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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

How to Develop Your Own Interpretations: Five Key Points

Carlos at the Latin Quarter Guitar Festival, London 2004

There are three questions which always arise when talking about interpretation. Why are some interpretations of the same piece so different one from the other? What do good players do to make their playing so recognisable? How do you arrive at an interpretation of your own?

To help answer these three questions I suggest there are five key points which unlock the key to interpretation:

Listen to music and compare
The overview: from the outside looking in
The detail: from the inside looking out
Intuition and spontaneity
The final mix

Listen to music and compare

This is the start and end point of all learning. Start by listening to good players, and end by listening to your own playing - how do they compare? Remember the why - what - how test [w - w - h]. Why is one better than the other? In what do they differ? How to improve?

The great scientist Isaac Newton said "if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants". That is how we should approach devising an interpretation: with both confidence and humility. At the beginning it matters not that you may be copying a master performance. On the contrary, that is a good exercise. The great pianist and teacher Artur Schnabel said "once a student can play exactly like I play, then he will be able to play it any way he likes".

The overview: from the outside looking in

Now set aside listening to other players' versions. Consider the following: what is going on in this piece, why does the composer compose what he does at any given moment, how best to project your conclusions in your playing. Subject each of the following too, to the same w - w - h questions:
- mood/character
- tempo/s
- harmony/harmonies/modulations
- texture
- rhythm/s

Your deeper understanding of these over-arching aspects will transmit itself, sometimes without you realising it to your playing, and give the music form and cohesion.

The detail: from the inside looking out

With the guitar on your lap pick and play key phrases. What are key phrases? They are the ones that stand out for you as the most memorable (and probably for the listener too). Enjoy them. Experiment with fingering the same phrase on different strings. Try out if appropriate vibrato, glissando, beautiful tone (always appropriate!) and different colours. How does it sound best?

Sometimes a phrase reveals the essence of an entire piece, and shows you how to best shape your playing of it. For the film The Queen actress Helen Mirren said that she felt the Queen's character open up before her by successfully recreating her manner of walking! And it can be the same for you in music, a detail can illuminate the whole piece, and show you how to shape much of the surrounding musical material.

Intuition and spontaneity

Throw caution to the wind, no matter the mistakes, play through the piece. Allow your imagination to roam free. Exclude nothing. Live in the musical moment: in this phrase, in this change of key, in this chord. Play every note and nuance with beauty and intensity.

The final mix

This is the time to bring together all the considerations from points one to four. Remember what you are trying to achieve: to move the listener with your own interpretation.

Comparison: be neither shy of recalling great interpretations by other players nor cautious of asserting your own ideas.

The overview: a piece delivered with a clear projection of mood, form, shape, texture, harmonies, and rhythm draws the listener into the special intimate world of your interpretation.

The detail: for the listener a beautiful phrase magically played can be unforgettable.

Spontaneity: this is probably the most exciting aspect you can communicate, and yet the most difficult. Each performance for you has to become a re-invention and a re-discovery of the music, in effect much more than a re-creation.

The final mix: shake and stir this heady potion and serve cool, hot, or somewhere in between, but do it your own way.

Personality types and a surprising conclusion

How you mix the four points is up to you, and will reflect your personality, musical and otherwise.

At one extreme we have the cool, rational, forward-planning type who will probably give much more time to points one and two. At the other the excitable, emotional, spontaneous type who will probably give much more time to points three and four. Both may come up with very good insights and performances, quite different one from the other.

Hang on, I think we have just answered the very two questions I posed at the beginning! Let me remind you of them: why are some interpretations of the same piece so different one from the other, and what do good players do to make their playing so recognisable. We may have an answer to both:

- good players are recognisable because they shake and stir all the elements we have discussed in their own distinctive way, and thus inevitably create a personal interpretation -

And what about the third question: how to arrive at an interpretation of your own? My answer is that if you have followed me this far you now hold the key to developing your own interpretations. It will surprise you to learn that you may already be doing so without you knowing it. Why? Because your striving for perfection makes you think you still have a long way to go.

And maybe, that's as it should be.

Read more:
Principia by Sir Isaac Newton, published in 1687 in which he formulated a theory of gravitation and stated his three laws of motion

Watch the film:
The Queen directed by Stephen Frears, starring Helen Mirren

Listen to:
Artur Schnabel, pianist

London, 21 April 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1174 .
© 2019.

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