Added: November 11, 2008
Blog Entry Number 1
Hello. This is John. I’m going to keep this blog as a place to write things for people who listen to my music. I’ll just write whatever I feel like saying whenever I feel like doing it. I don’t like the old media channels and this is a way of communicating to people without the filter of magazines and their bullshit that has nothing to do with music.
I’d like to start by explaining an exercise (for the brain as much as the hands) that I would imagine can be done on any instrument (including the voice) but I’ll explain it using the guitar.
Example 1: Play any four notes in succession repeatedly ascending like, for instance, the first four notes of a major scale. The idea is to play the 4 notes over and over but mentally count in fives and accent the 1 of every 5. So let your left hand go on it’s own and focus on mentally counting;
Every time you’re on # 1 play that note louder than the rest. You’ll see that the first accent falls on first note. The second accent falls on the 2nd note the 2nd time around. The 3rd accent falls on the 3rd note the 3rd time around. The 4th accent falls on the 4th note the 4th time around. That brings us back to accenting the first note and the exercise repeats.
Example 2: If you accent those same four notes in 7 you’ll see the accents go backwards from the first example. You, of course, accent the first note and then if you keep playing your four notes in succession, but the 7th and 2nd accent winds up on the 4th note, the 3rd accent lands on the 3rd note, the 4th accent falls on the 2nd note and the 5th accent again falls on the first note. There are more complex versions of this exercise but these two examples express the basic idea that there is one pattern of notes being played by the left hand that is one number amount and another pattern of accents being played by the right hand that is another number amount.
To a non-musician the idea could be illustrated as two rows like this:
Look at where the ones in the bottom row occur in relationship to the upper row. The 2nd one in the bottom row has a 2 over it. The 3rd one has a 3 over it. The 4th one has a 4 over it and the 5th one again has a 1 over it, at which point the series would repeat and be the same to infinity. Any repeating 2 numbers (like 5, 7,11 and 9) occurring parallel with one another will have this circular organization that is provided by the structure of existence itself.
When we make music we are acting into numbers, which are unchanging. In music various series of numbers are occurring simultaneously, finding a certain amount of coordinate points. When we hear a band in the middle of a song, one girl is on her 100th note and another girl is on her 76th note and another girl is on her 50th note, we nevertheless hear these people as all being at the same point together. In this way music exemplifies the reconciliation of differences. Though the numbers themselves may be different we hear them as being the same. Though we perceive each and every number as being different, in the end all numbers as a whole are a single thing as they are dependant upon one another and do not exist without one another.
When playing music it is not necessary to count ones notes but it is desirable to make the most of expressing difference and at the same time having points of connection. A bass player who is accustomed to just playing whatever is the lowest note in his guitarists chord is probably not making the most of his ability to express himself. If he plays different notes and different rhythms on the bass while the guitarist does his thing, and if those two things seem to emotionally connect, then the music is expressing those two peoples differences and joining them simultaneously. It is the same in life in the way that although our senses and intelligence endow us with the ability to see each and every thing as different from everything else, we are also blessed by being able to see the relationship of those things to one another and the fact that these relationships exist shows that they all exist together as a single thing.
Numbers become more inconceivable the bigger or smaller they are. You’ll find it easy to try to visualize a friend of yours in your mind, but it’s harder to visualize two friends simultaneously and exponentially harder to visualizes 3 and so on. And since the largest possible number is inconceivable as well as the smallest fraction being inconceivable, we can see that we concern ourselves with those numbers our minds have the ability to grasp and work with. As musicians, our thoughts usually revolve around the smaller numbers. In music the number four and its first few multiples comes up a lot but we have the ability to mess with that by introducing all kinds of numbers within that. People who don’t ever think of music numerically usually group things in fours. I guess there must be something about that number we like, since most songs in the western world are in 4/4, and the first harmony man discovered was parallel fourth’s. Things occurring for 16 or 32 bar cycles seem to make sense to us, and even when time signatures are odd numbered we still resolve them and begin a new journey after 16 or 32 or 64 bars. But exceptions can and are made to these things. There are infinite possibilities here and it seems that by ignoring numbers activity in music we often end up adhering to many of the same numerical patterns over and over again. By being aware of that we can avoid those numerical tendencies (formulas) and guide our musical thoughts to conform to a new idea.
Its also good to remember that our differences as people can be points of connection, and we don’t have to dress like our friend’s, or have the same opinion as them to strengthen that connection. That is what the exercise says: My right hand is seeing things one way, my left hand is seeing them another, but they join together and their union creates a third thing. Like two people of opposite sexes having sex and a baby resulting. Or gaining a wider view by conversing with someone whose beliefs differs from yours.
In regard to the exercise, when a musician plays a conventional instrument every note is played at a different velocity. I have noticed that when musicians have really good chemistry, their individual choices of playing notes at their various degrees of velocity have a cosmic way of interweaving and balancing one another.
Its not something our brains have the ability to keep track of in a numerical sense, but a good relationship to your instrument and a feeling for the music you’re playing takes care of this for us. The exercise I gave, and many others I have like it, wake up your ability to not let your choice of how hard you play a certain note be determined by the obvious leanings that the physical arrangement of the notes themselves dictate. It really just helps you be more expressive in a less predictable way. Then it becomes second nature to be just as attentive to how hard or soft each note is played as to the notes themselves. You might try the exercise slowly at first, by playing all the ones as loud as you can and all the other notes as soft as you can, and see how fast you can play it before you’re forced to compromise the difference in volumes. It’s very difficult to have large differences in volume from note to note at fast speeds. You can also try different amounts of notes crossed with accents in different places. Like 7 notes, while accenting the one of every 5 notes struck as well as accenting the third of every 5. ONE two THREE four five. There’s a lot of room to creatively make your own exercises based on this idea. I believe you’ll find yourself playing more expressively and with more feeling as a result of doing them.
Tags: Blog, Guitar, Lessons, Music, Numbers, Old Media Channels, Relationships