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Abracadabra is a magic word used to cure diseases for centuries, traditionally written in an inverted triangle and worn as an amulet. But what if we wanted to make a musical amulet out of the word?

I have always been impressed with words that can be played as music, called musical cryptograms. Composers in the Baroque Period began using cryptograms to sign their name into their compositions. Here is Bach’s name as a musical cryptogram (B, A, C, H is German B).

So in traditional musical cryptogram fashion, we can drop the Rs in abracadabra and use the relevant remaining note letters to make our cryptogram. Drag over the noteheads to listen to the tones, or press play to hear the incantation as it would be sung in church.

In Aramaic, it translates to “I create as I speak.” In Hebrew, it is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In mnemonics, it is the first 4 letters of the alphabet, A-B-C-D.

In music, abracadabra is in the key of A minor.

British intelligence man and black magic beast Aleister Crowley was way into abracadabra but he believed the true form to be “abraHadabra.” For this spelling, we can replace the C with the German H (B) in our cryptogram, although the above is more musically satisfying.

Our musical amulet is now complete and ready to be worn around your neck. Here ya go.


Begone demonic sickness…

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Ewok melodies

The Ewoks get a lot of shit for being toy bait teddy bears that sold out Star Wars™ to the baser taste of children, but I never had a problem with them. Unblinking bastards that only served to disnify the original trilogy—but those guys are ok with me. Maybe that’s because I was just a child when Return of the Jedi came out, and I always wanted to be this guy when I grew up.

Anyway, Ewoks religiously chant a perfect fifth backwards, and their aboriginal music is the usual Fraggle Folk Rock—skin drums, bone flutes, and electric funk bass. Their victory song “Yub Nub”, meaning “freedom”, closes out Episode VI.

“Yub Nub” has a funky meandering bass, a chromatic hook from Sesame Street, and this awesome Aeolian cadence at the chorus.

The bVI bVII I chord progression is a popular musical device used to add some epicness at the end of a song. Beyoncé did it at her POTUS Banner. Phish do too. Focus as well. And composer John Williams also does it, because he’s an epic Hollywood kind of guy.

“Yub Nub” is in the key of G Major, but ends with a transitional Eb Major chord to segue back to the Main Theme. A fleet of minor sixes heralds the key change from G Major to Eb Major and the return of the trademark fanfare.

In the Special Edition, they replaced the classic muppet finale “Yub Nub” with a polished studio instrumental, but the Ewoks are a simple people without reverberated panflute and modern day percussion; they are supposed to sound like a ragtag bunch of Henson creature shop rejects. That’s why they have a makeshift xylophone made from the helmets of dead stormtroopers. The music is gritty and real, like ‘practical effects’, compared to the ‘CGI’ of the newer song (which I won’t bother linking to).

There are so many retconned versions of the original Star Wars floating around, it’s hard to find the scene in question, so here it is.

Best for the artist to let his work die in a bittersweet fire just as Luke Skywalker laid his father to rest. Allay loo ta nuv.

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Bada Bing Bada Boom

Italian Americans like to imitate drum beats when they talk. Capeesh? Kapow! Badumcha. They speak a kind of Percussionese dialect, refusing to integrate into their host country.

Such is the phrase “Bada Bing Bada Boom” which means a “job well done” and according to my dictionary, is diminutive of a drum roll. But I ain’t never heard no drum roll sound like this. Drag over the black stemmed noteheads.

Clearly, the phrase is diminutive of the above beat: two semiquavers of snares followed by a bell-and-kick quaver, another two semiquavers on the snare, and finally, a tom-tom flam. A very uncommon drum fill that no drummer would ever play. I doubt it’s ever been played before, until now, when you just dragged over my widget. The “bing” is on Beat 1, following the anapest groove in poetry, like the canter of a horse, or the common hand jive.

Nobody really knows the etymology of the phrase “Bada Bing Bada Boom”, but it was popularized in the ’70s by The Godfather.

Compare the Bada Bing! to the mystic drum beat which haunts me lo these many years.

Sometimes the phrase has extra Italian syllables thrown in, like grace notes on the snare drum: “abada bing abada boom.” Try it now at home on your lap and mouth!

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Holy Roman Melodies

Welcome new friends.

This is now a Christian music blog, even though the Devil hast the best tunes. This blog has converted to Christianity, so no more tritones or synthetic scales. And no more Rock ‘n’ Rolla either. From now on, it’s all potato chip potato chip up in here.1

Behold and hearken the sacred song of the Roman Catholic Church!

From the Liber Usualis2, a book of thousands of chants for the Mass and Divine Office, the above chant is sung antiphonally. Each phrase follows the interval of a Minor Third from the Root to the Sixth. The Latin lyrics translate to: “The Lord be with you / And with thy spirit.”

It bears some resemblance to the plainsong of birds—a small common interval in call-and-response. Perhaps this is where the Church came up with it. I don’t know; I’m not really religious. It also sounds like the child’s call “Olly Olly Oxen Free”.

I have no idea how popular the Minor Third chant is, but this seems to be the one that gets parodied a lot and it’s the one I always think of.

God bless you reader, and God bless this blog.
Ora Pro Nobis


[1] “The Potato Chip Song”
[2] Liber Usualis

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It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for minor chords. Aeolian and Melodic. Hungarian and Harmonic. Chromatic like a carnival. October is the month of minor pop odes like “Thriller”, a mostly Dorian groove, and the reverse picardy choruses of the mostly Mixolydian “Ghostbusters”. Speaking of which, all the classic Halloween themes come from movies. The quintessential Halloween pop song has yet to be written…or has it?

Beyond the single minor mode, there’s overly minory chord progressions, modulating from one minor key to the next. This technique for evoking the spooky is probably as old as the Oriental motif.

John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) has a classic modulating minor theme composed by Carpenter himself on the electric piano. The upper registers of the ivory-keyed piano are literally bone-chilling, especially when sparsely played atop long shots of POV slasher kills. The 5/4 time signature recalls another famous theme song—the same odd-time rhythm as Mission Impossible. Drag over the noteheads below.

The theme starts on an F# minor; the melody quavers on a perfect fifth and up to the minor sixth. In the third bar, the melody transposes down a semitone, while the bass goes up to an A#, creating an A# minor (add 9) chord. The entire progression is repeated down a semitone and then again down another semitone. Minor madness.

The i—iii chord progression of Halloween can be found in a few other songs. The Snow Goose by Camel begins with the same minor chord progression as Halloween—Gm to Bm, but more plaintive than spooky. Also, check out The Running Man Main Theme—Em to G#m with a cool melodic minor modulation.

I would be remiss in closing if I didn’t mention Devil Doll, the Slav Goth Rock band from the ’90s, that showcased many minor modulations to evoke the spooky, such as in “Mister Doctor”. Whether you’re Slavic, a Goth kid, or just in the Halloween spirit, Devil Doll is the perfect soundtrack for the munchy-crunchy leaf-perving Autumn spring.

Can you think of more minor seasonal themes? Put ‘em in the comments below!

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Favorite Chords

A man’s favorite chord can change throughout his life, but finding one is about as rare as falling in love. Of course, there are thousands of chords out there, and in a way I love them all just the same.

In my teens, I was infatuated with Diminished chords, the ugly formation of minor thirds stacked on top of each other, dark and humorous as a carnival1; I made whole songs out of the diminished, then branching out into the half-whole, whole-tone, using tonal tricks borrowed from Zappa and Stravinsky. Tritone is love; tritone is life.

In college, I mellowed a bit I guess, and it was Major Sevenths, especially the excessive use of Maj.7ths a la Jazz, Sean Lennon, and Hum. The chord of love in the key of life.

Anyway, this is one of my all-time favorites—the E Major Thirteenth, which has a Major Seventh chord in it.

You can play it on guitar: 0-11-11-11-12-11. This guitar voicing of the E Major 13th is found in the Zappa song “Zoot Allures” at about the :42 mark.

The EM13 has every note of the E Major scale except the 4th, lending itself well to either Ionian or Lydian. It is a six-note chord with a bunch of fourths in the middle and a Major Third interval on top (between the fifth and the seventh). It sounds seductive and dreamy like we’ve just dropped melatonin after staying up all night. You can play this chord all day. Entire ballads have been written to this chord alone. Men have died for this chord. Chord is kill.

Look for the EM13 to be overused in every new Los Doggies song! Do you have a favorite chord? Please put it in the comments section below.

Yo but where my juggalettes at?

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Song of the Day: How to Make a Mouth in Nature

“How to Make a Mouth in Nature” is a psychedelic allegory about art and morality. Historically, most musical instruments have macabre origins—the catgut of stringed instruments and their horsetail bows, the goatskin of drumheads, the bone glues of guitars, and not to mention, the occult sacrifices of the Big Three.

Andy Goldsworthy is a plant-based sculptor who strings leaves together and calls it art. He sculpts in the medium of the forest allowing the winds of time to help shape his work as if he himself is a force of nature. Now imagine his inversion: an Anti-Goldsworthy. Such an artist would be as a demi-god playing upon the animals themselves. His footsteps make kick drums as he walks along the path. He can absorb the powers of the forest merely by ingesting its pizzles.

The main melody of the verse is suspiciously similar to the verse of the Gentle Giant song “Inside Out”, almost as if the composer directly ripped it off. “Inside Out” is what happens to 70s Prog bands in the 80s, but it’s also a really good song. The melodic movement follows three whole tones in a row (A B C# D#) before resolving on the Perfect Fifth (E).

“How to Make a Mouth” has a kind of New Wave feel with its tribal dance beat, droning ambiance, non-musical animal sounds, and general zany attitude. The song probably wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for the shoulders of great bands we squat upon: TMBG, Talking Heads, and Gentle Giant.

The key of the song is an exotic key hardly ever used called Lydian Dominant. Lydian Dominant puts the “Lydian” back into Mixolydian. It’s basically a Lydian scale with a Dominant Seventh. Drag over the notes below in A Lydian Dominant.

I’d like to see more songs use this key. I can’t really think of one example that uses it in Popular music. The Gentle Giant song isn’t really in Lydian Dominant and only uses the raised fourth (D#) as a passing tone. Lydian Dominant is identical to the Overtone Series, the intrinsic scale wrapped up in the color of every note.

Go to bandcamp to purchase “How to Make a Mouth in Nature.”

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