April Lab and Music Composition

This month’s lab theme is the history of guitar. Today’s modern flat-top acoustic guitars have had a similar design for a couple centuries, but similar instruments – the European lute and the Arabic oud- can be traced back to ancient times. The word guitar comes from the Greek word kithara, which mythology attributes to the god Hermes creating from a tortoise shell.

The guitar became closer to what we see today in the 1790s for design. Steel strings and the flat top design, along with a specific number of strings (6) and frets along the neck, has become the modern instrument we recognize. All of these details, along with the shape of the body and neck, have defined the music that is created on the guitar and how we play it. Even adding a pick and a pick guard have changed the sound that we get from the guitar. Learn more in the music history station in the lab!

April’s Music Composition theme is the Blues – April showers bring May flowers! Bring your bit of the blues to life in the composition station. Here are a couple songs to get you in the mood:

There are also a few advanced challenges – have fun and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it.

Charlie Puth and Commentary

In this video, Charlie Puth is breaking down how he wrote his hit song, “Attention”. I have always been a HUGE fan of Charlie Puth and his music. I came across this video the other day and was really intrigued by his song writing process. Being classically trained, I am constantly looking at the sheet music and putting all my focus in that. Even when I wrote compositions during music school, it would be on sheet music. Charlie thinks outside of the box. He puts all of his music on his phone in his voice notes app when he has a song idea. What was interesting about this video is how he goes through his song writing process, by playing, mixing and layering different parts together into the final product. Charlie uses his ears and knowledge of different musical genres and backgrounds into his pop music and as he says, “likes to trick people into what they are hearing”. I love seeing what songs start out as and how they grow into the final product.

I thought about using this a couple of different ways. First, I wanted to remind myself to make sure my students know where different ideas in music come from as we are learning them (which I normally do, but this is important!). I also want them to play different genres of music so they have that knowledge. Secondly, I wanted to show them alternatives to writing music. Not everyone writes it down on sheet music. This also teaches how important it is to know your scales, intervals, and to use your ear, whether you are reading sheet music or if you are improvising or composing. I would like to implement more ear training into my lessons for my students.

– Ms. Kristen Hyatt

New and Old Violins

Have you heard that older violins are better? Or modern ones? There is no perfect instrument out there, despite all the known ideas out there.

According to MTMS instructor Nitin Sharma, age is one consideration of a stringed instrument’s sound. Vibrations of the wood cause the grain to loosen and expand over time. “Matured” instruments can sound so full and loud, but this is only true of a well-loved instrument, not one that is simply displayed.

The understanding is that this is all stringed instruments, including guitars and piano. There is a limit to how much this changes the sound, and the limits are more about the craftsmanship of the instrument and the quality of the wood used to create it. Some very cheap instruments have particleboard, MDF, or plywood, which is terrible due to the way those pieces have been constructed without a uniform wood grain.

Nitin’s teacher in college had a real enthusiasm for violins. “t least once a month he would come in with a different violin, different bow, or different strings and ask me how I perceived his playing. It really teaches you a lot about your instrument when you experiment with it like that and I would suggest, if you play any sort of string instrument, to start experimenting with different strings! It can make a world of difference in your sound. So many people just go with the most popular brand, like Ernie Ball for guitars or Dominant for Violins, but there are so many options out there that can really transform your instrument.”

Stringed instrument users – have you changed your strings? Have you looked into a different brand? I might change my guitar strings today, and try a brand I haven’t before.

violin, student