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Editorial Notes.

Monotony is the foe of expression. The cultivated ear can not endure an unchanging sameness. Hence, accent in music is an inherent necessity. But the fathomless extent and influence of accent has not yet begun to be comprehended. The rapidly revolving wheel does not reveal its single spokes to the eye, except as a more or less indistinct blur. If the spokes are large they make a greater impression upon the eye than if small. If the spokes are colored red they make a different impression than bright ones, or different than if yellow or blue. Similarly, rapid runs or note successions make no separate impression on the ear, but let the notes between accents be changed and the ear receives different impressions. The ear takes a distinct impression of the accent points, and groups off the notes heard into rhythmic effects according to the notes within the accents. Place the right hand over the C-major chord; play with great rapidity, one octave up and down in triplet accents, accenting the end tones; now change the chord from major to minor, then back again, then to the third position of F major, then to F minor, then to A flat, then to A minor, then to C major; observe the effect upon the ear as you make these rapid changes. It will be found that the ear took in the groups as a single effect, but that it did not take cognizance of the separate notes of the groups, only their effect as a group.

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But accents soon become monotonous unless they are constantly varied as to dynamic force. Hence, phrasing with a climax to each phrase and a difference in adjacent phrases, each contrasting with the other, and this contrast controlled by the inherent content and intensity of meaning in each. Furthermore, there must also be a constant change of tone color. And here is found a reason for much of the common unpopularity of piano music. Amateurs lack the technical ability to give variety of tone color, and the cultivation of taste that would employ tone color skilfully and with an evident fitness of color to sentiment. This brings up the ever-recurring subject of touch, a subject that will not down, for there is no possibility of tone color without variety of touch, nor of its skilful use without much careful cultivation of taste; and for the cultivation of taste ideal models are a necessity to any pupil who has worked up somewhat of variety in tone, color, and touch. This means, hear as many good artists as possible.

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The new teaching that The Etude has emphasized for the past few years is indebted very greatly to psychology, and the more subtle points in the investigation of the wonderful power and effects of rhythm in music are due to the help from that science. A fixed attention is difficult to maintain for any length of time, but accents relieve the attention from taking cognizance of individual notes and furnish recurring points of specific observation. This is clearly illustrated by the following sentence which is set up by the printer without separation. Whatspacingdoesfortheeyeaccentpointsdofortheear; which interpreted reads, What spacing does for the eye, accent points do for the ear. Now then, how much playing does one hear that is practically unspaced by accents? And how much is heard that is one grinding and unvarying monotony of accents,—as in the amateur playing of marches or waltzes,—no light and shade?

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Psychology turns on light here in showing that attention must find relief in variety. Variety must call upon widely different emotions and feelings. Accents must lead to climaxes and subside into nuances. The tempo must not remain uniform and metronome-like, but change in speed with the gathering intensity and coming repose of content of the phrase being played. Contrast, with now and then a climax made by disappointment: as, ending the gathering intensity of a crescendo with a pianissimo instead of a fortissimo. Fortunately, composers have, by the genius that was in them, felt and given expression to all of this in their music, and it is for us teachers to make our pupils feel and give it manifest effect. Orators, singers, and violinists depend upon tonal and dynamic variety, and understand its value more than do pianists, but right here is found the pianist’s greatest possibilities with his art.

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We would call our subscribers’ attention to The Reading Course. This is something no one should fail to read each month, and neither should any person, if he can possibly help it, fail to read the book recommended from month to month. This is an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with some of the very best literature ever written, and not only that, but it is literature especially chosen for music teachers, and is bound to make the reader of it a better teacher. It will broaden your work, lift you out of any rut you may have unconsciously slipped into perhaps, and make a wide-awake musician of you. We are curious to know just how many of our subscribers are following this course with interest, and we would deem it a favor if such persons would drop us a postal card to that effect.

 

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You are reading Editorial Notes. from the May, 1897 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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