~ start ~

~ newly minted theorists ~

~ we all get to start somewhere ~

diatonic
12 pitches
12 pitches
12 pitches
jam in C
t
b
1st song to transcribe dock of the bay
 
 

 

diatonic scale pitches

'... energize your own learning in life by stepping boldly into new journeys, challenges and discoveries.'

 

 

In a nutshell. Simply to help super brand new theorists start their learning pathway by picking up a couple of solid rudiments that apply to all of our Americana music theories. Along the way we use musical vocabulary words we all can share in common that create keyword links to new discussions on other pages. The rest of it, based on your curiosities, is entirely up to you.

Seven steps to Parnassum. The seven or so sequenced topics that follow combine theory basics with performance ideas to get the theory under the fingers. For whether you perform, produce, arrange, write and record or for now just hang with those who do, these skills and their theory should make you a stronger player and asset to the team.

wiki Graddus ad Parnassum

Simply take each one in turn and work at it long enough to get the gist of it. For each of the seven topics are a central component of understanding and creating our Americana musics. Combined they create a solid basis for whatever explorations may follow. These discussions close with a survey of our musical styles, their main theory components and improvisational aspects, all generating links for further explorations.

Simply take each one in turn and work at it long enough to get the gist of it. For each of the seven topics are a central component of understanding and creating our Americana musics. Combined they create a solid basis for whatever explorations may follow. These discussions close with a survey of our musical styles, their main theory components and improvisational aspects, all generating links for further explorations.

~ super theory game changer ~

Learn a melody. Playing a real melody that we already know is a great place to start. If you got a git tune it up regular. No git yet? Just sing along. Know this melody yet? "Shortnin"? Goes way way back into our Americana. In C, here's a scale . Example 1.

playing the melody
in C
more melodies
Americana

Just the four bars? Yep, easiest place to start, with a four bar phrase. We see that a lot in our music. Riff on that scale shape up and down a bit. Cool.

four bars
riff
scale shape
jamm loop

Learn this melody. Playing a real melody that we already know is a great place to start. Know this melody yet? "Shortnin' goes way back. Example 1.

Americana
groups of pitches

~ super theory game changer ~

12 pitches. The basis of so much of our Americana music flows from the relationships between how we group together and sound our pitches. As theorists we can think of a 'group of pitches' or scale and create from its pitches an arpeggio and into chords. Example 1.

Americana
groups of pitches

~ super theory game changer ~

Theory start. The basis of so much of our Americana music flows from the relationships between how we group together and sound our pitches. As theorists we can think of a 'group of pitches' or scale and create from its pitches an arpeggio and into chords. Example 1.

Americana
groups of pitches

Scales are created stepwise. Arpeggios are created by skipping every other pitch of the scale. For chords we stack up the arpeggio pitches and sound them all together. What could be simpler ?

Time. Time, timing, rhythms are terms we use to describe the flow of our music through measurable time. Clearly found in the walk along of marching band music, three essential beats base Americana musical time. These are; the big four, the accenting of the 2nd and 4th beats of this big 4, and the triplet figure of three.

time
heritage of the beat
big 4
the triplet

Once we have the big four beat of four quarter notes, so much of our music become possible. Known as 4/4 time, it is the same 'boom boom boom boom' pulse found throughout all of the world's music. Back in the 1880's or so, our Americana music started to accent the 2 and 4 beats. Once there's this 'backbeat' feel, any sort of triplet of three starts the swing in motion.

quarter notes
4/4 time
backbeat
swing

In this first idea, count so that the first number in each group corresponds along with the appropriate measure; so 1,2,3,4 / 2,2,3,4 / 3,2,3,4 / 4,2,3,4 etc. Is everything in Americana music a four bar phrase? Well maybe but don't be too surprised how true this might turn out to be. We can always go to the radio and check in. Next, snap along with your fingers finding the 2 and 4 and keep counting along. For the triplet find a three syllable word, one for each of the three eighth notes. 'Trip-a-let' works fine, 'choc-o-lat' too. Example 1.

a four bar phrase
the radio
counting rhythms

Feel the pulse from 2 and 4? Cool with the snapping along? If so you're creating the pocket groove of all Americana, congratulations. It's also a way to count things off with the band. How about the triplet? Feel a bit of the gallop that makes it seem to jump a bit? The gallop is the Americana here. Ya got to feel the gallop to swing. Just take your time and enjoy the discovery for there's a ton of great guitar licks that are based on this triplet rhythmic figure.

With the finger snaps on 2 and 4 try to wait and hold till to like the last moment before you snap as you groove along. As you do this a bunch of times in a row, you'll feel a sense of pulling between your snap time and the music's time. That sense of 'pull' between the accented and unaccented beats is the basis of Americana swing. Here's a longer click track to try this out and find the swing. If the beats get tangled up, simply count '1' before the accented click to find 2 and 4 again. Example 2.

count '1' before the click

Feel the pull? That's the physical sensation of swing. Does it make you smile? No surprise there :) You, me and a zillion more who feel its magic! Thank you Louis Armstrong credited with its invention ! Find this physical sense of pull to interpret melodies and find it with your rhythms and be golden forevermore :)

swing video
sing the line play the line

Next up, spin your local radio dial to any am or fm station and find some sort of rockin' pop Americana music. There's a super good chance there's the 2 and 4 pop in the mix, usually on the snare drum. Snap your fingers on the 2 and 4 and count along; 1 2 3 4 etc. Do this a couple of times and feel the magic and we end up just doing it by habit whenever we get within range of something cool.

Spin the dial to the next station with music. Find 2 and 4 in the mix. Style? Next station, same process. Anytime there's a 2 and 4 and we snap along we'll find the swing right away. It might be subtle or might be wide, we might have to make it up ourselves too, but with the 2 and 4 pulse in 4 / 4 time we easily can. Any style? Yea pert near any style well ...

Spin to the Euro classical music station. And sure enough, the 2 and 4 vanishes. Crazy huh? Easiest way for a legit player to swing is to follow these ideas and exercise here. Really? Ever see them cats count off a thing by snapping their fingers on 2 and 4? Nope? Well neither has anyone else because that's not their thing. No 2 and 4? No swing, simple as that. In 3/4? Later :)

Euro
3 / 4 waltz time

Teach a legit player to snap the fingers on 2 and 4 of a big 4 beat and at least they'll have a way in. Some say it was these players socially pushed out of their legit work and into the honky tonks that birthed ragtime which became jass which became jazz. And that is some serious music. So then move on to the next station of Americana music and guess what's back? Right, an accented 2 and 4 has returned to create the core dance groove in all of Americana.

dance

Last, practice counting music in 4/4 time off by using the tempo of your song to start your counting. Then start clicking on 2 and 4. Count it in to start. Need a band? Or just even some clicks to lean into? Makes all the difference. Get Franz again ? Sure thing :)

working with a metronome

Quick review. These time ideas and exercises are some giant steps to master for the newly minted theorist but hopefully you know what swing feels like and have a start to mastery of its magics. Getting your music to swing is now all about how you work it, now that you are in the know.

Diatonic, the key word. Diatonic, just one of a couple of ways to refer to one of our very oldest Americana melody maker group of pitches. Major scale, Ionian mode, relative major / minor are a few other ways. Remember this top to bottom pitch diatonic melody? Here in E major all on the top string. Example 1.

jacmuse diatonic melody

Sound familiar? Cool. Nice to have a melody line on just the one string. Great line to run through the 12 keys .

Some theory. In initially discussing the theories of Americana music, the basis of all is the term diatonic. Harvard Brief describes diatonic as originating from the Greeks, and meaning through the tones. These tones for us today are the 7 / seven pitches of the diatonic scale, leaving five remaining pitches of our original 12.

~ super theory game changer ~

The idea of 'diatonic' bases all of our theory in thought and process as it defines any one pitch, arpeggio or chord within a key center. Once we know its root source, we can sort out even the jumbliest jumbles of pitches. We simply ask 'what key center is this pitch(es) diatonic to.' From there we untangle and build.

So we only have 12 different letter name pitches? Yep, in our theory musings we've only get the 12. Of course we generally get a couple of octaves usually but that was not always the case. Know of these 12 pitches, can you find identify them on your ax and or at a piano keyboard? Example 2.

Why this plays so heavily right out of the gate is due to the near and ever present influence of the blue notes in the Americana sounds we love. And these essential blue notes are also the remaining five pitches of our total of 12? Exactly. And are they diatonic? No they are not diatonic to a key center as defined just above. We theorists 'borrow them' to jazz up and bluesify the seven diatonic pitches in innumerable ways.

blue notes
bluesify

A problem? No, not at all and really only my problem in trying to describe the nuts, bolts and art of the music in theoretical terms. But as long as you're hip to the idea of diatonic, and what it implies, all is groovy in Theoryville. Part of what makes American music so wonderful from a historical / global / enjoyment perspective is the artful blending and ofttimes continual improvisational merging of the seven diatonic pitches with the five blue ones. This all created by artists making new art in the moment.

Theoryville
improvisation

Our dear ancestor's music from across the pond to the east, often termed European classical music, has historically been diatonic. Every pitch in any music 'theory assignable' to a diatonic key center or borrowed from one. Any real blue notes rubbed over a diatonic harmony? No. Any backbeat accent on 2 and 4 to swell the pulse and open up the groove to swing? No. At least in our Americana sense. Yet this European influence is the basis of all of our American harmony.

Anything to do with chords historically originates from Europe. Throughout our discussions I call this seven pitch diatonic / five pitch blue note combination the 'blues rub.' We'll feel it again and again as we learn to understand the relationships and their sounds of combining these two groups of pitches in our music.

blues rub

~ super theory game changer ~

Diatonic chords, One / Four / Five in major and minor. An often overlooked aspect of the basic six diatonic chords, the ones used to create the chord progressions for the vast majority of our songs is that in theory, they are already pre-programmed into being the One / Four and Five chords. The same One / Four / Five chord progression? Yep. The 'three chords and the truth' chords? The three chords of basic blues songs? The 'G, C, D'er' of folk and country? Yep yep yep :)

just a 'G,C,D'er'

One set is major and one is minor and they come from the same group of pitches. Let's extract these chord pitches as three note triads in the relative key pairing of G major / and E natural minor. Example 2a.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
G major
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G
arpeggio
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
G
One / G major
G
B
D
.
.
.
.
.
Four / C major
.
.
.
.
.
C
E
G
Five / D major
.
.
D
F#
A
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
E minor
E
F#
G
A
B
C
D
E
arpeggio
E
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
One / E minor
E
G
B
.
.
.
.
.
Four / A minor
.
.
.
.
.
A
C
E
Five / B minor
.
.
B
D
F#
.
.
.

Ever seen a layout of the pitches in this manner? This is a common way to spell out the pitches of the diatonic chords. Created from the perspective of the G major center, we measure and numerically label each of the pitches from G, which assumes the position of One.

This adding of the numbers to represents letters is nothing short of potentially game changing for the emerging theorist. Using numbers instead of letters allows us to project any theory ideas or principles equally from any of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, advancing our understanding of the entire system.

Cool isn't it? Two sets of One / Four / Five chords, one major, one minor. The ultimate sets of threes for the American harmony mix and match. No end to the chord progressions they might create in all of our styles. Super rote learn these chords for maximum success. Ex. 2b.

Wow, in this graphic we get a variety of theory coolness. Diatonic relative pitches and keys, the upper (major) and lower (minor) case Roman numeral chord degree symbols, standard notation of the pitches, string tab note locators and line grids for chord shapes.

relative keys
Roman numerals
chord degrees
notation

Consider working in some fingerpicking to help locate your single line melodies from within these open chords. Sing, hum or buzz along with your melody to get it just how you want it to sound, feel and flow. Make it all dance :) Bass lines often begin by just playing the roots and using the other diatonic pitches as passing tones between the roots of the chords, creating a story line.

passing tones
roots of the chords

So did you already have these chord shapes under your fingers? Cool. No, then just learn them here if need be. In learning new chord shapes; try to slowly strum each chord a time or two then move to the new shape. Simply back and forth till the new shape is mastered. The strumming is usually the easy part, making the finger change between chord shapes the challenge.

parts of a guitar

OK with the last barre chord B minor? As it is the same core shape as A minor just up two frets, the index finger becoming the barre replacing the nut of the open strings. Evolving open chords to the movable barre chords is often a dramatic step for the evolving guitarist.

evolving barre chords

Coolness with the relative chords. As mentioned above, these six chords provide the gist of the harmony for our Americana musics. While of course not always in G major / E minor, most folk through pop styled tunes are based on combinations or chord progressions of these six diatonic chords. For bass, in this sort of diatonic chord motion, again connecting the roots of the chords creates a bassline that tells a song's story.

This next idea finds two quite common ways of working the E minor triad, which is built on the sixth scale degree of G major, into the One / Four / Five of G major. Both are used in a lot of memorable songs. Example 2c.

More coolness with the relative chords. These next idea has all six diatonic chords woven together into an four bar phrase. Example 2d.

Cool ? Cool. Just stepwise motion moving up the scale and building a triad on each scale degree. Notice that one is missing? Where's Seven? Seven is a diminished triad that is rarely in these diatonic progressions. In these styles of music, more common to find Seven as part of the dominant Five chord which makes D7. Examine the pitches and their sounds. Example 2e.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
G major
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G
arpeggio
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
G
Five / D major
.
.
D
F#
A
.
.
.
Seven / F# minor
.
.
.
F#
A
C
.
.

Sounds common enough yes? Cool with the open D7 shape? Remember we're just trying to get at the theory of the pitches etc. Where a thing comes from a diatonic basis. Cool with the term and what it can imply? Oh, can we add a 7th to any of our diatonic chords? You bet. Click to explore 7th's or see what's next ...

diminished colors

V7

Play our music by ear. A lot of the traditions we share and pass to each new generations is by the orally telling stories in words and aurally listening to our stories in our musics. In music we generally call this 'playing by ear.' We hear music and recreate it on our chosen instrument. And while we surely do see Americana players reading written music in performance, most often these are jazz musicians. Folk, rock, country or blues players reading the music while performing? No. Maybe reading the words to the song or if there's a string section in pop music performances those cats are reading. Studio musicians in really any style working in recording sessions? Many are solid readers of standard musical notation.

reading music
studio musicians

So to start to learn to play by ear, find a melody or two that goes deep into your own music history, sing some of the melody then find and sound out these pitches on your instruments. Build it all out from there one phrase at a time. Once you've got the line under your fingers, sing different interpretations, jazz em' up, add mojo juice, be theatrical in your vocalizations ... then discover how to impart these emotional 'nuances' with your fingers. This is the basis of making Americana musics. This is the basis of creating your own unique sound, an artistic signature as they say in the biz :) Click the link to for a dozen or so 'melodies by ear' suggestions.

sing the line play the line
bass story lines
jazz em' up
mojo juice
artistic signature
the biz

Major or minor? Can you distinguish between the sound of something major and something minor? If so move on. If not take a minute to begin to understand this two-way distinction as nearly everything; scales, arpeggios, chords, keys and songs in our Americana music is one or the other. That we often play one off another and balance between the two in one song is also super common in most of our styles.

For the emerging theorist, can you distinguish between our major and minor chords / triads sounds by ear? Click on the following icons and see if you can. Example 3.

chords
#1
#2
#3
#4

Answers. Hold up to mirror :) ronim / rojam / rojam / ronim.

Well how did you do? Get a few? Get them all? Miss them all? Miss them all but in reverse? Try them again? Keep trying and by the close of this discussion I predict you'll be on the road to major / minor aural perfection! Take the link on the right to a rather full examination of the major and minor dimensions in our musics.

Twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. So how many eggs in a dozen? How many hours on the face of an old fashioned clock? How many different pitches in our musical system? If you're thinking along the lines of 12 then all is well here in Theoryville.

chromatic scale

We've initially two basic ways to organize this entire grouping of our pitches. One of course is going to be scaler, termed the chromatic scale, a symmetrical scale built exclusively the half step interval, one fret on our guitars. Click the music and sing along with its pitches. Example 4.

groups of pitches
half step interval

Notice how some of the pitches in the descending group have flat accidentals while the ascending uses a sharp (#) to designate pitch? Cool, both of course are correct. And while flats tend to go down while sharps go up, the actual direction within a key where will of course be the final determinant in our labeling.

A second way to present our 12 notes is to create a picture of pitches resembling the face of our clocks, which we call a cycle of fifths. We often use this depiction in talking about key signatures, the basis of our diatonic, tonally centered view of the theory. Ex. 4a.

cycle of fifth's
key signatures
sharps
flats

Cool? 12 pitches no more no less, in theory anyway. Thus empowered we've our arms completely around our pitch resource. That all becomes available and capable from with this closed loop of pitches.

closed loops
loops of pitches

Improv. In the musical styles you dig, is there improvisation? Do you get to 'take a lead' during parts of the song? Americana music styles each have their own improvised parts, there is a span of degrees of how much the music is improvised. From the folk end of the spectrum and through into pop, where the melody line is sung with words, most of the music we hear, especially performed live, is created from rote memory of each of the musicians.

improv
rote learning

Players rote learned their parts and then collaborate their memories all together in time into one consciousness to make the music happen. So in a sense they're improvising their parts in real time but playing their parts by heart. Based on memory, focus and concentration, this process of improvising from memory is probably the coolest thing we get to do as musical artists.

parent scale
ear training

Stronger players in these realms get more ride time. As we move along our spectrum into the country and especially the bluegrass, these instrumental breaks become more and more of a feature in performance with players spending serious time building up their improv chops, licks, ditties and how it all fits together. History records these players from whom we can study.

country and bluegrass

Jam. To jam is something many players just dig to do. In these sessions, cats bring their rote memorized music and collaborating their parts un-rehearsed, their ears are their guide to the musical part they create to contribute to the mix. Theory plays a role in helping the artist understand the music around them and helping them find ways into the jam. These sessions create bands. The looseness of the sessions encourage explorations where like minded artists begin new friendships to make art together.

a prep to jam

In blues and jazz. While all of our styles will follow a musical form in a song, in the 12 bar form of blues and various larger forms of jazz, spontaneous improvisation is a fair share of the performance time. In many settings it is expected and anticipated as each musician gets a turn to 'cut loose' and recreate on the energy of the song being performed in their own way. Taking a full turn or two of a song's form, termed a 'chorus', is the basis here.

a chorus
backing a soloist

These improvisations are generally created 'ad lib' with the soloist building off what the band plays behind them. These parts are for the most improvised by the artist. There's a lot of preparation to do this, but when under the lights performing, a lot of this often gets made up as we go along. A super easy way to begin to improvise is by creating variations on a theme and the mimicking of ideas often termed call and response.

theme and variations
call and response
sing the line play the line

Over or through the changes. This 'either or' is where the theory becomes a solid way into understanding and creating the magic. "Changes" is a slang word for the chords and soloing over or through the chords is the basic fork in the road theorywise. Soloing over the changes covers just about all of styles excepting jazz.

over or through the changes
preparing to improvise

Through the changes. In the jazz traditions of improv, there's a real legacy of creating improvised lines whose pitches are a direct reflection of the pitches of each chord as they pass by. Can we hear the chord changes in the improvised line becomes the goal many strive for. And with the myriad of chord substitutions, there's no near limit to the possibilities of the shedding to prepare and stay prepared to be an exciting jazz soloist.

over or through the changes
preparing to improvise

The importance of understanding diatonic. In this soloing through the changes we might get our most important lesson as to why understanding 'diatonic' solves a ton of our improvisational mysteries. For as we create improvised melodic lines using the pitches of the chords as our resource, knowing their diatonic source is a big help in keeping things organized and together.

Arpeggios play a big part in this process both in our day to day improv and historically as well, as they clearly outline the harmony of a song. As our jazz music has evolved over the decades, evolution of the harmony has helped to increase tempos, raising the excitement of the music for players, listeners and dancers alike.

arpeggios
evolution of harmony

Theme and variations. To being this process here, rote learn this lick and combine your singing of the idea with sounding out on your ax. Once under the fingers, vocalize new versions of the idea and find these on your ax. Now your improvising and creating new art from your heart spoken out through your instrument. This is the basis which knows no limits. Here's the lick. Ex. 5.

other themes to variate

Sequencing. While possibly conjuring other electronic cut and paste pathways for modern players reading here, finding a melodic 'cell' and sequencing it through various means is probably the historical core of it in our improv. Why? Maybe just that as a species we just each just seem to have a natural sense of when our sequenced ideas flow together. And if it makes and organic sense to a wide audience of listeners, it 'sells' and in doing so keeps folks employed making more music. A sort of sequencing of the natural perpetualization of art in our lives.

sequence

Regardless of this verbiage, in truth we tend to sequence everything in our lives and when applied to our improvisations, we create a sort of natural closure of form that is intuitively self correcting for our creativity and as such can also encourage our curiosities to break free and create some thing new from a natural, structural basis of strength. Which is in a sense what our improv Americana is all about; give each of us a fair chance to energize our creativity to create and contribute new ideas we can share and negotiate with our communities into solutions that advance and enrich our lives together.

improv Americana

By the numbers. For the emerging theorist, so much of learning can be facilitated by exchanging the letter names of pitches for a numerical representation of the pitch. The trick to doing this is that we choose one pitch as a tonal center, and create a diatonic key center group of pitches to support the center pitch. This central pitch becomes One, and all other pitches are 'measured' from this tonic pitch. This is the core of our diatonic.

diatonic

Once empowered, as theorists we then get to talk about the tonal gravity between pitches and further, their aural predictability in our spectrum of musical styles. To start we number pitches One through Seven, corresponding to the seven pitches of the diatonic scale. The beauty of this approach is that one set of theory ideas applies to any key center we find ourselves in.

tonal gravity
aural predictability
spectrum of styles
key center

This is just one application of math numbers to our music. For there's truly many many correlations between music and math. As math is a numerical representation of science, everything from the diatonic ideas described above to the physical measurement of musical sound waves, the basis of our tuning the pitches, numbers of measures in musical forms, ratios of intervals to determine aural purity of pitch, sequences of numbers in arpeggios and their color tones, there's just a lot to explore and discover here for math minded artists.

sound waves
tuning
phrasing and form
intervals
aural purity of sound
music and math

Musical styles. Having examined a bit of the pitches and their organization into scales and chords, let's go through each of the broad categories of the American styles and see which of the theoretical elements play the largest role in creating the styles. One cool thing for sure is that while all of the styles have evolved over the decades, pieces written in a style today will contain elements from its historical past and as theorists, we can trace pathways back to these musical elements. These elements often come to us today as 'cliche' ideas that oftentimes will continually renew themselves in succeeding generations of artists and their evolutions.

cliche

The following musical descriptions are all about the theory, and are mostly based by the number of pitches of a style's core group of pitches from our total of 12 pitches. From here on out to the bottom of this page maybe add a '... and for the most part' so I can generalize and blur the lines between wide swaths of the Americana styles we love to create the 'modern guitar' perspective and pathway links for further exploration.

evolution of the gear

The following musical descriptions are all about the theory, and the distinctions made between each style is based by the actual number of pitches often used to create a style's melodies, from our 12 total pitches. From here on out to the close of these discussions, maybe add and insert the phrase '... and for the most part' ... so I can more liberally generalize and blur the lines between the wide swaths of the Americana styles we love.

number of pitches
music and math

For in this blurring between styles, often based on the additive pitch dynamic of the theory, forms this work's core philosophy of a 'modern guitarist.' Here's a charting of the 12 pitches and the additive nature of the theory, outling broad styles of our Americana musics. Ex. 1.

adding pitches
Americana
 
total # of pitches
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
1 ...
scale degree #'s
1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
5
#5
6
b7
7
8

children's songs (5)

C
.
D
.
E
.
.
G
.
(A)
.
.
C

folk (6)

C
.
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A
.
.
C

blues and rock (6)

C
.
.
Eb
.
F
.
G
.
.
Bb
.
C
pop (7)
C
.
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A
.
B
C
jazz (12)
C
C#
D
Eb
E
F
F#
G
Ab
A
Bb
B
C

Folk, country and bluegrass music. Telling stories through the lyrics of the song with a fingerstyle or light pick, fanning technique on the guitar to back up the voice. Mostly in 4/4 time, with mostly pentatonic melodies over diatonic changes. Three chords and the truth is very common. As is the mixing of the three major and three minor chords created from the diatonic scale. The musical form is four and eight bar phrases, and in longer songs written into the 32 bar song form. Which could be either A/A/B/A or A/B. Not a whole lot of improvisation until this moves toward the country or especially the bluegrass stylings, where solo breaks become way more common.

folk
fingerstyle
4 / 4 time
pentatonic core scale
diatonic chords
song forms

improvisation

solo breaks

Blues and Rock. Mostly in 4/4 time with a 2 and 4 backbeat (especially on the snare drum), with mostly pentatonic melodies over diatonic changes. Rock players, especially in the later 60's and into the 70's, tend to use minor pentatonic colors over major triad / chord changes. Blues cats hang way deeper into the basic blues scale, regardless of the changes. The 12 bar blues form is most common and of course so many of the early rock tunes are direct rip off's of the 12 bar blues form, "Johnny B. Goode" et al.

blues/rock
country rock
12 bar blues

Blues music evolves with working deeper into the chord changes and using Gospel riffs to back the voice or soloist, thus leaning towards a jazz thing with passing chords and half step motions. Of course the blues tempos are way slower than jazz. Rock is all over the map. While its grooves hit hard on the downbeat, there's always a 2 and 4 to dance to also. From a 12 bar rockin' good time to British groups such as Yes and Queen, where a classical influence is woven into their magic, thus showing the way and opening up all possibilities for the creative rocker. Dozens and dozens of subgenres and all varying degrees of improvisation depending on the strength of the individual players involved.

gospel
passing chords

classical influence

rock sub genres

Metal. Mostly in 4/4 time with a big 2 and 4 pocket, although some odd meter ideas in distinctly riffing sections, metal guitar is a lot about chops especially for the lead players. Speed is a big part of getting it right and the thundering band rhythmic unisons are quite simply a lot of work. Chords are often just fifth's, which thanks to their two pitch construction help them to move rapidly about as well as process well through the shredding gear. The overall sound is quite blues based, at least pitch wise, chord progressions are minor pentatonic based and the tritone is heard all over the style. Remember that minor pentatonic + tritone = blues scale. Vocal melodies are also mostly minor pentatonic while lead lines use lots of chromatic motion, especially by half step creating a de-tuned sense, thus all 12 of our pitches come into play. Sweep picking of scales and arpeggios is also very common and used to dramatic effect.

4/4 time
2 and 4 pocket
chops
unison lines
metal chords

tritone

blues scale

sweep picking

scales

arpeggios

Pop / Dance / Club. Mostly in 4/4 time with the 2 and 4 back beat groove (snare drum) gradually evolving towards becoming the steady 4 to the bar pulse (synth) in the last 10 years or so. Pop music is mostly major scale based, both in melody and harmony. It is a storytelling form like folk music but pop music lives on its hooks, those catchy riffs that get stuck in our heads. Some improvisation but often canned lines from the record. Vocal ballads often rule the day, as torch songs fill the dance floor.

Pop
4/4 pulse
hooks
canned lines
torch songs

A true friend once described pop music to me as the songs the office girls heard all week on the radio at work and then wanted to hear on Saturday night, when they'd get all dolled up to go out dancing and have a night on the town. Of course since Elvis, pop music has evolved as our culture has evolved and really reflects the changes through the decades of American pop. We see this cliche evolution a lot in the media nowadays. Lots of sub genres, crossovers and pollination between all of the styles into hook based, catchy tunes, which oftentimes become BIG money makers while keeping the ladies up and dancing all night long ... I want to hear some funky Dixieland ... :)

wiki ~ Elvis

the $ loot

Jazz. Mostly in 4/4 time with the essential Americana big 4 with an accented 2 and 4 back beat groove become the essential components of swing. Tempos are brighter than in all of the other styles combined excepting bluegrass, which of course oftentimes cooks right along also. The big difference here is that jazz is a 12 tone music while bluegrass is diatonic and even a bit bluesy at times. Jazz melodies and harmony are major / relative minor based, and compositions quite often use multiple key centers. Harmony is built to near always include the 7th and beyond which opens up our discussions for chord type. Unlike the the majority of songs the other styles, jazz songs fully modulate or change keys in the course of their storytelling. On top of this there is a polytonal aspect as well as a continuous 'borrowing' of pitches and chords from other key centers that jazz up the music so to speak.

jazz
swing
12 tone music
modulation
7th and beyond

polytonal

borrowing

Jazz evolution has been about exhausting the outer reaches of diatonic harmony, evolving complexity of key schemes and recently towards a chromatic buzzing of melodic line. World influences, especially the Latin grooves are dominant nowadays as they dance so well and open up an even 8th note style for the soloist. Which turn out swing just as well in the traditional grooves and are a real challenge to master. There is near always a blues grounding somewhere in the music although poppier jazz less so. Many jazz artists simply dig the excitement of the tempos, the sense of swing in the groove, the freedom to have our whole musical resource to work with as the music so often just flies on by. Unlimited improvisation = unlimited creativity.

jazz evolution
world music
Latin
8th note

Review. Simply based on the purity of aural sounds, at the theoretical core of the American sounds is a perfectly closed loop of 12 pitches. From this loop we simply extract select groups whose sound character personifies the music we're making. Our different styles are based of course in the same theory system and are theoretically differentiable simply by how many of the 12 pitches are used to create their core group of pitches.

aural purity
perfect closure
loops of pitches

musical styles

groups of pitches

As guitar players, our resources can gradually evolve the same way. And if we learn things in this theoretically evolutionary manner, we'll gain a sense of how all of the styles and their sub-genres come together. This opens up the whole tamale for our exploration, sources for new ideas and of course a deeper appreciation when the music we are beholding is well crafted and thoughtfully presented (show biz), regardless of our favorite style, players or artistic biases.

This just described scenario is so often the case in adult education. Much of a teacher's effectiveness can be traced to how well they assess a learners existing knowledge and how they learn best, their learning style. Knowing these two aspects of the learner's present knowledge, coupled with a teacher's knowledge of a topic from its core, allows instructors to shape new ideas that tie into the existing information and generate and field the inevitable questions that will arise in truly impassioned, energized and exciting learning.

adult education
existing knowledge
learning styles

So what Essentials attempts to do is get at our topic of our American music theory from a couple of central points and build up the whole structure from there. Being a long time theorist, it's fascinating today for me to finally realize that it takes a number of seemingly disparate elements to be knit together in the purely unique American way to create the Americana sounds we dig. These elements include are not limited to; plain old common sense, the use of quantifiable numerical mathematics and the artists themselves and the historical societies and times in which they lived that shaped and energized their artistic creations.

numerical mathematics / math and music

prove up / musical proofs

Upon these core foundations we'll build the more complex artistic structures that have evolved from the players over the decades, artistic considerations as tabled and determined by the players themselves and of course the societal pressures and conditions within which they created their work. Taken together, this process is probably no different that baking bread ... flower, yeast, water, heat and love ... I guess I just never thought of it in this collective format or tried to present the musical and artistic concepts together in this way.

artistic considerations
players / legends
evolution of American society

This core sequence is created out of my own plain necessity of course, for as a teacher at heart I must know the core elements and their structures. But it also provides for those already in the know a possible big picture of our music theory. We all have our strengths within this topic. We each will have areas of uncertainty that need to be theoretically sured up so to speak. And of course we each have to figure out how to use these elements to create and bring forth the 'art within our hearts', as Shakespeare might have said. Maybe this is the very reason to try and explain the theoretical of the musical magics of the Americana sounds.

silent architecture
loops of pitches
major / minor
groups of pitches
scales into arpeggios
arpeggios into chords

So with this in mind off we go, lots of links to lots of discussions with further links to not only knit this core together but to piece together a theoretical backbone of the structure from which we can create and understand all of the American sounds of the past, how we got to where we are today and potentially project towards the future of the now global Americana sounds we dig.

"The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary."
Vincent Lombardi

Appel, Willie and Ralph T. Daniel. The Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music, p. 221. New York: Pocket Books, a Simon and Schuster Division of Gulf and Western, 1960.

Burns, Ken.

The Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music, p. 221. New York: Pocket Books, a Simon and Schuster Division of Gulf and Western, 1960.