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"Color tones"?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mjw, May 4, 2004.

  1. mjw


    Jun 12, 2001
    Spring, TX USA
    Hi all,

    Gotta question for ya. When someone says they "threw in a 'color tone' here and there", what do you suppose they mean?

    Generically, I can understand that they must be doing something to "color" the tone, but I'm curious as to whether there's anything scientific behind that kind of statement, or is it more just a figure of speach? Thanks!
  2. Introvox


    May 21, 2001
    Ontario, Canada
    I'm pretty sure they mean a "note" not an actual tonal change...I use the term alot, explaining how by changing the bass note, you can change the color of the chord (so-to-speak)

    here is an example:

    1) have a guitar or keyboard play an Fmaj chord, and play and F on the bass (go 4 beats), then change the bass note to a G for the next 4 beats (keep guitar or keyboard the same)...notice that although the chord stays as an Fmaj and the G gives you a different color

    2) try this progression on keyboard or guitar

    A (4 beats) D (2 beats) E (2 beats)

    now first time through (Bass) play the same as above.

    the second time through play this:

    A (2 beats) C# (2 beats) D (2 beats) E (2 beats)

    notice how the A chord gets a different "color" when the bass plays a C#.

    Hope this helps a bit - as for the term "color", it's just a good way to explain:

    "differences in combinations of sounds to create a different yet similar outcome"

    that's why we use the term "color"...easier to say - hehehe

    hell, I can barely explain it to myself............
  3. Bass of Galt

    Bass of Galt Guest

    Mar 25, 2004
    Scrotillia Falls
    I agree with the above post - I've also used the phrase "color tone" to talk about non-chord tones you can use in building a line over various chord constructions.

    For example if you simply add a #5 to your normal major scale - you get what's called the "be-bop" maj scale. This added #5 can also be called a color tone - it's an added tone that's not part of the actual chord.
    Adding in a #4 and major 7 in minor scales acheves the same thing.

    There's lots of ways to add "color tones" and lots of different names for the various permutations. Bottom line - it's an added or substituted non-chord tone.

  4. mjw


    Jun 12, 2001
    Spring, TX USA
    Thanks Introvox & Bass of Galt! That really does make sense. I'm fortunate enough to have one son that plays guitar and another that plays piano, so I'm gonna get us all together and experiment.

    Sure appreciate the info! :D
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I think the phrase "colour tone" specifically applies to a note not in the original chord, or the scale it's derived from.

    E.g. G7b9 - being GBDFAb - G7 would most commonly be derived from the G mixolydian scale GABCDEF. The flat 9 is the added colour tone, Ab.

    How to use colour tones is the tricky part. As the phrase suggests, adding non-chord or scale tones colours the sound of a chord further, often increasing dissonance and tension. So, you have to know how to use each colour tone in the context of a chord progression, and you need to know how to resolve the tenstion you've created - or you'll be playing bum notes! ;)
    On top of this, and most importantly, you have to know where the melody is and where it's going at any point so you can create/resolve tension in appropriate places.

    Realy, you need to get basic grasp of harmonic function and voice leading (neither is as scary as it sounds, said he with only a brutal understanding of each topic!) before you can start using these things without applying a 'stab in the dark' approach.

    If you have a teacher I'd ask him/her about it.

    I'm working on all this stuff myself, experimenting in songs and finding out how it sounds in context - that's the important, fun, and time-consuming part of course

  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002

    Sorry, but I dont think this example works properly, you have

    A (AC#E) D (DF#A) E (EG#B)

    So, the bass notes you've specifed in example two are:

    A (root of A), C# (major 3rd of A), D (root of D), E (root of E)
    These are all chord tones are so not altering teh tnoality fo the chords in anyway.

    I think a better example would be to record

    D-7b5 / G7 / C-7

    Then play with an Ab over the G7 chord - this will be a b9 colour tone, try it ot and see how it sounds


  7. supermonkey


    Mar 15, 2004
    Atlanta, GA
    Yet "stabbing in the dark" is often both a fun learning process and an effective means of finding alternatives. Trial and error, IME, is a completely legitimate way to acquire advanced musical skills/techniques/knowledge. Most of the time one is only limited by one's ears (and/or a closed mind).

    I think once you know the definition and understand the goal(s) of something like "color tones", you're about 80% there.

    As a teacher of mine once said, "There are no wrong notes, only incomplete ones." You might be further ahead of the game if you know something about chord theory. But then again, you might be limited by knowing something about chord theory! :D

    BTW, mjw - Love the "family ensemble setup"! When my boys are old enough, I hope to do the same thing!
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Maybe there's a differnce between "trial and error" and "stabbing in the dark"?

    I'm just saying that for something as potentially complex as the use of colour tones, theory will help structre and make sense of what is learnt.

    Hmm, I dont think so, I'd say more like 1% - the definition is easy to grasp, the infinite number of options and contexts is a lifetimes learning.
    Besides, before you can consciously use colour tones you need to be familiar with what the chord and scale tones sound like, and the sound of chord changes in a given progression.

    For example, it will undeniabley help to understand what tones in the V chord have such as strong resolve to the I chord, in order to understand how you can strengthen that resolve by adding colour tones.

    Well, what your teacher said makes no sense to me. I genuinely dont know what an 'incomplete note' is? :rolleyes:

    "There are no wrong notes, only badly resolved ones" would make better sense I think.

    Knowing theory of any kind will not limit you in any way whatsoever. The only thing that limits your playing and your hearing of music is you (as you said above), NOT knowledge.

    I would say that you can stuck in a rut with theory if you treat it as 'rules', which is easy to do, but, personally, the more I learn the more I realise there are no rules. It's just theory, you cant write a great tune using theory, but it might help you understand why it sounds good and how to translate 'what sounds good' to another situation.

  9. supermonkey


    Mar 15, 2004
    Atlanta, GA
    This is pretty much what I was getting at. Plenty of great musicians and songwriters (if not composers, to distinguish explicitly) lack knowledge of theory. And that knowledge in and of itself doesn't hurt, obviously. It's the attitude(s) about/towards the knowledge that can be limiting.

    Trust me -- I hardly intend to understate the utility of understanding theory. In fact, I'm usually on the opposite side here :) But while I don't downplay the utility, I wouldn't categorize it as an absolute necessity.

    I learned how nifty it was to pop out the occasional C under a Bflat maj long before I learned what a maj9 was!
  10. DaemonBass


    Mar 29, 2004
    Sacramento, CA
    From every place I've heard it mentioned, "colour" tones are the tones that define a particular chord. Simple example, you have A major. A = fundamental tone, 5 = another fundamental tone, sharp 7 = Color Tone (defines a Major chord, therefore colors the A into an "A Major"), major 3rd (Defines a Major chord therefore colors the A into an "A Major," 7 = Dominant Chord therefore colors the A as a dominant chord.) Change the major 7ths and 3rds into minor and you've got minor "Colour" tones. I think of it this way, roots and 5th's are the meat and potatoes of a bassline, and 3rd ands 7ths are the vegetable stew. You can't have stew without the meat and potatoes, but add the veggies and you've got a flavorful stew.
  11. mjw


    Jun 12, 2001
    Spring, TX USA

    What I thought was a somewhat straightforward question has yielded a plethora of wonderful and insightful information!!!!

    I really, REALLY appreciate all the replys to this thread! Thanks all!!!!! :) :)
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yeah, absolutley, as was I using major 3rds (10th) in a minor chord long before I knew what they were.

    DaemonBass, nice analogy - anything that relates to stew is fine by me, mmm stew :homer:

  13. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I guess an example of coloring a chord is the beginning of Rage Against the Machine - Wake up. The beginning, the guitar plays a chord, and then there is another guitar (same guitarist, recorded over himself) just playing a few notes and holdign them out. As the note kinda whines upwards, the chord sounds different than as the guitar note goes down.