music theory Archive

Every time you hit a key during your piano lessons, you’re producing varying sounds that you’ll eventually become attuned to within a short period of time. Your sense of hearing a specific tone or musical pitch, will increase and will help you become a better performer. In this article, we’re going to learn the three components of a pitch, how often to tune your piano, and how to memorize certain tones.

Musical Pitch: What Is It?

Musical pitch is the result of hearing a sound that is either very high or very low. Depending on the clarity of ones’ hearing, the pitch or tone can range from being perfect (completely in tune) to imperfect (out of tune). If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you will have seen a combination of people who sing quite well and those who are completely unaware of their singing ability.

There are three parts that incorporate a pitch: duration, loudness, and timbre. Let’s take a moment to analyze each part.

Pitch Duration

Pressing a key on the keyboard and holding it down will make the length of that tone last for a few seconds. If that key is pressed and immediately released, it will end quickly. This is what pitch duration entails, the amount of time the tone lasts after being produced.

Play the audio files below to see the difference in each musical pitch duration (each audio file will open in a new window):

Short Duration: CDEFG

Long Duration – CDEFG

Pitch Loudness

The amount of pressure you use to play a note on a piano keyboard will determine its pitch loudness. Some of the finger exercises and songs you’ll learn are played softly and others very loudly. There are numerous symbols called dynamics that tell you how to play them, causing a natural flow within the melody. Below is a list of the dynamics used within music sheets that’ll tell you what force is needed to play a them:

Dynamics Chart For Piano Lessons

Dynamics Chart For Piano Lessons

Pitch Timbre

If you listen to Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2 (Complete) (you can get it here), you know that it’s being played on a piano. Each key is very distinct and if you’re familiar with how notes sound on a piano, you can instantly tell that a piece is being played on one.

Pitch Timbre is the ability to tell what instrument is creating the sound you hear. The notes played on a piano and clarinet are the same but they have a texture that differentiates them from one another. Click the audio files below to hear the F4 key be played and see which instrument the sound belongs to (audio files will open in a new window):

Instrument #1

Instrument #2

Instrument #3

Instrument #4

Each instrument played the same note but had a different tone quality to them. Were you able to tell what instrument was played? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Musical Pitch: Will My Piano Always Be In Tune?

When you initially buy your piano its musical pitch should be perfectly tuned but as time goes on, the wood that holds the strings in place, the sound board, will swell or flatten out, causing the notes to be on and off tuned in varying degrees. Depending on the climate you live in and how often you play, you’ll want to get your piano tuned 2 to 4 times a year. You can always ask your piano technician their opinion after a few services.

Musical Pitch: How Can I Memorize Different Pitches?

Every time you go through your lessons, you’re training your sense of hearing to what’s being played. Subconsciously, you’re memorizing the musical pitch of your piano and as long as it’s in tune, this is what you’ll hear.

Another way to memorize different pitches is to practice the major and minor scales. The most popular is the C Major Scale because it includes all of the white keys and is easier to play. If you want to practice hearing the black keys, the B Major Scale includes them all.

Here’s an example to get you started. My article Beginning Piano Lessons – Learning The Treble Clef Staff will accustom you to the keys shown below:

 

D F A Notes On The Treble Clef

D F A Notes On The Treble Clef

 

D F A Keys On The Piano Keyboard

D F A Keys On The Piano Keyboard

 

D# F# G# On The Treble Clef

D# F# G# On The Treble Clef

D# F# G# Keys On The Piano Keyboard

D# F# G# Keys On The Piano Keyboard

Conclusion

Becoming accustomed to the sounds you play for your piano lessons increases your awareness of proper musical pitch. The more you practice, the better you’ll be as a pianist. One piece that you can learn to get the full range of the piano keyboard is the Moonlight Sonata (Complete) by Beethoven. Click the image to the left to purchase the music sheet and begin learning this beautiful, yet haunting song.

Have you heard someone sing off pitch or play an instrument that definitely needed tuning? Tell me your story in the comments below.

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There are well over 90 music symbols that are used to demonstrate how to play a musical piece and even though it can be overwhelming, you’ll eventually need to learn them as you take more lessons. But there are a handful you can learn today since they are repeated in many beginning exercises you’ll play on a daily basis through your piano lessons.

The symbols we’ll get into today determine what key you should hit, how quickly or slowly you play that key, and how all the notes are normally arranged. Each one we’ll go over are easy to learn and simple to remember.

Commonly Used Music Symbols – Grand Staff

From beginning to professional pieces, music sheets contain grand staves that combines the notes to played on the treble clef (top) and bass clef (bottom) staffs. The notes used for each clef determines how many high and low pitch notes will be played in the piece. The image below shows the grand staff and describes each piece within:

Grand Staff with Music Symbols Explained

Grand Staff with Music Symbols Explained

 

Commonly Used Music Symbols - Whole Note

The whole note has a black oval shape with an angular, empty, and smaller oval in the middle. It represents a count of four beats, meaning you will hold the key the whole note is sitting on for four beats. Here is how it looks on the treble clef staff:

The Whole Note Sitting on the Treble Clef Staff

The Whole Note Sitting on the Treble Clef Staff

 

Commonly Used Music Symbols - Half Note

A half note holds half the count of a whole note. It will last for two beats and has a white, empty oval shape with a black outline around it, along with a long stem that comes up on its right side. A book that I mention in an article called Learn How To Play The Piano – Fingering Positions, displays an example of this note in the first bar. View its shape below:

Treble Clef Staff Lines with Half Notes

Treble Clef Staff Lines with Half Notes

 

Commonly Used Music Symbols - Quarter Note

There is a similarity in the shapes of the half and quarter note music symbols. They both have an oval shape with a stem on its right side but the quarter note is filled in with the color of black. It lasts for just one beat in a music measure:

Quarter Notes sitting on the Treble Clef

Quarter Notes sitting on the Treble Clef

 

Commonly Used Music Symbols - Eighth Note

An eighth note is shaped like the quarter note but has a curve or hooked flag coming from the top of its stem. When more than one eighth note is paired together, they are connected through a beam, replacing their flags. My post, Finger Exercises For Piano Lessons – Hanon-Schaum Book 1, mentions a book that uses this note quite a bit in the 24 lessons it provides. The eighth note lasts ⅛ of the time within a measure, which is an eighth of the time the whole note lasts:

Eighth Notes on the Treble Clef Staff

Eighth Notes on the Treble Clef Staff

 

Commonly Used Music Symbols - Sixteenth Note

The last note we’ll discuss in this article is the sixteenth note. Similar to the eighth note, it is 1/16th of the whole note, requiring you to play it faster when seen on the grand staff. The eighth and sixteenth music symbols have a similar shape except the sixteenth note has a second flag on its stem and has two beams when connected to another sixteenth note:

Representation of the Sixteenth Note

Representation of the Sixteenth Note

 

Conclusion

There are many other music symbols that you’ll run into during your piano lessons, but these twelve are the ones you’ll see most often. Practicing everyday will get you further along in your skills and knowledge of music theory.

What other notes have you seen or read about? Leave your comment below.

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