“A SYNONYM IS A WORD YOU USE WHEN
you can’t spell the word you first thought
of,” said Burt Bacharach. The hugely successful
songwriter knows what he is talking
about when it comes to music, lyrics,
and double meanings, or double entendre as
our French friends might say. The musical
equivalent of a synonym is called an enharmonic.
A tone that is written more than one
way is an enharmonic equivalent. For example:
C# is the enharmonic equivalent of Db,
and Cb is the enharmonic equivalent of B.
This month, we’ll look at enharmonic
spellings of notes, and play through some
useful arpeggio exercises in the process.
First, let’s learn a four-chord progression,
and then look at different ways to notate
some of the pitches enharmonically. Ready?
Hold on to your, uh … instrument.
Example 1 presents a finger-busting
trip through several arpeggios. The pleasant-
sounding C6 is often used instead of a
major triad or a major 7 chord. You will recognize
the sound of the major 6 chord from
countless blues, rockabilly, and R&B bass
lines. It is a good arpeggio to outline if you
are not quite sure if the chordal instruments
are playing the dominant 7th or major 7th.
After running up and down the C6,
one note changes—the 3rd (E) moves to
Eb, making the arpeggio a Cm6. In bar 5,
another note changes—the G moves to Gb,
creating a Cdim7 arpeggio. Diminished
chords are volatile; they are tension-filled
and demand movement. The cycle continues
in bar 7 with the note A moving to Ab.
This builds an Ab7 arpeggio, but since we
are still starting on C, it is notated Ab7/C. The dominant sound of the Ab7 leads into
the Db6 in bar 9, and the cycle repeats itself:
Db6, Dbm6, Dbdim7, A7/C#.
If your fingers hold out, you can move
through all 12 keys up the neck. Or, you
can break the exercise into just a few keys
at a time to keep your hands and brain cells
Let’s investigate an important theoretical
and notational aspect of this exercise.
Notice the Fb in bar 5. Why, you ask, would
anyone of sound mind use an Fb, when it
is exactly the same pitch as E? Why not
just use an E, as shown in Ex. 2? We have
enough problems just reading music, and
now here is an Fb staring up from the page.
Fb is not commonly seen in music notation,
but it is the correct spelling of the tone
that corresponds with a Db minor scale or
chord. The notes E and Fb are the same pitch,
and they are enharmonic equivalents. They
are the same sound, but they are spelled or
notated differently depending on the key
of the song or the particular chord that is
being played. Arrangers and copyists often
use the exact enharmonic tone that corresponds
with a key or chord. The note E is
not found in a Db minor scale, so the pitch
is correctly notated as Fb. There are many
exceptions, and you might see the note E
written, even when the note Fb would be
more theoretically correct.
The same principle applies to the notes
Abb and Cbb, which are double flats. Notice
in bar 13 of Ex. 1 that the Dbdim7 arpeggio
uses Db, Fb, Abb, and Cbb. The note A,
when lowered by two half-steps, becomes
an Abb. Abb is the enharmonic equivalent
of G—they are the same pitch.
The note C, lowered by two half-steps,
yields a Cbb, which is the enharmonic equivalent
of Bb. In classical music and modern
jazz, you’ll often see enharmonic writing—
double-sharps and double-flats that correspond
precisely to the key signature or
chord/scale sound. Sometimes on basic
lead sheets, the arranger or composer will
use the simplest possible notation, foregoing
the theoretically correct enharmonic spelling
(as in Ex. 3). You should understand
and be able to play both.
In Ex. 1, bar 15, the line uses C# instead
of Db (the enharmonic equivalent), because
the A7/C# arpeggio is leading into the D6
in bar 17. To get a handle on enharmonic
spelling, transpose and write out the next
ten key centers, making sure all of your
enharmonic spellings correspond to the
chord symbols. That’s 160 bars of music,
but in the end you will have a masterful
command of enharmonic notation!
It is important to understand enharmonic
equivalents so you can write music and communicate
your musical thoughts. However,
how your music sounds is most important.
Learn these four arpeggios all over the bass,
and you’ll have a useful arsenal of harmonic
material always at the ready.
John’s newest release, The Innkeeper’s Gun, is
out now. Also check out John’s other recent
releases as bandleader, The Visit and Space for
the Bass [all on Bass Lion]. He is the author
of The Jazz Bass Book [Backbeat Books] and
Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising
Bassist [Aebersold Jazz]. For more info, visit
his webpage at johngoldsby.com.