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The major scale

how to see soundSo the chromatic scale is simple. And the most common example of this 12-note pattern is a piano keyboard. Only, you don’t actually play the chromatic scale in music. Instead, musicians use it to make smaller and more interesting patterns. And they do this using “intervals.”

Intervals are the gaps or spaces between notes—and they’re basically what music is all about. By using intervals, musicians combine different notes to create some very cool sounds. Intervals help you get from one note to another. They’re what you use to play scales, chords, and progressions. And what’s nice is they’re totally simple.

In fact, there are just two basic types of intervals in music: “half-steps” and “whole-steps” … which are easy to see using squares and circles.

 

half-step interval separates any two notes that are next to each other in the chromatic scale. So the chromatic scale is really just a pattern of half steps. As you move from one note to the next, you go through each half-step interval: square … circle … square … circle … square … circle … and so on.

A whole-step interval is just a combination of two half steps. Which means you play a whole step by skipping every other note. It’s easy, really. All the square notes in the chromatic scale are separated by whole-step intervals … and all the circles are, too.

 

 

Try playing each of these intervals and you’ll get a feel for how they sound. Of course, they still don’t sound that great. But that’s okay … because the way you really start making music is by combining different intervals.

In fact, the most popular interval pattern in music is what people call the “major scale,” which has a pattern that looks like this:

whole-whole-half—whole—whole-whole-half

Starting at a C note on the keyboard, for example, the major scale is:

This pattern is so popular that musicians label each note 1 through 8. Try it—starting with your left hand, play the first four notes of the major scale one finger at a time … then play the last four notes with your right hand: 1, 2, 3, 4 … 5, 6, 7, 8.

Of course, you can also play this same pattern starting on any note. For example, try playing the eight notes of the G major scale (starting on G):

There’s not much to it, really. The major scale sounds so musical. And using squares and circles, it’s easy to see. In fact, let’s go all the way. Now, try playing through all 12 major scales. Think of it as a kind of target practice. As you play each scale, your eyes, ears, and hands will get smarter. And your brain will grow, too … because major scales lead directly to the next main pattern in music—the circle of fifths.

 

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The chromatic scale

how to see soundIn music, the first and most basic pattern to know is the chromatic scale. It’s actually so basic you might even say it’s the mother of all note patterns. Every scale and every chord comes from the chromatic scale. And nearly all instruments are based on this pattern of notes. The most common example of the chromatic scale is a piano keyboard.

The first thing you might notice about this pattern is that it has only 12 notes. And each note sounds a little different. In fact, the best way to hear the chromatic scale is to actually play it. Seriously … try it. Sit down at a piano and run your fingers across the keyboard. As you hit each note—moving from left to right—you’ll hear the notes gradually rise in pitch. And when you move in the opposite direction—playing one note after another—the notes gradually fall in pitch.

If you keep moving left or right across the keyboard, the notes keep getting lower or higher. So the notes get lower moving to the left … while the notes get higher moving to the right. But really, you’re just repeating the same 12 notes over and over again. And that’s why music is so simple: the chromatic scale is just a nice little pattern of 12 basic notes.

To keep track of which note is which, musicians name each note using letters. It’s a little weird how it works, but it’s easy to explain. While some notes have just one letter name, other notes are labeled using what are called “sharps” (#) and “flats” (b). If a note has a sharp symbol (#) in its name, it means it’s higher than the note to its left. And if a note has a flat sign (b), it’s lower than the note to its right.

 For example, the note between C and D is sometimes called C# (meaning it’s higher than C). And sometimes, it’s called Db (meaning it’s lower than D). But no matter what you call it (C# or Db), it’s really just the same note.

Of course, I could go on about how silly and strange note names are, but that’s beside the point. What really matters is that the chromatic scale includes all 12 notes in music … and each of these notes is equal.

In fact, that’s why the chromatic scale doesn’t sound that great. As you move from one note to the next, the pitch gradually rises or falls. So obviously, it’s not much fun to play. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be.

You see, most musicians don’t actually play the chromatic scale at all. It’s just the collection of all 12 notes laid out in order. You might think of it as a kind of painter’s palette. Like any good painter, you simply pick and choose the notes you want to use.

In reality, musicians play smaller patterns that sound a lot more interesting. And the most popular of these is called the “major scale.” Which is the next step on our way to seeing sound with ColorMusic.

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How music works

how to see soundOkay, so color is simple. There are just 12 colors in the color wheel and we all know how they work. You’ve got primaries … and secondaries … and tertiaries. Oh yeah, and there are complementary colors, too. It’s basic, really.

As it turns out, music patterns are just as simple—seriously. They just look a little strange. Colors are easy to see because our eyes naturally understand them. But musical notes, on the other hand, got a bad deal. It’s unfair, really. Over the centuries, musical patterns were slowly hidden under a layer of letters, numbers, and symbols. And we can thank a few medieval monks for that.

 

 

To make sense of music, we just have to bring those patterns to the surface. And that’s what ColorMusic is all about. It makes musical patterns easy to see. And, honestly, they look awesome  … like some ancient mosaic that’s been waiting under a layer of dust. (In fact, I get all excited just thinking about it.)

But before we can really unearth musical patterns—and get them out into the sunlight—we have to look at three basic note patterns:

Think of these patterns as the three doors that lead to Color Music. Once we’ve passed through all of them, it gets really good.

Of course, we could just start looking at musical patterns right now … in color. But to really make sense of things, it helps to have a little background in music. Nothing crazy, of course. Just a quick look at notes and how they work. And we’ll do this the old-fashioned way: in black and white.

It’s all very simple. And once we have Color Music, we’ll really appreciate how easy life gets. So first off, the chromatic scale….

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How color works

how to see soundIf ColorMusic is going to work, then it has to be done right. You can’t just use any random colors. They’ve got to be the right ones … but, of course, which ones? We already know that music is all about patterns. And color is too. So let’s look at color patterns first. After all, color is easy to follow—and everyone knows how colors work.

For example, check out the color wheel below. This basic pattern is probably familiar. It has 12 colors, with each color moving to the next. Red passes to red-orange … which passes to orange … which passes to orange-yellow … and so on.

To make each color stand out, the primary and secondary colors are shaped like squares, while the other colors (called “tertiaries”) are shaped like circles. And these shapes show how the color wheel is built. You remember how it works—there are three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue):



And these are mixed to make secondary colors (orange, green, and purple):



Then, to fill in the gaps, these colors are combined to make tertiary colors. For example, red and orange make red-orange … orange and yellow make orange-yellow … yellow and green make yellow-green … and so on:

There really isn’t much to it. Every color follows this same, simple pattern. And nothing is a surprise.

But … just for fun … let’s look a little closer. When you first learned colors, you heard about “complementary” colors. Any two colors are complements if they’re directly across from each other in the color wheel. So red and green are complements … orange and blue are complements … yellow and purple are complements … red-orange and green-blue are complements … etc.

 

 

Every color has its own complement. And each pair of complements has a special connection because they are complete opposites. (They also make each other stand out.) For example, red is the total opposite of green. So they’re across from each other in the color wheel. Orange is the opposite of blue, so they’re also directly across from each other. Yellow is the opposite of purple, and so on.

So what would happen if we mixed things up a little? Just for fun, let’s make each pair of complements switch places. In other words, let’s move every color into its opposite position. (To do this, we just rotate the squares 180 degrees.) The result looks a little weird, but it’s easy to follow.



In the picture above, the color wheel has been twisted around. So now, red is where green was … and green is where red was. Orange is where blue was … and blue is where orange was. And, like you probably guessed, yellow and purple have switched places … and so on.

At this point, you may be wondering, “Okay, I get it. But what’s the point? Are we going to sit here all day and just play with color? Or are we going to make some music?” Well … now we can. Because we’ve just cracked the code to music. As it turns out, this is the color pattern. The one that people have been trying to find for a very long time. For musicians, this is the “holy grail” of patterns. And once you see how it works, you’ll be playing music faster and better than you ever thought was possible.

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Yeah, but which colors?

how to see soundSo, it seems like color might help us see music patterns. But before we check it out, we should answer a couple of questions. I mean, we don’t want to waste our time if this isn’t going to work. The first question is, “Why haven’t we seen this before?” If color is really that obvious, then ColorMusic should be more common … right? And the second question is, “Even if we did use color, what colors should we use?” Music has a lot of notes—and there are a ton of colors—so it can’t be that simple.

These are both good questions, so let’s start with the first. “Why haven’t we seen color music before?” Well, in a way, you probably have. If you walk into any toy store, you’ll find stuff like this:

Toy companies are always coming up with bright, colorful instruments for kids. They’re all about rainbows, and sunshine, and birdies, and lollipops. But I think we can agree this is not what we mean. We are serious musicians. We want to see sound. And, really, we just want to make music … not eat ice cream and play patty-cakes. So toys like these might be nice for the kids, but we need something real.

Of course, other serious musicians have tried to combine color and music. And some pretty smart people (like Aristotle and Newton). But no matter how hard these guys tried, they always failed. Why?

Well, that brings us to our second question: “Even if we did use color, what colors should we use?” The reason color isn’t common in music is because no one had figured out how to do it. After all, you can’t just throw a bucket of paint on sound and expect to see something. Color and music both follow the same exact patterns. (Newton and Aristotle were right.) Only the link between these patterns has a little twist. And for some strange reason, nobody noticed it … until now.

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