minstrel: teaching music

Monica Cellio mjc at telerama.lm.com
Fri Jan 3 08:00:17 PST 1997

Eoin writes:
> The mechanics of notation will come easily 
> _until_ you get to key signatures.  Therein lies your first stumbling 
> block, and their first mental block.

I'm at a handicap in this discussion, having learned to read music as
a child (and never really taught an adult), but I wouldn't expect this
to be *too* much of a problem within the context of our period.  They
didn't tend to write in, say, D# major... you'll *generally* only see
two key signatures on western-European pre-1600 music: no accidentals and
one flat.  (I'm explicitly not saying "C" and "F"; see below.)  So with
a little care you can mostly avoid the problem, I expect.  (Some modern
editions transpose pieces for arbitrary reasons; I try to avoid them 
because I don't know what *other* changes they've made and they've
demonstrated a willingness to alter the music already.)

Why was I hedging about naming keys?  Because much period music is actually
modal, so you could (for instance) have a piece that has no key signature,
starts and ends on D with a dominant A and a leading tone of C#, and that 
would be D dorian.  It'll sound different from a piece written with no key 
signature that starts and ends on G with a D dominant and a leading tone
of F# (G mixolydian), even though you play exactly the same notes (no 
sharps or flats) when doing either (aside from the leading tones, which 
only matter in cadences).   This is semi-esoteric theory junk as far as 
most beginners are concerned, but you may want to keep it in the back of
your mind when picking pieces.  (And if you don't understand what I just
said -- it being semi-esoteric theory junk -- just say so.)

Catelin writes:
> > (who is thinking that a B.A. in music would come in handy right
> > about now, but nooOOOooo, Mom & Dad insisted on something
> > "practical" :P)

So you have to do it the hard way and teach yourself, yes.  (Or work
for a university and take courses for free, though unfortunately the
university I work for has precious few courses that are at all related
to early music.  I took most of them last semester by taking 1 course. 
:-( )


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