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Music Theory:Number Notes Need?

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Peter T. 27 May 02 - 09:31 AM
paddymac 27 May 02 - 09:54 AM
Jeri 27 May 02 - 11:09 AM
Don Firth 27 May 02 - 03:25 PM
GUEST 27 May 02 - 03:28 PM
Marion 27 May 02 - 03:29 PM
GUEST 27 May 02 - 03:31 PM
GUEST 27 May 02 - 03:34 PM
GUEST 27 May 02 - 03:36 PM
Marion 27 May 02 - 03:49 PM
Don Firth 27 May 02 - 04:02 PM
GUEST 27 May 02 - 05:45 PM
wysiwyg 27 May 02 - 05:46 PM
GUEST 27 May 02 - 05:50 PM
Peter T. 27 May 02 - 06:27 PM
greg stephens 27 May 02 - 07:56 PM
Don Firth 27 May 02 - 09:24 PM
Don Firth 27 May 02 - 09:42 PM
Bert 27 May 02 - 11:41 PM
wysiwyg 28 May 02 - 12:36 AM
Peter T. 28 May 02 - 08:35 AM
Marion 28 May 02 - 01:59 PM
Marion 28 May 02 - 02:04 PM
Don Firth 28 May 02 - 02:27 PM
JohnInKansas 28 May 02 - 02:47 PM
RichM 28 May 02 - 03:01 PM
M.Ted 28 May 02 - 03:25 PM
Peter T. 29 May 02 - 09:24 AM
English Jon 29 May 02 - 12:54 PM
Marion 30 May 02 - 09:56 AM
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Subject: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Peter T.
Date: 27 May 02 - 09:31 AM

Obviously it varies according to context, but how few notes do you need in order to signify a chord? Does anyone have rules of thumb (like, you only need the first and the fifth note of an X chord, etc.). I know they are out there, I just have not seen them together in one place. Obviously if you are trying to tell the basic difference between a C and a Cm chord on a piano you have to have the third that signals the difference. I am thinking about when you are using things like minors and diminisheds and so on in a song. I ask this because of thinking about various instruments where you can only get two out of the three note for a chord, or you are trying to work out a passing note for one instrument that would connect with another on another instrument and signify to an ear -- ah, minor! -- and so on. Anyone? yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: paddymac
Date: 27 May 02 - 09:54 AM

Great question, Peter. I'm no expert on music theory, but suspect that the only functional criterion is what it sounds like to the listener. As you note (sorry, I couldn't resist) the signature note for a minor, diminished, augmented, etc., must be played by somebody so the listener can hear and (hopefully) appreciate it. I suspect that most listners don't perceive most inversions, but their attention can be pretty easily captured by octave jumps within a chord. Sometimes, it may be more important that a note not be "wrong" as opposed to necessarily being "right." Well, enough of speculation. Time to step aside and wait for those better trained in theory to jump in.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Jeri
Date: 27 May 02 - 11:09 AM

Compared to some around here, I'm a little flat in the theory department. I still feel the following is true and pertinent.

As a fiddler, two notes are the most I can play at any time. I tend to use 1-3 for major chords and 1-5 for minor - not all the time, but MOST of the time. The specific chord will be implied by the context of the song, but will be left to the listener's ear to fill in.

Some folks will hear the missing note as something you didn't expect. In a group playing situation, experienced musicians will adjust to this or adjust those around them. Often the loudest person/instrument (or combination) wins, but one announcement of "Cm" overcomes even the loudest of instruments. Then again, you may find that someone with a very different idea of what a specific chord should be has made an interesting contribution. If folks are just listening to your two notes and filling in the rest of the chord in their heads, it doesn't matter if they "hear" a different chord from the one you intended - they're going to imagine the one they like best.

Anecdote: I went to a harmony workshop with the group Artisan. They had the group sing Amazing Grace, but no one sang melody. Damned if it wasn't there anyway!


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:25 PM

There have been other threads on this same subject in which the discussion has gone off in all kinds of confused directions, partly caused by several people quoting the definition for "chord" in the Grove Dictionary. For all its reputation and prestige, the Grove Dictionary's definition is incomplete and misleading. What I've written below comes from two years at the University of Washington School of Music, two years at the Cornish School of the Arts, several books on music theory by such people as Walter Piston, Paul Hindemuth, and others, and many private lessons in music theory and composition from Mildred Hunt Harris. So this is the straight scoop.

The basic answer is simple, but it is subject to all kinds of permutations: It takes three notes—a triad—to constitute a chord. By definition.

A chord is not just any indiscriminate pile of notes. A chord must be at least a triad. A triad consists of a root (the name note of the chord), a 3rd (a major or minor 3rd above the root), and a 5th (a perfect 5th above the root). Example: a C major chord is made up of C, E, and G. A C minor chord is made up of C, Eb, and G.

You can double notes in other octaves (C, E, G, C, and E, such as the first position C major chord on the top five strings of the guitar) and it stays a C major chord. If you leave notes out, it's no longer a triad, hence, no longer a chord (although most people will refer to it as a chord, even though it's not complete). It needs the 3rd (E or Eb) to identify it as either major or minor. If you leave the E or Eb out and play just Cs and Gs, you have what some people call a "power chord." But it is an interval of a perfect 5th, not a complete chord. If you play a C and an E, but leave the G out, you imply a C major chord, but it isn't a complete chord.

You can add notes to a basic triad. Add an A to a C major and you have a C6. Add a Bb and it's a C7. Add a D and it's a C9. And so on.

You can also invert chords. A C major chord with the E in the bass instead of the C is in first inversion. G in the bass makes it second inversion. There's no third inversion because that puts it back in root position again — unless it's an added note chord such as a C6 with and A in the bass.

But if you're dealing with added note chords, you have to be especially aware if you begin leaving other notes out. For example, if you add an A to a C major, going for a C6, but you leave the G out (say, C, E, A, C, E on the top five strings of the guitar), you no longer have a C chord, you have an A minor chord in first inversion (C, E, and A, with the C and the E doubled).

Probably more than you ever wanted to know about a C chord. Of course the same stuff (basic triad, leaving notes out, adding notes, and inversions) applies to every chord. It's all very orderly.

This is part of the "mathematics" of chords. But nobody's going to shoot you if you play a first inversion Am instead of a C6 as long as it sounds good in context. That's the ultimate criterion.

That's about it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:28 PM

The thread that (I think) Don is referring too, still makes interesting reading:

What is a Chord?"


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Marion
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:29 PM

Here's a pointless theory question that you've reminded me of:

To make a G major chord, for example, you need G,B, and D notes in some combination, but several inversions are possible (i.e., on a guitar you can either play an open B string or make it a D). So what if you had an instrument with twelve strings, let's say, and you played it with 10 B notes (the lowest note being a B), one G note, and one D note. Could you call the resulting chord a G? Technically it seems to fit the definition, but it wouldn't sound much like a G...

And as long as I'm on pointlessness, here's a pointless terminology question:

If your tune is in the key of D major, what do you call the D major chord? I call it the "one chord", but that sounds kind of Nashville; what do they call it at composers' conferences in Vienna?

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:31 PM

The tonic


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:34 PM

Marion,

In terms of the second half of your question, this page may help (even though it contradicts Don) For the record, Don is correct.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:36 PM

Could you call the resulting chord a G? Technically it seems to fit the definition, but it wouldn't sound much like a G...

It would sound exactly like a G, because that's what it is...


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Marion
Date: 27 May 02 - 03:49 PM

So "tonic" means either the D note or the D major triad?


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 May 02 - 04:02 PM

True, Marion. Strictly speaking, "tonic note" and "tonic chord."

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 02 - 05:45 PM

Marion,

Back to your first question about having 'loads' of Bs and only one G and one D in the chord.

I know that it's probably counter-intuitive, but the human ear picks up differences. You might have 500 Bs and even 500 Ds as well. Your ear (unless the other notes drowned it out)would still pick up the single 'G' and hence the G Major chord.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 27 May 02 - 05:46 PM

Yes, OK, it takes at least three notes for a "chord," but then is there also a name for a two-note thing like Jeri describes, or like I pluck on my plucked psaltery? Because whatever it would be called, there is surely a major one and a minor one. One note would be the melody note and the other would be a harmony note, but they have a distinct character sounded together.

And if neither of these two notes is the melody, but is played accompanying the melody, then whatever note IS being played or sung in the melody would provide the the third note, and so we're back to a chord being there, but the voicing of it is broken up among more than one person....

It would be handy to know how to refer to this with other players, or to know what they have meant when they have referred to it and I have not understood...

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 02 - 05:50 PM

WYSIWYG,

When Jeri plays it, it's a 'diad'

When you play it it's a 'cacophony'

Clear?


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Peter T.
Date: 27 May 02 - 06:27 PM

Let me then rephrase my original question -- how much do you need to imply a chord, taking into account the caveats I began with? yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: greg stephens
Date: 27 May 02 - 07:56 PM

I think you're sticking to rather old fashioned books if you think you need 1st 3rd and 5th to make a chord.Makes a triad all right, but that's only one kind of chord.Sing a C E and G together. Drop the top two notes by a step. You've got C D and F. Nobody's going to a shout "Hey they were singing a chord a minute ago and now they are'nt"


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 May 02 - 09:24 PM

Old fashioned? No, I think you'll find that the latest books on the subject will say the same thing I said above. It beats the hell out of me why such a simple, straight-forward definition is so hard for people to accept. What's to be gained by saying something is not what it is? It just confuses things. I stick by what I said.

Two notes played together is called (are called?) an interval. The same term applies to two notes played consecutively. There are major and minor 2nds (C and D, C and Db), major and minor thirds (C and E, C and Eb), perfect 4ths (C and F), perfect 5ths (C and G), major and minor 6ths (C and A, C and Ab), major and minor 7ths (C and B, C and Bb), and octaves (C and C).

Perfect intervals can also be augmented and diminished, i.e., augmented and diminished 4th (C and Fb [in even temperment, same sound as C and E, a major 3rd], C and F#). Augmented and diminished 5th (C and G#, C and Gb [this is sometimes called a "tritone"--this interval is an essential ingredient in a dominant 7th chord, and it's also the famous "flatted 5th" in jazz. It has a very interesting history]).

Try playing these intervals, together and consecutively. It's a revealing experience to hear the sound and be able to put a name to it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 May 02 - 09:42 PM

Okay, C, D, and F. What you have is a major 2nd with a perfect 4th. The nearest you can come to putting a chord designation to it is to say that it's an implied D minor 7th (missing 5th) in second inversion.

I'm assuming that you want to communicate in a meaningful manner with trained musicians in the language that trained musicians use. "Chord" means something specific. It has many variations and permutations, but the basic definition is what it is.

You can "stick a feather in your cap and call it macaroni" if you want, but you'll have a real hard time convincing the camp cook to mix it with cheese and serve it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Bert
Date: 27 May 02 - 11:41 PM

Three.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 28 May 02 - 12:36 AM

Don Firth,

Re: your post here:
Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27-May-02 - 09:24 PM


Thank you!

That was really helpful, and I will do as you suggest! *G*

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Peter T.
Date: 28 May 02 - 08:35 AM

If anyone out there would like to take a stab at answering the question this thread was started for, I would appreciate it.

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Marion
Date: 28 May 02 - 01:59 PM

Thanks, Don and guests.

Peter, I'm not sure that "implying" has a precise enough meaning for you to get a definitive answer.

Let's say you were doing a tune using Cotton Picking for Wimps - hitting the tonic note as a bass note on the first and third beats, for example. That single note would be implying the chord, I'd say.

For what it's worth, here's one of the earlier threads on the subject: Music nerds assemble! Implying... (but I suspect that you've already read it and found it unsatisfactory, Peter).

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Marion
Date: 28 May 02 - 02:04 PM

I also want to clarify one thing: when we say that you need three notes to make a chord, that means three different note names, not just three different pitches.

For example, if you played middle C, the G above it, then C an octave higher, that's really only two notes, although there are three pitches. It would imply a C chord, but it wouldn't technically be one.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 May 02 - 02:27 PM

But Peter, where is the question not answer? If it hasn't been answered by now, then maybe you need to restate or rephrase the question.

The only thing I can think of that hasn't been covered is the matter of working in conjunction with other instruments. Example:— A string quartet. The cello plays a low C, the viola plays an E, the second violin plays a G, and the first violin plays a high C. Voila!! A C major chord. Happens all the time. Same idea works, of course, with a washtub bass, guitar, banjo, and mandolin.

Here's a cute one: suppose you play just two notes on the guitar, a C and a G. At the same time, the note you sing is an E. The combination of voice and guitar produces a C major chord.

Here's another one: if you work with a group, try playing chords with each instrument playing a different note in the chord. Then, playing the same chord, change which instrument plays which note. The chord remains the same, but the texture of the sound changes. You might find some interesting sound combinations that way (that's a sort of basic form of "orchestration.").

If this doesn't answer it, give it another shot and I'll see what I can do.

Incidentally, I wish I could remember which one it is, but in one of Tchaikovsky's symphonies, there is a theme—a very famous and very familiar melody—that is repeated a number of times. But at no time does any single instrument or orchestral section actually play the melody. If you were to comb through the score reading the individual parts, you wouldn't find it. A single instrument could play it, but none does. It's a product of the combined instruments of the orchestra. Amazing! Tchaikovsky really knew what he was doing.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 28 May 02 - 02:47 PM

Peter -

Don hits some good points.

From the original posting:

"Obviously it varies according to context, but how few notes do you need in order to signify a chord?"

If we discern that you asked how to "signify a chord" as opposed to how to "play a chord," then the answer may be a little different than we have seen thus far.

"I ask this because of thinking about various instruments where you can only get two out of the three note for a chord, ..."

Okay - so you're playing a mandolin???

(It's the lesser evil of the possibilities, since I try to play one myself - which makes it the most obviously beautiful instrument there is. The other possibilities are fiddle, banjo(?) - in standard tunings, mountain dulcimer, and hammered dulcimer - if you only use two hammers.)

If you are attempting a solo piece, you play what you can - and try to make it sound nice. The standard mountain dulcimists mantra of "find a pleasant tone" is the governing rule here. If it sounds right, it is right.

As has been indicated above, the tonic and third notes "define" a chord; so if that's what you play, it should be fairly obvious "to the listening ear."

If you play the tonic and fifth, either a major or minor chord could fit - and the listener may perceive either. The context of the surrounding music will generally "drive" the listener to perceive whichever one "fits" the piece.

If you play the third and fifth, there is the possibility that a listener might hear it as a III-minor chord, but most likely they will fill in what they expect to hear and will get it "right," because of the surrounding structure of the tune.

If it is absolutely necessary that your instrument alone must project the full chord unambiguously, then you probably need to "roll" or "arpegiate" accross the chord, or play alternates, like "walking" a chord on a string bass. You could, perhaps, play either the tonic or 1,3 notes on the "on beat" with 1,5 or 3,5 on the off beats.

Fiddlers tend to think of "doubles" as "augmenting the melody" rather than as an attempt to produce chords. Mandolinists have fallen into referring to what they do as "chording," but it is an abominable corruption of the music to do so. The most common incentive to "chord" a mandolin is in bluegrass "backbeat chops." If this is your concern, note that you are not playing "the music" - you are "simulating a snare drum" - (Bill Monroe's description.)

The chord that can be produced on a mando in full 3 note form are the proof (IMNSHO) that inversions do matter, and generally do not support the stucture of most tunes as well as if you used only the dyads.

In general, as long as both of the two notes you can play are contained in the appropriate chord (or in the chord and immediately adjacent melody) you won't produce any dissonance and you won't detract from the tune.

If you are playing in a group - or even a duet - then, between members, you can produce the three notes needed for a full chord if you agree on an "arrangement" with your partners.

John


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: RichM
Date: 28 May 02 - 03:01 PM

How many notes are needed to "imply" a chord?

Sometimes, the other instrument, or the singer, supplies the note that completes the imply-ment of the chord!

Marion, I thought about you today-- I played my second busking gig (in Ottawa/Canada). Of course you were partner in my first busking event last summer!

You spoiled me--and narrowed my choices-, so I had to pick another fiddler of course, to partner!

Rich McCarthy


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: M.Ted
Date: 28 May 02 - 03:25 PM

Peter, Jazz arrangers use the 3rd and seventh of a chord to imply the whole chord, the idea being that the sound is not ambiguous because those notes would occur together in one and only one chord--this is not exactly true, it is very clear to the ear what chord is implied-- Usually, at least in a modern melody, a single note will tell you what chord is appropriate(though there may be more than one)--The fundamental and the third give a good indication(particularly on instruments like the guitar, where the fifth is a really strong harmonic, so that it is basically there whenever the fundamental sounds, anyway--

Melodies often feature phrases that are nothing more than an arpeggio, and the chord change is indicated simply because the melody moves to a note not in the chord of the arpeggio--

Given that arrangements use chord partials(pieces of chords that imply the whole chord) all the time, it still takes three notes minimum to constitute an official chord, and the interval between those notes must be thirds of some sort or another--


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Peter T.
Date: 29 May 02 - 09:24 AM

Thank you all, I appreciate the focussed answers to my foggy lunges. yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: English Jon
Date: 29 May 02 - 12:54 PM

Peter, is your question about harmonic balance?

Western harmony generally uses Tonic (1), Mediant (III) and Dominant (V) to make a triad. Notice this is going up in thirds all the time, so you can also compound the VII, II (9th to you and me - it cycles round the octave), IV (11th) and VI (13th).

Is this about defining if C E G B is I 7th or iii 13th?

Or is it a question about balance of doublings within the chord? For basic harmony, avoid doubling thirds because it sounds weak, but what happens if you're writing for orchestra? Flute and piccolo play in octaves very often, so technically, the melody is often "doubled" - probably best to think of it in terms of a single combined timbre.

Or am I reading too much into this?

Hope it's some help, cheers, Jon


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Subject: RE: Music Theory:Number Notes Need?
From: Marion
Date: 30 May 02 - 09:56 AM

Hi RichM. That's cool, so where did you go busking? I hope you kept your money this time. You know, I found that that spot in the Glebe paid just as well as most of my stints in the Byward Market, and I never had to compete with panhandlers or other buskers for the corner.

Next time I'm in Ottawa I'll bring my cello and play with you two, so it'll only look like one member of our quartet couldn't make it.

Marion


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