Are you a music lover but have never taken music lessons before? Have you always been curious as to how music works, and why it sounds so wonderful? Do you love music but have been tongue-tied on how exactly to describe it? Look no further! Here are 6 Music Concepts for Dummies (and after reading this, you’ll be a Dummy no more!)
- Music is organised through rhythm
Whether you’re tapping your feet to some jazz music, dancing to salsa music, or headbanging through some heavy metal, what your body is actually doing is following the pulse or the rhythm of the music! In Classical music, this rhythm can either be in duple or triple time (you can either tap 1-2, 1-2-3-4 (multiples of 2) or 1-2-3, or 1, 2,3, 4, 5, 6, (multiples of 3) and so on). Most pop music is in duple time! Most of the different notes in music are grouped according to the rhythm – that’s why it’s important for musicians to play in the correct rhythm, or else the music will not sound quite right…
While we’re on the subject, tempo refers to how slow or fast the rhythm of the music is! So for example, Mary Had a Little Lamb is a moderate tempo as it is not too fast or too slow; conversely, electronic dance music always has a fast tempo. The tempo of the music can change throughout the piece, from slow to fast, fast to slow, and many more combinations!
- Music is made up of different pitches and harmonies
Pitches, or notes, are the different sounds that make up those catchy melodies in songs (and thus, a melody is a succession of pitches). They can be of a high, low, or middle range. A combination of different pitches sounding together are called harmonies.
- Music can come in different textures
One can describe music through texture as well, which is how thick or thin the music sounds! For example, most orchestral music (especially symphonies written by Mahler or Beethoven) has a thick texture because of the sheer number of instruments that play in the piece! Conversely, a song featuring an acoustic guitar with a singer will have a thin texture because there will only be two instruments (guitar and voice) featured in the music.
- Different instruments have varying sound qualities or timbres
The timbre of an instrument is its perceived ‘sound quality’. For example, French horns tend to have a mellow, warm timbre compared to the more piercing timbre of the trumpet. Voices too have different timbres – a mezzo-soprano (examples of such singers are Marilyn Horne, an opera singer, or Ella Fitzgerald, a jazz singer) will definitely have a richer, warmer timbre than a soprano (Sumi Jo, a famous Korean opera singer, or the pop starlet Ariana Grande).
- Most music has a structure or a form
Structure, in musical terms, refers to the different sections of a musical piece. Each section can be defined by its melody or musical pattern. In pop songs, the structure is usually verse-chorus-verse-chorus (and many have bridges as well). In operas, there is usually an overture (an orchestral introduction) followed by choruses and arias (solo songs sung by the lead roles). Many folk songs and carols are in what we call “strophic” form, which is a melody that repeats over and over again but each repeat features different lyrics. An example of this is the Christmas carol “Silent Night.”
- Most classical musical compositions/pieces are written down in musical notation; however, much of jazz and pop music use a lead sheet, and the exact musical notes aren’t written down because it allows the performers to improvise; much of tribal music from around the world however, pass down their music through oral traditions (nothing is written down – just passed on through remembering the melodies and lyrics!)
Here’s an example of classical sheet music :
As you can see, the piano piece above features all the notes that the pianist must play. In music lessons, students learn where to locate these different notes on their instrument and how to interpret the different terms and symbols on their music sheet. It is usually a ‘must’ for classical players to make sure they play all the notes written down by the composer and to interpret the symbols accurately.
Conversely, a jazz lead sheet is more ‘bare’ compared to a classical music sheet; It usually contains the main chords and the main melody. This is because jazz players are trained to play the chords automatically without having to read every single note in the chord and have more freedom to improvise (i.e. create their own twist and turns with the music).
Congratulations! If you’ve finished this article, you are no longer a Music Dummy! Now, you are equipped with more tools to be able to describe and appreciate music more! Also, now you have an idea of the enormous amount of things musicians have to watch out for and remember! Very admirable, isn’t it?
To learn more about music, now is a great time to sign up for lessons with a professional well qualified teacher who can kickstart your musical journey. Learn more about music lessons here!