Day 261 – Harmonic Relativity

Since I picked up the violin, my go-to for tuning my ear for a specific note was the first 2 bars of ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’

C, B, A, B, C… (Ma-ry had a lit-…)

It was a touchstone for practicing scales, or learning new and simple pieces. As time passed, I wanted to tackle more complex offerings – I started encountering problems.

My C sounded off. Every time a piece of music called for a C, it sounded weird – too sharp. I had to half-step down to a C-flat to make it sound right.

“Why isn’t this in the key signature? Why isn’t it written as C-flat or B-sharp? Is this some kind of unwritten musical rule!?”

It took me several Bach pieces to finally get fed up and check each individual note’s resonance on the internet. What I found made my jaw hit the floor.

I was playing Mary Had a Little Lamb with C#. This whole time I was playing a sharp and it “sounded right” to me in the context of that simple children’s song. I thought C# was C and that a regular C sounded flat by relation.

At least now I’ve corrected my error, but I’ve practiced scales going A, B, C#, D, E… for so long that it’s going to take some retraining.

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