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Do you play the first note of a measure louder
#3038746 10/23/20 08:19 PM
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Are you supposed to play the first note of the start of each measure louder?

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3038757 10/23/20 09:25 PM
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One of the principles of musical expression, here stated by M. Mathis Lussy, in a book published probably in the 1890s (I think the original was in French), has to do with "metrical accentuation."

"A beat is one of a succession of sounds struck with equal force, at equal intervals. But our musical sentiment, with its instinctive desire for regularity, demands that the first of every two, three, or four successive beats should be louder and more energetic. This divides the beats into groups or portions, each of which is called a bar or measure."

The accent should not be exaggerated. It should be just enough to provide a "pulse" to the music. When referring to the first of every two, three, or four successive beats, Lussy is talking about things like 2/4,3/4, or 4/4 time, respectively, in this quote. In those meters, the first beat has the stress. In 4/4 time, the third beat would usually have a secondary stress, somewhat less prominent than the first beat.

This principle can be developed further. For example, in 4/4 time, if each beat is composed of four 16th notes, there is probably a very slight stress on the 1st of the four 16th notes compared to the others even of they are not part of the first beat. Again, it is subtle, just enough to give meaning to the group of notes which makes up the beat.

There are other ways to stress a note besides making it louder. Sometimes you can delay the note slightly. Sometimes you can play it softer then the other notes. However, the principle of making beat one slightly louder is a common one.

I hope that this explanation helps you.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3038808 10/24/20 04:14 AM
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It depends if the rythmic (or melodic) accent falls or not on the downbeat. It is most often times the case, but not necessarily always. Music that are essentially based on regular metric accent, like many dances such as the waltz will have the accent on the downbeat. But you can also work against the metric accent, there are plenty of examples with Beethoven where he is breaking purposely the meter for expressive or rhetoric reasons. In baroque music, Bach and others often times will have the melodic line cross the bar line. You can syncopate the downbeat to create a more continuous line. Baroque music will often mix various rythmic effects and disturb the meter, like in hemiolas.

In slow mouvements, it can make sense occasionally not to accentuate the downbeat to let the melody flow. Also in certain songs of a lyric character it is the text that drives the accentuation rather than the metric.

That said to go against the meter, there must be a meter to start with ! In the early baroque music, the madrigals for example are essentially driven by the text, so the tempo is irregular and thus the sense of the meter is weak, even if the music is measured.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040127 10/28/20 01:26 AM
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I think the answer is simple: no! Composers pick their time signatures and their meters to be the frames in which the music can breathe freely. IMO, accentuation is entirely dependent upon the musical lines and, of course, instances where accents are specifically indicated, though even in the latter cases there may be complicating factors. The natural tendency to accentuate the first beat of a bar should be one of the first things that teachers endeavor to correct in young students. It should never happen unless there's a really good reason. Even with dance movements, accentuation of first beats is anathema; every unwarranted accent in any piece renders performances of that piece increasingly tawdry and gauche. The music itself creates its own pulse, unless it's rubbish, and then we don't really care. ha

IMO.

Last edited by SiFi; 10/28/20 01:29 AM.

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Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
SiFi #3040171 10/28/20 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by SiFi
It should never happen unless there's a really good reason.

Absolutely. Composers write accents where they feel they are needed.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
SiFi #3040230 10/28/20 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by SiFi
The natural tendency to accentuate the first beat of a bar should be one of the first things that teachers endeavor to correct in young students. It should never happen unless there's a really good reason. Even with dance movements, accentuation of first beats is anathema; every unwarranted accent in any piece renders performances of that piece increasingly tawdry and gauche. The music itself creates its own pulse, unless it's rubbish, and then we don't really care. ha

IMO.

I agree, but ... in a music that is metric (thus with a natural pulse), one can not consistently put accents against the meter. So it make sense to accent following the melodic line, but in the same time that line has to align at some point with the metrical accents, which if the music is well written are inherently present and audible. The metric accentuation can occur anyway even without any particular emphasis from the performer. In that case, the question of whether one has to put an accent in addition is indeed mo a question of expression and phrasing. But certainly the metric accent must be felt in some way, otherwise there is no meter and the melodic line has to be built within the metric frame.

Some music are not metric, french unmeasured luth preludes, recitatives, expressive madrigals in early baroque, or built in with frequent meter changes like the french baroque recitative style. In that case, it is a different situation.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040235 10/28/20 09:51 AM
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I was taught to do this, particularly with Bach pieces, inventions. To respect the S-W-M-W, S-W-W, etc, rhythmic pulse.


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Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040463 10/28/20 08:58 PM
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There have been some very interesting posts in this thread from well-respected members of this forum who are also very talented, advanced pianists. It appears to me that some of these opinions take exception to what I was trying to express (perhaps I am wrong about that).

The point that I am trying to make (and posts in this thread by others have certainly indicated it as well) is that there are implicit strong and weak beats in Western classical music and the first beat of the measure, the downbeat, is considered a strong beat, which usually deserves emphasis. Often, that emphasis is indicated by a slight increase in dynamics. It is not a sforzando or an accent (>) unless the composer indicates that, but by writing out the time signature, the composer has already made known where he/she expects the stress to be unless indicated otherwise. It is true that the nature of the melody and other dynamic indications by the composer take precedence over the normally implied metrical accentuation, but if there is no indication otherwise, composers expected that students of music would understand the metrical accentuation according to the "rules of musical expression/interpretation in place at the time the music was written."

I would like to quote from the book Notes Become Music by Walter Fleischmann, Professor Emeritus of Piano at the University of Music and Performing Arts, V: A Guidebook from the Viennese Piano Tradition "that addresses the many unwritten nuances of dynamics, articulation and agogics as an expression of fundamental principles of a common European musical language."

In the quotations below, the emphasis [bold] has been added by me.

"Treating the score as an incomplete musical 'shorthand' rather than a complete picture of the imagined sound world of the composer, it outlines the compositional and interpretative imperatives that, though not immediately discernible from the notation, are implicit within it."

"Vertical dynamics within chords and in different voices are not notated at all in piano writing up to the end of the nineteenth century (though such indications are indeed present in orchestral and chamber-music scores), nor is there a way of notating the difference between stronger and weaker beats. Through the frequent presence of an incomplete bar at the beginning of a piece--the upbeat or anacrusis-we only know that an emphasis immediately after the bar line is implied."

"In addition, in music as in speech, we are familiar with differences of emphasis and sound duration. Stresses within words and within a sentence correspond in music to accentuation within a motive and within the phrase as a whole. Speech offers another analogy to music in its short and long syllables, which may be further elongated in moments of heightened emotion, for example in the expression of astonishment. This vital need for differentiation in speech is evidently inherent in humans, and without it, language would be incomprehensible. We recognise similar principles in music, such as the differentiation of strong and weak beats, that clearly owe their origin to aspects of human physiology, such as breathing in and out, systole and diastole phases of the heartbeat, right and left steps in walking. Such principles are simply part of human nature, and it is imperative that we take them into consideration, both in playing music and in speaking. To disregard them in the interpretation of a piece of music has nothing to do with the fieedom of an individual 'creative' performance: it is pure haphazardness."

IN THE CHAPTER TITLED DYNAMICS

"In the same way that in speech each syllable is not equally weighted, music is also characterised by moments of varied emphasis, namely the strong and weak beats of the bar. The main emphasis occurs directly after the bar line. This is most evident in the many pieces beginning with an incomplete bar (upbeat or anacrusis) in which the first note is unaccented, and the intended emphasis is placed after the bar line. In a 4/4 bar, the first quarter note is therefore generally given the strongest emphasis and the third a little less, while the second and fourth quarters receive the least accentuation (deviations from this rule can occur as the result of shifts in harmonic tension). In his violin school, Leopold Mozart describes a pattern of emphases within the 4/4 bar that corresponds to the following schema: [diagram omitted showing that the 1st and 3rd quarter notes are emphasized with the 1st receiving more emphasis than the 3rd]."

"In 3/4 and 2/4 time, only the first quarter note is emphasised, in 6/8 time the first and fourth eighth notes. (Deviations from this pattern of emphases occur with the hemiola)."

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040483 10/28/20 10:56 PM
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If I'm at the start of a phrase, I'd exaggerate the first note. If there is a long slur, the first note is played louder and the other notes gradually softer to give the effect of notes connected to each other. I wouldn't make the first beat of each measure louder by default. Otherwise a piece would sound very mechanical.

I practice on a keyboard at home. Besides the default piano sound, there are some sound effects that have long sustain such as organ. When I'm playing a church hymn with an organ sound, you wouldn't hear any dynamics or an accent on the notes & chords.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040496 10/29/20 12:57 AM
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Actually, organists simulate accents by agogic pauses and other articulation.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
vmishka #3040539 10/29/20 05:20 AM
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Originally Posted by vmishka
There have been some very interesting posts in this thread from well-respected members of this forum who are also very talented, advanced pianists. It appears to me that some of these opinions take exception to what I was trying to express (perhaps I am wrong about that).

There is no doubt that a metric music is based on a regular pattern of Strong-Weak beats. If there is no such pattern, there is no meter, and obviously the pattern must be audible, though of course, the composer (or the interpreter) can work by exception against the meter and doing so creates an expressive effect.

In a well composed metric piece, the composer usually includes naturally the metric accent into his score (or at minimum makes the music aligned with the meter). It can be done in a number of different ways: change of harmony, dissonance, ornament, sudden change of pitch, duration, change of melodic direction, high or low pitch, ....
The question thus is more whether the interpret must add an additional accent such as a dynamic one, or an extended duration on top of an existing or sometimes not existing metric accent.

To make it clear: if I take a very motoric piece like the WTC1 prelude 2 which is in 4/4. Even if one does not add any accent whatsoever on any note, you can still hear very clearly the duple meter with beat 1 and 3 accentuated. And that is because Bach has naturally highlighted those notes (and beats) by the voice movement (ie change of pitch/harmony), and he also has written some bars where he purposely did not insert such highlights.

As an illustration, if you listen to a fast harpsichord version like this one, where there is no dynamic nor duration accent (there is a light detach), you can hear the pulse (starting at 4:05). The interpret occasionally inserts tiny breaks to create a sense of phrasing at the end of some sequences.

https://youtu.be/I0ufknMW0FI

You can generate the same with absolute eveness on computer and you would obtain a similar result.

Now, if you add an additional effect on beat 1 and/or 3, you will accentuate the bar ceasura vs the natural flow. This version of Gould illustrates the result (obviously a perfectly well planned effect by Gould).

https://youtu.be/852tHo5GMnQ

In contrast, the version of Schiff with a much more even accentuation create a more fluid presentation (some notes are still ever so slightly accentuated but much less than with Gould). Starts at 3:40.

https://youtu.be/Ugc5FZsycAw

In summary, in a piece like this one, there is essentially no need to add any metric accent for the pulse to be felt. The decision to add an accent will depend on the phrasing option (using detach and/or dynamic and/or staccato) and the level of fluidity that is chosen.

There are pieces where the natural metric accent is weak, in which case that is the interpret decision to reinforce the feel of the pulse and to which extent. Also the accent is not necessarily simultaneously strong in both hands. You can have an emphasis in one hand (usually left) and no emphasis on the right. There are plenty of cases like that where the RH is ending a phrase with a soft landing while the LH plays a supporting harmony.

And then, of course there are plenty of music that are not metric at all, or not consistently metric, or metric by sequences or with a frequent change of meter.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040567 10/29/20 08:07 AM
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If music is played on a computer with no difference in the level of notes, and with a completely metronomic rhythm, the metre is perfectly clear most of the time.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3040769 10/29/20 04:11 PM
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There are required articulations to distinguish, say a waltz and a mazurka despite both being in 3/4 time.

Re: Do you play the first note of a measure louder
Prestzie #3041404 10/31/20 01:40 PM
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yes, slightly, unless indicated otherwise. You also have to consider the music type, some need more rhythmic drive, others very little


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