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Monday, November 24, 2008

1 5 6

Wow, I'm really unoriginal. I was struggling for a few days to remember an old theme. I knew exactly where I'd left it in my head, but when I reached in there my fingers couldn't find it. All I needed was some little corner of it, and I'd be able to get the rest of it out. But I wasn't getting in far enough. You know how it is.

See, this was a theme which I'd played over and over and over again in the past, though not in several years. I'd played it over and over and over because, as is usually the case, it didn't go anywhere. Just another random bit of aimless nonsense which I happened to be attached to for no particular reason.

I remembered the theme at 3:00 in the morning, as is typical. But that got it loose enough that I could get it out onto the piano the next day. As always I hoped that maybe with a fresh perspective I could find a continuation. No such luck - it still goes nowhere.

I did see something I wasn't expecting, though. Analyzing it from various angles made me realize that it was awfully similar to another old piece I'd almost forgotten. And once I saw that, I noticed another old piece and another, all coming from the same creative place. I expressed frustration with this revelation, and demonstrated that I'm not like that anymore by playing my most recent theme. Yep, very different indeed.

Here's the thing. I apparently am in love with three notes, since they start a lot of my pieces. They are: 1 5 6. What I mean by that is, you take a note, you go up four notes from there, and then you go up by another one. This is usually in minor, which means that the sixth is just the tiniest bit above the fifth.

(Incidentally, that new and different theme I mentioned? Starts 6 5 1. In minor. Maybe not so different after all. I only realized this the next day.)

The theme I'd been trying to remember began 1, 5 6, 2 1, 4 5. This reminded me of old theme 1 5 6, 6-5-4 5 3 4 2. (Both are in minor.) And I realized that Variations on V.O.V presented those notes very prominently in one bit. And that little soothing piece in major I composed to use Grandma and Grandpa's piano which doesn't have much edge to it? It starts with 5 9 10, 4 8 9, 3 7 8. in the left hand, while the right hand plays the melody 1… 6… 5…. And there's a tense minor theme which starts 1-5 5-6 6-3 3-7 7-2 2, and a different theme where (in the middle) 1 5 6 repeats on higher and higher octaves in order to hold on to tension that was created.

(Worried, I checked my best musical work -A Lonely Journey. No 1 5 6 there. Phew.)

This obviously isn't something I was aware of before. But it also isn't really an accident- in each of these cases, 1 5 6 is a critical part of the music, not just something I pass through on the way to places. So clearly something about those notes speaks to me.

The 1 grounds it. "Here is what you're standing on." The 5 brings that to its natural conclusion, fifths being the most pure interval. If you just have the 1 and 5, you've got a lovely chord of sorts. It's too pure to know whether it's major or minor, but it has weight to it. Then it goes up from there, because it's not exciting enough for my tastes yet. It can't go up to 8, because that's too obvious. Up to 7 doesn't really change the chord, just makes it more complex and interesting. I use that on occasion. Up to 9 makes my favorite chord, two fifths together, but it's so pure that there's nowhere to go from there.

But up to 6! 6 changes the meaning of the chord. In minor it's just the tiniest bit removed from 5, but flips the whole chord's meaning upside down. See, 6 is just two notes under 1 (or 8), which means that that's suddenly the "real" base of the chord. A tiny little half-tone increment, and suddenly the chord isn't what you thought it was. That's interesting to me.

So now, whenever I play 1 5 6, even if there was no particular intent behind it, I'm going to remember the interconnectedness of everything and see if I can reuse that 1 5 6 some more to make it seem like I actually know what I'm doing.

Though of course I don't.



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