Ontmusic00. Music Basics
What does a person need to know about music so as better to understand the philosophical issues involved with jazz? What are the elements of music and how do they relate to jazz?
- 1 Three Major Elements of Music
- 2 Timbre
- 3 There are Different Kinds of Scales:
- 4 Jazz Hybridizes the European Diatonic Scale with the Blues Pentatonic Scale
- 5 Chord Progressions
- 6 What is Ragtime?
- 7 What is the Groove?
- 8 What Else is Distinctive of the Jazz Process?
- 9 Final Conclusions About Jazz
- 10 Internet Resources on Music
- 11 NOTES
Three Major Elements of Music
I. MELODY: A succession of single notes played one note at a time. An example is when Beyoncé sings she sings one note at a time.
- NOTE: is an identifiable and stable frequency of sound vibrations.
Contrastive demonstrations would be:
• Talking is not speaking in notes because there are not stable identifiable singular frequencies.
• Striking the top of the piano is not a clearly identifiable frequency.
• But playing a C note on the piano is a stable and identifiable frequency.
II. HARMONY: occurs when one can hear more than one note at any given moment.
• Harmony can be demonstrated on a piano by hitting two notes, or playing a chord, or even striking multiple keys with an elbow simultaneously.
• In jazz, harmonies usually consist of chords.
• A CHORD is a group of notes played simultaneously. This can be demonstrated on the piano. Usually chords consist of the simultaneous sounding of three or more notes at a time, but two notes played simultaneous would still technically count as a chord.
Using a Bach musical score one can contrast the horizontal and vertical elements of music.
• The music on the page is both horizontal (side to side) and vertical (up and down). Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from a melodic line, or the "horizontal" aspect.
III. RHYTHM: is the timing of sound events. It is how the sound events are ordered in time.
How are these musical events normally ordered rhythmically?
BEAT: is a steady pulse that other rhythms are fitted to. Snap fingers to demonstrate (faster/slower). Without a beat, syncopation is not possible, at least by definition.
Are there other rhythmic units in addition to the beat?
TEMPO: is the speed of the beat. Often there is emphasis on the first beat (beat one) that is more felt than heard. The downbeat is the emphasized beat done on beat one.
MEASURE: is a group of beats often starting with a strong beat on beat one. A measure can be demonstrated on a piano with bars of 4/4 time. One can use Liberace playing “Chopsticks” with a three beat measure as a demonstration as well.
SCALE: A group of notes, but not struck simultaneously, and arranged in a step sequence.
• Chords are the building blocks of harmony in jazz.
• Scales are the building blocks for melody in jazz.
TIMBRE (prounced TAMber and not like "timber" meaning wood): (also known as tone color or tone quality) is the perceived sound quality of a musical note, sound, or tone. Using perceived timbre permits listeners to distinguish different types of sound production, such as choir voices or the distinctive acoustic features of musical instruments. it is timbre that enables listeners to hear even different instruments from the same category as different, such as a viola and a violin.
There are Different Kinds of Scales:
European scales are diatonic scales consisting of seven notes or tones labeled with the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The notes can be demonstrated on a piano.
Pentatonic scales use only five notes.
• Different countries often use distinctive pentatonic scales:
- China: CDEGA
- Japan: CDE♭GA
- India: EG♯ABD
- Africa: CDFGA
• Examples using this African musical scale are “Amazing Grace” and “No One Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
Jazz Hybridizes the European Diatonic Scale with the Blues Pentatonic Scale
Why are scales important for understanding jazz?
Jazz comes out of a clash of scales. Jazz is an offspring of the Blues and the Blues was a result of the hybridization of the diatonic and pentatonic scales.
What is meant by hybridization of the two musical scales?
Hybridization combines two or more distinct types into a new combination that synthesizes them together. Early African-American blues musicians combined diatonic harmony with pentatonic melody at the dawn of the 20th century. Examples would be taking a hymn with diatonic harmonies and then playing it with an African pentatonic melody, which, in effect, bluesifies it.
• Synthesis occurs when one combines separate elements to form a coherent or well ordered whole.
• Blues music results from the synthesis of diatonic harmonies with pentatonic melodies.
– A blues scale is a variation on the African pentatonic scale. This can be demonstrated on the piano with a blues in the key of F.
Why was that a blues progression? What form does it have that makes it a Blues?
• It is a Blues because it has a 12-measure structure with certain chords appearing necessarily at certain points in the structure.
• Blues uses the blues scale for its melodies. The blues scale is an adaptation of the African pentatonic scale, which includes the flatted fifth.
CHORD PROGRESSIONS: are the set of chords (the chord sequence) used in a song.
• The blues structure is an example of a chord progression. Another example would be using “Rhythm Changes,” that also has a different “form.”
• FORM: is the order of repeating and contrasting sections of music in a song.
• AABA (bar) form: consists of a 32-measure form with 8-measure sections (A, repeated A, B, repeated A.)
• SYNCOPATION: Emphasis on the weak beats or on the off beat is essential to the process of jazz playing and results in one of the elements of surprise found in jazz. Syncopation can be demonstrated with “The Saints Go Marching In” which sounds like a ragtime type of song. Be sure to check out What is Syncopation?
What is Ragtime?
RAGTIME: Often these types of songs are syncopated marches. Ragtime began in late nineteenth-century America played by African-Americans in a style characterized by elaborately syncopated rhythm in the melody with a steadily accented accompaniment.
• An example would be Scott Joplin’s tune “The Entertainer” made famous in the movie “The Sting.”
• Jazz comes from Ragtime which stresses “ragged time” – a kind of off-beat syncopating – and this is where early jazz learned how to syncopate.
Modern jazz doesn’t really have this same type of time feel as ragtime. Why not?
• The reason is because more modern jazz uses a different groove or rhythmic feel.
What is the Groove?
• GROOVE: is the set of rhythmic patterns that make up the dance feel of the music. This can be demonstrated using rock or a cha-cha-cha.
Be sure to check out What is the groove?
What groove does more modern jazz use?
SWING FEEL: There is often a “walking” bass line and weak-beat syncopation, combined with “triplet” off-beat syncopation.
CONCLUSIONS: Two of the most distinctive elements of jazz (although not unique to jazz) are a syncopated groove and the blues influence (incorporated from ragtime and the blues.)
What Else is Distinctive of the Jazz Process?
IMPROVISATION: consists of producing a spontaneous composition – music made up at the moment and not planned out in advance. Improvisation is the same thing as extemporization. Click on Ontimpr1. What is improvisation? for a more detailed discussion.
• Improvisation can be demonstrated using “When The Saints Go Marching In” by playing it ‘straight’ and then contrasting this with an improvisation of the chord structures and other elements such as syncopation. The improvisation will not be the same as the written score and it adds interest and surprise to the musical performance as well as to the musical experience of the listeners.
• When one improvises one typically adds that element of surprise to any anticipations that listeners may have had from having heard the song played previously.
• This is partially what Whitney Balliett had in mind when he described jazz as “the sound of surprise.”
• This sort of surprise is different from Hayden’s “Surprise Symphony” where there is basically only a brief moment of surprise.
• Jazz is a music that can consistently and constantly surprise not only the listener, but ‘surprisingly’ also the performer. Charles Otwell was once listening to a playback of some jazz and he asked the engineer “Who was the musician playing that interesting piano solo?” and the engineer replied: “It was YOU!”
Final Conclusions About Jazz
The three major features characteristic of jazz (although not exclusive to jazz) are:
- Improvisation: Music made up in the moment and not planned in advance.
- Syncopation: Emphasis of weak beats or on the off-beat.
- Blues Influence: Early African-American music (end of 1800's) featuring African melodies with European harmony and improvisation. The African elements of the blues stressed an emphasis on rhythm, with pentatonic melodies and occasional buzzes and growls, etc., while the European features emphasized form and harmony, diatonic harmonies and a diatonic musical scale, and the development of the majority of musical instruments used in jazz.
For information on how these three components of jazz (hybridization of the diatonic and pentatonic scales, syncopation, and improvisation can be used to develop a definition for jazz see Ontdef3. What is the definition of jazz?, especially The Galactic Model for Defining Jazz.
Internet Resources on Music
- This definition of chord is given at The Free Dictionary.com.
- See Deborah Jamini, Harmony and Composition: Basics to Intermediate, p. 147. ISBN 1-4120-3333-0.