An Understanding of How Music Works



An understanding of how music works involves knowing all 12 major scales. 

Major scales make up music!

Major scales make up playing by ear, believe it or not (at least the effective way of playing by ear.)

When practicing Major Scales, they do build up speed and dexterity but they're more than exercises.

But I’m speaking about getting to a point where you hear a song and you know right away what’s going on in that song. You may not know specifically what the keynotes are but definitely know the “outline” of the song. Somebody can get on the piano and select chords, note-by-note. It might take weeks but it can be completed.

Major scales tell you a lot: 

The time spent at the piano would be to decide the key signature, confirm the chords you’ve already picked out in your head, and worked on details (like melody lines, one of a kind inversions of chords, and minor specificities).

They define intervals.
They decide what a major third is… or a minor sixth … or an ideal fifth. They decide all the keys.

The best scale to keep in mind is the C major scale:
C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Simply put, a person with relative pitch focuses on the numbers and not the specific notes.

So forget about the individual notes for a moment and focus on the numbers.

Because the numbers can be used universally, they can be used with any key, not “C” major.

A great way to build this is to relate different intervals of notes to famous songs.

With relative pitch, a musician will know when they hear a melody going from the 1 tone to the 3rd tone (in this case, a melody going from C to E).

For example, a 1-3 interval (or a major third interval) sounds like the beginning of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” In the key of C major, that would be C going to E (single notes played one at a time).

Try singing or thinking of the first three notes of that song: “Have your…”

So, what you’d do is keep in mind that melody as a 1-3 interval (or a major third interval). Having a reference song to recall an interval ought to help you. Take advantage of this system.

In the event you keep singing “Have Yourself,” you’d be singing the outline of a major chord: 1-3-5.

Another song that shares the same exact melody is “Kumbaya My Lord” (1 – 3 - 5).

So going through each interval of a scale and making mental references to melodies you can keep in mind is a wonderful way to start building this listening skill:

1:1: This is called unison because the notes sound the same. They may come from different sources (like three different people singing the same tone; or three different instruments). You’ve probably heard the word “unison” before. This is the best interval to keep in mind. In the event you have an ear to match up notes that sound the same, then you shouldn’t have a controversy with this interval!
Try to find references for these intervals:
In the key of C major, this would be: C-C.

1:2: This is called the “major second” interval. In a major scale, this would be the distance between the first three notes of the scale like C to D in the key of C major).

Relate the 1-2 interval to the first three notes in songs like: Frere Jacques and Are You Sleeping.
1:3: This is called the “major third” interval. I’ve already given you examples of the 1-3 interval (Kumbayah My Lord, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas). Plus, Oh Susannah (chorus).

1:4: This is the interval between C:F in the key of C major. This is called the ideal fourth interval. Songs like Oh Christmas Tree, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Hark the Herald Angels and Here Comes the Bride use 4th intervals.
Play the following intervals and figure out melody references for them (things you can keep in mind and associate with these intervals for future use):

1:5: This is the interval between C:G in the key of C major. This is called the ideal fifth interval. Songs like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Feelings, Chim Chim Cheree and Twinkle Twinkle use the fifth interval.

1:6: I’ll give you some help with this one because it could be a small harder than the ideal fourth and fifth. Have you ever heard the theme music for NBC? The notes are: C to F to A (all played separately but held down as the next note comes in). The C to A, in this case, is a major sixth interval. Other songs starting with a sixth interval are, My Bonnie and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.

1:7: This is called a major seventh interval. It helps to form the major seventh chord, a jazzy and extended version (C+E+G+B) of the regular major triad (C+E+G). Examples are Bali Hai and Over The Rainbow.

So again, the idea is to know the sounds that sure intervals generate as they're played. Each interval has its own one of a kind sound. And the same truth applies to chords and progressions.

Start to reckon of chords like this:
1-chord
2-chord
3-chord
4-chord
5-chord
6-chord
7-chord
8-chord (equal to 1-chord because the first and last note of a scale belong to the same keynote).


That’s exactly how relative pitch works. You need to understand relationships, intervals, and distances by themselves.

Note the numbers in front of the chord are the same numbers from above. They correspond with notes from any given major scale. Notice that you have no reference point until you actually define a major key.

And, even in the event you do have a reference point, it makes the job much simpler.

Often times, someone with relative pitch can “fake” like they have ideal pitch in the event that they have ONE reference point.

So, how do you get to the point where you can recognize chord progressions?

I understand this lesson could be a small “deeper” than others, but in the event you can get this idea, it may be the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.

A) Write down as many intervals as you can and play them over and over while listening to the distinct sound each interval makes:

In each key:

• You may know that a major chord is happy, a minor chord is sad, as well as a diminished chord is scary, but that’s only half of it. Relative pitch is they ability to identify the intervals between tones and chords. So, while knowing whether the chord is major, minor, or diminished is definitely important, the ability to decide the interval between each chord is more necessary in the event you need to learn songs by ear.

• Decide what a 1-chord sounds going to every other chord of the scale (1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6, 17).
Now, each tone is associated with a sure type of chord (like major, minor, diminished) but for now, try to learn and recognize the sound of all three combinations. An example is: 1 maj to 2maj, 1 maj to 2min, 1 maj to 3 maj. Mix and match as much as you can and learn how each interval sounds (not what each chord sounds like). Then move on to the 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3 intervals. Then on to the 3’s, 4’s, 5’s and so on. 


Wishing all my readers a very warm and bright New Year 2011!


-- LadyD



"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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