Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

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Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Algeria » Wed Jul 21, 2010 8:02 pm

Hey, I was trying to write some (high school level) music tossups recently and had a bit of trouble. Some questions for people who know more about this than I do:

Are music note patterns helpful clues? I can see how they could easily be recited too quickly for a player to understand, but I feel like certain melody lines would probably be useful clues and would reward deeper knowledge of a piece than simply its title. For example, if a tossup on Beethoven said that "One of this man's pieces begins with the note sequence E-D#-E-D#-E," that would reward players who not only know that Beethoven wrote "Fur Elise" but also what that piece sounds like. On the other hand, if a player has heard that piece but can't put the melody and piece together before a title another (presumably less knowledgeable) player knows is namedropped, they get shafted. I can't see a better way to reward listening knowledge, though.

More generally, what is deep music knowledge/what deeper knowledge should music tossups reward? I think having played and/or listened to a piece is deeper knowledge than knowing its name, but imo it can be hard to distinguish between players who've done the former and the latter with many music tossups. If not music note patterns, what would be a helpful way of rewarding players who've done the former?

nb: there are obviously other sorts of deep musical knowledge -- I don't have much experience with collegiate questions, and wrote this post with high school tossups in mind. Deeper knowledge of music is probably demonstrated by reading critical essays and taking classes on music at higher levels, but I don't think most high school students have that sort of knowledge. (To my knowledge, most high schools don't offer music classes that teach about composers/specific pieces/the history of music? There's AP Music Theory, but quizbowl generally asks on composers and/or pieces rather than theory.) Knowledge of noted performers/orchestrators of works and/or virtuosi of instruments is also deep knowledge that high schoolers might have, but I don't think it's as commonplace as having listened to musical works is.

In summary, are music note clues a bad idea for music tossups, and if so how can one reward deep knowledge of music pieces? What is deep knowledge of music?

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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by cvdwightw » Wed Jul 21, 2010 8:45 pm

The biggest problem with dropping the names of musical notes is that those kinds of clues reward two kinds of people: those who have played the piece before, and those who have listened to the piece before and have the ability to turn names of notes into relative pitches very quickly (typically people with perfect pitch). Furthermore there are two kinds of other problems inherent in trying to describe music by listing notes: the first is dealing with instruments in transposition (do you write the notes played by a B-flat clarinet as they are written in the score or as they are heard?) and the second is dealing with octaves (differentiating between, e.g., "C" and "high C" can get tiresome).

Lastly, writing these notes fails to convey any rhythmic information. Now, my unpublished data claims that individuals are able to identify familiar melodies much more easily based on pitch information (all the notes have the same duration but the correct pitch) compared to rhythm information (all the notes have the same pitch but the correct duration), but this could be a potential problem. As the rare example of a non-unique clue, I ask you what you would answer to a tossup that began, "This song's melody begins with the seven-note phrase G-A-G-E-C-A-G."

I used to be a big fan of using note clues, but with rare exceptions (perhaps Fur Elise is one of them), note-by-note descriptions as clues are typically more trouble than they are worth. I am now waiting for a card-carrying member of the Classical Music Mafia to show up in this thread and tell me that everything I've written is wrong.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Unicolored Jay » Thu Jul 22, 2010 10:00 am

As a fairly competent music player, I would like to say that I do not like note clues. They break my concentration from the rest of the question because even though I have perfect pitch, I need a bit of time to actually play the notes in my head. I can easily remember one time I negged on such a clue because I lost concentration.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Crimson Rosella » Thu Jul 22, 2010 12:20 pm

cvdwightw wrote:those who have listened to the piece before and have the ability to turn names of notes into relative pitches very quickly (typically people with perfect pitch).
People with perfect pitch certainly might do this more easily, but I don't think the average person who can mentally translate a series of pitches into a melody has perfect pitch. Anybody who completes introductory sightsinging/aural skills should be able to. Neither I nor one of my teammates who could potentially buzz off of a note clue has perfect pitch.

That being said, I think note clues should be used very sparingly, and only if the rhythm is relatively consistent. Describing ostinati or simple melodic motifs might be suited for this. I might use one if I were, say, to describe the opening RH motif from the Prelude in Le Tombeau de Couperin. A good rule of thumb, perhaps, might be to not use any sequence longer than 5 notes.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Thu Jul 22, 2010 12:39 pm

I actually really like using note clues in work tossups--they're much more buzzable than "This piece's allegro vivace section features trombones playing over muted strings..." or whatever generic thing most tossups use. I immediately recognized the Fur Elise description while reading your post, for example. I'll agree, though, that they're difficult to buzz on when the reader just reads straight through them; a possible solution would be a note to the moderator to slow down while reading the notes.

Of course, you have to use the same discretion you use with any question. Make sure to choose memorable passages, to intersperse notes among a variety of other clues, etc. Still, I think we should experiment with more note transcription in lead-ins, since it could be an interesting way to reward listening to music.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Tanay » Thu Jul 22, 2010 1:21 pm

Cernel Joson wrote:I actually really like using note clues in work tossups--they're much more buzzable than "This piece's allegro vivace section features trombones playing over muted strings..." or whatever generic thing most tossups use.
Are you sure about this? From the perspective of someone who has only a negligible amount of musical experience (about six months of competence), I find it easier to recognize and learn that a certain piece has a certain combination of instruments (clarinet glissando in Rhapsody in Blue, bassoon playing the grandfather's theme in Peter and the Wolf) than looking up the specific notes and remembering them during a game.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Nine-Tenths Ideas » Thu Jul 22, 2010 2:01 pm

NoWayItsTanay wrote:Are you sure about this? From the perspective of someone who has only a negligible amount of musical experience (about six months of competence), I find it easier to recognize and learn that a certain piece has a certain combination of instruments (clarinet glissando in Rhapsody in Blue, bassoon playing the grandfather's theme in Peter and the Wolf) than looking up the specific notes and remembering them during a game.
I don't think you and Matt are talking about the same thing here. Yes, the clarient glissando is a recognizable thing-- it's one of the most famous parts of Rhapsody in Blue, and if you know anything about Peter and the Wolf, you know about the themes; Matt is talking more of the clues like "At the beginning of this work, trumpets repeat a central motif while timpani play in the background" which are not as famous and could, potentially, be a lot of things. In those cases, you may know that work, and you may even know the beginning where trumpets repeat an unspecified motif, but there's still ambiguity and you may be afraid to buzz.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by KevinL » Thu Jul 22, 2010 2:10 pm

NoWayItsTanay wrote:
Cernel Joson wrote:I actually really like using note clues in work tossups--they're much more buzzable than "This piece's allegro vivace section features trombones playing over muted strings..." or whatever generic thing most tossups use.
Are you sure about this? From the perspective of someone who has only a negligible amount of musical experience (about six months of competence), I find it easier to recognize and learn that a certain piece has a certain combination of instruments (clarinet glissando in Rhapsody in Blue, bassoon playing the grandfather's theme in Peter and the Wolf) than looking up the specific notes and remembering them during a game.
I think music tossups that describe the music itself are pretty hard to write well. For a limited number of recognizable pieces (like Fur Elise, Beethoven's 5th, and Canon in D) a few notes would be identifiable to the general quizbowl community that have some musical training and relative pitch, however most people wouldn't recognize a piece with a more complex theme, epsecially (as has been stated upthread) since the rhythm and duration of the notes and tempo are pretty hard to indicate without making the question very wordy without many actual clues.

However, clues like "This piece's allegro vivace section features trombones playing over muted strings..." are extraordinarily vague. Tempo markings like "allegro vivace" are somewhat confusing and are used in many works, so they aren't really uniquely identifying. But on the other hand, pieces like the ones Tanay cited are very recognizable for their notable use of certain instruments like the clarinet glissando in Rhapsody in Blue or the various characters in Peter and the Wolf and those can be used as clues without any concern.

All in all, it's difficult to write a quality tossup on the music itself. A balance is needed between notes and generic description. Some pieces are suited better for one style of clue than others.
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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Jul 22, 2010 3:03 pm

It seems to me like the takeaway from this thread is "consider what people might know when writing clues." Giving the scoring and playing in a specific section is, in fact, probably less vague and less useless than giving a random group of notes, especially given that the latter is less accessible in the sense that it requires greater (any) technical training to know without detailed study or to understand.
So in summary, selecting things at random, be they instrumentation, time signatures, movement names, or note clusters, is likely to produce low-buzzability clues. Conversely, by carefully selecting important, memorable items, whatever they may be, it is possible to do otherwise. Notation has the additional barrier that people need to be able to translate notation into sound, which is not a huge barrier, but is something. A similar caveat holds for technical terms used to describe a piece and, e.g., for technical terms in science, etc.

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Re: Music notes as clues/what is music knowledge?

Post by Theory Of The Leisure Flask » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:42 pm

cvdwightw wrote:The biggest problem with dropping the names of musical notes is that those kinds of clues reward two kinds of people: those who have played the piece before, and those who have listened to the piece before and have the ability to turn names of notes into relative pitches very quickly (typically people with perfect pitch). Furthermore there are two kinds of other problems inherent in trying to describe music by listing notes: the first is dealing with instruments in transposition (do you write the notes played by a B-flat clarinet as they are written in the score or as they are heard?) and the second is dealing with octaves (differentiating between, e.g., "C" and "high C" can get tiresome).
If note clues consistently rewarded these kinds of people, that would in fact be their best attribute. However, IMO it is more common that
Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast wrote:As a fairly competent music player, I would like to say that I do not like note clues. They break my concentration from the rest of the question because even though I have perfect pitch, I need a bit of time to actually play the notes in my head. I can easily remember one time I negged on such a clue because I lost concentration.
.

I know there are a couple folks who disagree and can actually buzz off of these clues (c.f. Dees), but it seems to me that even most music players find them useless. Not everyone does, so I guess they have their place; just not nearly as frequent as they seem to be these days.

That being said, I do think your Fur Elise example is an exception, one that would be much more useful than the average note clue. Fur Elise is not just a super-famous piece with a super-famous opening, but it is an easy solo piano work that many piano students can thus be reasonably expected to have actually played. I know I'm not going to get a string of notes from just listening to a work, even if it's my favorite work and I've listened to it 100 times, but actually playing the piece makes a big difference.

ETA: If you're going to describe a melody in the question, I would personally find a description based on intervals and the *function* of the harmony than a string of notes to be potentially more helpful.
cvdwightw wrote:Lastly, writing these notes fails to convey any rhythmic information. Now, my unpublished data claims that individuals are able to identify familiar melodies much more easily based on pitch information (all the notes have the same duration but the correct pitch) compared to rhythm information (all the notes have the same pitch but the correct duration), but this could be a potential problem. As the rare example of a non-unique clue, I ask you what you would answer to a tossup that began, "This song's melody begins with the seven-note phrase G-A-G-E-C-A-G."

I used to be a big fan of using note clues, but with rare exceptions (perhaps Fur Elise is one of them), note-by-note descriptions as clues are typically more trouble than they are worth. I am now waiting for a card-carrying member of the Classical Music Mafia to show up in this thread and tell me that everything I've written is wrong.
Perhaps I am an atypical Mafioso, but I find descriptions of rhythms more useful than strings of notes, and have actually buzzed on them before (c.f. the Beethoven's 7th tossup from Buzzerfest 2009).

(For what it's worth, I do *not* have perfect pitch.)
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