basics with Do-along Dave

Author Archive

Key Signatures a Time-Waste?

Are key signatures sometimes a time-waste?

Do your transcribing with a scale ticket instead of a key signature, or pencil-in a scale ticket on existing sheet music just after the key signature. Pattern reading/singing on the five-line staff works the same for scale tickets as for key signatures. Advantage for singers and by-ear instrumentalists: no letternames of notes are needed. You read the staff by pattern.

A scale ticket recasts key signature and clef sign into major-minor and shows where the three scale waypoints sit on the staff. It consists of just a triangle if you are having to do only with major and minor scales. The glyph for the major mediant hub (“mi” of “do-re-mi”) is an outlined (empty inside) up-triangle, and the minor hub is a solid filled down-triangle.

The dominant and tonic waypoints flank the hub above and below: the tonic (the keynote) is at the line below a hub on a line, or the space below a hub on a space–a third down, that is. The dominant is a third up.

When a key signature is already present and you recognize major: place your major hub a fifth (two spaces or lines) below the last-added sharp; else a major second below the last-added flat; key of C has its major hub at E. The minor hub would be a third below the major hub.

Train Wreck Twist in Four-Part Harmony

Four-part a cappella can be a delight to perform, especially in the very small choir. On the other hand, it is painful to a director to conduct a train wreck. This one happened when a strong-voiced, weak-reading soprano made one of her intermittent appearances with the choir. The choir had started learning this piece of music without her.

Very often the two upper voices move in duet-at-thirds. (We’ll say “soprano” and “alto” here; the men’s choir uses different terms.) Much less often, the soprano and tenor parts duet similarly, but with a subtle twist. The duetting twist is easy to understand and be forewarned of.


What makes the Major-minor difference in music?

Maybe you are aware of dominant and tonic, the two solid navigational waypoints in the common scales. Above the tonic there’s a note roughly midway up to the dominant. This is the “hub”. We might learn this as a third waypoint. It is somewhat less solid, because it varies slightly (from one melody to another) to give the major-minor feel to the music.

The interval the hub makes with the tonic is a third. That interval is either four “frets” (semitones) or three frets. The four-fret third is a major third (M3), and the three-fret third is minor third (m3).


Noshvil Theory/Hear on Sight now available, spiral bound

My complete sight-singing method is ready now. Amateur singers, you don’t need keyboard skllls to learn to read music. A cappella directors, your singers can use this self-study course to acquire reading skill and confidence.


Nashville/Noshvil Chording

Nashville chording, used by studio musicians everywhere, is a “key-free” chord notation like “1-2-3” solfeggio. The names are for chord roots, regardless of key. When an artist wants to sing in different key, it’s easy to play the proper chords for her without needing a new chord chart with keyboard-style root names (..-BC-D-EF-G-A-..) (more…)

Sight-Singing Waypoints: Tonic, Dominant

All the practical music you will ever deal with uses the same two landmarks: tonic and dominant, a.k.a. “Tony and Dominic”. Once you have the domino-tonic relation clear in the ear and named, you find yourself making better sense in both your improv on breaks, reading, chord recognition in unwritten ensemble work, and composition. You can get Tony and Dominic set firm and working for you. My complete sight-singing self-study course, Noshvil Theory/Hear on Sight is available now, spiral bound. A free preview has also been posted at

It’s a matter of gutlevel familiarity, or ken.  1) You abstract them as a pair; 2) you use clear, simple tunes for context in which to recognize when they occur; and 3) you take the D-T Relation as your basic example of practical intervals and name them.


I need unromantic music

The activities that engage me deepest are music, invention development, patent application drafting, programming, circuit design, mechanical design, and music. Music first and last and underneath all. Silence, grandmother of music, works too.

It’s because of the flow. (more…)

Growing venue circuit: living room concerts

Since 1996, Undertow Music has been a way to find local live music on the “living room circuit”, the newest Chautauqua. Don’t know if they are the first, but they have plenty of traveling musicians who bring live music to you, at hosting households across the country.

More organizations serving the model have sprung up. A net search on living room concerts will turn up several. I invite your comments on experiences with them.

Ongoing discussion with a student: four levels

Jeremy Dibb tells of four levels of discussion with a (one-on-one) student, to be touched on at every lesson. He calls these points the making of outstanding teaching out of good teaching.

Musical Notes from a small island blog 56 – A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy? Albert Einstein

from neuroscience of music, re dopamine

Why music makes you happy.  Read this article by Emily Sohn from News.Discovery.  Great stuff.


– Listening to moving music causes the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical.

– Dopamine-induced pleasure may help explain why music has been such a big part of human societies throughout history.

– Understanding why people like listening to music is helping scientists understand human pleasure.

People love music for much the same reason they’re drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food, according to new research. When you listen to tunes that move you, the study found, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction.

Even just anticipating the sounds of a composition like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or Phish’s “You Enjoy Myself” can get the feel-good chemical flowing, found the study, which was the first to make a concrete link between dopamine release and musical pleasure.


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Bubbles and shakeouts in making music pay

Bubbles and shakeouts in making music pay

Secondary profiting from non-live music has gone through similar boom-bust cycles already. From the earliest, when music was disseminated only through personal learning by performers and travel, the first technological step in separating original creation and publishing was written notation on paper. Bach’s family was his duplicating machine. (more…)

~~ hearing deficit ?

Ears age differently. This is a plea: don’t assume – it can hurt.

Some aging ears need more loudness. For others, however, too-loud talking or music is painful. Not figuratively painful — pain painful, right in the ears, pretty damn close in. (more…)

~~ the musician: prophet or entertainer?

A musician who contemplates what it is to be human runs up against pesky questions.

For this essay, a prophet is one who warns of urgent truths no matter the cost, and an entertainer structures leisure time for hire. Because this is a mix, not a simple dichotomy, the questions around the distinction can be pesky. (more…)

~~ musicians and audiophiles listen differently

I disagree with any requirement to listen to music live as essential to full enjoyment or appreciation. Low-fidelity technology is sufficient to carry all that I listen for in music. (more…)

~~ editing Poole’s Frankie and Johnny lyric

The Charlie Poole lyric for the New Lost City Ramblers is much more to my taste than the more familiar one. I make some changes, however, to help me put it across clearly. (more…)

Who’s he think he is?

I’m David Zethmayr, proprietor of Earfirst Editions, sheetmusic and music self-teach method and theory materials, some free, some for sale. This is the focus blog for Earfirst Editions proper: