Half step Whole step system

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Oberon Smith

Half step Whole step system

Post by Oberon Smith » Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:36 am

Just before the old Pianophilia changed to this new forum and format I had posted a request for information concerning NOT using the traditional Half Step Whole step System. I have been tutoring two college students as music majors in Harmony. Now I personally never have used the HalfStep WholeStep system - I prefer counting the semi tones instead and I have never had a problem but I wasn't a music major and would like to ask other qualified members here if they know of or foresee any future problems with counting semi tones instead of half steps and whole steps. Both students have gotten "A's" in Harmony I and II so they are "over the moon" and they also took to the semi tones system very quickly and found Harmony easier.
Side note: both are percussion majors and not used to reading music per se.

Thank you
Oberon Smith

Mod edit: I have moved this from the Piano Forum because it doesn't deal with pianos as such. FB

Oberon Smith

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Oberon Smith » Thu Sep 24, 2009 3:54 am

I would just like to Thank this forum for the replies, especially the two Russian members that emailed me concerning the semitone system and it's use in Russian Music Schools.(( I wish I knew how to say Thank you, in Russian)). I know at times I have been a "loud mouth" on the dangers and abuse of the internet, but, this time, I will sleep a heck of a lot peacefully, from your support and help. Thank you all. Oberon

Hexameron

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Hexameron » Sat Sep 26, 2009 6:11 am

Maybe it's just me, but I still don't understand the nature of your dilemma. Why is it important to establish whether the term "half step" is easier to understand than "semitone"? Is that what you're asking? How can that distinction in terminology really bewilder your students if they've already passed Harmony I and II (if that's the same as Music Theory I and II)? Shouldn't they be worrying more about cadences, secondary dominants, harmonic analysis, and modulation? Surely whether telling your students a pitch moves up a semitone or down a half step, they can understand what you're saying without straining their brain.

I was a music major and took five theory courses and I don't remember if choosing either "half step" or "semitone" was problematic. The only time such terminology really helped me was in the memorization of diatonic scales. It's easier to remember a major scale, for instance, by thinking of whole and half steps, like WWHWWWH.

Oberon Smith

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Oberon Smith » Sat Sep 26, 2009 1:26 pm

Hex, Thank you for your reply, and I have found that their is NO DIFFERENCE, in the systems. As I was told by the Russians, it is just a different system. Not used widely in other parts of Europe, and used in different centers here in America. I have been told that is was favored by Bartok and his "new school of thought" for musical training. I personally have never had or encountered a problem, by using the system , but, I was not a music major.It is still used by the National Piano Guild, where a great amount of my formal training was from. Hence, my only concern, I have really only been around pianist, and didn't know if other instrument majors, would have problems later in their career. OK, so I am a bit, "over the top" when training musicians, and may take my responsibility as a teacher far too seriously, and yes both students did pass with flying colors, and ecstatic over their only " A's". And, get this, they only have to take Harmony I and II, not like the pianist that had to take four years of it,(((( in previous posts, I have bemoaned the fate of the pianists, with not good results here,)))).and really, if I use second thought, have you ever heard of a composer that was first a percussionist??????.I also agree with you, I can spot an Italian 6th, German 6th etc, etc, etc, faster than any other pianist I know, ROTFL.

Side note: I am that old, yes, my final National Piano Guild exams where the Van Cliburn Competition, and still feel it is a great loss to the Guild , not to be aligned with that Competition.

Thank you again for your supportive reply, Oberon

midlope

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by midlope » Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:59 pm

Is the difference between the systems mostly a matter of vocabulary? I can see how it might be slightly easier to think of intervallic spaces like that, since one only needs to calculate the intervallic distance using a single term (rather than mentally converting multiple terms, which requires, at times, additional mental arithmetics).

I know it's very eccentric, but I myself usually think of harmony in cents, personally having a better head for fluidly juggling numbers than a combination of words and numbers) and dabbling with microtones (where the application of words for specific intervals/harmonies can get incredibly cumbersome and, at times, arbitrary, and the use of ratios, while often giving a sense of where in the overtone series a pitch is, is difficult to visualize in actual 'pitchspace').

Oberon Smith

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Oberon Smith » Fri Oct 02, 2009 6:54 pm

Sorry not to get back to you sooner Midlope. The system is very visual, if you are a pianist. Yes, you still need to understand the whole step, half step, concept, but I find it very fast to think of the structure in terms of semi tones. ie. major third is constructed of 5 semi tones, minor 3rd is 4 semi tones, so if you want the inharmonic minor of a key, as in Cmj. instead of, is this a wholestep then a half step?. you just count down 4 semi tones, and bingo, you have "a" minor. Especially fast for me, is the perfect 5th, which is 8 semitones. Give it a try, diminished seventh triads, are made up of all minor 3rds, so pick a key, any key, and count 4 semi tones up wards. For me, this is a heck of a lot easier than the traditional, this is a diminished triad plus a minor 7th from the root. Another really fast chord is the dominate 7th, it is 3 semi tones down, from the root so, for Cmj, find the chord, count 3 semi tones down and voila, Bb. I think the problem with people that don't understand the system, or know nothing about the system, think that we are counting always from the root note upwards. I hope this helps, if you have other questions about the system, I can point you to a very limited amount of books. Blessings, Oberon

Hexameron

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Hexameron » Mon Oct 05, 2009 9:47 pm

Now I see what your issue is, Oberon. You're right - it's much easier to count semitones when notating specified intervals, although I was taught the longer way by constructing the interval and then applying the key signature to determine which pitches receive an accidental if needed. Counting semitones certainly helps when figuring out the relative minor of a major key and vice versa. As a pianist, I have such a vivid mental image of the keyboard that I didn't need to count semitones or apply the key signature, but I can see how this would be difficult for percussion majors. If they aren't familiar with the keyboard, I suppose thinking in terms of half and whole steps might confuse them.

Oberon Smith

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Oberon Smith » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:31 am

Final Outcome, and a Blessing from God. Out of no where, the Harmony teacher contacted me, he has never had any percussionists, do so well in class, and does not know the system. Hence, next week I will be giving a lecture on the system, and collecting a speaker fee, and trust me in the USA today, any and all extra monies are greatly needed. I have now, finally, attacked the Power Point Program, which for me is harder than Harmony, ROTFL. Blessings to all.. Oberon

uniquity

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by uniquity » Wed Oct 14, 2009 8:36 am

So the discussion here is about which of the following is the most useful way of thinking of intervals between the following systems:

Quantative: Number of tones/semitones/whole-steps/half-steps between two notes

Qualitative: The interval between two notes in terms of the harmonic or melodic quality of that interval, ie: minor second, major second, minor third, major third, perfect fourth, augmented fourth/diminished fifth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, major sixth, minor seventh, major seventh, octave, minor ninth, etc.

I think that both have their uses. I taught myself theory as a guitarist and as a pianist, so being able to measure the distance between two notes in terms of frets or keys was always useful. Analysing music however, I tend to think in terms of the name of the interval. I think that ultimately it's useful to be able to think and speak using either system. I think that all this terminology is only useful as a means of communication, and being able to quickly understand what someone else is talking about empowers you. Similarly, being able to talk about intervals the same way as the person you are talking to will make it infinitely easier to make them understand what you mean.

For teaching, I suppose encouraging both systems is worthwhile, provided it's done in such a way as to not cause confusion. I advocate using both systems simultaneously so that the pupil is aware of how one system relates to the other. The danger might be that both systems are taught individually, but at the same time, which will confuse a student, leaving them unsure about how to discuss these things, hampering their progress.

Oberon Smith

Re: Half step Whole step system

Post by Oberon Smith » Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:20 pm

Thank you Uniquity for your input... and I do totally agree with you, the system is taught with both, the understanding of whole steps and half step. it is not meant to replace it, just a different way of constructing them. I did give the lecture this week, with great success. I had over 100 students at the lecture, all very interested in the system and the hand outs, and in a copy of my Power Point disk, which they copied. A lot of the students really like and seemed to grab on to the idea of thinking of a tonic triad, in terms of a 1-5-8 semi tone construction, and a minor as a 1-4-8. And, needless to say, once I showed them diminished triads are nothing but minor thirds.. and just keep counting 4 semitones, Well, That was the hit of the lecture. Blessings to all... Oberon

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