When learning a new piece, it’s important to first scan the music to get an overall feel for its structure, a process called pre-reading. Look for elements like key signature, challenging rhythms and pitches, and musical patterns. Identifying patterns, gives you an advantage. For example, understanding that an 8-measure phrase has 3 repeating measures, helps simplify your learning.
In music, there are three important patterns:
- Repeat Patterns
- Rule Patterns
- Shape Patterns
for more on pre-reading, see the Mindful Learning Series
Visually, this is the easiest pattern to identify. In some musical styles, such as the Classic period (about 1750-1820) measure repetition is the “norm.”
Finding Repeat Patterns
Sometimes a pattern is visually harder to recognize because it’s based more on a rule(s). The rule may be repetition, but also different compositional techniques, such as sequence, imitation, transposition, etc.
Here’s an example of a rule-pattern numbers table. Can you figure out the rules?
Finding Rule Patterns
Shapes are an entirely different kind of pattern, concerning the building blocks of music—scales, intervals and chords. Being able to quickly recognize them, is a powerful aid to fingerboard visualization, sight reading, and ultimately memorization. Though to fully understand, an in-depth study of guitar harmony is required.
One of the simplest shape patterns to learn is the interval, a distance between two notes. An interval can be anywhere from a small scale step to a large skip, and is named by a number representing the total pitches it includes. For example:
6th visualized on the fingerboard
Intervals can be melodic—two notes sounding consecutively, or harmonic—two notes sounding simultaneously.
Some intervals like the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th sound pleasing, called consonant. Others like the 2nd and the 7th sound harsh, or dissonant. Learning to recognize interval sounds, is helpful for all musicians.
When visually identifying intervals, determine whether notes are on lines or spaces of the staff. If one is a line note and the other is a space note (or vice versa), the interval is an even number—2, 4, 6, or 8, (octave). If both notes are space notes, or line notes, the interval is an odd number—1 (unison), 3, 5, 7.
Intervals on the staff
To learn more about intervals, scales and chords, check out The Shearer Method Book 4, Guitar Harmony
Let’s review all the patterns, with a look at Op. 35, No. 14 by Fernando Sor.
- Shape Patterns. There are many chords throughout (labeled) which are familiar patterns for most intermediate level guitarists.
- Repeat Patterns. The form of the piece is a symmetrical A-B-A (an 8 measure phrase (A), followed by a contrasting 8-measure phrase (B), and then returning to the opening 8-measure phrase (A’) with slight variations. A dotted -rhythm A minor scale is a repeating motive in the A sections.
- Rule Patterns. The B section (m. 9) features an imitative section which is sequenced a step down. This is followed by a melodic phrase with expanding skips harmonized by pattern of A minor and E7 chords.
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