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 SoloPianoRadio.com 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 MainlyPiano.com. 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 MainlyPiano.com. 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.

Introduction

In today’s lesson we are going to look at percussion instruments.

The percussion family is huge and includes many different types of instruments. Percussion instruments (often called drums) are those that produce sound by being hit, for example by hands, sticks, or beaters, or by beads that are inside the instrument (like shakers).

Some percussion instruments are categorised as non-pitched percussion – these instruments don’t make a precise note when you hit them, for example shakers and cymbals.

Other percussion instruments, like xylophones, timpani and bells, are called pitched percussion since they produce definite notes of the scale and can be used to play melodies. Pitched percussion can also include keyboard instruments like the piano and celesta, which we looked at last week: when you play them, a hammer hits a string or piece of metal, to produce sound. This means a piano is a keyboard instrument, a percussion instrument AND a string instrument! Percussion sounds can also be created by synthesisers called drum machines, like the Roland 808 and Roland 909 which are used in dance music.

Percussion instruments make up the ‘rhythm’ section in orchestras and bands, and can be described as the ‘heartbeat’ or ‘engine’ of a piece of music, that keeps a song driving forward. Let’s look at some different types of drums.

Orchestral Percussion

This video introduces you to lots of different instruments (pitched percussion: vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, and non-pitched percussion: bass drum, tam-tam, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, crotales and tambourine):

Another type of orchestral percussion which isn’t included in this video is the timpani, which you can see here (you need only watch the first couple of minutes):

Drum Machines

Here are a couple of very famous drum machines, the Roland 808 and 909, which defined dance music through the 80s and 90s, and are still used a lot today, for example in house, techno, drum and bass, and trap/drill.

Here is the 808 in action – this is a very deep sounding drum machine that was used in Chicago house in the 80s, hip hop and jungle in the 90s, and is now used a lot in trap and drill (start watching from 2:58):

And here is its more aggressive sibling, the 909, which defined dance, house and techno from the 90s onwards and is still used a lot in that music today (just the first couple of minutes is fine):

Drum Kits

Finally, here is the drum kit, which is used more in band contexts like jazz, rock and pop. The core parts of the drum kit are the bass drum, snare, toms, hi-hat, and cymbals.


Musical Examples

Now you’ve been introduced to the different drums, have a look at the following examples and see if you can tell which type/s of drum is being used.

1.

In this video is Mike Portnoy playing orchestral drums, a drum kit, or a drum machine?

2.

Which type of drum does Evelyn Glennie play first in this video?

Evelyn lost her hearing at eight years old, and was completely deaf from aged 12. She uses senses other than hearing to ‘hear’ the sound, like the vibrations she can feel coming from the instrument. Despite not being able to hear what she’s playing she is one of the best percussionists in the world.

3.

Here’s a classic 90s dance track, I Love U Baby. Dance music usually uses drum machines, one of which is particularly famous for this style of music. Can you tell if this uses the Roland 808 or the Roland 909? You may wish to check it against the examples shown earlier in the page.

4.

Which pitched percussion instruments can you see and hear being used in this piece by Steve Reich, Music for Eighteen Musicians? Can you also name the woodwind instruments? Start at 4:34 and watch for as long as you like (at least three minutes).

This is an example of a genre called minimalism, which is a type of modern classical music. Minimalism uses lots of repetition, with very gradual changes over a long period of time.

5.

This next snippet is from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which opens with a piece of music called Also Spoke Zarathustra by the composer Richard Strauss. Which type of orchestral percussion can you hear?

6.

Can You Feel It by Mr Fingers is often called the first ‘deep house’ track, released in 1985. Which drum machine is being used here?

7.

Can you name three types of non-pitched drums (not including drum-kit) used by this marching band?

8.

Here is the Bill Evans Trio, performing Autumn Leaves. Which two percussion instruments are played here?

9.

Which type of drum is being used in this live jam at a Muse concert? (Contains flashing images).

10.

Which type of drum machine is being used in Doin’ it Right by Daft Punk – an 808 or 909? Again, you may wish to check the early examples near the top of the page.

11.

In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins changed the way drums were used forever, and has one of the most famous drum fills (short solos) of all time. Can you tell which sorts of drums are being used here (beginning at 3:43)?

12.

Which pitched percussion instrument can you hear being used in this song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – is it a) celesta, b) tambourine, or c) xylophone?

Now check your answers below?

  1. Mike Portnoy is a drummer famous for his huge drum kit, seen above.
  2. Evelyn Glennie uses a snare drum in this video.
  3. The Roland 909 was responsible for this classic dance sound throughout the 80s and 90s, and is still used a lot today.
  4. The Steve Reich piece uses marimbas, xylophones, pianos, and  type of vibraphone called a metallophone. You can also hear and see clarinets and bass clarinets being used.
  5. Timpani are used to famous effect in Also Spoke Zarathustra.
  6. Again, you can hear the 909 in this house track by Mr Fingers.
  7. Besides the drum kit and the piano, the marching band can see heard using snares, cymbals, and bass drums.
  8. The two percussion instruments that are used in this jazz trio are the piano and the drum kit.
  9. This Muse clip is a duo featuring bass guitar and drum kit.
  10. The Daft Punk song features the Roland 808 – you can tell it by its deep bass and sharp hi-hat sound that is still heard a lot today in trap and drill.
  11. In the Air Tonight features a drum kit that is produced in a special way to make it sound more electronic. You may also have heard a drum machine being used very, very quietly in the background.

In the Air Tonight was one of the first songs to make use of ‘gated’ drums, a production technique that was discovered by accident, and went on to define the 80s. You can hear more about the mistake that went on to define a decade of music here (watch up to 3:03):

People are still using this technique in songs today – it just goes to show how important accidents and mistakes are in the creative process. Some incredible innovations were the results of mistakes, so don’t be afraid to make them!

12. Finally, Willy Wonka’s song features a celesta. A tambourine isn’t pitched percussion, and the sound is too metallic sounding to be a xylophone (which is made from wood).

Introduction

In today’s lesson we are going to look at keyboard instruments.

As you can see, there are many different types of keyboard instruments. Unlike other families we have looked at, keyboard instruments produce sounds in vastly different ways. For this reason, they often sound nothing like each other. The only thing which connects keyboard instruments within one family is the keyboard itself – a repeating pattern of 12 keys arranged from low pitch (left) to high pitch (right) that you press down to make a sound.

What happens after you play a key is what gives the instrument its identity.

Inside Keyboard Instruments

Let’s take a look inside a grand piano so we can see what actually happens when you press a key on piano-type instruments.

The hammer strikes (hits) the string to produce the sound. This is what makes the instrument a piano. However, there are many ways that keyboards can produce sounds:

striking strings (piano, clavichord)
plucking (pulling) strings (harpsichord)
striking metal (celesta)
key allows air to flow through pipes (organs)
key allows air to flow across reeds (accordions)
key touches circuit to generate or playback sound (synthesiser, sampler)

With the exception of synthesisers and samplers, all these instruments are acoustic (the sound is physically produced within the instrument itself, no electricity). Electronic keyboards are a whole different topic, so we will look at these in more depth another day. For now, it’s enough to know that they produce sound when the key connects to an electronic circuit.

For this lesson we will focus on acoustic keyboard instruments, but here you can see an example of a digital (electronic) keyboard being used to play back samples (recordings) of acoustic instruments. You can start the video at 3:35.

Because digital keyboards and synths can be used to play back or create any type of sound there is no limit to the sounds the keyboard family can produce. They also have the largest range of possible notes they can play, and the possibility to play multiple notes at the same time. For these reasons, keyboards are by far the most versatile instrument group. This is why they are used in most styles of music, from classical and jazz to rock and dance.

Let’s have a look at some of the other acoustic keyboards.

The most well-known keyboard instrument is the piano, however this was only invented around 1770, and modern pianos weren’t developed until a hundred years later. Before the piano came the clavichord (1300s) and the harpsichord (around 1450), which looks like a piano but sounds completely different.

Unlike the piano, which strikes strings, the harpsichord produces sound by plucking (pulling) the strings with plectra. Here is a look at the harpsichord.

Do you notice that it sounds more like a guitar than a piano? This is because guitars also produce their sound by plucking strings. Quickly compare it to this video (you don’t need to listen to the whole thing).

Not all keyboards use strings. The celesta (which looks like an upright piano and was invented in the late 1880s) sounds like a glockenspiel. This is because, just like a glockenspiel, the sound is produced by hitting metal bars instead of strings. Compare these recordings of the same song.

Entirely different to what we’ve seen so far are keyboard instruments that use air to produce their sound like wind instruments. The pipe organ is an example of a wind keyboard instrument. They work by allowing air to travel through pipes, which makes them more like series of giant flutes than pianos.

Finally, we have squeezeboxes like accordions, which push air across reeds (similar to clarinets, which we looked at last week) by pushing and pulling bellows – start at 3:45.

We’ve already had a look inside a piano but there are some other interesting things to know before we move on. The early keyboard instruments like organ and harpsichord only played at one volume – it didn’t matter how hard or soft you pushed the key. The piano (full name: ‘pianoforte’) got its name because, unlike the older instruments, you could make individual notes louder or quieter depending on how hard you play them. Pianoforte literally means ‘softstrong’ (ie. quietloud), so a ‘piano’ is actually called a ‘soft’, or ‘quiet’. This is not the strangest instrument name of all – that probably goes to the cello (full name: violoncello – ‘small big violin’)!

Because the piano was invented quite late, all the music written by early composers like Bach would have been played on a harpsichord or organ. Even famous ‘piano’ composers like Mozart did not have access to pianos as we know them. Here is a short snippet of Mozart (at 3:10) played on a ‘fortepiano’ (a very early type of piano that he would have used).

Compare that to the sound of a modern grand piano – here is Yuja Wang playing a virtuosic (very, very difficult!) arrangement the same piece by Mozart, the Turkish March. It sounds much softer, has greater contrast in volume, and has many more notes.

Musical Examples and Questions

Now you’ve been introduced to the different keyboard instruments, see if you can figure out which ones are being used in these videos.

1.
Sonata in Dm K.141 by Scarlatti, famous for its tricky, fast, repeating notes.

2.
Schubert’s Moment Musicaux No. 3

3.
A very famous piece by JS Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor. It’s quite long, but it’s worth watching at least the first 4 minutes to see this instrument in all its glory. Of course, if you like it watch more!

4.
Some jazz now, Autumn Leaves featuring Beegie Adair on which keyboard instrument? Another long one, you can just watch the first few minutes.

5.
Music from the film Amelie, by Yann Tiersen: La Valse d’Amelie.

6.
Which keyboard instrument is Ludovico Einaudi playing in this song, Experience?

7.
Here’s an unusual example of a pop song using a particular keyboard instrument, Golden Brown by the Stranglers.

8.
Which non-piano keyboard instrument can you hear in Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy?

9.
Some traditional music from Hungary for the next song.

10.
Here’s some music by the band Muse, with their song Butterflies and Hurricanes. Which keyboard instruments can you see being used here? Be sure to check out the solo (3:45-5:05)!

11.
Finally, to finish here’s some more jazz with Masahiro Sayama’s trio performing James by Pat Metheny. Which keyboard is being used here? Watch at least to his solo which finishes at 3:46. Can you also name the other instruments?

Okay, are you ready for the answers? Here they are!

  1. Harpsichord – you can tell because it sounds metallic like a guitar.
  2. The famous pianist Vladimir Horovitz is using a piano here.
  3. This huge instrument is a church organ.
  4. This jazz trio uses a piano.
  5. French music like this often uses an accordion, which is what you see here.
  6. Einaudi is a contemporary (modern) composer, using a piano as part of his ensemble (band).
  7. This song is famous for its unusual use of the harpsichord in a pop setting.
  8. An exemplary use of the celesta.
  9. This Hungarian Dance showcases the accordion.
  10. Matt Bellamy uses the grand piano for his solo. If you were watching carefully you will also have seen digital keyboards/synths being used in the background.
  11. Finally, Masahiro Sayama is on piano, accompanied by drums and the double bass (which is the huge, stand-up violin).

I hope this shows just how versatile keyboard instruments are – they can be used in many types of music, either as the solo instrument or as part of an ensemble or band.

Here are the answers to the questions:

  1. The main (‘lead’) instrument is the clarinet. There is also a drummer, a double bass player and an electric guitarist.
  2. Debussy’s piece begins with a flute solo. At 7:50 an oboe plays a short melody.
  3. The piece featured on the dance track is a saxophone.
  4. Finally, the lead instrument playing in Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits is the flute. The accompanying instruments are from the string family which we will look at next week (violins, violas, cellos, and doubles basses).
    Here is a solo piano version of the same track, performed by Yuja Wang. It’s one of my favourites!

Introduction

In today’s lesson we are going to look at the woodwind family of instruments, specifically the flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon.

The woodwind family are types of aerophones – instruments which produce sound by focusing air through a metal tube. There two main groups of aerophones within the woodwind family are ‘flutes’ and ‘reed instruments’. The sound of flute instruments (such as the flute and its smaller cousin the piccolo) is produced by blowing air over a mouthpiece. Reed instruments are produced by inserting the mouthpiece into the mouth and blowing air which vibrates a reed – a small piece of wood which is connected to the mouthpiece.

Flute mouthpiece (top), and clarinet/saxophone type mouthpiece with reed (bottom). Note that the flute is made of metal – confusingly, woodwind instruments do not have to contain any wood!

Similar to the brass family which we looked at last week, the speed of the air and vibrations can produce jumps in pitch along the harmonic series – this is controlled by the player’s mouth and breath, and produces only a few of the 12 notes we normally use in western music. As with brass instruments like the trumpet and tuba, by pressing keys woodwind players can change the length of the tubing the air travels through, allowing them to play the rest of the notes.

The brass family had different ways of changing the length of the tubing (valves and slides), but they all relied on lips being placed inside the same sort of mouthpiece.


All brass mouthpieces work the same way and look like this.

Just as with brass, the smaller the woodwind instrument the higher sound it makes. However, there are different sorts of mouthpieces for different instruments, which gives each of them a more unique identity.


A ‘double reed’ mouthpiece used for oboes. Bassoon mouthpieces are also double reed.

Instrument Demonstrations

Before we look at the individual instruments, let’s quickly check out the orchestral woodwind section (which doesn’t include saxophone).

And here are some saxophones in action.

Now to look at how each instrument works. Some of the videos are quite long, you don’t need to watch them in their entirety, but if you’re interested then of course feel free!

Flutes and piccolos work the same way and produce a similar sound. The difference is that the piccolo is half the length of a flute and so produces a higher pitch. We will just look at the piccolo because the video is more interesting!

Just for fun, here is a very rare type of flute, which is absolutely massive and sounds very low. You don’t really see this in orchestras.

The next video shows you about the clarinet. As with flutes, clarinets come all types of sizes, which play at different pitches. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. The explanation of reeds begins at 4:40, and you can hear some playing at 11:50.

The oboe and bassoon are double-reed instruments, which use two reeds (unlike the clarinet’s one reed). This produces a very different sound that can be both comical (sounding like a duck) and tragic depending how they are used.

Here is the oboe. You can begin watching from about 2:25.

And the bassoon, which is a deeper double-reed instrument. You just need to watch the first five minutes or so, but of course you can watch more if you’re interested.

Finally, here is the saxophone, another single reed instrument. These don’t tend to feature as much in symphony orchestras but are used in lots of other types of bands. You can watch the first minute then skip to 8:20 to see how the instrument can be used. Some examples of playing begin at 12:40 – this section is very long, just watch as many as you like to get an idea of how the instrument sounds.

Music Examples and Questions

Now you’ve been introduced to the woodwind family, let’s listen to some music. There are also some questions for you to answer as you go.

1.

Which woodwind instrument is featured in this jazz video?
Can you name the other instruments too?
Write down at which time the music diminuendos (gets quieter)

2.

Which woodwind instrument has a solo at the beginning of this piece by Debussy?
Can you name the woodwind instrument which comes in at 7:50?

3.

Can you name which instrument features in this deep house track?

4.

Just using your ears, which instrument plays the main melody throughout this piece, beginning at 1:50?
Which type of instruments are accompanying in the background? Are they brass, strings, woodwind, or drums?

Now please click here to get the answers.

The Four Seasons
Le quattro stagioni

written by Antonio Vivaldi, between 1716-1717

Introduction


The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) is series of four violin concerti by the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.

A concerto is a set of musical compositions written for a solo instrument accompanied by orchestra. In a violin concerto, the violin is the soloist. The word ‘concerto’ comes from the Latin word for ‘competition’ or ‘battle’, so a violin concerto is like a battle between the violin and the orchestra, in which they are both competing for dominance.

The violin is a cordophone (string instrument, which makes its noise by vibrating a string). Along with the viola, ‘cello and double bass, it makes up the violin family of instruments which make up the string section of an orchestra. Because it is the smallest of this family, it makes the highest sound. Its strings can be made from animal intestines (‘catgut’) or plastics, and it is mostly played with a bow made from horsehair. Sometimes you might hear a violin called a fiddle instead. Some violins have electric versions which, like an electric guitar, can be made much louder and or run through special sound effects.

The Four Seasons is a type of program music (music which tells a story or paints a picture with sound). As you can tell from the title, each concerto is based on a different season – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each of those concerti consists of three movements (three individual pieces, fast-slow-fast), so there are 12 short pieces in total. Each concerto can be found below. Before you watch them, please download the following worksheet and have a look at the questions.

Here are the four concerti!

1:

2:

3:

4:

Once you’ve finished your worksheet, please click here to check your answers!

The Planets

written by Gustav Holst between 1914-1916

Introduction

The Planets is a musical suite of seven orchestral pieces written by the British composer Gustav Holst between 1914 and 1916:

1. Mars, the Bringer of War
2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
6. Uranus, the Magician
7. Neptune, the Mystic

The planets themselves are named after ancient Roman and Greek gods. Each of those deities had their own characteristics. However, The Planets isn’t about those ancient gods, nor the planets themselves. In fact, The Planets was originally called Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra, and didn’t feature the planets’ names at all – the pieces were just called Bringer of War, Bringer of Peace, etc. The inspiration behind the pieces is actually about their astrological (not astronomical!) influence. Astrology is the supposed effect that planets and the stars have on people and events on earth – for example, horoscopes – while astronomy is the actual science of stars, planets, blackholes, and all the other weird and wonderful things beyond Earth.

Image result for pillars of creation
The Pillars of Creation, clouds of gas roughly 23,462,784,000,000 miles high. If there were a motorway from the bottom to the top it would take 335,182,628,571 years to drive the whole way. That’s a long trip without any toilet stops!

If you completed lessons 1 and 2, you will probably have guessed what your task is for this week: listen to the suite and match each movement to its title. This is the last exercise we will do like this – next week we will continue looking at the different instruments of the orchestra and concerti. For this exercise I would like you to try a different approach. Rather than guessing the names straight away, for each song I would like you to either:

  • draw a picture based on what you hear, or
  • write down some words based on how the music makes you feel. This can be a short story or poem, or it can just be a list of expressive words.

You can do both if you like, or writing for some movements and drawing for others. Just remember you will only have a few minutes for each piece. When you have finished writing/drawing for each of the seven movements, use your writing/pictures to help you figure out which song belongs to which title.

Grab yourself some paper and pencils/colours, download the worksheet, and get started! I will be listing some of the movements in a different order here so it won’t be obvious which is which.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

When you’re done, please click here to check your answers.