The 5th video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is called “Introduction to chords“. Its about 9 1/2 mins long. Dr. Worth begins the session by explaining that with scales so far, we’ve been working sequentially, in a linear fashion, sounding one note at a time. However, its very common in music to sound multiple notes at the same time. This sounding of several notes together is called playing a chord.
My understanding of chords is that they’re the odd-numbered notes in a scale. So, if a scale has 8 notes, the chord tones are the 1, 3, 5 and 7. People also include the 8 because its the octave, making it the same as the 1. The even-numbered notes are notes in the scale, but aren’t chord tones. Also, these odd and even numbers are called scale degrees. So, the first note is the 1, the second note is the 2, and so on. I believe they also call this the Nashville Number System.
Dr. Moir jumps in to say that before we continue, we must recap the difference between the C major scale and the A Aeolian mode, or Natural Minor scale. So, C major is played using the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. That’s fairly straightforward. A Aeolian is built by playing the notes of the C major scale starting at the 6th scale degree, or the note A. So, its A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.
The Dr.’s then proceed to play both scales on the piano while showing the note names by letter as well as tone & semi-tone formulas onscreen. The formulas show us whether to move one fret or two frets on a bass before we land on the next note in the scale/mode. For pianists, using only the white keys, the formulas reveal whether to move forward by 1 or 2 keys at a time to get to the next note.
There were a few concepts introduced in the 2nd video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory that I wanted to expand on a little, for the sake of beginners who hear these words and don’t know what they mean. Some came from the video, and others from my own rambling about the video. As this is a bass-centric site, some of this information might be bass-specific.
An interval is often described as the distance between two notes. Its not a physical count, like how many frets. piano keys or whatever your instrument uses you need to cross to arrive at the other note. Its a count based on the note’s distance in a scale. If a scale has 8 notes, and we call them 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, its based on the distance between the notes from just those 8 notes. The notes themselves count as well.
So, if we move from 1 to 2, its called a 2nd, because we count the 1 and the 2. If we move from 1 to 5, its called a 5th. They’re easy if you start on the 1. If you start somewhere else though, then you have to do some math. Moving from 3 to 5 is a 3rd because we count 3, 4 and 5. Moving from 2 to 7 is a 6th because we count 6 notes (2-3-4-5-6-7) to get to the 7.
Later on, some of those notes get qualities that make them major or minor – which is tied in to counting (adding or subtracting, or as they say raising or lowering) frets. Don’t worry about that stuff for now though.
The important thing about intervals is that they’re used in ear training. There’s this concept called relative pitch in which a person can hear two notes and be able to determine their distance from each other based on sound. You can somewhat get the idea if you sing Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do and listen to the way you move up in tone. Look at Do as 1, Re as 2, and so on. People who practice can identify this stuff by ear and can use it to figure out songs more quickly than those who don’t have much ear training.
The 5th video for Lesson 3 of Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class is the lesson review. Its brief, at 2 1/2 minutes and dives right in.
5. Lesson Review and Assignment Overview (2:23)
Professor Russell begins the review with, “So, as we review this lesson 3, we talked about major 6th intervals, major 7th intervals and we also talked about the minor pentatonic scale.” He demonstrates a major 6th by playing C on the piano and then a 6th, which should be A. He sings it as well. He follows with a major 7th, which should be a B. He doesn’t tell us the name of the interval, but it shows up in music notation on the onscreen treble staff.
From here, he speaks about the minor pentatonic scale. He says that its a 5-note scale that’s probably the most popular scale in all American music. He then spells out the formula as [ 1 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b7 – 1 ] while the onscreen staff again shows the notes in the key of C.
Next, he describes this week’s homework assignment, which is to practice playing the minor pentatonic scale on the piano. Of course, I’m doing it on my bass. He says to just go up and down the scale (play it forward and then in reverse). Then he says that for our next homework assignment, he’d like us to find a song that uses a major 6th interval. He says it can be anywhere in the melody of the tune – so there goes my looking for a song with a bassline that uses the minor 6th. He concludes by offering the option to do the same with the major 7th. Its a bonus, and he says that, “If you can do this, I’ll give you major props.”
The 3rd video for Lesson 3 of Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class continues with interval ear training and introduces us to what might be the last 2 intervals for the class – the Major 6th and Major 7th. I’m not sure if we’re going to look at minor intervals or augmented/diminished ones, so this could be the end…
3. Major 6th and Major 7th Intervals (4:38)
Professor Russell goes right into this one without preamble again. He lets us know that we’re going to be learning about the major 6th and major 7th intervals. To find the major 6th, he says we start on C (as usual) and then we go up to the 6th degree of the scale, which is the A. He sings it, of course, so we know what it sounds like coming from his mouth, and plays it on the piano. After this, he has the Berklee students sing it as well. (As an aside, I know I was bothered by the misspellings in the videos in my last blog post – well, they misspelled Berklee in this one. They misspelled the name of their own school and called it Berkley. They also called the interval an integral. Bleh.) The students and Professor then go into a short song, which consists of “La, la, major 6th” repeated a few times, in tune. Professor Russell then lets us know that a song that he uses to remember what the major 6th sounds like is “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean“. Incidentally, for you other new parents out there, that’s the same video I play for our toddler. She’s subscribed to HooplaKidz. 😉 I like their Phonics Song as well – it has a catchier rhythm than many of the other videos we watch together.
We then move on to the major 7th. The Professor says that this is probably the most difficult interval we’ve done. He says we start on C and then we go up to the 7th degree of the scale, to B. The students, Professor and piano all give us sound examples so that we can hear what the interval sounds like, then the Professor says that he’s going to play a chord with it so that we can hear it in context. He then picks random notes on the piano and has the students sing major 7th with his notes being the root.
After this, the Professor quizzes the class by playing the two new intervals 6 times. He plays 2 notes on the piano, so we have a root note and either a 6th or 7th. We have to determine what the correct interval is. I actually had an easier time finding the 6th and 7th than I did the 2nd and 3rd, during the first class. I think that their sound is more distinct to me, for some reason. They’re definitely far from the root in tone.
Video #7 for Lesson 2 of Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class is a review of what was covered in this week’s six lesson videos and a quick discussion of what the week’s homework assignment requires.
7. Lesson Review and Assignment Overview (4:00)
Professor Russell seems more energized at the start of this video. There’s no piano preamble. He gets right down to business with, “Okay guys, this is lesson two, and one of the things we covered in lesson two was the perfect fourth – the interval – perfect fourth and perfect fifth. So, the perfect fourth, if you start on C, you go down to the fourth degree, to F. That’s your perfect fourth.” He plays this on the piano and asks the students to sing it with him (La, la, perfect fourth).
He continues with, “The next interval we learned was the perfect fifth, and if we started on the C and went up to the fifth degree of the scale, which is the G…” In lieu of completing the thought, he punctuates this by playing C-G on the piano and asking students to sing the notes (La, la, perfect fifth) with him. He closes this part with, “Those are our two intervals for today.”
With intervals covered, he moves on to triads. “Another thing we learned or covered today were major triads. Major triads, of course, they are three notes: the root, the third and the fifth.” He illustrates this on the piano, and says, “Starting on a C, that would be C, E and G. That’s our major triad.” The onscreen treble staff highlights the notes to further illustrate what’s being played. He then plays it in F and explains that the notes would now be F-A-C and would constitute an F major triad. Finally, he moves on to G and shows us how this major triad consists of G-B-D.
6. I IV V Chord Progression (5:00)
Professor Russell begins the video with, “So, we’ve talked about the major triad and minor triad. And if you remember, when we talked about the major triad, I constructed them starting on the 1 chord – in this case C major, the 4 chord – in this case F major, the 5 chord – G major, and then I went back to the one chord.” He plays the given chord on the piano for each of the three he mentioned. Then he continues with, “The reason why I did that is because those three chords, you hear all the time in songs.”
He explains that the 1 chord is also the tonic, the 4 chord is the sub-dominant and the 5 chord is the dominant chord. He calls the tonic our home base or tonal center. The 4 chord, or sub-dominant, is a step below the dominant chord, and the 5 chord, or dominant, has a tendency to go back to the 1. He says this is created by what is called the leading tone and that the dominant very often goes back to the tonic. He then says that we’ve all probably heard a dozen or so songs with those three chords in just the last few months alone and says that he’d like to play through a few progressions with those three chords and asks us to sing along using the root, or tonic, of the chord.
You know, I’ve barely practiced with my bass in the past few days. I’ve come to realize some things about this Coursera class. First, learning theory takes place more in your head than on your instrument – practicing some of it, like scales, chords, progressions and whatnot helps reinforce things, but its not entirely a hands-on experience, at least not at first. Its more about understanding the concepts.
Second, the most important thing in this class so far seems to be ear training. I have to work on that a lot more, but its given me an idea of how to proceed. Breaking the task into smaller parts seems to be the way to go, as per usual with learning anything new. In this case, I think that learning the sounds of intervals 2 at a time, like we’ve been doing, is a reasonable method. It puts the sounds in our ears and heads, and it gives us small chunks which we can compare against each other to help reinforce the sounds. So, in my opinion, the idea behind that process makes sense.
When focusing on bass, I actually dislike both of these things, because in my head, I keep thinking that if I’m not practicing, I’m wasting time. I know I’m learning regardless, and when I do it, it feels justified, but then I get itchy about not practicing.
Video #5 for Lesson 2 of Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class introduces the concepts of triads. To me, this is the beginning of exploring harmony. I learned some stuff from this. Apparently, the 7 degrees of a scale each have their own chords, which makes sense. What I didn’t know is that they’re referred to by using their # and the word “chord”. So, if we’re in the key of C, the first triad is called “the 1 chord” and starts on C. A triad starting from the 2nd scale degree is “the 2 chord” and starts on D. The “3 chord” starts on E, etc. I have to see if it matters whether the chord is major or minor, and what happens later when we move past triads and onto 7ths.
5. Building Major and Minor Triads (8:44)
The video begins with Professor Russell playing on the piano for about 35 seconds. He tells us that he just played a progression that included triads, which are the first chords we’re going to talk about in the course. He then asks, “What is a triad,” and answers with “Of course, triad, you think of the word three and if you’ll look at the screen there, there is the major scale with a triad. Three notes. A triad consists of the one, the three and the five. The root, which is the same thing as the one, the third, and the fifth. This is what we call a major triad. And this major triad is build upon C.” So, what he’s saying is, using scale degrees, triads are a combination of 3 notes played at the same time. These notes are the root, the 3rd scale degree and the 5th scale degree. This is a major triad.