Music Education for K-drama OSTs: Introduction and Glossary

by: Raine

Welcome to my music education series! I thought it would be a good idea to do this because I write so much about music in K-drama. I often find myself wanting to use more specific terms and concepts in order to more accurately describe the music to you. Therefore, this series is geared for the non-musician and is liquid, meaning I want to hear from you about what you understand, what you don’t understand, and what you want to learn about!

Hopefully, this series will help you understand music better. I want you to be able to apply these concepts to your listening of K-drama OSTs. Why do producers, writers and PDs choose the songs that they choose? Why do composers write music a certain way? How do they compose for maximum impact? What you will learn will also apply to all of the other music you listen to!

Here is a basic glossary that I will be constantly adding to. I will include pertinent definitions at the bottom of every post and then also insert them into this glossary. This glossary is comprehensive to the series.

You can find these words online, but I really tried to simplify them here for the non-musician. I didn’t realize that musicians really have quite a complicated language until I started writing about music for the non-musician. Many of the terms are interconnected, which can be a bit confusing.

If anything is confusing at any point, please ask me to clarify and I will post another explanation of the concept.

(Mozart and Bach. I seriously crack up every time I see these powdered wigs. In school we have to stare at this photos ALL THE TIME. They maybe rather unfortunate looking fellows, but damn, were they geniuses!)

Raine‘s Music Dictionary for the Non-musician: All words in red are a part of the dictionary.

Accent – when you put a stress or emphasis on a single note. It can keep tempo, funk up a rhythm or define the typical sound for a music style (rock, jazz, tango, bluegrass, etc.) Accents can change the feel of a rhythm that has the same notes in it. Like put the wrong emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. Instead of the right EMphasis on the right SYllable.

  • On the beat accents – often used for rock. They come on the beat or pulse.
  • Off the beat accents – often used for jazz. These avoid sounding on the beat and give the music a funky feel.

The Beat  – The regular pulse of the music. It’s what you clap your hands to or bob your head to or tap your toes to. It establishes tempo, how fast or slow something is. It gives the song or piece its “heartbeat”.

Cello – The most awesome instrument in the universe. It was originally called the violincello. It’s part of the violin family, but its better than the violin :P. It has four strings that are always tuned to the same pitches. You play it with a stick that has horsehair attached, which is called a bow. (Seriously, who the hell thought that up?) It has an endpin to hold it up and extremely good quality cellos cost more than most cars. (I covet those. Oh, how I covet!) A cheap cello costs about $600. You will never find ANY professional playing on anything less than $5,000. And clients wonder why we charge so much…

Composer – A person who writes music, puts pen to paper (or finger to keyboard in this day and age) and creates the music that you and I enjoy. Mozart, Bach, Chopin, etc., are popular classical composers. The modern day equivalent is song-writer (Elton John) or score composers (John Williams). I’m always whining I can’t find score composers. Incidental music always gets gypped. Most strictly classical composers can’t make a living on composition and supplement their commissions with teaching.

Crescendo – See Dynamics.

Decrescendo/diminuendo – See Dynamics.

Dynamics – These indicate how loud or soft something is. They show all changes in volume and are VERY effective in stirring emotion. Here are several dynamics. (The terminology is based on the Italian language.)

  • Crescendo – to gradually get louder. Kids love this one. Shoot, I love this one. It tells you something important is coming in the music, or the film, or the show!
  • Decrescendo/diminuendo – to gradually get softer. It lets you know that things are winding down, or creates suspense if something is about to happen.
  • Forte – mean LOUD!!!!! Something exciting is going on! Whoohoo! Let your hair down or run away really fast ’cause there’s something chasing you! Or, you just had a declaration of love or a nice, anticipated kiss.
  • Piano – means soft. It can portray a calm feeling. It can portray bottled emotions. I can portray a sweet moment between a couple or intense thought.

Forte – See Dynamics.

Harmony – When you play or sing two or more notes/pitches together. There are a bajillion note combinations and they can make you feel anything on the emotional spectrum. Composers and song-writers use harmony to effectively support lyrics or musical ideas. When you hear two people singing at the same time on different notes, that’s the most recognizable example of harmony. It’s everywhere and all around you! *le sigh*

Incidental Music – I have a bone to pick with this term, but we’ll run with it for now since its commonly accepted. It is music created to accompany a show, film, theatre production and the like. It’s what enhances mood. Imagine a scary movie without the music to tell you someone is about to get their head sliced off. So not scary anymore.

  • Bone – They call it incidental, yet it is anything BUT incidental. It is a VITAL part of any dramatic art. The composers of incidental music often get shafted in the recognition aspect in K-drama. These people deserve credit for how well they play with your emotions, dammit! Just think, everytime you hear a song that was in a K-drama, you want to laugh or cry. Same thing with incidental music.

Lyrics – The words to a song. Easy, peasy.

Lyricist – Someone who writes lyrics. You can’t have an Elton John without a Tim Rice. Back in the day lyricists were called librettists. Librettist mostly refers to opera/musical theatre composers now. Oftentimes composers and lyricists are the same person.

Melody – This is the main tune of a song/piece. It’s what you walk away singing after listening to something. Or, that little snippet of a song/piece that gets STUCK IN YOUR HEAD causing severe aural hallucinations.

Piano – See Dynamics.

Piece – This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It is music that has no lyrics. It gets often confused with song which is music that has lyrics.

Pitch – I’m going to use the dictionary definition for this one. “The specific quality of a sound that makes it a recognizable tone. Pitch defines the location of a tone in relation to others, thus giving it a sense of being high or low.”

Rhythm – And this one is a doozy to explain. The music dictionary says, “Rhythm is the controlled movement of music in time.” Luckily for us, its definition semi-corresponds with the English-language definition. “Movement or procedure with uniform or patterned recurrence of a beat, accent, or the like.”

Awkward, right? I HATE trying to explain this to kids. I tell them that its different combinations of short and long notes. Each pitch/note has a role in a rhythm. Everything you hear has rhythm. Rap generally has notes with short values. Love songs have notes with long values.

Score – I have two definitions of this. It’s a bit shifty.

  • The written form of a piece/song that includes all the parts: every instrumental and vocal line. It’s all there. This is the copy that the composer has and that a conductor has.
  • The entirety of the music that plays in a show/film/drama/theatre work. It includes pop songs but can also refer to the music written specifically for the dramatic work.

Song – a composition that is sung and generally has lyrics (almost always). It is NOT a piece. Most people use this word to define everything. BAD! WRONG!

Song-writer – someone who writes songs! Self-explanitory. This person can write both lyrics and music. He can be a singer/songwriter and perform his own music. He can sell his music to a performer. He can be commissioned to write songs for performers. In K-pop, song-writers are normally not the singers, but are hired to compose.

Tempo – This is how fast or slow something is. It is usually constant unless the music indicates a tempo change. It’s what differentiates a ballad (slow) from Mariachi (fast).

Theme – The original melody of a song/piece. (See Variations for a verbal explanation.)

Variations – A variation is an alteration of the theme, but the theme is still recognizable within the variation. The variation allows the composer/song-writer to change it up and make a melody more interesting so that the same melody isn’t repeated over and over and over and over and over again causing audiences everywhere to keel over.

Western music – Music composed by people in the Western hemisphere. K-pop has adapted Western musical structures and genres: rock, rap, Indie. So Korea has popular music and then traditional music. Heartstrings combined both traditional and Western music. That was the best part of the show. The rest…well, that’s for another series.

World music – Any music that isn’t American. At least that’s what my American published music dictionary says. As Alua pointed out, it’s a very ethnocentric term. In the American music education system, it’s just part of the curriculum. Not cool! It does place American music on a pedestal it shouldn’t be standing on. American music is an amalgamation of “world music”. The banjo originated in Africa. We have Irish reals and Argentine Tangos. “American” music is a derivative of the many peoples living here.

Anyway, I’ve always thought of it as folk or traditional music indigenous to a country. Musicians perform on instruments developed in their cultural history. In Korea, you have instruments such as the gayageum. In Scotland, you have bagpipes. In India, you have the sitar. Traditional music often finds itself incorporated into modern pop either melodically or lyrically or in the instrumentation (what instruments are used.)

(Cello is sexay!)

If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.” – Gustav Mahler

Related Posts

Music Education for K-drama OSTs, Introduction and Glossary: Rhythm (Dec. 12)

32 responses to “Music Education for K-drama OSTs: Introduction and Glossary”

  1. You are very educational and all that, but cello is most definitely NOT better than violin. And I knew all this stuff already. Teach me something new.

    • Babe, you’re amazing. Imma check out all your posts this weekend. My weekdays are crazy with writing and celloing and working. But I definitely want to indulge in your page!

  2. wow you dug up my early years of piano lessons… aah theory lessons were actually my favourite, more than the practicals… cuz I’ve never trusted my fingers to play what I wanted them too in front of an audience.

    • Was it my teacher-like voice or the writing? 😛 I can’t help the teacher that comes out of me. I wasn’t as silly as I am in my lessons (I teacher under 10 mostly).

      I hated, hated, hated theory. I just wanted to play and be on stage. (*gasp* Raine being a ham? Who’d’ve thunk?)

      I did have WAY too much fun writing this post though. It’s nice to be able to define these things MY way.

      Thank you for READING! :D:D

      • I think I may have liked performing if I had a teacher like you, but mine was way too crazy-mean, I could never wear sandals because whenever I didn’t press the pedal at the right moment, she’d step on my foot (one time i had a blister and she friggin’ popped it and then it got all infected), and if I wasn’t exactly on time she’d rap my knuckles haaard, and that was besides the mean commentary: it’s there can’t you read? Don’t you speak english? (FYI- I may be Mexican American but I learned english before spanish!). I always came out pissed from the practical lesson, it was so upsetting, and my parents didn’t believe me!

        Anyways, I’d like to read more of this type of post in the future! it’s so fun! If I was in the US & anywhere near where you teach I’d hunt you down for some lessons^^ I’d so pay for them 🙂 Especially if I can be sexy like that sexy cellist pic 😛

        • Ooh, that teacher sounds nasty. I’ve had a few who’ve made me cry and I promised myself I would never be that teacher.

          I’m rather blunt. I always tell them if it was bad or good. But I always qualify it in a way that allows them to understand why it was ‘bad’. Like “Well, that wasn’t so good. But you’ve done it well before. How can we make it better?” I always try to make them fix it themselves before I correct them because that’s what practicing is, teaching yourself.

          The next post is coming in 2 weeks and its on rhythm. If you have any songs you really like that, I’ll include one or two as examples.

          Dude, I get hit on so bad as a cellist. Not a woman, a cellist. It’s funny.

  3. Thank you Chingu-ya! It’s really hard to show my appreciation through a comment, but I really do appreciate that you took time out to make this post. Like Villager said, I had no clue about what these terms meant. I really loved the way you described some of these terms like dynamics. I’m bookmarking this baby. Don’t have my headphones with me and everyone is asleep. Will be back later.

    PS. Lab work is just overwhelming me!

    • Take your time. This post won’t be going anywhere (unless WP becomes a black hole and sucks up everything. In that case, I have it saved in 3 places…) I really just appreciate the fact that you follow and care! Yay Bitte!

      I really love the musical language and I felt really stifled being unable to use it before. But at the same time, its a really awesome challenge to figure out how to explain it without my second language. It really does constitute a language. I can use words in the English language and people still won’t know what I am talking about. Example:

      “In the six eight section, we need to feel it in two. Try to lower the sevenths and keep the thirds high except on the IV chords. Tune to those with the root. Accent the offbeats and back off otherwise. Don’t rush the pick-up to measure 65. We’re in A major, so the Bb major chord in measure five is a Neapolitan you idiot.”

      That last one, or something like it, was often heard in school as people worked their way through music theory. I began theory when I was six and then had years of upper education theory. *head spins* I can’t remember a lot of it….*shame* but that’s why I kept ALL of my theory books. So there!

  4. Omo! A CD to go with it. 😀 Next paycheck I’m buying myself a present.

    I might go see what the definition is in the Oxford/Newgrove dictionaries and if there are any articles on J-stor about it.

    Did the links work for you?

  5. wow this post brought me back to my days of being in the choir in high school( we used to love doing crescendos too even the sopranos 🙂 ) thanks for the dictionary!

    • I felt like I was back in those days, too. And I tried to remember what was confusing about it all. But that was 20 years ago…haha. Sopranos always belt at the top of their lungs. I can say that…’cause I’m a soprano. 😛

      Thanks for reading!

  6. You are an excellent teacher. I went back and read all of the words to see if the meanings would pop up in my head. They did! Surprising, since I don’t know anything about music and have always been intimidated my those terms. Dude, I dunno why, but none of your sound clips worked for me. I might try reloading the page later, right now I wanted to COMMENT. I’m a bit confused about the accent, though. I think if I had an example to listen to it would’ve been better. Was that what was in the sound clip? :/
    Oh, and I especially loved the way you explained it to us like the little kids we are. Easy peasy. And they way you went about explaining the dynamics. I could hear a classical music storm in my head, rising and falling with your narration. Good work!
    Remember the post request I asked you for? Do you think you’ll still have time for it? You seem pretty busy. I’m sure a post like this took quite a bit of time and effort. So whaddaya say? You still up for it?

    • There is something wrong with the sound clips. I’m going to try to fix them and let you know. They help a lot, I think.

      I’m going to ask my brother and sister how they would explain the ‘accent’ and then I’ll try again tomorrow.

      I teach youngsters…its a habit!

      Sock the post request to me! I’m READY!

      Sanx for the awesome comment and for reading.

  7. I can’t resist: “World music – Any music that isn’t American.” – What a terrible, awful, ethnocentric term.

    But then I’ve tagged some posts as “world literature” and “world cinema” on my blog too… although I have been inconsistent and not decided what’s the centre, what’s the periphery (none of the Korean/Japanese films are tagged as “world cinema”, neither is anything British/American, but most other things are… should do something about this really because it totally doesn’t make sense).

    • You are quite right. I copied most terms from my music dictionary and then altered them. Wouldn’t you know, I didn’t even notice! They even have world music courses here. The word itself is ethnocentric depending upon who uses it. we should coin a new term. Like culture or country based film or music. I will most definitely change and qualify that.

    • No I haven’t but I just read a blurb. It looks great! I love music based books. Take a peek in a few minutes at the World Music and let me know what you think.

      • Read it – if you like classical music (which you do of course), it’s a great book to enjoy. It even has a soundtrack (the only book I know to have a soundtrack) — sent it to you via dropbox, which you should listen to while you read.

        Like you redefinition of “world music”! You should let the publishers of your music dictionary know what you think too,

          • Hope you enjoy – hopefully you can get the book soon too, because it’s particularly when you read the book that you want to listen to the music they are talking about/describing/playing. There are two versions of Contrapunctus 1 from The Art of the Fugue (a piano and a string one). I prefer the second one, but if you ever end up reading J.M. Coetzee’s “The Age of Iron”, he mentions the piece too (a character describes how she imagines heaven and has it playing in the ‘entrance hall’ to heaven). For his novel I always imagine the piano one….

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