An introduction to music theory

Composition, analysis, education, listening, notation, theory

An introduction to music theory

Postby JumpingJackFlash » Sat, 20 Jan 2007 9:31 am

This is intended as a simple guide for the beginner, covering the basics of music theory. It also overlaps to cover areas of notation and harmony. If the mods find it worthy, maybe they could make it a sticky?

Tones and Semitones

A semitone is the smallest distance between any two consecutive notes (higher or lower). The octave is divided into 12 semitones. Eg. C to C# is one semitone. Gb to G natural is one semitone. D to Eb is one semitone. E to F is one semitone (because there is no separate note for E#).

A tone is two semitones. Eg. C-D, F#-G#, E-F#.

Sharps and Flats

A sharp (#) raises a note by one semitone.
A flat (b) lowers a note by one semitone.
A double sharp (X) raises a note by two semitones (one tone).
A double flat (bb) lowers a note by two semitones (one tone).
A natural cancels out a sharp or flat.

Scales

The two most common scales now used in Western music are the Major and Minor scales. They are named after the note they start on. This note is referred to as the 'tonic'. Major and Minor scales have 7 different notes before ending up back on the tonic again (an octave higher).

Starting from the tonic and moving upwards, major scales all have the pattern of intervals:
Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone.
(Eg. C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C).

Natural minor scales all have the pattern:
Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone.
(Eg. A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A).

Note though, that the minor scale comes in different forms. In the harmonic minor (which is perhaps most common), the 7th of the scale is raised by one semitone. Thus the pattern becomes: Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone+Semitone, Semitone. (Eg. A,B,C,D,E,F,G#,A).

The melodic minor is more tricky. When going up, the 6th and 7th of the scale are both raised by one semitone. (Thus, the pattern becomes Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone). When going down however, the 6th and 7th are lowered back to normal, and you play it exactly the same as the natural minor.

The chief difference between major and minor is the third of the scale. In a major key the third is 4 semitones above the root, in a minor key the third is 3 semitones above the root.

The key of a piece indicates the scale around which the piece is written. (For example, a piece in the key of C major typically revolves around the C major scale).

Each note of the scale has a different technical name. In both major and minor scales:
1st of the scale = Tonic
2nd of the scale = Supertonic
3rd of the scale = Mediant
4th of the scale = Subdominant
5th of the scale = Dominant
6th of the scale = Submediant
7th of the scale = Leading Note

These names are also applied to the chords build up from the different notes of the scale, thus for example the 'Subdominant Triad' refers to the triad build up on the 4th degree of the scale.

(A triad is a 3 note chord made up of two superimposed 3rds (root, 3rd and 5th). Triads can be major, minor, diminished or augmented - more on that later.)

Written music

In all music, you will see something like this at the start:
Image

Note, the five horizontal lines like this on which music is written is called the stave or the staff.
At the start of each stave you will see a clef. This indicates the pitch range of the stave (which notes go where).

Today, four different clefs are used: Treble, Alto, Tenor and Bass:
Image
Note, the note shown is middle C in all cases.

The treble and bass clefs are most common, but violas, cellos, trombones and bassoons all make use of some of the others.

The Treble clef is also called a 'G clef', because the end of the squiggle always indicates where the note G is written.
The Bass clef is also called an 'F clef' because the line in-between the 2 dots indicates where the note F is written.
The Alto and Tenor clefs are also called 'C clefs' because the middle of the clef indicates where middle C is written.

Note that when a line is added below or above the stave (such as middle C in Treble and Bass clefs), this extra line is known as a ledger line (sometimes spelt without the d). In times gone by, different clefs were chosen to minimise the number of ledger lines needed (although, these days, ledger lines are quite common).

In Treble clef, from bottom to top, the notes on the lines are: E,G,B,D,F, and the notes in the spaces are F,A,C,E.
In Bass clef, from bottom to top, the notes on the lines are: G,B,D,F,A, and the notes in the spaces are A,C,E,G.

You can also sometimes get Octave Clefs. These are indicated by a small '8' above or below the clef. - This means the music should be played one octave higher (if above the clef), or one octave lower (if below the clef) than written. (Note though, these are rare and instruments such as Double Bass and Piccolo which naturally sound an octave lower or higher than written do NOT need the use of such clefs).

(Remember one octave is 8 notes (12 semitones); the difference between one note and the same note higher or lower on the keyboard).

Note, the clef at the far right of the above diagram is used for unpitched percussion. For this, pitch is not relevant so any of the other clefs would be inappropriate.

Key signatures
A key signature indicates the number of sharps OR flats in the prevailing key. Every key signature has one major key and one minor key associated with it. With minor keys, the key signature gives you the natural minor. Any raised 6ths or 7ths are NOT part of the key signature (and are instead included as accidentals).

A key signature is generally written on every line of the music. If the music does not have a key signature, it is either in C major, A minor, or it is Atonal (no prevailing key). Note, sharps are always added in the order F,C,G,D,A,E,B. And flats are always added in the order B,E,A,D,G,C,F.

I have already written about key signatures in this thread, so look there for further details.

An accidental is a sharp (#), flat (b) or natural sign written just before a note (indicating to raise or lower that note by a semitone). (They could also be a double sharp or double flat sign - see above). Accidentals are usually a temporary thing, and they are not part of the key signature (they may be foreign to the key). An accidental lasts for the entire duration of the bar in which it occurs. For example, once you have played one F# in a bar, every other F in that bar should also be sharpened unless counteracted with a natural sign. In the next bar, any previous accidentals are automatically cancelled out (unless a note with an accidental is tied over from the previous bar, in which case the accidental applies to the tied note also).

Time Signature

The time signature indicates the metre of the music. It usually consists of 2 numbers, the top number represents the number of beats in a bar, and the bottom number represents the 'type' of beat, expressed as a fraction of a semibreve (whole note).
Simple time signatures are where the basic beat is divisible by 2 . The basic beat is a crotchet (quarter note), which is divided into two quavers (eighth notes).
Compound time signatures are where the basic beat is divisible by 3. The basic beat is a dotted crotchet which is divided into three quavers.

1 semibreve = 2 minims = 4 crotchets = 8 quavers = 16 semiquavers etc. (regardless of time signature).
(See herodotus's thread for pictures of these notes, with both the American and British names).

Note though, sometimes you see the letter 'C' as a time signature. This means 'common time' and is essentially 4/4. The letter 'C' with a vertical line through it means 'cut time', 'cut common time', or 'alla breve', and is essentially 2/2.

Triplets are when you have 3 notes in the time of 2. Each note therefore makes up a third of the group (ie, a third of twice the note value).
Thus, crotchet triplets are 3 notes in the time of 2 crotchets (3 notes in the time of one minim - each note is 1/3 of a minim).
Quaver triplets are 3 notes in the time of 2 quavers (3 notes in the time of one crotchet - each note is 1/3 of a crotchet).

Triplet notes are written exactly as normal, except they have a little '3' above (or below) them. (Often the notes of the triplet are enclosed in a bracket or slur).

You can also get 'Quintuplets' which are 5 notes in the time of 4, 'Sextuplets' which are 6 notes in the time of 4, 'Septuplets' which are 7 notes in the time of 4 or 6, 'Nonuplets' which are 9 notes in the time of 8 etc.
Also, 'Duplets' (typically used in compound time) are 2 notes in the time of 3.

Note, any note(s) in the group may be replaced by a rest.

Intervals

An interval is the distance between any two notes (whether the notes are part of a melody or a chord).
Intervals are made up of both a number and a description.

The number is determined by the letters involved. Forget about sharps and flats for this bit, and count up how many notes there are between the two notes. - You count (include) both the starting note and the ending note. Eg. C-G involves 5 notes (C,D,E,F,G). C-G# also involves 5 notes, as does C#-G, and C#-G# (but note, C-Ab involves 6 notes not 5, even though G# and Ab are the same note).
This leaves you with a 1st (unison), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th (octave). For any interval larger than one octave, just pretend it's in the same octave and add the word 'compound' in front of the interval.

Now for the description. This is either 'Diminished', 'Minor', 'Major', 'Perfect' or 'Augmented'.

The best way of working this out if as follows:

Consider this chart:
Image

Consider the major scale of the lowest note involved (you will have to know its key signature).

For 1sts (unisons), 4ths, 5ths and 8ths (octaves): If the higher note belongs exactly to the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'perfect'.
If the higher note is a semitone higher than the note of the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'augmented' (the interval is greater).
If the higher note is a semitone lower than the note of the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'diminished' (the interval is smaller).

For example, C-G is a 5th of some sort. G fits in with C major exactly, therefore C-G is a 'perfect 5th'.
With C-G#, the G# is NOT contained within C major, it is a semitone greater than a perfect 5th, therefore it is an 'augmented 5th'.
With C-Gb, the Gb is NOT contained within C major, it is a semitone lower than a perfect 5th, therefore it is a 'diminished 5th'.

For 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths: If the higher note belongs exactly to the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'major'.
If the higher note is a semitone higher than the note of the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'augmented' (the interval is greater).
If the higher note is a semitone lower than the note of the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'minor' (the interval is smaller).
If the higher note is 2 semitones (a tone) lower than the note of the lower note's major scale, the interval is said to be 'diminished' (the interval is even smaller).

For example, C-B is a 7th. B is part of C major, therefore C-B is a 'major 7th'.
C-B#, the B# is a semitone greater than a major 7th, therefore it is an 'augmented 7th'.
C-Bb, the Bb is a semitone lower than a major 7th, therefore is it a 'minor 7th'.
C-Bbb, the Bbb (double flat) is 2 semitones lower than a major 7th, therefore it is a 'diminished 7th'.

Chords

Recall that a triad is a 3-note chord made up of a root, a 3rd above the root, and a 5th above the root.
The root is the 'tonic' of the chord; the basic note from which the other notes are derived. This is the note from which the triad is named. (Eg, in a C major triad, C is the root).

Major triads have a 'Major 3rd', and a 'Perfect 5th' above the root (see 'Intervals' above).
Minor triads have a 'Minor 3rd' and a 'Perfect 5th' above the root.
Diminished triads have a 'Minor 3rd' and a 'Diminished 5th' above the root.
Augmented triads have a 'Major 3rd' and an 'Augmented 5th' above the root.

A chord is a group of (typically 3 or more) notes sounded together. All triads are chords, but not all chords are triads.

In four-part harmony, you will obviously have to double up one note of the triad. The best note to double is the root (typically one octave higher), the next best is the 5th.

A chord in which the top three notes are as close together as possible is known as a chord in 'close position'. A chord in which the notes are more equally spread is known as a chord in 'open position'.

Chord inversions

The inversion of a chord is completely dependant on which note of the triad is the lowest note.

If the root is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in root position
If the 3rd is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in first inversion
If the 5th is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in second inversion.

Chord inversions are sometimes identified with figures representing the intervals within the chord.
Root position chords have the figure 5/3 (known as '5/3 chords') because there is a 3rd and 5th above the bass.
First inversion chords have the figure 6/3 ('6/3 chords') because there is a 3rd and a 6th above the bass.
Second inversion chords have the figure 6/4 ('6/4 chords') because there is a 4th and a 6th above the bass.

Note that the order and position of the other notes of the chord make no difference. E-G-C and E-C-G are both C major triads in first inversion. (It also doesn't matter how many notes are doubled, or how big a gap there is between notes).

Every note of every scale has a triad attached to it. These are labelled with Roman Numerals, starting with I for the Tonic Triad, and moving up to VII for the triad on the leading note (7th of the scale). I=1, II=2, III=3, IV=4, V=5, VI=6, VII=7.

In any major key, chords I, IV and V are major chords. (These are known as 'Primary Triads').
In any major key, chords II, III and VI are minor chords. (These are known as 'Secondary Triads').
In any major key, chord VII is diminished.

Chord inversions can also be indicated with a suffix to the Roman Numeral:
Root position chords add the letter 'a', 1st inversions add the letter 'b' and 2nd inversions add the letter 'c'.
Eg. IVb is chord IV in first inversion.


There. That's all for now, hopefully this will benefit someone. If anyone wants any clarifications, examples or has any questions, please let me know and I'll try to help.
JumpingJackFlash
 
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Joined: Sat, 20 Jan 2007 9:27 am

An introduction to cadences

Postby JumpingJackFlash » Sat, 20 Jan 2007 9:32 am

An introduction to cadences

This is meant as an addendum or appendix to my initial post, and I will assume you are familiar with my initial post before you read this.

A cadence is a progression of chords at the end of a musical phrase or section. Cadences provide structure to music. The strongest cadences are always in root position.

(Interesting note: Although today we think of cadences as harmonic formulae, they were originally falling melodic figures which were associated with phrase endings (kind of like the cadenza). The word actually comes from the Latin 'cado' or 'cadere' meaning to fall.)

In the past, cadences have been classified as masculine (where the final chord is on a stronger beat than the preceding chord) or feminine (where the final chord is on a weaker beat than the preceding chord). However, these terms were branded sexist and have now fallen out of general usage.

There are different types of cadence, the most frequently occurring are the perfect and imperfect cadence.

Perfect Cadence
This is the progression V-I, dominant to tonic. This is sometimes called the authentic cadence, but some people distinguish between them claiming a 'perfect cadence' is only when the root of the final chord is in the highest voice and the chords are in root position, and an 'authentic cadence' is any other V-I. Less fussy people (including myself) use the terms interchangeably. The perfect cadence sounds final, like the end of a piece. It is the musical equivalent of a full stop (or 'period' if you are American) and is sometimes called a 'full close'.

Often the progression will be strengthened by using a dominant seventh: V7-I. This adds a minor 7th above the root of V. (The 7th fits in with the key signature, it is NOT chromatic). For example, in C major, the dominant seventh is G,B,D,F. It is good part-writing to have the 7th fall a step and the leading note (the 3rd of V) rise to the tonic (1st of I).

The 7th is especially good as a passing note, passing between the root of V and the 3rd of I.

The chords preceding the V-I are also important. IV is a common chord used in elementary work (IV-V-I), but the strongest (and most frequently used) approach chord is IIb (Chord II in first inversion). This occurs in almost every kind of tonal music (IIb-V-I).

Chord IIb in this progression can be modified (and/or substituted with other similar chords) extensively. For example, simply sharpen the bass note and you get a secondary dominant. (IIb becomes V of V).
IIb can also be modified to become a Neapolitan Sixth by flattening the root and 5th in a major key (or just flattened root in a minor key).

In 4-part harmony, in the progression IIb-V, double the bass of IIb (so you are doubling the 3rd of the chord, not the root).

Another common trick with IIb in this progression involves adding a seventh to the chord. (In a similar manner to the dominant seventh; the seventh remains in key). This then becomes a secondary seventh. (For example, F,A,C,D in C major).

This makes the progression even stronger. Again, for proper part-writing the seventh should fall by step to the 3rd of V. Also, in times gone by, people would prepare the seventh. - This means, the preceding chord must include the seventh (as a consonance) in the same part. (Exactly the same as with a suspension if you know what they are). Nowadays, the seventh is not always prepared. (In fact, according to some theory, the dominant seventh should also be prepared, although this wasn't even done by Bach and his contemporaries so you certainly don't have to bother doing it now!).

Example of a perfect cadence in C major:
Image
(Note, in the final tonic chord, the 5th is omitted to avoid parallel fifths).

Another very common chord used in cadences is Ic, the cadential 6/4.
Ic is the tonic chord in second inversion. For example, in C major, it is G,C,E. Note that the bass note is the same as with chord V. In fact, Ic functions as a passing chord and is best thought of as an appoggiatura chord to the dominant. Thus, the 3rd of Ic should fall to the 5th of V, and the tonic of Ic should fall to the 3rd of V. V should not be more strongly accented than Ic. The bass of Ic may not be approached by leap from an inversion of another chord (it may only be approached by step, or possibly by leaping from a chord in root position).

If you listen to Bach, you will be able to hear a cadential 6/4 most of the time. - It is extremely common.
Ic-V-I is a good perfect cadence. (Sometimes the bass will leap down an octave from Ic to V).

Because the Ic almost functions to extend the dominant chord, the approach chord to Ic is also relevant. - You can use any of the approach chords to V that were mentioned above. For example, IV-Ic-V-I is very good, as is IIb-Ic-V-I.

As with all second inversions, in 4-part harmony you double the bass of Ic (double the 5th rather than the root).

Also note: Within the progression V7-I, there are stronger and weaker ways of writing the chords, depending on the part-writing.
The strongest progression is where the top part moves from leading note to tonic (3rd of V to tonic of I).
The next strongest is where the top part moves from the 7th of V to the 3rd of I (see example below).
The next strongest after this is where the top part moves from the 5th of V to the tonic of I.
Weaker is where the top part moves from the 5th of V to 3rd of I.
Weakest of all is where the top part remains stationary on the dominant (root of V = 5th of I).

Note though, that in the underneath parts, standard part-writing rules still apply (leading notes rise, 7ths fall).
Obviously, the strongest cadence should occur at the very end of a piece, and weaker cadences could occur at the end of intermediate sections or movements.

Example of a perfect cadence in C major:
Image

Some cadences are decorated with the use of suspensions and other non-harmony notes.

V7d-I is a good intermediate perfect cadence (with the dominant chord in third inversion - with the seventh in the bass). It sounds much less final that V7-I (in root position) and so if useful to denote the end of a section, but not the end of the whole piece.

Imperfect Cadence
This is the progression of any chord to V. This ends on the dominant chord and is also called a 'half close'. It is the musical equivalent of a comma, and usually indicates the mid-point of a phrase. It sounds unfinished - the music sounds like it wants to continue.
Commonly, I-V is used, however other possibilities include IV-V, VI-V, IIb-V and Ic-V (see above; the usage of Ic is the same as with perfect cadences).
V7, the dominant seventh, is not often used in imperfect cadences.

In classical music, you often get two phrases of approximately equal length. The first ends with an imperfect cadence, and the second ends with a perfect cadence. This creates a question-answer kind of feel. The first ('question') phrase is called the antecedent, and the second ('answer') phrase is called the consequent.

Interrupted Cadence
This is the progression of V to any chord except I. Most often it goes V-VI, and V-IVb is also fairly common. This is also known as a 'deceptive cadence' and occurs when the music seems to be heading for a nice perfect cadence, then suddenly goes elsewhere instead, creating surprise. Sometimes it is used as an alternative to an imperfect cadence, although interrupted cadences should be used sparingly.

Plagal Cadence.
This is the progression IV-I, sometimes known as a 'weak close' or 'Amen cadence' since it sounds like the 'Amen' at the end of a Hymn. Although it often occurs at the end of a piece, it is weaker than the perfect cadence and sounds less final.

Sometimes, a plagal cadence is used after a perfect cadence.
The progression IVc-I is quite common, using chord IV in second inversion (so it has the same bass as the tonic). Remember to double the bass of IVc.

Sometimes, the minor subdominant is used instead (with flattened 3rd; iv instead of IV) for chromatic colour, although this sounds even less final.


Note
The presence of the chords from any of these cadences does NOT necessarily mean that the progression is a cadence. - For example, it is quite common to have V-I in the middle of a piece without it being a perfect cadence. - Your ears will tell you when there is a cadence; remember they occur at the end of phrases.

There are other cadences too, but these are mostly off-shoots of the above and you don't need to worry about them for now.
JumpingJackFlash
 
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Postby grassnose » Sat, 20 Jan 2007 3:30 pm

Wow, bravo and much appreciation for this hefty contribution of music theory lessons to the online music community here.

awesome-O!
grassnose
 
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Location: North America

Introductory FAQ's on music theory, harmony and melody

Postby JumpingJackFlash » Sun, 04 Mar 2007 2:29 pm

Below are answers to a few Frequently Asked Questions by newcomers to music theory. They include theory, harmony and melody related areas. There is overlap with my initial post in this topic, where more information can be found. Even if you think you know all this already, I advise reading it anyway as revision; it can't hurt to make absolutely sure you've got everything right.

Q: What is a 'scale'?
A scale is a progressive sequence of notes moving upwards and/or downwards. The most common scales are The Major Scale, and The Minor Scale. Each has seven different notes spanning one octave, and is named after the note it starts on.

Q: What is an 'octave'?
An octave has 8 steps. An octave is the distance between two notes of the same name, so the note an octave above C is also C (the distance between the two C's is one octave).

Q: What is the difference between major and minor scales?
The difference is in the intervals between notes. In a major key the third note is 4 semitones above the root, in a minor key the third note is 3 semitones above the root. Starting from the 1st note and moving upwards, major scales all have the pattern of intervals: Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone. (That is, there is a semitone between the 3rd and 4th notes, as well as between the 7th and 8th notes, everything else is a tone).

Q: What is a 'semitone'?
A semitone is the smallest distance possible between any one note and the note immediately next to it (whether higher or lower). The octave is divided into 12 semitones.

Q: What is a 'tone'?
A tone is two semitones.

Q: What is an 'interval'?
An interval is the distance between two notes. With the Major scale, the pattern of intervals between the tonic and each successive note (starting with the second note and going upwards) is:
major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, major 6th, major 7th, perfect octave.
If any of these intervals is increased by one semitone, the interval becomes 'augmented'.
If the intervals of 4ths, 5ths or octaves are decreased by one semitone, the interval becomes 'diminished'.
If the intervals of 2nds, 3rds, 6ths or 7ths are decreased by one semitone, the interval becomes 'minor'.

Q: What is a 'tonic'?
The tonic is the first note of a scale, which is the note that the scale is named after. (In harmony, the tonic can also refer to the triad built from the first degree of the scale).

Q: What is a chord?
A chord is a group of notes sounded together. Usually there must be at least 3 different notes to form a chord. A triad is a particular type of chord. - All triads are chords, but not all chords are triads.

Q: What is a triad?
A triad is a three-note chord built from two sets of thirds. That is, there is a third between the 1st and 2nd notes, and another third between the 2nd and 3rd notes (thus there is a fifth between the 1st and 3rd notes). Whether these thirds are major or minor thirds will determine the nature of the triad. A triad can be built from each note of the scale. Triads consist of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a scale.

Q: What is a 'root'?
The root is the primary note of a chord or triad. - It is the note that the chord is named after. It is the lowest note of a triad when the notes are organised so there is a third between each note.

Q: What is the difference between 'tonic' and 'root'?
Sometimes there may be no difference. But 'tonic' generally refers to the first note of the overall key, whereas 'root' refers to the first note of the chord at any given point.

Q: How do I work out which notes go in which scale?
There are several methods. This post contains some information. Remember, each scale (and therefore each key) has one version of each note, and only one. That means, a key must have either A, A#, or Ab, but it cannot have more than one of these.

Q: What is a 'key'?
The key of a piece indicates the scale around which the piece is written. This in turn dictates which chords are available.

Q: How do I know which chords are available in a particular key?
Every note of the scale has a triad attached to it, - that is, every note of the scale can function as the root for a different triad. All notes of every triad must be part of the overall key. Therefore, in any major key, triads built on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale are major triads. Triads built on the 2nd, 3rd and 6th degrees of the scale are minor triads. A triad built on the 7th note of the scale is a diminished triad. (The overall pattern is thus: Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished).

Q: What is the difference between the different sorts of triad?
'Major' triads have a Major 3rd, and a Perfect 5th above the root.
'Minor' triads have a Minor 3rd and a Perfect 5th above the root.
'Diminished' triads have a Minor 3rd and a Diminished 5th above the root.
'Augmented' triads have a Major 3rd and an Augmented 5th above the root.

Q: What are 'inversions'?
An inversion of a chord (or triad) refers exclusively to which note is lowest:
If the root is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in 'root position'.
If the 3rd is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in 'first inversion'.
If the 5th is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in 'second inversion'.

Q: But triads are boring!
Triads can be extended to include other notes as well. The most obvious is adding yet another 3rd to the top of the chord (when in root position). This note is a seventh above the root, and the triad then becomes a 'seventh chord'. But I advise becoming fluent with triads before you get too adventurous.

Q: What about minor keys?
Minor keys are more complex, because there are several types of minor scale.

Q: What are the different types of minor scale?
In theory, the 'natural minor' is purely according to key signature. The 'harmonic minor' goes according to key signature but with the seventh note raised by one semitone. The 'melodic minor' goes according to key signature, but with the 6th and 7th notes both raised by one semitone when ascending, but lowered back to normal when descending.

Q: What about in practise?
In practise, music in minor keys may treat the 6ths and 7ths differently for different situations. Sometimes the 6th will be raised a semitone, sometimes the 7th will be raised a semitone, sometimes both, and sometimes neither. - In your own compositions, I would advice sticking to the harmonic minor as a sort-of default, but modifying the 6ths and 7ths according to context; as always, go with what sounds best at any given time.

Q: Is there a relationship between minor scales and major scales?
Yes, each minor scale shares the same key signature as the major scale a 'minor 3rd' higher. (And thus, each major scale shares the same key signature as the minor scale a 'minor 3rd' lower).

Q: What is a 'key signature'?
A key signature is written at the start of a every line of a piece of music. It indicates what sharps or what flats there are in the key.

Q: What are chord progressions?
A chord progression is a series of chords, one after the other.

Q: Which chord progressions sound good?
Chords whose roots are a 4th or 5th apart generally sound good. - Experiment and see what you like.

Q: Which chords sound bad?
Generally, diminished triads and augmented triads sound bad, and should be treated with care (or even avoided in elementary work).

Q: Do I have to play block chords all the time?
No. You can spread the notes of the chord around each instrument that is playing. Sometimes you will need to double one or more notes of the chord. The best note to double is the root, the next best is the fifth.

Q: Am I limited to using only notes of the chord?
No. You can experiment with other notes too. Notes that do not belong to the chord are called 'non-harmony notes'. Generally these occur either off-the beat, and/or on a weak-beat of the bar. They usually move by step to the next note (either up or down). Usually these extra notes belong to the key, even if not to the chord at that point, however, it is possible to use notes which do not belong to the key, these are called 'chromatic' notes. More information on non-harmony notes can be found here.

Q: What does 'off-the beat' mean?
The beat is given by the bottom number of the time signature. When the bottom number is 4 for example (e.g. 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4), the beat is every crotchet (quarter-note). Notes that start exactly on any of the crotchets are said to be on-the beat. Notes that start after or before the crotchets are said to be off-the beat.

Q: Which beats are strong and which are weak?
The first beat is always strong, the next is usually weak, and it generally alternates. In 4/4, beats 1 and 3 are strong, beats 2 and 4 are weak.

Q: What is a 'step'?
A step is the interval of a second; either major, minor, diminished or augmented. Thus it can be either a tone or a semitone (or, rarely, it can even be 3 semitones, as for example with the 6th to sharpened 7th notes of the harmonic minor). Usually we mean a 'diatonic step', which means it moves to the adjacent note in the scale/key (either up or down). A leap is any interval of a third or more.

Q: How do I write good melodies?
This is up to you. Generally, a good melody should have a mixture of steps and leaps.
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Postby buddhabelly » Sun, 04 Mar 2007 3:24 pm

I'm making a sticky of this for awhile. I could use the info. Thanks.
Disclaimer: I know kung fu.
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Postby addictedF00L » Wed, 07 Mar 2007 1:41 am

very nice. thanks! keep on the good work...
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Glossary of musical terms

Postby JumpingJackFlash » Fri, 11 May 2007 1:07 pm

Glossary of musical terms (theory, harmony and notation)

Have I ever mentioned a musical term that you didn't fully understand? If so, you will be pleased to know that I have compiled this glossary of musical terms, to provide simple definitions of some words which keep cropping up in this forum which might not be immediately obvious to someone with limited knowledge of music theory.

Words and terms are listed in alphabetical order and cross-referenced. - Any words in bold contain their own entry, and you can look them up separately (in fact, you should do so if you don't understand them). Although useful for a variety of purposes, this in primarily intended as a quick reference point for musical terms which I use in my posts. Therefore, the definitions listed provide the meaning and sense in which I generally use the words. In some cases, alternative definitions are possible, but these are usually irrelevant in the intended context. Also, I have avoided cluttering things up with extended explanations, examples or exceptions. - For all that stuff you should buy a proper book!

This post contains A-T. The second part, T-Z, can be found in my next post immediately below this one.

Accented: This is where a note or chord has more emphasis than other notes (or chords). This occurs naturally on the strong beats of the bar, but can also be indicated by symbols in music notation. Not unaccented.

Accidental: Sharp, flat, natural, double-sharp or double-flat signs in music. These are chromatic notes; modifications to the normal notes of the key-signature. See here for more details.

Aeolian Mode: This is the mode on the sixth note of the major scale. It is therefore identical to the ordinary natural minor.

Alto: A high male voice, or a low female voice. In four-part harmony, this refers to the second-highest voice, between the soprano and tenor, with a rough range from the G below middle-C to the C an octave above it.

Anacrusis: Where a musical piece or phrase starts with one or more unaccented notes. Usually this occurs just before the barline, as an 'upbeat'. The music effectively starts before the first bar, and the initial notes do not form a complete bar (this is made up at the end, as the phrase also generally finishes before the normal end of the last bar - the phrasing therefore overlaps the barlines).

Appoggiatura: An accented non-harmony note, resolving by step to a consonance. (Basically, an unprepared suspension or retardation). See here for more details.

Arpeggio: Similar to a chord, only with the notes played in succession rather than simultaneously (usually starting at the bottom and ascending). See here for examples.

Articulation: Markings indicating how to play notes or chords. Including the amount of attack, emphasis, and/or sustain, and the transition between consecutive notes. See here for more details.

Atonal: Music where no single prevailing key can be identified. Not tonal.

Augmented: This term can refer to a scale, chord, arpeggio or interval. Augmented triads have a major 3rd and an augmented 5th above the root. Augmented intervals are one semitone larger than perfect or major intervals.

Bar: The distance from one barline to the next. The duration of the bars is given by the Time Signature. Also called a measure.

Baroque: The period of musical history between 1600 and 1750, including music by J.S. Bach and Handel.

Bass: The lowest voice, below tenor, with a rough range from middle-C down to the F a 12th below this.

Bass Clef: The symbol at the start of the music which indicates the pitch range of the stave, and thus tells you which notes go where. From bottom to top, the notes on the lines are G, B, D, F, A, and the notes in the spaces are A, C, E, G. Also called 'F clef'. See here for more details.

Beam: A line connecting the stems of a group of quavers or smaller notes. This joins together (and replaces) the individual tails of the relevant notes. See here for more details.

Beat: The basic rhythmic pulse or metre of the music, given by the Time Signature.

Cadence: A progression of chords at the end of a musical phrase or section. See here for more details.

Cadential 6/4: A second-inversion chord used in a cadence. Typically this refers to the tonic chord, Ic, which is followed by V, to create an imperfect cadence, or a perfect cadence (if V is followed by I). Can also (less often) refer to IVc, forming a plagal cadence.

Chord: A group of (typically 3 or more) notes sounded together. All triads are chords, but not all chords are triads. See here for examples.

Chord Progression: A series of chords, one after the other.

Chromatic: Notes which are not contained within the key, the opposite of diatonic. The chromatic scale consists of every single note, moving up entirely in semitones.

Classical: The period of musical history from 1750 to around 1820 (historians argue as to the exact date the period ends), including works by Mozart and Haydn. The term 'classical' is also used more generally to refer to any (generally highbrow) music which is not in modern popular styles (thus encompassing other music periods too, such as the Baroque and Romantic).

Clef: The symbol at the start of the music which indicates the pitch range of the stave, and thus tells you which notes go where. The two most common clefs are Treble Clef and Bass Clef, although there are others.

Coda: Extra music (usually a short section), written after the normal end of the piece, to round-off and conclude the music.

Compound: Indicates something (usually an interval) larger than one octave.

Compound Time: Where the basic beat (a dotted note) is divisible by 3. See here for more details.

Conjunct: Notes move by step. The opposite of disjunct.

Consecutives: This refers to parallel fifths and/or parallel octaves.

Consonance: A consonant interval or a note forming a consonant interval with another. Also called a concord.

Consonant: A settled and stable interval or chord which is not unpleasant to the ear. The opposite of dissonant. What exactly constitutes a consonance varies considerably between different styles, cultures and time periods. Generally however, perfect fifths and octaves are the most consonant ('perfect concords'), while major and minor thirds and sixths are also usually consonant ('imperfect concords').

Contrapuntal: Two or more independent parts, moving in different rhythms with each other, sometimes inter-playing. Often these parts are of equal importance, - they all sound good in their own right. The harmony is generally a by-product of the part-writing. Also called polyphonic.

Contrary Motion: Where two or more parts move in opposite directions. - One goes up while the other goes down.

Counterpoint: The relationship between (or the art of combining) two or more independent melodic lines. Music written in this way is said to be contrapuntal, or polyphonic.

Crotchet: A filled-in note with a stem, lasting for two quavers or half a minim. Also called a Quarter Note.

Diatonic: Using only notes which are contained within the key. The opposite of chromatic.

Diminished: This term can refer to a scale, chord, arpeggio or interval. Diminished triads have a minor 3rd and a diminished 5th above the root. The diminished scale is made up of alternate tones and semitones (usually in that order, but occasionally semitone-tone is used) Every other note forms the notes of a diminished seventh chord. Diminished intervals are one semitone smaller than perfect or minor intervals. See here for more details.

Diminished Seventh: This is a four-note chord, with a minor third (3 semitones) between each note. (So, a diminished triad with an added diminished seventh above the root).

Disjunct: Notes move by leap. The opposite of conjunct.

Dissonance: A dissonant interval or a note forming a dissonant interval with another. Also called a discord.

Dissonant: An unsettled tension or clash resulting from two or more notes that, by themselves, are not generally pleasing to the ear. This is the opposite of consonant, and can refer to an interval or chord, or even the general characteristics of a particular melodic line. What exactly constitutes a dissonance varies considerably between different styles, cultures and time periods. The term is often used in diatonic tonal music to refer to notes which are not contained within the basic prevailing harmony at any given point. In classical music, dissonant notes were required to be prepared and/or resolve correctly. Generally, seconds and sevenths are usually dissonant, fourths are also considered dissonant in some styles of music.

Dominant: The fifth note of the scale, or a triad built using this note as the root.

Dominant Seventh: The fifth chord in a key (always a major triad), with an added minor seventh above the root (V7).

Dorian Mode: This is the mode on the second note of the major scale. It is therefore the natural minor scale with sharpened sixth.

Dot: A dot adds half the value to the thing immediately before it (to its left). A note or rest with a dot is said to be 'dotted'. Properly called an Augmentation Dot. This is not the same thing as staccato. See here for more details.

Dynamics: The volume of the music; how loud it is, and if there is any change to this. See here for more details.

Enharmonic: A note, chord or key which can be interpreted in different chromatic spellings, but sounds the same. Two notes are 'enharmonically equivalent' if they sound the same in equal temperament but are notated differently (they may be related to two keys or chords in different ways).

Equal Temperament: A tuning system whereby the octave is divided into twelve semitones, each of which are exactly equal. This contradicts natural physical laws to basically make life easier.

Exposed Fifths: Where the soprano and bass approach a perfect 5th (or 12th) in similar motion, and the soprano does not move by step.

Exposed Octaves: Where the soprano and bass approach a perfect octave (or 15th) in similar motion, and the soprano does not move by step.

False Relation: When two different chromatic spellings of a note occur in different parts. These can be either simultaneous or successive. Also called 'cross-relation'.

Figured Bass: A notation system whereby numbers represent intervals over a particular bass note. All notes belong to the key unless otherwise specified. The third of chords can generally be assumed even when not specifically figured. 5/3 represents a root position chord (although when no figure is given, a root position chord is automatically assumed), 6/3 represents a first inversion chord, 6/4 represents a second inversion chord, etc.

First Inversion: A chord in which the third (not root or fifth) is the lowest note. The other notes are therefore a 3rd and 6th above this, hence the alternative name; 6/3 chord. (Except the first inversion of a seventh chord, which is figured 6/5).

Flat: A b sign. Indicates you lower the note by one semitone.

Flatten(ed): Lower(ed) by one semitone.

French Sixth: A four-note chord consisting of a root, and a major third, augmented fourth, and augmented sixth above that. See here for more details.

German Sixth: A four-note chord consisting of a root, and a major third, perfect fifth, and augmented sixth above that (enharmonic notes may be used). See here for more details.

Harmonic Minor: The minor scale according to key-signature, but with the seventh note raised by one semitone. From the bottom upwards, the pattern of intervals goes: Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone+Semitone, Semitone.

Harmony: A group of notes sounding at the same time which are musically significant. This leads to chords, and chord progressions. Harmony can also be implied from a single line.

Homophonic: Where a melody is harmonised with chords, and all parts generally move together in the same rhythm (or only one part moves while the rest play chords). Generally, the other parts are purely accompanimental, and support the melody rather than provide any interest in themselves. Any counterpoint grows out of the harmony as a by-product. Not monophonic or polyphonic.

Imperfect Cadence: The progression of any chord to V at the end of a phrase. See here for more details.

Interrupted Cadence: The progression of V to any chord except I (usually VI or IVb) at the end of a phrase. Also known as a 'deceptive cadence'. See here for more details.

Interval: The distance between any two notes, whether the notes are horizontal, as part of a melodic line (successive), or vertical as part of a chord (simultaneous). Intervals can be major, minor, perfect, diminished or augmented. See here for more details.

Inversion: In relation to chords, this indicates which note of the chord is the lowest. If the root is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in root position. If the third is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in first inversion. If the fifth is the lowest note, the chord is said to be in second inversion (and so on).

Ionian Mode: This is the mode on the first note of the major scale. It is identical to the ordinary major scale.

Italian Sixth: A three-note chord consisting of a root, and a major third and augmented sixth above that. See here for more details.

Key: This indicates the scale (either major or minor) around which the music is written. This in turn dictates which chords are available (basically diatonic triads formed on each note of the scale). If no one key can be established, the music may be Atonal.

Key-Signature: Normally written at the start of every line of music, this indicates what sharps or flats there are in the prevailing key. Every key signature has one major key and one minor key associated with it. With minor keys, the key signature gives you the natural minor. See here for more details.

Leading Note: The seventh note of the scale, or a triad built using this note as the root.

Leap: Any horizontal interval of a third or more. Not a step.

Ledger Line: A small horizontal line added above or below the stave in music notation, on which notes that sound above or below the normal range of the stave can be placed. Sometimes spelt 'Leger Line'.

Locrian Mode: This is the mode on the seventh note of the major scale. It is therefore the natural minor scale with flattened second and flattened fifth.

Lydian Mode: This is the mode on the fourth note of the major scale. It is therefore the major scale with sharpened fourth.

Major: This term can refer to a scale, chord, arpeggio, key, or interval. Major triads have a major 3rd, and a perfect 5th above the root. The major scale consists of the intervals: Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone. Major intervals relate to intervals of seconds, thirds, sixths or sevenths. These intervals are major if the higher note is normally contained within the diatonic major scale built from the lower note (using the lower note as the tonic). Major intervals are one semitone larger than minor intervals, and one semitone smaller than augmented intervals.

Mediant: The third note of the scale, or a triad built using this note as the root.

Medieval: The period of musical history before around 1430 (historians argue over the exact date).

Melodic Minor: The minor scale according to key-signature, but with the sixth and seventh notes raised by one semitone when ascending. (Descending it is purely according to key-signature). From the bottom upwards, the pattern of intervals when ascending goes: Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone.

Metre: The basic pulse or beat of the music. This is the relationship between accented and unaccented notes, given by the Time Signature. Also spelt 'meter'.

Middle-C: This is the note that falls on the first ledger line below the Treble-clef stave, and the first ledger line above the Bass-clef stave. It has the frequency of 261.626 Hz and generally lies around the centre of a standard piano keyboard.

Minim: A hollow note with a stem, lasting for two crotchets or half a semibreve. Also called a Half Note.

Minor: This term can refer to a scale, chord, arpeggio, key, or interval. Minor triads have a minor 3rd and a perfect 5th above the root. There are different forms of the minor scale; Natural Minor, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor. Minor intervals relate to intervals of seconds, thirds, sixths or sevenths. Minor intervals are one semitone larger than diminished intervals, and one semitone smaller than major intervals.

Mixolydian Mode: This is the mode on the fifth note of the major scale. It is therefore the major scale with flattened seventh.

Mode: Where the major (or natural minor) scale is started with (and ended on) a note other than the normal tonic. This then produces a new scale which is neither major nor minor, and in which the usual tonal relationships may not apply. In modern times there are seven different modes, each of which has its own unique pattern of intervals. These are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. See here for more details.

Modern: The period of musical history from around 1900. Some people end this period at 1970, then start with the Post Modern period, others refer to it all under the same name, also calling it '20th Century'.

Modulation: The movement or transition from one key to another. This may involve a pivot chord, and can last varying amounts of time. See here for more details.

Monophonic: A single self-sufficient melodic line, completely alone, or accompanied by a simple drone or percussion. Sometimes the melody may be doubled exactly in octaves (or in unison). Not polyphonic or homophonic.

Natural: An accidental sign which cancels out a sharp or a flat.

Natural Minor: The minor scale purely according to key-signature, with no accidentals. From the bottom upwards, the pattern of intervals goes: Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone.

Neapolitan Sixth: A major chord in first inversion, using the the flattened supertonic as the root. See here for more details.

Non-harmony Note: A note which is not part of the harmony (chord) at any given point. Examples include Passing Notes, Suspensions, and Appoggiaturas. These may be diatonic or chromatic, and either accented or unaccented. See here for more details.

Octave: Twelve semitones or 8 steps. An octave is the distance between two notes of the same name, so the note an octave above C is also C (the distance between the two C's is one octave).

Off-beat: Notes, rests or chords that start either after or before the beat (as given by the time-signature). These are generally unaccented, but can be accented in some cases, producing syncopation.

Ornament: One or more notes which decorate or embellish a musical line. These may or may not involve non-harmony notes. See here for more details.

Parallel Fifths: When two parts move in similar motion or contrary motion, and the interval between each part is a perfect fifth (or 12th) in each case. Can also refer even to non-perfect fifths between the bass and any other voice. Also called 'consecutive fifths'. See here for examples.

Parallel Octaves: When two parts move in similar motion or contrary motion, and the interval between each part is a perfect octave (or 15th) in each case. Also called 'consecutive octaves'. See here for examples.

Part-Writing: The relationship between consecutive notes in the individual parts (or 'voices'). Also called voice leading. See here for more details.

Passing Modulation: A type of modulation where a new key is approached and left quickly, without being firmly established as a definite key change. See here for more details.

Passing Note: A non-harmony note, filling in the gap between two notes. They can be ascending or descending, diatonic or chromatic, accented or unaccented. See here for more details.

Perfect: This related to intervals of unisons, fourths, fifths and octaves. These intervals are perfect if the higher note is normally contained within the diatonic major scale built from the lower note (using the lower note as the tonic). Perfect intervals are one semitone larger than diminished intervals, and one semitone smaller than augmented intervals.

Perfect Cadence: The progression V-I (or V7-I) at the end of a musical phrase or section. See here for more details.

Perfect Pitch: The ability to recognise and name or sing a note based solely on hearing it in isolation, without any prior reference point. (i.e., not relative to anything else). Also called 'Absolute Pitch'.

Phrase: A section or natural division of a melody forming a recognised structural unit, usually complete in itself. Phrases often end with a cadence and/or a long note, and a phrase generally corresponds to the notes that a singer or wind-instrumentalist would play before taking a breath. A common phrase length is four or eight bars, and a common device is to have a 'question' phrase followed by an 'answer' phrase.

Phrygian Mode: This is the mode on the third note of the major scale. It is therefore the natural minor scale with flattened second.

Pitch: How high or low notes are (in relation to each other). This is determined by the frequency of the notes.

Pivot Chord: Used in a modulation to a new key, a pivot is a chord which belongs to both the original key and the new key. Sometimes the pivot is chromatic to one or both keys, but is still related to the overall tonal hierarchy. See here for more details.

Plagal Cadence: The progression IV-I at the end of a musical phrase or section, producing an 'Amen' feel. See here for more details.

Polyphonic: Two or more independent parts, moving in different rhythms with each other, sometimes inter-playing. Often these parts are of equal importance, - they all sound good in their own right. The harmony is generally a by-product of the part-writing. Also called contrapuntal. Not monophonic or homophonic.

Post Modern: The period of musical history from around 1970 to the present day. Also called 'Contemporary Music', or even lumped in with Modern Music under the coverall title of '20th Century'.

Prepare: In tonal music, many dissonances are often 'prepared'. Generally, this means the dissonant note should occur as a consonance in the same part in the previous chord. This preparation softens the dissonance to make it sound more acceptable. The dissonance may also need to resolve in a certain way.

Primary Triads: Triads built using the tonic, subdominant or dominant notes of the scale as the root (I, IV or V), in either major or minor keys. In a major key, these are the three major triads (other triads are either minor (called Secondary Triads), or diminished).

Quaver: A filled-in note with a stem and one tail, lasting for two semiquavers or half a crotchet. Also called an Eighth Note.

Real Sequence: A sequence where the intervals between notes are kept exactly the same each time, so that the music usually modulates through different keys. Unlike a Tonal Sequence.

Relative Major: This is the major key a minor-third above the minor key. The two keys share the same key-signature.

Relative Minor: This is the minor key a minor-third below the major key. The two keys share the same key-signature.

Renaissance: The period of musical history from around 1430 to 1600. (Historians argue about the exact date for the start of the period).

Resolve: In tonal music, this is where a dissonant note moves to a note which is consonant. Most often, this involves the dissonant note falling a step to a consonance. Less often, the dissonance may resolve upwards by step, or even remain at the same pitch as a consonance in the next chord. Resolution is often expected, and when it occurs it provides relief and satisfaction.

Rest: A notated period of silence, where a part contain no notes.

Rhythm: The arrangement or pattern derived from the length of different notes (and rests), and which are more accented or unaccented. This is dependant on such factors as metre, articulation and any syncopation. This is completely independent from pitch.

Roman Numerals: A numbering system used to identify diatonic triads (and occasionally other chords). I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII corresponds to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 respectively. This indicates the root note on which the chord is based, with I meaning a chord formed using the tonic as the root, up to VII meaning a chord formed with the leading note as the root. Sometimes (but not always), upper-case numerals are used to represent major (and augmented) chords, while lower-case numerals are used for minor (and diminished) chords (i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, and vii). Letters are commonly added just after the numeral to indicate the inversion of the chord, with the letter a referring to a chord in root position, the letter b referring to a chord in first inversion, the letter c referring to a chord in second inversion, and the letter d referring to a chord in third inversion. However, the letter a is normally omitted, so a numeral without any letter after it may also refer to a chord in root position.

Romantic: The period of musical history from around 1820 to around 1900, although historians argue over the exact dates.

Root: The lowest note of a triad (or other chord) when the notes are arranged so there is a third between each one. It is the note that the chord is named after.

Root Position: A chord in which the root (not third or fifth) is the lowest note. The other notes are therefore a 3rd and 5th above this, hence the alternative name; 5/3 chord. (Except the root position of a seventh chord, which is simply figured 7).

Scale: A progressive sequence of notes moving upwards and/or downwards. The most common scales are the major scale, and the minor scale. Each has seven different notes (one chromatic spelling of each) spanning one octave, and is named after the note it starts on. See here for examples.

Second Inversion: A chord in which the fifth (not root or third) is the lowest note. The other notes are therefore a 4th and 6th above this, hence the alternative name; 6/4 chord. (Except the second inversion of a seventh chord, which is figured 4/3).

Secondary Dominant: The fifth chord of a key other than the tonic. So, if any of the diatonic triads were extended into an entire new key, the fifth chord of any of those keys is a secondary dominant in the original key (thus one or more notes in the original key may be chromatically altered). The most common secondary dominant is the fifth chord in the dominant key, in other words, the dominant of the dominant, notated as V of V, or sometimes V/V, which is often used in approaching a cadence. Sometimes the seventh is also added, producing a dominant seventh.

Secondary Seventh: This is a diatonic seventh chord formed on any note of the scale other than the dominant. As the seventh is diatonic, the resultant chord may be a major seventh, minor seventh, or even a half-diminished seventh. Probably the most common in classical harmony is the chord based on the supertonic triad, with an added diatonic seventh above the root. This technically forms a minor seventh chord, but is nevertheless often notated simply as II7 in traditional analysis of tonal classical music (frequently occurring in first inversion preceding a perfect cadence).

Secondary Triads: In a major key, these are triads using the supertonic, mediant or submediant notes of the scale as the root, all of which are minor triads (ii, iii, vi). In a minor key, this refers only to the triad built using the submediant as the root (which, in the harmonic minor, is a major triad, VI). Other triads which do not contain a dissonance are called Primary Triads.

Semibreve: A hollow note without a stem, lasting for two minims or four crotchets. Also called a Whole Note.

Semiquaver: A filled-in note with two tails, lasting for half a quaver. Also called a Sixteenth Note.

Semitone: The smallest distance possible between any two consecutive notes (higher or lower). One twelfth of an octave. Also called a 'half-step'.

Sequence: Where a melodic and/or harmonic section of music is repeated successively at different pitches. There are two types of sequence; a Tonal Sequence (where the music remain in the same key), or a Real Sequence (where the music modulates).

Sharp: A # sign, indicating you raise the note by one semitone.

Sharpen(ed): Raise(d) by one semitone.

Similar Motion: Where parts move in the same direction, either both going up, or both going down - the intervals between the parts do not have to remain constant.

Simple Time: Where the basic beat is divisible by two. See here for more details.

Soprano: Generally, the highest voice, above alto, with a rough range from middle-C up to the G a 12th above this.

Staccato: Notes played shorter than their normal value, and detached from the other notes. Indicated by a dot above (or below) the note-head. See here for more details.

Staff: The five horizontal lines on which musical notes are written. Also called the stave.

Stave: The five horizontal lines on which musical notes are written. Also called the staff.

Stem: The vertical line that comes out from the corner of the note-head. When a single part is written on one stave, the stems of every note below the middle line of the stave come from the right-side of the note and go upwards. The stems of every note above the middle line of the stave come from the left-side of the note and hang downwards. The stem of a note on the middle line can go up or down, but going down is usually preferred. The stems should generally all be about the same length (normally about the span of one octave), and should be straight, and exactly perpendicular to the lines of the stave. Where two parts (or voices) are written on the same stave, the stem direction indicates which part the note belongs to; stems going up belong to the upper line, stems going down belong to the lower line (this enables parts to be crossed while still being relatively clear).

Step: The interval of a second; either major, minor, diminished or augmented. Thus it can be either a tone or a semitone (or, rarely, it can even be three semitones, as for example with the 6th to sharpened 7th notes of the harmonic minor). Usually I mean a 'diatonic step', which means it moves to the next adjacent note in the scale/key (either up or down). Not a leap.

Strong Beat: A naturally accented beat in a bar. The first beat of any bar is always strong, the second is usually a weak beat. In 4/4, the strong beats are beats 1 and 3.

Subdominant: The fourth note of the scale, or a triad built using this note as the root.

Submediant: The sixth note of the scale, or a triad built using this note as the root.

Supertonic: The second note of the scale (after the tonic), or a triad built using this note as the root.

Suspension: An accented non-harmony note creating a dissonance which resolves down by step to a consonance. The suspension must be prepared by having the dissonant note in the preceding chord as a consonance in the same part. See here for more details.

Syncopation: Where a note (or chord) which would normally be unaccented becomes accented. This can arise when an accented note falls on a weak beat or off-beat. This relates to rhythm.

Tail: A line or curve added on the right side of the stem of un-beamed quavers and smaller note values, indicating the duration of the note. Quavers have one tail, semiquavers have two tails, one underneath the other. When groups of quavers occur consecutively, the relevant tails may be joined together. This is called beaming, and the beam replaces the tails. See here for more details.

Tempo: The speed of the music; how fast it goes. Usually measured in beats per minute (BPM). See here for more details.

Tenor: The second-lowest voice, between alto and bass, with a rough range from the C an octave below middle-C to the G a 12th above this.

Third Inversion: This occurs in chords with four or more notes, typically seventh chords where the seventh (not root, third or fifth) is the lowest note. The other notes are therefore a 2nd, 4th and 6th above this, hence the figured bass notation 4/2.

Tie: Where two adjacent notes of the same pitch are joined together so that they form one continuous sound. The second note is not played separately, instead the two notes are performed as one unbroken note. See here for more details.

Timbre: The quality or character of musical sounds and tone. Each instrument has a characteristic timbre, determined by the harmonics present in the sound. This is independent from pitch and dynamics, so different instruments playing the same note at the same volume will have different timbre.

Time-Signature: Two numbers (or occasionally a symbol) at the start of the music indicating the metre. Usually consists of two numbers, the top number represents the number of beats in one bar, and the bottom number represents the 'type' of beat, expressed as a fraction of a semibreve. See here for more details.

Tonal: Music which is based in only one identifiable key at any given time, either major or minor. Music may change key any number of times, either directly or by using passing modulations, and still remain tonal. The vast majority of the notes in tonal music are diatonic, but chromatic notes may still be used so long as they do not upset the overall key too much. In strictly tonal music, any chromatic notes should be explainable as modulation, non-harmony notes, or a special type of chord (such as a diminished seventh, or Neapolitan sixth). Generally most chromatic notes only occur fleetingly, and dissonances are usually prepared and resolve correctly. Not Atonal.

Tonal Hierarchy: The relationship and relative importance of different notes, chords or keys to the tonic. In tonal music, the tonic is usually the most important note (and chord), which everything else ultimately gravitates towards (and is explained in relation to). The dominant is the next most important note (and chord), then probably the subdominant. Similarly, notes, chords and keys which are a fourth or fifth apart are generally strongly related, whereas others, particularly chromatic notes, are more distantly related.

Tonal Sequence: A sequence where the exact intervals between notes are modified so that the music remains in the same key throughout. Unlike a Real Sequence.

Tone: Two semitones, one sixth of an octave. Also called a 'whole tone', or 'whole step'.

Tonic: The first note that the scale starts on, or a triad built using this note as the root. This is the note that the scale (and key) is named after.

Transpose: The notation and/or performance of the music in a key other than the original. The pitches are all modified by the same amount, so the intervals between the notes remain the same. This is necessary when altering the music so it fits within the range of a particular voice or instrument, when the same musical phrase occurs in a different key, or when writing for or performing on a transposing instrument.

For part 2, T-Z, please see my next post, immediately below this one...
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Glossary, Part 2

Postby JumpingJackFlash » Fri, 11 May 2007 1:10 pm

Transposing Instrument: An instrument on which the note performed is not the same as the note which is heard. The part may be deliberately transposed to make it easier for the player, or the player may be expected to transpose himself as he goes along. See here for examples.

Treble Clef: The symbol at the start of the music which indicates the pitch range of the stave, and thus tells you which notes go where. From bottom to top, the notes on the lines are E, G, B, D, F, and the notes in the spaces are F, A, C, E. Also called 'G clef'. See here for more details.

Triad: A three-note chord made up of two superimposed thirds (a root, a 3rd above the root, and a 5th above the root). Triads can be built from any note of the scale. Triads can be major, minor, diminished or augmented and are named after the root note.

Triplets: Three in the time of two. Written with a '3' above the notes (may also include rests).

Unaccented: This is where a note or chord has less emphasis than other notes. This occurs naturally on the weak beats of the bar and also generally occurs when the note or chord is played on an off-beat.

Unison: The same note, as an interval, or when more than one player is playing the same exact music.

Voice: One individual part. In four-part harmony, the voices are called Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass, in that order from highest to lowest, even when the music is not intended to be sung.

Glossary, Part 2

This post concludes my glossary of musical terms. For the first part, A-T, please see my post immediately above this one.


Voice Leading: The relationship between consecutive notes in the individual parts (or 'voices'). Also called part-writing. See here for more details.

Weak Beat: A naturally unaccented beat in a bar. In 4/4, the weak beats are beats 2 and 4. Not a Strong Beat.

Western: Referring to culture from the part of the world including Western Europe, North America, and possibly other countries such as Australia. Countries from Asia, Africa and South America are instead included in the separate category of World Music, although there may be influences between the two groups.

World Music: Referring to music from non-Western countries and cultures, usually including music from Asia, Africa and South America.
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Postby asaunders » Fri, 11 May 2007 1:22 pm

very useful, thank you!
exposition of electro-vivisection
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Postby womoma » Sun, 07 Oct 2007 8:11 pm

TYVM!
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Re: An introduction to music theory

Postby Rusty » Sat, 04 Oct 2008 6:14 pm

Have a question about the 'Intervals' section. Would it help to have the chart, if based on semi-tones, go like this?

1,4,5,8_________________Diminished____Perfect____Augmented
2,3,6,7____Diminished_____Minor________Major_____Augmented
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Intervals

Postby Lonkey48 » Fri, 17 Oct 2008 12:25 pm

it would not be helpful to think of intervals like that, you have to think of whatever interval it is, as either major, minor, augmented, diminished or perfect.
It's a pain but if you learn off the major key signature's up to 5 flats and 5 sharps, and their relative minor keys you will then be able to determine, when looking at an interval what type of an interval it is. You can't really put it into a chart or table, I think it would just be too confusing. It is a nice idea but I don't think it would be very clear if you're trying to understand intervals.

and to the author of this page, great work, I can tell you know what you're talking about. It's good that people can come and get this information, or should I say accurate and correct information.

a tip I got for transposing instruments might help others, if you are working off an orchestral score, (when the player must do the transposing themselves or YOU must!) when you see the note 'C' on the score, that is the note of the sounding instrument. so for example, if you have a B flat clarinet in the score (not transposed) anywhere you see a 'C' that will be sounded as a B flat...and the same principle goes for all the other transposing instruments. If that helps anyone...cause they can be a pain, especially in an awkward key signature!
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Re: An introduction to music theory

Postby Hira » Tue, 26 Jun 2012 7:48 am

May I take some info for my classes? I have to teach my friend how to play, but I couldn`t explain him the theory in such a way...
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Re: An introduction to music theory

Postby stringtapper » Tue, 26 Jun 2012 9:21 am

I'm not sure if the OP even hangs around here anymore, but I would think that if it's for personal educational purposes then it would be fair use. After all there's nothing in his posts that you can't find in any basic theory text, it's just that he's conveniently gathered a lot of elements together in a compact presentation.
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Re: An introduction to music theory

Postby audiobroonzy » Mon, 01 Sep 2014 1:56 am

some great information here. Thanks!
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