Maybe you already know that I am a fan of Udemy, which is a website for online learning.
I reviewed several courses related to music and singing on Udemy and I believe they offer quality information for a reasonable price. They provide online lessons for students who either can’t study with a private teacher or would like to further supplement their education.
In this post, I am going to give you a sneak peek into the course titled “Music Theory – a Beginners Guide” by Dr. Blaise J. Ferrandino, who is a university professor, composer, music theorist and double bassist. He is a tubby guy who struck me as very knowledgeable. He talks about pitches and scales and meters effortlessly. His smile and a relaxed way of explaining music concepts put me at ease but also made me wonder how everything comes together.
Before I give you the sneak peek, let’s talk about why a singer should learn some basics of music theory.
Why Does a Singer Need to Know Music Theory?
Maybe you have a good ear for music and you can figure out many things in music yourself. But why would you want to invent a wheel? Music theory has developed over several hundred years and there must be something good about it.
It is true that you don’t need to learn biology in order to walk or eat – you do it naturally. But if you want to become a doctor, you should know something about human body. The same goes for music theory and singing.
To become a better vocalist, you should understand how melodies, rhythms or harmonies work. Knowing some basics of music theory will help you understand songs you are singing – how they are composed, how notes create melodies, how harmonies work …
Music theory helps a singer:
- Transpose a song to better suit his or her vocal abilities,
- Compose a new song and express own musical ideas,
- Improvise a song and put own spin on it.
Music Theory – a Beginners Guide
As Dr. Ferrandino says, he does not like the term “music theory” because the word theory implies that it has to be proven. He prefers the term “music literacy”, which is the ability to understand, speak, read and write music in a way that has been accepted by musicians. Is not that what every singer wants?
The course has five pre-recorded sections about the following topics:
Dr. Ferrandino, your lecturer, starts with basic understanding of sound production. He supports his explanations with simple yet effective visual examples. “Sound is the vibration of air.” Then he discusses five elements of sound: pitch, dynamics, timbre, articulation, and duration.
Pitch or frequency is a measure of how often air moves back and forth in a unit of time. The faster the air moves, the higher the pitch.
Dynamics or amplitude is a measure of volume or how much air moves back and forth in a unit of time. The more air is moved in a unit of time, the louder the sound.
Timbre is the sound colour given by the way air moves back and forth or by the combination of air vibrations.
Articulation, also known as envelope, describes how a sound starts, is held and released (in other words how sound is initiated, sustained and released).
Lastly, sound duration is an important sound element represented by notes of different time values telling us how long a sound lasts.
In the second section of the course, basic notation rules are explained.
Pitch and sound duration are well shown in notation (different types of note heads on a staff). The remaining elements are less obvious.
Staff is a set of five parallel lines where note heads are placed.
You need to remember only the name of one of the lines, for example the second line is called G. You can figure out the names of other lines and spaces.
A ledger line is a helper line for notes below or above a staff.
I think everyone learned this fact in school:
the names of notes use the first 7 letters of the alphabet: A B C D E F G. All these seven notes are played on white keys on a keyboard. An octave is a distance of 8 pitches.
Dr. Ferrandino then shows the relationships between pitches on a keyboard. He explains the concepts of whole steps and half steps that is later used to construct major and minor scales.
A whole step on a keyboard is recognized by two keys that have a key between them.
A half step on a keyboard is recognized by two keys that have no key between them (they are adjacent).
When you look at all white keys on the piano, there are two half steps between white keys: E to F, and B to C.
Black keys on the piano play pitches that are raised or lowered by half step.
The sharp symbol looks like a pound key on a cell phone or a hash tag, and it raises a pitch by a half step (semitone).
The flat symbol looks like a lower case b, and it lowers a pitch by a half step (semitone).
There is one more accidental symbol that cancels previous flats and sharps and it’s called natural.
Remember to write the accidentals (sharps or flats) before the note head but say the note name before the accidental (for example, #but say “dee sharp”).
Some pitches can be enharmonic, which means that they have the same pitch but are noted differently. For example E# and F are enharmonic because they sound the same but are called differently.
Clefs are musical symbols indicating pitches.
The main purpose of clefs is to provide a notation space where most pitches for a given instrument will be played or sung.
There are three types of clefs.
- G clef surrounds a line that represents the G note. If the G clef is placed on the second line, it is called a treble clef.
- F clef surrounds a line that represents the F note. If the F clef is placed on the fourth line, it is called a bass clef.
- Less known clef is a C clef, which points to the C note. Viola players are most familiar with this clef.