Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programmers

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On noodles

It’s usually considered a good idea to keep a blog focused on exactly one subject. Sod that for a game of soldiers! This one’s all about music.

Steph, who is a very good musician and knows what she’s talking about, wrote that there are two ways to play a harp, a “get the music right” recitation style and a “get the rhythm right and everything else follows” style more suited to improvisation, noodling or folk playing.

That’s not only true of the harp, it seems to hold for many instruments. For instance, in a moment of crazed, um, craziness this weekend I bought what’s commonly referred to as a lute. In fact, a lute with much in common with this lute. Now I’ve been playing it for all of about two hours in total since Saturday, and can barely remember what note each course plays, and do a poor rendition of about four different tunes from a book of trivially simple lute tunes. But today marked an interesting transition, as it was the first day that I could make music up on the instrument without either knowing or concentrating on what I was doing. Only a couple of things (the song “Wooden Heart” made famous by Elvis Presley, and that banging dance-floor filler “Parson’s Farewell”) but this represented the point where I could make music on the lute – a different skill than remembering where and when to stick fingers on some bits of nylon, steel and wood.

And I think that’s where the root of Steph’s distinction of playing techniques really comes from; the unprepared style relies on having some music that needs to occur, and the ability for your hands (or nose or whatever your instrument is played with) to move around in some way which causes that music to exist. Whereas the prepared style relies on having some performance in mind that must be repeated, and requires that you think about moving $appendage in such-and-such way to recreate that performance. I find the distinction in conscious application to be an important one when playing the fiddle, an instrument I’m marginally better at than the lute. If I’m reading some music, playing solo or otherwise engaged in trying to play music, then I can only play whatever notes the music contained and in a fairly uninteresting manner. It’s only if I’m able to relax and not think about the music that I can harmonise, ornament and otherwise play more interesting things than what was written on the page – even if not necessarily particularly well :-).

posted by Graham Lee at 23:52  

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