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Practical musical experiments in performing - thoughts generated from class discussions

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Criterion D: Practical musical experiments in performing. (referring to page 63 of the DP music guide)

In many of our conversations in class, there is often confusion between what is a transformed performance, and where does it turn out to be more of a creating experiment? It is a fine line and this blog post tries to clarify some of the questions.

The keywords we are looking here at are: generate innovative musical ideas. 

When we look at the 7-8 section of the level descriptors of this component, we find the words TRANSFORMS, IMAGINATIVE, and COMPELLING

In many of our conversations in class, there is often confusion between what is a transformed performance, and where does it turn out to be more of a creating experiment?

What seemed to work well with the students was listening to different versions of songs they knew well. Matching the season, I chose "All I Want for Christmas". Students responded well because of the very opposite feelings connected with this song - they either love it or would rather never hear it again! Musical pieces that evoke strong emotions are the best basis for vivid classroom discussions, no matter the quality or genre of the piece in question.

A quick discussion followed to identify the performance techniques. It is good to spend some time to clarify what performance techniques are.

When they listened to the different versions of the piece, they agreed, that this is still the same song, however, some music performance features are quite different -  transformed. 

Using the list below, the students then describe the difference. I find it important to point out that there is a different chord used right in the beginning. However, since the experiment focuses on the performance aspect, it has no business in the report in this section.

Getting to work!

As students only have three experiments at their disposal, they can include two or three of the suggestions below in one experiment. I always ask the students to identify the aspects they are addressing in the experiment. It makes it easier for me to guide them.

When we look at page 33 in your guide, one can see a variety of suggestions, which aspects of music-making can be used in the experiments.

Here are the questions/suggestions I give to the students:

Performance techniques -these are specific to the instrument! 

  • e.g. guitar -  strumming vs finger picking, flamenco techniques, bending notes etc. 

  • voice -  the use of chest voice vs head voice, the amount of vibrato, the way to start a note -  sliding into it or straight in?

Musical Elements

  • duration -  are you holding each note exactly as long as it is written, or do you stretch and shorten them a bit? Try using rubato, adding pauses, holding the note longer, and melting it straight into the next one.

  • dynamics -  be adventurous! What happens if you use the exact opposite of the originally indicated dynamics?

  • ornamentation -  what happens if you add, remove, or use ones from a different time era or a geographical space?

  • instrument or vocal range -  what happens if you transpose the song significantly (not just a semitone) How does this change the atmosphere of the song?

  • rhythm -  while staying true to the main rhythm, slight variations can make a big difference. 

  • texture -  changing a bit makes it interesting -  e.g. playing a short section using a monophonic section.

  • tempo -  there are so many different ways, and each tempo variation changes the overall impression. It can a "relaxed, chilled song" sound quite hectic and stressed. 

  • timbre -  you can make the timbre sound more nasal or wide, velvety or shrill. If you have access to a real piano, try experimenting with elements of the "prepared piano", or use mutes, dampers etc. As a percussionist, adding small chains or cloth makes a big difference. Just always keep in mind to not damage the instrument. If you have a keyboard at hand, change the settings to harpsichord and experiment with baroque playing and ornamentation techniques, as a violinist, use scordatura . The options are almost endless. 


  • articulation -  oh boy! So much fun to have exchanging legato with staccato . Then e.g.think about tenuto, marcato, dynamic accents, sforzandi, subito piano etc. 

  • effects -  too many to be listed here. Searching for specific effects according to your instrument can be a lot of fun. 

  • phrasing -  sometimes trying to phrase the part in an "unlogical" way is a great way to discover other alternatives. 

  • productive techniques -  this means any way to produce a sound. Basically, it covers anything that has not been listed above. Maybe you can use your instrument differently than foreseen? Using your piano as a drum, using a violin bow on a cymbal  - again, there is no limit to your creativity as long as the instrument remains unharmed.

Here are some links that my students found useful:


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