Phishy inspiration? Real time formal analysis

<The attached video was shared with me weeks ago, yet I’m still stuck on it. This musician knows Phish’s style so well that he has mad virtuoso skillz when it comes to real-time analysis of form, pitch collections, and styles.  I especially love his clear delight in nuances, evident in font size, underscoring, and use of caps. I would love for my students to develop that kind of delight in the pitch, collection, rhythms, meters, timbres, and gestures of music that they invest in.

What is real-time analysis, is it worth cultivating in my students, and how might I go about developing it?

To me, real-time analysis is the ability to access a super-solid base of knowledge so fast that one can keep pace with a recording. I can do most formal analysis (annotated with acknowledgments of unusual moments or particularly visceral reactions on my part to a timbre or rhythm) of Classical-Era forms in real time by relying heavily on a base knowledge of formal and harmonic paradigms. Since this music was the topic of my dissertation and the foundation of a lot of the musical examples I draw on for teaching, it makes sense to me that I can do real-time formal analysis of this repertoire.

Is it worth developing in my students?  Yes, I think so.  If they know the paradigms well enough to be able to focus to the ways composers challenge a paradigm, then I think they have a command of nuance, style, and knowledge that will benefit them greatly as a musician.

How might I go about developing it?  Well, I can imagine a genre-based endeavor, with the genre being student-specific and based on the repertoire they are most likely to engage with. Singers could perhaps focus on aria forms, string players on quartets, wind and brass players on symphonic first movements, etc. The applications for students of unnotated musics are huge since mapping unnotated musics could reveal all sorts of interesting things about the musics and the performers. This work could take place in a private reading, an aural skills class, or a upper-level music theory class.  Winter term could also be an effective time to explore this.

I can imagine testing real-time formal analysis (literally provide 11×17 paper and one hearing of an expected genre and see what they come up with) and the practice that students would put into preparing for that kind of test.  I can also imagine them building a small portfolio of “schemas” (I’ve always called them form diagrams, but schemas is much sexier word) that they are proud of.  But, most of all, I can imagine them becoming deeply engaged with music.

Can’t wait to give it a try!

2 thoughts on “Phishy inspiration? Real time formal analysis

  1. Thank you so much for this post and for making me aware of this NYT video.

    In my Spanish conversation class this semester I have asked my students to keep listening journals as a way for them to keep tabs on the different listening activities they need to do outside of class. We have been doing more and more complex listening assignments (radio, podcasts in Spanish etc) and I find myself wondering if drawing a road map or, as you call it here, a realtime analysis, would be something to implement in a listening intensive language class.

    I can imagine that in music you have the same issues that we do in languages: students might get stuck on one note or one chunk of the score (sorry, I don’t know the terms) and want to figure it out (for language it is that pesky one word you can’t understand) and by fixating on it you lose everything around it…the context, the flow, the rhythm of the conversation.

    I am wondering in my head right now whether mapping, drawing, doodling might help some students fixate less on the discrete words and focus more on the whole flow of a listening text over time.

    Thank you for filling my morning coffee time with interesting thoughts about the possibilities!

  2. Pingback: Listening Journals | Language Lab Unleashed

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