I didn’t get any actual practice done tonight. Instead, I figured out how to record my bass. I originally tried doing it from my phone. Its an LG G2 running Android 5.0.2, which is apparently called Lollipop. I actually plugged my bass into my amp, which is a rarity for me, and tried 3 different apps, Smart Voice Recorder, Audio Recorder and iRig Recorder. I’ve used the first 2 to record conversations with clients or the team at work when I needed to make notes later for development. The last one is something I grabbed tonight. None of them worked well. They didn’t pick up the bass at all, but got my fingers sliding on the strings with no problem. It makes me wonder if the internal microphone on the phone isn’t able to grab sounds below a certain frequency. I’ll have to look into that later. But it could also be that the volume on the amp was really low to avoid waking the baby.
What finally did work was when I went to the PC. I used my old Rocksmith cable. I haven’t touched it in maybe 2 years. It seemed to work with the Sound Recorder that’s built into Windows 7, but the levels were low. I turned to Google and it led me to Audacity, which I’ve used in the past for instructional stuff for work, and the LAME encoder, which Audacity needs to save files as MP3. Both of these (Audacity & LAME) are free.
So, I adjusted the volume level of the Rocksmith cable using the Windows Control Panel and tried recording. It worked. 😉 I’m not plugged into an amp, so its like I’m playing unplugged with my electric bass. This will, of course, affect the sound quality, but for practice purposes, its fine. Later on, I’ll see if it can use the cable while its plugged into my amp. That’ll be interesting if it works.
So, here’s my first recording, and my first upload to Soundcloud. Its just a test using the minor triad and the first 3 notes of the minor scale. I started on E (5th fret) on the low B string on the fretted 6-string and played a pattern/few notes on the 1, 4, 5 and 8, so its relatively simple. I tried using that “rolling fingers” technique from the Hal Leonard book as well, because it gives me problems, which are apparent in the recording. Its a little sloppy, but I only just picked my bass back up after more than 1/2 a year, so it’ll likely remain that way for some time.
I’d say enjoy, but… its not at that stage yet. So, witness the horror instead. 😉
Wow. The Soundcloud image makes me twice as ugly! 😉
The 5th video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is called “Introduction to chords“. Its about 9 1/2 mins long. Dr. Worth begins the session by explaining that with scales so far, we’ve been working sequentially, in a linear fashion, sounding one note at a time. However, its very common in music to sound multiple notes at the same time. This sounding of several notes together is called playing a chord.
My understanding of chords is that they’re the odd-numbered notes in a scale. So, if a scale has 8 notes, the chord tones are the 1, 3, 5 and 7. People also include the 8 because its the octave, making it the same as the 1. The even-numbered notes are notes in the scale, but aren’t chord tones. Also, these odd and even numbers are called scale degrees. So, the first note is the 1, the second note is the 2, and so on. I believe they also call this the Nashville Number System.
Dr. Moir jumps in to say that before we continue, we must recap the difference between the C major scale and the A Aeolian mode, or Natural Minor scale. So, C major is played using the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. That’s fairly straightforward. A Aeolian is built by playing the notes of the C major scale starting at the 6th scale degree, or the note A. So, its A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.
The Dr.’s then proceed to play both scales on the piano while showing the note names by letter as well as tone & semi-tone formulas onscreen. The formulas show us whether to move one fret or two frets on a bass before we land on the next note in the scale/mode. For pianists, using only the white keys, the formulas reveal whether to move forward by 1 or 2 keys at a time to get to the next note.
Here’s something interesting that expands on basic chords. Previous posts have gone over major and minor triads, including how they’re derived from the major and minor scale, respectively. They’re the two most basic chords in Western music and are each comprised of 3 notes – the root (or 1), a variable 3rd (major or minor) and the 5th degree of the given scale. So, they’re spelled out as:
- Major triad: 1 – 3 – 5
- Minor triad: 1 – b3 – 5
There are apparently three other chords that are variations of the triads. Two of them alter the 5th chord tone, which generally remains the same in a major or minor triad (which is why the 5th is called a perfect fifth). The last one replaces the 3rd with a 4th, regardless of whether its major or minor. These triads are called the Augmented, Diminished and Suspended triads.
The 5th video for the 6th, and final, lesson of Coursera’s online Developing Your Musicianship class is the last actual lesson video. The final one for the lesson is going to be the student ensemble performance, as usual.
5. Practicing What You Know and Moving Forward (4:00)
In his final video, Professor Russell opens by thanking us for joining him on this six-week journey and sends hope that all of the information that we learned will be applicable to our musical situations. One way to do this, he says, is by continuing to practice for 15 minutes every day. So, what should we practice? His suggestion is that we take everything that we did in the key of C and transpose it to another key. He reminds us that there are 12 keys, and they we started in the key of C because there are no sharps or flats. He then shows us the G major scale and tells us that there’s one sharp in the scale: F#.
Specific items he suggests practicing include:
- The I, IV and V major & minor triads in the key of G (G, C, D)
- 7th chords for the I and IV (G Maj7, C Maj7)
- Dominant chords for the I, IV and V (G7, C7, D7)
- The 735 voicing for the dominant chords
- The minor pentatonic scale in G
Video #3 for the 6th, and final, lesson of Coursera’s online Developing Your Musicianship class reviews all of the chords that were introduced in prior lessons: the triads and 7ths.
3. Review: The Major and Minor Triad, Major 7th and Dominant 7th Chords (7:51)
Continuing from the last video, in which he spoke about the major scale, Professor Russell opens this video with, “Now, another thing we learned was a major triad and a minor triad. These were the first chords we learned and we’re going to get those chords right from the major scale.” He plays a C major scale on the piano and then explains that a major triad would consist of the root (the 1st degree of the scale), the third (3rd degree of the scale) and the fifth (5th degree of the scale). He calls what he just played the 1-chord, “because its built upon the first degree of the scale.”
He further explains that if we played the 4-chord, or 4 major triad, that it would be built on the 4th degree of the scale, which is an F (F-A-C) and the 5-chord would be built on the 5th degree of the scale – a G (G-B-D). Those three chords are called C major, F major and G major (the 1-chord, 4-chord and 5-chord in the key of C) and they’re used in a huge amount of songs.
Like last time, the 2nd video for this lesson of Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class is a review of the prior lesson.
2. Review (5:03)
This video review begins with a 60-second rendition of Wade in the Water on piano, which was chosen because the melody is based on the minor pentatonic scale. Professor Russell says that he wanted to get the tune in our ears, and that we’ll talk about it more later. (See the bottom of this post for a Wiki link to the song, it has an interesting history.)
He then begins the actual review, saying that so far, we’ve spoken about the major scale, which he plays in C and then has his Berklee vocal group sing in solfege starting on Do, then the note names starting on C, and then the scale degrees. He says that, “Everything we do is gonna come right from that major scale.”
He continues with, “Now, first thing we talked about, or one of the first chords we talked about was the triad, the major triad – one, three, five.” The onscreen treble staff shows a C-major triad to illustrate what he’s saying. It shows a I-chord, which is C major, then a IV-chord, which if F major, and finally a V-chord, which is G major (because all of this is in C).
Moving forward, the Professor says, “The next thing we talked about was the tonal center. And, what is a tonal center?” The screen answers with text stating: The tonic or “Do” of the scale, or scale degree 1. He then adds, “Exactly, its that main note that you hear, the note that keeps coming back, the note that seems to work with all the other chords.”
Next, he speaks about the minor triads. “Major triads – one, three five,” he says while playing, “The minor triad – one, flat three, five.” The onscreen treble staff again shows the notes as he plays them. He says that with the major triad, we have a “nice, happy kind of sound,” and that the minor triad is “just a little bit darker.” He plays a little on the piano to illustrate each and says, “And, its amazing what one note can do to a chord.”
You know, I’ve barely practiced with my bass in the past few days. I’ve come to realize some things about this Coursera class. First, learning theory takes place more in your head than on your instrument – practicing some of it, like scales, chords, progressions and whatnot helps reinforce things, but its not entirely a hands-on experience, at least not at first. Its more about understanding the concepts.
Second, the most important thing in this class so far seems to be ear training. I have to work on that a lot more, but its given me an idea of how to proceed. Breaking the task into smaller parts seems to be the way to go, as per usual with learning anything new. In this case, I think that learning the sounds of intervals 2 at a time, like we’ve been doing, is a reasonable method. It puts the sounds in our ears and heads, and it gives us small chunks which we can compare against each other to help reinforce the sounds. So, in my opinion, the idea behind that process makes sense.
When focusing on bass, I actually dislike both of these things, because in my head, I keep thinking that if I’m not practicing, I’m wasting time. I know I’m learning regardless, and when I do it, it feels justified, but then I get itchy about not practicing.
Video #5 for Lesson 2 of Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class introduces the concepts of triads. To me, this is the beginning of exploring harmony. I learned some stuff from this. Apparently, the 7 degrees of a scale each have their own chords, which makes sense. What I didn’t know is that they’re referred to by using their # and the word “chord”. So, if we’re in the key of C, the first triad is called “the 1 chord” and starts on C. A triad starting from the 2nd scale degree is “the 2 chord” and starts on D. The “3 chord” starts on E, etc. I have to see if it matters whether the chord is major or minor, and what happens later when we move past triads and onto 7ths.
5. Building Major and Minor Triads (8:44)
The video begins with Professor Russell playing on the piano for about 35 seconds. He tells us that he just played a progression that included triads, which are the first chords we’re going to talk about in the course. He then asks, “What is a triad,” and answers with “Of course, triad, you think of the word three and if you’ll look at the screen there, there is the major scale with a triad. Three notes. A triad consists of the one, the three and the five. The root, which is the same thing as the one, the third, and the fifth. This is what we call a major triad. And this major triad is build upon C.” So, what he’s saying is, using scale degrees, triads are a combination of 3 notes played at the same time. These notes are the root, the 3rd scale degree and the 5th scale degree. This is a major triad.