02013-04-24 @ 12:04

Without the listener there is no music. The listener completes the musical circuit, and, even though I am not a musician, I feel as if I am a form of musician when I listen and believe that, by hearing the piece, by responding to it with my thoughts of what it is and what it is doing – what it means – I am actually helping to finish it off. As the listener I am the final element in the making of the music. I have made the music useful. I have put it into context: the context of my own life, and my own perception of what music is, and why it exists.

– Paul Morley, Words and Music: a history of pop in the shape of a city

I do not think that music has to have a listener aside from the person or persons making the music, and I don’t believe that music has to be useful, but I like the above description of the listener completing a circle.

We could say the same about a reader who, by imagining the people and the landscapes described in a book, makes words come to life and thus completes the circle.

See also this, which I wrote about twenty years ago for Musician magazine.

Letter to a Young Musician #7

02010-04-18 @ 10:04

Dear Friend,

How to produce a sound, draw a melody from the strings, is a constant question. You can hold a guitar comfortably, which may choke the sound a little, or you can hold it a little less comfortably and produce a finer tone. Somewhere in between those two extremes lies the perfect way to hold your instrument.

In Flamenco, when the guitar was mainly accompanying singers or dancers and when volume was an important concern in the days before amplification, people often balanced the bottom of the guitar on their right leg. The advantage of this position is that the guitar is loud and sings. Unfortunately the guitar isn’t very stable in this position and has to be held up by the left hand, which is not free to move about the neck.

In the last fifty years most guitarists favor this position: cross your right leg over your left leg. Rest the cut-out of the Flamenco guitar on your right thigh. Lean over so that your body is collapsing on the guitar to a degree. This will put your right hand in a good position to strum the strings and your left hand in a great position to play the neck.

Actually, I haven’t done that during concerts for a couple of years. I have been using a footstool, but while classical guitarists put their left foot on the stool and rest the guitar on their left thigh, I put my right foot on the stool and the guitar ends up in the same position as if I were to cross my right leg over my left leg.

The trick, then, lies is finding a balance between holding the guitar securely and thus enabling both of your hands to move freely, and holding the guitar lightly, so that the instrument isn’t choked and can sing. Similar to many relationships, isn’t it? Hold your lover tightly and set them free – at the same time. How do you do that? With care.

Don’t forget to practice.

Letter to a Young Musician #6

02010-03-18 @ 10:03

The fine art of dampening strings, or specifically stopping particular notes from ringing and thereby colliding with the other notes that you do want. I learned much about this by watching Jon play bass. The fingers of both of his hands are constantly refining the sound that comes forth from his instrument, adding a slow vibrato here and dampening a string that would otherwise clash with the next harmony.
You can observe this constant vigilance in classical guitarists like Julian Bream. While one finger of the left hand goes to a fret to define the next note, another finger is poised to dampen the string that rang the last note.

I recommend renting a DVD of Bream playing guitar as it is most interesting and educational. (((You might also observe how he bends certain notes to create harmonies that are in tune… the well-tempered scale is a compromise, especially on a guitar, and you will notice when you play an E major chord followed by a C major chord that the G-string, if tuned for the E chord, will sound off when playing the C chord and vice versa.)))

And the faces he makes while playing guitar are very entertaining, also.

This, of course, is most important when changing keys, but is always a good idea because even strings you haven’t plucked or struck with the right hand will ring sympathetically. By dampening those strings you focus more attention to the notes you are playing. Things become clearer, as if a fog has been lifted.


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