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SongTrellis Features..

The Changes

Hundreds of chord progressions here. Jazz, rock and blues people call them changes! Enter and we'll explain. Check the latest postings here.

Harmony In Detail

As we write or discover articles that explain how the harmony works for a tune listed in The Changes, we list them in this department.

Backing Tracks For Sale

Like having a combo or small big band ready to accompany you. Downloadable tracks in MIDI and mp3 format. Complete accompaniment with bass and drums. Piano or guitar comp behind your performance, frequently with orchestral comments. Arranged by Bernard Chinn. Complete collection of 120+ arrangements for $35.

The Jukebox

This site has a jukebox that will play you the best tunes recorded on the Songtrellis site . Press here to start it. When a tune ends, a new one will load a few seconds later. To change to a new tune at anytime, press the Jukebox item on the menu bar.

Blues Tunes

Here's a puzzle for you. Figure out why all of these varied compositions are called blues. What are the common features?

The Lessons

If you stand in exactly the right place lots of musical knowledge can be learned very quickly. Take some lessons here and see for yourself.

The Rhythms

Tens of amazing rhythm loops. You'll want to dance!

The Animations

We know how to play musical scores as QuickTime movies. These are fun to watch and listen to!


Thursday, June 27, 2013

I have a need to tell you about Tonematrixes

I need you to know that visitors to the SongTrellis site are able to create original music using a Tonematrix web page, many times a few moments after they have seen how it works.

Two tiny testimonials

Testimony #1

My own experience using the SongTrellis tonematrix page is that I always find a new idea that I want to keep every time I have a chance to use it for a few minutes. This, for example, was a three minute effort created this afternoon as I completed this page.

And once I find a new idea, I know that I can vary it in more ways than I can keep track of.

Visit this page, go to the bottom, and start the last MIDI controller on the page. This page shows submissions from last to earliest. You'll see and hear my original tonematrix idea.

Now work your way back toward the top, listening to each track. These are all variations I created using controls on the Tonematrix page. There's one matrix image that changes the tonematrix tempo and then two that vary the instrumentation for the animation. The next three tracks higher on the page were made by changing the pitch assignments of the tonematrix rows, which produces entirely different melodies which maintain the shape of the originals. The last two were created by shifting the original tonematrix pattern down and then up in their grid,

All of these variations were created by changing a control setting on a tonematrix page, and then pressing a button to generate a changed performance. Usually that's a 10 or 15 second process.

Pretty much everyone who's browser is setup to play MIDI files, will be able to play this Tonematrix generated music. If you click on any of the grid images on that page, the tonematrix loop corresponding to that gird image will play, provided you have a QuickTime Version 7 player plugin installed on your system. This link will explain why this software is currently necessary to run a tonematrix animation.

Testimony #2

In the last week, I've seen a 4 year old write their first piece of music after being shown the interface. Even after I had studied music for years as an adult, I never had an expectation that I'd be able to easily write a pleasing small piece as quickly as he did. Now that I use tonematrixes, that's always my expectation.

When I saw him the next day, he asked "Can I play that game with red and green squares again"? I was confused at first because I wasn't used to thinking of a tonematrix in that way.

What is thees thing, what you call it, a tonematrix?

A Tonematrix is a rectangular grid, a kind of music production tool displayed on a webpage, that performs a piece of music in a loop, as soon as one of the tonematrix grid squares is turned on via a mouse click.

A person who touches a Tonematrix interface for the first time, is likely to experience an interesting musical result as soon as they make their first mouse clicks in an empty, newly created Tonematrix.

Once they've been primed with a small number of hints, it's in their power to complete a musical sounding composition a few moments later.

The URL that launches a new Tonematrix is:

There's a "Tonematrix" link that appears in the link bar at the top of most pages on SongTrellis that will launch that.

Here are the hints:

1) Choose a grid square in the Tonematrix and click on it. The background of that selected square will change to be colored red in order to show that it now contributes a sound to the Tonematrix loop, and the loop will begin to play. When it's time for your chosen grid square to play its part in the loop, it's color will change to green for as long as it sounds.

If you click on a colored cell, you silence it and its color changes back to white to show that it no longer contributes to the loop.

Here's the lay of the land in a tonematrix, before we continue with hints 2, 3 and 4:

Squares that are in upper rows of the grid produce a high sounding pitch. Those that are in lower rows of the grid will produce lower sounding pitches. As you move lower in the grid, lower pitches sound. Grid squares on the same row will play the same preassigned pitch. There's an exception to this rule that will let you reach up or down to pitches that lay between the row pitch assignments, if you feel the need.

Squares in columns on the left will sound before squares that are farther to the right in the grid. All cells in the same column start and stop at the same instants and play for the duration that's been preset for that column. The instant that column's time slice is exhausted and its cells stop playing, its neighbor to the right starts any turned on any turned on cells it has. As soon as the last column stops, the matrix first column plays to restart the loop

Back to the hints

2) Now choose a square to the left or right of your first choice in a different row, and click there. You'll have created a two pitch melody that continually loops. If you've placed your two pitches in non-adjacent columns, click on some square in one of the empty columns that were left between your originally selected squares, in a different row than your first two choices. If the squares you clicked on first are in adjacent columns, click on another square before or after those.

3) Listen to the three pitch melody you've recorded in your tonematrix, if you don't like how that new pitch feels in combination with with your original two pitch choices, turn that square off by toggling it off with a mouse click and click on a square in a different row of the column.

It may be that you enjoy the sensation added to your piece by your last mouse click, but the pitch that this turns on, seems like it is sounding either too early or too late in your loop for your taste. In that case, toggle off your last choice, and click on an earlier or later square in the same row. Remember: all squares in the same row of a tonematrix sound the same pitch.

4) Turn on as many pitches in the Tonematrix grid as you need to, until you've created a loop that you enjoy listening to.

If you have questions, ask them here

Software that must be installed on your web browser to play a Tonematrix loop animation. Why it's necessary.

Tonematrix loop animation depends on a QuickTime 7 player plug-in being installed on a visitor's web browser. QuickTime provides the timing progress reports down to millisecond resolution that are necessary to keep a Tonematrix animation loop in synchronization with its music performance.

QuickTime Version 7 is the last QuickTime version that Apple released that provides MIDI support for web sites.

MIDI was the only feasible music production method that would've given the fast music generation speed necessary to provide instant edit feedback needed to handle Tonematrix changes. Producing the Tonematrix music track in mp3 or ogg would take several, sometimes many seconds, to generate and more seconds to transmit to the viewer's web browser. This music generation and transmission lag would totally destroy a Tonematrix's responsiveness to speed of thought music changes.

Perhaps someone has a software MIDI sequencer that can be bound to a web page. I only know about ones that take a substancial part of a minute to make a new sound ready to play. Instrument changes can take place nearly instantly, barely glitching the tonematrix performance, when QT 7 plays the music.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I'll play it and tell you what it is later

As you listen to the beginning of the 'If I Were A Bell' performance on the "Relaxin" album, you hear Miles Davis tell his engineer Bob Weinstock "I'll play it and tell you what it is later".

I've got lots of new SongTrellis technology to introduce, so I'm going to adopt Miles' attitude for a day, and quickly demo a lot of new things via links that point to the new good stuff. Later I'll loop back, as I'm able, and explain what I've done in greater detail.

That loop-back-to-explain may take a while to complete. If you want to ask questions about any of this before the more complete explanations hit, follow the Comments link that appears at the bottom edge of each home page posting . If you follow one of those links, that will launch the message in the Discussion group that is the source of that text and autoscroll to the Disqus comment box for the posting, where you can post questions or comments.

There's also a type-in box below that starts up a reply thread in the SongTrellis Song Discussions. That's best to use if you want to include a score or MIDI performance as part of your post. Disqus doesn't provide facilities for those kinds of inclusions yet.

OK, check it out:

Instant chord symbol animations for chord progressions

SongTrellis can perform an animation that shows the chord symbol for each chord change at precisely the instant it sounds in the MIDI performance of that chord progression. Here's an animation that I setup for the "If I Were A Bell" changes.

Creating this was a 15 second process for me:

  1. Open the page for If I Were A Bell in The Changes
  2. Follow the SongTrellis Excerpt Service link and press the Play button that appears on that page
  3. Follow the "Launch Tunetext page for this except" link that appears below the Play button at the instant the excerpt starts to play.
  4. On the Tunetext page, press the Perform a Chord Change Animation button that appears to the right of the score that is displayed.

SongTrellis plays Interval Animations

Any Tunetext score, which specifies a melody with chordal accompaniment, can be animated in an instant using a newly invented animation technique, which reports the melodic interval and harmonic intervals formed by every note in a piece at the instant they sound in the performance.

Here's an interval animation for one of my compositions "The Shell Cracks Now".

To see how this was created:

  1. Follow this link to a Tunetext page for "The Shell Cracks Now".
  2. Press the "Perform an Interval Animation" button, which appears in the middle button group that is positioned to the right of the music score on a Tunetext page, whenever a score is eligible to launch an Interval Animation (ie. it includes a melody track and a chord accompaniment track).

As an interval animation begins, a 2 x 2 display grid is displayed on the animation page.

As the animation plays, the content of the grid cells changes to identify the melodic and harmonic meaning of each melody note the instant that it begins to play.

Interval Animation Snapshot

The top row of the grid identifies the melodic interval by which the melody moved to reach the currently sounding note. The left top grid square displays an upward pointing arrow as the melody moves up, a downward pointing arrow as the melody moves down, and a horizontal arrow when the melody rides on the same pitch. The right grid square displays the name of the melodic interval that was traversed to reach the currently playing melody pitch, and colors the grid square background to show the color code for that size of interval jump.

The bottom row describes the harmonic meaning of that note. The bottom left grid square displays the name of the chord that currently sounds in the performance. The bottom right square displays the name of the harmonic interval formed between the current melody pitch and the root of the accompanying chord and colors the grid square background to show the color code for that harmonic interval.

An optional presentation, the Interval Flow, can be generated while an Interval Animation plays

Interval animation pages contain a Show Interval Flow switch that can turn on a spectacular visualization of the interval content of a melody and direction of travel of a melody. That Flow display is punctuated to show the boundaries and relative sizes of the phrases of the melody.

Here's that an Interval Animation that generates an Interval Flow report for my composition "Aerobatic"

An Interval Flow display draws a reduced size rendition of the direction arrow and interval color stack that is generated for each note as it plays in the stock interval animation, and flows that stream of colored squares corresponding to newly heard notes to the right in one row of the display. That display row is accumulated in a display area to the right of the interval color grid.

Interval Flow example

Whenever there's a pause in the melody, which marks the beginning of the new phrase, the display is advanced to the next line of the display where the interval flow for the notes of the next phrase will accumulate.

When the animation completes, the Interval Flow has left behind a bar chart that shows the size of each phrase in the piece's melody.

Each colored column corresponds to a note of the melody, and identifies the melodic and harmonic intervals that were sounded when that note played.

The Harmonic Interval Palette

The Harmonic Interval Palette has been listed on the SongTrellis site's link bar for a long time, but not many visitors have tried it. It's a way to quickly discover for yourself the different kind of harmonic sensations that can be created by holding a melodic pitch above a chord of a particular type.

It's accessible via the Harmonic Interval Palette link on the link bar. For me, that's on the bottom line of the link bar.

When you select that link, a panel launches which allows you to name the root and type of a chord. There are 12 pitches that you can choose for the chord root. There are 45 chord types that the SongTrellis music editing system can produce. Each of those types produce a different kind of harmonic sensation. Choosing a different root controls whether the sound that you select will be pitched higher or lower as it is built on the chosen chord root.

As soon as you press the "Display Palette" button on this selection panel, a page will launch that will let you audition all of the 12 harmonic intervals that can be produced above that chord choice.

If you review the harmonic interval choices for an unfamiliar chord type (if you are just starting to learn music, they're probably all unfamiliar), you can find those intervals that produce a pleasant sensation for your ear, and those that you must treat with caution, because hearing too much of that sound might be a bad experience. Experiments with the Harmonic Interval Palette can prime your ear when you are preparing to compose new music.

The Leap to Harmonic Interval page

The new Leap To Harmonic Interval link on the SongTrellis link bar will launch a page that allows you to audition different ways to move melodically within a particular chord and between different chords.

Where to find the link: Leap to Harmonic Interval currently appears immediately after the Harmonic Interval Palette link on the bottom line of the SongTrellis link bar.

Using the Harmonic Interval Palette, you might have found several intervals that sound really good above a particular chord. Those intervals might be goal sounds that you'll choose to visit when you write a melody that uses those sounds or to invoke during an improvisation. When you use a harmonic interval in a melody, you move from other pitches to reach that goal. This new Leap page lets you audition almost all of the different motions that you have available to move to your chosen goal sound.

When you follow the Leap to Harmonic Interval link, a target chord, a goal harmonic interval that will be played above that chord, a melodic interval leap size and a direction of leap (up or down) will be randomly chosen, and a music example and score will be generated that starts with a pitch that is the specified melodic interval size and direction away from the chosen harmonic interval forming pitch of the goal chord, and that places the next note on a pitch that creates the specified harmonic interval.

If you like what you hear, you've found an idea that you can use to begin your own music composition. If you find the randomly generated idea distasteful, you can change the controls and choose a different melodic interval size, different melodic interval direction, different harmonic interval goal, or different goal chord. As soon as you change these settings, your new idea will be performed and displayed for you.

New Chord Grid behavior - Chord cycle animations

The default Chord Grid on the SongTrellis page shows 45 rows that are labelled on the left with a chord type name. The columns to the right of the chord type name show the 12 possible distinct pitches that you can build a chord of that type upon. Those chord roots can be organized by 11 different chord root motion choices and any of the 12 possible pitches can be chosen as the pitch to be shown in the leftmost column of the grid. With 12 x 11 different setting root motion and leftmost pitch settings, 132 different root arrangements are possible to display in the chord grid.

Each of the 11 chord root motions produce a characteristic sensation as you move from root to root within a row of the grid. You'll also find that for a particular chord root choice, there is a similarity of sensation in traveling through a root cycle in different chord type rows, even though the different chord types produce sensations that vary from extreme consonance to extreme dissonance.

The new behavior: if you mouse click on a chord type name in the Chord Grid, one complete cycle of chords whose roots move by the selected chord root motion size will be performed. At the instant that each chord in the cycle is played, you'll see that its root name is highlighted in red. You'll see that the some of the root motion choices will form a root cycle that will visit all 12 of the possible root pitches on a chord grid row. Others choices will form cycles of 6, 4, 3, and 2 chord roots. You'll know that a root motion choice forms smaller root cycles when you see that end of cycle mark ('|') appear in the grid rows.

As soon as the cycle begins to play, to the right of the chord grid, you'll see that you have the choice to add a number of chords that you choose from the cycle to add to the Chord List that is accumulated on the right side of the grid.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

George Coleman should be recognized as a Jazz Master

Every year since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts honors a small number of jazz musicians as NEA Jazz Masters. The great tenor saxophonist George Coleman has reached his 76th year, and has still not been accorded this honor.

Remember that George was the tenor who blew sublimely on Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage album with Freddie Hubbard at his elbow and with Herbie, Ron Carter and Tony Williams stretching time underneath his lines in wondrous ways.

And remember how he played during the celebrated NAACP benefit concert of February 1964, when the Miles Davis Quintet (Coleman, Hancock, Carter and Williams with Miles) recorded the music for the My Funny Valentine and "Four And More" albums, an incandescent evening in the history of jazz performance.

His mastery has been undeniable since those early career recordings nearly a half century ago, and has not diminished. As a mid career checkpoint, listen to what happened when he joined the Eastern Rebellion collective in the mid-80's.

On there's been a petition effort organized over the past few days to collect signatures to support the idea that George Coleman be named one of this year's NEA Jazz Masters.

I signed early this morning, and hope that you'll consider adding your name to the list.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dave, what have you been doing recently?

Since my last home page posting, a good part of that time I spent developing a cool music composing tool for SongTrellis visitors to use called a Tonematrix.

What's a tonematrix?

A Tonematrix is a kind of music creation web interface that plays a small looped musical composition. It displays a square grid on a web page, with clickable grid squares, whose columns represent ticks of a metronome or the succession of durations of a rhythm pattern, and whose rows represent one pitch out of a harmonious collection of pitches.

Clicking on a blank tonematrix grid square causes that row's pitch to play starting at that column's metronome tick within the tonematrix loop's tick sequence.

How do you play with a tonematrix?

This URL will display a newly created, pristine but silent tonematrix, waiting for your first composing action:

You'll launch this URL whenever you follow the "Tonematrix" link that appears now in the middle of the top row of the link bar at the top of pages on the SongTrellis site.

You'll hear it play musical sound and perhaps see it animate that music (provided a capable animation-ready web browser is running) a second or two after you click inside any grid square within the matrix with your mouse. The time to respond to a click action at any instant reflects the current computing workload of the SongTrellis web servers.

By default, each matrix column corresponds to one tick of a metronome that clicks at a fixed tempo, and the pitches that play for a column are assigned from top row to bottom row using pitches of a specified chord or scale that are replicated over several descending octaves.

How does a tonematrix work?

As soon as a user clicks on a blank grid square in a matrix, they are taking an action that adds a sound to the music loop that the Tonematrix software plays. The instant a user clicks on a square in an empty Tonematrix, it's color changes to red, the pitch corresponding to that square's row at the instant specified by its column is added to the matrix loop, and the Tonematrix player begins to loop through the matrix performing it.

A tonematrix can animate a musical idea in an instant

On web browsers that run HTML5's Canvas animation package (Firefox, Safari and Chrome), a tonematrix will animate to show the pitches that are playing at any instant in the matrix loop. If animation is permitted, as soon as the next metronome tick occurs, all of the the red colored squares in the corresponding matrix column turn to green to show that they are sounding their pitches.

As soon as the next click takes place, all of the green colored grid squares in the last column are changed back to red, to allow the next column begins to play and show green. As an animation takes place you will see a vertical band of green squares that will loop repeatedly across the matrix from left to right.

If a person doesn't like how a particular square makes their piece sound, they can click on that square again to toggle it off, thereby silencing the pitch that this square added to the tonematrix performance.

What makes a tonematrix loveable?

I love this most about a Tonematrix: using one it's possible to show a person, who does not possess even one word of prior music vocabulary, how to compose, depending only upon the tiniest initial instruction and their own innate sense of musical rightness.


I love how quickly I can find new musical ideas when I use a tonematrix.

When a person clicks within a grid square, the SongTrellis server prepares a new, changed version of their loop. When that new version of the piece is delivered to their web browser a second or so after their click action, the new music plays and the animation restarts, to let them hear how their music sounds and see how it looks. If they discover that they've made an unpleasant change to their piece, they turn that square off with a mouse click and and click on another square that may please their ears more, and again they'll hear the audio reflection of their editing action, almost instantly.

Shape shift an idea into something better

Because the tonematrix is looping away playing the current version of the music, waiting for another user mouse click to change the music that's playing, it's easy for a tonematrix user to quickly decide if the new version of the loop satisfies.

Frequently, they'll feel that they had gotten the pitch of the next sound right, but that it might sound better if it happened at a later or earlier tick than their first try. They can make that pitch sound earlier by clicking a square to the left of their original choice in the same row. They can make it sound later, by clicking a square to the right of the original.

It will also happen that they might like the contour of their idea, the way that it rises an falls, but feel that their exact pitch choice is not precisely the right one for their ear. It's easy to toggle off the less effective grid square and listen to the grid square neighbors that reside in the rows above or below that first experiment.

If you compose at a piano or with a guitar, you must precisely remember the pitches and timings of the idea that you've just stumbled across, so that you can write them down. That skill develops while exercise it. A tonematrix though is a musical ratchet tool that precisely remembers your current best idea as you grow your piece, allowing you to compose even when your musical memory is still under development.

Intuition gained from tonematrix can motivate learning the musical lingo and concepts that will allow one to compose easier and with better control (my belief)

Once folks have acquired some intuition about how musical shapes work in a tonematrix, I believe it will be much easier for them to learn vocabulary that will allow them to develop their musical ideas ever faster, at whatever time they decide that such learning has value for them.

Remember this is a site dedicated to providing and tools and musical know-how for folks. Now that I've introduced the tool, I intend to help you develop your know how.

Perhaps parallel kinds of music animations can help

There's a "Launch Tunetext" button in the interface, which will launch a viewer to show the music notation translation of the current matrix in a new window. From the Tunetext window that launches, you can ask the SongTrellis server to prepare an animation that draws each note and chord on an initially empty music staff at the instant each of those objects sound in the score.

This kind of animation cannot be instantly produced like a tonematrix animation, but the server instantly returns the URL where the new animation will be delivered one or two or a few minutes later, and continuously posts a status report at that URL until the moment the animation replaces the status report and starts to play.

A tonematrix composer, who doesn't read music notation yet, can look at a notation animation and quickly appreciate that the rising and falling note series on a music staff shows the contour of a musical idea in the same way that the up and down transition of sounding squares in a tonematrix animation charts a melody's contour.

When a tonematrix is used, there's enough musical safety built in that it's hard to roll into an instant train wreck, which nearly always happens when a beginner touches a new instrument or music production tool.

Because the matrix pitches are assigned using a particular named chord or scale whose pitches harmonize with one another, it's relatively hard to find pitch successions in the matrix that are musically senseless, so long as only one chord is dialed in for the matrix, which is the default setup for a newly created tonematrix.

This is the opposite experience that beginning musicians have when they try press a succession of keys on a piano or strum strings on a guitar while fretting for the first time. Unless they are quite lucky, they nearly instantly run into a musical train wreck.

Your webmaster Dave Luebbert's Tonematrix testimony

Testimonial hat on:

As soon as I started to use this interface, I began to easily invent musical ideas that I don't believe I could have crafted previously. Finding chord accompaniments that satisfied me for the melodies I invented, became especially easy to do. Before I began to compose with a tonematrix, I had found that this was extremely hard work, given my level of skill.

I started to find new ideas with varied shapes in a few seconds time that would have been a laborious slog to discover using almost any of the other music invention methods I know how to invoke.

I'm thrilled whenever I can create software that turns nearly impossible to accomplish tasks into something that's easy to do and easy to teach, so working to better the capabilities of the tonematrix interface has been a thrill.

Testimonial hat off.

An amazing thing I discovered once I had a Tonematrix available to play with

Nearly always, once you've found an idea in a matrix that sounds good for a chosen pitch set, when you change the matrix controls to use a different chord or scale for its pitch assignments, you'll likely find that the matrix still plays a pleasing idea, albeit with a different emotional complexion. With this capability available, you can vary an idea in hundreds of ways and quickly find a variation that you can use to extend your composition in an interesting new way.

Once I've found an idea that I like, there's likely hundred's of different sensations and emotions that can be expressed by applying different pitch sets to that base idea which has been recorded in a tonematrix.

The Demos

Just to show what's possible, here are some example Tonematrix compositions

1) a loop that plays an idea composed in less than a minute that plays through a D6 chord. This loop has a cheerful, consonant sound.

2) this example performs the last tonematrix through a different chord, a Bb7Alt, which has a darker, more dissonant feeling to it. To create this, all I did was to change the Chord Root and Chord Type menus in the controls to the right of the tonematrix, and press the "Change Performance Now" button. After 15 seconds of effort I was able to audition this new music.

3) this two measure tonematrix is used to perform a 4 measure chord progression. This generates music that performs the tonematrix pattern using the first two chords of the progression and then plays a different but similar melody by interpreting the tonematrix using the pitch sets of the last two chords of the progression. This music took about 5 minutes to find.

4) this shows a 4 measure tonematrix that is played through a 12 measure chord progression. The tonematrix pitchset is stretched to fit each new chord at the instant it begins to sound resulting in a melody that accommodates each chord change. Composing this was a ten minute effort, with most of the time devoted to choosing the chords to include in the progression.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

There's a small demonstration available now that shows how to interpret and perform Rhythm Skeleton Counts when they appear on Play Rhythm pages or are listed in the Rhythm Web.

You'll know that you're dealing with skeleton count notation on rhythm pages, when you see a square bracketed sum of integers preceded by an integer, similar to this: 4[2+5+4+3+2]

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rhythm Web larger than The Changes now

Yesterday around mid-day, the SongTrellis Rhythm Web had grown to list 1238 distinct rhythms, exactly the same size as the list of chord progressions scores listed in The Changes department of the site.

The Rhythm web has already grown 9 rhythms larger since that moment.

Concepts that can help one make sense of rhythms

In the design of the SongTrellis Play Rhythm service and of the site's Rhythm Web, which collects listener-recommended rhythms that were auditioned via Play Rhythm, I made distinctions between rhythm orchestrations (or rhythm performances), rhythm signatures, and rhythm skeleton counts.

Rhythm signatures and skeleton counts are not standard concepts taught by those who practice music analysis, but concepts that I invented to aid my own understanding of the rhythms that are played in rhythm traditions that inherit from Africa.

Rhythm Orchestrations

Orchestration in the context of musical composition is the process of deciding when particular instruments will play parts in a musical composition and which pitch ranges those instruments will use to realize their parts.

A rhythm orchestration, as I use the term, is a rhythm description that precisely describes the percussion sound of every hit in a rhythm cycle.

The description character string in the rhythm= parameter of a Rhythm Orchestration played by a Play Rhythm request, will contain alphabetic symbols such as B to specify when a Bass drum tone should sound, a O (capital oh) to specify when a drum Tone should sound. (The symbol for the hand drum sound called Tone is an O, because that character is a diagram of where you strike a drum to make such a sound, on the hard outer edge of the drum that lies underneath a circular drum head's outside edge). S means that a slap drum sound should be performed.

There are several other one and two character symbol sequences that could be invoked within a rhythm performance that invoke other characteristic drum and percussion sounds that should be played (H, T, r, So, Ss, X).

Without appropriate mental tools, I always needed to consult printed notation laying in front of me to perform a rhythm that I wanted to play

When I first took hand drum lessons 20 years ago, for my first year, no rhythm that Bill Matthews taught me stuck. I could not remember a rhythm and play it from memory. I was totally chained to my notation book, Bill's Conga Joy, to follow the rhythms that I needed to play when I practiced with my drum group. If I forgot my book, I was lost.

Building the tools

I had to learn to analyze and abstract the rhythms I was learning to play so that I could identify ideas that were used as the building blocks of different ensemble rhythms, and that were shared inside of seemingly different rhythm parts. Once I could do this, and I could think of their constituent chunks, rhythms became memorable. Then I could start to retain them and play them and flow from one rhythm to another during performances. For me, this was the key to learning how to play fluently.

Two concepts were my handles for remembering rhythms; my keys for playing fluently

First concept: the Rhythm Signature

The first thing I had to realize was that the actual sequence of different drum sounds in a rhythm is not what felt strongest in my muscle memory and what held most firmly in my ear when I played a rhythm or listened to it.

Instead it was the pattern of hits, the knowledge of when to move my arms and hands, and when to stay still that was most memorable.

Before I could learn to accurately play the sequence 'bass-rest-tone-slap', I had to have the idea 'hit-rest-hit-hit' firmly in mind first.

I would learn the rhythm as though it were played using only a single drum pitch, hitting the drum at the correct instants in a cycle, before I would learn to move my hand around the drum to slap out a particular series of drum pitches.

When it was time to design the rhythm descriptions that Play Rhythm would understand, I designed Play Rhythm's little rhythm description language so it would be easy to first think of rhythms as a series of hits encoded via 1 and 0 symbols. Then I could relate to that hit series many different performances and many different orchestrations of that rhythm.

To orchestrate a rhythm, I would replace 0 symbols with '*' symbols, and 1 symbols with specific drum pitch symbols.

A Rhythm Orchestration that has been flattened down to a series of timed hits I call a Rhythm Signature. Within the Rhythm Web, all of the many different ways that signature can be orchestrated are recorded as members of that signature's family.

The symbols in a Rhythm Signature are always some punctuated sequence of 1 and 0 symbols, like this:


In the notation of a rhythm signature, 1 symbols are instructions to make a sound and 0 symbols are instructions to stay quiet in particular beat subdivision. The dash symbols delimit beat boundaries. The first symbol of a beat group is played on its beat.

In the Rhythm Web, when we look at the report for a particular performance of a Rhythm Orchestration, it will list its rhythm signature.

When you look at the report of a rhythm signature it will include a link to a list of all of the Orchestrations that have been submitted that share that Rhythm Signature.

What are the Skeleton Counts that the Play Rhythm service reports?

Skeleton Counts were the most important handle I needed to remember rhythms.
Perhaps you'll find that they help you also.

After I had played for awhile, I could sense that certain rhythms that had different signatures still produced similar sensations that made it seem that they were part of an even larger rhythm family.

What I finally figured out was that rhythms are heard as periods of sound interspersed with periods of silence.

When I was learning a rhythm that had an African heritage, each beat was subdivided the same, usually by 4 or by 3. Most rhythm cycles were sequences of 4 beats that were either subdivided by 4 or by 3. A 4 beat rhythm with beats divided by 4 would have 16 subdivision slots and a 4 beat with beats divided by 3 would have 12 subdivision slots.

If there were a sequence of hits that sounded on a sequence of these smallest rhythm cycle subdivisions with no rests between hits, I would hear this string of hits as a unit and it would seem that any rest subdivisions that followed were added on as the ending punctuation for this aural unit.

When a hit sounded after one or more rest subdivisions, that would mark the beginning another section of the rhythm.

Using this idea, I could partition any rhythm cycle in a series of sections. If a rhythm had total of 16 subdivisions, I would hear a sequence of sections that each lasted a certain number of subdivisions. I could then mentally notice that a rhythm might have a pattern of sections whose count went 3+3+3+2+2+3 or 3+5+5+2+1.

Then I realized that the rhythms that sounded like closest relatives were those that had the same shaped cycle of sections. I call these shared sequences of subdivision counts that define different families of rhythms, the Skeleton Counts for those rhythm families.

In a Skeleton Count, extraneous hits were left out of the rhythm, leaving behind only the single hits that started each unit of the rhythm. This would skeletonize the rhythm, allowing you to sense the common feeling of a particular rhythm family in its clearest form.

Once I knew the feeling of a particular Skelton Count, I could easily figure out in my heads other rhythms from that family that had busier rhythm signatures but which affected listeners similarly, because they shared the same Skeleton Count.

And then by gluing together adjacent sections of a Skelton Count, or breaking a Skeleton Count section into smaller parts. I could figure out other rhythm families that were more loosely related to an particular rhythm family.

Using Skeleton Counts, you could mentally build a family tree for rhythms that let you predict how they and their relatives would likely feel if you decided to play them.

I found that Skeleton Counts were even more memorable than a rhythm's signature. Once I could remember rhythms and mentally organize them by Skeleton Count, I could start to solo as I would perform a rhythm with a particular count, and follow it with rhythms that were relatives or that were great contrasts, sculpting my own rhythms as I played.

You'll notice that for every rhythm reported in the Rhythm Web, the Skeleton Count for the rhythm is also reported.

To summarize, think of a Skelton Count as the sparsest possible rhythm of all of the rhythms in a Skeleton Count family. All hits have been left out except for the single hits that signal the starts of new groups within a rhythm.

When you feel like you need to play a more active, dense version of a skeleton rhythm, you can hit on additional adjacent subdivisions after the one that begins the group. You can add as many additional adjacent hits in the group as long as you do not eliminate the very last rest of a group.

Filling up every subdivision slot with a hit has the effect of gluing two groups together and erases the rest that serves as punctuation between groups, thereby producing a rhythm that is a little less related than if you had respected the rhythm's Skeleton Count boundaries.

If you can ensure that the hits in the next group are going to be performed using a different instrumental pitch, then you may fill in the final rest of a nearly full group, because then the pitch change serves to mark the beginning of a new group as we listen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Watch This!

Yesterday, the Tunetext superuser of IP address showed that they are also a master of the Excerpt Service and know how that can feed material for study or composing into a Tunetext window.

There's a small tune that I wrote in 1996, Tumbler, that's posted on SongTrellis under my listing in the Our Composers department. It's only 8 measure long, and has a busy active melody, with an unusual harmonic sequence as accompaniment.

The superuser used the Excerpt Service link that's available on the "Tumbler" page and used that to grab two repetitions of the harmony and melody from the published score. They would have set the First bar setting in the Excerpt Service form to 1 and the Last Bar setting to 16, like this.

Excerpt Service pages have a link that will copy an excerpt into a Tunetext window. He used that and shot that excerpted score over to a Tunetext window. Opening the Tunetext form for that new score, he erased the melody from that form and resubmitted it to produce a score that only contains the "Tumbler" changes.

Then he used the "Publish Tunetext Button to SongTrellis Public Ideas" link that is available on Tunetext pages, to publish that chord arrangement to the Public Ideas yesterday afternoon at 3:20:31 PM.

I saw that my harmony had been published as a Public Idea, and thought, sheesh, let's write a new song that uses that harmony, just as anyone else has a right to do.

There are operators built into the Tunetext language that can help a composer (this could be you, it's pretty easy) invent a new melody over existing harmony extremely quickly. I used those to build the phrases of my new tune. After 45 minutes I had it complete and posted the new composition, which I decided to call Tumbleweed, in honor of its "Tumbler" heritage, to today's Public Ideas.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coolness in Public Ideas

Check out this neat submission that was sent to Public Ideas yesterday.

This is a score of tall extent, so if you scroll to the bottom of the score image, you can press the Play button on the controller that is visible there to hear what they did.

Whoever sent this in did a better arrangement for "The Girl of Ipanema" than the one I've had listed in "The Changes" for years.

The arrangement that I posted exactly followed the changed that were published in Volume 1 of the Berklee Real Book, the source for harmony that I had at the time.

These new changes are better than that. They are not Jobim's changes for the song (for reference, here they are), but they are closer to what a jazz musician would play for the song today.

I like these enough that I've replaced my original arrangement with the one posted in Public Ideas. This person, who submitted from IP address, also did a nice looking arrangement of Richard Rodgers' The Last Time I Saw Paris that matches the changes we already have posted. The printed version looks beautiful by comparison with the original posting in "The Changes", because the layout code that serves Tunetext is so much more capable today.

They also did an untitled third arrangement that sounds like it must be a chord arrangement of a well-known tune, but I can't figure out which one yet. The bridge sounds like Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing), but the A sections don't match.

If anyone can recognize (or if the author is willing to email me), I'd love to ID the song that owns that harmony.

Those postings tell me other things - I'm no longer the only Tunetext master at SongTrellis

For example, that the person who did those arrangements has completely mastered the use of Tunetext for creating chord arrangements.

That means by hook or crook, the person has figured out that part of the Tunetext specification format pretty completely.

In one of those arrangements posted yesterday, they used a form of chord specification which allowed them to precisely specify the voicings of each chord in their arrangement. This is a sign of mastery of the format.

By default, when those voicing specifications are left out, in the interest of variety, the Tunetext service works out a slightly different way to voice a progression every time it's played.

They could have discovered what they needed by inspecting Tunetext buttons that I've posted to Song Discussions and Public Ideas and looking into the notation that was revealed when they double clicked on those buttons.

They may have also found instructional posts that I've done on the site.

Those of you who feel like you know Tunetext: it would be very helpful to know what your experience has been with it. I'd like to know what worked best for you as you learned to use it.

You are pathfinders. I'd like to direct others down the paths you've broken for yourselves.

If there's things can are still confusing, I think can clear those up for you.

Websites can improve quickly if folks tell the designer how the design works for them. This is still a site designed, constructed and programmed by a single person. I really depend on and am grateful for your feedback.

If there are elements of the Tunetext interface that are getting in the way of your work, I can teach workarounds or change the Tunetext code if that's necessary. With feedback, I'll likely be able to improve the software, which will let others join the party, and make easier use of these tools for their own projects.

See the Feedback link and drop me a line, or else reply to the request via the Comment link below.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Public Ideas - Credited or Anonymously Credited

There's a lot of code running on the SongTrellis site that I've put into play in the last year and a half but haven't really documented. The Public Ideas section of the site, so far has been a pretty much unexplained territory.

It gratifies me to see that despite the lack of documentation or encouragement, some visitors to SongTrellis have figured out how to use the feature.

If you follow the previous link you'll hear the results of an experiment that a SongTrellis person made using polychords, stacks of two or three different chords built on different roots, many times of differing chord types, that are meant to be played at the same instant in a composition. These kinds of chord combinations cause a lot of unusually colored, frequently dissonant, harmony to sound.

I've experimented a little with these ideas myself, but haven't mastered them by any means. It tickles me when someone sends in polychord ideas that expand my concept of what this kind of harmony can do.

I'm going to write about Public Ideas, in the hope that if more folks understand its use, we'll see more sharing of musical discoveries here.

The purpose of Public Ideas is to have a publicly shared repository of musical ideas, that can used to publish new harmonic, rhythmic or melodic discoveries.

Anyone who visits SongTrellis has access to the site's Tunetext service, an environment where it's easy to do musical exploration. Once a new idea is discovered with Tunetext, it's extremely easy to post that to the Public Ideas.

If you type into a web browser or follow the Tunetext link that's listed in the middle row of links on the linkbar that appears at the top of most SongTrellis pages, a web page with an entry form will be displayed.

I'm going to document how to do your own harmony experiments here. Rhythm and melody experiments I'll document in future posts.

When a new Tunetext page opens, the tunetext entry form is empty, and you'll see that the topmost, large text entry field is titled "Tunetext Entry For Score's Chord Voice". If you can type a list of chords into this entry field (a chord root name followed by a chord type name), and press the form's Submit Score button, the Tunetext service will play that chord sequence for you. (The chord roots and chord type names that appear in a Chord Grid, define the proper spellings of chord roots and chord types).

In the page that plays the music so that you can audition it, you can press the "Edit Tunetext Parameters" button, to reopen the entry form, so that you can change the sequence to be played and resubmit that.

If you eventually find a new sequence that you really enjoy listening to, Tunetext pages provide many different ways that you could package your new music so that it could be shared on SongTrellis or on your own websites.

There is a link provided that you can use to download a MIDI rendering of your harmony.

There's a link that will animate your score so that you can easier follow the score as it plays, in case you have a hard time reading music,

There are three link groups that package up the score MIDI sequence with a MIDI player and a printable score of the music in a web apge, so that you can document your idea by posting it on a web page.

It's also possible to package the music as a Tunetext page, that transforms the score for your music into a clickable button. Clicking on a Tunetext button score, launches the tunetext page that was used to create that score.

Tunetext buttons are beautiful ways to share music in an instantly editable form. Once the score for the tunetext is playing, you can edit its parameters and customize in many different ways: alter the notes, chords or rests in the score, change the tempo, its instrumentation, change which voices of the score are visible in the score, color code the notes and chords to mark those elements harmonic or melodic meaning, etc.

Right after the links that prepare the HTML of a Tunetext so that it can be posted, and the link which demos what the Tunetext of the current score would look like, there is a link to "Publish button to SongTrellis Public Ideas".

The pages that are listed in the "Public Ideas" link that's available on the SongTrellis link bar, point to a separate page for each day since the institution of "Public Ideas" where a SongTrellis visitor has decided to publish a new idea for other visitors to see. The list shows the ideas for those days in reverse chronological order (newest days listed first).

If a visitor is logged into SongTrellis at the instant they submit a new public idea, the tunetext button that is logged will show their user name below the button. Here are two ideas that were attributed to me on March 1st, because I submitted those while I was logged in.

If they are not logged in and the submission is anonymous, the button will show the IP address of the computer that submitted the idea. For example, here's a really nice harmony ideas that the author titled "bioassay" published on January 24th, that I think has a very attractive sound. As I point to this tunetext posting, I would very much like to give credit to the person who composed this idea.

If you are proud of the work that you've done, when you've found an idea that you'd like to see in Public Ideas sign on or sign up with SongTrellis so your posting will be properly attributed in Public Ideas.

That'll make it easier to start conversations about these kinds of posts so we can ask folks who generated interesting ideas about how they made their discovery.

You can easily copy the permalink for a Tunetext or the copy the entire Tunetext button and paste it into a new Discussion Group topic and ask a question about it. If it's properly attributed, you can copy that attribution into the message you post.

New Rhythm Premier 4-2-2011

I'm publishing a new 8 beat, two part ensemble rhythm, that uses mixed beat subdivisions (some beats divided by 4, others by 3). I composed this in the late hours last night before midnight struck.

You may audition it here.

It's got kind of a lopsided feeling to it, but I've grown to like how it feels the more I've listened to it. If it doesn't make sense to your ears at first, focus your attention to the cymbal sound that mixed into one of the parts.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The idea behind the SongTrellis Rhythm Web

I've decided I want to creat a collection of interesting rhythms analogous to the harmony collection that I've built for The Changes department of SongTrellis.

I've just announced software, the new Play Rhythm service to make it easy to specify rhythms and play them, and to invent rhythms and audition those inventions.

Along with that, there's now an ever-growing glossary of rhythms available on SongTrellis, a Rhythm Web that collects and categorizes rhythm recommendations that are submitted from Play Rhythm pages.

As of this evening there are 720 rhythms recorded there.

My reasons for collecting such a rhythm glossary are the same as those when I started to collect harmony for The Changes: to collect interesting musical examples for practice, for study, as an idea reference and for composition.

Just as harmony can be excerpted and composed with using SongTrellis web services, I believe that visitors will be soon be able to select rhythms from the Rhythm Web and paint pitches over the rhythms they select to compose their own melodies.

Once a SongTrellis visitor has manually entered a rhythm for Play Rhythm to perform, or else has asked Play Rhythm to invent and perform a new rhythm, they'll likely see a set of three buttons appear in middle of the Play Rhythm webpage that performs their their rhythm.

That button group appears in the page when ever the site's Rhythm Web software notices that the rhythm that is being played is novel (ie. is not currently recorded in the Rhythm Web). The descriptive text in front of the first button says "This rhythm is not listed in the Rhythm Web yet. Do you like it enough to recommend it?". The button label is "Yes". If you do think the rhythm is worth recommending to others, by pressing "Yes" you add the rhythm to the Rhythm Web database.

The label in front of the next two buttons asks "Can you hear a way to make it better?". The label of the second button is "Yes, Launch URL to edit it". If this novel rhythm was randomly generated, it's generated URL appears in a text edit box towards the bottom of the Play Rhythm page, but is not yet loaded into the web browser URL entry field. Pressing the button copies it there.

Then you can edit the rhythm tempo set by its bpm parameter or change it's definition in the URL's rhythm parameter, so that you can revise the rhythm and improve it. After you've changed the URL, you can resubmit the URL to hear how your revision sounds. You can continue to revise until you've perfected the rhythm to the point that you can recommend it.

If you reach that point (I nearly always find that whatever rhythm has been invented is a keeper and just needs its tempo adjusted), you can press the "Yes" button to recommend and record the rhythm.

If you think there is no hope for the rhythm recommended or the experiments you've made with it, you can press the button labeled "No, a New Rhythm Please". That tells Play Rhythm to invent a new rhythm for you to audition, which will appear in your page a second or three later, depending on the current website load.

Random rhythm generation iterated rapidly allows quick growth of the Rhythm Web

I find that auditioning randomly generated rhythms and recommending only the good-sounding ones to the Rhythm Web is an extremely fast way to grow the Rhythm Web database.

When a new rhythm is generated, the generation software creates all of the parameter settings that would otherwise have to be typed if I intended to only add rhythms that were already recorded in some other printed source.

A randomly generated rhythm's complete specification is ready to be submitted to the Rhythm Web, within a second or two after a random generation request is made. Accurately typing a URL can take more than a minute, so depending on random generation for new rhythms to populate the rhythm database is perhaps 30 times faster than manual entry, and is quite interesting to experience because a novel rhythm almost always results from running the process.

Even if I were to focus rhythm generation, on randomly generated 4 beat rhythms whose beats are subdivided 4 times, there are roughly four billion individual rhythm signatures that are waiting to be evaluated for that case. There is an overwhelming amount of rhythmic variation that is available to be sampled.

It does amaze me that the random generation process I use rarely produces a boring or malformed rhythm. Nearly everything that comes up is a keeper. I seem to reject only 1 rhythm out of every hundred or two that are generated.

I can usually request, audition, revise and submit two or three rhythms in a minute, using this process.

If I were able to devote an entire day to the generation of new rhythms, I suspect that I would be able to grow the number of rhythms on offer past the the high water count of 1237 chord progressions that is currently offered in The Changes. It took several years labor to surpass the goal that I set for myself of collecting at least 1200 chord progressions in The Changes.

I think we can easily grow the Rhythm Web so that tens of thousands of informatively categorized and easily accessed rhythms are recorded there.

I don't want to do that though. I want other visitors to the site to have fun also and receive credit for its construction.

Logged in members of the site who recommend rhythms, are given credit in the listings for the rhythms they contribute. Their rhythm contributions are also individually indexed under the Rhythm Web's "Rhythms By Contributor" subheading.

If a person is not logged in when they make a recommendation, the credit line generated shows that the rhythm was added anonymously.



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