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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The 7th Chord: Secondary Dominant

When we first started discussing 7th chords, I gave you some examples of the something called the secondary dominant. Here I have linked a thorough and well-written explanation of what a secondary dominant is, how it sounds, and how it might be used.

Secondary Dominants

Check it out!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

7th Chords- Update

We have spent a good deal of time exploring the possibilities of the triad. That three note chord forms the bedrock of much of Western harmony. Harmony does go further or perhaps we could say higher. While the triad explores the sound of the root, 3rd and 5th, it leaves untouched any other notes that might add to or enhance the sound in our harmony.
The 7th chord is an opportunity to promote the triad by simply adding the 7th on top of our 3-note triad. No longer content with a the snowman on our staff, the 7th chord gives us four notes to play with.

Here is a basic tutorial on the 7th chords in Major and the three forms of minor we have explored: natural, harmonic and melodic.

7th Chord Tutorial

There are five basic types of 7th chords and this tutorial demonstrates how they are constructed and how to identify the chords.

The Makeup of 7th Chords

Please take some time after reading through the tutorials to practice working with 7th chords:




Now, try your hand at identifying and constructing some seventh chords on your own.

Here is the worksheet

Please submit your work for feedback through Kaizena
You will find a dropbox labeled "seventh chord work"

If you are unsure of the process of identifying and constructing sevenths, please refer to the tutorials above.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Constructing 4-part texture using triads: Motion

The final installment in our focus on 4-part textures will be how to deal with motion between chords. Whenever you are moving, you have to pick a direction. It is no different with the lines in a voiced chord. Lines within a moving chord have three choices: stay on a common tone (if available), move up or move down. I will break down the types of motion from chord to chord in the common practice order of most desirable to least desirable:

Contrary motion:
This motion is a strongly desired method of moving from chord to chord. When you are moving chords in contrary motion, you are moving the upper voices in the opposite direction of the bass line.
As you can see in this example, the bass voice is moving down while the others voices are moving in the opposite direction. This is a preferred motion between chords during common practice times.

Oblique motion:
Contrary motion and oblique motion are closely related. Think of oblique motion as contrary motion with a common tone if possible.
In this example the tenor and alto voices are moving contrary to the bass, but the soprano line remains on the common tone of G. That is the essence of oblique motion. This motion is also desired in common practice writing.

Similar motion:
Now we are getting to the chord motions that are less desirable because the often lead to spacing or other issues which we will spend a little bit of time on in a future class. In similar motion, the voices are all moving in the same direction as the bass, but avoid moving at the same interval.

You see that all the voices in similar motion are moving in the same direction. The important part of similar motion is that the voices move at different intervals from the bass. The motion in the bass is a 2nd while the motion in the tenor is a 5th, the alto is a 4th, the soprano is a 4th. This motion is not particularly desirable in the common practice but it is generally preferred to...

Parallel motion:
In parallel motion (as in similar motion) the voices move in the same direction as the bass. However, in parallel motion, you have instances where voices move at the same interval of the bass. This is a sound we often embrace in more modern music, but during common practice it was avoided.
In this example all of the voices are moving in the same direction and with the same interval (descending 4th). This sound is the least desirable of all the common practice chord motions. 

**Check out your chord motion in your 4-part texture. Try to identify the type of motion you employ between chords. Where possible see if you can move it up the motion food chain toward contrary or oblique motion. 

You may even notice places where you have elements of different motion combined. Similar motion with a common(oblique) tone or parallel motion combined with contrary motion. In those instances, you want to try to eliminate the less desirable motion while maintaining the more preferred elements.

Constructing 4-part textures using triads: Spacing

In our previous post and class you completed a 4-part texture using triads with a focus on proper common practice doubling. Great.

This leads us to our next hurdle: Spacing.

In this case we are talking about the distance between the voices. Specifically we are concerned with adjacent voices. S-A, A-T, T-B.

General Rule: Between the soprano and alto the distance should not be greater than an octave. This also holds true between the alto and the tenor (though it is sometimes more difficult to observe, because these voices are on different staves.) Between the tenor and bass you have a bit more freedom as you can exceed the spacing of an octave. With all the voices, you have to be cognizant of the practical ranges of the voices. The range is how high or how low the voices can extend.

Here is an example:

Use of extreme ranges is something to explore, but should be used sparingly in actual practice.

Revisit your 4-part texture from our post on doubling and make adjustments based on what you now know about spacing. Be sure to continue to adhere to common practice rules on doubling.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Constructing 4-part Textures Using Triads: Doubling

In order to begin investigating more of the "rules" of common practice music, we will explore 4-part texture in more detail.
4-part texture is a good vehicle for this exploration, because it offers up opportunities in chordal and melodic writing while staying in the confines of the grand staff.

The first concept to explore is doubling. If we are using triads within a 4-part texture, we need to double at least one note from the triad to complete a 4-part chord.


The basic rule for doubling is to be sure the note you are doubling is a stable note. You may ask,"What the heck does that mean?" The root (note that names the triad) of most triads is a stable note and is the preferred double. The leading tone (or 7th note of the scale) is generally avoided as a double because it is believed to be an unstable sound (I am not making this up).

In general you should double the root of the triad in four parts. Less often the 3rd and 5th.

In some instance you may even want to triple the root (if you truly desire this option, be sure your remaining voice is the 3rd and not the 5th.)

If you would like to double 2 notes from your triad, be sure they are the root and 3rd (omit the 5th).

...and we are just getting started.

Check out his lesson on voicing triads on the grand staff.

Hopefully this puts you in a position to build some 4-part texture. I have made a template that involves a bass line and a figured bass analysis. Your job is to complete a 4-part texture that conforms to common practice rules of doubling.

Complete 4-Part Texture