This has been a point of contention with me and my professors ever since I have been in school. Where we buttheads is when it comes to instructions in the music. Now Im not talking about extended techniques, though a few like multi phonics are so normalized that they can fall under this conversation. I am talking about basic instructions that are idiomatic to a particular instrument. Pedal markings for harps, harmonic fingerings for violins and other bowed string instruments, piano fingerings (such as cross staff notation and just plain old fingerings), breath marks, and so on and so forth. 

What furthered this debate are the talks we have had with performers. When I first learn how to write for harp I was taught to include harp pedal markings. Later I learned that many harp players would rather you didnt include those markings. I heard, in a presentation from our bass professor, that he prefers that composers didnt write the "fingerings" for harmonics for double-bass but instead just have the little circle above the note and allow him to figure out how to play it as a harmonic (be it artificial or natural). However, he did say that he would prefer composers to include parts in double-bass solo music to be already transposed to their solo tuning (which I believe is a half or whole step up from C), while I have heard from others that C scores are just fine. 

Perhaps the most conflicting aspect of micromanaging me and my professors (and performers) have are interpretive instructions. Where I prefer to allow my performers to free interpret the music, the professors I have had have run the gamut of allowing me to write music for free interpretation to wanting me to be very very specific about what I want. Things such as exact bmp in the tempo, exact places to breath in the music that I want, exact note distribution in both left and right hands for pianist (often leading to a lot of cross-staff notation), to exact emotion dictation at the beginning of the piece (writing "with joy" or "march-style" after the tempo marking). Some of these things make a lot of sense to do while others feel like just plain micromanaging. 

The performers I have worked with have been relatively split on this issue as well. While others appreciate the exactness of these markings, others find it distracting. It also shows in the performance of the music and the results have also been split down the middle. Sometimes the micromanaging of the score works to the benefit of the performance, while other times it results with a lot more stress on the performer resulting in a poorer performance. The same results happened with scores that were more interpretive. 

So what do you think? Is there a thing as micromanaging in music composition or do the performers know best? I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to this but I would like to know your opinion on the matter. 

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  • I think it's better to leave out things that are too specific, if we want the music to live longer than the first performance. My general approach is that I try to stick with the traditional way of notating things as far as possible (that said I also write in traditional genres).

    Breathing is something I leave out for the most part (and I do write almost exclusively vocal music) if it doesn't in someway go against the natural breathing in reading the texts, or if the frases are unnaturally (unsingably) long and some specific effect is wanted.

    Specific metronome marks can also be unnecessary, since the performer can change the bpm without changing the appearence of the tempo by the way they play the music, frasing, accents etc.

    Fingerings I also try to leave out, unless I feel the need to point out that something IS playable although it might SEAM unidiomatic, for a pianist for example, but this is in exeptional cases where I haven't found a naturally idiomatic way to write the part.

    What I do try to write are bow markings for strings, although I do know that many musicians prefer that we don't. But for me its about frasing and finding the right epression in the music.

    But in generall less is more in these cases. Where something is unusual, extremely difficult or inovative there can be a greater need for "extra markings", but in most cases we are not so inovative and do not need to point out more than the essentials, most other things can be dealt with by the musicians during rehearsals. Compare this with older scores where very much is left out (the older the scores, the more is left out usually) but where we still get wonderful performances, diverse perhaps, but none the less usually all good and thought through, and with a personal touch of the performer as well as the composer, and that I think of as a good, rather than a bad thing.

    David

  • This topic seems to be related to the "perfection" topic that Bob started. Where should we draw the line between wanting to convey exactly what we mean, vs. leaving room for the performer's interpretation? It's not an easy question to answer.

    In my youth, I have tended towards over-marking. I wanted to make sure every note, every dynamic, is fully specified down to the letter, and the performer must do exactly as I tell him. However, as I grew older, I realized that actually even I myself do not consistently perform my own pieces -- which defeats the purpose of all that meticulous marking in the first place. As one anecdote goes (I don't know if this is true or not, I read this online) -- Beethoven was a big fan of metronome marks when the metronome was first invented. However, later on, he dropped the practice of writing metronome marks because he discovered that his own tempo varied from day to day.

    Nowadays, I try to indicate intent, more than the specifics of how to execute that intent. In one of my latest compositions, I have marks like "Festively", "With a sense of conclusion", rather than specific bpm / articulation marks, because I want the performer to decide for himself how to convey these intents rather than dictate exactly how many bpm and how loud to play each note.  I have found bpm marks to be more useful as rough guidelines than as a law that must be followed to the letter. My own performances of said piece wildly varies in tempo anyway, with the coda ranging anywhere from 45bpm to 100bpm, depending on my mood at the time and on how the preceding passages came out. So any bpm marks can only be a rough guideline rather than a fixed, inviolable law upon the performer.

    Nevertheless, there are times when I want a specific effect, and then I will try my best to mark exactly how I want that part to be played.

  • I should have been more clear when talking about fingering harmonics. I don't mean actually writing in the numbers above the note, what I am referring to is this (Ex. A as opposed to Ex. B)

    8608230275?profile=originalAll through out my undergrad and my masters, I was taught that when writing certain harmonics you have to write the note that they are going to play plus the note above they are going to lightly touch. That seems to be going out of fashion as now it seems that they just want either the sounding note or the desired estimate pitch with just the little circle above it. String players are now taught to figure out the harmonics themselves. 

    As far as the solo tuning, yeah that was news to me but its apparently a thing. It doesnt really effect that much except when it comes to double stops and harmonics. Also  new thing I learned is that E is no longer the lowest note, as most bass players, even in college, are just excepted to have bass extensions. That was just a special case thing when I first started but now its standard it seems. 

    Here is something I found on the topic of double bass tuning btw:

    From http://www.liben.com/tunings.html

    The Double Bass has suffered a host of different tunings over the past 300 years. For the past 100 years or so two tunings have remained in constant use

    1: Orchestra Tuning. E, A, D, G (from lowest to highest). This is the main, or standard tuning for all orchestral music, most chamber music and just about any kind of popular, jazz or ethnic music. Notes written below E – down to a low C or B – are usually handled either by a fifth string, a mechanical device – commonly referred to as a machine by bassists, or a wooden fingerboard extension.

    2: Solo Tuning. F sharp, B, E, A (from lowest to highest). This tuning is often used by soloists when performing solo works – concertos, etc. - especially with orchestra. It usually helps the solo bass to achieve a brighter, more penetrating sound especially in the upper registers.

    A simpler way to think of this is:

    Orchestra Tuning = Solo double bass in the key of C.
    Solo Tuning = Solo double bass in the key of D

    Of course nothing is quite this simple, especially in the area of solo double bass music. There is much debate – sometimes feuding would be a more accurate term – in the bass community about the virtues of solo and orchestra tuning. It is not the purpose of this little explanation to get into that discussion. We'll just say that both tunings are used for solo playing and in order for us to ship the correct set of parts to you we'll have to know which tuning your soloist would like to use.

    If you are in doubt, the best person to ask is your soloist. Some conductors are familiar with double bass tunings but most have never had to think about it. So save yourself some time and go straight to the source.


    Bob Porter said:

    I think how to mark your score will always be a bone of contention. Bottom line seems to be that players will more often than not, do what they think is best. Writing what is idiomatic for the instrument will help. Why anyone would write a harmonic fingering doesn't make any sense. Or any string fingering for a professional player, for that matter. If I were a string virtuoso, I might be qualified to put in a few special markings. By the way, I've never heard of a double bass that transposes up a step.

    One way to look at your professors' different approaches to notation is that now you have been exposed to many aspects of the art. Now you get to choose what works for you. Isn't that the purpose of education? And it's the same for any line of study. If you took a class on the Civil War from a professor steeped in Southern tradition, it would certainly be a bit different from a class taught by someone who grew up in Boston. Both perspectives are valuable.

  • Hello Tyler,

     

    I wondered if you gave any thought to the question I asked in the email I sent you.

     

    Actually, it has a lot to do with the issue being discussed here, indirectly.

     

    How much should a composer "micromanage" a musical creation or the players who perform the music?

     

    With music produced with the aid of a computer, the result is highly micromanaged, or would appear to be highly micromanaged (though there will still be differences in the way the result is perceived, based on the method by which the listener appropriates the final product:  via built-in computer speakers, earphones, small earbuds,  expensive headphones, large stereo system speakers, etc.)

     

    In the piece, I am putting together,  I utilize excerpts, soundfiles, MP3's, direct recorded sounds and virtual instruments from various sources.  I combine all of these (even including some excerpts from your work, "Interpretations on Folk Melodies," movement 3—by the way, do want me to include them, or take them out, or just post the whole thing on composers forum to get your reaction … ?)

     

    So, when I combine a large number of works—African  singing, Cantonese Opera, electronic music, East Indian Classical Singing, Chinese Classical violin, An Arab Azan, flutes, Western cellos, violins, glockenspiel, horns, full recordings of orchestral works by atonal composers, etc—I am managing (or micromanaging) the final product.  I have to adjust all the filters I use, the sound levels, the panning, the tempo, timing of the multiple various parts of the piece, various additional automation parameters and so on.   Like Pierre Henry, Peter Schaeffer and Stockhausen, I am roughly in control of the result.  (Still, people can listen to it in many different ways, depending on what reception apparatus they decide to use, and how they want to use it).

     

    Ultimately, it seems, composers cannot strictly "control," or micromanage the way their work is produced or received.  The composer simply sketches it out in large strokes.  Performers play it as they see fit; conductors conduct as they see fit, the listeners will listen using whatever sound system they prefer or have at their disposal—and may even use their own ears, brains, minds and spirits in ways that may not be in keeping with the original intention of the composer.

     

    Do these considerations render any decisions (about composers'control) moot, or at least render some decisions moot?

     

     

     

     

     

  • I found this statement interesting:

    Bob Porter said,

     

    "And it's the same for any line of study. If you took a class on the Civil War from a professor steeped in Southern tradition, it would certainly be a bit different from a class taught by someone who grew up in Boston. Both perspectives are valuable."

     

    What if you took a class on the Civil War that by a professor "steeped in Southern Tradition" who grew up in Boston?  (I think Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of the United States," was just such a person).

     

    With regard to music and the issue under discussion, I am sympathetic to the idea that a wide variety of perspectives may be valuable.

     

    But if by "a professor steeped in the Southern tradition", you mean someone sympathetic to the political goals of the South during the Civil War; and if by "someone who grew up in Boston," you mean, someone sympathetic to the goals of the North, then I am not sure "both perspectives are valuable."  I am fairly sure they do not have equal value.  The mere fact that the confederate constitution endorsed the institution of slavery should give everyone a good starting point, but high school teachers in the South don't usually teach that, even today.  (Though of course, in Universities the situation is very different).

     

    This is very relevant to the music discussion, of course, because those who want to over determine, through notation and excessive marking, the nature of a piece of music could be accused of wanting to "enslave the notes," and such composers may be a bit like the Confederate plantation owners in this analogy.  Of course, the northern elites wanted to put the freed slaves into factories and low paying jobs, so perhaps they were not much better, from the point of view of laborers, black and white.   These elites can be likened to those who want the music highly regulated and determined, just not as strictly.

     

    So, perhaps John Cage was right, and all the notes need simply to be freed entirely from markings, notations of various sorts, or from scores altogether.  I recently read that John Cage performed a work in which a helicopter lifted a piano up into the air, and dropped it onto the ground.  The resulting sound was the music he wished to create, which had no markings, notation or score, but which produced an effect which he thought musical and free.  Perhaps we need to reflect upon this sort of performance, so the issue of markings will be put into perspective.

      

  • Michael, thanks for stating that music interpretation needs to be free and untethered... this reaffirms my decision in my latest piano piece to leave most of the markings "abstract", and let the performer decide how to interpret it.  I've been sitting on the fence about this for a while now... and in the interim I've played through the piece myself many times, and noted that almost every single playthrough comes out different. There are some broad landmarks that are more-or-less consistent, but the details differ considerably. If even I myself can't decide on a specific interpretation, why should I impose one upon another performer?

  • It's a very interesting conversation.

    " ... why not just leave tempo, dynamics, et c., unspecified?"

     

    I am thinking, why not leave timbre, instrumentation, melodies, pitch, rhythm, harmonies and note duration unspecified?  We can specify dynamics and tempo, though, as Iannis Xenakis does in Metastasis.

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZazYFchLRI

     

    The choice, perhaps, should be left up to the individual composer, but not to the performer, or the computer, or to chance or nature.  Is it conceivable that God (the Supreme Being, or the Source of All Reality—not understood in any particular dogmatic or sectarian sense) should be the one to decide the parameters of the music under consideration, and that the composer might try to become a conduit for the transmission of the Divine Musical Idea into some form of material sonic manifestation?

     

    There may be an "inner muse" present in every person who takes composition seriously, that will lead one to the best choices.

     

    Consider the question,

     

    "If the greatest of composers have these ambivalences and uncertainties, then what hope is there for us?"

     

    Personally, I do not think that either Chopin or Liszt were truly great composers, but that's just my opinion. Frankly, I think they were quite awful, and I will avoid almost anything they wrote whenever possible. But the most important point is, if you compare yourself to someone who you think is one of "the greatest composers," then I would want to wonder, why?  

     

    Doesn't the joy of music, for the composer, come from the actual act of creation?   Does it have anything to do with "comparing oneself with others?"   We can compare ourselves with Bach or Beethoven, and even when we find ourselves falling short in such comparisons, that does not diminish the joy we feel when we compose, in my opinion.  Nor does it serve, or should it serve to feed self-doubt which merely diminishes us.  Should Satie or Honegger or Milhaud have despaired, upon concluding that they would never produce any work as good as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?   No.  The world is richer culturally and musically for what they did produce, and their own personal lives were made rich by their efforts.  

     

    You may or may not personally like Xenakis' Mists for piano.

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH4j70KU-RQ

     

     

    But virtually every person who has a strong desire to compose, the tools to engage in composition, and time to do so, can make a positive contribution to his or her own life, to the lives of their fellows and the culture at large.  (Reflect upon the fact that many people simply waste much time doing frivolous things that are unproductive, destructive or negative.)  Composition itself is something that speaks of a reality too sacred and beautiful to neglect, for anyone who has touched that reality and felt even the slightest kinship with any other being who has called himself or herself "composer."  Everything else, all the other considerations—regarding markings, notation, and the score—are mere details.

     



  • Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

    It's a very interesting conversation.

    " ... why not just leave tempo, dynamics, et c., unspecified?"

     

    I am thinking, why not leave timbre, instrumentation, melodies, pitch, rhythm, harmonies and note duration unspecified?

    [...]

    In fact, in the early Baroque (or pre-Baroque?) period composers did leave such things unspecified, e.g., by writing figured bass. I know that later on a "standard" interpretation of these figured bass markings came about, but in its earliest conceptions, I would imagine that a certain amount of leeway was definitely there.

    And in fact, in contemporous times, certain music genres still leave such things unspecified. For example, in my church group, the songs are mainly known by their melody, and it's up to the musician to "fill in the blanks", so to speak. The guitarists would come up with their own chords to go with it, and as one of the standby pianists I would essentially improvise the entire accompaniment -- harmony, tempo, etc. -- to match the mood and tone desired -- which could be completely different every time.

    Oddly enough, though, it was the idea of writing down exactly what must be played that first caused music to take off in terms of development, around the Baroque/classical era. I suppose this is because reproducible, repeatable performances are a more solid foundation to base concerts on, rather than leaving it to chance that the pianist might happen to be in a bad mood that day and thereby ruin the concert by filling in a really dry accompaniment where the composer had intended something much more lively.

    So at the end of the day, it seems to be yet another one of those things in life that's all about the delicate art of balancing -- how to balance explicating the composer's intentions vs. allowing enough leeway for the performer to interpret. I doubt there is a simple, straightforward answer here -- there rarely is when balancing is involved, since there are so many factors to take into account. It would seem that it must be judged on a case-by-case basis.

    Micromanaging your music/performers
    This has been a point of contention with me and my professors ever since I have been in school. Where we buttheads is when it comes to instructions i…
  • I think you are going too far into the theoretical and philosophical aspects of what I am talking about. I am only talking about the practical side of modern performance practices and expectations. Things that you would actually write in a score for a performer today. 

    We can go into great detail about interpretation and composer intentions and divine musical so and so, but that is not what is at discussion today. What I wanted to discuss is if you were to write a piece for piano and give it to a real performers today, what would be too much information on the score and what is necessary for the score to ensure a good performance with little issues in rehearsals?

    Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

    It's a very interesting conversation.

    " ... why not just leave tempo, dynamics, et c., unspecified?"

     

    I am thinking, why not leave timbre, instrumentation, melodies, pitch, rhythm, harmonies and note duration unspecified?  We can specify dynamics and tempo, though, as Iannis Xenakis does in Metastasis.

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZazYFchLRI

     

    The choice, perhaps, should be left up to the individual composer, but not to the performer, or the computer, or to chance or nature.  Is it conceivable that God (the Supreme Being, or the Source of All Reality—not understood in any particular dogmatic or sectarian sense) should be the one to decide the parameters of the music under consideration, and that the composer might try to become a conduit for the transmission of the Divine Musical Idea into some form of material sonic manifestation?

     

    There may be an "inner muse" present in every person who takes composition seriously, that will lead one to the best choices.

     

    Consider the question,

     

    "If the greatest of composers have these ambivalences and uncertainties, then what hope is there for us?"

     

    Personally, I do not think that either Chopin or Liszt were truly great composers, but that's just my opinion. Frankly, I think they were quite awful, and I will avoid almost anything they wrote whenever possible. But the most important point is, if you compare yourself to someone who you think is one of "the greatest composers," then I would want to wonder, why?  

     

    Doesn't the joy of music, for the composer, come from the actual act of creation?   Does it have anything to do with "comparing oneself with others?"   We can compare ourselves with Bach or Beethoven, and even when we find ourselves falling short in such comparisons, that does not diminish the joy we feel when we compose, in my opinion.  Nor does it serve, or should it serve to feed self-doubt which merely diminishes us.  Should Satie or Honegger or Milhaud have despaired, upon concluding that they would never produce any work as good as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?   No.  The world is richer culturally and musically for what they did produce, and their own personal lives were made rich by their efforts.  

     

    You may or may not personally like Xenakis' Mists for piano.

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH4j70KU-RQ

     

     

    But virtually every person who has a strong desire to compose, the tools to engage in composition, and time to do so, can make a positive contribution to his or her own life, to the lives of their fellows and the culture at large.  (Reflect upon the fact that many people simply waste much time doing frivolous things that are unproductive, destructive or negative.)  Composition itself is something that speaks of a reality too sacred and beautiful to neglect, for anyone who has touched that reality and felt even the slightest kinship with any other being who has called himself or herself "composer."  Everything else, all the other considerations—regarding markings, notation, and the score—are mere details.

     

    Micromanaging your music/performers
    This has been a point of contention with me and my professors ever since I have been in school. Where we buttheads is when it comes to instructions i…
  • To Michael
    I'm talking about all music chamber to full ensembles.
    True old notation has gone away with the times but performance editions of scores (as oppose to critical editions) still ask these questions today of the old masters too. Each publisher adds and subtracts things from the performance scores based on exceptations they have of the performers that will buy their music. To add a pedal mark or to assume the pianist will pedal there, to add fingerings or not, to add ques or to except the ensemble to count rest. As composer we also have to make these choices.
    Even today me and my professor disagreed about staggered breathing in concert band music. In a passage of my band piece I have the alto saxophones doubled with the French horns playing chords in an eighth note pattern for several measures. I feel that it should be excepted from the performers to stagger their breathing with the other players in the section. My professor feels that I should put rest in strategic spots to avoid the enter section from accidentally breathing at the same time or at bad spots. To me that is way to much micromanaging, but to him its nessisary to ensure a good performance. That's what I'm talking about. What do you think? Is it too much it exactly what is needed?
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