Although much "Classical" music, particularly orchestral and operatic, has maintained and in some cases increased its popularity, our tastes and style in music have changed in many ways over the years. Most music written by composers such as Beethoven, Handel, Chopin and Liszt are still, and probably will always remain, hugely popular, while the collection is constantly being added to by others like Andrew Lloyd Weber: Phantom of the Opera, John Luther Adams: Become Ocean and John Adams (not related): The Gospel According to the Other Mary.
As a child and young adult, I recall many songs that were on the "Hit Parade" that today would never get to air - not because they were obscene or risque, but because people have moved away from this type of song.
Some songs were of general interest, like Mack the Knife and Big Bad John, while others, like How Much is that Doggy in the Window, Flying Purple People Eater and The Little White Bull were intended for a younger audience.

Today, a large proportion of the subject matter is about romance or love gone wrong, and we have new styles like Rap, and many songs are not actually sung at all but recited to music.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that - just that I, like many more of my generation, am accustomed to following a theme through as a sequence, at a pace at which we can visualise a scene or an event unfolding.

A large number of today's songs were written for movies, not just for musicals but others where an atmosphere may be created by the actor singing or the song played in the background. This didn't happen so much in early movies, perhaps because the sound capabilities of theatres were not so great.

Many new instruments have been designed, and many older ones have been improved for better tone and volume ranges, as well as appearance and ease of control by the player, while others, for example bagpipes, have remained virtually unchanged. Some would say that's because " you can't improve on perfection".

Types of instruments

Musical instruments can generally be divided into four types - wind, percussion, brass and string. But within these groups there is a huge variety, each with its own strengths and characteristics.
Wind instruments include the woodwinds - flutes of various sizes and constructions, such as organs, panpipes and recorders; and reeded instruments, like the clarinet, saxophone and bagpipes.
Bagpipes have changed very little, and are used in many countries around the world.
Bagpipes, I feel, deserve a special mention. Various types of these are used in many parts of the world. The common features are an outlet-pipe or chanter (sometimes two) which is used to change the tone output; an inflatable bag, kept inflated by the player's breathing, and supplying the air-flow to the chanter; a blowpipe, which keeps the bag inflated; and one or more drones, that provide a constant output sound that is tuned to the canter's basic tonic note. In most cases, the bagpipes produce continuous sound (though some have been designed with the ability to stop this) and so the music has no breaks or silent periods in it.
Percussion instruments include the drums, piano, xylophone, marimba and cymbals and many more and are played by striking an object with another - maybe a stick, the hand or a striker.
String instruments also vary greatly in size and construction, some played by plucking strings, others by drawing a "bow" across the strings. Some music calls for plucking on a normally bowed instrument. Sizes vary from the violin through to the double-bass, the largest of the string instruments.
The trombone is well-known for its coarse, almost arrogant sound. Some have valves as well as the slide for playing Brass instruments vary in size and the methods by which their tone is changed. It may be argued that these are wind instruments. They are played by blowing with pursed lips through the mouthpiece. Some have three or more valves that are pressed by the finger to change the tone. The trombone is a rather special case. It's played by changing the length of the air-passage by moving the "slide" in or out. Its tone is very coarse, and suited to passages needing a strong, throaty sound.

Music and Mathematics

Music and Mathematics may seem like a strange combination of topics, at first sight, but when examined a little closer there are many links between them.
Music is something that appears to be unique to humans. Many birds, animals and even insects, are able to make and recognize sounds that have a certain meaning, for instance nearby enemys or food, or a call for mating. But none have the same depth and diversity as human music.

But what is music? Music has five major elements: rhythm, tonal relationship, meter, volume and tempo. There are other elements too, like dynamics - attack and decay- but I'll mainly deal with these four here.


This is often used without changes in tone, for example in drums and some other percussion instruments. It usually involves the repetition of certain sequences of sound in a pattern that our brain recognizes as related in some way. An example (again, pardon the onomatopea), would be boom-boo-boo-boom-boo-boo-boom-boom-boom. This rhythm can be recognized even by young children, as musical. But for this to work, the boo has to have a duration of half that of the boom. Similarly, the pattern boom-boo-boo-boo-boom-boo-boo-boo-boom-boom-boom is a satisfying rhythm, but the boo has to be one third of the length of the boom. In each of these cases there is a simple mathematical relationship.

Tonal Relationship

In music, we have a very useful construct called an octave. Every tone is produced from a unique frequency, and when we play two sounds at the same time that are separated by an octave, like the fourth and fifth C on a piano, the brain recognizes their similarity and it sounds pleasant. If we play the C and the next white key, D, it sounds discordant. A note that is an octave higher than another has double its frequency. The fourth C on a piano keyboard (referred to as middle C) has a frequency of 261.63 hertz (cycles per second), while the fifth C has a frequency of 523.25 hertz. So here we also have a mathematical relationship.
An octave has been broken down into 12 intervals, each with a higher frequency than the previous one. For the range from C to C, these have been named C, C# (c sharp), D, D#,E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B and finally, C. These intervals are referred to as semitones. If the first, fifth, eighth and twelfth of these are played consecutively (c, E, G, C in the C major scale), they are heard as a pleasant sequence. The same intervals in any other scale will sound equally pleasant. A sequence such as this is referred to as an arpeggio. Again, a mathematical connection is seen.


This refers to the number of sounds in each line and verse, or stanza of a song or poem - its rhythm.
For example, in the Christmas carol "Away in a Manger" each verse has the meter 7-6-7-6-7-6-7-6 (notice that the numbers relate to the actual sounds, not the syllables of the verse, which would be 6-5-6-5-6-5-6-5). Once again, the brain expects the rhythm to follow a pattern that is mathematical in nature.


The volume of the notes in a tune needs to stay within a comfortable range for the tune to be enjoyable. This is not to say that every note must be the same volume, but variations must be carefully placed, and in sympathy with the theme of the tune or song. Inappropriate changes will not be enjoyed by the listener. The volume of sounds is indicated on the musical score by markers that range from pppp (quadruple-piano, or super-soft) to ffff (quadruple-forte, or super-loud).


The speed, or tempo, of a piece of music should be fairly constant, although some changes are allowable (and desirable) to create effects and atmosphere. Some tempos are especially important for events such as marching or synchronized actions. Standard military marching is set at 120 beats per minute, but again, this can be adjusted as desired, and of course is much less for funerals and some other occasions. Double-march is 180 beats per minute, but when marched, the paces are longer and the speed of marchers is approximately double normal marching speed.

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