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Music Theory: Fundamentals

Knowing how to read music notation is the first step of music theory. The lessons found under the lessons tab above offer a comprehensive curriculum for learning music fundamentals and music theory. Embedded in the lessons are the following music theory exercises. You can also work on them outside of the lessons, and control the settings to match your needs and ability. To do this, click on the exercises tab above, or by clicking on the title of any of the exercises below.

Line Note and Space Note Identification

The first step to learning how to read music notation (notational literacy) is recognizing if a note is on a line or a space of the staff. Line notes have a line going through the center of the note head, while space notes do not. Space notes have at least one line adjacent to the note head above it, below it, or two lines both above and below. Lines and spaces of a staff are numbered from bottom to top. This exercises drills identification of notes as line or space and the line or space number. To learn more about line and space notes, see the lesson video line and space notes.

This exercises requires the user to identify if a note is a line or space note as well as the line or space number.

Scale Degree Notation Identification

A foundational skill in the ability to read music is the ability to identify the scale degrees of the notes on a staff. Full implementation of this skill requires significant background in theory, especially a working understanding of key signatures. However, a student can and should begin developing this skill at a more rudimentary level in which the first scale degree is identified for them. By drilling this exercise (and, for that matter, applying the same process to real music with the guidance of a teacher for identifying DO and determining if the material is simple enough) students develop speed at identifing the other notes relative to the tonic (first scale degree).

When approached with the beginning settings, this exercise can and should be started before learning key signature, clef, or even letter names; you do not need any theory beyond line and space notes to get started. Speed and proficiency at this exercise take time, so starting it early gives students a jump start on the training and impresses on them the importance of this skill. This will also give students a sense of familiarity and cumulative development when they return to the exercise with more difficult settings after learning the appropriate theory. The beginning (and default) setting for this exercise is having the first note be the tonic and identified as such. Other settings are available for students with the appropriate background in theory.

This exercise returns several times during the lessons curriculum. Several other exercises reinforce concepts and skills of this exercise. For example, the interval quantity identification exercise (and lessons leading to it) helps students quickly identify intervals. Seeing these intervals and building a mapping of the scale degrees that would correspond for each interval develops speed and proficiency in sight reading music. In application, a student learns to quickly identify the interval of a perfect 4th, and also learns that if the bottom note is DO, the top will be FA; if the bottom is RE, the top will be SOL etc. More guidance for developing speed on Scale Degree Identification is provided within the lessons. Working through the entire first two units of the lessons will greatly increase understanding, speed, and proficiency of sight reading music.

The default mnemonic system for this exercise, and all exercises at SonicFit, is movable DO with LA based minor. In the settings, you can change the mnemonic system to letters or numbers or fixed DO. You can also adjust the following:

• Change the difficulty so that SOL is always first, no set note is first, or even include chromatic notes
• Fix the key or have key change
   - select how often the key changes
• set to major or minor
• select clef
• select a time limit per problem

When working through scale degree notation, you should sing everything. You should play the scale and sing with it. You should sing along as you enter the solfege using the buttons, and then click the "play sound" button to check for your accuracy.

Note Name (Letter Name) Identification

Letter name identification of notes is the primary way in which musicians communicate pitch information with each other. Letter names are determined by which clef is used and where notes and the clef are placed on the staff. For information on this, please view the letter names lesson.

Settings for this exercise allow you to do the following:

• select the clef used
• include ledger lines
• select a time limit per problem
• include a key signature, requiring accidental information on letter names (2017)

Key Signature Identification

Key signatures provide many pieces of information for reading music. The key signature lists the accidentals to be placed on the notes, information that has direct application for instrumentals who then adjust fingerings corresponding to the chromatically adjusted notes. More helpful for singers is that key signatures can be used to determine the tonic for the music to follow. As long as a singer knows the tonic, then can read all diatonic music, that is, music without accidentals on the notes. A more thorough understanding of keys and key signatures is required for reading chromatic music, that is, music with accidentals on the notes. To learn more about key signatures, begin with the lesson key signatures I and proceed through the next several chapters.

Shortcuts to determine the key from the key signature

Using movable DO solfege, we can determine the major key of a key signature by finding DO. DO names the major key. If DO is A, then the key is A major. Be sure to include any accidental that is on the note when you identify the key. If DO is B and there is a flat on B in the key signature, then the key is Bb major.

Sharps: For a key signature containing sharp, the last sharp is always TI, so the next note up is always DO.

Flats: For a key signature containing flats, the last flat is always FA and the second to last flat is always DO.

Settings for this exercise allow you to do the following:

• select the clef used
• select the number of sharps and flats possible in the presented key signatures
• select a time limit per problem
• minor keys (LA) in 2017

Staff or Letter Names to Keyboard Practice

This exercise presents notes on a staff and the user selects the corresponding key on the keyboard. Settings allow user to select staff (treble, bass, or grand staff) or letter names instead of the staff. This exercise does not yet have accidentals or key signatures.

Interval Notation Exercises

This exercise presents two notes on a staff and asks the user to identify the interval between them. To learn about intervals, please see the interval lessons beginning with intervals I. Understanding and increasing speed at identifying interval quantity complements proficiency with the scale degree notation exercise. Understanding and gaining proficiency with interval quality is an advanced skill to be developed after thoroughly understanding keys and scales.

Settings for this exercise allow you to do the following:

• select the clef used
• include ledger lines
• select a time limit per problem
• include interval quality