Saturday, March 14, 2009

Music History...

Recently, I went to the library to borrow a book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music History" which I found it an eye opener to help me understand the Music History and the culture of different countries. And, after reading through the book, I would like to list some of the important ideas and concepts which I have self-derived.

As I am learning piano now, and will be taking the ABRSM exams, and my teacher is a Classical piano teacher, I am currently more exposed to the so call "serious" and "Classical" music. And usually the people who play piano will say that popular music (pop songs) are boring, no creativity and that classical music are timeless, and no matter how many years after they are composed, they can still be appreciated and nice to hear. Not like popular songs which are written just for this time, and years later, it will no longer be nice to listen to. And so on...

Well, it is not the whole story yet. Actually, each piece of music (be it the well-known classical, or popular songs, or opera), it actually tells a lot about the culture and the background of the person from the pieces that were composed. The current pop songs can still be appreciated after hundreds of years into the future, and it might be classical to the people then.

In the very ancient time, music were created using very simple tools like bones (to create a flute), hitting the log to create beats and imitating the sound of animals, and realising that there are different pitch.

Slowly, as human evolve, there are better ways to create instruments using string, and hence people in different countries created different instruments like guqin, flute, harpischord, drum and so on.

And in the ancient time, the main purpose of creating music is for worshipping of their God, sing as prayer, and even have opera as a form of entertainment and conveying the thoughts and ideas which then reflects the lifestyle, culture background of these music.

And different country has different definition of keys, notes, tuning, scales and ways of writing their music (currently know as music theory). Western music (as we all know), have 12 evenly toned "semitones" within an octave, where each semitone is equally spaced apart, and there is where we have the major scales and minor scales. And that is why a western music sounds western, because it is composed based on a set of rules and scales. And slowly, they evolved to have a standardised frequency of 440Hz which represents the A key.

However, other cultures divide an octave into more or fewer pitches relative to the Western 12 tone in an octave. India music divides an octave "microtones", which have 22 closely spaced pitches. Which means, there are some notes that can never be reproduced with a piano, which is of a frequency somewhere between a white and a black key of a piano, and because it does not follow the 440Hz rule, it might sound a bit off compared to the Western music. And they have their own set of scales and music theory.

China music also has a 12-tone scale, but they usually follow a pentatonic scale (5 notes that are approximately similar to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th of the Western major scale), so, it would be C, D, E, G, A (which forms a scale for Chinese music). And Chinese define C and A as an octave apart, and hence, the scale of an octave higher vs the scales of an octave lower, sounds different. And when writing a piece with 2 octaves, it is like writing a piece with C major and A minor (the major and its relative minor). This is what makes a Chinese music sounds Chinese.

As for Middle East music, they do not follow the kind of time signature which we learnt in a Western music, instead, their rhythm are much more complex than Western music, which might mean changing the time signatures almost in each bar of the music and then the whole rhythm is repeated.

And if we read more into the current Chinese Pop Songs (in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and HK), it is noticeable that the music actually follows the Western way of notation, where we have Treble Clef, Bass Clef, playable using a piano, follows the major and minor scales of the Western classical music, chords. And hence we can in a way say that our culture, our liking of music has very much been influenced by the Western culture. We often feel India songs or Chinese songs (from China) sounds funny, and this could be because we grew up in an environment listening to the Western music, and we feel that major scales just sounds "normal" and any other scales sounds weird.

And there are so much more to music than classical music. But for the fact that I have chosen piano as my first instrument (not counting singing in the bathroom), I will only be exposed to learning Western music. Sometimes, I feel sad, coz as a Singaporean Chinese, I don't know how to appreciate Chinese historical music, yet spending my time learning Western music. And even now, the Chinese (from China) are also learning piano and the Western culture. I do hope the beauty of their traditional Chinese music will not because of this influence be seen as "inferior", as they have their own taste and beauty. Likewise for the other music from other culture and historical background.

May want to learn more about Chinese music in future....But I want to master my piano first =)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What I learnt so far in my piano class...

I am into the 10th month into my piano studies now...

Beginner (6 months)
For the first 4 to 5 months, my teacher used "Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course Level 1" and completed it in the beginning of the 5th month. Mainly focused on note reading, playing with different dynamics (p to f), chords, five fingers movements.

On the 5th and 6th month, I learnt to play simple duet (with my teacher), scales, Christmas Carols and some other folk songs. I used some of the pieces from "Let Us Have Music for Piano, Volume One, Seventy-Four Famous Melodies", "The World of Master Composers Series 1", "50 Golden Christmas Sings" and 1 or 2 duets pieces which my teacher shared with me. I also learnt a few pop songs on my own, though I play it with my own style.

Grade 1 (4th months into Grade 1 now)
In the 7th month, I officially move on to Grade 1. Where I started using the following books "Grade 1 Scales & Broken Chords", "A Dozen A Day Book One", "Improve your sight-reading Grade 1", "Music Theory in Practice Grade 1", "Keys to Stylistic Mastery Book 1" and doing note namers exercise every week.

As of now, I have completed the Baroque pieces of the "Keys to Stylistic Mastery Book 1", and have moved on to the Classical Period, focusing on some problems I have:-
1. Pedalling (keep having coordination problems with when to change pedal and when the depress)
2. Trills (using right hand 2, 3, 2, 3 finger position are fine, any other fingering will give me lots of problems, the beats are simply not correct)
3. Dynamics (the range is not big enough, need to expand the range, and my left hand is always too loud for classical pieces)
4. Learn the different style of the music in the different periods (relatively more academic)

I have completed the Grade 1 Theory, and my teacher will be buying some theory exam papers for me to try (under exam condition), but I will not be taking Grade 1 theory exams. My teacher will move me on to Grade 2 Theory. And I am finishing my "Grade 1 Scales and Broken Chords" soon. I am still in the first set of dozen for the "A Dozen A Day". And moving very slowly with the "Improve your sight-reading".

My teacher will be working on my aural soon, and she says she will need to take 6 months worth of lessons to prepare me for my practical exams (3 pieces) to be of performance standard. So if I count backwards, I will need to start preparing for my Grade 2 practical exams starting from Aug 2009, for the Mar 2010 exams.

For some reasons, I suddenly feel very stress now. And I feel I have a huge gap in my technical skills. Theories are still ok for me, maybe coz I am an adult and have already gotten used to study and taking exams. But practical, oh no, I feel I play so badly! =(