Larson Exercise Six

“…Come and laugh at me whenever you feel like it. I like being laughed at. Why, when I started my morning exercises, half London used to come and roll about the pavements in convulsions. I’m not an attraction any longer, and it makes me feel lonely. There are twenty-nine of those Larson Exercises, and you only saw part of the first. You have done so much for me that, if I can be of any use to you in helping you to greet the day with a smile, I shall be only too proud. Exercise Six is funny without being vulgar. I’ll start with it tomorrow morning…”.

Ashe Marson in ‘Something Fresh’ by P.G. Wodehouse

I got down to it this morning and wrote a tune.

Larson Exercise 6


I’ll come to a spot of analysis shortly but I think that’s of secondary importance to my observations on how I felt while I was writing i.e. the things I struggled with during the process, the old habits rearing up etc…

I’d resolved to stick to the conceived chord sequence even though it was purely an experiment – I had no idea how it would sound let alone whether it sounded any good. Still not sure really! That’s not the point though at this stage. The aim was to just accept what was materialising and I felt okay about this.

The first thing I noticed weighing me down was the strong urge to get my Macbook and start making it look pretty in Sibelius. It’s the perfectionist in me that wanted to see it neat and tidy on the page but this would have brought me to a grinding halt. Maybe I was just worried about not being able to remember ideas. To combat this I simply kicked off the Voice Memo on my phone – think I’ll do this from now on when I’m brainstorming. Perhaps I’m also looking to use Sibelius as a way of legitimising my work? – even if it sounds shit, at least it looks authoritative on the page.

Next, the simplicity of the pentatonic melody bothered me. I think I’ve always shied away from pentatonic melodies because something in the back of my mind tells me that they’re unsophisticated and pedestrian – the meat and drink of pop tunes. Terribly silly really seen as I love the pentatonic melodies in Weather Report and Steps Ahead tunes. Must get over this ridiculousness!

There was also the desire to cram loads of notes from the Lydian Augmented #3 scale into the melody. I think the ambiguity of that chord was bothering me. I was aware of worrying that people playing/listening to it would think it was a confused use of the 13b9 sound. My thinking was that if I clearly spelled out the scale it would show I knew what I was doing. All nonsense ego stuff. In the end I resolved to make a feature of this ambiguity, make a feature of the common tones and play on the inherent bluesy sound contained within the Lydian Augmented #3.

A positive was how I found myself instinctively trying to whittle down the melodic info. I hadn’t consciously reminded myself of the brief before I began, in particular Andoni’s process of looking to see what can be removed, and I think the result has given me a definite, uncluttered melodic motif.

One other thing I observed that slowed me down was concern about the correct spelling of that Lydian Augmented #3 chord and enharmonic issues in the melody. Again, it’s my O.C.D. Is that a G Double Sharp at the end of bar 4? Who gives a shit…

The nerdy stuff…

By way of analysis, I think the important thing to remark on is the process of getting started. Composing is difficult because there are so many choices. I’m making it much less intimidating by setting up limits/restrictions/frameworks. In this case, I started with the chord changes. Two elements presented themselves; I – VI – II – V (simple, obvious chord cycle) and the Lydian Augmented #3 sound I mentioned yesterday. I said it has a dominant-ish sound (despite featuring a Maj7th), probably because it’s so close to the Diminished Scale and the #3 sounds like a suspended 4th. In fact, if we add a minor 3rd, i.e. an 8th scale tone, we get the Whole-Half Diminished Scale.

E Lydian Augmented #3 – E, F#, G##, A#, B#, C#, D#

E Diminished W-H – E, F#, G, A, Bb, C, C#, D#

I originally thought of changing the nature of the I – VI – II – V chords all to Lydian (in keeping with our philosophy of simplicity) but I’ve never used Lydian Augmented #3 before – it was fresh in my mind so I though fuck it…use it in the places we usually hear dominant chords i.e. VI and V. Nobody gets hurt, right?!

This unconventional element makes me think because I’m expecting to hear a 13b9 chord resolving up a 4th i.e. Half-Whole Diminished, not Whole-Half, so it resolves in a very different way.

Miller suggests this voicing;

R, #4, 6, 9, #3, #5, 7

E, A#, C#, F#, G##/A, B#, D#

Playing this chord, I find my ear inserting a phantom G# (Nat. 3) at the top of the voicing. I think I’m wanting to hear that A Diminished Maj7 to A Lydian cadence. N.B. The top four notes of Miller’s voicing are an F# Diminished chord. The bottom of the chord is a 3rd inversion F# Dominant 7th i.e. a dominant 7th a tone above the root, sort of like a secondary dominant. Interesting stuff…

The implied 12/8 melody in bars 14 and 15 just happened when I was arpeggiating this chord, trying to make sense of the sound. I liked it. I like the rhythmic variation. I think the drama gives the tune momentum as we cadence back to the top.


I’m hearing this as a straight-eights feel but don’t want to get bogged-down in details like that. Let’s see what happens when we play it…

Play it and let me know what you think… Write your own version and share it.


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    November 13, 2017

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  • borvest inkral

    November 13, 2017

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