Monday, December 3, 2007

Music Notation in color

There has always been a small tradition of using color to notate music. I made this a few years ago to help with improvisation on the guitar. (click image to enlarge)

Music theory uses a language of letters and numbers. You can find alphanumeric fretboard maps like this all over the Internet. But it is useful to translate this map into color because (unless you're color blind, sorry fellows) our brain is very good at processing color. Unlike when we read, we can can process color peripherally - at a glance we can see patterns over a large area form a holistic model of the fretboard.

If playing a song is like tying knot - following instructions and then committing it to kinetic memory - improvising is more like untangling a complicated knot in your brain. You have to understand how different knots relate to each other in changing contexts.

This fretboard color map lets you see intuitively how pieces of melody fit into a larger context. It helped me to stop relying on kinetic memory alone and to start really thinking about what I was trying to play.

(For you musicians: I'd like to see this develop into a web application: You should be able to change the color scheme from the root key to the key of different chords in the song by pushing a MIDI pedal (or in a pinch, by clicking a mouse). Ideally, there could be more than one map overlayed on top of one another so you could see the relative parts of scale for different chords. For example in they key of G, you could intuitively read that B is the 3rd of the root, the 5th of the relative minor and the 6th of the Dominant. Maybe we could use shapes and color together: It's amazing how quick your brain can toggle between reading squares vs triangles to reading blue vs red.)

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