Friday, 25 January 2013

Scales and the Fretboard

Ukulele Fretboard by Chris Hartzog:

Peggy made an extensive worksheet on scales and the fretboard, then unfortunately contracted a cold and wasn't able to make the meeting.

Her worksheet can be downloaded here.

Why learn scales? Well, it seems scales are the vocabulary of a particular key signature. If you understand the notes in a scale, you can (with some additional music theory knowledge) produce all the chords in that key, transpose from one key to another, and solo within a piece.

Similarly, once you know the fretboard, you can pluck the melody as well as the chords, find alternate versions of chords, and gain a more integrated understanding of music generally.

Peggy's worksheet points out that the ukulele fretboard starts at Middle C of the piano and continues up for about 3 octaves (more or less, depending on your uke). Unlike the linear representation of a piano, however, the uke is arranged more like four tiny keyboards, one on top of the other. Each keyboard starts on a different note (G, C, E, A in the most common tuning) and has the black notes straight in between the white notes, instead of above them. Moving from the head to the body of the uke, each fret is a half step higher.

What does this mean for the beginning player? Among other things, this is why we can play the C major chord with a single finger. Since the notes in a C chord are C, E and G, we can play the open G, C and E strings, and bar the 3rd fret of the A string to make another C. Or we can find other combinations of these notes to make different forms of C major.

Most ukulele chords can be formed without a lot of hand contortions, because with four strings there is almost always the note you need somewhere within reach.

This is a new way of thinking about the ukulele for most of us Y'Ukes, and doubtless we will revisit it at some point. For now, it is available to incorporate as much or as little as suits our playing style. Thanks, Peggy.

After posting this, I had some correspondence with Keith Cary about scales. He passed along a way to think about it that I found very helpful, and he graciously gave permission to share it here. I've edited as minimally as possible for organizational purpose, and have added one additional note in italics:
...We all know the major scale: DO-RE-ME-FA-SO-LA-TI-DO. We can all sing it, even if we don't know it is a major scale.
Those tones can correspond to C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (or in any other key to: root note-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step), and we can use those tones to play 90% of the common "trad" folksongs.
Keith went on to give an example of how he might demonstrate this in a teaching situation:
I'd give a uke fingerboard with just the C scale pictured. The full chromatic scale is a lot to handle, though I might put it at the end of the article. Then one could pick out an easy little song. Row Row Row Your Boat could be written as C C CDE EDEFG C(high) G E C GFEDC. (I don't know about my spaces scheme. I'm just experimenting with that idea.) Ask them to figure it out on their own uke, given the C scale fingerboard diagram. Mention that for now we won't necessarily use the 4th string for simple melodies unless it seems useful to do so for fingering reasons. 
...Get students to finger the scale while they sing the notes, Do, Re, Me... at first and then C, D, E, etc. The singing and playing together makes a difference with learning. Sometimes people are shy about singing so I say to do it at home, when they're alone.
Finally, some more reasons to understand scales: 
Scales can help you connect chords with cool little runs between chords. One can spice up simple chording by working in bits of melody whenever it's convenient. There are "licks" to be learned, etc. If the student already reads music, then by being familiar with the C scale they can read easy melodies. It can be handy when learning a new piece from paper alone. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Suzie, the haze is thinning. Looking at this different ways helps and having it in writing is great.