Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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.)

Drum Beats

Thursday, 6 September, 2012

On Saturday, a bunch of friends and I are getting the band back together. The fact that we never had a band before is irrelevant.

We’ve been talking about starting a band for years now. The main problem is that our musical abilities vary widely. AS has been teaching himself classical guitar for some time now. SI plays piano regularly. AS took piano lessons as a kid. DK is good at Guitar Hero. I learnt recorder at school but was never any good at it. So the proposal was that we all adopt instruments that we don’t know how to play, and learn together. I called dibs on drums.

And that was as far as we got for about three or four years. Then in March this year I walked into a music teaching place near where I live on the spur of the moment and booked a drum lesson. I kept up the lessons once a week (with a breaks for my trip in May, and one or two other weeks skipped). My teacher is Paul Watson, a Sydney session drummer who has worked with several bands. He’s been taking me through the drum instruction book he wrote, and at our lesson tonight we finished the last thing in the book. Next week we’ll start on the notes he’s putting together for a more advanced book – beginning with triplets! He says he expects people to take 6 to 12 months to work through the first book, and given I’m an adult who’s never really played a musical instrument before, he’s impressed that I’m at the short end of that band.

AssassinHere’s an example of the sort of stuff from the last section of the book that I can now play. This is the groove from John Mayer’s Assassin. I’m not actually familiar with the song, but when I play this it sounds like a beat I know. (For those of you who don’t know drum notation, the Xs are hi-hats, the middles notes are snare drums, and the bottom notes are bass drums.)

I’ve also been learning the basic groove and fills (the fancy bits) of a few easy songs, that we’re going to start playing together in our band on Saturday. While I’ve been learning drums from scratch, AS has been transferring from classical guitar to a lead electric guitar, and DK from Guitar Hero to a bass guitar. SI has claimed piano – which works since we’re going to jam at AS’s place, and he has a piano (his wife plays). AC is going to bring an electronic keyboard and figure out how to do the rhythm guitar pieces on that. We’ve also dobbed DMc in for vocals, but I’m not sure if he’ll be there on Saturday.

Our first set will include Brass in Pocket (The Pretenders), I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) (The Proclaimers), Cloud Factory (The Clouds), and Summon Bigger Fish (our own song, written by Evan Dean!). Plans are to include more difficult songs later as we get better: Starlight (Muse), Vertigo (U2), Run to the Hills (Iron Maiden). I fully expect us to do some filk as well. I think our repertoire is going to be very eclectic.

Musing on Muse

Tuesday, 21 August, 2012

I’ve been denying it… but it’s finally hit me. I’m old.

A week ago, I had not heard of the band Muse. After being exposed to one of their songs (Knights of Cydonia, for those keeping score), I was impressed and curious. And then one of the guys who is part of the group of friends with whom I am in the beginning steps of forming a band, suggested another Muse song as one we should learn to play (Starlight). Being on the same album as Knights of Cydonia, I grabbed the whole album (Black Holes and Revelations) from iTunes on a whim.

Oh. My. God.

How have I not heard of this band before??

I just grabbed the follow-up album, The Resistance, completely unheard, and am very seriously considering just buying everything they’ve released. And I see they have a new album coming out very soon… and I’m actually excited and full of anticipation.

How did I get into this state? That I can be totally unexposed to one of the biggest bands in the world, a band whose music it turns out I actually really like – once I hear it. I’m not hip and happening any more. I don’t get exposed to new music. I listen to the “oldies” radio station in the car (where “oldies” now seems to be defined as anything earlier than about 1995).

The years are weighing heavily, and I just don’t understand.

Losing my falsetto

Monday, 9 July, 2012

So, I’ve been noticing over the past year or so that I can’t sing falsetto any more. And it’s annoying.

I have no training whatsoever in singing. I’ve been told that my singing is poor. But I enjoy singing along to songs anyway. And for a long time I used to be able to hit (or at least spray with scattershot) ridiculously high notes by flipping into falsetto.

Only now I can’t. Whenever I try falsetto I get a creaky, raspy sound like there’s something wrong with my throat. I thought it might be temporary, or caused by a sore throat or something, but it’s been persistent for a long time now.

I did some quick Googling and found a bunch of sites talking about male singers losing their falsetto voice, and apparently it’s not a rare thing. But they were all on singing forums, and people were talking about stuff like “chest voice” and “head register” and “vocal cord flaps” and other things I didn’t really understand. Some places said that it’s common for males to lose falsetto as they become more trained in singing in their normal register, because of some technicality with how the vocal cords are being exercised or something, but I’ve never trained my voice in any way. I’m guessing it might just be a thing that gets people as they get older too.

So annoying.

Onya, Davo!

Wednesday, 13 June, 2012

So, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra welcomes David Robertson as its new Chief Conductor and Artistic Director beginning in 2014 after our current director, Vladimir Ashkenazy, ends his term next year. I’d not heard of Robertson before, but he’s an American and currently directing the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

I haven’t attended a lot of concerts during the directorship of Ashkenazy and before him Gianluigi Gelmetti, but the wife and I now have subscription tickets to concerts this year and I’m looking forward to renewing my regular concert-going. Before Gelmetti, I became very familiar with Edo de Waart, who held the reins for ten years. But I’ll never forget his predecessor, the inimitable Stuart Challender.

Or the concert I attended many years ago in which the Sydney Opera House concert hall was full of people waiting for a dose of classical music. Our beloved Stuart Challender walked on to the stage, to the front of the orchestra and stepped up on to the conductor’s platform. And someone in the audience yelled out very loudly, “Onya, Stuey!!

Only in Australia. I’m hoping David Robertson gets to experience the exuberant enthusiasm of Sydney audiences in a similar way during his tenure.

iTunes by genre

Wednesday, 7 December, 2011

Putting all my filed* music on to my iPad and exploring it with the “Genre” navigator reveals to me the following:

  • Alternative & Punk: 43 songs
  • Australian Pop**: 165 songs
  • Australian Rock: 622 songs
  • Classical: 136 “songs” (really movements)
  • Classical Crossover: 25 songs
  • Comedy: 56 songs
  • Country: 80 songs
  • Folk: 104 songs
  • Holiday: 15 songs
  • Jazz: 20 songs
  • Latin: 52 songs
  • Musical: 304 songs
  • New Age: 135 songs
  • Pop: 280 songs (non-Australian)
  • R&B/Soul: 20 songs
  • Rock: 1059 songs (non-Australian)
  • Soundtrack: 544 songs
  • Steampunk***: 13 songs
  • Swing: 46 songs
  • World: 42 songs

I still have a bunch of CDs to rip which will add stuff, mostly in the Soundtrack and Classical genres. I prioritised ripping popular music when I started the long process. The iPad (and iTunes) has these cool genre icons for most of these, but very annoyingly doesn’t have one for Musical. Nor Swing. (Nor Steampunk, but that’s kind of understandable.) It’d be nice if there was an easy way to add custom genre icons (of which there are lots), but apparently you need to dig through the guts of jailbroken code to do so, which isn’t my idea of fun.

* What’s the right word here? It’s not “digitised” because music on CDs I haven’t ripped is already digital. It’s not “ripped” because I’ve bought and downloaded many songs that aren’t ripped from CDs.

** Yes, I sub-genre-fy my pop and rock stuff into Australian and non-Australian. It helps split up two large categories into more manageable and searchable chunks.

*** Yes, Steampunk! I grabbed a free concept album. Some of it’s pretty good. “Clockwork Heart” in particular is brilliant.

iTunes sorting

Thursday, 8 September, 2011

I’ve been adding a lot of music to my digital collection recently, both by buying some stuff and ripping CDs I own. And so I run into the same old problems with the way iTunes sorts music. Actually it’s even worse on an iPod, because there’s no fancy GUI that you can customise with different columns and views and stuff. You’re stuck with selecting your songs by artist, by album name, or by composer. The problem is if I select by artist, part of the “B”s looks like:

  • Mike Batt
  • The Beatles
  • Bee Gees
  • Jodi Benson
  • Berliner Philharmoniker

Okay, The Beatles and Bee Gees make sense. However, Berliner Philharmoniker is a symphony orchestra. The two albums performed by them that I currently have on my iPod are Holst’s “The Planets” and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I also have some Beethoven performed by other orchestras. However, the name “Beethoven” is not on my artist list, because he’s a composer, not a performer! If I want to find Beethoven stuff on this list, I need to look up all the different orchestras that perform his work. And each different orchestra has an unrelated bunch of works by different composers.

Who are Mike Batt and Jodi Benson, I hear you ask? (Okay, some of you probably know already.) Mike Batt composed the stage musical version of The Hunting of the Snark, based on Lewis Carroll’s poem. It was recorded by several artists, and Batt himself performs one song on the album. The rest of the album is scattered amongst several other artists’ names on the iPod artist list. Jodi Benson is the voice of Ariel, The Little Mermaid, who performs two songs on the movie soundtrack album. Again, the other songs on the album are scattered through the artist list.

So, on a quest to find all my Beethoven in one convenient location, I switch to selecting by composer, where the “B”s look a bit like this:

  • Mike Batt
  • Garry Beers, Tony Bruno, The Matrix, & Shelly Peiken
  • Garry Beers, Andrew Farris, & Michael Hutchence
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Chuck Berry
  • Berry, Buck, Mills, & Stipe
  • Berry & Willis

There are about a bazillion composers in this list. Sometimes a rock album will have songs by a dozen different composers! Beethoven is there, but he’s surrounded by thousands of composers I don’t care about, most of whom have one songwriting credit on some rock album. That’s no good.

And how do I find the entire Hunting of the Snark or Little Mermaid, should I wish to listen to the entire albums? I have to switch to a third view, the albums view. This view is not so bad, it does list all the albums as whole items, but the albums by any given artist (or composer) are all split up.

The solution to this? Well, there doesn’t seem to be a good solution. There are web pages and blog posts and forum questions all over the net with people asking how to sort their music better in iTunes. And there are no good answers. One common trick is to move the composer of classical works into the “Artist” field, so you see Beethoven in there with The Beatles and Bee Gees. But then the actual artist has to be deleted, or moved into some other field. It seems nobody has come up with a decent solution to this problem.

I was lamenting this fact at work today, when Andrew suggested that iTunes needs a “Primary” field, which is the primary sorting field you want to use for each album. It can be a radio button that selects one of either the artist, the composer, or the album name. For most stuff it defaults to the artist; for music marked as “Classical” in genre, it defaults to the composer; while for compilations, musicals, and soundtracks, it defaults to the album name. Then you can have a list that uses the Primary field to index all your music, and you’ll end up with a list that looks like:

  • The Beatles
  • Bee Gees
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • The Hunting of the Snark
  • The Little Mermaid

Ta da! All your music sorted into one list in a sensible way! You can find everything by the most likely name you want to use, and with no superfluous data cluttering up the list.

How about it, Apple?

Here Comes the Rain Again – It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)

Monday, 22 August, 2011

Falling in love with Eurythmics all over again.

I can’t believe it’s been 26 years since they released Be Yourself Tonight.

Yoda @ Hogwarts?

Thursday, 2 June, 2011

Is it just me, or did John Williams re-use the “sparkly” bit of Yoda’s theme in his Harry Potter soundtrack score?

Whistle while you work

Sunday, 24 October, 2010

Most of the people I work with use headphones to listen to music while they work. At least the engineers, coders, and researchers do – I suspect the admin departments don’t so much. I’m the rare exception who doesn’t generally have headphones on while busy.

Occasionally though I will take in my iPod and headphones – usually when I have a deadline looming and need to work solidly on something without being interrupted. Because normally I don’t have headphones on, I can hear everything that happens around me, so it’s fairly easy to overhear something and get distracted. That’s what I try to tune out by using some music so I can concentrate more solidly on my work.

But, doing this the past couple of weeks while working on some end-of-year reports, I notice that listening to music doesn’t really help me much. I find it distracting. I’ve never really used music consistently while I’ve worked on anything. I didn’t use music while doing school homework or studying or writing essays or any of that.

I brought my iPod into work because I figured it would cut out external distractions, but I find the music at least as distracting. I can’t help singing along (silently), or humming the tune in my head, and once I notice what I’m doing, my attention is fully on the music and not on my work.

Music has never been something I have filling the void of silence in the background while I’m doing other stuff. I like silence while I’m concentrating on stuff. I absolutely cannot read a book, for example, with music on. Music, to me, is something you pay attention to. Something you put on when you have time to sit on the lounge and do nothing else but listen. Or jump around the house like a rock star singing along to all the lyrics.

I like music, I really love some of it. But I seldom listen to it, because I find it so attention-grabbing. I think I’ve always been this way, but I only really noticed it in the past week while trying to work on that report at work, and finding myself distracted by the music. Despite deliberately bringing in an iPod to use while working, I found myself only turning it on for an hour or two a day, and getting more work done when it’s off.

I don’t know what it is. Music pierces my consciousness. I like it so much, but I can’t have it around when I need to concentrate on other things.