Friday, December 26, 2014

Accurate Ear Trumps Theoretical Concepts

A young computer animator who has been studying with me for 17 years has perhaps the most accurate ear of anyone I have ever taught.  That means that he feels, internalizes, every sound he hears and has reactions to each sound.

Today his constant error on a particular chord in the famous Minuet of Beethoven's D major Sonata, Op. 10, No. 3, exposed exactly how the clash of overtones in a specific first inversion triad totally confuses the ear, therefore, in his case, the fingers.

He simply cannot willy-nilly put his fingers on the "right" notes knowing in advance that they will sound terrible.  When I look at the offending combination I say to myself, "Oh!  It's a first-inversion major chord,"  play the notes correctly and move on.

As I pointed out to him, this was not always the case.  Such sounds completely threw me when I was a child, to such an extent as to produce nightmares.  This sensitivity was never brought up in all my music study until, in my early 20s, I resumed serious piano lessons having studied organ during college and on a Fulbright. 

The very first lesson I had with the great teacher, Hans Neumann, was on the subject of overtones, as he demonstrated how out of tune a first inversion major triad can be.

I am eternally grateful to him.  It explained and explains a great deal about how composition works, especially how the element of humor/irony enters into the work of a master who knows wherein the source of power lies.