"A scale well played is a story well told!"

Dear Guests,

Oboe Brilliance, weekly oboe coaching, for students and teachers is back! Welcome to generation 3. Today's coaching is about how to play an Ionian or Major scale with sensitivity using understanding of theory and emotional connection. I believe that: "A scale well played is a story well told."

To play a scale consciously is to take a journey. The first step of the journey is called I (one) or tonic. All notes leave, relate and return to this tonic note. All notes are in relationship to this first step and are derived from it and drafted out of it mathematically in the laws of natural acoustics. Thenotes in this scale are formed based on the overtone series occurring naturally, altered to fit the equal temperament tuning system, and put into a step wise sequence order within one octave to be played on an instrument (or sung).

"It's like honey to a mystic!"

The Ionian or Major scale in classical Western music is comprised of 7 different pitches with the 8th note repeating the first pitch up one octave ... (octave as in 8 ... making it the 8th pitch in the scale.) 

I = DO = tonic = for example, C
II = RE = super tonic = "" D
III = MI = mediant = "" E
IV = FA = sub dominant = " " F
V = SOL = dominant = " " G
VI = LA = sub mediant = "" A
VII = TI = leading tone = " " B
VIII = DO = tonic = " " C up one octave from the starting pitch of I

I, III, V and VIII are stable pitches. The other notes are unstable pitches and resolve to the stable pitches. I and VIII are the most stable pitches and III and V resolve to I.

Stable pitches are like nouns and unstable pitches are like adjectives. Unstable notes give motion forward, stress, suspense and color to the nouns which provide focus and stability. Unstable pitches beg for resolution. If you were telling a story using the pitches of a major scale, the story wouldn't sound complete or resolved on any note except I or VIII. Even notes III and V wouldn't sound like the story was finished, but unlike notes II, IV, VI and VII - you could temporarily rest and sound like you the end of a chapter - but with some more to follow.

Knowing the function of the note one is playing is necessary in order to have maximum enjoyment of the music and in order to play the music with insight and sensitivity. Knowing the language of music helps in emotionally connecting to the story and bringing it to life with intellectual and emotional connection. It provides a much richer experience for both the instrumentalist/vocalist and the listener(s).

Listening or playing tonal western classical music without understanding theory - is like listening to a person read in a language without understanding the meaning of the words. Its still beautiful, but a lot is not enjoyed if one is ignorant to the language of music. Because music is so powerful and communicates directly to the heart, it is easy to be unaware of the higher level of enjoyment through understanding the theory of music. It isn't necessary to know what's going on to be moved, but it is MUCH more moving if one does know!

Here's an analogy - listening to a concert without theoretical knowledge is like going into a pool of water and keeping your head above the water.  It's refreshing and a nice change from dry land. Listening to a concert with theoretic knowledge is like body surfing in the ocean. If you want to experience the ocean or bring the ocean to your audience, you have to become a mermaid. Becoming a mermaid requires understanding theory. Another:  It can be "nice" to recite a love poem by pronouncing the language, but it is a multi level experience when you can feel the words emotionally, complete with intellectual understanding.

So - here's the assignment:

1) play tonic
2) play supertonic
3) Play tonic again. You will hear and feel that 2 resolves to 1
4) Play tonic, play supertonic and play mediant. You will hear that II resolves the III also.
5) Play tonic, supertonic, mediant, then tonic. You will hear that mediant resolves to tonic.
6) Play tonic, subdominant and mediant ( I, IV, III). You will hear that step IV resolves to step III.
7) Play tonic, mediant, dominant. You will hear the tonic major triad. Play tonic then dominant. You will hear that both are strong notes.
8) OK, NOW! - play tonic, then play the octave above tonic. The octave above tonic is the first overtone, occurring naturally in acoustics. Play tonic, now play the dominant again, only this time one octave higher. The dominant one octave higher from tonic is the 2nd overtone occurring naturally.
9) Play tonic (I), submediant (VI), dominant (V). You will hear that VI resolves to V.
10) Play tonic (I), leading tone (VII). How do you feel? Can you end the story of your epic scale journey on VII? It makes a great cliff hanger - does not provide resolution.
11) Now play the scale sequentially, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII with steps 1 - 10 of this exercise in mind.
12. Descend the scale in reverse order: VIII, VII, VI, V, IV, III, II, I.

Now you can get more creative. Take your time, play each note with emotional and intellectual connection to it's position in the scale. Tell your story as you patiently and accurately tell your tale as you ascend and descend the octave scale.

Next: Play your scale with a predetermined main character narrating the story. Play your scale, play the story, as if it were being narrated by 1) A very bold heroic character then 2) A shy person 3) A determined person 4) A sad person 5) A happy go lucky person 6) An elf 7) Sophia 8) Freya 9) Venus 10) Mars

advanced exercise: Play the scale as if it were being played by a specific composer or in a specific musical era or genre.

Application: Before practicing a work in the repertoire, play the scale of the key of the piece AND play it the way the composer would treat the scale based on the style. For example, Mozart would lean into and add lovely stress to the unstable pitches and resolve them gracefully into the note with a softer dynamic. So VII, would be exaggerated with tension and resolved with an AH feeling into VIII.

Wishing a new week full of mindful and heartful music making. Enjoy and make each hour, day and note count.

Musically yours,

P.S. (Visit published music to see what oboe music is available for you/students to play. Contact me if you're interested in a private SKYPE lesson to work on any piece I've composed. Visit Muse's Wish list if you wish to sponsor a new work to add to our oboe family's body of music. Thank you.)