Music Festivals in Manitoba

Manitoba is a province dedicated to culture and music; Winnipeg is known as a city of festivals. Here at Academy Music, we don’t just strive to be a Winnipeg music school; we strive to support music in our province in as many ways as possible. We know that musicians are music lovers, first, and that inspiration will often strike when listening to gorgeous music played by someone else. Put all of this together, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t create a list of some of Manitoba’s most exciting music festivals.

The Big Ones

CountryFest – Dauphin, MB (June 27-30, 2019): One of Manitoba’s most well-known music festivals, CountryFest is a celebration of all things country. This festival features A-list international acts as well as independant and local acts, all of whom celebrate country music in its many forms. From bluegrass and outlaw to gospel and pop country, this legendary event has something for country fans of all stripes. There’s camping passes, too, so you can spend the whole weekend in the midst of other country lovers; it can get pretty rowdy, so the campsite probably isn’t the place for kids, but all in all it’s an extraordinarily good time.

Folk Fest – Bird’s Hill Park, MB (July 11-14, 2019): From it’s humble origins as a celebration of Winnipeg’s Centennial, Folk Fest has gone on to become one of Manitoba’s biggest celebrations of music. While the focus is still folk, recent years have seen an influx of groups from all genres – indie rock, electronic, rap, and more can all be found. There are a myriad of stages and shows playing all weekend long, workshops where you can learn to play music, and collaborative jams – the environment is a music lover’s paradise. There’s weekend camping, too, which is divided into two campgrounds – Festival and Quiet. The Festival Campground can get pretty extreme, so it’s probably not best for children; the campground experience is pretty surreal (you’ll know what I mean when you go).

JazzFest – Winnipeg, MB (June 18-23, 2019): Those who said that jazz is dead tolled the bell far too early; jazz is alive and breathing, and the 30th anniversary of JazzFest is shaping up to be one of the best yet. The best part of JazzFest? Even if you don’t have any money, you can catch incredible live acts at The Cube in the Exchange District; there are also paid shows you can go to in venues around the city. There’s a lot of energy that went into this year’s festival, from a special venue set up by the folks who do RAW: Almond, to shows in our very own Museum for Human Rights. As usual, JazzFest will feature internationally acclaimed acts, as well as independant and local jazz musicians who are ready to break onto the scene.

MEME – Winnipeg, MB (TBA, 2019): Memes mean many things, to many people, but this MEME is the Manitoba Electronic Music Expo. The event usually takes place in August, and it focuses on electronic music of all kinds, from techno to trip-hop. They offer a lot of free shows at the Cube in the Exchange, so if you feel like dancing the night away you’ll be in good company; there are also shows you can pay for at a variety of different venues. Well-known acts from around the world, local producers with a fresh beat – an eclectic and exciting array of electronic musicians show up every year for the MEME experience.

Home Grown

Rainbow Trout Music Festival – St. Malo, MB (August 16-18, 2019): Started by a few friends who wanted to see if a power generator could elevate their camping experiences near a watering hole at an abandoned quarry, the RTMF is entirely volunteer run, and dedicated to showcasing local musicians. The festival is focused on inclusivity, creating a welcoming environment for anyone who loves swimming, camping, music, and people. Their focus on local artists means you’ll hear music of all genres at the festival, much of which will be cutting edge. As with all campground experiences, you may not want to bring your young kids; things tend to go pretty late!

Real Love Summer Fest – Teulon, MB (July 26-28, 2019): Real Love are a local concert promoter focused on accessibility and compassion – they even offer free tickets to shows for those who can’t afford them! Their Summer Fest in Teulon showcases independent artists of all stripes, from Manitoba and abroad. There’s camping, there’s local vendors providing food for people with all types of diets, there’s music you probably haven’t heard and are sure to love in an environment that fosters community.

Harvest Sun Music Fest – Kelwood, MB (August 16-18, 2019): Their tagline “Family. Community. Sustainability.” tells you much of what you want to know about this beautiful festival in Kelwood. Local musicians, local merchants, and locally-sourced and grown food; this festival is all about reaping the wonderful harvest of Manitoba’s vibrant music and agricultural scene. The festival has camping, and it’s great for kids and parents alike.

Harvest Moon Festival – Clearwater, MB (TBA, 2019): When there’s a festival for the Sun, there’s gotta be one for the Moon, too! This festival focuses on uniting the rural and urban populations of Manitoba, showcasing local farmers, growers and makers, as well as local musicians! The Festival generally takes place in September, and camping is available – this is one of the last outdoor festivals of the year, so take advantage of the nice fall weather and enjoy good food, good music and good people!

With so many incredible music festivals in Manitoba, it’s almost to know about all of them. Have a music festival you want us to add to the list? Get in touch with us, and we’ll make sure it appears here; we want everyone to be able to enjoy the incredible sounds of our city and province.

Famous Winnipeg Musicians

Winnipeg has had an outsized effect on the music world considering our population. From classic rock to hardcore underground metal, Winnipeg musicians have had substantial influence across genres and eras. We want to help you carry the torch of these greats; after all, a Winnipeg music school should pay tribute to the amazing people from the city we live in. We’ll go through some well known classic, some more obscure, experimental influencers and some exciting up-and-comers!

The Legends

These are the folks from Winnipeg we know you know – if you don’t know, you’re about to have some amazing listening experiences.

Neil Young: If you don’t know Neil Young yet, it’s time to pick up After the Gold Rush and give it a listen. Folks often think of Mr. Young as a folk musician, but he’s also known as the Godfather of Grunge – if you want to understand why, listen to the heavily distorted guitars on “Southern Man”, hear his voice strain as he almost shouts at the end of the verses going into the guitar solo. His influence on folk and modern music can’t be understated; read this CBC article on his impact on other Canadian artists for a small glimpse into his overall effect on modern songwriting. Young lived in Winnipeg during his formative years as a teenager and young singer-songwriter.

The Guess Who: You’ve probably heard “American Woman” and “These Eyes” enough times that just reading the titles got them stuck in your head. The Guess Who, and their spinoff, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, produced hit after hit, canonized in the upper echelons of the classic rock hierarchy. Listen to “Undun” for a deeper cut by these legends; its hypnotic repetition of the phrase “she’s come undone” over subtly shifting instrumentals will make you consider songs in terms of the mood they set instead of their progression.

The Left-Fielders

These two don’t play baseball for a living, but they do make music from out of left-field; they’ve left an indelible mark on experimental and cutting edge musicians around the world, even though you might not have heard of them.

Venetian Snares: Aaron Funk, better known as Venetian Snares, is probably not the most willing representative of the city; after all, he did release an album called “Winnipeg is a Frozen ****hole”, a sentiment we can probably all commiserate with when it’s -50 outside. Nonetheless, his music is among the most experimental you can find, and he’s a prolific composer, having released dozens of EPs and LPs. His style is characterized by fast, odd-time signature beats and strange samples; he’s incredibly influential in the world of breakcore and its derivatives in electronic music.

KEN Mode: This three-piece has made some of the most pummeling, aggressive music you’ve ever heard in your life; merging hardcore punk, sludge metal and noise to create visceral, dissonant music you can bang your head to. This album certainly isn’t for everyone; as you might have guessed from the styles they draw from, it can have a misanthropic feel, with curt, shouted vocals and menacing bass. For those who enjoy them, though, there’s nothing quite like KEN Mode’s aggressive, complex music.

Up-and-Comers

These bands haven’t achieved the fame, notoriety or influence of the other members of our list – yet. We highly recommend keeping an eye on them, because we expect great things to come; they’re really good bands.

Royal Canoe: This Winnipeg indie pop band is here to show that music can be experimental and catchy. Their tunes will get stuck in your head for days, but the subtle nuances – a synth note here, a bit of distortion there – will leave you bewildered at their compositional abilities. Their beats can sometimes feel like they’re still buffering, but you’ll still be tapping your feet; it’s a strange feeling, but one we’re sure you’ll appreciate.

Red Moon Road: Folk rock is far from dead: it’s living and breathing in this three piece band that will use any acoustic instruments they can get their hands on to create breathtaking songs that you’ll want to take with you down country roads. Between their imaginative, evocative storytelling and their layered, thoughtful songwriting, we’re sure you’ll be hooked.

There are so, so many more Winnipeg musicians; there’s just not enough room to talk about them all. As you learn more about playing, reading and composing music, you too might join the echelons of great musicians from our great city; we hope you will.

Winnipeg In-Home Music Tuition Service Successfully Diverting Children Away From Games Consoles

Winnipeg Canada – Academy Music, a home tuition service that inspires and educates children about the joys of playing a musical instrument is pleased to announce that they are receiving a lot of praise from parents who are thrilled with their children’s musical progress. But perhaps just as importantly, the highly talented and passionate team of teachers are not only teaching the children how to play an instrument, they are also helping them to develop a passion for music.

For many teenagers, their life is focused almost entirely on the internet, or endlessly playing computer game consoles, and for some parents, this is a concern. Although computer games have been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, the benefits are minimal compared to the skills acquired from learning how to play a musical instrument.

Academy Music inspires a passion and confidence in their students, which encourages them to work hard, learn discipline, appreciate and enjoy the music. Many parents of the children have commented that when given a choice their children are increasingly choosing to practice on their musical instrument of choice, in preference to playing the games console.

“Learning how to play a musical instrument is a skill that will stay with you for a lifetime,” said Shawn Coughlin of Academy Music. “All of our instructors are passionate about music, and the young people understand this, and it becomes infectious. For us it is not just about teaching them how to play a musical instrument; it is about learning discipline, focus, and determination. We are confident that these skills, once learned will not only help them to play their instrument of choice but will also benefit them at exam time and into their chosen career. The parents of the children we teach are delighted with the transformation of their child, and happy that they are choosing not to spend as much time playing computer games.”

Shawn Coughlin founded the Academy of Music in 1990. Having taught himself already for many years in a variety of settings, Shawn saw a need for in-home lessons and started in September of 1990 offering in-home piano and guitar lessons. Since then, the company has grown to include voice, violin & drum lessons! Shawn is classically trained going through the Royal Conservatory Piano program and is well versed in jazz and contemporary styles. He started teaching piano at the age of 16 and has never stopped. He is a former junior high and high school band teacher, and besides teaching piano, Shawn is a professional pianist, accompanist, composer, church music director & piano tuner-technician. For more information about the company and the various services that they provide, visit their website at https://www.academymusic.ca

How Miles Davis Changed Music (Twice)

You know that we offer trumpet lessons in Winnipeg here at Academy Music – but did you know we offer history lessons as well? Okay, we don’t really offer history lessons, but this post will serve as a history lesson and a music lesson rolled into one. You’re going to learn about theory, about jazz, and about new modes of thinking – you’re going to learn how Miles Davis changed music.

Bopped Out

For those of you who don’t know who Miles Davis is: he’s probably the most famous jazz trumpeter, and one of the most famous, most acclaimed, most revered jazz musicians of all time. His work spans decades, and he was influential in pretty much every one. For quite some time in the 40s and 50s, he was playing a hard and fast style of jazz known as bebop; it was characterized by quick chord changes and improvisation. Having played bebop for so long, Davis grew tired of what he saw as a formulaic approach – when you can only improvise over a few chords that repeat, it can start to feel pretty rigid. He sought a new way of conceptualizing jazz composition, and he helped it with the help of his friend George Russell, a music theorist.

Modes of Thinking

To understand George Russell’s influence, you first have to understand modes. Modes are a type of scale that’s described by the intervals between the notes of the scale. That’s a bit difficult to understand without some visual analysis, so let’s take a look at the Ionian mode. Start at any given note, and follow this sequence: T-T-S-T-T-T-S, where T means you go up one tone and S means you go up one semitone (see our article on tones and semitones if you don’t know what this means). After playing this mode you might notice – hey, that’s a major scale! That means you’ve done it right. There’s a plethora of other modes, all defined by tone-semitone relationships. The most widely used in Western music are:

Ionian: T-T-S-T-T-T-S

Dorian: T-S-T-T-T-S-T

Phrygian: S-T-T-T-S-T-T

Lydian: T-T-T-S-T-T-S

Mixolydian: T-T-S-T-T-S-T

Aeolian: T-S-T-T-S-T-T

Locrian: S-T-T-S-T-T-T

 

Kind of Blue

We normally think of music in terms of tones; we know what chord is being played, what chord is going to be played, and how to solo over top of a given chord with the knowledge of what the next chord is going to be. One chord is home, and all the other chords serve to get us back home; this framework is extraordinarily useful, but you can see how Miles Davis would have found it limiting. What George Russell brought to the table was the idea of thinking in modes; instead of having several chords, one of which is home, you could have very slow chord changes, perhaps just alternating between two chords, but play in the same mode over both chords. The song “So What”, featured on Davis’ album Kind of Blue, is a great example of this; it modulates between D Dorian and E flat Dorian, but the simple chord changes allow the soloists to paint with a complex modal palette. You can practice this yourself; create scales using the same mode for two different notes, and transition between the two. This is even better if you have a partner to play the chords for you.

In a Silent Way

Never one to settle into routine, Davis changed the game again with his seminal album, In a Silent Way. This is considered to be one of the first jazz fusion albums; it abandoned many of the stylistic notions about the instruments that could be heard in jazz, incorporating electric guitars and pianos. This was seen by some as Davis’ “going electric” moment, and it was received in a manner not dissimilar from Dylan’s; many of the era’s puritans were not happy the jazz giant had gone “rock”. Of course, In a Silent Way is not really a rock album – it’s a jazz fusion album, and any aspiring trumpeters who don’t think they can jam with their rockist electric guitar playing friends should give it a listen.

Davis’ life and work show that music is not a stagnant, tightly defined thing; the more open minded you are about what you can play and what your music can be, the more innovative and creative you can become. Pick up your trumpet and play something different – you never know where it might lead.

 

Tones and Semitones

Today, we’re going to explore some of the fundamentals of Western music. What we’re learning about is one of the most integral building blocks of most of the music you’ve ever heard in your life – we’re learning about tones and semitones. In order to explore these concepts further, it’s helpful to understand the 12-note, or chromatic, scale.

The Chromatic Scale

You probably already know the chromatic scale without even realizing it: A A# B  C C# D D# E F F# G G#. In this scale, if you take any two adjacent notes and sound them, the ratio between their frequencies will be the same as if you took any other two adjacent notes and sounded them. Explained more simply, the difference between B and C sounds the same as the difference between C# and D; when you play all the notes in a row, you’ll be able to hear what I mean. There’s quite a bit of math behind this, and it includes logarithmic scales. Suffice to say the ratios are the same between notes, and that’s useful when we’re studying music. A tuning in which the ratio between any two adjacent notes is the same is known as an equal temperament.

Semitones and Tones

“Any two adjacent notes with the same ratio as any other two adjacent notes” is not a useful way of describing where and what notes are, though. Instead, we can talk about tones and semitones. When you move from one note to an adjacent one, you’ve gone up one semitone; A# to B is a semitone, and so is E to F.

 

A tone, then, is two semitones. A to B is a one tone difference, as is C# to D#. You’ll notice that most of the time, going up a semitone brings you from natural to sharp (or sharp to natural), while going up a whole tone brings you from natural to natural (or sharp to sharp). This is not the case with B or E; going up a whole tone from these notes brings you to a sharp, while going up a semitone brings you to a natural. This is important to keep in mind as you learn more about music theory.

Uses

Starting at any given note, you can use semitones to find a wide variety of different consonant or dissonant notes. You can, for example, choose any note and move up 7 semitones to find that note’s perfect fifth; moving up 5 semitones, conversely, can find you a perfect fourth. You can describe any musical interval in semitones, as they are the building block of modern music theory.

Other Systems

While most Western music will be composed with notes that match up with the notes of our chromatic scale, there are some styles of music that do not use the same temperment. There are, for example, unequal temperaments, or equal temperaments other than 12 (the 19 equal temperament). The transitions between notes in such temperaments may be less pronounced than the transition in our chromatic scale; we describe tonal changes that are less than a semitone as microtones. Many musicians write microtonal music; you can check out Tolgahan Çoğulu, a guitarist who makes microtonal tunes I thoroughly enjoy. You can also check out King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s “Flying Microtonal Banana”.

On Your Instrument

Semitones and tones are, of course, all over many instrument. With a guitar, anytime you move up a fret, you’ve moved up a semitone. When it comes to piano, the nearest key is a semitone up (or down) from the key you’re playing; that’s why your B and C notes and E and F notes don’t have any black keys in between (black keys are all sharps and flats on a piano).

There’s so much more to learn about music theory – like what if we stopped talking about tones altogether? You’re going down an exciting path when you learn how music is made, and how it’s thought about; for keyboard lessons that will keep you thrilled about learning, you can always call us. We’ll go over theory, practice and technique, so that you can learn and create your own masterpieces on the piano.

 

Some Notes on Rhythm

Our Winnipeg in home music lessons will teach you about rhythm – but what is rhythm? One definition I particularly like is “timed movement through space”, a quote from Charlotte Jirousek. We seem to be able to feel rhythm from very young, and some speculate that the ability to feel rhythm has existed in humans since our prehistoric days. That means rhythm has been around since before we could write; the systems that we have placed on rhythm are our way of describing in language something we feel naturally. I don’t need to describe to you what a danceable beat sounds like for you to want to dance to Daft Punk’s early work when you hear it. Your body is naturally inclined to move to the beat.

There are a lot of techniques musicians use to make you want to dance, and we’ll get into those on another post, but for now, let’s examine how we describe rhythm. The time signature is one of the most important descriptors; it tells us how many of a type of note is in a single measure. The bottom number is the type of note, while the top number is how many of them are in a single measure; thus, 4/4 is four quarter notes to a measure, while 3/4 is three quarter notes to a measure. 2/2, conversely, would be two half-notes per measure, while 3/8 would be three eighth-notes per measure.

But how does it all feel?

Well, 4/4 can be expressed pretty simply; just say “1, 2, 3, 4” out loud over and over, with each number evenly spaced, and you’ve got the rhythm! Now, in the same amount of time that it took you to say “1, 2, 3, 4”, say “1, 2” over and over, and you’ll be in 2/2 rhythm! This is an interesting property of rhythm, because it’s felt – it’s not like a traditional fraction. Though you could say “1, 2, 3, 4” or “1, 2” in the same amount of time, evenly spaced, it feels different – slower. Now, try saying “1, 2, 3” over and over in the same amount of time, and you’ll find a totally different feeling; the feeling of 3/4. The odd number of notes per measure in this time signature always makes me want to sway – and for good reason. It’s the signature we see for waltz, and it gives a sort of off-kilter, exciting feeling. The nice thing about feeling out these rhythms is that you can do it without an instrument; just snap your fingers or clap your hands to the beat!

Time signatures can get a lot stranger than this, and we may go more into depth on that in another post; in the meantime, here’s something to try. Play 5 quarter notes evenly spaced to a measure, and you get 5/4 time; try it by saying or snapping “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” evenly over and over. You might find this one a little harder to groove to, but put on what might be the most popular example of this, Dave Brubeck’s recording of “Take Five”, and you’ll feel the rhythm in no time. NPR has a list of other songs in 5/4, though it doesn’t include one of my favorites, Radiohead’s “15 Step”.

While we’ve talked a lot about time signatures here, there is still one thing to discuss; how do we know how fast or slow to play? After all, 4/4 just tells us how many notes there are to a measure, but if I decide every measure is going to last 12 seconds, those 4 quarter notes are going to go by really sloooooowly.

In light of this, you can often find beats per minute (BPM) associated with a song. The “beats” in BPM are the same as the bottom number of our time signature notation; that means that a song in 4/4 at 120 BPM has 120 quarter notes in a minute. A song in 3/8 at 240 BPM would, therefore, take the same amount of time, as eighth notes are half as long as quarter notes; the two tracks, however, would be felt quite differently.

Tuned Up

One of the nicest things about the guitar is how easy it is to tune. While our standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E, we can use those six tuning pegs to create an astonishing variety of different tunings. These tunings can have a variety of different uses; they might be used to create sounds and chords otherwise practically unavailable, or to help guitarists with weak fretting hands to make beautiful music that might otherwise be impossible for them to create. The ease with which you can shift tunings means you can try any of these tunings right away; play around with them, and see how they feel. When using an acoustic guitar, it’s good to remember that when you change the tuning, it can change the tension in the neck; that means you’ll often have to fiddle with the tuning three or four times before everything settles in the right place. Be careful not to put so much tension in your strings that they break!

Drop Tunings

A tuning is considered a “drop tuning” when the 6th string is lowered, generally so that it is one octave lower than the 4th string. Drop D is the simplest drop tuning; it involves lowering the 6th string down one full step so that the tuning becomes D-A-D-G-B-E. Drop tunings are particularly useful for quick transitions between power chords, and are thus commonly used by metal and hard rock bands, including System of a Down, Children of Bodom, and Rage Against the Machine. Drop tunings also make arpeggiated chords a bit easier, and bands like Radiohead and the Beatles have used drop tunings for this effect.

Open Tunings

Open tunings are any tuning that, when all the strings are played open (without fingers on any frets), creates a chord. These tunings are particularly useful for slide guitar, with an open tuning, you can slide from fret to fret and pretty much always have it sound good after doing a bit of experimentation. When you want to riff along with Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, Open A tuning (E-A-C♯-E-A-E) is the tuning for you; when you play it, you get an A chord. You can basically create any chord using open tunings, even really odd ones; figure out what the constituent notes of the chord are, and tune your guitar so that every string, played open, creates the chord.

There’s a lot of other really weird ways of tuning your guitar. Ostrich tuning, pioneered in part by Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground, assigns one note to every string; E-E-e-e-e-e, for example. Playing with tunings is a fantastic way of creating new chord progressions and styles to play in; it’s a lot of fun, and I can’t recommend it enough. Don’t just take my word for it, though; Joni Mitchell famously used alternate tunings for many over her songs; over 50, by one count! For more great advice on varying and improving your playing, there are in-home Winnipeg guitar lessons.

Hurdles for Children Learning Music

Parenting is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do. There’s a funny link between challenging and rewarding; the more difficult something is, the more fulfilled we’ll often feel when we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint; pleasure is derived from accomplishments because those accomplishments might help us or the next generation survive. This is part of the reason it’s so incredibly rewarding to make music; not only do you get the amazing feeling that comes with having created something unique, you remember all of the struggles, the ups and downs that brought you to where you are. This challenge-reward dynamic can be thrown into stark relief when, as a parent, you watch your child struggle with a problem. You want to help them without being overbearing; here are some things to pay attention to when they’re struggling with music.

One of the major hurdles that come with learning music is learning to practice. Many children are attracted to the raw creativity of music; that’s one of the reasons so many 2-year-olds love to drum on pots and pans. The rigid, structured elements can be more difficult for a child to learn to love. When your child is complaining about having to practice, try giving them a sense of control. Ask them when they’d like to practice; before or after supper? Talk to them about their favorite music to play, and see if they want to incorporate it in their practice. Speak with their music teacher about their difficulty practising, and see if you can all work together to find a practice schedule that works for your child; feeling in control can do wonders for practice regimens.

Learning to read music can be another source of frustration. Reading music is like learning a language very fluently. You not only have to learn to read and speak the language, but you need to learn all of the intonations, the fluidity, the poetry of it all. A child who expects to learn all of this right away will be disappointed; they need to temper their expectations. Let them know that no one expects them to be able to read and play everything perfectly immediately; music is a gradual, slow and wonderful learning process. Some students might also have a hard time reading the notes because they’re experiencing problems with their vision; you can find an optometrist in Winnipeg to help with the problem. Your child struggling to read music might be your first sign that they are having problems seeing.

A lot of new students might have a problem that’s not visible on the surface; anxiety. When students have to go to a new location filled with strangers every week to learn music, they can find it incredibly challenging if they are introverted or anxious, and this can lead to negative associations with practice. Fortunately, there are in-home music lessons offered in Winnipeg that can help alleviate this anxiety; practice in the comfort of your home can make learning music a much more gratifying process.

When It Pops, It Pops

I love pop music. Longtime readers of the blog will probably appreciate that I love music generally; there’s really not a genre I’m not interested in, so life is pretty wonderful. I do have a special place in my heart for pop, though; I’ve been blaring the new Ariana Grande album pretty much since it came out. You can read about a billion different articles about how loving pop makes you basic, because it all sounds the same: this article from the Independant in 2012 to this article this 2015 article saying “science proves it” (a warning for all of my readers: don’t put too much faith into an article that says “science proves” any broad generalization).

There’s a lot of reasons why pop music does sound the same right not, and I’ll be the first to say that Ariana Grande’s new album isn’t exactly revolutionizing the genre. One of the reasons pop sounds very similar is the same core producers make a lot of music; Max Martin, Pharrell and Dr. Luke. One of the astonishing things about these producers is that they’ve been making pop bangers for decades; Martin’s produced Hit Me Baby One More Time in 1998 and I Can’t Feel My Face in 2015, while Pharrell and Dr. Luke achieved fame in the early 2000s. Another reason pop music might sound similar is that upbeat songs that are under 5 minutes long grab our attention, make us want to dance, and send dopamine shooting through our brains. From The Beatles to Lady Gaga, uptempo songs with harmonies in thirds and 4/4 time are hardwired to be catchy. For a great example of how this works, check out Pop 101 by Marianas Trench.

Part of the reason I love pop so much is that it makes me happy; you can listen to a pop song one time and by the end know the chorus by heart. The other reason I love it is that its familiarity gives pop music a lot of opportunities to subvert expectations. One of the song’s off of Grande’s new album is “bad idea”, and around the 3 minute mark, the song seems to end in a swell of strings, and the track’s chorus is then slowed down into what sounds like a menacing trap beat for the last minute of the song; the effect is absolutely disorienting, and very eerie. Had we not had the last 3 minutes of catchy pop, the dramatic contrast wouldn’t exist. Another great example of subversiveness in pop is OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”, where the lyrics have basically nothing to do with the song’s catchy pop structure; they’re Andre 3000’s contemplations on the challenges of marital fidelity. In the song, he acknowledges that most listeners just “wanna bop” without paying attention to the themes, with the line “Y’all don’t wanna hear me, you just want to dance”.

Pop’s ability to use formula to subvert tropes is one of its strong points, but to assume all pop is formulaic is reductive. Check out Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Sides, by producer SOPHIE to hear some of the off-the-wall, strange sounds and beats that can be used in a wonderful pop song. The music theory behind great pop is trickier to grasp than most people realize, or we’d all be famous pop stars; to train your voice to do the incredible, there are music schools with vocal training programs.

Music in Media

One of my favorite composers of the last few decades is David Wise. Mr. Wise worked for game developer Rare, and created soundtracks for some of the iconic games of my youth, most notably Donkey Kong Country 2, though his work spans all of the Donkey Kong Country games. His ambient tracks, made despite the extraordinary hardware limitations of the console they were released on, the SNES, are incredible pieces of music; for a taste, listen to the Stickerbush Symphony. I might delve deeper into how limitations enhance creativity in a future post, but for today I’d like to talk about how we consume music, namely how we consume it in non-music media.

Music is an interesting art form, because it exists within other art forms, namely movies, video games and podcasts. On occasion, music is the focus of these mediums; there are podcasts about music that are hosted by famous musicians, rhythm based video games where inputs must be pressed in time with the music, and musicals where the narrative is told primarily through song. These are the exceptions, though; most of the time music in these mediums is used to set the tone, to create audience expectations for what’s to come. The theme music to Halloween is a great example of this, a repeating motif in 5/4 that’s sure to send chills down your spine. The dramatic tension by the two repeated notes in Jaws, speeding up as the shark comes nearer still have an effect on me to this day. The epic, orchestral soundtrack of Star Wars gives the viewer a sense of the scope of the movie before it even begins, the majestic sounds seemingly to fill the whole galaxy, not just the theatre. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for The Dollars trilogy, with its sparse instrumentation, galloping beat, harmonica, guitar, whistles and vocal sounds set us up perfectly for the adventures we’re about to embark on with The Man with No Name.

In other media, music is part of the environment; this is known as source music, or diegetic music. In these circumstances, the music isn’t just a tool to change the audiences’ feelings; rather, it’s a part of the overall storytelling, and the characters in the movie can interact with the music. This can be found in scenes where music is playing in the car, or when a vinyl record is put on; it can also be found in some musical numbers, when the cast is actually singing to one another (rather than using the music as a narrative device). This can be seen in some of Hitchcock’s films, as well as in the television series The Wire, famed for its realism.

Music, then, is used for all kinds of things in other artistic media. This is because music is so omnipresent in our everyday lives that a universe without music seems off; little conveys emotion as succinctly as a song. There are songs near and dear to everyone’s heart, and that’s why we offer in-home Winnipeg voice lessons to make sure you can sing yours.