Appy Polly Loggies


Sorry for recent unresponsiveness; I was in Chicago all last weekend with infrequent internet access. I got home yesterday afternoon, went straight to class (for which I was late and sat in the back), spent last night reading for today's classes, went to 5 hours of class today, did laundry, bought hornbooks and ran necessary errands around the neighborhood, and am now packing to leave for the airport at 4 AM to fly to Arizona for Thanksgiving, where I will be until Sunday.

While I'm out: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "It is impossible to understand a piece of music without actually playing it yourself." I once got into a bitter argument with a friend over this. What are your thoughts?


Mostly Disagree because it is a broad generalization.

Music as an art form is such an emotional thing, that there is really no way to measure "understanding." And to further argue the point, unless you're playing a piece for one musician, how can you understand the whole work? You're only playing the melody, or the harmony, or the rhythm and continuo!

If you're talking understanding it theoretically, then all it takes is time spent analyzing the piece.

As a pianist I would say that playing a musical piece can definitely further your understanding of a piece, but it is not impossible to understand a piece without playing it. Many musicians analyze orchestral pieces without being able to play it... because no one is physically able to play that many instruments at once...

For me, playing a piece on piano really only offers me technical enlightenment. I am better able to interpret a piece by listening to it.

I would point out that I do have a silent grudge against self-proclaimed "music buffs" who cannot read sheet music or play an instrument. But that's more of an elitist symptom from my classical training.
Music buffs referring to people who talk incessantly about msuic but only use phrases like "it sounds cool" or "i like the beat" to explain why they enjoy a particular pop tune.

Hope you had a happy thanksgiving!

I agree with the two of you, and disagree with the original statement.

I had the argument with the friend in High School; I played the tuba, and she the violin, which explains the two perspectives that we had. She was the concert master in the orchestra, so she was playing the melody most of the time in most pieces. I, on the other hand, was providing only the very low harmonies. The idea that playing a piece was necessary to know it seemed a little daft to me; if you're playing the tuba part, you become intimately familiar with the low harmony and the tempo, but I wouldn't say that that familiarity was necessary to "get" the music.

But I can see where she was coming from, since she was playing arguably the most important part in most of the pieces we performed. Still, though, in my experience playing a piece can in some ways impede knowing it, if it results in a myopic focus on your portion of it. I have a tough time appreciating in toto some of the pieces we played because, when I listen to them, the low brass parts stand out and I become focused on that part of the performance.

I've also heard an argument from James Levine, of the Metropolitan Opera, that playing it yourself can corrupt your understanding of a piece. You'll have certain tricks and spins on playing that you use, and if your first encounter with a piece is your own performance of it then your basic idea of the piece will be the one that has the prejudices of your performance style built into it. He prefers to encounter a piece fresh in the form of the sheet music so he can have an idealized perception of the piece before he actually hears it.

February 2012
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

Contact Zach


Webcomics of Which I am a Fan

Sites I Read Daily: Politics

Sites I Read Daily: Video Gaming

Sites I Read Daily: General Miscellany

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Zach published on November 22, 2006 2:15 AM.

The North FarceorBaby's Got Pack was the previous entry in this blog.

Mai Oui! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 5.04