music appreciation

Make a Playlist for Music Teachers and Students

When I was preparing for my ARCT examination in Piano Performance through the Royal Conservatory of Music, I had a "normal" office job. Often, I brought my practice binder to work to squeeze in a few minutes of score study at lunch time. However, the one thing that really helped me practice away from the piano was listening to my RCM CD's as I worked. Now it's so easy for music students and music teachers to listen to various performances of the repertoire they are working on. In fact, I created music playlists on my Youtube Channel so that I can listen to what my students are working on. I've shared the link with their families so that they too can listen/watch. It's a win-win situation. Now only do they get to listen to a variety of performances that I've screened for them (saving them search time), but they get exposed to a wider range of music as they listen to what their peers are working on. It's all about squeezing in music appreciation any chance you can get.

As for me, I get to listen to them as I get some office work done. Somedays, I'll catch something I've never noticed before and make a note to focus on a particular section during a lesson. Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud and all the other media sharing sites are wonderful music teaching resources. Here's what I'm listening to right this minute: It's a great way to practice piano (or to practice any musical instrument) - away from the practice room.

World Music Exploration - Traditional Malaysian Music

This month, my students and I are taking a musical trip to Malaysia. The music of Malaysia reflects a mix of cultural influences, from the Indonesian gamelan to Western music forms, and everything in between. This clip is a prime example of this:

Want to explore more music from Malaysia? Check out this CD:

It appears to be quite popular.

(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM). All rights reserved.

DVD Review - The Music Instinct: Science & Song

Daniel Levitin

Neuroscientist, musician, writer and record producer Daniel Levitin teamed up with singer Bobby McFerrin in this PBS special called The Music Instinct: Science and Song. Click on the link to read my review.

Levitin is known for his research on musics effects on the brain. He was featured in a CTV special called The Musical Brain.

He has published two books: The World in Six Songs and This is Your Brain on Music. The Music Instinct is available for sale on Amazon.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

More Exercises for Music through the Ages Exploration

This is becoming more and more enjoyable as the days go by. I stumbled upon a new approach towards the end of the week for the Music through the Ages Exploration: comparing and contrasting the evolution of a genre through the decades.

Angie, a high school student, decided to explore pop at her lesson. She picked Kalafina, a Japanese band formed in 2007. She contrasted and compared that to ABBA, the 70s pop/disco group from Sweden. Finally, we came back to North America with Celine Dion, the pop sensation from the 80s - today. We had a great discussion about music texture, timbre and compared and contrasted pop not just from the 70s to today, but from one continent to the next.

Today, some of my students explored Bee Gees, ABBA, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Elise Estrada, UVERWorld, The Eagles, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Merle Haggard. Regardless whether it was young Mia or elementary student Emma, we were able to have intelligent conversations on:

  • instrumentation/timbre: My students dutifully reported that country music still uses primarily voice, guitar and percussion and that there are more crossover artists these days. Those crossover artists have more electronic music sounds and "sugar pop" drum grooves. They added that pop/rock has gone more electronic.
  • the development of the music videos: They express a great appreciation for Michael Jackson's and Madonna's pioneering contributions.
  • the evolution of dance in live performances: "They just stood there and sang in the 70s. There's more dancing and acting now."
  • the deterioration of melodic shape, dynamic contrast and rhythmic variance: Some were quick to notice that the melodies are getting flatter and that the rhythms are getting more basic. Ostinato seems to be the modus operandi. As for dynamics, "everything's louder", "it's just one level" and "they yell more" were popular comments.

As for me, I'm happy to report that I sill know the lyrics to Billie Jean, Material Girl, Dancing Queen and most of Desperado.

[October 29, 2009 update] My singing teacher recently said that today's country is yesterday's rock. Check this out:

Carrie Underwood's Cowboy Cassanova (intro)

compared to

Listen to the drum groove and the guitar rhythm and chords around the 0:48 mark. (c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Music through the Ages Exploration Engages Students

This year, my students are exploring a different genre of music every month. Sometimes, it's a quick study. Sometimes it's just a case of listening to a CD or watching youtube and then discussing the music afterward. My student Namitha calls our exploration, "Music through the Ages". Last month, we explored the Classical period. Their comments on the music were colourful, ranging from "it sounds like someone's being chased" during Beethoven's 5th Symphony to "it sounds happy yet sad" for Mozart's Rondo alla Turk. The intermediate students have started to notice patterns that are similar to their pieces (sonata allegro form, anyone?).

This month, I've fast forwarded the timeline to the present for them to explore pop, rock and country. One student classified Carrie Underwood as "country", while the next day, one classified her as "pop". We listened to a couple of her songs and I asked them to tell me what madeJust a Dream more country than Cowboy Cassanova. A similar scenario happened with Taylor Swift.

(FYI: my students said it was the instrumentation and drum groove used that differentiated the styles).

After listening to The Beatles, I asked my student Tess what she thought of song and the style. "What am I supposed to say?" she asked me.

"The truth," I replied. "Did you like it? Love it? Hate it? Doesn't make you feel anything?"

She discovered that it doesn't make her feel anything and that it's a style she'll probably stay away from.

A few days later, I learned that young Gabe loves the 80s band Journey ("They're just cool!").

That's what it's all about for me, showing them what's out there. I hope by the end of the year, they will have a better idea of just how wide and diverse music is and along the way, find out what they would like to explore further (or avoid like the plague). If their active listening skills improve along the way as we discuss melody, timbre, rhythm, form and texture - all the better!

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.