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ACADEC Music Theory

By Micah Gautney
• We study the musical patterns of the western

• 6 time periods in music
– Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical,
Romantic, and Modern

• Music has slowly progressed over the past
2000 years to give us what we have today
What is “music”?
• Sound organized in time

• Sound is a wave of energy

• A wave of energy has two characteristics
– Amplitude determines the decibel level
– Frequency determines pitch
Frequency and Pitches
• Measured in Hz

• Hz means “cycles per second”

• Humans hear 20-20,000 Hz

• An octave is the doubling of the frequency

• Standard A-440
Overtones and partials
• Very few sounds consist of one pure frequency

• Most pitches consist of..
– A dominant or fundamental frequency
– Other, less noticeable frequencies of smaller wavelengths
• Wavelengths of one half, one third, one fourth, etc.

• These higher pitches with smaller wavelengths are
called overtones or partials
Equal Temperament
• Since about 1750 a system of tuning called
equal temperament has dominated western

• Divides the octave into 12 equal parts

• These twelve pitches in order are called the
chromatic scale
The Keyboard and Staff
• A succession of whole steps and half steps

• There are many different types of scales
– Major
– minor
– Church modes
– Blues, pentatonic, chromatic, whole tone, Arabic, byzantine, etc.

• Often used as the common notes for a piece of
Rhythm, Beat, and Tempo
• Rhythm is the way music is organized in time
• Beat is the steady pulse that underlies most
music (unless it is unmetered)
• Tempo is the speed of the beat
– Tempo can change (rubato)
• Ritardando
• Accelerando
• Poco a poco
• subito

• Beats have equal length but not equal
importance. Some beats have more stress applied
to them.
• There is normally a regular pattern of stressed
and unstressed beats.
• Beats are grouped into measures based on the
stressed beats. These measures are separated by
bar lines
• There are different types of meters
– Duple, triple, quadruple, or irregular
• Meter is often shown by the time signature
Rhythmic Notation
• Symbols are
used to show
how long a
note should
Time Signature
• Indicates meter
• Looks like a fraction without a bar
• Bottom number indicates the durational value
of the beat
• Top number indicates beats per measure
• Most common is four-four time or “common
• Two-two is “cut time”

Simple and Compound Meter
• Based on subdivision of beats

• If a beat is subdivided into two beats, it is

• If a beat is subdivided into three beats, it is

• Three or more notes sounding simultaneously
• A triad is a chord consisting of three notes
with intervals of a third in between each
• There are 4 qualities of triad
– Major, minor augmented, diminished
• inversions

• Not a piano key
• A key is the world of pitch relationships within
which a piece of music takes place
• The set of seven notes a piece or section of
music uses
• Key signature