Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Mind" -> The Scale Of Music Part VI

So far we have been examining the scale. I think most shocking thing about the scale is understanding that the structure doesn't spread the notes equally across the keyboard. The most important thing about the scale is that it is lumpy regardless if it sounds smooth.

As a review, any major scale is made up of the following: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. You will often see this abreviated as ws, ws, hs, ws, ws, ws, hs. To review this, a tetrachord is a ws, ws, hs. So a scale is simply two tetrachords separated by a whole step.

The two most popular instruments today is guitar derived instruments and piano derived instruments. There is little doubt that the guitar player is much more close to his instrument. They are lighter, cheaper, the are tuned by the player, and they are more microtonial. On a piano you are always going to get the same short term notes. On the guitar you can bend notes to get a greater degree of note variation.

It is also impossible to hide these note gaps on the guitar. If you go back to my last post, I showed you a keyboard, and I removed a note to show you the parallel structure of the octave. The piano is very deceptive, since it base based on the idea that there was a "perfect" scale. Since that scale had half notes in it, we wanted to hide the half notes. Therefore, all the keys are white, and on the piano the half step note looks just like a full step, in our C scale.

However, trying to hide it really wasn't in the cards for guitar. The guitar is a much more simple instrument. A fret board and a way of tightening strings. On the guitar it is very obvious because you must jump over a fret to get a full step. Now, there is a beauty about the guitar. Since all the steps are equally spaced as half steps, you can't really "hide" a whole or half step. You know exactly where the half steps and the wholes steps are. This gives a the very beginning guitar player a problem if he is being compared with the piano player out the gate playing in C. While the piano player only has seven even spaced keys to press, the guitar player has to remember that he only jumps a half step between the E note and the F note. However, as soon as the piano player gets off the C scale, suddenly he needs to start using all those black notes notes.

C scales has no black note.
G has one black note.
D has two black notes
A has three black notes

You continue this special assortment of black notes all the way through the 12 major scales. So, just to get the major scales down you have to memorize 12 different patterns. If you throw the natural minor scale, harmonic minor, and melodic minor on top of the major, you will have 48 different keys that you will need to memorize.

Let me say that again.

12 starting notes
4 different scales (and the melodic minor actually is two different scales, different on up and down)

= 48 different scales

Each scale is going to have different fingering.

Now, let's look at our friendly guitar. Once you have the fingering down for a C scale on a guitar, you have the fingering figured out for all the other scales also. In the picture on the left from the ScaleFinder Website, they will show you the fingering for any scale that you want. In this case, I took two pictures of a guitar with the scales on it. You can see that the D scale is just two frets above the C scale. So, the entire scale moves right on the fret board. Nothing changes in your fingering, other than the fret board is a bit smaller because you moved closer to the bottom of the guitar.

Unlike the piano, there is no major fingering change. To get all the fingering in a guitar, you need to learn one major scale and three minor scales. Then all you need to do to start another scale is to move to a different starting point.

Therefore, it would seem that the guitar would be the superior instrument. Right? It has a much easier to learn keyboard that you can move to any scale.

However, the guitar has some serious problems. The biggest problem is that it takes two hands to play it. One hand must hold down the right note, and the other one adds the power to the string to make the noise. The piano transfers the energy from pressing a key into a mechanism that hits the string to make a noise. This is a fundamental issue with the guitar. You can only pick two or three notes at any one time, so the music is simply not as dense as a nice piano piece.

Well, almost.

Guitarists have longed for the density capability of the piano. With the advent of amplification, it was found out that you could make a nice sound by simply tapping a string. So rather than having to hold and pluck, the guitarist simply holds down a string, and that striking motion will generate a sound. Now, the sound is very quiet, but with amplification, it can be made loud.

If you youtube "guitar tapping" you will see people doing just this. The interesting thing about guitar tapping is that it takes a guitar and turns it into a keyboard. These guys are simply pushing down on the string like a keyboardist would push down on a key.

The one problem with a guitar is that keyboards are very abstracted from the signal. This is why keyboards are the popular choice for synthesizers. As soon as you get to a synth, pressing a key doesn't trigger a hammer to hit a string. It triggers a piece of software. Often that software may sound like a cello, a square wave, or trumpet. It may even sound like a guitar.

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