Hot answers tagged

93

This requires an excursion into musical history. Originally, instruments were made to simply play notes that sounded "right" together. Why some notes sounded right and others wrong wasn't of great concern for most of humanity's history, until Pythagoras, (yes, the guy with the theorem) noticed that it had to do with intervals, and made a music theory based ...


80

My father was a French horn player for the New York Phil and later the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was a rare day when he didn’t go down to the basement and play a series of scales and arpeggios, sometimes for extended periods. I talked to him about it, but years ago so I can’t tell you if the following thoughts are his or mine: There’s a lot of repetition in ...


73

Pretty basic and simple. Each key has 7 notes, with a different letter name for each. A B C D E F G but not always starting on A!! Let's take Gmajor G A B C D E F G - except the F needs to be F#. So far so good with your idea. Let's take Fmajor. F G A A# C D E F. Oops, there are two A notes - and no B. Try writing it out on the lines and spaces we call ...


72

The keys are only identical on equal-tempered instruments, but that's most modern western instruments like pianos. Wind instruments other than the trombone are built to be (mostly) equal tempered [EDIT: I might be simplifying too much here, see David's comment below], but the players can bend pitches somewhat. The trombone, all non-fretted string instruments,...


68

Often it has to do with altering notes in a key that are already sharpened or flattened, such as a harmonic minor in a key where the 7th is a sharp. Take G♯ minor: You could write F♯♯ (or F𝄪) as a G, but then your scale would have no F note in it but two different G's. Every time you put down an G note, you'd have to attach a ...


63

A pitch is a particular frequency of sound, for example 440 Hz. Wikipedia goes into a lot of detail about how pitch is subjective, and frequency is objective; the frequency that you think you hear (the pitch) might not be the real frequency at all, due to overtones (see below) and other factors. You can read that article for more details, though for our ...


63

Do-re-mi-etc. is "sol-fa" or "solfege". Sol-fa represents a major scale, with Do being the first note, Re being the second, and so on. I'm sure you can sing that scale. The A-G note names are absolute names for a certain note. An 'A' is an 'A' no matter what key you are performing in. There are two variants of sol-fa. Fixed do and Movable do. Fixed do ...


59

NReilingh gave a good general-case answer. I'll give you a specific case just to demonstrate that the concept is useful. First consider a C major chord. C-E-G, right? Then you make it into a minor chord by flattening the third, to get C-E♭-G. So far, so good. Now, consider an A♭ major chord: it's spelled A♭-C-E♭. But what happens when ...


57

You’ve discovered a very deep fact about music that is referred to as “mode.” It isn’t ridiculous at all to say that the same notes can have a different emotional quality depending on how you use them, in fact that’s a huge part of what composition is about! Most western composers use the same twelve notes to express everything from rage to joy to anhedonia. ...


54

Yes, there are ways to measure it, though there are many different algorithms claiming to be more correct than the others. This formula by Vassilakis is recent (2007). These measure "roughness", which is similar to dissonance. (Dissonance is basically roughness, but weighted towards certain intervals due to cultural conditioning, which is obviously hard ...


54

I'm told that my great-grandmother, a professional pianist, practiced her scales for some hours each day. I don't think that you're "ever done," unless you've decided to quit playing. As with any sort of athlete, you have to practice to keep your skills sharp, and scales are one of the best exercises to do. You could probably substitute other exercises, ...


52

tl;dr People don't like it because they don't actually know what it is. There has been and will always be a stigma against music theory and studying it. Some of the reasons I've heard on this very site are: Music is artistic and no theory can explain art. It makes you think rather than play. X musician doesn't know theory so I don't have to. There are ...


51

See the section on tuning systems on Wikipedia for some background. In short, most intervals do not sound best on equally-tempered scales (where the distance between any two consecutive half steps is the same) but on ones where the notes vary in distance. For instance, fifths usually sound the most in tune when the frequencies are in a 2:3 ratio. Because ...


51

This question on math.se is quite similar to what you're asking and the answers give a lot of detail: Mathematical difference between white and black notes in a piano? What's going on here is a massively convenient mathematical coincidence: several of the powers of 2^(1/12) happen to be good approximations to ratios of small integers, and there are ...


50

Yes, you're right. As for why the harmonic series doesn't produce notes that work in all keys, the simple answer is that the math just doesn't add up. Let's work out the math for just intonation: Suppose you choose X Hz for the fundamental frequency and go from there. Then the octave above the fundamental should have frequency 2X Hz. Meanwhile, the ...


50

Jazz is an unbelievably expansive genre with over 100 years of musical tradition; a big part of this tradition is an ever-increasing list of sub-genres that fall under the larger umbrella term of "jazz." Your "(I'm guessing it is)" is encouraging; it suggests you realize it's maybe a little silly to think you can mimic such a broad tradition by "just ...


49

Put it in key A. That's I, and D is IV, while E is V. The slightly awkward G is said to be a borrowed chord, from, in this case, A minor, the parallel key. It's theory, an observation, not a rule, and obviously it works, not only in your song, but many, many others. The reason A seems better is that the E at the end of four bars (I guess) is the dominant, ...


47

Scales are important for a guitarist, just as learning good grammar is important to speaking properly. If you are intent on "playing" guitar then learning the language of music is going to be inevitable. From my own personal and teaching standpoint, guitar music should start with Chords. As opposed to notes. To me they are the most practical form of ...


47

'Dorian mode on C' does not mean "the Dorian scale that you can find among the notes that are available in the major key of C"! 'Dorian mode on C' refers to the Dorian scale, or set of note intervals, that start on the note C, i.e. C is its root or tonic. This set of notes happens to be the same as the ones found in the Bb major key, thus two flats. This is ...


45

First, a key is only really a basis. You can have an F# in a piece written in C Major without having the piece "switch" keys. Second, keys are defined arbitrarily. Sure there is theory about what sounds good and that sort of thing, but at the end of the day it's just a group of notes that's just as valid as any other group of notes. This is made clear by ...


45

First off, for any melody that stays within a key, you have about a 1/7 chance of any random note you guess being the next note. Second, there are popular melody patterns and techniques, and sometimes the chords being played will suggest likely places for the melody to go. Depending on the chords and the harmony, you may be instinctively understanding that ...


44

I think the author of that Wikipedia page has rather misinterpreted Nancarrow's title page for the Study (linked on Roland Bouman's comment to the question). (1/√π)/√⅔ refers to a tempo ratio between two voices, not a time signature. Nancarrow was rather obsessed with canons. The canon is a form where multiple voices each play the same music at some time ...


44

The left hand is in treble clef.


44

It's because in music, when you're talking about intervals, you count the first note, all notes in between, as well as the final note. For example, if you play two notes that are right next to each other, the interval is a second - even though the second note is just "one note" away from the first. In fact, if you play the same note at the same time, it's ...


42

Music, as an art, is in the ear of the listener. As a musician, I can say there are definitely times when a song sounds "better" in one key than another. The primary reason this is so is when the key fits the "natural" range of a singer or instrument. A song may sound perfect when sung by a female alto, but as those notes sung verbatim would be at the top ...


42

In classical theory, the necessity or lack thereof of a particular chord member is generally determined by the note's tendency to lead to another note. That tendency comes most often from the interval of an augmented fourth or diminished fifth. Enharmonically, those intervals are the same, but in context, they are not, and they resolve differently. In a "...


42

"Modal" and "tonal" both describe works that: have one defined "home" pitch, or "tonal center," around which the melody and harmony are based; have only one tonal center at a time, though that tonal center can change throughout a piece; and use a seven-note diatonic scale as their pitch collections. The difference between modal and tonal are in the ...


41

The reason there are multiple names for notes is that the same note may function differently in different contexts. If you just play a single note with no context, then it could have a multitude of different names. For example if you played the note in between F and G you could call it F# or Gb or more obscurely E## or Abbb. They are all valid names and are ...


40

The TL;DR answer: Some instrument families (saxophones, clarinets, double reeds) have variants which change the instrument range by something other than an octave. To make it easy to switch between instruments in the same family, the parts for these instruments are transposed so the same written note has the same fingering, but produces a different actual ...


40

Anacrusis (pickup) is a bit more rhythmic than melodic. Hearing it seems easy to my musical brain, but I can understand how it would not be easy for others. Most music has a set rhythm, which we can understand in its simplest form by saying there is a fairly low number (most commonly 4), to which one can repeatedly count while listening to a piece of music, ...


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