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What I think about harmony in music.

A piece of music that is made of discordant parts which do not cohesively fit into the composition may become pointless and ugly.


I was listening to this mashup and it got me thinking about the relationship between the notes, vocals, chords and all interacting parts of a song. What led me to the song was ‘My baby shot me down’ by Nancy Sinatra. After listening to it on Soundcloud, the application assembled a playlist of related tracks and the mashup happened to be among them. It is made up of a David Guetta house track mashed with the timeless classic by Nancy Sinatra. Shout out to Quentin Tarantino for featuring it on Kill Bill otherwise I would probably never have heard of it. What really got me is the transition between the two. How these two songs had no business being included in the same track, atleast in the way it was done. The Guetta song is paused and the Sinatra is shoved in for a while in its raw form, then it goes back to the Guetta. This happens thrice in the song, in spite of their different genres, tempos and keys. The disparity between the two compositions is clear as day, and to me sounded somewhat disturbing. Perhaps it might be different for you, but after listening to it, I was left going…

confused

No editing is done to the Sinatra song in order to make it more like the Guetta. I do not know about editing the Guetta (for I do not know the song. My whole basis for calling it a Guetta is from the track’s title), but it most certainly wasn’t made to sound like My baby shot me down.

I have several musical heroes. One of them is John Frusciante, who was once the lead rhythm/solo guitarist for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, before disagreements led him to quitting the band and pursuing a solo career. He was the man behind almost all of the iconic guitar riffs, shreds and lyrics produced by the band which we’ve grown to identify and love, including stuff like Under the Bridge, Dani California and Snow (Hey Oh)’s opening. In an interview where he talked about his soloing philosophy, John told us not to forget that it’s about playing music, its not about showing people what you can do on a piece of wood with strings attached to it. Even though John’s playing can never be described as ‘square’ due to all the changes in tempo and scale, he does adhere to a central melody throughout his pieces.

“…It’s about playing music, not about showing people what you can do on a piece of wood with strings attached to it…”

Take for instance a guy like Joe Pass. Undoubtedly, he is one of the most iconic jazz guitarists to ever walk this earth. His style of music is bebop, which is a jazz strain characterised by fast chord progressions, numerous key changes and instrument virtuosity. He is one hell of a guitar player, but his playing has just too many notes and very little melody. Now compare Joe Pass to a guitarist like Django Reinhardt. Even if you have never listened to jazz before, one listen to both these musician’s works, and I bet you will be more drawn to Django. There’s usually a central melody that is sustained throughout the whole piece in Reinhardt’s compositions. Think of all the timeless songs you like (unless you are a bebop fanatic ofcourse). Think of the whole country and rock and roll genres with their 3 chords and the truth. Songwriter Harlan Howard once said “All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth.”

Music is about patterns. That is the way our brains work- by identifying patterns. Raph Koster, the game design legend, offers excellent insight into this, in his book, the theory of fun for game design. A mathematician, Scott Rickard, once made music without repetition and boy was it ugly. Taking incongruous pieces, however virtuously played and presenting them together will not float well with the human mind. Being someone who just recently picked up the guitar and is trying to learn his way around the finger board, it is really difficult to remember this, unless by conscious effort. I am always trying to play faster, in the expense of melody. This is because most of what I can play sounds square, due to the stage am currently at in my mastery. I always have to try and remember Miles Davis’ words:

“It’s not the notes you play. It’s the notes you don’t play.”