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Music Theory For The Dropouts #2 - The Grand Staff Demystified

Jordan Leibel - Jul 21, 2017

 

Reading notes on the grand staff is a little bit intimidating at first.  Take one look at the page and you’ll see there’s a lot of information being thrown at your very quickly.  In your last theory lesson, you learned about counting rhythms: how they feel to hear and play, and what they look like in notation.  

 

This lesson is about giving you some easy ways to read the pitches of notes on the grand staff.  Once you learn what to look out for on the grand staff, it’ll become much easier to absorb and use the musical information it gives you.  

 

 

So first thing’s first.  Each line and space on the grand staff corresponds to to a specific pitch on the keyboard.  If you’ve spent any time at the piano, you’re probably already familiar with Middle C as your home-base note.  On the grand staff, you can find the note right in between the Bass Clef and the Treble Clef.  It’s got a little line through it called a ledger line (more about those in just a minute.)   

 

 

From there, you can count up the lines and spaces in the treble clef, and each line and space equals another white key note.  So that means that the white space note directly above Middle C is D, then the first lined note on the staff is E.  From there it counts up the scale, with F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. 

 

Anything above that and you’re getting into ledger lines.  You can think of ledger lines as a continuation of the grand staff.  A lined note looks just like Middle C, with a line running through the note hanging above the staff.  A space note has the ledger line just below the note, with the note sitting on top.

 

 

And what about the Bass Clef?  The bottom staff is dedicated to the lower region of the piano, below Middle C.  The notes count down from Middle C.  So that means that the note sitting above the lines of the Bass Clef is B, and then they count down from there, with A, G, F, E, D, to C an octave below.       

 

 

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, don’t worry.  There are some useful tools you can use to help you remember the arrangement of these notes on the staff.  Rather than trying to memorize each note on the staff, you can use some helpful phrases instead.  The phrase ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’ is commonly used to help memorize the lined notes written on the staff in the right hand.  If you want to memorize the space notes in the right hand, they spell out the word ‘FACE.’

 

 

You can use phrases to help memorize the notes in the Bass Clef as well.  If you want to memorize the space notes in the Bass Clef, you can use the phrase ‘All Cows Eat Grass.’  To memorize the lined notes in the Bass Clef, use the phrase ‘Good Boys Deserve Food Always.’

 


Using phrases like these is key to helping further your understanding of the grand staff.  But you don’t have to use these phrases specifically!  Music is all about self expression, so go ahead and see what unique phrases you can come up with yourself!

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Music Theory For The Dropouts #1 - Rhythm

Jordan Leibel - Jul 14, 2017

 

Rhythm is one of those elements that a lot of musicians take for granted.  You might get caught up in thinking about all the notes, sharps/flats and other stuff and forget about how crappy it would all sound without rhythmic variation to make things interesting.  Luckily with some dedication and focus, rhythms are pretty easy to understand.  So let’s look at a few simple rhythmic values that you’ll find in some of the songs you want to learn.  

 

The first thing we’ll talk about are time signatures.  A time signature is a number that is displayed at the beginning of a piece that defines how many beats are in a measure and which type of note gets one beat.  The most common time signatures are 4/4 and ¾.  The first/top number tells you how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom number shows you the note value with the measure.  

 

 

The most important rhythmic note to learn first is the quarter note.  If you’re counting in 4/4 time, there’s going to be 4 quarter notes per measure.  The next rhythm note to look at is the half note.  Naturally, the half note is held for two beats, or one half of a measure.  You should also learn about the whole note, which is held for the whole measure.  So if you’re in 4/4 time, you simply let that note ring out for the duration of the bar.  

 

 

Another important element of rhythm is dotted rhythms.  Sometimes you’ll see a dot at the end of your note.  A dotted note contains that note’s rhythmic value plus half of that note’s rhythmic value.  So for example, a half note (regularly held for 2 counts) with a dot on it will be held for 3 counts instead. 

 

There are also corresponding rests for each rhythmic value.  You can think of a rest as the opposite of a note: instead of making a sound, you leave a designated beat silent. 

 

 

The other note that you need to learn is the fastest of the rhythm notes so far, the 8th note.  The 8th note is twice as fast as the quarter note, which means that you can fit 8 of these notes within one bar of 4/4 time.  The easiest way to count out 8th notes is to subdivide your count of 4, by putting an ‘and’ in between each beat of 4.  So rather than simply counting out a single bar as ‘1-2-3-4’, count out ‘1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and’ to give yourself a greater sense of timing, with an 8th note landing on both the main numbered counts of the bar as well as the ‘ands’ in between.  

 

 

Be sure to keep an eye out for these rhythmic notes in notation, so you can get a greater sense of how they work together with each other!  

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3 Left Hand Piano Patterns For Beginner Players

Jordan Leibel - Jul 12, 2017

The left hand can be a little tricky for most piano players. If you’re looking for a few easy, versatile patterns to use in your left hand that will really help fill out your playing, these three will help you out a lot.  

 

The first to look at is really simple.  First, think about your chord progression and what inversions you’re going to be using from chord to chord.  In the case of this exercise, I used a I, V, vi, IV progression but you can use whatever you like.  In the right hand, I’m just playing straight, even 8th notes of the progression while the left hand plays quarters notes moving back and forth between the two outside notes of the chord.  

 

The next pattern that you can use is a sort of ‘half-arpeggio.’  I use this kind of pattern when I want to create something grandiose and romantic sounding in the left hand.  I’ve demonstrated this pattern with that same progression again, only this time I’m voice every chord in its root position.  That means that each pattern will start on the bottom ‘main’ note of the chord.  For the first two counts of each bar, play a half note and the follow it up with 4 8th notes, comprised of the notes in that chord, plus the octave note. So for this pattern to work in C major, play a C half note, followed by an ascending pattern of C, E, G, and the octave C.  You can then take this same motion and apply it to the different chords in the progress.  Go ahead and play my progression, or make your own up!  

 

 

The final pattern that I find super useful as accompaniment is an expansion of the previous example.  This time you’ll be playing 8ths notes in the left hand all the way through as arpeggios moving up and down the keyboard.  Patterns like this work great if you want to create a sense of continuous, flowing motion.  It sounds super impressive too!  So for each chord, you move up the arpeggio notes just like before, but this time you also go back down.  So for a C chord, play the notes C, E, G, and the octave C, before descending back down with G, E, and C.  If you’re playing straight 8th notes, then that leaves you with 1 note left over in every bar, so try finishing each bar up with the 5th interval.  In this case that’s G.  

 

So there you have it!  Three simple patterns that work for multiple styles and uses.  Practice them as I’ve demonstrated them to get a sense for what they’re all about.  But as always, dissect and personalize them into something you can use to help express your own music.  Have fun!

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