Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Having Trouble Counting to 'Two'?

There's so much counting required in playing music! How many beats in a measure? How many measures in a part? How many parts in a tune? How many times do you have to play each part? How do I keep up with all of this? 

Certain types of music do have a regular structure, particularly music written for dancing. Much of the traditional dance music played on the hammered dulcimer follows an AABB structure, where each letter represents a separate 8-measure part. The written music typically shows Part A written with a repeat, then Part B written with a repeat. So, the A Part is played twice (8 bars + 8 bars), then the B Part is played twice (8 bars + 8 bars), for a total of 32 measures.

If you play for set dances ... contra dances, for example ... the dance movements are designed to fit the music and vice versa. You may hear a piece of music being referred to as "crooked". That means it doesn't fit the standard 32 measure form, and that piece of music would not be welcome in the dance hall! If you're playing the music and want to ruin a good dance, skip an A or B part. You won't be asked back.

There is a typical structure that exists within the AABB form that may be considered in two-measure units. Call - Response - Call - Different Response , where the "call" is exactly the same phrase. Additionally, sometimes the end of the B part is exactly the same as the end of the A part. All this repetition comes in handy when learning a piece of music, but the more repetitive the phrases, the more confusing it can get. It is not uncommon for musicians to get lost in a piece of music. Suddenly it's unclear ... am I playing A1 or A2?!

I have to admit, I sometimes have difficulty counting to two!

What to do?

It starts with PRACTICE
Some of my students are in the habit of NOT playing the repeats in a piece of music. This is a bad habit. Tunes contain multiple cues within the phrasing that help us keep our place. By playing in improper form you are training your ear to hear the tune improperly and training your brain and hands to play the tune improperly. Always practice a tune in the proper form.

Especially in highly repetitive tunes, use arranging ideas to create something different in a tune that will help you keep your place. Settle on a plan that you like then habitually play it that way. For example:

  • Always play the first ending of a part one way, the second ending a different way
  • Play one part in one octave, more to another octave for the repeating part
  • Embellish a phrase in one part, use a variation in the other

Nothing beats FOCUS
You must be 'in the moment' to successfully play music. Keep your thoughts on what you're doing. This is often easier said than done, but it does get better with practice!

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