Monday, August 29, 2016

How To Write A Song

Every aspiring artist – whether a poet, composer, graphic designer, etc. – is familiar with the tyranny of the blank page. Where and how does one begin? Where do you find inspiration and motivation?

An earlier blog post provided tips for composing music. This post will focus on specific aspects of songwriting. Because of the intersection of written word and music, there are a variety of key elements in writing a successful song. Different listeners will focus on different aspects – one listener may focus primarily on the lyrics, and another may focus on melody and harmony. It is helpful to keep in mind what aspects of your song will resonate with a given audience. You may decide to deemphasize harmony and focus on clarity of lyrics to better convey a story. Or, you may decide that the words aren’t important, and instead you want to provide an awesome aural experience, which complex harmony and counterpoint, like in more complicate choral music. These are all acceptable.

The lyrical content is entirely subjective – personal stories, poetry, nonsense syllables meant only to sustain sonorities. In many cases you will want the lyrics sung as naturally as if they were spoken – this way, the content is clearly articulated and delivered. The music does not detract from the understandability of the words. In other cases, the clarity of the words is less important. However, it is important to keep in mind the experience of the singer at all times. Phrasing must suit both the music and the words, and the words must be set to the music carefully to allow the singer to breathe and sing naturally.

Setting the lyrics to music can be at once fun and challenging. What is the relationship between the two? Sometimes there may not be an obvious one, or there may not be one at all. The songwriter may just really like a particular melody, and there is no connection between that melody and the lyrical content. In contrast, the words could dictate the shape of the music. In the Baroque era, composers shaped music in a way that mirrors the intended emotion associated with a lyrical passage, according to the prevailing aesthetic theory known as the ‘doctrine of the affects.’ Happiness, for example, would be expressed through upward motions and large intervals. Sadness, in contrast, would be accompanied by downward passages in the melody.

These are some ideas you may wish to use as you begin writing songs. What are other ideas that we may have missed? Let us know!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back to School!

Are your kids dour and less energetic than usual? Is traffic a little bit worse in your neighborhood? Finding yourself buying strange things like scientific calculators, protractors, and graph paper?

You guessed it… it’s time for Back to School! You have the class schedule; the materials for math, science, English; the instrument you’ve rented… but do you have the sheet music you need? What composers and works are appropriate? Where to start?

If your aspiring musician is looking for music to perform in festivals and contests, you may need to look at the Classic Festival Solos collection. These are graded works, from beginning to advanced skill levels, available in a wide variety of music styles. All works on our site are legal originals that can be used in recitals and other adjudicated settings.

The Reader’s Digest Digital Songbook Archive includes a number of popular songs and other favorites. These are excellent for beginning musicians looking for artistry in their education.

Our collection of Schott works includes a huge number of Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century works. These are the conventional pieces many aspiring musicians will learn over the course of their development.

The Suzuki catalog is an extremely important source of educational music. We have individual titles with the corresponding piano accompaniments from the famous method books.

Looking for something entirely different? How about something fun, like music from the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons? Educational, but in a different way…!

What music are you purchasing for Back to School? Let us know!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ten Songs for Beginning Guitar Players

Few instruments are as appealing to learn as the guitar. It’s portable – sure, the piano is awesome, but can you just pick one up and jam with your friends when you’re on the go? There’s a lot of repertoire for it – yeah, the glass harmonica sounds amazing, if you don’t mind playing the same three things over and over again. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s sexy – who doesn’t dig musicians, and what better way to start than by strumming a guitar?

Try your hands at one of these favorites. It can be hard to find good songs that are easy enough to play… so we did the work for you! Missing anything? Let us know!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Brief Introduction to Tempo

The tempo is an indicator of the speed at which a piece is to be performed. It is expressed most precisely in beats per minute, but often a composer will simply provide more general direction to the performer. These directions can be in a variety of different languages. They may be clear and concise, or they may be more descriptive or open to interpretation.

In classical music, tempo markings are frequently provided in Italian. Later, composers began providing direction in their own language, so performers need some fluency in Italian, German, French, and English to interpret indications provided by a broad range of composers.

The most basic terms simply convey the general speed. “Grave,” “Largo,” “Lento,” and “Adagio” direct the performer to play the piece slowly. There are no fixed rules for precisely how slowly the music should be played – this will depend on convention, musical taste, and clues provided by the composer in other aspects of the music. However, a reasonable interpretation might be around 50-70 beats per minute – again, depending on the context. Interpretation is subjective, but the speed ultimately must be appropriate in order for the audience to properly understand the music.

“Andante,” “Moderato,” and “Allegretto” indicate more moderate speeds – perhaps 80-120 beats per minute. “Allegro,” “Vivace,” and “Presto” direct the performer to play fast. Tempos can change in the middle of a piece, too. “Ritardando” (often abbreviated as “rit.” or “ritard.”) directs the performer to slow down, and “Accelerando” (“accel.”) means speed up.

Sometimes, composers will want to also provide a qualification or indication of the intended mood alongside tempo markings. “Subito” means “suddenly” – direction to do something immediately, with tempo or dynamics. “Poco” means a little – for instance, “poco allegro” would be “a little fast.” “Poco a poco” means “little by little.” For mood, common terms include “cantabile” (like singing, lyrical), “dolce” (sweetly), “espressivo” (expressively), “animato” (lively), and “pesante” (heavily). Mood indicators are highly subjective, and the best interpretations will consider all of the individual components of the music – tempo, dynamics, articulation, harmony, melody, rhythm.

Tempo is an extremely important element of any composition. It sets the tone from the get-go: a piece may be slow and plodding, moderate and pensive, or fast and cheerful. The audience will immediately get a sense of the character of the music. But it is only one element, and it must work cohesively and coherently with all others.

Monday, August 8, 2016

10 Child Prodigies That Will Make You Feel Terrible About Your Talents

Think you’re pretty good at singing, or playing the piano? You’re not. Ok maybe you are, but you’re probably not as good as these kids (are they even human kids?...). A good motto to live by is, if a 5-year-old can do it better than you, your life is depressing. Or in other terms, you really need to step up your game in life, like immediately. Prepare to be mind-blown as you watch these 10 tiny tots do things you could only dream of.

1. World’s Youngest Opera Singer - Jackie Evancho, Age 10

No there is not a track being played over this video, and no she’s not lip-syncing. That is her real voice. Little Jackie skyrocketed to stardom on America’s Got Talent at 10 years old, and she is now (for very good reason) world-famous. Watch her very first audition on America’s Got Talent here.

2. Composer and Violinist - Alma Deutscher, Age 9

This 9-year-old girl is the soloist of her own violin concerto, and get this, she even composed the piece. WHAT? I’m sorry, what?

I remember I actually tried to learn the violin at age 9, and I got as far as a very screechy twinkle-twinkle-little-star until my parents told me the violin had mysteriously grown legs and left the house.

3. Pianist - Tsung Tsung, Age 5

At the beginning of the video you may be thinking, phew seems like a normal 5-year-old, hyper and full of weird sounds, but soon as he starts to play the piano you will be convinced that thing is not 5 and is really a middle-aged pro pretending to be a kid.

4. Drummer - Lyonya Shilovsky, Age 3

This kid is 3…

It's a baby, playing the drums, with amazing skill and timing, with an orchestra.

No, that can’t be right, just no.

But yes, yes it is.

5. Singer - Caroline Costa, Age 12

This video entitled “Little Girl Sings like a Pro" with 84-million views is of super cute 12-year-old Caroline from France, singing a Christina Aguilera song like a pop star in miniature. 

6. Pianist - Ryan Wang, Age 5

Magnificent and adorable piano prodigy Ryan Wang, who is 5 years old, has a 101-year-old fan, Dorothy Landry. A special performance for her was arranged by CBC so she could hear him play right up close because she’s hard of hearing. Be prepared to weep when you see the emotion between the two friends. Don’t worry, I did too.

7. Harpist - Alisa Sadikova, Age 10

This 10-year-old girl from Russia plays The Fountain on a harp bigger than her, which is probably the music that plays at the gates of Heaven. Who knew it was played by a 10 year old.

8. Singer and Guitarist Duo - Aldrich and James, Age 14 and 18
These 2 Filipino boys perform a cover of Dance With My Father, and little Aldrich’s angelic voice will blow you away. A video that has inspired many tears and even an appearance on Ellen, it’s a must-watch.

9. Singer - Laura Kamhuber, Age 13

This 13-year-old girl from Germany singing I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston is pretty amazing. That voice is coming out of that tiny little thing? My singing career, it’s over.

10. Violinist - Samuel Tan, Age 9

Samuel Tan won an international violin competition at 9 years old, beating competitors in their 30s. I bet they felt like taking a long walk off a short pier.