Non-traditional notation and techniques in student piano repertoire

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Date

2003-12

Authors

Richmond, Kevin David

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Abstract

In the early twentieth century, Henry Cowell devised a new notational language to represent unconventional sounds and techniques at the piano. His notation included graphic symbols to represent tone clusters and various types of string manipulation. Since then, composers have expanded on his notation and unusual sonorities, creating an entirely new language for piano performance. At present, there exists a substantial amount of piano literature incorporating a wide variety of signs and symbols, resulting in performance problems for the pianists interpreting and learning them. Teachers are responsible for introducing future generations to an expanded musical language. Introducing beginning piano students to larger gestures in the form of non-traditional notation allows them to experience, both visually and physically, an extreme range of high and low, loud and soft, and short and long. The graphic symbols vi often stimulate students to improvise according to relationships, encourage them to interpret shapes, and allow them to concentrate first on quality of sound and expression rather than correct pitches. Familiarity with graphic symbols in the early years of study should enable students to decipher and understand more complex notation in the later years. There are numerous works for students which use contemporary forms of notation and techniques. This treatise describes repertoire for piano students, from beginner to advanced, that incorporates non-traditional notation and techniques. The relevance of this repertoire is illustrated by comparisons to notational and performance practices of artist-level literature.

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Description

In the early twentieth century, Henry Cowell devised a new notational language to represent unconventional sounds and techniques at the piano. His notation included graphic symbols to represent tone clusters and various types of string manipulation. Since then, composers have expanded on his notation and unusual sonorities, creating an entirely new language for piano performance. At present, there exists a substantial amount of piano literature incorporating a wide variety of signs and symbols, resulting in performance problems for the pianists interpreting and learning them. Teachers are responsible for introducing future generations to an expanded musical language. Introducing beginning piano students to larger gestures in the form of non-traditional notation allows them to experience, both visually and physically, an extreme range of high and low, loud and soft, and short and long. The graphic symbols vi often stimulate students to improvise according to relationships, encourage them to interpret shapes, and allow them to concentrate first on quality of sound and expression rather than correct pitches. Familiarity with graphic symbols in the early years of study should enable students to decipher and understand more complex notation in the later years. There are numerous works for students which use contemporary forms of notation and techniques. This treatise describes repertoire for piano students, from beginner to advanced, that incorporates non-traditional notation and techniques. The relevance of this repertoire is illustrated by comparisons to notational and performance practices of artist-level literature.

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