Chapter 26 1964 - The Sound of Music

I rummaged through his parent’s closet and found his father’s old guitar, the one he used to play as a member of the Scuffling Scrappers. He pulled it out and strummed the strings. A dissonant sound emerged. Even though the instrument had been neglected for more than ten years, it was surprisingly still in tune. Although Henry no longer played, I had seen his father’s friends play, and tried to pick out a few notes.

Placing a finger on the frets, he found the sensation painful to his tender young fingers. Despite the pain, he pressed harder and plucked the string. A single note rang out. He moved his finger up one fret and plucked a second note. He continued up the guitar neck, picking out one note at a time until he reached the highest.

He moved to the next string and repeated the actions. He noticed that some of the notes were the same as what he played on the other string, though they started at a lower place. He pressed on the fifth fret of the sixth string and played the note, then plucked the fifth string without pressing on the fret. It was the same note!

He continued his experimentation, moving to the next string. When he reached the third string, the pattern broke. The note that matched was the fourth fret. Something must be wrong with that one, he thought. The pattern returned for the second string.

I reached up to the tuning peg and twisted the one for the second string, to make it match the 5th fret on the third string, just like the other. Now the first string didn’t match the second, so he made a similar adjustment to the first string.

He once again worked his way from the sixth string to the first. Now they all matched. He strummed the strings again and they sounded worse than before. Maybe the way it was before was how it was supposed to be? He retuned the first and second strings. Still, a strum didn’t sound much like music.

He went back to picking notes. In school they had studied scales, singing “Do-Re-Mi” for practice. He started again at the sixth string. He tried to sing “Do” along with it, but it was too low for his young voice. He tried the fifth string. It was still too low. Finally, the fourth string was a note he could match with his voice. He plucked it and sang “Do.” He pressed down on the first fret and played “Re.” It didn’t sound right. He took his finger off the fret and played the open string, then back down on the first fret. Still not right. He tried the open string again and this time selected the second fret. “Re” rang out. “Do-Re” he sang as he struck the strings along with his voice. He added “Mi” and found the same problem. The note on the third fret didn’t match. He moved to the fourth fret and it was a match. He didn’t understand why they put an extra fret between the notes, but figured out the pattern pretty quickly and laid down his finger on the sixth fret to play “Fa.” It wasn’t right either. This time the note was too high. He moved down to the fifth fret and played “Fa.”

“That’s weird,” he said to no one in particular.

He went back to the open string and in turn played it followed by the second fret, fourth fret and fifth fret. Recalling that the fifth fret was the same as the next open string, he tried again, this time substituting the open third string for the fourth note.

He moved along the third string in the same fashion then stumbled when he jumped to the second. The open string sounded the same tone as the note he had played on the third string, fourth fret. He tried the next fret, but still too low. Finally, he was back on the second fret. The next note he played was the fourth fret, but again, to high. He backed off one and landed on the third. Success! Thinking about how the string was tuned differently from the rest, he decided it made some sense. He finished the scale on the third fret.

Going back to the fourth string, he played the scale from the beginning and sang along “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do.”

I’s finger was beginning to get sore. The strings of the guitar were making a line on the tip and it was red. But he wanted to explore some more.

He carried the guitar over to the family piano. He remembered his teacher talking about “Middle C” and pointing to its location at the middle of the piano keyboard. He pressed it and the tone sounded. He once again played his scale from the fourth string and found that none of the notes matched the one on the piano. The seventh note of the scale he played was a little too high and the sixth a little too low. He hit the final note of the scale on the guitar and found the note on the white key next to Middle C. The elusive note on the guitar had to be the black key in between the two. Once again, success!

He lay down the guitar and started playing with the piano keys. Starting at Middle C, he hit the white keys, one by one, singing along with “Do Re Mi.” This time, no surprises; everything sounded fine. He moved back up to the white key next to Middle C, the one that sounded like the fourth string on his guitar, although a little higher. He noticed the pattern of the keys repeated itself and counted backward from “Do Ti La So Fa Mi Re Do.” The lowest key matched that of the guitar. Again he ran through the scale on the piano, but the fourth and seventh notes didn’t sound right. He had to play those notes on the black keys instead.

Since the note from his scale was “Do” he figured the piano key played the note “Do” as well. Since it was next to Middle C, he figured, maybe it was called “D.” But that didn’t make much sense; the key his teacher called “C” should be “R.”

I decided to go with “C” and “D” and went backwards to “B” and “A.” He got stuck at the next key and decided it must be “Z.” He kept going down “Y’, “X”, “W”, “V”, “U”, and stopped. He was back to the key that looked like the same pattern around Middle C. He kept going down but ran out of letters before he ran out of keys. He started over again at “Z”.

When he reached the bottom of the keyboard he went back to Middle C and moved upward, “D”, “E”, “F”, “G”, “H”, “I”, “J” and stopped once more. It would make more sense if that were a “C”, like Middle C; it would fit the pattern better. But that would mean that “H” and “I” would be “A” and “B.”

He realized that he had forgotten the black keys, and started over again. Starting at Middle C, he went backwards and got to “B” and “A,” the previous black key. Then, counting up again, “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, “E”, “F”, “G”, “H”, “I”, “J”, “K” and then back to “A.”

Well, he thought, that works, but why would “A” start on a black key? It made more sense to him that the white keys were bigger, so they must be more important. He started over once again. With the “A” before middle “C”

“A”. He hesitated as her hovered his finger over the black key, and then pronounced it “A plus!” He continued, “B”, no black key after “B”, so he continued onto “C”, “C plus”, “D”, “D plus”, “E”. Again, there was no black key. “F”, “F plus”, “G”, “G plus”, and he was back to “A.” Going backwards he decided to change it up. “A”, “A minus”, “G”, “G minus”, “F”. No “F minus.” “E”, “E minus”, “D”, “D minus”, “C”, “C minus”. Oops, that was a white key. “B” he corrected. “B minus” and back to “A”. The patterns made some sense. He couldn’t quite figure out why two black keys were missing, but at least he had a way to name the notes.

I stopped playing the piano and went back to his room. He picked up the sheet music, the gift from Chuck, and placed it up on the piano. He looked it over, and started to see a pattern of the notes. There were two stacks of lines, with a single line between them, right in the middle. ”Middle C!” he exclaimed. He looked over the music and noted that some of the markings were on the line, some were between the lines, some had a “#” next to it, and some had a small “b” next to it. He figured that the # symbols were what he had termed “plus” and the “b” was what he called “minus”.

Within an hour’s time, I had figured out almost everything he needed to know to start playing music.