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Ask Edly (page 2)

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.

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 1)

Why can you play more than one scale over a given chord?

Quality of the mediant triad in harmonic minor

Jazz singer with a sorrowfully minimal knowledge of music theory

I've been playing for years, but recently I've decided to break out of my rut and learn theory

How do you play Fmaj7#11 and an F Lydian scale?

Double sharps? TRIPLE sharps? And half-steps and octave ratios.

Enharmonic spellings in chords

Trouble identifying resulting diatonic sixths (page 22 in Edly's Theory)

Are augmented chords found in minor keys as well as major?

Harmonic families (tonic, subdominant and dominant) in modes?

Blues scale fingerings

What are the notes in an F flat major scale?

Ionian Flat Sixth scale: what's it good for?

"Pentascale" vs. "pentatonic scale" confusion

Violin exercise chord names and functions

Suzuki vs. traditional instruction

Chromatic Alteration of Intervals

What chords, runs, riffs or anything can I also play to keep the tune jazzy/bluesy?

How can I make up chromatic passages using notes not in the scale but that resolve beautifully at the end?

Why are 4th and 5th intervals called perfect?



Why can you play more than one scale over a given chord?

If a compostion is written in the Key of G (one F# at Treble Clef) and the chords are G7-C9-D9,why is it that you can play G mixolydian and G minor scales? and "not" G Ionain and A dorian and on down the 7 modes in the Key of G? I think it would be bcause they are domaint chords and Mixolydian is the Domaint Mode. I'm lost and I don't understand why you can play both Pentatonic and Major scales. I'm used to a system of one mode for one chord.

John, Palm Harbor, FL

Hi John

One mode per chord, eh? Hmmm, to me, you're cheating yourself out of a lot of potentially great sounds. To me, that's like cooking something only one way all the time. Think of scales as different flavors that can be applied to chords.

Here are some quick thoughts.

Over the G7, possibilities include G Mixo, G blues, G major or minor pentatonic, and more. The modes of G have an F# in them, which disagrees with the F natural in the G7 chord, except as a chromatic passing tone, or purposeful dissonance.

Over C9, one might choose C Lydian b7, G blues, minor pentatonic, C mixo, etc. Notice that all of these have a Bb in them. The movement from B natural to Bb and F to E are two of the strongest shifts in the progression G7 to C7. I would probably refer to them in my scale choices. Over the C9, you could use an F natural or F# or both. It's just a matter of flavor.

Hope this helps.



Quality of the mediant triad in harmonic minor

Hi! How do i know the quality of the mediant triad in harmonic minor is III+? I can understand where the III is coming from, but I don't understand why it would be augmented.

Amanda, New Haven, CT

Because because because because becauuuuuuuuuuuuusssssssee, (to quote Dorothy), the 7th degree of the harmonic minor scale is natural, as opposed to flat (in other words, it's a 1/2 step below the tonic). So, in Cm, that'd give you Eb, G, B natural. Ta-dah! An Eb+ chord!


Jazz singer with a sorrowfully minimal knowledge of music theory

Hi, Edly,

I'm a jazz singer with a sorrowfully minimal knowledge of music theory. Although I can sight read the sheet music and easily and naturally transpose the song into a comfortable key, I'm always at a loss trying to tell the other musicians what key I'd like the song played in. This especially bothers me because I think it diminishes my professionalism. I was searching the web hoping to find some kind of transposition "cheat sheet" -- something that would provide a list of key signatures and, for example, what key I would be in if I wanted to raise it by so many steps. The search brought up your site, so I thought I'd ask you. Can you offer any suggestions or advice on where I could find this? I'll be forever in your debt.

Atlanta, GA 

Hi Karen

You're right that it diminishes your professionalism. You probably have heard various "singer jokes." It also makes getting the music ready that much slower.

Anyway, the short answer goes something like this: You (hopefully) know your range. Ideally, your ear is good enough to be able to sing through a song--in your head and on fast forward--such that you know the range of the song in terms of scale degree (I can do this in a couple of seconds for most songs), such as, "from low 6 to high 9 (a range of an octave and a P4th). You know where you'd like that to sit in your singing range, maybe from E - A, if you've got a low voice, which would put it in the key of G.

Ta-dah!! Done.

Or have I lost you?

If so, I'd suggest you lose your "sorrowfully minimal knowledge of theory" status. Granted, that was an admittedly quickie explanation, but I'm going to suggest that you buy and read "Edly's Music Theory for Practical People." You'll have fun reading it, and you'll be way better off as a singer and musician.



I've been playing for years, but recently I've decided to break out of my rut and learn theory

I have been playing guitar, keys, and drums for many years now, but recently I've decided to break out of my musical rut and learn theory. I compose a lot and always relied on my ears. Theory wise, I knew maj and min pentatonics and just always tried to expand on them with tons of passing tones, etc. Anyway, I've learned the major scale inside and out, all the modes,the harmonic sequence of chords, etc.I use the modes alot now in my lead playing, and am very happy with all the new "colors" I can add to my music. When trying to invent new chord progressions however, when I stay in a specific mode (using that mode as the parent key - A mix would extend to B Aoelian, C Locrian, etc..) all the chords and riffs all sound like they are coming from the same seven notes (which they are) despite any voicings I come up with. This led me to what Joe Satriani calls "Pitch Axis", where instead of revolving everything around a parent mode, you modulate a certain mode, i.e. A Mix, B Mix, G Mix, A Mix. I find that this allows for alot more tonal control. Also, it opens up alot of harmonic possiblities , in the case of the above progression - A7,B9,G13,A13, etc.(instead of only the V chord being dominant 7, 9, etc) I guess theres a million questions that could be asked in regard to this subject. Do you know of a list of rules that govern modal modulation? Do you cover this subject in any of your books?

- Are there any way to chose the root notes of a progression other then using the notes of the mode that I'm modulating, i.e. - A Mix : A,B,C#,D, E, F#,G? -If building chords from Dorian, is there a set list of modes that will sound good over those chords, i.e. - F Dorian chords: Fm7-B7sus-G11 ...will F Phy work, etc. I know that I can just find out by using my ear, but a chart of harmonically compatable modes would save alot of time.

Many thanks,

Hi, guitdog.

Whew! What questions!

Let's take 'em one at a time:

Do you know of a list of rules that govern modal modulation?

No, I don't. When you start using modes in ways that you stated (A Mix, B Mix, G Mix, A Mix), you've opened the door to the kitchen sink, so to speak. No reason to stop with the above. Even if you used other notes of the A mixo mode as tonics of other mixo modes, such as A mixo, C# mixo, D mixo, etc., these modes are going to be foreign enough one from the other that the ear won't hear them as being particularly related.

My approach to theory is "tools not rules," as my friend Tom Randall once put it: theory gives you a set of tools to use according to your musical aesthetic. If you understand modes, I would encourage you to use your ears first and brain second, rather than looking for MORE rules on how to put them together.

In other words, if you are looking for a string of mixolydian modes to use, find some that sound good in succession, and use them, according to what you're trying to do in that given piece! And don't stop there. Try mixing up the modes , such as A mixolydian, A phrygian, A lydian. Or A dorian, E lydian. I personally find this more interesting, and to my personal taste. But, of course, mine is not necessarily yours.

Are there any way to chose the root notes of a progression other then using the notes of the mode that I'm modulating, i.e., A Mix: A,B,C#,D, E, F#,G?

Certainly. My personal favorites are ears and whimsy, as outlined above. But if you prefer to work from a more intellectual starting point, then you could come up with a formula you like. (A friend and teacher of mine, Tom Ross (with a few exceptions, I like to limit my friends to people named Tom), took the bass notes from the chord progression of "Hey Joe," nuked the chords, applied a rhythmic pattern of his own choosing to the bass notes, and then composed an entirely new piece over them. The result was a wonderful piece that sounded nothing at all like "Hey Joe.") Back coming back to formulas: one example would be to start with Lydian, and skip two modes darker each time: Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian, and choose tonics according to a different formula, such as: Note X, P5th higher, m2nd lower. Since there are 4 modes and three tonics, it would take a while to come out at the top again. This is pretty heady stuff, though, and not for everybody (myself included, at least these days).

f building chords from Dorian, is there a set list of modes that will sound good over those chords, i.e. - F Dorian chords: Fm7-B7sus-G11 ...will F Phy work, etc. I know that I can just find out by using my ear, but a chart of harmonically compatable modes would save alot of time.

I could say more, but I think you get my drift. My sense is that you already have plenty of tools (except that you're a guy, and it's said that we guys NEVER have enough tools). Use the tools according to what you want to accomplish (including imposing your OWN rules upon the tools), rather than looking for externally imposed rules to govern the tools. Hey, maybe you'll be the Arnold Shönberg of modal fusion, and I can say I knew you when!


Do you cover this subject in any of your books?

I teach the natural modes (as we've been discussing), and "artificial" (lousy name!) or altered modes, such as Lydian b7, and then organize them in different ways. I readily admit that, other than some typical jazz and folk uses, I leave the creative part of how to use them up to the reader, as I am doing you. Good luck, 'dog!

Hope this was of some help.


P.S.: Did ANYONE else follow this? Did anyone else even READ the whole thing? Heck, I can recall only ONE person I've asked who actually claims to have read John Galt's ENTIRE speech in (Ayn Rand's) Atlas Shrugged, and I'm not even sure I really believe him!



How do you play Fmaj7#11 and an F Lydian scale?

I'm a rock and blues guitar player who has recently begun trying to study jazz guitar. I've begun working with modes as well. How do you play Fmaj7#11? I think the Fmaj7#11 calls for the lydian mode at the 5th fret and none of it sounds right. I'm not sure how to finger the chord which I think is FACEB. I'm also not sure if the F lydian is in the right position for the first note. Please excuse my ignorance. How do I play the chord and where do I play the lydian scale (is it at the 5th fret for F, being F majors 4th position?

Charlie, Rockford, Illinois

FACEB is correct, but remember that inversion is okay, and often necessary, on guitar.

Let's see: how to communicate fingerings via e-mail. Hmmm. Let's do NOTES, string by string, starting with the 6th. You find the frets! X means mute, or skip the string. Here are some possibilities:


X F C E A B (a bit of a stretch for the first finger, if you've never done this kind of warped bar)


X X A C E B (assuming the presence of a bass player, or merely not worrying about the missing root)

F C F A B E (low and rich. Also good for folkier sound)

Further, you could add the 9th (G) to the mix, and it would thicken the chord without significantly changing the flavor.

X F A E G B (four string bar)

That should get you going.

In terms of your scale question, yes Lydian is the most obvious scale choice. Where you play it is up to you, as long as it comes out F G A B C D E F.



Double sharps? TRIPLE sharps? And half-steps and octave ratios.

I'm having trouble reading/playing a piece that's way over my head. In Beethoven's Sonata in C# minor, in the 19th measure of the 1st movement, there's a G that's marked G#. Since G is already sharp in this key, do I actually play a G## (an A)?

Later, in the 27th measure, there's a double sharp on an F. Since F is already sharp in this key, does that make it an F### (a G#)?

Still later, in the 35th measure, there's an F marked with a # AND a natural??!! What does that mean on top of the fact that the F should ALREADY be sharp!?!?!

Maybe I should go back to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".....

Now here's a question that involves not only music theory, but the theory of sound itself. I've always wondered why there's a half-step between B and C and E and F. Notes an octave apart vibrate at speeds in intervals of 2X. Do notes in a major scale have regularly spaced vibration speeds? And do the half-steps correspond to those regular spacings? If the vibrations of the notes from one half-step to the next are not the same as the differences between two notes that are a whole step apart, why does it sound "right" when you play a scale? I know that question is a little "out there", but I once heard an explanation of music and musical instruments explained in mathematical terms, and I almost understood it.

Thanks for your time and help,
Lee, New Castle, DE


Here's the short answer, without the sheet music in front of me.

G# is G#. Fx (double sharp) is G (natural). The natural in "F#natural" would be there to cancel a previous Fx, so you'd play F#.

Again, without the music in front of me, I'd guess that in the first case, there had been a G nat just before the G#, and the composer (or editor) wanted to make sure that the player played #. And G# is always G# and Fx (double sharp) is always G (natural) regardless of key signature.

Your second question: There are two levels here. You're right about the 1:2 ratio of an octave. Half steps are all equal (in equal temperment, which Western music theoretically uses--I won't get into the "why theoretically" aspect). That's the first level. The second is the major scale itself. The major scale's pattern of whole-steps and half-steps is what makes it sound like a major scale, just like a four sided polygon with sides of equal length and all right angles is, by definition, a square. So, the notes in a major scale are irregularly spaced according to the pattern of w w h w w w h. ("Regularly spaced," or symmetrical scales, such as the whole-tone scale--w w w w w w or diminished--w h w h w h w h, disorient the ear due to their symmetry, and make it hard to hear just which note is the tonic. Try it, and you'll hear what I mean.)

In other words, the major scale sounds "right" because it IS. If you play a natural minor scale--w h w w h w w, it sounds "right"--for a natural minor scale because it IS.

Hope these answers help!



Enharmonic spellings in chords

I was wondering about something from your 'Practical People' book. In chapter 13, the Triad, Seventh, and Sixth Chord Practice, (well actually in the answers section) you give some enharmonic respelling and and I was wondering if this is correct procedure or just for simplicity in learning? Also if it is just for simplicity, then the correct usage should be FIRST and the laymen in parentheses, NO? My teacher says that in real cases you NEVER change the spelling of a chord, can you help me? Thank you.
--Aimee, Seattle, WA

Hi Aimee

Thanks for your great question. It was mostly for simplicity, although it's very common to see some chords (dim 7ths come to mind immediately) with enharmonic spellings. For example, C dim7 is often seen spelled as C Eb Gb A, rather than the textbookly correct C Eb Gb Bbb.

As for your teacher's admonishment of "NEVER," I'd say never say never. Obviously, some people are more fussy about this than others. I would say that, in the real world, chords are very often spelled enharmonically if the situation calls for it.

Hope that helps.




Trouble identifying resulting diatonic sixths (page 22 in Edly's Theory)

I am stuck at a point early in the book and have read and re-read the book from the beginning to this point but it still doesn't make sense.   I am having trouble with the exercises on Page 22 that asks the reader to identify Resulting Intervals for Diatonic Harmonization in Sixths.  I figured out the Thirds by counting the half steps between notes on a C scale and calling the interval M3 if there were 4 steps and m3 if there were 3 steps.  I am baffled when I try to do the same with the sixths.  How do you figure out the interval of sixths?  In the second paragraph on page 19 it says "... the first method is more efficient assuming you know your scales...".  Am I using the first or second method by counting half steps? If I am using the second (less efficient method), what is the first?  I would appreciate it very much if you could help me get through this.  Thank you.

"first method" (pg 18 bottom & pg 19, first paragraph) For both chords and intervals, use a formula based on a major scale. In your example, this would mean knowing your major scales and diatonic intervals, and using the appropriate scale to see whether the interval is M or m. The "appropriate scale" is the one beginning on the bottom note of the interval in question.

"second method" (pg 19, second paragraph) count half-steps

both of these methods can be used to "measure" any interval. While they both require some memorization, it seems to me that the first method encourages you to use important information (your major scales), whereas the second requires a lot memorization of the pain-in-the-butt variety (how many half-steps in each interval; blech!).

So: Is the sixth interval from E up to C a major or minor sixth? Well, in an E scale (again, use the scale beginning on the bottom note of the interval), the (diatonic, and therefore, major) sixth would be a C#, so E to C is a minor sixth.



Are augmented chords found in minor keys as well as major?

Don't know why I don't remember everything about these from theory classes - I just don't!  Are augmented chords found in minor keys, or are they strictly a Major phenomenon?

Kathleen, Pittsford, NY

Kathleen, a lot of people (even practical ones) don't remember a lot from theory class! In answer to your question, sure! Play this progression in the key of your choice: im, im7b5, V+7, im. Loverly! The V+ (or V+7, for even stronger pull to the im chord) is diatonic to the harmonic minor scale, as are the other chords in my simple example. Hope that answers your question.



Harmonic families (tonic, subdominant and dominant) in modes?

I have a theory question for you that I've been unable to anwer. Harmonic families (tonic, subdominant and dominant) are commonly known with respect to the harmonized major and minor scales (ionian and dorian). But what about the other modes? It would be very useful to me if I could associate a harmonic function with each chord in each harmonized mode of the major scale. My main purpose in this has to do with modal interchange in composition. If you're looking for a tonic substitute in a parallel mode, it'd be nice to know which chords in that mode have tonic function etc, etc.

Can you help? Dave


Are you asking about naming chords in modes as follows? Mixolydian mode, for example: Tonic: I. Dominant function: vm, bVII. Subdominant function: IV. Is that what you mean?

That's exactly what I'm asking. For example, which chords in a harmonized Dorian mode have subdominant function? I'm trying to make a complete chart of this in-so-far as I can. (See chart below.) I'm just talking about the 3 basics levels of tension; tonic, subdominant, and dominant.

Key to this is your use of the word "function." Also, a chord could serve different functions in the same mode, depending on context. Some of these choices could be argued over by music geeks at a cocktail party.

Looks like you were doing fine with your chart. I made a few changes, and see my aeolian parentheses.

Take another look at Chapter 26, too. You're doing more thoroughly and specifically what I was alluding to there. I'm not a supermodal (sorry, couldn't resist), but I tend to approach this kind of thing (that you're doing) a bit more intuitively, and less specifically, figuring that once someone has gotten to this point, that they'll be able to feel it out. I could definitely be wrong in this figure, though.

Also, I haven't thought much about it, but also wonder if this might not be a somewhat forced use of tonal jargon on the modal system.

Be that as it may here's your chart back. Please proofread this. I'm a bit spaced now, but wanted to get this out to you.

Lydian: Tonic: I, iiim, vim. Sub-Dom: ivdim, (vim), II, Dom: V, viim (!), II(?)

Ionian: Tonic: I, iiim, vim. Sub-Dom: iim, IV. Dom: V, viidim

Mixolydian: Tonic: I, vim. Sub-Dom: IV, iim. Dom: vm, bVII

Dorian: Tonic: im, III, Sub-Dom: IV, iim, vidim. Dom: vm, VII

Aeolian: Tonic: im, III, (VI?). Sub-Dom: iidim, ivm, VI(!). Dom vm, VII

Phrygian: Tonic: im, III, Sub-Dom: ivm, VI, Dom: vdim, bII(!)

Locrian: this is tough, since it's hard to hear this as a mode where the "one chord" is the tonic, it being diminished, 'n' all. BUT, if cornered at a music geeks' cocktail party, I'd offer this:
Tonic: idim (?), Dom: bII, bviim, bV (?). Beyond that, I'm not in the mood to go right now.


PS: You said: "If I base it purely on the location of the root, then it's easy, but the chord type must play into it as well." That's a good point, and still doesn't even go quite far enough. Lydian, for example: the viim (and viim7) act in a strong dominant function, but that may not be apparent on paper. But it is to the ear, at least mine.



Blues scale fingerings

I purchased your book Edly Paints the Ivories Blue some time ago. I have been slowly working through things... would have gone faster except life is continually interfering with art!

Anyway, I wonder whether there is a scale fingering for the different blues scales. I remember learning the fingering for all the majors and minors when I was taking formal lessons in piano. It seemed that efficiency was always name of the game. A buddy of mine (who is about 90% self taught) says he just uses 1-2-1-2-1-2-1 and keeps crossing over. Having come up playing classical music, that feels really foreign to me in any key.

When I play the C blues scale I have come to use 1-2-3-4-1-2-1. My friend argues that the 4-1 is a problem because the crossover slows you down. He says that 1-2-1-2-1-2-1 is just more consistent and more smooth. 

What is your spin? I seek the truth.

Choose any answer, or combination of answers, that suite(s) you:

1. Check out pg 45.
2. Blues is, happily, free of most of the pedagogical dogma that shrouds classical music. Say all together, "Yaaaayyyyyy!" So play 121212, or my fingerings on page 45, or use, in combination, your nose and your toes. 3. Blues scales feel to me a bit too spread out for 121212 to be comfy. But heck, maybe your hands are bigger or yer keys are smaller. 4. As for "C blues scale. . . 1-2-3-4-1-2-1," see answer #1 above. 5. If you ever find truth, please let me know the URL, 'k?!




What are the notes in an F flat major scale?

I play a saxophone and I have to know an f flat major scale for a test and I don't know how to play it. I think it might start with a c sharp can you help me?
Matt, Port Ludlow, Washington

Hi Matt

An F flat scale is as follows:

Fb Gb Ab Bbb (double flat) Cb Db Eb Fb

Yecchhh, right?!?!! Yep, I'm with you. But happily, F flat=E natural.

So, any reasonable person would prefer:

E F# G# A B C# D# E


I would definitely put this one in the "trick question" category. Your teacher wanted to know whether or not you understood that Fb=E, which you now do!

Play well.




Ionian Flat Sixth scale: what's it good for?

My name is Len, and I'm an electric bassist. Anyway, I have an bass scale encyclopedia of sorts..and in it I ran across 'Ionian Flat Sixth' scales, it shows the scales but there is no word whatsoever on pratical usage(how/when/why). Any ideas? As it is, I just write out the scales, and try to apply it either on my four string or my six string bass. My main musical interest is more on the jazz side of things.

Any feedback on this would be appreciated.


Quickie answer: First thing that comes to mind would be a I ivm progression, such as C to Fm. C Ionian b6 would come right to mind, as would C Mixolydian b6 (which, by the way, could also be thought of as C Aeolian natural 3).




"Pentascale" vs. "pentatonic scale" confusion

I thoroughly enjoy your book 'Music Theory for Practical People' .. I was wondering if I could ask for your impartial wisdom on a few questions.. Thank you.

1) One of the (piano) books I am working out of teaches pentascales.. C+ pentascale would be C,D,E,F,G..Why is your C+ pentascale on pg. 94 C,D,E,G,A, skipping F? Can there be more than 1 C+ pentascale as long as you use the notes in the scale?

2) A V7 chord.. How can it be a 3 note chord if there is a '7' in the V7? Can a V7 chord be thirds, sevenths, ninths, etc? In a triad, which notes in the scale make up the V7 chord?

Thank you very much, Mr. Edly...


Dear psu

Great questions.

1) Don't confuse "pentascale" with "pentatonic scale." Pentascale is something to get your coordination going on piano. I call them "five-finger exercises" personally (check out http://www.edly.com/pianobasics.html). Any five note scale is a PentaTONIC scale. Your piano pentascales fit into this category. The major pentatonic (1 2 3 5 6 (8)) and minor pentatonic (1 b3 4 5 b7 (8)) are two of the most popular in our culture. The great and powerful (and funny as he is smart) Peter Shickele did a couple of great shows on pentatonic scales on his National Public Radio show "Schickele Mix," which comes with my highest recommendation. Call your local NPR station to find out if and when they air it.

2) A V7 chord would be a four note chord, not a three note chord. A V chord would be a three note chord. Ahhhh, wait a second, I'm getting a flash: I'll bet you're working out of an Alfred or Bastien piano book, you poor thing. Boring, huh? No? Okay. They leave the fifth out of the V7 chord to make it easier and to thin out the chord. The fifth is certainly the most dispensable note, adding thickness without particularly adding character. (Notice that, if you leave out any other note, it changes the character much more than omitting the fifth.)

Lastly, the notes that make up the V7 chord are 1 3 5 b7 starting on V, or G B D F in the key of C.

Whew! I'm glad that most questions aren't this good. I'd never get any work done!!!!




Violin exercise chord names and functions

Readers: This is pretty heady stuff. Non-theory-geeks might want to leave now! Look for my comments in plain (not bold) type.

I recently got a copy of "Contemporary Violin Technique" by Ivan Galamian (who was THE teaching MASTER when it comes to violin bowing technique if you expect to be heard over the orchestra).

I think it is wonderful, but very difficult. It comprehensively covers fundamental scale, arpeggio exercises and bowing and rhythm patterns. By picking a scale, arpeggio, etude, or performance composition, and combing them with a series of bowing and rhythm patterns one can systematically work for secure mastery of difficult passages and security all over the fingerboard.

What I am interested in, being quite backward in music theory, is knowing the names of the arpeggio chords I am so diligently working on. The first exercise goes through 13 keys thus returning to the original one, but in half-step order, the series of 10 arpeggios in a particular key resolving to a repeat of the same series but up 1/2 step. It is the names these 10 arpeggios and how I should best think of them by name that I would like to appreciate in this context.

I would like to do this in anticipation of the day that I go back and learn more about improvisation on associated chord stuff.

So could you tell me this or how to best think of them?

The sequence for the key of G is: (key signature: no flats, no sharps)

Well, okay, that was the editor's choice, but is inconsistent with the next key change. To be consistent, this should've been G major, or one sharp, despite its starting in minor, which is the choice made in Ab.

1) G, B-flat, D (G minor)
2) G, B-flat, E-flat (E-flat major ?? It is not exacly a VI chord, so what is it?)
Yes! Eb in 1st inversion
3) G, B, E-flat (G augmented)
4) G, B, E (E minor??)
Yes! In 1st inversion
5) G, B, F
G7, with 5th (D) missing
6) G, C, E
C, in 2nd inversion
7) G, C, E-flat
Cm, ditto
8) G, C, D
G sus
9) G, B, D
G major
key signature change to 4 flats
10) G, B-flat, D-flat (G diminished) resolves & start new series of 10 using base note of A-flat the first being:
1) A-flat,C-flat,E-flat (A-flat minor)
2) A-flat, C-flat, F-flat

Yes, that is a nice progression, and use of G dim, which is viidim in the key of Ab

Another way to look at it that may be wrong but sorta makes sense to me, but not sure what it means is:
1) minor
2) raise the 5th
3) raise the 3rd
4) raise the 5th again
5) raise the 5th again
6) go to the IV chord
7) lower the 3rd in the IV chord
8) lower the 3rd in the IV chord again
9) major
10) diminished
1b) resolve to minor up 1/2 step and continue repeating the same pattern for all 12 keys and thus repeating the first one up an octave.

Yeah, I see it, but agree that it's a bit unwieldy Here is a way that describes what the chords are DOING:
I+ (=, and functionally more descriptive, V+/vim)
I7 (=, and functionally more descriptive, V7/IV)
idim (PIVOT CHORD) (=viidim/biim, which is the new im)

The nice thing about this sequence on the violin is that normally going around the circle of fifths is slightly problematic if you are trying to play with harmonic tuning (harmonic tuning can be VERY beautiful sounding on the violin), because the circle of fifths doesn't close and you have to cheat at some ambiguous point (e.g. a harmonic fifth is a frequency ratio of 3/2...this raised to the 12 power [which is what you do go around the circle of fifths harmonically] can NEVER be an exact multiple of 2 which it would have to be in order to return to the same note in the 13th or original key). However, by resolving up 1/2 step, that half step is not a perfect interval in any case so fudging it so things close is no problem and doesn't detract from playing exactly in tune harmonically for any set of 10 arpeggios in any of the 12 keys.

My feeling is that your ear should guide your tuning, not your (left) brain! If your ear is indeed so finely tuned that you could play through this exercise without accompaniment, perfectly in tune in the tuning method of choice, then, whew!! Otherwise, to paraphrase Zappa, "shut up and play your violin!"

Hope this of help!




Suzuki vs. traditional instruction


I am very confused. I have my three home schooled children girl 4yo, two boys 7yo and 8yo in a music program called Children's Music Academy in the Denver, CO metro area. It is a 3-4 year program and the are learning to read music and to play on a keyboard. In their last year they will learn the guitar. I have some other home-school friends who are sending their kids to Suzuki teachers and they are playing at State competitions and winning trophies and getting all kinds of acknowledgements on playing the Suzuki method. Please help me with the difference between Suzuki and traditional methods.  

I read you FAQ about the three girls and lessons. I agree that kids should be playing and having fun at this age so help me make an educated choice on which method to use for music lessons.

Thank you for any help in this area. I struggle with if I am making the right choice for my little people.

Sonnora from Colorado 


This is very much a personal decision. Regardless of educational mode, trophy winners are going to be the exception, not the rule. To my way of thinking, unless it's clear you've got a prodigy on your hands, the goal is to provide a fertile environment for your children to develop a healthy relationship with music. And this also applies in the case of prodigies. Two of my friends are "recovering adult child prodigies." Neither now plays the instrument with which they astounded the adult world as children. My personal choice for young children, at least in theory, is the Orff method, which emphasizes group practice and performance, as well as improvisation. Suzuki does yield impressive results, no doubt. Traditional instruction, with a fresh-thinking teacher can be fine.

Reading music is an important skill if one is to go on in any Western music setting. But it doesn't necessarily need to come first, or even second. The skills learned, and pleasure gained, from playing in a children's drumming ensemble, for example, are priceless.

I would ask you, are your children happy with their instruction? With their instructors? With the music they are playing? If the answer to any of these is no, then it's time for a change, regardless of the method. Then it's up to you to let them try some different approaches to see which works best for them. And it may well be a different one for each child.

Lastly, I'd say forget trophies and recognition, unless they come naturally. Music isn't a competition sport unless we make it that.




Chromatic Alteration of Intervals

Dear Edly,

First of all, I want to thank you for writing "Music Theory for Practical People". I've been playing guitar for five years but, until I took up piano a few months ago, never really delved into music theory. I knew I was missing out on a lot, but I was intimidated by the "serious" music theory books I occasionally thumbed through.

Your book changed all that. I picked it up a few weeks ago and immediately read it cover-to-cover. I'm now going back over it again, spending more time of the details and doing the exercises. I am actually beginning to understand music theory! It's great! Knowing a bit of theory has helped my playing, and I'm anxious to continue studying.

There is one thing that's confusing to me, though. I've been over and over it, and I'm missing something (probably something obvious), but I just can't figure it out:

On Page 30 of the book, under "Chromatic Alteration of Intervals," you set out five statements, referring to the "Chromatic Intervals from Octave to Unison" chart on Page 29.

Statements 1 and 4 make sense to me, but I'm having trouble with the rest of them.

With reference to statement 2, if the top note of a minor third is lowered, doesn't that make a major second (and not a diminished interval)?

With reference to statement 3, if the top note of a perfect fourth is lowered, doesn't that make a major third (and not a diminished interval)?

With reference to statement 5, if the top not of a major third is raised, doesn't that make a perfect fourth (and not an augmented interval)?

Anyway, thanks again for the book.


Arcata California

Larry, you da man!!!

You win the blue ribbon for attention to detail! Strike up the band!

The answer to all your questions is "yes."

And "no."

Okay, do I have your attention yet?

Here's the deal. It' a question of enharmonic spellings. If the top note of a minor third (C to Eb) is lowered, it becomes a diminished third (C to Ebb), which indeed sounds like a major second (C to D), but as you can see, they're written differently.

If the top note of a perfect fourth (C to F) is lowered, it becomes a diminished fourth (C to Fb), which is the same notes and sound as C to E, a major third.

You're not going to see these too often, though, except on music theory tests, and some rare cases. But they do exist, and are therefore worth understanding.

Enharmonic spellings come into play depending on the direction the notes are moving. Let's see. Here's an example of the first, in the key of C minor (key signature: Bb, Eb, Ab).

Hope the formatting comes out okay.

G Gb F Fb Eb
P5 dim5 P4 dim4 m3

Yes, C to Fb could indeed be written C to E natural, and many composers/editors would choose to write it that way, especially in simpler music, or music intended to be read by less advanced players. But in more advanced music, you'd probably see it as the diminished 4th, C to Fb. It shows the direction the notes are moving, and also requires one fewer accidentals. That is, if it's written C to E natural, then an Eb is needed for the next interval.

Does this clear it up?

And so very glad you're liking the book so much.

Best of luck to you!




What chords, runs, riffs or anything can I also play to keep the tune jazzy/bluesy?

Good Afternoon. My name is Tony writing from MD. I do have a short question that maybe you can help with.

Im accompanying a piano player who has written a tune in G and then goes to Ab. To me, it seems that the G7 and the Ab7 chords fit in as chord basics but what chords, runs, riffs or anything can I also play to keep the tune jazzy/bluesy?

Thanks for you time.


Well, if you're accompanying a piano player, you'd better play whatever chords he or she is playing, or it's gonna sound pretty funny! The basic blues chords are I, IV, and V in whatever key you're in, like this:
G: G, C, D
Ab: Ab, Db, Eb.

Certainly making the chords dominant 7ths and/or 9ths will add flavor.

As for scales, do you know the blues or minor pentatonic scales? Here they are:

1, b3, 4, (#4), 5, b7 8
G, Bb, C, (C#), D, F, G
I'll let you transpose it into Ab!!

The note in parentheses is called a "blue note." With it included, the scale is the blues scale. Omit it, and it's called the minor pentatonic.

For a sweeter, happier sound, you can use the major pentatonic scale:
1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8
G, A, B, D, E, G

And in all cases, adding notes that are chord-tones of the current chord, but NOT in whatever scale you're using, will make it sound like you know what you're doing, rather than just sticking to the scale.

Play on!




How can I make up chromatic passages using notes not in the scale but that resolve beautifully at the end?

Yo, Edly:

I often hear other cats play sixteenth notes for 2 measures or more (4/4 time). It's hard to describe but you and I know it when we hear it. The runs usually contain chromatic passages and notes not in the scale but resolves beautifully at the end. I want to be able to do this so bad on my Sax, I can taste it.

What's happening and how can I make up licks like that and resolve them? When this happens, are they playing changes? From a theoretical approach, how are these notes chosen? Why do all of the notes outside of the Key of the song sound so good?

My knowledge consist of understanding Major, Minor, Blues, Pentatonic scales and Major Diatonic Chord movement. Any help would greatly be appreciated.


Yo Eric

Good questions! Too many long answers. Here's just a bit to get you started.

People often speak of this as "playing outside."

Nondiatonic notes add color and, potentially, ambiguity, to the melodic line.

Using more upper structure (9th, 11th, and 13ths) notes as predominant melodic notes will also create tension.

The fewer 1, 3, & 5 notes used, the more tension is created.

You can also think of creating an arc where the ends of the arc are relatively resolved and the middle is relatively tense. Interestingly, classical composer Paul Hindemith speaks of this in his book on composition, I believe.

This may or may not be apparent, but having the skill to choose your sixteenth notes according to the flavor you want at the moment allows the player to shower the listener with enough notes that the listener comes away with hearing/feeling a GESTURE, a gestalt, an overall motion, rather than the listener having time to process individual notes. This, again, allows the player to play "inside," "outside," or any other side he or she chooses.

Buy or borrow transcription books of famous jazz players. Those of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane come immediately to mind, but there are many to choose from. Study their lines, and put what you see together with what you know.

Hope this was of some help!




Why are 4th and 5th intervals called perfect?

I have been trying to find out why the 4th and 5th intervals of a scale are called perfect. I understand the ratio business of the sound waves between the tones, but where did the term perfect come from and are the 4th and 5th really perfect? I think I see why the unison and octave would be considered perfect, but not the 4th and 5th.


Sumner, Washington

Perfect intervals invert to perfect intervals. They are also the lowest (first to appear, more importantly) in the overtone series. They are the purest, with ratios as follows:

Unison: 1:1
Octave: 2:1
Fifth: 3:2
Fourth: 4:3

Beyond that, I can't tell you where the term "perfect" came from. I suppose they could have been called "grounded" or "hollow" just as easily. Both describe their effect as well as, or better than "perfect."

As, or more, important, is understand the sound quality of perfect intervals, versus 3rds & 6ths, versus 2nds & 7ths. Chapters 15 & 16 in "Edly's Music Theory for Practical People" go into all of this in much more depth.

Hope this is of some help!



Got a music theory-related question? E-mail it to me, and I'll do my best to answer it.

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