Music Lesson or Drinking Beers and Telling Lies? You Decide.

on October 13th 2009 in Uncategorized

Hi everybody,
I’m gonna get the party started here with some really dry music theory crap that should eventually wind up in a fairly juicy place.

So this is gonna be a guitar lesson, or music lesson of some sort, and we’ll be working together on this hopefully for a long time.

In order to get up to speed on this, I have to take you all the way back to my very first musical experiences, and what those lessons should have taught me if I had only been smart enough to figure it out at the time. I’m guessing that a lot of folks probably had similar experiences, so. . . here goes nothin’…

I got my first guitar when I was 12 or thereabouts, a flat-top acoustic with a trapeze style tailpiece and floating one piece wooden bridge. It was untuned when I took it out of the box.
I had no idea how to tune it. . .
So, my first guitar playing experiences consisted of holding the thing flat down on the bed with one hand, and strumming across the slack untuned strings and pushing the bridge back and forth to change the pitch with the other hand.
Pretty much the same shit I’m into now, if you think about it.
Kinda scary.

I was eventually compelled by my patiently suffering family to at least try to learn to tune the thing.
Of course that involved putting the bridge in the right place and leaving it there, which was no fun,
but I figured it out with some help from my Dad’s science teacher friend, and commenced to begin tuning.

That took some time, Mel Bay helped, and after a while I more or less got the idea, and more or less ‘properly’ tuned the thing.
I did run into one little problem though; if I tuned the guitar so that any one chord sounded OK to me, everything else sounded like shit.
I was ill prepared for that result, disappointed etc. but my initial reaction, which I should have paid much more attention to was . . .

MY EARS DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS SYSTEM.

I soon succumbed to the peer pressure that followed from my patiently suffering friends, family and innocent bystanders to amend my position to “I can’t tune the guitar.”
The B side of which, of course was “Seek professional help.”

So, I took my guitar, and my one ‘Well Tempered’ chord that I could play, D Major, down to the local music store for a lesson.
The lesson took place in a little tiny closet with barely enough room for two chairs, two people, and two guitars.

I played my one chord for the professional guitar music instructor.
D Major. Nice.
He said “Ok, how ’bout this?”
He then turned the little D Major triangle upside down, and with triumphant satisfaction proclaimed “D7!!”
So I tried his fancy D7, and said. . .

“No, that’s not it.”

End of lesson.

What I should have learned from all that was:

1. I’m cool with just about any sound a guitar makes when the pitches can go anywhere.

2. There are compromises in the standard 12 tone tuning scheme that I can not abide.

3. That nice D Major chord in tune in with it’s overtone series worked for me, and that fancy D7, in disagreement with it’s overtone series didn’t.

Of course none of that really registered at the time, although I was feeling very strongly that in each instance my initial impressions were correct.
As a result, I shunned further instruction and just played whatever felt good, and tuned to whatever felt good.
So in my first band, we tuned the bass guitar to the kick drum and then tuned the guitars to the bass.
Sounded pretty good too.

That didn’t last long, and as I continued to progress with my playing, I was constantly bombarded with admonitions from other well meaning professional types to “LEARN THEORY”.
I resisted for years, happy in my work, but eventually caved in and started to do the music theory thing.

I wound up having one really serious problem with the information I was supposed to be learning.
Every single time I asked “Why?” about anything,
I got some bullshit along the lines of ‘because’, or ‘just because’, or ‘that’s what it says here’, or ‘that’s just the way it is’, or my favorite:

DON’T ASK WHY!!!

So, eventually I caved in to that, too.
Although it was perfectly clear to me that if the answer to the question, “What is a D Major chord?” was “D F# A”, and if the answer to the question “What is D F# A?” was “D Major”, that I hadn’t learned anything at all about that D Major triad.

I thought the ‘music theory” bit was going to explain to me why I felt the way I did when I played and listened to music,
but instead it just churned out a bunch of circular logic bullshit, perfectly protected by the really not so diabolically clever Catch 22: DON’T ASK WHY!!

Ok, great . . .

So like a complete idiot I continued to pursue this sorry excuse for a theory thing for decades, until one day I picked up my guitar and played that D Major chord, and guess what?
It was just a D Major chord again, just the sound, nothing else.
Just like the very first time I got it in tune.

I realized then that all this theory crap wasn’t about the sound or the feeling of it.
Everything I had learned about “D Major” was simply EVERYTHING THAT “D MAJOR” WAS NOT,
and when I had exhausted all the things it wasn’t, and believe me, that was a LOT of shit,
it turned back into the only thing it had ever really been in the first place:

A SOUND, A FEELING.

I should have figured that out going in from my first “music lessons”, but I guess I just didn’t have the self confidence to buck that system without checking it out first, but I have checked it out, and I had it right the first time, so that’s where we start.

It’s all about the sound, and the feeling you get from that sound, the emotion of it, the feeling states that accompany each and every resonance,
and the progression of those feeling states as the experience of music.
That’s what it’s about.
And that sound is a physical thing, a measurable quantity of vibration, and you can ask why and get an answer about that if you’re smart enough to ask the right questions.

So lesson #1 is my definition of music, the definition of music that I was looking for the ‘theory’ behind.

MUSIC IS THE FEELING YOU GET WHEN YOU LISTEN TO GOOD MUSIC.

If you have a different definition, there’s the door. . . don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out, SEE YA!
If you’re ok with the idea that music is the way you feel when you listen to music, well then, let’s go!

OK. This first exercise is so freakin’ simple you don’t even have to be able to play at all to pull it off.

We’re looking for two things here, thing one is a quiet mind, (a very good thing to have just anyway)
and thing two is feeling the sound. Which is the whole point of the playing/listening bit.

Here’s what you want to do.

Just sit with your instrument. Don’t make a sound.
You don’t even have to be ready to make a sound, no need to put your hand on the fingerboard or the keys or whatever.
Just sit. Quiet, gutcheck.
Get empty, let go, etc.

When you feel you’ve quieted down enough that you can tell where you’re at with your feelings, and you’re ok,

Make a sound. Just one note, any note. Open string, fine. . .

When you made that sound, did something happen?
Did anything change?
Feel something?

Probably did, huh?

So that’s the first exercise, the transition from no sound to sound.

The experience of your feelings changing from one state to another in response to vibration.

And a little investigation of that knife edge, instantaneous, vanishingly brief crossing over.

That’s it. Gotta start somewhere, that’s where we start.

For you ‘music theory’ types, remember FUNCTION IS FELT.

So a quick definition that will help illuminate later discussion of the terms TONIC and TONALITY with respect to FUNCTION, here’s a definition I’m working with.

Tonality: the preservation of the psychological feeling of rest during musical performance when the tonic key center is reached.

That’s from Owen H. Jorgensen’s book, TUNING: Containing the Perfection of Eighteenth-Century Temperament, the Lost Art of Nineteenth-Century Temperment and the Science of Equal Temperment

Ok, chew on that definition and do that exercise for a week or so until I get back, and when I do, we’re gonna tackle that tonic function and make damn sure we’re feeling it.

In the meantime, here’s a very valuable link with some great info that we’re gonna need in the future, so please check it out.
Properties of the circle of 5ths

And for your dining and dancing pleasure here’s some absolutely incredible playing by Peyman Nasehpour.
You might want to twist one up before you listen to this guy, if you don’t know his music it’s shockingly good.

Peyman Nasehpour-Tonbak Solo 1
Peyman Nasehpour-Tonbak Solo 2
Peyman Nasehpour-Tonbak Solo 3

peace. SK

5 Comments

( ADD A COMMENT )
  1. You’re so awesome! I do not suppose I’ve truly read a single thing like that before.

    So wonderful to find another person with a few original
    thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thank you
    for starting this up. This site is something that’s needed on the
    internet, someone with a little originality!

    Posted January 29, 2015 at 6:37 pm
    • Kimock

      Ha!
      Seriously, no. .

      You point out anything I say or do and I can tell you exactly where I got it, who it came from, whatever.

      I’m just renting this intellectual property and it’s month-to-month.

      Truly original thinking is vanishingly rare.
      I was pondering that, just the other day.
      It occurred to me those thoughts could be a product of completely open, uncolored, and enduring observation of the natural world.
      That might have been easier in a much more beautiful world in a much more natural state.
      Y’know?
      A lot of the really good thinking happened a long, long, time ago.
      I look at the world sometimes and I don’t want to think about it, and there seems to be a lot of that going around.
      Just look at the world. .

      Posted January 30, 2015 at 2:39 am
  2. Mj

    A quiet mind… In this world? Any help with that? -mj

    Posted May 24, 2015 at 10:58 am
  3. Jen Col

    Great story… We tuned differently allot when we wrote way back.
    Thank you for your music your stories and joys.
    Saw you Dec 2 2016 in Fayetteville AR
    Great show

    Posted December 3, 2016 at 5:37 pm
  4. Hey Steve,for one, ive been intimidated by music theory ever since i heard about it. Mqybe because no
    one has ever really been able to define or eexplain what it
    actually is !
    So,i think i understand this
    beginning concept of
    quiet the mind then
    make a note sound,
    and the translation
    that you’ve given to
    this initial start in,
    i guess understanding
    theory in music.
    So, thank you and
    pleaee continue to
    share your knowledge
    and insight you seem to be shedding on this
    subject !
    Also, if you could see
    who i am, you just may
    laugh, to say the
    least ! “>” I find it amusing, the definition of this html tag, as i always thought it was a symbol used to describe how a song doesn’t come to an end, rather, it segues into another song, and without stopping, which, many people who listen to music dont really understand!
    I guess, one really has to, basically learn just how to listen to music that incorporates segues* !

    Posted February 4, 2017 at 6:15 am

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