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30 Oct 2013

What Time Does It Take to Appreciate Great Music?

Have you noticed that most of the music pieces you now consider great rarely took just one listen to fully appreciate right from the start? It can be really hard to start appreciating complex music at once and there may be a few explanations to that. Here are some.

Too Much at a Time

First of all, complex music is difficult to comprehend because it causes a sensory over-load to our perception. Our brain is built in layers, and it’s not possible to operate all of them at once. In this sense, we can compare the catchy pop music to a bubble gum – you enjoy chewing it for a little while but then it loses its taste too fast and becomes flat for you. That’s explained by the few layers your brain needs to process such music. On the other hand, if we take a complex symphony where the number of music layers is significant, our brain works differently: it learns them gradually, and once another layer is taken in, the next ones become even more anticipated. Such music can be compared to a good wine – it takes time for the aftertaste to settle in. But it’s important to understand that ‘music layers’ are not to be understood as just the number of music instruments involved. The following are to be considered ‘layers’ as well:

  • Various sounds effects
  • The depth of the lyrics (if present)
  • Music extras that are revealed when you listen to the same music on a different sound system

Mind them, too.

No Clear Structure

You may simply not hear certain notes or parts if you do or cannot envision the piece’s structure completely. That is another crucial moment besides the layers factor. If you can clearly see how the melody builds - when it reaches its climax, how it switches from one part to another and when it fades – your picture assembles into a unity. But listening to the piece for the first time will not allow you to predict how the music line will behave (unless it’s a basic 4x4 timing song with repetitive beats). Therefore, even when you consider some music “messy” at first – give it a chance to listen to it again.

Music Evolution

Today you may hear something new in the music you are used to listening to. Art is an ever-evolving phenomenon. To be a part of it, one has to grow with it, to be multi-faceted and flexible. We all favor certain music genres over others, but that doesn’t mean we should close up in a world of one style. Due to the constant interpenetration of music genres, you may not recognize some new elements in the habitual sound and get disorientated. Pop music didn’t come right after classical music, did it. Thus one needs to be open, stay informed and be interested in various music genres. Otherwise, you may rob yourself of the opportunity to benefit from the diversity of the music world.

11 Sep 2013

Digital Version of “Maestro-in-the-Making” Book

Do you remember our crowd-funding project “Maestro-in-the-Making”? Though the funds raised are not enough for holding the original large-scale competition, the book production and its distribution to schools world-wide, the money gathered will be still used to support the original idea – let children study music on works by contemporary composers.

We are compiling a digital mini-version of “Maestro-in-the-Making” book that will help young musicians find their musical path and are asking you to be part of it!

About the music booklet:

  • Digital collection of 10-12 best music pieces for beginners
  • Available for free download
  • Includes free license for educational purposes
  • Works selected by MusicaNeo team of music experts

In order to apply, please follow two simple steps by October 15:

Upload the piece to your personal site at MusicaNeo -> Email us once you have uploaded the piece you would like to see in the digital booklet, together with the additional materials - photo, bio, description of piece.

Requirements for your music:

1. We call for music pieces for one of the following instruments (or a piece for a group of instruments):

  • Piano/Keyboard
  • Guitar
  • Violin
  • Cello
  • Flute
  • Saxophone

2. You have to be the sole copyright owner

3. Level of difficulty: easy (with elements of a game aimed at developing child’s creative abilities and imagination)

4. Files to be uploaded to your site at MusicaNeo:

  • sheet music in PDF format
  • audio preview file

Requirements for additional materials:

  • Music piece description + composer’s short biography = up to 2500 symbols (in English)
  • Composer’s portrait – minimum 1200x1600 pixels

Please note that on submitting a piece for the “Maestro-in-the-Making” project you confirm your agreement to offer MusicaNeo a free unlimited, non-exclusive license for publication of the piece for 24 months, in case it is selected for publication in the booklet.

Please feel free to contact us for additional details.

03 Sep 2013

Moonlight Sonata and the Pyramid of Cheops: What Do They Have in Common?

Is there a connection between a music piece’s form and its impact on the listener? Why do some music works seem more beautiful than others? The ancient architects knew the answer to this question long ago.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops

The Great Pyramid of Cheops. Photographer: Berthold Werner. Source: Wikipedia

One of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Pyramid of Khufu (popularly known as the Pyramid of Cheops) – has been admired for its grandeur and perfect proportions by millions of tourists for years. A lot of its mysteries still remain undisclosed. Up to now, the scientists can’t explain the exact way this giant construction had been erected. But there is one indisputable fact about the pyramid: back in 2500 years B.C., the architects knew the “formula of harmony” – a special correlation between the sides’ length known as the “golden proportion”. This correlation is also the base of numerous architectural masterpieces, like the Parthenon and Notre-Dame de Paris.

Gioconda Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the most outstanding thinkers and artists of the Renaissance has also left a lot of mysteries for his descendants. His famous “Gioconda” is still one the most discussed paintings. According to one of the hypotheses, Leonardo endowed the woman depicted in his creation with his own features, which means that the painting could be Da Vinci’s self-portrait as a woman. Gioconda’s ephemeral smile carries some secret meaning that the experts still cannot interpret. In order to create that special impression for the viewer, the painter used many techniques, including the rule of the “golden proportion”.

It becomes obvious that there is a certain correlation between the parts of a work that helps us to experience positive emotions. The “golden ratio” phenomenon is observed when the ratio of the whole and the bigger part is the same as the ratio of the bigger part and the smaller part. Besides being used by the ancient architects, this correlation was mathematically proved in the Middle Ages by another great “Leonardo” – Fibonacci. He was talking about a special sequence of numbers that got the name of “the Fibonacci numbers”. Every number in that sequence is the sum of the two preceding numbers: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on. Moreover, starting with the 5 - 3 ratio, every number is in the golden proportion with the preceding one. Mathematically, this ratio equals 1.6.

sunflower How did the ancient architects manage to discover the formula of the “golden proportion”? In fact, nature gives us hints whenever we are observant enough! One of the bright examples is a sunflower. The number of seeds in every row starting from the center corresponds to the Fibonacci numbers. Another hint is a nautilus conch. The lengths of the conch’s spirals are in the 1.6:1 proportion. This allows the conch to grow proportionally during the mollusk’s entire lifetime.

The “golden proportion” had been used in the music of many great composers, too. Let’s take the renowned music piece by one the world’s most famed composers – “Moonlight Sonata” for piano by Ludwig van Beethoven, and particularly, its mystical first part. (By the way, at MusicaNeo you can download for free the sheet music for the Moonlight Sonata as well as other high-quality popular works). After making some simple calculations we can state that the composer used the rule of the golden proportion in the first part of his piece.

The reprise is an important part of a sonata: it is often accompanied by a special feeling that can be compared to a catharsis. Taking into consideration this fact, let’s divide the first part of the sonata into two unequal segments: a bigger one – before the reprise (consisting of 42 bars), and a smaller one – starting from the reprise and till the end of the first part of the sonata (consisting of 27 bars). The proportion between the general number of bars and the number of bars in the bigger part is thus 69:42. Now let’s divide the number of bars in the bigger segment by the number of bars in the smaller one: 42:27. In both cases the result equals 1.6, which IS the golden ratio. This fact only proves the hypothesis that the rule of the golden proportion had been accurately used by the great composer.

But why does this correlation between the parts bring the magic feeling of harmony and beauty when we are listening to music, enjoying the paintings or looking at the sunflowers? The answer to this question still remains one of the biggest puzzles of the human consciousness.

20 Aug 2013

Combatting Stage Fright

Combatting Stage Fright

How often, after endless hours of practicing before a concert, on Day X the performer comes out on stage and feels a sudden bout of panic, even though everything had been perfectly rehearsed. Sweaty palms, pounding heart, nausea, shaking limbs and dryness in mouth – all those are the indicators of the so-called stage fright, or in other words, extreme anxiety about the approaching public performance. “But I did so well while practicing!” – would be the natural, astonished reaction. Why does it happen? Let’s try to explain this phenomenon and see what can be done to overcome it.

A number of studies have been carried out to prove that our brain can work in two modes, alternately enabling either left or right hemisphere. The ‘left-sided mode’ is responsible for all that can be characterized as analytical, rational, logical and objective, while the right side focuses on the intuitive and random.

Michèle Gingras, Professor of Music at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has transferred this theory into music reality, trying to use it as a tool to brave the stage fright of her students. According to her research, while in the practice room, a musician mostly exercises the left brain hemisphere – that is focus on the right fingering, correct breathing, tone and so on. A person is not distracted and influenced by external factors so the feeling of self-awareness is reduced to minimum. On the stage, it is the contrary - the desire to please the audience who watch, approve or criticize, the wish to be artistically and emotionally convincing during the performance – re-programs our brain to enable the right side. And here the discrepancy becomes evident: the poorly trained right brain fails to perform well and can affect the well-trained left brain. The conclusion? Both sides of the brain have to be equally trained beforehand!

Michèle suggests a couple of techniques that help musicians exercise their right brain during rehearsals and thus lead to a splendid performance in public.

Audio-recording. No one can be a tougher critic than ourselves, so try to audio record yourself playing. Knowing that the material is being taped makes a musician more concentrated on the piece and increases the self-awareness: “The recorder is listening, avoid mistakes!”. Moreover, it helps to analyze the performing mistakes while listening to the records later.

Video-recording. Adding the video component makes us flex the ‘right brain muscles’ even more. You can even pretend to leave the room and re-enter it as if the audience is waiting there for you to perform. If you do not have any video-recording device, try sitting in front of a mirror for practice – works as a good ‘distractor’ as well. Even if a mirror is for some reason not available, do not close up in the room – try practicing with a door or a window open. Close your eyes and use the power of imagination to create the ambiance of a concert.

Rhythmic solfège. This technique is often taught in French conservatories instead of the classical solfège. Instead of singing, each note is being named (A-B-C or do-re-mi) in rhythm while tapping. This method helps you to ‘x-ray’ your composition, visualize it, make your imagination work, which means the right brain is in action again – and that’s what we need!

Different perspective. Some of our fears may come from the earlier years when we were immature beginners and were making too many mistakes. For some people those fears are so strong that they keep hiding for years and bothering even those who are already acknowledged professionals. It’s important to develop the self-awareness of our achievements and try to perceive the music challenges with peace and readiness respective to our skills.

When on stage. The most important thing to remember once you are already there is that the audience can sense your emotions pretty well. The more assertively and confidently you behave, the more people like you. You can feed your brain with oxygen right before the concert by having some deep breathing or even meditating. One good way to establish a positive connection is talking to the audience before you start performing – a mere greeting can break the ice. There will be no second chance once you are on stage, so relax and enjoy the moment!

Stage fright has one big advantage – the fact that you are anxious about the way you are going to present the music piece to people means that you truly care about the result. Do not be afraid to fail or make a mistake for it only builds your experience.

Have amazing performances!

Photo of The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver by Kchang. Source: Wikipedia