November 10, 2005

The Joy Of Being A Professional Musician...

by Chris Randall
 

So, I had the opportunity to pick up a contract job today for a rather largish Interweb Company. It was a bit outside my pervue (which is basically fucked-up drumbeats and modular synth squonks, for want of better descriptors) but any port in a storm, I always say, and the ducats were there so I took the job.


Six hours later, I'd pretty much given up, and it was actually over a relatively minor point. (That's a double entendre, which you'll figure out in a minute.) See, I'm a self-taught musician; never had a lesson. I can play keyboards pretty well, and can get by on several other instruments enough to where it sounds like I can play 'em with a little editing/quantizing/Autotune/etc. However, today I ran in to a brick wall, and learned my limits. You see, the piece of music that was required was in a major key.


Now, that doesn't sound like a big deal, really. I mean, just hit the white ones, right? The problem is that I've been doing this (whatever the hell that is) for nigh-on 20 years now, and I've just figured out that every single one of the couple hundred songs I've penned, published, and put on wax are in minor keys. Today, inexplicably, is the first time I've ever tried to write in a major. And it wasn't just any major, but C Major, the Key Of Victory. The People's Key. A Worker's Paradise.


The first album I ever bought was Joe Jackson's "Look Sharp." I'm a child of post-punk. I don't like or listen to pop music. My two favorite bands are Neubauten and Underworld. I just have no fucking experience with C Major. It's outside my realm of expertise. An alien world, where men run around in fields of daisies with no shirts on, rubbing honey on their nipples and singing happy songs, while the women hang out the wash and have children simultaneously. It is, to not put too fine a point on it, fucking played.


So, I had to give this job up, because I couldn't come up with a leitmotif that I could stand to play for the client without shuffling around the room in mute embarassment. I'm sure some people (hell, lots of people) have a knack for this sort of thing, but I'm not too proud to admit that I'm not one of them. The moral of the story? It's never too late to say you just can't pull something off. I'm not saying that you should think you have limits; I'm just saying that it's a bit shocking when you hit them, and a little fucking weird.


(Before you post, I know that Neubauten has one song in C Major; I don't care for it, so put that in your pipe and fire up.)

 
 
 

15 comments:

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Nov.10.2005 @ 3:04 PM
blinkman
What a relief. Honestly, Chris, you don't have time to do insipid works-for-hire in Cmaj. You've got a Sideman to recap, and samples to make!

c.

 
 

 
Nov.10.2005 @ 6:58 PM
ortho
Chris, I was just wondering how noticable an effect it has on a song's mood whether it's in Major or Minor. First of all i'm a total novice, so i don't even know what key i'm playing in ever and i have no idea what key most songs are written in. I'm really into post-punk stuff like JoyDivision and the Cure. What keys did they use? I mean, if a song's texture is formed of dark synthesizers and noise, how happy can it sound if it happened to be in C Major??

I understand that there is also some sort of 'satanic' chord that used to be banned or something.

 
 

 
Nov.10.2005 @ 8:54 PM
whiteboysushi
ortho, I may not be Chris, but I'll take a stab at your questions (if you don't mind). The "satanic" thing you're referring to is probably the tritone, which was referred to as the "devil's interval"... but this was more due to the musicians than the church (it sounds pretty bad, but it's also very hard to sing, apparently). Despite the name, it doesn't actually consist of three notes; rather, it's two notes separated by an augmented 4th (6 frets apart on a guitar), which is equal to 3 whole tones -- hence, "tritone".

As far as major vs. minor... honestly, it's the kind of thing you just have to train yourself to hear. You just need to play a lot of major and minor scales and pay close attention to the notes that are different, especially the 3rd note of the scale (it's the only one that's ALWAYS going to be different). As for the sound, major keys can certainly have a bit of a bittersweet sound to them, but they generally lack minor keys'... drama, I suppose, for lack of a better word. They generally don't sound as heavy, if that makes any sense.

 
 

 
Nov.11.2005 @ 3:30 PM
penzoil washington
C's best friend is C#, I like that!
But, WADR, the idea that minor scales are any less played-out than major is a bit naive.
 
 

 
Nov.11.2005 @ 6:28 PM
Chris Randall
Oh, I'm not saying that minors are less played than Major. I'm just saying that anything _I_ play in a major scale ends up sounding like the Super Mario Brothers World 1 theme.

Viz. what whiteboysushi said, yeah. He obviously knows more theory than I do. Word to the wise: if you're young, take the time to figure this shit out. You'll thank me later. When you're old and decrepit and in your mid-30s like me, it's almost impossible to learn.

-CR

 
 

 
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