I love Star Wars! Considering that the first movie came out 4 and a half months before I was born, the story has been a part of my life for its entirety! And so today is affectionately called “May the 4th be with you”, a twist on “May the force be with you”, so today, I wanted to share with you some of the blog posts that I’ve written about Star Wars in the past.
For the month of February, my #tunethursday posts will not be about a specific tune, but, will be highlighting specific genres of music, the contributions of musicians of color and how they’ve come to influence current music. Today, we start with ragtime.
Ragtime had about an 18 year (1899-1917) run in popularity, but those 18 years played a significant and influential role in 20th century music. Where did it come from? It was one of the first truly “American” styles of music, and it came out of riverboat piano players that developed a “ragged” or syncopated style of playing.
So, what in the world is syncopation? Syncopation is a fun word (sink-o-pay-shon) to say, and it’s fun to do musically, once you learn it. Normally, in music, you have a strong beat and a weak beat. In 4/4 time, beat 1 is the strongest, beat 3 is the 2nd strongest, and then beats 2 and 4 are the weaker beats. This is why it totally throws musicians off if you clap along on beat 1 and 3! But, back to syncopation. Syncopation shifts the stress off of the main beats and it gives a completely different feel!
Here’s a great example. “The Entertainer” The left hand is primarily playing on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4, while the right hand is playing syncopated rhythms, and it has this freshness and life to it that really had never been heard in music before.
I thought this quote from Wikipedia was fascinating. “Black musician Tom Fletcher said, Ernest Hogan (the first person to write ragtime music) was the “first to put on paper the kind of rhythm that was being played by non-reading musicians.” There’s a lot there. At that time in history, slavery was about 30 years in the past, but African Americans were still viewed as lower or second class. There wasn’t the education that white Americans had, and especially when it came to music. So if you were an African American at the time, you most likely learned music by figuring it out! And this is what happened when Hogan did this. Scott Joplin was musically trained and took ragtime to a whole new level.
The mid 1910’s was a transition point, and the “St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy started that transition into blues. More on blues and jazz next week, but you can tell as you listen to this piece, there’s been a transition from piano being the predominant instrument to trumpets and other instruments standing out.
I learned “The Entertainer” back when I took lessons, and absolutely loved and was frustrated by it at the same time. Playing in that “ragged” style is a challenge, but it is so much fun to play once you learn it, and much more fun to listen to! I’d encourage you to check out more ragtime music!
If you’ve seen the movie “Encanto”, you know what the next word would be. Well, you probably will start singing the rest of the song, if you’re anything like me! If you haven’t seen the movie, or you want to indulge yourself, here you go:
So, why does this song (and other songs) get stuck in our head? I remember back a few years ago when my girls were in the “Frozen” phase of life. The song “Let It Go” was sung non-stop in my house….and in my head. Why do we get these….earworms?
It could be something as simple as the rhythm or the melody, but I think in songs like these, it’s the repetition of lyrics. If you know “Bruno” or you just watched the linked video, the line of “We don’t talk about Bruno” gets repeated. This isn’t something original to Lin-Manuel Miranda, but if you listen to some of the songs or themes in his musical “Hamilton”, you’ll understand how he excels at this concept.
Here’s another video explaining the science of earworms:
Yes, studies have been done by researchers to figure out how songs get stuck in our head. The “catchiness” or repetitiveness of the song is usually what makes it easy to get stuck in our head, but there’s really no easy trick to get it out.
So, I apologize for getting a song stuck in your head today. But actually, I’m not sorry. If you haven’t watched “Encanto” on Disney+, you need to. It’s an excellent movie with excellent songs that will get stuck in your head!
When you give yourself or your child the gift of music lessons, you’re doing more than introducing and building the skill of music in their (or your) lives. What are some the things that you are giving themselves (or you)?
You are giving a growth in emotion. There is music to make us happy, joyful, ecstatic, sad, broken, and many other words! Music connects us deeper to our emotions because when we make music, we get to bring that emotion out of the music and share with the listener.
You are giving a growth in empathy. Hand in hand with the emotional growth, as musicians, we put ourselves in the place of the composer, the arranger, or even the listener. As we do that, it brings about a growth in thinking about the place of others in the spectrum of making, creating and hearing music.
You are giving a growth in confidence. As students of all ages learn and develop musical skills, one of the things to see is a growth in confidence. When students believe that they can achieve a goal or grow a skill, it’s amazing to see their progress! And it can translate outside of music making!
You are giving a growth in physical skills. Music helps in brain development, whether it’s building hand-eye coordination through tracking the music and playing an instrument (even the voice is an instrument!) or whether it’s the physical skills of stretching an octave on the piano, or learning hand positions on the guitar, there is a lot of physical development that comes through making music.
You are giving a growth in mental development. Music is a language, and studies have shown that when you learn a language, there is a growth in mental development. It’s learning different terminologies and their definitions, learning about the stories behind composers and their compositions and much more!
You are giving a growth in community. Music is about community. Even if you learn an “individual” instrument like piano or guitar, typically you have an audience. And you are joining the greater community of people who call themselves musicians. And in joining the community at Harmanny Music Education, you’re joining a community of like-minded individuals and families who want to grow and build skills and knowledge.
There are so many more things that come from music lessons, such as self-worth, discipline, creativity, learning to do your best work, persistence and even more! If you click on this link, you can sign up to give yourself or your child these gifts and so many more! To find out more about Craig, click here. To see frequently asked questions about lessons, click here. To see when Craig has time available for lessons, click here.
Last week, I wrote about the Beatles documentary “Get Back”. I wrote about how they needed help and got it from Billy Preston. This week, I’m going to talk about teamwork.
The Beatles were known as the “Fab Four”. It wasn’t John or Paul or George or Ringo. It was John and Paul and George and Ringo. One of the things that I really appreciated in watching this documentary was that even in the midst of personal disagreement and strife (this was very close to the end of the Beatles as a band), when they made music together, you could see how they worked together to create an amazing and unique sound.
One of the ways you see this is in their songwriting process. It wasn’t always just Paul or George or Ringo or John individually writing the songs. It’s all of them working together. One of my favorite parts was when Ringo was sitting down at the piano working on Octopus’s Garden.
Music can be an individual effort. But from my experience in making music throughout my life, I’ve found so much more joy in a collective experience. Whether that was singing in a choir, playing handbells in a group, playing trumpet in band, accompanying singers or instrumentalists on the piano or organ, the teamwork that goes into making music is so important. The Beatles, even in the midst of struggles still worked and clicked together in making music. Whether it was just goofing around on songs they all knew, or making new songs, you can see their teamwork happen so clearly.
Yesterday, I got an email from a church that I am filling in for on the organ later in the month. The email was letting me know that at each service, there would be two violinists. I got very excited and replied immediately saying that I would be looking forward to it. The response I received intrigued me. There was some worry that it would be an issue. My response to that was that I was going to start looking through my resources for music to work on. Of course, this church doesn’t know me or my background, I was just recommended as a sub. They don’t know that I’ve grown up around music in the church, spent 18 years as full time church music minister and that I feel very strongly about utilizing instruments in worship. But sometimes, musicians don’t always want to work with others. Sometimes, musicians don’t like working with others. When we do work together, beautiful music happens. Just like what you see when you watch the documentary “Get Back”.
“Get Back” is currently streaming on Disney+. It is in 3 parts, each about 2+ hours in length.
If you go back to last July (or even farther), it’s been an amazing year and run for Lin-Manuel Miranda. Last July, the video of Hamilton was released on Disney Plus and when you have a daughter who is a self-professed musical theater nerd, it’s going to be pretty much CONSTANTLY on.
This July, In the Heights, another creation by Lin-Manuel was released. Again, this was a production that he created years ago, it won a number of awards on Broadway (deservedly so!) and the movie adaptation of the show was fantastic! Once again, the movie and the soundtrack was on constant rotation at our house.
And then, last Friday, August 6th, the movie Vivo was released on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it, go do it! I wasn’t familiar with much of anything relating to the movie, other than Lin-Manuel did the music, and I was blown away. It was an excellently written movie, with an engaging story, and of course, as it seems any time Lin-Manuel is involved, excellent music. The song “Beat of My Own Drum” has been a staple at my house this week, as my younger daughter has taken to that song as HER anthem.
It is clearly evident that Lin-Manuel Miranda is extremely talented. Take a listen to the music he’s created for In the Heights, Hamilton, Moana, Mary Poppins Returns and Vivo, and you’ll hear it. Of course, with that talent takes work. Also, it’s extremely easy to see that he is regularly hard at work as what he has been creating and continues to create takes up time, energy and effort. But, when you fall in love with music, and making music, as Lin-Manuel has, the work isn’t hard. It’s fun.