Beer Goggles

I don’t drink, but I’ve worn beer goggles.  When I did it, I was in school still, and they had the progressive goggles out, the ones which have two beer, three beer, etc etc until you think that a picture of your mother is one of a hand broom.

I took a piece that I am having problems with to a professor today.  My issue with the piece is trying to find new ways to solo over one chord(Ebm11 for the curious) for an extended period of time.  Long story short, he dragged me into a class that he teaches to graduate students, and asked them to explain how they would deal with this issue (humiliating in a multitude of ways.  I brought the piece in because I sound awful on it, and then was asked to play it in front of ten people who I’d like nothing better than to be respected by…).

I got the expected answers from them: play the melody, keep it simple, you play dorian on that, it can also be phrygian, you can play whatever you want, etc.  However, Brian O’Kane then started talking to me about what you can transform Ebm11 into.  He said that it starts dorian.  You can make that phrygian, locrian, aeolian, anything you want within the composite minor and it’s associated scales, which I was already well aware of.  Then he said that since it’s dorian, you can derive dominant chords from it.  Since you can derive dominant chords, you can also derive diminished chords.  Since it’s diminished chords, you can derive any of these things on any diminished axis which is derived from the scale.  Since you can change which part of the scale you’re on, you can use the slash chords which pair with the half/whole diminished scale.  Since you’re now working with triads, you can pretty much do anything you want.

Although Brian suggested the deriving diminished from dominant chords, everything else is my musing over the topic.  It’s a lot like beer goggles.  One can slow transform any existing harmony into anything one chooses even when using the “rules” of functional harmony.  Eric Dolphy insisted that every single note he ever played was completely functional and bowed to the traditional aspects of re-harmonization(there is an Eric Dolphy/Booker Ervin lift project in my future, so expect a torrent of posts on that later).

The possibilities are endless.  Would you slowly transform the harmony into something else?  Where would you stop on this long road of possibilities? The concept of slowly melding your own harmony from the confines of the existing harmony is very appealing and intriguing to me.  I find that most on the spot re-harmonization is fleeting, and a change from that would be welcome.

This instance raises still more interesting points.  Although I knew and understood all of these potential re-harmonization techniques, I didn’t think of stacking them or using multiple ones at the same time.  It wasn’t that it just didn’t come out on the spot, but I didn’t even think about them when I was thinking about how I was going to practice the tune.

Also, it’s brought to my attention that there are a million different schools of thought regarding re-harmonization.  some insert chords arbitrarily, there’s planing, intervalic axes, triple box, tonicization, approach chords, diminished/major six harmony, melodic minor harmony, like function substitution, suspension, and the list goes on and on.

At the end of the day, “any one note can follow any other note” is definitely the main thing, whether or not you figure out where it comes from or not.  when the music is coming out of your instrument, the road you took to get there is far behind the sound that is being created.  However, when practicing music, I think a healthy dose of both schools of thought are needed.  One should definitely play what one hears, but should also experiment with a more rigid thought process, so as to unlock more sonic capabilities.  I find I’m more of a play what I hear kind of guy, but I constantly try to be more theoretical in my practicing to try to find that balance.

Quote of the week: “You don’t always have to resolve when anyone wants you to, be it the bassist, the band, the critics, or your audience.  Cecil Taylor hasn’t resolved in thirty years!” -Tim Ries



~ by Martin Porter on November 18, 2010.

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