|I've chosen the folk song "Tom Dooley" as an example of a two chord folk song in
two keys. This is a piano solo. Changing the key of a song is called transposing.
We play the eight bar chorus followed by the eight bar verse in G. Then we do
the same thing in C. We end back in G with a final 8 bar chorus. Notice how much
higher it sounds in C but it's still the same melody. This song is written in the key
of G. Some might have trouble trying to sing it in the key of C. I did the chords in
bass chord style. This is a little harder to play as you have to move your left hand
up and down on the keyboard a bit. We will study this style in a future lesson. For
this lesson, we will learn to play "Tom Dooley" and our other folk songs in a
simpler style. This example will play twice. You may have to click on the player to
activate it. Then you can click on the play button of the player below to hear it
Using The Lessons
People that come to these pages through search engines enter on different pages. I
would recommend that to get the full benefit of these music lessons, you visit every page
at least once. This is a totally new approach to learning music. The focus is on "How
Music Works". That page that you miss could be the one that contains the key
information, that you need. These pages are full of music tips and music info that you
probably won't find anywhere else.
A musical instrument is made up of things that vibrate, the strings of a guitar or piano for
instance. These cause vibrations in the air, which make our ear drums vibrate and we
hear musical tones. The speed of a vibration is it's called it's frequency. Each tone has a
particular frequency. The higher the pitch the faster the frequency. They are related to
each other mathematically. We don't need to get into a technical discussion of all the
details at this time but just to give an example when you go up an octave you are
doubling the frequency.
Musics Great Secret
When we think of a song, we think of the words but most important the words are put to a
melody. What creates the melody? Here is musics greatest secret. It's the spaces
between the notes that create what you hear as music not the particular notes
you are using. You will have the same melody and /or harmony, everything that makes
a particular song recognizable, as long as the spaces between the notes are the same.
You can start a song on any note, keep the spaces the same and you have the same
song. All the other notes are determined by the first note you pick. Pick a different note
and you will be playing the same song in a different key. Understanding this greatly
simplifies making music. We will study this more in the this free lesson and lessons to
When we talk about the difference between notes, we don't talk about changes in
frequency, even though that is what actually happens. Instead we use the word step. The
smallest frequency change that we use in our musical culture is called a half step. There
are cultures that go down to a quarter step. Are our seven natural tones all the same
distance apart? No some are a whole step apart and some are a half step apart. Look at
the keyboard. Can you tell which ones are a whole step apart? All the ones that have a
black key in between of course. Then if you go from a white key to a black key, up or
down, you are changing by a half step. Which of the natural tones are a half step apart?
The e to f and the b to c because as you can see they are right next to each other.
There is no black key or other note in between. The fact is if you go from any key, black
or white to the very next key, up or down, you are changing by a half step. Any time you
skip one key it's a whole step.
A musical keyboard is built so that
playing from c to c on the white
keys, puts the whole steps and half
steps in the right place to give you
a major scale, That scale puts you
in the key of C major. For any other
major scale, you will need to
substitute one or more of the
musical keyboard's black keys for a
C Major Steps
Now lets examine closely the distance between the notes in the C major scale. There is a
half step between the 3rd and 4th note e to f and a half step between the 7th and 8th
note b to c. We can see that on the keyboard above as there is no black key in between.
All the other notes have a note in between and are a whole step apart. We can see that
on the key board above. All the other notes have a black key and so other note in
between. If we wrote out a formula for the C major scale in terms of it's spaces, we would
whole step, whole step,half step,
whole step, whole step , whole step, half step.
But as you will soon find out this is not only the formula for C major. It is the formula for
every major scale. As we said before, Sounds in music depend on the spaces
between tones not the tones themselves. Start on any note and keep the spaces
between the notes the same as the major scale formula and you will be playing that
Click on the players below, once to activate and then on the play arrow to play, to hear
the two major scales. One is C major and the other is G major. Notice how G scale
sounds higher than C. That is because we are starting on the g five notes above c. If we
had used the g four notes below c, it would have sounded lower. We have already
played these scales in free music lesson 4, "Sharps And Flats". Notice even though the
notes are completely different, you still have your major scale melody. You can play a
major scale starting on any note. For any note except c, you will have to use black keys
to put the steps in the right place for a major scale. Sometimes we call them flats and
sometimes we call them flats depending on the key. If we had to raise them make a half
step a whole step, we call them sharps. If we had to lower them to make a whole step a
half step we call them flats. For the flat example see the key of F below. Once you
understand this you can play a song in any key. Many songs today are written by singers
to fit their own voice and may be to high or low for you to sing. One advantage of using a
different key, is that you can raise or lower the melody to fit your voice.
Two Chord Songs
When we began these lessons, I promised that understanding how music worked would
make it easier. Now you can begin to see how all keys are equivalent. Now when you
learn a song you look for a pattern or formula, that you can switch into any key that fits
you voice or instrument. The next few lessons will explore these principles and other
major keys in a lot more detail.
©2004 - 2008
Making Music Easy
In our first four free music lessons, we had you just playing melody with the right hand. I
gave you sound samples for the exercises with backup chords. How many different kinds
of backup chords do we need in a key to back up these particular songs. The answer is
two. Even though most songs use more chord types, there are many simple songs that
can be backed up with just two basic chords types. These are the tonic major and the
dominant seventh. The tonic major is built on the first note or degree of the scale. So for
the key of C, it's C major, for the key of G, it's G major and for the key of F it's F major.
The dominant 7th is built on the fifth note or fifth degree of the scale. So for the key of C,
it's G7, for the key of G, it's D7 and for the key of F, it's C7. Major chords only need
three notes to define them, although they can have more. The dominant seventh chord
needs four notes. Suppose you form a four note G chord starting from the g of the G
major scale. Skipping every other note, the notes are g, b, d, f sharp. This is a form of
the tonic major called G major 7th. Now form a four note G chord starting on the fifth note
of the C major scale. Skipping every other note, the notes are g, b, d, f. As you can see,
the first three notes are the same. It's the fourth note that defines the dominant 7th, G7
chord. Note that the f for Dominant 7th G7 is natural not sharp. As you will see as we
look at these chords in detail, it's all about the spaces or distance between the notes. As
with the melody it's the spaces between the notes that determine a chord type
not the particular notes. Now let's look at chords for our two chord songs, in detail in
three keys, C, G, and F.
Building Major Chords
Chords are built by starting on a particular note or degree of the scale. Degree just
means the number position of the note in the scale. A three note chord is called a triad.
It's first note is called it's root note. Skipping over the second note the next note is the
third. Now skipping over the fourth note, the next note is the fifth. The type of chord that
we have will be determined by the degree of the scale that it is built on. A chord built on
the first degree of the major scale is the tonic major. It is the most important chord. It is
the key chord. Below is the picture of the hands again. We will be playing our chords with
the left hand. Below that are keyboard sections with the fingering for the tonic major
chords of the three keys we have been using in our first four free music lessons. Play
them on your keyboard.
Building Dominant Seventh Chords
along with the tonic major are the main chords in any major key. Many songs can be use
a capitol with the 7. For example G7 or C7. The major chord needs nothing after it, just
the capitol letter by itself means major. For example G or C. Even though we are starting
with the fifth note of the scale we still call the root one and count up from there. The root,
third and fifth of a dominant seventh chord are the same as the major chord with the
same letter name. But when you skip the sixth to go to the seventh note is where you
hear the difference. For example, if you build a seventh chord on the first degree of the
G major scale, it's a major seventh and the notes are g, b, d, f sharp. But if you build it
on the fifth degree of the C major scale, the notes are g,b,d,f. The f is natural. That
makes it a G7, dominant seventh chord. What makes these chords sound the way
that they do? What makes them the type of chord that they are? As before, it's
the spaces between the notes, not the particular notes. The V7 chord for C is G7.
The V7 chord for G is D7. The V7 chord for F is C7. I given you pictures of the chords
below but these are not the ones we will actually use to play our songs. First they are
hard to finger. Especially the C7, which requires us to use our thumb on the black B flat
key. Second as we switch from the major to the dominant seventh and back we have to
jump to a different spot on the keyboard. The chords below are in root position, with the
root notes on the bottom. You can try to play them. There will come a time where you will
need to use them. But to make our songs easy to play we are going to use inversions.
Inverted Seventh Chords
Any fingering of a chord that does not lay it out in 1, 3, 5 or 1, 3, 5, 7 with the root on the
bottom is an inversion. Inversions are very useful in a number of ways. The first one that
we will learn is for a seventh chord. It allows us to play the chords for our two chord
songs by just shifting a few fingers. The examples below show you exactly how to do it.
Practice switching between the major chord and it's dominant 7th chord. You need to be
able to do it smoothly and quickly, with all the notes of a chord sounding out together.
One thing you will notice on the pictures below is that the fifth note of all the seventh
chords is in parenthesise. Because the fifth is the same for most common chords, it can
actually be left out without really changing the sound of the chord. Try playing with it in
and out and hear for yourself. You can decide which way you prefer.
Switching from C to it's inverted
dominant 7th chord G7 is easy.
Leaving you thumb on g, play f with
your second finger, d with your fourth
finger and move your fifth finger to b.
Switching from G to it's inverted
dominant 7th chord D7 is easy.
Leaving you thumb on d, play c with
your second finger, a with your fourth
Switching from f to it's inverted
dominant 7th chord C7 is easy.
Leaving you thumb on c, play b flat
with your second finger, g with your
fourth finger and move your fifth finger
Playing The Songs
Now we can use our chords to play back up for our songs both to back up our singing or
our playing of the melody. The main skill that you have to master is playing the rhythm or
the accompaniment independently without being influenced by the timing in the melody.
We will start with the simplest rhythm, one chord per quarter beat. For our song "Some
Folks Do" it's easy. The melody notes are a quarter beat or longer. Listen to the sound
sample below from free music lesson 1 "Music Is Easy". It's in the key of C. Practice
playing the chords as you both sing and play the melody. Keep the steady one chord to
a beat, except for the silent no chord, on the fourth beat at the end of eight bars. When
you have mastered the key of C, try it in the keys of F and G. Now we are going to do the
same thing for "Skip To My Lou" It's a little more difficult because we have eight notes.
You may find when you first try that your left chord hand wants to follow the eight notes in
the melody. Below is the sound sample from free music lesson 2, Schools Of Music, In
the key of C. Once you have mastered the key of C, play it in the key of F and G. Also
from free music lesson 2, we have "Tom Dooley". It is even more difficult to keep our
quarter beat chord rhythm going because the melody is syncopated. Let's look at the
first measure. As you sing or play the words hang and down on eight notes, you are
playing one chord. But the next chord comes in on the down beat of the second beat with
no word as the word down extends through it. Then on the up beat of this second
quarter beat chord, we have the word your. The chords come right in with the words
head and Tom on the last two quarter beats of the measure. The next measure is easy
as the word Dooley is sung as two half note syllables. After that the pattern keeps
repeating. Practice, until you can play your one chord per quarter beat against this
syncopation. Below we have the sound sample from free music lesson 1 "Schools Of
Music" in the key of G. Practice playing and singing the melody to this song in all three
Some Folks Do In The Key Of C
Skip To My Lou In The Key Of C
Tom Dooley In The Key Of G
How Music Works
The first five free music lessons in this series of free music lessons teaches you how with
"Music Is Easy", "Schools Of Music", "Natural Music Tones" and "Sharps And Flats"
should be studied as a group. These first five free music lessons reveal musics great
secret, that is the key to understanding music. I use the piano keyboard with many
exercises that you can play to help you learn these vital music principles. You will not
need to know how to read music for these lessons. You will learn scales and chords in
different keys. You learn to play songs in different keys. Once you understand how music
works , you will find that playing a song in different keys is not many things. It is basically
one thing. Understanding music greatly simplifies music. Use the links here or in the
navigation bars to the left to go to the other lessons. There will be links to get back here.
|Singing And Counting "Tom Dooley"
Now we are going to learn to sing and count and later play "Tom Dooley". We will use the
same kind of examples that we used for our earlier songs but because Tom Dooley is
syncopated it will be more difficult. A song is syncopated when words or notes come in on
up beats. In Tom Dooley the word hang is only an eight note long and the word down
begins as your foot comes back on the up beat. Notice no comma in between them. On
the second beat, we start with a dash because down extends through the down beat as
your foot taps down. Your comes in on the up beat, and, as your foot comes back. This
syncopated timing takes place on the second beat of the first measure of every phrase.
After that the timing is regular with one little wrinkle. The word bound is two different eight
notes. Singing it you slur one note to the other to blend as much a possible. You may
have to click on the player below to activate it. Click on the play arrow to play the song.
Again, we have a verse at the beginning and end with the melody and two verses in the
middle with just the chords. Tap you foot. Listen and count. Then sing along karaoke
style. Practice till you master the timing.
4/4 Hang down, - your, head, Tom; Doo, -,ley, -;
Hang down, - your, head, and; cry, -, - , -;
Hang down, - your, head, Tom; Doo, -, ley, -;
Poor boy, - you're, bo und, to; die, -, -, -:
The song "Tom Dooley" uses a very different five note scale. It uses the notes of the
major pentatonic scale. The notes are do, re me, so, la. One interesting thing to note is
that, even though the key of G has an f sharp and the key of F a b flat, the notes in all
three keys are natural for this song. The fingering is the same for all three on the white
keys of a piano or keyboard. Women can usually sing from a few notes below middle c
to a few notes above middle c. Men usually sing an octave lower. The original key for this
song is G. The sound sample above is in the key of G. It starts on and it's lowest note is
d, one note above middle c, in key of G. In the key of F that lowest note is actually middle
c. With g, above middle c as the lowest note in the key of C it is too high for comfortable
singing. Even though F and G have black key notes in their major scales, none of the
notes in their major pentatonic scales are black keys. Look at the right hand fingering for
these major pentatonic scales on the keyboard below left. C is on the bottom, G is in the
middle and F is on top. Let's look at the key of G. In the first measure or bar the thumb,
number 1 plays so or d to cover the syncopated part. Then finger 2 plays la or e on the
third quarter beat and then fingers are spread so that finger 3 can play do or g on the
final quarter beat of the measure. In the next measure the little finger plays me or b. The
fourth finger is over re or a but doesn't play it. The next measure begins the next phrase.
We could use the same fingers that we have set up for the first phrase, as shown on the
first keyboard, but since we are not playing me or b any more, we can bring the fingers in
a bit. Look at the fingering for the key of G on the second keyboard below right. Here I
use finger 4 to play to play do or g and finger 5 to play re or a. Try playing the melody for
"Tom Dooley" in all three keys. Try it using the fingerings shown on the first keyboard or
with the alteration shown on the second keyboard and see which you like best.
4/4 so so, - so, la, do; me, -, me, -;
so so, - so, la, do; re, -, -, -;
so so, - so, la, do; re, -, re, -;
re re, - re, re do, la; do, -, -, -:
In free music lessons 1, "Music Is Easy" and free music lesson 2, "Schools Of Music"
you began to learn to sing the universal solfeggio tones instead of the letter note
names. The solfeggio tones are the same for every key even though the letter names
are different in each key. It is the spaces between the notes that make the
melody not what the notes actually are. The melody will be higher or lower
depending on the key but it will be the same melody. Below are the solfeggio tones for
"Tom Dooley". The so, la, do, re, me arrangement of notes is very different from the do,
re, me fa, so arrangement of "Some Folks Do" and "Skip To My Lou". Sing the solfeggio
tones instead of the words as you did in the first two lessons and you will building on
your sight singing skills.
Tom Dooley In C, F, And G
On the left we have midi sound samples of
the song "Tom Dooley" in three major
keys G, F and C. It is just the melody
without the chords. Notice how the melody
is the same for all keys but sounds higher
for C. That is because the melody in G
starts on d above middle c and the
melody in F starts on middle c. This puts
the song in a good vocal range. If we play
in the key of C, the lowest note is g five
tones above middle c. The highest note is
e in the next octave. This is a bit high for
some to sing. Listen to the sound samples
on the left. You may have to click on the
player to activate it before you click on the
play arrow to play the sound sample.
Look at the keyboard to the right. What
happens if we start on a g instead of a c?
We have two whole steps followed by a half
and then two more whole. Next we should
have another whole step followed by a final
half step for the major scale but if we use
the white key f natural, we see that it is a
half step followed by a whole step. How do
we fix it? Use the black f sharp key instead
of the white f key and all our steps are in the
right place for a major scale. In the key of G
all f notes are sharp.
When we start on an f note,we get
our major scale melody, if we play the
black b flat key instead of the white b
key on our music keyboard. This puts
all the whole steps and half steps in
the right place for the major scale. In
this case because we had to close up
the space to a half from a whole step
or lower it we call the note b flat. Click
on the player below to activate it and
then on the play button to hear the
familiar do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do in
the key of F.