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
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
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.
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