The study of how music works, seeking to identify structures and patterns in music.

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What gives a piece of music its personality and feeling?

What makes a piece of music sound angry, dark, sad, happy, or otherwise? "La Chute" by Yann Tiersen sounds so angry to me and "A Dark Knight" from "The Dark Knight" movie sounds so dark and ...
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1answer
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What does it mean to play in an 'arpeggiated' style on the guitar?

I sometimes hear a guitar player described as having an 'arpeggiated' style, such as Peter Buck of R.E.M. I know that an arpeggio is the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th of a scale, but exactly what does it ...
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3answers
575 views

Circle of fourths in Jazz

I read on Wikipedia that the circle of fourths (as opposed to circle of fifths) is preferred in the analysis of Jazz music. Why is this so? Are the any good examples to explain this?
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6answers
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My ear is not very well trained - what can I look for as easy hints when trying to identify a ii-V-I progression in blues music?

I'm looking to learn how to better analyze music I am listening to, and I'm having problems identifying ii-V-I progressions, especially when they're the basis for improvisation. What are some hints or ...
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3answers
777 views

Score analysis: Minuet in G Minor BWV Anh 115

The piece modulates from G minor to Bb major between the bars 12-14 but I don't know how to mark these chords as they have B natural in them, which doesnt't belong neither to G minor nor Bb major. So, ...
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1answer
173 views

What are the significant schools of 20th century music theory?

I'm reading the following paper, Lerdahl, F. (1988). Tonal pitch space. Music Perception, 315-349. I'm interested in comparing what is written here with other equivalent theories. Some of these ...
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What online resources should I use to learn harmony and musical analysis?

I had some harmony courses and I want to learn some more about it. Ideally, I am looking for is a KhanAcademy-like website about harmony and musical analysis. If that doesn't exist, where else should ...
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9answers
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Why is there a key signature if I never play those notes?

I'm just getting back to playing on keyboard. I'm trying to play "Ode to Joy" from the piano sheet but I have a basic question. At the beginning of some staffs, on the right of the treble clef I can ...
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The differences between natural, harmonic and melodic minors

I'm studying scales and came across the natural, harmonic, and melodic minors. I understand the patterns for each scale but what other important differences exist between the three?
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7answers
679 views

How to figure out what key a piece is in?

I am trying to write a guitar accompaniment to the piece "Fair and Tender Ladies". But I have no clue what I need to do to figure out what key that piece is in. Also, the instrument playing the ...
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3answers
876 views

Why do we need modes?

We don't play scales, we play music. The notes we play and the order is based on sound and emotion. Then why is it that if the notes are the same for all of the derived modes, why do we need modes? ...
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When playing in a minor key, will the chords be minor as well?

I've been jumping into music theory myself and I've been stumbling on creating certain melodies and such. I've played guitar all my teenage life and not once have I ever sat down and said I'm going to ...
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Melody improvisation over chords

My question deals with what scale to play over a given chord progression. For example, consider a progression containing I,II,IV,V in C. I.e., the rhythm guitar is playing C, Dmin, F, and G... My ...
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4answers
863 views

What makes a song sound “folk-y”?

Are there distinctive traits (melodies, scales, chord progressions, rhythm, techniques) that set the genre of folk music apart?
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2answers
4k views

Do all chords in a progression usually fit within a scale

I am wondering if when writing a chord progression, all the notes fit within a single scale. If not, what is the logic behind chord progressions?
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864 views

Can music theory help hobbyist instrumentalist get better at playing?

For hobbyists who don't plan to write songs, is it worth to invest their time to study music theory rather than get better at playing? I sometimes wonder how given piece is it structured, especially ...
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737 views

“slash” chords, e.g. B/F♯ - are these only for inversions, or can any note be the bass note?

I'm trying to work out whether it is technically correct to have a "slash" chord where the bass note is not one of the notes in the chord. I thought the main reason for slash chords is to show which ...
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5answers
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What is a 13th chord?

For example an F13. How do you find the 13th note?
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4answers
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What makes a song a “rock” song?

I mean, sometimes I'm not completely sure when a song is a "rock song" or when it is from another music genre or even a "something-rock" song, how do you recognize it?? is it some bass rithm? some ...
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2answers
552 views

How to interpret a switch from Em (Aeolian) to Bm?

I'm self taught, so I know just a few things on scales and modes, some probably wrong. So the other day I was composing a new song. I believe it starts in E minor, as I was playing over the Chords Em ...
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3answers
843 views

Pentatonic scale with a sharpened 2nd note, any name?

I was messing with the A minor pentatonic scale and discovered that if I sharpen the 2nd note of the scale, it sounds very interesting to my ears, even more than the original scale. Does this already ...
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1answer
433 views

What is a Neapolitan 6th?

In studying music theory I have hear the term Neapolitan 6th a quite few times, but I don't know what it is. What is a Neapolitan 6th and how is it used in a composition?
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4answers
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What are the benefits of determining form before composing?

I've heard time and time again of composers who say "It is better [for beginners] to know your form, and have a general idea of important chord progressions before you begin thinking seriously about ...
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1answer
293 views

What are some good/interesting ways to exit a circle of fifths section?

Circle of 5ths is in tons of chord progressions, sounds nice and 'easy', etc. But if you keep going on it the song can sound unreasonably predictable. What are some good ways to use a little bit of ...
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4answers
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Music Theory for a Beginning Drummer

I've been learning Drums for the past few months (lifelong dream, and I should have my very own kit in 36 hours or so! \o/) and my teacher has been teaching me how to sight-read. I'm doing quite well ...
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3answers
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How do you know what beat to emphasize based on the time signature?

In learning the guitar I have run across various time signatures. In each time signature it seems as if you are supposed to emphasize different beats. Is this something that you just have to intuit, ...
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261 views

Do songs written in certain modes not have keys?

Up until recently I thought that if a song was written in a mode with a major 3rd, then it was in a major key, and if it was in a mode with a minor 3rd, then it was in a minor key. But I read an ...
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1answer
133 views

What are the fundaments of Harmolodics?

Ornette Coleman has developed a framework for his ideas called Harmolodics. It is somewhat hard to understand what this constitutes though. It is stated that melody, harmony and rhythm are equally ...
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1answer
245 views

When did keyboard partitions start to use the G-clef for the upper staff ?

When you look at very old sheetmusic (for harpsichord or organ), you see that the upper staff has a C-clef, first line. The lower one is the familiar bass F-clef, fourth line. Why and when did the ...
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7answers
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Why is the highest frequency on a piano 4186 Hertz?

The human hearing range is between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. The lowest frequency on a piano is 27.5 Hz, which is almost at the start of the human hearing range. However, the highest frequency on a piano ...
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481 views

How to know if it's a mode or scale?

How do I differentiate between modes? Suppose a person is playing "D Dorian". How do I know that it's "D Dorian" and not "C Major/Ionian" or "E Phrygian" and so on, and in fact "A natural minor" ...
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2answers
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Can an accidental carry over to the next measure?

I have been practicing this piece (The Stars and Stripes Forever) for a while. On the first note of the second measure of the second line, there is a natural sign. I have always understood accidentals ...
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4answers
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What do the 3/4 and 4/4 numbers mean?

In music notation, I've always been looking for a simple explanation of those numbers that appear on the far left of musical piece, such as 3 over 4 or 4 over 4. I have a hunch they affect the ...
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4answers
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How to know which scale a song uses?

I have a song in my mind, and I want to play it on the guitar. I know how scales are made (full and half steps), and I can recognize whether the next note is higher or lower in a song (not ...
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5answers
543 views

Collective word for sharps and flats in the key signature

On a mailing list I'm subscribed to, someone recently asked what the collective name was in English for the sharps and flats you find in the key signature. Apparently, the closest translation from ...
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3answers
549 views

How can I easily translate between a key and a key signature?

Is there a good mnemonic or trick for working out the key signature from a given key? I can always write out the chromatic scale, then count out the appropriate intervals from the tonic, and figure ...
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4answers
318 views

What is this type of shift called?

In a lot of (usually electronic) music, I notice a section of music that seems to shift up a number of notes and continue with a similar melody in a way that greatly emphasizes the melody. Does this ...
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4answers
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Music Theory: Frequencies related to playing a note on guitar

I am studying the physics related to playing guitar. I need to understand the relationship between the fundamental frequency of a guitar string and its harmonics. For e.g., the top string has the ...
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2answers
172 views

What is the difference between the classical and contemporary method of teaching instruments?

Ever since I learned that you could learn to play instruments through a classical or contemporary method, and that musical teachers are taught classically or contemporarily, I've been asking myself ...
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537 views

Theory of improvisation

I am looking for improvisation theory ressources. I mainly focus on free jazz and improvised music but I am also interested in dance, drama and pictural improvisation. I want to know if a ...
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3answers
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What time signatures are used in flamenco and related styles?

Recently I've been trying to get some flamenco spirit into my playing. I've already experimented with some 'gypsy' scales and it feels good ... but I've also realized that part of the secret is in ...
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3answers
270 views

Interval of a 4th above the bass

As I was studying music theory (harmonizing a melody in particular) I got confused with the statement: The interval of a 4th above the bass is considered dissonant and must resolve down by ...
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2answers
243 views

Harmony and roman numeral analysis: how to deal with chromaticism?

I recently started playing piano. While learning and performing new pieces, I found that it helps me a lot to have some certainty of what's going on with the notes, the chords, and the harmony. I ...
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1answer
146 views

Trumpet improv harmonics?

So I have no background in music theory, only basic knowledge from junior high band, but I've recently started playing trumpet with some friends and I've noticed that when I try to improvise, if I ...
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4answers
331 views

Guide-lines for creating a simple chord-progression?

I am working on a computer program that generates a simple melody, based on a simple chord progression of four chords taken from the 7 triads of the C Major scale. The program is also supposed to ...
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2answers
212 views

Alto singing Tenor

I am currently musically directing a community theater production of Sweeney Todd. We have cast a female to play the part of Toby, and in the song "Not While I'm Around", she is not able to achieve ...
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1answer
329 views

Why is Italian the standard for expressive markings in music?

I was reading through the music for Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy a few days ago and I realized that I am often surprised when I see expressive markings (dynamics, tempo, accents and the like) that ...
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718 views

What makes african blues so distinctive?

When you listen to the music by Ali Farka Toure, Rokia Traore, Afel Bocoum and other african blues artists you can recognize it in a second. What is it what makes the african blues so distinctive? Is ...
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4answers
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Capitalization of key names (C Minor vs. c minor)

I was taught when I was young that minor key names should be written with the note in lowercase, as well as the word "minor". Nowadays on recordings, etc., I usually see both capitalized. What was ...
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Was the pitch A given that letter because the minor key was originally the “basic” mode?

It's something that's puzzled me; The key that has no sharps and no flats, in essence the "basic" key, is C Major. Well, fine, but why C? Why not label that key and note A, if it's the foundation of ...