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The simple Math of Music

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JJ Rocks Article # 6: The Simple Math of Music

No matter how you write music down, whether it is standard notation, tab or ancient hieroglyphics, it all boils down to the same thing. The sound of the music comes first, then the written version. I feel that too many people get that backwards. It seems that a lot of us believe that written music should be in command of the actual performance. Not true. Even if this performance is just in your head and goes right to the paper, the sound still came first.

We all know that writing something down is sometimes crucial to memorizing a piece of music. But I teach my students that its only an aid for learning, and not to be used for performing.(that is unless someone throws a song at you on your break at a gig that youve never heard before and youre forced to use duck tape and a bar napkin) Just think about being at a party and somebody hands you a guitar and you have to say I dont have my music book with me. I wouldnt want to be that guy. And how about that one band you see sometimes that sounds good but theyre always reading out of their books. Thats when you think, Theyve been playing those songs for a long time. Why are they still reading the music? Now Im not talking about a band made up of students who are still learning a song. Im talking about players that have been around for awhile.

So, besides loving your music, what else helps you to remember the music that you want to play? The answer lies in what music really is. Its sound plus simple math. Whats written on paper is just a visual interpretation. That used to be the only way to record music. Now its used by most of us to only help retain it. Heres an easy way not only to remember the structure of a melody, (not the rhythm, that can be done by ear) but it also helps you understand the basic math involved. So, for the beginner to intermediate students, lets go over an easy formula system.

Lets say you already know how to do a major scale on your instrument in at least one key. (Unlike guitar players, some instruments have to completely change their fingering for different keys) Now play your scale in just two octaves. Seeing how most melodies fall within a two octave range, Ill write out the scale steps for a two octave major scale. Since the scale steps 1 and 8 overlap, we can use the word root. (R) By the way, I request that my students remember the rhythm of a melody. Come on, you dont want to have to write down everything!

Starting with the root (R), up to the next root of course is one octave. There are dots on the bottom of the numbers (R234567R) represent the steps in your lower octave. They are only used on top starting from the high root and when you go above the upper octave. From the middle root to the seven there are no dots and it represents your upper octave. When you reach the end of your upper (second) octave, theres a dot on top for your high root. Sometimes a melody will reach above the upper octave, so just keep your dots on the top of the scale steps for those notes. So, within two octaves there are three roots. Its a piece of cake.

Now the trick is to remember the names of the scale steps and not just a finger pattern. Just go slow and say them out loud like, low root, low two, and low three and so on up to the middle root. Then from the middle root, count up to the high root by just saying the numbers and not using the word low. Be sure to say high root when you get to the top. Most melodies will revolve around one octave and just venture a little into the next. Lets start by mostly using the upper octave and a little of the lower one. I write them in easy to understand phases using small groups of numbers.

So by now you should be getting the hang of it. Now, hum something that you know real well and find what scales steps the melody falls on. Then write it down to help you remember the song. If the melody falls in between any of the scale steps, just use the step above that note and add a flat.

Example: R, 3, 5, b7 (flat 7) Of course a flat seven would be between steps 6 and 7, seeing on how theres a whole step between those notes. Well, just listen close, practice, and watch your steps! And dont forget, you are what you play, not what you read!

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