2. Music theory reviewed

So will this need for theory ever end?

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial we will be going through the various music theory concepts required to understand the basics of chords. So, let’s have some fun.

2. The music theory aspects required for chords

In order to understand how chords work, we need to review a few music theory aspects. If you already know all of these, consider this a refresher course.

The musical “alphabet” contains a total of 7 different notes, usually notated either by using the first 7 letters of the alphabet (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) or by using their Latin names (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si). Throughout these tutorials, I will be using the alphabet naming convention, since it’s easier and a bit more common. More details about notes can be found here.

Each and every note you hear is characterized by its pitch. A note’s pitch refers to how high or low the note is perceived by the human ear and is quantified by the notes’ sound frequency. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch (more details here).

Another concept which we will use a lot is that of a scale (or key). A musical scale is a series of consecutive pitches, all of them located within the same octave. In signal processing, the octave is the place where a signal doubles or halves its frequency. In music, this translates to the place where we encounter the same note, but its pitch is higher or lower.

An octave contains a total of 12 pitches, each separated from the other by a semitone (or half-step). A semitone is the lowest tonal distance between two pitches. We also have the concept of tone which is comprised of two semitones. More details here.

Of interest to us are the Western scales, which use only 8 of the possible 12 pitches from an octave. Such an example of a Western scale is the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C). More details here.

During these tutorials we will also be using accidentals. An accidental is a musical symbol which alters the pitch of a note by a semitone or a tone. There are a total of 5 different accidentals, of which 3 are more common: the sharp (♯), which raises the pitch by one semitone, the flat (♭), which lowers the pitch by one semitone, and the natural (♮), which returns the pitch to its original height. More details can be found here.

The penultimate concept which will have a wide use in these tutorials is that of music intervals. A music interval is the tonal distance between two notes. Its name contains a number which states how many different pitches are in the interval and a quality which is given by the number of tones and semitones in that interval. More details can be found here.

And finally, quite possibly the most important of them all, we need to talk about triads. In music, a triad is a group of 3 notes, all played at the same time. Of interest are triads formed by stacking two thirds on top of each other. There are 4 special types of triads, discussed in detail here, which we will be using over and over again: major, minor, augmented and diminished.

I know this may be a lot of information, especially if you are new to this. Hence why I recommend you take your time and go through all of the posts I have mentioned here. Trust me when I say it will make everything that much easier. If you already knew most of this, then I hope this refresher course was useful for you. And as you progress through this series, you will see how everything is related between triads, chords and scales.

In the next tutorial, we will be taking a look at the guitar and learn about the key components of this instrument as well as tuning it. See you then.

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