What is it?:
The key is an original musical invention by Nick Garrett-Powell designed to change the way guitarists view the information on the fingerboard. Pianists have always had insight and clarity into certain knowledge of natural patterns in music that are far less evident to students of other musical instruments. These natural patterns are nothing less than a roadmap of music theory, and making sense of the piano is often a gateway to understanding other instruments. So it is that the naturally instructive design of the pianos signature black&white keyboard (the manual) can be adapted or at least interpreted onto the fretted stringed instruments. That is the nature and intent of The Key, a new instructive alternative guitar neck design! Available in the form of stickers, printables, and as a boutique custom built aftermarket upgrade for bolt-on electric guitars, built by Benavente Guitars. For the first time, guitarists are able to visually reference the incredible symmetry that all pianists know and interact with.
The point of this tool:
Instantly access and use complex music theory without lessons, teaching yourself scales, modes, chords, intervals and their relationships all by sight like a pianist. You will be able to play lead guitar on your first try. After a few weeks you'll begin to invent your own jazz chords and scales. Advanced rock and metal techniques become evident. Blues techniques become obvious and full of fun opportunities again. You'll start being able to do what all the pros can do when they close their eyes and play: I call it "seeing the grid."
How does it work?:
The Key is a guitar neck with the black and white keys of piano labeled on the fingerboard. Just like with the piano, you will now be able to visually see certain scales and start experimenting. This allows you to immediately begin playing without first learning from a book, screen, or person. If you commit to the "safe notes" designated, you simply can't hit a bad note.
Piano keyboards are designed in a way that organizes the 12 notes notes of music into a pair of scales that we all recognize by ear, called the diatonic scale and the pentatonic scale. The 7 white keys of a piano are the diatonic scale, labeled A B C D E F G with no sharps and flats, and from it we derive the 7 modes which bear the following names:
C Major or C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian
The remaining 5 notes are the black keys of a piano, which label the pentatonic scale for Eb Minor and F# Major, which are in reality just 2 of the 5 pentatonic modes. That's right! There are 5 different pentatonic modes.
Being able to develop muscle memory over all of these positions, to consult the instrument itself for information and instruction, and to give you access to techniques beyond both your natural physical reach and the limitations of the instruments design.
History of the invention:
The arrangement of the piano keyboard is sublime to me, learning my first songs at age 7. When I began to learn the guitar as a 16 year old, I immediately began correlating which strings and frets were "white keys" and "black keys." This would only become more entangled as I learned music theory with both instruments as a reference.
The first prototype came while messing around at home in 2010 on a guitar with a scalloped fingerboard, Black Betty. Realizing that the fingerboard wasn't level and that I'd have to sand it again, I decided on a whim to label the notes of the A minor scale with black permanent marker. I restrung the guitar and had two immediate thoughts, the first is that black on rosewood is impossible to see, and the second was that it was the opposite of a piano: all the white keys of piano make up the scale of A minor. It was a type of epiphany, though I didn't realize how useful the idea would be.
The next day, I took out packing stickers and a permanent marker, as one does, and doctored up my 7-string guitar with the pattern. It was a sight to behold, I remember staying up all night playing it. This was the second prototype, and over the next year the ramifications of the invention were dawning on me. I was advancing as a player because I had access to it. It was like a secret weapon, a codex for deciphering what my guitar heroes knew.
In 2015, I collaborated with Benavente Guitars collaborated to produce the first prototype neck, and it was everything I could have asked for. Now in 2020, there are new designs on the way with variations for all kinds of guitars, basses, and other stringed instruments.
This is not a simple labeling of information... it's an alternate and equally valid version of the guitar fingerboard. A starting point for learning virtually anything, for discovering new techniques and styles of music, and a statement from the fringe of futuristic guitar.
My first rendering of the keyboard neck pattern
My keyboard guitar neck pattern "The Key" is rendered here in maple and walnut for S-type bolt on guitar!
Chris Benavente converted my drawings to g-code (I think) to generate this image of the build.