Music Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 1 (page 2)
Music Critical Reading
Questions 1–5 are based on the following passage.
The following passage describes the transition from the swing era to bebop in the history of jazz music.
Jazz, from its early roots in slave spirituals and the marching bands of New Orleans, had developed into the predominant American musical style by the 1930s. In this era, jazz musicians played a lush, orchestrated style known as swing. Played in large ensembles, also called big bands, swing filled the dance halls and nightclubs. Jazz, once considered risqué, was made more accessible to the masses with the vibrant, swinging sounds of these big bands. Then came bebop. In the mid-1940s, jazz musicians strayed from the swing style and developed a more improvisational method of playing known as bebop. Jazz was transformed from popular music to an elite art form.
The soloists in the big bands improvised from the melody. The young musicians who ushered in bebop, notably trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, expanded on the improvisational elements of the big bands. They played with advanced harmonies, changed chord structures, and made chord substitutions. These young musicians got their starts with the leading big bands of the day, but during World War II—as older musicians were drafted and dance halls made cutbacks—they started to play together in smaller groups.
These pared-down bands helped foster the bebop style. Rhythm is the distinguishing feature of bebop, and in small groups the drums became more prominent. Setting a driving beat, the drummer interacted with the bass, piano, and the soloists, and together the musicians created fast, complex melodies. Jazz aficionados flocked to such clubs as Minton's Playhouse in Harlem to soak in the new style. For the young musicians and their fans this was a thrilling turning point in jazz history. However, for the majority of Americans, who just wanted some swinging music to dance to, the advent of bebop was the end of jazz as mainstream music.
- The swing style can be most accurately characterized as
- complex and inaccessible.
- appealing to an elite audience.
- lively and melodic.
- lacking in improvisation.
- played in small groups.
- According to the passage, in the 1940s you would most likely find bebop being played where?
- a large concert hall
- in music schools
- small clubs
- According to the passage, one of the most significant innovations of the bebop musicians was
- to shun older musicians.
- to emphasize rhythm.
- to use melodic improvisation.
- to play in small clubs.
- to ban dancing.
- In the context of this passage, aficionados (line 23) can most accurately be described as
- fans of bebop.
- residents of Harlem.
- innovative musicians.
- awkward dancers.
- fickle audience members.
- The main purpose of the passage is to
- mourn the passing of an era.
- condemn bebop for making jazz inaccessible.
- explain the development of the bebop style.
- celebrate the end of the conventional swing style of jazz.
- instruct in the method of playing bebop.
Questions 6–11 are based on the following passage.
This passage details the rise and fall of the Seattle grunge-music sound in American pop culture of the 1990s.
The late 1980s found the landscape of popular music in America dominated by a distinctive style of rock and roll known as Glam Rock or Hair Metal—so called because of the over-styled hair, makeup, and wardrobe worn by the genre's ostentatious rockers. Bands like Poison, White Snake, and Mötley Crüe popularized glam rock with their power ballads and flashy style, but the product had worn thin by the early 1990s. The mainstream public, tired of an act they perceived as symbolic of the superficial 1980s, was ready for something with a bit of substance.
In 1991, a Seattle-based band named Nirvana shocked the corporate music industry with the release of its debut single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which quickly became a huge hit all over the world. Nirvana's distorted, guitar-laden sound and thought-provoking lyrics were the antithesis of glam rock, and the youth of America were quick to pledge their allegiance to the brand new movement known as grunge.
Grunge actually got its start in the Pacific Northwest during the mid 1980s, the offspring of the metal-guitar driven rock of the 1970s and the hardcore, punk music of the early 1980s. Nirvana had simply brought into the mainstream a sound and culture that got its start years before with bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Green River. Grunge rockers derived their fashion sense from the youth culture of the Pacific Northwest: a melding of punk rock style and outdoors clothing like flannels, heavy boots, worn out jeans, and corduroys. At the height of the movement's popularity, when other Seattle bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains were all the rage, the trappings of grunge were working their way to the height of American fashion. Like the music, teenagers were fast to embrace the grunge fashion because it represented defiance against corporate America and shallow pop culture.
Many assume that grunge got its name from the unkempt appearance of its musicians and their dirty, often distorted guitar sounds. However, rock writers and critics have used the word "grunge" since the 1970s. While no one can say for sure who was the first to characterize a Seattle band as "grunge," the most popular theory is that it originated with the lead singer of Mudhoney, Mark Arm. In a practical joke against a local music magazine, he placed advertisements all over Seattle for a band that did not exist. He then wrote a letter to the magazine complaining about the quality of the fake band's music. The magazine published his critique, one part of which stated, "I hate Mr. Epp and the Calculations! Pure grunge!"
The popularity of grunge music was ephemeral; by the mid- to late- 1990s its influence upon American culture had all but disappeared, and most of its recognizable bands were nowhere to be seen on the charts. The heavy sound and themes of grunge were replaced on the radio waves by bands like NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and the bubblegum pop of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
There are many reasons why the Seattle sound faded out of the mainstream as quickly as it rocketed to prominence, but the most glaring reason lies at the defiant, anti-establishment heart of the grunge movement itself. It is very hard to buck the trend when you are the one setting it, and many of the grunge bands were never comfortable with the celebrity that was thrust upon them. One the most successful Seattle groups of the 1990s, Pearl Jam, filmed only one music video, and refused to play large venues. Ultimately, the simple fact that many grunge bands were so against mainstream rock stardom eventually took the movement back to where it started: underground. The American mainstream public, as quick as they were to hop onto the grunge bandwagon, were just as quick to hop off, and move onto something else.
- The author's description of glam rockers (lines 2–7) indicates that they
- cared more about the quality of their music than money.
- were mainly style over substance.
- were unassuming and humble.
- were songwriters first, and performers second.
- were innovators in rock and roll.
- The word ostentatious in line 4 most nearly means
- In lines 25–26, the phrase the trappings of grunge refers to
- the distorted sound of grunge music.
- what the grunge movement symbolized.
- the unattractiveness of grunge fashion.
- the clothing typical of the grunge movement.
- the popularity of grunge music.
- Which of the following is not associated with the grunge movement?
- Mr. Epps and the Calculations
- Pearl Jam
- Green River
- White Snake
- Which of the following words best describes the relationship between grunge music and its mainstream popularity?
- In line 41, the word ephemeral most nearly means
- a fluke.
Questions 12–18 are based on the following passage.
The selection that follows is based on an excerpt from the biography of a music legend.
Although Dick Dale is best known for his contributions to surf music, and has been called "King of the Surf Guitar," he has also been referred to as the "Father of Heavy Metal." While this title is more often associated with Ozzy Osbourne or Tony Iossa, Dale earned it from Guitar layer Magazine for his unique playing style and pioneering use of Fender guitars and amplifiers.
In the mid-1950s, Dale was playing guitar at a club in California, where his one-of-a-kind music turned it from a jazz club into a rock nightspot. After a 1956 concert there, guitar and amplifier maker Leo Fender approached the guitarist and gave him the first Fender Stratocaster to try before the guitar was mass marketed. Fender thought that Dale's way of playing, a virtual assault on the instrument, would be a good test of its durability. However, the guitar was right-handed and Dale played left-handed. Unfazed, Dale held and played it upside down and backwards (a feat that later strongly influenced Jimi Hendrix).
The test proved too much for Fender's equipment. Dale loved the guitar, but blew out the amplifier that came with it. It had worked well for most other musicians, who at that time were playing country and blues. Rock didn't exist, and no one played the guitar as fiercely as Dale. Fender improved the amplifier, and Dale blew it out again. Before Fender came up with a winner, legend has it that Dale blew up between 40 and 60 amplifiers. Finally, Fender created a special amp just for Dale, known as the "Showman." It had more than 100 watts of power. The two men then made an agreement that Dale would "road test" prototypes of Fender's new amplification equipment before they would be manufactured for the general public. But they still had problems with the speakers—every speaker Dale used it with blew up (some even caught fire) because of the intense power of his volume coupled with a staccato playing style.
Fender and Dale approached the James B. Lansing speaker company, asking for a fifteen-inch speaker built to their specifications. The company responded with the fifteen-inch JBL-D130F speaker, and it worked. Dale was able to play through the Showman Amp with the volume turned all the way up. With the help of Leo Fender and the designers at Lansing, Dick Dale was able to break through the limits of existing electronics and play the music his way—loud.
But it wasn't enough. As Dale's popularity increased, his shows got larger. He wanted even more sound to fill the larger halls he now played in. Fender had the Triad Company craft an amp tube that peaked at 180 watts, creating another new amplifier for Dale. Dale designed a cabinet to house it along with two Lansing speakers. He called it the Dick Dale Transformer, and it was a scream machine. Dick Dale made music history by playing a new kind of music, and helping to invent the means by which that music could be played. Not only was this the start of the electric movement, but it may also be considered the dawning of heavy metal.
- In line 25, the word prototype most nearly means
- an original model.
- a Fender guitar.
- an amplifier-speaker combination.
- a computerized amplifier.
- top of the line equipment.
- Lines 16–20 indicate that
- country and blues guitarists didn't need amplifiers.
- most musicians played louder than Dick Dale.
- a new kind of music was being created.
- Dick Dale needed a new guitar.
- the Stratocaster didn't work for Dick Dale.
- In line 28, the word staccato most nearly means
- smooth and connected.
- gently picking the guitar strings.
- abrupt and disconnected.
- The title that best suits this passage is
- Dick Dale and the History of the Amplifier.
- The King of Heavy Metal.
- The Invention of the Stratocaster.
- Lansing and Fender: Making Music History.
- How Surf Music Got its Start.
- In line 14, unfazed most nearly means
- not moving forward.
- not in sequence.
- not bothered by.
- not ready for.
- not happy about.
- In line 41, scream machine indicates that
- the new transformer could handle very loud music.
- fans screamed when they heard Dale play.
- Dale's guitar sounded like it was screaming.
- neighbors of the club screamed because the music was too loud.
- you couldn't hear individual notes being played.
- All of the following can explicitly be answered on the basis of the passage EXCEPT
- Who invented the Stratocaster?
- Where did Dick Dale meet Leo Fender?
- What company made speakers for Dick Dale?
- Where did Ozzy Osbourne get his start as a musician?
- What do Dick Dale, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tony Iossa have in common?
- c. The passage describes swing as vibrant, (line 6) a synonym for lively. It is also stated that soloists in big bands improvised from the melody , (line 11) indicating that the music was melodic .
- d. In the 1940s, you would most likely hear bebop being played in clubs, such as Minton's Playhouse in Harlem (line 25).
- b.In lines 21–22 the author states that rhythm is the distinguishing feature of bebop.
- a. Aficionado, derived from the word affection, means a devotee or fan. The meaning can be inferred from the sentence, which states that aficionados flocked to clubs to soak in the new style. The use of fans in line 26 is a direct reference to the aficionados of the previous sentence.
- c. The tone of the passage is neutral so only the answers beginning with explain or instruct are possible choices. The passage does not explain how to play bebop music, so c is the best choice.
- b. Lines 2–7 describe how glam rock musicians were characterized by their flashy hair and makeup, and refers to their music as a product, as if it was something packaged to be sold. The choice that best describes a musician who puts outward appearance before the quality of his or her music is choice
b, style over substance.
- c. Ostentatious is an adjective that is used to describe someone or something that is conspicuously vain, or showy. There are numerous context clues to help you answer this question: Line 5 states that the glam rockers had a flashy style, and their music was symbolic of the superficial 1980s (line 8).
- d. Trappings usually refer to outward decoration of dress. If you did not know the definition of trappings, the prior sentence (lines 21–24) supplies the answer: Grunge rockers derived their fashion sense from the youth culture of the Pacific Northwest: a melding of punk rock style and outdoors clothing . . . . The author makes no judgment of the attractiveness of grunge fashion (choice c).
- e. Line 5 states that White Snake was a glam rock band and therefore not associated with the Seattle grunge scene. Don't be distracted by choice a; Mr. Epps and the Calculations may not have been a real band, but the name will nonetheless be forever associated with grunge music.
- b. The relationship between grunge music and its mainstream popularity is best described as contrary. The most obvious example of this is found in lines 50–51, when in describing the relationship, the author states it is very hard to buck the trend when you are the one setting it.
- d. Ephemeral is used to describe something that lasts only a short time, something that isfleeting. The context clue that best helps you to answer this question is found in lines 47–48, where the author states that grunge faded out of the mainstream as quickly as it rocketed to prominence.
- a. If Dale was trying out equipment before it became available to the public, it makes sense that he was given original models. The passage does not specify the type of amplifiers Dale tested, so choices c, d, and e don't work. It specifically mentions prototypes amplifiers, so choice b is also wrong.
- c. The clue is in the last sentence, which states that Dale was playing differently than other musicians at that time, and rock was not yet invented. Do not be distracted by the other answers, which are not supported by evidence in the passage.
- d. His playing style was part of the reason the amplifiers blew up, so the answer that fits best is abrupt and disconnected. Volume was already mentioned, so you can infer that staccato does not mean loud. Line 12 holds another clue, describing his playing as a virtual assault on the instrument.
- b. The passage is primarily about Dick Dale and his contributions to the history of playing electric guitar. The first paragraph mentions that he was called the King of Heavy Metal, and the last sentence notes that Dale made music history by playing a new kind of music that would later be called heavy metal.
- c. To be fazed by something means to be disturbed or affected by it. Unfazed is therefore to not be affected or bothered by something. Even though the guitar was made for a right-handed player, Dale tried it anyway. He wasn't bothered by the fact that it seemingly wasn't right for him.
- a. The line refers to the new transformer. Dale wanted to play louder, and that the new transformer was designed to allow him to do that. Thus, it was a scream machine.
- d. The passage mentions that Ozzy Osbourne is often called the Father of Heavy Metal, but gives no other information about him.
For more practice on music critical reading questions, review:
- Music Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 1 You are here
- Music Critical Reading Practice Exercises Set 2
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