Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lesson 7.5: Beethoven


Ludwig van Beethoven.

It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that Beethoven single-handedly shaped the modern world of music composition.

Note here:  Obviously, as a lot of this is a reading and analysis of historical documents.  This is what I was taught, and this is what a lot of available documentation seems to show.  However, I obviously can't really say definitively that this is exactly how things were going down, and there are probably readings of history that have other things to say than this.  However, I personally haven't seen any reason to doubt this reading, and I've seen a reasonable amount supporting it.

We've talked about the way music was put together in history, but we haven't touched at all on how it was put together.  That is to say, what was the compositional process?  How did these dudes write this shit?  Well, it changes a bit through history, but it's pretty close in general observable in two major eras:  Pre and post Beethoven.  You see, in early music, there was this whole "Inspiration from god" thing going on, which really is just mind to paper.  In the Baroque period we're talking about a lot of formulaic composition, and in the Classical era we're pretty much mind to paper again.... That is to say, writing music wasn't really planned out in advance and edited and sketched out, it was pretty much written in a nice clean sweep.  The way we know, as much as we know anything, this is looking at the manuscripts.  Most musical manuscripts early on, including notes and originals from the composers, tend to be complete, pristine scores.  We don't really see sketchbooks or heavy editing in manuscripts in pre-Beethoven music, we just see finishes scores.  There are theories that sketchbooks were destroyed or some such... but I guess that would leave the same evidence as if they never existed, and sketchbooks are really great to keep around and are good teaching tools.

Beethoven scores tend to be horrible messes.  There are giant scribbles and entire passages moved and notes scrawled across sections and they're just impossible to read.  It's clear to see that Beethoven was composing in a large process, always changing and editing and sketching things out, really making music a wrought out process.  This is huge, because it's how we do it today.  The advancement of music from an improvisational process to a compositional process was incredibly useful, though it did have its drawbacks.

Anyways, since this technically is a history lesson and not a "Khavall rants" lesson, let's look at Beethoven historically, because he also is an interesting historical figure.

Beethoven was, we believe, born on December 16, 1770.  He was baptized on December 17, 1770, and normally back then, baptism happened the day after birth.  So we can assume Dec 16, but we don't really have any documentation supporting that in the specific case of Beethoven.  He was born in Bonn, Germany, which is a funny sounding name for a town.  Bonn.  His father was his first music teacher, but his most influential teacher before he moved to Vienna: Christian Gottlob Neefe.  Gottlob Neefe of Bonn.  18th century was the coolest time to have a name.  Anyways, Neefe taught Beethoven composition.  Also Neefe was a member of the Illuminati, because why the fuck not.  In 1787, Beethoven moved to Vienna.  2 weeks later he moved back because his mother fell ill.  Then his father became an alcoholic and he stayed in Bonn for 5 years to take care of his brothers.  And because Vienna has a stupid name compared to Bonn.  Anyways, finally in 1792 Beethoven moved back to Vienna to study with Haydn.  You may remember Haydn from pretty much inventing the string quartet and further codifying the symphony.  Anyways, Beethoven was all "This guy knows nothing!" and works with some other people while studying with Haydn.  During this time, Beethoven wasn't really trying to be a composer, but was really more of a pianist.  He was really well-known for being able to play The Well-tempered Clavier.  Which was like super-awesome to be able to do back then.

Now, I believe I touched on this idea during the baroque period, but Bethoven was 21-22ish by this time, when he was notorious for being able to play well-tempered Clavier.  Today it's a pretty common high-school pianist piece.  In fact, I believe I started learning parts of it in 10th or 11th grade, so I was... what 15?  16?  This by the way was when I would not have ever considered in a million years that I would ever be a serious pianist because I wasn't good enough.  Performers have come a loooong way.

Anyways, he started touring europe being all "I can play piano", and finally decided to write some more shit.

This is where Beethoven really starts to split from the previous composers.  We're not too sure, again, this is my and a few other much smarter people than I's thoughts, but there are people smarter than me who are also in disagreement about this.

In rock, this is a little different, but I still have several sketchbooks and about 4-5 pieces to test out ideas for every piece I've written.  Similar to how before writing a paper it's suggested to make an outline, and how if I was smart I would be outlining these posts instead of just ranting, which would probably, for instance, not have me splitting this rant between the beginning of the post and now, in composition, we basically outline our pieces first.  The result of this is that we can really plan out and work on awesome pieces.  While an improviser has an advantage that they can temper their work to the audience, in a way that the composer cannot, the composer has the advantage that they can spend infinity time to work on a part of music that may only take 5 seconds when played.  That infinity time can make that 5 seconds pretty damn awesome, if used well.  The reason we do this in music is pretty much Beethoven.  Rather, he was the first one who we see doing this, and we know that now this is an awesome way to do things.

Anyways, there's more history stuff that was going on, but you can look up Beethoven on wiki if you care about it, so I'm just going to cover the important stuff from here on out.

In 1798ish Beethoven started working on the "pinnacles", as he saw them, of Composition.  He worked on a bunch of String Quartets and some Symphonies by 1802.

Also, in 1799, Beethoven started pimping.  Technically he just "taught" "piano lessons" to hot chicks who were about his age.  And "entertaining" at "parties" at her estate. Of course, specific hot chick(I assume... I mean, he's Beethoven) was Countess Anna Brunsvik.  More important than her was her sister.  Her sister was all "Married", but marriage was of no concern for Beethoven, man of men.

He also taught some other people, like the dude who taught Liszt, but who cares, it was all about the countesses and their sisters.


Maybe I should've mentioned this earlier, but all this pimping and composing is more impressive when you remember that in about 1796 Beethoven started to lose his hearing.  So once he was deaf he was all "Well, fuck, now I'll write me some string quartets and some symphonies, and I'll have me a countess on the side".  Beethoven.

Anyways, from then on his life is really interesting in terms of what he composed, but not so interesting in terms of things happening.  His brother died and he fought his brothers wife about custody of their kid, won, and then pretty much just went on to make sure everyone in Europe knew that his sister-in-law was a dirty, dirty whore.  Because he could.  Because he was Beethoven.

Oh and that story isn't over.  Karl(Beethoven's nephew) was pretty much Beethoven's pet project.  But since Beethoven was pretty much a crazy person, he was so overbearing and intrusive in Karl's life, Karl shot himself in the head.  But, since he had the Beethoven line blood in him, it didn't work, and he was just a little more angry after that.  Later he joined the army, and Beethoven never saw him after that, so he might as well not exist.

Then Beethoven got sick and died.  There was a shitton of composition that went on during this, including ill-known works like his 5th and 9th symphony, but historically it was pretty much "compose music" for his life.

If you look at his Wiki, it says that Beethoven was "irascible".  I have no clue what that means, but it also says he was possibly bipolar and often irritable.  Probably because he had to spend so much of his time dealing with people who weren't Beethoven.

Anyways, this was waaaay too much time that I devoted to one fucking person.  However, Beethoven was basically music Jesus, and I really feel that everyone should know more than "SOMETHING ABOUT ODE TO JOY" about the dude.  Next update will be Romantic, and then I'm afraid I'm going to have to call it a day on the history lessons to go onto Counterpoint and Theory, since 19th and 20th century Music history is... well, it's pretty much a shitstorm to end all shitstorms.  I'd love to cover it, but I have to keep in mind that I only have a few more months before(If they ever schedule my damn audition) I am out of contact with the world for 8 months, so I'd like to get a basic outline of theory and history all out before then, and if I were to cover 19th cent-present it would take all the time I have.

Anyways, since I'm posting this at 11:30 on Jan 31, 2009, Happy New Years everyone.  I hope to god you're all reading this well after the beginning of 2010, and I'll see you all in the next decade. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lesson 7: Classical Period

Ok, let's move on to my least favorite period of music: The Classical period.

The Classical period happened in all art forms, and is basically an attempt to emulate and go back to Classical Greek architecture, arts, and culture.  This is absolutely hilarious too, since Early music and Renaissance music both were attempts to emulate Classical antiquity, and the way the Classical Period went about it was to simplify everything and basically find giant sticks to keep in their bums.

Now we've heard Baroque music.  Baroque music was not what today any of us would call outrageously decadent or overly flowery.  However, the Classical period artists were the ones who named the Baroque period, and "Baroque", roughly speaking, means "Rough/Imperfect Pearl".  Naming the older style Baroque was intended to be derogatory, essentially calling Baroque music out for being overly elaborate.

So we're around the 18th century here, and I'm often a bit... disingenuous to the classical period.  Part of the reason they simplified things was to seek more of an emotional impact and to have more striking melodic structures, as opposed to sort of the jumbled mess that could happen with baroque music.  Really, considering what was going on in the Renaissance and Baroque period with emotional stuff a lot of this is like, super-emotional.  It's just compared to todays stuff it's a little... less so.

Probably the best transitional figure is Scarlatti, who wrote stuff kind of like this

There's still a lot of baroque-isms there, and Scarlatti was still pretty obviously Baroque, but he's clearly starting to lean more classical.

I often like to compare Classical-period music with rock music of today, and in a lot of ways they're very similar.  Classical music has a lot of melody over chords structure to it, and while the better musicians of the time would expand on the simple basic I-IV-V style chords, and even the compositional method was a lot closer to rock music today than romantic and post-romantic art music is.

The biggest changes we find happen not 'till around 1760ish, with two major developments.  The first is the creation of the Symphony.  We're not entirely sure about what happened, but C.P.E. Bach(different Bach than we're used to... they're related) is often attributed with essentially inventing the symphony and the style.  The first big name of the style though is Joseph Haydn.  Dude is like, the quintessential classicist.

Now, Haydn also worked for a prince for a while, so he pretty much could afford to sit on his ass all day, living in relative luxury and writing music for a bunch of people in frilly clothes to play for bunches of people in frilly clothes.  He basically refined the symphony and almost entirely created the string quartet as a standard thing.  He was pretty awesomely famous and like a super-cool dude for classicists, and basically living easy.

Then some stupid kid arrives on scene, thinking he's so cool because he's all "I wrote symphonies when I was 5" and shit.  Mozart was pretty much what every 14 year old with a guitar thinks they are.  Basically, he shopped at super-trendy stores to get all the fancy clothes, made poop jokes, and every once in a while would sit down and say "Man, let's just jam man, let's just make some music", except instead of that resulting in him totally getting some side-boob from Melissa after homeroom 'cause he was so emotional, he actually did get signed by a major label and spent all his time touring Europe with legions of fans throwing their panties at him.  Also hundreds of years later everyone still talks about how awesome he was, to the point where people make retarded claims about how he had magical music powers.  I have heard people say "if the legends are true" when talking about him.  Yeah, makes your childhood seem a little uneventful doesn't it?  Of course also I saw the program to a recital recently where the girl spelled his name as "Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart", so really, who was he.

Now the reason he was so famous is because the dude is maddeningly good at music, especially when you consider that this really was him basically just sitting down, jamming, and writing that shit down.  Examples you say?

 Yeah, I guess the dude had chops.  One fun game to play though is considering what he would've been like today.  You see, when I mention that Mozart's compositional process was pretty much sitting down and jamming, I'm not kidding.  It's fairly obvious from the manuscripts during all music pre-Beethoven that the compositional process changed drastically with Beethoven.  Mozart was not what today we would call a composer.  He was today what would be called a great Improviser.  His music was made up as he was composing, as opposed to the current art music way of composing which is a long drawn out process of editing and sketching and hard-wrought work.  So would Mozart today still be an art music genius?  Or would he super-refine and write crazy awesome pop music?  Or would he be on crappy early morning TV shows with the headline of shit like "PIANO PRODIGY AT AGE 6!" and then not really do too much else?  It's pretty hard to say.  Anyways, while that's a fun game, it's not really part of history, so let's move on.

Of course getting back to history we notice something....  Music eras are shrinking like crazy.  It's really hard to say much else as a general overview of Classical music.  It was a period of less than 100 years, and we're still talking about an era where we didn't exactly have instant communication.  The classical period was simpler and more emotional than the Baroque period, and had some pretty big names and general style... and then Beethoven comes along.  Next post will be pretty much all about Beethoven before moving on to the romantic proper, simply because Beethoven is pretty much the father of the way music works today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aside: Tuning and Temperament.

Note: This post is a branch off of the Baroque period lesson 


So I hope we all understand the basics of what a pitch is, and what music is.  A sound wave is simply a pressure differential, basically, in whatever medium it's going through.  It takes the form of a longitudinal wave.  Basically, the air particles don't move that much to make sound happen, but there's a wave of pressure that does.  If it's just a single disturbance, or any non-periodic pressure change, it's noise.  However, when we have a series of waves at a specific frequency, that is to say, quasi-periodic or the theoretical periodic changes, we get a pitch.  An example is  if the air is changing pressure at 440Hz, or cycles per second, we hear an A.  And a specific A.  We refer to it as A440.  Guess why.

Now, onto the music part:

Intervals are definable as ratios of frequencies.  If you play A440 and another note at 880Hz, you will get a perfect octave.  If you play A440 and another note at  660Hz, you will get a perfect fifth.  A440 and 586.66...?  Perfect Fourth.  Ok, so that's simple enough, right?  Each interval is a ratio, and since this is all based on relatively simple math I'm sure it ends up lining up all prim and proper, especially since the Greeks were all "These intervals are perfect due to their fitting in with math correctly", right?

Let's try something.  Let's take A220, an octave below A440, and let's go a fifth up from that, which is the ratio 3:2.  330, which is an E.  Cool.  A fifth up from that?  495, a B.  Now, for the purpose of this example, every time we go above A440, let's adjust for octave, so that we're between 220 and 440.  So we divide by 2 and get: 247.5(B).  Now let's keep doing this to see where we end up:  371.25(F#), 278.4375(C#), 417.65625(G#).  Ok.  We're starting to get some serious decimal shit all up ins.  I'm no math expert, but I'm pretty sure it'd take some awesome to bring us to the nice clean 440 going at a ratio of 3:2 all the time.  Let's see though.   313.2421875(Eb), 234.931640625(Bb), 352.3974609375(F), 264.298095703125(C), 396.4471435546875(G), 297.335357666015625(D), and finally: 446.0030364990234375(A).

Again, no math expert, but I'm fairly sure that 446.0030364990234375 is in fact a different number than 440.  So we end up with a different frequency than expected if we just loop fifths around.  Uh oh.  How different of a pitch?  Well, the Bb one half step above A440 is approximately 465Hz.  So we're sharp by a little under a quarter of a half step when we loop fifths.  We've got a frequency for every pitch there too, so what's going on?

Well, it turns out that we get a little fudged here, simply on account of the math(There's some Pythagorean therum thing that explains this, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was).  In order to make all the intervals work and fit in an octave, we have to have something be out of tune.  The trick is figuring out what should be out of tune.  For non-fixed-pitch instruments, this isn't actually a problem.  Vocalists for instance, can fudge their pitches a little bit so that every interval is always in tune with itself, regardless of the intervals or where it lies in the tuning system.  But on a keyboard, you can't really fudge any notes, since every time you hit the key the exact same frequency is going to come out.  Unless there's something wrong with your keyboard.  Well, the way that tuning was accomplished historically was dependent on what exactly they needed to do with the music.

The first tuning here is a form of  Just intonation, where ratios are defined by whole numbers, and traditionally by small prime whole numbers.  It contrasts to the Equal Temperment we'll see later.  Just intonation is how we often express intervals, such as a fifth being 3:2, but as we've seen it doesn't really line up too well, so we have to throw a few things out of whack. Just intonation is also what we contrast other tuning with, but we use its theoretical form, where it actually works out.

Pythagorean tuning is the first tuning system we see in the western tradition.  In Pythagorean, we tune the fifths.  Well... that means the octave isn't right, so the Pythagorean tuning way of handling this is the beautifully simple way of "Call the out of tune one a different note".  That's right, in Pythagorean tuning, let's say based off of D, where we go both ways to get the tuning, so that fifths and fourths are the most in tune(So D is the middle based pitch, we then tune G below and A above, then C below and E above, etc), G#/Ab are two different pitches, separated by what we call the "Pythagorean comma".  This is fine-ish if we're playing in D major or any key that doesn't have G# or Ab anywhere in it ever, but that means that we'd have to retune our instrument to play in other keys.  This also means that any fifth from C# to Ab or G# to Eb will be outrageously wide, and is referred to as a "wolf interval", which is essentially a noticeable out of tune interval due to a tuning system.  This tuning sounds super-great when dealing with fifths and fourths, because that's what we tune to, and we have a nice simple interval of 3:2 for fifths that makes them sound all nice and consonant.  But it makes thirds really complex intervals like 81:64(Major) or 32:27(minor).  This makes thirds sound not as cool and a little out of tune.  This is part of the reason that in early music the third was considered a dissonance, because they were dissonances in Pythagorean tuning.

Now, to get to the next system, it's important to note the difference between "tuning" and "Temperament"  Tuning is accomplished by tuning just intervals, where Temperament attempts to correct the single super-out-of-tune interval by adjusting an interval by a small amount off of its just interval to get it to fit better.

Meantone Temperament comes next.  In meantone, we, basically, tune the thirds.  The most common Meantone Temperament, and the one we're dealing with around this era, is Quarter-comma meantone.  In Quarter-comma, we technically tune the fifths, but then we shrink the fifths by one-quarter of a Syntonic comma.  What is a Syntonic comma?  A syntonic comma is the ratio of 81:80, and is a tiny bit more than 1/5th of a semitone.  It's barely off from the Pythagorean comma.  It's much simpler to think about how we derive it though.  A syntonic comma is the difference between a Major third in Pythagorean tuning(referred to as a "Ditone") and a Major third of the interval 4:3.  And now Meantone starts to make sense.  Stack four Perfect fifths on top of one another:  C-G, G-D, D-A, A-E.  C-E is a major third.  So we shrink each fifth there by a quarter of a syntonic comma, which is the difference between the E derived from stacking fifths and the E derived just as a major third.  Oh look, now the Major third is in tune.  Awesome.  Well, we'll notice a problem here too.  Try stacking major thirds like we did with fifths and see if this time we loop back into a perfect octave.  FUCK!  Basically, we've just replaced one wolf interval with another.  Now the good news is we can play more in a single key while still sounding in tune, since the fifths are shrunk by a very small amount(about One quarter of one fifth of a half-step. essentially cutting the out-of-tune sound of thirds from Pythagorean tuning into 4), they don't sound too bad, and now thirds sound awesome.   But we still have wolf intervals.  Luckily, they're between really awkward intervals that probably won't show up like the #1 and 4s M3, or the #5 and b3 P5(this one was the worst, the true wolf fifth).  Unfortunately, if we meantone tune to C this means that the P5 between root and fifth in Ab would be a wolf interval.  And thus anything in the key of Ab would sound like shit.  So you couldn't play a suite or a group of pieces that covered certain key relations on a single keyboard without having to take a break to retune.  You'll notice we don't retune our pianos between each piece of music now a days, so what gives?

Well, next up is Well-temperament.   Well-temperament is an attempt to make intervals a closed circle.  That is to say, if you stack all the fifth intervals, they'll get you a perfect octave.  Well-temperament is slightly irregular though, which differentiates it from tuning we use today.  The good part about Well-temperament though is that since each interval was slightly off, most or all keys could be played without needing to re-tune.  Technically, Well-temperament isn't a set tuning structure like quater-comma meantone, but a range of temperaments with irregular intervals.  The great thing about Well-temperament was that there was no wolf interval, because it was so distributed around the different notes.  Keys excessively away from the base would still often sound a little wonky due to their thirds... since the distribution wasn't entirely regular, but for the most part, it opened up all keys on a single, 12-tone keyboard.

Equal Temperament is next, and is what we use today.  Specifically 12-tone Equal Temperament, but mostly we just say Equal Temperament, because the others are rare outside of the western tradition(24-tone Equal temperament is in use in very contemporary music, but the 12 tones of 12-tone equal temperament are the same in 24-tone).  Equal Temperament divides the octave into 12 equal intervals, basically distributing the comma over all notes and intervals, so it can't be heard, and allowing the most ability to move around keys, since there is literally no difference in keys.

Lesson 6: Baroque, as well as an explanation of tuning systems.

Hey everyone.  I want to start off by apologizing for the lack of update recently.  I'm trying to keep somewhat regular with this and trying to clip along at a reasonable pace since unless something goes horribly wrong, I'm going to be unable to really have any contact with the outside world starting mid-May for like 8 months, and I'd like to give at least a pretty good outline before then even if I don't get to the more advanced stuff before then.  I have a studio recital later today and I was playing for a bunch of Juries and had some concerts, which were keeping me pretty busy, plus I've got a pretty big audition coming up in a few weeks, and I'm recording an album next week, so all together I just didn't have time to update.

Also, I'd like to apologize in advance for a probable lack of updates in the next 2 weeks and possibly the next month or so.  I'll be out of town starting this Friday and that'll possibly extend straight through to January, and then I'm not entirely sure exactly how much but I'll have a very limited time to practice for my audition again so will probably be locked in a room with a piano for most of the day.

Ok, so we're ending the renaissance period today and moving towards the music that most people start knowing, and that probably sounds a lot closer to stuff you've heard of now.  The biggest difference into the Baroque period is the rise of functional tonality instead of relying on modes.  Also, in the mid-late Baroque we get the "rules" of counterpoint, which are essentially guidelines for writing parts in a way that doesn't suck.  We'll cover counterpoint when we're done with history.

This is also a period that I have much less familiarity with than the early music, and it'll probably show.  Also, as a brief note, while most of this is coming from my head, I'm fact checking with Norton Anthology of Western Music, and wiki for some specific subjects.  While earlier music I knew more about personally, with Baroque and on I'm leaning a lot more on my sources.  I'm obviously rewording like, everything to make it less stuffy and boring, also since it'd be super lame and pointless to have this blog if I was just plagiarizing everything.  And illegal, but I did want to cite that my biggest sources are the Norton Anthology and Wiki.

I'm kicking myself a little because one thing I meant to mention before was formes fixes.  Luckily for me, it doesn't really matter too much until now, so I might as well talk about it now.  Formes fixes was a form of poetry for songs, originating in France in about the 14th century.  So we're stepping back a century or two from where we ended last update, but basically there were three formes fixes: The ballade, rondeau, and virelai.  Basically, this was used for songs around the post-Notre Dame School, or ars nova period.  And they were specific in the form of the way the poem was put together.  Essentially they were like tablets.  Fill in the words in the right places and you have a song.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's jump back forwards to 1600 or so.  We often place the beginning of the Baroque period around 1650, where Purcell and Scarlatti start entering the ring, and often times this period of 50-100 years right before the Baroque starts all proper like is referred to as the "bridge period", since it's really pretty obvious that music kind of morphs from what is clearly Renaissance to what is clearly Baroque.
The Baroque period's beginnings are often cited as a council of Florence meeting, where they discussed arts, among other things.  They specifically looked back at the Grecian texts for inspiration, deciding to resurrect the musical drama, where text reigned supreme.  You may have noticed that in the renaissance stuff, sometimes text was impossible to understand, because there was so much going on over itself and words were so elongated that it took an hour or to to get to the second goddamn syllable.  The wiki article on Baroque music even says that this is the "conventional dividing line" for the Baroque period, but I take a bit of issue with that.  While it was a designed meeting that set specific ideas down, since there was still a pretty damn big delay in communication ability, and since if you do things like listen to the late 16th century stuff, you still find many things that the Baroque period had.  Either way, it's a nice dividing line if you're looking for one, just keep in mind that it wasn't all prim and proper with one style suddenly no longer happening and another taking over immediately.

What we're going to see over this period of time is a movement towards more structure in music, and the emergence of what today is a refrain in art music.  Madrigals, which we looked at, often had a repeating chorus and sort of song structure approximating todays song structures, except again, those were for a bunch of people to get together and sing for fun and to be all dirty and talk about sex.  Since the Ars Antiqua stuff started using secular music though, the secular and sacred parts of music sort of started to come a little closer together.  In the Baroque period, we have an emergence of much more commonplace concert music.  A lot of this is due to economic sorts of factors, with the Age of absolutism roughly overlapping.  We had rich, powerful people who wanted entertainment, and could now hire musicians to write an opera for them on the holophoner.  In fact, my first example of bridge period music is from Claudio Monteverdi, at the beginning of the 17th century, and was one of the first Operas.

So we hear that returning refrain in the orchestra between verses... it's quite a change compared to the flow-y, melt-y lines of the renaissance... it's a lot closer to standard song forms today.
We also see the arrival of Opera.  As I mentioned, Music was always linked to drama in some way, such as the early greek texts that note that their works of drama would have musicians, to heighten the emotion, as music can do.  The modes often are associated with different feelings that they evoke as well.  Opera was pretty much an advancement of this, melding the two.  In opera, we see basically two types of song.  First, we have the recitative, often shortened to recit.  This is the exposition song style.  Often there are a bunch of words over a chord, maybe on one note.  It's the equivalent of speech, pretty much.  Just sung.  The aria, on the other hand is the long florid song.  It's really the fuller song, and most people think of the aria when they're thinking of any specific work from any song.

We also see multi-movement works coming on scene more.  Similar to masses, but as concert/public music and not just sacred music.  Rather than list and talk about each style here, I'm going to link to wiki, which has a list of the parts of the suite as well as a few other style listings.  I'll talk about some of the more important ones in terms of theory and specific style.

First I want to talk about something called "Basso continuo".  Basso continuo was a type of figured bass, sort of an early way to give a bass note and a chord over it without writing all of the notes out.  The continuo was semi-improvised, and even the group of instruments playing it wasn't specified most of the time.  Think today if you went to a rock concert and instead of playing guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums instead they decided to pull out violins and brass and play the songs on those instead.  And that was completely normal and par for the course.  In terms of the notation, it was pretty similar to the way a jazz chart is written now, mixed with theory analysis of today.

We also see using "Ground bass", which is essentially a bass ostinato.  For those of you who don't know, an ostinato is a constant, repeated figure over changing music.  So ground bass is a bass ostinato... it's a bass line as we think of it today, essentially.  I'm skipping a few years for this example, and I'll go back to cover temperment and general style, but this is the example that is used in every theory class for Ground bass:

skip to about 0:45 ish to get to the end of the recit and into the aria, and you'll hear that descending chromatic bass line, which then repeats like a billion times while the aria is going on.

What we hear here too is a movement towards vertical thinking.  While lines in the renaissance tradition would construct what could be analyzed as chords today when they were overlapping, the thinking was all about the horizontal nature of the lines on the page.  The idea of "vertical" and "horizontal" here makes a lot of sense if you look at a multi-part score... the vertical nature is how the parts interact with each other, the horizontal aspect is how a single line behaves in time.

While this was going on we also find that now music is taught as a specific art.  Pedagogy emerges, things are structured, and there are now musicians instead of either people getting together to sing, or monks singing.  This means two things basically.  First, all of a sudden we have musicians that are musicians all the time.  People can now devote pretty much their entire lives to composition, performance, and study of music.  And the second thing, which grows off the first, is that musicians in general are a lot better at their jobs.  Now, what this means is that with the emergence of more ability, we have an emergence of showing off that ability, which is why we have the Baroque style emerging.  And what is the Baroque style?  Simple:

Baroque music is technical, virtuosic, and structured.  Baroque music is very much show-off music.  Baroque music uses heavy ornamentation and is very flowery sounding.  It's also very technical about it.  In many examples of Baroque music, you're basically just talking about playing chords.  But fast.  This makes Baroque music super-awesome for teaching.  There's a reason a lot of kids learning instruments learn Baroque music, because it was either about teaching good technique, or showing off that the performer had good technique.  Also, it's important to keep in mind here that pedagogy has improved over the past few centuries.  While today 12-year-olds can play Bach pieces, back then this was the height of performance ability.  There's a story with I believe Aaron Copeland, who was getting a piece of his performed by a modern orchestra, and the violinist played a certain lick he had written as written, and he said that it was all wrong, because even in the short time of a single composers lifetime, when he wrote the piece, violinists couldn't play that lick together and correctly, so the end result was a lot mushier than what was played with the more modern orchestra.  Consider with that sort of improvement over a relatively short period of time, how difficult this music must have been at the time.

Anyways, let's listen to some good examples that show off... well, showing off.

Oh my, that last one.
You may notice the last piece is from "The Well-tempered Clavier"  Allright, so other than an awesome band name, what does "Well-tempered" mean?  For this, we unfortunately have to use math.  I know, I'm as angry as you are.  Math?!  in Music?!

NOTE: My attempted "simple" explanation of tuning and temperament ended up being... well, super awesomely long and full of really boring math shit, so I'm going to post it separately, and just summarize here. 

 Essentially, before the mid-Baroque, we were using tuning systems that gave "Wolf intervals", which were wildly out of tune, and certain intervals just didn't sound right, because of some math stuff.  Also, we would be tuned to a specific key, and moving around to other keys required retuning any fixed-pitch instrument like a harpsichord, or, much harder to retune, an organ.  In the mid-Baroque a system of tuning started to arise called "Well-Temperament", which was a great advancement that allowed every key to be played(though some still sounded a touch off)

This was what Bach was using in that last example, he was so excited that he could do shit in every key that he wrote a suite, Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, or The Well-tempered Clavier, which contains a piece in every one of the 24 major and minor keys.  The original suite, what is now "book 1", was composed in 1722.  Later, in 1742, he wrote "24 preludes and fuges", which is basically the same idea, and is now considered "book 2" of the full Well-tempered Clavier.

A final style thing I want to talk about in the Baroque period is the "fugue", or "Fuga". The fugue is a texture of music that is the closest thing to the direct following of the tradition of prima practica Renaissance music.  Technically, I believe "fuga" comes from Latin related to both the terms "to chase" and "to flee".  Basically, in a fugue, a musical idea gets passed around parts and played with a bit.

The traditional fugue opens with the entire ensemble playing a single theme, and then a single voice starts playing that theme, which is referred to as the "subject".  Then, a second voice enters with the subject but transposed, often to the dominant.  Once the subject is restated, the first voice takes up counterpoint to it.  If the counterpoint is used later and is a constant companion to the subjects restatement, it is referred to as the "countersubject", otherwise, it's just called "free counterpoint".   Pretty simple, right?  Well, when this gets super-layered it can be pretty intense.  Bach is probably the most famous for these, but then again he's probably the most famous Baroque composer so.

This stuff sounds like this:

One final thing to mention, though I'll go into more detail after the history series, is counterpoint.  Bach measured statistics and wrote, in texts like "The art of fugue", "rules" for counterpoint, which is essentially the means to write moving voices.  This is another part of the structured nature of the music.

And that's all for Baroque styles and characteristics for now.  Next update will be Classical, though again, there might be a bit of a delay here since I'll be out of town for the next two weeks.

As always, any questions?  Feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to get back to you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lesson 5: Late Medieval into Renaissance.

Before I start, I'd like to mention that while these posts are separated into Medieval and Renaissance, it's important to note that through all of music history, music periods sort of bleed into each other.  While we like to say, for instance, that the Baroque period started in 1650 or so, and we like to look at Bach and say "BAROQUE", but we see Baroque tendencies for a hundred years or so previous emerging.

So anyways, we left off with the totally insane, completely out of left field style of just throwing a billion things together and just letting musicians go at it, but as always, eventually the Crack wore off, and music started to simplify.  It also started to resemble much more closely todays music in terms of phraseology.  You'll notice while listening to Isorhythmic stuff that you basically just have a constant flow of notes until everyone just sort of decides to stop.  Well, what we see happening is that this music starts to move forwards to very specific points.  Also, people finally discovered how to sing together in ways other than parallel or completely unrelated lines.

For an example, this is one of the earliest pieces that's easily definable as in the Renaissance:

Yeah, so.  You can probably hear the difference pretty well there.  There's still line independence throughout the piece, and there are those rhythms you hear a lot in the Medieval, but it's much simpler and more consonant than something like Rose, Lis, Printemps, Verdue, which is pretty much directly before this historically.

Another good example is something like Dufay

Another thing to note here is that you're probably noticing that this stuff is really full of just gorgeous flowing harmonies.

Now, something magical happened in around 1470.  For those of you who are history buffs will recognize that this is relatively close to around 1440, where something magical happened to literature.  The printing press wasn't really adapted to work with music until around 1470, and after that it meant that suddenly we have an explosion of manuscripts, knowledge of composers, and a spread of musical ideas.  We see as early as the end of the 15th century basically the precursor to the rock star.  Also, what's really interesting, is that even though at the beginning of the renaissance started to simplify, now we see a rediscovery of rhythmic complexity, but in a much different way.  Now when there were overlapping canonical structures instead of isorhythm.  So the end result was a much more controlled and consonant combined sound instead of the just mass of sound we had before.  You'll notice this a lot in stuff like Ockeghem:

So basically, the Renaissance started out saying "Holy shit what the fuck, other dudes", and went away from the batshit, but then they still liked the overlapping sounds and moving lines more than homophony, they just decided to go about it in a much different way, one that goes away from complete independence in lines and instead deal with interlocking lines.  But this is only half the story.  We missed late medieval secular music last post.

Secular music near the end of the Medieval period we had the Troubadours.  Troubadour music was essentially closer to plainchant in that it was pretty much a single line.

In the Renaissance, we have a very, very famous sort of secular music known as the Madrigal, which was really an interesting thing to look at.  First off, let's look at the early versions.  As I mentioned, after the printing press started being used with music which made the proliferation of scores much, much easier.  This meant that instead of the Church and the obscenely wealthy being able to have music, everyone could have music and sing it and maybe get like an awesome song book and have the equivalent of people gathering around the piano at a party and drunkenly singing shit.  I also mentioned the Renaissance rock star.  I was talking about Josquin.  You may notice the lack of a last name there.  Technically, he is "Josquin des prez", except no one called him that.  He was like Cher.  Or Prince.  He did not need a last name, he was Josquin.  Dude basically spent all his time doing lines of crack off ye olde peasante wenches asse(Or "ye olde peafante wenchef affe") while playing a game of whofe mouth ameth I inneth nowe?

Why was Josquin so awesome?


This may be my very favoritest piece of music ever composed.

Oh, and Josquin didn't just do secular music, no he did sacred music too.  Keep in mind that this is by the same genius mind that gave us El fucking Grillo

From the same Mass:

Now, this sort of continued to evolve into the Madrigal, which was basically what happened when the peasantry would get together and sing these songs about either sex or sex.  Or sex.  Sometimes they were really subtle about how they were singing about sex, but really it was all about sex.

Some of you may have heard this stuff before

Yeah, that one's pretty famous.  Basically it's all "Spring is coming!  Time for sex!"

Anyways, that was all happening alongside the sacred stuff going on, so back to sacred.

So the music is getting more advanced an polyphonic(again) after a brief time of simplifying a little.  This really comes to fruition with stuff like Palestrina.  I fucking love Palestrina, he's just pretty much dripping pretty with everything.

This is one of his more famous works.

Here's some more

And while this was going on, we started having a bit of a split.  While a lot of this was happening and everyone loved it, there started being another style, closer to the madrigals, of having homophony, that is to say, all voices singing the same rhythm just in chords.  What we see is that the polyphonic and antiphonal(Sung with two or more groups, often across the church isle, singing two choral parts that fit together) stuff started to be referred to as prima practica, while the homophonic stuff was seconda practica.  Seconda practica starts to sound very much closer to more modern choral work.

An example of Seconda practica can be found with some Tallis, sung by the Kings singers

It would be irresponsible of me not to also mention somewhere in here William Byrd, who's an exceptionally famous composer of this time as well.

And now we're pretty much ending the Renaissance period, but something very interesting happens.  While the medieval period got like, super advanced with isorhythm and the Renaissance started by cutting down on that shit, then sort of killed off a lot of the polyphonic stuff near the end in favor of the Seconda practica, the Renaissance period stuff then started getting really advanced with chromatics, especially the Madrigals.  Secular music just started getting weird when they started using chromatic alterations.  

I don't know if you can hear in that clearly, but there is some chromatic shit going on.  Sudden shifts into minor, modally borrowed chords... it kind of starts to stray off to crazy time.

Well, next update, we'll see that the Baroque period begins by cutting a lot of that out, basically, and focuses on its little thing, before that gets out of hand and the update after next we'll see Classical cut out the shit that Baroque runs away with.  But that's pretty much it for Renaissance.  I know it seems like just not that much happened, basically the music simplified, got really consonant and rhythmically similar, then simplified even more to homophony, but really with manuscripts being so widespread and just the huge culture change, with the incredibly push forwards in communication with the printing press, we see that now general eras last for shorter and shorter amounts of time, and less happens within a specific time.  The Medieval period could probably be separated into about 5-6(Plainchant, Organum purum, Organum duplum/Free Organum, Ars Antiqua, Ars nova) different eras based on the general characteristics, and Renaissance could basically be divided into two, maybe three(Early renaissance(?), Prima practica, Seconda practica). 

While I finish history stuff, we'll probably see more posts like this where I explain the general characteristics and just have a shitton of stuff to listen to to illustrate the point more than a super-long lecture like the Medieval. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lesson 4: A breif overview of Midieval music

Ok, so we've now covered the basics of what makes music music.  Once we're done with this series of posts, we'll move on to counterpoint, something that is incredibly boring and doesn't seem useful, but I'll explain why we learn it in the post.

Anyways, now we're moving on to history.  Some of you may be wondering what exactly is the point of learning Music History, since a lot of it has very little to do with music today, and in fact, as we'll learn in this series, the very basics of what we think of today as composing didn't exist until about the 19th century.  I mean, sure, it's great a parties(you have no idea how great at parties.  You whip out the knowledge of Palestrina mass structure and the ladies just can't get enough of you), and for some academic smart person reason it's important, but really on any practical level why?

Well... in a way a lot of it isn't important.  But there's a reason music sounds the way it does.  There's a reason that the rules of counterpoint exist in the way they do.  There's a reason we think of everything in the way we do.  There's a reason dominant chords go to Tonic chords, and there's a reason 4 measure phrases happen.  And knowing why things are the way they are today is still useful.

Also, I spend quite a bit of time in a room with boring professors being told how to read goddamn neumes, which haven't been used in notation since 1100 or so and dammit now you all have to deal with that shit because I'm writing this blog so neener neener neener.

So we start our overview of history in the times of the Ancient greeks.  We don't really know, unfortunately, really anything about Grecian music.  We know, for instance that the philosophers talked about the emotional and dramatic impact of music, and we know that they had the same general pitch relations as us, at least to a point(More correctly, we based our pitch relations on what they discovered).  In fact, I'll add a little PS for the people interested in the physics and psychology interaction we can draw from history, starting with the Greeks, because I think it's fascinating, once I'm done with the history series.  Anyways, we know, for instance that they knew of the relations in string length for different notes, such as cutting in half to get an octave, cutting to 1/3 to get a fifth, etc.  This is the basis of why we call unaltered fifths, fourths, and octaves "Perfect".  They are the simplest mathematical intervals, and so the Greeks, according to our reading of what they thought, referred to them as "perfect" since the greeks had such a hard-on for math.

And that's... well that's pretty much all we know about Grecian, and really any "Classical era" (We'll see a different classical period later, totally different classical era) music.  You see, when there was the whole rampaging barbarian problem in Europe and all those fancy civilizations with all their Aqueducts had all their cities burned and pillaged.  So we don't have any manuscripts of their music, nor did any of the oral tradition, assuming there was one, survive.  Whoops.

Anyways, then there were the dark ages.  Unless "People being impaled on pikes" counts as a musical work then we don't really have any music from there either.

But starting around 500 C.E. we start seeing manuscripts again.  According to tapestries and legend, as it were, right around the end of the 6th century, Angels or the Holy spirit or some sort of heavenly herald came down to Pope Gregory I and gave him music, or gave him divine inspiration to create music, or something like that.  Now, maybe God's just a crappy musician, or maybe Gregory I was a shitty student and after the first day of class started making paper airplanes out of his divine inspiration parchment, but in Gregorian chant, there is max two notes, one of which can move, there are no key signatures or clefs(well, there's close to a clef), and instead of writing notes, they just scribbled on a paper and told people to sing it.

It looked something like this

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This is what is known as Neumatic notation.  Instead of notes, we have Neumes.  That picture is an example of unheightened neumatic notation, which was the earlier form.  You may be able to see that each of those little scribbles has a direction and is separated from others.  For the first word, you would sing the first pitch on "Au", then a short, 2-note descending run on "bu", followed by a three note ascending run on "la", then a two note ascending run on "re".  As you can see, there's no absolute pitch, so there's no indication of what note to start on, nor exactly how much we descend or ascend in the runs.   So we can't really easily transcribe this into modern notation because while this does give us the contour of the music, there still obviously had to be an oral tradition part to it.  That is to say, it would be impossible with unheightened neumes to perform music that you haven't heard before.

Now, what we're pretty sure actually happened with Gregory, and the story outside of the tapestries and stories, is that he called for the codification and organization of music.  And for the time period, when we say "music", we really mean "Church music", though I'll talk a little bit about secular music.  So basically, before Gregory came along, this was pretty much all oral tradition, with perhaps something like unheightened neumes as a reminder, but there was no standard, and Gregory changed that.  Since it's the first codification, he got the chant style named after him, hence Gregorian chant.

So we have music that we can read assuming we know the song already, but that's not so useful, right?  I mean, we still have that, just look up any songs chords and it'll be in a notation where you need to know the piece, but you're pretty limited in what you can do with that.  You can't really hand a chord chart to an orchestra and have them play a piece, now can you?  Even if they have heard the piece it probably won't be too great of a performance.

So let's look at heightened neumes, which look something like this:

Heightened neumes

I know it looks still kind of like scribbles and random dots, but holy shit so much clearer.  So first off here, we're moving to a staff with lines.  This is awesome, because now we have distance between notes instead of just general movement.  Now, also, we have a clef.  Do you see it?  If you look at the very beginning, while it looks just sort of like other notes, you'll find a unique neume that looks almost like the letter C.  Well, that's the clef, and it is around where C is.  So C is the 4th line of the staff.  After that, we have what's known as a "podatus" neume, which means we'd sing two notes ascending, followed by a "Climacus", though an interesting one, since normally you'd see that with a single starting note, so it's more a compound neume.  It means we have three notes descending, though I believe since it's in a compound neume we'd count the last note of the previous neume.  

Anyways, so we have all of this, and I was about halfway through typing up the different types when I realized that wiki probably has an article on this, and it turns out it does.  And apparently is where those scores were from.  Good to know, GIS.  Thanks.  Anyways, here's the full version of what these mean, as far as we know

So interpreting this score, it looks like we're based on G, which puts us in Mixolydian mode(I'll explain that), and put into modern notation, the notes would be:  B G G F G C B A B A A G

for that first little snippet before the words and giant letter M come in.  We're still unsure of how rhythms work out in heightened neume notation.  There's debate as to whether certain neume types do indicate a rhythm or lengthening of note length, or doubling, but we really are unsure.  It's also possible, I guess, that the rhythm would still be something that the singer would have to know, or would be implied by something else.  But the common interpretation is that all notes are equal in length.  So if we want to have different length notes, we still really can't exactly write it, we just don't have the capability to notate rhythm yet.

So before I talk about how we do get to modern notation, let's look at what I posted up there about being in Mixolydian mode.  The fuck?

Well, as I mentioned, we don't have key signatures.  We only have one accidental, and that's, interestingly enough, the flat, which can only be placed on B, and does exactly what it does in modern notation.  What's fun is that the meaning actually changes slightly in later early music before coming back to what it is now.  

So with no key signatures, we only had the "white notes"(Think like on a piano).  But we could still base music on different tonics.  So for instance, imagine a scale starting and ending on D, but F and C aren't sharp as in D major, and B isn't flat as in D minor.  We could do that, theoretically, based on any white note.  Well, these scales are referred to as "Modes".  Modes exist today, though they're now just different scales.  They're the same note relations as the original modes, but they can be moved anywhere.

So anyways, what this gives us are the 8 original "Church modes", as we call them.  We have 4 "Authentic" modes and 4 "Plagal" modes.  and here's a chart of authentic modes from what note it's based on:

D: Dorian

E: Phrygian

F: Lydian(Note: This mode has Bb naturally in it)

G: Mixolydian

Ok, now here's where it gets a little confusing.  Each church mode has a "Final", which is about the equivalent of the tonic in todays music, it's the "resting note" as it were, a place to end and move around.  For the authentic modes, the Final is the note that the scale is based on.  So dorians final is D.  For Plagal modes, the final is the same as a corresponding authentic mode, but the scale starts and ends a fourth below the corresponding authentic mode.  So the plagal modes, in the same order as the authentic modes up there are:  Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, and hypomixolydian(This one's my favorite.  It's fun to say).

Ok, so that's modes.  And neumes.  You know, for a history lesson, I'm really not covering much of the time line.  This is more Ancient music theory.

Anyways.  Whoo boy.  So that's how music is put together back then... so what about how it sounded?

Here's an example of basic Gregorian chant.  You'll note that while they extend the last note of each phrase, mostly the notes are all the same length.  Also, there's only one note.

I want to note that during this period there was also Secular music, specifically from the precursors to the Troubadours.  Basically, traveling minstrels.  Their music was pretty much completely of an oral tradition, because printing at the time was incredibly expensive, so only the church could afford it.  The result of their oral tradition is that we don't really know all that much about their music.  What we do know is that they would often sing with instruments, and that much of their music was in what is known as "Strophic" form, which is basically A-A-A-A-A-etc.  Again, I'd love to go into more depth with this, but unfortunately there are just so few records and I can't for the life of me find any recordings without delving into my anthologies, and I'm not sure where they are.

Now music pretty much continued along this way for about 500 years.   Single line, monorhythm, all that.  Around the beginning of the 11th century or so, we started to see something rise called "Organum".  Organum was essentially music that involved two notes.  At the same time!   That's right, it took 500 years of singing one note before anyone thought "HEY!  WHAT ABOUT TWO?!"  I imagine the early adopters were burned for their witchcraft, but eventually people realized holy shit two notes.  Now, this took a few forms.  The earliest form was "Organum Purum", which involved a single drone note over which a melody was sung/played.  An example of this is in Ordo Virtutum, by a very well known early composer who we'll get to soon.  As you can hear, we're still dealing with the idea of a single melodic line, but we do have emergent harmonies between that line and the drone.

Later, we started to see something known as "Free Organum", which involved two voices moving together, or sometimes in Oblique motion(One part stays on a note while the other moves), but not in the same fashion as the drone of Organum purum.  An example of this is in, once again, Ordo Virtutum, elsewhere in the work.

The reason I used Ordo Virtutum is because it's by one of the most famous and influential people in every field in the middle ages: Hildegard Von Bingen.  Hildegard did everything, there are a ton of fields in which she's pretty famous for.  She's so famous that we actually know the stuff she did.  At the time, most of this chant stuff was written by monks and nuns who wouldn't sign their works, so 90% of early music will be by Anonymous.

Around this time as well, Guido d'Arrezo basically decided that it was probably a good idea to be able to write music down.  One of his semi-famous ideas was the Guidonian hand.

Guidonian hand 

Basically, Guido D'Arezzo could point to parts of his hand and it would serve as a mnemonic device to aid in sightsinging.  There's a reason we don't use it today, though, while we do use the other forms of notation.  Basically, the hand required memorizing locations on the hand and couldn't be used outside of the performance, basically.  You can't really go home and practice when you need to see someone pointing at their hand.  It was essentially less a basic form of notation and more a basic form of conducting.

The big thing we see from him though was Guidonian notation.  Guidonian notation is also known as "What we do today"  Guido D'Arezzo was around the 11th century, and we've been using, though it's changed a little, his notation system since.  It's wonderful, because it allows someone who has never heard a piece to play it correctly.  Essentially, it's the final movement away from the oral tradition into a written one.  It wasn't quite the same as today, we'll see "Mensural" notation, which doesn't quite look like things to today, but it is much more clearly closer to modern notation than neumatic notation.

But back to music.  With these advancements, we started to see something called "Organum duplum", another form of two-voice singing.  We enter a period known as Ars Antiqua, and we'll get to why it's called that soon.  Essentially we see a movement towards more going on in the pedal voice, and this is where see see what almost sounds like a rudimentary system of chords, where there is a changing bass note at certain points in the melody.  This stuff sounds something like this.  It's also known as the "Notre Dame school", because that's where it was practiced often.  Leonin and Perotin are famous composers of this style, and pretty much always mentioned together because their names are similar.  This went on 'till about the early 14th century.  We also start seeing composers with hilarious names like "Adam de la halle", or "Adam of the hall".  Love it.

It's important to understand the philosophy that's going on here for a second, to make the next period make sense.  While today we hear the interaction as almost a vocal line - Bass line relationship, they didn't really see it that way.  Their interpretation was that they were two simultaneous lines of Organum.  Well, with Guidonian notation, we can start to have that second line do a lot more than just sit on one note until the other line has sung a few notes, and the lines don't have to move together or even be all that related.  In fact, if you look at manuscripts from around this time, you'll sometimes see that each part has its own bar line placement... there isn't just one bar line for everyone like there is today.

So music slowly was becoming more filled with advanced rhythm and individual parts, and then Phillipe de Vitry came along and said "Fuck it, we'll do it live!I'm going to move us forwards myself!"  And he started the Ars Nova period.  What's funny here is that he decided that his stuff was "New Art" and everything else was "Antique art".  I'm sure he was awesome at parties.  Anyways, this was like a super-explosion in music.  It's actually not too wacky to suggest that his stuff really did make everything else look, well, antiqua.  In fact, there are developments in music during this period of time and immediately following that we don't see again until the music of the 20th and 21st century.  It's whack as shit.  Essentially, this school ascribes to the Voltron theory of music.  The more lines you add, the more stuff going on, the better.  So you would have just a billion things going on at once.  Specifically, Ars Nova as a period is known for its Isorhythmic motets.  The motet was a song form we saw arriving around this time, and Isorhythm, which translates from Greek as "The same rhythm", is... well it's wacky assed shit, so let's see if I can explain it.

Isorhythm consists of two parts, the talea and the color.  The talea is a specific rhythm, and the color is a specific melody line.  What's important to note is that the talea and the color have different amounts of notes.  They are repeated over each other however, in each line.  So imagine that you have 4 pitches with a rhythm of Quarter-Eighth-Eighth.  When you get to the end of the talea, the Q-E-E rhythm structure, just repeat it, starting on the last pitch.  Since you're now done with the color, repeat it over the remainder of the rhythm.  Just keep doing that.  That's the basic line of an Isorhyhmic motet.  Now do that with 7 other voices.  It'll sound something like this, which is a Mass by Guillaume de Machaut, one of the two more famous Isorhyhmic composers.  The color, by the way, was taken from a Plainchant.  So we're still pretty much just dealing with chants at this point, just cut up and messed up and remixed until they're not really recognizable anymore.

Oh by the way, during this period there was also something I find absolutely hilarious and completely off the wall happening.  Sometimes, in order to get more tenor lines(The "tenor" in this period, refers to the melody, not the voice part), composers would just sort of... borrow from other works.  Which is sort of weird but ok, like a mashup.  Except that they would also start to borrow from secular works.  For their sacred works.  So it was entirely possible in this period to see a love song about a rose(which, in case you didn't know, is during pretty much all of music, code for a vagina) being sung alongside a sacred chant.  Basically, they were doing mashups of Ave Maria and Baby got back.  In churches.  This was still sacred music.  It is a tradition I think we should totally bring back.  Because it's awesome.

Also, while listening to this sort of stuff, it's important to hear that we're starting to hear the emergence of thirds.  This wasn't really a big thing that suddenly happened, but originally Fifths and fourths were considered consonant sounds, and thirds and sixths dissonant.  You can still clearly hear a ton of use of fifths and fourths during this stuff, because fifths and fourths are like, super-easy to tune, and as I mentioned, their ratios make easy mathematical sense.  Once singers starting singing thirds and sixths correctly though, they found that it had a sweet warm sound to it.  This slowly crept across Europe, and was known as the "Sweet British sound".  Guess where it originated.

I'm going to end this post for now, next update we'll look at Renaissance music.  Once we get past that and into the 17th century I'm sure we'll be able to cover more eras per post, but there is a lot of development that goes on in what I covered, and it's like, 1,000 years of music history.  Keep in mind that between Bach and today there are about 350 years.

Before I go though, here are some more examples of Ars Nova stuff, because holy shit it's so goddamn pretty to listen to.  I love this stuff so much.

As a note, Rose, Lis, Printemps, Verdue there is one of my favorite pieces of the era, because it's like, as textbook Ars nova as you can possibly get.

Oh yeah, sometimes they used instruments.

Ok, that was super-long.  As always, questions in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lesson 3: Chord construction

Ok, so we know how to read music, we know about keys and scales, and we know about intervals.  So what about chords?  Most people, especially if they play guitar, are going to know about chords, probably that there are minor, major, 7, and power chords.  But that doesn't really tell us too much.  I mean, that tells you all you need to play maybe 90% of rock music, but it doesn't tell you the why to anything.

Now, since we know that certain intervals can be major and minor, and chords can be major and minor, they're obviously related, right?  They are, but not quite as obviously as you'd think.

Also, before I go on I should mention that I'll start using some shorthand to refer to intervals, so I'll quickly go over them:

The number is the interval, so a 3 would be a third.  A 5 would be a fifth.  Etc.

The letter/symbol is a little specific:

M = Major

m =  minor

aug = Augmented

dim = diminished

So, what are chords?  Chords are combinations of 3 or more different pitch classes.  With those, you have two or more stacked intervals.  Also you can measure an interval between the lower and upper note.  To make this a little clearer, let's look at one.

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So between C and E there, we have a Major third.  Between E and G there's a minor third, and we can measure a Perfect Fifth between C and G.  Also, this particular type of chord is called a "Triad".  A triad is any chord of two stacked thirds, and is probably what you'll see most often for a lot of music, unless you play jazz or grunge that has its own sets of standard chord construction.

Now you'll notice that the chord I posted has both a Major and minor third.  So which is it?  Major or minor?  Major-minor(This is also technically correct, but no one would say it)?  And what would happen if we had two Major or two minor thirds?  Would it be super-Major?  What if it had a fourth?  Or a fifth?  Holy crap!

Well, it turns out this is our intro to one of the annoying things about theory.  For a grand unified system that catalogs and explains like, everything in music ever, there isn't always a standard rule.  A lot of things with theory everything behaves in some standard fashion, and sometimes we just have nomenclature that you have to pretty much just learn.  There are still patterns and some ways to go about thinking about the whole thing that make it a little easier, but not so much a hard fast rule that everything obeys.  I'll try to give as many ways to think about this as possible, so hopefully at least one will click.

So we know of 4 different interval types, Major, minor, Augmented, and diminished.  To start off, let's look at the relations between thirds in different triads.

Let's for now only deal with Major and minor thirds, as, as I'll get to when talking about inversions, pretty much any triad can be boiled down to combinations of thirds.  In order, let's say we start stacking minor thirds.  A minor third on top of a minor third is a "Diminished" chord.  I know, there aren't diminished thirds in a diminished chord, but the chord is diminished.  Building from the root(The root is the bottom note of a chord when in the form of stacked thirds, it's also the note that we use to name the chord) up, if we have a minor third and then a major third, it's a minor triad.  Building from the root up if we have a Major third and then a minor third, it's a Major triad(Such as the example up there), and if we stack major chords it's an Augmented triad.  Ok, that's simple enough, though it doesn't really explain why diminished or augmented chords are called that.  However, it does lay the groundwork for looking at chords with more notes than triads, like 7ths.  

So let's look at the intervals from root to third and from root to fifth(In general, when talking about notes in a chord, we go by the scale degree if we were in the key of the root.  That sounds confusing, but essentially think that in C Major, with a d minor chord, f would be the third of the chord.  It's hard to explain but it does make sense and work out).  If we have a minor third and a diminished fifth, the chord is diminished.  If we have a minor third and a Perfect fifth, the chord is minor.  If we have a Major third and a Perfect fifth, the chord is Major, and if we have a Major third and an Augmented fifth, the chord is augmented.  This way makes a lot more sense, but part of that's because we're just ignoring half of the internal intervals, and when we add 7ths to chords this method falls apart a little bit.

Another way to think about it that sort of bridges the two, is if the fifth is unaltered, kind of pretend it doesn't exist, because it's not really giving the chord any value.  A perfect fifth is like, the quintessential "Open" sound, without any specific sonority.  So if you have a major third, it's a major triad, and a minor third makes it a minor triad.  The difference between it just being a third or a triad is the existence of the fifth, but the fifth doesn't do anything to the chord.  If the fifth is altered to make the chord smaller, it's diminished, and if the fifth is altered to make the chord bigger, it's Augmented.

And finally, we have the scale degrees above root with modifiers.  So 1 - b3 - b5 is diminished. 1 - b3 - 5 is minor.  1 - 3 - 5 is Major.  1 - 3 - #5 is Augmented.

Ok, hopefully one or all of those ways to think about this stuck, so we can move on to inversions, and then 7ths.

So what if there's a P4(Perfect 4th), in there?  There's nothing in any of those guides that accounts for a P4.  Well, let's take a look at something:

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Ok so.  What is this?  It's got a minor third and... a perfect fourth.  The interval between the... root? and.. fifth? is a minor sixth.  What?

Well what are those notes?  E, G, C?  Where have we seen those notes before?  What if we take that top note and throw it on the bottom?  Hey we know that chord!  Yeah, so that picture is a C major chord, just rearranged a little.  This is what's known as an inversion.  Inversions give a different sound due to their different bass note, and once we get to voice leading, can make bass lines move more smoothly than just always being on the root.

If the bottom note of the chord is the root, so C-E-G for our example, then it's in "Root position".  Pretty simple.  If the bottom note is the third, then we're in "First inversion", and if the bottom note is the fifth, we're in "Second inversion".  We haven't talked about roman numerals for chords yet(and it'll be a few updates yet), so for now we'll deal with probably how you've seen inversions and different bass notes, with a slash.  So C/E for instance indicates a C major triad with an E in the bass, or first inversion.  Now, some of you may notice that they're not exactly the same thing... sometimes you play the chord in root position in the right hand or on the guitar, for instance, and then like two octaves below that the bass player is sitting on their open 4th string and is that really the same as a stacked m3(minor third) and P4?  Well, as far as sound is concerned, not really, but as far as we're concerned with analysis pretty much, yeah.  Sometimes the bass note doesn't fit in the chord either, but that's a whole different bucket o' worms.

For those of you who haven't seen "C/E" or have any idea what that is, we'll cover that really soon, but first let's talk about 7ths.

So, triads we've got, they pretty much only come in 4 varieties.  What if you add another note?

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I apologize for that example, it was the only Major 7 chord I could find without having to search around too much or go through more shit than I want to for a single chord to come from Finale.  But let's look at the notes there.  G-B-D-F#.  Allright well that's four notes.  And what are the intervals?  Stacked we've got M3-m3-M3.  Above the root it's an M3, P5, M7.  Now, with an extra interval in there over triads, we have more combinations of minor and major thirds we can combine.  I'll just give you guys a list here of what the different 7th chords are, starting with the most diminished going to the most augmented:

Stacked thirds | Intervals above root | scale degrees with modifier : Designation

m3-m3-m3 | m3, dim5, dim7 | 1, b3, b5, bb7* : Fully-diminished 7

m3-m3-M3 | m3, dim5, m7 | 1, b3, b5, b7 : Half-diminished 7

m3-M3-m3 | m3, P5, m7 | 1, b3, 5, b7 : Minor 7

m3-M3-M3 | m3, P5, M7 | 1, b3, 5, 7 : minor-Major 7

M3-m3-m3 | M3, P5, m7 | 1, 3, 5, b7 : Dominant 7

M3-m3-M3 | M3, P5, M7 | 1, 3, 5, 7 : Major 7

M3-M3-m3 | M3, Aug5, M7 | 1, 3, #5, 7 : Augmented Major 7

M3-M3-dim3 | M3, Aug5, m7 | 1, 3, #5, b7 : Augmented 7 (This one's really hard to remember and stupid)

*No that wasn't a typo, that's a double-flat.  Double-flats behave pretty much like you'd expect them to... they're two semitones down.  So essentially they're a whole step down.  For double-flats, you just have two flat signs in a row, and for double sharps you have sort of an x.  In fact, an x will work in text.

To hear these, check out wiki, it has them all.  Also it has Triads.  

Ok, I've got go meet a vocalist to go over part of a studio recital, so we're going to end the lesson now, but I want to as a last thing go over the ways of writing the modifiers for chords, in case you see these symbols and don't know what the hell they mean:

Major Triad: M, Maj, Nothing(For instance, C would just be C Major)

minor triad: m, -, min

Augmented triad: Aug, +

Diminished triad: dim, o

Major 7: M7, Maj7, Δ(In my life, I have never seen that one used.)

minor 7: m7, min7, -7

Fully Diminished 7: o7

Half Diminished 7: ø7, m7b5, -7b5

Minor-Major 7: mM7, mMaj7, mΔ7, -Δ7(Again, those last two... I've only seen them in books, never on a score)

Augmented Major 7: Maj+7, Maj7#5, M7#5, Δ+7

Augmented 7: +7

Those triangle ones.... maybe as I think back I've seen them on one Jazz chart, but it's very rare.  Mostly if you remember that + is augmented, o is diminished, m is minor, M is major, you're pretty good.  

Also, finally, alt bass notes... I said I'd explain that.  When dealing with absolute chord notation like I have been so far, that is to say, not measuring with roman numerals, just the notes of the chords, if we have something like dm/F the F is the bass note, and we read that as "D minor over F", or "D minor, F bass" or "D minor, 1st inversion".

So if we see "D", we play a D major chord.  If we see "F+7" we play an F Augmented 7 chord.  If we see "Aoaddb6", we play an A diminished chord and add in a flat 6(F, in the example).  For anything not covered by the symbols, you'll often see something like "b5" in the chord designator, which really just means whatever else you're doing, flat the 5.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lesson 2: Pitch relations

Allright, so now that we have the basic vocabulary down, it's time to start dealing with the nuts and bolts of what makes music music.

If you ask a theory professor, someone who will probably have glasses, a sweater vest, and lots of tweed, what a scale is, they'll probably give an answer like "A scale is a collection of unique pitch classes". Awesome. Of course, this tells us absolutely nothing. That could describe, like, everything in music.

What we're mostly concerned about, what you'll deal with most often, are "Diatonic scales" Wiki says a Diatonic scale "is a seven note musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps, in which the half steps are maximally separated" Awesome. Well that's correct, but what the fuck? What does that even mean? Maximally separated? Allright, so what it means is that there are 2 or 3 whole steps between each half step, depending on which diatonic scale you're using as well as when you ascend through octaves. Basically, a major scale is (W=Whole step, H=Half Step) W-W-H-W-W-W-H, and a natural minor scale is W-H-W-W-H-W-W.
This is a little easier when seeing and hearing it, so here's a C major scale
C Major
To make it a natural minor scale, we would flat the third, sixth, and seventh scale degrees, or E, A, and B for C minor.

Here's a C major scale being played, both ascending and descending.  You'll notice it sounds "Happy" 

And here's a c natural minor scale ascending and descending.  It's "Sad"

There are two other scales commonly used in common practice tonal theory, both of which are variations on the minor scale.

The first is the harmonic minor scale, which raises the 7th scale degree(from minor.  So it is in fact the normal, unaltered scale degree in major), both ascending and descending.  It sounds something like this:

The reason this is known as a harmonic minor comes a little later, when we start talking about the basic chords in a key.

And then finally we have the "Melodic minor", which is confusing because it changes depending on whether you're going up or down.  If you're ascending, you raise the Sixth and Seventh, so that the only note that is different from the major scale is the lowered third.  However, descending, the melodic minor is exactly the same as the natural minor.  It sounds like this.

Now, when we talk about "Scale degrees", we count in ascending order, and while in chord theory later on we'll be talking about 9ths and 11ths and 13ths, for the most part, after the 7th scale degree, we loop back to the 1st scale degree, but in a different octave.  So the third scale degree Now, n C Major is E.  The fifth is G, the seventh is B. 

And speaking of octaves, I've used that term a lot, what exactly is that? In order to lay the groundwork for some later theory stuff, each specific frequency, as well as any frequency which is derived by x^2/f or f/(x^2), where x is any whole number, is a "pitch class".  That is to say, a pitch class is any frequency as well as its double, its quadruple, eight times it, its half, its quarter, it over eight, and so on(Any math people, feel free to correct me if that formula doesn't say that). in other words, all "C"s are of the same pitch class. But they are not all the same note, because there are really high and really low Cs. What an octave is is the interval between two neighboring notes of the same pitch class. It looks something like this

Both of those notes are C, and the interval between them is an Octave(So names because they are the 8th scale degree apart from each other). Since an octave has the same pitch class for both notes, it's also an easy to discuss boundary for ranges of notes. So when I say that something is "In a different octave" or "crossing octaves", I'm normally referring to it being between a different octave of the 1st scale degree.

  So, for example, the scales I posted are all within the same octave, in that none of the notes extends above the 3rd space C or below Middle C the ledger line below the staff, with C being the reference because we're in the key of C

Which gives me a nice segue into keys.  When we're talking about key signatures and what key something is in, we're essentially talking about what notes are modified to fit into a specific diatonic scale.  So if we're in the key of A Major, as we looked at last update, we see that F, C, and G are sharp.  That's because in order to build a major scale based on A(meaning that A is the first scale degree, also known as the "Tonic"), we need to have those notes be sharp.  If we had no key signature, we would be in a minor, as the a natural minor scale needs no modified notes.  We name the keys based of the the Tonic, or the first scale degree.  So the key with modifications to build a major scale with the tonic of D is D Major.  The key with modifications to build a minor scale with the tonic of B is b minor.

For reference, here's the key signature for D major:

D Major 

And here's b minor:

b minor 

HEY WAIT!  I messed up and posted the same key signature for both!  D Major and b minor are examples of "Relative" keys.  Relative keys are keys that share the same key signature, but a different tonic.  The relative minor of any major key is based on the 6th scale degree, and the relative major of any minor key is based on the 3rd scale degree.  So C and a are relatives, D and b, E and c#, etc.  The other common relationship you'll see is what is referred to as "Parallel" keys.  A parallel key is one with the same tonic, but a different key signature.  So the parallel minor of C Major is c minor.

There's a trick here to telling what key you're in, too.  If the key has sharps, you go one step above the last(right-most) sharp in the key signature, and that's your major tonic.  So the last sharp in D Major/b minor's key signature up there is the C#.  One step above? D.  The sixth scale degree?  B, so the relative minor is b minor.  Specifically you go one half step above the last sharp, but you only go there when in really awkwardly written keys like B# or E#.

If the key has flats, then the second to last flat is the Major tonic.  So if you have two flats, Bb and Eb in the key signature, then you're in Bb Major/g minor.  If you have Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, you're in Db major/bb minor.

Also, there is a strict order to how you add sharps and flats that makes that work out correctly.  With sharps the order is: F C G D A E B.  With flats it's B E A D G C F.  There's a trick to this that won't make sense until the next part, which is that Sharps you add by going up by perfect fifths, and flats you add by going up by perfect fourths.  Which is also how the keys loop around.  The keys in order of increasing number of sharps are C(no sharps) G(one) D A E B F# C# G# D# E# B#.  With flats it's C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb.  Again, that's a little more advanced, so I'll return to it later.

In fact, let's look at intervals now, so that makes a little more sense.

Intervals are the distance between notes.  They're also the term used for the notes when played together or sequentially.  So a "Third" is a combination of notes a third apart.

Lableing them is pretty easy, we name them based on how far apart they are.  If the notes are one step apart, they are a "Second".  If the notes are three scale degrees apart, they're a third.  Here are... well all the natural major intervals.  For the audio, they're all in C major, and they'll play the notes C - interval above C - notes together.

Major second

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Click here to download Major second.mp3

Major Third

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Click here to download Major third.mp3

Perfect Fourth

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Click here to download Perfect fourth.mp3

Perfect Fifth

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Click here to download Perfect fifth.mp3

Major Sixth

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Click here to download Major Sixth.mp3

Major Seventh

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Click here to download Major 7th.mp3

Ok, so quick thing, why are some intervals "Major", and some "Perfect"?  And for that matter, you may noticed I didn't mention "Minor", "Augmented", or "Diminished" yet.  Well, there's a historical explanation for the specific term "Perfect", but ultimately, There are 3-4 ways of defining any specific interval.  The interval remains the same in terms of diatonic scalar distance, but the pitch class distance isn't necessarily the same.  So a minor third is between, for instance C and Eb, while a Major third is between C and E.  They're both between a C and an E of some sort, but the chromatic modifier is different.  For fourths and fifths, there is no such thing as a "Major" or "Minor" interval.  If you look at Major v. minor scales this will start to make some sense, in that the fourth and fifth scale degree aren't modified.  Now I know what you're saying "But Khavall!  The second scale degree also isn't modified!"  That's true, but again, that's specifically the historical and mathematical reason.

For intervals with Major and Minor sonorities, the Major is the one that would occur in a scale based on the lower note in major.  It's a little confusing with that saying, but for instance, a C Major Third is C and E, and a c minor third is C and Eb.  An A major third is A and C#, an a minor third is A and C.  For diminished intervals, you shrink the interval one step chromatically from the minor, so a diminished third would be, for instance, D and Fb(Yeah, I know), where D and F is a minor third.  For augmented intervals, you expand the interval one step chromatically from Major, so C and E#(Yeah, I know), while C and E are the Major interval.  For perfect intervals, Diminished is one chromatic step smaller than Perfect, and Augmented is one Chromatic step larger than perfect.

Ok, so... some of you may have noticed something here.  Like, if you play a diminished triad on your instrument of choice it sounds exactly the same as a major second.  For a visual version of this idea, take a look at these two intervals:

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They look different.  They sound the same.  If you go one half step up from G, or one half step down from A, you arrive on the same key/fret.  So are they different?  Are they the same?  Why do we have both?

Well here's an important concept in theory: Behavior, and context.  You'll notice that I've been trying to separate the concepts of "Pitch class" and "note".  G# and Ab are the same pitch class, but they are different notes.  The difference between them are one of two things.  One is purely notation, the other is function.

     An Augmented fifth is probably going to be followed by the interval expanding, where a minor sixth is probably going to be followed by the interval collapsing.  Even without the interval, a G# will probably be followed by ascension, where an Ab will probably be followed by descent, if they aren't simply functions of the key signature.  They sound the same, but the specific note used is an indication of behavior.

Now, I mentioned key signature there... that's the other function of different notes for a specific pitch class.  In keys with flats in the key signature, a flat or even a double-flat is simply easier to read than a sharp, because if a performers mind is thinking in flats, suddenly reversing that to add a sharp in can be very confusing.  Sometimes a double-flat or double-sharp are even easier to read than Natural signs.  Essentially, if certain notes are in a chord are modified in one way, modifying other notes in a similar way means that the thought process is only "Down by X or Y" instead of "X is down by Y but Z is up by A and B is up by C from being down by D".  

Either reason can be why a certain pitch class is portrayed with a certain note, and like many things in theory, there isn't really a hard and fast rule to a lot of it.  Note that, for instance, I mentioned that Augmented fifths normally expand.  I'm sure with even cursory searching someone could find an Augmented fifth that collapsed, but the general use of an Augmented fifth is that it will expand.

And now that we know intervals, let's briefly return to key relations.  Once again, the order of keys with sharps is: C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# E#, and flats is C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb.  So what's the relation between them?  Sharp keys are what are known as the "Circle of fifths", while Flat keys are the "Circle of fourths".  That's because to get from one sharp key to the next, you ascend by a perfect fifth.  To get from one flat key to the next, you ascend by a perfect fourth.  

So today we've covered Scales, Keys, and Intervals.  Next update we'll cover chord construction, and then we pretty much will have covered the basics of construction of music, and can move on to what to do with all of it.

As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment and I'll try to get back to you.