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#1055133 - 06/25/04 10:46 AM Learning Music Theory
sleepingcats Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 982
Loc: Oregon
Just curious..........have many of you had real music theory training? When I had private lessons many years ago, I had very little, just enough to know what key the piece was in, and a few other basics.

In my group piano for adults class at the college (I'm in Part 3 right now), learning theory has been a real eye-opener. I've had difficulty with recognizing certain inversions of different scale degrees, etc. What's really satisfying is that when I try a new piece (easy of course since I'm still a beginner), I can now recognize a chord as a V-6-5, or 2nd inversion, etc. It's all coming together.

I know getting deep into music theory isn't necessary to play the piano well, but it really helps. As Mykinator mentioned in another thread, it's like the difference in reading each letter vs. reading words.

If the budget allows, I'll probably take the Music Theory classes starting this Fall, although probably not the whole 2 years since I don't plan on majoring in music. I know music theory is not for everyone - it's so analytical, but then there are some of us who like to analyze the piece before sitting down at the piano to play.

What do you think?
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#1055134 - 06/25/04 10:54 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
Cindysphinx Offline


Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
My knowledge of music theory (beyond the basics of key signatures) is really dreadful. The problem is that I haven't been able to find the right resource to learn it.

I tried reading a particular music book that my teacher recommended ("Music Theory" by George Thaddeus Jones), but the subject is, erm, rather dry. At the suggestion of someone in Pianist Corner, I'm having a go with Musictheory.net. They have lessons, which are a bit more interactive than reading a book.

I vowed I would do one lesson a day. It's Day 3 since my vow, and I've done 1 lesson. Ugh.

Cindy -- who doesn't even know what a progression *is*
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#1055135 - 06/25/04 10:59 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
Liesle Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/25/04
Posts: 192
Loc: Southern Illinois
A question of acquiring music theory was going to be my first question. I checked out Musictheory.net and it seems well suited to my needs. It looks like I need to memorize some key signatures.
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#1055136 - 06/25/04 11:05 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
pianojuggler Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/16/04
Posts: 1515
A little bit. Over two years ago, my teacher gave me a book "Alfred's Basic Adult Theory Piano Book". It turned out to be more "learn to play the piano by studying theory" than "introduction to music theory for beginning pianists." It covers the names of the notes, one at a time. On page 30 it introduced the shart sign. In other words, it goes a little slow.

I did get one useful thing from it...an understanding of how the grand staff evolved. I still have trouble remembering the notes in bass clef, bu I understand the concept now.

My teacher discusses things like chord progressions and inversions when they come up in the context of a piece I'm working on. But I feel like I want a little more academic understanding of music...sometimes.

I'll take a look at Jones' book. Thanks!

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#1055137 - 06/25/04 11:27 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
OK, so maybe I'm not truly an adult beginner, but I'm going to take a stab at this one. I actually majored in music theory & composition in college, but my piano playing has always been fairly atrocious....

Studying music theory will give you the tools to help you understand what's happening in a piece of music. You will learn how things usually relate to each other, and learn to recognize patterns that otherwise might have escaped your perception. You will learn to recognize form and structure that might not have seemed initially apparent, but that can be a great aid both to memorization and performance.

The study of music theory starts out small; intervals, scales, and rhythm usually. Then comes basic harmony, then harmonic progression, and so forth. Initially, it will seem that music theory presents lots of "rules," but don't let that fool you. Music theory is (how can I emphasize this enough...) NOT[/b] a set of rules for writing music. What it is, is a large set of patterns that have been observed in the music written by others, patterns that can be demonstrated as existing in pre-existing music.

I'm going to use just one such pattern as an example: the inversion of intervals. Going up from C to E is a 3rd; going down from C to E is a 6th. Going up from C to F is a 4th; down from C to F is a 5th. What's the pattern? (And don't yell at me for not spelling out the intervals. You'll see why.)

.
.
.
.

If you spotted something mathematical you're onto something. Add a 3(rd) to a 6(th) and you get 9. Add a 4(th) to a 5(th) and you get 9. All of the interval inversions work like this. You'd probably be surprised at how intricately related music and mathematics really are.

To anyone contemplating studying music theory, I will offer one bit of advice. Don't try to go it alone. Having a good and enthusiastic teacher can turn music theory into something (at least) interesting, whereas self-study usually seems to generate more unanswered questions than any real understanding.

Matt -- who will gladly answer any theory questions anyone has.
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#1055138 - 06/25/04 11:30 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
Liesle Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/25/04
Posts: 192
Loc: Southern Illinois
ok Matt. Here's my question. Why would one want to learn signature calculations?
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#1055139 - 06/25/04 11:30 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
jdsher Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/04
Posts: 643
Loc: Plano, Texas
My teacher uses a music theory workbook called "Just The Facts" which starts with book one and progresses to book 12. My understanding is that each one is used for the corresponding grade in school. I'm on book eight (I started learning piano 9 months ago) and the lessons involve intervals, italian terms, diminished triads, transposition, inversions, etc. This is a workbook as opposed to something you simply read.
My teacher grades these and hands them back to be used as a theory dictionary that the student has created themselves.
Jon
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#1055140 - 06/25/04 12:04 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
sleepingcats Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 982
Loc: Oregon
I don't know how my original post got posted twice! Sorry about that!

I agree about not trying to learn theory on your own. I started with Michael Miller's "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory" and have enjoyed his presentation. However, having a teacher explain it in person is obviously more effective.

Unfortunately, my private teacher hates music theory so when I bring up things I learn at the college, it almost feels like I'm teaching her, which is awkward. That's why I'm going to find another teacher.
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#1055141 - 06/25/04 01:11 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
 Quote:
Originally posted by liesle:
ok Matt. Here's my question. Why would one want to learn signature calculations? [/b]
Hmmm, well, I'm not sure I completely understand the question, since I am not familiar with the term "signature calculations". Are you referring to determining the key of a piece by looking at the key signature?
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#1055142 - 06/25/04 01:11 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Cindysphinx Offline


Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
I'll tell you what. The first person to come up with a comprehensive workbook to walk an adult student through music theory without being dry or vague is going to get rich!

Matt, I'm not sure I can articulate a decent question, but I'll try.

What is the best way to get a handle on chords? If I see a basic triad-type chord (C-E-G), I have enough feeling that I know it's every other key, so I can play it. Other chords (say, C-F-A) are completely bewildering. Should I just memorize what a first inversion looks like? And if I do, how is this helpful in playing better?

And what is a progression, anyway?

Cindy -- who did the musictheory.net lesson on intervals this morning, but who must not still get it because she only got 70% of the test questions right
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#1055143 - 06/25/04 01:53 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
I like MattG's nine, but 7 is another good one to remember.

D13.....oh crap what's the top note? 8,9,10,11... ohoh wait a minute...8,9,10,11,12,13[/b]!

13-7[/b] = 6 its the 6th of D, or "B".


MattG, here's a question for you.
I know of at least 1 "IDENTITY" formula, namely:

VI(min)7 = I6 (i.e. Amin7 : A,C,E,G = C6 : C,E,G,A)

I have found this useful in cases where I'm trying to understand and/or remember the pattern of chord changes. (i.e the pattern Bb, BbMajor7, Bb6, Bb seems more "consistent" then the same pattern written Bb, BbMajor7, Gminor7, Bb.)

I'm sure there are others, that, when learned would make an understanding of the piece easier, (and I may have forgotten a couple that I've run across earlier) but I've never seen a list of those that might commonly be used interchangably. I miss trigonometric identities so much! Could you help me become TWICE the bore at parties?

(maybe even up to SIX times more boring, since trig is usually only used in the "flats", so to speak. \:D )

but not ALWAYS!!!!

If you take the ArcHyperSpheroidalCosecant of 2/3 the complimentary angle (in radons) of the bevelcation point and divide it by 1/pi! you'll usually be within 2% of the Euclidean Cotangential Meridian perturbation constant (at Standard Temp and Pressure). (for low values of Beta, and in Central Standard Time)
Can you BELIEVE that? It's all on my website, plus more. But answer my question first, if you would. \:\)

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#1055144 - 06/25/04 02:00 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
Cindy (print this unless you can read your screen while playing the piano!),

When thinking of triads, you instinctively think of three notes, each a third apart (every other key, as you say). Great, you're comfortable with what we call root position. A root position triad contains a note (the root) and two other notes, one a third above, and another a fifth above. Using a triad with a root of C, the third above would be E and the fifth above would be G. So the triad becomes CEG.

If all the triads you ever wanted to play were in root position, things would be simple, right? The problem is, though, that playing all those triads in root position would force you to move your hands way too much. Hands (and voices) do best when they have to jump as little as possible. (This is all the whys and wherefores.) So, what's a girl (or boy) to do?

As it turns out, the actual positions of the individual notes in a triad don't make too much difference in the way a chord sounds (a gross generalization, to be sure). The most important part is that it's the same three notes.

So, with our original triad of CEG, we can mix up the notes' order without changing the sound. So instead of the lowest note being C, we can make the lowest note E, and put the C at the top. That gives you a triad of EGC. A triad in this arrangement of notes is called first inversion.

OK, so now that we have this nice first inversion triad, what the heck do we do with it? Let's try this, so you can see how using an inverted triad makes things easier to play. When playing, try to move your hand as little as possible.

Play a root position C major triad: CEG
Next, play a root position G major triad: GBD
Then, play another C major triad: CEG

You pretty much had to take your whole hand off the keyboard to go from one chord to another, right?

Now, let's throw an inverted triad into the mix:

First, play a root position C major triad: CEG
Next, play a first inversion G major triad: BDG
Then, play another root position C major triad: CEG

Notice how when you played the inverted triad in the middle, you barely had to move your hand at all; only the two bottom notes moved one key away and the top note stayed the same. You also probably noticed that it didn't really sound a whole lot different, maybe even a little better than the first way.

Now, take that first inversion triad (EGC) and leave the G as the lowest note and put the E at the top. Now you have a second inversion triad: GCE. The second inversion of a triad is usually reserved for a more specialized role than either a root position or first inversion triad, mostly because it sounds a bit different than the other two. Here's an example of how it might be used:

Play a root position a minor triad: ACE
Then, play a second inversion C major triad: GCE
Then, another root position G major triad: GBD
Last, play a root position C major triad: CEG
(You'll need to jump for the last triad, sorry!)

See how well that second inversion triad fit in there? And did you also notice that this whole sequence of triads sounded familiar? Not sure? Try it a little faster. Sound familiar?

That's probably because you just played a progession. Yes, it's true, you did, you just didn't know what the heck to call it! A progression is simply a sequence of harmonies that occur in a recognizable pattern. Music theorists of old noticed what those sequences were. Then they assigned a harmonic "function" to the various triads and noticed that the function worked just fine regardless of the key.

But all of that is another lesson for another day!
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#1055145 - 06/25/04 02:12 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Roxane Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 932
Theory was compulsory in the Associate Diploma in Piano Teaching exam from Trinity College London that I took 17 years ago. So I had to learn 4-part harmony and 2-part melodic writing, amongst other things. Harmony is particularly useful when I have to play accompaniment by ear when given only a melody, while my 2-part melodic training helps when I have to sing back-up for my church's contemporary worship services. However, since I learnt my harmony using terms such as tonic (I), subdominant (IV) and dominant (V) etc, I have the greatest difficulty in playing accompaniment from guitar lead sheets as I don't know what a C2 chord, for example, means.

Overall, knowing theory helps in understanding a piece of music better, as one can analyze how the music develops as it goes. I am considering taking a more advanced theory exam where I have to write a trio-sonata!

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#1055146 - 06/25/04 02:28 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
Bob (and Roxane), the easiest and most confounding part about playing lead sheets is following what's written. And how well[/b] the changes are written can make all the difference in the world. For purposes of pop/jazz lead sheet writing, there are two schools of practice (if not necessarily thought). One is to make the actual changes as explicit as possible but keeping the notation simple. The other is to use slightly more complex notation that preserves the harmonic function of the chord, making transposition and substitution easier.

So, using the first method, a progression might be written (in C Major): C - C6 - G9 - C. Using the second method: C - am7/C - G9 - C. What's the difference?

Technically speaking, C6 and am7 don't perform the same harmonic function in the key of C Major; C6 is a tonic chord, am7 is a submediant. In the example above, the second chord has a submediant function, not a tonic function, and as such, substitutions are more easily made. For example, you might substitute a subdominant instead of a submediant in the progression without loss of harmonic function. But substituting another tonic function would probably not work nearly as well in this case.

Glad I could de-clarify that for you. \:D
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#1055147 - 06/25/04 02:37 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
jdsher Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/04
Posts: 643
Loc: Plano, Texas
Matt G: Thanks for the great and easily understood lesson on chord progression. Cindy asked the question I was too embarressed to ask. I am just now learning about first and second inversions, so now I can guess why I'm being taught those first. It's really cool when those neurons start firing and the understanding occurs.
Jon
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#1055148 - 06/25/04 03:03 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Roxane Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 932
 Quote:
Originally posted by Matt G.:
C - C6 - G9 - C
C - am7/C - G9 - C

Glad I could de-clarify that for you. \:D [/b]
Still gobbledegook to me! Thankfully I do not need to play from lead sheets often; only substituting when the regular pianist for the contemporary church services is away. I have come to the conclusion that I just play whatever my ear thinks is right (within the limits of tasteful harmony, of course), and the synthesizer covers most of my (piano) mistakes anyway!

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#1055149 - 06/25/04 03:15 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
Fast moving thread here.

To Roxane re 1:12 post.

Lead sheets are shorthand and therefore at times disconcertingly inconsistant or unspecific. The judgement of your ear can usually trump these problems.

a C6 would be the triad CEG plus the 6th. That usually holds.

C7 actully means C(flatted 7th) or the dominant 7th chord.

any suffixes larger than 8 usually ASSUME the dominant7th, ie C9 would be CEGBbD

A C2 sometimes means DEG (which I would usually think would be called Csuspended2 )but is often used to mean C(add 9) i.e., CEGD withOUT the dominant7th.

You probably picked the example most often abused... or at least the one that leaves me confused most often as well.

But I would think that given your background, and given some lead-sheet "definitions" (which do vary a bit from person to person) you should be able to work around the vagaries that do exist.


to matt re 1:28 post.

I got some of that, though my lack of theory background hinders me.
The example I gave was the 3rd measure in Sheep May Safely Graze by JSB, and right or wrong, to remember it, I kept all the chords in the Tonic form. 4 Bb chords rather than 3Bb's and 1 gm7 chord.


To matt re 1:00 post
your quote:
Play a root position a minor triad: ACE
Then, play a second inversion C major triad: GCE
Then, another root position G major triad: GBD
Last, play a root position C major triad: CGE
(You'll need to jump for the last triad, sorry!)

not a biggie, don't mean to be a pest, proofreading one's own stuff is a pain.

Last, play a root position C major triad: CGE
probably a typo, should read CEG rather than CGE?

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#1055150 - 06/25/04 03:30 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
 Quote:
Originally posted by RKVS1:
Last, play a root position C major triad: CGE
probably a typo, should read CEG rather than CGE? [/b]
Oh no! Butsed!!
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#1055151 - 06/25/04 03:51 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Roxane Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 932
RKVS1, thanks for explaining some of that notation. I have a session coming up this Sunday, so I'm going to practise with the lead sheets with my new-found knowledge! I actually saw a book once that was meant to teach pianists how to interpret lead sheets. I never thought I would need it one day.

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#1055152 - 06/25/04 03:58 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
Roxane, why not try Piano World's own handy-dandy piano chord maker here . May prove to be useful.
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#1055153 - 06/25/04 04:01 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Liesle Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/25/04
Posts: 192
Loc: Southern Illinois
This is wonderful. I will simply print this thread if I can ever get the printer to work. Ha Ha. The information is exactly what I need to incorporate.
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#1055154 - 06/25/04 04:24 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
Roxane Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 932
 Quote:
Originally posted by Matt G.:
Roxane, why not try Piano World's own handy-dandy piano chord maker here . May prove to be useful. [/b]
I have hardly ever explored the rest of Piano World...

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#1055155 - 06/25/04 04:34 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
sleepingcats Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 982
Loc: Oregon
I agree! I love the chord maker! I'll have to let my college classmates know about this!

Thanks Matt G!
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#1055156 - 06/25/04 05:40 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
Rox, heres a compact sheet of lead sheet definitions by J. Abbersold

http://www.jajazz.com/jazzhandbook/15_nomenclature.pdf

And a couple of other similar threads with other links.

Pianist Corner » Freshening up techniques

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/2/5061.html


Pianist Corner » Learning to "fake"

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=2&t=000586

There have been other pretty good theory threads, maybe we could round them up and put em in the FAQ?

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#1055157 - 06/25/04 05:55 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
plays88skeys Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/08/04
Posts: 3091
Loc: Richmond, VA
Matt, I think you just made yourself indispensible to the neophytes, including me. \:\)

I have a theory book - "Scales, Intervals, Keys, Triads, Rhythm and Meter: A Programmed Course in Elementary Music Theory, With an Introduction to Partwriting" - 3rd Ed. by John Clough, Joyce Conley and Claire Boge.

I started this course with a teacher I had five years ago. I've since moved on to another teacher and never resumed the studies. I've been thinking of resuming the course. Any opinions on the value of this particular book?
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#1055158 - 06/25/04 10:26 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
devils4ever Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/12/04
Posts: 477
Loc: northwest NJ
sleepingcat,

I had a semester of music theory in college (long time ago).

I remember some of it but I had to buy a book to refresh my memory. I can't rattle off immediately the answer to some theory, I have to think about it for a few seconds. But, eventually I can answer.

Definitely could use some help.
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#1055159 - 06/26/04 08:54 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
newpianoplayer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 362
Loc: CANADA
Great thread!

Matt G

Is their an easy way to determine the scales (major and minor) that a particular interval or triad appears in
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#1055160 - 06/26/04 10:29 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
Liesle Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/25/04
Posts: 192
Loc: Southern Illinois
I have a Piano World file in which I save valuable information. Most of the saved entries are from Matt G. I am also an avid although unskilled gardener. I should rename the file "Helpful MattG. Information."

thank you Matt, sincerely.

My printer seems to be stuck sort of. Matt G.? Do you have any suggestions? (I'm kidding of course.) \:\)
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#1055161 - 06/26/04 03:43 PM Re: Learning Music Theory
lucian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/06/03
Posts: 404
Loc: Belgium
I've red twice the thread,and I can say that I dind't understood much of it \:\(

Well,first time it was my English.Has some limits.

Second time,was my musical education.Too diferent of Yours.

But still,have You tried a diferent aproach (if there is one on the other side of the Atlantic ).For me it sounds more like ArcHyperSpheroidalCosecant of 2/3 the complimentary angle (in radons) of the bevelcation point and divide it by 1/pi! you'll usually be within 2% of the Euclidean Cotangential ........ than music related stuff

Something in the Zoltán Kodály style,for example.
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"more I learn,less I know"

piano tuner/technician (sort of..... ;\) )

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#1055162 - 06/30/04 01:59 AM Re: Learning Music Theory
LudwigVanBee Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/18/04
Posts: 83
Loc: USA
lucian, you do need a little understanding of music theory to understand what is meant by chord inversions and progressions. My theory book begins with scale patterns, ie WWHWWWH for major scales, key signatures, then minors, relatives, etc. It does not get into intervals, what Matt is explaining, until it thoroughly goes through scales. One you do that then intervals and inversions become less like quantum mechanics and thus more understandable.
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New Topics - Multiple Forums
Kawai ES100 vs Kawai MP7
by gbitw
Today at 08:28 AM
Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc.
by Sionos
Today at 08:04 AM
Timing of the trill Invention no 1
by DreamOfSleeping
Today at 03:55 AM
Consolation 3 played by Paul Barton question
by briandang
Today at 01:37 AM
Toccata Boogie -- piano solo
by Axtremus
Today at 01:11 AM
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