• The How And What Of Musicianship

    in Motivational Minutes,Self-Improvement

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    In today’s post we will be looking at the how and what of musicianship.

    I learned a poem in elementary school that I’m sure you’ve heard severally. Permit me to recite it before we proceed.

    Twinkle twinkle little star,

    How I wonder what you are,

    Up above the world so high,

    Like a diamond in the sky.

    In this poem, I want you to take note of these two words in the second line that says“…how I wonder what you are.’ Please underline the words ‘how’ and ‘what.’

    We’ll be doing a contrast between the ‘how and what’ of learning and making music.

    ‘The How’ vs ‘The What’

    A vast majority of musicians get into music usually by learning how to play songs, with a few scales, intervals, and chords here and there. But the question I’m turning to your heart to in today’s posts is,  “Beyond learning ‘the how’, have you learned ‘the what’ behind what you’re playing?”

    Let’s do a dynamic contrast between the how and the what in special areas of interest in music learning.

    How To Play Notes Vs What Notes Are

    A note is the smallest unit of pitch in music.

    Notes are to music, what alphabets are to written or spoken language and what atoms are to chemistry. They are fundamental to music learning and playing because every idea – scales, intervals, chords, and chord progressions can be broken down into notes.

    So many people just learn notes like this is C:

    …this is Eb:

    …and this is G:

    …etc., but my point in this segment is, it is better to know the very essence of notes (what notes are) than merely learning how to identify them on the keyboard.

    Instead of learning notes, how about getting started with a step by step guide that takes you from the basic definition of notes, to the understanding of the relationship between frequencies and pitches etc? Now, such an introduction would give you an in depth knowledge of what notes are – scientifically, acoustically, and musically. Can you beat that?

    So beyond the knowledge of the names of notes on the piano, and how to identify them, I’m talking about an in-depth knowledge of notes from a musical, scientific, and acoustical standpoint that would sophisticate you.

    How To Play Scales Vs What Scales Are

    It’s easy to play white notes on the keyboard:

    …from C to C:

    …and know it as the C major scale, and painstakingly learn how to transpose it to other keys…

    Like the Eb major scale:


    However, the knowledge of the definition of scales [that would open your eyes forever], a practical approach to the formation of scales, a concise introduction to the classification of all the scales in the world that can help you name literally any scale plus a solid footage on the fingering of scales outweighs a petty knowledge of how to play scales.

    Pause and ponder!

    How To Play Intervals Vs What Intervals Are

    Which of the two would you prefer? Knowing how to form various intervals on the keyboard vs knowing what intervals are – scale degree intervals and non-scale degrees intervals, enharmonic intervals, etc.

    Some people out there may find it difficult to state precisely, the interval between A# and C:

    …while so many others would hastily say its a major second interval because the distance between A# and C (a whole step) looks like the distance between C and D:

    …a major second interval. However, in actuality, the distance between A# and C:

    …is a diminished third interval. An in-depth understanding of what intervals are, beyond knowing how to play them is what distinguishes one musician from another.

    Go for the what.

    How To Play Chords Vs What Chords Are

    Dear musician, you can learn how to play various chord classes and how to play them in their respective inversions. Beyond learning how to play these chords, strive to have an in-depth knowledge of what chords from definition, to classification, to voicing concepts, etc.

    These concepts on ‘the what’ of chords would dislocate you from the league of musicians who know ‘the how’ of playing chords but are ignorant of the relationship between the notes that form a chord.

    How To Play Chord Progressions Vs What Chord Progressions Are

    It’s common to hear musicians say “I know the 2-5-1 chord progression, 7-3-6 chord progression, and the 3-6-2 chord progression. In fact, I even know longer chord progression like 7-3-6-2-5-1-4 chord progression.”

    Well, that’s beautiful! You are doing a great job!

    However, I must interject that beyond knowing a handful of these chord progressions, you still need to know what chord progressions are, the relationship between chords and how they are connected to create chord progressions, cyclical and non-cyclical chord progressions, common chord progressions, blues chord progressions and a variety of every other chord progressions out there.

    In addition to that, you need to understanding the function of secondary dominant chords and other passing chords that create activity in chord progressions, key relationships etc.

    How To Play Songs Vs What Songs Are

    Before we wrap up this exciting post, I would want to say that learning what songs are, is better than learning how to play songs.

    So many people who started out their process of music learning with songs end up getting frustrated way into the learning process because they have to learn as much as 20 -30 songs monthly. Alternatively, a thorough understanding of what songs are, plus a knowledge of song structure or form, you can be able to predict accurately the chord that comes next in a song, and also be able to take the chord progression in a given song and play it in another song that has the same structure.

    For example, from what we covered in Gospel Keys 202, the songs “As the dear panteth for the waters” and “Thank you Lord” , fit virtually into the same song structure or form.

    Final Words

    We are introducing the HearandPlay fundamental series that will show you ‘what’ you need to know about notes, scales, intervals, chords, chord progressions, and songs.

    If you subscribe below, you will be the first to be notified when they are finally released.

    I Want To Learn What Notes Are

    • Understand visual (color, shapes, layout, design, pattern, etc) and musical (direction, melodic and harmonic relationships) properties of the keyboard.
    • Delve into sound, frequency, and pitch. Explore pitch class sets (0-11) , Naming systems (Letter, Sol-fa and Interval), Octave, Melodic progression (semitone, whole tone, sesquitone, ditone, diatessaron, and tritone), Pitch modification, Enharmonic Equivalence and lots more.

    I Want To Learn What Scales Are

    • Learn various ways to classify scales according to Culture Area, Usage, Note-Aggregate and Tonality.
    • Discover the relationship between the circle of fifths and key signature (the number of sharps and flats a key has).
    • Understand the proper approach to playing ALL traditional scales (pure Major, Pure minor, Melodic minor and Harmonic minor) on all keys with both hands.
    • Explore all diatonic modes – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian etc and how to construct them in any key.

    I Want To Learn What Intervals Are

    • Expose yourself to the harmonic and melodic implication of any two notes on the keyboard.
    • Discover the harmonic properties of these chords and their potentials in chord formation intervals by understanding what two notes relate to each other.
    • Learn how to describe intervals using note knowledge and scale knowledge.
    • Get started with the proper spelling of intervals.
    • Find out how to distinguish scale-step and non scale-step intervals.

    I Want To Learn What Chords Are

    • Get started with a proper introduction to chords by understanding scalar and intervallic relationship between chord tones.
    • Learn how to classify chords according to class of harmony, aggregate, stability quality etc.
    • Equip yourself with ALL scale degree chords (triads, seventh chords and extended chords [ninths, elevenths and thirteenths]).
    • Experience chord inversions (choral style and keyboard style) like never before.
    • Understand other advanced concepts (like Harmonic function, Chord Voicing, Chord Notation, etc) that will ground you in chords. Bonus chapter on triad and seventh chord arpeggios.

    I Want To Learn What Chord Progressions Are

    • Discover what it takes to combine chords into progressions.
    • Explore chord progressions like never before – cyclical, blues, etc.
    • Learn how to play major and minor 2-5-1 progressions in all keys.
    • Discover the difference between various types of progressions and when and where they’re used.
    • Get exposed to the secrets of borrowing chords, modal progressions, and more.

    I Want To Learn What Songs Are

    • Understand the structure and form of music.
    • Get properly introduced to cadences and modulations.
    • Take an adventure through various styles like blues, hymns, spirituals, rock, and others.
    • Learn how to end your songs using fancy endings covered in this course.
    • Discover how to use all what you’ve learned in subsequent courses to play real-life songs.

    Twinkle twinkle little star

    How I wonder What you are!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Mosebi

    I want to learn song that say father we are dough you we lay our life before you lord how much I love you


    2 David Brakes

    Mr Chuku Onyemachi, is there any means of contacting you??
    I have repeatedly posted a question an got no answer.


    3 Chuku Onyemachi

    Yeah! Call +2347038284190


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