Have you ever been to a concert where the performance gave you chills, made your hair stand on end, or even brought you to tears? There are many things that have to line up musically in order for this to happen.
Firstly, the composer has to write the piece well. Hopefully the piece is written well technically, but the musicality of the piece is key to the emotional reaction. Next, the performer has to be able to play the piece accurately. But again, the musicality of the musician will bring the piece from mediocrity to excellence. Lastly, the audience has to be open and receptive to the music.
Musicality is the emotional interpretation of the music, and shaping is an extremely important facet in bringing life to the music. Shaping is what makes the music feel like it is going somewhere. The composer can shape the music with orchestration, texture, range, melodic line, tempo changes, and by writing in dynamics and articulations. The performers must follow the directions in the score and artfully add their own interpretations to bring the piece to the next level.
Sometimes, especially in a long piece of music, it can be difficult to see the overall shape of the music. Young musicians especially have a hard time figuring out where the climax of the piece is or when to play timid and quiet or deliberate and bold. Composers also may have a hard time figuring out where their piece is going or whether there is a direction in their music.
One particularly good way to visualize the music is to make a music map. I learned this in my first real composition lesson when I was going to visit colleges to attend, and it still helps by composition process today. It is very helpful for composing, but it can also be a great tactic for teaching musicality.
It is quite simple; it works like a graph. Intensity is on the left and time runs along the bottom. Dots are placed at a certain level of intensity, which is determined by dynamic level, texture, and other possible musical aspects. For example, if a single instrument is playing pianissimo, the dot will be toward the bottom of the page, and if the entire orchestra is playing a fortissimo, the dot will be at the top of the page. When all the dots are placed along the duration of the piece, connect them with a line, and this will show the shape of the entire piece.
Here is an example using a short piece I wrote for solo unaccompanied violin. This is a highly emotional piece inspired by Romani music. In the music map, you can see the dramatic changes in emotion, the clear climax, and the overall shape of the piece. Follow along with the recording.
Find the other two Romani Caprices available to listen for free on sound cloud.
by Anna Brake, composer and author of Music Trends of the 21st Century, available now on amazon.