Archive for July, 2008

What in the World is Figured Bass in Music?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008
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Figured bass (chord symbols)

Even many musicians haven’t heard of figured bass. Also called

basso continuo, a simple explanation of the term is a short way to

note chords on a musical score. If you have never heard of it, it’s

most likely because the method isn’t used today. However, it could

be considered akin to, or a precursor of, a modern chord chart.

Figured bass originated in the Baroque era of the17th and 18th

century. Music has evolved over the centuries and still does today.

The development of figured bass came in response to one of these

early musical style evolutions. The Baroque music period came on the

heels of the Renaissance period. Music from the Renaissance was

generally characterized by its reliance upon intervals of thirds. Of

course, musical trends evolve over a period of time. For this

reason, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact year when this trend

shifted. Usually a new musical era is well under way before anyone

realizes there has been a change. Modal characteristics of

Renaissance music eventually gave way to more tonal music. The

defining characteristic of tonal music is its use of fifths. This is

in contrast to the previous intervals of thirds. This led the way

for Baroque style music.

Composers and musicians in this period began using more elaborate

instrumentation during the Baroque period. New musical instruments

were being developed that contributed to the trend. Many of them had

wider range capabilities, allowing for more variety in musical

scores. New playing techniques were also developed, lending a

distinction to music of this period such as had not previously been


The more complex nature of Baroque music made a new form of musical

notation a necessity. This is how figured bass was born. Playing

music by reading figured bass required more than rudimentary musical

skills. With this method, the melody line and the bass line are

noted on a traditional musical scale (bass clef and treble clef).

The instrumentalist(s) would fill in the harmony lines based on the

bass note. The harmony part, or the part that was implied but not

written in the score, was known as the continuo.

To play figured bass, it is necessary to have a working

understanding of chords. An instrumentalist reading a score with

figured bass would see the melody notes and the bass notes. The

instrumentalist would assume that the continuo notes that would

accompany would be a standard fifth interval unless otherwise noted.

If another variation was desired, numbers would appear on the score

underneath the bass note indicating the appropriate interval.

Like many trends, the use of the figured bass method became

obsolete. Today, chords are often indicated by abbreviating their

names (i.e.,”C7″ for a C major/minor seventh chord). Similar to

figured bass, instrumentalists have some leeway for improvisation

with this type of musical annotation. This is in contrast to music

that has every note for each part annotated on a musical staff. Like

shorthand once was to writing, so was figured bass to music. And

like shorthand, changes in technology and trends have greatly

diminished the use of figured bass.

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Learning Music for Absolute Beginners

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008
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Learning music for beginners

Learning music as an absolute beginner can be frustrating if you do not know where to start. There is no right or wrong way for a beginner to learn, but there are simple steps that can help anyone make learning music fun.

First of all, you’ll need an instrument of course. If you have access to a piano, you have got a head start. The piano is the easiest instrument to begin learning, yet is also the most versatile. Its notes are set neatly in a row with nothing hidden. Because of this simple layout, the piano can be used to learn the basic principles of music which will then carry over into other instruments.

The piano has two sets of keys: the white keys and the black keys. Each key plays a different note. Starting on the note C and playing the next six white keys to the right will form the C major scale. Of course, finding the note for a beginner is half the challenge.

To find a C, look at the black keys. There are two groupings of black keys: two keys and three keys. Look for a group of two black keys. The white key just to the left of this group is C.

Now that you’ve found C, you will be able to play the C major scale. Just start at any C and move to the right, playing each white key in sequence until you have reached the next C on the keyboard. You have now played the C major scale, one of the building blocks of learning music. The notes are as follows: C D E F G A B.

Many popular songs can be played with this scale. You can play the melody of Old MacDonald using these keys. You can also play Let It Be by the Beatles, using only the C major scale. Both the melody and chords of the song can be played using the white keys.

Of course, no one wants to stop learning there. Learning some basic chords will be the next step. A basic C chord is played by placing the thumb on a C, the middle finger on an E, and the pinky on the G. Play these keys at the same time and you have played the C chord.

There are many more scales and chords to learn, but any beginner can start with C and create some nice results. Learning music needs to be fun, as theory and technical exercises can make it seem more like work. The great thing about learning how to play chords and melodies in C is that pretty much any white key melody will work over any white key chord progression. For someone learning to play the piano, this is encouraging.

Learning music can be easy and enjoyable when a beginner starts off on the right key. By following the easy steps outlined here, anyone can make beautiful music from day one. The greatest musical minds in the world all started off at the beginning and so can you.

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How to Read Piano Sheet Music

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
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How to read piano sheet music

When it comes to reading piano sheet music, the first place to start is with the individual elements of the composition itself. Before you can tackle an entire piece, you must be familiar with that particular composition’s language.

The following are steps to consider in reading piano sheet music. These will help you grasp the intent and nuances of the piece quickly.

* Look over the entire composition to get a feel for its length and structure. This first run through is just to have a quick overview of the composer’s work.

* Go through the piece a second time. This second run through is more deliberate. You want to locate any unfamiliar things: notes, chords, articulations and tempo indications. Highlight any of these that you know will require research. Use a music dictionary or other resource to understand these elements.

* Next, consider the time signature of the piece. Are you familiar with it? If not, read up on the specific time signature, as it is a primary characteristic of the song.

* Consider the key signature of the composition. Are you familiar with this key or is it new? If it’s new to you, learn the key’s scale with its attendant sharps or flats to better understand the piece.

* Look for key changes within the song. Does the song remain in the same key throughout? If not, how many times does the key change and what are those new keys? Knowing the changes ahead of time makes playing the piece easier.

* Look for tempo changes in the song and highlight them. Again, familiarizing yourself with tempo changes ahead of time allows you to glide from one section to the next easier.

* Look for common passages. Does a phrase or motif repeat itself further along in the piece? Is there a variation of a basic motif somewhere else in the composition? When you familiarize yourself with the basic one, the variations will be that much easier to understand.

* Next, break the composition up into sections. Highlight difficult passages that will require more practice time.

* Write your own notes at specific places on the sheet music. Write these notes using your own unique markings. The only rule to abide by is – “whatever makes the piece easier for you to read.”

* Play through the piece once, as best you can, without stopping. Even if you have trouble at a certain point, finish the piece. This once over will give you a visual and aural snapshot of the composition.

* Play through the piece again. Stop as needed to make any additional markings in difficult areas.

* Concentrate on just the difficult passages. Look them over again a few times so their structure remains in your mind. Do this before playing them again. This sets the structure in your mind so you can concentrate on the eye-hand coordination. With your eyes familiar with the section, you can now work on your hand movements.

Playing a complete composition with piano sheet music need not be an arduous task. When you tackle its component parts one at a time, the process is much easier. When you learn the individual components and then put them all together, the result is a satisfying musical experience.

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Find Tons of Free Piano Music Online

Thursday, July 24th, 2008
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Free sheet music online

Sheet music can be expensive to purchase on a regular basis. If you want to expand your piano music library without spending a lot of money, download free sheet music from the Internet.
A simple Internet search for “free sheet music,” “free piano music” and “piano music online” opens up many avenues for you to explore. Consider even more variations and your website possibilities will overflow.
Many sites offer total access to their piano music library. Others permit limited access to free sheet music. If you desire their full complement of music, you may have to sign up for a membership and pay a fee. However, even limited access to their free resources may give you the music you require.
The best sheet music sites allow you to refine your search for piano tunes. Many have detailed search functions that let you search by artist, genre or period. You can specify Baroque or Impressionist classical music and find what you need quicker. You can perform a search that narrows things down even more, for example, indicating you want “Jazz Christmas Tunes.” You can be as specific as you need to be on a quality piano music website.
When searching for free piano music, you will find music directories that list other sites that can offer piano music. These directories are a valuable resource. With these sites you obtain links to a host of other sites containing a wide variety of music.
A good piano music site often has little extras. Some supply the sheet music in a PDF format for download. Many sites supply free piano music and have accompanying audio files that allow you to listen to songs as you print them. Some incorporate free music lessons and piano tutorials in a digital feed format.
You can find lots of free piano music online by joining a music forum. Here you can chat with other musicians and share information about where to find the piano music you need. You will find that others often know about less popular websites that have great databases of free sheet music. You cannot efficiently search every website in cyberspace yourself; why not get help from those who already know where the good ones are?
Another great source for free piano music is university or college online libraries. You can find specific music to download on many of these sites. Many of these also provide links to even more sites that have free sheet music downloads. A university site is a wonderful resource for older collections of piano music as well.
One caveat is to be sure the sites are truly free sites. Don’t be lured into giving out your credit card number as a one-time administration fee or anything like that. While you may access a lot of music, you did pay. You may find you will pay even more if you do not read the fine print and have authorized monthly payments on your card for a membership to a site.
A savvy searcher can find tons of free piano music online. Free piano music from reputable websites can provide you with an endless stream of music for your enjoyment.

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Short Piano Videos — Free

Thursday, July 24th, 2008
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Piano videos

I have some new short free piano videos posted on my site you might want to check out:

Free Short Piano Videos

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