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Berwickshire High School
Intermediate I/II
As part of your Intermediate Music exam, you are asked to listen to
pieces of music and describe what you hear using musical words. You need
to know a list of words, printed at the back of this booklet.
The booklet is split up into six chapters. Each
chapter deals with a particular aspect of music. The
chapters include explanations of the words you need
to know as well as background information that will
help you to remember the meaning of the words.
* Intermediate I concepts are printed in bold.
* Intermediate II concepts are in bold and underlined.
Throughout the booklet there are written tasks to help you understand
and learn the musical concepts.
When you compose your own music, you should try to use the musical
At the end of the booklet, there is a list of concepts. You should write a
definition of each word as you go through the course. Try to keep your
definitions short and snappy so that they are easy to remember.
Musical Instruments
Scottish Music
Musical Groups
Music through the Ages
The Structure of Music
Musical instruments range from the very big (like the church organ) to
the very small (like the piccolo flute). There are many different types of
musical instrument. Some of them are very simple (e.g. a woodblock) and
others are very complex (e.g. a piano).
Some instruments have been around for many thousands of years. The
ancient Egyptians played instruments that were like basic oboes or
clarinets. Ancient tribesmen in the Amazon rainforests
used hollow logs to make trumpet-like sounds. Other
instruments have been around for only a few decades – like
the electric guitar and the synthesizer.
When we think about musical instruments, we usually
think of the instruments we see and hear most often.
These may include guitars, drums, keyboards, fiddles,
flutes, trumpets and others. It is easy to forget that
people in other countries use some very different instruments. In
Indonesia, for example, people play large glockenspiels and gongs
together in a group called a Gamelan.
The musical instruments that are most commonly used in Western
countries are divided into ‘families’:
String instruments – e.g. violin, cello, guitar, harp
Woodwind instruments – e.g. clarinet, oboe, flute
Brass instruments – e.g. trumpet, trombone, horn, tuba
Percussion instruments – e.g. drums, cymbals, maracas, woodblock
Keyboard instruments – e.g. piano, keyboard, organ
String Instruments – The Violin Family
Instruments in the string family have one or more strings that may be
bowed, plucked or slapped to produce sound.
The most familiar string instrument is the violin (shown above). A violin
has four strings and is normally played with a bow. Slightly larger is the
viola, which sounds a bit lower.
In a modern orchestra, there may be more than twenty violins, as well as
violas and larger members of the string family: cellos and double basses.
The violin was invented at least four hundred years ago. Many composers
have written famous pieces featuring the violin and other members of the
string family. For example, in the early 1700s, J.S. Bach wrote very
difficult solo pieces for violin (i.e. for one violin, played by itself) called
partitas. He also wrote pieces for solo cello.
Beethoven, who wrote a lot of music at the beginning of the 1800s, wrote
pieces for the violin, including his famous violin concerto. A concerto is a
piece of music for a solo instrument playing along with an orchestra. The
orchestra provides the musical background (called
the ‘accompaniment’).
Most of the time, string instruments in the violin
family are played using a bow. The word arco is
used to describe this style of playing.
Sometimes, however, the players use their
fingers to pluck the strings. The proper word
for this is pizzicato. In jazz music, double
bass players often play in this way.
String instruments are able to produce a variety of special effects.
Sometimes, the players are asked to hit the strings with the wooden part
of the bow. This is called “col legno” (meaning “with the wood”) and
produces a light, tappy sound.
Another special effect that can be produced on a string instrument is a
tremolo (or tremolando). This is when the player waggles the bow back
and forward very quickly to create an exciting, nervous shaking sound.
Members of the violin family are good at playing sustained sounds (i.e.
long sounds). If the player wiggles his left hand whilst playing a sustained
note, an effect called vibrato is obtained. Vibrato sounds like a wobble in
the sound. Opera singers use the same effect.
Violins (or fiddles, as they are called by
folk musicians) are often used in Scottish
and Irish folk music. Sometimes, the
fiddle is played along with an accordion
and drums to form a Scottish Dance
Many modern folk groups also have brass instruments and electronic
instruments to create an exciting, funky sound. One local band with this
sort of sound is The Junction Pool. You may have heard of others like
Wolfstone, Capercaillie or Shooglenifty.
String Instruments - Guitars
Guitars are very popular and versatile instruments: they have been used
in classical music since the middle ages. Electric guitars and bass guitars
are used widely in jazz and pop music.
An acoustic guitar (like the ones we use in school) has six strings. The
player can pluck the strings one at a time to play tunes or strum the
strings to play more than one note at the same time. The proper name for
notes played together in this way is a chord. You probably learned to play
chords on the guitar in 1st and 2nd year.
In the last sixty years, electric
guitars have become very popular.
Like the acoustic guitar, the electric
version has six strings but is plugged
into an amplifier to make a louder and
more exciting sound. The electric
guitar is very often used in rock
bands. Famous players include Eric
Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix.
Rock guitarists use a variety of
special effects to make their music
more interesting. For example, they may add distortion – an electronic
effect that makes the guitar sound scratchy and fuzzy. Another special
effect is reverb. Adding reverb to an electric guitar is like adding a
short echo.
The bass guitar has only four
strings. It is used in jazz and
modern folk music as well as rock.
Most bass guitars have frets, just
like on a standard electric or
acoustic guitar. Some jazz players,
however, use a fretless bass (i.e.
one with no frets) so that they can
move their fingers more freely up and down the neck of the instrument.
Sometimes, bass guitarists play using a technique called “slapping”, where
they play the strings by slapping them with their fingers. This creates a
funky, aggressive sound (“woca-woca”).
Some guitarists play 12-string guitars. These are just like normal
guitars, except that, instead of six strings, they have six pairs of strings
(so that there is a pair of ‘E’ strings, a pair of ‘A’ strings, and so on…). The
12-string guitar creates a slightly fuller sound, although it is hard to tell
the difference when you are listening to a recording!
Country and Blues guitarists sometimes use a metal tube called a slide to
press down the frets and slide up and down between chords. When the
guitar is played in this way, the term slide guitar is used.
Closely related to the guitar are instruments like the mandolin, banjo and
lute. Not many people know that the lute was once the national instrument
of Scotland (in the 1500s) before the bagpipes came on to the scene! All
of these instruments are good at accompanying singers or other solo
[NB: These pictures are not to scale!]
Other String Instruments
Another instrument that you might hear is the harp. The harp
is a very large instrument that has been used in orchestras for
the last two hundred years or so. The player produces notes by
plucking the strings with the fingers of
both hands. A very special effect is the
glissando – where the player slides one hand up or
down all of the strings to create a ‘swoosh’ effect.
A smaller version of the harp is the clarsach. This is
very common in Irish and Scottish folk music. It is
easier to carry than a harp but makes a very similar
French Canadian Folk Band – La Bottine Souriante
Woodwind Instruments
The most common members of the woodwind family are the flute,
clarinet, oboe, bassoon and saxophone. Closely related to them are
Woodwind instruments all work in the same way: the player blows into one
end of the instrument and covers different keys (buttons) with his
fingers to obtain different notes. Most woodwind instruments have many,
many keys and appear to be very complex.
The flute is one of the oldest woodwind instruments. When it was
invented, flutes were made of wood. Now, however, they are
almost always made of metal. The player makes a sound by
blowing over the mouthpiece hole at one end of the
instrument. The effect is the same as blowing over
the end of an open bottle! The flute produces
a breathy, airy sound and usually sounds
very gentle.
The clarinet produces a more ‘woody’
sound than the flute. The clarinet is
the youngest member of the
woodwind family: it was invented in
the early 1700s. The sound of the clarinet is made by a reed (a small
piece of thin wood), which vibrates (shakes very quickly) as the player
blows air over it. You can make a similar sound by gently holding the neck
of a balloon as the air escapes from it. You will see and feel (and hear!)
the vibrations.
Many famous composers wrote music for the clarinet. Perhaps the most
famous piece of clarinet music of all time is the ‘Clarinet Concerto in A’
by Mozart. (A concerto is a piece for a solo instrument, with an
orchestra). In the 20th Century, the clarinet became a popular jazz
instrument. It was played by the so-called “King of Swing”, Benny
Goodman, in his big band. The film director, Woody Allen, is a respected
jazz clarinettist.
The word “register” is used to describe the low, medium and high notes
produced by a musical instrument. The low register of the clarinet (i.e.
the lowest notes it can play) sounds very gentle and fuzzy; the medium
register is woody and light; the high register is strong and a bit squeaky!
Closely related to the clarinet is the
saxophone. The saxophone was invented in
about 1840 by a very clever Frenchman called
Adolphe Sax. He came up with a whole family
of saxophones from the very small and highsounding soprano saxophone to the large bass
saxophone. Today, the most popular kinds are
the tenor and alto saxophones. They are
occasionally used in orchestras but are much
more common in jazz music and in wind
Saxophone players are usually good at improvising. To
improvise means to make up the music as you go along.
Improvisation is a very important part of jazz music.
The oboe makes a sound that is very thin, pure and ‘nasal’. It
is a very difficult instrument to play – a bit like blowing into
a weasel (according to comedian, Eddie
Izzard)! The oboe was very popular in
the time of the composers Bach and
Handel (1650-1750). It took its name
from the French words “haut bois”,
meaning “high wood”.
The bassoon is the lowest member of
the woodwind family. It creates a deep
sound that can at times be very comical
or very dark and mysterious. Composers
like Mozart wrote concertos for the
bassoon. Like the oboe, it is a “double
reed” instrument. At the top of the instrument, two very small reeds are
pressed tightly together. The player puts the double reed in his mouth
and has to blow very hard to squeeze air in-between them in order to
produce vibrations.
There are one or two more members of the woodwind family that you
might expect to hear in an orchestra from time to time. One is the
piccolo – a half-sized version of the flute that sounds one octave higher.
Listen out for an extremely high flute sound: often so high and
penetrating that it is a bit sore on the ears!
At the other end of the scale are the bass clarinet and contrabassoon.
These are larger, lower-sounding versions of the clarinet and bassoon.
They are not used very often, but create a wonderful effect.
Brass Instruments
Brass instruments are the most powerful in the orchestra. In a normal
orchestra, you would expect to find three trumpets, three trombones, at
least four French horns and a tuba.
A brass instrument is really just a long tube with a
mouthpiece to blow into at one end and a funnel (called a
“bell”) at the other. To play a brass instrument, you must
pucker your lips together and blow a raspberry into the
cup-shaped mouthpiece. The air inside the tube vibrates
(i.e. shakes back and forward very quickly) and the sound
waves produced are spread out by the bell. The tighter
you purse your lips and the harder you blow, the higher
the sound.
Brass instruments have been around for thousands of years: the ancient
Romans used trumpets in their ceremonies. Trumpets and trombones are
good at playing fanfares. A fanfare is a dramatic piece of music used for
a special occasion – usually very short but dazzling.
Early brass instruments were very simple and could play only a few notes.
In about 1200, someone decided it
would be useful if brass instruments
could play a wider range of notes and
invented the trombone. The trombone
has a slide that can be moved in and
out. As the slide moves out, the tube
gets longer and the sound gets lower.
The trombone is the only brass
instrument that can produce a
glissando. This is when the player
plays a note and then moves the slide
gradually in or out, so that the sound
gets gradually higher or lower. The
effect is often rather silly!
The trumpet is the highest sounding member of the brass family. The
modern trumpet has three buttons (called “valves”) instead of a slide. By
using the three valves individually or together, the player can play a large
range of notes.
Trumpets are very important members of the modern orchestra. Listen
to the music from the Star Wars films to see how important they can be!
They are also used in jazz and some modern folk bands. Famous players
include Maurice Murphy (who played on the Star Wars soundtrack) and
the American, Wynton Marsalis. Another is Maynard Ferguson, who was
given the nickname “Strain-hard Ferguson” because he played so many
high notes!
Closely related to the trumpet is the cornet. The instruments are really
exactly the same, except that the cornet looks a bit ‘squashed’ and makes
a slightly mellower sound.
The French horn is a difficult instrument to
play. Horns have had valves since about 1820.
Even before that, the horn was quite a useful
instrument and could play a lot of notes.
Mozart wrote four very famous horn
concertos in the late 1700s. The horn is
often used to play
broad, sweeping tunes in
the orchestra.
The tuba is the largest member of the brass family
and produces very low, pumpy(!) sounds. It is found
in brass bands and wind bands as well as in the
As well as the orchestral brass instruments, there are others that are
found only in brass bands: these include the flugelhorn, tenor horn,
baritone and euphonium. Like the saxophones, these were invented by
that amazing Frenchman, Adolphe Sax.
Brass instruments are very versatile. In other words, they can play in a
lot of different musical styles and produce a variety of special effects.
All brass instruments can play sustained sounds (i.e. long sounds) and this
makes them very good for playing hymn tunes. Brass bands often appear
on television programmes like “Songs of Praise”.
Like most instruments, brass instruments can play very short, spiky notes.
This is called staccato. The opposite is legato, which means to play very
Sometimes, brass players place a mute in the bell of
their instruments. The mute makes the instrument
quieter but also changes the tone, making the instrument
sound metallic or muffled. String instruments can also
play with mutes. The technical term for this is con
sordino (an Italian term that means “with the mute”).
Finally, brass players can do something called flutter
tonguing, when they roll their tongue as they play a note. The effect is a
very rude rasping noise!
Percussion Instruments
The family of percussion instruments includes anything that is played by
being struck. Some percussion instruments are played with sticks or
beaters (properly called “mallets”). Others are played with the hands.
Some percussion instruments are tuned (i.e. they play a set of actual
notes – notes that you could sing) like the glockenspiel and xylophone.
(The glockenspiel has metal bars; the xylophone has wooden bars).
Other percussion instruments, like the drum kit, are untuned. In other
words, they produce thuds and bangs with no specific pitch. You could not
sing the note played by a cymbal, for example!
instrument is the drum kit. The kit
usually contains a bass drum, snare
(or side) drum, hi-hat, tom-toms and
a few cymbals. Rock drummers
often have huge kits with double
bass pedals and an array of toms
and cymbals.
The drum kit is a very useful
accompanying instrument (i.e. it is
part of the musical ‘background’). It
keeps a steady rhythm and gives the music energy, especially when the
drummer plays lots of drum fills. A drum fill is when the player uses the
snare, tom-toms and cymbals to do something interesting in a ‘gap’ in the
The tympani, or kettle drums, are also
very common percussion instruments.
Each of the large drums can be tuned to
play actual notes. They are used in
orchestras and bands. One exciting
effect on the tympani is a roll – when the
player strikes the drum with both sticks
very quickly over and over again. Rolls can also be played on the snare
drum and are used a lot in pipe band music.
Some percussion instruments have been around for a very long time.
Cymbals and drums were very popular in Turkey in the middle ages.
Others are relatively new: the drum kit first became popular in the
1930s. It was not until the 1970s that a composer (called Varèse) wrote
the first piece that was for percussion instruments alone.
Famous percussionists include the legendary drummer, Buddy Rich, and
the deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.
A special kind of percussion orchestra from Indonesia is called a
Gamelan. In the Gamelan orchestra, there is a mixture of glockenspiels
(or ‘metallophones’), gongs (big cymbals), drums and other metal objects.
The gongs act like signals to tell the rest of the players when to play.
Keyboard Instruments
The most common keyboard instruments used today are the piano,
electronic keyboard, synthesizer and the church organ. In the 1600s and
1700s, another keyboard instrument called the harpsichord was very
popular. All of these instruments have a keyboard made of black and
white keys. The church organ also has a pedal-board – a set of notes that
are played with the feet.
The piano is one of the most
versatile instruments. It can be
used to play chords (i.e. more
than one note at once) and so it
is a very good instrument for
accompanying soloists. It is also
very popular as a solo instrument.
Most of the great composers
have written music for the piano.
The piano was invented in about
1710 and was very popular by the middle of the 18th century. It was
originally called a “fortepiano”, taking its name from the Italian words
“piano” and “forte”, meaning soft and loud. The ability to play very quietly
and very loudly was one of the things that made the piano so popular.
In the 1800s, every respectable family owned a piano and all young ladies
were expected to practise the piano (as well as learn to do embroidery)
so that they could attract a suitable husband. Having a piano was like
having a car – it was a status symbol that let everyone know how rich you
Many famous composers have written music for the piano. Mozart and
Beethoven were both piano players. Mozart wrote almost thirty concertos
for piano and orchestra. Beethoven wrote five extremely difficult
concertos. These concertos were designed to show off the skills of the
performers. All concertos contain a section called a cadenza: where the
orchestra stops playing altogether and the soloist has a chance to show
off by himself. The cadenza is usually played freely, i.e. not in strict time,
and contains lots of really difficult music. Both Mozart and Beethoven
also wrote many solo pieces called sonatas. The most famous of these is
Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.
Chopin and Liszt were the two most famous pianists of the 19th century.
They practised the piano until they were fantastic players – so good, in
fact, that some people thought they must have sold their souls to the
devil in return for their amazing skills! Chopin and Liszt wrote very flashy
music for the piano. They gave concerts all over Europe in the mid-1800s
and wowed audiences with their playing. The most famous of Liszt’s
compositions is the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, which has appeared in a
Bugs Bunny cartoon!
Piano music often contains lots of musical ‘decorations’ (or ornaments).
One of them is a trill: when the player moves very quickly between one
note and the one above.
The piano more or less replaced an instrument
that was popular until the middle of the 1700s,
called the harpsichord. The harpsichord looked
very much like a small piano but sounded a bit
more like a guitar. When the player pressed
down the keys on a harpsichord, a small
plectrum flicked up to pluck the strings. The
sound produced was quite jangly.
The harpsichord was used by composers in the
Baroque era (from about 1600-1750). Bach and Handel, for example, both
wrote a lot of music for the harpsichord.
The oldest of all keyboard instruments is the church organ (or pipe
organ). The keyboard of the organ is
attached to a set of more than 100
pipes of different length. When the
keys are pressed down, air passes
through the pipes and sounds are
produced. The longest pipes – some as
long as 32 feet! – produce the lowest
sounds. The shortest pipes produce
the highest sounds.
Until the twentieth century, the air supply for the organ came from
bellows: two or more men had to jump up and down on the bellows to push
enough air into the organ for it to work. Bach’s children used to do this
job for him when he played the organ. In modern organs, the air is
provided by an electric blower.
Large church organs are some of the largest instruments in the world,
and they are extremely loud and powerful. They have been used for
centuries to play music for religious occasions.
Electronic keyboards and synthesizers became popular in the 1970s and
‘80s. The synthesizer can be used to produce a range of weird sciencefiction noises and became very popular in 1980s pop bands. The theme
from Dr. Who uses synthesizers to create eerie, swooshy effects!
There is much more to Scottish music than the
Highland Bagpipes! In this unit, you will learn
about the rich heritage of Scottish instrumental
and vocal music; about what makes music sound
‘Scottish’; and about the different instruments
and musical styles that are found in Scottish
traditional music.
You will learn about:
Scottish instruments and their music
Scottish dances: reels, jigs, strathspeys and waltzes
Vocal music in Scotland
What makes music sound Scottish?
Music in Scotland today (modern folk and pop music)
Many composers of ‘classical’ (i.e. serious) music have used their
knowledge of Scottish music to write pieces that remind us of Scotland.
Two of the most famous examples are “The Hebrides Overture” (by
Mendelssohn) and “Four Scottish Dances” (Malcolm Arnold). By the end of
this unit, you should be able to listen to these pieces and explain why they
sound Scottish!
The Musical Instruments of Scotland
Highland Bagpipes
The most famous of all Scottish
instruments are the Highland
Bagpipes. A bagpiper holds his
pipes with the three drone pipes
over his shoulder and with the
chanter between his hands. He
blows air into the bag, which he
presses with his elbow to force air
through the chanter and drones.
When you listen to the bagpipes,
as well as the tune you will hear a
dull, sustained sound in the
background. This is called a drone.
When composers write music that
they want to sound Scottish, they
often add a drone effect to
imitate (i.e. copy) the bagpipes.
The bagpipes can play only a
limited set of only 9 notes. The
proper name for a particular set of
notes is a scale. Different scales create different moods.
Major scales sound happy
Minor scales sound sad
The bagpipes use a scale that is in-between major and
minor. It is called a modal scale. Modal music (i.e. music
that uses the notes of a modal scale) often sounds
‘bare’ and empty. One example is the song “What shall
we do with the drunken sailor?”.
You are most likely to hear the bagpipes playing
alongside drums in a pipe band. Most of the Border
towns have their own pipe band. Pipe bands often play
marches: tunes in 2 or 4 time like “Scotland the Brave”.
You might hear pipers playing by themselves or with other folk musicians.
There is a great tradition of piping competitions in Scotland: solo pipers
compete against each other and are judged by an expert. Sometimes they
play traditional Scottish dance tunes (jigs and reels for example).
At serious competitions, the best pipers play something called a Pibroch.
The Pibroch is the pipes’ equivalent of ‘classical’ music. It consists of a
main tune (or ‘theme’) and a set of complicated variations based on the
theme. To the untrained ear, a Pibroch can sound a bit weird and
The Fiddle
Fiddle is the Scottish word for a violin. The
Fiddle is an extremely popular instrument in
Scottish folk music, especially in the Highlands
and Islands (e.g. Orkney and Shetland).
The fiddle can be played as a solo instrument,
perhaps accompanied by an accordion, piano or
clarsach. In a Scottish Dance Band, the fiddle
is joined by an accordion and snare drum.
Alternatively, a group of fiddles can play
together. This is sometimes called a fiddle orchestra.
The word Ceilidh Band is a more general term that describes a group of
fiddles playing together with drums, a keyboard or accordion, a double
bass or bass guitar and perhaps a few recorders or flutes. Many modern
ceilidh bands mix traditional Scottish folk tunes with jazz chords to
create a funky, high-energy sound.
The most famous fiddle player in Scotland
today is Aly Bain. He usually plays with the
accordion player, Phil Cunningham. They
play ‘sets’ of traditional dance tunes (jigs,
reels, strathspeys and waltzes) as well as
beautiful slow tunes, known as airs. Many
airs use a scale (i.e. a set of notes) of five
notes called a pentatonic scale. Tunes like
“Loch Lomond” use this scale. Listen out
for a slightly bare sound and a tune with
The Accordion
The accordion is usually encountered as a solo
instrument or as part of a Scottish Dance
Band. The instrument is held in the lap of the
player with the keyboard on the right. As the
player moves the bellows in and out, air passes
through a set of reeds inside the instrument
and creates sound (as long as the player is pressing at least one of the
keys). The fingers of the left hand operate a large number of buttons:
each one of these gives a particular bass note or chord. Accordion players
are good at adding ‘decorations’ to their tunes. They often play the same
note repeatedly very quickly, or add grace notes (very quick notes
squeezed in before the main ones).
The Clarsach
The clarsach is a smaller version of the harp and is common in
Scottish and Irish folk music. The strings of the instrument are
tuned (i.e. set to sound at a particular pitch) by hand. This
means that the clarsach can play only a limited range of notes.
Despite this limitation, the clarsach is a very useful instrument,
especially for accompanying voices. The clarsach sounds very effective
when it plays arpeggios – i.e. it plays the notes of a chord, one after the
other in quick succession.
Other instruments
Several other instruments are used widely in Scottish traditional music.
Flutes, recorders and whistles are very popular. Also very common is the
bodhran (pronounced “bo-ran”) – a wide, flat drum that is usually played
with a short, double-headed beater.
Scottish Dances
Most Scottish instrumental music is based on Scottish dance tunes. If
you hear a ceilidh band playing at a wedding dance, they will probably play
‘sets’ of traditional dance tunes.
There are four main types of Scottish dance: reels, jigs, strathspeys and
waltzes. In the descriptions below, the key features of each dance have
been underlined for you.
The Waltz
The easiest of the Scottish dances to
identify is the waltz. A waltz is a dance
in 3 time. That means that there are
three ‘beats’ in every bar. In other
words, the music moves along in steady
groups of three. Most waltzes are quite
If you are listening to a waltz, you will
be able to say “oom-cha-cha” in time with the music and the “oom” will
always feel ‘heavier’ than the “cha”s! Alternatively, try making a triangle
shape with your finger: if the ‘heavy’ beat always comes with the same
side of the triangle, you are listening to a waltz!
The Strathspey
The strathspey is a dance in 4 time, i.e. with four beats per bar. It
usually has a medium tempo. (Tempo is the musical word for speed). Most
importantly, a strathspey is full of jerky rhythms.
In fact, there is a special name for the jerky rhythm in a strathspey. It
is called a “Scotch snap” and it is made up of a very short, accented note
followed by a longer one. Say the word “hiccup” and you’ll have the right
The Reel
A reel is a fast dance in 2 or 4 time. (You will
never be asked to tell the difference!). Unlike
the strathspey, it does not have jerky rhythms.
A reel is full of even notes (i.e. all the same
length) that flow together. A reel is in simple
time: this means that the quick notes are
grouped together in groups of two or four.
Saying the word “coca-cola” over and over again
will give you a good feeling for simple time.
There are many very well known reels: one of the most famous is called
“The Soldier’s Joy”. (Folk musicians often give strange titles to their
tunes. Some of the more bizarre titles include “Mrs Jamieson’s
Favourites”, “Brucie and the Troupers” and “Alan Tait’s Funky Whippets”)!
A reel is often accompanied by a ‘vamp’ played on a piano or accordion.
Vamp is the musical word for what you might describe as “oom-cha”!
The Jig
A jig is perhaps the hardest of the four dances to identify. Like a reel, it
is usually very fast and it has lots of equal notes that flow together.
However, the jig is in compound time. This means that each beat of the
bar is divided into groups of three.
Compound time is a difficult thing to
understand unless you are familiar with reading
music. The best way to imagine compound time
is to think of saying the word “strawberry”
over and over again. If you are listening to a
piece of Scottish music and you can sing
“strawberry, strawberry…” along with the tune,
then you are probably listening to a jig.
The main features of the four Scottish dances are shown in the table
per bar
Simple time
Simple time
2 or 4
Simple time
Scotch snap;
jerky rhythms
Quick, even notes:
Quick, even notes:
The Soldier’s Joy – a typical Scottish reel
The Soldier’s Joy is a typical Scottish reel. Notice the fast, flowing tune
with many even quavers; the vamp accompaniment played by the piano; and
the 4/4 time signature (i.e. 4 beats per bar).
Like most reels and jigs, the Soldier’s Joy is in binary form. In other
words, there are two sections – A and B. Each section is played twice (as
indicated by the repeat bars at the end of the first line).
This reel also has an anacrusis. This is the proper name for what
musicians call a ‘pick-up’ beat (i.e. an extra beat before the start of the
first whole bar).
Vocal Music in Scotland
As well as instrumental music, there is a long tradition of vocal (i.e. sung)
music in Scotland. Much of this vocal music was sung by peasant workers
in mills and factories or on farms. Most of these workers would have been
unable to read or write. Singing songs was one of the ways that they
passed down stories to younger generations. Singing was also a hobby for
people in the days before television and Playstations!
Scots ballad
A ballad is simply a song that tells a story. Scots ballads tell stories of
historical events and legends: of great battles, princes, kings and
romance. They were usually (though not always) sung by men and often
accompanied by folk instruments (e.g. a bodhran or fiddle).
Many Scots ballads are strophic. This means that every verse of the song
has the same tune. The opposite of strophic is through-composed (i.e.
different music for each verse).
Bothy ballad
A special type of Scots song is the bothy ballad. A
‘bothy’ was the name for a farm-worker’s lodgings on the
farm. Bothy ballads were always sung by men and the
words were about life on the farm. They described the
terrible living conditions or recounted funny incidents
from farm life.
Waulking Song
Waulking songs were always sung by women.
They were made up by mill-workers as they
beat lengths of woollen cloth against the
table-top. Often, one woman would sing a
phrase and then the rest of her work-mates
would copy. It is easy to identify a waulking
song if you listen for the rhythmic beating of
the cloth on the table.
Gaelic Psalms
Gaelic psalms are religious songs, sung unaccompanied and heard mostly in
the North-west and Western Isles of Scotland. You will hear one man
sing a phrase, which is then copied by the whole congregation. The overall
effect sounds a bit like middle-Eastern or mediaeval music. It has even
been described as “a group of Red Indians wailing”! The words are in
Gaelic, which makes it even more bizarre.
Mouth music
Whenever there were no instruments available, men and women in rural
Scotland used to mimic (i.e. copy) the sound of musical instruments using
their mouths. They sang traditional dance tunes (reels, jigs, etc.) and
made up nonsense words to go along with them. The result is called mouth
music and often sounds quite funny!
What makes music sound Scottish?
Many composers have written pieces that sound Scottish, even though
they don’t necessarily use Scottish tunes. How can music sound Scottish?
The following features are common in Scottish music and are used by
composers when they want to evoke a Scottish sound.
The Scotch snap
Modal scale
Pentatonic scale
Grace notes
This jerky rhythm reminds the listener of a
Using a modal scale (neither major nor minor)
imitates the scale used by the bagpipes
One of the most common techniques – to have a
sustained sound in the background, like the
drone of the bagpipes
The “oom-cha” accompaniment is reminiscent of
a reel
Using Scottish instruments like the fiddle, flute
or bodhran gives the music a Scottish flavour
Many Scots songs use a pentatonic scale – a
scale with only five notes. “Loch Lomond” is one
example. Listen out for the gaps in the
pentatonic scale.
Grace notes (very short notes squeezed in
before the main ones) give a folky sound
Much Scottish music also has a “double-tonic”. This means that the music
is based on two chords side by side (e.g. chords of C and D).
Folk Music in Scotland Today
Modern folk bands still play traditional Scottish dance tunes. To make
their music sound more contemporary (i.e. modern), they often add jazzy
chords or experiment with unusual combinations of instruments.
The best example of this is a band called “The
Unusual Suspects”. As well as fiddles, accordions,
bagpipes and drums, the band includes trumpets,
saxophones and trombones.
A local band with a similar sound is The Junction Pool.
This band, led by pianist Harris Playfair from Stichill,
includes a brass section, a heavy metal drummer and a
rock guitarist!
The music played by these bands often sounds quite
dissonant. This means that the tune ‘clashes’ with the chords underneath.
The overall effect is to create music that sounds a bit less “cheesy” than
traditional folk music! Dissonance is often found in jazz and modern
‘classical’ music.
Another interesting feature of modern folk music is the use of crossrhythms. This means that there are at least two different rhythmic
patterns happening at the same time: the patterns don’t fit together,
creating an exciting, unsettled effect.
The best way to understand cross-rhythms is to tap groups of two with
your left hand whilst at the same time tapping groups of three with your
right hand!
Another very common feature of modern Scottish folk music is a pedal
note. A pedal is a long, sustained, low note. The pedal note stays the same
even though the chords change above it.
The human voice is the oldest musical instrument of all. In this unit, you
will learn about how the voice is used in all kinds of music: from ancient
religious chants to 21st century pop!
The human voice is extremely versatile and
composers have used the voice in many different
ways for hundreds of years. At different times
in history, one could expect to hear some very
strange effects indeed. In the time of Bach
(1685-1750), for example, there was a fashion
for very high male voices. Many boys (called
“castrati”) were unfortunate enough to have
their naughty bits cut off at a very early age so
that their voices didn’t break! In the 20th century, composers like
Stockhausen and Beriot used the human voice as an instrument – asking
the singer to make all manner of weird and wonderful noises!
For the Intermediate course, you will learn about:
Voices high and low
Voices together
Operas and Oratorios (Intermediate II only)
Voices in popular music
Voices High and Low
Each one of us has a different voice. Some are low and grumbly, some are
high and squeaky. Some of us have loud booming voices; others soft gentle
Musicians use special words to describe high
and low voices. A woman with a high voice is
called a soprano. In operas, soprano singers
usually play the leading female roles. Music
written for sopranos is often technically
demanding as well as high.
A woman with a low voice is called an alto.
Many well-known pop singers (like Katie
Melua) fall into this category. An alto usually
sounds deeper, ‘fatter’ and less penetrating
than a soprano voice.
Men, too, can have high or low voices. A man with a high voice is called a
tenor. You may have heard of three of them: Pavarotti, Domingo and
Carreras. These three tenors were huge stars in the 1990s, performing
at concerts all over the world. In the classical album charts today, the
most famous tenor is a blind
Italian called Andrea Bocelli.
Men with low voices are called
basses. In operas, it is usually a
bass who plays the villain. The
Welshman, Bryn Terfel, is a very
popular singer with a bass voice.
When sopranos, altos, tenors and basses sing together in a choir, it is
often called an S.A.T.B chorus. The S.A.T.B. chorus is the most
common form of mixed-voice choir.
“In-between” voices (Intermediate II only)
Some voices do not fall easily into one of the normal
categories. Some women, for example, can sing
higher than an alto but not as high as a soprano. An
‘in-between’ voice like this is called a mezzosoprano. (The word “mezzo” is an Italian word that
means “medium”).
It can be hard to identify a mezzo-soprano voice.
Listen for a voice that is higher and lighter than an
alto but less shrill than a soprano!
Men, too, can have ‘in-between’ voices. A male voice in-between a tenor
and a bass is called a baritone. Baritones usually have a large range (i.e.
there is a large distance between their lowest and highest notes). A
baritone sounds lighter than a bass but never reaches the very high notes
sung by a tenor.
Finally, a few men are described as counter-tenors. A counter-tenor
voice is unusually high and can sound a bit strange! Counter-tenors can
sing the same notes as an alto, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the
Word-setting and Word-painting (Intermediate II only)
When a composer writes a song, the aim is to use
the music to highlight the meaning of the words.
A song about death, for example, would not
normally sound jolly and lively! The music and the
words are closely related.
Many composers, especially since the 1800s, have
used the music to “paint pictures” of the words.
The word “death” might be accompanied by a
clashing chord (called a discord); the word “deep”
might be a very low note; the words “running
down” might be illustrated by a descending (i.e. downwards) scale. Using
the music to sound like the words is called word-painting.
One trick used by composers to make one word
particularly important is melisma. Melisma is when
one word is stretched over many different notes.
The best example is in the Christmas carol, “Ding
Dong Merrily on High”. In the chorus, the word
“Gloria” is stretched over more than thirty notes.
The opposite of melisma is when there is one note for every syllable that
is sung. This is called syllabic word-setting. (Word-setting is simply the
way in which a composer fits the words to the music).
Voices Together
Composers often combine voices in different ways. When two voices sing
together, it is called a duet; three voices make a trio; four a quartet. A
large group of singers is called a choir, or chorus. (The word “chorus” is
used especially in operas and musicals).
Two voices singing exactly the same notes are said to be singing in unison.
The girl’s choir at school, for example, often sings in unison.
If a man and a woman sing the same song (e.g. if they join in with “Flower
of Scotland” at a rugby match) they will be singing in octaves. In other
words, they will both sing the same note-names, but the man’s voice will
sound an octave lower than that of the woman. (An octave is the distance
from any note on the piano up or down to the next note with the same
name, e.g. C to C; D to D, etc.).
When two or more voices sing together,
they sometimes sing in unison (or in
octaves). It is more common for them to
sing different notes that fit together well.
When two or more voices sing different
parts at the same time, it is called harmony.
In an S.A.T.B. chorus, for example, there are normally four different
parts. The sopranos sing the highest part; the basses sing the lowest
part; and the tenors and altos are in-between.
An S.A.T.B. chorus may be accompanied (e.g. by a piano or an orchestra)
or unaccompanied (i.e. with no backing instruments). Unaccompanied partsinging is called a cappella. Australian pop trio, The Bee Gees, made a
name for themselves by singing in an a cappella style.
If you were to hear a good church choir singing a hymn, you would notice
that all the singers change from one note to
the next at the same time. You would be
able to hear the words clearly because all
the singers would pronounce them at the
same time. This sort of singing, where all
the parts move together, is called
homophony (“homo” = same; “phony” = sound).
The opposite of homophony is polyphony
(“poly” = “many”). In a polyphonic piece of
music, the different parts move at
different times. Some parts may be slow,
with lots of long notes; others may be very
fast, with lots of very short notes! This
creates a complex texture.
The difference between homophony and polyphony can be shown in
diagrams like the ones below:
The diagrams show the four parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Notice
that in homophonic music, all the parts move together. In the polyphonic
music, the parts are very different from each other. At the start, for
example, the soprano part goes up and down wildly while the alto part
stays on the same note for a long time.
Oratorios and Operas (Intermediate II only)
Over the centuries, composers have used choirs in different musical
contexts. In the 1600s and 1700s, a very popular kind of music was the
oratorio. The most famous example is Handel’s “Messiah”.
An oratorio is a large-scale religious work for choir
and orchestra. The songs in an oratorio tell a story
from the Bible. Handel’s Messiah, for example, tells
the story of Christ.
Within an oratorio, there are three types of music:
aria, recitative and choruses.
Aria is just a posh word for a song! An aria usually has a recognisable tune
that comes back again and again. Almost always, an aria is sung by one
person (i.e. a solo voice).
Recitative means “story-telling”. In recitative, the performer sings a lot
of words very quickly. The accompaniment is very bare – usually just a
few chords here and there. There is no real tune – it is more like ‘sung
A chorus in an oratorio is a piece of
music sung by the whole choir. (Just
to confuse matters, the word
“chorus” can be used to describe
both the group of singers and the
song that they are singing). In a
chorus, you will hear a group of
orchestra. The music might be
homophonic or polyphonic.
A Passion is a special kind of oratorio that tells the Easter story. Bach’s
“St. Matthew Passion” is the most famous example.
A cantata is very similar to an oratorio, only smaller! Cantatas were
written to be performed in church every week. Bach wrote more than
two-hundred of them, each lasting about half an hour! Each of his
cantatas was based on a German hymn tune (called a chorale). At the end
of the cantata, the choir would sing the chorale in four parts (S.A.T.B.).
Arias, recitative and choruses are also found in operas. An opera is simply
a (non-religious) story set to music. Operas were very popular from the
1700s to the late 1800s and often involved very expensive and elaborate
costumes and scenery. The singers in an opera also have to act, whereas
an oratorio is always staged without acting. Mozart wrote many famous
operas, including “The Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni” and “All Women
are Fickle” (Cosi fan tutti).
In the twentieth century, musicals became very popular. A musical is like
an opera but has slightly lighter music and usually some spoken dialogue
(i.e. the main characters speak instead of singing all the time as they do
in an opera). Some of the best known musicals are “Grease”, “The Phantom
of the Opera”, “Mary Poppins”, “Les Miserables” and “My Fair Lady”. Many
of them have been made into films.
Voices in Popular Music
If you turn on the radio, it won’t take you long to find someone singing.
Singing is an essential part of pop music.
Many pop bands have one singer who sings the tune most of the time. He
or she is called the lead singer or lead vocalist. For example, in the band
Oasis, Liam Gallagher is the lead vocalist. He stands at the front of the
band and sings the tune most of the time. Jarvis Cocker is the lead singer
with Pulp; Tom Yorke is the lead singer with Radiohead, etc.
Some pop bands also have backing
vocalists. These are singers who are in
the background. They often sing in
harmony to provide an accompaniment
for the lead singer. Usually, backing
vocals are not present all the way
through a song; they might be used in the
chorus but not in the verse, for example.
Many of the most successful rock and pop
bands have two or more singers who can act as the lead vocalist. In The
Beatles, for example, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were
all able to act as the lead singer.
The rock group, Queen, often sang in four parts, sometimes in an a
cappella style. (A cappella means unaccompanied singing in parts). Their
biggest hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, is full of very complex singing in parts.
In the world of jazz music, there have been many
famous singers. You may have heard of Ella
Fitzgerald, Nina Simone or Jamie Cullum. All of these
singers sing in a jazzy style – they usually use a lot of
syncopation (i.e. they don’t sing exactly with the beat
of the music). Sometime, jazz singers use a technique called scat singing.
This is where they improvise (i.e. make up the tune as they go along) using
nonsense words (like “mm-doo-be-dat-mm-dah”).
You may have seen films like “Grease”, “Mary Poppins” and “Chicago”.
These are examples of musicals. A musical is basically a play with songs.
Most musicals begin life as stage productions (e.g. on Broadway in New
York), before being made into films.
An opera is very similar to a
musical. There are two main
differences between them: (1)
there is no speaking in an opera
(the music continues all the way
through the story), and (2) the
music in an opera is usually sung
in Italian and is more ‘serious’
than in a musical.
Famous operas include “The Magic Flute”, “The Marriage of Figaro”,
“Carmen” and “Madame Butterfly”.
Whilst it is fun to play a musical instrument by yourself, it is more
interesting if you play together with other people. Most people who enjoy
music as a hobby are members of local bands or other musical groups.
In this unit, you will learn about a variety of different musical groups (or
‘ensembles’, if you want to be posh)! Some of these will be very familiar
to you (like a pipe band). Others, like the Gamelan, are less well known in
this country but are very popular overseas.
The unit is divided into four short sections:
Chamber groups
World music
When musicians talk about an orchestra, they normally mean a symphony
A symphony orchestra contains a large number of instruments from each
‘family’: strings, woodwind, brass and percussion. (They sometimes have
keyboard instruments too).
If you go to see a symphony orchestra, you will see a very large number
of string players: perhaps more than thirty violins, a dozen violas, eight or
more cellos and a handful of double basses.
As well as the strings, you would normally expect to see
woodwind instruments:
brass instruments:
percussion instruments:
clarinets, flutes, oboes + bassoons
trumpets, trombones, horns + tuba
drums, tympani, cymbals and tuned
percussion (glockenspiels etc.)
Symphony orchestras are given that name because they often play pieces
of music called ‘symphonies’. A symphony is a long piece of music for
orchestra, normally written in four sections called movements. You must
have heard the opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (Da-da-da-daaaa),
and you probably know the main theme from Dvorak’s 9th Symphony (the
Largo from the Hovis Bread advert)!
Another type of work often played by an orchestra is a concerto. A
concerto is different from a symphony in two ways:
1. a concerto is for a solo instrument with the orchestra (e.g. a solo
piano or violin), and
2. a concerto has only three movements and a symphony has four.
If you need to decide whether you are listening to a symphony or a
concerto, you should try to work out if there is a solo instrument. Is
there one particular instrument that plays most of the tune and perhaps
gets to play by itself from time to time? If so, you are listening to a
Sometimes, composers write music for smaller orchestras: a string
orchestra contains only string instruments (violins, violas, cellos and
double basses); a chamber orchestra is a small orchestra, perhaps with
about twenty string instruments and a few woodwinds.
The modern symphony orchestra is very different from the orchestras
known by composers like Bach (1685-1750) or Mozart (1759-1796). Bach’s
orchestra had no clarinets – because they weren’t invented until long
after Bach was born! Mozart never had a harp or valved-trumpet in his
orchestras – they weren’t invented until the early 1800s.
The word ‘band’ is used to describe a number of different musical groups.
Perhaps the best known in Scotland is the pipe band.
Pipe Bands
A pipe band includes a mixture of
Highland bagpipes and drums.
Three main types of drum are
used: a bass drum, tenor drums
and snare drums. Pipe bands
usually play Scottish marches, airs
or jigs. The very best pipe bands
also play fast reels.
The Highland bagpipes can play only a limited number of notes. Because
of this, pipe bands usually play in unison (i.e. everyone plays the same
thing). Only occasionally do the pipes play in harmony (i.e. two or more
different parts at the same time).
Brass Bands
Another type of band that is common in Britain is the brass band. A
brass band is made up of several kinds of brass instruments: cornets,
tenor horns, baritones, euphoniums, trombones, tubas and percussion.
Brass bands are particularly associated with Yorkshire. Some towns in
Yorkshire have five or more brass bands! Brass bands play a range of
music, some of it very
modern and dissonant
(i.e. full of clashing
sounds). Because all of
the instruments in a
brass band sound very
alike, a brass band is
very good at playing
Wind/Military Bands
A wind band (sometimes called a
military band) has a mixture of
brass and woodwind instruments. A
typical wind band might contain at
least a dozen clarinets and flutes,
several saxophones, a few oboes and
bassoons, cornets, trumpets, French
horns, trombones and a tuba.
You will see military bands if you go
to the Edinburgh Tattoo. Some of
you may have heard the Borders
schools wind band. Wind bands
often play marches or arrangements
of popular music or traditional folk
Big Bands/Swing Bands
From about 1920-1960, Big Bands were very popular. Sometimes called
swing bands, they normally contain trumpets, trombones, saxophones,
clarinets, a bass guitar or double bass, drums and a piano.
The most famous big band of all time was led by the American
trombonist, Glen Miller. He died during the 2nd World War. His band
played well-known tunes like “In the Mood”, “Little Brown Jug” and
“Moonlight Serenade”. Another great bandleader was the clarinet player,
Benny Goodman, otherwise known as the “King of Swing”.
Big Band music is called “swing” music because
it is usually accompanied by a swing rhythm
played on the drums (i.e. the ‘Am-ster-dam’
rhythm). When listening to a swing band, you
will often hear improvisation (i.e. where one
player makes up a solo as the band plays
chords underneath).
The bass player in a big band often plays a
walking bass-line. This is when the bass part
wanders about in a steady rhythm – often
moving by step or leaping from one note of the
chord to another.
Chamber Music
Chamber music is music played by small groups. Chamber music was
especially popular in the 1800s, when very rich people thought it was the
height of fashion to employ musicians to play in their drawing rooms.
Amateur players often asked their friends to come round to join them in
a string quartet or wind ensemble.
The most common chamber group is the string quartet, made up of two
violins, a viola and a cello. All of the greatest composers wrote string
quartets. The quartets of Haydn and Beethoven are particularly famous.
Sometimes, composers added a woodwind instrument to the string
quartet. At the end of the 1800s, the German composer Johannes Brahms
wrote a piece for string quartet with a clarinet. This sort of work is
known as a clarinet quintet.
Another kind of chamber group is the piano trio. This normally includes a
piano, violin and cello. This combination is very flexible: each instrument
can play the tune; the piano is very good at accompanying the other
instruments; and the cello can provide a solid bass line or play a countermelody (i.e. another tune that goes against the main tune).
In the twentieth century, jazz ensembles became very popular. Jazz
groups usually contain a piano, double bass and drums, often with a solo
instrument (e.g. saxophone or trumpet). One famous example is the Dave
Brubeck quartet. Dave Brubeck was an American pianist who wrote jazz
music with very unusual timing (e.g. the very famous tune “Take Five”,
which has five beats in each bar).
World Music
Brass bands and wind bands are very popular in this country. Across the
world, different kinds of ensemble are common.
In Jamaica, for example, steel bands are
very popular. These bands contain a dozen
or more steel drums: large metal drums
that can play a range of notes. Each of
the different ‘hollows’ on the surface of
the drum is tuned to produce a particular
note. The sound of a steel band reminds
us of the Caribbean. The drummers often
use rolls to make the sounds longer and to
provide a soft, mellow accompaniment.
In South America, Samba and Salsa music are very popular. Samba music
is heard every year at the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Samba bands
are made up of different sized drums,
tambourines, claves and whistles. They usually
play music in 2/4 time (i.e. 2 beats per bar).
Another kind of Latin American ensemble is
the salsa band. Salsa music also has a lot of
percussion instruments, including drums called
timbales (a bit like bongos). There are also
flutes and clarinets. Based on Cuban music,
salsa is very jazzy and exciting to listen to.
A Ghanaian Drum Ensemble is a group of
drums, shakers and bells, from the West African country of Ghana. The
music played by this sort of group sounds much less jazzy than
the Latin American groups.
Finally, the Gamelan is very popular in Indonesia. A Gamelan is
a mixture of gongs and metallophones. The music is built up in
layers of repeating patterns. The overall effect is quite
In this unit, you will learn how music has changed over many hundreds of
years. Even though you might not like to listen to “classical” music, try to
keep an open mind and enjoy listening to the music of some of the most
famous composers.
When musicians talk about the history of music, they normally talk about
different “periods” of time. Roughly speaking, there are five important
periods that you need to know about:
Early music (pre-1600)
Musical instruments included recorders,
lutes, cornetts and serpents! People
began to write down music for the first
Composers like Bach and Handel wrote
very clever music, including some very
important works for choir and orchestra.
New instruments like the oboe,
harpsichord and violin became popular.
Mozart and Haydn wrote symphonies,
concertos and a lot of chamber music.
The clarinet and piano were invented.
Music became all about “expression”.
Composers like Schubert and Wagner
wrote very emotional music, often for
very large orchestras with a whole range
of new instruments (like valved brass).
Composers turned away from tonal
harmony and instead wrote very
dissonant music – very hard to listen to!
New styles of jazz and popular music
Early Music
Before about 1600, music was very unlike what we know today. Many of
the instruments that we are familiar with (e.g. the piano, guitar, violin,
clarinet) were not yet invented.
Some early musicians played and sang music in church; others travelled
round the country entertaining people with songs and dances.
In church, most early music was sung in latin. There was not much of a
tune! Instead, the singers would chant the holy words, giving special
emphasis to the most important ones (called “plainchant”). The singers
usually sang without any accompaniment. This is where the word a capella
came from. It means “in the church style” and is used today to describe
unaccompanied singing in parts.
Roving musicians in this period were called “troubadors” or “trouvieres”.
They went from town to town with their lutes and recorders and
performed simple folk-songs (sometimes called airs).
Some towns had a town band, made up of instruments like the cornett,
serpent and sackbut! Also popular was a family of string instruments
known as viols. Unlike the modern string family, these were all played in a
vertical position.
Early music did not use the same “rules” as more modern music. For
example, it was not usually major (happy) or minor (sad). Instead, early
music was modal (somewhere in-between major and minor) and it often
sounds quite “bare”.
The Baroque Period – c.1600-1750
In the Baroque period, composers like Bach and Handel invented a new
style of music. They placed particular importance on how different lines
of music fitted together. A lot of Baroque music is polyphonic (i.e. there
are lots of different musical ideas at once). Complex polyphonic music is
often described as contrapuntal, which literally means that there are
different parts moving against each other.
The harpsichord and the organ were the most popular
keyboard instruments in the Baroque period. The
harpsichord looked like a small piano but makes a
sound a bit more like a guitar. When the harpsichord
keys are pressed, a lever plucks a string inside the
Bach loved the harpsichord. He wrote many pieces for
solo harpsichord and also used it in his oratorios and cantatas (see
below). For example, he wrote a set of 48 Preludes and Fugues (2 in each
major and minor key) for the harpsichord. These are very difficult to play
and sound very ‘clever’.
Other instruments that were common in the Baroque
period were the oboe and the recorder. Simple brass
instruments like the natural trumpet and horn were also
Johann Sebastien Bach (1685-1750)
You have probably heard of Johann Sebastien
Bach. He was one of the greatest composers of
the Baroque period, although his genius was not
recognised until long after his death.
During his lifetime, Bach was famous as one of
the greatest organists in Germany. He and his
wife had seventeen children, many of whom went
themselves (e.g. C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach and W.F.
Bach’s music was very clever – he was able to
combine musical ideas in new and exciting ways.
He was also very good at developing a simple idea
into something wonderful and complex. He made
his music modulate much more than any earlier
composers. Modulation is when the music moves
from one key to another. It might happen
gradually or all of a sudden.
Bach added further interest to his music by using devices like a pedal
note. A pedal (not to be confused with something on a bike, or on a piano!)
is a long low note. The note is held for a long time while the musical ideas
change above it. This creates an exciting build-up in the music.
The opposite of a pedal is an inverted pedal, where the high note is at
the top rather than the bottom of the music.
Bach sometimes ended his pieces with a Tierce
de Picardie. This means that he would finish a
minor piece with a major chord, creating a
satisfying, “sunny” ending.
Another effect used by Bach was the suspension.
This is when a note from one chord is held over
when the chord changes. The note clashes against
the new chord, creating a dissonance. The
dissonance disappears when the note changes.
The use of a ground bass was another popular device used by Baroque
composers. A ground bass is when the same pattern is heard in the bass
(i.e. at the bottom of the music) with different musical ideas above it.
The most famous example is the Canon by Pachalbel, which is often played
at weddings today.
Cantatas, Oratorios and Passions
Bach wrote an amazing amount of music. In his job as a church organist,
he was required to write a new piece for the church choir almost every
week. He wrote almost three hundred cantatas.
A cantata is a piece for choir and small
orchestra. Usually, it is made up of five or six
movements. The last one is usually a version of a
chorale: the German name for a hymn tune. The
chorale was usually sung in harmony.
The other movements of a cantata would have been either:
a solo song, often with a decorative
instrumental part up above, called an
story-telling, i.e. where a singer would tell a bit
of the story, accompanied by the harpsichord or
where the whole choir would sing together.
Sometimes, Bach wrote longer cantatas – for a bigger orchestra and a
large choir, and with perhaps as many as twenty movements. These works
were called Oratorios. (You have probably heard of the “Messiah” by the
other great Baroque composer, Handel). An oratorio tells a story from
the Bible.
A special kind of oratorio that told the Easter story was called a Passion.
The most famous example is Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”, which tells the
Easter story based on the Gospel of Matthew.
A cantata, oratorio and passion are all very similar. Cantatas would have
been performed each week as part of a normal church service, whereas
oratorios and passions were kept for special occasions.
George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
Along with J.S. Bach, the other ‘big name’ in the
Baroque period was G. F. Handel. Handel was born
in Germany but travelled around Europe and
eventually settled in England. Some of his vocal
music is, therefore, written in English (like the
oratorio, “Messiah”) but he also wrote in German,
Latin and Italian!
Two of Handel’s most famous pieces are his
“Water Music” and the “Music for the Royal
Fireworks”. He wrote the second of these
for the King’s fireworks display. The music
is for a small orchestra featuring natural
trumpets, horns and tympani.
Handel was one of the first composers to
write a lot of operas. He wrote these in
England in the early 1700s, but most of
them were written in Italian. This was because Italian music was seen as
the height of fashion at the time. Some of the music from Handel’s
operas has become very famous. The “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”
(from the opera, Solomon) is one of the most popular pieces at weddings.
The Classical Period (c.1750-1800)
The word “classical” is sometimes used to describe all “serious” music.
However, musicians use the word “Classical” to describe the period from
about 1750-1800.
During this period, composers like Mozart and Haydn developed a new
form called the symphony. Operas were very popular and new instruments
like the piano and the clarinet came into use.
Classical composers moved away from the idea
of lots of different musical lines. Instead, they
liked to write music with a distinct melody and
accompaniment. In his piano music, for example,
Mozart often used a left-hand pattern called an
Alberti Bass. This is when the notes of a chord
are played one-by-one in the order bottom-topmiddle-top.
The Symphony and Concerto
Perhaps the most important development in the Classical period was the
symphony. Mozart wrote at least forty symphonies and Haydn wrote
almost 120!
A symphony is a long piece for orchestra. In the Classical period, this
included strings, woodwinds (flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon), some
brass (natural trumpet and horn) and perhaps some percussion (e.g. drums
and cymbals).
At the start of the Classical period, a symphony often had three
movements – two fast outer movements with a slow movement in the
middle. Soon, however, it became normal practice to have four
movements, one of which was a lively dance in triple time called a scherzo.
In the Classical period, an average symphony might have lasted between
ten and twenty-five minutes. They were sometimes performed at private
functions for the aristocracy. Increasingly, however, they were played at
public concerts. Concerts were a new idea in the Classical period, and they
were often held to raise money for poor composers: Mozart, for example,
often used to write new music and play it at a concert if he was a bit
strapped for cash!
Another very common form in the Classical period was the concerto. A
concerto is a piece of music for orchestra that features a soloist. For
example, Mozart wrote more
than twenty piano concertos, in
which he would play the solo
piano part, accompanied by an
A concerto normally has three
movements – fast, slow, fast.
Both symphonies and concertos
remain popular to this day.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart is one of the most famous composers of all time. He
was a child prodigy and performed for the King at the age
of four. He amazed audiences by playing whilst blindfolded
or lying on his back on the piano stool.
As an adult, Mozart became a famous composer of operas.
Some of these were written in Italian and some in German. Many of them
involve magic, folk-lore and the supernatural, as well as the usual themes
of love, relationships and war.
One of Mozart’s operas is “The Magic Flute”. It tells the story of a birdcatcher called Papageno, who helps Prince Tamino to rescue a Princess
from the evil Queen of the Night. Papageno, who is really a bit of an idiot,
also manages to find a girlfriend by the end of the story.
The Magic Flute includes some very beautiful (and also some very funny)
music. The Queen of the Night’s Aria is one of the most difficult songs
ever written for the soprano. The duet sung by Papageno and his
girlfriend is very comical.
Other Mozart operas include The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and
Cosi Fan Tutti (which means “Women are fickle” and tells the story of two
men who bet they can make their girlfriends fall in love with the wrong
man because women are so stupid).
As well as operas, Mozart wrote more than twenty piano concertos and
more than forty symphonies. He also wrote a lot of chamber music (e.g.
string quartets) and music for solo piano (e.g. his many piano sonatas).
Mozart’s clarinet concerto is also very famous.
You might know one of Mozart’s piano pieces. It is a “theme and
variations” based on the nursery rhyme, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
The tune is played once in a simple way, then again and again in
increasingly complicated versions (e.g. with lots of fast notes swirling
around the tune).
The Romantic Period (1800-1900)
The Romantic Period began with the famous German composer, Ludwig van
In his early twenties, Beethoven discovered that he was
going deaf. This was a terrible blow for the man who was
already regarded as the greatest pianist and composer in
the world!
Beethoven became deeply depressed but decided that he should pour all
of his frustration into his music. After that, his music became much more
emotional. He began to use new and exciting harmony; he used larger
orchestras; he wrote amazingly difficult piano music that pushed the
instrument to its limit; his music became much longer and broke the
“rules” that had been used by composers since the days of Bach and
The German composer, Gustav
Mahler, would later write, “Ever
since Beethoven, music has had its
inner programme”. In other words,
Beethoven’s music was more than
just sound – it tried to express
emotions or make an argument.
Beethoven is most famous for his
nine symphonies. All of these are
masterpieces. Symphony No.3 was nicknamed “The Heroic Symphony”
after the French dictator Napoleon. Beethoven’s last symphony, No.9, was
written for a massive orchestra and a choir. It was so modern and unusual
that the audience laughed when they heard it. They couldn’t understand
the strange new sounds.
Throughout the 1800s, composers followed Beethoven’s example and
wrote music that was full of emotion. A whole range of new instruments
was invented (like brass instruments with valves) and composers used
huge orchestras and exciting harmony to give their music new colours
that had not been possible before.
Franz Schubert was another German composer. He lived in the early
1800s and is famous for writing songs (called “Leider” in German). He
wrote very fancy piano accompaniments to go with the words. Often, the
words themselves would be reflected in the music. This is called “wordpainting”. For example, a song about a waterfall might have lots of falling
arpeggios; a song about death might have lots of minor chords.
Liszt and Chopin lived in France in the first part of the 19th century. They
both wrote a lot of music for the piano. Both gave solo concerts across
Europe, where they were treated a bit like modern pop stars. The crowds
cheered when they played their most famous pieces; ladies fainted
because they were so manly; and their competitors paid people to throw
tomatoes at them as they played!
At the end of the Romantic period, composers like
Debussy and Ravel started to write a new kind of
music. They took their inspiration from the
impressionist painters like Monet. Instead of
writing tunes, they used music to create vague
Debussy’s piano piece “Clair-de-lune” (“Moonlight”) and the “Gymnopedie”
by Erik Satie. This new kind of music was called Impressionism.
Impressionist composers often used a set of notes called the “wholetone scale” (C, D, E, F#, G#, A#, C). This scale gave their music an eerie,
atmospheric quality.
Music in the Twentieth Century
In the twentieth century, music developed in two ways:
‘serious’ music became very dissonant and hard to listen to;
popular music branched out into various styles of jazz, folk
and rock. For the first time, the United States of America
became an important centre for new music.
“Serious” music in the early 1900s
The start of the 20th Century was a confusing
time for many people. They found it difficult to
cope with the many technological advances of
the age, and there were international conflicts
like the Boer War and then the First World
In the early 1900s, composers wrote music that
reflected the confusion and fear felt by
ordinary people. Instead of writing music with
tunes and chords, they wrote atonal music. In other
words, they wrote music that wasn’t in a particular key.
Atonal music has no real tune and no pleasant chords. To
our ears, it sounds very dissonant and strange.
The most famous composer of atonal music was a German
man called Schoenberg. His music is not very popular today because it is
so hard to listen to! Instead of chords, he used clusters (i.e. groups of
clashing notes).
Towards the middle of the 1900s, composers turned their back on the
dissonant music of Schoenberg. They started to use normal chords again,
but often added extra “jazzy” notes to the chords to make them sound
more modern.
A new style of music called minimalism
developed in the second half of the century.
Minimalist composers used simple repeated
ideas over and over again to create exciting,
rhythmic music. Composers of minimalist
music include Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
Their music is quite mesmerising.
In some modern music, composers left the
performer to decide exactly what to play. In
aleatoric music, the composer would give the
performer a few notes to use and the
performer would be expected to make the
music up using the given notes. When you
listen to aleatoric music, it sounds very random!
Popular music in the twentieth century
Throughout the twentieth century, new styles of music became popular all
over the world.
Ragtime, Dixieland and Swing music
Ragtime music was a style of music that developed in the
first few decades of the 20th century. The most famous
composer of ragtime music was a black American called
Scott Joplin. You have probably heard his pieces “The
Entertainer” and “The Maple Leaf Rag”.
Ragtime music was almost always played at the piano. Ragtime melodies
are full of syncopation (i.e. lots of off-beat notes) whilst the left hand
plays a vamp (oom-cha) accompaniment.
Another American style of music that
became popular in the early 20th century
was Dixieland. Dixieland music comes from
the southern USA and usually involves the
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” or “Oh When
the Saints” played by a Dixieland band. It is common to hear the clarinet
improvising over the tune whilst the trombone often uses the glissando
In the 1930s and ‘40s, swing bands became popular. These bands included
trumpets, trombones, saxophones and percussion. They played music like
“In the Mood” and “Little Brown Jug”. Most of it was accompanied by a
swing rhythm (“Am-ster-dam!”) played at the drum kit.
Many swing bands (also called “Big Bands”) were led by a flamboyant
leader, like the trombone player Glen Miller or the clarinettist, Benny
Other forms of jazz
A range of other styles of jazz music became popular in the 20th century.
Many of them were based on the blues. Blues music was the music of
black Americans at the start of the century. It uses a particular set of
notes called the Blues scale, which includes some notes that really clash
against the chords underneath.
Blues music was often very slow and the
words were usually about bad things.
Imagine an old black American singing
about all his troubles – his dead wife,
his house sinking into the marsh, etc. –
and you’ll get the idea!
Soul music developed later in the
century. The “Godfather of Soul” was a
man called James Brown, who died in
2006. He was famous for his energetic
performances that included dances like
the “funky chicken” and the “monkey”.
Boogie Woogie is a style of piano jazz in which the left hand plays a
characteristic Boogie-woogie bass line (see below). Your teacher will play
you an example.
In most jazz music, the performers are expected to improvise. In other
words, they don’t just play the notes on the page – they make it up as
they go along. Usually, they use a particular scale (like the blues scale) to
help them.
Singers too can improvise. Sometimes, rather than using words, they use
sounds like “doo-wop-be-doo-wah!”. This is called scat singing. Good
examples are found in the film, “The Aristocats”.
In this short unit, you shall look at how music is built. The unit starts with
a look at how melodies are made. After that, you shall learn about
different musical forms.
How melodies are made
Melodies (i.e. tunes) may sound complicated but most tunes can be broken
down into simple ideas.
If you listen to any tune, you will hear that the notes move either by step
or by leap. A good example of a tune that moves by step is the theme
from Eastenders:
The music from “Superman” opens with lots of leaps:
Many tunes use repetition. In other words, the same musical idea is
played more than once. Look at the beginning of “Frere Jacques”:
If the repeated pattern moves up or down a bit, it is called a sequence.
Look at this example from a famous Christmas carol. Notice that the
second bar is the same pattern as the first bar, but down one step:
Sequence and repetition are two very important musical concepts. You
should think about them when you compose your own tunes.
Sometimes a melody appears to be in two parts. The first part seems to
ask a question and the second part provides the answer. The theme from
“Wallace and Gromit” is a good example:
Melodies are not very exciting by themselves. Chords are usually added to
provide an accompaniment. Often, the chords are very simple. Look at
many of your favourite pop songs and you will notice that they usually
contain only five or six chords. Songs like “Millennium” (by Robbie
Williams) have only two chords!
How musical ideas are put together
Having a melody with chords is just the first stage of building a piece of
music. The composer must give the piece a structure (or “form”) by
putting melodies together in a particular way. Some examples are given
In a canon (or “round”) the same musical idea is
played or song by everyone in a group. They all
play/sing the same music but start one after
the other. The song “Frere Jacques” is often
sung as a round.
Binary (AB) form:
In Binary form, there are two different musical
ideas, one after the other. The first idea, A, is
followed by a different idea, B.
Many traditional Scottish reels are in binary
Ternary (ABA) form:
Ternary form is similar to binary form, except
that the “A” section is played at the start and
at the end of the piece.
Ternary form is like a musical sandwich – a
layer of bread, then a filling, then another
layer of bread.
Rondo (ABACA) form:
In Rondo form, the same musical idea (A) comes
back again and again, with contrasting ideas
in-between (B, C, D, E, etc.).
Theme and Variations:
In this form, a melody is played once and then
there are a number of “variations” based on the
melody. For example, one variation might have
the tune in a minor key; another might have lots
of quick notes swirling around the melody, etc.
Often, a composer adds a little bit of extra music at the end of a piece to
finish it off. This is called a coda.
Scales, keys and chords
Most of the music that you listen to is said to be “in a key”. For example,
Mozart’s clarinet concerto is “in A”; Bach’s famous Toccata is “in D
minor”; the theme from the Teletubbies is often played “in C”.
What does it mean when musicians talk about a piece being “in a key”?
Basically, when a piece of music is “in” a particular key, it uses a particular
set of notes (or “scale”) associated with that key. This might sound
complicated, so here is an example:
If we play the theme from “Teletubbies” in the key of C major, the
melody will use the notes of the C major scale. The C major scale is
printed below. Underneath it is the theme from the Teletubbies. You will
see that all of the notes in the music come from the scale:
If we were to play this music in a different key, we would use a different
set of notes. For example, if we played the theme in the key of D major,
we would use D, E, F#, G, A, B, C# and D.
As well as melodies, chords are made up using the notes of a particular
scale. In the key of C, for example, the most common chords are built
using the notes of the C major scale.
Chord no. 1 (I) is based on the note, C, together with an E and a G.
Chord no. 2 (II) is based on the note D, together with a F and an A.
Chord no. 3 (III) is based on the note E, together with a G and a B.
All the basic chords that you are likely to find in the key of C major are
shown below. These chords are sometimes called “triads”:
In a different key, the chords would be built up in the same way using the
notes of the right scale.
Chords I, IV and V
In any key, the most important chords are always I, IV and V (one, four
and five). Almost all tunes that you know will sound OK if you stick to
these three chords!
In the key of C…
Chord I is a chord of C
Chord IV is a chord of F
Chord V is a chord of G
At the end of a piece of music, it is very common to have chord V and
then chord I. This combination of chords is known as a perfect cadence.
(A cadence is just a posh way of describing a “stopping point” in the
A perfect cadence sounds finished. A well-known example comes at the
end of The Teletubbies!
A different kind of cadence is an imperfect cadence. An imperfect
cadence is really the opposite of a perfect cadence. An imperfect
cadence is chord I followed by chord V.
An imperfect cadence sounds unfinished or “half-finished”. It is
sometimes called a “half-close”. A good example comes half-way through
the Teletubbies!
The Teletubbies – a very useful piece to know!
The theme from “The Teletubbies” is a great example of how a simple
piece of music is built.
The music is in two lines (a question and answer).
The melody moves mainly by small leaps.
In bars two and three, there is a simple example of a sequence.
Only three chords are used: C (I), F (IV) and G (V).
At the end of the first line, there is an imperfect cadence (chord I
followed by chord V).
At the end of the second line, there is a perfect cadence (chord V
followed by chord I).
Pieces like the Teletubbies are very simple. It would be very boring if all
pieces of music used only the notes of one particular key.
To make their music more interesting, composers usually try to use
modulation. That is when they visit other keys (and, therefore, use notes
from a different scale). A piece might start in C major and then visit G
major (with some F#s) and then F major (with some B-flats) before
coming back to C at the end.
Sometimes, composers use a different kind of scale to create a particular
mood. Here are some examples you should know:
Sounds a bit empty; used a lot in folk and mediaeval
A scale with only five notes; has lots of “gaps” in it.
Whole-tone -
An eerie scale used to create a mysterious
The blues scale has some clashing notes; used in jazz.