Sometimes called the “interval” system, the Note Number System is way of explaining how music notes relate to each other within a key or scale and is quite universal in the “gigging” world.
Simple explanation: Simply give each note of a major scale an ordered number. Major scales are the “standard” which all other scales will be compared to and judged by! That’s one of the reasons they are called “major”… they are a BIG deal in music mechanics! Ex: The first note of the scale (or “tonic”) is called “note number 1,” the second “note number 2,” etc… with 8 being the octave, and 8’s and 1’s being interchangeable and equal in this system.
Application: Play any major scale you might know (pick an easy one, so you won’t have to think too hard about it!), and try to say aloud the number of each note as you play the scale. Troubleshooting hint: Remember, these scale-based note numbers have nothing to do with actual finger numbers you might be using to play the scale! Example: Try the D major scale (as we will in the videos below)… the first note, open D, is our note number “one” …go ahead, say it out loud! Don’t be shy. Giving yourself multi stimuli (ears hearing you say it, vocal chords vibrating, thinking about it, visualizing, etc…) I have found, helps your brain assimilate it faster. Then, onward… the second note, first finger E on the D string is note number “two.” The third note, F#2 is our note number “three,” etc… again, try not to get confused by the finger numbers. If you find yourself getting lost, it has helped some of my students to say “note number one” rather than just “one.”
*See exercise #1 below for an example of this.
Interval Spacing: There are actually many different kinds of scales (major, minor, pentatonic, blues, modes, etc…). What sets them apart from each other is their spacing between each note. The distance between two notes is called an “interval” in most music circles. The most basic building blocks of this musical interval system are “half” & “whole” steps. On your violin, “half steps” are two notes that are fingered close to each other with fingers touching (one fret apart on mandolin, and the next closest note on a keyboard), and “whole steps” are two notes that are spaced apart, roughly the distance of two 1/2 steps (two frets on mandolin, and one key between each on a keyboard).
1/2 & whole steps explained and shown:
What makes a Major scale unique from other scales, and sound like that familiar “Do – Re – Me…” is its particular order of these half and whole steps. In a major scale, the intervals are all whole steps EXCEPT between the 3rd & 4th notes AND the seven to eight. This is the “formula” to make any scale sound “Major.”
Graphic of major scale half & whole steps (“–” = whole step):
1 — 2 — 34 –5 — 6 — 78
With this formula you could actually play a major scale up one string, using one finger, starting on ANY note! Vid showing this done:
Exercises: Now that you are getting used to this concept, let’s put it to use. Play (and say) these note number patterns below as practice to further get your brain wrapped around the idea of this universal measurements shared by ALL major scales.
<<:Want to learn more about this?
“Fiddle Jam Club” & enrolled “All Access Pass” members get to see more learning materials below… (7 more exercises and vids).
…more to come!
- band-stand hand signals
- note numbers vs chord numbers (Roman Numerals)
- minor intervals
- second octave note numbers/intervals
Learn about CHORD numbers next…