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Making Music Theory Simple

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Pete Thomas

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Music theory is actually very easy.

Yer Octave. (8 notes, 7 notes or 12 notes?)
First learn a one octave scale. That word octave describes what we call an interval, which is basically the number of "steps" between the bottom and top note. The word octave comes from the latin meaning eight, so naturally there are seven notes in this scale. However we can also think of these notes as steps from the bottom to top note and although there are seven steps, two of them are half steps, so you will obviously realise that actually there are, of course, twelve half steps making up the seven steps of the eight step octave. I hope this is all becoming simpler.

Shraps & Falts
Half steps become easier to understand when you think of a keyboard which has white notes and black notes. The black notes are called sharps and flats. Sometimes they are sharps, but often they are flats. The good thing is it actually doesn't matter because often you get a note such as F sharp which, serendipitousely, is the same note as a flat note, ie G flat. Except that this is only true when you divide the octave (remember from the latin for eight) into twelve equal steps (that are really half steps). But in the old days the twelve steps weren't equal so an F sharp wasn't the exact same note as G flat. Often it might depend on whether you are in a major key or a minor key.

As we already know, some notes have sharps and flats, but some don't. The ones that don't are called natural, because they are not unnatural. Sometimes you can add two sharps to a note, which is called a double sharp. Each sharp of course makes the note sound half a step higher and so makes that note sound the same as the natural note that is a whole step higher. This is to make things easy: a good analogy is to think about time on a clock. As you know, half an hour later than six a clock is called half past six. So adding two half hours is easy to understand because two half hours after six oclock is obviously called an hour past six.

Major & Minor
A major key means the interval (remember those from above?) between the first note of the scale and the 3rd note of the scale is called a major third. This is because the two steps that make up a third are both whole steps. An easy way to remember that is to think that obviously two whole steps is a third. In this case a major third. But in a minor key those two steps are a whole step and a half step. So one and a half steps makes up the third, so naturally we call it a minor third.

Intervals
Intervals are very useful as they measure the difference in pitch between two notes. An interval of a fifth is useful because if you keep moving from note to note via a fifth, you always get back to where you started. This is the cycle of fiths, although of course, it can also be the cycle of fourths if you go the other way round.

Notes vs Tones?
Notes are also sometimes called tones. As we now know, an octave is broken up into 12 tones called half steps, or semitones. But a musical scale contains seven notes, meaning that some of the distance between notes in a scale spans one half step, and some spans two half steps. By now I'm sure you can see how logical it all is.

To make life simpler the term note means the same as tone. A good way to remember this is to realise that note is an anagram of tone, and, more often than not, vice versa. (Although tone also means how nice or not a note sounds).

Wholes & Halves
Some notes are whole notes, some are half notes. But also, when we think about rhythms, we also get quarter notes because there are four of those in a bar and together they make up a whole note. But only when we are in 4/4. If the tune is in 3/4 there are obviously three quarter notes in the bar and instead of adding up to a whole note they add up to a half note with a dot.

To simplify that further, we often refer to a quarter note as a crotchet. And naturally half a quarter note can be called a quaver. Following that logic to its obvious conclusion, a quarter of a quarter note can be a semi-quaver and there are sixteen of those in a bar of 4/4 or 12 of them in a bar of 3/4. However we never think of those 12 notes as an octave, because those (aka semitones or half-steps) are a different kind of note.

clear.jpg
 
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nigeld

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All this stuff about scales sounds a bit fishy to me.
 

TenorVibes

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Pete Thomas

I can create some illustrations to go with your explanation if you like. I use open source art programs Gimp and Inkscape. This way there are no copyright issues. Some people respond better to visual cues in addition to text.

Think of it as a donation and thanks for the kindness this very supportive community has shown me.

[EDIT] If you decide this is a useful idea. Let me know which parts you need illustrations for.
 

AndyB

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I recently bought this book/mp3 set called "Taming The Saxophone Vol II" by some guy named Pete Thomas for the most-fun-you-can-have-with-your-clothes-on beginner jam tracks that came with it. I am returning to the sax after a long gap and trying to get my sea legs again. The accompanying book has a brilliant (tm) introduction to chord theory including keyboard diagrams of the scale and harmony discussions. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good resource on introductory music theory.
 

jbtsax

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In my experience in music education "fundamentals of music" was the term used to describe learning:
  • names of notes in each clef
  • key signatures
  • construction of scales
  • intervals
  • note values and rhythms
  • dynamic, articulation, expression, style, tempo markings and symbols
In other words, the names and symbols that form the "language" of music as a means of communication.

"Music Theory" included and built upon the "foundation" of those fundamentals to include:
  • harmony and harmonization
  • musical form and texture
  • counterpoint
  • melodic construction and analysis
  • other elements used in music composition
It may just be a matter of "symantics" since the terms seem to be used interchangeably, but when I took courses in music theory at the university, knowledge of the "fundamentals of music" was a required prerequisite to take the course.
 

Pete Thomas

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Pete Thomas

I can create some illustrations to go with your explanation if you like. I use open source art programs Gimp and Inkscape. This way there are no copyright issues. Some people respond better to visual cues in addition to text.

Think of it as a donation and thanks for the kindness this very supportive community has shown me.

[EDIT] If you decide this is a useful idea. Let me know which parts you need illustrations for.
Are you saying my explanation is not easy enough to follow without pitchers? :)

Go on then do us a picture of the difference between a not and a tone.
 

TenorVibes

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Are you saying my explanation is not easy enough to follow without pitchers? :)

Go on then do us a picture of the difference between a not and a tone.
Not at all. Challenge accepted and done. Your probably going to give me another brainslap :(

What I imagined was when I'm doing my long note practice. When it's wobbly it's a bad tone. When with practice wobble diminishes over time you develop a good tone. The long and short of it is with long note practice the wobble disappears over time (from bad tone to good tone ).

ToneVsNote.png
 

mizmar

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Some notes are whole notes
I think you're missing out that whole notes are not called breva or suchlike, but semibrevs while a half is not called a demisemibrev but a minim and a quarter not is not called a hemidemisemibrev or semiminim but a crotchet and a semihemidemisemibrev or a demisemiminim is actually called a quaver. Then half a quaver isn't a demisemihemidemisemibrev but is called a semiquaver, then we have; demisemiquavers,hemidemisemiquavers and demisemihemidemisemiquavers... Which should really be a demisemihemidemisemidemisemihemidemisemibrev
 
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TenorVibes

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I want pictures of shraps and falts, illustrating hwat the difference is.
In what way do you mean. As in demonstrate on a keyboard. A D# is when you move a semitone step up from D and an Eb is when you move a semitone step down from a E So, a sharp is pitch raised by a semitone and a flat is a pitch lowered by a semitone. Even though its the same black key on the keyboard.
 

TenorVibes

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I think you're missing out that whole notes are not called breva or suchlike, but semibrevs while a half is not called a demisemibrev but a minim and a quarter not is not called a hemidemisemibrev or semiminim but a crotchet and a semihemidemisemibrev or a demisemiminim is actually called a quaver. Then half a quaver isn't a demisemihemidemisemibrev but is called a semiquaver, then we have; demisemiquavers,hemidemisemiquavers and demisemihemidemisemiquavers.
Oh, I see. So on the staff, if I make the E a crochet (quarter note with step up) and F a minium (half note with stem down). Leave everything else the same. So notes are durations. That would be a better representation what Pete's saying?
 

jbtsax

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I think you're missing out that whole notes are not called breva or suchlike, but semibrevs while a half is not called a demisemibrev but a minim and a quarter not is not called a hemidemisemibrev or semiminim but a crotchet and a semihemidemisemibrev or a demisemiminim is actually called a quaver. Then half a quaver isn't a demisemihemidemisemibrev but is called a semiquaver, then we have; demisemiquavers,hemidemisemiquavers and demisemihemidemisemiquavers... Which should really be a demisemihemidemisemidemisemihemidemisemibrev
Thanks for making it more confusing than it already is for those of us on the other side of the pond who have trouble with the British names for notes. hemidemisemiquaver??? Why not just call it a 64th note? :doh:

What about: a "note" is what you see on a staff and a "tone" is the sound that you hear. A collection of tones is called "music".
 
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