Archive for September, 2007


And tone color makes it four…

Sunday, September 30th, 2007
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Do you remember the great jazz tune titled “Four” by Jon Henricks? It told a story about what Jon considered as the 4 important aspects of life: truth, honor, happiness and love.

Music has 4 basic components too. We’ve already considered the first three: melody, rhythm, and harmony. The 4th is tone color. (Some might say that lyrics are a 5th element, but not all musical compositions have words, so I vote no on that notion.)

Tone color is the distinctive sound that each instrument or voice makes. A bass, alto, tenor, piano, sax, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, french horn, etc. can all play the same note, but does the same sound come out? No. They can all be on the same pitch, but each instrument has a distinctive sound of it’s own. And it is the blending of all these sounds that makes what we call a “band” or “orchestra” or “choir” or “combo” or whatever.

Obvious? Yep. But it’s kind of nice to know the stuff of which music is made.

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Harmony — The 3rd aspect of music

Friday, September 28th, 2007
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In previous posts we have discussed two of the elements that comprise what music is all about; namely melody and rhythm.

The 3rd element of music is harmony. Without these 3 elements working together, music is “bare-bones” and incomplete. Oh sure — you could sing just a melody without any harmony, but that melody follows some sort of rhythmic pattern, whether steady or syncopated or a combination of both.

But when you stir harmony into the music bowl, you have a complete musical meal.

Harmony is the tonal environment in which a melody lives — the underlying sounds that give it context and relevance.

That harmony can be expressed in intevals or chords, from simple to extremely complex. An interval is the distance between any two notes — such as a 3rd, or a 6th. Vocal duets often are harmonized by singing a 3rd or 6ths below the melody, with a sprinkling of other intervals from time to time.

Chords can range from 3-note triads to complex structures composed of all kinds of intervals (and therefore, overtones).

Next post we’ll look at the 4th element of music — tone color.

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Short video clips on piano jazz

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
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Jermaine is releasing a new course on jazz piano on Oct. 2nd, which some of you might be interested in. But even if you aren’t, go to “Jazz piano video clips” and watch a few of the short videos. Pretty cool stuff!

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The 2nd basic element of music: rhythm

Monday, September 24th, 2007
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Musicians are inherently concerned with rhythm.

In fact, the mark of a natural talent is often their ability to understand, distinguish, and play a complicated rhythm – often intuitively. It makes sense, really. Rhythm is, after all, the part of music dealing with how sounds vary over time and their duration throughout it. Having natural rhythm is what some refer to as being able to keep the beat, and without some sort of beat a song is little to nothing (with the exception of some incredible experimental music that aims to get rid of rhythm altogether).

Some of us musicians, however, were not gifted with a great sense of rhythm — me included. I had to really work at learning various rhythms, while melody and harmony were no problem. Eventually I even created a course based on what I had learned called “Rhythm Piano” that reveals a “baseline” which makes knowing which note is played when much easier. It also covers many piano rhythms including:

Waltz, March, Swing, Ballad, Fiddle Jig, Rubato, Disco, Foxtrot, Stride, Triplet Patterns, The Shuffle, Gospel Waltz, Royal March, Polish Dance, Polka, Scotch Snap, Hungarian Skip, Rhythm & Blues, Western, Boogaloo, Hornpipe, Gigue, Jazz Waltz, Rock, The Skip, The Morris Dance, The Schottische, Habanera, Paso Doble, The Sweet Pea, Samba, C & W, Tango, Fatback , Rumba, Bolero, Bossa Nova, Cha Cha, and Beguine.

Rhythm is constructed out of a time signature, a notation device that tells the musician how many beats are in one bar of music and what type of note constitutes a beat. The underlying rhythm or beat of a song is also called the pulse, and the speed of this pulse is what determines the tempo. These three aspects — the pulse, the time signature, and the tempo — are what create the initial and underlying rhythm for an entire song.

Western music typically uses a form of rhythm known as divisive: a rhythm in which a section of time is divided into tiny rhythmic units, usually one pulse. These rhythmic units vary depending on time signature and type. A metric rhythm is a steady pulse. An intrametric rhythm is slightly off the steady pulse, like some country-western or swing music. A contrametric rhythm is syncopated, and an extrametric rhythm is irregular, like triplets.

Percussionists generally get all the credit for a song’s rhythm, but rhythm is the province of every instrument and every musician. Understanding how notes relate to each other in a period of time is the concept of rhythm, and every musician must be familiar with it. Though the drums in a rock band or the piano in a jazz ensemble may be driving the underlying beat, all the musicians are playing a rhythm, and all rhythm is able to push a song forward.

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The 3 essential parts of music

Monday, September 17th, 2007
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During the next 3 sessions we are going to consider the essential parts of music — the elements of music that are “must haves” — you don’t really have music unless you have these 3 elements at some time or another. They don’t have to all happen at the same time, or all the time, but they are always intermittently present — like the weather.

The first part of music is melody. A melody is a tune, a horizontal flow of notes that generally serves as the basic identifier of a piece of music. On the keyboard we have 12 different notes to work with, and these 12 different notes are repeated in seven different octaves:

Melodies are constructed from these 12 notes, and are almost always derived from a scale of some kind. A scale is simply a row of notes in some consistent pattern. The word “scale” comes from a Latin word meaning “ladder” – notes ascend or descend the ladder rung by rung. There are many types of scales – major, minor (3 varieties of minor), chromatic, whole tone, etc. We will take a look at some of these other types of scales, but the most-used scale is the major scale, which is a row of notes in alphabetical rotation in the following pattern:

Whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

A half step is the 2 closest possible keys, such as C and B, and F and E, and B and Bb and C and C#.

A whole step always skips a key — either black or white; such as C and D, D and E, E and F#, and so on.

Tomorrow we’ll look briefly at the 2nd element.

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