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Notation, what for ?

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In the universe of actual music, musical quality, swing and groove became the most important elements of the musical speech. It doesn't date from yesterday, this emergence concur with the valorization of the interpreter as to be a protagonist of the musical works, and this phenomenon appeared in correspondence with the possibility of perenniality of art work through recording.

Indeed, before the invention of the tape-recorder or the cinema, a musical or scenic rendering was lost forever as soon as it was finished. It is evident that the only thing who was staying in perpetuity was the works written by the composer or the author. This one was the only protagonist, the only one who was able to have a right to posterity. The others, the interpreters, were staying only in the memory of the people who met them. The 20th century, with its inventions, changed the things. With the gramophone and the cinema, the interpreters could now have their ticket for posterity.

It has emerged from this technology the "interpreter's works" where the composer, as it is in Jazz, is only an original creator who concede to the interpreter a theme which this last one could create and improvise around, being so the right creator of the works. In theatre, with collective improvisation, the interpreters were becoming also protagonists and were beginning to create their own works.In the case that concerns us, music, the score being till that time an essential tool of communication between the composer and the interpreters, began to be less indispensable. Some new tendencies had also some effects on the way to learn music. In Jazz, and in the new waves, the oral tradition is obligatory, music is teached mainly through the ear and some new elements such as musicality, swing, groove (impossible to be transmitted by the way of a written score) begin to be under the spotlights. Today and in the music of young people who discover it through the new technologies, the partition as to be an element of communication is now absolutely useless. Ideed, it is more explicit to make a listening of a works in order to make it known instead of a reading.

The "without-musical theory", so much decried in the orthodoxal environments, far from being a blemish,is however a trump that reveals the existence of a true musician being able to learn through his legitimate organ : the ear. A lot of musicians without a good ear (sometimes without any talent), are cautionned by the traditional music academies and by the official "culture" only because they are able to reproduce with a more or less spectacular technic all the notes and all the shades indicated by the composer on the score. Symphonic orchestras, opera theaters and cultural telecasts are full of those performing monkeys.

Those facts are so important that a funny story used to be often told at San Francisco in the Seventies : Sam and Ben, two Jazz musicians, are talking : "-Tell me, Ben, why do classical musicians all read scores when they play ? - Because with classical musicians, there are more deaf people than blinds ! ". Today, a lot of musicians use the score only to write some transcriptions for a deposit at the SACEM (NDT : French national organism for the protection of the author rights in France). And this limitation in the musical theory capacity is not a handicap to create good music. Michel Berger (NDT : famous French pop songwriter and singer of the 70's - 80's), in an interview granted to Jacques Chancel at France-Musique (French radio), said one day : "I'm in the act of learning out the musical theory". That was legitimate because the 90% of his musical language was belonging to what can't be transmitted through a score. Teach a man who never heard classical music how to play piano and the day he will take a score of Mozart, you won't recognize it. Because there are in this cultural forwarding a lot of oral tradition. I wonder even myself if Mozart could recognize one of his works played by an actual pianist by following the indications of the intellectual guides in musicology. So much that the "mozartian groove" is maybe lost forever in the silence of the generations and impossible to be transmitted by the written music notation.

However, we are going to recover in this lesson the importance of the written score. And I can tell you "You are good musicians without musical theory, with a belated musical theory you will be better than those who learned it since the beginning". Happy the "without-musical theory" because they will be the elect the muse.

The score is thus :

  1. A tool of communication
  2. A tool of declaration of author rights about a works.

And there's a new use. The score is a tool of analysis. An extract like this one :

For which each part is like that :

It's impossible to do this with your ten fingers on a keyboard. It's an effect which logic is very simple. It's about to :

  1. Do a chromatic scale (by half-tones) upward
  2. We add each time a new note to the chord
  3. All the chords thus made up are chords by tone.

It is a type of reasoning which only the partition makes it possible to follow.


To end. There's a different type of composition according to the stand that we use. The music of those who compose with the piano is different from the music of those who compose with the guitar, that is different from those who compose by singing and playingwith the guitar. As well, Computer-Assisted Music is different depending on the used software. We will try to get the things moving a little bit so that most of the choices could be possible. I first of all want in the next chapter to give to you you a bit of musical theory but with a different approach that will make you possible to learn faster.

Do the exercises because it's the only way to understand the following chapters.

See you soon.

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Mario LITWIN, on the 12-10-1999

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