www.musicgoals.com music theory and ear training software.
Shopping Cart

Music Theory Questions

Submit a Question

Find More on MusicGoals Blog

"What is a tonic?"

The tonic is another name for the first degree of the scale, the tonal center, and the chord built on the first degree of the scale. If a piece is in C Major, C is the tonic and the C Major chord is the tonic chord.

The scale degrees and the chords built on each scale degree can be referred to by name. Each position of the scale is given a name. The scale degrees are 1 tonic, 2 super-tonic, 3 mediant, 4 subdominant, 5 dominant, 6 submediant, 7 leading tone.

Other ways of naming the scale degrees include the solfeggio syllables, do re me fa so la ti, and the Roman numerals I, ii, ii, IV, V, vi, vii.

For more information check out the MusicGoals by Eye and Ear help file music theory section: Music Theory

top

"I am having trouble understanding scales and modes on the guitar."

Understanding the concepts behind the scale patterns on guitar can be very difficult because the patterns overlap and the same scale can be played in several positions. On keyboard the same patterns appear only once and in perfect order from low to high. Tetrachord diagrams such as those found in the MusicGoals Eye and Ear help file, Tetrachords and Scales can show the construction in terms of intervals.

Knowing scales is like having a road map. When you learn a scale pattern on guitar you may not understand how to read the map. Your question sounds to me that you want to know more about where does the scale go and what stops are there along the way. This is really a huge subject but there are basic concepts that you can learn quickly by studying music theory. Intervals, scales, and chords are the building blocks and the vocabulary of music theory. You master these by eye and by ear and on your instrument so that you can learn to read and speak the language of music. With these music fundamentals you go on to study more advanced concepts of harmonic rhythm, scale-tone triads and sevenths, Roman numeral analysis, counterpoint, and so on.

The scale is a fundamental concept that is central to everything and is connected to many other concepts in music theory. The MusicGoals programs provide the tools to practice and master the music reading and ear training and connect the elements of music with your instrument, your eye, and your ears. MusicGoals Eye and Ear includes 32 types of scales for study. Download our free trials: Free Trials

top

"What is the connection between scales and modes?"

One of the concepts surrounding the subject of scales is that of tonal center. With major and minor scales we think of the first degree of the scale as the tonal center. This is kind of like the home base of a key. The other tones of the scale exist by their position relating to the tonal center. When chords change it is like there is a temporary shift of tonal center. For example, a piece starts out on the C Major chord. The C Major chord and scale provide the tones that are most closely related to the C Major chord. The next chord is G7. Now there is a temporary shift making G a temporary tonal center. The G7 chord and the G mixolydian mode now provide the tones that are most closely related to the ongoing harmony. The G Major scale with its F# would clash with the F natural of the G7 chord so we use the G mixolydian mode, g a b c d e f g. The G mixolydian mode can be used as a framework that provides the most closely related tones that fit with the G7 chord. The notes of the G7 chord are chord-tones. The other notes of the scale, which is still C Major although we think of the part of it from G to G' as G mixolydian mode, provide passing tones and added color tones.

The same thing happens each time the chord changes to another. There is a temporary shift to a temporary tonal center. Knowing the chord-tones, and the modes that go with each chord, provides a kind of framework. Modes provide a starting point for composing and improvising. When looking at a group of chords you can sometimes see how they relate to one another in terms of the overall key center. When chords belong to the same scale, as in scale-tone chords, we can group them around an overall key center (in our example C Major) and fit them into their related temporary key centers. When we can do this, we know which modes to use and what to expect based on the chords-tones and tones of the mode.

Here is link with some diagrams of scale-tone chords: Scale-tone Chords More on Modes

top

"What is Concert Pitch?"

Concert Pitch means that A = 440 Hz. For example, a reference pitch of 440 cycles per second is used to tune A. Then everything is tuned from this reference. If you were to tune a guitar without using a reference, it could be perfectly in tune with itself but, not in tune with an electric keyboard tuned to A440 concert pitch.

top

"What is a minor?"

The term "minor" is an adjective used when describing a type of chord or interval. For example, C is the chord symbol for the C Major chord and Cm is the symbol for c minor. Intervals also use Major, minor, Perfect, diminished, and Augmented modifiers to describe them. For example, m3 stands for the interval of the minor third.

Find more information in MusicGoals by Eye and Ear help: Chord Construction or Interval Naming

top

"How do I determine the timing such as 3/4,4/4,2/2,3/2, etc.?"

The first beat of a measure is called the downbeat. In a dance rhythm the downbeat is given more stress or accent because it marks off the rhythmic pattern. For example, ONE two three ONE two three in a waltz. The top number of the time signature answers the question "How many?" pulses or beats in a measure. So in time signatures of 3/4 or 3/2 you can expect there to be an accent on the downbeat every three pulses or beats. This explains how to determine the top number of a time signature or meter. With 4/4, 5/4, 2/4, 2/2 the top number shows the pattern of downbeats.

The lower number of the time signature answers the question "Of What?", quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes. So a measure of 4/4 would have four quarter notes and a measure of 4/2 would have four half notes. A measure of 4/8 would have four eighth notes. Each of these would have a downbeat every four beats. Depending on the tempo, the same music could be written in any of these meters. There is a big difference between 4/4 and 2/2 although there are four quarter notes in either measure. Common time, 4/4 has a downbeat every four pulses, ONE two three four. Cut time, 2/2 puts the beat on the half note and has a downbeat every two pulses, ONE two ONE two.

All of this seems to go out the window when it comes to 6/8, 3/8, 9/8, and 12/8. With 6/8 time you cannot take it for granted that there will be six pulses in the measure. In fact it is much more likely that there will be two groups of three subdivisions, ONE-e-an Two-e-an. You end up with two pulses per measure and each pulse has three parts or subdivisions. You can still say that the top number of the meter answers the question "How Many?" and the bottom number answers the question "Of What?" but, for the practical matter of performing the beat or pulse, with the case of 6/8 you must say that the pulse equals a dotted quarter. This means that while the notation works as a system of measurement, we perform as if the "How Many?" were two and not six.

When it comes to choosing a time signature for one of your compositions first decide how you feel the pulses and ask the question "How Many?". If the pulses are not regular you may put combinations together. For example, two measures of 3/4 and then one measure of 5/4 and so on. When choosing the bottom number consider how many levels of subdivisions there will be. Half notes and quarter notes do not need flags or beams so using more of these means using less ink and thus less physical writing.

The most important consideration to make is, what will make it easy to read. Rehearsal time is expensive, so use notation that is standard, clear, and easy to understand.

Be sure to read the Music Theory section of the MusicGoals Rhythm Help file: Time Signatures There are some examples that will help. Working with MusicGoals Rhythm is the best way to improve your ability to write out rhythms that you create and hear.

top

"What is the musical reason for using a parallel major or minor instead of the relative major or minor?"

This is a wonderful question but the answer is hard to put into words. It really needs several musical examples. If we were looking at a particular piece, it might be easier to discuss a composer’s choice in this matter.

It is common to create a variation on a theme by using the parallel key. This provides the same key center, the same thematic material, and a different mode, major or minor.

It is also common to present a new second theme in a new key often the relative of key of the dominant. This provides a new key center and a new theme and either a new or the same mode.

There are exceptions.

The answer to your question is really a musical answer. What do you want to say musically? How much of a change do you want? If you are starting a new section do you want a clear start in a fresh new area or are you in need of a more subtle change? When looking at a composition as a whole, you may want to save elements of contrast to be used later in the piece. There are many reasons why parallel or relative might work better. The decision is really one based on the needs of a composition and thus it is an artistic decision made by the composer.

top

"I'm trying to understand chords and keys. I just read and article that said the chords in they key of C are - C maj, D min, E min, F maj, G maj, A min, B dim. I understand that because all of the notes in these chords use notes from the C major scale. But...I just found a song in my beginning guitar book that is in the key of C but there is a D major chord in the song. Why is that? I'm confused."

The scale-tone chords (triads and seventh chords) can be represented using Roman numerals for each scale degree, in C: C major is I, d minor is ii, em is iii, F is IV, G is V, am is vi, b dim is vii. Notice that I, IV, and V are written upper case for major. These are the primary tonal areas: I tonic, V dominant, and IV sub-dominant (C major: C, F, G). These are the three most common chords and for many examples, the only chords used in a piece. The dominant to tonic progression establishes the tonal center of the tonic. The V7 to I progression forms a cadence used at the end of a piece and section.

When you find an accidental somewhere in a piece it will often appear with a temporary movement into another key. If I found an F# and it turned out to be part of a D major triad in a piece that is otherwise in C, I would look to see what chord follows. Does it go to G major? If so, you could say that there was a secondary dominant of the dominant in C, V of V. Secondary dominants appear with or without added sevenths, V7 of V. They also occur as V7 of ii, V7 of iii, V7 of IV, V7 of V, and V7 of vi.

The thing to remember is to look for the accidentals. Scan over the piece and when you find an accidental, look to see if it is part of a chord. Then determine if the chord moves down a fifth. If so, you may have located movement into another key. If another section begins in this new key you might say that there has been a modulation into this new key. If it goes right back to the original key cancelling the accidental, you might call this a secondary dominant.

There are other ways that a piece can use accidentals and borrow notes from another key signature. However, the dominant to tonic, V7 to I, is the most common because this progression can establish a new key center leaving little doubt that you have arrived in a new tonal area. There is no substitute for practice looking at music this way. Practice doing harmonic analysis also known as Roman numeral analysis will lead to a wonderful understanding of progressions and the use of key centers.

Not knowing anything else about the piece in your guitar book, I have given what I find by far the most common reason for the D major chord. Doing a more complete chord analysis and writing out the Roman numerals will give a clear picture of what is happening.

Check out the Music Theory section of MusicGoals Eye and Ear for much more information. Scale-tone chords

top

"What is a 4 beat note called?"

A quarter note, a black dot with a stem, equals one count in meters with 4 on the bottom, such as 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4.

A whole note, an oval not filled in and no stem, equals four quarter notes tied together or four counts.

This information is covered in more detail in the MusicGoals Rhythm Help file: Note Values

top

"My major challenge is how to sight sing/read and how to read rhythm."

The MusicGoals programs are like having a practice partner. They provide the tools to quickly master the individual skills needed to read music, train your ear, know your instrument, and gain solid musicianship skills. There is a section on music theory in each help file included with each program.

You can use the full versions of both programs for 21 days free. This will get you started and once you do, I know you will see the value in this type of practice.

Go to this webpage to download the free trials: Free Trials

top

"What are chord inversions?"

When the lowest sounding pitch of a chord is not the chord root, the chord is in an inversion. For example, the C Major chord consist of three tones, the root C, the third, E, and the fifth, G. When C is the lowest sounding pitch, the chord is in root position. When the third, E is the lowest sounding pitch, it is in the first inversion. When the fifth, G is the lowest sounding pitch, it is in the second inversion. A third inversion occurs when the seventh of a seventh chord is the lowest sounding pitch.

MusicGoals provides study and practice building, reading, and identifying by ear chords and chord inversions. see also keyboard chords, string chords, staff chords

top

"What are modes?"

Like a musical scale a mode is a series of pitches. In fact the major scale is also known as the Ionian mode. A mode is determined by the arrangement of whole steps and half steps. For example, the Dorian mode can be constructed using the same notes as the major scale. The Dorian mode starts on the second degree of the major scale. Solfeggio can make this easier to understand. The major scale degrees in solfeggio are: do re mi fa so la ti do'. The Dorian mode degrees are: re mi fa so la ti do' re'. By starting on each degree of the major scale, the other modes can be built. For example, mi fa so la ti do' re' mi' is the Phrygian mode, fa to fa' is the Lydian, so to so' is the Mixolydian, la to la' is the Aeolian (same as the natural minor scale), ti to ti' is the Locrian.

Musicians learn and practice scales and modes as a way to prepare to improvise and play by ear. MusicGoals provides study and practice building and identifying by ear modes and other scales. see also keyboard scales or string scales

top

"What are intervals?"

Two tones produce an interval. The interval type is determined by the distance between two pitches measured in half steps and/or scale steps. A diatonic interval measures the distance between two pitches within the same scale. It can be measured on the staff by counting the lines and spaces between notes or by counting the number of letter names, for example, the interval c to e, c - d - e, it is a third. More precisely, intervals are measured in half steps. A modifier is added to the diatonic interval to show the number of half steps: Major (M), minor (m), Perfect (P), diminished (dim), or Augmented (Aug) capitalization is used to aid abbreviations. Each interval type has a unique characteristic sound that is the result of the ratio of the two fundamental frequencies and our processes of perception. 

Often there are several ways to notate an interval. For example, the tritone C-F# is an augmented 4th, C-Gb is a diminished 5th - on the piano, their sound is the same. The most common intervals by half steps are as follows: 0 half steps - P1 (Perfect 1, prime, or unison), 1-m2 (same as Augmented 1st), 2-M2, 3-m3 (same as Augmented 2nd), 4-M3, 5-P4, 6-tritone (same as Augmented 4th or diminished 5th), 7-P5, 8-m6 (same as Augmented 5th), 9-M6 (same as diminished 7th), 10-m7 (same as Augmented 6th), 11-M7, 12-P8. see also keyboard intervals, strings intervals, staff intervals For information about ear training and intervals please read Background on MusicGoals Teaching Methodology

top

"What are compound intervals?"

Compound intervals are intervals that extend beyond the octave. For example, the interval of the Major 9th has 14 half steps. It is the same as an octave plus a Major 2nd. see also keyboard intervals, strings intervals, staff intervals

top

"What is figured bass?"

Figured bass is a system that uses numbers to indicate chord inversions. A first inversion is written with the number 6. This means that there is a 6th and a third above the bass. A second inversion is written . This means that there is a 6th and a 4th above the bass. Seventh chords in root position are indicated with just the number 7. The first inversion of a seventh chord is written . This means that there is a 6th, a fifth, and a third above the bass. The second inversion of a seventh chord is written and the third inversion is written . see also keyboard chords, staff chords, string chords

top

"What is Roman numeral analysis?"

Roman numeral analysis is a system of revealing the chords in a piece of music based on the position of each chord's root within the key. The scale degree of each root is shown as a Roman numeral. For example, the chord built on the first degree of the major scale, the tonic chord, is shown as I. Other chords are ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and vii. Upper case Roman numerals are used for major chords and lower case for minor and diminished. Figured bass is added to each Roman numeral to show the chord inversion. For example, I64 V7 I. see also staff Roman numeral chords.

top

"What are scale-tone triads and scale-tone sevenths?"

Scale-tone triads are three note chords built on each degree of the scale. They use only the notes of the scale. For example, the scale-tone triads of a major key are: I major, ii minor, iii minor, IV major, V major, vi minor, vii diminished, and I major. Scale-tone seventh chords work the same way adding a seventh based on the notes of the scale, I7 is a Maj7, ii7 is a m7, iii7 is a m7, IV7 is a Maj7, V7 is a dominant 7th, vi is a m7 , vii is a half diminished 7th chord. see also staff Roman numeral chords, keyboard chords, string chords

top

"What are Augmented Sixth chords?"

Augmented sixth chords are formed with a lowered sixth degree and raised fourth degree of a major scale. This forms an interval of an augmented sixth which has the same number of half steps as a minor 7th. The chord includes a root, a major 3rd and an augmented 6th. There are three forms of the augmented sixth chord: the Italian 6th has no fifth, the French 6th has a diminished fifth, and the German 6th has a perfect fifth. see also staff Roman numeral chords

top

"I am failing to understand what you mean with an Augmented sixth chord."

In C Major the sixth degree is A. Lower this to Ab. The fourth degree of C is F. Raise this to F#. From Ab up to F# is an augmented sixth. Add C, a Major third above Ab and you have a chord that sounds like a Ab7. The normal progression is down a half step to G7, which is the dominant chord in C, that is, V7 of C. Classical composers call the chord Ab C F# in the key of C an augmented sixth chord. Jazz musicians would call the same chord a tritone substitute for D7. D7 is the V7 of G. If you are in C Major this temporary dominant chord of G, the D7 chord, would be considered a secondary dominant.

You can build a secondary dominant, a temporary dominant, above other scale degrees - for example, V7 of ii, V7 or iii, V7 of IV, etc.. Try the tritone substitutes of these and you will have a dominant 7 a half step above each scale degree that moves down a half step to the scale-tone chord.

top

"What are secondary dominants?"

A dominant seventh chord occurs on the fifth degree of the major or harmonic minor scale. It consists of a root, a major 3rd, a perfect 5th, and a minor 7th. The progression of a dominant seventh to the tonic chord, V7 - I or V7 - i, forms a strong progression that can established a key center and produce a strong cadence. Secondary dominant chords are formed as temporary dominants above scale degrees other than the tonic. They are spelled like dominant sevenths, root-M3-P5-m7. This spelling requires altered pitches that are not in the original scale. This occurs when the third of the secondary dominant is raised to form a temporary leading tone. It also may occur when a pitch is lowered to form the minor seventh of the secondary dominant. Secondary dominants provide a strong progression when they move to their implied tonics, for example V7 of ii - ii. They introduce a temporary movement outside the original key. see also staff Roman numeral chords

top

"What are open and closed voicings?"

A chord is in closed voicing when its members are stacked in the closest order, for example, C - E - G. This chord in open voicing might be: C - G - E'  (the E is an octave higher). Open voicings spread the tones out over a larger range. see also staff chords, staff Roman numeral chords

top

"What are arpeggios?"

Arpeggios are chords played melodically as a sequence of pitches from low to high or from high to low. Musicians practice arpeggios and scales to gain mastery of their instruments. see also How do I use MusicGoals as a scale or chord reference?

top

"Where is C2?"

C2 is the second C found on the piano (from left to right). Middle C is C4. The notes that follow are D4, E4, F4, G4, A4, B4, C5 (the C above middle C is C5). C2 would be written on the second ledger line below the bass clef.

top

"What is a perfect seventh?"

There is no such interval. Only the unison, octave, fourth, and fifth may be "perfect". Perfect intervals have simple frequency ratios and their sounds have a certain relaxed or smooth quality. The interval from the first to the seventh degree of the Major scale is a Major seventh. The minor seventh is one half step smaller.

You can learn more about intervals above and on our website under www.musicgoals.com/teacher_tips.htm - MusicGoals methodology

top

Can you explain to me the circle of fifths?

The circle of 5ths consists of all of the 12 pitches in the chromatic scale. They are arranged in order of perfect fifths. Keys that are adjacent to each other on the circle of fifths differ by one sharp or one flat in their key signatures. Thus adjacent keys are considered closely related.

It is important to learn the circle of 5ths as one learns the scales and key signatures. Here it is:

C G D A E B (F#-Gb) Db Ab Eb Bb F

top

Can you tell me the rules in building diminished chords?

A diminished triad has a root, a minor 3rd, and a diminished 5th, such as C Eb Gb.

A diminished seventh chord adds a diminished 7th to this, C Eb Gb A (A is the same as B double flat which is the diminished 7th above C).

top

I am trying to teach myself to play from a lead sheet.  Was doing fine until I came to "Fsus4".

The Fsus4 is played F Bb C. The third of the chord is raised to a Perfect 4th above the chord root F. The third of the chord is “suspended”. Historically this occurred when the pitch of the suspended 4th was held over from the previous chord to suspend the third. This pitch would then drop a step to resolve the dissonance formed. The suspension thus resolved to the third. This formula is also called the 4-3 suspension. Sometimes with more recent music you will find the suspended chord used by itself without the resolution to the third.

top

"Trumpet pitch" escapes my understanding. Why write for trumpet a whole step lower?

Brass instruments did not always have valves. Without valves the notes that can be produced follow the harmonic overtone series. This limited the pitches that could be played. If you think of the bugle and bugle calls that follow the overtone series, you can get the picture. Brass instruments were made of different sizes that became standard. The Bb trumpet is one of these standard sizes. The same can be said of woodwinds such as the sax with various sizes in Bb and Eb. The French Horn had different length sections of tubing that could be exchanged in order to play in different keys.

You can purchase a trumpet in C. Otherwise, you must learn to transpose or read music that has been transposed for you.

top

At my age is it too late to learn to play the cello?

I think the mind needs to be used and challenged at all ages. Playing and studying music is one of the best ways to stay "with it" mentally and physically.

You will need to work on instrument study, ear training, sight reading, music theory, rhythm, and technique. The MusicGoals programs will help you with everything but technique. For this you will need an instructor. The instructor can observe your playing and help you learn to use your fingers, wrists, arms, and body in the most efficient manner. Working in all these areas will lead to the best results.

I say – Go for it!

top

Do you think that Kids that take an instrument are smarter? or will get further in life?

In short, yes very much so. Playing an instrument engages the mind at several levels at once. Kids develop concentration skill, memory skills, timing and coordination skills, as well as thought processes that engage both sides of the brain. Also the discipline of daily practice is very helpful in other areas.

My own experience is that my students do very well in other areas also. Parents often credit their musical training as important to their child’s success in school.

Great question, as a parent and teacher I believe music lessons are worth much more than they cost.

top

How can the ear tell what the root is and what type of chord it is?

"When chords (esp. 4 note) are put in inversions how can the ear tell what the root is and what type of chord it is? for example: an Am 7 in the 1st inversion sounds like a CMaj6."

You might be able to determine the chord root from the musical context in which it is used. However, the Am7 chord with C in the bass could also be named as C Maj6 when heard without a chord progression around it. A similar situation occurs with the minor 6th chord and the half diminished, for example dm7b5 and fm6. In a piece of music the key and chord progression will often point to the most logical use of the chord. However, you cannot count on sheet music chord symbols to be the best guide to this. So often the symbols might show an easy way to play the chord on the guitar, but not the most logical use of the chord. When you study harmonic progressions with Roman numeral analysis and figured bass you will begin to see the logic the harmonic rhythm. From that you can begin to understand how to reharmonize a tune. At least you will see what the most common options are.

This is a great question but the full answer requires much more than I have time to write here. I hope that you can learn something from what I have written. All I can say is that you are asking the right questions and on the right track.

top

How I can figure out what chords to play for a particular part of a song?

"Could you please tell me how I can figure out what chords to play for a particular part of a song. Last night at a village elders' dinner, I was wanting to accompany a young woman for the song "I saw mommy kissing Santa Clause", but when the standard C - F - G7 (or equivalent in another key) did not work, I was at a loss to know what chords to play. (I can slowly read and write musical scores, so if I know a melody or have the sheet music, I can know what notes are required for the melody line or, in the case of piano music, the accompanying notes. I'm sure this is a big question, but I am looking for a pointer in the right direction, perhaps suggestion of a good book on the subject."

You need to go beyond the I IV V progressions and add the other scale tone chords. In addition learn the circle of 5ths chord progression, for example B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7/F#7. It also will help to understand how to use diminished 7th chords on or a half step below the chord you are going to.

MusicGoals by Eye and Ear will get you up to speed with these chords, secondary dominants, Roman numeral chords, and figured bass chord inversions. There is no substitute for knowing your scale tone chords. It sounds like you know the I IV V progressions on your instrument and by ear. MusicGoals will show you more chords on guitar and tenor banjo.

It takes more than knowing just the chords. It really helps to understand the context in which they are used.

top

What does it mean when [a chord symbol] has a triangle in the chord?

I have seen that notation to indicate a triad – a three note chord, for example the notes G, B, D for the G Major chord. However G (symbol of a triangle) 7 would mean a G Major 7th chord. Generally the triangle is not needed with the triad chord unless 7th chords are assumed and the triangle is used to make sure that a triad is played.

top

How does one notate double time? I've written a song that starts out in 4/4 time and then seems to go into double time. I've tried counting the double time section in 2/4 but it really seems to have 4 very fast ( twice as fast as 4/4 section) beats per measure. So I guess my question is, how does one notate double time? Is there even such a thing?!

It sounds like you need to use cut time, 2/2, written with a C with a vertical line through it. This places two pulses per measure. You may further clarify how it should be preformed by indicating in the score above the meter change (symbol or a half note) = (symbol of a quarter note). You will need to determine if this is the case. It could also be quarter note = quarter note. Another possibility is to use metronome marks such as (symbol of the quarter note = 100 or symbol of the half note = 100).

top

How do I modulate with secondary chords?

Secondary Dominants are 7th chords spelled root M3 P5 m7 (intervals above the root). You can precede any scale-tone chord with a dominant 7th chord built a P5 above the root of the scale-tone chord. For example in the key of C the ii chord is dm. An A7 chord is a P5 above d so it is a secondary dominant of d. It is secondary when it is only a temporary dominant of d in the key of C. G7 is the dominant chord in the key of C.

To modulate means to move into another key. Secondary dominants may be used to briefly touch another key. To modulate you simply spend more time establishing a new key center. You would use the V7 I cadence in the new key. In the above example, the V7 of ii in the key of C would become V7 I in the key of dm.

This is a very short answer to a complex question. If you study Mozart or any of the classical composers and do Roman numeral analysis, you will eventually understand in more detail.

top

I'd like to know how to change the chords in songs. [transpose]

There are two ways to transpose. 1) move everything up or down by the same interval. 2) use scale degrees, learn the original in scale degrees and then play the same degrees on the new scale.

MusicGoals by Eye and Ear provides training in the fundamentals of music theory that will make either method possible. You will learn intervals, scales, and chords on the page in notation and by ear.

To transpose a song that you already know in the key of G into the key of C you need to move everything up a Perfect 4th or down a Perfect 5th. Or you could think scale degrees – if the melody goes do re mi fa so in G, you play do re mi fa so in the key of C.

top

Can you explain the difference between parallel minors and relative minors?

The parallel Major and minor have the same tonic note. For example C Major and C minor. The relative use the same key signature but use a different tonic note. For example C Major is relative to a minor – C is do and a is la the sixth degree of the scale.

top

Could you please help me explain to an eleven year old, how to tell what key a piece of music is written in?

She will need to understand scales. Usually you start with pentachords on the piano or tetrachords and the concept of half steps and whole steps. This assumes that she is reading music to some extent. She should be able to play or sing a major scale.

Once scales are understood you can talk about the key note or tonic of the scale and then, key signatures.

The process of looking at a piece of music to determine the key starts with looking at the key signature. Each key signature can be used for a Major and a relative minor scale. Next, look at the final chord. Most often a piece ends on the tonic chord of the key it is in. Then look for accidentals in the score. These things together reveal the key.

As you can see, there are several first steps you must understand before you can tell the key of a piece. However, a quick guess can be made from the key signature and the final chord.

MusicGoals by Eye and Ear includes all of the preparation work needed to understand this process and the concepts of music theory.

top

What is alteration in pitch?

Pitch is the perception of frequency in a tone. For example, one tone may sound higher in pitch than another. The tone with the higher pitch has a faster rate of vibration or higher frequency. To alter the pitch of a tone would make it sound higher or lower.

top

"I have a query regarding the chord of V7. I am aware that when V7 is going to the tonic chord that the seventh falls to the third of the tonic chord. Is there any exception to this rule where the 7th can rise to the fifth of the tonic chord, and if so what are the criteria for this? I have recently found this in an unedited piece of music and wondered could it have been an error or was it intended."

With the normal resolution of the dominant 7th chord, the tritone formed between the 3rd and the 7th contracts, for example V7 I. If the 3rd is above the 7th the tritone expands. It may also expand with the German 6th to V – Ab7 to G Major. These examples illustrate smooth voice leading with regard to the way the tritone is resolved. You will find many examples in which the seventh or the third of the V7 do not move in the ideal voice leading. A melodic pattern may require otherwise or the composer may place more importance on some other element of style.

top

What is the second inversion (on a staff) in the key of B flat on the bass clef?

A second inversion occurs when a three note chord is arranged so that the fifth of the chord is the lowest sounding pitch. For example, The Bb Major chord is Bb D F from lowest to highest pitch. This is the root position because the root of the chord, Bb, is in the bass. The second inversion of the Bb Major chord would be F Bb D. The first inversion would be D F Bb. The third of the chord, D, is in the bass for the first inversion.

top

Could you explain how to transpose a B flat harmonic minor scale for other instruments?

To write for the Bb trumpet you must write a whole step higher than the concert pitch. If you write C, it will sound Bb concert pitch on the trumpet. So to get the sound of the concert pitch Bb harmonic minor scale on the trumpet, you must write the c harmonic minor scale.

If you were writing for the F French horn which sounds a Perfect 5th below the written pitch, you would write the f harmonic minor scale.

top

How can you tell what key a piece of sheet music is written in?

Do these three things:

  1. Look at the key signature
  2. look at the final chord
  3. look at the music

The key signature will indicate the scale that is used. However, there are two possible keys for every key signature. For example, the key signature of one sharp (an f#) may be that of G Major or that of e minor. What you have to find out is where the center of tonality is. If you look at the music and see accidentals written in that are leading tones in the minor key, such as d# in the key of e minor, that may indicate the minor key as a tonal center. Look at the final chord. Most often it will be that of the tonal center. So in this example if the piece ended on an e minor chord, it would most likely be in the key of e minor.

There are always variations and pieces that end on chords other than the tonal center. Most of the time, the above method will work. To be more accurate in finding the key, you need to understand more about cadences, scale tone triads, and harmonic progressions. In any case you need to know your scales and key signatures. MusicGoals by Eye and Ear will give you the background you need to understand this material.

top

Can you help me learn to read music for violin and also sight read for shaped notes?

You can use MusicGoals by Eye and Ear to learn and develop fluency reading standard notation for violin. Shaped note reading is similar to solfeggio. In solfeggio the degrees of the scale are do re mi fa so la ti do. Shape notes assign a shape to each degree of the scale. MusicGoals uses colored notes to help you learn the scale degrees. Each color represents a scale degree. MusicGoals uses shapes to indicate octave. The number of sides that the shape has corresponds to the octave. The violin fingerboard drawn on screen uses dotted lines for imaginary frets. The learning examples show notes, scales, intervals, and chords with the combination of colors and shapes on the fingerboard along with the standard notation above. As you learn the notes and scale degrees, you will also have a system for reading shape notes. You will need one additional step. You will need to learn the shape note shape for each scale degree.

top

Why does the sax not play the same note as another instrument?

Brass and wind instruments depend on the overtone series to physically produce sound and permit the fingerings we use. The overtone series consists of pure tones that are multiples of a fundamental frequency. For example, the fundamental frequency of 100 would have the following overtones: 200, 300, 400, 500, and so on. The tone of a single pitch played on a musical instrument may be very rich in overtones, yet we perceive it as one pitch – that of the fundamental frequency.

A length of tube has a resonant frequency. The pitches that can be produced with a single length of tubing are related and belong to the overtone series of the tubes fundamental frequency. To produce pitches that are not in this series you need another length of tubing. It gets a little more complicated when you give the tube a cone shaped bore and drill holes along its length but, it is the same principle. Pressing key pads changes the resonant frequencies of the tube.

The Saxophone comes in various sizes, the alto, tenor, soprano, baritone, bass. The basic fingering is the same for each but the pitch of the tones produced is not. So when you play a C on the tenor it sounds at Bb concert pitch. You play a C on the alto you get Eb concert. As a sax player you learn one set of fingerings that will work on any sax. However, you end up playing in different keys when you switch instruments.

top

How can you figure out what guitar chords to play on from a piano?

To figure out which chords to use for guitar start by determining what chords are written. In the four part piece that you sent the chords are written in open voicings. You just need to reduce the chords to a stack of thirds. For example, if you see the notes Eb, Bb, G, Bb (lowest to highest) rearrange them in thirds, Eb-G-Bb. The lowest note is the chord root or name of the chord. The intervals above indicate the chord quality, Eb-G = Major 3rd, Eb-Bb = Perfect 5th. A Major chord has a M3 and Perfect 5th so the chord is Eb Major. The root of the chord may not always be the lowest sounding pitch. Just try arranging the notes differently until you have a stack of thirds. Then you need to know the different chord qualities and the intervals associated with each.

When playing guitar there are many choices of chords to use in any situation. When playing solo or working with a bass player or group you may choose different chords. Understanding chords and music theory will help you uncover many possibilities.

top

I am not sure about beaming notes together.

Use beaming to group together divisions of the beat. For example in 4/4 time, instead of writing eight 8th notes with flags, group the 8th notes into four pairs by connecting each two 8ths with beams. This makes it easy for someone reading the music to see where the beat is. In 6/8 time group three 8th notes with a single beam. Thus a measure in 6/8 would have two 8th note groups with three 8ths in each group.

top

I have just finished a piece with a Japanese flavor, which I achieve by playing on the black notes only. It starts on 'A' but I can't work out what key it would be in or whether the key signature should be in flats or sharps. I feel it would not be right to just put down the black notes, either as flats or sharps in the key signature.

If you are writing a piece that uses only the black keys on the piano, it is pentatonic. The pentatonic scale is a five note scale: do re mi so la. This is a subset of the seven note Major scale: do re mi fa so la ti do’. For only black keys you can use the key signature of F# (six sharps), or Gb (six flats). To transpose it into C (no sharps or flats) use this scale: C, D, E, G, A. By transposing it into C, you can avoid having to use any sharps or flats. Otherwise if you want to play in on the black keys, by using either the key signature of F# or Gb you can write it without the need of accidentals written in the score.

top

What are the pedals on my piano for and is there another name for treble clef?

Another name for the treble clef is the G clef. It takes this name because it shows the position of G on the staff. The right pedal of the piano is the sustain pedal. Hold it down to keep the dampers from stopping the sound. There may also be a soft pedal which functions differently on an upright or grand but in either case lowers the volume of sound. If there is a third pedal, it functions like the sustain pedal but only for the lower keys or, on a grand piano, keys held down.

top

Can you please tell me what D.C. al Fine mean?

D.C. al fine stands for Da Capo al fine. You will find this at the end of a piece. It means go back to the beginning and play until you reach “fine”, final end. For example, a piece may have two sections, A and B. At the end of the B section you see D C al fine. At the end of the A section you see “fine”. Thus when you follow the DC al fine you end up with ABA.

top

My question is what does 'tacet' mean? I play guitar and on some of my sheet music it mentions 'tacet'. Eg. "(All gtrs. tacet 2nd time)".

Tacet means “be silent”. In other words guitars do not play second time through.

top

I have a knowledge of major and minors but really, what r they? What is Perfect? I know how to determine a scale by whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. Is this right? [YES] And as far as the solfeggio, is do always C, or is it the first note of a major? What is the first solfeggio of a major? What is a compound interval? Do 3rds consist of 3 tones? Is augmented a tone up and diminished a tone down?

  1. Major, minor, Perfect, Augmented, and diminished are qualifiers used to identify intervals. An interval also has a number that specifies the distance on the staff measured in scale degrees, that is lines and spaces. For example a Major 2nd has two half steps and is written with one note on a line and another on the adjacent space.
  2. Perfect intervals are the unison P1, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, and Perfect octave.
  3. The first degree of a Major scale is “do”. This is called Moveable “do”. With “Fixed do” C is always do. MusicGoals uses moveable do solfeggio.
  4. A compound interval is one larger than the octave. For example a M9th = M2 + P8.
  5. A third consists of two tones that skip a line or skip a space. Another way to think of it is that a letter name is skipped. For example C to E or line (skip space) next space.
  6. The exact size of an interval in half steps requires one of the qualifiers, M, m, P, Aug, dim.
  7. Augmented means one half step larger, and diminished means one half step larger.

If you use the “Practice Settings – Intervals” in Keyboard Intervals for example, you will see a list of the possible intervals. Then when you select a few to study, the buttons can be used before the drill to see the intervals.

top

I am doing a music course and they have asked us to define between diatonic and undiatonic chords. Can you please help explain these to me in easy terms as anything I have found on the internet goes into too much detail and confuses me!

Diatonic chords are those chords that use only the notes of the diatonic scale. They can be written without accidentals using the notes of the key signature. For example, if you know that you are in a Major key and you see a chord with an accidental ( sharp, flat, or natural sign), you know it cannot be a diatonic chord. Ask your instructor about what to do in the case of the harmonic minor scale. This scale requires an accidental written in the music. I am not sure how far you have gone with Major and minor scales.

top

I'm composing a piece for soprano, 2 flutes, guitar, violin and cello - what order should they be written in on the score?

Soprano
Flute 1
Flute 2
Guitar
Violin
Cello

Or

Flute 1
Flute 2
Soprano
Guitar
Violin
Cello

top

"Does the natural sign apply for both notes in the chord?" - if you have a chord and the song is in the key of E flat major and the chord has two b's in it, but only one has the natural sign in front of it.

An accidental changes only the line or space for the note it is in front of and the change continues only for the measure it is written in. This rule applies to sharps, flats, and natural signs. The key signature of 3 flats can be used for Eb Major or for C minor. You will often see the natural sign used in front of Bb in the key of C minor. This creates the harmonic minor scale.

top

"I am composing music and need to know what the fundamental key is for the violin."

The violin is written at its sounding pitch. The strings are tuned G3 D4 A4 E5. Notate this: G below middle C, D is the space below the treble clef, A is the second space, and E is the fourth space of the treble clef.

I am not sure I know what you mean when you say fundamental key. I assume you are thinking of brass and woodwinds that are transposing instruments. For example the Bb trumpet sounds a Major second below where it is written. The violin, viola, cello and bass are written at concert pitch. Although the bass sounds an octave lower than written.

You can use MusicGoals or even the MusicGoals demo to see how any of the string instruments are notated. [GO TO - Pick Activity - "string instrument" - Staff Reading] From this activity you can use [Practice Settings - Instrument and Tuning] to select an instrument. MusicGoals will display the instrument with color coded dots and matching color coded notes on the staff. 

top

"I am a music student having a hard time understanding solfeggio ..."

Solfeggio is a system that gives each degree of the scale a syllable that is easy to sing. The major scale is a seven note sequence of pitches starting on the solfeggio syllable "do". The scale in solfeggio is: do re mi fa so la ti do' . To sing in solfeggio you must first determine the key signature. This will tell you which pitch is "do". Solfeggio helps musicians connect each degree of the scale with its' sound relative to the key. MusicGoals includes objectives for piano, strings, and staff reading, to learn the solfeggio syllables in any key signature. Several other objectives will help you learn scales and key signatures and give you practice hearing intervals. All of this will help prepare you to sight sing in solfeggio. 

This system is also referred to "movable do solfeggio" because the solfeggio syllables are determined by the key signature. The "fixed do" system assigns do to C regardless of the key signature. For more information please read Background on MusicGoals Teaching Methodology

top

"I was playing a new piece today and came across a notation I've never seen before."

"It looked like two half notes connected by two lines (like 16th notes would be connected). The piece was in 4/4 time, and there were two sets of these in each measure. If anyone could help me out and explain this it would be appreciated."

It is really hard to say for sure without seeing it. It may have been a tremolo. For a tremolo repeat the notes very rapidly. Most often the half note pairs would be on different notes. Also the beams might not touch the stems. 

top

My students would like to know why only capital letters are used for note naming?

There is no reason why note names need to be in upper case. Upper or lower case could be used. However, it is best that one or the other is chosen and then used consistently. This will avoid some possible confusion.

There are several ways that case is used as a shorthand in other instances. For example, Major chords and chords that have a Major 3rd such as, G, G7, GMaj7, can be identified quickly because they are written in upper case. Minor chords and chords that have a minor 3rd are written: gm, gm7, gm7b5. Case is also used to indicate register CC C c c' c''. In form analysis, upper case is often used to indicate larger sections and lower case to indicate phrase structure.

top

Do you take internal repeats again after DC al fine? -- "Hello. My question is, when you are playing a piece with internal repeat signs and a D.C. al fine, when you go back to the beginning for the second time through, do you play the repeats before the fine or not?"

It is hard to say without seeing the music. If the DC al fine is above the repeat sign in the same measure, they are redundant. If the internal repeat signs are 1 or 2 measures within a larger section that is repeated, then it may be best to observe them. Otherwise try to analyze the form of the piece - AABA, AABB, ABA, etc. This may help you decide. If it is a song, the words may make it clear. If you play in an ensemble the first thing that everyone does is make decisions regarding repeats. There is often more than one right answer.

Sorry for such a complicated answer. It is not uncommon to have to make these kind of decisions, so looking at the form really helps.

top

"Could you explain an easy way to tell what key a song is in by listening?"

The simple answer is: if you can sing the scale of the song, you can find the key. If it is in a major key sing the major scale: do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. The key is the same as the pitch of "do". If it is in a minor key sing the minor scale: la-ti-do-re-mi-fa-si-la. The key is the same as the pitch of la. Match that pitch on your instrument and you have it.

The not so simple answer is: a song may sometimes use more than one key. Also, a song may use only part of a scale or have a tonal center on some other note than "do" or "la". Ambiguity is often desired in music and art. Your best bet is to learn scales and the chords that go with them. Then the fun really begins!

top

"What is parallel motion?"

"Parallel motion" occurs when two voices move in the same direction up or down, that is, higher or lower in pitch. "Parallel motion" also means that two voices move in the same direction by the exact same interval. Two voices that move in the same direction but by different intervals move in "Similar motion." "Contrary motion" occurs when two voices move in opposite direction, one up and the other down. "Oblique motion" occurs when one voice holds or repeats a note while the other voice moves up or down.

Sight-reading improves greatly when eyes are trained to recognize these types of motion. By seeing the direction of voices, one immediately sees which way the hands and fingers must move. Couple this with interval recognition and instrument memory, and you have very efficient sight-reading.

These types of motion are also very important in music composition. They are important in counterpoint to determine the controlled use of dissonance and the balance of intervals, especially between the outer voices.

top

Why is a particular key chosen over another? "Why should a specific key be chosen as if it has a particular character ? What decides choice of key? Surely the only difference between , say, the key of e and f is a rise in pitch of a semitone? Why then should the key of f be associated with music of a pastoral nature, e flat (Eroica, Emperor concerto etc.) and others have 'emotional' connections. I have never had a convincing answer to this question."

This is a great question that I heard discussed many times. There are at least two ways to look at it, is it subjective involving our processes of perception, or is it the result of acoustics and the physics of the instruments that make the sounds? I think a case can be made for both. String instruments sound brighter in keys with open strings on the tonic and dominant – D Major, A or G. Because Eb is fingered and may be played with some vibrato, the character of the music is affected. It is clear that instruments are played differently and may sound slightly different in each key.

When you consider the processes of perception this question becomes much more complicated. Going beyond the physics of how the ear works and how it perceives pitch, one must consider the learned language of music. This language has evolved through many styles and has been affected by changing tunings and by evolving musical instruments. Many musicians will tell you they sense the nature of each key even though not all will attribute this to their perception of absolute pitch.

This would be a great subject for a doctoral thesis. Take a recording of the Eroica, and run it through a high tech pitch shifting device so that tempo and everything else is preserved. Then have a large number of listeners report their reactions on questionnaires. I bet if you did a search you may find that someone has already done this or something similar.

top

Students cannot match voice to piano - "I am looking for a curriculum to teach ear training to students who can't match pitch to a piano. They can't make their voices go up or down when directed to. (They have about a four-note range.) They have no musical background, and have no interest in learning music theory, they just want to sing! What do you suggest?"

The first step is to play a key on the piano within their range and get them to hear what it sounds like to match their voice to the piano. Teach them the concept of higher and lower pitch by playing notes above and below them. This may take some practice but it will lead to their matching pitches with their voice. Next introduce the minor third. Have them sing the upper and then the lower note while you play the minor third above or below them.

The curriculum that I have used in this situation is that of the Kodaly method. Start with a very limited set of solfeggio syllables and slowly add to it. If you have not done so already please read MusicGoals methodology at www.musicgoals.com/teacher_tips.htm . Using solfeggio you can avoid a great deal of complexity and help your students really improve and enjoy singing. 

top

What is the staff marked "facilite"? "I have a student playing the Louis Gottschalk "The Banjo". On several of the pages is an added staff which reads "facilite" at the beginning. The word means "simplify" - although the passages don't really look simplified (in some cases, they do). I'm assuming you can pick which staff to play from - the regular staff or the extra one with "facilite". Could you please verify that for me?"

The word in French means easy or simplify so I think you have it right. Check the edition that you have to see if there is a note about it. It could very likely be that the editor wrote the simplified version. To verify this you could check with other editions of the same piece. 

top

I cannot memorize music. It's very frustrating....to my teach, as well,
I'd say. Any tips?"

If you study scales, chords, and intervals, you can apply this knowledge to the analysis of a piece. Ear training also helps. When you understand the form and compositional techniques used, it simplifies what needs to be memorized. For example, instead of thinking c-e-g-Bb, think the C7 chord or better yet, think V7 in the key of F.

Play a small section several times with the music. Then try it from memory. Repeat until you have it. If this is still difficult, use smaller sections. It is best to combine this technique with analysis. You will find that sections are often used again or again with small variations.

Try playing the piece very lightly on your instrument without making a sound. Play the first note or chord and then imagine the sound as you move your fingers without making a sound. Play another note or chord further in the piece to check yourself. Is the sound you imagine the same as what you play. This relies more on ear training. It is also what happens when you play at your best. You create the sounds that you hear in your head.

When you understand the composition and can imagine the sounds, it will be much easier for your fingers to find the notes. The other side of the coin is called muscle memory. If you play something over and over your muscles memorize the patterns. This is not very reliable because when you play on a different instrument everything feels different. Muscle memory is also like very short term memory. It needs lots of repetition and it is quickly lost.

MusicGoals by Eye and Ear is useful in gaining a very solid and practical foundation. Use it to set some goals for yourself. With practice you will reach these goals and it will make all the difference. It really works!

top

My daughter has difficultly sight reading. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

To develop good sight reading skills you need two things.

  1. Knowledge of notes, scales, chords, and intervals directly applied to the instrument and staff notation.
  2. Practice to develop fluency.

You must keep your eyes on the music and slowly figure out how to move your hands using your instrument memory. The best program that I know of to develop these skills is MusicGoals by Eye and Ear. MusicGoals works with an attached MIDI keyboard and drills skills needed until they are mastered. You can use MusicGoals without a MIDI keyboard. Just answer the drill questions by clicking the on-screen keyboard with the mouse. The midi keyboard works best, however, because MusicGoals drills hand positions on the keyboard. An inexpensive MIDI keyboard and a MIDI cable to connect it to your computer are well worth the expense. There are many other things that you can do with a midi keyboard and they are fun to experiment with.

If your goal is to have your daughter improve her sight reading, make sure that she also practices reading easy pieces without looking at her hands. Go slow and feel the keys to find notes without looking. It is very slow going at first, but this practice is required for good sight reading.

top

What is better: playing by ear or sight reading?

MusicGoals by Eye and Ear offers a combined approach to learning music. Some people can read music but not improvise or play by ear. Others learn to play by ear but have trouble sight reading. The MusicGoals program drills the elements of music, such as notes, scales, chords, and intervals, in staff notation, on the instrument, and by ear. Proficiency in music is gained when the association between the notation, the instrument, and the sound is made. In practice some students advance faster at reading, and others advance faster at playing by ear. It is very important to foster both of these skills with young students. MusicGoals will drill and measure proficiency in both. Use the “Scores Page” to see a detailed list of mistakes and average response times. 

top

What can I do to motivate and keep my child interested in music? 

One of the best ways that I know of to keep up the interest and motivation is to play duets. They are really fun to play and there is always the challenge of keeping up with your duet partner. In the end, it is the music that one makes and enjoys that will be the most fun and give the best motivation to study and practice.

top