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Living with Schizoaffective Disorder

My Head Just Exploded

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do

Michael David Crawford, Consulting Software Engineer
mdcrawford@gmail.com

February 9, 2008

Copyright © 2008 Michael David Crawford. All Rights Reserved.

Art is the only thing that matters. In comparison with art, wealth and rank and power are not worth a straw.
-- Somerset Maugham

I learned about modes today. More within.

But first I want to tell you about something that happened tonight that I found paradoxically encouraging:

I went to hear Leo Kottke play tonight at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz.

He was noodling around on his guitar when he suddenly stopped and said:

No wonder I forgot it. It's hard.

Kottke is arguably the most skillful guitarist alive today, yet even he has trouble overcoming the challenges of his music sometimes.

Something about that gives me hope. I shouldn't let my struggles with music get me down.


Today was my first lesson in a four week Rhythm Intensive course taught by my friend, percussionist Rick Walker.

I asked him to teach me to play drums as a way to introduce more complex rhythms into my piano compositions, and he responded by suggesting I take his Rhythm Intensive class, which he has taught to thousands of people. I'll have more to say about it later.

At the start of our lesson, he asked if I knew about the modes. I had only the haziest notion that they are different scales, that use all the same notes as the major scale, but start and stop on different notes.

For example, the major scale has the notes C D E F G A B C. The minor scale is one of the modes; A minor is the relative minor to C major, in that it uses all the same notes, but goes A B C D E F G A.

Rick explained that there is a mode that starts on each of the notes, that emotionally color the music played with it in different ways.

When he said that, I remarked on something Philip Glass wrote, in which he said that Indian music has a particularly large number of modes. (He studied with Ravi Shankar.)

And Rick said "There are two thousand Indian Ragas".

Rick then pointed out the intervals of the different modes. The interval of a piano key to its nearest neighbor is a semitone, or half step. From the C key to the black key just to its right, C sharp, is a half step. Most of the white keys have black keys in between, so from white to black to white is a whole step, or whole tone.

But some pairs of white keys don't have black keys in between: from B to C is a half step, and from E to F is a half step.

The conventional major scale is known as the Ionian mode, with intervals that go:

whole whole half whole whole whole half

But if you start on the D key and play to the D key one octave above, you get the Dorian mode:

whole half whole whole whole half whole

You can see that there are a number of different modes, one for each of the white keys.

Now you all know that I've been learning all the major and minor scales. There are twelve major scales, one for each of the twelve tones in Western music, and thirty-six minor scales, three for each of the tones. I know all the major scales now, and all but a few of the minor ones.

Rick then explained to me that instead of starting the different modes on different keys, one can use different combinations of the white and black keys (natural notes, sharps and flats) to get the right intervals, and so play any of the modes starting on any of the keys.

It was then that my head exploded.

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