Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Music has always been an important part of every human being, and in one way or another, people get to experience music and melodies in their lives. However one of the most important technological breakthroughs in history was the invention of portable music whiche meant, having music with you as if you were listening to your oun soundtrack. The feeling of being in a movie or making the simplest things in life more enjoyable was not a little thing for humanity.

The Sony Walkman

The real first big step towards portable music was the Sony Walkman which was released in 1979.

This moment in history was described in a Time article:

The Walkman wasn’t a giant leap forward in engineering: magnetic cassette technology had been around since 1963, when the Netherlands-based electronics firm Philips first created it for use by secretaries and journalists. Sony, who by that point had become experts in bringing well-designed, miniaturized electronics to market (they debuted their first transistor radio in 1955), made a series of moderately successful portable cassette recorders.

But the introduction of pre-recorded music tapes in the late 1960s opened a whole new market. People still chose to listen to vinyl records over cassettes at home, but the compact size of tapes made them more conducive to car stereos and mobility than vinyl or 8-tracks. On July 1, 1979, Sony Corp. introduced the Sony Walkman TPS-L2, a 14 ounce, blue-and-silver, portable cassette player with chunky buttons, headphones and a leather case. It even had a second earphone jack so that two people could listen in at once.

All the device needed now was a name. Originally the Walkman was introduced in the U.S. as the “Sound-About” and in the UK as the “Stowaway,” but coming up with new, uncopyrighted names in every country it was marketed in proved costly; Sony eventually decided on “Walkman” as a play on the Sony Pressman, a mono cassette recorder the first Walkman prototype was based on. First released in Japan, it was a massive hit: while Sony predicted it would only sell about 5,000 units a month, the Walkman sold upwards of 50,000 in the first two months. Sony wasn’t the first company to introduce portable audio: the first-ever portable transistor radio, the index card-sized Regency TR-1, debuted in 1954. But the Walkman’s unprecedented combination of portability (it ran on two AA batteries) and privacy (it featured a headphone jack but no external speaker) made it the ideal product for thousands of consumers looking for a compact portable stereo that they could take with them anywhere. The TPS-L2 was introduced in the U.S. in June 1980”.

In many ways the Sony Walkman remains to be one of the biggest revolutions in technology and music in history with its very small design and great audio quality. It was about having the music you wanted anywhere you wanted, and that was mindblowing.

CD players

Eventually, almost everyone moved to the CD format, but it was a bit uncomfortable in a way due to its size, but still, audio fidelity was better than casette tapes.

One step forward in every way but it’s portable capabillities, with the discman being the closest thing to, carry a music playr with you when it came to CDs.

MP3, ipod

While having a discman was technically the most up to date music player, it wasn’t as revolutionary or portable as the Sony Walkman.

This made the Walkman a very reliable device until mp3 players came into our lives.

It wasn’t until 1998 that the world’s first MP3 player, the MPMan F10, was developed by a South Korean company called SaeHan Information Systems. While it was a very groundbreaking first attempt, the idea of having a small device with your favorite songs in digital format, was not made popular until the release of the iPod which was in 2001.

In way, the mp3 player did all the same things the Sony Walkman did but now in digital format and with a lot more room for music. The iPod did all of this beautifully with a great interface and futuristic design.

Cellphones (Smartphones)

For a bit more than 10 years an mp3 player was a must have, until smartphones and streaming platforms became so much popular.

Nowadays cellphones are able to perform an incredible amount of tasks, working as a small computed in the palm of your hands, and of course, one of these tasks is being a portable music device.

With apps such as Apple music, Spotify and Deezer, one of the easiest ways to bring music with you is just to install the right app, plug in your headphones and start listening wherever you want.

Of course this usually means that you need to stay connected to the internet and many people actually prefer this access to unlimited amounts of music but through the internet, rather than building a library of music just like the ipod did.

Read More

As musicians we are always amazed by the possibilities of merging different influences and finding new inspirations to develop different and fresh sounds. A good example of this result of making something new by mixing different genres is city pop.

City pop is a genre of music that originated in Japan around the 70s and became wildly popular around the 80s

Late 70s Japan

In order to understand the audience and the general feel of city pop we have to understand the context in which it was born. Maybe, some genres don’t necessarily need this sort of explanation but city pop does.

As its name implies, this type of music wanted to make the listener feel the city life in the best way possible, and it was the perfect time for that. Japan was reaching an economic peak , and technological advancement didn’t stop surprising people with arcades and the sony walkman.

At the same time, sounds from the west were “invading” Japan with new wave, jazz fusion, blues, and rockabilly.

According to Yosuke Kitazawa, trhere was a thirst for celebration and a very active nightlife, he says:

The public spent lavishly on imported wine and liquor, luxury clothing, art, and international travel. Japanese nightlife, from flashy restaurants and hostess bars to glitzy bars and discotheques, was second to none. Japan needed a soundtrack for this new lifestyle, and city pop was born.

It also inspired many visual artists such as Hiroshi Nagai, who found a way to mix pop art with American ads and surrealism. These sort of art eventually also inspired the graphic design for Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone.

80s Japan

The 80s was the golden age of city pop, which started with Yamashita Tatsur?’s single “Ride on Time”. From there on city pop got into the mainstream, as the sound of the city.

It became almost a cultural movement in Japan, and everyone was involved with city pop one way or another, and artists such as Yazawa Eikichi and Inoue Y?sui who were more along the lines of rock and folk, were also getting into the trend.

Women in City Pop

City pop had a big influence on women in Japan, not only from a musical perspective but as a way to express the fact that women also enjoy the same nightlife as men.

In a way this genre brought a new era when it comes to gender equality even though it came from a place of leisure.

To this days some of the biggest city pop hits are sang by women.

Singers like Hitohmi Tohyama and Junko Ohashi sang about the inner workings of their bedrooms as they addressed risque and sometimes taboo subjects like one-night stands and the pursuit of men. While most Japanese love songs hesitate to express emotions directly, this allusion to physical relationships encouraged women to take an active role in their own sexuality.

Plastic Love and City Pop Revival

The youtube algorithm sometimes takes us to very weird recommendations, videos that we don’t really know why they are for us, one of these videos was Mariya Takeuchi’s Plastic Love.

This started a new fascination for the genre in the 2010s which made it even more international.

This was also due to the vaporwave and future funk boom, which are heavily influenced by the sounds of the 80s. Artists going into these new genres went back to music that felt appropriate to have as an inspiration or sample. That’s how everyone just kept stumbling with city pop.

According to vice.com

Sample-heavy Internet genres like vaporwave and future funk soon rose to prominence, offering a hyper-commercialized take on 80s pop as fantastical and escapist as they were critical of the empty promises of capitalism. For these online communities, old city pop records would serve as a massive visual and sonic touchstone.

It’s still fresh, full of energy and contradictory as it feels both nostalgic and modern, but that is just what makes it so special.

Read More

Bluegrass and jazz? yes please. The band formed in 1988 that goes by the name of Béla Fleck and the Fleckstones is a band filled with incredible musicians starting with Fleck on the banjo, Victor Wooten on the bass, Roy Wooten on the drumitar (more on this later) Howard Levi and Jeff Coffin.

The instrumental only band was formed by Fleck after he was invited to play for the Lonesome Pine Special on PBS in 1988. He decided to keep the group together and work on some music, and as time kept passing by the band never got tired of experimenting and keep pushing it further into strange genres, amazing bass solos and complex structures. But who is the man behind the band’s name?

Béla Fleck

He is one of the most recognized banjo players in the music industry. He started playing at the age of 15 and got very interested in bluegrass music.

He studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art and practiced with his banjo experimenting with new sounds and genres such as jazz. After graduating he joined a band called Tasty Licks and after that he made a solo album which eventually led him to to form the band.

Roy’s Drumitar

One of the insteresting things about this band was its approach to percussion

In an interview with Casey Driessen, he talks a bit about how the Drumitar came to be.

Casey: How did you make the transition from sticks to fingers? How did the thought process for your instrument the Drumitar begin?

Futureman: The metaphor would be like somebody who is really into studying everything about the physical body and one day they want to go deeper and see it under a microscope. I wanted to dig deeper, to apply a note to every stroke, and open up each stroke to a melodic interpretation.

Casey: What were the first reactions to the Drumitar?

Futureman: At first people didn’t understand, but after the first Grammy and then the second one, people were like, “Oh!” And at every NAMM Show people would understand my new approach to the drums a little bit better. My whole approach was to never advertise it, let people experience it, be invisible. If they didn’t ask, then I knew I had passed the test. Then Max Roach came to one of the Flecktones’ shows. I didn’t see him, but we talked on the phone afterwards, and I said, “Max, you are such a big influence, you’re like my hero. We used to listen to you all the time.” And he said, “Nah, man, you’re my hero. I saw you playing but I didn’t see the drums, and when I saw what you were doing I thought: That’s some creative shit.” That’s all I needed.

Victor Wooten

Wooten is one of the greatest bassists in music, and also plays cello ocassionally. He has won the Bass Player of the Year award from Bass Player magazine three times and is among the 10 best bass players of all time according to Rolling Stone.

He has a long solo career history and a big interest in teaching music that led him to create the Center for Music and Nature and includes all instruments.

Howard Levy and Jeff Coffin

Even though Howard and Jeff didn’t stay for every step of the way with the rest of the band, they both brought something fresh to the sound of the band since they were both so different yet great musicians.

Howard was a multi instrumentalist, but his main thing was the harmonica which was beautifully implemented with the Fleckstones.

On the other side, Jeff was a saxophonist since the age of five, and with that long history in his pocket, it was only logical that the sax part in the Fleckstones would be very very interesting.

This is a very unique band full of talent and cool experiments, so for any musician out there, try listening to some of their work, it’s almost guaranteed to be worth your while.

Read More