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Thread: I have some really, really stupid questions about music theory.

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    Member Azathoth's Avatar
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    Default I have some really, really stupid questions about music theory.

    1. Why does the time signature matter? I understand why it's important to know the 4 in 4/4 or the 8 in 6/8, but why does it matter if it's in 3/4 or 4/4 or 16/32? As far as my piano teacher has told me, you shouldn't have any kind of seperation between measures, so why are waltzes in 3/4? Couldn't they just as easily be in 2/4? I don't get it...

    2. What's the point of bars and measures? Why does it matter if there's three beats in each measure if you can just tie a note over and make it last for seven beats? What's the point in having everything lined up in little rectangles, other than maybe making it a little easier to read?

    I've just been told that that's the way it is, and I don't think my teacher completely gets my questions, I have asked him. It could be that I'm not being coherent enough, or it could be because his native language is Spanish. He's fluent, but he does have some trouble sometimes.

    Also, on a different topic, I'm supposed to understand something about how to find what keys have how many sharps and flats by starting on C and then doing something that I don't remember. Anyone have any idea what that is?
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    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    It's about playing and/or singing. You will soon find out why we have bars and time signatures. Saves a lot of work. Let's say your choir/orchestra mess up at.... well, there are no bars so where did they mess up? Where do you restart from?

    Another situation - you're playing a waltz which has three beats per cycle. Sure, you could group the beats together in 4s 5s or 28s or don't bother with bars at all; and write accents over the strong beats but why bother when you can bar up the piece in 3 beat groups able to know that in all cases except syncopation and where otherwise shown, that the first note in the bar is a strong beat.

    When you start to sightread or rehearse your orchestra on a new piece, the convenience of bars will become very apparent.
    So will key signatures. Because as you learn to sightread or just plain read, you'll recognise shapes and outlines instead of individual notes. These will be the same (shape) whether you're in C, D or any other major (or minors, respectively).

    Any help?

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azathoth View Post
    ... Also, on a different topic, I'm supposed to understand something about how to find what keys have how many sharps and flats by starting on C and then doing something that I don't remember. Anyone have any idea what that is?
    Hi Azathoth,
    I believe it refers to the "Circle of 5ths" . Click Here for a fairly good no nonsence guide

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    Member mahlerfan's Avatar
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    The time signature is very important for several reasons.
    1. It keeps the beat.
    2. It makes it much easier to follow the conductor. (How is a conductor supposed to conduct without a time signature?)
    3. It's a lot easier to read your part.
    “If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”

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    Senior Member zlya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azathoth View Post
    1. Why does the time signature matter? I understand why it's important to know the 4 in 4/4 or the 8 in 6/8, but why does it matter if it's in 3/4 or 4/4 or 16/32? As far as my piano teacher has told me, you shouldn't have any kind of seperation between measures, so why are waltzes in 3/4? Couldn't they just as easily be in 2/4? I don't get it...
    Ok, your teacher is right that you don't separate measures. However, you do put accents in different places in the measure. In 3/4, you put a little accent on beat 1, in 4/4 an accent on beat 1 and a lesser accent on beat 3, in 6/8 beats 1 and 4, etc. Just for fun, try listening to a Waltz and counting beats in groups of four. One two three four, one two three four, etc. It's pretty hard to do! You end up counting: ONE two three FOUR one two THREE four one TWO three four etc. Much easier to count: ONE two three ONE two three ONE two three.

    2. What's the point of bars and measures? Why does it matter if there's three beats in each measure if you can just tie a note over and make it last for seven beats? What's the point in having everything lined up in little rectangles, other than maybe making it a little easier to read?
    Actually, barlines and measures are relatively recent. Until the 17th Century, most music was written without barlines. Having everything lined up in little rectangles DOES make it a LOT easier to read, especially when dealing with lots of people and lots of parts. More importantly, bars help determine where accents go, as I mentioned above. In most western music, accents are pretty regular, occuring every two, three, or four beats. With music in 2/4, you get an accent every two beats, with music in 3/4 every three beats, in 4/4 every four beats. Ever wonder why marches are generally in 2? Ever try marching to a piece in 3?

    When you dance to music, you "feel the beat", meaning you determine where these regular accents are. You should remember that waltzes are primarily dance music, so feeling that beat really matters!

    Putting accents on other beats (by tying notes over) creates syncopation, which makes the music more exciting. Without barlines, no regular accents, no syncopation. Theoretically you could create syncopation by establishing a regular beat with little accent marks and then disrupting it, but barlines are SO much easier.

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    Member Azathoth's Avatar
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    Thanks a lot, guys. This makes things a lot clearer. I also thought some of it was more complex than it apparently is. Why don't teachers just tell you these things from the start?
    Weep not for little Leonie,
    Abducted by a French marquis!
    Though loss of honor was a wrench
    Just think how it's improved her French.

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    Senior Member Lisztfreak's Avatar
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    Now it's time for this ignorant amateur to ask something...

    If we have enharmonic tonalities, that use exactly the same number of sharps or flats (C major & A minor; D minor & F major, etc.), why should composers bother to discern between these tonalities? What I mean is, why call Grieg's piano concerto 'Piano Concerto in A minor', when it could (for all I know) easily be called 'Piano Concerto in C major'?

    What's the difference?
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    Senior Member Kurkikohtaus's Avatar
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    "Enharmonics" are something different. What you are referring to is called "Relative" tonalities, "relative" in the sense that they have the same key signature.

    Simply put, the difference between A minor and C major is that pieces in A minor are centered around the pitch "A" and the A minor triad [A-C-E]. Pieces in C major are centered around the pitch "C" and the C major triad [C-E-G].
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    As far as "enharmonics" are concerned, that means two different "spellings" for the same note. For example, D-sharp and E-flat are the same note, therefore one would say that "D-sharp is the enharmonic of E-flat" and vice versa.

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    Senior Member Lisztfreak's Avatar
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    The triads are the key. I didn't now about them. Thanks!
    ''Oh, the String Quartet - oh, the Divine Scratching!''

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lisztfreak View Post
    Now it's time for this ignorant amateur to ask something...

    If we have enharmonic tonalities, that use exactly the same number of sharps or flats (C major & A minor; D minor & F major, etc.), why should composers bother to discern between these tonalities? What I mean is, why call Grieg's piano concerto 'Piano Concerto in A minor', when it could (for all I know) easily be called 'Piano Concerto in C major'?

    What's the difference?
    I am attempting a bit more detailed answer:

    Major keys and minor keys may have the same key signature, but they are NOT the same tonalities. Play a major scale and it's relative minor scale and they do NOT sound the same.

    Major scales are arranged so that there is one note of each note name. Then notes are either raised or lowered so that the pattern of notes is as follows (numbers without spaces are half steps):

    Scale degree
    1 2 34 5 6 78
    CD EF G A BC

    The half steps are between 3/4 ad 7/8 scale degree.

    In the natural minor you have:

    1 23 4 5 6 7 8
    A BC D E F G A

    The triads that are the building blocks of traditional harmony are based on these scales (there are two other forms of minor scales as well).

    In a major key the tonic triad is CEG, in a minor key the tonic triad is ACE. Go to a piano and play these chords. I think you will find that they sound quite different. The tonic triad sets the stage for what the piece will sound like (major or minor).

    Go listen to a piece in A minor and then find one in C major. I am sure you will find it quite easy to hear the difference.

    As for enharmonics, those are pitches that sound the same, but have different names (like F#, Gb). Those are used because in each scale you need to have one note of each letter name. If you have an A major scale you write A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A. If you were in that key the chords in a composition would use those letter names. You would not use Db in place of C# because its not in that key. That's not to say that some composers don't follow that convention.....

    I hope this helps.

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    Senior Member zlya's Avatar
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    Actually in a non-tempered system enharmonics are not the same. C# is a little sharper than D-flat. Most wind and string players will actually play a C-sharp a bit sharper as well. Easy enough to do on these instruments where tuning is determined by the performer. There's a problem when you have keyed or fretted instruments which you can't tune as you play. This caused a big debate for a very long time regarding how to tune fixed pitch instruments, which was finally resolved with equal temperament, which many still believe is not a perfect solution. Some contend that even on piano, a C-sharp is different from a D-flat because of the way it resolves melodically, thereby determining the articulation and accent the performer uses. So when a composer "misspells" a chord (i.e. A D-flat E) he is probably looking for a different performance interpretation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zlya View Post
    .....Some contend that even on piano, a C-sharp is different from a D-flat because of the way it resolves melodically, thereby determining the articulation and accent the performer uses...
    I'm not sure I buy this. On my piano C# and Db sound exactly the same. I just tried it.

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    Senior Member zlya's Avatar
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    Not quite what I meant. C-sharp will fulfill a different harmonic and melodic function in a piece than d-flat, which may influence the way a performer plays it. If I'm playing a piece in a minor, for example, d-flat will almost certainly resolve to c-natural, which means an experienced performer will probably hold it a bit longer and lean into the resolution (slur). In the same key, a c-sharp will most likely be part of an A Major triad (a picardie third) so an experienced player may accent the articulation more (hit the key harder), and create more distance between it and the next note (no slur).

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    I agree that a Db and a C# will serve different harmonic functions. But I really was just kidding. I am a bit of a theory geek though.

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    Senior Member zlya's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Future_teacher View Post
    I am a bit of a theory geek though.
    All the best people are.

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