Why Are Melodic Sequences Expressed with Numbers
In this blog, we’ll discuss a really fast, easy way to come up with a gazillion of your own scalar melodic sequences.
Scalar sequences are also a fantastic way to improve your soloing, and your picking as well as your fretting hand technique.
Scalar sequences are written as number sequences, each number being an interval.
Here’s an example of how this works:
when you assign a number to each of the notes in a 7 note scale (let’s stick with the major scale to keep the explanation simple), you get;
The first note in the scale is 1,
the 2nd note is 2,
the 3rd note is 3,
and so on.
Translating this to notes: In the key of C, you get C D E F G A B
C = 1, D = 2, E = 3, F = 4, G = 5, etc.
In other words: each one of these numbers represents an interval.
After all: D is a 2nd above C, E is a 3rd above C, F is a 4th above C, G is a 5th (5 letter distance) above C, and so on.
The number, in other words, is basically the name of the interval distance in relation to the first note in the scale. (C to D is a 2nd, D = 2, C to E is a 3rd, E = 3, C to F is a 4th, F = 4, etc… )
Because numbers are easily transferable to all keys, we use numbers and not note names to notate formulas.
Another way to explain why numbers are used to write scale formulas: “math is universal, note names are not”.
The notes C D E F G A B are set in stone as being a C major scale.
However using numbers, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, you can assign any starting note to 1, which means that you can apply the number system to any of the 12 keys. (In the key of D for example: 1 = D, 2 = E, 3 = F#, 4 = G, etc…)
On a quick side note: attaching the right note to a number requires that you already have a basic understanding of the theory of key signatures. This is required in order to know which the sharped or flatted notes are in any given major scale.
For example, there is no F note in a D major scale, it is F#.
If you don’t know key signatures yet, here’s a quick rundown of the notes of the major scale in some keys:
C major scale = C D E F G A B C
F major scale = F G A Bb C D E F
G major scale = G A B C D E F# G
Bb major scale = Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
D major scale = D E F# G A B C# D
That is plenty of keys for you to get started with, till you learned about key signatures.
Back to the topic at hand…
One more example to explain why musicians think of scale patterns as numbers.
Say you see
CDE DEF EGB FGA GAB ABC BCD CDE
When you play this, you are going to hear a 3 note, ascending scalar melody line, that starts over again on the next note of the scale, then again on the next note of the scale, and so on.
Of course, once you can play it, you can just move your hand up a fret, play exactly the same finger pattern you just played, and you would be playing the same scalar pattern in the key of C#.
Do the same finger pattern again up a fret from there, and you are now playing the same thing in the key of D.
However: there is a certain freedom in not having to play it in the key of C first, but being able to play it instantly in any key.
That would not be so easy though having to transpose the notes CDE DEF EGB FGA GAB ABC BCD CDE on the spot to the notes of the new key, but…
it would be fairly easy to do that when instead of CDE DEF EGB FGA GAB ABC BCD CDE, you see
123 234 345 456 567 671 712 123
That number sequence started on the note C, gives you the notes CDE DEF EGB FGA GAB ABC BCD CDE
As an example, in the key of G,
Rather than thinking notes and trying to transpose those notes CDE DEF EGB FGA GAB ABC BCD CDE into all the notes of a G scale, think numbers instead 123 234 345 456 567 671 712 123
You then no longer have to deal with the hassle of trying to replace a note with another note to fit the new key, you just attach a letter to a number, which in G gives:
GAB ABC BCD CDE DEF EFG FGA GAB etc.
Hope this makes sense. Do you see why musicians spell out scale patterns as number formulas?
Some Cool Formulas To Get You Started With
All the above was a lot to digest.
To get you started, let’s only cover 3 sequences, and we’ll dive into some more in next week’s blog.
Ascending 2-note patterns
- Up in 3rds: 13 24 35 46 57 61 72 13 (in the key of C that gives: CE DF EG FA GB AC BD CE)
- Up in 4ths: 14 25 36 47 51 62 73 14
Ascending 3-note pattern
123 234 345 456 567 671 712 123
Here’s a video showcasing this.
There is an enormous number of sequences. You can have way more different 3-note, 4-note, and also 5-note, 6-note, 7-note sequences.
Not only that, you can play sequences in 5 note scales, or in Arabic scales, or any scale beside the major scale.
Next week we’ll cover a couple more.
Keep me informed on your progress. You can hit me up in the comments section below.
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