Commitment to Sound 5- Is it the instrument?

This short post is just a reminder really to myself, and maybe others, that it is easy to become very comfortable playing your own instrument all the time. We become accustomed to the nuances of sound it can create, it’s certain strengths and how to play to them. We so often forget to spend some time trying others of our instrument and listening to what it can teach us about sound.

It is the most liberating feeling to be trying out different cellos and I find that you notice what issues are essentially ‘you’ and which are to do with your instrument. If a certain sound is suffering on all instruments I try, I must know it is something for me to work on more technically. Similarly with bow weight and string crossings, some instruments will feel very natural to play and others ask you to work much harder. A great part of playing lots of different instruments is that we suddenly listen better because we are reacting to a sound that is unfamiliar. With different instruments to try, we are able to experiment with sounds to such a greater degree and have more scope for improvement as we are forced to listen deeper. Pianists often see changing instruments as a curse, but I think it must teach them to adapt, listen and to play to a higher standard for the instance of an instrument that isn’t quite up to standard. Something we certainly can learn from.

A side note, but this thought about instruments comes about after I took my bow for a rehair last week and discovered it had incurred a crack among many other issues. Upon playing the bow I had been leant for a few days, I was astonished to hear the vast change in sound of my instrument. I felt so much more confident on a bow that was working well. It just goes to show how often negligence of our tools can make our sound suffer.

Trying different instruments gives us a bigger picture of sound worlds. We can learn so much about how sound is created and how we react to it by frequently going out of our instrumental comfort zone.

Commitment to Sound 4- sound in tension?

I am coming to realise the differences between a sound of monotony and one of nuance often lies in the use of tension and release.

First it is important to think about what tension might mean. Tension and release are naturally found in the keys and textures of the music. There are moments in music of obvious tension and freedom and release. The way in which a composer modulates, or how they create a certain emotion, determines the tension we create.

We can only practice how we use tension and release if we are aware of how we fit in the music. In sonata playing, this means having a good knowledge of the piano part and the key structure of the music. This has always freaked me out a bit! Key’s have always felt like a foreign field to me, but I’m beginning to understand keys as colours (and not stiff academia!) and through this understand how I create sounds. For example, if I have a sustained note I am struggling with, by studying the score I can know whether, in context, it is a note of ease, beauty and freedom or conversely one of conflict and tension by looking at the harmony and texture. Once I am aware of the context of phrases and notes, I can begin to explore different colours on my instrument.

Tension and release can also be created by a knowledge of how to use silences and forming theories as to why a composer have chosen the silences. A great exponent of this is Beethoven. Beethoven has a way of taking us to a different land altogether through is silences. His climaxes often culminate in a huge general pause, before taking us to a completely different environment. In this context, the silence is what creates the tension but is important that we actually learn to ‘play’ a tense silence, a comical silence and a relieving silence.

Much of our use of tension and release comes naturally to us as we respond to the music in the moment, but taking it a step further by looking into the score can bring sounds to a different level of understanding.