Yet another Melody Path template idea, but upside down!

A week or so ago I had an ‘inspiration’ about the Melody Path diagrams and tweaked my template.

My original template, which I’ve been using for a while, is based on the diagrams used in the IFR book and courses. It has 4 blocks (2 pairs) each having 4 columns of the tonal map 1 to 7. I usually print to A4, then cut each sheet into 2x A5. I can either use a sheet for 2x 4 chord progressions, or use a pair of blocks together for a longer progression.

Pretty much the only variation on the usual IFR illustrations is that I like to space the numbers out in the manner of the tone & semi tone relationships, hence line breaks between most, but not between 3 & 4.

I also use ‘fretboard’ templates to aid mapping out ideas, environments, etc., in terms of a fretboard. I’ve written about this before (I’d post PDFs, for the fretboard & melody path template, but it doesn’t seem to be a ‘permitted type’ at present).

Doing an exercise as part of @Jelske 's Mixed Harmony improv course got me thinking about a possible variation on the Melody Paths template.

An obvious difference between my fretboard ‘model’ and the usual templates is the direction in which the numbers run, i.e. ‘classic’ melody path diagrams have highest note at the top and the fretboard mode (& a real fretboard) have the lowest note at the top.

Not a major issue, but it is a difference, so I built an alternative Melody Path template as an experiment. Essentially just the same as I’ve used before, but with 1 to 7 top to bottom rather than 7 to 1.

Here’s the filled copy of my new version for a

|| 1 | 1 | 5- | 1D |
| 4 | 3- | 2- | 5D ||


The colouring is an idea I’m trying out to highlight the root, 3rd & 5th (& in a sense the 7th, since it’s the only chord tone not coloured in).

To right you can see that sometimes I also sketch in simple fretboard layout patterns, but those are more for while I’m thinking about the fingerings in advance.

I’ve only had time to use it for a couple of exercises, but I think I’m going to like (& prefer) it. I immediately felt more ‘at home’ with the reversed sequence. Your preferences may vary, but I thought I’d share.


@DavidW, thank you for sharing this innovation! I love the spirit of intellectual investigation. This combination of genuine curiosity, motivation and intellectual freedom is what I wish everyone could experience in their own music study. Your inverted chord column drawings are also a humbling reminder of what it feels like to be a beginner. Looking at my own chord column drawings, it’s easy to forget how foreign these look to a beginner in the IFR method. But then when I see your upside-down drawings, I remember this beginner’s experience and I can appreciate how much patience and concentration it takes for them to make sense of my drawings!

I’m also curious about your use of spacing to represent half steps and whole steps. I’m surprised that you allowed the original scale degree to remain present when you introduced altered notes like b7. I expected that you would make the 7 disappear in those moments, show only the b7, and then leave the full whole step space between b7 and 1. That would seem to be a more complete way to capture the benefits of your spacing enhancement. But I realize that this makes it impossible to use pre-printed pages. So if you wanted to adopt that system, you would have to be comfortable with the limitation of either using software every time, or redrawing each chord column with pen and paper each time. Maybe the decision comes down to volume. If you find yourself making lots of these chord columns every day, then maybe you need the convenience of pre-printed templates, at least for this daily use. But then maybe there could be a separate use case for more important drawings that you want to save and contemplate for a long time, so those drawings would be worth creating by hand so that you can put each altered note in exactly the right place.

It’s really nice to see your creative energy flowing in this direction. We talk so much about the beauty of music itself that sometimes we forget to share the joy and beauty of this intellectual research. But I love that you’re doing this, and I think it makes all of us feel more accompanied in our pursuit of musical understanding.


Thanks for your interest & comments David (@ImproviseForReal).

Your point about my ‘upside down’ diagram allowing you a glimpse from a different perspective, may be relevant in the matter of the spacing around the b7 too? To borrow a phrasing from my work life, I think that what you’re perceiving as a ‘bug’ appears to me as a ‘feature’. :slight_smile:

Part of what I’m trying to achieve with my adjusted melody path diagram is a greater correlation between the melody path diagrams and my fretboard templates (& mental model, & physical reality).

For me having the third of the 5- (i.e. the b7) sit in the space aids that better correlation. If I perceive the melody path tone column as a ‘string’ (which is part of my aim), then to play the third of the 5- I will be using the fret lower than the one for the 7 of the current key. To me the diagram does show a full whole step gap between the b7 & the 1. That gap however isn’t empty. The 7 is sat in the gap. That seems perfectly reasonable to me since the 7 still exists, we are just choosing not to use it.

Here’s another image, this time showing a section from one of my fretboard templates on which I’ve ‘ringed’ the tones of a 5-


The spatial distances (representing the intervalic distances) are the same as on my upside down melody path diagram (a mental wraparound from 7 to 1 is needed on the melody path, of course).

For me the hand drawn addition of the b7 in that space also highlights that the third of the 5- is an outside note that we have chosen to temporarily elevate & make use of for a purpose (having done that rather than temporarily modulate to some other key, as the usual Music Theory people might see it).

Your chosen usage & perception of (& aims for) a melody path diagram may of course vary, but for me the above make sense for how I’m currently perceiving & trying to use the concept. I hope my explanation allows you a glimpse though my ‘lens’ & makes a degree of sense?

Yes, @DavidW, I totally agree with your vision. I wasn’t questioning at all the placement of the b7 right next to the 6. I agree that this is a more powerful way to visualize the notes. My only additional longing would be to remove the “7” altogether in those moments. As you said, “The 7 is sat in the gap. That seems perfectly reasonable to me since the 7 still exists, we are just choosing not to use it.” That’s true, but it’s also true that b2 always exists. And b3 always exists, and so on. So my feeling is that the following representation could be even more beautiful:

1 2 34 5 6b7 1

This vision corresponds much more closely to what I see on the fretboard when I’m playing. But as you say, this is all a question of personal tastes and preferences. What we can both agree is that either representation would be more accurate than the non-moving numbers in the IFR book. The reason why we chose not to represent chromatic spacing in the vertical columns was because we found that students were unable to reliably make these drawings themselves unless they put little black dots in the spaces to help them plan out the spacing. This is exactly what we do in our horizontal drawings, inserting black dots to show the entire chromatic scale. But for the chord columns, we eventually opted for something less accurate but more useful and agile, like a kind of shorthand that allows people to print out a template like you’ve done, and just quickly scribble in accidentals and circles. But it’s clearly a dilemma between the speed and usefulness of the non-moving numbers vs. the beauty and precision of your perfectly placed numbers.

This is a nice example of how our tools can also grow and evolve as we do. For beginners in the IFR method, I am sure that the non-moving numbers are the superior system because I’ve had the chance to work with hundreds of people and I have a good sense of their ability to manage these tools and use them effectively. So I would continue to teach the system that we use in the IFR book as the basic system for beginners.

But for musicians like yourself who deeply grasp the underlying concepts, it makes perfect sense to trade in your laptop PC for a Unix workstation that allows you to do more sophisticated computing. Regardless of what form those more advanced tools take (e.g. leaving the 7 in the drawing or replacing it with a blank space separator), the important thing is to accept that as you grow musically, you will often have to upgrade your conceptual tools and you should feel fully empowered to do that. IFR was never intended to be dogmatic. We just tried to create a vision of harmony that would allow the largest number of people to “get it” and understand where these sounds come from and how they fit together. But just as with technology (which is what this is, after all), optimizing a system for UX of beginners means that it’s not optimized for the efficiency of power users. So it’s natural that users like yourself would need to upgrade to IFR Pro. :slight_smile:

I see your point David (@ImproviseForReal ), but personally I’m happy to put up with my compromise in order to gain the convenience of the printed templates. In my head the printed 7 is easily understood as ‘special’ (& mentally faded out?) through being next to a handwritten addition for the same number. Well, that’s my excuse & I’m sticking with it. :slight_smile:

That’s what I used to do in my earlier hand written melody paths. It seemed like the natural follow on from the horizontal style, so I did wonder if there was some reason why you didn’t use them. Now I know. Thank you.

I continued to use dots with my earlier melody path templates, but now I find that the regularity of spacing from a printed template is sufficient for the purpose.

As you can see from the image in my last post I use dots in my fretboard templates. With those I originally used underscores, however while underscores were more ‘fret like’ in appearance, overtime I found that I preferred the dots.

As with all these things and many others, YMMV, Horses for Courses, Each to Their Own, Vive La Difference, etc., :slight_smile:

Yes, exactly!

@Dave has now enabled PDF as a ‘permitted type’, so here are the Melody Path templates I mentioned above (I’ll maybe post the fretboard template I mentoned in another topic sometime).

First my earlier template in the usual IFR ‘7 at the top’ style.
Melody_Paths_Template_2x2_blank_gaps.pdf (11.7 KB)

Then my ‘1 at the top’ style as it was when I started this topic
Melody_Path_Template_R_2x2_blank_gaps.pdf (11.2 KB)

Since then I’ve made some extra changes

  1. I’ve added an extra ‘1’ at the bottom to emphasise the cyclic nature.
  2. I’ve widended the gaps between the columns.

Melody Path Template R 1-1 Wider 2x2 blank gaps.pdf (11.4 KB)

Before making that second change I’d often draw out the progression below the columns as a separate thing (see images above). Now I can use the columns as ‘the progression’ in most cases I come across up to 8 measures, even if there are 2 chords in a measure. If there happen to be 2 chords in a measure I now have space to hand write in an extra column for the second of the pair.

I came up with this idea after an ‘incident’ where there were 8 chord changes across 8 measures, but not one change per measure & between marking up the columns & using the paths I got distracted & forgot to draw out the progression.

When I came back I played the track & used the columns one per measure, providing some some interesting if at first puzzling disonnances! :slight_smile:

PS. I’ve also thought of a way to

as @ImproviseForReal likes. I can do that even on these printed sheets by use of a piece of ‘PostIt’ coverup tape (a thing I have for other purposes).

Thanks @Dave for enabling PDF file sharing!

And thank you @DavidW for sharing these templates. I’m struck by the charming blend of new and old technologies, computer generated templates combined with an old school Post-It note. :slight_smile:

I’m probably the most old fashioned of all. My own preference continues to be pen and paper. Something about the act of drawing out the chord columns myself is an inseparable part of the ritual. But we all have different relationships with our tools. So it’s lovely to see how different people create the tools they need to support their musical explorations.

As you may recall from things such as my ‘84 bits of paper marked Ab1,Ab2,…G6,G7 & two jars, one for used combinations & one for yet to be used’ technique for non-repeating key & environment randomisation I’m a fan of what I like to think of as ‘appropriate technology’. :slight_smile:

Well said, @DavidW. We need a lot more of that awareness, on so many levels in society. :slight_smile: