MUS 111 Study Guide A (Chapter 1)

Basics I

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  1. The four properties of musical sound:

Pitch--how "high" or "low" a sound is perceived to be, or its frequency.  Pitch is determined by the number of vibrations, or cycles, per second (cps).  For example, A440 sounds the pitch "A" in the second space of the treble clef staff (a1), and the medium producing the pitch is vibrating at 440 cycles per second.  Pitch is traditionally notated using noteheads on a staff, each representing a relative frequency.

Duration--how long a sound is sustained.  Duration is traditionally notated using various rhythmic symbols, such as a whole note, half note, etc., each representing a relative duration.

Intensity--often a measure of volume, representing how loud or soft a sound is perceived to be.  Changes in volume are indicated via various dynamic markings, such as pp, mf, ff, etc., representing relative volume levels.

Timbre--the quality or tone color of a sound.  Technically, the sound wave shape and audible harmonics determine the timbre of the sound heard, distinguishing a trumpet from a violin, for example.

  1. The staff:  system of five lines and four spaces on which noteheads are placed to represent relative pitch.
  1. Clefs:  Treble clef or G clef--used to provide a frame of notational pitch reference for sounds in the upper range.  The lower loop of the clef circles the second line, designated as G.  Bass clef or F clef--used to provide a frame of notational pitch reference for sounds in the lower range.  The line between the two dots is designated as F.

  1. Regardless of the clef employed, each consecutive line and space is assigned the next consecutive letter of the alphabet--in music, called a pitch class--using the letters A through G.  As soon as possible, you should become familiar with notation in both treble and bass clefs on sight.  Having to "figure out" the note names will be an impediment.  If at first you need to use a mnemonic device, go for it.  Make up your own, if it will help you.  

  1. Leger lines, or ledger lines:  While the text seems to use the "ledger" spelling, contemporary usage more often seems to be "leger."  These are short lines that extend range beyond the confines of the staff, both above and below.  They must be proportionately spaced according to the dimensions of the staff.

  1. Grand Staff:  the combined treble and bass clef staves, connected by a brace.  The staves converge at the point known as Middle C.  This staff is used for keyboard notation, as well as for harp and four-part vocal notation, etc.

  1. Pitch on the keyboard:  letter names are assigned as follows:

  1. Intervals:  A half step is the distance between any two consecutive keys on the keyboard, whether white or black, e.g., B-C, C-C#.  A whole step is the distance between every other key on the keyboard, whether white or black, e.g., C-D, C#-D#.  (See keyboard diagram above.)  A whole step consists of two half steps.  

  1. Accidentals:  chromatic alterations.  Sharp--raises the pitch of a tone one half step.  Flat--lowers the pitch of a tone one half step.  Double sharp--raises the pitch of a tone one whole step.  Double flat--lowers the pitch of a tone one whole step.  Natural--cancels a previously-used accidental, returning a pitch to its original state.

  1. Use of accidentals:  Accidentals are placed before the notehead.  When a melodic line is ascending, sharps are normally used.  When a melodic line is descending, flats are normally used.

  1. Major Scales:  A major scale consists of eight pitches (the 8th pitch completes the octave).  Half steps occur between scale degrees 3 & 4 and 7 & 8.  Every other interval is a whole step.

  1. Scale degree names:  Each scale degree has its own "name":
    1 = Tonic (the tone that identifies the key)
    2 = Supertonic (the tone a whole step above the tonic)
    3 = Mediant (the tone midway between the tonic and dominant)
    4 = Subdominant (the tone five tones below the tonic)
    5 = Dominant (the tone five tones above the tonic)
    6 = Submediant (the tone halfway between the tonic and the subdominant)
    7 = Leading tone (the tone that leads to the tonic)

  1. Major Key Signatures: These are constructed using chromatic alterations, or accidentals, in specific patterns, beginning with: the key of C Major with no accidentals, G Major with 1 sharp, D Major with 2 sharps, A Major with 3 sharps, E Major with 4 sharps, B Major with 5 sharps, F# Major with 6 sharps, and, C# Major with 7 sharps. A sharp is added with each ascending 5th pattern, or pitch class (letter of the alphabet). E.g., C to G is a fifth; G to D is a fifth, etc. (See From Sound to Sight page 28, for layout of sharps in other clefs.) A helpful tip in recognizing major keys with sharps is: the major key will be one half step above the last sharp.

Similarly, major keys with flats ascend in fourths, beginning with: the key of C Major with no accidentals, F Major with 1 flat, Bb Major with 2 flats, Eb Major with 3 flats, Ab Major with 4 flats, Db Major with 5 flats, Gb Major with 6 flats, and, Cb Major with 7 flats. A flat is added with each ascending 4th pattern, or pitch class (letter of the alphabet). E.g., C to F is a fourth; F to Bb is a fourth, etc. (See From Sound to Sight page 28, for layout of flats in other clefs.) A helpful tip in recognizing major keys with flats is: the major key will have the same name as the next-to-the-last flat.

  1. Minor scales:  there are three types:

Natural minor:  the half steps occur between scale degrees 2 & 3 and 5 & 6.  Natural minor is seldom encountered, except for its occasional appearance as the aeolian mode.  Modes will be discussed later.

Harmonic minor: same as natural minor, except the 7th scale degree is raised one half step, creating an augmented second between scale degrees 6 & 7. As its name suggests, harmonic minor is the form applied to harmonic, or vertical, chord structures in minor keys. The raised 7th scale degree (leading tone) happens to be the third of the dominant chord (V). This chord is almost always major, even in a minor key, which requires the raised 7th scale degree.

Melodic minor: this minor form is normally found in horizontal music structures, or melodies, hence, the name. As with the preceding two forms, the half step occurs between scale degrees 2 & 3. In the ascending form of the scale, however, the 6th and 7th scales degrees are raised, just as they are in a major scale. When the scale descends, the 6th and 7th scale degrees are lowered, duplicating the natural minor scale. So, in the ascending version, half steps occur between scale degrees 2 & 3 and 7 & 8; descending, half steps occur between scale degrees 6 & 5 and 3 & 2.

  1. Scale degree names in minor:  For scale degrees 1-5, the names are the same in both major and minor.  Following are the other names in minor:
    lowered 6 (b6) = Submediant
    raised 6 (#6) = Raised submediant
    lowered 7 (b7) = Subtonic
    raised 7 (#7) = Leading tone
  1. Minor key signatures:  note that lowercase letters are used to indicate minor keys.

  1. Circle of Fifths: Reading the circle in a clockwise direction results in ascending fifths. Reading the circle in a counterclockwise direction results in ascending fourths. There is an "overlap" where three of the keys in both major in minor sound the same, but have different pitch class names. These are considered enharmonic (C#-Db, F#-Gb, B-Cb in major; a#-bb, d#-eb, g#-ab in minor).  (See text illustration, page 13, and illustration below.)

  1. Relative and Parallel Keys: Okay, here’s where it gets cool ... If you superimpose the major circle with the minor circle, you can see that each major key shares a key signature with a minor key. These two keys are considered relative to each other. It’s almost like "relatives" sharing the same genes, only here it’s sharps or flats.  (See text illustration, page 14.)

Here’s a tip for remembering the relative relationships of all these keys: All you have to do is remember the easiest one, then, you can figure out the others. Just remember the key relationship with no sharps or flats: C and a. C is the major key; a is the minor key. The major key is always three half steps higher than its relative minor key. If you were asked to provide the relative minor key for F major, all you would have to do is count three half steps down from F to arrive at d minor. Piece of cake.

Parallel keys are keys with the same tonic. For example, C major and c minor are parallel keys.

  1. Scales and keys: A scale is simply a series of ascending and descending pitches–a convenient way of displaying the tones used in a melody or harmony. When arranged consecutively in alphabetical order, the pattern of half and whole steps typically identifies a particular key–tonal system based on the major and minor scales. Scales tend to gravitate toward a single pitch, indicating the tonic pitch. A key signature is a means of providing the correct accidentals for the scale being used, positioning the half and whole steps in the appropriate arrangement. The most common scales are major, minor or modal (other patterns which we will study later).

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