Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Too Easy: Using the circle of fifths to determine chords

Wooooooh! I -real- music lesson- and this music teacher has a sense of humor! Useful information!!!! ( Ummm..yeah, if you're in the "beginner class" and haven't heard of the circle of fifths yet, we'll get there. Watch this anyway. )

Back to Basics: Reading Music

For the beginners, here's a very quick little video that talks a little bit about finding pitches in written music and how the length of a note is expressed.

Songwriting Rituals

If you want to compose your own music, it can be very helpful to create a few "personal songwriting rituals" for yourself.

Anything that gets you into the mood and the right frame of mind can be useful. Knowing what works for you is the key. Some people like to write music free of distraction, in a quiet room with noone else around. Others enjoy sitting in a park with their guitar, and may enjoy being around friends while working on things.

It can be a good idea to develope a set of things you do almost every time you sit down to make music. This can be formal or informal, spiritual or silly, profound, profane, or all of the above. (Yes, that's possible.)

Jane sits down at her piano, pulls out some manuscript paper and a pencil, lights a candle on top of it to represent inspiration, and plays through her scales and exercizes before letting them take her someplace. Soon she's lost in new sounds, and writing something down in a hurry.

Billy stumbles out of bed, cracks a beer, and lovingly rubs the neck of his guitar. His notebook and pen are already on the floor in his usual spot.

Whatever little elements you can add to your routine of practice, playing, and creation that can happen in the same way most of the time can help create a "mental trigger" Jane's subconscious mind, where the creativity really resides, understands that it's showtime when she lights the candle. Billy knows that when he tastes the beer and starts idylly playing with his guitar, something will happen.

It's a process of creating a mental landscape that is open to the creative process. Try lot's of things, and feel free to comment here and let me know some of your favorite tricks to get into the mood. :-)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Homework Blues:

I woke up this morning,
Knew I had homework to do....
Yes I woke up this morning,
and I knew I had homework to do,
But the sun it wasn't shinin'
and I could only think in Blue.

Here's a great article that talks a little about the history of the blues, and links for some more things to read. :-) This is fun- I kind of like torturing the audience with homework. *giggle*

What is the blues?

Who is important to know about in the history of the blues?
( These guys, and me and you. The blues is for the people, got it? )

And wow, that list is comprehensive. Scattered throught the descriptions of musicians who have been important to the blues as a musical movement, there are also suggestions of essential songs to listen to. I could probably look through this stuff all day. :-)

Happy reading. I expect a 12 page report on my desk Monday morning---- oh, what, it's already Monday? Well, I guess you're just going to have to write a blues song about it, then. :-)


12 Bar Blues

The 12 bar blues is one of the most common and well loved chord progressions. Knowing how it works lets you really work on playing the blues and making up your own songs very quickley.

The phrase 12 bar refers to the number of bars, or measures, that the repeatable pattern takes up. The twelve measures can be broken down into three four-bar segments.

The lyrics typically follow an AAB pattern, where the first two 4 bar stanza's are "A" and the third is "B". The first and second lines are usually repeated, and the third is a response to them, often with a twist.

Not all blues songs follow this pattern, but it is the most well known and easy to understand format, which will help the listener to understand the musical framework used in the blues better.

Before we get into more about how to sit down with your piano or guitar and do it, listen to an example of a 12-bar blues song:

( And would also be a fabulous example of how you're allowed to go completely insane while playing the 12 bar blues. Sometimes insanity is fun ;-)~)

Playing the Blues

Here's a neat little tutorial I found that shows how to make 4 simple chords that will work for composing a blues song. Definately some great ideas you can experiment with.:-)

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Although I'm not writing this blog primarily to make money, I could -really- use some. I'm also kind of pleased, they're putting adds up that are totally relevant and interesting, like the one to Berkley Music Online.

I know it's a shameless plug- but please, check out my sponsor links, and help a sister out. :-)


The Blues Scale- C Minor Pentatonic – Blues Scale in C

Before we can play the blues, we have to understand how the blues are built. The scale is a little different, including “bent” or “blue” notes.

On a piano you can hear the C minor pentatonic or C Blues scale by playing these six notes:

C – E flat- F- F sharp- G- B flat.

Like the other scales we’ve discussed, it has a particular pattern that can be moved to any root note by using the same structure of half steps and whole steps.

Respectively, the scale is built one, flat three, four, flat five, five, flat seven- but try just learning it in C first. I recommend playing up and down the scale until you are very comfortable with it, and then just noodling around with those notes. See what melodic phrases occur to you naturally and have fun.

Here's a video tutorial so you can see the scale being played.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let’s Learn “House the Rising Sun”

Undoubtedly, The Animals version is the most well loved, although many other musicians have also covered this song.

Here’s several you tube videos that teach a version of this song being played on piano :

and a guitar version:

I love this song, and it has an interesting and somewhat mysterious roots. Here’s also a little bit about the history of this song from Wikipedia:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rock Legends: The White Strips "Seven Nation army" and How to Play it!!!

Gods of Guitar: Jimi Hendrix "All Aong The Watchtower" Original Music Video

Bow Down Before Gods- "Carlos Santana" Put Your Lights On

Fun with Chords on the Piano

(This can also be played on guitar, you just have to look up where the notes are and finger pick them. )

Soon we’ll have to talk more about notation and reading music, but here’s an exercise with those arpeggiated chords that sounds pretty and is easy to do.

Going up the keyboard, play the first set of notes with your left hand, the second with your right, then cross your left hand over your right and play the first set again with your left and then your right. Like this:

Left Right Left Right

It’s the same chord, played one note at a time, in four different octaves on the piano.

Try it slowly, as though you’re playing something from a beautifully lilting song. Once you get the hang of it, also try to see how fast you can do it. Then try it with all the chords you just learned in the C scale.

Now try it using the chords C major ( C-E-G) and when you finish the ascending pattern, go below whre you started and do the same things with the A minor chord ( A C-E). Follow that with the same pattern for F major, and then G major. Specifically:


You may think that sounds kind of neat as a pattern when you do it. The reason for that is that we’re moving from one chord to another which either shares tones in common or have other powerful relationships to one another. That will take a lot of explaining over time, but some of it is very simple to understand. This could be described as a “chord progression”. If the chords were numbered the way we talked about C-E-G would be called “ I “ , and A-C-E would be called “ vi “ , F-A-C would become “IV” and G-B-D would become “ V”.

If that sounds confusing, take a deep breath, and just play through it a few times. It’s easy to play and your ears understand already that there is a relationship within the chords.

When you move from the C major pattern down to the A minor pattern, you are moving from the first degree of the C major scale to the sixth degree of the scale. When you move from the A minor chord to the F major chord, you are moving from the sixth degree of the scale to the fourth. When you move from the F major Chord to the G major chord, you are moving from the fourth degree of the c scale to the fifth.

1- 6- 4 - 5
I –vi- IV- IV

One of the reasons knowing that is useful is that if you understand the pattern you can take it into any other key, which is “transposing”. For instance you know that the first chord In G major is the G major chord, G-B-D. To create the same pattern of arpeggios using the G major scale, you’d start with the “ I” chord (which would be G-B-D ) move to the “ vi” chord ( E- G- B ), then the “IV” chord ( C-E-G ) and the “V” (D-F-A)

Chord Theory I

Okay, go back to the C major scale, which you’ll remember is the white keys from C to C, and includes the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

Your first triad, or three note chord, is the C major chord. It involves the first, third and fifth note of the C major scale- C-E-G. Play them at once, and you have a C major chord. In the c=scale f C it’s also called the Major First, and sometimes indicated with an upper case Roman numeral “ I “

Now, if you move each finger one note to the right in that scale, you’ll get a D minor chord. ( D-F-A). In the scale of C it’s also called the minor second (we’ll get to why later ) and sometimes indicated by a lower case roman numeral “ ii “.

By continuing up the scale moving each finger to the right by one key, you get seven chords based on the C Major Scale:

C-E-G = C Major= Major I
D-F-A = D minor= minor ii
E-G-B= E minor = minor iii
F-A-C= F Major = Major IV
G-B-D = G Major = Major V
A-C-E = A minor = minor vi
B-D-F= B diminished = minor vii diminished

The numbers represent the scale degrees within a scale, 1-7.

The Roman numeral is capitalized when the resulting chord is Major, and lower case when the resulting chord is minor.

It is possible that some of the same chords may exist in other scales, but they will be numbered differently based upon the key they are in. For instance, the same G Major Chord used in the C scale is used in the G major scale, but it’s the first chord in that key, so it would then be called a Major I.

If you are new to playing with chords on a piano, try playing each of the chords in a C major scale in succession, with each hand, and then with both hands together. Getting into chords is fun, it’s where the music starts to sound like music.

Also try playing each of the notes in a chord in succession, which is called and arpeggio. You can play the notes individually, or hold each note as you play the next for variations in sound. Try playing up and down the keyboard with variations on this theme. For instance, play each note of the C chord in your left hand holding each note as the next is played, and then in the right hand, making the six distinct notes come in at different times and end at the same time. Do the same thing for D-G-G, and so on. Try it, it sounds pretty! Come up with some of your own exercises to play around with involving the seven chords based in the key of C Major.

The notes for these chords are the same for a guitar, although I think the relation between the notes is visualized a little easier with the layout of a piano or keyboard. The basic theory however is the same, and can be applied to multiple instruments.

Instruments which can play more than one note at a time frequently make use of chords. Other instruments which sound one note at a time may use similar concepts such as the arpeggiated notes of a triad. They may also represent one note of a larger chord made by multiple instruments playing at once in a band, orchestra, or chorus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

COCO ROBICHEAUX- New Orleans Blues

Now how bad-ass would you have to be to win an award called "Best Blues Album by a Louisana Artist"

Seriously. Babies cut their teeth on harmonica's in Louisana. The spices in the food make 'em wail that way. There ain't nobody that can sing the blues like someone who'se stumbled home through the french quarter in New Orleans. The rhythmn is in the sound of steps on the pavement, the rocking of the train, the ebb and flow of the tide.

Here's a site where you can find out more about his music, and a link to his myspace page and other articles. :-)

( I miss you Coco. Thanks for letting me play with You, and telling such fabulous stories! )

The pattern for a natural minor scale

Much like you can find out what a major scale sounds like from playing the white keys from C to C on a piano, you can easily hear the sound of a minor scale by playing the white keys from A to A on a piano.

The pattern of half steps and whole steps in a minor scale is not the same as it is for a major scale, which is what gives it a different kind of sound.

A (whole step ) B (half step) C (Whole step) D (Whole Step) E (half step ) F (whole step ) G ( whole step ) A

In any natural minor scale the pattern will be whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole.

Try E minor, for instance. The notes in E natural minor are E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E. The fingering for both A and d minor is the same as the scales previously worked with.

Take note that the notes in A minor are the same as the notes in C major, they just start on A instead of C. Likewise, the Notes in E minor are the same as the notes in G major. Thusly E is called the relative minor of G major, and A is called the relative minor of C major. Every major scale has a relative minor, and every minor scale has a relative major.

To find the relative minor of any major scale, count down 1 and 1/2 steps.

To find the relative major of any minor key, count up one and 1/2 steps.

If you've been following along, we've now gone through the major scales starting on the keys of C, D, G, and A as well as the Minor scales A and D. If you are working on a poano, we have also discussed which fingers to use on which keys and how to progress from playing with each hand individually and then putting them together. More importantly, we've talked about how the patterns of half steps and whole steps work in each of these scales. If you understand that, you'll be able to figure out both major and minor scales starting on any key.

It should also be noted that there are several alternative forms of the minor scale; natural minor, melodic minor, and harmonic minor. I'll be explaining how to do that later after we have gotten through the primary basic scales.

Fun with your Printer

As you continue, it would be useful to have these things in front of you if you don't already know them.

Here is a printable pdf that shows the notes in the treble clef as written on staff paper, and how they correspond to the notes on a piano or keyboard.

Here is another pdf for the notes in the bass clef.

Here’s a simple worksheet to help you with identifying the notes:

Can you find the notes quiz

Here's another quiz, if you want to see if you understand the placements of notes and what half steps and whole steps are.

Keyboard Features Quiz

Heh. Keyboard features for dummies.

This simple little quiz will tell you how much you know about using a very simple electronic piano keyboard. It uses a few terms I haven't gotten into, but could be useful to someone just atarting out. Most of the awnsers are fairly obvious, and it amused me.

Scales for Piano, D Major, A Major, A minor.

D major and A Major are played with identical fingering to C and G major, which I talked about earlier.

The Key of D major starts on the note "D", which is the white note in between any pairing of two plack keys on the piano. The notes in D major are: D- E- F #-G- A- B- C # -D. The right hand plays up the keys with the fingering 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4-5, and descends in reverse; 5-4-3-2-1,3-2-1. The Left hand ascends 5-4-3-2-1-, 3-2-1 and decends 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4-5.

( If you're just checking in now, a detailed explanation of how a major scale is built and what the fingering numbers mean is in the earlier posts. )

The key of A Major has three sharps, and they are F #, C # and G #. The A major scale starts on A and it's notes are A-B-C #-D-E-F #-G #-A. The fingering pattern for the left and the right hand are the same as above.

Try both of those, and then try A minor to hear how the sound of a major scale and a minor scale are different. If you can play a C scale, you can automatically play and A minor scale- you just might not have known it. Play only the white keys from A to the next A. ( A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A) The fingering for this scale is the same as the other scales we've gone through, so it should seem very natural. You'll notice that the A minor scale has a different kind of feeling than the other scales. The reason for that is that the pattern of half steps and whole steps in the scale is different than the pattern used for a major scale. I'll be getting into that more later.

If you're following along with a piano or keyboard and don't already know these scales, play around with them with your hands seperately, and then try playing them with both hands together.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Music~ The Art of Listening

Now, assuming you’re smart, you started at the bottom of the blog. If you ddn’t know already, you now know how to find middle c, what half-steps and whole steps are, what flats and sharps are, what pattern is used from any key note to create a major scale, and how to play that with your left and right hand on the piano in C major and G Major.

Now on to talking about music, and styles of music for a moment. Classical Music is often used as a part of traditional learning in music. Traditional teachers often feel that the classics best give a student an understanding of music theory, playing technique, and the forms of composition.

There’s a lot of BEAUTIFUL classical music out there, the techniques and theory behind which all kinds of more modern music has its roots in.

The common music of today is also highly influenced by Jazz and Blues, Classic Rock, Folk and Country music. You don’t have to immediately like all of the different styles of music to understand that they have had interesting influences on one another. Much of this can be mapped both culturally and mathematically.

In trying to develop a well rounded perception of music, I think it’s a good idea to develop a kind of recognition and appreciation of all the available styles.

Follow along with one of my piano students as I give her lot’s of interesting things to listen to. Here’s this week’s list, and a link to a playlist I created on project playlist where you can hear all of them for free.

Beehtoven- Fur Elise
Beehtoven-Moonlight Sonata
Samuel Barber- Adaggio for Strings

Jazz and Blues
Etta James- At Last
Ottis Redding- Sittin on the Dock of the Bay
The Animals- The House of the Rising Sun

Lyrical Folk
Leonard Cohen-Famous Blue Raincoat
Leonard Cohen- Suzanne
Suzanne Vega- The Queen and the Soldier
Suzanne Vega- Gypsy

Check back for the Project playlist link

Fingering for the keys of C, G, single octave.

Look at your left and right hand and imagine the fingers numbered like this:

Left hand: pinkey= 5, ring finger= 4, middle finger= 3, index finger= 2, thumb= 1.

Right Hand: Thumb= 1, index finger= 2, middle finger= 3, ring finger = 4, pinkey = 5.

To play a c scale properly with the right hand hit C with your thumb (1) D with your index finger (2), and E with your middle finger. Then cross your thumb (1) under and use it to play F, your index (2) for G, your middle finger (3) for a, your ring finger (4) for B, and your pinkey for the C an octave up from where you began.

Right Hand:

1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5

For your left hand begin with the pinkey (5) on the C, then play D (4) E (3) F (2) G (1). Cross over your thumb with your middle finger and play A (3) B (2) C (1).

Left Hand:

5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1

The G Scale uses the same fingering and is

Right Hand:

1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5

The decending pattern for each hand is the same in reverse.

If you are new to this, it's easiest to learn by trying in first with each hand seperately, and then playing it with both hands together at once. The only tricky part is that when you play it with both hands, your fingers cross over at different times. After about five minutes of frustration it will probably feel quite natural, so just play with it until you get a knack for it.

The pattern for a Major Scale

The pattern for a major scale can easily be seen on any piano, by finding a “c” note, and playing all the white keys up to the next “c”. The pattern is of course the same for other instruments, it’s just very easy to understand visually when looking at a piano keyboard.

Even if you know relatively little about music, finding “c” is easy. Look at any keyboard and you will notice that there are groupings of two and three black keys. The white key too the left of any of the pairings of two black keys is a “c”. The one commonly referred to as “middle c” is roughly in the middle of the piano.

From one “C” to the next higher or lower “C” is a musical octave. It is called an octave because it is comprised of 8 notes. The eighth note is the last note of one octave and the first note of the next, which is why only 7 letter names are used. A "C major scale" uses the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, in order. Sometimes the referring to the notes in a scale like this is called the spelling of the scale.

You will notice that when you hit “D”, the second note in a c major scale, that there is a black note in between the white keys. That note is sometimes called “C sharp” and other times called “D flat”. It is one half step up from "C", and from that black not in between it is another half step to "D". Skipping a tone like that is called a whole step. From "D" to "E" is also a whole step.

The first three notes in any major scale are all one whole step from each other.

----- "C" (whole step) "D" (Whole Step) "E"-----

There is no black key in between "E" and "F", which makes the interval there a half step.

----- "C" (whole step) "D" (Whole Step) "E" (half step ) "F" -----

Then we have a whole step between "F" and "G", another one between "G" and "A", and another one between "A" and "B". Finally from "B" to "C" we have another half step.

The pattern for a major scale, which can be built from any key, is:

1. (whole step)
2. (whole step)
3. (half step)
4. (whole step)
5. (whole step)
6. (whole step)
7. (half step)

You just repeat the pattern to continue up to the next octave, or play back down in reverse.

The same pattern is used from different starting points to create other major keys, which will have flats or sharps in them to preserve the same pattern of intervals between the notes.

For instance, the key of "G major" starts on "G", and is played from "G" to another "G" an octave above or below, with one sharp. The sharped note is "F", it is the first black key in the grouping of three black keys. If you were to spell the scale it would be "G-A-B-C-D-E- F sharp – G". If you were to look at the patterns of half steps and whole steps involved you would see that it is also built the same way. (whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step)

Likewise, "F major" has one flat, which is "B flat". It is the last of the three black notes. It would be played "F-G-A- B flat – C- D- E- F".

If you have access to a piano or keyboard and are just learning, try to plunk out these different scales now. I will discuss the easiest fingering for those scales in my next post. If you are new to music, please don't be intimidated by the idea of playing scales- it's really all based on a pattern that is so simple a child that knows their alphabet and how to count could easily understand it and can be very useful to understanding how music can be written and played. If you have a more studied background, keep reading, we will continue to discuss more and more in depth material about playing, writing, and performing music.

Every Journey begins with a Single Step.....

( chineese proverb )


There are reasons that learning scales has traditionally been a part of learning to make music. With any instrument, practicing them regularly will increase fluidity of motion and connection with the instrument. Being able to move through different scales with little effort makes it much easier to pick up musical material in any key and play it. Understanding the idea of keys and how they are built makes it easier to transpose music, and allows an artist a sense of useful structure when trying to compose music.

There are different types of scales. Many of them our ears naturally recognize because most of us have been listening to music all of our lives. It’s around us in not only what we like to play when we’re flipping around on the radio, as well as in all of the other music we have experienced—because our parent played it, because we heard it in church, head banged to it with teenaged friends, danced to it in clubs. By the time we’re old enough to play with the radio ourselves I think most of us are aware that some songs sound “happy” and others sound “sad”. Each of those songs is based in a particular key and type of modality, even though we may not be aware of that or that it has a name when we are listening. Songs that scan as “happy” are usually major, others that sound “sad” or “wistful” are often one of the types of minor scales, and songs that seem to sound “kind of medieval” are usually written in one of the church modes.

Each type of scale is based on a particular pattern of half steps and whole steps.

This can be easily visualized or shown with a piano. From each piano key to the next black –or- white key is one half step. From any key skipping a tone to the next is one whole step.
When you can find “middle C ( which is a white key to the left of two black keys, roughly in the middle of a piano ) and know how to count in half and whole steps, you can learn a great deal about music in a short period of time. What at first may seem complex is actually elegantly simple.

Before we get into understanding scales and exactly how their patterns are built, we should know something about spelling and the musical alphabet. The only letter names used to name notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. There are certainly more individual tones than that which range in pitch from “lower” tones to “higher” ones, but they are all referenced with the above seven letters and are sometimes raised or lowered by one half step and called a “sharp” or a “flat”.

If you are on a piano, the tones will all run in patterns that follow this alphabet circularly. For instance, if you play a c major scale it starts on “C” and the next higher tone is “D”. If you play from one “C” to the next, you will “spell” the pattern C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Depending on what note you start on, and what type of patter you are playing, the spelling will start and end with different letters, but will always use those seven letters.

A minor, for instance is spelled:

A major, based on a different pattern, is spelled:
A-B-C sharp-D-E-F sharp-G sharp-A.

Without considering the sharps and flats that may be used to create a particular type of sound, it can easily be noted that the alphabet is used in this way in every different key. For a beginner, it may be very useful to learn to say the alphabet in this new way.


Words and Concepts to remember:

Middle C, Musical Alphabet, Pitch, Note, Scale, Major Scale, Minor Scale, musical alphabet, sharp, flat.
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