Music to Relax, Berlioz “Un Bal,” From “Symphonie Fantastique”

In the past, I have written about relaxing music and what makes it relaxing. The words that I come up with over and over again are spacing and open-ness. Most of my previous posts focused on these traits in regards to the harmonies(chords) and rhythms.

In ‘Un Bal,’ Berlioz uses another technique in addition to these, orchestration. One of my favorite aspects of composing and listening to music is that of orchestration. The combination of instruments and timbres(sounds). When in the hands of a master, I believe, that even inferior melodic/harmonic music can be made great.

Berlioz often uses sparse groups of instruments including solos. When the music does get more dramatic he tends to feature the strings and woodwinds over the heavier brass timbres, of the later Romantics such as Mahler and Wagner. The use of a harp adds to the dulcet nature of the piece.


The creator of the embedded video supplies some great commentary. For those of you trying to gain insights into classical music make sure you check out their other videos, as well.

Dodecaphonic Sudoku

Wow! Here is a serious brain teaser for music geeks.

For the uninitiated dodecaphony is a music term relating to the twelve notes we use in Western music… the basis of my blog 12 Notes & The Truth!

In the 1920’s Composer Arnold Schoenberg set out to compose music through a process that obliterated the systems we are/were used to hearing. Serialism is the name of the movement in which all twelve notes must be used before any are repeated. Creating no key centers in the composition and lack of melody and harmony as we are used to hearing.

The following puzzle is a take on dedecaphony. A Sudoku matrix set up where each note can only be used only once, horizontally, diagonally and in each of the 12 boxes of the matrix.

In essence there is no difference than converting a regular Sudoku puzzle to be 12 x 12 instead of the traditional 9 x 9. Where the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 are replaced by the 12 notes in our chromatic scale A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab. Once completed, a composer would take any of the rows horizontal or vertical and compose using those notes.
Complete Serialism proved to be a little restrictive and many composers have used this technique as a guideline rather than a steadfast rule.

Here is the puzzle. I haven’t worked it so cant guarantee its solve-ability. Have fun if you are so inclined!

This music wasn’t written to be scary or Halloween-ish although not a bad way to transition into October with this piece.

This is real music listen with open ears and an open mind!

Arnold Schoenberg’s, “Piano Concerto op. 42 (Excerpt)”


What is a Picardy 3rd?

Alex Trebek, “The practice of ending a piece of music in a minor key on a major tonic chord”

…I am going to win one of you a Jeopardy answer someday! Remember this!

Not sure why but while studying music in college the topic of the Picardy 3rd was something that always came up in jokes and conversations between students. It may have to do with it just being a cool musical concept, it may be that is was one of the easier concepts to grasp for most music students, I’m just not sure. All I know is every time I hear it I want to do that stupid Beavis and Butthead laugh and say, “Uhhh-huhh, you said Picardy 3rd.”

It was a practice popularized in the Renaissance period 1400-1600. The origins of the name Picardy are not known for sure although some theorize it relates to the Picardy region of France.

So other than a joke between college musicians, winning Jeopardy or impressing your friends with a relatively useless piece of trivia how does this effect your life?

Well for those of you who write music try it! You will be amazed at the stark lifting statement a final major chord has on a minor keyed song. The half step raising of one note can substantially generate a physical impression on your listeners. And after all what are we trying to do as musicians…move our listeners!

Try it you’ll like it!

Here is Glenn Gould performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude in D minor BWV926 Listen for the difference between the final major chord and the rest of the piece in minor.

Charles Ives, “4th of July” Listening Challenge

How do we listen to music?

Seems like a silly question! We crank up our home stereos, car stereos, Ipods,  etc.

Most of us think of music as; I like it or I don’t; as cool or not; as good or bad. All very reasonable answers but represent a subjective view. They are opinions vs. analyses. For most people that is more than fine! We grow up with the music that is around us…if it makes us feel good we like it.

When I went to college to study music I was the same way. Somewhere along the line I realized there is more to music than does it have a beat and can I dance to it(or headbang from my heavy metal past). Music even though an art is also a science. Even though a recreation a discipline.

If you have been ready to try something different to feed your ears here is a great piece. It isn’t ear candy to the novice. It wont make you dance, hum, party, workout, clean the house…..etc. However, if you take the time to really listen it will offer you a chance to hear a different perspective on music.

Charles Ives was an experimental composer before there were experimental composers! If this piece reminds you a bit of a horror soundtrack, it was written before there were horror soundtracks! Ives was into creating sounds! Intertwined he liked to add familiar melodies that meant something to him personally. Usually these were lofty motives like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, hymns and most of all pieces that represent America and Americana at the turn of the last century.

Take the challenge…put away your preconceived notions of what music should be and just listen to sounds. Also listen for the aforementioned American themes that Ives wove into his music the way others use major scales. Remember when you are listening that the composer was very pro-American even though the sounds may seem like not so much.

Go for it! I will keep more listening challenges coming…

Charles Ives 4th of July

Guitarslinger vs. the Toilet, When is a Guitarist not a Guitarist

Click the link to hear Ennio Morricone’s great composition for the theme song of Clint Eastwood’s, “The Good , The Bad and The Ugly.”
It will help set the comical scene described below.

The stars were aligned today. My family was out of the house and I didn’t have any pressing projects it was gonna be just me and my guitar! A chance to work on some music, clear my mind and make everything right in the world…like a workout does as it releases endorphins.

So, what happens… an evil varmint toilet in our house sprung a leak. I had to take action. I had to put down the guitar and pick up a wrench.

The scene was like an old fashioned western dual, two determined gunslingers battling out! If you can imagine the camera focusing on me with a menacing look on my face then panning to the toilet staring me down…back and forth.

For most of you, fixing a toilet not a big deal…but…for a musician who’s brain likes creative projects better than manual ones it kind of is. Not to mention these types of projects don’t normally go too good on the fingers.

No music in today but the towns folk are all safe!..and the bathroom is all better too.

Joe Satriani, “The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing”

This has always been one of my favorite Satriani songs. It has a super cool groove as you might guess from the title but also a lot of complex shredding and interesting compositional things going on, as well.

‘Shredding’-wise, he displays all kinds of guitar pyrotechnics. If you check out the video you will see/hear melodies with flying up the neck harmonics, acrobatic hammer-on arpeggios, right hand tapping and he even makes use of his right hand as a capo while his left hand is pulling and hammering arpeggios.

Compositionally, it is a great tune, as well. There is a simple groove which the song is based upon and interesting and well articulated melodies. The groove is at times interrupted with the aforementioned arpeggios. Satriani interjects some foreign sounds too using the harmonic minor scale that changes the bluesy riff into more of an Egyptian heavy metal soundscape. The highpoint of the composition comes towards the end when he overlaps two different arpeggio sections over each other creating the song’s climax.
Unfortunately, live he can’t quite duplicate this overlapping.

I included the link to the studio version, as well, which better represents all aspects discussed. However, I thought it would be more interesting to see everything going on live.

Listen for some of these items. Actively listening to music can make you aware of things you might’ve never heard before.

Here is the studio version. Listen for the overlapping arpeggios sections at 4:25.

Have a great weekend, Enjoy!