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#1607250 - 01/28/11 07:47 AM Are you faithful or do you "stray"?
TrapperJohn Offline
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Registered: 02/11/08
Posts: 3539
Loc: Chocolatetown, USA
Now that I have your attention... smile

What I mean is this: when you're studying a piece, practicing it day after day, are you "faithful" to the score, playing it exactly as written, adhering strictly to the indicated tempo and dynamics and assorted instructions about how to proceed thru the piece (repeat signs, segno signs, D.C.s, codas, etc.), and following the suggested fingering?

Or do you "stray" from the sheet music to one extent or another, making changes and modifications in some or all of these factors to (hopefully) enhance the piece and/or make it better sounding or more interseting or easier to play, or even more complex and challenging?

In this regard it probably doesn't matter too much what genre of music you're playing. Jazz, of course, not only requires improvasation but demands it. But, what I'm referring to here is not the changes-on-the-fly improvastions of jazz, but those you slowly and deliberately plan (and often notate on your sheets) as you're working your way to mastery of any given piece. Once set then this is the way you play the piece - until other changes are made, if any.

Even Classical music can be approached this way. Or maybe I should say especially Classical music - it was the tradition at various times/places to consider the score of a classical work as only a "guide" or "outline", and the performer was expected to play it ad lib, with as many variations and enhancements as his/her creative skills allowed - in fact, this might have been the original improvasation. Some composers never played their own works the same way twice - which begs the question: Why should you be faithful to a work when even the composer wasn't? laugh .

So, what are some of the things one can do to enhance and enliven or "spice up" any piece of music? At this stage of my studies I'm no authority, but here are a few techniques that I sometimes employ:

1. Change a note here and there - either in the melody or the accompaniment. If a certain note in a passage doesn't sound quite right to you see if you can find another one that does, and replace it. Maybe the original note sounded a little dissonant and you don't like it - or conversely, maybe it sounded too bland and adding a dissonant note gives a certain "kick" to the sound at that point. Suit yourself here - what you play has to please you first and foremost.

2. If you want to change a note in the bass (accompaniment) it might be just a single note or it could be an entire chord. The concept of chord substitution is fundamental to the study of harmony and is used widely in composition and arranging. At it's most basic level (and as one of many examples) for major chords one can substitute the chord an interval of a 3rd above or below, which would be a minor chord (CM ---> Em or CM ---> Am). The ultimate criteria? Whatever sounds good to you in the context of that phrase or passage.

3. Add an introduction to the piece - this intro can be something you compose yourself, or it can be derived from one or more existing measures (or whole phrases) in the piece. One very commonly used method is to simply take tha last measures or phrase of the piece and use it (either "as is" or slightly modified) as an intro. One way to modify it in useing it as an intro is to slow it's tempo down somewhat - or just play it freestyle as your fancy dictates. You can also find the source of good intros at various other places within a piece and not just at the end - like maybe at the end of a section or part.

4. Repeat the ending of a piece - but when you do so it's often very effective to slow it down for dramatic intent and final closure. It can be very attractive to take that ending phrase and use it (modified or not) as both an intro and repeat it at the end. This repeat of a phrase can also be used very well at the end of a section within a piece.

5. Alter the "routing" of your passage through a piece - insert repeat signs where they don't exist to repeat a whole section or just a phrase - this often enhances the appeal of the piece and extends it's length, of course - but it will increase your chances of making mistakes which is always a key factor, but especially when you're trying to get a good recording of it! You can also add D.C.s or D.S.s where they don't already exist to repear the entire piece or a part thereof from the beginning, as in D.C. al Fine, or D.S. al Coda. Let your imagination (and your patience and intestinal fortitude) be your guide with this.

There are any number of other techniques, but enough from me - how about you? Any others that you find good or effective or interesting?

JF


Edited by John Frank (01/28/11 08:14 AM)
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#1607324 - 01/28/11 09:47 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Stanza Offline
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Registered: 01/18/02
Posts: 1458
Loc: Chapel Hill, NC
Excellent post, John. I do stick to the score, but I know that it isn't the only way to play. I think many are caught up in worshiping at the alter of total accuracy, eventhough many composers themselves have been quoted as being "flexible" with performences...indeed this was encouraged!

On "American Idol" if singers try to be true to the original song they, are bashed as being "Karoyke".

So this little authoritarian voice in your head (teacher/judge/composer/parent?)that tells you to fear a wrong/different note, or personalizing a piece need to be silenced. The essence of art is uniqueness.

I am not for playing "whatever", but I like some of you ideas, and might give them a shot. Particularly with some shorter, lighter pieces. Might be fun.

One final comment. There have been times for me during practice that I found treating the score as a "suggestion" does tend to free up my playing, and help me see the piece as a bigger picture.
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#1607343 - 01/28/11 10:05 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
-Frycek Offline
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Loc: SC Mountains
Faithful as a dog. (A rather dumb dog that doesn't quite "get it" but means well.)
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#1607348 - 01/28/11 10:09 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
jasperkeys Offline
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Registered: 02/22/05
Posts: 411
Loc: Safford, AZ
Wow, what an intriguing topic. As far as classical music; I wonder now if in fact whether Bach or Beethoven (for examples) played their own pieces strictly by the score or not. We'll never know but it makes me think what they would think about our dedication to following the score without deviation. Would they be flattered or would they chuckle?

As far as popular music or jazz; I've been pondering something like this lately. When playing a transcription do you follow the score faithfully? I recently transcribed a slow version of "I'll Get You" by the Beatles. I found it on YouTube by a Tom Van Dorn and posted it in the Pianist Corner -Non Classical forum. Anyway, I liked it so much I decided I wanted to learn it but felt it would be better to transcribe it so I'd have something written out to work from. It sounds like an "easy" piece but there are subtle variations throughout that I'm finding difficult to memorize. The thing is; most likely, Tom is playing off the cuff and here I am trying to memorize an ad-lib. It's just that Tom's version is so nice that this version is the one I want to learn faithfully. I suppose people who are more gifted at improvisation would likely feel repressed with what I'm doing.

So, to make the short story long; I tend to be faithful.
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#1607356 - 01/28/11 10:13 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
TX-Dennis Offline
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Registered: 12/09/05
Posts: 4126
Loc: Texas
It really depends on the arrangement. I like to take the fairly simple "standard" sheet music and add my own personal touches - added notes, chords, arpeggios, etc. More difficult arrangements are often played mostly as written.
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#1607367 - 01/28/11 10:33 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
imdonald Offline
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Registered: 02/25/03
Posts: 42
Loc: Vero Beach, FL
Even as a relative beginner, I find myself altering (with notation) some pieces, especially after much practicing of a single score. Mind you, my pieces are simple, but I see myself altering even more complex pieces as my skills develop. Before I change anything, I am sure to be able to play as written. I played a piece for my teacher a couple of lessons ago, and he said "Very nice, now play it the way it's written." Oops. However, he does like how I tend to personalize what I play and we're both looking forward to improv and the point when I can be a little creative.
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#1607379 - 01/28/11 10:45 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Plowboy Offline
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Registered: 06/26/08
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Loc: Huntington Beach, CA
I change fingerings to what works for me, and generally skip repetitions. I stay faithful to the score because I'm not good enough to do it different!
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#1607406 - 01/28/11 11:12 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
BB Player Offline


Registered: 11/17/06
Posts: 2509
Loc: Not in Texas
I generally stay faithful to the score as I learn a piece but will sometimes vary tempos a bit when I play it, introducing slight pauses, speeding up or slowing down passages, etc. When learning, I use the suggested fingering (if there is any) as a starting point but change it as needed. Also, if pedal use is indicated, I'll generally follow it when learning but vary that as well after I've learned the piece.
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#1607414 - 01/28/11 11:26 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Rui725 Offline
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Registered: 11/19/09
Posts: 953
I rarely delete or add notes, unless I just blatantly mess up. I do like to change around the phrasing the tempo though. Maybe emphasize a certain note to start a phrase.

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#1607487 - 01/28/11 12:55 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: -Frycek]
TrapperJohn Offline
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Registered: 02/11/08
Posts: 3539
Loc: Chocolatetown, USA
Originally Posted By: -Frycek
Faithful as a dog. (A rather dumb dog that doesn't quite "get it" but means well.)


smile

Well, even the most faithful of dogs stray once in a while - especially under the irresistable compulsion to perpetuate his species (granted, a problem that most pianists don't have) laugh

JF
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#1607492 - 01/28/11 01:03 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
sandalholme Offline
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Registered: 12/31/09
Posts: 744
Loc: Dorset, UK
For me (classical) the notes are pretty sacrosanct: if you look at the number of second, third, fourth etc etc thoughts Beethoven had, then you realise he took a lot of trouble to set down the notes he wanted. He may well have changed them in performance - but he's the composer, he's entitled to do what he wants with his own music. Next, using an Urtext score if possible, I practice using the composer's markings. Only when I believe I have understood the music well enough - within my own limited capacity for this - do I start to question, or shift, some aspects of dynamics or tempo. This is more an evolutionary process, but I believe absolute adherence to the letter of the score produces unmusical results. We all feel music individually and that's what makes different performances fascinating. But I have a huge respect for the composer's explicit instructions. It's just my respectful take on creations that I could never have produced myself. I owe them that respect.

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#1607507 - 01/28/11 01:34 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Lord Akela Offline
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Registered: 01/18/11
Posts: 27
Loc: Philippines
I'm just a newbie. I replicated some piece I found over YouTube. I didn't follow it very thoroughly since I made a few changes here and there because I thought it sounded better.

But when I try to read sheets I'm faithful.

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#1607512 - 01/28/11 01:43 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Akira Offline
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Registered: 07/27/07
Posts: 1645
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
"But I have a huge respect for the composer's explicit instructions. It's just my respectful take on creations that I could never have produced myself. I owe them that respect."

Interesting topic. When you look at printed sheet music, are you really looking at the composer's true intention? I just read there were six 'different' publications of a Beethoven piece I'm working on. Who is making these changes? Are they under the composer's supervision or explicit approval? It's anybody's guess, but I would imagine publishers employ arrangers who do these types of things.

I usually take some liberties (not many), when I think a non-written crescendo or ritardando (just for example) sounds better than how it was written. I'll get confirmation at my piano lesson as to whether my teacher concurs with the changes I've made (sometimes, he politely tells me 'no'). Anyway, I play mostly pop, so there's probably a lot more 'wiggle' room than say classical.

It's art, not math. Go with one feels right, I say. smile


Edited by Akira (01/28/11 01:43 PM)

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#1607534 - 01/28/11 02:04 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Augustina Offline
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Registered: 10/24/09
Posts: 422
Loc: Wisconsin
For me I try to follow the notes as they are written in the songs.. The only time I really change the notes around is when I am not sure what they are.. or the song is too hard. I have a little trouble figuring out what the higher notes are:(
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#1607547 - 01/28/11 02:18 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
wouter79 Online   content
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Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3244
As mentioned above it depends a bit on the type of music. Jazz seems to accept quite some messing around. Basso continuo you even have to add ornamentation etc I think?

More generally, I will mostly follow the notes but will sometimes add or drop a few if it does not sound right. Occasionally when I suspect a modification sign dropped out I may add it. I may change the timing a bit if it fits the rythm. I may add own dynamics, well you even have to if the piece has no explicit dynamics, or I stretch the notation. For example some pianos don't allow playing pp so you have to crank up all to mf at least.... I may play staccato without it being written explicitly.

particularly when things are not explicitly written I feel free to make my own interpretation. In the end what counts is how it sounds, right?
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#1607567 - 01/28/11 02:48 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
casinitaly Offline

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Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 4665
Loc: Italy
I don't know enough to make changes. I've made some once in a while - by accident! When my teacher noticed and corrected me, I had to say that I thought my version sounded fine smile

In a couple of practice pieces I've added in some very small flourishes - trills, or dancing about - but usually the first time this happens is because I'm fumbling for the right note. I can't always repeat it smile

Ask me this question again next year!
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#1607595 - 01/28/11 03:27 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Mr Super-Hunky Offline
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Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 4195
Loc: Arizona.
I think I use the written score more as a prop than anything else. Kinda like parsley or garnish on your plate. It is always there for show/appearance but does absolutely nothing.

I'm joking but not entirely.

A written score to me is literally just a guide to give me occaional hints on where the melody is going.

My sightreading abilities are very poor (for someone actually reading the score verbatim) but are good enough to use more like a cheat sheet. (kinda like Sarah Palins "talking points" she writes on her hands/arms.)

I'm not actually reading anything from the score but it does give me constant reminders as to where to turn next. This is why all my performances always sound very similar to the actual tune....but not exactly.

While this may sound like playing from a fakebook, that is not what I am doing.

People who play from fakebooks still usually play the root note in the left hand along with the given chord/melody in the right. In other words they are still playing what they are given and just elaborating upon it.

When you use the actual complete score as a guide, it is more like a road map that shows you where the musical path will lead before you take it; but it doesn't mean you have to take it. You can veer off the musical path here and there while occasionally revisiting it just to ensure you end up where you and the written score originally intended.

Think of it more like using a complete written score as a fake book instead of using a fakebook as a complete written score.

Yes I know this may not make sense but I don't know how to better explain it.

I guess it could best be described as that tiny grey area somewhere between the actual written score, a fakebook and totally improvising/playing by ear as it is a mixture of all of them.

Nothing is normal around here. It never will be either!

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#1607602 - 01/28/11 03:44 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Chris G Offline
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Registered: 01/15/09
Posts: 737
Loc: Portland, Oregon
I consider tempo, dynamics, pedal, phrasing and other forms of expression to be fair game for interpretation but I almost always play the notes that were written unless it looks as if there was a mistake in the score. I don't see anything wrong with adding more or less repeats.

I try to avoid straying in order to make a piece easier to play. It would be easy to slow down on the difficult sections or raise a low note to avoid a large jump in the left hand but I prefer to work though these difficulties rather than try to avoid them.

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#1607608 - 01/28/11 03:54 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: -Frycek]
Arctic_Mama Offline
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Registered: 09/30/09
Posts: 379
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: -Frycek
Faithful as a dog. (A rather dumb dog that doesn't quite "get it" but means well.)


Yup.

I play the music because I like the way THEY wrote it. If I didn't, I'd be composing, instead! I pick pieces I enjoy, so modifying or ad libbing them seems strange, to me. I know it can be done that way, but to my brain it pings as musical sacrilege crazy
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#1607610 - 01/28/11 03:58 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Arctic_Mama Offline
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Registered: 09/30/09
Posts: 379
Loc: Alaska
Oh, I should add - when I mean changing the score I am speaking of changing the actual note values... I don't rank expression and dynamics in the same category as actual notes and their assigned beats. I think playing with dynamics to enhance what a piece is conveying is pretty necessary, so long as the player has a solid understanding of the piece first and isn't changing the expression as an excuse for not mastering or understanding the original writing of the piece.

Some liberties taken with Fur Elise come to mind... The changing of the dynamics and values isn't a choice of artistic expression, it's generally a lack of ability to play it as written or to be able to replicate the dynamic values as written. In other words, it's sloppy playing excused as rubato, and that bugs me a bit wink


Edited by Arctic_Mama (01/28/11 03:58 PM)
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#1607654 - 01/28/11 05:05 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: sandalholme]
TrapperJohn Offline
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Registered: 02/11/08
Posts: 3539
Loc: Chocolatetown, USA
Originally Posted By: sandalholme
... But I have a huge respect for the composer's explicit instructions. It's just my respectful take on creations that I could never have produced myself. I owe them that respect.


I mostly agree - I have tremendous respect and admiration for composers (and arrangers) - in fact I am in awe!

But, I don't think most composers (assuming they were still here among us) would absolutely insist that we play their work exactly as written - some may want that and we should honor it - others wouldn't care too much and would simply be delighted to have their work played at all, even with "enhancements" - some might even wonder why we were playing the piece without attempting our own unique interpretation (as long as the piece was recognizable and they were given their due credit for it's creation) - and a few may even find our modifications to be an improvement of sorts, for which they would be either grateful or envious - depending smile

JF
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#1607662 - 01/28/11 05:13 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
TrapperJohn Offline
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Registered: 02/11/08
Posts: 3539
Loc: Chocolatetown, USA
I wanted to mention one other frequently used technique for spicing up a piece:

6. Play a section 8va (up an octave) - this is often effective when you're repeating a section, either of a classical work or even more commonly when you're repeating the chorus or bridge of a pop piece. This can add much interest and catch a listener's attention. The entire section doesn't necessarily have to be played 8va - sometimes just playing half of it this way is even more effective. Playing a section (or part thereof) 8vb (down an octave) is much less often used but could be interesting and surprising in it's own way. When you play 8va you can do it with RH only, or both hands.

JF


Edited by John Frank (01/28/11 07:54 PM)
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Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on. Frederic Chopin

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#1607704 - 01/28/11 06:43 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
ProdigalPianist Offline
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Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
When I am learning a piece (I only play "classical") I will do things like play in a different dynamic range (if it's soft, I will play loud, or vice versa), play sections in different rhythms, etc. Playing a piece in a different "dramatic" way ('sad', 'happy', 'angry', silly etc)

However, it is NOT because I think it sounds better this way. Doing things like these are actually respected techniques for learning solidly. They work. (especially playing p passages f in the learning stages). "Shaking up" a piece can give you different insights on interpretation.


Edited by ProdigalPianist (01/28/11 06:45 PM)
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#1607719 - 01/28/11 07:22 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
sleepingcats Offline
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Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 981
Loc: Oregon
I stick with what's written. I tend to "follow the book" with most things, which shows I'm not as free & creative as many others, but that's okay.

However, when it comes to cats, I only adopt strays. grin
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#1607720 - 01/28/11 07:22 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
Little_Blue_Engine Offline
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Registered: 03/30/09
Posts: 1233
Loc: Ohio, US
Most of what I've learned so far is pop. If its an arrangement, not the origional transcription, then changing things here and there to make it easier doesn't leave me feeling guilty. I'm already playing something other than the origional to begin with, so what difference should it make if I change it a little? I can only reach an octave so I've had to move a few notes here and there to fit them all in. whome I think its funny that the song I had to do that for was written by someone who also can't reach more than an octave. Apparently the arranger could...
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#1607722 - 01/28/11 07:30 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: ProdigalPianist]
nipo Offline
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Registered: 11/05/10
Posts: 63
Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
When I am learning a piece (I only play "classical") I will do things like play in a different dynamic range (if it's soft, I will play loud, or vice versa), play sections in different rhythms, etc. Playing a piece in a different "dramatic" way ('sad', 'happy', 'angry', silly etc)



I do this too, although not always on purpose. Probably a less useful learning tool when you play the wrong dynamics by accident.
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#1607811 - 01/28/11 11:44 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
SPOFF Offline
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Registered: 12/31/07
Posts: 72
Loc: Derry NH
When learning a song I try to play it exactly as written. This is because I typically pick a song that has something to teach me. There are many songs that I have memorized and often I just want to sit down and play. And these songs are very different from the score I learned a few years ago. Some are original arrangements based on popular songs--so there never was an official score, just mine. Mostly I add notes, play around with different chords, mess with tempo, dynamics, pedal, etc.

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#1607939 - 01/29/11 07:35 AM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
BeethovenForEver Offline
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Registered: 12/30/10
Posts: 73
Interesting question and comments. It’s curious though, because in the Pop & Rock world you hear so many different versions and improvisations from the original song, Eva Cassidy comes to mind. I was staggered to find out that the song Patsy Cline sang "Crazy" was actually written and performed by Willie Nelson - I’m not mad about his version of it, but he wrote it!

But with piano, I play Romantic, Classical, Baroque etc so in regards to the actual notes, I stick to what is on the page.

In regards to tempo, dynamic and pedal markings, I regard them as a guide only. Because it difficult to tell if the ones written were the composers actual intentions. I’ve seen a couple of different publications of the same work but with different markings, but some composers never wrote any markings to begin with anyway, and it’s just the editors that have written them in before being published... to make it look more like music I suppose. I’ve rarely seen different notes in different publications. The only one I remember seeing from two different publications was a changed note in the bottom of page one of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor. So we don’t really know what he wanted but I guess you could scan the videos of his performances to see what note he hit. There may have been two different original scores sitting round his house that Rachmaninov wrote... I guess you could argue about which one is correct until you drop dead. Even his name can be spelt so many different ways and still looks right!

Fingerings I regard as a personal thing and for me it depends on if the fingers are being stretched abnormally even if it’s what’s written. And publishers do make mistakes when printing and it can be incorrect. I’ve played a few Beethoven pieces that follow the same fingering as an actual scale the piece is written in for that key. My teacher and I had a joke a few months back that when Beethoven gets confused he just writes in a scale... but it always seems to work and sound good... I digress. But generally, the fingering is suitable and usually I stick to what is written. And as for the different fingerings in different publications, it just depends on who edited it. I had one teacher tell me once if I was playing a piece by Rachmaninov I wouldn't be using the same fingering as him.

I vary tempos and dynamics more often than not particularly when there is a repeat of a main theme at the end that’s already been heard at the beginning. I always do this because it makes the pieces more alive, makes me feel part of it.

As for changing notes or chords, I don’t. I had a teacher tell me once to never change any note of any piece except if I felt that the last note needed to drop an octave and only if it is appropriate at that point in time. I’ve always stuck to this.

I guess composers would have changed notes etc in their own live performances, it’s their work after all. I understand that Mozart was always doing this.

Best,

Anthony.
_________________________
Beethoven, the Best.

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#1608095 - 01/29/11 12:14 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
bluekeys Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/07
Posts: 1337
I draw a thick black metaphorical line between my classical and pop pieces. For classical, I envision a small, elderly, bespectacled lady standing on my shoulder with a ruler in her hand ready to slap my fingers if I make the tiniest departure from the score. For pop songs, there's a slightly drunken little devil with wild hair and bloodshot eyes on the other shoulder coaxing me to do whatever I want -- runs, fills, arpeggios, glissandos, whatever.

I don't have any philosophical allegiance to either of them. I like a lot of stuff like electrified Bach that would send my matronly piano teacher screaming in horror back to the dark folds of my imagination. And often I'm too lazy to go partying with my wild-eyed devil and just play pops songs as written.

But for the most part I listen to my imaginary friends, saving my creative juices for the pop stuff, and leaving the stuff written by dead guys in powdered wigs alone.

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#1608114 - 01/29/11 12:51 PM Re: Are you faithful or do you "stray"? [Re: TrapperJohn]
jotur Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5277
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
I can turn almost anything into honky tonk smile

Cathy
_________________________

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