Friday, October 28, 2011

The Center of the Fretboard

Have you ever pondered the question of where exactly, is the 'middle of the fretboard?' Maybe 'center' is a better word than 'middle'. One certainty is that there is no clear comprehensive answer. The best answer is probably;"It depends."

If what it depends on is the Diatonic Key, then the answer can be more precise;

In Fretography, the center of the fretboard is considered the center of the key (and vice versa). So, in the key of C major/A minor, the center of the fretboard is the 5th fret between the 2nd & 3rd strings (G and B string). The 2nd and 3rd strings form what is, in Fretography, the "Third Rail." This refers to the 3rd interval between those strings. Since the tuning relationship between these strings is unique, they are given special focus. They become the pivotal strings around which all the note patterns revolve. The principal of rotating symmetry becomes quite clear when you focus on this position before exploring the rest of the fretboard.

The four encircled tones in the diagram above are the four compass points to the rest of the fretboard. In the key of C, they are B-C-E-F. The 7th, Tonic, 3rd and 4th of the key, respectively.

Below, the same pattern in the key of D;

Notice that the four center notes are now C#-D-F#-G. These are the 7th, Tonic, 3rd and 4th of the key.

This cluster of tones, VII - I - III - IV  are positioned on a fret which forms an Axis.  Notice that there are three unique Axis frets on the fretboard in the above diagrams. There are four actual Axes, but in both of the keys shown above, there are two with identical note names; EADGB. These matching fret positions can be considered the same theoretical Axis.

If we ignore the far right Axis in the first diagram (Key of C, 12th fret) and the far left Axis in the second diagram (Key of D, Open Strings), then we have a set of three Axes, with the target notes in the Center Axis.

This Axis is shown below with Roman numerals which represent the scale degrees which apply to every key, regardless of which fret position the Axis is placed;

The four notes of the Center Cluster can be found in three places within the span of the four top strings;

The same notes, an octave lower are positioned as shown below with blue targets;

Let's see where these notes fall on the piano keyboard. The diagram below shows the BCEF clusters in three octave positions on the fretboard and piano.  Also shown is the very low EF 'semi-cluster' - the two lowest notes on the guitar (in grey), as well as the high BC semi-cluster on the 7th & 8th frets of the 1st string (yellow) and the low EF semi-cluster on the 12th & 13th frets 6th string (blue);

These notes are not only the tonic, 3rd, 4th and 7th of the key – as such, they are also the half-step positions. Learn the positions of these four notes. They are the compass points which show the way to the whole system.

All contents of this blog are © Mark Newstetter

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