Friday, 11 January 2013

Musical Jargon explained - well at least some of it!

I have recently been working with a lovely friend on a musical cartoon program. My friend is VERY musical, but has no formal training and does not really know any technical terms - which can sometimes make her a little insecure. That is silly of course - but for all of you who are a bit intimidated by jargon I thought I would put out a little glossary of some of the most used terms in music, in particular classical music Here goes:


terms for the different types of human voice - with soprano the highest. These terms are also used to describe instruments within an instrument family in terms of pitch, i.e. a soprano saxophone is sounding high, and a bass saxophone is sounding low.

Fundamental Building Blocks of Music:
Pitch - the frequency of a note, i.e. does it sound high or low
Pulse - the underlying regular beat to which a piece of music is placed
Rhythm - groupings of notes of different length and emphasis played over the pulse
Tempo - the speed at which a piece of music is played, e.g. Adagio is an Italian term describing a very slow tempo, Presto is a term describing a very fast tempo
Clef - the sign at the beginning of a stave, which indicates which pitches are to be assigned to the lines and spaces of the stave (e.g. Soprano clef, Bass clef, tenor clef etc)
Stave - the five lines on which music is notated
Scale - There are many types of scale - they vary in the order of 'half-tones' inserted. On the piano you will see a repeating pattern of keys - 5 black keys are inserted among 7 white keys. This accommodates the pattern of the most commonly used scale - the major scale. the pattern is 3 whole tones 1 half tone another 4 whole tones another semi-tone and back to the original note, only one octave higher. In other scales the pattern of whole and half tones is different.
Whole tone and half tone - in western music the smallest pitched interval used is a semi-tone or half-tone. On a piano, that would be if you played a white key followed by a black key (and a white key followed by a white key, if there is no black key between them, e.g. between the notes e and f and b and c)
Timbre - the colour and special quality of an instrument or a voice. An oboe has a different timbre to a flute. A high soprano voice has a different timbre to a low alto voice in female singers.

Things that Players can do differently from another:
Interpretation - musical notation is ambiguous, and there is plenty of opportunity for the musician (interpreter) to find their personal way of performing a piece.
Technique - the 'mechanics' of playing an instrument, e.g. being able to move your fingers accurately on the finger board of a violin to produce a note which is in tune and sounds good. Technique is also more than that - it is what allows you to give your interpretation of a piece of music. For example you would like to play a certain piece very fast, but you cannot bring it up to the desired speed - this would indicate a 'lack' of technique
Phrasing - a way of shaping a group of notes. Just like an actor shapes his sentences (phrases), a musician will not play all notes equally, he will allocate more or less importance, colour, sound etc. to certain important notes in the phrase
Tuning/playing in or out of tune - if the pitch of a note is slightly off frequency. learning to play in tune is a major part of learning many instruments. Most children play out of tune, because their technique is insufficient, and NOT because they cannot hear or identify the right frequency. Studies have shown that even very young children are actually very good at pitch discrimination. Very few people are tone deaf.
Playing with others and alone:
Ensemble - a group of instruments playing together
Solo - when the player either plays alone, or is accompanied by another instrument, whose purpose is secondary to the piece. It can also be the moment, when in the context of a piece a player has a very prominent bit of music to play.

One For The Brass:
Embouchure - the way to shape the mouth and lips to make a sound on wind instruments. The embouchure varies from instrument to instrument. There are many preconceptions of what is a desirable mouth and lip shape for the various instruments - but if a teacher tells you that your child has the 'wrong' lip for a certain instrument do get a second opinion, or a teacher who is less prejudiced. There are plenty of studies who are debunking the 'myth' of the 'correct' mouthshape

1 comment:

  1. I see you have not blogged some time.
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