The Fascinating Story of Allegri’s Miserere.

It’s not often you come across a piece of music so wrapped in mystery and misfortune. The haunting high notes for the trebles/sopranos creates one of the most distinctive moments in choral music, but was completely accidental. We’ll get to that bit in a moment. Let’s start at the beginning.

Allegri’s ‘Miserere Mei, Deus’ was written in 1638 in the Vatican, as part of his work as a singer in the Sistine Chapel. It was regarded as so special that the Pope ordered that only 3 copies ever left the Vatican: one for the Padre Martini, one for the King of Portugal and one for Holy Roman Emperor. They only got simplified versions, that left out some of the unwritten performance practices of the time (the King of Portugal complained!) So far so good.

Then the piece is touched by another historical figure. Mozart, aged 14 wanted to hear the music while visiting Rome (one of the only places it was performed.) The musical genius that he was, he went home and transcribed the piece from memory. The original ‘pirated’ music now circulates the wider world and was eventually published in 1771. An interesting piece of trivia.

A little later, Mendelssohn makes another transcription (written in a different clef, with written-out ornamentation) and here comes the twist. In 1880 an editor of Grove’s Musical Dictionary inserts this modulated section into the illustration of the pieces. The entire passage now suddenly shifts up a perfect fourth, reaching that famous top C for the treble/soprano soloist.

Although it’s completely uncharacteristic for renaissance music of Allegri’s time, the resulting transposition is copied into further publications, and is the version we recognise today! The story of this piece makes it one of the most fascinating works out there, and brings up all sorts of interesting discussions on authenticity and authorship. At the end of this all I can say is: what a happy accident!

Free headphone offer on Casio digital pianos

Ackerman are now offering complimentary, high-quality headphones as part of our Casio digital piano packages.

The Casio Privia PX-S1000 is widely renowned as the world’s slimmest portable piano, available in three colours with a smart, stylish appearance. Every purchase of this model with Ackerman now includes a pair of Pioneer headphones and a piano-style sustain pedal worth £69.00. Hurry while stocks last!

Meanwhile, every purchase of a Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid GP-310 and GP-510 now also includes a pair of high-quality BOSE headphones worth £169.95. Terms and conditions apply – please ask in store for further details.

Musical Games

What better way to get out of a music rut than to play some ‘musical games.’ In this example these are game played by a medium sized group of musicians, but you could easily adapt some for more or fewer people:

Have you used musical games for composition, practice or learning? Let us know in the comments!

How to Master any Musical Instrument

Credit: Sarah Anderson

So you’ve told yourself you want to pick up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play, or one that you’ve neglected for too long. Re-invigorated by a New Year you start to play and… Oh! It’s not as easy as you thought.

Fear not! With a bit of hard work and some tips from us you’ll be a virtuoso in no time!*

*perhaps only 2-5 years

Although the following refers mostly to instrumental lessons, the whole thing also applies to learning how to sing.

Tip 1: Work with a Teacher

There are SO many advantages to this it’s hard to list them all, but the main ones, especially for beginners is that:

a – Getting started will be much, much easier.

For lots of instruments getting that basic technique right can mean the difference between actually making a note, or falling into bad/uncomfortable or damaging technique. With a bit of guidance from someone experienced you’ll be much more likely to pick up enough to play a few tunes, have something to show for your work, and be more motivated when you hit an obstacle.

b – You have someone else to work for.

Having a teacher gets you more invested in the process of learning an instrument. You become financially invested (especially if your teacher lets you book blocks of lessons in advance) and socially invested: you don’t want to turn up to the lesson without having done any practice, and it’s encouraging when your teacher wants you to advance and enjoy the instrument.

It’s worth getting at least a couple of tester lessons, as getting a teacher that you have a rapport with can really boost your learning.

Tip 2: Little and Often

The key to advancing in any discipline is practice. With musical instruments there is a certain amount of muscle memory that you can build on.

Set aside 10 minutes a day where you can consistently practice. Put it into your calendar and give yourself a reminder or set an alarm to remind yourself to start.

10 minutes a day doesn’t sound like too much, but it’s enough to refresh the knowledge of the last lesson, and with a bit of luck you’ll naturally play for a bit longer without noticing the time.

Tip 3: Remove Obstacles

Having your instrument, music stand, music set up ready to go can really encourage you to play it more often. If you can put it in a space you use often, you might see it several times a day, a nice reminder of your goal.

You can get lots of different types of instrument stands (or even wall hangers) that will help you display your instrument a bit more safely, and maybe even add to the decor.

If you’re nervous about being heard, many instruments have a mute available, to quieten down the sound to room-only levels. This can remove the obstacle of feeling like you’re annoying the household/neighbours.

Tip 4: Don’t worry about failure – just keep going

We all slip up. Unexpected life events get in the way of our best intentions. The worst thing you can do is think ‘I haven’t played in weeks, I’m just not cut out for this.’ A few weeks off will have such a small effect compared to getting back to playing for months or years to come.

If you’re finding it hard to play, make the action as easy as possible, even if it’s just a playing a scale in the morning. Turning up is the most important part, the rest is a bonus.

Tip 5: Get Social

One of my personal favourite ways to play music is in a group or duet. Playing together is another skill to master, but when you get it right, the results can feel fantastic.

There are so many opportunities for making music together. Find a friend to play duets with. Join a local amateur orchestra or choir. Sit in on a pub folk-night or ukulele group.

Being surrounded by people with similar interests, and similar enthusiasm can give you an extra boost. Joining a weekly/monthly meeting will be another way to make music-making a part of your lifestyle.

Tip 6: Have Fun!

Don’t feel like everything you play has to be ‘progressive.’ It’s good to try and stretch yourself, but it’s important to not get so frustrated with difficult pieces that you lose touch with the joy of playing music.

It’s good to take a break, so have a few easy, fun, satisfying pieces to go to when you need a bit of light relief.

Hopefully with these in mind you’ll have the right tools to take your instrumental playing to the next level, and beyond. Thanks for reading!

The Ackerman Music Gift Guide

The holiday season is truly upon us, and for some it comes with a sense of dread. “What am I going to get for…?” If you have a musician in your life, then here’s our quick recommendation for a musical gift for them.

Here are some picks for musicians of all types.

Musidoku – Musical Sudoku Puzzle Book
£4.99

A change of pace from your normal sudoku puzzles!

Musical Dominoes
£9.99

Fun and educational these dominoes challenge your rhythm reading.

Music Note Pasta Shapes
£5.99

For food and music lover’s alike – from Rigatoni to Rigoletto!

The 200th Anniversary Beethoven Diary 2020
£7.46

This superb diary is packed with details from Beethoven’s life, a must for the avid Beethoven fan!

Mozart/Beethoven Bust Kitchen Timer
£16.99

Want a perfectly boiled egg and a composer’s bust but have a tiny kitchen? Look no further.

Chopin Liszt Shopping List
£2.99

When you run out of eggs, pop them on your Chopin Liszt!

Hand-cranked music boxes (20 songs to pick from)
£7.99

These adorable little music boxes feature all sorts of famous pieces, from Pink Panther to Yellow Submarine to Stairway to Heaven

Learn to play Harmonica – Book and Harmonica Pack
£9.49

Shake off those holiday blues with the perfect introduction to Harmonica playing

Frozen Music Book and Recorder Pack £8.08

Perfect for all those children you know you’re not going to see on Christmas Day!

Treble Clef Earrings
£7.99

These lovely earrings are perfect for a night at the opera.

1930s Clarke Original Tin Kazoo
£5.99

Anyone can play the kazoo. Brighten up Christmas morning with a Kazoo choir of Merry Wishes!

Sterling Silver
Music Note Necklace

£40

This silver and crystal necklace with surely bring a sparkle to your Christmas.

Leather Academy Music Case (Various Colours)
£45

These beautiful hand-crafted music cases are ideal for taking to your ensemble or lesson.

Overscore – Removable Manuscript Tape
£6.65

We all make mistakes. Maybe that bit is too hard? Re-write the rules with this fun gift.

Cassette tape notepad
£7.00

For those of us who remember making the perfect mix-tape.

Mozart Rubber Duck
£8.99

Love baths? Love Mozart? Well there you go…

Guitar Bottle Opener
£7.99

This handy little guitar comes with its own gigbag.

Treble Clef Cufflinks
£10.00

Finish that tuxedo off in style with these extra-smart cufflinks.

We also have a whole bunch of Christmas books on offer this month, from the classic carols, to Christmas number ones, and some of the latest hits and musicals too.

Thanks for reading! Merry Christmas everyone!

The Secret of Fresh Strings

We continue our intermittent study of the sonic properties of instruments with a look into how much the sound is effected by changing your guitar strings! It’s pretty fascinating (to me at least!)

For me, changing your strings is a bit of a chore, and at the end of the day does it make it sound really that much better? Well today let’s put that to the test.

We go a lot of guitar re-stringing in the shop so I took a moment to measure the sounds of a guitar with pretty old, corroded strings. New strings should be brilliant silvery nickel, but these were pretty black with corrosion.

Corroded strings

Now for some spectral analysis. We went for the extremes and recorded the top E and the low E:

Low E (Old)
High E (Old)

But what does this strange wiggly line mean exactly? Here’s a quick run-down: Every sound we hear can be broken up into the different frequencies that combine to produce it. The purest sound we can hear is a simple sine wave:

We can keep adding sine waves together to make any note we like. The different combinations of these will produce a different timbre, or texture of the sound. A flute is a very ‘pure’ sound with only a few sine waves needed to reproduce it, the human voice is much more complex, with many sine waves combining to add greater ‘texture.’

On the graphs we’re looking at today the low frequencies are on the left, going all the way up to the nearly inaudible high frequencies on the right. The higher the peak, the stronger that particular frequency is resonating.

A musical note is going to be a combination of it’s lowest pitch, which is usually the one we hear it as (the fundamental) and the harmonic overtones, the extra notes taken from the harmonic series, most strongly at an octave and a fifth. It these overtones that give the sound most of its character.

Strong peaks near the fundamental give us an impression of ‘deepness,’ the first dozen or so give more ‘richness’ and the upper section gives a feeling of ‘brightness.’ The shape of the peaks matter too, the more concentrated the peak are the clearer each note, and harmonic will sound.

Now it’s time to change the strings. One thing is certain: they look and feel a lot nicer!

Back to the spectrograph:

Low E (New)
High E (New)

This is where is gets a bit tricky. From a side-by-side comparison there seems to be little in it. Let’s superimpose them, and see if the differences become more apparent.

Low E (Combined)

Now the differences can be seen a bit more clearly. The old string is in white and the new string is in blue. For the low E there is a stronger fundamental note at 172HZ, as well as stronger harmonics between 500-1000. This will certainly explain a greater depth and richness of tone. There is also less of a drop off after around 4Hz, adding a little more brightness.

High E (Combined)

Again the old string is in white, and the new string is in blue. The differences in the high E are a bit more subtle. The two main points of interest seem to be a much higher peak around 750Hz and higher peaks at each harmonic from 2K upwards. These suggest the fresh string has more ‘brightness’ than the old one, which matches what we seem to perceive.

So that settles it! Changing your strings really does change the sound. Helping people understand how the condition of an instrument effects the sound is a big part of work here at Ackerman Music. If you’re near one of our shops and would like a free tune-up and some free advice on the condition of your guitar you’re always welcome!

I’d like to thank everyone who stuck around to read my interpretation of these strange looking graphs, and hopefully gained a little insight into how fresh strings make a difference.