Instrumental & Vocal - Interpretation of the Music

A performer makes choices in how to present a written form of music to an audience, whether live or in recording, and this is called musical interpretation. Roughly speaking, musical interpretation is what is intentionally varied or chosen, whether from one performance to another, or from original sources which are ambiguous. Composers who present their own music are interpreting, just as much as those who perform the music of others or folk music.


To be successful

Advice or tips to help you


· Selecting the best piece for you

· Ensure that the pitch range of the piece is suitable

· Find the highest and lowest note in the piece (these could be on ledger lines) and make sure that you are comfortable and confident in playing this range of notes. If you haven't developed your technique to be able to play all these notes, consider a piece with a smaller range.

· Decide whether the piece is appropriate for you to play

· It is important when deciding on your piece to consider the context of the performance. You may have learnt a piece that is too short or long for the performance time or a piece that doesn't fit in with the chosen theme. Always read the exam specification before deciding on your repertoire.

· Determine the standard of your piece

· You may really enjoy listening to certain pieces but they could be very challenging to learn and perform due to complex rhythms, range of pitch and your instrumental technique. Always consider your strengths when deciding on your repertoire, and consider which piece will show your playing at its best.


· Finding out the context of the piece

· Familiarise yourself with the composer of your piece

· Make yourself familiar with the composer of your chosen repertoire. You may find it useful to listen to other pieces composed by the same composer to see if there are any similarities in style and structure.

· Find out from what the era of your piece is

· Always consider the era of each piece and then consider the playing style / technique used. The performance style and technique of a Baroque piece would be very different to a performance of a heavy metal piece.

· Find out whether the piece is part of a bigger work

· When deciding on your repertoire, always consider the bigger picture of each piece. Is the movement out of a concerto? Was the piece originally composed for clarinet?


· Arranging a piece for yourself

· Decide whether to add your own improvised section

· There is nothing wrong with including an improvised section in your piece if this technique is suitable for the style or era of the piece.

· You should rehearse your improvisation plenty of times before performing. You could improvise freely in a performance or prepare the improvisation section and perform it as a prepared improvisation.

· Decide whether it's appropriate to alter the pitch / rhythm in a few phrases

· Care should be taken when changing pitch or rhythm in your piece. Too many changes can result in the original piece not being recognised by the audience. Make sure that you have valid reasons for changing the rhythm and / or pitch.

· Be careful when changing the structure of the piece

· When changing the structure of a piece you may need to consider the following:

  1. Is there a big difference in the overall length of the piece?
  2. Does the piece make sense after changing the structure?
  3. Is there a key change that needs to be addressed due to the change of structure?


· Playing with others

· Ensure that you are all interpreting the piece in the same way

· Before attempting a performance of an ensemble piece, you should discuss each other's views on the style, tempo and use of dynamics. You may find that other ensemble members have valued points to consider when performing specific phrases and sections.

· Decide whether your instruments work well together

· Some instrumental combination work well together, e.g. string quartet or a rock band. But you may find that your instrumental combination includes a very different set of instruments. The main focus should be on balance between all instruments and your ability to work and play together as a team.

· Listen to each other carefully to eliminate errors

· It is best not to start blaming each other if things don't work out well the first time. Take plenty of time to rehearse and ask someone else who is not playing in the ensemble to listen and give you some feedback.


· Expression

· Add dynamics and consider your tempo

· The main elements that focus on expression are changes in dynamics and tempo during a piece. Focus your time before a performance on making the most of any subtle changes in dynamic from loud to quiet and that you are making the most of a 'rit.' mark at the end of a phrase.

· Decide whether you need more expression in your playing

· The best advice would be to give plenty of feeling to the phrasing and dynamic range. When playing, place a subtle accent at the beginning of a bar and on long held notes to emphasise important notes in a phrase. Audiences will only hear you playing the piece once.

· Consider your body language

· Practise in front of a mirror or record yourself performing. Consider your facial expressions, movement and body language. Always consider your presence when performing as your whole body and movement will give powerful messages to the audience.


· Characterisation

· Decide whether you should perform the piece in a specific style

· If you are playing a piece from a specific country or you are familiar with famous recordings of your piece that are played in a particular style. Consider the following:

  1. Does playing with this style improve / enhance my performance?
  2. Is my performance convincing?

· Avoid over interpreting the score

· When interpreting certain pieces, it is very easy to get carried away with certain markings on the score. Ask your group members to give you critical feedback during rehearsal and give them specific points to consider when evaluating.