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Theory of Music (1)

Updated on April 25, 2015

Theory of music can be fun

Even if you don't play an instrument you can get lots of fun from learning the theory of music. It's all quite logical and is the culmination of centuries of experimenting with how to express music on paper. I hope you will enjoy this first of several lenses on this topic.

We will use a photo of a piano to help us understand what we are doing. You do not need any previous knowledge of the piano or theory ,as we will work in easy steps ,to build up the picture of how music is written down.

Using the keyboard

On the keyboard you can see where everything is in a scale. The tones and semitones.

C major on the keyboard

Using the keyboard

You do not need to play the piano but using the keyboard to work out your scales is very useful. The above picture shows you the keyboard with the notes of the C major scale. I have simply used paper squares to name the notes. Here we start at the left-hand C and move along to the right-hand C.

At first look the notes appear to be equally spaced. However this is not so. If you look at the keys further in than the paper notes you can see there is a pattern. Between C and D you have a black note, and between D and E. But when you come to E and F there is no black note between. The distance between a note and its nearest neighbour ,whether black or white is called a semitone. Two of these distances make a tone. So between C and D we have a tone, and again between D and E. But between E and F we only have a semitone. Can you find another semitone in the scale? Yes that's it, between B and C.

Now you can see that the first half of the scale has the same pattern as the second half. This means that we can take the top half of the scale to start the scale of G major because the major scale always has this same pattern of tones and semitones. The pattern is Tone,Tone,Semitone Tone (between the two halves) Tone,Tone,Semitone.

In the picture below you can see the C major scale written. I have linked with square brackets the semitones. In front of the music to the left is the treble clef. The bottom of this curls around the second line of the stave of five lines, telling us that a note on that line, that is with the line going through it, will be G. If you do not put a clef at the beginning we do not know what the notes are. There are several clefs but we just deal with the treble and bass to start with.

The notes have to be written with care

Each note must be written precisely, either with a line going through it, or exactly fitting in a space

The notes of the C major scale on paper

The G major scale

As I said above, to make the G major scale take the last four notes of the C major scale. Then add the next four notes, but instead of using the note F use F sharp. You will see that this keeps the correct pattern of tones and semitones, the distances between the notes. If you play it on the piano you will have exactly the same tune as the C major, but at a higher pitch.

Guess what! To get the next scale we take the last four notes of G major, including the F sharp and this gives us the beginning of the D major scale. Each time we are moving up five notes.

Now you may well think we have only moved up four notes but music is not like math. We always include all the notes used. So we count C,D,E,F,G and those are our five. The fifth note of the scale is called the Dominant and has a special relationship with the first note of the scale, which is called the Tonic.

The keys go around in a cycle of fifths. It is easier to learn them this way as at this stage we keep adding a sharp to the key signature each time we move up five notes.

The G major scale on the keyboard

G major scale on paper

The arpeggio

Here you move from left to right jumping notes to play the chord of C

The Arpeggio

What is an arpeggio?

An arpeggio is a chord which is played as it would be on a harp. You take the first,third, fifth and eighth note of the scale and play them in succession. You also use these notes for the triad, but this time they are played together. This gives you the chords which are used for the harmony, under a melody. The melody is the tune of the piece, the harmony is the supporting music under the melody. A chord is any two or more notes played at the same time.How are you coping with theory of music?

C major arpeggio

The C major triad

If you take the first three notes of the arpeggio and write them one on top of the other, that is play them at the same time you will have a chord of C major

Great care must be taken in writing notes

In the G major arpeggio, in the example above, I have left in a poorly written D, so that you can see how exact you need to be when writing music. Otherwise anyone reading it ,or marking it will not be sure what you mean. The notes on the lines, that is the notes with the lines running through them should have the line central to the note. Notes in the spaces should just touch the lines on either side, but not run over them.

The cycle of fifths takes us next to D major

Here we keep the F sharp we had in G major and also use a C sharp

D major

Scale, arpeggio and triad

D major

Notice the pattern of tones and semitones is still the same. So the tune of the scale still sounds the same.

D major arpeggio

D major triad

You may find it more helpful to use your guitar than the keyboard

Put a note in my notebook

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    • Alethia LM profile image

      Alethia LM 

      6 years ago

      This is a really fantastic basic theory course and you explain it so succinctly! Thank you!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 

      6 years ago

      Oh my, but this surely takes me back a lot of years to my music days in Cleveland, Ohio. I got to study at Baldwin-Wallace college with a piano teacher who studies with a Miss Redmond.

    • profile image

      GabrielaFargasch 

      6 years ago

      What a wonderful piano lens! You explain everything so well! :)

    • SayGuddaycom profile image

      SayGuddaycom 

      6 years ago

      Excellent!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Returning with a blessing on those budding musicians!

    • iijuan12 profile image

      Shannon 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Great lens! Liked and blessed.

    • mellex lm profile image

      mellex lm 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thoroughly enjoyed this lens. You've explained everything so well!!

    • cbessa profile image

      cbessa 

      7 years ago

      Hey, Liz. Thank you for one of most useful lenses series on Squidoo.

      I really liked and will use them as resource. I will try, again, to learn to play a keyboard.

      Thanks

    • james g pete profile image

      james g pete 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for a lovely and clear introduction to music composition, I'd call it. There's theory and the resultant sounds. And great pictures.

    • Glenn619 profile image

      Glenn619 

      7 years ago

      Even i am a music lover and play the guitar but i am not well familiar with the music theory part, thanks to your lens learn t a little bit more :)

    • LizMac60 profile imageAUTHOR

      Liz Mackay 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      @ChrisDay LM: If you can't cope with the theory just enjoy the practical.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      I LOVE music but the theory beats me - this may be a mental block on my part but somehow I don't 'get' it.

    • akumar46 lm profile image

      akumar46 lm 

      7 years ago

      Very easy way to learn music sheets.

    • theinquirer2 profile image

      theinquirer2 

      7 years ago

      very nice looking lens (music still escapes me!)

    • Judy Goldsberry profile image

      Judy Goldsberry 

      7 years ago

      I love playing the piano. nice lens.

    • MikeEssex profile image

      MikeEssex 

      7 years ago

      Really useful article. I never would have gotten through GCSE music without having a keyboard that had the letters written on the keys. Best cheat ever.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      What a wonderful encouragement and tutorial you have created here. I love your, "You can do it" attitude! I would say that you had many, many students that could hardly wait to meet with you for your music lesson. "Retired" from teaching and still teaching!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Hey there Liz dropped by to say..Great music theory site...proud to say that I added this site and a few others of your to my http://www.squidoo.com/best-music-squidoo site!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 

      7 years ago

      OMG! This takes me back to my roots when studying music ... and theory. I actually took a course in college. Wish that I still played the piano!

    • Tr0y profile image

      Tr0y 

      7 years ago

      I know that you put in a lot of effort in making this lens. Great job! My dad is a musician by profession. He doesn't know how to read notes but he's amazing at playing it by ear. He just listens to a song once or twice and can play the whole song on the piano after that. Unfortunately, I do not have the same passion that he has for the profession. I wanted to be something else.

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 

      7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Nice lens! I took piano as a 5th grader many, many years ago... but it didn't keep my interest (maybe the piano teacher wasn't quite as engaging as she should have been), so I quit after a few months. But I *did* go on to learn how to play the trumpet, the harmonica, and guitar. I've also dabbled with banjo and I still like to mess around with keyboard/pianos. You've got a great lens here! I've liked, favorited, thumbs-upped, and lensrolled your masterpiece! Congrats on a great job!

    • profile image

      termit_bronx 

      8 years ago

      Nice lens! Very imformative and great tips. I like music very much.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      This is wonderful! I love the pictures with the keys named followed by the staff written notes. Thank you for visiting my music theory lens. I will feature your theory lenses there. I am sure my students will find them helpful. Thanks!! :)

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 

      9 years ago

      Oh, this takes me back. Love the pictures you've used to demonstrate.

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      Nice! I'm adding you as a link on my choir pages.

    • Violin-Student profile image

      Violin-Student 

      9 years ago

    • Kate Phizackerl1 profile image

      Kate Phizackerl1 

      9 years ago

      Great start

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