1   1     4     4
1   6m  2m  5

Does this make sense to you from a musical standpoint? If so, you're ahead of the game or maybe a jazz player! If not, a little bit of music theory may go a long way in making you a better musician, songwriter, arranger, band leader, etc. I'm of the opinion that some of the greatest musicians of our time have NOT studied or learned much about music theory. On the other hand, some of the greatest musicians or our time HAVE studied or learned quite a bit about music theory (how's that for dichotomy).

To me, music theory is a lot like lanquage arts. Most of us (if not all) began talking and writing without knowing what a verb or noun or adjective or article or preposition was, yet we talked and communicated anyway! Music theory is much like understanding the why of music, the evolution of tonal combinations, the explanation of why melodies and chords and progressions sound the way they do.


Take time to play the following notes on a piano keyboard. As you look at the keyboard, you will notice the black keys appear to be grouped in pairs and threes thoughout the range of notes. First, find the spot in the relative middle of the keyboard where the black notes appear to be in a pair. Now play the white key immediately to the left of the first black key in the pair. That will be the note "C", and if you're actually in the middle of the keyboard, it will be, oddly enough, middle C. Now, beginning with that "C", play the next white key (moving to the right) and the next, and the next, so on until you get to another "C", also immediately to the left of a "pair" of black keys. As long as you played only the white keys, you were actually playing the following notes.

C  D  E  F G  A  B  C

Assuming the piano was in tune, if you were listening to the sounds while while you played the notes, you may have heard yourself playing "do re mi fa so la ti do" - a "major" scale (if not, play them again). Since you began on a C note, we call it a C major scale.

Now, just for grins, instead of calling this series of notes by "do re mi...", let's assign numbers to the notes you just played.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8
C  D   E   F  G  A   B  C

These numbers serve multiple purposes in our musical "language". They can represent notes of a scale, notes of a chord, notes of a melody OR can be used to convey notes added to chords and can even represent chords themselves. By the way, you may be wondering why the note "C" can be number "1" and number "8" at the same time. Here's our first genuine musical term - "octave" (kinda like "octagon" or "octagonal" means eight-sided). If you keep playing notes past the last "C" note, most of the time you start over in counting. However, there are quite a few instances (with chords, in particular) where we may count past "8" all the way to 13 but that will be for advanced chords.

CHORD CONSTRUCTION (or how to play more than one note at a time and make them sound good together)
Now, do you remember all of those symbols you learned in math, algebra or chemistry? Well, chord construction is much the same. We'll borrow some of the numbers from the above scales, some symbols reminsicent of math and even a few symbols from a thermometer to help define what notes of a chord to play (and what it should be called).

Although we didn't touch upon major triads, minors, chord extentions, etc., you've just experienced the beginnings of harmonies and music theory of sorts. When I taught guitar lessons eons ago, I gave students small doses of theory as we progressed. It doesn't necessarily make you a better player. However, it can help you understand the "whys" about music, chord nomenclature, how to communicate with other musicians and even where to put your fingers when you're searching for that elusive sound you just heard on a CD or the radio!


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