How Electric Guitars Make Sound

Electric guitars are found in most modern music today. But may seem like a bit of a mystery. After all, they dont exactly make much sound. And why do they sound the way they do? Its a good question, and one that I would like to try to answer as best as I possibly can in this post.


The chain of sound in an electric guitar generally goes something like this: strings, pickup, amp, speaker. There are other little things along the way, such as effects peddles and stomp boxes, but in general thats what you will find.

Strings and Pickups

I suppose this is very basic but, at the start of the whole process, the guitarist plays a note. Now, you may think that there are microphones on a electric guitar but this is not the case. An electric guitar actually uses magnets to generate a signal that is sent to the amplifier. The pickups is actually a magnet (or in some cases multiple magnets) wrapped in a thin wire up to 7,000 times. When a string vibrates, it disrupts the magnetic field generated by the pickups. The disruption cause a weak single to be sent through the wire and to the amplifier. Most guitars will have multiple pickups at different spots on the guitar which generate different sounds.


Because most electric guitars are passive (i.e. consume no electricity) the signal coming out of the pickups is incredibly weak. It needs to be boosted to be loud enough to drive a speaker, this is where the amp comes in. A typical amp consists of a pre-amp and a power amp.

The role of the pre-amp is simply to boost the signal enough that it can be used by the power amp. During the pre-amp stage, effects such as reverb, delay, and distortion are also added to the signal to make the guitar sound the way that the musician wants it to.

Once I was playing my electric guitar for a few dozen people. During the time I was there, I had a young kid ask me why my guitar sounded weird. He said that he thought electric guitars sounded like this (and here he did a pretty classic electric guitar imitation). I had to explain to him that that is not actually what electric guitars sound like, but what many musicians made them sound like. In fact, an electric guitar actually sounds almost nothing like what comes out of the speaker. Its all about what you make of it in this pre-amp stage.

After the pre-amp stage the signal is sent to the power amplifier, where it is given its major sound boost before it is sent to the speaker and, in time, to you ears.

I hope this helped un-mystify the mystery around electric guitars. If you  have other questions, feel free to leave a comment bellow and I will do my best to answer it.

That Thing You Do: What Makes a 1-hit Wonder

Many of you may have seen the 1996 film, That Thing You Do! Directed by (and, not surprisingly, starring) Tom Hanks, it follows the tale of a fictional 60s band called the Oneders (pronounced wonders). In the film the band becomes immensely popular with a song called That Thing You Do. Soon after this, the band falls apart, leaving everyone to wonder what happened.


This is a classic (although somewhat stereotyped) example of a one-hit wonder. The idea is that a band or artists records a song which comes immensely popular, but never manages to write anything all that great ever again. Sometimes the band might even break up soon after their immense success, although most of the time this is not the case.

Defining One-Hit Wonder

What really makes a one-hit wonder is something that is still debated by many. For example, the book The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders by Wayne Janciks defines it as

an act that has won a position on Billboards national, pop, Top 40 just once.

This is seen as a little to inclusive by many (including me). Many artists who would not be considered one-hit wonders would fall under this definition. A good example would be Jimmi Hendrix, who only had one song ever in the top 40, but is considered by many to be the greatest electric guitarist of all time. Although this is the technical definition generally used by the industry, it is not always considered the best.

So, if this definition doesnt work, how about another one?  A one hit wonder is often defined as any artist that reaches the Top 100 just once, regardless of where it peaks. This would mean that anyone who got on that list once would be considered a Wonder. Maybe this doesnt work either.

So I suppose a one-hit wonder would probably be a subjective term. Perhaps it varies from occasion to occasion. I would define a one-hit wonder as an artist who has one song that is known very well, but the rest of his songs are not known almost at all.

One-hit Wonders and the Internet

Before the advent of the Internet, all music had to be distributed on CDs, tapes, or records. Now, with Internet music distribution, it is much easier for an artist to get out there. A good example of this is Rebecca Black, who would not have become famous (infamous?) without YouTube. Myspace is another good example of a service that could cause someone to go viral very fast.

One hit wonders may be difficult to define, but we can still see that they do exist in the wild.Who knows, you may be the next one

Question: Who is your favorite one-hit wonder?

What I Learned From Going Without Blogging for 1 Month, 8 Days, 19 Hours, 49 Minutes, and 51 Seconds

Yes, it really has been that long since I last posted. And yes, as unlikely as it may seem. I have returned.

Life is full of roadblocks. Although I cant give you exact details. I hit one in September. It fundamentally changed my day-to-day life. Blogging got pushed out.

But now I am back. Here are a few things I have learned in the past month or so that will hopefully help my blogging career.

I really, really enjoy blogging

After going a while without blogging, I began to realize that I really missed it. Every single day I wanted to go back to the good ol blog and publish some more posts. But I didnt. I had the time, but I chose to use it for other things. I think it was a big mistake. And I hope to rectify it.

I have a lot more to say

Who knows whats down the road!

Since I published my first post back in March of 2011, I have written quite a few words. 50,000 of them in fact (just enough for a Nanowrimo novel!). Some of my writing even got me on a relatively popular podcast (which was pretty awesome). However all that is in the past. The future is what is before me. I have plenty more to say. 50,00 words isnt enough. Im aiming for 500,000.

I do have the time

When I first stopped, I rationalized it away by saying I didnt  have the time. But as I continued through my life, I began to realize that time was not the problem. I really had no excuse for not bloggin. If I want to I can make it happen.

So Whats Next?

Lots more writing. In fact, after this post, I want to continue on as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately (and naturally enough) my traffic has taken a big hit. But I can rebuild it. My google rankings have remained relatively intact, which is awesome. So thats a big bonus. But it will take a while to rebuild.

Look for a post in the next day or so!

Is The Edge of Glory Lady Gagas Masterpiece?

The short and simple answer is no. The Edge of Glory is not Lady Gagas true masterpiece. Neither is Bad Romance, Poker Face, or any other of the numerous songs that she has recorded over her six years as a pop artist.

At least not yet.

If there is one thing people tend to forget about a musician or band it is that the music of an artist evolves dramatically over the course of the years and albums.

One band I really enjoy is Switchfoot, a rock band from San Diego. The started out rather mellow, but they have grown incredibly and changed in a dramatic way.

Lady Gaga has not finished her career. I would guess that she will probably have a hit song every record from here on out. However some people would argue that Lady Gaga cant have a masterpiece. They would probably even venture to say that she is a bad person and what not, and that we shouldnt listen to her music because of it.

Wait, we shouldnt listen to her music because she is a bad person?

I would also venture to say that many of the people who would say these kind of things are Christian and conservative (not that this is a bad thing, I am definitely right-wing myself, and a Christian for that matter). However we have to make a distinction between the music and the musician. Think Lady Gaga is a bad person? Are you saying this badness is somehow transmitted through the music into the ears of the listener?

Perhaps, but, if you are like me, you dont pay attention to the lyrics so much as the music itself. Remember, you can have music without lyrics. But if you have lyrics without tune or backing track, then its not music (although some might disagree with me). This is why the music itself is the most important part.

Do you think that her videos have strong sexual overtones (as many of them do)? Well  then just dont watch the videos.

This is a good rule of thumb if you are Christian, atheist, or anything else under the sun: Hate the sin, not the sinner.

How Sound Systems Work Part 2

In part 1 we examined home audio. Now, in part two, I would like to take a look at two big parts of speaker systems. How the speakers themselves work, and how systems are put together when focusing on live sound.

Live Sound

There are 3 basic parts to any sound system

  • Soundboard
  • Microphones
  • Speakers

These three are all it takes to get stage music going. In theory, nothing more is required. However, there are subcategories, and a few other things that you can use to make it better.


Many people think that to play live music you just plug your instrument into the speakers and thats the end of it, however that is not the case.

Soundboards (known to the professional as a mixer) are a rather simple idea: Bring in all the data from the instruments and microphones and send them to the appropriate speakers. However it is much more complicated in practice.

A soundboard is essentially made up of channels. Each channel corresponds to one input (can be instrument, mic, our anything else that can output sound). each channel has its own set of controls for volume and various other effects. The larger and more expensive the board, the more options you have on the soundboard.

A standard mixer

Most boards have a few effects that they the are capable of achieving. The most important, the pan effect. Allows a particular instrument to be sent to only one half of the speakers. There are also various reverb and delay effects. However these are most often applied by the instrumentalist himself before the signal even gets to the soundboard.

Microphones & Other Inputs

Different microphones are made for different tasks.  A condenser microphone, for example, is perfect for use in studios. It provides pristine sound quality and frequency response (in other words, it can record very high and very low sounds). The only problem with condenser microphones is that they are very sensitive to loud noises (which abound in concerts). Condenser microphones are also quite expensive, and unable to stand up to the abuse they might receive in a lively concert. Condenser microphones also require their own source of power (48 volt phantom power). For these reasons, condenser microphones are generally not used in concert.

Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, make a lot more sense in a concert situation. They are considerably cheaper then condenser microphones, but are much more rugged. Chances are that dynamic microphone that looks like its been to hell and back will still sound as good as the day it came out of the box.

The difference between these two types of microphones lies in the technology behind them, which I will discuss in a later post.

The Shure SM58 dynamic microphone. This microphone is considered a standard for all performances.

Microphones, of course, are not the only things that supply input to the soundboard. In fact, a large percentage of the inputs in, say, a rock concert, are not microphone generated. Some will come from an electric guitar. Others will come from keyboards, or any of the numerous non-acoustic instruments. These take input from the musician and convert them into an electrical signal which can then be sent to the soundboard to be processed. In the average rock lineup, the only true microphones are for the drums and the vocals. However many other instruments, such as acoustic guitars, may require microphones.


This is the part that everyone understands at least on a rudimentary level. The speakers are what make the sound, simple as that, however there is a set of speakers that many people dont even realize are there, in fact, they arent even meant for the audience.

The are called monitors. It can be hard to hear yourself when all the speakers are pointed away from you and towards the audience. In general, it is nice to be able to hear what you are doing. This is what monitors are for. In larger concerts, they generally will take the form of an earbud or some such thing. But in smaller or low budget performances, they will most often take the form of speakers pointing towards the performers instead of the audience.

Different kinds of speakers are, naturally, used for different purposes. In a large performance there may be dozens of speakers working together to make the sound. Everything is huge. Loudspeakers can push out incredibly high amounts of sound.

Although I am not particularly knowledgeable in this area I can tell you this. Speakers like this are big, loud, heavy, expensive, hard to manage, and take a long time to set up properly. However, the results can be rather rewarding.

Although there are many intricacies in a sound system (amplifiers, effects modules, etc.) these are no doubt the most important. In fact, I get buy using just these three (and an instrument of course) when I play for certain groups.

How Speakers Work

I have touch briefly in the past about some of the basics of sound, however now might be a good time for a little refresher. Sound travels through the air in the forms of vibrations. When those vibrations reach your ears, a signal is sent to your brain in the form of electrical impulses, which is then interpreted by the brain as sound.

A speaker microphone systems uses this same principle. When sound enters a microphone it vibrates a diaphragm which converts the vibrations into an electrical signal and sends it through its chord to the soundboard, much like the human ear. The electrical signal is then sent to the correct speaker, which then is able to reproduce the vibrations exactly, kind of like the reverse of the microphone. But how is this done?

Like microphones, speakers also have a diaphragm. The diaphragm is a flexible cone generally made of paper, plastic, or metal. The large end of the cone is the end that points outwards. On the small end, however, is where the magic happens.

Attached to the back of the diaphragm is an electromagnet called a voice coil. A speaker actually has two inputs. When an electrical current is sent one way, it causes the poles of the electromagnet to point a certain way. When the electrical current is reversed, so are the poles. In every speaker there is a static magnet. This magnet interacts with the electromagnet just like it would any other magnet. When the poles of the electromagnet are facing one way, the two magnets attract and move closer together, when they face the other way, the magnets repulse and move farther apart. This happens many times a second, creating the vibrations needed to produce sound.

I hope you liked this in-depth (if rather long-winded) explanation of in concert sound systems and speakers. Although there is tons more to learn, I think this is a good start.

How Sound Systems Work Part 1

We love our music, and chances are we want it to sound as great as possible. But great music requires a great sound system. But how exactly does it work? And why do some sound better then the others.

Any sound system (beyond, say, just a couple of computer speakers, has two basic parts. The subwoofer, and the satellite speakers. Each server their purpose. Although this blog is geared particularly towards music, it can be easily applied to home theater systems as well. Please note, I am not offering buying suggestions on anything. However I will give you a few companies that have good systems for you to look at.

The Subwoofer

We believe you hear music in the highs, but feel it in the lows.
Kevin Lee CEO of SOL Repulic

The Subwoofer is the heart of any sound system. It is what sets apart the boys from the men. Its what shakes the house and makes you feel the music in every pore of your body. It hits those low notes that only the largest of speakers can hit.

Subwoofers come in many different shapes and sizes. Some, like mine, come in box shapes with a large speaker on the bottom to drive sound into the surface of whatever it is sitting on.. Others (particularly for home theaters) are more compact and come in strips that can easily hide under or behind something.

Some of the notes that these subwoofers manage to create are lower then the human ear is capable of hearing. However we dont have to hear it, we feel it. It is a whole other dynamic of the track that we never knew existed before we heard it on the subwoofer. However the subwoofer has other uses. One of its biggest ones is augment the bass capabilities of the smaller, satellite speakers. Satellite speaker do have some natural bass capability, but not much. With subwoofer, they dont really even have to worry about it too much. This allows them to be smaller and more out of the way.

The best part of a subwoofer is that it doesnt really matter where in an enclosed room it is placed (in a non-enclosed area, this is another matter). The brain has trouble locating sounds of very low frequencies in closed spaces, so you can fit it wherever there is room, and no one will know the difference. Even better, because of the low frequencies, you dont even really have to worry about things getting in its way, the sound just punches right through.

The Satellite Speakers

Music is a safe kind of high.
Jimmi Hendrix

OK, so maybe I faked this quote a little bit, but I couldnt find a good one pertaining to highs notes of music without reusing the previous one.

Although music does not require a subwoofer to be interesting, it does require something that can create the higher notes (the majority of the music) or there would be nothing to hear.

Satellite speakers typically are small. Unlike the subwoofer, they need to be out in the open to transmit sound effectively. However, the subwoofers allow these speakers to be small, allowing them to be put in corners. Frequently you will see them in high corners. Some houses even have them built into the roof. Satellite speakers, unlike subwoofers must be distributed relatively evenly amongst a room to get the feeling of being surrounded by the music. But dont forget that much music is recorded in stereo, that you should keep all the left speakers to one side, and all the right speakers to the other.

How Its All Controlled

For the most part, the sound system is connected to a central controller. This can be almost anything that has a stereo headphone jack. Many people connect their system to the computer and play it through iTunes or some other program. In my house, we have an Apple Airport Express that we can plug our speakers into and stream music to. This is just one solution, but there are plenty of others.

In theory, you could even plug a CD player into it, but for the most part this doesnt happen any more.

One thing I like to do is use the Remote app on my iPod touch to control the music. It connects to my iTunes library and controls playback. The music streams to the Airport Express and through that into the speakers. All controlled from my iPod.

In the next post, I look how live music systems work, and a little bit about how speakers work as well.

If you are looking for a good pair of speakers, there are a few good companies that have options ranging from less expensive starter kits to top of the line fully-fledged music systems

  • Bose

A Comparison of 3 Music Streaming Services

Up until the advent of the internet, the only way to hear a song was to either get it on CD (or record or tape, depending on your era), find it on the radio, or go to a concert. You had no other options. This was really the only way to distribute media. Then, with the advent of the internet, music streaming took off.

Here I present a few options for you. There are plenty more, but these are three of the biggest.

1. Rhapsody
The Good:

  • Unlimited listening
  • No commercials
  • Good Desktop client
  • Mobile devices supported w/offline playing

The Bad:

  • Only one mobile device aloud per account (unless you pay extra)
  • More expensive then other services
  • Only available in the U.S.

This is my current solution for music streaming. The arrival of Spotify, however, is really, if you will let me use this cliche, stealing Rhapsodys thunder. I Rhapsody definitely has its drawbacks. Most notably that you have to pay to start listening

Rhapsody premium ($9.99) gives you unlimited listening, as well as offline listening on a mobile device. You get access to all 12 million + songs in the database, as well as internet radio stations and community built playlists. For $15.99 a month, you can upgrade your account to let you download songs to up to three mobile devices instead of just one.

Rhapsody works. But its limited availability and slightly higher prices, I dont prefer it.

2. Spotify

The Good:

  • Cheap (free, $5/month and $10/month options)
  • Unlimited listening to what you want to listen to
  • Large song library (15 Million +)

The Bad:

  • Ad supported (free version)
  • Only available in some countries ( Sweden, Spain, Norway, Finland, France, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States)
  • Not available on mobile devices unless you pay

Rise up and sing people of America, Spotify has landed. It was not until recently that this music streaming service was available in the states because of copyright issues. Spotify comes with three plans. Free, unlimited, and premium.

The free version allows for unlimited listening in the USA (this will change soon), or 10 hours a month elsewhere of whatever you want to listen to. It will even keep track of your local files (and synch them to your mobile device) for you. The only downside of this is that it is ad supported, and you cant stream music using Spotify on you portable device (you can, however, listen to those local files that it synced).

The unlimited version ($4.99 USD/month or £4.99/month) removes the ads from the service and allows for unlimted listening (not a problem right now in the US). There is still no mobile device streaming however.

The premium version ($9.99/month or £9.99/month) gives a few additional features. Most notably is the ability to use Spotify on mobile devices. With Spotify Premium you can stream music to your phone, or you can download them to your mobile devices (or compupter) for offline listening. Note, downloaded tracks can only be played and used by the Spotify application. You can use these mobile features on up to three devices.

Overall, Spotify is an excellent service, and one that I will hopefully be switching to in the near future. I recommend it for anyone.

3. Pandora

The Good

  • Free (with paid options)
  • Can help you discover new music
  • Runs on almost all platforms (mobile included)

The Bad

  • You cant select your own songs (it is internet radio)
  • Listening limited to 40 hours per month (can pay for more)
  • Ad supported (for the free version)
  • Only available in the U.S.

Pandora is no doubt the leading name in internet radio. Backed by the Music Genome Project, Pandora does an incredible job at selecting songs that you will like. The service is free for 40 hours of listening a month, which is plenty for most people. There are ads, but there are relatively few and they are all less then 30 seconds. If you run out of your 40 hours never fear! For 99 cents you can extend your listening time to unlimited for the rest of the month.

For $36 a year you can upgrade to Pandora One, which gives you unlimited listening and no ads, as well as a desktop application.

All in all, Pandora is another good service. However, if you live somewhere besides the U.S. you will need to search for other options.

Obviously there are a ton of other music streaming options out there. These include services like Grooveshark, Last.FM and Slacker. But these are the three leaders in the market.

What about you? Do you use any of these services? If so do you pay for them, or use the free version? Id love to hear from you, leave me a comment below!

Black is Back

If you live in a hole there is a chance you have never heard of Rebecca Black. Actually, not really. If you have not heard of Rebbeca Black, I dont want you to feel bad.

Most people know here as the teenage sensation that sang the hit song Friday. Quotation marks are there for a reason. Friday was hated by many and loved by very few. Some people have gone as far as saying it is the worst song ever. Others have sent hate letters and death threats (many of the former and only a few of the latter).  All in all, this 14 year old from Southern CA. has garnered a lot of attention.

So why do I bring her up? Well, I think the title pretty much sums it up. She released a new song, which one critic described as her Im her to stay, b****es! anthem. Or, in other words, please welcome Americas newest pop star.

But what about the song itself. Well, I will say this. Its a lot better then Friday, which was pretty bad. Dont get me wrong, Im not a hater. In fact I believe that haters (aka, the people that were giving those hate letters and death threats) are somewhat immature. Although the tune of Friday was catchy, the words were horrible. This seems to have changed.

The first thing she did was get away from ARK, which was the studio she recorded Friday with. ARK can best be described as a vanity recording studio, allowing anyone to record a song and make a professional looking music video (for a price of course). The result in Rebeccas case was a poorly written song with so much auto tune on the voice it didnt even sound real.

This time through it is all changed. She managed to connect with a writer who had worked with Justin Bieber.The lyrics are much more poetic (and even have a message) the voice is clearly processed, but it is done much more artfully so the voice sounds relatively natural on average (i.e. no more processed then Justin Bieber). Obviously there are parts where the voice is more heavily processed, but this is clearly purposeful and there is a difference between it and what goes on throughout the rest of the song.

The lyrics have a clear message. Fresh of being hated by millions, Black is back with a song that lets them all know that she doesnt give a darn what they all think. Take these four lines from the bridge as an example:

Haters said Id see ya later
Cant talk to you right now
Im getting my paper
Then Im doing big things
Things you never dreamed of

I applaud her from this. Too many people would simply not try again after a reaction like the one she got. She dared to come back and tell them they were wrong and that she can be something. And I say good for here. I like the song as well, so thats a bonus.

The question becomes: is Rebecca Black going to be the next Justin Bieber? This remains to be seen. She will be releasing an EP later this year. I will be watching her career closely.

How Pandora Works

Pandora is certainly a wonderful service. You pop in a song or artist you like and just like that it plays a song by a group that you never heard of but you love. Its like magic, but behind the scenes there is a ton of stuff going on. More, in fact, then you could ever have imagined.

What became of it all? Something some would call neo-radio. Pandoras tagline is simple but descriptive: Its a new kind of radio stations that only play music you like. It seems to be a pretty good job of it too. But how does it mange this so well?
Back in late 1999 a man, Tim Westergren sent out a call for graduate students wanting to analyze music. Nolan Gasser, who held a masters degree in composition, and a Ph.D. in Musicology immediately answered. Westergren realized quickly that Gasser, who had been playing instruments since age four, and composing since eight, was not only capable of analyzing music, but also of help Westergren realize his dream: to create what would come to be called The Music Genome Project. The the idea was to create a database of attributes for songs so that a user could find new songs based on the attributes of songs they liked. Simple on paper, not so much in practice.

The Music Genome Project is the backbone of the Pandora Service. Westergren and his employees came up with several hundred  musical genes that a particular song could have. These include more easily understandable ones such as danceable grooves, and acid rock qualities to more technical ones such as chopped & screwed production and extensive vamping. Every single song in Pandoras database (of which there are some 800,000) was hand analyzed and assigned the appropriate musical attributes. Each genre has a particular set that are used. For example, Rock and Pop songs have about 150 genes, Rap songs have about 350, and Jazz has about 400. Each song is analyzed by one (or sometimes more) trained professionals, many of which have a advanced degree in music. Each gene is rated in a scale of one to five in half integer increments to indicate how much the gene is expressed. A single song generally takes 20-30 minutes to complete, but some, like classical pieces, can take an hour or more to analyze.

How it all comes together

When you type in a song on Pandora, several things happen. First, Pandora searches for your song in its database. Every song has a vector associated with it that indicates the rating of each of the genes. It then searches for songs that have similar qualities and adds them to the playlist. Unlike many other music suggestion services, such as, Pandora does not take genre into account when selecting songs. Although, because songs of the same genre tend to have similar attributes, many if not most of the songs played will be of the same genre as the song you inputted. If you input an artist, Pandora will select a song from their discography at random match that song. The problem with this is that, because you have no choice over the particular song, Pandora may very well select a song you dislike, and play more songs like it. For this reason, many people suggest using songs to create stations if you want to get the most out of Pandora.

Like it or dont

Another very important aspect of Pandora is the thumbs up/thumbs down feedback system. This allows users to tell Pandora if they like a song, or if they dislike a song. If you give a song a thumbs up, Pandora will play more songs like the one you just gave the thumbs up to. If, on the other hand, you give a song the thumbs down sign. Pandora will play fewer songs similar to the one you gave it feedback on. This allows for a high degree of customizability. Pandora pulls data on songs from all of your stations, not just the current one, so songs thumbed up in your Foo Fighters radio will be taken into consideraton when you listen to your U2 radio (assuming, of course, you have two radios like that).

Pandora is free, but this gives you an ad supported version with only 40 hours of listening a month. There is a payed version of it, but I think 40 hours with a 30-second (or less) ad every now and then is pretty good for a free service. And, for now, that it how I intend to use it. Although it is not currently available outside the US, perhaps, someday.

Im had a great time peaking under the hood of this awesome service. I hope you enjoyed learning about it as much as I did.

Do you use Pandora? What are your experiences with it? Did I get something wrong? Feel free to leave me a comment below, or send me an email.

The Song With Too Many Parts

If you are in a choir, you have probably sung in a least two parts. You have probably sung in three, and there is a good chance you have sung in four.

But have you ever sung in 40? Chances are you havent but, for some of you, the answer just might be yes.

Enter Spem in alium. A 40-part (although there are versions with just three or four parts)Latin motet written in late 16th century by Thomas Tallis. It is written for eight different choirs with five parts each to sing, and is easily one of the most complicated songs in the history of music (dont believe me? Take a look at the score). But why would anyone have been so silly as to write a song. It has such a ridiculous amount of parts that it wouldnt even be worth counting.


The belief is that it is competition. You  may want to think that the motives for writing such an incredible piece of music was 100 percent pure, but that may not be the case. It is quite likely that this song was written in response to a song written by an Italian composer, Alessandro Striggio, who wrote some songs with a very large amount of parts. According to a letter that was written around the time, a Duke (it is believed he was Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk) wondered if there was an Englishman who could create such incredible music. So Tallis set out to do so. And he succeeded.

But How Can That Many Parts Sound That Good?

Thats the big question isnt it? Spem in Alium is written to be sung by eight choirs in a horseshoe or circular pattern. The music starts in choir one. After some time, choir two comes in and, a little while later, choir one falls silent. The music continues around the horseshoe pattern like this, then turns around and comes right back. The choirs do not all sing at once until the end. And at that point it is just breathtaking. You have never heard anything like it.

How Is A Piece Like This Written?

If I knew this, far more people would know who I am. What I do know is that it takes experience, and a lot of it, to be able to write something like that. Experience that I just do not have.

I would suggest you listen to it, if you cant listen to the whole thing, then wait until you have time and come back.