JOSH WINIBERG is a UK based pianist, composer and producer who specialises in soundtracks. A relatively late starter on the piano, Josh began teaching himself to play in 2002, aged 14. What he lacked in experience and formal education, he made up for with an insatiable hunger for music. A year later, this drive intensified following the terminal diagnosis of his step father, who gave Josh his keyboard. After chancing upon Ludovico Einaudi on Classic FM, Josh was inspired to compose an album to give to his step-father before he passed away. Following an intense few months of non-stop work on this project, Josh had composed and released his first solo piano album, ‘Sunrise’, which was released in 2005. Although very rough around the edges, it received positive feedback from pianist-composer superstar Ludovico Einaudi. Praise was also received from founder David Nevue, who welcomed Josh onto the Whisperings artist roster. Following this positive reception, Josh was invited to perform his work at the prestigious Ravello Festival, Italy, where he debuted his second piano album, ‘Silent Embrace’. A year later, Josh received his first commission, composing the soundtrack for the cartoon platform game ‘Mr Smoozles Goes Nutso‘ (by award-winning writer, Steve Ince, of ‘Broken Sword’ and ‘Beneath a Steel Sky’ fame). Josh and Steve are currently collaborating on the upcoming point-and-click game, ‘Crow Girl’. Upon finishing school, Josh began studying a BA in Music Composition at Dartington College of Arts, where he released his third solo album, Those Nights, which was warmly received by Kathy Parsons of In 2008, he took part in an ERASMUS exchange program to Berlin, a city he returned to on a long term basis following the completion of his degree. While continuing to compose soundtracks for films, theatre productions and contemporary dance performances, Josh became increasingly inspired by the nightlife in his new home. Within a few months of sampling the Berlin scene, (and true to every cliché about the city), Josh was producing and performing electronic music, blending his classical flair with the hypnotic, German flavour of after-hour techno. Since then, Josh’s productions have been supported by some of the world’s most respected DJs and electronic music magazines including John Digweed, Pig & Dan, Josh Butler, Faze Magazine and DMC Word Magazine. Returning back to the UK in 2013, Josh was approached by American Film Institute alumnus and long term collaborator Quan Zhou to provide the soundtrack for his next film, Woman in Fragments. This powerful drama went on to be screened at film festivals internationally, including Cannes. The soundtrack to Woman in Fragments, as well as the narrative themes running throughout the film, formed the basis of a new instrumental album, Change, which was released in 2017. This album was featured by the HDSounDI YouTube channel and has since received over a million streams, as well as being touted as a contender for album of the year by Kathy Parsons at In 2018, Josh turned his attention to the traditional piano repertoire, taking part in classical festivals and competitions, and winning the 2018 Southend Music Festival piano section with three gold medal performances of Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert. A year later, he gained the DipABRSM performance diploma in piano. The three years have seen Josh return more extensively to soundtrack writing, scoring three short horror films (‘Off the Hook’, ‘The Woods Near Jacob’s Farm’ and ‘See What She Did’), as well as the powerful drama, ‘Paradise’. Other notable credits include a commission for the National Lottery’s 20th Anniversary (2014), and a spot on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ directing the Fishwives Choir (2013) alongside Jon Cohen and Phil da Costa (Military Wives Choir). In 2009, hang drum pioneer and YouTube sensation Manu Delago premiered one of Josh’s compositions for hang and string quartet. Music from Josh’s 2008 album, ‘Those Nights’, was used in the BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘A Fishwives Tale‘, by award winning radio production house, Falling Tree. A book of sheet music from the album Change, published by Editions Musica Ferrum, is scheduled for release in autumn 2021, alongside new electronic works and remixes.

The Modern Pop Sound
“Pop music” has referred to very different sounds over the years. In the 50s and 60s, pop usually referred to rock’n’roll artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles. By the 70s, pop often meant disco, with groups such as Abba.

From the 80s onwards, hip-hop and electronic dance music started to make an impact on the pop sound. While different styles of pop music have always influenced each other to create new genres, from the 90s onwards pop was a mixture of so many different styles that “pop” had become a genre in itself. The 90s pop sound was a mixture of soul, disco, house, rock, and hip-hop. Over the 2000s-2010s, other styles like trance, drum & bass and dubstep also made strong contributions.

Some early pop groups like Take That started off as disco or dance artists. Here’s one of Take That’s first songs.

Over the next years other “boy bands” such as Westlife, Backstreet Boys, and Boyzone, dominated the music charts in the UK. While some songs drew from house and disco, others were more influenced by hip-hop.

Not all songs were influenced by electronic dance music. Many slow ballades drew from rock and disco, with a more laid-back vibe.

Other ballades drew on gospel and spiritual roots, with a more soulful feel.

In the late 90s, a girl group called the Spice Girls became hugely successful, ending the era of boy-band dominance.

In the US pop music was more influenced by soul, resulting in a sound called Contemporary R&B (contemporary means ‘modern day’). Here is Destiny’s Child, the girl group that launched Beyoncé’s career.

This song by Girls Aloud from the early 2000s is a perfect example of the mash-up of different styles that defined pop music from the 90s onwards. Like a collage of different genres and sounds, this song starts off with a jungle beat and bassline alongside Latin sounding string accompaniments, before dropping into a chorus with a surf-rock style electric guitar playing Middle Eastern scales.

Pop Music Over the Last Decade

In the 2010s, EDM had taken off, taking elements from trance (big melodic synths) and house (“4 to the floor” drum machines), and blending them with more poppy vocals and verse/chorus structures. The next artist I want to show you also uses some elements more traditionally associated with classical music – a string quartet:

Other pop artists are still inspired by a more retro disco sound, like this song by Dua Lipa, which has very classic sounding disco drums, strings, and bass, and also samples a jazz record from the 1930s. Here’s the sample first, then see if you can hear it in the Dua Lipa song which follows.

One of the biggest hits of the last few years blended modern trap style beats with traditional Latin music. Notice also the ‘autotuned’ effect on the rapper’s voice. This effect has been used a lot over the last decade and is a defining sound of 2010 productions. Like all musical trends, autotuning like this will go out of fashion fairly soon. But in 30 years time, when you’re all old, there will no doubt be a 2010s revival where producers are copying this effect to sound retro (old fashioned)!

Like the Amen Break that we looked at last week, this sample and melody has also been used extensively by other artists over the decades! You may also recognise it from other songs.

Two of the best-selling artists of the 2010s were Adelle and Ed Sheeran. Sheeran blended his singer-songwriter vocals and guitar sound with housey or hip-hoppy beats and synths.

Adelle had an even more stripped back approach, singing traditional ballades with just vocals and piano.

This kind of approach has more recently been used by Lewis Capaldi.

Beyoncé also explored more stripped back instrumentation in this country-pop song, Daddy Lessons.

Other Pop Trends
One thing pop music is sometimes criticised for is that it is unoriginal, recycling ideas again and again because it’s popular and people know it sells. This isn’t entirely fair as there is lots of very good, fresh sounding pop music, and no music is ever completely original. But I want to finish with a couple of funny videos which show two themes that are incredibly common in modern pop music: the ‘millennial whoop’ and the ‘I V vi IV’ (1 5 6 4, a chord progression which is used over and over again in pop music, ie C, G, A minor, F). Warning: once you watch these videos you will never be able to un-hear these trends! How many do you recognise?

Did the four chords sound familiar? We’ve had two songs using this chord sequence in this lesson alone – both Adelle and Lewis Capaldi both used the I V vi IV progression. Go back and listen to the choruses if you like to see!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these lessons looking at the history of music, and you’ve discovered some music you like along the way. There are so many other style we haven’t managed to cover, but we need to move on now – next week we’ll begin a new topic!

Rock Music: Prog, Punk and Metal

Last week we looked at popular song, largely focusing on its roots: folk music. Towards the end of the lesson, we charted the history of modern pop music, beginning with African American spirituals and ragtime, through blues and early jazz, to 50s rock’n’roll.

Many new genres began to emerge alongside rock’n’roll, including soul music, which ultimately led to disco and its various dance music descendants. We will look at the evolution of dance music in a future lesson. Today, we are going to focus on how rock music evolved over the decades and how it branched out to sub-genres like prog, punk and metal. Today is mostly about listening – we won’t have time for questions, so just sit back and enjoy the music, and take notes about the features of each style.

Let’s remind ourselves of the early rock’n’roll sound by some music from the 1950s by the ‘king of rock’ Elvis Presley.

The 60s – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones & Jimi Hendrix
In 1960, a band formed in Liverpool, UK, that changed the face of music forever – The Beatles. When they started out their sound was very clearly based on blues and rock’n’roll.

Over the next few years pop music became a lot more experimental, with bands looking for influences beyond rock’n’roll. The Beatles famously took inspiration from Indian music, for example.

By the end of the decade, their music had moved on a long way from its rock’n’roll origins. This song, Here Comes the Son, uses some complicated rhythms and patterns that would have been unheard of in blues or rock’n’roll, blurring the distinction between popular music and art music.

In previous centuries Britain had earned itself a nickname from other countries: “the land without music”. Between the 17 and 19th centuries, western music had been largely dominated by European countries, and by Germany and Austria in particularly (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc). At the turn of the century, American popular music came to the forefront with blues, jazz, and rock’n’roll. Finally, in the 1960s, Britain found its musical voice. The Rolling Stones were another band that gained success in the 60s, during the so called ‘British Invasion’ of British bands onto the worldwide stage.

While some bands like The Beatles kept a more laidback pop sound, other musicians like Jimi Hendrix were pushing rock to its extremes, using distortion and feedback effects to get powerful, edgy sounds from the electric guitar.

The 70s – Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath & Sex Pistols
In the 1970s, the Beatles broke up, and Jimi Hendrix joined the ‘27 Club’, passing away at the young age of 27. Despite their short-lived contribution to the world of music, their impact was enormous. That decade gave rise to prog-rock bands (short for progressive), such as Pink Floyd, who would continue pushing rock as an art form. New recording technology allowed for longer recordings, which Pink Floyd would take advantage of with their extended improvisations. New inventions such as synths also allowed for even greater experimentation with sound.

Prog rock music often revolved around ‘concept albums’, albums in which each track is somehow connected (either musically or with a story). One of the most famous examples of a concept album is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which looks at what “make[s] people mad”. Tracks are based on issues such as greed (“Money”), the non-stop march of “Time”, warfare (“Us and Them”) and politics “Brain Damage”), among others. These dramatic concept albums eventually led to bands such a Muse, who always base each album on a narrative idea and musical theme.

Pink Floyd also experimented a lot with electronics in their work, with tracks such as On The Run which features a synth and a drum machine.

Let’s jump forward a few decades to see where the concept albums and electronic experiments led with a track by Muse from their 2006 album Black Holes and Revelations, that is based around sci-fi themes like space and time travel, as well as politics.

And a more recent Muse track from a few years ago, Simulation Theory, which is the idea that we are all inside a computer program and nothing is real. This is a typical sort of theme for a Muse concept album.

Back to the 70s, While Pink Floyd and others were going down the ‘art-rock’ path, creating dramatic and complex long form music, an alternative form of rock started to emerge – punk. True to popular tradition, punks such as the Sex Pistols preferred a less-fussy approach, fusing upfront political lyrics with straight forward music that was easy to play and follow.

With this next song from The Clash, we start to hear a more refined punk sound that gave rise to more recent bands like Blink 182.

Again, let’s skip forward a few decades to hear some 2000s pop-punk from Blink 182, that blends punk instrumentation and structure with poppy lyrics that are less political and edgy.

And now a Blink track from 2019.

Alongside punk and prog, another big genre more aggressive genre was emerging – metal, that had the same high drama and production as prog, but with a heavier, more angry sound. Ozzy Osborne from the band Black Sabbath, was famous for his crazy on stage antics, most famously biting the head off of a bat during a live show! Guess he must have been hungry!

To finish off today’s lesson, let’s jump forward one more time to see some 2000s metal, followed by some more recent music by the same band, Slipknot. Slipknot continued the same aggressive, dramatic style as Black Sabbath, with even heavier screamed vocals. They also added masks and on-stage personas to add a new level of theatricality to metal.

And some Slipknot from 2014:

After hearing those quite extreme tracks, let’s finish up with one last track, to remind us where this journey started!

It’s incredible how music evolves, isn’t it? We didn’t have time to cover every decade and sub-genre of rock today, but we can look more closely at the 80s and 90s in the future, looking at Britpop like Oasis and Coldplay as well as the grunge and emo movements. Next week – soul, funk, and disco!

Last week we covered a brief history of classical music, looking at how it developed over the centuries. This week we will take a similar journey but focusing on popular song (which includes ‘pop’ music, as well as traditional folk music). This is a big topic that will take more than one lesson. Today we will look at traditional popular song, up until rock’n’roll. We will cover modern pop music next week.

You only need to listen to a few minutes of each video to the idea. There will be questions at the end of this lesson, where you will be asked to say which genre (style) a song is. You should also write down interesting facts or new words as you go.

Popular Music vs Art Music
To help us understand what is meant by popular music, let’s compare it to classical music. We will look at the differences between them, as well as how they are related and influential on each other.

Western classical music is a kind of art music that developed in the churches and palaces of Europe from around the 1400s. Classical music was mostly learned from notation (sheet music), which required musical training to understand. The music could be complex, long, and difficult to perform. It was often written for large orchestras, which meant that hearing a large-scale work like a piano concerto or a symphony would be a rare experience for most people.

The 18th century version of Spotify

Popular music of the same era was very different in these respects. There are exceptions to many of the following rules, but together they give an idea of what makes music popular.

  • It was usually taught orally (by showing and copying rather than through reading sheet music).
  • It tended to be built around the human voice and/or simple, affordable instruments, rather than large orchestras or expensive and complicated instruments like grand pianos.
  • Songs are normally short, lasting just a few minutes each, with a repetitive structure.
  • Musically easy to understand (though not necessarily easy to perform).
  • Pleasant on the ear, often with a catchy melody or ‘hook’. Not experimental or challenging.

Together, these traditions that define popular music make it accessible – more people will be able to listen to, perform, and enjoy popular song.

Irish trad (short for traditional) is a form of popular song. You may also know it as folk music. Folk music has a strong connection to its native land, using sounds and instruments common to that area. Here’s an example.

And some Scottish traditional music, featuring an instrument that is strongly associated with that Scotland – bagpipes.

Nursery rhymes and lullabies are also forms of popular song, written especially for children. The famous ‘Pat-a-Cake’ is at least 320 years old, possibly older.

Although we talk about popular music being accessible and art music being more complex, there are lots of exceptions. Some classical music is very straight forward and easy to perform (sometimes called pop-classical), and some pop music is incredibly complicated and experimental (sometimes called art-pop or art-rock).

Yiruma is an example of pop-classical. He writes very uncomplicated music that gets called classical because it’s written for solo piano. However, in most ways his music closer to Celine Dione than Beethoven.

There is also a lot of crossover between art and popular music – classical composers taking inspiration from pop and folk music, and vice versa. When a classical composer writes music inspired by the popular music of their native land, it is called nationalist music – folk music, re-written in a classical style. Some famous nationalist composers include Ralph Vaughn-Williams (English), Béla Bartók (Hungarian and Romanian), and Frédéric Chopin (Polish). Let’s compare some of this traditional music to the ‘classical’ versions.

Greensleeves (England)

Romanian Christmas Carols

Mazurkas (Poland)

Sometimes the opposite happens, and pop or rock bands take inspiration from classical music. One famous example is the band Queen, who blend operatic singing and writing with rock instruments.

For the rest of the lesson, we’re going to look at the development of modern, western, pop music, and how traditional popular music led to the sound we recognise today. It all started with the blues.

African-American Music
In the 1800s, a style of music emerged out of the African-American communities in the US. This genre, called the blues, went on to have a strong influence on the popular music that followed, and eventually led to the sounds we now recognise as pop. The blues originated from a style of music called spirituals – music sung while working or in church. Slaves were often banned from using instruments, so spirituals would have been sung acapella (just voices, without instruments). Here is an example of a spiritual.

As the slave trade came to an end, instruments were more regularly incorporated into these songs, and the blues emerged.

Another style, called ragtime, also had a huge impact on popular music. Here’s a song by the famous ragtime composer, Scott Joplin.

And another by Lyons & Josco.

The upbeat rhythms of ragtime, along with the harmony and structure of blues, led to jazz and rock’n’roll, which in turn led to the pop music we know today. Here is some very early jazz from 1925. Can you hear the mixture of bluesy melodies and ragtime rhythms?

The history of pop is complicated, with lots of different styles branching out of jazz and the blues at the same time. On one hand you have music such as Motown and soul, which – via disco – led to the dance music we have today: house, techno, EDM, etc. On the other, you have rock’n’roll and its various offshoots: punk, metal, grunge, etc.

The development of rock and dance music are are big topics that will require a lesson each to cover. Let’s complete today’s journey from spirituals to rock with some early rock’n’roll from the ‘king of rock’, Elvis Presley.

You can clearly hear the blues and early jazz influences in this early rock’n’roll.

Now you’ve heard some examples of traditional popular music, let’s see if you can recognise the genre of these songs just by listening.

Is this song ragtime, spiritual, or rock’n’roll?

Is this song pop-classical, blues, or folk music?

Is this song blues, spiritual, or Irish-trad?

Is this collection of pieces an example of nationalist music or pop-classical?

And finally, is this song a spiritual, ragtime, or rock’n’roll?


  1. This famous piano piece is called The Entertainer, and is by the famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin.
  2. The band in the Irish pub are folk musicians. You may have thought it was classical because of the violin, but the violin (or fiddle, as it’s called by folk musicians) is common in lots of traditional music.
  3. This old song was an example of the blues. The guitar playing indicates that it’s probably not a spiritual.
  4. The Romanian Folk Dances by Bartók are famous examples of nationalist music.
  5. And finally, the last song by the Rolling Stones is rock’n’roll.

Music History – Introduction
Today we are moving onto a new topic – looking at different genres (styles) of music (for example, pop, classical, rock, dance music, jazz, hip-hop etc). In each of these lessons we will look in depth at one genre, understanding how it developed, and listening to examples. Your aim is to be able to identify a song’s genre and era by listening to it, and to be able to name some famous examples of music within that genre.

Before we look at specific genres in depth, we’re going to spend a couple of lessons looking at the progression of music from pre-historic times all the way through to modern day. First, we will look at the history of art music (classical). Next week we will look at the history of popular music

You only need to listen to 3-4 minutes from each video. There won’t be any questions this lesson, but you should write down facts about the different styles as you go along, as well as explanations of any new words you learn.

Pre-Historic and Ancient Eras
Humans have been making music for tens of thousands of years. The oldest musical instruments ever discovered were flutes made from bones and ivory over 40,000 years ago.

Around 1400 BC (2000 years after the invention of writing), humans began to notate (write down) music. Thanks to this ancient notation, we have some idea how this very early music would have sounded. This is the oldest song known to mankind, from an area we now call Syria. It’s a hymn for Nikkal, the wife of their ancient moon god.

Unfortunately, musicologists (people who study the history and theory of music) can’t even agree on how music was performed 300 years ago, let along 3000 years ago. It’s impossible to say exactly how this would have sounded, but we do have a very rough idea. Here is one interpretation:

Medieval Era (c.400-1420 AD)
Around 2,000 years later, in 1,000 AD, we begin to see the beginnings of modern sheet music – staff notation, which uses lines and dots to indicate pitch. Although it looks very different to today’s music and is very basic, musicologists can understand it well.

Left: early staff notation. Right: modern staff notation with exact notes, rhythms, and dynamics.

Renaissance Era (c.1400-1600)
As notation developed over the next few hundred years, so too did music theory. Some combinations of notes that used to be considered harsh sounding (or even evil) became accepted into the mainstream. Arising from these changes was a new harmonic language based on major (happy sounding) and minor (sad sounding) chords. These developments, along with increasingly precise notation, allowed complex new forms of music to emerge, and remain the foundation of music we listen to today.

Interesting fact: A pair of notes called a tritone was known as the “devil’s chord”. It was considered so evil sounding that the Catholic church banned it. Now we hear the tritone all the time, like in the first two notes of The Simpsons (the notes on “The Si” form a tritone).

Here’s a sample of some Renaissance music.

The Common Practice Period (c.1600-1900)
The next few centuries are known as the ‘common practice period’. This period, which gave rise to composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, is often referred to broadly as ‘classical music’ (spelled with a small ‘c’). Within the common practice period, we have three main eras: Baroque (c. 1580-1750), Classical (spelled with a big ‘C’, c.1750-1820), and Romantic (c. 1800-1910).

Baroque Era (c.1580-1750)
Baroque music is generally considered the earliest form of classical music as we know it today. There was an explosion of fantastically complex music during this era. Pieces of music would contain many musical themes all playing at the same time (counterpoint), while also adhering strictly to the newly established principles which had developed out major and minor harmony.

Orchestras were very small in comparison to later eras. Very little percussion was used in Baroque music, and the piano had not yet been invented. There was another invention in the Baroque era though, the pipe organ, which was used to great effect. These days, it’s common for Baroque music to be performed on a piano. Some people don’t like this because they say it isn’t authentic (it’s different to how it originally would have been performed). However, there is little doubt that Bach would have used a piano if he’d had access to one.

Music was generally for religious purposes or for dancing to. As a result, Baroque music often had a steady rhythm so that large groups of people could sing or dance to it. Composers would often take a very short musical idea and develop it with increasing complexity, such as JS Bach’s fugues (pronounced ‘fyoog’), are some of the most intricate pieces of music ever created.

Classical Era (c.1750-1820)
The Classical era (not to be confused with ‘classical music’ more generally), is most commonly associated with Mozart. Pieces from this era contained more contrasting moods and tended to focus on elegance and clarity (a step away from – or maybe even a rebellion against – the mind-boggling complexity of Baroque music). There tended to be a clear ‘melody’ which stood out, rather than lots of themes happening at the same time. Although it was simpler in this respect, composers were still pushing the harmonic language to discover new ways of expressing themselves through sound.

The orchestra expanded in size with more performers of each instrument taking part, and started to include percussion more regularly. The piano was also invented around this time and was used extensively by composers, although it sounded quite different from the piano we know today. You can hear Mozart’s actual piano being played here in the first minute:

Here’s a recording of a piano concerto by Mozart, performed on period instruments (instruments that the composers would have used, i.e., from their time period).

Despite composing some of the most beautiful music ever written, Mozart famously found poo hilarious and even wrote songs about it.

Romantic Era (c.1800-1910)
The Classical era was short lived, in no small part due to innovations by Beethoven, who’s increasingly dramatic and emotional music broke free from the delicacy of Mozart’s time.
Beethoven’s visionary approach, pushing the boundaries of harmony and increasing the size of the orchestra, ushered in the Romantic era. His Ninth Symphony was regarded as a kind of miracle by composers who followed him. As well as inspiring a new generation of composers, the shadow of Beethoven loomed large, setting the bar terrifyingly high for those that followed (unlike Bach and Mozart who fell out of fashion and were not fully appreciated until after their death).

While the previous generation of composers had been considered staff by their wealthy (and often regal) employers, Beethoven insisted on being treated as a peer. He demanded status for his genius, and he was given it – the superstar musician was born.

The word ‘Romantic’ doesn’t mean lovey or soppy – Romantic era music often focused on dramatic themes that cover all sorts of emotions – love and loss, pleasure and suffering, life and death, comedy and tragedy. Music was often composed to tell a story (program music) and could be inspired by poetry and literature. Harmony was complex and took many unexpected twists and turns as composers pushed the 12-note scale to its limits.

Composers that followed Beethoven took these Romantic ideals to ever greater extremes – using increasingly complex and dramatic harmony – and began composing virtuosic (incredibly difficult) music to show off their superstar technique. Here’s a concerto written by Rachmaninoff, one of the last Romantic composers. It’s worth watching this one for a bit longer so you can see the virtuosic piano writing.

The Modern Era
In the 1900s, the Common Practice Era came to an end – musical language had been pushed to its extremes to the point that the rules that had governed the previous 300 years fell apart. It’s difficult to create something when there are no rules or boundaries to work with and to rebel against. Composers began experimenting with all sorts of different systems to establish new musical languages. The result is 100 years of music very different to anything that had come before.

Some composers continued to push harmony by creating their own rules compositional rules, for example serialism – a technique that meant every note must be treated equally, with no ‘main’ note. This contrasts with most (possibly all) music which came before, which would centre around a clear home key. The result is an alien sounding music that never quite resolves.

Some composers experimented with chance, others took inspiration from other cultures, or from technology and warfare. Some even began to question what the difference is between sound and music and would compose music which broke down this barrier. Here’s a snippet of a composition by the furturist composer Russolo.

John Cage famously wrote a piece called 4’33” (Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds), in which the performers didn’t play anything. You can see an explanation and performance here.

Composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass took inspiration from traditional African and Indian music, using their rhythmic patterns and the concept of repetition to create minimalist music.

Unlike some of the other modernist pieces we’ve heard today, minimalist music was easy for the wider public to understand and enjoy, and as a result has had a huge impact, inspiring composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Yann Tiersen, as well as influencing film scores and popular music.

Post-classical Music
It’s not easy to define what our period of music is. There are no longer commonly accepted rules for music making – some continue to compose extremely complicated or experimental music like the Schoenberg piece we heard earlier, others have fused minimalism, electronic, and pop music together to create something that isn’t quite any of them. In this sort of music, the lines between classical and popular music have broken down completely. For this reason, some people it Post-classical music (meaning ‘after classical’).

Well, that was a long lesson – we’ve covered 40,000 years of music making, so well done for that!
I hope you now understand that ‘classical’ music covers many different styles, many of which sound nothing alike. Each era had its own character, defined by the accepted musical language of the day, as well as technology (new instruments, and the discovery of electricity). Next week we will take a similar route for pop music.

If you enjoyed any of the music we looked at today, I have a playlist for my students which features music from the Baroque era all the way through to contemporary, Post-classical music.

Instrument Families – Recap

I hope you all had a lovely Easter Break! Last term we looked at different instruments and their families: keyboard, strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion. Before we move on to our next topic – different styles of music – we’re going do recap with one last lesson on ALL the instrument families.

Here are some questions to get you started. For each group, the instrument names are given but in the wrong order. You need to:
a) match the instrument with its correct name; and
b) name the instrument family

GROUP 1: tuba, trumpet, trombone, French horn

GROUP 2: organ, harpsichord, accordion, celesta, piano, keyboard

The next two groups are both from the same instrument family.

Group 3a: violin, harp ‘cello, double bass, viola

Group 3b: Ukulele, electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar

Group 4: Cymbals, xylophone, drum kit, glockenspiel, timpani

Group 5: Clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, saxophone

Answers (instrument names from left to right):

Group 1: Brass. trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba

Group 2: Keyboard. Top row: celesta, organ, keyboard/digital piano/synthesiser
Bottom row: harpsichord, accordion, piano (or grand piano)

A bit tricky because harpsichords look like grand pianos, and celestas look like upright pianos.

Group 3a: Strings (orchestral string – the violin family and harp). Double bass/contrabass, cello/violoncello, viola, violin, harp.

This can be difficult to tell apart unless you have a form of reference – the main difference is their size, which you can see by comparing the instruments with each other or with their bows. A string quartet (group of four string players) doesn’t include all four of the violin-type instruments as you might it expect. Instead, it contains two violins, one viola, and a cello – no contrabass.

a string quartet – from left to right, two violins, cello, viola.

Group 3b: Strings (lute family). Ukulele, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar

Electric guitars and bass guitars look similar, but the bass has four strings to the guitar’s six. You can tell the number of strings by counting the tuning pegs on the head of the guitar.  The ukulele also looks like an acoustic guitar, except it is much smaller and only has four strings.

bass (four strings, left) and electric guitar (six strings, right)

Group 4: Percussion (or drums). Top row: drum kit, timpani
Bottom row: cymbals, glockenspiel, xylophone

The difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone is the material they are made from: glockenspiels are metallic, xylophones are wooden.

Group 5: Woodwind. Flute, saxophone, oboe, bassoon, clarinet.

The most obvious difference between the oboe and the clarinet is the mouthpiece – the wooden reed sticking out of the top of the oboe makes it clear which instrument it is.

Mouthpieces for clarinet (single reed, left) and oboe (double reed, right).

How did you do? Now you’re warmed up, let’s listen to some music and see which instruments you can pick out.

Music Examples

How many instruments can you pick out from this disco song by The Brother’s Johnson, ‘Stomp’? You’ll need to use your ears as well as your eyes – I count 11, one of which can be heard but not seen.

Which instrument family is featured in this piece, ‘Company’ by Philip Glass? Can you name the three different instruments found in this quartet? (2:46-4:26 only)


Now for some jazz with Pat Metheny Group. Which instruments can you spot? Watch until least 5:06 to see all the instruments.


This next piece is quite long but I’m going to ask you to listen to the whole thing. Firstly, there are a lot of instruments to spot. Secondly, these classical pieces really need to be heard in full to appreciate them. Most music we hear on the radio is 3-4 minutes long, but classical pieces can last for much longer.

Back then, people didn’t have recordings, so the only music they would hear is if they played it themselves or if they went to a performance. Being able to hear music composed and performed by geniuses is something we take for granted today but then it was a real special occasion, and a luxury most people couldn’t afford.

If you’re used to only hearing short songs, listening for longer can take practice, but it is worth it to appreciate these incredible works of art. When you’ve finished identifying the instruments you could help yourself focus by drawing or writing about what you hear.

This is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor and is made up of three movements (pieces). I’d like you to just listen to the first movement, which ends at 15:15.

Listen out for the section between 11:50 and 14:17, which is called the candenza – a section of music where the composer indicates for the performer to write or improvise a solo before the full orchestra returns for an exciting ending. The incredible cadenza in this performance was actually written by another great composer, Beethoven!


Well done for concentrating on that! It’s long but I think very exciting, and I hope you enjoyed it. Here’s something a bit different to finish with – Jess Glynne performing at the Brit Awards.


1. Electric guitar, bass guitar, two keyboards (one digital piano and one synth – if you put those as answers that’s great!), drum-kit, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, congas, tambourine, and violins (which can be heard but not seen in the video. If you put strings that’s fine too). The answer could be 12 instruments if you include vocals.

2. String family (or violin family) – this is multiple string quartets playing at the same time, but the instrumentation is string quartet: violin (x2), viola, and cello. No double-bass/contrabass.

3. Two guitars, double-bass (or contrabass, although it is usually called a double-bass in a jazz setting), piano, keyboards (or synths), drum-kit, shakers, congas, and a xylophone solo in the middle. Again, you could also include vocals as an instrument.

4. In this classical orchestra setup from the 1700s, we can see a string orchestra made up of violins, violas, celli, and contrabassi; a wind section made up of a flute, oboes, bassoons (all woodwind) and French horns (brass), timpani (percussion) and, of course, the piano, which is the soloist in this concerto.

5. Drum-kit (and also a drum machine), trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano/keyboard, violin/strings (heard but not seen), bass guitar, electric guitar, and again a bonus point if you put vocals or singing.

Well done! You now know a lot more about the different instruments that exist and the ways they can be used musically. And hopefully you want to take one up and join us in School Orchestra when that starts again in the future! From next week, we will look at different genres (styles) of music so you can learn which is which based on how they sound.


In today’s lesson we are going to look at last major family of instruments, the string family (chordophones – instruments that produce sound by vibrating a string).

There are three main types of string instrument: bowed (played with a bow), plucked (pulled), and struck (hit with ‘hammers’ or beaters).

Bowed Strings

The first group of instruments we will look at are the bowed strings – specifically, the orchestral strings that make up the viol family.

From left to right (smallest to largest): violin (x2, in this picture), viola, violoncello (usually abbreviated to cello), contrabass (often called double bass).
Unless they’re all next to each other so you can see the size difference, it can be very confusing to tell some of these instruments apart. However, you can get a very basic idea with this video (ignore the harp for now):

As a composer (somebody who writes music) I do a lot of string writing myself. I would like to share some with you today so you can hear the string section in action! Here is a song I wrote for a film a few years ago, for piano and string quartet (two violins, one viola, and one cello). It’s called The Dancer.

In this composition I only used 4 bowed strings, but orchestras often use 60, which results in a different sound texture. Check out the first two minutes of this next video, and then skip to 15:56 to hear some other ‘techniques’ (ways of playing string instruments), for example: tremolo (fast repeated notes), pizzicato (plucked, like a guitar).

Here’s another song of mine called Amor Fati. This one also features a guitar and a double bass alongside the piano and string quartet. That’s six different instruments altogether, some of which produce very different sounds: piano, guitar, violin (x2), viola, cello, and double bass. You only need listen to the first four minutes or so. When you get to 2:48 listen carefully – can you hear the string quartet playing pizzicato (plucked)?

Plucked Strings

Another string instrument that is a common feature of modern orchestras is the harp. These are plucked rather than bowed. See one in action here (watch to 2:38, then again from 5:27 to 5:57).

It’s common for bowed instruments like the violin to be plucked, but less common for plucked instruments to be bowed. It is possible though! Here’s a rare but famous example of a bowed guitar, by Sigur Rós (starting at 1:48).

Of course, guitars are usually played with fingers – the left hand presses down strings, which makes them sound higher by shortening the length of the strings, while the right hand pulls the strings to make them vibrate, which is what produces the sound.

We’ll come back to electric guitars soon. First, let’s see the original, acoustic (non-electric) guitar. Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo is an example of the acoustic guitar being played in classical music.

Acoustic guitars are also used a lot in flamenco music – a type of folk music from Spain – like this song by Cameron de la isla and Paco de lucia, called Bulerias.

Here’s an acoustic guitar playing a completely different type of music, with a cover of Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd.

Electric guitars work much the same way as acoustic guitars, except they can go through amplifiers to make them much louder and to add effects. This means it’s possible to make it sound nothing like an acoustic. Here’s a song called Violet Hill by Coldplay, which uses a acoustic guitar and an electric guitar.

The bass guitar is an electric guitar which is much lower sounding and has fewer (four) strings. In bands it often has a supporting role (rather than being a lead instrument), but here’s a solo which shows off what it can do!

And here it is in a band setting in the song Hysteria by Muse, which voted the best bassline of all time! The bass in this song is heavily processed with effects to make it sound like a synthesiser, but it is a live bass (contains flashes).

There are too many guitar-like instruments for us to look at all of them here, but here’s one more before we move one: the ukulele, which is like a small guitar with only four strings. Here’s a mashup of Stairway to Heaven and Fuer Elise by ukulele virtuoso Taimane.

Struck Strings

Finally let’s look at some struck strings. These aren’t as varied as their bowed and plucked counterparts, and really consist only of piano and dulcimers. The piano is very commonly used, and we’ve covered that in previous lessons, but dulcimers aren’t seen that much in bands or orchestras.

Dulcimers works in much the same way as a piano, except the performer hits the strings with the ‘hammers’ themselves instead of using keys. Here’s some traditional music on the Santouri (Greek hammered dulcimer). If the performer uses soft hammers it sounds very similar to an upright piano, but usually dulcimer hammers are a harder than those used in pianos. The result is a more metallic sound than the piano.

Have a quick look at how it works here, just for a minute or so.

And here is a full CD so you can hear it in better quality (just a couple of minutes is fine).

Although the dulcimer isn’t used as often as other string instruments in music we hear in the UK, electronic musicians do occasionally use it in their tracks to great effect. Here’s one such track by Four Tet (one or two minutes is enough).

And another by Lamb (again, one or two mins):

If we continue doing video lessons next term, we will look a bit more at traditional instruments from other countries then.


Now you’ve been introduced to the string family, let’s see how many you can pick out in these songs! Some are quite long, you only need to listen to 3 or so minutes from each but can listen longer if you’re enjoying it!


In this song, Primavera by Ludovico Einaudi, the entire orchestra is made up of string instruments – how many different types can you find?


Which string instrument is being played here in this song by George Formby called “When I’m Cleaning Windows”?

Is it just me or does it sound like he’s singing “When I’m Cleaning Winders?” 😁


One of mine written for a film – there’s no video here so you’ll just need to use your ears. Can you guess which 3 string instruments are playing in this song?


Which four string instruments that we’ve looked at can you hear Resist by the band Rush?


What are the two string instruments heard here in Fratres by Arvo Pärt? (just need


This song – Blurred by Kiasmos – is an example of orchestral instruments being used in electronic music. Which string instruments can you hear?


Finally, how about this song by the Beatles, called Here Comes the Sun? You’ll need to use your ears for this one!


I hope you enjoyed looking at the different instrument families this half term! Here’s the answers for this lesson.

  1. Primavera is written for piano, harps (which you can see but are quite hard to hear on this recording), and string orchestra (violins, violas, celli, and double basses).
  2. George Formby was a famous ukulele player.
  3. One Last Time features piano, guitar, and viola (you can also have a point if you said cello instead of viola, since they sound quite similar and have the same range it would be extremely difficult to tell the difference. You can also have a point if you said violin – again, the sounds is similar but a violin can’t actually play notes that low).
  4. Resist featured acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, and – if you listen very carefully to the beginning – a hammered dulcimer.
  5. Fratres, by the minimalist composer Arvo Pärt, is performed here on piano and violin. This composer is also very well known for the song Spiegel im Spiegel (for piano and viola), which you may recognise.
  • Blurred is built around a piano and violins.
  • Here Comes the Sun features lots of strings: acoustic guitar, electric guitar,and bass guitar, as well as orchestra strings: violas, celli, and a double bass. You can also have a point if you said violin.

Have a lovely Easter!