In order to understand music theory it is important to learn some key terms that will help you to understand the process. These four terms all relate to the first lesson within this guide which is tones or notes.
Music: is a succession of tones (or notes) written and arranged into a specific rhythm.
Pitch: Refers to the frequency of the tones, however not to the tones themselves. Pitch is usually described very generally as high or low. (ie. Bass would be a low pitch, or frequency and violins would be a high pitch, or frequency.)
Frequency: Can be represented by oscilloscope wave patterns. If you were to open a visual representation of music such as used in “Windows Media Player” you would be viewing the conglomeration of every frequency within that song.
Tones/Notes: A Tone is a sound of a distinct pitch played at a specific quality and duration. In order to discover how notes are put together to compose a song, we must first learn their names. The most commonly accepted way of naming tones is to use the first seven letters of the alphabet, represented by the white keys on a keyboard. (A,B,C,D,E,F,G). Being that there are more than seven keys on a keyboard, you may notice that this system already has a flaw; that there are more than one tone named the same thing. These keys with the same letters have purpose however in measuring octaves. Octaves are the same note played either higher or lower in your hearing frequency. It is common for a full keyboard to contain three of each note in a low middle and high octave.
Reading Music: Now that we know the name of the full tones it is time that we learn how to read music from a staff. A basic music staff is composed of lines and spaces, each of which represents a letter/note which represents a tone. In other words written musical notes represent nothing more than letters of notes which must be memorized. From bottom up the lines represent E,G,B,D,F and from bottom up the spaces represent the notes F,A,C,E. In order to effectively read music these positions of notes on a staff must be memorized and becomes second nature.
Sharps/Flats: You may notice that with all this covered you are still only using half of the keyboard. Once you have learned your tones on the white keys it is time to cover sharps and flats. Sharps, represented by a # sign, are made to raise the pitch of a note to be one half step above its original position. Flats, represented by a b, are made to do the opposite lowering the base of the note one half position. In order to find these notes on a keyboard you simply move one black key below a tone to make it flat, and one black key above to make it sharp.
It is quite simple to learn how to read sharps and flats within a staff once you have learned the full-step notes. Each note is simply represented by a sharp or flat symbol in its original spot on the clef. Once this symbol is observed it is a signal to the musician to reduce or increase the pitch one half step. You must be careful in looking for sharp and flat notation as sometimes it is only displayed at the beginning of the sheet music, and meant to make one note sharp of flat for the entire peace.
Scales: With some practice and determination you will be able to master the note names and their position on a keyboard. Once you feel you have mastered this skill it is time to begin learning scales. Each note, including sharps and flats, will have its own scale. It is essential to learn these scales thoroughly practicing with a metronome and attempting to play them faster and faster. In this stage of learning memorization is all important. Once you have these skills memorized you will be able to understand the theory behind playing in key.