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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Sound, Not Space!

This post is about an issue with which I have to deal with a huge percentage of my students. And with most of those people it takes multiple corrections over the course of way too long for them to get it.

It's a mystery to me why it takes so much redirection for so many people to surmount this problem.

Sorry - I'm venting a little.

It has to do with how words like, "up," "down," "higher" and "lower" apply to the guitar.

Those terms apply to the sound, not the location-in-space. And those two relationships are exactly opposite when it comes to the guitar.

"Up" and "ascending" sound-wise are "down" in terms of spatial relationships. To go "down" sound-wise you go "up" in terms of location-in-space.

Why does everything have to be bass-ackwards?

It is necessary to speak aurally rather than spatially because the spatial relationships are different for different instruments.

If you were talking to a pianist in guitar-specific spatial terminology and said, "Raise that note a half-step" you actually would be saying to lower that note sound-wise a half-step.

If the piano player thought spatially in terms of his instrument what you just said made no sense at all because there is no "up" and "down" on the piano; there is only left and right.

On the saxophone (spatially) there is no "left" or "right," there is only "up" or "down."

On the piano left is down (sound-wise) and right is up (sound-wise). Same thing on the guitar - unless you're playing left-handed and then it's the opposite.

All musicians use those terms in relation to sound and each musician knows what he has to do on his specific instrument to get the sound to go "up" or "down."

Trying to get students to quit thinking of "up, down, ascend and descend" in visual, spacial terms and start defining those terms by the way the music sounds is like pulling teeth and is a constant source of confusion.

Is it because of the internet? Cell phones? All the visual-dominant media that permeates our culture?

I've written elsewhere about how folks have been trained to listen with their eyes. Maybe this is just another damnable consequence of that.


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