As the title shows, this post is intended to diminish the absolute abuse of musical terms which happens every Crop Over.
Unlike some, I am not against non- musicians engaging in musical discussion, I actually quite enjoy the debates.
However, pretending to use musical terms to sound knowledgeable when you don’t have a clue what they mean is not cool.
So here are some definitions of common musical terms so you (I) can have a more enjoyable Crop Over season.
1. Instrumentation is the texture of musical sounds in a performance and here is a list of instruments commonly seen or heard on Crop Over/Carnivals stages:
- bass guitar
- mac laptops – which play sequences and background vocals, frequently seen on stage in Soca
- drum machines – although they are becoming more and more extinct.
- horn sections – trumpets, trombones, saxes
Here are instruments not heard on Crop Over/Carnivals stages:
- that thing that you blow
- a piano
- a mother fiddle
Rhythm is a common musical term. In its strictest definition it is sound across time. In other words, once sound is played by whatever instrument and time passes (which it will) it displays rhythm. So for example, the bass guitar player plucks a string and whatever pattern or notes he is playing form a rhythm. The other more common use of rhythm refers to the beat and the way that beat is organised. So for example, the calypso beat is referred to as the calypso rhythm and that rhythm is played by the drums. What must be remembered is that each individual instrument has a rhythm which in turn combines to create an overall rhythm (beat).
Melody is the standout sequence of pitches heard in a song. Melodies are the things that you remember in your head and sing in the shower. At Crop Over and all over the world, it is the thing lead singers produce when they sing. In addition, instruments which produce pitch also play melody. So in a calypso tent band for example, in the areas where the singer stops singing, a band chorus happens where the trumpets or saxes take the melody.
Harmony happens when two or more pitches are played at the same time. This is a very musical concept and musicians spend a lot of formal and informal education dealing with this area which can get very complex. At Crop Over, the keyboard, bass guitar and guitar provide the harmonic bed. In calypso bands that have horn sections, harmony is also provided when the different horns, trumpet sax and trombone, play different notes together.
These terms are probably the most misused in Crop Over by non- musicians. The understanding of key, believe it or not is based on harmony and even though many people do not understand harmony, they definitely perceive key. However, perception and being able to explain it are two different things and the following terms heard frequently this time of year, all refer to key in some way (these terms are in Bajan dialect for my international audience).
- He is out of key
- He sound bad.
- He out of key with the band.
- The band is out of key with she.
What people refer to when they make these statements is the relationship between melody and key centre. A key centre is established through harmony or through the melody itself where certain notes create a ‘home base.’ What is also created is a set of notes which ‘should’ be heard. When someone is out of key, it means that they don’t accurately hit the notes which should be heard. What usually makes this worse is when this person sings with musical accompaniment, as these instruments hit the right pitches leaving the singer sounding even more ‘out there.’ This is of course the science behind it and perception of pitch is done quickly by those good enough to hear the home base and accompanying right notes.
So that is it. Feel free, in fact, be compelled to use this information throughout the season and don’t hesitate to shout me back here if you want any further clarification. Also, pass it on to your friends having carnivals this summer, like those in St. lucia and Grenada…this is the only way we can stop the abuse!