July 9, 2010

So What Have I Been Working On? Part I

A mu Major chord. "The Steely Dan Chord"
A mu Major chord. "The Steely Dan Chord"

The fact that my last recorded output was five months ago doesn’t actually mean I haven’t been doing anything at all. It just means I have nothing to show for it right now! But of course I’ve been playing, and writing (if not actually writing down) and as an exercise for myself, and because it gives me a base from which to develop (and, because I know you guys are interested), I’m going to try and catalog the ideas I’ve been playing and slowly developing since I recorded “Piano Themes”

My writing tends to be evenly split between the piano and the guitar. (For those of you who don’t know, I use a Yamaha S900 as my main controller keyboard and a Taylor 614CE as my go-to guitar for writing.) Occasionally, a piece will start on one instrument, and move across to the other during development or recording (as happened with “Joie de Id”, which started out as a guitar piece and ended up being mainly piano in the final recording) but in general, you can split my writing output into Piano and Guitar.

So, let’s start with ideas currently being developed on the piano:


A mu Major chord. "The Steely Dan Chord"Of course, the first in the list already breaks the rule I just laid out about… This started out on the guitar, an idea I’ve been playing with on and off for some time. I’ve always been a fan of playing past fret 5, with loose chord shapes and lots of open strings because when arpeggiated they can go up or down where you wouldn’t expect as the open strings are always more than a perfect fourth below adjacent fretted notes.

One shape I’m particularly fond of is shown to the right. In chord books, this is often erroneously called an Asus2 (which it isn’t, as the 3rd is omitted in a sus2 chord and it’s present here) and worse, an A9 (which it isn’t, because the B is between the root and the fifth in pitch). What it actually is is a mu Major chord, a somewhat jazzy chord “invented”, and thus named after, Steely Dan. There are two overriding characteristics that make this a mu Major:

  1. It contains the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th, and
  2. In this inversion, the whole tone interval between the 2nd and the 3rd is present.

Having come up with this, a complimentary mu Minor chord (which makes no sense harmonically, but sounds lovely!), a verse turnaround and a chorus section, I took this off to the piano where I’ve been fiddling with it now for quite some time. Occasionally I take it back to the guitar, and it may end up being arranged using both instruments, but at the moment, it’s really a piano piece.

“Piano Themes”

Theme 1 is a merry little piece (!) that starts with a Bb(b5) but quickly resolves the E to an F. That motif is matched in the next phrase – a Dm-D(m)sus4-Dm riff. The piece then steps solidly into Am before returning to Bb with some playing around on the I and VIm and then finally throws a curve-ball with an A Major chord, which we suspend in the push. Of course, Asus4 (A-D-E) just requires the root to take a semitone step up to start us again with our Bb(b5).

It’s a fun piece, a nice sequence and I wish I knew where to go with it – I like the D at the end of the sketch above, but where from there, without falling into clichés?

Theme 2 is a simple love theme – emotionally rolled arpeggios in Am with a borrowed F# in the third measure to create an internal chromatic fall G-F#-F. The chorus section is a simple Spanish Cadence, spiced up again with the borrowed Bb this time. A diatonic scale, harmonised in thirds brings us back to the beginning.

Out of the four “Piano Themes”, this one probably has the most immediate potential for development. A simple but touching arrangement and a middle-8 of some description and it’s pretty much there, wherever “there” may be!

Theme 3 is harmonically the simplest, remaining in Am throughout save the borrowed Bb at the end of the chorus section.

It’s bouncy and could be made to be chunky if required I guess. Needs a middle-8 though, and, like everything, some serious arrangement!

Theme 4 with that insistent A ostinato in the bass is an idea I had for a piece to commemorate the death of my father, almost three years ago now… He was a huge fan on Jean Michel Jarre and I can hear this piece on some analogue gear – the end of the main riff evokes JMJ quite well (I think) when played on a Moog or a ARP, or even a CS-80.

Harmonically there’s not too much going on that’s out of the ordinary – it’s mainly thirds in Am again. Rhythmically, despite that strong pulsing beat, there are actually a few bars of 7/4 scattered amongst the 4/4 foundation – my prog roots showing through! I can hear an arrangement for this in my head and really think I can do something with it some time soon.


There’s also a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood” which I’m working on on the piano at the moment. It’s a beautiful, incredibly moving song I still have this idea to produce an EP entitled “Songs About Loss”, of which it would be a part. But again – I play it a lot and haven’t gotten around to recording it yet!

But this has become quite long now… Thanks if you’ve stuck around this far – I’d be interested in reading your comments, either about my music, or about writer’s block and lack of direction as you may have experienced it. I’ll write Part II later, to cover the guitar-based ideas which are currently on my table, begging for some love and attention!

July 9, 2010

3 Comments on “So What Have I Been Working On? Part I

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JJ Merelo. JJ Merelo said: RT @benzo8: "So What Have I Been Working On? Part I" – an exercise in overcoming writer's block on my blog: […]

September 10, 2010 at 00:48

hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

Mu-ling… | benzoblog
June 16, 2016 at 04:20

[…] OK, I’ll come straight out with it – it’s not been a particularly productive week. In fact, since I finished the rough guitar sketches for my last post I haven’t done much at all in the studio. So, in order to keep my promise to you, and to myself, I sat down at my DAW this very warm Sunday afternoon as recorded a very early version of “MuMajor”, initially discussed in So What Have I Been Working On? Part I. […]


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