The World of Ephemera: Learning Your Scales

You know I love ephemera, (see here for lots of posts on the subject). It’s amazing, the bits of paper you find, when rooting around for things. Today I found this:

I bet you thought slide-rules were just used for maths! Actually most of you will never have come across a maths slide-rule. By the time I took Maths O-Level in 1976, the first calculators were replacing log tables, and the era of the slide-rule was over; I had one but barely learned how to use it.

This one, isn’t for calculations though, but for musical scales and key signatures. It was published by the OUP in the UK and printed in Japan.

But what’s inside? I hear you cry… a musical slide-rule of course.

There’s a pair of double-sided cards with musical staves which slide in and out of the sleeve. One card has the treble clef, and one the bass. You set the key – major or the relative minor in the little windows at the top, and you’ll see by pulling the insert out, it exposes the key signature for the selected scales. G Major has 1# sharp. Pull out a bit further….

Here we have C# Major (A# Minor) with all the sharps.

The notes then show you where the scale starts – do-ray-mi and so on. The info on the right explains about the two types of minor scales, and you can read off which notes form chord triads.

Then swap the cards around, and/or turn over and you can get the bass clef and/or the key signatures with flats. Here I’ve chosen the flats…

It was such fun, playing with this musical slide-rule. My late mum bought it in the late 1960s or early 1970s I think – it’s not dated, but I remember it living in our piano stool and playing with it, rather than using it when I was studying music theory! Despite the torn cover, I’ll be putting this safely back – into my piano stool this time!

6 thoughts on “The World of Ephemera: Learning Your Scales

  1. Kristina says:

    I have no idea what this says nor mean ahaha but the old vintage look to it is actually beautiful! I’d love to own one just to put it on display or something ahaha and not actually use it.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I’ve seen similar aide-memoires but (I think) in circular form, but it’s delightful to see this vintage rule. After initial confusion I soon found key signatures, major/minor scales and arpeggios second nature as a kid, but as an adult teacher I think some of my music theory pupils might have got a lot of use out of something like this.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’m the same as you – but I’m sure that devices like this are (still) more useful for those adults who don’t read music well. Coming from a musical family, I can only imagine that my mum had a choirmaster who used tonic-solfa more, which didn’t come naturally to me despite the best efforts of Julie Andrews and the von Trapps. 🙂

      • Calmgrove says:

        I had a nasty experience accompanying for a Welsh-language eisteddfod a few years ago in Pembrokeshire — somebody handed me a four-part hymn written entirely in tonic solfa for me to play at sight! Now I’m pretty nifty at reading music new to me at a moment’s notice — one of my few talents — but the only proper experience I’d had of it was one lesson during a music PGCE when we had a lecture on the Kodaly method, after which I never had occasion to use it. Until this chap plonked his score in front of me! He was most aggrieved I couldn’t accompany him and I felt a right nana…

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