Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Intro to Writing Music: How To Read Music, Day 1!




Hello everyone, I hope that you are having a fantastic and creative day so far. In case you did not know, I am professional musician (pianist) and a private piano teacher in addition to my art/blogging ambitions; I hold both a Master and a Bachelor degree in music from Texas State University and California State University, Stanislaus, respectively; I have been writing my own music for over 10 years.

Today, I want to unlock the basics of composing music, breaking it down for you to show that anyone with a basic level of musical training can be a composer too — but before we start to do any of that, you must first know how to read music to follow along. Of course, the best way to learn how to read music is to actually learn how to play an instrument, like the piano, which will enable you to lessen the level of abstraction and help make these ideas more physical and concrete; however, it is possible to read music with only the theoretical knowledge base as will be presented here.

 The best analogy to learning about music and how it works that I can give you is mathematics. Most people do use some math day to day (some use a lot of it), but the process of learning math is rather abstracted – however once we accumulate a certain amount of information we can apply the principles to solve real life problems. 

However, unlike math, to my mind, in music there is less of a learning curve before the information can be applicable – like the creative activity of writing your own music! If all goes to plan, over the course of a few weeks, you should be able to theoretically write your own piece of music. Of course, I will take you step-by-step through the whole process! 

I will be posting this article series EACH DAY this and next week as they are quite a few segments to cover (don't worry the ideas are simple - I teach them to 5 year olds all the time), and I would like this learning process to be as smooth and easy to follow as possible! 

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Here we go: THE WHITE NOTES!

To explain these concepts, I will be using the piano. It is good reference point as well as an instrument with which most people are already familiar. You press a key (note) on the piano and it plays a sound. Simple!



Music is about patterns. Everything in music revolves around patterns – repetitions, contrasts, similarity, subtle differences, etc…

Here’s a pattern:

The musical alphabet consists of seven letters/pitches that repeat over again as you go higher in pitch.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G — and then again — A, B, C, D, E, F, G, etc. This happens a total of eight times on a piano. If you start at the bottom (left-hand side) of a full piano, press the lowest white note, you will find the note A, each WHITE NOTE after that is the next letter name of the musical alphabet. A then B then C…

In the photo above, you can see the full piano, all notes spanning from the left side to the middle have a very low sound, but become higher in pitch as you reach the middle.

Spanning from the middle to the right hand side of the piano, the pitch continues to get higher the further to the right you go! To generalize: the left hand side is the low pitch area, and the right-hand side is the high pitch area.

In this section, we have only talked about the letter names of the white notes, we will cover the names of the black notes soon, but that is a more abstract concept, and I will hold that for another part of this article series. Just focus on the white notes letter names for now.

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The Groups of Black Keys!

There is another pattern that I should point out on the piano – it’s the groups of the black keys on the piano: starting again from the left-hand side of the piano (the bottom), we see a group of 2 black keys, a group of the 3 black keys, then a group of 2 black keys, then another group of 3 black keys, and so on…
Why is this important to note?

It is important, because remember that the musical alphabet repeats: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, then A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

Take a look at the bottom note of the piano again, the A in the photo above. The next white key to the right is the B, and the next is the C — and that C is left of the group of two black keys!

If we keep playing each white key in a row without skipping any, we will find that:

The D is in-between the group of 2 black keys, the E is to the right of the group of 2, the F is to the left of the group of 3 black keys… you get the idea (see photo below!)  



If we keep going in this way, we will get back to where we started, and when we do, we find that the next C we come too is also left of the group of 2 black keys (this can be seen in the next photo below)!

Actually EVERY C on the piano is left of a two black keys group, and we can find any note on the piano quickly if we think of its position relative the repeating groups of black keys.

We can also number each C we find, starting from the lowest one on the bottom as C1, the next one is C2, the next one is C3 and the next one is C4… and so on (see photo).
C4, no, not the explosive—the note on the piano, is a very special note indeed – it is the very middle of the piano and is called “Middle C!” Let’s move on to reading some music and we will comeback to why C4 or Middle C is so important in just a moment!

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That's it for Day 1, we will be back tomorrow, yes tomorrow—not Friday, for Day 2 of learning how to read music in order to write your own! I hope that this post was easy to follow, interesting to read, and I am excited to share my knowledge and artistic passion for music with you all! 

—Charles



PS. If you have any questions regarding the information provided in this article or would like clarification for any of the above ideas, please do not hesitate to ask questions in the comment section below! I am happy to answer all of your questions!  
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