Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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Understanding musical scores

2.2.4 Comparing notes: the kaleidoscope of piano textures

To learn a little more about the technical aspects of texture and to help you follow them in a score, we are now going to explore a few short examples in a little more detail [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . This will help you appreciate the range of possibilities open to a composer when working with more than one strand of music, and how those different strands may interact with each other.

The following video demonstrates how the relationship between different sounds can be developed in many different ways. There are a few more symbols in musical scores that can alert us to how the various lines interact. You may have noticed Alexander referring to rests in the video in the previous section. We are now going to expand on how these work.

Download this video clip.Video player: 37787_comparing_notes_the_kaleidoscope_of_piano_textures-1080.mp4
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The texture of a piece of music doesn’t stay the same for any length of time. Music for the piano is capable of a whole range of textures, as the hands and even fingers do not have to do the same thing and can be used independently. Let’s listen to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, played with a simple accompaniment. As you listen and follow, notice that the two parts of the music have different rhythms, but the same beat. The melody is moving faster than the chords in the left hand.
Now let's listen to just the chords and follow the score of what the left hand is playing.
If, instead of playing chords in long notes in the left hand, we break up the chord into its component parts, a different type of texture is produced. We’re going to listen to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ again, but now it has faster notes in the bass clef, or left hand part, all of which are part of the chord, but played separately instead of simultaneously. This type of accompaniment is called an Alberti bass. If you have trouble following all the notes, feel the beat and focus on the notes that occur with the beat.
Mozart often uses this type of texture in his sets of variations. And in the variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, Maman’, you will find that the second variation uses this principle. This section has really fast notes, making up an accompaniment, while the right hand is playing the melody. When you listen, you should be able to follow the melody quite easily, so focus most of your attention on the bass clef, or left hand part. Composers often weave several separate lines of music together to create what is known as a contrapuntal texture.
Most of us are familiar with songs like ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ or ‘Frere Jacques’ that can be sung with one person starting off and then another and another starting at a fixed interval later. This is called a round, or more technically, a canon, and it is a type of contrapuntal texture. If you see a canon written down, you will see how some longer rests work in this type of texture. We’re going to listen to ‘Frere Jacques’, and here it is written as a round in three parts. Notice the rests before each instrument starts playing, and see if you can follow each entry and some of each tune.
As you listen, see if you can build up from following one line to following two, and then all three lines together. Let’s listen now, but you may want to pause and repeat the exercise to see if you can follow each part separately and then all of them together.
Mozart uses contrapuntal textures in his sets of variations, and you will find something very similar to a canon in the eighth variation on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, Maman’. He starts the melody in the treble clef with rests in the bass clef. The bass clef copies the start of the tune and then goes off in a different direction. Canons, of course, are not limited to sets of variations. There is a very good example in the slow movement of Mahler’s first symphony that you heard at the end of Week 1. When you next listen to music, see if you can spot contrapuntal textures or different types of accompaniment.
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