Tag Archives: pianocompanion

What’s the deal with the Circle of Fifths?

Posted on August 21, 2020 by songtive

Circle of Fiths

The circle of fifths is a visual tool that demonstrates the geometric relationships between the twelve distinct pitches used in western music culture. These pitches can also be classified as members of the chromatic scale.

A circle is an amazing tool to teach and to conceptualize musical ideas that would otherwise be terribly complicated. Before delving into the deeper truths about music that the circle keeps, let’s familiarize ourselves with its inner workings.

First of all, at its core, the circle of fifths is just that. A circle. In the same way, as an analogic clock does with numbers that represent time, the circle of fifths possesses 12 equally distributed pitches ordered by the interval of the perfect fifth, thus cycling through the twelve distinct pitches of the chromatic scale in twelve steps. Each of these notes carries a lot of information within it. Not only do they represent a particular note in the projection of fifths, but they represent different keys.

A musical key is essentially a definite system of relationships between musical sounds that dwells around a particular key center which is always represented by a single note, in a similar way to how the solar system works, with several different planets orbiting around the sun. Every key possesses a unique key signature which, as the name indicates, is its own individual or signature collection of notes. For example, C major contains no accidentals or altered notes, meaning it contains the seven distinct syllables used to name pitches or the total content of the diatonic system, C D E F G A B, thus its key signature contains no sharps or flats, putting on the top part of the circle. Every time we move up or down (clockwise or counterclockwise respectively) the circle, we change the tonal or key center to a new tonic and thus change the key signature. By going up, we add sharps, by going down, flats. Furthermore, each successive fifth adds a single sharp or flat to the previous collection, meaning that the first note to either side of C will contain either one sharp or one flat, the second, two, and so on.

The circle of fifths is also a great resource to explain some of the properties that arise between key centers. Namely the two main relationships, that of relative and parallel keys.

The relative relationship arises between two keys of opposite mode that share the same collection of sounds but poses a different key center or tonic. For example, C major and A minor. To represent this relationship in the circle we produce a second smaller one within the first one.

Parallel keys are those who share the same key center or tonic but poses different collections, for example, C major and C minor. This relationship has a distance of three accidentals and it is represented by using the same color.

Last but definitively not least, the circle of fifths is by far, the best method to picture the distance between keys. These distances refer to the total amount of common tones between two given key centers. The larger the number of fifths that separate two given key centers, the less common notes between them. Yet, when we cycle through the circle in any direction, we eventually return to the original key center, therefore, there must be a turning point somewhere along the circle, a point of furthest detachment from the original key in which the least possible amount of notes are shared. Curiously enough, that point seems to be the exact opposite side of the circle, the bottom key, F# major or its enharmonic equivalent G flat major, a pair of tritone-related keys which have six sharps and flats respectively. Nevertheless, since there are only twelve distinct pitches and each key should have seven, there is no way to have more than 5 different pitches between any two given keys, this is due to the enharmonic principle which declares the idea that musical sounds with a distinct name can sound the same due to the nature of sharps and flats and how they alter the seven basic syllables. For example, the equivalency between C# and D flat, or between E# and F. Therefore, although C# major has seven sharps in its key signature and C major has none, two of the notes in C# major (E# and B#) are enharmonically equivalent to some notes in C major (F and C respectively). Furthermore, both C# major (7 sharps) and C flat major (7 flats) can be simplified to key signatures which are enharmonically equivalent that contains fewer accidentals, namely, D flat major and B major, both containing five accidentals respectively.

In summary, the circle of fifths is a central pedagogical resource for music education. It can be extremely useful to understand the tonal distance between different sections of a piece, to figure out the key signature, and even to learn a thing or two about the enharmonic principle. Yet, it is not limited to the instruction of harmony and basic theory, but it can serve as a starting point for deeper and more complex dwellings into the wonderful and mysterious set of properties and characteristics of the tonal system.

If you are looking for an interactive Circle of Fifths, feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.

What is piano chord?

Posted on August 12, 2020 by songtive

piano chords with Piano Companion

A piano chord is one of the main building-blocks of music in western culture. Along with scales and intervals, piano chords are responsible for the creation of cohesion and structure in essentially every song and piece of music.

A piano chord can also be defined as a collection of notes in a predetermined type of ordering. This ordering is based on the idea of stacking two notes over a root at a determined interval (distance) called a third. The three notes that make up a piano chord are respectively called root, third, and fifth due to the order in which they appear. A simple approach to playing your first piano chord would be to visualize them as a simple but abstract three-note structure that can be imposed over the white keys of the keyboard. Basically, an initial note then skips one key, press that one, and repeat the previous step.

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Musical intervals and piano chord

To be able to learn to quickly construct piano chords, we should first examine their most fundamental building blocks, the aforementioned intervals. A musical interval is the measure of the distance between any two given pitches within a reference system. A good way of understanding intervals is through the use of the smallest possible distance between two distinct notes, the half step. This method to measure distance can be exemplified by playing any key of the keyboard and then playing the most immediate key over or under it. For example, C and C# or C and B. It should also be noted that our tuning system only contains twelve distinct pitches, meaning that after 12 half steps the system repeats itself with the last note carrying the same name as the initial one.

These intervals are then categorized in a series of numbers directly correlated to the number of half steps and keys implied.

 

Interval Name Amount of Half Steps
Minor second 1
Major second 2
Minor third 3
Major third 4
Perfect fourth 5
Augmented fourth 6
Perfect fifth 7
Minor sixth 8
Major sixth 9
Minor seventh 10
Major seventh 11
Perfect octave 12

Types of piano chords

Triadic piano chords are the most simple and common types of chords we can find in music. These are essentially small collections of three notes which follow a certain ordering of third intervals within a scalar reference system.

Western tonal music and its particular tuning system produce only four distinct types of triads. Namely, major, minor, diminished, and augmented. On top of having a radically different sound and emotional properties, these chordal structures are differentiated from each other by the ordering and quality of the intervals between its constituent factors. These intervals are always thirds, both major and minor. The order in which they appear will determine the quality of the piano chord at hand. These are exemplified in the table below:

Type of chord Quality and order of thirds* Amount of half steps and total intervallic content
Major M3+m3 4+3=7
Minor M3+M3 3+4=7
Diminished M3+m3 3+3=6
Augmented M3+M3 4+4=8

*Where “M3” is the major third and “m3” is a minor third.

Like most things in music, like rhythm, form, or dynamics, chord types aren’t absolute and isolated objects. They are a product of the distance relationships between its constituent members (notes) and as such, conform abstract, distance-based structures that can be applied to any given note of the chromatic system (twelve-note system), using it as root to produce a chord. That’s why to produce any chord of any type, you should just choose a starting pitch and apply the structure and order of the intervals over it.

Finally, it should be noted that piano chords are simple musical structures of very low order in terms of hierarchy. Furthermore, they are somewhat similar to single words in written language, meaning that they carry a particular meaning by themselves but not a fully developed idea. Also, they are susceptible to being combined with other chords to make up progressions (similar to the way words combine to produce sentences in written language). These progressions are common patterns or successions of certain chords that produce coherent musical ideas and phrases.

Extended piano chords

Following the same logic applied to the formation of simple triadic chords, we can create more complex structures by stacking even more thirds over the root note. By adding a single extra note on top of the triad we get a seventh chord.

Depending on the original triadic structure on which these chords are based, the quality of the new one may vary. For example, if we add a major third over the last note of a major chord, we get a major seventh chord, if we add a minor third over the same structure, we get a dominant seventh chord.

Type of chord Triadic origin Quality and order of thirds* Amount of half steps and total intervallic content
Dominant seventh Major M3+m3+M3 4+3+4=11
Major seventh Major M3+m3+m3 4+3+3=10
Minor seventh Minor m3+M3+m3 3+4+3=10
Minor – Major seventh Minor m3+M3+M3 3+4+4=11
Half – Diminished Diminished m3+m3+M3 3+3+4=10
Fully – Diminished Diminished m3+m3+m3 3+3+3=9
Augmented dominant seventh Augmented M3+M3+º3 4+4+2=10
Augmented major seventh Augmented M3+M3+m3 4+4+3=11

*Where “M3” is a major third, “m3” is a minor third and “º3” is diminished third.

How to read piano chords

Notation and reading of chords are actually very simple and intuitive processes. The root of the piano chord at hand will always be capitalized and then followed by other characters that explain their particular qualities and peculiarities.

Type of chord Notational symbol (examples in C)
Major C
Minor C- or Cm
Augmented Caug or C+
Diminished Cdim or Cº
Major seventh Cmaj 7
Dominant seventh C7
Minor seventh Cm7
Fully diminished Cº7

If you are looking for a piano chords dictionary or piano chords scale. Feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.

The Chord Progressions of Christmas Music

Posted on November 29, 2019 by songtive

The Chord Progressions of Christmas Music

Chord progressions provide for the basis of every song. First is a look at the chord progressions of the choruses of four popular Christmas songs from different eras. After that, you will find how to replicate the chords of these choruses using the Piano Companion app on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Mariah Carey’s Christmas song “All I Want For Christmas Is You” was first released in 1994 and has turned into a modern-day classic. In fact, there are estimates that the song will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in 2019, a full 25 years after the initial release. Written and produced by Carey alongside Walter Afanasieff, the chord progression and chords in the chorus are much more complicated than one may think for an instantly catchy song.

“Jingle Bells” dates back to 1857, when it was performed by James Lord Pierpont and titled “One Horse Open Sleigh”. There is no doubt that this has become a well-known classic, and it has been covered by countless singers ever since it was originally released. Its chorus does not follow a simple sequence with its chord progression and chords; rather, it utilizes multiple of them that combine to make this previously seemingly simple song into a classic.

“Last Christmas” was released by Wham in 1984. It topped the Billboard charts in many countries, mostly throughout Europe, and peaked at #5 on the US Holiday 100. It’s been a mainstay on holiday playlists ever since it was released, with countless covers and reissues. The chorus of “Last Christmas” follows a four-chord progression and utilizes four chords, as noted above. The chord progression is used in many other songs, particularly in the beginning stages of jazz music. With that in mind, it is impressive that Wham pulled this chord progression off as a holiday pop song.

Like “Jingle Bells”, “Frosty The Snowman” is a classic holiday song that seems to have been a mainstay in holiday music for a long time. The song was written in 1950 by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, the former of which sang (but did not write) “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. “Frosty The Snowman” went as high as #7 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, a now-defunct chart that preceded its flagship Hot 100. It also went to #4 on the now-defunct Billboard Country Singles chart. Despite being in the simple key of C Major, the chorus has a rather complicated chord progression. While most of the chord progressions are I and IV, and most of the chords are C and F, the sequence of them does not follow prolonged patterns and is occasionally interrupted by other chord progressions and chords.

If you are looking for a way to play these melodies yourself, download Songtive’s Piano Companion app on your phone, tablet, or computer. Upon opening the app, navigate to the Chords Dictionary tab to get a visual glance at how to play each cord. Then, find your way to the Piano tab and you can try it for yourself. The default sound is Grand Piano, and there is a setting to change the sound of something such as a guitar or synth by tapping on the upward arrow in the top right corner. Even better, you can record while you play so that you have a chance to listen back.

If it takes you some time to find the chords in the Chords Dictionary tab, there is no need to worry; once you find the chords, you can add them to your Chords Dictionary to make it quick and convenient to re-find the chords.