One shortcoming of Musical Notation

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by trumpetsplus, Jan 10, 2015.

  1. kehaulani

    kehaulani Fortissimo User

    May 14, 2011
    Hawaian homey
    You know, I'm a little lost. Just how problematic is this? I don't mean this as an insult, but how many of us have actually written music where it was impossible, through the existing notational choices to have our hands tied putting down on paper pretty much what we intend? Is a straw man being built here to get a point across when there's really not much of a real problem. As I am following this thread, it seems to me that the only real problems that might exist are with performers having problems getting the interpretation down. And in that case, I would suggest that the problem originated with the composer not knowing how to get his point across.

    Granted, there are times when something might be a bit ambiguous but in my experience, again, that's often the inability of the writer to use the tools that already exist. I'm just not seeing a problem to the degree that this thread might imply.
  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I agree with you, but considering that this IS an issue with many "less experienced" players, it surely is worthy of a thread. When working with school and amateur players, placing dotted notes is a huge issue. On the other hand, we can also take issue with the written english language not having a notated rhythmic/articulative aspect.

  3. Sethoflagos

    Sethoflagos Utimate User

    Aug 7, 2013
    Lagos, Nigeria
    Surely learning to sight read difficult rhythmic structures is every bit part and parcel of becoming an accomplished player. Learning the various forms of upbeat grace notes (preceding semiquavers, acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas etc), their notation and execution are no less important than learning scales and tonguing techniques.

    If I had a real grievance over notation, it would be against those who ignore the natural rhythmic subdivisions of the bar. One particularly loathsome practice is placing a crotchet (quarter-note) rest across a strong beat instead of using two quaver (eighth-note) rests. But that's just my own personal niggle.
  4. tedh1951

    tedh1951 Utimate User

    Oct 18, 2007
    The Wide Brown Land
    It is certainly a valuable discussion, having come back from a point where I could no longer read music, nor make a real note on my trumpet, proper notation helps me immensely. I learn something new everytime I log on here, and everytime I play a "new" piece. Ivan's pick-up note is something that has reasonably recently come to my realisation, for example - and my timing and expression reflects either my former lack of knowledge, or my new found musicianship. Keep on with the comment - I'm not dead yet, and while I breathe I learn. I reckon I'm not the only one here. Thank you all.
  5. kehaulani

    kehaulani Fortissimo User

    May 14, 2011
    Hawaian homey
    Then you might get a kick out of this, (placement of dotted notes). Myself and a colleague were staff arrangers for a large concert band and 24 piece chorus. Since the more concert music was already available through publishers, we mostly wrote more commercial music, flirting with jazz. Lew's music always swung while mine just had a little something missing. I knew I was not writing bad figures because I had written for some great big bands, previously.

    One day, after another slightly frustrating sight-reading session where Lew's chart out swung mine, I asked him for his score. Where my entire score used eighth notes (intended to be swung), his had eighth notes in the brasses and saxes and for the rest of the woodwind sections he had written all the parts in 12/8, LOL. In other words, in the sections with players traditionally experienced in big band, he had written the parts in duple time, and in the other sections which was populated with mainly classical musicians, he had written the parts in triple time. Sneaky bastard. The next time I brought a chart in, it swung like hell, LOL.

    Eighth noted in 4/4 and triplets in 12/8 - both played just about the same.
  6. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    Notes are a graphic for the pace of the conversation within the song... and often times, not a very good scaffold to support the intended conversation. Let me provide an example. The song "You Go to My Head".

    At the bridge, there is a series of triplet phrases that proceed:

    x.-x l x-x-x x-x-x l x-x-x x-x-x l x-x-x x-x-x l x.

    The vocal phrase:

    Still I say to my-self, "Get a hold of your-self, can't you see that it nev-er can be."

    There is just no way the notation of the notes can give justice to the tempo of the phrase. So I ignore the notes and just recite the word in my head as I play this line.
  7. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

    Jan 28, 2011
    Dayton, Ohio
    Another example: Randy Weston's tune "Hi-Fly". I had the darnedest time getting the tied eight notes to the sixteenth eight sixteenth note notation that followed down to the pleasure of my band leader. And this opening phrase to the song repeats itself in series 6 times, so getting it right was a big deal for our band leader that had the phrase the way he wanted it in his mind. Problem is, there are no words to this song. So I asked the leader to sing it the way he feels it... He did. It went to the phrase that I came up with as:

    I don't give a damn... I don't give a damn.
    I don't give a damn... I don't give a damn.
    I don't give a damn... I don't give a damn.
    To you

    When I played it with this phrase going through my mind he smiled from ear to ear and shouted "That's it". Then when I told him the mental method I used to get the phrase right he got ticked off at me saying there may be someone in the audience that would pick up on my thoughts and be offended this. SO I changed it to:

    I can build a dam... I can build a dam.
    I can build a dam... I can build a dam.
    I can build a dam... I can build a dam.
    For you.

    Just goes to show, it is possible to please everybody.
  8. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    I don't think that he posted the article or created the thread because it's a widespread problem. I think it was done mostly as food for thought so that maybe we approach the written page with a bit more insight about the intentions vs. structure of the phrase or line, and thus become more musical as a result.

    One of the things I touched on earlier was playing in a swing band. Swing eighths are never written as they are intended to be played, so anyone who becomes versed in the style quickly learns that there is definite intention for the feel behind how the lines are written, and it's unique to the style itself.

    Another example that's unique to playing swing is what I refer to as the "written release." Often times an eighth note is tied over to the next beat. In a classical setting, we'd play that full value, but in swing, that's a hard cut on the beat, and I'm not talking a breath release either - in a hard, fast swing tune with a written release like that, it's a hard stop with the tongue, and that hard stop often leads to the attack of the next phrase, which helps the timing and unity of the section as a whole. The next time you're listening to big band swing, listen for it and you'll hear it. When all of the players in the section are on board with those basic rules, that's what makes the section tight - attacks are tight and together, releases are in sync - that's just how it gets done. Of course you also have to listen to the lead and listen in to the section - you can't develop that kind of unity if you don't - the rules of the page only go so far.

    To further illustrate that written release, what if the arranger for the tune isn't hip to how swing charts are arranged, and they don't include written releases into their arranging? It would make it harder for an ensemble to play it stylistically correct because they'd no longer be seeing the figures written the way they are used to. Context also plays an important role when we consider music notation and how it applies to our interpretation for how we play it.

    Again, it's not really a problem - just something to consider the next time you're sitting in front of a page of music getting ready to play.
  9. tobylou8

    tobylou8 Utimate User

    Dec 22, 2008
    Swing eighths in a concert band can be a big problem if you're one of the few that knows how they are to be played. Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride is my example. It's supposed to swing at the end but rarely does regardless of the band. Also had a Christmas song that had the dotted eighth/sixteenth phrase throughout. It was constantly, initially played as triplets by some and some other 3 note combo by others! :-) We did work it out finally.
  10. Phil986

    Phil986 Forte User

    Nov 16, 2009
    Near Portland, OR.
    Wholeheartedly agreed from a non native speaker and adult learner of music. This is especially a problem for non native speakers who come from tongues that do not have a tonic accent on any part of the word (i.e. an accentuated syllable). It makes it impossible in a lot of cases to know how the word is supposed to sound if you have not heard it before. It also can, if erroneous, make a word impossible to understand for a native speaker, even though the only difference is the accent not being there or being on the wrong syllable. Funnily enough, native speakers can not replicate the effect either (not do the accent), even if they try. It is so deeply ingrained that it takes enormous effort to not do it. It's easy for an English speaker to sound like a US southerner or a Londoner with a little effort (nobody, however, can sound like a Scot, another story entirely). I have never heard a convincing French or Spanish accent from a native English speaker who had not had exposure to that language at a young age. Most have difficulty to understand that there is no syllable in the word that needs accent, and that vowels are not slurred.

    Being an adult learner of music is a somewhat different situation. Music is a universal language that is based on emotions and feelings. It is not necessary to be an early learner or have intimate knowledge of all the academic aspects in order to respond to music. It doesn't matter that you don't know Latin, or the intricacies of composing for orchestra and choir, when hearing the Dies Irae of Mozart's Requiem, you still get it. When learning as an adult who has listened to music for a lifetime, one needs to bridge something very familiar and well practiced in an area of the brain with a totally new language skill. Kinda like an illiterate but intelligent person, who would be very articulate in the spoken language but would never have learned to read and write.

    I agree with Ivan that what he pointed is somewhat of a shortcoming of notation. It is especially true because, in my opinion, rhythm is the most important component of the reading/comprehension of notation, it defines the structure of the musical phrase. It is also somewhat more cryptic than the other part (the nature, or height of the note) and has a lot more variation to it.

    However, no way of putting sounds on paper is totally satisfactory. In the written language, there is an enormous amount of information that is not encoded because it is dependent on the meaning of what is written and it relies on the reader understanding and acting accordingly: we know to change the tone at the end of question because we see that the sentence is a question. We can throw in all sorts of variations that will suggest very subtle alterations on the meaning of the word, we can suggest innuendo with words that could be said in an otherwise totally innocent fashion.

    An experienced musician knows to identify the main feature of a piece, its variations, when it is being transformed, elaborated on etc. He will play accordingly. He will know the character and even the historical context of a piece, which calls for a certain way of playing. So I also agree with Rowuk that this is more of a beginner's problem. What it shows, IMO, is that learning music, is not exactly a do-it-yourself type of thing for most people. Just like we need the interactions with others to know how to vary our tone when reading the normal language, we need the teaching and interaction with other players to know how to make music out of the ink on the page.

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