Ode to Mac Demarco

In 2015, in peak position at number 25 on the Billboard charts for Top 200, you will find my boy Mac Demarco’s album Another One. Maybe you’ve heard of him, and maybe you haven’t. Either way, that’s fine because I’m gonna talk about him here in this last music theory blog post.

I first heard Mac Demarco about a year ago, maybe at the end of two years ago, from an audio post on tumblr which was European Vegas from his first (garage recorded sounding…) album Rock and Roll Night Club. I’m still happy that, that was the first song of Mac’s I heard because it was probably the best among his worst because the recording alone sounded awful, yet, I was intrigued. The guitar part and drumming really reeled me in into seeing Mac at his best.

With him being a talented musician, it wasn’t hard for me to fall in love with his music as I discovered another song of his from an audio post which was My Kind of Woman from his album, 2. This song really opened my eyes to his second album which I consider my favorite of his, and I never felt like I had to question his music until recently. One day I was just driving to school listening to his album and realized how inspired he was by old school rock; and I’m not talking Guns N Roses, Metallica, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, or Led Zeppelin. No. I’m talking about the pop rock that emerged from the ’70s, but also something a little older than that. The early Beatles.

We of course remember Led Zeppelin for what it was, but we don’t quite remember Robert Plant’s pop rock work in the ’80s. The same, almost, with the Beatles. When we think Beatles, we think of the stuff we hear from them in commercials like Hello Goodbye, or All You Need is Love as well as beloved favorites like Let It Be and Yesterday, and finally the album art for Abbey Road. What we don’t always think of, unless we’re a casual fan (or have their Rockband game), are things like Nowhere Man and If I Needed Someone. My question is, how did Mac manage to blend elements of ’80s pop rock, and mid-Beatles to create the rock music he does? I’m going to look at two of Mac’s albums, 2 and Another One, as I think they carry diversity, and represent him and overall career pretty well.

As far as the ’60s element goes, songs Dreaming  and Ode To Viceroy really caused me to think about the Beatles with the guitar tone, as well as relaxed drumming and tempo that resembled a couple songs from Rubber Soul. Another Beatle-esque element of the song would have to be the use of borrowed chords as they did in In My Life. Cooking Up Something Good, and Freaking Out the Neighborhood seem Beatle inspired musically of course, but also in lyrical content as they both tell stories that get a little twisted as they progress, both reminiscent in that way of Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man.

In the ’80s category, the only song I can really think of is My Kind of Woman, and even then, it blended with the ’60s elements as far as guitar tone went. The ’80s element to this song was really the use of a synthesizer type instrument which followed the guitar which was something they would do in the ’80s. Another One was really a big album that resembled the ’80s as it was primarily synthesizer/keyboard based. Songs like Another One and A Heart Like Hers reminisced a blend of I’m In The Mood and Thru’ With The Two Step from Robert Plant’s 1983 album The Principle of Moments.

I personally find Mac’s music to be cool, enjoyable, and sometimes, even relaxing. The blend of the two decades, and genres allowed for oddly beautiful songs like My Kind of Woman, and Ode To Viceroy. His talent as a song writer, for me, is very fresh for the on-going rock scene, all while telling a story, or writing a love sing à la Paul McCartney, teetering, and balancing the sound of the mid 1960s, and the early days of pop rock from the 1980s.

Feel free to listen to this pretty little live acoustic version of Dreaming from 2 by Mac Demarco.

So Art Deco

1401x788-images-uploads-gallery-21-lana-del-rey-honeymoon-neil-krug

I feel like I’ve written more than my fair share of Ms. Lana Del Rey, but her music never fails to make me question it. Honeymoon was released in September 2015, and is her fourth studio album (but is actually the eleventh album that she’s made…). The first song I heard off of it was High By the Beach since it was released a month prior to the album. Interested in what she had to offer, I listened to it, but I found that it wasn’t like her previous albums. I began to wonder if she had fallen into what her fans, and critics expected of her, but it was just too weird, and I didn’t like it. Honeymoon, as a single, was released a few weeks after, and my best friend convinced me to listen to it, so I did, but I still found it weird except for maybe the bridge part of the song.

After listening to the album a few times after it’s release, I still wasn’t convinced to like it. I began to really wonder, “What is wrong with Lana Del Rey this time?” After three albums, how could the fourth have missed the mark so bad? My speculation was that she had fallen into what fans, and critics demanded; “Stop writing about your personal life, (and old men,) and relate more to your fan base” perhaps. I’d always regarded Ms. Lana Del Rey as one of the best story tellers of music in the twenty-first century as she told stories of herself through characters like Carmen, who was a teenaged girl who basically had a drug, alcohol, and fame problem, but in the entire album, Honeymoon, she was generically just singing about how she loves a boy, and how she was trying to convince him that loving her back would be right. Although the lack of stories were compensated for in her poetic lyrics, I still couldn’t get past why I couldn’t enjoy her music as much as I had for the past two and a half albums.

One day, I decided to watch the music video for Freak for some reason, and at the end of the video, Clair De Lune by Claude Debussy was added just to extend the video for artistic purposes. After a few days of analyzing post tonal music in Music Theory, I realized that maybe adding Debussy to the end of her song wasn’t an accident, much less coincidence… or maybe it was, but it was a really good one that opened my eyes. Debussy, being part of the school of new diatonicism, was able to compose music that perhaps to a more trained musician would seem weird, but to anyone else, it would simply be beautiful. After listening to Music To Watch Boys To, I realized that a few of the songs off of Honeymoon were not conventional, not even to today’s pop music standards. I looked at some of the chords for Honeymoon, as well as Music To Watch Boys To, and I realized their functions were blurred. The chord progressions were odd, but no more than most of the melodies she wrote. The idea of a key was definitely present, but in all honesty, the chords and melodies were just too weird. Her heightened poetic lyrics, and now, post tonal sounding music would fly past anyone who wasn’t looking out for them.

I realized that Honeymoon, like a lot of post tonal music, isn’t for everyone. For me, it just took some getting used to, though I wouldn’t listen to it over her previous albums. I’m not saying it is necessarily post tonal because most, if not all, of the songs seem to have a tonal center, but the chord progressions could definitely throw someone who is trained off. I admire what she has done with her music throughout her more “mainstream” career because if anything, it is undeniably not like other pop songs on the radio. It’s not everyday someone like Beyonce or Ariana Grande are gonna put out a song that sounds unsettling or unresolved to the ears.

Here’s her single, Honeymoon if you wanna hear basically the reason why I made this blog post…

“No Stairway? Denied!”

tumblr_lxa7im1wLZ1qz6f4bo1_1280.jpg

Stairway to Heaven was released in 1971 on their fourth title-less album known as Led Zeppelin IV, or ZoSo. It is regarded highly as one of, if not the greatest rock song ever composed, and I used the word composed because that is what it was. It was constructed by no accident. Every detail and thought put into it has allowed it to become so widely popular, and well renown.

Here’s a video of the song if you’d like to read while you listen, or hear it before or after you read.

Jumping right into why I believe the song is very effective, and why it’s so popular, I’ll start with the very first chord which is a soft arpeggiation of an A Minor chord on a simple guitar where one string is even slightly out of tune (I think it adds character). The guitar introduces sort of a medieval theme, and after it goes through a progression, it’s next joined by recorders that emulate the sound of pipes perhaps heard in the medieval period, and is also an important theme through out the text of the song. This is also quite a major part of the song since it sounds like it is now in the relative major key of C, rather than it staying in A Minor from the use of the I-II-IV-vi-I-V-II, but returns to the minor mode allowing for the vocals to build on top of the recorders.

These three elements remain as it goes through the cycle of the minor area, major area, and back to the minor before allowing another part to add on top of the vocals making the opening text clear, and almost alluring.

“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven…”

The song begins to depict an image, or story of a woman in a medieval era with not only words, but the music.

Once the song has gone through the opening cycle, it introduces a new chord progression with a almost unnoticeable accelerando, and bears the text, “and it makes me wonder.” This chord progression feels like it revolves tonally around G (the dominant of C) as the cycle has ended on an Am, and opens on a G. This progression includes for this section Am7, G, D, and C. This section has also added to the three parts, a 12 stringed guitar to allow the acoustic sound to become fuller, as well as replacing the recorders with an organ.

Next, the song returns to C Major in a new progression as well as adding an electric guitar with a “clean” tone. This progression is now I-V-vi-I-V-IV-vi including lyrics that build as to why the narrator of this story feels wonder, and finally encounters the piper. This section of wonder continues for two cycles before the plot, and song both unfold once more with new instruments and text ideas, and accelerates toward the end into the next section.

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving. In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees…”

“And it’s whispered that soon, if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason. And a new day will dawn…”

By the third section, it continues with the same chord progression as the last, but introduces a new melody, text ideas, and now drums that push the song’s tempo. Also by this point, it’s noted that both acoustic guitar elements have been removed which gives the song a contemporary rock sound which is as if the song had come out of its dark medieval period, and into a bright spring as the text suggests,

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow don’t be alarmed now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.”

After two cycles of this idea, this area ends on the V, and introduces a short, yet new idea in D. Jimmy Page (guitarist and writer of the song) has rightly described this area as a fanfare. “The concept of the solo was to have something like a sort of fanfare, so it’s a definite transition.” -Jimmy Page 2014. The fanfare introducing the solo carried the initial medieval idea, as well as temporarily tonicizing D as that was considered a regal key in that time period. With no surprise, this happens twice before ending on G and going into the next section, and accelerating again.

The penultimate section is introduced now with the removal of the organ sound being replaced with a bass giving it the full contemporary rock band sound featuring a guitar solo over IV-vi-V beginning in an A pentatonic scale and progressing melodically with the song. By the end of the solo, the “rock band” sound has also reached a thicker sound as the guitars use barre chords which only allows the lower notes to ring giving it a hard rock sound, as the drums, and singer’s voice becomes more aggressive, as well as one last change of text.

“And as we wind on down the road; our shadow’s taller than our souls. There walks a lady we all know, who shines white light and wants to show how everything still turns to gold…”

The final section begins again with a short guitar solo that leads the rest of the band to a ritardando as each part quickly fades one after the other leaving the text to be song alone,

“And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

What I’ve found fascinating about this entire song was how only four chords could be made to tell a story, depict a setting using instruments, melody and text ideas, and create at least six sections to unfold in the span of eight minutes with never a dull moment. There’s a reason why this is consider by many such an amazing, and powerful song, and really, let’s not even get into the idea of having it played backwards…

Music Day to Day

Music is one thing that is pretty hard to escape as mentioned by the prompt; it is everywhere from commercials, to even public bathrooms sometimes, but what is the purpose of all that? Music is a day to day thing that is often used to influence us, whether it’s a catchy jingle to convince us to buy car insurance with State Farm, or to make us feel hype when our favorite hero’s theme plays. Aside from all that secular use, why do we have music in church? What’s the real use of it in a Christian’s daily life?

Originally, before we had commercials, film, or even restaurants to play songs to subliminally get us out faster, God had created a being in his heavenly kingdom to actually be in charge of creating music for a purpose that doesn’t involve selling you car insurance, or getting you hype during a movie. In Ezekiel 28:13 (KJV) it tells us (speaking of Lucifer) “…the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.” God had created a cherub, and along with him, instruments to create music, but still for what purpose?

Ultimately, the Bible explains to us that God had created man for fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9 “…ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”), as well as worship (Exodus 34:14 “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…”). All through the Bible, from as far as the days of Moses, to David, all the way to the end of times as predicted in Revelation, people have, and will continue to use music day to day as a way to thank God, and worship him for his greatness.

Starting with Moses, in Exodus 15:1 (KJV) right after God had split the Red Sea for Israel to pass through, and also extinguishing their enemies, Moses began to sing a song with Israel. “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” It was a song to worship and praise God for having helped them in their greatest moment of need at the time.

Another notable figure in the Bible who would lead, and was involved with music was King David, before and during his rule over Israel. David continues to be well known for writing the majority of what is known as the Bible’s songbook (Psalms). Another way music was used to worship God was in finding consolation in Him through song, as well as helping others find consolation as well. In Psalm 96:1-2 we find where David worship’s God through his music; “O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.” Evidently it was also used to declare his glory to others. In 1 Samuel 16:23 Saul was being tormented by an evil spirit that appeared when God’s had left him, and David was given the ability to help soothe his spirit. “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”

Finally, in Revelation a group of a hundred and forty-four thousand sang a “new song” to God as the big war between good and evil was coming to it’s end. “ And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders…” (Revelation 14:3) Obviously, their song(s) were for worship as it is in Revelation 15:3 “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.”

Given these verses from the Bible, God’s intent for music was mainly to worship Him, being truly, the least we could do for Him. In worshiping Him through music, we can often find consolation as David often did, or console others as Saul was being sometimes that life can just be hard, and sometimes hearing a sweet hymn can calm our spirits. We can use it to give thanks, worship, and prepare our own hearts, as well as the hearts of others to hear what God has to say to us. Music is so easy to make as nearly anyone can hum; it’s the least we have to offer the God of creation as well as salvation. Our daily use of it can be to those in times before us, as said in 2 Chronicals 5:13 “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever…”

The Suspense, The Horror

shcjk3ffrbjpmz3h16rw.jpg

The year is 1931, and it’s that creepy look from a scene that naturally in your subconscious, a creepy little violin is playing while Count Dracula is staring down a victim to do more evil as he does. Unfortunately, if you heard the violin in your head when I mentioned it, it’s sad to say that there was no violin in this scene…or in any scene of this movie.

In the era just after that of the Silent, horror movies began to be produced by Universal studios where their acting spoke louder than song. It’s odd to consider because even though words could not be heard in the silent movies of the ’20s, music was used, then once words could be recorded, music was removed for a short era. It’s hard to really tell nowadays since some silent movies have been remastered with different scores, but it can be assumed that either way, when the Phantom of the Opera was attacking Christine’s fiance, Raul, a suspenseful piece would play, and the same as horrifying moments when Dr. Jekyll would turn into Mr. Hyde, yet the first movie to dawn into an era of sound featured not even a single violin of suspense. The elements of suspense only depended on the actor, and the look in dead silence that could speak louder than any word.

In modern times, we wouldn’t even think of a horror movie without music to the point where we associate little themes to horror villains like Michael Myers, Jaws, Psycho’s Norman Bates, or even Sci-Fi villains like Darth Vader.

I strongly believe that for their time, Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and the few others that were with sound, yet without music, they were perfect without it. Dracula, for example, would be a lot different were it for  just one creepy violin to build suspense, but the silence, and black and white aspect gave the movie all the drama like that of a movie like any modern horror. It’s only the question of, does suspense draw from silence and visual, or from a creepy violin that tells us something crazy is about to happen?

Come to think of it, Paranormal Activity never featured one tune for suspense…

You Are My Muse

There are two things I really enjoy writing about and those would usually be: classic horror/cult movies, and albums, and for this blog post, I wanted to talk about my theory over an album which I think is an interesting one which to me seems to be a concept album which is arguable. My curiosity which lead me to talk about this particular album is Matt Bellamy’s use of classical music, and the conceptual themes of them.

The Resistance by Muse

Muse is a British-American alternative rock band who released the Resistance on September 11th, 2009.

There are a lot of things I personally liked about this album. I heard it for the first time with my friend as we were just sitting in the middle of my room one evening sharpie tattooing each other as eighteen year olds do, and I asked her to share whatever she was into with me, so since she’d recently gotten this album, she put it on for us to both listen to. One thing that initially stood out to me among the other albums she put on, was that at the end of the fourth track, United States of Eurasia was a song I was (and still am) learning on piano by one of my favorite composers- Nocturne Op.9 No.2 by Frederic Chopin with orchestration which I found odd that it found it’s way into an alternative rock album.

The more I learned about the album, I realized that the lead singer, Matt Bellamy had played the piano part on the album, and he didn’t hire a professional to do it which intrigued me even more. Eventually, I liked that part so much, and found great that it was incorporated, I started listening to the song, and eventually the entire album, and to my surprise, there was another song that went overlooked for me. I was initially fascinated by the song, but I found Bellamy’s French terrible in I Belong to You. It really wasn’t until I heard someone actually singing Mon Coeur S’Ouvre A Ta Voix that I realized that he’d incorporated another classical piece into his album. Really to even cap off the album, he even wrote a symphony, and his knowledge of classical music and such really blew my mind. I wasn’t expecting it from an alternative rock band. It’s like expecting the Arctic Monkeys for some reason to include Sois Immoble into their next album…you just don’t, but I appreciated the musicality of the band, and album.

Now briefly, in my convoluted mind, I think the album in a way is a concept album (and apparently other people do too). It’s called the Resistance because it’s a story of perhaps a resistance against the (reformed) Soviet Union where they’re once again oppressive and the singer is the main character preaching about his rebellion while he falls, or has fallen in love with a fellow rebel. I’m a huge fan of concept albums, so every time I listen to the album, it, to me, is like listening to a story. It begins with Uprising introducing the antagonists and continues to Resistance telling about the rebellion and their struggles. Undisclosed Desires is where the protagonist falls in love, and I assume there’s a (reformed) Soviet Union because Russia is located in Eurasia, and as before mentioned, United States of Eurasia ends with Chopin’s piece, and it can be assumed that Poland was invaded by these antagonists by the way the piece sounds, and also because they chose Chopin who was Polish. The album continues to alternate between the main story, and the protagonist falling in love, and ends with the near end of this war, and the protagonist perhaps composing symphonies to mark the upcoming triumph.

I think The Resistance is definitely an alternative rock album worth checking out, and it can be found on YouTube. I just love concept albums (I love Pink Floyd, and 90% of their albums are concept albums), and I love musical stories- they’re like the modern opera, and this is worth hearing those little bits of true musicianship through out the band…and Bellamy.

That One Hymn

Sometime in the summer of last year, a family had come to visit and later became members of the church, and one thing I noticed immediately was the mom’s voice. One must consider, I go to a very small church where the congregation just sings to worship, and really, we don’t even have enough people for a choir, so one day I decided to speak to the mom. Her and I talked about music since it was a common interest of ours. She had taken some music courses in college, and still remembered thing that she’d learned in choir, and after sometime, I began to wonder why her and I weren’t singing duets for church. It seemed that neither of us were really the kind to sing solos, so I took the thought to her and she agreed that it would be good idea since we didn’t really have anything for musical specials before the preaching except for whenever the small children’s choir sang.

I figured it would all be interesting to have a real duet singing for the church, and it worked really well; she was a mezzo, and I love singing alto, so we agreed to meet on Saturdays to sing on Sunday mornings. Though the memory is vague, I won’t forget that she usually asked me to pick the song that we could sing on Sunday, and sometimes I had ideas, and other times she did. I remember once we did It Is Well With My Soul, which is my favorite hymn to sing because the words are so meaningful, not to mention the story behind it, but I’m honestly a sucker for the alto line. The unison that really brings out the text, then descending semitones in some places; I just really love singing those, but surprisingly, that was not the hymn that truly moved me as another that we did.

I think it was in January we decided to sing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus since I was a fan of the alto line (I honestly think that’s how I base my favorites for any hymn), and rehearsing it went fine. I never really gave a second thought to the words of the song, and paid too much attention to just the music, which I am often guilty of no matter what kind of song it is. I won’t forget, however, how we went forward to sing it, and the words of the song hit me like a train. It was crazy because we sang the song in Spanish (our services are in Spanish), as well as in English, and both somehow got my brain to click. The translation of the chorus in Spanish is similar, but a little different as it says, “Put your eyes to Jesus. He’s full with grace and love. The world has no value compared to God’s glorious light.” Also the song in general starts with a question in the English, “O soul, are you weary and troubled?” (or Spanish, “Oh soul tired and troubled”), as human it’s just something we all experience, it caused me to think that this song had a greater meaning than just a nice Alto line. It motivated me to remember that even if we spiritually get tired, that God will always have his glory, and light for us to look to. It’s even more incredible that after realizing the meaning of the words as I was singing, the song became of greater value, and that the notes in themselves had more meaning too.

There have been other times where I had sung, and was almost moved to tears, but this was a song I’d been singing since I was little growing up in church, and I really think it inspired me to continue doing what I can in music for God.

Guitarists and Music Theory

As people may or may not know, I’m quite the guitar enthusiast. I love playing it, so for some strange reason a few years ago, I had a fantastic idea to start running a guitar blog. About a year in, after I was feeling confident enough to begin sharing my experience with others as I already was at school, I decided to open the blog for questions of any kind. No limitations whatsoever, but I feel like I should’ve known better.

I’d made it clear to the followers that I was an intermediate guitar player running a blog, and obviously many people were beyond my years or knowledge as they came to me asking about the neck/string tension, electric wirings, or pickups, and have mercy because I still didn’t know what the tone knobs did, and at the time I don’t think I ever changed an entire guitar’s set of strings. I was lucky, however, that over the years, a lot of beginners have come to me asking about callouses, tips on getting started, lessons over self taught, and those questions I could answer with ease.

All of a sudden as I started taking Music Theory II, that’s when when all these music theory questions started pouring in. What had started out as a humble blog for people to share their problems turned into an even greater community for people to ask questions about not only guitar, but theory. I guess one person asked something, and I got a little ahead of myself and boasted, “Hey. I’m taking music theory. I’ll answer your all theory questions.” People have asked me things about chords, like how do major, minor, augmented and diminished chords work, how do they work on the guitar, inversions on the guitar, modes, transposing modes…My favorite was explaining how a suspension and 5° are not the same thing (You can read my response here and the follow up question and answer here). My resolution for this problem was simple for me since we’d ended on suspension/non-chord tones before we left for the summer. It was my favorite part of theory because I felt it was easiest for me to understand, and being a guitar player, I can honestly say I’d been using suspensions before I could even rightly define them, but next problem has its resolution perhaps in the future.

One question, however, and surprisingly on Sunday, stumped me for a moment and I had to go back to Theory I from when I took it in my junior year of high school.

We hadn’t covered this yet in Theory II, and even more surprisingly, we briefly covered it on Monday; Modulation. I didn’t know much about it, and to be honest, I still don’t, but I figure that through out this course, it’ll eventually be touched on, but for the time being, I had to dig into my little brain and see how theory could help me figure out how to answer the question.

The person basically had asked if I could tell them how to change keys in the middle of a song, and I had to go back into my mind as mentioned before, and I still don’t really understand it so this is what I told them, “All I remember is the 5th of II? Right? Music theorists…or was it 2nd of V…either way, one of those notes there, you use the 7th chord, but who has time for that? Not me…My Sweet Lord Modulates 2 half steps. He took that major chord (D) added the 7th (D7) then the fourth of that chord with a 7th (B7) and went from D to E. It’s worked for me on other things, but here’s another link that also better explains how to do it” (mind you that the guitar blog isn’t a formally run, but you can see the original question and answer here). I honestly and hardly remember what on earth finding a chord built on the 5th of II did. I just vaguely remembered my good ol’ choir director saying, “Eventually, you use that for modulation,” and feeling smart, I allowed it to stick with me. I’m not all too sure if that’s right or not, and couldn’t exactly even explain what George Harrison did in My Sweet Lord to achieve the key change. Someone with a little more theory knowledge had to come in and help explain better, in turn teaching me something just before getting back into Music Theory. You can read their response here, and it was nearly verbatim of what Dr. Albrecht told us literally the next day.

I found it funny that we touched on modulation the Monday after I got this question, and also talking about non-chord tones today in class. It makes me happy that I know theory since I’m going to school to teach music, I can use this knowledge for now to help others…for free, but it’s a tool that I would’ve liked to have were I in their position as beginner guitarists who want to know theory but don’t have the best access to it.

Here’s my credibility

What Makes a Great Guitarist?

This question could apply to anything concerning music- What makes a great singer, oboe player, pianist, etc… But since I’m a guitar player, and spend so much more time listening to guitarists, I chose to write about what I think makes a great gutiarist. Of course this is all also a personal opinion, really more based off of what I know as a musician.

Rolling Stone, as well all know, is a pretty brutal, and always has been quite a stupid magazine even when it was more rock oriented, but they made this 100 Greatest Guitarist edition featuring these four players on the cover: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen.

32b6862f460e004b2260ee3938a3a36584025a22

and of course, it featured they’re constant number one player Jimi Hendrix on it at least three more times, as opposed to these other men who were only featured once. All of them, regardless are some of the best at their trade.
I, being a huge fan of Mr. Jimmy Page, have considered him my favorite guitarist, and definitely one of the best, and disagree with Rolling Stone on having made Jimi Hendrix number one. It apparently is based on how influential a guitarist is, so I’ll make it my first point on what makes a great guitarist.

100 guitar players are obviously featured on this list, but the placement, and even omitting of some guitarists (like Zakk Wylde) is incredible to me. If this is based on influence, I’ll never understand why Mr. Rory Gallagher is placed at 56, and John Lennon, who was hardly even a guitarist was placed at 55. Influential things like his incredible solos and usage of pinch harmonics in 1975 was more than anything John Lennon did between his career in the Beatles much less his generic ’70s rock and folk music career up until his final album released in 1980. Either way, to not make this a Rolling Stone rant, Lennon was influential toward the end of the Beatles’ career with songs like I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and Julia. The band itself was probably more influential than Rory Gallagher, sure, but Lennon himself? I disagree. Either way, extending passed famous musicians, a guitarist friend of mine who only used to play for the choir talent show inspired me to be a better guitar player hoping to influence others.

Another thing that makes a guitar player great is the understanding of their instrument like any other musician. Since Jimmy Page is my favorite, I’ll go on to explain with him. Something that always fascinated me about him was the amount of improvisation that he did in live shows. Again with influence, after Jimi Hendrix passed away, he took the torch forwarding the development of rock guitar as well as the genre being the grandfather of heavy metal. The reason he forwarded the development of playing rock guitar was his ability to improvise his playing on stage. Though often claiming he could never remember a solo, he never delivered two solos of the same kind. This of course is due to knowing his instrument well. For pianists, it may be easy. C is before those two black keys, C# follows, and so on. As a singer, I don’t really need to memorize where an A is. Someone can play that for me, and I suppose for flutes and other wind and brass instruments you sort of have to memorize where and how to play the notes, but guitar is something else (I’m not undermining another instrument, it’s just myself, and so many guitar players have this problem). There are 6 strings and about 24 frets and many (like myself) can’t be bothered to memorize where a C6 is on any string which makes it a little hard to improvise if you wanted to use it over maybe a backtrack in the key of F or something. A guitarist like Jimmy Page seemed to have that down considering his skill of improvisation; a different solo every night he played.

Finally, what I believe makes a great guitarist in my opinion, is knowing how to make a good sounding song; a nice melodic thing of music. Many guitarists do this; Eric Clapton, Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Mick Mars, Chris Bodrick (bless him he has a degree in music/guitar), Rory Gallagher, Tony Iommi, George Harrison, Slash to an extent and a number of others. Other’s in opposition like Jamie Cook, Zakk Wylde, I guess, are both guilty of never getting out of the pentatonic scale, and the more famous chug-a-luggers, and people who rely more on the sound of the guitar rather than making a good solo are just guilty of not being good guitarists in my opinion, and with reason of course. I feel like the ability to create music using a guitar is an attribute to being a good guitarist, just like our favorite singers when they make a song, if they make a tune that just makes you wonder if they at any point in their life took music theory, and it was just so brilliant you have to sit down and ponder on it, it’s the same with guitarists. I can appreciate Zakk Wylde, and Jamie Cook, sure, but it’s a guitarist like Jimmy Page that makes me wonder how his brain even managed to compose a guitar “orchestra” as he put it with Achilles Last Stand.

Guitarists are fascinating, and despite what Rolling Stone says, there are so many more who are influential, who know how to work their guitar, and know how to make me wonder. That’s what makes a good guitarist.

To conclude, I’m gonna throw in my favorite solo. I know, the ’70s was a weird time with bell bottoms, long hair, open shirts and Robert Plant, so bare with me, but here’s a video of the live version of Jimmy Page’s solo in Stairway to Heaven. Nearly 100% improvised (especially if you’re familiar with the song, you’ll notice) and 100% makes me wonder…

In My Time of Dying: Rock Music, the Devil, and Tritones

1323284627JimmyPage

I decided to make this blog post about my specific music taste because it has such a bad reputation, and for good reasons. That I won’t deny, and yet, many of these reasons as to why it’s so looked down upon are just primarily misconceived notions. Others however are not. They in fact bring a little bit of music theory into these notions, and with a lot of thought, I’m going to try and explain Rock Music, the Devil, and Tritones.

Back in the Medieval times, we are all aware of those tedious church modes that I certainly still don’t understand except the basic concept of them. There was one mode, however, that was not allowed to be played in the church, or used to make music for the church, and that was the Locrain mode in which the tritone was a defining feature of. Considering that tritones were not allowed to be played in the church (probably because they sound ugly more than anything) they were finally considered ominous, evil…”Satan’s scale.”

Fast forward out of the Medieval times to Mississippi in the early 1930’s. It was a very hard time in America, especially for African American’s and people of color. During this period, blues music was rising derived from the pain of the south. In the midst of blues guitar players was a young man named Robert Johnson. Many considered Johnson to be the worst guitar player’s they ever heard. They’d often tell him, “Boy, put that down…” until one day Johnson left, and returned playing tunes on the guitar like no blues player had heard before. Most often wonder how Johnson had gotten so good at guitar over night. To many, it’s a mystery, but to others, they claim Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play, and be the best player there ever was. For what it was worth, he was, but ultimately, songs like Crossroads with lyrics like, “I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees. Asked the Lord above for mercy, ‘save me if you please.'” or even Hellhound on My Trail began to hit the studio, and phonographs of blues music listeners. Why were these songs written? Some may say that his time was coming and he knew it. He had sold his soul, and out of his fame, it was his time. Robert Johnson was the first to join the “27 Club,” yet considered one of the most influential guitar players ever, for out of his music was born what we know today as Rock and Roll.

It has come a long way since the blues days of the early 1930s, however, the legend of selling one’s soul to the devil hasn’t been shaken off. Many people believe that today’s rock music is the reason why it’s so associated with the devil with all the screaming, and constant (and ugly in my opinion) “chug-a-lug” guitar riffs. That I hardly even consider a branch off of Rock music. Rock music has always had such an ugly reputation. Kids were often told to turn down that little Richard, that Chuck Berry, those Beatles, dirty Led Zeppelin, satanic Black Sabbath, evil Kiss and so on. Rock to many was loud noise they didn’t want to hear, to others in the more conservative era, the devil’s message. Because, yes, with lyrics like “Back in the classroom, open your books
Keep up the teacher don’t know how mean she looks!” and “I wanna hold your hand,” are so evil. One may think that I’m over looking that dirty Led Zeppelin from their most famous song about a pied piper leading a lady to the Stairway to Heaven, or that scary Black Sabbath song about seeing a dark entity in the night that freaked one of the guys out, but really, that’s as bad as rock music gets concerning the devil. Anything else people may think is just a misconceived notion really.

Now, is this music edifying? I don’t think so. Many songs promoted things that may just be considered immoral, but I feel like that can be overlooked because so does pop, and it’s not essentially considered the Devil’s music. I’d like to call Christian rock out to the stand to testify. Rock music is considered evil because of the sound above anything else, and surprisingly, those evil tritones. Black Sabbath was so bold to make their first song ever released and use a tritone as the primary interval heard in the “riff” through out the song. The argument can be made that Christian rock’s lyrics glorify God, and yet I won’t get passed the fact that it is deliberately rock music using those same evil sounds and putting “glorifying lyrics over it.” I’ve literally heard this argument over Country music, pop music and what have you. I don’t care for the argument because I can knock it out with various Rock songs that certainly claim God as authoritative.

In My Time of Dying (as seen in the title) is my prime example today which certainly does claim God as a deity of authority, and a savior, and yet the if someone who considers Rock the Devil’s music, they will immediately put it off when they hear Led Zeppelin’s rendition of it due to the heavy rock sound. What someone might not know is it was originally written by Blind Willy Johnson, a blues player who probably went to church on Sunday morning, and played the song in the evening. It was then covered by the Jewish Bob Dylan, and finally Led Zeppelin. It’s all based on sound. To also knock off the whole “but if you play it backwards” if you play pop music backwards it’s just as creepy and has a “hidden message” as well. It all cracks me up.

To conclude, I’m not trying to convince people that Rock music is not the Devil’s music, but to consider, what components really make music God’s and the World’s.