When looking at the keyboard as an example of note patterns and the arrangement chart I used for the numerical assignment for each note, it might be natural to think that the Black keys or Shaded fields represent the ‘Half notes’ or notes that are not within a scale. This however takes us down the wrong path. The keyboard offers a clean representation of the note relationships at a quick glance but we need to be careful how we perceive this relationship. ALL notes – no matter what the color – are HALF notes. The color of each key means NOTHING if we are not in the key of C Major. Look at many other instruments and there are no color designators for scales, notes or keys. The guitar has other markings to help know what fret is being used, and this can be helpful for knowing the range of notes in any section of the guitar fretboard, but again, does not directly indicate notes within scales.
Play any adjacent note on the keyboard going up (higher notes – right) or down (lower notes – left) and it is another half step. Each instrument will have its own lingo but the structure is the same. Start with any note and if you skip a note or single key in this example you will be playing Whole notes. For guitar players we would say up one fret or down one fret…. up two frets or down two frets. Brass, wind and other players will talk about sharps or flats. From here it is better to be color blind until you get familiar with other scales and keys. If we start with a Black note for example, it becomes the Root and all notes will stem from that Root note. Some scales will include more Black notes, some scales will include less. The fact that the keyboard pattern has two white notes side by side has little value when thinking about scales, it just helps us understand the amount of separation from the surrounding notes. It is that separation and relationship that we need to focus on. The Perception is the distance between notes and the pattern helps understand their relationship to each other. The Deception can knock us off track if we begin to think the color designators represent a constant scale assignment.
In fact, when I look at a drum set I think the same way……. each tom, for example, should represent a tone or note and they can be tuned to fit within scales. For right-hand drummers or percussionists, the smaller toms are usually to the left-hand side and getting larger as you move to the right. Smaller toms are tuned to higher pitches and lower toms and the kick drum are tuned to lower pitches. YES! I will tune the drums when doing recording sessions so the tone of the drums will fit within the scale of the song. I might re-tune if necessary depending on the song, but that is fairly rare for bands to use dramatic changes. I make sure each tom, snare and kick drum is tuned to the project (that might be easier to understand than tuning to each song….). Like Gary Jefferson would often say to our audiences while the guitar player is silently tuning, ‘we sound better if we are in tune’! If the percussion instruments are not arranged properly and not tuned correctly, it will clash with the other instruments. The result can be unnoticed by many, but even those of us that are not professionals will notice that the recording or performance (as I mentioned I often tune drums for bands I am running sound for) sounds cloudy or awkward and not as tight as it could be even though the players are amazing and well rehearsed. We may not know why…. but we know something is getting in the way of a great performance.