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:
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:
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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The Basics of Relative Pitch

Relative Pitch is the ability to be able to listen to music and identify intervals between pitches (and even chords). Having relative pitch is different from ideal pitch.
This is an article on how to listen effectively. There are various ways to harmonize the melody. For example, in the event you determined the one note melody to Jingle Bells, you'd be able to apply elementary chords in a matter of minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What if I don't require to play a chord on every melody tone?
2. How do I figure out the chord progressions that I'm hearing when the melody isn't as evident?
3. What if I require to play chords and not follow the melody?
4. What if I'm accompanying someone who is already playing or singing the melody?
Harmonizing the melody is more common for hymns, basic songs, nursery rhymes and melody-intensive tunes.

1. Ideal Pitch

When it comes to effectively listening to music to learn new songs, there's different ways to do it:
Some folks think you require ideal pitch to play by ear but that isn't true.

2. Relative Pitch

Ideal pitch is the ability to listen to exact tones without the use of a musical gizmo or reference. One out of 10,000 people have the ability to listen to a C tone & say that's a "C" without using the piano.
Now, some people with ideal pitch have a hard time with relative pitch (which is more practical for learning by ear).

Relative pitch does not depend on specific notes. It depends more on intervals & distance between notes.

With relative pitch, you may not know specifically what chords or tones are being played (like "C" or "E") but you know what's going on(e.g. - You know that a song is beginning on a major chord & moving to the minor sixth keynote).

Someone with nice relative pitch would know that a melody line like C to E to G is utilizing the notes of a major chord, but might not know which major chord (because unlike ideal pitch, the exact note is unknown until you sit in front of a piano & determine it.)
In the event you can listen to the changing chords in your head and can quickly transfer this knowledge to the piano (after determining the major key), then you have developed nice relative pitch.
Often times, it is going to the piano and matching up tones that allows you to play a song (literally in seconds because you already know what's going on -- you require a reference a reference point -- a major key.

Let's say you've been studying intervals and by now, you know that a "2-5-1" progression is common at the finish of a song. Now, you're listening to a song & there you listen to it, a "2-5-1". You even know that it's a min9 chord because it sounds jazzy going to some kind of dominant chord (like a 13 chord) and then finally returning home to a pleasant major chord.

Most of "playing by ear" occurs in the mind. If you've gotten to the point where you can pinpoint 2-5-1 & 1-4 progressions in songs, then you're relying on relative pitch. You're doing well.
You may not know specifically that it's a Gbmin9 or an Fmin9 but you know it's a minor9 and it occurs on the second tone of the scale. The 'actual' note will be determined one time you actually figure out what major key the song is in. The major key usually brings everything together at the finish.
The missing factor is the major key the song is being played in. So the same person would go to the piano, hit a few notes & shortly determine that the major key is C Major.

Ask yourself a few questions:

1. What is the 2 of C major?
2. What is the 5 of C major?
3. What is the 1 of C major?

The answers to those questions would provide the keynotes for the chords you already know.
Apply the chords: Dmin9 -- G13 -- Cmaj
So, the keynotes of a 2-5-1 progression in C major would be: D to G to C.

This gets simpler as you play 2-5-1 progressions over and over. They become second nature as any other progression will.

Ideally, if they call out, "play a 2-5-1, your response ought to be, "in what key?" That's what level you require to be at -- where you know all of your chords and progressions in all twelve keys and it literally takes seconds to play any chord progression in the event you know the key to play it in.

I know it's not that elementary but one time you get it, you'll be hearing music in your head and know what's going on before you get to the piano.

If you've been struggling to pick out the chord progressions in your favorite songs, then you'll want to take a look at these music resources.

* The Secrets to Playing Piano by Ear

This theory book is full of easy-to-understand tricks, tips, techniques and secrets to playing piano by ear! Home Study Course Book

* Gospel Keys 101

A great video course will teach you everything you need to know to get started playing basic hymns and congregational songs. You'll learn step-by-step, how to harmonize every single tone of the major scale. Since songs are based on melodies (and melodies are based on major scales), you'll be able to harmonize most songs. GK101

I just wanted to wish all of my musician friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Thanks for stopping by. It's always great to hear from you!

Love, LadyD

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

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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Learn To Play A German Christmas Carol

American Christmas TreeImage via Wikipedia

I was wondering if you will be playing Christmas songs this year for family, friends or your church?

I have fond memories of being asked to play "Ave Maria" when I was a kid. My Mom would invite all the neighbors to come over to hear me play the piano. No, I wasn't scared... well maybe just a little. 

While I kept playing the piano, I noticed people were talking amongst themselves in the background and that seemed to be relaxing for me, as well as for them, too. So, my advice is to choose your best songs you play well and just have fun with it.

 O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree is a Christmas carol of German origin. O Tannenbaum is its original name in German. O Tannenbaum is German for a fir tree or Christmas tree. The melody to this Christmas song is an old folk tune and the best known lyrics comes from a Leipzig organist and teacher named Ernst Anschutz in 1824.

You can find free sheet music to the song at 

Intermediate-Advanced Lesson: O Christmas Tree Chords 



Then Play:





Cm6/Eb (pause on this chord, you know... fermata sign)




Beginner-Intermediate Lesson: O Christmas Tree

For the carol, O Christmas Tree, we need to use both the C Major chord and the C Seventh chord. The actual notes in these two piano chords and the chord symbol for each chord are given below:
(Part of this lesson is from

C Major
-- Notes: C E G
-- Chord Symbol: C

C Seventh
-- Notes: C E G Bb
-- Chord Symbol: C7

Play the C7 chord with the fifth, third, second and first (thumb) fingers of the left hand.

O Christmas Tree: Two Major Chords, One Minor Chord and One Seventh Chord

To play this Christmas carol we will need the following piano chords:

C Major:
-- Notes: C E G
-- Chord Symbol: C

F Major:
-- Notes: F A C
-- Chord Symbol: F

D Minor:
-- Notes: D F A
-- Chord Symbol: Dm

C Seventh
-- Notes: C E G Bb
-- Chord Symbol: C7

Practice these chords in the two octaves below Middle C on your keyboard.

Lyrics and Tune of O Christmas Tree

Play the tune of O Christmas Tree with your right hand, starting on Middle C. There are three quarter-note or crotchet beats in every bar in this carol. In my notation, the ][ symbol represents a bar line separating the bars in the music.

O ][ Christ-mas tree, O ][ Christ-mas tree, Thy ][
C ][ F F F - G ][ A A A - A ][

leaves are faith-ful ][ ev-er; O ][
G A Bb E ][ G F - C ][

Christ-mas tree, O ][ Christ-mas tree, Thy ][
F F F - G ][ A A A - A ][

leaves are faith-ful ][ ev-er; Not ][
G A Bb E ][ G F - C ][

on-ly green when ][ su-mmer glows, But ][
C A D C ][ C Bb Bb - Bb ][

in the win-ter ][ when it snows. O ][
Bb G C Bb ][ Bb A A - C ][

Christ-mas tree, O ][ Christ-mas tree, Thy ][
F F F - G ][ A A A - A ][

leaves are faith-ful ][ ev-er!
G A Bb E ][ G F

Practice this melody until you can play it by memory.

O Christmas Tree Chord Accompaniment

Now let's look at the piano chords for O Christmas Tree. Play the chords in a regular rhythm corresponding with the three quarter-note or crotchet beats in each bar.

A special note about the chords highlighted in bold face: these chords are played by themselves, half a beat before the final note of the melody in those bars. For example, at the end of the first line, F chords are played with the syllables 'Christ-' and 'tree', then the Dm chord is played by itself, followed by the melody note, A, by itself, with the word 'Thy'.

O ][ Christmas Tree! O ][ Christmas Tree! Thy ][
----][F----F----C----][F----F----Dm ----][

leaves are faith-ful ][ ev-er; O ][
C----C----C----][C7----F --------][

Christmas Tree! O ][ Christmas Tree! Thy ][

leaves are faith-ful ][ ev-er; Not ][

only green when ][ summer glows, But ][

in the win-ter ][ when it snows. O ][

Christmas Tree! O ][ Christmas Tree! Thy ][

leaves are faith-ful ][ ev-er.

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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How To Accompany Group Singing

Auld Lang SyneImage via WikipediaLadyD piano thanks the many readers who have asked for tips regarding playing the piano to accompany singers.

Here's my story.

I started playing the piano for fashion shows when I was a little one many moons ago. From there, I graduated to playing piano for choirs in Junior High and High School. Later on, I learned to accompany lead singers and church vocalists.

1. Accompanying Group Singing

Tis the season for group singing, and keyboard players will be very much in demand on such occasions. Accompanying singers is a specialized skill, so I thought that some tips on the subject might be worthwhile.

If you can transpose, or are playing by ear, you will want to chose the best key for each song. A safe, average vocal range  is the octave C to C, which can be exceeded by one or two notes in either direction when necessary. Suppose you are accompanying Auld Lang Syne. A good key would be F, which makes the lowest note C and the highest note D.


r.h. melody single notes- C, F, F, F, A, G, F, G, A, G, F, F, A, C, D...

A short introduction will serve to announce the song, establish the key, and set the tempo. This last is especially important for keeping the group together. A typical introduction can be fashioned from the last four or two bars of the song. (Since Auld Lang Syne is relatively slow, two bars are sufficient.)


CG/ CEA to G
BB/ ABbD, BbBb/ ABbD
CC to low F

2. When accompanying a group it is often wise to pound out the melody, doubling it in octaves if possible. 


Once you are sure that the group knows the tune you can stop playing the melody and use a more rhythmic form of accompaniment. But notice that the right hand still touches on the main melody notes, to keep the singers on pitch.


F/F, then FAC

When you come to the end of the tune you may want the singers to go on to another verse. You can signal them to do so by playing a "turnaround" emphasizing the dominant (i.e. the fifth note of the scale, which would be C in the key of F).

C#C#/ AEA, to G
BbBb/ ABbD, BbBb/ ABbD
CC/CC (3 times)

To create a final ending for the song, slow the tempo slightly, hold the last note (I have added a tremelo in the left hand),and then cut it off with a sharp "button" consisting of a tonic chord (i.e. a chord on the first note of the scale). Notice that as the tempo broadens I have provided an upper octave doubling, to give a fuller sound.


C#C#/ AEA, to G
BbBb/ DFBbD (twice)
FF(tremelo)/ FACF (hold it out)

Now, when you follow the soloist, remember not to push the rhythm... just follow the artist. When the soloist wants to pause and hold a note, play a fill or arpeggiate a chord, hold it with the sustain pedal while she catches her breath and continues with the next phrase. You, as the piano player, can be the star at the beginning and end to the song with a few melody notes along the way.

When you are invited to play at a party, it is a good idea to do some advance preparation. Make a list of the songs you expect to use and decide on the keys for all of them. Have your music easily accessible, to eliminate fumbling between songs. Then relax, sing along as you play, and enjoy the party. 'Tis the season...

-- LadyD

P.S.  My friend Yoke Wong has a great music resource you might be interested in!

Learn To Play Your Favorite Christmas Carols Now
Covering Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, and many more

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