John Cadd

A Visual Guide to Keys and Scales.

March 16, 2015 17:43

My violin teacher once said "The hardest part of violin playing is knowing where to put your fingers."

I had a very patchy start to connecting music theory with violin playing. Like many amateur players, there were times when the violin was left untouched for work and family. Eventually, I decided to get it all sorted out, but the formal scale books used by examination boards left me cold. Every page looked the same. They explained nothing. What about all the notes below the first note of each scale? There was a gap between the music sheet and the fingerboard. If you know the answers the questions are easy .

My first effort was to make a sort of calculator from plastic cards, the sort that came before electronic calculators. You pushed a slider along with a pointer and read the answer.

The scale calculator slider had holes with the spacing to match a major scale. The slider also showed in a hole above which key was being used. The plastic was white, so all natural notes showed black from the background pattern. All sharps or flats showed red from the background pattern.

A small violin calculator was made first. Then a larger version for guitar followed.

( Photos of guitar version to show here what all that looked like ).

But that only showed a fingerboard and fretboard image. The idea to combine the fingerboard/fretboard and classical music notation, on paper, was next to pop out of my subconscious. None of this was pre-planned.

F major

The fretboard image needed to tilt across the music stave. The guitar was my main interest in this. I had just started to learn and wanted access to all the high notes and chords.

Lots of experimental geometry followed, until a reasonable compromise was settled on. (Even Bach was not too concerned if his bar lines were not exactly vertical!) The note shape was made oval to match the fingertip shape. Each "string " was given a colour, just for clarity. Fourteen sheets (one for each key ) seemed a lot, but only using one at a time was more user friendly than a calculator. The sheets gave the note on the music and the place on the fretboard at the same time -- just like adjusting your eyes for near or far vision.

The sheets can be sent by e-mail and printed out, so that was a bonus. The enharmonic keys are much easier to understand. Every major scale note from the lowest open string upwards is included. Keynotes are circled. Each page has the correct key signature.

Here are links to the pages, which progress upwards, one semitone at a time:

G major
Ab major
A major

Bb major
The Bb major top 4 notes should be a semitone higher. My clerical error . Sorry about that .
Notice this error was only wrong in the music sense. In the finger position on the string sense it was still ok.

B major
C major
C# major
D major
Eb major
E major
F major
F# major
Gb major

(Here is where you can find all of them in one album.)

This helped me to catch up and organise a large, loosely connected mass of information into a manageable shape. The grid pattern can be adapted for arpeggios, chords etc. As it stands, they just show what notes are contained in each major key. Visual recognition of the patterns across the strings is especially useful.

If you look in many guitar books, you find diagrams that resemble radio circuits to explain all this. This is the cure for Tabs. It puts traditional music notation back in the front again where it belongs.

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Previous entries: February 2010

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