Monthly Archives: May 2017

Triad Music

In music, a triad is a set of three notes (or “pitches”) that can be stacked vertically in thirds. The term “harmonic triad” was coined by Johannes Lippius in his Synopsis musicae novae (1612). When stacked in thirds, notes produce triadic chords. The triad’s members, from lowest-pitched tone to highest, are called:

  • the root
  • the third – its interval above the root being a minor third (three semitones) or a major third (four semitones)
  • the fifth – its interval above the third being a minor third or a major third, hence its interval above the root being a diminished fifth (six semitones), perfect fifth (seven semitones), or augmented fifth (eight semitones). Perfect fifths are the most commonly used interval above the root in Western classical, popular and traditional music.

Some twentieth-century theorists, notably Howard Hanson and Carlton Gamer, expand the term to refer to any combination of three different pitches, regardless of the intervals amongst them. The word used by other theorists for this more general concept is “trichord”. Others, notably Allen Forte, use the term to refer to combinations apparently stacked of other intervals, as in “quartal triad”. In the late Renaissance music era, and especially during the Baroque music era (1600–1750), Western art music shifted from a more “horizontal” contrapuntal approach (in which multiple, independent melody lines were interwoven) toward chord progressions, which are sequences of chords. The chord progression approach, which was the foundation of the Baroque-era basso continuo accompaniment, required a more “vertical” approach, thus relying more heavily on the triad as the basic building block of functional harmony.

The root tone of a triad, together with the degree of the scale to which it corresponds, primarily determine a given triad’s function. Secondarily, a triad’s function is determined by its quality: major, minor, diminished or augmented. Major and minor chords are the most commonly used chord qualities in Western classical, popular and traditional music. In standard tonal music, only major and minor chords can be used as a tonic in a song or some other piece of music. That is, a song or other vocal or instrumental piece can be in the key of C major or A minor, but a song or some other piece cannot be in the key of B diminished or F augmented (although songs or other pieces might include these chords within the chord progression, typically in a temporary, passing role). Three of these four kinds of triads are found in the major (or diatonic) scale. In popular music and 18th-century classical music, major and minor triads are considered to be consonant and stable, and diminished and augmented triads are considered to be dissonant and unstable.

Each triad found in a diatonic (single-scale-based) key corresponds to a particular diatonic function. Functional harmony tends to rely heavily on the primary triads: triads built on the tonic, subdominant (typically the ii or IV chord), and dominant (typically the V chord) degrees. The roots of these triads begin on the first, fourth, and fifth degrees (respectively) of the diatonic scale, otherwise symbolized: I, IV, and V (respectively). Primary triads, “express function clearly and unambiguously.” The other triads of the diatonic key include the supertonic, mediant, submediant, and subtonic, whose roots begin on the second, third, sixth, and seventh degrees (respectively) of the diatonic scale, otherwise symbolized: ii, iii, vi, and viio (respectively). They function as auxiliary or supportive triads to the primary triads.

Dance Music

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole musical piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient times (for example Ancient Greek vases sometimes show dancers accompanied by musicians), the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are the surviving medieval dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances (see Baroque dance). In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

Modern popular dance music initially emerged from late 19th century’s Western ballroom and social dance music. During the early 20th century, ballroom dancing gained popularity among the working class who attended public dance halls. Dance music became enormously popular during the 1920s. In the 1930s, called the Swing era, Swing music was the popular dance music in America. In the 1950s, rock and roll became the popular dance music. The late 1960s saw the rise of soul and R&B music. The rise of disco in the early 1970s led to dance music becoming popular with the public. By the late 1970s, electronic dance music was developing. This music, made using electronics, is a style of popular music commonly played in dance music nightclubs, radio stations, shows and raves. Many subgenres of electronic dance music have evolved.

Dance music works often bear the name of the corresponding dance, e.g. waltzes, the tango, the bolero, the can-can, minuets, salsa, various kinds of jigs and the breakdown. Other dance forms include contradance, the merengue (Dominican Republic), and the cha-cha-cha. Often it is difficult to know whether the name of the music came first or the name of the dance. Electronic dance music experienced a boom after the proliferation of personal computers in the 1980s, manifest in the dance element of Tony Wilson’s Haçienda scene (in Manchester) and London clubs like Delirium, The Trip, and Shoom. The ongoing influence of Shoom can be seen in its 25th anniversary party, held at Cable Nightclub on 8 December 2012, which sold out in four days. The scene rapidly expanded to the Summer Of Love in Ibiza, which became the European capital of house and trance. Clubs like Sundissential and Manumission became household names with British, German and Italian tourists. Many music genres that made use of electronic instruments developed into contemporary styles mainly due to the MIDI protocol, which enabled computers, synthesizers, sound cards, samplers, and drum machines to interact with each other and achieve the full synchronization of sounds. Electronic dance music is typically composed using computers and synthesizers, and rarely has any physical instruments. Instead, this is replaced by digital or electronic sounds, with a 4/4 beat. Many producers of this kind of music however, such as Darren Tate and MJ Cole, were trained in classical music before they moved into the electronic medium.

Beat Music

In music and music theory, the beat is the basic unit of time, the pulse (regularly repeating event), of the mensural level (or beat level). The beat is often defined as the rhythm listeners would tap their toes to when listening to a piece of music, or the numbers a musician counts while performing, though in practice this may be technically incorrect (often the first multiple level). In popular use, beat can refer to a variety of related concepts including: tempo, meter, specific rhythms, and groove. Rhythm in music is characterized by a repeating sequence of stressed and unstressed beats (often called “strong” and “weak”) and divided into bars organized by time signature and tempo indications. Metric levels faster than the beat level are division levels, and slower levels are multiple levels. Beat has always been an important part of music. Some music genres such as disco will in general de-emphasize the beat, while other such as funk emphasize the beat to accompany dance.

The downbeat is the first beat of the bar, i.e. number 1. The upbeat is the last beat in the previous bar which immediately precedes, and hence anticipates, the downbeat. Both terms correspond to the direction taken by the hand of a conductor. A back beat, or backbeat, is a syncopated accentuation on the “off” beat. In a simple 4rhythm these are beats 2 and 4. A hyperbeat is one unit of hypermeter, generally a measure. “Hypermeter is meter, with all its inherent characteristics, at the level where measures act as beats.” Further reading: Rothstein, William (1990). Cross-rhythm. A rhythm in which the regular pattern of accents of the prevailing meter is contradicted by a conflicting pattern and not merely a momentary displacement that leaves the prevailing meter fundamentally unchallenged—New Harvard Dictionary of Music (1986: 216).

As beats are combined to form measures, each beat is divided into parts. The nature of this combination and division is what determines meter. Music where two beats are combined is in duple meter, music where three beats are combined is in triple meter. Music where the beat is split in two are in simple meter, music where the beat is split in three are called compound meter. Thus, simple duple (2/4, 4/4, 2/2, etc.), simple triple (3/4), compound duple (6/8), and compound triple (9/8). Divisions which require numbers, tuplets (for example, dividing a quarter note into five equal parts), are irregular divisions and subdivisions. Subdivision begins two levels below the beat level: starting with a quarter note or a dotted quarter note, subdivision begins when the note is divided into sixteenth notes.


Folk Music

Folk music includes both traditional music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th century folk revival. The term originated in the 19th century, but is often applied to music older than that. Some types of folk music are also called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by customover a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. Starting in the mid-20th century, a new form of popular folk music evolved from traditional folk music. This process and period is called the (second) folk revival and reached a zenith in the 1960s. This form of music is sometimes called contemporary folk music or folk revival music to distinguish it from earlier folk forms. Smaller, similar revivals have occurred elsewhere in the world at other times, but the term folk music has typically not been applied to the new music created during those revivals. This type of folk music also includes fusion genres such as folk rock, folk metal, electric folk, and others. While contemporary folk music is a genre generally distinct from traditional folk music, in English it shares the same name, and it often shares the same performers and venues as traditional folk music.

From a historical perspective, traditional folk music had these characteristics:

  • It was transmitted through an oral tradition. Before the 20th century, ordinary farm workers and factory workers were usually illiterate. They acquired songs by memorizing them. Primarily, this was not mediated by books, recorded or transmitted media. Singers may extend their repertoire using broadsheets, song books, or CDs, but these secondary enhancements are of the same character as the primary songs experienced in the flesh.
  • The music was often related to national culture. It was culturally particular; from a particular region or culture. In the context of an immigrant group, folk music acquires an extra dimension for social cohesion. It is particularly conspicuous in immigrant societies, where Greek Australians, Somali Americans, Punjabi Canadians, and others strive to emphasize their differences from the mainstream. They learn songs and dances that originate in the countries their grandparents came from.
  • They commemorate historical and personal events. On certain days of the year, such as Easter, May Day, and Christmas, particular songs celebrate the yearly cycle. Weddings, birthdays, and funerals may also be noted with songs, dances and special costumes. Religious festivals often have a folk music component. Choral music at these events brings children and non-professional singers to participate in a public arena, giving an emotional bonding that is unrelated to the aesthetic qualities of the music.
  • The songs have been performed, by custom, over a long period of time, usually several generations.

As a side-effect, the following characteristics are sometimes present:

  • There is no copyright on the songs. Hundreds of folk songs from the 19th century have known authors but have continued in oral tradition to the point where they are considered traditional for purposes of music publishing. This has become much less frequent since the 1940s. Today, almost every folk song that is recorded is credited with an arranger.
  • Fusion of cultures: Because cultures interact and change over time, traditional songs evolving over time may incorporate and reflect influences from disparate cultures. The relevant factors may include instrumentation, tunings, voicings, phrasing, subject matter, and even production methods

In folk music, a tune is a short instrumental piece, a melody, often with repeating sections, and usually played a number of times. A collection of tunes with structural similarities is known as a tune-family. America’s Musical Landscape says “the most common form for tunes in folk music is AABB, also known as binary form”. In some traditions, tunes may be strung together in medleys or “sets.”

Musical Scale

In music theory, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, and a scale ordered by decreasing pitch is a descending scale. Some scales contain different pitches when ascending than when descending, for example, the melodic minor scale. Often, especially in the context of the common practice period, most or all of the melody and harmony of a musical work is built using the notes of a single scale, which can be conveniently represented on a staff with a standard key signature. Due to the principle of octave equivalence, scales are generally considered to span a single octave, with higher or lower octaves simply repeating the pattern. A musical scale represents a division of the octave space into a certain number of scale steps, a scale step being the recognizable distance (or interval) between two successive notes of the scale. However, there is no need for scale steps to be equal within any scale and, particularly as demonstrated by microtonal music, there is no limit to how many notes can be injected within any given musical interval.

A measure of the width of each scale step provides a method to classify scales. For instance, in a chromatic scale each scale step represents a semitone interval, while a major scaleis defined by the interval pattern T–T–S–T–T–T–S, where T stands for whole tone (an interval spanning two semitones), and S stands for semitone. Based on their interval patterns, scales are put into categories including diatonic, chromatic, major, minor, and others. A specific scale is defined by its characteristic interval pattern and by a special note, known as its first degree (or tonic). The tonic of a scale is the note selected as the beginning of the octave, and therefore as the beginning of the adopted interval pattern. Typically, the name of the scale specifies both its tonic and its interval pattern. For example, C majorindicates a major scale with a C tonic. Scales are typically listed from low to high pitch. Most scales are octave-repeating, meaning their pattern of notes is the same in every octave (the Bohlen–Pierce scale is one exception). An octave-repeating scale can be represented as a circular arrangement of pitch classes, ordered by increasing (or decreasing) pitch class. For instance, the increasing C major scale is C–D–E–F–G–A–B–[C], with the bracket indicating that the last note is an octave higher than the first note, and the decreasing C major scale is C–B–A–G–F–E–D–[C], with the bracket indicating an octave lower than the first note in the scale.

The distance between two successive notes in a scale is called a scale step. The notes of a scale are numbered by their steps from the root of the scale. For example, in a C major scale the first note is C, the second D, the third E and so on. Two notes can also be numbered in relation to each other: C and E create an interval of a third (in this case a major third); D and F also create a third (in this case a minor third). Scales can be abstracted from performance or composition. They are also often used precompositionally to guide or limit a composition. Explicit instruction in scales has been part of compositional training for many centuries. One or more scales may be used in a composition, such as in Claude Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse. To the right, the first scale is a whole tone scale, while the second and third scales are diatonic scales. All three are used in the opening pages of Debussy’s piece.