All posts by Gary

About Gary

Piano Teacher with over 40 years experience, teaching in the Fort Lauderdale area. Teaches exclusively at All County Music in Tamarac FL.

What Is Classical Music?

The moment non-musician hear the words “classical music”, they immediately think of something that is formal, old, long and boring. Maybe their idea of “classical” is sitting through a 10 hour Wagner opera. Or a symphony that goes on forever. Or getting dressed up and having to listen to something that they either don’t like at all, or worse, that they hate.

But the problem is the words themselves. They trigger bad feelings in many.

People like what they like, which is probably about as obvious as saying the sky is blue. People also hate being pushed around by other people who claim to have more knowledge, better taste, more intelligence or who otherwise act superior. I know people who think of all these negative things the moment they hear the words “classical music”.

And yet most people like many pieces of so called “classical music”. They simply don’t know that what they like generally falls under that usage.

I’m fighting a quiet battle against the words “classical music”, and I’d like for people to replace this with something totally different.

Take a few moments to listen to these things on YouTube:

The Lone Ranger Theme

2001 A Space Odyssey Opening

A Little Night Music

Rhapsody in Blue

So what do all these things have in common? Answer, only one thing: they are at least 50 years old.

But what about other things that are not new, but not at least 50 years old?

The music to Star Wars is now 41 year old and the composer of the music, John Williams, writes music that often sounds more like music from the 1800s than “modern music”. So is his music “classical”?

None of the composers of the above selections thought of their music as traditional. All of them were writing music that in their times was considered modern, in all ways up to date and often revolutionary.

So the next time you hear “classical music”, remember that you are listening to music that was very popular when it was written, and remember also that you would not be hearing this music if it had not remained popular.

So what is “classical music” really?

Answer: Older popular music.

Initial rant about setting this up…

Well, isn’t that what blogs are for? You get to rant, pontificate, ramble, spew, or just bore people to death, if they even get as far as reading what you write. Blogs are probably a great way to talk to yourself in writing, with the delusion that other people want to read what comes out of your head. There are a few people who are so good at blogging that they end up entertaining themselves but also pull other people into their adventures.

I’d like to do that!

Word Press, as I understand it, was originally for blogging. As I started using it almost 10 years ago, everything I was trying to post wanted to go in alphabetical order, so I ended up with weird columns that tried to order themselves by the date I created them. I jumped through hoops, trying to get a blog page to work like a web site, and at each point I was frustrated. Nothing ever looked like a web site.

About two weeks ago I found out that nothing worked because I didn’t know what I was doing. Note to self. Don’t judge a product as inferior because you are ignorant.

Because I think it’s starting to look pretty good.

Augmented Triads

Start with augmented 5ths.

Add a 3rd in the middle.

Make sure the middle note is exactly in the middle.

Start with LH only.

Play them by 1/2 steps, whole steps and by major 3rds.

I am presenting augmented chords as triads that are formed by playing a major chord, then raising the top key one half-step. I have picked spellings that I find most easy to read.
However, augmented chords split an octave into three equal parts. Because of our notational system, it is very hard to see this without playing them and counting the number of keys that are skipped between the three keys that are pressed and form the chords. I have added color to show the augmented chords at the end of each measure of each line are really all using the same keys.
F aug = F A C#, A aug = A C# E#, Db aug = Db F A. They all look different because of spelling, but by spelling them enharmonically, we can see that they are really the same.
To illustrate:
  1. A aug could be written enharmonically as A C# F.
  2. Db aug could be written enharmonically as C# F A.
Fine points, for those of you who are more advanced: We say that F aug, A aug and Db aug are “enharmonically equivalent”. In other words, they look different, but they sound the same.
I hesitate to call augmented chords “triads”, since they so often do not appear as three lines or three spaces in a row. Their spelling is actually determined by what chords preceed them and follow them.

Easy Minor Scale Fingerings

For 8 of the 12 major scales changing to minor does not change the fingerings. There are simple rules for forming minor scales.

Simple minor (also called ascending melodic minor and jazz minor) simply lowers the third note of major scale by one half step. For the most basic example, C major changes to C simple minor by lowering the third note, E, to Eb. Nothing else changes, and the fingering does not change. We describe this as major with b3.

(Note: when a degree of a scale has the symbol “b”, it does not mean the same thing as a flat sign in notation. Instead, it means to lower the note. If the regular note is a sharp, it becomes a regular white key. If the note is white, it goes down to either a black key or another white key. (In the rare case that note starts out as a flat, meaning a black key, lowering it will drop it down to the next white key. This is called a double b, with the symbol “bb”. When playing scales, simply remember that lowering a note in a scale means going down exactly one key, a half step.)

Harmonic minor lower the 3rd and 6th notes of the scale. We describe this as major with b3 and b6.

Natural minor lowers the 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the scale. We describe this as major with b3, b6 and b7.


The Worst Scales

(In the PDF, the scales talked about here are on pages 9.)

View or Download COMPLETE
Set of Major and Minor Scales

Since the most difficult major scales are the two that are unique, Eb major and Bb major, special attention needs to be put on these two scales. And because Eb major is one of the unique major scales, with no other scale like it, it’s especially important to group it with the two minor scales that use the same fingering – F# harmonic minor and F# natural minor.

Because the principle of mastering the most difficult skill first is so important, it is always wise to practice these four scales first each day.



Problem Minor Scale Fingerings

(In the PDF, the scales talked about here are on pages 5 through 8.)

View or Download All Major
Scales by Fingering Groups2

Traditional minor scales generally use the same fingerings as major scales, and I cover this elsewhere. But there are  five keys  where fingering is a problem, so I specifically show these. These scales starts on a black key in its normal major form. Switching to minor requires some kind of change of fingering, and that becomes extremely tricky.

The minors switch to the fingering of other groups. An additional reading problem is that several of them also change key signatures.

Db major changes to C# minor.

Gb major changes to F# minor.

Ab major changes to G# minor.

Eb major sometimes simply move to Eb minor, but also may change to D# minor. The reason is a bit complicated for this discussion, but it is a 50/50 choice.

Bb major stays in Bb when it goes to minor, so Bb major is not a key signature problem.

Gb major/F# minor is a minor nightmare. Gb major is thumbs together. But F# simple minor is an oppose scale, like C. F# harmonic minor and F# natural minor are like Eb major, with no fingers every coming together with the same finger in both hands.




All Major Scales by Fingering Groups

(In the PDF, the scales talked about here are on pages 1 through 4.The major scales fall into three distinct categories)

View or Download All Major
Scales by Fingering Groups2

There are 12 altogether. 10 of the 12 fall into only two groups, with the remaining two being unique in that the thumbs never play together at the same time in both hands.

The first group is the easiest to learn and consists of: Db major, Gb major, B major and F major. I call them “Thumbs Together Scales”.

In each of these scales the thumbs come together twice in each octave. Of these four, the first three are what I call “Black Note Scales”. They use the 5 black notes of the keyboard and so are very easy to learn and play. The fingering is intuitive, predictable and very easy on the hands. The fourth scale in this group, F, is a bit trickier because it is not quite so clear where the long fingers are supposed to go.

The second group contains six scales – C major, D major, E major, G major, Ab major and A major. In this group the thumbs come together once in each octave, The other time the thumb in one hand always comes with 2 in the other. Because the thumb and index fingers are opposite each other once per octave, I call these the “Oppose Scales”. Finger 3 is always together with finger 3, and finger 4 is always together with finger 2. Both times when 4 is with 2 it is directly before or after the thumbs meet. This group is much more difficult than the “Thumbs Together Scales”.

Finally, there are the Eb and Bb scales, each of which is unique in the major scales. I call these “Odd Ball Scales” or “Odd Balls”.

In the Eb major scale the thumb of one hand always comes with the finger 2 of the other. I call this “Double Oppose”. Both hands play 3 on the Eb. Fingers 3 and 4 also oppose each other, so in a way this is a “Triple Oppose Scale”.

In the Bb scale thumb of one hand there is an “oppose” combination with 1 and 2, but there is also a “triple group” situation where 1, 2 and 3 are moving in opposition.There is no other major scale with this grouping – this is also the only scale in which 2 plays with 2.

There is one problem in the term “oppose”, because in the Eb scale there are three oppositions, but the third is different – between 3 and 4, which I have marked with a bracket. In the Bb scale there are two oppositions, but one of them is a group of three, unique. I need to straighten out terminology in the future.