We have already learned the letter names of the white keys, what proper fingering is, and the C Major scale for the right and left hand. Now it is time to put it all together and learn the basics of composition.
In order to play a piece of music, one must learn how it was made.
It’s important to note
Think of the white keys as little seeds in a garden. Play one at random and you have the beginning to a million songs. All great composers, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Duke Ellington, Count Basie… all of them began to compose their music by playing the single seed of a note. The difference between a masterpiece and say, a cat plunking at the keys, composers understand which notes to play and which to ignore.
Music isn’t some magical instinct only a few are born with. It’s all very scientific. This means that any man, woman, and child can learn the concepts of Western composition to a certain level. Theoretically speaking, anyone can even compose a song, one just needs to learn the proper tools. Truthfully speaking, not everyone can write a masterpiece. This is where the brilliance of a composer comes in.
Think of it this way, anyone can build a log cabin, but only a few can build a cathedral. Yet both use the same techniques and similar tools… its just that the cathedral is built from many complicated concepts, all of them interwoven and in harmony with one another.
Before you run off and start composing that symphony you’ve always wanted, let me teach you the basic tools of composition. What you are able to do with them is yet to be discovered, and it all begins with playing that single seed of a note.
Coupling notes into intervals
Notes are not forever alone. They sit very close to one another. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain this now. The next thing a composer will do after plucking his first note is play another. This is where it gets a bit complected.
Intervals are a coupling of two notes. These notes can be played at the same time, or one after the other.
One after the other
Melody is built on a string of intervals all tied together. Think of the simple tune Merry had a Little Lamb. In fact why don’t we play it.
Place your R. H. in C position. Play the letter notes below. Uppercase notes in bold need to be held twice as long.
e-d-c-d-e-e-E.. d-d-D.. e-g-G.. e-d-c-d-e-e-e-e-d-d-e-d-C..
Good job! You’ve just played your first song! (as far as I know)
Play the first two notes e-d. This is an interval. The second and third note, d-c, is another interval. All two notes side by side are intervals strung up together, one note played after the other.
Play E and D at the same time. You have just played the second form of the interval.
At the same time
Keep your hands in C position throughout this lesson.
Chords are made from intervals stacked on top of each other, very much like pillars of sound. This means playing more than one note at the same time. Even cats can play a chord since, theoretically, any number of notes played at the same makes one.
I will be teaching you here about what makes a beautiful chord. Ugliness has its place now, as long as it is resolved into something beautiful. It’s best to start with beauty though. Too many notes played at once can be quite crass.
Most beautiful chords are made of three notes played at the same time. Certain intervals sound prettier than others.
C and D played at the same time sound horrendous!
Play C and E at the same time now… that sounds lovely. A good composer understands this… and now you do to.
C/D is an interval called a 2nd.
C/E is an interval called a 3rd.
(count the 3rd out yourself, C is the 1st note, skip the D which is the second note, and finally E has become the 3rd note. Remember an interval is only 2 notes long. So in this case, the C and E played at the same time is a 3rd.)
A beautifully stacked chord is two 3rds placed on top of each other.
Play C/E (using the 1 and 3 finger)
Now play E/G (using the 3 and 5 finger)
Now play both 3rds together C/E/G (using the 1, 3, and 5 finger).
This is called the C Major chord.
If you are having trouble playing the three notes above, never fear! Our fingers always seem to be a few steps behind the mind.
Click on the next lesson below to learn how to play them.
Happy piano playing!