Category Archives: Music Theory

Slurs, ties and phrases

Let’s talk about slurs, phrases and ties. As a long time piano teacher, I find many students, even advanced players get confused.

Slurs – curved line over/under two or more *different* notes.
Tie – curved line connecting the *same* note(s) immediately next to one another.
Phrase – a musical idea, often indicated with a slur line over/under many notes or more often, many measures.

Slurs mean to play the notes legato, or to put it into English – play the notes smoothly, connected or without any silence between the notes. How this is done depends on your instrument. On piano, do not lift the finger of the first note until you go to play the 2nd note. In bowed strings, like violin, it typically means to keep the bow going in the same direction. Wind/brass instruments it often means that you don’t tongue between notes. Check with your teacher on the best way to do a slur. You do have a teacher, right? Please tell me you aren’t trying to do this without anyone checking your work to see if it is correct – just because it sounds fine to you doesn’t mean it’s correct.

Example of slurs
An example of slurs

In the entire example above, all the curved lines over/above the notes are slurs, *except* for the D notes in the right hand and the E notes in the left hand in measures 7-8 & 15-16 (3rd beat tied to 1st beat). Those are ties. In all other cases, even measure 5 going into measure 6, the curve line is over/under at least 2 different notes. That’s all there is to slurs. Note that in this piano music example, there are some passages with both stem up and stem down notes at the same time. We call the different directions “voices.” In those cases, the position of the slur makes a difference. For example, the slur in measures 7 & 8 over the high (stems up) voices in the right hand part are under the influence of the slur, but not the low voices.

At the end of a slur it is common to “take a breath” before going to the next note. At measure 22 below in the right hand, a pianist might shorten the length of the  off-beat 8th notes (& of 1, & of 2, etc) ever so slightly. A violinist would change bow directions resulting in a break in the sound. How much breath one takes, if any, is subjective.

Phrase example
An example of phrases

In the above example starting at measure 26, the curved line over the right hand part is more properly called a phrase. A phrase being a musical idea implies that all the notes in the phrase are all part of one musical idea. Whether to play all the notes legato (smooth) as a slur would indicate is more of a performance choice than a requirement. In fact, in this example it is impossible to play the entire phrase connected. Can you spot why not? In measure 27 there are two repeated “G”‘s in the right hand. By definition, repeated notes cannot be played smoothly connected. One has to lift their fingers (or change bow direction, etc.) in order to play a repeated note. That causes a silence between the notes and thus they are no longer connected or smooth.

Ties. In measures 40 to 41 and 41 to 42 are examples of ties. The top note, B on the 3rd beat is tied into the 1st beat. That means play the note on beat 3 and hold the note down until the end of the tied note, in this case the end of beat 1. The F in measure 41, beat one is tied to beat 2. The C on beat 2 is tied into beat 3 *and* into the dotted half note on beat one of measure 42. All the while, there is a phrase/slur line over measures 39 to 42. Both notes in the left hand of measure 41, beat 2 tie into the next measure. In the case of the ties, all the curved lines connect the *same* note(s) to the same note with no other notes between them. Don’t be confused by the slur in measure 34 and 35. The first and last notes are both G in the right hand. Are the two G’s tied? Of course not. Because there are several notes between them it can only mean the curved line is a slur.

I hope this helps. Please comment below.

Playing from a Leadsheet (revisited)

Playing from a Leadsheet

for solo pianists

 

Back in 2014 I did a tutorial video on YouTube titles How to play a Leadsheet on solo piano. A followup to it is below.

The video pretty much tells all you need to know to get started playing a leadsheet. One correction is that the D7/F chord on the first line should be a D7/F#. The following description and addition may help in learning to play a leadsheet.

The video shows three different renderings in addition to the original sheet music. The 1st, with just the bass root note in the LH can be a starting point for a walking bass. Imagine a scale based on that root note but not changing any notes from those already in the key signature. Play the 1, 2, 3 & 5 notes or 1,3,5,7 in a measure with one chord. For example, “F G A C” or “C E G B or Bb depending on taste.”

The 2nd sheet music simply shows the block chord with all the notes we could use to harmonize the leadsheet. It is mainly for illustrative purposes. I would never play a leadsheet with just root position block chords.

The final example is the most like one might play. The examples, with the harmony spread between both hands and with rhythmic variation show various rhythmic possibilities for the accompaniment/harmony. However, there’s too much rhythmic variation going on. The last two lines could be played “as is” but the first two lines have, because it is illustrative and not practical, a variety of rhythmic styles.

The next step in leadsheet playing is to listen or look at sheet music of various styles of music similar to the one you are learning. Try and use the rhythmic patterns and harmonic voicing in those examples in your own playing. Leadsheets, after all, are not meant to be a final arrangement. They are there to remind you of how the piece goes and give you just enough information so you can play it such that a listener is reminded of the song.

This is just a starting point to playing from leadsheets.

Bonus points if you recognize what the featured photo shows (besides a leadsheet).

The piano is dead?

Just an article to get the mind thinking. I’d love to hear some insightful comments on this subject.

Are people learning to play the piano enough to keep the piano going as a popular instrument? Is it becoming like the pipe organ or electronic keyboards/synthesizers, all instruments played by a small percentage of musicians?

Is the future of music in technology? Is music moving to the point where one uses a midi controller (either a keyboard like instrument or a drum pad like Maschine) to produce a loop that is then played by pushing a button on a machine or computer (like an iphone/ipad)? Most music heard today by the majority of people is electronic based music. You may love classical music or live music without processing, but that’s the minority. Even if there is a live guitar player, it is unlikely that it hasn’t been processed by something, whether through an electric guitar amp or a foot pedal or computer based effects. Most TV & film music uses electronic samples (recordings) of instruments. Most live performances, like the large big-name touring artists give have pre-recorded elements as part of the performance. Even the voices are manipulated to make the singer stay in tune. One can half-way learn an instrument, record the bits and pieces, manipulate it in a computer and make it sound like a virtuoso. They then go on stage and play that recording – which I give them credit is something they created – while playing very simple parts. Is the need to learn an instrument really necessary?

If you can put together decent sounding material and play it back through a decent sound system while appearing to perform (like a DJ does), is that not sufficient? Over time as you create the raw material you would naturally become more proficient in your instrument. It would take much longer than in traditional lessons, but you’d still learn. Besides, you can rely on the technology to present a product that people like and that’s what matters.

I ask this because my main livelihood is as a piano teacher, apparently a career that is going the way of the dinosaur. I was shown an article in an actual printed paper (Gainesville, FL Sun 1/3/2015 issue) that said that Piano sales are way down and that fewer & fewer parents want their kids to learn piano. The reasons apparently vary between the appeal of learning computers and technology (eg video games) and the, in my opinion, misguided idea that team sports is preferable to music. I’ve lost many a student to sports and it always seems to be the ones that really should stick in music that go off to sports. It makes me wonder if I should switch to teaching how to use drum machines, music notation/composing software, home recording, etc? Would parents or potential students be more interested in that?

I could write volumes on why team sports is not as good for kids in the long run as taking music lessons. I can’t help but think of the quote from “1984” that goes “Films, football, beer, and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult….” I would paraphrase that to say “Entertainment, alcohol, gambling and above all else, sports captured everyone’s attention so controlling and manipulating, misleading, spying on and taking advantage of society was easy.” (Entertainment being things like Films, TV, YouTube, twitter, etc.). But much better authors than me have pointed out the fallacies of focusing on sports for children. Unfortunately, the parents making the decisions about music lessons don’t listen or don’t care about those facts.

Even if sports were not a big distraction for children & parents, would the side of technology that makes it far to easy to produce music that sounds good be sufficient reason for people not to take serious music lessons? What should a piano or music teacher do if the field of learning a specific instrument is dead or dying?

Comments, ideas? Please share.

Update post & Christmas Album announcement

I’m not sure if anyone actually reads this or not, but I hope someone does.

I wanted to let those that are interested know that I’m still around & busy with music projects. That’s one reason I’ve not posted in a while.

The main reason I’ve not posted is that I’m not getting any feedback or comments on any of my articles. My iPad apps article gets a bit of feedback, but there’s really nothing more I can say about music iPad apps. What else would you like me to write about?

I’ve been working much of the summer on music for my first ever Christmas Album. I’m looking at 10 titles, maybe 11 or 12. The styles will range from traditional, almost classical orchestral settings of carols to some rather eclectic electronic sounds. One will be pretty close to an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) version of Jingle Bells. Wait till you hear that. What could go wrong with a classically trained pianist & composer doing EDM?

You can now listen to three of my albums on YouTube.

The website is back to how it was pre-July 2012. My experiment with giving away my music and asking for donations ended earlier in the summer. My music is commercially competitive enough that I should be charging for it. After all, making a living as a musician is what I’m trying to do. I can’t eat if I don’t make money, so I’m back to charging.

For those that would like to help me and get something back in return, it would be most appreciated. See the how to help me page for details.

I’m still looking for a publicist, manager or agent to help me promote my sheet music, 6 albums and me as a musician.

I also have openings for anyone who would like to take lessons via Skype or here in the Gainesville, Micanopy, Ocala area of North Florida.

Feedback, comments. I need it.

(Please ignore any ads on this page. I didn’t put them there. I don’t make money from them. I don’t endorse them.)

More on iPad apps for music

iPad music apps

See also an updated article HERE

If you have some time, please listen to my music on iTunes (Click here)

This is a followup to my previous blog about sheet music apps for the iPad.

My favorite and the app I use the most for viewing sheet music is still forScore. If you don’t like it, another good one is unrealBook.

In addition to creating music, I also teach lessons, mostly piano, but also composition & theory lessons. Here are some apps I find useful for one or more of my musical endeavors, whether teaching, performing or creating. Some of these will also work on the iPhone while others are only for the iPad.

dbVolume – not really music, but it measures the db level of any sound source.

FinaleSong – If you use the Finale notation program, you might find this useful. (I wish there was a similar free app for Sibelius)

iRig MIDI recorder – This app could be a lot better but it allows you to record MIDI using the iRig MIDI adapter. If you could move existing midi files from your computer to it via itunes I’d find it helpful. I find that the iRig MIDI adapter tends to slip out of the iPad if there’s the least bit of motion in the iPad or the midi cables. But for free, it’s helpful if you don’t need a full-blown midi sequencer or DAW just to record MIDI.

iTalk Record  and Pocket Wave – for recording my piano students during lessons to give them more feedback about their playing. The built-in camera app is good for video of performances.

English: An image of an iPad 2.
from Wikipedia

MIDI Monitor & MIDI Wrench – for troubleshooting midi connections

miniSynth2 – a nice 2 Oscillator synth with some nice features

Musical Terms – a dictionary of musical terms, with an option to hear an Italian speaker say them. (I forget if it just does Italian).

Pitch Invasion – a neat video arcade game that helps teach ear training

SampleTank Free – Another disappointment from IK Multimedia, but I guess for free I shouldn’t expect more. A 4-track only (even in the full paid version) sequencer. Contains a variety of sounds & loops. Can use with or without the iRig MIDI adapter. But really, only 4 tracks and again no way to transfer midi files from my computer to the app? Decent if you need to put together a sequence and you don’t have anything else to use.

Sound Brush – An interesting way to compose music. Useful for teaching purposes.

TouchOSC – If you use a DAW or musical instrument software (like Reaktor), this is is nice. It turns your iPad into a hardware controller. Depending on how you set it up and what you’re trying to control, you can use OSC or MIDI for the controlling. It is easy to design your own control templates. Since you already spent a lot of money on the iPad, why spend more buying a hardware controller when this can pretty much do what you want for around $5?

Introduction to Music, Conclusion

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Conclusion

I hope this Introduction to Music series has been helpful. While it is obviously not a comprehensive look at all there is to music notation and music theory, if you know this stuff, you have a great amount of tools to help you as either a performer or composer, no matter the style of music.

I have a number of YouTube videos that cover a range of music topics, some duplicating what was in this series, but many that go beyond this series. Here are a few below for you to take a look at.

To see and hear how I’ve used my musical knowledge, you can download any of our sheet music for Free at the website. I also have six albums (as of January 2013) available on GooglePlay, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

If you would care to make a donation to help in my efforts with free content – blogs, videos and sheet music – your Donation is most appreciated.

Introduction to Piano Lessons and general music theory
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRdYzYjxl5M]
Introduction to Chords
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmezVWK0Ex8?hl=en&fs=1&w=425&h=349]
A Review of iPad Apps of help for musicians
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Ia92GaSrg]
12-tone, Dodecaphonic Composition Overview


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMayH_p5GS0]
Scales and Modes


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHhf7mB4180]
Some Sibelius (notation software) Tips
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OouCZ-Uz0zM?hl=en&fs=1]
Making another Arrangement using Sibelius
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yKV-GI-5KA?hl=en&fs=1]
Making an Organ arrangement in Sibelius
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B49i8EtmS-w?hl=en&fs=1]
I hope you enjoyed this. Your comments and questions are welcome here or via the contact page on the website.

 

Session Strings Pro Animator Revisited

Session Strings Pro Animator Revisited

Back in 2011 I did a YouTube video showing the Animator function of Session Strings Pro. It was a quick overview and not terribly detailed.

At the request of a few people, I’ve come back to the Animator to take a more detailed look. The video is intended as a starting off point for you to be able to use the Animator function yourself.

 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC95fzwLtsI]
Please consider subscribing to the YouTube channel and checking out our website

Introduction to Music, Part 10 (Scales)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Scales and Modes

Scales

Rather than a long blog article about scales, I’ll point you to a video I did on YouTube about scales and modes. I’ve added a few things below the video, so come back here when you’re done with the video.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHhf7mB4180]
Types of scales and modes

There are basically 2 types of scales, Major and Minor that are used the most. The Minor scale has 3 variations. As to modes, which are used less often, there are 7, one for each letter used in music. The Major scale is also known as the Ionian mode while the Minor scale is also known as the Aeolian scale. There are of course, other scales, from blues to whole-tone that are used less often.

One of the easiest ways to remember the correct order of the various scales is by the half-steps, whole-steps order between the notes. Here’s a list:

Major:
whole whole half whole whole whole half
(C-D) (D-E) (E-F) (F-G) (G-A) (A-B) (B-C)

Minor:

Natural: whole half whole whole half whole whole
Harmonic: whole half whole whole half whole+half half (note augmented 2nd from 6 to 7)
Melodic: whole half whole whole whole whole half (Ascending ONLY)

Dorian:
whole half whole whole whole half whole

Phrygian:
half whole whole whole half whole whole

Lydian:
whole whole whole half whole whole half

Mixolydian:
whole whole half whole whole half whole

Locrian:
half whle whole half whole whole whole

Introduction to Music, Part 9 (Intervals & Chords)

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

Chords and Intervals

Intervals & Chords

Intervals

An interval is the distance between two notes. We describe intervals in numerical terms, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. From the note C to the note D is a 2nd. Although D is only one note away from C, we call it a second because two notes are involved. Think of intervals in terms of letter names. If you are on a G and the next note is a D higher, you have G, A, B, C then D, 5 letters. Thus, G up to D is an interval of a 5th. You can have major or minor 2, 3, 6 & 7ths. You can have perfect, augemented or diminished 4, 5 and octaves. More about these differences later.

We usually only count intervals from a 2nd to 8th. The 8th is called an octave. Once you get higher than an octave it is common to say ‘an octave and’ whatever the interval is. That being said, you will hear about 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and even 13th, particularly when talking about chord extensions. But you rarely, if ever, will see intervals beyond 13ths used.

Why intervals? When reading music, it is often easier to read intervals than specific note names, especially if you are trying to read multiple notes, as in keyboard music or chords. For example, on piano, rather than try to figure out the note name on the music staff then figure out where you play it, you can quickly figure out the interval, then play the finger that many intervals higher. So, if your thumb is playing a G and the next note is a 5th higher, just play your 5th finger. I would say most experienced musicians read music more by intervals than by reading actual note letter names.

Chords

Chords

(See the graphic at the top of the article for examples of chords). The basic definition of a chord is this: “Three notes or more, when played at the same time is a chord.” In the majority of the most popular music in the world, most chords consists of triads. For our purposes, we will only be talking about triads. That is, the notes in the chord are made up of intervals of thirds. A C major chord, for example, consists of the notes C, E and G, all intervals of 3rds.

To properly spell a chord (triad), each letter of the chord must be an interval of a third. For example, a C# major chord is C#, E#, G#. Although E# is the same note as F, it is not considered proper to spell the C# major chord with an F, it must be an E#. The reason being that from C to E (with or without a sharp) is a third. From C to F is a 4th. If you ever wondered why we have double sharps or double flats, this is one reason why. For example, a D# major chord is spelled D#, F-double-sharp, A#. A G-flat major chord is spelled Gb, B-double-flat, Db.

The four types of chords are major, minor, diminished and augmented chords. (Yes, there are ‘suspended’ chords but they aren’t triads). What’s the difference? This is where chords and intervals come together.

A major chord consists of 4 half-steps, which is also called a Major 3rd, between the lowest note (called the root) and the middle note. A Minor chord has three half-steps, also called a Minor-third, from the root to the middle note. From the lowest note to the top note in Major and Minor chords is always 7 half-steps which is better known as a Perfect 5th.

We haven’t talked about scales yet, but another way to think of chords would be using scales. For now, suffice it to say that a C major scale consists of all the letter names (without accidentals) from C to the next highest C: C D E F G A B C. If we assign numbers to each letter, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale, the C,E & G make up the C major chord. We call the notes of the chord the root, 3rd & 5th (from bottom to top).

An augmented chord consists of a Major 3 from the root to the 3rd and an Augmented 5th from the bottom to the top note. An augmented 5th is 8 half-steps.

A diminished chord consists of a Minor 3 from the root to the 3rd and a Diminished 5th from the bottom to the top note. A diminished 5th is only 6 half steps.

A chord has to be 3 notes at a minimum, but there is nothing that says it can only be 3 notes. We can have chords with 7 notes. To add a 4th note, you guessed it, we add a note a 3rd higher. In a C chord, we would add a B. Then we could add a D, F, etc. I cover this and more about chords in my YouTube series.

For more on chords, see my YouTube series on the subject (shown below)

Next time: Scales and modes

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmezVWK0Ex8?hl=en&fs=1&w=425&h=349]