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Composers like Henry Cowell and John Cage didn't stop there. Oh, no! They began writing pieces that incorporated these sounds, asking the player to pluck certain notes on the inside of the piano. And you think playing the black and white keys is hard!
Pushing the limits even further, a new phenomenon called "prepared piano" became quite popular (and still is) with modern composers. A myriad of new sounds were created by inserting various objects between the piano
Working under the hood
screws, yarn, pillows, spouses, and
strings so on.
I don't advise trying prepared piano at home: Hardware between the strings can damage your expensive piano; spouses between the strings can damage your expensive marriage. If you really want to experience these sounds the right way, check out the following recordings:
- Henry Cowell, The Banshee: Among other things, you hear strumming or plucking of the piano strings.
J' George Antheil, "Airplane" Sonata: A
number of strange piano effects are evident in this eclectic piece.
• Arvo Part, Tabula rasa: The piano part is prepared with screws between the strings.
. DaveGrusin, “The Firm"Soundtrack:Th\s
piece uses all types of things, including a violin bow playing across the strings.
G Q , c G D
o gg 8 ~o ^ 8 0g=5 8 — “ 1 ^2 11
W? ^ Tremolo chords come in handy when playing rock ’n’ roll, especially as part of a band. A tremolo turns the otherwise dull task of playing straight chords into a sizzling rhythmic romp. I don’t know exactly what a “sizzling rhythmic romp” is, but it sure sounds fun!
Part V: Technique Counts for Everything _
How loud you should play depends 5 percent on what the composer wants and 95 percent on how close your neighbors live. The composer usually requests that certain notes be played at certain volumes Your neighbor usually requests that all notes be played in a sound-proofed box. These varying degrees of volume give the music a different dynamic. And that’s exactly what volume levels are called in music: dynamics.
As with TVs, car stereos, and crying babies, the world of volume has a wide range: from very soft to very loud. Composers are quick to realize this and tell performers exactly where in the volume spectrum to play. Of course, to make things a bit fancier, all dynamics in music are Italian words.
Speaking Italian in Volumes
When you talk about volume, you say something is loud or soft. This kind of description is always a good starting point. From there you can explain how loud or how soft. Music uses the same principle: You start with two little Italian words, piano (soft) and forte (loud), to describe the volume of notes.
Wait! Piano? Stop scratching your head; you look like a monkey. In Chapter 1, you find out that your instrument, formally known as the pianoforte, derives its name from the ability to play soft and loud. Why the name’s been shortened to “soft” probably has something to do with cranky landlords.
Anyway, by writing piano or forte under the music, a composer tells you to play certain notes soft or loud. Many years and ink wells later, abbreviations for these words are now the norm. Therefore, soft and loud are simply marked as p and f. But not plain-Jane letters. Never! Music employs some fancy, stylized letters.
When you see a dynamic marking, whatever the requested volume may be, you continue to play at this volume level until you see a new dynamic marking. Or, of course, until your sibling yells, “I can’t hear the TV!”
You can see and hear loud and soft in composer Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dance” (Track 64). Please play along.
Chapter 13: Dressing Up Your Music
(Play these notes loud) (Play these notes sott)
-JU-- 4 - h-B -p 1» j- r*- > f ——-
J —4— ? —J— 9 ? ; p 0 H m m J =-
?S 9 4 ir r r 1
Widening the range
If soft and loud were the only volume levels available, home stereos would just have two volume buttons, not a turning knob. But, as you know, anywhere you turn the volume knob gives you a variety of volume levels: “kind of soft,” “not very loud,” you name it. Rather than keep track of some more highly descriptive but multi-syllable Italian words, you need only remember one abbreviation for the in-between volumes: m, which stands for mezzo (or medium). Attach this word before piano or forte, and you get two more “shades” of volume.
And for extreme volumes like “very soft” and “insanely loud,” just throw a few more p’s or f’s together. The more you have, the more you play. That is, pp means “very soft” (no jokes, please). The written word isn’t piano-piano, however. Instead, you use the Italian suffix -issimo, loosely translated as “very,” and you end up with pianissimo. The symbol //would be “very loud,’ or fortissimo.
Gather all of these words, abbreviations, and suffixes together and you get the list of dynamic ranges shown in Table 13-2.