Thanks for the Black Metal, Dark Ages
The Middle Ages in Europe lasted from the 5th century to the 15th century, or roughly from the fall of Rome until the Renaissance. It was referred to as the dark ages as well, though that term was abandoned because there was, in fact, plenty of sunlight.
The 'dark ages' moniker was used because of the general lack of higher learning and high rates of illiteracy among the majority of people. The one segment of the population who were largely literate, though, was the clergy
It was during this time period that modern standard notation came into being as well, developed largely by, you guessed it: the clergy.
Religion was the center of life for people in this time. To be excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church was not only to be kicked out of church, but to be kicked out of society. No one wanted anything to do with you if God was not cool with what you did.
So as the monks who worked out all the details of the lines and spaces of the staff getting what letter of the alphabet, and named each interval, they noticed a few things.
The intervals of the perfect fourth and perfect fifth sounded so great, that those *had* to be the ones closest to god. Many religious melodies start on a perfect 4th or 5th (cue the wedding march), because those had to be the ones that he liked best. And god, being perfect, had those two intervals named after him.
His former right hand man, Lucifer, wound up with the raw end of the deal, though. Poor guy only got one. What we know as the tritone (or flat 5th, sharp 4th, diminished 5th, augmented 4th, or sharp 11th-- hey at least his interval has a bunch of cool names), the distance of three whole tones, was so dissonant that it was deemed 'diabolicus en musica'. The devil in music. Or, the devil's interval. You play that interval in church and as sure as the rooster cries at dawn, the gates of hell are going to open up and Lucifer, Beelzebub, and all their little demon helpers are going to come to earth and skewer us all and roast us in the sulphurous flames of the underworld.
In a dominant 7th chord, the interval creating the tension in the chord is going from the 3rd to the flat 7th-- the distance of a tritone. B to F, in the key of C. Perfect resolution is created by going from the V chord to the I chord, leaving that chord containing the devil's interval and coming back 'home', as some people have called it. Perhaps it's one of those life imitating art imitating life situations. You have to leave the life of a wretch and repent.
Fast forward 500 years or so later and to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The 1950s were a time of exotic colors on curvaceous, arguably sexy cars; leather jackets, cigarette smoking, and the electric guitar. Rock and roll was coming into the forefront of American culture, and every well rounded, wholesome mom and dad hated that devil's music their kids were listening to.
Let's be realistic here, rock and roll was white people stealing the blues from black people. Arguably taking what they were doing and watering it down in the typical fashion of those of European descent ('Not Fade Away' is a great song. Does it really groove the way Bo Diddley made that 3:2 clavé groove though? Perhaps that will be a future blog post).
Regardless, the blues was created by musicians with little to no formal training. They didn't know V-I was 'perfect resolution'. They didn't know 8th notes should be evenly spaced, that the shuffle feel was really more a triplet with the middle triplet tied to the first one (or a quarter note to an 8th note if you want to notate it as 12/8). They just knew what sounded good.
They sure as hell didn't know that the I and IV chords of any key are supposed to be *major 7th chords*, not dominant 7ths.
Let's take a step back here. The I-IV-V progression, on which the majority of pop/folk music is based, is only supposed to have one dominant 7th chord: the V. Every chord in the blues is a dominant 7th.
That means every chord in the blues contains the devil's interval.
Rock and roll is just blues being played by white people.
Following that line of reasoning, rock and roll truly *is* the devil's music, and that's ok.
Adam Douglass has been playing guitar for 25 years and teaching for a good 20. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York where he is an instructor; and plays with his band doing his original music, jazz standards, or whatever other gigs might come his way. His guitar of choice is the Fender Stratocaster, though if money were no object he'd have 3 or 4 of everything. He prefers tube screamer-like overdrives and clean boosts, with touch of analog delay. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org, as he is always happy to discuss interesting topics.