Thursday, July 31, 2008

What does "Metre" mean in music?

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 Pink Floyd, for instance. One of their most popular songs, "Money," is written in 5/8 metre. Sure, it isn't 4/4, it has an offbeat nature, but it certainly isn't hard to follow. 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.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What are "leger lines"?

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.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What are "piano tabs"?

Piano tabs, strictly speaking, are a form of sheet music that notates the music by showing where the fingers are to be placed instead of the notes themselves; the form is also known as tablature and is frequently used for guitar, as well. Technically, there is no such thing as piano tab. Tablature, though vast in its capabilities, is only intended for fretted string instruments, and while piano is certainly a string instrument, it isn't fretted. The term piano tab is actually used to refer to fingering charts (charts often used in instruction to aid in the correct placement of the fingers on the keys) or, most commonly, traditional sheet music.

Piano tab in terms of traditional sheet music is the written notation for a piece of music. It tells that musician what to play, for how long and in what sort of manner. Notes are dictated via a series of ovals, often stemmed, on a musical staff consisting of five lines and four spaces. Where the notes are located vertically on the staff indicates what pitch is to be played, and the note's physical appearance in the piano tab indicates its duration. Piano tab also includes other specifications like time signature (the song's meter), key signature (the key in which the song is played) and tempo (the speed at which the song is played).

Not all piano tab indicates the same things, however. Some piano tab, especially that found in jazz ensembles and popular music groups, is very limited, notating only the bare essentials of chord progression and tempo. In this case, piano tab is really just a quick reminder of what needs to be played; it certainly isn't relied on for the detailed nuance of the song. And some piano tab, often referred to as a score, is extremely detailed, including not only the piano parts, but the parts of every other instrument as well. This type of piano tab is intended mostly for conductors, though sometimes pianists use condensed versions as a guide to the overall melody.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

What is a "foxtrot"?


The foxtrot is a ballroom dance named after Harry Fox, the vaudeville actor who invented it in the early 1900s. It's an altered version of the popular two-step but with two quicker steps (otherwise known as trots) figured in, making the dance pattern slow-slow-quick-quick. The wildly popular foxtrot eventually branched into two separate evolutions: the quickstep, which is a combination of the foxtrot and the charleston danced to much faster music, and the slowfox, the slower version of the foxtrot that retains most of its original qualities. Both are still danced today, though the quickstep seems to be the most common.

Though all music used to dance the foxtrot became known as foxtrot music, it was initially danced exclusively to ragtime. Foxtrot ragtime is a syncopated style of music characterized by a bass note on the first and third beats and short chords on the second and fourth; foxtrot ragtime (or ragtime in general) is also known for its use of the walking bass. It's a fairly upbeat, energetic style of music that fit surprisingly well with the happy foxtrot.

Ragtime music, in all of its many forms, eventually became so entwined with the foxtrot that all ragtime was considered by some to be merely foxtrot music. But it's important to note here that foxtrot ragtime, in all its popular glory, was a late, late version of the influential style of music. Prior to the foxtrot craze, ragtime was slightly less syncopated and of a slightly different dynamic. It was certainly a danceable style of music, but it didn't become exclusively associated with any one dance until the foxtrot was popularized in the early 1900s. Foxtrot ragtime, the late version that accompanied the dance, added a syncopated dotted-note beat to accommodate the foxtrot steps. The foxtrot, even as it lost some of its steam, eventually moved on to be danced to a variety of musical styles, but its earliest heyday will always be associated with the late era of foxtrot ragtime.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What is "Disco"?

Disco is a funk-influenced style of music completely particular to the 1970s. It represents, quite possibly, one of the largest and most short-lived crazes of modern times; as quickly as it came rushing in, it came crashing down. Disco music itself, apart from the trend, is characterized by a solid bass driving the song (and often offering the only melody), guitar mired in wah-wah pedal, and very specific drumbeat: a steady kick drum hit on every 4/4 beat, snare on the second and fourth beats and an eight-beat hi-hat shuffle that opens at every snare. Sounds complicated, but this disco beat is shockingly familiar outside of the text.

Disco music at first was never intended for listening; it was simply the soundtrack to a dance phenomenon. The music, as well as the trend, reflected a sort of decadence that served as the anti-hippie; instead of fighting civil hatred with hugs and love, the disco era fought it with drugs and dancing, hedonism. But even as disco spawned out of fairly noble, political roots, its commercialization stripped it of any sort of social commentary. Disco remained largely underground until the movie "Saturday Night Fever" shed light on the trend. Suddenly, the music became listenable outside of the dance, and the dance was all anyone wanted to do. Record labels began releasing disco albums at warp speed, and even rock bands like Kiss hopped on the wagon by creating disco-driven singles.

This level of saturation was all the trend needed to come to a grinding halt. People began to loathe it as quickly as others had loved it, and the backlash against disco was one of the largest in music history. Disco albums were burned and clubs were abandoned; the commercialization that brought so many people so much money was suddenly seen as the downfall of modern musical society. Rock bands, specifically the influx of anti-disco punks, were the new saviors.

Ironically and strangely, disco has recently seen a revival within the very scene that once shunned it. New independent bands with an ear for the past have recently begun toying with the disco beat, creating something coined by critics as "disco punk." But, just like they did before, modern rock fans have grown tired of the disco revival, spawning a new backlash that shows no immediate signs of stopping. Disco is one area of music that makes a revival next to impossible.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Piano Chord Symbols: Slash Chords

Slash chords are chords that look like this:

C/Bb or F/A or G7/F etc.

Improvising Piano Blues

Improvising the blues on the piano involves learning the structure of the blues as well as the blues scale.

How To Create A "Flowing River of Sound" on the Piano

Use open-voiced arpeggios in the left hand while playing broken chords in the right hand.

Half-Step Slides: Piano Chord Substitutions

One of the best ways to make an interesting chord substitution is to use 1/2 step slides. Substitute the chord that is 1/2 step above the target chord before you arrive at that chord.

How To Make a Piano Sound Like Bells & Chimes

You can make your piano sound like bells and chimes by learning two simple techniques -- one for bells and one for chimes.

What is a piano "Score"?

A piano score is a type of ensemble sheet music intended solely for the piano. Like all sheet music, it is a song's written notation; a piano score tells the musician what to play and how to play it. Unlike all sheet music, however, a piano score shows not only the piano part but nearly every other part in the ensemble as well. It can be a confusing piece of sheet music; the pianist must get used to following their part closely in conjunction with the other ensemble instruments. Traditionally, this is the job of the conductor. A normal conductor's score will notate every part of the ensemble in one large book of sheet music to aid the conductor in focusing on the various instruments. A piano score, however, is handled completely by the pianist. While it may mirror the score used by the conductor, it is rarely an exact replica; the notations, after all, are intended for an actual musician in the ensemble as opposed to the person directing it.

A piano score is used in a variety of different forms and genres; it knows no boundaries of style. The type of piano score used is often based solely on the type of music or ensemble. The pianist in a large ensemble, such as an accompanying orchestra to a theatrical performance, will often use a partial piano score. This type of piano score doesn't include every single instrument, just the parts vital to the pianist's understanding of the melody and rhythm; partial piano scores (despite being only partial) are still fairly detailed. A full piano score is usually only used by smaller ensembles, though even the small ensembles revert to a partial piano score at times. Jazz musicians particularly use a partial piano score even less detailed than a large orchestra's piano score. Due to the improvisatory nature of jazz music, detailed sheet music is rarely necessary; depending on the ensemble, the sheet music functions more as flexible notes than anything else. A piano score in jazz works in this manner. It gives the pianist vital reminders about the melody, rhythm or harmony, but allows for variations on the overall theme; a piano score here will only show what truly needs to be shown.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

What is a "Samba"?

Samba is a sort of carnival genre of music and dance. Rooted in Rio de Janeiro, it's the most popular and well-known genre to come out of the Afro-Brazilian culture, a culture created by the slave trade from Africa to Brazil. It's a very percussive, energetic form of music; as its roots are in carnival parades and celebrations, the samba's earliest forms has occasional similarities in dynamic to that of marching bands. But the similarities end there; samba is a full-fledged form intended for dancing, not marching. It's rhythmically unique and culturally vital to Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil.

Like many music and dance genres, the samba is rooted in peasant culture. Groups of neighbors in poor Rio neighborhoods played the music together to sing and dance to and soon adapted the style to become part of their yearly carnival celebration. The samba quickly became an integral part of carnival; the celebratory music was played during carnival parades, and its inclusion made carnival samba a large production. Each samba school (a samba group named so because they often practiced in school yards) performing at carnival included singers, dancers, and an overwhelming drum section in addition to other instruments. The samba schools created large, colorful floats and the dancers' costumes were equally as intricate and bright. A samba school's preparations for carnival (which takes place early in the year) would often start as early as July with an incredible number of people working behind the scenes to create the aesthetic. Musicians, too, started this early, working to create an original composition to be used as the yearly parade piece.

Samba stayed largely within the Brazilian underground until 1917 when the first samba recordings appeared; "Pelo Telofone" is believed to be the first recording, though the composition has been attributed to a few different people. This recording and the others that followed brought samba out of the Rio underground and into the limelight; the irresistible energy found in samba quickly caught on in the United States where it became a music and dance phenomenon. The samba dance, a Brazilian tango-based 2/4 step taken directly from the carnival dancers, was altered as it shifted cultures, and soon became the ballroom samba that most Americans know today. The traditional samba is still danced in Brazilian carnival parades.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Long Do I Have To Keep Taking Lessons?

There comes a time in the life of every piano student when he asks the question "How long do I have to keep taking lessons?"
The answer is simple: Don't quit before you get to the "tipping point".

There is a "tipping point" in piano that when reached makes it easy to continue as a pianist even if lessons aren't taken. It's like a teeter totter -- once the weight gets on your side, things begin to happen and momentum takes over. Once people know you play well, you get asked to do things -- accompany someone, play at SS, at school, etc. and your skill brings with it some pride of achievement and satisfaction of participating.

As you may know, I took lessons from about 1st grade through 7th or so with no intention of doing anything with it, but because of that I was asked to do several things (let's see if I can remember):

1. When I was a freshman in Placer High the accompanyist for the school choir (which I sang in) was sick for a week, and Mr. Walker asked me to fill in. I was scared and didn't want to, but ended up doing it. I faked a lot of it, but got through.

2. The piano player for a school dance band had just graduated, and because I played a little and they didn't have any alternative, they asked me to play with them. They said I would have to know chords, and I didn't, so I learned a WHOLE bunch in a very few months simply out of fear of being embarrased. I didn't feel very comfortable playing with the group for a couple years, but I gradually got the hang of it.

3. Harry, the owner of the funeral parlor, saw me play at Sunday School at the Methodist church across the street, so asked me if I would fill in for the organist at the funeral home when she was gone. Again, I didn't want to do it, but it paid $15., and all I had to play was 2 or 3 songs.
    So one thing led to another and before long I was playing semi-professionally, and then professionally, and eventually played almost continuously for soloists, groups, quartets, trombone quartets, etc. etc. It was natural then to begin teaching privately part time, then full time, then having a studio of my own, then teaching by cassette long distance, then publishing my own piano books and cassettes and then videos and......
     The point of all this is: Get past the tipping point! Once you do, momentum will take over. If you like music, don't quit taking lessons until opportunities like this arise naturally -- and don't quit at all if you want to get really good. I continued to take lessons on and off while I was playing professionally, and it paid off big time!

What is a "Symphony"?

The term symphony has two meanings. It is first and foremost a classical composition consisting of several movements in a somewhat rigid form; this form of music is where the term symphony originated and where its true meaning lies. But it has in more recent times come to refer to any type of classical orchestra; this meaning comes from the phrase symphony orchestra, which refers to an orchestra that specifically plays symphonies, but it is now used to denote any orchestra regardless of the musical forms they perform.

A symphony is distinguishable from other compositions by a series of elements that tend to define the form. The most important element of a traditional symphony is that it is written in four movements, no more and no less. The first movement is divided into the parts of sonata form; the second movement is slower and taken down in dynamic; the third movement is a more upbeat minuet variation on the second movement; and the last movement is a return to the first movement, with or without the sonata form. As the symphony evolved over time, many composers experimented with this idea of strict movements, often including more than four or altering the specific symphony rules within each. And though the traditional symphony is completely instrumental (another defining element), composers of later years began incorporating vocal melodies in complement to the various movements. This is a part of more modern symphony that is not incredibly common, however; most symphony orchestras are just that -- instrumental orchestras.

The first symphony was composed by Italian composer Giuseppe Torelli around 1698 and has since become the province of many infamous composers of several musical eras. Joseph Haydn was by far the most prolific composer of the symphony, composing over 100 in his lifetime. But it's Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who frequently get credit for perfecting the symphony form. Though they may not have been main innovators of the symphony, they are remembered as being its most faithful composers.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Two-hand chord voicing

Chords can be played with one hand or two, but complex chords sound much fuller if voiced with two hands.

Piano Tip: How to turn a chord into a fill

You can break up a piano chord in a variety of ways to turn a chord into an interesting filler for your songs.

Piano runs & fills - How to create them

Piano players can create runs and fills to make songs sound more exciting and interesting through the use of tremolo-fired runs.

Piano runs & fills - How to create them

Piano players can create runs and fills to make songs sound more exciting and interesting through the use of tremolo-fired runs.

Find a piano teacher who teaches chords!

When selecting a piano teacher, be sure that he or she knows music theory and how to use chords.

Piano Styles - Block Chords

Piano styles are many and varied, but one way to get a big sound is to use block chord styles.

Piano Techniques: Walkups & Walkdowns

Piano techniques include a walkup and a walkdown from the tonic to the dominant.

Piano Tips: Make Music Box Sounds

You can make wonderful sounds on the piano like a music box by playing high on the keyboard and using something like an Alberti bass in your left hand while playing the melody in your right hand.

The Amazing Diminished 7th Chord

Diminished 7th chords are magical, because you can do so many different things with them, and there are only 3, so you can learn them fast!

Piano chords: Diminished 7th Chords

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What is an Overture?

An overture is, simply, an introduction to a piece of music. Beyond that, its definition can become slightly unclear; what exactly constitutes an overture? Since it has no strict rules and can be found in musical theater, orchestral composition and choral ensembles, then it's possible that any introduction could be considered an overture, even the beginnings of rock songs. But that isn't necessarily the case; an overture is typically the introduction to a much longer piece of music or musical theater (especially opera) and will sometimes be in a stark contrast to the remainder of the work. Some sorts of overture, usually found in modern musicals, will act as a simple preview of the songs to be introduced within the play; it almost becomes a cut-down medley at this point. And though this may be the most common use of the overture today, it's not the most classic or traditional.

The overture got its start in 17th century French opera, most notably the works of Lully. This beginning overture form was far stricter than the form has ever been since; it involved a series of slow dotted-note rhythms intertwining with faster parts then moving back again. This type of overture was often energetic and lively, almost danceable in places. But as opera evolved to include sonata form, this type of overture became somewhat obsolete. It shifted to include the elements of sonata form, subject to somewhat experimental notions of various composers, and eventually became an art in its own right. The symphonic overture, an overture devoid of any following dramatic work, followed the same basic ideas found in the French overture, without making the dotted-note rhythms a necessity; it adhered to the slow-quick-slow pattern found in those original compositions. The rise of symphonic overture forced operatic overture into a less structured form, allowing it to exist as simply an important (and often contrasting) element within the piece, one that introduced the entire song to an awaiting audience.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

What is a "Fugue"?

A fugue is a fairly strict form of music composition; though it's loosened a bit over time, the most traditional examples of the form are very rigid. A fugue involves a variety of contrapuntal melodies, or parts, that work independently of each other until coming together near the end. It's somewhat like a canon; a fugue shares the same essential elements of counterpoint and shadowing.

A fugue usually has a bare minimum of three individual sections. The first section introduces the melodic theme, or subject, of the fugue in one part. Another part then mimics this theme but with certain variations; this following part can be a set interval above or below the leader or can even be in another key. The fugue melody then shifts to a third voice, which mimics the second; at this point, the first part will sometimes introduce a counterpoint while the second part is being shadowed. This chain of introduction and shadowing continues until every part has addressed the main subject.

The second part of a fugue develops the melody introduced in the first part but with a few crucial changes; these changes can be based on any of the melody's elements provided that it still retains an essential relation to the original subject. This contrapuntal element is given time to develop, moving through the various parts of the fugue at fixed points in time.

The ending of a fugue is usually a return to the original subject melody and its counterpoints. The rules are the most lax at this point in the fugue; the melodies can be repeated in the same or different order and can even incorporate canon-like rounds.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is a Harpsichord?

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.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Music articles you may have missed

Here are some articles I have written recently that do NOT appear in my blog, so you may have missed them. If any of them interest you, take a look:

Play music! The absolute joy of playing music!

Middle C -- The Piano Key That Lauched a Million Careers!

Play notes on the piano keyboard using all 88 piano keys.

Read music! Secrets of music reading and speed sight reading.

Chromatic and whole tone scales

Easy piano for beginners

Free "3 Chords You Absolutely, Positively HAVE to Know!"

The Chord Chart

Harmony -- how musical notes mesh together to form an harmonic sound

Fingering On The Piano


Piano & Pianos

Piano Keys

Piano Notes

Piano Tips

Piano Lessons

Piano Videos  Many short videos on various piano topics.

What is "Counterpoint:?

Counterpoint is a basic element of musical composition found when two or more melodies are played at the same time.

 It's used in nearly every composition, even popular ones. The counterpoint in a rock composition would be the lead vocals against the lead guitar, or the lead keyboards against the bass keyboards in an electronic composition. But it's rare to hear it described as a counterpoint in these situations; it's generally just referred to as a separate part. Counterpoint truly becomes counterpoint in classical fugues and canons, where the layering and shadowing of melodies is the very key to the composition. It's important to note, however, that counterpoint is only applicable to melodic elements; rhythmic elements, while adding a counterpoint to the other instruments in some respect, is not technically considered to be providing a counterpoint.

There exist various ways to create a counterpoint in classical composition, but the most common are retrograde, augmentation, diminution, inversion and dissonance. Creating a counterpoint based on these concepts is fairly simple in the text. A retrograde counterpoint is one in which the following melody is played backwards from the original melody; an augmentation counterpoint is one in which the original melody's notes are lengthened. Likewise, a diminution counterpoint is one in which the original melody's notes are shortened. A counterpoint inversion is one in which the intervals in the following melody are played opposite to the lead melody; this type of counterpoint can also be combined to create an inverted retrograde, playing the following melody backwards by both structure and interval. Finally, a dissonance counterpoint is one that is made dissonant, one that turns the consonant chords into dissonant ones; this is by far the most complicated type of counterpoint.


Monday, July 14, 2008

What is a "Bolero"?

____ The Bolero is a Latin-based genre of music and dance known for its sensuality and intimacy; in fact, it's known to some as the second dance of love -- in addition to the rhumba, of course. But unlike the rhumba, bolero's origins are somewhat unclear and wildly debated. Some say that bolero originated as a Cuban dance that spread quickly to Spain; others say that Spain danced and played a version of the bolero long before Cuba altered the form. According to this idea, the bolero was created in Spain in the 18th century by the dancer and choreographer Sebastien Zezero. The form traveled to Cuba and by the mid-1800s had morphed into an almost entirely different form carrying the same name. The Cuban form of bolero is often thought to be the truest form of bolero, regardless of where it came from, and Pepe Sanchez's 1883 "Tristezas" is considered by some to be the first bolero ever formally written.
But regardless of who created what (and where), the bolero is an important element within both Cuban and Spanish culture, though the form is very different between the two. Cuban bolero is danced and played in 2/4 time and rooted strongly in African percussion. The bolero dance is very focused on couples, and the two dancers remain very close throughout the whole dance. Spanish bolero, on the other hand, is played in 3/4 time with a slightly less rhythmic undertone. The couples dancing Spanish bolero often dance apart (like modern informal fast dancing), only coming completely together at certain parts. Though the Spanish bolero style is still found occasionally, it is the Cuban style that gave birth to the various modern boleros still danced and played today.
Like most foreign music and dance styles, the bolero eventually found its way to the United States in the 1930s and became a sort of craze. As it shifted cultures, however, it underwent a few alterations. The American bolero shares more characteristics with the rhumba than any other traditional style, and it's slightly slower and far more intimate. Additionally, the American bolero was changed from the Cuban-based 2/4 to a slightly more relaxed 4/4.


What a piano players needs to know about a choir

At the risk of sounding obvious, there are certain basic things that piano players need to know as they deal with other musicians. If they lived in a vacuum they would not need to know stuff like this, but we and they just don't have that luxury.

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, July 12, 2008

What is a Chromatic Scale? What is a Chromatic Progression?

Most everyone knows what a major scale sounds like -- if you play all the white keys on the piano from C up to the next C an octave higher, that is the C major scale. You played all the white keys, but left out all the black keys. You played 8 white keys -- from the lowest C up to the highest C -- and you played a combination of whole steps (when you skipped a black key) and half steps (like between E and F, and B and C).

Now instead of leaving out the black keys, play ALL the keys from C to C -- black and white. Instead of an 8 note scale, you have a 13 note scale, and that is called a CHROMATIC SCALE. You could have started at any point -- not just on C -- and it would still be a chromatic scale. So a chromatic scale is entirely made up of half steps -- no whole steps -- you play every key, black and white.

A chromatic progression, therefore, is a chord progression that moves up of down by 1/2 steps; for example, from the C chord to the Db chord, or the F# chord to the G chord, and so on.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Where do you go to become a Professional Jazz Musician?

Where do you go to become a Professional Jazz Musician or work in the Jazz industry? Unless you have the talents of an Oscar Peterson or Amad Jamal or Bill Evans, you can go to school, the same thing you do to become a lawyer or a doctor. Don’t be fooled by thinking that because music is driven by creativity that education does not play a big role because it does. Having the proper fundamentals in music especially in your area of expertise is no longer optional.

Today there are many schools to choose from that have a Collegiate Jazz Program, almost too many. One of the finist is in Boston -- the Berklee School of Music, from which many jazz artists have come. Basically, you need to decide where you want to go and then start to research. Narrow down a list of criteria that you want in a school, and examine factors such as their job placement rate. Eventually you will find what you are looking for.

Depending on your ambition, you can go to college or university and achieve either a diploma, a bachelor’s degree, even a masters and PhD. You should enroll in a program that will provide you with what you need to be successful in your chosen career direction. Some of the careers available when you graduate from a Collegiate Jazz program are:

• Arranger

• Composer

• Conductor

• Copyist

• Orchestrator

• Record Producer

Schools offer real practical experience like co-ops and the chance to play live and perform in small and large ensembles. Each school will provide you with the opportunity to gain experience in collaboration and give you a networking foundation that you can rely on down the road. In today’s world prospective employers want people that have an education because it demonstrates that you have a foundation for learning in this field before they hire you.

School curriculums will offer many courses like composition and arranging, score analysis, jazz fusion composition and post bebop harmonic innovations. You have the ability to select what is most applicable to you and best of all most schools employ a faculty of industry professionals. There is nothing better then learning from someone with real industry experience and practical advice.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

What does "SATB" mean?

For those who haven't grown up around choral music or in church, the term "SATB" might look like some strange code or an abbreviation for some government agency.

But all it means is: S=soprano  A=alto  T=tenor  B=bass. In choral music there is a line of music for each part -- a line for the sopranos, a line of music for the altos, a line for the tenors, and a line for the basses.

The sopranos, of course, are the highest vocalists of the four, so their part usually is the melody -- the tune of the piece -- and is written in the treble clef. Right below the soprano line is the alto line, also in the treble clef, but lower than the soprano line.

In the bass clef the tenor part is on top, and the bass part on the bottom, in keeping with the vocal range of each type of singer.

If you look in a hymnbook (not the more contemporary chorus books) you will see there are 4 parts almost always all the way through the song. Those 4 parts are for the four vocal ranges we just mentioned: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

Piano players just starting out often play out of a hymn book just like it is written -- the trouble is, it was not written for a piano player, but for 4 different ranges of singers. That's why pianists need to learn what chord is represented by each stack of notes, from the bass up to the soprano, so they can then fill in and create a larger sound than they ever could just playing the singers parts.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What is a "Soprano"?

The term soprano is one of many vocal range classifications; it refers to the highest of all vocal ranges. To be considered a soprano, a vocalist's range must fall from middle C to a thirteenth above it -- though many soprano singers have ranges the extend far above that. It's generally a category reserved for females, though some males singing in a falsetto can be called soprano. Soprano singing is sometimes considered to be the most difficult and impressive type; whether or not that's actually true, the vocal quality found in a soprano is unlike that of any other classification.

Soprano vocal ranges can be further divided into several different categories. The specificity of these soprano categories is based entirely on the type of music being sung. In typical choral ensembles, a limited number of soprano categories is used; in fact, many choral ensembles will only use one, labeled simply as soprano. But in some cases, where vocal parts require further harmony, choral arrangements will utilize two categories: soprano I and soprano II. Soprano I is the basic soprano part, the part that would be present as simply soprano in a choral ensemble with just one part. Soprano II, also known as mezzo-soprano, is a bit lower than Soprano I, falling somewhere between an alto and a soprano.

Opera, however, is an entirely different ball game where soprano singers are concerned. Operas often contain no less than five soprano parts, all working on the subtle differences between vocal ranges. The highest of these categories is the dramatic soprano, or lead soprano, which is the voice that is typically associated with traditional opera. It's a type of soprano with an incredibly flexible range, one that extends far above the common soprano voice; for this reason, dramatic soprano singers are usually given the lead roles in operas. This type of soprano is so astronomical in range that it, supposedly, can break glass on the best of days; myth or not, that story clearly illustrates the sheer vocal abilities of a dramatic soprano, abilities that take years to hone.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What is an "Alto"?

The term alto is one of many vocal range classifications; it refers to the second highest possible vocal range. Just lower than a soprano, an alto range will typically fall from the E or F below middle C to the C or D an octave above it; it's the voice that falls between a tenor and a low, or mezzo, soprano. Alto singers are typically female, but it's entirely possible for a male to fall into the alto category. One a female, it's a voice rich and deep, one that is easily able to convey any sort of emotion. Though the soprano voice is highly coveted in opera and choral singing, the alto voice is very favorable in rock music or other types of popular composition. Karen Carpenter and Toni Braxton represent the allure of such a voice; they are two of the most famous alto singers in popular music.

Alto singers are often known for carrying the weight of the upper register in a choral ensemble. Though the soprano voice is responsible for the majority of a song's melody, the alto voice is what fills out the chord, creating the harmonies absolutely essential to a song's functioning. It's the kind of voice that sometimes goes unnoticed in a choral ensemble (most people hearing a piece for the first time seek out the primary melody), but one that holds the song together; without the alto voice, a piece would feel unfinished, nowhere near as full. As a result, most alto singers have a heightened sense of harmonic vocalizing; it's not uncommon for an alto to naturally sing a lower harmony to any piece of music put in front of them. This is a trait desirable in almost any musical group responsible for writing its own songs; the ability to harmonize and harmonize well is the very basis of an alto singer's craft.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What is "Figured Bass"? I, IV, V7, etc.

Figured bass is a type of notation that uses numbers to denote certain intervals or chords. It was used extensively during the classical period and is still taught in college music theory courses today.

 It can be viewed as a sort of musical shorthand; only the bass note is shown on the staff, and the numbers written underneath indicate the general idea of what should be played. Figured bass is very similar to Baroque era's basso continuo, a type of minimal notation given to accompanists. The accompanists working with the basso continuo or figured bass knew the basic structure of the song but had to rely on improvisation to complete the entire piece. Improvisation is important here because figured bass only indicates the song's harmony; the rest is decided by each musician, depending on the style and tone of the music and the other instruments involved.

The figured bass notation is based solely on the bass line. The bass note is shown on the staff, as usual, but underneath are a series of numbers. These numbers in figured bass notation denote the intervals with which the chord is to be played; any accidentals are written next to the numbers. For instance, if an F is shown on the staff with a four and six underneath it, the figured bass notation is telling the musician to play an F chord with notes a fourth and sixth above the F. And if that four, for example, is shown with a flat sign, the figured bass is telling the musician to play the fourth a half step down.

If the chord contains a third or a fifth, however, these numbers are often omitted from the figured bass. A third and fifth with any bass note creates a triad; the sheer commonality of triads led those using figured bass to get rid of the numbers and simply assume their presence. Likewise, if only one number is present underneath the bass note, figured bass assumes the missing note to be a third.

Even the bass notes themselves are sometimes left out of the figured bass notation to keep the shorthand truly short. If a bass note repeats itself for several bars, only the first instance of the note will be shown in the figured bass; after that, the only thing to denote the chord will be the series of numbers. Until it changes, the bass note here is completely assumed.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

What is a Ballad?

In the world of jazz, a ballad is a slower piece, sometimes very slow, where the soloist often falls way behind the beat to make a point, and then at some point catches up. Some of the great jazz ballad singers were June Christi, Sara Vaughn, Billie Holliday, Shirley Horn, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Diana Shuur, Anita O'Day, Diana Krall, and of course the incomparable Ella. They sang many other styles as well, but in my book, nobody sang ballads like these gals.

Outside of jazz ballads are an increasingly common musical concept in modern popular music. They're generally thought of as slow, highly melodic songs that tell of some sort of heartbreak; there's even a whole CD dedicated to power ballads, the result of heavier rock bands taking it down a few notches to tell about love gained or lost. But true ballads, in the strictest sense of the word, are far more complicated than just taking a song's tempo down by a few beats per minute. True ballads date back to way before heavy metal or modern folk music. True ballads are an integral part of historical folklore.

Ballads are songs that tell a story, like poetry or folk stories set to music. The stories told in ballads tend to be well-known and oft-repeated and often incorporate tall tales. Increasingly, however, ballads have been adapted to the plight of the everyman; ballads are the peoples' music and will always tell about the people of that particular time.

Ballads are distinguishable from other types of songs by a few important characteristics. The lyrics in ballads tend to focus far more on action than reaction and will usually be sung in the third person, like many literary folk stories. Ballads also tend to focus on the song's lyrical (as opposed to instrumental) qualities; since a ballad is focused so heavily on the story being told, it's vital that the lyrics get first billing. Because of this, the lyrics tend to be simple and easy to repeat. The chorus, especially, must be memorable; it was designed specifically to be sung in unison by the audience, many of who will have only heard it once. This memorable quality is vital also because ballads, in the truest sense of the word, will almost always have been passed down from generation to generation. The ballads will certainly evolve over time, but the basic elements of story will remain in tact.

Because true ballads tell folk stories, it's not surprising that ballads have remained a large part of the folk music genre. But even in that most integrity-based area of music, ballads haven't always maintained their essential elements. The notion of ballads, just like the ballads themselves, has evolved so much over time that the ballads of today barely resemble those of the original criteria. Still, despite their differences, they are still considered ballads -- just in a much looser form (consider the modern ballad "American Pie"). Power ballads, on the other hand, can hardly be called ballads, even by those who allow the word to be very loosely interpreted. Power ballads rarely fit any of the criteria of original ballads, other than the frequently found subject of a lover scorned. No matter how slow, melodic or heartbreaking certain songs are, they can't always be called ballads; a catchy chorus does not always a ballad make.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Acoustic Pianos

The term acoustic piano is a fancy, more descriptive way of referring to a normal piano. It's typically only called an acoustic piano when being mentioned in conjunction with digital or electronic pianos; without those barriers, the acoustic piano needs no distinction. It is, simply, a piano. It comes in various forms, some better than others, and is usually considered a part of the percussion section; an acoustic piano has the potential to drive the rhythm just as effectively as the drums.

One of the most startling facts for a music-loving child to learn is that an acoustic piano is actually a string instrument; growing accustomed to violins and cellos as rote for the string section, it seems so unlikely to us as children that an acoustic piano could fall in that category. An acoustic piano produces sound by a series of strings stretched on a frame; the strings on a grand acoustic piano are stretched horizontally, producing a thick sound, while the strings on an upright acoustic piano are stretched vertically, tending to make the sound more tinny. The keys on an acoustic piano are attached to tiny hammers; when triggered by pressing a key, these hammers hit a string and produce that familiar acoustic piano sound.

An acoustic piano consists of a large wooden frame enclosing the strings and pedal mechanics and a keyboard which is used to actually play the instrument. The keyboard generally has 88 keys (though sometimes less or more, depending on the manufacturer), each of which corresponds to a specific pitch; these pitches are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet and retain that name regardless of the octave. The 88 keys on an acoustic piano hold roughly seven octaves with the lowest octave starting to the left; the white keys represent the seven natural notes of a diatonic scale, and the black keys function as the accidentals.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Improvisation: Creating a New Melody & More

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 creating a new version of a song while performing it, a technique found most often in jazz and fusion (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 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 have used free improvisation include Lennie Tristano, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane, among others.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Piano Player's Toolbox of Cool Techniques

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