2. Music Theory
Understanding the basic principles of Music Theory is enough to get you started, but it will take a lifetime to master. There are many books and web sites devoted to Music Theory which provide a more detailed description of Musicology. The following pages provide a brief overview and enough information to give a beginner an introduction.
Notes on a Keyboard
The notes on a keyboard, listed below, are from A to G and repeat over a 12 note sequence. The black notes have 2 names, either Sharp # taken from the white note on the left, or Flat b taken from the white note on the right.
The numerical unit of notes is called a tone. The move of 1 note to the next is called a semi-tone, i.e. C to Db is a semi tone. E to F is a semi tone. The move from 1 note to the second is a tone, i.e. C to D is a tone, G to A is a tone, E to Gb is a tone. Tones are used to identify scales.
Fig 1: The notes on a keyboard repeat after 12 semi tones or 8 whole tones.
Chap 2 a keyboard.jpg
Fig 2: The notes used in a sequencer correspond to notes in a Stave. Each grid in the sequence below represents 1/16th of a bar or 16 semi quavers. Each note is a quaver, or 1/8th bar. (Details on musical notation below)
Chap 2 b stave.jpg
Scales are a recognised sequence of notes that ascend up the keyboard starting of a specific note. There are an extensive variety of scales available, from the more common Major and Minor scale, to the more exotic Japanese, Kumoi and 8 Tone Spanish. An extensive list of scales are listed in Appendix 1. The are the starting point for constructing melodies that harmonise with chord progression (covered later in this chapter).
C Major Scale
C Major = C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C
The Major scale can be counted in semi-tones and is universal for all scales 2 2 1 2 2 2 1. For example, the scale of C Major: starting in C, 2 semi-tones to D, 2 semi-tones to E, 1 semi-tone to F etc.
C Major Scale in Semi Tones
D Major in Scale in Semi Tones
C Minor Scale
The second most common scale is Minor and consists of semi-tone steps 2 1 2 2 1 3 1
C Minor = C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B, and C
C Minor Scale in Semi Tones
C# Minor Scale in Semi Tones
Musical symbols represent all elements of Musical Notation, including the note length. The most common symbols for an Electronic Dance producer are shown below. The use of note length is essential for creating particular Rhythmic components of a song, which is explored in more detail in Chapter 11.
Chap 2 c notation.jpg
Chords are simply constructed from notes in the scale. For example…
C Major consists of the 1st, 3rd and 5th Note of the C Major Scale C E and G.
C Minor consists of the 1st, 3rd and 5th Note of the C Minor Scale C Eb and G.
Chap 2 d chords.jpg
A “Major” chord has a positive, pleasant sound and a “Minor” chord has a more dissonant and uneasy sound.
A list of common chords is listed in Appendix 2.
Understanding Chord Progression
Chord progression is moving from one chord to another to create pleasing and satisfying change. Extensive chord progression used in pop and classical music is outside the scope of most electronic dance tunes, and also this book. Modern dance music can be effective with only 2 or 3 chords.
The choice of chords available is based on the predominant scale of the song, e.g. a song based on C Major has 7 chords to choose from, each starting with a note from the C Major scale C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Each note or Scale Degree can be referenced using a Roman Numeral as described in the chord chart below.
C Major Chord Progression Chart
Appendix 2b features a Chord Progression Chart from A to G, Major and Minor.
Chord Progression Example in C Minor
An example of a simple 4 chord progression VI, I, II, I or A Minor, C Major, D Minor and C Major is listed below.
1) VI A Minor A C E
2) I C Major C E G
3) II D Minor D F A
4) I C Major C E G
Chap 2 e Chord prog1.jpg
To devise your own chord progression in C Major, use any of the above chords in any order, either starting or ending in the root chord, i.e. I or C Major. Experiment to see which progressions sound familiar and useable, or too unfamiliar and strange. If you use too many unfamiliar chord progressions, the audience may be put off because they are unfamiliar with your choice of chords. If you use too many familiar chord progressions, the audience will be put off due to high predictability. The key is to find a balance between the two extremes.
Transposing Chords Progression
Any chord progression can be transposed to another Scale Degree by using the matrix in Appendix 2b. Cheat, by learning chord progression only in C, and use the transpose button when you jam with better musicians!
C Minor Chord Progression Chart
Chord progression can also be based on Minor Scale Degree. A common chord progression is V, VI, I.
Chap 2 f Chord prog2.jpg
Chord Progression Chart Based on Any Scale
Any chord progression chart can be devised based on a particular scale, and Scale Degree.
-The chords in Scale degree I uses noted from the scale in position I, II and V.
-The chords in Scale degree II uses noted from the scale in position II, IV and VI.
-The chords in Scale degree III uses noted from the scale in position III, V and VII.
-The chords in Scale degree IV uses noted from the scale in position IV, V and I.
-The chords in Scale degree V uses noted from the scale in position V, VII and II.
-The chords in Scale degree VI uses noted from the scale in position VI, I and III.
-The chords in Scale degree VII uses noted from the scale in position VII, II and IV.
To increase the range of chords available for more advance progression, change any Chord Name apart from the root to a possible substitution. Substitutions include inverse, i.e. Major to Minor, Minor to Major, bVII e.g. B Dim becomes Bb Major.
Substitution: 1 “bVII”
In a standard C Major Chord Progression Chart, Scale Degree VII or B Dim creates a very dissonant chord progression when used with the other chords. By substituting the B Dim with Db Major (i.e. lowering B by a semi-tone to Bb) a more pleasing progression option becomes available.
Chap 2 g Chord prog3.jpg
Substitution 2: All Major
An established method for using all Major chords is to reverse the polarity III and VI, i.e. turn Minor to Major and use bVII to turn B Dim to Bb Major. Remove II from the progression chart because it doesn’t produce a pleasing progression.
Chap 2 g Chord prog4.jpg
This chapter merely introduces the key elements of musicology. Other areas of interest which you may choose to explore include..
Emotional Chord Progression
The choice of Scale Degree, Scale and progression will determine the emotional response. Many factors contribute to the mood of the song, including tempo, timbre, rhythm and chord progression.
Dark Chord Progression
The vibe and atmosphere is more important that the emotional content of Chord Progression in dance music. Classical music uses dissonant harmony and minor chords to convey unsettling and moody songs.
In electronic music, dark vibes are crated by using minimal chord progression as chord progression generally has a specific emotional attachment. By detaching any emotion, and selecting specific instruments with distorted textures, dissonant harmony and disturbing timbres, a dark vibe is created. Chap 2 i Chord prog5.jpg
Euphoric Chord Progression
Euphoric chord progression consists of alternating between major and minor chords, i.e. V, VI and I. Chap 2 j Chord prog6.jpg
Appendix 3 lists several examples of chord progression used in a variety of genres, including Dark D&B, Funky House and Breakbeat.