Music Theory Terms & Concepts Essentials | Will Edwards | Skillshare

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Music Theory Terms & Concepts Essentials

teacher avatar Will Edwards, Artist. Creative Problem Solver. Musician

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

12 Lessons (24m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Pitch

    • 3. Enharmonic Equivalents

    • 4. Whole & Half Steps

    • 5. Chromatic Scale

    • 6. Major Scale Formula

    • 7. Minor Scale Formula

    • 8. Arpeggios

    • 9. Key Signatures

    • 10. 1/4 Notes & Subdivisions

    • 11. 1/16th Grid

    • 12. Triplet Grid

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About This Class

If you're an electronic musician working with Ableton and music theory seems mysterious... "Where do scales come from?  How do beats work?"... This course will clearly explain all essential music theory concepts.  After completing this course, you'll be able to understand, use and talk about music theory - and do it in the context of Ableton Live and the piano roll (a.k.a. MIDI editor).

After years of live performance and composition in Ableton (and with Push 1 & 2), I've collected the lessons that are most essential to all electronic musicians in all genres and I've put them into this course.  You'll learn where scales come from, how beats are constructed and discover critical melodic elements like arpeggios! Lessons include:

  • Major scale building¬†formulas
  • Minor scale building¬†formulas
  • Key Signatures
  • 1/4, 1/8th and 1/16th beat subdivisions
  • Triplets

When you're finished with the course, you'll get to work on consolidating your knowledge on the Push pads.  If you have any questions as you move through the course, I'm always available via messaging or the discussion board.  Don't hesitate to ask questions or reach out to me!  If you'd love to demystify the theory of music and unlock your creative potential in Ableton and on Push 2, then join me in this course and learn what you need to know today!

Meet Your Teacher

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Will Edwards

Artist. Creative Problem Solver. Musician


I am a full-time professional musician who has broad teaching experience with guitar & bass students in rock, blues, jazz and many other genres. I perform live on bass, guitar and keyboards.  In addition, I perform live electronic music improvisation.  I've devoted over 26 years to my own well-rounded musical education, focusing on a mastery of all aspects of modern music - from music theory to ear training; from live performance to composition and practice routines.

I specialize in bridging the gap between music and technology, focusing on using modern tools to demonstrate all aspects of music.  I compose and perform with Ableton and Push 2 and I have experience with Cubase, ProTools and Logic.  I'm extremely comfortable using web-based to... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Will Edwards and welcome to this course on music theory as it relates to able to music production. I have personally had a lot of experience with Ableton all the way back to version four. And I've been a teacher for a long time, applying the music theory of principles that I've learned as a performing musician to my electronic music and helping students understand what the fundamental building blocks of theory based production are. Things like building scales, understanding different note values, understanding rhythm and pitch concepts that can help you make more informed decisions as you're doing your productions. So let's get started. 2. Pitch: What I'm going to do over the next several lessons is just demonstrate a whole lot of the common terminology, the language that we use when we're talking about music theory. And these lessons are designed to function as a reference. So if you have questions about what a specific term means, you can go to that lesson and refresh your memory. So the first thing we're going to look at is pitch. Okay, so let's just open up a clip here and I'm gonna play a note and hear it. Okay? So when we say that this note is B or C or D, what we're doing is giving it a pitch name. Ph is the name that we give, but then it also can have implications as far as where as it, where is it in the register? So let's take, for example, this c and this c, They're both Cs, but this one's higher than it was before. So pitch is a way of talking about how high or low a sound is. And we give them specific names. When you're looking at the piano roll, all of the black keys, you. So this is modeled after a keyboard, which is why I say keys. All the black keys represent sharp or flat notes. For example, this note right here, it says C, C-sharp. But we could also call that D flat, right? So if you go up from C, it's C sharp. If you come down from D is D flat. Those are all pitch names. In the next lesson we're going to talk about enharmonic equivalents. 3. Enharmonic Equivalents: So in the last lesson, we looked at this node and we saw that if we brought it down from D, we'd call it D flat. If we brought it up from C, We call it C sharp. But nonetheless, this one note, this one location on our piano roll. It has the same sound, whether we call it D flat or C Sharp. It's still going to sound the same. In other words, if you were to here, C sharp 4 and d flat for you couldn't tell the difference between them just by listening. It's just a naming convention and we call that enharmonic equivalent C. And we say that C sharp and D flat are enharmonic equivalent. That means they're the same pitch. 4. Whole & Half Steps: Now it's time to talk about whole steps and half steps. So I'm going to start down here at C, M and duplicate this note. Now, if I go up one note from C to C sharp, or sorry, one semitone is really the right way to say it. 1.5 step, this would be one key on a keyboard, one fret on a fret board. When you go up 1.5 step like this one semitone, you're going up a half-step. That's what, that's what a half step is. Anytime you go to the adjacent key or the adjacent fret, that is 1.5 step, whether you're going up or down, doesn't matter. If you go to, call it a whole step for, so from C to D, that's a whole step. From D to E, that is a whole step. Okay? Now, there are a couple of interesting things happening in the note naming convention in Western music. For example, from E to F, the note names change from E to F, but that is not a whole step, that is still a half-step. Likewise, down here from B to C, it's just a half-step, even though the actual note, name of the note seems to change from B to C, you think that might be a whole step. It's not. Whole steps and half steps are measured in semitone. One semitones, a half-step, two semitones, a whole step. 5. Chromatic Scale: Now let's talk about the chromatic scale. So if we were to play a scale that was made up of every single note, okay, that would look something like this. I'm gonna go ahead and play C sharp like that. Okay? Basically going up all the way until we get to see again. Let's listen to this. That is a chromatic scale. The chromatic scale is every note in the world of Western music. C, C sharp, D, D sharp, E, F, F sharp, G, G sharp, a, a sharp, B, and C. Now there are notes, all of the black keys that have enharmonic equivalent names. So we could say C, D flat, D E flat, E, F, G flat, G, a flat, a, B flat, B, and then back to C. So there are different ways to write these names, but there are only 12 pitches. And we don't really use the chromatic scale to make music. In other words, we don't play music in the key of chromatic. Instead we use the chromatic scale sorted like an alphabet, is to language. We don't actually have a word that is the whole alphabet, but it represents all of our choices for how we can make up words in the chromatic scale is similar. It represents all of the notes that we can use in any key, in any chord, in any melody. These the pitch names for the pitches that are recognized and used by composers in Western music. In the next couple of lessons, Let's look at major and minor scale formulas. 6. Major Scale Formula: So a major scale and a minor scale are related, but they are not exactly the same. Let's look at a C major scale. So I'm going to build this out here, go to C to D. And then we're going to get to E and F. And we're going to have G, a, B, and then we're back to our octave, C, from C to C here, from S3 to S4 is an octave. And you can hear that sort of goes DO, RE, MI, FA, SO LA TI DO, right? That is the solid-phase way of expressing a major scale DO, DO, RE, MI. So what does this in terms of a formula? Well, why do we get C, D, E, y is E-flat and Y is C sharp wire those notes omitted. This is based on a major skill formula. And when you understand the formula, you can build a scale in any key, okay, so I'm gonna give you that formula. It is whole, whole half, whole, whole, whole half. What that means is from C to D is a whole step, right? Two semitones, you talked about them. From D to E is a whole step. From E to F is a half step. From F to G is a whole step. G to a is a whole step. A to B is a whole step. B to C is a half step. So what if we take all of these notes and we push them up to E, What do we get? Now? We still get a whole, whole half, whole, whole, whole half, but we get a different set of notes. Get E, F sharp, G sharp, a, B, C sharp, D sharp, and E again. So again, from E3 and E4 is an octave. Now some of the notes or sharp, some of them are natural. This is an E major scale. A major scale formula is a series of whole steps and half steps that represent how you can extract seven tones. You'll notice there's 1234567 unique tones before you repeat the octave, repeat the root again, E, seven unique tones. If you thought back to the chromatic scale lesson, you'll notice the chromatic scale has 12 tons. So the major scale formula is a method by which we can choose seven notes from our 12-note chromatic scale, and then use those for writing music, for composing music. In the next lesson, we're going to look at the minor scale formula. 7. Minor Scale Formula: All right, so let's look at the minor scale formula. I'm going to bring all of this down again to see. So bring it down like so. And what we're going to notice here is that if we were to turn this into a C minor scale, E would be an E-flat. It's a little unfortunate that able to like to label this D-sharp because in the key of C minor, we would more often talk about this pitch as being E-flat. Then we're going to have F, and then we're going to have G. Then we're going to have a flat and B flat, right? So there are a couple of ways of talking about this. We could use the same whole step and half-step style formula. We could say that a minor scale is whole, half, whole, whole half, whole, whole. In which case we're basically using a formula that we could again take to the chromatic scale and generate a minor scale based on that formula. Anytime you have whole half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole. And you start from any node in the chromatic scale, you're going to get that notes, our respective minor scale. But there's another way we can look at this. We can look at it as having had a flat third. So if we were to look at a C major scale, again, we could say, we're going to flat the third, we're going to flat the sixth, and we're going to flat the seventh. And that, that is a minor scale as well. It's a major scale. But with the third, the sixth, and the seventh scale degrees flatted. I generally think about it this way when I'm improvising music, when I'm playing music, when I'm trying to understand how to play along with other people. I very rarely think about it in a whole and half steps. But when I was taught music theory that by far the most common method for teaching the minor scale is to teach this whole, whole half, or sorry, whole half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole formula. And then you use that to practice generating minor scales. It's a really good idea to go through and practice generating major and minor scales. In all 12 keys. Do it on paper and try to memorize them and try to learn all of the scales. That's that's definitely worth your time. All right, well, I'm going to talk a little bit more about arpeggios and key signatures coming up in the next couple of lessons. 8. Arpeggios: So an arpeggio is basically just a root third fifth of our chord. I'm going to reset these notes so that we're looking at a C major scale. And what I really want to note is that if we take, I'm just going to mute these. If we just pay attention to the root, the third and the fifth, we get what's called an arpeggio. That sound. And an arpeggio in minor would again be the root third, fifth, but in minor, we'd be dealing with an E flat or D sharp. It's still an arpeggio. It's the root third, fifth. What makes an arpeggio different from a chord is that it's played out horizontally over time, instead of all the notes being played vertically at this, at the same time. In the next lesson, let's look at key signatures. 9. Key Signatures: So when we're looking at the key of C minor, and we've got our T sharp here or E-flat. And we'd have G sharp and a sharp, which really in the key of C minor would be referred to as a flat and B flat. When we write this music out for somebody to read, this doesn't come up. Key signatures don't really matters how much for electronic musicians who are working in software. But if you've ever seen a piece of written music, you'll see that it has a staff with a series of sharps or flats written out on it. That's a key signature. The key signature for this key here would be one in which E was flatted, a was flatted and B was flooded. And that would represent the key signature of the key of C minor. 10. 1/4 Notes & Subdivisions: Now let's look at some typical note values, quarter notes, eighth notes, 16th notes, and triplets. So I'll start with command shift M, creating a midi clip and then go down to C1 right out. And note using shift in my arrow keys to fill out an entire bar. Okay, to leave my Pencil Tool hold down option and drag this up. It basically opt the option key copies the note. So I've got a C major chord, and let's just give that a listen. All right, so we've got one measure of a C major chord. So let's look at what a quarter note is. Okay? The way I'm going to demonstrate this is I am going to use an arpeggiator. I'm going to drag an arpeggiator on here. And I'm going to set my rate to a quarter note. Okay? Just did that with the arrow keys. Okay, so that's a quarter note. What's really happening here is that we're playing sort of from, from one to 1.2, from 1.21.3, from 1.3 to 1.4 from 1.4, That's how this breaks up into four quarter notes. We can see that the first beat sort of has this grid, has kind of a gray background. It alternates, right. So there's like a lighter background, darker gray, lighter gray. That's helping us see the beats, see the quarter notes. And when we listen to it, and we watch the Miniclip, we can see that the arpeggiator is very precise about arpeggiating the notes on coordinates. Now, let's look at our tempo. Up here, we have the metronome set at a 110, and we're going to turn the metronome on. So what does this mean? Our tempo being set at a 110 means that we're going to hear a beeping sound from our metronome clicking sound a 110 times every minute. Okay? The fact that we have our arpeggiator is set at quarter notes means that there's going to be a pitch sounded for every time the metronome ticks over a quarter beat. So there's going to be one sound from the metronome matched to one sound from the arpeggiator. So what if we go to arpeggiator? But instead of having the rate set at a quarter, we change that to an H. What's going to happen now is we're going to hear two notes to grand piano notes for every one click. So we haven't changed our tempo at all. All that's happened is we're going to be playing two notes for every beat. It seems like it's getting faster, but the tempo has stayed the same. The tempo is still a 110. And when we look here, we'll see that from one to 1.1.3 is a note. From 1.1.3 to 1.2 is a note and so on, so forth. In other words, it's dividing this into eight even sections instead of four. And that's the difference between a quarter note and an eighth note. It doesn't mean that the tempo has increased. It doesn't mean that the tempo of the music has changed at all, even though it sounds faster. We refer to these as downbeats and upbeats, right? So if we were to scale this back to just one beam, what you have is that downbeat represents the first half of the beat and the upbeat represent the second half. You could think about this as like tapping your foot. When your foot goes down on the beat, It's a downbeat. When your foot comes up to kind of reset, it's an upbeat 12. And so if we listen to this again, we'll hear 1234, N1, N2, N3, N4, right? But the tempo is not changed. It's very important to understand them. 11. 1/16th Grid: Now let's look at a 16th note. So what if we were to go into our arpeggiator and change our rate to 1 16th. Now it's going to be breaking each quarter, beat, each quarter note value into four. And that's basically everything we're seeing on the grid right now. The grid is showing us a 16th grid. We're going to hear a total of 16 notes being sounded over the course of this one measure for notes being sounded per beat. But if you listen carefully to the metronome, of course, the metronome is still only counting 1234123412341234. And then within each one of those beats, the arpeggiator is subdividing the beat into four even parts. And then it's playing notes based on that rate. So that's what a 16th Notice. 12. Triplet Grid: Let's talk about triplets. If we look at this first darker gray background alternated against the lighter gray, darker gray, and lighter gray. We're looking at a quarter note grid. And I'm going to just stop that arpeggiator and just talk about B1, B2, B3, B4. Now, if I right-click on my Miniclip here, I can see that we have different grids selected to. If we choose quarter, we see what we're seeing right now. If we choose eighth, we noticed that there are more grid lines, right? If we were to choose sixteenths, we get four grid lines per beat. Now if we were to choose triplets, we get an entirely different grid. Now what you're getting, you can still choose between quarter note triplets and eighth note triplets. But you're getting a vibe which is dividing each beat into three even parts. See how that sounds. And you'll notice there's seems to be a disconnect between the metronome and the piano. That's because the piano's playing three notes. For every, for that, the metronome is ticking off because our time signature appears for, for the metronome is playing four beats in a bar. But I've told my, my Miniclip year to play in triplet time. Okay, so what it's done is it's said this speed one, this is B2, this is b3. This line here marks the end of beat one. This line here marks the end of beat two. And so this whole thing has been divided into three even parts. But I, I noticed that if I play it in triplets, it's very slow. And we're getting here what's called polyrhythms because the metronomes playing in 44 time and the piano is playing in three time. Duple versus triple, right? But we can go in, change this arpeggiate instead of 1 third, we could change it to say 16 or even 1, 12th. So if you start listening to this, you can kinda hear how you get this divisibility by three to the two triplet, triplet, triplet, triplet, J dot, dot, dot. That. It's a very different feel when you divide your beats by threes. And that's all triplets are. And the term for anything divided by 3 is tripled time. So 16 is tripled time, 1, 12th is triple time. 1 third is triple time. Anything that's divisible by 3 is triple time. All right, that's it for this appendix reference section. If you have any questions, if there's any terms you'd like me to add, please reach out to me, let me know. I'm glad, glad to help you out. Answer a question or make amendments to this video collection. Best of luck, and I hope to see you again in another upcoming course.