Revelations on the Nature of Music

By Lex, on Sun – June 13, 2004

The Kat has access to the Apple app “Garage Band” at school, allowing her to make and mix music right there on the machine. She loves it. School is over.

So now we have Garage Band at home.

She’s just finished fourth grade, and still filled with the magic of discovery – one of the best parts about being a parent is getting to relive that magic with your children. The things you have gotten so used to, that you forget about how really wonderful and full of adventure and discovery the world can be.

I took music in school of course – it just didn’t take. I’ve always appreciated music, but I’m a “user” rather than a “programmer,” in this as in so many things. So anyway, the Kat wanted to show me how to use Garage Band – the interface is relatively simple, and in no time at all (she’s ten, remember) I have put together a not entirely discreditable bit of music, complete with reggae drum beats, a grooving bass line and some funk rock guitar thrown in, just for kicks. No vocals of course, and no direct input MIDI either – just loops from the GB library. Good fun.

Without vocals though, it seemed an almost academic exercise – soulless.

But it started me to thinking about music, how it’s built, and in ways I do not think I’d ever had before. I discovered the component pieces behind the fused whole. I found myself listening to music on the radio (or on my iPod) with a new sense of technical appreciation. And then I discovered something surprising, and marvelous. Those of you who know and understand music may want to skip the rest of this – it is no doubt laughably obvious.

The most I knew of music was hymnals from church – the notes are all there on the page, the organ plays the notes and you sing in accompanah, accompa, accompaniment (flashback to “O Brother, Where Art Thou? “) to the organ.

But in rock music anyway, the music behind the vocals is often nearly generic – it sets a rhythm above which the singer’s voice weaves in and around, the vocal notes moving through the tonal range almost without reference to the underlying sound- the voice just keeps time to the beat.

Next time you hear a rock song on the radio, separate the singer’s voice in your head from the music underneath – it could almost stand alone.

Scrolling through my iPod for more examples, I found this to be less true for my female singers – Sarah McLachlan was my test model here – but still more true than not. It also seems that music accompanied by piano or violin tends to track more closely to the singer’s voice.

Forty-three years old, and I’m learning this for the first time. Because my ten year old girl likes Garage Band.

Kids are cool.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Other Stuff

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