What Is The Musical Alphabet?Posted by Mike Schuck
When we talk about music, there are many different terms used to describe what types of songs exist and how they relate to each other. These include modes, chords, melodies, rhythms, and lyrics.
Knowing these concepts can be very helpful in defining musical styles and genres. For example, if you want to learn more about dub step, then knowing the term “chord” is necessary!
However, some of these terms seem quite straightforward, while others have slightly broader definitions. This article will take a closer look at one such concept – the alphabet song.
What is an ‘alphabet song'?
The name ‘alphabet song' was first coined by musician Billy Noetzker back in 1975. He defined it as follows:
"An 'Alfabet Song' is a catchy little ditty that starts with the letter of the week- either A or B. The rest of the song matches up the next letter of the word for its line."
Billy also gave several examples of these songs including ones he wrote himself. However, most people now refer to this type of song simply as an "ABC song".
Importance of ABC songs
In fact, almost every genre has their own version of the abc song! That makes sense because most musicians develop basic skills through repetition. Therefore, they create their own variations on the theme (the AB part) and add their own flavor to it (the C part).
A major scale is made up of seven notes, or tones. Starting with either tonic (or home) note, you can go upwards by one tone (an interval of a second), two tones (a minor second), three tones (a perfect fourth), four tones (a major third), five tones (a half-step/mixed step), six tones (a whole step), or seven tones (the ultimate goal!).
By repeating this process over and over again, you get the same pattern over and over again – the octave. By moving down from the highest possible pitch in your range to any other note, you’ll reach a new lower pitched tone.
By changing where you start your scale, you begin to explore different areas of music that use similar patterns. Music theory calls these patterns modes. For example, the natural mode is usually considered to be Dorian, as it starts with the note D. You can play some beautiful melodies using just the white keys on a piano — think Ode To Joy from Mozart's Requiem.
Practice writing an article based on the following topic and bullet point.
Popular songs that use these terms
The term “alphabet song” comes from musicians who refer to it as the music theory alphabet. These artists typically emphasize how important it is to know what each note, chord, or sequence means in a piece of music.
The first few notes of any pop song often include the tonic (the main key) followed by the sub-mediant, mediant, or dominant chord. More complex songs will also have other chords such as the half-diminished, diminished, or augmented ones mentioned above.
These types of songs make frequent use of the octave shift technique. This happens when one part of the song repeats either an interval or a whole tone (both are referred to as a step). For example, if the song starts with A then B would be its repeat. Or A might be repeated eight times!
Songs using this technique set off alarm bells for hard listening practices because they require very steady attention. However, this element is very popular since it creates a sense of rhythm and ease of repetition.
While not all musicians study classical music, most people who consider themselves professional musicians learn at least some of their instrument’s scales, chords, or melodies by heart. These skills are referred to as musical literacy or musickal literacy, depending on which source you read!
Musical literacy is just that — knowledge of the basics. But what makes this different from other types of literacy is that it can be applied to almost any type of music.
For example, if you know how to sing a song, you have musical literacy. (Some even say that singing is a more universal skill than reading!)
You might also know how to play an instrumental piece like The Star-Spangled Banner or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Or maybe your parents took time to teach you How To Make A Song Your Own when you were young.
Whatever genre of music you listen to, there’s probably someone out there with musical literacy who has written a book review about it.
A lot of people get confused when it comes to learning how to identify musical styles because there are so many terms that describe them. Many musicians add onto this confusion by using different terminology for the same thing. Luckily, we have an easy way to classify all music! The “Musical Alphabet” was created to help categorize songs into their appropriate style.
By taking the time to learn the underpinnings of each genre, you will know what pieces belong to which category. This will give you a better understanding of the art form and let you hone in more clearly on what types of music speak to you.
The following article will discuss some of the most popular genres and their corresponding letters from the musical alphabet. Check out the other articles in our Music Series here.
Read about: How to Listen to New Artists
Music Theory: The Basics
If you're looking to expand your horizons as a musician, then knowing the basics of music theory is important. Fortunately, these concepts are easily accessible via YouTube videos and blogs.
There are several websites with free resources that can teach you everything you need to know. Alliteration Media's website has a great introduction to music theory and how it applies to songwriting.
The Jam Addict team is a revolving door of writers who care about music, its effects on culture, and giving aspiring artists tools and knowledge to be inspired and keep on creating.
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