The following took place later in Frank’s life. You’ll be happy to know that he did indeed find a new job, and a friend, and that he kept bicycling with his bicycle group and had numerous adventures with them. But these are all parts of his story I’m not ready to tell, yet. Eventually, Frank decided he wanted a new hobby.
“Okay, so you play B – good. Then E, A, D, G, C, F. Now comes the tricky part! You’re going to Repeat those – but flat this time. B flat, E flat, D, G – and then start the circle over. This is the circle of fourths.”
It didn’t make total sense. It didn’t even make partial sense. But it was a logical picture set before Frank—the musical notes, sitting in a circle, related to each other via some voodoo magic or 12-pointed mystical diagram.
There was an order to the notes, Frank was noticing however—some notes sounded good together, like a sentence formed with a pleasing structure. It rolled off the tongue, or in this case, out of Frank’s guitar as he twanged an artless melody.
“Good job, Frank,” said Mr. Hebert, Frank’s teacher. He was a broad shouldered, burly man with a cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, observing Frank’s playing from behind his slightly drooped, puffy eyelids.
“You’re getting it. Now, you’ll have to practice that a bunch more times. But see now—any time you’re playing in a key, you’ve got your tonic note, right?”
Frank nodded. Tonic—the home base. “Doe.” The center where songs often began and rested most easily.
“And you’ve also got your dominant and subdominant notes, right? So if you’re in the key of G major, there are a couple major chords that are gonna fit with a tonic of G, right?”
“Right,” said Frank. He wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Right—so the cool thing is, with the circle of fourths I just showed you, the dominant and subdominant notes are always gonna be right next to whatever the tonic is. Okay, so what’s the order again?” Mr. Hebert twisted his colorfully beaded necklace as a hint.
“B – E – A – D,” said Frank, before being interrupted.
“That’s enough,” said Mr. Hebert. “Okay, so A—based on what you just said, what notes are on either side of it in the circle?”
“Um, well. E. And D, I guess,” said Frank.
“Exactly!” said Mr. Hebert, “The dominant and subdominant notes! His eyes glinting through the cigarette smoke. “So anytime you can’t remember, just think about your circle.”
Mr. Hebert tapped off the ash from his cigarette, took a final pull from the stub, and then smothered it in an ashtray sitting on the window sill of his screened back porch.
Frank sat patiently. He didn’t know what was next. Birds chattered in the backyard, a well-kept lawn mixed with a small garden and flowerbeds. A cardinal—one of the few birds Frank could recognize—flew by.
Mr. Hebert was gazing thoughtfully towards his backyard. “Frank,” he said, finally. “There’s something you need to understand about music. There’s a lot to it. You’ll never get to the bottom of it, but there’s one thing that I have found to be true: music is meant to be shared.”
Mr. Hebert paused. It was a theatrical affectation, perhaps, but Frank didn’t mind.
“You hear that bird?” said Mr. Hebert. “That’s a tufted titmouse. You can tell because they go ‘Peter-peter-peter.’ Well, just like they share their music, we humans have to share ours too. When we don’t, we lose interest–we become discouraged.”
“So,” said Mr. Hebert, concluding his speech, “This has been a one-time lesson. You want to come again, fine. You want to go it alone and learn through YouTube or whatever kids these days are using….that’ s fine too. Just make sure if you aren’t sharing your music with me, that you’re sharing it with someone. Find a place to play, a person to play for. That way, you’ll stick with it.”
Frank nodded. Behind the cigarette smoke and beer breath, he had heard something true, he thought.
“Now that’ll be forty bucks. And get out of here,” said Mr. Hebert with a chuckle.