I have just put up a blog on this.
An Issue with Musical Notation
Here is the content:
Musical notation is, at best, an approximate indicator of how a piece of music should sound. Listening to a synthethized playback from musical notation software will certainly demonstrate this.
I am a very accomplished sight-reader of music. This ability held me in good stead when I was a first call studio player all those years ago in New Zealand. Even now, my typical first reading of any part will be error free. But I have a lot of difficulty when I am presented with an aria to sing.
What is the difference?
Beams! Those lines which join notes in groups of three, or four, or whatever the rhythm suggests. Beams exist in vocal music only between notes on the same syllable, whereas they are always there in instrumental music to hold together the notes contained within a common rhythmic unit (beat or half beat etc).
The first glance of an instrumental part will show the rhythmic patterns very clearly outlined by the beams. We see a group of two, or three, or four, as being a collection of notes following the first. Letís be clear about this. The notes all follow the first; they come after the first note. And in the rhythmic pattern dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth (or dotted quarter followed by an eighth etc), the short note comes after the long note. It is rhythmically connected to the preceding long note.
We teach musical notation in terms of notes following each other; coming after. In the above mentioned dotted example, we teach: One, two - And Three, four - And. I believe that this is all backwards. The And does not belong to the two, or the four. The And belongs to the Three(and the next One). The pattern should be: dit Dah, dit Dah, rather than Dah dit, Dah dit. All short notes belong to the note which follows. They are preparatory notes to the long ones. This holds for all single or multiple notes leading up to a longer one.
When you scan any piece of music you will see many examples of one or many shorter notes leading up to a longer one. One famous example is the opening four note motif of Beethovenís Fifth Symphony. The three Gs are relentlessly moving towards the held E flat.
My difficulty with vocal music is that whatever beams there are, do not relate even in this reverse way to the rhythmic structure of the melody. This makes the lines more difficult to sight read, but makes them easier to sing as music.