In this lesson we add two new words to our musical vocabulary: a Semitone (or ‘half-step’) and a Whole tone (or ‘whole step’).
These two words are used to describe the ‘distance‘, or ‘interval‘, between any two notes. The smallest interval possible is that between two notes which are immediately next to each other (no notes in between), and this interval is a called a semitone, or half step.
The interval between two notes that have a single note between them, for example C and D (with one black note between them) is two semitones (or two half-steps) which is that same as one whole tone. Thus “Two Halves Make A Whole” – get it?
Why do we need to measure intervals between notes? When be start playing multi-note chords, it is the intervals between the chord notes that DEFINE the chord type.
In this lesson we explore the piano keyboard with our left hand. There are only seven white notes and five black notes that we need to locate and learn. We discuss how the group of five black notes are arranged into a group of 2 and a group of 3. We learn to scan and find these five black notes (‘Home Position‘) in order to locate Middle C. We then slide our hand down from the five black notes to land with our little finger on Middle C, and then play the seven white notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. At this point we can play all twelve notes of the piano (the Magic 12). The ability to find Home Position and Middle C is extremely important because it prepares our left hand for playing jazz chords in a range just above Middle C.
In our previous lesson we constructed 3-note Triad chords. The simplistic sound of a triad might suffice for some genres of music, but Jazz most definitely requires the more complex coloring of chords containing more than three different notes.
The minimum requirement to be considered as a Jazz Chord is a 4-note chord. When the fourth note is added three or four semitones above the top note of a triad, the triad becomes what is called a ‘seventh’ chord. The notes of chords constructed in this manner referred to as:
Just so you can hear the difference between triads and ‘seventh’ chords, listen to me first play the triads in the key of C from our last lesson:
Now listen to these same chords played as ‘seventh’ chords with a fourth note added on top:
You construct these ‘seventh’ chords by simply adding one note on top of a triad. Take the C triad for example. We started with C as our root, then added notes by skipping white notes: play C, skip D, play E, skip F, play G. Repeating this we skip A and play B. This gives us a C Major Seven(th) chord.
Think about this C Major Seven chord:
we know that the root of this chord is C.
we know that the E note is two whole tones above the root.
we know that the G note is seven semitones above the root.
these intervals for the E and G notes DEFINE a ‘Major’ chord.
by adding the B note we created a C Major SEVEN(TH) chord.
Up to this point we have considered INTERVALS as being the distance between two notes by counting semitone or whole tone steps between the two notes.
But now we want to consider a more convenient method for describing the relationship between each note of the chord and the root note. To do so, we introduce the terminology “second”, “third”, “fourth”, “fifth”, “sixth”, “seventh”, “octave”, “ninth”, “tenth”, “eleventh” and “thirteenth” (there is no “twelfth”).
Let’s demonstrate this using our new C Major Seventh chord in the key of C. Starting from the root note C, we name the white notes above C as follows:
D is the “second”
E is the “third”
F is the “fourth”
G is the “fifth”
A is the “sixth”
B is the “seventh” (thus the name C Major ‘seventh’)
C is an “octave” above the C root
D is the “ninth”
E is the “tenth”
F is the “eleventh”
A is the “thirteenth”
You might have noticed the duplication above the octave note. The usefulness of this will become clear shortly.
In this tutorial we begin our study of Jazz Chords by building seven triads in the key of C.
Before we start, let’s review a few topics:
Chords are built upon a single ROOT NOTE. For example, a C chord will have a root note of ‘C’, a D chord will have a root note of D, …
All of the notes of a chord are constructed relative to the chord’s root note. For example, a C major chord contains the notes C, E and G. The root is C, the E note is four semitones above the root, and the G note is seven semitones above the root.
Triad chords are the simplest of chords in that they contain only three notes. Jazz chords typically contain a minimum of four notes and as many as seven notes.
The INTERVAL between any two notes is determined by the number of semitones or whole tones required to step from one of the notes to the other note. The interval between the notes F and A is four semitones (or two whole tones): F to F sharp, F sharp to G, G to G sharp, and G sharp to A.
When constructing chords in the Key of C we use only notes from the C Major Scale: C, D, E, F, G, A and B.
In the key of C we have seven possible notes to choose from for the root of a chord. The possible chord roots are therefore: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
In this lesson we use the little finger of our left hand to play the chord root.
Now let’s play the seven triads in the Key of C by:
placing your little finger on the root note.
with your middle finger and index finger, play EVERY OTHER white note above the root. Using C as our root note, the middle finger plays E and the index finger plays G. Note how we ‘skip’ the D and F notes.
We can now play all seven triads by sliding our left hand position UP to the next note in the C Major scale, construction the following triads:
In the next lesson we will examine the relationship of each chord note to the chord root, by noting the INTERVALS ( in semitones or whole tones). It is these intervals that define the chord as a Major, Minor, Dominant, or Diminished chord.
In this lesson we use our knowledge of SHARPS and FLATS to name the Five Black Notes on the keyboard.
Recall that the terms SHARP and FLAT relate to two notes that are a SEMITONE (half-step) apart:
The upper note is the SHARP of the lower note.
The Lower note is the FLAT of the upper note.
Notice that every one of the five black notes has both:
1) a white note a semitone BELOW it, and 2) a white note a semitone ABOVE it.
The result of this is that every one of the five black notes is BOTH: 1) the SHARP of the white note just below it, 2) and the FLAT of the white note just above it.
With your Left Hand in ‘HOME’ position on the five black notes, let’s determine the TWO names for the black note under your little finger. Since this black note is one semitone ABOVE the C note, we can name it ‘C SHARP’. And since this black note is also one semitone BELOW the D note, we can name also name it “D FLAT”.
Why do we need two names for each black note (C SHARP is the same note as D FLAT)? We’ll find out why when we learn about KEY SIGNATURES, but if you can’t wait: depending on what key signature is being played, either the SHARP terminology or the FLAT terminology will be used. Just remember that “C SHARP” is the SAME NOTE as “D FLAT”.
Let’s use the same procedure to name the other FOUR black notes, by noting the white notes that are a semitone above and below the black note. When we do this, the five black notes have the following names, starting with the little finger and continuing up to the black note under your thumb:
C SHARP and D FLAT D SHARP and E FLAT F SHARP and G FLAT G SHARP and A FLAT A SHARP and B FLAT
Congratulate yourself because with some practice we will no longer need to refer to the black notes by which finger plays them. You will know that “F SHARP” is the black note one semitone above F. And that “B FLAT” is the black note one semitone below the note B. That is very exciting news.
In this short audio tutorial we review the musical concepts that we have learned so far. With a solid understanding of these concepts and their terminology, visually impaired (VI) piano students will have no difficulty grasping more advanced jazz concepts to come. The list of topics reviewed include:
Locating and using the five black notes to can find Middle C.
Playing the notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B and C beginning from middle C.
Semitone and Whole Tone intervals (half step and whole step).