Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Music Theory ... and the Brady Bunch?

In a recent discussion, the question was asked (paraphrased for clarity):

"How does music theory apply to songwriting or improv" 

In an attempt to clarify this, I came up with the following, bordering-on-nonsensical response. It is not quite perfect, but close... More importantly, it made me laugh and I hope it does you. Here goes:

Think of a key as a family. 
Each chord represents a child of that family. The parents are the scale. So each child, has pieces of the parents ... therefore a similarity ... But, unique in and of themselves. No two are the same. Some, get along REALLY well with certain members of the family. Some not so much, but none of them truly hate one another. This key, is like the Brady Bunch!

A song is like an episode.

The other 12 keys are cousins to the Brady's. Some are more closely related than others. Some members of these closely related cousin families, actually look a LOT like one of the Brady's ... and get along really quite well. These cousins come on family trips, in fact, strangers think they are one of the kids. Sometimes these cousins will invite their favourite Brady kid over for a sleepover. Now the focus of the 'episode' is on THAT cousin's family and their house ... maybe just for a momentary part ... or it could be for the rest of the episode. They could even go to other houses from there ... but they are usually brought there by one of these 'friendly' cousins (pivot chord) who is welcomed.

These more distant other cousins and their families are more removed from the Brady's ... Some, to the point where they bear zero resemblance. Several of these distant relatives actually have a dislike, even a hatred, for the Bradys. These characters will not work at all with most (if not ALL) of them. So they stay to themselves and live in their closer family circles.

The moral of this fanciful tale:
Just like people, certain notes and groupings just plain work.
Others just do not.

Theory, is the writing down and the formalizing of all this. Like drawing out a family tree hierarchy chart.

No musician is truly making progressions up as they go. Even if it seems like - or SAY they are. The chords are grouped, whether we like it or not, naturally by your ears. Because they just flat out work. Over centuries, scholars have written all these relationships down. Made groupings and formalized the presentation of all this information. Now they teach it universally, to any who wish to know.

When more advanced musicians compose or improvise (to use our analogy), they know which family members get along... So armed with this knowledge, they can skip comfortably through the family tree. Recruiting the best member for the task at hand. The more time they spend getting to know the different family members, the more comfortable they are inviting them over for the BBQ or perhaps unload the cube van! Some players never bother going beyond their small tight 'family' circle. It is comfortable, feels right, they know who to call and life is good. It just works.

So your understanding of the dynamics of the musical family tree, really relies on how "social" you choose to be.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Music Theory Resources site

Hey all,

A recent discussion reminded me of a really great site. Musictheory.net is designed to help musicians with their study of general theory. This is not guitar specific, but more music theory in a broader sense. There are some great tools, templates, flashcards, and interactive trainers (including a cool fretboard trainer!). Some really great tools for students and teachers alike offered for free.

So have a look. Here is the link

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bebop Cookbook - the musings of JKChang

I recently came across this very cool site by musician and PhD. Jen-Kuang Chang. It is an absolutely jam packed site, with loads of downloads and writings on some of the greats of Jazz. Most notably Charlie Parker and his approach.

Any fan of Jazz, or just someone who is interested in its approaches, will find this more than worthwhile. Plus he has some very cool art posted for those visual folks. Very worth the visit.

Enjoy! Here is the link.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Van Halen Asteriods .... yes I said it!

This post has ZERO to do with anything educational, or guitar related AT ALL. I just loved it and wanted to share with you all.

Get out cho Spandex and let the games begin! Click here

Monday, August 1, 2011

Friday fun - guys who make me want to play - Matt Schofield

One of my favourite guitarists these days, is England's own Matt Schofield. Matt plays an inspiring blend of traditional blues, fused with a modern feel and jazz inflections. The player he is compared to most would be Robben Ford. But calling him a copy of anything, is ridiculous. A player of deep influences, he combines sublime playing, with some good songwriting and vocal talents. The dude's got it going on!

What GREAT tone too! Fender Strat, through a simple pedal board (with a Klon overdrive, a clean boost and a delay. Dat's it). Plugged directly into a Two Rock amp (4 x 10" speaker cabinet). Simple, clean, and articulate tone that brings the most out of Matt's hands.

He has just recently released an excellent guitar instructional DVD in conjunction with Hal Leonard Publishing called "Blues Guitar Artistry". The DVD features lots of band performances and Matt explaining in some detail his approach to learning. Get it if you don't have it already.

From Wikipedia:


Schofield's guitar playing is often likened to Robben Ford in reference to his melodic and fluid style, and jazzy lines. However, Schofield was also majorly influenced by B. B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan[3]. The influence of funk bands such as The Meters and Soulive can also be heard in his music.


Schofield has four studio albums and two live albums. The first of the live discs, The Trio, Live was recorded at the Bishops Blues club at The Half Moon, Bishops Stortford in 2004 and, funded and released by Richard Pavitt on his Nugene record label, gave the band their first breakthrough. The first studio album, Siftin' Thru Ashes was released in 2005. This album showcases not only Schofield as a virtuoso contemporary blues player, but also as a very competent songwriter, writing or co-writing eight out of eleven of the tracks on this album. AllMusic.com calls Schofield's approach "an enjoyable demonstration of what can happen when blues-rock and blues-jazz are united". The second live album, Live At The Jazz Cafe! was recorded at the London Jazz Cafe in April 2005, and was made available as a web only release. Schofield is one of only two living British artists to be given a four star (excellent) rating in the Penguin Book of Blues Recordings. The release of The Trio, Live prompted Schofield to be featured in a Guitarist magazine article listing the nine notable up and coming blues guitarists, Schofield being the only non-American. Of the album they said 'britblues meets jazz via N'Orleans - all played with the kind of sizzling guitar that just does not often surface in Fairford, Gloucestershire'. In 2007 Guitar & Bass Magazine picked Schofield as one of the "Top 10 British Blues Guitarists of All Time".

EDIT: Matt just released his fifth studio effort "Anything but Time"

Check out Matt Schofield if you are unaware of him. If you are a fan of the blues in any way, you will likely not be disappointed. Matt joins the ranks of other young great blues players like Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer etc. World class, young, and playing their behinds off. Love seeing this generation bring it!

Just like the title says "Guys who make me want to play!"

P.S. To digress slightly, what inspired this post, I recently saw Matt perform at the coolest venue I have ever attended. A small club in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada called Peter's Players. Seriously, if you are anywhere near this venue GO SEE A SHOW THERE! Peter essentially hosts shows out of his house (which includes a slippers only rule!) and you will NEVER see a more intimate performance. Here is some info about Peter, he deserves our support!