The Zen of Playing Silence

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I'm currently working up to playing an arrangement of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', which includes these two bars:

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So, I do as I've been taught, and count in quavers, yet getting the start and finish of those two quaver rests right is more awkward than I would have believed possible. And what usually happens is that, if I get the first bar right, the second bar goes wrong - yet when I listen to the piece being played, it sounds so straightforward.

In complete contrast, the first time I heard the arrangement of the theme from 'Game of Thrones' being played, I thought the part where it has that lilting rhythm (as here)
1575317071150.png

was going to be really tricky to get right - yet, after a minute or so, I was getting it right consistently (well below written tempo, but I was making solid progress on that), and even the fingering turned out to be very simple indeed.

A weird business, this music lark, innit?

Jack
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
However much one counts rigidly to meter a passage (and the more rigidly the better, most of the time), there's always an element of feeling the beat intuitively. Your top example is syncopated i.e. featuring a pattern that cuts across some beats - it's difficult to feel because the second bar 'resets' the pattern after only one repetition; if it continued in the pattern of the first bar I wager you'd find it much easier. Try as an experiment playing it with that crotchet rest at the start of the second bar moved to the end of the bar rather than the start - then, although the pattern still cuts across the crotchet beat, you have a continuous sequence of four crotchet+quaver patterns, which feels much more natural than with a little hiatus in the middle as written.

In quite a real sense, advancing as a musician comes down to getting a bigger and bigger library of patterns compiled in your head as familiar - pitch and time being the two obvious variables, but also such attributes as dynamic and timbre too. The GoT motif is easy to intuit because it's a basic triple time one in a bar, a rhythmic set-up we all already know, while you have to put a bit of a 'jazz head' on to properly feel the ALotBSoL bars. Jazzers have a lot to teach regarding the intuiting of difficult rhythms in general - funking around with syncopation is a basic part of their skillset.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Thank you for your suggestion, Dave - I will give it a try and let you know how it goes.

Oddly enough, one of my favourite pieces, which I play purely for myself, is 'When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful', the old Fats Waller number - and the first time one of my tutors heard me play that whilst warming up, he said, "You're making that swing really nicely - even though you aren't playing at all how it's written!"

He said players who started in either orchestral or brass found it quite tricky to play a piece like that as it's supposed to be played, as their training tends to make them lock solidly onto the beat, so it goes against the grain for them to shift their timing to make it swing.

Having spent 50 years and more getting into rock and blues, making it swing comes very natural to me, and I would find it really awkward to try and play a piece like 'WSTYWonderful', or 'My Very Good Friend the Milkman', and play it without swing! It would feel like trying to walk whilst swinging my arms at a slightly different tempo to my legs . . . :oops:

With best regards,

Jack
 

GER

Active Member
Try clapping/tapping the rhythm to get it into your head before playing it, if you have an electronic metronome, you can set that and clap along to it. Clapping/tapping is a very useful tool in sorting unusual rhythms out
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Swing playing is all about a solid beat. It just relates to that beat in different ways to the way that a classical music training teaches you to - there's loads of little subtleties that define the differences between genres - or even between bands.
 

Gtrom

Member
A very well respected brass band conductor once told me that brass bands swing like a row of terraced houses, I think he has a point!

Personally I love a bit of prog rock, and it's definitely helped me swing on the odd occasion I'm asked to, especially when helping out the local Blues Band (Big Train Blues Band).
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Try clapping/tapping the rhythm to get it into your head before playing it, if you have an electronic metronome, you can set that and clap along to it. Clapping/tapping is a very useful tool in sorting unusual rhythms out
As a very general comment, for any readers in general, I would add that slowing down the metronome is good too. Tap the rhythm out slowly and then gradually build up to the pace expected, and maybe a bit quicker than it too. Once the rhythm is mastered then add in playing, again slowly to start.

I read somewhere above about ‘feeling’ the beat and find that that is true for me. The Bass section (where I am now) have all simple notes and rhythms until we suddenly don’t, at which point it’s essential to both feel the beat and have fingers that are capable of moving valves almost just as (‘lightening’) fast as the Euphonium players do. Somehow you just have to ‘know’ where to place the next note and then do so with confidence and volume. Sometimes we get things wrong, and if you’re a Bass player then everybody hears your mistake. However, that’s what home practice and rehearsals are for, learning to get things right that is rather than making mistakes :) .

Back to thinking about silence. Until I started to play Bass I hadn’t realised just how very important silence is and how it is often inferred rather than written. Even when they are not written that way a bit of separation between notes allows the rhythm to be more clearly heard, silence is indeed an art.
 
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Music is a science but music notation is shorthand or text speak. Notes have no defined length, only the beats have defined separation from each other. Even crochet notes in 4/4 start before the beat and end even further before the next beat to allow you to start playing the next note which needs to sound on the beat. Playing Carols I like the long notes at the end of the sung phrases to be chopped back, Dotted crochet instead of a minim to get a clean break and clean phrase. Choirs and organists often add a whole beat between hymn phrases, (it sounds awful to me)
The original post "Always look on the bright side," is something I would write as crochet, quaver rest, quaver tied to quaver and quaver rest, that seems to be the modern protocol, though a hundred years ago Crochet quaver rest, crochet quaver rest would have been more usual. You might find it better to play to the computer which is playing your part than to a metronome which unless its clicking away at 8 quavers to the bar speed won't really help. Write the part in Musescore or Sibelius with a bit of a lead in and listen through the headphones watch the cursor on screen and play along. One issue I have with many otherwise good, excellent even bands is that they don't play bar lines. Every note is the same no matter where in the bar instead of 1st beat being emphasised and in 4/4 the third also having more weight than 2nd and 4th. The rhythm should run all the way through t'band not just rely on't drummer. I don't fancy playing "Always look on the bright side," as a with our 60 - 90 age group audience singing along with "Life's a piece of shit,when you look at it," might be frowned on
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
Thank you for the suggestions, David - though I must admit that I can't see that writing the second crotchet as two tied quavers would make it any easier for me; it's having to start that note on (effectively) the sixth beat of a bar in 8/8 is what throws me.
I can't use even Sibelius First, as it requires at least Windows 8 (my computer is Windows 7 Home Premium), and I hadn't heard of Musescore before now, so I will check that out.
I've been using software called Crescendo, which has proved quite useful in many ways, and it does have a play facility - with a distinct drawback, in that if you tie two notes together, it plays them as two seperate notes. That said, it might be worth writing the tune into Crescendo, but writing that 2nd crotchet as two tied quavers, then listening to that to lock the pattern into my mind.
The biggest problem for me is that my usual practise room is my phone box-sized shower room, which is barely big enough to hold me, a chair, my baritone and a music stand; fitting my desktop computer and speakers in there as well is impossible. As the sound-proofing between mine and the other flats is as near non-existent as makes no odds, using the living room is a non-starter unless I use the Sshmute all the time (which I find heavy going).
I do, though, have a TGI electronic metronome, which I can set to give me 8 quavers in a bar, and which emphasises the first beat of each bar by playing that at a higher pitch than the rest - or I could set it so as to effectively divide the bar into 8 quaver beats, but accenting the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th; that might be worth a try.
One issue I have with many otherwise good, excellent even bands is that they don't play bar lines. Every note is the same no matter where in the bar instead of 1st beat being emphasised and in 4/4 the third also having more weight than 2nd and 4th.
I agree, very much - really takes the life out of a piece to play it like that! Even more so, to listen to a classic waltz, such as Khachaturian's glorious piece, 'Masquerade', played with same weight on all three beats, instead of 1, 2, 3 - so it sounds as though it was being played by a machine, instead of like this:

I believe it was Beethoven who said that playing a wrong note was excusable, but that playing music without passion was unforgivable!
With best regards,
Jack
 
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