A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Posts tagged “cycle of fourths

Recommendations to Newbies

In four days, its going to be 4 years since I started this blog.

Since experiencing this beginner’s music theory class from Coursera, and blogging every day for a solid 5 weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I’d proceed to learn electric bass (notice I didn’t call it bass guitar) if I had to start all over again, or what advice I’d give to other newbies who are trying to get their bearings. The two main roads are self-study and getting a teacher, but there are different lanes on both of these roads.

I don’t believe in the concept of truly independent self-study anymore. This is because, as much as we can feel that we’re teaching ourselves by not having a formalized music education, we self-studiers still rely on outside resources, like books and videos. This is still utilizing a teacher by proxy on some level. Once we begin exploring our options, we’ll discover bass-centric websites, online discussion forums and other resources. We might branch out and look at other generalized music resources as well. The internet is the great enabler here, giving us access to more information, and more misinformation, that any generation before us.

I also think that there are different flavors of formalized education. Enlisting the services of a teacher, taking a class, enrolling in a music school and engaging in online lessons via something like Skype are all different ways of interacting with a flesh-and-blood mentor who can guide us along the path. These are all different though. sitting knee-to-knee with an instructor isn’t the same as being in a classroom with a dozen other students, and both of these differ from pinging electrons back and forth in a semi-static manner like what Coursera offers or a dynamic and visually interactive manner like Skype.

And, of course, there are even midpoints between the two of these, like learning with a friend who’s not well-versed, but who knows more than zero, or having formal music education with one instrument and then trying to apply it to another.

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Ear Training: Major 2nd & Major 3rd

Just a quick update:

So, last night, after thinking about how miserably I’m doing when trying to name the correct interval while testing myself on Major 2nds and Major 3rds, I found a way to drill the sounds into my head during practice. I’m running the Cycle of Fourths and playing each interval (2nd & 3rd) along the Cycle. I think its helping a bit, but its kind of boring as well. For some reason, its just more fun and more pleasant-sounding to run the Cycle with 5ths than it is with 2nds & 3rds. I think I need to get this done though, before moving on to the Perfect 4ths and Perfect 5ths from Lesson 2 of the online Coursera class.

Its interesting to notice that the notes sound a little different to me when I play them faster or when I play them slower and hold the note. What’s useful to me is that I can also start on the 2nd or 3rd and go to the root, so I can hear the sound both forward and backward. I don’t know if the movement is the same though, or if it varied based on direction, like how in the Cycle, moving one way is a 4th and the other is a 5th.


Coursera – Developing Your Musicianship Lesson 2

Yesterday, the 2nd lesson for Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class started. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, its a 6 week, 6-session, online beginner’s music theory class. I have mixed feelings about Lesson 1. I don’t think it really went into detail about any of the topics it covered. It seems more functional to me than theoretical, which is probably fine, but even in that regard, it hasn’t felt like there was a lot of guidance. Of course, that might be the nature of having a decentralized online class with no real two-way video interaction between the students and teacher.

Here’s the first part of the Announcement for Lesson 2:

Hello, and welcome to lesson 2! This week, we are going to continue our exploration of intervals, focusing on the perfect 4th and perfect 5th intervals. We are also going to dive into the world of triads—specifically major and minor triads, and how they are constructed. Finally, we are going to look at the I IV V chord progression. I am sure you will recognize it instantly, as it appears in countless songs.

Professor Russell goes on from there to say that he has enjoyed reading our messages in the discussion forums and loves how we’re sharing music from our cultures, our tips for learning music and our passion for music. I wish he’d compound that by answering some of the posts/questions on the forums. Its really been the other students driving the questions and answers there, so that lack of true guidance concern really extends outward from just the lessons.

I understand that its a free online class, but I’d have liked to have seen something like an FAQ or other document that at least takes questions from prior offerings of the class and answers them. My hope is that Berklee would have the resources to comb through this information and codify it. Of course, its possible that these issues are actually resolved in their paying classes, and this could be a way to get input about that for minimal cost. Nothing in life is truly free.

Like with the first lesson, I’m familiar with the concepts that this session will be covering. I know what triads are, although I’m no expert, and I have an understanding of what a I-IV-V progression is. I haven’t blogged about it yet, but I’ve been playing with them a little more during practice at night via the Cycle of Fourths. I’ll see if I can post about that a little more later this week.

Here are the titles for the videos in the 2nd lesson:

Lesson 2: Major & Minor Triads

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The Cycle of Fourths

It occurred to me earlier that I’ve spelled out the Cycle of Fourths in sequence from C, but I haven’t provided a picture of what it looks like yet. Here’s a brief summary and some links to more info, and for redundancy’s sake, here’s the sequence again:

C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – B – E – A – D – G

And, here’s a picture of the Cycle, in all its glory. This is the one I’ve been referencing since I first blogged about it. Its the first image that comes up in Google when you search for “Cycle of Fourths”. Its originally from a guitar site called Deft Digits.

The Cycle of Fourths

The Cycle of Fourths

Now, on to some info about the Cycle:

  • Its alternately called the Cycle of Fourths or Circle of Fourths
  • It includes all of the 12 notes in western music, from A to G, and thus has 12 positions, like a clock
  • Instead of moving alphabetically, it moves in fourths, so (this is easiest to understand if we start on A – the 9:00 position):
    • If A-B-C-D is 1-2-3-4 then A is the 1 and D is the 4, so moving a 4th from A is D
    • If D-E-F-G is 1-2-3-4 then D is the 1 and G is the 4, so moving a 4th from D is G
    • If G-A-B-C is 1-2-3-4 then G is the 1 and C is the 4, so moving a 4th from G is C
    • If C-D-E-F is 1-2-3-4 then C is the 1 and F is the 4, so moving a 4th from C is F, etc.
  • The first BEADG letters that appear are flatted (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb) and the next aren’t
  • Later on, in music theory this lets people easily know the numbers of sharps or flats in a key, but I’m not ready for that yet
  • Moving clockwise from one note to the next goes in fourths. Counterclockwise goes in fifths
    • If you pick a note (say, C) and move one note to the right (F), you’ve moved a 4th
    • If you pick a note (say, C) and move one note to the left (G), you’ve moved a 5th
    • Because of that, you can look at a note and its 2 closest neighbors and know where to go for a I-IV-V progression
      • If we start on C, then a I-IV-V progression would be C-F-G

Here are the two links I found most useful when I was reading about it a month ago:


Memorizing notes on the E, A & D-strings using the Cycle of Fourths

Apparently, I can play the Cycle of Fourths starting on C on the E, A and D strings. However – it seems that what I’ve really done is learn the pattern of the Cycle, which is just what I’ve been afraid of. I’m up in the air about whether to continue and learn the notes on the G string or find a way to really learn the notes so that I actually know where to find them, and not just how to play the Cycle.

I’m probably going to end up moving onto the G string this week, just for completeness. Its a good exercise, and I’m able to consistently use it to practice 5ths and other stuff. I’m sure that on some level, I also actually know the fretboard better than I did a month ago as well, but its not how I want it just yet.

I tried playing each note on all 3 strings – so finding all 3 C’s, then F’s, then Bb’s and so on. That was hard. Its also how I confirmed that I didn’t know the notes as well as I’d like to. I think what I’ll do is break them into smaller chunks and practice like that. Maybe groups of 3, so [C-F-Bb], then [Eb-Ab-Db], then [Gb-B-E], and finally [A-D-G].

Tabbed out for the E, A and D strings, the exercises will eventually look like this:

Cycle of 4ths - E A D strings (by note)

Also, I think I got a feel for the D string faster than the first two, so something is clicking subconsciously.


Memorizing notes on the D-string using the Cycle of Fourths

I have the notes on the first 12 frets of the E and A strings in the Cycle of Fourths down well enough that I can play them without making mistakes often now – unless I use a metronome, then I don’t last too long. I can play them one after another, going from the E string to the A string and then back again. I can also play short patterns starting on them now, like the root-5th or even the minor scale. Starting on the 5th and landing on the root is ok, but sometimes, I still lose my place.

That said, I’m worried that I’m going to fall into the pattern where I play the same thing over and over again without getting better mentally, so I’m moving onto the D string now.

So, just like always, the Cycle of Fourths (starting on C) is spelled like this:

C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – B – E – A – D – G – C

Here are the notes in fret numbers for the first half of the D string. As always, its probably better to work out where these notes are for yourself before using the fret positions below to cheat, but its here if needed:

Cycle of 4ths on 1st half of D String (frets 0 – 11)

Cycle of 4ths on 1st half of D String (frets 0 – 11)


Memorizing notes on the E-string using the Cycle of Fourths 6

I was just reviewing the Cycle of Fourths on the E string and I found a new permutation to practice it with that has a nice melodic ring – I reversed what I was doing a week or two ago. Instead of playing a given note in the Cycle and then its 5th, I’m playing the 5th and then landing on the note in the Cycle. It causes me to hesitate a little, because I’m seeking out the note, but playing the one on the string above, and 2 frets down, before hitting the root note each time, but its an interesting (if simple) mind-game for me right now. I’m going to run this for a day or two and then move it onto the A string.

Here’s what it looks like:

Cycle of 4ths - E String with leading 5ths