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Harmony for Dummies : the notes

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The basis for understanding the theory is to understand the notes and intervals (gaps between notes). It's like learning the alphabet in order to learn to read / write. In the end, the alphabet is not required to speak, but the illiterate are generally rather limited in their language ...

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CAUTION: This course is a topic from the forum and was stored here to give it greater visibility, waiting for a video version. Do not pay attention to the tone used, it was addressed directly to a member of the forum.

There are seven basic notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Everybody knows them by heart, so no worries so far.

First important thing to learn is to recite them backwards (B, A, G, F, E, D, C), and starting from any note (like E, F, G, A, B, C, D). This exercise will enable you to be comfortable later on. So when you are bored in the subway, in your car, at work, take a note randomly, recite the successive other notes upward, and downward, and start from another note,etc. It will not be completely natural in two days, but it will become more and more natural day after day.

Then we have to tackle the intervals. For now, there is only one thing to remember: the intervals are quantified in tone and halftone. One tone = two halftones. Not too complicated? Thereafter each interval will have a name (for example, 3 half-tone = a minor third), but we keep this for later.
Nevertheless, you need to get the reflex to think in tones AND half tones right now. When we think of an interval, we must think of the two values, because if not, later on it will quickly become a big mess, and you will speak about 2.5 half tones instead of 2.5 tones (0.5 half tones does not exist in our current western music).

Now that you have understood all this, we will connect the notes and intervals. GO !:

When you take the notes in order (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), there is a tone between each note, except between E-F and B-C in these two cases there is only a half tone.

So train yourself, take two notes randomly and calculate the tones and halftones between the two notes. And in both directions: between C and E there are two tones, but between E and C there are 4 tones.

So now you think to yourself that if there is a tone between C and D, there is a note between C and D, a half tone above C, and thus a half tone below D.
Well this is pretty simple: when you take a note (any), and you raise it of a half tone, the note becomes "sharp". When you lower a note of one half tone, it becomes "flat".

For example: C + 1 / 2 tone = C-sharp. G - 1 / 2 tone = G flat.

And now the weird stuff: F is located a half tone above E. But E # is also located a half step above E. So E#.= F.
Another example: a half tone above C, is C #. A half tone below D, is Db. But, there is only one tone between C and D, which means that there is a note "between" C and D. So C # = Db.

So yes, there are several names for the same note. No, it's not useless, there are harmonic and historical reasons behind this. Last little weird thing with this: if you take a C # (and thus a half tone above C), you can also sharpen this note. It will give us C # #, a half tone above C #, so a tone above C, then a D in fact. Theoretically it is possible to play with triple-sharps or whatever, but here there is no interest.

If you understood everything, do not try to remember everything by heart. Write all this stuff, make diagrams, really, do not leave anything to chance, we easily forget too quickly a note or half tone somewhere. So to avoid such mistakes, write, and proofread yourself.

So, to summarize here's what you should remember: 

  • C, D, E, F, G, A, B in all directions
  • A tone between each note, except between E-F and B-C (a halftone only)
  • # = Note + 1 / 2 tone. b = note - 1 / 2 tone.
  • Some notes have several names.

And here's what you should do:

  • Recite the notes back and forth, starting from any note
  • Calculate the intervals between different notes, in tones and halftones
  • Have fun with the sharps, flats, and find the notes that have multiple names

For now it's very theoretical, but it is difficult to go on with the rest without being a minimum comfortable with the names of the notes. All this is obviously easier to do in real life (with diagrams etc..), so if ever there is anything that you do not understand or that seems obscure to you, ask your questions on the forum, and I will explain more clearly .


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Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
(Victor Hugo)