A Condensed Review of Music Theory

Posted by: Danny Lehrman Posted in: Online Guitar Lessons

A condensed review of Music Theory in terms a music or guitar major will understand. This is my final exam paper from an accredited online music theory class I took at the local 4 year college. These are the style of online guitar lessons I take now. I want you to read my review and comment. It is certainly not for beginner guitarists. Although many terms may be recognized.

“Music theory is designed to work as a complete system.The concepts of greatest importance [to me] in understanding this theory is time signatures, scales and triads. Time signatures are a very important concept for me to learn and understand. Learning the way to read and organize a musical composition metrically and rhythmically was my most challenging concept. It made no sense to me until this class.

It is equally important to me to understand that there is a human element. The human side involves the tiny emotional differences in the way every musician may play a written piece of music and interpret those tiny differences in timing. In particular, the human element is involved in applying time signatures, either by producing or reading exacting beat and rhythmical patterns throughout a composition. Time signatures are unique and are the reason for differences in sound between a measure, or several measures, of the exact same notes, from composition to composition. These differences apply to the listener too.

Scales are the part of musical notation I consider to be its very backbone. No other component displays the mood and emotional value of a full musical composition or portion of a composition than scales. Stress, tension, and all sorts of emotional feelings may be attributed to different scales. Minor scales usually describe less than happy feelings. A piece of music transfers the emotional value to the audience by using different scales with varying intervalic timing patterns, creating different moods. Different sounds are appealing to different people.

I am not proficient at reading musical notation at this point, although most of the concepts in the book are very familiar to me. The way I learned was not in a structured manner as this course is; now I have a better understanding of theory that supports what I am playing. The text book has put together the whole concept of basic music theory in a manner which is sensible and understandable.

Learning to read music is critical to becoming successful in most musical situations. The most important concept for any musician to learn, anyone who is not going to be a solo artist, is timing, and knowing how to play in exact time with the other artists in a band or musical group. I have learned from my limited experience with bands and or with duets [with my first guitar teacher in 1961] that absolute perfect timing is necessary in order to play together and sound right.

Timing is more important than missing a note, if you play with other musicians. Even if one player misses a note, do not lose your timing, keep playing in time. It’s easy to see why reading music is so critical, especially in structured music where two or more instruments are playing. Reading music requires practice and consistency to become proficient. Naturally, it is easier to read lower level notation than an ultra complicated score.

Scales were the first thing I was taught when I decided to re-learn the guitar again seven and a half years ago. Amazingly I had a small amount of finger memory left. From my first lesson, I was taught the major scale. I was also taught intervalic patterns right off the bat. I was given each of the different modes of the basic scale to learn within the first 6 lessons. {A} Aeolian, {B} Locrian, {C} Ionian, {D} Dorian, {E} Phrygian, {F} Locrian, {G} Mixolydian. I also was given all sorts of excellent mind  and finger confusing exercises with which to use the scales as practice devices. And I practiced scales until they started to sound like music.

I practiced scales for hours everyday. Because a guitar has at least 4 middle C notes, scales can be played from any note chosen as the root note or beginning scale degree. So, the major scale can be played in a variety of patterns in a number of areas on the guitar neck. Each scale uses the same finger patterns, as each chromatic half step is chosen on the guitar neck as a root note. This practice yields literally unlimited numbers of scales to choose from based on the 12 root notes and the octaves for each note on a guitar neck. Different positions and the root notes associated with them produce different tonality in the same key.

Triads came naturally to me from song scales because the music I play makes plenty of use of triads, or trichords. Triads have a pleasant sound using the 1st, 3rd and 5th degree of the major scale. Of course there are 4 forms of triads to choose from. Major triad, minor triad, augmented triad and diminished triad. My favorite composer, Jimi Hendrix, uses major triads in several of his songs, then uses the proper pivot note to shift into an A minor pentatonic scale. The result is pure brilliance and enjoyment for my mind.

Knowledge and usage of scales has allowed me to grow personally as a guitar player in whole. The first thing I do every day, at the beginning of every practice session, is go over scales and scale exercises to warm up. As my muscle memory improves and the scales have become instinctual, I make pleasant sounds while practicing scales. So practice is not a chore for me. To a point, practice makes perfect, expectations of immediate results are unrealistic without due practice time. To become proficient at learning to play a musical instrument at a professional level takes as many as 80,000 repetitions of a particular movement, which is actually time spent logging the information in the muscle memory of your mind where it becomes instinctual. This is when scales become more than scales and imagination can be applied.

My most recent teacher taught me a warm- up scales for reasons I don’t know, at least for a beginner student. This is one of my favorite practice exercises, it uses a scale which is in the key of e natural minor. I know this now from the intervalic pattern. The lower tetrachord has an interval pattern of W H W, and the upper tetrachord has an interval pattern of H W W. It is significant knowing what scale it is and how it is related to and can be used with other scales and chords tonally.

As modern music becomes more complicated and evolved in rhythmical patterns and note arrangements, it is fortunate that the musical notation system can be adapted to such new sounds. As a blues lover and player, the pentatonic “blues” scale, of which are only 5 notes, is a turn of the twentieth century development. It is specific to the blues, which is also a more recent genre of music. The issue of musical notation development is exacerbated by new rhythmical patterns and cultural differences and tastes, which compounds the use and evolution of music. Fortunately musical notation allows composers to record their thoughts in great detail so as to be able to re-play and or modify the original piece of music, or simply have a standardized record of it.

I took this course for several reasons. Originally my intention was to be able to read the music of my favorite composers compositions in musical notation, instead of tablature. Almost every song or piece of music I play is derived by ear or simply improvisational. I realize that to be able to read music at the level I want to will take years of practice. Taking the whole course into account this will be a long process. There are plenty of elements not discussed in this paper that are also critical to reading music. Understanding what different notes look like and their relationships to other notes is important. Understanding what a meter is, a duple meter, a triple meter, a quadruple meter and a quintuple meter and so forth, or combinations of. Learning what accidentals are, and how to apply them properly are critical for understanding the whole picture. Key signatures, both major and minor, are also important, including relative keys, and one of my favorites is the circle of 5th s.

I want to read musical notation, have a proper college education, understand musical notation, be able to apply my education to my guitar students, and eventually get my music degree and become a music teacher in an accredited institution. I have taken private classical guitar lessons from the age of 8 years old [1961] until I was approximately 13 to 14 years old. These were highly disciplined classical guitar lessons. I was taught to read music [with guitar notation added], no music theory. When I heard Jim Hendrix I stopped playing guitar and became a spectator until February of 2005. My musical preferences are limited, all I wanted to learn was zero to Jimi Hendrix.”

I want to know who understands what I wrote. It won’t help you if you are examining guitar lessons for beginners by reading my guitar lesson reviews. Though it’s worth noting some of this will be learned from a good teacher, for the beginning guitar player during their first sessions.

Immediate Results: Online Guitar Lessons


3 Responses to A Condensed Review of Music Theory

  1. Cool!! You really make some complicated materials clear and interesting!

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