music theory fundamentals

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An easy and concise guide to Music theory. Fundamental concepts and important points are all marked out for you.


  • ContentsArticles

    Music theory 1Glossary of musical terminology 10Accent (music) 29Dynamics (music) 30List of musical symbols 34

    ReferencesArticle Sources and Contributors 46Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors 47

    Article LicensesLicense 50

  • Music theory 1

    Music theoryMusic theory is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identifypatterns and structures in composers' techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods. In a grandsense, music theory distils and analyzes the fundamental parameters or elements of musicrhythm, harmony(harmonic function), melody, structure, form, texture, etc. Broadly, music theory may include any statement, belief,or conception of or about music.[1] A person who studies these properties is known as a music theorist. Some haveapplied acoustics, human physiology, and psychology to the explanation of how and why music is perceived.

    Fundamentals of musicMusic has many different fundamentals or elements. These include but are not limited to: pitch, beat or pulse,rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, allocation of voices, timbre or color, expressive qualities (dynamics andarticulation), and form or structure. In addition to these "fundamentals" there are other important concepts employedin music both in Western and non-Western cultures including "Scales and/or Modes" and "Consonance vs.Dissonance."


    Middle C (261.626 Hz) Play.

    Pitch is a subjective sensation, reflecting generally the lowness (slowerwave frequency) or highness (faster wave frequency) of a sound. Mostpeople appear to possess relative pitch, which means they perceiveeach note relative to some reference pitch, or as some interval from theprevious pitch. Significantly fewer people demonstrate absolute pitch(or perfect pitch), the ability to identify certain pitches withoutcomparison to another pitch. Human perception of pitch can becomprehensively fooled to create auditory illusions. Despite theseperceptual oddities, perceived pitch is nearly always closely connected with the fundamental frequency of a note,with a lesser connection to sound pressure level, harmonic content (complexity) of the sound, and to the immediatelypreceding history of notes heard.[2] In general, the higher the frequency of vibration, the higher the perceived pitchis, and lower the frequency, the lower the pitch.[3] However, even for tones of equal intensity, perceived pitch andmeasured frequency do not stand in a simple linear relationship.[4]

    At and below about 1,000Hz, the perceived loudness of a tone gets lower as sound frequency decreases, but aboveapproximately 2,000Hz, the perceived loudness increases as the sound's frequency gets higher.[5] This is due to theear's natural sensitivity to higher pitched sound, as well as the ear's particular sensitivity to sound around the200400Hz area, the frequency range most of the human voice occupies.[6]

    In Western music, there have long been several competing pitch standards defining tuning systems. Most made aparticular key sonorous, with increasingly remote ones more and more problematic; the underlying problem isrelated to the physics of vibrations.In addition, fixing notes to standard frequencies (required for instrument makers) has varied as well. "Concert A"was set at 435Hz by France in 1859 while in England, concert A varied between 439 and 452Hz. A frequency of440Hz was recommended as the standard in 1939, and in 1955 the International Organization for Standardizationaffirmed the choice.[7] A440 is now widely, though not exclusively, used as the A above middle C.The difference in frequency between two pitches is called an interval. The most basic interval is the unison, which issimply two of the same pitch, followed by the slightly more complex octave, which indicates either a doubling orhalving of the fundamental frequency.

  • Music theory 2

    Scales and modes

    Pattern of whole and half steps in the Ionianmode or major scale on C Play.

    Notes can be arranged into different scales and modes. Western musictheory generally divides the octave into a series of 12 notes that mightbe included in a piece of music. This series of twelve notes is called achromatic scale. In the chromatic scale, the interval between adjacentnotes is called a half-step or semitone. Patterns of half and whole steps(2 half steps, or a tone) can make up a scale in that octave. The scalesmost commonly encountered are the seven toned major, the harmonic minor, the melodic minor, and the naturalminor. Other examples of scales are the octatonic scale, and the pentatonic or five-toned scale, which is common inbut not limited to folk music. There are scales that do not follow the chromatic 12-note pattern, for example inclassical Ottoman, Persian, Indian and Arabic music. Arabic and Persian classical traditions often make use ofquarter-tones, half the size of a semitone, as the name suggests.

    In music written using the system of major-minor tonality, the key of a piece determines the scale used. (One way ofshowing how various keys relate to one another may be seen in the circle of fifths.) Transposing a piece from Cmajor to D major will make all the notes two semitones (or one full step) higher. Even in modern equaltemperament, changing the key can change the feel of a piece of music, because it changes the relationship of thecomposition's pitches to the pitch range of the instruments that play the piece. This often affects the music's timbre,as well as having technical implications for the performers. However, performing a piece in one key rather thananother may go unrecognized by the casual listener, since changing the key does not change the relationship of theindividual pitches to each other.

    Consonance and dissonanceConsonance can be roughly defined as harmonies whose tones complement and increase each other's resonance, anddissonance as those that create more complex acoustical interactions (called 'beats'). A simplistic example is that of"pleasant" sounds versus "unpleasant" ones. Another manner of thinking about the relationship regards stability;dissonant harmonies are sometimes considered to be unstable and to "want to move" or "resolve" towardconsonance. However, this is not to say that dissonance is undesirable. A composition made entirely of consonantharmonies may be pleasing to the ear and yet boring because there are no instabilities to be resolved.Melody is often organized so as to interact with changing harmonies (sometimes called a chord progression) thataccompany it, setting up consonance and dissonance. The art of melody writing depends heavily upon the choices oftones for their nonharmonic or harmonic character.


    Metric levels: beat level shown in middle with division levels aboveand multiple levels below.

    Rhythm is the arrangement of sounds and silences intime. Meter animates time in regular pulse groupings,called measures or bars. The time signature or metersignature specifies how many beats are in a measure,and which value of written note is counted and felt as asingle beat. Through increased stress and attack (andsubtle variations in duration), particular tones may beaccented. There are conventions in most musicaltraditions for a regular and hierarchical accentuation ofbeats to reinforce the meter. Syncopated rhythms arerhythms that accent unexpected parts of the beat.Playing simultaneous rhythms in more than one time signature is called polymeter. See also polyrhythm.

  • Music theory 3

    In recent years, rhythm and meter have become an important area of research among music scholars. Recent work inthese areas includes books by Bengt-Olov Palmqvist, Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, and Jonathan Kramer.

    ChordA basic chord progression in C major would be "C F G." Adding the relative minor chord to it would be A minor. Amore advanced chord for C major would be adding E minor. Most pop songs have a simple chord progression suchas "C G Am F" another one would be "C Em Am F." A basic chord progression in C major's relative minor (Am)would be "A C Dm E." All basic chords for A minor are Am C Dm E F. Choosing the right chord for a melody iseasy once gotten the hang of it. Listen to your melody and pick out the notes that stand out the most. Usually, youchoose a chord that contains the note in it. In some cases, you can choose a chord, for example, D major. If the noteis the 7th of D major (C), you can use the D major chord, creating an artificial D7 sound.


    "Pop Goes the Weasel" melody[8] Play

    A melody is a series of tones sounding in succession. The tones of amelody are typically created with respect to pitch systems such asscales or modes. The rhythm of a melody is often based on theintonation of language, the physical rhythms of dance, or simplyperiodic pulsation. Melody is typically divided into phrases within alarger overarching structure. The elements of a melody are pitch,duration, dynamics, and timbre.


    IV-V-I progression in C Play

    Harmony is the study of vertical sonorities in music.Vertical sonority refers to considering the relationshipsbetween pitches that occur together; usually this meansat the same time, although harmony can also be impliedby a melody that outlines a harmonic structure.

    The relationship between two pitches is referred to as aninterval. A larger structure involving more than twopitches is called a chord. In common practice andpopular music, harmonies are generally tertian. Thismeans that the interval of which the chords arecomposed is a third. Therefore, a root-position triad(with the root note in the lowest voice) consists of theroot note, a note a third above, and a note a third above that (a fifth above the root). Seventh chords add a third abovethe top note of a triad (a seventh above the root).


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