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15 November 2017

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The Sound of Silence.

In my experience of teaching I often find that students don't know how to finish a piece. 

How to FINISH a piece of music.

They may have prepared really well, but as soon as the last note ends, they virtually spoil the performance. Today I want to talk about how to end a piece. What many younger students don't realize is that the last note is NOT the end of a piece. There is that moment, especially, but not exclusively, just after the end, when the listener needs to absorb what they have just heard. If you go to a concert hall, you may notice that the applause often does not start straight away. The audience is still taking the performance in. So when you finish a piece, don't be afraid to let that moment of silence happen. Don't jump away from your instrument as if shattering the "You could hear a pin drop" atmosphere. You'll notice I said, "don't be afraid". Some might find sitting like a statue for a second embarrassing, it takes confidence. Remember however, that the ABRSM marking criteria rate you not just on your technical abilities, but on delivering a confident performance and I would even go far as to suggest that, that moment of silence at the end might even be worth an extra mark in the exam.

I would like you to compare these two endings of a piece I recently recorded and see if you can understand what I mean.

I hope you could feel the difference in atmosphere at the end of the two extracts. In the first example it ends too abruptly, but the second example gives you time to absorb what you just heard. So the question arises, exactly how long do you hold the tension in the air before "finishing"? It's a little like rubato, you have to feel it, it can't be taught in a mathematical way, which again comes back to what I was saying about how an ABRSM exam assesses your performance as a musician. Another analogy: Have you ever heard of comic timing which one person described as 
one of those things where you know what it is when you see it, but you can't quite define it concretely, the "pregnant pause" right before the punchline?
I often suggest to my students, a piece finishes, when you notice sounds that you didn't hear before, maybe a car on the street, the buzz of an electrical appliance that's always there, but you never noticed. Give it a try and let me know what sounds you noticed.

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