The ABC’s of piano theory and ‘test fright’

Piano theory stares me down like a street-smart bully waiting to defeat me. With my theory test exactly five hours and 20 minutes from now, I dig in my heels, trying to memorize all the scales of the piano keyboard. A zebra landscape that entices and petrifies me; a faithful companion, who loves yet challenges me, this instrument with its musical magnetism won�t let me go.

Here am I, poring over notes, while still learning major scales. Cramming? Yes, you may call it that.

Since there are 12 key names on the keyboard, there are 12 possible major scales. I like C major best, since it�s all white keys containing no flats or sharps. Yeah, that�ll be a breeze. But then the rest is more complicated…

A major goes like this: A, B, C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G sharp and A. A minor has A flat, B flat C, D flat, E flat, F, G and A flat. B minor is B flat, C, D, E flat, F, G, A and B flat. B major is B, C sharp, D sharp, E, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, and B.

D minor is D flat, E flat, F, G flat, A flat, B flat, C, and D flat. D major is D, E, F sharp, G, A, B, C sharp and D. E minor is E flat, F, G, A flat, B flat, C, D, E and F. E sharp is E, F sharp, G sharp, A, B, C sharp, D sharp and E.

F minor is F, G, A, B flat, C, D, E and F. F major consists of F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, B, C sharp, D sharp, E sharp and F sharp. G major is G, A, B, C, D, E, F sharp and G. My head is spinning.

Why fret over a theory test that I have to take in five hours and seven minutes? As sweat forms on my brow and my adrenaline goes crazy, all I can say is �test fright.�

That�s right. I have suffered from test fright since my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Crawford, terrorized me with exams on multiplying and dividing fractions. Still not over it.

Give me essays or short-answer questions and I�ll sail through. But, please, no tests with fill-in-the-blanks, unless your objective is to see me panic.

Hand me any of the Primary Level 4 music and, most likely, I could play it. But ask me the theory behind those notes and watch me freeze. Anything with the word �test� in it scares the bejeebees out of me.

Deep down inside, what I really want is to defeat the test-fright bully, stand up to him and show him who�s boss. So taking the bull by the horns, I�ve a created a mnemonic link system of association to memorize the scales that goes like this…

A major – Care For Grandma – the C, F and G notes are sharp. In A minor, the C, F and G are whole notes and the other notes are flats. B major – BE Best – the B, E and B notes are whole. With B minor scale, the B, E and B are flat.

C – all whole notes.

D major – Family Care – the F and C are sharp, while D is flat, the F and C are whole, while the other notes in the scale are flat. E major – Easy ABE – the E, A, B and E are whole, leaving the other notes sharp. E minor E, A, B and E are flat.

F major – Blue – the B is whole, while in F minor the B is flat. The G scale is a bit of an oddball, since there is only G major, with no minor. My mnemonic link system for G major is Go For it – the F is sharp while all the other notes are whole.

Four hours, 51 minutes and counting. It�s time to practice two contest pieces: Mountain Snow and Grand Canyon. And then, reciting the major scales over and over again… A is Care for Grandma. B is BE Best. C is zero. D is Family Care. E is Easy ABE. F is the F Blue. G is Go For it. A is Care for Grandma. B is BE Best. C is zero. D is Family Care. E is Easy ABE. F is Blue. G is Go For it. A is Care for Grandma. B is BE Best. C is zero. D is Family Care. E is Easy ABE. F is Blue. G is Go For it. A is Care for Grandma. B is BE Best. C is zero. D is Family Care. E is Easy ABE. F is Blue. G is Go For it…

Four hours, 17 minutes, Lord, help me…

 P.S. I survived my theory test, albeit barely. The room monitor asked me to wait while she corrected my test, and it wasn�t pretty. While making my paper bleed red ink, she glanced at me and asked, �Don�t you know your scales, dear?�

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009 and 2010 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula�s columns took five first-place awards. To contact Paula, email pauladamon@iw.net, follow her blog at http://my-story-your-story.blogspot.com/ and find her on Facebook.

2011 � Copyright Paula Damon.

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