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Outside Of C

Article from One Two Testing, July 1985

intervals and the keyboard, plus chord of the month

Andy Honeybone waits for the interval

ERIK SATIE was an innovator. His melodies — especially the Gymnopedies — have been plundered by everyone from Steve Hackett to Blood, Sweat and Tears. Satie wrote simple tunes, sometimes did away with bar lines and wrote text alongside the music which was not to be read aloud but was there to influence the performer. 'Three Pear-Shaped Pieces' and an opera for dogs called 'Relàche' were among the titles which showed Satie apart from the mainstream.

Living in an attic and popping round to Debussy's house to use the piano once a week were all part of his quaint lifestyle. Perhaps understandably, Satie did not get the right sort of press and so he was persuaded (by his agent?) to enter the Conservatoire for formal training under d'Indy and Roussel. On his release it was generally agreed that he'd lost his soul — his musical vision had been blinkered by the establishment.

The reason for relating this sad tale should be self-evident. Each of us has a style that is our own. We may not think much of our talents and we may be desperate to add to our experience but, in my view, individuality is worth far more than any amount of fake books and other people's clichés.

Am I recommending that you cocoon yourselves from subversive theorist nonsense (see below) in an attempt to remain pure? Well, actually no. Because it's not as black and white as that and your individuality will still be at work in organising and making use of the material that you may contact. Panic over, but let's not forget Satie. Having obtained your rightly divided attention we must begin to talk the same language, so let's talk intervals.

Intervals are the distance between two notes. It's 250 miles from London to Leeds and a major sixth from 'C' to 'A'. Intervals are relative so, in the same way that Holyhead and Cambridge are also 250 miles apart, so 'D' to 'B' is also a major sixth. Distance travelled is easy to comprehend but being able to judge musical intervals takes a bit more work.

But why should we bother to put labels on things? The accelerator on a car has a name so that a driving instructor can yell at the pupil to ease off it. Once you have learned to drive you are never conscious when accelerating that the pedal has a name.

Similarly, a guitarist reading music sees a note on the second line of the stave and automatically frets the E-string at the third fret. The notion that the note is a G is not perceived. It's only when the band-leader stops things and says, 'Shouldn't that have been a G sharp?' that the note name has any real significance.

Labelling things therefore aids communication. Being able to judge the nature of an interval by ear is a tremendous asset because it allows you to write down musical ideas away from the keyboard and helps your fingers to find the notes in your head when improvising.

To get a hold on intervals requires that you spend a lot of time at it unless you are particularly gifted. Ear training is important but not vital, as long as you understand interval theory. Once intervals mean something to you, chords can be described in terms of component note distances rather than actual notes. The advantage of this scheme is that you can quickly work out any chord if you know the basic formula.

For example, a major chord contains intervals of a major third and a perfect fifth in relation to the foundation note.

The major scale is the basis for all chord building and it is formed, in the simplest case, by the white notes found on a piano between C and its octave. The smallest interval on the piano is the semitone and can be found between any two adjacent keys (C to C sharp, E to F, etc). For various historical reasons, the intervals between the individual steps of the major scale are tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone (a tone is two semitone steps). So that we don't have to talk in terms of 'third note up from the bottom' each step on the scale (each degree) has been given a name as well as a Roman numeral.

I Tonic (key note)
II Supertonic (above the tonic)
III Mediant (halfway between I and V)
IV Subdominant (same distance below I as V is above)
V Dominant (macho he-note)
VI Submediant (halfway between octave I and IV)
VII Leading note (highly attracted to the tonic)

The famous three chord trick requires the chords built on the tonic, subdominant and dominant (eg in the key of E: E, A and B).

The tonic is a convenient reference point for studying the intervals to be found in the major scale:

C-C unison
C-D major second
C-E major third
C-F perfect fourth
C-G perfect fifth
C-A major sixth
C-B major seventh
C-C octave

When we start applying accidentals (sharps and flats) to these scale tones, the intervals are re-named to reflect the change. As can be seen from the graphics (right), a motley collection of augmented, diminished and minor prefixes spring up with no apparent logic. Well that ain't so:

* If a major interval is reduced by a semitone it becomes a minor interval.

* If a perfect or major interval is increased by a semitone it becomes an augmented interval.

* If a perfect or minor interval is reduced by a semitone it becomes a diminished interval.



If ever there was a case of simplicity coming up trumps then this is it. On analysis, the two chords are both simple majors (A and G) played as their second inversions (a variation where the fifth becomes the lowest note). The magic bit is that these two chords are floated over a D bass. As all chords should be described in relation to their lowest note, this makes the chords Dmaj9 (no 3rd) and D6sus4. Any sane person would describe this as A/D and G/D, but what's in a name? Displacing the bass note from its expected position is a favourite trick and results in rich harmony for very little thought. More on this technique in later articles.

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Jul 1985

Donated by: Colin Potter

Feature by Andy Honeybone

Previous article in this issue:

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