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Thread: Tackling the basic memory of chord/scales

  1. #1
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    Tackling the basic memory of chord/scales

    I feel as if I should be further along in theory, but im having a hard time moving ahead in memory. I can usually figure out chords, then find the scales, but it takes a minute or two to think about it. I would like to be able to know the degree of each scale instantly from memory, then you can obviously take any major chord, and manipulate it to minor, diminished, etc. Same with scales, if you have every degree memorized, you can just take a major scale, and alter the nessisary degrees to get a minor, or whatever you are trying to accomplish

    Do you agree with this path of learning theory, thru rememberizing the scale degrees of every major scale?

    And if I was to start on studying this (Im hoping to write them all out, and work on them like daily for afew hours, maybe even flashcards, just to reinforce it into my brain til its something I never forget) But where do you start?

    Also, due to Key signatures, its hard to tell in major, how many like letters there actually are to know.. since if your using your circle of 5ths, it repeats some, like Cb is B, yet both are there. along with F# and Gb, and

    So going by letter name, Is this the correct list of all the major scales that would need to be memorized in order to accomplish this task?

    from circle of fifths, theres C G D A E B F# C# - F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb.. Are those the only ones you would have to know? or would you also have to add in all the sharps other than F# and C#, along with Fb?

    Any help is appreciated

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    ....I would like to be able to know the degree of each scale instantly from memory, then you can obviously take any major chord, and manipulate it to minor, diminished, etc. Same with scales, if you have every degree memorized, you can just take a major scale, and alter the necessary degrees to get a minor, or whatever you are trying to accomplish

    Do you agree with this path of learning theory, thru remembering the scale degrees of every major scale?
    Would be great if I could do that, but, really it is not necessary. Our band will use the keys of G, D, A and sometime F. I capo the F songs and play in D. Our lead and bass will play a pure F scale/key, but this keeps us in the Major scale of G, D, A and F. I just checked and we have 205 songs in our gig book. More than enough to keep me happy.

    Do I agree with the path you outline, no not really. I think it is overkill and not necessary unless you find your self in the same leaque as Satriani or Petrucci. But I function way lower than that.

    You can spend your time learning all of that or you can spend your time playing some songs. I've elected to play some songs and if there is something new I need to learn, then I'll go learn what ever that is when I need it. In the mean time I'm having fun playing songs.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 08-27-2007 at 01:32 AM.

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    shoulda mentioned in the near future, Im going to be in a course for music arts at a college. so I will be doing alot of theory based stuff, so its not just for my playing, but to help me function faster and respond faster in class or assignments. I wish I could just write every song in 2 keys, but also with the wide array of genres I play, I would benefit from remembering thru memory as much as possible.

  4. #4
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Theory certainly makes much more sense and is much easier to actually use if you internalize all of the keys. Some people just don't care to really learn theory and keys, others consider it a gateway skill to all sorts of things.

    One way to start it to write out all the major scales (15) up to and including 7 sharps and seven flats. Once you've written them all out and checked them for accuracy, throw the written scales away and write them (calculate them) all over again. Repeat until you are able to calculate any major scale. Eventually play around with the double sharp and double flat keys as well just so you'll learn why the common keys are the common keys and how to convert a double sharp or double flat key to one of the common keys instantly.

    Work on the scales in any order that makes sense to you at the start for a couple of weeks, then work on them in order of the cycle of 5ths.

    As far as memorization, different people respond to various techniques in different ways, . . you'll have to experiment to find out what works for you. My method is to study something for very short periods of time, but many times throughout the day. So rather than study something for an hour in one shot, I might work it for 2 minutes 30 times a day for a few days, then 1 minute at a time 20 times for a few days. The trick is to make sure you review repeat previous stuff regularly enough that its driven into permanent memory.

    I found the keys easier to internalize once I memorized all of the diatonic triads in all keys (there are only 40 unique triads that cover the 12 most common keys). Doing this on the guitar in all positions was a great way for me to memorize the chord spellings and the fretboard at the same time.

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    Thanks Jed, thats the response I was somewhat looking for.

    So just to clarify, you suggest learning the scales/degrees of every accidental note? like All sharps ( A# B# C# D# E# F# G# ) along with all flats ( Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb) and obviously, naturals A B C D E F G .. So although some of them aren't as common, it could still come up..

    After that, In terms of altering the scale or triad to figure out everything from the major scale, what would you say are the most important aspects for a more jazz based approach.. Off the top of my head right now heres what im assuming

    All based off the Major scale.. altering to :
    -Natural minor
    -Harmonic minor
    -Melodic minor
    -Harmonic major (I believe just a sharped 4th, basically a lydian mode using the actual root note)

    -Major 7th chord
    -Dominate 7th chord
    -Minor 7th
    -Augmented 7
    -Diminished 7
    -Min7b5

    any more other than those are are most common in standard music, and the basis's of theory? If something like a 13th or something comes up, if I already know all those and all scale degrees, it would just be a matter of taking the octave+6th and adding it to what I already know..

  6. #6
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Scales: Yes, do it the way you described first until you can calculate those scales without paper (you don't need to memorize the major scale built off every enharmonic note spelling). Doing that, you'll run straight into the double sharp and double flat keys. While these are rarely used, knowledge of them helps solidify the whole picture of major scales and their construction

    After a week or two of that, look at the scales in the order of the cycle of 5ths. Start with C# to Cb until you can see how the scales relate to the cycle of 5ths. Then you can concentrate on the scales / keys from 6 sharps to 6 flats. (the 12 common keys are 5 sharps to 6 flats)

    Derivations of the above:
    I would then look at the diatonic progressions (as triads) and dial those in for the 12 common keys. Then do the diatonic progressions in terms of 7th chords. Once you know (or can quickly calculate) the diatonic progression in all 12 keys, you may want to look at the chord scales (of the various diatonic chords) which relate to the modes of the major scales (work out all the formulas for the modes relative to the major scale).

    Minor scales:
    Once you know the major scales (and their modes) well enough, the various minor scales are dead simple to learn. I encourage people to concentrate on the major scale and it's modes rather then jump into the Harmonic and Melodic minors too quickly. It's a matter of organization and expedience. Once you really know the major scale inside out (including it's modes) then understanding the Harmonic and Melodic minors is so simple as to hardly be worthy of dedicated study.

    Summary:
    The chord scales will help you to see what extensions are available based on chord function. The modes will prepare you to really understand how and why the minor scales work.

    Do aspire to memorize the major scales in the 12 common keys.
    Do aspire to memorize the diatonic progression (including the chord spellings) for each key in terms of triads and/or 7th chords.
    Do aspire to memorize the modes formulas and eventually the modes for each key as notes rather than just formulas.

    The major scale is the basis of all theory. Everything else can conveniently be derived somehow / some way from the major scale. Don't confuse yourself with all the exotic scales just yet. Their use is limited, while the use of the major scale and it's derivatives is universal. The above alone is enough to get you through any college course with ease.

    Lastly, you are exactly right to think of a 13th as an octave + major 6th.

    Cheers and good luck,
    Last edited by Jed; 08-27-2007 at 06:49 AM.

  7. #7
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    To answer your question on a "more jazz based approach"

    The jazz greats, knew this basic stuff so well that they could see how to re-harmonize chords with such ease as to be able to move between keys almost without thought. Learning the basics (in terms of notes) to the point of complete internalization is the "more jazz based approach". A more popular music / rock approach might be to learn a few keys, their chords and scale patterns and call it "having learned theory".

    The fancy / exotic stuff that is the subject of so many threads on discussion boards, is really only fully useful to those that know the keys very well. Without a deep knowledge of all the keys, the exotic stuff is more akin to "painting by the numbers". It's not creating anything new, it's not developing your voice, it's just copying some one else's canned techniques.

    I'm a skeptic and the kind of guy that always questions authority. I cannot accept rules at face value. So I have to know for myself why things work the way they do. This approach to music has allowed me to see past the wording of the rules to see the reason the rules are described as they are. In actuality, there are few hard and fast rules in music, but there are many tendencies and common sounds based of a relatively small number of diatonic harmony "rules" and techniques. Understanding these things starts with learning the language of notes, chords and the major scale in all keys.

  8. #8
    Registered User Joe Pass Jr's Avatar
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    Learning all your keys and major scales is more valuable than I can describe, however, spending hours working on intervals and modes in F# could be a waste of time considering the amount of time you will be playing in that key. I play jazz 90% of the time, and although I practice in all keys when possible. I know from the get go that I'm only going to be playing in half a dozen or so keys, most of the time. Usually Ab Eb Bb F C G D. So it seems wasteful to spend alot of time practicing things I'm not going to use on the band stand all that much. Thats not to say modes and scales from other keys aren't going to pop up in those keys I mentioned. I'm just saying focus on what you plan to use immediately. Master a few keys, preferably the ones you will be using the most. From there, those remaining keys will more or less be all subconsciously ready to use when the opportunity arises.
    Its not the techniques you use, but the music you make.

  9. #9
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Check this out. Then the articles on this site.

    http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/...ad.php?t=11975

    Good luck.

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jed
    In actuality, there are few hard and fast rules in music, but there are many tendencies and common sounds based of a relatively small number of diatonic harmony "rules" and techniques. Understanding these things starts with learning the language of notes, chords and the major scale in all keys.
    Agree 110%!

    It's also good to be aware that those "tendencies and common sounds" can change for different genres of music.
    While all western music (for the last 2 or 3 hundred years anyway) springs from the properties of the major scale - specifically the way it produces a sense of "key" - a lot of modern popular music (in which I include rock and jazz) has absorbed influences from other cultures.

    So - eg - rock is not harmonically simpler than jazz or classical because rock players are somehow dumber. (Yeah, OK, often they are - aren't we?? ) It's simpler because rock musicians find their interest, their musical expression, elsewhere - eg, in timbres (effects), rhythm, trance-like dance grooves, or plain volume.
    (The role of volume as an essential defining aspect of rock is often overlooked. Some rock has to be loud, or it just isn't rock; it doesn't work, in the same way that some jazz tunes don't work if you simplify the chords, or classical pieces don't work if you shorten or edit them.)

    Other musical cultures around the world achieve sophistication through non-harmonic means. Most African music is incredibly complicated rhythmically, and often timbrally. Indian classical music is complicated formally, melodically and rhythmically. Neither uses any harmony to speak of, other than an indication of a tonal centre.

    No need to go on too much about this in this thread - but just to be aware that some of these aspects have bled through to popular culture in the west. Especially African influences, filtered through the music of blues, reggae, Cuban and Brazilian dance, etc. (all of which highly simply the African inheritance, making it more palatable to western ears, while at the same time liberating us from our addiction to harmony).

    In short, the only rule in music is "it must sound good". But then, what that means varies from genre to genre - which is where it gets complicated, and is where all the other rules come from.
    So we need to be clear what kind of music it is that we want to play.

    Jazz? Yes, learn all 12 major scales (OK, add Cb, C# if you insist ). Yes, learn all 12 melodic minors, and diminished and wholetone too.
    Learn about the difference between functional music (keys and chord "progressions") and modal music (static or slow-moving harmony).
    Learn chords and chord extensions and alterations.
    Above all, learn about improvisation: what, where, how, when and - not least - why. It's the whole point of jazz.

    Rock? That's guitar music, which means only the easier guitar keys tend to be common: G, D, A, E, C, maybe F (Dm anyway). And you rarely need more than triad chords - other than sus chords and the odd 7th.
    Improvisation is less important in rock than in jazz. Many players like to compose solos, and play the same one over and over. (This makes no sense to a jazz musician.)
    But then in rock you need to learn a whole lot about technology: amps and effects, which you don't need in jazz. (OK, you need amps, but only to make yourself loud enough - not to shape your sound very much.)

    Blues? Has a lot of the attitude and feel of jazz, but with simpler material. Little or no harmony (static modal tonalities), simple grooves, vocalised melodies, lots of expressive pitch alteration. Theory is really of no importance here. (There are blues theoretical concepts, but you can - and should - pick it all up from listening, without prejudice.)

    (Oops... didn't I say "in short" up there somewhere...? )
    Last edited by JonR; 08-28-2007 at 03:36 PM.

  11. #11
    Registered User JNehls8's Avatar
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    Question on making Flash cards for this

    When making flash cards to learn each letter that corrisponds to each numeric degree of all keys,Do you make a card for both F# major and minor and Gb major and minor, or just one flash card with F# major and Gb minor (how they appear in the circle of fifths)????...

    This has been bugging me.. It seems it would be easier to remember how many flats or sharps are in the key using the lettering from the circle of fifths but I do not know if it would cause a problem when the key actually calls for me to think Gb Major (like in a Cb key)..... I hope this is understandable

  12. #12
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JNehls8
    When making flash cards to learn each letter that corrisponds to each numeric degree of all keys,Do you make a card for both F# major and minor and Gb major and minor, or just one flash card with F# major and Gb minor (how they appear in the circle of fifths)????...

    This has been bugging me.. It seems it would be easier to remember how many flats or sharps are in the key using the lettering from the circle of fifths but I do not know if it would cause a problem when the key actually calls for me to think Gb Major (like in a Cb key)..... I hope this is understandable
    There's no right or wrong way on this issue, there only what works best for the individual. Ultimately, you'll develop an understanding of enharmonic keys that sees them as separate keys, as enharmonically related keys and in terms of how they relate to various parallel keys.

    For example, I study F# and Gb major as separate keys even though they represent the same pitches but I also see them as the same key, as adjacent to F & G majors as well as in terms of the underlying scale function applied to and F# or Gb tonalities. The goal of course is to know any key well enough to be able to think in terms of note names and scale / melodic or harmonic function rather than be struggling with identifying the note names involved with delivery of those functions.

    Ultimately it's the function that matters, but it's the note names that allows us to manipulate, position and locate those functions to produce interesting music. Sometimes I think it's a shame that the whole key / note name thing is so irregular, but it is what it is. Once you move past keys and note names, the melodic and harmonic sequences are actually quite simple to understand and, from my perspective, the heart and soul of what music is.

    Make no mistake, really learning all the keys is a lot of work and takes a lot of effort and time (measured in years not months). Given the effort involved, it's not surprising that some people rationalize ways to avoid learning all the keys, but for the jazzman the ability to move from one tonal center to another is fundamental to the genre so it's virtually a requirement of the style. Keep in mind that knowing all the keys is more of a compositional or thinking skill than a playing skill. The playing improves along the way, but it's the thinking that is making the difference.

    As with all things, remember the above is just one man's perspective.

    cheers,

  13. #13
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    .....Sometimes I think it's a shame that the whole key / note name thing is so irregular,
    Flash chords or memory pegs. I use memory pegs.
    See God Destroy All Earth By Fiery Chaos is the order of the scales with sharps. C has no sharps, G has 1, D has 2, etc.

    Which sharp. Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds helps with what sharps. Just match up the scale order with the sharp order - C has no sharps, G has one, which one? The F# from fat cats. D has two. Which two? It keeps the F# and adds the C# from Cats, etc.

    How about the flats. Farmer Brown Eats Apple Dumplings Greasily Cooked. Which order and which flat? Look to the right --- F gets a Bb. Bb of course keeps itself and adds the Eb. Eb keeps itself and the Bb and adds the Ab, etc. etc.

    After a while I was able to either remember or tick off - use my fingers and toes - to come up with what sharps and what flats would be involved.

    Now as to using the F# or the Gb. I very seldom use either, and if I did I'd let the pattern and then pattern interval take me to the right notes. Given a choice I'd probably think in sharps instead of flats. But, that is just me I naturally think sharps.

    Flash chords or memory pegs --- I like memory pegs --- use what ever works for you.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 08-29-2007 at 11:41 AM.

  14. #14
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm
    Now as to using the F# or the Gb. I very seldom use either, and if I did I'd let the pattern and then pattern interval take me to the right notes. Given a choice I'd probably think in sharps instead of flats. But, that is just me I naturally think sharps.

    Flash chords or memory pegs --- I like memory pegs --- use what ever works for you.
    The differences between Malcolm's and my approach to these things is a good example of how and why you need to strike your own balance, find something appropriate to your goals.

    Malcolm plays country and normally works in the same three keys most of the time. In Malcolm's case there's is little value to learning all the keys, so he can get by being able to calculate the keys he doesn't know well as they come up. To this end, he has learned some techniques that make it easier for him to remember the order of sharps and flats and to remember the number of sharps and flats in various keys. From these two things he can calculate a key quickly enough or use a capo to serve his purposes. Problem solved.

    I play jazz, fusion, rock and country and it seems each song is in a different key, so I'm forced to work in different keys all the time. Since I need to be able to improv melodically and harmonically, I need to know each key, intimately and equally well in order to play the stuff I like. In my case it's not enough for me to know the correct notes, I have to know the key (in terms of my favorite melodic and harmonic sequences and all the standard modulations, borrowed chords, comping patterns, etc).

    I don't have time to calculate notes so I've chosen to memorize the keys, scales, diatonic progressions and chord spellings. I chose to free my mind from the task of calculating notes so that I can concentrate on transposing various melodic and harmonic sequences (which I organize in terms of their numeric analysis) into the key of the moment or to thinking in terms of motif's, etc.

    Whether one approach is better than the other is determined by how efficiently it addresses the challenges relative to the goals. Malcolm's approach is valid relative to his goals, I believe my approach is valid relative to my goals. My point is this: determine your goals first, then design your studies to achieve those goals.

    I found memorizing the keys in terms of major and minor scales (and hence their scale degrees, intervalic relationships, diatonic progressions and chord spellings) to be a relatively easy (if involved) task. Memorizing these things served my goals and I think makes me more flexible relative to various musical situations. But I learned these things because they served my musical goals, not solely because someone said I should.

    Each of us has unique, goals, aspirations, challenges, abilities and perceptions. So each of us will benefit from an approach focused on our particular needs and wants rather than any kind of one-size-fits-all solution.

    cheers,
    Last edited by Jed; 08-29-2007 at 02:15 PM.

  15. #15
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm
    Flash chords or memory pegs. I use memory pegs.
    See God Destroy All Earth By Fiery Chaos is the order of the scales with sharps. C has no sharps, G has 1, D has 2, etc.

    Which sharp. Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds helps with what sharps. Just match up the scale order with the sharp order - C has no sharps, G has one, which one? The F# from fat cats. D has two. Which two? It keeps the F# and adds the C# from Cats, etc.

    How about the flats. Farmer Brown Eats Apple Dumplings Greasily Cooked. Which order and which flat? Look to the right --- F gets a Bb. Bb of course keeps itself and adds the Eb. Eb keeps itself and the Bb and adds the Ab, etc. etc.

    After a while I was able to either remember or tick off - use my fingers and toes - to come up with what sharps and what flats would be involved.

    Now as to using the F# or the Gb. I very seldom use either, and if I did I'd let the pattern and then pattern interval take me to the right notes. Given a choice I'd probably think in sharps instead of flats. But, that is just me I naturally think sharps.

    Flash chords or memory pegs --- I like memory pegs --- use what ever works for you.
    The mnemonic I like for the order sharps get added in the sharp keys is:
    Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle
    (I.e., you start with an F# for key of G, add C# for key of D, and end with a B# for the 7th sharp in the key of C#.)

    It's neat because it reverses for the flat keys:
    Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles's Father
    (Key F has one flat, Bb; up to key of Cb which has 7, Fb being the last added.)

    It's also worth remembering that for the sharp keys, the new sharp you add is always on the 7th step of the scale.
    For the flat keys, the new flat is the 4th of the scale, which then becomes the keynote of the next scale in the circle.

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