The Melody Phrasing Curve — A Visual Tool for Illustrating Perceived Musical Dynamics

by Fridell, Ingemar

Abstract (Summary)
In Western classical music traditions, conventional ways of considering melody have been established. The tones of a melody phrase might be experienced as building up a continuous line moving between dynamical culmination points and relaxation points. In this study, a special visual tool called the Melody phrasing curve (MPhC) has been tested. The MPhC is designed according to some established conventions for performing classical music, and the intention was to explore the contingent benefit of a supplying tool that might be used in order to facilitate the communication of musical ideas in different music educational contexts on a higher level. The present study might be regarded as a search for alternative means of developing musicians' awareness when interpreting and performing classical music. In explicit educational contexts, the MPhC might be used as a tool for clarifying the students' musical intentions, facilitating in this way the professor's role of guiding them and encouraging them to realise their own ideas when expressing themselves musically. The MPhC is drawn by free hand into a specially designed device parallel to the systems of the printed score, visually illustrating the individually perceived dynamical progression of the melody part. Perceived dynamics does not refer to physical amplitudes calculated in decibels but to the subjective way a listener experiences the changing loud or soft sound levels within performed melody phrases. In this initial study, the MPhC has been tested from the perspective of selected professional music listeners teaching different musical subjects at the Academy of Music. In the study’s first phase, seven participants, five men and two women, were asked to draw curves illustrating the dynamical progression of the melody part, as experienced by them when listening to excerpts from five stylistically diverging classical piano pieces recorded on tape. The results reveal resemblances as well as discrepancies between the phrasing curves representing the corresponding recordings. There seems to be more resemblances between the shapes of the individual curves in structurally simple homophone music than in music that may be characterised as complex in a structural sense. In this context, no accurate conformity was expected. The potential benefit of a phrasing curve in educational situations might be compared to the usefulness of a hand-drawn map describing approximately where to go. Since the visual appearance of the printed score parallel to the MPhC device might have affected the shape of the drawn phrasing curves, the study’s second phase was carried out. The purpose was to test if dynamical characteristics within each one of three differently performed recordings of Schumann's piano composition Von fremden Ländern und Menschen might be visualised by means of the MPhC. The results reveal many similarities between the curves representing one and the same version of the composition. In return, the curves drawn by each one of the participants representing the three different versions are clearly diverging in a way that seems to correspond to the specific dynamical characteristics of the respective recordings. In a forthcoming study, the MPhC will be explored in a way including participants performing music themselves, drawing phrasing curves and listening to their own recordings, as well as in-depth-interviews, giving the participants an opportunity to express their personal reactions and to make comments on the shapes of their curves.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Lunds universitet

School Location:Sweden

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:HUMANITIES and RELIGION; Aesthetic subjects; musical dynamics; melody line; Melody phrasing; perception; interpretation; visual tools; musical communication; performance


Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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