Going Round in Circles (of Fifths)

Teaching someone else is the best form of learning, as many a wise person has said. It’s hard to teach when you don’t understand it well enough. It’s even harder to teach when the student is an adolescent or a child, who genuinely wants to know why something is the way it is, and asks the questions that leave you gasping 🙂

My knowledge of music -of reading sheet music, or playing an instrument – is rudimentary at best, and have hardly had any instruction that I can rely on. I learnt it by ear, by listening and watching someone else, and asking questions about the art or practice of playing music.

So last night, when cajoling my 11-year old to play his cello, I casually asked him if he knew what scale the music he was playing (Bach’s Prelude Suite No. I). He guessed a scale and pretty quickly let on that he had no idea.  I asked if he knew the Circle of Fifths (I’ve heard of it, and only cursorily seen it) and he vaguely remembered his teacher telling him about it, and also that it was in one of his many music theory books.  We got on to it, and with a paper and pencil in hand, figured out how the major scales worked on there.  And of course when we got to the 5 sharps or 5 flats and above, we were both struggling to keep up, at which point we called it quits.

80% of the scales could be figured out pretty easily, and that we didn’t have to learn it all at once was a lesson that dawned for him quickly. That we were both learning together meant the world – to both of us. And tonight we’ll tackle the inner circle on the Circle of Fifths, the relative minors for the major scales we learnt yesterday.

It also pulled me away from the screen and onto doing things I want to do. A win all over.