MUSIC THEORY

 

Your Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at home

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      The melodies we hear in music come primarily from the key the song is written in. The key of the song basically determines which notes we can use. Ok, which notes are they? To illustrate this, we’ll use the key of C since it is the only key that consists entirely of the white keys on a piano keyboard. To start, we begin with the Tonic (T) note which is the note with the same name as the key. In this case, it’s C, any C on the keyboard. The next note in the C major scale is the supertonic or D. As you will notice, there is one black key in between the C and D and that makes the distance between them known as a whole step (W). The next note in the scale is E (mediant) and is a whole step away from D. The next note F (subdominant) doesn’t have a black key in between so the distance between E and F is a half step (H). G (dominant) is the next note and is a whole step up from F. A (submediant) is another whole step up from G and B (leading tone or subtonic) is a whole step up from A. Another half step brings us back to C (octave). Using the whole step and half step as place holders, we can derive any major scale by the following formula—TWWHWWWH. This is known as a diatonic scale as opposed to the chromatic scale which includes all the notes (12) between tonic and the octave.

       There are seven modes which include the major scale that are derived it. The Ionian or major scale is the one we described above. The Dorian mode consists of TWHWWWHW and is considered to be minor since the third note of the scale is diminished (lowered by a half step relative to the major scale). The next mode is the Phrygian and is spelled as follows—THWWWHWW. It is also considered to be minor. The fourth mode is the Lydian (TWWWHWWH). The 3rd note is not diminished in this scale so it is considered to be major. Mixolydian is the 5th mode and consists of TWWHWWWH. It too is major. The Aeolian mode (TWHWWHWW) is the sixth one and has the distinction of also being known as the natural minor scale. The final mode, Locrian, is considered to be a theoretical construct since the 5th note is diminished and chords composed from this scale are , shall we say, interesting.

       Melodies, as noted above, are mostly derived from the scale that the key of the song is in but in some cases, the key will change during the song to accommodate a melody that goes “outside the key” for more than a note or two. While it is possible to use any note on the keyboard when composing, keep in mind that they won’t always work in every situation. For instance in the key of D, an F note can sometimes sound sour against an F# minor chord unless the next chord is E minor or G6 or some other chord that has the E in it.  The reason for this is that the F is only a half step away from the F# and is not in the key. Just try it and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Play F against a G major chord, however, and what you get is G7, which is perfectly fine in the key of D. Getting back to melody, remember that when composing or songwriting, the melody is king. Along with the lyrics, they are what make up the song and are the determining factor in copyright infringement cases. Having said that, I was watching a television show a little while back and George Martin was interviewing Billy Joel. Billy said that just by happenstance, he figured out that the melody for “Uptown Girl” had a remarkable similarity to a Mozart piece. It’s ok to quote someone else’s work but not to plagiarize. Try to keep your melodies simple and they’ll be more easily remembered. Leave the embellishment to the other instruments and vocals in the song unless you’re writing for Mariah Carey or some other vocal gymnast. Another important thing is for the melody to be consistent with the feel of the song. A fast melody with a song that is sad in tone isn’t going to work and vice versa.

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