“So what do you do in music class?”

I’m taking Music courses in the local Santa Monica College. It’s awesome! The teachers are really dedicated and into it, the students are so talented, lots of them playing since 4-5 years of age. I’m probably the worst performer in the bunch. Definitely the worst singer. “There’s a dying animal in the back” is a oft-occurring observation re: my singing skillz.

“So what do you do in music class?”

Parents, friends and family ask me this question. I start mumbling something incoherent as a response. We sing, we play chord sequences on the piano, we train our ears to recognize patterns (intervals, chords).

We also jot little dots on paper. This is to help us study music harmony in the style that Bach kinda invented. Or perfected.

Say you have a melody (like “Twinkle little star”). Imagine 4 people singing it at the same time, some lower, some higher. The four voices singing “Twin…” form a nice chord, hopefully. Then maybe a different chord when singing “…nkle” or “star”. Some of these chord sequences sound lovely. Especially when Bach did’em. We try to study the sequences that sound nice in an attempt to figure out why do they sound nice. And in an attempt to come up with our own. In studying we come up with rules of what sounds good, usually. Bach didn’t have these rules drilled into him, we don’t think. He did what sounded good to him. But we, as mini-Bachs, just taking off the ground, can use some rules. And maybe one day we’ll break’em!

We jot little dots on paper. Below is an example of my homework. The prof gives us the melody line and the chord sequence “recipe” and we fill-in the other 3 voices. Enjoy. (The prof found an error in the second assignment, can you?)

Some boring terms if you want to geek out, dig in, go off and head on into music theoryharmony:

  • The 4 voices, from the highest to the lowest, are called soprano (the melody), alto, tenor, bass. Top 2 usually sang by women, bottom two by men
  • Roman numeral analysis – staring into a piece of music for prolonged times and assigning numbers to its bits and pieces makes it easier to think of the piece on a higher meta level and not be bogged down with the actual notes
  • Figured bass – the chord “recipe” you saw in the video. Dates back from Baroque times. Lets the performers have the freedom to fill in the blanks like I did in the homework. Except, you know, live. It takes me hours. Maybe one day…

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