The Neuroscience of Bass – presented by Mike Overly

October 29, 2015

Fender Jazz BassThis is old news to those of us who play Bass, but, just in case you don’t, let this article serve as an introduction to the wonders of the Low End . . .

Music of the Spheres – by Mike Overly

October 1, 2015

What would it be like in an era when music and astronomy were sister sciences?

According to the ancient Pythagoreans and many later writers, all of nature is a musical scale. Music illuminated the study of astronomy, while astronomy provided a context for understanding music. The study of astronomy, music and mathmatics were deeply related in Galileo’s world. Galileo’s father, Vincenzo Galilei, is credited as one of the founders of the Italian opera and a major contributor to music theory.

In the Earth-centered model of the universe accepted during the Renaissance, a spherical Earth lies in the center surrounded by the regions of earth, water, air and fire. Rotating heavenly spheres, nesting one within the other from the Moon all the way out, carry the planets and stars. As these solid celestial spheres turn in place, their harmonious motions create the music of the spheres from which Johann Kepler formulated the harmonic law of planetary motions.

Visit with two-time GRAMMY® nominated Music Educator Mike Overly at

Guitar Clef ® – by Mike Overly

February 10, 2015

12 Tone LogoThe Guitar Clef ® is a registered trademark of 12 Tone Music Publishing, LLC and it is more than just a clever logo design, it is symbolic of the way guitar music is notated. Here’s what I mean.

Guitar is a transposing instrument. It sounds one octave lower than it is written in staff notation. In other words, staff music for guitar is written in the Treble Clef, however, the majority of the guitar sounds in the Bass Clef.

Let’s begin with the first staff note shown in every book 1 guitar method: string 1, fret zero/open, E.

Staff Note E

Now, this doesn’t pose a problem unless you’re playing with another treble clef instrument for example, the piano. This is because when the guitar and the piano read and play the same staff note, two different sounds are heard. Remember, the guitar sounds one octave lower than the staff note that is written. This is why guitar staff notation should have an 8 beneath the treble clef. This tell the player to play the staff note one octave lower than written. However, you won’t see it used in guitar method books.

Here’s another common book 1 example: string 2, fret 1, C. Notice that this example uses ledger lines. Ledger lines enable pitches to be written that extend lower, and higher, than the 5 lines of the staff. It should be noted that this is the first staff note presented in the Tone Note™ Music Method for Guitar Book 2.

Staff Note C

When the treble clef begins to use ledger lines below the staff, the bass clef becomes useful.

treble bass clef

This next example shows how guitar notation writes a treble clef C, how it actually sounds in the treble clef, and how the actual sound is written in the bass clef.

C treble bass clef

Book 1 guitar methods only teach three open position treble clef staff notes on string 2, B C D. The following example shows how guitar notation writes B C D in the treble clef, how it actually sounds in the treble clef, and how the actual sounds are written in the bass clef.

Staff Notes B C D

This next example illustrates the complete range of open position treble clef staff notes that are presented in every book 1 guitar method. Pitch letters and circled string numbers have been added. Now, you can clearly see that the majority of the guitar’s pitches actually sound in the bass clef.

3 Staves

There is only one book that I know of that presents the actual pitches of the guitar in true staff notation: the Johnny Smith Approach to Guitar, published in 1971 by Mel Bay MB93669. Here is a Schoenberg example Johnny included in his book to illustrate that others have acknowledged and used this actual pitch guitar staff notation.

Schoenberg guitar

In Johnny’s book, he writes guitar music using two braced treble and bass staves that look like like piano staff music. Here is what a C major chord looks like in actual pitch treble and bass staff notation.

Open C major chord


Again, you can again easily see that the vast majority of the guitar actually sounds in the bass clef. And this is why the Guitar Clef ® is not only clever and trademarked ~ it’s true!

’til next time, have some guitar playing fun no matter what clef you use… I’ll be listening!

Ol’ Skool images hand written, cut, taped and scanned by MO. ;~)

Seven Ideas For One Sound – by Mike Overly

December 16, 2014

Do Re MiLet’s state the case simply, symbolic music is complex. By symbolic music, I mean the written symbols and signs of music and guitar that are needed to produce one sound. This lesson will present seven ideas needed to play a melody. Harmony uses additional symbols and signs and will be presented later in a different lesson. So, stay tuned.

Symbolic music on guitar is complicated because it takes seven ideas to make one sound: 1. key letter, 2. time signature, 3. tempo, 4. dynamic, 5. tone number, 6. note or rest, and 7. strum. Before we go any further, let’s ask a simple question: What is the difference between a thought and an idea? For many, this question may seem a bit esoteric, but really it isn’t. Think of it this way. A thought is an energy that moves in time through the space of the mind to find an idea to bring back to the thinker. Here’s an example. Consider this question as a thought: How much is 1 + 1? Now, consider the answer as an idea: more than 1. Easy enough, the thought question found the answer idea and brought it back to the thinker. Let’s continue. I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t answer the question the way you were probably expecting me too. This is because all that is needed to answer the question, how much is 1 + 1, is the concept of “oneness.” In other words, 1 + 1 is more than 1. Or, said a different way, how much more than one is 1 + 1? The answer is again 1. The point is, we don’t need to learn or know anything new to answer the question… 1 is all we need!This “1 + 1 is more than 1” example is analogous to Russian Nesting Dolls. By that I mean, after we know that 1 + 1 is 1 more than 1, we can “nest” the concept of “one more than one” into a new word… two. In other words, after all that thinking about 1 + 1, we can now simply say the number 2!I can hear you asking, “What does all this have to do with playing music on the guitar?” Well, here’s what. Consider this thought question: How do I make one sound on the guitar? And it’s idea answer: “nest” seven ideas. Let’s say it again, symbolic music is complex because it takes seven ideas just to play one sound! To help organize these seven ideas, we’ll divide them into two groups.

In the first group, before you play, there are three ideas needed: key letter, time signature and tempo. In the second group, as you play, there are four ideas needed: dynamic, tone number, note or rest, and strum. Let’s look at each of these seven ideas one at a time.

The first idea is key. Key is simply the letter of tone 1, and is symbolized by a letter in a circle. Let’s compare this with the “key-signature” of traditional staff-notation.

Traditional staff-notation uses a 5 line staff, a clef and a key signature which limits you to playing a song in only one key! In contrast, the revolutionary Tone Note® Music Method does not utilize a staff, a clef or a key signature. By eliminating these elements, you can play any song in any key! This is impossible with traditional staff-notation. Here’s why. The key signature represents the unseen letters of the staff, and when you change the key signature, all the unseen staff-note letters change. This is not the case with the Tone Note® Music Method, because when you change the key, all the tone numbers remain the same, and only the letter of tone 1 changes. Let’s proceed.

After the key letter is known, the second idea is the time signature. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same stacked meter and value time-signature as traditional staff-notation.

The third idea is tempo, the rate of speed of the steady beat. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same beats-per-minute sign as traditional staff-notation.

Now, let’s review the three ideas needed before you play “nested” into one thought: key, time signature and tempo.

Next, let’s present the four ideas that are needed as you play. The first idea is the dynamic sign, which tells you how quiet or loud to play a sound. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same dynamic signs as traditional staff-notation, for example: piano (quiet), forte (loud), mezzo-piano (medium quiet), and mezzo-forte (medium loud). It’s interesting to note that traditional staff-notation does not use mezzo (medium) by itself, but only as a qualifier to piano and forte. I find that curious.

And here’s something strange. Traditional staff-notation defines the dynamic sign piano as soft, and forte as loud. This doesn’t make any sense. Here’s why. Ask your child this question: What is the opposite of loud? I’m sure they said quiet and not soft. So, how did traditional staff-notation get the dynamics of acoustics wrong? In other words, why does traditional staff-notation teach loud and soft, but never quiet and hard? The simple answer is, they confused force with dynamic. It helps to think of it this way. While it’s true that on an acoustic instrument a hard force is necessary to produce a loud sound, and a soft force is needed to produce a quiet sound, force and dynamics are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.

Okay, now that we know that dynamics is quiet and loud, the second idea is pitch as tone number. In traditional staff-notation a tone number is called a scale-degree. Simply stated, tone 1 is the key letter and is the first sound of any scale.

The third idea is rhythm, and it has two components: the note of sound, and the rest of silence. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same notes and rests as traditional staff-notation, for example: quarter, half, dotted-half, and whole. The fourth idea is not a music idea, but rather a guitar idea: strum. Four strums are needed to play guitar efficiently: two strokes: down and up, and two ghosts: down and up. A stroke is a strum which produces a sound and a ghost is a strum that produces no sound. Now, let’s review the four ideas needed as you play into one thought: dynamic, tone number, note or rest and strum.Okay, let’s end this lesson by “nesting” the seven ideas needed to play one sound into one recapitulated thought: 1. key, 2. time signature, 3. tempo,4. dynamic, 5. tone number, 6. note or rest, and 7. strum.

’til next time, have some thought and idea fun… I’ll be listening!

image © 2014 SkinnyCorp LLC

How Old is the Guitar? – by Mike Overly

November 20, 2014

Babylonian GuitarWhenever I ask a new student, how old do you think the guitar is? They just shrug their shoulders and reply, I don’t know. Then I show them a picture of an ancient Babylonian clay tablet, circa 1800 BCE, of a person playing a guitar-like instrument. They are amazed to learn that the guitar begins almost 4000 years ago! This is long before staff notes, keyboards, metronomes and many other musical thoughts and ideas that we use today.

There are many theories about the guitar’s beginnings. Some believe that the guitar is an extension of the ancient Greek kithara since there is a similarity between the Greek word kithara and the Spanish word for an early four-string guitar, quitarra. However, since the kithara is a square-framed stringed instrument of the lyre family, without a neck attached to a body, it’s hard to imagine how the quitarra, let alone the guitar, could have developed from it. And not to get too far ahead of our story, but it could be that the Greeks Hellenified the name chartar, which was an ancient Persian (Iranian) guitar-like instrument.

The Harp and Tanbur
The earliest stringed instrument known to archaeologists, circa 2500 BCE, is the harp. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have made harps using tortoise shell and calabash resonators with a bent stick for a neck, and one or more gut or silk strings. The world’s museums contain many such instruments from the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian cultures.

The tanbur is a stringed instrument that has a long straight neck with a small pear-shaped body, arched or round back, and usually with a soundboard of wood or hide. The tanbur developed from the harp but with a straightened out neck to allow the strings to be pressed down to create more pitches. The tanbur is found both fretted and fretless. Tomb paintings and stone carvings in Babylon and Egypt show tanburs being played in ensemble almost 4000 years ago. Archaeologists have also found many similar instruments in the ruins of ancient Persian and Mesopotamian cultures.

The oldest preserved tanbur belonged to the Egyptian singer Har-Mose, who was buried with his tanbur 3500 years ago. His tanbur had three strings and a plectrum (pick) suspended from the neck by a cord. The soundbox was made of polished cedar wood and had a rawhide soundboard. It can be seen today at the Archaeological Museum in Cairo.

The Chartar
As the harp and tanbur spread around the ancient world with travelers, merchants and seamen, so did the chartar. It arrived in Spain from Persia where it changed form and acquired pairs of unison-tuned strings (courses) instead of single strings, and became known as the quitarra.

The Lute
In the 9th Century, the Moors brought the fretless Oud to Spain. Frets were added to the oud and it became known as the lute. Lute derives from Al’ud, which is Arabic for wood. Laúd is the Spanish name for lute. A lute is defined as a short-necked instrument with multiple strings, having a large pear-shaped body with highly vaulted back and an elaborate, sharply angled peghead. Although the guitar and lute later coexisted, the guitar was overshadowed until the end of the 17th century when the lute had acquired too many strings and became too hard to tune and play.

The Early Guitar
To distinguish guitars from guitar-like instruments like the tanbur, we need to define what a guitar is. A guitar has a long straight neck with a fretted fingerboard, a flat back, a flat wooden soundboard, structural ribs, top bracing, and most often in-curved sides. The oldest known representation of an instrument displaying the essential features of a guitar is a 3300 year old stone carving of a Hittite guitar found in Turkey.

The name guitar comes from the ancient Sanskrit word tar, which means string. There are many stringed instruments that exist to this day which have been used in almost unchanged form for several thousand years. Many have names that end in tar, with a prefix indicating the number of strings, for example: Dotar, a Turkestan two-string instrument and Setar, a Persian three-string instrument. There are many four-string instruments, for example: the Persian Chartar, Spanish Quitarra, Arabic Qithara, Italian Chitarra. The Panchtar is an Afghanistan five-string instrument. The Indian Sitar probably took its name from the Persian Setar, but over the centuries it developed into a completely new instrument.

The Four, Five and Six String Guitar
The guitar’s predecessors came to Europe from Egypt and Mesopotamia. These early instruments most often had four strings. Many such instruments can be seen in mediaeval illustrated manuscripts and carved in stone in churches and cathedrals, from Roman times through the Middle Ages. By the beginning of the Renaissance, the four-course guitar (four unison-tuned pairs of strings) had become dominant in most of Europe. The earliest known music for the four-course Quitarra was written in 16th century Spain.

The five-course Guitarra Battente first appeared in Italy around the same time and gradually replaced four-course instruments. The added fifth course gave the guitar more frequency range and thus improved its repertoire and led to its ascent. Early guitars seldom had more than 8 frets, but as the guitar evolved, this increased to 10 and then to 12 frets. The standard tuning had already settled at A, D, G, B, E, like the five highest strings of the modern guitar.

A sixth course of strings was added to the Italian Guitarra Battente in the 17th century and guitar makers all over Europe followed the trend. By the end of the 18th century, the six-course arrangement was replaced by six single strings. And by the beginning of the 19th century, some of theses six single string guitars were employing struts under the soundboard. These struts were added for structural support to allow thinning of the top for greater resonance and for better distribution of vibration across the soundboard. Other developments included the use of a reinforced raised neck with ebony or rosewood fingerboards. The raised neck and fingerboard had a great impact on technique since the strings were too high above the soundboard to comfortably rest one’s finger on the face of the guitar for support. Also, metal machine-tuners began to replace wooden tuning pegs.It is interesting to note that the six-string guitar developed from a twelve-string guitar, not the other way around!

The Modern Classical Guitar
Although the modern classical guitar was beginning to take shape at the beginning of the 19th century, the bodies were still fairly small and narrow-waisted. However, around 1850, the true modern classical guitar took its present form when the Spanish luthier Antonio Torres altered the guitars proportions by increasing the size of the body, the width of the neck, and introduced the revolutionary seven strut “fan” top bracing pattern. His design radically improved the volume, tone and projection of the instrument and it very quickly became the standard. And even though there have been continued developments since the middle 1800’s, most agree that the best classical guitars were made by a handful of great luthiers nearly 150 years ago!

The Steel-String Acoustic Guitar
At around the same time that Torres started making his breakthrough fan-braced guitars in Spain, German immigrants to the USA, among them Christian Fredrich Martin, had begun making guitars with X-braced tops. Steel strings, which first became widely available around 1900, made the guitar much louder, but the increased tension was too much for the Torres style fan-braced top. But the much stronger X-bracing proved successful and quickly became the standard for flat-top steel string guitars.

By the end of the 19th century, Orville Gibson was building archtop guitars with oval sound holes. He combined the steel-string guitar with a body constructed more like a cello, where the bridge exerts its pressure straight down on the top. This allowed the top to vibrate more freely and thus produce more volume. In the early 1920’s designer Lloyd Loar joined Gibson, and refined the archtop into a guitar with f-holes, floating bridge and cello-type tailpiece. However, Lloyd Loar’s most important contribution to the guitar was the electrostatic pickup!

The Electric Guitar
The electric guitar was born when electrostatic pickups were added to hollow-body guitars in the late 1920’s, but met with little success before 1936, when Gibson introduced the ES150 model, which Charlie Christian made famous. With the advent of electric amplification, it became possible to do away with the soundbox altogether. In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s many were beginning to experiment with solid-body electric guitars. Controversy still exists as to who constructed the very first solid-body guitar: Les Paul, Leo Fender or Paul Bigsby.However, be that as it may, the solid-body electric guitar is here to stay… or is it?

The Electronic Guitar
The late 20th century saw the emergence of the electronic guitar synthesizer. It was a computer based musical instrument system that allowed a guitar player to generate sounds, both musical and non-musical, electronically. While the term MIDI guitar (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is often used as a synonym for the entire field of guitar synthesis, MIDI is not always used.In the early 1970’s there were three main types of guitar synthesizers: multi-effects type, frequency to voltage converter type, and guitorgan type. Today, there are still three types: guitar-based systems, guitar-like MIDI controllers and software only systems.

Guitar-based systems consist of a standard electric guitar equipped with a hexaphonic “divided” pickup that provides a separate analog output for each vibrating string. The hex pick-up connects to an AC to DC converter that changes each separate analog signal into a corresponding digital signal which is then outputted, via the converter, as various musical components, such as: pitch, duration, wave shape, harmonics, amplitude, etc.

Among the advantages of a guitar-based system is that the musician can play either the guitar or the synthesizer alone, or blend the timbres of the both together in any ratio. In the early systems, there was noticeable latency, especially at lower pitches. In other words, there was a perceivable time delay between playing a sound on the guitar and hearing that sound through the synthesizer. This was remedied in the late 20th Century due to faster computer processing speeds.

By the 1980’s, guitar-like MIDI controllers were created to eliminate the tracking and latency problems associated with guitar-based systems, while retaining the expressiveness of the guitar. They achieved this, to some degree, by redesigning the guitar part of the human-machine interface so that it was better suited to driving a computing synthesizer.

The advantages of the guitar-like MIDI controller systems is that there is virtually no noticeable latency or pitch glitches. In other words, tracking, which is the speed and accuracy of the sounds the instrument produces, is much faster. Also, whammy bars and other types of controllers can be assigned to any MIDI function to give the performer more control of their sound. Guitar-like MIDI controllers also offer playing options, such as the fretboard tapping, that is not possible on traditional guitar-based systems. Also, guitar-like MIDI controllers with touch-sensitive fingerboards never need tuning.In 2011, the first software only MIDI “fretboard” controller for the iPhone and iTouch was released. It works with any music creation program like Garageband, Logic and Reason. Since it’s an iOS app, it’s inexpensive and widely accessible. Setup is easy because it accepts MIDI input via the open-sourced DSMidiWifi Server maintained by Google code. In other words, all you need is a computer and a wifi router.

Wow! It seems that some people in the 21st Century believe that after 4000 years, a guitar is no longer necessary. Luckily, I’m not one of them… are you?

Mental Fun is Fundamental (Harmonics on the 4 String Bass) – by Mike Overly

October 23, 2014

HarmonicsSimply stated, the fundamental is the lowest and loudest frequency of a single string vibrating as a whole. It is the pitch by which we identify the letter name of the root, which is also known as the tone 1 scale degree. In Physics, a node is the exact point on a vibrating string where there is no vibration and therefore no sound! On the bass, the nut and the bridge are nodes.

Ratio is the relationship between the length of one whole string to the number of equal parts that it can be divided into. For example, a one-to-two ratio (1:2 ratio) means that one whole string has been divided into two equal parts. Now, if we consider the fundamental to be one string vibrating as one part, that would be a one-to-one relationship or a 1:1 ratio. This 1:1 ratio is also known as a unison interval. For this lesson, our fundamental reference frequency will be E, tone 1 at the nut and bridge of string 4.

Harmonics, also called overtones or partials, are higher frequencies produced by the vibrations of a string divided into any number of equal parts. Harmonics occur because strings not only vibrate as a whole, but they also vibrate in parts or fractions such as halves, thirds, fourths, fifths and so on. Now, whenever a fundamental is sounded, on any instrument whether it is sung, plucked, struck, blown or bowed, there is an entire harmonic series of frequencies that naturally vibrate with it at the same time. This harmonic series is a specific order of frequencies that climb like a ladder through a predictable series of intervals. And each harmonic step of the ladder is a precise multiple of the fundamental frequency.

Let’s begin with octave harmonics, which divide the string into an even number of equal parts:
Harmonic 3

Bass Harmonics Fretboard



Notice that tone 8, the 1st harmonic, is a 1:2 ratio that is produced by dividing the string into two equal parts directly over the 12th fret node. The node  is the exact point that divides the string into equal parts. This forces the string to vibrate twice as fast as the tone 1 fundamental and to sound one octave higher in pitch, tone 8.  Also notice that the same harmonic may be sounded on each side of the 12th fret: the nut side or the bridge side. For example: tone 15, the 3rd harmonic, may be sounded directly over both fret 5 and fret 24 because both frets are the same distance from the 12th fret! Also, notice that some of the harmonics occur directly above frets while other harmonics are in-between the frets or fractions such as 1/4. The reason for this has to do with just temperament, mean temperament and equal temperament, but that’s another lesson.

To produce a loud and clear harmonic on your bass, touch the string very lightly at the node. Do not push the string down toward the fret. Strike the string near the bridge with force. The string will then vibrate in smaller equal parts and this will produce the sound of the harmonic. New strings and perfect intonation, an adjustment at the bridge which assures that fret 12 is at the exact middle of the string, will also help. Be sure to quickly lift your finger off the string after sounding the harmonic, so that you don’t dampen the vibrating string.

Now, let’s discover some of the other harmonics that are between the octave harmonics:
Harmonic 4

Bass Harmonics 2



Tone 12, which is tone 5 in the second octave, is the 2nd harmonic and has a 2:3 ratio that is produced by dividing the string into three equal parts directly above the fret 7 node. Fret 7 is 1/3 of the strings length. Since it is impossible for a string to vibrate in two unequal parts, the remaining 2/3’s of the string divides itself in half which produces three equal string lengths or parts!

As long as you continue to divide the string into smaller and smaller equal parts, an ever higher and higher series of harmonics will be produced. The sounds of which will be limited only by your strings, hearing and technique. Some harmonics are easy to play, others take more practice.

The important idea to take away from all this, is that the individual timbre (tam-burr) or tone quality of your bass results from the presents or absence of particular harmonics and their relative volumes. It is this balance between the fundamental and its harmonics that makes one bass sound different from another, even when the fundamental pitch they play is the same. In other words, no two basses, no matter how similar, have the same blend of harmonics or the same tone. Each bass is unique!

To learn more about the Bass, please visit:

Image © C.Chris Peters 2010

What a Coincidence: Unison Tuning – by Mike Overly

July 24, 2014

Unison TuningMusic, whether it is seen or heard, has three fundamental parts: rhythm, pitch and dynamics. Each of these parts may be studied in great detail, but for this lesson, let’s simply define them as follows: rhythm is time, pitch is a sound that has a letter name, and dynamics is the degree of sound volume from quiet to loud. That all sounds simple enough, but what is sound?

Non-musical sound has but one name, noise. However, musical sound has many names. Here are a few: letter, tone number, harmony numeral, scale degree, timbre, pitch, octave, harmonics, vibration and frequency.

Let’s look at frequency more closely. The music we hear, in contrast to the silent music symbols we read, is the sound of air moving. This then begs the question, what is moving the air? On the guitar, it’s the strings that move the air. When you pick or pluck a guitar string it oscillates back and forth. It is these back and forth string motions, or vibrations, that are moving the air. These vibrations may be counted and then assigned a frequency number. We’ll skip over all the deep physics and acoustics data, like resonating bodies, air-pressure and amplitude, and instead, we’ll focus on frequency so that you may tune your guitar.

The speed of a string vibrating back and forth is steady, regular and predictable in time. The number of times a string oscillates in one second is called frequency. Frequency is measured as cycles per second (cps) which is also known as Hertz (Hz), named after the 19th century German physicist Heinrich Hertz. The frequency range of the human ear is approximately 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. This may be written as 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Kilo (k) is the Greek prefix for thousand, 1 kHz = 1000 Hz. The question then becomes, how many times does a string move back and forth in one second? The answer to that question depends upon which string and fret is being played.

Any string played at any fret vibrates faster than the human eye can see and count. So, science has to count for us ~ think electronic tuner. Not only are the vibrations counted and given a frequency number, but they may also be assigned a letter, scale degree tone number, and a note location on the staff. For example, string 5 at fret zero vibrates 110 times a second (110 Hz) and is called A (A). On the guitar, Fret Zero is also known as the nut or open.

An octave is created by doubling the frequency. Therefore, string 3 fret two, which vibrates at 220 times a second (220 Hz), is one octave higher than string 5 fret zero, and is called prime A (1A). String 1 fret five vibrates 440 times a second (440 Hz), is two octaves higher than string 5 fret zero, and is called squared A (2A). Remember, faster frequencies sound higher in pitch, while slower frequencies sound lower in pitch ~ think treble and bass.

It helps if we consider pitch as being Absolute, Perfect or Relative.

Absolute Pitch is an external reference to a definite pitch of a specific frequency upon which everyone agrees. Absolute Pitch may be assigned a letter, scale degree tone number, harmony numeral, or staff note. Here are a few good sources of Absolute Pitch: a tuning fork, an electronic tuner, and a “tune-up pitch” from a play-along CD. Remember, audio tapes are not a good source of Absolute Pitch due to the varying playback speeds of different tape players. Here’s something interesting. The International Agreement, which made A = 440 Hz the Absolute Reference Pitch for the entire world, wasn’t agreed upon until 1939!

Perfect Pitch is the ability of a person to identify a given musical pitch without the benefit of an external Absolute Pitch reference. Those who have Perfect Pitch exhibit some or all of the following capabilities: identify individual pitches by name when played on various instruments; name the key letter of a given piece of tonal music just by listening without reference to an external Absolute Pitch; identify and name all the tones of a given chord or tone cluster; accurately sing any given pitch without an external Absolute Pitch reference; and name the pitches of common everyday sounds such as the honk of a car horn, the ring of a telephone, the chime of a doorbell, or the hum of a refrigerator. Many believe that you must be born with Perfect Pitch because it seems as though it can’t be learned. In contrast to Perfect Pitch, Relative Pitch can be learned.

Relative Pitch, as the name implies, relates to Absolute Pitch and is what is meant when someone says they “play by ear.” In other words, Relative Pitch is the ability to hear an Absolute Pitch, store it in auditory memory, and then match that pitch or relate it to another pitch. In music school they call this ear training. And while it’s true that Relative Pitch can be learned, it sure takes a lot of practice! However, the benefit of Relative Pitch is that it makes tuning your guitar so much easier and faster. The Relative Pitch method of tuning your guitar by matching or duplicating pitches is known as Unison Tuning.

Uni means one and sonus means sound, so, unison means one sound. Said a different way, in Latin uni means one and in Greek iso also means one, therefore, uni + iso(n) = unison. In other words, unison means more than one as one. No matter how we define it, unison is really a coincidence, that is, multiple events occurring at the same time. The prefix “co” means together (two or more as one), and an “incident” is an event. With this said, unison may be further defined to mean: two tones of the same pitch sounding at the same time. One of the greatest things about the guitar is that by playing the same pitch, on two or more different strings of the same guitar at the same time, unison is possible. On the piano, woodwinds, brass and voice, unison is impossible!

Okay, now that we have an elementary understanding of the science of sound, let’s apply it to the tuning of the guitar. We’ll begin by giving each of the six strings of the guitar a letter name and frequency number: string 6 E = 82.41 Hz, string 5 A = 110 Hz, string 4 D = 146.83 Hz, string 3 G = 196 Hz, string 2 B = 246.94 Hz and string 1 E = 329.62 Hz. What follows is the method of Unison Tuning that will enable you to tune your guitar by ear!

From an Absolute Pitch source, determine the reference pitch. For example, if you want to tune string 6, you’ll need to hear the Absolute Pitch of E = 82.41 Hz. Here’s something important. Be sure to use a tuning fork, or some other source of Absolute Pitch and not a piano, as the piano may not be in tune! Think of it this way, why would you tune a tunable instrument to another instrument that needs to be tuned?

Next, assuming that string 6 is in tune, play A = 110 Hz on string 6 fret five. This reference pitch should match string 5 fret zero. If string 5 fret zero, sounds the same as string 6 fret five, they’re in unison and your guitar is in tune. If they don’t match and sound the same, you’ll need to adjust string 5 higher or lower in pitch until they do. Be patient, this is Unison Tuning ~ and the more you practice it, the better you’ll get!

After string 5 is in tune, play D = 146.83 Hz on string 5 fret five. This should sound the same as string 4 fret zero. Again, if it doesn’t, you’ll need to adjust string 4 higher or lower to match the string 5 reference pitch.

After string 4 is in tune, play G = 196 Hz on string 4 fret five. This should sound the same as string 3 fret zero.

Now, once string 3 is in tune, in order to play B = 246.94 Hz on string 3 you must play fret four. This should sound the same as string 2 fret zero. Remember, the B = 246.94 Hz reference pitch on string 3 is located on fret four. This is a different fret than any of the other strings.

Finally, after string 2 is in tune, play E = 329.62 Hz on string 2 fret five. This should match and be in unison with string 1 fret zero.

Congratulations! Your guitar sounds so much better now that it’s in tune.

’til next time, keep playing and have fun… I’ll be listening!

Interstellar Music – by Mike Overly

May 8, 2014

Infinite RecordLet’s imagine that you could toss a message in a bottle faster than a speeding bullet into the cosmic ocean of outer space. What would you seal inside it for anyone, or anything, to open some day in the distant future, in a galaxy far, far away from our solar system? Well, imagine no more because it’s been done! Thirty-seven years ago, NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft carrying earthly images and sounds toward the Stars.

Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977, from Cape Canaveral, Florida and Voyager 2 was sent on its way August 20 of that same year. Voyager 1 is now 11 billion miles away from earth and is the most distant of all human-made objects. Everyday, it flies another million miles farther.

In fact, Voyager 1 and 2 are so far out in space that their radio signals, traveling at the speed of light, take 16 hours to reach Earth. These radio signals are captured daily by the big dish antennas of the Deep Space Network and arrive at a strength of less than one femtowatt, a millionth of a billionth of a watt. Wow!

Both Voyagers are headed towards the outer boundary of the solar system, known as the heliopause. This is the region where the Sun’s influence wanes and interstellar space waxes. Also, the heliopause is where the million-mile-per-hour solar winds slow down to about 250,000 miles per hour. The Voyagers have reached these solar winds, also known as termination shock, and should cross the heliopause in another 10 to 20 years. So, stay tuned.

The Voyagers have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to operate at least until 2020. By that time, Voyager 1 will be 12.4 billion miles from the Sun and Voyager 2 will be 10.5 billion miles away. Eventually, in about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will pass within 1.6 light years of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. Then, in some 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will drift within 4.3 light years from Sirius, the brightest star in our earthly sky. So, it appears that the Voyagers are destined to traverse the Milky Way, and beyond, eternally. That is, unless they are abducted by an alien starship!

Each Voyager contains a Golden Record which serves as a time capsule, intended to communicate information about our world to extraterrestrials should they happen discover it. This information is recorded on a gold-plated copper phonograph disk, 12 inches in diameter. Each disk contains 115 analog encoded photographs, spoken greetings in 55 languages, and a 12 minute montage of natural sounds, such as surf, wind, thunder, birds and whales. These are included to portray the diversity of life and culture on earth. In addition, the Golden Record also includes an 87 and 1/2 minute selection of music ranging from Pygmy girls singing in a forest in Zaire to Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode! The contents of the Golden Record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Dr. Carl Sagan of Cornell University.

The audio portion of the Golden Record is designed to be played on a double-sided grooved phonograph disk at 16 and 2/3 revolutions per minute. This speed is diagrammatically defined in terms of the fundamental transition time of the hydrogen atom. Wow!

To enable playback, each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, which contains a ceramic phono cartridge and a needle, plus a diagram showing how to use them. These instructions also show a pulsar map illustrating earth’s location at the time of launch and a patch of uranium-238, from whose half-life, the elapsed time since the launch may be calculated.

Although the playback technology is outdated, it has the advantage of longevity. As Iron Age cuneiform inscriptions remind us, grooves cut into a stable medium can last a long time. Therefore, the Golden Records should remain playable for at least a billion years before succumbing to erosion by micrometeorites and cosmic rays. And don’t forget, a billion years is about 5,000 times longer than Homo Sapiens have existed… give or take a couple of years.

Now, here’s something which I find to be a really sad characteristic of earthlings, but strangely enough, good news for the extraterrestrials. The copyright owners for the music on the Golden Records signed agreements which only permit the replay of their works outside of the solar system. So, here we are 37 years later, and finally the aliens can listen to the Golden Records royalty free. Bonus!

One last thought. Just as choosing only one book to give an extraterrestrial a glimpse of our written language would certainly be a daunting task. Deciding on only one page within that book would be even more difficult. In the same way, choosing only a few songs to include on the Golden Record was a hard choice indeed! However, with that said, I have to wonder why, with all the music produced by humans on this earth, and given the Golden Record’s limited amount of space: Why are there three examples of Bach and two of Beethoven? It seems to me that there should have been at least one Beatle song… oh well.

And now, without further adieu, here are humanity’s 27 greatest hits that made the cut.

1. J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F, First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
2. Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
3. Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
4. Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
5. Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,”
recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
6. Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
7. “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:388. New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
9. Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
10. J. S. Bach, “Gavotte en Rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
11. W. A. Mozart, The Magic Flute, “Queen of the Night” aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
12. Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
13. Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
14. “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
15. Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
16. I. Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, “Sacrificial Dance,” Columbia
Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
17. J. S. Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1., Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
18. L. van Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
19. Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
20. Navajo Indians, “Night Chant,” recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
21. Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
22.Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
23. Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
24. China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
25. India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
26. “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
27. L. van Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, “Cavatina,” performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

Okay, it’s now 2014, so I’ve got to ask the obligatory question: If you were to send your Golden Record into space today, what Interstellar Music would you included? <;

‘Til next time, have some phonographic fun… I’ll be listening!

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