color tones / musical styles
So is it possible to correlate the basic sounds of various styles of American music with specific color tones as created from the pitches of equal temper? Is there a "color tone consistency" over the years within each of the styles that helps define that genre? Depending on one's direction artistically, the color tones can become the integral pitches of a style. The blue note / blue styles being perhaps the most obvious style / color tone pairing. And although any pitch can be anywhere at anytime, each of the color tones contributes it's special character, oftentimes defining the emotional storyline of the song. Once we determine the major / minor tonality of the harmony with the triads, our choice of color tones can then further shape the style of our emotional statements. The following ideas simply look at the gradually expanding numerical properties of color tones in regard to popular styles of American music.
As so naturally happens, the pitches within the melody of a song become color tones of the harmony, so perhaps there is an additional correlation between melodic adventuresomeness in regard to choices of color tones and style? Pretty obvious eh? Sorry. Am I not "master of the obvious" all through this text anyway? The truth of the matter is that we do often hear simple children's songs created with triadic melodies and a diatonic chord or two. As melodies become more complex pitch wise, the opportunity for the advancing player to change a chord or add in "extra" chords based on the melody, i.e., to reharmonize the melody, becomes manifest. Do we need more complex melodies to be able to reharmonize a line? Of course not, but understanding the correlation's of melodic line and chordal color tones in regard to musical styles can help a player view how the more common musical elements are placed within the various American musical styles, thus potentially encouraging each artist to continue the "melting pot" process of American music by simply mixing musical colors from any style in creating their own unique statement.
American folk music. Who creates the passion of American folk music? We each do of course. For as the name implies, folk music is one way to tell our stories that live in the collective consciousness of all of us, for aren't we all "folks" at heart? American folk music is mostly created on the traditionally tuned six string guitar, using what are known as the open chords to sound the major and minor triads. These chords are created from within a diatonically defined group of pitches, such as C major, A minor etc. With the melody so often diatonically generated from the major / natural minor scales, the harmony is for the most remains triadic, with occasional use of the non diatonic blue 7th as when dramatically venturing to Four. Example 1.
Here the V 7 chord on the third beat of bar 1? The pitch Bb is not diatonic to our tonic C major right? Anymore than this common dominant 7th coloring and folks might start to raise a few eye brows, at least among the folk "purists." Thus the 9th's, 11th's 13th's and such are not generally used to color folk harmony. Although just this last Saturday on the radio show "Mountain Stage" I heard the tonic major 7th color as the closing chord in an arrangement of an ancient Celtic folk tune. As the story was about a woman longing for her lover, the major 7th closer was a nice touch. Also a bit adventuresome? I think so, but adventure has always been a part of the American way n'est pas? Interesting is perhaps the idea that although the chords are diatonic and hopefully in tune, the voice retains the flexibility to go where the artist needs it too so as to better inflect the passion of their tale.
Blues. Can any musical idea, thus emotion ( ? ), be instantaneously bluesified by adding blue notes? Can the wildest chromatic flights of improvisational dialogue be quickly brought back home by the simple sounding of a cliche blues lick? Try it sometimes, the blue notes are quite possibly the ultimate "anchors" within all of the American styles. Are these blue notes the core colors of the American way of taking care of business? With colortones, by adding the blue 7th to either the major or minor triad, the basic blues chords emerge. Example 2.
|major triad||dominant 7th||minor triad||minor 7th|
Pretty basic huh? Are the musical vocabulary terms new for you? Getting off track for a moment, by adding one new color tone to the 5 note minor pentatonic group, the blues scale color emerges. Example 2.
|minor pentatonic scale||blues scale|
So cool. Vwala, instant blues color with the emergence of the blue 5th. Other blue notes? Are the blue colors the universal tender of all the American styles? I think so. But, one can never be too careful with sharing their colors with others. I think that as players we define our musical comfort zone around the color tones we dig?
Rock. The rock thing is historically blues based. Among the first big rock hits were "Rock Around the Clock", "Blues Suede Shoes", Johnny B. Good" etc., all 12 bar blues. The earlier rockers of the 50's simply borrowing from their blues brothers, lightening up their stories and moving the pulse from "2 and 4" to "1 and 3." So the rock color tones and the blues colors are all from the same bag? Yep. Cliche rock guitar licks have emerged over the years that have with certain players have become rather chromatically enhanced. The gradual removing of color tones from the chords over the decades has in a sense helped to make this happen. Really? Yeh, thought rock music couldn't get any simpler eh? Well, with the emergence of the metalists, the harmony became simplified by removing the 3rd. So, no major or minor chords just parallel 5th's? Exactly. Example 4.
|C maj triad||5ths C / G||C minor triad||5ths C / G|
You'll have to imagine the "crunchy distortion" guitar sounds so loved by the more modern rock hipsters in the above idea. Did the techno advance in the gear make the 3rd's go away? Are the popular rock barre guitar chords from the 60's and 70's too muddy with advanced levels and types of distortions? I mean, they were good enough for John Lennon yes? Anyway, So, the modern rockers of today oftentimes simply move these 5th's around the mode of the tune such as the minor pentatonic color. Example 4a. Again, imagine the crunch / distortion guitar sound to help make this idea work.
Oh yeh, but what about Funk?
Jazz. The style termed American jazz has historically had, like all of the American styles, many "sub genres" of style that have traditionally used certain groups of color tones to get their character sound. Early Ragtime and the later Dixie jazz players of the 20's use the traditional combinations of major scale / blues lines over a mostly triadic, diatonic harmony often extended up to include the 7th on the minor chords within the progression of the tune and of course on the dominant 7th chords etc. The later swing jazz era of the 30's oftentimes meant a big band or jazz orchestra. With this larger sound resource, composers used every nook and cranny of color tone combination within all 12 keys creating a vast library of truly beautiful American sounds. Emerging jazzers might explore this swing library a bit, find a melody they dig and internalize this "swing" into their own lines by simply singing along with the record over and over until the magic is internalized. Getting one's lines to swing and groove is among the greatest personal discoveries for an emerging American player.
Bebop jazz of the 40's is the most complex of the playable American jazz styles, evolving swing music to it's next level of intensity mainly through brighter tempos. The color tone scheme of bebop is mostly swing colors, but they go by much much faster, in part due to the sleekness of the Two / Five harmonic motion. To be called a swinging, bebop player today just might be the ultimate compliment from one jazz player to another, as the highest skill level in so many musical areas is so necessary to create the coolness of Bop. With the emphasis of the b5 melodic color tone in many bop improvisations and consistently extending to the 13th degree, the resulting harmony of V 7b5 and the #11 / 13th color tones on both tonic and dominant chords expanded the swing palette nicely, for isn't there a bit of the whole tone color emerging as well as a second major triad within one chord, created when the #11 / 13 is added to V 9 or I major 9 etc.?
The more modern jazz sounds of the 50's and onward evolved from Bebop to include this polytonality of two major triads within one chord. Earlier polytonal melodies such as the Miles Davis composition "Blue In Green" beautifully create a warm and loving polytonal environment to create within. And as the term implies, the world of polytonality is perhaps the ultimate realization of the "anything can be anywhere" concept, essential for a well rounded view of American jazz music. A second direction from bop was to go yet faster through more complex cycles of chord changes. This path initially climaxed with John Coltrane's writing, recording and the releasing of his "Giant Steps" to the general populous. Things in the jazz world would never been the same again.
A jazz players palette of colors of today has it all, a full 12 tone, equal tempered system chromatically in tune for the chords and these same 12 pitches plus the blue colors in between them for creating melodic line. Are we not the truly blessed? With all of this color we add the more recent ability to potentially reach out globally to share our ideas with others. And in return we can receive their cool ideas. Sharing is caring yes? And imitation is still the greatest form of flattery right, even in this age of ever rapidly advancing technologies? Cool?
Other important American styles of music? We each have our favorites eh? Be creative, explore. What are your musical interests?
|color tones / spelling chords|
|color tones / major tonic family|
|color tones / minor tonic family|
|color tones / dominant 7th chords|
|color tones / musical styles|
"The mistakes are all waiting to be made." Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956) on the game's opening position.