Understanding Music: Past and Present
Alan Clark, Middle Georgia State University
Thomas Heflin, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Jeffery Kluball, Darton State College
Elizabeth Kramer, University of West Georgia
Pub Date: 2015
ISBN 13: 978-1-9407713-3-5
Publisher: University of North Georgia Press
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Understanding Music: Past and Present is a conventional survey of Western European Music for non-music majors. The information is, for the most part, read more
Understanding Music: Past and Present is a conventional survey of Western European Music for non-music majors. The information is, for the most part, presented chronologically, and the authors provide detailed historical context for each musical period and specific compositions. The book’s presentation of “popular music” seems pasted into the text and could be more integrated into the history of common practice music. World music is discussed briefly in the Appendix and would serve as a “teaser” for other college music courses, but is not presented with any real substance.
Overall, this text is factually accurate and provides students with reliable information.
With the exception of a handful of the popular music references, (which reflect current trends that might be less relevant in the near future), this text should have a long shelf life.
This book is written in a style and structure that should be intelligible to most college students. Beware that the authors’ use of musical terms and jargon goes far beyond what a non-music student is likely to understand. The instructor will have to prioritize the terms and concepts that are most important for the student to master.
The book’s presentation of Western European “Art music” is quite thorough and presented in a fairly uniform manner. However, the distinction and definitions given to “Folk music” and “Popular music” are very problematic. The authors may want to consider if, for example, Handel and Mozart, (who endeavored to write popular music), really thought that their music would not “stand the test of time”, which is implied in the authors' definition of popular music. The Venn diagram used to illustrate the authors’ point seems to defy all music history, and creates inconsistencies within the book, e.g. John Phillip Sousa is presented as a composer of Western European art music, while Scott Joplin is presented as composer of popular music.
This book is divided into logical sections that can easily be designated for specific class assignments, courses, or course sequences.
The book is very conventional in its organization, presenting an introduction to the elements of music followed by a detailed historical overview.
The book presents clear illustrations and diagrams, and provides audio and video links for musical examples.
The book employs good grammar throughout.
The book provides a detailed look at Western European music, but also supplies a human and historical context for the music. At a time when students have access to an unbelievable wealth of music, but have fewer historical references through which to understand the music, this book provides an invaluable lens to allow the student greater understanding music from the past and in the present. The book makes an effort to be inclusive, both in musical examples and language used in the text.
This book covers all of the areas generally included in similar WAM textbooks, although late 20th and early 21st century composers are not engaged read more
This book covers all of the areas generally included in similar WAM textbooks, although late 20th and early 21st century composers are not engaged thoroughly. The introduction includes more focus on the science of music than most other options, which might increase students’ understanding and interest in the material, particularly non-majors. One nearly insurmountable flaw is the inclusion of the inaccurate and highly problematic “Popular Music of the United States” chapter and “Music of the World” appendix, both of which the authors seemed ill-prepared to tackle in a way consistent with contemporary scholarship and pedagogy (see below). Additionally, even within the WAM chapters, the authors often fail to engage difficult but ethically important topics. For example, “primitivism” is not problematized or discussed, though the term is used.
As mentioned above, major inaccuracies and omissions occur in the last chapters, including the conflation of bluegrass and old time music (called “hillbilly” music, without discussion of that term). Rap is “traced back to Africa.” Worse yet, the minstrelsy section is horrifyingly under-discussed.
Since the majority of the book deals with the past and a fairly established canon, most of it will remain relevant. Some of the links, however, are already obsolete. This is particularly problematic when those links are attached to listening examples, whose timings are listed in the helpful listening charts. It is worth noting that this book only nods towards pushing again the WAM canon. For example, the section on Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel is titled “Music of the Mendelssohns,” but only one paragraph and no listening examples are a devoted to Fanny.
The writing in the opening chapters is clear and comprehensible.
This book, as mentioned above, is inconsistent in terms of its content, with the contextual information being much more thorough in some chapters as compared to others. The musical examples are also treated with more care in the earlier chapters compared to the later ones. It seems to be fairly consistent in terms of terminology, although the explanations of words like “homophony” in the introduction should more clearly match the way they are used throughout the book.
Professors may find the subdivisions within chapters of this book difficult to use. Compositions are grouped by composer rather than genre, which would make teaching in coherent and cohesive units a challenge, and might reinforce the “great men” style of teaching WAM history.
Given that the chapters’ internal organization is by composer, it is surprising that those composers are not presented in birth order or order of composition. For example, John Philip Sousa is presented before Giuseppe Verdi, even though the featured composition from Sousa dates from 40 years after the Verdi composition, and Sousa knew Verdi’s compositions. This mode of organization could be very confusing for students.
The interface for this textbook is fine, aside from the outdated links. Refreshingly, there are very few side bars, so the narrative flows smoothly. It being an online textbook, this book would have benefited from links to videos for the opera examples, among others.
I didn’t see any grammatical errors, but did notice one issue with capitalization.
Cultural relevance is an area in which this book is severely lacking. Despite the welcomed inclusion of Martin Luther and Koji Kondo, composer of the music from The Legend of Zelda, the book did not highlight any composers of color or women in the WAM tradition in the 20th and 21st centuries (of which there are many). As mentioned earlier, terms like “primitivism” and “minstrelsy” are left woefully underexamined, and the discussion of popular music and world music border on racism.
One major advantage of this book in the WAM chapters is the broad discussion of historical context. Compared to other books of its type, this one takes a considerable amount of time setting up the political and artistic context of each period discussed, at least in the chapters on the music before the 20th century. I also appreciated the timelines listing historical and musical events.
This book is a comprehensive look at music history. It covers music from the Middle Ages through the Twentieth Century and beyond, and includes a read more
This book is a comprehensive look at music history. It covers music from the Middle Ages through the Twentieth Century and beyond, and includes a look at Popular music in the United States. It includes a glossary of terms and a discussion of music fundamentals
This book is accurate for the most part, but covers so many topic in a short space that it lacks depth in any area.
The book is up to date, and covers over a thousand years of music. Updates will be easy.
This book is clear in terms of accessible prose, but covers so many issues and topics in a small space that clarity is not in service of learning. It packs too much material in a 300-page book; it seems to cover topics superficially.
This book is consistent in terminology, scope and breadth throughout the topics.
This book is completely modular, in terms of historical periods and the division of topics in these historical periods.
The book is well organized, with each historical period clearly delineated. It is logical in terms of structure, but the there is a lack of depth in any given topic, trying to get too much material in each section.
There are no significant issues in terms of images, etc. This review had a paper copy of the book, which is far less useful than an online or digital version, especially since all of the musical examples are youtube video or audio. This is another issue in terms of interface, since youtube presents both copyright issues and is inconsistent because of material pulled for copyright violations.
The are no obvious grammatical errors.
This book covers all music periods in Western music from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, with a small section on this century, and a section on Popular Music in the United States. This is an issue in terms of cultural relevance. The title is Understanding Music, which is misleading. The title indicates that it could be about music history, theory, ethnomusicology, or any other large-scale musical topic. It is exclusively about Western music history for most of the book, and the popular music section is only about American music. This assumes that Western music is the only music that counts; it should have been titled Understanding Western Music, or something of this sort. Since it seems to aim for inclusivity and cultural relevance, perhaps this should be rethought.
I find this book to be problematic for a number of reasons, some of which are cited above. The overarching problem with the book is that it uses a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman multi-tool approach to music. Either of these tools is useful in the short term to turn a screw or many other tasks, but will never replace a screwdriver, which is good for accomplishing a single task. This book bites off more than it can chew. I think it might be useful for some courses, and would be a good study guide preparing students for a comprehensive exam, but do not think it would be a strong choice for a music history or a popular music course. There is simply no depth to any one topic. It covers many topics, and would not lend itself to a rigorous study of music history. I think it would serve for a music appreciation text, but I would probably cut out some of the modules, especially the popular music section, which seems tagged on to a classical music text book.
I found the text covered all the musical time periods of Westen Classical Music very succinctly. I found the discussion of Popular music forms in the read more
I found the text covered all the musical time periods of Westen Classical Music very succinctly. I found the discussion of Popular music forms in the final chapter to be a fine choice, as it can be overlooked and is often a good jumping off point for discussing musical elements since it is the style which students are most familiar with. We can then backtrack to the preceding generations of music. The text includes a nice glossary at the end of the book, and also at the end of each chapter. The chapter glossary should prove to be immediately helpful for students. There is no index to speak of, which is disappointing. As an online/digital resource, the text needs a table of contents containing links to each chapter, so the reader does not have to scroll through many pages to find the neccesssary material. Same goes for a proper index.
In reading the content, I found the material to be accurate, coinciding with my background of knowledge and other commercial text books I've read.MyI only wish is that there was further discussion on the style and ways in which each composer exploited specific music elements in their works.
Being a history of music text, the facts and musical styles presented are laid in stone. Continuing research may find new angles and artifacts to provide new perspectives, but Beethoven's music will not change, Gregorian chant will still have the same appeal. If neccessary, I'm confident the text could easily be updated as needed. Mainly, I'm thinking of the final chapter on popular music.
The text has been written in a very fluid, legible manner. Occassionally, there are areas that are short in their layout, feeling like necessary definitions where crammed into a paragraph. The highlighting of new vocabulary, or important facts are presented so the reader's attention is easily drawn to them. The summary charts comparing musical periods, ie. Barique v. Classical, are very clear and helpful. The presentation of listening guides for the works presented is, for the most part, clear and easy to follow. An exception would be the guides for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The guides for each of the four movements where squished together in one run on chart. I'd like to see separation, so students may clearly follow along with the music they are listening to and studying.
The layout and flow from chapter to chapter was very consistent: an introduction to historical and cultural events that happened during time period being discussed, follow by discussion of the musical style of the time, and then specific composers. What I found inconsistent were the discussions of the composers. Some were only a timeline of life events. Some only a list of prominent pieces. Some with a brief discussion of the composer's specific musical style. If I were to use this text, I would incorporate further discussion on each composer's use of musical elements so we can discuss why Mozart sounds like Mozart, and Beethoven sounds like Beethoven.
Each chapter of the text is easily divided into the sections described above: historical/cultural context of time period being discussed, overview of musical style during the time, and discussion of prominent composers. Where need be, it would be easy to pick and choose composers to discuss, or leave out. As the development of musical styles is based on what has preceeded, reference to styles of previous generations cannot be avoided - you can't discuss Mozart properly without making refrence to Vivaldi, Bach, or Haydn's influence.
The clarity, connection, and overlap of summarized material presented from chapter create an effective, and logoical progression from one musical period/style/composer to the next.
The interface of this text is minmalistic, yet clear. Addition of chapter links in the table of contents would be very helpful. Necessary. A handful of the links to youtube videos for pieces being discussed are broken. Also, I'd prefer to use links that direct students to the specific piece or movement being discussed. Several links lead to a performance of the entire symphony when only a specific movements is discussed. I see this as a cause for confusion in studying the piece. External links to interviews, like the links to Khan Academy are a nice addition that give first hand insight to certain pieces. Examples of visual art created during the discussed time period need the ability to enlarge, so we can see the details discussed. Tiny thumbnail inserts are not very helpful. Google Art might be a good option. Again, the biggest issue are broken links to listening examples.
Though I noticed an occassional misspelling, or awkward turn of phrase, the grammar and presentation of language are clear and easy to follow.
The text show no offense nor insensitivity to any background, race, or ethnicity. There are a couple occassions were it is clear the book was written by US citizens for use in a US course that could take away from it being used in other countries. The appendix with an overview of different music from around the world is a nice touch.
Overall, the text is clear and concise presentation of the evolution of Western Classical Music across recorded history. If I were to use this text, I would spend more time discussing specific musical elements (rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, and form) to create a character and understanding towards each composer's style and legacy to the genre. I would also rework the choice of pieces explored for certain composers, as the ones presented feel more obscure, and not always their "greatest hit". As a survey course, the text should focus on the most obvious choice for discussion and identification.
The book's main chapters provide a overview and history of music in the western world; starting with an introductory chapter about the 'fundamental' read more
The book's main chapters provide a overview and history of music in the western world; starting with an introductory chapter about the 'fundamental' of music and proceeding chronologically from the music of the middle ages through popular music in the US in the 20th century. Work outside the western canon is briefly notated in appendix entries.
The provides a reliable guide to the musical periods and movements, personalities and forms it covers. It may be served with a chapter that details the beginning of western music and it's history prior to the Middle Ages.
Given that the provides a historical overview of western music form from the Middle Ages onward, the book has relevance and longevity. While new research might lead to new understanding of specific aspects, the book is a useful text with little danger of obsolescence.
Newcomers to the field will certainly find the style of the book clear and accessible; the book makes excellent use of hypertext examples to illustrate the ideas and concepts discussed. More advanced students will find much to appreciate in the book's clarity and depth.
The book employs a framework that successfully blends the work of its four editors into a coherent, consistent whole.
Chapters are organized with sub-sections; it effectively breaks up the larger chapter topic into smaller, more 'digestible' units that can be easily assigned and/or focused on.
Understanding Music begins with an introductory chapter guiding the reader through the major components of music; melody, harmony, etc., then proceeds with a historical, chronologically examination of western music from the Middles Ages onwards. The organization of the book is thus straightforward and familiar.
The book utilizes a familiar and effective method of presenting information; chapters begins with a listing of objectives and vocabulary. Illustrations are presented clearly, along with hypertext links to materials on thew web.
The book employs standard academic syntax and grammar.
The book's focus is on western music and culminates in a final chapter on pop music in the United States. It is inclusive to the extent that the music of the places and periods covered is connected to "music" as a whole. Non-western music is briefly included in the extensive appendix. Readers looking for an overview or comprehensive treatment of music from the rest of the world would be best served by other books
Understanding Music is a comprehensive and useful examination of the music of the western world.
To assemble a comprehensive survey of Western art music in a single introductory volume of modest size is an impossible task, and I applaud the read more
To assemble a comprehensive survey of Western art music in a single introductory volume of modest size is an impossible task, and I applaud the effort to make such a text available in a format that avoids the usual sticker shock. But in its present form, this attempt is jargon-heavy and moves at a breezy pace with little time for reflection or subtlety. As is the case with many music appreciation texts, the title makes no mention of the book’s focus on Western classical tradition(s). The brief excursions into popular music, folk music, and world music are exceptions that only reinforce the Western orientation. The introductory chapter is unavoidably superficial as it attempts to incorporate the perspectives of physics, physiology, and psychology, while touching briefly on Western conventions of culture, notation, timbre, form, and instrumentation, as well as building a vocabulary to describe dynamics, articulation, intervals, pitch names, electronics, and recording. The important matter of calling attention to the immediacy of the listening experience is sidelined in this well-intentioned effort to be inclusive of multiple academic disciplines, and to be rather detailed about terminology specific to literate European musical traditions. The text provides convenient links to listening opportunities — the majority curated from YouTube — but at times these amount to an avalanche of hastily examined examples. In the exploration of folk and world music, these examples are weighted towards the commercial side of things. Some mention of performers (and performance practice) and listeners (and reception history) would be helpful additions to the historical narrative focused on composers and styles. The book (and each individual chapter) provides a glossary, but it lacks an index or page references attached to the definitions that would connect back to relevant passages in the text.
Too often, technical terms are introduced without definitions, or the definitions lack precision. For example, on p. 16 the term “tri-tone” is used without definition and it does not appear in the glossary, nor again later in the book. The paragraph on p. 17 about key and scale is an example of vagueness and imprecision. The reference on p. 57 to Gutenberg’s press misses the significance of his invention (movable type), and I question the accuracy of subsequent claims regarding the “decline of the church in the arts as well as music,” the idea that Luther ushered in the Renaissance, and the notion that the humanist movement produced “art and music for the vast middle class population.” Nearby, there is also a confused reference to “edge bounding.” (?) On p. 74 the authors claim that 18th c. opera stars were followed by paparazzi! These are examples of a carelessness that too often creeps in to the narrative, and I am concerned that students will be led astray or muddled.
The approach taken by this text is a familiar and enduring one, but many institutions and faculty are looking for alternatives to teaching music appreciation as a "music history lite" course. The legitimacy of being (or aspiring to be) "comprehensive" is also under scrutiny.
Musicians, like any specialists, can easily become unaware of the specialized vocabulary that they routinely use, or of the specific meanings they attach to commonly used words. For example, in this book the terms “sharp” and “flat” are introduced without explanation, and musical notation is routinely used to make points that will be lost on any students lacking aural skills grounded in musical literacy. I am concerned that most students (even experienced musicians) would be confused by the diagrams on pp. 5-6; here, visual representations of a piano keyboard and of fractional string vibrations appear adjacent to verbal descriptions that can easily lead to misconceptions. (The seven letters of the “musical alphabet” are introduced next to a diagram illustrating the first seven partials, but these are completely different sets of pitches. The text reads: “Our musical alphabet consists of seven letters repeated over and over again in correspondence with these overtones.” The meaning here is unclear, but it is certainly misstated. Additionally, the term “partial” is incorrectly defined in the glossary; the fundamental is the first partial, whereas the first overtone is an octave above the fundamental. Unfortunately, the text uses the terms “overtone” and “partial” interchangeably and uses rather detailed (intimidating) musical notation to present them. Other potentially confusing presentations include the blues progression diagram and accompanying text on p. 19, which doesn’t indicate the fact that the progression returns to the tonic because it is repeated. The language on p. 122 offers a few more examples of obscurity, in that “antecedent/consequent phrasing” is undefined, the description “flexible deployment of rhythm and rests” is rather too nuanced, and the terms “crescendo/decrescendo” and “opus” are used without explanation.
I think the book lacks a coherent lens, unless it is the frequently stated idea that music composition is grounded in its historical context. But this perspective is not pursued with any systematic integrity or rigor. For example, an extensive section at the beginning of the Baroque chapter outlines contemporaneous developments in science, philosophy, visual art, literature, politics, exploration — but the claimed influences of these subjects are never integrated into the musical discussion. The introductory pages to the Classical chapter do a better job of integration, but they include some over-simplifications and distortions. The discussion of Romanticism includes a summary of philosophy that is too breezy and jargon-laden to be meaningful, or to shed light on musical experiences. A simple but helpful addition to the text would be to insure that the names of historical figures are consistently accompanied by their dates at first mention.
The book is presented in sections of reasonable length, with clear headings and subheadings to delineate the structure. Listening guides are formatted consistently, although they often lack index timings. The book would benefit from cross references to passages where essential terms and topics are addressed elsewhere in the book.
The conventional chronology of a historical survey is adhered to. Although this approach limits the possibilities for a broader examination of musical genre or function, it has its definite merits in coherence.
Some of the Internet links may have copyright or longevity issues; for instance: p. 23— Ellington video has been taken down p. 215—a link intended to take us to La Traviata goes to Hildegard instead p. 221—the intended clip begins 14’ into the linked video p. 293—Ravi Shankar video is blocked p. 295—Indonesian gong music is unavailable. The links on p. 16 to a collection of videos produced by the authors do not work.
The quality and tone of the writing is uneven, and there are frequently misspellings, poor constructions, and opaque sentences. Introductory books demand a high level of precision, and all texts should model exemplary writing.
I applaud the inclusion of popular music, but it is presented in an avalanche of superficially examined examples that do not give enough attention to matters of race, class, and gender. For that matter, the text as a whole avoids discussion of these topics. The appendix that addresses world music seems remarkably out of touch with the international nature of most contemporary music with which many students are already familiar. Also, the distinctions between folk, pop, and art music that are presented at the beginning of the text are missing here. Instead, the music in this section is all lumped together as music of “others,” without acknowledging that the examples intersperse commercialized, modernized, vernacular, and traditional versions. It may not qualify as a matter of inclusivity/exclusivity, but the text offers a rather unsympathetic presentation of avant-garde languages, including atonality, serialism, and music that the authors describe as “noise” vs. “harmonious sounds.”
I respect the effort that went into putting this extensive book together, including locating numerous open source images and diagrams. I value the contribution that the authors have made in providing a no-cost alternative to commercially published texts. My comments are intended to direct the attention of would-be adopters to aspects that they may (or may not) want to addressor supplement or modify as they prepare their courses.
Table of Contents
- Music Fundamentals
- Music of the Middle Ages
- Music of the Renaissance
- Music of the Baroque Period
- Music of the Classical Period
- Nineteenth-Century Music and Romanticism
- The Twentieth Century and Beyond
- Popular Music in the United States
About the Book
Understanding Music: Past and Present is an open Music Appreciation textbook co-authored by music faculty across Georgia. The text covers the fundamentals of music and the physics of sound, an exploration of music from the Middle Ages to the present day, and a final chapter on popular music in the United States.
About the Contributors
Dr. Alan Clark is currently Director of Bands at Middle Georgia State University. He has taught and conducted at all levels from middle school through high school to professional military bands. While teaching High School in Lakeland, Florida he also served as an adjunct music faculty member at Florida Southern College and as an instructor with the Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps.
Tennessee-born jazz trumpeter Thomas Heflin has been hailed as “a fluent trumpeter with a bright tone and a forward-looking style” by jazz writer Scott Yanow. In 2005, he placed second in the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition in Seattle, WA and has since been featured or mentioned in Italy’s Jazz Magazine, The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and The International Trumpet Guild Journal among others. Heflin has released three albums as a leader on Blue Canoe Records, the last of which was a collaborative CD with Ron Westray, former lead trombonist with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He has performed in a professional capacity with the likes of James Williams, Vincent Herring, Donald Brown, and Lou Rawls. Heflin has served as an instructor at the Manhattan School of Music Summer Music Camp, The Jefferson Center Jazz Institute, the University of Texas, the University Outreach and Continuing Education Program at the University of Tennessee and Roane State Community College. He also served as the Central Greenough Artist-in-Residence in Western Australia as well as an artist-in-residence the Always on Stage Festival in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. In 2009, Heflin received his doctorate in Music Performance (Jazz Emphasis) from the University of Texas, Austin. Shortly after, he moved to New York City and served as Program Manager and jazz faculty at the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Division for five years. He now lives in Tifton with his wife Danica and his daughter Anna Bree and is proud to serve as Assistant Professor of Jazz at ABAC.
Originally from Valdosta, GA, Jeff Kluball earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in 1980 from Valdosta State College (currently Valdosta State University), and a master’s degree in music education in 1983 from the VanderCook College of Music in Chicago where he studied conducting under Victor Zajec. He continued his study in music conducting and band repertoire with Dr. William D. Revelli and received his Music Education Specialist Degree from Troy State University in 1990. Jeff completed his Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Sarasota on February 6, 2001. His extensive research revolved around the influence of music study on academic achievement and brain development.
Elizabeth Kramer, PhD, Associate Professor of Music History and Associate Dean, Department of Music, College of Arts and Humanities, University of West Georgia.