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Elements of Music

Music, literature, motion pictures, architecture, painting, sculpture, graphic arts are all art forms. Music, literature and motion pictures are on a time line in which there is a beginning and an end, time wise. So in that way these art forms can be and most often are a moving description of life while other art forms are 'frozen' in time.....like a photograph. Each has its own elements for creation.

Most often, a musical work, an instrumental piece or a song, is identifiable and familiar by its theme or themes (aka melodies/tunes). Longer ones can have more than one theme. Theme 'A' followed by Theme 'B' and a return to Theme "A" is one of the most common forms. If these themes are developed the piece can last much longer than a 30 second jingle. So that is what the melody is about. The melody is often what endears a piece of music to its listener. The melody may use all or just some tones from several scales familiar to our ears.

By itself, a melody can be compared to a simple line drawing such as a when a child draws a stick person with a crayon or a pencil. The object of the sketch may be identifiable just as the melody for "Happy Birthday To You" is recognizable when played on a piano one note at a time. When you put clothes on the stick person drawing using shading and colors, the picture becomes more interesting and relevant. This is what harmony does to a piece of music when you add the color and interest of supporting sounds that may harmonize with and enhance the melody. An example is a hymn. When we sing the hymn tune "Nearer My God to Thee" it is at once recognizable. If others join in singing the alto, tenor and bass parts, we have added harmony to the soprano melody.

Pitch, meaning the high or low frequency of a sound is an important element of music. For the melody, the direction its notes move upward and downward together with their duration and how loud or soft (intensity) they are sung or played are integral in the creation and performance of music. Moreover, it is the distance (interval) between these pitches or sounds when we hear them together and the direction each voice or part takes in relation to others (harmonically or in dissonance) that creates a desired effect.

A song is sung to words which have meter or rhythm. The rhythm of a song is often determined by the words and how they flow as they are spoken or sung. All music does not have to be sung, but all music needs the rhythm or pulse of accented and unaccented beats . . . long and short notes. A melody may be unrecognizable if the notes are heard one at a time without a defined length, either shorter or longer than others in the melody. Ravel's orchestral work, "Bolero," heard in the movie "Ten," has a compelling rhythmic motif or idea that is repeated over and over from start to finish under several main themes to which the harmony of added parts enhance its appeal.

The tambre or quality of the sound is important as it conveys character and emotion to the music. The nature of a woman's voice is quite different from that of a man's voice. Likewise, the difference and nature of the sound emitting from a flute compared to the sound of a cello is known as the of the sound. Middle -C- on the trumpet has a different quality from the same pitch heard on the violin. Overtones along with the manner in which the sound from each instrument starts up and stops determines the tambre. This is how we distinguish a piece played on the piano from one played on the organ.

How the the instruments are introduced and used together (orchestration) in a symphonic work is called texture.

Music explores life's elements

Music explores the mysteries of the essences of life: tension and release, struggle and conquest, movement and stillness, sound and silence, growth and decline, affirmation and rejection, life and death. These essences affect man in everyday life but are hidden from him, for they are truths to be known and felt in the unguarded moments of living.

The composer takes these essences, these truths of life, puts them into another context, and returns them to man for his edification.

One finds in music a great ability to deal with these hidden mysteries. One only needs to hear the music to note its struggles, its consequences, its still moments, the tensions, the climaxes, its unity and diversity.


How should one practice?

In the first place one should avoid making a mistake ever!

When you start to learn something new, play it so slowly that the notes, the time, and the rhythm [and fingering/pedaling too] are all played perfectly. Then gradually start to play faster, but it must always be played correctly.

If you once make a mistake and are not careful, you may repeat the mistake a time or two and then you are likely to keep on with your mistake. In a word, you are perfecting the mistake!

The idea of never making a mistake is a method of practice that takes nervous [mental] energy and requires great discipline.

—Alexander Schreiner

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