10.Letter Names of the Staff

The musical Alphabet 

The notes placed on the staff lines and spaces are named with letters of the alphabet. Unlike the 26 letters English alphabet, the musical alphabet uses only 7 letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Once we reach the letter G, we begin the alphabet all over again. Here are the letter names of the notes on the treble and bass staff. 

If you look carefully, you will notice that the pitches of the bass staff are just two letter names apart from those on the treble staff. For example, ‘G’ in the bass staff is two letter names from ‘E’ in the treble staff.

11.Sharps and Flats on the Keyboard

Sharps 

A sharp sign is a symbol which indicates that we are to play a particular pitch one half step higher. The sharp sign looks like this: 

The letter ‘F’ with a sharp sign after it indicates that we are to play the pitch one half step higher than ‘F’. We call this key ‘F sharp’- (F#). 

Flats 

A flat sign is a symbol which indicates that we are to play a particular pitch one half step lower. The flat sign looks like this: 

The letter ‘B’ with a flat sign after it indicates that we are to play the pitch one half step lower than ’B’ We call this key ‘B flat’

It is common misconception that sharps and flats are the black keys. While it is true that some sharps and flats are black keys, not all of them are. As you can see in the preceding diagram that shows sharps and flats on white keys. 

Also, in the above diagram, the key one-half step to the right of ‘B’ is a white key. Since this key is already named ‘C’ it will therefore have two different letters. ‘C’ and ‘B sharp’ are two different letters for the same key. 

When two notes sound the same but are spelled differently, they are called enharmonic equivalents. ‘B sharp’ is the enharmonic equivalent of ‘C’.

12.Introduction to Intervals

Measuring Musical Distance 

In this chapter, we are going to learn how distance in music is measured. The distance from one pitch to another is called an interval. (From the Latin word, “Intervallum”, meaning “the space between two walls”; inter = between, vallum = wall)  

Distance between pitches can be measured on the piano keyboard or on the staff. Measuring an interval on the keyboard is simply counting keys. We call the interval below a 5th since it encompasses 5 keys.  

Measuring an interval on the staff is simply counting lines and spaces. 

There are 7 basic intervals. Here an example of each (both on the staff and the keyboard). 

(Chapter 12 – Audio Sample 1)

13.Introduction to the Scale

Steps of the Scale 

There are many different types of scales, in this chapter we are going to look at the major scale. The major scale is a particular sequence of whole steps and half steps encompassing 8 pitches. The sequence in ascending order are as follow: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

We call the preceding diagram a ‘C’ major scale, since the sequence of whole steps and half steps begins on ‘C’. It is very important to understand as long as the sequence of whole steps and half steps remains the same, a scale may begin on any pitch. Here is an example of a ‘G’ major scale. It has the same sequence of whole steps and half steps, but because it begins and ends on ‘G’ it is called ‘G’ major scale rather than a ‘C’ major scale. 

As you can see, the ‘C’ major scale consisted of all white keys (no sharps or flats), whereas the ‘G’ major scale contains one black key (an ‘F sharp’). A black key is used to maintain the sequence of whole steps and half steps. For example, if ‘F’ was used instead of ‘F sharp’, the sequence of whole steps and half steps would have been; whole, whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole. This would not be a major scale. It would also sound very different from a major scale due to the difference in the sequential order of whole steps and half steps.  

Here is the ‘G’ major scale on the staff. 

(Chapter 13 – Audio Sample 1)

14.Major Keys

The Definition of a ‘Key’ 

The pitches that composers and musicians use are determined by the key they are writing in. A key is a specific group of pitches used to write a piece of music (or part of a piece of music. 

Composers and songwriters use the 7 distinct pitches of scales to write their music. For example, if a song is made up from the pitches of the C major scale, we say that the song is written in the ‘key’ of C major; if the song is made up of from the pitches of G major scale, we can say that the song is written in the ‘key’ of G major. 

Key Signature 

The key a piece is written in is indicated through a key signature. A key signature is the sharps or flats placed on the staff at the beginning of each line of music. Here is an example: 

A performer who sees this key signature above, ‘F sharp’ will know that the song is written in the key of G major. There are two ways the performer will know this. The first way of knowing is through knowledge of scales; if they have learned their scales well, they will know that G major scale consists of G, A, B, C, D, E, and F sharp. The second way is by memorizing the circle of fifth.  

All key signatures are written with the sharps and flats in a particular order. Sharps in a key signature are always placed in the following order on the staff. We call this, the order of sharps.

Flats in a key signature are always placed in the following order on the staff. We call this, the order of flats.

There are two useful mnemonic devices that will help to remember the order of sharps and flats. The order of sharps can be remembered with the following mnemonic device. 

Father Christmas Gave Dad AElectric Blanket’ 

The order of flats can be remembered with the following mnemonic device. 

Blanket Explodes And Dad Gets Cold Feet’ 

Note: the order of flats is the reverse of the order of sharps. 

Major Keys with Sharps and Flats 

The circle of fifth is a very useful tool that has many applications. Understanding and memorizing it will help you to know all of different keys that songs may be written in. The keys that contain sharps are found on the right side of the circle of fifth. And the keys that contain flats are found on the left side of the circle of fifth.


Here are a few important things to note about the preceding diagram. 

  1. Starting with the key of ‘C’ and moving in a clockwise direction, each key is a 5th apart. (‘G’ is a 5th higher than ‘C’, ‘D’ is a 5th higher than ‘G’, etc.) In regards to flats, starting with the key of ‘C’ and moving anti-clockwise direction, each key is a 5th apart. (‘F’ is a 5th lower than ‘C’, ‘B flat’ is a 5th lower than ‘F’, etc.) 
  1. Starting with the key of ‘C’ and moving clockwise direction, each key has an additional sharp (1 sharp more than the previous key on the circle). And starting with the key of ‘C’ and moving anti-clockwise direction, each key has an additional flat (1 flat more than the previous key on the circle). 
  1. Each additional sharp follows the ‘order of sharps. (‘F sharp’ is the first sharp added; ‘C sharp’ is the next sharp added; etc.) And each additional flat follows the ‘order of flats. (‘B flat’ is the first flat added; ‘E flat’ is the next flat added; etc.) 

Another very useful technique to identify key signature is by counting down the number of sharps or just look at the last sharp and discover the name of the key. Let’s say you are looking at a piece of music and the key signature has 3 sharps. You want to know what key this is. All you have to do is simply name the last sharp and then name the pitch one half step higher.

The last sharp in the key signature above is ‘G sharp’. One half step higher than ‘G sharp’, is ‘A’. Therefore, the name of the key is ‘A major’.  You can use this technique to find the name of any key signature that contains sharps.  

Here’s another example: 

The last sharp in the key signature above is ‘E sharp’. One half step higher than ‘E sharp’, is F. Therefore, the name of the key is ‘F major’.  

Now let’s look at flats. Let’s say you are looking at a piece of music and the key signature has 3 flats. You want to know what key this is. Unlike we did for sharps, we have to name the second last flat.

The second last flat in the key signature above is ‘E flat’. Therefore, the name of this key signature is ‘E flat major’.  

You can use this technique to find the name of any key signature that contains flats. Except for the key of F major. F major only has one flat, there is no “second last” flat. The key signature of F major must be memorized.  

En-harmonic Keys 

When two different keys have the same sound but are spelled differently, they are considered to be en-harmonic keys. For example, a song written in the key of ‘F sharp major’ will sound just like the exact same song written in the key of ‘G flat major’, but the music on the page will look different, since the key signatures are different.  

Because all major keys come from the pitches of the major scale, this means that there will also be six en-harmonic scales. En-harmonic scales are scales that sound the same but are spelled differently. Here is an example of the en-harmonic scales ‘F sharp major’ and ‘G flat major’.

(Chapter 14 – Audio Sample 1)

(Chapter 14 – Audio Sample 2)

Both of the scales above will sound exactly the same when played. As you can see, the difference is in how they are spelled. One is spelled using sharps and the other is spelled using flats. Composers will choose one over the other depending on the musical context or the instrument they are writing for. 

‘B major’ is the en-harmonic equivalent of ‘C flat major’

‘F sharp major’ is the enharmonic equivalent of ‘G flat major’. 

And lastly ‘C sharp major’ is the en-harmonic equivalent of ‘D flat major’.

15.Minor Keys

Relative Keys 

Every major key has a corresponding minor key. We call this corresponding minor key the relative minor. Every minor key has a corresponding major key. We call corresponding major key the relative major. Keys that are “relative” share the same pitches and therefore, the same key signature. This can be illustrated with the “circle of fifths”. The uppercase letters represent the relative major keys; the lowercase letters represent the relative minor keys.

To find the relative minor of a particular major key, the name the pitch a minor 3rd lower than the major key’s name. This will be the relative minor. Let’s try this. Find the key of ‘C major’ on the circle of fifth diagram above. The pitch of a minor 3rd lower than ‘C’, is ‘A’. ‘C major’ and ‘A minor’ are relative keys; neither of them contains any sharps or flats. Let’s try a next one. Find the key of ‘G major’ on the diagram above. The pitch of a minor 3rd lower than ‘G’ is ‘E’. ‘G major’ and ‘E minor’ are relative keys, they both contain one sharp (‘F sharp’).  

Note: Everything mentioned above also works in reverse, that is, it works for finding the relative major of a minor key. To find the relative major of a particular minor key, name the pitch of a minor 3rd higher than that minor key’s name.  

The other way to find the relative minor of a particular major key is by naming the sixth pitch of that major scale. For example, the sixth pitch of the C major scale is ‘A’. Therefore, ‘A minor’ is the relative minor of ‘C major’.

(Chapter 15 – Audio Sample 1)

(Chapter 15 – Audio Sample 2)

Although this way of finding the relative key is more difficult (as it involves memorizing every possible major scale), it makes the relationship between the relative major and minor keys very apparent. Both of the scales above are made up of the exact same pitches, and this is the reason that they share the same key signature. A song written in ‘C major’ uses the exact same pitches as a song written in the key of ‘A minor’. The only difference is that the song in ‘C major’ has ‘C’ as its tonal center, while the song in ‘A minor’ has ‘A’ as its tonal center.  

Note: When using the scale to find the relative major of a particular minor key, name the third pitch of that minor scale. For example, the third pitch of the ‘A minor’ scale is ‘C’. ‘C major’ is therefore, the relative major to ‘A minor’. 

In regards to the enharmonic keys from the preceding circle of fifth diagram. ‘A minor’ is the enharmonic equivalent of ‘B flat minor’; ‘D sharp minor’ is the enharmonic equivalent of ‘E flat minor’; ‘G sharp minor’ is the enharmonic equivalent of ‘A flat minor’.  

Parallel Keys 

Keys that have the same tonal center are called parallel keys. Because they share the same tonal center, parallel keys will therefore, also have the same letter name. Parallel keys do not however, have the same key signature. Here is an example of ‘C major’ and its parallel minor, ‘C minor’.

(Chapter 15 – Audio Sample 3)

(Chapter 15 – Audio Sample 4)

As you can see, both keys have the same tonal center (or root), ‘C’. All of the pitches have the same letter names, but three of the pitches are flats in ‘C minor’. The key signature of ‘C major’ and the key signature of ‘C minor’ will therefore, be different.  

Relative and parallel keys are very important in music, because it is very easy to transition from major key to the relative minor key, or from major key to the parallel minor key.  

16.Introduction to Chords

Major and Minor Chords 

One of the differences between an interval and a chord is that an interval consists of two distinct pitches, whereas a chord consists of three or more distinct pitches. Most chords have three distinct pitches. We call these chords triads (tri = three). The first chord we are going to look at is the major chord. The major chord is made up of two intervals; the lower interval is a major 3rd and the upper interval is a minor 3rd. (Remember, a major 3rd is equal to 4 steps, while a minor 3rd is equal to 3 half steps.) 

The following diagram is an example of a ‘C major’ chord on the keyboard and on the staff.  

(Chapter 16 – Audio Sample 1)

It is important to note that the pitches of a chord must skip letters in the alphabet (CDEFG). The pitches on the staff must skip lines or spaces; in the preceding diagram, spaces are being skipped (line – space – line – space – line). 

The letter name of a chord is determined by the letter name of the lowest pitch in the chord. The chord above is called a ‘C’ chord because its lowest pitch is ‘C’. The word ‘major’ can be represented with a capital letter ‘M’. For example, the C major chord can be written as ‘CM’ or ‘Cmaj’. 

Let’s look at the minor chord. A minor chord is in a sense the opposite of a major chord. The minor chord is also made up of two intervals: the lower interval is a minor 3rd and the upper interval is a major 3rd. The following diagram is an example of a ‘D minor’ chord on the keyboard and on the staff. 

(Chapter 16 – Audio Sample 2)

The word ‘minor’ can be represented with a lowercase letter ‘m’. For example, the D minor chord can be written as ‘Dm’ or ‘Dmin’.

17.Chords of the Major Scale

Chord Roots 

If we take a major scale and build a chord on each note of the scale, we can form seven different chords. The pitch of the scale that the chord is built upon is called the root. The root also corresponds with the chord’s letter name. (The root of the ‘C chord’ is ‘C’; the root of the ‘D chord’ is ‘D’; etc.) 

Chord Qualities of the Major Scale 

As you can see in the preceding diagram, there are a total of three major chords, three minor chords, and one diminished chord. 

It is important to understand that the chord qualities found in the major scale always appear in the same order no matter what the scale. Here is an example of the chords that can be formed using only the pitches of the D major scale. 

Notice that once again there are three major chords, three minor chords, and one diminished chord, and that they all occur in the same order (M-m-m-M-M-m-dim) 

The reason so many of the notes in the preceding diagram have sharps next to them is because the chords are formed using only the pitches of the D major scale: D, E, F sharp, G, A, B, and C sharp. Therefore, all ‘F’s’ and ‘C’s’ in any of the chords must be sharp.  

Roots of Scales and Keys 

At the beginning of this chapter, we know that every chord has a root. Scales and keys also have roots. The root of a scale is the pitch that the scale is built upon. For example, a ‘C major’ scale will have ‘C’ as its root.  

Root Root


The root of a scale (or key) is also sometime referred to as the ‘key-note’ or ‘home note’. It is the pitch where the music feels most peaceful and at rest. The root of a key is the tonal center of a piece of music (or section of music). A tonal center is a specific pitch which the piece (or section) center around. For example, a piece of music in the key of ‘F major’ will have ‘F’ as its tonal center, I.e., ‘F’ will be the pitch which the music is centered around. There are numerous ways a piece of music can be centered around the pitch of ‘F’.  

  • ‘F’ may be the first and last pitch of a song. 
  • ‘F’ may be the most frequently heard pitch. 
  • The chord built on ‘F’ may be the most frequently heard chord. 
  • Chords with the strong relationships to the ‘F’ chord will be used to refer the listener back to the tonal center ‘F’. 

Note: Since the key of a piece originates from the pitches of the scale, the root of the scale and the root of the key will always be the same pitch.

18. Natural Minor Scale

Comparing Major and Minor Scales 

There are three forms of minor scales. The form that we will be looking at in this chapter is called the natural minor scale. The term “natural” has nothing to do with the natural sign that cancels out a sharp or a flat. “Natural” denotes that the scale is in its “natural” form. The difference between the major scale and the natural scale is the order in which the whole steps and half steps occur.  

C Major

(Chapter 18 – Audio Sample 1)

A Natural Minor Scale 

(Chapter 18 – Audio Sample 2)

Notice that the half steps in the natural minor scale occur at different places than in the major scale. The half steps are located between pitches 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 in the major scale, and between pitches 2 & 3 and 5 & 6 in the natural minor scale.  

The natural minor scale above is called an “A natural minor” scale because it begins and ends on “A”. If we had begun the scale on a pitch other than “A”, certain pitches would need to be sharped or flatted to maintain the order of whole steps and half steps. Here is an example of a “D natural minor” scale. As you can see, a ‘B flat’ is needed to maintain the half step between the 5th and 6th pitches. 

D Natural Minor Scale

(Chapter 18 – Audio Sample 3)

19. Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

The Harmonic Minor Scale 

In the previous chapter we learned about the natural minor scale. In this chapter we are going to look at the other two forms of minor scales and they are: the harmonic minor scale and melodic minor scale. Let’s start with the harmonic minor scale and compare it with natural minor scale.

“A natural minor” scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 1)

“A harmonic minor” scale

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 2)

As you can see in the preceding diagrams, there is only one difference between the natural minor scale and the harmonic minor scale. The 7th pitch of the harmonic minor scale is raised one half step. Because of this, the order of whole steps and half steps is different. In fact, the distance between the 6th and 7th pitches of the scale (F to G sharp) is neither a whole step nor a half step; it is three half steps. This makes the harmonic minor scale the only scale that is not made up entirely of single whole steps and half steps.  

Important: the pitches of the scale must be neighbour letters of the musical alphabet. For example, G sharp was used above rather than its enharmonic equivalent, A flat, to avoid have two “A’s” in a row (A, B, C, D, E, F, A flat, A) Using “A flat” would be an incorrect spelling of the scale.  

Out of the three forms of minor scales, the harmonic minor scale is the most commonly used by composers and songwriters. One of the reasons for this is the raised 7th. The raised 7th produces a larger distance between the 6th and the 7th pitches of the scale and a smaller distance between the 7th & 8th pitches. This creates a stronger “pull” towards the key’s tonal center “A”. In other words, hearing the root “A” becomes even more satisfying, and the sense of being at rest on the “home note” is even stronger.  

The Melodic Minor Scale 

The third and final form of minor scale is the melodic minor scale.

“A Natural Minor” Scale

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 3)

“A Melodic Minor” Scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 4)

As you can see in the preceding diagrams, there are only two differences between the natural minor scale and the melodic minor scale. The 6th and 7th pitches of the melodic minor scale are raised one half step. Because of this, the order of whole steps and half steps is different.  

It is important to note that the melodic minor scale is played one way when ascending and another way when descending. It is only the ascending version that contains the raised 6th and 7th pitches; the descending version is played exactly like a descending “natural” minor scale (without the raised 6th and 7th pitches). 

The ascending melodic minor scale also has a similarity to the major scale. The sequence of whole steps and half steps formed by the last four pitches are the same in each scale (Whole – whole – half).  

Ascending “A melodic minor” scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 5)

“A Major” scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 6)