Musical Space


Some kinds of music work better while driving than others, so it can be said that the automobile has had an influence on what kind of music people listen to.

A car is not the ideal listening environment. It’s noisy, so any music that is too soft will get lost.

I hate to say it, but classical music is the most difficult music to enjoy while driving. Any soft string chord or timpani roll is going to be lost in the rumble; and you can’t count on an important part to be repeated, so a passing ambulance could make you miss the climax of the entire piece.

When Napster came out, it was predicted that the music industry would suffer. This turned out to be true: file sharing has decimated the incomes of record companies and artists.

New, legal streaming services like Grooveshark, Last.FM, Rdio and Pandora have been created to compete with music pirating. The convenience of on-demand music is attracting more listeners than FM radio; it remains to be seen, though, whether streaming actually benefits the artists or if it has become a way for record companies to exploit them.

Most musicians use the pitch A above middle C to tune their instruments. That’s the note the first oboist plays at the beginning of an orchestra concert. This note is generally calibrated at 440 vibrations per second.

Centuries ago there was little standardization; concert pitch varied from town to town, and even within the same town. Most instruments were tuned much lower than the current norm. The closest thing we have to a measurable standard from Bach’s day are old tuning forks, which set the A at about 423, about a half-step lower than the A we use today.

National Music Museum

Local guitar maker Stuart Mossman was a big reason why Kansas has such a strong musical heritage. Not only did he create beautiful musical instruments, but he helped to create a culture around them. His guitars were played by John Denver, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, and Cat Stevens, among others.

Working from his garage in Winfield, Kansas in the late 1960’s, he came up with a design based partly on advice from singer-songwriter Doc Watson. His S.L Mossman Guitar company was established in 1970 and was soon producing up to 10 guitars a day.

Did you ever notice that “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” has the same tune as the “Alphabet Song?” It’s also the same as Baa, Baa Black Sheep, and, slowed down, it becomes "What a Wonderful World."

A song with new lyrics given to an existing song is called a “Contrafactum.” This is a great way to express a new perspective, even if it’s just satire, like singing “Batman Smells” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

Aconcagua / Wikimedia Commons

Bo Diddley left a huge legacy for American pop music. He was one of the main links in the evolution from the blues to rock and roll. There is even a beat named after him, the one that goes chank-a-chank, a-chank, a-chank-chank. It comes from the caribean music that had an influence on the American south where he grew up, and it became a souvenir he took with him in his family’s move to the south side of Chicago, where he fused it with the blues.

Bella Union Records

Market forces have made it hard for musical innovators to succeed. And then there are The Flaming Lips, who have been able to thrive in the post-digital landscape while creating and delivering music completely on their own terms.

“Shave and a Haircut” is a ditty that has been a part of American culture for more than a hundred years; a sort of musical meme that worked its way deeply into our collective brain. You’ve heard it a million times.

Its ubiquity comes partly from its characteristic rhythm, which is related to the famous clave or “Bo Diddley beat” from the Caribbean by way of New Orleans.

Ryan Hendrix

One of the most important expressions of local musical culture happens every third week in September, when thousands become willing refugees from the city and head south to live in a shanty town founded on bluegrass. It's called the Walnut Valley Festival, but the regulars just call it “Winfield.”

Wikimedia Commons

Four on the floor is certain style of drum beat where the bass drum is hit with a steady quarter-note pulse; four equal stomps on the foot-pedal per measure. It’s very different from older pop beats where the bass drum typically hits beats 1 and 3. It really came into prominence with disco in the seventies, a real departure from rock and funk. Four on the floor is popular now as the driving force of many kinds of electronic dance music.