Friday, 11 May 2012

Modes 101

Guitar players always seem to want to one up the other guy by playing in modes (lets be honest, most girls don't care).  We arrogantly advertise that we know what is going on even if we don't have a clue.  Then we run home to search for a comprehensive guide to modes on Google but often the explanations are nearly impossible to understand.  I'm here to try and save you.  Here is the most basic way I can explain what modes are.

If we take the C major scale we find that the notes are arranged like this:
We can break that scale down to a series of half and whole steps like this:

C - D is a whole step, also called a whole tone
D - E is a whole step,
E - F is a half step, also called a semitone
F - G is a whole step 
G - A is a whole step
A - B is a whole step 
B - C is a half step.  

By looking at what makes up a scale, we should be able to see a pattern emerge. In the case of this major scale, we see this pattern:  Whole step, Whole step, Half step, Whole step, Whole step, Whole step, Half step.  Now here is where the fun comes in.  The different modes that we use are just this pattern beginning and ending at a different point.  Let me illustrate.
Here is the pattern for two octaves of a major scale, also known as the Ionian mode: (W stands for Whole step and H stands for Half step)
W W H W W W H - W W H W W W 

If we begin this seven part pattern on the second degree we get something that goes like this:
W H W W W H W  (starting on the second W of the above pattern)
This is called the Dorian mode.  This is a very neat minor sounding mode to play in.  Think Halo splash screen...

If we start on the first H of the pattern we get this:
H W W W H W W 
This is the phrygian mode.

The Lydian mode starts on the next degree:
W W W H W W H  This one sounds a little like a major on the bottom end of the scale and a little minor on the top

The Mixolydian mode begins like a major scale and is major all almost the way through.

The Aeolian mode uses this pattern:
W H W W H W W  This one will sound familiar to most guitar players since it is also known as the natural minor scale and the majority of rock and blues is built on this mode.  The seventh degree of this scale is often raised in order to strengthen the pull back to the tonic pitch.

This last pattern is an interesting one.  Because it has two naturally occurring tritones in it, many music theorists consider it to not be a mode at all, however it is almost indispensable for a jazz player.  Here is the Locrian mode:

An Irish guy (and one of the better human beings around) told me a little saying to remember the order of the modes and it goes like this:

I          Don't    Play       Like     Most           Average Lads
Ionian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolian Lochrian

And that's that!  Good Luck!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Study Stragities for Musicians

A friend of mine posted a link to this on my wall... I bet that many of you who read this will find it interesting.

The Piano Player Confessions
I recently received a message from an accomplished piano player. Let’s call him Jeremy.  This is someone who majored in piano performance at music school, where he was one of the top two students in the major. He won state-level competitions throughout his college career.  Jeremy wrote in response to my recent article on the surprisingly relaxed lives of elite musicians. He told me that post agreed with his experience.  “I, and the other strong students in my department, did practice less than the weaker students,” he said.  He then went on to explain exactly what he and the other strong students did differently as compared to their less accomplished peers.  I reproduced his explanation below (I added the headings and edited the text slightly), as I think it offers profound insight into the difference between the type of work most of us do and what it actually takes to become so good they can’t ignore you.  As you read Jeremy’s strategies, ask yourself what it would mean to apply these same ideas to your livelihood, be it as a writer, programmer, consultant, student, or professor. When I performed this exercise I was embarrassed by the gap between what I should be doing (if I want to maximize my ability), and what I actually do. Good food for thought as we roll toward a new year…
Jeremy’s Strategies for Becoming Excellent…
  • Strategy #1: Avoid Flow. Do What Does Not Come Easy.
    “The mistake most weak pianists make is playing, not practicing. If you walk into a music hall at a local university, you’ll hear people ‘playing’ by running through their pieces. This is a huge mistake. Strong pianists drill the most difficult parts of their music, rarely, if ever playing through their pieces in entirety.”
  • Strategy #2: To Master a Skill, Master Something Harder.
    “Strong pianists find clever ways to ‘complicate’ the difficult parts of their music. If we have problem playing something with clarity, we complicate by playing the passage with alternating accent patterns. If we have problems with speed, we confound the rhythms.”
  • Strategy #3: Systematically Eliminate Weakness.
    “Strong pianists know our weaknesses and use them to create strength. I have sharp ears, but I am not as in touch with the physical component of piano playing. So, I practice on a mute keyboard.”
  • Strategy #4: Create Beauty, Don’t Avoid Ugliness.
    “Weak pianists make music a reactive  task, not a creative task. They start, and react to their performance, fixing problems as they go along. Strong pianists, on the other hand, have an image of what a perfect performance should be like that includes all of the relevant senses. Before we sit down, we know what the piece needs to feel, sound, and even look like in excruciating detail. In performance, weak pianists try to reactively move away from mistakes, while strong pianists move towards a perfect mental image.”

 CLICK HERE.  It is the link to the page that this was originally on

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Brian May built a guitar too!

A while ago I built a guitar and I was so proud of myself that I posted all about it.  Now the other day, a buddy of mine posted this video on his wall on Facebook and I just have to share it with you.  It turns out that I'm not the only person who has built a guitar and documented it.  I already knew that Brian May (guitar player for Queen) was involved in guitar building because he has written a forward in my 'how to build a guitar' book, but I didn't know that it was his first guitar.  It's nice to have it all laid out nicely in short-video form too.  So I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Click HERE  for the video.

its on which is a fine way to waste a day so after you are done watching this video, click 'random video' near the top of the page and enjoy!  Its like someone took only the best videos from youtube and made a website about it!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Amps that go up to 11

This will just be a short post today...

There you have it kids!  Who doesn't want a guitar amp that goes up to 11?  Who doesn't want a tsunami of sound so powerful, so excellent it actually might make one pee?  The amps of mine that I use most often don't have any numbers on them at all so mine might... but then again they might not.  Anyway all you guitar players (and bass players too), when shopping for your next amp, look for knobs that turn to 11.  Try it out to make sure its not a cheap marketing gimmick, then Blast away my friends.... blast away.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

laser music!

So I was looking at nerdy things to do when you are not playing video games or musical instruments and I came upon this youtube video about a guy who took an arduino chip and some lasers and some other goodies and made this thing.  It made me want to go out and buy all of everything to make it.  Now the thing that makes me so excited is that I will be taking a computer programming course along with all of my music courses this semester... I could do something equally geeky with the knowledge that I hope to acquire.  I'll post if I do.  For the meantime though, Enjoy!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Mozart was nerdy

So this past week in Music History I have been doing an assignment where I had to take a couple of arias from a couple of Mozart Operas and analyze them and write a little about each one.  One of the arias that I  talked about in my paper was an aria called "O Isis und Osiris" from the opera "Die Zauberflöte" or 'the magic flute'.  Here is the basic idea of what happens in that opera:
 In the first act, Tamino is introduced.  He is a prince who being chased by a snake, faints and is rescued by three ladies; servents of the queen of the night.  Papageno, a bird watcher who needs a girlfriend appears, as Tamino is coming to.  Papageno lies to Tamino and tells him that he saved him when it was actually the three ladies.  The Ladies appear and punish Papageno by rendering him speechless by means of a padlock on his mouth.  They then show Tamino a picture of a lovely maiden with whom (of course) he instantly falls in love with and would do anything for.  The Queen of the night then appears and tells Tamino that the maiden's name is Pamina and is her daughter, tells Tamino that he can marry her if he rescues her.  The queen then departs.  The three ladies give Tamino a magic flute to change the hearts of men, unlock Papageno's face and give him some magic bells of protection, and send them both on a quest to rescue Pamina from Sarastro, an enemy to the queen.  At the end of the first act, everyone has been captured by Sarastro and Papageno and Tamino are taken toward the Temple of Ordeal.
 Act 2 begins on the way to the Temple.  It is determined that Tamino and Pamina are to be married and that Tamino is to succeed Sarastro in Sarastro's secret society as long as he passes all the ordeals.  Tamino is told that the Queen of the night is bad and she tries to rule with trickery and deception.  Sarastro then sings the aria Isis und Osiris as a prayer to protect Tamino and Pamina.  The ordeals begin with the promise that if Tamino is triumphant he will save Pamina.  Papageno also takes the trial with the promise of a woman for him too. At the end of various trials, Tamino and Pamina are united and celebrated for their success in the trails and Papegano wins the lovely Papagena, the Queen and her three maidens are cast into everlasting night and everyone else lives happily ever after. 
Wow! Queens of Darkness, secret societies, bells of protection, a flute to change the heart of someone, magic?  Now you can't tell me thats not a little nerdy. Now even though Mozart didn't write the words to the opera, he did work with  Emanuel Schikaneder, the guy who did and I imagine that Mozart could have changed elements of the plot if he wanted to... but he didn't.  You know, I bet that had Mozart been born in the 1980's he would have grown up playing D&D and would at this very moment be playing World of Warcraft.  He would probably also compose some of the best metal that anyone has ever heard and could probably play guitar with the greats.  The masterpieces that he would write would be for movies with epic plots with swords, dragons, Queens of Darkness, secret societies, bells of protection, a flute to change the heart of someone, magic and it would probably rival StarWars on the scale of awesome nerdyness....  And this would all be done from the comfort of his mother's basement. just sayin'.
Now the best part about all of this is that like most nerds, Mozart was really really smart.  If you read into all the symbols of this opera, it really tells quite a different story.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Theory in Practice

So here is something that twisted my noodle.
One of my classes that I take at school is a studio class.  That means that I have one on one music lessons on the piano.  My instructor is one of my favourite people at the school and I have recently been informed that she knows every piece on the planet.  Wow.  Anyway thats not what twisted my noodle.  I was working on some technique with my instructor (no good), when I discovered that there are only 3 diminished seventh chords ever.  EVER!  This is how it works:
A diminished seventh chord is made up of three minor thirds.  Because that is the case, it turns out that the root position of that chord is also the first inversion of the diminished seventh chord that begins a minor third down.  At the same time it also is the second inversion of the chord starting 2 minor thirds (or a diminished fifth) below.  At the same time as the chord is being those three cords, it also happens to be the third inversion of the chord that starts a minor third below that!!  Wow!  So when one chord actually equals four chords, and there are 12 keys in our tonal system, then only three of these chords are needed to cover all of the diminished sevenths of every key!  And the coolest thing is, that when you are playing these things on a piano, the fingering never changes!  Guitar will be much the same *if you want to change keys, just slide up the neck right?  Anyway I was thinking and from a composition standpoint, these chords could be used as a really nice pivot chord when you want to change keys and want to be a little sneaky about it.
Well, thats enough nerdy raving for today.

Total Pageviews