Fun With Six-Tone Minor Scales!

When October finally rolls around, I usually make a bunch of jams and loose compositions with minor modes and scales. This year I’m going to go into a little more in depth about why this is so cool, and why removing notes or scale resources actually gives you more freedom to improvise and compose intelligent melodies around a simple, repeating chord progression.

In this case our chord progression is mostly Em – D – Em – D — except the end which usually goes Em-Bm – Em (or Em-B5 – Em, which just means that you have no 3rd in your Bm chord: just a Root and 5th – for instance when you do a barre chord on the 5th fret). So the chord pattern is very hypnotic and easy to remember if you play it over a few times. To create more interest and “directionality” I usually move these chords with a descending bass line:

|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-B5 |Em |

or:|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-Bm/D |Em |

If you’re not familiar with these “slash chords” — it is a great system of showing a chord progression AND a bass line at the same time. Its not hard to understand this system if you can get a few things solidly implanted in your brain:

  1. If you see a chord with no slash, like the first two measures: these chords are in “root position” as the bass note is the root or name of the chord.
  2. If you see a chord with a slash and a note after the slash, like Em/B: this means “play an E minor chord with B in the bass”

So to read the descending bass line then, you would just say to yourself: “E down to D down to B, down to A, then G down to F#, and E up to B (1st fret middle string) — and finishing on low E” — or in fret numbers mostly on the bass string:

|–8–|–7–|–5–|–4–|–3–|–2–|–1-0–|–1–:||

This one uses the second progression with the Bm/D instead of the B5 chord.

If you have a keyboard instrument like a piano, organ, or synth, why not try this out and see if you can come up with some ideas. (NOTE: I have no piano chops at all….I barely got through keyboard harmony class before I entered Ohio State as a music major. But keyboard work always gives me another window into what might happen on the dulcimer or the guitar, and besides, if you have a piano handy, your left hand can play such nice low bass notes!!!)

In 2017, I did some lessons at Patreon on this stuff, and for the November lessons I will soon add some new melodic ideas, and even some basic two-part counterpoint for the Intermediate level.

Here are the pdf files from 2017:

Thanks for reading and trying stuff!

Canterbury Dreams

Well now…..I have to say that I’m on a bit of a roll with some new compositions and musical experiments….. and I am delighted to share these with you here!

Starting with some of the most recent tracks, I’ve been busy working through the long chord progression that is quite similar to the one in Pachelbel’s Canon in D – but it is not exactly the same. Also the melodic structure is very different: these are kind of “meditative studies” that are very relaxing to play as well as to listen to, and they have a way of evolving over the months and years that I’ve been at this project.

Here is one of my latest tracks, called Canterbury Dreams:

 

This Saturday – September 15 – Starlight Variations Arrives!

Less than a week now! It took about two years to complete this new album, and we are pretty jazzed-up about it. There are eight tracks of meditative electric and acoustic mountain dulcimer: seven of my own compositions, and one traditional tune – the Irish song/air Star of the County Down. I think I learned this in 1979, so I’ve been “at” this tune for some time 🙂

The album opens with a tune called “Light Always Comes” – essentially a re-jiggering of a multi-year composition project using one of my favorite chord progressions of all time. This version has a tiny dose of Baroque influence – mostly in the underlying structure and in how some of the parts are written — but overall it has a contemporary, relaxing new age vibe.

 

If you’d like to hear this new album before it is on all the streaming platforms, you can listen right here:

Starlight Variations

Axis of Awesome!

Four Chords for a mess of pop songs!

This Aussie comedy act is really amazing. Butch Ross told me about them in 2007 or 2008, when I was obsessed with my little four chord circular progression D – A – Bm – G… that I used for Light Into Darkness, Tapping at the Edge of Paradise, and Tapping Into The Light on electric dulcimer. I just found more and more melodies that went with these chords – and bass lines with chord inversions to make it WAY more interesting.

Now in 2017 it seems like new ideas are again coming forward when I mess with these chords. I even have a more detailed version now, with sub-cycles of chords on each of the four main chords.

Most of the work I’ve done directly on the mountain dulcimer, but its fun with guitar, keyboard (which I can barely play!), or whatever chording instrument is nearby.

So even if the mountain dulcimer is your main instrument, why not play around on a piano or little electronic keyboard and see what happens? I usually resort to the white keys when I work with keyboard, so in C you have: C – G – Am – F. Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!!