Music Theory

When teaching a student or a class a particular musical piece, I share the history of the song with them. This induces more interest for the student. I will occasionally write a blog about the history of a particular song that I use with the students.

The first song I would like to discuss is “Let It Be”, recorded by the Beatles. I teach this song on the piano, guitar and bass guitar, and all of my students love learning the song.

Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, sings the vocal, backing vocal, and plays piano and the maracas. John Lennon plays bass, while George Harrison sings backing vocals while playing lead guitar. And, of course, Ringo Starr plays the drums. Other instruments used in the song are an organ and electric piano played by Billy Preston, and two trumpets, two trombones, a tenor sax and cellos played by uncredited musicians.

During the summer of 1968, the Beatle sessions had become hostile. McCartney was worried about the band’s future and threw everything into keeping the group alive. One night he had a dream in which his deceased mom, Mary, appeared to him and told him not to get so depressed about things. She told him to just :Let it be”. This dream quickly became a song.

For some time Lennon thought Mother Mary was the Virgin Mary, and wanted to add a giggle to the song. When Paul said “No”, Lennon went into the studio one night before the song was to be cut, and added a little phrase to the beginning of Let It Be, “Now we’d like to sing ‘All The Angels Come'”. Paul was not happy.

Students know this song, and are instructed to play the song smoothly with a flowing progression. The bass lines consist of many runs from one chord to another. The piano also progresses smoothly from one chord to another (chords from C down to G use C, G/b, F/A and G). Thus, this song teaches students flowing techniques and sequence. Let It Be!

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This is a music theory site that I have used with my students for years. The site has three sections: Lessons, Trainers, and Utilities.
LESSONS:

  • The Staff, Clefs and ledger Lines
  • Note duration
  • Measures and Time Signatures
  • Rest duration, Dots and Ties
  • Simple, Compound and Odd meters
  • Scales and Scale degrees
  • Much more

Trainer

  • Note
  • Key
  • Interval
  • Triad
  • Keyboard
  • Guitar
  • Brass
  • Interval Ear Trainer
  • Scale Ear Trainer
  • Chord Ear Trainer

The trainer section is the area I use the most in working with students. For example, the Interval Ear Trainer will play two notes, one at a time. You select from a list what the interval is. The program keeps a running grade/score and, if you give a wrong answer, the correct answer will appear. I use this trainer for my voice students. My students tell me that this training also helps them in the school choir when they have to sight read new music.

Utilities

  • Chord Calculator
  • Staff Paper generator
  • Matrix generator

Go to musictheory.net and try it out. It is free, and one of the best theory sites I have seen and used.

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The pentatonic scale is a five note scale, using intervals I, II, III, V and VI. There are several rumors on the origin of the scale. The one I am attached to is the scale was found several centuries ago in Asia from the black notes on the piano.

The scale is used by rock and blues musicians to play lead guitar. One famous lead guitarist that uses this scale is Eric Clapton. Other instruments, such as the Flute, also play the scale to an accompaniment.
What is unique about this scale is the notes in the scale can be played with the chords of the same major key or relative minor key. This inspires the student to be creative in choosing the notes in the scale to play with an accompanist. Students actually go into a trance playing the pentatonic scale while I am playing the chords in the same key.

I also found that the song, “Amazing Graze”, only uses the notes in pentatonic scale for the melody. Students that are familiar with the song are giving an assignment to figure what notes in the scale are used to play the melody. This is great ear training for the student.

Do you use the pentatonic scale, or know something of it’s history? Let me know your thoughts on this amazing scale.

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