Sunday, July 16, 2017


Thursday's practice was thirty minutes of doing scales.

The Cecelio arrived in early July of 2016. That means last week I marked the first year of learning violin. I can basically get through a tune now. Accidentals, string crossing, shifting, the start of a vibrato. I'm not doing much in special bowing and I've yet to assay a double stop.

This next year is basically about refining. About, more than anything else, getting comfortable. Right now it still takes so much concentration there are days I simply can't practice.

And, yeah, I'm expanding my practice needs as well. I've been mostly toying with the bass, and that will probably be enough until I actually have a tune I need it for. The penny whistle needs some time in the rotation; I'll probably start taking that to work to at least nail down the scales and get a few flicks into muscle memory. And I've got an upcoming composition I'm tempted strongly to add a darbuka.

(The darbuka is one of the greater group of instruments out there; the ones that you can learn the basics of and kinda-sorta play in a few hours. Unlike the violin, which is weeks of doing exercises -- often without the violin at all -- before you can play a limited tune. All instruments, of course, take vastly more time to get any good at.)

I've also been hitting the books on music theory. Again, there's a lot to be learned there. Music theory reminds me quite a bit of Renaissance astronomy. See, there are inherent mathematical relationships between tones and the harmonic structure of those tones. And there are psychoacoustic responses we humans have to combinations of those tones.

Out of these simple rules, however, comes near-incalculable complexity. What is needed is a simplified structure, an imposed grammar (like the Latinate grammar that got hammered over the Germanic-rooted and rather different linguistic processes of English.) A structure or grammar that will allow working musicians to communicate, to plan, to tune, to build, to otherwise get on with the business of making music.

The Greeks took a stab at such a system and we've been building around it since, adding to, modifying, re-interpreting and distorting until the original Greeks wouldn't recognize it. The thing you have to remember, though, is buried under all the "plagal cadence descending from a diminished major triad with flatted seventh" is actual frequencies and their harmonics.

Frequencies and harmonics that will never, ever, quite line up perfectly. No matter what tuning or which harmonic minor you reach for, no single formulae works for everything. It is positively Goedellian; there can exist no consistent single system of music.

Well, I do have one new thing I've already learned from my studies. And that's a key thing about modes (or scales). When you are composing a piece, you aren't "in" a mode. You assert a mode.

Let me make this really simple. I set out to compose a tune in A minor. I start on A, because that's the key I'm in, right? I go up to G because that sounds cool. After a little more wandering I end up on C.

And, whoops. The tune I wrote is basically in C Major. Because that's the relative Major of the key I was trying for. The notes are exactly the same. It's the same white notes. The problem is, I set up a classic IV-V-I sequence there -- a sequence rooted in those underlying harmonics I mentioned earlier -- and thus the piece "feels" like C was the tonic all along.

Sure, I could bring in some harmony parts and assert the triads of A Minor, and that would pull the perception of the key around. Thing is, if you are a beginning composer, and you start with the tune, then fumble around finding chords that go with it, probability is against you finding the ones that really go with (or allow you to modulate from then return strongly to) the key you wanted to be writing in.

I should really spend another year at this, but I'm eager to monkey up some new tunes.

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