Various practical aspects of musical sounds, their usage in different kinds of music and musical textures in different musical styles of the world.
This is the third of a 3 part post on musical sounds in music, for the first part please see here, and for the second part please see here.
I am interested in music and dance in general, and while enjoying various styles of these, I also find basic similarities between them to be very beautiful. I will also share some things that I personally like and find interesting in certain styles of music, and discuss my aesthetic preferences in general.
Kinds of music and uses of sounds:
Rhythmic music and used sounds
Rhythmic music and mediums or instruments that can be used in it had been discussed in the previous post. To repeat briefly, rhythmic music must use rhythm (so beat and metre) and have its composition based to an extent on rhythmic structures and patterns. It must be performed by instruments that can make clear and sharp, percussive sounds ('strokes') which clearly indicate the rhythmic pattern, and the instruments must actually be played to produce such sounds. There may be a few smooth, melodic sounds but they must be limited so that rhythm is actually heard by just listening to the sounds (not just by perceiving indirectly). As mentioned in the previous post, the different instruments that can be used to play rhythmic music and are actually used in this way in various musical styles are (but now with indications of the musical sounds they make):
drums - variably pitched and sometimes tuned,
cymbals - variably pitched,
clappers and castanets - variably pitched,
jaw's harps - variably pitched but sometimes almost tuned,
musical bows/monochord variably pitched strings - variably pitched but sometimes almost tuned,
jingles and bells - variably pitched,
shakers - variably pitched,
scrapers - variably pitched,
gongs - tuned and variably pitched,
woodblocks - variably pitched but sometimes almost tuned,
slit drums - variably pitched but sometimes almost tuned,
vocal percussion - variably pitched but sometimes almost tuned,
keyboards - tuned,
handpans and other tuned solids - tuned,
struck zithers/hammered dulcimers - tuned,
harps/lyres - tuned,
most plucked and strummed string instruments (zithers and lutes) - tuned,
bowed string instruments and hurdy gurdies - tuned,
mouth organs - tuned,
and brass wind instruments - tuned and variably pitched.
In relation to musical sounds, rhythmic music may be played using tuned or variably pitched sounds without any restriction. The use of tuned or variably pitched sounds completely depends on the musical style, tuning systems (how sounds are measured) and kinds of instruments used. There are musical systems where no variably pitched instruments are used, and all rhythmic instruments are tuned, and in some other musical systems, all rhythmic instruments and variably pitched, and all tuned instruments play flowing melody (that is not rhythmic). Other than tuning system, this also depends on the texture of music, or how different musical layers (tuned and variably pitched) are combined, and in particular the number of tuned layers may depend much on the kind of tonality (texture is explained further below).
The actual instruments used and their role in music also depend on other factors, like how many different sounds they produce and how loud they are. All tuned instruments generally produce a number of tuned sounds, or pitches, and tuned rhythmic instruments (tuned percussion instruments, string instruments, tuned brass wind instruments and mouth organs) are often used as independent, leading instruments. Among variably pitched instruments, variably pitched drums (including most drums), musical bows, jaw's harps, slit drums and vocal percussion give natural sound variation, so they are generally chosen as independent, leading instruments. Ensembles of different variably pitched drums, gongs and cymbals, and also a few tappers, also give sound variation so they are used as independent, leading instruments too. But pairs of cymbals, clappers and castanets, jingles and bells, shakers and scrapers, most tappers, single gongs, woodblocks are played to make only one or two distinct sounds, so they are generally used only as accompanying instruments, and are used to indicate beats or other ostinato (repeating) rhythmic patterns which make the time signature clear. This is also true with some single drums, musical bows, jaw's harps and slit drums that are variably pitched, which are tuned and played to produce only one or two distinct sounds. So in general, an instrument producing very few distinct sounds is not used as an independent or leading instrument and instead used to support and accompany leading instruments. Some instruments like variably pitched brass wind instruments and monochord variably pitched strings, have sharp pitch because of the kind of instrument they are, and are used as a drone or pitch reference as an accompaniment for tuned instruments to perform, by indicating the key playing a consontant pitch. Music played in small spaces uses relatively softer instruments like hand struck drums, sometimes small cymbals, clappers and castanets, tuned percussion instruments, string instruments, and mouth organs and vocal percussion as rhythmic instruments. Music played in bigger and more open spaces uses relatively louder instruments like object/stick struck drums, paired cymbals, clappers and castanets, musical bows, jingles and bells, shakers, tappers, gongs, woodblocks, slit drums and brass wind instruments are rhythmic instruments. The particular choice of instruments depends on the musical system (certain instruments may be used in a musical system and others may not be found in it). These considerations of loudness have been significant during older times, when there was no recording technology. But now, with advanced recording technology and microphones, these are much less important, and for example, originally soft instruments have been developed to play much louder.
When tuned rhythmic instruments play, they play with tuned sounds that follow the tonality of the music system in which the musical composition is, and resonance changes naturally according to the rhythm. When variably pitched instruments play, they play variably pitched sounds with resonance changing naturally according to the rhythm, following the conventions specific to using sounds in the instrument played. The actual sounds played are affected by the rhythm and tempo (musical speed) in all instruments. Basically, whether tuned or variably pitched, far away sounds, which mostly means sounds of far away pitches, which give intervals called leaps, need longer times to play, so they can be played only during longer strokes. This is because of both the physical distance of leaps, which naturally take a longer time to reach, as well as the limit to how fast a listener can hear broad sound changes, whose speed decreases with distance between sounds. Sounds and mostly pitches of these sounds which are at short intervals are steps, and they can be used any time, but necessarily need to be used for fast tempos and fast rhythmic patterns. The rhythmic cells/motifs, phrases and movements (please see previous post) have to end with basic reference sounds that were mentioned before, to complete musical parts, hence rhythmic patterns influence the need to move to these reference sounds as well. Because of the combined effect of these, the patterns of rhythm and the sound patterns, which have to be consistent within each, combine when actually played, to give rhythmic music which has patterns both in rhythm and sound which have to coexist without disturbing each other.
The sounds in rhythmic music may play one after the other, or with a smaller different separation. Sounds added to the main sounds of rhythmic patterns to decorate them or enhance them are ornaments or embellishments. In rhythmic music these have to be separate from the main sounds in rhythmic patterns. Other than a single sound and a simultaneous playing of different sounds, which gives a different combined sound (chords, etc.), sounds can have these ornaments, both tuned and variably pitched:
Acciaccatura/Flam - a very small separation between sounds, so that when played one after the other, they almost sound like a single sound, these are generally very close in pitch but still distinct
Pickup notes/appogiatura or Drags/Ruffs - short sounds leading to a main sound just played before the main note, generally ascending or descending stepwise to a the pitch of the main sound, this is generally separate
Runs, Turns, Mordents and Rolls of different sounds, etc. - fast sequences of nearby sounds rapidly played, or fast, short sounds near to a main sound, added to it alternatingly, the sounds are generally very nearby in pitch and move separately
Tremelos/Discrete trills/Repeated rolls - very fast, rapidly and alternately repeated sounds or groups of a few sounds, generally of neighbouring pitch
Glissandos/Portamentos - slides from a sound of one pitch to a sound of another, in rhythmic instruments because of their percussive sounds, these are often stepwise, but sometimes just a few continuous slides may also be used, but are generally much lesser than separate sounds
So, except for possible occasional pitch slides, the sounds are separate and distinct in appearance so that they change rhythm by their presence, embellishing both the sounds (tuned or variably pitched) and rhythmic patterns simultaneously.
Purely melodic music and used sounds
Purely melodic music is different from rhythmic music in that it may or may not have rhythm, and its compositions don't feature rhythmic structures and patterns as much as sounds. It must be performed by instruments that can make smooth, slurred sounds which may or may not indicate rhythmic patterns even when there is rhythm, even though the sounds would then move with a rhythm, and the instruments must actually be played to produce such sounds. There may be a few percussive, sharp sounds but they must be limited so that smooth sounds are heard and rhythm may or may not be actually heard by just listening to the sounds (not just by perceiving indirectly). Purely melodic instruments can make non - percussive, smooth sounds while changing sounds and also have the ability to slide between pitches (glissandos) and bend pitches. Since playing purely melodic music features sound and thus pitch relations and smooth movements between them, they have to be tuned and not variably pitched. Hence, the mediums or instruments that can be used to perform purely melodic music are (as said before all are tuned instruments):
struck zithers/hammered dulcimers,
most plucked and strummed string instruments (zithers and lutes),
bowed string instruments and hurdy gurdies,
woodwind instruments (flutes, panpipes, ocarinas, reed pipes and bagpipes),
and rarely tuned brass wind instruments.
Since tuned brass instruments generally need mouth presssure to change pitch, which gives percussive sounds, and is different from smooth movements, they are rarely used as purely melodic instruments. Struck zithers/hammered dulcimers, harps/lyres and stringwise tuned plucked and strummed zithers often make naturally percussive sounds but since they can also make smooth and sliding sounds, they are used as purely melodic instruments in some musical systems. Plucked and strummed lengthwise tuned zithers, lutes, hurdy gurdies and mouth organs also use some naturally percussive sounds, but they can make smooth and sliding sounds more easily because of their tuning and are used as purely melodic instruments in many musical systems. Bowed string instruments need not be played to make percussive sounds (although that it completely possible) and can be played to produce very smooth and sliding sounds naturally (percussive sounds are equally natural) and in most musical systems, they are used at least sometimes as purely melodic instruments. Woodwind instruments and the singing voice (strictly singing and not vocal percussion) naturally make only smooth and sliding sounds and their sounds don't have any percussive quality, so they are always used only as purely melodic instruments. The general usage of instruments for purely melodic music again depends on the musical system and instruments found in it.
When the purely melodic music has rhythm, the pitch (and possibly chord) movements of instruments are controlled by rhythms in the same way as for tuned rhythmic instruments, limiting leaps to longer times and small steps necessarily being used during shorter times. Even though there is rhythm in purely melodic music that actually has rhythm, the playing by instruments does not aim to indicate it by sounding rhythms with strokes, and rhythms are only implied by playing in rhythm. To indicate rhythm, purely melodic instruments playing in rhythm are almost always accompanied by some rhythmic instruments (tuned or variably pitched, depending on the interacting between tuned layers) which indicate the time signature and make clearly rhythmic sounds to give a clear sense of rhythm being present. When purely melodic instruments are played as leading, independent instruments and also in rhythm, the accompanying rhythmic instruments play ostinato (repeated) rhythms and small variations to mainly indicate the presence of rhythm. Purely melodic music may not have rhythm, as said before. It may have rubato, or shifting of rhythmic positions unequally to give a non - metric movement of sounds, shifted from a metric movement, and this does not indicate rhythm because of no clear metre implied. There may also be no rhythm at all in the whole musical piece, and this is called free rhythm, and this is most different from all rhythmic music. In this case, the purely melodic instruments elaborate on some melodic and pitch structures, and tonal and related structures without following any particular rhythm. There is no metre and no beats which the music follows. Although each sound has a certain duration, the sounds do not give rhythmic patterns because they cannot be measured with respect to any rhythmic base or time signature. Changing of such temporary 'rhythmic' or rather durational patterns in free rhythm is secondary to the actual pitches used in the patterns and their relations. The phrases in free rhythmic music appear at random speeds and without any fixed periods, and pauses between melodic patterns and phrases are arbitrary. The melodic patterns and pitch relations performed in free rhythmic music are free and independent of any rhythmic constraints. Thus free rhythmic music is disjoint from all rhythmic music.
Some instruments like variably pitched brass wind instruments and monochord variably pitched strings, have sharp pitch because of the kind of instrument they are, and are used as a drone or pitch reference as an accompaniment for tuned instruments to perform, by indicating the key playing a constant pitch. Generally any of the purely melodic instruments may be used as independent, leading layers. With respect to loudness, softer instruments played in smaller spaces are string instruments, singing, flutes, mouth organs (although mouth organs and flutes can even be louder), and louder instruments played in bigger, more open spaces are mouth organs, woodwind instruments, singing and rarely, tuned brass instruments.
The sounds in melodic music may play one after the other, or with a smaller different separation. Sounds added to the main sounds of melodic patterns to decorate them or enhance them are ornaments or embellishments. In purely melodic music these are not very separate from the main sounds in melodic patterns, and smoothly flow to them even when they don't slide while doing so. These sounds don't necessarily contribute to the rhythmic of the melodic patterns. Other than a single sound and a simultaneous playing of different sounds, which gives a different combined sound (chords, etc.), sounds can have these ornaments:
Acciaccatura - a very small separation between sounds by sliding from a neighbouring pitch rapidly to reach the main sound's pitch, bending pitch, so that they almost sound like a single sound, these are generally very close in pitch
Pickup notes/appogiatura - short sounds leading to a main sound just played before the main note, generally ascending or descending stepwise to a the pitch of the main sound, this is generally smooth
Runs, Turns, Mordents, etc. - fast sequences of nearby sounds rapidly played, or fast, short sounds near to a main sound, added to it alternatingly, the sounds are generally very nearby in pitch and move smoothly
Continous trills, Vibratos - very fast, rapidly and alternately repeated sounds or groups of a few sounds, generally of neighbouring pitch, by sliding between both the sounds, bending pitch, when applied successively and singly to many sounds this may sound like acciaccaturas. In some musical styles, long sounds are always embellished by moving very slightly to and fro in pitch to give vibratos, while in others, holding pitches constant is the norm
Glissandos/Portamentos - slides from a sound of one pitch to a sound of another, in purely melodic instruments because of their smooth sounds, these are often continuous pitch slides, but but sometimes stepwise slides may also be used, and still have a smooth movement with pitch bending sounding like successive acciaccaturas in a pitch range, or a continuous slide marked in between some number of times
So, many of these embellishments involve pitch sliding and even discrete additions have smooth movements and the sounds are not very separate but combined in appearance so that they may often not change rhythm by their presence, embellishing mainly only the pitches of the sounds.
Mixed music and relations between rhythmic and purely melodic music
Music may not strictly be of only one kind among rhythmic and purely melodic music. Music played by instruments that can be both rhythmic and purely melodic separately, may use a combination of these kinds played alternately. Such instruments are those which are common to both the above lists of possible rhythmic and purely melodic instruments - all string instruments, mouth organs and rarely, tuned brass wind instruments (since they are uncommon in purely melodic music). A mixture of rhythmic and purely melodic sounds may be played by these instruments. In various systems of music, these instruments may be used to play either only rhythmic music, or completely mixed music (equally rhythmic and purely melodic) or only purely melodic music, or any two of these three, or even all of these, and this completely depends on the musical style and system. The separation between tuned and variably pitched instruments in relation to the separation between rhythmic and purely melodic music, and mixed music between these, completely depends on the musical style and texture When there is rhythm in the music, and purely melodic music is also played (in rhythm), then there is mostly some rhythmic music accompanying the purely melodic music to indicate the presence of rhythm.
Pitch based textures
Musical texture refers to the different layers found in music and their interrelation. These layers can be tuned or variably pitched, and the relation between tuned layers is determined by pitch relations in the musical systems. The different possible musical textures are:
There is a single layer of tuned music and may be possibly performed in unison or with octave difference by different instruments, and variably pitched layers may also be of any number. When music follows this throughout, it has monophonic texture. Music of other textures also often has monophonic arrangements at some points, since even when there are more than one tuned layers, they don't have to sound simultaneously always, and in fact almost never do. Variably pitched instruments are often used to indicate rhythm in this texture, particularly when the tuned instruments used are not fully rhythmic. Even when the tuned instruments are rhythmic, variably pitched instruments may be used to indicate the rhythmic base. Variably pitched instruments add to the richness of sound and rhythm in this case without affecting the pitch relations of the tuned instruments. Since there is only one tuned layer, the tuned tonality is almost necessarily melodic, since harmonic tonality requires playing of more than one pitch simultaneously through chords. Music that has only variably pitched instruments may also be included in this texture, since they don't project specific pitch relations as in tuned instruments.
There are many layers of tuned music that are harmonically related and also interdependent in rhythm. There is a main leading or independent layer of tuned music that is accompanied by other harmonically related layers of tuned music. So the tonality is harmonic. When these layers are rhythmic, the independent layer plays independent rhythms and the accompanying layers generally play ostinato (repeated) rhythmic patterns which indicate the rhythmic base and time signature. In such textures tuned rhythmic instruments are very often used since different layers have to show rhythmic relations while also being tuned. Since more than one tuned musical layer is necessary, the rhythmic texture becomes dense by this, and variably pitched instruments are less likely to be used then. The density of homophonic texture is variable and instead of the heavier arrangement described before, homophonic texture may be made of single, coincident chords, with less tuned layers. Then variably pitched instruments are much more likely to be used since the density of tuned texture is much lesser in this case.
There are many layers of tuned music that are harmonically related and generally independent in rhythm and movement. There is not a single main leading or independent layer of tuned music and although there may be layers that have denser and sparser rhythms, making the music more focused, a single layer does not lead music in this texture. The layers independently have harmonic tonality and sound harmonic tonality when played together. This dense arrangement of tuned and rhythmic layers and the need to show tuned and rhythmic relations results in tuned rhythmic instruments mostly being used in this texture. Variably pitched instruments are quite uncommon because of this.
There are many layers of tuned music that are melodically related and interdependent in rhythm. All these layers follow a single tuned line which they play variations of, and although the relation between the layers is mostly of unison or octave, they play different musical lines because of variations. The variations may sound quite different from each other and it may not always be obvious that the same single line is played, although this is true. Every tuned instrument may play some variation of the single line and it is possible that no instrument plays the basic line directly but only a different variation of it. The tonality is melodic. Variations may exist even just because of playing tuned layers on tuned rhythmic and purely melodic instruments simultaneously because of the difference in these sound qualities. Variably pitched instruments may be added and don't affect the tonality and pitch relations, and because of the dense texture of many tuned layers, they may or may not play independent lines, and when they play independent layers, their rhythm has to be interrelated to the rhythm of the tuned layers.
Balance between layers
The usage of instruments and relation between layers depends mainly on balance in rhythmic density and tuned density. If too many rhythmic layers are used, they may become rhythmically too dense and not practical to be distinctly heard by the listener, so the number of rhythmic layers is limited. If too many tuned layers are used, they may become too dense in pitch relations and not practical to be distinctly heard by the listener, so the number of tuned layers is limited. This results in the rhythmic dominance of a rhythmic layer over the others, which move less densely than it, and similarly if both tuned and variably pitched rhythmic instruments are played, one of them will probably dominate the other in rhythm. The other layers may either be sparser than the dominant rhythmic layer but rhythmically interrelated (homorhythmic) or even rhythmically ostinato (repeating). The number of rhythmically different (polyrhythmic) layers is almost never more than two, and these are generally not equally independent. Polyrhythmic arrangements are much less common than homorhythmic arrangements. Similarly some tuned layers change more independently than the others in individual pitch movement (not combined chords) and they dominate over other layers in amount of movement. So more independence in pitch movement between layers results in more rhythmic similarity. In both cases of dominance, this may be temporary and change within a musical piece (a layer may be dominant for only some time after which a different layer becomes dominant in that aspect). This balance is necessary because of the limit of simultaneous movements (in rhythm or sound) than can be clearly observed.
This is all the general information on musical sound in my view, and I have also tried to briefly indicate the variety of ways to use and perform musical sounds as seen in musical styles around the world.