In my quest for ever more realistic midi modelling, I keep coming up against questions and issues relating to the subtle rhythmic and tempo changes involved in good musical phrasing. After quite a search, I've discovered that such issues are dealt with in a separate theoretical discipline called agogics. (As in agogic accent.)

How can I improve the agogic qualities of my midi output? Besides that, I would like to deepen and broaden my theoretical understanding of rhythm and meter and the nuances thereof in musical performance. The musical style period under consideration is of secondary importance, by the way. I suppose that the basic principles underlying good phrasing are applicable across a wide timespan of musical history.

Edit: rephrased question so as to avoid direct literature requests.

  • Actually we don’t give answers to questions asking for software or books. But you can edit your question avoiding books. Then I can answer that I’ve found right the other day some interesting literature. Your title should be: How can I improve my agogic playing? Jun 11 '20 at 6:00
  • @AlbrechtHügli: Respectfully, what is the rationale behind the policy of declining literature requests? Jun 11 '20 at 10:38
  • Basically, this site is about helping with music practices and theory. Not about recommending literature, as that tends to be subjective, and we discourage personal tastes. That apart, we'd be inundated with similar requests otherwise.
    – Tim
    Jun 11 '20 at 10:47
  • I fully agree with you. This was not my decision. I’m afraid they will vote to close your question. In my opinion this is not purposeful. Let’s wait and see. Jun 11 '20 at 10:47
  • Can you explain more about the midi relation? Basic agogic accent to confirm a meter would be like |long short|long short| to put the accent on beat one. How does that quality not come out in a midi file? In terms of dynamics and tempo the midi playback will of course be super rigid and non-human, but the basic agogic quality should come out if it's in the writing. Jun 11 '20 at 14:14

I assume you know that some midi and notation programs have an inbuilt humanizer to make the music less static, metrical exact and also varying the attack. But this is probably not what you are looking for.

As you’re asking for books I’ll post here the link with the book of Breithaupt

natural piano technic

(I haven’t read it). There are lots of examples in his German edition:

Large edition in German (700 p.)

Edition in German, English and French (short)

Another most important book is the book of Bach’s son about the real art of piano playing.

C.P.E. Bach has given many good advices also about the agogic for musicians:

The influence of C.P.E. Bach’s Essay on Keyboard Instruments was unsurpassed for two generations. Haydn called it “the school of schools.” Mozart said, “He is the father, we are the children.” Beethoven, when teaching the young Karl Czerny, wrote, “be sure of procuring Emanuel Bach’s treatise.” It is, indeed, one of the essential sourcebooks for understanding the style and interpretation of 18th-century music. It is comprehensive on thorough bass, on ornaments and fingering, and is an authentic guide to many other refinements of 18th-century performance.

Carl Philip Emanuel Bach

For mor information of his ideas read and listen to this:

C.P.E. and his music

  • 1
    Many thanks, Albrecht. I had heard about both books you mention, but read neither. I will do that now. Yes, I know about humanizing algorithms etc., and these usually do a decent job nowadays. But I want to take my playback to the next level of musicality. Jun 11 '20 at 12:24

I just found this quote from Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode and Erasure, which I remember reading when it was first published in August 1992. It was the word mush that stuck in my mind. (See http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/in-clarkes-shoes/2339 for the full article).

Clarke, talking about using hardware sequencers and modular gear instead of MIDI, says this:

"The reason I wanted to do this was actually the timing discrepancies you get with MIDI, which are really bad. I came to the conclusion that there hasn't been an album recorded in five years that's been in time. Although you can get it quite close with MIDI, as you build up tracks everything becomes a tiny bit out, and you get a mush. We even started using an oscilloscope to compare timings, and with the MC-4 the timing was so close that, with the bass drum on one track, and a snare on the same beat, the snare would disappear behind it; it would not be visible on the 'scope."

Clarke was actually nudging the timing back and forth a few milliseconds to get all the attacks to line up.

It may be that you're dealing with timing issues that are beyond what midi can deal with, and you might be better off dealing with audio instead, which has much better timing resolution.

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