Can we notate in music a Stephane Grappelli solo accurately?( https://bit.ly/StephGrap ) The notes? Mostly. The rhythm? Partially. The style? Less likely. The tiny slides between notes, the rhythmic feel, and subtle expressive elements? Impossible. Absolutely impossible. The best anyone can do with notation would be to put something down that would remind the music reader of some of the basic elements mentioned above. All of he rest must come from audiation—the part that is in your head that cannot be well represented in notation: subtleties such as tonal nuances, phrasing, and most expressive elements. These would be just a few of the differences between your interpretation and mine, say, of a beautiful ballad. What you bring to the party—from all your past listening experiences that inform your choices—will be different from what I bring. Given this, notation falls horrendously short of representing music—that is with the exception of tones and some rhythm. If you never heard Stephane Grappelli play, your rendition wouldn’t match up much. Besides, what would be the point of putting into notation something Mr. Grappelli never had to read in the first place? If you can’t play it first by ear, then the notation serves only as a shortcut—a detour, actually—for you to develop your own musicianship.
Let’s look at this a different way: When you read a book, do you hear the author’s voice in your head? Is it different than my interpretation of the author’s voice? Do the letters and words actually convey all of the intention of the author?
Consider most elementary school bands and your experience of listening to them. Their intonation is not well developed to put it nicely. The children have been taught to play notes, push buttons and blow air. Does their rendition of the piece of music groove? Or does it sit lifelessly? I believe we have taught them to count the beats and not feel what’s in between—where the music really lives.
Some adults say of themselves that they are not musical, but then I hear them perform. “Wow, that was really moving and beautiful. How can you say you’re not musical?” They answer that they don’t know the notes (names of notes) or the theory (like how many verbs did you just read in the last paragraph), or, more often than not, they don’t know how to read the notation. To me, this is simply absurd. Listen to Erroll Garner ( https://bit.ly/ErrollGarner ), and tell me why he should need to read what he’s playing. The truth is that he doesn’t know how to read and write music. Yet, many fine jazz musicians call him a musical genius.
Now, this is not to say that reading notation—with understanding—is not valuable. We would not have symphony orchestras to play some of the world’s finest music. Many rock and jazz bands rely on written music. Most probably do not. When they do, the notation reminds them of what it is they can already audiate. They can “think the music” in their minds. If you can do that, then I say that you are musical—whether you can play, sing or read music or not! And think about this for a bit: Musical listeners are actually half of the equation. Otherwise, for whom are musicians performing?
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