Music Theory: Exploring Sound, Rhythm, and Melody on the MIDI Grid skillshare originals badge

Fernando A., Musician, Producer, DJ

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50 Lessons (5h 15m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Does Music Theory Matter?

    • 3. MIDI Sequencer Vs. Traditional Notation

    • 4. Creating a Practice Schedule

    • 5. Sound Waves and the 12-Pitch Palette

    • 6. Sharps, Flats, Whole Steps, and Half Steps

    • 7. Tension, Resolution, and Musical Forms

    • 8. Musical Density

    • 9. Simple Meters: Duple, Triple, and Quadruple

    • 10. Simple Note Lengths

    • 11. Triplets

    • 12. Six Major Intervals: Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, Major 7th

      Answers to 2 Interval Challenge Questions.png
    • 13. Four Minor Intervals: Minor 2nd, Minor 3, Minor 6th, Minor 7th

    • 14. Diminished and Augmented 4ths and 5ths

    • 15. The Interval Project

    • 16. Major Scales

    • 17. Relative Minor Scales

    • 18. Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

    • 19. Recapping Basic Scales

    • 20. Major and Minor Triads

    • 21. Diminished and Augmented Triads

    • 22. Playing Triads

    • 23. Two Types of Chords: Major 7th and Dominant 7th

    • 24. Two Types of Chords: Minor 7th and Half-Diminished

    • 25. Three Diminished Chords

    • 26. Reading and Playing Chord Symbols

    • 27. Finding the Diatonic Major Chords

    • 28. How These Chords Function (Tension and Resolution)

    • 29. Exploring Songs Made with Diatonic Major Chords

    • 30. Sketching Songs

    • 31. Finding the Diatonic Minor Chords

    • 32. How These Chords Function (Tension and Resolution)

    • 33. Exploring Songs Made with Diatonic Minor Chords

    • 34. Chord Knowledge and Songwriting

    • 35. Compound Meters: Duple, Triple and Quadruple

    • 36. Syncopation

    • 37. Complex Meters

    • 38. Chromatic Scales

    • 39. Whole-Tone Scales

    • 40. Diminished Scales

    • 41. Listening to a Diminished Scale in Context

    • 42. Note Possibilities: Major Chord Extensions

    • 43. Note Possibilities: Minor 7th and Half-Diminished Chord Extensions

    • 44. Note Possibilities: Dominant 7th Chord Extensions

    • 45. Inversions: Root, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Positions

    • 46. Rootless Chords

    • 47. Basic Principles of Voice Leading

    • 48. Modulation

    • 49. Modal Harmony

    • 50. Common Chord Progressions

121 students are watching this class

Project Description

Create 30-60 seconds of music using a melody and chords

I. Intro: Why Music Theory?

  1. Share why you want to learn theory

    Why do you want to learn music theory? What are your expectations from learning the basics of music theory? How will theory help you make music?

    Check these resources out for inspiration:

    Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within


    Is Traditional Notation for Film Composing Dying?

    MIDI Sequencer 

  2. Make a practice schedule

    Remember the mantra: "A little bit everyday keep frustrations and demotivation away!"

    Write out a quick routine for yourself—just 10 or 15 minutes everyday.

    Monday: 6:30 - 6:45 pm @ home

    Tuesday: 7:00 - 7:15 pm @ home

    Wednesday: 9:00 - 9:15 am @ home

    Thursday: day off

    Friday: 12:15 - 12:30 pm @ school

    Saturday: 1:00 - 1:15 pm @ the park

    Sunday: day off

I. Intro: How Music and Sound Work

  1. Listen for the musical form of a popular song

    Listen to a song and identify the principles of this unit:

    Can you hear where pitches are increasing and decreasing? Fewer low notes and more frequent high notes?

    If you're comfortable with the MIDI grid, consider listening to a song and seeing if you can match some of the notes and moments that are creating tension and resolution. A few simpler ones to get started:

  2. Create some melodies on the MIDI grid

    "Write" some notes on your MIDI sequencer. Think about whether you're creating whole or half steps.

    If you want to double-check your knowledge, try writing out the following sequence of notes: C3, D3, E3, G3, G3, A3, G3, E3, C#2, D#2, E#2, G#, Ab, Bb, G#, F. All MIDI notes should have equal length. Then, check your screen against the attached screengrab.

    Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the melodies you're creating.

II. Basics: Rhythm

  1. Identify the meter in a song

    Pick a song and identify its "beats per measure" (BPM). It can be helpful to listen to its percussion, drums, and melody. Think about how you'd walk or clap to the rhythm of the music—that's your speed and timing.


  2. Create a beat using a meter of your choice

    If you're experienced with your software, use your MIDI controller to create a beat in a meter discussed in the lessons.

    If you're used to creating music just by ear, pay attention to how thinking about groups of 2, 3, and 4 affect your composition process.


II. Basics: Intervals

  1. Create a reference list of songs for recognizing intervals

    A common way to recognize intervals is to associate them with reference songs that you know well. For example, the song Amazing Grace begins with a perfect fourth. So when you hear an interval that sounds like the beginning of Amazing Grace, you can quickly conclude that it's a perfect fourth.

    Create your own list of songs to memorize intervals. EarMaster has a great resource of songs to get you started: EarMaster's Famous Songs to Learn Intervals.

II. Basics: Scales

  1. Create a short melody based on a scale

    Create different scales on the MIDI grid, practicing the intervals for major, minor, harmonic, and melodic scales.

    If you're just getting started, stick with the major scale:


    See how your scales start to form something you can sing along to. What happens when all the notes follow one after the other? What happens when you skip a few notes and jump around?

    Notice the mood you start to feel, and the emotions you start to convey. Share your melody with the class for feedback.

III. Chords: Triads

  1. Play a few triads on the MIDI grid

    Build a few triads, paying attention to the intervals between the notes. What is the chord "quality" or type (major, minor, diminished, or augmented)?

    If you feel like you like the chords, add a few high-register melody notes as in the video lesson. Listen to your song and see if you're liking the sound. Continue to modify and revise, and share it with the class for feedback.

III. Chords: Tetrachords

  1. Create a four-chord sequence on the MIDI grid

    Create a four-chord sequence on the MIDI grid. This could be:

    • four chords you make up on your own
    • four chords from a song you've listened to and figured out on the MIDI grid, or
    • four chords listed in a song's "tab" or chord chart online.

    Share your screengrab of the four chords and tell the class why you chose this song.

    For example, here are the first 4 chords of “Help” by The Beatles: Bm, GMaj7, E, A.


III. Chord Series: Diatonic Major

  1. Make a very short piano sketch

    Make a very short piano sketch that includes a few chords, a bass line, and a melody. Share it with the class and pose questions for feedback.

    A quick additional resource: Before you begin, check out this 6-minute video: "The Axis of Awesome: 4 Chords Official Music Video." It demonstrates how many people end up using the same series of chords! This is not because people are copying from each other, but because diatonic chords work in patterns and certain chords always have affinities with each other. Listen and use your ears to guide you in those affinities.


III. Chord Series: Diatonic Minor

  1. Make a very short piano sketch

    Create a very short piano sketch (or revise your sketch from the previous section). It should include a few chords, a bass line, and a melody. Be sure to include a few minor chords. Share it with the class and pose questions for feedback.


IV. Concepts: Advanced Rhythm

  1. Create a loop using syncopation

    Create a loop using syncopation.


  2. Create a complex beat

    Try creating a loop that has 7 beats per bar. Share your sketch with peers for feedback.

IV. Concepts: Advanced Scales

  1. Create a piano sketch using a symmetrical scale

    Write a melody using either the chromatic, whole-tone, or diminished scale. Add a drum loop to really make your musical idea sound complete, then share it with your peers for feedback.

IV. Concepts: Advanced Tetrachords

  1. Apply chord extensions to a song sketch

    Make a chord progression using extensions. Add a bass line, a melody, and a drum loop. Share your sketch with your peers on the forum. Keep it simple, keep it quick. The main idea is to improve the workflow and to explore the chord extensions we learned in this lesson!

IV. Harmony: Inversions and Rootless Chords

  1. Apply the voice leading principle to a musical sketch

    Make a chord progression with rootless chords. Make sure the voice leading is correct. Add a melody and a bass line.

    What chords can you invert or rearrange? Is there more than one way to move the notes around? Are there notes near each other that make the voice leading especially effective?

    Share your sketch with your peers for feedback.

IV. Harmony: Modulation and Progressions

  1. Create 30-60 seconds of music

    Create music by playing with as many of the concepts from these lessons as you'd like.

    It should include a melody, chords, and a bass line.

    Consider adding advanced concepts like modulation and syncopation, experimenting with modal harmonies, and using a common chord progression.

    Don't feel limited—if you want to create a full song, go for it! Use your knowledge of musical forms to expand your composition into a verse, chorus, and bridge.

    The more you create and do, the better you'll internalize all of the concepts and the more naturally you'll find yourself composing, creating, and even singing.

    Share: Share your music, screengrabs about your process, questions for your peers, and a few lines about your musical decisions.

    Happy creating!


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