Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Art of Composing: The Importance of Music Theory

6:56:00 PM
When teaching music theory, I'm often asked about the role of music theory in music composition. Students want to know if a composer sits down and uses music theory to compose a musical work. While it's certainly possible to construct a practical work using the guidelines from music theory, master composers tend to compose more intuitively. 




Quoting Arnold Schoenberg from his Theory of Harmony text: 
"To hell with all these theories, if they always serve only to block the evolution of art and if their positive achievement consists in nothing more than helping those who will compose badly anyway to learn it quickly."

Schoenberg's music is often performed poorly and misunderstood and is seen as overly formulaic. The procedure of 12-tone is not something Schoenberg invented; he discovered it through his own process of composing and analyzing his works. His texts on the process of composition are not intended to teach composers how to compose but instead offer models on the process of composition. Teaching would require showing a student how to compose music, but the composing process differs for each student. Composing should come naturally to a composer, and while a composition can be enhanced with theories, the resulting piece will come across as inauthentic. Models are intended to demonstrate the logic that other composers have used to compose music, but composition should not be limited to the techniques of past composers.

It may seem that I am against music theory, but it has a place in the composing process. Music theory can teach composers about the music that already exists. It also offers a common language to think about and discuss the abstract art of composing music. There are at least two ways to learn about what already exists in the world:

  • Composers can listen to music and study the scores of past composers to learn the craft of music composition. 
  • Composers can study music theory to get an efficient overview of the most common techniques used in music composition.
Composers should use both methods to develop their skills as a composer. By studying the theory and listening to music, it's possible to dive deep into what makes a composer unique. The theory allows a composer to quickly recognize the same ideas, making it easier to discover the unique aspects of a composer's work. I believe composers should write an initial composition through improvisation, intuition, and experimentation. Once the piece has formed and taken shape, the composer can analyze the music to discover what makes the piece work and find ways to create an original composition. 

Music theory teaches the logic of music and helps composers develop their own process for editing a musical work. Understanding music theory also makes it possible to determine if your work is derivative or original. For my own compositions, I believe that all of the elements of music composition should work together to create larger aspects of a musical work. Still, there are many ways to compose music. It's up to the composer to find a style that speaks to them and then work to refine and polish that style. One way to learn about your own music is to study the theories and music of other composers.

Written by Kevin Ure








Thursday, January 12, 2023

What Are Acoustic Guitars Used For?

6:49:00 AM


The acoustic guitar has six strings that each play a different series of pitches and have a unique timbre. Acoustic guitars serve several purposes and are used in various contexts, including classical, country, popular, jazz, and blues music. An acoustic guitar is an instrument that does not require external power to create sound. These instruments have a built-in chamber that serves to amplify and distribute the sound without the use of an amplifier. The acoustic guitar is capable of playing any style or genre of music. However, there are some styles in which the acoustic guitar is featured prominently.

Folk Music

Folk music uses acoustic guitars extensively. The music generally consists of flowing melodies that lie naturally in most vocal ranges. This music is typically easy for most people to sing and uses basic chords to back up the melody lines. Folk music uses a technique called finger-picking in which the guitarist quickly picks at the strings with a single finger. This technique creates a twangy sound as the strings bounce against the fretboard. 

Country

Country music can be broken down loosely into both old and new country. Both styles of music make extensive use of the acoustic guitar. When you think of a country music star or see a picture, they are almost always sitting with their acoustic guitar. The guitar in country music often strums chords vigorously to support the lead singer and vocal lines. As with most performance music, country music also heavily uses the guitar as a visual prop. 

Classical

While the term classical can refer to a period of composers between 1750 and about 1830, there is also classical music with a lowercase "c." Classical music, in this context, is any music from the Renaissance to the modern period. In classical music, the guitar is featured prominently because of its ability to play in a fashion similar to the piano. Chords and melodies can be played simultaneously making the guitar an excellent solo or ensemble instrument for classical music. Agustín Barrios, Mauro Giuliani, and Sergei Orekhov are all composers who have written for classical acoustic guitar.

Mariachi

Mariachi music involves the use of upbeat rhythms and fast-moving melodies. Mariachi groups typically include small traveling groups of four to 12 people. The guitar plays a central role in mariachi music and often plays the lead and guides the ensemble. The ability to play chords makes it an ideal candidate to back up brass and string instruments in the ensemble. The guitar is well-suited to play mariachi music as it carries easily and provides texture and rhythm to the ensemble.

A wide variety of acoustic and electric guitars are available on the market. You can even find books that provide you with an illustrated review


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

How to Find a Music Tutor or Instructor

6:55:00 PM

When it's time to look for a tutor, it's essential to take some time to do your research. Looking for a teacher will save time, money, and frustration during lessons. The teacher’s job is to guide students and advise them on how to improve their abilities. It is not always possible to be your best critic; even professional musicians still take lessons to get that valuable second opinion. It is essential to look for a teacher you can relate to, teaches to your learning style, and takse teaching seriously. You should also decide from the beginning if you want to take it online or in-person. With online lessons, you may be able to access more prominent instructors who aren't available locally. In-person lessons are essential for some students who need demonstrations and don't want to deal with technology. 

Research Options

Find a list of teachers that specializes in your specific instrument. Prospective students can look in grocery store community boards and local coffee shops and browse through online teacher resources. There are many high-quality resources that a student can use to find teachers. It also makes a lot of sense to consult your local university. Faculty are often interested in the community, and they can recommend instructors who might be available to help you. In some cases, you might even find an instructor willing to teach you outside their normal university obligations. 

Lesson Policies

Contact the teacher to get information on make-up lessons, payment, and general policies. This is not the time to go into specific detail about every policy but to talk with the teacher and get a general feel for their teaching style. A famous performer won't do you any good if they can't teach or give you the needed attention. This is also an excellent time to ask about general policies such as how often it will be required to purchase books, if the teacher provides the materials, or if you need to find them on your own. Many teachers will require payments upfront for a month, semester, bi-annually, or even annually. Make-up lesson policies will differ with each teacher, but most instructors will provide you with one make-up lesson per month. Remember that teachers are scheduling a time that another student could use, so it is essential to be understanding of these make-up policies.

Evaluate the Studio

Assess the level of the studios' current students. If you are looking for an advanced teacher and the studio only has children, there is a good chance that that studio is not a good fit. Teachers often cater to specific age groups. Teachers often require students to have a certain level of ability before a student can take lessons. Talk to the teacher about the ability of the students that they teach. If you have any concerns, discuss your experiences with the teacher and ask straightforwardly if you are a good fit for their studio. Most teachers are honest about these questions since their reputation relies on honesty in the community. This is also an excellent time to ask how many years they have been teaching, if they have a degree or certification, and if they are a member of any music organizations such as the Music Teachers National Association. If a studio only has a few students, this could indicate a new teacher or a teacher maintaining a robust performance or composition schedule. Don't rule out a studio based on the number of students. Fewer students may translate to more attention. 

Studio Perks

Ascertain whether there are any additional perks for the studio. Do they offer online courses? Online courses are a great but rare addition to a studio since they allow students access to resources when the teacher is not usually available. Online lessons record the format more quickly and are available for student review. While the recording of one on one lessons is also possible, generally, online lessons give the teacher more freedom to respond and take additional time on a lesson when necessary. Some studios also give free resources to students or publish their own materials. If you're just starting out and want to learn the basics of music, consider starting with a textbook to see how far you can go. 

Parental Involvement

If you are a parent, the instructor should have no problem with you sitting in on the lesson. If you are a parent and you have the time, you should ask about this option. Sitting in on a lesson with your student can give you insight into the music tutor's teaching style. You can also ask relevant questions and be more capable of helping your child at home. Remember that the lesson is not a group lesson, and you should refrain from asking any questions during the lesson. You can certainly clarify any assignments, but questions should be reserved for the end of the lesson. 

Online Performance, Music Theory, and Music Composition Lessons

Online lessons are most useful for music theory, composition, and non-performance-related studies. Performance-based tasks often require one on one interaction. Some students thrive in an online environment, but it's important to be realistic about your learning style. Music instructors and tutors often have more trouble correcting your posture or demonstrating a technique online. 

Virtuoso Guitar Techniques

6:25:00 PM


Guitar techniques make it easier to play quickly and efficiently. Virtuoso guitarists have complete control over their instruments. They know the right approach for each situation and can switch rapidly and seamlessly between several different techniques. To become a virtuoso, you must first master the traditional method of guitar playing, then learn to play the advanced techniques comfortably. Any serious guitarist must learn virtuoso techniques to play at a high level.

Alternate Picking

The typical guitarist will play the guitar using only downstrokes or upstrokes. This is perfectly normal and an acceptable way of playing. Virtuoso players also know how to quickly alternate the stroke, using a mixture of down- and upstrokes. This technique allows players to perform exceptionally quickly since they don’t have to wait for their arm to return to the original starting position. To perform this accurately, you should use the tip of the pick to increase your speed. Start slow and gradually begin to increase your speed. A good rule of thumb for increasing speed is to use a metronome and increase the speed by one tick per day. At the end of the week, drop down 4 ticks, and continue the process. In this way, you will continue to build speed and accuracy. Timing is important, so you should always use a metronome. 

String Skipping

String skipping produces a sound that utilizes the individual qualities of each string to play a melody over a wide interval range quickly. For instance, the lowest and thickest strings on the guitar have a darker quality, while the higher strings have a light and thin quality. By skipping between strings, the guitarist gains the characteristics of each string in a single melody and dramatically increases the distance between pitches. This technique creates large melodic leaps in the melody, since moving from one string to the next creates a significant change in pitch. Without the string-skipping technique, the guitarist would have to jump from one end of a string to the other. However, it's also important to be able to play a piece on one string as much as possible. Skipping between different strings may change the timbre, making the piece seem less coherent. Knowing when to artfully apply a string skipping technique is essential to mastering your instrument. 

Sweep Picking

Sweep picking is similar to strumming on the guitar, but it allows the guitarists to play sections extremely quickly. The technique requires the guitarist to be able to use both hands equally well. Unlike strumming, with sweep picking, you want to make each note clearly heard. In a strumming technique, one hand will firmly hold down the strummed pitches, creating a blurred effect. With sweep picking, you still hold down the pitches, but you must immediately let go of each pitch when articulated. This establishes the independence of each pitch and allows all of the notes to sound clear. Again, it's critical to use a metronome for any new technique that requires agility. You will gain better control over your fingers by playing in time with a metronome. Slower is always better at first. 

Economy Picking

Economy picking uses a mixture of alternate and sweep picking to play even faster than with either technique by itself. With alternate picking, the hands move up and down regardless of the string. Economy picking uses a single string, which gradually changes timbre as you move along the string. One possibility for economy picking requires the guitarist to use the alternate picking technique as long as the music stays on one string. The moment they switch to another string, they switch to sweep picking, then continue with alternate picking.


While you can often learn to play guitar without an instructor, your instructor can help guide you and ensure you aren't making mistakes with your technique. Once you learn a technique incorrectly, it becomes more difficult to correct.

References

“Guitar Techniques”; Michael Mueller; 2008


Guitar Techniques

Picking a Song for an Audition

1:30:00 PM

Selecting the right song for an audition significantly affects your chances of getting a call-back. Whether you plan to audition for jazz, rock, blues, or opera, you must research appropriate music for the group. Personal preference may also play a role in the selection of music, but ultimately, you should play to the tastes and requirements of the group holding the audition. Some preparatory work and research make it possible to select an appropriate song.


The Ensemble

Learn about the ensemble holding the audition. Determine the style of music and what role you will perform. For example, a group that hires Broadway singers will likely want to hear music from Broadway and may be looking for a singer with range and versatility. If you audition for a choir, you should choose pieces demonstrating your ability to blend and serve as a soloist. If opera is the goal, you'll want to focus primarily on solo works. Listen to performances of the ensemble ahead of time so that you can determine the style they are looking for. 


Range and Capabilities

Assess your range and capabilities. The song you select is one of the few parts of an audition you have control over. Select a song that shows off your range and capabilities. Don’t choose a technical piece if you sing best with lyrical songs. If you have a high range, select a piece demonstrating that range. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you select a work that makes sense for your current ability. An audition may include sight-singing and prepared pieces, so if you can choose your own song, this allows them to gauge your range and capabilities more effectively. 


Memorization

Prepare a song you can sing from memory. Memorize the song well in advance to reduce the possibility of forgetting your words in the middle of the piece. If you have trouble memorizing songs, don’t pick an overly complicated song. If you have great difficulty with memorization, select a piece with repetitive phrases to minimize the memorization you must complete. Memory can be improved, and it would be beneficial to start memorizing every song you are working through. Even if there isn't enough time to help you with the next audition, memorizing a piece ensures you have thoroughly learned the work and will gradually increase your ability to remember more complex works. 


Music theory can help you memorize a work. By learning to identify the major sections, types of phrases, chord progressions, and other "pillars" of a composition, you can better keep track of where you are in the music. You don't need an extensive understanding of music theory, but you should be able to identify certain progressions by ear. Many times, the beginning of a phrase will stay the same and the second part of a phrase will change. Music theory can also help you interpret a work. 


Difficulty Level

Select a song that is difficult enough to show off your expertise and minimize any weaknesses but not so difficult that you are prone to making a mistake in the audition. Remember that the judges expect you to have this piece well rehearsed. Consider another song if you have a song that shows off your high range but exposes a weaker low range. In most cases, the difficulty level is less important than the quality of your voice and interpretation. Learn more about how composers write music and listen to other performances to start creating your own interpretation. 

When assessing the difficulty level, you should also determine the appropriate style for the piece. Don't simply add an articulation or play a repeated section differently for the sake of making a piece less repetitive. You must understand the style and time period of any piece you perform. Conduct research with every new song you sing, and you'll find that your ability to perform future works will improve. Every audition is a chance to test yourself; even a failed audition should be considered a success. The fact that you made it to the audition and learned from the experience offers invaluable training. 


Practicing the Song

When you practice your song, start slowly and aim to avoid making mistakes. If you make a mistake, slow down and perform it five times correctly without making a mistake. The brain doesn’t differentiate between a mistake and the intended outcome very well, so you should aim to perform the piece correctly every time no matter how slow you take the piece. Take some time to map out the phrases, and sing one phrase at a time until you sing perfectly. You should also record yourself to listen to your performance and make tweaks as needed. Avoid starting from the beginning every time you practice the piece. Breaking the song into different sections and phrases can allow you to dedicate time to each and learn the piece more thoroughly. 


Performance Anxiety

If you have anxiety, feeling confident that you can perform the piece will help you improve your ability. Some performers flex every muscle in their body and then release the tension to relieve stress. It's essential to find ways to deal with your anxiety, and you may find that meditation, exercise, or finding outlets outside of music can help improve your ability to perform. Remember that singing is simply a creative outlet, and your experiences in life can improve your ability to perform. For severe cases of anxiety beyond performance anxiety, you may need to work with a doctor to discover the best course of action. 

Making a mistake could make the judges lose confidence in your ability. However, if you keep singing and don’t get flustered by your error, it will show that you have competent performance skills. Look through several pieces before making a final decision. Don't apologize for any mistakes you make when you perform the audition. If you make a mistake, keep going and don't draw attention to your errors. A judge will be less forgiving if you need to start over than if you sang through the entire piece without stopping. Treat the audition like a performance, and take a brief moment to center yourself before you begin.