How to Read Music: The Musical Way

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Let’s explore the variety of ways that an expert musician might perceive and conceive of the music…

Hint: Before fussing over the details, the expert understands everything in the context of the big picture. In other words, the expert zooms out before zooming in! Using the first four bars of Bach’s immortal Minuet in G as an example, let’s take a closer look …

Overall Impressions

The piece looks like classical music. It does not even remotely look like jazz or rock or ragtime or country. In fact, the melodic-looking bass line suggests the use of something called counterpoint, a commonly used device in baroque music.

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Meter

A quick inspection of the time signature tells us that this piece has an essential “three-ness” to it. And so, any artistic rendition will be infuse with this lilting sense of “three-ness”…

Tonality & Key Center

The key signature (one sharp), along with a melody that strongly outlines a G Major scale tell us that this piece is in the key of G Major…

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Of course, you should always confirm your theoretical analysis by ear. Play, listen, and sing the melody out loud and notice that these four bars have a definite major-ish quality that revolves around the note G!

Melodic Phrases

Judging by both the contour and rhythm of the melody, these four measures are sub-divided into two similar 2-bar phrases. They are so similar, in fact that they may be more aptly called phrase A1 and phrase A2…

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Melodic Shape

Notice the a well-defined contour in the melody that has the very same shape in each 2-bar section. You might conceive of it as a doodle of arrows!

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Rhythmic Motives

Notice the simply, but catchy and well-defined rhythmic motive that is repeated identically in each 2 bar phrase…

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Harmonic Structure

The chord progression is shown below along with the Roman Numeral Analysis and all chord tones circled:

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Notice how many chord tones are in the melody and how many melody tones are in the harmony. You will see this time and time again in every kind of music!


Detailed Melodic Analysis

Here is the melody analyzed in functional terms using Solfege. Sing the melody out loud and be receptive to the unique sound-feelings of each Solfege syllable…

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Fingering

The expert will see a fingering for this passage that makes physical and musical sense. It should be easy to play and consistent with the flow of the phrases. One solution is shown below. Notice the logical five note groupings with pinkies on the highest note in each phrase and thumbs on the lowest notes in each phrase:

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Putting it all Together

For now, notice how the meter, phrasing, rhythm, melody, and harmony all work together to define what makes this piece of music really tick!

Don’t freak out. you are not expected to be able to do all the above at this point. The intent, for now, is to expose you to the depth of musical understanding that is possible for even a simple piece of music and to give you a sense direction as your musicianship develops.

All this will surely come together by osmosis as your studies of rhythm, scales, chords, and chord progressions unfold.

learn more… Music Notation: The Grand Staff

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