The Secret of Life is… A F D B G E

Our Make:KC group began a challenge this month to bring a project using circuit bending for our November Show and Tell. I’m working on a toddler’s piano that plays notes and talks. I also have some cheap thrift store keyboards including a 49 key electronic keyboard. It made me think maybe I should learn to play something too.

My Pursuit of Learning to Play Music

A friend recently asked me to look at some computer source code and see if I understood what it was doing. He said “this code sounds like dogs barking to me”. He is an accomplished artist and musician so this seems reasonable. I hadn’t heard it expressed quite like that before, but I get it, I know what he’s saying. For me, reading sheet music is the same way and the piano lessons 40 some years ago probably reflected that, sounding exactly like dogs barking. I’m not alone in this deficiency of reading music though.

Middle C

Middle C

The most recognizable note on sheet music is Middle C ( O ) It’s the note sitting there with a short line through the middle between the messes of lines above and below.  It sets there, staring us in the face. Mocking us. Tempting us. I think we may be born knowing which note is the Middle C.

After hours of research, it turns out that Middle C is not so unique after all. Other notes can have that little line drawn through them too, A’s and E’s to name a couple and maybe all of them. It would help if each letter was assigned to only one line or a space of its own but that’s not happening. Take the note E for instance. On the upper staff (AKA: Treble Clef) it shows up twice, once on a line then further up it’s on a space between lines. And what’s going on with the lower staff (AKA: Bass Clef) its notes are no where near the locations in the Treble Clef. I wonder sometimes if people who are dyslexic have an easier time reading sheet music.

Then there are the word games that are supposed to help you remember the notes. PLEASE keep the word phrases away!!! Memorizing “All Good Dogs Go To Heaven” isn’t working for me.

A Computer Science Connection?

Maybe there’s some way to make order out of this chaos. I’ve been programming for a long time, maybe it would help to correlate music with computer science.

We have the letters A through G. That looks like programming using Hexadecimal numbers, but that’s using 16 digits and we only have 7 white key’s before cycling through them again. Seven is one digit short to be considered for the Octal numbering system. Then there are those pesky black keys to mess things up. On a keyboard there are seven white keys plus five black keys, that gets us up to twelve. Come to think of it we do have a precedent with collections of twelve. There are 12 hours on the clock, 12 inches per foot, and 12 donuts in a dozen (or is that 13). This line of thought seems to be going nowhere.

Finding symmetry

It turns out that short line belonging to Middle C is actually borrowed. Other notes can indeed look just like Middle C with the line. The short line has a name, they call it a ledger line. I’m boycotting Middle C for the rest of the day, instead I’m calling it X.

Symmetry with the Ledger Lines.

Symmetry with the Ledger Lines.

When I write computer programs I look for patterns. Patterns in the data being used. Patterns in the source code I’m writing. Patterns allow me to create reusable functionality in a program. So looking for patterns in sheet music might work. Then there it was. Hidden, as if written in white ink on white paper, the pattern I was looking for; A F D B G E. A poetic  mnemonic, A F D – B G E. Framed upon symmetrical ledger lines.

Symmetrical Pattern with AFDBGE applied.

Symmetrical Pattern with AFDBGE applied.

Suddenly instead of learning only the treble clef before even thinking about starting on the bass clef, AFDBGE allows me to make sense of both clefs at the same time.

Top Google Results:

I Googled “AFDBGE” to see what other learning aids I could find based on AFDBGE.

  • African Development Bank. Completely unrelated I’m sure. But that reminds me I have a couple of emails I haven’t responded to yet about  a relative that recently died leaving a large sum of money. (I’ve never heard of this person but if I don’t come forward soon a foreign government will take all the money).
  • Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie. This sounds like something that may be useful when learning to read music. I’ll check this one out later.
  • I Found some source code posted that initialized variables using this sequence. Close, but not used as a technique for learning.
  • I Found some charts for playing chords and scales. This is logical to run a scale which has the sequence in a downward progression. Still not a technique built around learning to read sheet music.

I’m beginning to wonder if there is a code of ethics among musicians – never speak of AFDBGE and deny its existence.

The Pattern in AFDBGE

If I can get the lines memorized the spaces should come much easier as a function of remembering what letter comes between the particular line pair. For instance lines B & D the letter after B is C (this is not that other note X), lines D & F has an E in between.

  • A
    • G
  • F
    • E
  • D
    • C
  • B
    • A
  • G
    • F
  • E

Memory games.

I never wanted to play guitar but here I am. I talked with an instructor at the Antioch Music Center and scheduled a class. Yikes. That class is less than 24 hours away. Reading music is not a prerequisite but it’s a worthy goal. I’ll try some memory games to see if I can recognize more notes.

Maybe it will help me remember if I write AFDBGE 50 times

AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE
AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE AFDBGE

Nope! That helped me remember the Ctl-V does paste on this computer though.

I know what will help, I’ll blog about it…

Maybe I’ll change my password to AFDBGE -or- afdbge -or- AfDbGe -or- aFdBgE (oops I shouldn’t blog about this one). If you find an account I’ve used any of these passwords on please don’t hijack my account :~|

From this day forward, AFDBGE should never have a phrase associated with it not even “All Fat Dudes Buy Girls Earrings” – NO NEVER!

We know the alphabet – A,B,C,D,E,F,G forwards and backwards right? Not really, and a key to memorizing for me is to try remembering backwards. G, F, E, D, C, B, A. This should help me place the letters in-between, what was that again? AGDGTH – argh, if I reread this blog a couple more times I should have it memorized.

Anyway, a few of my favorite YouTube videos right now are performances of the Leon Russell song “This Masquerade”. One by Jake Reichbart and another by Pat Metheny and friends in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.  And there’s Leon Russell performing the song himself.

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(c) 2009 Vince Thompson

Better eBay Photos with a Portable Photo Studio

Today I built a Make Magazine inspired portable photo booth. I remember seeing a technique that lifted a sheet of glass or translucent plastic off the work surface and placed lighting beneath (Shadowless Closeups, Make #16). While browsing Home Depot this morning I found a great little item –  Painters Pyramid made by Hyde Tools.

Idea for a portable photo booth.

Idea for a portable photo booth.

These are little pyramid shaped plastic devices designed to hold freshly painted pieces up so you can paint all sides without waiting for one surface to dry. When I saw these I thought of the Make article and bought some to build a portable photo studio. I bought a  1/8″ thick sheet of 4′ x 8′ white panel board, a roll of Gorilla Tape and the Painter’s Pyramids.

The Workspaces.

The Workspaces.

Building the portable studio.

With some unfinished projects in the garage today, working off the pickup tailgate in the driveway will have to do. The location I’ll be using to take pictures is on top of a freezer. I’ve measured the freezer’s area and decided on 32″ x 48″ for my studio surface.

Getting Tools Ready.

Getting Tools Ready.

I need two pieces of the board cut at 32″ x 48″ each, so I’ll use the board’s width of 48″ but will cut a 32″ portion off of each end keeping the board’s nice manufactured edges. The two boards will fold together when finished so I want good straight cuts at 90 degree angles. I’m using a solid straight edge clamped to the board and adjusting for the width of my circular saw’s fence. I’m using a square to help get the nice right angle cutting positions. After getting the saw blade adjusted to a good depth I’m ready to make my cuts.

Assembling the Parts.

Assembling the Parts.

With the pieces cut I turn the white sides both facing inside. I square up the edges of the top and bottom sheets. With the cut edges aligned, I lay a strip of Gorilla Tape down to make a hinge. I’ve used Gorilla Tape on other projects and find it a great durable product.

Test Lighting

Test Lighting.

Test Lighting.

I already had two small fluorescent DC powered light fixtures to test the back lighting. One had a a blacklight bulb and the other white.

Test Photos.

Test Photos.

Test photos of the Painter’s Pyramid tools using various lighting techniques. I’ll be making a few additions to make the folding studio structure self supporting.

This is highly portable and easily adapted for photo shoots by using some fabric draping.

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