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Posted by on Jun 19, 2013 in Just Intonation, The Lattice, The Notes |

Leading the Ear

Be Love was written and arranged on the lattice. I consciously used the lattice as a tool to make the music do what I wanted it to do.

Working with this song has taught me a lot about leading the ear.

Different parts of the lattice have different sounds. The upper right, the northeast, is major scale territory. Music in this zone sounds major, you know, that uplifting, stable, “happy” majorness. The northwest region, up and to the left, has a darker, dramatic sound, not like minor, but with its own flavor. It shows up a lot in rock. A great example is BTO’s Taking Care of Business. The progression is I, bVII-, IV, I. (I use numbers for notes and roman numerals for chords.)

I wanted the song to start in the northwest for the verse, and then move eastward for the chorus, and then go back again, and I wanted to choose notes that would lead the ear on the journey.

Here’s the beginning. The chords plant a flag in the Northwest.

The music stays there for a while, and then it starts to move. The chord progression changes, and the guitar melody reaches out to the east and starts to rope in more territory.

Finally, right before the chorus, the V chord takes the song firmly into dominant territory.

Notice how the melody leads the way into the far east. When the melody goes to the 2, in advance of the chord progression, it sets up tension. The tension is resolved when the root moves up to the 5 and creates a more consonant interval.

One of the pleasures of these lattice movies is watching the fleeting, exotic harmonies that are formed as the melody dances around the basic chords. This chord is a type of sixth chord.


When 4 is the root, 2 is its sixth degree. I call the interval between 4 and 2 a Pythagorean sixth, because it is generated entirely by multiples of 3 — a characteristic of Pythagorean tuning. The ratio, octave reduced, is 27/16. It sounds different than the 5/3 sixth, and is tuned sharper — 906 cents instead of 884.

The Pythagorean sixth chord leads the ear to the east. The tension of the 2 in the melody is resolved by moving all the music up to meet it.

Now there’s a new tension, against the tonic, which is in the back of the listener’s mind all the time. I will want to resolve this tension by collapsing to the center, but first I want to increase it as much as possible. I want to dive into the chorus from a great height.

Next: The Power of the Seventh Chord

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Posted by on Jun 10, 2013 in Just Intonation, The Lattice, The Notes, Tonal Gravity |


Tonal music is music that has a particular key center, or home note. Not all music is tonal, but most is, worldwide.

The key note is at the center of the lattice of fifths and thirds. All other notes are generated from this one. I call it the 1. It’s also called the tonic. When we say a song is “in the key of A,” we mean that A is the tonic.

This isn’t any particular A. In the key of A, every one of the ten or so A’s within the range of human hearing is a tonic, or perhaps more accurately some octave of the tonic. The tonic itself is an abstract concept, of “A-ness.”  In concert pitch, A is defined as a vibration of 440 cycles per second (called Hertz, or Hz), and any octave of this, up or down, is also a tonic. Thanks to a remarkable (and handy) quirk of human perception, multiplying or dividing a pitch by 2 does not change its essential character. So 220Hz is also an A, as are 110, 55, 27.5 — and 880, 1760 and so on forever.

The tonic doesn’t even have to be one of the 12 equal-tempered notes — it can be halfway between A and A#, and it will still work just as well. The rest of the notes are simply calculated from that home note. The resulting music will be in tune with itself, and will sound fine, even though it has no relation to concert (A=440) tuning. In learning songs from old recordings, I’ve found that many are in between two official keys. The instruments are tuned to each other, but not to any outside reference. They sound great.

The tonic sounds like home. The great driver of tonal music is the sense of departure from, and return to, home.

Be Love, like many tonal songs, starts right off with the tonic. It makes a statement, with the very first note: “This is where home is.”

Again and again throughout the song, the music departs from home, creating tension, and then returns to it, relieving the tension. The following clip contains two such homecomings, at 0:07 and again right at the end.

Then, finally, the song ends with the tonic. Ahhhh. Journey complete, the lattice has been explored, and after many adventures Sam Gamgee is back in Hobbiton.

Not all songs begin and end on the tonic. If you want the song to sound resolved, finished, end it on the tonic. If you want it to sound unresolved, unfinished, end it on another note. It’s a powerful tool. Listen to the end of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love.

Have you ever had the experience of the audience clapping at the wrong time, in the middle of a song? It’s embarrassing!

Usually it happens when you pause for dramatic effect, and the audience thinks you are finished. You can send a strong signal that the song is not over by pausing on a chord that is clearly not the tonic. Then, when you do want the audience to clap, give them a big tonic chord and they’ll know what to do.

Next: The Compass Points

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Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Just Intonation, Recordings, The Lattice, Tonal Gravity |

Be Love

After two years of working mostly with existing material, I’m happy to be writing songs again. This one took me over completely for a few days, and then I spent another couple of weeks recording it and animating it on the lattice.

Be Love is a simpler song than Flying Dream, and I think it does a better job of illustrating what the lattice is all about. A couple of notable moments:

  • Several times, all the notes suddenly collapse to the 1, the note in the center. Check out the feeling of arrival, or homecoming in the music when it happens. It’s especially powerful going into the first chorus at 1:12. This is a real-time demo of tonal gravity.
  • During the verse, the song hangs out in the left part of the lattice, and then for the chorus it moves to the right. This is an example of a change in mode — the song stays in the same key (1 is still the center) but two of the scale notes change. The language of pure music doesn’t translate literally to English, or to emotion, but it evokes its own sensations that can support, or contradict, the words and feelings in the lyrics.

Next: Home

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