BIT Studio

September 16, 2014

Music & iThink

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 1:42 pm

  Bennett Reimer is a legend in music education circles. His book, A Philosophy of Music Education (1970), became a cornerstone in the industry and launched his career as a specialist in the curriculum development of comprehensive arts education programs everywhere. His music textbooks for early grades were some of the most widely used in the world for twenty years. He promoted the teaching of good quality music through a student’s experience in 1) performance, 2) analysis, utilizing the basic elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, tone colour, texture and form, and 3) critical listening.

Reimer’s work helped us understand why we like the music that we tend to like. That is, if you enjoy a piece of music, deconstruct it, pull apart the basic elements, put it back together, then listen to it again with a higher level of knowledge. The analysis would sometimes deepen appreciation, often for reasons originally unconsidered, and at other times would reveal the work as unworthy.

It is the subjective nature inherent in music appreciation that creates such a wide range and blend of likes and dislikes. A “right or wrong,” “A or B,” or “this or that” answer is often elusive when dealing with personal opinions, favouring instead many neutral shades of grey. The Reimer method accepts the premise of individuality but grounds it in analysis and an appreciation for other possibilities.

Similarly, Roger Martin’s Integrative Thinking methodology takes the student through the initial assessment (subjectivity, abductive logic, generative reasoning, or “gut-feel”) and follows with a rigorous analysis up and down the chain of salience, causality, architecture and resolution, constantly examining and adjusting inputs and outcomes. The world of business rarely has the luxury of perfect information and good decisions are even less likely to be the sole result of deductive reasoning. Just like music education, the final assessment of the resolution returns to the state of abductive reasoning, but it is grounded in analysis and an even deeper appreciation for other possibilities. The Integrative Thinker learns and matures through this process realizing that individuality and informed choices are all that we really have.

Bennett Reimer passed away in 2013. His legacy is profound and some of his philosopher-followers have refined and expanded upon his foundation of performing, analysing and listening to include composing, improvising and conducting. Without exception, all of these improvements employ the methodology of Integrative Thinking.

The study of music continues to be one of the best methods for developing creativity and leadership skills.

Bennett Reimer

September 2, 2014

The Natural

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 11:58 am

  Steve Wallace is awesome – string bass virtuoso, blogger extraordinaire, humble humanist, wit galore. Today we examine his left hand. It wanders, and in a good way.

It strays from the bass fingerboard the way Roberto Luongo strays from the net. Or the way Jacoby Ellsbury strays from first base. Steve’s left hand likes to stray from the fingerboard to turn tuning pegs.

Depending on the piece, Steve will retune his strings 5 or 6 times per minute, deftly moving his hand from fingerboard to pegs in milliseconds. It is exciting to watch because his timing and taste are impeccable, and you almost want him to make a mistake, but he doesn’t. He never misses an entry – perfect notes, perfect rhythm, flawless performance.

So, why does he do it? My theory lies in physics. Not the conscious kind of physics requiring analysis and thought, but the kind of physics that thousands of hours and mountains of talent have transformed into something as natural as breathing.

Instruments tuned to equal temperament, such as the piano, can never be in tune with the natural harmonic series. By design, the intervals (5ths, 4ths, 3rds and 2nds) that lay between the tonics are arrived at mathematically to provide an equal distance between each semitone in the chromatic scale.



The above staff illustrates a natural harmonic series from low C (1st harmonic) through high C (16th harmonic). The plus/minus figures above each harmonic represent the pitch deviation between equal temperament and the natural harmonic series. For example, harmonic number 5, representing the interval of a major 3rd above the tonic, resonates 14 cents below the equal temperament major 3rd. That is, if a piano is tuned to A=440 Hz, the major third above A in equal temperament would be C#=554 Hz. However, that same major 3rd in the natural harmonic series would be C#=540 Hz representing a substantial 12% deviation in pitch.

Why does this matter? Let’s say that Steve is playing a jazz standard in the key of Bb (such as One Note Samba or My Foolish Heart or 12 Bar Blues) and he chooses to play his open D string. If the piano is playing a root Bb chord, Steve’s D (the major 3rd) is 14 cents sharper than it should be. If the piano is playing a three chord (a D minor or D major), the note is exactly in tune. If the piano is playing a six chord (a G minor or a G major), the note is 2 cents flatter. When appropriate and more so in ballads than bebop, Steve will twist the tuning peg to make the open-string pitch work within the chord.

The open strings on an upright bass are the notes E, A, D and G. It is a monstrously cerebral exercise to calculate how the pitch of each open string can be represented in every chord in any given key signature. As a tune moves forward through its chord progression, finding a pitch compromise on the fly and making each note fit in the context of its root and inversion is almost impossible. Yet the best of the best do this for us, albeit sometimes unconsciously, and it is these micro-adjustments and attention to detail that elevate our appreciation of music.

Art isn’t easy.

I know that if I was to ask Steve to confirm this roaming, flying-fingerboard, pitch theory he would say “What?” and with a confident smile shift the subject to the Toronto Blue Jays. Thank you, Steve Wallace, for doing what you do so very well.



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