Sunday, April 28, 2013

Music From Around the World: Sub-Saharan Africa

     This week our selection from around the world comes from beautiful Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa has two distinct musical traditions, with northern African music influenced greatly by the music of the Middle East that we studied last week. The Sub-Saharan portion of the continent has its own rich and dynamic musical traditions, and this is the music we'll be listening to this week.

     In many ways, the music of central and southern Africa sounds familiar to our American ears. We recognize the complex rhythmic structures, the rich harmonies, and deep, longing melodies from our own experiences with today's jazz, ragtime, blues, and rock music. The influence of African music on the development of these American genres simply cannot be understated.

    Traditional African music is bound tightly to all of a community's activities. There is a song and dance for nearly every occasion, from weddings and funerals to births and rights of passage. African music is both communal and ceremonial, and there is little distinction between watching and participating. 

     Most African music is highly improvised (made up on the spot), and features complex rhythms, vocalization, and dancing. Unlike many of our previous selections, harmony is common in African music, particularly vocal harmonies. 

    Here are this week's words to remember:

1) Hemiola: A rhythmic pattern of three over two. For example, playing two eighth notes in one hand and an eighth note triplet in the other.
2) Polyrhythm: Playing two or more conflicting rhythms at once.(A repeated hemiola pattern.)
3) Djembe: A traditional African skin drum.
4) Call and Response: A style of singing where one group or person sings a musical idea and a second group or individual echoes or answers. 
5) Ostinato: A repeating pitch or pattern played under a melody.
6) Polyphony: Two melodies being performed at the same time. This overlapping often creates harmony with all parts being of equal importance.

   Here are some additional selections of this fabulous musical tradition to tickle your ears:


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Music From Around the World: The Middle East

This week we'll be focusing on the beautiful and deeply influential music of the Middle East. We'll be listening for the monophony and heterophony we've previously studied in our travels, as well as learning some interesting new terms that define the characteristic sounds of the region. We'll be discussing how the music of this region influenced the music of surrounding areas, and we'll start learning about musical modes.

When you listen to the selection below, think about role rhythm plays in the texture of this music. Is it more or less complex than the music of the regions we've already studied?

  This week's important terms are:

1. Mode: A musical pattern. A tonal mode is a set pattern of pitches, and a rhythmic mode is a set pattern of long and short sounds.

2. Maqam: A tonal mode used in traditional Middle Eastern music. There are 72 commonly used maqams, each of which evoke a particular mood.

3. Iqa: A rhythmic mode.

4. Taqasim: An improvised section at the beginning of a piece that introduces the maqam.

5. Microtones: Pitches that fall in between the white and black keys on the piano. 

Review Terms:

1. Monophony: Everyone singing or playing the same pitches at the same time.

2. Heterophony: Everyone singing or playing the same pitches at the same time with slight variations or improvisations.

  Here is an additional sample of Middle Eastern music for your enjoyment:

Thanks for stopping by the blog today! See you at your lesson!

Calendar Update

  Due to scheduling conflicts, our group lesson/dress rehearsal will be held on Friday, May 3, from 7 to about 8:30 pm at my house. Our spring recital will take place at the Bozeman Public Library on Saturday, May 18, at 3 pm. Please disregard the dates printed on the studio calendar I distributed last fall. Thank you!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Music From Around the World: China

This week we'll be listening to a selection of traditional Chinese music during class. China has a very long and incredibly rich musical tradition dating back some 7,000-8,000 years. Traditional Chinese music has a thin texture (with only one singer or instrument or a small group at a time.) Music was once considered a very private activity, useful for healing and the cultivation of the mind, and public musicians were once not very well respected. Of course, times have changed, and now music is much more openly and publicly shared.

  This week's important terms are:

1. Pentatonic Scale: A series of five pitches. The traditional Chinese pentatonic scale uses a particular series of half and whole steps, reflected in the white key pitches C D E G and A.

2. Heterophony: A melody played at one time by more than one instrument or singer, with each performer introducing slight variations

3. Numeric Notation (Jianpu): A way of writing music in which each pitch in a scale is given a number.

4. Erhu: Traditional stringed instrument held upright ( see one here:

5. Yanquin: Traditional instrument resembling a hammer dulcimer (see one here:

6. Pipa: Traditional instrument resembling a guitar (see one here:

  We'll be learning to play a traditional Chinese pentatonic scale this week so that you can create your own beautiful melodies. You might want to try writing your melody in Jianpu for an added challenge!

 This amazing performance sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a wonderful introduction to traditional Chinese instruments. 

Many traditional Chinese melodies depict peaceful scenes of nature and natural events, and has often been viewed as an integral part of medicine. Do you think music can have a healing effect on the body and mind? Why or why not?