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'tonal centers'

Postby colin s » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:16 am

hi there

i have just enrolled onto a theory course to try and improve my skills - seemed like a good idea at the time as you never stop learning!

i joined the advanced class but we had our first proper session last night and to be honest its not quite what i was hoping to do as it is focusing on classical music - put it this way - its more advanced than i thought as i was hoping to do moveable chords melody writing and stuff

anyway the tutor gave us our first assignment and he was on about tonal centers all evening - and lost me completely

for next week we have to assertain the 'tonal center' of this way out piece by bartok (i had never heard of him till last night - he does this weird wacky stuff) -

bartok piece

i dont get it - so to find the tonal center i went to the mid point of the piece - the 'center' as it were - about 3mins 50 secs in and that bit is no way tonal! its all out of tuney and weird pizzicato - all round that bit there is no tonal stuff at all

i am just tempted to write a paragraph saying that you should look at the whole piece to find out the key - it is a bit counter productive focusing on just the center

if anyone can give me some pointers about this that would help alot as i am really confused - thanks
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby grab » Tue Sep 22, 2009 10:00 am

TBH, you're in the wrong class, and it's not like anyone can quickly fill in the gap in theory that you're missing.

Ring your teacher immediately and tell him. He may be able to transfer you to a more appropriate group, or if there's no other group then maybe he'll be able to get you a refund on your course fee. Don't wait until next week - ring him up now and get yourself to the right course for next week. Otherwise you'll basically have wasted your money.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby colin s » Tue Sep 22, 2009 10:05 am

grab wrote:TBH, you're in the wrong class, and it's not like anyone can quickly fill in the gap in theory that you're missing.

Ring your teacher immediately and tell him. He may be able to transfer you to a more appropriate group, or if there's no other group then maybe he'll be able to get you a refund on your course fee. Don't wait until next week - ring him up now and get yourself to the right course for next week. Otherwise you'll basically have wasted your money.

thats really really helpful thanks very much for taking the time to post
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Mark F » Tue Sep 22, 2009 10:20 am

Hi skuttler c,

my limited understanding is this; Tonal Center is almost a euphemism for Key but its usually for a very short period of time - i.e. when dissecting a Jazz solo, the transcriber will refer to being in this tonal center for a couple of bars then another tonal center for the next couple of bars and so on (usually stringing together ii, v, 1 progressions and substitutions).

This is in contrast to modulating to a new key for a whole section or movement, but like I said my understanding is limited so don't quote me.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby SecretSam » Tue Sep 22, 2009 11:14 am

This is what I think they are after, although you might want to double-check with someone else:

If you are looking at modal music, as opposed to diatonic music, the tonal centre is the root of the 'home' mode being used.

Dunno much about Bartok, but in Jazz terms:

Miles Davis' "So What" is mostly in D dorian mode. This is a mode of the C Major scale, but by cunningly avoiding progressions that imply the C root (Like F, G7 C, for example), the improviser can play all over it while the listener hears the tonal centre as being D. D is also used in the bass. The key signature would show C major, but the mode and chord selection says otherwise.

Hope this pushes you in a useful direction. If this does turn out to be bollocks, I am sure someone will let me know.

Cheers
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Chucho » Tue Sep 22, 2009 11:44 am

read this and see if any of it makes sense .

It goes beyond key signatures or modulations: its a sense that you know what the principal harmony is at any particular point. The Bartok, which is lovely, is a great example of permanently shifting tonal centre. After bar 1 you would be pushed to sing the tonic note of the home key. I would defy anyone to sing a root note of any of those chords.

The stuff about D dorian being from the C major scale is all balls by the way.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby SecretSam » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:16 pm

From your link:

"Applied to a whole octave, the Dorian mode was built upon two Dorian tetrachords separated by a whole tone. This is the same as playing all the white notes of a piano (ascending, as in the modern reckoning) from E to E: E F G A | B C D E."

Wikipedia is in error. That is not a dorian scale, but a Phrygian. Why ? Because it has a flat 9th.

The Dorian scale goes from D to D using all white notes.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby SecretSam » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:23 pm

Ooops - correction. On further reading Wikipedia draws a distinction between "Greek Dorian" and "Mediaeval and Modern Dorian".

Your link says of the Modern Dorian:

"The D Dorian mode contains all notes the same as the C major scale starting on D."

So it is a mode of C major.

QED.

Unless you meant the Greek Dorian, in which case D Greek Dorian would not be a mode of C major. This would not detract from the general point I was making, however, although something else might. Any takers ?
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby grab » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:53 pm

Sorry, I wasn't trying to be snippy. Just saying that if the first lesson is assuming a lot of experience you don't have, it's probably not something that can be filled in with a few lines on a web forum. Been there myself, so I know how annoying it is when everything's going over my head bcos I've jumped in too deep. (Would have sent this as a PM, but you're not accepting them.)
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Chucho » Tue Sep 22, 2009 1:13 pm

QED my arse.
"A mode of C major" doesn't mean anything. You are getting confused with the fact that they share the same notes. They are nothing to do with each other.
here's a quote:
The important thing to understand at this point is that this new scale is a "D" scale and not a "C" scale. Most people, when they first learn this stuff, assume that they should use D Dorian as a substitute for C major. This is not exactly how it works. Instead of thinking of this new scale as having anything to do with C, think of it as having only to do with D.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby agent funk » Tue Sep 22, 2009 11:00 pm

Chucho I think Secret Sam is well aware that if your playing "So What" in D dorian you can't think like your playing C major.

However saying D dorian has nothing to do with C major (ionian in this case) is not quite what your own quote says. Of course it has something to do with C Ionian - it's the same notes! Your quote is right but you are not.

Blame the greeks - they invented it, and modes.

Interesting that the modes were named after the main greek tribes, re-invented by the Christian church in the middle ages and then replaced by the modern method of key signatures in the 17th century. So it's not worth arguing too much about the Cmaj scale or the C Ionian mode - they are the same - just a different usage. In the real world we need to communicate ideas to each other as easily as possible so we are often guilty of mixing the language of modes with the language of keys. Does it matter though, as long as we understand what is being communicated?
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby colin s » Wed Sep 23, 2009 7:05 am

thanks guys very interesting - so does a piece have to have a key then? i got my guitar and played a few chords along with this bartok piece and nothing seemed to fit - just when i thought c was kind of working then it all changed

so i dont get why he would of composed a piece in no key? but also this tonal center thing - i just dont get the sigificance of the center of the piece - like we just ignore the start and end?

but i read a bit further and got this theory book by eric taylor and he goes on about sonata form - so i was thinking maybe this could be whats going on here and the conclusion i think ive got from all this is as follows (and this is what i am going to present to the class in my next theory lesson) -

well it seems to me that a music piece is essentially something which is preparing you - the start bit - for the main bit - the middle bit - and then just relaxing you after all the excitement has died down - the end bit

you think of every bit of classical music and prog rock tracks and they all follow the same pattern - just look at tubular bells - starts mellow then gradually gets more intents before having a chilled out final section

so now when you look at it like this you can see why the tonal center is so important - because thats where all the action is - in the middle!!!

so one conclusion you could draw is that bands / composers who specialize in center sections are alot more successful than those who just do an intro which goes straight to the outro - or just a long intro like in minimalism (which has no middle bit or outro)

i was watching that beatles documentary the other day and they were saying that paul came up with this original idea for 'a day in the life' but they're was no middle bit a they were all panicking because it had to be finished the next day - but then john just came up with his idea and thats what made it great! - even better is that george did the outro so it was a true collaboration piece (they're wasnt that many beatles tracks where all three worked on it together)

so you could argue that the beatles were massive and the best band ever because they had someone who was great at intros and outros - paul - and another that was great at middle bits - john - so when combined you got the ultimate song every time!

its almost a blueprint for a songwriting template!
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby DB111 » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:09 am

If you don't want to look like a total novice, please stop thinking that Tonal Centre has anything to do with the middle of the piece, as far as beginning, middle and end is concerned.
It is to do with what "key" the piece feels as if it is in, or more simply which note appears to be the root note.
Bartok, like many modern composers, will deliberately move the tonal centre, even while maintaining the same written key signature. It's part of the style- what makes it sound modern, and to many ears, uncomfortable.
In one phrase, the answer to your assignment is:-
"THE, single, tonal centre? -You're having a laugh!"
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby SecretSam » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:46 am

This may be useful to some:

There are a number of texts that cover this material from a classical point of view. IIRC Mike Senior had a thread up here that listed a lot of them a couple of years back. May be worth a search.

From a jazz POV, Dan Hearle's The Jazz Language is a good, readable and mercifully short way of sorting through some of the concepts that are getting confused in this thread. It will take you from novice to second year university jazz theory in a couple of hundred pages.

If you then have the appetite for more detail still, Mark Levine's The Jazz Theory Book is bigger, heavier and a little more daunting.

While you are reading, you should be able to pick up what the concept of "mode" is all about. Modes are scales. Substitutions are about chords and reharmonisation. Chord-scale relationships are something else again.

Probably one muso in a thousand has ears and instincts so good that they don't need the theory, but I found the reading pretty helpful.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Chucho » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:47 am

fletcher: let's compare the 2 scales.

C major and D dorian.
tonic notes: c and d
thirds are major and minor
7ths are natural and flattened

So thats 3 of the most important aspects of a scale and they are all different.
My quote is right but I am wrong ? My whole point is summed up by the quote.
These are 2 ENTIRELY different scales. Stop looking at the colour of the notes.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby SecretSam » Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:10 am

Hi Chucho

C major and D dorian are different scales indeed.

That one is a mode of the other simply means that they share the same notes. Don't get worried about this: there has to be a word to describe this concept.

Note that D dorian is a scale, not a chord. You seem to be groping for the idea that substituting a D minor chord for a C major chord would sound very odd, and you are right. You probably wouldn't think of soloing on a C major chord using D dorian scales, but there are other modes that you might use.

The idea of a mode has useful applications, including in explaining why some chords are "avoid" chords in modal harmony (which works very differently from diatonic harmony).

Back to work now. Have fun.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby agent funk » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:10 am

your words, "They are nothing to do with each other."

your quote, ".....use D Dorian as a substitute for C major. This is not exactly how it works."

spot the difference.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Chucho » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:24 am

fletcher wrote:your words, "They are nothing to do with each other."

your quote, ".....use D Dorian as a substitute for C major. This is not exactly how it works."

spot the difference.

You've lost me now. I don't know what your point is.
I'm out of here anyway.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Larry Mal » Wed Sep 23, 2009 5:43 pm

You're going to need the sheet music for this. Do you have it?

Let me ask you, do you have any experience in sonata form?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonata_form

There is a reason I ask this, because while it's unlikely that the Bartok piece is written as a typical sonata- although it may be, I don't know it- knowing sonata form is an important part of musical study, since it's a guideline as to finding tonal centers, deviations from them and return to them.

It's unlikely that Bartok wasn't using some grounding in what had happened in the past, whether he embellished or deviated from it. If you have that vocabulary under your belt, it's easier to see what he's going for. If you have no idea, then you may actually be in the wrong class, and should be placed in a different one- I don't mean to insult, but you need to progress in the study of music theory, not just jump in.

Let me ask you, you can read music? Can you tell the difference between a piece written in E Major as opposed to its relative minor of C#? Can you spot a modulation from E Major to B Major in a piece, that is, can you spot the tones that are used to modulate to another key as opposed to out of key chromatic passing tones? I would say if you can do this, then the ability to understand the Bartok thing is within your grasp, and if not, then you should take a step back and learn all of that.

Either way, don't give up! This class may be beyond you at this point, but only at this point. It all makes sense and it's all within almost anyone who wants to ability to grasp, but it has to happen over a period of time.

Let me know if you have the sheet music, maybe you can send me a PDF and I'll take a quick look. Good luck, L
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby muso steve » Wed Sep 23, 2009 5:54 pm

Great piece of music, a very long time since I've heard it. Something for the weekend.
Bartok is 'stretching' tonality. You can't really say it's in a particular key or mode. But a lot of the time you can pick out phrases in isolation that could be labeled (possibly a scalic melody with 'wrong' notes in the harmony). You need to consider how these are related. Are they all in the same 'key', are they all major/minor/modal. If they are in different keys do they follow the traditional classical relationships (tonic/dominant etc.).
Sometimes even the more atonal pieces will have a particular note that seems to be have more emphasis than all the others, this begins to feel like 'home' (or the tonic) and would be described as the tonal centre. In this case is it the same note all the way through the piece or does it move, if so how?
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby grab » Thu Sep 24, 2009 12:35 pm

Repeat: you're in the wrong group. Ask to move to the intermediate group immediately.

Being able to play an instrument doesn't mean you're at an advanced level in musical theory, just like being able to read doesn't mean you're qualified for a PhD in literature. And telling your tutor that you're in the wrong group doesn't mean you're losing face or admitting failure. It happens, and all tutors can easily handle moving people to different groups that suit their experience level. Going to a suitable group will get you a successful result in terms of improving your knowledge, and likely a passing grade. And the advanced course will still be there next year when you've passed the intermediate course.

What *will* piss your tutor off though is if you don't tell them, and then at the Q&A session you steam in with something which tells them that you haven't understood a word of the last two lessons. You'll be wasting your time and his - your time, because if you don't understand (or misunderstand) what he's saying then you won't have learnt a thing, and his time, because he'll be spending time trying to correct you when he could be using it for other students who *are* at the level he's teaching. And what's more, you won't pass the course either, or you may get annoyed at not understanding and drop out, or you may even be asked to leave. Not a good use of time and money.

Repeat: That's not a criticism that you don't know this theory - I've not myself done theory to the extent of analysing something like that Bartok. It *is* a criticism of trying to fake your way through without understanding the course.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby colin s » Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:12 am

hi there guys

well this weeks class didnt go very well tbh - when it came round to me i said that the center didnt have tonality as it sounded way out of tune - which raised a bit of a laugh from my 'classmates' who all seem to be dead snobby and more interested in classical which im not - i dont know why they found this so amusing because they're offering wasnt brilliant - like someone said the tonal center was A which it obviously isnt - ive played pieces in A on my guitar and they dont sound like that

so it seems that tonal center has actually nothing to do with the center of the piece after all - so its misleading and i told them so - this is why many people find classical music irritating - that might even explain why their trying to take it off the curriclum and replace it with up to date stuff

but i took alot of what you guys said above on board - so i suggested that there were elements of dorian and lydian mode - the lecturer picked up on this and said that in a way i was right because bartok was very keen on using polytonality! (this is when you get pieces in several keys at once) - that sort of made me look good : )

i dont know if i want to continue with the class - i had a word with the tutor afterwards and he suggested i see how it goes for a few weeks so i dont know

he said that the module covers atonality and classical music from 'schernberg to stokhousen'

anyway for this weeks class we have to listen to this -

messien piece

well thankfully it isnt as horrible as that bartok thing! what we have to do is a question in two parts

1- 'comment on the use of modes'

this is going to be dead easy i think because i can just put down dorian or lydian as they're is quite a good chance that one of these will be correct - they're is also no evidence of polytonality! (i am going to try and use that whenever i can)

2 - 'what is unusual about this piece'

again this is quite obvious and i have put a few things down already like -

the piano is just playing chords ie - they're are no scaley fast bits as you normally get in classical music

the piece starts soft and gets louder again this is unusual because classical usually gets louder then softer then usually repeats this pattern over and over again

they're is no orchestra - usually in classical music its written for orchestra

they're is no flashy ending - classical music (2001 space music for example) always ends with a flashy big loud chord - like in that wagner ad music you here everywhere

if you can suggest any more things that would be great!

thanks
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Ivories » Sat Sep 26, 2009 5:02 pm

theory student wrote:hi there guys


anyway for this weeks class we have to listen to this -

messien piece

well thankfully it isnt as horrible as that bartok thing! what we have to do is a question in two parts

1- 'comment on the use of modes'

this is going to be dead easy i think because i can just put down dorian or lydian as they're is quite a good chance that one of these will be correct - they're is also no evidence of polytonality! (i am going to try and use that whenever i can)
Glad you liked Messiaen. However, he never used the Lydian and Dorian modes (or any of the other mediaeval ones). Do a Google search for "Modes of Limited transposition". Ignore the wikipedia entry then read the one on the "musicteachers.co.uk" website, which will tell you which modes Messiaen used.


2 - 'what is unusual about this piece'

again this is quite obvious and i have put a few things down already like -

the piano is just playing chords ie - they're are no scaley fast bits as you normally get in classical music

the piece starts soft and gets louder again this is unusual because classical usually gets louder then softer then usually repeats this pattern over and over again

they're is no orchestra - usually in classical music its written for orchestra

they're is no flashy ending - classical music (2001 space music for example) always ends with a flashy big loud chord - like in that wagner ad music you here everywhere
I don't agree with any of your assumptions about classical music here - they suggest to me that you haven't listened to very much of it. You could start by thinking about the combination of instruments in the piece - can you find any other pieces by any composer for the same combination. Have you tried to find out anything about the history of the piece - where it was written, what the title means, what else the composer was writing at the same time, and so on?
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby colin s » Sat Sep 26, 2009 6:47 pm

actually i have listened to bits and pieces and am influenced by classical-crossover composers like brian eno pink floyd and genesis - ok not beethoven but they have used violins string quartets and proper classical sections and suchlike in they're most famous pieces

for example have you heard atom heart mother by pink floyd?? that is mainly classical till the rock comes in

tbh i think you are falling into the trap of lumping classical music into one pigeon hole by saying 'its this' - yeah ok 'its this' but then again its 'this and this also' - classical music - like the lecturer said the other night - is organic

you simply disregard my points out of hand as if they are completely worthless but maybe im looking at it holistically from a different angle - your just zeroing into 'beethoven mode'

but i do intend on listening to more and today got a cd out of the library of vangelis - he was classically trained but uses synths and does arrangements of classics like mozart etc

btw looked up the messien modes and if you break it down youve basically just got dorian and lydian and just basic minor like i said above

ok so it seems he was fond of say - c d flat e flat e

well correct me if im wrong but isnt that just like going b c d e flat in c minor? ok my theory isnt great but like my gran used to say -

'if it look like duck - it walk like duck - it duck'

messien can give them all this fancy names but at the end of the day hes just using the same scale as everyone from handle to led zep
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby dubbmann » Sat Sep 26, 2009 7:31 pm

hi,

to be honest, i'm not sure what's going on in this thread. either the OP is taking the piss or he is earnest but enormously ill-informed and ill-prepared to be taking an advanced theory class. i don't know which but either makes this kind of pointless.

that said, as to the OP's OQ: a piece of music (classical or not) can be in a key/mode and yet over the course of the piece multiple tonal centers can be employed. if the tonal center is 'strong' enough, you've basically changed key a/o mode. it's really that simple.

as for the business about knowing what A sounds like 'cause you play it on your guitar, well, i've been playing guitar for 30 years and i don't know what A 'sounds like' on my gtr. all in all, i suspect a wind up. if not, then i suggest the OP start with a music appreciation class before taking any theory. for starters, a large fraction (probably a majority) of classical pieces don't involve an orchestra at all.

cheers (or not)

d
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby agent funk » Sat Sep 26, 2009 7:43 pm

wind up me thinks

still, probably took as long to write as the answers did.

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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby onesecondglance » Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:07 am

dubbmann wrote:the OP is taking the piss

this is this only rational conclusion. anything else would destroy your faith in humanity...
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby Ivories » Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:06 pm

theory student wrote:
messien can give them all this fancy names but at the end of the day hes just using the same scale as everyone from handle to led zep
Now try reading the article properly.
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby colin s » Mon Sep 28, 2009 6:21 am

in all fairness your all probably right and this class is to advanced for me so i will have a chat this week and see about changing - in my defence it wasnt really made clear at the outset what the crack was

also it might seem that i am a total numpty with no theory knowledge but that actually isnt the case as ive done a music tech course - just because i didnt do 'classical' doesnt necessarily make me a bad person or a wind up merchant - and just because i am not an expert in messiens modes doesnt make me a thicko

i just wanted advice not insults so maybe best if i take my theory queries elsewhere

i cant see me posting here again tbh but thanks to those of you who made practical suggestions

lets keep this forum just for musical genuises eh i think thats for the best
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Re: 'tonal centers'

Postby grab » Mon Sep 28, 2009 9:10 am

Dude, you're not a thicko for not knowing this. No-one's born knowing theory.

What *is* wrong is thinking that you do know it when clearly you don't (and in fairness you're now appreciating that you don't). Music tech teaches you maybe grade 1 theory - enough to know what a chord or key is, and that's yer lot. In an advanced class, you're playing with the big boys at grade 7-8. So it's like you've just learnt "Chopsticks" and now you're expecting to be able play a Rachmaninov piano concerto. And you're expecting other people to take you seriously when you say it. It ain't going to happen.

Don't give up - theory's all good stuff to know. But do get yourself onto the right course for you, pronto. Don't prat about on the advanced course when you're just wasting your time, your instructor's time and the other students' time. That *would* make you a numpty.
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