Loss of Acquisition.

Loss of Acquisition.

A Facebook friend of mine messaged me about my recreational language studies, asking what I was presently working on. I told her that I recently finished my first Japanese course but was currently going through a course review, because at some point I “lost my acquisition”.

What I mean by that is, it got to a point where the learning material not only stopped making sense, but I stopped remembering it altogether. There had gotten to be so much information to process, and so much material to soak in, that it completely stopped processing. (Like if a restaurant had to stop taking orders due to being overwhelmed, and any orders that were forced through were just thrown out or lost altogether). So I’m reviewing the material, one piece at a time, in an effort to recover and maintain acquisition.

To get to the point: As I am trying to verbalize this experience to someone else for the first time, a question is raised: Is this what happens to the people who feel like they can’t learn music(or anything else)? Is this what happens to the people who feel like they have no talent or skill? They either had no acquisition, or lost their acquisition at some point? They never felt a sense of improvement or progress? I’ve talked to musicians and non-musicians alike who have told me everything from,

“I couldn’t figure it out at all…”,
to
“I figured it out, but I was really bad at it…”,
to
“I’m good at it, but it never made sense to me…” …

…And it appears that there are links and barriers between understanding and execution. Now I’m presented with those questions from higher up.

For myself, I can’t say that I’ve ever had issues with acquisition when it came to music. Even when dealing with music above my level, like with Etude Op. 10 No. 5 that I’ve mentioned before; Or with the flexibility and mobility issues I’ve been sorting out with fiddle these last several months; Yea, my technical ability lacked, but I still understood the music just fine. Even with the language barrier of not being able to recognize certain sounds or harmonies by ear, and not having the faculties to accurately interpret what was happening on my own; I still had access to the resources that could unlock that information. It’s never “not made sense”, especially not to the point where I felt like I was “locked out” of improvement. If that is how it is for some people, then I have a much healthier respect for those that have decided that certain things, especially music, just isn’t for them. However, this does challenge my philosophy that “Anyone can improve anything with deliberate, directed practice.”.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Sometimes you just need a break - do something completely different - and go back later

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Edgar, I completely agree. I’ve always fully believed in, not only the power of resting and taking breaks “away from the instrument/music”; But also in slowing down and taking your time to process new information, especially information that is difficult to process. I think that’s why this has been such a striking experience for me. I’ve never been the type to practice every single day, or “always be in the space”, etc. so to get overwhelmed by a build-up of unprocessed information was a surprise.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Something to consider is the delivery. Does the presentation of this Japanese course synch with your strengths? Does it follow a clear, reasonable progression? Can you set your own pace?

I wasn’t much good at math (and disliked it as a result) until I took a symbolic logic course in college. Suddenly the trigonometry, algebra, and calculus I’d flailed at in high school made sense where before it had seemed random and pointless. Now it was fun and useful. Wish I’d had that logic course first….

In most things, information overload is a double whammy of the progression (from simple to complex) being too steep (or chaotic) and the pace too quick. On top of that, if you’re deeply unfamiliar with the subject at hand, and the general theme doesn’t gybe with your established strengths, it can feel like learning to swim while the ocean throws relentless sets of 20-foot waves at you.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

See Gimpy, those are the kinds of things I discuss with music students that I mentor. Having a clear direction, knowing your strengths and what works for you, and understanding what you want out of what you’re pursuing. Naturally, I do my best to follow these same guidelines because they’ve proven to be so essential. But when you’re on your own I guess, pacing itself can be a bit difficult to navigate.

Edit: In this case, when dealing with something as complicated as language, or music, acquisition shifts. It’s high when the learning curve is low, and it’s low when learning curve is high. When dealing with something unfamiliar, you don’t know how difficult it is until you try to aquire it. So with pacing I guess it’s a matter of being aware of when it’s time to back up and slow down, and when it’s time to gently push forward. On the other hand, another tricky thing is that even information that is acquired still needs to be processed and refined until it’s 2nd-nature.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

This is an interesting discussion topic, Jerone! There are also some physical constraints to learning that are centered around neuroplasticity. In learning music, we’re all aware of the sensation of our “brains feeling full”. Especially when you’re first learning music, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. A person might be learning their instrument, the style of music, and a tune they’ve never heard before all at the same time, and that can easily get overwhelming! Over time, we start to build neural pathways that we can ‘offload’ some of the work to. We gain familiarity with our instruments and with the rhythms and the style of music – what’s really happening there is that we’re building neural pathways that allow us to perform some of the tasks subconsciously, which frees up some bandwidth of our conscious brains to help process new information. But if you’re getting it all at once, it’s difficult to process it all into useful information for the future.

I am also in the process of learning the Irish language, and as I am progressing, it seems as though I am retaining the early information pretty well, but the new information is not sticking as easily. Part of it may be that the subject material has gotten more difficult, but I also think it’s a bit of information overload, so I am not retaining the new information because I haven’t really fully internalized the older information yet.

Then there’s the subject of “plateaus” in your learning, which is a common thing for people to experience especially with music. We make progress and then it feels like it stops. I attribute some of this to our minds trying to slow down the information flow, so that we can really internalize (build the neural pathways for) the information that we’ve already learned. But I believe part of it is just a perception that we’re not progressing, when we actually are, because it’s not as noticeable as the progression from never having played music to being able to play some tunes, which seems like a huge leap. Another part of it may also be either neurological or psychological. Neurologically, we might be losing some of our neuroplasticity as we age. And psychologically, it may be that we have subconsciously stopped progressing simply because we believe that we have stopped.

Things that I recommend in cases like this include:

- Take a step back and recognize how much progress you’ve actually made
- Slow down, and review things you’ve already learned
- Look for new inspirations that make you as inspired as you were when you first started
- Stop comparing your progress to other people’s progress
- Find ways to make the learning more fun (In the case of learning music, the easiest way to do that is to play with other people more!)

So I think you’re on to something. I think a lot of people learning music hit their first plateau and then lose interest.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Yes, when mentoring someone, I remind them that it’s one thing to pick up a new skill and all together another thing to be able to do it consistently. And then genuine fluency is yet another level.

So progression can mean following a sequence of steps to learn something (and each level of learning will likely have its own progression in this sense), but there’s also a progression of ability, from novice to mastery.

In my experience, the process of becoming consistent and proficient with a new skill tends to follow a wandering, curvy line with occasional loops back to review and rehearse (and in so doing, to learn some detail I missed previously). So for me, “acquisition” is rarely some set milestone that once achieved can be relegated to the rear view mirror. It’s more use-it-or-lose-it. So it helps to keep doing whatever I’m trying to learn, be immersed in it as much as possible, revisit anything that starts to feel rusty or less fluent, and hold onto a sense of “beginner’s mind” as a way of staying focused on the basics, the essentials, the core concepts and skills even when working on more advanced stuff.

How far outside your comfort zone is Japanese? If it’s unlike anything you’ve tried to do before, you won’t have many reference points for how best to teach yourself, and how to assess your progress or recognize that you need to try a different angle or approach. The further from your comfort zone you go, the more value you’d likely get from a mentor or coach.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

A lot of language courses can move too fast, especially if populated with students who grew up speaking the language at home, but are just there to learn reading/writing…I and my daughters have experienced this in language classes! It can be overwhelming.

Maybe you could live with a Japanese family for a while, or travel to Japan…or chat with Japanese speakers on Zoom…at least for me, that kind of “omni-present” relaxed, immersive kind of learning works better than studying through assigned lessons, sentences and vocabulary!

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Ditto what Cancion says in the second paragraph. You need to be in a place where you use the language, speak it in everyday situations- where can I get a coffee? how much does it cost? where is the bus to xyz? Language is far more than a sterile, intellectual pursuit. It is an organic part of a culture, and it’s more natural to learn it in the culture.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I like Reverend’s tips.

Another one that helps me is to briefly review a skill right before I go to bed. If I’ve learned a new tune that afternoon, say, I’ll play it again before I go to sleep, usually half a dozen times. Then the tune is usually right there, first thing in the morning when I wake up. More than any other practice, this gives me a feeling of continuity from day to day, and that helps greatly with securing the acquisition bit. I’ve read some neuroscience research articles that seem to support that this really does help people learn more efficiently, but I don’t recall the details of how or why it works.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I’ll 3rd the recommendation for language immersion. It’s the ideal way to learn. I was once fluent in four languages, but ended up mostly losing two over decades of living outside the cultures, far from anyone else who spoke those languages. Thanks to two years of lockdown, I’m now completely inarticulate in any language. 😀

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I’ve taught language, and I’ve taught dance, but not music.

Learning language (or music, dance, etc) is easier when the words (or phrases, movements) are imbued with contextual meaning and emotion. If you are just memorizing vocabulary (or scales, or step-sequences), you are learning like a robot rather than a human.

When I was learning Portuguese I was living in Brazil, and I picked up new phrases daily. Each contained the emotion, phrasing, dynamics, meaning and context of the situation. Learning on the street you easily pick up each phrase with proper intonation, accent and emotion: “Here’s your latté, sir” or “Watch where you’re going, kid!”. A good language training course tries to emulate that. I think Pimsleur is the best one in the way they sequence the phrase-by-phrase learning with both repetition, and variation.

I teach tango which is probably one of the harder dances to learn. It is one where the music and cultural context is essential, yet quite distant for N. Americans. To succeed you need to learn the music, and the steps, AND how to mix and match them as a human, not a robot (not to mention, navigate and hold a beautiful woman in your arms). I can’t start with complicated sequences or their poor brains will melt down. But, I can strategize and create a curriculum with an appropriate sequencing of skill acquisition: Start with musical feeling, along with simple steps, and then build complexity over time. I choose simple steps that initiate physical leaning that they will use later on in more complicated ways.

With music, I wonder…

You have some people who are already skilled on the instrument, so they are just learning a new culture or vocabulary. You have others who are completely new to music.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Love the responses, though I admit we’ve gone in a different direction than I intended. I’ll try to ring it back in. To respond to Reverend,

You know what your comment makes me really think about, especially there at the end? The perception of failure. Because on the one hand, things like plateaus can be used to determine next steps, or changes that need to be made. Or they may even be a sign that it is time to rest, refresh, and have that break that the mind and body needs. But if that plateau is perceived as a realization of failure, rather than a temporary phenomenon on the path to mastery, I could see it easily scaring away those who “don’t know any better”.

When I first started learning Op. 10 No. 5 I had absolutely no conceptualization of how I would ever be able to play it at speed. And now, almost 3 years, 2 music projects, and 1 plateau later; Not only do I know I have the potential to play it at speed, but I have almost totally realized the concept, in my playing of the piece. But then, I knew better. I simply understood too much about the human body and mind to count the feat as officially impossible for myself; In spite of not even being able to imagine how it would be possible.

So when you say, “I think a lot of people learning music hit their first plateau and then lose interest.”, I return with the question, Is it because they’ve determined that they’ve failed, and have decided that this is the end of the line? Or do they fear that this line of failure will eventually come to them, even if they do succeed? For myself, the line of failure is the determining line of my next direction. It will eventually meet me, us, somewhere. But then, that’s how I assess my flaws, my shortcomings, my lack, and decide where it is in my best interest to cultivate more skill.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

To respond to Gimpy’s various comments:

When I think of acquisition, I also don’t think of it as a set milestone, but rather, a state of being. That state being “learning”. Though, I think a much more accurate word is “receiving”. It’s the difference between someone’s name going in one ear and out the other, or you being able to recall that name. This is why I hit my peers with the “memory isn’t about repetition, it’s about recall”. Someone can tell you their name one time and never have to tell you again because you received it and that person stays in your awareness; Even when they aren’t around. And then, someone can tell you their name over and over again and you not remember it simply because that person is never in your awareness; Not even when they’re in the same room.

Ah, but with complex things like music and language, it’s not just about recalling information. It’s about understanding, interpreting, processing, and delivering. And like you and others have already said, no wonder it becomes exceptionally difficult. There are so many working and moving parts. And yes, that’s why my language learning practice is at least as complicated as my music learning practice, if not more; All the way down to having access to mentors and teachers alike and utilizing every immersive resource one could get their hands on.

Edit: Also! On the note of how sleeping affects learning progress!

I commented on someone’s thread a long time ago about how napping was one of my favorite practice supplements. I don’t have the official science behind how it works either, but I’m under the impression that it has to do with how our brain *also forgets things; In this case, forgetting mistakes, bad habits, and bad technique. It’s also important to note that playing music is very much a physical experience and that for every intellectual connection that built, there’s a physical one that also needs to be built, strengthened, and reinforced. So when you’re sleeping, your brain is doing all of that work of physically establishing and reinforcing some connections while losing and getting rid of others. That’s how I’ve come to understand it.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Failure?

In the world of entrepreneurial business, they say, “The difference between failure and success is in how many times you fail.” In other words, keep failing until you succeed. The only real failure comes from giving up.

And there’s the old saw: “It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up.”

I’m ancient, so I quit worrying about failure a long time ago. It’s healthier to think of everything as a work in progress. You can’t really fail if you never quit trying.

Funny thing about plateaus. I bet this will resonate with a fair number of folks here. You ever take a looong break from playing music, then come back and the first time you pick it up, everything clicks and it’s a joy to play?

Of course, the day after that, you feel like a rank beginner again, rusty and dusty. And it’s time to woodshed back to where you were before the break.

So when I hit a plateau, I take a break. Coming back always inspires me to get after it again, in two ways. First, because that first time back is so wonderful and reminds me why I play music in the first place. And second, because the long fall the next day is so annoyingly disappointing that I can’t help but work me arse off to get better.

At my stage in life, though, a plateau is welcome. It’s a pause not in improvement but in the inevitable decay. If I’m plateaued, at least I’m not getting any worse. 😉

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Cross posted, Jerone.

Totally agree on repetition vs. recall, and your example of remembering a person’s name is spot on.

That’s why I like to play a new tune before I go to bed. It’s a time to give full attention to the tune, to be present with it, in it, to listen fully. No need to repeat a million times if you’re really listening. And then it’s there the next day. And likely from then on.

Language responds to the same strategies. That’s why context matters and immersion works. If someone in a lab paid me $100 to learn the word for “restroom” in some unfamiliar language, it wouldn’t stick. But fill me full of beer, tell me the word once, and you can bet I’ll say it perfectly to the bartender not just tonight but tomorrow night as well. “Otearai?”

Earlier I said we learn by doing. We learn most deeply by doing in context. Your emotional associations of learning Japanese from a person will be far richer than learning from software, a video, or a book. I have an American friend who learned Japanese in high school, then got a master’s in it. But she didn’t really get it until she spent two years in Japan.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

This bit! ~ “Then there’s the subject of “plateaus” in your learning, which is a common thing for people to experience especially with music. We make progress and then it feels like it stops. I attribute some of this to our minds trying to slow down the information flow, so that we can really internalize (build the neural pathways for) the information that we’ve already learned. But I believe part of it is just a perception that we’re not progressing, when we actually are…”

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Our brains are complicated. Most of us will naturally find some things easy, some things medium (i.e. possibly find it somewhat easier with practice but still having to work on them more than the first category) and some things difficult, that will always be difficult no matter how much you work at them. As someone who has had spatial difficulties all my life, I have to really practice some things, and repeat them. But in my experience, in order to even be able to practice them, I have to: A. Want to achieve the result and B. Actually believe that whatever this skill is is something that I can achieve. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
I have two questions for you that you don’t have to answer on here, just something to think about for your particular situation:
When you first started the Japanese language course, did you have just as much enthusiasm and excitement to learn as you did when you started playing music? And before you had your loss of acquisition, did you feel that you were learning the language just as easily as you learned your music?

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

It is also an age related phenomenon. In my 30’s and 40’s if I could play a tune once or twice I’d remember it, but now at the age of 70 I’m finding it much hard to remember new tunes, they just don’t “stick” like they used to. It’s really fascinating and frustrating at the same time. If I were asked to name all the tunes I know I’d probably only come up with a handful, but there are hundreds that I can play along with when others start them in sessions. And if I remember the name of a tune I know it’s one I learned long ago.

I don’t think I’m unusually limited in this respect for my age and it does not in the least diminish my enjoyment of the music.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I was hoping to avoid doing this, because I didn’t want the discussion to be about my language learning practice, but to examine how people perceive failure and what could possibly be happening when they’ve decided that the game is over for them. But so many of you have taken to the discussion and asked curious questions, I feel like it’s rude not to answer them. So I’m answering them here.

“Does the presentation of this Japanese course synch with your strengths?”

Not necessarily. One of my main uses for Japanese is reading song lyrics and watching television. Japanese courses tend to teach formal Japanese first, so that you don’t learn crude or rude speech. But most of my immersion materials are mainly in casual speech, so it would’ve been more effective for me to have learned casual speech first; Especially since I wouldn’t be speaking the language very much.

“Does it follow a clear, reasonable progression? Can you set your own pace?”

I think so, I just wish they taught casual first. But there has still been a lot of useable information and I can grammatically comprehend over 80%(actual number from one of my resources) of some of my favorite Japanese songs now.

“How far outside your comfort zone is Japanese?”

I wouldn’t consider any language outside of my comfort zone, as I consider language as being a more complex form of music. On the other hand, Japanese in and of itself presents challenges that make it exceptionally difficult to learn for native English speakers in general, and most of the issues that I am aware of, I’ve since learned how to deal with and manage.

“When you first started the Japanese language course, did you have just as much enthusiasm and excitement to learn as you did when you started playing music?”

There was a lot of enthusiasm. I’ve waited since I was a young teenager for us to develop the technology and resources to be able to learn languages un-immersed and outside of classrooms. That time has come. The issue with being un-immersed and outside of the classroom is navigating how you’re going to learn the language in an effective and functional way.

“And before you had your loss of acquisition, did you feel that you were learning the language just as easily as you learned your music?”

Yes, the material was very simple and easy to retain for several weeks. Over time, I did slow down though. I ended up going from completing a full module a day, to completing sections of modules, to only doing single lessons because the material had gotten to be a lot. But I was still in acquisition. There was actually a very specific lesson
that made me pause indefinitely, because the information was so dense and complex, I had to sort out how I would continue tracking my learning material. That lesson was “Measure Words”, which was ultimately about a dozen different forms of the numbers “1-10”, used as counters for different types of objects. I admittedly haven’t been the same since, as a language learner, a musician, or a man.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I had no idea Japanese did that with numbers. Not completely without analog to English—we commonly use words other than one (single sole, lone), two (duo, pair, couple, binary), three (trio, triad, triple, treble, triplet), etc. But this sounds more complex.

Even the experts aren’t in agreement about any overlap between music and language. Thinking of strictly instrumental music (sans lyrics), it (probably) lacks the substantive, semantic rabbit holes of language, the ability to create ever more specific degrees of meaning (as in Japanese counting, apparently). No doubt there are other divergences between language and music. So it would be rash to despair over your musicality due to an alleged failure in acquiring a nuance of a relatively unfamiliar language/culture.

I say this in part because music for me is an alternate universe, an antidote, to language, to being verbal, to the mental chatter. My brain apparently processes music and language very differently, and doesn’t do both simultaneously well at all. I love the feeling of thinking in music instead of words.

Is this nuance of counting in Japanese necessary to understanding songs? Is it one small corner of the language that a native speaker could help you with? Or is it something you could skip for now and perhaps return to later, after you’ve gained more Japanese, more context?

FWIW, “failure” seems like too strong a word for this bump in the road. “Detour” perhaps. Or “learning experience.” 🙂

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Hi Jerone, thank you for answering my questions and sorry for missing the point of the thread. I was curious about the language acquisition experience because I have grown up with a second language that was spoken at home along with English. But if I had to learn this language now, I definitely think I would find it more difficult. Also I was interested in how you perceived the skills of learning a language to learning music to be different.
I’ll try to answer your other question now. How do I know that something I am doing becomes a “game over” situation? If something I am doing isn’t making me happy and hasn’t for a long time (i.e. not just an “off” day) I ask myself if continuing will give me any long-term gain and if I feel I have better things to do (both things I need and want to do that I would prefer to doing the activity itself). My decision on quitting or continuing would also factor in how supportive the environment is, if this isn’t a solitary activity. A few years ago I quit some volunteering that hadn’t been making me happy for a long time, was full of expectations and time commitments, the environment could have been more supportive and I definitely had other ideas of things I wanted to do with my time. In this instance, quitting was the absolute best decision I made for myself.
I hope this answers your original question a little better. Sorry this seems to have hit you hard. But it sounds like you really initially enjoyed this activity, and maybe you would thrive learning it with a more supportive environment. Good luck on whatever you decide.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

> a dozen different forms of the numbers “1-10”, used as counters for different types of objects.

You might already know, but both Irish and Scottish Gaelic have a (less complex) form of this as well. There is the normal counting system, but people have a seperate set of numbers, so instead of a h-aon, a dhà, a tri, you have aonar, dithis, triùir.

I seem to recall reading there are a few languages where there is no real concept of abstract number at all and each class of thing gets its own numbering system.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Whimbrel, there’s no need to apologize. I am wholly responsible for the discussion going into the direction in went in.

The thing is, because of my upbringing and lifestyle, I am always having experiences that are musically relevant to me; And sometimes it can be difficult expressing the musical context of that experience to others if it’s not relatable enough. Fortunately this time, it appears that the experience was very relatable.

The main point: No matter how curious I am, or how important a question is to me, I try to be sure that it’s always relevant to the forum, out of respect for the culture of the site and all of it’s members.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I feel a total loss of acquisition any time anyone trots out the circle of fifths and how it’s all mathematical. That makes no sense to me and probably never will.

When it comes to tunes, I find that learning by ear is easier for me if I can leave out some of the notes and fill them over time. So if I’m overwhelmed and not able to take it in, I try to play the chord changes that I hear in hard places and slowly fill in the notes. I find it hard to learn tunes where someone is breaking it down into chunks. By the time I get to the third chunk I’ve forgotten the first one. It’s much easier to learn a simplified, paired down tune and then fill in more notes. Not all Irish tunes are amenable to that though.

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I think sometimes we underestimate how truly difficult it is to learn some things. We come to expect instant gratification it at least gratification after a lot of hard work! so are flawed when we do try hard and fail. Good things take time, although having said that not everyone will have the same ability to learn the ‘thing’ whatever it is… to the same extent as the next person. I think that the likes of ‘loss of Acquisition’ are likely to happen in a learning journey and that if someone continues to push on through for a bit usually you’ll break on through to the other side😊🤞this has been my experience so far anyways.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

sbhikes said,

“I feel a total loss of acquisition any time anyone trots out the circle of fifths and how it’s all mathematical. That makes no sense to me and probably never will.”

What exactly is it that you don’t understand about the circle of fifths? You don’t have to think about it mathematically.

I think it’s easiest to explain with a piano keyboard because everything is laid out in a straight line. The circle of 5ths is simply the order of keys by how many sharps they have; Just like the circle of 4ths is for flats. It’s called the circle of fifths because the notes are 5 major scale degrees apart.

CMaj
GMaj - #
DMaj - ##
AMaj - ###
EMaj - ####
BMaj - #####
F#Maj - ######
C#Maj - #######

Note, it’s not an actual circle because it doesn’t return to CMaj, but to C#Maj.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Keep it going few more and you’ll get back to C eventually, assuming we’re talking enharmonically…

CMaj
GMaj - #
DMaj - ##
AMaj - ###
EMaj - ####
BMaj - #####
F#Maj - ######
C#Maj - #######
G# Maj - #######
D# Maj - ########
A# Maj - #########
E# Maj - ########## (F)
B# Maj - ########### (back to C)

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Erm, cross posted with M.E.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“Keep it going few more and you’ll get back to C eventually, assuming we’re talking enharmonically…”

That’s the point, there is no assumption that we’re talking enharmonically because we don’t notate music in G#Maj, D#Maj, A#Maj, E#Maj, B# Maj: We officially notate all of those keys in their enharmonic Flat key signatures, AbMaj, EbMaj, BbMaj, FMaj, CMaj. Note: this places the circle of 4ths in reverse. Redundance.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“Note, it’s not an actual circle because it doesn’t return to CMaj, but to C#Maj”

Yeah, it’s an actual circle independent of naming (again, speaking enharmonically). You just stopped early.

D# Maj - ######## = Eb Maj
A# Maj - ######### = Bb Maj
E# Maj - ########## = F Maj
B# Maj - ########### = C Maj

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I’m not feeling it. The circle of fifths doesn’t include those enharmonic key signatures, and we don’t use those enharmonic key signatures due to redundancy with their relative flat keys. You can say I “stopped early”, but then, I could say “D#Maj, A#Maj, E#Maj, and B#Maj” aren’t real key signatures.

By the way, what’s up with how you numbered these sharps? Your chart says A#Maj has 9 sharps, E#Maj has 10 sharps, and B#Maj has 11 sharps???

D# Maj - ######## = Eb Maj
A# Maj - ######### = Bb Maj
E# Maj - ########## = F Maj
B# Maj - ########### = C Maj

How can an 8 note scale have more than 8 sharps?

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Because there are 12 semitones, not 8 notes….

It’s a circle. You could do the same for the flats in the inverse direction moving in fourths.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“Because there are 12 semitones, not 8 notes….”

I don’t understand. We’re talking about 8-note(to correct myself, 7-n0te) diatonic major scales, and their consistent order of number of sharps/flats based on the circle of fifths/fourths. What does semitones have to do with the maximum number of sharps or flats in a major scale being seven(all of the notes)?

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Jerone, did you look at the Circle of 5ths graphic my link goes to?

No doubt my comprehension of the circle is more basic than yours (or anyone who understands the finer points of music theory), so maybe I’m missing something, but it works for me: going clockwise, you get the name of the next key by counting 5 notes up from the previous. Going counterclockwise, it works the same but in 4ths. In the chart I linked to, once you get to C#, the keys are flat: Ab, Eb, Bb, F, which brings us back to C (and I hear the Von Trapp Family singing).

As I’m sure you know, the utility of the circle is that when you select any one key as the I, the IV and V chords are immediately adjacent. Most graphics also show the relative minor for each key on the inner circle (as the linked one does). Handy for understanding “chord families” and for transposing to unfamiliar keys at a glance. I don’t worry much about the key signatures.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Draw a circle that consists of all 12 semitones increasing in the clockwise direction. C at 12 o’clock. Label them with both their sharp and flat names.

Starting at C move clockwise seven semitones (a fifth).

Repeat moving 7 semitones clockwise again, and again, repeat until you eventually arrive back at C.

Do the same thing starting at C going clockwise moving five semitones (a fourth).

Repeat moving 5 semitones clockwise again, and again, repeat until you eventually arrive back at C.

Yes, the naming of the sharps/flats would be strange as you get to the extremes, but the circle folds back on itself in both cases. The next exercise would be to write down the notes of the scale that starts at each of the offsets using both the sharp and flat naming of the notes in order to see the pattern of addition of sharps and flats and understand what’s happening when you get beyond just 5 or 6 sharps or flats.

If it still doesn’t “click” for you after this exercise, repeat it until it does.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

er, except it’s *counter*clockwise for 4ths.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.,

Well, that was what I thought to say at first for the fourths to go counter-clockwise but the exercise makes more sense I think clockwise, since you go C F Bb Eb… adding a flat each time for the flats and C G D A…. adding a sharp each time for the sharps. That it’s a circle works in both directions…. Interesting exercise.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

The point being that Jerome, unless I’m completely misunderstanding his assertion, made it sound like the circle of fifths isn’t a full circle, that it stops at some arbitrary number of sharps or flats. That’s an incorrect assertion, I think the confusion is in the naming of the scales and what happens as far as on-staff indication when you get to the double sharps and flats at the extremes of the circle.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“Jerone, did you look at the Circle of 5ths graphic my link goes to?”

Yes Gimpy, I checked your link and read the lesson. My main point, if you look at your graphic, is that only six Enharmonic Major Keys are labeled: Db/C#, F#/Gb, and B/Cb. All of those Enharmonic keys are real keys that we notate music in. The four other enharmonic keys in question(G#Maj, D#Maj, A#Maj, E#Maj, B# Maj) aren’t on the chart, because they aren’t real key signatures. Therefore, I don’t consider them as being apart of the circle of fifths. Only their relative flat keys will be found on the chart because they are real key signatures that we do notate music in.

All of this arguing I’m doing is based on the principle that in traditional, standard, western music notation, you are not supposed to label the same note in 2 different ways. Since the enharmonics that *follow* the circle of fifths violate that rule, and aren’t acknowledged as real key signatures, I do not acknowledge them as “completing” the circle of fifths.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I give up. Someone else tag in. 🙂

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“The point being that Jerome, unless I’m completely misunderstanding his assertion, made it sound like the circle of fifths isn’t a full circle, that it stops at some arbitrary number of sharps or flats.”

No, I don’t intend to say that the circle of fifths/fourths stop at an arbitrary number of sharps/flats. What I am saying is that the circle of fifths, and the circle of fourths, both end when the key signature reaches the maximum number of sharps or flats possible in a major key signature; And that at that number, it does not complete an actual circle.

With that being, I will admit that I misspoke when I said…
“[the circle of fifths] is not an actual circle *because it doesn’t return to CMaj, but to C#Maj*”.

That’s not accurate. You are both correct to say that it does eventually return to CMaj, of course. It would’ve been more appropriate if I had said “The circle of fifths ends before it eventually reaches back to CMaj. So I personally don’t consider it a complete circle.”

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

LOL, since I mostly play single-line melody (Irish trad), with only a basic idea of the harmonic structure behind a tune, your points are way above my pay grade. 🙂

My sense of the Circle of 5ths/4ths is that it works in either direction (as I described above) and uses the common key labels for notating Western music (and Irish trad in particular). That is, I can think of tunes commonly played in all of the keys shown on the circle except F#, Db, and Ab. For example, The Banks Hornpipe is commonly played in Eb, The Beeswing in Bb, etc.

But my sense of the circle isn’t based on “adding” sharps or flats. It’s simply going up a 5th (clockwise) or a 4th (counterclockwise) each time. Whether you use sharps or flats in the key signature is a technicality of notation mostly irrelevant to how I use the circle. That is, I don’t need to know the key signature to understand, “Now we’re gonna play in Eb.”

In fact, in many decades of using the circle to suss out chord progressions and transpose them, it never once occurred to me that you could build the circle by adding sharps or flats. I’ve always thought of it as simply counting 5 steps clockwise or 4 steps counterclockwise. In doing so, you get a complete circle with, no mental gymnastics needed. Which suits my simple mind. It is called, after all, the “Circle of Fifths,” not the “Circle of Adding Sharps.” 🙂

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

P.S. Jerone, your posts always make me pay more attention to how I think about music, and I sincerely appreciate that.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Hey Michael, I see what you’re saying about the semitones now. If you include double-sharps, you can get more than 7 sharps in an 8 notes scale. However, your chart above of simply “adding a sharp per key” doesn’t actually work based on theory. I just sat at the piano and worked it all out by hand. So even though you were conceptually correct, you gave me unchecked/inaccurate data to work with, and a lot of that is what confused me. Here is how those major scales would by labeled if they were actual key signatures…

X = Double Sharp

G#, A#, B#, C#, D#, E#, FX = 8Sharps

D#, E#, FX, G#, A#, B#, C#, = 8 Sharps

A#, B#, CX, D#, E#, FX, GX, = 10 Sharps

E#, FX, GX, A#, B#, CX, D# = 10 Sharps

B#, CX, DX, E#, FX, GX, AX = 12 Sharps

Thank you Michael, and Gimpy, for challenging my statement and giving me something to think about. I really enjoyed this and was in desperate need of the intellectual stimulation!

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Jerome, I’m afraid it’s your data that’s inaccurate.
In D# major the C would be double sharp giving 9 sharps.
In E# major the D would be double sharp giving 11 sharps.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Jerome, my data was accurate. You just haven’t figured it out yet.

Consider the clue that johndsamules just provided you…

Then do the same exercise with flats until you also figure that out as well.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“Jerome, I’m afraid it’s your data that’s inaccurate.
In D# major the C would be double sharp giving 9 sharps.
In E# major the D would be double sharp giving 11 sharps.”

Well well well, would you look at that. I went back to double-check and you’re absolutely right. Looks like I owe Michael an apology. I will concede then, that the circle of fifths is a complete circle, with the caveat that to complete the circle you would have to refer to enharmonic key signatures. Thank you for your correction John. I certainly should’ve known better than to compete with the consistency of musical math.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Apology accepted.

Now do the same exercise with flats.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

A thought provoking discussion as always Jerone. I thought Reverend’s post way up thread covered anything I could contribute and more.

But I just happened this: https://english.elpais.com/science-tech/2022-08-12/scientists-say-too-much-glutamate-is-why-thinking-hard-makes-you-tired.html which I think adds another angle.

Sometimes needing a ‘brain break’ when learning something or having a ‘brain full’ feeling having taken on too much in one go (from where one is starting) are commonly expressed ideas.

For me it can range from feeling a need of a short nap after practicing tricky fingering, not wanting to thing too hard after an intense workshop, to not wanting to think about a subject at all for a few days after having finished a report that took months. And for me the challenge for efficient use of learning time is when to stick at it as it gets hard and when to stop.

“I really enjoyed this and was in desperate need of the intellectual stimulation!” (Jerone) So maybe you are ready to have a look at the Japanese, and see if the topic can be taken a small bite at a time, taking a break as soon as it gets hard (even if you are used to pressing on). It sounds like it could be an awful lot of vocabulary and context to learn in one go.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Hi Jerone, it’s very to get sidetracked by names and conventions.

If you start at the lowest C on the piano (C1) and continue up the keyboard in “perfect” fifths do you not eventually reach C8, the highest C on the piano. To do this you don’t need to know any of the names of the notes (and whether we call them sharp or flat) or their associated key signatures.
You don’t even need to know that the first note is called C - as I look at it I see it is the first white key that has a white key to the immediate left and a black key to the immediate right. Going up seven keys at a time, after twelve iterations I eventually get to a key in an equivalent position to the starting one.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

And see DonaldK, you’re absolutely right. All of those things are true. For me, I got hung up on the fact that we don’t acknowledge those enharmonics(in the circle of fifths between C# and Cnat) as key signatures, and we don’t teach them with the circle of fifths, or notate music in them at all. But then, maybe it’s that kind of thinking that stifles and chokes my own creativity. After everything that’s been talked about here on that subject, it’s definitely something worth meditating on and re-evaluating my ideas about.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

At least I now know why the Germans made those 11/12/13 - keyed flutes. It was to access the higher hidden levels of the Co5th. (LOL!)

FWIW - I have also disappeared down the rabbit hole of sharps/flats and pythagorean tuning, just intonation and equal temperament and discovered wolf notes in the process. And also stressed about the naming of notes for fingering or the (lower) open hole below the fingering.

This >> https://flic.kr/p/2nJY8YU << is my Flute based Circle of Fifths for practicing the various scales. RED highlights the Major scale, the blue note is the start of the relative minor and only notes “in the scale” are marked on the flute diagram. Only just noticed that I placed D-major at the top because in flute terms this is the scale with no “keyed” notes - just straight up the middle.

Full set of my descent into madness pics… https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjA5Xfe

And this >> https://flic.kr/p/2nJY8Y8 << was my “mapping” of scales from piano (which I can’t play) to flute. The scales with white and black keys kinda make sense in a piano but a flute is like a piano where the white notes play the scale of D major.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Wow! “A quarter of a semi-tone” - don’t think my impaired ears would be able to distinguish that. My electronic tuner just might.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“Strictly speaking the circle of fifths is only a full circle if you are progressing with equal tempered fifths. Using perfect fifths B# is flat of C by about a quarter of a semitone.”

Which is why I wrote “perfect” fifths, johndsamuels.

I would have thought an interval of a quarter of a semitone to be quite noticeable, Trish, even with impaired hearing, like an incredibly wet accordion tuning.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Equal temperament resolves the problem by sharing out the comma, so that all fifths are about 2 cents sharp of the perfect 3:2 ratio. There are a variety of other temperaments that divide it up differently so that the more common keys are better in tune and the less common are worse.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

“ Strictly speaking the circle of fifths is only a full circle if you are progressing with equal tempered fifths. “

My assumption here has been that we are only talking about the circle of fifths in the context of equal temperament, but one might challenge the assertion that it fails with just temperament. Is the circle of fifths about note naming and sharp/flat convention or the actual pitch sounded?

One could make the case that it’s about note names only and that the notes of the scale that start with wherever you are in the circle would have the same names for both equal and just temperament, but may have different pitches.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I remember being taught to sing in quarter-tones by a visiting Norwegian singer, Donald, and I could just about do that, but quarters of semi-tones? 1/8 of a tone? Maybe when I was younger and before my hearing went awry.
One of my accordions does have extra stops to be able to use one, 2 or 3 reeds at a time: using more reeds which are tuned fractionally apart does give you that wet sound. And my pitch discrimination is affected by the competition from massive loud tinnitus and distortion: sadly it’s not just a matter of turning up the volume! That’s my loss of acquisition.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

As we’ve seen here, “loss of acquisition” can happen when we cling to our own misconceptions. (We all do this at times.) More subtly, it can happen when we haven’t thought clearly about the “how” and “why” of the system or method we’re attempting to use to make sense of something, whether it’s the Circle of 5ths or counting in Japanese.

As Aristotle might say, always define your terms and triple check your assumptions.

Yet we tend to get stuck in mental circles, chasing our own tail. It’s not easy to look at a problem from a fresh perspective. It helps to hear from someone else.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Spot on Michael. In my experience, most musicians use the circle to think about keys and chord/harmonic affiliations, not specific pitch or sharp/flat notation conventions.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

In daily practice, I primarily use the circle of fifths in a very hands-on way to negotiate my way around the Stradella bass side of my C-system chromatic button accordion.

The whole question of the full circle becomes obvious when you look at how many bass buttons are available on a typical Stradella bass side of a piano or CBA accordion (not free bass).

Typically, the buttons are arranged in rows of 6 buttons with the rows consisting of the third of the root (counter-bass), the root, major chord, minor chord, 7 chord, dim chord. The rows are arrange with the root notes corresponding to the circle-of-fifths.

On a small 72 bass button instrument, you have 12 rows of 6 buttons, which gives you all the possible semitone roots.

Larger piano and CBA accordions with Stradella bass often have 96 or 120 bass buttons (16 or 20 rows, my CBA has 96 bass buttons in 16 rows), and they are taking advantage of the fact that the circle-of-fifths repeats and wraps around.

Those extra rows allow for playing in the keys and their related chords that would be at the edges of a 72-bass instrument without having to jump from the bottom to the top of the instrument or vice-versa. The extra rows are repeats of other rows, but still follow the circle-of-fifths relative to the rows around them.

Looking at a typical 120 bass button side of accordion (again, Stradella, not free-bass) shows in a very direct way the answer to the question about whether the circle-of-fifths is a full circle.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

Michael, yes that’s the sort of application I’m thinking of.

On guitar, I’ve used the circle to think about chord progressions, particularly if I’m transposing into unfamiliar keys. Pointedly, I’m *not* concerned about note pitch or the notation of sharps/flats. I just want to know what chords to grab. I think in terms of “chord families”—the I, IV, V, relative minor, etc.—that most tunes and songs adhere to. The circle gives me those at a glance. The fact that we can frame it as a circle seems intuitive.

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Re: Loss of Acquisition.

I think of the circle of fifths as something along the lines of a ‘ready reckoner’. A graphic representation of relationships.

If one knows the sequence of intervals in a major scale, what a fifth is (and a relative minor if that is to be included) , about sharpening and flattening notes and how key signatures work then there are only really two obstacles in generating the graphic that gimpy linked. One is the conceptual one of being aware that such a clever representation exists, the other is the sheer slog of starting at C and working ones way round without making any mistakes.

Going clockwise from C to D and the other way to Bb correctly is enough for me to see how it works. I am not skeptical enough to go all the way along a keyboard (with a whiteboard marker 😀) to check that we do get back to the ‘same’ place.

It’s a suberb resource and reference, but unless there is an exam question coming up why worry? The parts one uses a lot will go into memory, the rest is there to be referred to.

Like in a phrase book…

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

The thing I noticed about the circle of 5ths, after having my head done in with the 11 sharps business 🙂 , was this :

Look at gimpy’s chart, start at C, and go clockwise. If you play the C and G together, that’s the (implied) key of Cmaj. Now start at C, go anti-clockwise, and play the C and F together, and that’s the (implied) key of Fmaj.

Same thing will apply no matter what position you start at. Same with the minors on the chart.

Nothing unusual about that, it’s just that I never noticed it before.

I suppose it now raises the question : if you hear a 5th (eg DA), does it (aurally) imply that a tune in that “key” would be major, minor, or neither (ie all you hear is a cold 5th) ?

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

There are lots of GHB tunes on A (i.e., where A is the tonic) that don’t have any Cs (natural or sharp) in them. I often like to accompany those tunes with an A5 chord on the tonic, even though the tunes often have a minor feel, based on the pentatonic pipe minor scale: A-B-D-E-G (1-2-4-5-b7). Playing an Am chord often seems to make the tune sound less powerful. But in this context the A5 definitely doesn’t feel major.

If, however, I hear an A5 chord in isolation then that is what I hear - neither major nor minor. There has to be context to give a major or minor feel. Having said that, for a concert recently, we accompanied a pipe tune with A5, A major and A minor as the tonic chord on three successive times through the tune - go figure.

Re: Loss of Acquisition.

One of the basic tenets of music theory is the correct “spelling” of intervals and chords. The interval C–E spans three note names and is therefore a (major) third. The interval B#–Fb spans five note names and is therefore some kind of doubly diminished fifth (even if there is no generally accepted label for the precise variety). The size of the intervals when actually sounded depends on the tuning system. They are identical in equal temperament, which is characterized by the full enharmonic equivalence of all pairs such as B#/C and Fb/E. Other temperaments apportion or approximate this equivalence variably among intervals, if at all.

It is often noted that the circle of fifths is actually a spiral. As has been stated repeatedly in the discussion here, that is of no importance in any context anchored in equal temperament. However, it may be worth noting that Quantz modified the one-keyed Baroque flute by adding a second key — one for D# and the other for Eb. He did so decades after the first association of the instrument with ITM.

In his mid-19th-century writing on orchestration, Hector Berlioz complained about concertinas being tuned in meantone temperament, rather than the otherwise ubiquitous equal temperament. To the extent that the historical development of ITM performance practice is of interest, traditional notions of in-tuneness may be worth further consideration.

Assuming that it hasn’t already been studied and documented, I’d wager that solo performers of ITM on instruments that permit on-the-fly tempering of intervals take advantage of it. This in no way offsets the utility of the ET circle of fifths but does suggest that some additional light might be shed by understanding the further nuance of the underlying construct.