Monday, May 3, 2010

the science of chords

So I just got finished watching "It Might Get Loud" (trailer below) on Netflix's Watch Instantly deal. It was interesting to see representatives of 3 different generations of rock talking about what motivated them, what their journey to where they are was like, how they view the craft of making music, and hints at some of the tricks they use.

The guy I was most interested in hearing from was "The Edge".

The reason I'm fascinated by The Edge isn't because I think he's one of the all time greats of guitardom, but rather because he's quite clearly a techfreak. He's playing his effects pedals and system just as much as he is playing the guitar. Whenever you see him play one of his songs, you'll always notice the fscking cabinet with 10 million dials behind him.

An example is the effect used in "Where the Streets Have No Name" where the he basically has the note he plays echoed back a half beat late and at a slightly lower tone to create the sound that two guitars are playing off each other.

One of the epiphanies I found in there was when he mentioned that in order to get a distinctive sound with all the effects going on when he played a chord, he had to "change how he played the chord". Specifically, instead of just playing a full chord and hitting all 4-6 notes in it, he would drop certain notes that weren't needed in order to fully express the chord. By omitting the extra notes, he was able "to be more aggressive" with what he could do with the effects.

Or, to put it another way, you know how playing an add9 is just like playing the regular chord but adding in the 9th semitone from the chromatic progression? He's doing the same thing, but instead of adding he's subtracting.

Bass players use the same process to spell out a chord and play it a single note at a time over the course of a bar. There's no graceful (well, easy at least) way to get the 6 notes in G chord wedged into 4 beats, so we just hit the important 3 (root, 3, and 5) and either rest on the 4th beat or play another note twice.

Take a step back even further, you realize that the "forget the unimportant notes" approach is the foundation for the guitar itself as there's a whole world of add11's that would break your wrist on a 6 string but are quite doable on a piano keyboard.
At the end of the day, less appears to be more as long you understand the relationship between how all the pieces fit together.

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