In his Opticks (1704) Isaac Newton wrote up the experiments in which he proved that white light can be split into colours. A century later (1820) John Keats complained that by "unweaving" the rainbow, Newton had destroyed its poetry: "Do not all charms fly, at the touch of cold philosophy?" It was a popular view among… Continue reading Seven bands you don’t need to see
The punning album title they just can't resist (Spotify search results for 'Big Band Theory'). But what else is theory good for? Mark Levine's introduction to The Jazz Theory Book must be one of the best one-page explanations of why an aspiring jazz player should study theory. Hopefully you can take a peek at the… Continue reading What is theory for?
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?
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
Take a moment to listen to Joss Stone, doing the Ray Charles tune I believe it to my soul with the able assistance of David Sanborn on sax. It's a 12-bar blues. Check the harmony on bars 10 and 11 of each chorus, where Joss sings "I believe you're trying to make a fool out of… Continue reading Negative harmony’s mirror world
Jazz education is a fraught subject. If you think people get passionate about styles of music, wait until you encounter the emotions that surround different ways of teaching and learning jazz. The role of jazz theory is particularly controversial. I thought the discussions at a local jazz education conference, held in Brighton earlier this year,… Continue reading Teacher don’t teach me no nonsense