The Daily Parker

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E is for "Ethnic" sixth chords

Blogging A to ZOne problem with the Blogging A-to-Z challenge becomes obvious when you try to cover a field like music theory that has concepts building on other concepts. You wind up posting things out of order.

Today, for example, I'll cover a somewhat esoteric bit of harmony that I find interesting and difficult, but that the previous four posts could not possibly have prepared anyone for if they have just started studying music theory: augmented sixth chords.

I'm joking that anyone would call them "ethic" sixth chords, but they do have specific names that apparently have nothing to do with their origins: the Italian, French, and German sixths.

All three flavors have an augmented sixth within them that resolves chromatically to a perfect octave. Generally, they stand in for V7 of V chords, and drive to half-cadences which can then resolve normally. Plus, they create a really cool tension in a harmonic progression, but like saffron or truffle, composers have used them sparingly.

The Italian variety is the simplest, functioning as a iv chord:

The French sixth adds a Romantic sound and functions more as ii/V:

And the German sixth really lays it on, so much that voice leading rules demand it usually resolve in two steps. It works as a V7 chord and can resolve to V or I:

The University of Puget Sound has a wonderful page of examples in real life.

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:

Park #28 (an improvement on #12)

When I started the 30-Park Geas in 2008, I didn't expect it would take more than 11 years. Yet here we are. And in that time, both of New York's baseball teams got new stadia, making the 30-Park Geas a 32-Park Geas before I got halfway done.

Well, this season, I'm finishing it. And wow, it's off to an inauspicious start.

Today's game between the Orioles and Yankees at *New* Yankee Stadium didn't start for 3 hours and 15 minutes past its scheduled first pitch because it's March. A cold front pushed through this morning with a nice, gentle monsoon. So the few dozen of us who remained in the park around 3:45 this afternoon let out a whoop of joy when this happened:

The joy lasted through the home team giving up 3 in the top of the first, and continued until they stopped beer sales at 5pm—in the 2nd inning. Apparently people had been there drinking since 10am, and Major League Baseball has a limit on day-drinking of 30 beers per person.

The Yankees eventually lost to the Orioles 7-5. The lost to the Orioles the last time I saw them play at home, too, though that was in *Old* Yankee Stadium. Glad the new digs worked out for them.

I did get to try a local Bronx IPA, for $16, which is a price that effectively limited my own beer consumption to two for the game. That, and I couldn't feel my fingers.

But hey, the Yankees did play baseball, and I did visit the park, and it's a pretty good park:

But the thing about a cold front is, sure, it gets rid of the rain and dampness, but it also sometimes drives the temperature from 17°C to 3°C in just a few hours. So with no more $16 beers for sale, the temperature falling to what I call "Chicago in May," and the home team trailing 4-0 in the second, I decided to cut my losses and return to Manhattan. After a really tasty bowl of ramen, I hopped the 4 train to Brooklyn and walked over the bridge:

Back home tomorrow, then resuming the Geas on Friday April 19th in Arlington, Texas, where I expect the beer quality will keep me sober on the merits but at least I won't freeze my fingers off.

And hey! The A-to-Z Challenge starts tomorrow. I've already got the first 6 posts ready to fire at noon UTC (7am Chicago time) each day. I hope you enjoy it.

Three nights, three hotels

I'm traveling this weekend, starting with a night about a block from my office. Tonight is WhiskyFest Chicago, starting in about 90 minutes (though they let us start gorging on cheese and crackers at 5pm). For easily-understood reasons, I'm staying at the same hotel tonight, then heading to my college radio station's 60th anniversary party tomorrow morning. Not my first choice of timing, but I had no control over either event.

Sunday I head into Manhattan, and coincidentally the Yankees are in town...

The view from my room today fails to suck:

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.)

The Art of the Possible, Illinois marijuana edition

Yet another Chicago-based medical marijuana company has merged with an out-of-state company ahead of an expected legalization of recreational pot this summer:

Chicago’s Cresco Labs on Monday unveiled a $120 million merger that allows it to expand into Florida, where analysts predict demand for medical marijuana will significantly grow in the coming years. By 2022, the market for medical pot could reach a whopping $1.7 billion, according to analysts’  projections.

Under the agreement, Cresco will acquire Florida marijuana grower and retailer VidaCann, a move that will allow Cresco to operate 30 medical dispensaries in the nation’s third most populous state. The company aims to significantly expand its operations by the end of the year, in part by doubling the size of its medical marijuana cultivation center. It also plans to have 20 dispensaries open by year’s end.

Last week, a Phoenix company announced one of the largest pot deals in U.S. corporate history by taking over Chicago-based Verano Holdings for $850 million.

If Cresco’s ownership of VidaCann is approved, Cresco could surpass another major marijuana player based in Chicago — Green Thumb Industries, which currently has 11 cultivation centers.

A vote on legalizing recreational cannabis could come as early as July, and is expected to pass.