A Mini-Glossary

SCALE : A series of notes in alphabetical order, ascending or descending.

MAJOR SCALE : A series of notes (as above) that define a major key.
The degrees of a major scale can be described in ascending order as: Tonic, Supertonic, (above the tonic) Mediant, (the middle note of the tonic triad) Subdominant, (in the same position under the tonic at the top, as the dominant is above the tonic at the bottom) Dominant, (referring to its powerful nature being, as we have just discovered, the first different note that appears in the harmonic series) Submediant, (in the same position from the tonic at the top as the mediant is from the tonic at the bottom) Leading note, (a magnetic semi-tone that urges us to lead on to the . . . ) Tonic.

MINOR SCALE : A series of notes (as above) that define a minor key, differing from the major always on the third degree - and with optional differences for the sixth and seventh degrees. These differences involve notes that are a semitone lower than their equivalent degrees in the major scale.

CHROMATIC SCALE : (Literally, a coloured or colourful scale.) A series of notes in alphabetical order that consists entirely of semi-tones.

WHOLE TONE SCALE : A series of notes in alphabetical order that consists entirely of tones.

SEMITONE : The smallest distance you can travel from one note to another on the piano. All the notes of a piano are one semi-tone away from their neighbour.

TONE : A distance of two semi-tones.
(The order of tones and semi-tones that will form a major scale is : Key note : Tone : Tone : Semi-tone : Tone : Tone : Tone : Semi-tone (you should be at the key-note again but higher up.)

KEY : Defined by the notes of the scale, the first of which is the Key note. Therefore every unique note has its own key. To be precise, it has a Major key and a Minor key.
A piece of music played in a different key will sound exactly the same but will sound higher or lower. Although it will therefore use a completely different set or sequence of notes, they will all be in the same relationship to the key note in every case. A piece of music written in a major key played in a minor key will not sound the same at all, even if the key note is the same, it will have a sad, mournful atmosphere to it. And the same is true in reverse, a minor tune played in a major key will sound disrespectfully joyful.

ACCIDENTAL : The term given to sharp, flat or natural signs in the main body of a piece of music. A term not applied to sharps or flats in a key signature. Accidentals only have the power to affect notes on that particular line or space and only for the duration or remainder of one bar.

SHARP : Above the true pitch. A sharp sign before a note means RAISE the note by 1 semi-tone (irrespective of the colour of the piano key.)

FLAT : Below the true pitch. A flat sign before a note means LOWER the note by 1 semi-tone (irrespective of the colour of the piano key.)

If you try to construct a major scale from any note other than “C” you will find that they necessarily include sharps or flats to maintain the correct sound. The arrival of these sharps or flats, first one, then two, etc. leads us to be able to Signify any specific key by the sharps or flats that it contains.
These “badges” if you like, are called the

KEY SIGNATURE : the mark of a particular key. Key signatures consist of these sharps or flats written in a determined order, placed at the start of each stave of music and they inform the player of their required presence throughout the piece of music in every octave (unless contradicted by a natural sign before certain notes.)

RELATIVE KEYS : Major and minor keys that share the same key signature - not the same key note. The relative minor key may be found on the sixth degree of a major scale - or the relative major key may be found on the third degree of a minor scale.

A DOUBLE SHARP : sign before a note means raise the note by 2 semi-tones.

A DOUBLE FLAT : sign before a note means lower the note by 2 semi-tones.

A NATURAL : sign before a note cancels out any previous previous sharps or flats for that particular line or space in the stave.

ENHARMONIC CHANGE : When a note or key changes its appearance, the way that it is written (e.g. F sharp to G flat) but maintains the same sound.

Sharps and flats are, as you can see, interchangeable to a certain extent and there are various theoretical rules as to how or when either can be employed. Suffice it to say that F sharp and G flat make the same sound.
Physically on the keyboard you can construct a scale from each of the unique physical keys. Count them, there are twelve before repetition starts. Major and Minor scales (2 forms of Minor scale) are possible from each. That makes a total of 36 scales, not counting the various

MODES : Other series of notes or types of scales with different orders of tones and semitones.

The physical act of playing the piano, as with any instrument, is so much interwoven with the theoretical side of music that it is wise not to attempt learning one, without at least a little of the other. Besides - there is great wisdom in learning the common language of music - it helps you communicate ideas with other musicians.

You can see from the above brief glossary that there are numerous words used in music that might have more than one meaning. For example the word “key” is used sometimes to mean the physical parts of the piano that make up the keyboard, as well as its use, as in “Play in a different key” (although the result would mean that you played on different keys.)
“Tone” is sometimes used when describing the quality of sound produced by a musician, as in “She played with a mellow tone” as well as describing “A distance of two semi-tones.”
So context is vital to the understanding of which meaning is correct.

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