Confusing Names And Symbols

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Let's keep the riff raff out

So we know what to call the white keys on the piano. But what about the black ones in between? Well they actually have two names depending on where you're coming from. "There's no reason to keep it simple" the monks said "The more complicated we make it, the easier it is for us to keep the riff raff out." Let's humor these guys from the past and see what they came up with.

The note in between the C and the D is called either a C sharp or a D flat:

And the black key in between the D and the E is referred to as the D sharp or the E flat:

But the E note can also be called an F flat if you refer to it as the lowered F. This is so stupid though, that if you ever hear anyone say "Hey guys let's stay on that F flat for two more bars" you are entitled to call him a monk an go "The F flat is an E, OK!" Also, instead of simply calling the F the F, you could call it an E sharp, since the E sharp is the same as the F but that would be just as pointless. We could create the same confusion around the B and the C because these two notes don't have any black key in between them either. Let's look at a fretboard example:

In this example all the "white key notes" are yellow and all those in between are grey. They are all named by raising the note below them. The note between F and G, is called F sharp, but it could have been called G flat as well.

"Confusion is the first step to knowledge"


Writing this down

The way to write these down on paper is to write a "#" or a "b" after the letter. So the C sharp would look like this: C#. And the B flat would look like this: Bb. I have no idea why these two symbols won the contest over more logical things like "+" and "-" or how about "u" for "Up" and "d" for "Down?" or they could have chosen the letter "R" for "Raised" and "L" for "Lowered" But none of these, very logical alternatives, were sophisticated enough for our monk friends, instead they asked the local town fool what they should do. Seriously, I have no idea why we use these symbols but if you know someone who does, please have him email me.

But the black keys on the piano are not the only notes that have a weird name. The white ones also has a special little sign and an extra name to them. The ABCDEFG notes are called "natural" notes. So now you have sharp and flat notes and also natural ones. Here are all the 3 symbols:

But it doesn't end there! Because sometimes you'll find two sharps after a note when you read music scores. So you'll not only come across the C# but also the C##. And what's a C##!? It's a double raised C of course. And that is the same as the D note. I'm not going to go into the specific reasons for this silly behavior - because this would require a longer article about the whereabouts of medieval common sense and logical reasoning. But if you run into a classical music teacher, buy him or her a beer and then pop the question. It'll be a long and interesting night. The madness seems to stop there though. I've never seen the note E described as a C####...

It's still the same old game

Again - This knowledge is not essential, it's just basic and it can be very useful at times. You can be a true virtuoso car mechanic and not know the "right" names for any of the parts of the car. But it's going to make it easier to communicate with others if you know the language of the business. And what I've covered so far is just that. Language. It's the same twelve notes we're dealing with. It's the same simple fabric of all music that we're talking about. I'm just putting words to them and that doesn't add anything to the simplicity of music, but it does add something to how we
think about that simplicity. Keep it simple. Know that music theory is just that: Theory about music.

Paul Gilbert String Skipping Arpeggio Expansion

Here's a heavily Gilbert inspired idea, involving both string skipping and a little sweeping. Try improvising with this sequence. Mix it up with some scale licks and notice how it feels.