Scale of the Day: January 8

Here is the first scale-of-the-day, and this is a pattern I heard used in a composition by Australian oud player, Joseph Tawadros, when he performed recently at Government House in Sydney.  It was an original composition of his, and he told me that it used a traditional Egyptian mode. Well, of course, this pattern has nothing Western about it, with those two augmented seconds, and subsequent consecutive semitones. Play through the triads based on the first four notes of the scale: you get C Major, D flat major, E minor and F minor. But just where you would expect to find a dominant chord if you were listening with Western ears, there is a complete absence of anything that resembles the harmonic function fulfilled by a dominant chord.  That D flat turns it into a chord without any dominance at all. The way Joseph used the mode was fabulous: the harmonic centres seesawed from the major-inflected tonic to the assuredly

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New Metaphors for 21st Century Harmony

I’ve been dismayed by the degree to which traditional theories of harmony are tangental to the working keyboard practice of a 21st century pianist working in collaborative contexts.  A knowledge of figured bass is fantastic if you are working on the harpsichord with period repertoire, but for most pianists the kinds of harmonic thinking that underpin the repertoire they are asked to perform finds no clear expression in traditional music theory. Today I’ve been mulling on whether our metaphors aren’t the problem. Once upon a time it made perfect sense to say chords have a hierarchy, made up of the most important chord relationships (primary chords), and chords which play a complementary role (secondary chords). And once upon a time the idea of modulating really did describe the journey-like characteristics of the harmonic experience throughout a composition. But for the best part of the 20th century composers have shown remarkably little interest in modulating, and their use of chords suggests

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The Harmonic Language of Ringtones

I’ve always been a Nokia phone user until now, the arrival of my new generation iPhone, and checking out the new ringtones in such close proximity to writing my Scales as Propaganda blog entry made me listen to my options with slightly different ears.  Each phone I’ve upgraded to has had improvements in the quality of sound used for the ringtone, but each new upgraded phone has also had a completely new suite of tiny compositions competing for my approval. How do these micro-musics reflect the pitch patterns of our day?  A quick analysis of my new iPhone options: To start with let’s subtract from the 25 standard ringtones the non-pitched or single-pitched options:  ‘Bark’, ‘Boing’, ‘Crickets’, ‘Duck’, ‘Motorcycle’, ‘Old Car Horn’, ‘Pinball’, ‘Robot’, and arguably ‘Digital’ which is pitched, but basically just use old-fashioned fax or dialup-style harmonics, ‘Alarm’ which is also a harmonic-derived sound which really only signifies ‘alarm’ in any sonic sense, ‘Timba’ which is a drumming

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The Dominant is Daggy

For readers from the northern hemisphere and non-English speaking backgrounds, “daggy” is a wonderful word used in Australia and New Zealand to denote that which is embarrassingly out of fashion…. It was back in 2005 when I attended a Rolling Stones concert (for the first time in my life) that I realised what made the Rolling Stones so ‘cool’:  the almost complete absence of the dominant chord in their tunes.  More than that, in fact, because this absence of the dominant was accompanied by an abundance of the subdominant. This is all classical-speak for saying that the Rolling Stones use chord I and chord IV (C and F, for instance) and almost no chord V (G). Now, I haven’t sat down and catalogued the occurrences of the various kinds of chords in Rolling Stones numbers to be able to support this assertion, but certainly in the play list the Rolling Stones for that September 2005 Madison Square Gardens appearance the

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