The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

S is for Syncopation

Blogging A to ZThe Blogging A-to-Z challenge will get a little funky today as we look at syncopation, which is nothing more than an unexpected rhythm.

Here's a simple example. Take this clunky melody:

Now let's syncopate it a little, by shifting some of the notes off the beat:

Instead of hitting 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, now it hits 1, and, and, and, 2, and, and, 4. It's harder to dance to but more interesting.

More examples? How about Mozart's Symphony #40, third movement:

Or the Rolling Stones? Beethoven? Scott Joplin?

Syncopation is every——where!

Agents of what, exactly?

Most members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) last week fired their agents because of the intrusion of finance into their business. Large agencies, some owned by finance companies and no longer partnerships, no longer appear to represent the writers they claim to represent, as the agents have interests on both sides of many deals.

The Association of Talent Agents (ATA) has responded to all these principals firing their agents with questionable logic:

For those of you who haven’t been following, the WGA (for which, until recently, my husband worked as a magazine editor) wants the talent agencies to sign a new code of conduct to ensure the agents do their jobs — getting their clients the best deals possible — and that’s it. No using clients as part of an overall package deal or working with affiliated production companies; too often, the WGA contends, these practices result in writers getting shafted.

The ATA says the agencies will not be signing any such code because the WGA is not the boss of them and writers actually benefit from packaging, which has been going on for years.

So the WGA instructed its members to fire their agents, which almost all of them have, and announced it is suing the four major talent agencies.

In response, the ATA accused the WGA of trying to throw Hollywood into “predetermined chaos” and instructed its members to keep a list of any writers trying to get work without using an agent because, according to ATA reps, this is illegal.

So just to recap: Writers are unhappy with how major talent agencies have been repping them. When confronted with this, the agents refused to make any changes, so the writers fired them. Now the agencies are saying the writers cannot do this because, according to them, writers are legally bound to be represented by people who they believe are shafting them.

Even by Hollywood standards, this is Absolutely Insane.

It's going to be interesting as lawyers and accountants start representing writers.

Note: I'm still going through photos from this weekend, so I'll have the official Park 29 and Park 30 postings up today or tomorrow.

R is for Rondo

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will take a look at common musical forms.

We've already seen some examples of common musical forms, even though I didn't call them out: the canon and the fugue. Both are imitative forms, though as you've seen the fugue is far more complex than the canon. "Row Row Row Your Boat" is a canon (but, of course, someone made a fugue out of it).

When we talk about other forms, we usually note large sections of music with letters. So a form of, say, A-B-A means that you have a theme first, then another theme, and then the first theme comes back.

The basic musical forms all show up in symphonies written between about 1760 and 1830, in the Classical and Early Romantic periods. Haydn codified the symphonic template, Mozart perfected it, and Beethoven took it up a notch.

The first movement of a Classical symphony usually uses sonata allegro form. It starts with an optional introduction, progresses to exposition, through development, then a recapitulation, and concludes with an optional coda. In short, A-B-A1, because the recapitulation usually doesn't strictly repeat the exposition.

The first movement of Mozart's Symphony #25 demonstrates this beautifully. The exposition starts immediately, stating the bold g-minor theme in several forms for the first 90 seconds or so. Development ensues, taking us around several related keys and themes (including the primary theme). The recap begins at 5:05, once he's brought it back to g minor. Note, also, that Mozart wrote this at 17.

Second and fourth movements often use rondo form, which is A-B-A, A-B-A-C-A, or A-B-A-C-A-B-A. The A just keeps coming around, you see. Here's Haydn's 49th symphony, second movement. It deviates from a typical classical symphony in that the second movement is fast, not slow as was common in the period. But it's a complete A-B-A1-C-A2 rondo, as well as an excellent example of the Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress") period in the late 1770s-early 1780s.

Third movements generally follow the minuet and trio form, which uses 3/4 time and a simple A-B-A or A-B-C-A form. Example: Brahms' Symphony #3, third movement. Even though Brahms wrote this decades after Mozart and Haydn had died, it still maintains the minuet and trio form—though with lusher orchestration and harmonies than either classical composer would have used.

Listen for these forms the next time you hear a symphony. They're in there.

Park #29

My official post, with photos, will appear Sunday. I just want to put a marker in the sand that tonight I went to what passed for a baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. I didn't realize that they're tearing the park down after this season because it's—wait for it—25 years old.

Really? Twenty-five years? You know Wrigley and Fenway are both over 100, right?

Whatever. This was Park #29, and apparently the Geas won't end this year because I'll have to go to Globe Life Field next year. Or maybe that will just be a coda. (You know, I've been to DFW airport about 40 times and only left it twice? Maybe I should explore.)

Anyway, photos and more commentary Sunday. Tomorrow: 4/20 in Denver.

Q is for Quaver

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post explains how musicians keep time.

Through all the examples I've posted this month, you may have noticed that a note's stem has a relationship to how long the note sounds. They do. Starting with a whole note (open, with no stem), each change to the stem reduces the length of the note by half. This also works when you start with a whole rest, except a rest means "don't do anything here." Example:

(In the UK, those notes are called whole, half, quarter, quaver, semiquaver, hemisemiquaver, and hemisemidemiquaver. Don't ask me why.)

You can also add a dot after a note, which increases the length by 50%. The dotted quarter notes in this example are the same as three 8th notes:

On the same subject, let me draw your attention to the numbers (and sometimes letters) that follow the key signature in a staff. That guy, called the time signature, tells performers how to count.

The most common time signature is 4/4. That means there are 4 beats in each measure (the top number) and the quarter note gets one beat. It's so common that it can also be represented by the letter C, as in the top example above. Sometimes you'll see a C with a line through it. This is called cut time, or 2/2, in which there are two half-note beats per measure.

The second example above shows 6/8 time, in which there are six eighth notes to each measure. Typically musicians count 6/8 as two beats per measure, with the dotted quarter getting the beat, so it feels like a march.

The time signature 3/4 has the same number of eighth notes per measure, but since the quarter note gets the count, there are three quarter-note beats per measure. This is the time signature for waltzes.

Almost any combination of beats and notes can form a time signature. I've seen 7/4, 3/16, 1/1, 9/32...literally anything as long as the bottom number is divisible by 2 (or is 1). That said, the most common time signatures by far are 4/4, 6/8, 3/4, and 2/2.

And here, for your listening enjoyment, is a piece that flouts all the rules and somehow works—as humor:

P is for Pachelbel

Blogging A to ZThis morning, my Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will discuss a composer whose music I absolutely loathe because of its insipid, simplistic, earwormy pabulum, Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).

You have, no doubt, heard his Canon in D, which, thanks to its inclusion in an otherwise forgettable film 51 years ago, continues to besmirch weddings and other cultural events with its demonstration of what happens when you strip music down to the essentials and add nothing back. In a way, the Canon in D resembles a lot of modern music by providing nothing more than a repeating theme of such simplicity that only a performance by 3rd graders on recorder could do it justice.

So why did I include this composer in a series on music theory? Because in that simplicity is just about all popular music of the last half-century.

Here are the first few bars of the piece:

It is I-V-vi-I6-IV-I-IV-V, repeated endlessly, until someone in the audience starts yelling "Please, for the love of Dog, make it stop!" Notice that the string parts are also boring, and (because this is a canon) repetitive.

When I say it has infected music in the last 50 years, I mean it's like a staph infection that can shut down an entire hospital. Here, to make the point better than I can, is Rob Paravonian:

O is for Ornaments

Blogging A to ZThis morning's Blogging A-to-Z challenge entry will take a quick turn and possibly trill your heart with a brief overview of ornaments.

You got a glimpse of two of the most common Baroque ornaments on Saturday as the Bach snippet I posted contained a grace note and a mordent:

The grace note tells the performer to add the note within the duration of the main note. For example, the grace note in the first measure would be played out as shown in the second measure:

A mordent tells the performer to do a little flip up from the written note (or up if it's got a line through it). This example shows a mordent, then its written-out equivalent, followed by a rising mordent and its equivalent:

The turn comes up frequently as well, and does exactly what it says on the tin:

Let's not forget the trill:

If only there were a single piece of music that put all of them together brilliantly...like maybe Bach's Sinfonia #5 in Eb major, BWV 791? Why, yes:

N is for Notation

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge post will, like yesterday's, take us back in time.

Almost every day I've shown samples of music using modern notation. Any contemporary musician should have no trouble reading them.

Almost a thousand years ago, in 1025, the monk Guido d'Arezzo decided to record music on paper in a way that would enable people to read it even if they'd never encountered it before. He used blocks on lines with stems indicating how the notes were connected, and it looked like this:

The innovation here is that the note heads convey absolute pitch, and the stems convey timing, just as they do today. Someone who has never seen this before could (if they understood the language) produce the music intended by the composer.

During the early 17th century, as instrumental music came to dominate the scene, musical notation became much more complex. By the 1620s and 1630s, scores looked almost the same as they do today.

Specialized music uses specialized notation schemes, however. And non-Western music, which may use entirely different tonalities, sometimes has entirely different ways of notation.

M is for Modes

Blogging A to ZToday's Blogging A-to-Z challenge entry goes back in time a little bit. Before there were keys, there were modes: the original scales used in Ancient Greece that still pertain today.

Our C-major scale roughly corresponds with the Ionian mode. (I say "roughly" because while the fifth, octave, and probably fourth notes would have sounded the same back then as they do now, the rest of them probably would have sounded slightly out of tune to modern ears. This is a topic for next week.)

If you start on D, you get the Dorian mode:

It's not quite D minor, because instead of a flat 6th and natural 7th as in a minor key, we have a natural 6th and flat 7th. You can hear Dorian mode in Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water."

Next comes Phrygian mode, starting on E:

If you start on F, you get Lydian; G, Mixolydian; A, Aeolian (corresponding closely to natural minor); and B, Locrian.

I mentioned Deep Purple because everything old is new again. A lot of modern popular music has reached back to modes, mainly (I think) because they sound cool. Lydian mode has a tritone instead of a perfect 4th; Locrian just sounds...off.

In fact, while Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian pop up a lot, there aren't many examples of the others. But they're out there.

Homework assignment: Find modal pop songs (LMGTFY). Then listen to them.