Music Monday

Music Monday is a series of music posts by me (Esteban Manchado), published on Mondays, which feature a song and a brief explanation of why I think the song is cool, or of some musical concept.

This is the full archive of posts since the very beginning of the series. Enjoy!

August 31, 2020

This week, season 2 finale! This last post is an ode to (Midwest) Emo music in general, and a (breakup) song in particular.

For many years I had heard about the genre “emo” but I always dismissed it as something I surely wouldn’t like. And sure enough, some of it is really not my jam. However, there are several variants and subgenres. One of the subgenres I like is Midwest emo, which is closer to progressive rock than others. And they seem to share my love for arpeggios, too (see last week’s Music Monday post!).

One of the most important bands in that genre is American Football, and their most well-known song is probably the wonderful Never Meant (which was featured once in an earlier Music Monday):

American Football - Never Meant

This breakup song has clearly struck a chord in many people, judging by the amazing list of covers people have made.

In fact, I love this song so much that it even inspired me to write a storytelling game called “neve rmeant”!

August 24, 2020

This week, arpeggios (and note that next week it will be season finale!). I had mentioned before that chords are three or more notes played at the same time, eg. if you play E, G, and B at the same time, you are playing an E minor chord (try playing the three notes separately in Music Explorer, and then press the “Highlight” button to play the chord).

Now, you could think of arpeggios as “deconstructed chords”, that is, playing those three notes in succession, often repeatedly, instead of at the same time (see Arpeggio on Wikipedia for more information).

Listen to the beautiful main theme for The Last of Us, which features an arpeggio pretty much the whole time:

Gustavo Santaolalla - The Last of Us Theme

The first three notes that get repeated all the time are G, B, and E (which together make an “E minor” chord). Try to play them in Music Explorer as explained in this image:

How to play TLoU’s theme initial arpeggio
How to play TLoU’s theme initial arpeggio

For reference, the first arpeggiated chords are Em, E5, Esus4, and Esus2 (from 0:19 to 0:22 in the song).

If you want a more advanced insight, notice how the notes E and B are common to all those chords, but the third note changes... and that third note is what constitutes the “main melody” because your brain recognises that is the note that is different in between chords (starts at 0:19; the notes are G ↘ E ↗ A ↘ F# ↗ G G, check on Music Explorer!). If you want to hear that effect, open the song chords in a tab each (Em, E5, Esus4, Esus2, Em, Em) and go to every tab in succession, pressing the “Highlight” button to hear the chord. You will recognise the melody!

August 17, 2020

This week, the delay pedal. After a couple of longer, more complex posts, I figured it would be nice to have a “break” with something much lighter 😅

You know that “echo” sound in guitars? That is produced by a pedal called delay. As an example, listen to Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd (more evident from 0:22 on):

Pink Floyd — Run Like Hell

Another good example is Walking on the Moon by The Police (almost from the very beginning of the song):

The Police - Walking on the Moon

August 10, 2020

This week, the tabla. Tabla is the fascinating, versatile percussion instrument from the Indian subcontinent. Although I did play a bit of tabla years ago, I remain quite ignorant about the instrument, and Indian music generally, so take what I write here with a grain of salt! So anyway, the tabla is actually a pair of drums (baya and daya, lit. “left” and “right”) of different size and pitch and it can produce so many different sounds!

It is a pretty important instrument in Hindustani classical music but it is also used for popular music, film music, and of course it has been used many times in Western pop music. Some reasons why it is so fascinating:

  1. How beautiful the sounds produced by the instrument are.
  2. All the different sounds you can make with it have names, which as far as I know come from onomatopoeias.
  3. It is often used as a lead instrument, with very long improvised solos.
  4. Soloists, when about to improvise, often call out the rhythm they are going to base the improvisation on (I doubt this is exclusive to tabla, though).
  5. Even though a lot of the sounds are produced by moving the fingers and not the whole hands, it can get surprisingly loud!

And now, some examples: first, some classical (?) by one of the most well known, still alive tabla players, Zakir Hussain, with a piece called Horse Running:

Zakir Hussain - Horse Running

Note when he “calls out” what kind of rhythm he is going to improvise over, at 0:23 (also check from 2:00 on, where it is a bit clearer!). It sounds like scat singing, but the syllables are not random, and tell you exactly the rhythm he is using as a reference.

The second example is the fusion band Tabla Beat Science (again featuring Zakir Hussain) with Palmistry:

Tabla Beat Science - Palmistry

The third is a ballad by Eddie Vedder & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the Dead Man Walking OST titled The Long Road:

Eddie Vedder & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - The Long Road

And finally, a pop song by Selena Gomez called Come & Get It (!):

Selena Gomez - Come & Get It

August 3, 2020

This week, intervals. This is going to be long, mostly because of the many examples! Intervals are the “distance” between two notes. In Western music (12 notes and all that), the smallest interval is a minor second (next key on a piano; the black keys count, too!):

“Minor second” interval

Compare that to the second smallest interval, which is a (major) second (two keys apart on a piano), and to some other intervals:

“Major second” interval
“Fifth” interval
“Augmented fifth” interval

And the last important one is “octave”, which is the distance between a note and the next note with the same name:

“Octave” interval

If you want to remember how it sounds, it is the first jump in “Somewhere over the rainbow”! (G♯ to the next G♯ in this case), check Music Explorer.

Next, let’s compare two Pearl Jam songs (Jeremy and Black), and their intervals. The beginning of Jeremy is pretty “intervalic”, as in it jumps a fair amount and the jumps are relatively big, while in Black the jumps are pretty tame.

Jeremy starts at 0:38 with “At home, drawing pictures / of mountain tops” (C♯ C♯ ⤴ D ⤵ C♯ ⤵ A ⤵ E / ⤴ C♯ ⤴ D ⤵ C♯ ⤴ E ⤵ C♯; try on Music Explorer and check the jumps from C♯ to A and then to E… and then back to the original C♯!):

Pearl Jam - Jeremy

In contrast, the beginning of Black goes up very slowly. Black starts at 0:25 with “Sheets of empty canvas” (E ⤴ F♯ ⤴ G♯ ⤴ A ⤴ B ⤵ A; if you look in Music Explorer, you will see that it’s the smallest steps in that scale!)

Pearl Jam - Black

Bonus: Why do notes one octave apart have the same name? Are they the same note? While they are not the same note, they are equivalent in the sense that you can substitute one for the other and the music will still work. They will just sound lower or higher. Consider Aha’s Take on Me, a song with some very high notes at the end of the chorus, at 1:05: “I’ll be gone / In a day or two” (honk if you never understood that lyric!):

Aha - Take On Me

You could sing the “in a day or two” like the original, but if you don’t reach that high, you could sing one octave below like in this version (start at 0:45):

Aha - Take On Me (cover in The Last of Us Part II

If you want to see the difference, try to play the notes for “I’ll be gone / In a day or two” (D ⤴ A ⤴ B / ⤴ E ⤴ F♯ ⤵ E ⤵ D ⤴ A) in Music Explorer. Note that these are in D major, not in the original key! That is so that you can do this experiment in the small range of notes available in Music Explorer. The first time you should start the first ‘E’ in “In a day or two” on the right half of the keyboard. The second time, you should start that first ‘E’ on the left half. It should sound like this:

Comparison of chorus end for “Take On Me”

July 27, 2020

This week, tapping. When playing notes on a guitar, normally you place a finger on a string, then you pluck the string with the other hand. However, if instead of just placing the first finger, you hit the string with it, you can produce sound with a single hand. And that means that… you could potentially play at double the speed, by playing with both hands at the same time! Sort of. That technique is called, as you can imagine, “tapping”.

First, Building the Church by Steve Vai (at around 0:17):

Steve Vai - Building the Church

Second, the guitar solo in Eruption by Van Halen (at 2:46), who helped popularised the technique, at least in a rock context:

Van Halen - Eruption

July 20, 2020

This week, toms (and other drum stuff). For this, we are going to use mainly a song called Oiseaux de Proie by the band Alcest:

Alcest – Oiseaux de Proie (drum cover)

I really like the drums in this song, and they showcase several different techniques I wanted to mention, or that I have mentioned before. Let’s go:

So, apart from the drumming in Oiseaux de Proie, here is what is probably the most recognisable tom-heavy drum part in history. Namely, the beginning of Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman:

Benny Goodman – Sing Sing Sing

And yes, the irony of an instrumental song called “Sing Sing Sing” is not lost on me.

July 13, 2020

This week, music mashups. There are many ways to mix songs together, but one of my favourite music mashups “genres” is the “song1 by artist1 but it’s song2 by artist2”, in which you take the music for the first song (without vocals) and put the vocals of the second one instead. Two examples:

Tool – Stinkfist But It's We Are Never Getting Back Together By Taylor Swift
Mastodon – Curl of the Burl But It's Sexyback By Justin Timberlake

July 6, 2020

This week, artificial harmonics. Some weeks ago we saw natural harmonics but artificial/pinch harmonics sound different and are produced in a very different way. It is not that easy to find examples because most I could find combine these harmonics with other techniques, so it is a bit hard to tell apart what is a harmonic and what is the other techniques. Fortunately, I found three relatively varied examples!

The first is the solo in Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. Pay attention to the notes that sound like “screams” between 2:40 and 2:43.

Bon Jovi – Dead or Alive

Next, Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria (listen to notes 3 and 6 in the riff, eg. at 0:14):

Coheed and Cambria – Welcome Home

And finally, Spiderwebs by No Doubt (many between 0:26-0:30, again only the notes that sounds like screams):

No Doubt – Spiderwebs

June 29, 2020

This week, double bass drum. The bass drum is the big drum on the front of the kit, which sometimes has the band name and/or logo.

Detail of bass drum in a drumkit – Photo by Daniel Hooper on Unsplash

“Double bass drum” doesn’t necessarily mean having two bass drums. It usually means simply having two pedals to hit it. Watch this 8-year-old do a drum cover of Meshuggah’s Bleed (pay attention at 0:35-0:39):

Meshuggah - Bleed (drum cover)

If you are unsure what is the bass drum and what isn't, here is a rough transcription (PDF) that shows bass drum only first, and then the full beat:

For a non-metal use of bass drum, listen to Toto’s Dave’s Gone Skiing from 3:42:

Toto - Dave’s Gone Skiing

And finally, another metal example (of thousands): Sisters of Suffocation’s Phobophobia, eg. 0:36-0:38, 0:40-0:43:

Sisters of Suffocation - Phobophobia