Basic Music Tips for Beginners

By Gabriella Orta on November 22, 2017

I know a lot of people that are extremely interested in music and always regret not taking music classes when they were kids; people that have always dreamed about playing the piano and never had the opportunity or the time to focus on developing their skills and musical knowledge.

If you are one of those people, today you are in luck. I am here to help you enter into the music world. After reading this, you will no longer be part of the miserable group of frustrated people that wish they could have learned music in the past. In fact, you will be able to create some music yourself if you take into consideration all the basic music terms and advice I have for you. Remember that music requires time and practice.

via Pixabay

If you want to compose good music, you need dedication. It might be slow and frustrating for beginners, but once you have it there is no going back. Do not think that by only reading this article, you are going to become a musical prodigy. I am only here to give you a hand, you do the other part. Remember that practice makes the master.

1. The Musical Alphabet

Learning music theory is almost like learning a new language. As in any language, music has an alphabet, but it only consists of seven (7) letters: A-B-C-D-E-F and G. Each letter has a different sound and each sound is a ‘note’. In other words, we could say that a NOTE is simply a SOUND and it is REPRESENTED by a LETTER.

It is really important for you to learn the musical alphabet because everything else in music will be based on this.

Advice: If you take a look at the image of the piano, you will see that the letters have a different order (C-D-E-F-G-A-B). Do not panic! You already know that the musical alphabet consists of A-B-C-D-E-F and G. You just have to find the note “A” on the piano and the following notes will ALWAYS be B-C-D-E-F-G. Some notes will sound higher and others lower, but they will always be the same notes throughout the entire piano.

Image by author

2. The Sharps and The Flats

As you already know, there are only seven letters on the musical alphabet; each of them is a different note. Therefore, you may think that there are only seven notes in music. However, in reality there are twelve (12) notes. A-B-C-D-E-F and G are called “natural” notes. The natural notes on the piano are the WHITE KEYS.

To identify the sharps and the flats, you only need to take into consideration the BLACK KEYS. There are five (5) black keys on the piano; meaning there are five (5) additional notes that fall in between the natural notes or—as we call them—the white keys.

The sharp and flat notes are represented by symbols: b for “sharp” and # for “flat.” They are going to work as last names for the natural notes. For example, Ab(A flat) or A#(A sharp).

Advice: These notes will always be half-step lower (b) or half-step higher (#) from the natural notes. For instance, Ab is half-step lower from the natural note A. And A# is half-step higher from the natural note A.

Image by author

Notice how Ab is also called G#. This is because G# is half-step HIGHER from the natural note G. But this note is also called Ab because it is half-step LOWER from the natural note A. Since there is only ONE NOTE in between G and A, it has two names.

3. Intervals

An interval is the distance between two notes. The most used intervals are the semitone and the whole tone—also known as half-step and whole-step. Intervals are extremely important because they are the ones that will help you out whenever you want to construct a music scale and, later on, compose some music.

  • How do you know how many steps are in between two notes?

You already know that sharps (#) and flats (b) are in between natural notes. Let’s say, for example, you want to know how many steps are in between C and D. Take a look at the piano and notice that there is a note (black key) in between C and D. This note is either called C# or Db because it is half-step higher from C and half-step lower from D. This means that there is a WHOLE STEP between C and D.

Image by author

Advice: To make it easier for you to understand, take into account this formula:

Half-step + Half-step= Whole step

Important:

Keep in mind that there is NO note falling in between E and F and in between B and C.

Image by author 

4. Scales

If you want to compose a song, you need a music scale. You can’t just play whatever you want and it would magically sound good. Depending on the scale, there are certain notes you can and cannot play.

First of all, let us define the term: a music scale is an organized set of notes. There are different types of scales, but the most common of them all are MAJOR SCALES.

Major scales are characterized by their happy sound; like when you play all the natural notes, white keys, one by one on the piano.

A major scale consists of eight (8) notes—including the first note an octave higher—and these notes are arranged by whole steps and half-steps. (Go back to the intervals section if needed)

To construct major scales we need intervals. Here is the formula for major scales:

Example:Let’s say you want to play the C Major scale. Your scale needs to START and FINISH with the note C:

C Major Scale

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C

If you play this scale on your piano, you’ll see that the C Major scale is constructed by all the natural notes. This means that the ONLY notes you can play on the C Major scale are the C-D-E-F-G-A-B. You cannot play sharps or flats on the C Major scale because it would break the formula and it would sound awful.

Check out this video “The Major Scale Formula: Lesson 1 Music Theory” for more examples.

Conclusion

This is just the start. There is still much more to learn. Take these concepts into account and try to apply them whenever you play. I promise you, you will be able to do a lot of great things just by knowing these facts.

International Student at Florida State University. Majoring in Editing, Writing, and Media with a minor in psychology and Italian. Obsessed with music and theatre.

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