If I were to ask you the commonest melodic interval in today’s commercial music what would you guess? Well, with just listening to the radio for 10 minutes, I declare the clear winner to be: nothing. Or in MOVES notation: =0.
The word “unison” is the default term used for this interval that isn’t one, even though it’s a term borrowed from polyphony. It means two or more voices singing the same note at once. It feels kinda wrong to use it to refer to repeated notes.
And calling them repeated notes is not to say you have to repeat them the same way each time.
So today let’s look at this non-interval that rules the pop charts and learn what it has to tell us. In fact, it can be used in a multiplicity of ways, to express different things. So let’s see some of them.
It helps you as a musician to build certainty, without which you can never have charisma. It may seem silly to point this out, but it is the one interval that someone with no musical ear at all can be sure to get right on a piano. Should you therefore despise it? Not at all! The quality of certainty is a key ingredient of successful music and stage presence, and is a great foundation to start building from.
It helps you build intensity, a key ingredient of a great Gospel shout. Used by all Gospel musicians and anyone influenced by them from Elvis Presley to Junior Walker.
Repeated notes act as springboard to other intervals. They give you time to get your next move spot on. When moving from your note to your next note try repeating your note while you center yourself in readiness for the following move.
The word scale comes from the Latin or Italian word for a ladder. So let your repeated notes serve as landings between flights of stairs. Give yourself time to catch your breath for the next stretch. In concrete terms you might want to mark time on one note so as to save the next step up for a strong beat or up-beat.
It works for people. It gets through to them. Why do you think it is the commonest interval in pop music? It is the foundation of rap. To feel this idea, take the nearest paragraph of text and play it on your horn as if speaking through it.
It lets you say NO, NO, NO when someone tries to get you into rehab.
It can rock you in crotchets (quarter notes) as in Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again, or in quavers (eighth notes) as in
=0 (+2 =0) (=0 =0) (=0 =0) (=0 =0) (+1=0) (=0 =0) (=0 -5) (> +2) >
that Geor-gia’s al-ways on my my my my my my my my my mind
or in combination, playing with the prosody of the text:
(=0 =0) (> =0) +3 =0 =0 (=0 =0) (-1 =0) (=0 =0) (=0 =0) (=0 -2) >
un- til__ the sun comes up o- ver San-ta Mo- ni- ca Bou- le- vard
Its pedigree goes all the way back to Gregorian chant and beyond. Use it to find peace in your heart.
It gives listeners a break from a lot of +25 and -23 moves. Coltrane’s track Offering on the album Expression goes from one extreme to the other, creating contrasts with explosive emotional power. Pentatonic scales played with repeated notes (as in the fifth measure here) provide solace after the jarring dissonance that went before.
Notice that I mentioned nothing about getting your notes even, or working up to superhuman speed or practising triple-tonguing. Part of the charm of Charles Lloyd’s triplets on Memphis Green is how he messes up on the head. Like singing in the shower.
So all this information is useless if it doesn’t help you enrich your playing. I hope you will try out all these ways of repeating notes, and work them into your playing, in all their different aspects.