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Odd-number guitar system?
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Author:  John B. Stetson [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 03:09 GMT ]
Post subject:  Odd-number guitar system?

Guitar dummy back again. I appreciated the responses in the Koella thread I started. I have another question. After re-reading Chronicles, I was struck by a lengthy description of a numerological guitar playing system that made absolutely no sense to me. Beginning on page 157 (at least in my edition), Dylan speaks of a guitar "style of playing based on an odd--instead of even--number system...Popular music is usually based on the number 2...If you're using an odd numerical system, things that strengthen a performance begin to happen...In a diatonic scale there are eight notes, in a pentatonic scale there are five. If you're using the first scale, and you hit 2, 5 and 7 to the phrase and then repeat it, a melody forms. Or you can use the 2 three times. Or you can use 4 once and 7 twice...The possibilities are endless"

Interesting--but sent my head spinning. For those who are familiar with this section of the book and who play guitar, does it make sense to you? And if so, is there a way to communicate it to someone like me who has but a rudimentary understanding of music? Many thanks.

Author:  Oyster Underground [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 03:40 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

I re-read that section several times and I'll be damned if I know what he was trying to say. I don't know if it was deliberate but he seems to be confusing a couple of different aspects of musical theory.
Eyolf wrote an interesting article on his dylanchords website. Check that out.

Author:  Long Johnny [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 03:49 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

I think you read Chronicles and regularly pause and woner "Is this a put on?" and then you get to the guitar number thing and that's the answer.

Yep.

Definitely.

Author:  Bob Zimmerman [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 04:13 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Sounds like he's just talking about scale degrees. (Basically, if you're in the key of C, a C is a 1, a D is a 2, so on and so forth.....)

Author:  Oyster Underground [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 04:26 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Yeah, Chronicles is more of a put-on than a memoir. Fiction. But his detailed explanation doesn't have much to do with what the key of "C" is or what you play in that key, or scale degrees. It is probably closer to the theories of Harry Partch.

Author:  Bob Zimmerman [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 04:29 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Well, no, but his purpose I dont think was to try to explain music theory to his readers

Author:  Three legged man [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 04:42 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

I listened to the Sean Penn abridged audiobook. I remember a part where he talks about his acoustic guitar revelations. If he's talking about the 1992/3 stuff, then whatever it is I don't like it. I find the guitar playing on those two albums sloppy and shrill sounding. I'd much rather hear his standard strumming from the old days.

Author:  Oyster Underground [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 04:42 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Quote:
Well, no, but his purpose I dont think was to try to explain music theory to his readers

Then what was he doing? Why did he spend so much time trying to explain his new miracle system? You got me. Why does he do anything that he does? I've read several peoples take on his Explanation but Eyolf's is just about spot on concerning the Muddleheadedness of his description. I have a copy of an article written by...Hank somebody, I'll try to find it....He contends that Dylan is describing a branch of string theory were a musician playing or singing the right set of continuous notes can actually transcend Space and Time. Thus the never ending tour.

Author:  Three legged man [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 04:46 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Bob was revealing the theory behind chord-melody guitar style. It's a little known fact that Bob is an accomplished jazz guitarist in the Joe Pass tradition.

Author:  Oyster Underground [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 05:00 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

I don't know. Maybe you are correct. But I don't see how Modern Dylan fits into the Harmonic driven Jazz tradition. In a perverse way he seems much closer to the good man Don Van Vliet.

Author:  harmonica albert [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 22:29 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Dylan speaks of a guitar "style of playing based on an odd--instead of even--number system...Popular music is usually based on the number 2..."

This could mean a number of things. In terms of harmony, a major scale consists of half-note and whole note steps with the exception of the 4th to 5th note and 7th to 8th note in the octave which are only half-steps--the adjacent white keys on the piano for example when in the key of C major. But pop music is generally in 4/4 or 2/4 time, and most melodic phrases occupy 2, 4, 6 or 8 measures (including rests between sounded notes), so this could also be what he is describing. Rhythm is usually subdivided into twos or threes--1 and 2 and 3 and 4, or in the case of triplet rhythm 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4, etc. Dylan's point is to establish a baseline symmetry of form, against (and with) which one plays the actual music one makes.

"If you're using an odd numerical system, things that strengthen a performance begin to happen...In a diatonic scale there are eight notes, in a pentatonic scale there are five."

Here Dylan is concerned with melodic phrases and the contrast between the 8-note and 5-note scales, the latter being closer to the actual tones used in West African, African-American and Appalachian folk musics in many but not all cases. And in general, playing melodic lines that do not neatly fit the 2 and 4 bar lengths and/or that transition smoothly over chord changes (in a 12 bar blues, for instance, starting a phrase in bar 3 and ending in the middle of bar 5) creates a tension between the formal expectation and the improvisational execution. Lester Young and Miles Davis are great examples of this phrasing ability in jazz, maybe most easily heard on their classic ballad performances. The "5 vs 8" contrast is really just blues quality imported to European tonal systems and fundamental to rock music and most of American music.

"If you're using the first scale, and you hit 2, 5 and 7 to the phrase and then repeat it, a melody forms. Or you can use the 2 three times. Or you can use 4 once and 7 twice...The possibilities are endless" So if you are playing in a major key, he supposes a 3 note phrase based on the dominant chord--a triad with the root of the chord in between the fifth and third intervals. This is the barre C chord shape, with the roots on the B string and A string; say your are playing in A major, with A equal to 1. 2,5 and 7 would be B, E and Ab, and Bob seems to be advocating this sort of arpeggiated chord as one way to form a phrase (over a V chord). But not all phrases have to use the root, third and fifth of a chord. Bob's playing often divides the beat into triplets instead of two, so he might be saying you can play a triplet on the B, or simply play 3 quarter notes on the B. Using the "4 once and 7 twice" or the D and two Ab notes would be akin to playing intervals from the E7 chord. Each interval of the scale will be found in several chords. So what he seems to be advocating is moving away from simple root-third-fifth arpeggios in melodic improvisation.

I'm mostly self-taught on guitar, but I did study some music theory needed in an History of Jazz college course, had maybe 10 lessons in lead and slide guitar, and I have accumulated a collection of songbooks and guitar/banjo/mandolin instruction books (and a few dvds), but I don't read standard notation very well at all and rely on tab notation for really working on material on any instrument. I think well in patterns and numbers, so Dylan's "system" means something specific to me, but I can't say that I know precisely what he means, just that the numbers he mentions correlate to my view of the guitar neck, piano keyboard, and how I breakdown chords and scales for melodic improvisation when I play.

I don't think Bob is jiving, but neither is he trying to methodically demonstrate the secrets of his guitar genius, such as it is. It's easier just to listen to him play. Believe what you hear.

Author:  Untrodden Path [ Thu November 13th, 2008, 23:40 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Harmonica Albert, THANK YOU. That makes sense.

(Even though I hardly understand it.)

Author:  John B. Stetson [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 01:12 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Thanks, Harmonica. Like I said, I'm not a musician--so I had to read the post a few times, but I'm beginning to understand it a bit (I think :D ). And I work in an art-form (the theatre) that relies less on technical virtuosity and more on emotional/intellectual/spiritual depth--so it takes me some time to wrap my brain around things of this nature. (as such, I am intrigued when Bob--referring to this technique--says something like, "I don't know why the number 3 is more metaphysically powerful than the number 2, but it is." This makes some sense to me.)

Anyway--Do we see this at work in his playing in the 90s? When people refer to his "guitar noodling" that he's attempting particularly in his live work in the mid-to-late 90s, is this what's at play? Maybe he is just putting us on. But after re-reading, it feels as if he earnestly believes he's on to something.

Author:  Oyster Underground [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 02:10 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Eyolf's thoughtful article:
http://dylanchords.com/professors/lonnie.htm

Author:  feet_of_a_harlot [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 02:17 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

If you listen to the Temples in Flames tour you will hear it being put into practice

Author:  John B. Stetson [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 03:42 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Nice read, Oyster. Thanks--helpful to listen to Tambourine Man from Vienna 1999 while reading about the guitar work in that performance.

Dortmund and Modena are two of my favorite shows from the 80s. I'll listen to them soon, Feet of a Harlot.

Author:  mimsford [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 17:14 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

I'm a guitarist, and that windy and complicated explanation in the book just about blew my mind, too.

From what I can tell, he's simply talking about playing three notes (triplets) over every four beats.

Listen to the live stuff from the mid-90s onward, and you'll hear him playing those distinctive three-note lead phrases (duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh) and, after a few measures they feel kinda hypnotic and circular ... this approach allowed him to feel the songs differently, and it influenced his vocal phrasing.

That's my take on it

Author:  harmonica albert [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 18:11 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

I read an interview with Winston Watson in which he said Bob's guitar playing was under-appreciated, and that he used a basic barre F position and triplet phrases effectively. The F chord shape gives easy access to all the notes in the diatonic and pentatonic scales, and it's fundamental to rock guitar technique. The triplet thing is I think rooted in barrelhouse piano, transferred to guitar by Robert Johnson, and maybe most clearly employed by Elmore James in his Johnson-derived "Dust My Broom" octave lick and by Dylan in Rainy Day Women (at least in concert) and his Blonde on Blonde "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" guitar work.

The Supper Club recordings are a good place to listen for acoustic guitar playing in his "system" because Bob plays most if not all of the flatpicked solos. If you hear a repeated 3 note phrase with a shifting accent as the band keeps the 4/4 time going, that's probably the best example of what I think he means. Also on the boot Fifth Time Around where Bob's acoustic leads are quite clear and pretty good.

Author:  Solo Teem [ Fri November 14th, 2008, 18:18 GMT ]
Post subject:  Re: Odd-number guitar system?

Like all successful musicians, Dylan is a repeating machine. He's figured out how to do certain things; do you think he would share all his secrets very openly?

If there's anything I get out of that passage it's something I've discovered myself: Doing anything with rhythmic accuracy is difficult. That's why only certain people become famous for it.

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