The Resonance of Intervals
Music is, was, and always will be a huge part of my life – both on the outside and on the inside. And I guess that’s pretty much the same, more or less, for all of us. There are huge varieties within the umbrella of music – and part of the fascination for me, especially at this point in my life, is the universality of the language of music. It is a sonic and kinaesthetic experience, capable of evoking within us the whole spectrum of visual and other kinaesthetic experiences.
I’d like to look closer at a personal discovery over the past year, as to what is – for me – what I’ll call the Resonance of Intervals.
In the course of teaching myself to play the guitar I discovered that a lot of the popular songs of the time could be played by simply knowing three chords. This expanded in to varying degrees of more sophisticated sequences, derivatives, variants and colourations – and my playing interest and ability (and practical repertoire) was broadened as a result. The thing is, I noticed certain sequences sounded ‘nicer’ than others – certain chords played before and after others had a resonance that engaged my entire body in a way that is rather hard to describe. It’s the same way that certain tastes and fragrances sit well – and not so well -with others. And out of this grows our personal preferences and tastes for all things. Even down to why we are attracted to certain collective features on one face and call it beautiful compared to another face that we might describe as less so.
It’s about the resonances of our personal preferences – which vibrate deep inside us – at an unconscious level; at a level where we can’t bring them readily to our cognitive consciousness, but we just know they are there.
I’ve always had a curiosity as to why I – with such catholic and eclectic musical tastes – could get SO much out of them all in a similar way, even though some are, let’s face it, a million miles apart. I thought it was first down to the created imagery, and then perhaps my own shifting and changing moods. Then I moved on to the sounds themselves and their frequencies.
The simple 3 note chord (or triad) for C major contains the notes C, E and G – and yet CEG sounds different to CGE! You don’t need a GCE or and ECG to realise that they too will sound different, and that all this is within the range of one octave of just 12 notes.
In my search for WHY I liked WHAT I liked most, I was beginning to get warmer here – but I still hadn’t cottoned on to what the answer was. I hadn’t yet made the connection between the ‘nicer’ sounding parts of the chord sequences and why melody A would hit me deep and melody B would just sit on the surface.
The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner was a church organist and it’s not surprising that his compositional style features (a) sounds and melodies akin to peals of church bells and (b) vast chords and silences akin to the experience of the sounds of an organ as they resonate around a lofty, vaulted church or cathedral. I mention Bruckner because, for me, his music has struck deep ever since my very first hearing – and in my WHY quest I had a clue he might be relevant.
One day I heard our local church bells ringing and started to hum some Bruckner by way of an answer back … and I got an answer of a different kind.
What if it is the difference between the intervals of rising and falling notes or melodies?
Frere Jacques versus Three Blind Mice
I ran these two tunes through my mind and noticed what they each made me feel. Now – to paraphrase comedian Eric Morecambe – they both use the same notes but in a different order or sequence. And for me, one tune feels far more deeply resonant than the other. Frere Jacques starts with a rising melody – DoReMiDo, DoReMiDo and Three Blind Mice with a falling melody – MiReDo, MiReDo.
If you are familiar with these tunes you can progress them further and discover more “mirroring” of the rising and falling through the rest of each of the songs.
The discovery of Nice
In my personal lightbulb moment I discovered that melodic lines that fall in steps of a whole tone (and to a lesser degree a semitone) are NICE and that others are neutral. I’ve also discovered that this applies for me not only across the great divide of musical tastes and styles, but also inside the nature of musical structure. If there’s a tune with a predominance of a rising melodic line, written with a falling bass line, or a falling melodic line in counterpoint, then I get NICE again.
My link (above) with Locus Iste by Bruckner shows how – with just four voice parts – a piece can contain more falling melodic lines than my preference for NICE could ever want in a short work!
So here was the explanation for why I can get a similar resonance from Bruckner’s music, Gregorian Chant, Mozart, Prokofiev, Ligeti, 12 bar blues, jazz, folk, Country and Western et al. It’s all down to my particular and personal Nice – which is a simple, yet deeply ingrained, resonance of intervals.
There is a structural repetition for all my likes, dislikes and neutrals – whether it’s music, art, people, food, fragrances, colours etc. This will be the case too for us all in terms of all of our preferences – since there’s a transferable factor here.
When someone asks, “What do you like about That, or Them?” and you find yourself saying, “I don’t know – I know I just do,” the truth is the answer is deep down there – yes, right there!
And if you want to know, or it would be useful for you to know, then there’s going to be a quicker way of finding out than my “Curiosity and Stumble Upon” method.