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"Look back.... and ahead" ("Fur Elise". "Moonlight" by Bee... The end. (Read 4876 times)

Offline vladimirdounin

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Continuation. The beginning is in "Congrats! We have made history. ("Fur Elise", "Moonlight" by Beethoven) ........To understand the real significance of our tiny event and the fascinating future which INEVITABLY will follow, (even if all of us have not wanted it) we have to look back.

Perhaps, music is as old as humankind itself. However, we will never know the music performed at the solemn openings of Egyptian pyramids or during the triumphal closing ceremonies of Ancient Olympics. Their music was not written down not because it was really impossible to do so at their time, but just because the idea of writing down music never happened to strike anybody’s head. The total absurdity of such suggestion was so obvious for everyone, that poets proudly declared: "To describe the beauty of (their) fair lady by words is as impossible as to write music on the paper!"

However, after thousands years of musical illiteracy, the day came when somebody invented the way to make visual musical Pitch (frequency) using specially shaped crochets. Since then, we can see at least something in the darkness of the musical past. However, the real dawn of a new era in music came later, when man invented the way to visualize Timing as well. Could you imagine anything in the present musical world without this upgrade?

E.g., let us try (imaginatively) to learn or teach Prelude and Fugue by Shostakovich.  How long would it take for students to "catch by ear" and memorize the right pitch and timing of each note and then play back this super-complicated piece if no script was available? If we want a decent level of accuracy, then the majority of the teachers would say that even a hundred years would not be enough for this single work. I can only join them in this estimation.

 The invention of musical literacy has opened unprecedented opportunities. However, is the present musical notation perfect or at least satisfactory? No, not at all.
Music is a language based on correlations between tones. Any of these musical tones has 3 dimensions: Pitch, Timing and Note Strength (=INDIVIDUAL volume of each particular note). However, the existing system of musical notation provides an accurate indication only for Pitch and Timing, but completely ignores the Note Strength. (Except some rare indications of accents or sforzando, but even they are unclear: to which particular note in a chord we have to attribute them).
 We have no confidence regarding each note - whether it should be played louder or softer in relation to the previous and the following note, and by how much? For example, between just two random consecutive notes, or between two notes in particular chord: which one of the two should be softer or louder?  No single existing textbook will answer these questions either.

At the same time, any musician has to “answer” these questions practically as many times as there are notes that he/she has to play. Since all pianists play (at least should play) the same notes on the same beat, it is obvious that the different individual volumes of the same notes make the only difference between the best and the worst pianist in the world. Any (sometimes even the smallest) violation of the musical rules and laws: wrong pitch, timing etc., ruins the music. And any examiner can confirm the fact that wrong correlation in volume between notes can be as annoying as wrong pitch or timing. "Let any pianist play for me not one, but two notes and I can say immediately whether this is a good musician or a bad one." (H.Neuhaus)

Proper stressing or softening in music is as important as the proper stressing in the words of any language. (Nobody will understand even very familiar words with wrong stressing such as: AmerIca , TorontO, SonAtina, etc. Similarly, no one will understand or enjoy music with wrong stressing or softening either).
However, this situation changes dramatically if we have a very simple (even for 5-7year old beginners) method based on an accurate indication of note strength of any given note in a chord or melody. This method provides the same accuracy for Note Strength as it has been provided for Pitch and Timing. Introduction of this method does not take long: all that we have to do is to "calibrate" our students’ and our own ears in the same way. There are many variants of "dynamics scale" and all of them work. Let us look at one of them:
It is based on an analogy with the Celsius temperature scale (from zero to one hundred degrees). One hundred degrees corresponds to the maximum volume, and zero – to silence. It seems difficult to define one degree but in fact it is not: one degree is the smallest difference in volume that we can feel. (Feel, not “hear”, because we do it with our fingers as well, and students understand and “feel” it better.)
To teach a student to use this "dynamics scale", we ask him/her to play several pairs of notes with exactly the same volume. After the student has done it faultlessly, we ask him/her to play the same pairs of notes with the tiniest difference between them that he/she can feel/hear. Now that we’ve got the "minimal step" in the volume scale, all the rest is simple and logical: two degrees, three and so on. Even the very beginners do it with amazing accuracy. It proves that Mother Nature has given us a wonderful instrument for these tiny gradations.

The next step is to write the proper "temperature" (at least in all the complicated spots of the piece) and our work is done. Any "uncivilized" student turns into a sophisticated professional instantly.

Accomplished musicians do not need detailed and accurate indications of the volume: they have their gift, intuition and culture (from their education and experience) instead. Unfortunately, not everyone is gifted, accomplished, educated and experienced at the same time. The accurate indication of note strength effectively fills the gap between "the intuition of the gifted" and the perfect vacuum of musical knowledge in many students.
The accurate indication of Note Strength gives all that is necessary to play beautifully. A good mother does not teach her kids how to play outdoors; she knows that the kids will never remember her instructions for more than 5 minutes and always will play in their own way. Therefore, she insists on only a few things that “should not be done under any circumstances”. (E.g. “Newer play the ball on the road”!)

The same idea has inspired a few short and easy rules based on the accurate indication of Note Strength:  “How to avoid some typical mistakes in musical performing". (20 - 30 of these rules cover roughly 50% of such mistakes and work for any music that students will play in their lives. After the student has learned a practical implementation of these rules, all the new pieces will need sometimes only 1-3 new rules for each, and quite often no new rules at all).

Even very beginners can play wisely, with decent, convincing phrasing after a few simple and easy rules, symbols or numbers have turned them on the right path. However, the best news is that after a short period of time students no longer need all these numbers or symbols (a kind of "Dynamics Alphabet"), because they have understood the basic logic of the musical language. Now they can apply the same rules to each similar situation in other pieces of different styles.

This method allows the student to look for the first time at any score and write (or imagine) immediately, WITHOUT playing or singing, the proper volume for each note in any voice/part or chord. Traditional teachers usually refuse to fulfil such an assignment and insist that it is impossible in principle. However, it definitely does not mean that they do not know the proper Note Strengths – many of them can play very beautifully, so they DO know it practically. But their knowledge is SUBCONSCIOUS, and they can not express it in words. This method will help them to do it easily.

This method is very helpful in immigrant countries such as Canada and the USA. I have worked with many Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, African, and other languages speaking students without knowing 10 words of their languages and they (without knowing English or any of my languages) have fulfilled all of my instructions. This system has proved to be extremely useful in "non-standard" situations: when I was teaching blind students, working with groups of children and individuals starting from the age of 3, etc.

This method is especially valuable nowadays. The method is perfectly compatible with modern technologies, recently developed software, and scientific and musical equipment. Successful introduction of this method together with technical innovations can ultimately boost the whole musical culture and bring high musical standards to anyone who loves music.

I have been using this method for over 40 years and it has worked equally well for conservatory and university students, international opera stars, competition winners, and for absolutely uneducated people. (We always had to invite them for our opera and oratorio productions, when I worked as an opera and resident chorus master.)

Almost everyone around us has tried (at least once in a lifetime) to make friends with music, and almost all of them have failed and said "never again" after their contact with our existing musical pedagogy. Why? It has happened because we could not teach them (before) simply and reliably. Now, we can, and we no longer need to lose 99% of our potential students.
I realize that for many of us it sounds too good to be true – any conventional teacher should “know perfectly well that it is impossible”. Therefore, I invite everybody to have a look at this method in action (absolutely free) at any time.

Vladimir Dounin.


piano sheet music of Für Elise

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