October 01, 2016

Meantone on the Peterson StroboPlus HD

My trusted Korg AT-120 tuner bit the dust, so I bought a new Peterson StroboPlus HD. It was pretty confusing at first - I had to read the manual to make any sense of it.

I play a D6th copedent tuned to meantone. My tuning numbers walk around the circle of fifths like this:

  F  +12.5
  C  +10
  G  +7.5
  D  +5
  A  +2.5
  E   0
  B  -2.5
  F# -5
  C# -7.5
  G# -10
  D# -12.5

Even after reading the manual, I didn't feel comfortable creating a "Sweetener" using the buttons on the device itself. The user interface seems to have designed by engineers for engineers.  The Peterson web site offers a better alternative. You can create a custom tuning there and download it into the tuner. Here's what my meantone tuning looks like on the site:

I was quite pleased with the visual symmetry. Now for the test. I download my custom sweetener into the tuner. My strings are getting old, so I put on a set of GHS Cryogenic Boomers (available by the gauge from the SGF Store).  I tune up all strings, pedals and levers with the amp turned off. For the moment of truth, I turn on my amp.

It sounds wonderful! I've never been so in tune. Except... wait a minute... the A&B pedals sound a little off. Remember, this is like a C6th tuning moved up to D6th, with E9th pedals added. Even with the Korg, I always have to tweak those pedals a bit by ear. Is there a way to do it with the Strobe?

It turns out there is. I have the root D strings in tune, but I see that when I press A+B the strobe for D is moving slowly to the left. Cabinet drop! I adjust the A and B pedals to the same rate of leftward movement. Viola! Now A+B has the same sweet meantone sound as the rest of the guitar. It's perfect. I've never been so in tune.

I give the Peterson StroboPlus HD very high marks for precision tuning. I'm still disappointed with the "human factors" aspect of the user interface, though. I worry about using a device that's hard to fathom even after reading the manual. I don't like depending on a web site to configure it, because web sites change over time.

One last thing: the unit has a rechargeable battery that uses a USB wire. Again, Peterson is relying on current computer technology to keep the device usable. I would have preferred good old AA batteries. They'll never be obsolete.

That's my review.

September 05, 2014

What Is An 11th Chord?

The spelling for an 11th chord is this:

1 3 5 b7 9 11

So a C11 is: C E G Bb D F

Look familiar?  It should.  Bb D F is a Bb major chord.

Look at this D11:  D F# A C E G.  Whoa, it has a C chord on top!

An 11th chord is a major chord with another major chord, named 1 step lower, on top of it.  You could call a C11 "Bb over C" and a lot of musicians would understand that.

I don't know how this relates to guitar (I never learned 11ths on guitar), but it's pretty interesting, don't you think? Partials that work for a C11 are:

C (low voicing C E G)
C7 (low voicing C E G b7)
C9 (C E G Bb D)
C7sus4 (C E G Bb F)
Em7b5 (E G Bb D)
Em7b5b9 (E G Bb D F)
Gm7 (high voicing G Bb D F)
Bb6 (same notes as Gm7)
Bb major (high voicing)

Look at the notes as a 6-note scale: C D E F G Bb C.  The only thing you have to watch out for in arranging an 11th chord is that you don't place the 3rd (E) and 11th (F) in the same octave. Other than that, any combination of those notes can work as a partial of the chord for comping purposes.

Also remember that it's a dominant chord - meaning it has a b7 and resolves to a 4th above.  So C11 in our example will almost always be followed by an F of some sort, and a G11 (F over G) would resolve to a C. 

If the 11th chord doesn't resolve up a 4th, it's a clue that your chart might be wrong.  If a C11 is resolving to A or Am, for example, it's probably a Em7b5.  This makes little difference on guitar, but it drives bass players crazy because C is the wrong bass note.


December 28, 2013

Modes That We Actually Use

In music, the subject of modes is pretty intimidating. The idea is that since there are 7 notes in the scale, any one of them could be the first note of a different kind of scale. To make it worse, someone gave each of these scales a hard-to-remember Greek name. Apparently you're not a "real musician" unless you can remember and understand 7 different ways to play the scale.

I don't buy it.  As a working steel guitarist, I've only ever used 4 of the seven modes in popular music.  And they aren't all that hard to understand.  Here they are:

Ionian (Major)

 1   2  .  3  4  .  5  .  6  .  7  1
 C  .  D  .  E  F  .  G  .  A  .  B  C
This is the scale from the Do Re Mi song.  Most classic country and American folk music uses this scale. A lot of jazz, pop, swing and old standards use this scale. Reggae, too. As a steel guitarist, this is the main scale I am expected to know how to play. Most songs use the major chords 1, 4, and 5, and their relative minors 6m, 2m, and 3m.
Major scale songs also often use a 2 chord (D F# A notes in the example above), resolving to the 5 chord. Stepping out of a scale for one note of a chord is a common technique in all modes.

Mixolydian (Seventh or Dominant)

 1  .  2  .  3  4  .  5  .  6  b7 .  1
 G  .  A  .  B  C  .  D  .  E  F  .  G
The very first thing you need to know to play rock is that the 7th note is flatted. If you noodle around on this scale a lot, you can sound like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.  
The most used chords in the dominant mode are 1, b7, 4, and 5. Notice that the 5 chord steps out of the scale a bit (D F# A in our G Mixolidian example above), in the same way that a 2 chord steps out in major mode.
The b7 chord plays a big role in mixolydian rock. Think of the Marshall Tucker song "Can't You See".  The song is in D and the chords are D C G D (1 b7 4 1). A traditional country song with G, C and D would be in G major. It's the same chords, but the key and scale are clearly different.

Dorian (Minor)

 1  .  2  b3 .  4  .  5  .  6  b7 .  1
 D  .  E  F  .  G  .  A  .  B  C  .  D
When you flat the third note of the mixolydian scale, you get the most popular jamming scale for rock and blues. Dorian minor is the basis for the pentatonic (5 notes per octave) solos made popular by guitarists like Eric Clapton. Those pentatonic notes are 1, b3, 4, 5 and b7 (skip the 2 and 6 notes).
Dorian minor includes a major chord based on the b3 note of the scale. The main chords are 1m, b3, 4, 5, and b7. Notice that these are the same numbers as the notes of the penatonic scale!
As in dominant (mixolydian) mode, the 5 chord includes a note from outside the scale (A C# E in our D minor example above).
Many blues and rock songs use a dorian minor scale superimposed on a mixolydian chord progression. In other words, playing a minor scale over the major 1 chord. The soloist will play a penatonic minor scale, occasionally bending the b3 up to the natural 3 on the 1 chord to express an uplifting emotion.

Aeolean (Natural Minor)

 1  .  2  b3  4  .  5  b6 .  b7 .  1
 A  .  B  C  .  D  .  E  F  .  G  .  A
The natural minor or relative minor scale is used in many minor key songs. The main chords are 1m, 4m, and 5m. Sometimes the 5 chord is a major (E G# B in our A minor example above). The b6 and b7 chords are also majors. In the 60's, many rock songs used the popular chord progression Am G F E, based on the natural minor scale.
The 5 note minor pentatonic scale is the same for both minor modes (Aeolean and Dorian).
Pop, modern folk and dramatic music often combine the natural minor and major modes to shift the mood from melancholy to hopeful or vice versa. A song will start in A minor (Aeolean), for example, and shift temporarily to C major (Ionian) for an uplifting section. Both modes use the same notes, but have different starting points.  The 5 chord of the upcoming mode is often used to emphasize the transition.  Example: (minor) Am Am Dm G7 to (major) C G F E7 back to (minor mode) Am.
Similarly, the natural minor mode is often used for sections of a major mode song. Since they share the same notes and their starting point is related (Am is the "relative minor" of C), the subtle transition isn't usually thought of as a "mode change" unless you analyze it closely. 

In Conclusion

These are the 4 modes that a versatile musician should know. You probably already know one of these modes pretty well, maybe more. There are other modes that aren't used very often. Theory books tend to give all modes the same weight, but these 4 are the ones that are actually used on the bandstand.
Melody is an interaction between chords and scales. The mode tells you which scale to use to find the notes between the chord notes. That's why modes are important.
Some songs break the rules. Some musicians do, too. It's all good.

© 2013 by Bobby Lee