Music Merit Badge – Music is woven into life, from the lullaby of your earliest memories to the music you enjoy today. A person walking alone and whistling or singing is making music.
Many people hear the sounds in nature wind in trees, flowing water, birdsong, a coyote’s howl as a kind of music. Nature’s sounds and even its silences have inspired people to make music.
Composers have translated the sounds of industry and busy cities into music, too.
The history of music is rich and exciting. Through the ages, new music has been created by people who learned from tradition, then explored and innovated. All the great music has not yet been written. Today, the possibilities for creating new music are limitless.
You can earn the Music merit badge with or without playing an instrument or taking lessons. Either way, this article will help you get your musical bearings and choose your direction.
Requirements Music Merit Badge
- Sing or play a simple song or hymn chosen by your counselor using good technique, phrasing, tone, rhythm, and dynamics. Read all the signs and terms of the score.
- Name the five general groups of musical instruments. Create an illustration that shows how tones are generated and how instruments produce sound.
- Do TWO of the following:
- Attend a live performance, or listen to three hours of recordings from any two of the following musical styles: blues, jazz, classical, country, bluegrass, ethnic, gospel, musical theater, opera. Describe the sound of the music and the instruments used. Identify the composers or songwriters, the performers, and the titles of the pieces you heard. If it was a live performance, describe the setting and the reaction of the audience. Discuss your thoughts about the music.
- Interview an adult member of your family about music. Find out what the most popular music was when he or she was your age. Find out what his or her favorite music is now, and listen to three of your relative’s favorite tunes with him or her. How do those favorites sound to you? Had you ever heard of any of them? Play three of your favorite songs for your relative, and explain why you like these songs. Ask what he or she thinks of your favorite music.
- Serve for six months as a member of a school band, choir, or other organized musical groups, or perform as a soloist in public six times.
- List five people who are important in the history of American music and explain to your counselor why they continue to be influential. Include at least one composer, one performer, one innovator, and one person born more than 100 years ago.
- Do ONE of the following:
- Teach three songs to a group of people. Lead them in singing the songs, using proper hand motions.0
- Compose and write the score for a piece of music of 12 measures or more, and play this music on an instrument.
- Make a traditional instrument and learn to play it.
- Define for your counselor intellectual property (IP). Explain how to properly obtain and share recorded music.
Prepare Before Play
Be sure to choose an instrument you will enjoy. You should like its sound, and the action of playing it-fingers on keys, a strings-should appeal to you.
Maybe you see yourself playing trombone in a marching band, playing guitar in a rock band, or trying out new pieces by yourself on the piano.
1. Buying an Instrument
Before buying an instrument, ask the advice of your music instructor or a friend who is an accomplished musician. They should know about the quality, cost, and the most reliable places to buy musical instruments.
Expert advice can save you time, money, and disappointment. Some instruments, such as a new piano, are costly, but music dealers also offer rentals and payment plans.
Secondhand and “school” instruments (instruments designed for beginners) also will cost less. If you are shopping for a used instrument, ask if the dealer offers a guarantee.
Many schools lend instruments and provide instruction for beginning students. You might be able to start your lessons at school. Later, if you like the instrument, you could find a private teacher for individual lessons.
You will get more satisfaction and longer use from a reconditioned instrument of good make than from a new instrument of inferior quality. Whatever instrument you buy, insure it against loss or damage.
2. Choosing a Teacher
A smaller community might have only one or two music teachers. In a larger city, you will find a bewildering array of instructors and music schools.
Ask the advice of someone knowledgeable, and be sure to check with friends at school or in your troop who take lessons. A professional musician experienced in performance might also be a good instructor.
If no one nearby teaches the instrument you want to play, you might try a self-instruction course temporarily.
Have someone who knows music help you with the basics: note values, counting time, clef and note placement, as well as holding fingering, and caring for the instrument.
A reliable instruction book will be helpful. Ask your music teacher or merit badge counselor for recommendations. Check your local music store, school, or public library.
Signs and Terms
Whether you sing. play an instrument, or whistle to fulfill requirement 1, it will help if you know how to read music. You and your counselor can review the meanings of the instructions and symbols on the piece you plan to play.
Practice until you can perform the piece using good technique, phrasing. tone, rhythm, tempo, and dynamics.
Let’s look at these terms.
|Technique||The way a musician handles the technical details of playing an instrument or singing.|
|Phrasing||Grouping notes to form distinct musical phrases. A phrase is a short musical thought, typically two to four measures (bars) long.|
|Rhythm||A steady pattern of beats or time units in a piece of music. Some beats in the pattern are accented.|
|Tempo||The speed at which a piece of music is played. A slow tempo s calm and soothing, while a quick tempo can be exciting. When practicing difficult pieces of music, performers often play at a slow tempo while they leam the tough spots.|
|Dynamics||Degrees of sound volume and the ways to change the volume.|
Sound and Music
To create sound, something must vibrate (move rapidly back and forth). Your vocal cords vibrate when you speak, shout, or sing. Put your hand on your throat as you speak and you will feel the vibrations. The string of a guitar vibrates when plucked.
A drum’s surface vibrates when tapped with a drum stick. The vibrations, or sound waves, travel through the air to your ears.
The sound waves reach your eardrum, causing it o vibrate so that you hear the sound.
Different sounds have different-shaped sound waves according to each sound’s loudness (the force of the vibration) and frequency (the number of times per second that the sound wave vibrates).
A high note on the violin has a fast vibration; the sound waves are close together, creating a high frequency. The tuba’s low-pitched notes indicate a slower vibration; sound the waves are farther apart, creating a low frequency.
Also Read: Bugling Merit Badge Guide
Musical instruments usually are grouped according to how they produce sound. The five main groups, or families, are percussion, wind, strings, keyboard, and electronic.
1. Percussion Instruments
Percussion means striking together to produce noise. All percussion instruments are struck-some with sticks or hand mallets, some by hand, and some by one part of the instrument hitting another, as with cymbals or castanets.
Some have a definite pitch, such as the timpani, chimes, xylophone, and glockenspiel. Some have an indefinite pitch, such as the tambourine, drum, and castanets.
The most common drums are the snare drum and bass drum. The snare drum has snares (cords) stretched across its lower head.
It has two forms: a smaller, shallower model called the concert snare drum; and a larger, deeper model called the field drum. Both are played with regular drumsticks.
The bass drum is the large drum used to mark the beats in music. The drummer strikes it with large mallets that are handheld or mounted on a foot pedal.
Attached to the bass drum, or ready nearby, maybe several accessories: cymbals, tom-toms, triangle, tambourine, maracas, whistles, cowbells, gongs, and other instruments that produce exciting and unusual sounds.
In jazz. and rock music, the drummer is the driving force of the rhythm. The jazz or rock drum kit usually consists of a snare drum, a bottom drum (bass or kick drum), crash cymbals, a ride cymbal, and tom-toms.
There is also a high hat (often spelled hi-hat), which is a pair of cymbals the drummer opens and closes with a foot pedal while playing on the upper cymbal with a drumstick or brush.
2. Wind Instruments
The wind instruments include the woodwinds (flute, piccolo, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon) and the brass instruments (trumpet, French horn, tuba, and trombone).
All wind instruments are played by making the air vibrate within a hollow tube. The longer the tube, the longer: the column of vibrating air inside the instrument, the slower the vibration, and the lower the pitch.
Each wind instrument has a way for the player to change the length of the ait column to produce different notes.
A. Woodwind instruments
The flute and piccolo are edge-blown instruments. They are played by blowing air across a hole in the hollow tube of the instrument. The other woodwind instruments are called reed instruments.
Sound is made when a reed-a thin piece of cane, wood, or plastic-vibrates against a mouthpiece. The clarinet and saxophone have a single-reed mouthpiece. The oboe and bassoon have two reeds bound together.
These vibrate against each other when air is blown through them. A woodwind has holes along its length. The player shortens or lengthens the column of vibrating air in the instrument by opening and closing these holes.
Vibrations occur only in the air between the mouthpiece and the first open hole. If all the holes are closed, the air column is at its longest and the lowest possible note is made.
B. Brass instruments
A brass instrument is played by blowing air into a cup-shaped or funnel-shaped mouthpiece, which makes the air inside the instrument vibrate.
Except for the trombone and bugle, all brass instruments use finger-operated valves to open sections of tubing to make different notes.
The trombonist lengthens the tube by moving the slice. The bugle is a simple tube with no mechanical control.
3. Stringed Instruments
Stringed instruments fall into two groups: those that are bowed, such as the violin, viola, cello, and those that are plucked, such as the guitar, banjo, lute, and harp.
The weight, length, and tension of each string vary the pitch. A short, thin, tight string makes rapid vibrations and a higher pitch.
A thicker, longer, looser string makes slower vibrations and a lower pitch. Pressing a string changes its length and tightness.
A. Bowed instruments
While these instruments can also be plucked, they mainly are played by drawing a bow back and forth across the strings.
The pitch is varied by pressing the strings with the fingers of the other hand. The vibrations travel into the body of the instrument, the soundbox, where they resonate.
B. Plucked instruments
Harp strings are plucked with the fingers. Other plucked instruments, also called fretted instruments, have a series of frets, or ridges, that mark where the strings should be pressed to vary the tones (The fingers are placed between the frets.)
Guitars, ukuleles, and banjos are stringed instruments that are plucked with the fingers or with a small pick.
4. Keyboard Instruments
Keyboard instruments combine many of the features of instruments from other groups. For example, the piano is both a percussion and a stringed instrument-it makes a sound when a felt-covered hammer strikes a metal string.
When you press a key on a harpsichord, a string is plucked. The organ uses air forced through reeds or hollow tubes that are much like whistles, or electric vibrations.
5. Electronic Instruments
Electronic instruments fall into two groups: traditional instruments whose normal sound is altered electronically, such as the electric guitar, and instruments that produce sound electronically (such as the synthesizer).
An electric guitar uses an electric pickup to Sense vibrations in a plucked string.
The pickup converts the vibrations to electric signals, which are sent to an amplifier and then converted back into vibrations by a speaker. Then the speaker produces the sound.
Synthesizers are computerized machines that can imitate the sounds of many instruments and produce a great variety of other sounds.
They generate electric signals or replay pre-recorded signals (called “sampled sounds”). These signals are sent to an amplifier and converted to vibrations by a speaker system.
The musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) lets you use a computer to record, edit, and playback music using MIDI-compatible electronic instruments-usually keyboard synthesizers.
With MIDI, you can compose and edit your own music, learn about music theory, or turn a home computer into doing it yourself music mixing studio.
Many composers today write music on a computer that has MIDI instruments attached to it. Using special software, a composer tells a MIDI synthesizer what notes to play, and at what tempo and volume.
The composer can “cut and paste” to rearrange music sequences and fix mistakes by editing individual notes.
The composer selects what musical instrument the synthesizer should sound like-a piano, for example, or maybe a violin, guitar, flute, trumpet, or drum.
Using MIDI instruments, a composer working alone can play all the parts in a musical composition, and all of the various instruments.
With a MIDI-equipped computer and synthesizer, a composer can create a virtual orchestra at home and listen to compositions at any time.
Attending live performances is the best way to experience music. Look for concerts by popular artists, bands, community orchestras and choruses, and at colleges and universities. Some recitals by college students are open to the public for free.
If there are no live performances in your area, you can listen to recordings-CDs, tapes, and records. Check radio and public television schedules, too. Internet radio offers music from all genres (types) at your demand.
Videos and DVDs of concerts and operas are available at libraries and video rental stores. Also, many artists and record labels offer free samples of their music online.
Whenever you download music from the Internet, be sure you have your parent’s permission and that you are not infringing upon copyright laws.
If you choose the requirements music merit badge on 3a or 3b, you might find yourself listening to music more intently than ever before.
Take notes so you can recall your impressions of each piece of music when you talk with your counselor.
Also note such information as composers or songwriters, orchestras or performers, conductors, and solo artists. Save the program from any performance you attend.
Classical music is written mostly for concerts, operas, ballets, and religious services. Classical music is also called “art music.” Here are some types of classical music and performances to which you might listen.
A major musical work played by an orchestra. Most symphonies have four movements or parts. Famous symphonies include Beethoven’s Fifth (“da-da-da-DUM”) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (nicknamed the Jupiter Symphony).
A drama that is sung rather than spoken, usually accompanied by a full orchestra. Operas combine music, art, and drama.
They often are staged with impressive costumes, scenery, and lighting. The term grand opera describes operas with serious or tragic plots, in which every word is sung. Some of the best-known operas are:
- Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)
- Aida and Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
- Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-75)
- Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
A shorter, less serious form of operatic art, with spoken dialogue and humorous romantic plots. Some of the best-known operettas are:
- The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado by composer William S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and librettist Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
- Babes in Toyland by Victor Herbert (1859-1924)
- The Student Prince by Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951)
- Rose Marie and The Vagabond King by Rudolf Friml (1879-1972)
A serious composition sung by a chorus and soloists accompanied by a full orchestra. It usually is religious and based on the Bible. There are no costumes, scenery, or action. Some of the great orators are:
- Saint Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
- Messiah by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
- The Creation and The Seasons by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
- Saint Paul and Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47)
Great music has been created for classical ballet. Igo: Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed music for The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring.
Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) created the music for Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. The music has often been performed and recorded apart from the ballet performances.
6. Program music
Program music describes something or tells a story. Examples are Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé (1892 1972), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas (1865-1935), and Peter and the Wolf by Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953).
The composer creates the piece to inspire certain images, thoughts, and feelings for the listener. Sometimes the description is barely suggested, or the title indicates the meaning. Sometimes the entire story behind the music is printed in the program.
The many different styles of popular music include bluegrass, blues, country, folk, gospel, jazz, rap, rock, and soul. Some popular music loses its appeal quickly, but many pop songs have lasted for decades, even centuries.
Whatever style of today’s music you like, you can be sure it has a history. The music sounds the way it does today because it has been shaped along the way by songwriters and performers.
Pop, jazz, folk, blues, country, bluegrass, gospel, rock, and rap have borrowed from one another, and many artists work in several genres.
Pop covers a wide territory of romantic songs, novelty tunes, songs with messages, movie themes, and more. Radio “crooners” with soft, almost whispering styles were popular in the late 1920s.
In the 1940s, big-band singers like Frank Sinatra became sensations. After World War 11, a stronger economy meant teenagers had money to buy records. New music was written to appeal to young consumers.
Country music developed from British ballads and folk songs that were preserved in the South.
In the mid-1920s, radio shows such as the National Bam Dance in Chicago and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville began to broadcast this “hillbilly music” to a wider audience. But the music was already changing.
Jimmie Rodgers combined the Southern mountain ballad with the blues and a vocal embellishment called the yodel to produce a new style of country. Rodgers’ songs were among the first to attract a national audience to rural Southern music.
Country music turned to the West with the success of cowboy movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Honky-tonk music followed and dealt with subjects like love and loss. Later, a new relaxed style with an easy beat, known as “the Nashville Sound,” developed.
Country music gave birth to a new style called bluegrass, pioneered by Bill Monroe and his band, the Blue Grass Boys, beginning in 1939.
Bluegrass is characterized by complicated vocal and instrumental solos and distinctive vocal harmonies including duet, trio, and quartet harmony singing.
A typical bluegrass band has a guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and bass.
Bands sometimes feature a kind of steel guitar called a reso phonic guitar Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were important bluegrass performers from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Among the major bluegrass groups of recent years are the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Hot Rize, and Alison Krauss with her group Union Station.
The father of gospel music, most experts agree, is Thomas A. Dorsey, composer of such well-known songs as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord, and There Will Be Peace in the Valley.”
As a young blues pianist, Dorsey accompanied blues singers Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Then he began to write religious music that had jazz rhythms and blues flavor.
Gospel emerged from the African American church to reach an ever-widening audience.
The golden age of the gospel was from 1945 to 1965, but the tradition and the music thrive today. The gospel-style is vigorous, fervent, and intensely spiritual.
Famous gospel performers include Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Mississippi Mass Choir, James Cleveland, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Five Blind Bove of Alabama.
Folk music in the 20th century has often featured songs of protest against conditions of the day.
Woody Guthrie wrote protest songs as the nation struggled with the poverty brought on by the dust storms and economic troubles of the 1930s. You might know his song This Land Is Your Land.”
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, folk singing became especially popular. Folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary rose to fame.
Teenagers claimed rock ‘n’ roll, the new music that emerged in the mid-1950s, as their own music.
Today’s rock music evolved from early rock ‘n’ roll to cover a wide variety of vocal styles and instrumentation.
Rock music has roots in rhythm and blues (R & B), which combines blues, jazz, and gospel styles. R & B has a powerful beat and loud, intense music and vocals. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were prominent R&B artists.
Rock also drew from country music. A typical rock song has a driving beat, lots of volume, and simple repetitive phrases.
The first rock ‘n’ roll hit was Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets in 1954. In the late 1950s, Elvis Presley launched his career and was on his way to becoming the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.
In the 1960s, James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and others sang rock music called soul.
Detroit became a center for black singers, and the “Motown” sound developed there. Well-known Motown singers include the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Some famous names in rock are the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, U2, and Stevie Wonder.
7. Heavy Metal
Heavy metal is loud, theatrical, aggressive, wild and raw, and often controversial. Metal music has been criticized for its themes of death and destruction. Many heavy metal songs express anger or desperation and intense feelings of alienation.
Metal music takes advantage of the modern electric guitar’s abilities to make unusual sounds through effects such as feedback, distortion, and reverb (an electronically produced echo effect).
Metal borrows from rock ‘n’ roll and the blues, with influences from classical music.
Rap, with its rhythmic spoken lyrics, is a kind of street poetry set to music. Rap speaks openly about tough topics.
Rap artists often talk about the hardships and violence experienced by many young African Americans in big cities.
The lyrics of some rap songs have caused controversy for their emphasis on racism and violence. Rap grew out of African American street culture in New York City during the 1970s.
It culture in New York City during the 1970s. It became the most popular new music to emerge in the late 20th century.
Early rap groups included Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. Performers such as Salt-N-Pepa and MC Hammer brought rap to a mainstream audience.
Other influential rap performers have included Run-DMC, Queen Latifah, and Arrested Development.
A Mixture of Music
Musicians today often blur the line between classical and popular music. Josh Groban sings pop, rock, opera, and classical. Rock star Paul McCartney writes classical music.
Jazz singer Bobby McFerrin and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed together. Opera star Kathleen Battle sang with pop star Janet Jackson.
Rock composer Prince wrote the score for the Joffrey Ballet’s Billboards. The Kronos Quartet (a string quartet) performed works by Ornette Coleman, Charles Ives, and Jimi Hendrix.
Christopher Rouse composed work influenced by Beethoven, Indian raga music, and Elvis Presley.
The music of America developed out of international musical traditions and forms. But jazz, blues, and musical theater are America’s unique contributions to the world.