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 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

June 22, 2020

Someone asked about augmented fifths some time ago. The bad news is, I don’t really know enough music theory to explain this. The good news is, that has never stopped me! 😂 So, chord qualities (it will be easy to understand, just a little long).

Strictly speaking, an “augmented fifth” is an interval (we will talk about those another day, I promise!), but that interval is what gives one of the chords we are going to see today (namely, augmented chord) its sound.

So, chords have two parts: their key (how low/high they sound) and their quality (their “mood”). Some qualities are major, minor, diminished, and augmented. Major chords sound happy, stable, and familiar; minor chords, sad; diminished chords, dramatic and tense; and augmented... mystifying? idk lol. Listen and compare these chords:

E major
E minor
E augmented
E diminished

As I said, one of the notes that augmented chords are made of is the augmented fifth. And that is the note that gives it that mystifying sound. Now, the difference between the different chords might sound subtle or hard to pinpoint, but listen now to the following chord progressions:

Song with all major chords (E major, A major, B major) – Should sound optimistic and bright
Song with all minor chords (E minor, A minor, B minor) – Should sound sombre and sad
Song with minor, major, and augmented chord (E minor, A major, B augmented, E minor) – Starts kind of sad, becomes bright and hopeful, and then mystifying)

Finally, a real song that starts with an augmented chord: “Oh! Darling” by The Beatles.

The Beatles – Oh! Darling

June 15, 2020

This week Music Monday says trans rights! 🏳️‍🌈 Also, we talk about the number 4 (!).

We had already talked about how most Western music is based on 4-beat rhythms (that is 4/4 for those of you who know a little music theory). However, the number 4 goes beyond that! A lot of music also has a strong tendency to group music in 4-bar chunks (i.e. 16 beats). Listen to Be Free, by Ah-Mer-Ah-Si:

Ah-Mer-Ah-Su - Be Free

For brevity, I will call a group of 4 bars (that is, 16 beats), a “chunk”. With that in mind:

The rest is, again, groups of 4 bars, so you can do the count 😄

June 8, 2020

This week, harmonics. Normally, when playing guitar and other string instruments, you produce notes by pressing a string against the fretboard (then plucking the string).

However, if you put your finger on the string, without pressing it towards the fretboard (then pluck), you get a “harmonic” (long story on Wikipedia).

These are notes that sound very “airy”, almost like bells. You have probably heard them before! Listen to “Sisters” by Steve Vai, and pay attention to the two notes at 0:38. Those are harmonics!

Steve Vai - Sisters

Another good example is Boy from Seattle, also from Steve Vai. Listen how there are several such notes at 0:33:

Steve Vai - Boy from Seattle

Do not confuse these harmonics with artificial harmonics (or pinch harmonics, or squealies, or whatever you want to call them), which sound very different and are produced in a different way. We’ll get to those in another episode.

June 1, 2020

This week, Saxophone metal! In case you didn’t know, “metal” is an extremely rich and varied genre. “Saxophone metal” is not a real subgenre, though, sorry! That said, I wanted to showcase several bands that (a) feature sax or other wind instruments in some songs, and (b) sound pretty different, while being all metal!

First up is the technical death metal band Rivers of Nihil with their disorientingly hippie-looking Where Owls Know My Name video (growling at 1:15, sax at around 2:00):

Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name

Then we have the avant-garde metal band Dog Fashion Disco with their Christian Dance Song (beware lyrics poking fun at religion! Also, what am I even listening to? Is this ska metal? I don’t even, but I love it):

Dog Fashion Disco - Christian Dance Song

Finally, the Norwegian avant-garde metal/jazz fusion band Shining with an instrumental… jazz metal? song called Healter Skelter (beware strobe lights!):

Shining - Healter Skelter

And because I am a big fan of Shining and it is a relatively unknown, Norwegian band, some more of it: first, their impossibly awesome video for Last Day played on Trolltunga, featuring hiking, snow, cliffs, and paragliders (love the changes in the song between 1:55 and 2:30):

Shining - Last Day

And last, but not least, I wanted to share a video of Shining’s powerful Øya festival 2013 concert (I was there! It was amazing):

Shining - Øya concert 2013