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Dictionary of Musical Themes.


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Best Classical Tunes - Help Page

Site Navigation  Site Search Tune Details Screen Scores and Sheet Music Theme Search Thematic Index Listening Terms Used

Site Navigation.
There are two ways to navigate this site :-  by using a mouse or  a touch-screen to operate the fly-out menu, or by giving spoken commands through a microphone using voice recognition. (Sadly, 'Voice Commands' are only supported by Google Chrome Browser at present).  In addition, there are clickable flags across the top of each screen, which translate the page into any of five languages, namely English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian.  Once you have selected a language, the site stays with it for all future pages, unless you click a language-flag to change language again. I apologize to French-Canadians, Swiss, Austrians, and all Spanish speakers from South America, for utilizing the European flags as convenient graphic ways of indicating languages.

Voice recognition uses Google Chrome's speech recognition technology to interpret your voice commands. You need to open the speech page to use this. You can reach this from the Voice Commands menu item, third down from the top.  You can say into the microphone  'Play Symphony No 6 by Beethoven 1st movement'.  The music will start playing immediately. Detailed instructions for using this feature are at Speech Instructions,  navigable from the menu at Information -> Voice Help.

Every page in this site has a fly-out menu at the left side of the screen, which permits access to all of the web pages in Best Classical Tunes. The items marked with an arrow expand to a submenu when the mouse hovers over them. For example, if you hover the mouse over  "Composers", an alphabetical list of composer names will appear below it. Then if you click on a composer, such as "Beethoven", an "Opus By Composer" page will be displayed, containing a brief biography, and a list of the works by Beethoven for which there is an entry in our database. In turn, if you click on any work title, it will bring up a screen with details about the work, the score (if available), a media player for an mp3 recording (if available), and a media player to play the MIDI file.

There is a special keyboard shortcut for selecting composers.  Simply type the first few letters of the composer's name. As soon as you have typed enough letters to uniquely identify a composer, the system will automatically switch to the  'Opus by Composer' page for your desired composer. For example, if you type 'E' it will go straight to Elgar, as he is the only composer in this system starting with 'E'. If you want to get Bach, you will need to type 3 letters 'Bac' as there are 5 other composers starting with 'Ba'.   If you type letters for which there is no matching composer, a message will pop up to this effect, and the system will display the 'composers' page with a list of all the great composers in Best Classical Tunes.   This shortcut works from any page.

If the mouse is moved away from any 'fly-out' submennu, it will disappear.

A similar process applies to Instruments, Periods, Categories, Countries, and Ensembles. For example, if you have expanded  "Instruments"  and selected "clarinet", you will see an "Opus By Instrument" page, with clarinet information and photos, and a list of available music featuring the clarinet. This tabular list has sortable columns. For example, if you click on the "Category" column heading, the works will be listed in alphabetic order by category, i.e.  Chamber Music, then Concertos, then Folk Songs, and so on.

Site Search.
This is a text search facility. At the top right of every screen there is a panel for searching for a tune in this web site. You can type in any word or up to 4 key-words. When you click the button "Search this site", the system will search tune titles and all other text in the database for these words. If you check the box "Exclude Description", the search will not look inside tune descriptions.  By adding more key words you narrow the search and generate a shorter list of matches. For example, (at time of writing) if you type "mozart piano" you will get in excess of 50 matching tunes. If you add the third key-word "trio",  you narrow the matches down to about 18, and if you add a fourth keyword "menuetto" there are only 2 matches.

The search results are presented in a tabular grid, with the work titles in the first column. When you click on any title, you are taken to the "Tune Details" page for this work, which displays information about the work and musical notation for its themes. It also shows the score in PDF format, when available, a player for an mp3 audio recording (if available) and a button for listening to a MIDI file (if available).

If all you know about a tune is its melody, then you can use the "Theme Search" to search for matches in the Dictionary of Musical Themes, using a virtual piano keyboard.  Click the menu labelled  Theme Search.

Tune Details Screen.
This is one of the most important and fundamental pages in this site. For the tune you have selected it displays all the themes in the work (often only one per work). It also shows a sheet music score if available, and a media player for an mp3 audio recording (if available).  It also contains a description of the work, and the database catalogue information, such as composer, category, ensemble, period, country, and solo instrument when applicable.  It also has links to streaming audio or YouTube video pages, and a media player link for listening to the MIDI file.

This page lists the themes inside this tune, using standard musical staff notation.  For themes with audio recordings (an ever-increasing number!) there is a green play button on the left of the musical notation, which will play the theme, starting exactly at the quoted place within the recording. The audio player at top of the screen can be used to start playing the recording at the beginning.  

You can download the MIDI file by clicking the blue button "Download MIDI file". For most of the musical works in this site there are now MP3 audio files available for immediate listening by using the media player below the green "Play MP3 using player below". A few of these audio files are not live recordings, but electronically-generated ones with sound quality of the highest order.  These mp3 files may also be downloaded using the blue button above the player.

Lastly, for many tunes, a link is provided to an external page containing a streamed audio MP3 sound recording or to a YouTube video performance. Click the button labelled "Stream Audio/Video".

Scores and Sheet Music.
The scores are displayed in the "Tune Details Screen" using a PDF reader panel. This shows the sheet music on the screen, and a toolbar at the top allows you to browse through the pages, zoom in or out, and print out the score.

There is a list of tunes which have PDF scores, reached by clicking the branch of the menu tree  Information -> Score List (PDF).  This "List of PDF Scores" initially appears sorted into alphabetical order of title, but you can sort it into any other order, by clicking the appropriate column heading

Theme Search
Best Classical Tunes has a dictionary of musical themes stored in its database. This allows you to identify melodies which you are carrying in your head. Perhaps you can hum them or sing them, but you can not give them a name. All you have to do is pick out the first ten notes, using the mouse on a virtual piano.

As you click on each piano key, the note will sound after a slight delay. The note names are listed in a panel. The rhythm doesn't matter, all you need to do is play the notes. Please omit grace-notes, appoggiaturas, acciaccaturas and other ornaments, as these are not reflected in the database, though they certainly are shown in the musical notation panels. You may click fewer than 10 notes, in which case the search will be wider and the dictionary may return more matches.  You may click more than 10 notes, in which case notes after the 10th will be ignored.  If you make a mistake, you can remove the last note that you played by clicking the yellow button  Back space one note.  To hear the notes you have played, click on the pink button  Replay your notes.  Once you have played the notes, simply click the green button Search for this theme.

The system will look up your tune in its database. It may find more than one tune matching your notes. All matching tunes are listed as rows in a tabular grid, with musical notation for the theme, and a green 'play button' which you can click to hear the tune. The tune title is also a hyper-link to the Tune Details Screen for that tune.  This feature, which relies on you carrying a tune in your head, complements the site text search feature, which searches for tunes based on text in titles, descriptions, composers, etc.

Thematic Indexes
These pages list the musical staff notation for every theme in every work contained in the Best Classical Tunes database, with various subsets and groupings available.

There are 7 indexes which fly out from the 'Themes Index' menu button:- Work-title, Composer,Ensembles, Instrument, Period, Category, Country.  All these except the first have a next level of fly-out menu, allowing filtering by a specific composer, instrument, etc. This makes the web page shorter and faster to load.  However, the work-title index is a very long web-page, it takes some time to load on slow internet connections.

Each tune or movement has a hyperlink to the corresponding tune-details page.  In addition, every tune which has an mp3 audio recording available is marked with a green 'Play' button, and a red 'Stop' sign. Clicking on the green play button will play the audio, and clicking the red stop sign will stop it.  These buttons are placed on the left of the music notation for every theme in the work.  So you can listen to the theme starting from the precise point at which the theme is first introduced in the audio recording.

This feature, when combined with the theme-lookup feature employing a virtual piano keyboard, is effectively an up-to-date interactive on-line 'dictionary of musical themes', far easier to use than the 1949-published reference book by Barlow and Morgenstern. Admittedly, Barlow and Morgenstern contains nearly 10,000 themes, whereas Best Classical Tunes (at time of writing) has about 2,500.  But a vast number of themes in B&M are obsolete, un-played works today. Best Classical Tunes tries to make up in quality what it lacks in quantity!  It attempts to showcase the best tunes in the instrumental and vocal classical repertoire, the famous, the well-loved, the memorable, the tuneful.

Listening
There are four listening pages which fly out from the listening menu item:- Play a Full Work,  Play List, Six of the Best, Quiz on Tunes.

Play a Full Work.  This page is designed exclusively for multi-movement works, such as symphonies, sonatas, concertos, string quartets, piano trios, and several other forms. It plays every movement of the selected work in the correct sequence. If you open this page from the menu Listening -> Play a Full Work  and then click the button  Play Random Work, the system will select one such full work chosen from the database at random, and immediately commence to play all movements.  Or else you may search for a specific work by entering your criteria into the text box :- Criteria for a full-work search (up to 4 words), and then click Perform Search. For example, if you type 'Borodin quartet' this page will display String Quartet No 2 in A by Borodin. If you then click the button 'Play All Movements', it will highlight each movement as it is being played.

This page is also opened automatically from several other pages in this site. For example, if you are on the page listing the works of  Beethoveen, and click on a hyperlink to his Piano Concerto No 1 in C, this page will open and start to play all movemnets of that work.

Play List.  This facility permits the user to select a list of audio recordings to be played in sequence, from those tunes in the Best Classical Tunes database for which an mp3 audio recording is available. There is a quick play button Just Play Tunes which gives instant gratification by immediately playing 10 tunes selected at random. There are two selection modes, random or specific. If the random select box is checked and the pink perform search button is clicked, the system will automatically select 10 tunes at random, place them into a list, and start playing the first one. Otherwise, there are two text boxes for keywords, one for characteristics of desired tunes, the other for tune characteristics to avoid.  For example, typing 'Mozart' into the 'Search for' box, then typing 'piano' into the 'avoid' box, and clicking the pink Perform search button, will generate a table of works by Mozart excluding piano solos, piano concertos and piano trios. Clicking individual items in this table will add them to the playlist. Alternatively, there is a blue button to Add all to playlist.

Six of the Best.  The very best! This is a page designed especially for people who are just beginning to discover the delights of classical music. It introduces some  absolutely exquisite gems to people who, as yet, do not know what to look for. On opening, this page immediately plays six pieces chosen at random from the best 150 in the world!  (I admit these choices are subjective matters of my personal taste!)

Quiz on Tunes.  This page provides a test of your skill in recognizing melodies. If you click the button Play a New Tune, it plays a melody chosen at random from the database. If you need a clue, click Show Theme Notation to display the musical notation of this theme. When you are ready to check if you have correctly identified it, you can click Show Title to reveal its title and composer.

At top of the page there is an assortment of check-boxes enabling you to filter by genre, for example, Well-known Classical music, Sacred Music, Folk Music, and so on.

Terms used in this web site.
Category In this web site, "Category" can refer to the musical form, such as a symphony, sonata or concerto. Or it may describe the music's purpose, as in marches and waltzes. Or it may be a more general categorization such as folk-song, jazz or chamber music.
Dictionary In this web site there is a dictionary of musical themes, stored in a database, which holds the first ten notes of each theme, fully catalogued by title, composer and so on. It is used to lookup up tunes played on the virtual piano, and also as the basis for the thematic index of all themes.
Ensemble In music, "ensemble" means a group of instruments, such as a string quartet, a symphony orchestra, or a military band. It is the French word for 'together'.
Melody "Melody" is another word for "tune".
Midi MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is a compact system of electronically encoding musical notes, rhythms, dynamics and instrumentation. It originated as a means of communication between series of electronic instruments, such as digital keyboards, synthesizers, sound modules and drum machines. MIDI also defines a standard file format called a 'midi file', which has a .mid file extension. These files are used to store recordings of performance data, such that the music can be played back from a computer through a sound module. They are modern sophisticated versions of the old mechanical piano rolls, as they specify which notes to sound, how hard to hit them. and for how long to sustain them. When a MIDI file is played back, the sound quality depends entirely on the quality of the sound module through which it is replayed..
MP3 An MP3 file is a condensed digital wave file. Original digital recordings take up vast amounts of disk storage, and they take a long time to be transmitted across the internet. MP3 files are much smaller, so they can be transmitted faster, with minimal loss of sound quality. Best Classical Tunes web site now contains a substantial selection of mp3 recordings of the best-loved classical music.
PDF PDF is a widely-accepted standard file format for documents. It is especially well-suited for the display and printing of sheet music and orchestral scores. It is used for that purpose in Best Classical Tunes web-site.
Opus Opus is latin for "work". It simply means a piece of music. It may be divided into several component parts, called "movements". For most of the great composers, publishers have numbered off their works in chronological order of composition.  For example, Beethoven's Choral Symphony is his Opus 125. The catalogue hierarchy of Best Classical Tunes drills down to an individual movement (or 'tune') via the Opus page, which lists all movements in the Opus.
Period In this web site, "periods" refer to certain spans of time during which the style and form of music being composed had many common characteristics. For example, "Baroque" refers to the period from 1600 to 1750 approximately.
Playlist A playlist is a list of audio recordings selected by the user, that the system will play back in sequence.
Score A score is the sheet music for larger ensembles. The largest ensemble is a symphony orchestra. It contains a musical staff for each group of instruments in the ensemble. For example, 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, and so on. In Best Classical Tunes, scores are available as PDF files for viewing and printing.
Six of the Best In this web site, Six of the Best plays an instant playlist of six beautiful tunes. Each time you enter this page it plays a different set of six tunes, chosen from around 150 exquisite themes selected for their memorable and recognizable melodies.
Song A song is a piece of music that is sung by the human voice, as opposed to music that is played by an instrument such as a violin or piano. In the world of classical music, a song may be called an "aria" if it is in an opera, or it may be called a "Lied" if it is an "art-song" typified by Schubert's Lieder. In the world of sacred music a song may be called a "hymn" or "anthem" or "carol". Of course, with folk-music, a song is simply called a "folk-song". A few composers have written tunes which they call 'Songs without words', which are played on the piano or other instruments.  Apart from these, no other un-sung piece of music is called a 'song' in this web-site. We prefer the word 'tune'.
Theme A theme is a fragment of a tune which characterizes a piece of music. It is usually repeated many times, and  it is often the memorable part of the work which allows us to easily identify it. The tune lookup feature of Best Classical Tunes employs the first ten notes of themes, stored in its dictionary of musical themes, to permit matching against notes clicked on a virtual piano. The tune details pages list all the main themes for each piece of music, shown as note-names, and as musical staff notation. Most other pages in this site dispaly musical notation for each theme, with a green 'play' button beside it, so you can instantly listen to that theme, starting exactly where the theme appears in the middle of a piece of music.
Tune A tune is another word for a melody. Tunes make the heart and soul of good memorable music. Best Classical Tunes is dedicated to providing free access to scores, thematic references, midi files, streamed audio, and instantly playable mp3 files of the best tunes in the world. Many tunes may be embedded inside a single Opus, Work, Piece, or Movement. Some people, accustomed to today's pop culture, use the word "song" for music that is not sung, when they ought to use "tune" or "piece" or "work" or "melody".
Virtual Piano This is an image of a piano keyboard, displayed on the computer screen, with click-sensitive zones on each black and white piano key. In Best Classical Tunes a virtual piano is used  in the "Theme Lookup" page. When the user clicks with the mouse on a note, such as middle-C, the note sounds, and its name is recorded in a panel below the virtual piano. After ten or fewer notes have been clicked, the user may click a button to look the tune up in the dictionary of musical themes.
Work Work simply means a piece of music. It may be identified by a work number, normally called an Opus number, where "Opus" is the latin word for "work". Best Classical Tunes has a web page  devoted to each work or opus, with links to all movements belonging to it where applicable.
 
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