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On Being Partially Over Tones


Ever wondered what Rodin's Le Penseur was pondering? Well, now you know.


There comes a time in every brass player's life when we must confront and learn about the stack of notes that make up the fixed overtone series on brass instruments that are more accurately described as "partials." And–as fate would have it for this bear of very little brain–I only partially understand it!



So says the completely right brained bear-of-little-brain who wrote Leadology


Leadology member and Detroit area trombonist, composer, and music instructor Andrew Maroneck wrote to me upon purchasing Leadology with some wonderful thoughts on what he prefers to call "partials" ...with the first partial being the pedal tone of every position on trombone. What ensued was the beginning of a robust and very interesting discussion of just what the heck is going on here and why so many musicians differ with the terminology used to describe the subject.


In my first printing of Leadology, I incorrectly described the partial series in 1st position as something that could be thought of as a Bb13 chord. This was incorrect because the screamer "G" or the 13th of Bb doesn't really exist as a note that can be slotted in that series. (I corrected this errata in the PDF form of the book and will do so for the next printing of the physical book as well, using instead a Bb7(#11) which is much more accurate) Arguing with myself (a common occurrence in Wiestwordl) I countered with "Well that screamer G can be played in ANY position, like all the members of the scream club...so...in theory, the G or 13th of Bb DOES exist in 1st." Answering myself (another common place event in my cray-cray realm) I said "Nah...that doesn't really count. We're talking science here, bruh."


However, in the final analysis (feel free to say that in a JFK classic Bostonian accent) the practical need to understand the partial system is so that we can learn their inherent intonation tendencies and adjust accordingly. The big ones that come to mind are the 6th partial which is sharp and must be shaded slightly flatter (depending on the horn or chord), and the seventh partial which is flat and must be shaded sharp (all horns). In the words of my super mentor Raoul Jerome, it behooves all of us to understand these organic characteristics.


But just what is going on with these notes? Is it purely Pythagorean? Is it the fact that Leonard Euler preferred lattice over lettuce in his salad? (WheeeeewDOGGIES! That is one obscure music theory joke right THERE!) Is it just-tuning, or just music? And could arguing about it make us lose our collective well-temper? (Yes...I am the world's CHAMP when it comes to musical dad-jokes)



Y'all drop by sometime and we'll flat a fifth together, ya hear?


Therefore (and to wit) let us discuss it all right here on the Leadology Blog. Are these wee beasties overtones, a harmonic series, partials, all of the above, none of the above? How best to standardize our nomenclature and vocabulary regarding this conundrum?


All Ye who are numerically gifted, trip the light fantastique of all things theory, and can utilize BOTH sides of your brain, feel free to chime in and make your thoughts known!


Inquiring minds want to know, Yo!



Here is the corrected chart and my chord symbol thoughts regarding these thingies from Leadology

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