Wednesday, September 23, 2020

When Push Shoves… Let’s Do Some MUSIC THEORY (Simplified)

When I started AM five years ago, the intent was the "Absolute Magnitude" (AM) of an LP – an objective rubric of an album's "greatness." That, of course, remains impossible – at least to a degree. The network has more appropriately switched its attention to what is objective: music history.

But Facebook insists on its apple and orange comparisons. The most recent I witnessed was on a jazz site in which the "analysis" was the greatest bassist. Hundreds of followers commented, argued and reasoned, some volatilely - yikes.
YouTube, as well, is chock full of these comparisons. The Point: when push shoves, "greatest" is subjective and unmeasurable.
But wait!
Is there a way to apply the AM rubric? There is, but many won't like it, particularly those whose rock heroes are "shredders" (usually metal), who insist that a guitarist is "best" because of the speed or dexterity with which he or she plays. Hands down, that is incorrect.
Here's the theory: Great musicianship comes with essential and non-essential elements.
The Essentials: Rhythm, Harmony, Melody – Sounds obvious, no? "Music" is defined by these three elements.
Rhythm: Without this guy, it's not music. Great musicians, classical, rock, otherwise, have rhythm or learn it. Great musicians have practiced endlessly with a metronome. In a band, that metronome is replaced by the drummer (keeping this simple). Speed and dexterity (non-essentials) play no role and matter not without rhythm. (So, yes, you can eliminate many a lightning-fast shredder straight off.)
Melody: Since we already know what melody is, here's a more technical definition: Melody is a collection of musical tones grouped together as a single entity. Compositions consist of multiple melodies working in conjunction with one another. In a rock band, the vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and bassist are all playing melodies on their respective instruments. Even the drummer is playing one (in addition to keeping rhythm). Melody consists of two primary components: Pitch, which refers to the audio vibration produced by an instrument arranged as a series of notes with names like C4 or D#5; and Duration, the length of time each pitch sounds. These durations are divided into lengths such as whole notes, half notes, quarter-note triplets, and more. This one is obvious: without melody, again, it's not music.
Harmony: Yes, the kind you're thinking (Beach Boys, CSN), but no, not the kind you're thinking. Melodies are not just played alone by a solo instrument or a group of instruments playing the same thing. Very frequently there are 'lead' instruments that play melodies (such as the voice, wind instruments, etc.) and, at the same time, others that accompany them doing something else. This relationship between different notes played at the same time is called harmony. Oh yeah, and without it, it's not music.
If you have these three elements, you have MUSIC by definition. Hence, the composer utilizes the tools of composition for the intimacies of musical expression – melody, harmony and rhythm – all a part of what we know simply as a "song."
But we can, indeed, add to that the "non-essentials": dexterity, speed and strength. The great (note I didn’t say greatest) blues guitarist, B.B. King, was still performing at 89 years old. Watch him on YouTube, knock your socks off. He lacked, dexterity in those years, speed as well, but 70 years of practice and play left him with the strength to perfectly execute “stretched” chords and to execute each. And note that some of the greatest guitar players like David Gilmour and Larry Carlton rarely (if ever in Gilmour's case), rely on speed. They succinctly land the essentials and then add on dexterity and strength.
The point is, forget all those apple/orange comparisons or participate because it's fun – first and foremost, music is about appreciation. If you appreciate music, though, put your “greatests” to the test. Is it just shredding at lightning speed that you appreciate (on YouTube it seems to be the fastest "Flight of the Bumblebee" that gets the accolades)? If so, you probably think that those who participate in hot dog eating contests are gourmands.

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