Music Theory: Rules To Remember When Transforming A Major Scale Into A Minor Scale

Just going a bit further in my music theory today.  I have to say I rather lazy in delving too deep into music theory, but today I push myself a bit in this area.  Anyhow, I’ve come to understand some rules are best to know by heart in order for me to convert a major scale into a minor scale.  The key is to learn about music intervals.

As long I remember that each note in a scale represents a degree.  The distance of a degree from a root note (which represents the scale) represents the degree of a note.  An example would be E note in C major scale is a third degree.  Simple really, C major scale starts with C and the rest goes DEFGABC, and when you count C as root note, D would be 2nd degree, and E would be 3rd degree.  Furthermore, I also need to remember which degree on the major scale and minor scale would have the note to be of the same note.  By this I meant let’s take C major scale, the 2nd degree on C major scale is D natural, and so the 2nd degree on C minor scale would also be D natural.  Both major and minor scales’ degrees that are having the same notes should be 2nd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, and the root note/octave.

The key to transform a major scale into a minor scale easily is to remember that 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees are a half step down for major notes to minor notes.  For an example, let’s transform C major scale into minor scale, and we shall see by what I meant.  CDEFGABC is the C major scale.  Minor scale of C should be CD (to stay the same), E major should now be E flat, FG (to stay the same as these are perfect 4th and 5th), A major should now be A flat, B major should now be B flat, and C octave should stay the same as C root note.  Thus, C minor scale is now CDE(b)FGA(b)B(b)C.  I inserted (b) to represent a flat note.

By the way, if you’re reading this and don’t know what a half step down for major to minor, then here is a short explanation of this.  Let’s use a piano scale to easily show this to you.  If you have a piano right in front of you, just take a look at a D natural note for C scale, and a half step down of D natural note would be D flat.  This D flat is the black key on the piano, and this black key is one down or to the very left of the D natural note.  D natural note is naturally a white key.  Half step down rule applies to all keys, and so it does not represent a black key on the piano in case you’re wondering.  Thus whenever someone says that a flat of something or half step down of something, just look to the key which is very left of the former key.

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Learning Music Theory Part 8 (Key Signatures)

What are key signatures in music?  According to my absorption on this topic as I’m trying to learn music theory, key signatures help musicians to remove the clutter of accidentals in a music sheet when writing music notes.  Furthermore, knowing how to read key signatures helps musicians reading the accidentals on the music sheets that use key signatures.  So, instead of writing in every sharp and flat there is into a music sheet, a musician can use key signatures to tell other musicians to read his music sheet’s accidentals through key signatures.

By knowing key signatures on a piece, one will also know the scale type which one should play when reading a music sheet that uses key signatures.  For an example, let’s assume you know or remember all about G major scale, and by knowing G major scale by heart you know that this scale only has one sharp in it.  Furthermore, let’s assume you also know this G major scale has only one F sharp (accidental) in the whole scale.  So, by knowing these info, whenever you see a starting of a staff that uses key signature pattern of only one F sharp, right away you should know that you are playing a G major scale section.  Some musical sheets of whatever musical piece may change key signatures and scales throughout the whole musical piece.  Thus, one needs to be careful in reading key signatures in order for one to know when to play what accidentals of which scale at a specific section of a musical piece.

Key signatures fit nicely between the Clef and the Time Signature.  For an example, a Treble Clef would be written first, then the Key Signatures, then the Time Signature on a music staff.  There are rules to keep the using and reading of key signatures bearable and understandable:

  1. First rule, key signatures of a pattern of sharps or flats will always be in the same order.  OK, you probably scratch your head already.  No sweat, and here is the explanation.  Follow this simple exercise and you shall know the answer.  Take a look at the piano’s keyboard layout (get a piano’s keyboard layout through the Internet), you need to count how many sharps there are in the whole G major scale starting from the G musical note.  If you are doing it right, you see that there are only 7 sharps.  If you count backward from the last G musical note to the first G musical note (i.e., GFEDCBAG), you should see there will always be only 7 flats for G major scale.  Guess what, there will always be 7 sharps and flats for all scales.  How come?  It’s all because we use the half step rule.  As we all know, whenever we do a half step down, we are lowering the pitch by half step to create a flat.  Same thing goes for sharp, we make a sharp whenever we raise a pitch half step up.  Although a specific scale, except the C major scale, would have different accidentals in specific key places, the half step rule would always be successfully turned any key within a specific scale into a flat or sharp.  Since now we know that there are always be 7 flats or sharps in all scales, we can safely assume the order of these flats and sharps can never change, because these flats and sharps in any scale don’t have feet to move around the piano’s keyboard.  Thus, the first rule — which states the order of the pattern of sharp or staff will always be the same — is sound.
  2. Second rule, you cannot mix the flat and the sharp key signatures together in a key signature pattern for a section of a staff.
  3. Third rule, key signatures of a pattern of flats will always be in this order [BEADGCF].  If we reverse the flat key signature pattern, we form the sharp key signature pattern which is [FCGDAEB].  Same thing as the flat key signature pattern, the order of the key signatures in the sharp key signature pattern cannot be out of order.  You probably scratch your head already and ask why there are patterns for key signatures, right?  I scratched my head too, and I tried to find the answer to this scratching head curiosity.  Nonetheless, I found none, but then I thought to myself, perhaps the telling is in how many flats or sharps each scale has and how these key sharps and flats are fitting nicely onto a staff in specific orders for key signatures of sharps and flats.  Still scratching your head?  Let’s do this simple exercise and we shall see the answer:
    1. Take out a blank sheet of paper and draw a five line musical staff.
    2. Create a Treble Clef (ignoring time signature symbols as we don’t need them in this exercise).  We will draw in the key signatures in the staff later.
    3. On the very top of the blank sheep of paper you need to write out the key signatures’ sharps and flat patterns (i.e., BEADGCF for flat key signatures and FCGDAEB for sharp key signatures).
    4. If we play the G major scale on a piano’s keyboard layout, we know that there is only one F sharp as our accidental.  Draw the #F (F sharp) onto the five line Treble Clef staff which we had drawn out onto our blank sheet of paper earlier.  The #F sharp should overlay the 5th line of the five line staff, right?  If you remember your music theory correctly about the staff, the 5th line is the very top line of the five line staff since we’re counting the lines and spaces from the bottom up.
    5. Next, we need to play the D major scale pattern out on the piano’s keyboard layout, and by playing out this pattern we know that there are 2 sharps in D major scale.  These sharps are #F and #C.  Instead of repeating the drawing of #F sharp onto our five line Treble Clef staff, we ignore the #F and draw down the #C onto our five line staff.  The position of the #C should be above the 3rd line of our five line staff, and so this means that our #C is sitting in a space which sits between the third line and fourth line of the staff.
    6. Next, we need to play the A major scale pattern out on the piano’s keyboard layout, and by playing out this pattern we know that there are 3 sharps in A major scale.  According to our FCGDAEB for sharp key signatures, we know the 3 sharps are #F, #C, and #G.  According to how we play out the A major scale on our piano’s keyboard layout, we confirm that the sharps are #F, #C, and #G, but of course when we play these sharps out in A major scale in the piano’s keyboard layout, these sharps are not going from left to right or vice versa in order.  Nonetheless, if we draw out these sharps in our five line Treble Clef musical staff, we know that we don’t have to repeat the drawing of the #F and #C, because we’d drawn them earlier.  The only sharp for the A major scale that we need to draw onto our five line staff is the #G.  You should draw your #G in the space above the 5th line of the five line staff.

We can go on with the exercise of the rule #3, but it would be tedious.  By going through the exercise that I created for rule #3 earlier, we now see the pattern of why the key signatures for sharps are always in the order of FCGDAEB.  Thus, if we had completely done the whole exercise through and through, we should be able to reverse the order for sharp key signature pattern into flat key signatures pattern.  Anyway, check out the orders of flat and sharp key signatures on Treble Clef staves right after the break.

order-of-key-signatures-on-treble-clef-staff

I don’t know if I’d missed any rule in regarding to key signatures or not, but the 3 rules I listed should help you a lot in knowing how to identify key signatures.  So, the next time we read a music sheet that got sections rig with key signatures, we know that whenever a music note — that is not being labeled with accidental symbol but matched a key signature — is an accidental instead.  For an example, if we see #F (F sharp) key signature, we know we have to play #F no matter what even if we see a music note is F natural in a section of a music sheet.

I know it’s hard to remember the patterns of key signatures for sharps and flats, thus mnemonic trick should be used to help you remember how to recall these key signature patterns.  For me, I only need to remember the flat key signature pattern, because it’s easy for me to remember the flat key signature pattern and then reverse the flat key signature pattern into the sharp key signature pattern.  Flat key signature pattern is [BEADGCF], and my mnemonic for it is BEAD Greatest Common Factor.  Nonetheless, you should come up with your own mnemonic for the flat key signature pattern so it will stick in your own memory better.

In the next music theory blog post, I’ll touch on the Circle of Fifths, because this is one of the formulaic methods of helping us easily to correlate the key signatures to a scale.  Basically, if one knows how to use the Circle of Fifths, one should be able to see what keys are being sharpened and flattened in which scale in seconds.  Thus, Circle of Fifths will help us name the scales such as G major scale when seeing the key signatures in place, quickly and easily!

In summary, knowing key signatures helps a musician to read and play accidentals on a music sheet that does not spell out each individual accidental.  Furthermore, knowing the key signatures’ position and pattern and the number of key signatures in place helps a musician to know which scale he is playing in.  Knowing which scale is important as it helps a musician not to lose his place on a music instrument.

Learning Music Theory Part 7 (Major Scales)

Whatever a color a tonality would be according to your imagination, but musicians say that there are two tonalities to describe the scales in music.  First and the most important tonality is all about the major scales, and the second tonality is all about minor scales.  Up to now I’ve learned how to construct any major scale in Western music’s doctrine, but don’t ask me about the minor scale construction just yet since I’ve yet to learn the essentials of minor scales.

Anyway, to construct major scales according to Western music’s doctrine, we need to know the pattern of whole steps and half steps in a pattern.  Basically, there is only one pattern of whole steps and half steps that we need to remember in order for us to successfully construct any major scale.  The pattern is (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half).  Furthermore, a C major scale does not have any accidental (i.e., sharp or flat), because C major scale utilizes only natural keys.  If we know about piano’s keyboard layout, natural keys are the white keys.  Except C major scale, all other major scales must utilize at least one accidental or more.  To understand why this is the case, one just needs to apply the major scale’s construction pattern of (whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half) to the piano’s keyboard layout (or any other musical instrument’s layout).

Don’t know what are whole and half steps?  For an example, on the piano, C major scale starts out with C natural key (white key on the piano which represents C note) and would end with C natural key to create one octave.  So, according to major scale pattern [(1)whole, (2)whole, (3)half, (4)whole, (5)whole, (6)whole, (7)half]:

  1. C to D is a whole key step movement, because there is a half key step movement of an accidental black key (#C or C sharp) which sits between C natural and D natural keys.
  2. D to E is another whole key step movement, because there is (#D or D sharp) which sits between D natural and E natural keys.
  3. E to F is a half key step movement, because there is no black key between E natural and F natural keys.
  4. F to G is another whole key step movement, because (#F or F sharp) which sits between F natural and G natural keys.
  5. G to A is another whole key step movement, because (#G or G sharp) which sits between G natural and A natural keys.
  6. A to B is another whole key step movement, because (#A or A sharp) which sits between A natural and B natural keys.
  7. B to C is a half key step movement, because there is no black key between B natural and C natural keys.

The series of key step movements that I posted above is for C major scale of course, but I did not include the repeat of a C key to end the whole series as an octave.  Nonetheless, we all know when a major scale starts out with a key note, to end an octave it should end with the same key note.  For a C major scale, we start out with key note C, and to end the C major scale octave we should end it with key note C.  The key note C that ends the current octave for C major scale should start a new octave which begins with this very key note C for C major scale.

Remember, half step is one key up or down from the original key, and whole step is two keys up or down from the original key.  Since the pattern of major scale is according to a series of whole and half steps, thus any other scale, except for C major scale, must use some accidentals (black keys on the piano) in the construction of a major scale.  By following the C major scale pattern of the series of whole and half steps accordingly, one can see how a finger should place on each key note in a series accordingly.  Thus, it’s important to remember when one has to play at least a black key (accidentals) in a scale, it’s not a C major scale.

With major scale pattern knowledge, it’s easy for anyone to construct any major scale.  According to what I’d read from books and watch videos from YouTube, people suggest that all major scales are very important.  They think all major scales are the DNA of music, because all other scales derive from major scales.  Perhaps minor scales derive from major scales?  I don’t know about minor scales yet, so I guess I’ll talk about minor scales when I finish minor scale lessons.

So, any major scale starts out with a note label should end with the same note label.  For an example, a C major scale starts out with C natural, and so it should end with C natural.  Thus, D major scale starts out with D natural and ends with D natural.  If I’m not wrong, each scale should form a complete octave.

Now, the question is why one needs to know any scale?  I guess and if I’m not wrong, from playing the piano perspective, knowing a scale can help a piano player to move from one octave to another while preserving the tonality color.  For an example, one octave higher can be played by the same notes in the same scale such as C major scale, yet preserving the same tonality color such as how things sound similar.  Also, knowing the scales by heart, this I’ve yet to achieve, may help one to remember all the notes on a specific musical instrument.  I notice that the notes in any scale do play nice and sound nice in whatever series.  By this I meant when you play any note in a specific scale in a series, the notes come together nicely in a series of sounds.  For an example, you can try to play a C major scale, but you can intentionally try to insert a non-member scale note into a C major scale without any careful thought — the series of sounds might come out unpleasant.  Of course, there is always an exception, thus with careful thought and listening, one might be able to form musical piece with notes that are not sync in any scale and yet such musical piece sounds totally awesome and sweet.  I guess, knowing scales can also help one makes music easier, because one can always fall back onto a scale!  Of course, there are other important keys that I’ve probably missed in pointing out why knowing any scale is important for knowing music, but I sure hope the keys I point out would help you a lot already!

By knowing how to construct major scales, it probably will be very useful for you in learning how to read key signatures.  I’m still trying to learn more about key signatures.  When I attain enough knowledge on key signatures, I’ll post another blog post on key signatures.  For now, major scales are all that matter!

Perhaps, you may not totally know what I’m talking about in this blog post in term of major scales for whatever reasons, then the YouTube video which sits right after the break may help you understand better at how to construct any major scale.  This YouTube video isn’t mine, but I’ve found it on YouTube.  I think the video is quite helpful in helping one to understand the construction of the major scales.  Enjoy!!!

 

Learning Music Theory Part 6 (Accidentals)

To learn about half step, whole step, sharp, flat, natural, and scale, it’s kind of easy for me to use piano’s keys to do so.  Perhaps, I’m not familiar with any other musical instrument, thus learning about the things that I just mentioned through piano is natural since I’m a bit more familiar with the piano than any other musical instrument.  Anyhow, if you like, read on to see what I’d learned about the half step, whole step, and so forth.

Looking at the piano, there are white keys and black keys.  The white keys are known as natural, and the black keys are the sharp or flat.  The black keys are somewhat confusing since each black key can be either sharp or flat, depending on how we want to describe it as an adjacent key of a white key either to the left or the right of the black key.  For an example, C natural which is the white key can be increased in pitch by a half step if #C is used, but bC can also be used to decrease the C natural’s pitch by a half step.  bC?  The symbol for flat is somewhat resembling to a small letter b, thus I’m using b as a flat symbol.  #?  The sharp symbol looks like a number sign.  I sneaked in the half step without explaining it, but it’s simply meaning that an adjacent key to any key is a half step movement.  This means a whole step is a key farther away from the adjacent key.  If you look at the piano layout, the bC (C flat) is not a black key but a white key, and this white key is a B natural.  In a sense, any key on the piano can be either flat or sharp, depending on the relativity of the adjacent key in term of how we want to describe a key movement.

In music, people use the term accidentals to describe the lowering and increasing of pitches, thus we have sharp, flat, and natural.  Furthermore, sometimes people think that sharp and flat are there to describe the black keys on the piano keyboard layout, but as I had mentioned earlier, a bC (C flat) is also a B natural.  Why do people think like this?  Although they are somewhat right in thinking black keys are representing the accidentals, but they are wrong in term of thinking that black keys are the only accidentals.  According to Wikipedia and I’m going to quote:

The twelve notes of the Western musical scale are laid out with the lowest note on the left;[1]  The longer keys (for the seven “natural” notes of the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B) jut forward.  Because these keys were traditionally covered in ivory they are often called the white notes or white keys.  The keys for the remaining five notes—which are not part of the C major scale—(i.e.,C♯/D♭, D♯/E♭, F♯/G♭, G♯/A♭, A♯/B♭) (see Sharp and Flat) are raised and shorter.  Because these keys receive less wear, they are often made of black colored wood and called the black notes or black keys.  The pattern repeats at the interval of an octave. (Source: link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_keyboard)

Since the black keys are not the member of the C major scale, historically, they were used less and thus received less wear and tear, and according to Wikipedia’s quote above these black keys were black accidentally since they were made by black colored wood.  Perhaps, this is why they are calling the sharps and flats as the accidentals, but I’m not sure.  Anyway, C major scale isn’t the only scale in town, and so it cannot rule out that a half step lower from C cannot be a bC (C flat).  Remember, bC is also a B.  They have a name for this bC (C flat), and they call it as C flat natural.  After all, the C flat natural is a B natural key.

I mentioned that C major scale isn’t the only scale in town, because there are many scales out there.  This is why we have to know the meaning of the scale!  Regardless, I’m still learning on the scale part, and so I’ll be back with another blog post on the meaning of a scale or scales.

Learning Music Theory Part 5 (Musical Repeat Signs)

In Western music, mostly I think, the way we are reading music has a tradition in Italy, because back in time, around 1500s (if I’m not wrong on this), Italy was prolific in Western music.  Since Italy had set a tradition for how we’re reading music today, thus many musical terms are usually in Italian.  This is why I found many musical terms are escaping my memory easily.  Have you ever heard of Staccato?  Staccato is an Italian musical term for a form of articulation (another term but in English for how music is describing note’s sustain, attack, and release).  Basically, Staccato means the articulation form is short, and it is usually being represented by a period-like symbol (or dot-like) which usually sits above a note.

Now we know why musical terms do sound strange to non-Italian speakers.  Besides weird musical terms, there are more musical signs that can also behoove music theory beginners.  For an example, there are signs that help a musician in knowing how to repeat a section or sections of a musical piece.  Instead of explaining these signs through the written form in my own written words — which I think I might not do a good job in doing so — I’m just going to post a video which I found on YouTube that is very good in explaining the musical repeat signs.  Enjoy!!!

Learning Music Theory Part 4 (Leger And Clefs)

What about leger or ledger lines?  Have you ever wondered about the strange notes — with lines that sit above or below or strike through them — that sit outside the five line staff?  These notes are there to indicate extra notes that the staff isn’t capable of fitting.  When extra notes require, people use leger or ledger lines to indicate the notes’ positions.  For an example, next higher line that sits above the 5th line of a five staff can be represented by a note that sits above or below a line (or a note gets a line which strikes through the middle of the note).  Hint:  five line staff can only have five main lines, thus leger or ledger lines are there to extend the five line staff.  Leger can also be called as ledger line.

What about Clefs?  In theory, a five line staff can represent any group of line names, but this would be confusing isn’t it?  Thus, people name common group of lines in a five line staff to certain clefs.  There are couple common clefs, but there are other uncommon clefs, also.  I won’t mention uncommon clefs here, but you can look them up on the Internet.  The common clefs are Treble, Bass, and Rhythm clefs.  You can search the Internet to see how these clefs look like.  Nonetheless, a clef usually gets drawn to the very left of a staff.  These clefs do look fanciful!

Treble clef indicates that a staff starts out with line G on the second line, and people usually use Treble clef for musical instruments that can do high pitches (e.g., piano, flute, guitar).

Bass clef indicates that a staff starts out with line F on the fourth line, and people usually use the Bass clef for musical instruments that can do lower pitches (e.g., drum, piano, etc…).

Rhythm clef got no line name, because Rhythm clef is for a staff that represents musical instruments with no pitch such as percussion instruments.  Usually, one line staff with a Rhythm clef is good enough for a single non-pitched musical instrument, but five line staff with Rhythm clef can be used to represent a set of non-pitched musical instruments in a song or a piece.  There is no standard of how to name which line on a staff for which non-pitched instrument when it comes to a staff with Rhythm clef.  Nonetheless, once you know a specific instrument position in a staff with Rhythm clef for a song or a piece, usually it means the line position of such an instrument on a five line staff won’t ever change (of course it may change on a new song or a new piece).  When you see x marks on five line staff with Rhythm clef, it means the x marks are there to represent the small percussion instruments such as cymbals.

Leger and Clefs JPG

To name the lines on a five line staff, you can use alphabetical letters of A to G (i.e., ABCDEFG).  You name the lines on the five line staff in alphabetical order from bottom up.  No other letter besides ABCDEFG can be used to name the lines on the five line staff.

You can use mnemonic method to allow you to remember the line names of five line staffs that have common clefs.  For an example, I use Empty Garbage Before Dad Flip mnemonic for lines on five line staff that uses Treble clef.  In a five line staff with Treble clef, Empty represents name E for the 1st line of the five line staff, Garbage represents name G for the 2nd line of the five line staff, and so forth.  I use Farting Always Causes Enemies or FACE mnemonic for remembering space names in five line staff with Treble clef.  I use Goofy Babies Do Funny Acts mnemonic to remember the lines on five line staff with Bass clef.  I use All Cows Eat Grass mnemonic to remember the spaces on five line staff with Bass clef.