Tag Archives: music theory

All the planes that intersect

Last week was parent-teacher conferences at the Waldorf School, and I met with the parents of a second grade student in my general music class, both of whom are from Ethiopia. The father really wants to learn the Krar, a 5 string lyre-like instrument from the Ethiopian musical tradition. He was lamenting that he can’t find a teacher of the Krar in Chicago. I’ll keep an ear out, I told him.

A buddy of mine recently forwarded some wonderful mixes he’s made. Deep cuts, not the sorts of tunes one comes by easily. Mix003, an Ethio-jazz mix, starts with a tune called Tezeta. This is actually the name for a whole genre of Ethiopian jazz, somewhat similar to The Blues as a style in US music. I looked it up, and Tezeta means something like “reminiscence” or “nostalgia”. I asked the students’ parents if they happened to be familiar. Their eyes lit up and they told me that not only were they familiar, but Mulatu Astatke, the grandfather of Ethio-jazz and the arranger of this particular Tezeta, was playing a show in Chicago soon, did I know? I didn’t, and sadly it turns out the May show sold out quickly.

I did some research on the Krar, and it turns out that it, like the lyres we use in first and second grade music at Waldorf, is tuned to a major pentatonic scale. The planes begin to intersect.

Concurrently, I’ve been doing some blues improv with my cello students. We’re learning to solo over the 12-bar blues changes. I wrote a post at Chromawheelmusic about how Music Compass has helped me finally understand some things about why the minor pentatonic scale works so well over a major blues.

Returning to the mix I was forwarded, and this lovely tune Tezeta, I wanted to encourage some friends and family to build the major pentatonic shape on the Music Compass webapp, and experiment with jamming along with tune. Pentatonic scales are great for soloing as they seem to float easily over the music. It turns out that this Tezeta is in Eb, so forwarded the Major Pentatonic page from the soon-to-be-released Visual Guide to Music and suggested they try to build the pentatonic shape in Eb.

Eb Major Pentatonic

Meanwhile, my mom was in California this past week enjoying the beauty of life with some friends. She brought back a very sonorous windchime for my father, which he hung on the porch. He’s sent a couple of videos to the family Whatsapp thread because the label on the windchime asserts that it’s tuned in D pentatonic, and he’s quite puzzled. This source of his confusion? It sounds like there’s a Bb and an F in the chimes, which I’m sure he’s discovered by trying to jam along with the chimes on the piano. How he got the piano near the porch where the chimes are hanging I’m not sure I want to ask.

I asked him to send a video of him playing each chime in turn, which he did, and I gave video a close listen. It turns out that the windchimes are actually tuned to an Eb pentatonic scale, and thus will accompany Mulatu Astatke’s Tezeta perfectly.

Thanks Synthtopia!

The Chromawheel project got a nice writeup in Synthtopia. Chromawheel Music Compass allows students to play with music theory in a unique, tactile way, and to see how music works.


Greatest all-time two minutes of pop writing and orchestration?

The greatest two minutes of pop writing and orchestration has to be Leonard Bernstein’s tribute to Beethoven, “Somewhere”, from his 1961 orchestral suite West Side Story.  The counterpoint between the leaping and returning themes is exquisite.  The delicate harp raindrops accompanying.  Video starts at 4:30.  The orchestra is extremely close-mic’d, and it sounds great!




Cello music for meditation?

Here’s a hypnotic and meditative video I made for Chromawheel Music, with cello trio.   Check the youtube video description for what’s going on musically.  We do this as a warmup in high school string orchestra, and here’s sheet music for that arrangement: https://payhip.com/b/B3RO