Tag: Dynamics

Creating Harmonic Clarity

Bach:  C Major Prelude, Book I, Well Tempered Klavier

Part of A.B.’s quest is to play the notes of this prelude “evenly”.  Achieving this has to do with the chord outlined by the notes of each measure, and the balance of the notes in the chords in creating a clear impression of that chord as a whole.   To make this chord more obvious to the ear, the player, when practicing, can “densify” each chord:  if there are openings between adjacent written notes in the chord to squeeze in additional notes from the same chord, add those notes in.   For instance in measure 2, there is room for an f4 between the d4 and a4.  If we add in that f4, we create the denser five-note chord: c4 d4 f4 a4 d5.  We can take that chord a step forward and add a c5 between the a4 and the d4, forming a six-note chord.  The chord has been a D Minor-7 chord the entire time, but the additional chord tones just make it stand out more clearly to the ear what chord it is.  Do this for every chord in the Prelude when Bach’s written notes allow for such additions.

An equally valid technique to add density to the character of a chord is add in chord tones in lower and/or higher octaves not used in the printed chord.  In this form a chord could contain 8 – 10 notes, or by adding the pedal, larger numbers of notes, spanning the low bass to high treble.  In this form, the “quality” of the chord reveals itself at its most obvious.  This technique, helps “set” the sonority of the written chord inside a larger entity to which it in turns belongs.

Whatever are the sound characteristics and the mood characteristics of the individual chord, they become in this manner magnified to the ear.  From this form of the chord we can then re-compress the chord (through the aesthetic equivalent of a ‘trash compactor’) without losing any of the sound ‘material’ present in the larger version of the chord: the larger instance of the chord being condensed into a smaller chord without losing any of the fullness or meaning of the uncompressed version of the chord.

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Changing the loudness of one note in a chord

By controlling the relative loudness of each note in a harmonic chord, we are doing what a composer does while writing a symphony, and decides which instruments should play which notes in a chord: more instruments on this note, fewer on that note.

More prominence or less prominence given to the extension of the chord into a higher octave. Rarely does the composer put the same number of players on each of the notes in a chord.

When we do this ‘orchestration’ at the piano, the cause, and the effect are more subtle. Yet the result does mimic orchestration. This is because if we play a particular note twice, once softly, and once loudly, though the primary difference in heard in terms of dynamics, there is a secondary change, which we can notice if we focus on it, in terms of the relative loudness each overtone of that note has as compared with the loudness of each of the other overtones.

Acoustically, this is what gives rise to what our brain interprets as a change of ‘timbre’, or ‘tone quality’, or instrumental quality: that which makes an oboe playing middle C at mezzo forte sound different than a violin playing middle C at the same loudness. This change of timbre is somewhat noticeable when listening to a single note, but when it is multiplied over the various notes of a chord, the difference in the overall timbre of the chord changes more noticeably. Even when we play all the notes of a chord with equal intensity, the result is not what we might anticipate. Each note in the chord is under the “spell” of the harmonic progression. If a note happens to be the ‘third’ of the chord, it will have a relative predominance of effect over the root and fifth. This explains why if we are, for example, in C major, and have a V chord going to a I chord, we can omit the fifth in the I chord. Even though we have left just the root(s) and third(s) there will be no doubt as to whether the chord is a I chord or a vi chord, since both C E G and A C E share the C and E in common.

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CHANGING THE LOUDNESS OF SINGLE NOTES IN A CHORD

Originally published on Facebook on 2/4/16

By controlling the relative loudness of each note in a harmonic chord, we are doing what a composer does while writing a symphony, and decides which instruments should play which notes in a chord: more instruments on this note, fewer on that note. More prominence or less prominence given to the extension of the chord into a higher octave. Rarely does the composer put the same number of players on each of the notes in a chord.

When we do this ‘orchestration’ at the piano, the cause, and the effect are more subtle. Yet the result does mimic orchestration. This is because if we play a particular note twice, once softly, and once loudly, though the primary difference in heard in terms of dynamics, there is a secondary change, which we can notice if we focus on it, in terms of the relative loudness each overtone of that note has as compared with the loudness of each of the other overtones. Acoustically, this is what gives rise to what our brain interprets as a change of ‘timbre’, or ‘tone quality’, or instrumental quality: that which makes an oboe playing middle C at mezzo forte sound different than a violin playing middle C at the same loudness.

This change of timbre is somewhat noticeable when listening to a single note, but when it is multiplied over the various notes of a chord, the difference in the overall timbre of the chord changes more noticeably.

Even when we play all the notes of a chord with equal intensity, the result is not what we might anticipate. Each note in the chord is under the “spell” of the harmonic progression. If a note happens to be the ‘third’ of the chord, it will have a relative predominance of effect over the root and fifth. This explains why if we are, for example, in C major, and have a V chord going to a I chord, we can omit the fifth in the I chord. Even though we have left just the root(s) and third(s) there will be no doubt as to whether the chord is a I chord or a vi chord, since both C E G and A C E share the C and E in common.

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