Do You Know the Alphabet?    

I want to make a point using the alphabet. It is after all one of the first things we learn.

As much as we may try to avoid it, in many learning situations involving diverse groups, there will always be some times when something is moving too fast for some and too slow for others. Even when just beginning to learn the alphabet.

I’d noticed a little language trend on a few occasions in some music workshop groups and even some individual lessons that worried me a bit as a teacher. So, I decided to focus and reflect on my recollections and observations from various settings with various people.

My conclusion was: I think it would be good to distinguish the difference between being able to know, being able to understand, being able to hear and being able to do. Let’s use the alphabet as a vehicle for that.

The Alphabet

We all know the alphabet. Most of us will say we know the English alphabet. Great, but if I said “let’s explore that”, you may tell me “yea yea yea yea but I already know that! I know the alphabet already! I’ve done it all my life! I want to know what comes next!”

Ok…so, we all know the alphabet, right?

Ok what if I said, Great Fred, now stand up in front of the group and without any other reference spell out the word - out loud

-c-o-n-s-c-i-e-n-t-i-o-u-s.(N.B. or pick any word you know you’d crash and burn on then smarty pants!)

Or, Hey Jane, along with this metronome ticking at 120 beats per minute, recite in time, every fifth letter of the alphabet.

Or, Bill, please say the alphabet backwards as fast as you can starting on the 17th letter. (wow! now that would impress me! …R by the way… )

How about…Margaret, use the alphabet to make up some one-syllable words that rhyme and will make us all laugh (phew! tricky one!)

We all know the alphabet, right?  Or do we really? Or maybe we just know it in a one-dimensional context. ...Scio me nescire?

The Pentatonic Scale

Now let’s shift gears to a scale. After all a scale is really just the alphabet of notes in music.

We all know the Pentatonic Minor Scale, right? So say many of my students including my community groups of adult players who play for fun and relaxation a couple of dates a month.

However, I have noticed when we are talking about say a Pentatonic Minor Scale in Root Position and I may do a “reminder play through” of the very pattern we are talking about, here is what sometimes comes next: Whoa! Whoa! Your gong to fast!! This is fine to say and it must always be addressed BUT:

What I have realised is that on the few occasions it has happened this is not telling me about the pace of the discussion (of the scale) being too fast.

What it is telling me is who doesn’t hear and recognise the scale/position that we are saying we know so well when the pace of the scale itself is played too fast during the discussion.  (My lesson learned- no noodling!)

After suffering my moments of horror for allegedly committing a cardinal teaching sin I later realised from my analysis the real connectionIt was the misdemeanour of mindlessly rattling through the pattern we were discussing that caused the stir. You see, the discussion, I discovered, was on target enough. It was the ghosting of the scale at a fast tempo that rendered it unrecognisable to some members of the groups. Or in some cases individuals in one to one settings.

So, we all know the “alphabet” of the Pentatonic Scale, right? I’m afraid you can’t have it both ways. The “yea yea yea” and the “whoa! whoa! whoa!”

Keep reading to see how you can break out of "just knowing" where to put your fingers, to understanding, hearing and manipulating the scale and its' potential for creating music that affects an audience's mood. Isn't that knda what we want?

The Musical Alphabet

In order to create a uniform playing field of musical communication for all levels of player we need to share some terminology. In order to get there, to that point of communications, there are two important scales you need to practice first to the point of true or at least a working understanding. 

The Major Scale (“Ionian” or also thought of as the “Do Re Mi” scale)

and The Pentatonic Minor Scale

Ask yourself the following:

•Can you play any recognisable melody with the scale notes?

•Can you name or describe any of the notes in the scale pattern?

•Do you understand any of the intervals? …Know where the root(s) are?

•Can you play the notes in any other order than consecutive pitch? (i.e. Low     to high and high to low)

•Can you sing any of it?

We all know the Pentatonic Scale, right? 

Have a look at one, some or all of these things whenever the muse lands on your shoulder. try to change the word "any" to "some" and then eventually to "all" or "lots of" or "many" where appropriate.

Remember, you can’t watch a tree grow. It takes time and regularity of attention. Treat it like a game or a puzzle, make it fun, or a welcomed escape from the modern world pressures. 

If you don't understand any bullet point above just contact me. I'll point you in the right direction or write a new page or make a video lesson!  

Get past knowing, get to understanding, being able to hear, sing/hum/whistle, use and enjoy the scale creatively!

Have a look at this from 00:58 :

NONE OF THIS is mandatory! We meet with other players to play and have fun. This is just a suggestion on how to maximise fun and minimise frustration or stress for those who are looking for ways to explore and progress further with guitar and music making. We are all learning, always.

You can of course always book a one to one lesson as and when for a more focused lens for advancement. Just go to the contact me form below and we can arrange online or live lessons. Or perhaps you are close enough to join our community group of mixed ability players from beginners to advanced.

For those who relate to this I want to thank you. I learned something from you. I learned that I need to work on these and many other things myself "scio me nescire". Perhaps together we will help someone else.

Happy Playing!

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