Joe's Blog

The Ear is the Best Detective

November 16, 2018

Sometimes the fluency of a group of notes may seem somehow off to us, but we cannot detect just which note is the cause, so we just try to practice the entire group again and, if necessary, yet again.

A well trained ear, however, divorced from the kinesthetic sensations of moving the fingers,  may be able to pinpoint exactly the location of the difficulty: for example that the second note of a rapid group of four notes is not timed correctly (starts late or has a different duration than the first)) ; or that the third note of such a group is not connected to the fourth note as the second was to the third.   It is the ear that can detect such slight discrepancies, and can do so more directly than any through kinesthetic awareness of a change in the muscular sensations we experience executing the notes.   In fact, often our muscle awareness tells us that things are perfectly even when a deviation from evenness is apparent to the ear (just as sometimes our left hand physically feels as if it is playing just as fast as the right hand has just played, but in fact is playing slower).

Notes that occur at various time intervals from emphasized notes sometimes are hard to pay attention to, because our attention, having been roused by the emphasized note (like a down beat, or any important beat of a measure) may now go into eclipse briefly on the way to the next rhythmically important note*.  Our awareness dims or shuts off for a split second.

If the ear cannot be specific in identifying between which two notes the sound linkage is failing, or sounds different than the other connections, then a slightly more statistical process can be applied.  If there is a six note group, for example, one can practice the connection from the first to second note, doing this once, or few, or may times.  Then similarly for the  connection between the second and third note, and so, through the connection between the sixth note and the next first note.  This is a more democratic procedure, each connection is brought under the microscope.  In reference to what we said about the emphasis a note gets and its position in the rhythmic group, this puts, first one and then another of the six notes, in the position of being a “first” note or emphasized note for the nonce.   For just the shift of emphasis onto a note not usually emphasized in a group, makes it easier for us to detect any minor problem in how we are playing that note and connecting it to the next note.

* In the case of a six note group for example, the most obvious note connections are made between 1 and 2, and 4 and 5.  the connection between 2 and 3 is harder to keep track of, as well as 5 to 6.  Perhaps the easiest ones to slip our attention is 3 to 4 and 6 to 1 because our attention may already bet set on 4 when we are still dealing with 3, or if our attention is already set on 1 while we are still dealing with 6.

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