Music Theory

An Introduction to Music Theory

Music theory is something that usually everyone really hates, but it's really not that bad. This article will be based mainly around the conventions of western music to give you some basic understanding of the mechanisms guiding it and more specifically I will focus on modern songs to portray theory and make it interesting.

Notes

All you have to know right now is that all theory is based on scales and to get some scales going, you need tones and semitones. You now by now that the basic notes are C C# D D# E F G G# A A# B C. If we take C as a base note, C# is a semitone higher than it. D is a semitone away from C# and a whole tone away from C. That's all we need to know right now. You may also wonder what Db means. While C# denotes a note one semitone higher than C, called C sharp, Db denotes a note called D flat, one semitone lower than D, so that would mean it is basically the same as C sharp. Notice that E and F and B and C are a semitone away from each other, we do not use sharp or  flat there. The reasons here are a bit further into a music course than this article will go.

The Major Scale

So to build a major scale, a most basic one, you have to choose a root note (any one) and use the following formula: w w h w w w h. W stands for a whole tone and h for a half, or semitone. Write down the root note and the note a whole tone higher, the note whole tone away from that, then a half tone higher and so on. Choosing C you would get C D E F G A B C. If you choose D you get D E F# G A B C# D.

Chords

Let's jump quickly in to the fun stuff and talk about chords. It does get a bit complicated so keep with me. Chords are a series of notes played at the same time. Thus if you would play a whole scale at one time it would theoretically be a chord, but you wouldn't have much of an audience. We will take a look at triads, or chords made up of three notes. Chords also have names like major, minor, augmented, diminished, etc. Let's look at major and minor. This will cover about 70% of the chords used in popular songs.

Major Chords

To construct a major chord build a scale like we did above and pick out the first (or root) note, the third and the fifth note and play them together. A C major chord would be C E G played together (see scale above). If you would need a D major chord you would need the first, third and fifth note of the D major scale, which is D F# A. Observe that if you start with D in the C major chord and pick out those notes, D F A, this will not be the same, actually it will be a D minor chords, let's take a look why.

Minor Chords

To construct a minor chord you have to take the root note of the major chord, the third note lowered one semitone and the fifth note. For C this would give you C D# G and for D this would be D F A. If you have good observational skills you will see that constructing the minor chord from the D major scale is the same as taking the second, fourth and sixth note from the C major scale, the reasons for that are very cool, but a bit long.

Method

So first build a major scale starting on the note you need the chord to be and pick out either 1-3-5 for major scales or 1-b3-5 for minor scales. b3 means the third note lowered one semitone. Now you should be able to construct any major and minor chord. With this knowledge you can play Knocking on Heavens Door, about 90% of Nickleback, a load of Beatles songs, so go ahead, experiment, that's what music is all about.

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