This is one of those special episodes where TC and Frank step into a casual conversation and reflect on some previous episodes. Join some deep interval theory talk and discover TC's and Frank's highlights of this podcast so far.
Reflecting on 1s
TC: I'm thrilled today because I'm joined by my partner, who is all the way over on the other side of the ocean, coming from Vienna, Austria, is Frank Herrlinger. People who know Frank know what an incredible composer he is, but he's also a great musical thinker. So, without getting too wordy here, I just want to welcome Frank from Vienna to the podcast! Frank, nice to hear you!
Frank: Oh! Many, many thanks, that's a wonderful introduction! It has been a fantastic journey so far. We are now a few episodes in, and it's fantastic to see the information there, how it applies to actual music and how to create results because that is what we are all about. We want to get everybody to results; that's the plan.
I was really intrigued by those episodes you released by now. What do you think? What are your top 2 highlights so far?
TC: Wow! Well, my top 2 highlights ... Let me start with my top 1. And that's interesting because one of the episodes was about interval 1, which, as you know, that's a semitone. And on the guitar, that interval is challenging, so I wanted to figure out a way to use that interval on the guitar, fingering-wise, vertically, in lines, and so on. I decided to make that my very first episode. It was about that 4+1 substitution, but really delving into the 1-part of that. Showing everybody out there that if you take a 1 and you Position Change it, which means whatever note is on the bottom, you put it up one octave.
Then you have an 11, and when you apply that fingering to the guitar, you realize that all kinds of great chords that you've probably been playing for years have that interval in them. And that interval has what we call a "nature", which is fascinating. So, I have been concentrating on really delving into how to use the intervals 1 and 11 in intervallic thinking and Diatonic music, meaning, pertaining to a scale.
If you play that interval just using a major scale as your grid, it shows up in two places. Those two places let you switch tonalities if you know how to use the intervals. So that's what I'm doing, I know it sounds a little heady, but it sounds great!
Frank: Yes, the 1 is not a stable interval. It wants to move if you play a 1 on any polyphonic instrument; that's also true for 11s. And those intervals appear in almost every chord structure, and we all know the chord progressions, right? We can start on major 7th chords; that's the 11 in the OI. But you can also go to 9th, 11th, and up to 13ths. Probably most of our guys are familiar with those more conventional chord structures. But the beauty is, you can just abstract this interval from any chord structure and look at the outside. So, the moment you hit on an 11, you can get rid of the inner parts and just deal with the pure nature of that interval.
Suddenly you have so many options on the guitar because an 11 is not very hard to play, but 1s are pretty hard to play, right? Especially if you don't want to bring in an open string, that's the lazy way of doing it.
TC: Yes. Well, 1s are a five-fret stretch for most of the guitar. It's four frets between the G and the B string, so it's doable. That's part of the nature of 1 for guitar players.
Frank: Yeah. Well then, don't try to play it on the bass. Because then, the stretch is even wider.
TC: The bass players are a little limited with that interval to play in both simultaneously, not just because of the stretch, but because of where that interval would be sounding. It's more in the higher part of the Overtone series, not the lower part where the bass player lives.
Frank: The funny part is that bass players use this interval very elegantly in chromatic harmony, so they can always go with what they call the "tritone substitution". And they can move around the Circle of Fifth.
You can always substitute your perfect fifth with a 1, which is fantastic, right?
So this is stuff that you will get to know if you look at the intervals.
TC: Yeah, that's part of the nature of 1 and what we teach in the main course. When you start applying that, you realize some things unveil themselves. For example, we have a topic called "Expansion and Contraction of intervals", and, of course, a 1 is just one half-step. It can't contract, and it has to expand.
Did you know that if you expand a 1, it expands to 3? And 3 is a resolution, so you have an expansion and a resolution. It seems like a resolution would be smaller, it wouldn't be an expansion, but it actually is, and you start to see why that is. When you PC the 1 into an 11 and resolve it, it goes to 9. So you have to see the big intervals. You can't contract a 1 because it's so small already.
Frank: Yeah, and that is great to see on the Overtone series because you can actually see the descending movement of those chord tones when they resolve. It's always going down, and it never goes up. So a resolution always moves to a stronger overtone. If you know this, you don't have to think about it, and you can focus more on actual music.
TC: You know, I have a very deep love for all guitar players. It doesn't matter what kind, I love them all. The interesting thing is the stuff that we teach applies to any musical style. I love dedicating time to the guitar players and seeing if we can make a difference.
Reflecting on the 3-step process
Frank: Well, part of that is to have a solid process in place. I love dwelling a little bit on this 3-step process: gathering, sketching and then developing the materials. And especially sketching is very powerful as it works on any instrument. If you like the guitar, sketch out your ideas on the guitar as you would do on the piano.
TC: That's very true, and that's the secret right there. By the way, I have to say your sketching workshop was wonderful!
Frank: Oh! Many thanks!
TC: Without gathering and sketching for a piece of music, you're just kind of what I call hunting, and some people are super, super talented, and they can hunt, and they can come up with a pretty good idea, but then they get stuck because they don't have a method.
Sketching is a technique that can free you from all that hunting.
Frank: This reminds me of why we have cars and not horses anymore. Cars are just faster. It's better to use a car to drive from A to B quickly, and it's more efficient. Horses are slower. This is how I think about the 3-step process; that's the car that drives me way quicker from A to B. And that is why we spent a substantial amount of time talking and explaining those individual steps.
TC: And it's so well organized. We always talk about the 3-step process, and it starts with a gathering. My metaphor is, let's say you're going to make a pie. And you're going to go out into the forest, and you're going to hunt for berries. You come across all these beautiful blueberries, and you gather blueberries. But then, you say to yourself, "Well, that's wonderful, but I don't know if I want a blueberry pie." So you gather some strawberries, and then you gather some raspberries, you take them all home, and they're on your counter, and that's your gathering.
Now, what does that tell you? You're looking at the different colors, and you get input. You get ideas from what you've gathered there so that you can start with a sketch. And if you want, you can go back to the gathering and then continue sketching. So, it's not a one-way street; it goes back and forth.
Frank: We already went pretty deep into why it's just intelligent to sketch in some of the episodes. And the funny part to me is that you can re-use your sketches and flash them out so differently so that you save even more time. Once you have a solid sketch in place, you can adjust things like the tempo or density, add or extract something, and expand on this extraction a little bit more. It becomes an endless source of inspiration.
I would almost say that once you have 10 to 15 solid sketches in place, you potentially can build a professional career on those sketches and re-use some of this stuff, and I can actually back it up.
If you listen to some very successful composers, you will hear those repetitions in their work for different projects. You might also call this their unique voice, which is a good way of thinking about it.
TC: This is a way to organize your compositional life. And that's pretty easy. You just sit and start doing it. Do you know why it's easy? It's easy because nobody is looking over your shoulders, saying, "Well, why are you gathering that material? There's no music yet."
You're just gathering some ideas at this stage, so it's a wonderful way to start. There's no pressure, and it helps facilitate the next stage, which is sketching.
Frank: I might've said this already, but I really wished somebody would have explained this to me years ago. But fortunately, this frustration led to the founding of the academy, and I couldn't be happier about how things developed from there. Once you start seeing that frustration is energy, you can channel and use this energy in any way you want.
So again, you get back the control, and that's the moment you visualize yourself as a more successful and creative person. And that's just a fantastic motivator to get stuff done.
Connecting people with music
TC: That's right. The 3-step process has become a part of my musical life. I can't even imagine sitting at the keyboard like I used to, hunting for an idea, and then spending more time being frustrated. So that energy, see, that's the wonderful thing about the way you lay things out, Frank. You say, "Frustration is energy, and all you have to do is re-channel it", that has worked for me, so I have to thank you for that!
Frank: And now we are sitting here, recording those episodes; that's a fantastic development of this whole journey that we started together years ago.
TC: Yes, marvelous, really marvelous. What a journey it has been! And I also have to say that I wish I had studied this when I was in my teens." Because then, by the time I was in my early twenties, I'd be a super successful composer.
Frank: You are a super successful composer, honestly. That is at least what your never-ending credits list says! But yes, the point is that I believe the whole purpose of us sitting here and talking about the 3-step process is that we want everybody to see and experience the value. It can and will change the way how you approach composition.
TC: This is a little off, not off-subject but an additional sidestep here. One of my favorite things is when I have a CIT (composer in training) tell me, "You know, my husband/wife listened to what I composed and commented how great it was sounding."
I like it when actually, the boyfriends, the girlfriends, the spouses, make comments to the CIT, and that gives everybody much more energy, which like Frank would say, "You can re-channel it."
Frank: That is all true. So, I will leave the closing words for this episode to you, and I want to thank you for this wonderful conversation. It's always a pleasure and a pure joy talking with you, and I appreciate the time.
TC: Thank you, Frank. Thank you for taking the time. I would just close by saying this is a wonderful format for us and for all of you that are out there listening: If you're looking for your unique musical voice, the Music Interval Theory Academy is a great place for you.
Frank: I don't even dare to add to this. :D
Honestly, the best advice we can give you today is to work on your skills every day and become a better version of yourself. We can even assist you in that process.
Author: Thomas Chase Jones & Frank Herrlinger