Friday, February 4, 2011

Shape Notes

So before we were making all of our records on Garage Band and actually before people had even heard of records, garages or bands, dudes would travel around selling sheet music that the wealthy could play at home on their pianos. We're talking like 1800, not as old school as Shelby goes, but definitely back in the day. So besides the oral tradition and the social transference of folk tunes, music was bought and sold primarily in sheet form and you actually had to do all the work yourself. The problem was that reading music was hard. You couldn’t role up to John Williams shack with the freshest copy of Oh Lord This Land Doesn't Suck Like it Used To and just jam it out. But, if there was some way to simplify the sheet music to some sort of easily readable code that at least got the singer in the right ball park, then any group of moonshine drunk Baptists could ramble into a field and holler all night long in almost corresponding harmony.

We'll use shapes!

Shapes were added to the note heads in written music to help singers find pitches within major and minor scales without the use of more complex information found in key signatures on the staff. The idea behind shape notes is that the parts of a vocal work can be learned more quickly and easily if the music is printed in shapes that match up with the solfege syllables with which the notes of the musical scale are sung.

Four shape system:

Seven shape system (for showoffs):

Fun fact: The practice of singing music to syllables designating pitch goes back to about AD 1000. I did not know that.

So shape note singing was invented and now huge groups of people could divide up complex melodies to accompany their religious hymns and the grey area between accuracy and imperfection that was created by their lack of training or ability makes shape note singing eerily heavy. Instruments are overrated. No distorted guitar is going to get as heavy as fifty old southerners shouting their lungs our in some decrepit barn-church. Imagine if you were walking alone through the woods in 1804 and you started to hear this shit:

This song has nothing to do with Native Americans. Shape note singing has nothing to do with Native Americans. Some guy just went, you know what, I’m going to make a youtube video with shape note signing, and it’ll have INDIANS!

Anyway, if you're into it you can get some here. Jam it loud first thing in the morning when you get to work. Everyone thinks you're a weirdo anyway.

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