4. The Syntactical or Voice Leading Technique
The Craft of Musical Communication by Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger, ©2005
The Voice Leading technique comes from the syntactical or grammatical property of speech. Notice what happens to the above sentence when all the words are reordered to eliminate references: “The or voice grammatical syntactical comes technique property speech leading of from.” The reason the reordered sentence can never make sense is that every word has been treated as the equal of all the others. The order, or lack of it, as is really the case, is designed to reinforce that equality - that is, all the words in that sentence above refer to no other words. The result is that the sentence means absolutely nothing...even if we know what each word means.
The human brain requires referential relationships in everything it takes in in order to make sense of things. Anything which lacks this referential aspect creates the feeling of nonsense in the brain. We ignore it at our aesthetic peril. It is this syntactical, "referential" property of language that underlies the logic in music. This is the logic needed to make the inégal or entasis technique work most successfully.
Sense and meaning in both language and in music come from the appropriate grouping of words and notes into phrases or gestures which seem to go together, but only when the grammatical sense of each word or note is considered and "leaned" on or stressed to emphasize the intended meaning. Just as all parts of a sentence refer in some way to the noun/subject, every note in the diatonic scale refers to the tonic. This view holds that understanding the intervals and chords in any scale is essential to understanding music’s expressive meaning, just as the phrases and clauses in sentences are essential to understanding meaning in language. This is the heart of the voice leading technique. Since the human brain is "hard-wired," so to speak, to grasp meaning through grammar and phrases in language, for the brain to be exposed to music which has little feeling of grammatical tendency is to force the brain to work out what those tendencies are--all by itself. The problem is...music goes by too fast for that to happen, so the brain will just "tune out" and go into a sleep mode. The question is: is this an appropriate outcome for a musical performance?
The outward technical devise used for the voice leading technique is legato (using the real meaning of legato, which is “connected," as "connected in the mind,” rather than merely in the ear), and the musical approach for this type of legato is cantabile (using the real meaning of cantabile, which is "in a singing style,” and taking that style to mean the style of a truly great singer). Bach was renowned for his cantabile playing. Indeed, a letter dated 12 April 1842 written by F.K.Griepenkerl (a student of N. Forkel) relates that "Bach himself, his sons, and Forkel performed the masterpieces with such a profound declamation that they sounded like polyphonic songs sung by individual great artist singers; all means of good singing were thereby brought into use. No cercare, no portamento was missing. There was even breathing at the right places...Bach's pieces want to be sung with the maximum of Art."
Application: Sing as expressively as possible every line in a score and then play the music exactly as expressively as you sang it. We have noticed that musicians are almost never more expressive in their playing than they are in how they actually sing music. A musician who sings music in a boring manner WILL play in a boring manner. It is therefore imperative that those musicians who can play more than one line at a time on their instrument be competent to sing every line in the score simultaneously for the entirety of each piece. This is hard work!!!! Get used to it. It is what making music is all about.
What is unbelievable as much as it is fascinating is that non-musicians can tell instantly the moment a player has stopped singing the lines in his or her imagination. Though they can't articulate what has happened, listeners usually say that the life went out of the music, just at that moment. Sing every note as expressively as the note requires and no less, then play it that way. This often means that you must sing all the music in your imagination, as you play, with such intensity, conviction and energy that the little that "leaks" out into the music as it is heard will ravish the listener.