Music – March Reflection

It has been 7 months since the beginning of the year. As a music student, I have been improving many of my skills to a great extent.

So far this year, I believe that I am progressing well on my instrument – the flute. I have found that I can sightread much easier and can quite comfortably play the notes on the page with minimal mistakes. I have also learned how to play a few of the higher notes (i.e. high Bb, B, C) and have been working towards perfecting the tone quality of all of my notes. In terms of technical skill, I think that I have improved with controlling my dynamics, articulation and tone quality, as well as my ability to play runs and trills due to quick finger movements.

I continue to improve my level of skill through weekly lessons that I take, as well as my active participation in one of the school’s bands, Symphonic Winds. I have been going to hour-long lessons in Tin Hau every Friday, working on many different aspects including fingering, sight-reading, tone quality and musicality. The lessons have also helped me to work towards graded examinations throughout the year, one of which I recently completed in October. At the same time, being in Symphonic Winds means that I attend approximately 2.5 hours of rehearsals every week, constantly working on and perfecting songs for performances.

Adding on to that, I also practice on my own at home on a weekly basis, in which I specifically work on scales, technical exercises and songs, whether they be for class, band or examinations. This typically happens once a week, either on a weeknight or on the weekend. 

As a musician, I find that I am most successful at note accuracy, rhythm accuracy and articulation. With note accuracy, I know how to play most of the notes within the flute’s range and can effectively apply my knowledge of the fingering to exercises and songs. This can also be seen through sight-reading unfamiliar songs, in which my mind and fingers have to be clear on how to move in order to hit the right notes. With rhythm accuracy, I pay close attention to the time signature and the way the bar is divided into beats, allowing me to easily pinpoint the exact rhythm of the melody. I am familiar with simple and compound time signatures, as well as different note values. Finally, I am able to distinguish between and establish different articulations, following the symbols on the page to tongue and play the notes correctly. 

On the other hand, I believe that I am the least successful at dynamics, tone quality and breathing/phrasing. My volume seems to stay rather constant throughout and the difference in dynamics isn’t too clear. With tone quality, I tend to become rather breathy when I reach the higher register, due to the fact that I seem to blow more in order to hit the notes. Finally, as for breathing and phrasing, I noticed that I am sometimes unsure where to breathe and how to breathe quickly, specifically when the tempo is rather fast and rests are minimal. 

To improve as a musician, I definitely need to work and improve on the weaknesses that I mentioned above, while further developing my strengths. I should practice more at home, and should focus only on the parts that require particular attention or correction. With more frequent and focused practice sessions, I will be able to efficiently work towards solving my problems and enhancing my skills. 

Throughout my musical career, other musicians have definitely inspired me to be more successful. My peers in class and fellow band members never cease to amaze me with their hard work and motivation. Just by being around them, I can feel their passion for music and their burning desire to continue improving. Many of my peers are extremely talented, so I find that being around them encourages me to be at their level. Similarly, my flute and piano teachers are a great source of inspiration to me as well. They have been doing what they love and do best, and are so passionate to the point where they would like to share their knowledge, expertise and experiences with others as well. I find that rather admirable and it constantly pushes me to make them proud.

End of School Year/April Tests – Playing and Theory

Recently, in Music class, we did two summative assessments which totalled to 30% of our final grade: a playing test and a theory test.

On May 10, I did the Scales Playing Test. We were required to play 5 minor scales of choice from memory, with an even balance of 2 or 3 harmonic and melodic scales, and 1 chromatic scale starting on any note. For the 5 minor scales, I chose to do 3 harmonic and 2 melodic, as I have always preferred harmonic minors, even on the piano. I decided to play G Harmonic, F Harmonic, B Harmonic, D Melodic, and C Melodic. These were minor scales that I was relatively familiar with, and could do well in with some practice. As for the chromatic scale, I decided to start on Bb, as it is a note that I often play to warm up and tune, and it was not one of the notes that I started on for the any of the other scales. Although I was nervous when I was playing, I believe that I did pretty well and did not make any major mistakes. After receiving the marks and comments, it can be seen that I got all 8’s for the scales, with the comment “Awesome!”. This shows that I was able to take what I learned from my flute examination and apply it at school to achieve a good grade.

On May 12, I did the Solo Playing Test, in which we had to play a Jazz solo for Stella by Starlight written by Mr. Taitoko and modified slightly by Mr. O’Toole. As someone who typically plays classical music, it was a bit of a challenge for me, as I had to learn to get used to the swing rhythm and the syncopation within the solo, as well as play with an accompaniment. However, most of the practice for this was done at school with the class, and I did not get the chance to practice at home the day before the test. Even so, I made sure to be cautious with my tone, breathing, tempo and rhythm, and to stay in time with the accompaniment. Since I had time to practice and go over the solo a few times before it was my turn, I was able to warm up and get ready to play. As I pretty much memorised the whole solo, the most important part was the execution and style of the solo. Though I messed up a bit while playing a high Bb, the mistake was minor and did not really affect my performance. I was able to obtain “Excellent” for almost all of the aspects, including note and rhythm accuracy, dynamics, tempo, swing feel, tone quality, intonation, connection and air, with minimal errors. However, two aspects that I could have improved was articulation precision and melodic shape. This was something that I noticed while playing, as I realised that it sounded rather static and plain, and could have more variation and phrasing to make it sound more interesting, with the use of crescendos and diminuendos. The comment that I received from Mr. O’Toole was “Beautiful tone and well played. Maybe think about some “dahts” in your playing. Very classy!”. I agree with what he said regarding the stronger articulation and tonguing, as I acknowledge that it was something that I did not carry out to its full potential.

In general, my playing tests were rather successful, due to the fact that I was able to achieve a level 8 for both tests.

On May 16, I did the Theory Test. Topics included key signatures, scales, intervals, triads, transposing, 7th chords, figured bass, and composition. Although a Theory Test was done in December as well, on the same topics with the exception of composition, I still had to brush up and review on all of the aspects beforehand to make sure that I had a full comprehension of the knowledge required. While doing the test, I found that it was rather easy, as they were all topics that I knew about and was prepared for. However, there were definite careless mistakes that were made, as well as questions that I was not sure about, such as scale degrees (e.g. submediant, leading tone). Playing the piano, doing the ABRSM Grade 5 Theory Examination, and being exposed to music for many years definitely helped, as they served as the basis of my musical knowledge. After getting my Theory Test back, I was able to identify questions which I did not answer correctly. A scanned version of the marked Theory Test can be found here. I was able to achieve a level of 8 out of 8, with 95/100, an increase of one mark from last time. I made 5 mistakes in total, three of them being careless and two of them due to a misunderstanding. The two misunderstandings were made for the questions that asked to circle a scale degree in the scale we wrote. Having not studied for this, I had to guess what the submediant was (I guessed the 4th note instead of the 6th), and I did not know which was the leading tone when the scale was both ascending and descending (I circled both 7th notes when the answer was the one when ascending). This was something that I could have better prepared for when studying. The third and fourth mistakes were made in Figured Bass, when I saw 6 4 and thought that there was an assumed 3. Although I had studied Figured Bass, it was obviously something that I could have paid more attention to. Finally, the last careless mistake was made in the 7th chord questions, in which I did not sharp the D in an E Major 7th chord. Since I was counting up with major/minor thirds, it was probably something that I miscounted while doing the test, and I should have checked over it more precisely.

Overall, for both tests, I was able to achieve a desirable grade of 8, both individually and for Criteria B. Even so, they have helped me to realise my strengths and weaknesses in music.

Throughout the year, learning about various aspects of music, and getting the opportunity to play the flute has helped me to develop as a musician. Over the course of the year, I have been able to refine and improve my theory skills, develop my playing skills on the flute, and learn more about the different aspects of Jazz. In terms of theory, the two theory tests definitely helped me to redevelop the pre-existing skills from a few years ago, as well as helped me to learn new aspects and tricks, specifically regarding figured bass, triads and 7th chords. The theory presentations that we did also provided me with a better insight into the many components of music, as the presentations were done well and gave good explanations to allow for clear understanding. Composing a ternary melody was also something that I found interesting and was one of my favourite parts of the course, as I enjoy composing music, and I like the way the piece sounds when everything is combined together with a melody and accompaniment. Through composing, I was able to further develop my abilities to write and listen to a piece from scratch. As for playing, I believe that I definitely improved a lot this year. Being in a band is a requirement for Grade 9 Music students, so I decided to audition for Symphonic Winds. Ever since I got in, my skills were certainly able to improve greatly over approximately 8 months. Since Symphonic Winds plays rather complex music compared to what I am used to, I was able to push and challenge myself. Even as Flute 2, the demands of the 6 pieces that we played including runs, trills, quick fingering, and tone allowed me to grow as a flute-player. This is definitely something that I am passionate about and want to continue to be a part of for the next 3 years that I am at CDNIS. Playing in class also helped me to discover my strengths and weaknesses in playing, as we were graded and given comments based on what we played. In Jazz, I was able to learn more about it in 3 different ways – playing, composing and presentations. Playing a Jazz solo helped me to understand what one would typically look like, as well as how to successfully execute swing rhythms and syncopation with an accompaniment. Composing a Jazz solo for the flute with the same song (Stella by Starlight) was also beneficial, as I was able to learn how to write in a Jazz style, something that I’ve never done before, and learn about the different components that make up a successful Jazz solo. The ePubs on the different eras and genres of Jazz allowed me to develop a better understanding of how Jazz has developed over the years, with cultural and historical influences, and famous Jazz artists and songs.

Furthermore, I was also able to personally develop some of my IB Learner Profile attributes. As an Inquirer, I was able to nurture my curiosity in the various aspects of musical theory and jazz, by doing research and studying things that I did not know or understand, developing my skills and being enthusiastic about whatever I was learning. As a Knowledgeable musician, I was able to broaden my knowledge on many different components of music, as mentioned above. This information and knowledge was able to be applied to various tasks and assessments, to demonstrate my understanding. Being a Communicator was also something that I was able to do this year in Music, as I was able to express myself through composing and playing, as well as collaborating effectively with my peers by receiving and giving feedback, as well as correcting and improving accordingly. I believe that I was a Risk-Taker as well, especially when it came to playing in Symphonic Winds and choosing topics for the Theory and Jazz presentations, challenging myself and working independently and cooperatively with others to explore new ideas and achieve good end results. As a Balanced musician, I was equally successful in all tasks for all four criteria, meaning that I was proficient in the different aspects that we were taught, demonstrating the balance of knowledge and abilities that I have within Music. Finally, I was definitely able to be Reflective, as I constantly wrote reflections on my iFolio to evaluate my work and performance, understanding my strengths and weaknesses in order to support my learning and personal development, particularly with what I can improve in the future.

Overall, taking Music as an Art subject this year has definitely been beneficial for me, as shown above through the many areas that I have reflected on. Developing my skills and learning more knowledge was a big part of what I did, and it allowed me to realise my personal strengths and weaknesses and improve as an all-round musician. Music is something that I want to continue next year and possibly will be a course that I will choose to take in DP.

Ternary Melody Final

A month after the Ternary Melody Draft, here is the final 24-bar ternary composition.

You can listen to the composition below:

 

And see the score below (the file is a PDF, so click the link below to see it):

Charlotte – Ternary Melody Final

Even though I have been playing classical music on instruments for a while now, I don’t often get the chance or am not often tasked with composing a song, other than in music class. Last year, in Grade 8 Music, I was able to compose a 16-bar melody. This year, I have completed an 8-bar melody, as well as a jazz solo for Stella by Starlight. It can be said that these three are the only proper compositions that I have done recently. Because of this, I feel as if some aspects of the composition are not the best they can be.

In my composition, I wanted to build upon the tonic (F major), add on the tension, and create a climax at the end of part A. This was achieved through sequences, using higher notes, and moving up the scale with a crescendo and ritardando to create a dramatic effect. The A part was created to be cheerful, with heavy chords in the left hand piano accompaniment to establish a strong and grand opening. On the other hand, the B part was meant to be more light and sweet, in the dominant key and with the use of solely major chords. This helped to create a different mood, but keep a similar theme at the same time through the means of notes and rhythms, to show the connection between the two parts, an essential part of the rubric.

I tried to maintain balance in terms of the melody and rhythm, so that the piece could come together and pass as a convincing piece of music. In my composition, I used a combination of quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, half notes, dotted notes and triplets; spread throughout the piece. I also tried to include sequences or similar rhythmic phrases within the composition, so that it would sound united as one piece.

I also added performance directions when necessary, including dynamics, tempo and articulation, to further enhance the musicality and melodic interest of the composition. This was done by listening to the piece a few times, and imagining in my head how I would play it. I developed melodic phrases in my mind, and thought of the ways the piece could be built up with crescendos or diminuendos, as well as ways to display the contrast between the two sections. Furthermore, I believe that the piece is indeed playable, as I tried to keep the flute and piano parts simple. Some parts might be a little challenging at first, but are definitely manageable with practice.

The chords and chord progression were left entirely up to us, with the condition that each bar had to have two different chords. This allowed for more freedom with the way the composition progresses and flows, and let us display our creative abilities. However, this was an aspect that I feel that I could have done better in, as my chord progression isn’t typical. Instead, it’s rather irregular and abnormal, unlike how a normal classical piece would progress. Even so, I feel as if when everything is put together, it sounds alright and there does not seem to be a huge problem with it, with the help of perfect and imperfect cadences at the end of every four bars.

From the feedback that I got from my peers, as well as listening over the composition multiple times, I made some changes accordingly. In the comments for the 8-bar melody and the Ternary draft, it was mentioned multiple times that my A part was rather busy and messy, with both the flute and piano going full-out at the same time. To fix this, I simplified the right hand piano accompaniment – from continuous eighth notes to mainly quarter notes – which allowed the beginning to sound more simple and clean. As this was the main comment that I received, this was what I focused on in the editing process. However, looking back, I still believe that I could have simplified it even more with the use of rests. There are no rests in the entire composition, and everything goes without stopping. Pauses are needed to allow the audience to take in the melody, to allow the player to take a break, and to create space within the piece.

Overall, I think that this unit was useful, as it allowed us to explore our musical potential in being creative and creating a composition. Starting off with an 8-bar melody was a good way to be introduced, as 8 bars are short and simple to create, and can be used to develop the Ternary composition as the A section. I was able to recall my previous knowledge of composing and ternary melodies, and apply it to this task. I believe that I did pretty well, but there definitely are parts of it that can be improved to produce an even better end result.

Stella by Starlight Solo Final

This is my final solo for Stella by Starlight.

You can listen to the composition below:

 

And see the score below (the file is a PDF, so click the link below to see it):

Charlotte – Stella by Starlight Solo Final

Writing a jazz solo for the first time was not an easy task. With little exposure to jazz music in the past, I had no clue what the 7-3 resolution, guide tones, ligons or digital patterns even were. With the help of the Artist in Residence and Mr. O’Toole’s lessons and guidance, I soon learned what was expected and required to be successful in the solo.

The key chords and guide tones that were provided for each bar really helped, as it essentially guided me through the process of creating a melody that fits the chord progression. With both these aspects given to us, all we had to worry about was the solo itself. Guide tones were a major part of the composition, as it was the basis of the 7-3 resolution, and was what made the solo correspond with the key chords in such a way that it transitioned smoothly and sounded like jazz.

However, some problems did arise while creating the solo. The lack of guide tones in the bars that did not move through the circle of 4ths threw me off, as I no longer knew which note I had to put at the start and end of the bars. In these bars, I tried my best to use the 3rd or 7th of the chord or a note that seemed to fit into the chord, and use semitones or tones when moving between the chords. I also found ligons and digital patterns quite hard to implement, as I tended to have a melody in my head that I came up with, but it either didn’t fit with the chord or didn’t utilise ligons and digital patterns. Because of this, I put in many broken chords to match the solo with the key chord and make the solo more interesting with a wide range of notes.

From the feedback that I got from my peers, as well as listening over my solo, I made a few changes to improve it. I fixed some of the bars that didn’t sound right by changing the notes, and added tempo, articulation and dynamics markings, including slurs, staccatos, crescendos and diminuendos, to enhance the musicality of the solo and add more flair. With the added markings, a clear style is established in the composition, which will be able to be heard when played.

I feel as if balance was crucial in this solo, as every aspect was harmonious and was able to complement each other in unity. I tried to have a balance of rhythm, note values, and notes, with rests, eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, tied notes, dotted notes, grace notes and triplets; as well as an appropriate range of notes to develop variation. The articulation and dynamics also help to create contrast and flow, allowing everything to come together nicely. Accidentals were placed throughout the solo to match the key chords and and create the appropriate mood for jazz.

I believe that some things could still be improved. Listening to it repeatedly on Finale has helped me realise that even though I made some changes, some bars still don’t seem to sound quite right, such as bars 21-22, in which I tried to make a sequence to bars 17-18 with similar rhythm and intervals. This is most likely due to the fact that we were not given guide tones for the two bars, as it did not go around the circle of fourths. I also found that some parts seem a little more classical instead of jazz-sounding. This could be because I have been working with and composing classical music a lot, and rarely get the chance to experiment with jazz music, as mentioned at the beginning.

As for playing the solo in front of the class, I think that my nerves got to me, as I messed up some of the rhythm and notes in the beginning. As I progressed through the song, I became slightly better, as I was able to calm down and play the solo with more ease. I think that I could have been a little more confident and loud while playing the solo, as my breathing was not good enough and I was rather nervous. As Mr. Taitoko mentioned, I also could have had more swing with my eighth notes to further establish the jazz mood.

Overall, I think that I did a pretty good job in creating and playing a jazz solo for Stella by Starlight, considering it was my first time. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, there were still some aspects of it that could have been changed to make it better.

Stella by Starlight Solo Draft

Recently, I created a jazz solo for Stella by Starlight in Music class, with a total of 32 bars.

You can listen to the composition below:

 

And see the score below (the file is a PDF, so click the link below to see it):

Charlotte – Stella by Starlight Solo Draft

8 Bar Melody Final

Due to the fact that I was unable to complete my final 8 bar melody on time, the whole class comments can be seen in the previous post (8 Bar Melody Draft). I have since then taken the feedback and made changes accordingly.

Many said that I used too many eighth notes in the flute melody, so at the end of each 4 bar phrase, I made the ending note a little longer, to create balance and provide a break in between phrases. I also changed the chord progression, as I found that the third chord (iii) is rarely used in compositions. The third chords were all changed to tonic chords (I). I also changed the right hand piano accompaniment, as the feedback that I got stated that everything seemed too busy, with too much going on at a time. To minimize the distraction from the main flute melody, I simplified the right hand accompaniment to eighth notes and quarter notes, allowing the main melody to become more prominent.

You can listen to the improved composition below:

 

And see the score below (the file is a PDF, so click the link below to see it):

Charlotte – 8 Bar Melody Final