Quiz Bowl Music Theory







                                                   C#      D#              F#     G#     A#              











                         C       D      E       F      G      A       B



How to do scale problems quickly:


Write down the twelve tones, which can be remembered from the piano keyboard.  To not have to think, just write

down the letters A through G twice each, except B and E only once each, and sharp the second of each repeat.


                A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#


If the question requires flats instead of sharps, write down the letters A through G twice each, except C and F

only once each, and flat the first of each repeat. 


                Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G


Each step from one to the next is a semitone step.


Memorize the patterns of the scales, where W = whole step (move two semitones), H = half step (move one

semitone), A = augmented second (move three semitones):



Natural Minor:  WHWWHWW

Harmonic Minor:  WHWWHAH

Ascending Melodic Minor:  WHWWWWH

Descending Melodic Minor:  WWHWWHW


Pentatonic:  WWAWA

Whole-Tone:  WWWWWWW




Examples of Scales


starting on C, C#, Ab, E:



                C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

                C# D# F  F# G# A# C  C#

                Ab Bb C  Db Eb F  G  Ab

                E  F#  G#  A  B  C#  D#  E

Natural Minor: 

                C  D  D#  F  G  G#  A#  C

                C# D# E  F# G# A  B  C#

                Ab Bb B  Db Eb E Gb Ab

                E  F# G  A  B  C  D  E

Harmonic Minor: 

                C  D  D#  F  G  G#  B  C

                C# D# E  F# G# A  C  C#

                Ab Bb B  Db Eb E  G  Ab

                E  F# G  A  B  C  D#  E

Melodic Minor (ascending and descending): 

                C  D  D# F  G  A  B  C           C  A#  G#  G  F  D# D  C

                C# D# E  F# G# A# C C#          C# B  A  G#  F# E  D# C#

                Ab Bb B  Db Eb F  G  Ab         Ab Gb E  Eb Db B  Bb Ab

                E  F# G  A  B  C# D# E            E  D  C  B  A  G  Gb E


                C  C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C

                C# D  D# E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C  C#

                Ab A  Bb B  C  Db D  Eb E  F  Gb G  Ab

                E  F  F# G  G# A  A# B  C  C# D  D# E 


                C  D  E  G  A  C

                C# D# F  G# A# C#

                Ab Bb C  Eb F  Ab

                E  Gb Ab B  Db E 


                C  D  E  F# G# A# C

                C# D# F  G  A  B  C#

                Ab Bb C  D  E  Gb  Ab   (equivalent to first)

                E  F# G# A# C  D  E   (equivalent to first)


Frequency Ratios of the Intervals


second (e.g. C to D) - 1 1/8

third (e.g. C to E) - 1 1/4

fourth (e.g. C to F) - 1 1/3

fifth (e.g. C to G) - 1 1/2

sixth (e.g. C to next A) - 1 2/3

seventh (e.g. C to next B) - 1 7/8

eighth (octave) (e.g. C to next C) - 2


Intervals and Chords


An interval can be called major or minor.  For example, C to E is a major third because there are two whole steps

between C and E.  E to G is a minor third because there is a whole step and a half step between E and G. 

The basic triad is a fifth interval, formed by superimposing two conjunct thirds, one major and one minor.  For

example, C-E-G is a fifth, made of C-E (a major third) and E-G (a minor third).  A third third can be added to make

a seventh, which will be a major or minor chord depending on the type of the third third.  C-E-G-B would be a

major seventh;  C-E-G-Bb would be a minor seventh.  Ninth chords are also often used.



Musical Sound



pitch - frequency of vibration of the sound wave

concert pitch - defines middle A (the A above middle C) as 440 Hz, sounded by oboe as orchestra tunes up

international pitch - defines middle A as 435 Hz, used in some pianos to reduce strain

philharmonic pitch - defines middle A as 438 or 439 Hz, often used for chamber music

equal temperament - tuning system in which small variations in the frequency ratios of the intervals are

eliminated by dividing the octave into twelve equal semitones, allowing keyboard instruments to play

scales in any key;  an early advocate of this system was Bach



rhythm - the placement of sounds in time

tempo - the speed at which notes are played

time - the tempo and/or beat pattern

meter - rhythmic pattern constituted by the grouping of basic temporal units called beats into regular units

called bars

metronome - an adjustable timekeeping device designed to beat from 40 to 208 times per minute, to help

play the correct tempo;  invented by Johann Maelzel;  M.M. b = 96 would mean to play quarter notes at

the rate of 96 per minute

syncopation - an accent that works against the prevailing meter, such as stressing a beat that would be weak

according to the metrical pattern

rubato - ("robbed") a slight deviation from the standard tempo of a piece of music



tone quality or tone color or timbre - the total complement of simultaneous motions enacted by any medium

during its vibration;  the distinctive quality of a sound characteristic of its source  (i.e., how you can tell

apart a flute and a violin regardless of what pitch they are playing);  caused mainly by the source's

characteristic overtones, which is the partial vibrations of the vibrating body at frequency ratios to the

fundamental frequency vibration



chord - the vertical (on the staff) collection of tones sounded simultaneously

harmony - the use of chords in music

melody - the horizontal (on the staff) succession of tones that constitutes a "tune"

counterpoint - the interplay of multiple melodies in music

polyphony - a style of musical composition in which two or more independent melodies are juxtaposed in


tonic - the fundamental note of the key in which a piece of music is played;  it can be reinforced with

chords having the tonic base;  the first note of the scale

dominant - the fifth tone of a scale, or a chord built on the fifth tone

triad - a chord of three tones consisting of the root, a third, and a fifth;  may be major, minor, diminished, or

augmented in form

motive - the shortest melodic idea that forms a relatively complete musical unit

phrase - one or more repeated or varied motives; a larger time unit with a more defnitie sense of ending,

corresponding roughly to a sentence in language

subject - a melodic phrase on which a composition or a part of a composition is based

leitmotifs - "leading motives" that represent people, objects, concepts, etc.

cadence - a musical chord sequence moving to a harmonic close or point of rest and giving the sense of

harmonic completion

coda - a concluding passage that brings the composition to a proper ending

arpeggio - a chord, the tones of which are played successively in a quick and regular manner

modulation - the transition from one key to another within a composition



Musical Notation


chromatic symbols - sharp (half tone above written note), flat (half tone below written note), and cancel (to

play note as written when it is on a line or space marked by a sharp or flat)

clefs - treble (or G clef, since curl starts on G), bass (or F clef, since curl starts on F), C clef

leger lines - lines that prolong the staff, such as the line for middle C

measure - units of notes on the staff, separated by bars, which contain a complete beat pattern;  there is one

principle accent per measure

neumes - in early music (c. 9th to 11th century), symbols placed above syllables of words to indicate pitch

and rhythm

notes - whole (open circle), half (open circle with stem), quarter (filled circle with stem), eighth (filled

circle with stem with one flag), sixteenth (two flags), thirty-second (three flags), sixty-fourth (four flags); 

a dot after a note extends its length by one-half (150% of non-dotted value)

rests - whole (bar below line), half (bar above line), quarter (two interlocking flags), eighth (stem with one

flag), sixteenth (two flags), thirty-second (three flags), sixty-fourth (four flags)

slur - a curved line (longer than a tie) placed over groups of notes to indicated phrasing (i.e., a breath group

for singing)

staff - the five horizontal parallel lines that, with a clef, indicate the pitches of notes;  bottom line of a

treble-cleff staff is E, bottom line of a bass-cleff staff is G

tie - a curved line connected two identical notes, which represents a prolonged value for the note

time signature - bottom number indicates what note gets a beat;  top number indicates how many beats per

measure;  for a waltz, 3/4 time means there are three quarter-notes (or some rhythmic equivalent) per

measure;  for a foxtrot, 4/4 time means there are four quarter-notes (or some rhythmic equivalent) per




Musical Forms


aria - in opera, an important lyric solo with instrumental accompaniment

ballad - a short narrative folk song, sometimes with an abab rhyme scheme

ballet - the music for a dance performed by one or more persons, whose movements are descriptive of an

idea or emotion

cantata - a short composition for solo voices and chorus, usually setting forth a brief narrative

chamber music - music composed for small ensembles of instrumentalists

concento - a composition usually for a solo instrument and orchestra, corresponding gnerally in form to the


etude - a composition intended for training or testing the performer's technical skill

fantasia - a composition characterized by very free treatment of musical materials

foxtrot - a dance in 4/4 time

fugue - a composition characterized by the systematic imitation of one main theme in simultaneously

sounding melodic lines (counterpoint), which make up its texture;  various "voices" "answer" the

initial theme "exposition"

gigue - a lively court dance with melodic lines in rapidly moving groups of three eighth notes

madrigal - a contrapuntal vocal compostion of the 15th, 16th, or 17th centuries with secular words

mazurka - a spirited Polish dance in 3/8 or 3/4 time

minuet - a musical form in 3/4 time to accompany the small, light steps of a dignified dance

motet - a vocal composition in contrapuntal style, usually without instrumental accompaniment, usually in

conjunction with a sacred text

nocturne - a composition, generally for the piano, in a tranquil and dreamlike mood

opera - a major form of musical drama with voice and orchestral accompaniment

operetta - a lighter form of opera in which much of the action is expressed by spoken words

oratorio - a composition similar to an opera but founded on a Biblical theme and usually given without

action or scenery

overture - an introductory part to an opera or other musical work

polka - a sprightly dance in 2/4 time; originated in Bohemia

prelude - an introduction to prepare for succeeding parts of a composition

program music - music that is descriptive or tells a story

quartet - a composition in sonata form for four performers

rhapsody - a free type of composition often based on folk songs or other national music

rondo - a composition characterized by the initial statement and periodic restatement of a particular

melody, the various appearances of which are separated by contrasting material;  most follow either the

five-part abaca or seven-part abacaba plan

sonata - a composition characterized by three or four movements, usually contrasting in rhythm and mood

but related in tonality;  various forms have been used throughout history, but one of the most common,

used by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, has three movements of the pattern fast - slow - fast;  some

feature a single keyboard instrument but some involve several instruments equally

sonata form - a musical form generally used for the first (allegro) movement of many types of

compositions; it consists of three parts:  an exposition, in which two or more themes are stated, a

development, in which one or both themes are elaborated and developed, and a recapitulation, in which

both themes are again given in their original form and followed by a concluding coda

suite - a group of self-contained instrumental movements of varying character, usually in the same key; 

historically, many suites are of dance music

symphonic poem - a relatively elaborate work in one movement, of descriptive character

symphony - a lengthy form of musical composition for orchestra, usually consisting of several large

sections, or movements, at least one of which probably employs sonata form;  many variations of

form used throughout history

waltz - a ballroom dance in 3/4 time



Musical Instruments


Highest and Lowest Pitches



Lowest Pitch

Highest Pitch








double bass


Male voice



Female voice




Classification by acoustical properties - what vibrates to produce the sound

                idiophones - solid, instrinsically sonorous objects, such as bells, gongs, xylophone, celesta,

cymbals, castanets

                membranophones - taut membranes that vibrate, such as drums

                aerophones - enclosed or free masses of air vibrate, such as traverse-blowns (flutes, piccolo), free

reeds (harmonica, accordion), single reeds (clarinet and saxophone), double reeds (oboe, English

horn, bassoon, contrabassoon), and lip-vibrateds (brass instruments, including trumpet, French

horn, trombone, tuba)

                chordophones - stretched strings, such as zithers, keyboard chordophones (piano, clavichord,

harpsichord), harps and lyres, and plucked and bowed lutes (plucked:  banjo, guitar, mandolin; 

bowed:  violin, viola, cello, double bass)

                electrophones - oscillating electronic circuits, such as telharmonium, theremin, synthesizers


A string quartet, commonly used for chamber music, consists of two violins, a cello, and a viola



Musical Directions



                From slow to fast: 










                ritardando - becoming slower

                accelerando - becoming faster

                giusto - strictly

                rubato - freely

                mosso - with motion


                piano - soft

                forte - loud

                mezzo - medium

                crescendo - becoming louder

                diminuendo - becoming softer