School in a Book: Music

You’ve heard the term “music appreciation.” While appreciation classes vary widely, they usually cover a historical overview of the subject, a sampling of the subject in question, plus a smattering of basic terms and technical knowledge–exactly the sort of overview this book seeks to offer. (The samplings can be found in the Resouces section of this book.)

Music History:

Prehistorical music: Early hominids and humans sang, hummed and whistled. Later, they made flutes and pipes out of bone and percussion instruments out of wood and rocks.

Later, folk, indigenous and traditional music developed.

Oldest known song: The oldest known song was written in Syria in cuneiform. Soon after that, the first known musical notation was made in the same script.

Music of ancient times: The bagpipes and a seven-holed flute was used elsewhere. The first bowed fiddle was discovered in India. The ancient Persians had an elaborate music culture.

Music of ancient Greece: The music made by ancient Greeks included: double pipes, the double-reed aulos, a plucked string instrument, the lyre, mixed-gender choruses and more. They used musical notation to record their songs. Music was used for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Boys were taught music starting at age six.

Music of ancient Rome: The music made by ancient Romans included: harps, lyres, trumpets

Music of the Middle Ages: In the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic music obtained the highest degree of complexity yet known. Musical progress was primarily made by Roman Catholics in monasteries and abbeys.

The chants that were composed devoutly followed the sacred Latin texts in a fashion that was tightly controlled and given only to the glory of God. Music was very much subservient to the words, without flourish or frivolity. It was possibly Pope Gregory (540-604 AD), who is credited with moving the progress of sacred music forward and developing what is now called Gregorian Chant, characterises by the haunting sound of the open, perfect fifth. the music remains distinct and vitally important as it moves away from plainchant towards polyphony. By 1500s music was a dominant art in taverns to cathedrals, practised by kings to paupers alike. It was during this extended period of music that the sound of music becomes increasingly familiar. This is partly due to the development of musical notation, much of which has survived, that allows us a window back into this fascinating time. A full gamut of wind, brass and percussion instruments accompanied the Medieval music, although it is still the human voice that dominates many of the compositions. Towards the close of the high medieval period, we find the emergence of instrumental pieces in their own right which in turn paves the way for many musical forms in the following period: The Renaissance. Before leaving this period of music it is important to mention the Troubadours and the Trouveres. These travelling storytellers and musicians covered vast distances on their journeys across Europe and further afield into Asia. They told stories, sung ballads and perhaps most importantly, brought with them influences from far and wide that seamlessly blended with the western musical cultures. … guitar possibly invented in medieval spain

The Renaissance (1450 – 1600) was a golden period in music history. Freed from the constraints of Medieval musical conventions the composers of the Renaissance forged a new way forward. Josquin des Prez is considered to be one of the early Renaissance composers to be a great master of the polyphonic style, often combining many voices to create elaborate musical textures. … the establishment of each recognisable family of instruments comprising, percussion, strings, woodwind and brass. Keyboard instruments also became increasingly common and the advent of the sonata followed in due course.


The baroque era: (1600-1760), houses some of the most famous composers and pieces that we have in Western Classical Music. It also sees some of the most important musical and instrumental developments. Italy, Germany, England and France continue from the Renaissance to dominate the musical landscape, each influencing the other with conventions and style…Baroque music began when the first operas (solo singers accompanied by orchestras) were written. During the Baroque era, multiple, simultaneous independent melody lines were used. Songswere richly ornamented. Baroque music was performed all over Europe by small ensembles including strings, brass, and woodwinds as well as for choirs and keyboard instruments (pipe organs, harpsichords, and clavichords). Opera was only sung in Italian. … G F Handel, Bach, Vivaldi and Purcell provide a substantial introduction to the music of this era. It is during this glittering span of time that Handel composes his oratorio “The Messiah”, Vivaldi the “Four Seasons”, Bach his six “Brandenburg Concertos” and the “48 Preludes and Fugues”, together with Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas”…the birth of the Violin…Concertos became ever more popular, giving instrumentalists the opportunity to display their technical and expressive powers…Vocal music continued to include the Mass but now also the Oratorio and Cantata alongside anthems and chorales. Opera appears in earnest in the Baroque period…the system of keys (major and minor), is accepted in favour of modality.

Baroque era composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.

The classical period: The musical era that followed the baroque era. Classical music was more voice-like, singable, more melodious and less contrasting. Opera began to be written in other languages. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…From the ornate Baroque composers of the Classical period moved away from the polyphonic towards the homophonic, writing music that was, on the surface of it at least, simple, sleek and measured…One key development is that of the Piano. The Baroque harpsichord is replaced by the early piano which was a more reliable and expressive instrument…The orchestra itself was firmly established…Opera flourished

The romantic period: Followed by the Romantic period, in which music became more expressivveand emotional. … As the Classical era closed Beethoven is the most notable composer who made such a huge contribution to the change into the Romantic Era (1780 – 1880). Beethoven’s immense genius shaped the next few decades with his substantial redefining of many of the established musical conventions of the Classical era. His work on Sonata form in his concertos, symphonies, string quartets and sonatas, goes almost unmatched by any other composer.

Romantic era composers: Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bellini and, later in the period, Johann Strauss II, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner.

as we push forward into the 20th Century the musical landscape takes a dramatic turn. –radio, records, other forms of conveying and recording music — synethesizers, electronic music — popular music with easily singable melodies, commonly with a chorus or refrain and verses

Music Terminology:

The four main vocal ranges, highest to lowest: Soprano, alto, tenor and bass

The four main types of music notes: Whole, half, quarter, eighth







The four types of instruments in an orchestra: Wind, strings, brass and percussion

Wind instruments:

Stringed instruments:

Brass instruments:


Percussion instruments:

Electric instruments:

Sound synthesizer:




What makes a song great:

Accent: Emphasis

Acoustic: Produced by instruments rather than by electric or electronic means

Adagio: At ease; play slowly

Aria: Self-contained piece for one voice, usually with orchestral accompaniment

Beat: The musical rhythm

Canto: Chrous; choral; chant

Coda: A tail or closing section appended to the piece


Crescendo: Growing; getting progressively louder

Encore: Again; a performer returning to the stage for an additional, unlisted piece

Flat: A lowering of a note’s pitch by a semitone

Sharp: A raising of a note’s pitch by a semitone

Forte: Strong; to be played loudly

Fugue: Literally, “flight”; a complex and highly regimental contrapuntal form in music; a piece is introduced in one voice, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as it progresses

Mezzo: half; used in combinations such as mezzo forte (half loud) and mezzo soprano

Octave: Interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency

Overture: An orchestral composition forming the prelude or introduction to an opera, oratorio, etc.

Reprise: Repeat a phrase or verse; return to the original theme

Staccato: Making each note brief and detached; opposite of legato

Legato: Drawing out each note

Tempo: Time; the overall speed of a piece of music

Timbre: The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments

Virtuoso: Someone who performs with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry

Two main determinants of speaker quality:

Sound synthesizer:




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