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Music Theory Guides

Musical Arrangement and Analysis

Song Writing and Studio Stuff


Note Names

Tones and Semi-tones



Accidental Line

Notes in Given Keys

Key Signatures


Relative Minors

Advanced Harmony

Theory Revision Summary  


Music Theory Revision Summary

Staff or stave



     Treble Clef – G clef –     lines:                 Every Good Boy Deserves Football     

          spaces:              F A C E



   Bass Clef – F clef -         lines:                 Green Buses Drive Fast Always

                                        spaces:              All Cows Eat Grass


Note Lengths



16th note

zxxxx =        =             q



8th note

     ee                 =             q



Ό note

  qqqq               =            w



½ note

     hh                   =            w



Whole note



Adding a dot after a note adds half the length again e.g. a dotted crotchet is a crotchet and a half long, a dotted minim is a minim and a half long

  b     Flat – lowers a note by one semi-tone (one key or fret)

  #     Sharp – raises a note by one semi-tone (one key or fret)

  Natural – cancels previous sharp or flat



Enharmonic Equivalents – a different name for the same note,

e.g. C# is equivalent to Db





Major Scale                                                                              -           T-T-S-T-T-T-S

Minor Scale, natural form/melodic minor descending                    -           T-S-T-T-S-T-T

                     Melodic minor ascending (raised 6th and 7th)            -           T-S-T-T-T-T-S

                     Harmonic minor (raised 7th only)                            -           T-S-T-T-T-A2-S


A2 = Augmented 2nd (see intervals below)


Time Signatures are used to determine the number of notes in a bar and the type of note


Note Grouping. Notes are normally grouped within a bar according to the beat. Notes should not be grouped from a weak beat to a subsequent stronger beat.


An interval is the distance between two notes.


Assonance and dissonance are descriptions of how sounds fit together.


A triad is a three-note chord consisting of alternating notes of a scale i.e. take a scale and from your chosen starting point use note 1, skip note 2, use note 3, skip note 4, use note 5, or to summarise, use 1, 3 and 5.

For more advanced chords


Inversions. Chords can also be inverted.

The order of the notes above is irrelevant. It is the lowest note that determines the inversion.


Key Signatures

Treble clef




Made up from accidentals and appear at the beginning of every stave of a piece of music


To remember the order of sharps and flats


Diatonic harmony is harmony where the notes of all the chords fit into a major or minor scale

Chromatic harmony is harmony where the notes of all the chords don’t fit into a major or minor scale. The higher the number of alien notes the more chromatic the harmony.

A common chromaticism in popular music is flattening the seventh of the scale e.g. playing in C Major and using a Bb chord.


Three chord trick. Many songs (including the 12 bar blues) are made up of just the tonic chord of the key, the 4th (sub-dominant) chord and fifth (dominant) chord (often made into a dominant seventh (see above).


A pedal point is a single note held or repeated through a series of chord changes.

·        The pedal note usually does not fit into some of the chords

·        Normally either a very high note or a bass note


Modes. If we use only the white notes on the keyboard but play an octave starting from a note other than C or A we get a different order of tones and semi tones. These are called modes. There are seven modes.


Starting on


Mode name



Ionian (same as C major)














T-S-T ­T-S-T-T

Aolian (same as A Minor)


S-T -T-S-T-T-T



These scales can start on any note (e.g. Bb) so long as the interval order is unchanged. If you play a Lydian mode staring on Bb it is called a Bb Lydian. The Locrian is rarely used, as its tonic chord is a diminished chord.


Other scales include:

·        Whole tone                            -           T-T-T-T-T-T (all notes a tone apart)

·        Pentatonic (5 note)                -           M3-T-T-M3-T (M3 = Minor 3rd)

o       Eb pentatonic can be played using only the black notes on a keyboard

·        Chromatic scale                    -           using all of the twelve (black and

white) notes/frets of the octave in order i.e. S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S

·        12 tone                                   -           note order determined by the user –

using all 12 notes of the chromatic scale but in a user defined order, the notes of the composition follow the notes of the scale repeatedly throughout (unless you change to a different 12-tone scale)



 Appendix A


Interval                                                       Distance between lowest

and highest note


A diminished unison                              =                      MINUS one semi tone i.e.

     the top note is BELOW the bottom note

A perfect unison                                  =                      nil semi tones

An augmented unison                            =                      one semi tone

A diminished second                             =                      nil semi tones

A minor second                                  =                      one semi tone

A major second                                  =                      two semi tones

An augmented second                           =                      three semi tones

A diminished third                                =                      two semi tones

A minor third                                     =                      three semi tones

A major third                                     =                      four semi tones

An augmented third                              =                      five semi tones

A diminished fourth                              =                      four semi tones

A perfect fourth                                  =                      five semitones

An augmented 4th                                 =                      six semi tones

A diminished fifth                                 =                      six semi tones

A perfect fifth                                     =                      seven semi tones

An augmented fifth                               =                      eight semi tones

A diminished sixth                                =                      seven semi tones

A minor sixth                                     =                      eight semi tones

A major sixth                                     =                      nine semi tones

An augmented sixth                             =                      ten semi tones

A diminished seventh                          =                      nine semi tones

A minor seventh                                =                      ten semi tones

A major seventh                                =                      eleven semi tones

An augmented seventh                         =                      twelve semi tones = 1 octave

A diminished octave                            =                      eleven semi tones

A perfect octave                                 =                      twelve semi tones = 1 octave

An augmented octave                          =                      thirteen semi tones


To get intervals beyond this (9ths, 10ths, 11ths, etc.) subtract 7 notes from the name (e.g. subtract 7 from a ninth to get a second) find that interval in the list above and add twelve semi tones to the answer in the chart.



Appendix B


How to recognise intervals by ear

Minor 2nd

-"Something's Coming" (Bernstein, West Side Story)

-Joy To The World

Major 2nd

-"I've Got You Under My Skin" (C. Porter)

-Happy Birthday

-Yesterday (Beatles)

Minor 3rd


-"I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane"
-Hey Jude

-Frosty The Snowman

Major 3rd

-"Michael Row the Boat Ashore"

-Oh When The Saints (Go Marching In)


Perfect 4th

-"Here Comes the Bride" (Wagner)
-"Auld Lang Syne"

-Hallelujah (Handel)

Augmented 4th (D5th)

-"Maria" (Bernstein)
-"The Simpsons"  (1st and 3rd)


Perfect 5th

-Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

-"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

-Theme from Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky)

Minor 6th


-Theme from Love Story (Mancini?)

Major 6th

-"My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean"


Minor 7th

-"Somewhere" (West Side Story)


Major 7th

-"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" –(1st and 3rd)



-"Somewhere Over the Rainbow"



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