Category Archives: Back-up category


Five qualities

THURSDAY, October 17, 2019

Colors are important…

We remember chords by feel and look. “Colors” are about black and white. How they look and feel is terribly important to a pianist.

All white is diatonic…

Any diatonic chord can be played in the key of C with all white notes. For instance, C major, F major and G major are all white. D minor, E minor and A minor are all white. B dim is all white. If a quality exists in the key of C, it is diatonic in all other keys.

Four or five qualities..

There are four qualities of three note chords in traditional teaching: major, minor, diminished and augmented. Three of them are diatonic. Augmented is not, and that is why there is no augmented chord that is all white. To that list I add suspensions because they are so important. Suspensions are diatonic.

The traditional qualities are taught as triads…

Major, minor, diminished and augmented are considered triads because because they MAY be written with stacked 3rds. This does not mean they must be, just that it is possible.

Sus chords are not triads…

Sus chords always include whole steps or half steps. No chord with a half step or whole step in root position can ever be a triad.

Quality one: major chord…

Major is home base for three note chords. Major chords have three notes: root 3 and 5. There are 12 of them, one for each key. Major chords are normally 100% standard in spelling. You do not  have to worry about seeing a major chord on the page and not recognizing it.

Quality two: minor chord…

Minor is the serious relative of major. Major and minor chords probably make up around 90% of music.

Quality three: Diminished Chord…

A diminished chord is actually a fully diminished chord (a four note chord) with one note missing.

The diminished chord is a morphing chord. It wants to go to someplace.

Quality four: Augmented chord…

An augmented chords start with a minor 6th and then adds a third note in the middle. It can be spelled in almost any way.When you look at your hand, you recognize it.

Quality five: suspension chord…

A suspension chord adds flavor to major and minor. I simply uses 2 or 4 in place of 3 or b3. Or it uses both 2 and 4.



MONDAY, October 14, 2019

“Hut” Rati Prachayanuporn…

He’s the same guitar player who did the Lydian improv that is also in Spotlight. I got to talk to him a bit on Facebook. He is Thai and I don’t think understands much English, and I understand NOTHING of his language. But I understand the music. He told me he does not read music well, so he is probably an ear player.

What is impressive about him, for me, is his versatility. He really knows his craft. He is also a teacher.

Most people on the Internet are all talk, but he has a number of short videos that are just playing and they are excellent. I like that he is showing many different styles, and improv fascinates me because it is my greatest personal weakness.



Morphing 7 chords with 6 chords

TUESDAY, October 8, 2019

Morphing 7 chords with 6 chords…

The more common, official term for “morphing” is “chromaticism”. It means that instead of using only the 8 notes in any key, which is diatonic, we get to use all 12 possible notes in an octave. This means, for instance, that although a key signature may tell us that we are in the key of C major, no sharps or flats, we are free to use 5 more notes, the ones that are black colored on the piano, the “black keys”. This may get to be a bit confusing, because “black key” also means “black key signatures”, called “black keys” for short. Here I am talking about the 5 black keys in each octave of the piano.

The 7 chords…

Here are the 7 chords that are morphing in each key:

  • Xmaj7
  • X7
  • Xm7
  • Xø and
  • Xº7

The 6 chords…

Mixed in are two 6 chords. Later you will find out that these two 6 chords are inversions of 7 chords

  • X6
  • Xm6

Diatonic 7 chords

SUNDAY, October 13, 2019

Diatonic seven chords…

I am only showing these in the 7 white keys. A white key is a set of 8 notes, including the octave, that is a major scale, and the first note in the key has to also be a white key.

Two different meanings of “key”…

A key can be 8 notes in a scale, such as the key of C, which has C D E F G A B C.

A key can also be one of the white things we press. There are 88 of them on a standard piano or keyboard.

Here I am talking about the set of 8 notes that makes up a key.

All students should read through these chords in the 7 white keys. But ASAP that same student should play these chords by memory, be able to hear them, and then transpose them to 5 more black keys, named as such because black keys start with a black note.



The 12 standard intervals we hear

WEDNESDAY, October 9, 2019

This is more complicated, but it is used for listening, not reading…

Reading music and hearing music are two different worlds. There are people who can read anything in a score, and some of them are fine interpreters. But it does not guarantee that they will be able to play what they hear without the aid of a score.

There are also incredibly talented musicians who can play just about anything they hear but who can’t read music. I call them musically illiterate geniuses. Remember, “illiterate” means unable to read. It does not mean lacking talent, and in fact some of the most famous players in the world can’t read music. But all of them, without exception, regret not being able to read music.

Here is an overview of what you eventually need to be able to recognize as you are playing, without using a score, and what you need to be able to hear.

There are perfect intervals, and there are only four of them. These are rock solid intervals that you can “take to the bank”. They look on a page exactly as they should. There are four, and they are called:

Perfect intervals…

  • Perfect unison, which is just one note.
  • Octave, which is almost the same note in two different places, with always the same name.
  • Perfect 5th, the backbone of our most important chords.
  • Perfect 4th, which turns out to be a perfect 5th flipped over.

Next there is one incredibly important interval:


It lives right between the 5th and the 4th. It is bigger than a 4th and smaller than a 5th.

Major and minor…

Finally there are 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths.

For each of these there is a big one and a small one. The big ones are called major, and the small ones are called minor. I’ll get to how to determine which 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths are big and small, but that comes a bit later.

Augmented and diminished intervals…

This is nothing but a gigantic pain, and these are what I am going to call “alt” intervals. They are screw-ball names and they ONLY are used for written music. In all cases they sound like something else, and they look like something else when you play them. Eventually you do need them, sort of like advanced terms for experts who need specialize words for shop talk, but if you are just listening and watching your hands, you will never need them – EVER!



EZ intervals intervals for reading

WEDNESDAY, October 9, 2019

Count letters when reading music.

This is purely visual and is solely dependent on what we see in written music or what white keys we are looking at on the piano. If you play black notes, this will not work – yet. Later it will, but with refinements.

You are moving from C to D, or E to F, or from any letter to the next letter in the musical alphabet. It’s a 2nd. Go the other way,  C to B, B to A, etc. Same thing. It’s a 2nd. Each line and space has a letter. You only count letters. Same thing. It’s a 2nd. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

You are moving from C to E, or E to G, or you skip one letter in the musical alphabet. It’s a 3nd. Go the other way,  C to A, B to G, etc. Same thing. It’s a 3nd. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

Continue with the same logic. Skip two letters. It’s a 4th. Same thing. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

Skip three letters. It’s a 5th. Same thing. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

Skip four letters. It’s a 6th. Same thing. It’s a 3nd. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

Skip five letters. It’s a 7th. Same thing. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

Skip six letters. It’s an 8th, always called an octave. Same thing. No matter how complicated the signs appear, including b’s, double b’s, #s and double #s (x), this is correct.

Continue this way as far as you wish. You can have a 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th. A 15th is two octaves.

This is air tight. It always works. It works in your hands, what you see. It works in  written music, because you also use letters in scores for lines and spaces. This beginning step is crude, so it will not help you hear. It’s a visual thing. You are allowed to add #s and b’s, including double #s and double b’s. C# Gb is a 5th. Dbb and Ax is a 5th. These are ridiculous, and you will (hopefully) never see them, but if you do, they are 5ths. No matter how crazy, ineffective or downright stupid these things are, they go by letters.

However: there are only 12 standard intervals for sound up to an octave, and you will never use or hear anything beyond those 12 when you are looking at your hands and listening. I’ll get to them next.



Brandenburg Concerto 2 in F

THURSDAY, October 10, 2019

Popular 298 years…

The Brandenburg Concertos are considered some of the best written compositions ever written. They remain popular to this very day.

Maurice André

One again you have a choice. This is modern piccolo trumpet, and Maurice André was the best in the business at playing this high trumpet. The group he is playing with is using modern instruments. This piece was used as the theme music for the old TV show, “Firing Line”, hosted by conservative William F. Buckley Jr. from 1966 to 1999.

Now original instruments…

The same thing, but this time with instruments used in Bach’s time. It’s a very different  sound, and if you watch you will see very different looking instruments.


Bach’s Orchestral Suite 3 in D major

WEDNESDAY, October 9, 2019

Famous for 289 years…

The Air on a G string, from Bach’s third Orchestral Suite in D major, is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. You will hear it frequently are weddings and funerals, both to celebrate life and death.

This is a very modern version, soft, full string section. The whole orchestral suite is around 19 minutes long, but this one section is the famous part. A purest would prefer what Bach wrote, exactly with the right number of soloists. But to be honest, this is what I prefer. Let me know which one you like best.

Same thing, but this time with original instruments.

Notice that the tuning is lower, down about 1/2 step. Old instruments were tuned lower. This would be close to what was performed in Bach’s time. This probably historically accurate, and it is well played. But for me, a non-string player, I find it a bit dry.

Finally Bach’s complete Third Orchestral Suite in D Major…

This contains the movement known today as “Air on a G String”. I enjoy watching the players, and there is a huge amount of energy. I think it’s a good video to watch.



Alt intervals, making us all crazy

WEDNESDAY, October 9, 2019

The written problem…

So far there have been exactly 13 intervals and various names for them. These are pretty straight-forward and logical. All the problems in describing what we hear comes for a conflict in systems.

Seven notes…

Long ago our musical system was very different. Essentially there were seven notes in the system, not 12, and the writing system that developed is based on that seven note system. The white keys on the piano are a pretty good visualization of how it once was. If you play only white notes, our staff system looks great. You don’t need extra symbols – no sharps, flats or naturals.

Five more notes were added…

Gradually over time five other notes got added, and those are roughly the same as black notes. The whole story is a lot more complicated, but this is a good start.

At first those five black notes were used now and then, sort of like flavoring, with caution. But gradually the old seven note system evolved into a 12 note system, and today we play the black notes as often as the white notes. The result is that there are no names for the black notes. There is no place for them on a staff. Instead, we have directional indications.

The old seven note system conflicts with the newer 12 note system.

Today there is a clash between what we hear and what we write. The directional indicators are only a very awkward fix.  Sharp means to shift one note to the right, and flat means to shift one note to the left. The natural sign was invented to warn people when sharps and flats disappear. So the result is that if you want to play the black note between C and D, it has no name. Instead, it borrows the name of the white notes on either side. That no-name-note can be either C# or Db, and you can’t tell which unless you are reading music. Otherwise it’s just “that black thing between C and D”.  Flip a coin. The old seven note system does not look good with 12 equally important notes, and that causes all the mess.

But we’re stuck with the old system…

Most problems we have with notation comes from the clash between the old seven note system and the modern 12 note system. It’s a lot like English spelling, which is horrible. It’s just too late to change everything. it would take generations for people to accept a new writing system, and most likely no one would be able to read old books or old writings.

The result of this hybrid attempt make 12 notes work in a a seven note system  is that there are always several ways to write any interval, and each way has a different name. 

It’s THIS weird…

A simple major third – such as C to E – may also be written as B# E, B# Fb, Dbb E, Dbb Fb and so on. This just scratches the surface. Fortunately, most of these odd ways in which we could write something so simple are not used, but there is at least one that is.

One example, alt major 3rd…

C Fb is a 3rd, a major 3rd. Play it on the piano. Look at your hands. Listen to it. It sounds the same as C E. It has to. But on paper suddenly you have a 4th, not a 3rd. C to F is a 4th, and no matter what signs you add, it remains a 4th in a score because on paper all interval names are described by letters. Remember, this was logical when there were only seven notes in an octave. C Fb is alt interval (a diminished 4th.) Clearly the difference on paper makes no sound difference, but visually it is often necessary to write an augmented chord. So all alt intervals, even the ones we end up needing, are only valid in writing. It is much like “to” “two” “too”. These three spellings make a difference for understanding what we are reading, but all three have the same sound. Alt intervals are like homonyms, different words that sound exactly the same.

The sound is the important thing…

In the end we ONLY care about the sound, so alt intervals are just weird names for things on a page that describe the oddities. Alt intervals are one ginormous, irritating, vexing, headache-producing pain, and I am only mentioning them because sooner or later you have to learn these crazy names to understand what most musicians are talking about when they talk shop and sound more like Martians than earth people. Think of alt intervals as Martian intervals, or Uranian intervals. Or names that were invented to make you and me feel confused.

And yet…

At times, as weird as it sounds, alt intervals have practical uses. For one thing, they are used by notation software for transposition, so I need them every day of my life to write music. I do eventually try to teach some of these odd terms to students. I just wish music were easier to explain.



Minor and major intervals

WEDNESDAY, October 9, 2019

Big and small…

2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths all work the same way. They come in big and small sizes, and to start out just play them on white notes. Then listen to them. The big ones have more black notes in between, the small ones less.


There are big and small 2nds. The big one is a major 2nd, and the small one is a minor 2nd. The major 2nd is a whole step or whole tone. The small one is a half step or a semi tone. There are alt names, but remember you don’t need them except when you write music, never for playing.


There are big and small 3rds. The big one is a major 3rd, and the small one is a minor 3rd. Unfortunately there are no better names. The minor 3rd is three half steps. The major 3rd is 4 half steps or two whole steps. There are, of course, alt names, but we never need them for playing.


There are big and small 6ths. The big one is a major 6th, and the small one is a minor 6th. Unfortunately there are no better names. The minor 6th is one half step bigger than a 5th. The major 6th is a whole tone bigger than a 5th. And of course there are alt names.


There are big and small 7ths. The big one is a major 7th, and the small one is a minor 7th. Again there are no better names. The minor 7th is one whole step smaller than an octave. The major 7th is one half step smaller than an octave. As with 2nds, 3rds and 7ths, there are alt names used only for writing music.