Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 12

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Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 12

Silence is golden

One aspect of the feeling of a piece that is often overlooked is the beauty of silence.  Some musicians fear silence, thinking that it will give the impression that a mistake was made, or that the piece is finished.  What if, after all, the audience started clapping before the song was over!  The fact that is overlooked in this, however, is that silence is as much a part of music as sound.  One of the great definitions of music is “sound and silence organized in time.”  This being the case, we need not fear silence any more than we need fear hitting a key.
The secret to the proper use of silence is timing.  A carefully designed pause may have a much greater emotional effect than a continuation without break.  A tempo, slowed to near stop, followed by a grand silence can create a wonderful effect.
In listening, as well as in writing new pieces, we can include silences with confidence, not fearing what the audience might think.  Doing so will actually do more good than you might realize.

Softness is silver

Another thing to consider when trying to put emotion into a piece is dynamics.  By dynamics I mean how loud or how soft you play.  This is at least as important to understand, if not more so, than the proper use of silence.  A common misconception regarding dynamics is that the harder you play, the more effective the music is.  This is simply not so!  The key to dynamics is to reserve the loudness (or the softness, as the case may be) for the most important parts of the piece.  Think of it this way: the softer your beginning is, the more power you have to increase the loudness of the rest of the piece – and vice versa.
This must be done in moderation, however, since the introduction of a piece is the first impression.  You don’t want people’s first reaction to the piece to be “I can’t hear it.”  Therefore, the ideal is to find a good middle ground, with plenty of space on both sides of the decimal scale to work with.  And then, don’t be afraid to use the slack you have given yourself.  On a gentle part of the piece, you may find it more effective to drop the power to almost no sound at all.  Then when the need for more power comes, don’t hold back!  Pound those keys!  You’ll find that the contrast between loud and soft will strike incredible emotional chords in your self and your audience.
Therefore, as you listen for what a piece sounds like, and feels like, be sure to notice why it feels the way it does, and what gives those emotional charges their power.

2 Replies to “Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 12”

  1. I can’t agree enough with what you’ve written. Silence is sometimes the key to allowing your audience that quiet tear to roll over their cheek. Softness (and its louder counterpart) are like the tides of your soul. They need the time to surge forward and back but when they do, employ every bit of its use.

    I’m no musician but I love music. Return to the Heart by David Lanz (who doesn’t love David?) is a song that’s both personal and beloved. It rises and falls, surges and sways, has moments of silence as well as thunderous declaration. It wouldn’t be as moving and endearing if it didn’t take me on a journey of highs and lows.

    I guess I just want to say: Well said. Well done.

    I’m eager to hear your music. Thank you for stopping by the blog. Best of luck & keep playing. =]

  2. I think Return to the Heart is a perfect illustration of those principles. David Lanz has always been to me the apex of all that piano solo music can offer emotionally.

    Thank you for your comment.

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