That Certain Something

Anything that can be said, can be said clearly. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951)

When pupils realise that the half-truths of their elementary lessons need to be expanded, life can begin to seem worryingly vague.

The black note (a crotchet) cannot always be perceived as one beat. Sometimes it’s worth two, sometimes a half and sometimes there is a shift in focus and what would have seemed like 1.5 beats in their early days, becomes the new one beat note. Pupils who have been overseas and changed money will have some feeling for currency conversion and be at an advantage.

The major/minor = happy/sad equation requires expansion. Even if these were the only emotions conveyable in music, there are many shades of either one. As an exercise, you could try to list the various types of happiness and sadness imaginable – consider it a kind of wist drive.

One of my favourite lecturers, Ron Newton at Huddersfield Polytechnic*, liked to reassure us with certainties where possible. He would say, “whenever x, then always y” or “whenever x, then never y.” He seemed fond of that end of the alphabet. The feeling of reassurance in these pronouncements lingers. I recall thinking, “if he’s certain, then I’m certain.” When suitable, I announce things as though cast in stone.

A few examples.

The fingers of the right hand are always relaxed – whatever the volume.

When pupils raise the left wrist, distorting the hand position “there will never be an occasion when that is helpful”

When a composer suspends the accompaniment this is always a clue to free up the tempo.

Every sequence has a break and this break must be highlighted or it will sound like a mistake.

* Both institutions I attended after leaving school (Napier College and Huddersfield Polytechnic) are now universities. If you are interested in upgrading your institution, please consult my rates –