Sunday, November 17, 2019

Traditionally Speaking

Leopold Auer was a great violin teacher in the late eighteen hundreds who trained such stellar artists on the instrument as Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist, so he must have known a little something about music.
He wrote a small book called ‘Violin Playing As I Teach It.’ This little book contains a wealth of useful information about violin technique and music in general. As to the subject of tradition, he had the following to say;
“Tradition in reality weighs down the living spirit of the present with the dead formalism of the past…. Beauty we must have, tradition we can dispense with.
How is a violinist to conceive the meaning of an older work which he may be studying if his own musical instinct, his freedom of conception, are obfuscated by the dictum: ‘This must be played in such and such a manner, because so and so played it that way two hundred years ago?’ “
He is talking about interpretation here and he makes it clear that any attempt at phrasing or interpretation will fall on its face without a solid technical support.
Too many, in the recent past, have tried to use the idea of breaking with tradition as an excuse to not have the discipline to learn the technique required for what they want to do. These end up simply frustrated.
But now, let’s look at how this view applies to creating. In conservatories, in the composition department, you run into the same things being said; ‘You must write in such and such a manner because so and so wrote this way a hundred years ago, or so and so is writing this way now.’
Tradition accrues pretty darned fast in the arts. I daresay that pop music has been around long enough for it to have its own traditions. Certainly there exists a whole school of guitar technique for pop music with its pentatonic scales and blues chords.
Granted this is the solid technique that I spoke of that you need and should have in playing pop music.
But there are four other chords in a scale and as many other types of scale that you could shake a stick at. There are also quite a number of other meters besides 4/4.
Just take a look in The Beatles or Frank Zappa.

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