Improve Your Bass Improvisation ~ by Mike Overly

September 3, 2015

Bass FretBoardEven if you know the key signature of the song you are going to play, you still don’t know what key you are in because one key signature represents two keys: major and relative minor. And even after you analyze the song and know the key you are in, you still won’t be able to improvise because to do that you need to know what scale to play. As we will learn in this lesson, that’s not always a simple choice. So, let’s begin with the traditional view of music, which starts with…

12 Sounds, 21 Symbols and 15 Keys – by Mike Overly

January 20, 2015

Math ParabolaOne octave has 12 sounds and 21 letter, tone, and staff note symbols: 7 (natural) + 7# (sharp) + 7b (flat) = 21 symbols. Now, the question becomes: are there 21 major scales?  The simple answer is yes – but to spell them we need more than 21 symbols. For example, we can easily play a G# major scale, but to spell it we need a double sharp symbol: G# A# B# C# D# E# F##.  The same is true for the Fb major scale: easy to play, but to spell it a double flat is needed: Fb Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db Eb.  Said a different way, the reason why there are only 15 traditional major scales is because there are only 21 symbols from which to spell – and you can only spell 15 major scales with those 21 symbols! In other words, to spell any other major scales, not listed below, we would need additional double sharp and double flat symbols.

Notice that even though each major scale has a different letter spelling, they all have the same tone number spelling: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. Traditional music theory call tone numbers, scale degrees. The different letter spellings are the result of applying the major scale interval pattern (2 frets – 2 frets – 1 fret, 2 frets – 2 frets – 2 frets – 1 fret) to each of the 15 traditional major scale letter spellings. In other words, there are 15 major scales, in 15 major keys, that are known by their 15 major key signatures. See Guitar EncycloMedia page 15.

15 Major Scale

For now, key will simple be the letter of tone 1, also known as the root or the tonic. For example, if we are in the key of C major, then the letter C is tone 1, and the key signature is 7 naturals. In the next lesson we will learned how to connect 12 sounds and 21 symbols on the fretboard, in a perfect 4th and perfect 5th interval sawtooth pattern. But for now, let’s illustrate this 4th and 5th interval pattern as a “circle” of 15 perfect 4th and perfect 5th related major keys and relative minor keys.


It’s important to remember that up a perfect fourth arrives at the same letter as down a perfect fifth, but sounds one octave higher in pitch. In contrast, down a perfect fourth arrives at the same letter as up a perfect fifth, but sounds one octave lower in pitch. This is known as the rule of nine. What becomes apparent as we look at this new parabolic view of of 4ths and 5ths, is that the “circle” of 4th & 5th intervals is not a circle at all, but rather a parabola! Simply stated, a parabola is two curved lines that start at the same place, in this case C, but end at two different places, in this case Cb and C#. The parabola view shows us an important fact — the only way to create a circular motion is to modulate (change keys) at one of the three enharmonic keys: Db/C#, Gb/F# or Cb/B and continue in the same direction toward “home.”  See Guitar EncycloMedia page 42.

The point of all this will become more meaningful when we begin to explore harmony progressions.

’til next time, have some parabolic fun, no matter what key you’re in… I’ll be listening!

Seven Ideas For One Sound – by Mike Overly

December 16, 2014

Do Re MiLet’s state the case simply, symbolic music is complex. By symbolic music, I mean the written symbols and signs of music and guitar that are needed to produce one sound. This lesson will present seven ideas needed to play a melody. Harmony uses additional symbols and signs and will be presented later in a different lesson. So, stay tuned.

Symbolic music on guitar is complicated because it takes seven ideas to make one sound: 1. key letter, 2. time signature, 3. tempo, 4. dynamic, 5. tone number, 6. note or rest, and 7. strum. Before we go any further, let’s ask a simple question: What is the difference between a thought and an idea? For many, this question may seem a bit esoteric, but really it isn’t. Think of it this way. A thought is an energy that moves in time through the space of the mind to find an idea to bring back to the thinker. Here’s an example. Consider this question as a thought: How much is 1 + 1? Now, consider the answer as an idea: more than 1. Easy enough, the thought question found the answer idea and brought it back to the thinker. Let’s continue. I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t answer the question the way you were probably expecting me too. This is because all that is needed to answer the question, how much is 1 + 1, is the concept of “oneness.” In other words, 1 + 1 is more than 1. Or, said a different way, how much more than one is 1 + 1? The answer is again 1. The point is, we don’t need to learn or know anything new to answer the question… 1 is all we need!This “1 + 1 is more than 1” example is analogous to Russian Nesting Dolls. By that I mean, after we know that 1 + 1 is 1 more than 1, we can “nest” the concept of “one more than one” into a new word… two. In other words, after all that thinking about 1 + 1, we can now simply say the number 2!I can hear you asking, “What does all this have to do with playing music on the guitar?” Well, here’s what. Consider this thought question: How do I make one sound on the guitar? And it’s idea answer: “nest” seven ideas. Let’s say it again, symbolic music is complex because it takes seven ideas just to play one sound! To help organize these seven ideas, we’ll divide them into two groups.

In the first group, before you play, there are three ideas needed: key letter, time signature and tempo. In the second group, as you play, there are four ideas needed: dynamic, tone number, note or rest, and strum. Let’s look at each of these seven ideas one at a time.

The first idea is key. Key is simply the letter of tone 1, and is symbolized by a letter in a circle. Let’s compare this with the “key-signature” of traditional staff-notation.

Traditional staff-notation uses a 5 line staff, a clef and a key signature which limits you to playing a song in only one key! In contrast, the revolutionary Tone Note® Music Method does not utilize a staff, a clef or a key signature. By eliminating these elements, you can play any song in any key! This is impossible with traditional staff-notation. Here’s why. The key signature represents the unseen letters of the staff, and when you change the key signature, all the unseen staff-note letters change. This is not the case with the Tone Note® Music Method, because when you change the key, all the tone numbers remain the same, and only the letter of tone 1 changes. Let’s proceed.

After the key letter is known, the second idea is the time signature. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same stacked meter and value time-signature as traditional staff-notation.

The third idea is tempo, the rate of speed of the steady beat. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same beats-per-minute sign as traditional staff-notation.

Now, let’s review the three ideas needed before you play “nested” into one thought: key, time signature and tempo.

Next, let’s present the four ideas that are needed as you play. The first idea is the dynamic sign, which tells you how quiet or loud to play a sound. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same dynamic signs as traditional staff-notation, for example: piano (quiet), forte (loud), mezzo-piano (medium quiet), and mezzo-forte (medium loud). It’s interesting to note that traditional staff-notation does not use mezzo (medium) by itself, but only as a qualifier to piano and forte. I find that curious.

And here’s something strange. Traditional staff-notation defines the dynamic sign piano as soft, and forte as loud. This doesn’t make any sense. Here’s why. Ask your child this question: What is the opposite of loud? I’m sure they said quiet and not soft. So, how did traditional staff-notation get the dynamics of acoustics wrong? In other words, why does traditional staff-notation teach loud and soft, but never quiet and hard? The simple answer is, they confused force with dynamic. It helps to think of it this way. While it’s true that on an acoustic instrument a hard force is necessary to produce a loud sound, and a soft force is needed to produce a quiet sound, force and dynamics are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.

Okay, now that we know that dynamics is quiet and loud, the second idea is pitch as tone number. In traditional staff-notation a tone number is called a scale-degree. Simply stated, tone 1 is the key letter and is the first sound of any scale.

The third idea is rhythm, and it has two components: the note of sound, and the rest of silence. The Tone Note® Music Method uses the same notes and rests as traditional staff-notation, for example: quarter, half, dotted-half, and whole. The fourth idea is not a music idea, but rather a guitar idea: strum. Four strums are needed to play guitar efficiently: two strokes: down and up, and two ghosts: down and up. A stroke is a strum which produces a sound and a ghost is a strum that produces no sound. Now, let’s review the four ideas needed as you play into one thought: dynamic, tone number, note or rest and strum.Okay, let’s end this lesson by “nesting” the seven ideas needed to play one sound into one recapitulated thought: 1. key, 2. time signature, 3. tempo,4. dynamic, 5. tone number, 6. note or rest, and 7. strum.

’til next time, have some thought and idea fun… I’ll be listening!

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