Musical Building Blocks

June 17th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 08: Musical Understanding | Practicing | Score Study - (Comments Off)

I. Shapes/line/phrasing – Music is not a democracy!
A. Notice where each phrase begins and ends.
B. Look for the arc – the physical shape on the page.
C. Hierarchy: look for royalty vs. servants.
D. Group notes to belong together; group across the beat.
E. Point the phrase; allow the natural flow and settling.
F. Microphrase: slightly bring out the up and down of the line, and always lead to
your phrase notes.
E. Build sequences
1. Add length, dynamic, and/or bow.
2. Don’t keep hitting the same high or low point.
3. Treat a series of sforzandos in this way too.
F. Know the overall structure of the movement; see the large arcs of the sections, as well as the giant arc of the movement.

II. Harmony
A. Learn music theory.
B. Feel which chords have more or less tension.
C. Notice what is normal vs. abnormal:
1. Dissonance vs. consonance
2. On beat or off
3. Asymmetrical phrase lengths
D. Feel and support intervals – sing through them.
E. Energize the dot.

III. Texture/counterpoint
A. Notice the density of the orchestration.
B. Where are you in relation to other voices? Near or far? Will you have to fight to be heard?
C. Are you moving with or against other voices?
D. In solo Bach, what is the implied bass line?
E. In doublestops, bring out the string with the most important voice.

IV. Creating characters
A. Make a natural connection between your bow speed and the feeling of the music.
B. Choose your sounding point to reflect the ease, power, or struggle in the music.
C. Articulate with the bow as you would sing – do you sing “yah, yah, yah” or “tah, tah, tah?”
D. Shape phrases with vibrato; vary amount/speed/width
E. Just and equal-tempered intonation will be more serene; expressive intonation will intensify your mood and help you stand out.
F. Left hand articulation can be overdone in lyric passages, but it is often helpful in intense ones.
G. Rhythm can define character. Is the pulse strict? Free? Calming? Energectic?
H. Let your body language and performing “persona” tell a story.

V. Imagination
A. Sing.
B. Dance.
C. Tell a story about the music.
D. Who is telling/singing/dancing the story? What costume are they wearing?
E. What do you feel as you listen and play?
F. Say or write some descriptive adjectives.
G. What is the mood of each phrase or section? Does it change abruptly?
H. Hear the sound in your mind’s ear.

Environment and Atmosphere:
Coaching is chamber music. I listen to the group with my heart as well as my ears.
I take the emotional temperature of the group. Pre-formed? Nervous? Experienced? Getting along?
In how much detail does the group want to work? How can I increase the engagement and energy level of the room?
How do the individual members respond to criticism? Do they welcome or resist it?
How much time will they have to practice before the next session? What is a reasonable expectation for improvement?
Can I find the key to each person? What is the most helpful thing I can give him or her individually?
Attack is not conducive to learning. If a person becomes defensive, I back off. I watch for cues in the body language. I try to find another way to help.
If I sense people are getting tired or grouchy, losing concentration, etc. I will deliberately tell a story or joke to lighten the mood.

It is good for me to have background knowledge of the piece. Often players already know many details of the work’s birth and the composer’s life.
Where this information is particularly useful is imagining it into the music – telling a story that makes sense with what we know of the composer and the kind of stories he likes to tell. I can help by setting the piece within the pantheon of composers and chamber music repertoire, talking about the historical era, or finding parallels in art and literature.
We are all human and we can all find ways to sense what the composer might have been feeling.
All technical suggestions should follow from musical concepts. If I can communicate an understanding of the different characters and emotions of the work, and then make specific requests for articulations, dynamics, phrasing and body language to enhance these characters, it is easier for players to grasp the whole and to remember why they might make particular choices.
So much of chamber music is simply listening. Slow work (work on intonation, work for balance, harmonic work, matching strokes etc.) is essential for learning to hear.
Slow rehearsing is ideal for developing both listening and playing skills. By having people play in pairs, taking turns to listen, watch the score, and make suggestions, I can teach rehearsal technique for use at home.