Monthly Archives: August 2013

AMusTCL – Topics for Section B

Trinity LogoTaken from the past papers (2009 sample, 2010 and 2011 so far), here are a list of the topics which have been covered by previous essay questions in Section B: Stylistic Development – Set Works.

Schubert Symphony no 5 in Bb major

  • Relationship to music which came before and after
  • Treatment of sonata form
  • Chamber-like nature
  • Hallmarks of the classical symphony
  • Markers of later symphonic form

Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms

  • Novelty of orchestral features
  • Use of orchestration to provide colour
  • The setting of the text
  • Innovation in the music
  • Neo-classicism
  • Latin as a language choice

For details of the full questions, the past papers can be purchased from Trinity. I have no insider knowledge, so this is by no means a guarantee that these topics will come up again. However, it should give an idea of what kind of areas to focus on in preparing.

I hope this is helpful if you are preparing for this exam. I’m hoping to get a resources post up soon with links to websites I’ve found useful.

Review: Histoire d’Amour

This is the first of two shows I’ll be reviewing from the Edinburgh International Festival.

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EIF RUN: 15/8-18/8; King’s Theatre; 19:30 [£12-£30]

Where and When: King’s Theatre; Thursday 15th August 2013; 7.30pm

The Show

This show is literally like nothing I have seen before. The stage is set up with a large screen, on which a projection is shown, as though the audience is going to watch a film. However, once the titles have rolled, a live actor appears on stage, surrounded by a projected animated set drawn in the style of a graphic novel. The story proceeds to unfurl with only two actors interacting and moving within their film surroundings. I think the closest things I have seen prior to this are films like Mary Poppins and Bednobs and Broomsticks which have portions of film with live actors in animated sections. This was, however, a far cry from Disney.

The plot, titled “A Love Story”, is really the story of an obsession, more than romance. The monochrome graphic novel projections, and the virtually monologue script create a Film Noir effect that only darkens an already deeply disturbing and twisted story that does not have a happy ending. I found myself spell-bound (or should that be curse-bound?) by the dark but uncomplicated plot, though I know for others it was really too depressing, or did not give enough background to the characters.

The Cast

There is nothing I can criticise about the cast. The chorography of this show is demanding and challenging, with sets flying around the characters. Neither Julián Marras nor Bernardita Montero put a foot out of place, using projected props with absolute precision. Julián Marras is virtually the only character to speak, as he narrates the story in a way which leaves you feeling that we are not so very far away from evil as we would hope. Although his character’s acts are horrific, his inner monologue shared with the audience gives a disturbing insight into how easy it is to justify such behaviour. Bernardita Montero plays the virtually silent victim, and the play raises some important challenges about the nature of consent, and the implications of silence.

Overall

This was a dark and disturbing play, which would not be suitable for all audiences (there is a substantial amount of strong and explicit language and depictions of sexual violence) – it is harrowing to watch even as it is gripping. I adored Teatrocinema’s innovative form of blended theatre, and this alone is worth seeing. Definitely one of the best things I’ve seen all festival season.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: The Okavango Macbeth

The second of the university performing groups on my list this season.

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FRINGE RUN: 12/8-18/8 @ 21:30; Spotlites @ Merchant’s Hall [£9.50/£8.50]

Who, Where and When: Edinburgh Studio Opera; Spotlites @ Merchant’s Hall; Wednesday 14th August 2013, 9.30pm

The Show

This is a new chamber opera (yes, there is such a thing) first produced in 2009 in Botswana and has been performed several times in Edinburgh. The plot takes the outline of the Shakespearian story of Macbeth and transplants the action into a troop of Baboons in the Okavango delta, Botswana. The work has lyrics by Alexander Macall Smith and music by Tom Cunningham.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show itself. The story is largely very well paced, although I missed the traditional final number in an opera that conveys either the moral or the aftermath. I think the omission of this element is deliberate given the subject matter, but I felt it was a little too abrupt.

The show uses actors to portray all the animals, with most of the cast playing the baboon trope from the middle of the first act to the end. There were some wonderful examples of physical movement which really gave life to the animals that were simply designated using stylised props or single garments. The three human characters were also excellently written with distinct characters.

There were a number of excellent solo arias, and some surprisingly catchy group numbers. Cunningham uses reoccurring themes throughout the show to bring a sense of continuity that was very effective. I would love to see a full orchestral arrangement of the score for this show; it is currently only produced for piano.

The Cast

Although this was a university student group, some of the vocal performances were exceptional. All the primatologists (Jerome Knox, Rachel Timney and Laura Reading) were excellent, capturing the mixture of comedy and sincerity needed. Gemma Summerfield was fantastic as Lady Macbeth. (As I suspected, from her performance, Ms Summerfield is an RCS graduate.)

I was initially unconvinced about Ben Tambling as Macbeth until he sung his solo aria in Act Four, when he was really able to show off the upper part of his range. Not only is he a promising tenor, but he could be a promising countertenor.

Some of the ensemble cast were substantially weaker, and I felt some more work could have been done on the style of the singing – there were a few voices that crept towards a musical theatre rather than operatic sound. However, the group numbers were very well balanced and the musical performance was otherwise virtually flawless.

Special mention must be made also of the physicality of the whole cast. Everyone played at least two animals (other than the primatologists) using their bodies as the primary means of communication. Hours of work must have gone into perfecting the movements which were all utterly convincinh. I retain a soft spot for the owl which reappeared to indicate night falling throughout the show.

Overall

Although this was clearly not to the standard of a professional production, the show itself was fantastic, and I hope that it becomes part of the canon of operatic repertoire. The young actors in this production all showed promise, and I hope that they go on to develop their talents further

Notable Songs

There are a number of good arias, but the opera is only published as a whole.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)

Review: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

A return to the world of musicals inbetween trips top two operas.

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FRINGE RUN: 13/8-26/8 @ 20:10; Paradise in Augustine’s; [£12.00/£10.00]

Who, Where and When: EUSOG; Paradise in Augustine’s; Tuesday 13th August 2013, 8.10pm

The Show

When the advert says “Tony Award Winning Show”, you should always beware that this can be entirely false advertising. In this case, it was the cast in a revival run that won the awards, and not, strictly speaking the show. Frankly, that’s no surprise. Although the script was peppered with the astute comedy you’d expect from a show based on the Peanuts comic strip, it has no real substance.

The show is constructed essentially as a sketch show linking reenactments of the comic strips by theme, and using songs where appropriate to move the action along. There is nothing really innovative, or exciting about the show, and the lack of central plot leaves nothing behind after the laughter has faded. Ostensibly, Charlie Brown goes on a journey to find out if he is a good man, but there is no real development of this theme in the show, and his journey just ends with Lucy telling him he is one before the curtain falls.

None of these failings in the show itself should detract from the fact that the original source material is excellent and as a result is not an unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours. However, the show leaves no lasting impression and is easily forgotten. It’s regular revival can be attributed primarily to the small cast and simple staging, as well as a nostalgia for Peanuts. If there was a deeper point or message it was too well hidden.

The Cast

The EUSOG cast were a mixed bunch. I’m given to understand some of the parts have been double cast, so the second cast might be stronger. I was also given no cast list, and the EUSOG website did not give one either.

The actor playing Charlie Brown did a sterling job in the opening as he responded to various voices off stage. This nuanced portrayal of the unconfident Charlie was sustained throughout the performance. The actor’s singing was good and could be heard clearly for the most part.

The two women taking the roles of Lucy and Sally also did a very good job of characterisation, and both sung well. Lucy’s tendency to sing deliberately off-key was both well executed and a tad grating by the end of the show (though I think this is how the part is normally played). Sally was by far the strongest vocalist to the point where her voice stood out in group numbers.

The other three, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy, were significantly weaker. All of them sung songs during which some or all of the words were completely lost because of their inability to project sufficiently for the space. Their acting and characterisation were good, but not enough to make up for many words being inaudible.

Overall

The show itself is light and enjoyable, but is by no means Broadway’s finest hour. More importantly, the cast suffered heavily from a lack of microphones on a very deep and acoustically dead stage. This was not the right venue for this show, and it demonstrates the importance of the getting the right relationship between the group, their show and the venue. If you are a fan of Peanuts or like that genre of humour, you will likely enjoy this show, but otherwise I found little to recommend it when there are many other much better shows around.

Notable Songs

  • The Kite – Charlie Brown (Medium)
  • Red Baron – Snoopy (Medium)
  • Suppertime – Snoopy (Medium-Hard)
  • New Philosophy – Sally (Medium)

Rating ♥ ♥

Review: Hansel and Gretel

The first opera of the Fringe this year.

hansel250

FRINGE RUN: 12/8-24/8 (not 18th) @ 17:45; Space @ Surgeon’s Hall (53); [£14.00/£11.00/£7.50]

Who, Where and When: Opera Holloway; Space @ Surgeon’s Hall; Tuesday 13th August 2013; 5.45pm

The Show

This production was a new translation of Humperdink’s German opera Hansel und Gretel. I always prefer to see operas in their original language as productions as translations never quite sound as good when sung, and in the age of supertitles, there’s really no need to sing in English. However, Hansel und Gretel is normally performed in English, and this translation (by the director Christopher Moon-Little) is certainly up-to-the-minute in its cultural references.  The staging too has been directed in a very contemporary way. For this reason, the show is likely to be very accessible to older children, teens and other opera novices.

The music for this show is excellent, and I enjoyed a number of the arias. Humperdink’s pacing has the most common opera problem (one that many films face too) – strange pacing. The introductory scene is very long, although there is a wide variety of music, and singers that lifts it. However, the climax is very Witch heavy and has little musical interest and variety or drama to sustain what is a very long section. This, as in many other operas, is made all the longer by the well-paced action throughout the middle section of the work.

I enjoyed this opera, and it is a great “starter” opera – rather like a sweet Rosé is often the introduction to the rich and varied world of wine. There is plenty to inspire the audience, and this creative new staging and translation. I’d have rather heard it in German, but then I’m a geek!

The Cast

There is much to admire in this cast – full of strong voices. The leads playing Hansel (Katie Coventry) and Gretel (Jenny Stafford) created a wonderfully believable sibling relationship switching between love and hate. I also really enjoyed the characterisation employed by Fiona Hymns as the Dew Fairy and Krystal MacMillan as the Sandman.

Although her vocal performance was excellent, I think there were some weaknesses in Sarah Denbee’s acting performance as the Witch. Unlike the other characters, I was concious of the fact she was acting – her performance lacked a depth of conviction which left her character a little shallow and fake.

The musicians were also excellent and deserve recognition for their flawless performance.

Notable Songs

  • Sandman’s Song (Medium-Hard)
  • Dew Fairy’s Song (Medium-Hard)
  • Mother’s Song (Hard)

Overall

Despite my dislike of operas in translation, I couldn’t help but enjoy the light-heartedness of this version of Hansel and Gretel.  Any weaknesses in performances by the cast were not sufficient to distract from the overall quality of the music, acting and singing. I imagine families will really enjoy this production, as will both opera lovers and opera virgins. If you’ve not been to see an opera before, I can’t recommend many better places to start than this production.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (5/5)

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Keyboard & Percussion Edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your keyboard and percussion instrument choices to help you out:

Piano handsKeyboards in general

+ Versatile skill with nearly all genres open to you
+ Teaches harmony and both bass and treble clef
– Not really a collaborative instrument, unless you want to accompany
– Mostly very expensive
– Rarely able to take and play your own instrument at any venue


PianoPiano – Really, it needs no introduction. The Pianoforte, child of the classical age, has become central to Western music.

+ Most versatile instrument around
+ Often need some piano skills for higher level musical study
+ Makes learning theory much easier as uses bass and treble clef and introduces harmony
o Digital pianos have the facility to plug in headphones
– Very slow to start with, taking a long time to get to Grade 1
– Complicated as requires multiple notes to be played together


Organ – Technically a woodwind instrument, the organ one of the older keyboard instruments usually found inhabiting churches and concert halls.

+ Amazing sounding instrument with fantastic repertoire
+ Great employment opportunities in churches as organists are thin on the ground
– Very difficult to get going as a beginner, some teachers will only take students with piano experience
– Usually have to practice in a church, as small home electronic organs are expensive


KeyboardKeyboard – The cool cousin of the piano, keyboards generally make use of a range of electronic synthesising functions as well as playing the keys.

+ Easier to play than the piano
+ Quicker to access popular repertoire
+ Cheaper than a piano to buy
– Doesn’t give the depth of skills that piano lessons will
– Limited range of styles


Percussion

 

Percussion in General

+ Great for anyone with anger or frustration problems
+ Some can be a really good workout
– Not cheap to buy
– Very noisy for the neighbours


Drum Kit – The zenith of percussion’s evolution – a collection of things to hit that all make sounds that work together

+ Great for getting rid of frustration
+ Really good workout
+ Widely used in popular music
o Moderately expensive at £280 upwards
– Where notation is used, it’s usually kit notation, rather than standard staff notation
– Very noisy, even with pads, and electric kits are a poor substitute for regular practice with a full acoustic kid
– Not remotely melodic, so can be dull to practice
– Not very portable, so often have to use what’s at the venue


TimpaniTimpani & Orchestral Percussion – A bit of a hotch-potch category, as orchestral percussionists usually have to be able to play everything from the timpani to the triangle, sleighbells to cannons (in the 1812 Overture, anyway…)

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ great for anyone who wants variety
o although individual items may be cheap, it’s not cheap to build up a collection
– often very dull in orchestral music
– limited solo repertoire
– sometimes uses unconventional notation
– timpani are difficult to have and store at home
– can be hard to find a teacher


GlockenspielTuned Percussion – think glockenspiel, xylophone and the like.

+ hardly anyone plays
+ more interesting than most other kinds of percussion
+ reasonably good number of solo parts and pieces
o each one is not too expensive, but buying several can add up
– can be hard to find a teacher


 

So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the keyboard and percussion family. There are, of course, many other keyboards such as the harpsichord, clavichord and more, but most people who move into early keyboard instruments start out on the piano. Percussion is almost unlimited, but most people train in either kit or orchestral.

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Woodwind] ♦ [Strings] ♦ [Brass] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

This was first of a couple of American High School Theatre productions I’m planning to see over the festival. I’m particularly keen to see this show as a number of the songs are listed in the LCM Musical Theatre Exam suggested repertoire.

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FRINGE RUN: 5,6,8&9/8 @ Various; Church Hill Theatre (137); [£5]

Who, Where and When: American High School Theatre; Church Hill Theatre; Friday 9th August 2013, 8.15pm

The Show

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is not a light hearted show. It’s a show about AIDS, and it documents the stories of various victims of the disease. This isn’t a show with a plot – it bears more relation to a cabaret than even a “concept musical”. Songs break up a series of monologues telling the tale of AIDS victims. We start with the “classic” victims – the gay man, the prostitute. Throughout the show, we also see victims of blood transfusions, and maternal transmissions.

What is most striking about this show is the lyrical nature of the monologues. They have an almost Shakespearian quality with very rhythmic language, and a smattering of rhymes. I’d be keen to see a printed copy of the book just to know how the speeches were laid out on the page. In terms of performance, the style of the language made the speeches just stylised enough to stop this show just being a misery-fest which would cause the audience to shut down rather than engage with the issues.

The songs were catchy, and emotive. All of them work as stand-alone songs, although “My Brother Lives in San Francisco” is particularly closely related to the preceeding monologue. I liked some of the songs more than others, but all of them worked really well to lift the show without making light of a serious topic.

I don’t know if the staging of this production was new, or similar to the original version, but the use of projected images was excellent and the dancers were fantastic.

The Cast

The cast of this production were a mixed bag. Some of them were excellent. I particularly loved the group performing “My Brother Lived in San Francisco” – the song almost moved me to tears. Overall, the singers were good, but these are big songs, and I felt the show probably needed more mature voices to really bring out the full potential of many of the songs, such as the rootsy and gospel-esque “Angels, Punks and Raging Queens”. The limited band (just a piano) was also not enough to carry some of the more upbeat numbers such as “Celebrate”.

There was also a very variable quality in the acting. This was a very young cast, and none of them would be old enough to remember the AIDS crisis (in fact, I suspect the show itself is older than most of the cast). The show is full of difficult and complicated emotions, and although the actors all did admirably, many of them were unable to capture the full depth of the speeches. An older cast would likely have been able to tackle this work more convincingly. Some performers were excellent, though tellingly those were the ones given more light-hearted sections.

The finale number was very well staged, with the cast coming into the audience and giving everyone red ribbons, and shaking all our hands to thank us for supporting those who live with AIDS. A retiring collection was made for AIDS charities, and I believe they were able to give at least £4500 from the donations and ticket sale profits.

Notable Songs

  • Angels, Punks and Raging Queens – Female (Medium)
  • And the Rain Keeps Falling Down – Male (Medium)
  • My Brother Lives in San Fransisco – Female (Medium-Hard)

Overall

I loved the show itself, and I am keen to get hold of what music and script that I can as it’s a fantastic resource. However, I’m not sure the cast were really able to tackle the full depth and complexity of the show – something that is highlighted by the fact that the dancers were the best performers by far.

However, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in 1989 and 1990 when this show was first performed in the US. With a full band, and professional actors, it must have been heart-wrenching and challenging. I hope that this show and its songs continue to raise awareness of AIDS long into the future. We may be able to manage the condition in the Western world, but people still, ultimately, die of AIDS.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ [Show 5, Cast 3]


A Final Note…

For more information about AIDS and support for anyone living with AIDS and HIV, or caring for someone, contact Waverley Care. This performance was also supporting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, who work with the theatre community in the US to help raise awareness and provide support.

Essential Practice Kit for Singers

Singing is simple in one way – our voices are free and always with us, but that doesn’t make it easy to practice singing. Here’s a run down of the key things I use to help me get the most out of my singing practice time:

Piano/Keyboard – Having a piano or keyboard isn’t vital for learning to sing, but something that can give you accurate pitch, and you can pick out the melody of your songs on is important. Smart phone and tablet piano apps can be effective for starting notes, but aren’t always easy to play with accurate rhythm, so it’s worth investing in a cheap keyboard if you’re planning on taking singing lessons long term. You can access a virtual piano here.

Music StandMusic Stand – A decent quality music stand is really useful for singers because it frees up your hands and body. Holding a book can be tiring and affects posture. By setting the stand at about “boob height” and resting the book on it, you can start to move more freely even when you’ve not memorised the words. I also find that at the stage when I’m weaning myself off the book, a stand means I can check back, but don’t have to focus on the book in the way I feel I have to when I’m holding it in my hands.

Camera with HQ Video function – It took me a long time to come round to the concept of recording myself, but now I’ve tried it (embarrassing though it is) it’s really useful. For all singers, the ability to video your posture and breathing is really useful as it gives you feedback you can’t get otherwise. A decent camera is also useful for musical theatre singers as it gives you an idea of how your physical movement looks. If you don’t have a bookshelf at a suitable height, you may wish to invest in a cheap tripod, or make use of the music stand listed above. A phone video camera should be sufficient, but the better the recording quality, the more useful the videoing process is.

Good quality audio recorder – many laptops and tablets have a voice recorder built in, but you will need to test your existing equipment.  Smart phones usually don’t have microphones powerful enough, so you’ll get a tinny recording. Investing in a decent microphone will be worth the money as you’ll get a better idea of how you sound. You don’t need to sing into it, just set it up in the room and go.

Audio Recording Software – if you’re recording onto a laptop or desktop, you’ll need some software to record into. I can highly recommend the free and open source programme Audacity, which will allow you to record into it. You can even record yourself over a backing track if you use headphones. Very snazzy, very useful.

Music Notation Software – If you can’t play the piano, notation software is vital. By entering the music in, you can get the software to play it back to you. It’s really useful for getting tricky rhythms right. The really dedicated can also enter in the accompaniment and export it as an mp3 to create a backing track. Only for the insane and/or desperate, though. Musescore is highly recommended and free to download for all platforms. Noteflight is web-based programme.

Audio Playing Software – almost everything electrical can do this now, but you want to find something that’ll allow you to create playlists. I keep a playlist of all the backing tracks for songs I’m working on right now.

MP3 Player/iPod – This is a great way to maximise your time if you’re a busy person. I regularly load on recordings of songs I’m learning and listen to them when I’m out and about. Right before an exam, I will sometimes put them on as I’m falling asleep too. This really helps with the memorisation process, but it’s important not to mimic the person singing.

Notebook and PenNotebook, loose leaf lined paper, manuscript paper and a pen – I keep a notebook where I practice, and I try to jot down what I do in it so I keep track. You might like to use an app, or design your own printable record sheets. You can also buy preprinted practice books from music shops. Experiment and find out what works for you, but do find a way of keeping track of issues so you can go back to your teacher at your next lesson and ask for help with the problems. I use loose leaf paper for writing out lyrics by hand to memorise them, and sometimes I do the same with melodies on the manuscript paper.

2B pencil – a pencil is vital for making notes and annotations on music, and a 2B pencil is soft enough to rub out easily when you no longer need the notes.

Timer – if you’re pushed for time, or struggling to be motivated, setting the timer and just doing 10 or 15 minutes can make it much easier. Having the ability to set an alarm or timer can also stop you getting overly involved in your music and wondering where the time has gone (yes, it does happen…!)

Metronome – not often of use to a singer, but something that’ll give you a regular click at a speed you set can be useful for practicing passages with the right rhythm but at a slower speed. You can get metronome apps, or use this one for free online.

Do you use any of these things? Or do you have any things you use that aren’t on this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause

 

A bumper Friday Favourites this week, as I was off on holiday enjoying the fringe last week. So settle down with a cuppa and enjoy.

For my 2013 Fringe reviews, click here

 

One Super Strategy for Teaching Piano To Children With Autism, ADHD or Behavioral Problems (Teach Piano Today) – A super simple idea for any pupil with a short attention span.

Some Thoughts on Mental Tension (Practicing the Piano) – Graham Fitch muses on how important our mindset is in music practice.

Music Keys Matching Worksheets & More (Color in my Piano) – Amazing idea for anyone dealing with scales in their music practice. I’m off to print some of these for my own piano practice.

Composer of the Week at 70 (BBC Radio 3) – The best music programme around has been going for 70 years this year. If you’ve not started listening in at 12:30 or 18:30, or getting the podcasts, you’re missing out!

Why Market When I Don’t Need New Students? (Compose Create) – Not actually a post about marketing, but instead a fabulous infographic about what effect music has on the brain.

An Inefficient Form of Entertainment (La Dona’s Music Studio) – Some interesting thoughts on the future of classical concerts.

Increasing Tempo in Practice (Musician’s Way) – Seven ideas to help learn to play fast music at speed.

How to Learn Jazz Standards at the Piano (Jazz Advice) – Even if you don’t play the piano, this contains some great advice about learning music by ear and how to deconstruct it.

Are Great Performers as Cool and Collected on Stage as They Appear? (Bulletproof Musician) – Some important thoughts on how valuable mental training is for musicians and performers.

6 Ways to Introduce Children and Babies to Music Making… (Classical Mel) – In honour of HRH Prince George, Classical Mel lists of some fab tips for music making with young children.

5 Music Theory Tips Part 1 (Music Teacher’s Helper) – Five really useful pointers for anyone tackling a music theory exam.

Do stage actors mumble too much? (Guardian Theatre Blog) – In the modern age, good diction is going out of fashion, but Lyn Gardner thinks it shouldn’t be doing so on stage.

Interval Reference Songs You’ve Actually Heard Of (Easy Ear Training) – Yes, this is a post about where different intervals appear in pop songs – how awesome is that?

Hearing and Seeing Piano Patterns from the Start (Heidi’s Piano Studio) – Some lovely ideas for helping really young kids get to grips with the piano.

Edinburgh 2013: Why Do We Clap in the Theatre? (Guardian Theatre Blog) – Lyn Gardner muses on the relationship (or lack thereof) between clapping and theatrical quality.

Back Up! (Practicing the Piano) – A fantastic post on the idea of starting at the end of a piece and working backwards. This is a really useful tip if you’re bored of practicing in the conventional way or are struggling with a particular song.

10 Non-Musical Skills that Children can Learn from Piano Lessons (Music Matters) – Music’s good for more than just being able to play an instrument – it develops all kinds of important skills!

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Brass Edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your brass instrument choices to help you out:

Brass-instrumentsBrass in general

+ Wide range of styles
+ Less popular than other woodwind, and so more opportunities for collaboration
+ Less ‘mechanical’ than other woodwind as they’re essentially just a tube
– Difficult to get to the stage of really playing melodies
– Fingering on all instruments is difficult
– Can be quite grim due to all the spit
– All are very expensive


TrumpetTrumpet – The highest pitched brass instrument, the trumpet can be heard everywhere from the Messiah to sounding the Last Post

+ Regularly gets to play the tune so a great selection of music
+ At the cheaper end of brass instruments at around £200-300
+ Can be used with a mute for practicing so less awful for the neighbours
– Very difficult to get going as a beginner
– Loudest instrument in the orchestra requiring accuracy and control
– Transposing instrument


Trombone – For the more adventurous, the trombone uses a slider to change pitch.

+ It slides in a way the vast majority of instruments just can’t.
+ Not a transposing instrument
+ cheaper than other brass instruments at £200-£300
o Uses bass clef
– Much larger than some other brass instruments, awkward to carry, and gets in the way of the music/other instruments/everything when playing
– Not a very interesting role in orchestras – lots of 80 bars rest…


French HornFrench Horn – Works in a similar fashion to the trumpet, but not as high in pitch. Usually provides orchestral harmony.

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ also offers a wide range of styles, though limited solo music
– often very dull in orchestral music
– limited solo repertoire
– transposing instrument
– not cheap at all, cost is easily £500 upwards


Tuba

Tuba – the big Daddy of the brass instruments, with a sound that could probably cause a mild earthquake

+ hardly anyone plays
+ not a transposing instrument
o uses bass clef
– very expensive, costing around £1000 plus
– very little solo music, and usually very dull bass parts or long rest periods


 

So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the brass family. There are, of course, many other options which include the didgeridoo, and the cornet, but most other brass instruments are very similar to one or more of the above.

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Woodwind] ♦ [Strings] ♦ [Other] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]