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Music Theory For The Dropouts #7 – How To Tackle A New Piece Of Music

Cassi Falk  /  Reading Music / Aug 14

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Now that you’ve learned the basics of music theory, it’s time to put all that knowledge to the test by learning a song.  Let’s look at a song called ‘Beekeeping.’

The first thing to make note of is the song’s key signature.  Just after the treble and bass clef symbols, you’ll see a single sharp on the top ‘F’ line of the staff in the treble clef and the second highest ‘F’ line in the bass clef.  This means that there’s only one sharp in the key signature.  Remember what you learned from the Circle Of Fifths.  The first key signature to feature an added sharp is G major, meaning that ‘Beekeeping’ is written in the key of G.  

The next bit of information you can get from the sheet music is the song’s Time Signature.   Looking at the two stacked numbers at the beginning of the sheet music will tell you how to count the song.  In this case, the song is written in 4/4 time.  The top number indicates how many beats per measure, while the bottom note indicates what each note’s rhythmic beat is worth.  So in this case, you have 4 beats per measure, and each rhythmic note equals a quarter.  

So now that you know what key and time signature the song is in, it’s time to look at the notation itself.  Remembering our guide notes from an earlier lesson, you can see that the melody starts on G, and then steps up in 2nd intervals for the first bar.  Notice how the next bar starts on the highest space note in the treble clef.  This means that instead of a 2nd interval step up, you have a major 3rd step.  Notice how the jump from C to E jumps from a space note to a space note.  That’s a great visual indicator for identifying a 3rd jump.  

The next bar has a jump up to the G note sitting at the top of the staff, and then it walks down in 2nd interval steps (again, notice how the notes move from space note to line notes).  The 4th bar only has one note, which is another lined note, indicating that you jump over a key to land on it.  

The next thing to look at is how each of these notes are counted.  Remember, this song is in 4/4 time, which means four beats per measure.  The first bar contains four quarter notes, which is simple enough to count:  for every beat in the measure, play one of the notes in the bar.  

The next bar contains both quarter notes and half notes.  The first two notes are quarter notes while the third note is a half note, which means it’s held for a count of two beats (or half the measure).  With the third bar you again have four simple quarter note, while the fourth bar has only one whole note, which is held for the entirety of the bar.

Now let’s take a look at the left hand notation.  Remembering that phrase ‘All Cows Eat Grass’ helps you remember the order of space notes counting up in the bass clef, you’ll find that the whole note in bar one is G.  The next note should be pretty familiar by now.  It’s Middle C.  the top note in bar three is an E, while the two chords in bar four are G major triads.  All triads in their root position will look like these chords.  It simply means that you’re building a chord by skipping a note in between each key played.   

Moving ahead a little in the song, let’s look at measure 28.  Measure 28 has the song’s first use of 8th notes.  8th notes are counted twice as fast as quarter notes.  The easiest way to ensure that you’re counting these notes evenly is by counting ‘1 and 2 and’ in between the count of four beats.  

As you can see, learning music theory doesn’t have to be boring after all!  Sure, it takes a little work and some patience, but if you just take the time to learn the fundamentals shown here, it’ll make learning music so much easier!  And best of all, this music theory is totally consistent across any genre, key, or other application.  

The concepts taught in these lessons are literally the rulebook that you can use to help you write great songs, learn songs easier, and gain a greater connection towards all music!

Thanks for taking this journey with us! If you’d like to go back and refresh your memory, or you just want to practice some more, you can find all the old lessons here:

Lesson 6 on the Circle of Fifths.

Lesson 5 on chords.

Lesson 4 on major and minor scales here.

Lesson 3 on music symbols here.

Lesson 2 on the Grand Staff here.

Lesson 1 on rhythm here.


Jordan Leibel is passionate about songwriting, improvisation, and helping you become a creative musician! He’s worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording work.

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