Tuesday, November 9, 2010

7 things you didn't know about music

  1. The 5 note pentatonic scale, (the scale that forms many of the classic patterns that guitarists use, see image) is a scale that has been around since ancient civilization. This scale is rooted in naturally occurring phenomenon and it helped societies develop a system to tune stringed instruments.
A 1st box
(pentatonic box patten used by guitarists the world over)

2. Perfect pitch is merely the ability to remember tones and isn't really useful to being a good musician. If you can think of a note in your mind and name that note with absolute certainty you have perfect pitch. The only use it might have to you as a musician would be the ability to tune your instrument without a tuning reference. Perfect pitch doesn't help with technique, music theory, composition skills, emotional quality of a performance, or the years of practice ALL great musicians endure to become good.

3. Vincent Galilei (Galileo's father) helped develop the system of Equal Temperament tuning that is used by most western musicians today. He didn't develop it first, that honor goes to Chinese scholar Chu Tsai-Yu. Galilei was behind him by a year but they both came to same solutions, independently.

4. Pythagoras (of triangular fame) tried to develop this same system about 2,000 years earlier. He failed. But, his ideas helped others develop the system we now use. Equal temperament tuning. If you don't know what this is read this:


This will likely make your head spin. All you need to know is that equal temperament is a way for us to play in twelve different keys. The system is a compromise. We have taken the tones that exist in nature and made them imperfect to fit our desire to compose in so many different keys. The mathematics involved are tricky to explain (not that I could anyway). If you play guitar you might want to study this topic more because it will help your ability to tune the thing.

5. Musical notes are repeating sounds waves. You get the strongest sound waves if they are created by an object that has a simple shape. One of the best shapes to produces vibrations is a column. Like a string. The strings that sound best are the ones with the most pure shape. This is why old strings don't sound as good as new ones. They won't hold their perfect shape.

6. The piano was invented in 1709 by Bartolomeo Cristofori.

7. In 1993 a test was done to see if avid vinyl/record enthusiasts could tell the difference between a CD and a record. Out of 160 people only 4 could identify the difference. Can you tell a difference or is it just nostalgia? Mp3's take music from CD's and eliminate 90% of unnecessary information (sounds that we can't hear with our ears, frequencies to high or to low). That's why we can stuff so much music on a little iPod. They've cut the fat so to speak. Some people swear that mp3's are a loss of sound quality. What do you think?

These little facts come from a book titled "How Music Works" by John Powell. A great read if you're a music nerd like me.

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