The Craft of Musical
Ploger and Keith Hill ©2005
edited by Cleveland Johnson
The Art of Delivery
Playing a musical instrument is a technical
craft. Expressing music, by contrast, has been viewed as an art, a view held so
long that it is rarely questioned. An alternate view, presented in this essay, is
that expressing music is also a craft: it is the craft of musical
communication, the art of delivery.
It is possible to master technical skills while lacking in communicative
skills, and vice versa, because these skills have very little to do with each
other. Today, musical mastery is
often measured by the former skills, not the latter, yet the greatest musicians
are those who are highly skilled in both crafts.
Musical Communication as the "Art of Delivery" is the craft of
handling musical material by technical means to touch the soul, raise the
spirits, elevate the minds, and deeply move listeners with music. This essay presents
eleven techniques which can be employed in the exercise of this craft. These techniques,
grounded in human cognition, are wholly derived from normal human speech and
other perceptual experiences used in everyday communication. Each technique is natural to human
These techniques are applicable to music intended
to be listened to (as opposed to music meant only to be heard) in the same way that
human speech is intended to be listened to. If the meaningful process of listening is secondary, these
techniques are unnecessary, although both listeners and hearers will find their
experiences enhanced when these techniques are employed in performance.
Below, each technique will be discussed and
practical suggestions for their application will be provided; they are
organized according to the intensity of the communication-enhancing effect each
technique has on the listener.
1. The Synaesthesis
In 1768, Jacob Adlung says of playing the
harpsichord, "One must endeavor to use more arpeggios and such, rather
than striking the keys together or playing too slowly since the strings cease
vibrating right away." Mozart and Chopin also
insisted that the hands are never played together. Each of these musicians were aware of the concept of synaesthesis.
Synaesthesia means multiple
simultaneous perceptions. The brain is designed for perceiving multiple
sensations at the same moment. With the senses of sight, smell, and taste, we expect our
sensory experiences to be loaded with multiple simultaneous stimulations. The
culinary art lives because people adore eating food that is multi-dimensional
in flavor. Although specific taste
sensations are localized on various parts of the human tongue, the experience
of taste is a mingling of salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and savory (meaty) in
various proportions, This effect
is the effect of synaesthesia, and the senses of sight, smell, and hearing
function similarly. Unfortunately,
classical music is performed today in a manner designed to eliminate
synaesthesia altogether, because many musicians are ill-informed about how the
ear/brain makes sense of heard experiences.
Although the many different frequencies and
timbres are detected differently by the ears, one 'hears' or perceives sounds,
not as distinct and discreet frequencies and timbres, but as composites. When musical performance uses sounds
(e.g. chords) as composites, the normal human ear hears only one sound. If the composer has
written a four-note chord, and all the notes are played simultaneously, the
normal listener will hear not four notes but one sound only: a rich sound, but
nonetheless only one sound. If the performer endeavors to perform each note in the
chord, so that the notes don't sound absolutely together or simultaneously, the
normal listener will easily hear all four notes as well as the simultaneous chord,
creating an experience of five sounds altogether.
The synaesthesis technique requires heard
musical information to be slightly desynchronized, just enough for the mind of
the listener to perceive all the timbres, all the pitches, all the melodies,
all the rhythms, all the details, all the harmonies so that they all emerge
into the consciousness of the listener.
The human brain is so competent that it has no trouble to follow as many
as 6 simultaneous streams of information as long as those lines or streams are
functioning with total independence, even if they are "supposed to be
together" as in music.
When notes in musical lines are "misaligned
in time," this desynchronicity produces a certain independence of voices
which, though more complex on the surface, is easier for the listener to
follow. When these notes are
played with perfect simultaneity, the brain reads the interval as a mere
composite sound and quickly looses focus on the individual lines, paying
attention instead to what is happening primarily in the lowest or the highest
Only by consciously creating distinctions
between lines can the performer make clear to the listener what is happening in
any music which has more than one line. Differences in timbre and volume help to create
more distinction but these devices never are as consistently successful at
creating clear distinctions between the different lines in music as when the
synaesthesis technique is used even to only a very slight degree. The
synaesthesis technique depends on the ability of the performer to hear, follow,
and create multiple voices in the music; voices that are clearly independent of
the others yet always manage to agree.
Application: 1) Always play with one
hand leading the other and vacillate between which of the two hands leads. Give up trying to be
together in ensembles. The exception to this is when a simultaneous concurrence
of the voices tells the brain that the music has come to an end. 2) Sing expressively each and every line or voice
as independently as possible of the other lines or voices. Avoid being
distracted by other voices or lines, or the listeners will hear the lapse in
attention and cease to pay attention.
3) In ensembles, vacillate between having the upper voice lead the lower
voice and the lower voice lead the upper voice. This vacillation needs to follow the
logic of the musical lines and structure. When the upper voice leads, the music soars. When the lower voice
leads the music, resisting forward motion, lingers.
2. The Inégal or Entasis Technique
Entasis is an ancient Greek term meaning
tensioning. Speech that is
delivered in a metrically perfect manner has the power to cause the listener's
brain to shutdown and cease processing the meaning of what is being said...all
within a few seconds of hearing such speech. The human brain needs the condition of constant
or stable irregularity to remain alert and attentive. Regularity eliminates
the feeling of discomfort which chaos, the erratic and irregular, often
creates. The balance in tension
between the feeling of predictability, which constancy (stability) provides,
and the feeling of anticipation, which irregularity and unpredictability
creates, is a state of entasis. (The opposite of entasis is stasis or staticness.) In normal human speech, Entasis is brought about by the
flow of thought, and this flow is both irregular and constant. So it must be in music.
The French, in the 17th and 18th centuries,
understood the importance of entasis; musicians who wrote about inégal were likely referring
to this concept. The word actually
means rough, irregular, unequal, but the conventional interpretation of the
word betrays the real meaning by forcing it to conform to the present fashion
for perfect metricallity in performance practice of old music. That interpretation
suggests that inégal means perfectly regular “limping.” Had the French writers meant that they
might have used the term for limping or the phrase égal inégal
Taking the term inégal at face value and
understanding it from a cognitive point of view, it is clear that equalized
inegality creates stasis, an absence of tension, and the listener is lulled
into inattention. Three notes of equal value (with two
equal spaces between them) suffice to create a condition of boredom in the
brain. Within the time it
takes to hear three notes, the brain has noticed that the second event is like
the first, that the third is like the second and the first, and predicts that
the fourth will follow the pattern. When that prediction comes true, the brain
either “tunes out” or looks elsewhere for something more interesting.
This phenomenon in the brain of a performer
generates mistakes. In a static
musical environment, mistakes easily become the meaning instead of the music
and, as a result, the groundwork is laid for a paralyzing fear of performing
experienced by many musicians. Learning to play with absolute rhythmic
regularity, thereby anesthetizing the brain, is the major cause of performance
Metrical exactitude in musical performance also
guarantees that most music is only heard but not listened to. It is the embodiment of
slavishness in music, i.e. the music is the slave of the beat when it should be
its master, exactly the opposite of what C.P.E. Bach suggested when he wrote
that one should "endeavor to avoid everything mechanical and slavish. Play from the soul, not
like a trained bird."
This technique is especially challenging in its
application, because musicians today are so rigidly trained in metrical
regularity. Yet, like the beating
of the heart, the musical pulse needs to fluctuate in speed as the emotional
content of the music fluctuates. Like the natural shifting accents in speech,
musical accents need to shift according to the meaning being expressed. To feel perfect, music
must be metrically imperfect.
Although first impressions of this technique may be discomforting (as
with synaesthesia), performers can create order and logic out of otherwise
irregular, unmetrical music-making by applying the techniques of Gesture,
Syntactical/Voice-leading, and Recognition Signal (see #3-5 below)
Application: Avoid performing music
in strict accordance with the beat. Because even two notes of equal value and space
is enough to create a flattening of the listener's attention, avoid having more
than three notes of equal value sound equally with equal spaces between them.
3. The Gesture or
The Gesture or Inflection technique is designed
to group verbal and musical information into larger units which have a shape
easily recognized and remembered.
Inflection (gesture) is the technique used in speech to organize the
distinctly irregular nature of language.
The specific shape of natural gestures or inflections, in speech or
music, is a parabolic or exponential curve. (The egg is an excellent example of this
Consider this concept from a rhythmic
perspective. Drumming the fingers
on a table (the action usually moves from the pinky finger to the index finger)
could mean either impatience or boredom. A slower motion of the fingers expresses the
affect of waiting; a faster motion expresses impatience. Add to this impatient drumming a
rhythmic regularity, and a sense of frustration is expressed. When waiting is added to the affects of
frustration and impatience, the thumb becomes involved. Human beings interpret these complex
gestures intuitively, but these motions can also be objectively described. Notice that the drumming action,
initiated by the pinky finger, begins slowly and accelerates through the
successive fingers until the last digit strikes the table. This acceleration, when
plotted mathematically, would appear, not as a straight line to indicate
regularly increasing speed but as a parabolic or exponential curve.
From a pitch perspective, the sounds of language
move predictably through time, not in regular “bits” but in irregular
patterns. The word
"I," for example, begins with an "ah" vowel, shifts to an
"eh" vowel and moves conclusively to an "ee" vowel sound. The pitch begins low
and slow with the vowel "ah". The pitch and speed of utterance increase with
the “eh” vowel and continues to get higher and faster with the shift to
"ee". Again, plotted mathematically, these phenomena of both pitch and
speed-of-utterance could be represented as exponential or parabolic
Modifying sounds, such as the stretched “I” when
a child whines,”I don’t want to,” or the clipped “I” when the same child
demands “I want that” (or the drumming of patient vs. impatient fingers) produce
very different meanings. The brain
interprets flat, uninflected speech as the behavior of a listless, depressed,
ill (or even dying) person. Likewise, the brain interprets highly inflected speech as
the behavior of an animated, spirited, lively, robust, healthy person. The same is true in
music. Musicians must be
cognizant of their ability to influence these crucial subtleties of
affect. A musician who is
out-of-touch with this concept is a musician who has nothing to communicate.
Application: To realize these
gestures in music, a performer must study nature and copy the shapes it has to
offer. Organize musical
information in gestures and mini-gestures which are natural to follow and
Syntactical or Voice Leading Technique
The Voice Leading technique comes from the
syntactical or grammatical property of speech. Notice what happens to the above
sentence when all the words are reordered to eliminate references. The or
voice grammatical syntactical comes technique property speech leading of from. This reordered sentence
can never make sense because every word has been treated as the equal of all
the others. The order (or lack
thereof) is designed to reinforce that equality; all the words in that sentence
refer to no other words, and the result is a sentence which means absolutely
nothing, even though each word has an independent recognizable meaning.
The human brain requires referential
relationships to make sense of things. It is this syntactical "referential"
property of language that underlies the logic in music. Sense and meaning, both in language and
in music, come from grouping words and notes into “meaningful” phrases or
gestures. Each note or word must
be executed to emphasize the grammatical sense or musical meaning: every note
in the diatonic scale refers to the tonic just as all parts of a sentence refer
in some way to the noun/subject.
This is the heart of the voice leading technique. Although the human
brain is "hard-wired" to grasp meaning through grammar and phrases in
language, it is less accomplished in working out similar tendencies in
music. Music goes by so quickly
that, without the effects of voice-leading, one all-too-common response of the
brain is to "tune out" and go into a sleep mode.
The outward technical devise used for the voice
leading technique is legato (using the real meaning of legato which is
"connected" as "connected in the mind" rather than merely
in the ear) and the musical approach for this type of legato is cantabile (using the real meaning
of cantabile which is "in a singing style" and taking that style to
mean the style of a truly great singer).
Application: Sing, as expressively
as possible, every line in a score; then play the music exactly as expressively
as just sung. Sing every note as expressively as the note requires and no less,
then play it that way. Musicians are rarely able to be more expressive in their playing
than in their singing.
Recognition Signal or Harmonic technique
The Harmonic technique or Recognition Signal
(also, cercare) creates a sense of harmony between the souls of the listener and
speaker. Humans produce this
"technical" utterance when acknowledging or agreeing with the person
talking, and the absence of this utterance indicates a failure to communicate
or to persuade. Musically, this technique is most effective when the speed and
manner of execution mimic the spoken technique.
The recognition signal in human speech can
express many things from the listener's point of view: the ability to follow a
line of reasoning, a desire that the speaker continue, assent to a point of
argument, or simple agreement.
Aristotle defines recognition as "a change from ignorance to
knowledge." It is sounded,
“uh-huh,” with the pitch rising at the end. When listeners hear the recognition
signal expressed in music, it allows them to follow what is happening in the
music more easily, giving utter clarity to the music’s harmonies, and it
establishes unanimity between performer and listener. For the listener, it is the vehicle of transformation
between not knowing what is happening in the music, and knowing. Such enlightenment may even be
articulated by some listeners as a spiritual experience.
Application: Performers must become
attuned to how composers incorporate the Recognition Signal technique. Bach’s Italian concerto, for example,
begins with a cercare, and his Chaconne in D-minor violin partita uses one after
another. Beethoven's Pathetique
sonata begins with a cercare followed by another with a few intervening
notes. His 9th Symphony is full of
this technique (although seldom realized in modern performances).
The speed of the Recognition Signal is its most
important characteristic. If too slow, it sounds like an arpeggio; if too fast, it sounds like
a grace note. For most uses, the correct speed is that at which one would most
naturally say "pah-dum" with the accent on the second syllable. Placing the accent on
the first syllable makes the affect too slow; and saying it without accent
makes it too fast. Of course, speed is further influenced by the overarching affect
of the music, whether leaning toward gravity or liveliness.
6. The Distortion or
This technique includes any device used to
attract or place the listener's attention where the performer desires it to
be. In speaking, a clearing of the
throat is just such a device. Magicians employ this device, calling it “distraction.” In music, a vast array
of techniques works in this way.
The distortion technique is heard when a singer
allows the voice to crack or break for emotive effect, or when a vowel is
changed during a sustained note.
The “distortion” of the original vowel creates a feeling of increased
interest on the long note for the listener. Violinists sometimes “crush” the string when playing a
specific note to create a distortion which "attentively loads" the
note. Portamento (in its conventional
definition as a glide in pitch from one note to another) is another distortion
technique, as are trills and other ornaments which add noise or “dirt” to the
sound. The acciaccatura is an excellent example
of "dirt" being added to a chord.
Although Aristotle does not use the word
"dirt," he does, in fact use the word "error" in the
following sense: "error may be justified, if the end of the art be thereby
attained, that is the effect of this or any other part...is thus rendered more
striking." He adds to this the
warning: "If the end might have been as well, or better, attained without
violating the special rules of the poetic art, the error is not justified: for
every kind of error should if possible be avoided." No clearer definition
of poetic license can be had.
Granted, the distortion technique must be used
judiciously, but its absence results in music of predictable sterility. The only thing perfect about perfection
is that it is perfectly boring. The true aim for perfection in art is the feeling of perfection, not the
fact. For example, the feeling of
perfection in Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" is a direct result of the
astonishing amount of distortion used in the painting’s proportions. While some listeners, interested
primarily in the information presented in a musical composition, may prefer
polished but boring perfection (the ideal performer for such listeners would be
a computer or any machine designed primarily for data transmission), neither
data transmission nor accountancy is appropriate to the realm of art. In this realm, where
feeling is natural and genuine, there is bound to be some element of chaos and
unpredictability. The distortion
technique tempers mechanical perfection with impulses of nature and human
Application: Don’t be afraid of
making ugly sounds especially if the affect you are after needs it to feel
right. Ugliness like Beauty are
relative things. We experience
something as more beautiful when it is juxtaposed with something ugly. That is the appeal of stories like
Beauty and the Beast. Conversely,
music without dissonance is boring.
Dissonance without Consonance feels irrelevant and harsh. Consonance without dissonance feels
saccharine and dopey.
When learning to master ornamentation,
understand that adding an ornament enhances the moment in the music to which it
is added. Avoid ornamented or
enhancing moments that are already loaded with some other more effective
technique of enhancing. Since the
great composers clearly understood these techniques, they wrote them into the
scores so that musicians would know which technique they were asking for. The ornaments a composer wrote into the
music were those considered to be essential and therefore obligatory. However, more could be added ad
needed depending on the instrument, the room acoustics, and the tempo.
Zest is the principle effect of the distortion
technique. Even a disconsolate
affect needs zest to communicate the degree of intensity of the feeling. Poetic license grants every performer
the freedom to create an enhanced experience of feeling for the listener by
whatever means necessary. It is
not, however, a certificate of refined or sensitive taste. That is the responsibility of the
performer. That is, everything is
allowed, but always be sensible to a quality of integrity so that the music,
not the playing, remains foremost in the hearts of the listeners.
Anxiety Free or "Sans souci" Technique
This technique is named sans souci, because it is designed
to create moments in the music which give the feeling of shrugging the
shoulders, throwing up the hands in a gesture to say, "Don't take all this
so seriously! Live a little! Stop controlling! Let go! Be happy! Don't worry so much! In other words, sans
without a care!
When the alignment of notes in the score
suggests that they be performed strictly and simultaneously, they may be
purposely jumbled or played in an irregular or a staggering manner to create a
careless (sans souci) effect. This
technique gives music a feeling of relaxed effortlessness, whether one uses the
term sans souci, or tempo rubato, or “jazzy,” disjointed, etc.
Listeners can only truly enjoy listening when a sans
souci environment and attitude
prevails. This technique dispels
anxiety and self-consciousness in the performer, and this transforms not only
the performer’s experience but also the reception of the listener, for anxiety
rubs off on all who observe it.
Mechanical, metrical, and regular playing creates anxiety; inégal, irregular, and
logical playing eliminate anxiety. Overconcern with relatively meaningless detail
creates anxiety; sweeping gestures dispel anxiety. Obsession with accuracy
creates anxiety; focusing on meaning and purpose dispel anxiety. Concern about the
opinion or others creates anxiety; carelessness of the opinion of others
dispels anxiety. Self consciousness creates anxiety; confidence and a total lack
of self consciousness dispel anxiety. That is the function of sans souci.
Application: Sans souci is the antithesis to
how most classical musicians are taught.
Applying this technique is as much about attitude as about specific
procedures. Study the
musical score for every opportunity to “shrug the shoulders.” Try every passage to
see if it can't be improved by having staggering the lines staggered by exactly
one half the notated value.
Sometimes the bass may lead, sometimes the treble.
8. The Stride Technique
St. Lambert, in his preface to his compositions,
states that the normal tempo in music is that of a man walking. Although people walk at
different tempi for different purposes, observation bears out that those people
walking, intending to get someplace specific, all walk at the same
tempo. This tempo is 116 beats per minute, and
besides walking, it can be observed to occur in other contexts as well.
Speech, for example, has the intention of
reaching the end of a specific thought (just as music has the intention of
reaching a cadence). People speak
with the normal speech accents occurring at a rate of 116 per minute, but
primarily when there is something specific and goal-oriented to be said. People who, by
temperament, personality, persuasion, or by habit, speak faster or slower than
this speed stand out. Speaking
slower than 116, they are perceived as intolerably dull or slow witted; there
is a painful slothfulness or self-consciousness in their speaking
demeanor. Speaking faster than
116, people are perceived as untrustworthy; fast speech is associated with
trying to talk others into doing things they don't want to do.
At the same time that the normal accents of
speech occur at 116 beats per minute, moments of pause or emphasis, moments
between phrases, or the moments of silence between exchanges of speakers in
conversation occur at 72 beats per minute. There are also a few
other tempi which can be observed to work in spoken contexts. These tempi are multiples or divisions
of 116 and 72: 58 (one half of
116), 144 (twice 72), 96 (4 times 72 divided by 3, a 3:4 ratio), 108 (3 times
72 divided by 2, a ratio of 3:2), 87 (116 times 3 divided by 4, a 3:4 ratio),
These observations suggest that the human brain
processes heard information at a precise rate of flow. That rate may change
depending on the significance, density, importance, intensity, or degree of
urgency of the information. If the information flows at a rate faster than it can be
processed and comprehended, one feels overwhelmed. If it flows at a rate
slower than it can be processed and comprehended, one feels impatient,
irritated, or bored by the manner of delivery.
If the intensity of content decreases, while the
rate of flow remains constant, the perception will be that the flow has slowed. Thus, as intensity of
content decreases, the speed of flow must increase, lest the mind become
bored. Conversely, if the
intensity of content increases, but the rate of flow remains the same, the mind
assumes that the speed has increased; the speed must therefore decrease or the
mind will soon feel overwhelmed. This phenomenon is an inverse proportion: the
more that is happening in music, the slower the tempo needs to be. The less that is
happening in the heard music, the faster the tempo needs to be.
Performances of classical music today,
frequently fail to adapt appropriately to the above observations. In performing early repertoire,
musicians feel compelled to play too fast, because their delivery lacks
interest or meaning. Excessive
speed helps bridge the musical emptiness between notes but is a cheap trick to
stave off the listener boredom. In
later repertoire, where musicians are commonly subjected to expectations of
mathematically accurate performance,
slower tempi are often taken to allow the incorporation of techniques
for warming the sound in otherwise cold examples of perfect data delivery. These techniques include continuous
vibrato, acceleration and deceleration of a predictable and regular sort, and
predictably regular gradations of change in volume (techniques which when
applied to speech produce the silliest, most ridiculous effect). These "warming" techniques,
used to take the chill off otherwise stiff passionless performances, divert the
listener's attention away from unimaginative playing.
Tempi selection in music needs to account for
the rate of flow as it changes depending on the significance, density,
importance, intensity, or degree of urgency of the information, as well as the
affect of the piece. All of the musical communication techniques discussed in this
article, when implemented in performance, may require tempi slightly slower
than one is used to, but all depends on the information intensity of the score. In all cases, failure to hit upon the
right tempo will create the effect of forcing, if the tempo is slightly too
slow, or racing if it is slightly to fast.
Application: Be aware of opportunities in music (a
section, movement, or entire piece) to utilize a tempo of 116 or 72 and test
these tempi on listeners. If appropriately chosen, these tempi should make music feel more
natural to listeners, although it may be more challenging to play. Many composers, however, took these
tempi into account, and the music will actually be easier and more natural to
play at these tempi.
The Evaporation or Mystery Technique
This technique is best executed on dynamic
instruments such as the clavichord, fortepiano, pianoforte, violins and such,
lutes and guitars, as well the voice. The evaporation technique is a diminishing of
the volume of sound on the end of a phrase until it altogether disappears or
evaporates. Evaporation forces the
mind of the listener to finish the phrase as it disappears, thus, through the
power of suggestion, a performer can lure the listener on a path of his or her
own making. While the parts of the
music subjected too evaporation are normally less important artistically, they
may take on special unconscious significance in the listener’s mind. Whatever is mysterious and hidden
tantalizes the soul; this is the perennial lure of the spiritual realm. Brains invariably want
what they can't have.
Cognitively speaking, the brain strives to lock
on to whatever appears to lie just beyond its reach. For example, though the
eye is designed to perceive light, the eye is easily attracted to shadow. In speech, when ideas
are stated flatly and objectively, the mind tends to treat them as unimportant
(a fault of much technical writing).
When ideas are alluded to or suggested by inference, the mind won't be
satisfied until it puzzles them out.
When information is ever present, it becomes part of the landscape and
the information is easily ignored; when ideas are clearly and creatively expressed
with a strong point of view, the information is processed and accepted or
rejected by the mind; in either case the information can't be ignored.
Musically, when sound is waxing and waning,
strongly and unpredictably, the mind of the listener is able to grasp more
easily how the ideas are wrought and grouped. In a performance shaded by the evaporation technique,
listeners will experience the paradox between an understated phrase ending and
the strong attention-focusing effect created by evaporation. In this way, the listener becomes a
co-creator with the performer and composer.
Application: Choose particularly
unimportant moments in the music to “evaporate”, like the ends of phrases or
arpeggiated chords; moments which would otherwise fall flat. Then prepare the minds of the listeners
by gradually diminishing the volume of the sound so that only the last note,
though played, is completely silent.
This only works in live performances where the listeners can see the
note being played but not hear it.
In recordings, the note needs to be heard but also needs to be so soft
that it causes the listener to feel the evaporation effect. Poetic license and a sense of what
works are the best guides.
10. The Timing or
technique requires hesitation just a moment before playing the most important
note in a line. Another expression of this technique is to linger on a note for
much longer than its written value. This technique manipulates the listener's
expectations of 1) what note is going to sound, 2) when it actually sounds, and
3) when it stops sounding. When a climactic note is slightly delayed by the performer,
the listener has just enough time to take the suggestion and mentally fill in
the note before the performer finally makes the note sound.
Comedians are well-known to use this technique for humorous
effect, changing the timing of an expected word to one that is unexpected. Public speakers also use this important
rhetorical technique, but those who overuse it come across as contrived and
unconvincing. The same holds true for musicians. As always, unpredictability is key to creating naturalness
The cognitive partner of hesitation is
anticipation: anticipation is created by building up assumption on assumption about
what will happen. When the event which should occur fails to happen at the expected
time, there exists a moment of disappointment. Disappointment, however, is soon
transformed into a rush of pleasure when the anticipated event is consummated. The art is always in
Application: Know what notes in the music are the
highest in pitch, strongest in accent but weakest in affect, most obvious and
predictable, or the climax of the piece.
Then, either delay a moment before playing them or hold them longer than
written. The moment the delay or
the holding becomes obvious, as doing something unusual, the hold or the delay
is too long.
The purpose is to catch the attention of the
listener unawares in order to create the effect of a quickening of the
attention. The moment that effect
happens for the listeners is the moment the music must continue to its
The word excrucis is derived from the
Latin ex, meaning “out of,” and crux, meaning “cross.” Excrucis is, literally, “out of
cross” or “out of crossing.” This technique involves
dissonance treatment. When musical
lines, each expressively following its own inexorably logical path, cross and
produce an extreme dissonance, followed by an elegant and beautiful resolution,
the excrucis technique, highlighting this intense movement rhythmically or
dynamically, is ideally suited for use. These moments, properly treated,
produce some of the most "excruciatingly" beautiful effects of which
music is capable.
The cognitive effect of the excrusis technique is deeply
related to basic human emotion.
This effect is capable of approaching the almost spiritual profundity of
complex human interaction, such as an intense hug imbued simultaneously with
feelings of love, loss, reassurance, pain: it feels so good it hurts.
Application: Identify and observe
the interplay and crossing of musical lines. Making the most of such voice crossings requires momentarily
slowing down the action. This
slowing, to emphasize the "grinding" effect as the dissonances rub
and grate against each other, should allow the listener to notice exactly what
is happening, without causing a loss of flow.
According to Aristotle, in Poetics (XXI),
"The perfection of style is to be clear without being mean
(commonplace)." The purpose
behind these eleven techniques, for the performer, is to connect musical
information into clear and meaningful phrases for the listener to help make
sense of the score, to help the listener know what is important and what is
unimportant. The brain needs
constant and intense stimulation in the form of unpredictability, clarity of
reference, clarity of relationship, uninterrupted flow of idea, and the
occasional enigma in order to maintain an alert, attentive, and focused frame
These techniques enhance musical communication
because they induce and support a high degree of awareness in both the listener
and the performer. Performance will either support the listener’s attention or
detract from it. (The mere
presence of sound in a room is no guarantor of attention, only passive
exposure.) Full attention ensures
receptiveness to the composer’s meaning.
When music is performed to maximize the listener’s attention level,
details of compositional technique and structure become intelligible and
meaningful to the normal listener without years of formal musical training.
To be effective, these techniques must be made
as obvious as possible without any one technique standing in the center of
attention. Whenever possible, try
to use these techniques simultaneously so it is impossible to use one at the
exclusion of the others. Beware
that, if one can notice the technical means of generating an effect, the technique
is being employed improperly. It is a delicate balancing act to use a technique or
techniques without having the technical aspect become the focus of attention. (As the saying goes:
“Art disguises itself.”)
Performers who lapse into mechanical habits of playing music, using
occasionally only one or two of these techniques, anesthetize the brain while
seeking to interest the mind. This is a confusing state to inflict upon any listener.
When all of these techniques are used
appropriately in a performance, the essence of the music is efficiently
communicated by the performer and easily received by the listeners. Effective and pleasing
execution in music was referred to in the 18th century by the French term bon
gout. Bon gout can only exist when intense
are present, and it implies a strongly cultivated sense of how to balance these
flavors (read: cognitive techniques) to express the meaning and affect
suggested by the composer.
Performers should embrace these eleven cognitive techniques; the fear of
mauvais gout creates players who play sans gout. Skillful use of these techniques,
creating the effect of playing "from the soul," produces performances
that deeply touch and move all who listen. This is the
function and purpose of the “Art of Delivery”
Part 2: On
Affect is the backbone of nonverbal
communication. As the nonverbal
of such communication, it suggests the expression of an emotion, a state of being,
a physical state, a state of mind, or an attitude. Being nonverbal, Affect is applicable to every artistic
form, painting, music, acting, dance, etc. (Indeed, each art has its own way of
expressing Affect.) Music is
nonverbal communication in the form of sound. If Affect is missing in music all that
remains are pitches (either in vertical structures, Harmony, or in linear
structures, Melody) moving in time (Rhythm). Affect allows music to take on a life of its
own and express what the performer intends; otherwise, meaning does not exist
except by inference. For the
listener, music without affect is like acting without vocal inflection or
One effective way to illustrate Affect is to
examine the most sophisticated use of affect developed in the 20th century,
cartoon animation. Cartoon
characters do not exist; they exist only as fictional characters appearing on
the screen through the magical craft of animation. Because animators understood affect, they could create
characters that feel real and palpable to us; they could convince an audience
that these characters exist. To
suggest characters with personality, meaning, and soul, animators had to study
gestures, poses, expressions (and the order in which they occurred). In other words, animators had to
be diligent students of Affect.
Affect should not be confused with true states
of emotion, etc. A person’s anger
or confusion or love is not affect, because those feelings are real and
amazingly complex. “Acting’
like one is angry or confused or in love, however, is a demonstration of
affect. Affect, especially in
music, makes simple all of the complexities of feeling; it makes the feeling
clear and unmistakable to the listener and relates to the listener’s soul.
The soul responds to Affect because it is the
language of the soul. Affect is the language of the soul. As a common language,
It allows communication among souls.
. This is why learning
about Affect, thinking about Affect, performing with Affect, expressing Affect,
and mastering Affect is the most important challenge of musicians, artists,
dancers, architects, actors, writers, poets, or playwrights.
Philosophical relativism has curiously created a strong antipathy to the idea of Affect, as though the concept were somehow dangerous, for there are intelligent people and musicians who dismiss the whole idea of Universals. Affect happens to be one clear Universal, because affect happens to be how organisms with brains, however primitive (even insects, spiders, reptiles, and birds communicate affectively), relate and communicate one with another. And anyone who has been around animals knows this to be true, because they communicate directly through gesture and non-verbal utterances. Musicians who dismiss this approach to expression usually play music as though running through a list from the beginning to the end. Each musician must decide personally to pay attention to Affect, express Affect, think about better ways to communicate Affect, or to ignore Affect altogether. But remember, what you decide materially affects relationship with your own soul, for better or worse. Where music is concerned, the greatest musical minds embraced Affect. You must choose to be in their company or not.
the Language of Affect
Affect is the suggestion of a feeling, not the
feeling itself. Affect is also objective; observers or listeners receive/interpret
the same meaning from these expressions and gestures. Learning to manage and master Affect, eliminating all
possible confusion, is therefore imperative for anyone involved in any kind of
artistic nonverbal communication.
In acting, for example, when a character in a
play says or does something which suggests that he or she is suspicious, a good
actor will do whatever is required to create the suggestion of suspiciousness. The only way an actor
will know if he or she is successful is if the audience feels that the
character is suspicious. Should the audience think otherwise, the actor has failed. Furthermore, if the
audience merely knows that the character is suspicious but doesn't feel it, then the actor has
also failed. One can often know
many things which are not necessarily felt; those things which are known are
less engaging than those things which are felt. If the actor has not generated the feeling of suspicion in the
audience, the actor has failed. Only when the audience feels conviction about the
suspicious nature of the character can the actor be said to have succeeded.
Affect communicates directly and unambiguously
with the soul of the receiver.
Infants, for example, respond to an affect even if they don't understand
the words. The same is true for
animals. The manner of expression,
more than the content of the words, is what is objectively received and
nonverbally understood. The human
response to the tone and gesture of a mother’s love is not unlike the human
response to music. This phenomenon
makes music extraordinarily compelling to humans.
Unfortunately, communication is breaking down in
many arenas of the artistic world.
Declining concert attendance, resulting in financial insolvency for even
some of the most famous musical institutions, has led to much
introspection. Too often,
inattentive, disengaged listeners are blamed for their lagging commitment to
music, while, in fact, the spread of non-affective music-making may lie at the
root of the situation. Musicians
ignore Affect to their own peril.
Perhaps the best way to learn to communicate
affect is to study children when they are being naturally expressive. In very young children,
the gestures used to convey affect are similar from one child to the next. These affective
gestures are not learned; they are innate to the human species. Indeed, expressing all
the emotions, states of mind, attitudes, physical states and states of being
are part of what it is to be human. Learning to express affect requires one to pay
attention to and remember the gestures that make up each affect. Focus on affect and
meaning and everything is made decidedly easier.
Structure of Human Affect
Human beings are complex organisms with complex
inner lives. Music, in its most
elevated manifestation, is the only form of aesthetic expression which is
capable of capturing and expressing the inner life of the soul.
In life, Affect is the suggestion of the
expression of 1) an emotion, 2) a physical state, 3) a state of mind, or 4) an
attitude. Typically, all four of these states are
expressed simultaneously and continuously. The same is true in great music and performance, because
music is rooted in human nature.
When there is inherent conflict in these four
states, the aesthetic result is far more vivid and compelling. Paradox is good; this tension makes the
real difference between exhalted art and art which is merely great (or less
great). Good art expresses only
three of the possible four affects.
Mediocre works express two, while bad works express but one (or zero).
Persons wishing to improve their artistic
communication through Affect would be well-advised to compile a list of Affects
organized by the four categories outlined above. Without investing in this task, one risks not being able to
distinguish or identify affects and not being able to understand how they
differ from emotions. The list
below is by no means definitive, but suggests what such a list might look like:
Application: As an interesting exercise, take one affect at random from each
column and invent a moment in life when all four affects could reasonably occur
simultaneously. Choose, for instance, “trotting” (physical), “empty” (emotional),
“dubious” (mental), and “apologetic” (mental), and think of a moment in any person's life when trotting,
emptiness, feeling dubious or doubtful, and feeling apologetic would naturally
occur. One possible scenario
or “vignette” might be: hurting
another person unintentionally, being abandoned by that person, pursuing that
person to ask forgiveness, but being ultimately rejected, and finally feeling
doubt about the relationship, and emptiness.
Great music is characterized by either a single
affective vignette or a series of short vignettes which give the listener an
affective view of the soul for a moment or series of connected moments.
No other art form has the power to express affective moments in
the lives of ordinary people as much as music. Great music performed without clear
affect is like viewing a great painting in a room without light; although one
might discern the intention of affect, the observer can't access it. The true art of the
performer is to reveal affect, clearly and unambiguously, to the music lover. Interestingly, as self-evidently true is this might be to most people, all too many musicians reject the importance of Affect in music, preferring instead to adhere to the standard and predictably monotonous style of performing classical music prevalent today. What is worse is when such musicians discover that they are unable to have a career in musical performance and end up teaching in schools and conservatories of music, in effect go on to instill in young impressionable musicians the idea that music is all about note and metrical accuracy and not about communication of affect for the pleasure of listeners.
To be faithful to the art in music, the
performer must be hyperaware of affective effects -- how, for example, even
three notes within a score can affect the sensitive listener. The eleven cognitive
techniques outlined in this essay ensure that performer fully engages the
listener in the music; incorporating the additional ideas regarding Affect
promises mastery in virtually any art.
Talent has little to do with such mastery, only the hard work of
understanding and learning to "speak" the language of the soul.