Saturday, March 13, 2010

More on Music

From the guy what doesn't know much of anything about music ...

If you have heard a song and you are a singer or player, you can figure it out -- you don't need to have the musical notation. This is why folk songs, blues, and a lot of rock require no musical sensing ability beyond that of a good ear. You hear it, you repeat it, and that's how it gets passed along. It's the same way we learn to talk as children.

None of the Beatles could read music. They did all right for a Liverpool bar band.

If, on the other hand, you want to play a piece of music you have never heard before, that's where the notation is useful. The language gives you the notes, the timing, rhythm, keys, all that, and if you can sight read and are a master of your instrument, you can play a piece flawlessly having never experienced it before. In the days before recordings and lacking direct contact, if you wanted to play a Bach fugue, all you needed was the sheet music and a will.

These days, it's easier. Goggle it, listen, and for a guitar, tablature or TAB will be enough because you already know the other stuff. (TAB shows you the fingering on a stringed instrument, using a number to indicate a fret, upon a line that represents the string. You do a schematic of the fretboard and it tells you exactly where to put your fingers. )

Me, I don't play songs I've never heard. No reason to go there. That's why I'm not a musician of any -- pardon the pun -- note.

Part of what you get instinctively by listening is the cadence. In standard notation, the time is usually denoted by a fractional symbol on the staves: 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc. And there are other symbols on the staves that indicate where you should slow down or speed up. I love the word "rubato," which means you can mess around with the time as needed. So if somebody says, "Hey, you lost the groove there, dude." you can say, "Naw, man, it was rubato, you know?"

I love it that the word "rubato," from the Italian, means, literally, "robbed."

4/4 is the most common time in western music, and sometimes you see it indicated by a big "C," which started out meaning one thing but which has come to mean "common time."

Most blues and rock are in common time, as are many folk songs. When you hear the lead singer cranking up with "One, two, three, four!" that's 4/4 time. Usually two of those beats get the accent. Front beat, back beat, middle beat ...

So the bottom number is the note that gets the beat and the top number how many such notes appear in each measure. So 3/4 time would be one-two-three, one-two-three, and most waltzes are in this time. As is our earlier musical example by the Beatles when talking about key, "Blackbird."

Notes start with a whole one and then get broken down into fractions -- half-note, quarter-note, eighth, etc., each has a different symbol, and they have funny names. An eighth note, for instance, is a quaver. A sixty-fourth note is a hemidemisemiquaver. Is that fun, or what?

And that pretty much exhausts my knowledge of that subject ...


daniele.perkele said...

That's funny, I wrote a post in my blog just a few days ago, about "common time" in music and the pentatonic scale and so on...

Shady_Grady said...

Interesting. Also a lot of blues of jazz that may appear to be in common time is really in compound time. 6/8 or 12/8.

heina said...

A comment on TAB, or tablature.

I got the impression for many years that classically trained musicians turned their nose up at people who couldn't "read music." And music of course meant staff music with notes and italian. More recently though, tab seems to be the accepted and preferred method for guitar music notation.

For guitarists, there is huge value with tab in terms of fingering, chord phrasing and placement on the neck. The same notes can be played at multiple locations, and there are important tonal differences between each string and position. There are also a lot of vocal style ornamentations in popular guitar music (bends, slides, mutes, etc) that are hard or impossible to describe in "real music."

You have got to hand it to the Internet community as well. Almost any song has been "tabbed out" on various sites. Some of my favorite sites will have multiple submitted tabs that are individually rated.

Check out the classic "Brown Eyed Girl" from Van Morrison:

There are no fewer than 4 different versions of the intro, all phrased differently, that may work for various performers hand size or personal tonal preference. And there are 20 different arrangements of the rest of the song.

Steve Perry said...

TAB used to be fairly common for lute players, too. Though musical notation does have more information, string players familiar with a piece seem to do okay with TAB -- the guitar magazines will usually offer both on a piece they offer.

Classical guitarists are, by and large, snobs when it comes to pedagogy. Whichever way they learned how to play is the Best Method, and everything else is for second-rate hacks ...

Like most fingerstyle players, I tend to take whichever arrangement I find and fiddle with it a bit. Sometimes that's because it's too hard for me to play; sometimes it's because I find places on the neck that sound better to me. Melody is usually in the chords somewhere, and you can pick single notes or double-stops or arpeggios and come up with an intro or break between verses. Has to be simple for me to pull it off, but it's fun to try.

steve-vh said...

As a former music major (and it was music theory that made me switch majors) not a 6/8ths bad summation.
i'm still in awe of Organists who can fill in the other three voices just by being given the base line and the chord changes, ect.

btw, are you familiar with "The
Black Page by Zappa? Mostly for drummers and some of it is 7/16. And there are guys who can play it! Check youtube for Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai. Bozzio is a polyrhythmic genius and was 30+ years ago when I was starting to play.

Zappa says it has "statistical density".

Anybody (well not anybody) can play fast and crazy but multi time and melodic? Not many.