A practical music theory quiz

Let me start by saying that I love music theory.

Music theory, in one form or another, is what enables us to sit down at the piano and play the blues. Music theory highlights the main theme of our favorite pop song. And music theory helps us understand why the Kyrie from Mozart’s Requiem demonstrates his admiration for J.S. Bach.

So why is so much of music theory education dry and boring? Why did the majority of students in my college music theory classes forget 90% of the subject as soon as the went home for summer break? And while we’re at it, why does the textbook for the U.S. high school AP music theory class contain as little relevant information as any book I’ve ever read?

I thought you might enjoy putting aside these questions aside (forever!) and taking a short and fun “practical” music theory quiz. Instead of being graded on your answers, you are encouraged to spend some time exploring these questions on your own and, if you wish, emailing them to me so we can discuss the musical topics covered.

Here are the 5 questions. Have fun!

1. The verse to Elton John’s song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” begins with a Gm chord. Does this mean the song is in the key of G minor? Why or why not?

2. The great jazz historian Phil Schapp says that Charlie Parker’s chord progression to “Confirmation” was taken from The Platters’ classic “Twilight Time.” I say that Parker may have been inspired by “Twilight Time” but that the songs aren’t as similar as Schapp claims. Which of us is correct?

3. How is the Natural Minor Scale different from the Dorian Mode? Which one did J.S. Bach use more frequently?

4. If someone sits down at the piano and plays a C major chord, what key are they in?

5. Here are two chords: D diminished 7th and F diminished 7th. In what way are they similar and how are they different?

I hope these are the beginning, not the end, of your exciting journey in to the world of practical music theory!


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