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Tutor profile: Stev T.

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Stev T.
Composer and Music Theory Lover Here to Help!
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Questions

Subject: Latin

TutorMe
Question:

Why are there so many different ways of building the perfect tense? Is there an easy way of remembering them?

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Stev T.
Answer:

The Latin perfect tense is actually a mish-mash of the Proto-Indo-European perfect tense (think the forms that reduplicate, like 'cano, cecini' and 'curro, cucurri') and the aorist tense/aspect (think the verbs that add an -s in the perfect, like 'scribo, scripsi' and 'rego, rexi', as well as the ablaut and lengthening patterns). Overall, there are seven patterns for building the perfect tense forms in Latin, apart from the special forms for the verbs 'esse' and 'fero': 1) the -v- perfect, as in 'amo, amavi'; 2) the -u- perfect, as in 'moneo, monui'; 3) the -s- perfect, as in 'fingo, finxi' (finxi > *fingsi); 4) the 'lengthening' perfect, as in 'venio, vēni'; 5) the identical stem perfect, as in 'defendo, defendi'; 6) the 'ablaut' perfect, as in 'facio, fēci'; and 7) the reduplicating perfect, as in 'posco, poposci'. Since there are often exceptions to rules of thumbs and other such memory aids, the best approach is really just to always memorise the four principle parts (present, infinitive, perfect, perfect passive participle) when you learn a new verb. Even though that may seem like a lot of work up front, it will actually save you a lot of frustration and guesswork in the long run!

Subject: Music Theory

TutorMe
Question:

What is counterpoint, and why was it so important?

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Stev T.
Answer:

Counterpoint, simply put, is the art of combining individual melodic lines—not melodies in the sense of 'songs' or 'tunes', but a) well-formed and b) independent yet interdependent lines, or voices—to form a living, sinuous tapestry of musical activity, such that the vertical aspect of harmony and the horizontal aspect of rhythmic cohesion exist simultaneously. Sound like a mouthful? Believe me, it is! Even though counterpoint is one of the more complex and challenging concepts to grapple with in traditional music theory, it is also one of the most important and, I believe, satisfying. In order to understand why it has played such a central role in Western music, let's take a brief look at the origins of the Western tradition. Chants, or monophonic melodies, have played a part in sacred services since antiquity. In the mid-8th century, the Frankish rulers (Pepin and Charlemagne in particular) desired to strengthen their political ties with the Pope in Rome, so they adopted the Roman tradition of chant, that is, the Roman rite. From then on, the Roman chants were to gradually supplant most of the local chant traditions that existed elsewhere in Europe. In the following centuries, monks experimented with ways of ornamenting the chants and making the music more interesting than just a plain melody all in unison: at first, by composing countermelodies that followed the original chant somewhat freely, then by singing the same chant, but in parallel motion at the fifth (known as organum), and even in three voices at different intervals (known as 'faux-bourdon à l'anglaise', as the practice was especially popular in England). These things are not mere historical curiosities: they show that it was the individual line, originally derived from chant, which formed the basis of the increasingly complex musical textures which were being experimented with. As monks and musicians continued to experiment with different ways of combining such lines, certain practices were found to be more pleasing than others, and by the early 14th century large-scale polyphonic settings of the Mass Ordinary, i.e. the text of the Mass used every day, were becoming commonplace (cf. Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame). Individual chants, used as the basis for entire compositions within the so-called 'cantus firmus' technique, remained the predominant approach for motets and settings of the Mass until the end of the 16th century; more generally, the concept of imitation, the technique of taking a melody as the basis of a piece and treating it in different voices against contrasting material, remained the most important technique until the end of the Baroque period in 1750. That means for about 1,000 years, counterpoint was the basis of Western music!

Subject: Music

TutorMe
Question:

What are clefs, and why are there different ones?

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Stev T.
Answer:

When music started to be written down in the early Middle Ages, scribes, following the practices of late Graeco-Roman world, used little squiggles called neumes to indicate the approximate relationships between pitches—in other words, to show which notes were higher or lower relative to the preceding or following ones. This system worked well in the context of an oral tradition, that is, a system in which chants were memorised and passed on by ear; but without already knowing the chant, it was nearly impossible to tell exactly what the notes were, and for how long they should be held. So with time, two separate clefs were developed—the C clef, shaped like a C, to indicate what line of the staff corresponded to the first note of the scale, called 'ut' or 'do'—also known as 'middle C'—and the F clef, shaped like an F, to indicate what line corresponded to the F, or 'fa', beneath middle C. These stuck around and have developed into today's alto (C) and bass (F) clefs. The treble clef, perhaps the most well know today, developed from a later G clef, which shows what line of the staff corresponds to the G above middle C. It still kind of looks like an uppercase G today!

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