Unit 1 Lesson 1 & 2
The piano has a total of 88 keys, with a recurring pattern of 12 white and black keys. The keys
are identified by the notes they represent, using the first seven letters of the alphabet, from A to
G. We usually begin with the letter C. The black keys are referred to as either sharp (#) or
flat (b), depending on whether they are a half-step above (#) or below (b) the letter name note.
A half-step, or semitone, is the distance between two adjacent keys. Adjacent keys are any two
keys directly next to each other, such as C to C# (white to black), C# to D (black to white), or E
to F (white to white).
A whole-step, or whole tone, is equal to two half-steps. Examples of whole-steps are: C to D
(white to white), C# to D# (black to black), E to F# (white to black), and Bb to C (black to
The repeating pattern of notes on the keyboard represents an octave.
An octave is the span of eight letter-name notes.
The first note of a seven-note scale and the eighth note have an arithmetic relationship of 2:1 in
terms of pitch frequency.
Two notes an octave apart sound so similar that we call the two notes by the same letter name,
and if they are played at the same time, they sound much like a single pitch
Diatonic Scales: Seven-Note Scales
Whenever individuals begin learning a musical instrument, they generally start with the C major
scale, which is adiatonic scale, or seven-note scale, beginning on the note C and continuing
with each successive letter-name note up to the note B. These notes correspond to the solfege
syllables with which you may already be familiar: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do.
The eighth note of the scale -- the second "do" or the second note C is an octave above the
In our musical language, there are two principal types of diatonic scales (seven-note scales):
• The major scale (for example, C to C on the white keys)
• The minor scale (for example,AtoAon the white keys)
Music composed using the major scale is in a major key.
Music composed using the minor scale is in a minor key.
Notice that what makes a scale either major or minor is the specific succession of whole-steps
(W) and half-steps (H) in the scale. Notice, too, that there are more whole-steps than there are
half-steps. For example, the C major scale - and every other major scale - consists of the
W W H W W W H.
TheAminor scale - as well as every other minor scale - consists of the succession:
W H W W H W W. A staff is a set of five horizontal lines used in music notation. At the beginning of each staff is a
clef, which indicates the range of pitches to be played.
The treble clef indicates a higher range of notes:
The bass clef indicates a lower range of notes:
The grand staff combines the treble and bass clefs, and is typically how piano music is notated:
The location of notes on the staff indicates its pitch—the higher up the note is located on the
staff, the higher its pitch will be; the lower it is placed, the lower its pitch will be.
The Beat is the pulse that we feel in the music.
The Tempo is the speed at which the beats pass.
A Note is an actual musical sound.
Rhythm is created by the notes we hear. Think of a tune, for example. It is a succession of notes,
each of which has pitch and also duration. The rhythm is the succession of articulated
durations from one note to the next, to the next, and so on.
We make sense of the rhythms we hear because we feel the beat that's in the background behind
the music. The beat provides the context that allows us to make sense of the rhythm.
Not only do we feel the beat, we also sense how the beats are grouped because the first beat in
each group is emphasized. And the grouping of the beats is what we call Meter.
Meter is the grouping of beats—each group of beats is recognized because the first beat of each
group is accented.
Typically, a group of beats fills one measure. A measure, or bar, is indicated by a vertical line
on the staff that divides one group of notes from the next.
Groupings of beats can be in 2s, 3s, and 4s, called duple, triple and quadruple meters,
The type of meter is indicated in the Time Signature, which appears at the beginning of the
staff, next to the clef.
In simple meters (which we will limit ourselves to), the top number of the time signature
indicates how many beats are in each measure, and the bottom number indicates the type of note
that carries the beat. For our purposes, the quarter note - signified by the number 4 - will be the
type of note that gets one beat.
Duple meter is heard as alternating strong and weak beats. 2/4 is the most common duple meter.
Click on any combination of the Melody, Meter, or Rhythm boxes below, and then press Play.
Triple meter is heard as strong-weak-weak. 3/4 is the most common triple meter.
Click on any combination of the Melody, Meter, or Rhythm boxes below, and then press Play.
Quadruple meter combines two duple groups, where there is a greater accent, or emphasis, on
the first beat, and a slightly lesser accent on the third beat. 4/4 is the most common quadruple
Click on any combination of the Melody, Meter, or Rhythm boxes below, and then press Play. Not all melodies begin on the downbeat—that is, on the first beat of the first measure. Often
there is a note, or group of notes, leading to the downbeat—what we refer to as "the pickup."
(In fact, the triple meter example on the previous page, “My Darlin' Clementine,” began with a
pickup on beat 3.)
The "pickup" is also known as the "upbeat" or "anacrusis". (Note that, when we number
measures, measure 1 is the first complete measure).
Ordinarily, most rhythms reinforce the meter. That is, prominent notes occur on the strong
beats. Syncopation occurs when the accent on a note is placed somewhere unexpected, such as
on a weak beat, or between beats. The musician plays "off the beat."
Essential Features of jazz
As we noted in our introduction, jazz is a uniquely American art, a marvelous blending of
African Americans' musical heritage with that of European Americans. It is an intercultural
exchange resulting in a new art form.
Jazz is the invention of African Americans. Throughout the history of jazz African Americans
have been the major innovators, furthering its evolution by creating new jazz styles. Yet, the
music has drawn practitioners from all quarters, not only inAmerica, but around the world.
So . . . what is jazz? Maybe it’s a bit like the classic description of “cool”: “I can’t tell you what
it is, man, but I know it when I hear it.”
With the variety of jazz styles that have developed over the last century, we might ask: What are
the elements common to all of these styles? What makes it jazz?
Many jazz musicians and scholars would identify three essential features:
1. Improvisation, or performances that are made up on the spot by one or more of the
2. Rhythms that create a Swing Feeling.
3. and a Bluesy Flavor.
The first and most essential feature, Improvisation, is the art of jazz. Improvisation means that
the performer is spontaneously composing the music that he or she is playing—at that very
It's worth noting that improvised performance is not the sole province of jazz. Rock music and
much of the music of India and Africa also feature improvisation. And certain aspects of
performance in Western art music historically include improvisation, as well.
In Western music, though, no other music has emphasized improvisation in a group setting to
such a high degree.
And while most jazz groups have some sort of pre-set structure that shapes their music, each
piece includes significant segments of spontaneous performance by one or more of the players.
In Lesson 3A we will consider ways to appreciate jazz improvisation, all of which involve
becoming a more attentive listener. Right now, though, let's get a basic understanding of
improvisation. In each of the two duo performances below, you will hear a melody that is likely
familiar. In the first case, it's a version of "Frere Jacques" ("Are you sleeping, brother John?").
In the second, it's "When the Saints Go Marching In." The principal way that we as listeners identify when a player is improvising is by
recognizing that he or she is no longer playing the melody. Watch and listen to these two
In this first video, notice that at the outset we hear the melody played twice on trumpet (0:02-
0:37). Then the trumpet player improvises (0:38-0:57), until he plays another statement of the
tune (0:58-1:15). For nearly the next two minutes we hear improvisation, not just from the
trumpet player, who is now playing with a cup mute (1:26-2:32), but from the guitarist, as well
Most often in jazz, one soloist is featured during an improvisatory passage. It’s worth noting,
though, that even when the guitarist is providing accompaniment in response to the trumpet
soloist, he is still improvising his guitar part—although within prescribed boundaries that keep
our attention focused on the trumpet soloist.
In this second video, we hear the tune, "When the Saints Go Marching In," played initially by the
guitarist (0:02-0:22), followed by a melody statement from the trombonist (0:24-0:47). Then the
trombonist improvises (0:47-1:54), as the guitarist continues in his accompaniment role.
An interesting moment occurs, as both players improvise together in a collaborative fashion
(1:56-2:12), during which time neither player seems to be the dominant soloist. (More about this
when we study early jazz.)
Swing Feeling is often achieved as a result of three components:
1. "Swing eighth-notes"
2. An abundance of syncopations
3. Frequent polyrhythms
The first component of the Swing Feeling is the swing eighth-note.
A quarter-note is ordinarily divided into two equal eighth-notes, what jazz musicians refer to as
"straight eighth-notes," or "straight eighths."
With "swing eighth-notes," though, the quarter-note is divided into two unequal eighth-notes.
The first eighth-note receives slightly more than half of the beat; the second eighth-note, the
Swing eighth-notes create a rhythmic lilt that possesses a forward momentum. They swing!
The second component of the Swing Feeling is an abundance of syncopations.
A syncopation (as you have already learned in Lesson 1) is an accent on a note somewhere
unexpected, off the main beats; for example, in 4/4 meter, somewhere other than on beat 1 or
Syncopations using swing eighth-notes provide still more rhythmic drive forward.
The third component of the Swing Feeling is frequent polyrhythms.
A polyrhythm is a combination of two or more rhythms sounding simultaneously. Polyrhythms
increase the tension in the music.
With one instrument sounding one rhythm, and another inst