Melanostigmatophobia

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Roger O'Keeffe
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Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Roger O'Keeffe »

As I'm here, I thought I might share with you a recent contribution I made to a discussion on The Session. It might be appreciated by those who, like me, suffer from melanostigmatophobia, a not-altogether irrational fear or loathing of the black dots.



'And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I gave up on music theory about 65 years ago. I couldn’t relate to the logic which, I am assured, underpins it.

I sometimes wish Bob Newhart or Victor Borge had done a sketch about it:

"There are eight notes in an octave, you say? So you have eight lines to represent them? No, you use the spaces as well?

So it’s four lines and four spaces, right? …Five lines you say? … And the five lines and four spaces allow you to represent… eight notes. No? Because there are actually TWELVE notes in an eight-note octave? I see….

Let’s come back to that. You mentioned earlier that the notes are known by letters so the scale goes A, B, C, D and so on, right?

Wait, what? The first note is actually C? That’s… original….

But the first line represents the first note in the scale, and the first space the next, and so on, right? So if the first note is C, the first line is called C and so on…?

Wait, you’re telling me the first note is C, BUT IT DOESN’T EVEN APPEAR ON THE PAGE????

Oh, look, just forget the whole thing, I’m sorry I asked."
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Cyberknight »

:lol:

To be fair, though, C is not the "first note," unless you arbitrarily decide it is. At least, it's not the "first note" any more than any other note is. Each note is the first note of its respective scale.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Moof »

:D

And even when people can make sense of the starlings on telegraph wires, they still ask you how it starts.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by kkrell »

Cyberknight wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 12:24 pm :lol:

To be fair, though, C is not the "first note," unless you arbitrarily decide it is. At least, it's not the "first note" any more than any other note is. Each note is the first note of its respective scale.
The basic staff layout, without sharps & flats (no key signatures added), is of a C Major scale. C is the first note of that scale. Then it all gets more complicated.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Nanohedron »

I was just too unruly for all that. Looks like I'm in good company. It seems impossible, but for seven years I was able to deceive my piano teacher that I could read; I was actually learning by ear all along, and what little reading I could do was really just a bad crutch to get me past the things I couldn't immediately memorize (I would have her play the piece "for phrasing and dynamics" when all I was really doing was ear-memorizing as fast as I could). Then we got to five flats, and I was outta there.

Hey, Roger!
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Roger O'Keeffe »

Been a while, Nano! Are you the last of the Mohicans in these parts?

I sang in several choirs over the years. I would always stand beside a good sight-reader, get the tune from them by ear and just use the score as a very rough visual reminder of the general shape of the tune. :D
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Roger O'Keeffe »

Cyberknight wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 12:24 pm :lol:

To be fair, though, C is not the "first note," unless you arbitrarily decide it is. At least, it's not the "first note" any more than any other note is. Each note is the first note of its respective scale.
Tell that to anyone teaching kids the piano. :lol:
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Nanohedron »

Roger O'Keeffe wrote: Wed Jun 12, 2024 4:54 pm Been a while, Nano! Are you the last of the Mohicans in these parts?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. C&F hasn't the craziness it used to have before the ascendency of the social media platforms, but it appears to still remain a reliable and sought resource on its topics, and during your hiatus we've had new members who contribute, and some from considerable expertise at that. So the Board seems to earn its keep in some plane of the Internet. Interesting to me is that it's a rare day someone doesn't apply to join, but not everyone participates, of course.
Roger O'Keefe wrote:I sang in several choirs over the years. I would always stand beside a good sight-reader, get the tune from them by ear and just use the score as a very rough visual reminder of the general shape of the tune. :D
That's pretty much how I'd do it. :twisted:
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by pancelticpiper »

We use five letters to represent around 15 vowel sounds in English.

Yet you can read.

Staff Notation is far more logical and far easier to read than written English.

(I say "around 15 vowel sounds" because the number varies from dialect to dialect, due to how many vowel-sound mergers each dialect has. Mine has both the cot/caught merger and the pin/pen merger.)
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Moof »

pancelticpiper wrote: Thu Jun 13, 2024 4:20 am Staff Notation is far more logical and far easier to read than written English.
There's a big difference between the two, though. It's incredibly hard to get by in an English-speaking country – and practically impossible to find regular work – if you can't read written English. That isn't so with music.

I'm descended from people who lived long, music-filled lives without ever being able to read notation. They had a different skill, the ability to learn quickly by ear. It works very well and offers a connection that reading from a page doesn't: they were given tunes, as gifts, by other people. My great-uncle knew hundreds of traditional Irish tunes, and whilst he was often a bit vague on the titles, he remembered who gave them to him.

Most people learn to read English as young children at state-funded schools, but often only the privileged or the lucky get the chance to learn to read music. Of all the children under 12 who live in my city now I'd wager at least 80% of them, possibly more, live in families that couldn't afford private music tuition. Unless they happen to have a family member who reads, that kind of tuition is often the only route to learning. Kids who want to make music will learn by ear instead, and by the time they have the opportunity to learn staff, it's quite a difficult journey. Some of them will persevere; some of the good ear learners won't bother because they don't need to.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by pancelticpiper »

Moof wrote: Thu Jun 13, 2024 5:10 am
There's a big difference between the two, though. It's incredibly hard to get by in an English-speaking country – and practically impossible to find regular work – if you can't read written English. That isn't so with music.
It's true with written music if you make your living as a professional musician doing studio, orchestral, church, or any other sort of music that requires you to be a fluent sightreader.

The term in the mainstream LA music scene is 'legit'.

(An actual conversation I heard.)

"I need a sax guy for that gig next Saturday".

"I know a guy, want me to call him?"

"Is he legit?"


The band leader is asking if the person is a fluent sightreader, not whether he can be trusted to show up on time.

With a legit musician you can put sheet music (a score, a Lead Sheet, etc) on a music stand and he can show up and play it with maybe a single run-through before performing for the microphone or audience.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by David Cooper »

I was fine with reading music until it started moving into keys where you had to remember which notes were to be sharp or flat, and the defectiveness of that system meant that I simply stopped bothering with it - I only had to hear a piece two or three times to memorise it, so I learned everything that way.

Not everyone can do that, of course, and not everyone can cope with learning to read music from that defective system either, so it's a major barrier to many people who might otherwise be able to cope. There ought to be a more rational system where each note is distinct and now that we have computers, it should be possible to convert any music score into a new system or even into systems unique to individual people who design their own alternative ways of writing music that make sense to them. I'd like to do something using colours, and with everything shifting from print to screens, that's now practical.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Moof »

pancelticpiper wrote: Thu Jun 13, 2024 6:55 am

It's true with written music if you make your living as a professional musician doing studio, orchestral, church, or any other sort of music that requires you to be a fluent sightreader.
Sure, but the vast majority of the world's music players aren't professionals, and many have no desire to be. Being unable to read because they didn't get the opportunity to learn as kids doesn't hold them back – after all, for most of human history we managed perfectly well with nothing but our ears.

I'm not at all anti-notation, I just know people can get by fine without it. I would like to see it being taught as a compulsory part of children's education, though, because then it would be available to everyone. At the moment, it isn't; I spent years working with kids, and many couldn't even imagine themselves having an opportunity to learn music, let alone actually doing it. The underlying feeling is the same for them as it was for me growing up in the 60s: "it's for posh people, not the likes of us". That's a shame.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Nanohedron »

One problem among ear-players is there's no set nomenclature, and this can be even more problematic if you're playing with a reading musician unfamiliar with your idiom and the two of you haven't defined your terms. One time I was performing in a church Be Thou My Vision on Trad flute with a classically trained pianist - all well and good, and I was able to indulge in some variations in keeping with the "Celtic" theme of the service - and while he nurbled on for a brief improvisatory interlude, I got the bright idea to modulate up a half step and took the opportunity to switch to the Eb body. What could go wrong? Well, I made some incorrect assumptions and wasn't clear enough in my informing him of this, and as a result whereas I was playing in G#, he was playing in Eb. Rueful hilarity ensued in the hallowed space, but the congregation were forgiving. For me it was a lesson learned.
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Re: Melanostigmatophobia

Post by Moof »

Nanohedron wrote: Thu Jun 13, 2024 3:05 pm One problem among ear-players is there's no set nomenclature, and this can be even more problematic if you're playing with a reading musician unfamiliar with your idiom and the two of you haven't defined your terms.
People can manage it even when they mostly play the same genre! One of my personal highlights was at a wedding reception session; a lot of the players didn't seem to know one another, and while they were getting warmed up, they decided on sets in advance. Someone called a slip jig set, people nodded, and off they went.

It's the only time I've ever seen a session start a tune in three different keys. It was glorious. :lol:
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