Over the festive period I played my first game of Cranium. I’m convinced that the time limit, provided by a cute little egg timer, watched hungrily by competitive opponents while inarticulate hands strive to depict the Millennium Dome in plasticine, adds that element of fun which friendly pressure can bring to bear. Over the remaining days of the holiday the idea, common in all sports, of exactly how long things take began to get a hold of me. How long it takes one to run or swim 100m is a very significant fact to a competitor or coach. Yet how long it takes one to perform a given calculation e.g. recite a multiplication table or conjugate a verb, seems to be entirely missing from many forms of learning.
I let the idea mature for a few days while heaving myself up and down my local swimming baths – thankfully no scrutinising coach, eyes glued to stopwatch, paced the poolside as I did so. I came up with a few games whose purpose is to speed up manipulation of aspects of theory of music which I then tried out over a few drinks with some colleagues towards the end of the holidays. Why not try this one out – mental calculation only – no writing!
Intervals (the distant between two notes) Go round the circle until you end up where you started – sharps and flats don’t matter – just letters. Here are a couple of examples:
- direction is ascending
- interval is 4ths
- starting point is D (start the stopwatch as you announce the letter)
Answer: D, G, C, F, B, E, A, D
- direction is descending
- interval is 6ths
- starting point is F
Answer: F, A, C, E, G, B, D, F
I’d be very interested to hear, if anyone has the time and inclination to try these out, which parameters did you use and how long did it take? Where the descending ones significantly more challenging than the ascending?
Just in case anyone is wondering what use this type of thing is – rapid calculation of intervals is essential for speedy harmonic thinking. Bear in mind that alterations may also need to be made to some notes to differentiate between e.g. major, minor, augmented, diminished – so manipulation of the letters needs to be effortless. The comforting point, for me, is that the apparently endless range of options is, like most things, finite:
- 7 letters in the musical world
- 6 intervals inside the octave – unison and 8ve don’t count as this would simply amount to the following answer: A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A.
- 2 possible directions (plus there are cheats to get round this)
At first glance it seems like there must be 7 x 6 x 2 = 84 possibilities. But, when you bear in mind that these journeys are circular, then calculating any given interval is akin travelling on The Circle Line line (no matter where you get on you can predict what station is next) the road ahead seems a little less uncertain.