Compound musical simples

As I’ve been gathering musical simples, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to categorize them. There are melodic simples, otherwise known as riffs, hooks, and licks. There are rhythmic simples, otherwise known as beats, claves, and rhythm necklaces. And then there are the simples that combine a beat with a melody. Alex came up with the term “compound simples” for this last group. You might argue that all melodic simples are compound, because they all combine pitches and rhythms. But unless the rhythm stands on its own independent of the pitches, I don’t consider it to be a musical simple.

Here’s the first set of compound simples I’ve transcribed. Click each score to view the interactive Noteflight version.

Queen, “We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You compound simple - notation

The simplest simple of them all. If I needed to teach someone the difference between eighth notes and quarter notes, I’d use the stomp/clap pattern.

The melody is good for introducing the concept of rests, since you have to count your way through the gap between “rock you” and the next “we will.” Continue reading

Blues tonality


The blues is a foundational element of America’s vernacular and art music. It is commonly described as a combination of African rhythms and European harmonies. This characterization is inaccurate. Blues follows harmonic conventions that are quite different from those of European common-practice tonality. Blues does not fit into major or minor tonality, and it makes heavy use of harmonic intervals considered by tonal theory to be dissonant. But blues listeners do not experienced the music as dissonant; rather, they hear an alternative system of consonance. In order to make sense of this system, we need to understand blues as belonging to its own tonality, distinct from major, minor and modal scales. The author argues that blues tonality should be taught as part of the basic music theory curriculum.
Continue reading

The roof is on fire

My quest to track down the origin of the most persistent recurring hip-hop memes brings me to this chant:

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire
We don’t need no water, let the motherf***er burn

The chant made its first appearance in the hip-hop canon in “The Roof Is On Fire” by Rock Master Scott & The Dynamic Three, the B-side to their 1984 single “Request Line.” “The Roof Is On Fire” ended up being way more popular.

The recorded version of “The Roof Is On Fire” leaves out the mofo line. In 1984 people mostly weren’t using curses in hip-hop recordings, which now seems charmingly quaint. In live shows, Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three were less demure, and when they led the crowd in the chant, the mofo was included.

Continue reading

Do that stuff, aw do that stuff

One of the funkiest albums ever recorded is The Clones Of Dr Funkenstein by Parliament. Even if you never listen to it, you’ll get funkier just by looking at the cover.

There’s much to love about this album beyond its joyously ridiculous science fiction theme. There are the deft, bebop-flavored horn charts by James Brown’s trombonist Fred Wesley. There are the irresistible beats by Jerome Brailey, who laid the rhythmic foundation of hip-hop (along with Clyde Stubblefield and the Incredible Bongo Band.) And there are the squiggly Moog synths by Bernie Worrell.

Continue reading