It's' been 5 and 1/2 months since my previous post in this series, (sorry) so I'll need some time to get back on track. Okay....
What is Time?
In 9th grade, my physics teacher told me that time is something that could never be clearly defined. Wikipedia defines it as a measure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them.....perhaps a bit confusing.
In music, time refers to the time signature, or meter of a song. Despite the large number of time signatures in existence, there are only 2 meters: duple and triple.
Duple: DOWN, up, DOWN, up
Triple: DOWN, up, up, DOWN, up up
All time signatures are derived from, or variations of, these 2 meters.
Time signatures define how many beats are in a measure (or taala), and the notational duration of each beat. In western music, it's represented as a fraction:
This time signature signifies that there are 3 beats per measure, where each beat has the duration of a quarter note. This is an example of triple meter.
Why do we need it?
Time signatures do more than just indicate the structure of the song. Each time signature has certain rhythms associated with it. For example, 3/4 indicates waltz time. 6/8 is commonly used for faster dance music. My point is, time and rhythm go hand in hand.
Listening to music and trying to identify the meter, time signature, and the rhythms are excellent ways of improving your sense of music. Later, think back and try to group certain rhythms with certain meters. You'll soon find patterns emerge, correlating these 3 elements. Unfortunately, this is something you need to experience for yourself. Listening to uncommon time signatures helps a lot. My personal favorite signature is 7/8
How does this help compose?
Any rhythm that you play has to finally fit in your meter. Understanding how rhythm intertwines with time signatures can help you make "intelligent choices" in your music. For example, if you want your song to be interesting, the first thing you need is a catchy rhythm. Okay.........how do you get compose a catchy rhythm? Force yourself to use a catchy time signature, of course!
For example, 5/4, 7/8, 11/8, 13/8, 15/16
I think you get the picture. Any signature with an odd number of beats, will easily churn out an interesting rhythm. Unfortunately, 3/4 can't make this category, because it's pretty much over used, and, a bit slow to form an intriguing rhythm.
I realize that this has been a rather ambiguous blog. There's really nothing here about how to come up with a complex rhythm. I'll delve into that a later time......hopefully. Until then, keep analyzing.
As a quick recap, in my previous blog, I mentioned the power of 2 notes to form an interval. That's all wonderful, but the whole article was more about theory; useless knowledge if you can't apply it. So how do you use those 2 notes? Well, lets look back at an example used in the previous blog:
I used to think that a melody required at least 2 note. Well, Peter Kadar most certainly plays a one note melody (ignoring the chords) in that video. So, how does he do it?? If it's possible to play a one note melody and still maintain interest, then there has to be something more fundamental to music; a foundation that melody is built upon. So, what is it? (Hint: read the title of this article)
Rhythm is a part of human instinct. It's what gets our foot tapping. It's something that we all naturally possess. When we walk, we walk with rhythm. When we talk, we talk in rhythm. When we're angry, WETALKSOFASTTHATNOONEKNOWSWHATWERESAYING! When we try to make a point, we E-NUN-CI-ATE EV-ER-Y SYL-LA-BLE. All of this is rhythm! We each have our own rhythmic style, and yet, it's something that unites us all.
There's only one difference between this, and musical rhythm: in music, rhythm has a pattern; mostly, one that's repetitive. In music, a rhythm consists of upbeats and down beats. A down beat is a STRONG beat - one where we feel the impact. An upbeat is the exact opposite: a lighter beat. Here's a simple way to look at it: when you tap your foot to a song, every time you hit the floor, that's a down beat, and vice versa. Take a look at the following rhythm:
BOOM boom BOOM boom BOOM boom BOOM BOOM
All the BOOMs are downbeats, and the booms are upbeats. Take another look at Peter Kadar's one note melody and try to find the upbeats and downbeats.
That covers the expressive/intensity of a rhythm, but of course, you also need a pattern (how many hits per beat?). You can't discuss rhythmic patterns without mentioning time signatures (aka. taala....sorry for leaving out carnaatic terms and concepts in the past couple of articles). We'll take a look at that in the next article, but for now, don't worry too much about it. Just drum the objects around you to find a rhythm you like. Then, you can add notes to each hit of your rhythm, and that's it! You're composing! This trick has helped me out in a few tight situations, so keep at it, and remember: have fun.
I know a lot of musicians want to get into composing, but don't know where to begin. Don't worry, this is something we all go through. I'm not professional, but I have been composing for about 6 years now, and I have freelanced; I've handled my share of projects. So, I'd like to quickly shed some light on how to get started with composing.
One Note Wonder
Okay, let's get down to it: how do you start composing? Simple: you start with the first note! It can be any note; just pick your favorite, or even close your eyes and play a random note. What do you do next? Play another note! Just keep it in the vicinity. Now, don't roll your eyes at me! What you now have, is a melodic interval. These 2 notes can define your whole song! They have character, they have a certain mood! Don't underestimate the importance of a melodic interval!
Now, before you start saying,"Well that's great, but I'm not a score writer, so this is useless", I'd just like to say: it doesn't matter what kind of musician you are, the principal is just the same! For example, take jazz music. Why jazz? It's one of the most complex forms of music in existence! You need insane performing skills accompanied by an equally thorough knowledge of music theory. That being said, check out what this guy, Peter Kadar, can do using just ONE NOTE on the blues scale. Sure enough, he proceeds from one note, to TWO NOTES. Again, there it is - a melodic interval. It's powerful enough to hold it's own in a song.
There are still so many times when I have to compose for a project, and my brain just wont get into gear. At times like that, what I do is get back to this tip - playing those first 2 notes really is enough to get your creativity going. So, I hope you realize what you can do with just one or two simple notes, and you have now "officially" started composing. What do you do after those 2 notes? Well that's for another article. How do you use those 2 notes? THAT, is where your creativity comes into play. Don't worry, you don't have to figure it out on your own; there are just certain things you have to pay attention to. THIS will be the topic for my next blog. Until then, keep practicing.
Welcome to the 2nd article in my Musical Maturity series. Vocal Harmony. Oh. My. God! You could write a 500 page book on harmony (many have, by the way), and still not cover everything there is to say about the subject! I've restricted myself to vocal harmony, and even then, I'm still wondering how I can condense all this information! Well, in this article, I plan to simply introduce you to the topic in general.
The reason I chose this topic is because harmony is the most important technique that draws the line between carnatic and western music. Carnatic is a purely melodic form of music, and lacks any form of harmony whatsoever. Vocal Harmony is used extensively in so many forms of western music, and for good reason! My friend Isaac and I (visit him here) always add vocal harmony to our songs. Whether we are composing or performing, there's at least one phrase where we harmonise. Why? Because it just sounds so good! Anyways, lets talk about where this originated.
Musical History: Organum
Lets be honest; most people hate this topic, so I'll try to keep it short. The origin of harmony dates back to devotional chants at the roman catholic church around 800 AD. At first, they were chanted by a choir of men, all singing the same notes at the same time (unison). Eventually, someone decided to add a group of boys to the choir. They were still singing the same thing, but the boys' voices were an octave higher. Suddenly, someone had the idea of using a section of the choir as a drone; saying the words while holding just a single note throughout the song. In carnatic music, the tamboura provides the drone.
If you'd like more information, the internet is at your disposal. I recommend these youtube sources:
Here are just a couple of unique examples of modern applications of vocal harmony.
Simon & Garfunkel: Sound of Silence
Death Note: Kyrie
If you've seen Death Note, then this iconic music is not new to you. However, you may not know that this has a very interesting story behind it. Kyrie is actually a type of Gregorian Chant! These chants always have the same words set to different music.
I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did. Until next time, take care, and keep learning.
Hey everyone. i recently got an idea for a series of blog articles: sharing my thoughts on various aspects of music, and how they play out in various genres. Being a classical musician, my primary genres of focus are going to be western classical and carnatic music. I'll occasionally throw in other genres for comparison, or to note how one form of music has led to the development of another.
Before we start, I'd just like to mention a little bit about my musical background. I learned carnatic (South Indian ethnic) vocal at a young age, along with western classical piano. Eventually, I stopped singing (for various reasons I won't get into now), but continued steadily in western classical. In high school, I wanted to be a professional pianist, performing Beethoven and Bach. Around that stage, I'd listen to carnatic music and think "What? What are they doing?" (Although, I made it a point to attend at least one kacheri every Margazhi Mahotsavam). A lot of things about carnatic music really puzzled me. Since then, I've spent a lot of time comparing and contrasting the 2 art forms and understanding more about them. Which brings us to the blog at hand: I'd like to use this as an outlet to share what I've learned through all of this analysis.
If I'm not mistaken, carnatic music does not allow instruments to do what a human voice cannot. A human voice can only produce one note at a time, same as a flute. A violin can practically produce up to 2 notes (even 3, in the hands of an expert). A piano, 88 notes. What a waste it would be to restrict yourself to one note at a time! You're throwing away the one thing that makes the piano so special!
No More Keyboard!
There are a lot of conventions I see in Chennai that are quite disturbing to me, the most prominent one being teachers offering carnatic music lessons on the keyboard. I don't see anyone offering western music lessons on a veena (LOL. Please don't!). I'm all for mixing things up, but this to me is unacceptable. Why? To understand this, we must understand where this instrument is coming from.
The piano is a western classical instrument, developed over the years to suit that particular style of music. I believe every instrument has something special to offer, and in the piano, it's polyphony: the ability to play multiple notes at once. The piano was designed like this to suit the requirements of western classical music, by allowing you to play 3 to 4 lines of music simultaneously. However Carnatic music does not allow this. Why do you want to waste such potential?
To make matters worse, you're not going to learn proper fingering or hand technique if you take carnatic lessons. Why? Unless your carnatic teacher knows how to play western classical, they're not going to have proper technique themselves. So not only are you wasting the instrument potential, you're also making your own life harder. There are over a dozen ways to play any given musical phrase, and the technique you use is what makes it easy or hard. In my opinion, anyone teaching carnatic on a keyboard is just out for a quick buck.
Let me just say, I'm not against playing carnatic on the keyboard every once in a while. If you want to, then by all means go ahead! Just be sure to learn western first, and then implement what you learn. Or, if you're composing fusion, then play western music on western instruments, and indian music on indian instruments! Why do you think Rajesh Vaidya's songs are so amazing?
What about Indian Instruments?
When it comes to instruments made in India, carnatic music could not be any more perfect. Again, this is because majority of these instruments were developed to suit the rules and styles of carnatic. For example, a veena is designed in a way that makes it easy to play melodies, but difficult to strum more than one string at a time (this is what makes it so different to a guitar). Unlike western music, you only need to play on one string at a time. Despite it's beauty, I don't think the uniqueness of carnatic instruments lies in the veena, or the flute, or violin. It's all about percussion.
Indian percussive instruments are FAR more sophisticated than, say, drums, or even a timpani. In western percussion, you either hit a barrel drum on it's center, or it's rim. Deviating isn't going to produce a very different sound. Compare this with a mridangam or a tabla. The smallest deviation from the center produces a clearly audible variation in pitch, which enables virtuosos to demonstrate exactly how skilled they are!
This is again, why I would oppose implementing western music on Indian percussive instruments. Please be clear, I'm not saying "don't use a tabla in western music", I'm saying "don't play the tabla as if it's a timpani!" When you blend different styles of music, please let your instruments inherit their own musical customs. Remember, those customs are what define the instrument.
Update: December 27, 2014
Earlier today, I saw a Rajesh Vaidya concert with K. Sathyanarayanan playing carnatic on the keyboard, and yes, it sounded wonderful. In my blog I clearly said I was against this, but in this concert, he wasn't using just any keyboard. He was using a monophonic synth. Why does this make any difference? Because when you play two notes, the synth morphs one into the other, forming a gamaka, and eliminating polyphony. The only other reason I was against it was because of technique: you can't learn proper finger techniques unless you learn western keyboard. Well it turns out this guy cleared Trinity Grade 8 when he was 10 years old. Clearly, he's overthrown any and all reasons I gave for being against this idea, so I'm all for it (in his case!). However, it's also worth noting that he took western classical lessons from western classical pianists, and carnatic lessons from carnatic musicians on OTHER instruments (like mandolin U Srinivas). THIS is exactly what I was trying to enforce in my blog!
For more info, read this article about K. Sathyanarayan.