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Ask Edly (page 1)

Got a music theory-related question? If it's not already answered in these pages, e-mail it to me, and I'll do my best to answer it. Please include your first name, town, and state. (Don't worry, e-mail addresses will NOT be posted.) And please proofread your question! (I've gotten e-mails with so many typos that I couldn't even understand the question.) If I've got an answer worth sharing with others, I'll post it here in addition to e-mailing an answer to you directly. If I can't answer your question, I'll do my best to steer you in a helpful direction.

Also, if you have a contrasting, contradicting, or alternate answer to a question here, e-mail it to me, and I'll post it.

By the way, this page is intended first and foremost for readers of my books. The rest of you are welcome to submit questions, but preference will be given to my readers. Why? Quite simply, if your question is already answered in my books, I'd be duplicating my effort to answer here. Also, the answer won't be as complete as in the books.

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(Click on the summarized question link to go to the full question and answer. Or just scroll if you want to read 'em all. They're all on this page.)

Or go to Ask Edly page 2

Most recent sharp/flat confusion
Scale cho
ice in jamming with pop songs
Secondary dominants
Fear of really really tough questions
At what age and by what method do you suggest introducing children to formal music lessons?
Why do we say "C#", but write "#C", for example?
How do you suggest overcoming my problems learning diatonic chords?
How do I go about harmonizing a melody line?
Minor chords in major keys
Mediant/submediant confusion
Improvisation scale choice questions/transposition problem
Walton's First Symphony
Typos on pages 48, 131, 137, 138, and 143 in the 1st edition of the theory book (just pgs 131 & 136 in the 2nd edition)
Double sharps (x) or (##) in a blues scale?
Are accidentals in chord symbols to the left or the right of the note in question?
Seventh of chord is understood to be flatted, even though it's not notated as such
Why are diminished and dominant chords spelled and notated as they are, instead of a less confusing way?
...eager to hear how the #4 makes Lydian mode brighter than Ionian
Can't a French horn play in unison with a trombone?
What's the "correct" chord scale to use on an F7#11 in the key of G?
Tetrachords as discussed at the first ever "Intuition Convention"
Suggestions for patterns for improvisation
What are upbeats and downbeats?
More (unsummarized) questions and answers 
Song patterns

Does the key signature affect how chord symbols should be read?
Over what chords is Lydian flat 7th effective?
Switching minor scales and major scales within a blues tune
How to mix the blues scale and the natural minor scale in my solo playing?
I get discouraged by the progress of many of my students.
Chord construction

Go to Ask Edly page 2



I don't get the " most recent flat/sharp" to be added to a scale/key biz. What's the story with that?
--many people

Yeah, this gets a lot of people for a little while. Welcome to the club. First, a NOT: the 'most recently added accidental does NOT refer to the first sharp or flat you encounter in ASCENDING (or DESCENDING) a scale. Nope. Rather, think of the sharp scales as a club: Club Sharp, and the flat scales as a club: Club Flat. To belong to either club, you've got to get your flats and sharps in the right order. Otherwise you get thrown out into the chaotic world of accidentals being notated EVERY SINGLE TIME they occur. Yechhh! Okay, get this: If there's a key with one flat (the key of F or Dm, by the way), then the accused flat is always a Bb. The key with two flats (Bb or Gm, gang) has that same Bb, plus a special appearance by an Eb. See, the Bb is still there in first place position, as it'll always be, and the Eb comes in second. The key of Eb (and/or Cm, right?) has three flats. Got what the first two are? Bb and Eb. The third flat, which makes the key what it is, the key of Eb (and/or Cm, yah) is Ab. Look at any printed sheet music with these key sigs, and you'll find that they always come in this order. That is unless you're playing Bulgarian, Klezmer, or other Eastern European (and other) musics, in which case you'll find the accidentals mixed, deleted, and all mixed up. But if you understand standard key sigs and yer scales and modes, these will easily make sense.

Whew. Hope that helped.


I use the major pentatonic scale to jam along with some Eagles songs, such as "Take it Easy" and "Already Gone", but am having trouble figuring out what to use with some Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, such as "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." Any suggestions?
--Marty, Brigham City, UT

Actually, these songs are all much more alike than they are different, regardless of composers/performers. They are all mostly diatonic, using the I, IV, V (no surprise so far), and, to a lesser extent, the vim and iim chords. Therefore, the major and major pentatonic scales (on the appropriate root--it happens these are in the key of G!) are a great starting point.

To go to the next level, easier said than done, but well worth the journey, you'll want to be aware of the chord progression, and take advantage of chord-tones in your improvisation. This'll make a HUGE difference in the sound of your leads. Songs as simple as this are very forgiving in this respect, and are therefore again a good place to start.

Speaking of the Eagles, a song such as "Hotel California" is considerably more ornery. Just jamming on a minor pentatonic or blues scale (the-likely starting point. although the harmonic minor cries out for inclusion) will yield a pretty dull solo. On the other hand, following (or leading) the chord changes with your lead, including new chord-tones in favor of preceding chord-tones can result in a real tasty solo, given good phrasing, tone, texture, eta. Being in control of scale choice, chord-tone inclusion, and tension/resolution is what separates the greats from the rest of the gang.


Secondary dominants. What IS the deal with them, anyway?
-- David, Biddeford, ME

Again, this is confusing at first. Then, eventually it will become soooo obvious. Here's the deal: If you're asking this question, you must be comfortable with the tonic-dominant relationship. Dominants (seventh chords especially) live and love first and foremost to resolve up a fourth (which is the same thing as down a fifth, right?) to their respective tonics. Right? Okay, try this on: any chord can be a temporary tonic, with its own dominant preceding and pulling to it. That makes the dominant in question a secondary dominant. In the key of C, Am is vim (you know that). If it's preceded by an E7 chord, the E7 is serving as a secondary dominant. YOU do the music-math--it's late and I've got to go to bed--which makes it the "five of the Am chord", or the "five of six", or "V7/vim." Notice that the 7 appears when you get specific in writing. Folks do or don't mention it, depending on what they've had for dinner, how much they've had to drink, and/or how many initials they have after their name. Everydoobie's different.

To reiterate what I harp on repeatedly in the book, the E7 we've been interrogating is most simply described as "III7." But that only describes where it lives, not what it does for a job. In this case, and many cases (excluding deceptive cadences--see chapter 19: Cadences, and tritone substition--see chapter 20: tritone substitution, oddly enough), how it's functioning is as a secondary dominant: V7/vim. Good night.


I'm a bit apprehensive of someone e-mailing in a really really tough (or weird) question, such as "My music consists of polychords such as B/Bb7/F#. How do I analyze these for my 5th grade final quiz?"
--Edly, Kennebunkport, ME

I'd appreciate your apprehension, if I were you,which I am, so let me begin again by saying I appreciate your apprehension, but you're just going to have to deal with that on a case to case basis, dude. Stop whining and eat your musical Wheaties.


I have three children, all girls, under 5. I would love to give my children a solid foundation that they can build upon when they grow up. They already enjoy music and are exposed to music in a variety of forms in the home and in the church. At what age and by what method do you suggest introducing children to formal music lessons?
--Elizabeth, Bothell, WA

There'd be a different answer to this question for every person asked, but since you asked me, I'll only take responsibility for my answer. I hope it'll be of some help. For the most part, I figger that kids at this age, and even older, should be climbing trees and riding bikes until they express an interest in music. (Sorry, "Mozart effect"!) An exception to this is a child who has obviously exceptional musical aptitude--one who, without any adult intervention, sits down at a piano and picks out familiar melodies, or won't put the family ukelele down, for example. I'd be cautious about starting a young 'un (five years old, say) on traditional instrumental or vocal lessons. There's time for that later. But, of the children-oriented methods: Suzuki, Orff, and Kodaly, to name a few, my personal favorite is the Orff method. Carl Orff is best known as the composer of the very hip "Carmina Burana", but also came up with what is, oddly enough, called 'the Orff Method.' I was first introduced to the results of this on a show on KPFA (ultimately fabulous radio station from Berkeley, California), where a group of kids played sophisticated, kidly, fun pan-world music on a variety of instruments. I was bowled over. No twinkling stars or little lambs here; no violin or piano virtuosos (yet). Rather, intriguing, compelling music of perhaps identifiable ethnic origins, played by kids playing together. And I'll tell you, the ensemble was beautiful. Since then, I've bought a couple Orff-kidly records, and enjoy them primarily as a listener, and secondarily as a teacher. I figure that that's a good sign.

Personally, I value a healthy relationship with music over a virtuosic relationship with music. The world would be a poorer place without Mozart's music, but I gotta wonder if Mozart's life wouldn't have been a happier one with less pushing from the parental sector. Geez, I feel like a preacher!

Lastly, in a more generic and less contraversial vein, you owe it to your kiddos or any age to try several different teachers before settling on one. Try three or so lessons with as many teachers as as many friends whom your dialing finger can stand dialing recommend. Busy as you must be, stick around and actively observe all of them. Talk with your kid about how comfortable they felt. Factor in your own comfort level with what you saw. Please don't call your local music school and sign your kid up with a semester of lessons with their recommended teacher without first giving 'em the once over.

Hope that's of some help.


This is a fairly basic question, but one that is bugging me. Why do we say C#, but in music notation, the # comes BEFORE the note? My guess is that the folks who created "notation" put the "adjective before the noun" ("sharp C"), but somewhere along the way, someone else decided the noun should go first (The Italians or Spanish?).
-- Michael, Baton Rouge, LA

Good question. Fun answer. I agree with your answer, except might put the chicken before the horse - or is that the egg before the carriage? Whichever way things actually went, speech to notation or notation to speech (although I'd wager the farmer, not the ladder [sics- sorry, really bad puns; couldn't resist] is the way it went), I'm glad that the accidental comes BEFORE the note when notated. Afterward feels like it would be that fraction of an inch on the staff too late, whereas I don't mind it at all in speech. Maybe I'm just used to it because that's the way it is.

If that's not a serious or complete or scholarly enough answer, I'd post your question on the newsgroup <<rec.music.theory> as there are some very hard-core intellectual theory types there who love chewing on these kinds of questions. You'd no doubt get a bunch of interesting responses.


Are there any memory "tricks" to memorizing the scale chords of each key or do you just "get it" after a while? It's pretty important to know, for example, that F is the IV chord in C major, right? It's just a jumble in my brain right now. For some reason, I'm really having trouble getting this information to stick in my mind. Any suggestions you might have will be greatly appreciated.

It's amazing that I've played music for so long and yet with so little understanding. It frustrates me that I wasn't taught these things as I was learning to play the harp and piano. Maybe my teachers just thought that I already knew why I needed to learn scales and key signatures. I catch myself starting a new piece without even looking at the key signature or trying to figure out what chords to expect! Is there hope for me?

Given what you said in your second paragraph, it sounds like you could perhaps benefit from getting away from your instrument(s) for a bit. Here's why: if you know how to construct a scale, chord, or key's diatonic chords AWAY from your instrument, you could translate that knowledge superquick to your instrument-and then you just play it, because you know how to play your instrument. Perhaps you don't play it WELL on your instrument (yet), but that's okay, because that's what practice is for. (That's one possible approach. You'll have to find out what works well for you, knowing yourself as you do, better than anyone else. A contrasting approach, below, is hands-on.) It's cozy for technique and understanding to grow side by side in a musician.

Anyway, it's "important" to me "to know, for example, that F is the IV chord in C major." (I can't say for sure if it'll be important to you.) I use it all the time, but if I ever spaced it for some reason, I'd figure it out without missing a beat. It's a question of HOW you know it. Do you "know" it because you memorized it because you were told you had to, or knew you'd get a bad grade, or your wrists would get beaten if you didn't?

Hands-on: one can learn keys, their signatures, and their diatonic chords either of two ways. The first is by hard-core memorization. Some people prefer this, but I prefer the second way, which is through use. Start with a simple folk song or two, harmonize it using I, IV, and IV; as few chord changes as possible-just enough to make it sound basically right- and try playing it in a couple of different keys. Then try adding in some iim, iiim, and vim where your ear likes 'em, and then try that in a couple of keys. It will all, over time, leak into your brain, hopefully without your hitting your head on the wall much, if at all.

Sure there's hope for you! Many instrumental teachers are, well, mostly instrumental teachers! Their focus is (am I repeating myself yet?) mostly on the instrument, and secondarily on the other aspects of music. The very fact that you are now wanting to become more fluent on the musical, rather than instrumental, aspects is a great first step. The next steps will take you where you want to go with patience and practice. Take your time, and go easy on yourself. --Edly

I understand key signatures and how to construct diatonic chords. What I have trouble with is remembering what the scale chords are for each key without having to count up from the bottom. I may memorize the D major scale chords one day so that I can instantly say that F#m is the iii chord, and AM is the V chord, etc., but then the next day I have to count up from the bottom again. I've made little drills for myself where I randomly put numbers down on a piece of paper and then go back and fill in the corresponding note (or chord). Even doing that, it doesn't seem to "stick."

I was told to play the scale chords and say out loud DM = I, Em = ii, F#m = iii, etc. until it becomes second nature. Is this the best way, or is there a better way? Flash cards? Exercises?
-- Nancy, Arvada, CO

It could certainly be fine for some. Flash cards and exercises too, if that's a path you like. Otherwise, I'd say stop "starting at the bottom and going up"! Start with I, IV, and V in as many or few keys as you'd like, then slowly add in a diatonic minor chord or two.


On my English concertina, I am attempting to move from single notes to adding harmonizing notes to the melody line. If this is all written in for me in some arrangement such as that in a mandolin piece (which seems to favor intervals of sixths), everything is fine. If I want to add them myself, how do I decide between adding sixths, fifths, thirds, etc. Is it just a matter of what sounds good or is there some kind of underlying theory that would give me a formula for choosing?
--John, Davis, CA

Yours is definitely a good question. In (very) short, chord-tones are the place to begin. Look at the melody in the context of the accompanying chords. Generally, chord-tones in the melody like to be harmonized with chord-tones in the harmony. Then you connect the dots. Simplest is parallel harmony (thirds or sixths are safest until you know what you're doing). If thirds, don't work for a phrase, then sixths very often will. The interval can certainly change from phrase to phrase, as well as within a phrase, but if you feel like you're FORCED to change too often, you may be trying to use the "wrong" interval. Try Silent Night for starters. It can mostly be harmonized with thirds and sixths-not all, but mostly. Try it.

You are not being too analytical. Those who do this without the analytical understanding of it are fortunate: they innately understand what to do intuitively. Most others, such as yourself, from the sound of it, have to experiment, starting from some analytical understanding. Remember, trust your ear. Make mistakes and learn from them. Bit by bit, you will build your ability to harmonize until it comes naturally and easily.

Another thought: learn prefab harmonizations of tunes, that is, those done by others, you'll gradually see "how it's done."


In the key of e minor, I have a chord of A C# E. Now, I know that A is the IV chord right?? So, with it obviously being major, would that make that chord a secondary dominant??

Not necessarily! Could very easily be a dorian mode progression. Very common.

So, then I guess I don't understand why in the key of A minor for instance, why the E chord is major- I know that it is the V of the scale, but there isn't a G# in the key signature!
--Alison , Minnesota

Well, the E chord could be major or minor depending on what it's doing right at that moment. A song in A minor could, and often DOES have both an Em and E chord within the same song. Look at Chapter 14--Diatonic Chords and Functions.


I'd like to know how the scale tone names are derived. Especially the mediant (iii) and the submediant (vi). It doesn't make sense to me that the mediant is the 3rd note of the scale and the submediant is the 6th. The other names do make sense -- the subdominant (4th note) is under the dominant (5th note), the supertonic (2nd note) is over the tonic (1st note).
--Cathy, Climax, NY

Hi. Join the club. Here's the best explanation I've heard:

Mediant=middle (more or less), right? The mediant is in the middle (more or less) of the tonic and dom.

The SUBmediant is in the middle (more or less) of the SUBdom and the tonic. Each (med and submed) is the THIRD of the tonic or subdom chords, respectively.

Does that make sense? It really helps in remembering 'em, and probably would've been good to include in the book. Second edition maybe.

About "the other names do make sense -- the subdominant (4th note) is under the dominant (5th note)": yes, positionally true. Also in terms of FUNCTION, it is the NEXT MOST "dominant" scale degree after the true dominant, so, also FUNCTIONALLY true.


I've been recruited by a local band to play a trumpet solo on a couple of their pieces in a week. I asked the lead guitar guy what scale I should play and he told me the one he used most was the pentatonic scale. That's easy enough to figure out-- just take the major scale for the key and drop the fourth and the seventh, right?

Okay, so I show up for practice and sound like Little Joey from the 7th grade Jr. High band.

Now the chord progression goes like this (it's a 4 bar progression):

E / G#maj7 / F#maj7 / A

which I transpose to the following for the trumpet:

Db / Fmaj7 / Ebmaj7 / Gb


Wrong. You play Bb trumpet, the standard trumpet available nowadays, right? If so, you transposed wrong: you need to play everything a WHOLE-STEP higher, not a minor third lower (check out the transposition chapter. If you've read it, read it again, very CAREFULLY!). Your (mistaken) transposition was for an Eb instrument, alto or bari sax for instance. Now correctly:

E / G#maj7 / F#maj7 / A in concert key

F# / A#maj7 / G#maj7 / B, more easily enharmonically spelled:

Gb / Bbmaj7 / Abmaj7 / B

You sure that those are both maj7 chords, not either of 'em a minor7?

If so, might be safest to approach this progression through arpeggios rather than one scale. Learn the arpeggios first. Then start adding non chord-tones bit by bit as you go along.

Now the pentatonic scale in Db would be:
Db Eb F A Bb Db

Not quite. The A note should be an Ab. more later, but that should get you on the right track. Unless you're comfortable in the key of F#, I'd suggest you suggest to the band that they modulate up or down a half-step for your solo. That would give you, respectively, either:

G / Bmaj7 / Amaj7 / C


F / Amaj7 / Gmaj7 / Bb.

What do I play when it comes to the bar where Gb is the chord? That's not in the scale and doesn't sound great with the other chords. How about rhythm? My quarter notes aren't very exciting.

Without knowing more about the song it's a bit hard to say, but yes, all quarters will make for a boring solo. Think in phrases! (also, read the "Improv Ideas" chapter of "Edly's Music Theory for Practical People."

Can I switch keys in the middle and still jive with the chords?

You can jive [sic] all you want, dude. As long as you stay with the progression then you will jibe with the chords. If it changes key then you can certainly do so; if you want to play more "outside," you can switch keys even if the progression doesn't. So on.

Should I use the blues scale instead? The song I'm playing on is kind of an Elvis-Presleyish love song with a bluesy groove. The background vocalist is definitely singing pentatonic, though. Hope you can help.
--Peter, Orem, UT

It doesn't seem as though that'd be the direction to go: this doesn't look like a bluesy progression to me, although without knowing the melody to the song, I'm definitely shooting in the dark here.

Don't know if I was much help. Without knowing the song (or hearing it once) or knowing what kind of effect you'd be trying to get across in your solo, I'm having a hard time answering this for you, but if you backed me up against a wall, I suggest starting with:

Gb: Gb anything scale (as you wish)

Bbmaj7: Bb Lydian

Abmaj7: Ab Lydian

B: B Lydian or something else.


As I am working through your book I note you suggest listening to Walton's First Symphony often. Could you suggest a site on the WWW where I might download and hear a clip of it? Thanks.
--John, Corvallis, OR

Hi John. Nice to hear from you. I'm not much up on music buying/listening on the web. But, I'm of the opinion that this one is worth just going out and buying. I believe in it strongly and without reservation. If it doesn't hit you right off, it is an investment that will pay off over several years. And I get no kickbacks from this!!!!! I love it. I bought it for my trombone-playing cousin because the brass writing is so glorious. At first, he said thanks, but ehhhh. Several months later, he said, thanks...... WOW!!!! This one is my favorite 20th century British symphony, with Randall Thompson and Kurt Weill's second symphonies holding first prizes for American and German, respectively. Be well, Edly


I believe I have found a genuine mistake on page 137 The F# harmonic minor scale doesn't end on the tonic that it started on.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

The final "#" is indeed missing. This has gotten by readers of three years! Thanks for catching this in time for the second edtion!

I found a typo in the index on page 143 in the page references for the word mediant.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

Righto. So many thanks. This also was corrected in the second edition. And here's one that wasn't caught in time for the second edition: on pg 136 of the second edition (pg 138 in the first edition), the root of the Abm11 should, oddly enough, be an Ab rather than an A natural.

In the notation example on the bottom of page 48, you've written "mb5" for the fourth 4-note chord, when I think it should be "7b5."
--Michael Cohen, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan

Oy! You're right! Thanks for finding this. You're the first to find it (or, at least, to tell me)! Well, I'll certainly correct it for the THIRD edition, due out sometime before the year 3000.

Also: on page 131 in the answers section, at the bottom for Ch. 3, where the line is for 5 flats, it should be G flat, not A flat.


There was another opportunity to use the double sharp on the C# blues scale. You used consistently a note and its raised note for the third and fourth scale degrees. When you did C# you used F# and G instead of the parallel construction of F# and F##. Another opportunity to use double sharps in a meaningful way.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

I see the instance you're referring to. This is a touchy thing, because in the blues scale, it's both a raised 4 AND a lowered 5. So is it a Fx (F##) or a G natural? Well, I'd say both. So, I chose the simpler spelling. And given the blues scale's living in the vernacular rather than the historical, I chose the simpler enharmonic spelling. One could say the same of the preceding Bb blues scale. Should it be E natural or Fb? I'll leave that decision to others. I'm more concerned, especially in the case of blues scales, and other "non-academic scales" with the right notes, rather than their spelling. But your point is, nonetheless, a good one, and your attention to detail, right on!


I find the notation 7 flat 5 flat 9 somewhat confusing to know if the flat symbol is to the right or to the left of the note flatted.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

Yes, I hear you. The accidental is always to the left in the case of chord symbols, whether abbreviated (7 b5 b9), or written out (7 flat 5 flat 9). It's the same as on a staff, where the accidental also comes to the left of the note. The big exception, of course, is notes with accidentals notated as text: Bb, F#, etc., where the accidental comes to the right.



I find it puzzling also that a minor chord has a flatted seventh without notating it as such.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

I'd need a little more detail on this one. A minor chord, strictly, has NO 7th. A m7 has a b3 and a b7. The m3 is self-explanatory. The b7 harkens back to 7th chords (being THE exception) having a b7th unless stated otherwise, as in M7 (major 7). Does that help? That's discussed at least one place in the book (Chords Summary & Exceptions, maybe?), although maybe I should make a bigger noise about it.


Also I find puzzling that a diminished seventh chord really has a sixth in it. I could see calling it a diminished sixth. Or a diminished flatted seventh chord. I would like the seventh to be the seventh scale member in the original tonic scale. I would like to have C7 in the key of C be C maj7 and C flatted7 be the C with the Bflat. Maybe noted C-7. iim7 would still be D F A C etc. But C dim7 would be c eflat g flat B and Cdim-7 would be C Eflat Gflat Bflat, and C dim6 would be c eflat gflat a. It's probably too late for that. But what are the sensible reasons for the present notation especially for the diminished chords.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

Whew! That's a lot for one paragraph! Let's see:

To address your first point AND partially address your final question, a diminished seventh chord has TWO dim intervals in it: a dim 5th and a dim 7th. This is because when you lower the top note of either a perfect OR minor interval, it becomes diminished. So, major seventh down to minor seventh down to diminished seventh, which is the same as a sixth. "Diminished sixth" wouldn't work. By now you probably see why, but just in case, it's because the interval would be an enharmonic perfect fifth!

The one thing I DO agree with you about is the messy dominant seventh exception thing. A lot of students new to theory would be a lot less confused if C7 were C E G B and C dominant 7 were called something like C dom7. But alas--and this is part two of the answer to your last question--that's just not how the lingo evolved. Just like bad urban planning can lead to traffic congestion, I guess.

C-7 is already taken: C minor seventh. I think it's confusing enough already that "-" can mean either minor OR flat, and that "+" USUALLY applied to the fifth, but not ALWAYS, as in C7+9 (=C7#9). Again, like language, the notation system evolved (and is still evolving), rather than being invented, so we're left with something of a hodge-podge.
In terms of your ideas about renaming the diminished chords, see my first point above. Other than that, I share some of your revisionist tendencies: there are some changes I'd like to make in the English language. I'd like to be able to reshevel myself when I feel disheveled. I'd like theories to be bunked before they're debunked, and then for them to be subsequently rebunkable. And so on.


I really enjoyed the modes and beyond at the end of the book. I am eager to get to a keyboard to find out how the #4 makes that mode brighter than the Major. I am going to try composing a melody that moves from bright to dark and then back again to bright through the modes... Thanking you in advance.
--Bob, Seattle, WA

(You can also use your cello, of course.) Yes, a great idea. Also, write a melody where one strain is in phrygian or locrian and the next is in lydian, for example. That's a great effect. In fact, there's a CD called Mythomania ( dumb name, great CD) of German medieval music that has a song that does something very much like that. I'd be more specific, but I'm listening to Saint-Saens' Concert Piece for horn & orch, and I don't want to take it off! You are welcome. Great to get such meaty questions. Gotta go. Do stay in touch!


I was told by a music major that a trombone and a horn in F can't play the same part musically because it doesn't sound good. By that I mean a horn playing an F and a trombone playing a C, same pitch. But I heard the two instruments in an arrangement of music playing the same pitches. What's up with that? I heard that there is some kind of effect or law or something saying that it doesn't sound good an alto instrument playing the same pitch as a tenor instrument, but then I heard the two playing the same part in a piece of music.

First off, a (French) horn playing its F will be a concert Bb, not a concert C. The easiest way to remember the transposition of transposing instruments goes something like this: "When a horn in F plays its C, it comes out an F" (a fifth lower, by the way). "When a trumpet in Bb plays its C, it comes out a Bb", and so on. See? So, to complete the first part of your answer, the horn would have to play its G, not F, in order for it to be in unison with the trombone's (concert) C.

Now that we've dispensed with the nit-picky details part of the answer, let's get to the crux of your question. A French horn and trombone playing in unison will sound absolutely wonderful. The horn's conical bore yields a less sharp attack than the bone's cylindrical bore. The result will sound like a boney horn, or a horny bone, if you will. Examples abound in scores all around.


I am playing Moonglow on the piano in the Key of G. The first chord is Am7 so the scale is A dorian. The next chord is F7+11. What mode will allow me to figure out the chord scale.? If I understand your book, F in the Key of G is a locrian mode which would not work here. Thanks.
--Vince-Wynnewood, PA.

Vince: Great question. In general, I personally prefer to think of scale choices as much as possible as based in the key of the song or phrase (with chord-tones being resolved notes and nonchord-tones being notes of higher tension), rather than thinking in terms of chord scales (where the root of the scale of choice changes with each chord).

For example, with a chord progression such as Gmaj7, Em7, Am7, D7, I just think of a G major scale, keeping in mind the changing chord-tones, rather than four "chord scales": G Ionian, E Aeolian, A Dorian, and D Mixolydian. Yech. Besides, the way my mind works, at least, the first method describes better, and more succinctly, what's going on musically, than does the second.

In your example, starting with the Am7, I think of the G major scale, knowing the chord tones are A, C, E, and G. For the F7#11, I'd just modify the G major scale to take into account the new chord tones, yielding G, A, B, C, D, Eb, F, G. You could call this a G mixolydian flat 6, if you like. In fact, the notes in the F7#11 (F, A, C, Eb, G, B) include all the notes in that scale except the D, which would be a standard extension anyway.

Make sense? If not, or if you prefer to think in terms of chord scales, the above scale would be called an F Lydian flat 7 (or Mixolydian #4).

Further, you could use this general rule: the Lydian flat 7 chord scale gets the "most likely suspect" award for any dominant 7th chord that resolves in any way other than a fourth up (fifth down).


In your Theory book, first edition, you call Chapter 13 "Tetrachords". I've a friend, a musician, who says that tetrachords aren't simultaneous, but some kind of sequential ordering of notes. I checked a music dictionary, and they say that tetrachords are something else: an interval into two of which an octave can be broken down. Your usage seems the most intuitive, but I'm wondering if it is consistent with the conventional musical lexicon.
--Michael Cohen, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan

Great question. The "interval into two of which an octave can be broken down" would be the tritone (#4 or b5), C to F# and F# to C, for example.

In traditional usage, a tetrachord is a series of four notes separated by certain intervals. In the case of major scales, the intervals are whole-step, whole-step, half-step. Two tetrachords a whole-step apart form a major scale.

To me, the coolest thing about the tetrachord approach to scales is that, like the circle of fifths, it shows the progression of scales and keys. Below, any two consecutive tetrachords form a major scale.

C D E F | G A B C | D E F# G | A B C# D | E F# G# A | B C# D# E | F# G# A# B | * Db Eb F Gb | Ab Bb C Db | Eb F G Ab | Bb C D Eb | F G A Bb | C D E F, and so on.

* enharmonic change

Getting back to my book, in the second edition, I changed the title of the chapter to "Chords: 7ths (& 6ths)," foregoing intuition for convention. Thank you for attending the first ever Intuition Convention.


When improvising jazz tunes I run out of ideas for patterns or runs. Any suggestions? Second, it's odd that when playing the blues one can use the same blues scale all through the tune, but it sounds terrible if you play just one particular scale all through a standard, Why? Thanks for any insight.
--Bill, via e-mail

Assuming you do have your arpeggios and scales/modes down, my first suggestion would be to stop thinking in terms of patterns and runs. Try improvising with your voice. Yup, that's right. Sing! Think of what you're playing as creating a melody instead of a bunch of strung-together phrases. This will help you rely more on your ear, and less on formulas. Having said that, and in direct contrast, there are books of arpeggio- and scale-based patterns for improvisation. Without hearing you play, it's hard to say which of these approaches would be better for you.

All of this is easier said than done, and will require some time and energy on your part. For more ideas, I'd recommend the Improvisation Ideas chapter in my theory book.

Regarding your blues/jazz point I'll say this: The dissonances resulting from the juxtaposition of the blues scale and blues chords are part of what make the blues sound like the blues. Secondly, simple blues stays firmly in one key. Jazz can dance through several key centers faster than you can say "Two, Five, One." If your note choices don't reflect that movement, the clientel will spill their martinis, and you may well not get asked back to the gig.


I recently purchased your book on theory and a few terms I keep running into elsewhere were not mentioned or defined. They are downbeat and upbeat. Thanks for whatever help you can provide.
--Jim, Burlington, VT

Most simply, downbeats are beats: 1 2 3 4, or if you're tapping your foot, when your foot hits the floor. Upbeats are exactly in between the beats, when your foot is highest in the air, and when you count "and": (1) + (2) + (3) + (4) +. Hope that answers your question, and that you're enjoying the book.



I've read your book and have enjoyed it. I have a question about song patterns.

You list the basic parts of songs such as verses, chorus', the coda, introduction, phrases, etc. Then you describe some different structures, ie. ways in which phrases are combined, such as AABA, ABBA AABBCC.., etc. What's confusing me is how these parts relate. Is the structure found within a chorus or verse or does the structure consist of verses and chorus'? Or is the answer both? --Chris, Cape Neddick ME

Howdy, Neighbah!

Glad you enjoyed the book. Good question about song anatomy. The quick answer is, "it depends."

In so-called jazz standards (show tunes, etc.), a chorus typically consists of 4 phrases, AABA, respectively. More often than not, the verses are omitted, and in in the case of many older songs, are all but forgotten.

In Celtic music (jigs & reels, etc.) and other folk forms, the letters generally refer to repetitions of entire sections (each section usually consisting of 4 phrases), and one typical form is AABB(CC), although sometimes you find things like AAB. The order of the phrases varies from song to song.

In classical music, Rondo form is usually described as ABACADAE, etc. In this case, the letters refer to sections rather than phrases.

Lastly, in pop music, whatever the phrases make-up of the verses and choruses, there's too much variation in how verses and choruses come to codify exactly, but a common technique is to delay the first chorus by repeating the verse first: vs, vs, chorus, verse, chorus, etc.

Hope this helps.

With a bit of practice, you'll be able to pick out all these form anatomies by ear. Edly



Would you mind answering another question for me? This one is a definitely about something that's been tougher for me to grasp. It's tough to even verbalize in the form of a question.

This has to do with the chord symbols floating about the bars I encounter on sax music. It's not to be confused with how chords are actually written out for piano music. I see that sax sheet music often has the chord progressions above the bars. Of course that music will also have a key signature. But the key signature doesn't really have any effect on reading the chords do they? I mean, a chord written above, such as Dm, already specifies the root as D. If I'm playing the piano(or arpeggiating with the sax), won't I simply hit the the notes together as D, F#, A? Or am I supposed to bring the key signature into the equation? For example, if the key sig was Eb, would that make Dm a relative designation(like IIm)? In other words would the root then be based on where D lies on Eb relative to its location on C major(like F A C I think)?

If the chords are played as written, regardless of the key signature, then how would you transpose them to a different key? Say if the piece was in C and you wanted to transpose it to Eb, what would D, F#, A of Dm then become?

I knew nothing about music until I picked up your book so the fact that I can even phrase a music question is testimony to the efficacy of your book. I've come a long way. --Chris, Cape Neddick ME


Very cool question!!

But before I answer it, let's fix two mistakes: Dm is D F A, not D F# A. And a Dm chord in the key of Eb would be a viim, not a iim-- you analyze chords relative to the key signature of the song, not relative to C.

To boil down your question: Does the key signature have any effect on reading the chords?

No. A Dm is D F A regardless of the key signature.

Short answer to your transposition question: A Dm in the (original) key of C would be a Fm in the (new) key of Eb. It's iim in both cases.

You've come a long way baby. I'd encourage you to reread the book, though. Most people miss a lot in one reading. Maybe it's my fault as the author, or maybe it's just due to the amount of material covered (or maybe it's like a good movie: the second time through, you noticed all those nifty details you missed the first time).

In your case, I recommend reviewing the chapters on chord construction, major scales & keys, diatonic chords, and transposition. Your transposition question is answered more fully there.



Over what chords, or set of chords, may the Lydian flat 7th be effective. I am primarily a blues rock guitarist but am always interested in scale possibilities. I play over minor chords, blues progressions but usually I am not playing over dominant chords with flatted or sharped 5ths or sharp ninths (pretty much dominant 7th) --thank you, Alex

Hi Alex

A common use of the Lydian b7 scale is over a dominant 7th chord, where the chord resolves down a half-step (such as Db7 to C). (The chord doesn't have to have a b5 or #4 in it.) In jazz lingo, the dominant seventh chord is functioning as a substitute for the five chord ("sub V") chord. The scale can certainly be used in other instances, and I go into this in a lot more detail in the theory book, but this is the quickie answer. Hope it helps!


I know a bit about the different kinds of scales that make different musical moods, like how Carlos Santana always plays in a certain kind of scale and how it makes him sound more like himself instead of other guitarists. I was wondering if there's a way to figure out what scale they use by listening to them. Also I was wondering about switching minor scales and major scales within a blues tune, I know that Clapton does this a lot, but is there a certain place in the progression where it's best to do this without sounding like you went to the wrong note? Thanks man.

Here comes the short answer to only some of your questions. First, if you practice (and even better, actively train) your ear, you can definitely identify a solo or melody's source scale(s). Put this together with some knowledge of theory, and you can do it in your sleep. My very favorite ear-training program is called Listen (sorry, Mac only) and is available from <http://www.edly.com>.

As for switching scales within a blues tune, either the minor or major pentatonic scale will sound good over the I and V chord, whereas you might want to be careful of the natural 3rd degree of the major pentatonic scale over the IV chord. (The minor pentatonic will work great though.) For example, in C, the major pentatonic is C D E G A C (and the minor pentatonic is C Eb F G Bb C). The E note will rub in a way that you may not like against the F (IV) chord: F A C (or F A C Eb, if it's F7). Sound confusing? Sorry 'bout that; this is a quicker answer than it would ideally be.

Here's a looser answer: Part of what makes the blues sound like the blues is the way the notes of the melody rub up against the notes of the harmony. If they rub in a way that you're used to hearing in bluesy contexts, it will sound bluesy. If it's a rub of a different color, then it may well just sound wrong.

There are your yin and yang answers, each incomplete. Like yin and yang, put them together, and you may have a whole.


Hello Edly:
I've visited your site recently and was encouraged to write because of the reviews of your book 'Edly Paints the Ivories Blue'. I get discouraged by the progress of many of my students. It seems so little time is used practicing, I wonder what causes them to think that it's even possible to retain any resulting progress from one lesson to the next. As a matter of fact, lessons are becoming more like supervised practice sessions. Any assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated. I really want to encourage my students, and I see myself as patient and complimentary with them, but, those qualities just don't seem to get the job done.

I'm 26, I've taught for almost four years, I teach all styles except jazz & classical. I've recently had upwards of forty students. I have formal training in neither music nor teaching. Justin

You're young, haven't been teaching for long, and from the sound of it, have had few or no teachers from which you can model your approach. That's a lot of counts against you. I'm hoping you are both a good player, and an intuitive teacher. You're definitely doing something right if you've had more than 40 students at a time.

Do I understand you correctly when you say you have "no formal training" in music, that you are self-taught?

Early on, I made it a habit of asking how much the student practiced since the last lesson. Some answer very specifically. Adults are almost always completely honest. Older teens too. Younger than that, the less specific the response, the less the student practiced, guaranteed.

I'll say this: patience is a virtue, but there comes a time to say to a student: "You're not practicing enough to achieve the critical mass necessary to progress. I'd suggest you consider whether the amount of time you're putting in justifies your shelling out your (or your parents') hard earned bucks for these lessons." Certainly, if it's a child, then the parent needs to be involved in this discussion. Edly


You're right, I am self taught. I've broken myself of saying so outright because I've noticed people who aren't involved in music are particularly impressed with self-taught musicians, (I don't know why), and I wish I had more financial capacity to study with some local teachers because I feel as if I'm missing something sometimes. Sometimes I ask the student what it has worked on, and sometimes we need to discuss how much time is spent practicing. Yes, I do try to keep parents as involved as possible, but with some students, the parents just aren't as involved in the student's life as perhaps they should be. My approach to teaching is to do what the student wants in regard to the songs learned while educating them on the finer points of knowing what is going on musically. That seems like a silly statement, but I've heard to many students' complaints about teachers who only teach what the teacher claims is real music. My neighboring teacher at the store where I work refuses to teach certain songs or styles because of his personal beliefs. I might be wrong but, I find it more of the parents responsibility to monitor what their child listens to. It's usually the parents money purchasing the students CDs. Students are interested in music because of what they listen to, and if we want them to listen to "better music" it is our responsibility to demonstrate the open-mindedness we wish to see in them, (not that I think any music is inherently better than any other). I really appreciate you taking the time to assist me in making certain I may or may not be on track with some things. I find it difficult to locate people with time to share their better understanding with other teachers.

Thanks Again,



Thinking chords. Take the 'C chord' for example: A C major chord has the intervallic spacing of Tone, Tone, Semi-tone, Tone; when advancing from C to G. This is the equivalent of 3.5 tones or 7 semi-tones.

What if we were to flat the E (per minor), one half tone, and raise the G one half tone. We would still have the 3.5 tones or 7 semi-tones. But we do not call this a major chord. I am NOT certain what this particular construct would be called. Augmented minor?? Why not call it a major? What should it be called?

Cheers, Ken Walper(AARXB)


The quick and simple answer is, "absolutely call it major--specifically, Ab (major)." More completely, it's an Ab chord in first inversion. I'll explain inversions in a bit.

But first, I want to address and correct one step in your thought process. Raising the G a half-step (semi-tone), gives you eight half-steps, not seven. Right?!

Chords need to be defined more specifically, though, in order to make sense. Working with your half/whole-step model, a major chord could be defined like this: root, the note 4 half-steps (a major third) higher, and the note another 3 half-steps (a minor third) higher. In fewer words, a major third with a minor third piled on top. This is called "root position," because the root is on the bottom. Still with me? Now, if you transpose the root an octave higher, the chord is said to be in "first inversion." If you then transpose the new bottom note an octave higher, the chord is now in "second inversion." If you just can't stop yourself, go ahead and transpose the new new bottom note an octave higher, and, ta-dah, the chord is again in root position, but an octave higher than it started out.

With that in mind, can you see that the notes C Eb Ab are indeed an Ab chord in first inversion (since root position would be Ab C Eb)?

Lastly, I always encourage students to think of chords not as stacked half- and whole-steps or intervals, but rather as being derived from the major scale. If you understand that a major scale has all whole-steps except half-steps in between the third and fourth and seventh and eighth notes, you can then just adopt and modify those notes for chords, like this:

major: 1 3 5
minor: 1b3 5
augmented: 1 3 #5

and so on. Of course, you can invert to your heart's content. I hope this answer helps!



I have an enquiry here: how to mix the blues scale and the natural minor scale in my solo playing? Thanks and God bless...

Les Paul Cherry Sunburst

Dear Mr. Paul,

It's quite a surprise , and quite an honor, to hear from a legend such as yourself!

Before I answer the question, let's fill in some info for those who may not know what you're talking about.

The blues scale is 1 b3 4 #4 5 b7 (8), or in the key of A, A C D D# E G (A). The natural minor scale is 1 2 b3 3 4 5 b6 b7 (8) , or in the key of A (minor), A B C D E F G (A).

Okay, here goes. In a blues/rock context, the natural minor scale becomes useful when chords that use the b6 (flat sixth note) crop up, such as bVI or ivm, F and Dm respectively, in A.

It's because of the notes in the chords. The F chord is F A C, while the Dm chord is D F A. Both chords contain the F note, which isn't in the blues scale. By adding the F note to the scale during your solo, especially during a chord which contains that note, you're bring the melody and harmony together in a way that the ear likes, even if the listener isn't aware of it. It also makes you sound like you know what you're doing.

This could be applied more generally. Try this on for size: Whenever you're soloing using mostly one scale (such as the blues scale), it'll sound good if you add notes that are in the current chord but are not in the scale. Reread that a couple of times if necessary. It's an important one.

For example, try soloing over the progression Am to E using a blues scale, but during the E chord, add a G# to your scale. See how good it sounds? You're picking up a note from the chord and adding it too the scale. Once you start doing this, you'll notice (I hope) how relatively consonant the G# is, and how relatively dissonant the G natural is. Remember, dissonant does not mean "bad sounding." It means "tense." The tension of notes that are in the scale but not in the chords is one of the things that gives the blues (and styles of music derived from it) its characteristic sound. By tastefully adding (or not adding) these missing notes, your controlling how bluesy (or greensy or redsy) your solo will sound.

Getting back to your examples, there's a song in which the big guitar solo is over im, bVII, bVI, bVII, or in the key of A (minor), Am G F G. The guitarist mostly used the minor pentatonic scale (the blues scale omitting the #4 note) with the addition of the b6 note. (This yielded a "natural minor sexatonic scale" hybrid, if you go for terms like that.) So, the scale was A C D E F G A. The song is "Stairway to Heaven."

Hope this helps, and sorry for the delay!




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