Tutorial: Using Your Brain (Part 5)

This is last part of a series on making your brain your main instrument. Eh, musical instrument. If you haven’t seen the other parts you should start at the beginning.

There are 12 notes in Western music. Yes, there are a gazillion combinations but in Part 3 I claim there are three two-note bass lines you should memorize. Yes, there are a gazillion plus infinity number of chord combination but in Part 4 I showed you how in the real world you only need to memorize the sound of eight of those combinations.

Of course there are more sounds out there. There are also more words in the dictionary than you will ever know, but at some point in your life you acquired enough of a spoken vocabulary to fully express your feelings and emotions. It’s time you did the same with music.

Look at this way: if I’m wrong… what have you lost? That precious noodle-on-the-ax-time? Those valuable hours spent clicking around the ACID explorer window? I’m saying you can afford to replace some of that time with some real musical memorization.

As a wrap up I thought you might want to see this action.

Smells Like

[ listen ]
[ download ]

I don’t have specific memorization techniques for you because most of what I’ve seen in books don’t work for me. Use what works for you. For me, it helps to make things somewhat musical. Click on Vincent to hear some chord family wanderings. I used about four of the eight families in this one. I like to loop a section of it and get it pounded into my head. Here is the MIDI file for that audio. I called it that because you can hear a faint echo of Nirvana chord changes throughout the exercise. Don’t be confused: Cobain had an amazing musical vocabulary available to him. You better believe he heard this shit.

You: Dood, that shit sounds so, I don’t know, lounge.

Me: That’s your fault.

You have to learn to divorce the harmonic movement of frequencies from what you mere mortals call “genre.” After decades of research, the Cote de Nial Musicologists Institution has determined the following atomic structural make-up of what makes a “genre”:

Rhythmic Patterns 2%
Harmonization Choices 1%
Melodic Idiosyncrasies0.457%
Instrumentation 1,000-billion%

By way of example, this morning I created a riff that lead to this progression:

Note how the bass movements follows the rule-of-three, even when you repeat a section. There is one exception (Eb -> A) but that’s cool because that sets up either A -> Bb (half step) if you repeat the bridge or A -> D (4th) if you go back to the verse. I composed this piece this morning. I actually heard this stupid melody, was playing with one finger on the keyboard while my other finger plucked out the bass.

I’ve created a MIDI file for download so you can see it in piano roll. It’s hardly a standout piece of music, in fact the melody is un-inspired


[ listen ]
[ download ]

and the performance completely sucks because I don’t know how to play piano with more than three fingers (out of ten, yo). But it’s just enough to hint at the power behind the concepts I’ve been talking about. Click on Vincent to hear what this progression sounds like with different instrumentation. Yes, I tweaked the MIDI file a bit for each section but I did not introduce new notes, change the chord progression, the core of the melody or the tempo for any section. Mainly what I did was change the length of the notes. You get the feeling that I could have done this with just about any Western genre? Yea, probably. Get the feeling that genre is bullshit? Datz 4 shizzle.


[ listen ]
[ download ]

Notice that when I switch instrumentation it’s surprising but not jarring. That’s because the bass movement and internal voicing movement is so damn strong and familiar you just can’t go wrong. That isn’t to say you can’t have sounds you like over others. I’m not going to use banjo unless I’m, well, trying to make a joke. I’ll leave the serious stuff to Bela Fleck. Click on this Vincent to hear a full-blown production of that chord production in a kind of 21st-century-lounge-funk genre. Hey, but that’s just me.

6 thoughts on “Tutorial: Using Your Brain (Part 5)

  1. Anonymous

    You have a great writing ability, I really enjoyed this series.

    btw – The links for audio files on the fourstones domain don’t work.

  2. victor

    well, thanks for the nice words!

    looks like fourstones was having problems at precisely the time you were trying it. it’s all working now.

  3. trapper

    Vic, Good series; way to cut through to the productive fundamentals. And thanks for reassuring us that we don’t really need the terminology. “Well, the turnaround is more like that angry G major 2ish 7th thing we did last week, but the aural texture of the bass is a bit more impulsive…”

  4. wauter

    Hi Victor,

    I enjoyed reading this very much! Here’s why: I was going to write a piece with EXACTLY (no shit) the same content as this, but now I just can point people to yours so that’s cool :-)

    (I’m not kidding about how “exactly” it was gonna resemble yours: also about the importance of making music in your head, the importance of chords, how basslines work, how there’s very few relevant chords ever being used in 99% of the music, and how instrumentation makes for the genres. Except replace ACID with Reason everywhere :-))


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