Monthly Archives: March 2013

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #10 Why Do Beginner Music Lessons Start with C instead of A?

Over the years, many of my beginner students have asked why their music books and music lessons start their teaching methodologies with the letter C instead of the letter A.  They feel that since the alphabet starts with the letter A, and since the first seven letters of the alphabet represent the names of the seven basic tones of our musical system (A, B,  C, D, E, F, and G), why shouldn’t their music books and music lessons start with the letter A too?” Good question!

point to A (front view close)point to C (front view)point to C (side view)

The short answer is easy! Major scales are upbeat and happy-sounding scales and the “Cmajor scale has proven to be less confusing to lots of beginner students because it is the only major scale that contains natural keys only– no black keys or accidentals.  

Now there is a scale that starts with the letter A which doesn’t involve any black keys but it is a minor scale.  So, in fact, beginner music lessons could very well start with the letter A. However, that would mean a beginner’s first musical experience would be based on a minor scale.  The minor scale experience is fine for later on, but you don’t want the minor backdrop to be the first musical experience for you or your kid, do you?  Of course not! Listen to what the minor experience would do to Mary Had A Little Lamb and see what it does to your kid’s mood! 

 
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I hope this short answer helps explain why I feel that beginner music lessons start with C instead of A.  

Now the longer answer involves taking a look at a little more detail because questions like “What are natural keys?” and “What are accidentals?” need to be defined and examined.  If you are an absolute beginner, let me start your music “edu-ma-cation” with a miniature lesson on piano key names and how the “black keys” first appeared and came to be known as accidentals.


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The world’s first “piano” keyboards did not have any black keys at all! From one end to the other, there were white keys only! Now imagine the challenge of distinguishing one key from another if you were playing back then on a piano that had a sea of all white keys! Not an impossible task, but I’ll bet it was a real challenge nevertheless. More importantly, as a few centuries passed and the piano keyboard layout with the 7-note music system remained unchanged, the limits that the 7-note, natural-key-only music system was having on melodic and harmonic composition were becoming clearer to musicians and composers. Some type of break-through was needed. Eventually, black keys came to the rescue! The 5 black keys are the original accidentals.

The 7 natural keys combined with the 5 black keys that were added centuries ago, are two key elements that help form the 12-key semitone music system that we use today. Our present system still offers seemingly infinite possibilities, so we should all keep practicing and composing. Let’s get back to work!

 

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #9 What Is The Most Important Part Of A Song?

Full disclosure! I already had a decades-old opinion on this subject before writing this op-ed, but in the interest of being fair, open-minded, and objective, I set my opinion aside and went to work on this post with a mindset of being willing to change my opinion if convinced.

The first thing I did when I started thinking about this question was to itemize the parts of a song and put them on a list.  I put a question mark beside each item so I’d be sure to consider each song part individually.

Lyrics? Melody? Harmony? Chord Changes? Rhythm? Title? Rhymes? Verse? Chorus? Hook? Intro? Ending? Tempo? Bass Line?

Looking over my list, my first thought was that all of the items are important but the question asks me to decide which item I feel is “most” important.  So in the process of carefully considering each item, I systematically narrowed my list down to two items–lyrics and melody. From there, I very quickly came right back to my original answer. However, I wanted to see what other people thought so I did a little Google research.

After reading differing opinions on the question, I came away with a good understanding of the arguments that many people presented to support views, but nevertheless, I was not convinced to change my original opinion. l still feel that a song’s most important part is its melody.

Lyrics, when they’re present, are unquestionably a very important part of a song because lyrics express in words what a song is all about. A song’s lyrics are poetry that has been coupled with melody to tell the song’s story in a musical environment. A song’s lyrics when coupled with melody can make you feel very happy in a real way. The combination of lyrics coupled with melody can also make you feel very sad and have you crying real tears!  Sometimes melodies are written first, then lyrics are added later. Conversely, lyrics may be written first and melodies added later. In either case, melody and lyrics are both very powerful entities that are very closely related and very important parts of a song. However, I feel that most song lyrics are melody-dependent in that, if you strip the melody away from the lyric, you no longer have a song; you have poetry with some type of beat perhaps. The melodies of most songs can stand on their own without lyrics. But again, lyrics performed with out any melodic coupling will result in poetry being recited–not a song being sung.

Here is a song with lyrics that first existed as a very well-known poem by Joyce Kilmer. The melody was composed years later by Oscar Rasbach. To demonstrate the effect and power of melody, please follow this 3-step process:
  
First: Read the through 12-line, 8-syllable, iambic tetrameter poem. Sans melody, you are reciting some beautiful poetry!
Second: Mouseover the tree to hear a vocal version. Avec melody, the poetry has been  transformed into a beautiful song!
Third: Mouseover or click the grand piano to hear me play an instrumental version. Does the song stand alone sans lyrics? Do you recogni,e the song without its lyrics? I do! What say you?

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day;
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair.
Upon whose bosom snow has lain,
Who intimately lives with rain;
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
–Joyce Kilmer

  

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Summary / Synopsis  

By definition, the word “song” implies singing. One music dictionary defines “song” as a piece for voice. Whenever voice and singing are involved, chances are, lyrics are going to be somewhere in the mix playing a very important role.  But as I considered the overall question further, I asked my self some key questions. Can a song be performed without its lyrics as an instrumental? Obviously the answer is yes! What allows you to easily and instantaneously recognize a song when it is played sans lyrics? The answer is the song’s M-E-L-O-D-Y! Can a song be sung without its melody? No, because singing lyrics without a melody is reciting poetry. To transform poetry into song, a melody needs to be added to the mix. So, song lyrics are melody-dependent because without melody, you’re reciting poetry. Now as beautiful as reciting poetry may be, it is not song singing. Therefore I submit that melody is the most important part of a song.

Here is an example of a singer who completely forgot the lyrics to a significant part of a song during her performance. However, because she was able to stay with the melody, she rode her “melodic ship” out of those troubled waters and straight into a rousing round of applause for her spontaneous and successful song performance and eventually on to a couple of Grammy awards.

Last Word

Lyrics are very important but lyrics need melody. So for me, melody sits alone at the top of the song part pyramid. Learn and memorize as many melodies as you can! Melodies rule!

 

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #8 PRACTICE: IS IT IMPORTANT? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?

During my years in the music business, I have seen and known a number of amazing musicians who never took a music lesson in their life, couldn’t read a note of music if it were as big as a computer monitor, and never practiced their instrument at all! Nevertheless, every time these God-gifted players would perform, they’d open up a can of “feel-good” and their musical magic would simply amaze every ear that was near which could “hear”! 

I’ve seen the same “natural-ability” phenomenon manifest itself in people from other walks-of-life too. Yes! There are people in other fields who either hold practice in low regard or they don’t practice at all!  

Although practicing may be unnecessary and unimportant to these types of “natural-ability” people, –some of whom seem to have been born with their God-given talents fully developed at birth–, most of us mere mortals have to really work hard at getting ourselves to any decent level of achievement through P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E.  How do you feel about it?

In the two video snippets below, two people from different professions express their feelings about practice! Check them both out!

 

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 I recommend lots of practice for all my students because it has always been an important part of my musical life and, as referenced in one of the video snippets, it’s something that was/is recommended and done by many of the musicians I most admire.

If you’re serious about improving your musicianship, then practicing your instrument should be a very important part of your life and it is really helpful to have some ways to make your practice fun.

If you’re ever feeling uninspired and/or at a loss for things to practice, take a few lessons from me because I have a few ideas that should get you fired-up and ready to go again! I feel that there is not enough time in life to practice everything that could be practiced! So find me or find someone else to coach you and go get busy!

Art

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #7 Mystery Man Contest

mystery man

Who is this man?

This is a pencil sketch of a man who shall, for now, be identified only as the “mystery man” of Art’s Corner Post #7. The original art work was drawn by Linda Crough.

I will reveal his identity in my April 1st blog and, as much as I like to have fun, I guarantee you this will not be any type of April Fools’ Day prank.

Everyone who writes in and correctly identifies him between today and March 31, 2013, will receive a link to a rare audio file of him playing something that was recorded very, very early in his career.

All you have to do is write your answer only in the subject line of an email and send it to to:

AC #7 Mystery Man Contest

 Your submission will be disqualified if you:

  • send an email with an incorrect answer
  • send an email that contains multiple answers in the subject line
  • send multiple emails
  • send an email that contains any body text

Disqualified emails will be discarded.
Contest winners only will be notified during the week of April 1st.
Winners will receive a link to listen to this rare recording!
The contest email address will be shut down at midnight (2400 EDST) on March 31, 2013.

Remember: Only one guess is allowed in the subject line! No body text allowed!

 Good luck!