Thursday, July 14, 2011

Music Modes

In this lesson, we will be learning about music modes. What are music modes, you are probably wondering and why are they important in music?

Well, music modes is a concept that involves scale and melody type and are used in many types of music from sacred music to jazz to rock. Composers use it to add "flavor" to their compositions. It is formed by naming a different note as the root (1st) instead of the original root of the scale. Thus, in a way, modes can be defined as displaced major scales. A mode is distinguished by the pattern of tones and semitones, not by the actual pitches used.

Let's show an example using the C major scale. Do you remember how to play the C major scale? To recap your memory, the C major scale is built out of the white keys of the piano starting from C and going in the sequence of W-W-H-W-W-W-H (W = whole note, H = half note). In this scale, the 7th note is the leading note leading to the root note.

Now why don't we try to play this scale from a different key like starting from the D note instead of the C? Do you notice something different about it? Play it again and listen carefully to it. I'm sure you have noticed it but are probably wondering what the differences are.

Well, the C major scale has changed to a mode that is actually a sequence of notes creating a certain impression. This specific mode is called the Dorian mode or in this example called the D Dorian mode.

This Dorian mode creates the impression and mood that is completely different to the major scale.
The second thing is that this scale has a minor third so it sounds mellow unlike the major scale.
And thirdly, the seventh note of the scale is a whole tone beneath the root note, which means that it can't function as a leading tone any longer.

Below is a list of the types of modes in music and how they are constructed.

Types of Modal Scales

Ionian - Also known as the major scale; follows the pattern W-W-H-W-W-W-H. It consists of C (the tonic), D (a major 2nd above the tonic), E (a major 3rd above the tonic), F (a perfect 4th), G (a perfect 5th), A (a major 6th), B (a major 7th), and the upper-octave C to complete the scale.

Dorian - Constructed from the second note of a major scale; follows the pattern W-H-W-W-W-H-W. It consists of D (the tonic), E (a major 2nd), F (a minor 3), G (a perfect 4th), A (a perfect 5th), B (a major 6th), C, (a minor 7th), and the upper-ocatave D.

Phrygian - Constructed from the third note of a major scale; follows the pattern H-W-W-W-H-W-W. t consists of E (the tonic), F (a minor 2nd), G (a minor 3rd), A (a perfect 4th), B (a perfect 5th), C (a minor 6th), D (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave E.

Lydian - Constructed from the fourth note of a major scale; follows the pattern W-W-W-H-W-W-H. It consists of F (the tonic), G (a major 2nd), A (a major 3rd), B (an augmented 4th), C (a perfect 5th), D (a major 6th), E (a major 7th), and the upper-octave F.

Mixolydian - Also known as "mixo," is constructed from the fifth note of a major scale and follows the pattern W-W-H-W-W-H-W. It consists of G (the tonic), A (a major 2nd), B (a major 3rd), C (a perfect 4th), D (a perfect 5th), E (a major 6th), F (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave G.

Aeolian - Also known as the natural minor scale, is constructed from the sixth note of a major scale and follows the pattern W-H-W-W-H-W-W. It consists of an A (the tonic), B (a major 2nd), C (a minor 3rd), D (a perfect 4), E (a perfect 5th), F (a minor 6th), G (a minor 7th), and the upper octave, A.

Locrian - Constructed from the seventh note of a major scale; follows the pattern H-W-W-H-W-W-W. It consists of B (the tonic), C (a minor 2nd), D (a minor 3rd), E (a perfect 4th), F (a diminished 5th), G (a minor 6th), A (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave B.

 The image below shows some examples of the 7 modes listed above.

Each mode has a very distinct sound. The Ionian, Lydian and the Myxolidian modes have a major third that gives them a major character while the Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian and Locrian modes have a minor third giving them a mellow character. For example, the Phrygian mode sounds melancholy and reflects the music of Spain. The Lydian mode sounds happy and is often used in jazz and rock music. The Mixolydian mode evokes a bluesy sound and can often be heard in jazz, blues and rock music. The Locrian mode, on the other hand, has a very strange sound but is rarely used.

That ends the lesson for today. Below is a quiz that you can try. See if you can determine the mode of the pieces of music shown below. Good Luck!

Identify the mode of each of the following excerpts:
i) Mode: __________________

ii) Mode: __________________

iii) Mode: __________________

iv) Mode: __________________

      v) Mode: _________________

Name the mode that is formed by writing a major scale in the following manner:

i) starting on the first note: _______________.

ii) starting on the second note: _______________.

iii) starting on the third note: _______________.

iv) starting on the fourth note: _______________.

v) starting on the fifth note: _______________.

vi) starting on the sixth note: _______________.

vii) starting on the seventh note: _______________.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Music Terminology and Symbols

Music terminology and symbols are something we all should know when playing a piece of music on the piano. There is the tempo terms, which tell us how fast we are supposed to play the piece, and there is the dynamic symbols, which tell us how loud or soft we play the music.

We will go into the tempo terms of a piece, which will tends to be written at the start of a piece of music and is usually indicated in beats per minute (BPM). This means that a particular note value (for example, a quarter note or crotchet) is specified as the beat and the marking indicates that a certain number of these beats has to be played per minute (see the image below for an example, which indicates that there should be 120 crotchet beats (quarter notes) per minute).

The greater the tempo, the larger the number of beats that must be played in a minute and the faster a piece must be played. Below is a list of tempo terms and their BPM.

  • Larghissimo — very, very slow (20 bpm and below)
  • Grave — slow and solemn (20-40 bpm)
  • Lento — slowly (40–60 bpm)
  • Largo — broadly (40–60 bpm)
  • Larghetto — rather broadly (60–66 bpm)
  • Adagio — slow and stately (literally, "at ease") (66–76 bpm)
  • Adagietto — rather slow (70–80 bpm)
  • Andante Moderato — a bit slower than andante
  • Andante — at a walking pace (76–108 bpm)
  • Andantino – slightly faster than andante
  • Moderato — moderately (101-110 bpm)
  • Allegretto — moderately fast (but less so than allegro)
  • Allegro moderato — moderately quick (112–124 bpm)
  • Allegro — fast, quickly and bright (120–139 bpm)
  • Vivace — lively and fast (˜140 bpm) (quicker than allegro)
  • Vivacissimo — very fast and lively
  • Allegrissimo — very fast
  • Presto — very fast (168–200 bpm)
  • Prestissimo — extremely fast (more than 200bpm)
Composers may use expressive marks, which are listed below, that adjust the tempo of a music.
  • Accelerando — speeding up (abbreviation: accel.)
  • Allargando — growing broader; decreasing tempo, usually near the end of a piece
  • Calando — going slower (and usually also softer)
  • Doppio movimento — double speed
  • Meno mosso — less movement or slower
  • Mosso — movement, more lively, or quicker, much like più mosso, but not as extreme
  • Più mosso — more movement or faster
  • Precipitando — hurrying, going faster/forward
  • Rallentando — gradual slowing down (abbreviation: rall.)
  • Ritardando — less gradual slowing down (a more sudden decrease in tempo than rallentando)(abbreviation: rit. or ritard.)
  • Ritenuto — slightly slower; temporarily holding back. (abbreviation for ritenuto can be rit., riten., or ritenuto)
  • Rubato — free adjustment of tempo for expressive purposes
  • Stretto — in faster tempo, often near the conclusion of a section.
  • Stringendo — pressing on faster
There are also mood markings in music pieces that have a tempo connotation. These are listed below.
  • Affettuoso — with feeling/emotion
  • Agitato — agitated, with implied quickness
  • Appassionato — to play passionately
  • Animato — animatedly, lively
  • Brillante — sparkling, glittering, as in Allegro brillante, Rondo brillante, or Variations brillantes
  • Cantabile — in singing style (lyrical and flowing)
  • Dolce — sweetly
  • Energico — energetic, strong, forceful
  • Eroico — heroically
  • Espressivo — expressively
  • Furioso — to play in an angry or furious manner
  • Giocoso — merrily, funny
  • Gioioso — joyfully
  • Lacrimoso — tearfully, sadly
  • Grandioso — magnificently, grandly
  • Grazioso — gracefully
  • Leggiero — to play lightly, or with light touch
  • Maestoso — majestic or stately (which generally indicates a solemn, slow march-like movement)
  • Malinconico — melancholic
  • Marcato — marching tempo, marked with emphasis
  • Marziale — in a march style, usually in simple, strongly marked rhythm and regular phrases
  • Mesto — sad, mournful
  • Morendo — dying
  • Nobilmente — nobly (in a noble way)
  • Patetico — with great emotion
  • Pesante — heavily
  • Sautillé/ Saltando — jumpy, fast, and short
  • Scherzando — playfully
  • Sostenuto — sustained, sometimes with a slackening of tempo
  • Spiccato — slow sautillé, with a bouncy manner
  • Tenerezza — tenderness
  • Tranquillamente — adverb of tranquillo, "calmly"
  • Trionfante — triumphantly

Dynamic symbols are also seen on sheet music and as stated previously they tell us how loud or soft we play a piece. They can also tell you if you need to increase the loudness or softness in a piece of music. Below is a basic list of dynamic symbols, their terms and meaning that you should remember. 

Dynamic Symbols






Very Very Soft



Very Soft





Mezzo Piano

Medium Soft


Mezzo Forte

Medium Loud






Very Loud



Very Very Loud



Gradually becoming louder



Gradually becoming softer



Gradually becoming softer

Messa di voce

Becoming louder then softer

Now that you have learned these music terms and symbols, you can now play your favorite pieces at the correct tempo and the correct loudness/softness ie you know when to increase the loudness or softness of your playing. A metronome will be able to help you by telling you the tempo you should be playing your music to. A metronome is a device that produces a regular, metrical ticks (beats, clicks) that can be set in beats per minute. These ticks represent a fixed, regular aural pulse.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


In this lesson we will be learning about chords. Chords are notes that are played simultaneously. They consist of 3 or more notes as shown in the image below. Chords can also be called triads.

Every piano and keyboard player should know are the basic chords, which are the Major, minor, Augmented, diminished, and seventh chords. These 5 chords are the most common chords and are relatively easy to play.

Major chords consists of the notes on the first, third, and fifth note/step of the major scale while the minor chords consists of the notes on the first, third, and fifth step of the minor scale (seen in the image below). The image below shows the Major, minor, Augmented and diminished chords. 

Can you see the differences between the chords in the above image? Well, you can see that the difference between a major and minor chord is found in the third note, with a minor chord having a flat third (b3). The augmented chord has a major third and a fifth note that is eight half steps above the root while a diminished chord is one that has a minor third, but the fifth is diminished.

Some examples of Major and minor chords are listed below.
  • C major chord consists of C, E, and G.
  • D major chord consists of D, F#, and A.
  • F major chord consists of F, A, and C.
  • G major chord consists of G, B, and D.
  • A minor chord consists of A, C, and E.
A good way to remember how a chord is constructed is that each chord has the following characteristics:
  1. A Root note. The Root of any chord will be the note which corresponds to the letter name of the chord. For example, the Root of a D M7 chord is D.
  2. A note a Major third (M3) or minor third (m3) above the Root
  3. A note a Perfect fifth (P5), Augmented fifth (A5), or diminished fifth (d5) above the Root
The seventh chord (shown in the image below) consists of a triad plus one note forming an interval of a seventh above the chord's root, which can be a Major seventh (M7), minor seventh (m7), or diminished seventh (d7) above the Root.   .

If the root of a chord is not in the bass (ie is not the lowest note) then that chord is said to be an Inverted Chord. For instance, a C major chord consists of the tones C, E and G; its inversion is determined by which of these tones is used as the bottom note in the chord.

The first chord in the image below shows the root position of the C major chord. 

In the first inversion of the C major chord (as seen in the image below, the middle chord), the bass is E, the 3rd of the triad, with the 5th and the root stacked above it ie the root is now shifted an octave higher to form intervals of a 3rd and a 6th above the inverted bass of E, respectively.

In the second inversion (as seen in the image below, the last chord), the bass is G—the 5th of the triad—with the root and the 3rd above it. Both are again shifted an octave higher to form a 4th and a 6th above the (inverted) bass of G, respectively.

Third inversions (as seen in the image below) only exist for chords of four or more tones like in seventh chords. In third inversions, the 7th of the chord is in the bass position. For the C major 7th chord, B is in the bass position, with C, E and G above it. There are intervals of a 2nd, 4th and 6th above the (inverted) bass of B, respectively.

Below are several examples of inverted chords.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Music Intervals

In this lesson we are going to learn about music intervals.

A music interval is the distance between two notes. Each interval has a number from 1 to 8, which tell the distance between two notes by counting the lines and spaces on the staff. For example, if we count lines and spaces starting from C and ending on G on the treble staff below, we would count C,D,E,F,G = 1,2,3,4,5, Therefore, the interval from C to G is a fifth (5th).

These interval numbers, 1 to 8, are also called:
  • Unison - 1
  • Second - 2nd
  • Third - 3rd
  • Fourth - 4th
  • Fifth - 5th
  • Sixth - 6th
  • Seventh - 7th
  • Octave - 8ve
Intervals can also be described as Major (M), minor (m), Perfect (P), Augmented (A), or diminished (d). These intervals can be seen in the images below.

Major Intervals
Minor Intervals
Perfect Intervals
Augmented Intervals occur when we raise an interval in half a tone
Diminished Intervals occur when we lower it in half a tone

Each interval comprises of a certain number of semitones (half-steps or half tones). Remember a half-step is the smallest distance between two notes, such as D to D-sharp, E to F, or A-flat to G while a whole-step is the distance of two half-steps, such as C to D, E to F-sharp, or B-flat to A-flat. 

Now with the help of the piano keyboard, you can then count the number of half-steps or whole steps that make up intervals. Below is a list of intervals and their half steps and whole steps.
  • P1, d2 = 0 half-steps
  • m2, A1 = 1 half-step
  • M2, d3 = 2 half-steps or 1 whole step
  • m3, A2 = 3 half-steps or 1 whole step and 1 half step
  • M3, d4 = 4 half-steps or 2 whole steps
  • P4, A3 = 5 half-steps or 2 whole steps and 1 half step
  • A4, d5 = 6 half-steps or 3 whole steps
  • P5, d6 = 7 half-steps or 3 whole steps and 1 half step
  • m6, A5 = 8 half-steps or 4 whole steps
  • M6, d7 = 9 half-steps or 4 whole steps and 1 half step
  • m7, A6 = 10 half-steps or 5 whole steps
  • M7, d8 = 11 half-steps or 5 whole steps and 1 half step
  • P8, A7 = 12 half-steps or 6 whole steps

There are 2 groups of intervals; the melodic group and the harmonic group, which can be seen in the image below. A melodic musical interval is created when you play two notes one after the other successively. A harmonic interval is created when the notes are played at the same time. 

If you look further in the picture below, you'll see that every music interval could be raised or diminished.

Augmenting and Diminished Major Musical Intervals.
When a major interval is raised by a half step, it becomes augmented.

When a major interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes minor.
When a major interval is lowered by two half steps, it becomes diminished.

Augmenting and diminishing minor musical intervals. 
When a minor interval is raised by a half step, it becomes major.
When a minor interval is raised by two half steps, it becomes augmented.
When a minor interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes diminished.

Augmenting and Diminished Perfect Musical Intervals.
When a perfect interval is raised by a half step, it becomes augmented.
When a perfect interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes diminished.

Music intervals can also be inverted. This means that you take each and every interval and turn it upside down so that the lower note will be raised and become the upper note of the interval; that is the relationship between the notes is reversed.

See the image below for some examples. The treble staffs shows (1) The major becomes minor eg a major 2nd becoming a minor 7th,  (2) minor becoming major eg minor 3rd becoming a major 6th, (3) & (4) Perfect 4th remains Perfect 5th or Perfect 5th remains Perfect 4th, (5) Augmented becomes Diminished eg major 6th becomes minor 3rd, and (6) Diminished becomes Augmented eg major 7th becomes minor 2nd.

Below is a quiz you can try. Good luck.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Minor Scales

In this lesson we will continue learning about scales specifically the minor scales. There are 3 minor scales that we will be going through in this lesson; the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale.

The natural minor scale is closely related to the major scale. You can change a major scale into a natural minor scale by lowering the scale degree 3, 6 and 7 by a chromatic half step to form this scale as shown in the image below. As you can see below all natural minor scales has the pattern: W-H-W-W-H-W-W.

Below is an image of all the natural minor scales available.

The other 2 types of minor scales as mentioned previously are the harmonic minor and the melodic minor scales. The image below shows the differences between the natural, harmonic and melodic minor scales. Can you spot what the differences are? Don't worry if you don't, we will go into more detail about each scale below.

First is the harmonic minor scales. This scale has the following pattern of half-steps, whole-steps and one augmented second (A2):

NB. An augmented second is an interval that is produced by widening a major second by a chromatic semitone. For example, the interval from C to D is a major second that is two semitones wide. A chromatic semitone is an interval between two notes at the same staff position, e.g. from C to C sharp, and can also be called augmented unison. An interval is the distance between two notes. We will be going into more detail about intervals in a later lesson.

The harmonic minor scale raises the seventh note of the scale by one half step, whether you are going up or down the scale. This can be shown in the image below.

The image below shows all the harmonic minor scales.

The melodic minor scale is different to the natural and the harmonic minor scales because when we go up the scale we use one pattern and when we go down the scale we use a different pattern.

The ascending pattern is: W-H-W-W-W-W-H

The descending pattern is the Natural Minor Scale: W-H-W-W-H-W-W

In the melodic minor scale, the sixth and seventh notes of the scale are each raised by one half step when going up the scale, but return to the natural minor scale when going down the scale. This can be seen in the image below.

All the melodic minor scales you can practice are shown in the image below.