Making Notes (Part 3)
Forming a Major Scale
This new workshop series goes right back to the basics of reading music. Its direct approach is aimed at all our readers who have not had the chance to get to grips with music notation.
This month I will illustrate the simplicity of forming a Major Scale. I can imagine the groans and comments after mentioning this subject, but read on, to discover how Major Scale formation is the basis for understanding so many aspects of 'Musical Interpretation'.
SEMITONES and TONES are musical distances between notes on the keyboard. A SEMITONE is the distance between any two notes immediately next to each other, black or white.
A SEMITONE DISTANCE occurs between WHITE to BLACK notes (1), BLACK to WHITE notes (2) and WHITE to WHITE notes (3). (See Figure 1.) Strike each note separately when playing SEMITONES or a discordant sound will occur.
A TONE DISTANCE is equal to two Semitone Distances and there is always a note in the middle. To form a Tone Distance play any 'C' note on your keyboard and then the 'D' note next to it. There is a black note in the middle of these two notes. The first semitone occurs between the 'C' note and the black note (C# or Db) and the second semitone occurs between the black note and the 'D' note. Therefore 'C' to 'D' is a TONE DISTANCE.
There are four ways of forming a Tone. (See Figure 2.)
(1) WHITE NOTE to a WHITE NOTE.
Black note '*' in the middle.
(2) BLACK NOTE to a WHITE NOTE.
White note '*' in the middle.
(3) BLACK NOTE to a BLACK NOTE.
White note '*' in the middle.
(4) WHITE NOTE to a BLACK NOTE.
White note '*' in the middle.
These tones and semitones combine in a set sequence to form a MAJOR SCALE, consisting of eight notes. Any note on the keyboard can be the first note of a Major Scale, called the ROOT NOTE, which will give the scale its name. Each note of the scale follows an alphabetical sequence, ascending from the root note. (See Figure 3.) Every MAJOR SCALE is formed by this sequence of tones and semitones. To find the 'C' Major Scale, which consists entirely of white notes, start with a root note of 'C', and using the tones and semitones in the sequence displayed in the box, find the other seven notes 'D', 'E', 'F', 'G', 'A', 'B', 'C' to complete the 'C' Major Scale. (See Figure 4.)
'C' Starting note — ROOT NOTE
1) 'C' to 'D' is a TONE
2) 'D' to 'E' is a TONE
3) 'E' to 'F' is a SEMITONE
4) 'F' to 'G' is a TONE
5) 'G' to 'A' is a TONE
6) 'A' to 'B' is a TONE
7) 'B' to 'C' is a SEMITONE
8) 'C' is the 8th Note — same name as the ROOT NOTE which becomes the first note, Root Note, of the next ascending 'C' Major Scale.
The 'F' Major Scale is found using the same tone, semitone sequence starting with a root note of 'F'. There is one black note in this scale and by naming it 'Bb' and not 'A#', the alphabetical sequence is maintained. (See Figure 5.) Using the tone, semitone sequence, start with a root note of 'G' to find the 'G' major scale, which also has a black note in it. This time it is named 'F#' (rather than 'Gb') maintaining the alphabetical sequence. (See Figure 6.)
It is not essential to practice scales, but playing them will improve your fingering technique. When I was teaching the electric organ some of my pupils suffered from arthritis in the finger joints and discovered that playing one or two scales, before actually playing their favourite music, was a form of physiotherapy helping to keep the fingers supple. Many musicians go through some kind of finger warm-up playing session before a gig and the piano as a practice instrument in particular helps to strengthen weak fingers.
As I have established, in major scales the semitone distances occur between the 3rd and 4th and the 7th and 8th notes, while between all the other notes the distance is a tone. There is more than one form of musical scale and each one can be recognised by its sequence of tones and semitones. Enjoy finding the remaining nine major scales from the root notes of Db, D, E, Gb (F#), Ab, A, Bb, and B using the tone/semitone sequence. It's a good idea to write each scale down in a music manuscript book either as note names or as notes upon a stave, to fix them in your mind.
Here are some basic tips for writing notes. (See Figure 7.). The heads of the notes shape and the stems are attached to the side. Stems are drawn upward on the right of notes written below the middle line ('B' on the treble stave, 'D' on the bass stave). Stems are drawn downward on the left of notes written above the middle line. Notes on the middle line can be drawn with their stems up or down.
When writing joined quavers or semiquavers, if the majority of notes are written below the middle line of the stave the joining line is drawn above them. If most of the notes are written above the middle line of the stave the joining line is drawn below them. (See Figure 8.) When writing dotted minims and dotted crotchets, if the note is in a space, place the dot beside it. If the note is on a line, place the dot in the space above it. This will also apply to dotted quavers. (See Figure 9.)
What is a key signature? Although I often ask this question, few musicians know the answer or seem to feel the need to understand what it is or why it is there.
Sharps and flats written on the treble and bass staves at the start of the manuscript are not just intended to be decorative but will tell you how to interpret the notes into a complete, melodious (in tune) arrangement. At this stage of learning the sharps or flats perform two functions. (1) to indicate the notes which are to be sharpened or flattened throughout the music. (2) They are used as a 'signature'for identifying the 'key' (hence the term 'key signature'), or scale in which the music is written, in the same way that we identify ourselves by our own personal signature.
The sharps or flats are not just 'plucked out of thin air'. A major key of music revolves around the notes of a major scale, so a composer uses the sharps or flats peculiar to one major scale as the 'key signature', to show you the key in which the musical arrangement should be played.
To recognise a 'key' of music, read the key signature and identify the major scale from which the sharps or flats are taken. The name of the scale will also be the name of the key you are playing in.
The one flattened note (Bb) in the 'F' major scale (see Figure 5) will be written upon the 'B' line of the treble and bass staves to tell you that the music is written on the 'key' of 'F' major. All the notes of 'B' are read and played as 'Bb' when music is written in this key.
Music written in the key of 'C' major will be recognised by the absence of a key signature because there are no sharps or flats in the 'C' major scale. (See Figure 4.)
The one sharpened note (F#) in the 'G' major scale, written upon the upper 'F' line of the treble and bass staves tells you that the music is written in the key of 'G' major. When playing in this key, all the notes of 'F' must be sharpened.
The key signature for music written in the key of 'Eb' major uses the three flats, 'Bb', 'Eb', and 'Ab'from the 'Eb' major scale and all the notes of 'B', 'E', and 'A' must be read and played as flattened notes. (See Figure 10.)
The 'Eb' major key signature on the treble and bass staves.
Sharpened and flattened notes occurring in the music, other than in the key signature, will be preceded by a sharp (#) or flat (b) sign and are termed 'accidentals'.
The 'natural sign' will cancel a sharp or flat and the note it is written against will be played as a natural note.
The final illustration (see Figure 11) shows an accidental (#) preceding the third note of 'C' in the first bar — play 'C#'. In the next bar the first two notes of 'B' are played as 'Bb', as in the key signature. The third note of 'B' in this bar is preceded by a 'natural sign' — play 'B' natural. The accidental (b) preceding the fourth note of 'B'restores it to 'Bb'.
A manuscript is an instructional guide and everything included on the staves: key signature, time signature, notes and their values etc, all have an important meaning. Memo!! read the instructions first!
Join me again next month, when I will be showing how to use the major scales for forming left hand chords and inversions, and how simple it is to interpret chord symbols on to the keyboard.
Feature by Brenda Hayward