Key Signatures and Accidentals

A key signature is a set of sharps and flats typically written at the beginning of a composition. Key signatures let musicians  know what notes are to be played as sharps or flats throughout the composition or for a specific section. If a key signature is placed anywhere else other than at the beginning of the composition, then it signals a key change or modulation to a different key (tonal center) until a new key signature is reached.

Key signatures simplify notation by allowing the composer to specify a default value for notes without having to write an “accidental” (explicit sharp or a flat symbol) in front of each note. For example, in the following illustration, the second and last notes are played as F# because the key signature indicates this with a single sharp on the F line:

Key-sig-ex1

If the key signature had been omitted, then the composer would need to use a separate sharp in front of each note to represent the same note values:

Key-sig-ex2

Key signatures reduce the amount of symbols that performers have to read and interpret while playing at tempo.

The following illustration shows all of the key signatures and the corresponding number of sharps or flats that defines each key.

Cycles

Accidentals

An “accidental” is a symbol for a sharp or a flat written in front of a note. Its purpose is to temporarily modify the note value specified by the key signature for the rest of the measure.

A natural is used to cancel a previous accidental within the same measure. In the following example, the first note is a C natural; the second note is raised by a half step because it is preceded by a sharp symbol so it is played as a C sharp (C#). The third note is still played as a C# even though it is not explicitly preceded by a sharp symbol because the previous sharp is still in effect. The fourth note is lowered back to a C natural because the previous sharp symbol is canceled by the natural sign.

measure

When the end of the measure is reached, then it terminates any accidentals (sharps or flats) contained in that measure. Notation rules do not require that any explicit natural symbols be written to cancel accidentals at the start of a new measure but some composers will include a natural to remind performers that the previous accidentals are no longer in effect. These are sometimes referred to as courtesy or cautionary accidentals and are usually surrounded by parentheses, for example:

two-measure

Other notation symbols for accidentals are the double sharp (double sharp) and the double flat (bb) and the natural (natural). The double sharp is used to raise a note by two half steps (a whole step) and the double flat is used to lower a note by two half steps (a whole step).

Guitar Range

The following diagrams illustrate the range of the guitar compared to the piano keyboard.  Although it should be noted that guitar is notation is written one octave higher than it sounds. So if you are tuning the guitar to a keyboard, the high E string on the guitar is tuned to the E key above middle C on the keyboard .

High E string:

High-E-note-positions

B String:

B-note-positions

G String:

G-note-positions

D String:

D-note-positions

A String:

A-note-positions

Low E String:

Low-E-note-positions

Copyright © 2015 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.

Note Position Chart

The following table shows the names and positions of the notes on the guitar fingerboard(1).

Fret 6th String 5th String 4th String 3rd String 2nd String 1st String

(open)

E

A

D

G

B

E

1

F

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

C

F

2

F#, Gb

B

E

A

C#, Db

F#, Gb

3

G

C

F

A#, Bb

D

G

4

G#, Ab

C#, Db

F#, Gb

B

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

5

A

D

G

C

E

A

6

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

C#, Db

F

A#, Bb

7

B

E

A

D

F#, Gb

B

8

C

F

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

G

C

9

C#, Db

F#, Gb

B

E

G#, Ab

C#, Db

10

D

G

C

F

A

D

11

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

C#, Db

F#, Gb

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

12

E

A

D

G

B

E

13

F

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

C

F

14

F#, Gb

B

E

A

C#, Db

F#, Gb

15

G

C

F

A#, Bb

D

G

16

G#, Ab

C#, Db

F#, Gb

B

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

17

A

D

G

C

E

A

18

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

G#, Ab

C#, Db

F

A#, Bb

19

B

E

A

D

F#, Gb

B

20

C

F

A#, Bb

D#, Eb

G

C

(1) Some enharmonic names have been omitted for clarity. For example: E#, Cb, etc.

Copyright © 2015 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.

Finger Names

The following diagrams show the names typically used for fingers in most guitar notation and instructions books.

The use of ‘C’ for the pinky finger is less common because most traditional guitar instruction text only use PIMA notation for the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers for the plucking hand.

These initials are derived from the Spanish names for fingers dating back to early  classical guitar instruction books from the Romantic period (approximately 1790 to 1830).

For right-handed players:

Finger-names-right

For left-handed players:

Finger-names-left

Copyright © 2015 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.

Fretboard – Part 2

In the previous post Fretboard – Part 1,  we covered “diatonic” (unaltered) note names and positions. In this post we will cover all possible note names and positions on the guitar. This is referred to as the chromatic scale. It includes all possible notes that exist in Western music.

Before we proceed further, we need to define some basic concepts for navigating the fingerboard. Moving around the fingerboard is described in terms of distance and direction. Distance is defined as the number of steps between a starting note and the next note. This can be done in half steps, whole steps, or longer distances.

A half step on the guitar is the distance between two adjacent frets on the same string. For example, starting on the third fret on a string and moving up one fret closer to the bridge to end on the fourth fret is the distance of one half step. Similarly, starting on the third fret on a string and moving one fret down towards the nut to end on the second fret is one half step:

half-step

Moving one half step towards the bridge is referred to as raising a note because it increases the pitch or frequency of the note. Moving a half step towards the nut is referred to as lowering the note because it decreases the pitch or frequency of the note.

A whole step consists of two half steps or the distance between two frets with one fret in between them. For example, moving from the third fret to the fifth fret is a whole step up and moving from the third fret to the first fret is a whole step down:

whole-step

Modifiers are used to indicate when a note is to be raised or lowered by one or more half steps. These modifiers are referred to as “sharps” or “flats”. Another name for these modifiers are  “accidentals” or “alterations.”  Sharp indicates that a note is raised by one half step and flat indicates that the note is lowered by a half step. For example, a “G sharp” means that the “G” note is raised by one half step and “G flat” means that the “G” note is lowered by one half step:

half-step-names

The music symbols for accidentals are: # for sharp and: flat for flat.  When written on a music staff, the symbol precedes the note head and when written in a paragraph, the symbol follows the note name, for example, G# or Gflat .  For convenience, sometimes the standard hash character ‘#’ is used instead of the sharp symbol and a lowercase letter ‘b’ is used for the flat symbol.

Note names can have synonyms. This means that the same note can be called by different names or represented by different symbols. When two notes have the same pitch but with different names, they are said to be “enharmonic” notes to mean that the two notes are equivalent. For example a C# is the same note as a Db. If you play a C# or a Db on the same string, then you end up at the same place and the pitch is the same even though the note can have different names. There are several reasons for using enharmonic names which we will go into later.

The following figures describe enharmonic note names and positions that were not covered in the previous post.

enharmonics

enharmonics2

enharmonics3

Note: The stacked notes in the tablature notation above should not be interpreted as chords but in this case, as alternative positions for the same notes.

Note: You can click on any of the images above to display them in full size or right-click and select “Open Link in New Tab” or “Open Link in New Window”

Copyright © 2014 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.

Fretboard – Part 1

The following diagrams show the names and positions of notes on the guitar. One of the challenges of learning to play and read music on the guitar is that the same note can often be played in several different positions on the fingerboard.

We will cover more on where to play specific passages on the fingerboard in a future post. For now it’s more important to develop a thorough knowledge of the fingerboard and memorize the note names and positions.

This can seem like a daunting task at first but it will become easier as you progress. Like with anything new and unfamiliar, start by breaking the task up into smaller chunks and don’t try to learn it all in one go.

Diatonic* notes and positions:

note-positions

note-positions2

The corresponding keyboard diagrams are:

note-positions5

*Diatonic notes are ones that are unaltered by sharps or flats. You can think of these as the white notes on the piano keyboard. The next post will cover the chromatic notes that include all note names and positions.

Note: The stacked notes in the tablature notation above should not be interpreted as chords but in this case, as alternative positions for the same notes.

Note: You can click on any of the images above to display them in full size or right-click and select “Open Link in New Tab” or “Open Link in New Window”

Copyright © 2014 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.

Notation Styles

There are a number of ways to notate music for the guitar. The most useful one to learn is the standard musical notation that is used by all musicians universally regardless of what instrument they play. For beginners and intermediate players, it’s also useful to be familiar with tablature notation (abbreviated as tab) and fretboard or chord diagrams.

The biggest issue with tab and fretboard diagrams is that they are not specially helpful for sight reading music, in other words, to be able to read and play in time with a group of other musicians or with a recording. However, they are good visualization tools for representing scales or chord diagrams.

Before we begin, we need to cover the standard string names for guitars: E, B, G, D, A, and E starting from the thinnest string towards the thickest string. The strings are sometimes also referred to by number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 from thinnest to thickest. See diagrams below.

Tablature

Tab notation is a graphical format where each horizontal line represents a string, with the  high E string at the top and the low E string at the bottom:

TAB

Numbers located on a line indicate the fret position to be held down at that string. For example, a 3 on the second line from the top means to hold down the B string at the third fret. A zero on a line means to play an open string for the indicated string:

TAB2

When numbers appear one after another, this indicates that they are played in sequence from left to right. If two or more numbers are stacked together, then this indicates notes that should be played together at the same time, for example, as a chord (more on this later).

Fretboard Diagrams

Fretboard diagrams are similar to tab notation. Each horizontal line represents a string, with the  high E string at the top and the low E string at the bottom. Vertical lines represent frets. The leftmost vertical line represents the nut. White circles outside the diagram on the left indicate that an open string should be played. Black circles between two frets indicate that a string is to be held down at that position on the fretboard.

The diamond symbols below represent typical fret marker positions on the fretboard; however, not all guitars have fret markers or may have them in a different position. In most guitars, fret markers are located at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, and 17th frets.

fingerboard2

Putting both examples together, we get:

fingerboard-TAB

Standard Musical Notation

Standard musical notation uses a staff consisting of five horizontal lines to represent the pitch for notes. Pitch is the frequency or relative “highness” or “lowness” of a note.

staff1

A clef sign at the beginning of a staff indicates the range of notes that are represented on the staff. Guitar notation uses a G clef (also known as a Treble clef) to indicate the range of notes. The vertical position of a note on the staff indicates how high or low that note is to be played. So a note appearing lower on the staff will have a lower pitch than notes appearing higher on the staff.

staff2

If necessary, ledger lines are placed below or above to extend the range of the staff. Notes are played from left to right indicating a sequence of notes. If two or more notes are stacked vertically on the staff, then those notes are played together at the same time. For example, as a chord or a harmony (more on this later). Putting together the three systems of notation described above, we get:

staff-TAB-fingerboard2

In the coming posts, I will cover guitar musical notation in more detail.

Copyright © 2014 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction To The Guitar

The guitar is part of the chordophone family of instruments. That’s a fancy way of saying that guitars are stringed instruments. Chordophones are musical instruments that produce sounds through vibrating strings. The strings are usually at tension stretched between two points and the sound is made by plucking, bowing, or striking the strings.

Acoustic instruments usually have a cavity or resonator that amplifies the sound of the strings. Electric instruments can have either a hollow, semi-hollow, or solid body and one or more  electro-magnetic pickups that convert the movement of the strings or the vibration of the body to electrical signals that are then converted to sound using an amplifier.

Guitar Types

Guitars come in all kinds of styles and variations. If you are trying to decide what type of guitar to play, the best thing to do is to listen to as many recordings and artists as possible and visit different music stores that will have a wide variety of instruments to try.

While some of the guitars shown below are more traditionally associated with jazz, you can play jazz with any guitar. Jazz is a language, not an artifact. Choosing what type of guitar to play is about what you want to say with it rather than the mechanics of the instrument.

Acoustic Steel String Flat-top Guitars

d18maccaferri
12stringdobro

Acoustic Nylon String Guitars

classicalflamenco

Electric Archtop Guitars

l5es175es335

Electric Solid Body Guitars

strat les-paul      7string double-neck    synth-guitartravel-guitar

Every guitar has its own unique sound and feel. Even two guitars of the same model coming out of the same factory or handmade by the same luthier will have variations in sound and feel due to differences in materials. Other factors contributing to differences in sound include the size and construction, the type and gauge of the strings, the age of the guitar, the electronics, the amplifier, and the signal path or sound effects used.

You may need to try a variety of guitars to find the one that feels and sounds right to you. Your tastes may vary over time and different playing situations may call for different instruments. Try to find as high a quality of an instrument as you can afford and then experiment with other variables such as different gauges (thicknesses) of strings, round-wound, half-round, or flat-wound strings, different alloys, and other factors. Read interviews of your favorite artists to find out what gear they like to use and why. And above all, have fun while you’re at it.

Copyright © 2014 Luis Rojas. All Rights Reserved.