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Reflective Essay on Music Education

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Published: Mon, 18 Sep 2017

Andrew Nguyen

My name is Andrew Nguyen, and I’m a sophomore at Golden West College. I’m 19 years old, and my major is business administration. For my online class experience, this is my second time taking an online course. My first time was on this year’s intersession, and I took an American Government course, but it was not that easy. There was too much reading to do, and there’s not enough time for studying since intersession classes last for 4 weeks. In the end, I earned a good grade for my effort, and I’m hoping that I’ll do the same for this class. It taught me about how I should manage my time effectively when I’m not inside the classroom, and that I shouldn’t procrastinate from doing any readings and assignments. To be honest, I’m not exactly a music player. I’m more of a listener than a player. I played an instrument before, but I wasn’t playing a song. When I was little, I remember myself tapping the keyboards on an electronic piano, listening to random notes, but I didn’t have a chance to properly learn how to play an instrument. However, I taught myself how to play the guitar when I was in high school; unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. There was a lot of complicated information to know about playing music, such as chords and melody, and it’s overwhelming to memorize it all. Also, I couldn’t properly play the instrument because I need to know about the parts of the guitar, so I can control playing better. The problem about playing an instrument is that I kept relying on being perfect, and I just give up easy. For now, I just listen to any songs for relaxation, and I noticed how the song works from beginning to end and the hidden rhythms of the song.

Because of my lack of knowledge on music, I thought that taking this class would give me a head start to know about music theory. I’ve been listening to popular songs for a long time, and I thought that I could apply my basic knowledge on songs to this class, so I can critically listen to how music works. There are two things I would know by the end of the course. The first one is to know how to read sheet music. It was hard to read because there were so many complex patterns on the sheet music, and it’s not easy for an average musician. If I took this class, maybe there’s a section about understanding the melody or other parts of the sheet music, so I can use that knowledge to learn better on playing an instrument. The second one is to know about the music history. I want to know more about how they developed different methods on crafting the song, so I can use examples from my songs to know how it matches their methods.

The song that sounds like a binary form would be “Somnus,” composed by Yoko Shimomura and sung by Aundrea L. Hopkins. It is the theme song from a best-selling video game, Final Fantasy XV. The title is Latin for “sleep,” and like the title, the lyrics are also Latin. A binary form has two sections, in the form AB or AABB, that each section repeats the melody, and this song happens to fit into this category. At first, the song opens with a piano melody in a minor pitch. Then, the vocalist sang the Latin lyrics, presenting a theme that could be recognized later. In the second stanza, the song repeats the same melody, but the lyrics changed and the violin and cello can be heard as a harmony. The statement for this song tells the story that the world plunged into darkness while the hero is in hibernation. After the second stanza, the variation occurs, changing the tempo to accelerando, which means to speed up. Within the variation, the piano plays solo, accompanied by the violin and cello. The tempo starts to ritardando, which means slow down, and then it goes back to the fast tempo, introducing the third stanza, which is the departure of the form. The melody sounds different and the range of the song’s tone is medium because of its fast tempo. Within the departure, there are some parts being used from the first section of the song. Two lines from the third stanza introduce a new melody, and then the last two lines repeat that melody, changing the lyrics and range. The departure lets us consider ourselves that if there’s darkness, there’s always a light to shine the way. In the end, the song goes back to its original theme, ending the song in a minor chord, but lasts for about a few seconds.

There are many varieties of musical sounds possible from the human voice. One of the varieties is falsetto. Falsetto is the highest register of the human voice. It’s been used as a vocal technique to make the voice unnaturally high-pitched. To use falsetto, the singers must control their vocal cords to get a high note. They do that by imitating someone with a higher voice to shorten their vocal cords and then the cords stretch it out, so it would produce a “head voice,” which is the high register of the voice in speaking or singing. When using this technique, it has limited octave range, which could lead to passaggio, a transition between the vocal registers. It’s a difficult technique to control, but famous singers, such as Prince and Michael Jackson, have practiced this technique to sing their songs better. The origin of the term is unknown because of its vagueness to know what that term is. But during the Renaissance period, the term was common in Italy because that’s where they named the term. The term “Falsetto” is Italian for “false.” This vocal technique is commonly used by male singers, and they have used it during the 16th century when women were restricted from performing, so the men could fill in their roles at church and on stage. Falsetto has been used in different regions, for they have their own style of this technique. For instance, Hawaii has their own falsetto style. Although it’s part of the U.S, Hawaii still maintained their traditional culture before they annexed to the U.S. Their falsetto music dates back a long time ago when a group of immigrants from different countries brought their music with them, combined with their Hawaiian music that created their falsetto. Their falsetto is called “ka leo ki’eki’e.” Like the other cultures in the 16th century, women were forbidden to perform while the men sang in high pitch. What’s different from the western use of falsetto is that they would emphasize the tone between the vocal registers. They would also amplify the tone through repetition. They’ve used this technique to sing stories about their state culture. There may be some female singers used falsetto, but there’s barely any proof of that since most male singers have used this technique for a long time.

Another variety of music sound from the human voice is yodeling. Yodeling occurs when the singer switch between their voice from normal to a high pitch. When yodel, the singers have control of their voice in the range by switching to different vocal registers, and they timed their yodeling for a few seconds in a high volume. They sang non-lexical syllables to help project their yodeling. The origin of this technique is unknown since there’s no evidence indicating when and how it was created; however, historians believed that yodeling occurred in the Alpine mountains in Switzerland. In the Renaissance era, the early yodeling was used by the herders to help communicate their flock of cows, or they used the technique to communicate the villagers from a different village. For the communication on the villages, perhaps yodeling acted as an early development of making long-distance communication before the telephone was invented in the 19th century. Since that discovery in the Alps, it became an everlasting tradition in Europe, and then it became popular in the 1830s for entertainment. Other than the Swiss Alps, yodeling is common around different cultures from around the world. For example, Central Africa has used yodeling. An ethnic group called the “pygmy” people yodeled for their complex polyphonic singing. Another example is the United States. A group of German immigrants first introduced yodeling in the 1800s to the U.S. Yodeling was used for their minstrel shows, consists of skits, acts, dancing, and music, throughout the 19th century. But after the 1900s, yodeling became common when singers use it for their country music. Yodeling has been useful for a long time, for it provides a purpose for letting the people communicate with each other and give different formats to express music also.

String: An example of a string instrument is a violin. It is the smallest and high-pitched instrument in the string family. A violin is a carved hollow wooden box, which consists of many parts. The top plate of the violin is the top plate, or the “belly,” that joins the back plate by the carved sides called the “ribs.” The neck of the violin is attached to the front side, and that flat wooden strip on top is called the fingerboard. It runs across the neck to the bridge, which is in the middle of the top plate. The four strings are attached to the tailpiece, located on the bottom of the top plate, and then it runs across the bridge and neck to be fastened to four pegs in the pegbox, located at the top of the neck. A scroll is attached on top of the pegbox to make it decorative. Between the bridge are two “f-holes.” The sound holes were carved to reduce the thickness of the top plate and act as a resonator to strengthen the sounds created by the strings. Finally, located at the bottom of the top plate is the chinrest. It helps the violinist to position their jaw or chin when playing the violin. To play the violin, the player must hold the violin with his left hand and the bow in his right hand. On the violinist left side, the fingers must be on the fingerboard, chin on the chinrest, and the body of the violin resting on the shoulder. Also, the strings must be tuned in the order, G, D, A, and E, from the left to right. When the violin is played, the violinist presses the strings to change the pitch, and he can also shift his left hand up and down to create a high or low set of tones. As for the bow, it is drawn onto the strings, causing the strings to vibrate to produce a high pitch. There are many techniques to play the violin and other bowed instruments, such as double-stopping, playing two strings at the same time to produce a chord, and open strings, without touching the string to produce the lowest note. Ever since the Baroque era, the violin is divided into two sections of the orchestra, the first and second. The first violinists play the melody while the second violinists play the harmony (or sometimes melody). Other than the orchestra, they also have the same role of being first and second in the string quartet, which consists two violins, one viola, and one cello. The violin plays a minor role in popular music, but in western culture, they called violin playing, “fiddling.” A fiddle is a second name for the violin, but it’s only known to bluegrass and country music. The fiddle and violin have the same shape, but their playing style is different. Fiddling would produce dancing rhythms, along with quick note changes, while the classical violin plays sustained notes. Overall, the most common uses for the violin is in classical music.

Woodwind: A flute is an example of a woodwind instrument. Throughout history, the flute was the oldest instrument. They were made of wood, and it came in different forms depending on the culture. But now, most of the flutes constructed is now metal. In the metal version, there are three joints on the flute: the head, middle, and foot. In the head joint, it has a small piece at the end of the joint called the crown, and it keeps the head joint positioned at its usual depth. Near the crown is the embouchure hole, the center of the lip plate, resting place for the lower lip. The next joint is the middle joint, and it’s an important part of the instrument. The middle joint consists of flute keys. The original flute has open holes that would be covered with fingers; however, the modern flute replaced the original with a complex system of knitted keys and steel. Most modern flutes have closed-hole keys while some have open-hole keys. The closed-hole is common for beginners because it helps learn how to properly hold the flute, but the open-hole is an advanced flute because of its use for making special effects for contemporary music. The last joint of the flute is the foot joint. The foot joint is where the sound produces from the flute; however, the foot joint also has keys. There are two types of foot joint: C and B foot. The B foot joint has three keys while the C foot joint has two. Depending on what foot joint the flute has, it would produce a different tone and register. To play the flute, it must be held horizontally to the right, so the player is in a good stance. Then, the left hand must be in the first half of the middle joint while the right hand is on the second half. Once the flutist is in position, the flutist can blow through the lip plate to produce a soprano voice in a low register. There are no specific chords for the flute, but wherever they press the keys, it can produce a specific octave scale in a flat or sharp note. In the symphony orchestra, it has the minor role in playing the melody frequently because of its timbre being noticed in the orchestra. But the most common uses for the flutes occurs in concert and marching bands. In the concert band, the woodwind instruments are seated in front, like the string instruments in the orchestra. There’s no specific seating chart for the concert band, but the flute or another woodwind instrument can play either the melody or harmony in this ensemble. As for the marching band, the flute produces high-pitched tones for the band, but sometimes they play the melody of their musical piece.

Brass: A trumpet is an example of the brass instrument. It produces the highest pitch from the brass family, declaring itself with a brilliant tone color. Like all brass instruments, it has a mouthpiece on the back. The mouthpiece leads a flow of air from the player to the trumpet to produce the sound. Connected to the mouthpiece is the lead pipe. This pipe leads the soundwave around and through the instrument. The next part is the tuning slide. It’s in a c-shape, and it slides in and out to adjust tuning the trumpet, so the further it’s slide out, the lower the tone it would produce. On the tuning slide is the small lever called the water key. Whenever the player blows through the mouthpiece, there’s a small amount of moisture coming inside the trumpet. To clear the moisture, they should press the key and then blow the mouthpiece to get the water out. Next is the valve slides. There are three different valve slides, each connected to the valve pistons. It’s like the tuning slide, but the valve slides tune the pitch of each valve pistons. The important feature of the trumpet is the valve pistons. The three pistons move up and down in the valve casings to produce different tones by different combinations of air pressure and finger movements from the player. However, each valve pistons are different, for they lower the tone of the chromatic scale. The fist piston lowers the tone by a half step while the second lowers the tone by a full step. Also, the third piston lowers the tone by a minor third, which is three half steps. At the end of the trumpet is the bell. This part is recognizable because it’s part of every brass instruments. It amplifies and creates the sound of the trumpet. To play the trumpet, the player must hold on to the valve slides on the left side while the right side is positioning the fingers to the pistons. And then, the player blows through the mouthpiece and uses the valves to start playing. When playing the trumpet, it plays an octave scale depending on what valves they’re pressing. The most common uses for trumpet is in classical and jazz ensemble. In an orchestra, the brass instruments are seated behind the string section because of its loud dynamics. For the trumpet, it’s mostly been used as a harmony to produce a brighter sound for the orchestra and sometimes plays the melody. In jazz music, the trumpet plays the lead role in an ensemble. The trumpet player carries the melody of most jazz songs because of its loud pitch. Along with the trumpet is the trombone that is part of a bass line and a counter melody to the trumpet.

Percussion: The cymbals are an example of the percussion instrument. The cymbals are two circular plates, made of different types of alloy. Each cymbal has a leather strap in the middle, so the player can hold the cymbals. There’s no specific example on how to play this instrument. What the player needs to do is struck against another cymbal, creating an indefinite pitch. The cymbals have been used in many ensembles, ranging from orchestra to marching band. In the orchestra, the cymbals play a minor role there, for their role is to surprise the audience for drama and excitement, or it’s used to emphasize the rhythm. Also, the cymbals have a major role in the marching band. Along with the percussion instruments, they’re responsible for keeping the tempo going. Even when the brass and woodwind instruments are not playing, the percussion instruments keep on playing. The cymbals in the marching band follow the accented rhythms the drums are making, so they would keep the audience surprised.

Last Friday, I watched How I Met Your Mother on TV, and I noticed their use of music. The show started with an opening scene, and then move on to the intro, which lasts around 10 seconds. Most of the scenes that I watched doesn’t play a lot of music, but I heard some background music playing because of the locations the characters were at, such as bars, restaurants, and house parties. However, I heard some instruments playing when they switch to new scenes. Most of the instruments played at a soft dynamic, and the most common instrument I heard was an acoustic guitar. There are some instruments included, such as piano, violin, and harp. The show ends with credits, and it plays an extended intro song. With those instruments combined, I recognized a pattern for using music. Most of the instruments I heard on the show have been used as tools for storytelling. The show played the guitar and piano to show what the characters are doing right now. Also, they used the two instruments for moving ahead in the next days or weeks. It could be fast or short depending on how much tempo is used. But the most important use of the instruments is setting the mood. The characters can conflict with each other, and the instruments played a major or minor chord depending on what emotions they’re feeling right now. It helps attract the viewers to get their attention to see what happens next, and it lets the viewers feel sympathy towards the character’s emotion because of the tonality of the scene. There were some minor uses for the instruments. For example, the harp was played to show the character’s flashback or imagination of the future because the harp’s tone is mystical for any strange occurrence to happen in the future. As for the violin, it helps build suspense for the scene. It plays a low pitch, and as the low pitch ends, it plays a high pitch, bringing a surprise to the viewers. In this show, the suspense can affect the characters, but it’s funny to watch when something minor looks serious to them doesn’t look serious to the viewers. As for the commercial breaks, there’s so many random music playing. There’s no specific pattern about music playing in the commercials. But I noticed about how they choose their music. Depending on the advertisement, they used music that matches the companies’ theme to persuade their audience to buy or support the product. For example, I remember seeing a commercial about the charity group. They’re persuading the audience to support the abused animals. They persuaded me with pictures of pets with sad eyes, and they used a piano music in a minor chord to get us emotionally attached to the pets. Overall, commercials used music to make us believed that the benefits they showed would work on us.


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