Project 1: Listening to music in the modern world

Exercise: How would you define music?

Provided in my study folder under this exercise is the following quotation on what “music” is defined as in ‘The Concise Oxford Dictionary”:

‘the art of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion’

Whilst I don’t disagree with this statement, I think “music” can be described in many other ways, depending on how it is approached.

It can not only be seen as a form of art, but also as a science, due to the mathematical structure a score can involve as well as all the historical background. Furthermore, it can catch and reflect strong emotions felt by the audience in a universal language, even though many people are only open for certain genres. The more one focuses on a piece, the more one can find out about the composer’s intentions and ideas, this can, in my opinion, be achieved especially well by playing a piece.  As a performer, I also think, that music can be experienced completely differently when played on an instrument; Even though most scores have clear instructions on the interpretation, ever performance is unique.

I would find it difficult to define music for myself with just one or two paragraphs. It is probably part of every human life, even if it is more important for some than for others. For me, music is a very special, and probably mainly relaxing form of art I can dive in and forget the world around me for hours, mainly when playing the piano, but also whilst listening to music. It creates different emotion I can’t directly put into words. Due to this fascination for music, I set myself a goal to do it as a profession one day. The more I got (and will get) to know about the structure and science behind music, the more interesting I found it.

Research Point : Music of one week

For this fun research point I was asked to keep a record of all the music I hear over one whole week.

I was surprised about the huge amount of music I was surrounded with, even with the current lock-down situation. Initially I found it difficult to follow this task and still listen to music in a normal way, without thinking about whether I’d normally listen to it as well, but I got more and more used to it over the progress of the week. I was surprised, that most of the music on the following list was music I did’t choose to listen to (marked in red, the music I intentionally listened to is marked green). I counted the music appearing in the background of films and video games as part of the music I chose to listen to as well.

My own musical taste

For this question I had to look through my music library and noticed that there are several different genres I can relate to. I mostly focus directly on songs or pieces rather than bands or individual composers, the music is also mainly calm, but there are a few exceptions as well.

Being 20 years old and referring to the mentioned “stereotypes” in my study folder, one could think than I’m supposed to enjoy modern pop – music, but almost exactly the opposite is the case. It may be due to my former musical education, that I am often aware of the simple chord progression of today’s music and sometimes I have the impression, that very little effort was put into the production. The genres I listen to move from Classic Rock, over Heavy Metal, Rap, Reagge to Western and Country styles.

When it comes to pop music, I almost always listen to songs from the 60s to the 90s, for example from Queen; ABBA; Alan Parson Project; The Carpenters; and many more. I often find, that a song, which is produced and performed by people rather than computers often have more soul and emotion in them. There are of course a few modern exceptions as well.

Whilst working on something, reading, traveling, but also to relax I mainly listen to instrumental music, which is often a Soundtrack, light Jazz in a Café I’m often visiting or a classical piece of music.

When I’m preparing and rehearsing for a performance on the piano, but also whilst making listening log entries I focus directly on the piece, which sometimes leads to me not being able to enjoy it. I know that many people find it very relaxing to listen to piano music, but whilst I really appreciate piano music, I automatically start to analyse every piece I hear played by a piano only and therefore can’t focus on other things at the same time.

Exercise: Exploring Genres

From the given list of musical genres, the only three ones I’m not too familiar with are “Contemporary Classical”; “ R’n’B” ; and “Soul”.

The pieces I’ve listened to can be found in my Listening Log under the correspondent course unit.

Overall I can say, that I will try to explore the genre “Soul” in the near future, as I was positively surprised by the sound colours and emotions the performers managed to create. Even though R’n’B and Soul have some similarities, I had the impression that the “Soul” – Songs were jazzier, more variable, emotional and entertaining. For me, R’n’B seemed to be quite similar to modern pop- music; I’m sure there are some exceptions, but I probably couldn’t enjoy the majority if the pieces, due to their simplicity.

The genre I disliked most, and was also slightly disappointed by, was “Contemporary Classical”. When I hear the term “classical” anywhere, I would normally associate it with harmonic, structured pieces for orchestral instruments. I am aware that modern composers take the freedom to explore new sounds and progressions, which are sometimes terribly interesting to analyse, but I would find it difficult to enjoy the sound.

Project 2: Music in modern contexts

Research Point: Views about pop music

For this research point I was asked to write about classical and pop music. Seeing, that all the music from the medieval age up to contemporary examples can be described as “classical music”, one can speculate whether classical music could have been considered as pop music as well. Popular music as it is understood today probably started with the beginning of Jazz or Blues. One of the main differences is the audience; In most cases, classical music was listened to by people in higher classes, whereas popular music is created or everyone. Another major difference is, that most classical music is not interpreted or performed by the composers themselves, whilst popular music is often written by members of a group or the singers themselves.

As already mentioned under “My own musical taste”, I like listening to both, but only prefer certain musical eras for classical music, for example Baroque and Classic; and only certain decades up to 2000 of popular music. Some music from the era of Expressionism and Impressionism for example, often creates uneasy moods and the pop music of the 21st century is often produced electronically, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation. Generally speaking, I prefer music where I get the feeling that the composer and performer put effort in writing/ playing it, this applies to almost any genre.

Exercise: The qualities of pop music

For this exercise I’ve spoken to several people who are around my age (20) and younger, and they almost all came to the similar conclusions about the questions below:

What makes pop music good or bad?

Depending on the taste some people might say, that the beat and pace makes a good song, others might say, that the meaning of the text is the most important feature. One of the most interesting comments I heard about this topic, was the preference towards songs in foreign languages; one wouldn’t have to concentrate on the meaning of the text and can still enjoy the mood of the music. Everyone experiences music differently. For me it doesn’t really matter which genre a song is from, as long as it is entertaining, catchy but not too annoying and creates a good atmosphere. Due to the existing variety in pop music, one should be able to find the perfect song for every mood.

Three examples of pop music that I like?

  • Can’t go on without you – Kaleo

I like this song due to the different moods it creates. Even though it starts really quiet, the tension builds up several times to create expected but welcoming peak points. It is not too repetitive and works with electronic as well as organic instrumentation. The genre is alternative/indie and the song is overall very emotional.

  • Renegade – Styx

This song is from the genre “classic rock”, and has a very calm, acapella- start, with a simple beat in the background, before moving on to the first “proper” stanza. I’m always especially looking forward to the transition between the calm and following energy-filled sounding part.

  • September – Earth, Wind & Fire

This song is part of several genres; R&B; disco; funk; soul. It’s one of my favourites due to its uplifting spirit, even though it also manages to create a sense of calmness with its jazzy chords. Furthermore, this song is one out of a view, which will get stuck in my head really easily without becoming annoying.

What makes them work? Why did they become popular?

One thing all mentioned songs have in common is the fact, that the chord progressions are predictable, yet high in variety. I suppose people like listening to music they are familiar with, as well as created tension, which lasts for a few bars, and is finally released with a chorus part for example.

Which successful pop songs do I consider as bad?

  • Despacito – Luis Fonsi

I think the main reason why this song has become so popular, is because of its catchy tune, and the fact, that most people only sing the one word “Despacito” when referring to the song, which already consist of four notes, creating a closed sounding theme. It may also be due to the amount the song has been played in the radio, but once heard, it is difficult to get rid of it.

  • Happy – Pharrell Williams

When I heard the song for the first time I actually quite enjoyed it, but with every repetition it became more and more tedious to listen to. I once was asked to play the song for a performance and was only then made aware of how repetitive and simple structured this song is. The only thing I still sometimes enjoy listening to are the jazzy chords in the background.

Research Point: World music

The pieces corresponding to this research point can be found in my listening log.

For this research point I was asked to choose one world music style and find out more about it. One genre I’ve wanted to explore for a long time, even though I don’t know anything about it, is Celtic folk- music.

In comparison to other peoples, there is only little known about the Celtic tribe. Some Greek sources claim, that the Celts often interacted musically. It originated in Ireland, Scotland and Wales and can be traced back to the 17th century. 1

Celtic style can be distinguished by the combination of music, poetry and spirituality. Due to the unique angel-like sounding music, Celtic music was meant to build a connection between earth and heaven. The songs are often about parallel worlds and gods of the Celtic religion. Originally it was only performed by Bards. There are several Celtic designs and sculptures, which have an underlying mathematical structure with a symbolic meaning. This applies to their written music as well;

The intersections of certain winding-band ornaments represent musical intervals. Parallel lines projected through the intersections enable one to “restore” the intervals. The musical intention of various of the deciphered ornaments is evident from their setting. (Travis, J. (1945)) 2

Even though the intervals of their songs are easy to determine; the pace of a piece can only be discovered by experimenting. Furthermore, the melodies mostly have a simplistic style and are syllabic. Some of the most used instruments in Celtic Folk music are the harp, violin, flute and bagpipe. 2,3

Within the last few years Celtic music became more and more popular again; one of the best examples are the Classical music genres from Ireland, which are based on Celtic music. Some of the most famous contemporary musicians, writing in this style are Enya, The Corrs and The Chieftains. 4,5

After having listened to a few examples of Celtic music, I noticed, that even within this genre, several different styles can be distinguished. For example, the more Irish sounding pieces, which interestingly quite often use an underlying pedal point, usually played on a bagpipe as a base for their songs. These pieces also have a stronger emphasis on the beat and are often written for a 2/2 – rhythm.

On the other hand, there are several aural works as well as pieces created only for the harp, which have and relaxing character and are often used for meditation.

I once had the chance to sing a Celtic piece of music myself, which was the song “Irish Blessing”; this song had some very interesting, but really lovely sounding chords, which one wouldn’t find in Western – European music at all. Some of them would normally be considered as dissonances and jazz-chords, but the created colour of sound was completely different to anything I’ve ever heard.

1Keltische Musik (2020) [website] Irish-net. Available at: [Accessed: 18.05.2020 ]

2Travis, J. (1945). Celtic Music. Bulletin of the American Musicological Society No. 8. California: University of California Press. [online], pp. 13-15. Available at: [Accessed: 18.05.2020]

3History of Celtic Music. [website] Celtic weddingrings. Available at: [Accessed: 18.05.2020]

4What is Celtic music? [website] ceolas. Available at: [Accessed:18.05.2020]

5McKean, T. (1998) Celtic music and growth of the Feis movement in the Scottish Highlands. Western Folklore, Chino Vol. 57, Iss.4. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 18.05.2020]


For this exercise I had to have a closer look into a film score and how the music is used within a film. As I am personally very interested in film music, I found it difficult to decide on just one film. I will add some further film scores under Additional work, which I’ll come back to over the progress of this course to make some further entries.

For the main exercise I chose to analyse the music of “The Imitation Game”, written by Alexandre Desplat. This film has several breath-taking motifs, which mostly orientate on the melody and chord progression of the main theme.

The main theme is also the main character’s Leitmotif. It starts with a motif on the piano, which creates a broken-chord harmony. Even when the underlying chords are changing to match the melody, the piano chord stays the same throughout. Thus, a clash of harmonies is created, which reflect the difficulties Alan Turing (the main character) has to harmonise with the world around him. Interestingly, towards the centre of the film, when Turing makes progress with his machine and has a few friends to talk to, the theme can be heard without the piano chords, indicating that he’s now feeling more comfortable. As he faces struggles again at the end, the theme can be heard fully again.

Even though the title music can be heard in different versions throughout, it’s not the very first theme of the film. In the first scene one can see two policemen investigating about Alan Turing, the motif is slightly mysterious, but also has the broken – chord harmony from the title music. This theme is always connected to the police. One further leitmotif is the one of Turing’s first love, which always comes up, during a flashback or when Turing thinks about him, the melody is played by the piano only and is structurally similar to the main motif.

Overall, only little incidental music is used throughout the film. Most of the music was in the foreground. There were only to examples of diegetic music, which were two songs heard from a gramophone.

What I found especially interesting about the used themes is, that almost all of them had a rapidly played, mostly high-pitched broken-chord harmony, similar to the main theme. This creates an image of turning gear wheels, working in Turing’s head as well as in the machine he builds.

Music and technolgy

I was asked to write a short essay about my opinion on how technology enhanced music. The best advantage is probably, that everyone can now have quick access to any music they prefer and can also easily explore new genres though the internet. Furthermore, it has become much easier to publish music, by just uploading it, this of course has the downside, that everyone wants to be heard and only a handful of artists can be noticed. Another disadvantage is, that one can often find ways to buy or download music for free once it’s on the internet, which would make it difficult for artists to earn enough money just by doing music.

As I’ve published some pieces myself already, I think that modern technology is a great way of letting others know about your music. Furthermore, the development of notation programs and DAWs can allow anyone to create their own unique music, and make it almost sound like it comes from a professional orchestra.

Project 3: Instruments of the orchestra

Research Point: Orchestra and Orchestra Sections

I was asked to look at some video clips about the orchestra and its sections, which are, as it is already mentioned in my study folder, parted in four sections;

  • Strings: harp. Violins, violas, celli and double basses, normally this is the largest section of the orchestra, sometimes even triple the size of the other sections and therefore often the section to play the melody
  • Woodwinds: flute, oboes, clarinets and bassons;
  • Brass: French horns, trumpets, trombones and tubas
  • Percussion: timpani, snare drum, triangle, xylophone and bass drum
  • The fifth section includes the keyboards, although, this section is not always used, includes instruments such as the piano or organ

The most interesting video I found, can be viewed under the following link: & . In this example one piece is used to describe the different sections in detail. At the beginning one piece from Henry Purcell is played by the full orchestra, then parted into the four sections mentioned above, before being divided again into the individual instrument groups. This gave me a great look into how harmonies are used within the orchestra as well as an overall understanding of the different positions.

Exercise: Listening to instruments of the orchestra

For this exercise I was asked to listen to a few examples for each section of the orchestra and choose one section I’m less familiar with. The one section I’m most interested in, and also the one from which I don’t know much about how the notes are produced is the woodwind section.

Woodwinds belong to the group of aerophones, which means, that the tones are produced by the vibration of a column of air within a pipe. Even though brass instruments are also counted as aerophones, they differ to woodwinds through the additional finger holes along the pipe of the instrument. Furthermore, woodwinds are played in different ways.6

The basic woodwind instruments are the recorder, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and saxophone. Apart from the saxophone they once were all made of wood, which gives them their name, even though most of them are made of metal or plastic now.6

I already had the opportunity to play some of the instruments, all apart from the oboe and bassoon myself, and therefore have a rough understanding on how difficult it can be to produce notes.

Over my research I found out several interesting points about these two instruments:

  • Oboe:

The oboe was invented around 1650 by the French instrument maker Jean Hotteterre. The mouthpiece consists of a tube ending with a double reed. Unlike several other woodwinds, the oboe is not a transposing instrument.

The oboe has a very assertive sound, which can be distinguished easily within an orchestra. Many concertos and chamber music were written for the oboe in the Baroque era. This tradition has been continued, up to this day. One of the most well-known pieces the Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. 7,8

For me the low notes of the oboe creates a really oriental sounding character and can be associated with a desert, whilst the higher notes are slightly scratchy but still have a welcoming sound. The sound of the oboe has something mysterious to it as well, especially when played in forte.

  • Bassoon:

The bassoon developed from the same instrument as the oboe, known as the “Shawn”. It consists of a conical wooden tube folded back on itself with a double-reed mouthpiece. Up to this day modern key systems and other improvements haven’t managed in retaining the bassoons unique sound. Experiments are still taking place to simplify the fingering. The only other member of this family is the contrabassoon, which is pitched an octave lower.9

The difference between the registers of the bassoon are very pronounced: sonorous and warm in the lower register, slender and elegant in the middle, and compressed in the upper register. 10

6Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, pp. 104 – 105

7Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, pp. 108 – 109

8Vienna Symphonic Library (2020). Oboe. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 19.05.2020]

9Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, pp. 108 – 109

10 Vienna Symphonic Library (2020). Bassoon. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 19.05.2020]

Project 4: Contemporary Classical Music

Research Point: Live Performance

For this research point I was asked to look out for a live-performance of contemporary music in my area. Even though I’m currently studying in the UK, about once in a month I go to Vienna, Austria, where I went to a music high school for four years, and therefore had several opportunities to watch or even perform in a huge amount of concerts. Due to the current Corona – lockdown situation, I’m unfortunately not able to travel or watch any concerts, I will nonetheless come back to this research point, if possible within the progress of this course, and try to finish it.

So far my experiences on contemporary classical music wasn’t the best. There are some exceptions to it, such as John Rutter’s music, which is always full of emotions and well harmonised. It is of course the case, that contemporary composers don’t have to stick to any harmonically rules, which creates a great spectrum of contemporary classical music to listen to. Furthermore, I’m really interested in analysing contemporary classical music, since some of it is based on mathematical structures, nonetheless, due to the often created disharmonic sounds, I don’t really enjoy listening to it.

Exercise: Exploring contemporary classical composition

For this exercise I decided to do some research about the Italian composer Luciano Berio, as his music is high in variety and I’ve seen his name several times over the progress of this course unit.

Beiro was born in 1925, in Oneglia, Italy and died in Rome, in 2003. He is still seen as one of the most important Italian composers of this generation. He was highly influenced by his father Ernesto and grandfather Adolfo Beiro, which were both leading figures in the musical life of his hometown. A further important influence was his friend Bruno Maderna, who taught him about classical harmonic rules as well as electronic music. In 1955 Beiro and Maderna founded the studio “di Fonologia Musicale”, where Beiro composed “Mutazioni”, “Perspectives” and “Differences”. 11, 12

He initially wanted to become a pianist, but injured his hand during the war, which interestingly didn’t affect his music as much as other composers. He studied composition at the Conservatory in Milan and was active as a student and a teacher. He taught composition in several schools and universities all over the globe. The American minimalists Steve Reich and Terry Riley were among others under Berio’s students.  12, 13, 14

Berios work is characterised by his passion of the theatrical and his engagement with music of the past as well as the present. Interestingly, the majority of Berio’s compositions reflect his fascination with the human voice, which was even more intensified during his marriage to the American singer and actress Cathy Berberian between 1950 and 1966. After divorcing his second wife in the 70s, he worked primarily in Italy, and established his own electronic studio “Tempo Reale” in Florence in 1980.1,2,4,

After 2000 Berio worked as president of te National Academy of St. Cecilia. He was furthermore often invited to conduct pieces for the Los Angeles Philarmonic and was working on an orchestration for an opera from Monteverdi.13, 15

As already mentioned, he used a high variety of musical styles, moving from Baroque vocal styles to modern techniques of serialism and the use of electronics and computer technology. His most well-known piece is probably “Sinfonia”, which is a perfect example of a multifaceted composition, a fascinating collection of quotations from Samuel Beckett to Gustav Mahler. Beiro furthermore directly reworked music by Brahms and Schubert. In addition to the already mentioned “Sinfonia” some of his greatest works are Epifanie; Circles, and Coro, which are all mentioned in my listening log. 11, 13 14, 15

Having had a brief look over his works, I had the impression, that he often adapted and transformed the music of others, and sometimes even rewrote his own music. Overall I found it fascinating how he explored new musical styles, especially by using human voices in such a unique way, that they would form completely new sound. Furthermore, Berios had a tendency to serialism and applied most of its rules especially on his early pieces, but also always managed it well to balance between a mathematical and a harmonic structure. His music seems to go beyond all traditional borders; between sound and noise, spoken and sung words as well as electronic and acoustic sounds.14

11 Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, p. 247

12 Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. p. 105

13 Giomi, F. (2003). In memoriam: Luciano Berio: a testimony. Organised Sound. [online]. Vol. 8. (Iss.2.) pp. 231 – 232. Available at: [Accessed: 26.05.2020]

14 Osmond – Smith, D. (2012). Two Fragments of “The Music of Luciano Berio”. Twentieth Century Music. [online] Vol. 9. (Iss. 1 – 2), pp. 39 – 62. Available at: [Accessed: 26.05.2020]

15 Brennan, C. (2004). Luciano Berio. Newsmakers 2004 Cumulation. [online] edited by Laura Avery, vol. 4, Gale, 2004, pp. 516-517. Gale eBooks. Available at: [Accessed: 26.05.2020]