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A New Place at the Table: Ancient Cadential Patterns for Modern Improvision and Aural Skills Training

Abstract

Contemporary efforts to integrate improvisation practice into institutional music education are many and varied, but lack of improvisatory skill remains an ongoing problem, especially in classical music instruction. Drawing on artisanal training, in which a corpus of memorized repertoire becomes a stylistic knowledge base, source of cognitive schemata and raw material for creative variation, a useful set of historically-derived “standards” can be found in the three introductory cadences used in the Neapolitan conservatory partimento tradition (It. Cadenza Semplice, Cadenza Composta, Cadenza Doppia) of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Referencing music cognition research, music theory sources and improvisation discourse, this paper argues that intervallic suspensions in these schemata (4-3, 7-6) can be seen as a simple demonstration of error perception and correction, a cognitive process that can be deployed to develop and strengthen both aural and creative skills. Integration of these cadences into beginner training also suggests a reassessment of the order of introduction of musical elements found in formal music instruction, which privileges the chord as a discrete entity, and relegates intervallic suspension, schemata and counterpoint to intermediate, advanced, or supplementary study. These cadences concisely synthesize and demonstrate contrapuntal interplay and voice leading between bass and treble voices, basic syncopation and rhythmic division, and the concept of dissonance/consonance within linear parameters as an integral aspect of musical form. A series of beginner to intermediate exercises for use in vocal and instrumental training are presented. The dissertation recommends that intervallic suspensions be given a renewed “place at the table,” once again taking their former role as primal examples of compositional structure and aesthetic possibility

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This paper was published in YorkSpace.

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