Joe's Blog

Lyricism, Connectivity and Shaping of Sounds

January 3, 2019

At B’s lesson today, he was playing Mozart’s Adagio in B Minor

He plays a series of notes from the piece, and stops because he is frustrated with how it just sounded.  He says: “In order for me to even it out, ‘this’ note needs to be a little louder, and ‘that’ note needs to be a little softer.”  He makes physical adjustments in how he plays each of those two notes.  The result is a new set of inconsistencies in the sound.  I try to explain that any difference in muscular action for which one can consciously in control will over-compensate for the problem.  The only ways that reliably control evenness in sound, whether in a melody, or in a chord, are based on either the ear or finding a lever further up the arm that controls all the fingers alike.

Here are some of the spots that we worked on.

#1.  The first chord in the piece: es3-b3- -gs4-d5.

If the chord is not coming out the way you want it to, do the following:

a) Play the es3, three times in a row, while doing nothing other listening to them.  For, without your realizing, your playing mechanism is going to adjust the resonance of es3 your figurative, “inner” ear is satisfied with the sound.  Just by gradually playing it over and over it comes closer to having the quality of sound you want.  Hold the third one longer than the others.

b) Then pause a couple of seconds. Now play es3 and b3 together, three times in a row (as before).  Again your instinctive ear is going to automatically cause the body to unconsciously change the enunciation of the two notes until both are equally resonant and well balanced.

c) Pause again for a couple of seconds, and play the es3, b3 and gs4 together several times.  Let the same automatic balancing of the sound occur through the ear.  You don’t have to do anything more than listen to the triads.  You don’t have evaluate the balance each time you play it.  It will simply gravitate towards an idea position.  It’s an unconscious process of “practicing” something over and over until it pleases you or sounds the way you want.

d) The last stage is to play all four notes together – three times.  Then,  aslmost as an afterthought, play the four notes together again.  Through the silence that elapsed between the last of the three iterations of the four note chord, and the ‘fourth’ one you just added on, you will have preserved, without the slightest change, the balance of the notes.  It simply sounds the way you just heard it a few moments ago.

What we’ve done through this process is “taken apart” in time something that is meant to be heard “together” in time.  Rather than that changing the nature of what we hear because we have broken it into repeating parts, we actually gain more automatic control of how the notes will sound when ‘together’ in time.  One might say we have created a figurative lever of to gain a mechanical advantage of consciousness over simultaneous in time.

#2.   The first three notes of measure one: b4, fs4 and d5.

We use a similar process to what we used in number 1.  Play the b4  three times.  Just listen to it.  “Get to know it”.  “What does it sound like when it sounds like a B”?  Or, as in Ireland: “who is he when he is at home” (who is he really).

Pause and then play the b4 together with the fs4.  Same principle, three times; getting to know the full tonal implications of the interval of the fourth between the notes.  And something new: that there is an implication in that fourth that there is, latently, or about to be realized, another note that will complete the fourth and turn, as in this case, into a B Minor chord in second inversion.

Now ‘confirm’ your expectations, that have built up further and further  during the last few moments in time, that you have patiently kept in check through the previous eighth note, and with an air of satisfaction / relief / puzzlement, etc.: any emotion will do, by playing the missing note (d5). If, for example, it meets your expectations, say to yourself something like “I knew all along it was going to sound this”.

What we are discussing in the last two paragraphs falls under the heading of “hearing the missing sounds”.  Or, play it in such a way that even the listener can sense, vaguely, or more specifically, what the missing note or notes are.

If all we heard is the fourth between the fs4 and b4, and no other sounds from the universe, including from what we have stored in our musical memory, any of the following note (or notes) will complete the empty fourth:

fs4-b4-d5       or     fs4-b4-ds5    or    ds4-fs4-a4-b4   or   d4-fs4-a4-b4   or d4 f4-af4-b4

etc..

Here is another approach to the same opening three notes. It is sort of the reverse of the process just described.  Don’t begin with just one note, but with a B Minor chord of many notes (for instance: b2-fs3-b3–d4-fs4-b4-d5.  Follow that by the single note with which the piece starts.  That single note will still retain the coloring, or mood, that it possessed by virtue of the presence of the other notes sounding with it.

Or, we can start with the same, full chord, and then gradually strip away notes from that chord, until at the end we leave just one note, for instance the first note of the piece.  Through each stage in this process the notes that are left remaining retain the full power and effect of a B Minor chord.

The end goal is, without physically playing the other notes of the chord, sound the b4 just as it would sound within the chord.

What applies to one note from a chord compared to a full orchestra, let us say, playing that chord in many voices and ranges, can apply to any chord we play in the piece, as compared to that same chord being elaborated over many octaves in a full symphony orchestra.

The process reminds me of the beginning of a poem by Wordsworth.

“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Appareled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;

Turn wheresoe’er I may,

By night or day.

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.”

This is from the poem: “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”.   The rest of the poem has to do with the possibility of retaining that celestial light or illumination that bathes even everyday things.

There is yet one more way of talking about this.  It is also quasi poetical but scientific as well.  When we play the piano, the sound of each individual note is already rich and complex in sound.  Each such sound contains within it a firmly held together chord made up out of what are called the “partials”, or more commonly, the “overtones” of that note.  So if we compare what we hear, when we listen to that note, to what, for example, a tuning fork (which has few overtones, and the ones it does last very briefly), sounds like intoning that sound, each individual piano note is found to be already rich and complex in sound.  Bass tones evoke the higher overtones of heaven. And when our ears are open we hear the full panoply of pitches throughout the range of the piano.

When we play more than one note at a time, the higher notes in our chords often correspond to overtones of the lower notes in the chord, and these higher notes in the chord take upon them a fullness and resonance that they would not have minus the presence of the lower notes sounding with them.

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