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Issue 150

Topics     News     User Reviews    Forums     Articles     Videos     Classifieds

Dear Musician,

Life in the key of songs. Music is all around us—whether we like it or not. Even when you take the buds out of your ears, you still hear music from the loudspeakers at the mall, in the elevators of office buildings, and at the gas tank when you fill up (usually underscoring a pitch to sell you something else). But as musicians, we can learn from “uninvited music,” even when it’s not to our taste, and we can always keep our critical ear perked for inspiration and ideas. Even being able to identify the musical components of the ordinary, non-musical sounds we hear in everyday life can be revealing.

Recently, I found musically useful material in three common, everyday, and seemingly non-musical objects: a child’s whistle (the wooden Thomas the Tank Engine train whistle), the tea kettle on my stove, and the wind chimes that do their thing just outside my front door. Unlike, say, a doorbell, which uses a very definite musical device (singing out the melodic interval of a descending major second), these three devices don’t emphasize their musical origins. But they definitely draw on music to bring about their psychologically desired effect, however different that may be.

Anyone Can Whistle

The toy whistle sounds just like a steam-powered train whistle it’s emulating, especially when I enhanced it with a little reverb (hear it here: TrainWhistle.mp3). When I first heard this, I thought, “This is a child’s toy?! I’d use it in a film score in a heartbeat!” Whistle.jpgBut upon closer inspection, it’s just a straight-up Cm7b5 chord (C Eb Gb Bb). I recognized the chord-quality immediately, and then (surreptitiously wresting the whistle from the vise-like grip of my sleeping nephew) checked the individual valves by blowing through them one at a time. Not only were the intervals perfectly in tune with the equal temperament scale, the pitches were referenced to A440. This can’t be an accident. Yet when you hear it in context (that is, from the mouth of a child sitting amongst toy trains), you don't think music, you simply think, “Wow, how realistic that whistle is!”

Polly, Put the Kettle On

The tea kettle also emits a whistle, but not to evoke an image of “the real thing.” Instead, its job is to loudly call attention to itself and let you know the water’s boiling. And how do you best do that, if you’re a kettle? Kettle.jpgBy cooing out a harmonious perfect 5th? Not bloody likely. Rather, the tea kettle screeches out the most annoying interval possible: a minor second (hear it here: TeaKettle.mp3). This is music’s equivalent to a crying baby: You can’t ignore it. A minor second, from a musical perspective, is dissonant and harmonically active. It makes a spectacle of itself in any situation, whether musical or not. The tea kettle’s designer may have been an acoustician, a musician, or both.

Wind Beneath My Chimes

Wind chimes have the opposite mission of a tea kettle: they want to provide soothing sounds, fueled not by angry, boiling steam, but by the gentle nudging of the wind. On my dog walks and any time I’m in a residential neighborhood, I always keep an ear out for wind chimes. Why? Because it’s a fun and challenging exercise to identify the collective quality of their clanging pipes. You don’t need perfect pitch to do this; you just have to be able to identify intervals delivered in a random sequence, because that’s how chimes play. (The wind never learned to play its scales from low to high as music students throughout history have.)

In my sampling, I have noticed that most wind chimes use the pentatonic major scale (1, 2, 3, 5, 6 in any major key) for the same reasons guitarists do: You can’t play a wrong note. Because a major pentatonic scale contains no half steps (provided by the 4th and the 7th of the major scale, which are missing in the pentatonic version), you never hear a minor second—a dissonant interval, and the same one played by my tea kettle. Chimes.jpg(Hmm. Are my wind chimes talking to my tea kettle? This “smart house” concept may be going further than they’re telling me!) Not all wind chimes use the pentatonic scale (though my next door neighbors’ do): the ones on my porch (heard here: WindChimes.mp3) play another soothing sequence: the whole-tone scale. This has been used to great, gauzy effect by Debussy—usually as a harp glissando—and it works on chimes because, again, it avoids the minor second interval. You may not be expecting such “harmonically educated” thought from a device that makes no claim to produce music (only “pleasant noise”), but careful musical thought is at the very core of its makeup.

It’s a fun exercise to use your musical chops when you don’t have an instrument in your hand, when your pinnae are getting a break from the buds, and when you’re not even listening to “actual music.” Music exists in life, and sorting it out keeps you thinking and helps you understand all the sounds in your environment. You just have to listen for clues and possibly apply a little musical deduction. Staying attentive to all the music that wafts and zips in and out of daily life keeps our ears oiled and our musical brains active.

— Jon Chappell

This Week on HC

Secrets of the Pros

2012 is officially the year you learn to record. With recording gear getting better, smaller, cheaper, and easier to use, why not make a new year’s resolution to learn at least the fundamentals of recording? And if the increasing accessibility of the gear isn’t enough, we’re sweetening the pot with some user-friendly instruction.

Harmony Central has been courted by many suitors in the world of recording instruction, but we found our home with Secrets of the Pros. ThisWeek.jpgTheir videos (available for download) cover everything from general recording tips and techniques to application-specific tutorials. Check out a few of their videos here, and plan to spend a good deal of time on their site discovering all the instructional tools available to you.

Although an independent service from the Harmony Central community, Secrets of the Pros is offering a discount of 25\\% to Harmony Central users for the month of January to help get you started. When prompted, just use the promotion code harmonyc

There’s never a time like the beginning of a new year to start developing good habits and solid skills. Get started with all the great instruction available at Secrets of the Pros. And tell ’em Harmony Central sent ya!

Featured Articles




By Jon Chappell

Plugging basic grooves into a simple grid is the key to programming your own


Phil Thumb.png

Malekko Comp

By Phil O'Keefe

Big-sounding, vintage-style compression for guitar and bass from an ultra-compact pedal

Hot Tip!

Tote a Tripod Along with Your Mic Stands

Gigging musicians are well in the habit of hauling multiple mic stands whenever they leave the house. But these days, multimedia music-makers would do well to pack another type of stand: a tripod. Hot\\_Tip\\_150.jpgLike mic stands, tripods hold objects steady, up in the air, and without the need for human hands. Except that tripods are designed for videocameras, still cameras, and portable recorders, not microphones. Most recorders these days come fitted with a 1/4" threaded collar, which is the standard receptacle for mounting to the screw installed in all tripods. Even if you’re just using a smartphone, you can purchase a mounting bracket with a collar for as little as $10 online.

Don’t risk putting your recorder on a tabletop where it can be knocked aside and go skittering onto the hard floor. Give your device its own perch, atop a tripod, standing between 5 to 7 feet in the air, where it has a clear line of sight to the stage. When shopping for a tripod, plan to spend between $100 and $150 for one that’s rugged and stable, features a quick-release attachment (allowing you to instantly separate the camera or recorder from the tripod for hand-held use), and extends to at least 60" high (the higher the better, to allow your recorder to stand above the crowd).

Even if you plan to shoot video and stills with your just your smartphone, a tripod greatly minimizes any low-light blur that occurs in many interiors settings, especially a dark club where the only significant illumination comes from the stage lights.

Jon Chappell

Featured Industry News

This week's pick hits from our News section

Rhyme Genie 4 Enchants Songwriters with Accompanying Software 'TuneSmith'

Veillette Guitars presents the Flyer Acoustic Guitar

Samplemodeling Ships "Ms. Sax S.," The Soprano Sax

New American Audio Products at Winter NAMM 2012

Hal Leonard Ships The Ultimate Live Sound Operator’s Handbook 

Voxengo TransGainer 1.2 Transient Adjustment Plugin Released

Puremagnetik Releases B-System: Atmospheres

American DJ’s Versatile Mega 24PRO LED Color Wash Bar Is Perfect for Dance Floors, Uplighting, Stage Shows and More!

Seymour Duncan Announces the Great Tone Treasure Hunt

Aguilar Amplification Announces the Tone Hammer 350 Super Light Amplifier

Forum Watch

A few of this week's top discussions from our Forums

Amp or D.I.—What’s Best for an Acoustic Guitar?

On stage, it may seem normal to plug a guitar into an amp, but it’s not really necessary for acoustic-electric guitars. These can sound just as good (and some say better) if they’re connected directly to the P.A. via a direct box. Still, amping has its advantages—as this discussion reveals.

Plug-In Roundup

Who’s using what, and for which applications? Find out which plugs get the thumbs-up from the studio rats in the Sound, Studio, and Stage forum.

Anyone Doing Acoustic and Electric Sets in One Night?

Ever consider opening for yourself as an acoustic act? Apparently it’s not that uncommon an idea—and while the Backstage with the Band community mostly sticks to the topic, they also have some thoughts on what does, and does not, constitute “danceable” music.

Band Promotion—A Couple of Questions

And as you might expect, those couple of questions turn into a back-and-forth of what actually does work to promote a band in an ever-changing music business world.

Anybody Else Suffer from Bouts of Creative Stagnation?

If you haven’t already, you’ll someday face a period when new songs and arrangement ideas stop coming as readily—or don’t come at all. The Effects forum discusses this phenomenon, and talks about various ways to get past the roadblocks.

Dual Head Setup for Bass

Our intrepid thread starter heads off in search of the ultimate dual head setup, and instead discovers that . . . well, read the thread, and find out.

What Are Your Two “Must Have” Effects?

What are the two most popular guitar effects pedal types? Is it overdrive and fuzz? Maybe delay and chorus? If you had to pick only two effects that you couldn't live without, what would they be, and why? You might be surprised by some of the responses in this thread.

What About the Moog Guitar?

Hope, hype, or somewhere in between? Is it all that it’s cracked up to be, or just a noble experiment? The High-Tech Guitar forum weighs in.

On the Prevention of Cats Sitting on Warm Mixers . . .

This is a pretty funny thread, but believe it or not, there are actually some very useful tips on how to keep cats from deciding that maybe your knobs and switches need to be in different positions.

Should You Embrace or Suppress Your Influences?

It’s a philosophical dilemma as old as the creative process itself. How self-aware of your influences should you be, and how hard should you strive to purge your work of them? Hear both sides of the argument from some very creative thinkers.

This newsletter was sent by Harmony Central. Harmony Central respects your privacy and will never ask for personal information in a newsletter; for more information, read your privacy rights.

To ensure delivery, please add harmonycentral.com to your address book.

EditoriaCraig Anderton, Editor in Chief • Jon Chappell, Senior Editor • Phil O’Keefe, Associate Editor • Chris Loeffler, Reviews Editor

Advertising  adsales@harmonycentral.com

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