The most common time signatures in music are 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4. Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond famously recorded Take Five in 5/4 time, but another jazz icon named Don Ellis took time signature experiments to a new level.
The 1597 piece My Lord Chamberlain, His Galliard is a lute duet. The piece is played by two people, but they must only use one lute.
The Wilhelm scream is a sound effect that has been used in hundreds of films, including Disney, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars films. But who was Wilhelm? And why was he screaming?
Leave it to the Norwegians and Swedes to take a way to call cattle in high mountain pastures and turn it into a genre of music.
An earworm is a piece of repetitive memorable music that gets stuck in your head. How do you cure it? Chew gum.
Manuel Noriega was the CIA-funded dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989. When the United States invaded Panama, they drove him out with The Clash’s cover of I Fought the Law.
In the 1950s and 60s, foreign music was censored in the Soviet Union. So bootleggers made illegal records out of old X-ray film: the jazz on bones.
Existential and spiritual crises seem to appear in the middle of the night – at least, according to various Catholic saints, poets, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse they do.
Malagueña Salerosa is a Mexican Son Huasteco song covered hundreds of times (including versions by Plácido Domingo, José Feliciano, and Avenged Sevenfold). It’s also a challenge: how long can a singer sustain a single note?
In 1992, an earnest New York Times reporter asked Megan Jasper, a former receptionist for Sub-Pop Records, for slang used by the nascent grunge scene. There was no such slang… so she made it up. And they printed it.
The Peruvian singer Yma Sumac had a vocal range of four or five octaves – far beyond most singers, and one of the widest ranges on record.
Olivier Messiaen was one of the most prominent classical composers of the 20th century, and his most famous work – the Quartet for the End of Time – was first performed in a POW camp in Germany.
The hand is a flexible and convenient mnemonic device. The knuckle mnemonic tells us the number of days in a month, but a musical mnemomic called the Guidonian hand has been around for eight hundred years.
New Zealand had no private radio stations in the early 1960s. The government monopoly was broken by a “pirate” radio station, Radio Hauraki, which broadcast from an old boat anchored in international waters in the Hauraki Gulf.
When most people think of jazz they don’t think of the harp. But in the 1960s and 70s Alice Coltrane recorded two dozen albums of jazz with the harp in a central role.