Music Education!

With my extended (~60min) work commute from West Hartford to East Haven, I have been listening to lessons on CD from the Great Courses program. The strength of the courses, not unlike at any institution, is entirely in the quality of the teacher.

Thankfully the instructor of much of the music series, Professor Robert Greenburg, is excellent. So far I’m on my third set of discs.

1. How to listen to and understand great music (Greenburg)
2. Elements of Jazz, from Cakewalks to Fusion (Bill Messenger)
3. Understanding the Fundamentals of Music (Greenburg)

The courses, specifically Greenburg’s, have been eye opening. Greenburg focuses on classical music genres. I have learned WAY more than I thought I would have. Before the course I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the difference between Bach and Stravinsky. Now, I feel pretty confident in identifying music to specific Classical eras.

Further, despite casual music for most of my life, the Fundamentals of Music has taught me a ton on the workings of musical mechanics. It is admittedly academic with a fair amount of time being spent on definition and word origin, but it’s valuable information and I’m pleased with what I’ve learned.

In particular, two of my long-time questions of music have been answered

1. Question: C Major scale has no flats or sharps. Why the heck did they choose to label the EASIEST scale with the letter C. Why not start the easiest chord with the easiest letter, A?
Answer: A minor is the relative minor of C major. And apparently back in the day, the minor scales was more musically important than the major scales. So those that made the decision, chose to put the most important minor scale with the fewest accidentals as the A. That makes sense!

2. Question: Why is it that the 7th note of each scale, as you progress through the sharps of different keys, is always the last sharped? For example, key of G: F# (that’s the 7th.) Key of D, F# and C# (C# is the 7th). It works like this the whole way! But Flats? No 7ths there!
Answer: I was thinking about this entirely incorrectly. Instead if you look at the circle of fifths the signatures AND the accidentals follow in fifths and fourths as you progress around the circle. The 7th thing works out on the sharps. On the flat side the flats progress on the 3rd.


I strongly recommend Greenburg’s courses.

1 comment on “Music Education!”

  1. Alicia Reply

    It’s awesome that you’re doing this. In regards to your second question, did they mention that in the western major scale, the seventh is always a half step from the octave, therefore in certain keys (not C M) it will always be represented with a #? I forgot to tell you that I asked my music theory genius colleague about this.

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