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Playing unmusically is as bad as playing in the wrong key

Date: 09/04/2013

When someone with a great sound or not, unconsciously break every musical rule in the book, it hurts. My entire body hurts and I want to cry! I can’t stand it! Imagine listening to a hornist playing an entire Mozart concerto in E when the orchestra plays in Eb. That how it feels.

My recent post about music and sound created much more reactions than I would ever had imagined. From the conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen who says “very good Oystein! go kick some serious ass!”, to music teachers that are afraid that their students now are going to ignore everything they say about sound production. A Norwegian music magazine ballade.no, even translated the rant and is making a case on the entire discussion. I had a long talk today to a good, but disagreeing colleague, trying to explain my points. Not until I said the following did he understand: When someone with a great sound or not, unconsciously break every musical rule in the book, it hurts. My entire body hurts and I want to cry! I can’t stand it! Imagine listening to a hornist playing an entire Mozart concerto in E when the orchestra plays in Eb. That how it feels.

Before you post: who exactly do you think you are to decide the musical rules?

My reply: I did not.

This is not about taste although you can choose to do more or less. These are simple things that every violinist and pianist learn from they are 5 years of age. They are necessary archetypes used to reach the audience. Like phrasing in a language. Let me give you just a few simple examples:

– It should be possible for the audience to hear if the piece goes in 3/4 or 4/4.
– The downbeat should usually be more emphasized than the up-beat.
– A phrase should have a direction towards a specific note.
– In romantic music you should increase and release tension by going up and down in tempo. Called agogik, or rubato.
– You must listen to your co-musicians and be able to both pick up and give musical charachters.
– You must constantly adapt your sound and articulation to serve the character of the music.
– You should not loose tempo after a breath. It kills the character.
– You should not unconsciously play slower just because you play softer.

These, and more subtle rules are methodically ignored, and not only does it break my heart. It hurts our instruments reputation. Please start teaching our young players the rules of music making, as well as playing in the right key.

2 thoughts on Playing unmusically is as bad as playing in the wrong key

  • Having been years since I played the tuba, and having longed to do so since then, my heart is warmed to hear these words come from a tuba player. All too often, I heard and saw fellow tuba players miss the importance of playing musically – of using sense and feeling.

  • Thank you Oystein for this post – I am currently working on Cello Suite of Bach, and your recommandations fully make sense…

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