Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's in a Note?

It's a good question: Why does so much music instruction require learning music theory when so much great Classical (and other) composition is based on completely different uses of tone and tone systems?   I have never understood this.

What I do understand, because my teaching has for many years been based on this principle, is that when the ear is engaged a priori without the interference of theoretical concepts, students comprehend music viscerally--even the most demanding music.  They do not have to be told what the music is or what it might be about; they simply get it.

To cite an example: Having learned to identify chords and chord progressions I became quickly bored with slow tempos.  There was nothing to listen for, so how was I to wrap my mind around a single sound that lasted for more than a half-second?

To the engaged ear every sound on the piano becomes magical.  Every mixture of tones that we might call a chord becomes vibrant, alive, and suggests further movement or development.

This is why my students can play a Mozart Adagio at sight better than I could play one even after practicing.

It is simply wrong-headed to equate piano instruction with eye-based and concept-based notions.  At most this produces efficient reading.  But what is efficient about a Mozart Adagio?