Using the ear to full advantage
September 16, 2021
Grieg: Holberg Suite: IV: “Air” (lyrical movement)
Here is an exercise for balancing chords, and also for hearing the separate voices in the chord. This is a purely listening exercise. There is nothing you have to do by way of altering or adjusting the sounds.
Take any chord. How about c2-g2–e3-c4: a nice ‘juicy’ C Major chord? Play the chord once, holding it long enough to enjoy its resonance. We are now going to ‘extract’ the single notes from the chord. Once the chord has finished sounding, feel as if you are going to play the chord a second time, but instead sound just one of the notes from the chord. We’ll start by repeating just the note c2 from the bottom of the chord. Question: did the c2 by itself sound as you expected? Was it as loud as you expected it to be given that there had been three other notes present a moment earlier? Another way of asking the question is: Was the c2 “in balance” with the rest of the chord as played a moment earlier? Do you think that’s how loud it sounded when it was inside the chord as a whole. If you repeat the experiment with the c2, try not to play the c2 intentionally louder or softer to offset any imbalance that you anticipate might happen when the full chord is no longer there; try rather play the note exactly as you played it in the full context of the chord. This exercise is only about awareness.
Repeat the same process for the g2; then the e3; and c4 (the tenor, alto and soprano voices).
Now that you have ‘extracted’ each note from the chord, play the original chord and see if you hear, with equal ease, every note in the chord, including those buried on the inside of the chord. There is no passing or failing grade.
Another hearing exercise is to compare the sound of two notes that are not immediately sounding one after the other. For example you can compare the sound of the note that is current in the piece with the note that is not the next note after it, but the second note after the current note, by leaving out the note that comes between them so that as the first note ends the third note begins, with no silence, or ‘rhythmic padding’ to stand in as a rest or placeholder for the missing note.
Or you can leave out two notes from a melody and compare the sound of the current note with the note that sounds three notes after it. Etc.. You are a spider establishing cross links in the web of a melody that will hold the adjacent pieces more tightly in their overall frame.
To pedal or not to pedal.
I mentioned the fact that at a certain point in the “Air”, A.B.’s pedaling was interfering with the cantabile of a diatonic melody. A.B. said: “the pedal is supposed to do that”. I say: if one has a good ear, then it doesn’t matter if you are or aren’t using the pedal. The same effect can be achieved in either way. For there is a way to make the sounds ‘sound’ pedaled even if the pedal is not down. The difference we perceive, at bottom, is more than a change in the quality of the sounds, the quality of their connections, and how the artist’s near term memory of the previous sounds still resonate together in their head, that makes it sound pedal-like or non-pedal-like.