Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Finding the Doh through Pre-harmonic Music Theory – It’s All Relative

Doh  dee  ray  ree  Mee  fah  fee  soh  See  lah  lee  tee

Finding the DOH is simply a way of taking a melody-line and assigning a phonetic syllable to every single note in that melody.  Once you find the DOH all the other notes in the tune fall into place in relation to it.

The DOH is the tonal center of a tune - its home note or root note - the note that the melody wants to resolve to.  "A" for Red Haired Boy or "D" for Soldier's Joy or "G" for Girl I Left Behind Me or "E" for Cooley's Reel or "C" for Billy in the Lowground, to use some common examples in their most common keys or modes.

Using the solfege concept of "do re mi" as a starting point, I've assigned phonetic one-syllable names to all 12 notes in a (chromatic) scale.  These are DOH, DEE, RAY, REE, MEE, FAH, FEE, SOH, SEE, LAH, LEE, TEE.  All 7 notes from the Sound of Music do re mi major scale are included, along with the 5 notes omitted from a major scale.  I use this same terminology whether ascending or descending.  See image below.
Define a tune's "DOH" and then all the other notes also have a syllable.
This process can be helpful when analyzing a tune like Red Haired Boy, which is often notated with a misleading key signature containing three sharps, which then requires all the G-natural notes in the melody to become "accidentals" because there aren't any G-sharps in the actual tune, despite what the key signature would have you assume.  This is because Red Haired Boy is a modal tune - mixolydian mode.  Another way to notate it would be with just two sharps because when you play the tune those G notes don't feel like accidents at all!

The person who has found the DOH knows that those G notes in Red Haired Boy are LEE notes in relation to the A note DOH. (LEE is another word for a flattened 7th).  If you were to switch and play Red Haired Boy in C, C becomes your DOH and then you would know to play a B-flat note (flattened 7th) for the LEE.

One of the benefits of this way of thinking is that it can universally connect all melodies without having to tie them to a particular key or chord structure.  You may start to notice patterns such as how the MEE and SOH notes seem to fall in important parts of the tune and how the DEE and FEE notes hardly ever show up at all, as well as similarities between tunes in different keys and modes, for instance, that weren't apparent before.  

Doh  dee  ray  ree  Mee  fah  fee  soh  See  lah  lee  tee

It’s not really about the names of the notes.  That said, there are five notes (enharmonic notes) that have two names:  C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, and A#/Bb.  Rather than use them interchangeably, I’ve chosen to use only one name for these notes and disregard the other name whether ascending or descending.  I use C# (not Db), Eb (not D#), F# (not Gb), G# (not Ab) and Bb (not A#).  There’s no reason why I chose the one I did out of the 50/50 chance, other than I chose the one that seems more likable/familiar of the two.  It’s just semantics.  If you think A-flat when I use G-sharp that’s fine.

In addition to defining every note in a melody by its phonetic syllable name in relation to the doh, it’s also a good practice to know the names of any interval between two notes.  By defining the theoretical you make it more recognizable, whether it’s naming an interval, such as a major third, or the distance between two melody notes, such as “TEE to RAY”.  Below is a little refresher on intervals:

Minor 2nd (one half step)
Ascending:  Jaws Theme
Descending:  Joy to the World

Major 2nd (2 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Happy Birthday or Frere Jacques/Fray Felipe
Descending:  Mary Had a Little Lamb

Minor 3rd (3 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  So Long, Farewell (Sound of Music)
Descending:  Frosty the Snowman

Major 3rd (4 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Descending:  Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Perfect 4th (5 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Here Comes the Bride or Oh Christmas Tree
Descending:  Old MacDonald Had a Farm

Augmented 4th/Tritone (6 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  The Simpsons theme
Descending:  Black Sabbath Black Sabbath

Perfect 5th (7 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Descending:  Flintstones

Minor 6th (8 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  The Entertainer (3rd and 4th notes)
Descending:  no example found ("doh-mee" descending solfege)

Major 6th (9 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  old NBC theme or Hush Little Baby
Descending:  Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

Minor 7th (10 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Star Trek theme
Descending: The Beatles' Til There Was You (No I never heard them at *ALL TIL* there was you)

Major 7th (11 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Take On Me
Descending:  no example found - please help

Octave/Perfect 8th (12 half steps or semitones)
Ascending:  Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Descending:  There's No Business Like Show Business (2nd and 3rd notes)

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