Monday, December 29, 2008

How To Hear Differences in Chord Types

Each type of chord gives off a mood of its own. By associating the mood, or emotion, with a specific chord type, you can soon learn to distinguish between the basic kinds of triads:

For example, minor chords sound more somber, more serious, than major chords. Why? Because of the way the intervals are "stacked" within the chord. A diminished chord sounds suspenseful, tense, nervous. An augmented chord has a distinctive sound, too. Learn how to hear, feel, and identify these chords, as well as extended chords (you'll learn how to listen for the "color tone" in any 4-note chord).

Here are the color tones we'll listen for:


Once you can identify the 4 types of triads, and then recognize the color tones, it is a short step to recognizing chords such as minor 7ths, minor 6ths, diminished 7ths, major 9ths, and so on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How To Predict Which Chord Comes Next In a Song

Wouldn't it be nice if you could predict which chord would probably come next in a song
That would be like having your own crystal ball.
I've got some GREAT news for you.
It is possible. Not 100%, but somewhere on the order of 75% to 85% accurate.
That's because music has FORM -- like the skeleton that holds your flesh, muscles, and skin up. If you had no bones -- no skeleton -- your flesh and all the other parts of you would fall in a heap on the floor. Not a pretty picture. But because you DO have a skeleton, you are able to walk around and pretty accurately predict which way your next step will take you.
It's the same in music. Music has FORM -- a skeleton to hold it up, hold it together. And that skeleton is made out of chords -- harmony -- the tonal center of the song or piece.
In any given key you can play in, there are PRIMARY CHORDS -- chords that occur way more than other chords. They are like family members of that particular key.
At your house, let's say you have 3 people in your family -- your spouse, your child, and you. On the same block, but down the street a few houses, lives your cousin and her family.
At any given moment, who are the most likely people to be in your house?
President Obama? George Bush? Kyle Singler?
I don't think so.
It's possible, of course, but not too likely. If I had to guess, I would say it would be either you, your spouse, or your child. It might be your cousin down the street -- there's a much better chance of that than, say, Michael Phelps -- but my best odds would be to guess that the family members would be there.
It's the same way with chords. In any given key, there are 3 "family members" that are residents of that key -- the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord. They are far and away the most likely chords to occur in any given key.
For example, if I am playing in the Key of C, and the first chord is the C chord and I have to guess what the next chord is, I would guess that it would be either the F chord or the G chord. Why? Because those are the other "family members". So we have narrowed the odds a great deal just by knowing who the members of the family are.
What chord comes next?
So how could I tell whether it should be F or G?
If the melody is a "B", then the chord is probably a G chord. Why? Because "B" is in the G chord, but is not in the F chord.
If the melody is a "A", than I would guess that the chord is F. Why? Because "A" is in the F chord, but is not in the G chord.
Does that mean that there are always just 3 chords in a song? No, but there are literally hundreds of songs that are made of just 3 chords.
For more complete information see "How To Predict Which Chord Comes Next In a Song"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are You Able To Think In Any Musical Key?

To speak Spanish or German or French well, you have to be able to "think" in the language. It's the same with music...unless you can "think in Bb" when you're playing a song in the key of Bb, you will leave out flats, miss chords, etc. that are just not necessary to miss.

.....what each scale degree is
.....what the primary chords are
.....what the secondary chords are
.....what the fingering for the scale of that key is
.....what the relative minor key is
.....patterns that work particularly well in that key.

If you need help in this area, check out "How To Think In All 12 Keys"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is Rhythm?

Stupid question, isn't it?
/We all know what rhythm is -- at least we know if when we hear it and feel it. But what is it really -- what makes rhythm tick? Wikipedia defines it as "any measured flow or movement, symmetry" - in other words, it is the variation of the length and accentuation of a series of sounds or other events.
The sun, for example, has a rhythm. It comes up every morning and goes down every evening. Steady. The earth has a rhythm too, as it revolves around the sun. We call that rhythm a "year." Your heart has a rhythm too -- if you take your pulse you'll see it is quite steady. All of nature has rhythm, and so it is quite natural that music has rhythm as well.
We speak of that rhythm in terms of "beats", and we measure those beats using tools such as "time signatures", "quarter notes", "eighth notes", "syncopated notes", "steady notes", etc, etc, etc. Most music is in either 4/4 time or 3/4 time, although there are many other varieties that are not used nearly as music.
To master rhythm a person needs to have a "baseline" by which to measure the notes that are occuring in various patterns.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What does it mean to "Dress Up Naked Music"?

That's a strange phrase, isn't it? What in the world is "naked music"?

You've probably noticed that virtually NO professional piano player plays music exactly like it is written in sheet music (except for classical, of course -- that's a different matter).
Instead, they embellish and improvise and arrange the music that is on the printed sheet -- in other words, they "dress up naked music."

There is a great course on the subject at "How To Dress Up Naked Music On The Piano"

Check it out. It covers 101 things that pianists do to make plain old sheet music come to life in new and exciting ways.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What Key Are You Playing In?

What does it mean when you hear a musician say "this song is in the key of C" (or key of Bb or any key? Watch this short video:

What does it mean "to be in the key of C" (or any key)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"How many chords do I have to know to play a song?"

Lots of people over the years have asked me some variation of the question "How many chords do I have to know to play a song?"

The answer is "What song?" Some songs have many, many chords, but there are hundreds of songs that have only 3 chords, and hundreds more that have only 4 chords.

So to be able to play a simple song like "Amazing Grace" (simple in terms of music, not theology) or "On Top of Old Smoky" or "Happy Birthday" all you really need to know are 3 chords -- the tonic chord, the subdominant chord, and the dominant chord.
Please see "Songs you can play with just 4 chords" for exciting information on this idea.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Time Signatures Work in Music Rhythm

Time signatures are the area of western musical notation that give specifics about time and how it will function within the song. The importance of these two numbers is apparent by their placement alone; time signatures are literally the second thing a musician sees, after the clef. One glance at the time signatures and the musician is able to put the entire song into context; not only do time signatures denote rhythm, they can also tell quite a bit about style and genre.

Time signatures consist of two numbers placed vertically on the staff. They appear right after the key signature (if there is one) or the clef (if there isn't). Each number says something different about the piece of music: the top note indicates how many beats are in one measure of music, the bottom indicates which type of note makes a beat (or "gets the beat," in musician-speak). For example, times signatures of 4/4 tell a musician that there are four beats per measure of music and that the quarter note is one beat.

But time signatures aren't always so easy. The above explanation only applies to one type of time signatures, simple time signatures. 4/4 is the most common of the simple time signatures, but 3/4 and 2/4 are used frequently, as well. The other type of time signatures, compound time signatures, tends to be a bit more complicated. Compound time signatures are recognizable by a top number of six or higher that is always divisible by three, like 6/8. To figure out how many beats exist per measure, the top number is divided by three; so in 6/8 time signatures, the top number wouldn't say that there are six beats per measure, but rather two. Likewise, the note type is found by multiplying the bottom number's note value by three; an eighth note doesn't get the beat in 6/8 times signatures, but the dotted quarter note does (a quick note: the note value in compound time signatures will always be dotted). 6/8 and 12/8 are two of the most common compound time signatures, used heavily in waltzes and blues, respectively.

But even compound time signatures don't cover the broad spectrum of rhythms that time signatures have to offer. No, there are still times that a rhythm is so odd, so seemingly offbeat, that the time signatures must be similarly irregular. And that's how we get to irregular time signatures, time signatures that can be categorized into simple or compound, but because of their rare usage and strange rhythm aren't really categorized as such -- like 5/8 or 10/4. Time signatures like these are found pretty frequently in innovative rock and pop groups. The most famous examples of irregular times signatures are found all over Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," but bands like Rush and Genesis (early Genesis, before Phil Collins stepped away from the drums) have also used them to marvelous effect.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How To Improvise On The Piano Using Chords

Improvisation means "freedom of ideas", so in music that would mean you are not limited to the traditional music nor to the written music. Pros often play from "fake books" -- a type of music notation (also called a lead sheet) that uses only the melody of the song along with chord symbols. Once a person knows chords, then they can play any note of a chord almost at random, plus scale notes and connecting passing tones that move between the chord notes.

For piano players, the right hand will usually play the improvised part using various piano notes, while the left hand plays the chord. But the improvised part is created from, and around, the chord. You'll learn how to use chords notes, neighboring notes, scale notes, and non-harmonic piano notes in your improvisations, and how each type functions in the overall scheme.

For more information on this facinating skill, go over to Piano Improvising Using Chords.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Piano Instruction For Adults

There are lots of adults who would love to start playing the piano again, after years of being away from th e piano. They took lessons as a kid, and remember a little, but really need some good instruction to get them going again in piano.
Proper adult piano instruction is an element extremely vital to learning the instrument well. Though it's very possible to be a self-taught piano player, piano instruction can really increase the speed and efficiency with which one learns the instrument. That's not to say that great piano instruction makes great piano players overnight; even the most naturally talented pianists still play for years before they consider themselves advanced. But proper piano instruction will make maximize those years to the fullest and ensure that the student is learning the correct techniques.

Though teaching styles always vary from instructor to instructor, piano instruction generally covers the same basic areas: fingering, music theory, music reading and sight reading. The early lessons will cover fingering and posture, making sure the student knows how to hold his or her hands and where to put them on the keys; series of scales practiced repeatedly will be the basis of this area. Piano instruction will then move on to music theory essentials, starting with the basics of notes and chord structure and moving forward to advanced concepts in rhythm, tempo and dynamics.

Many of these concepts are introduced into the piano instruction while the student is learning to read music, a practice that runs through the entire course of the piano instruction. Teachers will assign short, easy pieces to kick start the student's music reading knowledge and eventually move forward to more advanced pieces. Sight reading, the ability to play a piece of music without ever having seen it, is sometimes placed sporadically throughout the piano instruction, after a student is fairly well-versed in reading music. All of the elements of piano instruction eventually begin to work hand in hand. Once the very early basics are covered, the advanced concepts are taught through practice of a separate concept in piano instruction; theory aids in the knowledge of reading, which in turn aids in the knowledge of both theory and sight reading. Piano instruction then becomes an intricate web of gaining bits of detailed knowledge without realizing that it's being gained.

There are many spots on the web where an adult can learn to play the piano faster than with "traditional lessons", such as and others.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Harpsichord, grand piano, spinet -- what's the difference?

A harpsichord is the earliest precursor to the piano, sharing many of the same qualities; it is a stringed instrument using a series of keys to access the strings. But unlike a piano, which uses a hammer to hit the strings, a harpsichord actually plucks them, creating a distinctive sound not unlike that of a plucked violin. It was a massively popular instrument from the time of its invention (dated back to the 14th century) until the popularization of the piano. And the love of the harpsichord didn't even end at that point; many composers continued to write specifically for the instrument and many musicians (even modern, 20th century ones) frequently use it in performance.

As the term harpsichord actually means to refer to an entire family of similar instruments, there are a variety of forms and styles. The most famous harpsichord is known simply as the harpsichord, a large wooden instrument that looks not unlike a grand piano; in fact, this type of harpsichord was indeed the grand piano of the instrument group, used for public and high-society performances. The spinet harpsichord, yet another popular type, is a harpsichord with angled strings; the size of this harpsichord prevents an entirely horizontal positioning.

But the spinet harpsichord is not the smallest in the family; a series of small harpsichords were produced. The virginal harpsichord is a very small version tailored for women; the muselar virginal harpsichord is slightly larger than the virginal, with the strings attacked from their mid-points; and the spinet virginal harpsichord is a small harpsichord with angled strings. Additionally, an upright harpsichord called the clavicytherium was produced for a short time before it fell out of favor; this harpsichord was the true inspiration for the upright piano.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What is "Improvisation?"

Improvisation (also known as improvising) is the act of making something up as you go along -- an act with which we all have a little experience. Remember playing House or Doctor as a child, letting the game go wherever your mind would take you? That was improvisation. No rules, no boundaries, just the limitless potential of your imagination.  It's kind of like coloring without crayons.

Similarly, musical improvisation is the act of writing a song while performing it, a technique found most often in jazz and bluegrass (but can be traced back to renowned classical improvisers like Handel and Bach). Of course, it's a little more complicated than an imaginative children's game. Though improvisation is a highly creative and flexible technique, it requires great skill on the part of the musician. A musician involved in an improvisation must have a detailed knowledge of chord structure and complicated scales and modes. The musician must also have an intuitive ability to structure a song on the fly; great improvisation thrives on its ability to sound not improvised but rather wholly composed. That illusion, the ability of a song to seem anything but spontaneously made up, is part of improvisation's allure.

There are two basic forms of improvisation: structured improvisation and free improvisation. Structured improvisation, though a contradiction in terms, is the most common of the two. In this form, musicians will use a pre-determined series of chord changes, usually held down by the rhythm section, as the song's base. The lead instruments in the improvisation (also pre-determined) then have the freedom to create new melodies and harmonies from these pre-determined chords. The flexibility of this improvisation form is dependent on the flexibility of the chord changes, and the musicians involved must be able to play exactly what they hear in their heads, as some complicated changes may not allow for large deviations.

Free improvisation, on the other hand, is far more like a game of House or Doctor -- it has no rules. Instead of focusing on harmony or melody, free improvisation focuses on the feeling and texture of the music and the way the instruments complement each other. This form tends to be far more experimental and rarely adheres to one style or genre or music -- it is, quite simply, what it is. Notable musicians who play free improvisation include Conny Bauer, Evan Parker and Hans Reichel.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How To Color On The Piano: Playing The Piano By "Ear"

Playing by ear is the ability to play a piece of music (or, eventually, learn an instrument) by simply listening to it repeatedly. The majority of self-taught musicians began their education this way; they picked up their instrument and began playing an easy melody from a well-known song, slowly picking out the notes as they went along. And even after these musicians master their instruments or a particular song, playing by ear still plays a large role. Many pop and rock bands don't play or write their songs based on sheet music, they figure the songs out by playing by ear. It's even common among non-musicians. Ever sit down a piano and mindlessly pick out the tune to "Mary Had a Little Lamb"? What about grabbing a guitar and suddenly finding yourself playing the opening licks to "Smoke on the Water"? That's playing by ear. You're able to play part of the song just because you've heard it so often.
Playing by ear is a valuable technique for many musicians; learning songs based solely on hearing them is a great way to understand song and chord structure. In fact, a great number of rock and pop musicians learned to play their instruments this way. Instead of picking up a book or taking lessons, they concentrated on figuring out the notes and rhythms to a song until it was mastered. Then they moved on to another song. And another. Gradually, they learned their instrument just by playing by ear -- and in the process learned how to effectively structure a song in that particular genre. Playing by ear is also beneficial in helping a musician develop his or her own style; sure, they'll at first mimic the style of the song they're imitating, but the amalgamation of the music that they're playing by ear will help them create something distinctive, something indicative of them only.
Though classical musicians are generally educated based on tons of music theory and sight reading, some methods rely on playing by ear. The Suzuki method of musical training, for instance, claims that learning music is the same as learning a language; it's acquired by years of hearing it, eventually coupled with formal training. Just like we pick up our language by listening to our parents and subsequently attending school, we can learn music by playing by ear and later taking formal lessons. The Suzuki method of playing by ear has proven to be fairly effective, but it is sometimes considered harmful as the children progress in their education; playing by ear at such an early age (and long before formal training) has the potential to damage the child's ability to actually read music instead of just picking out the notes or melodies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Musical Symbols: What do those Roman Numerals in music such as IV and V7 mean?

You don't see them much anymore except in music theory books. But Roman Numerals used to be used extensively to show what chord is being used in a piece of music, and what inversion of the chord is to be used. They were musical symbols, much like chord symbols are today.

Here is a chart showing the relationship of Roman numerals used in music to classical definitions:

I Tonic

V Dominant

IV Sub-Dominant

ii Super-Tonic

iii Mediant

vi Sub-Mediant

vii Sub-Tonic

And by the way, that is the order of likelihood as well -- the Tonic (I -- the home base of any key) is the most used and most likely chord in any key. The Dominant (V) is the next most used and most likely chord, followed by the Sub-Dominant. Those are the "Big 3" -- also known a the "primary chords" in any key.

After the primary chords, the next most used chord is the ii chord (notice the lower case Roman numerals -- that indicates that the chord in it's natural, organic state, is minor. Next comes the iii, followed by the vi, with the vii bringing up the rear.

Inversions are shown by an Arabic number following the Roman Numeral, such as  I 6/4 , or V 7, or IV 6.
Roman Numerals without an Arabic number following it would assumed to be root position chords. Those with an Arabic "6/4" would mean 2nd inversion of the chord, while an Arabic "6" following the Roman Numeral would indicate 1st inversion. A "7" after a Roman Numeral would mean to add a 7th to a chord.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Can I Train My Ear To Hear Intervals -- 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, etc?

An interval is the distance between any two notes, and in this course you are going to learn to hear 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, and of course octaves & unisons. You will also learn to recognize them in printed music quickly.
If you learn to "hear" an interval in your mind, and know what it is, then it is easy to reproduce that interval on the keyboard -- and that, of course, is what "playing by ear" is all about -- mental hearing and then reproducing what you hear on the keyboard. (This course is also excellent for singers and instrumentalists!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Intervals: The Distance Between Any Two Notes

Intervals are deceptively easy little things. To define them, they sound extremely rudimentary: intervals are simply the distance between two notes or pitches. Play a note on your piano. Now play another one. The distance between those two notes is the interval. Upon closer inspection, however, we see that intervals are far more complex than that. There exist several different types of intervals, all of which can be altered in a number of ways, and understanding the nature of these changes is at the very core of a solid music theory education.
Intervals are defined or named by two characteristics: the interval's number and the interval's quality. The interval's number describes the number of staff positions that sit within the intervals: a first, a second, a third, etc. For example, the interval number for a C and an F would be a fourth because there are four notes between those two (including the C and the F themselves). Likewise, a C and an E would be a third, a C and a D would be a second, and so on.
The interval's quality is a bit more complicated. Interval quality describes the specific type of the intervals in addition to the number; intervals can be perfect, major, minor, augmented, or diminished. But not every interval can be of every quality. While all intervals can be augmented or diminished (by adding or subtracting a half step, respectively), only unisons, fourths, fifths and octaves can be perfect; a perfect fourth is five half steps, a perfect fifth is seven, and a perfect unison is zero (since a unison represents the same two notes). Similarly, only second, third, sixth, and seventh intervals can be major or minor; like augmenting or diminishing, this is achieved by adding or subtracting a half step from the intervals.
But be careful. Since major and minor intervals are created by altering the intervals by a half step, augmenting and diminishing works a little differently here. Instead of simply adding or subtracting a half step, augmented intervals (in this case) are a half step more than the interval's major, and diminished intervals are a half step less than the interval's minor. Let's consider third intervals, for example. Major third intervals are four half steps and minor third intervals are three; in a fourth interval, that half step down that creates the minor would create the diminished. But for these intervals we have to go a half step below that, making a diminished third two half steps (which actually creates major second intervals, but that's a story for another time).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How Can I Make My Fingers Behave On The Keyboard? (Piano Fingering & Piano Technique)

It's one thing for you to know WHAT to do on the piano, but it's quite another thing for your hands to have the piano technique and the piano fingering to pull off what your mind instructs them to do. I might want to play a chromatic scale up and down two octaves, but without the technique & fingering to do it, I will think better of it and find some other solution. But you CAN train your hands and fingers so that they will be able to do what you tell them to do. Check out the CD course at "How To Make Your Hands Do What Your Brain Tells Them To Do"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's The Difference Between An Acoustic Piano & A Digital Piano?

A digital piano is an electronic, keyboard-based instrument similar to a synthesizer but made to function more like a piano than any synthesizer does. A digital piano actually falls in category somewhere between synthesizers, which are made to produce extremely artificial sounds, and electronic pianos, which are made to be portable versions of pianos. A digital piano typically contains many piano-like features, such as full 88 key keyboards (though some are much smaller), a variety of different functioning pedals and weighted keys. But the sounds found on a digital piano vary from that of both an acoustic piano and a synthesizer. While a digital piano always includes a normal grand piano sound of some sort, it may also contain the sounds of other piano types, such as honky-tonk or upright. Additionally, a digital piano will often include sounds complementary to a piano, such as strings, brass and percussion.

What makes a digital piano sometimes more desirable than an acoustic piano (when it comes to popular music, at least) is the sheer number of features that enhance the experience of playing. For instance, one push of a button can transpose the entire keyboard on a digital piano to any key desired and middle C can be placed anywhere on the keyboard. Additionally, the keys on a digital piano can be adjusted to have as much or as little touch sensitivity as the pianist desires. A digital piano can also control a variety of audio functions, including sustain and delay, and be used as more of a synthesizer than a piano. And what's more, a digital piano can be programmed to play more than one sound when kitting a key or the keyboard can be split to put the bottom half at one sound and the top half at another. It's an extremely versatile instrument; a digital piano can be made by its user to sound exactly like a real piano or anything but.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Play That Honky-Tonk Piano!

Back several generations in the south there used to be "road houses", which were somewhat similar to nightclubs today, but much more wide-open in terms of the activities that took place in them. They were also sometimes known as "honky-tonks", and so the music that was played in them was naturally named after the establishment. Many of the early ragtime and jazz pianists got their start in road houses playing for dancing and for atmosphere.

Out of honky tonk - or at least contemporary with it - came boogie woogie, blues, and jazz. Perhaps the closest thing to that style of playing today would be Jerry Lee Lewis.
Honky-tonk piano is a very rhythmic, very rollicking style of piano playing most often associated with ragtime. The term itself comes from a name given to certain bars in the early 20th century; these were rough bars that often encouraged rowdy behavior and brought in self-made piano players to entertain the roughshod crowd. When honky-tonk piano first emerged, it seemed to be a musical representation of that type of behavior; honky-tonk piano was rowdy and rough, catering to working-class audiences who just wanted to dance and have a good time.

The honky-tonk piano style itself is extremely distinctive, enough so that a particular sound associated with it is included on modern digital keyboards. It's a slightly out-of-tune, twangy sound that reflects an old piano being played in an old bar. It's similar to ragtime; but unlike ragtime, honky-tonk piano is less concerned with overt melody and more with the percussive elements of the player. It was extremely rhythmic, extremely danceable and extremely popular among ragtime fans. And what's more, honky-tonk piano eventually went on to inspire a whole host of piano styles, including some branches of jazz and boogie-woogie; in some ways, the original honky-tonk piano was a precursor to the familiar walking bass found in a variety of musical styles.

Honky-tonk piano has since morphed into a style different from that of ragtime, a style sometimes associated with backwoods country music. It could have something to do with the honky-tonk piano's specific sound; the out-of-tune honky-tonk piano tone at times mimics the quality of instruments like banjos and fiddles, creating a great complement to the fast, vivacious music found on the front porches of southern homes. And honky-tonk piano even moved forward to influence many branches of modern country music, especially alternative country that relies heavily on rhythmic elements as opposed to melodic.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What are those little short lines above and below the staff?

Leger lines (also written as ledger lines) are notation devices used to show notes that are too high or too low for the regular lines of a musical staff. A staff consists of five lines a four spaces, each of which correspond to a specific note. But notes that don't fall within those nine areas must go somewhere, so extra leger lines are drawn above or below the original staff to accommodate these notes. When learning to read music, young students often learn to recognize middle C early and quickly by its place on a leger line; it's represented by a leger line one place below E, which is the bottom line of a treble clef staff.
Leger lines are both extremely beneficiary and occasionally confusing, depending on the number of lines drawn. On the one hand, leger lines keep a piece of sheet music from jumping into different clefs for brief periods of time. Multiple clef changes can be difficult for musicians as each clef's staff represents notes differently. An F on a treble clef staff, for instance, is not an F on a bass clef staff. Leger lines help avoid this confusion by making extra space for high or low notes without having to incorporate constant and disorienting clef changes.
On the other hand, however, multiple leger lines can be too difficult to read. Notes located on three or four leger lines are usually engrained into a musician's sight-reading knowledge, but anything more than that can trip up the efficiency of a reading. It's difficult to smoothly read a piece of music while trying to count leger lines and figure out a very high or very low note. In these situations, a clef change is absolutely necessary. Still, it's the composer's choice whether or not to use leger lines here. If he or she is confident that those reading the music will be able to decipher it, leger lines may be used uniformly without a clef change, even if a clef change would be theoretically correct.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What does "metre" mean in terms of musical rhythm?

Metre divides music into measures of beats that are stressed or unstressed, accented or unaccented. These measures are what a song is made of; think of them as rhythmic building blocks, building blocks that have been built by metre. Using divided sections like these helps to define exactly what part of the metre is to be accented and adds structure and organization to a song. But these building blocks can't outshine the metre itself; measures may be the bookshelf, but metre is the books that fill it. It is, simply, rhythm. Beats. The backbone of a song that, without it, would be messy and chaotic (exempting, of course, some experimental music that strives to be so).

The metre of a song is indicated by that song's time signature; metre is the physical form of that notation. Just as a note is the written form of a pitch, time signature is the written form of metre. It gives us the specifics of a metre, but doesn't replace it. Understanding how time signatures function in the way that they do is the very basis of metre.
A song's metre is understood by two elements: how many beats are in one measure and what type of note constitutes one beat. A 4/4 metre, for instance, has four beats per each measure with the quarter note making up one beat. A 3/4 metre has three beats per measure with the quarter note making up the beat. A 6/8 metre isn't read like this, however; it has two beats per measure with a dotted quarter note making up the beat. This type of metre, the kind shown by a time signature with a top number of six or higher that is divisible by three, are compound and found by dividing the top number and multiplying the bottom number by three.
Metre comes in tons of forms, straightforward or syncopated. A 4/4 metre is the most common, used almost without exception in rock and pop songs because of its straightforward beat that makes writing to it (and following it) very easy. 3/4 metre is the second most common, creating a swingy, syncopated beat; this is also found in rock and pop songs, most typically in slower ballads. 6/8 metre is home to the waltz, 12/8 metre is used by blues musicians, and 2/2 metre (also called cut time) is what marches are made of. But other sorts of metre, like 6/4 or 5/8 or even 13/4, are often used to innovative effect, creating an effect that makes the rhythm hard to pin down. Though this type of metre, known as irregular, are largely known for being hard to follow, some musicians have made it clear that a song does not have to be in 4/4 to be catchy. Consider Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Sure, it isn't 4/4, it has an offbeat nature, but it certainly isn't hard to follow, and those 5 beats per measure kind of keep us constantly surprised. The metre provides the heartbeat, and the rest of the song follows it; if that heartbeat keeps going strong, the listener is bound to follow it as well.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Chords Are LIke Us -- They Take Familiar Paths Too, Called "Chord Progressions"

When I drive to town I almost always turn left on Oak, then right on Pine past the high school, then swing onto the freeway for 3 miles and get off on the first exit by Elmers Pancake House and then swing up Main St to the Post Office and over on Magnolia to Quick Print.
Is that the only way I could get there? Of course not. There are probably a dozen or more ways I could go, but like most people, I am a creature of habit, and so day after day, year after year, I drive the very same way.

Chords are like that too. There are an infinite number of ways chords could progress, but if you toss all the songs ever written into a giant computer and have it spit out the most common chord progressions, you'll find that the top 5 or 6 progressions are used perhaps 80 or 85% of the time.

Why is that? Because songs are composed or made up on the spot by people -- not some music machine. And people take familiar paths, just like I drive the same way to town day after day.

Chord progressions are based on a series of chord changes, and these changes form the basis for the melody to be formed. Chord progressions are the harmonic backbone of a song, and they often dictate the song's tone and mood. Modern music tends to frequently base chord progressions out of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees of the scale; in C major, this would be C, F, and G. Of course, these chord progressions can be varied in a number of ways (chord substitution allows heavily for that), but these basic chord progressions tend to be the framework for a decent portion of modern music -- especially rock and pop.

Some of the most used chord progressions are: I, V7, I; I, IV, V7, I; I, vi, ii, V7. These progressions happen over and over and over and over again in literally thousands of song. For further information please check out Familiar Chord Progressions.

Monday, October 06, 2008

For a good overall musical education, join a choir

The choir, a simple vocal ensemble of varying sizes (generally more than 10 people), is one of the most popular forms of musical expression for vocalists, particularly because of its availability in a varitey of arenas. The church choir is by far the most common, but many singers also perform in a high-school choir, a collegiate choir or a community choir. And within those varieties of choir exist a number of choir styles. There exists the all-female choir, the all-male choir and the mixed choir, which is comprised of females and males under the vocal categories bass, tenor, alto and soprano. Additionally, a choir can be classified by the number of members; a symphonic choir is typically a large choir while a chamber choir is extremely small.

Though some types of choir, such as the community choir, don't require much out of an audition (if they require an audition at all), there are certain traits a vocalist must possess in order to be able to handle the duties of choir membership. First and foremost, the choir member must be able to sing in tune; it seems common knowledge, but many would-be choir members are impervious to this ability. But singing in tune isn't enough -- choir members must also be able to blend their voice within the presence of other voices, to control vibrato and volume; the point to a choir, after all, is to hear an amalgamation of voices not one in particular. It is also vitally important that a choir member be able to read sheet music. An inability to read music will inevitably lead to the choir member never being able to learn his or her parts. Sight-reading, or the ability to read a piece of music without ever having seen it, is especially preferable for choir members, as a conductor will frequently ask the choir to sing through an entire piece immediately in order to get a sense of the music. Lastly, a choir member must have an independent ear; that is, they must be able to sing their part even while hearing a different part coming from the alto or tenor section. If a choir member has this problem and it's very slight, the conductor will usually place them in a position far from any imposing alternative parts, but a consistent inability to hear one's own voice will ultimately lead to a choir member having a difficult time with the entire performance.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Pianists Guide to Other Instruments: What To Look For In An Accordion

Since pianists seldom play by themselves, I thought it would be useful to bring us piano players up to speed on other musical instruments -- how they work, what their characteristics are, and so on. So from time to time I'll include an article about every kind of instrument from autoharps to zitthers. We'll begin with accordions.

There are many different styles of accordions with different key-note systems. To know which type of accordion to buy, it is necessary to have knowledge about the various types and how they work. Here is a list of the main common types of accordions and their details.
Diatonic Accordions

This is the most popular type of accordion worldwide. The earliest diatonic accordions had one row of ten buttons, each controlling a valve which in turn regulated the air flow to a pair of metal reeds inside the accordion. These ten pairs of reeds were tuned to a diatonic scale. You can get 2 different notes with every button. When the bellows are pulled open, one note plays; whereas when the bellows are pushed closed, reversing the air flow through the reeds, a different note sounds.
Diatonic accordions are easy to use, lightweight, and have a great sound quality. These are perfect for folk and dance tunes.
Chromatic Accordions

The reeds of a three row Diatonic were rearranged to form the chromatic accordion. This accordion can play a 46 note chromatic scale. The Chromatic Button Accordion is best for playing the maximum range of treble notes of any type of accordion. These are available in a range of ones with 20 treble keys and 12 bass buttons, to ones which have up to 6 rows of treble buttons and 160 bass buttons.
The two most common layouts in the chromatic keyboard are the B and C systems. The B system is superior for technically difficult works, whereas the C system is ideal for playing chords and melodic music. The bass system also performance of serious classical or modern-day works.
Piano Accordions

These have a piano type keyboard and can play most piano music. The piano accordions are the most popular type of accordion used in the US. With the development of the Stradella bass system, this accordion was the first standardized accordion. Thus a piano accordionist can play any kind of piano accordion without a change in system. Piano accordions are generally of 12 bass, 20 key up to 160 bass, and 45 key, although there are smaller and larger ones too. The piano accordion has a huge range of notes and sounds.
Thus the most common and oft used type of accordion is the piano accordion (in the US).

Two things to keep in mind when buying an accordion:

• The lighter the accordion, the better.

• Generally speaking, avoid buying a used accordion as with use they tend to need more repair and are not as great performing as newer ones. But if you can't quite afford a new one, just make sure the used on is in good working order.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Boogie Woogie Makes The Piano Dance!

Boogie woogie is a genre of piano-heavy music particular to America in the 1940s and 50s. It's characteristic walking bass is familiar to many as a harkening back to rock and roll, even though the form is based strongly on the blues (in fact, it's often been called an upbeat version of the blues). Boogie originally started as a strictly piano form; the most familiar versions are still based solely around the instrument. But as boogie became more and more popular, so too did the idea of including a whole band. Before long, the once solo genre adapted itself to accommodate an entire band. The latest versions of boogie often include guitar and other instruments, but the piano and drums remain the focal point.
The most familiar pattern in boogie woogie is the left hand bass part that starts on the root of any key, then the 3rd, 5th, 6th, flat 7th, 6th, 5th, 3rd, and root, then repeats. It is usually played in offset octaves, meaning that the lower note is played with the little finger followed by the same not an octave higher with the thumb throughout the entire patterns. In terms of form, it almost always follows the 12-bar blues form, discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Boogie is often credited as the originator of rock and roll, but that idea isn't necessarily valid. While boogie definitely played some role in rock and roll's early days, it was really rhythm and blues that started the form. Boogie, on the other hand, remained an off-shoot of blues and an entity in its own right. It also may have indirectly spawned a dance of the same name, a dance that led largely to boogie being credited as rock and roll's most dominant predecessor.

The boogie woogie dance, an upbeat and energetic social dance with small roots in swing, was danced mostly to rock and roll. It spread through teenage social circles like wildfire and became almost synonymous with rock and roll. As boogie (the dance) continued to grow through the 50s, boogie (the music) began to disappear from the limelight. And as it grew further and further from the mainstream, boogie's captivating hold on audiences became understood as a product of the dance, not the music. The way in which the two forms of boogie were interchanged often led to confusion about where and when the form originated and how it related to the dance and the inception of rock and roll.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Elevator Music Has Gotten a Bum Rap

The last few years background music has been often contempuously refered to as "elevator music." But it has so many different fuctions in life that are positive, that it should be "un-named" and simply refered to as background music. It is used in hospitals, sugery centers, shopping malls and a host of other applications.
Background music is one of those umbrella terms that can refer to a great number of things. Simply put, it's music played in the background; the context of the term is entirely dependent on what exactly is in the foreground. And depending on that context, calling something background music can sometimes be seen as an insult, however unintentional. Musicians functioning as a backing band for a singer or soloist usually resent being referred to as background music; the term tends to connote something that isn't really paid music attention to.

But that's not always the case. Background music is an important element in a variety of different events or performances. The background music at a social gathering or bar can often determine the overall mood of the people in attendance; it's not uncommon to find tempers rising and fights breaking out solely because the combination of personality and harsh background music made a lethal cocktail. Background music is also vital to film and television; a great song can often make or break a scene. For instance, the television producer Thomas Schlamme (of "West Wing" fame) and film writer and director Quentin Tarantino ("Kill Bill," "Pulp Fiction") have both used background music to amazing effect, choosing music that is at times barely noticeable but still capable of completely driving the scene. Great background music can make the tragic scenes more tragic, the comic scenes ten times more hilarious; and likewise, inappropriate or poorly composed background music can rip the magic right out of even a perfectly written script.

Selecting background music for a performance or event is an art in and of itself. The background music at a wedding or fashion show is just as vital to the event as the background music in a performance is to the singer or soloist. It's not a rule-driven process; background music is entirely subjective to the person choosing it. Theme and content are important to consider, though; just like you'd rarely play heavy metal while a bride is walking down the aisle, you'll almost never hear a Mozart piece in a bar packed to the walls with college students. And when considering (or composing) music to be played behind a singer or soloist, it's important to remember where the focus of the performance lies; it's not uncommon to hear background music that upstages the performer.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Piano Notes: The Alphabet of Music

Piano notes, or notes played on a piano, are deceptively simple little things. They are the alphabet of music. All told, there's only twelve of them in a diatonic scale, a fact which makes the whole concept sound much less complicated than it really is. Even the term piano notes itself is often misused; while it's usually meant to refer to the actual pitch, the term piano notes technically only applies to the written notation of a pitch and not the actual sound. Then there are the issues of rhythms, scales, accidentals, octaves -- the whole thing can get very complicated, very fast.

Piano notes are named after the first seven letters of the English alphabet and keep that name regardless of the octave; on a typical 88 key piano, these notes are represented by the white keys. But since the diatonic scale has twelve notes and not seven, some of these can be altered. To get the extra five notes, we can sharpen (raise a half-step) or flatten (lower a half-step) some notes; these piano notes are the black keys. Not every note can be sharpened or flattened, however. Since C is only a half-step away from B, B cannot be sharpened and C cannot be flattened. Likewise, E is only a half-step away from F; therefore, F cannot be flattened and E cannot be sharpened (there are, of course, some exceptions to this depending on the key signature).

The rhythmic aspect of piano notes are based on their duration, creating a series of piano notes all differing in type and value. Whole piano notes are four beats and represented by a hollow oval with no stem. Half piano notes are two beats, or half of a whole, and represented by a hollow oval with a stem. Quarter piano notes represent a fourth of a whole note, eighth piano notes an eight, sixteenth notes and sixteenth and so on as far as 128th piano notes (which are rarely used). It's also important to mention that piano notes can be altered by adding a dot after the written note. Dotted piano notes indicate that the note's value is that of the original note plus one half. Dotted half piano notes, for instance, are worth three beats and dotted quarter piano notes are worth one and a half.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Music Courses

Music courses are a great way to learn about virtually any area of music; history, theory, instrument instruction -- you name it and somewhere music courses specialize in it. Though generally found through colleges, universities or high school programs, music courses are also offered via one-on-one instruction with a private teacher or community-based workshops. Some churches even offer music courses as a complement to their choirs; the music courses may be offered to the general public, but they're often geared toward the choir members and congregation.

Music courses offered by colleges are generally far more in-depth than other music courses and are usually only available to degree-seeking students (though some colleges offer music courses as part of their continuing education programs). Lower level college music courses often focus on an amalgamation of music theory and history, teaching individual theory concepts based on the historical period to which they are particular. As the music courses grow in skill level so too does the number of specialized topics. Advanced music courses are available for nearly every historical music period and are sometimes based on one particular movement. Advanced music courses for theory grow increasingly more difficult and slowly teach every detail found in modern music theory; it's during the theory music courses that students intending to major in music have their skills challenged the most -- some even refer to these music courses as a weeding out period.  The photo to the left and above is a young me in front of the Westlake College of Modern Music, a school for jazz musicians right on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.

Instrument-based music courses are equally as tough at the college level, though they usually assume a working knowledge of the instrument before the class begins. Those wishing to learn an instrument, therefore, are better off with private music courses or music courses offered by a community orchestra or social group. These music courses will focus on the basic details of learning an instrument, starting from the very beginning. Fingering, theory and music reading will be covered, in addition to the occasional bit of history. Students of these music courses may then wish to move on to college-level music courses after completing a few years of private instruction.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What does it really mean to "play by ear?"

To play by ear is to learn a piece of music (or, by extension, an instrument) by simply hearing it over and over again. A number of musicians, many of them self-taught, began their music education in this manner; it's often an invaluable way to learn the mechanics of song and chord structure. Ever sat down at a piano and picked out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"? Or what about grabbing a guitar and suddenly stumbling into the opening licks of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" or Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? If you have, you can play by ear. It's an unbelievably common practice, even among non-musicians who just peck around at an instrument if it happens to be in the room. Even classically trained musicians that have spent their lives learning to read music are sometimes encouraged to play by ear; it's a technique that hones that inherent musical sense found in so many thriving musicians.

A great number of self-taught musicians started their training by learning to play by ear. Instead of picking up a book or taking lessons, they just slowly picked out the chords of a song until the entire thing was mastered. Then they moved on to another song. And another. Gradually, they learned their instrument just by their ability to play by ear; each song presented a new chord or a new technique to figure out and conquer. It's a method used mostly by popular musicians, particularly rock musicians who learned the nuances of composition and performance simply by knowing how to play by ear.

Though classical musicians are generally educated based on tons of music theory and sight reading, some methods tout the benefits of knowing how to play by ear. The Suzuki method of musical training, for instance, espouses the idea that learning music is the same as learning a language; it's acquired by years of hearing it coupled with formal training. Just like we pick up our language by listening to our parents and subsequently attending school, the Suzuki method teaches young children to play by ear before they begin formal training. The Suzuki school of thought on learning how to play by ear has proven to be fairly effective, but it is sometimes considered harmful as the children progress in their education; to play by ear at such an early age (and long before formal training) has the potential to damage the child's ability to actually read music instead of just picking out the notes or melodies.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What is a "Chord Substitution?"

A Chord substitution is precisely what the name implies: the substitution of one chord for another during a chord progression. It's a technique often found in jazz music (but other genres, as well) used to add a little extra pizzazz to a piece of music. Chord substitutions contribute to the element of surprise; it keeps the progressions from becoming predictable, without compromising the overall tone of the piece. Instead of playing a constant, consistent G chord, for instance, musicians will sometimes use chord substitutions to replace that G with a G6 or Gmaj7, depending on the song and the effect desired. Chord substitutions are a great way to add a kick to an otherwise monotonous progression.

There are many things to consider when working with chord substitutions. First of all, chord substitutions will be especially easy when the two chords share a number of common notes. C major, for example, can be easily substituted with A minor because both of these chords contain a C and E. But it isn't just enough to share common notes; the common notes in chord substitutions are best received when they drive the chord. The first two notes of a chord (including the root) are what give a chord its defining characteristics. If chord substitutions contain these notes in an insignificant place, the substituted chord won't be as interchangeable. Let's consider C major and A minor again. These chord substitutions works because the two common notes, C and E, are the two most important notes within the C major chord. The root note, C, shifts in these chord substitutions, but it is still present enough to keep the chord's essential quality. But it's important to mention here that, rules and regulations aside, chord substitutions are really in the eye of the beholder; if you think it works and like the sound the chord substitutions have created, feel free to explore it. There's no rule in chord substitutions (or music, for that matter) that can't be broken.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What does the word "Melody" refer to in music?

The melody is the tune of a song or piece of music. It is the part you whistle or hum – the part that carries the words, if there are any.
Melody is possibly the most stigmatized concept in music theory. For something to be melodic, many people believe that it needs to be slow and pretty; it's a word that carries a heavy connotation. Melody (at least the current version of the word) is beautiful, and anything that deviates from that is simply not melodic. Strictly speaking, however, melody has nothing to do with beauty or abrasiveness. Melody is just a series of notes or pitches played in succession, notes that can be heard as a whole. Simply sitting down at a piano and banging out a couple of notes does not a melody make. A melody needs to be heard as a single entity in order to be considered a melody. And even the most dissonant of musical phrases is still a melody if it fits that requirement.
The modern idea of melody differs from that of early western classical. Melody is heavily used in rock and pop music, and those genres usually base a song on one or two melodies only: the verse and the chorus. Of course, there are some subtle deviations along the way, but a catchy, radio-friendly pop song will repeat the same melody over and over to make it memorable for the listeners. Early western classical music didn't have the same concern with airplay and demographics, so a strictly repeated melody wasn't the norm. This type of music used melody to introduce a theme, moving on to vary that theme in several different ways. The basic melody was still there, but it had the potential to became nearly unrecognizable as it shifted and changed. The sonata form is a stunning example of this concept of theme and melody restatement.
Melody is also extremely important to jazz musicians, especially those that specialize in improvisation. Though there are several types of improvisation, melody is frequently used as the song's base. Improvisers will set a pre-determined melody and allow the lead instrument to jump forward from that melody. It creates a wonderfully rich piece of music that shows how quickly (and interestingly) a melody can evolve.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is there a difference between keyboard chords & piano chords?


Keyboard chords are chord played on a piano or any other keyboard-based instrument, such as a synthesizer or digital piano. The differences between keyboard chords and chords of other kinds are minimal; in fact, the only real distinguishing factor is the instrument on which they are played. By virtue, keyboard chords are exactly the same as guitar chords. The keyboard may be played differently than the guitar, but the basic chord formation remains the same.

Keyboard chords, like all other chords, consist of three or more notes played together. The notes don't necessarily need to be played at the exact same time, however. Broken keyboard chords, or arpeggios, are three or more notes that are staggered as opposed to simultaneous; as long as the notes are close enough to be heard as a whole they're still considered keyboard chords.

The names given to keyboard chords are based on either note number or interval type. Keyboard chords classified by note number are given names like trichord (three notes), tetrachord (five notes) or hexachord (six notes). Keyboard chords named by interval type are given names such as tertian (keyboard chords based on a third), secundal (keyboard chords based on a second) or quartal (keyboard chords based on a fourth). It's also possible to name keyboard chords based on both qualities; for example, tertian trichords are keyboard chords consisting of three notes a third above each other. These type of keyboard chords are extremely common, often a staple of rock and pop music.

Keyboard chords are extremely versatile and can be altered in a number of ways. Lowering the pitch by a half-step produces diminished keyboard chords (notated by the abbreviation "dim"); likewise, raising the pitch by a half-stop creates augmented keyboard chords (notated by "aug"). Inverted keyboard chords carry a bass note other than the root, and seventh keyboard chords are those that add to the triad a note that is a third above the chord's fifth. Extended keyboard chords are variations on seventh chords, created by adding notes that go beyond the seventh interval into a ninth, eleventh or thirteenth.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Improvisation: How To Color Without Crayons

Improvisation -- Coloring Without Crayons

Improvisation (also known as improvising) is the act of making something up as you go along -- an act with which we all have a little experience. Remember playing House or Doctor as a child, letting the game go wherever your mind would take you? That was improvisation. No rules, no boundaries, just the limitless potential of your imagination.

Similarly, musical improvisation is the act of writing a song while performing it, a technique found most often in jazz and bluegrass (but can be traced back to renowned classical improvisers like Handel and Bach). Of course, it's a little more complicated than an imaginative children's game. Though improvisation is a highly creative and flexible technique, it requires great skill on the part of the musician. A musician involved in an improvisation must have a detailed knowledge of chord structure and complicated scales and modes. The musician must also have an intuitive ability to structure a song on the fly; great improvisation thrives on its ability to sound not improvised but rather wholly composed. That illusion, the ability of a song to seem anything but spontaneously made up, is part of improvisation's allure.

There are two basic forms of improvisation: structured improvisation and free improvisation. Structured improvisation, though a contradiction in terms, is the most common of the two. In this form, musicians will use a pre-determined series of chord changes, usually held down by the rhythm section, as the song's base. The lead instruments in the improvisation (also pre-determined) then have the freedom to create new melodies and harmonies from these pre-determined chords. The flexibility of this improvisation form is dependent on the flexibility of the chord changes, and the musicians involved must be able to play exactly what they hear in their heads, as some complicated changes may not allow for large deviations.

Free improvisation, on the other hand, is far more like a game of House or Doctor -- it has no rules. Instead of focusing on harmony or melody, free improvisation focuses on the feeling and texture of the music and the way the instruments complement each other. This form tends to be far more experimental and rarely adheres to one style or genre or music -- it is, quite simply, what it is. Notable musicians who play free improvisation include Conny Bauer, Evan Parker and Hans Reichel.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How many notes does it take to make a chord?

One note played at a time is termed a unison; two notes together form an interval; three or more notes form a chord.

Chords are at the very crux of music theory -- or music alone, for that matter. Chords are three or more notes (or pitch classes; strictly speaking, notes are the written form of pitches) played together. But these notes don't necessarily have to be played simultaneously. Broken chords, or arpeggios, are three or more notes that aren't played at the same time but closely enough to be heard as a group or whole. And even the three-note rule is open to exception. Power chords, frequently used in rock music, consist of only two notes, but they still function as chords because they work, diatonically, in the same way that a major or minor chord would.

Chords are most often named based on their number of notes or the type of intervals involved. Chords classified by note number are given names such as trichord (three notes), tetrachord (five notes), and hexachord (six notes). Chords classified by interval are given names such as tertian (third chords), secundal (second chords), and quartal (fourth chords). Sometimes chords are named based on both qualities. Tertian trichords, for example, are chords with three notes, each a third above each other. These type of chords are actually the most common in western music, found frequently in rock and pop.

These chords aren't the only chords possible, however. There are several specialized chord types that seem to defy strict categorization. Inverted chords are created by adding a bass note that is not the root note. Seventh chords can be made by adding a fourth to a triad -- a third above the chord's fifth -- which makes the highest note a seventh from the root. Extended chords are those with notes that extend above a seventh, such as a ninth or an eleventh. But it's important to mention that no extended chord can go above a thirteenth. By that point, the notes included will have already been played somewhere in the chord, taking it back down to an eleventh or thirteenth.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What's the Difference Between a Regular Piano & an Electric Piano?

An electric piano (also known as an electronic piano) is an electronic, keyboard-based instrument made to sound like a piano; in fact, the instrument was created to provide musicians with a more portable version of the hefty upright or grand pianos. The sound of an electric piano, however, is not an exact replica. All versions of electric piano carry their own unique sound, which has made many of them extremely sought after (even though some types are extremely rare). An electric piano falls somewhere between an acoustic piano and an organ, but defies the sound properties of both. While it carries the same basic features as a piano -- full 88 key keyboard, various pedals and weighted keys -- the sound is more comparable to an organ than to any type of piano. An electric piano is actually a rudimentary, un-evolved version of the modern digital piano -- it was created with the same concepts of portability and function in mind -- but it's hardly seen in that light. Like many rudimentary, vintage things, the electric piano has only grown in popularity with its age; the electric piano, like early video game systems, is now a cherished and highly used piece of pop culture.

The term electric piano isn't always used in this specific a fashion, however. Often, electric piano describes the more modern digital pianos or synthesizers; it has similarities to both. Like a digital piano, an electric piano focuses on portability and piano-like qualities. It includes pedals and weighted keys, two very piano-like elements, and strives to create the same vibrant sound. And like a synthesizer, it is strikingly electronic and easily distinguishable from any type of acoustic instrument. But unlike either the digital piano or synthesizer, the electric piano produces a very rich, vivid sound. Audiophiles sometimes cite the electric piano as the best-sounding electronic instrument ever made; it maintains it's electronic qualities without sounding tinny or canned, like some modern electronic instruments. For that reason, it is often used where an electronic element doesn't need to be overwhelming; the electric piano makes its electronic point without compromising the richness of the ensemble.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What are the functions of "rests?"

Rests are musical notations that mark a fixed period of silence. The silence, or open space, in a piece of music is equally important to the placement of the notes. A system of carefully placed rests has the ability to make or break a song and to completely alter the its mood or theme. The types of rests and their values mirror that of the notes they are replacing and can be used in a multitude of ways.
Multi-measure rests last for several measures. They are marked as whole rests with the number of silent measures noted above them. Multi-measure rests are typically only used when the piece requires more than eight whole rests in a row.
Four-measure rests last for four measures and are occasionally marked as multi-measure rests. Though it is generally considered more correct to use a multi-measure rest with only eight rested measures, it's not at all uncommon to find four-measure rests marked as such.
Double-whole rests (or breve rests) last twice as long as a whole note. They are represented by a black vertical rectangle between the second and third lines of a musical staff.
Whole rests (or semibreve rests) represent one whole note. This is usually meant as four beats, but whole rests are often used in 3/4 time as well. In this case, whole rests represent a whole measure as opposed to a whole note. They are notated as a black horizontal rectangle under the second line from the top of a staff.
Half rests (or minim rests) are half as long as a whole note. They are represented by a black horizontal rectangle above the third line from the top of a staff.
Quarter rests (or crochet rests) last for a quarter of a whole note. Their notation is the most distinctive and commonly used; it's a nearly indescribable curvy line stretching over the staff's middle three lines.
Rests continue to be notated up to one sixty-fourth of a whole note and can also have their value shifted by placing a dot next to the notation. Dotted rests last the length of the original rest, plus one half. For example, dotted half rests last three beats and dotted quarter rests last one and one-half beats.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What is "Composing?"

In the simplest terms possible, composing is the act of writing a song. Composing is the most vital part of music, and while most musicians are able to read the music written by a composer, few actually believe themselves to be proficient in composing. It's a tricky form, especially when a composer is given the task of composing for an entire orchestra or band as opposed to simply one instrument, such as individual piano or cello compositions.

Strictly speaking, the terms composing and songwriting are completely interchangeable. They do, after all, mean exactly the same thing: writing a song, or a part of a song, from start to finish. But the words' connotations are radically different. While songwriting is an informal practice, confined mostly to the popular musical genres, composing is the province of the classical musician. Those interested in composing must not only be able to perfectly read music, they must be able to notate it equally as well. Songwriting, while a valuable form in its own right, is rarely used as a means to write down music for others to read; those writing the songs are frequently writing for themselves or for others to whom they can simply play the song. Composing, on the other hand, is usually intended for an individual other than the composer -- and for widespread consumption, at that. Great compositions will migrate from orchestra to orchestra, eliminating the possibility of the person composing the music to physically play the song for other musicians.

Composing often requires formal training (though it in no way has to; several great composers have had no formal training at all) and many would-be composers attend music school for years prior to the start of their careers. A music school focused on composing will educate its students in massive amounts of music theory as well as individual instruments. Most composing students are encouraged, if not required, to study and proficiently play more than one or two instruments aside from piano, which is a given.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Rewards Of Practicing Piano Playing

Playing piano is one of the most rewarding activities in existence -- and also one of the most difficult. Regardless of whether you aspire to be the next prodigy or just want to bang out a few family favorites at the next reunion, playing piano at the most rudimentary level is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating task. And playing piano well -- well, that takes hours of endless practice and whole mountain ranges full of discipline. But the hard work is worth it in the end; the pay off is an amazing new skill that will last a lifetime.
Most students start piano lessons enthusiasticly and can't wait for the next lesson. But after a few months the trill wears off as the reality of daily practice sinks in. Most of us found practicing boring -- I certainly did until my goals were re-ignited by an opportunity to play in a group. The sooner a student can participate in playing in some public forum, the better, whether it is playing in Sunday School or at school or for a musical group or for friends -- whatever. It's important to put what you've learned into action as soon as possible to make those long boring days of practice pay off.

Playing piano, of course, is an art. And like any art, it can be learned in a multitude of ways. Some begin playing piano by picking up a book of sheet music and hammering it out in front of the keyboard for months on end. These people, however, generally have some working knowledge of music to begin with; playing piano will be slightly easier for them because they already understand the mechanics involved in the practice.

But for those who have never sat on a piano bench or set foot on a pedal, playing piano will usually start with lessons. Well-planned lessons taught by an experienced and knowledgeable instructor can set even those completely new to music on the road to playing piano. The lessons will cover a wide range of topics, usually starting with fingering and posture; knowing where on the keys to put your fingers and how to hold your hands is the first step to playing piano. Next comes the music theory basics. Playing piano, after all, can hardly be done without an understanding of notes, rhythms and chords. It's here that the reading of music will be introduced; instructors will start a student off with basic pieces in easy key signatures to allow them a feel for how the techniques work. As the student begins to show more proficiency in playing piano the pieces will get harder. This takes times, however. Playing piano well (and at an advanced level) doesn't happen overnight, and it's common for a student not to attempt advanced pieces until years after they've begun playing piano. But like anything else, hard work pays off, and the rewards of playing the piano can be huge.
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