The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

D is for Deceptive Cadence

Blogging A to ZToday in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, I've used a bit of sleight-of-hand to sneak in a discussion of a large topic by highlighting one example of it.

A cadence resolves or pauses a musical phrase. The simplest cadence, called the authentic cadence, uses only the 1st and 5th notes of the scale:

You have a C major chord, followed by a G major chord, ending in a C major chord: tonic, dominant, tonic; I-V-I. (If you need a refresher on what those terms mean, read Monday's post.)

The second-most-common cadence shows up a lot in church music. Technically called the plagal cadence, it won't surprise you to learn people often call it the "amen cadence:"

Only the second chord has changed, from G to F; the progression is now tonic, subdominant, tonic (I-IV-I).

Music theory has identified probably a dozen or so other cadences, but let's take a look at one more common one, the deceptive cadence. It deceives you by setting up an authentic cadence (I-V-I) but instead of landing back on the tonic, it resolves to the submediant, giving us I-V-vi:

The deceptive cadence pauses, but doesn't resolve completely; it wants to go on, kind of like the semicolon that paused this sentence. So let's resolve it:

See? All resolved. (And for those keeping score [ah, ha ha] at home, the analysis is essentially I-V-vi; ii-V-I, with some passing notes interspersed. I'll explain how some of this works next Tuesday.)

C is for Clef

Blogging A to ZToday in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge we'll take a look at clefs.

Yesterday I introduced the concept of a bass line, but skimmed over how that gets written down. Let's take another look at it:

Take a look at the first symbols on each line. The top one is called the "treble" or G clef:

It's actually a highly-stylized letter G. Notice how it wraps itself around the second line up from the bottom, which is the G line. Thus the name.

The bottom line starts with this symbol, called the "bass" or F clef:

It targets the second line from the top, which is the F line. The top line of that clef is the A below middle C, which is one octave and half the sound frequency of the A on the second space of the treble clef.

Then there's this guy:

This is called the "Alto" clef, which is the most commonly seen of five C clefs. (The others are the "Soprano," "Mezzo-soprano," "Tenor," and "Baritone" clefs.) Unless you play the viola or various wind instruments, you won't see these very often. The C clefs wrap themselves around middle C, which is the imaginary line running between the treble and bass clefs.

The result is that these two A-major scales are exactly identical:

(On Friday the 12th, I'll explain the magic happening right after the clefs that makes these A major and not A minor.)

B is for Bass

Blogging A to ZYesterday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post introduced the four principal scales used to create melodies in Western music for the past five or six centuries. Today I want to talk about the opposite of a melody: the bass line.

Take this familiar melody:

It's pleasant enough, but a little thin. It needs...more. So let's add a bass line below the melody, just using the notes C and G:

Hey! It's almost music now!

So what's going on here? Without going too much into how harmony works (the topic for next Tuesday), all I've done is add a few Cs and Gs to the lower line. (We'll get into clefs tomorrow; for now, the bottom line is played lower than the upper line, and they meet at the aptly-named middle C, which is the note floating on its own little shelf above the lower line.)

This works because the 1st and 5th notes of a scale (the tonic and dominant) are the most important. A lot of bass lines, particularly in popular music, just emphasize these notes. Listen to the bass line in Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion:" it only hits the tonic, and keeps hitting it, through the whole song.

Or take Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4." The bass line just repeats the dominant through the tonic notes of the descending D-minor scale (A, G, F, E, D) over and over again. (This is called an ostinato bass.)

As a bonus, I had a little fun with the "London Bridge" example, which I'll probably come back to later this month. Enjoy:

A is for A

Blogging A to ZWelcome to the Daily Parker's first entry in this year's Blogging A-to-Z challenge on the theme "Basic Music Theory." Today: A is for A.

In Western music, A represents the note that all other notes are based upon. The other notes in Western music are B, C, D, E, F, and G. Putting all those notes in sequence is called a scale:

That scale is called "A natural minor," and sounds like this. The first note in the scale is A; in the attached midi file, and generally in music today, it has a frequency of 440 Hz.

The minor scale feels a little sad, or melancholy, to most people. You're probably more familiar with the major scale. We can create a major scale most easily by starting on a different note. If we start on C, we get a completely different feeling:

We're not limited just to the plain notes on the scale, either. We can add accidentals, which tell the musician to increase (sharp) the frequency of the sound or decrease (flat) it. By adding two flats to the C-major scale, we can turn it into the C harmonic minor scale:

The little "b"-like symbols on the third and sixth notes of the scale indicate that the E and the A are flat. The B is still natural (neither sharp nor flat), giving the scale a slightly exotic feeling.

There is one more ordinary scale, called melodic minor. This has one flattened note going up (in this case, E-flat), and uses the natural minor going down. Note that the half-hash symbol before the A in the first bar says that the note is exactly what it says on the tin, without sharp or flat modification. Here's the C melodic minor scale:

Western music has these four scales (major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor) for about 500 years. But other scales have become more popular in the late 20th and early 21st century. Popular music has even gone back to "modes," which come from ancient Greek music through the early middle ages. But that's out of the scope of this year's A-to-Z challenge.

Finally, there is the chromatic scale, which includes every note possible (and every note on a piano keyboard):

Notice that going up we sharp the notes and coming down we flat them, showing all of the enharmonic equivalents (D-flat is the enharmonic equivalent of C-sharp because they occupy the same place in the chromatic scale)*.

* If you get technical, they're not actually the same notes, but we'll come back to that towards the end of the month.

Also, as a handy guide for future posts, here are the names of the diatonic notes on the scale:

# Name Major Minor
1 tonic C - I A - i
2 supertonic D - ii B - ii
3 mediant E - iii C - III
4 subdominant F - IV D - iv
5 dominant G - V E - v
6 submediant A - vi F - VI
7 leading tone B - vii G - VII

This is a gross oversimplification, only so you get the gist. Just understand the vocabulary: for example, that E is the mediant of C and the dominant of A. If you start on a different note, it still works the same way: C is the dominant of F; A sharp is the submediant of C sharp and the dominant of D sharp.

We'll get deeper into these concepts as the month goes on.

Starting the April entries

It may appear that blogging will slow down a little bit going into the last week of March. That's because Blogging A-to-Z entries take a little more time to write. This year might be a little ambitious, also, because I plan to provide musical snippets to go along with the text (otherwise what's the point?).

My goal today: get through a chunk of the first week of April. And figure out when I can write the rest for that week.

I've also written an entry for an historical anniversary mid-April.

Stay tuned.

A to Z Theme Reveal for 2019

Blogging A to ZOnce again, the Daily Parker will participate in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, this year on the theme: "Basic Music Theory." 

For the A-to-Z challenge, I'll post 26 entries on this topic, usually by 7am Chicago time (noon UTC) on every day except Sunday. I'll also continue my normal posting routine, though given the time and effort required to write A-to-Z posts, I many not write as much about other things.

This should be fun for you and for me. Music theory explains how and why music works. Knowing about it can help you listen to music better. And, of course, it'll help you write music better.

The first post will be on April 1st.

(You can see a list of last year's posts here.)

Today's Google Doodle

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach's 334th birthday, and to celebrate, Google has created a Doodle that uses artificial intelligence to harmonize a melody that you can supply:

Google says the Doodle uses machine learning to "harmonize the custom melody into Bach's signature music style." Bach's chorales were known for having four voices carrying their own melodic line.

To develop the AI Doodle, Google teams created a machine-learning model that was trained on 306 of Bach's chorale harmonizations. Another team worked to allow machine learning to occur within the web browser instead of on its servers.

The results are...interesting. (I'm about to get my music theory nerd on, so if that's not your bag you can wait until I post something political this afternoon.)

Here's a little d-minor melody I whipped up:

The basic harmonic structure of this melody is i-V7/V-V-vi-V-i. Even though I haven't taken a music theory course in [redacted] years, I can probably harmonize this melody ten times without breaking a sweat. Basically, on the beats, you've got d minor, a minor on &2, E major, A major; then in the second bar, Bb major, g minor, E major, A major, d minor. (Note that some of those are passing harmonies that expand other harmonies.)

Google's AI did not do that. It actually got a little flummoxed. Here's one example:

Oh, dearie dearie me. I think one of the problems is that it thought I had done something really weird in F-major instead of something prosaic in d-minor. And it doesn't provide any way of tweaking the harmonization.

So, really very cool AI going on there, but not yet ready for prime time. Still worth playing around with. If I had more time I'd try some simpler melodies to see if it helps.

(If you liked this post, by the way, you will love what I do in April.)

Concerts this weekend

It's been a busy week with lots of Händel.

Last Saturday the Apollo Chorus performed Messiah with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, which involved a 3-hour bus ride each way and enough downtime for a long game of Cards Against Humanity.

Monday we had a regular rehearsal. Tuesday some of us sang in a local retirement community's Messiah sing-along. Wednesday, caroling at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Thursday, dress rehearsal with orchestra. Today at 7pm and tomorrow at 2pm, full performances at Harris Theater. Wednesday, another rehearsal. Friday, finally, another Messiah performance, with some of us joining the choir at St Michael's Church in Old Town.

If you're in Chicago, should hear one of our performances.

You say it's your birthday?

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' White Album:

There’s something about The White Album that invites listeners to mess around with it. Joan Didion stole its title for her 1979 essay collection, an elegy for the dreams of 1960s California. The producer Danger Mouse chopped it to pieces and recombined the fragments with vocals from Jay-Z’s The Black Album to create his 2004 mash-up The Grey Album. The jam band Phish covered all 30 songs on stage on Halloween night, 1994. Charles Manson, notoriously, had his own theories. Even the title has been rewritten: The Beatles called it The Beatles but their fans had other ideas.

The new reissue defamiliarises the album yet again, with 27 demos, 50 outtakes, and a thorough digital reconstruction by Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin. The White Album is the only record by the most analysed group in the history of popular music that still retains considerable mystery, because there’s just so much of it. Whether or not you consider it the best Beatles album (I do), it’s certainly the most Beatles album.

Over the years we’ve learned almost everything there is to know about the circumstances of its creation. We know that due to various rows, sulks and walkouts, the first stage of the band’s disintegration, all four Beatles appear on fewer than half the songs. We know about Yoko Ono’s contentious presence, Ringo’s huffy absence from Back in the USSR, John’s contempt for Paul’s “granny music shit”, and so on. We know that they were less than a year away from the last time that they all stood in a studio together, although in the newly released demos we can also hear that there was still plenty of fun to be had, despite those fissures. Even at the time, I imagine, one could hear pop’s quintessential gang of mates splintering into four individuals, and their musical fusions unravelling into discrete genre exercises. Listening to it is like watching an explosion in slow motion.

I'm about to put it on. But I'll skip "Revolution 9."