Advanced theory

Advanced theory

Bellow we will cover advanced aspects of music notation and theory

1. Alterations.

What are alterations you ask? Well, basically they are symbols that alter the pitch of notes. Remember that we assigned letters only to the white keys in The Basics chapter? Here is where alterations come in handy.

There are 3 symbols that can alter pitch: the sharp symbol (raises the note by a half step), the flat symbol (lowers the note by a half step), the natural symbol (cancels previous alterations and represents the unaltered pitch of a note). Bellow you can see how these symbols look like.


     Alterations can be of 2 types: key signatures and accidentals.

     Key signatures.

A key signature is basically a set of sharp or flat symbols placed together on the staff. Key signatures are generally written immediately after the clef at the beginning of a line of musical notation, although they can appear in other parts of a score, notably after a double barline.

Key signatures.jpg

For more key signatures see SCALES .

   Accidentals (accidental alterations)

   Accidentals modify the pitch of the notes that follow them on the same staff position within a measure, unless cancelled by an additional accidental.

Accidental alterations2.jpg

Other alterations include:

the double flat (lowers the note by two half steps) and the double sharp (raises the note by two half steps).


2. Dotted notes

Dotted notes come as something extra for the Time Value of Notes chapter that we went through in The Basics section. What the dot does is to extend the duration of the basic note by half of its original value. A dotted note is equivalent to writing the basic note tied to a note of half the value; or with more than one dots, tied to notes of progressively halved value as in the bellow example:

dotted notes.jpg

3. Intervals

An interval is the distance between two notes. The main intervals are of 3 types: minor (m), major (M), perfect (P), altered (A) and diminished (d). Bellow you can see these 5 types of intervals up to an octave (an octave is the distance from a note up or down to the next note with the same name) built on top of the C note.


     We apply the same logic to the intervals that follow: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th.


A chord is any harmonic set of three notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios, and broken chords may, for many practical and theoretical purposes, constitute chords.

For more examples of chords, check out the CHORDS section.


The tempo of a piece of music generally refers to the speed at which the piece is intended to be played. When reading a piece of music this translates as beats per minute. Bellow you can find the names of all the crystallized traditional tempos along with the beats per minute indication.


Terms for tempo change: ritardando or rallentando (gradually slowing down) and Accelerando or stringendo (gradually accelerating)

Download Tempo chart pdf


The 2 basic dynamic indicators of music are: p or piano (meaning ”soft”) and f or forte (meaning ”loud”).

More subtle degrees of softness and loudness are indicated by: mp standing for ”mezzo-piano” (meaning ”moderately soft”) and mf standing for ”mezzo-forte” (meaning ”moderately loud”). 

Beyond f and p there are also:

pp, standing for "pianissimo" (meaning "very soft")

ff, standing for "fortissimo" (meaning "very loud")

ppp, standing for "pianississimo" (meaning"very very soft")

fff, standing for "fortississimo" (meaning "very very loud")

Some pieces contain dynamic designations with more than three f's or p's.


Accents, dynamics, pedaling and other musical artifices, all have the role of articulating the music, therefore giving expressivity to the music being played. Bellow you will find a list of accents used by pianists.