The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self


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The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self

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Please re-enter recipient e-mail address es. You may send this item to up to five recipients. The name field is required. Please enter your name. As Stephen Nachmanovitch sums up the dynamic quality of improvisation in his compelling book Free Play , "The noun of self becomes a verb. Group improvisation ranks among the purest delights music can offer. If you are in a drumming circle and, after some experimentation, the group somehow comes up with a rich, funky, humorous rhythmic groove that none of you thought of individually but all contributed to , the genuine belly laugh you share afterward is richly fulfilling.

According to Nachmanovitch, Leonardo da Vinci kept his creativity stimulated through group improvisation with his friends—they liked to make up fanciful operas and sing all the parts.

Composing is creating in a more thought-out way—making a structured statement in the language of music. When composing, we can revise, plan, construct and manipulate musical elements in original ways. One of the most impressive ways in which piano teaching has improved in recent years is the greatly increasing numbers of teachers who routinely integrate composing into the musical journey of all their students.

This wise approach was practically unknown when I was a child. Harmonizing and playing by ear are functional and extremely useful "outer skills. People expect them to be able to do this, and they are quite right to expect it. If diligent music majors can't utilize a basic skill to share a familiar song with others, then what exactly are they learning in school? Suggestions: Even though we know it's essential to improvise, the very word "improvisation" can cause the chill of fear to grip our chests; what if we embarrass ourselves in front of others by fumbling badly or drawing a blank?

One technique that helped me improvise more comfortably came from the remarkable grassroots organization Music for People, whose workshops I heartily recommend. I call this "Atonal Improvisation" and have had a wonderful time passing it on to students and fellow teachers. The only ground rule? Only dissonance is allowed, and the more random the better.

We don't want wrong-note anxiety to be the bugaboo. Sit with your student duet-style, with the student in the treble.

The Perfect Wrong Note : Learning to Trust Your Musical Self

Start the "ostinato"—some sort of atmospheric dissonant soundscape, with repetitive patterns. Perhaps a moody underwater one—think 20, Leagues Under the Sea with creepy overlapping harmonies and lots of mushy pedal. The student listens for a bit and then adds, expressively, an atonal, free solo. Just about any notes will sound good, if imagination and spirit are there. Do not comment or evaluate at all; just delve into the feeling.

Create a nice ending together, share a good laugh and say, "Let's try something different! The student senses this different energy and jumps in.


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Afterwards, you can reverse roles, with the student making up the ostinato and the mood—and there has to be a mood, not just random abstract patterns. Exercises like these are fun, vanquish the fear and thus make later "tonal" improvisations easier to try. Playing by ear—finding chord structures readily—is tricky to teach, I find. Some people seem to have known from birth how to do this, while others are mystified.

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Those who do have the knack aren't always clear about how they do it, and this makes it hard to explain to others. I did have good luck recently, though, with a graduate student who was highly motivated to improve at keyboard harmony; he didn't trust his ear and would panic when he had to find chords.

Here's what we did: the idea was to take one song, a familiar one that moves nicely through the basic chords, and become really fluent in it. We chose that old cowboy standby Red River Valley , and it served us very well.

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It has a satisfying harmonic sequence with just enough movement:. Seated at two pianos, we did it in three or four keys to begin, and ultimately, in every key. One of us would play the tune in octaves, while the other supplied only the chords, "oom-pah style" with open octaves in the left hand and triads in the right. We would switch roles frequently, without any break in the tempo. At first the student hesitated with the chord changes and fumbled quite often, messing up accidentals in the tune as we jumped from key to key and so on.

But because the song is short and straightforward, practicing yielded good results; after several weeks more fluency began to kick in, and his confidence along with it. Yes, several weeks—you really have to stick with it.

The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self - Amber Schumacher,

It's a great help to do this at two pianos because the sonority is always big and full, and the tempo keeps going, as opposed to the fragmentary sounds the novice harmonizer tends to produce when playing alone. Importance: This skill means going beyond correctness, for example, merely "observing" the crescendo or the accent, and truly responding to the aliveness of musical details.

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This is a precious skill, and when a performer has it, it's immediately noticeable to any listener. Teachers and judges talk about "dynamic contrast" all the time, but is there any intrinsic expressive meaning when changing abruptly from loud to soft? Not unless we bring intention to the moment. Dynamics themselves have no meaning or human interest, and our jobs as performers are not done when we simply have obeyed the markings. If the passage calls for pianissimo , does that imply the music is ghostly, or whispering, or dreamy or tender? There may be several possible "good" answers here; in fact, any imaginative intention will bring the music to life.

The same, of course, holds true for articulations and rhythmic elements—they can be alive or merely correct. Traditional teaching has not always excelled in this area. Describing emotional import to students, even with the most compelling words, doesn't necessarily help them make an authentic connection. And maybe their best connection will turn out to be a different one anyway! Conducting while they play, singing along, gesticulating, working ourselves into a lather, may be fun for us teachers, but doesn't necessarily "impart" emotional expressivity to the student.

So what can we do instead? I'm amazed his innovations didn't quite revolutionize music instruction as they might have, but the powerful idea is simple: get away from the instrument and experience every musical element with your whole body, your whole self. If possible, find a playful way to do it—playfulness expands the creative range. Then, when you've found expressive vividness and energized the elements, take that sense back to the instrument and let the notes flow from it.

I find it's essential for teachers to join in this exploration, not just sit on the sidelines and direct the student to "dance that phrase. Stand opposite your student in the center of the room; take a minute for both of you to breathe and loosen up. Say to her, "Just do whatever I do, like an image in the mirror.

Match my energy. Feel free to overdo it a bit--be theatrical. Try it a couple ways, making them all different; in other words, "brainstorm" instead of dictating one interpretation. Be sure the student matches your full energy every time. Now say, "OK, you try it" and mirror faithfully whatever she does. Don't evaluate; just say encouragingly, "Fine, let's see a different one!

The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self
The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self
The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self
The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self
The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self

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