Does this question make my pocket protector look big?

So today, on my way to work, while stopped and waiting for the pilot car (the five Alaska seasons being fall, winter, breakup, spring, and road construction), a question popped into my head:  in the famous Paul Desmond piece “Take Five“, would it be more appropriate to view the descending turnaround as belonging to the song’s root (minor) tonic, or to its relative major as a temporary replacement tonic?  This is just an attempt to better understand how to think about the written sequence of chords.  I think I talked it out of myself at the time, but I’d love the opinion of those more formally versed in theory than I am.

(Yes, I think geeky things at weird times.  It just seems to be the way I’m made.)

Okay, so I’ve studied the piece a bit before, even going so far as to score it up as an arrangement for Guitar Circle Colorado, transposed up a half step into the more convenient E minor.  (What follows is based on that Em arrangement.)

The vamp is written as Em – Bm7, which is a natural minor thing, written with one sharp on the staff.  The turnaround is written as:

Cmaj7 – Am6 – Bm7 – Em7 – Am7 – D7 – Gmaj7
Cmaj7 – Am6 – Bm7 – Em7 – Am7 – D7 – F#m7 – B7

It occurred to me that one way to think of this turnaround sequence would be within the context of the Em as the tonic chord, in which case I’d think of the chords like this:

VI maj7 – IV m6 – V m7 – I m7 – IV m7 – VII 7 – III maj7
VI maj7 – IV m6 – V m7 – I m7 – IV m7 – VII 7 – II m7 – V 7

Hm.  That somehow doesn’t seem right–more like a shoehorn than a natural fit.  But what if I looked at the turnaround as belonging to the key of G–which would be, after all, the relative major of E minor?  Then I’d think of the chords like this:

IV maj7 – VII m6 – III m7 – VI m7 – II m7 – V 7 – I maj7
IV maj7 – VII m6 – III m7 – VI m7 – II m7 – V 7 – VII m7b5 – III 7

Well, that seems to clean up a lot, doesn’t it?  4-7-3-6-2-5-1 would seem to be rather precisely descending in fifths, and the idea of the last four chords being a two-five on G followed by a two-five on Em…finally sold me on the idea.

Okay, so that’s what occurred.  And the question to those more formally schooled in functional theory than I:  am I thinking properly here, or am I missing something obvious?

Polyrhythm graphic.

There’s a programming experiment and educational resource in here somewhere, I am sure.


Pretty cool, no?  Maybe I can devise a programming experiment as a collaboration with my daughter (who’s just becoming interested in programming), with some basic utility tools like lighting up one or more of the polygons at a time (and therefore ignoring others), slowing it down, providing counts at sync-up moments–etc.  I suspect it will be worth it as an educational tool for grokking polyrhythms, and possibly other things too.  (Yes, I are a geek.)

Found via the TwitFace, as posted on Imgur, and reproduced here for bookmarking and attribution.

An 8-string tuning for the next instrument build.

An interesting tuning idea flashed across the brainwaves today, as I seem to continue to chew on the idea of the reentrant tuning.  (It was relatively recently that the idea of the upside-down ukulele tuning occurred.  Apparently this means I’m fascinated.)

The tuning would be for an 8-stringed, guitar-scaled instrument, and would proceed, from strings 8 to 1:

C2 – G2 – D3 – A3 – E4 – E3 – G3 – B3

Hm.  Chicken scratch followed.


Continue reading An 8-string tuning for the next instrument build.

Bobby McFerrin, just killin’ the point.

I have long felt that just about everybody “knows” basic music theory, even if they don’t have fancy names to go with the concepts.  Some things in life just tap directly into the human hindbrain.  I try to describe it, usually along these lines:  “Look, I could sit down and play a simple sequence of chords in a room full of ‘tone-deaf noobs’ , and yet everyone in that room will know–know–if I end the sequence ‘correctly’, or if I botch it.”  Seems to make sense to me, but I still get blank stares.

Well.  Perhaps my problem is that I use too many words* to try and make that point.  Behold the glorious gift of nature that is Bobby McFerrin, who needs no words at all to demonstrate what I would argue is very nearly the same idea.

Wow.  Just–wow.  It’s almost impossible for me, as an instructor and an advocate, not to get juiced when the audience responds perfectly to each successive, unannounced note.

I’m delighted to be able to point to such a great example of the “everyone understands already” idea, but hell, part of it is just the joy of watching a true master at work.  And McFerrin is at least that.  I recall vividly the first time I got to see him live;  he had a set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2005, which was awesome enough on its own (at that time I had some–some–idea of what he could do), but it was the usual TBF cross-pollinations that really took it beyond the planet.  When he came out and sat in with the trio of Béla Fleck, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stanley Clarke (!!!), I figured it would be something spectacular, and it most certainly was!  But the actual high point, believe it or not, was when he guested on Alison Krauss’ set;  he said he wanted her to sing a particular tune of hers (don’t recall now what it was), and she agreed…and then Union Station (Krauss’ backing band, one of the most accomplished in the genre), clearly in on whatever this deal was, left the stage.  She seemed both giddy, to be singing with one of her heroes, and also a bit terrified, not to have her usual crew behind her, and not quite sure what was going to happen…but she took a deep breath and started singing…

And McFerrin “played” all the band’s parts, with his voice, at the same time, against Krauss’ vocal.  It was absolutely stunning;  I have never seen anything remotely like it.

So, by all means take the point from Bobby McFerrin, instead of from me.  Believe me, I don’t mind that a bit.  🙂

* No snickering, now.