~ glossary / M to Z ~

~ vocabulary of musical terms to label the theory ~

'all our musical sounds have their names ...

and very often more than one :)

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

This glossary works to acquaint the reader to our musical words in both 'art and theory.' That our centuries long history of musical evolutionary studies allows that; any one term can have various meanings, that any one component can have a couple of different handles, mostly depending on the historical era and geographical location from whence it came.

What we call 'a something' often depends on where we find it in the literature, or use the term when speaking about understanding the theories, styles of music etc. Flexibility is the key to enjoying and engaging with the dialect. Some say 'poe tay toe and some say pa taa toe' as the song goes. N'est-ce pas? For example, the term 'downbeat' has a few. Just click to explore there.

Academically, all of the core theory definitions below are paraphrased from the Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music (HBDM). When definitions are derived from Wikipedia they are semi-linked there for descriptions (wiki). Slang terms and artistic concepts are defined by the author and have the symbol (S) to designate and differentiate these entries from the Harvard or Wiki. Anything left over I probably made up along the way :)

Imagination is more important than intellect.
wiki ~ Albert Einstein

(S) magic

Magic. The idea of 'working the magic' is really all about conjuring our muse into making some music. For even if we just pick up our guitars and strum and hum along, music's big three elements of melody, chords and time often combine in a new way for us. What's are mood becomes our mode. The more we purposely shape these three we can increase our potential for working the magic to happen in our art.

When we share our music we gain the additional magic sent our way by the folks who get to hear us. The give and take the ebb and flow of the energies that bind us through the stories, our listeners and dancers.

Music is a magical thing and for those thus smitten, never stops amazing us, or how it motorizes and enthralls the dancers, listeners and especially little children, who truly absorb and clearly express the wonderment of all things musical.

The phrase "working the magic" goes way back for Jacmuse for as a kid, there still was a lot of magic in the world and things I did not yet quite comprehend were often described as magic. Later on this became making music in realtime with other artists, 'let's work the magic.'

wiki ~ history of working the magic

mailbox money

Money that used to come in the mail for sale of owned merch, copyright, authorship, royalties etc.

wiki ~ copyright


The flexibility of metal, or really any substance, thought or idea, reshaped by whatever means into new art dimensions.

major groups of pitches

Simply a listing of the groups of pitches that feature a major third interval from the root, such as the major scale. R O !

major scale

The group of pitches that creates the major tonality, also known as the Ionian mode, one of two basic groups of pitches used to organize and layout the pitches of the system equal temperament on standard keyboard instruments. R.O !

major scale evolutions

The group of pitches that creates the major tonality, also known as the natural scale, Ionian mode, from three note major triad, to five note major pentatonic, to six note gospel major, the six note whole tone group, to the seven notes of the diatonic major scale.

major tonality, major tonal environment

The brighter side of our Yin / Yang balance, describes songs written in a major key, the color of music that is based upon the major triad, major scale, Ionian mode etc. R.O !

major triad / chord

Usually refers to the three note triad with a major third, also the major triads built on the first, fourth or fifth scale degrees of the major scale.

making the changes

Slang for when an emerging artist / soloist clearly articulates the harmony ( changes ) in their lines. In Essentials, the basic designation for improv theory is to create lines 'over or through' the changes. In 'making the changes', we're getting through to the point where we can hear the changes in the line :)


Meaning 'by the hands', the term 'manual' is applied in modern times to the whole mechanism of the black and white keys on our various keyboard instruments. On our guitars, and other fretted instruments, each fret is equal to one key of either color.

wiki ~ manual (music)

mashup the 'theory'

Mashup. Slang term for exploring the theory to discover different ways to do the same sorts of artistic, music things. Like 'motion to Four?' Yes, exactly. Motion to Four, getting to the triad / chord built on the 4th scale degree, is in near very Americana song, and after a while it's natural to want to spice up how we might get there. While theory mashups find us mixing pitches in 'theory' ways that mostly sound too academic to be art too, but not always, most times new ideas come from borrowing from a style., We 'jazz it up.'

For everyone once and a while, out of our mortal and pestle mixer we'll find some magic. So now and yes, all of a sudden, our motions to Four have a new way of sparkle. One that we might have 'discovered' new for ourselves. That's cool and it's what knowing theory encourages; to explore.

Luckily, and in this work, the pro leaning, career artist here has three super clear historical examples. First are Coltrane's evolutions through V7b9 and the blues, which combine theory pitch perfect and nuances of intonation, outlined through his original compositions over a 15 year span.

Second, is Bach. With Bach we can compare the two volumes of his WTC. Written a couple of decades apart, and encompassing all 12 relative keys, there's a number of ways to compare, contrast and construct a pathway of Bach's artistic evolutions. We know Bach 'played by the rules', so it's all in print in black and white.

And third, and pure equal temper tuned Euro influence, from improvising pianist Beethoven, and his string quartets. Dating from the early 1800's through two decades of development, four groups of four string quartets, which today are super accurately catalogued for us by musicologists from way prestigious Universities. In these 'opus', works or compositions, the 'tonal gravity and aural predictability evolutions' from the first quartets to last, are clear as day. Beyond stunning when history tells of Beethoven's own hearing challenges.

These three mashup theory pathways of study are easy master's level discovery and mastering of, some maybe even PhD., in the recognized 'legit', academic world.

master of disguise

Describes a player who creates different illusions of the storyline of a song while somehow retaining the emotional essence and character of its central theme, the opposite perspective from, and the flip side of ... "master of the obvious."

"I'm never not working. To me, work is play."
wiki ~ Pat Martino

master of the obvious

Describes music where an experienced listener can accurately guess where the music is going to go. Like going to the V7 chord in measure 10 of a traditional 12 bar blues? Yep, ya can hear and feel it all a coming :) And that's the way it's supposed to be, or not to be ... that is the question.

mean tone tuning

A system of tuning predating the acceptance of equal temper whereby 5th's are tuned smaller than perfect, so as to compensate for the syntonic comma originally discovered by Pythagoras.

wiki ~ syntonic comma

measure / bar

A word to describe a measure of time in our music, in both actual time depending on tempo and as a way to notate our music with written symbols. Here's two measures / bars for 4/4 time, walking bass line.


measure numbers

A counting number applied to each measure within a piece written music to help locate one's place. Here, measures 12 through 15.


Now ancient theory name for the chord built on the third scale degree of the major / relative minor scale.


Now also an adjective, the term medieval traditionally describes a historical period of old Europe. Some of its music sounds like this.

wiki ~ Medieval

melisma / melismatic

A vocal musical technique whereby one word or syllable receives many pitches.

wiki / melisma


Super slang for moving melodies and chords together. The 'mel-harmonic' motion of each of our styles is unique and a way to advance our own ways to morph and borrow between the points in our style spectrum.

Also a tribute to Mel and Lily Rosen, Mel who had six numbers tattooed on his arm, together they ran the local candy store while I was growing up in urban N.Y., putting up with the endless mayhem of us kids and creating harmony among all, for they had seen it all. A very special thanks :)

melodic filter

Now a common term used to describe running a melodic cell or motif through the intervals of a particular melodic color, chord progressions or musical form of a song; such as the 12 bar blues. Example could be to run a four note pentatonic cell through a root / chord sequence of minor 3rd's and perfect 4th's; filter the pitches through a sequence or pattern.

melodic minor scale

A group of pitches creating an overall minor tonality distinguished by including a minor third, major sixth and major seventh above the root. In Essentials, we examine the pitch by pitch evolution from natural minor back back to major.

While not overly popular as a parent scale for composition, melodic minor finds into way into tons of classical music from J.S. Bach onward and is a important color on the advancing jazz improvisor's palette.

melodic motions

In this entry, melodic motions is used to describe the way classical music theory describes the various ways the pitches resolve as the music moves along. Leaps, stepwise and appoggiaturas or grace notes are common. Tension and resolution plays a role as do the intervals involved with the pitches as they resolve or not, as the case may be, as the song moves along. In our Americana musics, we mostly measure and label pitches as some degree of 'suspension.'

melodic substitution

Superimposing different parent scales over chord changes in improvisation, often based on chord substitution principles.


A series of musical tones that expresses an emotional thought or its energy ... ?

Mersenne, Marin

Thought to be the first European back in 1637, to suggest that the solution of the '12th root of 2' provides the numerical factors for dividing the octave interval into the 12 equal parts, enabling the magics of equal temper tuning to come forth.

wiki ~ Marin Mersenne
evolution of tuning

metal anthems

Simply the songs and their hooks that are the anthems for this genre; such as the early 'Iron Man.'

wiki ~ "Iron Man" song


Metronome. Jamm along device for practice which creates consistent clicks to represent the beats of musical time in real time, adjustable timing rates from fast (allegro) through slow (largo). Often designated with 'm.m. = #' in musical scores. Electric 2 and 4 time generator.

An easy way to put any music we are shedding into a performance perspective is to practice it in time; real musical beat time as can be provided many ways today or the old fashioned way with a metronome. Early models were wind-up, like clocks. 'Franz' pictured, is old school bakelite that is adjustable and gives the same 'pop' of a click every time, allowing us to decide the groove and its counting etc.

metronome marking

A metronome marking is a written symbol added to sheet music to indicate the tempo, how fast or slow, of the composer's intent. Using combined letters and numbers, it lives above the clef above the first staff. There's two common ways it'll often be represented in written music. One is the 'm.m. = 100' as shown to the right. Another way is with a few words to describe the style, often with a iconic Americana artist and style.

With this marking we'd set our metronomes to 110, so we'd have 110 quarter note clicks per minute. So ... scootin' right along yes, uptempo, nice and bright. In the big four rock 110 is 'anthem.' As the '2 and 4'clicks in the swing of blues and jazz, hold on :)


A pile of detritus material of pine cone leaves and pieces created by squirrels from munching the seeds of their pine cones, it's an Alaskan thing we look for when out and about. In music discussions here, usually a jumble of notes and a bit of chaos.

wiki ~ midden

middle C

The term middle 'C' is normally associated with the piano and is the 'C' note right near the middle of the keyboard. it is the 'middle' note between the bass and treble clefs.

It translates to guitar for reading and writing purposes as the 'C' note located on the sixth string / 8th fret or the fifth string / 3rd fret. Due to the transpositional nature of writing for guitar, our guitar's 'middle C' is pitched one octave above the piano's. We do this simply to ease the writing of the music in treble clef.

To find middle 'C' at the piano, place the left hand all the way to the left and the right all the way to the right, bend face towards keyboard, and the closest 'C' to your nose, is probably middle 'C' :)

Piano keys; 'C' is always to the left of the two paired up black keys, all through the piano's seven octave range.

middle eight

The 'middle eight' is a slang term, for the eight bar phrase in the middle of a song, it most often provides a counter melody and thematic material to contrast or enhance the song's original idea, in the 32 bar / A A B A form, the 'B' section is the 'middle eight.'

middle register

The center pitches of the overall range of a musical instrument, usually consisting of the pitches with the span of a major 10th.


MIDI. Empowered by a couple of hundred years of a glorious and so varied catalogue of music, all of which is written in equal temper tuning, a next natural evolution, through more math calculations and powered with electricity, has digitized the exact frequencies of equal temper tuning into midi data, thus able to be processed by computers.

So now we still get the full palette of musical colors but with the push of a button i.e., a midi piano or synth, we can do it with any recordable sound available. Often called a 'patch', modern MIDI devices can pull up any number of 100's or even 1000's of different patches that have different musical colors which to create with.

And while the transfer from guitar strings to the 'x's and 'o's of electronics has been a challenge, I know I've heard artists that have found workarounds and created some incredible art; from horn lines in R&B to string sections in pop, searing blues lines with unlimited sustain to taking a 'vibes' solo with an archtop guitar. While pricey for some of the gear, nice to have an orchestra of sorts at our fingertips :)

wiki ~ MIDI
wiki ~ electricity

a millennia

A term to describe 1000 years of earth time.


Minor tonality is one of the two main settings we find in our music. The other is major. In this book, minor and major are the Ying / Yang of our local universe.

These are our two main key centers and we pair them up into being 'relatives.' Minor ranges from a bluesy, somber feel of laid back melancholy to the clash of titans that can only end one way.

It is always the minor 3rd interval that determines the minor color in any scale, mode, triad or chord or cluster of pitches. As other common groupings push beyond its natural minor diatonic boundaries and create an evolution of pitches toward major, if the 3rd degree above the root pitch is minor, then it's minor. For example, a symmetrical arpeggio of minor and major 3rd's will naturally do this, evolve from minor to major, as illustrated by the #15 concepts.

minor scales ~ minor groups of pitches

Simply a listing of the groups of pitches that feature a minor third pitch / interval above a chosen root pitch.

minor seventh

The interval distance between two pitches of a minor 7th, a minor triad with a minor 7th chord, a tonic One 7th chord in the natural minor tonality and a Two chord type in the major tonality.

minor third

The interval between two pitches of a minor 3rd, three half steps, a whole step + a half step, the quality of third in a minor triad, the 'blue' third.

minor triad

Comprised three pitches; root, minor 3rd and perfect 5th.

minor tonality, minor tonal environment

Describes the color of music that is core based upon the pitches of the minor third above a root pitch and the minor triad.


The combined blend of all the instruments in the group when sounded together, often concerned with setting volumes, tones and such things as the e.q.'s, and reverbs in an electronic setting as through a p.a. etc.

modal blues

A blues performance format or song that is is basically a four bar phrase repeated, the chord is a tonic b7th blues chord, and a modal blues does not follow the traditional 12 bar blues form. On the bandstand you might hear that the chord progression of the song "stays on the One ..."

wiki ~ 'Who Do You Love'


The modes. A term we can use in a similar way to 'scale', a closed loop or group of pitches to compose with. Today, the term finds common use from the 'church modes' from wayback. We use this term 'church' mode mainly in that the folks back then, say the 1500's or so, musicians who worked at their churches knew how to write their music down on paper, so their music books that survived through the centuries become the written records we have to figure out what the music sounded like from the early eras. Musicologists unite !

Knowing today that a lot of everything got trashed over these centuries in Europe, we moderne's today are grateful for the sanctity of all the churches for preserving the written histories of their cultures and its music.

Original modes. Grout say's that there are four 'ancient' modal groups that go back to the Greeks of toga fashion days;

Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian.

These four have a 'hyper' version too, creating eight groups. Of our modes today, two are more recent and way more popular for composing; the natural minor Aeolian and Ionian, our common major scale. We even have one that is thought to be fictional, the Locrian mode built on seven, which fills in the leading tone, the 7th scale degree of the major scale.

This next chart highlights the half steps locations of the seven church modes as found within the C Ionian group, i.e., C major scale. As artists, if we zero in on where the half steps live in relation to the root pitch, we can usually coax a mode's tone and emotional character and color to come right forth. There's also a group of three consecutive whole steps within each group, that in combination with the half steps, can bring some magic to our modes.

Ionian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2
Dorian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2
Phyrgian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2
Locrian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2
Mixolydian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2

Aeolian mode formula

1 / 2
1 / 2
Locrian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2
Ionian mode formula
1 / 2
1 / 2

The modal guitar. Knowing that the modes hold the original pitches that are still creating our melodies of today, we could easily lean a bit deeper towards the musical realms of the legends through our histories; knowing that a melody made from the pitches of a mode today can carry all of its historical energies and meanings, carry its nuances and powers, that ties the artist into the universal energies to channel; and bring forth today the timeless quality and share with their listeners.

So in theory, if today's relative major 'G and E minor' pairing of pitches / letter names; which we as the Ionian (G major) and Aeolian (E minor) modes, have that 'built in' richness of sonority an any guitar, then it follows that melodies created in the 'A' Dorian mode, or 'B' Phrygian, 'C' Lydian, 'D' Mixolydian and 'F#' Locrian can have the extra 'built in' deeper sonority on a guitar too, we each just have to find it.


Mostly meaning as 'modern sounding', and generally implies a historical idea or, that the musical components used to create the music are well advanced into the upper structure pitches of the arpeggio, polytonal sounds and the chromatic buzz of V7.

In this work, modern also applies to the evolutions from more tonal, diatonic musics towards a more atonal, outside the diatonic sounding musical arts. Cats call it inside and outside, and the movement between these two points is 'to modernize' the components and how they are woven together. R.O.

wiki ~ modern

modern Americana

Here within Essentials the idea of a modern Americana simply implies any of our roots musics, that have been filtered through any measure of the Blues and Rock and Roll filter. So around 1955 becomes the midpoint historically. Interesting perhaps that nowadays, any of our roots musics not filtered through blues / rock becomes styled as "old timey" musics. R.O.

modern guitarist

In this work, a modern guitarist is one who decides to study standard music theory principles to understand and gradually modernize their own work over the course of their own careers by inclusion of more of the 12 pitches in their art; so 'jazz leaning' stylewise. This basis becomes an understanding of how to create the common, shared definable musical components of each of our Americana styles, in their original forms.

Thus empowered, the cross-over of puzzle pieces from all the genres of our spectrum of styles becomes manifest; and our palette of colors thrives to brilliance.

This idea of a modern guitarist is a blend of two ideas concerning melody and harmony. In melody, we simply use the theory to understand the relationship between musical style and number of pitches. Termed a 'style spectrum', we ask, what can we create or get with just one pitch, then two pitches, three and onward to include all twelve. In table form, this style / # of pitches idea looks like this.

musical style
kid's songs
folk blues gospel
bluegrass rock country
# of pitches

modern guitarist

Reading left to right, that as we add new pitches into the core five pitch pentatonic groupings, we begin to sense our melodies evolving through the styles, from traditional children's and folk songs on towards the blues and country, then into rock, then pop and on to jazz.

modern guitarist

Harmony modernizations are based on two basics. First of course is same as melodies, we go by the number of pitches in any chord in any style. This is whole theory tamale of the 12 pitches that helps foundation this entire e-book. 'Essentials' pairs this '# of pitches ~ style / genre' with the 'diatonic realm', which illuminates each pitch from whence it comes from, for melody, arpeggios and harmony.

Triads, our three note groups, live mostly on the folk end of the spectrum. Once we add a seventh, harmonic options in theory quickly kaboom. Style defines which of the color tones we add to the triads. And with the equal temper tuning from the 1725's or so onward, we're still searching today to find the perimeter of our palette. Those that study the theory know there are no limits here, thanks to our curious and creative nature as sentient beings.

modern guitarist

For we love, and with music, love puts some 'spring in our step', conjures us out of the blue to write new poems and music. Over the years as we love more, we write more music, oftentimes our own sense 'how good' it is can strengthen, and pairing love and good, we get the super sentient essential bio feedback loop ...

~ love ~ create ~ share ~

~ share ~ love ~ create ~

~ create ~ share ~ love ~

There's just no end to it ...

our local universe.

modern guitarist

Advanced modern harmony. Once past this basic theory of triads and color tones moving within time shaped by style, the modern guitarist can begin a true cool journey of understanding the evolutions of Americana harmony by working through the 100 years or so of evolutions of America's one time 'pop' music, jazz. Yep, at one point jazz was considered America's pop music, for like 50 years give or take, imagine that.

That jazz has been blues based all along, now spanning historically through 100 years or so of recorded literature, today means everything Americana style and genre can find a way onto this main pathway of study for the chord, progressions, all harmony.

'Essentials' timeline pathways saxophonist John Coltrane's path of ascension through the harmony, becoming the capstone theory that evolves from the ragtime through bebop styles, thus complete basis of diatonic, blues infused chords and progressions for songs.

By historically following the harmony developments within Mr. Coltrane's compositions through his career, we can clearly follow his pathway of ascension; on through diatonic theory and into the 12 tone sphere.

While all is originally based in the blues, Coltrane's gradually expanding perfect fourth motion of the Two / Five cadence, first half 'stepped' by V7b9 by minor thirds, later combined with the common perfect fourth motion, then further evolves to the major thirds / augmented triad as a new way for chord progressions within and overall compositional structure.

Understanding these evolutions also becomes a solid years long college level curriculum for understanding the theory ( which in theory the easy part :), and of course its shedding, which get's all this harmony evolution, all rote learned, under our fingers over the entire range of our guitars, and all practiced with which ever sense of Americana swing suits your current '2 and 4' fancy.

Modern ears. That we can get on and off this pathway of shedding at any juncture throughout our own careers, as our lives, needs and times permit. It becomes what our own ears will 'accept' as a plausible solution for making a song sound right to us.

At stopping points all along this pathway of evolutions, we can discover solutions to help us to collaborate with artists in all of the varied genres of Americana. And while we might not yet be able to contribute in a musical way, for jazz guitar is a very physical endeavor, we'll have a basis to begin to understand what we're hearing, and then Amigo, it's back to the shed if we end up wanting or needing those skills to create the art that our modern ears can imagine.

modern harmony

Modern harmony; an overview. Means that with today's availability of equal temper tuned 12 pitches, modern harmony can be defined by the complete spectrum of aural colors associated with key center, that is equally projected from each of the 12 notes. Thus, all harmony and chords etc., are available to 'modernize' any style, at any moment, and any point along the way of our style and genre spectrum.

modern jazz

There has always been a modern jazz. Modern jazz is simply the next generation of players who advance what they are bequeathed musically. When the term jazz was first coined and pianists Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake came along, they were modern jazz cats. Then a younger Buddy Bolden and King Joe Oliver, horn players, come along and modernize jazz, they were innovative players in perspective to the existing music of their times.

Then Mr. Oliver's protege Louis Armstrong with his new modern swing in the 20's, then modernizers Benny Goodman and guitarist Charlie Christian and their newer handling of the diminished colors, followed 10 years later by the super modernists in their day arpeggio wizards Charlie Parker and time master Dizzy Gillespie and their bebop, which exhausted a combined diatonic environment and the blues at blistering tempos, all to became the new moderne sounds of the 40's.

Modernizers Miles Davis and Bill Evans blend in modal and the new cool becomes the modern sound of the 50's, hugely popular. John Coltrane's 'sheets of sounds' and onto "Giant Steps", a new more 'cubist' or angular harmonic scheme, becomes a song form that adds a new, fully modern dimension for modern leaning, up and coming players, pro's too, basic shedding and musical challenges. In "Giant Steps", that Coltrane blisters the 'time' too, sets a new modern standard for everyone.

In the 60's, modern new jazz now includes new melodies from the ancient pitches. Melody masters including Paul Desmond and Chet Baker recreate our timeless Americana lyricism of melodies, with horn tones and a sense of swing that can catch the 'ear' of everyone, make a foot pat.

The 60's modernize our musics with the bossa nova songs of Antonio Jobim, fully beyond borders now, the super natural sway of the 'in a 2 feel' rhythms become the foundation stones for a full weave, 50 plus years of evolution to today's modernes who weave the 'Latin influences' with '2 and 4' basis of swing, which today dominate some of the airwaves and concert halls, all to the dancer's delights.

In the 60's, Art Blakey leads the groups of the "Jazz Messengers', which brings the older into the modern as hard bop, a combination of deep gospel and the blues, energized by a new old modern articulation of the 'pull of swing', creating new vistas in time, with African, Latin and Americana rhythms and phrasing, connecting their listeners to the full historical of Americana melodies, deeply blue dance infused.

In the later 60's Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter, each along the way with a Miles Davis led group, set in a new modern era of composing, codifying the modern chromaticism with new ways to swing.

Saxophonist Ornette Coleman leads the early 'free jazz' players, a bit later including guitarist Pat Metheny, who along with bassist Jaco Pastorius, find their own brand of new modern for guitar and electric bass with drums in a trio setting. Later, their live sound, and by weaving of global musical elements and its presentations, become new heights for creating community through concert performances and recordings of modern jazz musics.

In the 70's a returning to our New Orleans roots with the interpretive musics of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Combining the above described modernizations while crossing over into the European classical library and literature, this new blend strengthen's the massive 'Amer Euro root', that has anchored our Americana musical family tree since birth., supporting the endless weaving of the limbs and branches of the creative arts that includes everyone.

We've today all of this jazz history, our musical ancestors and their music to challenge us to become modern jazz players of today, or not as we each evolve, but collectively encourage us to have the courage to leave no musical Americana stone unturned in the pursuit of modernizing art and its help in shaping and recording for posterity the lives, times and social and physical worlds in which we each create and live within.

There's a theory evolution in all of this, delineated by historical era; from diatonic to non-diatonic, from tonal to atonal, from inside to outside, from age old traditional cycles evolving into new symmetrical patterns of pitch, that bring forth new untapped energies for creating the new music of today, to tell and share our modern stories and help create and insure a better world for those to come after ... ah yes ... the life, the times, the evolutions and the exciting pursuits of the artista modernistas of today :) R.O.

wiki ~Scott Joplin
wiki ~ Eubie Blake
wiki ~ Buddy Bolden
wiki ~ Joe 'King' Oliver
wiki ~ Louis Armstrong
wiki ~ Duke Ellington
wiki ~ Benny Goodman
wiki ~ Charlie Christian
wiki ~ Count Basie
wiki ~ Charlie Parker
wiki ~ Dizzy Gillespie
wiki ~ Miles Davis
wiki ~ Max Roach
wiki ~ Bill Evans
wiki ~ Dave Brubeck
wiki ~ Paul Desmond
wiki ~ Chet Baker
wiki ~ Antonio Jobim
wiki ~ Art Blakey
wiki ~ Herbie Hancock
wiki ~ Chic Corea
wiki ~ Tony Williams
wiki ~ Wayne Shorter
wiki ~ Ornette Coleman
wiki ~ Pat Metheny
wiki ~ Jaco Pastorius
wiki ~ Wynton Marsalis
wiki ~ classical music
wiki ~ list of jazz musicians ...
"Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."
wiki ~ Pablo Picasso

modern today

Modern today is simply the moment that you are reading these words. Simply used as a historical marker, gives us a point in time to reference from which all other times in history we triangulate from. R.O.

wiki ~ the present
wiki ~ triangulation


Modernize. Describes the idealistic core of this opus; that by knowing the theory of music we might better enable ourselves to continually modernize our art throughout the span of our careers, if we choose to do so.

That as we evolve over the decades we will look for greater artistic challenges, which translate into more complex theoretical challenges. Same natural evolutions and pro development in any discipline.

Thus, a folk player adds blue notes, goes electric through Muddy Waters then hear Charlie Christian, then discovers bebop jazz, where single line, extended arpeggios often rule the day. A far horizon in mind and chops, from open folk chords in the grand scheme of things, but there's always something to go after too :)

wiki ~ opus

wiki ~ "From Dawn To Decadence"

by Jacques Barzun

modulate (ion)

Modulation / musical events. To change keys, tonal centers or emotional environments. We use modulation to go to a new diatonic center somewhere in the song, to create events in our music. If in our story we travel to to somewhere new, by thought or by heart, we can sound this out by going to somewhere from our original tonal starting point through modulation to a new key center in the music. There are many different types and ways to modulate.

In most of our styles, a song's diatonic chord progression becomes the way it creates variety and motion, the bass line story, in the song. Moving to the Four chord, and to the relative minor from major, or vice versa, is surely most common.

We can also easily hint to be moving from our diatonic center by borrowing pitches from other keys. This becomes our first level of expanding from the core diatonic motions. Most often this becomes using a 'Five of ___' device. Once we start to borrow pitches, adding in non-diatonic pitches to our chosen key center pitches, we often begin our process of chord substitution, expand our options of improvising melodic lines 'through the changes.'

We also can play our melody in one key, modulate and play the same line in a new key. Very common in the older classical music. Modulation from the tonic to the dominant is a consistent feature of the sonata allegro form from the Baroque era and on through the Classical period, so 1650's forward to 1850's or so. Very common to modulate from the tonic key to the dominant, using the same motif.

Repetition of one idea through sequencing, or modulating through a series of tonal centers or building an idea into an existing musical form to compose a song, are both fairly common ways we use modulation in our composing.

We can go further here and link two different songs together, to segue, which perhaps is the ultimate modulation in telling a series of stories, as say in a movie score, as we move from scene to scene.

Modulation is also a way to practice, when hipsters filter or shed one melody or melodic idea through the 12 key centers, often as arranged and organized by the cycle of fifths. For example, take a major key idea, minorize it, the V7 it, which can resolve to next key on the clock; C major to C minor to C7 to F major, repeat. Then to Bb, then Eb and around we go.

mojo / mojo juice

Usually means just a collective vibe and coolness, and its energizing liquid, that we get as we strengthen in our musics over the years, and dig deeper into all of life's doings that shape and influence the art we create. Also as 'mojo' = what YOU bring.

wiki ~ "Got My Mojo Working"

mon ami

French for "my friend."


Greek; mono = one, chord = string, a one stringed instrument thought to be designed for the investigation of acoustics, with one movable fret that divides a string into different length / parts, which creates our various intervals.

wiki ~ monochord


Music that is created with one melody line with no additional accompaniment, i.e., chords or harmony, it is said to be our oldest form of music. HBD.

wiki ~ monophony


One theme, artistic creations with one theme. Like a song with one melody? Or a theme park with just one ride, that you want to keep going on again and again, i.e., like the blues? Mono = one.


Slang for a musician with tremendous and maybe even supernatural musical abilities.


Spanish for 'from the mountain', in music generally associated with a repeated musical phrase commonly called a vamp among we Americanos.

wiki ~ montuno


Used within this text to describe a change of tonality, i.e., major to minor, tonic family to dominant family etc., morphing from one musical color to another.

motif / motive

A re-occurring artistic idea which is developed throughout an artistic piece.

motion to Four

In all of American styles, the harmonic motion from our tonic One chord to Four is probably the most common. Everything from 'Oh Susanna' through the blues and into country, rock pop and jazz, all enjoy this motion to the subdominant Four. Being so popular, there's probably a million or so ways to get there, One to Four, and back.


Style of American pop music from the 1960's, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder on and on. Motown from motorcity is slang for the city of Detroit, Michigan, where cars are made.

wiki ~ Motown

movable shapes / forms

Movable forms / shapes. Usually applied to guitar and fretted instruments in general, where a scale, arpeggio or chord shape can be moved intact up and down the fingerboard. This one idea can greatly facilitate the learning.

For example, a most common blues riff tickles between the 3rd's and resolves. As a movable shape, once under your fingers, move it up and down the neck by half step cementing the physical in place. And from this shape new licks will blossom, plus it'll work in any of the 12 keys, a perspective of understanding jazz art. Thinking 'A', then 'Bb', 'B' etc. Example 1.

Cool ? So any one root position movable chord becomes many differently rooted chords, simply by its position on the neck. This means they will work in a lot of different key centers. One 'C' major 7' shape now works in all 12 major or minor keys by moving the shape up and down the neck :) One idea in 'C' then 'Db', then 'D' etc. Open circles are root notes. Example 1.

In the olden days, cats talked about the 'box' scales, totally movable shapes. They can stack up one atop another in a select order, create a loop of boxy note shapes. Combined they become a way to build up pitches of a key center from bottom to top on the neck of any gitfiddle, with the pitches themselves also forming loops of pitches etc.


Articulating two pitches simultaneously, used usually to describe an effect with horn players; saxophone mostly but trumpet too.

musical map

Every picture tells a story don't it ...

wiki ~ "Every Picture Tells A Story Don't It" song

music notation

The musical notation symbols used here in Essentials, that we use to write down our musical ideas to share with others, that have preserved the music that has come before us and will make available all of our collective music for future generations, while having evolved in accuracy, have been in use now for the last 1000 years or so.

wiki ~ mensural notation
wiki ~ music notation

music software

The music software to create the musical examples in this text is created by Coda Corporation, it is Finale 2010, which is very excellent indeed.


music store

Here's a view of my local music store with no shortage of gear for guitar. Look vaguely familiar?

Mammoth Music

music theorist

In entering into the machinations of music and its theories we join a rather august club of musicians and scientists from the last three millennia or so. From the early establishment of the octave interval as the bookends to our pitches, up to the MIDI of today and a 24 note octave, we as 'theorists' simply want to know music's architecture and then what makes it all keep ticking.'

wiki ~ music theory

music theory

Music theory / classical and jazz. The study of music theory creates a body of knowledge that creates a unique label for each the components of our musics. This becomes the vocabulary we theorists use to describe what we hear.

First, there's the identity of the components and events in a song as we listen to music; the pitches and the melodies and harmonies they create moving along in time.

And second, there's the architecture which shapes and forms the musical components into the aural art we love.

Classical / Jazz. Euro classical and jazz musics share the same basics many ways. Know that jazz theory adds in the blues and swing, which are pure pure Americana. Also, jazz also includes improvisation, often spontaneous, so the creating of a music through a collaborative musical experience, where the common forms of song give those that know, equal voice in creating the story.


one through 12, what melodies we can make is the theory philosophy here, it's the # of pitches in our mix that helps determines musical style.

musical alphabet

Our musical alphabet runs from the letter A to G; so A B C D E F G.

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

That we can start on any of the letters and they loop back to their starting point is a first theory magic and sure stgc'er. Thinking here in 'C' major.

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

And we loop this sequence of letters ...

'C D E F G A B C'

... right onto the white keys of any piano, and on through the range of a piano, so up through seven octaves on a standard, full keyboard.

musical evolution

The continual quest by artists to expand the existing musical forms and resources so as to better portray the evolving triumphs, struggles and philosophies of humankind.

wiki ~ human kind

musical examples

With the ability to notate and playback, the theory game has really changed for the non reading players to explore the more schooled world of music theory and how they understand their own music.

musical intervals

Measuring and numerically labeling the distance between two pitches as defined by the number of whole steps and half steps between them.

musical language

In this text, simply the idea that we each strive to learn how to create the sounds of the style of music we want to play, these sounds become your language elements for conversing with your musical mates when jamming :)

musical math

That the numerical equivalents given to the pitches also perfectly close upon themselves or 'proof' themselves, by always perfectly closing back to their starting points.

musical styles / evolution

Musical styles / evolutions. Here in Essentials, America's myriad of aural musical sounds / style combinations are from a two stranded helix core, just like our own DNA. One strand of our evolution starts pure diatonic; with children's songs which moves into folk, then towards to country and then to the brighter tempos of bluegrass.

At this point we need to go back to our roots for the other strand of DNA for the blues; the blue notes, the V7 chord and the 12 bar form. For in the blues we get the blues both as a style itself as well as its blue hue note shadings added to non blues songs and styles. Surely all styles rub another and things stick, but the blue colors are perhaps, even quite singularly, the essence of the Americana experience.

In songs of gospel, country and rock and roll, whose beats and messages softens up a bit into pop, and then to fully open up into the jazz world, this double strand of diatonic pitches of a key center and the non-diatonic blue notes is the twist of pitches and colors that make it all happen Americana.

A second theme of this work in regards to our musical styles is the '# of pitches / style relationship.' That given our 12, how many we use to create a melody will often help us understand were we are along our 'style spectrum' of Americana. That is if we do choose to do so.

musical styles

Musical styles. Surely a topic of endless nuance, we can take an almost pure theory approach based on which pitches we use in creating our musical styles. The trick to layering musical styles into the theory discussions is simply to be flexible and really just to take a bit of the 'e' out of ego and go.

The 'e' out of ego ... simply implies that many of the styles that music critics can easily identify are merged here in Essentials, simply because they have the same core pitches as their basis. For example, in rock music, most songs stem from its historical core of the 1950's, and while much has changed in the business since, the core pitches are theoretically the same. The exception here is of course in with metalists, whose chords are reduced to just 5th's, because of the gear roar generally used to work the metal magic.

The idea that the storytelling folk styles, which can include everything from children's songs, all kinds of country, western, swing, fiddle tunes, Irish and bluegrass, is based on the idea that their core groupings of pitches for creating their melodies and chord harmonies are so similar. So much of the variance here can be attributed to the theme of story being told, and of course rhythms, tempos, grooves and influence if any of the blue notes.

For jazz players, it's generally all about how thin we want to slice the pitch pie as we head towards a more chromatic sound and chord progressions, as they evolve historically through the decades of the last century or so. From open G ragtime banjo to standard concert tuned E Delta blues, into swing jazz towards bebop into the hard bop and post bop, on towards the fusion becoming new age and easy listening into today's super sliced chromaticism of the 'chromatic blur', we can evolve our core 12 pitches with groove, chord progression, choice of color tones etc., on into what sound concept we develop to finding the gear to process our signals to create a live sound for performance.

So if your main style is not consistently one of the most common headings, forgive me for it's a tricky bit of business trying to put into words and musical examples ideas correlating numbers of pitches and the range of styles they love to create, looking for songs within styles to navigate all of this in a conversational tone reminiscent of the olden day theory books, all while maintaining a perspective and forward motion in the dialogue. That all said ... whew, I hope that some part of Essentials moves your theory / style understanding forward :)

musical tonality

Years ago a discussion centered on the evolution of American versus European music in regards to what we as jazz artists call 'inside and outside.' 'Inside' music is created with seven diatonic pitches from within the keycenter, 'outside' are the other five pitches that we term non-diatonic.

This gradual evolution of 'inside to out' took Americana players roughly 75 years to accomplish, while it took our Euro brothers about 300 years. Perhaps this gives us some sense of the societal pace of America's own evolution through the last century or so.


A musicologist is the scholar of a music's history as defined within the context of the society in which it is created. Whatever you favorite music is today, just to realize that your interest can become an entry way into a lifetime of endless coolness of discovery, and for the musicologist, into the sharing of something you just naturally love with all who will lend an ear :) R. O. !


The term musicology simply implies the scholarly study of music; its histories, the players, the compositions, the times in which it was created and what influence one generation has had on succeeding ones and thus, the ones yet to come along.

An endless puzzle of sorts, we who are interested must simply dive in and start to piece it all together the best we can, prompted by whatever our interests in the music might initially be. For many thus curious about music, thankfully, there's really no end to the study of it and all its facets.

wiki ~ musicology


A term that encompasses all of the things that enable us to communicate musically. All things being equal, good listening skills and performing with a wide range of dynamics are two essential cores of our ability to communicate musically.


Lettered pitches identified without sharps or flats are said to be natural, also there's a 'natural' symbol that cancels a sharp or flat from a note, key signature etc., they look like this in standard notation.

sharp / flat / natural

and please ... R.O. !

natural minor scale

The seven pitch core of the minor tonality, these pitches are thought to go all the way back in our history. As the relative of the natural major group, these are our more modern terms and ways of thinking of scales, for both combine to create the natural scale, whose description and links are next below. Also termed the Aeolian mode, diatonic relative minor, all which share the same pitches and intervals, equally built upon each of the 12 keys etc., all part of what we inherit today from antiquity.

and please ... R.O. !

natural scale

Natural scale. Most often refers to the relative major / minor group of pitches.

In this e-book's philosophy of the evolution of tuning and today's world of equal temper tuning and the pitch perfection of midi, we could also begin to define the natural scale as the same relative major / minor group of pitches that are tuned more in accordance with the natural overtone series, the Pythagorean 5th's, the 'just' intonations building with simple ratios, mean tone tunings and into any of the 'well' tempered tuning schemes. So really any tuning of the seven pitches, generally based on the Ionian / Aeolian grouping, that is not tuned to the perfection of equal tempered tuning.

Thus, in a natural scale, these seven pitches of our most common scale are not equal tempered. Advancing artists will search for these nuances of pitch in their work, when working within the perfection of equal tempered harmony, as created by a standard tuned guitar or the various pianos and keyboard instruments of today.

In this book, this differing of intonations; the natural and equal temper tunings applied to the common major scale, combine to create what become, and is termed the 'blues rub.' For once we start to 'warm up' the intonation of the pitches with various vibratos, it's only art natural curiosity to widen our 'push' of a pitch, in relation to its place within a chord or melody of a song. For guitar, this leads to the bending of pitches, singularly and in pairs and beyond, which is perhaps more truly the 'blues rub.'

The 'natural scale' is also commonly known as the relative 'Ionian major / Aeolian' minor groups of pitches, regardless of the way the pitches are tuned. For this pairing is found in the ancient pitches, even if they don't consistently appear in the literature till the mid 16th century or so, with Glareanus. These were the 'tavern pitches', whose melodies were learned and passed along through the generations 'by ear.'

Note: Eastern tunings, from the Middle East to points eastward, as say for the Indian sitar, will follow these tuning ratios too.

Examine the ratios of numbers we use to create our natural scale, what we theorists term the relative major / natural minor scale, according to the 'just' tuning ratios for the twisting of the pegs.

natural major scale ratio natural minor scale ratio
root 1 : 1 root 1 : 1
major 2nd 9 : 8 major 2nd 9 : 8
. . minor 3rd 6 : 5
major 3rd 5 : 4 . .
perfect 4th 4 : 3 perfect 4th 4 : 3
perfect 5th 3 : 2 perfect 5th 3 : 2
. . minor 6th 8 : 5
major 6th 5 : 3 . .
. . minor 7th 16 : 9
major 7th 15 : 8 . .
perfect octave 2 : 1 perfect octave 2 : 1

nature / nurture

Instinctual or learned, that is the question ...

wiki ~ nature / nurture

a neighbor tone

Closely related pitches by physical proximity, pitches that 'live' nearby the one's that are creating our art. For example, if the root pitch of our chord is 'G', then 'Ab' (G#) and 'F#' (Gb) are chromatic neighbor tones, by half step. The pitches 'F and A' would be neighbor tones by whole step etc.

n'est-ce pas?

From the French vocabulary, translated as 'isn't that so?' Learning music is like learning a new language; once there's some words (vocabulary) then it's all about having something to say, how we say it, so its phrasing, timing and rhythm. Pour moi, learning the rhythm of the French language was an adolescent 'music to my ears.'

wiki ~ n'est-ce pas ?

9 out of 10

Simply the idea that the majority of songs are written in a major key. Being a jazz leaning artist, I counted up and compared the major / minor tonality of the songs in the Charlie Parker Omnibook. Of the 55 compositions in the work, 4 where written in a minor key, thus the idea of '9 out of 10.' For in discussing the theory, there are tricky spots that call for perspective from a basis, and the major key, due to its abundant use in creating our melodies, becomes the cornerstone to create various visions of the organization of our pitches.

And if your thing is in minor, please forgive this bias throughout. For as a writer of this 'understanding your music' book, I needed a basis, and as Charlie Parker was once the 'arpeggio king of the local universe', what better Americana composer to help sort this theory mumbo jumbo all out.

"You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail."

wiki ~ Charlie Parker


Pitches that are not part of a chosen song's key center. In the key of C major;

C D E F G A B C are diatonic

Db Eb Gb Ab Bb are non diatonic

In analysis of music looking at the pitches and chord, when notes come along with a flat 'b's, or sharp # attached, we know something's up in the music, something outside of the usual diatonic destinations and colorings.

Diatonic defines a parent scale, used to create that piece of music, non - diatonic pitches can be in the melody or harmony of course, and especially so as the blue notes, again in both the melody and a non diatonic colortones for chords.


General term for the symbols we use to write down our music. Notations basics are for pitch and rhythm. Staff lines indicate pitch with note heads, the flags of a note stem denote its rhythm. We've math here too as our staff lines and spaces help us to measure our intervals by counting lines and spaces between any two pitches.

Know this musical term? Cool. No ? learn it here and now. By knowing one essential vocabulary word for music theory, we get a first step to begin. E-books encourage us to read and explore, our curiosity encourages discovery :)

a note

General term to describe a singular musical sound or tone, i.e., a pitch, often designated by letter such as A B C.

'a number'

In NYC, a 'numba', slang for a song, usually used in live performances to announce the next selection on the program. Something like ... "right now ... we gonna do a little number from our first album ... " etc.

wiki ~ Duane Allman

numerical equivalents

Really just a fancy term that gets to a core approach for understanding the theory.

Letter names of pitches become numbers within formulas for melodies and chord progressions, this theory allow us to create and project identical musical and emotional elements of any nature from any of our 12 pitches following a designated numerical sequence. Regardless, we can feel that each key center has its own color and unique emotional capacity, Using the numbers for the pitches is a sort of shorthand.

numerical perspective

Creating a numerical perspective of our musical resources is mostly about assigning numbers to letters based on the intervals between pitches.

There's a couple of key pairings that streamline the theory; pitch letters of scales and arpeggios become Arabic numbers, chord letter designations become Roman numerals and we can develop three numerical chord types that combined can include any chord that comes along.

What we gain is the ability to apply the same theory principles to any of our 12 relative major or minor keys, knowing that 'in theory', all of our chords can become one of three chord types.

wiki ~ Arabic numbers
wiki ~ Roman numerals

"Who is responsible for your education ... ?"

nunchi (Korean)

Nunchi. Self energy and empower, for changing the circumstances within your control, the right timing and a quiet mind.

"A Korean education is a nunchi education:

In my day, students were not allowed to ask questions during class. Teachers gave students intentionally vague information about everything from what school supplies to bring to where exams were taking place.

Working out these mysteries on your own by using your 'nunchi' was part of your education."

Quote from NYTimes, November 2, 2019

wiki ~ Euni Hong

author of

"The Power Of Nunchi:

the Korean secret to happiness and success."

"Bobby and his sister Joan learned how to play chess using the instructions from a set bought at a candy store."

wiki ~ Bobby Fischer

nuts and bolts

The authors slang term for the various components of our music, i.e., the pitches, scales, arpeggios, chords and all of their various symbologies. We get a pile of these nuts and bolts and make musical art.

Also 'bolts right up.' As in aftermarket VW bus parts advertised to 'bolt right up' to our rigs. And some did too. I ran three buses over the decades, two 'splits' and a 69, and did near all the wrenching meself with a little help from my friends :) 100

wiki ~ symbology

in a nutshell

The old timey cliche lick about just getting to the heart of a thing. Each full topic discussion in this work starts off with an 'in a nutshell' description of its contents, mostly just a sentence or two, which quickly read, provides the reader with a choice of whether to stay put and read on to study or move on into an expanded use of the theory topic, as each 'nutshell' entry has its own link forward to various evolutions of the theory discussions currently being tabled. The links to the right are hopefully some of the giant nutshells for helping you understand your own music.

the nutshells

The nutshells. The purist of all sounds, the octave interval becomes the initial theory boundary. By a cycle of perfect 5th's our 12 pitches evolve. Later on, equally tempered into a chromatic scale of 12 equal pitches, any and all of our scales, blue notes, arpeggios, chords and rhythms can be projected equally from each of these 12 pitches. That's the whole tamale.

By simple addition of pitch, our horizontal scaler resources evolve from the ancient pentatonic five to the six of the blues and gospel, to the seven pitches creating the seven modes of the diatonic scale and its perfect balance of major ~ minor energies. We theoretically close the loop at eight, by including the root pitch up an octave, creating the theory basis of perfect closure for our silent architecture that foundations all our Americana musics.

It's the 3rd degree of a scale or three note triad or larger chord that determines whether its tonal color is major or minor. All the instruments, especially guitarists, most often work out this theory on the piano, whose white keys are the seven diatonic pitches creating the relative C major and A natural minor pairing. In doing so we get a linear sense of the pitches and their looping, all perfectly laid out in black and white.

The theory of scale degree creates the seven modal loops by formula, with the location of the 1/2 steps defining aural qualities of each group. Three are major and three are minor, these groupings become the One, Four and Five positions of both major and minor within one key center. The remaining loop, from Seven, creates the interval portal to travel between between the major and minor artistic environments balanced within one key center. The number of key centers, or the borrowing of their pitches and components within one song, helps to place any work along an ever evolving stylistic spectrum of musical genres.

Any of the seven diatonic modes, sequenced in major and minor thirds, or vice versa, minor and major thirds, creates the more vertical shaped arpeggios. Stack and sound segments of the arpeggios on an equal the temper tuned instrument and we create vertical chords. Chords become sequenced into measured cycles of chord progressions, often with cadential motions to create the supportive forms for composition.

With One, Four and Five as the core components of countless songs, both major and minor, we can evolve our own sense of harmony by thinking of a chord's 'type', which codifies by its intervals any chord into one of three families, easing our ways of harmonic expansion through chord substitution.

The old time gallop rhythm is the motor energy magic of the Americana sounds. Its various triplet figures the extracted essence of subdivided time that is woven into the core 2 and 4 backbeat that pulses through Americana musical time, creating the raw 'pull' of swing in the music that each artist shapes to their liking. That this joyous gallop rhythm and swing help enliven any musical style, is yet another example of the inclusive magics that flow through Americana musics.


Octave ~ octave purity. We base all of our theory on the octave interval. Simply because by general consensus among music theorists, that when the octave's pitches are sounded together, in whatever fashion, it sounds the best; it creates the most purest and perfect aural sound as compared to any of our other possible intervals.

The octave is the first partial in our overtones series above our fundamental pitch. The purest sounding of our combinations of tones, each successive octave is twice the frequency of its originator. 'A' = 55 110 220 440 880 1760.

The octave interval is the center of our local universe of music theory, the basket that holds our 12 pitches.

In art; an interval often found in the melodies of so many classic songs, in science; a pitch created by dividing the fundamental pitch or string length in half into a 2:1 ratio, so as to make the upper pitch vibrate twice as fast as the lower pitch.

The interval range of the octave contains the seven 7 unique diatonic tones, usually capped by our octave eight 8, for the closed loop relative major / minor scale, thus including all modes and their permutations.

octave closure

Octave closure is a UYM / EMG theoretical principle of the numbers, by which a seven note scale becomes eight, simply by including the chosen root pitch's octave, in doing so we create a closed loop and thus preserve in theory the perfect closure all of our pitch resources.

Thinking 'A' natural minor;

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Seeking to create and understand this 'perfect closure' of any loop, interval or group of pitches is a cornerstone of the way the music theory is presented in this text, and many others too of course.

octave interval melodies

Just seems like with so many great melodies that have an interval in them somewhere it'd be a shame not to start listing them :)

octave transposition

The basic process by which musical pitches are moved up or down by the octave interval to place them in a more playable range for the performer. This is also an 'artistic improvising technique', creating surprises and curiosity in the lines.

odd meters

Odd meters. Since so much of our rhythms Americana is based on the 'even' numbers such as 4/4, and the back beat of 2 and 4, when things aren't even, we might refer to them as 'odd.' So, time signatures such as 5/4, 7/4 etc., are said to be odd meter.

And while not that common through the Americana musics, in heavy metal it is not uncommon to hear a measure or two of odd meter inserted into the more even 4/4 time. Gives that song a uniqueness and the band to show off their hard work together, as most of the lines in these sections are fusionesque and sounded in unison.

Perhaps the most popular odd meter Americana song is by jazz alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's "Take Five", a jazz song in 5/4 that is a perfect contrasting and balancing of Yin / Yang minor and major, in the A and B sections of the song's form, that all swings so beautifully in an 'odd' meter.

wiki ~ heavy metal
wiki ~ "Take Five"


offbeat :)

In European music and analysis, the offbeat is said to be the 2nd and 4th beats of 4 / 4 time, the 2nd and 3rd beats in 3 / 4 time etc., so opposite of onbeat or downbeat, the 1st beat of the measure in 4 / 4 time.

old homemade banjo

wiki ~ banjo

olden days

The olden days is just a slang term used in this e-book to describe times past, when our world was lit only by fire; with candles, various oils and of course the sun. So all the history of times and eras from that point and back is all included and considered the true olden days here in Essentials, i.e., thus no electricity.

The recent olden days in Americana music is mostly about the blues, in the days before audio recording allowed us to begin a historical record of these magics :)

wiki ~ A World Lit Only By Fire

old school

A common term really, old school refers mostly to how things were done in the past in regards to music education. So learning to read and write music notation, rote learning of the basic theory of scales, arpeggios and chords. Knowing how to click into a metronome and create a swing feel, and knowing some of the true Americana melodies by rote.

old school music book
read and write music
rote memorizing
scale arpeggio chord
the metronome

Om ...

The meditative chant of 'om', here represented by the infinity '8', connects us to the meditation of our rote learn taskings to become masters of our craft :)


'Lela of Homer' is the recorded chantress.

wiki ~ om
spelling chords

Omnibook / the major scale basis

The Charlie Parker Omnibook is the collected works of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker and includes 55 of his original melodies, some with double entries, and their solos transcribed from his recordings. That the bop musical style is thought among so many to be Americana's most challenging music to perform, becomes a philosophic basis of this book.

Thinking in 'C' major here ... an essential perspective. Notated without key signature, that 52 of the 55 compositions within the Omnibook are clearly written in a major key, helps shape the writing perspective of this Essentials work. For while our inclusiveness strives to know no bounds, just needed a theory basis to build from without slighting any artist whose main musical colors might not be the natural major scale. For in this Omnibook, it's clear that a blues infused major scale, and all its available harmonies, are the center of the bebop styling.

Mr. Parker's music in this work, presented in the lead sheet format of melody and chord symbols without key signatures, helps making its analysis that much clearer as the pitches and chords go by lined up together.


... this above Two / Five / One lick from the Omnibook, page 49, from the improvised solo on the Parker original composition "Donna Lee", line 10.

wiki ~ Charlie Parker

Coltrane Omnibook

The John Coltrane Omnibook is the collected works of the hard bop and beyond saxophonist John Coltrane and includes 52 transcribed solos. There are 26 original Coltrane songs included.

one pitch tritone

Describes the addition of a note that is a tritone interval away from the root pitch of a group of pitches. Its origins are in the blues scale where we add one pitch, a tritone away from the root note of the five note pentatonic minor group and voila, the core blue notes / scale as well as what can become the 'other five pitches.'

open chords

Generally refers to stringed instruments whereby chord shapes / voicings include pitches from unstopped, open strings, common open chords are usually found within the first 3 frets on the guitar.

Theorywise, these chord voicings often have notes that are 'doubled.' meaning that in an open 'G' chord, over the six strings, three of the note's are 'G', so actually tripled, which is kinda rare. So when we need a super solid 'G' chord, our triple root / open 'G' should feed the bull dog. And if not, barre it up ! Still hungry ? Find some big roar :)

There's a magic to the open chords, for their shapes have been around for a while now. Like five or six hundred years. Meaning that lots of folks have played them, contributing their ideas to our collective memories.

While we might learn a lot of chord voicings over the years, the open chords ring ancient pure, and supportively as chords, can inform us on the qualities when crafting new melody lines.

That if our melody works over open chord voicings, chances are we've got us a good basis to begin to jazz it up, to find this song's bass line story, those keystone blocks of looping bass notes, that create a mood and vibe to tell that story.

open G

'Open 'G' tuning; G D G B D, is one of the old time banjo tunings that got transferred right over to a standard six string guitar as it first came up from Mexico and other points beyond. A great tuning for beginners and for blues artists, easy for slide guitar and finding the One, Four and Five chords is a snap.

~ . G D G B D ~

tuning pitches

5 string open G banjo

open position

Generally means including open strings in any of our melodies, scales, arpeggios, chords etc.

open tuning

Refers to stringed instruments whereby the pitches of the open strings sound various chords. Nearly endless in potential, three are included here in Essentials; the open 'G', open 'E' and 'Hawaiian 6/9.

~ . G D G B D ~

~ E B D G B E ~

~ E B E G# B E ~

~ D A D F# B E ~


tuning pitches

standard concert tuning
open E
5 string open G banjo
Hawaiian 6/9


The ultimate combination of music, theatre and art, really all of the fine arts brought together into one giant performance collage, to bring to life our stories; the legends, the comedy and tragedy, of love and loss, of lost and found, of heros and legends, of myths and magic ... so all of the above? Yep, all of the above.

wiki ~ opera
wiki ~ Porgy and Bess
wiki ~ Tommy


By word of mouth, passing along ideas through the spoken word, an ancient teaching style of passing along ideas from one generation to the next.


In this e-book, most often used to describe the diatonic origin of musical components from inside to outside, or when one musical idea is developed from a central motif within a composition, also when one's musical and artistic evolution happens from within by one's own intuition and hard work; the 'what if' type of questioning generates one's own organic learning.

Organic also applies to the natural source of our pitches from the overtone / harmonic series, on through Pythagorean tuning on through to equal temper tuning, midi and beyond, we also look to create the ultimate organic musical ability; to sing and play the line or ... express the 'art in our hearts' on our chosen instrument :)

original electric guitar

"Every picture tells a story, don't it :)"

ostinato bass figure

This term is borrowed from the European classical cats and simply implies a simple rhythmic figure of pitch or pitch pattern of low bass notes, that is repeated many times without undue variation, like a vamp line. These patterns a great way to build up stories and musical suspense.

(the) other five pitches

The other five pitches. This phrase comes to us from jazz guitar wizard Jimmy Bruno.

In this approach to understanding blues and jazz leaning theory, knowing there are seven pitches for the diatonic scale, perhaps more commonly known as the relative major / natural minor pairing, that if we subtract these seven from the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, we are left with 5, which become the 'other five pitches ... ' We can illustrate Americana musical DNA as these two strands woven together.

our own labors

Simply the idea that in the end, we each are responsible for our own learning and improving as artists.


Slang for improvising a musical vamp, like a caboose on a train, used to end and bring closure to a song while performing, there's usually an intro and an outro.


Outside. A mostly slang jazz style term that describes spicy, musical events or episodes within a key center, that includes creating musical ideas, sounds and colors, with non-diatonic pitches, these events are termed outside, as they sound 'outside' of the diatonic key signature and pitches shaping the tonality of the musical piece.

The blue notes are a common way to go outside of the diatonic in the Americana styles as the music is going down. Try it. Honk in a random blue note to go outside, and watch what happens. R.O. !

outside (genre)

In jazz, starting from the mid 50's, saxophonist Ornette Coleman led the vanguard of the new, beyond the diatonic realm, outside approach. For there's a new societal energy in the air during this era. While melody still reigned supreme in this genre, it's just way more 12 tone / atonal and there's no chordal background to ground the improvised lines. Leaning polyphonic and generally speaking, there's no definite harmonic motion to Four through a song. R.O. !

while moving outside / a new inside

A very complex polyphonic weave by any event, 'outside' is presented in vinyl with the release of Coleman's

"The Shape Of Jazz To Come."

Released in 1959, it is a perfect capture of 'avant guard outside', a powerful and strongly presented creative direction.

'Outside' also finds a new 'in' as Coltrane through the 1950's conquers all the arpeggios in both the Hawkins and Parker stylings, on all chords, and their myriad substitutions. For there's a new energy in the air and getting to the truth is closer.

Coltrane's arpeggio driven 'sheets of sound' refocus 'outside back to inside.' And by his "Giant Steps" in 1960, the whole 'outside' direction can now be restructured through the original pentatonic group and its permutations.

wiki ~ "The Shape Of Jazz To Come"
"Giant Steps"


The pitches contained within a vibrating column of air, a plucked string etc., similar to the different colors within white light, i.e., refracted through a glass prism becoming the colors of the rainbow.

R. O. !

wiki ~ light
wiki ~ overtones

overtone series / harmonic series

Overtone series. From Mother Nature we get our pitches. Simply the breakdown of the earthly, naturally occurring phenomena of any sort of vibrating string or column of air of a musical sound into its component parts, which become our musical pitches we in this discussion can term as overtones, i.e., that they are the tones 'over' their fundamental starting note or root pitch, which in the following example is 'C.'

Note the wider intervals in the first pitches. The perfect octave interval that starts us off. These lower pitched notes and the wider space between them, octave, 5th and 10th, is generally the way we create our chord voicings. As low pitches close together easily sound muddy. Also please note the naturally occurring pitches of the V7 chord in the first two measures (C E G Bb). A vanilla 'C' 7 blues chord? Tis is indeed, built right in :)

These are the origin pitches that we organize, tune and temper to create our various scales, arpeggios and chords of today. We've had them now since the beginning times, gradually understanding how, through a more exacting tuning, that many aspects of our musics have evolved.

Examine the pitches; ascending overtone series from the fundament / root pitch 'C.' Starting off with the perfect octave.



Palette. Some of us think in colors. And as such we've a colorful way to link our ideas for music, stories for songs and their emotional qualities to colors, and by extension into the seven chackras, and their recognized color weave that comes from Mother Nature's rainbow.

Traditionally a painters handheld platform for mixing colors, pairing, mixing up moods and colors and their 'understands' of the pitches, a way for us guitarists to visualize our various groups of pitches / music resources as aural colors with which we paint our music.


6 - 5
9 - 8 / min
b7 - 6
no bounds
sus 4

parallel motion

Parallel motion. Describes moving two or more pitches moving in the same direction by the same interval. Usually when we get to three or more pitches, we're talking triads and chords, to which we often apply the term constant structure when the same chord voicing is moved to different pitches, very often this motion is by half step, so chromatic up or down, 'C7 Db7 D7 Eb7 or F7 E7 Eb7 D7, that 'Sweet Georgia Brown', kick it off, let's get this going approach to the changes, style etc.'

please do R. O. !

wiki ~ "Sweet Georgia Brown"

parallel key centers

Key centers that share the same root pitch but different scale pitches, i.e., C major and C natural minor or A minor and A Lydian are said to be parallel keys.

parent scale

Refers to the main group of pitches used to create a song, key center, a chord or emotional environment, i.e., the diatonic realm, the C major scale is the parent scale of a song written in the key of C major, whose tonic One chord is C major. We use the pitches of a C major scale as the parent scale to create improvisations over a C major chord. We can generally conjure a 'parent' scale, or a few even, for any chord.


Usually meaning to create different words to a popular melody, a musical satire if you will. As kids we tend to do this a lot, we parody the written lyrics and rhythms of a song with our own words and phrases.


A mathematical term often used to describe the overtone pitches, that are numbered one through fifteen, created from the sounding of a fundamental, musical tone.

passing chords

Transitory chord between principle chords in a chord progression, often defined by era, musical style and what's diatonic in regards to the key center of the song. For example, between the principle One and Four chord, Three could be a passing chord; 'G B- C D.'

passing tones

Essentially non chord tone pitches in a melody between chord tones. Thus, if our melody are the triad pitches of a 'C' major chord, (CEG), the melody pitch 'D' we would call a passing tone, passing between between the 'C' and 'E' in a melody.


The study (ogy) of how we undertake the process of learning something, the development of a curriculum of study for a topic or subject, the art of a teacher.

wiki ~ pedagogy

pedal to the metal

Slang term for making whatever the thing is to go ever faster and faster.

pedal tones

A pedal tone is a sustained pitch within the fabric of the music, usually in an outer voice, i.e., bass or treble and these we term a 'lower' or 'upper pedal.' Most times they feature the tonic or dominant pitch of the current key center of the music. Pedal tones are often used as a sure way to generate the sense that 'something' of an event is coming up in the music, something's coming; could be the top of the chorus, a modulation, new melody etc.

One pitch pedal tones are also used in meditations of the mind, a single note to focus our inner visions on as we cleanse away worldly clutter and each find our own spiritual and intellectual core ... and once there ... hopefully fragments of the ancient melodies from within our our collective memories that can bring all peoples together in love and harmony.

wiki ~ meditation
wiki ~ "Innervisions" / Stevie Wonder

peer pressure

Surely the worst thing about being a teenager, don't submit, strive to be yourself and develop your natural talents, then share the magic of your music with those you love. For once the 'teen' is eliminated from your numerical age, U R GOOD TO GO :)

"You alone is enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody."
wiki ~ Maya Angelou

ancient magic of the

pentatonic scale

Pentatonic scale / magic. Our now ancient group of pitches found all the world over containing the five pitches, which sound good in near any melody combinations, when improvising over or through chord changes, so in the 'blink of an eye' 'we've a way to sound out ANY chord's colors, thus character, with five pitches, all while moving through time at any rate of tempo. So a super jazzy way to make 'all the changes' while always just one pitch away from the purest of blues. That's ... some crazy melodic magic !

Pentatonics create both a major and minor mode of color too, all with this same group of pitches, helps bends the light a bit in making art happen.

major = jaunty

minor = sadness

In theory, these groups of pitches build up with two whole steps, which creates its major 3rd quality, and two minor 3rd leaps, which brings the minor aura. In shifting these steps and leaps about, we get our variety of groupings. And once a group is set, there's modal machinations within the five note looping, the same as we do with the seven pitches.

Truly said to have 'no bad notes', most Americana improv cats love these five notes for soloing over the changes, while some advancing cats use them in curious ways to solo through the changes. Over or through the changes ... ? Surely, why not some of both :)

Dig the basic guitar scale shapes and notation.

Pentatonic Studies For Jazz

wiki ~ Ray Ricker


Simply a cool word for the one of something before the last of any kind of sequence of somethings; so the second to last pitch in any melody from any direction, one chord before the last as say Four to One in a gospel setting, the leading tone pitch in an ascending diatonic scale. For example, in the following sequence the letter name 'C' is the penultimate pitch:

Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db


Perfect. As good as ___ ( it ) might ever get :) Fill in the blank for 'it', for your own perfect. In the old days before groovy, cool, excellent and 'like totally awesome dude' became ways to describe a way happening thing, 'perfect' was as good as it gets. In music, our perfection applies to the sounds of intervals and chord cadences. As music theorists, we use this word 'perfect' to describe the best sounding elements we get, and from this perfection, we evolve.

Our whole universe of music is based on this idea of 'perfection.' That the most 'pleasing to the ear' musical sounds and combinations of pitches today, are the same ones we have built our entire system of music through the last 4000 years or so. And probably even earlier though at 4000 years the 'mists of antiquity' begin to thicken obscuring our views.

We since have come to 'prove up' our musical perfections by science discovering the 'math' of these 'perfect musical sounds', as we first found them in nature. We've tweaked them a bit over the millennia as our generational creative innovation brings new art with each generation, yet near all we do today is based on the same perfection of pitches, from all the way back.

Generally, anything deemed 'perfect' in our music is as good as that thing might ever get ... for 'it's perfect' ... 'so 'leave it alone' :)

And as music theory scientists, it's nice to have a 'standard of perfection' to lean against. Read on the next few entries here to clarify our various 'perfections' in music.

Those curious please 'R O !' :)

perfect intervals

Perfect intervals / octave perfection. Well, if we have something that is 'perfect' in our subject of studies, then we have an uncompromising starting point to view, from which to measure and compare everything else to. Thus it is with our pitches. Perfect intervals are so named simply because they sound the best ... of what we have to work with. For in comparison to our other intervals, our perfect intervals simply create the purest of musical sounds we we rub two resonating pitches together.

The first three intervals derived from Mother Nature's harmonic series we term perfect, and the octave interval is purest, becoming our aural perfection, upon which all else is based, built and measured;

the octave ( 2:1 ratio )

perfect 5th ( 3:2 ratio )

and perfect 4th ( 4:3 ratio )

First uncovered, scienced and researched and recorded for posterity some 2500 years ago now at a toga party, perfect intervals form the basis of our music system and its theories that we enjoy to this very day.

So why do we call the intervals of the octave, fourth and fifth perfect ?

Because of all the intervals we get, they sound the best. The most consonant, least dissonant, labeled as such back in the times when we first figured them out ... from right out of thin air.

And thin air = the overtone series ? Yep. That 'perfect' intervals have good ratio numbers, helps too :)

2:1 ~ 3:2 ~ 4:3

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfect cadence to a perfect resting point in the music

There's a perfect cadence in four part, harmonic motion from Five ( V ) to One ( I ), both in major and minor, where both chords are in root position, the V chord features the leading tone in the top, soprano voice, which resolves up by half step to the tonic note, of the One chord.

Sounds like this. In 'F' major.

Sound convincing that this song is over? Boom boom boom and we're done :) Cool, that's perfectly the idea here. So in this case, perfect creates finality. And while there are other ways to voice these chords of course, none will match this perfection of closure. Do find these pitches on your ax and at the piano as you can. And for more paths to explore our musical perfection ... 'RO!' :)

perfect closure

perfect closure (A)

Perfect closure. Simply the idea that thanks to the perfect closure of our system of pitches and their historically recent equal temper tuning (for creating in tune chords), that no matter how we slice and dice the theory of our pitches into interval loops, groups, arpeggios, chords and rhythms, that if we run a sequence of pitches out long enough, it will always perfectly close back to its starting point.

We get the same closure with rhythm ideas, even more so even as the closure becomes the phrase, lyrical or not, most often becoming a two, four or eight bar phrase that holds a musical thought.

This plays big for us music theory scientists as we ponder the possibilities of our theory essentials. For example, if we're spelling out the pitches of an 'Ab' major scale using our interval formula, when we run out of intervals, if we're not back to 'Ab', chances are we goofed up somewhere. But if we do come back to our starting point using a formula, probably a good sign that our 'theory machinations' are grooving and correct, thus the perfect closure of it all :)

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfect fifth interval

Perfect 5th / 'root five octave.' The fifth note, dominant pitch within our groups of pitches that holds the power to create the impending motion towards a resolution of tension, the sound and pitches from trumpets that harkens and heralds kings and queens, the dominant note heralds.

Created by the division of our string into three equal parts, thus the 7th fret harmonics on a guitar, created by a 3:2 ratio of numbers, the core interval of clockwise motion around our cycle of 5th's key clock, and deemed perfect simply by virtue of its exceptional sound quality.

Root / Five / Octave and the big roar. In our music making ways today and nearly through our whole spectrum of styles, our modern harmony palette today includes chords built in these perfecto 5th's. Super potent as barre chords for telling today's stories in a song, a 'root / five / octave' power chord, run through an appropriate rig or pedal(s), and the modern power chord is now spoken.

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfect fifth melodies

Just seems like with so many great melodies that have a perfect fifth interval in them somewhere, it'd be a shame not to start a listing; so ... to "Scarborough Fair?"

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfect fourth interval

Perfect fourth / p.4th. Is the inverse of the perfect 5th, 'up a 5th is = to down a fourth, It's the sub-dominant pitch, Four, within our common groups of pitches and it creates the One to Four / Four to One harmonic motion that is the core of Americana gospel.

Math and science; the perfect fourth is the division of our string into five equal parts, a 4:3 ratio of numbers, inverse of perfect fifth, counterclockwise or backpedaling the cycle of fifths pattern, deemed perfect by virtue of its exceptional sound quality.

Read this chart of letters counterclockwise from 'C', and move by the interval of the perfect fourth.

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfect fourth melodies

Just seems like with so many great melodies that have a perfect fourth interval in them somewhere it'd be a shame not to include on here to start off with. Find some grace ... or have ya been working the rails ... ?

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfectly closed loops

In theory, all of our resources, scales for melodies, arpeggios for chords, rhythms for motoring things along, can all loop back to their starting points if we carry our ideas out far enough. For example, the 'C' major scale is C D E F G A B C, a closed loop, its diatonic arpeggio is C E G B D F A C.

Forms in music follow the same principles. Our start point becomes our end point, to close the loop. The 12 bar blues is a common way we start, loop and return to the same beginning point.

Those curious please 'RO!' :)

perfectly invert

When the numerical measurement between pitches is the same whether moving up or down, i.e., as the tritone interval splits the span of one octave perfectly in half.


In this text, often implying preparing for performance, whether shedding to spontaneously improvise our music, working out every pitch for a solo or song, or a combination of both.

performance vehicle

The mood, form, tonality and rhythms of a particular piece of music, creating song categories such as a ballad, swing Latin etc.


A mostly European term used in the discussion of form in music, whereby a musical phrase becomes as a sentence in prose and called a 'period', also a historical era of musical style, such as the 'swing' of the 1930's, 'bebop' of the 40's etc.
wiki ~ music history of the United States


A permutation is simply the recombining of the existing elements of a musical idea into different shapes and structures, by using the same pitches or theory principles. We often permutate an idea looking a new way of presenting the same pitches.

For example with three pitches we could permutate the notes this way;

A B C / B C A / C A B etc.

While generally applied to the pitches in a lick, it is also very very common with time in creating rhythm variations. Advancing drummers will permutate a single rhythm idea into phrases and to build up a climax in their solos.


EMG / UYM philosophy. In terms of a learning method, various discussions are directed to create their 'big picture.' For once 'big pic' empowered, we've our arms around each topic, and then just need to 'sus' out and fill in the perimeter picture that we've created. Thus empowered with a wider perspective, what we need to create our art today we can discover, while having a perspective of how to imagine and locate the resources for creating our ideas further on up the road.

An example of this 'big pic' approach ? When we discover the seven pitches of the major scale, why not learn how to extract them from the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale and that there are only 12 different pitches in our Western melodic system of music.

Thus the idea of rote learning the essentials, that there's only 12 pitches, and that all of our melodic resources are contained within this loop of pitches. That all sorts of musical note groupings form loops of pitches that always close from within this group of 12.

Other 'big pic' topics include; unravelling the puzzle of spelling chords, or swapping numbers for letter names within a diatonic key center. For everything loops, pitch letter names and their corresponding numbers, and once understood, we can view our entire available resource. Might not ever need it all in the songs and music we create, but we know it's there, somewhere, and have a way to go find it :)


A second philosophy. Is based on the idea that since we've only the 12 different pitches in total, which combine together to create the chromatic scale, that how many different pitches we find in creating the melody of a song, will consistently reflect the musical style of the song.

And as we add new pitches to our core group, we evolve through a spectrum of the Americana musical styles.

What we gain here is an understanding of how one style can morph from one to another, and which pitches are the common 'morphers' from the literature, with the addition or subtraction of pitches from a song's parent scale. In chart form, a style / # of pitches survey.

musical style
kid's songs
folk blues gospel
bluegrass rock country
# of pitches


For example, that if a melody has three, four or five pitches chances are good it's a children's song or folk tune of sorts. Add one new pitch to the minor pentatonic five and our blues color emerges. Six pitches in major makes for gospel. Seven is the diatonic relative major / minor. And beyond towards the chromatic

Same idea for the harmony, that the number of different pitches in a song's chords helps determine the song's style. Three note triads for folk musics, then adding a fourth note such as a 7th for the blues and chord type, and then additional notes as color tones, and their alterations, leaning us towards the full spectrum of the jazz harmony colors.

For rock guitar, the full barre chords of the 60's give way to the 70's hard rock triads which next evolve by reducing the number of pitches, into the two pitch root / 5th metal chords. These '5th's just flow easier through shred pedals and gain structures creating an endless sustain of the notes, making the big roar of the heavy metalists and beyond. They're sleeker too and thus, the music can go faster and faster.


To this numerical pitch approach to styles of music, we add the evolutions of the way we've tuned these notes over a couple of millennia now, as our tuning evolutions have come with the advances of math and the sciences, as they developed over the last 1000 years or so.

For truth be known, while our same pitches have been around for many many many moons now, how we've tuned them up has historically gone through some very serious and controversial evolutions. In creating today's Americana spectrum of styles, we combine them all.


Common term for a musical or verbal statement, expression of an idea, four bars is a common phrase length.


Describes how a particular player articulates their phrase or ideas, a big part of a person's artistic signature.

piano and guitar

Musical instruments that represent the entire melodic and harmonic resource available from the equal temper tuning of the pitches, with full rhythm capabilities and dynamics of soft to loud in volume.

piano forte

Literally the ability of soft (piano) and loud (forte) pitch sounds that live in conventional pianos. This one ability to control volume by touch of a key, added to the existing keyboards of the day after 1700, encouraged a dramatic transition in Western music. This new 'loud / soft' instrument nuanced every note, further encouraging composers to venture further around the key cycle, which doing so eventually demanded the instrument be equal temper tuning, that makes each of the 12 pitches complete equals to one another. Which today is taken for granted, but back in the day was a real game changer.

An old piano.

wiki ~ piano
wiki ~ dynamics in music

Natural minor scale, letter names of the white piano keys and locating the two diatonic half steps B to C and E to F

The natural minor scale has the pitches to set a more, somber, deeply passionate and bluesy mood, one that goes all the way back in our collective memories for our storytelling. For guitar in 'A' minor, we get the essential chord shape passed on from the lute, thus ensuring that we guitarists today have a proper tie to all the way back.

Paired with its relative major 'C', and adapted / built right-in to our keyboards, musicians of every stripe know of these pitches. Learn them here if need be. Example of the 'A' natural minor scale.

diatonic relative major scale

chromatic scale of all 12 pitches

piano tuning / equal temperament

Modern piano tuning. Equal tempered tuning is a system of tuning whereby each of the 12 pitches are equal in cents, our measurement unit, within the octave, thereby rendering them equal to one another. They each measure 100 cents from one another thinking chromatic motion. As applied to a full piano keyboard, each key is a 1/2 step, so 100 cents above or below its next pitch. This equality is extended over an aural range of seven octaves.

So for guitar, each fret is a half step, so each pitch is 100 cents different from the one chromatically above or below it.

1 key / fret = 1 half step = 100 cents

Thus with all pitches being equal, all musical events are equally projectable from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. We can sound out any 'riff lick ditty', scale / arpeggio / chords, even transpose whole songs, from each of the 12 pitches as we choose. This creates the full palette of musical colors enjoyed by the modern pianist and guitarist.

This equal 12 pitch ability is what makes the guitar such an amazing jazz instrument. For just like a piano, guitars make scales, arpeggios and chords, in all keys in all positions on the fingerboard, give or take a fret or two. Anything from anywhere? Yep.

piano tuning method and its math

Math of piano tuning. Getting the strings of a piano up to tune is a snap these days. There are electronic tone generators that have the 'tuning 10th' pitches pitches to equal temper pitches, as presets. Cats push the buttons and twist the hammers. Once the 10th is done the rest of the pitches are found by octaves from thee core pitches, located a bit to the left of the the middle of the keyboard.

For many, the musical math that allows this process to happen is more than just fascinating, for the history associated with our tunings is woven in with the complete recorded history of our civilizations.

It goes sort of like this ...

The 12th root of 2 becomes the multiplier for finding the 12 pitches of our octave.

From the base pitch A, vibrating at 220 cycle per second ...

The pitch 'A 220' is multiplied by the 12th root of 2 (1.0594631) which then equals 233.081882 which is the frequency of 'Bb.'

Then we do the same math to find the pitch for 'B' natural. Let's do the math :)

Bb / 233.081882 x 1.0594631 = ##### / B

Same process to get the other pitches.

piano chord voicings

Piano voicings mostly follow the overtone series of natural sounds; we use wider intervals between the lower notes. So depending on where we are on the keyboard, we adjust our voicings as needed.

Equal tempered tuning is a system of tuning whereby each of the 12 pitches are equally distributed within the octave, thereby rendering them equal to one another. And as applied to a full piano keyboard, this equality is extended over an aural range of seven full octaves. Thus with an equal temper tuning, all musical events are equally projectable from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, thus creating the same full palette of musical colors enjoyed by the modern guitarist.

Picardy third

Using the major third in cadential motions in the minor tonality, usually found in the last chord of the piece.

wiki ~ Picardy third

pick up note

One or more notes or chords used as an intro into a melody, verse etc.

wiki ~ anacrusis


Musical name for a specific musical note or sound designated by letter or number. Examine the pitch locations on the guitar fingerboard, first octave of the six standard tuned strings.

chromatic pitches of piano keys

pivot chord

A term used to describe the chord used to move from one key center to another, most often a dominant type chord which contains one or more pitches of the key center that the music is modulating towards.


Plagel cadence. Originally from the Greeks, who used this term to describe a "mode within a mode", in modern times often referring to a chord cadencing with the tonic and subdominant chords, so One and Four.

"Proud Mary's" other hook, the rhythm one to close the chorus and form, is a pure, rockin' cadence that might be the hardest cadence in show biz to get pick up bands to play correctly. Written by John Fogarty and Co, thinking "A" = 440 and in 'D', for the Tina Turner arrangement that went top 10 in '71.

Rhythm guitar. Add the major barre chord for these roots to make up a chord / rhythm lick.

Author's note. Fogarty's arrangement with his band The Creedence Clearwater Revival is tuned down a half step and all but eliminates the 'G' chord, so not a pure solid gold plagel cadence.

wiki ~ plagal
wiki ~ Plagel modes
wiki ~ "Proud Mary"

plagal cadence

A gospel, bluesy even rocking harmonic cadential motion of the Four chord moving to a One chord, nothing in between. Know the song "Amazing Grace yet ?

Plagel strength gravities evolve into lots of options, eventually Four cab become Two, opening up the cycles of 4th's and even sleeker, more jazz motions for the brighter tempos :) Common Roman plagel loops.

~ I IV I / i iv i ~

~ V / IV / I ~

~ iv V IV V ~

"Amazing Grace"
Joey Fender "Amazing Grace"
wiki ~ "Amazing Grace"

plain chant

Plain chant; one melody line sung in unison by many voices in octaves, the Monks of Fontgombault Abbey, recreators of early plainchant style song with a bit of organ in the mix, simply extraordinary. Super super clear examples of modal, monophonic music, wonderful interval / ear training music to study.

wiki ~ Fontgombault_Abbeymonk music

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

wiki ~ Leonardo da Vinci

planing (plane - ing)

Describes moving one chord voicing by a consistent interval or pattern, i.e., half step, whole step / half step etc.


More of a slang term to describe when the groove and rhythm of a song is locked in among the players creating it, said to be in the 'pocket' or 'lock it in the pocket.'

Also, the pocket is commonly based on the 2 and 4 beats of the big four beat, and all sorts of coolness grooves often hang in the pocket of 2 and 4. Also a term bass players use with drummers when the two times are synced right up, thus in the pocket :)


Polyphony / polyphonic / polytonality. Two or more, independent melodic ideas played simultaneously, without chordal accompaniment. In Europe, this style of polyphonic composition was popular from earliest times to well into 1700's and for the most part, fully written out. Passing through many evolutions and cultural styles, polyphony gradually evolves into the homophonic style, one melody supported by chords, developed in the 1750's and evolving ever forward to today.

Polyphony is also old fashioned Baroque counterpoint, and can today provide us with methods of music 'construction' that can help shape our voice leading, find new puzzles for motivic development, as well as the recreation of historically correct 'period' music from bygone eras, as for a movie score or stage production. R. O. !

wiki ~ polyphony
wiki ~ Baroque music


Polyphony in Americana music. In Americana musics, our early music is mostly monophonic. One melody line that everyone sang together. But surely as folks sang along, often with a chanting quality and rhythm pulse, they improvised additional melodies that got wove into the main melody, as their own spirits moved them. Keeping the good improvised lines that came along, and adding them to the main melody, they became part of the rendition and arrangement of a song.

Passed along generationally by aural tradition, this improvised polyphony is part of the organic basis for our own gospel musics. Which along with the blues colors, are deep roots for the full spectrum of our Americana musics.

Our blues music is polyphonic to a fair degree. Multiple independent melody lines woven into song. Bass line, harp line, guitar line, vocal line = polyphonic music.

Today we know our gospel to be supported by powerful, mostly diatonic chords. But when first starting out here in America, voices carried the weight. R.O. !


Four voice polyphony. As we increase the number of melody lines in the weave, we'll lean towards having four 'voices.' So bass, tenor, alto and soprano. Like in a vocal choir? Yea, pretty much. And as the voices line up more and more vertically, as when sounding on the same beats in a measure ... we modernists will most likely begin to hear chords and their progressions as the music moves along. Add form to this mix and our homophonic style evolves; one clear melody supported by chords, various harmonies.

And even throughout Europe, and by the early 1700's, 'hearing' the chord changes in polyphony, some composers wanted chords under their fingers to compose, on a piano. Not only that, they wanted nice sounding chords through ...

... all 12 pitches and 12 relative keys.

Thus, the Euro rush was on to figure a way to tune up the pitches to create chords, and further, to build all this resource right into their keyboard instruments, with a key mechanism that plays a wide range of soft to loud dynamics. What changed?

Think there was a piano on the Mayflower ?


The layering of different rhythm patterns over a steady pulse of metered time. In our Americana musics, the 'big 4' creates the basis, we accent beats '2 and 4' to bring the swing, and over this basis 'layer' whatever rhythms we might imagine. Polyrhythms are also fully 'worked out', whereby everybody in the mix plays their written or rote memorized part as written or designed by the composer or leader of the band.


The simultaneous sounding or use of more than one key center in composition or performance.

In improvisation, generally associated with the stacking of major triads one atop another or moving different major triads over a pedal tone, temporarily disguising our sense of key center.


My term to describe the idea that in any of our musical styles, there are songs that lean towards pop music. Also often termed 'crossover', artists are simply taking the core elements of a style and adding pop style flourishes. One benefit of which might be acceptance of the song by a wider range of radio stations, thus more air play = more $. Top 10 melodies make nice paydays too :)

popular / pop music

Term used to describe melodies that every listener of American music might recognize and perhaps hum the tune from memory, also famous players and established musical styles. Each historical era has its pop tunes.

wiki ~ pop music


A portal can be viewed as a magical window of sorts that from its outward appearance gives no definitive hint of the true expansive coolness that lies beyond.


Usually for players of stringed instruments, position generally refers to the placement of the 1st finger (index) of the hand fretting the strings.

position shifting

Developing the ability to rapidly and accurately shift the index finger to the proper fret location, up and down the fingerboard.

post bop

Post bop. Here defined as a rather brief period in jazz history that follows after bebop, that mainly evolved bop's Two / Five cycling into a new cyclical harmonic pattern. Pioneered by John Coltrane, presented in his composition "Giant Steps", artists often refer to these cycles as "Coltrane changes." This harmony was the penultimate step of the evolution of Americana harmony into the 'free' jazz which was to follow in the early 60's.

wiki ~ bebop
wiki ~ Coltrane changes
wiki ~ free jazz

pour moi

French for "for me." Used throughout to try and minimize my writing mentor / learner dialogue in the first person.

wiki ~ French language

pour toi

French for "for you."

wiki ~ French language

power chords

As the name describes, chunks of harmony that can energize the music. Also, creating chords from the root / 5th interval and running them through distortion and overdrive filters to make the big roar, light the room up a bit. As the distortion got shreddier through the years, power chords do not need as many pitches.

power trio

A 'power' trio usually implies a mostly rock styled sound, a configuration of bass, drums and guitars. In The 60's; Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, later 70's Double Trouble and 80's Nirvana, are super powerful rock trios.

wiki ~ Cream band
wiki ~ Jimi Hendrix Experience
wiki ~ Double Trouble band
wiki ~ Nirvana band


My term to describe a concept that goes way back in the history of our evolutions.


prime numbers

A number that it only divisible by one and itself. Prime numbers helped to define purity in aural sound, pitch intervals and the tuning of the pitches over the millennia.

wiki ~ prime number

principle triads

The One, Four and Five triads / chords of the relative major and minor tonalities are the 'principle' triads of a key center.


Proper. Just totally having a bit of fun here ... when articulated in speech with a bit of high brow knowing, 'proper' is mostly about theory 'rules' of the road; the proper way a thing is or has been historically done. Most times this is about finding a diatonic source to find a solution, that is if there is one. We then add artistic license to this process, that allows and even encourages us to break any theory rules when the situation necessitates or the art demands.


Often used to describe music that we hear incidentally in public places, an elevator, the grocery store etc.

wiki ~ musak

pure legit theorists

The idea that there is a clearly historical and quantifiable evolution to our music theory of Western Civilization. Coupled with the idea that music outside of this tradition is not deemed serious. HA!

purity of sounds

Purity of sounds. Our whole system of music theory is based on the purity of sound, that the pitch combinations that sound most consonant when sounded together, are the foundation of our system of music theory. We build our Americana systems of combined AmerAfroEuroLatin elements on the pure octave interval, just like most of the music theory systems from around the globe historically have done.

the octave; 2:1 ratio / the higher pitch spins or vibrates twice as fast as the lower pitch, and when sounded together, we hear one pitch, so a '2 for 1' deal :)

Of course our ears initially decided this, and later on with the help of math, quantifiable quantifier, mathematics, which simply reinforced what our ears told us was true in the first place, as theorists we measure and assign a numerical value to this purity, based on the degree of complexity of the numerical ratios that create the intervals of our music. 200

purple / seeing the purple ... or turning the book purple ... or turning purple :)

Links already clicked and visited turn purple color. Learners here joke about ... 'ah ... seeing the purple huh ... ?' Or even, 'turning purple huh ... ? Just as a colorful way to say hey ...

'u b a gettin' after this learnin' :)


The ancient Greek scholar who is credited with organizing and recording in written form the core principles of the music theory of our pitches as we know them today, circa 500 BC or so. (Grout, p.5)

wiki ~ Pythagoras

Pythagorean comma

The error in pitch, slightly sharp, found when closing the last of the 12 pitches of the cycle of fifth's, when each fifth has been created by using the ratio of 3:2, in creating the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. This 'error' or comma is corrected by the equal temper tuning method, adopted in European music 2000 years later. Yea, some fixes just take time.

wiki ~ Pythagorean comma

Pythagorean tuning

A system of tuning whereby all of the pitches are created by using the interval of a perfect fifth, the ratio of 3:2.

quarter note

Rhythmic designation of one beat in 4 / 4 time. The rhythmic note value of a 'walking' bass line.

quartile / melody and harmony

Refers to melodic motion and chordal harmony created with intervals of the perfect fourth. Distinct from our tertian building of chords of major and minor 3rd's, quartile chords stack fourths; both the diatonic fourths within a key center and straight perfect fourths.

As our most common arpeggios and harmony are built in thirds, termed tertian harmony, quartile sounds are fresh. And we do combine the two; various triads in thirds supporting stacked fourths as color tones.


Generally means to play part of the melody of one song in another.

~ the radio dial airtime over the airwaves and ... the top 40 hits ~

"When wireless radio is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into one huge brain."
wiki ~ Nickola Tesla


A New Orleans style of music from the 1880's forward, whereby musicians who would normally read their music at work, now played songs by ear. They mixed in the blues, and added together as many single line horn players as the club could afford. Everyone improvised the melody of the song together, jazzing it up as they went right along.


Describes the available pitches, from the lowest to the highest pitches, on any given instrument.


A numerical depiction that describes quantities relative to each other i.e., 2:1 octave, 3:2 perfect 5th etc., proportion.

wiki ~ interval music


Realization. This term originally refers to the thorough bass of the Baroque keyboard cats around the 17th century. As the music evolved on the then newly emerging keyboard instruments, the music was written in such a way as to use numbers underneath the staff / bass pitch that the player would 'realize' in creating the pitches of the chord that went above the bass note.

These numbers being representative of the intervals of pitches above the root to create a 'realization' of the chords.

Here in this Essentials text of Americana leaning music theory, the term generally applies to music created from symbols; lettered or numbered or combinations of, for example, what we think and actually play, our realization in musical sounds, when we see a G7 or V7 chord symbol.

real book

Collection of published songs, also called "fake" books, usually written out as a lead sheet, so just melody, pitches and rhythms and lettered chord symbols, which are placed on top of the melody notes in support the melody line as it moves along.
wiki ~ real book

wiki ~ publish

pristine cover for Real Book Vol. 1

wiki ~ real book

RO ! / read on

Here in Essentials, 'read on = right on !'

real time

Real time. Refers to 'as it is happening' while making music, the boom boom boom as the beat goes on, real time is time we've conjured up out of thin air by simply snapping our fingers and counting it off, and through the energies of our creative and physical efforts, are keeping the time going, and in doing so encourage everyone to join in and merrily move and dance along with us in the 'real time' we're generating.

As players, we can watch the dancers, listeners and all, and see this magic transfer of time in action, as cool as it might ever get while building our local and global communities with music in real time :)


Refers to the pitch range of a particular instrument. Also register.

wiki ~ register music


Working out a new set of chord changes for a melody.

the relative major / minor scale

Today's relative major and minor group are the now ancient Ionian and Aeolian modes. It's the common theory label for the essential diatonic seven pitches.

These scales are 'relatives' in that the same group of letter name pitches neatly creates both, and these two groups are by far and away, our two main compositional scales, the major and natural minor, for near all the songs in our songbooks.


'C' relative major: C D E F B A B C


'A' relative minor: A B C D E F G A



and do R.O. !

relative minor

The minor tonality balance as found within the diatonic major scale, sharing identical key signatures thus pitches, see just above.

remote key center

Modulating to a key center that is at least a couple of clicks away from our start point. Like when modulating from 'C' major to 'E major', we need to add four sharps '#'s to our pitches.


A startlingly beautiful period of 'rebirth' for the arts in European history between the years 1400 or so and 1650 C.E., the start of the Baroque period.

wiki ~ Renaissance
wiki ~ Baroque

repeat sign

Staff notation marking at the end of a measure that repeats us back to to a former point in the music.


To release musical tension.


Implies a reverse or backward motion.

rhythm changes

A set of stock chord changes in a 32 bar form used for writing tunes such as the 1930 Gershwin hit "I Got Rhythm', which became the 'namesake template' for all that followed.

This next chord chart is for a way less common today, and older, form than the Gershwin changes mentioned above. These rhythm changes are in 'D' minor, and are more turn of the century style, so 1900's. Songs such as "Sweet Georgia Brown", written in 1925, picked right up on this early vibe, chord progression and bass line story.

rhythm loops

These are a really big thing nowadays, as folks generally just call them 'beats.' There's advertisements for cats who'll create beats for your raps. Rhythm loops form the rhythm motor for the contemporary hip hop and rap music. Explore 'vamps and jams', which combine rhythm loops with a bass line story and chord progression.


Slang for soloing, to take a ride, to improvise musical dialogue in real time.

ride time

Slang for the amount of time a player gets to solo / improvise within a performing group, often defined by the number of choruses a soloist will take.


Slang for a short musical phrase.


Our 'rig' is whatever it takes to produce the musical sounds we're hearing. So for us guitar players, everything from say a beater nylon string acoustic to a synth guitar setup that, through a p.a., can sound like string sections and pipe organs.

Pro players often end up with a lot of gear as they get hired to cover and create the myriad of different guitar sounds in our musical fabric of today. The 'rig' becomes the gear they take to the gig to get the sound they hired on for. Thus the oft included caveat in the musical want ads of having ... 'pro gear and wheels.' The cat has the means to make the sounds and the wherewithal to get it there too :)

Also 'rig' is AK for auto wheels, ride, 'Subie' or the 'boobaroo' etc., "from the crib, in the rig, to the gig ... " :)


Slowing down the pace of the music for dramatic effect, often found at the end of performing a song.

right on it

Slang for starting a song directly with the melody, i.e., no introduction.


( between a ) rock and a hard place

Just an old cliche used here to describe some of the intellectual rub struggled with in discussing the theory and the music while not trying to ding anyone, all in regards to what is most important artistically to them :)

Rock - a - billy

Rockabilly music combines hillbilly and country stories, sounds and cliches with a rock beat, songs are usually in 12 bar blues or a 16 bar A / B form. While rock beats usually hit on one, rockabilly has a more jazzy swing beat to it that adds to the challenge to of making it work.

Easy fix ? find a solid rock-a-billy tune U love and learn its magic right off the record. makes this genre challenging to play. Big time dance music, rockabilly fills most any dance floor on a Saturday night.

wiki ~ Wanda Jackson


Rocketship. This is just a reference to a humorous, fictional story that composer and theory wizard Dr. George Russell cooked up in his modern musical treatise titled the Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization. Mr. Russell writes an endearing story describing Americana tenor saxophone heros as they modulate key centers of music, which in his story are towns along the Mississippi River.

In this narrative, Mr. Russell uses a steamer, running the local route that stops at each town. There's also an express steamer that stops only at the large towns along the river.

Then the story adds a rocket ship, that visits every town, small and large, and once picking up the town's key center pitches, can ascend to limitless, melodic heights before rocketing off to the next town along the way.

Russell's work was a sure fit piece of the puzzle for my early work in developing my own #15 system of pitches for composing and improvisation.

wiki ~ George Russell / composer
wiki ~ Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Org.
wiki ~ Coleman Hawkins
wiki ~ Lester Young

sharp (#) 15

composing / improv


Pun always intended, Rodney is a fictional planet invented wayback when we we're kids. In later years we used it to describe 'outside' musical sounds, music created a valence or two beyond the diatonic sphere of usual things.

Most celebrated comedic cat from the planet Rodney? Rodney Dangerfield :)

wiki ~ Rodney Dangerfield


Term used to describe a definite picking pattern and rhythm lick on a stringed instrument, often associated with the banjo, i.e., a banjo roll, perhaps the earliest of the popular American stringed instruments, also a series of drum strokes as in a 'press roll.'

Roman numerals

Roman numerals / harmonic analysis. Symbols used by theorists to denote a particular chord's location within a key center, based on the scale degrees of the tonic scale, in a major key, upper case ( I IV V ) denoting the three major triads, lower case ( ii iii vi vii ), the minor colors, we can also apply sharps (#) and flats (b) to the spaces between the diatonic positions, such as for bII, #iii, etc. Working over Bach's magic with the Roman numbers.

In an advanced harmonic perspective, these Roman numeral symbols are paired with the idea of chord type, which create categories of chords based on the quality of their 3rd and 7th, major or minor, that can streamline the theory, its learning process and application in jazz progressions and Two / Five / One.


The root pitch of a chord is the letter name that identifies any chord. The term is mostly used to identify the fundamental pitch of a chord, used in naming the chord, i.e., C is the root pitch of a C major chord, C minor, C7 etc. We'll also generally apply the term to the tonic pitch or One of any scale, arpeggio or key center etc. R.O. !

root motion

Term used to describe the fundamental pitches of chord progressions. R.O. !

root to root (think)

In improvising melodies, one approach is to simply think and play from root note to root note of each song's chords and progression. The goal of this approach helps us to be able to hear 'the chord changes in the improvised melody line.'

Filling in between root notes we've lots of choices; we can choose from pitches of key center the chords are related to, apply a chord's parent scale, arpeggiate or 'spell' the pitches of the chord, or a combination of the above and more. These following ideas play from 'root to root' by various means. Letter chord symbols provide the bass line story, work these out by ear.

I to V

One to Five

C to G

V to I

Five to One

G to C

I to IV

One to Four

G to C

i to iv

One to Four minor

A- / D-

I 7 to IV 7

One to Four blues

A7 / D7

ii-7 V7 I

Two Five One

A-D7 / G

iii vi ii V I

One Six Two Five One

G / E- / A- D7 / G

ii-7 V7b9


A-7 / D7b9 / G

root position

Simply a chord whose identifying pitch is the root or lowest pitch of the chord. From this point we create a further variety with chord inversions. Dr. Miller would always say to us ... 'if you think from the root of the chord ol' boy you'll never get lost.'

... In describing the self education of a 10 year old Abraham Lincoln;

"He must understand everything, even the smallest thing, minutely and exactly', she remembered, "he would then repeat it to himself over and over again, some times in one form and then in another and when it was fixed in his mind to suit him, he never lost the fact or the understanding of it." ~

wiki ~ Sarah Bush Lincoln

rote learning

by rote


bi nunchi

nunchi learning

Rote learning. This now ancient learning method is based on repetition to memorize, the 'over and over', to know it by heart, so that the information rote learned is ready for instant recall. Called rote learning, learning by rote, we rote learn the basics as kids by speaking out the words, letters, numbers or writing them down, over and over and over and over till we got the info down pat, know it cold, forevermore, till our noodles begin to fade.

First thing we rote learned from our folks ? Symbols most likely. Letters 'A through Z.' Numbers 1 through 10. How fast can U say your alphabet ? Numbers ? Even when going backwards ... Blaze it right ?

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z !!!

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 blast off !


Cool, we theorists can call that level of quickness of thought ... to 'super rote' learn a series of symbols. There's a few of these for music we want to 'rote up' on and learn solido. And when the music starts cookin' ... we'll be sure glad we did :)

Rote learning musical passages. A most valuable way to learn musical passages, in rote learning, we often take apart a 'thing' to its basic parts, down to one note if we have to. We learn each part and then knit them back together, and smooth things out with the clicks of a metronome. Starting slowly, we master the lick, then bring it back on up to our chosen tempo.

The symbols we rote learn. In addition to notation symbols, our music theory symbols include the alphabet letters 'A through G' and both Arabic and Roman number symbols. With these symbols we get to numerically systematize our entire theory studies through 12 keys and identify and combined, accurately identify our harmony within a diatonic key center. All combined often look like this.

And once we write down the info to learn, seems to be way easier to speak out loud. With rote, we verbalize, and simply repeat the process as many times as necessary to retain the info. Remember learning your alphabet ? Same way, same results :)

Along the way we label up the component parts. They're just handier with a name. We rote memorize the names as words and create discussions of their places in understanding our music.

A suggestion; whatever it is in your music studies to be rote learned; spelling scales, arpeggios or chords, run it a couple of times a day for a couple of days. That should do the trick. Keep going if needed. If there's a way to write down the material, that should help also. Maybe while waiting for a friend for lunch find some scrap paper and a pen and write out the sequences. Just stick to it and it will happen. Stay hungry.

Learning by rote can also entail finding different ways to get to the same solution, by using other perspectives of the components. For example the number of minor or minor key centers and the number of pitches in the chromatic scale. These 'cross' links simply helps solidify the info.

We often create these new solutions of rote learning components when we intuitively present and phrase ideas in such as a way, as to tie into an interested learner's existing information. A true bingo moment for all..

Learning things by rote is the old fashioned way from another era really, and once the dues are paid in the learning, we usually get to keep it all forever. Here in theoryville, there's at least five things to rote learn, which when combined together create an intellectual architecture of the musical arts Americana to build upon forevermore. There's just not that much really.

Rote learning can scoot right along. How fast can you say ...

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 or ...

C D E F G A B C ... or

C E G B D F A ... even ?

Blaze the first two ? See, learning by rote encourages us to rocket through the loops of pitches. This we transfer to our instruments and you'll be amazed at the results.

And that if we learn more from making mistakes, 're-learning' whatever then just goes quicker and quicker. That's what rote learning brings; knowing essential stuff cold and bring it in a jiffy !

rote master

Rote master. The crash course for the theory becomes simply a rote memorization of three things. The trick to success is also in three parts; to rote learn their symbols, their sound and location on a musical instrument.

1) Letter symbols for musical notes located on your fretboard. There are 12 to rote know.

2) Letter and numeric symbols for chords. Example for C major.


3) American big four time. One rhythm symbol of a quarter note and a counting loop of measures to four, or beyond to 8, 12, 16, 32.

'1234 2234 3234 4234'

"Never-ending, but boredom doesn't faze me."

Lily Gold ~ NYC 2020

super rote master

Slang for rote learning, see above, but taken to lightning speeds as applied to our chosen instruments. So now we've the two challenges combined; mental and physical.

And repeating back, fast. Say your own letters / alphabet fast as you can. Now try this sequence of letters, fast as you can.

C E G B D F# A

Know what these letters can represent ? Cool. No ? Learn it here if need be and now do realize that there's only seven letters to rote up. Instead of the usual 26 or so :) Once we understand why the go this way, a new universe can open for those so inspired.

So super rote master can turn into supreme artistic expression, through the discipline of self and diligent studies over decades.

our master bookends
those so inspired
7 + 5 = 12


From Italian generally meaning to 'rob', rubato is the displacement of musical time within a given tempo to accommodate interpretive phrasing. Commonly found in the last few measures of the performance of a song and is often conducted through gesture by the leader of the group.

wiki ~ tempo rubato

running the changes

Slang term for executing a musical idea through various sorts of filters, sequences, chord changes i.e., 'running the changes', a term used to describe creating single note melodic line through the chord changes of a song, often a warmup for advancing improvisors.


'To rush', playing faster than the tempo being employed, accelerating the existing tempo, generally not a good thing as rushing goofs up the time of the other cats in the group, makes it harder for everyone.


Sacrifice. Or pay some dues and play the blues ... actually the term sacrifice here is about purity of pitch and how when we equal temper tune our pitches to enable the anything from anywhere, some would say we sacrifice the natural beauty of the intervals, especially the thirds; major and minor, to achieve this 12 tone ability. This simple argument raged in Europe during the 1600's and forward as the sciences, which creates equal temper tuning, were debated as part of the everyday and spiritual life of Europeans of the day.


Latin flavored dance groove, super popular for the jazzers from the early 80's onward, became the staple of the 'new age' jazz, often with a 'two beat' pulse, or said to be 'in two', as happening a groove as there ever was, as advanced players in this style can make the barlines simply go away.
wiki ~ samba


The groups of selected pitches from which we create our melodic and harmonic ideas.

R. O. !

scale degree

Putting a numerical label on pitches within a scale in relation to a tonic pitch. For example, examine the scale degrees as paired up with the 'C' major scale.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


As our most notey scale is the chromatic scale, with all 12 pitches, we could say that the chromatic has 12 scale degrees. And that's our numerical limit here. Mostly its one through eight, giving us the octave closure theory of a modern theorist / theorist. Further, arpeggio degree numbers run one through 15, and that's it :)

In this UYM / Essential's work we always capitalize the letter ('C') of a letter name pitch when used with a written number to designate its scale degree. R.O. !

scale degree theory names

Each of our diatonic scale degrees of the major / relative minor groupings have academic theory names. The following table created from the Ottman book cited here.

Ottman, Robert. Elementary Harmony, Second Edition, p.5. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

scale degree
major key
scale degree
minor key
leading tone
raised submediant
leading tone

#6 / #7 imply raising the diatonic minor pitch by half step

scale formula (s)

A term we use to describe the intervals, of mostly whole steps and half steps, used to create our groups of pitches from which we create our melodic ideas. In the formulas, intervals are designated by the fraction 1/2 for a half step or one fret or the number 1 for a whole step of two frets, wider intervals are designated by their intervals from the root pitch of the scale under consideration. The following chart lists our diatonic and generally most common melodic groupings / scales and their interval formulas.

Ionian mode / diatonic major scale / I


Dorian / ii


Phyrgian / iii


Locrian / IV


Mixolydian / V


Aeolian / diatonic natural minor scale / vi


Locrian / vii


Moving beyond the diatonic and getting into some of the ancient as well as modern possibilities.

harmonic minor
1 / 2
melodic minor
augmented ~ whole tone
diminished ~ minor 3rd
altered dominant / combines the diminished and whole tone qualities
Klezmer/ fifth mode of harmonic minor

Author's note. Probably just pure lazy here but there's no Essentials 'major blues scale.' For in my own playing it just creates confusion and those 'bad pitches' (in relation to the chord changes) that more easily occur when I play too many notes ! :) Google up the major blues scale at some point and see if there is anything there for you.

scale syllabus

A listing of our melodic resources, here from the root pitch 'C.'

wiki ~ syllabus
C pentatonic major scale
C six note major / no leading tone
C diatonic major scale
C Ionian
C Dorian
C Phrygian
C Lydian
C Mixolydian
C Aeolian
C Locrian
C whole tone scale
C pentatonic minor scale
C minor blues
C natural minor
C harmonic minor
C melodic minor
C diminished
C altered
C Klezmer minor
C chromatic scale
C chromatic scale

scale length

A stringed instrument's scale length is the distance from the nut; usually a bone or plastic type string guide located at the base of the headstock, to the bridge; usually located below where the strumming or picking hand works its magic. We use an instrument's scale length to determine the placement of its frets. Most common lengths today are between 24" and 25 1/2" for regular six string guitars.


Simply a slang term for the vocalization of our musical phrases. According to legend, coined as 'scat' or poop from big cats or bears even, was sparked into pop originally by Louis 'Pops' Armstrong, also that many jazz singers scat sing improvised musical lines in the tradition of the horns, guitar etc. Some artists scat sing and play their guitar lines together, George Benson is a master of this approach.

"Sing the line ... play the line." Heard this many time over the years from top artists. The idea simply to internalize the musical phrase by singing it and then find it on our gits. Also, a proven way to help your guitar lines to swing is by getting your scat vocal lines to swing. Sing and swing gets ya to swing while play-ing, right quick :)

wiki ~ Louis Armstrong
wiki ~ George Benson


Term used to describe music that is written out in standard notation. Thanks to our Americana slang there's a wide range of possibilities here although 'score' usually means something of fairly official looking paper document; from a printed book, music publisher, a conductor's 'score' which would have all of the parts of the band etc.

~ searching ... for the missing pieces of our puzzles ~

Searching for new challenges. When first starting musical school, there was this idea out in the ether of 'searching.' To search to find out about the ideas through personal curiosity, and figure out how to 'fit' each new idea into existing knowledge.

As artists and really creative folks in general, we can all run out of ideas from time to time. We become bored with our own art and need to jazz them up, re-energize, often through discovery.

What if ? And with mastering each new discovery, the search begins anew, and easily becomes a lifelong, intellectual evolution based on our mind's innate abilities to deconstruct and reconstruct existing elements, into a new coolness of challenge, and expression.

Coupled with ancient memories stored in there somewhere, and the drive and passion of our own spirit today, we glow brighter through our diligence and commitment to our studies, and through sharing our art in communities of sentient beings, evolve.

~ searching for that 'something' new to relieve the tedium of it all and lift spirits anew ~

Search continues. The idea that an artist will, over the course of their careers, continue to search and examine, revisit their work, and their existing resources, and search to find new combinations of existing elements, or create or discover new ones along the way, this is a common theme through the biographies of masters, in all of the fine arts we love.

new combinations
~ searching for that 'something' new to relieve the tedium of it all and lift spirits anew ~

Master searcher. Jazz artist John Coltrane's career long search provides the theory DNA backbone of the studies of Americana jazz improvisation and harmony in this text. As theorists we can piece together a logical pathway of a gradually increasing complexity, through understanding the theoretical evolutions that are written into his original compositions.

Spanning about two decades, this study of Coltrane's evolution through his searching, illuminates an evolution of the resources from pure diatonic inside to the far reaches of out. For aspiring jazz artists, this is a BA level curriculum to conquer, basing further masters level and PhD searches.

second ending

The idea of a second ending in our musics is a way to extend our musical forms and a handy way to notate music, long before 'cut and paste' was a couple of mouse clicks. Here's an example from the author's own ballad, "Good Bye Again", of the 1st and 2nd endings, with common bracketing notation used in written music. There's no sound file for this music here but the full score is included a click away. First ending with repeat sign back to the top, then take the second ending into the bridge.

second inversion

A chord voicing where the lowest pitch of the chord voicing is fifth chord degree of the triad, i.e., C / G.

Root position triad = C E G

First inversion = E G C

Second inversion = G C E etc.

secondary dominant chord

Secondary dominant chords, Five of Five. Upon Five we build the dominant, so any 'Five of Five' is finding the Five chord of a Five chord :) Thinking diatonically, creating a dominant chordal color on a scale degree other than Five in the major tonality, also when one dominant chord precedes another, i.e., D7 to G7 etc. Often termed as a 'Five of Five, it is quite common in all of our styles. Probably the most common diatonic alteration we can find through our wide spectrum of styles.

Back in the day, when the Sears Roebuck catalogue was the mail order king, composers and players coined the phrase of a 'Sears Roebuck' bridge. Dr. Miller used it in class many times, for it is very common to use these chords in 'rhythm changes.'

Most often we'll find this 'Sears' cycle of dominant chords moving by perfect fourth. For example for a tune written in Bb, the 'Sears' eight bar bridge of the chords such as D7 / G7 / C7 / F7 is common. For this motion by fourths ends with the V7 of our tonic key, yippee !

We theorists would muse that this series of chords is 'V7 of V7 of V7 ... etc. Cycles of dominant chords, that when applied intensively enough, can lead to the more modern sounds described here as a sort of chromatic blurring in the music (no real sense of key center), which at accelerated tempos, is just a marvel to behold.

Segovia, Andres

Segovia, Andres. Segovia is among the elite of the elite in classical guitar. A fan of Bach, his collection of transcriptions set a standard for learning through concert performance.

This diatonic major and minor scale study book by Segovia, all of eight pages or so, is based in 'G' major, and connects us right back through guitar history to the Euro cats of the 1800's. Know that big pieces of the five scale shapes for jazz guitar, that center the curriculum of this work, are found in this classical study. In jazz, we need everything under our fingers, in really any spot on the neck, over the full range of the instrument.

Segovia pictured in his 30's, and do note the chord, the ancient shape appears again :)


segue (segway)

A compositional component that is used to smoothly connect sections within arrangements or one song with another, creating a continuous flow of the music.


An ordered series of events.

serialist / 12 tone

Serialism / 12 tone. A method of musical composition whereby the parent scale for composing includes all of the 12 pitches, often also termed 12 tone composition. This is a distinctly modern evolution from our traditional diatonic centered, compositional methods using its seven pitches.

While by near any measure, diatonically based composition has created all our musics over the last couple of hundred generations, yet serialism, 12 tone and additional new ways forward, will be discovered and explored and create interesting art for those so inclined.


In math and music, a set of elements is a way to define the limits of its components. For we music theory scientists, our whole tamale 'set' is the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. And from this 'set of 12' we then 'group' up our variously numbered musical components; pentatonic, diatonic, blues and modal scales, the blue notes, triads and color tones etc.

set list

The list of songs, usually in order, that a band is to perform. Organizes a program for performance. Helps in organizing a variety of musical styles into one show.


The 7th = the 7th. Or the # of days in the week ? Or the # of pitches in the ancient diatonic scale? Right, 7. # of pitches in the modes? Seven. # of pitches in the relative major / natural minor scale? Seven.

The number of diatonic triads in a key center? Yep, 7. The leading tone 'traffic cop' pitch is on Seven yes? Sure is, so the age old natural magics of all things seven includes much in our music and its theories.

(a) seventh chord

Slangy, generally implies a chord containing a triad and seventh chord degree; to major, dominant, minor, augmented or diminished triads.

shake loose

Inspired here by KB, 'shake loose' is simply an Alaskan slang term that describes just starting on something and see what happens, so in music, what might come to mind as we shed through our chosen music because we're theory empowered to understand its theoretical basis. As we pan through the library of songs and learn the gems, chances are each one will bring us a new lick or two, pure cool that once under our fingers, becomes part of our own vocabualry.

wiki ~ Shakespeare

The bard of the ages Shakespeare himself often wrote in a form of verse called iambic pentameter, meaning 'five pairs of two feet', which each are two words, one accented one not, creating a phrase that simply includes an unaccented and accented pulse on each alternating word ... hmm ... and if this sounds to you like some Americana 8th notes in a phrase, cool. Because it is. Counted verbally like this in 4/4 time, accent in bold type;

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & / 1 & ... 2 3 4 / repeat

Now adding some lyrics lifted from the bard himself ... well sort of, and 3x's through makes us a 12 bar blues :) (there's a hook).

'to be or not to be is how we roll ... 2 3 4'

'to be or not to be is how we roll ... 2 3 4'

'to be or not to be is how we roll ... 2 3 4'

Blues lyrics often follow this form of verse. Here's another to cogitate ...

' ... The truth is ...

' ... Ya just don't love me no more ... '


wiki ~ Shakespeare
wiki ~ iambic pentameter
"The Truth Is"
wiki ~ Dizzy Gillespie

"The more upbeats in the music you have the more it swings."

wiki ~ Dizzy Gillespie


In this text, a slang term used to describe a set scale shape or chord voicing as created on a guitar or other chordal stringed instruments. Set shapes, frozen in their form, provide a visual and physical pattern of the pitches for generating ideas. Some go all the way back in history and right up to our present. Got this one under ur fingers ?

Learn it here if need be, all sorts of coolness in this one. Movable too ! Blues leaning towards jazz it up ? Recognize this fully diminished 7th chord shape ?

And from a shape we can get a 'scale arpeggio chord lick riff ditty hook.'


In tuning, to create a sound slightly above the desired pitch. In notation, the # symbol to raise the written pitch by half step. These 'sharps' are nearly always one of the black keys on the piano keyboard.


Slang for practicing; pushing the buttons, to shed, in the woodshed, the chop shop etc.

sheets of sound

Originally a way of describing in words the the physical effect upon the listener created by hearing rapidly articulated arpeggios of chord substitutions and permutations while moving through the chord changes of a song, as first imagined and articulated by John Coltrane during the mid 1950's. Pictured here are T. Monk and J. Coltrane circa 1950's.

wiki ~ sheets of sound
wiki ~ 1950's in jazz
~ V7b9 theory ~

"Shine A Light"

Film documentary of a live NYC concert of the rock group The Rolling Stones & Friends.


wiki ~ "Shine A Light"

shout chorus

Usually the last chorus of a song being performed whereby all of the players involved turn the passion of their part up a notch or two, i.e., to shout. Common in the blues and Dixieland styles.


Slang for the sound of tearing up steel, associated with the various types of overdrive / distortion sounds for guitar.



Slang for a blues groove usually in 12 / 8, 12 beats per measure, 1/8th note gets the beat, using a triplet feel to motor the basic groove. Old as the hills, count this as;

123 456 / 123 456 etc.


Sideman, industry slang for accompanying member of a musical group.


Reading standard music notation.

silent architecture

Author's term that describes the structural theory that underlies all of our musics, the theory we don't hear, 'the silent' part that 'architects / builds' our art, also the historical and physiological basics of our foundation, the pitch organization and functionality of the Pythagorean cycle of 5th's, filtered through equal temper tuning, which is a basis for creating our musics today.

simple intervals

Those intervals found within the span of one octave.

# of frets
common symbols
perfect unison
minor second
one half step
one fret
major 7th
major second
one whole step
two frets
minor 7th
maj 2 / ii
minor third
three half steps
three frets
major 6th
b3 / -3 / min 3
major third
two whole steps
four frets
minor 6th
3 / iii
perfect fourth
five half steps
five frets
perfect 5th
per. 4 / IV
augmented fourth
three whole steps
six frets
diminished 5th
diminished fifth
six half steps
six frets
augmented 4th
perfect fifth
seven half step
seven frets
perfect 4th
per. 5 / V
augmented fifth
four whole steps
eight frets
augmented 4th
minor sixth
eight half steps
eight frets
major 3rd
b6 / -6 / min 6
major sixth
9 half steps
nine frets
minor 3rd
6 / vi
minor seventh
5 whole steps
ten frets
major 2nd
b7 / -7 / min 7
major 7th
11 half steps
11 frets
minor 2nd
maj 7 / vii
six whole steps
12 frets
8 / VIII


A theory term in this work that correlates the complexity of a component to the number of pitches it contains. For example; the more pitches in one chord, the more complex 'in theory' that chord is said to be.


Slang for working a gig as a solo performer.

Also one song released on its very own.

single note lines

A fancy term to describe melody lines created by individual pitches, usually 1/8th notes, all strung together, as with a trumpet, saxophone, flute etc. We use this term with guitar also to delineate single note lines from chord melody and octave styled lines.

sitting in

Bringing your instrument to a musical performance or jamm session and playing with the band that's there. Historically, where so much 'new' happens as artists collaborate together in the spirit of Americana musics, often for the first time. Make new friends, form a band, join new bands forming, join the house band, new songs emerge, new styles evolve.

Having something prepared that the band knows is usually the easiest way to begin. Pick and master a classic song in the style U love, one that everybody knows. All we might ever need to know about music we can learn at a jam session :)

Americana musics
songs everybody knows


Sleeker / velocity. In most of our human activities, going faster brings excitement. In our Americana musics, same applies. And to go faster? We go sleeker, slimming down the spaces between elements, to create a 'sheeting' effect overall.

In blues based styles, as song tempos are danceable, sleeker and velocity often pair with timing, the 'just when the notes are sounded' as the groove moves along. Now artists can prepare and hold till the very last possible moment, as a bar line approaches, then drop in 11 pitches to knock some socks off. Of course there's the chop monsters too, speed pickers and hammer on'ers with fret fingers that blur. A pure magic to behold as the sparks fly and our hair stands on up.

And in the jazz styles, song tempos will often exceed the dancer's most beloved pockets, as velocity now brings aural excitement, with only the bravest of the brave on the dance floor. That velocity of tempo also plays huge in our jazz history evolutions, sleeker leads the way here, sleeker is faster.

For just like the 'fastest ____ in the ____', in anything really, in jazz, velocity is especially challenging as there's the added bonus of soloing 'through the changes.' That historical art discipline still needing to be met. And as tempos pick up, so does the intellectual challenge.

For the jazz leaning artist, this 'velocity of thought' in making their music, is just part of the fun. To think a bit ahead in time that is whizzing right on by, and hear the harmony clearly in single note melodic line, that is the task, the challenge we want to meet that empowers our art. Soloing right on through fast moving changes.

Today, these are often termed 'bop' styled influenced lines, thus remembering history's pinnacle of this art, the bebop of the 1940's. In bop, we also find the basis of our ideas of 'forward motion' in musical time.

The relationships between 'a half time feel' and super fast tempos and how these lines arc to end on one, the downbeat of each new, successive four bar phrase, or longer for stronger players.

In this tempo pairing and shifting we can look all the way back to Bach and forward to Coltrane. Our two master maestros who bookend our studies, and create the pathways within this book for us to better understand our own Americana musics.

Making the music sleeker. This generally has to do with tightening up the spaces between the pitches, thus we're thinking more by half step intervals, i.e., chromatic? Exactly.

Subbing Two for Four is probably 'the true sleekerizer' that changes a lot of the game. The Two / Five / One cadential motion is just way sleeker than Four / Five / One. This is a bit of a line in the sand style wise, so we be careful here. While motion to Four is still the usual goal in songs, and is the core core core of our gospel in Americana, we'll jazz it up to get there in sleeker fashion, often using a Two chord.

Passing diminished chords on #One, #Two and #Four will also fill in between the steps of the diatonic scale in major, accelerating the groove. Add #Five diminished fora sleeker motion in minor keys, ( #Five / vii). All of these half step ideas will up the pace, and accelerate the sense of motion to arrival points in our the musics.

sleeker = faster


Slides, glissando, open 'E', 'G' tunings. Creating a smooth motion between different pitches, also usually a glass or metal bar device used by guitar players on the strings to achieve this effect, a favorite of blues players.

Chops wise about learning to use a pick, starting with all downstrokes can help to initially focus the motor hand. And in the old days before electricity, using a pick amplified the acoustic guitars like way way awesome :)

Once ya got the pick motion going down, then get it going up too, so a down up ~ down up motion. With a beat going, when the foot goes down for downbeat, the pick goes down. Foot comes up on offbeat ... ? Then pick flows up :)

Cats call this alternate picking and it fuels our 1/8th notes. Once arrived to alternate picking, the shedding begins anew and there's lots of new options and potential coolness.

Slides. A trick to slide playing is to find your way to 'dampen' the strings behind it. So, slipping a slide over the ring or pinky fingers is common. This free's up index and middle to dampen strings behind it. While fairly easy to find a comfortable way way to hold a slide and rub it on the strings, it'll take a while to get the whole process into your bones, just be patient and it'll happen.

This pic is of author's slide. It is a rather heavy piece of glass. Slides can be made of anything that will slide along on the strings and let em' ring out; glass, ceramic, metals, all are common.

Open 'E' tuning / E B E G# B E. Open 'E' slide is thought to be easier than the older open 'G' in that it's easier to find your way with the rest of the guitar players the band, who are usually in standard tuning, the 'E A D G B E' way. This puts the slide in open 'E' at the same frets as standard tuning. As most artists do both, it can just be an easier way to thing about it.

Open 'G' tuning. Open 'G' for guitar is a carry over from the banjo tunings from wayback early Americana. Early blues styles in open 'G' on guitar sound like this.

So if this is the sound your looking for, tune up into open 'G' and find your way.

Jake Matson music used by permission, 2020.

wiki ~ glissando
wiki ~ slide guitar

snare drum

Snare drum. The historical center drum of modern drumming; for parades, marching, drum core bands, set players and everything else really. There's a whole schooling of rudiments for the snare drum, that build technique and chops for performance.

In our Americana musics over the last 50 years or so, in nearly everything that's on popular radio, there's a snare hit on 2 and 4. Everything? Crank the tunes and spin the dial and you'll believe :)

In jazz drumming, Art Blakey, rest his soul, is renowned for his 'pressed rolls' on the snare drum. Such a masterful way to create the sense of forward motion and excitement for what is to come next in the music. There's a giant stack of vinyl that the Jazz Messengers and Mr. Blakey laid down, find some and marvel at their magic of time.

wiki~ drum rudiment
wiki ~ snare drum
wiki ~ Art Blakey

softening / softer

Softening of the colors. The author's slang for the gradual obscuring of a musical color and thus its tonal direction, mostly achieved by the addition of various color tones.

In a visualization of this, view the fine art paintings from the Impressionist era of the 1850's and forward. For those who need to dig deeper, just explore the evolution of fine art paintings from 1800 to 1900 with an eye towards the colors and the representation of the subject matter in the picture. The lines of realism blur to softened lines to capture more emotion than image.

In our music this can translate into what degree of predictability is in the music. How obvious is it where the music is going? Do we want to surprise the listener with some unexpected turn? Or just groove along where everyone in the room can easily follow along.

For example, lots of folks dig the 12 bar blues form and all of its incarnates of style. From first hand experience from the bandstand watching an audience, through the 12 bar form, most if not all can sense where the music is going to go. Dancers in the know of this choreograph their steps to the form. All just pure creative and fun magic to be a part of.

R. O. !

softening process

In this text, this applies to the lightening of color from the darker diminished color towards the pentatonic, and all points in between. For we know from the literature that these two color spectrum endpoints can function for one another to create similar motions, directions in the music towards points of resolution. We'll explore this softening process as artists, as we tire of what was 'new' and look for ways to evolve elements into being our own next 'new.'


Implies one musical voice playing or creating the melody, with the rest of the group in a supportive role.


Telling a story while moving through time with musical sounds and events that sets to the tone and captures the spirit of the tale in music. The term 'song' through this e-book is also a generic term for whatever sorts of composition we're discussing with theory.


A clarity of resonance in chords, where each pitch within the chord is clearly distinguishable.

wiki ~ sonority of chords

the sound and the theory

A play on words here for sure but simply the idea that certain theory components need the right kind of sound to make them work. The best example just might be the open 5th chords of rockin' metalists overdrive, without which the chords sound a bit thin in spots ? There's often a bit of reverb for the blues cat, acoustic players and vocalists. The stereo reverb, detune chorus and delay combinations for the modernist sound scapers among us etc.

spectrum of musical styles and resources

Simply the idea that our musical resources can be displayed in an array or linear format ranked by their theoretical complexity (# of pitches in the melody or harmony) and by their use in the styles of Americana music.

wiki ~ array


Spell. In this theory book, 'spell' is all about spelling out the letter names of whatever component we are examining, and locating those pitches on our instruments.

In jazz improvisation, creating new melodic lines 'through' the chords, often creates a demand to be able to quickly and accurately spell out the letter names of the written chord. For example; G7 is G B D F.

Spelling chords create the arpeggios, which when sounded out create the impression of a chord's qualities; major, minor, V7 etc.

Of all the basics in our studies of music, so much of the learning goes back to diatonic spelling the letters of scales, arpeggios and chords. Just like with words, we as theorists want to be able to spell out the letter names of the pitches in our musical components. While it can seem pretty vast at first, there's a few shortcuts, that once rote learned, make the spelling of scales, arpeggios and chords a snap :)

R.O. !

spelling chords

Spelling chords. Total game changer for the evolving theorist and improviser. Spelling chords helps us play through chord changes, the historical and 'theory' basis of Americana improvisation.

Luckily, there's an easy method set in stone. Locally we call it the 'coffee chord spelling chart.' For it takes about a cup's worth of time to sort unpuzzle the lil' beast.

spelling chords

Bop King connect. This next pic is off the music stand from a dear friend saxophonist Eli Whitney, who was able to study with Charlie Parker protege Jackie McLean in the 70's in NYC. 'Spell the chords' with your horn was a way to shed and create an improvised line through the chord changes of a song. The penciled in words are in Mr. McLean's own hand ... :)

Diatonic 7th chord spelling chart in 'C' major.
scale # degrees
C major scale
arpeggio # degrees
C major arpeggio
7th chord quality
diatonic triads
diatonic 7th chords
analysis numbers
2 octave scale
1 3 5 7 9 11 13 1 5
C . E . G . B . D . F . A . C

square roots of numbers

Square roots are a way to find what number, time's itself, gives the original number. For example; we want the square root of 9 so, what number times itself is equal to 9 ?

3 x 3 = 9 so ... 3 is the square root of 9

In music, we want the square roots of how fast a string vibrates, such as 440 for the 'A' below middle 'C' on a piano. And we want its '12 root of 2' to boot. So, just not your average math problem in 1473, especially when all the pitches U got sound just very fine thank you very much.

In tuning pitches, and in dividing the octave in 12 equal parts, we create the basis of equal temper tuning. Created by using the mathematics of the square roots of numbers, Europe didn't commonly have this math knowledge in the 1500's, yet.

The earlier 'rule of 18', which fretted the various lutes and its brethren in the 1500's, gave way to the more exacting formula of the '12th root of 2', as mentioned above, the tuning key that eventually unlocked the full potential of the piano and all its brethren. For guitar builders, then all they had to do was invent a better more accurate ruler to be able to measure their fretboards :)


Italian for detached, refers to a style of melodic phrasing whereby each of the pitches is separate from one anther.


Slang for using some sort of rig where the components are stacked one atop another i.e., a Marshall stack, Hiwatt, Fender, Mesa Boogie etc.


Template of five lines and four spaces for notating music. Here's the staff supporting the 'G' clef, for the relative key centers of 'Bb' major and 'G' minor.


Slang for bandstand, stage etc.

standard songs

A 'standard' in our collection of music usually implies a song that has withstood the test of time through the ages and remains a living popular song as each new generation of musicians listeners comes along. For players, these songs are the ones often requested at gigs, work etc., and the ones folks just know and enjoy the best. For we all love to hear the songs we love.

For us theorists, there's usually something 'theory unique' in a standard tune. Apart from being popular, there's usually 'theory coolness' too. At college, Dr. Miller often said that 'there's something neat and unique in every standard; a turn of phrase, a unique interval pattern for the lyrics, a new harmonic scheme, a totally 'run of the mill' diatonic gem, a new chord substitution, that makes a standard song a standard."

As improvising artists learning standard songs, we can collect these unique 'features' in creating our own improvisation resources. Find a nice turn of the pitches in a song? We'll extract it and create some new licks from it through sequencing and permutation. Or run an idea through a couple of keys or string sets, even through all the 12 keys. Or sing the part in musical time, a 'call', and wait for our imaginations to suggest a 'response.'

A ways on down this road, when we've a couple of dozen standard melodies under our fingers, gradually our improvised lines begin to naturally take on more of a melodic character. For as we draw from these rote learned melodies, our rote learned scale shapes and their pitches, become those groups of pitches from which we create our melodic ideas. All combined and interspersed with licks from lifting and shedding, and our own artistic signature, our own unique musical voice, gradually evolves and matures.

standard tuning

Refers to centering all pitches from the pitch of 'A' 440, which vibrates at cycles per second, also refers to the conventional way we tune our instruments:

standard tune a guitar, E, A, D, G, B, E,

standard tune a bass guitar E, A, D, G

standard tune a violin, G, D, A, E,

all the horns, harmonica, pianos.

wiki ~ A = 440


A regularly repeated metrical division of a song or poem, also know as a verse in a song. 300

start your E chord

Lifted from racing car competitions of course, but also here musically from lead singer John Gaines, who fronted the hard workin' top 40 band of me mates called "Fast Tracks." At their shows, they did this huge thing when there was a birthday in the house. On John's command of "Gentlemen, start your E chord", which for the guitar players was the open E major through various devices, keys with a B-3 patch, bass on low open 'E' and multiple octaves, all through a giant p.a., of course, John would then commence to host, roast and then toast the lucky birthday girl or boy, of course followed up by the whole club singing the classic song. Huge fun for everyone :)


'Unmoving', in music, often used in describe a harmonic situation where one chord is used for extended periods of time, i.e., 'static harmony' as in a vamp etc.


Consecutive melodic / harmonic ascending or descending motion created by using the pitches of a scale or mode as the 'steps.' For example, a descending, stepwise motion of the diatonic 'C' major scale;



Usually an alternating between short bursts of music and silence, as in early rock or between choruses / soloists in traditional up tempo jazz arrangements, i.e., two bar solo break / bluegrass breakdown etc. Anytime the band can start and stop together its cool. Precision stops for the whole band are a lot of work to get right but can drop jaws, and that's usually a good thing all around :)


Storyline. In this text, there's the magical idea that every song has its storyline. And that there's really just a handful of these story lines that get told over and over, as our new experiences come along in life. So if we learn a few of these, especially the ones based in the writing style of the musical style we totally dig, chances are we'll be able to quickly learn new songs that follow along the same storyline.

Is a song's bass line its storyline? Here in UYM / EMG it is. Playing a song's bass line, just connecting up the root pitches of the chords, will usually tell us the song's basic storyline, and contain the basic emotional statement its author is trying to make. Even connecting just the roots of a song's chord progression should do the trick.

Each style has its own bass line stories. Most common storyline through all of Americana? The 12 bar blues. Next? The 8 bars to "Key To The Highway." Next? The 16 bars of "Scarborough Fair" and "House Of The Rising Sun." Add in "Oh Susanna", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Shortnin" for the kids, "Arkansas Traveler" for the bluegrass cats, and "Saints" and 'Billy Boy" for jazzers. For a place to start.

The idea here is that every song that comes along after will have some elements of these tunes. So if we get these storylines under our fingers, they in turn will provide a basis to learn new songs with similar lines, similar 'emotional environments' to capture a similar storyline that the composer has experienced.

Again, the 12 bar blues songs / form is among our most common storylines. Dozens of songs exist, hundreds even if not 1000's and 1000's, plus the ones still to be written and published. Serious about Americana musics? Learn this form and storyline. For eventually it'll come along in your career.

This term 'storyline' is also used throughout this e-book to describe the spiritual content and emotional environment of a song, i.e., major key, minor key, modal piece etc.

straight ahead jazz

In "Essentials", 'straight ahead' jazz today follows a traditional meaning; it embodies the art of creating improvised dialogue generally within the form of a song and creating melodic lines built from the chord changes / harmonic cycle of the song.

We can base this assessment from a survey of styles, from ragtime an on through swing to the pinnacle of this solo improv format found in bebop of the 1940's and forward through the 50's, combine to create the library of music of 'straight ahead jazz.'

Straight ahead is to a certain degree the 'mainstream jazz' as it applies collectively to the all of the jazz musics up through to the late 1950's or so. For during this 50 plus years or so, especially over the radio, jazz was our pop music and was the mainstream sounds on many of the airwaves.

This ever evolving 'pop' music just evolved through the generations along with everything else; other fine arts and world musics, fashions, foods, architecture and design etc., always keeping up with the times and reflecting on the life and times of the artists in their day and times, who evolved the music generationally through their study of their 'elders', building up their own 'hip' skills, insights and then creating a new take on the 'straight ahead' principles which include; creating improvised melody lines of fluid streams of 1/8th notes, moving through a fast moving, cycling diatonic harmony, accenting the 2 and 4 of 4/4 time to bring the swing, all blues hued spiced up of course, all throughout these decades.

Bebop music centers on its originators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The 1957 "Milestones" album of Miles Davis featuring John Coltrane, a fave record of many, that just so happens to be right down the middle of straight ahead jazz. Perhaps in our modern tech, it's just a few mouse clicks away ... to listen to real deal, straight ahead jazz. Click highlight search to find.

To hear some very accessible straight ahead jazz check out jazz master drummer Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, who together made a record in 1981 in San Francisco that they titled "Blakey Straight Ahead." As 'live as live' might ever get on vinyl, the recording of this performance just might be a good start off point in the listening of straight ahead Americana jazz.

Another suggestion for straight ahead jazz is the library of Dexter Gordon. His 1982 album "Gotham City", is also pure straight ahead and mainstream in a wide swinging, historical tradition. A bit more of the newer chromaticism from the earlier 1960's while retaining a basis in the blues, both in colors and forms. By always retaining the core blues of it all, for jazz and most Americana styles and genres there's always a bit of straight ahead in all.

Career players of any style, jazz or not, should consider finding and absorbing these recordings by these artists. For these cats all made dozens of records each, creating a display of our Americana musical colors in songs charging 'straight ahead', with the rhythm and pull of swing as wide with gospel joy as it may yet ever get :)

wiki ~ Miles Davis / "Milestones"
wiki ~ "Straight Ahead" ~ Art Blakey

wiki ~ Dexter Gordon

wiki ~ "Take Five"

wiki ~ Paul Desmond

stretch out

Extended soloing beyond whatever you current norm is. For example, if you're taking a one chorus solo on a 12 bar blues, stretch out and take two :)

strength of player

Slang to describe a players ability to build and manage musical tension over short or long amounts of musical time.

string sets

String 'sets' describes groups of different groups of the strings used to make chords, strings "6 4 32', '5 4 3 2', '4 3 2 1' are common groups. Groups of three are common also, creating a lighter texture. Two strings for intervals such as 3rd's and octaves and the 5th's of metal. Full on barre chords of five and six strings create old fashioned power chords.



Strophic form. Historically, among our oldest forms for composing songs, that we can trace all the way back in history to Pythagoras' times, in the written record. One melody supports all the verses of the different words as a song's story unfolds. In big section letters ...

A A A ...

So one reoccurring section of music for each of the stanza's of lyrics as a story unfolds. As this is used to support one or more verses, many children's songs are created in this form. London based metalists Led Zepplin's "Stairway To Heaven" is also in strophic form. It's everywhere.

history of musical form
wiki ~ strophic form
"Glendale Train"
"Stairway To Heaven"

style / evolution

Musical style / evolutions. Simply the idea that we can theoretically create a parallel perspective comparing our musical styles with the number of pitches that we generally use in creating melodies in that style. The basic range is from three, for a triad, to five pitches for children's songs and folk ideas all the way through to the 12 tones of bebop and all the jazz beyond.

That by the gradual adding or subtracting of pitches from their core groups, we can stylistically influence the overall sound of the music. So by sheer number of pitches used to create melodies, the following style sequence emerges; folk, blues, rock, pop and jazz.

There's a consistent and natural way to understand this theory. Subbing the word 'groups' for 'scales', the adding of the pitches unfolds in a near perfect reflection of the spectrum of melody styles they each create.


Subdivision. Common term used to describe the division of a musical beat or pulse into smaller units. In this following notation we subdivide our note values in common 4/4 time. The big 4? Yep, the big 4 as our basis. The 'big 4' is the original marching time for the Americana parades of New Orleans? Tis is, and the beginning of Americana style syncopations

Maybe think of this subdivision of the beats like dividing up an apple pie.

whole pie = whole notes.

split a whole, half a pie = half notes.

split a half, quarter pie = quarter notes.

split a quarter = eighth notes.

wiki ~ New Orleans


The diatonic fourth scale degree of the major / relative minor groups of pitches, harmony built on the fourth scale degree.

subs / substitution / chord substitution

Subs / substitution. Simply replacing one musical component with another. In jazz, we use substitution to create variety and evolve the music.

suggested melodies

Every melody included in this work is free from copyright restrictions. Either they are in the public domain or original songs of my own. Yet, there are oftentimes when there's a single tune, more modern so copyright restricted, that illustrates the theory to a 't.' Thus the idea of supplemental songs.

These suggested melodies form the list of about 25 supplemental melodies or so that are optionally purchased as mp3 download files at your own discretion.

super nova

Describes game changer learning that re-arrange the music theory planets of up and coming artists :)

suspension / 'sus'

Generally describes melodic motion of non-chord tones resolving by diatonic step to chord tones. We 'sus' or hold over a note to create a feeling of suspension of time and sound, and then resolve it to complete the idea. Very common in rock and beyond, suspensions create that 'epic' sound, especially the 4 / 3 suspension of both major and minor chords.

sussing out

An Alaskan slang term meaning to figure something out by one's own effort.

sweep picking

Pick motion that moves the pick up or down across adjacent strings while the fretboard hand covers a pattern of notes. Often done repetitively and moved by half steps up or down the fingerboard.

wiki ~ sweep picking


Swing / pull. The term swing is many things in Americana music; it describes a particular style / era of jazz music from the 30's, it is a slang term implying a rhythmically powerful music of any style, i.e., swings hard, it is an elusive rhythmic concept based on rubbing one rhythmic feel against another, to conjure the 'pull', creating boundless joyous dance grooves, good vibes and big smiles. Here's and feel the pull of Dexter Gordon's wide swing in jazz, from "Gotham City."

Here in UYM / EMG theoryville, all of the Americana musical styles can swing and of course often do. And while the term is not usually applied to some styles, such as folk or rock or even pop for that matter, nine times out of ten if we dig the tune, chances are there is a bit of swing in there somewhere.

At its core, all that swing is is a bit of stretching the time against the 2 and 4 of the groove. This creates the 'pull of swing.' Even if it is subtle, the magic of the swing helps to lighten things up and motor things along a wee bit more merrily.

For example, most all of the country music has a nip of Texas Swing somewhere in there. Early rockers the Allman Brothers drove their blues hue'd grooves awfully hard on 2 and 4, and clearly there are times when there's just no stopping the momentum of the swing in their music. And then there's Duane and companies "Mountain Jam.' Heck, anytime there's a walking bass line there's the swing potential right there. On and on and on as the saying often goes ... :)

syncopation :)

Syncopation. Initially, simply a word to describe the balance between beats 1 and 3 and 2 and 4 in 4/4 time. In some musics beat 1 and 3 are the strong, accented beats. Rock styles generally land hard on beat 1. In some musics the 2 and 4 beats are emphasized, accented, becoming the strong beats. Blues styles and jazz accent 2 and 4.

To distinguish these two basic accenting fundamentals of four beats, we use the term 'syncopate' to describe our artistic intentions. Once our strong beats are determined, our syncopations become the way we vary and create rhythms around the stronger beats. Which of the four beats per measure are strong in 4/4 time helps to initially define our broader styles, that we write into our songs within their genres.

This basic definition of syncopation will branch out in any time signature; 2/4, 3/4, 12/8 all of the above really, ya just got to find it, make it yours and write it down best U can, get that rote learn closure to it all. and once a song's groove is located and looped, we'd call that a song's syncopation. While there's endless variations of all of the above, there's set in stone ones too.

Here's a handful of syncopations in 4/4 time played against the clicks of a metronome running at 80 beats per minute.

accent 1 and 3
accent '2 and 4'
a sort of 'call' ...
2 bar gallop
vari 2 bar gallop
quarter note triplet
2 bar gallop
2 bar gallop
a rappin' rhythm
off on 4
more of a lope than gallop

symmetrical / scales and chord structures

Symmetrical structures. Really any grouping of pitches based on a perfectly repeating intervallic formula. For example, the chromatic scale is consecutive half steps. The augmented scale is made up of just the whole tone interval and its triad two major third intervals. The diminished scale color is whole step / half step repeated and a fully diminished 7th chord is created exclusively with the minor third interval. Quartile harmony stacks perfect 4th's.

Anytime there's a symmetry to in the organization of selected pitches, another valence of opportunity manifests. For now we've a structure that is intact, in its own unique ways. And artistically we can begin to juxtapose such structures together to make art, moving through time and space.

Ever see those 'cubist' paintings of Picasso ?

"Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."
wiki ~ Pablo Picasso

syntonic comma

A small interval between musical pitches used to correct the imperfection of tuning systems.

wiki ~ syntonic comma



Latin for silent.


Slang for cliche ending of song, to tag, also to add a repeated harmonic / melodic cycle to extend the performance of a song i.e., a Three / Six / Two / Five pattern.

taking it out

Slang term used to describe the moving of a musical idea from inside ( diatonic ) to outside ( non-diatonic) and back, usually, also used to describe the ending of a song during performance.

target chord

Term for the the final destination of a series of chords or chord progression, i.e., the target chord of the Two / Five / One chord progression is the One chord.

tear it up

Just a slang way of saying, for when players aggressively approach their music.


A modern way of making music from synthesized sounds, which are usually looped together to form sequences, there are a few subgenera within this style, most all of which are associated with dance and the big 4 styled hammonator grooves of the boom boom boom boom, please fill the dance floor :)

teenager in love

My slang for the chord changes for the common harmonic motion of 1 / 6 / 4 / 5 in the major tonality, after the pop hit of the same title in 1959. Got to #5 on the charts, nice payday.

Easy to jazz up as Four becomes Two and it's game on to the edges of your local tonal universe as 1 / 6 / 4 / 5 becomes the essential 1 / 6 / 2 / 5. Then One becomes Three, so 3 / 6 / 2 / 5 and 'off to the races' yet again, as me Pops used to say :)

Tele's (old ) tele twang that crisp and biting tone that comes from working the back pickup and picking near the bridge. Fretware shows money notes.

Bass players could roll off all the tone and play by the bridge to begin a 'Jaco' pathway.

wiki ~ Fender Telecaster

tempered tuning

Pitch adjustments, to temper, the natural pitches of tuning by 5th's, associated with various tuning schemes to tune the pitches so that they stacked up as sounded together as chords, sound out harmony, nowadays temperament is associated mostly with the equal tempered system of tuning and its tonal organization.


Isacoff, Stuart. "Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle." U.S.A. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001..


The pulse rate of the music, the rate at which the musical sounds move through time, i.e., faster tempos are often termed brighter, while slower tempos more towards a ballad etc.

Need some clicks ?

Sleeker just goes faster. In pairing musical styles, and the usual components we create them with, as tempos get faster / brighter, the music becomes more exciting. Sleeker goes faster. We build up some components and elements all for supreme comfort, like Hollywood chords, and others are built for the maximizing of their abilities to merrily speed right along :) R. O. !

tempo markings

temporary modulation

The idea of a temporary modulation implies a short term move to a new key center. We term this without any real definition of length of bars etc. Chances are we're not moving into a new section of the form of the song in a new key, but creating a solid cadential motion simply to get to the new key temporarily, just passing on through a different tonal center than the original tonic key of a song.

In doing so, we gain the potential to bring the various aspects of the temporary key center into the diatonic realm, created by the key of a song. Temporary modulation opens up a wide range of options in composing and in creating improvised lines through the chord changes.

tension / release

That magical energy dynamic that helps well crafted musical art to generate its own momentum by the way the notes and their rhythm are all knitted together. Based on telling a story or its emotional essence in song, we build up a sensation of motion with musical sound; with pitches, arpeggios, chords and rhythms, then release the tension and come to a sense of 'at rest' when the resolution is sounded, end of story :)


Artistic energy that seeks release, also generally refers to the upper structure chord tones, i.e., 'tensions of a chord', 7, 9, 11, 13, #15 and their alterations.


Refers to harmony (chords) constructed with the intervals of major and minor thirds. This chord construction in thirds has been the predominant method ever since we've heard the changes, and especially with the various keyboard instruments. With the advent of equal temper tuning, kaboom !


The sharing of, thus cleansing of, one's musical soul through impassioned performance, sometimes a 'blistering' performance that beholders remember for their whole lifetimes. Imagine that.

'The time is always right to do what is right.'

wiki ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tetra chords. Originally from the ancient Greeks, tetrachords are groups of four pitches, that have various combinations of two whole steps and one half step, thus for 'E' Phrygian in descending order;

E D C B ~ A G F E

In today's interpretation, we generally use the term to describe any group of four pitches within a select group of pitches or scale, of any interval combinations in flowing either direction, here in an ascending fashion in 'C' major. Example 4a. Look familiar?

wiki ~ ancient Greece
first tetra chord
second tetra chord
1/2 step
1/2 step ~ leading tone

We can mix and match these critters any old way really, creating new tetrachord combinations combined into unique scale groupings. In the olden days we called this process the 'make-your own-ian mode.' From this we can diatonically generate, or not as the case may be, arpeggios and chords in addition to scales, and compose new works. In composing, we could use one, two or any number of tetrachords to create sections, which we then knit together.

theatre masks

Representing the various shades of joy and sadness qualities of our relative major / minor diatonic pairing.

theme and variations

Theme and variations. Now ancient compositional form, that the stated theme of a song is further developed through the body of the work. This development can be either written out or improvised, and often both in modern pieces today.

The European influence traditionally brings the 'written out' exactness to the variations of the composer's intent. To create the best possible 'solo' for their theme.

In Americana blues and jazz influenced performances, the spontaneity of the moment during performance energizes the artist's improvisation of the variations of the song's theme, often using its harmony and form in addition to the melody to shape their ideas.

theme and variations

In our folk, bluegrass and country of styles of music, stating the theme of a song and creating variations, as improvisations, is the core of the whole tamale really. For in these styles the soloist will mostly get 8 bars to blow, and playing the melody with a cool interpretation and maybe a hint of the blues has proven most successful, especially on recordings.

That said, players in these genres are starting to 'stretch out' a bit more, soloists will also 'trade 4's between each other and those with the chops get featured, which really has always been the case over the last couple of decades :) Can ya bring the house down with your skills? Then step right up and testify ! ... Ain't nothin' better for the business than a show stopping solo :)

Rule of thumb for public performance. In the jazz world, if we can't play the melody of the song, we don't get to solo. So learn to interpret the melody super solid, maybe in a couple of keys, before going after variations when performing in public, depending on the setting of course. With the blues, it can be super tricky to bring out the vocal line of a song, but sure is worth trying :)

theory / style dynamic

Theory / style dynamic. This text is based on the premise that we can parallel an increasing complexity of music theory, as based on the number of pitches in a song's melody, and that this corresponds with an evolving complexity in the Americana musical styles we love.

The flip side of this premise may also be postulated, that the various styles of American music can be similarly examined for complexity and located somewhere along the music theory / musical style continuum based on the number of pitches in a song's melody. Say, ten different pitches in the melody, probably a jazz song. Five ? Folks song, a blues song even.

A benefit of this perspective is in creating the skills of the modern guitarist, who learns and understands not only the theory of our musical elements, but how by adding in additional pitches to our core pentatonic group, the various Americana musical styles evolve. Thus empowered can 'cross over' through our full spectrum of styles.

Knowing the theory helps us cycle through the pentatonic group's role in the evolutions pioneered by Coltrane, who created a pathway of learning that fully embraces and exhausts even, our common available music resources, culminating in bringing the now ancient five pitch group into a new dimension of improvisation. And thus empowered, the musical world can become their oyster :)

the third

The third above the root is the center note of the three note triad building block of our tonic centered music. We've two varieties; minor and major, which determine the minor or major emotional character of songs, keys, scales, arpeggios, chords, chord type. Really whatever we have resource wise that is of this major / minor duality, the 3rd above the root is the 'decider' pitch. It's as simple as that, thank you very much :)

R. O. !

'3 and 7' ~ the third and seventh ...

Three and Seven. Super shorthand for the 3rd and 7th scale degrees of any scale, arpeggio or chord. These are the two pitches, within a seventh chord, that determines a chord's quality. 'Quality' then becomes a chord's function, in theory anyway, and off we go into chord type. 'Type' is one sort of 'supercharger' for the chord substitution motor.

R. O. !

third scale degree

The pitch that determines whether a scale or triad is major or minor.

three times and out

This is a very common way to end the arrangement of a song during performance. Very common in blues and jazz. We simply repeat a part of the last phrase of a song three times to end the arrangement of the song. Here's Joey Fender in the studio.

third inversion

A chord voicing where the lowest pitch of the chord is seventh chord degree, thinking of a C major 7 chord;

root: C E G B

1st inv. E G B C

2nd inv. G B C E

3rd inv. B C E G

These pitches can be stacked a number of ways to create chord voicings.

this text

Understand Your Music / Essentials Of Modern Guitar © is a music theory text that helps expand the readers vocabulary of musical terms, and through vocabulary create discussions of the elements used to create the Americana musics, and in doing so providing a greater awareness and understanding of their own musical resources to better create their version of our Americana musics.


Term to describe the various hues of musical colors, musical instruments, sound quality etc.

wiki ~ timbre music

'Time' in music is what helps get everyone on the same page, for all share in the measure of time as the beats go by the same the world over. Rhythm, and especially the ones we each create, is the way we get our own timing to pulse and chime in with the rest of the world :)

time signature

Numerical fraction describing the rhythmic groove of a musical composition.

4/4 ~ 2/4 ~ 3/4 ~ 6/8 ~ 12/8 ~ 5/4 etc.

Here's a pic of the 'common' time signature 4/4. With a treble clef denoting which line is 'G', a measure number and a quarter note.

Look familiar ? Cool, added in a measure counting number ( the 1 ) to :)

time tunnel

Was this crazy t.v. show way back when where the cast of the show walked into this 'tunnel' that took them back in time and crazy but true, it looked sort of like this :)


Also, the rings of color are inclusive yes ? And there's that some gravity in play.

wiki ~ the time tunnel

tonal / tonality

As pertains to sound, audible sound, things we can hear, tones. Tonality implies a key center, such as the key of 'C' minor.
wiki ~ musical tone / tonal

tonal center

Tonal center. The idea that one pitch, the tonic note, within a song in a chosen key rules them all, most often throughout Americana musics the root notes of the major / relative minor group of pitches. Often used to describe the key center or current key center in multi-key composition. The appearances of tonal centers throughout a piece of music most often become the emotional resting points as the story unfolds, as tension builds and is released in a tonic pitch. In this pic, the Sun is our key center for the planets.

'... one pitch to rule them all :) '

"Not all those who wander are lost." wiki ~ Tolkien

R O !

tonal environment

My term for the overall feel and moods of color created by a piece of music, both tonal and rhythmic. Major key, minor key, bluesy, swing, bossa, straight ahead, country, 4/4, 2/4, 12/8, Latin in 2 etc.

R O !

tonal function (ality)

How musical elements function within a tonal gravitational environment, the ability for all pitches to properly function musically in any key, due to the proper intonation of equal temper.

R O !

tonal gravity / location location location and proximity to the tonic

Tonal gravity / convergence / 'the pull.' Is the force in music created when one pitch is designated as the center of the music, in relation to the other pitches that surround it. This would include both diatonically and the blue notes, so all 12 pitches. Also the tonal force used to create, and the release, of artistic tension in the music, that feeling of the physical and aural sensation towards an 'impending resolution' of musical tension, 'ah ... men.'

This sense of impending resolution we term 'aural predictability.' How obvious is the coming resolution. Each of our styles hold varying degrees of gravity and its pull. As 'modern' guitarists, we want to intuit to potentiate our skills to understand the basics of all of our styles.

Behold a circle rainbow chakra themed color sphere representation of the seven diatonic valences of tonal gravity, each representing one pitch of our diatonic scale.

As theorists, we can initially measure tonal gravity with the numerical musical intervals. We use this bit of math to get started and then our muse kicks in. Eventually, enough times through it builds us a rote memorized basis and our own musical journey begins yet again anew, now having an inner intellectual structure to build upon as the new ideas come along.

tonal resources

Tonal resources. Just a fancy and inclusive term to describe the combined 'nuts and bolts' of our music. Pitches, scales, chords, drums, licks, riffs and ditties, and of course all of their networked theoretical systems etc.

Also, the title of an older paper edition theory book whose contents are written in this newer e-book or print the old version, click the cover for .pdf file.


the whole tamale

tonal stability

Is the degree to which any given chord color creates the aural sensation of being at rest, oftentimes created by tonic function chords.

tone row

Generally implies using all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale to create the parent scale for composing music.
wiki ~ atonality
wiki ~ serial music
wiki ~ 12 tone


the tonic pitch

tonal center

A theoretical name for the first degree of any scale or chord that is the predominant key of a given piece of music, usually determined by the key signature i.e., the tonic of a 'blues tune in A' is 'A.'

Also, the chosen one center pitch of a tune, song, melody, riff or lick, composition, key center, scale, arpeggio or chord around which all other eleven pitches orbit :)

R O !

tonic base

As used here in this work, our tonic base or basis describes the emotional character of our song. Easily defined as major or minor, our tonic base could be modal, polytonal or beyond. Defined by a combination of pitches, bass notes and chords, all of America's popular music styles are written with this sense of tonic base. Music outside of this popular zone is often termed, free, experimental or modern and leans jazz.

R O !

wiki ~ free jazz

tonic (function) chord / tonic harmony

A theoretical name for the chord built on the first degree of any scale or mode. Also a chord that can function as the tonal center in a musical composition.

R O !


A rather handy and malleable term; used to describe various theoretical aspects of our musical components, our tonic centered compositional styles and systems of tonal organization, also commonly used to describe; the overall key of a piece of music such as C major, the overall musical effect or quality of a particular musical idea, i.e., major / minor / dominant seventh etc., equal tempered versus modal systems, tonal versus atonal etc. Loyalty to the tonic :)
wiki ~ tonality

the 'top'

Slang for the starting point in a song, the first measure in a song, the beginning, also the beginning as 'the top' of a new chorus.

Try finding it ... :)

There's a few tasks in getting a better understanding of our musics that is facilitated with ... ' a little help from our friends.' And hearing the top in any of our Americana styles, genres and forms, is one of them. So spin any tune and find the top of the form. Starting with a 12 blues is always cool. Here's one :)

top 40

top 10



fill the dancefloor

Top 40. The current listing of the 40 most popular songs in America at any given second of any given day, or week. If you've written a tune on the top 40, there's a chance it'll move up. See below.

Top 10. These are the top ten songs of the top 40. You're getting ready to land.

#1 is the top song of the top 10. If your song goes #1 you've landed, and if your 'legal' is cool, mailbox money for awhile.

$. For those in the business and the know, there's a lot of longterm loot created in all these songs that get into the top 40. Be sure to copyright your ideas. Now a days an iPhone to record and $ to pay for the registration is all it takes to secure your work for 75 years as YOURS :)

Fill the dance floor. Surely a ton of fun for everyone and in the business of music, there's supposed to be a ton of work for players when their band can fill a dancefloor. It's that age old combination that brings folks together for all kinds of coolness. Hope that always stays true for you and for generations to come.

wiki ~ top 40

government copyright


trading 4's

Trading fours. Surely a gem in the crown for the cats who do the shedding. For in working in real time, and trading 'four bars of time with four bars of listen', our entire creative muse comes alive, simply by having a chance, and some space, to 'think.'

For as time and beats move along, if we take some 'space', and stay in the pocket, when our turn of four bars comes up, we've got our phrase ready.

This 'space' basis is almost the whole tamale of forward motion. Though, when we're blowing, it not such a 'trading' dynamic. For we get whole sections of songs, even whole choruses, so lots of space to express ideas.

Also,'trading fours' is a slang term for an arranging technique whereby improvising musicians each successively take turns of four bars to create an idea. Often done with the drummer, the soloist takes 4 bars, then solo drums for 4 bars, soloist 4 bars, drums 4 bars, etc. So, a repeated pattern following the form of the tune. And it doesn't have to be four bars, any number is cool, four bars is just the most common.

With Franz. Gots to believe that trading fours with a metronome is a sure way for classical artists with some chops to begin to improvise. For in the starkness of having just the 'clicks', our creative must make sense of all the music we create. Tried and true over and over, this one exercise builds one's own creative solo voice chops.

traditional harmony

Term used to describe a perspective of the theory as derived from the classical literature, i.e., the European masters of equal temperament, Bach through Brahms ?

traffic cop

Traffic cop. A visualization.

In Music Theoryville, USA, we got that 'something' to direct where we are going in the music. And while rhythm and momentums will get us there, we also have the V7 chord. With its two pitch tritone tension, the resolutions of these pitches is traditionally what has directed us to new key centers or points beyond, We always remember too that our blues musics, in a major key, are all V7 based.

So this 'traffic cop' visualization for V7 is inspired by watching the historical documentary 'Jazz', created by Ken Burns. For in it there's a movie scene from 1930's Chicago, Louis and Benny now reigning Jazz Kings, featuring a smiling and joyous policeman standing right smack dab in the middle of a big city intersection traffic, right downtown, totally chock full of moving, turning cars and zany traffic every which way, and he's waving his arms like expertly conducting this symphony, and got the whistle ready to blow, all shown in the fast motion of old movie black and white. Got the vibe here ?

Well, when that whistle blows, for us theorist / musicians, it can be like hearing a V7 chord in music as it moves along, like a pay attention listen up call, for something might be a coming along in the music ya just don't want to miss :)

Pure Author opinion. And if there is such a thing as 'must see tv' for music lovers, this "Jazz" series of Ken Burns and crew is a 'must see.' For us practicing musicians, it's a great story, super chock full of cool puzzle pieces ordered into a historical presentation, that will inspire us today and generations to come, to continue to do great things through music and make great art for the dancers.

wiki ~ visualization
wiki ~ Jazz Ken Burns

train wreck

Slang for when the players in the group collectively make a series of bad choices while performing, usually resulting in unplanned, temporary musical chaos, train wrecks are oftentimes found at the end of performing a musical piece, consider 'arrangements while you wait' and learning 'three times and out.'


Transcribe. To transfer the music from audio to notation written on paper, that's the olden days 'scribe' part of this term. Also to transcribe modern, from a live performance or recording directly to one's instrument.

Artistic signature. "Sing the line play the line." Sing your favorite melodies, and find your pitches, melodies and rhythms on your ax.

Or, sing along with a favorite recording, and transcribe the pitches of the melodies you sing on your ax. The now ancient way, the melody lines you create by what you hear and sing out becomes your signature with the pitches.

Also, to take, to 'lift', or transcribe ideas, by ear, off of audio recordings instruments. This way, since the advent of electricity and recording, has been the way.

That nowadays there's a ton of resource, written, tab, video transcriptions on the market. A good place to start is with a song you dig, and learn your parts off the recording.

The process. Find the tonic note of a song. Tune in your ax around this tonic pitches. Find the bass line. Build the chords. Play the rhythms and groove. Learn the solo.

Learning music by rote off recordings by ear, to transcribe, is the probably the best training anyone of us can get. At least since the radio has been around :) For in doing so all of our creative and physical faculties can come into play.

In today's tech world, there's a ton of ways to do this. Hear the lick and find the pitches. Slow it down and work out a fingering, then rote learn it and bring it back up to speed for performance.


To respell the musical pitches exactly from one key center to another, by keeping the same interval distances between each pitch. For example, the pitches of the C major scale each transposed 'up a major sixth' interval to A major.


A B C# D E F# G# A


wiki ~ transposing instruments

treble clef

Also a 'G' clef, the symbol used to denote the second line of a musical staff as the letter name pitch "G" natural.


Three note chords are also known as triads. Same critter, comprised of a root, a third and a fifth. With the two intervals between the three pitches, we only get four possible combinations of major and minor 3rd's, our chord building blocks in our tertian harmony. Again, no more no less, just the four combos ... and here they are :)

'G' triads

Since the guitar is built in 'G', it's triad runs right up and down the neck on the top three strings. And while there's a lot of variations through the decades and the styles and all the shapes are movable, run this lick a couple of time and see if there's something there for you. Pure triads, three notes and the truth.

built right in
movable shapes
t c a t t

triangles of knowledge

Triangles of knowledge. Simply describes a personal visualization of how succeeding generations of thinkers accumulate and sift through existing knowledge, creating a wide basis of information that builds. This is represented by the bases of the triangles in the following graphic. Sooner or later the thinkers begin to focus in on something they need to discover or understand to advance their craft and eventually somebody solves it. Often times the solution opens up even a bigger vista of possibilities out of which new challenges inevitably arise.

These solution pinnacles of new understanding are represented by the top apex points of the triangles. Once a new level of understanding is developed, oftentimes it empowers new directions of thought and the sifting process begins anew. In my two dimensional representation, this evolutionary intellectual process looks something like this;

Making fire, evolving new metals, navigation, square roots of numbers, vaccines, electricity and nowadays computers are all examples of this evolutionary intellectual process.


'nick it'


Triplets. Any rhythmic division into groups of three notes. The triplet feel is the historical basis of our Americana swing, so dating now back from the early 1900's or so. Its rhythm easily 'trips' the swing feel into the motion of eighth note lines. Like this, in 'G' major.

Since then, over the last 100 years or so, there's an evolution of the 1/8 note and consequently, an evolution of interpretation for swing. Rockers go a step further in this with their 'gallop rhythm.'

The 'chickityboom' triplet lick often associates with the lines created by the bass player. We use it at key spots in the song, and its form, to put a bit more 'swing into the thing.' Like this in motion to Four in 'G' major.

Tristan chord

Historically known as the "Tristan chord." Created by Richard Wagner in the 1860's, it is essentially a half diminished chord, an "F#-7b5", the upper part of a 'D9" chord. It is an important motivic idea for the larger work, a 'leitmotif', and it created quite an intellectual stir in the day, so it seems.

wiki ~ Tristan chord
wiki ~ R. Wagner


Tritone. At the core of our now combined Americana ~ Afro ~ Euro ~ Latin theory, the tritone interval divides the perfect octave span in two perfect halves.

This 'halfway' pitch, when inserted into a minor pentatonic scale, creates our core blues scale. Also identified by number as the musical interval of the augmented fourth / flatted fifth from a root pitch, #4 / b5, comprised of three whole tones, which divides the octave in two perfect halves.

Also the essential color as a single pitch blue note and a two pitch major 3rd / minor 7th combo in the V7 dominant chord, while among the most dissonant, awful sounding pairings of pitches available to the modern guitarist, this 'awful' howl of a sound is a super aural catalyst to make things 'change' directions in our musics to a resolution of aural tension.

Everything from the mosey along, bend in the river to a '180 bat turn', in any style really, that the more 'tritone' in our sound the bluesier it gets, creates the basis for the full on modern 'tritone' expressway of all things V7 based, creating a pathway for those heading in the modern, 12 tone lean of the various modern jazz stylings :)

Polar opposites on the pitch wheel.

R.O !

tritone substitute

Term usually identifying a dominant type chord that is built upon the tritone of the chord it is being substituted for, i.e., Db7 is the tritone substitute for G7. In Two / Five / One motions, the tritone sub evolves a descending chromatic bass line. And sleeker is faster n'est ce- pas ?

D-7 G7 C becomes D-7 Db7 C


Slang for a musical composition, musical piece, song, melody etc.


The process of getting everyone and their instruments on the same page pitchwise.

tuning fork

A metal device that when struck resonates at at a frequency of pitch to tune up our instruments.

wiki ~ tuning fork
wiki ~ A440

tuning down a 1/2 step or more

Simply lowering our standard tuning pitches by half step. Electric blues guitar legendary kings Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn were know for employing this tuning, as it reduces string tension a wee bit, facilitating the string bending they both are famous for. And for SRV, using heavier gauge strings.

Modern metal cats often tune down so I hear, there's also a 'dive bomber' whammy bar to explore which goes all the way to slack, no tension / tuning for the strings.

wiki ~ Jimi Hendrix
wiki ~ S.R.Vaughn

tuning octave

Tuning one octave in the middle of a keyboard, whose pitches are then used to tune up the other pitches of the same letter name.

The area of the piano keyboard, often from C4 / 523 to the octave above, C / 1046, that creates the 'tuning octave' whose pitches are then used to tune the rest of the piano keys, see just below.

tuning 10th

A method of using the interval of a major 10th, here shown as 'F to A', one full octave plus a major 3rd, that becomes the initial tuning of temperament from which the other near six octaves of the piano's pitches are tuned. These pitches are first perfected together as a group, then each pitch is individually transposed up and down the octaves, over the full range of the piano.

RO !


tuning octave interval / tuning major 10th interval

These two intervals, the octave and major 10th, are what a majority of piano tuners use to get a piano tuning started and are located in the lower middle of a piano keyboard. Generally the keys most played in performance. Once these core pitches are tuned up together and can make music, the upper and lower pitches in the remaining octaves are simply (ha) tuned up to match up with these.

This is a super simple explanation of what these cats do in tuning. For there's often dozens of factors and each piano is like each of us, unique in itself :) Here are the letter name pitches.

wiki ~ piano tuning
wiki ~ Piano Technicians Guild

tuning pitches

There's the standard way to tune a guitar that is generally called standard or concert tuning. This is the way cats would tune to play with an orchestra. There's no limit really to the way we might tune our gits, included here are four common ways to tune up.

All an open tuning does is give us a nice sounding chord by strumming the open strings, thus they generally work well with any kind of slide. The 'open G' is an original blues tuning from way back when cats made the transition from their banjos to guitars. Need a pitch ? Give its letter a click :)

tuning pitches

standard concert tuning
open E
5 string open G banjo
Hawaiian 6/9


Somewhat of a slang term for the way a player or composer shapes a musical idea, oftentimes a melodic twist of pitches starting into a line or the target pitch, part of a players artistic signature.

turnaround / turnback

Turnaround. In most cases, we'll find the turnaround at the end of the form of a song, when we reach that point, they're will be pitches, chords, a rhythm, that will 'turn us around' and point us back to the beginning of the song.

For example, in the jazz musics the Two / Five / One cadential motion is a common turnaround cycle of chords, in the blues, it's the 10th and 11th bars of the 12 bar blues form that are commonly known as the turnaround, as it returns back to to the top to begin a new 12 bar cycle.

These turnaround critters have also been intro's for ever and ever now, super cliche so no one ever gets lost :)

If I recall, Miles Davis quipped that the turnaround is the 'meat of the improvisation' Might have been Wes Montgomery.

Here's a couple of old timey blues turnarounds to start out if necessary. Fit them in where you can in your music.

by ear / bass guitar low 'E' string bass notes

turn the beat around

Turn the beat around. The term is used to describe when an artist creates a repeated rhythm in their music that changes the accenting of the beats of the groove. For example, making the 2 and 4 beats, into the 1 and 3 beats in Americana big 4 time, and if the band stays grooving on the 2 and 4 beats like usual, we say the artist has 'turned the beat around.' Done 'on purpose' swap beats to wallop the swing when we 'return' the beat back around.

Experienced players will create this rhythm in their improvisations to bring some magic, some interesting rhythmic tensions and additional interest to their improvisations. Tis' very very potent and easy, once the magic is in place. The magic? To start, try sustaining a quarter note triplet figure over a 4 / 4 medium slow fatback. Near any '3 over 4' can turn it all around :)

Americana big 4