Music Terminology

Music Terminology

One of the things that makes learning music a bit challenging is that there are plenty of strange and unusual terms that are used regularly.   Chromatics Music Playing Cards offer a venue to learn these terms before sitting down and struggling with your instrument.

  1. Chromatic Scale

    There are twelve unique tones in all of western European music.   Five of these tones have two names that are both listed here with a slash “/” between the two names.  These tones, in order of their pitch are known as the chromatic scale.

    The twelve tones are as follows:

    1.  A

    2.  A#/Bb

    3.  B

    4.  C

    5.  C#/Db

    6.  D

    7.  D#/Eb

    8.  E

    9.  F

    10.  F#/Gb

    11.  G

    12.  G#/Ab

    Notice the five of the tones have two names such as C# and Db are literally the same tone.  The reason for these two names is to allow any scale to be described using all the seven letters of A through G.    This will become more clear as you learn particular scales.

    When playing with Chromatics Music Cards, the ranking for the twelve unique values in a chromatic scale from low to high listed as follows:

    A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab,  then an A can also conveniently play a similar roll as an Ace and be played high or low in many games.

  2. Flats and Sharps

    The terms flat and sharp are used to describe moving down (flat) or up (sharp) by the distance of one half-step, or a semitone.   A “D flat” is one half step lower than a “D”.   For notation, flat is indicated with a small “b”, ie: D flat is written as Db.   A sharp is indicated with the pound sign: “#”.  D sharp is written D#.

    Notice that in some scale and chords you may see some unexpected uses of sharp and flat.   For example, in Db minor, you will notice an Fb tone where you’d expect an E tone.   If you think about it, moving a half-step down from F is E so Fb is also E.

    The reason for this mild confusion is that there is a convention in musical writings to use each of the seven letters of A through G once when describing a scale.   In the key of Db minor, the scale begins with Db, Eb and then Fb.   But because the letter E was already used by the Eb, the F is used with a flat to indicate the tone of E.   This can be a little bit confusing in the beginning but in the long run, you’ll notice that it’s easier to think about a scale when using each of the letters A though G once and then simply use the appropriate sharps or flats as needed.

    Notice also when there are double sharps and/or flats.   The key of G# Major has a double sharp F that is illustrated as F##.   This simply means take F and go up two semi-tones to G.   G is already used by G# hence the use of F##.

  3. Root or Key

    A root tone is the first tone in a scale or chord.  The root is the starting point for all measurements of distance. The root is also knows as the first interval or the “key” of a scale.  When a chord is built, it is said to be built on the root.   The root tone is the primary tone in a chord and will be the strongest tone of all the tones in that chord.

  4. Interval

    An Interval is the distance between two tones.  Common intervals are a Half-Step, Whole Step, a minor or a Major.

  5. Arpeggio

    Arpeggio is the term that describes the playing of the tones in a chord, one at a time in succession.

  6. Half Step or Semi-tone

    A half step or semi-tone is the distance between two tones that are next to each other in the chromatic scale.

    Examples: A# to B or B to C or C to Db.  These are all examples of half-step distances between two tones.

  7. Whole Step

    The distance of two half steps together or from one   tone going to two tones to the right or left.

    Examples: Bb to C or C to D or E to F#. These are   all examples of whole-step distances.

  8. minor Interval

    A minor Interval is a whole step coupled with a half-step.  or three half steps coupled together.

    Note that whenever making notation of minors, the “m” will be small case.

    Examples: E to G or A to C or G to Bb.

  9. Major Interval

    A Major Interval is two whole steps coupled together or four half steps coupled together

    Note that whenever making notation of Majors, the “M” will be in upper case and is usually omitted.   When you see notation that says the chord of “G”, that is G Major.   “Gm” would be G minor.   .

    Examples: C to E or A to C# or G to B

  10. Triad Chord

    A triad is a chord that consists of the Root (first), third and fifth intervals of a particular scale.  Common triads are minor triad chords and Major triad chords.

  11. Major Triad Chord

    A Major triad chord is a Major intravel followed by a minor Interval. Or another way to think about it is a minor stacked on top of a major. Lastly, a Major triad is the root, third and fifth tones of a scale.

    Examples: C Major – C, E, and G or A Major – A, C# and E

  12. minor Triad Chord

    A minor triad chord is a minor interval followed by a Major Interval. Or another way to think of it is a Major interval stacked on top of a minor interval. Lastly, a minor triad is the root, minor third and fifth tones of a scale.

    Examples: C minor – C, Eb, and G or A minor – A, C and E.

  13. Seventh Chord

    A seventh chord is built on a triad by adding the seventh tone of the scale to the triad.  Seventh chords add richness to the sound of a basic triad.