Originally written November 2012
The reason to study theory is that music is an art. The greatest artist’s are the folks that break the rules. In order to break the rules you need to know what the rules are. The rules come from past practices of successful musicians, mostly classical and jazz types.
So how does it all work, this thing called harmony. You know, the theoretical or the musical part of music.
Well, lessee here now! …. We can talk about PITCH. Pitch is how high or low a musical note may sound. The simplest physical way to define pitch is by measuring the sounds cycles per second. (Think “Hz” for engineering and scientific types) On a properly tuned guitar if you pick the fifth string it will sound 440 cycles per second. Musician types will call this an “A” note. If you then put your finger on the second fret of the third string you can pick a higher sounding “A” note of 880 cycles per second, or a difference of one ‘OCTAVE” If you were to double the number of cycles per second again to 1760 CPS you have another OCTAVE and another “A”. You can do that at the fifth fret on the first string.
The OCTAVE is divided into twelve notes: A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, and back to A. Note: there is no SHARP (#) or FLAT (b) between B and C or between E and F. This twelve note scale is called a “chromatic scale. A far more important scale for the musician is the MAJOR scale. In the chromatic scale the difference between each note is one HALF STEP. On the guitar that is one fret. The major scale uses only eight notes and is made up of a combination of half steps and WHOLE STEPS. A whole step is two frets.
A guitar, like a piano is a COMPROMISE instrument. Therefore A# and Bb is the same note. Not so on non fretted stringed instruments like a violin, viola, or bass. We will choose not to worry about that for now.
A “C” Major scale goes whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and a half step to the octave.
C D E F G A B C
So it is a half step between B & C, and E & F. The others are whole steps.
An A major scale will be A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A. ….. Thus the key signature for A major is three sharps.
I suppose we can call this IMPORTANT CONCEPT NUMBER ONE.