Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Is This Chord Red, Blue, or Yellow?

Let's start with a trick question.  

Is this a Red, Blue, or Yellow chord? I see that it is made of the notes C-E-G.

I was being really sneaky because I didn't show you the key signature (the sharps and flats next to the clef, that define where DO is.). 

Second year students will always tell me this is a RED chord, and for now, they are correct. But third year students have learned the magic of key change.  

Those smart third year students will say, "That's a C-chord and it could be RED or BLUE or YELLOW!  It depends where Do is!"

The Role of Chords

Imagine I were going to tell you 3 stories, and Linda happens to be in them all.  Here's a photo of Linda, a new mother.  Linda is the mother in the first story.

And here's another photo of Linda with her mom. Linda is still the same, but she'll play the role of daughter in the second story.

Finally, Linda plays the role of  grand-daughter in my third story.  Linda didn't change anything about herself, but depending on who she was with, her role in the story changed.  

Now let's think about chords! A chord can play the role of RED, BLUE, or YELLOW depending on which other chords it is with and where DO is.

One more thing about Linda: she really loves yoga. You might see her staining, sitting, or even lying down. No matter how she stretches or changes shape, you can tell it's Linda.

Chords enjoy yoga, too, I think. Sometimes they stand like a snowman, sometimes they are stretched up high (top-heavy), and sometimes they seem to be crouching (bottom-heavy).  

Did you know that one chord can stretch itself into each of those positions (inversions), and it's still the same chord?  It's true.  As long as the chord's NOTES are all there, it's still the same chord.  It doesn't matter in which order they are stacked.

Red, Blue, Yellow

You are very familiar with our favorite chords and the roles they play in songs.

The RED CHORD is HOME. Songs begin and end with RED. It just doesn't feel complete otherwise.

The BLUE CHORD gives us a traveling, moving sensations in our music. We sing "we like to run and roam" because the BLUE CHORD helps us add interest and movement.

The YELLOW CHORD has a distinct sound that really pulls back to RED. "Yellow is the chord that leads us back to home."

Our songs are harmonized with these three players.

Scale Degrees

In the greater musical world, the chords are not identified by color, but by the scale degree on which the chord root sits.

First things first: what are scale degrees?  Think of a any scale and just assign a number to each step of the scale. Do=1, Re=2, etc.

Build a triad on top of the root notes. A triad is made of intervals of a 3rd and a 5th stacked on top of a root. First, I'll draw them in "snowman" shape so you can easily see which notes are in the triad/chord.

Our favorite triads/chords are 1=Red. 4=Blue. 5=Yellow.  In the key of C that means the C chord is RED, The F chord is BLUE, and the G chord is YELLOW. Can you see it in this illustration? 

Because we don't like having to jump our hand around on the keyboard, we can rearrange the notes of the triad (inversions).  We make the blue chord look like it's stretching up high. We make the yellow chord look like it's crouching down. But we didn't change the notes of any chords!  Red has CEG. Blue has FAC. Yellow has GBD.

Don't they all look very familiar in those inversions?

*This is all we have shown our second year students so far, so they always say my mystery chord is a RED chord.*. And YES, that C chord is RED when Do is C.

Key of F

This time I will show you the key signature when I ask you about the mystery chord. See if you can find the mystery chord in this illustration.

The C-chord, like Linda, didn't change. It is always just C-E-G, but now it's role has changed. 

C is the 5th step of the scale, so now C-chord sounds yellow.  I drew two C triads for you so you could really see my mystery chord built on middle C...it's a YELLOW when Do is F. 

A C chord can be RED (I) if Do is C.  It's YELLOW (V) if Do is F.

Key of G

Just for fun, can you find the mystery chord one more time?  Notice the key signature has changed. This is the key of G.

Look closely. Can you find a triad built on a middle C?  CEG is still our 'mystery chord'. THIS time it is one the 4th step of the scale so it is a BLUE chord.

That C chord can be RED (I) when Do is C, BLUE (IV) when Do is G or YELLOW (V) when Do is F! It's like saying Linda is a mother, daughter, and grand-daughter.

Linda can also be an aunt and a cousin and a wife, so it's not surprising that in other keys, our C chord can play other interesting roles, too. What if Do were Bb or A? C would not Red, Blue or Yellow.  Maybe chartreuse or magenta would be fun colors to represent these new roles.

The roles of triads built on other steps of the scale is a little beyond Let's Play Music, but you have a great foundational understanding of how scale degrees give chords ROLES to function in songs, and you'll love introducing new characters to your family of chords in any key. Enjoy!

- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

Monday, November 13, 2017

Change Musical Key with Magic!

It's the third year of Let's Play Music class and time to learn the MAGIC of key change.  

Make A Major Scale

In a recent last article, I showed you how you can choose any key to be the tonic, DO, and build a major scale using a pattern of whole steps and half steps (WWHWWWH).  Now that you know Do can move to change the key, you might be wondering... 

Why Change Keys?

We've learned to play some pretty great songs in the key of C. Why can't every song, all the time, just be in the key of C? Life would be easy. Why bother with key changes?  

First, singability. The voice or instrument you hope to perform the music with you will be able to cover a certain range. If the melody goes too low or too high for that voice or instrument to reach, transpose up or down. 

Some instruments are easy to finger/play in certain keys, but tricky in others. When writing for an ensemble, it helps to pay attention to each instrument and choose a key that works for everyone.

But if you're playing piano without other instruments, why would you want to play in different keys?  First, composers sometimes say keys that have several sharps have bright, exciting sounds. Keys with several flats have more relaxed or somber sounds.

But my FAVORITE reason to learn to play in other keys...

I love changing key in the middle of a song! That's called modulation. 

Changing key for a section of a song adds interest and variety and feeling. Listeners will really perk up and notice that something is different. Modulation can also increase or decrease intensity and emotion during a song. Modulation is a powerful way to give your music the feeling that you want to convey.

To help students understand how the key signature identifies DO, AND give them a chance to modulate during a song, we teach this song, Magic Keys.

Magic Keys Song

It happens quickly in class, so here is a replay of what you saw:


Let's review all the music theory that we just mashed into one powerful minute, and YES when I ask these probing details of my students, they know the answers!

The Key of C
1. If there are no sharps or flats next to the clef, you're in the key of C.  
2. We say 'key of C' to mean that DO is C. 
3. A red chord (I chord) is always Do-Mi-Sol, so it is spelled C-E-G.
4. You can make a major scale, starting on C, playing all the white keys.

The Key of F
The Key Signature is the clef at the beginning of the song, with sharps or flats next to it. It announces where DO is.

1. If there is one flat next to the clef, you're in the key of F. 
2. The one flat will always show up on B. 
3. 'Key of F' is another way of saying that DO is now F.
4. A red chord is always Do-Mi-Sol, but now it is spelled F-A-C.
5. FA gets the flat. (Fa is the fa-lat)

So, you can make a major scale starting on F, but it only works if you always change the B to a B-flat. As you play a song in F, you have to remember to always change every B to B-flat, that's why the flat is printed at the beginning of the song next to the clef. It would get too tiring and messy to write a flat next to every B in the song.  

The Key of G 
1. If there is one sharp next to the clef, you're in the key of G.
2. The one sharp will aways be an F.
3. 'Key of G' means DO is G.
4. A red chord is always Do-Mi-Sol, but now it is spelled G-B-D.
5. TI is the tone that needs a sharp. (Do is G because the F# is a TI!)

You can make a major scale or play a song in G, but only if you always change every F to F-sharp.

Read The Signature

For Let's Play Music, you definitely need to recognize major key signatures for C, F, and G. But did you know you already have enough knowledge to figure out any key signature?  It's true!  I want you to feel like you can find Do whenever you want to. You have the power!

What if the signature has flats?  Purple Magic students know that the flat goes on FA.  

When a signature has a lot of flats, look at the last flat added and count backwards 3 steps... Fa, Mi, Re, Do to find Do.

Let's try one with 2 flats. Where is Do?  Well, the last flat is on E.  So Eb is FA. Now walk down the scale: Mi-Re-Do = D-C-B.  Is Do on B?  Well, I just noticed that the previous flat added was a B.  So B is also flat. This is the key of Bb major.

If the last flat is an Ab, the key is Eb major. If the last flat is Gb, the key is Db major.

ANY time there are flats...the last flat added is FA in the scale. Baby step down Mi-Re-Do to find Do.  You'll start to notice a pattern... Do is always on the second-to-last flatted note! 

SHORTCUT: Just find the second-to-last flat and it's Do.

What if the signature has sharps? Orange Roots students know that the sharp goes on TI

When a signature has sharps, look at the last sharp added and take one more step up. You just found DO!

ANY time there are sharps... play the newest flat, and take one baby step up. That is Do!  If the last sharp is C#, the key is D major. If the last sharp is G#, the key is A major. If the last sharp is A#, the key is B major. 

Now you and your student officially know a LOT about key changes, all from learning "Magic Keys". Yes, learning the words to these songs is powerful and will stick with your student for a long time.  You never need to be afraid of key signatures. You can always find Do.

* PS: Every key signature represents both one major key and one minor key. Zero sharps and flats means both C major and A minor. How can you tell if the song is major or minor?  Try this trick...look at the last note of the song. Since Do is home, almost all songs end on Do. If the last note is an A, it's probably A minor instead of C major. 

- Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

DIY Major Scale

In today's Do-It-Yourself projects, we'll show you how to make your own major scale in a key other than C.  With 12 different keys on the piano, you have many ways to personalize your scale. 

Creating scales on every key is a skill we teach in the BRIDGE curriculum for Let's Play Music graduates, but you can have fun at home with this right now.

Gather Supplies

You won't need a hot glue gun or chop saw for this part, but there are a few mental tools you might need.

Keep reading for a second DIY, where you WILL need some crafty supplies. You'll make a major scale to display in your home and show off your musical smarts.

TOOL #1: EARS.  
You've been singing the major scale in Let's Play Music songs like The Red Balloon, so your ear is well trained to hear what a major scale sounds like going up and down.  

Even if we didn't give you any more theory lessons, you could go figure out the major scale just using your ear. You might be thinking, "I can't play the E-flat scale. Nobody has told me which notes to use. That sounds very advanced."  Guess what!?- You already know enough to figure this out. Trust me!

Are you that excited? Go to the piano. Cover your child's eyes and have him blindly pick any ONE key.  Open eyes.  Play that note and sing "up up up up..." in a major scale as your fingers go up the keyboard. 

Any time it sounds wrong or off, try skipping to another key.  You will need some white ones and some black ones.  You won't play every key.  You will be able to figure out what sounds like a major scale! You will be able to figure out which black keys you need. AMAZING!  (keep reading if you don't want to feel like you're guessing.)

You've mastered the solfege names and hand-signs for each tone of the major scale. You are going to love applying them to your major scale.  

You may have already read the earlier articles all about solfege, in which we explained the MOVEABLE DO system. The scale starts on 'DO', but Do can be any key on the piano, white or black!  

When Do is C, we say "we are playing in the key of C."  When Do is F, we say "we are playing in the key of F." You get the idea.  ANY NOTE!

Do is also called the TONIC by musicians.  If you "move the tonal center" or "change the home note" that means you have a new Do.  You'll notice that music pulls back to the tonic. We love to end a song on Do. We always come back home!

When you build a scale on any note, you'll know your scale is a major scale when you sing Do Re Mi while playing the notes up.  And THEN you'll be able to play/ transpose any song into your scale by singing the solfege.

Think about it: Three Blind Mice is mi-re-do. mi-re-do. sol-fa-fa-mi. sol-fa-fa-mi.

Once you have your major scale you can play mi-re-do and sol-fa-fa-mi....and it will be the melody for Three Blind Mice, just a little higher or lower. 

Yes, transposing (playing in a new key) is that easy to wrap your brain around. Now you're motivated, so let me help you easily create that major scale.

The major scale is really a system of relationships between pitches.  Each pitch is identified by the wavelength that generates the sound.

In the pentatonic scale article, I explain how cultures around the world build scales based on relationships between pitches of different wavelengths.  

In our Western music, we like to divide the range of wavelength into 12 equal divisions (semitones). That's why our pianos have 12 different notes. Playing a piano key and then the very next piano key is a semitone, the smallest unit you can change pitch in piano playing.  Semitones are also called half steps in music theory circles.

Moving by an increment that is 2 semitones large is called a tone or whole step

The following pattern of relationships that we have come to prefer and love is our major scale.  

Whole-Whole-Half. Whole-Whole-Whole-Half.

The pattern is very pretty to look at when Do is C because we can play all the white keys. The piano was built to make it natural to play a major scale in the key of C.

Looking for a mnemonic to help you remember this pattern?  When it's super hot/sunnyt outside, you should wear white (not dark) clothes to help you feel cool, right?  

Imagine the silly man who insists on wearing dark clothes on hot days. You ask: 

Why Won't He Wear White When Hot!?

Let's build a scale again!  Go pick ANY key at the piano.  Take steps using the pattern that defines a major scale: WWH, WWWH.  As you go, your ear will let you know if things are going well or if you slip up!

My daughter chose to start on D as Do.  We followed the pattern and learned that in the key of D, you'll need to use F sharp and C sharp!  

Montessori Method

Italian educator, Maria Montessori, understood the simplicity of solfege, major scales, and key changes.  She also understood the natural and easy way children can learn to hear and internalize aural skills.

In a well-equipped Montessori classroom, you might find beautiful tone bars like these.  Unlike the piano, black and white bells are all the same size, making key changes easier than pie.

The paper strip has green gaps painted on it, to indicate the step pattern for a major scale.  A child as young as 4 can spend hours creating new major scales. She slides the strip left and right to ANY note and looks to see which bells are steps 1-8 (or Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do). She pulls those bells slightly forward and plays the major scale.  A scale in the key of C is shown above.

Then she finds letter discs and labels the notes of the scale.  Finally, she can choose a song card from the collection and play her favorite songs based on steps (1-8) or solfege. No matter what key she is in, she will be able to play her favorite songs.

The final beauty of this practice is that it is self-directed. A student can change key, label the scale, play a song, and repeat endlessly and correctly with very little adult interruption needed.

Change Keys

Now you know how to create a major scale anywhere...so you can transpose songs into other keys.  

Ready for some more fun? 

A RED CHORD (I)  always has notes  Do-Mi-Sol.  
A BLUE CHORD (IV) always has notes Do-Fa-La, 
YELLOW CHORD (V) always has notes Ti-Re-Sol. 

Now you can make chords using your new scale (in your new key).  I challenge you to play all of your favorite Let's Play Music songs in the key of D, or A, or F#.  Do you like the way these tunes sound in different keys!?  

My daughter decided to replay all of the Green and Yellow book songs in the key of D, just because it's fun to transpose. 

Practicing making chords in new keys is a little tricky because you have to remind yourself which notes are part of your scale and which are not.  The good news is, your HAND ALREADY KNOWS how to make the primary chords. You only have to adjust a little bit to incorporate the "magic" black keys. 

The more you play this game, the more comfortable you become with automatically finding chords and melodies in new keys.

A Majorly Cute Scale

Here's a DIY to create a scale you can proudly display at home.  Have your child pose for 8 photos. In each photo, she'll sing ONE of the solfege and show the hand signs.  Print out the photos.

OPTION 1: Create a poster or chart with staff lines, and mount the cute photos going up, up, up.  Hang the chart in your child's room so they can practice solfege anytime!  Show me your charts- I want to see what you create :)

OPTION 2: Frame each photo in a cute frame and hang them in a vertical arrangement (have a tall, skinny wall space to fill?). Everyone who comes to your home will see your brilliant child showing off her solfege!  Here's a site that can teach you to make fabulous ribbon-hung vertical frames.

Show me what you make! I want to see some MAJORLY cute scales :)

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music teacher

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Piano Skills and Practice Articles

Check out these articles on PIANO SKILLS and PRACTICE:

Debating between signing up for the Let's Play Music complete musicianship course OR traditional private piano lessons?  Read this important post to get the big picture on the differences between the two approaches.  Read more here.

How much technique do we need when teaching beginning pianists? Our program focuses on building complete musicians...you may be surprised to read our take on technique.  Read more here.

What technique and posture do we cover? Find out here.

Our tiny students have brilliant minds ready to play bing things on the piano... but tiny hands that aren't very strong.  Here are some playful ways to help develop dexterity and strength without overworking those digits. Read the post here.

Now that we're playing chords, we insist your child practice the fingering taught in class. What's the big deal? We rely on muscle memory to teach your child common chord hand shapes that will help her achieve piano success.  Read the post here

The first year of the Let's Play Music program is light on the practice schedule, but when recital time comes, it's time to ramp up the regular, recorded practices with an intention of polishing the recital songs. Get a fun practice chart and some ideas in our blog post here.

Memorization helps you get ready for your recital AND has loads of brain-boosting benefits. Here are tips to help you memorize painlessly and keep those songs in the bank forever! Read more here.
Practice Habits: Parents need to develop habits of their own to become consistent cheer leaders and practice reminders.  Here are a few tried and true ways to get going on your habit so you can, in turn, help your child. Read more here.

You hope your child practices because he LOVES making music, but right now he's only motivated by extrinsic factors.  Here's a guide for talking to your child about piano practice in a way that nurtures the developing intrinsic motivation. Read more here.

Looking for more ease and peace at practice time? Author Carol Tuttle, the Child Whisperer, helps you adjust practice habits for your child's personality in this post here.

Frustrated with your child's practice time? One strategy for bringing peace and ease back into this family routine is adjusting expectations. Read more here.

It's summertime. Do we HAVE to practice? Find a plan that works for you and your family with some of our summer tips here.

The Purple semester begins in a few weeks! Let us help you and your student refresh your piano skills so you'll be totally prepared for the MAGIC. Find out how here.

If your child is working on learning Cockles and Muscles, check out these tips and tricks to help overcome the challenging parts of this song. Read them here.
The connections songbook and program: every graduate needs it!  See how we transition students from our Let's Play Music program into mainstream private piano lessons. Read more here

Popular group The Piano Guys share tips on practicing, composing, and having great friendships in this exclusive Let's Play Music interview. Read the full interview here.

You'll need a piano or keyboard for 2nd and 3rd year Let's Play Music classes- find out how to get one that meets your needs, and how to avoid a dud in this article here.

You have a piano, so be sure it's ready to play. How do you care for a piano? Read our post here.

Note Reading and Music Theory Articles

Check out these articles on MUSIC THEORY and NOTE READING:

Seven steps for note reading success: See how we nurture note reading in a way that builds musical fluency in this post.

Keyboard geography is essential for identifying those white keys. Alphabet pieces can be used in a variety of games to practice and learn the keys. Start having fun here.

Alphabet Gems are a crafty way for you make your pieces pretty and tangible. Learn how here.

When is the right time to use flashcards to drill reading skills and note skills? The answer might surprise you! Read the post here to find out and make some fun progress at note reading mastery.

Reading and playing is a mental process, so here are some tips, games, and tiny flashcards to help you master note reading at the piano. Read more here.

Do you get worried when your pianist isn't looking at the music? She's playing by ear.... is that bad? Read this article to learn when and how to guide note reading.  Read more here.

Our culminating semester of Let's Play Music is called Orange Roots- it's all about the culmination of musicianship after laying 2.5 years of roots that cover all aspects of musicianship. It's also about how playing with chords and chord roots provides a foundation for composition and improvisation. Check it out here.

Playing chords in different styles is one of the secret superpowers held by musicians. Our students learn chord styles and change them up with some classic songs. Check it out here.

Memorization helps you get ready for your recital AND has loads of brain-boosting benefits. Here are tips to help you memorize painlessly and keep those songs in the bank forever! Read more here.

Make a major scale ANYWHERE on the keyboard using your ear and following a pattern of tones and semitones (Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half.) Read more here.

Our 'Magic Keys' song is packed with music theory. In this post we'll lay out everything you heard in the song, and show you how you can find Do from ANY key signature. Read more here.

CEG is the C triad or C chord. Is it Red, Yellow, or Blue?  The answer is... it can be any of them!  A chord's role depends on SCALE DEGREES and where Do is. Read more here.

Rhythm and Rhymes Articles

Check out these articles on RHYTHM and RHYMES: 

Can you keep a steady beat? Take our quiz and find out...then learn the difference between BEAT and RHYTHM. Read more here.

Meet the BLUE BUGS! We use rhythm syllables to teach accurate and easy rhythm reading- find out how. Read the article here

How can building blocks and jungle drums help teach musical rhythms? Check out clever ways to think about subdividing beats in this article. Read more here.

The autoharp gives students a chance to read chords, play accompaniment, sing, and keep rhythm. Even without a harp at home, you can practice skills from class: read this post to see how.

We sing several traditional nursery songs in each of our programs. Find out why (and read to find out what happens next to the 3 blind mice) in this post.

Sun, Moon, and Stars: Why we teach patterns in Sound Beginnings class. Learn the reasons AND get ideas for playing with patterns in your daily life here.

Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick! Here are 3 more fun ways to enjoy this nursery rhyme and extend learning at home. Read more here

If you love to sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, be sure to check out these extension activities and crafts for more fun at home. Read more here.