As musicians, our most valuable sense is hearing, and while almost every human listens to the world in many ways, musicians understand sound better than anyone. This does not only affect how good musicians are at listening to music, it helps learning new languages and distinguishing certain sounds from one another, as an expert chef does with food.

Being so important in life, we should try to have a better understanding of what is sound and how is it possible. A world without sound would be very empty and it certainly gives a hard time to people who lose their hearing, but the interesting part is that sound is not just something you hear, it’s something you feel.

Science Says

Sound is produced by vibrations.

Sound is produced when something vibrates. The vibrating body causes the medium (water, air, etc.) around it to vibrate. Vibrations in air are called traveling longitudinal waves, which we can hear. Sound waves consist of areas of high and low pressure called compressions and rarefactions, respectively

What is Sound Really?

One must ask the question “what is sound?” not just to understand how it comes to be and how we are able to perceive it, but to arrive at a conclusion where we might find a clearer understanding of the connection between a person and sound.

What are we listening to? after seeing the cientific explanation one might drop any cartoonish ideas of sound and say “I’m listening to soundwaves” and in a way it is true, but believing that you are listening to something and believing you are listening to something make a sound are two different things when it comes to how you as a human being perceive the world, and it has a bigger impact on musicians, whose talent is to manipulate sound.

Philosophy and science have always had a close relationship, and it is even with Aristotle that sound was being analized to see how it worked.

When speaking about voice in his treatise De Anima (On the Soul), Aristotle wrote that sound is a “certain movement of air” (De Anima II.8 420b12) but, even though he claimed that sound and motion are tightly connected, he did not seem to identify them (Pasnau 2000: 32). The natural scientists of the seventeenth century refined the intuition that sound is a movement of air into the wave theory of sounds, which appeared to be an obvious competitor for the quality or sensation (proximal) view. Galileo registered that.

Greeks philosophers were also scientists and Aristotle’s work had lots of explanations about how the world worked, including sound. However it wasn’t until modernity that sound was really discovered as waves that traveled through space.

Galileo wrote:

sounds are made and heard by us when…the air…is ruffled…and moves certain cartilages of a tympanum in our ear.…high tones are produced by frequent waves and low tones by sparse ones.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Phylosophy


Descartes joined in and in his Passions of the Soul considered that what we actually hear are not the objects themselves, but some “movements coming from them” (1649: XXIII). Indeed, around 1636, Mersenne measured the speed of propagation of sound waves.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

It’s a beautiful thing to think of musicians as the ones who study sound and learn how to mold it into melodies and rythms, it makes it sound as if it were magic, and in a sense, for many people it is like magic. It’s also important to remember that as people who can control sound, as years go by, we learn to use new instruments and tools to go even beyond, with computers, apps, new softwares and synths, we discover new possibilities with sound, not only through music, but sound in movies, animations and video games. As a musician, what is sound to you?

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Carols of Christmas (Master Class)

By Robin Steinweg

Sara, Maddy, Chris





Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.

Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.

I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…

Christmas CD acoustic guitar





While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.

Master Class snacks



I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.

My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.

I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.

I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.

Ava, Sam





There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…

For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.






I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.

How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?



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