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Musical Alphabet, Scales, and Melody

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Lori Roy

on 3 February 2015

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Transcript of Musical Alphabet, Scales, and Melody

Musical Alphabet, Scales, and Melody
So far we've explained rhythm (various durations of pulses and stresses on pulses that make up music) and pitch (the frequency of a pitch that allows you to identify it as "high" or "low"). Let's discuss how they are arranged musically to create melody.
Musical Alphabet, Scales, and Melody
The Musical Alphabet
Musicians have taken the octave and divided it into 8 specific notes that form a repeating pattern. They are labeled with letters:
A B C D E F G...and then A!

Once you have reached G, you begin the alphabet again.

The 2 A's would be an octave apart.

You'll notice that there are eight pitches in the whole list, including the repeated A's. The word "octave" means "eight span" and represents any two notes with a 2:1 frequency ratio separated by 8 notes. (For example: B to B, C to C, D to D, etc.)
Flats and Sharps
Scales and Keys
Remember how we said that the gaps in the frequencies created patterns that our ears recognize? By having a perfectly even set of notes to choose from, we can create any pattern we wish beginning on any note without being controlled by where the gaps appear naturally.

For example: a major scale in the key of C: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C
a major scale in the key of Bb: Bb, C, D, Eb, F G, A Bb

The patterns created by these notes are exactly the same, we just moved one lower than the other. We can't create these patterns without flats and sharps.

It is when you combine pitches and rhythm together that you get melody. Melody is defined as "a sequence of notes that is musically satisfying." What does this mean?

the melody usually starts, ends, or centers around the same pitch. This feeling of centering around a home pitch is called tonality.
it often has an arch form
it often has some sort of repetition
when the music has multiple layers of notes and rhythms occurring at once, the melody is usually the highest part. It is the part our ears are drawn to.

People have been writing melodies in this way for hundreds and hundreds of years. When they are not written this way, our ears feel deprived.

Benjamin Zander "Shining Eyes" TED talk
In this talk, Benjamin Zander discusses "impulse" (rhythm) and tonality.
The Octave
Musicians base the musical alphabet on the octave, which is a specific musical interval with a frequency ratio of 2:1. In other words, we have two pitches with one pitch vibrating twice as fast as the other one.

These two notes don't sound identical, but somehow they sound very much the same. Their sounds blend into each other.

The octave forms the framework for the musical alphabet and most of our melodies.
What do the frequencies look like for these notes? Well, in the octave that most women are comfortable singing, they look like this:

A= 220 Hz
B= 246.94 Hz
C= 261.63 Hz
D= 293.66 Hz
E= 329.63 Hz
F= 349.23 Hz
G= 392.00 Hz
A= 440.00 Hz

You can see that the frequencies are not evenly spaced. Some pitches are closer to each other than others. This means that when we play these notes one after another, we hear larger and smaller gaps between the notes. The pattern in which these gaps occur creates a pattern that our ears learn to recognize.
This is an example of what
octave frequencies look like.
The notes A through G exist in their purest and natural form, but they also exist in lowered and raised forms, known an flats and sharps.
Lowered (flat) notes and raised (sharp) notes even out the gaps between the pitches, and give us a perfectly divided list of notes:

A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G G#/Ab, A
Let's look at one of these patterns: the major scale.

A scale is a set of notes listed in a pattern from highest to lowest. A major scale is the most common scale we use in music. It's generally said to have a "happy" or "triumphant" sound.

Remember how the difference between some of the frequencies in the scale were larger than others? This will translate into what is known as whole and half steps. Some notes in a scale are half steps, some are whole steps, and the location of the half steps in a scale is what determines the tonality. Half steps and whole steps are easy to see if you look at the piano.

The pattern of a major scale is: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.
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