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  • Writer's pictureBecca Longhenry

Mapping 3-octave major scales

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

Each of us has a unique way of learning information. Although one would expect musicians to be aural learners, musicians also connect with information in other ways, including visually.

When I moved to Richmond and began teaching at the Music Tree School of Music, I became good friends with a number of guitarists who also taught at what we affectionately call the Tree. Having been acquainted with primarily string players in both undergrad and graduate school, I was amazed to discover the differences between the way that guitarists approach and conceptualize music, and the way that string players do! Guitars are often harmony instruments, while violins and violas are typically melody (or at least single-line) instruments, and that heavily influences the way in which we think about music. The fact that one instrument has frets and the others do not also impacts our thinking.

Always on the hunt for ways to improve my musicianship, I have tried to adopt some of my friends' ideas and apply them to my teaching. In particular, I have whole-heartedly welcomed visual representations of the fingerboard as a grid into my toolbox! Visualizing the whole steps and half steps both along and across the strings has solidified my intonation as well as my students'.

For my beginning students, I introduce the idea of visualizing the fingerboard as a grid by using the All for Strings Workbooks. While these books do not follow exactly the same trajectory as the other books that I use for beginners (Suzuki Volume 1 for repertoire and musicality and String Builder for note reading), I have been experimenting with jumping around within the workbooks to reinforce the concepts and note reading that are introduced in the other books. In the workbooks, students are presented with fingerboard maps to complete. As students progress into higher positions and increasingly chromatic music, we continue to draw our own maps to clarify the positions of the notes and the fingers' movements and relationship to each other. Sometimes, during particularly note-y passages, I feel like a football coach describing plays to the team!

Since COVID-19 has limited our ability to leave the house, I have taken this opportunity to draw up printable blank fingerboard maps that go beyond first position, and printable maps for the three primary fingerings for three-octave major scales. Because so many students begin with tapes where first, high second, and third fingers should land, horizontal lines mark those positions; following the third finger position, the lines are placed in whole steps. While the notes are closer together on the fingerboard as one approaches the bridge, the grid for these maps remains constant to highlight the whole steps and half steps. Circles indicate where fingertips land; circles that are touching indicate half steps, while those with spaces between indicate whole steps. Circles with dashed lines represent where fingers that are silent during the scale should be positioned within the key. Colorful boxes group together notes that are played in the same position (beyond the original position). An excellent exercise would be to fill in the note names!

Violin finger maps:

First finger 3-octave major scales (here shown as A major; shift down one half step for Ab/G#)

Second finger 3-octave major scales (here shown as Bb major; shift up by half steps for each additional key)

Viola finger maps:

First finger 3-octave major scales (here shown as D major; shift down one half step for Db/C#)

Second finger 3-octave major scales (here shown as Eb major; shift up by half steps for each additional key)

If you found these maps useful, either as a student or as a teacher, consider buying me a cup of coffee on Paypal or Venmo, or commenting to let me know that you enjoyed them. Be sure to comment or send me an email if you find any errors in these files!

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