How to Practice Music Theory Rudiments

A simple exercise to learn all pitch-related rudiments.

There’s one simple exercise that will help to familiarize yourself with majority of musical rudiments in matter of days.

Write out a list of all pitch names from 21 major scales.

Do this once daily, and you will have a much easier time dealing with intervals, chords, counterpoint, and later harmony related concepts.

It usually takes half an hour to list out everything initially, 15 minutes after a week, around 10 after two weeks, and aim for three in a month. Three minutes for 21 scales means 7 per minute, so less than 10 seconds per scale, thus 1.5 seconds per note on average.

Below is a more detailed explanation.

Major Scale

Let’s recapitulate on what a major scale is.

A major scale is a diatonic scale with a semitone between 3-4, 7-1 scale degrees, and a whole tone between every other adjacent degrees. Being a diatonic scale, it has seven pitches per octave, and each pitch class appears only once with possible accidentals.

Another way to think about it is that, a major scale is a sequence of seven successive natural notes starting with C, i.e. C D E F G A B, and any transposition from it.

Which 21 Major Scales

The 21 major scales I mentioned above includes the following three sets:

  1. Natural - A B C D E F G
  2. Flattened - Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb
  3. Sharpened - A# B# C# D# E# F# G#

Construct a major scale with each of the above pitch names as the tonic, and write down all notes within the scale.

Thus for A, you would write A B C# D E F# G# (A). You can include the last A to indicate the end of the pattern.

Then for B, B C# D# E F# G# A#…et cetera.

The complete answer sheet can be found at the end of this article.

Hold Up, Am I Seeing a B#?

Yep.

It is true that B# and C are harmonically equivalent under 12-tone equal temperament. However, we are aiming to build a systematic understanding of pitch related concepts, especially within the diatonic aesthetics of most modern societies, therefore, rather than cramming numerous fixed equations into the brain, it’s more beneficial to deduce the formula to the major scale, learn to apply it, and practice until fluent.

For that purpose, we need to avoid the common misunderstanding of the function of accidentals. An accidental is not a suffix of an absolute pitch name, it is a suffix to represent the offset from the pitch class.

As an example, C# is not the median frequency between C and D, nor is Db. C# refers to the pitch that is a semitone higher than C. Whatever that is depends on the temperament.

This means that notes are not equally important. If they were, we wouldn’t have seven pitch classes with accidentals, we would have twelve, from A to L, with no accidentals at all.

With that logic, our efforts should be spent on memorizing the seven pitch classes and the absolute distance in-between. Accidentals are only used to mark the offset from a pitch class.

Less memorization and more flexible this way.

The Answer Sheet

Natural Flattened Sharpened
A B C# D E F# G# A Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab A# B# Cx D# E# Fx Gx A#
B C# D# E F# G# A# B Bb C D Eb F G A Bb B# Cx Dx E# Fx Gx Ax B#
C D E F G A B C Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#
D E F# G A B C# D Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db D# E# Fx G# A# B# Cx D#
E F# G# A B C# D# E Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb E# Fx Gx A# B# Cx Dx E#
F G A Bb C D E F Fb Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db Eb Fb F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#
G A B C D E F# G Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb G# A# B# C# D# E# Fx G#