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The Elements of Music

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Sound is created when an object vibrates. These vibrations are perceived by our ears and then sent to our brain. Our brain in turn analyzes these signals and let's us know what type of sound we are hearing (i.e. an alarm clock ringing, a car horn blaring, etc.). Music is differentiated from other sounds because it has certain qualities.

When you listen to a piece of music, you'll notice that it has several different characteristics; it may be soft or loud, slow or fast, combine different instruments and have a regular rhythmic pattern. All of these are known as the "elements of music."

  • Beat and Meter - In order to define meter, let's first define beats. Beats give music its regular rhythmic pattern. Beats are grouped together in a measure; the notes and rests corresponds to a certain number of beats. Meter refers to rhythmic patterns produced by grouping together strong and weak beats. Meter may be in duple (2 beats in a measure), triple (3 beats in a measure), quadruple (4 beats in a measure) and so on.

  • Dynamics - Dynamics are abbreviations or symbols used to signify the degree of loudness or softness of a piece of music. It also indicates whether there is a change in volume.

  • Harmony - In general, harmony refers to the combination of notes (or chords) played together and the relationship between a series of chords. But to give you a better understanding of harmony, let's first define melody. Melody refers to the tune of a song or piece of music. It is created by playing a series of notes one after another. Harmony accompanies and supports the melody. It is created by playing a group of notes (either simultaneously or as broken chords) behind the melody thus giving it musical texture.

    Also See:
  • Major triads
  • Minor triads
  • Major and minor 7th chords
  • Dominant 7th chord
  • Sixth and Ninth Chords
  • sus2 and sus4 Chords

  • Key - Also known as tonality; a principle in music composition wherein at the end of the piece there is a feeling of completion by going back to the tonic. The tonic (main key or home key) is the principal pitch of a composition. Simply put, key refers to the central note (i.e. key of C), scale (i.e. C scale) and chord (i.e. C Major triad)

    Also See:
  • Major Scale
  • Minor Scale
  • Chromatic Scale
  • Key Signature
  • Melody - It refers to the tune of a song or piece of music. it is the memorable tune created by playing a succession or series of pitches.

    Also See:
  • I - IV - V Chord Pattern
  • ii, iii, and vi Chords
  • Modes

  • Musical Instruments and Voice - Musical instruments are classified as percussion, strings, woodwinds, brass and keyboards. Another method of classifying musical instruments according to the type of vibrating material used to produce sound is called the Sachs-Hornbostel System. Our voice is also considered a musical instrument. Each of us has a different voice type or vocal range and no two voices are alike.

  • Music Notation - Refers to the symbols used to represent music when writing it down. These symbols specify the pitch, rhythm and meter of a piece of music.

    Also See:
  • Music Theory 101
  • Pitch - The relative lowness or highness that we hear in a sound. The pitch of a sound is based on the frequency of vibration and the size of the vibrating object. The slower the vibration and the bigger the vibrating object, the lower the pitch; the faster the vibration and the smaller the vibrating object, the higher the pitch. For example, the pitch of a double bass is lower than that of the violin because the double bass has longer strings. Pitch may be definite (i.e. piano) or indefinite (i.e. cymbals).

  • Rhythm - It may be defined as the pattern or placement of sounds in time and beats in music. Roger Kamien in his book Music: An Appreciation defines rhythm as "the particular arrangement of note lengths in a piece of music." Rhythm is shaped by meter; it has certain elements such as beat and tempo.

  • Tempo - The Italian word at the beginning of a music piece that indicates how slow or fast the piece should be played. This is called the tempo which is effective throughout the duration of the music unless the composer indicates otherwise.

  • Texture
  • - Musical texture refers to the number of layers as well as the type of layers used in a composition and how these layers are related. Texture may be monophonic (single melodic line), polyphonic (two or more melodic lines) and homophonic (a main melody accompanied by chords).

  • Timbre - Also known as tone color; it refers to the quality of sound that distinguishes one voice or instrument from another. Timbre may range anywhere from dull to lush, from dark to bright (such as the sound of glockenspiels).
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