Sound and silence

Now that we have a brief definition of music as art, its origins and uses, it's time to talk about its parts (or ingredients, if you want), what composes it. Let's start with sound and silence.

Sounds are probably the most obvious part of music, but let's define them because it will make it more useful and interesting. Sounds are vibrations which are transmitted through the air and reach our ears to be processed by our brains. There are two kinds of sounds, in general —pleasant and unpleasant. We call the pleasant ones sounds, and we use some of them, the musical notes, in music. We call the unpleasant ones noise, and we do not like them because of something which can be explained in the world of physics. If you are curious, read why some are noise here.

Yet silence is very important in music as well, as it supplements the sounds in the song, and, more often than not, provides moments of intense expression. Every musician and composer knows how to use both sound and silence, and their combination is often the secret to a great song.

Anyway, sound and silence are not all that is out there. Music has at least three more components: these are melody, rhythm, and harmony.

In short, a melody is the sequence of sounds a song has, and which makes it unique. There might be other definitions, but I believe this is the one that adapts best to what really happens. Melodies make songs so unique that you can easily tell when someone grabs a section of another person's song and copies it. (Remember Vanilla Ice's "Ice, ice, baby" and then compare it with "Under Pressure", by Queen, to get a perfect example.) Even if you change a song's rhythm completely, if you don't change the melody you will just get a new version of the same song, usually known as 'covers'.

Moving on, rhythm is something a song cannot live without. It is what gives life to a song, what defines it. In music, rhythm often depends on percussion, but not always. Sometimes the rhythm changes more than once during a song —something frequent in Latin American music. This reminds us that music is an art, and despite all its rules, there is a lot of room for creativity in it.

Finally, we have harmony. If you want a definition, it is the combination of different sounds into one single, pleasant, song; but when time comes to put it into practice, it is not easy at all. When a composer works in the harmony of a song, he needs to imagine what note the flute needs to play to match beautifully with the sounds the harp, violin, piano and drums are doing at that very moment as well; and not just the note, but also its strength and intensity. Maybe this is why Beethoven's or Bach's or Mozart's works are so admirable. What they did is extremely hard to achieve. It's so hard that for recorded music today, it is easier to record each instrument separately and then mix the sounds in a computer. That way there is less need to go through hours and hours of rehearsal to have musicians play perfectly before recording.

Summing up, music is always composed of individual sounds which run rhythmically one after the other (melody) and at the same time as others (harmony) in a continuous succession which, when completed, is called a song. Songs are written using a special notation sheet called a score, and following a few rules we will later see how they are applied to a staff.

Now let's talk about the musical notes now.

Continue with... Musical notes

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