Saturday, August 28, 2004

compound meter

Compound meter is simply: "A meter that contains a triple subdivision within the beat, i.e. 6/8" (The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th Edition. Don Randel) The opposite of a compound meter is simple meter which would be something in 4/4. Meters can be broken down even more into duple, triple, or quadruple- these are used to refer to the number of beats per measuer. Then the two can be combined to form simple/ compound duple, etc. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is an example of compound duple meter.

So that previous definition was very confusing- probably because I myself didn't really understand compound meter. I have found another source ( and everything has become clear to me!! O.K. First of all, a meter is a division of stressed and unstressed beats that is notated in Western Music by a time signature (4/4, 3/4, etc.) Compound meter is as I stated above from The Harvard Dictionary of Music . There are four types of meters that are seen most commonly: simple duple (4/4), simple triple (3/4), compound duple (6/8), and compound triple (9/8). I think this sums it up pretty well: "If each beat in a measure is divided into two parts, it is simple meter, and if divided into three it is compound. If each measure is divided into two beats, it is duple meter, and if three it is triple." ( fact-index) These days, most popular music is written in 4/4 or occasionally 2/2. More recently, contemporary composers have started righting in more obscure time signatures like 5/4 and 7/8. I think that about wraps it up.
P.S. fact-index is AWESOME for this type of thing, I would strongly recommend it.

The other part....

Countermelody is found in a piece whose texture consists clearly of a melody with an accompaniment, an accompanying part with a certain, though subordinate, melodic interest. You could also say that countermelody is a second but subordinate melodic line sometimes found in music which has a melody and an accompaniment. And if you didn't know what subordinate means, it means lower in rank or less important, thanks to this website. To play a countermelody you are playing an accompanying melody surrounded by or against the main melody. The countermelody is important and has its own defined part, however, it must be below the main theme or melody. If your computer will allow it you can listen to a piece that has countermelody in it, here.
(The Harvard Dictionary of Music, Don Michael Randel)

The musical phrase

Like speech or writing, music contains phrases. Also similar to the written and spoken arts, musical phrases express an idea, only instead of words a musical phrase uses harmony, rhythmn and cadential points (kind of like punctuation marks in writing). Musical phrases can be of varying length, but generally, they consist of a number of measures that is divisible by two. Phrases generally end with a cadadence that either resolves the phrase or leads into another phrase. Cadences are special chord combinations that are used to end phrases and pieces of music. (ex. V-I (Authentic cadence), I-V (Half cadence), etc.) A group of several phrases that fit together is called a period (very much like the written paragraph. Phrases are the basic unit of musical expression.

Source: The New Harvard Dictionary of Music 4th ed. Editor: Don Randel Article: Phrases.

Tempo -ature(it's gettin' hott in here)

You might recognize the term 'tempo' from seeing it as a tempo or "return to original speed" in a piece of music. Tempo is defined as "the speed at which music is performed." (The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th Edition. Don Randel) These speeds can be anywhere from very slow (adagio) to very fast (presto). Performance tempos are a personal preference for the performer, but they must be chosen with consideration to the time period and style of the piece. Before the 17th century, there were no terms to express tempo (i.e. presto, andante, etc). Tempo was decided by mensural notation, the full note-values and the pulse. Mensural notation is a really long involved and confusing definition, so if you want to know more, go here: Music Dictionary


According to The Harvard Dictionary of Music, texture is the general pattern of sound created by the disposition in time of the elements of a work or passage. In other words, texture means the musical pattern created by parts being played or sung together. Texture, described here too, is often used in a rather large way in reference to the overall sound of a piece of music. Some pieces can be described for having a thick texture or having a light texture. Some of Aaron Copland's pieces are decribed as having an open texture. The certain texture of a piece can be affected by the number of parts playing at once. Other aspects of texture include spacing, tone color, loudness, and rhythm.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Polyphonic is music that combines several distinct melodic lines simultaneaously, and in the style in which all or several of the parts move to some extent independently. It's used in contrast with monophonic which consists of a single melodic line, and homophonic music which consists of several lines moving at the same time in the same rhythm. Few pieces belong exclusively to one category. Certain music forms often depend on alternating between sections of monophony, homophony, and polyphony.
Not to confuse you but there are two important categories of polyphonic music...equal and unequal voice polyphony. In equal voice, the individual lines present the same thematic material, but they are staggered in time. You may know these as example would be Canon in D by Pachelbel. In unequal voice, one or more voices are assumed to have a structural priority over the others. The most important polyphonic voice is usually the tenor, because it is the one that projects the preexisting melody.

Source: The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed.

Pitch it!

Pitch is a very complex thing to think about. It's not an easy thing to explain because it's usually up to what you hear. Pitch is determined by what the ear judges to be the most fundamental wave-frequency of the sound. Studies have shown that differences of timbre, loudness and musical context affect pitch. But long-term memory, called absolute pitch, enables some people to identify the pitch of sounds apart from their relation to other sounds. In general, according to The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, pitch is regarded as becoming higher with increasing frequency and lower with decreasing frequency.

Sources: The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed.

Pizzicato...does cheese come on that?

Pizzicato is a term dealing with stringed instruments. Normally you bow a violin or cello to create a nice legato (smooth) sound. A pizzicato, on the other hand, is when you pluck the strings of a violin or cello to create a more broken sound. Usually the player uses the right forefinger for pizzicato while still holding the bow. This sound is often used to imitate canons being shot off or the sound of clashing shields.
In orchestral music, pizzicato was uncommon before the Classical era, though Bach used it to accompany voice or a solo instrument in slow movements.There are many examples of it in Haydn’s symphonies and other music of the Classical era. Composers naturally came to use it in operas to imitate a plucked instrument, for example Mozart inDie Entführung aus dem Serail (Pedrillo’s ‘Im Mohrenland’, to imitate his guitar) or in Don Giovanni to represent the serenade (‘Deh vieni alla finestra’).
The pizzicato can have a very dramatic effect when used properly, and it just sounds really cool too.

Embouchure....are you sure?

I'm sure you've all heard of the term embouchure sometime in your life. Whether it was in grade school band, high school band, or just because. Well, you may know it as the way you hold your lips when playing an instrument but there's more to it than that. According to the New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th ed. , it also involves your facial muscles and jaw. The embouchure is one of three parts to playing a wind instrument. The other two parts are the air supply and the management of air by the player. According to Grove Music Online, "the muscles operate upon an underlying supporting structure which incorporates the jaws and teeth." Here is a figure to better understand the area i'm talking about. The value of sound that comes out of the instrument depends on the position the mouthpiece is placed, the players embouchure comfort, embouchure potential, and how easy it is for the player to blow into the intrument.

Beats and no, I'm not talking about the dead kind...

Beat is the term used to describe the pulse related to the meter of a song. Conductors indicate the beats of a piece with one hand while shaping dynamics and phrases with the other. Beats can occur in various strong weak patterns depending on the meter of the song. See meter definition
for a definition of meter. In addition, a beat could also be a mordent (the two are interchangeable terms).

The New Harvard Musical Dictionary 4th ed. Editor: Don Randel. Article Beat

Update: A pulse is an accented count in a measure. When counting 1, 2, 3, 4, a person is counting rhythmic pulses.


Idiophones are any instruments that make sounds through the vibration of their own material. (The New Harvard Dictionary of Music 4th ed. Editor: Don Randel. Article: Idiophone.) Many instruments fall under the category of idiophone including castanets (concussion idiophone), bells (percussion idiophone), maracas (rattle), the washboard (scraper), music boxes (plucked), and the musical saw (friction). Since these instruments include some of the forerunners to many of our modern ones, I would hypothesize that idiophones are the originators of many if not all of our modern instruments.

Update: Sorry, I wasn't clear when I said that Idiophones make sound through the vibration of their own material. Idiophones create sound through the vibration of their primary material. In other words, not through the vibration of secondary parts such as strings and also not through vibrating air.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Range is a term of great consequence to musicians. Range of instruments varies widely from the piano with a full seven octaves plus some to the singer we like to classify as monotone capable of singing one note. Range is the pitches between the highest and lowest note of an instrument. (The New Harvard Dictionary of Music 4th ed. Edited by Don Randel. Article "range") When discussing range it is also important to understand the concept of tessitura. Tessitura is simply the area of an instruments range where the majority of notes played or sung sit. For example, the lyric tenor is capable of singing at least a high C (C5), however lyric tenor roles seldom contain more than three or four high Cs. The majority of the notes sung by lyric tenors sit between F3 and F4. Another example of tessitura versus range is piano composition. The outlying A and C7 are seldomly used in songs and if they are used it is usually only one time. In conclusion range really doesn't adequately define the high and low capabilities of an instrument.

Chordophone What?

So until now I was under the impression that an instrument which sound was produced by vibrating a string was in the string family however, that is only the simple term for them. The technical term for a string instrument is a chordophone. According to The New Harvard Dictionary of Music editor Don Randal, 4th ed. Chordophone.", "They [strings] may be set in motion by plucking (as in the guitar), by striking (piano), or by bowing (violin.)
The Grove Music Online definition ( ) breaks chordophones into two different categories. Simple chordophones are zither like instruments such as the piano and harpsichord. The strings in these instruments are tuned prior to play. Composite chordophones have necks or yokes and their strings can by tuned to different notes during play. Example of theses are the violin, harp, and guitar.

Update: The Western-style classification of instruments was devised by E.M. von Hornbostel and C. Sachs in 1914 in their book Zeitschrift für Ethnologie. This system included idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, and aerophones.

Update: According to the MSN Encarta Dictionary the etymology of the word chordophone is "Mid-20th century. Coined from chord + -phone." This implies that chordophones are instruments on which more than three notes can be played simultaneously. Hence, chordophones can play chords.

Brass Quintet

A Brass Quintet is a group of five brass instruments that plays chamber music.
A normal brass quintet usually consist of two trumpets, a french horn, a trombone and a tuba.
Brass quintet may also consist of any combination of five brass instrumental, for example a brass quintet may consit of four trombones and a tuba, or two french horns, two trumpets and a trombone. But the first I mentioned is the most common. The parts in the brass quitet usuaslly have the first trumpet playing melody, second trumpet playing the harmony/melody, the French horn the harmony/rhythm/melody, trombone the harmony/bass line/rhythm/melody, tuba the baseline. One example of a very good brass quintet is the Canadian Brass.

UPDATE!!!!!! Other Quintets include the American Brass Quintet and The Empire Brass. Brass Quintet repertoire includes anything from the rennaissance, jazz, Bach, Elvis Presly, pop, romantic. This also includes transcriptions of many, many other peices.

Intervals and Scales

An interval is the distance from one note to another. There are many different intervals that can be used. Here are most of the intervals that may be found in any piece of music:

Unison C-C
m2 C-Db
M2 C-D
Aug2 C-D#
m3 C-Eb
M3 C-E
P4 C-F
Aug4 C-F#
P5 C-G
Aug5 C-G#
m6 C-Ab
M6 C-A
m7 C-Bb
M7 C-B
Oct8 C-C8
The main types of intervals are the major, minor, unison, augmented, and diminished. These intervals are what make up the different major and minor scales.
Scales are made up of seven different notes, the first and last being the same but in a different octave. There is only one type of major scale and three types of minor scales natural, melodic and harmonic. There are also Jazz scales and Pentatonic scales all of which can be explained by clicking the link.
If you have any questions or corrections please tell me in the comments!!!
UPDATE!!!!!!!!! The definition of augmented and diminished according to Tonal Harmony is that an augmented interval is made by making a perfect or major interval a half step larger without changing the numerical name(ex: P4--Aug4)
A diminished interval is created by making a perfect or minor interval a half step smaller without changing its numerical name(ex: P4--Dim4)

2 is the loneliest Number...So why not 3?

A chord is the name for three or more pitches that sound at the same time. There are three main types of chords in tonal music; major chords, minor chords, and their inversions. Chords used in tonal music typically consist of two or more thirds placed atop of one another. An example of this is the C major chord, consisting of the notes C-E-G. To make this chord a minor chord, the third, in this case the E, would be lowered a half step. The result would be a c minor chord, C-Eflat-G. To make an inversion of the chord, the bottom note, in this case the tonic C is flipped to the top of the chord. The result would be E-G-C or first inversion. You can further invert the chord by flipping the E to the top of the chord, G-C-E or second inversion.
Other chords, which are less stable but still important are the seventh chord, the augmented sixth chord, the ninth chord and the diminished triad. For more information on triads see Definition of Triad .
Chords consist of many different combinations of notes. In 20th century music, which often veers away from tonality, chords are referred to as simultaneity.
Note: Two pitches are generally referred to as intervals.

Information for this blog is from my own learning and from
The New Harvard Dictionary of Music editor Don Randal, 4th ed. “Chord.”

A cappella Origin Confusion

According to The Harvard Dictionary of Music Fourth Edition edited by Don Randel, the term a cappella pertains to choral music without instrumental accompaniment. I found it interesting that the word a cappella is derived from the word chapel, and until the 19th century, a cappella was applied only to sacred choral music. Although a cappella pertains to choral music without instrumental accompaniment, Grove Music Online states that “In 17th- and 18th-century Germany ‘Kapelle’ could mean either the singers and organist of a church, or the singers and instrumentalists of a court”. So if the term a cappella was used in 17th and 18th century Germany to describe singers with instrumentalists, then it seems odd to me that it is now used to describe choral music without accompaniment.


Syncopation is "the momentary contradiction of the prevailing meter." (The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th Edition. Editor- Don Randel) It is commonly found in the music of Beethoven of all people. Syncopation is mostly in the musical genres (other than Beethoven) of ragtime, blues and jazz. Syncopation can occur in several different ways depending on the wants and needs of the composer (of course). "Syncopation may be created by the types of note-values themselves, by accentuation, articulation, melodic contour, or harmonic change in the context of an otherwise unsyncopated succession of note-values." (The Harvard Dictionary of Music) Syncopation is the defining characteristic of ragtime.

Syncopation can also be described as "rhythmic figures that stress normally weak beats." (Tonal Harmony, 5th Edition. Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne) So for instance if the "off-beat" (like the "and" of beat 2 or whatever) is stressed, it is syncopated.


Timbre - Timbre, according to "The New Harvard Dictionary", is
a melody, a very popular one, that is used for differents texts. The term, which came into use in the late 18th century, has been employed in connection with the sequences of Adam of St. Victor and some other liturgical chant, the 'noel' of the 16th century and after, 'vaudeville', and 'opera comique'. Such a melody is usually identified by the first phrase of its presumed original words, and was specified in early publications with a phrase such as "to the tune of...".
In other words,", timbre is the quality of a musical note that distinguishes different types of musical instruments. Someone might say after a performance, "they played that piece timbre" to describe the characteristic of the sound that they made. Besides this definition, in the middle ages the word timbre was also used to mean small bell or a small frame drum, what we know today as the tambourine.

UPDATE:: Timbre is also described as tone color. Tone color is the character of sound, as deistinct from its pitch; hence, the quality of sound that distinguishes one instrument from another.

(The Harvard Dictionary of Music, Randel, Don)

What was the motive??

A motive, (also motif) is a short rhythmic or melodic idea that is so well defined that "it keeps its original identity even when it is elaborated, transformed in some way, or combined." (The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 4th Edition). Motives appear in all music and are often most easily recognized in Baroque music. There are a few different types of motives- they can be harmonic, melodic or rhythmic, or any combination of these. The rhythmic motive may be the hardest to recognize. It is characterized by accented and unaccented articulations but rests can also have an effect. One of the most famous rhythm motives is found in the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. A harmonic motive is rarely found without one of the other two.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Bar is Raised, How will you measure up!

1 2 3 4 /1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4...................................this may seem weird and all but it will make sense later. What I just wrote down was how you typically count 4/4 . As you can see each time I restart the counting there is a bar to seperate the counts. The Bars are for "contaning" the counts per each measure. Each measure is given its specific number of counts as specified by the time signiture. The time signiture is responsible for telling the performer what number of beats are in the measure. Thanks to the Harvard dictionary for assisting with my past four entries. You can see a bar and measure at this link.

Definition of Triad

According to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, triad is defined as a chord consisting of three pitches, the adjacent pitches being separated by a third. When I think of a triad I always think of Do, Mi, So just because they are the most popular thirds in the scale. But, no matter where you start on the scale you can have a triad. In a triad there are always three notes...hence the prefix tri- , they will be separated by a major or minor third and a perfect fifth.

::UPDATE:: Sometimes the triads will include a perfect fifth but not always. There are 4 kinds of triads: the major triad, the minor triad, the diminished triad, and the augmented triad.

Monday, August 23, 2004

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