Things to decide about a composition before playing it {AKA playing our best part 4}

1:56 pm Music

In a part 2 we identified three categories of behavioral patterns that prevent us from playing as well as we can. We dealt with the first category in part 3. Today we talk about the second category. Before we do, please notice that these solutions are by no means complete and may not apply to everyone. In fact, as I said several times in the series this discussion covers my experience and that of my students and colleagues with whom I discussed this issue. This is a limitation. It would be great if these articles were written by a psychologist who is also a musician, an educator, a philosopher a social scientist and a motivational speaker. However, they’re not. I am only a musician.

However, what I discuss here seems to have worked for me, and many other people..

Apologies out of the way, now we can discuss the real issue. The second category of patterns discussed in part 2 all stem from playing a piece before having developed an understanding of it. Here’s a quote describing the pattern:

Thinking about interpreting the piece as you play it. Also, being in the habit of launching into a piece without having a general understanding of what it’s about, how it’s structured, its overarching logic, meaning, style, or aesthetic. And also learning only the superficial details of a piece (notes, form), and trying to play those.

Imagine that you are about to build a building, something of the order of magnificence of, say, Taj Mahal. Before you actually lay down one brick, you will have already drawn plans, decided on the color of each wall, the location, size and shape of each window, the gardens, the light fixtures, and the fountains. For every corner of the building you will need to hire workers with the craftsmanship and expertise to complete it.

In my view, the approach should be no different when planning to play a composition (but very different when improvising, of course). In Arabic music the problem can be even greater than in Western music if you’re starting off from sheet music (as opposed to a recording). The notation does not tell you the exact details of the intonation of pitches. An F# in the context of maqam hijaz on D has a different intonation from the F# of maqm ajam on G. So in Arabic music, it is important to understand the maqam implications of the composed line to determine the finer details of intonation.

But the problem goes far beyond intonation. More technique related issues need to be resolved: Octave transfers, dynamics, articulation, expressions, fingerings, and bowings, to name a few.

And then there are the non-technique related issues:

  1. Relationships between phrases and relationships between movements or parts.
  2. Traditional treatment of the form.
  3. The piece’s time period, genre and the particular composer.
  4. The function the piece will be serving in the overall performance or recording.

Now comes another set of issues to be resolved. The personal style and approach issues. These are the decisions that are specific to you. Your musical ideology. Your personal interpretation of the piece. Your message.

All of the issues raised here, technique related, non-technique related, and personal, can be answered by any musician. Your answers to many of them will differ from anyone else’s . Many of them have no one right answer. The problem is in not thinking about those issues. Imagine building Taj Mahal without having drawn any plans.

Leave a Comment

Your comment

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>