How To Read Schematics
Basic instructions: schematics are proportional. The “Chalk Dust Torture” from Camden, for example, is roughly 14 minutes long, so if you look at the exact center of the schematic, you’re seeing what happens at minute 7, a quarter of the way through is 3.5 mins., and so on.
There’s an ocean of literature about some of these terms (key, mode, dynamics, tempo, etc.), but here’s a brief rundown:
Key, or tonal center, is indicated by a capital letter (i.e. “E,” “G,” etc.).
Modulation (indicated on the schematic by the introduction of a new capital letter) is the act of moving from one key to another. Relatively speaking, this represents a seismic shift in the music.
Mode (major vs. minor, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, or “mixo”) refers to the pitch collection used within a certain key. It’s the tonal flavor of the music.
MODE-MIX = switch from major to minor (or vice-versa) within the same key.
(.) = major structural moments in the piece (to my ears).
DISS = dissonance
PEDAL = bass stays on the same note for awhile (akin to an organist’s foot on a pedal).
Harmonic function, or the gravity of certain chords to each other within a certain key, is generally indicated by the use of Roman numerals (I, IV, V, flat-III, etc.). There’s a lot of literature out there about about this, but it takes some practice to hear it.
Arrows indicate tendencies, directions or leanings. Big arrows mean major tendencies, small arrows mean slight tendencies, and backward-facing arrows indicate lower-order chords within the overall hierarchy of a key (or sometimes they just mean repetition). Arrows can also clue the reader of the schematics where to go next.
ALT = (i.e. “I-IV ALT”) is the alternation of two chords (i.e. E and A).
PENT = a pentatonic (five-note) pitch collection or melody
BLUES-ROCK = improvisation using the blues-rock collection of pitches not that the music is necessarily “bluesy” sounding)
PROG = the existence of a chord progression (rather than “progressive rock”).
Dynamics refers to the loudness or softness of the music. There are certain recognizable trajectories, usually falling within the following parameters:
DYN DIP (“dynamic dip”) = a drop in volume or intensity
BUILD = a gradual increase in dynamics or intensity
DRIVE = maintaining a pretty much full-throttle dynamics/intensity level
GALLOP = DRIVE on acid (you’ll know it when you hear it)
PEAK = you’ll know it when you hear it
VC = verse/chorus (1, 2, etc.). Vocals are present.
CPT = a melody that runs against the main melody; counterpoint (instrument is usually indicated).
ARPS = arpeggios (instrument is usually indicated)
MOT = a recurring motive or melodic fragment (instrument is usually indicated)
^5, ^7, etc. = indication that a certain scale degree (^1, ^2, ^3, etc.) within the key is being emphasized melodically (instrument may or may not be indicated; guitar is default)
FILLS = the drummer does stuff that’s outside the usual beat, adding intensity
HITS = two or more players lock together on a rhythmic or melodic riff.
SYNC HITS = two or more instruments lock in and cooperate in some syncopated fashion
HALF-TIME = the drummer splits the beat in half, while the tempo remains the same
DOUBLE-TIME = the opposite
IMIT = imitation between two of the players
TPT = triplets (usually melodic; player usually indicated)
OCT = the guitarist is playing in octaves
FX = guitarist hit some sort of effects pedal
WHAMMY = a specific effects pedal
RHODES = electric piano
CLAVI-WAH = a funky clavinet sound (with a wah pedal).
COMP = one player (usually the guitarist) “comps,” or plays repeated chords instead of leads
ORG or ORGAN = organ
SPACE BASS = the bass player adds a phaser-type effect, or something weird
RIDE, HI-HAT or BELL = cymbal sounds emphasized by the drummer, for different reasons
I probably missed some (or many) symbols, so feel free to respond with questions. I’ll try to answer them. It’s also perfectly acceptable to let your eyes go blurry and let the notations and symbols just wash over you. I try to capture some essence of the music in each schematic, and hopefully you can feel that, even if following along isn’t your thing.
Density refers to the width of the canvas relative to the length of the music.