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Math in Music

Intermediate Studies

Lesson 5 - Section 1

Math in Music Again

It is Music Math time again. Every Major scale has Roman Numerals assigned to each note. Please view the image for this section now. The root note, C in this case, is I.

D is II
E is III
F is IV
G is V
A is VI
B is VII
High C is back to a root note

Not to hard too remember is it? This part is easy. It gets somewhat more confusing as we go so please pay close attention.

As we mentioned in previous lessons, songs are written based on a scale chosen by the composer. Each scale has a root note. In the previous example the root note is C. So far so good?

If I asked you to play the 5 note in this scale on your keyboard, which note would you play?

Answer = G

If I asked you to play the 7 note in this scale which note would you play?

Answer = B

The reason this lesson is so important is that it is designed to give you a good foundation for learning chords and for ear training in the lessons that follow. Both are valuable tools needed to play the piano or any other instrument well.

Math in Music

Lesson 5 - Section 2

Chord Progressions

If we were to write a song based on the C scale shown in the image for this section, the first and the last chord of the song would be C in most cases. Another way of saying this is if a song has a root note of C, the song would many times start with a C chord and end with a C chord. The song feels resolved, finished or complete in this way.

If you have some sheet music with chords on it, you would notice that many times the first chord of the song is based on the root note and the last chord of the song is also based on the root note. There are exceptions to this musical rule and we will study those later. If you don’t know what sheet music is, it is a single song published for the general public so that they may learn and enjoy playing a song that they have heard; such as on the radio or in a movie.

So what is a C chord? A chord is a set of notes, usually played with your left hand. As your left hand is playing a chord, your right hand is usually playing the melody. Chords are shown either in the bass clef as notes or they are shown above each measure in the treble clef. In the later case they are sometimes referred to as the guitar chords

These chords have a ordered pattern we call a progression. This progression is chosen by the composer. And, the progression usually repeats throughout the song. A simple chord progression would be:

I-IV-V-I or in the image example above C-F-G-C

Remember, a song usually starts on the root and ends on the root. The chords in between can be many and very different as long as they return to the root. This method of song writing gives the song a feeling of beginning and ending. If I were to write you a song in C and used the 5 chord (in our example G chord) to end the song, you would tell me without really knowing anything about music that the song sounds incomplete. “Why didn’t you finish this song?,” you would ask.

Balloon Song

Lesson 5 - Section 3

Chord Progression Example

Let’s take a look at a very simple song called “Balloons.”

The song ashionw in the image for this section is in the Key of C. The root note is C so, the first chord of the song is C and the last chord of the song is C. The chord progression is I-IV-V-I. Play the mp3 audio file below the image to hear “Balloons.” There is a four beat (or 1 measure) count off.

Notice that the song feels complete. It starts on C and ends on C in both the chords and the notes (most importantly the chords).

Play the right hand melody line (the treble clef notes) on your keyboard along with the mp3 audio file a few times.

Now look at the bass clef. One measure is missing something that I forgot to put in. Do you see what is missing? Hint: It starts with the letter R and ends in the letter T.

Progression with no resolution

Lesson 5 - Section 4

No Chord Progression Resolution

Play the mp3 audio file below the image in this section to hear “Balloons” ending with a G chord and a “D” note in the melody line.

Sounds like it needs to play on to get to an ending doesn’t it? The song feels incomplete.

Play the melody line on your keyboard. Do your fingers and brain tell you to play the line again and again because it is not over with?

This is why chord progressions and root notes are so important. They are used by the composer to bring a sense of “closure” in a song. Sometimes, the composer will purposely leave the song open with no closure. The audience is left feeling incomplete after the song. It can be a very uncomfortable feeling.

This is similar to a movie that dose not clean up all the loose ends in the plot at the end of the story. When I watch a movie like that I find myself saying something like, “Well what happened to those characters X and Y? Where did they go? What a lousy film!”

We all feel at ease with closure. It is a part of life and as you know, music reflects to us . . . a lot about life.

That’s the end . . .

BTW . . . did you find that missing rest in the last measure of the bass clef?

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