Writing Music Questions for Music Players

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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 11, 2009 6:07 pm

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:I still disagree with the assertion that it is a good clue - I think that you should instead just say that it has a lot more repeats than usual. My whole point though is that giving a precise estimate of a movement's length is going to not be all that accurate because there is a lot of performance variability. Searching for that movement on Amazon.com yields recordings that are 8:23, 8:24, 7:48, 7:42, and 6:29, just at a glance. I know lots of programs give an estimated performance time, but there are conductors who have varying interpretations of how fast tempo markings are. In Kansas City at our decent orchestra, we had a well regarded guest conductor performing a Mahler symphony, I believe number 2 but I'm not sure, that ended up lasting almost a half hour longer than the projected time. I just don't see how guesstimations like saying that Minuet is about 8 minutes long will actually help people.
A clue that says "this symphony contains the longest minuet of any of its composer's symphonies" seems like a useful clue. It's not about the exact time, I don't know why you're fixated on that. It's about the fact that it's way longer than any of Haydn's other minuets in his other symphonies. If that is uniquely identifying, which it would seem to be, then I would say that's an interesting fact about the Clock Symphony that people might very well know.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Tue Aug 11, 2009 6:30 pm

It's because I think that particular bit of information is all I'm saying should not be there. You could just as easily include all of the other stuff without giving a time clue, and I want to make sure nobody else decides to mention how long their recording of a piece is in the future because that sort of thing has the potential to be really poorly done pretty much all the time.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Aug 11, 2009 11:33 pm

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:I still disagree with the assertion that it is a good clue - I think that you should instead just say that it has a lot more repeats than usual. My whole point though is that giving a precise estimate of a movement's length is going to not be all that accurate because there is a lot of performance variability. Searching for that movement on Amazon.com yields recordings that are 8:23, 8:24, 7:48, 7:42, and 6:29, just at a glance. I know lots of programs give an estimated performance time, but there are conductors who have varying interpretations of how fast tempo markings are. In Kansas City at our decent orchestra, we had a well regarded guest conductor performing a Mahler symphony, I believe number 2 but I'm not sure, that ended up lasting almost a half hour longer than the projected time. I just don't see how guesstimations like saying that Minuet is about 8 minutes long will actually help people.
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:It's because I think that particular bit of information is all I'm saying should not be there. You could just as easily include all of the other stuff without giving a time clue, and I want to make sure nobody else decides to mention how long their recording of a piece is in the future because that sort of thing has the potential to be really poorly done pretty much all the time.
I don't want to drag this discussion out, but I'll briefly mention why I put the time clue in there. The minuet of the Clock symphony is not only the longest Haydn wrote, it is one of the longest in any major classical symphony I can think of by a decent margin (I can't name any major symphony except Mahler's Third that has a longer minuet). I knew that mentioning the number of bars in the minuet or going into a detailed analysis of the structure, the most accurate and precise ways of quantifying this length, would have been completely unhelpful to almost everybody. But I figured that mentioning its approximate performance time would be more helpful, since it would significantly narrow the field of possible answers, there being almost no other third movement minuets that would fit this description.

Of course, you are quite right, Charlie, that tempo varies from recording to recording which makes any duration clue approximate, and there are some recordings of this piece that manage to play the whole thing in closer to six minutes, but these are in the vast minority. To get the movement done that fast requires conducting the piece in one rather than in three, and taking a tempo that is undanceably fast, an approach taken almost exclusively by conductors influenced by the Period Practice approach, which is a fairly recent movement that holds a minority in recordings. And even amongst Period Practice advocates, the exact approach to Haydn's minuets is a contested issue, due to conflicting documental evidence about Haydn's own views and general 18th century practice. I'm not pretending that I'm an expert on the subject of the performance of this symphony, but I do have some knowledge of its major recordings, and did not just insert the timing of a random recording, unrepresentative of a typical performance of the symphony.

All of this is not to claim that it was a good clue. Obviously, if it was generally found to be unhelpful, the tossup would have been equally good or better without it, and there is concern that it's going to lead to a slippery slope of track timings appearing in tossups as a clue, then it was a bad clue. And I'll apologize again and say that I won't do clues based on track timings again. But I thought I'd give the reasoning behind its inclusion.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Theory Of The Leisure Flask » Tue Aug 11, 2009 11:56 pm

I'm going to agree with Jerry and John that "longest minuet of its composer's symphonies" seems like a decent clue- looking at my notebooks, it appears I wrote it down as something to remember for the future, for what that's worth.

Obviously, an exact timing would be useless (unless, say, you're giving the length of the movements in 4'33''), and the "about 9 minutes" bit may perhaps be excess verbiage, but on the whole it seemed solid to me. It's not really any different than, say, commenting on the length of works like the Eroica or Mahler's 3rd, both of which are memorably long, and have been effectively clued as such in quizbowl before.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:18 pm

I'm sorry to return to the "timings as clues" question. But I know that I'm going to be writing at least one tossup in the near future about a piece most notable for the extreme length of one of its movements. So I have to ask the music writers here: what is the best way generally to clue a movement like that? I should note that I would only ever consider doing that in cases where a sense of the duration is actually helpful, a piece where the approximate length of the movement would actually narrow the field considerably (the way knowing that a symphony has a monumental 25+ minute slow movement guides you away from Mozart or Beethoven and towards Bruckner and Mahler, in a way that "longest slow movement in one of his symphonies" might not)

What I did in the Haydn and said I would not do again was give a narrow-ranged approximation of a typical performance, i.e. "the movement takes approximately X minutes in standard performance". The alternatives as far as I can see are: 1. Give a wider duration range that encapsulates the timings on all major recordings "the movement is X-Y minutes in length" (is more accurate than what I did, since it encapsulates all performances, but won't work if there are outlier recordings) 2. Express the length in bar numbers (is the most precise and accurate gauge possible, but probably does not translate well into a sense of how much time that would really take) 3. Give the duration when performed at the composer's metronome marking (also very precise and accurate, but less helpful in pieces where performer's tend to stray from the composer's metronome marking). The only other alternative I can see is to not give any sort of timing clue, and hope that the people have already figured out who composed the piece being described.

Any advice?
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:24 pm

I don't see a need to phrase such clues in a manner that requires additional figuring-out. If the relevant piece of information that you are trying to communicate is that (to make up an example) the second movement of McNabb's fourth symphony is three times as long as any other movement in a McNabb symphony, then just say "the second movement of this symphony is much longer than any other movement written by this symphony's composer" instead of trying to figure out how to express the absolute length. You're relying on people putting the time clue together with hints towards who the composer is anyway, so just put it out there, make sure the clue is useful by putting in gettable clues about who the composer is, and go with it.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:46 pm

I basically agree with Matt. I think as writers sometimes we overthink how much help some clues actually are given how much time we have to figure something out before a question is done. Instead of giving a clue with some margin of inaccuracy that may theoretically help somebody who is a really fast thinker but that probably actually won't, just go with something more concrete which states the fact clearly. The reality is that there are few enough really good music players out there that all I really expect to come of doing that is that an experienced musician may buzz more confidently, while the non-music players will still sit there, which is a pretty much a good scenario for quizbowl.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Not That Kind of Christian!! » Mon Aug 17, 2009 6:15 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:But I know that I'm going to be writing at least one tossup in the near future about a piece most notable for the extreme length of one of its movements.
Guess I'll have to study up on Symphonies Well Known For Really Long Movements.

Charlie and Matt are right. Being obtuse about references like this one that are mostly intended for specialists anyway just leads to a chunk of the field a. never understanding what's going on and thus not really learning the early clues as well as they might have otherwise or b. groaning in realization and annoyance at the end. No need for that.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Nicklausse/Muse » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:14 am

Time to revive a dead topic. (This is because I'm writing music questions, if anyone was wondering.)

How useful are key signatures, as clues for pieces?

I don't have perfect pitch and there's about one key signature I can recognize from hearing it (A-flat major, overrepresented in coloratura arias) - so I tend to be in the position of "if I've read the score for this piece, then the key signature is a useful clue, but otherwise it isn't." Now, since most questions on scores I've read don't talk about the music at all, I realize I'm not in the best position to pose the question, but as I'm writing at the moment rather than playing, is a key signature generally helpful?

To clarify, I'm not talking about things like "minor-key opening" or "modulates to the dominant" that are recognizable without perfect pitch, or about the use of key signatures as clues for pieces that are actually associated with them, like symphonies. Here's a random example that I pulled off QBDB:
In the B minor brindisi in the first act, one character attempts to repeat the first theme in F-sharp minor to the words "del calice," but he is too drunk to remember them. (Otello)
This benefits people who have read the score, but who have not necessarily heard the opera and are not necessarily familiar with theory, at the expense of people who have heard it but need the extra second to convert "B minor to F-sharp minor" to "tonic to dominant." As writers, are we looking to reward reading the score over listening to the music and knowing how it "works"? And does this reflect an awareness of how players study music for Quizbowl, or vice versa - are we writing to the players, or expecting them to learn to the questions?
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Theory Of The Leisure Flask » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:31 pm

Nicklausse/Muse wrote:Time to revive a dead topic. (This is because I'm writing music questions, if anyone was wondering.)

How useful are key signatures, as clues for pieces?

I don't have perfect pitch and there's about one key signature I can recognize from hearing it (A-flat major, overrepresented in coloratura arias) - so I tend to be in the position of "if I've read the score for this piece, then the key signature is a useful clue, but otherwise it isn't." Now, since most questions on scores I've read don't talk about the music at all, I realize I'm not in the best position to pose the question, but as I'm writing at the moment rather than playing, is a key signature generally helpful?

To clarify, I'm not talking about things like "minor-key opening" or "modulates to the dominant" that are recognizable without perfect pitch, or about the use of key signatures as clues for pieces that are actually associated with them, like symphonies. Here's a random example that I pulled off QBDB:
In the B minor brindisi in the first act, one character attempts to repeat the first theme in F-sharp minor to the words "del calice," but he is too drunk to remember them. (Otello)
This benefits people who have read the score, but who have not necessarily heard the opera and are not necessarily familiar with theory, at the expense of people who have heard it but need the extra second to convert "B minor to F-sharp minor" to "tonic to dominant." As writers, are we looking to reward reading the score over listening to the music and knowing how it "works"? And does this reflect an awareness of how players study music for Quizbowl, or vice versa - are we writing to the players, or expecting them to learn to the questions?
Co-sign. In an age of equal temperament, asking about the functions of notes is much more helpful than asking about the notes themselves.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Jul 28, 2010 4:24 pm

Theory Of The Leisure Flask wrote:Co-sign.
Finally, a post in a music thread uses the kind of terms I like!
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Jul 28, 2010 4:39 pm

Nicklausse/Muse wrote: How useful are key signatures, as clues for pieces?
Depends on what kind of clues you mean. Generally, I find that they are most useful when they are given in tandem with some other detail about the movement or piece, so that together with that other detail, it paints a better picture of what it is describing as a clue. The Brindisi clue you cited is made more useful by the fact that the key is mentioned. This allows one to rule out the more famous first act Brindisi from La Traviata from the moment one hears the word Brindisi. Otherwise, one has to wait to find out stuff that rules out La Traviata at the end of the sentence, at which point one might have been hosed.
To clarify, I'm not talking about things like "minor-key opening" or "modulates to the dominant" that are recognizable without perfect pitch, or about the use of key signatures as clues for pieces that are actually associated with them, like symphonies.
I'm not sure then, what genres you mean besides vocal music (or are you talking about just vocal music?). For almost all the instrumental genres, what key the piece is in is usually a decently well-known and important piece of information (pieces are sometimes referred to by their key, and the choice of key is considered an important artistic/aesthetic choice in and of itself).
This benefits people who have read the score, but who have not necessarily heard the opera and are not necessarily familiar with theory, at the expense of people who have heard it but need the extra second to convert "B minor to F-sharp minor" to "tonic to dominant." As writers, are we looking to reward reading the score over listening to the music and knowing how it "works"? And does this reflect an awareness of how players study music for Quizbowl, or vice versa - are we writing to the players, or expecting them to learn to the questions?
I'd be surprised to find out that there are players without theory knowledge who are reading the scores to operas and memorizing the key signatures of individual arias. Likewise, I'd be surprised to find out that there are players who've learned the tonal structure of an instrumental piece, but don't understand theory. Or that there are people reading/memorizing scores for pieces they're not going to listen to. If this kind of thing this is going on, then I agree with you. Otherwise, I'm fine with some clues (especially middle clues rather than lead-ins) being given by pitch instead of function, in cases where the pitch is helpful. I can always extrapolate the function from the pitch, but not vice versa.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by djayboots » Wed Jul 28, 2010 6:14 pm

I'd argue that pitch specificity, when well done (i.e., at no loss of information about function), provides an extra layer of detail that can trigger memory and/or help players buzz with confidence. I agree in principle that function is usually the most significant (but not always the only significant) pitch information in a piece or passage, but unless pitch-naming comes at the expense of clarifying function (which I would argue is always avoidable), I see no reason not to go the way of richer detail.

It so happens that I wrote Otello tossup that Rebecca quoted, so hopefully it will help me explain what I mean. If you replace "B minor" and "F-sharp minor" with "tonic" and "dominant" you lose a good deal of information, namely that the piece is in the minor mode and that we're talking about a minor dominant. This is notable because brindisis aren't normally in minor: it's Verdi harnessing a tired operatic convention (drinking song, revelry, chorus) and transforming it to a particular dramatic-expressive end (Iago's sinister plot to get Cassio drunk). All of which is to say that it's information that might help someone familiar with the opera buzz. I would think that most players for whom these sorts of clues are helpful can convert B-minor and F-sharp minor to "minor tonic" and "minor dominant" either automatically or within a second, so I don't think we should be overly concerned about processing time.

The Otello example also illustrates my point that pitch clues can provide useful "auxiliary" information that on its own no one could buzz on but that might help when taken in conjunction with other clues. The really memorable part of that Otello clue is Cassio trying to repeat the tune and failing, not the fact that it goes from B minor to F-sharp minor (a fairly common harmonic move). That information is there to trigger a memory or confirm a suspicion and thereby help someone buzz where they might not have otherwise. If you think about it in that way, I don't think "tonic to dominant" or even "minor tonic to minor dominant" is nearly as helpful.

There are also many cases in which specific pitches are in fact significant. Just because we live in an age of equal temperament, that doesn't mean that all of our music comes from such an age. In the eighteenth century, for instance, keys could have strong affective and even associative significance. In a Handel opera, an A minor aria is likely to be a very different event from an F minor one. If a piece is in F-sharp major, you can be sure that Mozart didn't write it. And of course, the further back you get from modern notions of fixed pitch, the more that pitch name and function become synonymous. To oversimplify a bit, G is G in the Renaissance not because it has a certain frequency but because of the ways in which pitches are arranged around and in relation to it (though if you go even further back this wouldn't be oversimplification at all).

Anyway, long story short, I think that in the hands of a musically literate writer, pitch specifics are an economical way to convey a lot of technical detail, losing nothing with regard to describing function but gaining plenty.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Nicklausse/Muse » Wed Jul 28, 2010 6:49 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:The Brindisi clue you cited is made more useful by the fact that the key is mentioned. This allows one to rule out the more famous first act Brindisi from La Traviata from the moment one hears the word Brindisi. Otherwise, one has to wait to find out stuff that rules out La Traviata at the end of the sentence, at which point one might have been hosed.
Obviously, yes - but what about it wouldn't have been achieved by "minor-key Brindisi"?
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:I'm not sure then, what genres you mean besides vocal music (or are you talking about just vocal music?). For almost all the instrumental genres, what key the piece is in is usually a decently well-known and important piece of information
I don't think that's true at all. As an example, looking in my iTunes: of the last five well-known non-vocal classical pieces I listened to, only one (to my admittedly limited knowledge) is widely associated with a key signature. (They are The Bells, Isle of the Dead, The Lark Ascending, Sinfonia Antarctica, and From the New World. Oh look, a bias in favor of named things...)
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:I'd be surprised to find out that there are players without theory knowledge who are reading the scores to operas and memorizing the key signatures of individual arias. Likewise, I'd be surprised to find out that there are players who've learned the tonal structure of an instrumental piece, but don't understand theory. Or that there are people reading/memorizing scores for pieces they're not going to listen to.
That's a fair point to some degree - it's unlikely that people will be reading a piece they haven't listened to and don't intend to listen to. However, I've worked with more than enough people who can read a score but wouldn't understand a mode if you explained it to them that I've got to reject the first point. Such people may be sparse in Quizbowl, perhaps. (I'm not sure what you mean by "players who've learned the tonal structure of an instrumental piece, but don't understand theory" - I was taking it as a given that pieces have to be described in some way if people who have listened to them are to be rewarded, and theory would do that.)

So I revise my question: assuming both hypothetical players have listened to the piece, what additional music knowledge do we consider more "knowledge"-y? Having read the score, or being able to apply general theory knowledge to it? (A shoddy analogy to another type of question might be: in a literature question, assuming we use both clues in the question, should the lead-in be the obscure clue that you'll only get if you've read it, or something about criticism of the work/its place in literature/relationship to other works?)
djayboots wrote:The Otello example also illustrates my point that pitch clues can provide useful "auxiliary" information that on its own no one could buzz on but that might help when taken in conjunction with other clues. The really memorable part of that Otello clue is Cassio trying to repeat the tune and failing, not the fact that it goes from B minor to F-sharp minor (a fairly common harmonic move). That information is there to trigger a memory or confirm a suspicion and thereby help someone buzz where they might not have otherwise. If you think about it in that way, I don't think "tonic to dominant" or even "minor tonic to minor dominant" is nearly as helpful.
Well, yes - but, as above, the same information could be conveyed in a clue that didn't name the keys. (You're right though, I should have made clear that I was talking about writing the question to include "minor tonic and minor dominant" before rather than just "tonic and dominant.")
djayboots wrote:There are also many cases in which specific pitches are in fact significant. Just because we live in an age of equal temperament, that doesn't mean that all of our music comes from such an age. In the eighteenth century, for instance, keys could have strong affective and even associative significance. In a Handel opera, an A minor aria is likely to be a very different event from an F minor one. If a piece is in F-sharp major, you can be sure that Mozart didn't write it. And of course, the further back you get from modern notions of fixed pitch, the more that pitch name and function become synonymous. To oversimplify a bit, G is G in the Renaissance not because it has a certain frequency but because of the ways in which pitches are arranged around and in relation to it (though if you go even further back this wouldn't be oversimplification at all).
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:the choice of key is considered an important artistic/aesthetic choice in and of itself.
I was reading recently about La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, which uses flat keys for female characters, sharp keys for male characters, and C major for an androgynous character - that's the sort of thing where I feel discussion of keys is useful, because it means something. And, further back, I can't remember now who it was but it may have been Grétry - in any case, things like this, as you're both saying. But not all music is the same, and a clue about key signature probably isn't as valuable in every question.

...Also, sorry about your question. I pulled it because I know the piece it's talking about, which is not true of a lot of instrumental music questions.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Jul 28, 2010 9:58 pm

Nicklausse/Muse wrote: Obviously, yes - but what about it wouldn't have been achieved by "minor-key Brindisi"?
Yes, it could have. But, saying that it's in B minor adds a layer of specificity which is not unhelpful (the more specific a clue is in describing something the more comfortable one feels buzzing off of it). If I tell you that a piece I'm thinking of has a second movement English Horn solo, you might buzz and say New World Symphony, or you might not as there are other major works that have this too. But if I tell you that there's an English Horn solo in Db major, you can probably buzz with more confidence.
I don't think that's true at all. As an example, looking in my iTunes: of the last five well-known non-vocal classical pieces I listened to, only one (to my admittedly limited knowledge) is widely associated with a key signature. (They are The Bells, Isle of the Dead, The Lark Ascending, Sinfonia Antarctica, and From the New World. Oh look, a bias in favor of named things...)
I was reading recently about La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, which uses flat keys for female characters, sharp keys for male characters, and C major for an androgynous character - that's the sort of thing where I feel discussion of keys is useful, because it means something. And, further back, I can't remember now who it was but it may have been Grétry - in any case, things like this, as you're both saying.
The association of certain keys with certain types of emotions / moods goes far beyond the Baroque and into most of the mainstream symphonic literature. For example, think of the association of heroic character with Eb major (Eroica, 1812 Overture, Ein Heldenleben, etc.). In a way, writing a Romantic-era symphony in a certain key could draw automatic comparisons to previous composer;s efforts in the same key, creating a sort of an intra-canon dialogue between pieces with the same key. It is no coincidence that both of Mozart's minor-key symphonies are in G minor (there was some sense of Sturm and Drang he felt in that key), and that Schubert wrote the minuet of his 5th symphony in G minor when he wanted to channel a specifically Mozartean brand of refined, controlled angst. Beethoven's most important C minor works (the 3rd piano trio, the 5th symphony, the Coriolan overture, the Pathétique sonata, the final piano sonata, etc.) are thought to bear a special kinship to each other, apart from the rest of his works (Taruskin wrote an excellent chapter on this in the Oxford History of Western Music, I can e-mail you, if you like). Brahms consciously borrowed the "plot" of Beethoven's 5th for his first symphony (A C minor first movement progressing towards a triumphant explosion of C major in the finale). Grieg's A minor Piano Concerto was directly inspired by Schumann's predecessor in the same key. The list goes on.

Let me expand on both of these ideas at once. Here's a clue I just made up:

The soloist begins the second movement Adagio of this concerto playing alone, before the first violins enter, doubled an octave above by a solo clarinet.

Do you recognize what I'm describing? Maybe yes, maybe no. If you don't, this clue is not super useful to you (except that you've probably eliminated Baroque concerti since I mentioned a clarinet). However if I tell you that the movement in question is F-sharp minor, this could start many chains of thought. If you're lateral thinking, you could eliminate this being a concerto for a brass instrument. You might mentally cross off several major concerti you know that would never end up in that kind of territory. Or if you have good concerto knowledge (or good historical knowledge of the use of different tonalities) you might realize that there is only one really famous F-sharp minor Adagio second movement and you might be able to buzz straightaway.
But not all music is the same, and a clue about key signature probably isn't as valuable in every question.
Very true. A lot of this will operate on a case-by-case basis. There are some pieces for which neither theory nor key signature clues will be helpful, because neither of these features are significant or unusual for that piece.
That's a fair point to some degree - it's unlikely that people will be reading a piece they haven't listened to and don't intend to listen to. However, I've worked with more than enough people who can read a score but wouldn't understand a mode if you explained it to them that I've got to reject the first point. Such people may be sparse in Quizbowl, perhaps. (I'm not sure what you mean by "players who've learned the tonal structure of an instrumental piece, but don't understand theory" - I was taking it as a given that pieces have to be described in some way if people who have listened to them are to be rewarded, and theory would do that.)
I tried to find a solution in a tossup I wrote for THUNDER. The tossup was panned, so I don't suggest imitating it. But perhaps the idea is salvageable, if you really want to try and balance giving helpful info to the theory-savvy while shutting out frauders (I'm told that you're only supposed to do this for lead-ins, though). It was on Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. I mentioned that the second subject of the first movement is unusually in the submediant, G, instead of the relative major. This told anyone who knew theory that the Symphony was in B minor, while denying someone without theory that knowledge. That was my attempt to find balance.
So I revise my question: assuming both hypothetical players have listened to the piece, what additional music knowledge do we consider more "knowledge"-y? Having read the score, or being able to apply general theory knowledge to it? (A shoddy analogy to another type of question might be: in a literature question, assuming we use both clues in the question, should the lead-in be the obscure clue that you'll only get if you've read it, or something about criticism of the work/its place in literature/relationship to other works?)
You might want to take a look at this chain: http://www.hsquizbowl.org/forums/viewto ... f=9&t=9639, in which I asked Jerry and others to explain why they felt rewarding deep forms of non-primary knowledge over primary knowledge is often completely acceptable. I found his and the others' answers interesting and helpful.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by djayboots » Wed Jul 28, 2010 10:20 pm

Nicklausse/Muse wrote:Well, yes - but, as above, the same information could be conveyed in a clue that didn't name the keys.
Sorry, I was a bit unclear. What I meant to say was that by naming the keys you do in fact convey one extra bit of information without losing anything, and that that one bit is precisely what is most likely to serve the trigger/confirmation function that I described. Minor tonic to minor dominant is common enough that I doubt it's going to help anyone buzz, whereas I'd argue that the specific key might. Granted, by naming the keys you're helping someone with a specific kind of knowledge (score-based or perfect pitch), but since I'd guess that the number of people really familiar with Otello in quizbowl is rather low, and since remembering one moment out of an entire opera is not always easy, my first concern is with maximizing the buzzability of clues that I think will help only those people.

I agree that the value of key naming can vary from piece to piece, but I'd argue that the number of pieces for which it is absolutely insignificant is smaller than one might think. For example, key characteristics in the Baroque weren't just devices that composers used once in a while; they pervaded the way musicians thought about affect. Plenty of individual composers throughout music history have had personal associations with keys (Beethoven with C minor, Scriabin with...all of them).

So I'd stand by my assertion that pitch specificity helps people buzz on technical clues, provided that you've given enough information to extrapolate function (also, I don't mean that you have to be specific about every single note or chord; saying "B minor" and "minor dominant" is just as good as "B minor" and "F-sharp minor"). The question then is whether that's what you want your clue to accomplish. If you're writing about a single large-scale piece whose key is well-known, you probably don't want to give that key away too early (and I suspect this is why John warns "middle clues rather than lead-ins"). But if you're describing a lesser-known movement from Kinderszenen or aria from Fidelio, I'd think you'd want to help a player out by giving that extra information.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by djayboots » Wed Jul 28, 2010 10:25 pm

John wrote:stuff while I was also writing stuff
Co-sign.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Nicklausse/Muse » Wed Jul 28, 2010 10:33 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:There are some pieces for which neither theory nor key signature clues will be helpful, because neither of these features are significant or unusual for that piece.
Kevin wrote:trigger/confirmation
And of course that's just like in any other question - clues that could apply to a lot of things are not helpful, which is why people don't write tossups that begin "One character in this work moons over an unattainable woman" or things like that. My point with theory vs. key signature is that, independent of what the key signature means (which is definitely an important consideration for a nonzero number of works), it is not generally something one can get from listening to the piece - unlike time signature, modulations, etc.

Which, for those pieces where key signature is not part of the theory behind the work, comes back to "do we reward theory knowledge or score knowledge?"

Interesting points about specificity and memory triggers, which I'll definitely consider when writing. (And I suppose it's even more important as a question writer, because it means the clue's much more likely to be uniquely identifying.)

Also, yeah, I know that the association of keys with things extends beyond Baroque (I mentioned Grétry, who is mid- to late classical) - but, as I said, there are pieces where it's not a particularly helpful clue even if it would be uniquely identifying.

Too bad about the THUNDER tossup; I like the sound of it. /vague pun
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Not That Kind of Christian!! » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:46 pm

Nicklausse/Muse wrote:
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:There are some pieces for which neither theory nor key signature clues will be helpful, because neither of these features are significant or unusual for that piece.
Kevin wrote:trigger/confirmation
Also, yeah, I know that the association of keys with things extends beyond Baroque (I mentioned Grétry, who is mid- to late classical) - but, as I said, there are pieces where it's not a particularly helpful clue even if it would be uniquely identifying.
Dammit, I promised myself I wouldn't post here anymore, but I just wanted to reinforce this. Not only is it often unhelpful and nonunique, but once you get into those pesky composers who were/wanted everyone else to think they were synesthetes, keys and specific chord sequences take on whole new emotional or color or visual associations that vary from composer to composer and, within composers, musicologist to musicologist. Unless it's canonical in the music crit world, that info could be dangerously ambiguous to include in a tossup.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by djayboots » Thu Jul 29, 2010 12:05 am

Nicklausse/Muse wrote:"do we reward theory knowledge or score knowledge?"
I don't think it needs to be one or the other. People come to know about music in different ways--as performers, casual chamber musicians, concertgoers, CD collectors, serious students--and I don't see the need to prioritize absolutely between these. In fact, part of what I liked about CO's music questions were that they seemed to strike a good balance between these different ways of knowing. I guess in the abstract I'd rather give points to someone with a good ear and no score knowledge to a musically incompetent score-memorizing robot, but I just don't think the latter exists, and sometimes it's pretty hard to give points to the former. The problem with "theory knowledge" is that writing a reliably buzzable technical description of a piece or passage can be an uphill battle; that's where specific pitches can be really useful. If a tonal plan or harmonic move is very distinctive, I'd say go ahead and write about it purely in terms of function. But sometimes rewarding pure harmonic understanding is just not practicable, and in those cases the primary concern, I think, if you want to use technical descriptions at all, should be making your technical description buzzable rather than worrying about what form of technical knowledge you're prioritizing.
Not That Kind of Christian!! wrote:Dammit, I promised myself I wouldn't post here anymore, but I just wanted to reinforce this. Not only is it often unhelpful and nonunique, but once you get into those pesky composers who were/wanted everyone else to think they were synesthetes, keys and specific chord sequences take on whole new emotional or color or visual associations that vary from composer to composer and, within composers, musicologist to musicologist. Unless it's canonical in the music crit world, that info could be dangerously ambiguous to include in a tossup.
Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you should include clues like "In this piece, E-flat major represents the heroic." I wanted merely to suggest, rather, that knowing what key a piece is in is often useful and meaningful information. For instance, if a tossup on Ein Heldenleben mentions that it's in E-flat, that would be helpful information in part because knowing about how Ein Heldenleben is in dialogue with other "heroic" E-flat works constitutes meaningful knowledge of the piece and its context.
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by magin » Thu Jul 29, 2010 12:35 am

I think it's worth noting that the vast majority of writers have very little formal understanding of music/music theory, and will not be able to choose pure music clues in a way that is actually helpful to players. If you don't think you have that sort of music knowledge, I think you should instead write tossups on composers, groups of works (such as etudes or Schubert's piano sonatas), or instruments; in my experience, it's much easier for non-experts to write good tossups on those answers than on a single piece of music. I'd liken it to science; if you're not sure you understand some difficult scientific concept, you're better serving science players by writing a tossup on something like momentum or the electric field that you have more solid knowledge about.

These posts about describing musical works well are very interesting, and I encourage people with that kind of knowledge of music to use those kind of clues, but if you don't, choosing answer lines on composers/groups of works/instruments will produce better questions (since you don't have to find many good musical clues for one piece, which can be difficult for laymen, but merely around one musical clue per work mentioned).
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Thu Jul 29, 2010 10:38 am

not... again...
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Re: Writing Music Questions for Music Players

Post by Nicklausse/Muse » Thu Jul 29, 2010 12:20 pm

Sorry!

Also (obviously) ignore The Bells in my comment earlier, I was typing classical pieces I'd listened to recently and clearly forgot to take out all the vocal ones. Nice job, self.
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