Monday, February 27, 2017

Triads- Roman Numerals and Inversions

Let's look at two elements of triads that will help in analysis and understanding of function.

Roman Numerals: Lesson
The use of Roman numerals has gone on for centuries in music. The fact that they have an upper and lower case make them perfect for analysing music.

We use upper case roman numerals to indicate Major chords: I, IV, V
We use lowercase numerals to indicate minor chords: ii, iii, vi

Here is a chart which shows how triads naturally occur in major and minor keys:

Inversions: Lesson
Just like intervals, triads can be inverted. We do this to alter the sound of the triad and often to allow for a more interesting bass line.

Here is a chart which shows how inversions are annotated in musical analysis:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

One Last Melody

Ahh the Swan Song. Being played off at the Academy Awards. Graduation music. Final moments need a theme song. Our last Theory class needs a send off with music.

What do you got?

One Final Melody

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Theory in Practice: Being Flexible on the Gig

I always feel fortunate and grateful for any opportunity to make music. Often you don't know what shape those opportunities may take. This past weekend I was fortunate to be busy with quite a bit of music making. Three gigs in two days can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. The thing is, these gigs represented three completely diverse musical environments in terms of venues, musical styles and performance expectations.
  • Gig #1: A wedding ceremony recessional and cocktail hour music. 
  • Gig #2: Swing dance music for an energetic swing dance society's monthly dance. 
  • Gig #3: A church service commemorating the 320th anniversary of a large New England Congregational Church. 
I wanted to focus on gig #3 and one of the practical music theory applications I relied on to get me through the performance of one of the songs.
As we prepared to perform with the church choir, this piece was on my music stand. As I was playing guitar, I was a bit taken aback by the lack of a guitar part... (Full size version)

The expectation was that I play a guitar accompaniment with just this copy of music to use as a guide. 
Here are a couple of the thought processes that informed my playing:
  • Knowing this was a simple church hymn, I surmised that the chords would be basic triads or (at most) 7th chords.
  • This style also relies more often than not on root-position chords.
  • Without a lot of accidentals, I figured the chords were mostly diatonic to the key of G (Than You Circle of 5ths!)
  • I quickly scanned the page and started constructing triads or 7th chords out of the stacks of notes.
Bottom line... How do you turn a page of music like the one above into a practical lead sheet?
A practical lead sheet would look something like this:

Let's see how you do with this on the spot musical analysis (Uh Oh, the gig starts in 5 minutes!)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Composing for Concert Band

We have been studying the role of transposition in writing for instruments. We will see that in action as we try our hand at composing for a concert band. The Noteflight template I have set up for you is along the lines of the instrumentation for the GHS Concert Band. As we work through this, we will discuss instrument ranges and other related topics. Check out the score...

Writing for Band
The template is a score view of the concert band. There is no established key (well, C by default), so you have the freedom to change to a different key if you so desire. Please refer to the link on instrument ranges if you are unsure how high or low you should write for a given instrument.

Instrument Ranges for Reference

I would like to use these examples that you write for sight-reading with the band. Perhaps we can try some of these out before the end of the school year and you , as composers, can be there for the performances.

Check out some published scores to get a sense of what a completed score for band might look like.

Sample Scores

Transposition Follow-up Work

You have all received feedback on your initial work on transposition. Please review those notes in Kaizena and apply what you learned in the following examples...

Transposition II

Please submit this follow-up work to Kaizena in the box labeled Transposition II

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Little Transposition Work

Follow the link to a PDF with various melodies written for a number of different instruments.
Your job will be to use the correct transposition for each melody to bring it to either concert pitch or the correct pitch for the indicated instrument.

Once completed, please submit your work to Kaizena and the box labeled "Transposition"

Thank You

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Transposition in music is simply the act of changing the key of an existing piece of music or musical passage. When dealing with band and orchestral instruments we have some issues we need to address...

Take a look at this screen shot of a typical concert band score:

Does anything jump out at you when you look at what is going on in the score?
You are seeing flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, alto saxes, etc. all playing together but something is not quite the same between them.

Do you notice how even though they are all playing the same piece, they are not all in the same key?

This brings us to the topic of instrumental transposition. This topic is often confusing and difficult to explain clearly. I have collected a few resources that you would be well advised to read through to see if you can make sense out of this concept.

Why do some Instruments Transpose- Bret Pimentel

Wikipedia entry about instrumental transposition

Chart of instrumental transpositions

You can spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of instrumental transposition. The bottom line is that it exists and we as theoreticians and/or composers have to be aware of it and deal with it.

For me the advantage of transposing instruments is illustrated by woodwind players who double or triple on various instruments. Thanks to transposition an alto saxophone player need only learn one set of fingerings to play any of the family of saxophones, even though they are in different keys.


In the above example, the top line represents the sounding melody (often called "Concert Pitch"). This line is not transposed. This is the line a guitarist, flautist, pianist, violinist would read because those instruments are non-transposing.

The second line is the transposed part for an alto saxophone. Because the alto sax is a transposing instrument (it is in Eb), it has to read a transposed part in order to sound the concert pitch. The transposition for Alto sax is a M6. That is why in order to sound a Bb, the alto saxophone has to read and play the G note a M6 higher.