I was surprised when I discovered the extent of the visual and musical culture of the circle of fifths. It is like a huge tree with many branches and colourful fruit. There was a second surprise when I started investigating why the circle of fifths is so useful, and why it exists at all. The… Continue reading Circle of Fifths part 4: why does it exist and what is it trying to tell us?
Last time we covered some of the better-known uses of the circle of fifths. Our subject this time is one that you may not have met, unless you are an early music enthusiast or a member of that endangered profession, a keyboard tuner. This illustration comes from the website of Carey Beebe Harpsichords of Sydney,… Continue reading Circle of fifths part 3: tunings and temperaments
Last time we surveyed the rich culture that surrounds music's circle of fifths: the posters, gadgets, apps, clocks and t-shirts, and the almost endless variants of the iconic diagram. But apart from the human fondness for zodiacs, mandalas and other circular things, what are the secrets of its success? This time I'll be looking at… Continue reading Circle of fifths, part 2: Origins and uses
People love circles, especially 12-sector circles. So although the significance of music's circle of fifths can take a while to appreciate, the diagram itself seems disarmingly familiar. With a bit of imagination it can become a clock face, a zodiac, a colour wheel or a calendar of months. Whoa, are all those things really connected?… Continue reading Will it go round in circles?
Last year I made a diagram of the Sonny Rollins tune Oleo, using coloured rectangles to show the straightforward 'rhythm-changes' harmony, and overlaying them with a lattice of diagonal lines encoding the irregular rhythm. Another tune in the same vein is Straight, No Chaser. Here Thelonious Monk takes a well-known harmonic outline - the 12-bar… Continue reading Straight, No Chaser
In part 2 of this series we used chromatic circle diagrams to show how chords and scales are affected by chromatic inversion - the basic operation of negative or mirror harmony. We noted that there are twelve available reflection points or 'axes'. Jacob Collier popularised the use of one specific axis, located 3½ semitones above… Continue reading Negative harmony part 3: the Levy legacy
By now I thought I would know exactly what this negative harmony thing is, to the point where I could explain it clearly in a paragraph or two, and perhaps apply some of it to my own humble efforts to play jazz piano. I was hinting as much in my previous post, which you might… Continue reading Negative harmony part 2
Oleo is a bebop tune by Sonny Rollins, as mischievous as anything that flew off the reed of Charlie Parker. Clearly on a mission to weave an interesting new tune around the overworked chords of I Got Rhythm, Rollins deployed shifting, syncopated patterns, with short and long phrases, gaps where you don't expect them, and… Continue reading Oleo