the shape of things

I spent a while at the art museum the other day, studying Saul Steinberg’s Mural of Cincinnati. While trying to recreate select bits and pieces in my notebook, I remembered a drawing teacher I met once who was fond of saying “Everything is made of simple shapes.”

It’s easy to believe this, looking at Steinberg’s work up close. Much of the ornate details that add so much life are just lines, squares, circles, and triangles. It reminded me of something else I’ve been doing lately: practicing the piano.

I’ve had friends tell me music theory is a lot like math, but for me, it feels more like basic geometry, much like Saul Steinberg’s drawings. I’m not particularly musically minded, but practicing scales reminds me of using basic shapes to make complicated illustrations.

For those of you who aren’t musically inclined, there are twelve major scales, all in different keys, which are indicated by the number of sharps and flats on the musical staff (those wild symbols that look like hashtags and lower-case b’s).

With a major scale, the intervals (spaces between notes) are always the same, as are the fingers you use to play each note on the scale. The only changes are which note you start with and how many sharps/flats you use. The shape of the scales and the shapes my hands make stay exactly the same.

There are simple shapes everywhere, as long as you’re looking for them.