You are on page 1of 21

ARE YOU READY?!?!

Definitions to Start Our Discussion: Convention: 1. A way in which something is usually done, esp. within a particular area or activity. When discussing music theory, generally we are talking more about analysis of social conventions within music more than analysis of natural objective laws of sound. Music: Some answers: – – – – – – – – – WTF, I don't know. A thing that happens somewhere and people think is music? The new Justin Bieber single? Monkeys banging on rocks? The Monkees banging on rocks? Yodeling? A piece of paper with ink on it. A vinyl record. A commodity.

I guess what we're trying to say with these silly answers is that different people think of different things as music. If music can be anything from orchestras to birds chirping, to death metal, to experimental electronic noises, it can be a hard thing to define. Different cultures and different groups of people have differing ideas as to what music is, that's for sure! But maybe we could say this which doesn't help anything: A social event happening in time that likely includes sound.

WHAT IS THEORY? Wikipedia says: “Theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking.” So we could say theory is a way of trying to look at something and trying to make sense of it usually in statements.

WHAT IS MUSIC THEORY? We'll show ya! The purpose of music theory is not to define what is and isn't music, but to explain conventions within a certain musical system. The musical system we'll be looking at today is one arising out of Western European Bourgeois Art Music, which has gone on to be used not only in Classical music, but in other genres such as Jazz, Country, Pop, and yes , EVEN ROCK AND ROLL! *Cue rock and roll theory song. Sing along: “A blues in 5/4” Rock and Roll theory woo! Rock and Roll theory woo! WHY LEARN MUSIC THEORY? – – – Understanding some theory can help when communicating with other musicians, when trying to figure out a melody or chord progression on an instrument, or when reading music. It can also help us to understand why certain conventions do exist within the materials available to us as musicians. Eg: why a guitar is fretted, intonated and tuned a certain why or why a chord shape is called the chord it is. Although a lot of music theory attempts to standardize music in order to give concrete definitions, it can also help to challenge certain idiomatic conventions... WE THINK BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK?!?!

SOUND SCIENCE – Let's start by looking at some science! Where does sound come from? Sound is the sensory perception of the movement of air coming into your ear. (GROSS!) Those air vibrations, or oscillations, come from stuff vibrating. Eg: Vocal chords, guitar strings, saxophone reeds, or lips on a trumpet, or even your butt! Nerds, or “scientists,” measure vibrations by their speed, and call them frequencies. Frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz). One Hz is one vibration per second. People generally say that the higher the frequency, the higher the perceived pitch or note. But we could of easily called low pitches higher. Larger numbers do not equal north, and north doesn't even mean up.

– –

ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

– –

But in all seriousness, the convention is to call pitches with higher numbered frequencies higher. All sounds regardless of frequency travel at the same speed which is roughy 344 m/s in a room with a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. This is pretty awesome. Imagine if they travelled slower for lower frequencies! Bass players would have to play a song ahead! ZING! The ideal human hearing range is 20hz – 20,000hz. Although most of us can probably only hear up to 17,000 because we've rocked so hard. It is said that music legend Classic Rick can only hear up to about 11,000 Hz. More on that later.

– –

SOUND WAVES – The most simple kind of wave is a sine wave.

There are others, such as square, triangle and sawtooth waves.

If you had a machine that could create a sine wave either in sound or image form (usually called an oscillator), it is possible using the magic of MATH to generate these other varieties of waves by using multiple combinations of sine wave patterns. This is the basis of something called additive synthesis. Timbre:

– –

A sine wave oscillator has what could be subjectively (based on people's thoughts, feelings or attitudes) called a “pure” or “smooth” sounding timbre (pronounced tamber). (see Radiohead's Everything In Its Right Place). IN THEORY THIS IS TO DO WITH IT BEING A VERY SIMPLE SINGLE FREQUENCY THAT PRODUCES A VERY SMOOTH AND SIMPLE OSCILLATION IN THE AIR THAT

VIBRATES ALL THAT STUFF YOU GOTS IN YOUR EARS!!!! – All the other above mentioned wave forms have their own funny little sounds. These waves you could consider having more “complex” timbres because they require more sine waves in order to produce those sounds. I suppose analytically there is more depth though this judgement could also be subjective. Remember, although this is beyond our discussion, what we perceive as a full timbre in an instrument could be thought up of as a bunch of totally separate independent physical events that our brains piece together to create the overall sensory experience of an instrument. Instruments like pianos, voices, violins, rocks etc... could be thought to have pretty complex timbres. *But how much do we want to consider key noise as part of the timbre of a piano? Or the player coughing for that matter. LOL The sound of these different waves is due to different combinations and strengths (amplitude) of their “harmonics.” Different harmonics produce different “timbres” or “tones.” The reason different instruments playing the same note sound different is due to their differing timbres.

THE HARMONIC SERIES

– – –

So this guy named Pythagoras who was pretty chill and vegetarian, had this idea that all of reality could be explained using pretty simple mathematical equations. According to a video we saw of Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pythagoras worked mainly with music before really delving into a lot of his other mathematical theories. (Triangles and what not) Pythagoras noticed that at different points of this funny instrument he had called the “Monochord” there were these funny little tones that we call harmonics.

– –

These points are called nodes and as noted above are very simple fractional divisions of a string. Nodes are zonked!! The string is actually vibrating on both sides of the nodal point rather than just one side. Nodal harmonics like this do not involve actually physically shortening the length of the string, if we did, we'd end up with a whole new set of nodes. *cue pinch harmonics elliot. From this, a natural justification for what's called “pure tones” or “pure intervals” was derived. Within the timbre of an instrument there are certain harmonics that ring out and reinforce the perception of the “fundamental” or lowest frequency. BUT REMEMBER, THIS IS JUST HAPPENING IN OUR BRAINS! Cymbals and percussive “non-tonal” sounding instruments produce what's called partials or inharmonic tones. The harmonic series gives us a supposed natural explanation for how harmony in general works as a lot of “consonant” frequencies work together. Here's a video of LEONARD BERSTEIN (West Side Story yo!) talking more about this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8n3qMB6AD_0 and here's a video of a synth going through the harmonic series http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KgtQHbQnDk

– – – – –

SIDE NOTE THOUGHT: What to take from the Harmonic Series as an Aesthetic theory – Thinking about the harmonic series also gives us an explanation as to why there has been such a push towards the creation of “beautiful” pure, clear, harmonic music in western music. Remember, a relation to nature could also be thought of as a relation to God. Notes

ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – When we think about frequencies and all this physics of sound business, the idea of a note can get a bit confusing. In a lot of ways, what we usually casually refer to as a note on a instrument could be thought up of as actually a group of many notes, frequencies, sounds, etc... (see timbre), but our brains put together all these unrelated sounds under a larger category of “notes.” our view: the jump to the word note, within music theory, presents a move away from relating sound entirely from a scientific empirical(information gathered through the senses) analysis, to a move towards a more socially based analysis. (eg. Both violins and birds chirping produce pitches and frequencies, but bird chirps wouldn't usually be though of as notes. Though some nerds, or “new music composers,” have transcribed bird chirps into musical notation.) We hold on to the perception of a fundamental pitch as a linking between instruments. For example, 440 Hz is an A4 on a piano, which is the A above middle C. When it comes to naming a note, we refer to the fundamental frequency of that note, not all the higher harmonics that create its timbre. For example, A4 on Piano, which is the A above Middle C, we would say has a frequency of 440 Hz, even though there are a lot of other frequencies

– –

produced by that particular note along the harmonic series (eg. The first harmonic 880Hz). Again, the amplitude of the harmonic frequencies shapes the notes timbre. Sometimes we hear the harmonics more than the fundamental itself! (eg. The fundamental of the lowest note on Piano is 22.5 Hz which is almost below human hearing range.) – For all practical purposes, it makes sense to refer to “notes” as something that can be played on many instruments. OCTAVES – The first “harmonic” from the harmonic series is called an octave. This is a frequency that is double another frequency. Because of this, they sound similar and in music theory, notes that are an octave a part have the same name. (eg. My Sharona is a good example of a played octave)

*Cue My Sharona Sing along. THE TWELVE NOTES – You can divide up octaves lots of different ways. However, in the case of most common Western instruments, octaves have been divided into 12 pitches of equal distance apart from one another. (Why twelve? We're not totally sure, but we're all used to how that sounds now. Here's a 9 string guitar with 16 notes to the octave http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=nZu8k3zbdKE) One theory as to why twelve notes of equal distance works is that it best approximates the ratios of “pure” intervals related to the harmonic series without favouring particular notes. Although the harmonic series does present a sort of scale based on very simple tuning ratios, using this series became impractical when certain musicians historically wanted to start to switch scales in the middle of songs or musical pieces. Just intonation is the name of a tuning system that works directly off the Harmonic series. Lots of instruments still usually end up tuning to this system. The best visual for the 12 notes is a piano keyboard.

– –

– – –

These twelve notes are the same on any Western instrument, whether it's a guitar, a piano, a saxophone, a flute, or a timpani. If the instrument is in tune! There are 7 notes which on piano are the white keys (A, B, C, D, E, F, G). There are 5 notes which are the black keys, and these can either be called sharps (C#, D#, F#, G#, A#) or flats (Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb.) Yes, it's annoying that there are different names for sharps or flats, but under other tuning systems, G# and Ab notes actually had different fundamental frequencies! DIDGERIDOOS AND TURNTABLES

Two good examples of instruments that are not tuned in this way are didgeridoos and turntables.

NOTES ON THE GUITAR
How does this relate to a guitar? Do you remember the names of the strings? They were E A D G B E (Elephants Are Darn Good Banana Eaters or Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie) So, you already know 6 notes on the guitar, the open strings! (The E string is an E note, the A string is an A note, etc.) The space between a note and the next note is called a “half-step” (eg. C to C# or E to F). On the guitar, each fret is a half step. So, for instance, on the high E string, the open string is E, the 1st fret is F, the 2nd fret is F#, the 3rd fret is G, etc. On the B string, the open string is B, the 1st fret is C, the 2nd fret is C#, the 3rd fret is D, etc. Here is a chart with all the notes on all the strings up to the 12th fret.

NOTES ON A STAFF – There are different ways of writing down notes, such as chord charts and guitar tab. The most universal system for writing notes for Western instruments is writing notes on a staff. (See staff notation page in appendix)

-The grand staff is two staffs: one with a treble clef and one with a bass clef. Typically this is what piano players use for right and left hands. Bass players typically read in bass clef.

INTERVALS – – – – – A musical interval is the distance between two notes, or the ratio between their “fundamental” frequencies. The distance between one note and the next (eg C to C# or E to F) is called a “semi-tone” or “half step.” If you want to get really nerdy, you could calculate the exact frequency of a semi-tone by multiply the fundamental frequency of the original note by 2^(1/12). (EG: A440 x 2^(1/12) = 466.16 or the Bb above Middle C) Remember, ALL SEMI-TONES ARE ACTUALLY THE SAME DIFFERENCE IN FREQUENCIES! BLARG! A two semi-tone distance (eg. C to D or E to F#) is called a “whole-tone” or “whole step” or a “tone.” This convention is pretty annoying and confusing as this interval could be called a Major Second. (See next page)

CHROMATIC SCALE - A scale is a set of notes. A chromatic scale is a 12 note scale composed entirely of semi-tones. You could also think of it as all the notes played sequentially in our 12 note tuning system. MAJOR SCALE – – A major scale is a common pattern of whole-tones (W) and semi-tones (H). It has seven notes and if you wanna sound smart to your friends, you could call it a heptatonic scale. (hepta meaning 7 as opposed to pentatonic which is a 5 note scale.)

There are many intervals in the major scale. From the 1st note to the 2nd note is an interval of a “Major 2nd,” from the 1st to the 3rd is an interval of a Major 3rd, from the 1st to the 6th is an interval of a 6th, etc. The major scale is used THE MOST in lots of music but there's lots of other scales. In a lot of Western music, minor scales are probably the next most commonly used scales. If you play A B C D E F G A, that's an A natural minor scale. The reason a minor scale sounds different than a major scale is that it is a different pattern of whole-tones and semi-tones. Both are considered “Diatonic” scales. Which basically means that the notes within the scale are thought to have a hierarchal relationship.

– – –

-Here are the scale degree names within the “diatonic” key of C Major.

OMG WTF IS A KEY??!?!? -A key, is a part of a piano duh. -But to make it more confusing it also describes when a song or piece of music is centred around a certain note or tone. For example: when we say something is in the key of C, we're saying that all the notes we are playing are part of a hierarchy related to that note. HIERARCHY!!!!! Also, usually most of the notes will come directly out of the major scale. -When we free improvises with notes, you could say that we are presenting a sort of ANARCHY. -In classical music, the “tonal” centre of a key can be called the “tonic,” or “root.” -This system is called tonality. CHORDS/TRIADS CHORDS: – The word harmony refers to the sound of two or more notes together. The 12-note tuning system came about largely due to the fact that some people in some cultures wanted to explore harmony. Really any combination of notes could be considered a chord. There are probably some you are more used to hearing than others. The two types of chords we're all probably most familiar with are Major and Minor chords. Both Major and Minor chords contain Perfect 5ths. Major chords contain a Major 3rd, and Minor chords contain a minor 3rd. Eg C major (C-E-G) and C minor (C-Eb-G). Both triads both contain the perfect 5th C and G. C major contains C and E (a major 3rd) and C minor contains C and Eb (a minor third.)

– – – –

– –

-

– – – –

These are the triads you get by playing the white keys on the piano, and they are also the triads that are diatonic to the key of C major. Note: why is C major a major chord, while Dm is a minor chord? Note how C major contains C to E (4 semi-tones, or a major 3rd), while Dm contains D to F (3 semi-tones, or a minor 3rd.) If you take any major chord and lower the middle note (the 3rd) by a semi-tone, you get a minor chord. Eg. C-E-G is C major. Lower the E to Eb, and you get C-Eb-G, which is C minor. A chord can be voiced in different ways. For instance, you can play a C major triad up high on a piano or down low. Or you could get 3 people to sing the three pitches of a C major chord. Or 3 clarinets. Or 3 clarinets, 3 singers and 3 piano players. A further confusing thing is you can invert the chord to get inversions. So instead of (low to high) C-E-G, you could play E-G-C or G-C-E. Just because E-G-C doesn't have C as the bottom note, it's still called a C major chord. ROMAN NUMERAL CHORD ANALYSIS

– – –

Just as we can think of notes as groups of frequencies, and intervals or chords as a group of notes, we can think of chord progressions as a group of chords. Roman numerals are used so that a person can easily understand the progression of chords in a song, and the relation between those chords, regardless of what key the song is in. Roman numerals further reinforce the hierarchal relationship within a key.

We can number the chords that come out of a scale: – eg C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim, C = I IIm IIIm IV V VIm VIIo I

Because the pattern of semitones and whole-tones that makes a major scale is always the same, the order of chords in a major key is always going to be the same. The I, IV and V chords are always going to be major; ii, iii and vi will always be minor, and vii is diminished. Lower case roman numerals mean they are minor chords. The most common chords in songs in a major key are I, V, IV and vi There's a youtube video called “The Four Chords of Awesome” that shows how many pop songs (“When I Come Around,” “Under The Bridge,” “Don't Stop Believing,” “With Or Without You,” “What's My Age Again,” and a whole bunch more) all use a progression with these chords: I V vi IV (eg. C G Am F or G D Em C in G Major)

– – –

Here's an example of a song analysed with Roman Numeral Analysis: I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones I IV I Twenty twenty twenty four hours ago, I wanna be sedated I IV I Nothing to do nowhere to go, I wanna be sedated V I Just get me to the airport and put me on a plane V I Hurry hurry hurry, before I go insane V I I can't control my fingers, I can't control my brain IV V Oh no no no no no!

Closing remarks: -Should we allow any natural law to govern something that is primarily social? -What are the dangers of that? (BEETHOVEN IS BEAUTIFUL REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU THINK.) – The power of music, and tonality in particular, to move people is pretty crazy. Music can be used to inspire religious fervour, hysteria, complacency or rebellion. It can sell shampoo or fuel social movements. What is this power? Tonal indoctrination? Is it a thing?

Added response to question about “dissonance.” -Jo: whether dissonance is presented as an “off key” note, or “non harmonic” interval, or “dischordant” chord, I think has less to do with the physics of sound and more to do with a step outside of a presented system of musical expression. The words dissonance and “noisey” or “noise” I would say are synonymous for all practical purposes, but in conservatory theory, the definition can be more specifically related to certain intervals with a rational justification coming from the harmonic series. Remember, Brahms might have sounded “dissonant” to Bach. Rock and roll sounded “dissonant” to older generations in the 50s, and, as we learned yesterday, punk sounded dissonant to Ian MacKaye when he first heard it! See Jacques Attali: “Noise” GLOSSARY: Convention: A way in which something is usually done, esp. within a particular area or activity. music: ? Triad: a 3 note chord. Interval: the distance between two notes or the sound of those two notes together. Frequency: a measurement of a wave vibration equal to one vibration per second. Hertz: the scientific measure of frequency. Sound: the sensory perception of movement of air coming into your ear. Timbre: the tonal characteristic of a sound.

Octave: In science, a frequency a multiple of 2 away from another. In music, a note with the same name 12 semi-tones from a root note. Called an “octave” because the assumption is you are using an 7 note scale, thus the 8th note is the same as the 1st. Tempered tuning: A system of tuning where all the notes are the same ratio from one another. Staff: a graph for notating music. The vertical position represents pitch and the horizontal represents time. -Grand staff: two staffs: one with a treble clef and one with a bass clef. Treble clef: a clef indicating that the 2nd staff line from the bottom is a G (also known as G clef.) Bass clef: a clef indicating that the 2nd staff line from the top is an F (also known as F clef.) Scale: a set of notes Chromatic scale: a 12 note scale comprising all 12 pitches of the 12-note tempered tuning system. Major scale: a 7 note scale with the following pattern of whole steps and half steps: W-W-H-W-W-WH. Minor scale: there are a few minor scales. The most common is the natural minor scale with the following pattern of W-H-W-W-W-H-W. The natural minor scale is the same as starting on the 6th note of a major scale. Harmonic series: the naturally occurring pattern of overtones. Harmonic: an interval that comes out of the harmonic series.