Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Of photons and phrases...the pithy pendulum

I am slowly working my way through Walter Isaacson's biography of Albert Einstein.
( and I mean sloooowly )

Anyway, I've reached that point of Einstein's "miracle year" when, from March through June of 1905, he produced four papers that helped to upend the world of physics.
The first paper presented the idea of 'light quanta' - that light should not only be described as a wave but as individual packets of quanta later to be known as photons.

In my mind this connects to one of the truisms I've hit upon in my playing. Over the past year or so I've had one of those revelations that, in retrospect, sounds obvious and dumb.

Music is made up of notes.
Make the notes sound good

OK, everyone all together now..."DUH"

Still, as I practice, this simple thought seems to have had a profound effect on my playing. Often I remind myself to simply make the notes sound good and it really helps.

"Ah, but what about phrases?" you ask.

We've all heard 'technical' players who seem to play passages as a succession of notes with no sense of musical direction. We've also hear 'musical' players who play phrases that move us even to the point of ignoring problems with some of the notes themselves.

The analogy, in case it isn't obvious:
waves - phrases
quanta - notes

Like light, music is best described as a combination of waves and quanta (phrases and notes).

Thus the pithy pendulum swings on...

Focus on the phrase
and the notes will take care of themselves.

Focus on the notes
and the phrase will take care of itself.