Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony
Rhythm, melody, and harmony. These are the basic building blocks of music. My goal in writing this book was to help you translate the music you hear in your head into music you can play on an instrument. I believe this is the essential skill of being a musician. Below is a breakdown of the different aspects of this skill.
- Ability to play at tempos of your choosing. To speed up, slow down, and stay at the same tempo.
- Increased precision with the timing of each of your notes.
- Ability to intuitively and intellectually understand the rhythms you play. “Intuitively” means you can play them without thinking about the math behind it. “Intellectually” means you can understand the rhythm in terms of quarter notes, 8th notes, rests, triplets, etc.
- Ability to hear the rhythmic structure, or time signature, and to know where you are in that structure at any given time. In other words, to know what beat each note is on.
- An understanding of the structure of notes, the different pitches that we’ve organized into a system of twelve notes, each a semitone apart. These notes repeat in many octaves.
- Understanding of scales and how they are built using tones and semitones.
- Ability to identify the notes in a melody by ear using relative pitch.
- Ability to hear combinations of two notes and identify the interval.
- An understanding of how notes from a scale are combined to create chords.
- Understanding how chords relate to melodies.
- Understanding how to add notes to a melody to create two- and three-part harmony.
- Ability to use relative pitch along with intellectual knowledge of chords and melodies to learn chord progressions by ear.
I hope reading the previous chapters has helped you begin to learn these skills. Now that you understand these concepts, it might be helpful to revisit the reasons why these skills are important. As I wrote in the first chapter, I think the goal of learning how to play music is to be able to express yourself. One way to do this is to find musical ideas that are uniquely yours and figuring out how to play them. Finding musical ideas is an intuitive process that involves a lot of listening, explorations, and noticing the sense that “this is what it should sound like next.” Figuring out how to play these ideas is a skill that requires technical knowledge of your instrument, and all of the rhythm, melody and harmony skills I listed above.
I’m not sure how long it takes to learn these skills. I’m not sure what would happen if you focused only on this for your entire musical practice. The exercises in this book are what I wish I had done when I was learning music. Looking back, I’m sure I would have learned much faster had I known what I know now. That being said, the goal might not be to learn as fast as possible. Perhaps you also want to have fun playing music (I know I do!). As you’re trying to gain fluency on your instrument, it might be good to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of fun. Try learning songs you love and don’t worry about analyzing the chord progression. Just play them and have fun. Come back to the fluency practice when you have the energy for that.