Archive for March, 2013


Easter Music – Why It’s Just Not Like Christmas

Thursday, March 28th, 2013
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The meaning of Easter for many people in the modern world has become obscure. It’s a time associated with eggs, bonnets, the Easter bunny, chocolate, and not much else. But for Christians, it has the deepest possible meaning, perhaps even more important even than Christmas, and the sacred music which belongs to Easter reflects the beauty and grandeur of the spiritual message. That is the impact of Easter music.

Passover and Easter are intertwined, and both major religious festivals in some of their elements harken back to the symbolism of earlier, pagan springtime rites. In fact, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” might be considered the quintessential pagan Easter music.

It is virtually certain that Jesus and the disciples sang Passover hymns at the Last Supper. It’s an odd thought, we never think of Jesus singing, yet there would have been singing in the temple and for Jewish religious observances in the home. Once you have the image in your mind of Jesus singing, it is hard not to imagine him along with his disciples and followers, both male and female, lifting up their voices in song as they walked along the highways and byways of the Holy land. Perhaps songs of praise, but perhaps also, folk songs celebrating the themes of fishing, farming and commerce which Jesus so loved to use in his stories. He was a joyful man – he must have sung.

Easter music

At Easter we are used to seeing the springtime symbols of chicks, rabbits, eggs, flower and the like. But where do they come from? The egg is symbolic of fertility, of course, of new birth, and also a broken egg symbolizes the empty tomb. The rabbit is also a fertility symbol, and it happens that in the northern hemisphere, chickens start to lay at their best in the spring. So our Easter secular music features, chicks, flowers, bunnies and eggs.

Probably the enduring popular music for Easter is the song “Easter Parade”. Even though bonnets are no longer worn, the image of the pretty girl in the pretty hat, fresh and spring-like, endures. The song was originally featured in the Hollywood film of the same name, starring Judy Garland in her youth and beauty. Most people would find it hard to think of another popular Easter song. (Peter Cottontail perhaps, but this is not known outside of the US.)

It’s rather mysterious that Christmas had produced hundreds if not thousands of top quality, beautiful secular songs, and of course countless carols and Christian hymns, whereas Easter doesn’t seem to inspire writers in anything like the same way. Where is the Easter equivalent of “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”, “White Christmas”, “I’ll be home for Christmas” – all beautiful, and incidentally, slightly soulful and sad, Christmas songs?

Of course, Christmas is an almost perfectly happy celebration, with only the gifts of the wise men foretelling what the future was to hold for the Hope of mankind. The images are all positive; the baby, the animals, the star, the angels, the young mother – these pictures in our head allow us to celebrate and be happy.

Yet the Easter story is different. Much more powerful, yet with an image of horror at its beginning which somehow doesn’t allow for trivialization and jolly songs. The resurrection itself, for believers, is such an overwhelmingly powerful thing that it can hardly be reflected in popular song. “Christ is risen and loves the world, and that’s why I’m walking out with my girl”. No, it doesn’t work.

The great Easter music is of course Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, with its glorious and uplifting messages. Yet, the St. Matthew’s Passion of necessity has great darkness within it. It’s interesting that Handel’s Messiah, which is so very fitting for Easter, is almost always used as a choral presentation at Christmas time. The Messiah is more or less unmitigated joy from start to finish. In particular the Alleluia Chorus and the exquisite aria, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, make prefect music for Easter Day – yet are rarely used at Easter.

Modern Christian praise music has any number of Easter songs, but for many of us, they lack the sinews , musical gravitas and sheer beauty of hymns of earlier times. Contrast the music and words of say, “Guide me, oh thou great redeemer, o’er the world’s tempestuous sea,” with a few of the “modern” Easter songs. The former is majestic, powerful, poetic, the latter is, well – lets just say they don’t really measure up.

So the great Easter hymns will ring out in churches this Easter. “There is a Green Hill Far Away”, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, even “The Old Rugged Cross”. And radio stations across the nation will content themselves with the latest offerings from the popular music industry, pretty well none of which will make the attempt at an Easter theme.

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How to Play a Song by Ear

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
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How to Play a Song by Ear

Have you ever wondered how some musicians can hear a song melody and reproduce it on the spot? It almost makes you sick, doesn’t it? Those overachievers who can impress anybody with not only playing the melody but they can sit at a piano and reproduce the song complete with the harmonies. Maybe for you, if it isn’t written out as music, you don’t know what’s going on.

First, don’t feel inferior. Some people’s brains are wired to hear music in a way that allows them to instantly reproduce it. Others are wired to read it off the page and understand how to transform something that is written down into sound that is beautiful.

Although there are some people that can do both, you’ll likely find that most musicians you know can either do one or the other. If you’re the music reading type, the person that “hears” music would be just as lost in your world as you are in hers. Don’t compare yourself to others. Cultivate your talents.

But what if you want to learn to hear music the way that other person does? The good news is, you can. Let’s concentrate on hearing melodies. Learning to hear and play melodies comes from learning what intervals sound like. An interval is simply the space between two “somethings”. In music, it’s the space between two notes. Once you learn what each of these intervals sound like, you can reproduce a melody.

First, learn how they are classified. Think of the pitch, “C” for a minute. The interval between C and D is called a second. Use your fingers like you did in elementary school and count. We will hold up one finger for C and one finger for D. Two fingers equals a second. How about C to E? One finger for C, one finger for D, and one finger for E. Three fingers is a third. Get the idea? You can keep going until you run out of fingers and toes but we generally stop at the seventh since the eighth is an octave or C to C.

Play piano by ear

Now, that’s not all. In most popular music, melodies stick with the notes of the key so learning some of the more—shall we say, special intervals can come at a later time. Or you can read this article to learn more about how we classify intervals. (LINK)

The next step is to learn what the interval sounds like. The best way to do that is to put a song with the interval. For example, some people learn what a second (called a Major second) sounds like by thinking of the first three notes of, Happy Birthday. A Major third sounds like, Oh, When the Saints. Just Google, “songs that go with intervals” and you will find numerous websites that will give you songs to listen to that go with each. Listen to the song and then play the interval on the piano.

Finally, start listening to music and see if you can pick out the intervals used. Often, the intervals are close together and as you practice, you’ll naturally start to pick up on them. Try to play the song on the piano without music and see how you do.

This isn’t something that you will learn overnight. Just like learning a musical instrument takes a lot of time and effort, so does this skill. You can learn how to play a song by ear. Be patient, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll slowly improve. Before you know it, you’ll be able to do what your friend can do without thinking about it. (You’re allowed to be a little jealous but he’s probably equally jealous of your note reading abilities)

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The Neapolitan 6th Chord: What In The World Is It?

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013
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The N-6 Chord: What In The World Is It?

Here is a podcast on the subject:

Here is the transcript of the podcast if you want to follow along:

Hi. This is Duane again with another tip on “Good Stuff, You Really Ought to Know About Music.” These tips add up over the course of time by the way. You may not think that it’s really a big deal to know what a Neapolitan 6th Chord is and it and it is sometimes that you can live without it. Thousands, millions of people do, but by knowing just the various nuances of music, the little tiny nuances, several things happen. One, it gives you some confidence that you know what you’re doing over the course of time when you know hundreds of little items about things.

It just gives you confidence. It’s analogous to … I have a brother-in-law who’s a carpenter. He just knows hundreds or thousands of little things that I don’t know. I’m not a carpenter, so I don’t know these things. I know the broad strokes I guess, but I sure don’t know the little nuances. When you know those little nuances, it gives you confidence in what you’re doing. Two, it’s way more interesting. If you know how music works, know what theory and harmony is and the fine points of it, and then of course in your application of playing, it gives you a broader scope of things to do, doesn’t it? Because you know what’s available to you.

Let’s take a look at this good stuff card that’s in front of you. This is about the N6 chord. N6 is short for Neapolitan six. It’s a colorful chord and it was used by a group of composers who were centered around the City of Naples in Italy, the Neapolitan School of Composing. They used this a lot. There’s certain things that came into being like the Alberti Bass. It came into being because a guy named Alberti, a composer, he used it too much, having used it a lot and overused it probably. These composers kind of became famous for using this particular chord.
Neapolitan 6th chord
It’s not real complex, it’s simply a major try and it’s a major chord, but it’s built on the lowered second scale degree. What in the world does that mean? Say you’re in the key of C, [Duane playing piano] and you’re playing along in the key of C. [Duane playing piano] You know the primary chord C, [Duane playing piano] F, [Duane playing piano] G, [Duane playing piano] C. The Neapolitan six is D flat. [Duane playing piano] It’s just a half step above the tonic chord. You’ve heard this kind of thing. [Duane playing piano]

That’s just the Neapolitan six. You just move it up a half step. Now, one nice thing about the Neapolitan six is that you can put a seventh in the chord like … the chord is D flat if you’re in the key of C. [Duane playing piano] The chord is D flat. D flat, [Duane playing piano] F, [Duane playing piano] and A flat. You can put a seventh in it. What would be a seventh of the D flat chord? [Duane playing piano] That’s right, C flat. Looks like B, but it’s really C flat. [Duane playing piano]

Now that C flat is in harmonic with B, isn’t it? B is part of the G chord or the G seventh chord. [Duane playing piano] G seventh is the chord that leads where? It leads up the fourth to C. [Duane playing piano] What I’m saying is you can go from C, to D flat [Duane playing piano] seventh, to G seventh, [Duane playing piano] to C, [Duane playing piano] and you have a nice wonderful progression. Listen. [Duane playing piano] Can you do it in minor? Sure. [Duane playing piano]

You can create all kinds of things just out that Neapolitan six. That’s all there really is to it, but it’s one of those little fine points of music that “You Really Ought to Know, Good Stuff.”

Thanks for being with me. See you again sometime. Bye bye for now.

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Appoggiaturas In Music: What Are They?

Monday, March 25th, 2013
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Appoggiaturas In Music: What Are They?

Listen to my podcast on appoggiaturas here:

Here is the transcript if you would like to follow along:

Good morning, this is Duane and this is more good stuff you really ought to know. There’s so many things in music that you really need to know because it’ll add to the enjoyment, and the excitement of playing. Appoggiaturas are one of those thousands, there’s thousands of things we need to know, and appoggiaturas in music are just one of many. Appoggiatura by the way is one of the non-harmonic tones.

Maybe we ought to start by defining what a harmonic tone is. A harmonic tone is a member of a chord. Whatever chord’s in force at a given moment in a song, that’s the harmony, isn’t it? In other words, let’s say that the chord you’re playing in the song is F minor 7, well if somebody sings this [Piano playing] or that, they’re out of tune, aren’t they? We say, “Man he’s off, he’s flat, he’s sharp; she’s out of tune, she’s not with the harmony,” right? She’s non-harmonic, okay? So any note that’s not in that chord is a non-harmonic tone.

There’s several kinds of non-harmonic tones as you know, there’s passing tones [Piano playing] which are the most frequent I think, and there’s neighboring tones where you go next door to a neighbor then come back, and there’s suspensions where the fourth takes the place of the third. There’s anticipations, and then there’s appoggiaturas, okay?
Appoggiaturas in music
Appoggiatura is a non-harmonic tone which happens on a strong beat of a measure. The classic appoggiatura is Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story Maria. [Piano playing] Maria, that’s a strong beat isn’t it? You know what note that is? That’s F-sharp. You know what chord it is? C. Does F-sharp go in the C chord? Hardly, it’s about the worst [Piano playing] note to go on the C chord, but of course Leonard Bernstein wove it in very skillfully, okay? Why would he do that? Why would he play a non-harmonic tone like that, and then resolve it? Because it builds up tension. You see, a non-harmonic tone like appoggiatura builds up tension, and then that tension is relaxed.

If you think about it, all of music is a battle between tension and relaxation. Have you ever thought of it that way? Next time you listen to a piece of music, think about that. The music may start calm, and then it builds up to climax, and then it relaxes. Or phrases do that, [Sings and laughs]. You get the idea, right? All of music in terms of dynamics, in terms of tempo, whatever, is a battle between tension and relaxation.

If we have all of relaxation, if it’s all super relaxed, what do we have? Boredom, I mean it’s good music to sleep by, right? But it’s boring. If we have all tension, what do we have? Craziness, I mean it’s like overthrowing society, I mean it’s too much, right? But we need a balance of tension and relaxation; and appoggiatura is a good way to do it.

There’s two reasons you should know that, one: when you see written music, you should know what that’s doing there and why it might be there. But secondly, in your own creations you’re arranging your improvisation; you can use appoggiaturas on purpose. You can go to a non-harmonic tone, and then resolve it, okay?

Let me give you an example. [Piano playing] You heard a lot of appoggiaturas there. When I went like this, [Piano playing] See? That’s an appoggiatura because it relaxes into a harmonic tone, it resolves into a harmonic tone. [Piano playing] I don’t think those are very good examples, but you can hear non-harmonic terms and then they dissolve into harmonic tones.

Okay, well that’s just one of thousands of good stuff you really ought to know. So file it away, you might be able to use it some time. We’ll see you next month, bye-bye for now.

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The Commonality of Music

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
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The Commonality of Music

Listen to this podcast where I share the overlaps between classical music and every other type of music:

Hello again this is Duane and this is more good stuff you really ought to know. One thing you ought to know is about the commonality of music, the things that are in common between styles or generous of all kinds of music. In the past unfortunately those musicians with the more formal training have kind of looked down their noses at those who didn’t have the benefit of a formal training and improvised. That was a serious mistake as they’re learning now; there have been some wonderful teachers that have pointed out the great masters such as Bach and so on were all great improvisers. There’s nothing new about improvising, people have done it down through the centuries.
In fact most written music was first improvised and then because the composer liked what he heard himself improvised he got it written down one way or the other. Bach would often improvise his preludes and feuds in church and if it went well then he would go home and write it down, if it didn’t another day he would come. Particularly in the last century classical musicians kind of looked down their noses at Jazz musicians.
Music comonalities
Unfortunately people like Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn came along to kind of pop a bubble in that myth and show that all music has commonalities, it’s all made out of chords, it’s all made out of scale fragments, it’s all made out of patterns, it all has dynamics, it has chord progressions and so on and so on, so forth. Look at Fur Elise with me if you will [Duane playing piano] and so on like that. Now let’s just consider the little portion that’s right there. [Duane playing piano] We have a little pattern and then we have [Duane playing piano] the A minor chord, if you add up those notes, [Duane playing piano] it’s A, C, E that’s A minor, we’re in the key of a minor by-the-way. There are no sharps or flats in the key signature, so it’s either in the key of C or it’s in its relative minor, A minor. How do we know? We look for the primary chords in the key of C. Do we see them? Do we see C, F, and G? No not in this song. What we see [Duane playing piano] A minor.

The next chord is what? [Duane playing piano] E, G sharp, B, and D. Is there a D? No there’s not. That’s the E chord isn’t it? Then A minor [Duane playing piano] A minor, E, A minor, so we just have two chords. [Duane playing piano] A, A, A, that’s the one chord in the key of A minor, the five chord in the key of A minor, one chord, the five chord, the one chord. Now listen [Duane playing piano]. The first section of that great tune Summertime has just two chords, A minor, E, A minor, E, A minor, E, A minor, and then it goes onto the four chord which would be D minor and so on, but my point is there’s very little difference at all in the form between Fur Elise [Duane playing piano] and Summertime [Duane playing piano]. There’s a different feeling, a different rhythm and so on, but it’s the same chord progression, so look for those kinds of things, because they occur in all kinds of music. Just another one of the good stuff you really ought to know. Thanks for being with me, see you next month. Bye.

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