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Basics of Music: The Language of Sound

A concise description of music for the beginner
by

Greg Lloyd

on 27 September 2017

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Transcript of Basics of Music: The Language of Sound

The Language of Sound for the Beginner
The Basics of Music:
Rhythm: Makin' Beats!
The Two Most Basic Elements
Beat:
A steady pulse that can be heard or felt in music
What you tap your foot or snap your fingers to
Usually arranged or organized by a Time Signature:
Time Signature describes the number of beats in a bar and what value of time gets the beat.
Time Signatures to know: Common Time (4/4), Waltz (3/4), Cut Time (2/2)
Bar:
A regular repeating unit of time that contains beats
Syncopation:
the purposeful disruption of regular time
Creates a physical reaction, makes you wanna shake it!
Front vs. Back Beat
Front - Classical Music, Marches (& others)
emphasis on beats 1 and 3
Back - Rock, Gospel, Blues, Jazz (& others)
emphasis on beats 2 and 4
A Melodic Breakdown
Melody
A series of notes or pitches in succession
A musical phrase

Rhythm
The relationship between sound and time
Includes Beat and Syncopation
Music as a Language
by Victor Wooten
Describing Melody
Contour - The "Shape" of the melody
How it moves up and down
Conjunct = Smooth
"Amazing Grace"
Disjunct = Jagged
The US National Anthem

Can you think of one conjunct and one disjunct melody?

Listening for Melody
Listening for Melody
"usually" the most prominent part of a song
Often accompanied by lyrics or text
Often sung
Does NOT have to stay the same
A melody does not have to describe a vocal line: in some music other instruments may take over melodic duties in different sections of a song
Example: what instrument is performing the main melody in the intro to the Led Zeppelin song "Since I've Been Lovin You"?
Other Elements to Know:
Texture: Describes how the individual voices interact with each other
Polyphonic: two lines of simultaneous melody
Homophonic: melody with supporting chords (very common)
Timbre: The unique sound quality of the instrument or part
Trumpet vs Saxophone, Violin vs. Guitar, Acoustic Guitar vs. Electric Guitar
Coltrane vs. Rollins
Polyrhythm: two unlike rhythms played on top of each other i.e. 2 over 3, 3 over 5, etc. Very common in EDM and dance music
Even More to Know!
Heterophonic Texture
Variations of a single melody
Dissonance vs Consonance
Dissonance = sounds that clash or sound unpleasant
Consonance = sounds that go together or are pleasing
Identifying Rhythm
1) First, try tapping or clapping along with the music. This is called finding the
beat
.
2) Once you've got the beat, try and identify the number of beats in a bar (the regular repeating unit of time that contains the beat). This is called
meter.
A common number of beats in a bar is 2 or 4. This is called
duple meter
. If a bar contains a multiple of 3 beats (usually 3, 6, or 9), it's called
triple meter
.
3) To determine meter, try assigning repeating numbers to each beat (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4...) until you find a number that lines up best with the music.
Listen to the following examples, find the beat, and identify duple or triple meter.
Chords and Harmony
Chord:
two or more tones played simultaneously. Chords do two things: they want to either move somewhere or stay in the same place. A
Chord Progression
is a musical version of a sentence; a series of chords with a beginning, middle, and end.
Harmony:
two different melodies played at the same time that interact with each other, hopefully in an interesting way.
Chords and Harmony are additional tools a musical composer can use to make the music interesting, grab your attention, or make musical ideas develop.
A chord progression and a melody line put together are the building blocks of a common musical form: a
song
!
Musical Form and Structure
We've just described some of the foundational building blocks of music. If harmony, chords, melody, and rhythm are the bricks and mortar, then
form
is the structure that is created by putting those bricks together. Form can be defined as how an overall piece of music is structurally arranged.

Repetition is a essential means of creating form in music...listen for musical ideas/lyrics that repeat either verbatim or in similar ways over and over.

There are many types of musical forms from symphonies to songs to dances, but in this class we will mostly be dealing with various song forms that use elements like verse and chorus to create the larger song.

Verse:
melody is repetitive but lyrics often change. Often is one of the first ideas presented.
Chorus:
lyrics and melody both are repeated verbatim.
Bridge:
a short interlude that separates chorus or verse sections in order to provide musical interest.

A very traditional pop song form (
Verse/Chorus form
) might go something like this:
Intro -- Verse 1 -- Chorus -- Verse 2 -- Chorus -- Verse 3 -- Chorus -- Bridge -- Chorus -- End

Musical Form in practice
Taylor Swift's song "Wildest Dreams" is an example of very traditional (some might say vanilla) pop song form. Listen to the recording and try to fill in a musical timeline using Intro, Verse, Chorus, and Bridge.
Identifying Timbre
Pronounced "Tamber".
Describes the unique differences in sounds between instruments.
Somewhat subjective yet also universal
Practice describing quality of sound with words:
Identify the instrument being played
Then describe the sound it's making using whatever adjectives feel right to you.
Some instruments can have multiple timbers i.e. clean electric guitar vs. distorted electric guitar or clean trumpet versus muted trumpet.

Timbre homework
Find solo recordings of the following instruments, or recordings that make it easy to hear each instrument in isolation. Youtube is a good resource for this, but CDs, records, and digital files you own are also useful.
Describe the sound (timbre) of these instruments in detail. Use 3-5 adjectives to clearly describe how each instrument sounds to you. The finished assignment should take the form of the following list of instruments paired with your descriptions of what each instrument sounds like. This is a somewhat subjective assignment: I am looking for
creativity and variety
in your descriptions.
The idea here is that you are starting a personal reference library that you can use to identify what instruments are being played when presented with an unfamiliar recording. Add to this when you hear new/unfamiliar instruments during this course. This will help you identify musical style on the listening portions of the midterm and final!
Complete and post on Canvas: you will be graded on the detail, accuracy, and variety of your descriptions. Reference the Canvas A-level rubric for more information on what I'm expecting
Acoustic Guitar
Clean Electric Guitar
Distorted Electric Guitar
Upright (acoustic) Bass
Electric Bass
Snare Drum
Tom-Tom
Bass Drum
Hi-Hat
Crash Cymbal
Male Tenor Vocals
Male Baritone Vocals
Female Alto Vocals
Female Soprano Vocals
Violin
Viola
Cello
Bowed String Bass
Trumpet
Trombone
Tuba
Clarinet
Bassoon



Flute
Oboe
Piano
Synthesizer
Hearing Syncopation
Now that you can tap along with the beat and feel regular rhythm and meter, let's practice listening for syncopation. This is a recording of the instrumental beat from the Lil Wayne song "She Will". What sounds in this beat are using syncopation, and what elements are using a more straight ahead, regular feel?
Another common musical form is called a theme and variations. This is where an idea is stated, and then embellished upon in different ways, while still being recognizable as the initial stated theme.

A musical form often used in jazz music (and elsewhere) is called
A-B-A
, or
A-A-B-A
, depending on the specific piece of music. This is where a theme is stated (A section), followed by a improvised solo section (B section), followed by a restatement of the original theme (A section).
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