• The Basics

    Staff, Clefs, and Ledger Lines

    The staff is a set of five lines and four spaces that serve as the foundation for musical notes. Every line and space on the staff represents a note. Two different clefs signify the assigned notes for the staff lines and spaces. The treble clef and the bass clef are the standard clefs, with the treble clef sitting above the bass clef. Together, the treble clef and bass clef form the grand staff. Treble clef notes are higher on the scale than bass clef notes. Ledger lines are small, individual lines added to notes when they appear above or below the staffs to show their position.

    Note Duration

    Note duration is the specific length of time each note lasts. Note duration is determined by the note type, such as whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes.

    Measures and Time Signature

    Vertical black lines divide the staff into separate measures. The time signature is a fraction that follows the clef and dictates the number of and type of notes in each measure. The denominator of the time signature defines the beats divided by a whole note, and the numerator defines the number of beats in each measure.

    Rest Duration

    Rests show periods of silence. Different rest symbols dictate the duration of the silence, including whole rests, half rests, and quarter rests.

    Dots and Ties

    A dot following a note increases the duration of the note by one-half. Notes tied together are merged to increase the duration across a measure.

    Steps and Accidentals

    Steps indicate a whole tone distance between notes. A half-step is a half the distance of a step, moving to the next adjacent tone. Notes may be followed by accidental signs showing a half-step shift up or down from the note.

    Rhythm and Meter

    Simple and Compound Meter

    Time signatures are divided into specific meters depending on their rhythm. Simple meter indicates beats that can be divided into two notes. Compound meter indicates beats that can be divided into three notes.

    Odd Meter

    Odd meters have simple and compound beats. The order of the beats can have either the simple or compound beat first.

    Scales and Key Signatures

    Major Scale

    A scale includes notes that make up an octave. A major scale includes two whole steps, a half-step, three whole steps, and a final half-step.

    Minor Scale

    Minor scales have a different configuration of notes in an octave. A natural minor scale includes one whole step, one half-step, two whole steps, one half-step, and two whole steps.

    Scale Degrees

    Each note in a scale is called a scale degree. The first and last notes are the tonics, the fifth note is the dominant, and the fourth note is the subdominant.

    Key Signatures

    The key signature follows the clef, indicating the accidentals occurring in the scale. The use of these accidentals will persist through the piece unless the key changes.

    Key Signature Calculation

    With 30 different key signatures, it can be difficult to memorize the different configurations. Instead of memorizing, musicians can calculate key signatures by memorizing seven different signatures, assigning a value to each one. Then the process simply involves adding or subtracting values for additional accidentals.


    Generic Intervals

    Generic intervals represent the distance between two notes on the staff, ignoring any accidentals. Intervals can be a first, which means that they sit on the same line or space. Intervals can also be seconds, thirds, and so on, which indicates the distance between them on the staff.

    Specific Intervals

    Specific intervals show distances that include half-steps. For example, moving from C to D involves a half-step to D flat and then another half-step from D flat to D.

    Writing Intervals

    When writing intervals, musicians should begin with a generic interval and then determine the number of half-steps included. After comparing and adding accidentals, it's easier to determine the precise interval.

    Interval Inversion

    Inverting intervals involves moving the lowest note of an interval up one octave. For example, instead of a C-G fifth, you can invert it to a G-C fifth.


    Introduction to Chords

    A musical chord combines three or more notes. Chords have a single note as the foundation, known as the root.

    Triad Inversion

    Triad chords can be inverted, which involves moving the lowest note up one octave. When inverting triads, the lowest note becomes the third note, which would be a first inversion. Inverting again makes the fifth note the lowest note. Inverting a third time results in the original triad at a higher octave.

    Seventh Chords

    Seventh chords combine a triad with a seventh interval. Musicians use five main types of seventh chords.

    Diatonic Chords

    Diatonic Triads

    Diatonic triads are chords you can form from major and minor scale notes. Different scales will include major and minor triads, depending on whether the scale is major or minor.

    Diatonic Seventh Chords

    Major and minor scales include seven different diatonic seventh chords. A major triad with a major seventh is a major seventh chord. A minor triad with a minor seventh is a minor seventh chord.

    Roman Numeral Analysis: Seventh Chords

    Roman numerals identify diatonic seventh chords. The symbols include the analysis symbol for the diatonic triad, a small number 7, and a slash through the circle of every half-diminished seventh chord.

    Chord Progressions

    Nonharmonic Tones

    Nonharmonic tones may also be called non-chord tones. These tones don't belong to a specific chord. Nonharmonic tones can include passing tones, neighboring tones, an anticipation, or an escape tone.

    Phrases and Cadences

    Phrases are groups of notes that sound complete when played on their own, apart from the full song. A cadence comes at the end of a phrase, and it includes a two-chord progression.

    Circle Progressions

    Circle progressions involve root motions, which are moving the root of one chord to the root of another chord. With circle progressions, the root motion is always either up a fourth or down a fifth.

    Common Chord Progressions

    Chord progressions involve a wide array of options, but they generally involve a specific pattern. Circle progressions are a common way to get to the I chord for major keys.

    Triads in First Inversion

    Composers use first inversion to create smooth bass lines, repeating chords. First inversion also provides subtle movement.

    Triads in Second Inversion

    Composers may also use second inversion for music. Not only can second inversion provide smoothness, but it also helps avoid abrupt jumping, which can add strength to the cadence.

    Neapolitan Chords

    Building Neapolitan Chords

    A Neapolitan chord is a major triad created around one special note. The special note is the supertonic of either a major or minor scale.

    Using Neapolitan Chords

    Neapolitans are predominant chords. Composers use Neapolitans in place of first inversion or root position IV.