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Language In Composition

By Sam Hasting

Music is, if nothing else, an extension of our speech. Whether it is the actual music or the words that go along with it, it is just another way for us to share what we think and feel with the world around us. The concept sounds simple enough, but many, many, many musicians across the planet have trouble finding their voice. Still many others wish to find a way to bring a greater sophistication to their voice. The answers to a lot of these problems have to do with technical or theory issues, two musically specific areas. There are other areas outside of the musically specific, though, that can aid someone in the development of their expression. One of them, for example (and the focus of this article), is the incorporating of regular language devices into composing and playing.

Through school, we learn about grammar and writing tools to essentially not sound like an idiot when we speak. The class’s effect usually does not reach past the end of the class period. It has no effect on their lives as kids and teenagers while they are learning it, and will not really affect the rest of their lives unless they follow a career in which writing is the focus. And then here you are, reading this article, indicating you have made the choice to involve writing in your life. It just happens to be the writing of music.
One huge part of writing and performing music, for example, is the art of phrasing. Phrasing is the creating of musical phrases. It is a cliché (yet apt) comparison, but phrases are very much like sentences. A sentence tells us something has happened, is happening or will happen. It is a relatively short expression of an idea, like a musical phrase. Let’s use the example “I play.” It’s an essence-only sentence: it has a subject, and it has a verb. We can embellish the sentence by varying its structure (syntax). By adding a direct object, our sentence now reads “I play my guitar.” Now we’re more specific. How can we continue from here? Adding an indirect object and preposition, we now know “I play my guitar for you.” Now I don’t think you’re feeling what I’m telling you, so now I exclaim “I play my guitar for you!” There are so many more ways to mess around with that sentence, but you get the idea, I’m sure.

When you’re creating a musical phrase, don’t give us any more information than you want us to know.
I could have continued “I play my guitar for you and on the weekends I binge on peanut butter,” but it ruins what I’m trying to communicate.

When you’re creating a musical phrase, make sure we have all the information you want us to know.
You don’t really take anything away at all from the original “I play.” either. “I play my guitar for you.” says exactly what I wanted to say, no more, no less.

How does this carry over to music, prepositions and direct objects and whatnots? I preface this following section by saying it is solely up to you what you wish the idea of interpreting music with lingual tools means. Here is my take on it all.

If I was to consider a musical phrase a sentence, a few of the areas around the idea I would focus on are rhythm, direction, and enunciation. Rhythm in speech is something that can either captivate a listener or bore them. Studying the great speakers of all time, you can notice the hypnotic lilts and bounces of their speech patterns. When you’re considering the rhythm for what you’re wanting to say, keep in mind that you want to say something to you’re listener, so make sure it’ll be interesting for them to hear. For direction, I look at how I get from the beginning of the idea to the end of it. Am I shaping a question? Am I making a statement? Am I exclaiming a belief? It is just knowing what tone I am taking throughout and what tone it is ending on. Enunciation also is a good indication of tone. If someone were speaking to you very punctuated and snippy, you would get the idea that they were upset about something. If someone was speaking slowly and slurring their words, their lethargy and disinterest would come across. Enunciation in speaking is the same as our articulation of notes. If I come at you with a heavily distorted, face melting, speed demon of a lick, you would feel the intensity. If I played a very clean toned, legato, luscious line of notes, you would get a different vibe (hopefully).

Food for thought: A good musical phrase is not confusing or ambiguous about explaining what is happening.

In the article we touched on one aspect of writing and playing, and barely touched on it at that. I’m only here to introduce the concept to you, not do all of the work for you. But that is the idea. It is, after all, just a tool. You can borrow someone’s tools to lay a foundation for your own house of music. There is such a magnitude of areas that you could dissect and treat like language that it could take a lifetime to see every scenario. It should also be noted that there are more microscopes with which to examine your music, than the rules of language (two big ones: other realms of art and nature). Look around in the most obvious and not so obvious places for other perspectives and tools to acquire.

But at the end of the article, what I really hope you take away from this is that when you want to say something, be sure to clearly know what you want to say, just say that, and it will not be lost upon your listener. Anything that you take the time to get across will be that much more appreciated.


Sam Hasting
bachinblach@hotmail.com


Copyright 2006 by Sam Hasting. All rights reserved. Used by Permission.

 


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