Three chord songs for ukulele and guitar

“What? I just need to know three chords to play a song?”

“Actually, you can play ‘Frere Jacques’ with just one chord. There are many songs with only two chords. I have identified at least thirty of these.”

I tell my ukulele students that 80% of all songs use only 20% of all chords. I apply the 80-20 rule to many situations, often to help with management of expectations.

So far I have collected over 60 songs that use only C, F, and G or G7 chords. My list of three chord songs that use three other chords, such as Riptide (Am, G, C), is nearly as long. This is wonderful news for beginners.

Continue reading “Three chord songs for ukulele and guitar”

Advertisements

Teaching piano, teaching music

Anne Ku’s new group piano class is more than piano playing.

I described what I’m doing in my evening piano class to the husband of a colleague, both music aficionados.

“I teach my students to play the chromatic scale one hand at a time. The right hand goes up using the thumb and third finger. The left hand goes down. At the next lecture, I demonstrate the application with Flight of the Bumble Bee.”

“I tell them about pentatonic scales and exotic scales. I give them the formula for major scales: whole step, whole step, half-step, whole, whole, whole, half-step. I also have them listen to major vs non-major scales as I play them on the piano. I play the last movement of Vivaldi’s Summer from the Four Seasons and I ask them to count the scales.”

“I plan to teach them the Circle of Fifths with respect to Pachelbel’s Canon in D. That’s also useful to demonstrate descending bass line. ”

My colleague’s husband responded with awe. “And you say this is a beginning piano class? Seems to me you are teaching them music!”

I replied, “Yes, I guess you are right. By the end of the semester, they will have not only learned how to play piano but how to look at music differently. I want them to overcome stage fright, build self-confidence, learn to conduct, learn to play and work with each other, appreciate different kinds of music, listen, analyse as in identifying patterns before they start to read the music to play, and so much more.”

Decision rules in music composition

Such mathematics gives us an appreciation for the beauty of music. When I was studying composition at the conservatory, I learned that mathematics could reduce and ease the decision making required when composing.

One of these techniques was deciding on the interval to use. Serial music is an example of a predefined decision rule. Understanding the mathematics of music helps to determine decision rules for composing.

When I was 7 and had to learn English for the first time, I regressed to mathematics for comfort. I listened to English through my Chinese ears and the only thing that made sense was to resort to math.

“What Chinese animal year were you born in?” I motioned with my hands.

Instead of asking my American teachers for their age, I figured it out through the Chinese zodiac system. It was the logic of Modulo 12.

The Circle of Fifths works by the same principle. There are 12 notes in an octave, each corresponding to a key — hence 12 major keys. Each key is related to the next by a perfect 5th interval.

Circle of Fifths Diagram
Circle of Fifths Diagram

Such mathematics gives us an appreciation for the beauty of music. When I was studying composition at the conservatory, I learned that mathematics could reduce and ease the decision making required when composing.

One of these techniques was deciding on the interval to use. At each step you choose the next note to be the interval above or below. At some point, you switch to another interval. [Listen to Interval Scherzo by Anne Ku 2 min 47 sec, live recording of pianist Elwin Hendrianto’s world premiere in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 22 March 2005]

Serial music is an example of a predefined decision rule. To learn about twelve tone music composition, I created a spreadsheet to compute the different rows, inversions, etc. I proudly showed it to my teacher. I found a way to use Excel to compose music!

I like objectives and constraints to be preset to help bound a problem. A commission such as “write a piece for my new born baby to reflect the our French and Japanese heritage” is better than “write a piece for my new born baby.” A commission that has a goal and set of criteria or constraints help make the job of a composer much easier.

Most of the time, we as performers ask composers to write a piece for piano and guitar with no criteria or constraints. Implicitly we want the composition to be playable, interesting to listen to, and have a longevity beyond the amount of time it takes to write and learn to play it. Every composer has his or her own ideas. They are not always explicit at the outset.

Understanding the mathematics of music helps to determine decision rules for composing.