Even if you’re not a musician, if you plan to work in the realm of digital sound you’ll benefit from an understanding of the basic concepts and vocabulary of music. The purpose of this chapter is to give you this foundation.

This chapter describes the vocabulary and musical notation of the Western music tradition – the music tradition that began with classical composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven and that continues as the historical and theoretic foundation of music in the United States, Europe, and Western culture. The major and minor scales and chords are taken from this context, which we refer to as Western music. Many other types of note progressions and intervals have been used in other cultures and time periods, leading to quite different characteristic sounds: the modes of ancient Greece, the Gregorian chants of the Middle Ages, the pentatonic scale of ancient Oriental music, the Hindu 22 note octave, or the whole tone scale of Debussy, for example. While we won’t cover these, we encourage the reader to explore these other musical traditions.

To give us a common language for understanding music, we focus our discussion on the musical notation used for keyboards like the piano. Keyboard music expressed and notated in the Western tradition provides a good basic knowledge of music and gives us a common vocabulary when we start working with MIDI in Chapter 6.