This page is formatted for beginning learners interested in entering into the study of musical theories and perhaps don't know quite where to start? Many of the important structural theory concepts and principles of organization of this book are presented on this one page, with links to deeper examinations of these topics within this text. If the beginning ideas here are a bit too advanced for you, ask your instructor for help or use the email link up in the header of every page to your local musical resource center to get help in finding a place to start. Cool?
Music theory is often said to be like mathematics, if so, what are some of the parallels between these two systems of organization? Well, in terms of complexities of numbers, maybe not too much. But in terms of how there is oftentimes a need to achieve a perfect balancing of an equation, music theorists like ourselves enjoy this same quality of perfect closure as the mathematician, thanks to the wonders of the equal tempered system. Really? Totally, and when our theoretical musical musings do not perfectly close upon themselves, we might want to recheck our theory to see if we did not make an error? Exactly. For example, if we were to use the musical formula for creating the major scale grouping of pitches, if we do not arrive again at the starting pitch one octave higher, we know something's amiss. Example 1.
|formula||1||1||1 / 2||1||1||1||1 / 2|
So, if we wanted to continue into the next octave, we would simply create the same loop of pitches? Exactly. So, math and music share some similarities, from the cycles per second used to measure pitch to using formulas for creating our melodic and harmonic resources, to the numerical identities we apply to the pitches to ease our learning of the theory, all these parallels can be drawn between these two exciting intellectual endeavors. Is all of the music theory in this text subject to this perfect closure? Pretty much. Exceptions? Nope. What about the blues? I knew you'd say that!
In starting out in any learning activity, it's usually wise to try and decide some goals helping to create what I call one's big picture. Big picture of what? Well, a big picture of where a learner is presently in regards to understanding the chosen subject and where they might want to go with it, which in this text translates to musical style and their eventual theoretical merging. The idea here is to simply begin to think about what aspects of the music theory will help you express the musical ideas you wish to express. And to keep a sight of these goals as one moves along in their studies. Formatting the text by style should help this process. For as we examine the American styles, we can see a gradual changes in the level of theoretical complexity. Perhaps try and define your sound and choose from the musical styles listed in the menu at the top of the page and see if there is path of learning there for you.
Author's note. It is my sincerest hope that in no way does this particular ordering of ideas try to create a hierarchy in regards to the importance of the musical resources to the reader. This is of great concern to me, for in no uncertain terms do I feel qualified to "preach" what may be important to the reader, without having the benefit of knowing their musical tastes and artistic aspirations, thus to unduly effect their own organic, natural evolution of their art. So in a sense, the sequential formatting of following ideas are my version of the evolution of the theoretical principles used to create American music. Cool?
Start. Can you distinguish between the following two musical ideas? One is termed major, the other is minor. Example 1.
Yes? If not try again. Hearing this distinction correctly between the major and minor tonalities is a solid first step on the path of learning the theory of music. The major sounds are in bars 1 and 2 above, the minor color is in bars 3 and 4. Try it again if you are unsure. Are you o.k. with the music notation, symbols and rhythms?
In this next idea, we create a basic 5 note scale and three note chord for both the major and minor color. Can you recognize this scale by ear and know it's musical name? Example 2.
These two ancient scales in example two are called the Pentatonic scales, the "penta" meaning five, as in the number of pitches in the scale. The major pentatonic color creates bars 5 and 6 above, bars 7 and 8 are created with the minor pentatonic color. Here is a old-time American melody created from the pitches of the major pentatonic grouping of pitches. Example 3.
Sound familiar? "Shortnin Bread" is a top 40 hit from the 1850's or so. Try to learn this melody on your instrument. Too easy? Can you play it in all 12 major pentatonic keys?
The minor pentatonic color is an ancient group of pitches and continues it's path to glory today as a mainstay for blues and rock players. Here is a similar melodic idea created from the minor pentatonic color. Example 4.
Notice how both these major and minor colors are created from the same pitches? Theorists term this perspective the relative major and minor scales. Example 5.
Is it the fact that there are different intervals between the pitches that creates the two distinct sounds from the same sets of pitches? Pretty much. Lets mix a new element into the major and minor pentatonic color. Our new element is termed the tritone. Ways to define the tritone include that the tritone musical interval splits the octave exactly in half. And that it is comprised of "three tones" or whole steps as measured between two pitches. Example 6.
splitting the octave = tritone
A to Eb
creating a tritone by the intervalic distance of 3 whole steps F to B
Like that sound? The dissonance of the ultimate blue note the tritone color helps to create musical tension and direct the music in all of the American styles. The tritone is the traffic cop for a tune's harmonic adventures. It's character dissonance encouraging motion towards resolution, thus usually directing directing key scheme, i.e., Five 7 to One, while simultaneously adding it's organic, rhythmic forward motion to further motor the tune. Cool? Click the music again and maybe sing along just for fun. Sing loud and strive to match the pitches.
In this next idea, let's add the a pitch Eb from bars 21 and 22 above into the A minor pentatonic scale and create a cool and potentially important color for the creative American artist. Minor pentatonic group + one pitch. Example 7.
|pentatonic minor scale||blues scale|
Recognize the sound? The blues color is one of the major roots of the tree of American music. Get this easy blues line under your fingers, or perhaps sing it. Example 8.
Feel the blues? An integral part of our American musical history yes? Let's add the two pitch tritone from bars 23 and 24, F and B, into the C major pentatonic color and see what happens. Example 9.
Sound familiar? That's right, we've created the C major scale by adding the tritone interval to the major pentatonic color. Here is an old-time holiday theme / melody created from the major scale. Bring joy to your world through the sharing of your music! Example 10, L. Mason's "Joy To The World."
Sound familiar? A popular melody for the holiday season, this 250 year old globally famous melody is simply created by the pitches of a descending major scale ... Think you could find this melody at the piano if available? Here's a picture of the notes. Example 10a.
So just high C towards low C while working in the rhythm by singing the line. Are there other themes this easy to play? Do you know any other melodies created with the pitches of the major scale? Sing the lines then find the pitches.
Is there a relative minor scale to the C major scale as with the C major pentatonic color? Of course there is but you knew that right? These same pitches create two essential colors, the C major scale and the A natural minor scale. They share the same key signature and are known as the relative major / minor to each other. Example 11.
Cool huh? Theorists like ourselves often place numbers on each pitch of a scale to help simplify learning the theory. We call them scale degrees. Are you hip? Example 11a.
|C major scale||C||D||E||F||G||A||B||C|
|A minor scale||A||B||C||D||E||F||G||A|
So, the pitch C is the first scale degree of the C major scale and also the third degree of the A minor scale? Exactly. So, if this is a C major scale and an A minor scale, can we create similar scales from the other pitches within these scales also? Of course we can, we do it all here. We call these "scales within scales" the modes. New term? No worries, the modal theory is very easy, capturing the essence of the modal colors is the task.
Hip to the chromatic scale? We arrange all of our tempered pitches into what is commonly termed the chromatic scale. Here is a one octave chromatic scale. Example 12.
All pitches are a half step apart? Yep. Here is how it looks at the piano. Example 12a.
Notice how the descending group have some different pitch names? Cool, no worries, this naming of one pitch two ways is determined by where and how the pitch is used within the music and they are called enharmonic equivalents by the theorists ( C# = Db ). So, if there is a C major scale, is there a Db major scale? A ... D major scale? Eb major scale? Yes there are, we can build a major scale from each of the pitches within the chromatic scale. Minor scales also? Yes, minor scales also. Any scale? Just about. Click here on 12 keys to explore the possibilities.
What about chords? Are chords are created from scales? Absolutely. The simplest chord is know as the triad. The triad has three pitches. These three pitches are often termed the one or root, the third and fifth chord degrees. Let's create a C major triad from the C major scale. Here is a chart of scale degrees and the pitches of the C major scale.
From the chart above, what letter names or pitches are the 1st, 3rd and 5th scale degrees? C, E and G, right? Let's stack them up and see what we've created. Example 13.
Sound familiar? Yes? This is a very common chord, the C major triad. Are there chords built on each of the scale degrees? Yes there are. On each scale degree we can build a chord, each of which is unique and adds it's own unique spice to the major tonality. Here is an expanded chart for spelling the seven diatonic chords within the key of C major.
|triads||C E G||D F A||E G B||F A C||G B D||A C E||B D F||C E G|
Got it? Just kidding. There are a few big leaps of theory to get to the bottom of the chart. Did you figure them out? There is a method to the madness so to speak. The first degree becomes the new root of whichever chord we want to spell. Our tertian harmony simply allows us to skip every other note of the scale to create an arpeggio and spell the chords. Confused? Oh well, keep trying, you'll figure it out. Got a question? Perhaps ask a friend to help. Here are the seven diatonic chords of the major tonality creating a wonderful and potentially rather important four bar phrase. Example 14.
Is this how we get the chords to create diatonic chord progressions? Yep. So, do we get to create a series of chords as done above for each of the 12 major keys? Stands to reason eh? How about the minor tonality? Do the same principles apply? Yes they do, not only to the key of A minor but to all of the 12 minor keys built upon each of the pitches of the chromatic scale. Here is the chart from above respelled in the key of A natural minor. Example 14a.
|triads||A C E||B D F||C E G||D F A||E G B||F A C||G B D||A C E|
Did you notice the new Roman numerals for designating the scale degrees? Theorists use these symbols to denote the quality of the triad for each of the pitches. Upper case Roman numerals denote major triads, the lower case are minor triads. Simple enough eh? So 3 major and 4 minor ...? Yep. Actually 4 and 4 with the octave closure eh? Here are the seven diatonic triads of the natural minor scale used to create a lovely four bar phrase of unusual distinction, warmth, clarity and joy in our otherwise dry theoretical world. Example 15.
If upper and lower case Roman numerals denote major and minor triads, what is the structural difference between the two? This is an easy one and a good theory bit of info to end this section of the melodic and harmonic resources. Compare the two chords in the following example and determine what difference between the two chords creates the difference in sound. Example 16.
So? Which pitch changed? What degree, 1st, 3rd or 5th? The 1st and 5th are the same right? That leaves the 3rd yes? So, we lowered the third of the major triad a half step to create the minor triad? From E down to Eb? Yes? Any major triad? Yep. Got it? Yes!
Well, that's about all for this start page. Did you get a toehold into discovery of the theory of American music? What are your needs as a player? Do you have a style of music you like and songs from within that style that you want to play? Are you learning the theory for the general background to be a better player? Listener? Music critique? Composer? Arranger? There's lots of ways to go n'est pas? What's next? Need help?
So, maybe go to the workbook and run down the questions to firm up the new vocabulary and theoretical ideas from this page in a different learning style? Fill out a few charts spelling scales and chords? You can click back and forth from this page for the answers, it's easy. The workbook simply challenges you with the new information from this page in a different format, creating a learning situation whereby the learner has to reconfigure their existing knowledge in new ways to complete the workbook tasks. This using of our knowledge within a different framework is a sure way to strengthen our understanding of the ideas. Speaking of which, perhaps try to teach a friend your knew knowledge if the setting is right. Comments, questions? Here are a few more links to discussions for the newly emerging theorist.
|ear training||basic ideas in regards to beginning the musical training idea, listening to music and writing down what we here, two levels of examples / exercises.|
|sing the line, play the line||perhaps the heart and soul of learning the American styles and internalizing the sounds, grooves and colors.|
|sight singing||almost every non vocalist's musical nightmare and yet perhaps the most important aspect of the musical learning process.|
|workbook||written exercises and questions to be answered and discussed in regards to music theory.|
Bored with what your doing now? Welcome to the club. In teaching, I often run into players who are "bored" with their sounds, ideas, concepts, style, any number of different aspects of their playing. I am often asked to provide a new voicing / chord shape or two, scale shape or melodic idea to expand their existing vocabulary. To create a new path for exploration. Ever find yourself in this situation, bored with your playing and not having any cool and challenging options for expansion? Well, if you have, you are not alone. As jazz guitar wizard John Stowell has quipped on occasion, "if you think you sound awful now, think of what you sounded like a few years ago." Oh, banish the thought eh? Just keep playing if ya can and your musical art will come to you.
So, where does this take us now? Well, basically back to the premise of correlating theoretical complexity and musical style. How? Well, is it possible to eleviate one's boredom by evolving the elements we use? For example. For a rock player who mainly uses mostly the pentatonic colors in creating their lines, will evolving the pentatonic scales to the blues or major / natural minor expand their sounds? It should eh, but what happens stylistically? Well as the colors evolve, so does the catagory of style yes?
|Where to next?|
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle