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Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz

Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz

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Course: Music 9
Book: Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz
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Date: Sunday, 25 August 2019, 1:06 AM

1 Alto Clef

Development of the Staff

The staff is the foundation upon which notes are drawn. The modern staff comprises five lines and four spaces. Every line or space on the staff represents a different note.

The development of Western music notation began with church music in around the year 600 AD. At that time, the only people who were literate were monks and nobles. Monks in the churches had the ability to write down their prayers and chants to share with other church members. They used markings called neumes. They would write down the lyrics to a chant and then draw a sketch of the shape of the melody on top. Here you can see the Latin text of the hymn with neumes drawn on top. Could you perform this?

No standard system for notating which specific pitches to use or the length of each note existed. Horizontal lines were then added to this to give a more specific idea of pitches. At first it was just a single horizontal line and then more were added until they got to a 4 line staff. This is still the standard way that plainchant is written.

The 4 line staff is said to have been invented by a Benedictine monk named Guido d'Arezzo who lived in Italy in around the year 1000 AD. He was famous all around Italy for his excellent choirs and his ability to teach music quickly. He wrote a book about music notation and in that book he introduced a standard set of pitches. He named them after the first few syllables in a popular hymn: Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. This system was used for a long time and made it easier for monks to pass on their songs from one church to another and be confident that it would be performed correctly. In many countries, the first syllable "Ut" was changed to "Do" because it ended in an open vowel and was easier to sing. In the 1600's, the syllable "Si" or "Ti" was added to complete the major scale and this is the tonic sol-fa system that we use today.

Musical Clefs

Clefs are used to specify which pitches the 5 line staff refers to. Different singers and musical instruments play different sets of notes, or tessitura, so different clefs were used to customize the staff for that musician. This made music easier to read because most of the notes would fall within the staff and you wouldn't need to read so many ledger lines. The image below shows many different musical clefs. Those underlined with a light purple line are the most commonly used.

The coloured lines show you where 3 notes fall on each clef. The blue line is Middle C. The red line is the G above Middle C and the green line is the F below Middle C.

Alto Clef

We have already learned about the treble and bass clef, but alto clef is another commonly used clef that is important to have some familiarity with. Violas play in the alto clef. Singers and other instruments like English horn, trombone, and bassoon may also have to play in alto clef from time to time.The alto clef is called a C clef because the arrows at the centre of the clef point to the note Middle C.

To read notes in the alto clef you can remember that the centre line is Middle C and then count the lines and spaces up or down until you reach your desired note. You can use these sayings to help you remember the notes.

Lines: Fat Alley Cats Eat Garbage

Spaces: Green Birds DFly

Here is an exercise to help you practice reading notes in the alto clef:

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2 Counting Rhythms

How to Count

To write rhythm counting under a line of music, we use numbers and the "plus" symbol: +. When we count rhythms in simple time, the subdivision in 2's makes every bar of common time sound like, if you counted it with words, "One and Two and Three and Four and." The number stands for the strong beat. The "and" is the subdivision of the beat and is weaker. It is called the offbeat. If we wrote it with numbers it would look like this: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

How to Write

When you write the rhythm counting under a line of music, the numbered beats always need to be there. If the note is articulated on that beat, the number is written underneath. If a beat has a held note, the number is still written, but it is included in brackets.

In the example below, the bar has two half notes. Each note is played on a beat and then held over into the next one, as indicated by the brackets. It shows that we are observing the held half note, but it isn't articulated.

"And" beats are only included when necessary to notate that certain rhythm. When they aren't needed, they simply aren't included. In the example below, "2 +" is used, but no other note is articulated on an "and" beat, so there are no other + in this counting measure.

As the rhythms get more complex, you need to include more of the "and" beats. In this syncopated rhythm, many notes fall on the "and" of the beat, rather than the strong numbered beat. That is what gives a syncopated rhythm such a neat sound. Practice clapping this rhythm and following along with the counting. Every bar has the 4 numbered beats, but some are in brackets because the note is only held over and not articulated on that beat.

Rests on a numbered beat are included in brackets because no sound should be heard on that beat. If the tie crosses over a strong numbered beat, the number should be included in brackets, just like we do with long notes.

The counting for these two bars is: 1 2 + (3) 4  //  1 (2) + 3 + 4

The bar line is written as two forward slashes: //

Try writing out the counting for these 4 rhythms. Scroll down for the answers.


Take special note of how each rhythm is written. Spaces are used between each symbol. Two forward slashes // are used to represent a bar line. You will be asked to write out counting in this way on your theory quiz.

Rhythm 1: 1 (2) 3 4 + // 1 (2) 3 4 + // 1 (2) (3) 4 + // 1 + 2 (3) (4)

Rhythm 2: 1 2 + (3) 4 // 1 (2) + 3 + 4 // 1 (2) + (3) + 4 // 1 + (2) + 3 4

Rhythm 3: 1 + (2) + (3) (4) + // 1 + (2) + 3 + 4 // 1 + (2) + (3) + (4) + // 1 + (2) + (3) + (4) +

Rhythm 4: 1 (2) + 3 // 1 + (2) (3) + // (1) + 2 (3) + // 1 2 + 3

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3 Cut Time


time signature is written at the beginning of a staff, right after the clef, and tells the musician in one easy-to-read symbol about how beats are organized in that piece. Time signatures can be dupletriple, or quadruple. They can be simple or complex.

  • A simple time signature subdivides its beats into 2's. Time signatures with 4 as the bottom number are simple.
  • A complex time signature subdivides its beats into 3's. Time signatures with 8 as the bottom number are complex.

Duple meter has 2 beats in the bar.

  • 2/4 is simple duple
  • 6/8 is complex duple

Triple meter has 3 beats in the bar.

  • 3/4 is simple triple
  • 9/8 is complex triple

Quadruple meter has 4 beats in the bar.

  • 4/4 is simple quadruple
  • 12/8 is complex quadruple

Cut Time

Cut time is the common term used to describe the time signature 2/2.

The top number 2 tells us that there are 2 beats in each bar. That makes it a duple meter.

The bottom number 2 tells us that the half note receives one beat. If we subdivide that half note, it is equal to 2 quarter notes. This means that the subdivisions are in groups of 2, so this is simple time.

Cut time can also be written as a C with a line through it.

Counting Rhythms in Cut Time

The easiest way to explain how to count rhythms in cut time is to say that the notes will be played twice as fast as you are used to. We are most familiar with counting rhythms in common time where a quarter note equals 1 beat. In cut time, the notes are twice as fast. So, each note is worth only half as much. Here is a chart comparing common time and cut time note values:

To write the counting under a line of music in cut time, keep these values in mind. There are only 2 beats in each bar of cut time, so you should only include "1 + 2 +"

Here are some examples:


Take special note of how each rhythm is written. Spaces are used between each symbol, except when a number is written in brackets. Two forward slashes // are used to represent a bar line. You will be asked to write out counting in this way on your theory quiz.

Rhythm 1: 1 (2) // 1 2 // 1 + 2 // 1 2

Rhythm 2: 1 + 2 // 1 2 // 1 (2) // 1 + 2 +

Rhythm 3: 1 + 2 + // 1 2 + // 1 + (2) + // 1 2

Rhythm 4: 1 + (2) + // (1) + 2 // (1) + (2) + // (1) 2

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4 Minor Scales


In Grade 8, we learned how to write a major scale by using a pattern of tones and semitones.

This pattern is: Tone - Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone - Tone - Semitone

or:  T T S T T T S

Regardless of what note you start on, every major scale is built using the same pattern. Each scale needs to contain every note letter name within one octave of 8 notes. When you go up the scale, if you notice a distance is too short or too long for the pattern, you can modify the note with an accidental. For example: D major scale

If we were to write all the notes as natural, it wouldn't line up with the correct pattern. According to the pattern, the distance between notes 2 and 3 should be a tone or whole step. But, the distance from E to F is only a half step. To increase the distance so it will fit the pattern, a sharp is added to F. Now the distance from E to F# is a tone and it matches the pattern. The same thing happens between B and C natural. Once the note was changed to C#, then the pattern matches and the scale is correct.

Minor Scales

There are 2 main scales used in Western music: major and minor. There are others, but we will not be learning about them this year. While there is only one major scale, three different variations of the minor scale exist. Each one can be written using its own pattern of tones and semitones, or half steps and whole steps, if you prefer using that terminology.

Natural Minor

The natural minor scale uses the pattern:

Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone  or T S T T S T T

 An A natural minor scale contains no accidentals.

G natural minor contains two accidentals: Bb and Eb.

Harmonic Minor

The harmonic minor scale uses the same basic pattern as the natural minor scale, but with one important difference. The 7th note of a harmonic minor scale is raised by an extra semitone. This make the distance between notes 6 and 7 a tone and a half.

This A harmonic minor scale is almost the same as the natural minor scale, but look at that 7th note. It has been raised by a semitone. The distance between F and G# is a tone + semitone.

The G harmonic minor has a combination of flats and sharps to ensure it fits the correct pattern. The distance between Eb and F# is a tone + semitone.

Melodic Minor

The melodic minor scale is unique because the pattern ascending (going up) is different from its descending (going down) pattern. Luckily, you have seen some of this before, so you don't have too many new things to memorize.

The ascending pattern is almost the same as the harmonic minor scale, but it has one additional change. In a melodic minor, the 6th AND 7th note are raised by a semitone. Remember: if the note was normally flat in that key signature, it will be raised with a natural sign. Sharp notes are raised by making them a double sharp.

The descending pattern is the same as the natural minor scale. The altered sixth and seventh notes are lowered back down by a semitone.


For your theory quiz, you should be able to identify and write the following minor scales: C, G, D, A, E, B, and F#.

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5 Term 1 Theory Quiz

Before you attempt this quiz:

1. Ensure you review the written lessons in this lesson book.

2. Use the exercises (click on the green "try this" image) to help you practice your skills.

Term 1 Theory Quiz

This quiz consists of 20 questions that review the concepts you have learned so far.

You may not use any books, websites, papers, or any outside assistance to complete it. You may use a printout or picture of a piano keyboard to help you, if you want.

You have 20 minutes to complete the quiz.

After the first attempt, look through the test and see where your mistakes are. You have 2 attempts on this quiz.

Click on the image below to complete the Term 1 Theory Quiz.