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DulciTheory #1

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DulciTheory #1: Accidentals 1

I. Definitions

On page 4 of the Theory and Chord Reference book, I mention accidentals in describing sharps, flats, naturals, and double-sharps and double-flats:

"Accidentals are the symbols which indicate that one of the seven notes [of the major scale] has been altered by making it sharp or flat."

Now -- let me give you a much more thorough and useful definition -- custom tailored for our purposes here:

Accidentals are those sharps or flats that are outside the key of a piece of music. So they have to be indicated in the music, right before the note being altered. In contrast to these, let's consider the "native" sharps or flats that are indicated in the KEY SIGNATURE. Consider the Key of D, for instance -- and I'm sure you are intimately familiar with D! -- we have two sharps: F# and C#. In D, anytime we encounter an F or a C, they are always the sharped versions of the notes. The KEY SIGNATURE takes care of that, right?

Now -- let's say we have a G note that we want to have sharped in the Key of D. We will have to do this by putting a sharp in front of the G note in question -- the KEY SIGNATURE doesn't take care of G#. Well....G# is an ACCIDENTAL in the Key of D. As is F-natural, as is A#, and so on.

Just let that brew for a while. Questions are welcome.

II. Importance to the Dulcimer

Knowing what ACCIDENTALS you have in a piece of music, and what relationship they have to the tonic, or 1st scale degree -- this is CRITICAL knowledge for a dulcimer arranger!!! You must ask yourself:

"Do I have THAT particular pitch on my 1-5-8* dulcimer?"

[* By 1-5-8 dulcimer, I mean a dulcimer that is tuned with the bass string to 1, or the 1st scale degree -- the middle string tuned to the 5th scale degree above -- and the melody string tuned an octave above the bass, or 8th scale degree. If D = 1, the tuning is D-A-D. If A = 1, baritone-style, the tuning would be A-E-A.]

Now here is a brief outline of the four steps used to scope out possibilities for putting a tune on the dulcimer. We will go into greater detail a little later in the session.

FOUR-STEP PROCEDURE FOR DETERMINING IF YOU HAVE THE NEEDED ACCIDENTALS ON YOUR DULCIMER:

STEP ONE: Scan the music for accidentals

  • a.) in the melody or top voice
  • b.) in the inner voices (if you are looking at a piano arrangement)
  • c.) in the CHORD FORMULA of the chord symbols (if you have only a "leadsheet" type of arrangement with melody line, lyrics and chord symbols)

STEP TWO: Convert the accidentals -- ALONG WITH THE REST OF THE TUNE -- to Numerical Scale Degrees

STEP THREE: Do a Numerical Scale-Degree Fingerboard Survey for 1-5-8

STEP FOUR: See how your tune accidentals match up with the Scale-Degree Survey -- Do you have the necessary sharps or flats?

At this point, I'll walk you through all four steps as we apply them to "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain"

http://www.jcrmusic.com/theorytunes.html

STEP ONE: Scan the music for accidentals

  • a.) in the melody or top voice: I don't see any, do you?
  • b.) in the inner voices: I've given you a "lead-sheet" format with only melody line and chord symbols, so we don't have any other voices to work with.
  • c.) in the CHORD FORMULA of the chord symbols: Well, now we've got our work cut out for us, don't we? I wish we weren't looking at such a huge area of study with the chords, but this stuff will be unbelievably nourishing if you can stick it out -- so HANG IN THERE!

Who wudda thunk it: that such a simple tune would have so many layers of complexity, once you get down to the analysis!!

Anyway, lets look at the chords (or the "changes" as they are often called) and see if we can make some sense out of them. Since we are in the Key of G, we should remember that our "native" or "indigenous" chords -- the Scale-Tone Triads, (p.17) -- would be:

G(I), Am(ii), Bm(iii), C(IV), D7(V7), Em(vi), F#dim(vii)

Bearing in mind that I'm using lower case Roman Numerals to indicate minor triads, scan the chords and you'll come up with:

I    |V7   |I    |     |     |  II7 |V7   |     |

I    |I7   |IV   |IV6 #IVdim7 |I    |II7 V7 |I   |    ||

So -- what do we see that is outside the native chords? How about II7? or I7?

[For now we will indicate minor triads with a lower case Roman Numeral, and Major triads and Dominant 7th chords with upper case numerals. In the future, we will probably have to take the more standard route, and indicate all chords with upper case numerals -- followed directly by the typical chord symbol abbreviation, like: IIm7, or VIm]

Let's start with the II7. The normal "two chord" is a minor triad -- Am in this case, but here we have a dominant 7th chord built on II (stands to reason that the II7 might have some different notes in its formula, right?) Notice how this II7 always goes to the V7? Not only in this tune, but in THOUSANDS of tunes! This II7 is called a SECONDARY DOMINANT, because it acts like the V7 of V -- in fact, it is often written this way in classical analysis style:

V7/V

So what's the big deal? Weren't we talking a minute ago about finding "accidentals" in the music?

Our answer is to be found in the INGREDIENTS of the chord. If we spell out the notes in the II7 here, or A7, we get A, C#, E, G -- or Root, 3rd, 5th, b7th. This is somewhat different than the native minor triad ii or Am, which is spelled: A, C, E -- or Root, b3rd, 5th. The difference, of course is the ACCIDENTAL C#, which is outside the Key of G. Thinking in Numerical Scale Degrees, when G = 1, then C# = #4.

The other chord that didn't quite fit in was the I7 or G7 in this case. Guess what? Yet another SECONDARY DOMINANT -- this time it's V7/IV -- and notice how it goes to IV? Now this is your chance to note-spell the I7 or G7, and pick out that nasty accidental. GO FOR IT!

STEP TWO: Convert the accidentals

ALONG WITH THE REST OF THE TUNE -- to Numerical Scale Degrees -- Well, we already got one of the accidentals lined up numerically: C# = #4. Converting the rest of the tune will be a great exercise for you.

[I know how strange it is to have to "buy-in" to another whole set of numbers after you are finally feeling comfortable with the fret numbers in tablature! The only thing I can offer up here is that the fret numbers are only a way to tell you what notes to play when -- just as standard musical notation guides a piano player. The Numerical Scale Degrees, however -- once you get accustomed to them -- will speak VOLUMES and VOLUMES about musical structure and understanding relationships. They are truly indispensable, and I strongly encourage you to get familiar with them.]

-T----#-----------|-----------------|----------------|----------------------
.R                |                 |                |
-E----------------|-----------------|----------------|----------------------
.B      4         |                 |                |
-L----------------|-----------------|----------------|----------------------
.E      4         |                 |                |
-C--(G)-----------|-/---/---/---/---|----------------|-/--------------------
.L                |                 |                |
-E-------------/--|-----------------|-/--------------|----------------------
.F        /                               /       /
.                                            ---
num.                                          /
ScaleDeg: 5    6    1   1   1   1     6   5   3   5    1

STEP THREE: Do a Numerical Scale-Degree Fingerboard Survey for 1-5-8

Here is a blank Fingerboard Survey with only the tuning indicated:

1|------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|
5|------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|
1|------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|

To be more specific about the spacing, just for your information, here are the number of dashes between each fret:

1|-----12-----|----10----|--5--|---8----|---7---|-3-|-3-|-3-|
5|------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|
1|------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|

Its really easy to cut-and-paste these charts, and it will save you many hours of keyboarding. Paste them into the NotePad or the Scrapbook, or any simple text-editor -- or an email set to text-only (no html). When you want to fill them out with pitches or scale degrees, drag the mouse across the appropriate number of dashes, thereby SELECTING them. This way, when you type in the pitches, the spacing of everything will remain stable and solid.

You should definitely get into the habit of making your own charts, as there is a great educational opportunity to be had doing this. But I will show you the complete Scale Degree Survey here:

Important Update and Note:

The charts above showing the spacing for the frets (and the fact that you can cut and paste them) belong in a geeky early-days-of-the-internet period where many people who used email and forums would share ascii-based text with the preformatted tag.

Please ignore this completely now -- everybody does things much differently now.

Here are the scale degrees:

1|-----------2|---------3|----4|-------5|------6|-b7|--7|--1|
5|-----------6|---------7|----1|-------2|------3|--4|-#4|--5|
1|-----------2|---------3|----4|-------5|------6|-b7|--7|--1|

STEP FOUR: See how your tune accidentals match up with the Scale-Degree Survey -- Do you have the necessary sharps or flats?

The main accidental we needed was C#, which is #4 in scale degrees. Other relationships to keep in mind:

1.) C# occurs as the 3rd of an A7 (II7) chord in our example, so we should know how this II7 chord maps out on the dulcimer. Here's a Chord Formula Survey for II7:

b7|-----------R|----------|-----|--------|------5|---|---|-b7|
  |-----------5|----------|-----|-------R|-------|---|--3|---|
b7|-----------R|----------|-----|--------|------5|---|---|-b7|

2.) Since we'll probably be playing in D-A-D (rather than G-D-G), it would be helpful to transpose EVERYTHING to D. Here is E7: the II7 chord in D. Remember that the numerical survey (above) holds for ANY key:

D|-----------E|----------|-----|--------|------B|---|---|--D|
 |-----------B|----------|-----|-------E|-------|---|-G#|---|
D|-----------E|----------|-----|--------|------B|---|---|--D|

I'll let you transpose everything else to D-A-D -- it will be good practice.