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JimLucas

How We Think Music Really Works

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Starting with this post and continuing (at least) through this post, the thread for the October 2013 Tune of the Month seems to have morphed into a discussion of tricks, techniques, and further discussion regarding creating arrangements of tunes. I think this is a worthwhile discussion that deserves to be continued under a title less cryptic than "Xotis Romanes", and that this Teaching and Learning subForum is the right place for it. I hope others will agree and continue the discussion here.

I've created the topic title, "How WE think music really works" (now why do I think the Forum software is going to change my capitalization?) by altering the title of a book recommended by Rüdiger Asche(and the first 6 chapters of which are available for free on the internet), to place the emphasis on our own thoughts, rather than the author's. Personally, I was put off by the book's introduction, which reads like a standard "guaranteed plan to get rich", except by writing music instead of investing in the stock market. But knowing Rüdiger, I'll read further before passing final judgement.

What I'm pretty sure of is that we have a variety of individual ideas of "how music really works", not only in arrangement, but in other aspects -- e.g., accompaniment, composing, or simply listening, -- and that we can benefit from sharing and comparing these ideas.

 

I hope to find time to add some specific comments and observations of my own later today (and mostly likely beyond), but I have some chores to do first, so I hope some of the rest of you will continue this thread even before I do. How about it?

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Yes I agree Jim... and sorry for blocking up the TOTM...... I'll get around to recording my setting of it... soon I hope.

 

But at the start this thread may I make a comment about listening ?

I do 'read' the dots but I recognise that I am much more an 'Ear' player and thus I spend a huge amount of time listening to recordings and letting the ideas of others soak into my thick head.

 

Luckily for me, in this respect, I work alone and thus I can have my choice of music 'on' all day long, it does not interfere with my work most of the time. So, I can enjoy up to eight hours of listening to whatever is my current favorite genre or musician... I can play the same track over and over, all day, if I'm trying to learn a tune or pick up an emotion.

 

This morning it is Reinhardt and Grappelli but it could be Bach or Telemann, Brubeck or Dapper's Delight, etc etc......

 

I think ( and hope) I learn something from doing this and would emphasize to anyone the value of listening. :)

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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why, Jim, first of all many thanks for doing the right thing and splitting this issue of the original thread. I take my share of the blame for participating in taking the thread off topic.

 

I am flattered that you trust my judgement, and I sincerely hope that your further reading of the book reinforces that trust. It is true that especially the first chapter leaves certain doubts about the seriousness of the author - for one thing, he does express very strong opinions and issues very clear and in parts insulting statements about people whose opinions he doesn't agree with, so I can see how some people might feel offended and may not be too hard pressed to keep on reading - but again I'd recommend cross reading the free pages; later chapters do go as deeply into the matter as one can ask for.

 

And again, 100% agreement with Geoff. Music imho IS listening, so Geoff's advice (which is NOT in disagreement with the book at all, on the contrary) is perfectly on the spot. I'd even go so far as to say that a good part of becoming better at music takes place away from the instrument, for example by listening more deliberately to music on the radio or whereever it surrounds us.

 

Thanks again!

 

 

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Rather late in life I decided to try to teach myself to play the concertina and, while I suspect that I will never be any good at playing, I love the process of learning about music. In a sense, the concertina for me is just a vehicle for learning about the language of music.

 

What I have found most gratifying is that I now hear music quite differently than I did before. I always enjoyed listening, but now I am just beginning to hear the structure beneath the surface. I am really looking forward to hearing and understanding more as time goes by. I have to keep practising on the box, and reading about music theory, for this to happen. I have great hopes for the book that Ruediger recommended.

 

I now feel that I might have wasted my youth on school work instead of spending all of my time listening to records and trying to play Davy Graham's 'Anji' on guitar...

 

Don.

Edited by Don Taylor

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I played PA for several years and now play CBA, which has the same (stradella) bass system I had to learn for PA. And studying PA basses gives you kind of a crash course in what I call bass vamping, or bass comping or arrangements. It also gives you a bit of a crash course in bass counterpoint because the first 2 horizontal rows of the left-side bass buttons on a PA or CBA are single notes, not chords. One row is the root/tonic note, and the other is the root's third. I'm not so hot at this, but PA/CBA players who get really good can play those single-note rows like counterpoint to the right-hand side.

 

Long story short, I (clumsily) base my concertina arranging, such as it has been, on imported-and-adjusted principles I learned from PA and CBA arrangements. I even refer to PA sheet music for ideas sometimes.

 

[Oh, A note re terminology: I call rhythmic bass chording "bass vamping," though perhaps this term means other things, because another CNetter not long ago responded to a remark of mine about "bass vamping on duet" by noting that duet doesn't really use vamping. But the way I meant the term, it was something that is frequently done on duet, for waltzes, tangos, etc.-- so not sure how that phrase is generally understood.]

 

In any event, there is a very useful as well as amusing discussion of concertina arranging out there by one Kurt Braun. He is a Crane player, but it can be adapted to any system. It's what he calls "the 31-chord trick," which is just his way of conceptualizing a shortcut for building a toolbox of arrangement chords that can be whipped out and put to work on the fly. The focus is on duet, but again, these ideas are helpful for arranging on any concertina system. The Braun write-up is on Robert Gaskins' duet concertina site along with another, also-useful arranging monograph by Roger Digby---both pieces are here, one below the other:

 

http://www.concertina.com/digby/faking/index.htm#part4

Edited by ceemonster

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How music works....huge topic. For whom? The player? Listeners? On the page (that is theoretically)? What kind of music? Does the music of Chinese puppet opera use the same set of principles to propel it as Tibetan ceremonial music...or Irish music? Let me suggest one way to think of how it works: View music as information theory. Information theory, in a much simplified definition concerns itself with how e perceive something new. If a piece has nothing new about it it provides no information to us and we don't like it (perhaps are bored with it might be a better way to say it). If the piece has too much new information we have no way to fit it into what we know and we reject it as too meaningless. Things we appreciate are somewhere in the middle. Of course, where the middle is depends on the background of the listener/performer. If I've spent 30 years with Irish Traditional Music my listening will hear more and be less interested in performances without new and interesting nuances and minute variations. If I come to that same music as a new listener the basic rhythms or the graces may be new. Same is true of harmony. If you've listened to and appreciate complex 20th and 21st century "classical" music your tolerance for and appreciation of dissonance will be quite different that that of a person whose main experience is, say, gospel hymns from the 1920s. That's why there is disagreement about harmonization too. Anyway, there's a start on one way to think about music. I'll be interested to see what others say. And, I'm sure I'll learn from it.

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@ 31 chord trick: each time I came upon such tricks and hacks for understanding and playing chords, be it for concertina or piano players, I'm very glad I play on Hayden :) But other than that it is a very true and usefull article, especially for all of those who like to play modern popular music, as this often can be found only as a combination of vocal melody line plus guitar chords fake sheets or even simple guitar tabs.

 

As for the original question on how musik works. I have recently came to a conclusion, that the answer for this question depends heavily on history of ones musical education, especially instrument choices. This came to me after discussing the matter with couple of friends, who play piano or guitar or both, one of them tried also a russian diatonic accordion. And particularily one realisation was striking: while learning music on a piano or most of other instruments is arithmetic and linear, learning music on a Hayden or other isomorphic keyboard (e.g. various CBA systems) is geometric. And this applies not only to fingering patterns, but understanding music on any level. Also, there was some interesting disagreement on what is "simple and basic" on different instruments: on a piano, learning simple melodies is very straightforward, but understanding and playing chords is difficult and time consuming and "chord sheets" are huge; on a hayden chords are the most basic level of understanding (all chords and their inversions, and I mean all up to 13th, can be learned in one evening (practice of course takes some time, but because each chord has only one basic shape plus some "edge shapes" on small keyboards this is very easy)) and it is very fast and easy to learn harmony and diatonic functions and to do "inverted faking" - playing quite complex melodies and accompaniments from simple guitar chord tabs…

 

This dependency becomes more visible when self learning and not taking lessons from scholars or players of other instruments (especially pianists) as this makes this different path more "pure".

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"And particularily one realisation was striking: while learning music on a piano or most of other instruments is arithmetic and linear, learning music on a Hayden or other isomorphic keyboard (e.g. various CBA systems) is geometric. And this applies not only to fingering patterns, but understanding music on any level. Also, there was some interesting disagreement on what is "simple and basic" on different instruments: on a piano, learning simple melodies is very straightforward, but understanding and playing chords is difficult and time consuming and "chord sheets" are huge; on a hayden chords are the most basic level of understanding (all chords and their inversions, and I mean all up to 13th, can be learned in one evening (practice of course takes some time, but because each chord has only one basic shape plus some "edge shapes" on small keyboards this is very easy)) and it is very fast and easy to learn harmony and diatonic functions and to do "inverted faking" - playing quite complex melodies and accompaniments from simple guitar chord tabs…

 

This dependency becomes more visible when self learning and not taking lessons from scholars or players of other instruments (especially pianists) as this makes this different path more "pure".

You make some fascinating and very interesting points, Lukasz, and echo my own experiences on the English concertina. I recently came to the concertina after learning the violin as a child and mandolin as an adult, and when learning a tune on the concertina, I find that I'm often visualising the transitions between buttons and chords as geometric shapes, especially the trickier sections, and only when I do that can I remember the tune. I had no experience of this in my previous instruments. Fascinating stuff.

Dean

Edited by Defra

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Definitely concur with Łukasz that the Hayden's music theory feels far more "geometric". As mentioned in other threads, when I play something like mandolin there's a certain arbitrariness to the shaped of, say, a Dmaj-Gmaj-Amaj progression. I consciously know it's a I-IV-V progression, and the sounds certainly are I-IV-V, but the actual formation of the chord doesn't have (on the most immediate level) a lot of logic to it. On the Hayden, in contrast, if I play along with friends or the radio I'm often not even really conscious of what key I'm playing in, but rather am actually thinking it as "root... fifth... root... fourth", regardless of key.

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On the Hayden, in contrast, if I play along with friends or the radio I'm often not even really conscious of what key I'm playing in, but rather am actually thinking it as "root... fifth... root... fourth", regardless of key.

Matthew,

This reminds me somewhat of the autoharp - which is sometimes disrespectfully termed the "idiot zither"! When I've identified the key people are playing in, I can just put my middle finger on the button for the root chord, and the fourth is always under my index finger and the fifth under my ring finger. The relative minors and the dominant 7th chords are always the same distance away in the same direction. So when I've got the chord sequence for a tune, I can transpose it to any key.

 

Well, to any key that my autoharp has! :wacko: Sooner or later, I drop off the end of the chord-bar assembly, which is limited by the length of the shortest string. But then, you can fall off the end of the keyboard of a small Hayden duet, can't you!

 

As a very old computer specialist, I've seen the complexity that is inherent in data processing moving steadily away from the user and into the system. This has been attempted with music also - the 19th century saw a spate of "people's instruments" that produced (or were intended to produce) quite acceptable music without prior musical knowledge or long tuition. The autoharp is one that has lasted, and so is the German concertina layout, which is the basis of the Anglo. Others (like the Ukelin) have fallen by the wayside. To my mind, the Hayden duet is a later-day example of this concept.

 

The weakness of the "people's instrument" concept is that it makes the instrument easier to play on a basic level at the expense of eliminating "wrong notes" - which of course deprives you of the possibility to make more complex music, even when you have the musical knowledge to do so. The biggest practicable autoharp has 21 chord bars; that means 7 major chords, 7 minors and 7 dominant 7ths. And the 20-button German concertina can only be played in its home keys. No amount of theory or skill can take you beyond these limits!

 

We can't all learn advanced music theory, so these instruments have some raison d'être. But the 3-chord trick is not advanced theory. It's based on the Circle of Fifths, which is absolutely basic musical theory. When you know what the root chord is, the fourth is the one before it and the fifth is the one after it in the Circle of Fifths. On a Crane or Maccann duet, or on a guitar or banjo, you do, of course, have to know each chord shape and scale by name to transpose your 3-chord trick or melody line. However, the effort of learning this early on pays off later in greater flexibility for sophisticated music. The fact that the Hayden's majors are all the same shape and its minors all another shape (until you run off the edge) only helps in the very initial learning phase, as I see it. Like the autoharp, the Hayden fails to achieve full isometric characteristics because of the space limitations on the keyboard. The limitations on the other duets are merely the lowest note and the highest note - like with the human voice!

 

So, to sum up, when I'm playing along on the 5-string banjo or Crane duet, I'm also thinking "root ... fifth ... fourth", and this works because I have the chord shapes hard-wired in my fingers, and they know that the fifth of that chord shape is this chord shape.

Basically, an instrument can offer easy entry (like a modern PC application) or advanced capabilities (like a programming language), or perhaps a compromise between the two. To me, the Crane is the optimal compromise in the concertina sector - the Hayden is a different compromise, but more in the direction of "easy entry".

 

Cheers,

John

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@ John: As I agree, that small keyboards of any system are a limitation of one sort or another, I don't see how your argument stands when considering larger Hayden keyboards… They are fully chromatic and in the contrary to popular belief, using accidentals outside of a key is as easy on a Hayden as on any other instrument - it just requires different practice, as those accidentals will usually be played with ring or pinky finger.

 

Another misconception about Haydens and isomorphic keyboards of any kind is that whatever is simpler must be also "lesser". CBA systems like B-, C- or Bayan are all isomorphic keyboards and noone says, that you cannot play a masterpiece on a Bayan… To date, I have found that gypsy and klezmer scales do require odd finger patterns and are quite odd and hard to play (but not impossible) but you can play any kind of "advanced" music on a 46 button or larger Hayden (within a compass of a given instrument). It may be much harder to play semitone grace notes or some other kind of ornamentation, but all and not just basic harmony is straightforward on a Hayden. ALL chords of any kind have a single non-edge shape, ALL inversions of any chords allways follow the same pattern. And even when we focus only on basic types of triads, being able to play each of them with a single fingering makes arpeggios something very basic on a Hayden.

 

It is not an "easy entry" "people's instrument" - it just turns the difficulties in music inside-out. It is not an atificial layout made up only to "move those pesky black keys away" for the ease of early stages of learning - this property is more of a "side effect" of this layout. It is a layout with deep fundaments in music theory and one of the very few practical enharmonic layouts (although you need an instrument as big as the old square Bastari or a MIDI keyboard to benefit from that)

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[Oh, A note re terminology: I call rhythmic bass chording "bass vamping," though perhaps this term means other things, because another CNetter not long ago responded to a remark of mine about "bass vamping on duet" by noting that duet doesn't really use vamping. But the way I meant the term, it was something that is frequently done on duet, for waltzes, tangos, etc.-- so not sure how that phrase is generally understood.]

 

I just know it as "vamping", i.e., a steady, rhythmic chordal accompaniment. It can take the form of Chord-chord (in 2), Chord-chord-chord (in 3), etc., or it can be Bass-chord, Bass-chord-chord, etc. It could even put chords on the off beats with nothing (neither bass nor chord) on the down beats. Vamping (by this definition) is certainly a common technique on duets and anglos (non-"Irish" style), and it's also often used on the English as backup when someone else is playing melody.

 

There was a discussion of the term some time ago, because there are apparently some musical subcultures where the word has a different meaning, but the above meaning seems to be the most widely understood, across many musical genres. I think it's a useful term/concept, and certainly worth using among ourselves if we want to discuss that technique here.

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