A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

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A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:55 pm

Introduction: The following is my attempt to write a practical guide to writing and editing music questions for collegiate quizbowl tournaments. Many of the things I will say in this guide, I have said before in other guises in particular forum discussions; and so, this acts as a sort of compilation.

This guide is in four parts: The first is a run-down of the three basic kinds of "secondary" music clues, how to choose them effectively, and what pitfalls to watch out for. The second is a discussion of the general approach to the technical language of music. The third is a run-down of the basic kinds of musical-content-based clues, talking about which kinds are useful under which circumstances, and with detailed advice on how to write them and how to spot clues that are meaningless. Finally, Auroni has kindly agreed to send me his sources for a particular tossup from this year's Nats; I will dissect this tossup from the perspective of an inexperienced editor who has received this tossup and needs to figure out which clues to reject, rewrite, or keep.

My sincere hope is that this can serve as a sort of reference guide for writers and editors. That someone thinking of writing a particular kind of clue can return to this post, and re-read the paragraph on that subject to help them choose a clue effectively. And that an editor can return to this post to help them evaluate particular clues.

One final note: throughout this guide, I refer repeatedly to a practice called "reverse clue look-up", a phrase that I think may have been coined by Eric Mukherjee. This refers to the practice of researching whether the contents of a particular clue you have written actually points directly to your answer, or is actually a generic thing that could apply to very many pieces. Just getting into the habit of doing this will eliminate a lot of problems.

Part I: Clues from Outside the Text of the Piece Itself

1. Academic Criticism: Because I suspect there are very few players who read academic journal articles on music or major academic books, I would not suggest using these as anything other than lead-ins unless you are very sure that the interpretation or quote you are using has trickled down into mainstream music knowledge. Use one clue of this type at maximum.

(The exception to this are academics who were responsible for naming/organizing a composer's catalogue: Kochel for Mozart, for example. These are often fine middle clues, and usually are too well-known to be lead-ins.)

How you phrase an academic criticism clue can make a big difference. I find that the ideal clue type takes the form:
"This composer/piece was described as [thesis of critical work] by [author of critical work]"
Opening with "this composer/piece" gets the player to prick up his ears immediately. Putting the thesis of the critical work next (before the author's name) gives the player a chance to buzz off of knowledge of the actual work, if he knows it. Dropping the author last saves for the end the buzz from the person who has merely heard of the author.

The best criticism clues are often taken from the works of academics known for specializing in one particular composer. You should verify this by looking the academic up in a music encyclopedia (or Wikipedia), if they are a historical critic; if they are a living/working professor, visit their faculty page to see what kind of work they do, and to make sure you don't write a clue that could lead players towards multiple composers/pieces.

(An example: I didn't hear the moderator say Jeffrey Kallberg's name on the Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2 tossup at this year's Nats. Even though I didn't know that specific clue for the sonata, it would have helped me get the tossup eventually, as I would have begun to suspect that it was on a work by Chopin, because Kallberg is famous for writing on Chopin. So, even though I didn't know his commentary on that piece (and, actually, the question itself did not convey his thesis as helpfully as it could have) that is an excellent choice of scholarly clue.)

2. Biographical / Cultural Context: Obviously, pieces don't spring up from the ground. They were composed by real people living in real societies, and we continue to value them for the impact they have on the world. Naturally, one can find biographical and cultural context for any piece. And as a general area of interest, this is obviously legitimate.

However, these types of clues are not equally helpful for all pieces. Things nearly every composer of the 19th century did include: write a piece dedicated to a Central European noble, go on vacation and get inspired by some local custom or phenomenon in nature (especially an animal), and write a piece out of love for their wife or mistress. For some pieces, these clues will be very helpful, and for some virtually useless. The fact that a clue might appear in program notes is not symptomatic of anything one way or the other, because program notes tend to default to this kind of stuff (it's part of the genre). So, how do you distinguish if a clue is useful?

Here are the circumstances under which these kinds of clues are most useful:
(a) The elements of context have an audible manifestation in the piece itself.
(b) The circumstances of production determined some basic qualities of the production. (Stories about how the demands of a particular patron's request or combination of instruments available changed how the composer wrote the piece might fall in this category.)
(c) The biographical/contextual information is routinely a part of how the piece has been interpreted since. (Usually, related to a very major event in the life of the composer.)
(d) The context being reflected in the piece is a really major historical event.
(e) The piece had a large and unique impact on the culture in which it was produced. (This is going in the opposite direction: instead of talking about how culture is reflected in the piece, you talk about how the piece has been reflected onto its culture.)

So, examples of context-based clues that incorporate these feature: The Italian cavalry bugle call in Capriccio Italien is in category (a), because we can hear it in the piece. The Curse of the Ninth causing Mahler to write Das Lied von der Erde as a vocal work rather than a symphony with vocal interpolations might be an example of (b), since it changed the nature of the piece. Mozart's Piano Sonata K. 310 is hopefully never going to get tossed up, but in a world in which it could, the fact that people see Mozart's mother's recent death as affecting the mood of the piece would make for a good clue. The effect of the November Uprising on the Revolutionary Etude is a mix of (a) and (d); it is both a major event and somewhat reflected in the piece's sound. The relationship between La Muette de Portici and the Belgian Revolution is a mix of (d) and (e).

The bottom line here is that these are all instances where it is clear how knowledge of the context has affected the piece's history and/or can still enrich listening to the piece in the present. You always want to keep this perspective in mind when choosing clues. Do not just pick a piece of historical context and hope that it sticks.

Where this can get you into trouble is that you read an article or some program notes that claims that a piece was inspired by such and such thing, even though that is really just the opinion of the one author you have read. This is why you should always use some form of "reverse clue look up" to verify that any clue you find in an article or set of notes is not just the opinion of one or two authors.

3. Performances / Recordings: Just as all pieces had contexts in which they arose, so too are (almost) all pieces eventually performed and recorded. Once again, this is an area that's totally legitimate, but these sorts of clues will not be equally useful for any piece.

If you are using a work's premiere as a clue, it is helpful if there was something about that premiere that had a large long-term effect on the shape of the piece, or the piece's reception. Such things include:
- The conductor or soloist gave the composer specifications that affected how he wrote the piece
- The conductor or soloist did certain things at the premiere that either threatened the piece's canonicity (e.g. Glazunov's drunken premiere of Rachmaninoff's First Symphony) or which ensured the piece's canonicity
- The conductor or soloist established certain performing traditions that affected how the piece is still performed today.

Likewise, if you are using a recording, you shouldn't just pick your favorite recording of a work and hope for the best. You want it to match similar criteria as those I outlined above for the premiere clues. Such things include:
- The performance did something revolutionary with regards to the interpretation of the piece
- The performance was responsible for popularizing the piece or rescuing it from obscurity
- The performance had broad historical or cultural significance (e.g. Van Cliburn's performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1)

The big caveat I have to add is that most performers in any era performed huge swathes of repertoire and premiered tons of works. It is very rare that the performer's name will be enough to make a good clue. In situations where the performance is significant for one of the above reasons, you want to explain that reason. You should also perform "reverse clue look-up" to determine what other famous performances and premieres that performer may have given, and then make sure to distinguish between these performances.

For example, Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh premiered very many of the 20th century's greatest violin concertos. However, they did so with different conductors, in different times and places, under different historical circumstances. Without this extra detail, no clue about a premiere they gave will be effective. Together with these contextual details, they have a good shot of being good clues.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” - G.K. Chesterton

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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:56 pm

Part II: Reading Comprehension With and Without Conceptual Comprehension

Music has a lot of technical terms, which you need to use correctly in order for any technical clue to have a chance of being buzzable.

However, music clues are not written in some strange language called "music"; they are written in English. Though the pieces of vocabulary themselves may be "musical", the basic rules for how word order and grammar affect the meaning of a sentence are always in play. I am emphasizing this because many of the problems with technical clues occur not on the level of conceptual misunderstanding, but on the level of bad use of the English language. People just sort of throw the words together in a sentence, without thinking about how basic English constructions would change the meaning of the sentence. This is, frankly, a problem I have noticed in philosophy questions, too.

If you are writing or editing a music question, you should look up every word you use that you don't know. Of course, many of these words will denote concepts you don't understand and you can't and shouldn't need to learn "for real" just to write a question. Your ideal goal may be deep conceptual understanding; but it would be an unreasonable expectation for that to be absolute necessity. Your immediate goal is to understand what class of things that word or concept belongs to, and how that word functions in a sentence. Assuming you are not knowledgeable enough to create a clue, and you are instead taking a clue from a reliable source, your goal is to reword the source sentence without changing or destroying its meaning; in the most practical sense, that is the level of understanding that is most essential.

As a personal anecdote: for ACF Nationals 2013, I had to write science for packet submission for the first time. Even though no one expected me to write okay science, I didn't want to just phone it in and write complete crap that would give the editor a headache. So, I picked a topic, found some articles, and performed "reverse clue look-up" on every sentence that looked somewhat useful, until I had narrowed it down to a series of phrases that generated the correct answer when I googled them (in some cases, needing to add an "it's not X" clause).

Now, I have no scientific training. I had no chance of understanding anything that I was writing. But I looked up each word to try to understand what general class of things it denoted. And I paid careful attention to how sentences using those words were constructed. Then, I tried to translate every sentence into a new sentence that, by the rules of English, should mean the same thing as the original. In any case where I felt very insecure, where the sentence I ended up writing seemed to be grammatically quite different, I googled that phrase segment to make sure what I was writing still made sense lexically.

I was shocked that my Bio and Chem made it into the tournament unedited. As soon as I saw this, I found Eric and apologized to him. But he said that my questions had been good. Suspecting that he was being polite about this, I mentioned this incident to him at a later date, and he claimed that they were actually good.

My point is not that I should be a science writer or editor. I most certainly should not. I never want to write a science question again in my life. And my point here is certainly not to encourage you to abandon good faith efforts to understand these sentences you write! My point is to emphasize that in situations where you are forced to transcribe clues that deal with concepts you don't understand, you should focus on the basic linguistic aspects of the paraphrase, to make sure you're are doing it properly.

Here is a clue from a program note:
"He drafted a theme [with X qualities], above which he wrote the word [Y]. This became [Theme A] [with Z qualities]."
As you can see, I have removed the technical terms and replaced them with variables. This is to stop you from getting distracted by the jargon and to allow you to focus on sentence structure.

So, reading comprehension test: which qualities of [X], [Y], and [Z] does this passage ascribe to Theme A? If you answered "[Z]", you are correct. If you answered "[X]" or "[Y]", you are wrong. This exact mistake appears to have happened in a clue for ACF Nationals, where a theme was incorrectly described as [X] and [Y] instead of [Z], thus making it unbuzzable.

Note that what I'm talking about doesn't guarantee that clue [Z] is a good clue in and of itself. In order for that to be true, [Z] would have to be uniquely identifying and evocative. That would require some research, possibly of the "reverse clue look-up" variety.

Another example from ACF Nationals. A clue from a book that says:
"The slow movement, an elegant F major cantilena in gently rocking 12/8 meter, has particular melodic beauty."
was transcribed into a clue that says:
"An F major 12/8 cantilena meter characterizes its middle movement"
Without understanding what the terms "12/8" and "cantilena" signify, can you spot what grammatical shift has happened that has changed the meaning of this sentence? The phrase "cantilena in 12/8 meter" has been changed into "12/8 cantilena meter". The first phrase merely ascribes two qualities to the movement, whereas the second establishes a causal link between the two qualities. Now, it's possible that this is true, and that cantilenas are in 12/8. (It isn't, in this case.) But regardless, an awareness of what has happened grammatically should be there, even if the conceptual understanding is not there, and that change in meaning shouldn't have happened unaware.

My basic point here is: don't let all the fancy technical terms stop you from seeing the structure of the sentences you're working with. They are what hold the key to writing accurate and effective clues.

Here are three extremely common paraphrase and transcription mistakes:

1. Turning Adjectives into Nouns: If I encounter an article that describes a passage in a particular poem as "novelistic", I should not then write a clue that says "In this novel,…". This is because "novelistic" denotes that the described object has some characteristics of a novel; it does denote that the described object is itself a novel. Many adjectives in music work this way. A passage may be "fugal" (a word which is used quite loosely by some authors), but that doesn't mean that the piece you are talking about is itself a fugue. This is why you should not change the part of speech of a word in a sentence, unless you are sure you fully understand that word.
2. Adjectives and Articles: "The main theme", "A main theme", "The theme", and "A theme" all denote different things. If you write "The theme of one movement…", you are saying that the movement has only one theme. When this is actually the case, such a clue could be valuable. Be careful that you are not suggesting things that you don't mean.
3. How Many Instruments?: An even bigger problem. "The violins play" means that multiple violins play. "A violin plays" means that one violin is playing. "The violin plays" means that one violin is playing, and that violin is the only one used in the piece. Please pay careful attention to this as this has a large effect on whether clues involving instrumentation are buzzable.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” - G.K. Chesterton

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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:56 pm

Part III: Clues about the Text of the Piece Itself

1. Macro-Level Description: I use the term "macro-level description" to refer to a clue that attempts to summarize the salient qualities or whole form of an entire movement or piece, in one sentence, rather than trying to clue something off of a small feature. Such clues often define a movement by some combination of its time signature, key signature, tempo indication, genre, and/or form. (Occasionally, for orchestral pieces: one movement will have special orchestration; this can be a clue.)

First, a note of warning about genre and form. Sometimes the genre or form of the piece is clearly defined, and agreed upon by everyone. But sometimes, the article or program notes you're working from is written by someone who has an opinion about this and who more-or-less states his view as fact. We are aware of this when we read a literature essay: if someone says that some sonnet is a "lament form in disguise", we are unlikely to repeat that as fact. We know that literary critics say shit like this all the time. But I think many writers who don't know music well are more credulous, because they want to latch on to any concrete-seeming piece of information. Use "reverse clue look-up" to check if the statement about form/genre you want to use is commonly held. There are cases where there is a genuine dispute over the form or genre of a piece. If so, make note of that dispute in your clue (e.g. "Scholars sometimes characterize the form of this work's third movement as a minuet…"). Just that disclaimer is actually really helpful, because it stops me as a player from going down the wrong path, looking for a piece that has a minuet third movement. (Just a description of Mourning Becomes Electra as a "revenge tragedy" might throw a literature completely off the scent, barreling into the Jacobean era, but hearing the comparison stated as a comparison and not stated as fact could potentially be helpful.)

That caveat aside: What's a good way to use all this information? The biggest problem is that writers and editors tend to give too little information. Sometimes, they pick just the tempo indication (these are sometimes but rarely unique; use "reverse clue look-up" to determine when) or tempo + key. This is often not enough to jog anyone's memory.

If you are writing a macro-level clue, I suggest you write down all of these pieces of information, and then cut only the ones you think are completely useless or give the game away too much.

Let's say I want to describe the opening movement of Beethoven's Tempest Sonata for a Beethoven Piano Sonata common link. Here's all that information:
The opening movement of the 17th of these works is a sonata-form work in D minor and cut time, which alternates tempo repeatedly between Largo and Allegro.
So, this is now definitely buzzable. But there's probably too much. What should I cut? In most cases, I think people are too reticent to give the work number, maybe out of fear of people frauding it. In most cases, this is unwarranted, but in this case the number 17 is high enough that I should be concerned (most people didn't write more than 15 works in any given genre, so that greatly narrows down what we could be looking for). Sonata-form is not helpful here because most opening movements are in sonata form, and I don't want to say the word "sonata" in a piano sonata common-link. So, my best bet is a clue that goes:
"The opening movement of one of these works is in D minor and cut time, and alternates tempo repeatedly between Largo and Allegro"
Removing details from this clue (e.g. writing it as: "The D minor opening movement of one of these works alternates tempo repeatedly") would make it virtually unbuzzable.

Let me do another example to reinforce this point. Let's say I'm writing a common-link on Mahler's symphonies. And I want to clue the third movement of the 7th Symphony. Here's all the features:
"The third movement of the seventh of these works is a Scherzo in 3/4 and F major marked Schattenhaft."
This is okay as it is, but maybe a little weak. With research, I might discover that most Scherzos are in 3/4 and that F major is a really pretty common key, and that "Schattenhaft" is the most notable thing here. Maybe to make the key clue more useful I might relate it to the main key of the whole symphony, so I can clue the movement and some fact about the larger work at the same time. And then I'll explain the tempo clue to draw attention to it. I'll cut 3/4 to clear space, since that's entirely generic. So, my rewritten clue is:
The third movement of the seventh of these works is a Scherzo in F major, which is its symphony's flat supertonic*; that movement is marked "shadowy" or "Schattenhaft"."
[*Fancy way of saying that the piece as a whole must be in E or E minor]
Even if these are not the most exciting clues in the world, I would nonetheless be pleased to hear them, because they are detailed enough to be buzzable. They all could be livened up by combining macro- and micro-level clues; that is, by integrating clues about individual features into these descriptions of the whole movement. This is the subject of my next section.

Two final notes: Don't deny giving vital features to try to make a clue more obscure, thinking that you can then use the clue earlier in a tossup. You'll just make it totally unbuzzable, and it will be a non-clue. If the clue with proper details is too easy to be a lead-in, then find some other harder clue for your lead-in! Never obscure score clues; they're hard enough to buzz on to begin with!

Also, if you are submitting these questions, don't bother cutting features out of your description. As an editor I would much rather have to do the cutting myself than to receive a description that's so bare-bones that I have no idea what the hell it's talking about and I have to hunt for an hour to find the piece, or sometimes never find the piece and have to cut the clue entirely, rather than fix it.

2. Good Micro-Level Clues: So, let's say that instead of or in addition to trying to characterize a whole movement, you want to try to clue a particular moment in a movement. This is by far the hardest thing to do well.

Here's an important basic fact of writing content-based clues for music: it is nothing like writing these clues for works of literature or for paintings. In a tossup on a work of literature or visual art, one can generally pick nearly any specific unique passage and make it a lead-in by describing it well. This is fundamentally not the case for music questions. Being unique is the bare minimum.

A basic rule you should follow unless you are absolutely certain the moment you're cluing is incredibly distinctive: always identify the location of the moment you are describing within the piece; do this with extreme precision .

You want to clue that thing that happens somewhere in the middle of the development, but you can't describe quite where? Forget it. You like that little scale passage in measure 25? Give up hope. No one memorizes measure numbers! You think that oboe solo is really beautiful? Unless you can capture the qualities of its beauty in words, it's not a clue!

Unless you are extremely confident in your clue selection abilities, your best bets are to restrict yourself to openings and very closings of movements, and to the openings of clearly defined sections within a movement. Such clearly defined sections include the second subject within a sonata exposition, the opening of the recapitulation or development of a sonata, the trio of a minuet or scherzo, the second theme of a rondo.

Let's look at two examples of unhelpful clues about individual moments:
The second movement Scherzo of this piece reprises an E-flat minor theme at the end in the key of G-flat major.
In one of these pieces, a spooky theme in its scherzo is reprised with the left hand playing staccato while the right plays legato, offset half a beat.
A scherzo is typically somewhere between five and ten minutes long and contains numerous themes. Where within these scherzos are we? Neither of these clues tell us. And the phrase "at the end" in the first clue is vague. (I have no idea whether the writer means in the piece's final bars or just in the last two minutes, or what.) The only way to get buzz on the first clue would be to imagine every scherzo you can think of and then, in your head, run through every theme in each piece to see which ones are in E-flat minor, and then check if any of them come back at the end in G-flat major. To get the second one, you don't even have keys to work with! You know you're in a piano piece, but you now have to imagine your hand positions at every juncture in all piano scherzos to see if there are any where you are playing the same melody a half beat apart!

Please bear in mind that even if you were told where in the scherzo this moment is, you still have to go through every scherzo you know to find this clue. The difference now is that you have to check each scherzo only once, at the spot that the clue has directed you to. This is still quite hard to do, though! Empathize with those of us who try to buzz on these when you write clues like this, and help us as much as you can!

Let me now give an example of a straightforward minor-level to clue. I will return to my hypothetical Mahler's symphonies tossup, using clues from the Seventh Symphony. Let's say I want to pick a micro-level clue from the fourth movement. I could write:
A solo violin playing a melody beginning with an octave ascent from F to F opens the fourth movement of the seventh of these works
I've made it very easy for you to try to find this clue. We are probably in an orchestral work (there would be no need for me to draw attention to the "solo violin" were this a chamber work). You can't be sure but you should probably suspect that this is somebody's Seventh Symphony. What you now need to do is go through various composer's Seventh Symphonies and see if the very opening matches this description. Maybe your hearing tends to focus on melodies more than orchestration and so that octave F helps you; but most likely, the violin solo will be what helps you most, and the octave F will help you confirm that you've thought of the right thing. (In case you were scared to buzz on the violin solo alone.) Note that the musical quotation/description is really short; I haven't gone: "this piece opens with [string of eleven pitches that fly past the player's ears like the wind]"

Note also that when I say this moment is "easy to find", I don't mean that this clue is just "easy". It isn't. In order to "solve" it, you need either to have intimate familiarity with Mahler's Seventh (so the clue causes you to recall it immediately) or you need to be able to hear in your head the beginning of the fourth movements various composers' Seventh Symphonies. But compare the task I am setting with the impossible tasks set by those previous two clues. Instead of asking my players to blindly rummage through all of Western music, I have directed them to a small subsection of the canon to work through.

This is perhaps the central misconception about micro-level descriptive clues: It is extremely rare that the clue gets you to hear a piece. Consider the purposes of program and liner notes (which people often draw their clues from) and you'll understand why. Those articles were never intended to get you to hear the music. They exist so that when you do hear the music, you have words and concepts to connect them to, so you can make sense of your experience. In other words, program note clues are designed to flow from music -> words and not from words -> music.

Bottom line: Think of me (the player) as having a brain like an iTunes library filled with music. You need to give me enough context to act as a search term to narrow down the tracks to a sane number. Then, tell me where in these tracks I need to look and what I'm looking for, as precisely as possible. I will then play through as much of this as I've got, as quickly as I can, and see if any moments match. That is how I "solve" most micro-level score clues.

One final thing before I close this section. The micro-level clue I made up took advantage of this being a common-link tossup to provide concrete context. If you are writing on an individual work, you can't always afford to provide such concrete context early in the question. In such cases, you will have to combine the micro-level clue with some macro-level features. In general, it's a good idea to do this, because most micro-level clues are hard to buzz on, to begin with.

So, to return to the clue about the fourth movement of Mahler's Seventh. I would now look for macro-level features of the movement. In this case, "reverse clue look-up" would tell me that the key and time signature of this movement are really common, the form is basically non-existent, and the tempo indication and orchestration is unusual. I therefore want to draw on those last two features. So, if this were a tossup on Mahler's Seventh, my clue would now read:
The fourth movement of this work opens with a solo violin playing a melody beginning with an octave ascent from F to F; that movement is marked "Andante amoroso" and features recurring tremolos on a mandolin.
3. Clues That Are Almost Guaranteed To Be Terrible: Unless you really, really know what you're doing, I strongly suggest that you never write these sorts of clues. I really, really know what I'm doing, and I almost never use these sorts of clues. If you are an editor, and you see these sorts of clues, shoot them through the eyes on sight:
The second movement of this symphony begins with a long pizzicato passage played by double basses and cellos
The second movement opens with a recitative-like arpeggio resting on B-flat major in another of these pieces
Repeated pianissimo chords open another of these pieces, followed by a three- and four- note descent.
These are all from this year's Nationals. Now, luckily, all three of these did one thing right: they started with the opening of a movement. The problem is that the things they are describing are entirely generic.

In the first two clues, the writer has editorialized by adding "long" to the first one and "recitative-like" to the second one. These adjectives convey subjective judgments with no cluing value. In case you are not familiar with the terms "pizzicato", "arpeggio", "pianissimo", and "descent", here is a translation of what each clue says, in layman's terms:
1. The second movement of this symphony begins with the low strings plucking.
2. The second movement of this piece begins with the notes of a chord, played one at a time. The last note of this (unspecified) chord to be played is a B-flat.
3. One of these pieces opens with some soft repeated chords, and then one note moves downwards, note-by-note.

You do not need to know much about music to guess that plucking strings, chords where the notes are played one at a time, chords that are repeated softly, and passages where the notes move downward note-by-note are extremely generic. What's missing from this description is anything concrete or specific, except for that one B-flat, which could belong to very many chords.

Tell-tale signs that a score clue is unhelpful:
- It relies on a non-technical adjective that is supposed to capture mood: a melody is "lyrical", "jaunty", "jolly", "charming", etc. (These adjectives don't need to be exorcised from quizbowl, but they are not, in and of themselves, clues.)
- It just describes an instrument doing something totally generic that an instrument normally does: "the second violins play pizzicato", "the pianist plays scales in his right hand", "the horn holds half notes", "a flute trills", etc.
- It uses a bunch of names of rhythmic figures and technical terms, without specifying any melodic, harmonic, or formal feature: "at the opening of this movement, strings play triplets", "a bassoon plays a dotted rhythm", "this movement opens with arpeggios in the woodwinds", etc.
- It tells you only the length of a theme without its content: "a clarinet introduces a 10-bar melody", "the viola plays a five-note theme", etc.
- It tells you the direction that a line is moving, but nothing about the actual line: "the oboe ascends a major scale", "the cello descend into its low range"
- It tells you what page something happens on or the measure number: "on page five of this piece…", "in measure 32…", etc.
The point is not that these phrases (except for the measure number crap) cannot appear in a legitimate clue; the point is that they alone cannot constitute a clue, because they are the building blocks of all moments of music, and using them is like saying: "In this painting, a dude has eyes in his face".

The absolute worst kind of these things are score marking clues. These are where someone has literally transcribed something like:
On the first page of this piece, there is the marking poco a poco accelerando e crescendo leading to a measure marked fortissimo followed by a ritardando
I swear that I've seen stuff like this. For those of you that don't understand score markings, what this says is:
On the first page of this piece, the player is told to get louder and faster bit by bit, eventually reaching a point that is marked 'very loud' followed by a slowing down.
Every piece from the 19th century on requires the players to change tempo and dynamics as the piece progresses. No combination of these is ever going to be helpful, unless the marking asks the player to do something really unusual (e.g. use a wooden block to depress the keys).

If you are unsure whether a marking is generic or not, look it up! You want to check both for what it means, but also you want to apply "reverse clue look-up".

If you are not a musician, it might seem confusing that these features are so unhelpful when the other features I listed before are so helpful. Why is (for example) saying that something is a minuet in G minor helpful when saying that a piece has clarinets playing arpeggios unhelpful? Aren't minuets and the key of G minor as generic as clarinets and arpeggios? Well, yes, in a way they are all generic. But the former are generic categories to which pieces belong; they are how those pieces are organized and conceived of in musician's minds. The latter are generic features that a piece contains. In the abstract, "deserts" and "forests" may seem as generic as "sand" and "trees". But to know that something is a "desert" or "forest" is piece of useful geographical information (as a clue) in a way that knowing that it contains "sand" or "trees" is not.

EDIT: Grammar/Typos
Last edited by ThisIsMyUsername on Fri Apr 18, 2014 6:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:57 pm

Part IV: Editing a Question Step-by-Step

Okay, let me show how I would apply all the principles I have just outlined in actually editing a question.

My approach is:
1. Understand what each clue is trying to say
2. Assess whether what it is trying to say is true
3. Asses whether what it is trying to say is actually helpful as a clue
(a) If it isn't, can I re-word it or add information, or must the clue itself be junked?

I should expand on two of these points. "Understanding each clue" means looking up the words I don't know, and understanding as best as I can, but most of all it means understanding the semantic implications of the sentence's structure (see Part II).

Assessing whether something is true means researching the clues that were submitted to me. If I have the ability to check them myself against the score, without further assistance, that's fantastic. If not, I'll need to rely on lots of Googling to try to find sources that verify the clue. I should add that in the two years that I edited Regionals: more than 50% of score clues submitted to me were wrong, because the person who wrote them transcribed them incorrectly from sheet music, usually by reading the wrong clef . So, this is a not step I suggest out of paranoia, but rather from evidence that it's necessary.

Now, if a clue is quite complex or your music theory knowledge is really weak, you may not have the expertise to do proper verification. The most important thing is that you try to see if you can figure out what moment is being described. If you can't figure this out, already knowing the answer to the question already, and with the benefit of internet and/or a score at your disposal, the odds that someone playing the question will be able to answer that clue is slim to none, and you should definitely cut that clue.

So, let's go line by line through the Bach Double Violin Concerto tossup from this year's ACF Nats:
The finale of this piece reprises the theme in G minor instead of the expected tonic D minor
This sentence's first claim is that the finale of this piece has one theme ("the theme"), which reprises in G minor instead of D minor. Is this true? No, this piece has many themes. With research, I discover that this clue is meant to refer to the opening or main theme of the movement. So, if I'm keeping this clue, I'm replacing "theme" with "main theme".

With Googling, I hit a source that confirms the tossups' claim about the theme: http://www.allmusic.com/composition/con ... 0002377120. Is this a fact or a writer's interpretation? To check, I then read the next couple of links. One of the next ones, on the first page of my Google results, is from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qbzpf. It makes the opposite claim from allmusic: it claims that the reprise in the subdominant minor (G minor) is totally normal, and that it doesn't happen "instead" of the tonic (D minor), because there's another tonic reprise afterwards, to close the piece as you'd expect.

(I should note, a tip with Bach: because this concerto is called so many different names, in order to keep my Google results sane, I googled it by its BWV #: 1043. For Mozart, Beethoven, etc., you often get better results if you google by Kochel or Opus number.)

If I don't have score knowledge, I might research this some more, and will probably throw this clue out, because I have totally contradictory sources. (So, at best this is one person's interpretation, and not some factual claim.) If I do have high-level score reading, I can check the score and see that the BBC is right and allmusic is wrong: the theme comes back in the tonic. Either way, I throw out this clue. Everything about it is wrong.

The first line continues:
The finale of this piece reprises the theme in G minor instead of the expected tonic D minor and consists of two instances where repeated double stops are played in eighth notes in accompaniment of the orchestra."
What is this trying to say? What is the subject of the verb "consists"? Is it the finale as a whole or the theme? Either way, it's definitely wrong. This description does not match the theme, and nor the piece as a whole. With research/listening, I find the theme that is being described. The problem is that this description is highly generic-sounding because the crucial fact has necessarily been omitted (that two violins are accompanying the entire orchestra). So, though the moment itself being described is great, the clue itself tells me only that there are strings involved. Also, at game speed, no one is going to process the line "in accompaniment of the orchestra" and understand correctly that we're describing violin soloist(s) accompanying the orchestra. There's probably no way to salvage this either. I now throw out the whole first sentence.
This piece opens with a four-voice fugue,
Well, it's clear what this suggests. So, now I check this. The internet confirms that many (but not all) scholars view this as a fugue; although they all agree that it is fugal. But, if I "reverse clue look-up", I find that there are other pieces that open with a four-voice fugue. This clue is not unique. Are there specific details I could add that make this unique? The tempo marking might do it. If I really dig around, I will discover that a starting a concerto with a fugue for the orchestra is unusual. (http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.as ... 6380&vw=dc). The original first clue hinted at this being a concerto, so there's no reason why I shouldn't here. So, I'll rewrite this as: "This piece opens with a four-voice fugal ritornello for the orchestra."
and an F major 12/8 cantilena meter characterizes its middle movement,
I look up the terms involved and I find out that this movement is indeed in F major and 12/8 time. However, Google gives me one hit for "cantilena meter", and that hit turns out not to even use that phrase. Maybe there's no such thing as cantilena meter? Googling what a "cantilena" is confirms this. And with further Googling, I find great difficulty connecting the word "cantilena" to this movement. It appears to be something that one writer ascribed to this movement.

However, I might recall that both the BBC and allmusic websites I checked earlier called this movement a Siciliano. With verification on the internet, I find out that Siciliano is a type of Baroque piece in 12/8 from this ear, and I can verify that other sources agree with this interpretation. This might help players locate the time period, since it appears to be a specifically Baroque form. I also check to see if there are any other ways I could make this clue easier, and I find that the tempo indication for this movement is one of those rare jewels music writers dream of: a unique tempo indication! I now rewrite this clue as: "This piece's second movement is a Siciliano in F major and 12/8 time, which is marked Largo ma non tanto"

This sentence closed:
in which a four-note fragment punctuates overlapping and imitative phrases four times.
I'm very obviously junking this as the model of an unhelpful clue (see the end of Part III).
The close canon opening this piece’s allegro finale
I now check whether this finale opens with a canon, or whether I can find sources confirming this. I do find sources that claim this, so I probably keep this.

(Note, though: in real life, I [John Lawrence] would know from checking the score that the decision to call this a canon is interpretive license on the part of program note writers. But, from Googling, this would not be apparent, because many writers repeat this trope.)
marks a return to the tripartite ritornello principle.
At this point, no matter my level of theory expertise, I'm probably extraordinarily confused by this sentence. What is this clue trying to say: the canon marks a return to the tripartite ritornello principle? Or the finale does? A return from what and from where? When did we have it before? And what is "the tripartite ritornello principle"? Googling "tripartite ritornello" gives me a grand total of eight hits. If I am editing this and I don't have theory expertise, I would cut this clue. After all, I've already now added a better ritornello clue earlier in the tossup.
A trill was added to this piece for didactic purposes in the version appearing in Volume 4 of Suzuki.
Auroni provided me with the webpage from which he got it, but had he not, I would never have been able to find it. Regardless, if I look up what it means to add a trill to a score, I'll probably find that this a commonplace thing that happens in all modern editions of any 18th-century piece.

However, the idea of using a Suzuki clue is a nice touch. Is there a way to keep a Suzuki clue? With Googling, I can find that the different solo parts of this piece are the final pieces in Suzuki Volumes 4 and 5 respectively. So, my new clue is: "Different parts of this piece are the final extracts in Suzuki Volumes 4 and 5". This clue is obviously much harder than all the others, so I move it back.

Checking the remaining clues, I find that they are all interesting and buzzable. The Heifetz clue is a perfect performance clue, the next clues names two violinists thus hinting at the genre of the work, the next clue makes it clear that we're talking about Bach, and then there's a giveaway. So, the rest of the tossup can be kept intact.

Reordering each of my clues correctly, my final version of the tossup now looks like this:
Different parts of this piece are the final extracts in Suzuki Volumes 4 and 5. The piece's allegro last movement opens with two instruments playing a close canon beginning "D - C-sharp - D", and its first movement opens with a four-voice fugal ritornello for the orchestra. This piece's second movement is a Siciliano in F major and 12/8 time, which is marked Largo ma non tanto. On a recording with Mozart’s Turkish concerto, Jascha Heifetz unusually played this piece by himself, and Jaime Laredo and Jennifer Koh often played it together. Nearly two decades after this piece was written during its composer’s time as Kapellmeister of Anhalt-Kothen, it was transposed into C minor and arranged for multiple harpsichords. For 10 points, name this Bach piece for orchestra and more than one stringed soloist.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode » Fri Apr 18, 2014 6:20 pm

This thread brings up the intriguing idea of john Lawrence's science writing guide
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by vinteuil » Fri Apr 18, 2014 7:39 pm

Between this awesome post and http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... =9&t=15161, hopefully there'll be some really great music questions coming from all sorts of places soon—exciting! Great job, John.

[EDIT: I notice that John's still throwing around a fair bit of terminology that might seem inaccessible. I would suggest to anyone who is confused by the terminology, but still really wants to contribute a lot of music questions in the future, that they take a look at some of the "Essential Dictionaries of Music" etc. etc. that are out there—the really small, cheap ones that won't take long to read, will clear up a lot of confusions, and also give a pretty good sense of "baseline level of knowledge." It's much easier to do something like that (and maybe read an AP music theory review book or the like, if you're feeling ambitious) than to learn everything on the fly, when you have a bunch of questions/clues sitting in front of you.]
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:05 pm

Someone suggested to me that this might be more user-friendly if it were a downloadable PDF and that person was kind enough to format it for me (as I am ignorant of such matters). Here it is.
Attachments
Music Guide.pdf
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:17 pm

At dinner but just wanted to say Jesus Christ this is 18 pages long
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by kayli » Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:19 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:At dinner but just wanted to say Jesus Christ this is 18 pages long
To be fair, I think it'd be about 4 pages shorter if the margins weren't so huge.

EDIT: If this was done in TeX, could the person who did this send me the tex file?
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Apr 21, 2014 1:26 am

Because this has been a topic that has now come up a couple times in your tournament discussions, I have never actually seen anybody attempt to make a breakdown of the ideal amount of music by time period. I am personally skeptical that one needs to exist, beyond making sure that your tournament isn't super-excessive in one direction or another. Perhaps at nationals there are enough packets to make it more granular, but for 15/15 of music? Would a better waa to do it be an attempt at making there be a minimum number of questions in each time period, and then have the remaining chunk go to whatever the writers cares to fill it out with? And if this is desired for music, wouldn't you need to do the same thing for painting?
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by vinteuil » Mon Apr 21, 2014 1:44 am

Horned Screamer wrote:Because this has been a topic that has now come up a couple times in your tournament discussions, I have never actually seen anybody attempt to make a breakdown of the ideal amount of music by time period. I am personally skeptical that one needs to exist, beyond making sure that your tournament isn't super-excessive in one direction or another. Perhaps at nationals there are enough packets to make it more granular, but for 15/15 of music? Would a better waa to do it be an attempt at making there be a minimum number of questions in each time period, and then have the remaining chunk go to whatever the writers cares to fill it out with? And if this is desired for music, wouldn't you need to do the same thing for painting?
Not to give too much away about my questions for CO (and I agree that for almost any tournament, especially packet submission tournaments, this would be unnecessarily restrictive), but I see musical history as roughly divided into five major chunks of time of almost exactly equal "importance" (amount they're studied, amount people perform those works, influence on later repertoires, etc.):
pre-1610, 1610-1750, 1750-1830, 1830-1910, 1910-forward
And I would be very happy if all tournaments weighted their sub distributions accordingly.

Of course, this is completely impossible for any tournament below nationals difficulty, due to the intrinsic difficulty of pre-1610 answerlines, so in that case (for 15/15) it would probably work best as 1/1 pre-1610, 3/3 1610-1750, 3/3 1750-1830, 4/4 each 1830-1910 and 1910-forward.

I don't think this is excessively granular: I'm pretty sure that for painting (and, to a lesser degree, for literature), for instance, people try to adopt some balance of things from pretty similar chunks of time to the ones I outlined above.

Also, I'm sure that John has a completely different perspective on this—I have the impression that I like baroque music (and earlier stuff) quite a bit more than he does, and I think that Classical (1750-1830) music is seriously underasked.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Muriel Axon » Mon Apr 21, 2014 11:40 am

vinteuil wrote:Also, I'm sure that John has a completely different perspective on this—I have the impression that I like baroque music (and earlier stuff) quite a bit more than he does, and I think that Classical (1750-1830) music is seriously underasked.
These are also periods that are more difficult to ask about for people who don't have a deep knowledge of music; Romantic and modern works tend to have more distinctive titles, and (at the risk of overgeneralizing) are more diverse in the kinds of features to which modern audiences are sensitive.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:29 pm

That this guide contains the word "practical" in its title is perhaps the most ludicrous thing on the board this week, even given that someone just posted that we should stop using plot clues from "mystery novels" in tossups lest we spoil someone's Sean Connery film experience.

I appreciate the effort that John put into articulating what he believes makes a good music questions, and I agree that for events at the intersection of high stakes, long tossups, and lots of super knowledgeable people, such as ACF Nationals, the above procedure or something reasonably close to it ought to be followed -- for the 25 or so music tossups that will go into ACF Nationals. Suggesting that anything like this is necessary or desirable for the ordinary tournament is, however, incredibly counterproductive. I have a lot of meta-thoughts about the general role of this week's discussion in the sort of discourse that quizbowl needs that I plan to share here, and they all relate back to this point about living in reality. The rest of this post covers a lot of ground in a not always fully glued-together way, but it contains several things that I believe need to be said.

Others (Ryan, Tommy) have alluded to the issue that the posturing aspect of these posts (by which I mean, mostly, John and Jacob's posts in the Nationals thread itself, but also the implicit general message of this manifesto) present. You can always take the moral high ground and tell people their questions need more work and more review and more reverse clue lookup -- did you formulate "the third trumpet doubles the lead trumpet briefly and 'in the distance' in the first movement of this symphony" in 17 different ways and put them all into 5 different music references? Well, a CAREFUL writer would have found 18 ways to express it and checked for it in 6 references! It's very easy when there's no cost to you at all to tell other people to do this, and you have all the time in the world to do it yourself for the one tournament and five submitted packets you work on annually. Then, anyone who says "quizbowl cannot possibly exist if every question is held to that standard" can just be denounced as a "shitter outer" of "high volume" questions -- pointing out reality becomes a character flaw, in John's universe.

The fact is that quizbowl is played by players and edited by editors, and you have to deal with what you have. Let's accept the premise that "John knows more about music than Auroni, or, indeed, than any person who is a realistic candidate for editing an ACF Nationals in which John is playing" -- something that most people in this conversation would agree with. Then, you can only minimize and never eliminate the possibility that some clues which Auroni thinks are unique actually apply to some piece that John, but not Auroni, knows about. Auroni should still devote ample time to working on ACF Nationals, be diligent in using his sources, and consult with knowledgeable music fans like Ted and Jonathan Magin to try to catch any ambiguities in the questions -- but, this is exactly what he did! The only practical solution to any issues that still crept through is to use common sense and protests. John is always going to know that some clue which Auroni thought uniquely described von Weber's 39th katzenklavier sonata actually is also true of the fourth virginal suite by Gutlonk von Scheemelfart. There is no perfect way to eliminate this ambiguity entirely in advance of the tournament in practical terms, because the practical reality is that no one available to edit the tournament knows as much about music as the best music player at the tournament (or, possibly the best several music players at the tournament!) Luckily, we have two major weapons to use to prevent this situation from disadvantaging the knowledgeable player -- one is common sense about what will and will not be a tossup answer line, the other is the protest system. If the leadin applies to the fourth virginal suite, go ahead and buzz in with that, and protest, and you will be awarded the tossup. If it doesn't, then I guess it wasn't as ambiguous as you thought. The goal of the editing process is to allow you to get the question; it's not to totally avoid edge cases where your aesthetic experience is ruined even though you still got credit for the tossup.

Obviously,this applies equally well to almost any category and the experts in that category -- if Matt Bollinger knows more about classics than Ryan Westbrook, which we all know he does, it might affect the history questions in the same way, and the two of them should respond in their roles in the same way.

At other events besides ACF Nationals (where the utmost accuracy and a wide range of tossup styles is demanded), my suggestion is even more cutting of the Gordian knot: don't worry about this stuff at all. The idea that someone should go through the five-hour procedure that John outlines above to write a tossup on a concerto for ACF Fall, instead of just playing it safe and writing a workable question on JS Bach from brief descriptions and titles, is ludicrous. John and Jacob implicitly or explicitly saying, "no, the fact that sometimes people don't want to spend all day learning about music to write 1 question for a regular Saturday tournament is not acceptable, you need to do something else, like magically find ten million dollars somewhere so you can pay a team of people to devote their lives to becoming ideal music editors" is a non-answer to the problem that reality presents to his approach.

If, when an experienced editor with a reasonable amount of knowledge of Western academic music, in consultation with two other experienced editors with even more knowledge, all of whom have repeatedly been able to answer ACF Nationals music tossups in the past, put forth a tremendous amount of good-faith effort to create the music questions, and John earnestly believes that the result is that "the actual cluing of tossups was by far the worst I have encountered at any ACF tournament I have played. In fact, the tossup cluing was generally downright terrible," then John needs to adjust his expectations, both of this tournament and of quizbowl in general. Similar ideas expressed recently would do an equally effective job of making producing quizbowl tournaments a practical impossibility. People promoting the superiority of reading every book you write a literature question on are basically saying that there should be 3 tournaments a year (or 3 with literature questions, anyway). People who want a procedure like the above followed are ignoring the massive amounts of questions from the middle school, high school, and ordinary college levels that get written each year -- and a lot of them are continuing the tradition of not being part of the community that writes high school packets, then wondering why people like Auroni who spend lots of time each year writing and editing high school questions aren't able to devote 1000 hours to crafting ACF Nationals instead of whatever lesser but still extraordinary and diligent amount of time he no doubt put in. If you want to make it feasible for this sort of energy to be devoted to every question in ACF, then relieve the other burdens on the people involved. I've been talking about this interrelationship of quizbowl ecosystems for a while -- this is a small community and it's ultimately the same 30-40 people who do the bulk of the work on almost every tournament, from the middle school JV league in Alabama to ACF Nationals, and everything in between. The writing and editing ecosystem is governed by a Pascal's principle -- all pressure, either added or removed, is equally redistributed everywhere. This is true even if you don't see it, and it makes me irked when I see people who never write for high school tournaments or edit ACF Regionals or do seemingly anything beyond their own hard vanity projects complaining that some editor didn't put enough time into a set. (This doesn't necessarily apply to John as an individual, but the people it does describe know who they are.)

Now, I want to praise the general good that has come from this discussion. Despite the fact that I find many specific points made in the ACF Nationals thread to be incorrect or even harmful, and that everyone has been rolling their eyes at the melodramatic approach that some people have been taking to denouncing any imperfect clue as THE WORST QUESTION EVER, I believe that the ACF thread was the most productive discussion the board has had in, perhaps, many years. Had John just posted, "thanks to Auroni for editing the music. i liked some of it. most of it was bad. have a nice summer and stay radical XOXOXO" it would have perhaps looked better to people concerned about "tone" and "rancor," but it would have accomplished nothing. Instead, many people were forced to stringently articulate their positions in the face of repeated challenges from a diversity of viewpoints. Besides one Marshall post that consisted of nothing but sarcastic whining about someone else's right to participate in the discussion, the thread has generated more real, focused discussion of real, specific quizbowl issues -- not "tone" and not stupid bickering over the technical accuracy of one particular science clue or the like -- and more people actually attempting to give logical presentations of both principles and practical ideas for implementing said principles, than any thread I can remember. The ACF Nats thread, warts and all, is the best representation of the sort of open and logical discourse that I think the message board should consist of, partially BECAUSE people presenting fundamentally wrong ideas and being told why they are wrong in an productive way is a crucial component of any liberal conception of the pragmatic value of an unrestrained marketplace of ideas. I think that if more threads were like this, it would be extremely beneficial to quizbowl in the medium run, and I encourage people to think more like the ACF thread and less like some of the trainwrecks and duds that we've seen in other discussion contexts.

On that note, I would say that there is some sleight-of-hand going on here, as there is a confusion of universally agreed upon principles ("clues should be unambigious and accurate") with impractical advice on how to implement those principles ("follow this labyrinthine procedure every time you write a question") and other goals that have nothing to do with either ("let's get really angry that this tournament didn't comply with a rule I made up post-hoc about the subdistribution"). There is too much room being left for people to still complain about subjective, Protean standards of "evocativeness" and "climax" not being met, even if the above intricate process is followed.

All of that aside, I will conclude by returning to the main thesis of this somewhat freewheeling post, and lay out a specific issue I would like to get a response on: I would like to hear a real answer from John and the people who agree with him about how to deal with the fact that endless hours being put in by "experts" is not realistic to expect at all but the key national tournaments of the year, and how the putative intellectual justification for good quizbowl as one of the last remaining bastions of the well-rounded liberal arts ideal -- in a world of online MBAs, STEM supremacists, and hyper-specialized Critical Race Theory in Mongolian Sculpture professors -- is to square with the Balkanization of the distribution that the focus on experts giving mountaintop pronouncements on what questions in each 5% of the packet should look like is sure to produce.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by theMoMA » Mon Apr 21, 2014 9:03 pm

I don't want to speak for John, but I read his (excellent) guide as directed at dedicated editors and writers who are interested in music and want to know how to use clues describing features of musical pieces. I believe John has not only pointed readers to Jonathan's (also excellent, and much shorter) guide to writing music questions that don't incorporate such clues, but endorsed questions written in the Maginian mold for use at all levels of play. With that in mind, I don't think it's fair to characterize John's guide as embodying a "my way or the highway" approach to writing music questions.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by vinteuil » Mon Apr 21, 2014 9:03 pm

Matt, I think your post is implying that John is asking music editors to do more work than they already are (which, in many cases, like Auroni's, would be both impossible and requesting a stupid amount of effort). I'm pretty sure that what he's laying out (or trying to lay out) is a process that actually makes it easier, especially in the long run, to write these questions, and avoids a lot of wasted effort on the part of question writers.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by magin » Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:03 am

After reading this thread and the Nationals discussion thread, I feel like clarifying a few things. First of all, to my knowledge, Auroni put in a ton of effort on the music questions, and was very motivated to get them right. He was diligent about going over them with me, and I gave him feedback where I could, but as someone without expert music knowledge, I wasn't able to recognize that some of the technical music clues had problems, and I apologize for not catching these issues out of ignorance.

Secondly, I agree with Andrew Hart that John's advice seems excellent if you really want to write useful clues straight from the score of a piece. However, for almost everyone in quizbowl, those clues are really difficult to write well and really easy to get wrong. Not only that, but you can write perfectly good music questions that don't use any technical descriptions at all. So know your limitations; don't use any clues that you aren't positive that you understand. Really, this goes for every category, but considering the extreme difficulty of describing musical passages with any kind of precision, it seems especially important for music tossups.

I want to emphasize how important it is for writers to know their limits, especially when trying to use technical terms. In science, social science, music, and philosophy especially, but in all fields, there are some fairly specific technical terms and ideas; if you use them incorrectly, you end up being better off not having tried to use them at all.

Know your limits. Ichiro Suzuki has great plate coverage and hits a ton of singles, but doesn't have much power. If he tried to alter his swing to wallop a bunch of dingers, he'd probably just end up striking out a lot. Auroni tried to knock it out of the park with the ACF Nationals music, which is admirable (I never tried doing that with my music questions, and I'm really impressed with his drive). But pragmatically, maybe trying to hit some solid singles would have been a better approach.

Finally, I want to agree with Ted, in that people should think before they post here about how they can encourage people to write better questions. I've noticed that music players like John and Jacob tend to write very detailed critiques of individual questions that go on for many paragraphs. But that doesn't show people how to write good questions, and might even intimidate people from trying their hand at writing music in the first place, since people might think that if their questions aren't good, they'll also be exposed agonizingly on the boards. I think it's better to take the long-term view: encourage people to write questions in your favorite categories, show them how to write them well, write questions that you think many people will enjoy playing, and make it easy for people to follow your example. And explain why great questions are great! I've noticed that people frequently say stuff in discussion threads like "that tossup was great" or "I really enjoyed this tossup." That's cool, but I think it makes more sense to explain why certain questions are awesome and even transformative; did they ask about something in a cool and innovative way, or did they find a new, well-done way of asking about old standards, or did they use a type of clue especially well, or what? If you want people to write more great questions, don't just tell them what's great and what sucks; show them what's great.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:50 am

I was inspired by this thread to give a run-down of terms that people might have tenuous grasps on, which are going to be the kinds of things you see in a score, but which are the kinds of incredibly common terms that you will need to be very careful to make sure you are using correctly if you want to make a clue work. In other words, if you see yourself using any of these words, think twice about it to make 100% sure you want to use it before continuing:

Any and all tempo markings - Adagio (slow), Allegro (fast), Allegretto (slightly less fast than allegro), Andante (not too slow), Andantino (a little faster than andante), Largo/Lento (VERY slow), Moderato (moderately), Presto (very fast), accelerando/stringendo (get faster), ritardano/rallentando/decelerando (get slower), a tempo (resume the first tempo).These tell you the speed of a piece. There are more that are less common (especially ones in German or English), but the above terms are the primary Italian tempo markers out there. Rest assured that there are literally thousands of pieces out there with any of these markings.

Modifiers to tempo markings - assai (very), con brio (with brilliance), con fuoco (with fire), molto (much), vivace (lively), appassionata (passionately), poco (a little), many more, especially using the word "con." These tell you to play with a certain kind of mood or feeling. You will usually see these markings after one of the tempo markings in listed above (Beethoven's 5th symphony opens "Allegro con brio"). These sorts of markings, especially ones in Italian, are a little more specific than the tempos, but they are still fairly common. More importantly, it's really rare for there to be one of these markings that is especially memorable when clues fly by in games.

Dynamic markings - Forte (loud), piano (soft), crescendo (get louder), decrescendo/diminuendo (get softer). It's really really rare for there to be anything notable about dynamics, because most pieces that have any attempt at an ebb and flow (or any passages where they want to highlight particular instruments or textures) make extensive use of many dynamic markings.

Many of the above markings can be amplified by adding the suffix "-issimo," meaning even more is desired. Prestissimo then means VERY VERY VERY fast, and pianissimo means extra soft.

Related to that point, whenever you see an "FF" or "PP," that means "fortissimo" and "pianissimo." If you see even more Fs or Ps, you add an "iss" for every additional letter. So PPPP is "pianissississimo." I personally would MUCH greatly prefer people write out the words that these letters stand for, rather than give the abbreviation on the score, especially because at this point, those markings are more a stylized symbol than an actual letter, and there are some other markings that aren't really dynamics below in the same mold that you should absolutely not write the abbreviations for.

Time signatures - 4/4, 3/4, 12/8, 2/2, common time, alla breve/cut time, etc. In a time signature, the top number tells you how many beats are in the measure, and the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets the beat (with a whole note set at one, so 2 is a half note, 4 is a quarter note, etc.) The only variants on this are "common time," notated by a big "C" on the score, which is just code for 4/4 time, and cut time or alla breve, which is represented by the same "C" with a vertical line through it, and stands for 2/2. Alla breve is notable as the name of the the final movement of Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto, to give an example of how that clue might be used effectively, but the main time that time signatures might be effective is if you are trying to convey that it is a piece in a particular form that is linked inextricably with meter, or if the time signature is bizarre. Otherwise, many many pieces use every standard time signature. Side note: when something is in "triple meter," there are 3 beats per measure, and when something is in "duple meter" there are 2.

Musical forms -
Fugues or fugal passages (a form of counterpoint where a theme called the subject is presented by different voices or instruments in different keys, one after the other, before following to different ideas and often concluding with a "stretto" passage). Lots and lots of pieces are fugues. Lots and lots of other pieces are "fugal." Fugues are possibly the most influential form in all of music, especially if you're looking at something that's lasted the longest. They predate the development of the full orchestra, sonata form, and the symphony, and many people who are interested in fugues wrote them repeatedly. Saying that something has a fugue will only be effective if you have given other clues about the piece, and it's important to understand afterwards that it is fugal, or if you are in fact writing a tossup on a specific fugue (which would probably be a little on the nutty side).

Canons, also known as rounds - Canons are related to fugues, except they often only present the subject in one key. These are even older than fugues, although composers were less enamored of them because fugues are generally an obvious step up in complexity.

Sonata form - the musical structure that originated in the opening movements of sonatas, but which can be found in all manner of works. They have an exposition, where the work's main ideas are presented first. After the exposition is usually repeated, a development follows, which expands on the ideas presented in the exposition. Then, a recapitulation of the opening ideas happens, and sometimes a coda follows. Codas are just sections that are designed to end the piece, usually with something slightly different about them than the rest of the piece. This form is so commonly used that it might be difficult to explain the different parts in a tossup if you want to describe how a specific piece uses them.

Dances - Music has tons of dances, some of which are so popular that it will be difficult to make them unique. The two most common are probably the Minuet and the Waltz, which are both dances in 3/4 time. Minuets were used as the third movement of most symphonies before the 1800s, while waltzes were used in the third movements of symphonies often in the later 1800s. Minuets have a main section, followed by a trio (which was originally a varying musical section using three instruments, but trios eventually just became the name for a varying section of music), and then the main section is repeated to conclude the dance. Other dances that were written commonly include Pavanes, Sarabandes, Gigues, Loures, Bourees, Rigadoons, and others. Suites/Partitas are collections of dances.

Scherzo - scherzi are similar to waltzes and minuets, in that they are often in 3/4 time, and they replaced the minuet, and were replaced by the waltz, in symphonies. Their name implies that they are jokes or playful music, and they also have trio sections.

Passacaglia and chaccone - these two forms of music are related, but they ARE NOT ALWAYS the same thing, which not everybody has understood in the past. Passacaglias are often in triple meter and have a bass figure that is played over and over again, with the other players developing different melody lines on top of it. Chaccones sometimes are identical to passacaglias, but other times, they are instead interpreted to be pieces in triple meter that run through a series of variations on a particular chord progression, rather than actually repeating the same chords in the bass. The best example of that kind of chaconne is the one concluding Bach's 2nd partita for violin.

Musical terms that aren't covered above -
Accents - marks that look like a greater than sign that go over individual notes. Tells you to emphasize the note. Happens ALL THE TIME.
Sforzando - is marked on the score as "SFZ," and is similar to an accent because you should very heavily emphasize any note with SFZ over it. This is the other symbol that I want to make people write out the word it stands for, rather than write "SFZ" in their clues.
Staccato - a little dot over the notes that tells you to play the note very short. Happens ALL THE TIME, but it is in fact a notable thing to see in a piece's title or a tempo marking (such as the piece Hora Staccato).
Marcato - "marked," is related to accents and represented by a line over the notes. Can be combined with staccato, but again, that is very common
Spiccato - similar to staccato, means you bounce the bow off of your strings on a violin.
Fermata - a half-circle with a dot in it which tells you to hold the note underneath it for a lot longer than it is written. These happen all the time, but they generally happen at a point that is being heavily emphasized, so in the right context this can be used.
Arco - play string instruments with bows. This is the default assumption when you write string music, so it's going to be extremely rare for this by itself to be a substantive clue about anything.
Pizzicato - play string instruments by plucking. This is less common than arco, but it happens in many pieces, so it's still not going to be a particularly effective clue unless you know what you're doing (like, describing the fourth symphony of Tchaikovsky's 3rd movement using only pizzicato, or a Bartok pizzicato, where you pull the string much more vigorously).
Sordino - a mute (usually phrased as con/senza sordino [with/without the mute]). Has a special pedal on the piano, otherwise has equipment for instruments to put on in order to be muted.
Sostenuto - sustained, a particular pedal on pianos is the "sostenuto" pedal.
The other pedal on the keyboard is the damper pedal, which performs a much stronger sustain.
Rubato - an approach to the tempo of a piece where you slightly slow down some passages and speed up others. Is particularly important in Romantic music.
basso continuo or figured bass - a Baroque method of notating the bass line, which was played often by a cellist and a harpsichord who would fill out the line with their own improvisations. Was common in pretty much all pieces with more than a couple players.
ostinato - means you repeat a passage over and over again. Happens in passacaglias and in Ravel's Bolero in the snare drum.
a capella - means you have singers without accompaniment.
cadenza - generally means an improvisational section of a piece where a soloist is given a chance to show off. Most famously happens in the first movement of concerti, but cadenzas can happen anywhere.
aria - a piece that is sung by one singer, usually as part of a larger vocal work like an opera or cantata.
da capo - means after you go to the end of a piece, you return to the beginning and play it again (often only up to a certain point). Most commonly used to describe a "da capo aria." Related to "dal segno," which means you are supposed to return to the point in a piece marked with a weird S with lines and dots on it.
tremolo - means you very rapidly repeat the same note. It's kind of hard to explain better than that, but you should be able to understand if you watch this video of somebody doing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E8rMLHIpag
vibrato - usually means a string instrument is being played with your fingers moving slightly back and forth in order to widen and give warmth/emotion to the pitch. Voices can do it too, it's difficult to vibrate on other instruments though. Confusingly, some people will also call this a tremolo. HOWEVER, if there were a quizbowl music style guide, one of the diktats we should include in it is to NOT use the word tremolo to mean vibrato. It will only confuse people and make it harder to talk about the more common meaning of tremolo, so please please please don't do that. For a video demonstration to clarify, watch what Jascha Heifetz does with his hand at the opening of the chaccone in this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q-Zqz7mNjQ
divisi - means the instruments are divided. In practice, it means that, for example, the second violins might have half of the section play one note while the other half plays another note.
tutti - means everybody plays together. Usually used to indicate there is a section should no longer play divisi, or if there was a section with a soloist, all the people playing that instrument should come back in, in orchestral music.
glissando - means that you slide from one note to another and play all of the notes inbetween.
trill - means that you rapidly alternate between the written note and the note above it. Marked by a "tr" in scores, but this is another word you should always write out.

I want to make a special note about arpeggios. Arpeggio means that you take the notes that make up a chord, and you break them up and play them, in ascending or descending order, one after the other, usually fairly quickly. People like to write clues about how "the strings play a b-flat major arpeggio underneath the oboist" or something to that effect. Here's the whole problem: Arpeggios happen ALL THE FUCKING TIME. I'm not sure I have heard a piece with a harp in it that doesn't have arpeggios, and I'm not sure I've heard a Philip Glass piece that doesn't have arpeggios, to give you a small sample of what I'm trying to get at. Arpeggios are so important that when I practice violin I often spend at least a half hour doing them each day because they take up like a third of the space in my scales book. Arpeggio clues are sort of the ne plus ultra of clues that rarely convey to you what the author wants you to be hearing, because knowing there are arpeggios somewhere narrows you down to, well, pretty much every major orchestral work ever, and most really major chamber works on top of that. If you want to talk about arpeggios, PLEASE make 100% sure that there is absolutely something unique, notable, or otherwise thoroughly buzzable about that clue. Otherwise, I and pretty much any music player ever will tune it out as a bunch of noise distracting you from the actual clues you might buzz on. Nobody cares.

Another formulation that I dislike is when people say "the oboes play an E minor melody over the strings playing arpeggios." There are only 24 keys out there. There are basically no keys that don't have an oboe playing a melody in them somewhere in music. There are an extremely limited number of keys that are rare (they're mostly things like F sharp major that are far down the cycle of thirds). Telling me that somebody is playing a melody in some key is really not going to do much to describe to me how that melody sounds, and it's not going to help me fill in very many other blanks about the piece, especially if that key isn't even the key the work is in. If you want to try describing a melody, it's going to be pretty hard to do it without listing the notes in it (or maybe stating its rhythm), so caveat auctor.

The following clues should really never be used: metronome markings (nobody cares), describing how many minutes long a piece is (this will never be all that accurate, since you can find a hundred recordings of the same piece and none of them are the same length), measure/page related information as John pointed out above (since it's reliant on what publisher you use, and also nobody cares).

Hopefully this will help you even better to not have the music mafia put a hit out on you.
Last edited by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) on Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:28 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Ike » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:05 am

Matt wrote:I appreciate the effort that John put into articulating what he believes makes a good music questions, and I agree that for events at the intersection of high stakes, long tossups, and lots of super knowledgeable people, such as ACF Nationals, the above procedure or something reasonably close to it ought to be followed -- for the 25 or so music tossups that will go into ACF Nationals. Suggesting that anything like this is necessary or desirable for the ordinary tournament is, however, incredibly counterproductive. I have a lot of meta-thoughts about the general role of this week's discussion in the sort of discourse that quizbowl needs that I plan to share here, and they all relate back to this point about living in reality. The rest of this post covers a lot of ground in a not always fully glued-together way, but it contains several things that I believe need to be said.
Yeah, so I have been in a couple of spots where I had to write and edit music before, and I agree with this. I read through this entire document twice and I'm not sure how I'm supposed to digest this for the next music tossup I'm going to write. On the other hand, from Charlie's post I know not to use arpeggio clues since I know it is noise. I don't know if it's because John is trying to teach us how to think like an editor rather than providing practical do's or don'ts, but I'm going to stick with what Magin has said if I'm ever forced to write / edit music again: I'm going to listen to the classical music lectures on the pieces I have on file and use unique clues from those because they are intelligible to me.
Matt wrote:Others (Ryan, Tommy) have alluded to the issue that the posturing aspect of these posts (by which I mean, mostly, John and Jacob's posts in the Nationals thread itself, but also the implicit general message of this manifesto) present. You can always take the moral high ground and tell people their questions need more work and more review and more reverse clue lookup -- did you formulate "the third trumpet doubles the lead trumpet briefly and 'in the distance' in the first movement of this symphony" in 17 different ways and put them all into 5 different music references? Well, a CAREFUL writer would have found 18 ways to express it and checked for it in 6 references! It's very easy when there's no cost to you at all to tell other people to do this, and you have all the time in the world to do it yourself for the one tournament and five submitted packets you work on annually. Then, anyone who says "quizbowl cannot possibly exist if every question is held to that standard" can just be denounced as a "shitter outer" of "high volume" questions -- pointing out reality becomes a character flaw, in John's universe.
Right, and by extension, every category in pretty much every tournament can piss someone off. I can't tell you how often computer science in a tournament was really bad, even though that's what I practiced in school and use on a daily basis. I don't go around criticizing it because I know that for the most part, every tournament tries to produce computer science in good faith, and by complaining, we would be pursuing the unattainable. In fact, I'm pretty sure that everyone has some little topic that they could extensively criticize, whether it's because the clues are non-ideal or they don't fit your world view.

Also, honestly who cares enough? Like can i really convince Matt Bollinger, Marshall Steinbaum or Charles Tian to make sure they are producing good computer science by continuously flogging the sea of HSQB as if I had a Xerxes complex? I wished quizbowl as a whole would know CS better so as to understand its beauties and thus produce better questions, but given that quizbowl is something you voluntarily put time into, I wouldn't be so selfish as to repeatedly demand that quizbowl meet my standards.

Rather, my approach was, if a tournament had really good computer science, I would contact the writers and say "thank you, this tournament's CS was awesome." If it was passable, I would go home satisfied, knowing that the writer and editor wrote it in good faith. I think I probably should have congratulated them too on making good quizbowl CS, because they probably worked their asses off for players like me. I would only save my ammunition on the forums for when I thought the editor was asinine or wrote some questions in bad faith.
Matt wrote:At other events besides ACF Nationals (where the utmost accuracy and a wide range of tossup styles is demanded), my suggestion is even more cutting of the Gordian knot: don't worry about this stuff at all. The idea that someone should go through the five-hour procedure that John outlines above to write a tossup on a concerto for ACF Fall, instead of just playing it safe and writing a workable question on JS Bach from brief descriptions and titles, is ludicrous. John and Jacob implicitly or explicitly saying, "no, the fact that sometimes people don't want to spend all day learning about music to write 1 question for a regular Saturday tournament is not acceptable, you need to do something else, like magically find ten million dollars somewhere so you can pay a team of people to devote their lives to becoming ideal music editors" is a non-answer to the problem that reality presents to his approach.
Right, and by extension you shouldn't even be worrying about John, Jacob and their ilk when writing music tossups at a lower level, much like you shouldn't really be worried about making sure Billy Busse is completely satisfied with your chemistry leadin. If they get into a buzzer race at lower levels on the leadin or next clue, so fucking what? Most of the time they are playing a worse team and will buzz on your middle clues if your leadin is too hard or too vague.

To adopt a utilitarian standpoint: as a writer and editor for ACF Regionals and below level tournaments, the amount of "happiness" that you provide each individual player will come from the bottom half of the tossups you write. You should take pleasure in the fact that the 8th best team at your 16 team regular tournament will be able to buzz on your Bela Bartok question at the giveaway by their 40ppg player, or their 10 ppg specialist who only knows music somewhat will be able to buzz on Scriabin at his namesake chord, because that's happening every tournament much more than you think. I assure you, it's infinitely more meaningful to them then they will ever post about on HSQB.

Lastly, John, this may be hard for you to believe, but the ridiculous amount of precision you demand in other categories makes me think you are being ridiculous about music. To use an example:
John, in the ICT thread wrote:To lay my cards on the table: I believe that main form of knowledge acquisition that literature tossups should reward is reading works of literature, and I think the best way to reward this is by writing lead-in and middle clues that draw upon plot events, snippets of dialogue, memorable moments, and imagery. Let us call these "primary reading" clues. Against these sorts of clues, I would oppose title drops, character names, one-sentence summaries of obscure works, scholarly clues, biographical data, and title fill-in-the-blanks. I am not suggesting that the sorts of clues in this second group are automatically anathema, or that the forms of knowledge they reward are inherently illegitimate. I am merely suggesting that they reward broader awareness of literary culture (i.e. "having heard of things") rather than primary engagement with literature, and that this should not be the main form of literature knowledge we seek to reward in our questions. In the current quizbowl mainstream, this would seem an entirely uncontroversial proposition.

This tournament's literature flouted this idea, more so than that of any of other collegiate tournament I've played.
John in ACF Nats wrote: This first one may or may not be an issue, so I'd like to hear back from the other good Literature players. Where were you guys buzzing on these questions on easy answer-lines? I will have to check when the packets come out, but I'm pretty sure that I answered more than 1/3 of the Literature tossups in the Editors' packets within the first two sentences. And that number would have been higher had I not goggled at disbelief and refused to buzz the first few times I recognized first-line clues from easy works. The shocking thing about this to me was that only one of these was buzzer race. Were many of the other good players buzzing consistently in the first two lines, and I just got lucky as to who was in my room? Or am I just over-estimating how easy these questions were (because I have the distinct impression that almost none of the clues I buzzed on required deep knowledge)?
I mean, what is it that you want? In one tournament, you seem aboslutely shocked that the questions on primary literature material were too easy and focused on too easy details from canonical works, whereas in the other tournament you wished there were more questions on ways you had engaged with the material through primary reading. I realize that these two points are not necessarily full complements of each other - e.g. "I want questions that use even lesser known clues from easy works" is I guess a valid response. But either way for 99% of writers, it's a lose-lose: you can either write a tossup that doesn't test primary knowledge in which case you'll get grumpy, or we can write a tossup on a book you've read and you'll get a good buzz because you've read that book, but no, that won't make you happy either because the buzz wasn't satisfying enough. Either way though, I'm mystified as to exactly how I would make you happy in literature to the point you won't stop complaining; so I can't imagine how on earth I would ever make you happy in music, which is why I'm just going to ask for Aaron Rosenberg's opinion for any future music tossups I write.

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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by vinteuil » Tue Apr 22, 2014 9:15 am

magin wrote: Know your limits. Ichiro Suzuki has great plate coverage and hits a ton of singles, but doesn't have much power. If he tried to alter his swing to wallop a bunch of dingers, he'd probably just end up striking out a lot. Auroni tried to knock it out of the park with the ACF Nationals music, which is admirable (I never tried doing that with my music questions, and I'm really impressed with his drive). But pragmatically, maybe trying to hit some solid singles would have been a better approach.
I think the reaction to this post has adequately shown that it really should not be considered "practical" for music editors to try to use any of the clues that Magin isn't comfortable using ("technical" "score" clues), and that this is really the place where people are most likely to trip up while editing.

I just want to emphasize that I really do think that ACF Nats 2013 music hit the ball out of the park with nearly every clue—again, it's just not true that "music players want to hear score clues." Even if Auroni's clues had all been completely perfect, I'm not sure that the music for Nats 2014 would have been any better than 2013's; in other words, I don't think it's a good use of editors' time to go out of their way to find "score clues," unless they're actually willing to follow this guide or similar.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by vinteuil » Tue Apr 22, 2014 9:33 am

Horned Screamer wrote:I was inspired by this thread to give a run-down of terms that people might have tenuous grasps on, which are going to be the kinds of things you see in a score, but which are the kinds of incredibly common terms that you will need to be very careful to make sure you are using correctly if you want to make a clue work. In other words, if you see yourself using any of these words, think twice about it to make 100% sure you want to use it before continuing:
This is a pretty good practical guide and contains a lot of common words; Charlie's last sentence here is absolutely correct. I almost always use "loud" instead of "forte" or "fast" instead of "allegro," because a) it's faster b) it's easier to understand c) it's easier to say d) it doesn't have the player (unwittingly) searching for things marked "allegro molto assai" etc. that fit this description (usually impossible). On the other hand, any words that help describe what instruments are doing (e.g. tremolo, pizzicato) are important to learn.
Last edited by vinteuil on Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Apr 22, 2014 10:19 am

Matt Weiner wrote:That this guide contains the word "practical" in its title is perhaps the most ludicrous thing on the board this week, even given that someone just posted that we should stop using plot clues from "mystery novels" in tossups lest we spoil someone's Sean Connery film experience.

If neither of you nor Ike find this guide practical, then you are missing the point of how I intend this to be used. Magin's guide for music writing is excellent and highly recommended. It is entirely possible to write an excellent set of music questions using only his guide, and I encourage people to work from that. This guide is not supposed to be an essential guide that one must follow in order to write a good music question. However, when you edit packet submission, sometimes someone submits a tossup to you that uses the kind of clue that you avoid writing yourself, perhaps because it is out of your comfort zone. Or, maybe when writing clues yourself, you hit upon what seems like a really juicy clue of a type that you normally don't use. How do you know if these clues are any good?

The idea is that you can then find the section in my guide that explains what features make each sort of clue buzzable, and what things make many clues of each type unbuzzable in the ways that they are sometimes written. And from that, you should be able to say: "This clue obviously cannot work, because of X. I need to just throw it out and replace it." or "I need to find one more thing about this moment, of type A, B, or C to flesh out this clue so that it is buzzable." Contra Ike, each section on a type of clue does contain a list of do's or a list of don'ts or both (e.g. The section on Clues That Are Almost Guaranteed To Be Terrible lists "Tell-tale signs that a score clue is unhelpful".); and I have often highlighted the most salient point of each section by italicizing it.

I should add that the last thing I am trying to do is increase editors' work. Rather, the impression I get from these threads is that people are sinking hours and hours into editing this subject, and are still writing unhelpful clues. This speaks not to a lack of work ethic on editors' parts, but rather a basic lack of expertise. If it's taking you hours to find a clue or to fix a clue, then you really must not know what kind of thing you're looking for. The solution is not for editors to sink even more hours in. The solution is for them to have clear ideas about what it is that they should be looking for to fix a clue or make a clue more buzzable, so that they can do a targeted search, and find the kind of information they need in an efficient fashion.
Others (Ryan, Tommy) have alluded to the issue that the posturing aspect of these posts (by which I mean, mostly, John and Jacob's posts in the Nationals thread itself, but also the implicit general message of this manifesto) present. You can always take the moral high ground and tell people their questions need more work and more review and more reverse clue lookup -- did you formulate "the third trumpet doubles the lead trumpet briefly and 'in the distance' in the first movement of this symphony" in 17 different ways and put them all into 5 different music references? Well, a CAREFUL writer would have found 18 ways to express it and checked for it in 6 references! It's very easy when there's no cost to you at all to tell other people to do this, and you have all the time in the world to do it yourself for the one tournament and five submitted packets you work on annually. Then, anyone who says "quizbowl cannot possibly exist if every question is held to that standard" can just be denounced as a "shitter outer" of "high volume" questions -- pointing out reality becomes a character flaw, in John's universe.
I do not subscribe to any of the crap you just spouted. If you want to have this argument, you should probably have it with the person who introduced and supports the dichotomy between quizbowl "auteurs" and "volume writers": Ted Gioia. I don't believe in this dichotomy. That is, while I believe that there are people who tend to write very few questions and take a lot of time on them and then contrarily people who tend to write many questions during the year, and write them quickly, I don't think these writing styles necessarily correspond to the quality of the questions produced. It is perfectly possible that someone writes slowly because they are not approaching the task of writing with clear enough ideas of what to look for; likewise, it is perfectly possible that someone writes quickly precisely because they are experienced enough that they can spot good clues easily.

I certainly do not intend to fetishize spending lots of time researching questions. For example, when I talk about how I write literature questions from reading the books, my point is not that reading a book takes multiple hours, and that therefore someone who is not taking multiple hours must not be writing a good question. My point is that it is difficult to describe any minor moment from a book effectively unless you are working from the book itself, because a summary of a summary is usually pretty vague. I therefore strongly recommend working from the source you are cluing. However, it is entirely possible for someone with the same questions values as me to use a secondary source to determine which clues to use and then read for real only the passages relating to those clues. Doing this cuts down the research time significantly.

But following up on all the points that I've made above, I'd like push back on two assertions about time that you make in your post:
1. You defend Auroni's questions by pointing out how much time he spent on them
2. You attack what I'm trying to do, on the grounds that it would take an impossible amount of time to accomplish.

To the first point, I want to say that I'm sorry if I was not appreciative enough of all the time Auroni spent editing the music for ACF Nationals. But it is strange to me that you would choose to take this line of argument. Surely, the whole point of rejecting Ted's "auteur" / "volume writer" dichotomy is rejecting the very premise that thousands of hours of work automatically translates into better questions, or is necessary for producing good questions! By emphasizing this aspect, you seem to granting the false premise that I would hope you would reject. The whole point of my post is not that Auroni didn't spend enough time; it is that the time he spent was ineffective in producing good clues, because he didn't have a firm understanding of what features of a clue tend to be helpful or not, and he therefore tried to make up for his lack of knowledge by doing tons of research. Working really hard without possessing expertise to direct your efforts is bound to be inefficient and often ineffectual, and my goal is to make that process more efficient by suggesting to people what sorts of things they might look for.

To the second point, I want to say that you are grossly exaggerating how much time the things I am suggesting take to do, in a way that I think will scare people off from doing really simple things. Even further, if reports of how long it takes people to edit categories are true, many of the things I am suggesting should radically streamline the process. Addressing the first of these: reverse clue look-up is a very fast process. You enter in the search terms, you hit "search", you open the links, you search for where on the page your search terms appear, and you check if that sentence is referring to the same thing you were cluing. This takes literally seconds per link, and literally a couple of minutes for any clue. It has never taken me even close to an hour to do reverse clue look-up on an entire tournament's worth of potentially ambiguous clues. Addressing the second of these: One of the central points I make is that most macro-level score clues (i.e. clues that describe an entire movement) are often unbuzzable because the writer has chosen to give too few details. I then list the basic details that, when added, improve a score clue. These details can be found with seconds of Googling. I get the impression that people like Auroni are instead going on a wild goose chase through tons of programs notes and books to try to search for things, because they don't really know what a good or bad clue looks like, on sight.

I will add though that Matt is right that if you're going through this process for ACF Fall, you are insane! The reason you are insane, though, is not because at ACF Fall, you don't need to verify these clues, because the standards should be laxer. The reason you are insane is that you shouldn't be using many of these sorts of clues in ACF Fall to begin with! I did write this guide in the hopes that someone editing a regular difficulty tournament might be able to make use of it, but not by trying to use this guide to dictate the clue selection, or by trying to apply it wholesale to the whole tournament. Rather, I think that at some point in editing the tournament, a couple of the types of clues I've discussed will each appear in the tournament a couple of times. (So, maybe the entire tournament possess one recording clue, one biography clue, one macro-level score clue, and one micro-level score clue.) For those clues, I think it is a good idea to check back with what I wrote to find tips that will tell you how to verify these clues and/or beef them up a bit if they seem to be weak.
On that note, I would say that there is some sleight-of-hand going on here, as there is a confusion of universally agreed upon principles ("clues should be unambigious and accurate") with impractical advice on how to implement those principles ("follow this labyrinthine procedure every time you write a question") and other goals that have nothing to do with either ("let's get really angry that this tournament didn't comply with a rule I made up post-hoc about the subdistribution"). There is too much room being left for people to still complain about subjective, Protean standards of "evocativeness" and "climax" not being met, even if the above intricate process is followed.

All of that aside, I will conclude by returning to the main thesis of this somewhat freewheeling post, and lay out a specific issue I would like to get a response on: I would like to hear a real answer from John and the people who agree with him about how to deal with the fact that endless hours being put in by "experts" is not realistic to expect at all but the key national tournaments of the year, and how the putative intellectual justification for good quizbowl as one of the last remaining bastions of the well-rounded liberal arts ideal -- in a world of online MBAs, STEM supremacists, and hyper-specialized Critical Race Theory in Mongolian Sculpture professors -- is to square with the Balkanization of the distribution that the focus on experts giving mountaintop pronouncements on what questions in each 5% of the packet should look like is sure to produce.
The answer to this, as I've outlined above, is that I think the "endless hours" being spent are the result of people not having clear ideas as to what makes a good clue. My process is certain less labyrinthine than what I'm told Auroni went through. I don't spend "endless hours" editing music tossups, because I have internalized principles as to what makes a good clue, and I have a range of default avenues to follow for fixing clues. Consequently, I can look at a question, see that a clue is going to have problems, and fix it very quickly. People who have had me playtest their questions can attest to the fact that I can often fix clues on sight, or can immediately recommend what kind of piece of information is missing that would make the clue more helpful. Each section in my guide is meant to outline a list of principles which would make editing each type of clue a speedy process. The guide as a whole is meant to be a reference guide one can consult as needed, and not a manifesto one should absorb. I have given an exhaustive amount of detail in order to explain things as clearly as possible, but every section is reducible to basic template or list of do's and don't's that I hope people can apply.

The problem, of course, is that I have fronted principles for detecting a good or bad clue that necessarily reflect my personal opinion. There are other good ways of writing these clues that I have not listed. And by titling one section "Clues That Are Almost Guaranteed To Be Terrible", I admit through that "almost" that it is occasionally possible to write effective clues that use the kinds of phrases I condemn (though it is very, very rare, and very, very difficult). But, unless you are operating from some hard and fast principles, you can never produce reliably good questions quickly. I am certainly guilty of applying overly restrictive criteria in judging other people's writing, but applying similarly restrictive criteria in one's own writing speeds the process up dramatically, because you always know what you're trying to do. People like me could afford to be more open-minded in our tournament critiques, but writers and editors could afford to have firmer preconceptions about what they should be doing, because it will make them more efficient.

For example, the qualities I list for describing a movement (time signature, key signature, tempo indication, genre, form, and orchestration) are not the only possible qualities. But, if you were to follow my process, you could find all these facts about a movement in literally one minute (one of the first Google links for any piece will probably lay all of this out). If you are inexperienced enough to know which of these facts will not be useful for a particular movement, because they are too generic, then maybe you have another couple of minutes of Googling ahead of you to check some definitions. But after you've done this a couple of times, you will be able to spot generic facts…well, precisely because they are generic! If you followed this process, you could write a perfectly decent description of a movement in a couple of minutes, and you could fix an insufficiently specific submitted clue even faster, since you know exactly what kind of information you're looking to add.

In other words, I think that working from clear principles is the only way to reduce wasted time. I have given you my principles. You do not need to follow all of them in order to write a good music question. But if you decide to write any of the particular types of clues I mention, following the advice in the section I wrote on that type of clue will walk you through how to write or edit it, in a way that should be much more efficient than hours of fruitless rummaging in books and the internet having no idea what you're doing, or running an extended playtesting session with people who don't have those sorts of facts or expertise at their fingertips, and therefore can't possibly help you.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

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Excelsior (smack)
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Excelsior (smack) » Wed Apr 23, 2014 1:11 am

Hey, so I'm an utter pleb when it comes to music, but:
Charlie wrote:Marcato - "marked," is related to accents and represented by a line over the notes. Can be combined with staccato, but again, that is very common
Isn't a marcato a ^ and a tenuto a _?
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Wed Apr 23, 2014 4:24 am

The symbol you're referring to is a martele stroke, at least for strings. The line is definitely a tenuto, I suspect my terminology there is a little imprecise because a lot of the time in lessons teachers aren't don't use all of the right words all of the time and will say things like "marcato" when they see the tenuto lines, because the point is that you are supposed to emphasize the notes.
Charlie Dees, North Kansas City HS '08
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Re: A Detailed and Practical Guide To Music Writing/Editing

Post by vinteuil » Mon May 05, 2014 9:09 pm

One thing that I've gotten a few questions about, and that Charlie didn't cover, is the issue of transposing instruments.

Basically, many wind instruments (and some others!) play at a different pitch from what's written, so they'll play the written music transposed by a certain interval. In general, that interval is usually marked by saying the instrument is "in" a key—"Clarinet in B-Flat" or "Trumpet (D)" meaning that when those instruments play a written C, what comes out is a "concert" B-Flat or D. A lot of scores/composers will change the key signature for that instrument to make it easier to read (fewer accidentals), but not always, especially with brass. Also, a different key signature does NOT always mean that an instrument is tuned differently—often, harp parts are written in the "Flat" version of a key (e.g. C-Flat instead of B), because it's much easier for them to play.

Nowadays, these transpositions are pretty standard:
Piccolo: octave higher
Alto/"Bass" Flute: fourth lower (in G)
Oboe d'Amore: minor third lower (in A). Oboe d'amore parts are often written at pitch (no transposition), especially in older scores e.g. Bach.
English horn: fifth lower (in F)
Piccolo/Sopranino Clarinet: minor third higher (in E-Flat).
Clarinet: major second lower (in B-Flat). Clarinet parts in older music are often in A (minor third lower) or C (at pitch), though, so be careful.
Contrabassoon: octave lower

French Horn: fifth lower (in F). French Horn parts can come in just about any key, and the pairs of horns can be tuned in different keys, so be really careful.
Trumpet: major second lower (in B-Flat). Trumpet parts in older music are often in C (at pitch), D (major second higher), or E-Flat (minor third higher).
Timpani: Timpani are usually written at pitch, but sometimes in older music composers just wrote C and G and expect you to transpose to fit the key of the piece (a piece in D Major would have timpani in D and A, in F Major in F and C, etc.).

Double basses: octave lower

In general: when looking at part for one of these instruments, just be careful. There are a lot of practical guides to this (pocket "essentials of orchestration" handbooks included!); Norman Del Mar's Anatomy of the Orchestra is a great read and contains all of this information and lots more, without assuming much technical background.
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