From Mozart to Marsalis –
From Bruckner to Heavy Metal –
Mini-Music 2007





Mini-Music  Q & A

Music Boot Camp
Prof. Reisa Lipszyc

1 – How did the pattern/layout of the piano come about?

The first keyboard instruments were built with the pattern of only white keys. Music from the various modes (derived from Greek and then church music) could be performed on these keys. Between the notes F-B a dissonance was created (known as a tritone, or the devil’s interval), so in order to resolve this dissonance, it is believed that B flat was the first black note added. The next to be added was the F#. Then in order to be able to perform in various modes the other notes were added. It is interesting to note that the major scale is derived from the Ionian mode and the natural minor scale, from the Aeolian mode. Another interesting fact is that on the first keyboard instrument, the virginal, the white and black keys were reversed.

2 – What is the pattern of scales in most "Eastern" music?

"Eastern music" can imply music from many countries. If the question is regarding the Middle East, the harmonic minor scale is traditionally associated with that geographical area. If the question refers to the Far East, the pentatonic scale is traditionally used in folk songs of that region. India uses a system of "ragas" which uses various patterns. There are many variations of "modes" (specific patterns) associated with folk music of all European countries.

3 – Why is Jewish music written in a Minor key?

Much of Jewish music is built on a series of notes called modes – specifically the harmonic minor mode. Ahava Rabboh (Abounding love, in Hebrew) is taken from the morning prayer service. It contains the pattern of the harmonic minor scale which provides the listener with the sound that is usually associated with "Yiddish" music – the interval of a tone and a half (the first few notes of Hava Nagila). Much of the music played in the Klezmer style and "Jewish" is in minor keys. The minor tonality provides a reflection of the emotion often expressed in Yiddish music.

4 – Why does a composer choose C sharp and B flat right next to each other as notation?

If you look at the piano keyboard, you will notice that there are 3 semi-tones separating the B flat and C sharp. In all the scales that we looked at, the harmonic minor scale, is the only one that contains this interval (distance between two notes). It has a certain "flavour" and when played consecutively, often reminds people of Middle Eastern music.


Back to Q & A main page