Now it’s time to learn our ABCs – musically, that is.

When learning a new language, it’s important to learn the alphabet used. Latin based languages like English, Spanish, and French use the familiar A,B,Cs, while the Greek, Hebrew, and Chinese languages use entirely different symbols.

I suggest that we go about learning music in a similar way. To become literate in music, let’s start with simply knowing the “alphabet” that is used: A,B,C,D,E,F, and G. Then they repeat.

These “letters” refer to the tones and/or pitches of Western music. We can also call them “notes.”

In between some of those notes are what we call “sharps” – which uses a # symbol or “flats” – which uses a lower case b as its symbol. Here’s where the sharps go: A,A#,B,C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#.

If we chose to use “flats” (b) instead, they would go here: A,Bb,B,C,Db,D,Eb,E,F,Gb,G,Ab.

Whether we use sharps or flats to talk about those notes, you might remember that there is always a sharp or flat between every letter, EXCEPT E and F, and B and C. Why are there two ways to refer to these extra notes? Let’s just save that discussion for later – in the meantime, that’s the way it is. And it’s pretty simple to learn.

Look at this diagram of a piano keyboard: there you have the white keys: A-G, and the black keys inbetween are the ones labeled # or b. There are 12 unique notes in all.

There’s your alphabet! Learn it. See that piano diagram in your head whenever you talk about music, and you will begin to see the relationship between notes.

We can go on and on about what to do with these notes. We can start to notice whether two notes are right next to each other, or separated by other notes. There are chords, intervals, scales, and all sorts of “theory” we can discuss, but for now – just learn this.

Now, some of you may say that there are a great number of successful musicians who don’t really know this. I agree. There are some people brought up in the church or in other musical families where music was a constant. From a young age, they absorbed music and can play magnificently without really thinking about the theory that goes into playing.

That’s sort of like how we learn to talk, isn’t it? From a young age, we listen, repeat, and start to learn how to form words and sentences. As we grow, this information is ingrained in our minds.

But you are learning music as an adult, I am guessing, and we simply don’t have the time to learn it intuitively as a young child does. We can fast-track our learning by getting to know the basics, and going on from there.

Feel free to comment and/or to ask questions.



One Response to “Now it’s time to learn our ABCs – musically, that is.”

  1. Steve Says:

    Excellent explanation introducing music theory to beginners. You’re a very good teacher.

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