Chord Tone Concepts Volume One: Triads

Philip Mann

With Bass in Mind Publications


The concepts

The title of this book is misleading if you are likely to be seduced (as I was) by the allure of ‘concepts’. An excursion into the book reveals that this, book one of three (two further volumes are planned for 2014 and 2015), deals with but one ‘concept’ – the triad; two further such ‘concepts’ are to be unveiled in future editions. There is, however, no evidence in the book of conceptualisation – of triads or of anything else. If there is perhaps another concept at work here, this could be proficiency in performance – an idea that appears to be at the root of Mann’s conviction that his book will help students learn ‘the things they need to understand, improve, and apply to their musicianship’. Another possible candidate for concept could be the ‘chord tone vocabulary’ that Mann glosses over on page 5, the acquisition of which seems to be the book’s primary aim.

It would be more accurate to describe the book as Jeff Berlin does in his brief (and rather peculiar) Foreword – ‘a collection of chord tone patterns’. The book’s subtitle – ‘An Excavation of the Humble Triad’ – is also helpful, for it prepares readers for the myriad triad permutations that comprise the bulk of the text. Notated exercises are clearly and consistently presented throughout 11 Study Areas, working through major, minor, diminished and augmented triads in all their inversions, culminating in two Melodic Application chapters that introduce simple chord progressions. Mann is to be praised for the meticulous presentation of notated exercises, and for the earnestness of his effort to share scores of technical workouts.

The audience

Exponents of instruments other than bass guitar should beware the advice on the front cover that this book is ‘for bass clef instruments’. While this is not untrue, there are clues (the picture of the bass guitar on the cover, the extensive use of bass guitar tablature, the references only to bassists throughout) that this is a book aimed at and intended for use specifically, and maybe exclusively, by bass guitarists. Mann suggests that Study Area 4.1 (Augmented Triads – 1st Inversion Permutations) might be ‘quite inspiring’ for ‘those of you that own fretless instruments’; he does not, however, go on to suggest precisely how he imagines the following three-and-a-half pages might inspire (for instance) bass trombonists or timpanists. While I am confident that a euphonium player or ‘cellist would find much of relevance in this and other areas of the book, s/he might find the persistently preferential references to bass guitarists alienating and somewhat irksome.

The writing

While Mann is to be lauded for the entrepreneurship and maximum-profit-orientation of self-publishing this book, he would have been well advised to employ the services of both a proof reader and an editor before going to press. The inconsistencies in capitalisation are frustrating; the oscillation between US and British English spellings is disorientating; and sentences are frequently un-fathomable. The writing is often confusing or contradictory, for instance in the ‘Theory Basics’ section where Mann introduces the Nashville Numbering System and then claims that each pitch is given ‘a unique number’ – of course, the whole purpose of the System is to avoid giving pitches (or chords) unique numbers, since the System is transferable across keys. I also had to pause for thought when reading about ‘all contemporary keys’, wondering how these are to be differentiated from, for instance, past or future keys. The pages are rife with superfluity and catachresis. When Mann talks about ‘thorough excavation of the hypotheses’ one is left wanting for even a single hypothesis, while ideas such as ‘raw information’ and ‘apposing chords’ are left hanging. While it is certainly difficult in places to follow, the book is mostly free of misinformation; readers should be advised, however, that when, on page 36, Mann states that JS Bach proposed 48 musical keys, this is incorrect. Bach stuck to just the 24 major and minor keys of Western tonal harmony.

Should you buy it?

The strong sales to date should arguably be left to speak for themselves. By all means, use this book as a source of triad-based technical exercises for helping develop motor control, reading, and melodic invention. You’re sure to come out of the other end of a run at Chord Tone Concepts Volume One: Triads with a more nimble pair of hands, and possibly with a richer sense of how to deploy your newfound dexterity. But the music theory is patchy and anecdotal, and the writing can be confounding. Keep to hand a copy of one of these exemplary harmony handbooks: The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine, or Keith Wyatt’s Harmony and Theory: A comprehensive source for all musicians.




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