Saturday, April 9, 2011

So, How Does Music Work?

Oops... I published the wrong post. Ignore that, please.

As I was saying...

I'm currently reading a fascinating book called How Music Works by John Powell. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked an interesting question by a friend of mine. He asked me:

"You know how there are different types of drums that play different pitches. For example, there might be a drum that plays an F and a drum that plays a G. Now, my question is, why can these drums go with any notes? Is it because it's too low for our ears to discern as a note and we just associate it with a way of keeping track of the beat or something. For another example... Supposed your playing in the key of C and your drum is the note D. Why is it that you can play that note even while it's not a 3rd or a 5th above or below the note that your playing with, and it will still sound good.

You can seem to play a drum note to any note of the piano, regardless of the distance between the notes. But, if you did this on the piano and played one note as the beat in every measure, while your playing your song, most likely you will run into what sounds really awful. Like if you played a C and a D at the same time, it wouldn't sound very nice.

I guess that's what I'm trying to ask. What is it about a drum beat that you can play notes that don't follow the chord of what your playing, yet it still sounds nice. Like if you played a C on the piano while you played a D on the drums, it wouldn't sound bad like it would if you did it on the piano.

Yesterday I read something very interesting on this exact topic:

Apparently, bass drums, like the ones on drum sets, have 2 ends that can be hit. The drum can be either pitched or unpitched, depending on how it's tuned. To make it pitched, all you have to do is tune both sides to the same pitch so that the sound waves match and resonate. To make it unpitched, you tune both ends to different pitches. That way, the waves aren't uniform and we don't hear a specific pitch. However, this makes it so that the drum doesn't resonate very much. It becomes more of a dull thud.

But what if you need the drum to resonate? I'm guessing that you can do that by tuning both sides of the drum to the same very low pitch.

My guess was that it doesn't clash because we don't think of drums as a pitched instrument. Since we perceive the drum as an unpitched instrument, we hear it as one. Similarly, if you think of a drum as pitched, it could clash.

I also thought that if the drum is too low pitched we wouldn't be able to discern its pitch, but if it is higher, like a snare or a djembe, it's more likely to clash because the pitches are more in our range.

Which leads to the question: Let's say someone sings bass and they hear a drum that's in their range, way down low. It probably doesn't clash to other people, but since he's used to singing in the same range as the drum, does it clash to him?

I'll be searching for an answer to that and more.

If you have a question of your own, please feel free to ask! I'd love to be of assistance.

And be sure to tune in next time for So, How Does Music Work?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting... I never thought of that! It makes sense though!:D


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