To create a sense of "musical direction", I personally think what we need is to create a sense of music "going somewhere", giving the music a "forward push", if you like.

Practically speaking, though, someone on this website (sorry, I forgot who! :-() said that this means we should play every notes as if we are "trying a bit". This recommendation I found to be absolutely fantastic, especially for singing in creating the sense not only of forward motion, but for colouring the note (n.b. although if we want to know "where" and "when" a note should be coloured "how", we need to think harder on "musical phrasing" aspect of musicality, i.e. how a note is to be connected with other notes in a phrase and meta-phrase).

But, for my main obsession, trumpet playing, I am slightly at a loss as to how best to translate this sense of "trying a bit" to my playing. If anyone at all therefore has any idea how, IN PRACTICAL TERMS (e.g. breathing (out) technique, embouchure formation/dynamics), I could accommodate this sense of "trying a bit" to my trumpet playing, then I would be eternally grateful.

Thanks! :-))

  • Funny that you ask this, cause computer-composed music is often criticized for going "nowhere" (The computer as composer) , in contrast with the "going somewhere" that you claim here. May be the answers to come can help the algorithmic music community to improve their results. – nightcod3r Mar 27 '16 at 18:48
  • I think How to give music a sense of “musical direction” is an interesting question, but you've rather neutered it by focusing on this trying a bit thing. Like joseem, I don't get what you mean by that. – topo Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '16 at 16:32
  • Thanks for your reply, nightcod3r - yes, I agree that music direction is an important aspect of musicality which separate human-generated music from the computer-generated ones. You've raised an interesting point, and I am grateful. Thanks again! :-) – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 5:12
  • Thanks for your reply, topo morto. I hope my answer below to "Gauthier" on the point on "trying a bit" with respect to the YouTube clip I recommended him to watch might clarify what I am talking about. Just like I advised him, consider watching the clip simply believing that my "trying a bit" is right for every note and, after you've listened, tell me whether you think I make sense or not. Thanks again for your kind reply! :-) – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 5:15
  • N.B. "trying a bit" = trying with every bit of effort necessary to ensure that every note "does" actually push the music "go forward". – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 5:34

Rather than "trying a bit" on every note, I think the musicality of going forward lies in the ability to see the big picture, and phrasing according to a larger context. If you think of speech, reading poetry aloud beautifully is at least as much in the melody of a whole sentence or a whole poem, as just in pronouncing the syllables beautifully.

More than that, I think concentrating on every note makes you lose the larger context, and lose the "going somewhere".

I cannot put it better than Benjamin Zander, whose video I probably watched 15 times:

Zander's illustration of how a beginner plays and phrases, then stepwise evolves through the year, is just marvelous. It's very relevant to "going somewhere", I believe.

  • Thanks so much for your detailed and informative reply, Gauthier! I totally understand what you mean when you emphasised the importance of phrasing. But, for me, phrasing (or "note grouping") is an aspect (or what you call "context") of "musicality" for sure, but I still think "music direction" is a different (though related) aspect of musicality, along with another, "music gesture" aspect of musicality. Thus I said in my post that, if you want to know to what extent you want a note to be given a sense of forward motion, then you have to figure that out in a larger context of phrasing. – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 4:44
  • But this is all my fault, not being clear in my explanation, so let me explain further, like you, using a YouTube clip. youtube.com/watch?v=fCSQd8Nx4mI&nohtml5=False Now, I think this video is a fairly good demonstration of how both the singer and trumpeter could be considered to produce every note with (a) a sense of "going somewhere", which in turn is also accomplished by a sense of (b) "trying a bit". So, just believe me that (a) and (b) are true and hear the music. When finished listening, am I making sense or do you think (b) in particular is still not clear? Let me know! :-) – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 5:05
  • N.B. "trying a bit" = trying with every bit of effort necessary to ensure that every note "does" actually push the music "go forward". – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 5:34

Although I don't understand what is meant by "trying a bit", I think, along with Nightcod's comment, that it's a rather interesting, perhaps crucial preocupation to anyone making music of any kind.

It seems to me though that the answer should be very personal and circumstancial.

Where should the music "be going"? Well, where do you want it to go? What are you trying to achieve? For example, if you're composing, what feelings, idea, message, concept, are you trying to convey? Or what theory, method, musical principles, are you trying to apply, exercise or illustrate? If you're performing, why are you performing a particular piece? What does the piece mean to you? Is the historical context important? Is virtuosity? Is there a particular feeling, story or musical imagery, associated with the piece? What reaction would you like to ellicit from your audience (even if you are your only audience :-)?

These ramblings are very far from the pratical advice requested, but I don't believe there are general recipies about this, each one must derive the pratical implications from their own personal approach to the work at hand and apply technique to the best of one's ability in order to reinforce the designated purpose.

  • Thanks for your reply, joseem. Now I know very practically how I should give every note a sense of music direction in a larger context of phrasing, which is exactly what you have kindly outlined for me in detail. Thanks again! :-) – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 6:35

"Musical direction" is what separates an actual musical performance from, say, an old-fashioned MIDI file from the 1980's and 1990's. The latter may give you correct note values, pitches, and perhaps some dynamic contrast, but it tends to ignore important qualities such as phrasing and expression.

I would start building musical direction from a technical standpoint. Where are the musically significant moments in your phrase, or movement, or piece? What are the melodic or harmonic contours of the line you're playing? Where are you supporting (or clashing with) your fellow musicians? How does your choice of playing styles influence the musical moment you're in?

Once you start to understand the ebb and flow of your piece, and how your part fits into that process, you can better understand what's necessary to make your playing "fit into" the overall effect that is intended.

  • Thanks for your reply, asismail. Now I know exactly how I should give every note a sense of music direction in a larger context of phrasing, which is exactly what you have kindly outlined for me in detail. Thanks again! :-) – Harry Apr 7 '16 at 5:09

Harry, I think I understand what you're saying and what you're trying to achieve when you say "trying a bit," "musical direction," and "forward push," but I think the answer may be the opposite of what you may think it is. Musical direction and meaning doesn't come from individual notes, but from the relationship of one note to another, one phrase to another, and how they all fit into the story that you're telling. Think of a movie. Not every ounce of emotion and meaning is put into each scene, and many scenes are actually without much action or meaning on their own, but when paced properly and connected effectively with the surrounding scenes, it's the whole movie that tells the story. The scenes, however, must move the story forward, not by trying express so much in each scene, but by doing its part to maintain and move the thread of the story all the way through to the end of the movie. When done well, you forget that you're watching a movie, and you're just experiencing the story.

To translate this into your trumpet playing, your "music direction" (as opposed to "context") reference probably shouldn't be applied to each note, but to the thought about how each note fits in to the phrase and piece as a whole. In other words, make sure that you mean each note and that you are clear on exactly how that note should sound in order for that phrase to express what you're trying to say. From a technical perspective, it could be something as simple as the ending of phrases, when you run out of breath, pinch the note off, or intonation goes haywire. In order for the next phrase to sound as if it logically follows the previous phrase, you have to end the previous phrase with that knowledge in mind. Many beginners play "vertically" – one note at a time, one bar at a time, or one phrase at a time – without enough thought about what happened in the previous phrase, or about what is about to happen in the next phrase.

To use a trumpet example, think of the first phrase of the Haydn concerto. Following the contours of the rising notes, it's obvious how that phrase should be shaped. So, as you play it, don't let anything get in the way of the logical build-up to that high point. I think of it as three mini-waves, each one ebbing and flowing, but each one cresting a little higher than the last, and each one building on the last. One phrase doesn't have much meaning without the phrases surrounding it: Daaa daaa da, da da-da-da-da daaa, da da-da-da-da daaa ...

In summary, what you're trying to achieve is more mental than physical. Once you have a clear idea of what you're trying to say, the mechanics of how you will say it will be clearer, and the individual notes will more naturally have the meaning and sense of direction you're looking for. The rest is just trumpet playing, the mechanics, not music.

(After listening to the Balsom clip that you referenced, I wonder if you're referring more to the sound and how each note is so vivid and alive, and how they inevitably flow to the next note. Both Balsom and the singer do this very well. If this is what you're talking about, then it starts by having excellent technique – perfect intonation, each note slotted dead center, and good air support. When each note is slotted like that, with a nice, relaxed core sound, it naturally gives the sense of inevitability, or "moving forward," you would say it. It's dynamic and effortless. When it's out of tune, or you're not centered in the slot of each note, or too tight, the sound is static and pondering. The former is timeless, while the latter is "stuck" in time. It's like the difference between trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together when you don't know how the pieces fit, vs. when you already know the picture, and layout of the pieces is logical. Hard to put into words. Of course, I could also have this all wrong.)

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