December 21, 2004

Things I think I've learned today

1. To make a major chord you need the root note, its fourth, and its seventh*.
2. To make a minor chord you need the root note, its third, and its seventh*.
3. The opening riff from "Today" by the Smashing Pumpkins is played on the E and B strings between the 11th and 15th frets.

4. The nice hot cup of soothing mint tea that you forgot about when you started dicking around with items 1 through 3 will be stone cold and quite unappetizing by the time you remember that it exists.

I survived my trip to L.A., albeit with a nasty head cold that I think was only made worse by the dry air down there. Lovely visit, vegan lasagna, ridiculously cute cousins, no longer being able to say that my boyfriend of almost three years has never met my parents, card games, beer, lots of driving and sitting and wondering why the expected hostility and social tension was failing to materialize. I've concluded that I'm good at giving my parents either too little credit or too much credit, and I'm terrible at actually predicting what they'll be like.

I brought back my guitar, my lovely shiny blue Strat which has spent the years of my absence playing surf gigs in Huntington Beach. I can't decide whether to find myself another guitar teacher who will determinedly assign me complicated jazz songs that I've never heard and will never practice, or to fool around with my leftover stack of chord books and sheet music and see if pretty sounds eventually start happening. Lessons are expensive, but it's dangerous to leave forgotten cups of tea lying around where the cats can get into them. It's a terrible dilemma.

*Footnote: per Chris' comments below, I've given myself the assignment of writing "I will not use musical terms if I'm not sure I know what they mean," 100 times on a piece of paper and then burning it in offering to the gods of music theory. Or I might skip the second step and just recycle it instead.

Posted by dianna at December 21, 2004 04:04 PM

harumph. you were here?
and yet, i was unaware?
again, I harumph.

Posted by: Erik at December 21, 2004 07:18 PM

Would I be a total ass if I corrected your statements about both major and minor chords?

Posted by: Chris at December 21, 2004 08:02 PM

*heavy, heavy sigh* No. Now that I know they aren't right, you're going to HAVE to correct them. Why is it, anyway, that none of my musical resources in book or human form ever bothered to do a simple thing like give me the definitions of chords? And why did yours apparently bother to give you this quite fascinating information?

I was, indeed, in L.A. I did not, in fact, have any spare time in which I was not a) in the immediate visiting presence of long-unseen family members, b) sick, or c) both. Do you still harrumph?

Posted by: Dianna at December 21, 2004 10:37 PM

Now, hang on just a second. Does this correction have to do with my theory or my counting? For example, if I said, "to make a major E chord, you need the note you get from playing the E string open, the note you get from fretting the E string at the fourth fret, and the note you get from fretting the E string at the seventh fret," would that be verbose but essentially correct?

If it's not, I need a new pair of ears.

Posted by: Dianna at December 21, 2004 10:51 PM

That is absolutely correct. The problem occurs when you use the abbreviated language in your initial post while talking to any musician. When you say "the fourth," you mean the fourth fret above the root note, but a musician thinks you mean the fourth tone in the scale, which would actually be five frets above the initial note.

Twelve frets cover an octave, ascending they are referred to as the root, the minor second, the major second, the minor third, the major third, the fourth, the augmented fourth OR diminished fifth (same name for the sixth fret up), the fifth, the minor sixth, the major sixth, the minor seventh, the major seventh, and the octave (also technically the root). A scale uses seven of these notes -- 99% of the time these are the root, one of the seconds, one of the thirds, the fourth, the fifth, one of the sixths, and one of the sevenths. The other 1% are weird scales that use the augmented fourth/diminished fifth.

So while a major chord is the root, the note four frets up, and the note seven frets up, to a musician it would be the root, the major third, and the fifth. A minor chord would be the root, the minor third, and the fifth.

Posted by: Chris at December 21, 2004 11:41 PM

my harumph greatly
diminished in magnitude,
yet i still harumph

Posted by: Erik at December 22, 2004 07:08 AM

POWER CHORD: Put your index finger on any note on either the low E or A string. Then, depending on finger strength, do one of two things:

First, you can flatten out your ring finger and press down on the next two highest strings together, two frets up from where your index finger is (if you started on E, the A and D strings, if the A, then the D/G strings.) Essentially you're making a make-shift mini-capo out of your ring finger, which seems unnatural at first, but is something many guitarists do. The plus side to this is that you automatically mute your higher strings.

The second technique is to use your ring fingertip normally on the A or D string, and your pinkytip on the D or G, respectively. The plus side to this is that you're using your fingertips, like you do for most everything else. The drawback is, you have to be more careful about strumming. When doing a A-D-G string power chord, some guitarists use their free-floating middle finger to mute the low E string. Use this technique as necessary.

The name of the power chord is the name of the root note (well technically, it's [note name]5.) No major, no minor. Those details will take care of themselves via the melodies and progressions.

You now know all you need to know until you post again saying you can play the choruses and verses to most of the stuff on "Dookie" by Green Day and "Nevermind" by Nirvana. Good luck and godspeed.

Posted by: poot at December 22, 2004 09:01 AM

Did you bring back any long-lost Christmas music?

Posted by: Danny at December 22, 2004 02:16 PM

Please hold and your comments will be answered in the order in which they were received.

1. I realized, several hours late, my arrogance in assuming that when I saw terms like "fifth" and "seventh" they would, hey, just happen to correspond to the increments of the one instrument I happened to be playing. I retract my heavy sigh (which was predicated on the assumption that I'd been completely shot down) and replace it with a sheepish grin.

2. Harrumph all you like, but also consider that I've spent much more time with you in the last two years than I have with my family. It was kind of a triage situation.

3. Alternately, you could: a) do proper barre chords with your entire index finger, which, even with my mediocre finger strength and no calluses, isn't prohibitively difficult, or b) learn a nice assortment of regular chords and become adept at playing them in various successions. The upside to either of these approaches is being able to play something other than Green Day.

4. Sadly, not yet. I've been promised CD copies by mail, but it appears that that won't happen in time for Christmas. Harrumph indeed.

Posted by: Dianna at December 22, 2004 09:27 PM

Oh, one other thing for Chris. I like your accurate but uncharitable implication that Dianna and "a musician" are mutually exclusive categories. I didn't even notice it the first time I read your comment through. I won't argue; you've seen me try to play guitar, so you know it's true. I'm still amused.

Posted by: Dianna at December 22, 2004 10:38 PM

I am, of course, just giving you The Business. I hope that your visit home was as unexpectedly positive as I interpret from your posting. I will no doubt be in The Bay sometime soon. Actually, I will probably be driving through on either the 1st or the 2nd, but at fractional light speed (a very, very small fraction, but it makes me sound fast).

Posted by: Erik at December 23, 2004 07:06 AM

Please allow me to suggest that you not actually attempt to drive through the bay itself. There's some lovely solid ground to the east of the bay which I assure you will provide a much more enjoyable driving experience. I've been told it even has roads on it for convenience's sake, although that seems a bit farfetched.

Posted by: Dianna at December 23, 2004 08:59 AM

I shall take that under advisement. You might also want to get some moisturizer for your sense of appears to be a little dry.

Posted by: Erik at December 23, 2004 01:22 PM

Oh, yeah... it's the weather. All that wind and low humidity do that to me every winter. The leaves start falling from the trees, and the next thing you know I start coming out with sardonic witticisms in painstakingly correct grammar.

Posted by: Dianna at December 23, 2004 02:29 PM

I would like to simultaneously (1) beg your forgiveness and (2) chastise you further.

(1) I didn't notice the way that my rhetoric created a wall in between "you" and "a musician." If it makes you feel better, I don't really consider myself a "musician" in the sense that I was using it, more like "a guy who knows some of the stuff that a musician would and plays a mean bass guitar."

But I get into all kinds of trouble when I suggest that people who play instruments are not, by definition, musicians, so let's shy away from this topic now.

(2) Don't be knockin' the power chords, girl. They are the bread and butter of far greater bands than Green Day.

Posted by: Chris at December 24, 2004 01:30 AM

Forgiveness granted, but chastisement not really accomplished. I absolutely knew what you meant, namely, "musician" as a term for someone well versed not only in the use of an instrument but also in music theory and terminology (and approaching the conversation from the standpoint of that knowledge rather than a vague familiarity with the guitar). Clear as day, although it's still slightly ironic in a conversation about the misuse of technical terminology. Pththththtbbbbt.

As for the chastisement... I won't knock the power chords, but I will grin about the fact that you've joined me in knocking Green Day. That's all.

Posted by: Dianna at December 24, 2004 04:03 PM

You know, for a guy who plays electric bass, Chris, you're making some pretty snide comments about a pretty damn good bassist. I'm sure Dave doesn't have anything disparaging to say about their drummer.

As to the overall sound (and thus by inevitable association their singer/guitarist,) that's obviously a taste issue. But I don't think you can argue with solid musicianship.

As for Dianna- you'll be a far better musician by learning when *not* to use a full barre chord and/or major and minor thirds. You'll also have a metaphorical musical gator-wrench that will allow you to quickly and easily learn the outline of virtually any song; there's no law against adding thirds, sevenths, ninths, and sus twos and fours afterwards. Except in Germany.

Zen master say, road to enlightenment begin with a single day- and that day is green.

Posted by: poot at December 25, 2004 09:03 AM

Dear poot,
Even though I am not even involved with this conversation, it is plain to see that you are an ass.

Posted by: Mr. Man at December 25, 2004 01:40 PM

Dude,please point out to me where I say anything (snide or otherwise) about Green Day's bassist. Also, don't expect me to respond for a week.

Posted by: Chris at December 26, 2004 01:43 AM

Chris tells poot he won't respond for a week. Chris' trip ruined by massive storm over all CA.
Coincidence? Yes. Yes of course it is.

But I must apologize, because upon rereading it is clear that you were involuntarily drafted into the Green Day Knocking Army by Dianna. I blame BushCo. and Rummy for eliminating my ability to distinguish between volunteer and draft armies.

P.S. The way you were looking at me, Mr. Man, I could've sworn you thought I was an ice cream cone.

Posted by: poot at December 29, 2004 08:59 AM

"(2) Don't be knockin' the power chords, girl. They are the bread and butter of far greater bands than Green Day."


Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a date with Em, Am, Dm, G, and a lovely little riff at the 10th and 12th frets. God, that's a gorgeous song.

Posted by: Dianna at December 29, 2004 12:36 PM