How Old Is The Guitar? – by Mike Overly

October 28, 2016

Mike Overly Custom copyWhenever I ask a new student, how old do you think the guitar is? They just shrug their shoulders and reply, I don’t know. When I tell them, they are amazed!

How Old Is The Guitar?

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. So, could it could be that…

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‘Ukulele: High G and Low G ~ by Mike Overly

November 5, 2015

ukuleleJoin two-time GRAMMY® Nominated Music Educator Mike Overly as he presents his unique insights into the ‘ukulele’s history, benefits of its different tunings, theory, technique ~ and much more!


‘Ukulele: High G and Low G

Since its introduction to Hawai’i in 1879, the ‘ukulele has been many things: a symbol of an island paradise, a tool of political protest, an instrument central to a rich musical culture, a musical joke, a highly sought-after collectible, a cheap airport souvenir, a lucrative industry, and the product of a remarkable synthesis of global cultures.

This video explores some of the fascinating aspects of how an obscure four-string folk instrument from Portugal rose to its current popularity as a world-wide legitimate musical instrument. Aloha!

Words and Terms of Music, Bass and Musician – by Mike Overly

October 16, 2014

Music GlossaryA glossary is an alphabetical list of words and terms about a specific subject, followed by their definition. A glossary is like a brief dictionary. Always remember, a words definition can change over time!

In ancient Greece, glossa meant: a word or term which needed to be defined or explained. Then, around 1550, glossa’s meaning change to: the definition or explanation of a difficult word or term. And, as we all know, if it’s difficult ~ it’s probably important. Over time, glossa was shortened to gloss, and today gloss means: to define, explain, interpret, translate, or paraphrase a word or term.

Ary derives from the Medieval Latin, aris meaning: belonging to, and arius  meaning: connected with. So, gloss (words and terms) + ary (belonging to music and connected with the bass) = glossary.

Abridged means: not complete, and since every word and term used to communicate music, bass and musician can’t be listed, let’s discover a few words and terms taken from the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass Book 1 to get you started.

Ability – capable of technique, skill
Accidentals – natural, flat and sharp signs
Again – more than one time, repeat
Analog – does not stop, continuous, connected from the beginning to the end
Anchor Finger – the left hand finger that is connected to the key letter; form
Arpeggio – harmony of three or more different letters sounded one at a time
Attention – conscious of perceiving only one
Audition – hearing, listening, or, a music competition
Aware(ness) – conscious of perceiving more than one

Bass – instrument of 4, 5 or 6 strings and 12 frets in one octave, low frequency
Beat – a steady counted pulse, tempo, rhythm
Beginning – where you should start
B.P.M. – beats per minute, steady and even tempo, metronome mark
Bridge – bass part opposite the nut, or, a song part that connects the verse to the chorus

Change – to become something different, variable
Chorus – song part that usually states the title
Chromatic – flat and sharp, not natural
Clock – steady and regular 60 beats per minute, does not change
Choose – using reason to decide “which one”; logic, philosophy, mind
Chord – harmony of three or more different letters sounded at the same time
Coda – ending, stop
Combine – to add, join or link together
Count – give beat numbers to a steady pulse, meter, time signature

Diagonal – 45 degree angle, slanted line
Different – not the same, variation, enharmonic
Digital – not connected, discrete, separated, fraction, fragment
Dimension: measurement,
1st dimension – width, 1D, how wide something is, interval
2nd dimension – height, 2D, how high something is, treble
3rd dimension – depth, 3D, how deep something is, bass
4th dimension – time, 4D, how much space is between two sounds, motion, rhythm
Down – right hand strum, low to high pitch, thick string to thin string, stroke or ghost
Duration – the length of time a sound or silence lasts, rhythm

End – the opposite of start at the beginning, coda, stop
Enharmonic – same sound, different symbol
Even – regular, equal, same, no variation
Exponential – two or more ideas or thoughts multiplied by each other

Flat Sign – not natural or sharp, one fret lower from any letter or tone number
Fine – the place between the beginning and the end of a song that the music is finished
Form – pattern created by the placement the musician’s anchor finger on a bass string, fraction
Fraction – a part or a piece, the disconnected and separated form, not the whole
Fragment – fraction of a fraction, a part or a piece of a form
Fret – vertical metal strip on the bass fretboard
Fret Zero – the sound at the nut played by using a left hand finger
Frequency – the number of vibrations per second, oscillation, pitch
Fundamental – tone 1, scale degree 1, root, tonic

Genre – categories such as: rock, blues, jazz, classical, etc.
Ghost Strum – a right hand motion, down or up, which does not make sound

Half-Step – interval of one fret
Harmony – interval, arpeggio or chord, letter or numeral symbol
Hearing – touching at a distance, listening, audition
Holistic – connected fragments and form fractions, not the whole
Horizontal – east and west, sideways, bass strings

Idea  – the knowledge that thought carries, theory, mind
Improvise – free to choose,”variable, reason, mind
Interlude – play in the middle, usually between the chorus and the verse
Interval – distance or difference between two sounds or symbols
Isotonic – one sound with one location on the fretboard
Isotonic Thinking – one thought with one idea, theory, mind

Key – the letter of tone 1Key Letter – the letter of tone 1, scale degree 1, root, fundamental or tonic
Key Signature – the letters of tones 1 through 7; key plus signature
Key Tone – tone 1, scale degree 1, root, fundamental or tonic
Knowledge – that which is learned as an idea, carried back to the thinker as thought, mind

Layer – one in front of the other, music symbols seen on the bass fretboard
Learn – understand, comprehend, memorize and remember, mind
Left Hand – finger numbers 1 2 3 4, which fret the strings
Letter – first music symbol of pitch
Lick – a tone row of high sounds, 2D
Listening – awareness and attention to sound, more than just hearing
Location – the string and fret “place” of a pitch on the bass fretboard, position
Logic – thoughts and ideas “in-order,” using reasoning to “choose,” philosophy, mind

Mark – written symbol or sign; rhythm symbol of harmony
Measure – group of beats set by the meter, time signature
Meter – to measure, number of beats per bar or measure, top number of the time signature
Metronome – variable clock, steady and even pulse, tempo, bpm
Metronome Mark – beats per minute number, tempo, time
Melody – in-order scale played out of order, sounds one at a time that can’t be changed
Mind – musician, location of the “thought carries idea” process, theory, thinking, philosophy
Modulate – change the letter of tone 1 for only a part of the song
Music – Art: sound of Nature, artificial: sound of man, artifact: recording of man’s sound
Musician – the one who thinks music symbols to play music’s sound, mind

Natural Sign- not flat or sharp, the original 7 letters and tone numbers
Note – rhythm symbol of duration, connected to a tone number or placed on the staff
Number – numeric symbol for place and order
Numeral – third symbol of pitch, numeric symbol of harmony which indicates type
Numeric – the word, number and numeral for place or order: one, 1, I
Nut –  part of the bass opposite the bridge, turned into fret zero or open by the musician

Octave – the same letter 12 frets apart, a first octave tone number plus 7 (1+7=8, 2+7=9, etc.)
Open – the sound at the nut not played by a left hand finger
Order – in or out of place, numeric
Oscillation – a single swing in one direction of a bass string, vibration, frequency, pitch

Pattern  – a group of things; letter pattern, tone pattern, rhythm pattern
Perform(ance) – the result of practice, playing for others, technique, skill
Philosophy – thinking about thinking, choice, logic, reason, mind
Pick – a plectrum held by the right hand to strum the strings
Pitch – frequency, vibration, oscillation, letter, number, numeral and staff
Place – string and fret location on the bass fretboard, position
Play – will, ability, technique, skill
Position – a four-fret and 4, 5 or 6 string area on the bass fretboard; location, place
Practice – repetition which leads to performance, technique, skill
Process – the analog flow of thought and idea, theory, mind
Pulse – a “sound in time” that is not a beat because it is not counted

Reason(ing) – method used to decide what to choose,”logic, philosophy, mind
Re – again, one more time
Refer – to bring the answer back to the question
Regular – equal distant, steady and even like a clock, metronome, tempo, rhythm, bpm
Repeat – more than one time, a music sign meaning to do again
Represent – present the sound again as symbol; letter, tone number, numeral, staff-note
Result  – a consequence or outcome
reWrite® – to convert staff-note into tone number to create
Tone Note® Rhythm – beat plus notes or marks, two or more analog patterns at the same time
Riff – a tone row of low sounds
Right Hand – finger letters: T i m a c, which strum the strings
Root – tone 1, scale degree 1, fundamental, tonic, key tone or key letter

Same – not different, no variation
Separated – digital, fragment, form fraction
Scale – in-order sounds connect by steps; half-step (one fret) and whole-step (two frets)
Scale Degree – numeric tone number; also used to locate harmony numeral
Sharp Sign – not natural or flat, one fret higher from any letter or tone number
Sign – a call to action, tells you to do something, direction
Signature – what something is, key signature, time signature
Similar – to share somethings but not all
Skill – ability and technique, practice, perform
Stack – one above the other, time signature
Staff – 5 horizontal parallel lines, pitch as letters, not TAB
Staff Note – a connection of a rhythm note with a staff letter
Start – the best place to begin, there are many places to start but only one beginning
Steady – regular and even like a clock, tempo, beat, metronome
Steps – half step (one fret) and whole step (two frets), interval
Stop – at the end, coda
Strings – Bass has 4, 5 or 6
Stroke – a right hand strum down or up which makes sound
Strum – a right hand motion down or up; stroke or ghost
Style – a sub-category of a genre, such as: classic rock, smooth jazz, heavy metal, etc.
Symbol – represents sound as: letter, number, numeral, note, etc.

TAB – 4, 5 or 6 horizontal parallel lines (bass strings) with “layered” fret numbers, not staff
Technique – skill and ability, gets better over time; repeat, practice, perform
Tempo – rate of speed (slow or fast) of the steady beat, bpm, metronome mark
Theme – the original melody or “tone row”
Theory – to think, thought connected to idea, mind
Think(ing) – process of connecting thought with idea, awareness and attention
Thought – carries an idea (knowledge) back to the thinker; refer, theory, mind
Tie – a “curved line” that “connects” sound (tones and notes); silence (rests) do not get tied
Time – rhythm, motion, when a sound or silence occurs, pulse, beat, tempo, count
Time Signature – meter and value numbers “stacked” one above the other
Tonic – tone 1, scale degree, fundamental, root
Tone Note® – the connection of a rhythm note with a tone number
Tone Number – second music symbol of pitch, scale degree
Tone Row – series of connected pitches as tone numbers; melody, lick, riff, etc.
Transpose – change the key of the entire song
Treble – high frequency
Type – what kind of scale, arpeggio or chord; major, minor, whole tone, etc.

Unison – the same sound in more than one location on the bass fretboard
Unison Thinking – one thought with two or more ideas
Up – right hand strum, high to low pitch, thin string to thick string; stroke or ghost

Value – one beat, bottom number of the time signature, note that gets one beat changes
Variation – to change the original, different, not the same
Variable – able to change; metronome, improvise
Verse – song part that tells the story
Vertical – north and south, up and down; nut, bridge and frets
Vibration – repeated back and forth motion, oscillation, frequency, pitch

Whole – all, complete, undifferentiated fragments, forms fractions; not separated
Whole Step – interval of two frets,
Will – self directed action behind thought and idea, play

Zero – the number 0 before 1, as in fret zero, not the letter O as in open

Congratulations, you now have the necessary vocabulary to begin playing music on your Bass!

’til next time, begin having some vocabulary fun with your new found glossary ~ I’ll be listening . . .

Zero Inversion Harmony – by Mike Overly

August 21, 2014

Zero Inversion Interval ClockIn 1722, Jean-Philippe Rameau defined harmony as “…the gathering together of several sounds which are agreeable to the ear.”  This traditional definition of harmony is still true today – but needs a little modern updating.

Let us begin by stating that harmony begins with one sound, and this first sound of harmony is symbolized by a letter and a number. The harmony letter may be one of 21 letters, <> but, the harmony number can be only one number, tone 1. Tone 1 is also known as the root, tonic or scale degree 1.
Harmony then proceeds to gather more sounds by adding letters and tone numbers in a numerical order. The progressive harmonies that result are then given harmony names. For example, two sounds with the same letter name, or with two different letter names is called an interval. Three sounds with three different letter names is a triad. And four sounds with four different letter names is known as a tetrad. Theoretically, harmony continues extending until it includes all 12 sounds with 21 different letter names. Thank goodness dodecaphonic harmony can’t be played on a six string guitar! However, harmony can be played on the guitar in two different ways: melodic and harmonic. Simply stated, melodic is defined as one at a time and harmonic is at the same time.

When harmony of three or more different letters and tone numbers are played melodically, one at a time, it is called an arpeggio. And when harmony of three or more different letters and tone numbers are played harmonically, at the same time, it a known as a chord. Intervals of two sounds may be played both melodically and harmonically, but, are not considered or called arpeggios or chords.A traditional harmony symbol, such as Cm (C minor) is almost always referred to as a chord symbol. However, this would not be true if the Cm harmony was played as an arpeggio. In that case, the Cm harmony symbol would have to be called an arpeggio symbol, and that sounds weird.

So, to avoid naming harmony by the way it is played, simply use the term harmony symbol. That way, you are free to play the harmony however you wish, either as an arpeggio or as a chord.Harmony is grouped into types based upon the 3rd and 5th intervals. The 3rds intervals are: natural three major (3), flat three minor (b3), and sharp three suspended (#3). In traditional harmony, #3 is called 4 but as we will see in later lessons, this creates a lot of unnecessary confusion: think dominant 11.

The 5ths intervals are: natural five perfect (5), flat five diminished (b5), and sharp five augmented (#5).By combining the above six interval types, nine triads result: major 1 3 5, major flat five 1 3 b5, major sharp five 1 3 #5, minor 1 b3 5, minor flat five 1 b3 b5, minor sharp five 1 b3 #5, and suspended 1 #3 5, suspended flat five 1 #3  b5, and suspended sharp five 1 #3 b5.By adding the remaining major scale tones: 6 7 9 11 and 13 (plus their chromatic flats and sharps) to these nine triads, a virtually infinite number of harmonies is created.

A harmony progression is when an arpeggio or chord harmony moves forward to another harmony of any type. The definition of progress is to move forward. Therefore, by combining these virtually infinite number of harmonies with an equally virtually infinite number of harmony orders, the result is more harmony progressions than anyone on Earth has time to play!

’til next time, have some Zero Inversion harmony fun and don’t forget to progress!

P.S. If you liked this lesson, or even if you didn’t, please leave a comment and tell me so. Image by

What’s Your Point – by Mike Overly

June 5, 2014
Guitar Pick

Let’s imagine we are playing guitar 10,000 years ago. One starry, starry night, while sitting around the fire in our cave after a long, hard day of hunting, we begin fooling around with our bow. An accidental pluck of the string makes a pleasant musical tone. This is good. Then, another accident occurs, we push on the bow, and like a whammy bar, the string gets looser and the tone gets lower. At that moment, relative pitch is discovered.

Things seem to be developing nicely until we begin having difficulty playing at faster tempos. Then comes the thought to reach over and pick up our favorite arrowhead, and like magic, the plectrum, also known as the pick, is born.

Now, let’s fast forward to the 21st Century and look at the development of the modern pick.


Although picks may be of any shape, they generally take the heart-like shape of an isosceles triangle with two very rounded corners, and a third corner, the point, rounded to a lesser degree. Regardless of the shape, the picks edge will be smooth and rounded, or sharp and beveled. The classic pick shape of today, the 351, was created by Luigi D’Andrea in 1922. It was the first pick made of celluloid, and with the imprint and endorsement of Nick Lucas, it became the most popular pick of the 1930’s.


Picks vary in thickness to accommodate different playing styles and gauges of strings. Manufacturers usually print the thickness on the pick in millimeters. The following is a thickness guideline: Extra thin/light less than 0.38, Thin/light 0.51-0.60, Medium 0.73-0.81, Thick/heavy 0.88-1.20 and Extra Thick/heavy more than 1.50.

Thinner picks are flexible and do not deliver a forceful attack. They do not play very loudly and tend to make a clicking sound when the string is struck. Thin picks do not respond well when fast alternating down and up strokes are required. Also, they tend to rip and tear when used forcefully or with heavy gauge strings.

In contrast, thicker picks produce very strong attacks and are capable of both quiet and loud dynamics. Thicker picks are less likely to wear down over time and they offer more control with heavier gauge strings.

Jazz guitar players, who favor heavy gauge flat-wound strings, often use small tear-drop shaped medium picks of various materials.


In a pinch, just about anything will function as a pick: a coin, button, popsicle stick, credit card, paper clip, ice cream wooden spoon — even a baseball card. Over the years, picks have been made out of just about every material imaginable: bone, shell, tortoise-shell, wood, amber, stone, gemstone, coconut, ivory and metals: steel, brass, nickel, silver, gold and platinum.

Metal picks produce a very bright sound and tend to wear out the strings quickly. Metal picks can easily damage the finish on the guitar if used for strumming, especially acoustic guitars. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top uses a Mexican Peso filed down to the classic 351 shape.

Today, the most common of all modern pick materials is plastic. Plastic ranges from the easiest to bend, nylon, to the hardest to bend, ultem. It’s interesting to note that a pick of the same thickness will be fairly flexible if made out of nylon and very stiff if made out of ultem. Thickness and material go hand-in-hand.

It should be mentioned that plastic is very slippery and many non-slip devises and friction coatings such as: wire loops, rubber, cork and holes were incorporated into pick design from the very beginning to provide traction to keep the pick from twisting and flying out of sweaty fingers. As Aerosmith said, get a grip! Now, let’s examine some of these plastics.

Celluloid, discovered in 1870, was the first commercial plastic and the most popular pick material of all. More picks were made from celluloid than all other materials combined. By the turn of the century, the celluloid pick had begun to replace the warm and comfortable tortoise-shell pick. And by the 1940’s, picks of modern plastics were out selling celluloid picks. Amazingly, D’Andrea continued to make tortoise-shell picks until 1973 when the Endangered Species Act halted production. Fender didn’t stop making celluloid picks until 1993.

Nylon is more slippery than celluloid and most manufacturers add a high-friction coating to make them easier to grip and less likely to twist and fly out of the players fingers. Nylon is extremely flexible and most thin and extra-thin picks are made from it. Nylon picks tend to lose their flexibility and become fragile and break after extensive use, so, guitarists should have several spare picks in the case, just in case.

Delrin by DuPont, also called Acetal or Tortex, is smooth, glossy and slick. It is very hard and stiff and wears down slowly.

Lexan has a shiny, glass-like and extremely hard surface that wears down relatively fast.

Ultem is a space age plastic that has the highest hardness and stiffness of all plastic picks. Ultem produces a very bright (treble) tone.

Tortis is made from polymerized animal protein, and comes very close to the sound and feel of natural tortoise shell picks. Tortis picks are usually thick with smooth beveled edges. Dweezil Zappa endorses a tortis pick.

Agate guitar picks are harder than metal andcannot be flexed regardless of their thickness. Since no press or injection mold is needed to make an agate pick, they may be individually crafted to meet the players specifications.

Lignum Vitae is a rare wood that is harder than ebony. Its cellular structure contains natural oils that give this pick its unique feel and sound.

Glass picks are generally hand blown and range from round points with natural edges to sharp points with beveled edges.

Pick Technique

The pick is usually played with the pointed end and gripped with two fingers: thumb and index. However, many players use different grips.

Eddie Van Halen holds the pick between his thumb and middle finger, while James Hetfield and Steve Morse hold the pick using three fingers: thumb, middle and index. Pat Metheny also holds the pick with three fingers, but plays using the rounded edge of the pick. George Lynch also plays with the rounded edge and so did Stevie Ray Vaughan. George Benson and Pat Martino hold the pick very tightly between the thumb and index finger and attack with the surface of the pick nearly parallel to the string for a very articulate and consistent tone.

Circle picking is a technique where the thumb is bent on the downstroke and straightened on the upstroke, causing the tip of the pick to move in a circular pattern. This tends to produce a lighter articulation.

The angle of the pick in relation to the string can create a broad range of effects. For example, moving the pick edge along the length of a round wound string at 90╝ produces the pick scrape.

Shredding is a goal for many and there are two main approaches to fast picking: alternate and efficient. Alternate picking is when the player maintains strict down and up strokes regardless of which string is being played. Efficient picking is when the player uses the least amount of strokes. For example, if the next sound is on the same string, pick with an alternate stroke, however, if the next sound is on a different string, pick toward that string. Here is a very cool site for an indepth look at right-hand picking styles.

In closing, here’s a tip my classical guitar teacher taught me to keep my fingernails smooth and slick. I discovered it works on picks too. Lightly sand the point edges of your pick with 600 grit sandpaper until a smooth, slick surface that slips effortlessly over the string is achieved. Do this when the edges get rough from playing, and since new picks tend to have rough edges, be sure to sand your pick before you use it the first time. One final thought, my pick of choice is a Dulop Delrin 500 Series, 2.0 mm.

‘Til next time, no matter what pick you use, get to the point and have some plectrum 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!

Harmony Symbolism – by Mike Overly

May 1, 2014

Harmony Symbol Three TypesThere are many systems used to notate harmony, whether that harmony is an interval, an arpeggio, or a chord. For example, orchestral music uses staff notation, harmonic analysis uses Roman numerals, and the Baroque era used figured bass. However, the most popular harmony symbol used in today’s music is the macro symbol, more simply known as a “chord symbol.”

Simply stated, a harmony symbol consists of two parts: the Letter of the harmony and the Type. And although these symbols are seldom used in classical music, they are universally used to specify the harmony of popular music as found in fake books, lead sheets and chord charts. Therefore, a clear and simple understanding of harmony symbolization is essential.

A quick internet search of harmony symbol notation will present you with an overwhelming amount of confusing, incomplete and, dare I say it, wrong information. So, let’s clean the slate, start at the beginning and discover that harmony notation isn’t overwhelming or confusing at all.

For the examples used in this lesson, we will use the C major scale. Let’s begin by presenting the C major scale as seven letters and seven tone numbers, also known as scale degrees. In the first octave they are 1 C, 2 D, 3 E, 4 F, 5 G, 6 A, 7 B. In the second octave they become 8 C, 9 D, 10 E, 11 F, 12 G, 13 A, 14 B. Now, the first thing we need to realize about harmony is that harmony begins with one sound! To many this just doesn’t seem correct, but it is.

Think of it this way. If we were to begin with a complex harmony symbol, say C major 13, which contains the letters and tones 1 C, 3 E, 5 G, 7 B, 9 D, 11 F, 13 A, we would probably quit because as a beginner, that’s a frightening chord! However, if we were to “reduce” this complex harmony by deleting six tones and letters, then, only one tone and letter would remain: 1 C. And that isn’t complex at all. In fact, it’s very simple. Now you can understand that harmony, no matter how complex, begins with one sound, one letter and one tone number. Let’s continue.

Harmony of two sounds is called an interval. In other words, an interval contains two letters and two tone numbers. For this lesson, we will begin with the following intervals: Perfect Fifth: natural 5, Diminished Fifth: flat 5, and Augmented Fifth: sharp 5.

The Perfect Fifth, P5, is simply the fifth sound of the major scale, tone 5 letter G. And when the perfect fifth is combined with the first sound of the scale, tone 1 letter C, the perfect fifth interval is the result. The perfect fifth interval may be played melodically, which means one at a time, or, harmonically, which means at the same time. Now, to understand the next two intervals, a simple understanding of flat (b) and sharp (#) is necessary. Simply stated, on any instrument, flat is one half-step lower in pitch and sharp is one half-step higher in pitch. To a right-handed player of guitar or bass, flat is one fret lower (to the left) of any letter or tone number, and sharp is one fret higher (to the right) of any letter or tone number. That was easy!

The definition of Diminished is to shrink or make smaller. Therefore, the diminished fifth is simply the fifth sound of the major scale flatted, in other words: tone b5, which is bG in the C Major scale. When the diminished fifth, b5 bG is combined with tone 1 C, the diminished fifth interval is the result. The diminished fifth interval may be played melodically (one sound at a time), or harmonically (at the same time).

The definition of Augmented is to expand or make larger. Therefore, the augmented fifth is simply the fifth sound of the major scale sharped, or, tone #5 which is #G in the C Major scale. When the augmented fifth, #5 #G is combined with tone 1 C, the augmented fifth interval is the result. The augmented fifth interval may also be played melodically or harmonically.

Let’s present the three intervals that are based on tone 3. They are Major: natural 3, Minor: flat 3 and Suspended: sharp 3. You will notice that even though we used the flat and sharp signs with the third intervals, we did not use the designation diminished and augmented!

The Major Third, M3, is simply the third sound of the major scale, tone 3 which is E in the C Major scale. When the major third, tone 3, is combined with the first sound of the scale, tone 1, the major third interval is the result. The major third interval may be played melodically or harmonically.

The Minor Third, m3, is simply the third sound of the major scale flatted, tone b3 letter bE. When the minor third is combined with the first sound of the scale, tone 1, the minor third interval is the result. The minor third interval may be played melodically or harmonically.

The Suspended Third, sus3, is simply the third sound of the major scale sharped, tone #3 letter #E. When the major third is combined with the first sound of the scale, tone 1, the suspended third interval is the result. The suspended third interval may also be played melodically or harmonically.

One more thought. The definition of enharmonic is one sound with more than one symbol. Therefore, it’s important to point out that when C is tone 1, tone #3 is the letter #E and sounds the same as tone 4 letter F, but they are two different symbols. For further clarification of this important concept, see page 102 of Guitar Fretboard Facts, or, Bass Fretboard Facts

Okay, it’s now time to use the above information to create Nine Triads of Three Types.

Tri is Greek for three. Therefore, triads are arpeggio and chord harmonies which are spelled with three different letters and three different tone numbers. Here’s the essential idea, there are only nine triads upon which all arpeggios and chords are based! These nine triads are created by combining the three third types: major, minor and suspended, with the three fifth types: perfect, diminished and augmented. In the following examples, C is tone 1. Tone 1 is also known as the root, tonic and fundamental. To learn more about the following nine triads, see page 10 of Guitar EncycloMedia, or, Bass EncycloMedia

Nine Triads

Now, here is something very important. Notice that the harmony symbol for major is nothing. In other words, there is a harmony letter for major, but there is no type symbol for major. Said a different way, when you see nothing — and yes, you can see nothing — it means something! In other words, in this case, when you don’t see a type symbol after the harmony letter, it means major. Think of it this way, when reading the harmony symbol C, you think, say and play C major.

You will notice that each of the nine triads only have one Type, Name, Tone Spelling and Letter Spelling. However, since there is no standardization of harmony symbolism, some of the nine triads have more than one Harmony Symbol. This really shouldn’t be the case because more often than not, this simply leads to confusion. But, oh well, that’s the way it is.

So, ’til next time, have some nine triad fun… I’ll be listening!

The Past, Present and Future of Sheet Music – by Mike Overly

April 17, 2014

Illuminated ManuscriptOverview 

Sheet music is a form of music notation that uses written symbols and signs to represent the sound of music. The medium of sheet music has progressed from clay tablets to parchment, and from paper to computer screens. Sheet music may be written by hand, printed by a press, or sent from the computer to a graphic printer. The term “sheet” is used to differentiate written music, regardless of the medium, from an audio presentation of sound as experienced through records, tapes, CDs and mp3s.


Sheet music may be thought of as a way of notating sound so as to preserve and more quickly learn a piece of music. Sheet music can be studied to elucidate aspects that may not be obvious from mere listening. Insightful musical information may be gained by studying the composers autograph score, as well as written sketches, early versions of the composition, personal markings on proofs and printed scores.

Sheet music requires the ability to read music notation which is a special form of literacy. This skill enables a musician to perform a piece of music they have never heard by simply viewing the sheet music.  When this occurs the first time it is called sight reading. A more refined skill is needed to read a new and unfamiliar piece of music and then hear the melody and harmony in one’s head without having to play the piece.

With the exception of solo performances, where memorization is expected, most musicians ordinarily read sheet music when performing. However, printed sheet music is less important in certain musical styles such as folk and pop. With jazz and other improvised music, sheet music is called a lead sheet and is used to give only the most basic indications of the melody, harmony, and arrangement. Although much popular music is published in notation of some sort, for example fake books and TAB, it is quite common for improvisational players to learn a song by ear. This was frequently the case with traditional folk music, where songs were passed down by an aural tradition.

Although sheet music is most often thought of as being a means for learning new music, it can also serve as a visual record of music that already exists. Transcriptions of such music into staff-notes and tablature render them into readable form for study, analysis, and performance. This is done not only with traditional folk songs, but also with sound recordings of improvisations by rock and jazz musicians.


Modern sheet music comes in many different formats. For example, sheet music can be issued as an individual piece for a popular song, or as a collection of works by a given group or artist. Usually, if a piece is composed for just one instrument or voice, then the whole work may be printed as one sheet. However, if an instrumental piece is intended to be performed by more than one person, then each performer will usually have a separate sheet from which to play. This is especially true of works requiring more than four performers. In that case, a full score will usually be published for the conductor or director.

When the separate instrumental or vocal parts of a musical work are printed on the same sheet, it is called a score. A score generally consists of musical notation with each instrumental or vocal part in vertical alignment. Scores come in many formats, such as: full score, study score or miniature score, piano score, vocal score, choral score, organ score, musical score, and a short score.

In addition to scores, there are lead sheets, chord charts and tablature. A lead sheet presents a one staff-note melody with harmony symbols placed above the staff and lyrics below. A chord chart contains little or no melodic content, but provides detailed harmonic and rhythmic information. Tablature is a special type of instrumental notation that dates from the late Middle Ages. Tablature includes rhythmic notation, but only shows where to play the pitches on any given instrument, not which pitches to play.

Illuminated Manuscripts 

Artifacts show that sheet music began as rudimentary musical codes written on clay tablets by ancient Babylonians nearly 4,000 years ago. Elementary music notation was then developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans. This early written music continued to evolve until around the 7th century when Catholic monks began approaching the task of symbolizing sound with quills and ink on decorative vellum and parchment. These illuminated manuscripts were bound in large volumes. The best known of these manuscripts were of religious monophonic chants. With the introduction of polyphony, 9th-14th century, the individual parts were written separately and presented on facing pages. The medieval practice of composing polyphonic parts sequentially rather than simultaneously meant that manuscripts showing parts together in vertical score format were rare.

Fortunately for us, sheet music survived the Dark Ages and went on to become an important musical force during the Renaissance, 14th-17th century. It is interesting to note that even after the advent of music printing in the 15th century, there was still an abundance of sheet music that only existed in manuscript form well into the 18th century.

Printing On Paper 

With the invention of Gutenberg‘s printing press during the 15th century, printed sheet music became much more accessible to the masses. The first machine-printed book to include music was the Mainz psalter of 1457. It included printed staff lines, but, scribes still had to add the rest of the music by hand. In 1501, the Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A, which contained ninety-six pieces of polyphonic music was printed. A common way for issuing multi-part polyphonic music during the Renaissance was in the form of part-books. In this format, each voice-part would be printed separately in its own book and multiple books would be needed to perform the music. Scores for multi-part music were rarely printed. The printing method at that time produced clean and readable music but required three separate passes through the printing press. It was discovered that the greatest difficulty in using movable type to print music was aligning all the musical elements, for example, assuring that the note head was properly positioned on the staff. In 1520 single impression printing appeared and eliminated this alignment problem. Around this time, the first tablature with movable type was printed. Printing remained mostly unchanged for the next 200 years.

The benefit of printed music was that it spread information faster and more efficiently to more people than was possible through bound manuscripts. Printed music also had the additional effect of enabling amateur musicians to afford sheet music to perform. This resulted in composers writing more music for amateurs. This increased the number of amateurs from whom professional players could earn money by teaching them. And this in turn, allowed the professional to buy more sheet music. It should be noted that in the early years of printed sheet music, the cost still limited its distribution.

Politics also played a role in the history of sheet music. In many places the right to print music, now known as a copyright, was granted by the monarch. Only those with a special dispensation were allowed to print music. As you can imagine, this right was, more often than not, granted to a favored court musician. Politics aside, printed sheet music was impacting Europe in ways unimaginable by past generations and soon it would do the same in the American Colonies.

The first music printed in North America was The Bay Psalm Book, 1640. This book contained only text because the congregations of churches were assumed to know the music by heart. Print music publishing continued to develop and expand throughout the 18th century.

By the early 19th century, the music industry was dominated by sheet music publishers due in part to the fact that by this time musicians began to pay for the privilege of performing a writer’s music. At the same time, lithographic techniques replaced metal engraving as a fast and efficient method of reproducing multiple copies of musical scores. This enabled the printing of sacred and secular music to become a booming industry. This helped to employ more people and give rise to the middle class. As a result, more individuals had the time and money necessary to invest in instruments for their homes, town bands, and attendance to the symphony hall.

The late 19th century saw a massive explosion of parlor music, with a piano becoming the instrument of choice for middle class homes. By 1890, many department stores opened counters for the sale of sheet music, and its popularity forced the price down. It’s safe to say that the growth of American popular music, including jazz, country and western, bluegrass, spirituals, and theater music, may be attributed not only to talented composers and artists, but also to the publishers who made it possible for the amateur to play at home. By 1910, Woolworth sold sheet music for 10 cents a copy!

By the early 20th century, the sheet music industry rose in tandem with a group of New York City publishers and composers collectively known as Tin Pan Alley. These talented individuals were made rich and famous by the swift availability of their songs in sheet music form. The sheet music industry experienced another boost in 1914 when the first performance rights society, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (ASCAP) was established. In 1931, The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, Inc. (SESAC) was founded. It was followed by Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) in 1940. Music rights organizations were essential for the orderly administration of performance data and distribution of royalties for music in copyright. They also played an important role in funding the first efforts of young composers and songwriters.

The mid 20th century saw a new growth in sheet music fueled by the phonograph and radio industry which grew in importance and further popularized a wide range of music. By the early 1950’s, technological improvements in sound recording and television again accelerated popular interest in sheet music. But eventually, the record industry overtook sheet music as the dominant musical force since it was easier to play a phonograph than to play an instrument!

Digital Printing 

Near the end of the 20th century, a great deal of interest arose in how to present sheet music in a computer read-and-write format suitable for the down-loading and up-loading of files. In 1984, computer music notation programs for home use were developed and released. They introduced concepts largely unknown to the home user at that time, such as allowing for the manipulation of music symbols and signs with a mouse. These computer programs allowed for playback of music through various early sound cards. In addition, the user could print the musical score via a graphic printer.

In 1991, software that could read scanned sheet music was introduced. Needless to say, this Music Optical Character Recognition (MOCR) software created a completely new manner of distribution for sheet music which was referred to as virtual sheet music. By 1998, virtual sheet music had morphed into digital sheet music. The difference between the two was that digital sheet music allowed copyrighted sheet music to be purchased online from the publisher or dealer. Another important difference was that digital sheet music could be altered in ways virtual sheet music never could. This made digital sheet music ideal for instrument changes, transposition and MIDI playback. In 1999, a system for coordinating a digital music display to orchestral musicians was presented and performed. The popularity of this instant delivery system among musicians, now through the use of iPads, appears to be the catalyst of growth for digital sheet music that will last well into the future.

In the 21st century, sheet music, like most other forms of communication, has fully joined the digital age. In fact, it may be said that digital sheet music is the musical notation system of the 21st century. The popularity of digital sheet music has revitalized the sheet music industry, which had been languishing since the invention of the phonograph. Digital sheet music has made music notation available on a scale the likes of which its creators could never have imagined. Digital sheet music is the future of sheet music, and no where is this more apparent than with the Mutopia Project. This project is an effort to create a library of public domain sheet music comparable to Project Gutenberg’s library of public domain books. Also, the International Music Score Library Project is attempting to create a virtual library of scores from composers who are willing to share their music with the world free of charge! Projects like these make it easy to understand that there will come a time when digital music libraries will be very extensive indeed.

The long and winding history of sheet music is an exciting story of invention, evolution and distribution. Now, if all those ancient musicians could see the form that sheet music has taken today, I’m sure they would find it beyond belief.

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

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