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Get used to the sharps and flats on the staff
About the chromatic scale and the Circle of Fifths

1. What does sharp/flat mean?

First let's review the meaning of sharps/flats that appear in the stave notation. It has two major meanings as follows.

[A]

It is used to indicate the key of the piece. In this case, the sharps/flats are written to the right of the clef (G clef, F clef, etc.) on the left end of the staff. The key of C major has neither sharps nor flats. All other keys must have at least one sharp or flat.

[B]

In addition to indicating the key of the piece, the left side of the note is used to temporarily raise or lower the note by a halftone (semitone). If you want to raise or lower a whole tone, write two sharps or two flats in a row.

Shakuhachi notation also has symbols with names such as MERI and KARI that indicate the lowering or raising of a note. However, shakuhachi notation is tablature notation, which indicates fingering. MERI and KARI do not have the function as key signature. 

2. The chromatic scale

The chromatic scale is a scale in which one octave is divided equally among 12 intervals. The chromatic scale is based on the idea that the scale structure is the same no matter which of the 12 notes within an octave you start from. When the chromatic scale moves upward, it is often represented by the sharp system, and when it moves downward, it is often represented by the flat system. The following is the chromatic scale starting from C and the pitches of the basic five notes of 1.8(D) Shakuhachi.

Figure showing The chromatic scale (from C) and the pitches of the basic five notes of 1.8(D) Shakuhachi.

Figure1: The chromatic scale (from C) and the pitches of the basic five notes of 1.8(D) Shakuhachi.

The following is the chromatic scale indicated by sharps on the ascending scale from D; the basic five notes of the 1.8(D) shakuhachi are DFGAC from the lowest. As long as you can play the six major scales which we have seen so far: C, F, B-flat, E-flat, G and D, you should be able to play the chromatic scale without difficulty.

Figure showing Fingerings of 1.8(D) on the chromatic scale (from D)

Figure2: Fingerings of 1.8(D) on the chromatic scale (from D)

3. The major scale

The major scales consist of seven of the twelve notes in an octave with intervals of whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, and half. This pitch relationship does not change even if the key changes (that is to say, regardless of which note is the keynote/tonic of the major scale). The seven notes that make up the scale are represented by a Roman numeral, which is the number of the note counting from the keynote (tonic).

Figure showing The pitch structure (intervals) of C major scale

Figure3: The pitch structure (intervals) of C major scale

4. What is the relationship between each key and sharps/flats?

The C major scale has no key signature. The keynote(tonic) of the C major scale is C. Then, if we start "Do Re Mi..." from the fourth note of C major scale: F, the new major scale will have the order Do(F), Re(G),  Mi(A), Fa(B-flat), Sol(C), La(D), Si(E), Do(F). This is the F major scale. In order to keep the seven-note interval to W-W-H-W-W-W-H, a key signature <flat>, appears at the fourth note of this scale (IV=B-flat).

In the same way, if we start "Do Re Mi..." from the fourth note of the F major scale, the new major scale will be Do (B-flat), Re (C), Mi (D), Fa (E-flat), Sol (F), La (G), Si (A), with one another flat of the key signature at the fourth note of this scale (IV=E-flat).

Repeating this process, each time a new major scale is created starting 5 degrees below (4 degrees above) the base major scale, one flat is added at the fourth, and the scale returns to the C major on the twelfth time.

Figure showing Relationship between the number of flats (increasing of flats) and the keys

Figure4: Relationship between the number of flats (increasing of flats) and the keys

However, if we follow this rule and try to indicate "Do Re Mi..." in all 12 keys using only the flat symbol, we will have to write two flats for a note (for example, B would be written as C-double-flats). This is not a practical key signature to put on a staff. In practice, the half of 12 keys are indicated using <flat> and the other half using <sharp> (with some exceptions).

Specifically, if we start "Do Re Mi..." at 5 degrees above = 4 degrees below: G (V) of C major, we get the sequence Do(G) Re(A) Mi(B) Fa(C) Sol(D) La(E) Si(F-sharp), with one key signature <sharp> appearing at the 7th. Repeat the same procedure for the twelfth time to return to the C major, but as mentioned above, the display switches to a flat display at the sixth time (with some exceptions).

Figure showing Relationship between the number of sharps (increasing of sharps) and the keys

Figure5: Relationship between the number of sharps (increasing of sharps) and the keys

5. The circle of fifths

The Circle of Fifths is a graphical representation of the above mechanism.

Figure showing The Circle of Fifths

Figure6: The Circle of Fifths

This table is useful for understanding the order in which the key signature increases. The inside of the circle represents the key of the minor scale: starting from "La" in the major scale, and this relationship is called the parallel key. For example, the parallel key of C major is A minor.

Being able to play the major scales in all 12 keys is essential practice, especially for classical, jazz, and pop shakuhachi playing.

On the 1.8(D-tube) shakuhachi, try to play the major scales shown in the circle of fifths counterclockwise.

 

CFB-flatE-flatA-flatD-flatG-flat=F-sharp

You can see that the number of basic five notes:D F G A C that can be used in the major scale decreases in proportion to the increase in the number of flats in the key signature.

Figure showing The five basic notes of the 1.8shakuhachi that can be used in the major scale where flats appear.

Figure7: The five basic notes of the 1.8shakuhachi (shown in red) that can be used in the major scale where flats appear.

The circled D is the Tsutsune-tone. The notes circled in squares are outside the range of the 1.8 (D)-tube. When You play the C and B-flat major scales, start one octave above the register shown in this diagram. When playing the D-flat major scale, the first D-flat should be played by doing MERU the TsuTsune-tone (Ro), while the D-flat one octave higher can be played by using the C-sharp=D-flat (GonoHi_ChuMeri/Hi_Han-on). See Fingerings of 1.8(D) on the chromatic scale (from D).

When you get to G-flat=F-sharp, now playing it in a clockwise direction.

CGDAEBF-sharp=G-flat

As the sharps of the key signatures increase, the number of basic 5 notes in the major scale that you can use decreases and the number of MERI-tones increases.

Figure showing The five basic notes of the 1.8shakuhachi that can be used in the major scale where sharps appear.

Figure8: The five basic notes of the 1.8shakuhachi (shown in red) that can be used in the major scale where sharps appear.

You can see when you play the Circle of Fifths counterclockwise,
In C, F, and B-flat major scales, you can use all the basic five notes DFGAC.
In E-flat major scale, one of the five basic notes is reduced: A is not available.
In A-flat major scale, two of the five basic notes are reduced: A and D are not available.
In D-flat major scale, three of the five basic notes are reduced : A, D, and C are not
available.
In G-flat major scale, four of the five basic notes are reduced: A, D
C and G are not available.

 

On the other hand, in the clockwise direction,
In G
 major scales, you can use all the basic five notes DFGAC.
In D major scales, two of the five basic notes are reduced:
C and F are not available.
In A major scales, three of the five basic notes are reduced: CF and G are not
available.
In E major scales, four of the five basic notes are reduced: C
, FG and D are not available.
In B major scales, all five basic notes DFGAC are not
available.
In F-sharp major scales, the only basic five note that is available is F (=E-sharp). This is same as in G-flat.

The decrease in the number of the basic five notes that you can be use when playing the major scale means that the number of MERI-tones that make up the scale will increase. And the MERI-tones are more difficult to control in pitch and volume than the basic five notes.

It is important to be able to play the major scales in all 12 keys on the 1.8(D) shakuhachi, but if you play a piece composed in a key with fewer than the available five basic notes, your ability to express tunes will be limited. In such cases, you can deal with this by changing the key (lentgh) of the instrument itself.

For example, if you want to play a piece in the key of A-flat, you can play it in the key of B-flat by using a 2.0(C) shakuhachi, which is 2 degrees lower than a 1.8(D) shakuhachi.

Below are the first four bars of the standard number "You don't know what love is". You can play this A-flat tune in the key of B-flat by using a 2.0(C) shakuhachi; playing the original key(A-flat) in 1.8(D) and the transposed key(B-flat) in 2.0(C) will produce the same result in terms of pitch.

When you play this tune on a 1.8(D) shakuhachi, the basic five notes you can use are F,G,C (D and A are not available). Moreover, the first note C is out of the range of the 1.8(D) shakuhachi.

If this tune is transposed to B-flat and played on a 2.0(C) shakuhachi, all five basic notes D,F,G,A,C are available. Also, since the opening C of this tune is the Tsutsune-tone (Ro) of the 2.0(C) shakuhachi, the range problem is also solved.

For reference, check the basic five notes on the 2.0(C) shakuhachi in the chromatic scale.

Figure showing an example of transposition
Figure showing The chromatic scale (from C) and the pitches of the basic five notes of 2.0(C) Shakuhachi.

Figure9: The chromatic scale (from C) and the pitches of the basic five notes of 2.0(C) Shakuhachi.

This is just one example. If you have difficulty playing on a 1.8(D) shakuhachi, transposing the original piece to fit the key of a non-1.8(D) instrument should solve many problems.

When playing classical, jazz, or pop music on the shakuhachi, it is important not only to be able to play the 12 notes that make up the chromatic scale at the correct pitch, but also to understand the relationship between the key of the piece you want to play and the key(length) of instrument you are using.

It takes some time to get used to it, but once you understand the principle, it is not difficult. Enjoy not only the Japanese classics but also various kinds of music with the shakuhachi!

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