Musical Space

Marcin Wichary / flickr

For a thousand years, there has been a division between musicians who could read music and those who played by ear. Both skills are essential, and so the music industry has become a strange world in which the literate and illiterate coexist.

Music reading is useful because it is so efficient. When the music is written down, composers don’t have to take the time teach their music to the musicians, and musicians don’t have to rely on memory to play their parts.

Musical Space: Auto-Tune

Oct 30, 2012

Auto-tune first appeared in the late 1990s and quickly took hold of pop music with its use in Cher’s 1998 hit, “Believe.” She, and other artists, such as T-Pain were responsible for its popularity, its synthetic voice effect in electronic dance music and hip-hop.

Scary, though, is the more subtle use of auto-tune to correct the performance of a less-than pitch perfect singer. A great vocal performance can be accurate and expressive; electronics can often get in the way.

One way musicians create tension in a melody or chord progression is through use of a suspension.

Here’s a little music theory for you: the suspension. A suspension is a note that clashes with the harmony and needs to move to another note to resolve the tension. For instance, the fourth note above the root of a chord is dissonant, and likes to move to the third note, which is consonant. Here’s a 4-3 suspension on a piano; the tension in this C chord is resolved when the dissonant F moves to the consonant E:

Example 1: 4 3 suspension.piano

Musical Space: BPM

Oct 2, 2012

Whether Beethoven or beat boxers, musicians have come to rely on one tool to help them keep time.

The metronome was invented by a friend of Beethoven’s, Johann Maelzel, in 1815. It is used in music to set a tempo, measured in Beats Per Minute, and traditionally has a range of 40 - 208 BPM, roughly the extremes of the human heart-rate. BPM correlates to the human body in other ways, too.

Musical Space: Math Rock

Sep 18, 2012

Mark Foley explores the relationship between math, meter, and music.

Music is almost always arranged in a repeating pattern of beats; the pattern, or “meter,” usually corresponds with a rhythm that is easy to dance to, so the meter of a song is usually a simple group of 2, 3, or 4 beats. There is, however, a history of composers making things more complicated. “Money,” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, has a strange, lop-sided groove because it is in an undanceable seven-beat meter.

Example 1: “Money”

One way musicians create tension in a melody or chord progression is through use of a suspension.

Here’s a little music theory for you: the suspension. A suspension is a note that clashes with the harmony and needs to move to another note to resolve the tension. For instance, the fourth note above the root of a chord is dissonant, and likes to move to the third note, which is consonant. Here’s a 4-3 suspension on a piano; the tension in this C chord is resolved when the dissonant F moves to the consonant E:

Example 1: 4 3 suspension.piano

Musical Space: Jingles

Aug 21, 2012

There’s been a noticeable trend away from using jingles in TV commercials. This really doesn’t bother me too much; jingles are designed to lodge themselves into your brain, and an effective one can have the same effect as a toothache. I’m interested, though, in how jingles have been replaced.

Musical Space: Cartoons

Aug 7, 2012

Composer Carl Stalling created some of the most recognizable musical scores of the last century, the sounds that fueled many Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons.


[Music: Carl Stalling: “Coyote and Road Runner”]

You may not know Carl Stalling’s name but you do know his work.  He was the composer who scored the music for Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes cartoons, the music that was the perfect accompaniment to sugar-cereal-fueled Saturday mornings, the music we associate with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, and their various escapades.

Some film scores are best when they take the familiar and make it unfamiliar, as Mark Foley notes this week on Musical Space.

Let’s talk about the score to the 2004 Wes Anderson-directed film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The film and its score are remarkable for their refreshing perspectives on the familiar.

Courtesy Photo

Minimalism was the last great revolution to happen in the world of art music. Young American composers began experimenting with using limited materials and processes in the 1960s, and the result was music that relied on repetition and very slow change over time.

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