Music History Tips

Read these 22 Music History Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Classical Music tips and hundreds of other topics.

Music History Tips has been rated 3.1 out of 5 based on 1246 ratings and 1 user reviews.
What is Polyphony?

Early Music Terms: Polyphony

The end of the Middle Ages saw the rise of polyphony, the use of more than one melodic line at the same time. With polyphony, it became necessary for measured rhythm. There could no longer be the flexible rhythms of single line music. Noted composers of polyphonic music were Leonin and Perotin, and later, Guillaume de Machaut.

What is the romantic period in music history?

Romantic Period (1820-1900)

Romantic composers stressed emotion, evoking every imaginable kind of mood. Romanticism came to be closely associated with program music — music inspired by a story, a set of images, or a poetic text. The influence of nationalism figured large in the music of later Romantic composers.

What should I listen for in music of the Romantic composers?

Characteristics of Romantic Music

1. Listen for the range of emotion expressed by the composers of the Romantic Period, from the intimate lyricism of a Chopin Prelude to the grand orchestral sounds of a Tschaikovsky symphonic work.

2. Listen for melody and the influence of Polish, Hungarian and Russian folk songs and dances in the music of Brahms, Chopin and Dvorak.

3. Listen for musical color. For example, the use of the horn, and new combinations of winds and strings, gave orchestral music a new musical color palette.

4. Listen for the lyricism of Puccini, Schumann, and the virtuostic appeal of Liszt and Mendelssohn.

What is the Classical Period in music history?

Classical Period (1750-1820)

Composers of the 18th century functioned under aristocratic patronage. The demand for a new piece for every occasion resulted in a tremendous flowering of instrumental music. The composers associated with the "Classical Period" are Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The term "Classical" refers to the qualities of balance and symmetry found in the classical forms of the symphony, the sonata (both piano solo and piano with one other instrument), the concerto (particularly the piano concerto), and various chamber music forms of this period.

What is a cantata?

Baroque Terms: Cantata

A cantata is a form of vocal chamber music most popular during the Baroque. It was originally associated with the Lutheran service and has since been applied to other works for chorus and orchestra.

What is a toccata?

Baroque Terms: Toccata

Toccata comes from the Latin word which means to strike or touch, and generally refers to a piece for keyboard which requires rapid tempo and virtuosity.

What is an oratorio?

Baroque Terms: Oratorio

An oratorio takes its text from the Bible or the Mass, and can be compared to an opera minus the acting. Bach and Handel wrote oratorios, as well as more modern composers such as Michael Tippett with "A Child of Our Time."

What is serial music?

Modern Music Terms: Serial Music

Serial music is music based on a "tone row." This method of composition, developed by Arnold Schoenberg, uses the twelve tones of the octave in specific sequence. Before any of the twelve notes can be repeated, the other eleven must have been presented in some form.

What is Gregorian Chant?

Early Music Terms: Gregorian Chant

The sacred music of the Gregorian Chant was also known as plainchant, or plainsong and named after Pope Gregory. This music consisted of a single line of melody with a flexible rhythm sung to Latin words by unaccompanied male voices. Manuscripts date from ninth century and used a system of modes, specific patterns of whole and half steps. This single line of melody, called monophony, characterized music until about 1000 AD.

What is "Sprechstimme?"

Modern Music Terms: Sprechstimme

Sprechstimme is a method of vocal performance that is a combination of speaking and singing. "Pierrot Lunaire," composed by Arnold Schoenberg in 1912, uses sprechstimme to create an eerie effect.

What is lieder?

Romantic Terms: Lieder

Lieder is the German word for a group of songs. A single song is called a lied. These songs are not folk songs, but art songs, which take their text from poems. For example, Schubert composed lieder.

What should I listen for in Baroque Music?

Characteristics of the Baroque

1. The steady pulse in the bass gives Baroque music its feeling of drive and energy.

2. The melodic line has an ornate texture and is often marked by a spinning out of a single melodic figure.

3. The main source of expression for the Baroque composer was the contrast between soft and loud. This shift from one level to the other is called terraced dynamics.

Who are the composers of the Romantic period?

Music of the Romantic Period: Composers

Some of the most famous composers of the Romantic Period include Chopin, Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Berlioz.

What is 12 tone music?

Modern Music Terms: Twelve Tone Music

Twelve tone music gives each of the 12 notes in a scale equal importance. There is no tonic or home key and no predictable relationship between the keys. This music is called "atonal."

What is minimalism?

Modern Music Terms: Minimalism

One style of the 20th century is minimalism. Minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass pared music down to its simplest ingredients. They took these elements and repeated them over and over again with slight variations to produce a mesmerizing effect. These extended works sometimes lasted as long as four hours.

What changed in music after the Renaissance?

Baroque Period (1600-1750)

The music of the Baroque (1600-1750) marked the shift from the texture of several independent parts of equal importance, polyphony, to having the emphasis on a single line of melody, supported by a foundation of chords, homophony. Like perspective in painting, hearing in depth with harmony, is among the significant developments of this period.

How has piano playing changed in modern copositions?

Piano Styles

Two American composers that brought a new meaning to piano playing include Henry Cowell, the creator of tone clusters (whole groups of notes sounded simultaneously by striking the keyboard with the fist or forearm); and John Cage, who prepared the piano by placing objects inside the piano to alter the sound.

What are some examples of early instruments?

Early Instruments

The lute, predecessor to the guitar, was probably the most popular of the early instruments. Other instruments included various types of flutes or recorders, stringed instruments such as the dulcimer and the gamba, and percussion instruments. Visit for more information.

What is counterpoint?

Baroque Terms: Counterpoint

Counterpoint comes from the Latin "punctum contra punctum" (point against point) and refers to the simultaneous combination of two or more melodies to make a satisfying whole.

What is a chorale?

Baroque Terms: Chorale

Chorale refers to a piece for chorus originating with a hymn tune. These vocal works became the basis for instrumental compositions such as the hundreds of Chorales which were harmonized and composed by Bach.

What is program music?

Romantic Terms: Program Music

The term "program music" refers to the instrumental music of the Romantic Period inspired by a poem, narrative, or other subject matter.

What was music like during the Renaissance?

Music of the Renaissance

Music of the Renaissance is characterized by a texture of four or more voice lines of similar character and importance known as polyphony, steady and predictable rhythms, and easily understandable text. Composers of the time included Josquin de Prez (1450-1521) and Giovanni Palestrina (1525-1594).

Not finding the advice and tips you need on this Classical Music Tip Site? Request a Tip Now!

Guru Spotlight
Phyllis Serbes