Talk on Musical Interpretation — Visual Tools for Perceived Dynamics and Points of Gravity

Ingemar Fridell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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Typical for Western classical music is the process of interpreting and conveying a written score into sounding music. However, sometimes the communication of musical issues between musicians may be experienced as aggravating. In educational contexts in a broad sense, it might be advantageous if this communication could be facilitated, for example, by using visual illustrations as a complement to the verbal language. The final aim of the present PhD project is to introduce a further investigation of the relationship between what musicians do when performing classical compositions and how the music will be experienced by listeners familiar with this kind of music. As an indispensable preparative step for this purpose, based on established conventions of melody phrasing, two special visual tools were developed: the Melody Phrasing Curve and a system for notating metrical points of gravity. In two empirical studies, the relevancy of these visual tools, intended to simplify the communication of matters linked to musical interpretation, was tested. This purpose includes the exploration of musical thoughts coming up when the tools are employed by professional musicians as instruments for illustrating their musical experiences.

The Melody Phrasing Curve is a continuous line that is drawn by free hand into a special device indicating approximately the experienced dynamical fluctuations within the melody part of a composition. In the two phases of Study A, this phrasing curve was tested from the perspective of music professors listening to classical piano excerpts recorded on audio tape. The results indicate that the visual tool mentioned might be used as an instrument for illustrating the experienced changing dynamics of the melody part, primarily in piano music of a clear homophonic character.

In the consecutive Study B, the other visual tool, the system for notating metrical points of gravity, was introduced. This tool was used by four professional musicians, together with the Melody Phrasing Curve, as an aid when preparing performances of three classical piano excerpts, as well as for the purpose of visually illustrating musical aspects of their recorded performances. The study included in-depth-interviews revealing some of the participants’ musical ideas.

The results revealed that the participants respected the traditions of classical music, but they were also interested in further exploring the expressive potential of the music, in order to find new interpretative solutions. Moreover, the results indicate that the visual tools employed might be used in educational contexts as triggers for activating musicians’ self-reflection and for developing a bigger awareness when interpreting classical music. Aside from the participants’ diverging drawing styles, the results further support the functionality of the Melody Phrasing Curve as a visual tool for mirroring the experienced dynamical progression of the melody part. Finally, the phrasing curve may be used for the purpose of planning musical interpretations, as well as for illustrating a given performance.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Malmö Academy of Music
  • Folkestad, Göran, Supervisor
Award date2009 May 27
ISBN (Print)978-91-976053-5-9
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2009-05-27
Time: 10:00
Place: Malmö Academy of Music

External reviewer(s)

Name: Hargreaves, David
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Centre for International Research in Music Education, University of Surrey Roehampton, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 5SL, UK


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Music

Free keywords

  • communication of musical issues
  • visual tools
  • perceived dynamics
  • melody phrasing
  • points of gravity
  • visual illustrations
  • musical experiences
  • Musical interpretation


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