Framing the house/Building the walls
How often have you said to yourself, while learning a new piece of music: “I need to hear the tune before I can learn it.”? While this statement may have a lot to do with your Sight Reading/Playing skills, it reveals the importance of “knowing how the song goes” to learning and understanding the melody line of a tune.
We previously discussed the importance of keeping a beat as the foundation to music. The next important layer is rhythm, which is akin to the roof. While the frame goes up before a roof, the roof ties the frame together. Likewise, the melodic line of a tune is a combination of pitch and rhythm and they can’t really be separated. In this third article on ‘Building a House” we will look at The Frame or melody.
Any melodic line is made up of a combination of phrases or motifs that are often repeated throughout a tune. A motif or phrase can be broken down into smaller components. Bob Shepherd describes the parts of music in his tutor book “Learn to Play the Bagpipes” as similar to the parts of spoken language: A single note=a syllable, a group of notes=a word, a musical phrase=a sentence phrase, musical cadences=punctuation marks, etc. The following part of “72nd Highlanders Farewell to Aberdeen” illustrates how a tune can be broken down into its smallest components. As you learn the tune, you take it ‘one word at a time’. This method is used by the RSPBA with MAP tunes
Understanding the basics theory behind melody still may not help you to “learn a tune without hearing it first” and that’s okay! Listen to the tune often. And listen to other tunes in our genre ---soloists, pipe bands, ceilidh bands, seisun bands----as much as you can stand. The more you are familiar with the musical form, the more easy it will be to learn new tunes that may not be as familiar.
The importance of listening can not be underestimated. We do not live in a culture where the music we play is broadcast on the radio. You do not have only piping or drumming music on your iPod. Seek out the music and acculturate yourself. Have you listened to a recording so many times that you “know how it goes” and what is coming next? I’ve listened to “Live in Ireland” by the 78th Fraser’s so many times that I wore out the cassette tape and then purchased a CD (actually more than one as I keep loaning it out and not getting it back). I have that recording completely memorized.
The next step is to “Sing your tunes”. The act of singing OUT LOUD internalizes a melody in the same way that tapping your foot ‘calibrates’ the beat. Don’t worry that you aren’t comfortable singing--If you were destined for American Idol or Vocal stardom you wouldn‘t be playing the pipes or drums!! Sing in the shower, in the car, while you are doing housework, when you’re out for a walk, etc. Observe whether are you singing on the beat? Are the rhythms accurate? Are you in tune? You may be off pitch but is it correct in your head? Do you know if you are off pitch? Are the embellishments rhythmically accurate? The more accurate you are singing a tune, the better you will be able to play the tune. And this will help with memorization!!! I know that when I’m out for a walk and sing through a tune if I can’t sing though a passage, it is invariably a section I am not playing well……..
Drummers--this applies to you as well! You are the rhythmic accompaniment. You need to understand how your score fit’s the melody and whether you are playing it accurately to the melody. A pipe band’s ensemble will suffer if the drummer can’t sing the melody.
Finally, listen to live piping and drumming. Recordings are great but live performances carry many more nuances that are never conveyed in a recording. . Make sure you Make a Point of listening to the best piping in your area each year whether it be a Recital, Competition, or Concert AND travel if you have to------you are already spending a lot of time and money on an activity that you are passionate about---don’t spare expense here. It will inspire and motivate as well as help you to understand what an excellent instrument sounds like and how the best play.
Listen and Sing!