Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little Music Theory, Maestro...

There comes a time, when you're writing about a professional musician and how she thinks about music, that you'd better have some music theory under your belt. This has proven to be a problem. I play guitar (occasionally), but everything I know on it I learned by rote, with none of the underlying theory. I don't read music, either. It's all strictly by ear.

This makes for a frustrating day, when you're trying to put words in the mind of someone with advanced degrees in music.

So in desperation, I was combing the web for some theory, and decided to start with pentatonic scales, since they seem to come up a lot, and are said to be the foundation of blues and rock music. A little digging turned up videos from, and damned if he doesn't walk you through your minor pentatonic scales, slowly and carefully, in each of five positions, in one video. Free (donations requested). You'd better believe I'm donating. His site is a wealth of guitar lessons, all the stuff I never learned because I learned guitar by ear (my ear is pretty good) and by rote, the same way my father played.

Having learned some pentatonics, it dawned on me that I've been /playing/ those in one lick I picked up a long time ago described at the time as "stolen from the fingers of Elvis." Elvis undoubtedly knew his pentatonics, either by rote or as a theory, and now I understand them as well. Twenty years I've been playing that lick and I never understood what it /was/.

Writing novels is like that. You use little tidbits of knowledge you gathered up over the years, and then wind up learning entirely new subjects just to apply them in the story. Writing Irreconcilable Differences, I learned more than I ever wanted to about tactical nuclear weapons, windmills, babbitt bearings, and how the auto industry was evolving at that point. Einstein's Blues is proving no different. These searches seem less likely to bring me to the attention of the FBI, though. :)


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