In this introduction to Western Music Theory we will cover the following topics:
- Musical Alphabet-Note Names
- Enharmonic notes-Why do we call a note a sharp or flat
- Musical steps
- The Major Scale
- The Minor Scale
- Musical Intervals
The Musical Alphabet
The Western Musical alphabet consists of 12 notes, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#. All notes labeled with #’s can also be express as flats(b) of the note above it. For example A# can be referred to as Bb, D# as Eb etc. Notes that share the same name are referred to as enharmonic notes.
The use of an enharmonic note is determined by the Key Signature (the parent key that the note belongs to). We will review this in further detail later but for now it's important to understand why common musical language uses a sharp or flat. Below is the circle of 5ths(thanks wikiepedia)and a table of "Keys" and the notes in that key.
Notes that are positioned next to each other are referred to as half steps. Half steps naturally occur between the B and the C and E and F notes, whereas all other notes have a note (sharp or flat) in between them. Look at the keyboard below for a visual clue how this works.
Whole steps occur when there is one note between two keys, for example in the keyboard above there are whole steps between C and D, C# and D#, D and E, etc.
The Major Scale
Let's now look at one of the fundamental building blocks of Western Music Theory, the Major Scale. This is a diatonic (7 note) scale that begins again on its’ eighth note one octave higher. When learning basic scale theory we usually use the Key Of C as there are naturally no sharps or flats in its’ major scale. The chart below shows the Major Scale in the Key of C and includes the Note Name, Scale Step, Interval, Western Solfeggio syllables used in Sight Singing as well as the East-Indian Swara syllables. A further explanation of intervals follows the scale charts.
|Interval||Root||Major 2nd||Major 3rd||Perfect 4th||Perfect 5th||Major 6th||Major 7th||Octave|
One way scales are usually taught for memorization is to look at where the "half-steps" occur. If we look at the above piano we will observe that there are no notes (black keys) in between the b & c, and e & f keys. This is the same for all major scales, so if we think of the scale in terms of the numbered intervals, whole steps occur between the 1st & 2nd, 2nd & 3rd, 4th & 5th, 5th & 6th & 6th & 7th scale degrees. Half-steps occur between the 3rd & 4th and 7th and 8th scale degrees.
The Minor Scale
The minor scale is another diatonic scale that is the other predominant scale in Western Music as well as theory. The A minor scale shares the same notes as the C Major scale so we’ll use that as the root.
|Interval||Root||Major 2nd||Minor 3rd||Perfect 4th||Perfect 5th||Minor 6th||Minor 7th||Octave|
|Swara||Sa||Re||Komal Ga||Ma||Pa||Komal Di||Komal Ni||Sa|
Looking at this scale we see there are half steps between the 2nd and 3rd and 5th and 6th notes of the scale.
An interval in musical terms is the distance between two given notes. Earlier I stated how two notes that are next to each other are a “half-step” apart, when two notes are directly next to each other they are referred to as a “minor second”. Two notes that are two half steps apart from each other are also a “whole step” apart from each other and this interval is a Major Second. 4ths and 5ths are referred to as perfect intervals while 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths are referred to as major or minor. The chart below shows the 13 different types of intervals there are split up between the 8 different notes of the musical alphabet.
|Unison||0 steps, same note|
|Minor Second (m2)||1/2 step|
|Major Second (M2)||1 whole step|
|Minor third (m3rd)||1 1/2 steps|
|Major Third||2 whole steps|
|Perfect Fourth (P4)||2 1/2 steps|
|Tri-tone (flatted 5th or raised 4th)||3 whole steps|
|Perfect 5th||3 1/2 steps|
|Minor Sixth (m6)||4 whole steps|
|Major Sixth (M6)||4 1/2 steps|
|Minor 7th||5 whole steps|
|Major 7th (M7)||5 1/2 steps|
|Octave (P8)||6 whole steps|