The Origins of Music

Where did music come from? This is perhaps one of the most intriguing questions in the whole field of music study. It had to start somewhere, but where? Perhaps you have never thought about it. In this post I will present a couple of theories, but I leave the decision to you.

The theories on the origins of music depend greatly on what worldview you are coming from. For example, someone who believes in a god would no doubt point to their god as the source. An atheist, on the other hand, would not be able to accept that. They would choose to believe that music appeared at a certain stage in our evolutionary history. To be fair to both parties, I would like to present a theory from both belief systems.

The Atheistic View: Progeny are the Key

In The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes about how natural selection does not simply occur on the organism level, but on the genetic level. If an organism goes extinct, so do all the genes that it contains that are not found in other organisms. We must pass on or genes, or die without doing so, a most undesirable outcome.

The first tool as depicted in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey

Wild animals have three things in general that they do. Survive, (so that they can mate and pass on their genes), mate and raise their young (to make sure the genes are passed on), and sleep (which could be lumped in with survive). Imagine that an animal got to the point where it no longer had to spend all of its time doing those three things. Kind of like in the film 2001. One of the apes picks up bone and, for the first time, uses it as a tool. No longer do we have to do everything with our own hands.

So what fills the void? This is perhaps where music (and art in general) comes into play. Now that we have spare time, we can use it for our own pursuits. This can eventually become incorporated into other things. Darwin believed that, at some point in time, one of the major factors in females choosing a mate was how musical they were.  This is a rather intriguing theory.

The Religious View: God Did It

In C.S. Lewis The Magicians Nephew, Aslan, who is allegorically similar to Jesus (for many reasons), sings the world of Narnia into existence. This is quite a wonderful picture to think about. Perhaps it is not too far off. To continue on with the Judeo-Christian God (as I am most familiar with this one), it is conceivable that music is a part of us because it is a part of Him.

Genesis teaches that God made man in his own image. If God is musical, then it makes sense that man, the only being he created in his image (according to the Bible) is musical too. Although I know very little about the belief systems of other religions, I cannot speak for them. Although it does seem conceivable that this could work with other religions.
So, in conclusion, we dont really know. We can only guess. Did we figure music out for ourselves? Or was it given to us by something else?

What about you? Do you have a theory on where music came from? Would you like to tell me what you think of the theories I presented here? I would love to here about it. Why dont you leave me a comment below?

Sheet Music 101: Other Things of Importance

In going back and reading my previous posts in these series, I realized there are a few things I left out. In this post I want to go back and cover those things.

Dynamics

One very important thing in music is dynamics. We have to know when to play to play loud and when to play soft. To the right you can see the most common dynamic markings. The p stands for the Italian word piano and means soft. The mp stands form Mezzo-piano and means, essentially, kind of soft. The mf stands for Mezzo-forte and means kind of loud. And the f stands for Forte and means simply loud. Now, if you want to be even louder you can just add an F or a P. For example  pp would stand for Pianissimo and means very soft, and ff stands for Fortissimo and means very loud.

Those indicators can be found throughout a piece to tell us to change our loudness or lack thereof. But sometimes the composer wishes for us to change gradually. When this is the case, he uses crescendo or decrescendo markings. The image to the right is a crescendo marking and indicates you should get louder over a period of time. A crescendo mark can be drawn out over many notes. This particular example would be a very short crescendo. In general, you will find a dynamic marking at the end of the crescendo mark, indicating how loud you should be at the end. Remember, get loud over the length of the whole crescendo, not all at once.

A decrescendo on the other hand look exactly the same except backwards (>). It too will most of the time be drawn out over many notes and will most likely include a dynamic marking at the end too indicate how soft you should be. Sometimes, instead of a mark like this, you will simply find an abbreviation. For the most part crescendo will be abbreviated cresc. and decrescendo will be abbreviated decresc. Normally you will find a dynamic marking later on indicating how long you should be changing volume and what your final volume will be.

Notes Above and Below the Staff

This is incredibly important. Frequently you will run into notes that are either too high, or too low to be on the staff. In general, these notes can be represented in two ways: ledger lines and octave markings. Ledger lines are lines that have been added above or below the staff to indicate where the notes should be.

Take the example to the right. Let us imagine for a moment that this is the G clef. As we know, the very top space (the one above the last line) will be high G. The line above it, which is simply a ledger line, will be an A. The next space, written above a ledger line, will be a B and so on. Going down it is opposite. Since we know that the bottom space is a D, we can know that the note on the line belowit is a C, the space below that is a B, and so on. This also applies for the bass staff. If this was the bass staff, the top space would be B. As such, the next line would be C, the next space would be D, and so on. Down below, the lowest space is F, the line below is E, etc.

If the composer wants you to go even higher, but doesnt want to confuse you with a bunch of ledger lines, he will generally use octave markings. You can see them at the right. 8va indicates to play an octave above the indicated pitch, and 8vb indicates to play an octave below the written notes. At the top of this example you would normally play high F, high G, and high A. Instead you would play the next F, G and A above those. The same below, except going down. Instead of playing low G, low F and low E, you would play the next G, F and E down on your instrument.

The doted line indicates that the octave change extends over all the notes. A dotted line such as this only influences one staff. If the composer needs you to play extra low or extra high on both staffs there will be two indicators.

Pedal Markings

Last, but not least, if you are playing piano you will need to know when to use the damper pedal. The damper pedal is the pedal that cause all the notes on the piano to continue to ring, even after you release them.

This can be indicated in two ways. The first one is a simple horizontal line below the staff. The upside down V indicates that you should lift the pedal and place it back down.

The other way uses two symbols. One to indicate you should put the pedal down, the other to indicate it should be lifted. You can see them below, the one to the left indicates you should press the pedal down, and the one on the right indicates you should lift it up. These also will be found below the staff.

I hope this series has helped you understand sheet music better. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below.

This is part 4 of my series on how to read sheet music. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Sheet Music 101: Note Modifiers

This is part 3 of my series on reading sheet music. If you are unfamiliar with how to read notes, rests, and rhythms, please go read part one and/or part two.

Although simple notes can be used to make some nice melodies, we need more. Notes need modifiers to make them sound the way we want them. Although there are literally dozens of different modifiers that you can find. There are a few that I consider the  most important.

  • Accidentals
  • Length Modifiers
  • Ties/slurs

Chances are that, in any given piece of music (non-beginner that is), you will find these three things. Sometimes you will find only these three things, and sometimes you will find more.

Accidentals

I will start with this one. Accidentals could be considered the most important of these three things. Accidentals are any sharps, flats, or naturals that do not appear in the key signature. Accidentals indicate that you should play a sharped or a flatted note.This is where the black keys on a piano come in. With no sharps and no flats, we just play on the white keys. But, if we add an accidental, it will tell us (most likely) to play a black key. There are three different types of accidentals, sharps,  flats, and naturals.

A sharp sign (at the left of the image) indicates  that you should raise the pitch by one half step. In other words, if you see a note with a sharp next to it, you should play the note (black or white) directly to the left of it. A flat sign (in the middle of the image) indicates the exact opposite. It means that you should play the note directly to the left of what you would normally play.

When a note is sharped or flatted, the sharp or flat continues on through the end of the measure. If one C in a measure has a sharp next to it, ALL Cs following it in that one measure are played a C sharps. This is where a natural comes in. If you want to go back to a normal C, you need to place a natural sign (the sign on the right of the image) next to that C.  Natural are treated just like sharps and flats and a note stays naturaled (I just made up that word) through the end of the measure. A natural can also be used to change a sharp or flat that is found in the key signature.

Length Modifiers

Length modifiers are also an important part in notation. They change the length of a note played. In general, there are only two you should be worried about. They are the dot and the fermata.

A dot, like it sounds, is a dot. It is placed after a note, and causes the note to be 1.5 times its normal length. To the right is an example. In this line, because we are in 4/4 time, a quarter note would usually relieve one beat. However, you will notice that the second note has  a dot next to it. Because of this, the quarter note receives not one beat, but 1 and a half. The eighth note next to it makes up the rest of the beat.

A fermata is quite different. A fermata is used to indicate that the musician should hold the note as long as he or she pleases. In singing, this can be used quite effectively to build anticipation. The nice thing about fermatas is that they are completely open to interpretation, they can be as long, or as short as you like. You can see an example to the right. The fermata is the little sign above the first note.

Ties/Slurs

Although they are used for different purposes, ties and slurs look similar and I will lump them together into the same category.

A tie is a line that connects two notes of the same pitch. You can see an example with the last two notes in the images above. The arc indicates that the notes should not be played separately, rather they should be played as one note with the combined value of the two. So, in this example. Those two notes should be played as one note with a value of 5 beats (1 beat for the quarter note, 4 beats for the whole note.). You should also note that accidentals continue across a bar line when a note is tied, and do not terminate until the end of the tied note. Many notes can be tied together, there is no real limit.

Slurs connect two notes that, although they can be of the same pitch, do not need to be. Slurs, unlike ties, do note go from note to note. Instead they connect to one note, and then connect at the last note the composer wishes to be effected by it. All notes in between are affected as well. A slur indicates that a series of notes should be played without any pause at all between them, giving it a smooth feeling. An example is shown to the right. Notice, slurs can be above or bellow the notes in question.

I hope this helps you out with you reading of music! Now go have some fun.

This is part 3 of my series on how to read music. You can read Part 1: Notes here and Part 2: Rhythm and Rest here, and Part 4: Other Things of Importance here.