Day 11: More Theory, Then VEGAS BABY!

Music theory is the theory of how music works. In other words, music already works without theory. But theory is useful for understanding what made that amazing music you just heard. Theory is broad enough to include any statement, belief, or conception about music. In other words, theory is how someone might analyze why things sound good, but is not the end all to playing well. Music theory is observation. Music came before theory. Music comes from within.

Theory can really come in handy when you’re looking to play something complex. With high caliber musicians, theory can help to make sure that what you have to say fits in with the rest of the conversation. It’s like trying to have a conversation with a handful of rocket scientists. You’ll only be able to say so much if you’ve only mopped the floors in the lab.

First class today was Mike Pope and Bob Franceschini. They reviewed a lot of the theory we had been previously learning. Diatonicizing a scale: making degrees out of a scale; stacking up the thirds into diatonic thirds. This essentially means using every other note of the scale. Stuff I need to remember includes: half diminished chords have a flatted fifth. Diminished chords have a sixth (or double flatted seventh).

We covered some of the basic types of triads: major (1-3-5), minor (1-3m-5), diminished (1-3m-5m), and augmented (1-3-5#). Diminished chords are passing chords you can use to pass from one chord to another. For example, C#dim to Dm. Chords can be broken into triads, and there are a number of different types of triads one can build from a chord: root triads, mid triads, and higher triads.

Finally, we covered some different scales and how to go about playing them. The diminished scale is whole-half-whole-half, and the double diminished scale is half-whole-half-whole. The augmented scale is based on whole steps, and can be played on a bass one string up and one fret down semetrically. You can play this over a dominant chord and because of the fingerboard positioning, can play it real fast.

The stuff that sounds weird is probably using an augmented scale, or something similar, and is likely very easy to play. Seasoned musicians will appreciate it; green musicians will worship someone for being able to do it… but it really isn’t all that hard.

Next up was class with Victor. Victor taught us rhythmic modes and a number of exercised to practice. He converted time into a series of notes: quarter notes were equal to a whole step, and eighth notes represented a half step. He had us play a small pattern of notes he had written down on a white board. Now it’s time to shift. We played the pattern in each of the different modes, starting from the second beat, third beat, and so on, then wrapping back around. Going through each of the modes, playing only the one note at the prescribed pattern, gave an entirely different feel for a groove. Now victor added a bass line to the pattern and had us play different notes, and took the entire bass line through different modes. We ended up with a different sounding bass line for each mode. We took it one step further: adding slap techniques to the pattern, and got an entirely different slap groove with each mode. You can do this with any technique and set of notes, and use it to come up with a fresh set of ideas if you’re stuck. It’s also great practice.

Victor also taught us a technique for a minor soloing cadence. Start a half step below the root, then play the minor thirds (finger positions one-four), then move a half step up and one string up. Go all the way up to the G string with this, and when you get to the end, you can resolve it by sliding up or down a half step either to the seventh or the octave.

Vic also showed us how the diminished scale travels diagonal toward the body of the bass, moving up in minor thirds. Augmented travels the other way: diagonally away from he body, up in major thirds. Finally, Victor taught us a neat little pattern: play in the shape of the number five on a die. You can play those notes over any dominant chord. Start one step down from the fifth of the key you’re in.

Finally, the day wrapped up with Eric Strouthers teaching a groove class. Eric is a guitarist for the Neville Brothers band, among many others. He taught us mostly about rhythm, time, and groove, and showed us a number of different groove patterns. He told us to “get out there and play” regardless of what you’re playing, whether it’s your style, or whether there’s money in it.

When you’re playing, mistakes happen. Don’t freak out. You’re only a half step away from a right note and that’ll give you resolution to make the mistake sound as if it was intentional. When playing weird times and rhythms, just remember: they’re all the same notes, just in a different order.

Eric taught us a neat trick with timing. When you find yourself lost and can’t find the one beat, repeat the last phrase you played four times and you’ll end up back on the one beat.

Knowing timing is important, but some of the best drummers Eric knows can’t count to four.

Whn playing complex time signatures, such as in 11 time, try splitting it up into a 6 and a 5 time; it’s easier to remember, and at least some of it feels normal. Or you could do 3-3-3-2.

Finally, when in doubt, lay out… (don’t play). Even a fool seems wise when he keeps his mouth shut.

Tomorrow, I fly out for two days to Vegas. I’ll be taking a tour of the Las Vegas computer crimes lab, and hanging around the DEFCON conference as well. Pictures will ensue.