Wednesday, April 25, 2007


By Princessa

Chapter 1: What Is Sound:

So what is sound? Let's look at the properties of sound. We can hear it, but we can't see, taste, smell, or feel it, right? Now, wait a minute, we CAN feel sound. Have you ever stood next to a large speaker? Or maybe you've felt the rumbling of heavy bass music through a table or a floor. These effects prove that sound is some kind of physical phenomenon. Sound must somehow be "hitting" you, letting you "feel the beat". But how can that be happening? We don't see anything when we "feel" sound nothing but air! So we must be feeling the air when we feel sound!

So how are we "feeling" the air? Well, to answer this question, we need you to complete a little demonstration. Ready? Gently, take one of your hands and find your windpipe (at the base of your neck). The windpipe is the tube through which air passes when we breathe or talk. Now, keep your fingers touching your windpipe and sing a note (any note!) for a few seconds. If you're not the singing type, you can also hum or talk instead of singing. So, what did you notice? Your windpipe probably vibrated; if not, you may need to try again while singing a little louder.

Now we have the results of an experiment on sound, but what do these results mean? Let's think about this logically. Your windpipe vibrated when you made a sound. So, this means your windpipe caused the air to vibrate. Great, now we've figured out that sound is just vibrating air. But that still doesn't explain the rich variety of sounds that we can hear.

The answer to this one is simple. We've established that sound is simply vibrations in the air. In fact, the reason we can hear sounds is that these vibrations trigger tiny sensors in our ears that send the messages to our brains. Back to the question: why is there such a wide variety of sound? Well the answer is that there is an almost infinitely wide variety of vibrations in the air. For example, the air can vibrate at different speeds and intensities. Each of these slight variations can produce a different sound. Everyone has experienced a wide variety of sound, from the lyrical singing of a violin to the chirping of a bird.

Section 1 Of "What Is Sound" ~ Instruments And Sounds:

How do all the musical instruments produce sound? Well, in all cases, the instruments produce a vibration (usually through the vibration of a string). This vibration is in turn transferred to the air, and eventually reaches our ears. Again, a wide variety of vibration is possible from the many different instruments. Of course, one violin may sound drastically different from another violin due to a slightly different type of vibration produced. This applies to any instrument, not just violins.

Yet another point to think about is acoustics. You've probably realized that an instrument sounds different in a small room than in a huge concert hall. At least, you've experienced an echo, which is just the vibration of the air being reflected by something so that it is heard multiple times. The acoustics of a room work the same way: the various surfaces can slightly alter the type of vibration and change the sound slightly. The surfaces can also direct the sound to travel in a certain direction. For example, in a concert hall, the sounds made on the stage travel out towards the audience because of the design and shaping of the hall. In some places, the concert hall is so well designed that a musician cannot even clearly hear the musician sitting next to him/her because all the sound is being directed outwards!
Section 2 Of "What Is Sound" ~ What Is Tempo:

The word "tempo" is Latin for "time." For our purpose it is the speed at which we play a piece of music.
Section 3 Of "What Is Sound" ~ What Is Rhythm:

Rhythm is that thing in music that makes you want to tap your foot, play drums with your silverware or play air guitar. It also helps keep armies and marching bands in step. Rhythm is a certain controlled, regular (or irregular) "pulse" which flows through music in time. The word "rhythm" is Greek for "flow."
Section 4 Of "What Is Sound" ~ What Is Beat:

The "beat" or "meter" of a song is determined by its count. We measure some songs in sections of fourths with the beat count being a repetitious, one, two, three, four. Other songs may be measured in thirds and counted as a repetitious one, two, three. This produces a different beat. The count or beat is determined by the time signature.

What is the time signature?

The time signature is a formula that determines the counting process for each measure in a particular musical piece. For example 4/4 is a time signature formula that tells us to count a piece of music in fours. The top number tells us how many counts and the bottom number tells us what kind of notes are being counted. In the case of 4/4 the time signature is saying to count four/fourth notes to each measure that follows.

Chapter 2: What Is Pitch

In music, pitch is the psychological correlate of the fundamental frequency of a note. We know that musicians can produce both high and low notes, but how does it work? Sound is simply vibrations of air. There is an infinite variety of vibration possible, creating a infinite variety of sound. Well, consider this: the main music instruments all have strings right? Well, a string instrument player can raise the pitch of his/her instruments by moving his/her fingers to shorten the string... A pianist can raise the pitch of his/her instrument by playing a key connected to a shorter string... So, a shorter string must cause a higher pitch, and a longer string must cause a lower pitch. Maybe you've tried this with a rubber band before: if you pinch off the rubber band and pluck it, it will vibrate; causing high pitch to occur. If you don't pich the rubber band and just pluck the entire band, it will vibrate and cause a lower pitch to occur.

How did musicians decide to use only a certain number of notes? Well, that brings us to a funny story involving the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach. After the end of the Renaissance, there was some debate over the best notes to be used in music. For example, Indian music uses 22 notes per octave. Well, J.S. Bach was a strong supporter of using 12 notes per octave, which is the system still used today in Western music. To prove that his system was the best, Bach wrote a prelude and fugue in 24 keys: two on every note (both major and minor). Evidently, Bach made his point and so his system of 12 notes per octave is still used today.

Anyway, since there are a fixed number of pitches, they actually have names! These names include: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Of course, these note names repeat, but we'll get more into that later. Note names are vital to musicians because they represent each pitch. You can see how confusing it would get if someone told you to play a note vibrating at 500,000 times per second. It would be much easier if they just told you the note name.

In addition to these 7 pitches, there are 5 more pitches that can be represented by adding a '#' or a 'b' symbol to each note (e.g. A#, Bb). These symbols are referred to by a group as "accidentals". An accidental can be cancelled out by using the "natural" symbol, which is unfortunately not a member of ASCII text. We have put together a little display of the most common accidentals used in music. There are more complex symbols (such as the double flat or double sharp) but these are rarely used.

Pitching Exercises
In this section we concentrate on learning how recognize and 'pitch' the notes by listening and singing back.

You will need a 'Cassette Tape Recorder' to record and review your progress and a musical instrument that is tuned to perfect pitch - preferably keyboard, piano although a guitar, violin or other stringed instrument or a chromatic tuner will do (If you don't have a piano or guitar use the Computer Keyboard at the Electric Blues Club, although there is a much better Virtual Piano at Piano World - Links open in a new window - (don't use a wind or brass instrument you need to concentrate on singing not playing).

Using a guitar or piano play the note 'C' (any octave within your vocal range is fine) - listen carefully as it sounds then play it again - this time singing the note as you play. If the note is too high or too low for your voice play the note in another octave and/or sing the note in the octave that is comfortable for you - even if the note played is higher or lower than the C note you sing - if you are pitching correctly both notes will 'gel' together. If, however your pitching is incorrect your voice will sound 'sharp' or 'flat' (or may be a completely different note!).

Repeat this exercise with each note going up and down the scale. Then do it again picking random notes.

Once you have mastered the exercise above and can pitch the notes you are singing to the ones that are played then move on to the following exercise.

Play the chord C (notes C, E, G) listen carefully to the notes that make up the chord. Play the C chord again, identify the middle note E and sing it. Repeat the exercises listening and singing each note within the chord until you can identify each note and sing it easily without being put off by the other notes being played. Repeat this exercise with the chords D, E, F, G then repeat again randomizing the chords order of play. Then do it all over again using minor chords, 7th's etc., until you can sing any note from any chord in every scale that your voice is comfortable singing.

Now lets make it a little more difficult! Play a C chord an octave above or below your vocal range, but sing the notes in your range. This will help you recognize the chords regardless of where on the scale they are played and consistent practice should aid in improving your ability to pitch your notes regardless of how 'busy' the accompanying music.

There are a couple of fun software games by 'Happy Note' that teach ear training and music theory aimed at children and beginners (although fun & educational for any age!) - details and free downloads are available in the Freeware & Shareware Music Downloads section.).

We will get round to sticking some midi exercises to practice with at some point! Another option is to sing along to our vocal scales or use one of the online resources listed below.

Ear Training at Home by Australian Singing Teacher Anthony Winter, site includes various articles, exercises and lesson.

Harmony How To tips and advice on staying in tune aimed at barbershop singers and directors from The Harmonizer Magazine the official publication of the Barbershop Harmony Society (US).

Help with Monotone Singing from the Sam Houston State University includes advice, exercises and techniques for the music therapist or singing teacher with pupils who speak and/or sing in monotone.

Chapter 3: What Is Scale

In music, a scale is an ascending or descending series of notes or pitches, as opposed to a series of intervals, which is a musical mode. Each note in a scale is referred to as a scale degree. Though the scales from musical traditions around the world are often quite different, the pitches of the notes in any given scale are usually related by a mathematical rule. Scales are theorerical constructs which may be used to control a composition, but much music is written without any scale in mind. Scales may be described as tonal, modal, diatonic, derived or synthetic, and by the number of tones included.


Section 1 Of "What Is Scale" ~ The Major Scale:

A Scale is a succession of notes in upward or downward steps and based around a type of scale. Scales types may be major, minor, chromatic, diatonic, or pentatonic … and there are many many more.

The musical scale is based on octaves. Moving up one octave is defined as doubling the frequency. The octave appears to be an important musical interval in all cultures. To a human ear there is an obvious "sameness" about the two notes. But why do they sound similar? The ears can't know about the mathematical relationship. Possibly this is connected with the way the brain processes sound, but as far as I know, no one knows for sure.

Let's move on to one of the basic building blocks of music: the scale. First, play a simple major scale starting on C. Perhaps you've heard this before, perhaps not, but this is what a basic major scale sounds like. What is a scale ? it's a series of notes like the one you just heard. Of course, it doesn't have to start on C. For example, we have another simple major scale starting on C#. This sounds slightly different, but you can tell that the scales are really the same thing. Hopefully, you've noticed that the note that the scales start and end on sound the same. This is an important point because a scale spans an octave, which is just two notes that are 12 notes apart.

What is a major scale? we've heard two of them, but that might not necessarily make it clear. Let's come up with an official definition: a major scale is a set of notes that defines the key of a piece. Wow, there are a lot of new terms in that. Rather than attempt to explain that, we'll give you an audio demonstration. Notice how all the notes in this demo are also notes in the C major scale? that's a technique used by composers to create music. This makes the major scale extremely useful in composing pieces. The scale that composers take their notes from is called the key of the piece. Of course composers are not limited by any means to using only certain tones. Composers are free to write whatever notes they wish to make their pieces sound good. For example, composers often quickly change from key to key, utilizing different scales.

Now, we've neglected to mention some important aspects of the major scale. Not only does the scale define the key of the piece, but the notes in the scale are not variable. In other words, a composer cannot make up anything he or she wants and call it a scale. Instead, all major scales sound very similar and are all based on the same scale. For example, if you took the basic C major scale and bumped it up a few steps, you'd still have a major scale.

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