Archive for October, 2012

D Major

Wednesday, 31 October, 2012

So, I learnt a thing about music last night. I learnt what a major chord is.

This may seem paltry to those of you with any musical training, but it’s something that I genuinely never understood before. I had that moment of insight where it suddenly became clear, and it’s now a piece of knowledge in my head that I never had before.

I’ve known for a long time how to play a C major chord on a piano. Someone showed me that way back when I was a kid. You find C – that’s a white key immediately to the left of a pair of black keys. Then you find E, which is two white keys to the right. Then you find G, which is another two white keys to the right. Play C-E-G simultaneously, and that’s a C major chord.

I’d got it into my head that these “major chord” things therefore involved the same finger pattern on the keyboard. So, for example, if you just shift one white key to the right, you end up on D-F-A. And that should be “D major”. Right?

It turns out that’s wrong!!!

What you really need to do is count all the keys between the notes, the white and the black ones. Going back to C major, the keys are: C, C#, D, D#, E. You need to count 4 keys from C to get to E. (C# is 1, D is 2, D# is 3, E is 4.) And then to go from E to G, you need to go: F is 1 (because there is no E# black key), F# is 2, G is 3. 3 keys.

So a major chord is a note, plus the note 4 keys above it, plus the note 3 keys above that.

So if you start at D, you go: D# is 1, E is 2, F is 3, F# is 4. Then G is 1, G# is 2, A is 3.

Which means that D major is in fact D-F#-A, and not D-F-A as I’d always assumed!

I was genuinely delighted when I realised this. And now, I can actually figure out the correct major chords starting at any note I want! I honestly feel like going to a piano and figuring them all out and playing them. It’s one tiny piece of knowledge and understanding that has opened up a way for me to expand my horizons beyond a rote-learnt single chord, into a larger field of chords that I can just calculate correctly, on-the-spot, any time I need them.

And you know, in hindsight, it actually makes sense. I know that a piano is conventionally tuned so that the tone interval between each successive key – regardless of whether they’re black or white – is equal. So the interval from E to F is the same as the interval from F to F#, called a semitone. So in a major chord the intervals are always 4 semitones, and 3 semitones. I had never made that realisation before.

As I said, this may seem trivial to anyone who knows any music theory, but to me this is a revelation, like a blindfold being lifted from my eyes. I was, and still am, genuinely excited. Music theory has always seemed completely opaque to me. No longer! (I know there’s a lot more to be learnt, but I gotta start somewhere.)

Sydney Baseball Ground?

Thursday, 25 October, 2012

So, apparently the New South Wales Government tourism department is negotiating with Major League Baseball to host the 2014 MLB season opening games of the LA Dodgers here in Sydney. Cool! Well, just a shame it’s the Dodgers and the not the Giants. But hey. My wife’s been keen to go to a big baseball game with me for years, but we didn’t get the chance when we visited the US.

I hope this plan works out. And at the Sydney Cricket Ground too. I saw Darren Gough’s Ashes hat trick there. I saw Fanie de Villiers’ amazing ten-wicket performance to win the 1994 bushfire Test match for South Africa against all odds. I saw Brian Lara’s 277 run innings. Hopefully in 2014 I can see whatever the other team is beat the Dodgers. :-)

Local assumptions

Monday, 22 October, 2012

Reading the October National Geographic. The opening sentence on an article about leaves:

we have all held leaves, driven miles to see their fall colours, eaten them, raked them, sought their shade.

Well…. No. I’ve never gone anywhere to see leaves in fall colours. And I’ve never raked leaves. Where I live, almost all the trees are evergreen. It’s not as if I’m lazy or something. As far as I’m aware, I don’t even know anybody who owns a rake.

Later in the same article, it makes a point about leaves in cold places, saying they have teeth, “like birches and cherries”. Presumably this is meant to provide a familiar reference point to readers. However, I have no idea what a birch or a cherry leaf looks like. We don’t have those sorts of trees here. I had to Google to find photos of the leaves to know what that sentence about the leaves having “teeth” meant.

Not that I’m complaining. I just find it fascinating when an author’s assumptions about the audience they’re writing for are not necessarily valid.

Hi-fi resolution

Saturday, 20 October, 2012

So, after some advice from here and elsewhere on my previously described hi-fi problem, I figured I’d try disconnecting the speakers one by one to see if I could isolate the problem. I loaded the offending Dr Who DVD, stuck the intro music on a repeat loop, and began fiddling.

First I reconfirmed the problem. The first thing I figured out was that it only occurred with the volume turned up above a certain level. Below about -30dB on my amp’s volume scale, no problem. Above that limit, the amp kept switching itself off at loud parts of the music.

Next I disconnected the left main speaker wires at the rear of the amp. Turned the volume up… and the amp stayed on. I reconnected the left speaker wires, turned the amp up… real high, to about -15 dB (way louder than we ever play anything), and it stayed on! I played with it a bit more to confirm the behaviour.

So, it looks like the wires connecting the left main speaker to the amp were somehow slightly unstable in their connection. Taking them out and reconnecting them seems to have completely solved the problem. I presume the wires were at some point close enough to be sparking or otherwise shorting when a loud bit of sound was being sent to the speaker, resulting in the amp circuit-breaking itself in self-preservation.

Yay! Thanks to all who suggested trying this.

Hi-fi problem

Tuesday, 16 October, 2012

Okay, I have a weird failure symptom of my audio gear. We upgraded our TV and speakers a few months ago, but still have the same DVD player and amplifier. A few nights ago we popped in a Dr Who DVD, planning to watch the Eccleston season again from the beginning. At a point in the first episode where there should have been an explosion (judging by the video), the amplifier spontaneously switched itself off. I switched the amp back on, rewound the DVD, and tried playing through the explosion again, 3 or 4 times, and the amp switched itself off at the same point each time.

Each time when I turned the amp back on, the front panel displayed an error message “CHK SPKR WIRES”, which I’ve never seen before, for a couple of seconds, before returning to normal working order. There’s no problem with the speaker connections as far as I’m aware – all speakers seem to be working fine. We watched the remainder of the episode, which also contained several more explosions, but the amp didn’t glitch at those.

We then watched a second episode on the same DVD, and it worked fine, until one point in the episode where the amp switched itself off again. There was no visual explosion on screen this time, and rewinding and playing through again caused the amp to switch off again at the same point, so I don’t know if there was a loud sound in the soundtrack at that point or not. Once past that point, the amp didn’t glitch again.

Last night we watched a DVD movie, without incident.

Just now, I put on the third Dr Who episode from the same DVD, and the amp is now turning itself off multiple times during the opening music/credits sequence. So annoying that we gave up and put the DVD away.

So now I’m wondering if it’s something to do with the audio levels on this Dr Who DVD, which might be overloading my new speakers and causing the amp to switch off in self-preservation, or if the amp is actually breaking down. We’ve watched this DVD before, with the same amp, but with older speakers, with no incident. I may have to do more experiments, but does anybody out there have any insights?

Colour shift

Thursday, 4 October, 2012

Angelic LutistI took this photo in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice earlier this year. It’s a detail of the painting Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Vittore Carpaccio, painted in 1510. This detail shows an angel playing the lute, sitting on the steps below the alter where Mary is presenting the baby Jesus.

It turns out this is a very popular detail from this painting, and you can find dozens of similar images just showing this portion of the painting on the web. The weird thing is how different in colour they all are. I presume many of them were taken as photos some time ago, and since then the painting has been restored, giving it the vibrant colours you can see in my photo. Because that’s what it looked like to me when I was standing right there in front of it. The skirt (pants, whatever that is) was a vibrant blue, as you see here in my photo. But most of the other web images of this same painting show it to be a drab, and even non-blue colour. Wikipedia’s version is astoundingly poor in colour.