Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Musical Reverse Engineering

I gave each of my young students a book of manuscript paper as a holiday gift this year. Hal Leonard sells a cheery one that has a nice plastic spiral binding and a nice notation guide (I also got one for myself, which I use all the time). I didn't give my students assignments involving the manuscript paper, but I told them that if they need manuscript paper to write something of their own, it is there.

Yesterday one student presented me with a short piece of music that she wrote using the manuscript paper. She told me that when she got the book she didn't know what to do with it, so she put it on her shelf. Suddenly, as she was practicing, she had an original musical idea, so she got out the manuscript paper and did her best to write it down. She told me that she wrote the first part on one day, and the second part a little later.

We spent the first five minutes of her lesson figuring out the key and meter, figuring out what the note values were, and figuring out the articulation (she was extremely particular). Surprisingly it turned out to be four logical measures of 5/4 time in E minor. There were two repetitions of one motive, a new motive, a further statement of the original motive, and a concluding motive. It all made perfect musical sense, and it was entirely original.

The process of doing this heightened her awareness of what Handel was doing when he decided to have a dotted quarter note followed by an eighth note rather than two quarter notes. She felt a deeper understanding of what it is that a composer does when s/he writes a piece of music.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant! And brava to you for your student seeing a next step forward. When one thinks that composers centuries ago were trained in part by copying out whole works, the notion of "boring the body" while teaching the mind is repeated. Jotting down, then jotting down again, and then figuring things out. Isn't that what we do when we compose, after all? Surveying some sketchbooks tells that what we do is write, in the physical sense. Pen to paper, as images to an engraving program, but writing nonetheless. Your students must feel most fortunate to have you there for them. And the world turns.

Fresca said...

What a great gift (in both directions)!
Hey--Happy Tenth Blog Anniversary (I saw on Orange Crate Art)!