Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reading Notes: Staff Symmetries

The natural key symmetry of the diatonic treble staff is an interesting counterpart to the symmetry of the same diatonic key on the fretboard. We have examined the fretboard's symmetry in a number of posts. Now we are seeing how the specific patterns of notes on the staff have their own rules of symmetry. Whereas on the guitar fretboard (and the piano keyboard) the central note is D, on the treble staff, B is the central note - or fulcrum around which other notes are arrayed.

The symmetry of the fretboard is based on the intervals within the key. The pattern of half-steps ascending from D is a mirror image of the intervals descending from D. On the treble staff, the note B is the central note from a graphical or visual perspective.

When we look at the staff, there is no indication where the whole-steps and half-steps are to be positioned. Just a set of five lines and the spaces between them;
The seven notes of the key of the natural key, ABCDEFG, are assigned to these lines and spaces, sequentially from the bottom up;
Notice that the note in the space below the staff is D and the note in the space above the staff is G, and that B is the central note on the staff. 

Additional notes are added above and below the staff when higher or lower notes are to be played. Short lines (leger lines) are used for individual notes;
Remember that you always have a reminder of where the note G is on the staff, because the clef itself is actually a stylized letter G. The belly of the clef encircles the G line on the staff;
Since the notes are alphabetical, it's only logical that we tend to think of them in that order. The ascending scale is usually the first exposure we have to music theory. Chords are thought of as starting with the root note and rising from there. Of course, scales descend as well, and chords don't have to be played from the lowest note first. Notes can be played in any order at any moment.

Here's another way to look at the way notes are arrayed on the staff; instead of a linear progression, you can think of the staff as a symmetrical array with the note B as the fulcrum.

If we look at the staff from the center first, the symmetry emerges;
Look carefully at the diagram above. study the symmetrical relationships of the notes from the center up and down. Study the positions of the note B, then the notes A/C, then D/G, then E/F. B forms its own symmetry, A and C are symmetrically arrayed - C is one leger line below the staff, A is one leger line above ... A is two leger lines below the staff, C is two leger lines above. D/G and E/F follow the same principle.

Below is another version of the same diagram. The notes are connected by dotted lines which clarify the symmetry;

Learning these connections will help you identify notes on the staff more quickly.

All contents of this blog are © Mark Newstetter

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