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Basic music theory

Music theory that any professional or future-professional musician should know.

So, you re going to be a music major (or you re thinking about it). One thing you ve probably heard over and over is that you ll need to understand music theory. Read on for a brief explanation of all the basic concepts!

You ve seen plenty of written music over the years, but have you paid attention to HOW it s written? Take a look at music and learn how key signatures are written (there s a particular order for the sharps and flats, and particular octaves they must be written in), how clefs are written, how measures are separated (there s always a line at the end of the staff to signify the end of a measure, BUT it s possible to have only a partial measure, in which case that line wouldn t be there), which direction the music stems face, and how the notes are grouped.

The sharps are written in this order: f, c, g, d, a, e, b. The flats are written in the exact opposite order: b, e, a, d, g, c, f. The treble clef is drawn so that the curled part in center crosses the second line from the bottom, because it is the G clef. The bass clef curls around and has dots around the second line from the top, because it is the F clef. The alto clef looks like a B where the center of the clef is on the middle line. This is because it s a C clef. Stems on notes from the second space (from the bottom) and lower go up and to the right. Stems on notes from the third line and up go down and to the left. Notes are usually grouped so that the beats are clear that is, in 4/4 time, two eighth notes together, four sixteenth notes together, one quarter note alone, etc. This is why ties are sometimes used instead of dotted notes to show the beat grouping.

You should also know how to read all four clefs treble, bass, alto, and tenor. You will not use alto and tenor very often unless you are a viola, cello, bass, or brass player, but you should still have a functional knowledge of all of them. For treble, middle C is on the line below the staff. For bass, middle C is on the line above the staff. For alto, middle C is on the third line of the staff. For tenor, middle C is on fourth line of the staff (from the bottom).

You must know all major and minor scales. Here is a brief break down: C maj/A min no sharps or flats. G maj/E min 1 sharp. D maj/B min 2 sharps. A maj/F# min 3 sharps. E maj/C# min 4 sharps. B maj/G# min 5 sharps. F# maj/D# min 6 sharps. C# maj/A# min 7 sharps. F maj/D min 1 flat. B-flat maj/G min 2 flats. E-flat maj/C min 3 flats. A-flat maj/F min 4 flats. D-flat maj/B-flat min 5 flats. G-flat maj/E-flat min 6 flats. C-flat maj/A-flat min 7 flats. If you notice, there are actually only 12 major and 12 minor scales, because G-flat and F# are the same note, C-flat and B are the same note, and G# and A-flat are the same note.

You must know your intervals. C to D is a major second, C to E is a major third, and so on. A minor second is one half-step. A major second is two half-steps. A minor third is three half-steps. A major third is four half-steps. A perfect fourth is five half-steps. An augmented fourth/diminished fifth is six half-steps. A perfect fifth is seven half-steps. A minor sixth is eight half-steps. A major sixth is nine half-steps. A minor seventh is ten half-steps. A major seventh is eleven half-steps. A perfect octave is 12 half-steps.

You must know your major, minor, diminished and augmented chords when you hear them or see them written. A major chord is a major third and then a minor third, like this: C E G. A minor chord is a minor third and then a major third, like this: A C E. A diminished chord is two minor thirds, like this: B D F. An augmented chord is two major thirds, like this: F A C#.

You must also know the function of each chord within a particular key. The chord built on the first note of any major scale is called the one or tonic chord, and it is a major chord. The chord built on the second note of a major scale is called the super-tonic chord, and it is a minor chord. The chord built on the third note of a major scale is called the mediant chord, and it is a minor chord. The chord built on the fourth note of a major scale is called the sub-dominant chord, and it is a major chord. The chord built on the fifth note of the major scale is called the dominant chord, and it is a major chord. The chord built on the sixth note of a major scale is called the sub-mediant and it is a minor chord. The chord built on the seventh note of a major scale is called the leading tone and it is a diminished chord.

In a minor key, all of the names are the same, but the chords have the following qualities: 1 minor, 2 diminished, 3 major, 4 minor, 5 major (with raised leading tone), 6 major, 7 diminished (with raised leading tone). It s possible to see a minor 5 and a major 7 if the leading tone is kept lowered, but that s very rare.

You must learn the progressions. The most typical progression (and the chords area always written in roman numerals) is I-IV-V-I. Another common progression is I-ii-V-I. There are rules about what can go where. I can go anywhere. ii goes to V. iii can go to IV, but is rarely used. IV can go to V, vi, or I. V can go to I. vi can go to IV or ii. vii can go to I. Generally, you cannot go backwards in progression (for example, V cannot go to IV). The exact specifics depend on the period of music being studied; these are for the baroque period, which you will likely be taught first.

Using all of these skills, you will be asked to identify chords (maj/min/dim/aug) by ear, as well as written. You will also be asked to identify chord progressions by ear, and use them to part-write (that is, write harmony to a melody line, or simply write the chords in a given progression). You will learn figured bass symbols (which will tell you what chords to write). These symbols will be using the roman numerals used above, as well as other numbers to indicate the inversion the chord is in.

For example, if you see I6, that means the chord is in the first inversion (the third of the chord becomes the bass note). If you see I64, that means the chord is in second inversion (the fifth of the chord becomes the bass note). These apply only to triads, not to seventh chords. In seventh chords, first inversion is I65, second inversion is I43, and third inversion (where the seventh is in the bass) is I42. You will learn how to use these different triads. There are rules about which chords can be used where. First-inversion chords can be used almost anywhere (as can root position chords), while second-inversion chords can only be used in particular cases: in a cadential progression (that is, ii-I64-V-I. This is because the I64 and V are considered parts of the same chord), in a passing motion (the bass line rises or falls by step), or in a pedal tone (the bass line stays the same as the chord changes).

You will also learn all about using seventh chords, and rules more chord progressions, as well as voicing for those chords SATB style. The general idea is to get the smoothest voicing possible in the upper three voices (should move by step as much as possible, but can move a leap of a third or fourth), while the bass can leap around a bit more (though it shouldn t be wild it, too, should be a smooth as possible, but it s expected to leap more). The only things you must avoid are parallel fifths and parallel octaves in any two voices (this is when two voices are a fifth apart, and when they move, they are still a fifth apart. Same idea with the octave). Each voice must sound like an individual in an SATB texture, which is why you will sometimes have to use inversions.

You also need to watch the doubling rules in root position, the root of the chord should be doubled, though the fifth can be to avoid a part-writing error. The third of the chord should never be doubled if possible, and the leading tone can NEVER be doubled.

This is most of what you ll learn in first-year theory. Keep this as a reference guide, and you will be fine. Learn your scales, your chords, and your basic progressions. As you go along, you will memorize the part-writing rules. Remember all of your basics, and you will do well in music theory. Keep in mind that all of these rules only apply to a particular era, and that later music breaks the rules all the time.

Written by Catherine Hillard -

An Evening with Raga MaruBihag

The much-loved Raga MaruBihag is of fairly recent vintage. In Raga Darshan , the author Manikbuwa Thakurdas speaks of an older Raga Maru as its progenitor. Be that as it may, the MaruBihag in currency is widely acknowledged to be a product of Atrauli-Jaipur founder Alladiya Khan's prodigious imagination. Over the years and in the course of its journey across regions, the rAga has acquired quaint touches and flavours reflecting the idiosyncrasies of some of the more creative minds.

Throughout the discussion M =shuddha madhyam and m =teevra madhyam.

MaruBihag's core being is beholden to Kalyan; supporting material is supplied by Bihag. The two angas are mediated by peculiar melodic gestures as we shall shortly see. The Aroha/avarohana set may be stated as follows:

N' S M, G, m P, N, S" :: S" N D P, m G, m G (S)R, S

It is demonstrated in the following clip -

Since the Aroha/avarohana provides no more than a silhouette of the rAga, a few lines will be devoted to fleshing out its central features. The rishab and dhaivat are varjya in the ascending movement. The high relative occurrence of the teevra madhyam over the shuddha is part of the rAga's Kalyan heritage. The pancham is the most important nyAsa sthAna, the centre of melodic gravity, anchoring most of the action. Traditionally, an overwhelming number of compositions in MaruBihag have situated their 'sam' on the pancham. The shaDaj, gandhar and nishAd are also nyAsa bahutva swaras. The case of the rishab merits special mention. That swara is characteristically intoned with a kaNa of the shaDaj, to wit (S)R, S. The R is thus elongated and approached via the shaDaj, as in m, GRSR, S. The dhaivat is occasionally rendered deergha as in S" as in N S" D, P.

The contribution from Bihag is distinctly observed in a couple of prayogas such as P' N' S G or R N' S G. The other more dramatic of these is the piquant introduction of the shuddha madhyam: S M, M G. This foray is often concluded by the Kalyanic m G (S)R, S. These coming together of these movements represents the confluence of the Kalyan and Bihag angas. There is also an implicit Bihag influence in the construction of MaruBihag phrases such as N' S G m P or Gm P N. Whereas the teevra madhyam tilts the development assuredly towards Kalyan, the underlying melodic locus derives from Bihag. This subtle interplay of the two melodies is characteristic of MaruBihag. Remember, however, that Bihag is a Bilawal-anga rAga. Interestingly, S.N. Ratanjankar has conceived a rAga named Marga Bihag with an entirely Bihag-like motion but with the proviso that only the teevra madhyam is employed.

The verbalizing above is of limited efficacy if it is not supported by actual demonstration. Much of the foregoing discussion is now compressed in the following two clips, elucidating the key elements of the poorvAnga and uttarAnga. Note that the kaNa-swara (in parenthesis below) is not explicitly intoned. The voice in these - and the earlier A/A - clips is of Nachiketa Sharma.

S (m)G m P, m G, m G (S)R, S

P'N'SM, M G, S (m)G (P)m P

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