Thursday, June 24, 2010

Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor Modes

The melodic and harmonic minor modes function exactly like their major counterpart, except the intervals vary slightly and the modal names are significantly harder to memorize. The Ionian scale, which is the modal name for our universal major scale, is the parent to 6 other scales which are considered modes. The easiest way of envisioning and understanding the way modes work would be to play the C major scale on a piano: playing C to C would be your Ionian mode (W-W-H-W-W-W-H), playing D to D while still remaining on all the white keys would be your second mode, the Dorian mode (W-H-W-W-W-H-W). Inevitably these scales (while containing the same notes) will have a different feel because the intervals have been shifted into new places; for example C Ionian has a major third and the D Dorian mode contains a minor third and is a minor scale. Also, the chords which fit underneath the scales can be found by playing the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the mode, the relating 7th chord. If we were to take the 1, b3, b5 and b7 of the Locrian scale we would have a m7b5 chord, which is exactly when we would opt to play the Locrian scale. Here is a list of the major modes and their tensions as reference:

I - Ionian - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (M7) *(Alterations are based on the major scale)*
II - Dorian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7 (m7)
III - Phrygian - 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 (m7)
IV - Lydian - 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 (M7)
V - Mixolydian - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7 (7)
VI - Aeolian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 (Natural minor scale) (m7)
VII - Locrian - 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7 (m7b5)

Now I'll write out the tensions for the Melodic and Harmonic minor modes. The tablature provided also has the chords and a few chord-melody examples for the two modes. The Melodic minor is actually just the major scale with a flatted 3rd but obviously it creates a hugely different feel over the course of 6 additional scales. The Harmonic minor is exactly like the Aeolian mode but has a raised or natural 7th.

I - Melodic Minor - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7
II - Dorian b2 - 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7
III - Lydian Augmented - 1, 2, 3, #4, #5, 6, 7
IV - Lydian Dominant - 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7
V - Hindu/Mixolydian b6 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7
VI - Locrian natural 2/Aeolian b5 - 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7
VII - Super Locrian - 1, b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, b7

I - Harmonic Minor - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
II - Locrian #6 - 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, 6, b7
III - Ionian #5 - 1, 2, 3, 4, #5, 6, 7
IV - Dorian #4 - 1, b2, b3, #4, 5, 6, b7
V - Phrygian #3 - 1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7
VI - Lydian #2 - 1, #2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7
VII - Altered bb7 - 1, b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, bb7

There are many more scales that make great and usable modes: the Harmonic major, Neopolitan major/minor, Hungarian major/minor, etc. I'll get around to posting those ones soon enough.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tritone Examples

When I first delved into Slonimsky's Thesaurus I was particularly absorbed by the work that was done in the dividing of octaves and in tritone progressions. Nevertheless, the examples were not well-suited for the guitar and I began to explore the possibility of creating symmetrical passages that were conducive to my style of play. I posted a video of my findings on YouTube and erroneously called it Tritone Slonimsky Stuff. And although the licks are all based on the principle element of the first chapter of the book, the material that I came up with has little to do with replicating any specific examples found within it.

My mission was to create as many bizarre examples as possible and have them all move up and down the neck in tritones, or, an augmented 4th/diminished 5th. I've created even more examples since then, the options you have are almost boundless, but for the sake of concision I've tabbed only the examples that are to be found in my video. I'll explain each of the 15 examples individually.

1. A 3 note per string whole tone scale. The ascending motif is always alternate picked and starts with a downstroke, the descending part is a mixture of 4 picked notes and a quick 3 note pull-off. I use this kind of picking mix because it makes for a fluid sound and is much quicker.

2. Stretchy lick. You can look at this two ways: 1) the lick is a root and major third going up in tritones and grouped into 4's or, 2) you're playing a 4 note (r, 3, b5, b7) scale in groups of 4. Either way the sound is awesome and the example is tough. Ascending is a mixture of hammer-ons and picking, the descending is much easier for the example and uses strict alternate picking.

3. Stretchier lick. This is the same exact pattern except only ascending and the notes are (1, 4, b5, 7) this time and the lick is a bit wider. Be careful not to overexert yourself on this kind of lick, you can easily end up with tendinitis like I once did. If you were to extend this type of lick another chromatic step and respect the tritone movement you'd have a weird doubled-up octave and b5 lick (1, b5, b5, octave).

4. 1, 2 and b3 going up in tritones. Alternate picking all the way to the short rest on the high E string and then you're off to a sweeping/pull-off lick that travels diagonally and chromatically across the fretboard. The double upstroke on the sweeping is more of an aggressive picking approach, you have to really dig in to it.

5. 1, 2 b3 again but the picking pattern changes a little bit. Similar descending movement but the shape is more of an augmented one.

6. 1, 2, b3 in thirds and always moving to a tritone on the next string. The descending part moves symmetrically and doesn't really adhere to a tonality. The final ascending area begins on Eb and moves up like example 5.

7. This one gets all four fingers involved. The pattern is four notes per string, three strings up and one string down, all the way to the top.

8. Same movement but a different fingering.

9. Slides! One pick stroke per string. The pattern is a half whole diminished.

10. I see this one as sliding into a major scale 3 note pattern, you repeat this on every tritone interval up the neck.

11. In this one you're sliding with your pinky, what a blast.

12. You can either pick this one or play it all with slides and hammer-ons; it's tabbed as the latter.

13. Another slippery variation of the half-whole diminished scale. All done in hammer-on and pull-offs.

14. This symmetrical lick is so fun to play and, once again, that aggressive double upstroke comes back into play. When you reach the bottom section of the lick it moves over chromatically and sweeps its way back up to be repeated yet again.

15. The exact same technique is used here but we're moving diagonally downwards to the lower left half of the fretboard.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chord Inversions Aplenty

Here's a pretty interesting array of chord inversions. All of the chord inversions are 7th (1,3,5,7) chords and feature a root chord and three inversions (3rd, 5th and 7th). I didn't have the room to write all of the information but consider the bottom note of each chord to dictate which inversion is being played - you can always compare that note to the root note and find it in your corresponding scale. I started the inversions as close to the top nut as possible, so you're not always starting on the root chord. Some of these sound really slick.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Alkan 'Perpetuum Mobile' Op. 30 Transcription

Before we get into the music side of things, I'd like to congratulate the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup and not letting it fall into the hands of the Flyers and the viking-bearded Scott Hartnell. My prediction was that the Hawks would win the series decisively, either 4-0 or 5-1, but Philly came out to play and matched their intensity in every game. Props to them for making it so far, although I would have preferred our Habs to have competed for the Lord's trophy. Anyways, let us move on to some music talk.

I've had this Alkan piece on my mind since the initial consideration for a blog page and it happens to be one of my favorite piano transcriptions. Although the transcription remains my basic note-for-note translation of the work, the issue with rendering music (especially from the piano) to the guitar, is the necessity to make all the legerdemain look and feel natural. Luckily, here, we have the piano part which is entirely melodic; if we were to take a more harmonic oeuvre from Alkan, such as the 'Symphonie Op. 39 No's 4-7,' we would certainly need to write for multiple guitars. The need for fluid transitioning, which should respect both picking and fretting, should not be overstated. Alkan's works are not insurmountable, even by the guitar's standard, but if we cannot negotiate the changes with grace the music falls apart and loses its appeal. Keep in mind that this kind of duplication offers a myriad of choices - the majority of notes on the guitar can be played in a multitude of places along the fretboard. Op. 30 is a tricky piece written in perpetuum mobile (perpetual motion) but, along with every other Alkan work I've ever heard, it is not without musical merit. I could never justifiably navigate the subtle and misconstrued history of the composer, however, the late Ronald Smith's 'Alkan: The Man, The Music' and Jack Gibbon's insightful essay entitled 'The Myths of Alkan,' are the best possible places to start.

Hold on to your socks!

N.B: Seeing as the transcription is almost 200 bars, I decided to add fingerings rather than picking instructions. Fingerings are easier to agree upon, whereas picking (unless specified for the exercise or etude) isn't always going to remain constant. For the sake of getting through the piece I use a bit of everything but for the areas with open string passages I've included the words 'hybrid picking' and use a combination of the pick (thumb and index) and my middle finger to pluck the open strings.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Keith Whalen - Etude Op. 1 No. 1

I've decided to upload my first ever completed etude, which is almost 2 years old now. I guess you can say that it's influenced somewhat by the Chopin Op. 10 No. 1 and the soaring effect of that etude; it also resembles the up and down arpeggiated format as well. The purpose of the piece is to abandon the sweeping technique and to accommodate a new method for playing arpeggios throughout several octaves. Here is the description I gave when I first posted it on YouTube in 2008:

"This arpeggio etude is based on triads being played in 3 octaves without using the traditional sweeping right hand technique. The fingerings are very important and cause for leaps to each octave, helping position switching and horizontal movement. To give you an idea of the shape of the arpeggios, the second triad at 0:03 seconds into the piece outlines a Dmaj7. It's fingerings are D and F# on the low E and then the seventh (C#) is played on A string. The shape then moves to the D an octave higher on the 12 fret of the D string, the shape repeats and finally you will use the same notes of the arpeggio starting from the D on the 15th fret on the B string. All the arpeggios are designed in this fashion, two notes then one note a string higher and then repeated throughout the 3 octaves.

Hopefully the tab provided will grant some insight into the technique and helps when following the music. The intent was a mixture of beauty and duty and hopefully the piece has enough musical merit to stand alone outside of the technical nitpicking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Descending Minor Pentatonics

I think it would realistic to assume that all guitar players have encountered the minor pentatonic scale in one form or another. Whether purposefully applied to your soloing techniques, or simply being aurally consumed during your favorite rock song, the scale is known to virtually everyone; Bobby McFerrin even demonstrated how even non-musicians can sing the scale with relative ease. After playing through many examples from Jason Becker and Shawn Lane (both of whom used elaborate note groupings) I decided to create a few exercises that would be fun to play through and optimize the alternate picking approach. As a famous Swedish rocker once said, "Sometimes less is less and sometimes more is more!"

There are 10 examples given, all of them assess a grouping of some sort and offer a new variation to the standard two note per string descending pattern. The groupings are written into the tablature; there are descending 4's 5's and 6's and some examples have obvious chromatic passages added into the mix. The fingerings adorn the tablature and ALL examples begin with a downstroke, followed by strict alternate (up/down/up) picking. You can elaborate even further if you wish, this is only but a small fragment of what is possible with the scale, and we're barely scraping the surface of what we can do with an 'outside' approach and applying it to progressions. Then there are the other 4 positions available to you, which can also be treated in the same fashion. I hope you find the examples worthwhile or, at a minimum, cure a day's worth of your idleness.

Slonimsky's 'Thesaurus' - Part 2: Bitonal Arpeggios

Bitonality, or the use of two distinct musical keys simultaneously, is a technique which has been used since the Classical era and seized the interest of many twentieth century composers. Igor Stravinsky, Ferrucio Busoni and Kaikhosru Sorabji were all very much involved with this approach and the latter's Transcendental Etude No. 10, a display of polytonal arpeggios, is an effective and vehement melange. His etude is strictly arpeggiated, which led me to believe that the examples from the Thesaurus can not only be musically relevant but may form the basis of a musical piece if one wishes to be so bold.

The focus of the bitonal arpeggio section in the Thesaurus is to exhibit the combination of the C major triad (C, E, G) with each of the 23 major and minor triads available. Some of the results are fascinating (CM+F#M, an implied Petrushka chord), others are musically consonant (CM+DM) and a few are slightly harder to appreciate (CM+C#m). The exercises, when played on guitar, can be beneficial in a couple of ways. Primarily, they are great for training the ear to hear triads; the alternation between the two distinct chords trains the ear to differentiate and focus on where the switch takes place. And of course the exercises are really taxing (at first) because of their bizarre shapes, and they demand larger than normal stretches in the fretting hand. I have included my preferred fingerings for each example but I have chosen not to include picking patterns because the examples are all played against C major and they change dramatically. I strive for the sweeping approach because it sounds a lot better if you can get it under the fingers, but at times there are two note per string patterns present and need to be approached with your choice of hammering or picking. I usually alternate pick more often than not but my personal choice in these exercises is the hammer-on because it mixes well with the sweeping that can be done when the triads align in their conventional form. One last thing before the examples - the T with the fingering numbers means a tap is required and there are exercises with three notes tapped in a row, this is treated as a tap-slide. But if you want to get crazy you can always manipulate the fret hand but be sure to avoid anything painful; I've already had a bad bout with tendinitis. Enjoy!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Slonimsky's 'Thesaurus' - Part 1: Pentatonics

Nicolas Slonimsky's 'Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns' is one of the most astonishing and puzzling books in the entire musical library. Having been studied by the likes of John Coltrane, Allan Holdsworth and Frank Zappa, the book has garnered much attention but still remains an obscure venture for the average musician. The book has little text and a myriad of musical examples (over 1500) which are defined by some quite outrageous terms: Interpolation, Ultrapolation, Infra-Inter-Ultrapolation, etc. This is something that constantly impedes further study of the book but can be understood with a bit of effort; many other segments of the book are easily accessible to the modern guitar player, the pentatonic one is especially rewarding.

Considering the entire book is written in standard notation (the Achilles heal of many guitar players) I have tabbed out all 49 pentatonic examples. I've also included my own fingerings and converted each example into an exercise of ascending and descending groupings of 4's. The lengthier exercises are great for hearing the tensions in context and, of course, they are very demanding in terms of dexterity and stamina. Each example is listed by its number in the Thesaurus and the tensions are given for the 5 notes of the scale in relation to the major scale. All examples begin on C, so if a minor pentatonic were to be played the resulting tensions would read: 1 (root), b3 (minor third), 4 (perfect fourth), 5 (perfect fifth) and b7 (dominant 7).

Slonimsky's encyclopedic efforts offer us a vast range of possible pentatonic examples. Exhausting, or rather, exposing almost all the possible examples seems to be the foundation of his efforts. Let me quote the final segment of Nicolas' introduction, which is both compelling and optimistic about the future of music:

- John Stuart Mill once wrote: "I was seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations. The octave consists only of five tones and two semitones, which can be put together in only a limited number of ways of which but a small proportion are beautiful: most of these, it seemed to me, must have been already discovered, and there could not be room for a long succession of Mozarts and Webers to strike out, as these have done, entirely new surpassing rich veins of musical beauty. This sort of anxiety, may, perhaps, be thought out to resemble that of the philosophers of Laputa, who feared lest the sun be burnt out."

The fears of John Stuart Mill are unjustified. There are 479,001,600 possible combinations of the 12 tones of the chromatic scale. With rhythmic variety added to the unbound universe of melodic patterns, there is no likelihood that new music will die of internal starvation in the next 1000 years. - Nicolas Slonimsky, 1 January 1947 Boston, Massachusetts