Monday, July 13, 2009

Music theory iPhone app reviews

If you're like myself and find yourself with time to use your iPhone
or iPod touch (ex. commuting), I find it beneficial to have some
music theory apps to keep yourself training when you're away from your
computer or instrument. I've come across some free and cheap apps that
I either use often or regret buying, so here's a look at some of them:

Key Signature by Jason Neufeld

This little app is simple and all you need to test yourself on key
signatures. Best of all, it's free! You start by choosing whether you
want to test yourself on major, minor, or both keys. You can also
focus on sharps, flats, or both. It also times you and keeps track of

your mistakes so you can see what you're good or bad at. I don't
really care for the timing thing. I just think that knowing key
signatures can help in so many ways. For example, if I know that F
major has one flat in it (Bb), I can then easily construct all the
diatonic chords from there (F major, G minor, A minor, etc...) as long
as I know my C major scale in thirds (a little tangent here but useful).

Neufeld has a paid guitar train
ing app also but I've yet to check that


This is a neat little application I paid 99 cents for. It's a great
reference to have at your side (like when you want to double check the
formula for the 6th mode of the melodic minor scale). It's divided up
into four sections: scales, chords, harmonizations, and notes. It will
give you the notes to every chord or scale you could ever imagine. Or,
start from any note and get all of the arpeggios, scales, and chords
from that note. The downside: some faults on notation. I was a little
confused at first when I saw the way he wrote a dominant seventh
chord. I still think it's a good tool to have at your side for any
instrument, as long as you don't mind some notational differences here and there.


I've never wanted my 99 cents back so fast until I got this app. I
just wanted a simple way to practice my sight reading abilities in
treble and bass clef. So from the pics the app looks okay. But why,
why the hell would you make a simple app like this that DISABLES your
music playing just to use it?! Absolutely crazy if you ask me. I don't
have perfect pitch so I'm not concerned with the sound of a G thank
you. After I got past this, I gave it a shot with my headphones in and
was mistified by the horrific choice of sound when you hit a wrong
note. So bad that now I can't even use it. I'll be on the lookout for
another app just like this as long as it doesn't punish me from the start.


Ok this one I really like and I think it has huge potential to be the
best music theory app out there. At the moment, it's really basic and
just has basic interval, scale, and major chord theory. Like really
basic. And so is the interface. It looks as if you are picking songs
to listen to, but he divides topics up into Theory and Practice. The
theory articles are good and make for good review I guess, but the
practice sections are phenomenal. You get to practice by entering
major chords and scales note by note. Practice the circle of fifths/
fourths. What's the diatonic fourth chord of F# major? Only has major
scales and chords at the moment, but imagine when other modal scales
are added and the quizzes can test you on practically everything? Pure
gold. And at 99 cents with free future updates, you're nuts not to get
this before the price goes up. Hell I would pay ten bucks for this

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I love the 80's (drum machines, that is)

I recently got my hands on a used Roland DR-550 Dr. Rhythm drum machine for maybe a tenth of the price when it first came out. Granted that was back in the eighties, but I'll sacrifice a little memory space for fun. I currently have a Boss RC-2 loop station that I love except the drums are so limited. Shouldn't have that problem anymore now that I can make any pattern I want and throw it in there. Combine that with a newly acquired used bass and I'm golden (all for under $100).

I had a good laugh when I came across the 1986 ad for this thing from an old Gearwire article.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Chord voicings and comping

I'm always practicing my voice leading because it's essential for any jazz guitar player. It's also packed with theory, so I find it helps with every other aspect of my playing and understanding of music in general.

I'm sticking with the Stella by Starlight example since it's filled with all sorts of cool chords and possible voicings. I'm going to practice this by playing all four inversions of each chords, with and without tensions.

Starting with the Em7b5, we have the notes E-G-Bb-D. Now the goal is to play these in every (possible) order on the guitar. By this I mean I'm sticking with the four middle strings and being realistic about the fingerings. I've done plenty of work here so I'm familiar with the order. Here goes...

(listed with 5th string first, then 4th, etc up to second b string)

Root position:
E Bb D G

First inversion:
G D E Bb

Second inversion:
Bb E G D

Third inversion:
D G Bb E

I'm charting this stuff out by hand but would put it up on here if there was interest.

The process goes on for the next chord, and the next, and the next... Adding tensions is the next essential part to comping effectively. It's rare that you will want to play the first inversion of a major chord for half a measure without any tensions. That's because the fingering will cramp up your hands in no time. To solve this case, you can substitute the 6 in for the seventh, and the 9 in for the root.

An example of this can be seen in a Cmaj7 chord. One would play the first inversion on the middle four strings as follows:


Oh yeah, it's difficult. Try putting the 9 (D) in for the root C, and the 6 (A) in for the seventh B. Then you get:


That looks, feels, and more importantly even sounds amazing. Play that over a Cmaj7 chord and you'll instantly see the potential of tension substitutions.

So that's what I'm going to do for all of these chords. Chart em up, play em, vary them up, whatever. You can hear me doing them in my Stella By Starlight example. Happy practicing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stella by Starlight and the Melodic Minor scale

I'm going to post way more often, I promise.

I've always wanted to get more involved with the melodic minor scale since I think it has such a distinct sound in jazz. There's tons of theory behind it so I'm taking it slow. However, I am putting it directly into practice by applying what I learn right away.

I'm skipping all the big theory babble because there are definitely sites out there can explain it better than I can. If anyone would like me to elaborate on any aspect, even if it's just "what is melodic minor," I'd be more than happy to. But for now I'll just go straight ahead into an application.

Stella by Starlight is a nice piece with plenty of opportunity for melodic minor applications. So much that I'm only looking at the first four measures (in fact just the first two measures).

The first four measures are as follows:

Em7b5 - A7b9 - Cm7 - F7

Yes, the last two measures are a ii-V as you might be thinking. But I always like to look ahead.

I recorded two tracks on here: one is a jam track that you can play to at your leisure, and the other is the same thing but with a lick 1341 from Bopland. You can type in the chord progression and be given tons of jazz licks to play with. I think this is advantageous because it always helps to have something to build off of. And we all need to add licks to our dictionary to do this.

Here are some notes I took for myself, just for strategic purposes.

- Chord tones: E-G-Bb-D
- E F# G A Bb C D E
- 6th mode of G melodic minor or E locrian #2 scale

- Chord tones: A-C-Eb-G
- A Bb C Db Eb F G
- 7th mode of Bb melodic minor or A superlocrian

On first change, look out for:
C stays the same... avoid on the first note of second measure
D goes to Db but not chord tone in the A7b9
E changes to Eb (also the 5th in A chord)
F# goes to F (passing tones)
G stays the same... avoid on the first note of second measure
A stays the same and is root of second chord
Bb stays the same

Target on the change:
Eb (fifth)


D -> Db
E -> Eb
F# -> F

I'll post an actual improv when I feel a little more comfortable =)

Oh I also realized the audio is really low... I'll fix that for next time. You might need some good bass on those speakers to hear it.

Stella by Starlight first four chords

Stella by Starlight - bop lick