• Listening Effectively P. 2: Understanding How Music Works

    in Ear-Training,Theory

    By now, you probably understand how important major scales are. I won’t discuss them in detail like I’ve done in previous weeks; but if you don’t know them, here they are:

    C major
    C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
    1 – 2  – 3 – 4  – 5 – 6  – 7 – 8
    D major
    D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D

    E major
    E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D# – E

    F major
    F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E – F

    G major
    G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G

    A major
    A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G# – A

    B major
    B – C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A# – B

    Db major
    Db – Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – C – Db

    Eb major
    Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D – Eb

    Gb major

    Gb – Ab – Bb – Cb (or B) – Db – Eb – F – Gb

    Note: Gb has six flats in its major scale. If you’re a beginner, the Cb is probably freaking you out! Don’t worry about it — Yes, a white note can be a flat and there’s a theoretical reason behind this. But for now, it’s easier to just call Cb a B!

    Ab major
    Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – G – Ab

    Bb major
    Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A – Bb

    Again, notice the numbers beneath the “C major” scale way at the top.
    These indicate the tone number or scale degree for each note of the major scale. Each major key has a “1-tone”… a “2” … a “3” and so on.
    So what you’re trying to get good at is recognizing when melodies and chords are moving from one scale degree (…one chord of the scale) to another. That’s the point.
    Key principle #1: Intervals… Learn them!
    As stated on pg 51 of the 300-pg course, an interval in music is the “distance in pitch between two notes. The interval is counted from the lower note to the higher one, with the lower counted as 1.”
    Pg 51 continues…
    “All intervals (except for the unison and octave) are named by the number of the upper note: “2nds, 3rds, 4ths, etc.”
    If you’re referring to the distance between notes played separately, they are called melodic intervals.
    If you are referring to the distance between notes played together at the same time, they are called harmonic intervals.
    You can also use similar terminology to describe distances between chords. You can say:
    “Yeah… play the major chord a fourth up from C”
    In this case, it’d be F major because F is a fourth up from C. Regardless of whether you’re referencing single notes (melodies), notes played together (chords), or distances between chords, intervals are intervals!
    (E.g. – F will always be a forth up from C… Bb will always be a third up from Gb… G will always be a fifth up from C).
    I can’t spend too much time in this area, but you can check out pages 51-54 for detailed information on intervals.
    Briefly, I’ll list the names of each interval below.
    In the key of C major:
    The interval between C and the same C is called: Perfect Unison
    The interval between C and the next C on the piano (an 8th up) is called: Perfect Octave
    The interval between C and D is called: Major Second
    The interval between C and E is called: Major Third
    The interval between C and F is called: Perfect Fourth
    The interval between C and G is called: Perfect Fifth
    The interval between C and A is called: Major Sixth
    The interval between C and B is called: Major Seventh
    Notice that some names get a “major” put in front and some get a “perfect” put in front. This would be a big deal if you were taking a music theory test tomorrow, but for now, we just want to focus on the numbers.
    But for your reference:
    Unison, octave (which, in C major would both be “C”) get to use perfect along with the fourth and fifth intervals.
    …So 1, 4, 5, and 8 use the name “perfect.”
    Second, third, sixth, and seventh use the name “major.”
    But again, for playing by ear, the importance is that you start mastering how a major second sounds or how a major third sounds both as melodic intervals (played as separate notes going from one to the other) and as harmonic intervals (played together).
    So if I played “C” on the piano and told you to listen to it and hum it along with me, since you now know C (which is a “reference point”), you should be able to hum any interval from C. That is the idea.
    So if you know the starting note, with relative pitch, that’s all you need!
    Let me recap to make sure you really have this:
    If I gave you “C” on the piano, now you know how “C” sounds right???
    So from this point, I shouldn’t have to give you the sound of any other note because from C, you should be able to sing D…
    …From C, you should be able to sing E.
    …From E, you should even be able to sing Eb (because Eb is one half step below E).
    …Then once you have Eb, you should be able to sing Ab.
    You know what would be a really good exercise for you and another person?
    1. As you study intervals and build your ear skills, have someone play any first note and tell you what it is.
    2. Then have them play a second note (start off easy and make sure its a note from the same major scale). If I were you, I’d start in the key of C major. That way, the person testing you doesn’t really have to be a musician. You could actually tape letters to the notes and have your son or daughter play you the first note (which is C), then just play random notes thereafter. Then, they can tell you if you’re guess is correct, almost correct, or flat-out wrong!
    3. Make sure after the first initial note, they don’t tell you what note they are playing (never… unless you give up)!
    4. Based on your understanding of intervals and the exercise we covered in last week’s newsletter, attempt to guess what note is being played. Then, if you get the note right, have them play another note from that note.
    5. This will really get you to hear second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh intervals.
    6. Personally, the easiest ones to guess are the fifth intervals. Just think of that tuba player in the orchestra warming up. Think of a long deep “C” going to a “G”. Think of C-G C-G C-G C-G back and forth. Doesn’t that sound like circus music or the intro music for a clown? You see… little things like this help you out!
    7. I’d make a habit of doing exercises like this and constantly testing yourself.
    * If you’d rather do these exercises on your own, then try playing “C”, sing it to yourself and from that point, try to sing other notes of the scale. Finally, confirm that you are singing the right note by playing it on the piano.
    ** For example, I’d start at “C”. I’d play it. Now, I have a reference point. Ok, let’s say I want to sing “E”. So I rely on my understanding of what a major third interval should sound like going from C to E and so I sing what I think is “E”. If I’m right, when I play E, it should be the same note that I’m singing. You try!
    Ok… let’s move on!
    Key Principle #2:  A lot of music moves in fourths and fifths
    In fact, it can be argued that most progressions are just a bunch of fourth intervals combined together (… I’ll explain this in a moment)!
    A fourth interval, like any other interval, is the distance between the first and fourth notes in a major scale.
    So here are all the forth interval relationships from the major scales listed above (…basically I’m just taking the 1 and 4 out of each scale and listing them below so you can see it clearly):
    C major
    C   *    *    F
    1 – 2  – 3 – 4 
    D major
    D – G

    E major
    E – A

    F major
    F – Bb

    G major
    G – C

    A major
    A – D

    B major
    B – E

    Db major
    Db – Gb

    Eb major
    Eb – Ab

    Gb major
    Gb – B

    Ab major
    Ab – Db

    Bb major
    Bb – Eb

    If you memorize JUST these perfect fourth relationships, you’d have a lot accomplished.
    Well, you’ve probably heard much talk about chord progressions like 5-1s, and 2-5-1s, and 6-2-5-1 turnarounds. If you haven’t, check out the first sixth months of my 2004 newsletters.
    Around that time, I was really teaching a lot on progressions.
    Chord progressions make up songs. Simply put, a chord progression is a series of chords, played one after the other.
    …And that’s what songs are too!
    And just as the exercise above stressed learning the relationship between single notes (or learning melodic intervals), the same attention should be given to mastering how a certain chord sounds ‘progressing” to the next.
    It’s really the same process as above.
    But what are 5-1 progressions? 2-5-1 progressions? and the rest…?
    Well… first off:
    The numbers come straight from the major scales. So a 2-5-1 is three chords (because each number of the scale represents a chord).
    C major
    C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
    1 – 2  – 3 – 4  – 5 – 6  – 7 – 8
    A 2-5-1 from this scale is a chord based on “D” moving to a chord based on “G” moving to a chord based on “C”. So that’s where the numbers come from.
    Here are some common chord progressions below:
    and between these seven common progressions above, a lot of songs are created! Tens of thousands… trust me! There’s a lot more progressions — don’t get me wrong — but these are very common.
    Let’s examine a few of these progressions:
    1-4: We’ve already seen this one. This is any chord based on the first tone of the scale moving to a chord based on the 4th tone of any given scale.
    In the key of C major, this could be a Cmaj7 going to an Fmaj7.
    2-5: This progression is common when a song is either about to end or at a point where it needs to return back to the beginning to repeat another verse. In “Amazing Grace,” this is “wretch like me” in the line:
    “That saved a wretch like me”
    So on wretch, a “2” chord would be played (something like a D7 or D9), and on me, a “5” chord like G13 could be played. But it’s obvious at this point in the song that it is either going to repeat something from the beginning (or return back to a state where it is repeating the same chords but perhaps with different lyrics). This is the idea of a 2-5. It’s sort of like a midpoint.
    So, to recap:
    In the key of C major, a 2-5 could also be a Dmin7 going to a G7. Remember, D is the 2nd tone in the C major scale and G is the fifth tone; thus, a 2-5 progression.
    …But think of D to G outside of C major for a moment. Yes, of course these two notes create a “2-5” in the key of C.
    But if we were in the key of D major, “D” to “G” would be a 1-4 progression. This may take a while to digest, but basically, a “2-5” is a type of 1-4 progression.
    Remember key principle #2?
    Key Principle #2 *Repeat* –  A lot of music moves in fourths and fifths
    Let’s see if all the other progressions are reducible to movements of fourths.
    2-5-1: When you hear a song ending, most likely its a 2-5-1. It’s at the ending of “Happy Birthday to You” and just about any classic ending of a song. If an audience knows when to clap towards the end of the song, then they are probably hearing the famous “2-5-1” because they end songs! The 2 prepares for the 5 and the 5 creates this tension that is only calmed by resolving to a point of rest – the 1 chord (which is probably the chord that opened the song too).
    In the key of C major, this could be Dmin9 going to G7 and from G7 to Cmaj9.
    So we know this is a 2-5-1 in the key of C major because D is the 2, G is the 5, and C is the first tone of the scale.
    But if you recall the chart of fourth intervals I created above, D to G constitutes a fourth interval in the key of D (as we just discovered above) and G to C also creates a 1-4 movement in the key of G major.
    So a 2-5-1 is merely two “1-4” movements connected together (D to G is a 1-4 and G to C is a 1-4).
    And so are:
    and many other progressions. They are all a series of fourth movements.
    This also why the circle of fourths / circle of fifths chart is so important. It can be found on pages 32, 35, 36, and 45 in the 300-pg course.
    This topic is getting hotter and hotter as weeks pass so I’ll definitely continue on this if interest is still high. E-mail me at [email protected], reply to this newsletter, or visit my message board at https://www.hearandplay.com/board to let me know what you think!
    Thanks for reading again and I’ll see you next week!
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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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