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Music Theory Log

Rebel the Wolfgirl

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So, as you may have seen from this status update, I have started making progress towards my ultimate goal of creating music. As I am teaching myself music theory (via musictheory.net), I'm creating this topic to show what I've learned - I am intending to post one lesson a day (or at the very least close to one a day) - musictheory.net has a total of 39 lessons. So on that note, here is the log from my first day/lesson.

Day 1 - Staff, Clefs, and Ledger Lines


Staff: what notes are drawn on; consists of five lines and four spaces. Each line and space represents a note on a keyboard.


Clefs: symbols that say where each note goes. Two kinds of clefs - treble (or G) and bass clef. Treble clef looks like a curved G with a tail, and bass clef looks like a curvy apostrophe and colon.


Treble clef: staff line is known as G, any note on treble clef line is G. Note above G is A (there is no “H” note - musical alphabet goes from A to G). Note above A is B, and so on.


Ledger line: used to extend staff when you run out of room to draw notes - if staff ends on G note, for example, next note is A.


Bass clef: also called F clef. Staff line between two dots is F - next note is G, note after that is A, and so on.


Grand staff: theoretical staff that has eleven lines. If middle line is eliminated, you end up with two regular staffs. Adding treble clef on top staff and bass clef on bottom staff showcases the relationship between the two - they are both joined together by the middle C, an imaginary line corresponding to the missing line on the grand staff.

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Day 2 - Note Duration


Note duration: length of time a note is played - there are four types of notes; whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note


Whole note: longest duration in modern music, looks like an eyeball


Half note: half the duration of a whole note, looks like a lopsided oval with a straight line sticking out of it. Two half notes equal one whole note.


Quarter note: One-fourth of a whole note, resembles a half note, with the “oval” filled in. Two quarter notes equals a half-note, two half notes equals a whole note.


Notes smaller than quarter note have flags. Each flags halves a note’s value.


Eighth note: smaller than quarter note, looks like a quarter note with a flag on it. Two eighth notes equal one quarter note, two quarter notes equal a half note, two half notes equal a whole note.


Sixteenth note: has two flags on it, halving the value of an eighth note. Two sixteenth notes equal one eighth note, two eighth notes equal a quarter note, two quarter notes equal a half note, and two half notes equal a whole note. Four sixteenth notes can also equal one quarter note.


Notes with three or more flags exist, but are rarely used.

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Day 3 - Measures and Time Signatures


Bar lines divide the staff into measures; measures are segments of musical notation denoting the notes according to the time signature.


Time signatures: amount and types of notes in a measure. If you have two measures containing time signatures in 4/4 and 3/4 time, that means each time signature contains a certain number of quarter notes - 4 and 3 quarter notes respectively; a 4/4 time signature therefore contains two half-notes (or a whole note) and a 3/4 time signature contains 3 quarter notes, or a half and quarter note. Non quarter note time signatures can include 6/8 and 3/2 - 6/8 equals six eight notes and 3/2 equals three half notes, or 6/8 equals a half and quarter note and 3/2 equals a whole and half note.

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Day 4 - Rest Duration


Rests: periods of silence in a measure.


There are five types of rests, corresponding with each type of note: whole rest, half rest, quarter rest, eighth rest, and sixteenth rest. A whole rest looks like a box descending from the fourth staff line. A half rest looks similar, though it’s a box ascending from the middle staff line. A quarter rest resembles a sideways stylized V almost, and eighth rests and sixteenth rests resemble lines with apostrophes attached to them; like their corresponding notes, they have flags. 


To demonstrate, the lesson uses an example in 4/4 time - four quarter notes with the second replaced with a rest. As such, when played only 3 quarter notes sound with a rest in between. But I think, using the other time signatures from the previous lesson, other examples can be found. For instance, if you had a time signature of 3/2 (3 half notes), and replaced the second with a half rest, only two would sound. Or perhaps with a 6/8 time signature, you could go a bit further, replacing two eighth notes with two eighth rests - therefore only four notes would be played, with two rests in between. And finally, so long as we’re pushing boundaries, why not replace all but one quarter note in a 3/4 time signature with quarter rests (of course, this purely hypothetical scenario would only work if you were writing avant-garde pieces akin to John Cage)? Only one quarter note would be played.

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Day 5 - Dots and Ties


Augmentation dots and tenuto ties: markings used to alter a notes duration.


Dots increase duration by ½. A dotted quarter note, for example, is equal to a quarter note and an eighth note, or alternately three eighth notes


Ties merge notes of the same duration, allowing them to cross barriers such as measure lines. In the example given, there are two groups of quarter notes in 4/4 time, separated by a bar. If you use a tie to combine the 4th and 5th notes, then that would combine those two notes into one. If the measure line was not there, a half note could be placed there and turn the time signature from 4/4 to 8/4. 

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Day 6 - Steps and Accidentals


Half-step/semitone: distance from one key to the next - Key 1 and Key 2 (a white key and a black key in the example) are next to each other, so they are a half-step. Sometimes half-steps don’t always correspond to white key-black key; sometimes they can be two white keys as shown in the lesson’s second example on semitones.


Whole step/whole tone: the combined distance of two semitones - Key 1 to Key 3 is a whole tone - if you play Key 1 (white key) and Key 2 (black key) you get a semi-tone. Play Key 2 (black key) and Key 3 (white key) and you get another semitone. Play all three (white key, black key, white key) and you get a whole tone.


Accidentals: signs used to raise or lower a note’s pitch by a half-step. First two accidentals discussed are flat and sharp. Flats lower notes by a half-step, while sharps raise notes by a half-step. Flats can be represented as a lowercase B when typed, and sharps can be represented by a number/pound sign.


The black key between C and D can be called C sharp (C#) as it’s a half step above C or it can be called D flat (Db) because it’s a half-step below D.


On the opposite end, we have the white keys E and F. E can be called Fb (F flat) since it’s a half-step below F. Likewise F can be called E# (or E sharp) because it’s a half-step above E.


A pitch with multiple names is called an “enharmonic spelling”.


Double flats and double sharps increase or decrease a note’s pitch by a whole, rather than half-, step. They can be written as bb (double flat) or x (double sharp).


D and Ebb, for example, have the same pitch since Ebb is a whole step down from E like D is. D is also the same as Cx since it’s a whole step above C.


Naturals are steps that cancel out accidentals and returns a note to the original pitch.

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Day 7: Simple and Compound Meter


Time signatures can be classified into a certain meter - simple and compound. Furthermore those can be broken down by the number of beats in a measure: duple, triple and quadruple; simple means that each can be broken down into two beats. 2/4 is classified as simple duple - duple refers to the two beats (in this case two quarter notes) per measure. Simple means that they can be divided into two larger notes. 2/2 and 2/8 are also simple duple - two half notes will become two pairs of quarter notes and two eighth notes can be divided into two interconnected pairs of quarter notes.


3/4 time is called simple triple. Triple refers to three beats per measure - simple (again) states that each beat can be divided into three pairs of two notes. 3/2 and 3/8 are simple triple - like the example above three half notes can become three pairs of quarter notes and three eighth notes can be divided into three interconnected pairs of quarter notes.


4/4 time is classified as simple quadruple - four beats can be divided into two pairs of connected quarter notes. As in the previous examples, 4/2 can equate to four half notes or four pairs of unconnected quarter notes. Likewise, 4/8 refers to four eighth notes that can be divided into two pairs of interconnected quarter notes. A time signature in simple meter will always have a 4, 3, or 2 at the top. Time signatures in compound meter, on the other hand, have three notes.


6/8 time is equal to six eighth notes, or compound duple (two pairs of three notes) or simple triple (three pairs of two notes). The latter quotes to 3/4 time (o three quarter notes), so 6/8 is compound duple. To simplify compound duple, think of it as two dotted quarter notes - all compound meters have one form or another of dotted note as its beat. 6/8 and 6/4 are the common examples of compound duple - lesser known are 6/2 and 6/16.


9/8 is compound triple - it can be simplified as three dotted quarter notes, thus making it triple. Since each beat is three notes, the meter is compound. Any time signature with a 9 on it is a compound triple. 9/8 is the most common, but others include 9/2, 9/4, and 9/16.


Finally, 12/8 is compound quadruple - it can be simplified as 4 dotted quarter notes, and each beat is three pairs of notes. Any time signature with a 12 on it (12/8, 12/2, 12/4, and 12/16) is a compound quadruple meter.

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Day 8 - Odd Meter


An odd meter is meter that contains both simple and compound beats. 5/8, for example, is five eighth notes, which can be simplified as a simple (two quarter notes) and compound (three quarter notes) beat, or a quarter and dotted quarter note. The order doesn’t matter - you can have the three-note beat come first, and it would still be 5/8 time. Another example of odd meter is 7/8 time, which consist of two quarter notes, and one dotted quarter note - or a pair of two-note beats and a three-note compound beat. As with the 5/8 example, the order can be reversed - the three-note beat could be followed by the two-note pair, and it would still be 7/8 time. Or, for another variation, the compound beat could be between the first and second simple beat, and it would still be 7/8 time.


8/8 time consists of two dotted quarter notes and one regular quarter note - or two compound beats and a simple beat. 8/8 is not to be confused with 4/4; 4/4 consists of two pairs of simple beats. 4/4 is simple quadruple, while 8/8 has 3 odd beats and one simple beat.


10/8 consists of ten eighth notes (or two dotted quarter notes and two regular quarter notes); two compound beats and two regular beats. 11/8 time consists of eleven eighth notes - three dotted quarter notes and one regular quarter note, or three compound beats and one simple beat.

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Day 9 - The Major Scale


A scale is a selection of notes within an octave. There are two major scales within music theory: the major scale and minor scale. The major scale is constructed with the formula “W, h”. “W” represents a whole step, and “h” represents a half-step. C Major consists of C, D E, F, G, A, B,C. The first note is C, which goes a whole step to D. From D, it goes another whole step to E. From E, it goes a half-step to F. From F it goes a whole step to G. From G, it goes another whole step to A. Finally, A takes a whole step to B, and from B it takes a half-step back to C.


Another major scale is Eb, or E flat. E flat consists of Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, and Eb. We begin with Eb, and then the first whole step goes to F. The second whole note takes us to G, and the half step from G takes us to Ab, not A. The next whole step takes us to Bb. From Bb, the whole step takes us to C, and from there, D. Finally, the half step returns to Eb. Eb has three flats, but both instances of Eb only count once.


The final and third major scale shown is D Major. D Major consists of D, E, F#, A, B, C#, and D. We start with D, then go a whole step to E, then another whole step to F#. The half step takes us to G, then the whole step takes us to A. From A, the whole step takes us to B. From B, the whole step takes us to C#, and then the half step returns to D. Notice that D major has two sharps.


Any major scale can be constructed, just start with the first note and follow the formula.

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