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Constant Structure and Tension


jitter

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Hi!

 

I'm wondering how "constant structure" works, whether there are some guidelines to make it work, and about its limits. Maybe you have some link or it's easy to explain in a few sentences, a search didn't turn up anything useful.

 

 

As I don't really know the definition of constant structure (yet :-) I've got an additional question:

 

Yesterday I heard Wyclef Jean's version of Guantanamera on the radio. The tension the bass line creates is really odd, but somehow it works out. I'm sure you all know that Guantanamera melody, but for all who are not familiar with Wyclef's version here's what I remember about its chorus[1]:

- For the first "Guantanamera" phrase the bass plays a simple 1-5 pattern

- The melody of the second phrase starts a step lower (on the 7) and the bass still plays 1-5 from the I chord.

- In the 3rd phrase the tension is released when the bass and melody both go to the V chord, but imediately it starts to build again as the bass line contains some unusual note choices leading it back to I.

 

Due to the fact that the bass is quite prominent in the mix this probably even strikes "normal listeners" as odd :-)

 

Is that some constant structure trick? If it's something else: how/why does it work so well?

 

Thanks in advance,

jitter

 

[1] I only heard it once, my ears suck, I've been playing bass for only two years, and I have no formal training in music theory, so please take all of that with a grain of salt :-)

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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Where did you get this term, "constant structure"?

 

It doesn't mean anything that I know of.

 

If you are talking about the bass note staying the same while the chords change, then you are talking about a pedal point.

 

If you are talking about a repeating bass part, you are talking about an ostinato.

 

If you are talking about the bass playing a note which is not the root of the chord you could be talking about inversions. The bass player could also be reharmonizing the song by changing the bass notes.

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Hmm, my bass teacher once mentioned it, but at that time I was too busy trying to grasp the other stuff he told me, so I forgot to ask. Unfortunately he doesn't have time for regular lessons :-(

 

I searched google and the most promising result seems to be http://www.berklee.edu/bt/131/reharmonizing.html which kind of makes sense.

 

*going to the bass library, searching the indices*

 

*some time later*

 

Okay, I think I found something in Patrick Pfeiffer's Bass Guitar for Dummies book:

 

quoting from p. 137:

 

Using constant structure

Using constant structure is one way to move a groove easily between chords with different tonalities (major, minor, and dominant). Constant structure refers to a group of notes in a groove that can be moved from chord to chord regardless of whether the chords are major, minor, or dominant tonalities.

 

He then goes on to mention root and 5 as most common note choices for consonant structure grooves.

 

 

Now that I know what constant structure is, I realized that this is not what I was hearing in Guantanamera, because the "groove" didn't change at all, i.e. the chord changed and the bass still played exactly the same pitches (to avoid the term note due to the possible ambiguity).

 

Oh, and note that after my first post I tried to recall Guantanamera again, and I'm not sure about my I anymore, it could also be where the V is in my post above.... this stuff doesn't seem to have a "resting point" anyway, it's looooooping :-)

 

Thanks for your help so far, Jeremy!

 

jitter

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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OK, it seems like someone is using the term "constant structure" to mean a bass part which essentially stays the same while being transposed to fit the changing chords of a song.

 

Interesting.

 

But the word for the bass note staying the same while the chords change is still called a pedal point.

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My teacher taught me a bit about this constant structuve (though not by that term).

 

He used it in particular in the situation where riff bleus was created. They'd play a riff then go up the minor 3rd and play the same riff for tension's sake, even though the minor third of the 6th chord SHOULD be a major.

In Skynyrd We Trust
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Originally posted by Da LadY In Tha Pink Dress:

My teacher taught me a bit about this constant structuve (though not by that term).

 

He used it in particular in the situation where riff bleus was created. They'd play a riff then go up the minor 3rd and play the same riff for tension's sake, even though the minor third of the 6th chord SHOULD be a major.

Could you give some chord names and note names illustrating this? I don't understand what you meant.
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Originally posted by jitter:

Constant structure refers to a group of notes in a groove that can be moved from chord to chord regardless of whether the chords are major, minor, or dominant tonalities.

So with constant structure, you're playing a bass riff over a chord, and then when the chord changes, the root of the riff shifts to the new root not of the chord, but the tonality of the chord doesn't affect the bassline because it only contains root, fifth and octave?

 

Originally posted by jitter:

Now that I know what constant structure is, I realized that this is not what I was hearing in Guantanamera, because the "groove" didn't change at all, i.e. the chord changed and the bass still played exactly the same pitches (to avoid the term note due to the possible ambiguity).

That sounds more like an ostinato, where the bass riff continues around the same root, changing none of its notes, whilst the chords move around.

 

Alex

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@Alex: yes, you're right

 

To distinguish between Jeremy's "pedal point" and your "ostinato" classification you'd of course have to know the bass part.

 

This leads me to the second part of the question in the initial posting: Does anyone know that song (Guantanamera, Wyclef Jean)? Does anyone feel like analyzing why it works? I didn't get around to buy the song yet, so I can't transcribe it to check what's going on.

 

Thanks,

jitter

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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I think that the use of samples in modern music (of course not always by the musically literate) has widened the general public's tolerance of dischord and a limited degree polytonality (more than one key played at once). The line (I've not heard the tune) may have been consciously or unconsciously played/programmed as an ostinato - it is functioning as an ostinato and due to its simplictity maybe could be thought of as a pedal which is normally a single note. The tension of the chord changing and the bass staying the same is something that's been a vital force in music for centuries.

I've not heard the term 'constant structure'. Da LadY In Tha Pink Dress's concept about repeating a phrase up a minor third is a device used to play something 'outside' the harmony but sound cool as the audiences ears catch the structure of the repeated melodic phrase despite the dischord which creates a surprising effect.

Mark Levine (the wonderful Jazz Theory Book) calls these 'sequences'.It's common (well not that common) in jazz to solo a half step away from a chord for effect (e.g. D flat triad over C major 7th). A tritone substitution soloing a pattern a flattenened fifth up or down can sound good. (e.g. solo E flat 7 over an A7 chord).

The idea of repeating patterns up a minor third over the same root is good over seventh chords. In theory this works best on chords based on the diminished scale e.g over A7 flat 9, play the pattern as if you were playing over C7 flat 9 (or E flat or G flat for that matter).

I think that if you want to create tension this can work whenever your ear hears it though, especially over dominant chords.

 

Generally playing bass, when someone is doing these crazy things, I prefer to keep my part more stable and not follow them as this then created the tension similar to that described in your original post.

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  • 2 weeks later...

cd universe has a clip here ... just scroll down or search for Guantanamera. (It just happens to be a clip of the chorus jitter is asking about.)

 

The chords are hard to hear; I can barely make out a keyboard in the right channel on my crummy little setup. (Sorry, key may be off too; I'm at work and don't have an instrument with me!)

 
vocs: Guantanamera
vocs: D   D C D D
rkey: F   G           F   G
lkey: D A D A C A C A D A D A C A C A
bass: D D     A A     D D     A A

then

 
vocs: Guantanamera
vocs: C   D A C C
rkey: F   G           F   G
lkey: D A D A C A C A D A D A C A C A
bass: D D     A A     D D     A A

(not sure about the right-hand keys). So I'm guessing maybe Dm to Dm7? The "constant structure" is really the triad -- D F A -- but the bass is just using root and 5th. The bass could have played Ds (roots) all the way through, but it would not have been as interesting.

 

The "changing" pitch -- D to C -- has momentum like a pendulum swinging back and forth, right to left. The bass emphasizes the rhythm but uses a different "direction": up to down. Against this combined momentum the chorus singers are going to move "against the tide" to create the tension.

 

In the 1st phrase they swing prematurely to the left © on the & of 2 ahead of the pendulum -- which moves there squarely on 3 -- at which point the singers have countered by moving back to the right (D).

 

In the 2nd phrase they swing ahead to the left © on 1, catch up to the pendulum on the right (D) on 2, then finally move "with the tide" to the left © on beat 3.

 

The bass could have followed the pendulum -- playing C instead of A -- but (a) it would have lacked subtlety and (b) root/5th is a common latin transition for bass, so the A fits better.

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Wow! Thanks for analyzing that :-)

 

I'd just like to add that this tension is released with the 3rd phrase (there the bass moves to: F F G G A A G G and then back to D D).

 

The funny thing is that I still don't know where the "I" is, both obvious choices "feel" strange. What key is the song (or at least the chorus) in?

 

Thanks a lot!

 

jitter

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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Originally posted by jitter:

Wow! Thanks for analyzing that :-)

My pleasure.

 

The funny thing is that I still don't know where the "I" is
Seems like it (the downbeat) is on the "Guan" syllable to me.

 

What key is the song (or at least the chorus) in?
Well, if we got our pitches right, we have: D F G A C. We could use Eb/E and Bb/B to fill in this (minor) pentatonic (5 note scale) to a more familiar diatonic. Perhaps analyzing the melody might give us a clue?

 

- If there are no flats, then we're in the key of C, and we're playing the IIm (two minor) and IIm7 chords (Dm and Dm7). Equivalently, we're in the Dorian mode of D.

- If both (E and B) are flat, then we're in Bb and we're playing IIIm/IIIm7 (D Phrygian).

- if just the B is flat, then it's key of F and playing VIm/VIm7 (D Aeolian).

- if just the E is flat, then I'm sure there's a name for this but I'd have to look it up.

 

(Feel free to correct me if any of this is wrong, folks.)

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Looking at RicBassGuy's answer and taking Jeremy's reply into account the song could be in A minor (i.e. the parallel minor to C major).

 

@Jeremy: You can listen to a 30 second snippet of the chorus (in good quality) here: http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/1089908/a/The+Carnival.htm

 

RicBassGuy posted that link above, but it's hard to see when quickly skimming the message.

 

Ciao,

jitter

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

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