Monday, September 24, 2012


We know that we have major scales/keys and minor scales/keys, but let's take a look at how the two are related. It's quite simple really.

You'll notice that in the circle of fifths the major keys are on the outside of the circle and the minor keys are on the inside of the circle. This shows us that the major and minor key signatures are the same. For example, look at the top of the circle. You have C major and A minor - they both have the same key signature = no sharps or flats; G major and E minor both have one sharp (F#).

What is the theory behind this? Why are those particular majors paired with those particular minors? This is where their "relationship" comes into play. We call it the " relative minor". Each major scale has a relative minor scale and we find this by using our scale degrees. Begin on the first degree of any major scale and find the 6th tone. This is the relative minor of that major scale.

C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C                                                                                                                  
1    2    3   4    5    6    7    8                                                                                                                  

The key signature of the major scale will be the same for the relative minor scale. Try finding the relative minor of E major scale. What is the 6th tone of the E major scale? Yes, it is C#. So the relative minor to E major is C# minor.

Let's look at the scale pattern for a minor scale, using whole steps (ws) and half steps(hs):

A minor:

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    A  
   ws   hs   ws   ws  hs  ws  ws

C# minor:

C#    D#    E    F#  G#    A    B    C#
    ws     hs    ws   ws   hs    ws  ws

So the terms relative minor or relative 6th are really pretty easy to figure out once you know the formula. Have fun with this and see how many minor scales you can find using this formula.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let's Have A Little Fun!!!

A couple of years ago my girls brought a very interesting fact to my attention, via YouTube. Did you know that every pop song in the last 40 years uses the same four chords? It's true! They had me watch a YouTube video by Axis of Awesome - 4 Chords and I was astounded, mostly because I had never realized this. Every song uses the I, vi, V, IV chord progression (see the "Scale Degrees" post).

Here is the URL to the video (Warning: there is profanity in the beginning)

One of my students wanted only to play pop songs for their recital pieces. I had tried to explain to them that, unless they are arranged specifically for piano at an advanced level, they are pretty monotonous for the audience. Once I saw this video I shared it with them and they got it, to the point that they wanted to do a parody of it. So we did! It was a lot of fun and everyone was amazed at the validity in it.

Now I'm not knocking the I, iv, V, IV chord progression. It obviously is very successful! I just like to see my students broaden their horizon and go beyond that...and then go ahead and write a pop song, if they so wish. And, if they want a pop song to succeed, definitely use the I, vi, V, IV progression.  But, if you're going to write, or play, classical, jazz, symphonic metal, opera, etc., it will have to be much more complicated and original.

Hope you enjoyed the video as much as we did! Have a great week!!!

Friday, September 14, 2012


We're going to take a quick look at the order of sharps and flats. Why is this important? When we are writing music there is an order in which we write the sharps/flats on the staff and it is found on the circle of fifths.

Say you are going to compose a piece of music in the key of D. You know, by the circle of fifths, that there are two sharps in the key of D = F# and C#. When writing the key signature on the staff you must write the F# first and then the C#. Why? Because, on the circle of fifths, G is a fifth up from C and has one sharp in it, which is F#. It is the first sharp in the circle of fifths.


How do we know that F is sharped in the key of G? This takes us back to our major scale pattern:
WS   WS   HS   WS   WS   WS   HS                                                                                                        
Begin on G on the keyboard and follow this pattern and you will find that F is the only sharped note in G major scale.

If we follow our circle of fifths the sharps are in this order: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#. Another way to think of it is in fifths. Notice that each sharp is a fifth up from the latter.

This is what the order of sharps looks like on the staff:

So when you are writing the D key signature you would write the order of F# and C# in the order seen here: F# first, C# sharp following.

Now let's look at the order of flats. The same rule applies. We find which notes are flatted by using our major scale pattern. Then when writing the key signature we place the flats in the proper order that they are in on the circle of fifths: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb. Another way to think of the order of flats is to think in fifths. Each flat is a fifth DOWN from the latter.

Here is what the order of flats looks like on the staff:

If you were writing the key signature for Eb it would be as follows: Bb, Eb, Ab

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.