Monday, March 15, 2010

UE#29 Silence Is Music

The technique of not playing is not used nearly enough. Today I describe how to do it - or not do it...

Night-time in a cottage on the Gulf Islands can be very hushed.
Lying in bed at night I marvelled at the beautiful and eerie quiet of the night. There was literally no sound.

As I lay there listening I became aware of a machine in the distance. It bothered me that somewhere out there was a man-made source of booming, echoing noise that could be heard by so many people around. Without it, whatever that sound was, I felt that the silence would be absolute.

The sound wasn't loud but it was regular and continuous and was starting to annoy me. I put earplugs in my ears. The pounding sound continued.

I gradually realized that the pounding was in time with my own heartbeat. I had been listening to the blood coursing through my own head.

The quote: "Music is the silence between the notes" is one of those sayings that doesn't seem to mean much at all. Yet, at the same time, if you choose to ponder it longer, you can find an infinity of meaning in those 7 short words.

Its actually quite rare to have silence in any piece of music. There is almost always something going on.

Even a solo instrument playing alone has an overhang of sustained sound even when there is nothing being strummed, struck, pressed or plucked.

The above quote is by Claude Debussy. Since there is really no such thing as silence (not inside my head at least) one has to wonder what exactly he was getting at.

I'm thinking that when he said 'silence' he was actually talking about a pause of activity. A piano-note is struck but before playing the next note there is a moment of nothingness. Musician and listener hang together in the same space before the next note comes along to guide their thoughts and feelings.

You don't hear much silence when a typical ukulele player is happily plonking his or her way through a song.

There is great joy to be had in that regular beat. The thrilling strum strum strum that provides the background sound of a well known ditty. The on-going never-ending rhythm that goes on and on and on all the way to the end of the song. A rhythm as relentless and unceasing as my heart; beating as it does to keep the life-giving blood flowing through my head.

I've heard it said that musical rhythm at a basic level imitates the beating of the heart. Perhaps this is why so many ukulele players feel as if they will actually keel over and die if they stop playing in the middle of a song.

I suggest to you that not playing your ukulele is a valuable and much underused playing technique. In my earlier article: Make Your Ukulele into a Piano-Forte I talked about how changing the volume of your playing was probably the simplest technique of all.

To not play at all has to be simpler still.

Try it.

Pick a song you know well and start strumming and singing. At some point keep singing but stop strumming for a little while. Then, start strumming again. Repeat. What do you notice?

Maybe you noticed that you lost the beat. That's a simple fix. Keep the beat going with another part of your body (tap your foot, wiggle your shoulders, jiggle your butt etc).

Maybe you started to sing out of tune. Having the instrument playing along can be a great help for keeping the voice in pitch. If you found that your singing was sounding a bit 'off' then you probably need to work on that. I used to sing in a choir that was all voices no instruments. I trained myself to stay pretty well in tune even without instrumental backing. Its not that hard to do but it might require a bit of self or professional training.

One other thing you may notice is that the sound of the strumming ukulele is so much more welcome after it has been allowed to pause. If you stop playing for a few seconds then the return of the ukulele rhythm can be like the return of a dear friend.

I'm no Claude Debussy but here's my quote:

 "Make your ukulele playing sound better - Stop strumming!"

Fortunately my dvds will teach you so much more than merely suggesting that you not play. Here's some info about them: 
The Complete Ukulele Course DVD series will help you to play and perform better. The use of teaching DVDs is the best way to learn by yourself. You get to see and hear everything you need to know and can pause and rewind as often as you wish.

1 comment:

  1. The silence between the notes is as much
    a part of the music as the notes. Yin/Yang.
    No notes, no music. No silence, no music.
    Alan Watts said the bee and the flower are
    really one organism. No bee, no flower, and
    no flower, no bee.
    The space between the teeth of a saw is as
    much a part of the saw as what we think of
    as the saw. So that space is a part of the saw.

    There used to be much more space in popular
    music than there is now. Listen to the bands of the Beatles' day (it's always their day, I know) and then listen to today's music.
    Somewhere along the line bands brought in
    keyboards to start filling the holes in the music, not
    realizing that the holes allow the music to
    breathe. And no breathing means no life.

    Holes allow strumming itself to breathe, make
    it so much more interesting than the
    non-stop supersonic sort that seeks to impress with its razzle-dazzle. It doesn't
    impress (for long, anyway), it tires.

    Stopping the music and then restarting is a
    time-honored technique I've noticed a lot in
    French popular music especially, and yes, it
    does recharge the performers and the listeners
    for another go-around.

    All of the above, of course, doesn't say it
    nearly as well as our friend, Claude. Which
    is to say that the shortest, simplest way is
    almost always the best way.