Teach Yourself Music Theory – 17.) Solfège Syllables

Cue The Sound Of Music

Anyways, this is a continuation once again of explaining the jargon used amongst musicians when referring to scale degrees.

Solfège Syllables is a practiced used commonly with sight-singing (singing a musical work for the first time without prior rehearsal or practice) to train the performer how to recognize the intervals between pitches just by looking at a piece of sheet music.

“How is this done,” you ask?

Well, many of you might have heard of “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do,” and that is basically solfège singing. The purpose of it is that when you assign any pitch to “do” (or to any syllable as a matter of fact) you can figure out how to sing the other syllables because the muscles in your vocal chords know the sonic distances between each syllable.

Still sounds complex?

Okay, let’s take a C Major scale. Play it and sing it. Now sing it with “do-re-mi-fa…”

Good! Now, choose any pitch you want (other than C) and make that “do.” From there, if you copy exactly what you did when you sang solfège syllables, you will be able to sing a major scale from any key!

Below is the list of solfège syllables and the chromatic alterations:

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 16.) Calling Pitches by Scale-Degree Name

Today’s topic is more so about covering jargon used in music than actually understanding of music. However, the use of this terminology can help clear-up some confusion from previous lessons as well as aid in helping understand the next lessons.

When we talked about the major and natural minor scales, we talked about how they are made up of 7 different pitch classes with a repeat at the octave. Previously, we have just been calling the pitches of the scale just by there ascending number.

So, for example: we call the second note of the scale the second degree.

Well, there are some specific names for those pitches that make up the scales:

Now, going back to our previous example: when referring to the second scale degree of the major or natural minor scale, we would say the “supertonic” of the scale.

To further drill-in this terminology, let’s review the major pentatonic scale.

Remember that the major pentatonic scale has the same pitch class collections as the major scale… but 2 pitches less (hence how “penta” means “five”).

What scale degree names are in common with the major scale AND the major pentatonic scale?

Looking at the chart above, it would be:

  • The tonic
  • Supertonic
  • Mediant
  • Dominant
  • and submediant

And there you! That’s how you name pitches by their scale-degree names.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 13.) Pitch-Class Collections of Natural Minor Scales

Continuing with the idea of pitch-class collections and how they can form scales, let’s introduce a new scale: the natural minor scale.

To make a natural minor scale, one has to have a collection of pitches that in ascending order go in an intervallic pattern of whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, and whole-step back to the original pitch. One can also think of this as M2-m2-M2-M2-m2-M2-M2.

Take a look at the composition below, write the pitch-class collection, and then arrange the pitches into an ascending manner fitting the pattern of the natural minor scale:

If you did it correctly, you would get {F#, G#, A, B, C#, D, E, F#}, which means this composition uses a F# minor scale…

…but wait, don’t the same pitches used also make up the A Major scale?

That is correct! For every major scale, there is its own relative natural minor scale. All you have to do is go down a minor-third interval (or up a major-sixth interval) from the original major scale to find the relative minor scale. So C major is A minor, G major is E minor, E major is C# minor, etc.

Now, how can well tell if a song is using a major or minor scale? well, that will be saved as a topic for next time.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 12.) Pitch-Class Collections and Major Scales

Read, analyze, play, and/or listen to this compositional segment below:

Now, write out all of the note letter-names that you see where used in this small composition.

You should get (in order of appearance): { A, C#, E, F#, D, B, G#}

What we have written above is the composition’s pitch-class collection, or a collection of all the pitches listed by their letter-names used.

Time to introduce a new concept. A scale, which is a pitch-class collection but organized in a ascending/descending manner in an alphabetized way.

Which… using the same example above, if we put the pitch-class collection in an alphabetical order, it would be: {A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#}

So, what kind of scale is this? Well, to spoil the answer – this is a major scale. But how can we tell? Just look at the intervallic distances between the notes.

A major scale is made up of a pattern of notes set apart from each other in an ascending manner of whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step (which returns to the starting pitch). You can also think of this as M2-M2-m2-M2-M2-M2-m2.

So now, let’s take a look back at our pitch-class collection:

Does it match the pattern of the major scale interval formula? Yes it does!

Try now for an exercise by taking any starting pitch and see if you can build a major scale of your own!

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 1.) Reading a Score

One of the most debated parts of music is the use of Western notation as well as the need to understand it. Even though this is the most common form of writing down music, most famous musicians tend not to know how to “read” it. Thus, it has come up for query as for the necessity to learn how to use this form of notation, as it doesn’t appear to have direct affect on success commercially or communication-wise. While the need may be up for question, excuses are certainly not. There is nothing standing in your way from learning how to read music and use it to compose, but yourself. Think of this as a language opportunity; and the more languages you know, the better you are when communicating your ideas to other musicians. It would be a shame for you to work hard to get into a recording studio, only to not be able to tell the players what you want in sound. So let’s start with the fundamentals:

When looking at a score, or the physical musical notation for a piece of music, you will see a bunch of dots and lines. Each dot symbolizes a pitch, which is a particular tone that you hear. In this common practice of Western notation, the pitches are grouped into musical tone letter names of – A B C D E F G… repeating back to A and continuing on to infinity!

Take a look at a keyboard. All the white keys on the piano match the letter names mentioned above. You’ll also see that the groupings of white keys around the black keys are always 3-4-3-4… with the group of 3 being C D E and the group of 4 being F G A B constantly repeating. And now it is time to introduce our friend: middle C. Middle C is also called C4 because it is the fourth C (counting from the left) on a keyboard. This will serve as a placeholder in many situations, as seen coming up next.

Now, these pitches are organized on a staff consisting of five lines and four spaces. The higher the pitch/dot is placed on the staff, the higher it sounds to the ear when you play it. And the opposite is true as well: the lower the pitch on the staff equals how low it will sound acoustically. So, now you might be wondering as to which line or space represents what pitch letter name – and the answer to that question is that it all depends of the clef. A clef is a symbol found to the far left end of any staff that tells the pitch representation.

First one is the treble clef, or otherwise known as the “g-clef.” It has that name from looking like a cursive “G” and having the swirl wrap around the line where G will be. Notice where C4 is in relation to this clef. Typically, treble clefs are used for high voices. So how about the low sounds? For that, we have the bass clef, also known as the “f-clef.” Once again getting its name from its shape, the two dots of the clef hug the line where F will be. Last, but not least, is the “movable” c-clef. The shape of this clef looks like two backwards “C”s connecting to each other in the middle – and the line on which they touch tells us where middle C is. Easy to remember. Reason why it is called a movable clef is because the clef can be on any line! If it was on the first line at the bottom, it would be a soprano clef; second line above, a mezzo-soprano clef; third middle line, alto clef; fourth line, tenor clef, and fifth top line, baritone clef. Alto clef, however, is by far the most commonly used.

One last final clef is the choral tenor clef, which looks like a treble clef, but with an “8” at the bottom of the tail. This tells us that the music sounds to our ear an octave, or eight letter names, lower than how it is visually written.

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