Theory Lesson Page
Level 1 (for beginning piano students)
1. What letters are in the music alphabet?
Notes are named for the first 7 letters of the alphabet: A B C D E F G. The white keys on a piano keyboard starting on the left, at the lowest note are A B C D E F G. When you get to G, the next white key is A again. This pattern continues until the very highest note on the right side of the keyboard, which is C.
Practice saying the music alphabet backwards and forwards! The black keys are grouped in two's and three's. C is always in front of each group of 2 and F is always in front of each group of 3.
2. Which is longer, a quarter note, or a half note?
There are 4 quarter notes in a whole note. In 4/4 time, the whole note is equal to 4 beats. This is the time used most often in music. Because the whole note is equal to 4 beats, a quarter note is equal to 1 beat. There are 2 half notes in a whole note and so a half note is equal to 2 beats.
Therefore, a half note is held longer!
3. How many lines are in a staff?
A staff has 5 lines for easier reading. (Many years ago, a staff might have as many as 11 lines!) Notes are placed both on lines and in the spaces in order to make full use of the staff. Every line and space points to one key on the keyboard!
4. How many spaces?
There are 4 spaces in between the 5 lines. The staff goes: line, space, line, space, line, space, line, space, line.
5. What is the name of the sign that is put on the staff for playing notes below middle C?
Bass clef. This sign tells us to give the lines and spaces of the staff, letter names beginning on the 2nd G from the lower end of the piano keyboard.
6. What is the name of the sign on the staff for playing notes above middle C?
Treble clef. This sign tells us to give the lines and spaces of the staff letter names beginning on the 4th E from the lower end of the piano keyboard. When you put them together, you get a grand staff.
7. Can you name the line notes of the Treble Clef?
The first note of the Treble staff is E (skip F) G (skip A) B (skip C) D (skip E) F. The notes that were skipped are the notes in the spaces.
8. What are the space notes for the Treble Clef?
F A C E
9. What are the line notes for the Bass Clef?
The lowest note on the Bass staff, is the line note, G. This is the 2nd G from the low end of the keyboard. If you skip every other white key, you also skip every other alphabet letter and will come up with the line notes: G (skip A) B (skip C) D (skip E) F (skip G) A. The notes you skipped are
the notes that go in the spaces of the staff.
10. What are the space notes for the Bass Clef?
A C E G
In between the Bass staff and Treble staff is B, Middle C, and D. B is on the top of the Bass staff. Middle C is given a short line all to itself so as to keep a division between the two staffs.
If Middle C had a line all the way across, there would only be one staff with 11 lines in it!
Write down all the underlined italicized words above. Write a definition beside each word.
If you can't read or write yet, ask a parent to help you do this out loud.
1. What notes are in the C scale? A scale is made up of notes that follow a set pattern. Scales are chosen according to the sound desired by the person writing, or composing, the music. Chords and melodies are then made from the notes in the scale. The most common scale pattern we use is the major scale.
The major scale has a happy and light-hearted sound to it. It is made up of 2 whole steps, a half step, 3 whole steps and a half step. (A whole step has one key in between and a half step has no keys between.)
Using your index finger, play the following notes on the keyboard:
C D E F G A B C. This is the C major scale. Notice that there are whole steps between all of the keys except E & F and B & C. There are half steps between them. Now try this same pattern beginning on the G note instead. You will notice that if you follow the pattern correctly, that instead of F, you have to play F#. Try this pattern beginning on all of the white keys (A through G). When you have the pattern memorized, try this pattern beginning
on the black keys. Write down the notes of each scale as you go and also memorize the sound. When you play an incorrect note, you will hear the mistake as it will cause a change in the pattern.
2. What notes make up a C chord?
3. What are the names of the other two primary chords in the key of C?
4. Besides letter names, what Roman numerals are used to name the primary chords?
5. What letters make up a G7 chord?
6. What letters make up an F chord?
7. What scale has one sharp?
8. What are the primary chords in the G scale?
To get a chord that matches a melody, (use the C scale as an example: C D E F G A B C) number the notes of your scale, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Skipping every other note of the scale, and beginning on the first note, you get: C E G
This is the C chord. In the key of C, it is called the ONE chord because it is built on the first note of the scale. Notes of scales are also called scale degrees. However, Roman numerals are used to number chords. Rather than "1" or "one", we call it a "I" chord! You can determine a chord for each scale degree by beginning on a that scale degree and skipping every other letter of the scale to create a chord. The most common chord is called a triad and is made of 3 notes, but 4 notes is pretty common as well. When you start getting into 5 and 6 note chords, your music begins to take on a more "jazzy" flavor. Here is an example beginning on C: C E G is a triad. C E G B is a 4 note chord called a major 7th chord. C E G B D is a 5 note chord. etc. Notes can be changed in a chord by raising or lowering them, but this then steps outside the chosen scale and requires another whole theory lesson!
A primary chord is a chord built on scale degrees 1, 4 or 5. If you are in the key of C,skipping every other letter, beginning on the 4th note of the scale, F, will get you a chord called the F chord. This chord has the letters "F A C" in it and is called the IV chord because it is built on the 4th degree of the scale.
Following the same procedure, if you begin on G, (the 5th scale degree), and skip every other letter you will get the letters "G B D F" which make up a G7 chord, also called the V7 chord in the key of C because it is built on the 5th degree of the scale. The "7" comes from the fact that the F at the end of the chord is 7 letters above the first note of the chord, G.
9. How many 16 notes fit into a quarter note? 4 because 16th notes are equal to 1/4 beat each.
10. How many 8th notes fit into a whole note? 8 because 8th notes are equal to 1/2 beat each.
Write down all the underlined italicized words above. Write a definition beside each word.
1. Name the order of flats as they go on the staff.
A key with one flat will have a Bb in the key signature . If a key has 2 flats, it will use the Bb, plus an Eb.
If a key has three flats, it will use the Bb, the Eb, plus an Ab. The order never changes. You always start with Bb. If your key has 7 flats, the order will be: B, E, A, D, G, C, F. The first four letters of the order of flats spell the word "BEAD". If you can think of three other words beginning with G, C and F the order of flats will be easy for you to remember.
2. Name the order of sharps as they go on the staff.
Sharps go onto the staff in the opposite order: F, C, G, D, A, E, B. If you know the order of flats, just reverse it and you can then, by memory, know both the order of flats and sharps.
3. What major key has 4 flats?
If you follow the pattern for a major scale(Whole step=W and Half step=H) W, W, H, W, W, W, H, you will use Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab for the Ab major scale. This results in 4 flats. You can also look at the order the flats go on the staff. Back up one flat from 4 (3rd flat)), and that is the key you are in. For example in Ab, as we said there are 4 flats: B E A D. Notice that A is the 3rd flat, thus, you are in the key of Ab.
4. What major key has 4 sharps?
If you follow the pattern for a Major scale (Whole step=W and Half step=H) W, W, H, W, W, W, H, you will use E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E for the E major scale. This results in 4 sharps. You can also look at the last sharp and go up one half step. For example, the sharps for E are F C G D. Go one half step up from D# and you get E.
5. What is the relative minor to C major?
Relative minors are always 3 letters below their related major key.Going backwards: C, B, A means a minor is the relative minor to C major. They have different letter names but share the same key signature.
6. What is the parallel minor to C major?
A key that is said to be a "parallel minor" to another key shares the same letter name. For example c minor and C major, or a minor and A major. Though the letter names are the same, the key signatures will be different. (c minor has 3 flats and C major has none.)
7. What is an interval?
An interval is the distance between any two notes. There are two important things to learn about intervals:
What each one is called and how each one sounds. To find the number of interval, count the first letter and all the lines and spaces in between until you get to the next note.
8. What interval is D up to G?
9. What interval is C up to Bb?
10. What interval is B down to G?
Intervals can be put into one of the following classifications:
Seconds (2nds) and Sevenths (7ths)
Fourths (4ths), Fifths (5ths) and Octaves
Thirds (3rds) and Sixths (6ths)
Each classification is made up of intervals that have similar qualities in sound. 2nds and 7ths are very dissonant. 4ths, 5ths and octaves are percussive in sound. 3rds and 6ths sound beautiful and bell-like.
All intervals can be augmented and diminished. However, only some can be major or minor while some are said to be "Perfect".
2nds and 7ths can be major, minor, augmented or diminished. We will discuss minor 2nds and 7ths and major 2nds and 7ths. If you know your scales well, intervals are much easier. You can know whether or not an interval is major or minor by whether or not it is part of the scale your piece of music is in. Let's use C major scale as an example: C D E F G A B C. You first determine the number of your interval by how many letters apart the two notes are: For example: B is the 7th letter up from C, so you can know that it is some type of 7th. In a major key, intervals are major if they are included in the scale of the piece of music. They are minor if they are not. For example: C to D is a major 2nd because both notes are in the scale. C to Db is a minor 2nd because Db is not part of the scale.
3rds and 6ths can be major, minor, augmented or diminished. We will discuss minor 3rds and minor 6ths and major 3rds and major 6ths. An example, using the C major scale: C to E is a third because E is the 3rd letter from C. It is a major interval because E is part of the C scale. C to Eb is a minor 3rd because Eb is not part of the scale.
4ths and 5ths and octaves are said to be perfect or augmented or diminished. Perfect intervals will be a part of the scale the piece is in. Again, using C scale: C to F is called a perfect 4th because F is part of the scale. C to F# is an augmented 4th because it is one half step higher. C to Gb is an example of a diminished 5th because it is one half step lower. Another name for this "scary" sounding interval is the tritone! Note that Gb and F# are enharmonic (or the same tone.)
What happens if you do not know a scale very well, or the piece of music is passing from key to key to key? You can figure out what a given interval is not only by using a scale, or how it sounds, but by how many half steps are between the tones. Here is a chart (m stands for minor and M stands for Major):
m2nd: 1 half step M2nd:2 half steps m3rd: 3 half steps M3rd: 4 half steps
P4th: 5 half steps Tritone: 6 half steps P5th: 7 half steps m6th: 8 half steps
M6th: 9 half steps m7th: 10 half steps M7th: 11 half steps P8th: 12 half steps