Learning Music Theory for All Artists – Part 2
To follow this post correctly be sure to read part 1 of our Learning Music Theory tutorial.
In part 1 of our step by step guide on “Learning Music Theory for All Artists” we explained the basics. We explained the basics of music theory in a way all artists could benefit from this information. Whether you’re a singer, songwriter, rapper or composer. Either way learning the theory side of music is beneficial for you. However, to really master it you can’t stop at the basics. This is part 2 of our music theory tutorial. It will allow you to combine what you’ve already learned and grow your know of music skills. It will also give you a great advantage for if you ever decide to take a music theory course.
Before you advance on to the next level of music theory skills, it’s important to have a recap of what you did learn from part 1.
All music notes are named. The names range from A-G of the alphabet. Once you end at G, you would start over again on A just in a higher or lower octave.
A music scale is a scale of notes that are ordered by pitch. Remember each note in the music alphabet has a scale. Meaning the pitch letter A has a scale, B has a scale and so on. Whatever pitch or note the scale starts on it must end on that pitch as well. For example if a scale starts on C it must go up and through all the notes/pitches until it gets to C again (C D E F G A B C). The most common and easiest scales to remember are major scales.
Major scales follow the pattern: W W H W W W H
Accidentals: Can be either a sharp (#), a flat (b) and sometimes a natural (click here to see symbol). To follow the major scale pattern of (W W H W W W H) correctly some of your notes will either be a flat or sharp, depending on which scale you are in. For example the G major scale has 1 accidental in it. It has a F# as it’s 7th tone.
- G A B C D E F# G
Below are a list of all the major scales and their accidentals
- C major scale – C D E F G A B C (no accidentals/ all white notes)
- G major scale – G A B C D E F# G (1 accidental/ F#)
- D major scale – D E F# G A B C# D (2 accidentals/ F#, C#)
- A major scale – A B C# D E F# G# A (3 accidentals/ F#, C#, G#)
- E major scale – E F# G# A B C# D# E (4 accidentals/ F#, C#, G#, D#)
- B major scale – B C# D# E F# G# A# B (5 accidentals/ F#, C#, G#, D#, A#)
- F major scale – F G A Bb C D E F (1 accidental/ Bb > B flat)
- Bb major scale – Bb C D Eb F G A Bb (2 accidentals/ Bb, Eb)
- Eb major scale – Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb (3 accidentals/ Bb, Eb, Ab)
- Ab major scale – Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab (4 accidentals/ Bb, Eb, Ab, Db)
- Db major scale – Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db (5 accidentals/ Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb)
- Gb major scale – Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb (6 accidentals/ Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb)
Music can be written on a treble clef staff or bass clef staff. The treble staff starts with any note after middle C. The bass staff starts with any note below middle C.
The lines for the treble clef staff are E G B D F (Every Good Boy Does Fine) read going up. The spaces for the treble clef staff are F A C E read going up (which spells out the word “Face“).
The lines for the bass clef staff are G B D F A (Good Boys Do Fine Always) read going up. The spaces for the treble clef staff are A C E G (All Cows Eat Grass) read going up.
Chords are 2 or more pitches played together. The most common type of chords are triad chords, which are 3 notes played simultaneously. With basic chords all the notes played together are all apart of the same scale. Each pitch in a scale has a chord born from it. If you’re in the C major scale ( C D E F G A B C), there’s a chord for the pitch C, a chord for the pitch D and so on.
Now that our recap is complete we can move onto part 2 of our music theory lesson. The first thing you should know is how rhythm works. Rhythm is what tells an artist the duration of a music note. It tells you how long to play or sing a note. This is why rhythm is counted. In order to count various types of rhythms different notes have value numbers and names for their number.
Quarter notes – receives 1 beat (count it by saying “1”)
Half notes – receives 2 beats (count it by saying “1, 2”)
Whole notes – receives 4 beats (count it by saying “1, 2, 3, 4”)
Eighth notes – receives 1/2 of a beat (count it by saying “and” or “&”)
– 2 eighth notes make up 1 quarter note
Sixteenth notes – receives 1/4 of a beat (count it by saying “e”)
– 2 sixteenth notes make up 1 eighth note. 4 sixteenth notes makes up 1 quarter note
Triplets – is 1 beat split into 3 evenly. (counted as “1 & a” or “1 & then”)
Dotted Notes – a note with a dot placed directly after it means the note value increase by half of its original value. If a dot is placed after a quarter note and a quarter note gets 1 count. The dotted quarter note will now get 1 count and a half. Meaning the value will equal 1 1/2. This can be counted as (1 & 2 or 1 + 2).
Dotted quarter note – 1 count and a half (counted as 1 & 2)
Dotted half note – 3 counts (counted as 1, 2, 3)
Dotted whole notes – 6 counts (counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Dotted eight notes – 3/4 counts aka 3/4 of one beat (counted as “1, e, &”)
Rests are notation in music that lets you know when you’re not suppose to play or sing. It’s when you should “take a rest.” However, you need to know how long the rest should last. This is where different type of music rests come in and their value number. This way you know if you should take a rest for 1 beat. Sometimes you may even take a rest for as long as 8 beats.
Quarter rests – means you rest 1 beat (count it by saying “1”)
Half rests – means you rest 2 beats (count it by saying “1, 2”)
Whole rests -means you rest 4 beats (count it by saying “1, 2, 3, 4”)
Eighth rests -means you rest for 1/2 of a beat (count it by saying “and” or “&”)
– 2 eighth rests make up 1 quarter rest
Sixteenth rests -means you rest for 1/4 of a beat (count it by saying “e”)
– 2 sixteenth rests make up 1 eighth rest. 4 sixteenth rests makes up 1 quarter rest
Time and meter in music is what lets you know exactly how the music will be organized. It tells the musician and recording artist what type of notes you’ll be working with, and what tempo the music will be in. It basically controls the flow of the music. This is where time signatures come in. Time signatures tell you how many beats happen in each measure in music. A time signature consist of 2 numbers stack on top of each other. The top number tells you how many beats are going to be in each measure. The bottom number what type of rhythm gets the beat. The most common type of time signature is 4/4. This means there are 4 beats in each measure (can also be stated as 4 beats in each bar of music). With the quarter note receiving the beat.
Common time signatures
Besides 4/4 being the most common type of music signature in all genres, there are other time signatures that are pretty common as well. There are:
- 3/4 – each measure gets 3 beats; quarter note receives the beat
- 2/4 – each measure gets 2 beats; quarter note receives the beat
- 6/8 – each measure gets 6 beats; eighth note receives the beat
A simple meter is any music meter that breaks down into even divisions. This means each beat can be equally divided. For example, 4/4 would be a simple meter.
A compound meter is any meter that can be divided into groups of 3’s. For example, 3/8 would be a compound meter.
A key signature are notations listed right after the time signature that indicates what key the music is written in. Key signatures correspond with flats and sharps I mentioned earlier. For example, if a song is written in C major, there key signature will be blank because there are no sharps of flats in the key of C major. However, if a song is written in G major, there will be a F# indicated after the time signature. This will let the music artist know the song is written in G major and that every F in the music should be a F#. All key signatures have a pattern you should learn. The pattern is based around how many sharps of flats a particular music scale receives.
Order of Sharps
F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#
How to tell which key music is written in when there are sharps in your key signature:
If there is just 1 sharp in the key signature then you know it’s in the key of G major. If there are more than 1 sharp in the signature, say 2 sharps then this is how you find the key.
- You find the last sharp in the key signature
- You identify the sharp name (by counting lines or spaces using the “Every Good Boy Does Fine”, etc, etc. method).
- Then go 1 note higher.
- You now have the key name. This is the key the song is written in.
For example, if you have 2 sharps in your key signature then according to the order it’s going to be F#, C#. You go by the last sharp which is C#. A note or pitch higher than C is D. So you now know you’re in the key of D major. You would follow these steps each time.
Order of Flats
Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb
How to tell which key music is written in when there are flats in your key signature:
If there is just 1 flat in the key signature then you know it’s in the key of F major. If there are more than 1 flat in the signature, say 2 flats then this is how you find the key.
- You find the key of a song with flats using the 2nd to last flat
- You identify the flat name (by counting lines or spaces using the “Every Good Boy Does Fine”, etc, etc. method).
- Then once you know the name of the 2nd to last flat that is the name of your key
For example, if you have 3 flats in your key signature, according to the order it would be Bb, Eb, Ab. The 2nd to last is the Eb. This means you music is written in Eb.
*If you notice the order of flats are the exact same order of sharps just reversed. This should help you memorize it.
Major and Minor
Now that you know what key signatures are and how they work, it’s time to learn about minor scales. In the beginning of learning about the theory of music, you always start off learning the major scales. This is because all the other scales are built around them. However, there is something called minor scales. Each major scale has a relative minor scale. The relative minor scale have the same notes in it as the major scale. It even has the same time signature as the major. However, the 2 scales sound different from each and have different corresponding chords. For example, the C major scale relative minor is A minor. This means the A minor has no accidentals just like the C major scale doesn’t. But how do you find a relative minor scale and what’s its scale pattern?
To name a minor scale, you must first know and name the major scale. Then you count up 6 notes on the particular major scale you’re on. The 6th note you land on is the note that the minor key will built on. Using the C major scale for example:
C D E F G A B C (no accidentals)
You would count up to the 6th note (be sure to start on C). You should land on A.
C – 1st note
D – 2nd note
E – 3rd note
F – 4th note
G – 5th note
A – 6th note
B – 7th note
C – 8th note or octave
*Be sure to follow these steps for any major scale you are in.
Now that you know which note the relative minor scale is written on you simply go up the minor scale an entire octave like you do with all your majors.
A minor scale – A B C D E F G A
Minor scale patterns:
Minor scales follow a pattern just like the major scales. Only thing with minor is you have to be aware that there are 3 different type of minor scales. You have natural, melodic and harmonic. By default, the minor scale you learned above was the natural minor scale. Below are all the minor scales and their patterns:
Natural minor scale – W H W W H W W
Melodic minor scale – follows the same as the natural but on the 6th and 7th note you go up a half step for each note.
-Ex: (using A minor scale) – A B C D E F# G# A (since F and G are the 6th and 7th notes, you go up a half step for each one, making them both sharps).
Harmonic minor scale – follows the same as the natural but only on the 7th note you go up a half step.
-Ex: (using A minor scale) – A B C D E F G# A (since G is the 7th note, you go up a half step, making it now a sharp).
*If you’re wondering how to find the key of a song using the key signatures but not sure if the song is in it’s major key or relative minor key, remember most songs either start or end on the tonic (1st note) of the scale it’s written in. Meaning if the song is written in C major but you’re not sure if it’s in C major or A minor since they both share the same key signature, look to see if the note starts or ends on C. That’s usually an indication of what key the song is written in.
This further explanation of music theory which continues from part 1 is only scratching the surface. There is so much more to learn as an artist who desire to read and write music. This is why we’re also doing a part 3 to this tutorial. Be sure to tune in next week to learn the final part of learning music theory.