Site blog: Online Music Theory & History
One of the main tasks that all music students in music theory need to complete is the memorization of key signatures. Traditional theory employs fifteen different key signatures for thirty keys. Each key signature is shared by a major key and its relative minor. For example, we use the key signature with no sharps or flats for both C major and A minor.
I've never been fond of teaching students complicated tricks for recognizing key signatures. They just wind up learning these tricks rather than learning the different signatures. Instead, I simply encourage them and you to study and memorize them. Memorization is easy if you follow a few simple guidelines:
- set out a specific task
- work on only small bits at a time: its relatively easy to remember three things, difficult to remember ten.
- review regularly
- build on what you already know.
A simple program I set out for my students for memorizing them is as follows:
- Memorize the major keys for: no sharps and flats C major, one sharp G major, and one flat F major
- Memorize the relative minor keys up to one sharp and flat
- Memorize the major keys up to four sharps and flats
- Memorize the minor keys up to four sharps and flats
- Practice seeing a particular key signature as both its major and relative minor, for example: three sharps: A major, F-sharp minor.
- Memorize major and minor keys from five to seven sharps and flats
- Review all key signatures
You can very easily accomplish 1. above in a few minutes. Try it! Then review in five minutes, one hour, later today and when you get up tomorrow. You will then own these three key signatures forever!
You can do the same with their relative minor keys the the next day.
Once you are comfortable with these initial keys, spend some time memorizing up to four sharps and flats, number 5. above, in a similar manner. These are the key signatures required for R.C.M. Basic Rudiments of Music. Give yourself some time to really get to know them. It only takes a few minutes each day to review, and it is this daily review that will make the memorization process easy.
You can use these online flash cards to practice if you like: http://evdokimoff.com/theory/rudiments/key_sigs/
If you need some extra help with your theory, please don't hesitate to contact me through skype. or the site's online chat system.
Writing a melodic minor scale is a simple task if you follow a few steps. We will use G-sharp melodic minor as an example:
1. Write in the clef, key signature, and final barline on the staff:
2. Write the natural minor scale ascending and descending. Space the scale to the full length of the staff:
3. Raise the sixth and seventh scale degrees in the ascending form by a semitone, being careful to check your choice of accidentals against the key signature. Here the sixth is an E raised to E-sharp, and the leading note F-sharp is raised to F-double-sharp:
4. Lower the sixth and seventh scale degrees in the descending form back to the key signature. Once again take care to use the appropriate accidentals. Notice the natural/fsharp combination to lower F-double-sharp to F-sharp:
5. Check your work carefully.
The most common mistakes are:
- writing the wrong scale, for example: G minor instead of G-sharp minor
- using the incorrect accidentals
- using the wrong clef
- using the wrong key signature, for example the parallel major key instead of the minor key
Royal Conservatory of Music theory and history exams are coming up soon across Canada and the USA. You will find here a few helpful hints for you in writing your exams.
If you are well prepared, you will have more than enough time to complete your exam. Take your time. You can also easily squeeze out a few extra marks by taking advantage of any time left over after you are done writing.
Remember that neatness counts. I always tell my students to be kind to your markers. Think of them as working by candlelight late at night. They are tired, and your exam is the hundredth or so that they are marking. If you are using a pencil for theory exams, use one with a dark lead or press hard. Your notes need to be clearly on a line or a space. Use a quality clean eraser for correcting your mistakes.
Check your work carefully. You can catch your mistakes by trying to redo questions in a different order or manner than you did originally. Common errors are forgetting to read accidentals properly. For some unknown reason, many students mix up the notes B and B-flat. Another common error is to incorrectly identify the key of F-sharp minor as F minor.
For history exams, consider that you do not have to do the questions in order. Read the complete exam first. If you are having a memory lapse about a particular piece or composer, move on and come back to the question later. Other questions in the exam may help to trigger your memory once your brain warms up a bit.
Good luck everyone!