Good after evening and welcome to…
Something a little more educational.
By popular demand (1.2 people) I have decided to write a little bit on the very basics of music theory, a subject equally joyous as hateful in my heart.
I love theory, when I’m confused about something I’m playing, or listening to, and need some kind of written explanation for me to follow, and attempt to clarify things.
I hate theory when someone needs me to solve it, like an algebraic equation. Because let me tell you, all those sciencey people out there, who say that music is like maths are 400% correct. So, let’s start with the easy bits.
Imagine a piano. You got the white buttons and the black buttons. These are called keys, and the sound they make are called notes. Yes, we are going this basic.
Each note has a name, or rather a letter attributed to it. These range from A to G. Now, the easiest way to understand these notes is actually to begin with C. Absurd, I know. But, so long as you realise that the alphabet doesn’t have to be in the order that we’ve arranged it, this’ll seem normal in no time.
So we begin with C. In fact, let’s begin with middle C, also known as C3. This is because it’s the third instance of the note C, on a piano.
How can you tell?
An interval of 8 notes.
So, from the furthest left of the piano, the lowest notes, we find C0 (yeah, go with me on this), and if you count, starting with C0 as 1, up the notes to the 8th note, you’ll get C1. Octave simply means there are 8 notes between the two name notes, whether they are being played simultaneously, or one after the other.
So starting from C0, if we go up 3 octaves we find C3. So now we have middle C. It’s not that important to start here, but vocally it’s the most comfortable to sing, and it’s also easier to listen to.
So from C3 to C4 we can play an 8 note scale. The C major scale.
This is great. You’re doing great. You can play lots of songs using this scale alone.
Mostly nursery rhymes, and maybe a few pop songs, but hey, that’s already more than 10.
You’re now pretty much all set to play music.
But wait, there’s more.
So you can play a major scale now? Congratulations (on having the super ability of following my vague instruction manual). Why don’t we try something a little more interesting, like, say… a minor scale.
Not to be confused with an A minor scale which is a specific set of notes.
Are you confused yet?
Good. You’ll want to get used to that.
So, let’s use that exact example. An A minor scale.
The simple difference between a major and a minor scale is how it sounds. A major scale sounds happy and a minor scale sounds sad. Easy, yes?
Try it out (I’ve been assuming you have a piano, of some description, to hand this whole time. I’m sorry if you don’t but music theory isn’t much use without having the practical element beside it). Now that you’re an expert on finding middle C or C3, work your way backwards to find A3. This isn’t called middle A. I mean, it could be called that, if you wanted to, but as C is the easiest scale to play, the entire universe is centred around it. So, now we have A3, yes? As with the C major scale, all you need to do is play the white notes up 8 notes. This is the A minor scale, which is a minor scale (I’m sorry).
You’ll notice it sounds different to the C major scale. Not only because it’s slightly lower in pitch (pitch being how high or low a note is) but it also sounds…weird. But it’s a nice weird. It’s a sad weird. It’s sad. But now you have a sad scale you can play to show off how much depth you truly have in your soul and feelings.
Go back to C3 and play the major scale.
Go again to A3 and play the minor scale.
Isn’t it an interesting contrast?
I can hear the inquisitive of you asking, “but Fenwick; what about those pesky black notes that just seem to be in the way, and every time I play one by accident, things start sounding really odd?”
“That’s a really long question.” I reply, more amused with myself than anyone who heard me. “Those are called the Groovy Notes (they’re not) but we’ll leave those for another day.”
And so we did. Just play around with your major and minors for now, and we’ll have a look at those weird short keys another day.
P.S. If you did, in fact, play any of this out on a piano, but noticed no difference in what you were playing, I’m truly sorry. Maybe knitting is more your forte?
I will not apologise for that awful, awful pun.