Becoming a competent, well rounded musician is hard work and truly meritocratic in the sense that if you hear a great musician there is a 100% chance that they have put in thousands of hours of practice in an efficient and focused manner. Part and parcel of that is developing good habits and approaches to all the component parts of playing your instrument.
Here's a list of several such habits and approaches, the more you adhere to these, the more you'll progress and maximize your potential:
A chord inversion is when another note in a chord in played in the bass. If a chord has 3 notes (triad) there are 2 possible inversions – the 3rd in the bass is called the first inversion and the 5th in the bass is called the second inversion. If a chord has 4 notes (4 part harmony) there are 3 possible inversions – the first and second inversions are the 3rd and 5th in the bass respectively (just like the triads) and the third inversion is the 7th in the bass
When I teach inversions I have my students practice every permutation of inversions in their progressions. This can create interesting bass movement and add a lot to your playing. In the next blog I'll explore several specific ways of doing this.
Another way to utilize inversions is: when you're playing a chord for say two measures, a measure or two beats you could play, respectively, a measure on a chord and a measure on one of it's inversions, two beats on a chord and two beats on one of it's inversions or one beat on a chord and one beat on one of it's inversions.
Lastly, you should also practice cycling through inversions, for ex) play a Cmaj7 for two beats then it's first inversion (Cmaj7/E) for two beats then it's second inversion (Cmaj7/G) for two beats and finally it's third inversion (Cmaj7/B) for two beats and do this process for every chord.
Now that you know how to calculate the number of accidentals in each key, the next step is to learn which notes are sharp of flat).
There's a concept called the “order of flats” and it's inversion, the “order of sharps”, there are the specific sequence of flats and sharps the occur in the keys (the right hemisphere uses sharps and the left uses flats).
To calculate the order of flats, simply start at 5 o'clock and proceed counter-clockwise through 11 o'clock = B – E -A – D – G – C – F and conversely and conveniently, the order of sharps is the reverse of the order of flats: 11 o'clock proceeding clockwise through 5 o'clock = F – C -G -D -A -E – B.
Thus far, we've only be discussing major keys, there are also 12 minor keys encapsulated in the circle of fifths (these minor keys are relative to the major keys) To calculate them begin with Am at 12 o'clock and proceed clockwise in 5ths =Am – Em – Bm – F#m – C#m – G#m. Then proceed counter-clockwise in 4ths = Am – Dm – Gm – Cm – Fm – Bflatm – Eflatm.
The circle of fifths has many applications. First off, I have my students write it out: 1. draw a circle of a piece of paper 2. beginning at 12 o'clock, write C, then progressing clockwise, you count up a 5th from 1 o'clock through 6 o'clock: C – G – D – A – E – B – F#. The right hemisphere of the circle deals in sharps and the left in flats.
To complete the left hemisphere, begin at 12 o' clock ( C ) and now proceed counter-clockwise in 4ths ( 4ths and 5ths are reciprocally inverse ) this produces: F – Bflat – Eflat – Aflat – Eflat – Dflat – Gflat.
I suggest students write this out everyday for a week or two by then you'll have a good handle on it.
A rudimentary use for the circle of fifths is to identify the accidentals in keys, here's how: G is at 1 o'clock and has one sharp, D is at 2 o'clock and has two sharps and so on ( A = 3 sharps, E = 4 sharps, B =5 sharps, F# = 6 sharps ) In other words, the numbers of sharps on the right hemisphere of the circle corresponds to the position on the numbers on the clock that are replaced by letters.
The left hemisphere deals in flats, to find them, proceed counter-clockwise from C ( 12 o'clock ) progressively adding one flat with each successive step on the clock. Ex. 11 o'clock = one flat, 10 o'clock = 2 flats, 9 o'clock = 3 flats and so on.
The exciting moment you've all been waiting for - yes, the 2nd part of Thinking Tonally...! (Start here if you missed part 1)
Now, let's get right to the exercises: Play your low E string and let it ring, then play an E major scale starting on the D string. What this exercise is doing is it's beginning to train your ear to become familiar with the essence of the major tonality. Then do the same with the other three tonalities. (E minor, major blues and minor blues)
The next exercise is very similar but instead of the open E note as the comparison to the scales you will play chords to compare to the scales: An E major chord against the E major scale, E minor chord against the E minor scale, E7 chord against the E major blues and the E minor blues. This will train your ear to hear the reflections of the scales in the chords and vice versa.
In the last exercise, we'll use the high E and B strings to create double stops ( two notes at once ) that define the four tonalities. We're going to harmonize the four scales in 3rds, that means you'll play the root and 3rd (or flat 3rd for a minor chord ) together. Begin with the E on the B string, fret 5 and the G# on the E string, fret 4. ( E to G# is a 3rd ) Then you simply ascend within the E major scale one step at a time on both strings simultaneously, then repeat the same process with the other three scales.
Once you do this exercise you'll have a much better understanding of the defining characteristics of the tonalities.