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Thread: Unlocking the fretboard and playing by ear using tonic solfa

  1. #1
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    Unlocking the fretboard and playing by ear using tonic solfa

    I posted this over at HC but I thought you guys could use it too.

    The following tutorial shows how to understand the guitar fretboard by applying the technique of 'tonic-solfa' or 'movable do solfege'. Once familiar with this technique, playing by ear and sightreading/sightsinging will become trivial tasks. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please read this page;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solfege

    As someone on here said,
    "the guitar is a relative instrument"
    So lets treat it like one.

    The following diagram shows the guitar fretboard with the notes on it. Sharps and flats are not shown but pretend they're there. For example between F and G is F#/Gb. This diagram should be printed and kept for reference until you can memorise it completely. The red C is middle C on a piano keyboard.



    The next diagram is the most import and diagram you'll see as a guitarist. It represents the notes in any key as their 'solfege' or ' tonic - solfa' syllables. It is a looping diagram with no end (i.e. the far right hand side and the far left hand side join together), two sections have been shown for clarity, . It may seem corny at first but it lets you distinguish between notes in terms of their function - AND it will train your ear. This diagram should be thoroughly memorised (you probably already have memorised it in terms of dots, not syllables). The do's (pronounced dough) are coloured blue in order to show the pattern that exists between the octaves up the fretboard. This pattern occurs with all notes, not just the do's. There are 5 patterns and then they repeat.



    Now, to play in any major key, simply take this diagram and superimpose it on the first diagram to line the do's up with the key you want. For example - to play in E major, line up all the do's with the E's on the fretboard. The following is the result;



    To play in C major, line up all the do's from the second diagram with the C's on the first diagram. Here is the result;



    Likewise with the key of G# Major;



    There are 12 keys in total, I've only showed you 3. I'll let you find the notes for the others.

    Now, to play in a minor key the same thing applies, however, instead of lining up the do's on the key required, line up the la's instead. Here is the diagram for A minor;



    Note that this diagram is the same for C major. That is because A minor is the relative minor of C major.

    Mode required; Syllable to line up on key; Pronunciation;

    Major/Ionian...................Do....................... .........dough
    Dorian.............................Re............. ....................ray
    Phrygian..........................Mi.............. ....................me
    Lydian..............................Fa............ .....................fah
    Mixolydian........................So.............. ...................so
    Minor/Aeolian...................La...................... ...........lah
    Locrian.............................Ti............ .......................tee

    So if you want to play the Eb locrian mode, line up the ti's on Eb and play. ( to the experts: I know a mode isn't a mode unless the right chord is played but hey this is a beginners guide).

    Major Scale ( ionian mode);
    do > re > mi > fa > so > la > ti > do

    Dorian Mode (eg for F# Dorian, the re's fall on F#);
    re > mi > fa > so > la > ti > do > re

    Phrygian Mode;
    mi > fa > so > la > ti > do > re > me

    Lydian Mode;
    fa > so > la > ti > do > re > mi > fa

    Mixolydian Mode;
    so > la > ti > do > re > me > fa > so

    Natural Minor Scale ( Aeolian mode );
    la > ti > do > re > mi > fa > so > la

    Locrian Mode;
    ti > do > re > mi > fa > so > la > ti


    Examples;
    Here's some examples of tunes to get you going using this system;

    > means going higher in pitch, < means going lower in pitch

    Jingle bells: mi mi mi mi mi mi mi > so < do > re > mi > fa fa fa etc.

    Sweet child o mine ( starts in key of F# Major - note slash tunes down a half step);
    do > do < so < fa > fa < so > mi < so ...

    Happy birthday (choose a key and play);
    so so > la < so > do < ti
    < so so > la < so > re < do
    < so > do > so < mi < do do < ti < la ...

    One (metallica) (played in key of A minor i.e. la's fall on A);
    la > mi < la > do
    < fa > mi < fa > do ...

    Stairway to heaven (played in key of A minor);
    la > do > mi > la > ti < mi < do > ti > do < mi < do > do < fi < re < la > fi (out of key see below) < mi < do < la > do ...


    In many songs, some notes played fall out of the key such as stairway to heaven. The 7 notes that fall in key are do re mi fa so la ti (the diatonic notes). There are 12 notes in total chromatic scale, so there is another 5 notes that are out of key and they are: di ri fi si and li.

    The complete solfege system for the chromatic scale is;
    do di re ri mi fa fi so si la li ti

    Diatonic notes ( within a key);
    do re mi fa so la ti
    Out of key notes ( out of key);
    di ri fi si li

    The out of key notes are not shown on my diagram but once again, pretend they're there.

    Another song that has out of key notes is the familiar 'Simpsons' theme song;
    do > mi > fi > la < so < mi < do < la < fi fi fi > so < fi fi fi > so > li > do do do do.

    The harmonised major scale (chords);

    The diatonic triads;
    so la ti do re mi fa
    mi fa so la ti do re
    do re mi fa so la ti
    I ii iii IV V vi viidim

    The diatonic 7th chords;
    ti do re mi fa so la
    so la ti do re mi fa
    mi fa so la ti do re
    do re mi fa so la ti

    OK thats enough for now. I think I got through everything I intended to. Later I'll add some info here describing how to use this system to sightread the treble clef with ease.

    I may put this info up on a website soon for easier reading. Feedback would be appreciated. And if there are any questions please ask.

  2. #2
    Did I say that out loud ? joeyd929's Avatar
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    Thanx

    Thanx man! I was actually going to draw something up because I take piano lessons and I am trying to get my piano teacher more in tune with the problems guitar players have with all the multiple notes. I can print this and show him, thanx.

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    that's quiet a lot of work you've put in there. It's always important to start associating notes with sounds as quickly as possible, rather then associating notes with patterns.

    this is completely personal opinion but, I honestly don't know if I agree with teaching modes as starting on a different note of the major scale and expect students to associate it with a different sound then the major scale. When I learned this I would play dorian as re-re and it would just end up sounding like a major scale ending on the wrong note. It wasn't until I started thinking of dorian as a major scale with a b3rd and a b7th, instead of re-re, that things started sounding dorian. I think it's a fine way to intellectualize things, but I just don't hear things that way.

    but then again, if you want to teach you have to be able to explain everything 10 different ways...

    good work

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    Quote Originally Posted by joeyd929
    Thanx man! I was actually going to draw something up because I take piano lessons and I am trying to get my piano teacher more in tune with the problems guitar players have with all the multiple notes. I can print this and show him, thanx.
    Cool! I've tried applying this technique to the piano but it's tricky. It's not like the guitar where you can just shift your hand position to change key.

    Silent-storm, that's cool man. This is just the way I do it. One of the things I have discovered with this instrument (or any for that matter) is that there is never 1 way to do things. However, if you play from re to re over the top of a re drone (for example open 4th string in the key of C major) it will sound dorian definately.
    Last edited by mcmurray; 12-10-2006 at 02:05 AM.

  5. #5
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Sorry, I don't mean to rain on your parade but . . how is this revolutionary? Solfege with movable Do has been around for centuries and has been a common component of sight reading studies for a long time. The application of solfege to ANY instrument is about learning to hear ANY key in terms of the major scale. No doubt at more advanced levels it also readily handles modes and altered scales but I never got that far.

    I've checked out a lot of "Fret-board Systems" an each one is just another variation on the same theme. Specifically, each "system" replaces the seemingly arbitrary note-based organization of western music theory with some other arbitrary system that is claimed to be easier to memorize. Each and every systems falls apart in one very important aspect.

    Western music is about how we divide up an octave into functional steps / notes. It's not strictly required to learn every note of every key especially on an instrument like the guitar in order to make music, UNLESS you really want to learn about or study the music of others in order to be able to play anything you want, anywhere on the fretboard and in any key.

    Notes and keys are the language of music. Deal with it. It's not all that hard. Sure learning to really understand the system in an intuitive way takes time and effort but it's by no means beyond the range of the average student.

    Solfege has it's place but it's place it not in fretboard overlays. It's place is in the musicians mind and how we organize the (any) major scale in terms of note function. Learn a key, memorize the numeric scale degrees of each note, memorize the solfege syllable that applied to each degree of that scale, move on to the next key. It's all quite simple if you just do it.

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    No where in my post did I say that this is revolutionary.

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    Did I say that out loud ? joeyd929's Avatar
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    Modes

    When ever I play a "dorian" or "PHrygian" or whatever, I always relate it back to the original key signature to simplify. For example, if I am playing E phrygian, I just keep the thought in my mind that this is C major so no matter where I go I just stay in C.

    If it was A Dorian I would just think of the key signature for G Major. All 7 modes of a major scale have the same key siguature so rather than worrying about fingering, or what note to start on, as long as I sharp my F notes, I'm technically in one of the notes of the mode.

    Lets face it, D dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian are all notes of the C major scale so I use the "kiss" method.. "Keep It seriously simple"..

  8. #8
    Did I say that out loud ? joeyd929's Avatar
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    Memorizing the notes

    It is great to learn all the notes on the fretboard because it opens up an entire new area of learning. If you want to apply it to Jazz then knowing the notes helps a great deal because you know where the notes are when you try and form chords or improvize.

    It's great if you want to read printed music because you know where the notes are.

    Knowing the fretboard notes and locations is an all around great thing to spend time on, for whatever reason you intend on using it....knowledge IS power, especially with music.

  9. #9
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcmurray
    No where in my post did I say that this is revolutionary.
    No, you didn't, nor did I imply that you did. The title of your post was "Unlocking the Fretboard".

    Solfege is a great technique for ear training, sight singing (and hence sight reading), understanding the structure of keys and to help hear about intervalic structure. These are all good things, but as a tool to learn the fretboard solfege come up short as do most other systems.

    Learning the fretboard is a matter of learning to see the notes, . . as notes, not as numbers, not as geometric offsets and not as solfege syllables. Each of us may need to develop our own learning scheme to memorize the fretboard and that's a good thing too. Maybe I've just seen too many amazing fretboard visualization systems ads.

    I admire your efforts to learn the fretboard, I'm on a similar quest and I too was very exited about the method I used once I started to see progress. My point is that we each learn differently so methods may differ but in the long run anyone that wants to memorize the fretboard can once they decide to make knowing the fretboard a priority. There's no trick and no secrets relative to learning the fretboard, there's just determination, practice, discipline and progress

    cheers,

  10. #10
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joeyd929
    Knowing the fretboard notes and locations is an all around great thing to spend time on, for whatever reason you intend on using it....knowledge IS power, especially with music.
    Joe,

    I agree completely. For me learning to read the fretboard as easily as reading text is the most important thing, nay the only thing of any importance right now. I've tried scales, memorizing single notes at various locations, arpeggi, chord voicings, etc, etc. I even use solfege as a way to internalize various scale patterns and voice-leadings.

    Ultimately I think learning to see the fretboard is a matter of refusing to play unless you can see the notes. As long as learning the fretboard is regarded as a worthwhile skill but not something worthy of real commitment then it will never happen. It requires commitment and a lot of hard, boring, frustrating work. To some people it seems to come easily, to others it comes more slowly. Much like the proverbial trip of a thousand miles. Viewed in it's entirety such a trip appears nearly impossible but taken one step at a time it's easy and attainable. If our short-term goals are reasonable and attainable we will get there, as long as we keep moving forward.

    cheers,

  11. #11
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    When ever I play a "dorian" or "PHrygian" or whatever, I always relate it back to the original key signature to simplify. For example, if I am playing E phrygian, I just keep the thought in my mind that this is C major so no matter where I go I just stay in C.

    If it was A Dorian I would just think of the key signature for G Major. All 7 modes of a major scale have the same key siguature so rather than worrying about fingering, or what note to start on, as long as I sharp my F notes, I'm technically in one of the notes of the mode.

    Lets face it, D dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian are all notes of the C major scale so I use the "kiss" method.. "Keep It seriously simple"..
    I use the same approach. But be sure not to treat C as the tonic because even though its modes are derived from C doesn't mean C is the tonic. In G mixolydian, we want to resolve to G. So the trick is think in G, play in C. If that makes sense.
    You probably already know this, but just wanted to point it out.
    The Young Apprentice

  12. #12
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    I strongly disagree with the practice of seeing modes as relative to their "parent" scale. Troy Stetina explains it in better words than I could:

    There is a price to be paid for this 'quick and dirty' method of modal manipulation, however. The problem is that it is self-deception, pure and simple. You're thinking and seeing C major while you are actually playing D Dorian. As a rule, it is far better to face reality and see things as they really are--in this case, playing in D Dorian would mean seeing those notes as being "anchored" over D roots. This makes the fretboard patterns seem quite a bit different, which will in turn influence how you use those notes. This bit of modal trickery also has another drawback; it leads a person to think, "If C major and D Dorian use the same notes, therefore they are the same." They are not! If they were, the keys of C major and D Dorian would sound alike. Yet experience tells us that a major key sounds happy and a minor key (Dorian is a type of minor) sounds sad.

  13. #13
    Modbod UKRuss's Avatar
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    I agree with Troy, who wouldn't.

    However I don't play like that. I use a hybrid between Joeys thinking and Troy's truths.

    That is: I don't think it matters as much as Troy says to think C major when you're playing D dorian, for example, as long as your ear can hear Dorian and make the mode shine through.i.e you hit the right resolution notes.

    The reason I like this is that it avoids the problem of thinking major and Dorian are the same and also avoids having to learn a ridiculous amount of scales/patterns when you can simply just learn one.

  14. #14
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    This may be splitting hairs just a tad much or maybe I just not seeing the distinction. The fact is that the modes are relative to their parent scale. Just as A minor (aeolian) is the relative minor to C major (ionian), so too is G dominant the relative dominant (mixolydian) and F subdominant the relative subdominant (lydian). These are just statements of fact.

    Should we think in C (ionian) when we want D dorian? No, we should think in D dorian, fully cognizant of the function of each note relative to D in the dorian minor setting. But part of thinking in D dorian is being aware of the finger patterns that define where the notes are on the fretboard. Are we to ignore the fact that D dorian uses the same fingerings as C ionian to a different effect?

    D dorian is not the same as C ionian but the two do share the same note set and the same fingerings. Isn't all of this just a matter of how people choose to describe their current approach (a snapshot in time at best) to modes? Or does Troy's statement assume that fingering patterns are inextricably anchored to the root of the ionian view of those notes?

    In my case when I think D dorian I think in terms of D in general, supporting the D minor sound using the characteristic notes of dorian with it's major 6th and 9th. But I do find and manipulate the D dorian notes within the same fingering that I first learned as the C major scale fingers. What am I missing?

  15. #15
    Modbod UKRuss's Avatar
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    It's a tricky one to put into words, that's for sure.

    I get what you're saying though. I don't think your missing anything there.

    My snapshot in time works for me, like you say, each to their own I guess.

    In the end it's down to your melodies, that's what matters.

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