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Course 2: Music Theory

Teacher: Curtis Hollembeak
FREE: Test your knowledge of music theory!

Understanding Music Notation:


The written language of music may be difficult to decipher without some basic training in how to recognize the different elements of music notation. This course will walk the learner step by step through the process of understanding what it all means.



Lesson 1. Notes and Rests

"It's About Time!"


Music is an art form that requires the element of time to completely unfold. The shape of each note and the parts that it displays tell the musician how it fits in rhythmically with the rest of the piece of music. We must learn to quickly identify the different types of notes and understand how they relate to the other notes around them.


Lesson 2. Staff Notation

"Follow the Signs"


Learning to read music is like learning to read another language. We study the notation in order to consistently reproduce the composer’s intentions. This lesson will familiarize the student with some basic music symbols needed to understand and follow written music.


Lesson 3. Note Names

"Learn Your A-B-C's"


The musical alphabet goes from A to G then cycles back to A and starts all over again: A B C D E F G A B C, etc. Look for the clef sign to tell you the name of one line or space and you can determine the rest of the pitches from there.


Lesson 4. Piano Notes

"Consider Some Key Points"


Mastery of the piano keyboard is an invaluable skill for every musician. The piano helps the student to understand the relationships between notes in scales, to visualize intervals, to see the need for flats and sharps, and makes the comprehension of music theory much easier.


Lesson 5. Intervals

"From Here to There"


To understand scales, keys and key signatures, chords, chord progressions, and basic harmony, we must be able to identify intervals. An interval is simply the vertical distance between two pitches, either stacked (as in a chord), or next to one another (as in a melody).


Lesson 6. Key Signatures

"Unlock the Song"


Key signatures appear to the right of clef signs and indicate which notes are normally flat or sharp in the song. The key signature also gives you the name of the key, or what pitch the eight-note scale begins and ends on. Rather than notating a flat or sharp on each note as it appears throughout the score, the key signature places the flats or sharps only at the beginning.


Lesson 7. Tempo Markings

"Fast or Slow, Here We Go!"


Get ready to learn some Italian! Most music is notated with Italian words to describe how the music is to be performed. This lesson will deal with the most common tempo markings found in music. The word “tempo” means the speed at which the music moves through time, or, how fast or slow the music goes.


Lesson 8. Dynamics and Accents

"Loud and Soft"


The term “dynamics” is defined as the degree and range of volume in music. In other words, dynamics refers to the loudness and softness of the music. As with all of the other expressive elements of music, varying the volume level of a song helps to maximize communication and adds interest to the music.


Lesson 9. Accidentals and Phrasing

"Up and Down, Now Take a Deep Breath"


Accidentals alter the pitch of a note up or down, and must be observed carefully. Phrasing notation allows the performer to understand the intentions of the composer or arranger concerning breathing, pausing between words or phrases, etc.