Music Theory from the Ground Up

A Complete Music Theory Course on Video

Today I’m sharing the first lesson (a pilot, you might say) of a complete video music theory course with the above title. I have seen a lot of related videos on YouTube and so on but, so far, have found very few that don’t assume some prior knowledge. Hence the title of this course.

In particular, this course will benefit;

  • Students preparing for ABRSM, Trinity or other Music Theory exams from Grade 1 to 8
  • Instrumentalists who need Grade 5 theory to progress to higher grades
  • Students wanting to take GCSE/A Level Music but who have still to learn the required terms and concepts.
  • Amateur musicians – members of bands, choirs, amateur orchestras, rock bands etc. who want to be better informed and understand the terminology.
  • Home studio enthusiasts – the course includes DAW/MIDI and staff notation 
  • Music lovers who are curious about how it all works

I think it’s going to be useful for self-study, in the classroom, or for instrumental teachers whose pupils need Grade 5 theory to progress beyond that grade on their instruments. The final version of this course, for all stages from beginner to advanced and which will be available online or for download, will feature;

  • Awareness of the aural effects of what is studied theoretically
  • Supplementary downloadable worksheets
  • Online quizzes – access code supplied with each video download
  • Opportunities to have your questions answered via chat, email or;
  • Optional face to face consultations using Zoom, Teams, SkypeGoogle Meet etc.

This video, Lesson 1, covers the absolute basics, but subsequent lessons are at various stages of preparation, so I thought it would be a good idea to ask for feedback before going too much further! Please have a look and let me know what you think – about any aspect – by commenting here or on the YouTube Channel.

Thanks!

Pythagoras and the Music of the Future Part II

It’s Harmonic Wave 2a relief finally to be able to post the next article in my series about the relationship between musical structures and the harmonic series. It’s a relief because my crowded schedule, which included writing a new (now finished) piece for solo piano, meant that I could only work on it sporadically. However, it’s done now!

Whereas the first article dealt with timbre, this one focuses on melody on harmony (well, mostly harmony actually) and, after tracing the development of harmony in relation to the proportions inherent in the harmonic series, illustrates the premise that music based on functional harmony (tonal music) and atonal music are very similar in at least one very important regard.

The two are often thought of as very different and even in opposition to one another, but in fact one grew out of the other and both are founded on proportions to be found at points – distant points perhaps – but nonetheless, points on the continuum which is the harmonic series.

It’s all becoming reminiscent of Heraclitus and the ‘unity of opposites’ once more I think! Read more here.

Tuning tips for teachers of young/amateur bands and wind ensembles

tuning_fork

Many will be used to tuning to a sustained note, usually A, or in the case of brass or wind bands, it could be a B flat. The problem with this is that many players will, consciously or unconsciously, compensate by correcting the pitch with the embouchure. Once the music starts, the tuning is ‘out’ again.

I have found the following sequence for tuning instruments very useful. It is a lengthy process initially, but it speeds up as you and the players get used to it and it pays dividends.

  1. Tune the first player to a digital tuner. This is optional because the main objective is to have the players in tune with each other not necessarily to the exact concert pitch, but of course you won’t want to be too far out.
  2. Have the first player play a short ‘open’ note. Short means about one second, but not less.
  3. Immediately, get the next player to do the same. You will find it is very easy to compare the pitches and give the necessary ‘pushing/pulling’ instructions to the players.  After a while, this process can become quite quick.
  4. Go through this process with each of the players and the first player, occasionally back-tracking to check those who have been tuned.
  5. When a section has been tuned in this way then have them play long unison note ‘forte’.
  6. Listen, and you will hear either beats or the octave above the tuning note ‘ringing’ out!
  7. Repeat the above until you are satisfied.

We hear the beats or octaves because of ‘sum tones’ and ‘difference tones’:  When two notes are played simultaneously, they produce additional frequencies which are the sum of, and the difference between, the frequencies of the notes being played.  If the frequencies are just 2-3 Hz out, then the sum/difference tones will be below our hearing threshold, but they will create ‘amplitude modulation’ of the basic tone creating the familiar ‘wah-wah’ effect. If they are in tune, the clear octave above will be heard.

For the sake of clarity, let’s take A as an example. Everyone knows that in standard concert pitch A = 440 Hz.

440 + 440 = 880;  in tune so ‘A’ one octave higher would be heard.

440 – 440 = 0;  no lower pitch would be heard, but

440 – 438 = 2; one note is flat so ‘beats’ would result

It gets a tiny bit more complex when one note is sharp, but this serves to illustrate the point.

Of course, after this and when your rehearsal is under way, the focus will be on intonation (the players) rather than tuning (the instruments).  However, you will find that once these tuning habits are well established and the players are encouraged to listen critically to, and correct, their own intonation, a considerable improvement in the richness of sound – across the entire ensemble – will result.