Tag Archives: teaching

chord theory 1: 12 notes

When I started learning music theory, I found it hard work.  Our music system didn’t make much sense to me.  Let’s start with some facts, and maybe the cause of my confusion will reveal itself.  I start with this stuff because if it didn’t make much sense to me, then maybe it isn’t making sense to you or your students.

the 12 notes – with sharps

Note# is the notation for the word sharp, meaning higher in pitch.

A

A#

B

C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

This is called the chromatic scale.  It has all 12 notes.  The notes get higher from left to right.  A# is a slightly higher note that A, but not as high as B.  Each sharp is higher than the note before it, but not as high as the next note along.  Some notes don’t have an in-between note.  You can see that B and C have no note in between them, and neither do E and F.  This can puzzle people…why do only some notes have in-betweeners?  Its not a question I can answer yet, but it is something you will need to accept to progress in this series, even if I can’t explain why.

the 12 notes – with flats

Note: b is the closest character I can find for the notation for the word flat, meaning lower in pitch.

A

Bb

B

C

Db

D

Eb

E

F

Gb

G

Ab

This is also the chromatic scale.  It has all 12 notes.  Crucially, it is the same scale. Even though some of the notes look different, it is exactly the same.  Where we had sharps – A# is higher than an A, we now have flats – Bb is lower than a B.  A# and Bb are the same note.

sharps and flats

In the sections above, I have given the impression that there are two chromatic scales, that is, it looks like there are two scales of 12 notes.  However, its just one scale, but presented in two different ways, once listing the notes we think of as sharps, and once showing the same notes as flats.

A

A#

B

C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C

Db

D

Eb

E

F

Gb

G

Ab

A# is the same note as Bb.  C# is the same note as Db, F# is the same note as Gb.

Having made that point, we can now redraw the scale.

A

A# or  Bb

B

C

C# or Db

D

D# or Eb

E

F

F# or Gb

G

G# or Ab

Why do we have two names for A#, and when do I call that note A# or Bb?  Some people may be able to give  you a complicated answer, but for me, if I know the next note is higher than this note, I say I am getting sharper, and if I know the next note that I am playing is lower in pitch, I will say its flatter.

my personal convention

A

  Bb

B

C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F# 

G

G# 

As a self taught guitar player learning from books (before we had the internet), A# was always referred to as Bb.  Don’t ask me why.  For the rest of the series of articles, I will use this convention.  Just remember, sharps and flats are the same thing – its the same note on a keyboard or a fretboard.

intervals, semi-tones and tones

The gap between any two notes is called the interval.   Intervals are measured in semi-tones and tones.  A semi-tone is the next note along, a tone is two notes along.  There is no magic here.

A

semi

Bb

semi

B#

semi

C

semi

C#

semi

D

semi

D#

semi

E

semi

F

semi

F#

semi

G

semi

G#

A

tone

B

tone

C#

tone

D#

tone

F

tone

G

Bb

tone

C

tone

D

tone

E

tone

F#

tone

G#


In this table, which was tremendously difficult to draw, I have shown every semi-tone interval, and every tone interval.  We can use this table to see that the interval from:

  • A to Bb is one semi-tone
  • Bb to B is one semi-tone
  • A to B is a tone (two semi-tones)
  • B to C# is a tone (two semi-tones)
  • D to F# is three semi-tones (or one and  half tones)

12 notes? erm….there are 88 keys on my piano!

circle of notes2

Yup, and on my guitar, there are more than 12 frets.  As students and teachers, we should not take it for granted that a student understands that once you travel from A to G# the notes repeat again, starting from A.   On the keyboard, you can see the notes repeating.  The black keys are the in-betweeners.

88-key-piano-keyboard-layout
Pick any string on this guitar, count 12 semi-tones, and the notes repeat.

guitar fretboard

summary

Whilst this may seem obvious, and this article rather large, we have covered a surprising amount, and there is plenty for a person to be confused about.

  1. there are 12 notes
  2. the notes don’t appear to be named consistently – there are some that are in-between notes, known as sharps or flats
  3. these in-betweeners each have 2 names, but they are the same note
  4. A# is also called Bb, C# is also Db, F# is also Gb, and G# is also Ab (remember the circle)
  5. there is no note between B and C
  6. the interval between B and C is only a semi-tone
  7. there is no note between E and F
  8. the interval between E and F is only a semi-tone
  9. there are two semi-tones in a tone
  10. the chromatic scale is 12 notes long, and the interval between each adjacent note is a semi-tone.  This is the defining feature of the chromatic scale.

Addendum

Since posting this article and moving on to chord theory 2: the C major scale, I have found this lovely diagram which complements my the table above, showing the tones and semi-tones.

keyboard perfect

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footwork

one of my favourite footwork exercises I teach in my class at the moment is this combination. In my pidgin Korean, this is

dwi kobi, dolliyo chagi, dwi chagi, joochum sogi, sohn nal yop chigi

…or in English…

Back stance, turning kick (rebend, place foot), back kick (rebend and place foot again) slide into horse riding stance, knife hand side strike.

As usual, its all about foot placement and you know its working when that final knife hand strike lands with some power in conjunction with finishing the horse-riding stance.  Rebending the leg after the back kick allows for a good transition into horse riding stance, and provided your arms weren’t flailing madly during the kicks, you should have a satisfyingly meaty knife hand strike.

If you are struggling, remember, don’t fall out of your kicks, rebend the kicking leg and place it where you want it.  The foundation of any good technique is good foot work.

Give it a try.

use of metaphors

I was thinking about my article pull your laces tightA similar analogy could be constructed with a zip.  

By abstracting the content of the analogy (relationships) from the form of the analogy (a shoe), I can see that both shoe and zip could be metaphors for any activity that requires regular monitoring to ensure quality or a successful outcome, and where inaction results in a deterioration.  Ideally though, the analogy should perhaps be restricted to systems where there are two main players that in some way need pulling together.

Initially, I decided that this metaphor would be suitable for software development for companies that trade using that software – this is called enterprise software.  In the enterprise software world, where real life is constantly changing, and real business must me react accordingly, the software that models and operates the business process must always change to suit.  It is never considered finished. Such software is either constantly improving by concerted effort, or degrading by ignorance, or degrading by growth of data – the journey, in the original article – namely, even if the software is not made worse, an increase of data means more data problems to fix when the inevitable manifests.

However, having added the qualifier that there are two main players that in some way need pulling together, I now think my zip / shoe metaphor is not great for software.

If you can think of any suitable metaphors for my enterprise software scenario, please send let me know.  Similarly, if you can think of further usage of the shoe / zip metaphor, I would love to hear them.

pull your laces tight!

When you put your shoes on in the morning, you slacken off the laces a bit, fit your foot in there, wiggle it about, then pull the laces tight enough to hold your shoe on.  Some people like to have them on snugly, nice and tight, others like a looser fit.  After a mile or so, you may well loosen them because they are too tight, or tighten them because they are too loose.  You walk another mile, and maybe you make another adjustment, maybe it takes you five miles before you need to fiddle.

Inevitably, the further you walk, the looser your shoes become.

For me, this is a useful analogy for relationships.  The longer the journey, the more attention you need to pay to how tight your laces are.  At the start of your journey, the effort you put in at the beginning may be holding it all together, and whilst things are comfortable now, you will need to adjust at some point.

You may even find the shoe does‘t fit, in which case, change it, before you damage yourself.

For a long journey, you need to keep tightening those bindings that keep the shoe on. The problem is, old shoes can be comfortable, and you may not notice the laces coming undone.  Eventually, you will trip and fall, or your shoe will come right off your foot.

boot

Thanks to Tim King for use of the photograph.

As a final thought, if your shoe does come off, comfort yourself with this truth: the person you were when you started your relationship has gone, you’ve moved on by as many years as your relationship existed.  Similarly, for your partner. A ten year relationship means a combined personality divergence of twenty years!  Are you the same people you were 20 years ago? I doubt it.

basic chord theory

In this series, I will try to consolidate my own learning by writing articles on:

  • The basic12 note scale, and where to find them on the piano and guitar fretboard
  • The C major scale – the starting point of my learning and understanding
  • Applying the C major scale learning to the remaining notes to derive A major, B major, D major etc
  • Defining the C major chord and relating it to the C major scale.
  • Applying the major chord definition to the major scales we derived earlier to illustrate how the basic open chords of the guitar reflect the rule
  • Constructing minor chords
  • Constructing other chords, and the names of them
  • More theory, as taught to me by Marty Schwartz

That’s quite ambitious, it may take a while.  Encourage me by writing to me, providing feedback, posting comments.