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Improvising Melody over a Chord Sequence

#1 User is offline   Salley Gardens Icon

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 11:40 AM

This is a simple video about creating a melody over a chord sequence. The chord progression here is the same as used in Pachelbel's Canon: C - G - Am - Em - F - C - F - G



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Posted 05 December 2010 - 12:24 AM

Ok, that looked pretty easy...as long as one already knows what they need to use, notewise, to embellish the chord sequence. Obviously, timing plays a huge part in this as well, as I am slowly learning. It wouldn't have been a bad thing for the instructor here to have given us a little vocal cue now and again, to distinguish when something repeats itself, but all in all a good sample. And, rhythm (timing, beat, and/or cadence) shouldn't be assumed to be known to all. I play the guitar, and I'm just now starting to learn about the timing, or tempo, of creating the musical framework of a song.

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 07:09 PM

Interesting in the way he created simple little motifs to play over the chord progression. Then by repeating the same motif over several chords, he creates a sense of motion and tension. As each motif crossed the different chords in the progression, I felt the motif would take on a "color". I don't know how else to describe it.
To me, the best lesson for a melodist to take from this video is the idea of taking small motifs and repeating them over and over. The Beatles were masters of this, it's one of the many elements of their music that makes their melodies so memorable.
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#4 User is offline   Mortal_Soul Icon

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 05:20 PM

I think I understand, daddio...and, oddly enough, for the few songs (melodies/rhythms) I'm creating, I actually use little repeating "motifs" (I think), already. My biggest hindrance and/or limitation being the ability to record (and upload) any of what I am playing. Vocals and vocal-melodies I can safely say have good structure (altho it should be noted that I do acknowledge certain limitations there, lol), but developing a musical motif that may form a core for the actual musical-melody - well - that's an area I'd like to see myself develop in (and rather quickly guys, I'm on a bit of a deadline here :P ). Hello? Hey, where'd everybuddy go? :lol:

#5 User is online   Alistair S Icon

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 08:38 AM

While starting with a melody and then working out how to support it with music can be a good way to develop a song, this way (creating a melody over a chord sequence) works fine, too - and is possibly more common.

Start with a nice sounding chord sequence and try different melodies, just singing them. Any note played in the chord (plus any that harmonise) can be used in your melody at any point, in any order. It's probably easier to do it without thinking than to analyse it, though.

To demonstrate, this video has been shown before - using C,G,Am,F - Axis of Awesome.

In fact, we had a complete collab contest basing all of the songs on these 4 chords, which demonstrated that, if you alter the rhythm of the backing (which the video doesn't) and play with the order a little, further variations are possible, too. Unfortunately, I can't link the contest because it has been pruned. :(
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#6 User is offline   Salley Gardens Icon

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 11:32 AM

Excellent video example, Alistair!

In the coming weeks, we'll start posting chord changes backing tracks for people to add their melodies to. Still working out the details... Stay tuned!!

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 04:07 PM

After a long talk with my close friend/guitar-teacher, Matt, about it I guess I have had to simply accept the fact that I'm trying to learn too much, too soon, and accomplish way too much, too fast. So, I'm finally acceding that I need to digest what I've bitten off, and only after it has been thoroughly chewed (which explains why I often find myself choking during meals, lol). But, right now is a crucial time in my growth as both a musician and a songwriter-to-be, so I am admittedly impatient. Thanks so much for all of the ongoing help and support. Cheers, all!

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 10:53 AM

this is fantastic.

i think i'm just starting to develop these ideas as I improve as a songwriter. Until just recently more often than not i'd come up with a chord sequence then fit lyrics to a melody. string patterns that I'd use normally used the same chords and other guitar parts were usually just fired off using pentatonic scales.

Now i'm trying to write more melodic guitar parts - usually simple parts - that fit the song and also write repeatable string/synth patterns to to compliment the songs. I din't really pay much attention to it before.

i also find that the way i listen to music now is changing, i pay far more attention to the production of everything and find that i just hear more. It's like listening to music with new ears.

all this info is realy useful, i also agree with daddio about the beatles and the use of simple repeating parts. i think george harrison was a really underated guitar player. he's probably played more whistleable(is that a word!!) than anyone.

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 05:12 AM

View PostMortal_Soul, on 13 December 2010 - 09:07 AM, said:

So, I'm finally acceding that I need to digest what I've bitten off, and only after it has been thoroughly chewed (which explains why I often find myself choking during meals, lol).

Take small bites; chew thoroughly. I think that's a pretty good motto for most kinds of learning. :)

#10 User is online   Alistair S Icon

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 07:05 AM

For some of us, that "chewing" requires putting it into practice as well as book-learning. Trying something out that we have some mental understanding of can help to develop that understanding - and correct misunderstandings.

Now, a lot depends on what "it" is that we are putting into practice. If you want to write a song, with music, you have to have a certain level of proficiency with your instrument. That level, however, isn't all that much (although your songs may improve as it develops!).

When learning guitar, there is a lot to think about. Most people start by learning a few chords and some basic strumming patterns. That way, they have their left hand and right hand developing some kind of memory. Most start with the left hand, getting the chords right. Developing the right hand forces this memory further, as you need to be able to change chords in rhythm, and maintain that rhythm.

I would maintain that, once you can change chords fluidly and maintain a rhythm, you can write a song. Of course, you can develop from there (left hand learning new techniques, hammer-on/offs, scales, new chords and so on, and the right hand learning new patterns, picking, palm-muting and such).

If you know the basic chords, you can do a lot. Just using A, Am, C, D, E, Em, F, G (and use your pinky to pick up on the sevenths here and there) you can play a version of most songs you know. As you add more chords to your repertoire, you can do more still.

However, there are plenty of songs that only use 3 or 4 of the above chords. For example, Knocking on Heaven's Door is simply G, D, Am7 (an Am with your pinky on the 1st string, 3rd fret) followed by G, D, C .. and that is just repeated over and over.

The video I linked only uses 4 chords - G, C, Am, F.

You are going to have to practice chord changes in any case, to make those changes fluid. Why not sing along with it? It's good to get into practice, and you will find that you can sing differently over the same progression. In fact, if you take a progression from a song you like and sing a different melody over it, that's a great "cheat" way of creating your own song (chord progressions are not copyrightable :)).

All you have to do is la-la-la. If you find words coming, so much the better. Many, many people start writing songs this way. If nothing else, it's a way of making practice fun!

If you wait until you have mastered everything to do with music, you may never actually write a song. Everyone has to work within their limitations because there is just so much to learn.

If you want to create the music you hear in your head, you will find that there is always something else to pick up on. "How do I work out the time signature so that I can create drum parts?". "How do I develop a more interesting bass line?". "How do I develop lead guitar that goes beyond the pentatonic scale?". "How do I develop a melody for strings that complements my other melodies?". The list is endless, and it is a constant journey in which we learn something new (hopefully!) with every song.

Everyone has to do what they can do. Everyone needs to know more. The difference between someone who writes a song and someone who doesn't is that the ones who do write songs simply get on with it.

So long as you know a few chords and can move between them fluidly, you can write a song. It may not be the greatest song you ever heard, but it will be your song. Most people haven't overcome that hurdle.

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 10:16 AM

this is great advice alistair. I overcame the hurdle about 18 months ago and have been writing and recording ever since. They may not be the best songs ever but I like them, some have been recieved well by others too. I hope the songs, their structure and my melody show an improvement as my knowledge base improves.

I definitely feel that i listen to other songs with different ears now and i'm starting to get more aventurous in my arranging. So songs that i may have written as a simple strummed tune have more complex and different arrangements.

I also agree that you don't need to be the greatest technician on an instruemnt to be a good writer. I'd argue all day that people like steve vai and joe satriani are better guitarists technically than bob dylan or neil young but are they better songwriters??

But i think you just have to do go for it. I respect anyone who has the guts to write a song and wants to let others hear it. I think thats great.

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 04:06 PM

View Postblindcommissioner, on 14 December 2010 - 10:16 AM, said:

I also agree that you don't need to be the greatest technician on an instruemnt to be a good writer. I'd argue all day that people like steve vai and joe satriani are better guitarists technically than bob dylan or neil young but are they better songwriters??


Some would say yes, some would say no. Being a good musician in any way shape or form on an instrument can only help your songwriting as long as you don't let it control your songwriting. But some people will take a good guitar solo or jam band over an intricate melody or thought provoking lyric.

I play guitar and piano well enough to do what I need to do for my songs. If I feel hindered, I either learn what I need to to satisfy my musical wants, or I figure out a different way to accomplish it. Though I may be straying a bit off topic lol
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Posted 14 December 2010 - 04:25 PM

Wow, this is such an awesome thread...and my hat's off to all here who are willing to give an ear to other's needs, in-so-far as musical development is concerned. Now to go implement this new knowledge and letcha all know what I come up with. I'm just getting to a point now where I am able to identify the root notes (if not quite the chords) for what is playin' in my mangled mortal mind. Car accidents do strange things to our flesh n blood n bones. LOL Not ta mention those soft, squishy things between our ears. :P Excllent posts, guys!

#14 User is online   Alistair S Icon

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 07:43 PM

To bring this round full circle (and it is Pachelbel's canon, after all!) .. and to re-emphasise the point.. (and just for laughs)

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 05:27 AM

[/quote]

Some would say yes, some would say no. Being a good musician in any way shape or form on an instrument can only help your songwriting as long as you don't let it control your songwriting. But some people will take a good guitar solo or jam band over an intricate melody or thought provoking lyric.

I play guitar and piano well enough to do what I need to do for my songs. If I feel hindered, I either learn what I need to to satisfy my musical wants, or I figure out a different way to accomplish it. Though I may be straying a bit off topic lol
[/quote]

i agree mark that you need some ability and improving as a musician will open up new ideas, i just don't feel you have to be a virtuoso to be a good song writer. But maybe thats me. I prefer emotion in solos to technical proficiency as well - otherwise i find it boring, but i do respect the technical ability of the likes of vai and satriani, it's just not the sort of music that moves or interests me.

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 01:47 AM

View PostAlistair S, on 15 December 2010 - 12:05 AM, said:

For some of us, that "chewing" requires putting it into practice as well as book-learning.

Oh yeah! When it comes to learning, chewing definitely involves doing. :)

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 01:55 AM

View Postdaddio, on 10 December 2010 - 12:09 PM, said:

Interesting in the way he created simple little motifs to play over the chord progression. Then by repeating the same motif over several chords, he creates a sense of motion and tension. As each motif crossed the different chords in the progression, I felt the motif would take on a "color". I don't know how else to describe it.

Exactly. And this is why I find it hard to give much considerations to melodies in the absence of harmonic content. To extend your visual metaphor of colour, (if you don't mind), I feel that a melody is something like a line drawing; the harmonies are the colours that create tension and release; the dynamics are like the light and shade. It is very difficult, in a melody in isolation, to create tension and release.




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Posted 19 August 2011 - 05:58 PM

View PostSalley Gardens, on 04 December 2010 - 10:40 AM, said:

This is a simple video about creating a melody over a chord sequence. The chord progression here is the same as used in Pachelbel's Canon: C - G - Am - Em - F - C - F - G



Can this guy be any worse of a piano player? :)
I like the idea he is presenting, but give me a break. He should have used another piano player to play the examples. Compare this guy to the guy in the How Music Works videos. I rest my case :).
The "performance" here is so halting and unsure, that it detracts from the teaching impact.
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#19 User is offline   Kenneth Bradshaw Icon

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 02:01 AM

I gave it a try writing a melody based on these chords. I am still working the lyrics

http://www.youtube.c...eature=youtu.be

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 01:38 PM

That's pretty good, Kenneth. I wouldn't mind trying that one. Is it DABF#GDGA like in Neal's video? I'll screen capture the audio.

Here's an Amazing Grace with a final instrumental chorus improvised after the style of Jimi Hendrix. Do you think the intro might benefit from a touch of melodramatics, like grind out an intro?

Amazing Grace improv

#21 User is offline   Kenneth Bradshaw Icon

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 10:31 PM

Ed,

I did it in C, the way that Salley laid it out, but you have the right sequence (B & F# are minor). You'll notice that I sped it up. I wanted it to be more upbeat. I would like to hear what you have in mind for Amazing Grace. Ken

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 10:27 AM

I looked for Ken's comments on the fundamentals of melodic construction, the one in which he mentions "broken chords" more than twice. Couldn't find it.
Going through the Hal Leonard Hymn Fake Book, at least the one's I am familiar with,
which amounts to about one in ten, it is really interesting to pick out the off chord notes and, especially interesting, to see the role the off chord notes play in making the tune what it is. It's another way of looking at things. The more the structure is understood, the less the memory is used.

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 03:08 PM

View PostSimple Simon, on 16 December 2010 - 01:55 AM, said:

View Postdaddio, on 10 December 2010 - 12:09 PM, said:

Interesting in the way he created simple little motifs to play over the chord progression. Then by repeating the same motif over several chords, he creates a sense of motion and tension. As each motif crossed the different chords in the progression, I felt the motif would take on a "color". I don't know how else to describe it.

Exactly. And this is why I find it hard to give much considerations to melodies in the absence of harmonic content. To extend your visual metaphor of colour, (if you don't mind), I feel that a melody is something like a line drawing; the harmonies are the colours that create tension and release; the dynamics are like the light and shade. It is very difficult, in a melody in isolation, to create tension and release.


Really Simon?

Listen to this:

Bach - Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major BWV1007 - Mov. 1-3/6


Of course, the harmony is implied.
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Posted 25 March 2012 - 11:43 AM

View PostSimple Simon, on 15 December 2010 - 11:55 PM, said:

Exactly. And this is why I find it hard to give much considerations to melodies in the absence of harmonic content.

The earliest know attempts at polyphony (ie primitive harmonoy) were in 855 AD ( http://www.classical...jesusto1000.htm ). That means that for MOST of human history music was completely without any semblance of what we consider harmony.

Recently I've been thinking about this in relation to what I personally consider music. I think it's interesting that melody and rhythm have been around since the beginning but that harmony is essentially an interloper on the musical scene.

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 03:30 PM

View PostIan Ferrin, on 25 March 2012 - 12:43 PM, said:

The earliest known attempts at polyphony (ie primitive harmonoy) were in 855 AD ( http://www.classical...jesusto1000.htm ). That means that for MOST of human history music was completely without any semblance of what we consider harmony.


I guess it's only Western music we're talking about? I don't know what is known about early Indian and Far East music. It's hard enough to guess what the ancient Greeks were playing on their harps, but some say you can infer some things by how their hands and fingers are positioned on early drawings of musicians: that if they were just playing melody lines their hands would be only on adjacent strings. Sometimes their hands are shown several strings apart from one another, which suggests the possibility of intentional intervals.

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 04:19 PM

There is not a tradition of harmony in Indian music and I would guess the same is true in Far Eastern music too because of the use of microtones.
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Posted 25 March 2012 - 04:29 PM

View Postdaddio, on 25 March 2012 - 05:19 PM, said:

There is not a tradition of harmony in Indian music and I would guess the same is true in Far Eastern music too because of the use of microtones.
Drones and overtones aren't really chords, I'll give you that. And I don't know beans about Chinese or Japanese early music except whenever a film scorer wants to evoke it he pounds on the black keys of a piano. Which is maybe a cheap trick, but almost any pentatonic note sounds pleasing against any other one. Funny if that didn't lead Asian musicians into playing intervals.

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 04:53 PM

The pentatonic scale of 5 tones as we know it came from Africa. Asian music uses a more extensive scale that includes microtones, that is, notes between the notes of our scale. So, for example, the Chinese scale has 12 tones as compared to our 8. Arabic scales divide the octave into 16 uneven intervals.

The Indian musical system operates with a combination of fixed and mutable pitch, so the key can be recognized along with variable notes. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th notes are variable, but the 1st (Sa or Do) and the perfect 5th (Pa or Sol) are immutable and of a fixed pitch. The drone is accordingly often Do-Sol (Sa-Pa), which becomes the ultimate open chord containing all other notes within it as a series of subtle harmonics.
This drone (a constant note or tonic), whether actually played on an instrument like the tampura or simply heard within oneself as the Om sound, is the constant reference without which no Indian musician would play.
Indian music is essentially modal, which means that the intervals on which the musical structure is built are calculated in relation to a permanent tonic. That does not mean that the relations between notes other than the tonic are not considered, but that each note will be established first according to its relation to the fixed tonic and not, as in the case of cycle of fifths, by any permutations of the basic note.

I don't claim to understand all this but my point is that Western music tends to be vertical while Eastern music tends to be horizontal. The musical traditions are not based on intervals in the same way and harmonic freguencies are not calculated the same way. Harmony as we know it is not a part of the Eastern tradition.
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Posted 25 March 2012 - 05:21 PM

Although you might not consider a drone note a "chord" in fact it is composed of all the overtones of the harmonic series (i.e., a + bx + c2x + d3X... where x is the fundamental) and so does acoustically constitute a chord [look at the spectrum of a single plucked or bowed string under an oscilloscope!]. A key is formally defined as a scale plus a tonal center - the drone constitutes that tonal center. Although Indian music does use a relatively microtonal system, in any given piece those frequencies are fixed so that there are really only 7 distinct notes (pitches, not including octaves) in a given piece - like our own diatonic scale (or like Miller et al's "Magical number 7 +/- 1"). In fact, prior to Equal temperment tuning we had more notes - the frequencies shifted depending on what key you were platying in - Even now string and wind players "microtune" for better harmony - of course pianos and fretted instruments don't have that luxury [see Gerald Eskelin's books, such as "Lies my music teacher told me" for more about this].

Even in Western music, prior to "melody against chordal background" (homophonic music) there was polyphony, where the music was conceived as distinct lines contrapuntal to each other, yet independent and distinct, there were notes interacting with each other (as intervals) but these weren't conceptualized as chords. And in this music, which was played by small numbers of largely monphonic instruments the harmony existed, but was largely implied - even as now would be the case with only arpeggiated chords. In the case of a single (e.g., a capella) line in C major, the implicit harmony creates the tension that leads e.g. the leading tone to "want to resolve" to the tonic
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Posted 26 March 2012 - 12:00 AM

Interesting discussion.

I don't know hardly anything about eastern music and especially it's history, so I freely admit I'm talking about western music.

I pretty much agree w/ all the comments. I'm sure in ancient music polyphony and harmony 'happened' but I suspect is was mostly by accident... the happenstance interaction of melodic lines. From what little I know, it looks to me like the ancients probably thought in terms of melody and rhythm and didn't think in terms of harmony. Personally, I just think that's interesting.

I have a BA in music and I'd have to say the the main focus of our music theory (and I didn't have that much - 3 classes I think)... anyway the #1 focus was Bach chorales which was MOSTLY harmony and harmonic rules. We studied other stuff, and melody and rhythm were important, buy my recollection was that it was harmony first.

In thinking about popular music since the 60s, I think you can see an evolving emphasis towards more rhythm and sound and away from harmony per-se. Are we returning to our roots?

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 12:26 PM

Quote

The earliest know attempts at polyphony (ie primitive harmonoy) were in 855 AD ( http://www.classical...jesusto1000.htm ). That means that for MOST of human history music was completely without any semblance of what we consider harmony.

Recently I've been thinking about this in relation to what I personally consider music. I think it's interesting that melody and rhythm have been around since the beginning but that harmony is essentially an interloper on the musical scene.

There is a whole log-jam of accumulated evidence and argument which challenges these assumptions.

Genetic anthropology suggests that our earliest ‘modern’ ancestors originated in Africa 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, and that about 85,000 years ago one particular African line (“one small twig, from one branch, out of the dozen major African maternal clans available”- Stephen Oppenheimer) survived after leaving the continent to colonise the rest of the world – about 85,000 years ago –from the Horn of Africa across the Red Sea, northeast along the Arabian coast, southeast along the coast of India, then the coast of the Indian Ocean through Indonesia, on to Melanesia and eventually Australia.

It makes sense to think that the “language” we call “music” might well have made the journey with them.

Pygmies (whose ancestors diverged from hypothetical founder population 76,200 to 102,000 years ago) and Bushmen (who diverged 41,000 to 54,100 years ago) are the most ancient peoples still extant on the planet and may well represent the original inhabitants of Africa. The similarities in vocal style between them are striking and obvious. Not only that, but there is also no shortage of cultural legacies among tribal groups strewn along the “out-of-Africa” migration path all the way from Southeast Asia to Indonesia, Phillipines, New Guinea and other parts of Melanesia in which singing traditions are closely comparable to these Bushmen-Pygmy styles. (There is a 1996 French issued box-set anthology of vocal expression called “Les Voix du Monde” which is probably available in a decent library and on which you can check out the similarities yourself if you are interested.)

The crucial thing is that the particular vocal tradition we are talking about happens to be complex polyphony.

Perhaps even more surprising than the idea that polyphony actually preceded monophony is the considerable weight of an argument I find persuasive that singing actually preceded language and may even have been a prerequisite for its development.

I am currently reading ethnomusicology – lots of it – so if anyone needs research references about this stuff I can happily pass them along.
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Posted 26 March 2012 - 01:55 PM

I find it much easier to do counter-melodies than harmonies. I think that sort of puts me in the Baroque period. Mostly, I harmonize by going down a third, but harmonies intrique me.

What interests me are things like the mathematical foundation for harmonies, the stuctures used in Polynesian music; how are homonies derived in groups like Little Big Band; how did we get from mountain harmonies to Do Wop to Johnny Be Goode, etc.

I would love a short tutorial on the subject.

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:57 AM

View PostLazz, on 26 March 2012 - 10:26 AM, said:

Pygmies (whose ancestors diverged from hypothetical founder population 76,200 to 102,000 years ago) and Bushmen (who diverged 41,000 to 54,100 years ago) are the most ancient peoples still extant on the planet and may well represent the original inhabitants of Africa. The similarities in vocal style between them are striking and obvious. Not only that, but there is also no shortage of cultural legacies among tribal groups strewn along the “out-of-Africa” migration path all the way from Southeast Asia to Indonesia, Phillipines, New Guinea and other parts of Melanesia in which singing traditions are closely comparable to these Bushmen-Pygmy styles. (There is a 1996 French issued box-set anthology of vocal expression called “Les Voix du Monde” which is probably available in a decent library and on which you can check out the similarities yourself if you are interested.)

Lazz - You're not saying you're certain the ancients had something like modern polyphony/harmony are you? (please give me the short version answer!) From what I understand, there's a lot of conjecture in any analysis of ancient music.

Amazon actually has 30sec clips of every tune on that album: Les Voix du Monde clips

There's a lot of more modern stuff on that album. Which is the more ancient-like stuff you're referring to?

I'm NOT challenging you Lazz. What I understand about MY musical heritage (IE western music) is that it was probably rhythm and melody based primarily. I certainly realize harmony 'happened'... if you have 2 or 3 simultaneous melodies, there WILL be harmony.

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:05 PM

Quote

Lazz - You're not saying you're certain the ancients had something like modern polyphony/harmony are you? (please give me the short version answer!) From what I understand, there's a lot of conjecture in any analysis of ancient music.


Short answer is ‘Yes’
….. and ‘No’.
(Bloody typical!)

Modern like a western rationalized and codified system of articulated theoretical constructs for harmony ?
Nope.

Harmony in the Spinal Tap sense of “more than one note – at the same time” ?
Certainly.

Bushmen and Pygmies are undoubtedly aware that they are singing more than one note at the same time – but they aren’t thinking analytically about it in the same way that we might notate conscious intervallic relationships – they just learn the song parts from their mums and dads and join in with the rest of ‘em at an early age.

I understand the role of conjecture in cultural reconstruction, and recognise the undoubted challenges of building an informed representation of Greaco-Roman sounds from shards of pottery and interpretations of literary fragments and other archeological remnants, but here we have a real actual living music tradition of three & four-part polyphony which has quite possibly been around for 100,000 to 200,000 years.

Is that a reasonable conjecture ?
The least I can tell you is that the common conjecture that monophony naturally evolved into polyphony was something I found entirely and unquestioningly reasonable and plausible until I began exploring a little more carefully. Take a look yourself at Dr Vic Grauer’s book on his blogspot. His conjecture is constructed from a truly decent evaluation of the evidence we have so far. And he has a pile of great sound samples on-line, too. Fascinating stuff.

The Grauer sound samples are probably an easier and better bet than those 30-sec clips on Amazon (the ‘polyphony’ CD begins with track #74).

***

Oh - purely for fun - and because I have been looking for an excuse or reason to share - here is some related diversionary YouTubery:

First, a little bit of solo Pygmy returning-from-the-hunt song called "Hindewhu"
One little geezer singing & yipping along with his own trail-made flute and polyphonic thinking.
Then here's Herbie's use of the song on "Watermelon Man".

Second, check out these fabulous Banda Linda Horns - geezers here play one horn each, with each horn playing only one note apiece.
And then here's what Steve Reich made with the same compositional technique in "Electric Counterpoint"

***

We of the West may be content with the notion of polyphony as a triumphant achievement of the classical European aesthetic. But really, it seems to have been a natural part of human expression for a long, long time. It's just that some original wee bits broke off those earlier cultural traditions during the course of changes as population moved through Europe and became specialised and complicated.
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Posted 29 March 2012 - 05:26 AM

Lazz,

I checked out les voix 74-77 and they sure sound mostly melody based to me. Same with the flute tune that HH re-envisions.

There's certainly harmony and implied harmony in all of them, but what I'm hearing sure sounds like distinct melody lines, with one or two notes or drones that they revolve around and resolve to frequently.

Does that musicologist interview the pygmies to see how they think about what they're singing?

Since it's an art form for them I certainly realize there's probably a whole lot of complexity and nuance in the performances that is filled with meaning for them. I'm not disparaging it in any way. I'm just wondering how the pygmies and bushmen think about their performances? (again - the short version answer is much preferred!) Is there a list of the words they use to describe their music?

On the other hand, our Greco-Roman-Western history is probably only very distantly related to this African music.

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 04:42 PM

Hi Ian.

Your preference for short version answers suggests you may be expert at tweeting.

This lovely “La Voix du Monde” collection contains 103 examples of vocalizing from all over the world – and none of it specifically designed to support much of the point I was making.

The reasons I introduced/recommended it are:
1. It is a fascinating collection which I have found to be curious, enjoyable & informative, and hoped that it may offer similar pleasure to others.
2. If somebody wished to do so, with the assistance of the admirable little booklet which accompanies the package, anyone could select examples from peoples along the quoted migration path and listen to the trail of similarities for themselves.
3. Borrowing it from the library seemed a more realistic likelihood than anyone following up on specific recommendations of individual field recordings from each of the different areas.

I regret that the Amazon set-up doesn’t make that sort of thing easy to do. (Why should it?) The Aka pygmies are at track #99 – It’s music for divination by a mixed chorus with hand claps, two drums, a couple of pairs of clashed metal blades, rattle and jingles. After the solo yodeled incipit the chorus voices enter successively to arrive at a complex counterpoint formed of four strongly varied principal parts: motangole “the one who counts” (the one who sings the words); ngue wa limbo “the mother of the song”; osese “underneath”; diyei “yodel”. It was recorded by a very special French-Israeli guy named Simha Arom in 1971. But you probably won’t be able to discern any of that from a 30-second clip – which is why I subsequently redirected you to Victor Grauer’s book “Sounding the Depths: Tradition and the Voices of History” which is eighteen bucks on Amazon but freely accessible on his blog-site complete with all-important illustrative examples.

If you have no time for that option, take a peek at this simplified outline of the basic structure of a BaAka Pygmy song, "Mama Angeli," taken from Michelle Kisliuk's book “Seize the Dance”.
Posted Image

Polyphony loud and clear.
And that's the main thrust - polyphony preceded monophony.

As for how they think about it - that's a great and intriguing line of enquiry that facinates me as well. I don't have many real answers yet (certainly none which are short-version) as I am only at the start of this journey, but I am coincidentally awaiting a paper by Susanne Fürniss and Emmanuelle Olivier in which they argue that while Pygmy and Bushmen music sounds the same they actually have very different conceptions of what they are doing.

"Since it's an art form for them"
They don't appear to think of it that way at all - it's much more everyday than commodification or elevated status as 'art'.
(But it's still polyphony)

If you get more interested, try this:
"African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: Musical Structure and Methodology" by Simha Arom - which is definitely one to borrow from the library unless you feel able to squander $400.
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Posted 01 April 2012 - 04:31 AM

Hi Lazz,

I'd really be interested to hear that "Mama Angel" piece. It certainly does look polyphonic on paper. It also looks like a and e are drone notes, which is something I heard in some of those previous samples.

What do you think of this statement of Victor Grauer's?:

While Pygmy/Bushmen performances can sound to the uninitiated like unorganized streams of continuous group improvisation, careful study has revealed that they are, in fact, based on controlling, continually repeated rhythmic cycles and melodic configurations, either expressed or more often implied, which provide a harmonic, rhythmic and motivic reference for everything else we hear. (emphasis mine).

I'm not disputing that there's polyphony in these african pieces. But it would seem from this quote that the polyphony might be secondary to the rhythm and melody, which is what I thought in the 1st place.

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Ian
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Posted 01 April 2012 - 06:36 PM

Ian Ferrin said:

I'm not disputing that there's polyphony in these african pieces.

Hence the related points I was making, Ian, that as far as we can tell from the earliest most ancient music which we can know, polyphony preceded monophony.
And I always presumed the opposite to be true.

Quote

But it would seem from this quote that the polyphony might be secondary to the rhythm and melody, which is what I thought in the 1st place.

I don't know whether I would make that conclusion, personally, tending to prevaricate much more about the idea of which element deserves to be given most primacy. Apart from finding it easy to consider that we came down from trees singing and swinging and the percussion section was recruited a little later, I feel unqualified to comment - there's simply too much of the music that I have not heard yet.

I agree that "harmony", rationalisation, codification, is a very modernist characteristic in general.
Couldn't have happened in any other context.

Here's the transcript of a radio interview with Michelle Kisliuk and her husband.
And here's one of her 'academic' essay book contributions.
Hope you find them interesting.
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Posted 02 April 2012 - 02:35 AM

View PostLazz, on 01 April 2012 - 04:36 PM, said:

as far as we can tell from the earliest most ancient music which we can know, polyphony preceded monophony.

I still don't see it Lazz. Common sense says music started from the simple and got more complex after that. Polyphony is more complex that monophony. It just doesn't make sense. It's like saying the cart came before the wheel.

Music had to have started w/ a single individual singing or banging on something... and then it evolved from there. It's pretty hard to imagine otherwise.

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 10:48 AM

Ian Ferrin said:

I still don't see it Lazz. Common sense says music started from the simple and got more complex after that. Polyphony is more complex that monophony. It just doesn't make sense. It's like saying the cart came before the wheel.

Music had to have started w/ a single individual singing or banging on something... and then it evolved from there. It's pretty hard to imagine otherwise.

No sweat, Ian. I understand completely, having believed exactly the same thing myself.
It's a challenge to our naturally arrogant sense of innate superiority.
Nonetheless, the actual evidence may still change your mind.
Pretty suspect when we dismiss things a priori.
And I find the ideas reasonably robust.
Obviously iconoclastic, too.
(I like that quality)
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The relation and balance of the two arts is a problem that has to be resolved anew in every song that is composed.”

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 08:26 AM

View PostLazz, on 02 April 2012 - 08:48 AM, said:

It's a challenge to our naturally arrogant sense of innate superiority.

Pretty suspect when we dismiss things a priori.

Are you saying that in Africa, at the earliest times, people started singing together BEFORE they started singing by themselves? (IE not comparing African music to western music - just comparing African music to African music).

If that's what you're saying, Yep, that just doesn't compute!

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 03:08 PM

Ian Ferrin said:

Are you saying that in Africa, at the earliest times, people started singing together BEFORE they started singing by themselves?

Sorry Ian, didn’t realise I was being unclear.
That is a core part of the thesis, yes.

At the pygmy-bushman nexus, music is a social activity in which everybody participates as a general accompaniment to everyday life.
So why would they need to start singing by themselves first?
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The relation and balance of the two arts is a problem that has to be resolved anew in every song that is composed.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 09:09 PM

So is it my understanding that with this pigmy-bushman group fest, there were no small parts only small singers?

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 09:57 PM

... with diminished voicings
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Posted 06 April 2012 - 10:09 PM

Ian Ferrin said:

Does that musicologist interview the pygmies to see how they think about what they're singing?

There are some answers in "Aka Polyphony: Music, Theory, Back and Forth" by Susanne Fürniss
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The relation and balance of the two arts is a problem that has to be resolved anew in every song that is composed.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 01:48 PM

View PostLazz, on 06 April 2012 - 01:08 PM, said:

Ian Ferrin said:

Are you saying that in Africa, at the earliest times, people started singing together BEFORE they started singing by themselves?

Sorry Ian, didn’t realise I was being unclear.
That is a core part of the thesis, yes.

At the pygmy-bushman nexus, music is a social activity in which everybody participates as a general accompaniment to everyday life.
So why would they need to start singing by themselves first?

That's pretty interesting Lazz.

In a sense you're describing music as a language, or at least an adjunct to language.

Which begs the question, is it language or is it music? My guess is that you can't completely separate them, like we moderns pretty much have.

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 02:13 PM

Ian Ferrin said:

In a sense you're describing music as a language, or at least an adjunct to language.

If we entertain the metaphor of language, maybe we need to accept that music is the only example which possesses the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable.

And while we are thinking about language, there is a small argumentative bundle of provocations contained in Steven Mithen's "The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind,and Body", which posits and explores the possibility that early vocal expression, before we had evolved to linguistic utterances, was tonal and melodic. He calls this hypothetical mode of communication “Hmmmmm”.
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Hillaire Belloc

“SONG is the joint art of words and music, two arts under emotional pressure coalescing into a third.
The relation and balance of the two arts is a problem that has to be resolved anew in every song that is composed.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 06:27 AM

View PostLazz, on 08 April 2012 - 12:13 PM, said:

Ian Ferrin said:

In a sense you're describing music as a language, or at least an adjunct to language.

If we entertain the metaphor of language, maybe we need to accept that music is the only example which possesses the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable.

I accept what you're saying about the PBN. (w/i my very limited exposure).

I'm not sure music is a language. But all languages have musical properties. And as I understand it, you're saying music evolved along w/ language, even inseparable from and conjoined to language.

At some point music became a separate thing, in and of itself. When do you think that happened?

Peace,

Ian
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A hammer is just a tool. But it's a powerful tool" - me

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 12:39 PM

Ian Ferrin said:

as I understand it, you're saying music evolved along w/ language, even inseparable from and conjoined to language.

Evolutionary biology (as far as I can tell) appears to suggest that our ancestors were able to make 'sounds' even before they developed the physical equipment deemed necessary for the styles of vocal articulations we employ as words in language. The idea is simply that those primitive sounds could still be used intentionally to communicate meaning. It isn't too hard at all for me to imagine a range embracing a warning roar, a reassuring murmur, a hum of pleasure and comfort, a gentling lullaby.... It is unlikely to be mere co-incidence that the subsequent African languages around the neighbourhood are tonal - or that the drums are also tonal, and also communicate meaning.

Ian Ferrin said:

At some point music became a separate thing, in and of itself. When do you think that happened?

I find this harder to sort out than we might imagine.
First I have trouble with this 'thing'-ness concept. I mean, personally I have no problem thinking of music as an idealised and separate 'thing' all its own - but neither the pygmy nor bushmen (nor several other significant linguistic groups) seem to have even a word for it. And, in order for it to become a separate 'thing', surely it would demand its own conceptual identifier. Wouldn't you think? I am uncertain.

I am tending to think that music begins to become a separate 'thing' when the practice of music-making moves from participation to performance. Where societies develop specialisations and grow elites, that's when music becomes a commodity and we become an audience for the performance of a 'thing'. So I see it happening at different times in different places. Mali developed an elite, for instance, which encouraged their tradition of phenomenal virtuosi - but the pygmies just don't have that virtuoso concept at all.

I guess, in other words, that I don't really have the faintest idea.
(Yet.)
Hip Pocket Music

"It is the best of all trades to make songs...
and the second best to sing them"

Hillaire Belloc

“SONG is the joint art of words and music, two arts under emotional pressure coalescing into a third.
The relation and balance of the two arts is a problem that has to be resolved anew in every song that is composed.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 04:24 AM

View PostLazz, on 09 April 2012 - 10:39 AM, said:

Ian Ferrin said:

At some point music became a separate thing, in and of itself. When do you think that happened?

I find this harder to sort out than we might imagine.
First I have trouble with this 'thing'-ness concept. I mean, personally I have no problem thinking of music as an idealised and separate 'thing' all its own - but neither the pygmy nor bushmen (nor several other significant linguistic groups) seem to have even a word for it. And, in order for it to become a separate 'thing', surely it would demand its own conceptual identifier. Wouldn't you think? I am uncertain.

I am tending to think that music begins to become a separate 'thing' when the practice of music-making moves from participation to performance. Where societies develop specialisations and grow elites, that's when music becomes a commodity and we become an audience for the performance of a 'thing'. So I see it happening at different times in different places. Mali developed an elite, for instance, which encouraged their tradition of phenomenal virtuosi - but the pygmies just don't have that virtuoso concept at all.

I guess, in other words, that I don't really have the faintest idea.
(Yet.)


I'm willing to accept all your ideas about African music evolving along with language and probably developing real harmony.

But as a Western white guy, my musical heritage goes pretty deep into harps and lyres and horns and clanging symbols... all of which probably focused on melody and rhythm and excluded focusing on harmony. At least as I understand it. The Greeks and Romans and Hebrews had music as a separate 'thing' and that's where a lot of my musical heritage comes from.

Peace,

Ian
Ian's Soundclick Page

"Hammers don't build houses. People build houses.

A hammer is just a tool. But it's a powerful tool" - me

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