Inspired by the enthusiasm with which my occasional forays into musicology have been received, I thought I would attempt a bit of an overview for beginners.
Please do let me know if this comprehensible. I don't usually teach this so it may be a bit rusty.
I hope that it may be of some use. This is just a start. If it generates interest and doesn't seem too hopelessly obscure, I will carry on anon.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MUSICOLOGY FOR BEGINNERS
You don't need to be able to play a musical instrument to understand musicology and there are many musicians who know nothing of musicology. It is a sort of science, but it is full of anomalies. Its main attraction lies in being able to recognize precisely what is going on in a piece of music.
There are 12 notes in Western Music.
7 of them have one name each, 5 of them have two, depending on the context in which they are used.
The 7 with only one name are:
A, B, C, D, E, F & G
These correspond to the white notes on a piano keyboard.
The 5 with two names are:
A sharp / B flat C sharp / D flat D sharp / E flat F sharp/ G flat G sharp/ A flat
These correspond to the black notes on a piano keyboard.
It will be observed that there is no black note between B & C, or between E & F.
These 12 notes all have different pitches. The common reference point, recognized by all professional musicians in the Western tradition is Concert A which vibrates 440 times per second. This is the benchmark from which all the other notes are tuned.
Now, you may say, there are more than 12 notes on a piano keyboard (there are in fact usually 88) but once we have run through the 12 notes identified above, they are repeated an octave above or below, depending on whether you are going up or down in pitch. An octave above or below a note is the same note but vibrating exactly twice as many times, or exactly half as many times, per second.
The distance between one note and it’s immediate neighbour is called a semitone. A semitone is the smallest distance in pitch in Western music.
Examples of a semitone:
A to A sharp/ B flat. A sharp / B flat to B B to C. etc.
The distance between one note and the note two semitones above or below it is called a tone. Tone is a word that has another meaning. It also refers to the quality of the sound of a note. This can be misleading. In this context, the word tone is used to indicate a distance of two semitones.
The major scale is a formula of notes that is always the same. It is defined thus:
Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone
There are only eight notes in a major scale. The eighth is an octave above the first. The other five notes are not used.
The first note is called the root, or the tonic.
The next note is a tone above the root and is called the major 2nd, or supertonic.
The next note is a tone above the major 2nd and is called the major 3rd, or the mediant.
The next note is a semitone above the major 3rd and is called the 4th, or the sub-dominant. (Sometimes called the Perfect 4th as it is identical in both major and minor keys)
The next note is a tone above the 4th and is called the 5th, or the dominant. (Sometimes called the Perfect 5th as it is identical in both major and minor keys)
The next note is a tone above the 5th and is called the major 6th, or the sub-mediant.
The next note is a tone above the major 6th and is called the major 7th, or the leading note (because in Classical harmony it always leads up to the root note above)
The next note is a semitone above the major 7th and is an octave above the root. It is also called the tonic.
Any of the 12 notes can be the root note of a major scale but the formula of tone –tone – semitone – tone –tone –tone –semitone must always be observed otherwise it is not a major scale. The major scale is itself one of the ancient modes – it is the Ionian Mode. But later for modes!
Generally, in elementary music lessons, students are given to learn a major scale of C. This is because it involves no potentially confusing sharps or flats.
The distance between C and D is a tone, between D and E another tone, between E and F a semitone, between F and G a tone, between G and A a tone, between A and B a tone and between B and the octave C a semitone. Thus it conforms to the formula as stated.
Here is a wiki link that contains an example of a C major scale - but you need to have downloaded Audacity to play it. Wikipedia is not by any means infallible. Note that the link to what is described as an A major scale is not a major scale but an Aolian minor - of which more anon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_scale
Last edited by Adam Blake on Thu May 17, 2012 10:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
OK. I have added wiki links and will continue as I go.
One of the best illustrations of the major scale is that fantastically irritating song from "The Sound Of Music" that goes "do - a deer, a female deer..." in fact, I shall post a link to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIjobdArtiA
Ha ha! Julie Andrews totally rocks. Only on SOTW could I post a link to the Baby Face Leroy Trio tearing up "Rollin' And Tumblin" and Julie Andrews singing "Do Re Mi" within ten minutes of each other.
Getting back to business, why do -re -mi? In Europe, the 1st or root is called do, the second re, the third mi, the fourth fa, the fifth so, the sixth la, the seventh ti - which brings us back to do.
Why? God knows. It's called the sol-fa system and it causes a lot of confusion. Most French and Italian musicians grow up using this system - and there are a lot of musicians in France and Italy. (The Americans have different names for just about everything and, needless to say, their system is more and more becoming the universal standard. But if you learn this stuff off me I teach it in English.)
Yes, the Americans call a semitone a half-step and a tone a step. They also call semibreves whole notes, minims half notes, crotchets, quarter notes. Yes it's easier to understand but I like the old words (because I like old words).
A sharp and B flat are the same, yes, as all the black notes have two names. The name used is entirely down to key and context. I'll get to that.
Electronic tuners are trying to be a little flexible. If an instrument of fixed pitch (like a harmonica or a piano) is a bit sharp or flat, it means you can, to some extent, measure how far out of tune and tune your instrument accordingly. 440hz was only adopted relatively recently and in Eastern Europe it was 444hz. In the days of Glaznost, various Soviet Opera singers were exported to sing with Western (Capitalist) orchestras as a show of goodwill. As most of these divas had perfect pitch, they were unable to sing 4hz flat with the result that the operas were even more unlistenable than they should have been. You can imagine the scenes backstage...
Anyone can download Garageband onto their ipad or mac. Costs £2 or something and is great fun. Bring up the keyboard and you can choose major, minor, minor blues and various other scales and the keyboard recalibrates accordIngly. It may not explain anything but is fun to muck around with and you will hear the differences And of course you can record your doodlings
Interesting stuff, Adam. I was wondering why the Western world adopted the 440hz instead of 444hz and found this article:
"McCartney Uses 528/ 444 Hz tuning... article:
Paul McCartney Plays in 528/444 Play Along with Lennon & McCartney in 528Hz
by Chris and Egan
We recently discovered that Paul McCartney and John Lennon played some of their most famous songs in 528Hz. When we say something is in 528hz, we mean that the guitars, bass and keyboards are all tuned to reference pitch A=444 instead of A=440. As you may know, from reading Dr. Leonard Horowitz's articles and The Book of 528: Prosperity Key of LOVE, this a=444Hz tuning makes the C note 528hz.
Now, the reason why you can't just lay a 52Hz tone over any of McCartney's songs, for example, and have them all fit, is because songs are in different keys within the 528/444 tuning. Just because McCartney is using that pitch standard, he can still be playing a song in another key.
Let us explain further:
For example, the "key" of the song, "Please Please Me" is E. So McCartney is playing the chords that revolve around the key of E, while his instruments are still tuned to reference pitch 528/444Hz.
We claim that McCartney started in 1999 to record music in A=444/C528 because the earliest show we could find that we think is in 528 is at the Cavern Club in the UK that is on YouTube.
Now, we didn't check every single live show in the last 10 years, but we did go through a lot of songs from different concerts all over the world including McCartney's 2005 Superbowl Halftime Show; playing for Obama, Live in Philly, 2010; Isle of Wight Festival, 2010; Children in Need benefit 2009; live in Kiev, 2008; Live in 2006, and many more. Pre-'99 McCartney didn't play much in A=444/C528Hz, and before that we know he was tuning to A=440. That's partly why his 70's and 80's music just sounded flat.
We think either he, or his musical director, figured it all out eventually, by 1999, for his comeback business that he's been doing.
We do know that the famous "Imagine" recording by John Lennon is exactly in 528/444 as well. Also, for a video of Paul McCartney playing in 528Hz, .
We feel Paul is doing the most awesome thing he could do--play live in 528, around the world, some of the best songs of our lifetimes, for massive audiences. Despite what people think, or say, about Paul, he has been out there raising vibrations with 528 for the last 10 years or so.
Don't just take our words on this. if you have any skilled musician friends available, we suggest having them tune their guitars to A=444/C528, and just sit with you, and play along with Paul McCartney's live concerts from the last 10 years on YouTube. There's just no doubt about it.
We quadruple-checked this, jamming along with McCartney's different concerts in 528. The examples we used in our Paul video were songs where he was tuned to 528, AND playing a song in the key of "C".
Also you might be interested that Michael Jackson also used 528, most noticably in his song "Black or White." Check out his "This is It" movie, he's definitely rehearsing some songs in 528. Furthermore, the White Stripes hit song "Seven Nation Army" is without a doubt tuned to 528/444.
There are other artists, we also believe, do it--play in A=444Hz/C528Hz. And just for fun, use a 528 tuning fork to play along with John Lennon's "Imagine."
The ancient Solfeggio frequencies captured our imaginations 3 years ago, and as musicians, they have been our passion ever since.
christopher o'brien co-host of the paracast
Home - Our Strange Planet
"We now know that we don't know anything." -- Terence McKenna
Willy, I once heard a BBC R4 prog about the adoption of 440 in the C19th. It was so that all British military bands could play their tunes at exactly the same agreed pitch in any country throughout the world that was subject to their colonialist guns and musical instruments. I can't remember why 440 though - probably something to do with the prominence of brass instruments?
PS just read the Goebells comment. I think it pre-dates him.
NormanD, Somewhere in my links above there is talk of 444 and other hertz being used over the centuries and that 440hz was decided on in the U.S. in 1920 and that Goeballs was instrumental in making it "standard" in 1938-9. The reason for 440 is it commands your attention whereas 444hz has more natural, warmer, soothing sounds. Apparently you're less likely to get tinitus after listening to loud music at 444. 432hz is also popular on Youtube -not yet learned the difference but I just listened to Across the Universe and Echoes at 432hz and it does seem to make a difference. -which might explain why I like my old record player that plays slow. (the belt is worn out).
Goodness it's all kicking off. OK. I'm not savvy enough to move other people's posts to another thread but if you know how to do it, Norman, please do.
Thank you very much for your interest and information and questions, people. I didn't know all that stuff about Goebbles and 440hz and McCartney and 444hz. Fascinating. Maybe The Residents really were on to something in the "3rd Reich'n'Roll" video when they portrayed McCartney as a television with a swastika on the screen.
OK. Last questions first.
Dayna: a hook is the catchy bit that you hear over and over in a pop song - like in The Beatles "She Loves You" the hook is "yeah yeah yeah". The bridge is the different bit in the middle that's not a verse or a chorus or a solo - or a solo can be a bridge sometimes, like in Steve Harley's "Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)".
Willy: No, I hadn't seen the microtonal "fluid" piano, but it doesn't surprise me at all. I'm only surprised it's taken so long. I have mixed feelings about it. I suspect that microtonal tuning will soon be like digital effects: too much choice - leaving pianists overwhelmed by possibilities when they should just get on with practicing their Chopin and Beethoven. But I'm old fashioned like that. I think musicians are better off with as few choices as possible.
I can't feel a difference between 440hz and 444hz. I know there is one but it doesn't bother me. Lots of guitarists tune a semitone flat (Hendrix being the most famous example) but this is just to make it easier to bend strings and make it easier on the voice - Eb being an easier key to sing in (for some reason related to the size of the average human larynx).
Norman's 3rd question. When is A sharp called B flat and vice-versa?
THE MAJOR SCALE continued:
To recap: the major scale has seven degrees, eight if you include the octave.
These are: the 1st or root the major 2nd or supertonic the major 3rd or mediant the perfect 4th or sub-dominant the perfect 5th or dominant the major 6th or sub-mediant the major 7th or leading note the octave - which is the root up an octave.
Now - ALL OF THESE DEGREES OF THE SCALE MUST BE PRESENT AND REPRESENTED by some form of all of the notes - A, B, C, D, E, F, G - be they sharp, flat or natural. (A note that is not sharp or flat is called natural.) And it also must follow the formula: tone - tone - semitone - tone - tone - tone - semitone. Otherwise it's not a major scale.
(N.B: The major scale is the basic building block of Western music. That's why I am making such a big deal of it.)
Now, we have seen that in the scale of C major there are no sharps or flats, or 'accidentals'. It corresponds to the white notes on the piano. But supposing the root note is C sharp, say, or G flat? What notes do we use then? We must assiduously follow the formula and what do we find?
If C sharp is the root then the major second must be a full tone above it. This gives us D sharp. The major 3rd must be a full tone above this note. This gives us E Sharp. Now we know that's nonsense. There's no such thing as E sharp. But if we say it is F then we would find that we have two kinds of F in the same scale and no E - so we describe the F as E sharp.
Remember I said this subject was full of anomalies?
The term KEY is used to describe which note in a piece of music is the root note.
C sharp is a particularly fiddly example but in a way it's easy if you think that everything is just moved up a semitone above C natural.
Let us take, instead the key of F major.
If F is the root, then a tone up will give us the major 2nd: G. One tone above that will give us the major 3rd: A One semitone above that will give us the perfect 4th: B flat.
Now if we called this A sharp instead, we would have two kinds of A - one natural and one sharp - in our scale and no B. So the same note that is A sharp is called B flat in this context.
I hope that answers the question, Norman!
The sharp scales go up in 5ths from C: G, D ,A, E, B, F sharp and C sharp The flat scales go down in 5ths from C: F, B flat, E flat, A flat, D flat, G flat, C flat (no-one ever uses C flat. It's the sort of thing Erik Satie would score as a joke. Anyone vaguely sensible would use B major.)
Next up I'll get on to chords, but I'm too whacked now.
Willy: you mentioned Arabic notation systems. The Arabs are weird. They cut semitones down the middle into quartertones, thus giving you a potential 24 notes. Unlike the Indians or B.B.King (say) they don't just bend a note to where they want it to go, they actually go plonk straight on to the note between two semitones. A classical Arabic singer like Oum Kulthum or Fairuz can hit this quartertone smack on. It's extraordinary and not a little disconcerting the first few times you hear it.
It's why Arabic music sounds like that. Also they don't do harmony. All the instruments are playing in unison. They may be in different octaves and they may be taking a few liberties with the phrasing but they are essentially all playing in unison. If they're harmonising, it ain't Classical. Weird. But I like it.
(N.B: Unison means when two or more instruments are playing the same melodic line at the same time.)