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Intervals (aka Music Theory Primer part 2) — February 20, 2013

Intervals (aka Music Theory Primer part 2)

This post follows on from the Music Theory Primer post so I’d recommend reading that one first if you haven’t already.

In that post I introduced Keys as a way of arranging notes to make them sound more musical.  We saw that the notes in a Key determine the basis for which chords can be used and whether they are major or minor in nature.

Chords are essential building blocks for songs, but a Key can also identify the scales which can be used to provide harmony, melody lines or solos.  In essence, a scale is basically a specific arrangement of some or all of the notes in a Key.  The major scale, for instance, has exactly the same notes and order as the major Key i.e. the key of C major C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C is also called the C major scale.

It’s useful to listen to the major scale and also to listen to the intervals for each of the scale tones from the root note.  This can help you identify tonal changes which can help with ear training over time.  The major scale is easy to play on a keyboard, it is basically all of the white notes which are shown in the Music Theory Primer post.  On a guitar, the major scale can be played in several different positions, three of these are shown  using tablature:

E||------------------------------------------|  1 octave scale

|------------------------------------------|  1 octave scale

|------------------------------------------------------------------------7----8--|   2 octave scale

Intervals from the root note are shown for the Key of C major below, represented on a keyboard and on a guitar using tablature.  They are summarised in the table underneath.


     C - C#  minor 2nd    C - D#  minor 3rd     C - F#  augmented 4th/diminished 5th

  C - G#  minor 6th     C - A# minor 7th

   C - D  major 2nd     C - E   major 3rd    C - F  perfect 4th   C - G  perfect 5th

 C - A major 6th       C - B  major 7th

Interval summary table:

Note from C Interval Consonant Dissonant Number of notes
C – C# Minor 2nd (m2)


C – D Major 2nd (M2)


C – D# Minor 3rd (m3)


Tone + semitone
C – E Major 3rd (M3)


2 x tone
C – F Perfect 4th (P4)


2 x tone + semitone
C – F# Augmented 4th (aug 4th) / Diminished 5th (dim 5th)


3 x tone
C – G Perfect 5th (P5)


3 x tone + semitone
C – G# Minor 6th (m6)


4 x tone
C – A Major 6th (M6)


4 x tone + semitone
C – A# Minor 7th (m7)


5 x tone
C – B Major 7th (M7)


5 x tone + semitone

A word on sharps and flats.

In Music Theory Primer I referred to the black notes as sharps (#).  In practice, the note between a C and D  can be described as C# or Db, they are both describing exactly the same note.  Which one you use is partly determined by the harmonic context and relation to Key.  Well that’s the ‘official’ explanation, feel free to use whichever way you find easiest to remember.  (I must admit I tend to think in terms of sharps regardless of what the ‘official’ terminology should be.)

In these examples, the Key of C doesn’t have any sharp or flat notes but if we consider a minor 3rd interval we tend to say that is a flattened third i.e. Eb.

In the next post we’ll consider the other major Keys using the circle of fifths and circle of fourths.

Music Theory Primer — February 16, 2013

Music Theory Primer

First of all, I’m not a music teacher.  Nor am I offering some sort of magic formula.  Over time, many people have said to me that they’ve never bothered learning music theory because it’s too complicated or technical.  I’ve certainly read my fair share of books and articles that overcomplicated things, maybe it was an ego trip for the author.
So what I want to do is present information in an approachable way that should make sense and enable you to learn and apply music theory for future use.  I’ll start with the basics and provide a series of posts on a range of subjects to help build up to more detailed information over time.

To recap an earlier blog post, there are 12 notes in an octave.  These are shown on the photo of a keyboard below.  The octave starts with C then C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# and B.  The next note will be C again but at double the starting pitch so we say it is the next octave.
When making music you can of course use any of these notes in any octave in anyway you see fit. However, we need to arrange them in certain ways if we want to sound musical.
We do this using Keys.  They can be major or minor.  The easiest way to think of them is major = happy and minor = sad.  For now we’ll focus on major Keys.
I’ve said before that intervals are the secret to music.  Major Keys have the intervals of tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone.  If we take the Key of C this gives us C D E F G A B C (this C is an octave higher than the starting note.)
This can be seen on the photo of the keyboard above.  I will cover intervals in more detail in a subsequent post.  For now, you just need to understand a semitone and tone interval.
You might have noticed that the Key of C major comprises of all of the white keys.  We could work out the major Key for any of the other notes in the octave but there are patterns called the circle of fourths and circle of fifths that move through the Keys in a structured way and again this will be the subject of a future post.
Back to the C major scale.  Each of these notes can represent the root note of a chord, which is basically a group of notes based on specific intervals.  We tend to use roman numerals to represent these chords as follows:  I ii iii IV V vi vii   Capital roman numerals are major chords and lower case roman numerals are minor chords, although the vii chord is a special case called a diminished chord.
So in the Key of C major you have the following chords: C Major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor and B diminished.
In order to explain chords in more detail, I first need to discuss intervals.  It would also be helpful to discuss the circle of fourths / fifths to show all of the Keys.  There’s quite a lot to take in already so I’ll leave these as topics for future posts.
Guitar pedals. I WANT SOME PEDALS!!!! — February 10, 2013

Guitar pedals. I WANT SOME PEDALS!!!!


That was the slightly impetuous thought I had about a week or so ago upon finding the above pedal.

And that’s because I haven’t seen it for about 15 years. The thing is, I hardly used it and I’m not sure it even works. It’s battered and in poor condition but it has survived 2 clearouts and 2 house moves. So it’s not really this pedal, more that it is reminder of the excitement of buying my first proper guitar, having money from my first job and the thought at the time that I would buy pedals, lots of pedals.

I quickly realised though that some cheap ones weren’t all that, so stuck to Boss and DOD ones. This was quite an expensive option. The second realisation was that it would quickly cost a fortune in batteries and leads, not to mention take up far too much space so I went down the multi-effects route.

But the problem with multi-effects units is that they are a compromise.  Yes you get lots of effects, but if you only want 1 or 2 really good quality effects you might be better off with a pedal.

I had a lot of fun with delays, distortion and a wah-wah pedal. There’s something satisfying about being able to turn knobs up to the maximum setting and tweak settings.  You don’t get that same experience from a multi-effects unit.

New Year’s Revolution — February 6, 2013

New Year’s Revolution

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions.  I think they’re a clever device which works the opposite way to how you think, by encouraging you to set unachievable targets then feel failure.

Maybe it’s the way we use them.  So for 2012 I thought I’d keep it simple.

Play guitar more.

I realised I hardly played at all and thought that target would be achievable. The good news is I did but not as much as I intended because something else happened as a result.

It started just after Christmas 2011.  I was thinking about how to make it easier and encourage myself to play.  So I thought about backing tracks. I knew some were kicking around somewhere.  But why not make my own? I only needed simple ones with a bass line and drums.  Could I make these on my phone, as I always have it and it is very portable.  So I looked around android market and found this sequencer app called Caustic. It had 6 tracks, effects and its own mixing desk. It was a free demo, fully functioning except you could’t save anything.  After 5min I bought it, the first app I purchased.  It’s now on version 2.1 and the forums have developed into an excellent resource for sounds, tips and sharing songs. It’s a friendly community too.

It had quite a lot of presets but I needed more. So I found sites with samples and downloaded some.  Then I started to create.  But instead of backing tracks, I was writing my own songs.  It was easy software to use and very powerful, a bit like reason on your phone.  I uploaded a couple of tracks to Soundcloud.  One of my mates (Narel – you can find him on Soundcloud too) then suggested I should try making my own sounds.

Well that was a good idea but where do you start?  The only experience I’d had was with a DX7 and it wasn’t a good one.  Nevermind, I’d found bedrooomproducersblog.  It is a brilliant resource and reviewed many of the best VSTs, including synths.  So I picked one called Charlatan.  It’s simple to use but needs quite a lot of tweaking to get a decent sound which is great for a beginner as you have to really work to get decent sounds.

I started using software called Minihost to resample for use in caustic on my phone.  It was ok but only let you use one VST at a time.  Then Soundcloud kindly gave away a free copy of Ableton live lite 8.  I needed a midi controller.  Torn between a small one for programming and a full size one for playing I went with the programmable one and bought an Axiom Audio Oxygen 25.

Ableton really opened up a lot more opportunities so the list of VSTs went on, adding effects to the setup.  I really should use Ableton more but I always have my phone, don’t always have access to a pc and I find Caustic allows me to get ideas down really quickly.

I also finally managed to program drums properly and because my theory was a bit rusty I got an app called Piano Companion to speed up songwriting by identifying notes in chords and scales although I still often write them out by hand from the circle of fifths to keep my brain working.

And by the end of the year my free Soundcloud was full.  It then seemed a good idea to start blogging and tweeting and see if anyone read my blog posts or tweets.  I decided to delete some older tracks off Soundcloud with the least views to free up some space for newer tracks.  Now I need to find somewhere else to keep them all as well.

So for me, a simple resolution opened up many new avenues of creativity.  Sure, my tracks are not going to make me a fortune but I enjoy making them, have learned new skills and made some friends along the way.

Isn’t that what music is all about?