Anyway, the little boxes referenced here are also the basis for a pattern for playing the Okinawan (and pelog barang-like) musical scale that I accidentally rediscovered back here. It's that little box plus an extra note, the fifth, which appears adjacent to the root on the next string down. Repeat by octaves and dislocate as necessary for the G/B string gap.
I still don't know jack squat about Okinawan music but I did spend some time last night noodling around with that scale. It has an interesting sound, happy but wistful to my ears, which of course have their own cultural associations.
An unrelated thing I realized recently was that when I remember (major-keyed) tunes in my head and then try to play them from memory, they tend to gravitate toward the key of D. I'm not sure why this is.
Sam speculates that D suits my voice well. My own theory had originally been that I just liked the way songs in D sound on a guitar. Since the lowest note on a guitar with standard tuning is an E, the lowest D is almost an octave up, so the easy open chords in D tend to have the root note higher up on the I chord (that is, the D itself) than on the other primary chords (G and A). You go up to return to the tonic, and that gives D major a bright and cheerful sound--unless, of course, you're doing something other than playing easy chords. (On the other hand, I suppose that if you are using drop D tuning, D might become a sepulchral key of underworldly darkness.) But this D business probably predates my attempting to play a guitar.
When Sam and I were talking about my bias toward D, I mentioned that I'd been messing around on my guitar the previous day while she was singing to Jorie, and found that Sam had been singing in F. Sam laughed and pointed out that she plays a horn in F. (It's a double horn, actually, like most modern horns; but one side is an F horn, and music for horn is usually scored with a transposition such that the key notated as C major is actually F).
Early on I scoffed at the whole notion of "key color" in music written or played after the rise of equal temperament, since for people without absolute pitch (which is to say, most of us) it ought not to make a difference; and in fact the most involved discussion of this seems to be old. But one thing I wasn't appreciating was that, unless you're composing on a computer with MIDI samples, the pitches you're using aren't generated out of the blue; they're coming from some physical instrument (or a human voice) operated by a person, and that's probably going to affect how the different keys sound. With a stringed instrument on which one frequently plays chords, the tuning is going to affect what inversions or octave repetitions can be used in a multi-string chord. While keys aren't going to have color in the abstract, they might well have it given a particular instrumentation.
I also wonder if most people don't have some sort of latent absolute pitch perception, even if they lack absolute pitch memory. Obviously in an extreme and rough sense we do detect absolute pitch, in that we can distinguish very high pitches from very low ones without a basis for comparison. And I can compare a tune I hear to the one I'm silently thinking of in my brain, it's just that the one in my brain probably wandered over to the vicinity of D when I wasn't thinking about it.
Matt McIrvin's Steam-Operated World of Yesteryear
- Wherein I tie together two previous inane posts about music, and some stuff about keys