Music theory 101 - Part I


Welcome to my blog where I offer tips for musicians. This is installment #9 for 2018.

I recently found something I had written 10 years ago by request of some people I had played with. They were wondering about music theory and why it was important. So, why not share it with you too!

Let me first start by saying that I've heard this phrase more times than I can count: "I don't need to know theory. That's for musicians."

Let's do a little fact-checking on that statement.

A) If you are trying to play an instrument or sing a song, then guess what, you're trying to be a musician!

B) If you have the desire to play or sing, then guess what, you're trying to be a musician!

You probably noticed the word 'trying' in there. Yes, it is true that one is not really a musician until they get a little more serious about the art of music. Having said that, one doesn't have to be making money or even performing in front of others to be a musician. For all practical purposes, you could just be doing it as a hobby. But, you are still doing the art of music!

To belabor this point a little more, you don't hear someone who paints or draws referred to as a dabbler or scribbler, so let's get past that notion of what a musician is or is not.

Now that the air has been cleared, if you are seriously wanting to be a musical artist, then why not learn more about the craft? Sure, you can sit down and play a song on guitar or piano and that's great. You could even sing tunes to the radio.

But, and this is important, if you really want to learn a craft, why not study how it works? That's where this blog comes in.

Now that we've gotten some of the important details out of the way, the next step is to talk about music theory.

One of the most influential composers and professors was Walter Piston. Every music student is or should be aware of his definitive writings on music theory. His book 'Harmony' is the musician's bible of music theory and composition.

I was utterly fascinated when I first read his book in my music theory classes. His writing style is straightforward and written in a down-to-earth form that doesn't patronize or belittle the reader.

When I wrote the document I mentioned above for other musicians I was working with, I referred to his book in terms of scale structures:

'Scales are the organizational representation of a key signature. For example, in the key of C major which has no sharps or flats, there are eight tones in a C major scale. They are arranged in steps like so:

C –whole- D –Whole- E –Half- F –Whole- G –Whole- A –Whole- B –Half- C

The indication of whole or half between the tones represents the steps or frets between each note. Therefore, this is a C-natural scale. As Walter Piston states in his book called ‘Harmony’:

“It is customary to refer to the scale degrees by Roman numerals:

  1. Tonic (the key – note)

  2. Supertonic (the next step above the tonic)

  3. Mediant (halfway from the tonic to the dominant)

  4. Subdominant (as far below the tonic as the dominant is above it)

  5. Dominant (actually a dominant element in the key)

  6. Submediant (halfway down from the tonic to subdominant)

  7. Leading – tone (with melodic tendency toward the tonic)"'

Let's call it a day on music theory for now. Next week I'm going to write more about this subject. It should be fun AND engaging!

#Instruction #Musicians #artistry