Welcome to my music education series! I thought it would be a good idea to do this because I write so much about music in K-drama. I often find myself wanting to use more specific terms and concepts in order to more accurately describe the music to you. Therefore, this series is geared for the non-musician and is liquid, meaning I want to hear from you about what you understand, what you don’t understand, and what you want to learn about!
Hopefully, this series will help you understand music better. I want you to be able to apply these concepts to your listening of K-drama OSTs. Why do producers, writers and PDs choose the songs that they choose? Why do composers write music a certain way? How do they compose for maximum impact? What you will learn will also apply to all of the other music you listen to!
Here is a basic glossary that I will be constantly adding to. I will include pertinent definitions at the bottom of every post and then also insert them into this glossary. This glossary is comprehensive to the series.
You can find these words online, but I really tried to simplify them here for the non-musician. I didn’t realize that musicians really have quite a complicated language until I started writing about music for the non-musician. Many of the terms are interconnected, which can be a bit confusing.
If anything is confusing at any point, please ask me to clarify and I will post another explanation of the concept.
(Mozart and Bach. I seriously crack up every time I see these powdered wigs. In school we have to stare at this photos ALL THE TIME. They maybe rather unfortunate looking fellows, but damn, were they geniuses!)
Raine‘s Music Dictionary for the Non-musician: All words in red are a part of the dictionary.
Accent – when you put a stress or emphasis on a single note. It can keep tempo, funk up a rhythm or define the typical sound for a music style (rock, jazz, tango, bluegrass, etc.) Accents can change the feel of a rhythm that has the same notes in it. Like put the wrong emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. Instead of the right EMphasis on the right SYllable.
- On the beat accents – often used for rock. They come on the beat or pulse.
- Off the beat accents – often used for jazz. These avoid sounding on the beat and give the music a funky feel.
The Beat – The regular pulse of the music. It’s what you clap your hands to or bob your head to or tap your toes to. It establishes tempo, how fast or slow something is. It gives the song or piece its “heartbeat”.
Cello – The most awesome instrument in the universe. It was originally called the violincello. It’s part of the violin family, but its better than the violin :P. It has four strings that are always tuned to the same pitches. You play it with a stick that has horsehair attached, which is called a bow. (Seriously, who the hell thought that up?) It has an endpin to hold it up and extremely good quality cellos cost more than most cars. (I covet those. Oh, how I covet!) A cheap cello costs about $600. You will never find ANY professional playing on anything less than $5,000. And clients wonder why we charge so much…
Composer – A person who writes music, puts pen to paper (or finger to keyboard in this day and age) and creates the music that you and I enjoy. Mozart, Bach, Chopin, etc., are popular classical composers. The modern day equivalent is song-writer (Elton John) or score composers (John Williams). I’m always whining I can’t find score composers. Incidental music always gets gypped. Most strictly classical composers can’t make a living on composition and supplement their commissions with teaching.
Crescendo – See Dynamics.
Decrescendo/diminuendo – See Dynamics.
Dynamics – These indicate how loud or soft something is. They show all changes in volume and are VERY effective in stirring emotion. Here are several dynamics. (The terminology is based on the Italian language.)
- Crescendo – to gradually get louder. Kids love this one. Shoot, I love this one. It tells you something important is coming in the music, or the film, or the show!
- Decrescendo/diminuendo – to gradually get softer. It lets you know that things are winding down, or creates suspense if something is about to happen.
- Forte – mean LOUD!!!!! Something exciting is going on! Whoohoo! Let your hair down or run away really fast ’cause there’s something chasing you! Or, you just had a declaration of love or a nice, anticipated kiss.
- Piano – means soft. It can portray a calm feeling. It can portray bottled emotions. I can portray a sweet moment between a couple or intense thought.
Forte – See Dynamics.
Harmony – When you play or sing two or more notes/pitches together. There are a bajillion note combinations and they can make you feel anything on the emotional spectrum. Composers and song-writers use harmony to effectively support lyrics or musical ideas. When you hear two people singing at the same time on different notes, that’s the most recognizable example of harmony. It’s everywhere and all around you! *le sigh*
Incidental Music – I have a bone to pick with this term, but we’ll run with it for now since its commonly accepted. It is music created to accompany a show, film, theatre production and the like. It’s what enhances mood. Imagine a scary movie without the music to tell you someone is about to get their head sliced off. So not scary anymore.
- Bone – They call it incidental, yet it is anything BUT incidental. It is a VITAL part of any dramatic art. The composers of incidental music often get shafted in the recognition aspect in K-drama. These people deserve credit for how well they play with your emotions, dammit! Just think, everytime you hear a song that was in a K-drama, you want to laugh or cry. Same thing with incidental music.
Lyrics – The words to a song. Easy, peasy.
Lyricist – Someone who writes lyrics. You can’t have an Elton John without a Tim Rice. Back in the day lyricists were called librettists. Librettist mostly refers to opera/musical theatre composers now. Oftentimes composers and lyricists are the same person.
Melody – This is the main tune of a song/piece. It’s what you walk away singing after listening to something. Or, that little snippet of a song/piece that gets STUCK IN YOUR HEAD causing severe aural hallucinations.
Piano – See Dynamics.
Piece – This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It is music that has no lyrics. It gets often confused with song which is music that has lyrics.
Pitch – I’m going to use the dictionary definition for this one. “The specific quality of a sound that makes it a recognizable tone. Pitch defines the location of a tone in relation to others, thus giving it a sense of being high or low.”
Rhythm – And this one is a doozy to explain. The music dictionary says, “Rhythm is the controlled movement of music in time.” Luckily for us, its definition semi-corresponds with the English-language definition. “Movement or procedure with uniform or patterned recurrence of a beat, accent, or the like.”
Awkward, right? I HATE trying to explain this to kids. I tell them that its different combinations of short and long notes. Each pitch/note has a role in a rhythm. Everything you hear has rhythm. Rap generally has notes with short values. Love songs have notes with long values.
Score – I have two definitions of this. It’s a bit shifty.
- The written form of a piece/song that includes all the parts: every instrumental and vocal line. It’s all there. This is the copy that the composer has and that a conductor has.
- The entirety of the music that plays in a show/film/drama/theatre work. It includes pop songs but can also refer to the music written specifically for the dramatic work.
Song – a composition that is sung and generally has lyrics (almost always). It is NOT a piece. Most people use this word to define everything. BAD! WRONG!
Song-writer – someone who writes songs! Self-explanitory. This person can write both lyrics and music. He can be a singer/songwriter and perform his own music. He can sell his music to a performer. He can be commissioned to write songs for performers. In K-pop, song-writers are normally not the singers, but are hired to compose.
Tempo – This is how fast or slow something is. It is usually constant unless the music indicates a tempo change. It’s what differentiates a ballad (slow) from Mariachi (fast).
Theme – The original melody of a song/piece. (See Variations for a verbal explanation.)
Variations – A variation is an alteration of the theme, but the theme is still recognizable within the variation. The variation allows the composer/song-writer to change it up and make a melody more interesting so that the same melody isn’t repeated over and over and over and over and over again causing audiences everywhere to keel over.
Western music – Music composed by people in the Western hemisphere. K-pop has adapted Western musical structures and genres: rock, rap, Indie. So Korea has popular music and then traditional music. Heartstrings combined both traditional and Western music. That was the best part of the show. The rest…well, that’s for another series.
World music – Any music that isn’t American. At least that’s what my American published music dictionary says. As Alua pointed out, it’s a very ethnocentric term. In the American music education system, it’s just part of the curriculum. Not cool! It does place American music on a pedestal it shouldn’t be standing on. American music is an amalgamation of “world music”. The banjo originated in Africa. We have Irish reals and Argentine Tangos. “American” music is a derivative of the many peoples living here.
Anyway, I’ve always thought of it as folk or traditional music indigenous to a country. Musicians perform on instruments developed in their cultural history. In Korea, you have instruments such as the gayageum. In Scotland, you have bagpipes. In India, you have the sitar. Traditional music often finds itself incorporated into modern pop either melodically or lyrically or in the instrumentation (what instruments are used.)
(Cello is sexay!)
“If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.” – Gustav Mahler
Music Education for K-drama OSTs, Introduction and Glossary: Rhythm (Dec. 12)