Music’s Intellect: Math

Math, science, history, reading, language. Five skills learned in school that researchers and musicians argue are tied to music, especially to those who learn music. A previous post, “The importance of music in schools,” quickly goes into these aspects and how they can benefit those five areas of learning. However, this post, as well as future posts titled “Music’s Intellect” will dive into how I think each of these skills learned, ties into music and goes beyond. So, how does music tie into math?

Rhythm is the division of short and long sounds or silences. Much like fractions, you have a whole and can break it down into smaller or “shorter” sizes that can still equal the whole. Like a dollar, a whole note (a type of rhythm) is equal to four quarter notes. They equal the same length, but one is one long sound and the other is four shorter sounds. Those that are familiar with music can think of a variety of rhythm combinations that create unique songs.

Another mathematical aspect in music is Tempo (the measurement of time). Some songs are fast and some are slow, all of which is measured by beats per minute. You could have 60 beats per minute, just like 60 seconds, or 120 beats per minute which is much faster.

So math is the technicality of how music is measured. However, it also can create expression as well. One song, played at two different speeds can change the whole feeling of the music. Also, slowing down the speed in certain sections of a lyrical song can tug at your heartstrings, but doing the same thing in a song that is supposed to sound like a racing train, ends up loosing its feeling. Rhythm usually does not change, because the combination of short and long sounds/silences make a song unique to other songs, but the interpretation of the tempo or speed can make a piece of music unique to the performer.

All in all, music is an intellectual pleasure that ties math into technicality and expression. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to give a like and leave your thoughts or ideas of future content in the comments section below.

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Practice Smart, Not Hard

There is a saying I’ve heard among musicians, “you only need to practice as many days as you eat.” While this is a good guide to live by, it misses two very important things. One, how long should I practice? And two, how should I practice? As a youth, I would play through my songs and pieces at speed anywhere between fifteen minutes and six hours a day (the latter was high school). But, there is a difference between playing through and methodically practicing, in other words, if you practice efficiently you can accomplish more in less time than just playing through several times. You’ll need your instrument, music, a metronome, and self-discipline. Here are the steps I take:

1. Start Slow

You are probably familiar with the saying “slow and steady wins the race.” The same couldn’t be more true when learning a new piece of music. Start as slow as you need to go to play the pitches and rhythms accurately. If you have a certain passage giving you more trouble than the rest of the piece, work out that passage, then slowly add the rest of the piece. If you are unsure of a passage or having too much difficulty figuring it out on your own, do not be afraid to ask for help.

2. Aim for Accuracy

Staying at a slow pace, you should work to play the whole piece accurately (pitches, rhythms, dynamics, etc.). It can be grueling, but I say you should be able to play the piece five times IN A ROW without making mistakes. Once you are able to do that, than you can go on to the next step.

3. Steadily Increase Tempo

Once you can play accurately those five times in a row, than you can increase the tempo or speed by two or three bpm’s (beats per minute). Once you’ve done this, then aim for the goal in step two of playing five times in a row accurately. After you’ve done that, increase the tempo again by 2 or 3 bpm’s. Keep repeating this process until you’ve reach the recommended performance tempo.

That’s basically it. It might seem like a painfully slow process, but once you get through the first step, the rest usually comes pretty quick. Not only do you learn the piece more quickly, you also learn it more accurately because you’re not retraining your brain to unlearn your mistakes.

As a bonus, here are a few other ideas you can incorporate with your first step:

Sight-read the first time. Not only does it work on your ability to read on the spot without stopping or starting over, it also helps you discover the passages you have the most trouble with.

Mark your part. If you have made the same mistake more than once, than make some sort of mark that you can easily read while playing (i.e. mark a natural next to that note you keep playing flat).

Work from the end to the beginning. Most people remember the beginning and end of a piece, but sometimes you practice the beginning so much, that it is flawless and the rest of the piece is jumbled. With this exercise, you start with the last measure, add the previous measure and play them both accurately together, and keep repeating the process until you get to the first measure.

That’s all I have. If you liked this post, be sure to give a like and share with others. If you liked a certain idea or have one of your own, leave your thoughts in the comments.

Why Isn’t Band Highly Regarded

It has been a sort of pet peeve to see orchestras highly regarded around the world, while concert band is ignored. Is it because of it’s history, diversity, or some unknown reason? Looking at the U.S. alone, many major cities have orchestras that are paid professionally (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, etc.). However, when trying to think of concert bands who are paid, the only thought that comes to mind are military bands. Why is this? There is plenty of band repertoire that is not march or military oriented. Let’s explore some opinions as to why band is essentially swept under the rug.

As far as I understand, concert band, the way we know it, is a relatively new concept. Orchestras have been around for at least four hundred years. Band on the other hand may have only been around for a little over one hundred years. Orchestras have been around much longer and have seen many evolutions to its composition of instruments, band not so much. The first 20th-century band piece was Gustav Holst’s First Suite for Band. Maybe this is where concert band gets its march reputation.

Band may also be viewed as amateur. After all, it was not long after band music started emerging that it would be introduced into public schools. In the U.S. bands are usually the music program funded first, likely because of its diversity to play not only concert music, but also marching bands. I think it is because marching bands are viewed as being very “American,” but also because they are also often associated with sports, which are highly funded here in the states. Also, many professional orchestras today have band instruments included, so maybe concert bands are viewed as the leftover players who did not make the cut, and are therefore amateurs. This really irritates me though, as there are far more string players per orchestra than winds. There could be fifty violins and three flutes or two clarinets. I understand that there is a balance to orchestra sound, but it is unfair to disregard everyone else and assume they’re amateurs.

Finally, maybe its the diversity of band instruments as well. They have been used in folk music, jazz bands, rock bands, and pretty much any kind of music you can think of. Maybe concert band is to close to symphony orchestra to some listeners and their use in other genres is different. Maybe their diversity in these many genres is why they are regarded as amateur. It is difficult to say.

So concert band may not be as regarded because of its history, its education purposes, its diversity, or maybe it just has not got its footing yet in the professional world. After all, there are professional concert bands out there. Maybe, we just need to wait and see.

If you liked this post, be sure to give a like and share with others. If you have your own theories, leave your thoughts in the comments. Thank you.

10 Facts About Mozart

Most people are at least familiar with the name Mozart and his music. However, some might not be aware of some facts about his life or music. So, here are ten facts you may not know about Mozart.

1. The first instrument he learned

By age three, Mozart was imitating the clavier playing of his talented older sister Maria Anna. The clavier is an old-fashioned stringed instrument that also had a keyboard. He would soon after learn the violin and harpsichord.

2. First tour

At the age of six, Mozart went on tour around Europe traveling by stagecoach. He played for royalty, for the well-known musicians of the day, as well as bars. Being well traveled at such a young age also helped him to learn to speak fifteen languages.

3. First compositions

Although he first started composing at the age of four, he began composing symphonies at age eight, and composing his first opera by age eleven.

4. His first proposal

Marriage came at an earlier age during Mozarts time, but he gave his first proposal to Marie Antoinette, future queen of France, at the age of seven.

5. Mozarts Marriage

After being madly in love with Aloysia Weber and being rejected by her, Mozart would go on to marry Constanze Weber, Aloysia’s sister. He called her “little mouse” and they had six children together, two of which lived to adulthood.

6. Superstitions and death

Mozart was a very superstitious man, which might explain his reaction to the mysterious stranger who came to his house one night and commissioned Mozart to write a requiem. Thinking it was for his own death, Mozart worked feverishly. Some people speculate that this is what drove him to die at the age of thirty-five of kidney failure and malnutrition. However, Mozart spent most of his life in poor health.

7. Fame, but not fortune

Mozart was very famous during his time, but aristocrats would often pay him with trinkets such as watches and snuff boxes, rather than with the money he needed. At the peak of his career, Mozart earned as much money in one concert as his father earned in a year. However, Mozart seemed to spend money faster than he earned it, for he died with very little possessions (six coats, three silver spoons, 346 books, his walnut piano, and his pool table).

8. A shared theme

There are striking similarities between Mozart’s opening theme to “Bastien and Bastienne” and Beethoven’s opening theme for is Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” Some might argue that is is the same theme. However, it is doubtful that Beethoven was familiar with Mozart’s then unpublished piece. A likely explanation of the similarities is that both composers took the theme from another unknown source.

9. Mozart’s name

Most people know this famous composer by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. However, his full name is “Joannes Crysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.” His baptismal names, Joannes Crysostomus, were often not used but sometimes parenthesized either with these names or their German equivalents (Johann
Crysostom). Theophilus is a Greek name meaning “lover of God” or “loved by God;” Amadeus is the Latin form, which Mozart preferred to use.

10. His music today

It is amazing, yet not surprising that More recordings of Mozart’s music are bought today than recordings of any other composer’s work. Because he was prolific with his writing, to play all of Mozart’s music in a row would take about 202 hours.

Thanks for reading about the famous Mozart. If you liked what you read, be sure to give a like and leave a comment below. You may also be interested in reading about Mozart through “Lives of the Musicians” by Kathleen Krull or Wikipedia, or play a little trivia on Useful Trivia.

Lindsey Stirling’s Warmer in the Winter Review

Yes, this song has been out for over a year now, but Lindsey Stirling release a YouTube video a few weeks ago. This post will go over my review of the video and song.

Starting with the video, I thought that it was brilliantly done. The song itself has a jazzy vibe to it, and what better way to feature that then to showcase a ’50’s style movie set. In 50’s films, they did a lot of set changes on one stage, much like what we saw in this video. Another feature that emphasizes this jazzy tune, is the swing dancing done throughout the video. Swing dancing and big bands were a very big thing back then. This video reminded me of films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” which I love with the choreography, sets, and one take shots.

Looking at the song itself, I throughly enjoy it. Lindsey did a great job of creating a tune that features a jazz style while still having that faint hint of today’s pop culture; much like “La La Land.” It was kind of surprising how well the trombone feature worked with the violin, as you don’t hear the two together often, but it sounded nice. I also thought Stirling’s lyrics were cleverly thought out making the song relatable to almost everyone. It makes for a fun, catchy, and humorous song. The one negative thing I have to say about the whole thing is how little the violin is featured. For anyone who does not know Lindsey Stirling, she got her claim to fame as a dancing violinist, which was inpiring to many young instrumentalists, like me. So for the violin being mostly undertones in the song and featured for maybe forty seconds of the over three-minute video, may be a little discouraging to those who not only play an instrument, but hope for others to be inspired to play an instrument.

Aside from the one bit of criticism, this video is well worth watching. You can watch here. Feel free to leave your likes and thoughts below.

Why You Should Admire Composers

If you listen to any pop or other popular music in this day and age, you might admire the singer who writes their own lyrics, but the creativity usually stops there. I admire the people who create a memorable tune or even put a creative spin on an old one. I admire the composers and arrangers.

I have arranged a couple of pieces of music, and it sometimes feels very daunting. However, just like any skill, it takes many hours of practice to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about that skill. At least with arranging, the tune is already there, with composing, you have to try to create something original, fresh, unique. So, to do my best to break it down, here are three reasons why composers should be admired.

1. Familiarity
Nearly every developed skill has theories or a set of rules to follow. It is no different with writing music. There are many rules that have withheld the test of time and are used in popular music today. An example of this, is many popular songs using the same chord progression as Pachebel’s Canon in D, which was written over three-hundred years ago. One reason for this, is most humans are hard-wired to play it safe, or be surrounded by the “familiar.” That’s why a song you may have not liked at first, grows on you after hearing it a hundred times on the radio.

2. Uniqueness
When following the rules that breed familiarity, it becomes more and more difficult to come up with something that sounds new, yet aesthetically pleasing. That’s one reason I admire composers, not only do they know their theory, but can still create something new using that theory. On the other hand, I also have admiration for the innovators. These are iconic composers, such as Cage, Stravinsky, and Beethoven who broke much of the rules of music theory during their time. These composers’ music may have been accepted or ridiculed then, but they created iconic pieces that are still performed and listened to today.

3. Subtle Engagement Strategies
A final acclaim, is the subtle changes made during a piece. In a pop song, this could be a singer singing solo and then the bass dropping in. But, it could also be a change of instruments, an increase of speed like William’s Jaws theme, or dynamics like in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, or adding decorative notes to a theme like Mozart’s 12 Variations of “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman,” (aka. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). All these techniques and more, keeps the music from going stagnate and in turn, keeps the audience engaged.

All in all, great composers are talented writers of music. They are much like great authors, but conveying a story of emotions, feelings, and more without the need of words. They write unique, innovative works that breed familiarity to the listening ear; and engage us through subtle, yet dynamic changes, that can tug at your emotions. Therefore, composers are much to be admired.

 

Top 5 Favorite Versions of the U.S. National Anthem

The Star-Spangled Banner is an anthem that encompasses hope, pride, love, and devotion given to the land that fought for freedom. The country known as The United States of America. While it is truly difficult to pick my favorite versions of this national anthem, in honor of those who fought for mine and others freedom, here are my current top arrangements of the U.S. National anthem:

5. Arrangement by Jack Stamp
This band arrangement seems to capture the inspiration that Francis Scott Key saw when he witnessed the sun rise and the U.S. flag waved at the top of the fort during the U.S. victory. It starts soft with the hollow sound of clarinets and slowly builds to a triumphant chorus of the whole band.

4. Epic Star-Spangled Banner
Yes, that is the title of this YouTube video. It was hard to decide whether to even have this in my top 5 list because of the sound effects and wierd videography at times. But putting that aside, I believe this is a great arrangement that starts with the innocent voice of a young girl, which builds into an orchestra and choir that captures the struggles and perseverance people went through for our country. Finally, it climaxes to a triumphant point by using the full diversity of the orchestra, choir, and pipe organ.

3. CWU Marching Band
While I might be partial to this arrangement because it is the same college band I participated in, I never played this Lewis Norfleet arrangement. It is a prideful rendition with powerful brass chords, awesome passing of melody with quick added flutters, and ridiculously high screaming trumpets. It brings tears to my eyes how beautifully bold and powerful this arrangement is.

2. 500 high school students sing the national anthem in a hotel
When I first saw this video I nearly started crying. This hauntingly beautiful performance almost made me start crying. With this powerhouse of a group singing beautifully and on key, in a venue with a lot of reverberation, it almost sounds sacred. To me, this performance captures the feeling of rememberance. Rememberance of those who fought for us, those who will, and the rememberance that we all should come together and treat each other as free people.

Honorable Mention: Malea Emma
It was hard not to include this talented 7-year old in the top five list. The reason I didn’t include her was because some of the growling she did took away from her performance; also that technique, as well as the vibrato she uses at such an early age will probably ruin her vocal chords at an earlier point in her life compared to others (I’m not a vocal expert though). However, Malea Emma has a truly amazing voice, Very powerful for such a young age; and talk about that range: do we have another Mariah Carey in our midst? What is also amazing, is the fact that she sang in pitch, accapella the entire time.

1. Whitney Houston
Many would claim Whitney Houston as one of the greatest singers of all time. Another tear jerking performance, her 1991 Super Bowl performance does a great job of encompassing Whitney’s beautifully powerful and gentle voice with the wonderful Florida Symphony. You also can’t help but feel the spirit of America, it’s land, and it’s people poring out of this soulful performance.

If you are interested in listening to any of these performances, you may find them on YouTube. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

10 Facts About Medieval Music

Many people might disregard medieval music for being old and outdated. However, the adaptions made during the period may have shaped the West-European music we know today. So, here are 10 facts about medieval music.

1. Singers Were Imported
Back during a time when music was not written down, when churches were interested in a new song they would import a singer from another part of Europe that was familiar with the tune.

2. The Growth of Feasts
Beginning in the 9th century, more feasts were being added to liturgical calendar. With that, new texts and/or melodies were adapted for each service.

3. Liturgical Drama’s
Around the year 980, liturgical dramas were starting to emerge. They would later expand to lengthy plays with scenery and costumes, singing and later dialogue.

4. Polyphony
Church music began as plainchants, which were songs with one sung melody, no other parts or instrumentation. Polyphony, which is known as two or more melodies at once, would come later and start as an elaboration of the plainchant and evolve into its own entity.

5. First Signs of Rhythm in Europe
Notre Dame’s school contributed to replacing even, unmeasured polyphony and plainchants with recurrent patterns of short and long notes, known as rhythmic modes. However, the rhythmic notations we are familiar with would take longer to develop.

6. Earliest Signs of Secular Music
Monks during the medieval period did most of the documenting during the time. This is the speculated reason why the first traces of secular music (non sacred music) is not seen until the 11th century when there was a surge in development and preservation of secular music.

7. Troubadour Music
The first troubadour was William IX of Aquitaine, but troubadour music became most popular during the 2nd half of the 12th century. Today, 2600 poems by more than 450 authors survive. Of those, about 275 melodies by 42 troubadours survive.

8. Instrument Participation
Literary and pictorial evidence shows instrument participation in troubadour and trouvère songs. They do not depict how much instrument participation there was, but scholars believe that the instrument participation could be: strings playing unison with voice, playing opening or ending phrases, playing during interludes, or playing drones (a long held note).

9. The Lack Of Instrumental Music
While there are references of instrumental music for nearly every social situation, not much medieval instrumental music survives. This is likely because people like peasants and Jongleurs probably had a repertory of both song and dance music that was passed by oral tradition. It was also like because much medieval music was passed through poems instead of music notation.

10. Content of Secular Music
Musicians such as Minstrels, Troubadours, Trouvères, and Jougleurs performed music that often depicted a story. Whether this was a love story, a mythilacal story, or a story depicting the news they have heard during their travels.

All in all, there are aspects from our modern music that we can also see in medieval music, such as storytelling, dramas (musicals), styles, and even the use of instruments supporting the voice. There are also aspects that would have not been possible if not for the innovations during the Middle Ages, such as rhythmic notation, and the expansion of styles such as polyphony. Yet, we should also remember the aspects of medieval music that made it unique to its own period.

Sources: Hoppin’s “Medieval Music.” 1978. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

What I Think of Michelle Khare’s Song

Lately I’ve gotten into watching Michelle Khare and the challenges she takes on and uploads onto her YouTube channel. On there I recently watched “I Trained Like A Pop Star For 60 Days,” and found it rather inspiring. This is because of her background, her commitment and relationship with the song, and stepping out of her comfort zone.

Michelle’s music background, as far as I know, has been singing in school musicals. She was not musically trained, nor written any music before doing this video. I am a rule follower, and as a classically trained musician, I get caught up in all the rules and steps to follow, that I get to nervous to compose anything of my own. The closest I’ve come to music writing, is making arrangements of other works or writing cadenzas for a concerto or two. For someone who has as little background as Michelle, it shows me, “hey, maybe I can do it too.”

Khare took time to write out a song that would directly relate to a time in her life when she was put down by others. It paints a vivid picture of the scene, but is also vague with how if someone tells her that she can’t do “it,” whatever “it” is, that she takes those words of judgement and negativity as motivation to do better, and be the winner. This is not only relatable to her, but to anyone who has struggled through something and was not supported by others. It makes the song itself, moving.

One thing that Michelle seems to consistently do that inspires me is stepping out of her comfort zone. Breaking out of my comfortable space is something that I have struggled with my entire life. Khare does it frequently, which results in much knowledge and growth. This is truly inspiring to someone who loves learning and growing as a unique individual, especially on a topic that resonates, such as creating your own song.

Michelle’s perseverance throughout the challenge was truly inspiring and motivating. It has inspired me to take the next step in my life and career. You can find her video on her channel and find her song here.

Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project Review

Virginia Mason Bellevue Medical Center’s “Live at Lunch” series is a 10-week noon to 1:30 concert series in downtown Bellevue, showcasing local bands for free. The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project is a group that focuses on the art of steel pan (also known as steel drum) music from the Trinidad area. The location was in the out-door plaza of Bellevue Connection, which is in the heart of downtown in Bellevue, Washington.

The Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project (we’ll call them SWSPP) had six musicians playing on a variety of pitched steel drums (Soprano, Alto, etc.), drum set, and auxiliary percussion (i.e. congas, shakers, tambourine, etc.), with some members switching instruments. The Caribbean styled music that the SWSPP played was pretty much the same concept for almost every song. Each piece established a recurring section/melody or two and had some other sections in between. As each piece would progress, the recurring sections would be more embellished, either from building chord progressions, adding notes in between the main melody, or adding instruments. Every song was performed memorized, which is impressive. Though not all pieces were announced, the second piece, “Pan Women,” was very enjoyable. The group was very well synced together in syncopated rhythms with some chord building and embellishments toward the end of the song. “I Love Haiti” was another piece that stuck out. From it’s minor to major switches, to clashing chords, and improvisation toward the end, the piece gave some enjoyable elements that you do not hear in many songs. The sixth piece (no name announced), was the only piece with no steel pans. This fast, sophisticated, driving piece probably had the best interaction between musicians, featuring the drum set player improvising on (I think) djembe. I also enjoyed “Coming Home” for its very pop like, yet Caribbean like sound. Some other pieces were, “Blues for Us,” Distant Lover,” “Moving On,” and “Which Way Out.”

Because I do not see it often, it is always a pleasure to watch steel pan performed live. However, with the venue being a rather new location for hosting performers and being lunch hour, it served more as background music for a relatively small crowd. This meant that there was much talking during songs and little clapping at the end of songs. There was even a couple dancing. It just seemed that many people did not stop to appreciate and acknowledge the time the performers put in. But, even the performers were dressed more casually then their other performances seen on YouTube. Again, I did enjoy the SWSPP’s performance. The instruments were well balanced, as long as some did not get close to microphones; they had a nice acoustic sound and is consistent to their other live performances that were recorded and put onto YouTube. I did not find a studio recording to compare to. They seemed more technical then musical. It would have been much more interesting if there were elements like more dynamics, but maybe they were staying true to the style. My final bit of criticism is that spoken parts, such as announcements, should be practiced as much as the music. That way, if there are less “ums,” than a group, such as the SWSPP, would sound even more professional.

All in all, the Seattle Women’s Steel Pan Project was a fun, great, casual performance that many people would enjoy.