March 13th, 2005


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jimbojones
11:14 pm - transplanted musical rant
Part of the reason I get so fucking frustrated in Music Appreciation sometimes is that the entire field is just incredibly contrived around bizarre centuries-old idiosyncracies that nobody even questions any more.

An "octave" is not eight intervals... it's twelve.  A KEY, however, is eight notes OUT of that octave.

A sharp and B flat are the same note... referred to in two entirely different ways.  WHY?  If there's only one note, shouldn't you pick one notation and stick with it?  If you're going to refer to both A sharp and B flat, shouldn't they each be the same distance away from B and from A, but not quite all the way to the midpoint in between A and B?

These are relatively minor gripes though... here's the one that REALLY kills me.  So there are twelve intervals in an octave - six full steps, each with a half step in between, for a total of twelve.  Okay.  And we notate this using a letter for the full step, and a sharp or a flat to modify that full step to produce the proper half step, so that you have A, A sharp, B... all relatively logical, right?

Well, sort of.  Except that, randomly, instead of being noted A B C D E F, with a sharp or a flat in between each full note interval... there randomly isn't such a thing as B# or E#.  You don't actually skip the FREQUENCY, mind you - the frequency shift between one note and the next is the same no matter what - but you don't have a B# or an E# in much the same way that you don't have a 13th floor on a lot of skyscrapers.  You do, but somebody just shifted the damn numbers around and put a 14 on it instead of a 13.

So what should be a simple task - picking out the notes in a key - turns into a fucking nightmare.  In a major key, you pick out the notes by full step intervals, except for a half step at the third and seventh notes.  For a minor key, it's the same thing, except the half steps are at the second and fifth intervals.  Now, if things were noted sensibly - from A to F with sharps for each half step - the key of E major would look like this:

E F A A# B# C# D# E

Simple, right?  But no, the notes run from A to G with B# and E# missing, so it looks like this:

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

Yeah, it took me five minutes of screwing up and going back to get that right, because you have to not only deal with where you move forward a half step and where you move forward a full step, but where the notation LOOKS like you went forth a full step, but you really only went forward a half step.  Or where you have to move what looks like a step and a half to go one.

IN.  FREAKING.  SANE.

And music majors?  By and large, they don't even know/notice this is weird.  And may require significant amounts of explanation to understand why this is weird.  B# and E# "just aren't."

Sigh.
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Comments:



 
[User Picture] From: agentsteel53
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:31 pm
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listen to metal. It uses all the notes... including B# and E#


 
[User Picture] From: jimbojones
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:35 pm
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Stop confusing the peons... there are no B# or E# whether you're using polychromatic scales or not.


 
[User Picture] From: agentsteel53
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:38 pm
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ha all I know is it uses all 12, and apparently this was something revolutionary.

my familiarity with musical theory is exceeded by my familiarity with having breasts.


 
From: jimbojones
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:43 pm
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From: agentsteel53
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:44 pm
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From: jimbojones
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:59 pm
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From: agentsteel53
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 09:01 pm
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From: jimbojones
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 09:05 pm
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From: agentsteel53
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 09:10 pm
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From: museumfreak
Date: March 23rd, 2005 - 10:03 am
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From: (Anonymous)
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:40 pm
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[User Picture] From: jimbojones
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:44 pm
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... hey man, izzat Freedom Rock?


 
[User Picture] From: sanguine37
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 08:46 pm
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I felt the same frustration when I was teaching myself to play bass. Rhett's helpful comment? "Pretty much stuck with it now, aren't we?" So, yeah. Don't search for logic in this one. It's just dumb dumb dumb.


 
[User Picture] From: discogravy
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 09:04 pm
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actually,

It's a matter of notation; you actually can find scores with notes written as B# and Cb and E# (to "keep it in key" or to make it easier to sight-read[1]) but these are few are far between (just like scores that have time signatures written as 1/4 for a few bars or something.) Because pretty much all I ever spent serious time studying and playing was Jazz, Blues and Rock, I am personally much more comfortable in flat keys (because those styles tend to lean more towards flat keys,) than sharp keys, but yes those notes can be tossed in pretty much on a whim, especially if you're trying to keep something tied into a specific scale (for thematic coherence or whatever,) you're much more likely to write a fucked up Cb, rather than the note everyone knows as B natural. If you look at a piano keyboard, you get to see which notes are the accidentals (sharps and flats) really easy because they're the black keys, but if you look at a western stringed-and-fretted instrument[2], you see that each note is it's own fret and the difference between a full step and a half step is the extra fret. Playing guitar in standard tuning is pretty much learning patterns and letting your hands fall into them without doing so consiously.[1]

As far as music majors not understanding why this is weird, consider that the english language doesn't make sense half the fucking world (with good fucking reason, we have the world's first fucking mutt language), but you don't normally consider it weird in any way. You spend time immersed in something, all the weirdness becomes second nature.



[1] for e.g., lets say you have a bar full of nothing but sharp notes, and the note you need to play is F, but that doesn't fit in the key traditionally you can pass this off as a "transitional atonal note" (think of it as "the end justifies the means" as applied to getting to a specific musical place,) or you can just say fuck it and write the damn thing as E# to make sure that poor widdle wiolinist doesn't get his tiny brain in a knot.)

[2] because fretless isntruments make it less obvious and eastern instruments like the sitar don't even use a 12-tone scale

[3] inventive guitarists of note: Django Reinhart, the gypsy flamenco/swing guitarist who had two usable fingers on his left hand and three on his right; Leo Kottke; Chet Atkins; Robert DeLeo (yes, of Stone Temple Pilots -- despite being a rock guitarist and therefore fairly limited in stylistic scope, all his solos are fairly quirky and musically very unconventional.)


 
[User Picture] From: jimbojones
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 09:11 pm
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Re: actually,

You're missing the point... and thereby proving mine.

you're much more likely to write a fucked up Cb, rather than the note everyone knows as B natural.
THAT's the fucked up part: C flat shouldn't be the same thing as B natural, it should be the same thing as B sharp. The same way B flat is the same thing as A sharp, or D sharp is the same thing as E flat.

There are chunks missing out of the notation with no corresponding chunks missing out of the actual sonic range, and there's no fucking reason for it whatsoever. The notation SHOULD read A, A#, B, B#, C, C#, D, D#, E, E#, F, F# and that would cover the octave - not A through G# with B# and E# randomly missing.


 
From: clme
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 11:13 pm
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Re: actually,



 
[User Picture] From: herbaliser
Date: March 13th, 2005 - 09:48 pm
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i didn't think it was weird either....

if i didn't have a killer headache right now i'd bust out my Musical Physics notes and explain it all to you. but you'll have to wait.


 
[User Picture] From: katyakoshka
Date: March 14th, 2005 - 10:51 am
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Re: i didn't think it was weird either....

Same here on the not-thinking-it-weird, but I learned to play flute at 10-11, and soprano/tenor recorder at 12-13. Can pick out songs on piano haphazardly.

No musical physics to 'splain it all (though now I'm going to have a new "look up books I might never read" campaign on Amazon, most likely -- thanks). So want to take some musical theory classes.

But I always accepted it without thinking it weird; though there was an odd logic to it, somehow.


 
From: jimbojones
Date: March 14th, 2005 - 12:11 pm
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Re: i didn't think it was weird either....



 
From: katyakoshka
Date: March 14th, 2005 - 12:50 pm
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Re: i didn't think it was weird either....



 
From: jimbojones
Date: March 14th, 2005 - 12:16 pm
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Re: i didn't think it was weird either....



 
From: katyakoshka
Date: March 14th, 2005 - 12:51 pm
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Re: i didn't think it was weird either....



 
[User Picture] From: the_al
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 09:58 am
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*steps in as a music major*

Hee. As a musician, I see that you are turning into a tech person and thinking of this all WAAYY too logically. ;) This is a really long reply but since I'm a music teacher, I can't help but take the opportunity to try and help you out. Use whatever of this advice might help you.

You're right, an octave isn't eight INTERVALS, but it is eight NOTES. It spans the same distance on a keyboard as a chromatic scale, but while a chromatic scale uses all 13 notes (if you repeat the starting pitch), an octave skips some of them in a certain pattern, depending on if you're major, minor, etc. It does, however, use every single LETTER NAME you can. You should also be sitting at a piano when you do this, and it will help you visualize what you're doing.

When you write a scale (major or minor), the first thing you should do is ignore all that "There is no B#" business (O Logical One ;) ) and write the letters alphabetically starting with whatever key you're in. For example: C major. C D E F G A B C. Then put in your sharps and/or flats as needed to make the scale have the proper intervals. For this scale, none needed. A major scale has whole and half intervals in the following pattern: Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Whole-Half. So the first whole step is between C and D, then D and E, the first half step is between E and F, and so on. (Which I think you get that part, but I'm just noting it in a different way.) You can do the same thing in any other key...say...E flat.Written alphabetically, E F G A B C D E -- then put your flats in the right place. In this case, the key of E flat has three flats. Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb.

Unless you're writing a chromatic scale, you should only have letters ONCE, no repeats.

Memorizing your key signatures really is your best way to go about this....my familiarity with an instrument allows me to build scales this way because I can "finger through" the notes as I would on flute, figuring out where my whole and half steps are if I'm having a moment and can't remember what would come next for my half steps or something. But unless you have that kind of familiarity (or can accurately reproduce a keyboard with black and white keys in the right order), it's just easier to memorize key signatures.

Here's a way to memorize them:

Major keys: The key of C is always no sharps no flats. The key of F is always one flat. then you get them in the same order they show up on the staff: Bb Eb Ab Db Gb (Cb Fb). (We teach kids to use the mnemonic "bead greatest common factor", but remember C and F are exceptions to this rule.) Sharps show up as (F# C#) G# D# A# E# B#, and that mnemonic is Five Cats Got Dinner At Ed Brown's", (remember the F and C exception) or whatever works best for you.

OR, if you have to look at a key signature and figure out what key you're in you can do the following. If you're in a flat key, take away the LAST FLAT NOTED and you'll have your key. For example. Four flats, Bb Eb Ab Db. Take away Db. You're in the key of Ab major.

Sharps, just go up half a step from your LAST SHARP NOTED. For example, three sharps - F# C# G#. Go up half a step. Key of A major.

Another random note: hen you say a chromatic scale ascending, you use sharps. When you say the scale descending, you use flats. so C C# D D#....etc., but then descending is C B Bb A Ab G....etc. This doesn't apply to major scales...they're the same both ways.

I hope some of this helped at least a LITTLE. We music majors don't question the scales so much as we question the clef changes. I mean, seriously. Why is a bass clef staff three notes different than a treble clef staff?! Next lesson: How to tell the difference between harmonic, melodic, and natural minor scales. ;)


 
[User Picture] From: jimbojones
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 11:31 am
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Re: *steps in as a music major*

Right... but you just spent 718 words explaining what could have been explained in roughly 20 if we were using sensible notation. =)

It's like Roman numerals, man. Yeah, it works if you learn it, but it's so much freaking EASIER to use Arabic notation that doesn't require such an incredible investment in initial education and in constant thinking-through afterwards.


 
From: the_al
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 02:04 pm
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Re: *steps in as a music major*



 
From: jimbojones
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 06:30 pm
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Re: *steps in as a music major*



 
From: the_al
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 02:11 pm
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And also...



 
From: jimbojones
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 06:18 pm
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Re: And also...



 
[User Picture] From: ibbyskibby
Date: March 15th, 2005 - 08:17 pm
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<- huge music theory dork

It's a lot easier if you have a picture of a keyboard in front of you. That way you can see exactly what's going on. Label each key on the keyborad in order, taking into thought enharmonic pitches. So you would have [C C#/Db D D#/Eb E E#/F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B]. For the keys of G, D, A, E, and B, use the sharp names. For the keys of F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and Gb, use the flat names. Go through, starting on the first pitch of the scale, follow your whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half pattern, and write down the corresopnding note names. And once you get past the names, you can easily see written out as notes on a staff how there is one note per line or space, no doubling up. (Meaning, there's no reason to have, in common practice music, an E followed by an E# because they'd both be on the bottom line of the treble clef.) You've still got all 12 notes, you just need to know what to call them, based on their function in the scale.
The reason music majors (such as myself) don't notice the lack of E# and B# is mostly because we know what a major scale is supposed to sound like and how to reproduce that sound. It's like second nature. You know immediately if something isn't right.
And there are Roman numerals in music theory. Just wait until you get to Roman numeral analysis based on tertian harmony (if you're going that far).


 
[User Picture] From: the_al
Date: March 16th, 2005 - 06:07 am
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Point taken....

....I wasn't thinking of removing G from the equation. And yes, you're right about Roman numerals.

However, I still disagree on the scale stuff. Using the Circle of Fifths for key signatures (http://cnx.rice.edu/content/m10865/latest/ for a link though I'm assuming you have a chart in your music book) will still yield you logical results, and as ibbyskibby says above, you'll be better off without doubling up on any of the letter names. (She also explained what I said in about half the words. :) ) It also shows the way musical keys relate to each other, and though they are the building blocks of musical composition, you have to think of music beyond scales -- it's much more logical to build chords this way, and it really does make life a heck of a lot easier to have one note per letter when you're playing/writing it. Remembering that in the key of C, all your E's are natural versus "sometimes they're sharp, sometimes they aren't" makes for much easier performance.

And still most importantly, which she also pointed out, use a piano.


 
[User Picture] From: jimbojones
Date: March 16th, 2005 - 08:53 am
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Re: Point taken....

Remembering that in the key of C, all your E's are natural versus "sometimes they're sharp, sometimes they aren't" makes for much easier performance.
Sure it does... in the key of C. What if you want to play a piece in the key of C minor? Or A(major)? Or... or... or...


 
From: the_al
Date: March 16th, 2005 - 06:45 pm
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Re: Point taken....



 
From: jimbojones
Date: March 16th, 2005 - 07:28 pm
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Re: Point taken....



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