Hannemann’s Music Corner: Go With The Flow
By RICHARD HANNEMANN
This is from my someday-to-be-released second volume of my guitar method “Music and Guitar” the first volume of which is available at Mesa Library. Downside to be more than just a little ADHD is that it takes forever to get anything done…
Music is a dynamic. It is constantly in motion and the relationships of its elements are constantly changing.
Heraclitus wrote, “You cannot step in the same stream twice” and there is some real truth to that. Imagine standing on a stream bank. The stream at 9 a.m. is not the same as the stream at 10 a.m. is not the same as the stream at 11 a.m. The water that was there at 9 a.m. has moved on downstream and been replaced by water that has come from upstream. The new water may have a somewhat different amount of components in the way of minerals.
If the water upstream was disturbed, that may have churned up new silt that even now is being deposited where you stand. Or, perhaps extra water was added upstream making the stream run more swiftly. Either condition will alter the stream bed where you are and that alteration will impact the water as it moves on downstream thereby changing the streambed along its entire length. As well, the temperature of the water will change through the course of the day, which will also alter its components and the streambed.
But all of these are small changes, which you can’t see. To you it still looks like the same stream because you can’t see these changes happening. One way to know they have occurred is to compare the stream as it is at 9 a.m. with the stream as it is at 10 a.m. and at 11 a.m. If you dip out a glass of water at each time, you can then analyze the water at that time. You can also use various instruments to measure changes in temperature and speed.
Just as we can use comparative static analysis to describe the stream and find in what way it has changed, we can use a static approach to describe musical elements. We can define “note”, “tone”, “pitch”, “duration”, “interval”, “tempo” and others. We can show how one element can be added to another element in order to build a construct such as a “key”, “chord”, “scale”, etc.
But there is a trap in that. It is very easy to get so focused on the static analysis that you lose sight of the essence of the stream as a moving dynamic.
Another Greek philosopher showed the problem with what has become known as “Zeno’s Paradox.” You shoot an arrow at a target. For any given distance, there is a half distance. Since a half-distance is a distance it, too, has a half-distance. So forth and so on. In order for the arrow to travel a given distance it must first travel the half-distance. Which means the arrow can’t move. But it certainly does move and reaches the target.
The reason here is fairly simple: the half-distance is simply a manner of describing a portion of a dynamic event minus the dynamic of the event. The way to resolve the paradox is to select certain interim distances and add the physics of motion. This allows the arrow to travel through a series of half-distances. That these half-distances are infinitely divisible is rather beside the point – they exist as a series which are linked by the dynamic of motion and the arrow travels through each half-distance rather than to each half-distance.
A note on a paper just sits there. It is the symbolic representation of the note that you hear. Play the note and it, too, seems to just sit there. Granted it has a certain internal dynamic – the vibrations, which make the note occur in waves which have a regularity that can measured as a frequency and those vibrations will last a certain measurable amount of time unless somehow influenced otherwise. But beyond frequency and sustain/decay the note just sits there.
The internal dynamic of notes is the beginning of musical energy. If you play one note today and play a different note tomorrow there is no dynamic. The events are too far apart in time to be connected. If you play a note now and play another one 10 minutes from now, the only relationship they will have is the playing of the second note in relation to your memory of the first note. But if you play the two notes close enough together such that the internal dynamic of each overlap then you have an active relationship which creates a musical dynamic across and through a series of distinct units.
The basic dynamic exists, first, within intervals between tones. This dynamic is then compounded in the relationship between intervals, then in the relationship between the groups of intervals we call chords, then in the relationship of the group of intervals and chords we call keys.
The dynamic is further compounded by adding rhythmic motion through the duration, meter, and speed. Finally, the dynamic is enhanced with changes in volume and timbre. In combining these dynamics, with the first note you have put your arrow in your bow, with the second note you have drawn the bow back. The third note releases the arrow and it is on its way.
Music is a dynamic. To know, understand, and play it as such is the essence of musicianship.