In a recent thread on modal playing, one writer commented on using quartertones in improvising.
Tricky enough, I thought.
And I came across this video today:
Now, it is not quite "improvising", but it sure highlights "tricky".
I'm sorry but I think quartertones are mostly B.S. I understand that in some ethnic music one hears these things, but that music is not based on traditional diatonic scales with quartertones added -- they're more like variants on a pentatonic concept (but not necessarily a conventional 1-2-3-5-6 pentatonic) where the intervals are warped, and usually the same ones all the time, so if you listen to it for a while, you can acclimate to that harmonic framework.
I am pretty sure there is not an established ethnic music tradition that uses the tempered quarter-tone (50 cents) as a passing tone between adjacent notes. There are music cultures with things that sound like quarter-tones to westerners, like the "out-of-tune" 7th partials on brass instruments, frequency ratios between the 6/5 minor third and the 9/8 whole step. In some moslem music cultures there is what we call a neutral third, about halfway between the minor and major third. They got their music theory from the ancient greeks, by the way. One of the Indonesian Gamelan tunings is an approximately equal-tempered pentatonic, each step being about 240 cents. It caught the interest of Debussy when he heard it at the Paris International exhibition. What these non-western music cultures have in common is the lack of chordal accompaniament.
Ernst Bloch's Piano Quintet, considered one of his best works, uses quarter tones to interesting effect, and I wouldn't describe the work as "ethnic" (he was Swiss-American) or unenjoyable; if anything it reminds me of Bernard Herrmann's soundtracks for Hitchcock.
The Czech composer Alois Hába (1893-1973) specialised in microtone music - he was even a professor of microtone composition at a conservatory. Almost all of his large output is still battened down under heavy copyright restrictions, but two of his quartets are available on IMSLP - only to users in the USA, apparently (hmm!).
In the video that Gordon Shumway linked, in the first tune, it was interesting to listen to. There, you've just got a few frets that are inserted into an otherwise ordinary guitar, and you can get accustomed to how those particular intervals sound. The music he played on the other guitar where the frets are everywhere just sounded like a tune strangely lacking in harmony.
There is a wonderful bagpipe concerto by "P.D.Q. Bach" where the strings have to imitate the "off" notes of the soloist!
Wow - thanks for this; even if you don't use it for 1/4s it will surely help for chromatics.
I think a better exercise for practicing chromatics is to play in broken whole-steps. Kind of like broken thirds helps you with diatonic scales.
As I mentioned once before, Armenian violinist Samvel Yervinyan uses quartertones in a lot of his playing, and it is ethnic stuff. But it works well with Yanni's material.
Paul, it would be just terrific if you would post a video in which you demonstrate how to best learn and use quartertones.
Graeme, just for the record, I find Paul's comments on Mr Katz' demonstration correspond to what I hear..
Graeme asked me to indicate how I would recommend learning and using quartertones.
I find Haba's quarter- and sixth-tones effective in Bartok-like sinuous melodies, but in arpeggios they just sound a bit "off".
I'll leave Ives to the pros. I can virtually guarantee that quartertone scales and arpeggios are not regular student fodder in the top conservatories. If I am wrong, then sorry, but they are wasting their time.
In one or two spots as I recall in the wonderful "Ballade" (and I suspect in other of his sonatas, but for sure , the "Ballade") Ysaye calls for quarter tones.
There are beautiful recordings with Kayhan Kalhor and Yo-Yo MA playing music with quartertone scales!
Microtones have had their chance in western classical music but seem to have gone the way of serialism - just too "artificial" to gain general acceptance. On the other hand I have a 3-string (6-course) fretted instrument that I brought back from Turkey and has graced a high shelf gathering dust ever since (I think it's called a baglama or saz). The octave is divided into 17 non-equal sections, fret 7 equivalent to the western fourth and fret 10 to the fifth. Certainly not "artificial" - no-one in their right mind would devise a scale like that!
What Gordon said.
@Gorden, er, not quite sure what you mean there. Embracing some baglamy music on youtube, although it's clearly centred on the keynote and the fourth above, most of the rest of the scale sounds out of tune to my ears. I disagree with Paul in his first post - in this music I don't think the closer intervals are "warped" (implying ours are the correct ones) but simply different. Of course it all goes back to the harmonic series, but listen to the first minute of Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings to hear where that leads you if you apply it rigorously.
The only time I've practiced 1/4 tones was when Adams' Dr. Atomic symphony was making the rounds a few years ago. He used them to create a special effect that he described as "sea-sickness."
What a pity we don't all have fingers of the same thickness......
Nate B, your phrase "musical pixel" is clever. With vibrato, expressive intonation, and other nuances (such as the occasional quartertone and such), it's clear that we've entered the HD age!
Sadly, Anna Karkowska passed away in February 2018.
Paul Deck, 1080P intonation! :D
Check this out. I heard this choir on the radio last night.
If you don't get out much you can always try generating and listening to microtones of frequencies of your choice, together with scales thereof, on an audio editor such as the free 'n' easy but decidedly effective Audacity (in its menu go to Generate/Tone).
Trevor, I hadn't thought of that; that's a great idea! I will do that as soon as I get home from this trip and have access to my linux thinkpad.
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