• Uncategorized 25.05.2010 Comments Off on Dynamics. Say it LOUDER!

    Dynamics: Say it louder!

    Dynamics generally refer to volume in music – how loud or soft a note is played.  Dynamics originates from the Greek word ‘dynamikos’, which means powerful.  Used in music, the ‘power’ with which you sing a note or press a key will result in a certain dynamic level.  Because the musical language is Italian, we use Italian words to designate specific dynamic levels.  Here’s a breakdown of the basic dynamic levels you’ll see in music:

    pp (pianissimo) — very quiet

    p (piano) — quiet

    mp (mezzo-piano) — moderately quiet

    mf (mezzo-forte) — moderately loud

    f (forte) — loud

    ff (fortissimo) — very loud

    As you can probably see, dynamics are a little subjective — ‘quiet’ to one person might not sound as quiet to another person.  Use dynamic variation in your music to help shape the entire piece — quieter sections, louder sections, in-between sections, etc.

    You can also move between dynamic levels gradually.  These are represented with musical symbols or its defining word:

    See full size imageCrescendo — gradually increase volume

    See full size image Decrescendo/Diminuendo — gradually decrease volume

    Dynamic signs can be easy to overlook when practicing music, especially if you’re practicing on a keyboard that doesn’t have weighted keys (weighted keys allow you to hear the full dynamic range of notes).  Even if your keyboard doesn’t have weighted keys, you can still practice putting more or less pressure on a note to achiever a certain dynamic level.  Try circling or highlighting dynamic signs you find in your music, so they stand out more on the page.  When you listen to music on the radio, be aware of when the volume changes, and how that affects the overall song — does it make you feel excited, does it add to the suspense, does it make you feel sad or hopeful?  Does it come at the beginning, middle or end of the song? 

    Building an awareness of dynamic signs can help us grow into stronger musicians — they play a huge role in connecting the notes and emotional appeal of a song.  They’re also really fun to add to music (who doesn’t love rocking out as loudly as possible?)   Keep it up!

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  • Uncategorized 25.05.2010 Comments Off on Got Rhythm?

    Got Rhythm?

    Gershwin said it right in his jazz standard: "I Got Rhythm, I Got Music!"  The more attuned we are to the rhythm of a song, the more musical it begins to feel.  Notes become less choppy, our fingers and mind feel focused and relaxed and we begin to play more naturally.  Rhythm is a tricky aspect of learning any instrument — but add in notes, hand coordination, dynamic signs and a repeat sign?  It’s enough to make any student flustered.  Rhythm plays a vital role in music, and it takes time and practice to build a strong foundation and understanding of rhythm.  Here are some exercises/games to help focus on rhythm – try these two or three times a week, for about 10 minutes, and see if you notice a difference! 

    1. Think of a song — could be the one you’re assigned this week by your favorite 4/4 teacher, could be a song you just heard on the radio, could be an old nursery rhyme — anything!  If possible, play or listen to the song a few times through.  Now, try to hear the song in your head.  Chances are, certain notes are held longer than others.  This is the rhythm of the song.  The more aware we are of the rhythm, the easier it becomes to identify and then be able to replicate later in our heads and on our instruments.

    2. Clap or tap the rhythm to the aforementioned song.  Are you hesitating and waiting to hear what comes next, or are you anticipating what comes next already?  By developing a natural, internalized sense of the rhythm, it becomes easier to produce the claps/taps on the beat, rather than in front of, or just behind the beat. 

    3. For an added challenge, take a song you are learning. First, try saying the names of the notes (quarter, half, whole, etc) on the beat.  Then, try counting aloud while tapping the rhythm. 

    4.  Want to make it even more challenging?  Try saying (or singing!) the letter names of the notes (A, B, C, etc…) on the beat.  This requires not only a sense of the rhythm, but also challenges us to identify notes on-the-spot. 

    Practice these exercises a few times a week, and see if you notice a change in your practice and your awareness of rhythm both in and outside of lessons.  Next month we’ll focus on the role of rhythm on the written page – bar lines, measures, time signature, all that good stuff.  ‘Til then — keep rocking! 

    ~ Jennifer Iovanne

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  • Uncategorized 25.05.2010 Comments Off on Music Theory 101: How do I READ this stuff, anyway?

    This month we’ll delve into some of the basics in reading sheet music — even if you are in voice lessons, a solid foundation in reading music is very important!  Without further ado….

    1. Measures: Songs are broken into small sections, called measures.  Measures are divided on either side by a bar line – a thin black line that helps us clearly see where when measure starts and ends.  Each measure receives the same number of beats.  If you’ve ever seen a band perform, you’ve probably heard them yell "1, 2, 3, 4!" before beginning the song — they are establishing not only the number of beats per measure, but the speed of the song as well.

    2. Time signature: How do we know how many beats are in each measure?  We look for the time signature, which is written at the very beginning of the song.  For example, a song in 4/4 time signature receives 4 beats per measure; a song in 3/4 time signature receives 3 beats per measure; a song in 2/4 time signature receives 2 beats per measure.  4/4 and 3/4 are the most commonly used time signatures, particularly in the early years of learning an instrument.  (By the way, 4/4 is also a clever musical reference in our school’s name!) 

    3. Notes: There are many kinds of notes; we’ll learn 3 of the most common notes today.  Notes look different – some are black in the middle, others are white, some have dots – the difference in appearance is what allows us to identify the name of the note, and how many counts it receives. 

    See full size imageFor example, a quarter note is a black oval with a stem pointing up or down.  A quarter note receives one beat.  So, if we were playing a song in 4/4 time signature (four beats per measure), we could fit four quarter notes into each measure.

    See full size imageA half note looks like a quarter note, but is white in the middle.  A half note receives two beats.  In 4/4 time signature, how many half notes could fit into one measure?  (If you said two, you’re right!)

    See full size imageA whole note looks like a half note, but has no stem.  A whole note receives four beats — that means we play the key/sing the note only once, but hold it for four beats.

    Want any easy way to remember the names of the notes, and how many counts each gets?  Well, think of a whole note as a whole cake.  If you weren’t sharing the cake with anyone, you’d have whole cake to yourself.  What happens if you wanted to share it with a friend?  You’d cut it in half.  A half note is half the value of a whole note.  How many cake halves does it take to make a whole cake?  Two.  How many half notes (two beats each) would it take to equal one whole note (four beats)?  Two. 

    Now, what would happen if you were sharing the cake amongst four people?  You’d cut it into quarters.  A quarter note is called such because it is a quarter of a whole — how many quarter notes (1 beat) would it take to equal a whole note (four beats)?  Four.  How many cake quarters would it take to equal a whole cake?  Four.  Make sense?

    Take time this week to check out the latest song you’re working on – can you find the time signature?  How many measures in the song?  Can you find quarter, half and whole notes?  Try clapping the rhythm for the song.  Keep this up, and you’ll see your sight-reading and sight-singing improve!  

    Jennifer Iovanne

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