A letter to my friend: Composing with a Guitar and avoiding Dominant Chords

Our Tendancy

I think the kinds of chord progressions you (and I sometimes) tend to prefer are usually ambiguous about whether or not the music’s in a major key or in its relative minor (C vs Amin) and you (and I sometimes) tend to make chord changes that are “weak” by traditional/classical/theoretical/bullshit standards, but of course aren’t weak at all because they sound fine by modern rock-n-roll standards.  But I have some things to say about songwriting with guitars and stuff.


BTW, none of this is a criticism of you.  I have a lot of the same tendencies. This is just an observation and me thinking out loud and wondering if you might benefit from my thoughts on this.  I avoid tritones as well and so does most hard rock music, at least in the guitar and bass.

Traditional Resolve

In music theory, things tend to get broken down into two-chord resolutions, how one chord leads to the next (which can then be seen as the first of the next set of two).

This is typically done via the Dominant chord(V or viiº) resolving to the Tonic (I), and that sequence is often preceded by the Predominant (IV or ii).  All of this centers around the Tritone, which essentially only occurs in one place in a Major key, between the 7th and 4th degree of a major key. G7, C… or Bº, C. (Dominant, Tonic), or with the Subdominant F, G7, C or F, Bº, C (F is IV, and is pretty much interchangeable with ii as in Dmin, G7, C or Dmin, Bº, C).  The reason the resolve is so strong has mostly to do with the fact that the two notes in the Tritone Interval in the Dominant (B & F) resolve by a half-step (“Leading Tones”) in two different directions! B is a leading tone of C (upward by a half-step) and F is a leading tone of E (going downward by a half-step)

(there are several other layers to this line of thinking, particularly “Tritone Substiution” and Dominants of chords besides the Tonic but the basic deal is that you have a lot of “Leading Tones” which are notes changing by a Half-step to the resolved or next chord, and a lot of chord changes that move up by 4th’s or down by 5ths)


Tritones don’t sound very good to you and me in the lower notes of a guitar when the guitar is the majority of what you’re hearing.  You tend to avoid them and so do I.  I think the reason why is because they evoke the memory of Blues music when played in bigger chord forms (like an open G7 chord, a regular G with an F as it’s highest note), or they sound kind of like some sort of savage flamenco music when played in smaller chords (like a power chord with a flat 5th)…

The reference to Blues would likely steal the thunder of the kinds of mood you’re trying to keep (especially with your implied preference for modal/classical chord changes).  It’s as if the music suddenly yelled “Time to get funky” in the middle of a church hymn, or someone is interrupting “…And many more” as if after singing “Happy Birthday to You” or “…Oh great.  A barbershop Quartet!” And when the Tritone is voiced in a diminished power-chord (C, G flat, C) on the lower guitar strings it’s like “Is this a Primus song?”

Diatonic Vs Modal

When I first met you, your high school band’s chord progressions were mostly of a “Modal” nature, and that persists today.  I say Modal instead of “Diatonic” because you often don’t emphasize the Tonic.  But you do often stay within a key pretty rigidly.  This I think is because of guitars and the way rock-n-roll chord voicings are so commonly built. 1, 5, 1, 3, 5, 1 (E type Bar Chord), 1, 3, 5, 1, 3, 1 (G type Bar Chord) and 2nd Inversion Triads (5th at the bottom) 5, 1, 3…

This kind of locked-position playing (using the same basic left-hand shape, as in bar chords) leads to something that traditional music practice has  avoided for hundreds of years, the dreaded “Parallel Perfect Interval”  But in rock music, it’s almost the *only* thing we do! (power chords).

But your (and occasionally my) preference for Modal chord changes demonstrates a reverence for old time classical uptight properness. And it’s often a beautiful thing.

Counterpoint/Voice-Leading Vs Guitar Rock

There is a very old tradition of voice arranging called “Counterpoint” which is sort of a set of rules for arranging multiple voices.  One of the “Rules” of Counterpoint is to never allow Perfect Intervals(PU, P4, P5, P8) of any two voices to move in a parallel motion. If the first harmony was D over G, the next chord cannot be C over F.  Instead, you would need to invert one of the harmonies (F over C for instance). Notice, this pretty is much the exact opposite of what guitar’s easy movable chord system encourages.

I think Parallel Fifths/Fourths/Octaves are so horrible sounding in the classical sense that they are the reason that hard rock has such an edgy in-your-face sound.  Kind of like a middle finger to the guy with the white wig.  Very punk.  The Parallel Perfects (Octaves, 5ths and 4ths) dominate EVERYTHING and imply a strong melody, or even more so (or even worse), two melodies that are exactly the same, but a 5th/4th apart.

But with the approach of counterpoint, I think, the goal is more like a braid of tonality.  The root of a given chord, or its 5th isn’t the natural note to assume is the melody note.  Instead, the highest note you hear is often the melody.  Or rather, each part is an independent melody, just as strong as the others, but totally independent.  It’s very elegant and beautiful.

We are afraid of the Tritone because of the guitar (but it’s still happening)

So what’s a guy like you or me with a guitar and its typical rock voicings (power chords and bar chords) to do?  Avoid the Tritone!

Besides, we all know the Modal chord sequence by heart, at least subliminally, since we’re all trained in it from birth.  C, Dmin, Emin, F, G, Amin, Bº, C.  For example, when we hear Emin and Amin only, we pretty much already know we’re in C or G Major, or their relative Minor keys, although probably not A Minor because E, the 5 of Amin, would probably be played as E Major in the Key of A Minor.  There are only two places in a Major Key where two Minor Chords are a 5th/4th apart.  They are iii-vi and vi-ii.  So a key is implied with as little as two chords!

A lot of Rock and Folk (and other guitar-heavy) music songs never play the Diminished 5th that makes the V chord or viiº chord “Dominant,” at least not with guitars.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Singers and synths and strings and melodies often play additional notes that turn the overall sound into more colorful chords 7th, Maj7, Min7, Sus, #9 Etc.

Other Instruments Broaden Our Creativity

It becomes really evident to me how restrictive songwriting is on a guitar, when I come up with something on piano, or just singing, or with intuitive synth layering, and then, take it back to the guitar and find myself using all sorts of strange and awkward guitar fingerings that, not only would I probably not have thought of, but if I did think of those chords while working solely on a guitar, I would have thought the chords/changes didn’t “work.”

And I really think this is because of all the “Parallel” 5ths, 4ths and Octaves (Perfect Intervals) that basic movable guitar chord forms yield.  For people like you and me, writing songs on a guitar basically guarantees bad form on a certain level: Less good Voice-leading and more avoiding Tritones and Dominants.

It’s all about voice-leading.  

In Jazz music, guitar players whom are playing with a group, are pretty much expected NOT to play the 5th of the chord (the root either for that matter).  They are supposed to focus on the tonal “skeleton” of the chord, which typically is the 3rd, 7th, 9th, Etc, and perhaps also the melody note, sometimes preferring that note on the top of the chord.  Good voicing also means making sure the leading tones (half steps) get utilized!

And in traditional orchestral music, there’s a lot of weight put on the importance of how independent voices move, especially to exploit leading tones.

Modal movements that sound strong on a guitar can be surprisingly not strong when expanded.

Moving from G to Emin, for instance, seems like a big move on a guitar, but in reality, only one note is changing.  The D in the G chord turns into an E. Movements of a 2nd, 4th, 5th or 7th make for better multi-melodies than 3rds and 6ths.  But the parallel motion of the Perfects (1st and 5th) in a 1-3 or 1-6 chord change hide how little is actually going on.  Not that it’s bad to do so, I’m just saying in a way, those weaker changes are variations of the same chord, even though to a lonely guitar, they sound pretty powerful.


I really think it’s valuable to understand the pitfalls of typical/easy guitar chord voicings.

A melody is a much better jumping off point for a composition than a guitar-only sequence made with parallel chord forms, unless they are particularly novel in some way.  Or an alien instrument that takes you out of the comfort zone of feeling like power chords are telling you what to do and what can be done.


DeltaLab Effectron, I, II, III ADM (Blue) Digital Delays From The 80’s (what I know so far)

First of all, I have an Effectron II ADM 1024 and it sounds Amazing, particularly the way it clips. I am on the hunt to figure out, if possible, how to retrofit these to slave to an external MIDI clock, or otherwise sync to a DAW.

I’m posting this because this has been quite a research project and if you’re trying to do the same thing, maybe you’ll have an easier time.

I got mine completely dead for ten bucks from a friend, popped the top off and got it to power up (I think it was a fuse… I’ll confirm that and update this)

Mine had dirty pots which I WD-40’ed and now sound pretty much perfect.  I think my input gain still crackles from time to time but I don’t ever need to adjust that after getting the primary level.  I also had to replace one Potentiometer since the knob shaft was broken off. I was able to do that easily.

Some stuff I learned:

  • The only place to get a schematic for the ADM 1024, unless DeltaLab writes me back with a copy, is HERE. For the sake of attribution, I’m going to leave this as an external link, but I have the files from that site saved and if that site ever goes down, I’ll upload them to my own site.  The schematics are pretty hard to read and I think there are some holes in the scans.  Better than nothing.
  • As far as I can tell, it’s totally possible and relatively easy to increase the maximum sample/delay length in these things just by adding a resistor or two and some inexpensive ram chips.  See HERE. On that page the author increases an ADM 1020’s max memory from around one second to around two seconds by adding three additional chips.  What I’m not sure of is if you can up it to four seconds by adding nine. The RAM, I’m pretty sure,  is MK4564-20.  There are some on eBay right now for about two dollars each. Found an Allegedly identical part for around eleven dollars each, so maybe they no longer get made.
  • [quote from same site:] DeltaLab used a special type of Adaptive Delta Modulation (ADM), which they continuously improoved over the years. You might take a look at US-Patents #31720, #4190801, 4254502, #4305050, #4313204 and #4462106. This is much more sophisticated than the cheap ADM projects that were published in various magazines as musical diy projects. (Elrad Delta-Delay, and others) The great thing is that the patent text even has component values shown !

  • I’m currently in discussion with someone over at Molten Voltage about whether or not one of their PedalSync products can be used to make my ADM 1024 slave to MIDI Clock from my computer.  Probably their MV-64. I will update this if I get anywhere.
  • I’m also currently talking to some nice stranger via the diystompboxes.com forums about the same thing.
  • [On that forum “q_u_e_s_t said:]…the clock comes out on pin6 of IC38 (4528B) [see above schematic link]. it is a 0 to 12v digital signal varying from 250kHz to 1MHz. it has a fixed pulse width of 0.5?s for the high period, and the low period varies in length to make up the remaining time… [and]…the way this delay pedal works is very similar to BBD. basically, BBD is a long line of buckets that hold an analog voltage level. but, in this device, its a long line of buckets that hold a digital voltage level. as a result, it needs to be clocked faster, as 1 bit of data (1 logic level) doesnt carry as much information as 1 analog bucket. so you need a bunch of digital buckets to get read in the same amount of time. so, what this means for their kit, is wether or not it can clock fast enough. ask them what the highest clock rate on the kit is. it needs to go to 1MHz…

FIX: Alesis Q2: First Made Strange Sounds, Then “Bad Program” Issue (QuadraVerb 2 Battery)

So I’ve had a Q2 since the Nineties and I like some of it’s effects.  But a while back when I wanted to use it for a Delay effect, it was acting funny.  Essentially the thing sounded like high-depth Chorus all the time!

So today, as I’m getting ready to work on a big project, I decided to look into this more.  Does it need to be cleaned inside?  I turned it on and it seemed that the Factory Preset Programs were fine, but now when going to create a User Program, the names of the Programs were all gibberish-y and when clicking the scroll wheel to “Select,” the name of the Program would just say “Bad Program”




“Bad Program”


So after a lot of Googling I finally found this. Turns out the problem is a dead battery soldered to the circuit board inside.

You can see it here, in the bottom right of the picture.  It’s a Panasonic BR-2325, a 3 Volt Battery with solder terminals on it. You can get them for a few bucks online, but I’m too impatient and resent shipping fees.


I replaced mine with a CR2025, a similar 3V coin battery that I had mistakenly purchased to replace a Mac Front-row remote.

But what to do about the missing Solder-leads?  It’s probably not good to cook a battery with a soldering iron, so I improvised a battery holder with two pennies.

Here’s the pennies with leads soldered to them


Next I put the battery between them. and taped it all together… I taped more than in this picture because I wanted to be sure there was very little possibility of shorting out inside the unit. I left my leads about 6 inches long so I’d have some slack to work with when soldering.



Next I desoldered the old dead battery and soldered in the leads from my DIY battery pack


Next, I gathered up the slack and taped the whole thing down onto the circuit board so it would rattle around inside the unit (while rocking out to tap tempo delay)





Finally, I  had to do a “Total Reset” of the unit, which unfortunately will delete your stored programs.  But I don’t think would have been stored anyhow, without the battery.  Not sure about that.

Total Reset:
A more drastic version of re-initializing the QuadraVerb 2 will erase all User Programs, as well as resetting all Global parameters. Hold down [PROGRAM], [COMPARE], and [<BLOCK] (block-left) simultaneously while turning on the power.

Now my q2 works again!