Favorite melodic note in Blues?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Motterpaul, Mar 13, 2015.

  1. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    Following up on the "Is the b5 overblown in importance to the blues scale" talk, I have another topic.

    I love jonR, we all do. But I noticed him saying something in a reply about improvising where he mentions notes to use and he says something in ref to the Perfect 4th, about "landing on it but not staying too long."

    I am different. I love the sound of the perfect fourth in a scale, I land on it and linger often. Most mysteriously to me, I find the note calling out to me much of the time, sometimes in almost a phantom way, and often in ways where I know I have to go there and stay a while, or else my musical phrase would just not be right.

    As an example of what I hear in my mind - I give you "All Along the Watchtower" which is in the key of C#m. The basic progression is I, bVII, bVI (C#m, B, A ) - but in one part of the song when the A chord is active, the engineer (Eddie Kramer, I assume) mixes up an F# note (the perfect fourth of the key signature) and it sounds magically perfect. It wants to be there, like the thought everyone is thinking but no one speaks out loud, but this time someone does say it out loud.

    Why? Why is the F# calling out to be heard in that spot? In a song in C#m and over a A major chord?

    The P4 is often like that for me - this is just an example where they actually made it audible. But my point is that I often hear it as a phantom note even when no one is playing it (if that makes sense) and I don't know why.

    The IV chord (and the P4 note in melodies) to me is something like an alternate universe, where most of the same rules apply as in the regular (I chord) universe, but also slightly different and much more temporal. Its a world where you get to visit but you never get to stay.

    Also - moving beyond the perquisite theory analysis of the song where we say "well, the F# is in fact the relative minor to A-major and F#-minor is an acceptable substitute chord for A in that song" - that is duly noted. I want to go beyond this song and ask others if they have the same P4 muse - where the P4 calls out to you melodically, and appears in your head like a phantom note in certain musical passages, even when no one is actually playing it.

    Also - if you don't also have times when you know you have to play the note, and not just for a brief moment.

    (and yes, I know I sound crazy at times, it's probably because I tend to live in my own musical world where I spend more times wondering about the things I don't know than re-analyzing the things I do know).

    At 1:24 to 1:26

     
  2. dead of night

    dead of night Member

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  3. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Let me clarify....
    That's not in the context of blues - not much anyhow.
    The problem with it is only when you have a major chord, with a prominent major 3rd sounding. The 4th above - or rather in the upper octave - makes a b9 with the M3. YMMV, but that's not a sound I like to hear too much - not sustained anyhow.
    Resolve to 3, fine.
    Omit the 3rd, hang on to the 4 as long as you like, fine.
    On a minor chord, keep the 3rd and hang on to the 4 as long as you like.
    And in blues, hit the 4th and bend it, even just a little - great.

    IOW, I think - again - you're trying to make something out of nothing. Or something big or universal out of something with very restricted application.
    You're talking minor key. Just to repeat - no way is the 4th a bad note in a minor key, on the tonic chord or anywhere. One of the best, as you say.
    Why not? First, it's the 6th of the chord, a very good consonant extension.
    Second, it turns the A into a the minor iv (F#m7); no problem.
    So obviously it will work, it will fit right in.

    As to why it's "calling out" (ie better than just OK), that may be a subjective response, or something about that point in that tune.
    Probably because you like the sound. You remember the sound, either as a 4th or 11th on the chord, or as a contrast, and that's what you want to hear. I get that kind of thing sometimes too.
    Ah ha! Now you're talking. The "never get to stay" is crucial. That's the subdominant effect. The IV is always on its way somewhere else. (Mind you so is every chord in the key apart from the tonic; it's more like the I and V are targets, with the IV as the stepping stone between.)
    Right.
    Yes, sometimes, quite often.
    Yes, maybe a little less often.
    :confused:
    I hear nothing at 1:24-1:26 - just the backing, with an absence of the lead fills he's putting in other gaps between the lines.
    Or is that what you mean about "calling out"? That space is maybe calling out for a fill of some kind?
     
  4. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    I hope you never bend up to it from the root, because that is "bad form" (Just kidding).

    The "second" is really a vocalist's note. I don't know of any great blues/rock singer that doesn't use it a lot.
     
  5. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Yes, that (call it 9th too) may be my favourite extension. (I always think of individual notes in relation to chords; melodically they can mean anything because then they depend on the note before and after.)
    Not something you hear often in blues, but makes a good base for a bend into the blue 3rd region (however we want to define that...;)). And a very "poignant" note on its own.
     
  6. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    What is on the track at 1:24-26 is the engineer mixing up an overtone from what was probably one of many guitar tracks. It doesn't have "attack" like a played note - it is mixed into the track seemingly from an outside track. It mnight even be the bass. What it was in a real world sense didn't matter so much to me as the fact that it is a F# in a C#m song over an A-chord, yet it sounds so right.

    You know I don't "disagree" outright with you JonR, it is always a matter of degrees with me. I guess I spend so much more time in the rock/blues world that I rarely come across a true "Major I" chord anymore where I would play a major scale. But If I do, I agree with you that the fourth is probably not a note to dwell upon. (that actually makes it a different chord, a Isus4).
     
  7. RLD

    RLD Member

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    Actually sounds like a bit of backwards guitar.
     
  8. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    That is funny - I definitely "hear" it and always have. Once again, it's the "muse" aspect of that interval. How/why did the engineer know he had to put that note in there? Or maybe it is the origin of my "muse" aspect of the note for me. Maybe I think of THAT moment every time I hear a similar chord change - but I heard the song first and it grew in me. I think it is important to note that some musical things we all have personal preferences for may be different in other people.

    IOW: what sounds "magical" to me may not sound the same to you. The idea that you hear "nothing" in that spot is somewhat revelatory to me.
     
  9. Neer

    Neer Member

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    That's like asking "what's your favorite part of your kid's anatomy?".
     
  10. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    If you are saying this in the context that I quoted you, I want to be clear that I did not mean it in an argumentative way at all. I hear a lot of people say the same thing so if by naming you I have offended I apologize.

    It only struck me because my personal music lexicology gives the P4 a special place, it is a "target note" for me - as in "how can I work out a musical phrase that will eventually land me there?" - because of its "other-worldly" context. I want to go there, but I have to find the "portal".

    That to me makes it a challenge, because while I can toss in a 2nd or a 6th with relative ease almost any time I want (it takes a short set up, but nothing like the 4th), it takes real finesse to work in the P4, and when I (or someone else) gets there, it can feel really good. Ironically, sometimes it doesn't sound that special, which makes me wonder (once again) about the context of the note, why it has that effect, and even if (possibly) there is a formulaic approach to making it work that we can define.
     
  11. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    I'm sorry, this went over my head. I don't understand.

    If you said "it's like asking which child do you love the most" I think we all know the answer is "I love them all for different reasons" but that is not the same as this conversation.

    It boils down to what gives us "chills" as musicians - that is not always something we can define - but I do like to try.
     
  12. Neer

    Neer Member

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    How could you have a favorite melodic note unless you have a whole melody to hear it in context?
     
  13. Flyin' Brian

    Flyin' Brian Member

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    YES!!
     
  14. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    The note is nothing without context - and that is my point - when it comes to creating a melodic context (in soloing, for example) to get to any one note - this is the note that seems to present the biggest challenge and yields the most rewards to me.

    hence - the "skip over it" message did not sit well with me. I find it to be the one note where the process of creating that context is most rewarding.

    (added by edit) however, I think that question is something of a straw man. Actually, I can have a favorite note without a melodic context and I think the video example I gave shows such a case. The answer is it has "harmonic context" - and that is what is most haunting and appealing to me.
     
  15. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    Another example....



    Starting about 0:30 - many fine ways to use it.
    (and notably, a minor key, so the rule "it works best in minor keys" does indeed hold true).
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2015
  16. Rdg178

    Rdg178 Member

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  17. Phletch

    Phletch Member

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    YES YES! It's the whole "thing", right? I can't even fathom assigning any validity to the idea of a "favorite" note whether it's in isolation or not. For me it's a feeling I get that is the result of the harmonic "entirety" - a melodic sequence of notes in concert with the chords played with them. When it all comes together I get a chill. There is no pattern in any of it for any of it for me; it's totally variable. It's just "there" and I know it.

    Here's an example. The way the melody works with the suspended chord (and the resolution to the "unsuspended" chord that follows) @1:10-1:12 just grabs me every time I hear it. But that's just for this song...because of everything else before and after that point in this song. In another song that same "formula" might not have the same effect on me.

     
  18. Motterpaul

    Motterpaul Tone is in the Ears

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    First - KiwiJoe thank you for a serious response.

    What you apparently like about that suspended tone is (ironically) much the same thing that I like. My note is the P4, or I could have also said "suspended 4th" as they are the same thing. So, thanks for the input, sincerely.

    Now, to explain myself more clearly, the context in my example is different, hearing it AS a suspended 4th, but in a minor key and being played over a transitional chord (a bVI) instead of the usual format of a suspended 4th that resolves to the same basic chord, with a major 3rd.

    Now, this shows the sus4 can be used in many contexts melodically (and over many various chords.) My point was to divorce it from having to be in just one harmonic context. It is my "favorite note" because it sounds good in many contexts, but you have to know how to use it.

    If I had just asked the question "why does this note sound so good in this song?" I would gotten a music theory answer which I already fully knew (it's the tonic of the relative minor of the bVI chord - the chord playing when the note appears). But what does that tell me about why it sounds so good to me?

    I guess I should have asked: "Isn't this an interesting alternative way to get the sus4 to work melodically?"
     
  19. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I'm not offended, I just wanted to clear up this business of the "avoid note", which is much misunderstood (mainly because it's been given such a dumb name ;)).
    Hope I didn't offend you either :).
    I'd say the 2nd and 6th are easier because they are consonant extensions (on a major or minor chord). The 4th "takes finesse", as you say, precisely because of its "outside" nature on a major chord. And I guess that thinking can bleed over on to the minor chord, where the 4th is, in reality, no problem at all.
    Remember, in a major key, the 4th is really the only "outside" note; the only note that can't be added to a tonic chord as a stable extension.
    (The same rule applies to the tonic note on the V chord, but maybe not so much.)
    But that's no reason to "avoid" the note as a melodic note, and this is where I detect some confusion. ;). The 4th is a "tension", and tensions are useful and expressive, in many ways.

    IOW, two distinctions are important here:
    1. The relation of a note to both the keynote (tonic) and the current chord root.
    2. The difference between a harmonic interval and a melodic interval.
    The concept of a "4th", therefore, has a different meaning in all those contexts.
     
  20. JonR

    JonR Member

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    OK, that's a very specific context.
    This may be the root of its appeal. You're hearing a complex set of harmonic relationships:
    1. Note against chord (6th, consonant extension, mild tension)
    2. Note against tonic (4th, mild tension, but distant harmonic relationship as it depends on memory of key)
    3. Chord root against tonic (function, subdominant sub, again dependent on memory of key)
    So as well as two kinds of (mild) tension represented by the note, there is the tension of the chord function too.
    The melodic tendency of the note is the same: down a whole step (to m3 of key or 5th of chord); so that's a kind of "suspension" effect in both cases. But the fact it's on the bVI chord adds an extra element.
    And of course the note in question is the root of the iv chord, for which the bVI is arguably substituting - so there's that effect too, as if the iv7 chord is inverted, root on top.
    Ah! Not quite the correct terminology, IMO, but yes in principle ;).
    Fair point :). Music theory doesn't explain why things sound good. It only gives us the language to describe them.
    Easy answer: yes - but how "alternative" is it really? And you're talking about (primarily) harmonic effects, not melodic ones.
    Maybe theory can help out here by saying it's no longer really a "sus4" when used in that way. IOW, theory jargon can mislead as well as inform.

    Obviously, any single note will have different harmonic (not "melodic") effects on each chord in the key. It will retain its fixed relation to the tonic (assuming we remain aware of the key), while also having differing relations to the chord roots (and lesser ones to other chord tones). Pretty much all those relations are "good", in differing ways (and improvisers need to know them all, in major and minor keys; including individual chord-mode effects). "Avoid note" issues occasionally arise, but are easily dealt with; melodically at least.

    "Melodic" effects are something else entirely. They can be affected by harmonic factors, eg., in the case or suspensions or neighbour tones. Harmonic context might give a note a melodic tendency, to move in a particular direction. But melodic direction can over-ride that.

    So, the classic example of the 4th on a major chord is that - with no melodic context - its tendency is to resolve down to M3. But it can happily go up to P5 as part of an ascending melodic line (3-4-5); if the 4th is on a weak beat, the line negates the "suspension" effect. The sus effect begins to apply if the note is on a strong beat and is held for a while. IOW, if the line goes 1-2-3-4 and holds the 4, we may well feel it needs to drop again to 3 rather than carry on up.
    But these are grey areas of course! If the 4th replaces the 3rd in the harmony, then that may be a tension that is enjoyed for its own sake, with no need to resolve.

    I.e., harmony and melody always interact: harmony (suspensions) may create melodic tendency, and melodic movement can solve harmonic issues (resolve dissonance) - and not necessarily in ways the dissonance might imply.

    Looking at the bigger picture, it's all about voice-leading anyway: "chords" are merely the result of various moving melodic voices, when they happen to follow the same rhythm.
     

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