Why Do We Love to Sing? A Look at the Origins of Vocal Expression.

The rapid innovation in interactive singing technology brought about in the late 1970’s by the invention of Karaoke equipment sparked an ever-growing interest worldwide in singing popular songs—both for the sheer delight of it and for whatever rewards and recognition it may bring to the new breed of participants.  Along with the increased popular access to the tools of music making came the realization that singing is something anyone and everyone can do with basic singing lessons, not just a select group of highly professional singers or superstar talents created by Hollywood star maker studios!

Where did this love of singing originate? Why is that people all over the world love to hear music and love to sing?  What are the deeper social purposes that singing fulfills?  In this article we look at vocal expression in the dawn of human history in order to trace the fundamental social needs singing fulfills.

When looking for the origins of music, we are looking at a period of prerecorded history. There are no song remnants, movies, videos or tapes available. No written records, or texts to guide us to the shape or structure of early music. We know from anthropologists, geologists, and other researchers of human history that as the dust settled on the Jurassic period, as the giant dinosaurs disappeared from the earth, early men formed societies and thrived in several locations on the planet.  Without any record of the music-making capacities of early societies—prior to the written records left by Sumerians and Egyptians 6000 years ago, we have little to show us how early man in the Paleolithic era, 12,000 to 25,000 years ago exhibited musical expression.

Early primitive groups. To find primitive song forms, musicologists have studied the societies surviving to this day, which contain remnants of Stone Age culture. Small isolated groups of people around the world, now confined to living in the harshest environments, driven there by the rapacious advance of modern civilization, still maintain the earliest forms of social organization. These groups include the Pygmies of the equatorial forests of Gabon and Ituri, the Bushmen of Southwest Africa, the Semang of the Malayan jungle, the Veddas of Ceylon, the Andamanese, the Australian aborigines, the Eskimos of arctic North America, and the Selknam and Yamana tribes of Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America.

These groups have in common an economy based on hunting and gathering and of following their prey and moving from season to season. They do not practice agriculture, nor do they build fixed habitations.  Men are usually the hunters and women the gatherers. Men use weapons in the hunt; the primary weapons being the spear and the bow and arrow. The only professional class is the shaman or medicine man.  Usually these are men, but this is not universal. And women in all these societies have primary healing and medicinal roles in relation to childbirth, childrearing, healing the sick and rites of passage at the time of death.

Picture 2 Archeologists have uncovered remnant evidence of musical instruments used in Stone Age times, which are corroborated by musical practices amongst surviving societies today. Animal bones were fashioned in to wind instruments, such as the flute, and into percussive sticks.  One of the earliest musical instruments used in Africa was the bow. Cave paintings from Paleolithic times reveal telling evidence of musical practices for the purpose of sustaining life or of denying fearful spirits.  Drawings depict men dressed in animal costume—thereby invoking the magical powers of animals; dancing and playing instruments such as the flute. Dancing is closely associated with the hunt.  There are spiritual, ritual, and survival overtones in these societies dependent upon the hunt for survival.

Do the war dance. As dance is driven by rhythmic activity, generated by men playing early percussive and wind instruments, primitive songs associated with the hunt dances or war dances came about when people uttered sounds to invoke the spirits and or to express strong emotions, impressions or sensations.  Often the uttered sounds were not articulated words conveying meaning, but rather were repeated syllables that captured a feeling or expressed a sensation.

For example, a greeting song of the Yamana tribe of Tierra Del Fuego goes like this:

Ha ma la  Ha ma la Ha ma la
O la la la,  la la la la la  la.   (Primitive Song : 57,58)

Another song example from the Yamana, made up of emotive sounds expresses a vague mood rather than a word meaning:

Ma-las-ta xai-na-sa, ma-las-ta, xai-na-sa.
Hau-a la-mas ke-te-sa, hau-a-la-mas ke-ta-sa.

These are sung to a fixed tune and repeated as a chorus or rhythmic utterance accompanying a dance women and girls perform.

Early songs were based on the rhythmic movement needed to perform the dance. When words were added and made to conform to the rhythm, poetry began.  Drama also began with the performance of the dance, since performers took on the character of the animals, spirits or gods they were seeking to please with their dance.  Primitive song is a communal activity, as ceremonies are a main focus of the social life of the tribe.  Song became the way to communicate with the supernatural and to express joy, grief and other strong emotions.

Some of the early songs. Primitive singers developed phrases, which were often repeated to drive home the meaning of the words of the song. The poetry and drama of the songs became quite elaborate and had the power to evoke strong responses in the listeners or participants and to create a vivid awareness of the present scene or unknown powers at work. A song sung by the Pygmies of Gabon when preparing for an elephant hunt provides an example:

On the weeping forest under the wing of evening,
The night, all black has gone to rest happy.
In the sky the stars have fled trembling.
Fireflies, which shine vaguely and p
ut out their lights;
On high the moon is dark, its white light is put out.
The spirits are wandering.
Elephant hunter take your bow!  Elephant hunter take your bow!
In the forest lashed by the great rain,
Father Elephant walks heavily. Baou, Baou.
Careless, without fear, sure of his strength,
Father Elephant, whom no one can vanquish,
Among the trees, which he breaks, he stops and starts again.
Father Elephant, you have been heard from afar.
In the forest where no one passes but you,
Hunter, lift up your heart, leap and walk.
Meat is in front of you, the huge piece of meat, which walks like a hill.
The meat which makes glad the heart,
The meat that will roast on the hearth.
The meat into which the teeth sink.
The fine red meat and the blood that is drunk smoking.
Elephant Hunter, take your bow, take your bow!

The melody line of this music may have been of the simplest form; a five or six note melody starting at the highest note and descending to the lowest note, and this repeated for each line of the verse, except on the repeated refrain at the ends, where the voice may rise for emphasis and the Elephant Hunter is exhorted to take his bow.  But the power and drama of the scene and the extent of what is at stake are clearly present in the language of the verse.

Picture 3This example demonstrates important features of primitive languages that have great bearing on the poetic content of primitive song. The languages of early people are skillful in dealing with a kaleidoscope of impressions, whether visible, emotional, or audible.  Early languages have words, which cover a vastly wider range than civilized languages for such matters as colors or effects of light and shade, or the movements of animals, or the relations of bodies in space.  In some Eskimo languages, a noun can have many forms, each with its own shade of meaning.  The aboriginal Australians of Arnhem land have a rich vocabulary for catching the precise impression of natural things.  A dictionary compiled by a British Missionary of the Yamana language of the Tierra Del Fuego region of South America contained over 30,000 words in daily use; a tribute to its richness and diversity.

Primitive languages lack words for general and abstract ideas but they have an immediate impact for those who know them. Quite a complex picture may be presented very rapidly in a concentrated form, as in a line from a song of the Australian Aranda:

“ngkinjaba iturala albutjila”

“Nginjaba” means both “sun” and “afternoon”, “iturala” means “in the heat or brightness of the sun” and “albujika” means “to turn homeward”. Thus the whole line means “To turn homeward in the afternoon when the sun is bright and hot”. (Primitive Song, 22,23)

 The purpose of the early songs. Songs of early societies can be viewed as serving either sacred or secular purposes, and these categories are not mutually exclusive.  The elephant hunt in the above example is viewed as a secular affair but with supernatural overtones. The elephant is a being whose spirit merits homage, while its conquest is a dangerous life and death affair.  Song in early societies became a way to deal with the mysteries of life that must be mastered; it was an enhanced art of words—words being the chief instrument men have of forming a relationship with the unknown.  Shamans and medicine men or healers had a large role in the composition and performance of songs. They often composed the prayers and incantations, and served as the song leaders in the performance of songs at ceremonies.  Singing was not confined to them, though certain songs in certain cultures were closely guarded by them and could only be performed by those who have been admitted to the Shaman role.  These may be songs about the origins of the tribal group or the history of the tribe in its struggles with the supernatural.

Summary. This completes this brief review of the origins of song.  It is astonishing how different is music and song today, with our romantic song literature and modern musical forms!! Nevertheless, songs still deal with ancient deeply felt human needs in the struggle with the mysteries and challenges of living in a dangerous world full of wonder and challenge.  Songs continue to tell our stories, to make sense of our trials and triumphs and to explain the spiritual and supernatural wonders of living on this earth.

Richard Article written by TakeLessons instructor, Richard Kalman. Richard is an excellent singing teacher in Berkeley, CA. With a BA in Music,
Richard is lead vocalist/keyboardist for his jazz harmony group, a
former member of two award winning choirs, and busy teacher of piano,
vocals, and guitar. Richard teaches fundamental singing techniques, and
works with jazz, popular music, blues, gospel, folk, ethnic music, and
broadway singing. Richard has a degree from CSU Sonaoma in Music
andJazz Studies, and has received his Adult Education Teaching
Credential from the University of California, Berkeley.

PRIMITIVE SONG, BY C.M. Bowra, World Publishing Co. 1962
MaCMILLAN publishers Ltd. 1980.

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Concert Review: Tim Price, Jazz Artist

(Authors note: I composed this article about my teacher and a great inspiration to me with my musical life.  I tried to capture the feeling of the musicians working together as much as how much I learned from the experience.)

Tim Price with the Department of Good and Evil

L’Villa D’Arte at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom

Friday, March 16 – 17, 2007 as presented by the First Energy Berks Jazz Festival, Reading, PA

As I contemplated my drive from Southern New Jersey with the wind whipping, the sleet falling throughout Philly, heavy snow falling in the area, and the forecast for bad driving conditions sounding worse and worse, I thought about why I was going to still make this trip.  To see the internationally acclaimed woodwind virtuoso Tim Price on his home turf of Berks County with one of the freshest new jazz trios on the eastern seaboard, or the USA for that matter, (since they are touring California as I write this), The Department of Good and Evil.  I decided that I couldn’t miss it and set out in my truck for what ended up being a 5 hour drive past jack-knifed tractor trailers to make what is normally a 1 ½ hour trip.  I also knew that the entire REASON that D.O.G.E was coming way there, was to play with Tim Price, not just to do a gig.

I was infinitely rewarded, and forgot about the drive as soon as the music started.  Besides, the rest of the band went through the same weather for almost 10 hours to be there to play to me.

The room was over half filled, even with and because of the snowstorm.  After the first song, I was hooked, big time.  Tim’s tone and projection on tenor sax filled the beautiful old world ballroom throughout the first set with some old standards, and at least three of Tim’s original compositions.  The band of Rachel Z, (who I had known from her playing with such luminaries as Wayne Shorter and Peter Gabriel), Bobbie Rae on Drums and Percussion, and Maeve Royce on Upright Bass was extremely tight, and communicated to the audience using of all the elements of jazz, the language, in an extremely melodic way.  I have not felt this from any of the recent recordings I have heard on any label, because it is new ground for a change.  It isn’t avant garde jazz, its not smooth jazz, its not be bop, its not blues.  It is actually all of those things, and then add, rock, reggae, funk, international rhythms, and apply it to some old and new jazz standards while still staying with the melody.

Rachel Z is a giftedly unique pianist of the highest order.  She captivated me with her flowing runs, and especially her presence within the music.  I am not sure that I can at this point in my listening of her work, put her into any category.  This enthralls me all the more.  She has the inventiveness of Herbie Hancock, the lyricism of Chick Corea, the fluidness of Horace Silver, the scat of Art Tatum, the list is endless.   As a soloist, as an accompanist, Rachel Z is in a class by herself for this writer.

Maeve Royce is only 22, but plays with intensity unmatched by professionals two and three times her age.  Her ability to hold on to an audience with her solos thrilled me, while she and the rest of the band tested each other with complex chord patterns.  Not one member flinched or shied away from the challenges set forth.  Jazz is all about tension and release, communication and stretching boundaries and these four performers have got it all together in that department.

You could feel they were really HAVING FUN pushing each other. They all got back into the groove every time they stretched, which is the real test to any drummer, and a testament to Bobbie Rae.  Mr. Price said that “calling Bobbie Rae just a drummer is like calling Ben Franklin just a scientist”.  Wow.  I can’t say anymore than this: Mr. Price is right on.  And Bobbie is as soulful, as hip and as beautiful a person as you would want to meet.

At one point, while listening to Tim’s composition of “Combat Zone”, recorded on Tim’s standards release “Passion Sax”, the scene outside the large floor to ceiling windows behind the band caught my eye, the still heavy snow outside was falling sideways, and the band was swinging his upbeat tune right along with it. It was a magically lyrical sonic portrait.  Tim told us this tune was inspired by his years playing in the seedier clubs of


in the 70’s, and it certainly had that “little bit nasty, little bit guttural” feel to it.  They then launched into a seldom played tune from Wayne Shorter called “Tom Thumb”.  With the way this song was presented, it should be played quite a bit more often, especially by this band.  Tim’s solo was a fitting tribute to Shorter, using all the multiphonics, chord progressions, and altissimo available to him in his vast range on the tenor sax.  The next tune started with Maeve on bass alone, effortlessly moving through the changes with her trademark humming/singing, then with Tim, Rachel and Bobbie joining in what turned out to be “It Never Entered My Mind”.  His treatment of this ballad reminded me of a Stan Getz recording of this tune, although I am sure Tim’s humility and respect for Stan’s work wouldn’t like me to make that comment. Next came another excellent Tim Price composition written as a homage to John Coltrane entitled, “Twins of Spirit”, which has recently been recorded by two other students of Tim’s, along with Bob Mintzer, of YellowJackets fame.  It was “Priceless” when Bobbie Rae and Tim started a dialogue on the drums and sax that went from Trane-esque to funk, to swing, and back to bebop, each time building and building with a masterful use of percussion and sax, which I have no reference point to compare to, just to say it was phenomenally entertaining if not mesmerizing.

And that was just the first set!  The second set was even more inventive.  Needless to say, I extended my stay over at the


In order to catch their show on Saturday night as well, and attended their improvisational seminar at the Goggle Works in the afternoon, attended by professional musicians and students
, but that’s a whole other story in itself.

One comment I would like to make from the improv class at Goggle Works.  Rachel Z was asked why she liked playing with Tim Price, by one of the many students in attendance.  She has played with a HOST of soloists from around the world, and she picks Tim as “interesting, one of my favorites, because he challenges me in ways few others do today”. She went on to state some background:  Because a musician, when they find THEIR sound, brings with them in that sound all the players who influenced them throughout their lives, and she was especially attracted to the ones that Tim heard and learned from while they were passing through.

Reading, PA

Johnny Griffin, Brother Jack McDuff, and many more that played on the so called “chitlin circuit”.  And because those from other big cities she has played with, just didn’t experience the “dirty harmonies” and inventive use of chords that Tim did growing up where he did. What I think she was getting at was that although Tim Price calls Berks County home, and brings her aforementioned experiences to his music, he plays globally with that small town feeling, that anyone from a small town understands, and blends it with his international study of all idioms of music to create a fascinatingly blended musical palette. There is no one from the jazz idiom today, that this writer is familiar with, that could play a different instrument on every tune on a 12 or more track cd, and do it to the highest level of proficiency that Mr. Price can.

By the way, the Saturday night show was SRO packed with young and old, students of Tim’s as well as music followers, eager to hear the band that everyone from the night before must have been talking about.  The few repeated songs from Friday night sounded even better the second time I heard them, and were each presented in a different way from the night before.

As a final comment on the shows, at the end of the every set I witnessed, the crowd took a full minute to bask in the intensity of the feelings this band created, before erupting in applause and a standing ovation.

Thank you Tim Price, and Thank You to Rachel Z, Bobbie Rae, and Maeve Royce for two of the most enjoyable shows I have seen in my 37 years of listening to live music.  And thanks to the First Energy Berks County Jazz Fest Committee for having the foresight to book Tim Price and the Department of Good and Evil as part of their festival.  By the way, I will be back to the Berks Jazz Fest for two more shows offered next Friday night, but that might be another story, I just hope it doesn’t snow again.

Larry Larry G
Larry is a TakeLessons Certified Instructor and gives saxophone lessons in Philadelphia and Woodbury NJ focusing on Blues, Jazz, Classical, Big Band.

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Q&A with Jason – How to Read a Guitar Poster


Q: Hey Jason, I am learning to play guitar, and got a guitar poster with all the guitar chords I need to learn but I’m not quite sure how to read it.  Could you explain to me the letters at the bottom (C, G, C, Eb, G) and what is the “X” at the top of the letters in the circles.  The chord is a C minor.  I would bring in my poster but I taped it to the wall without thinking of bringing it in.  Joe Bennett San Diego, CA

A: Absolutely man, a lot of the riffs we run through are so metal that we don’t actually have time to run through the music theory or background behind what we are playing and sometimes it has nothing to do with theory anyway. When starting guitar lessons in your city, it’s important to learn some of the theory. The chord we are looking at is a C minor and a minor chord is simply a major chord with a b3rd.  So lets look at it like this major chord spelling first: C will be our root note or 1, D = 2, E will be our 3, F = 4, and G will be our 5.  (CEG, or 135)  135 is the formula to make all major chords, so now looking at the minor chord with the b3rd we have the same thing with a Eb instead.

A summary of common guitar chords in six-string formatImage via Wikipedia

The “X” represents a string that will NOT be played in the chord progression (that means don’t play the low E in this case).  The rest of the notes underneath the chord chart are the notes of the C minor chord in each position the black dots are notated.  First finger C, ring finger G, pinkie C, middle finger Eb, and first finger lands back on the G down on the high E.

Got it?  Alright…next move, take that same chord and learn how to sweep pick with it.







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Jazz Students Play at The White House

Washington Post Staff Writer

Published in the Washington Post Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The first family of jazz was there. The first family of the United
States (minus the nation's No. 1 jazz fan, who was busy with
health-care reform) was there. And 150 talented young jazz musicians
were in the White House, too, all celebrating an original American art
form in the most exclusive jazz workshop this city has ever seen.

First lady Michelle Obama told the group that jazz was always in the
air when she was growing up in Chicago. Her grandfather put speakers in
every room of his house, turned up the stereo and listened to music all
day long. "At Christmas, birthdays, Easter, it didn't matter," she
said, "there was jazz playing in our household."

Now that she's in the White House, the beat goes on. "Today's event
exemplifies what I think the White House, the people's house, should be
about," Obama said.

The event took place in conjunction with the Duke Ellington Jazz
Festival, Washington's largest music celebration, which concluded last
night with a concert at the Kennedy Center. The students, who were
chosen by their teachers, participate in programs sponsored by the
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which paid for some of them to fly
to Washington.

Wynton Marsalis at The White House

Parts of the White House became an elaborate rehearsal room, where
students from 8 to 18 absorbed the feeling of jazz and the blues from
those who know it best. The entire Marsalis family — father Ellis and
sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason — participated, along with
Cuban jazz master Paquito D'Rivera and D.C.'s own Davey Yarborough,
passing along jazz tips and the larger lessons they've learned from
music. In one workshop, the students paraded across the stage of the
East Room, improvising variations on the blues under the gaze of the
portraits of George and Martha Washington.

"Blues is what connects us to the earth," Wynton Marsalis told the
students in his advanced tutorial. "It keeps us grounded, gives us the
spirit behind this music. It makes us holler and scream and shout
through our horns."

After the intensive hour-long workshops, conducted in three separate
rooms of the White House, the students gathered in the East Room for a
brief concert featuring D'Rivera and a teenage combo, including three
D.C. area musicians: Elijah Easton on sax, Zach Brown on bass, Kusha
Abadey on drums. "This kind of interaction was the first of its kind,"
said Thomas R. Carter, president of the Monk Institute, who has
presented jazz events at the White House during the past three
administrations. "It was groundbreaking and truly sets a precedent for
bringing music education itself into the White House."

The Obama administration plans to continue its hands-on program in
arts education in the future, but it was jazz, America's indigenous art
form, that got the first turn in the spotlight.

"There's probably no better example of democracy than a jazz
ensemble — individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group,"
said Michelle Obama, who was wearing a white skirt and sweater.

For longtime Washington jazz musician and educator Yarborough, it
was important to see not just the history of jazz honored at the White
House, but its future as well.

"To be able to witness the music being perfected in the White House,
to be requested to bring my band here," he said, "is a wonderful

The first lady was joined at the afternoon concert by her mother and
her daughters — because, she said, she wanted to introduce the girls
to "all kinds of music other than hip-hop."

As Marsalis and D'Rivera swung into Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in
Tunisia" to bring the day of jazz to a close, the first lady bobbed her
head to the music, and 150 students had an experience they're not
likely to forget.

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San Diego North Park Music Thing Conference

The North Park Music Thing – San Diego Music &
Media Conference and Festival is a three day music event, which is
scheduled to take place August 7-9, 2009 at the Lafayette Hotel. All
conference registrants will learn about the music business during panel
discussions, workshops and demo review sessions. NPMT will feature
speakers who have been involved in local, regional, and national music.
On Saturday, following the workshops, NPMT will showcase nearly 150
musical acts from the Southwestern United States, on up to 20 stages in
San Diego, California.


All proceeds from the North Park Music Thing will be donated to the San
Diego Music Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses its
efforts on local musician assistance, San Diego music education, professional
development, live performance and the annual San Diego Music Awards
show recognizing creative achievement in the San Diego music community.
The Foundation’s primary goal is to advance artistic growth and
increase understanding, appreciation, enjoyment and interest in music
and its ability to enhance and enrich the City of San Diego.

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California Arts Day Poster Contest for California Arts Students

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Each year the California Arts Council promotes the first Friday in October as California Arts Day to highlight the importance of the arts and creativity in the state. This year the agency has a contest for California college students who are talented graphic artists and designers, with a grand prize of $500.

The assignment: create the California Arts Day 2009 poster, illustrating the lyrics, concepts and/or intention of the song “The Art in Me,” also known as The California Arts Song.


Poster Competition

Each year the California Arts Council prints a poster to celebrate California Arts Day, the first Friday in October. While California Arts Day generally celebrates arts and creativity, each specific year is centered around specific themes and images to highlight different artistic and creative aspects of our state.
People today are expressing themselves creatively, especially through the use of computer and digital tools to create images, music, videos, and other artwork simply for the joy of it. For 2009, the main theme for California Arts Day is “The Art in Me” and focuses on the individual creativity of each Californian.

Eligibility: Students at California fine art and design colleges

Deadline: June 22, 2009

Prize: Winner receives $500. The poster will be printed by California Arts Council and distributed statewide to schools, libraries, arts organizations, museums, city and county offices, the Governor’s Office, and state legislative and agency offices.

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