Basic Music Theory

It was true in the past that music was only for a few people to make, and the rest to enjoy.  Not only are musical instruments incredibly expensive, but the art and craft of tuning them and creating music on them was something you had to study for years before you could get anywhere with.  The blues and it’s musical brethren helped with that a bit, with cheap home-made skiffle instruments (musical saw, tea chest double bass, steel drums, washboard, cigar box guitars, bicuit tin banjos, just to list some of my favourites!) but when blues became popular and was played on electric guitar, jazz drum kit and pianos, including saxophones and other instruments, there remained the feeling that it was only for people with special talents.

Enter the electronic era, with it’s own elitist instruments such as the incredible theremin and moog, along with home made skiffle-type instruments including the Rolph Harris stylophone and circuit benders like Kraftwerk, and a new type of music was born.  Of course, you had to have a degree in electrical engineering to get anything close to music from a pile of old Speak-and-Spells and Simon-Says’.  Unless you paid big money for the synths, samplers and sequencers

Next came the digital age!  Yay!  Now the big music software companies could bring out synths, samplers and sequencers, and midi was born.  Suddenly all the electronic equipment of the previous music era could be digitised and emulated, and all you had to do was pay a few thousand pounds for your setup.  Nice!  At the same time, there were various underground scenes making music with cheap digital equipment, writing machine code to play music straight through the soundchip, or using a tracker to sequence samples.  These home-made instruments were the skiffle instruments of the time.

Hot on the heels of the digital age came the internet era.  Now almost everybody in the western world has access to a computer, in their homes or internet cafés,  meaning that software could be downloaded and installed, and used personally by anybody.  With the increase in freeware (like ReBirth) and open source and Free Software, now anybody can download a near-professional music station like Ardour, Rosegarden, LMMS.

Now anyone, including you, can have your own instrument to learn on and play.  The only thing missing is music theory.

So go get yourself a digital keyboard.  There are some Flash and browser-based ones if you can’t install on your computer, but a good one to start with is VMPK – the Virtual Midi Piano Keyboard.  This is a midi controller, and you’ll use this with an installed midi player.  Most of the time you can just install and it’ll work (Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth if you’re on XP or the like), but if you  don’t have any midi sounds on your PC, you can get QSynth and FluidSynth and it should fire away nice.  You simply use your PC or laptop keyboard as the piano.  Mess about with it and you’ll see how it’s laid out – it’s pretty logical.

Another option is to get LMMS – it works on Linux, Mac or Windows, and comes with synths, effects and samplers all built in.  Simply install LMMS and run, drag a synth or piano sample into the song or bass/beatline editor, and click on it to get the keyboard up for messing about.  The keyboard layout is the same as on VMPK so it might be a good idea to learn VMPK first (LMMS can use VMPK as a controller so if you want to keep playing with that, you can!)

So download yourself a keyboard, or pick up a cheap one like a Melodica(or Pianica) or a cheap toy Casio keyboard or something, and learn…



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