Geometric Pattern approach to learning songs

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Alan Scharrer, May 2, 2019.


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  1. I know that many of you have heard of the rare condition where people hear music as colors, defined as :Synesthesia a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as synesthetes.

    As long as I have been playing bass and learning a wide variety and styles of music, I have always listened closely to the key of the song and then have been able to see the geometric pattern on my fretboard, even if there are numerous key changes later on. Shapes like rectangles, isoceles triangles, parallelogram, rhomboids, right angle triangles and even pentagons quickly translate to lots of chord changes.

    Maybe some, most or all of you do this. I have been doing it so long that I forget the actual names of the notes on each fret without stopping and thinking. When I write down songs learned, I will enter a key then the major and any minor geometric pattern. I can quickly refer to this reference and play the song even if it has been 5 years since I last performed it.

    So, fellows from the deep hollow, is the a technique widely used or am a freak....or more of a freak?

    Last edited: May 2, 2019
  2. 905


    Jul 23, 2006
    Ooh, I know this one:


    But no, it sounds like you're a freak. Can you elaborate? Say in the key of C, what would those shapes be?
    lizardking837 likes this.
  3. Completely depends on the song, from a right angle triangle to a rectangle, with or without a center X
  4. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    I play patterns but they are generally based on a box scale, I would imagine most here do this; there are a number of standard patterns that translate into basic, formulaic licks that one can pull out of the player's bag of tricks. For me it's easier to remember the patterns than the actual note names. I have never really thought about the geometry of these, though, but I can see how 1-3-5 might form something like a triangle, for example.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  5. ONYX


    Apr 14, 2000
    I get what you're saying. I do something similar when learning a new bit---I tend memorize tunes in sections, but not always broken down into verse, chorus, bridge, etc--and then string them together like Lego* bricks.

    *LEGO, and the LEGO logo, are trademarks of the LEGO Group. ©2019 The LEGO Group.
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  6. EXACTLY. 1-2-4-5 gives me a rectangle in my minds eye...
  8. EarnestTBass


    Feb 3, 2015
    Coltrane circle.jpg

    Some guy named Coltrane sketched out geometric patterns on the circle of fifths and came up with this song called "Giant Steps"
    Jeff Bonny, LBS-bass, Seanto and 3 others like this.
  9. Doc Blue

    Doc Blue

    Mar 29, 2019
    St Augustine
    I see it as more like "connect the dots". It's a dynamic geometric pattern where the dot connection speed moves with the rhythm. The end result is the shape, but it's how you get there that's the music.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  10. Well said...thats what I meant
  11. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010

    When I started to understand modes I was drawing charts and graphs to try and get everything packed into my memory. I'm a very visual thinker. (It took me 3 tries to get through basic algebra in high school, yet I was able to ace trig and geometry the 1st time.) I see shapes and patterns in everything.

    Anyway ^ this is one of the more interesting diagrams I made of the 7 major modes.

    Top left group is Ionic, bottom is Locrian. The left triangle represents the I,IV,V chords, the middle upside down triangle represents the ii,iii,vi chords and the little triangle is the 7 chord. Red is major, Green is minor, purple is diminished.

    If you all wanna call me a freak or a weirdo, I'm ok with that.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  12. Wood and Wire

    Wood and Wire

    Jul 15, 2017

    Are we talking Cymatics here?

    Or do you mean the positions on the fretboard?

    What happens if you're tuned to drop D, or a custom - non relative - tuning?
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  13. I do not play anything beyond standard....alternate tunings really mess with me mentally
    LBS-bass and Wood and Wire like this.
  14. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I use patterns on the fretboard, but I also see notes as having different colors. A is red, for instance. B is black. C is white. D is is yellow or tan. E is greenish black. F is brownish red. G is dark brown, almost black.

    Yep, I'm a freak.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  15. Doc Blue

    Doc Blue

    Mar 29, 2019
    St Augustine
    Interesting color patterns.

    I've thought of notes as a vector (having magnitude and direction) sort of like a hand on a clock but 3 dimensional. The key 1st scale degree is the 12 o'clock position. Hours are 1/2 steps. Different notes point to different clock face positions, loudness is the vector magnitude. The 3rd dimension perpendicular to the clock face is different octaves, so music becomes a spiral of vectors.

    @Russel L, you could add a 4th dimension of color for a psychedelic spiral visualization.
    Russell L and Alan Scharrer like this.
  16. Resonance129


    Feb 15, 2011
    I'd never associated this way of playing/learning songs to synesthesia. Didn't realize it was related.
    But I definitely do associate songs and chords with patterns on the fretboard. Because I've always learned via ear (and I still barely know a lot of the notes on the fretboard yet :banghead: ), patterns have always been my go-to method. And the more patterns I learn, the quicker and easier to incorporate a pattern from a song into another song, or to transpose the song without having an instrument in front of me.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  17. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    I used to use patterns all the time. There was a jazz guitarist named Howard Roberts who promoted " Sonic Shapes" as a method of solo instruction and i did it for years.

    A year ago, my instructor and I were chatting at a jam session. He plays sax. He pointed out if i used interval patterns instead of shapes, i would be way better off.

    He was right.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.
  18. Please explain this concept
  19. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    Sonic shapes or intervals?
  20. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    By intervals, i meant I now think in terms of scale degree instead of fingering patterns, so my playing is to some degree freed from playing a fingering pattern to get the notes i want. I pretty much run up and down the neck when i want, like a lot of uright players.
    Alan Scharrer likes this.