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.

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.

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.

 

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.

The Importance of Music in Schools

There have been many times when music has been treated as an entertainment class and not an academic. I think it might be because music is one of the earliest forms of learning (think ancient times). Now, as a musician and educator, it might seem biased for me to rant and rave about the importance of music in schools, but I intend on using examples of proven research and experiences to demonstrate music’s importance in schools.

Music helps improve performance of other academics. Music has been long associated with mathematics. By learning beat, rhythm, and scales, children are essentially learning how to divide, create fractions, and recognize patterns. I also believe that reading music ties in with reading; when I went into sixth grade, I was at a fourth-grade reading level. This was also my second year of learning flute in band, which started expanding on my musical knowledge. I truly believe that being in band helped increase my reading level to a mid-sixth grade level by the end of the school year. Reciting and reading music also utilizes the memory part of the brain, recollecting short term memory that eventually leads to long term memory. There is also physical memory when learning to play an instrument, as well as basic physics of sound.

Non-music teachers or parents may view the class as a way to entertain the students, this might be because of the social aspects. When you perform music for others, it might bring them joy which brings them closer to you, which might also help with making new friends. If you play with a group of musicians, you share a sense of fellowship. Band was a prime example of this; I had many friends of different ages that I could connect with. Music is a universal language; it helps us connect with people from other cultures when we listen to and appreciate music from that culture, even if we don’t understand what is being said.

Music teaches life skills as well. Music not only develops social skills, but also reasoning, self-improvement, emotional development, intellect, creative, discipline, confidence, and teamwork skills. For example, working to create good music rather than mediocre, through consistent practicing, perseverance through struggling parts, recording and listening to improvements, and adding emotion. When you perform, and people praise you for your improvement, skills, and efforts, it instills confidence. When you work with an ensemble, like band, orchestra, or choir, that instills teamwork.

The research is there. Not only is music an entertaining outlet, but it has countless benefits that anyone who has taken several years of music courses would recognize. So, I hope you can appreciate just how wonderful learning music is, and recognize what benefits it could bring, especially to our schools.