jazz, and about new modes of thinking – you’re going to learn how Miles Davis changed music.

Bopped Out

For those of you who don’t know who Miles Davis is: he’s probably the most famous jazz trumpeter, and one of the most famous, most acclaimed, most revered jazz musicians of all time. His work spans decades, and he was influential in pretty much every one. For quite some time in the 40s and 50s, he was playing a hard and fast style of jazz known as bebop; it was characterized by quick chord changes and improvisation. Having played bebop for so long, Davis grew tired of what he saw as a formulaic approach – when you can only improvise over a few chords that repeat, it can start to feel pretty rigid. He sought a new way of conceptualizing jazz composition, and he helped it with the help of his friend George Russell, a music theorist.

Modes of Thinking

To understand George Russell’s influence, you first have to understand modes. Modes are a type of scale that’s described by the intervals between the notes of the scale. That’s a bit difficult to understand without some visual analysis, so let’s take a look at the Ionian mode. Start at any given note, and follow this sequence: T-T-S-T-T-T-S, where T means you go up one tone and S means you go up one semitone (see our article on tones and semitones if you don’t know what this means). After playing this mode you might notice – hey, that’s a major scale! That means you’ve done it right. There’s a plethora of other modes, all defined by tone-semitone relationships. The most widely used in Western music are:

Ionian: T-T-S-T-T-T-S

Dorian: T-S-T-T-T-S-T

Phrygian: S-T-T-T-S-T-T

Lydian: T-T-T-S-T-T-S

Mixolydian: T-T-S-T-T-S-T

Aeolian: T-S-T-T-S-T-T

Locrian: S-T-T-S-T-T-T

 

Kind of Blue

We normally think of music in terms of tones; we know what chord is being played, what chord is going to be played, and how to solo over top of a given chord with the knowledge of what the next chord is going to be. One chord is home, and all the other chords serve to get us back home; this framework is extraordinarily useful, but you can see how Miles Davis would have found it limiting. What George Russell brought to the table was the idea of thinking in modes; instead of having several chords, one of which is home, you could have very slow chord changes, perhaps just alternating between two chords, but play in the same mode over both chords. The song “So What”, featured on Davis’ album Kind of Blue, is a great example of this; it modulates between D Dorian and E flat Dorian, but the simple chord changes allow the soloists to paint with a complex modal palette. You can practice this yourself; create scales using the same mode for two different notes, and transition between the two. This is even better if you have a partner to play the chords for you.

In a Silent Way

Never one to settle into routine, Davis changed the game again with his seminal album, In a Silent Way. This is considered to be one of the first jazz fusion albums; it abandoned many of the stylistic notions about the instruments that could be heard in jazz, incorporating electric guitars and pianos. This was seen by some as Davis’ “going electric” moment, and it was received in a manner not dissimilar from Dylan’s; many of the era’s puritans were not happy the jazz giant had gone “rock”. Of course, In a Silent Way is not really a rock album – it’s a jazz fusion album, and any aspiring trumpeters who don’t think they can jam with their rockist electric guitar playing friends should give it a listen.

Davis’ life and work show that music is not a stagnant, tightly defined thing; the more open minded you are about what you can play and what your music can be, the more innovative and creative you can become. Pick up your trumpet and play something different – you never know where it might lead.

 

Tones and Semitones

Today, we’re going to explore some of the fundamentals of Western music. What we’re learning about is one of the most integral building blocks of most of the music you’ve ever heard in your life – we’re learning about tones and semitones. In order to explore these concepts further, it’s helpful to understand the 12-note, or chromatic, scale.

The Chromatic Scale

You probably already know the chromatic scale without even realizing it: A A# B  C C# D D# E F F# G G#. In this scale, if you take any two adjacent notes and sound them, the ratio between their frequencies will be the same as if you took any other two adjacent notes and sounded them. Explained more simply, the difference between B and C sounds the same as the difference between C# and D; when you play all the notes in a row, you’ll be able to hear what I mean. There’s quite a bit of math behind this, and it includes logarithmic scales. Suffice to say the ratios are the same between notes, and that’s useful when we’re studying music. A tuning in which the ratio between any two adjacent notes is the same is known as an equal temperament.

Semitones and Tones

“Any two adjacent notes with the same ratio as any other two adjacent notes” is not a useful way of describing where and what notes are, though. Instead, we can talk about tones and semitones. When you move from one note to an adjacent one, you’ve gone up one semitone; A# to B is a semitone, and so is E to F.

 

A tone, then, is two semitones. A to B is a one tone difference, as is C# to D#. You’ll notice that most of the time, going up a semitone brings you from natural to sharp (or sharp to natural), while going up a whole tone brings you from natural to natural (or sharp to sharp). This is not the case with B or E; going up a whole tone from these notes brings you to a sharp, while going up a semitone brings you to a natural. This is important to keep in mind as you learn more about music theory.

Uses

Starting at any given note, you can use semitones to find a wide variety of different consonant or dissonant notes. You can, for example, choose any note and move up 7 semitones to find that note’s perfect fifth; moving up 5 semitones, conversely, can find you a perfect fourth. You can describe any musical interval in semitones, as they are the building block of modern music theory.

Other Systems

While most Western music will be composed with notes that match up with the notes of our chromatic scale, there are some styles of music that do not use the same temperment. There are, for example, unequal temperaments, or equal temperaments other than 12 (the 19 equal temperament). The transitions between notes in such temperaments may be less pronounced than the transition in our chromatic scale; we describe tonal changes that are less than a semitone as microtones. Many musicians write microtonal music; you can check out Tolgahan Çoğulu, a guitarist who makes microtonal tunes I thoroughly enjoy. You can also check out King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s “Flying Microtonal Banana”.

On Your Instrument

Semitones and tones are, of course, all over many instrument. With a guitar, anytime you move up a fret, you’ve moved up a semitone. When it comes to piano, the nearest key is a semitone up (or down) from the key you’re playing; that’s why your B and C notes and E and F notes don’t have any black keys in between (black keys are all sharps and flats on a piano).

There’s so much more to learn about music theory – like what if we stopped talking about tones altogether? You’re going down an exciting path when you learn how music is made, and how it’s thought about; for keyboard lessons that will keep you thrilled about learning, you can always call us. We’ll go over theory, practice and technique, so that you can learn and create your own masterpieces on the piano.

 

Some Notes on Rhythm

Our Winnipeg in home music lessons will teach you about rhythm – but what is rhythm? One definition I particularly like is “timed movement through space”, a quote from Charlotte Jirousek. We seem to be able to feel rhythm from very young, and some speculate that the ability to feel rhythm has existed in humans since our prehistoric days. That means rhythm has been around since before we could write; the systems that we have placed on rhythm are our way of describing in language something we feel naturally. I don’t need to describe to you what a danceable beat sounds like for you to want to dance to Daft Punk’s early work when you hear it. Your body is naturally inclined to move to the beat.

There are a lot of techniques musicians use to make you want to dance, and we’ll get into those on another post, but for now, let’s examine how we describe rhythm. The time signature is one of the most important descriptors; it tells us how many of a type of note is in a single measure. The bottom number is the type of note, while the top number is how many of them are in a single measure; thus, 4/4 is four quarter notes to a measure, while 3/4 is three quarter notes to a measure. 2/2, conversely, would be two half-notes per measure, while 3/8 would be three eighth-notes per measure.

But how does it all feel?

Well, 4/4 can be expressed pretty simply; just say “1, 2, 3, 4” out loud over and over, with each number evenly spaced, and you’ve got the rhythm! Now, in the same amount of time that it took you to say “1, 2, 3, 4”, say “1, 2” over and over, and you’ll be in 2/2 rhythm! This is an interesting property of rhythm, because it’s felt – it’s not like a traditional fraction. Though you could say “1, 2, 3, 4” or “1, 2” in the same amount of time, evenly spaced, it feels different – slower. Now, try saying “1, 2, 3” over and over in the same amount of time, and you’ll find a totally different feeling; the feeling of 3/4. The odd number of notes per measure in this time signature always makes me want to sway – and for good reason. It’s the signature we see for waltz, and it gives a sort of off-kilter, exciting feeling. The nice thing about feeling out these rhythms is that you can do it without an instrument; just snap your fingers or clap your hands to the beat!

Time signatures can get a lot stranger than this, and we may go more into depth on that in another post; in the meantime, here’s something to try. Play 5 quarter notes evenly spaced to a measure, and you get 5/4 time; try it by saying or snapping “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” evenly over and over. You might find this one a little harder to groove to, but put on what might be the most popular example of this, Dave Brubeck’s recording of “Take Five”, and you’ll feel the rhythm in no time. NPR has a list of other songs in 5/4, though it doesn’t include one of my favorites, Radiohead’s “15 Step”.

While we’ve talked a lot about time signatures here, there is still one thing to discuss; how do we know how fast or slow to play? After all, 4/4 just tells us how many notes there are to a measure, but if I decide every measure is going to last 12 seconds, those 4 quarter notes are going to go by really sloooooowly.

In light of this, you can often find beats per minute (BPM) associated with a song. The “beats” in BPM are the same as the bottom number of our time signature notation; that means that a song in 4/4 at 120 BPM has 120 quarter notes in a minute. A song in 3/8 at 240 BPM would, therefore, take the same amount of time, as eighth notes are half as long as quarter notes; the two tracks, however, would be felt quite differently.