I had a teacher say to me a long time ago that all music, whether it is a piece, movement, section or phrase, falls in to one of two categories; it’s either a song or a dance.  What he meant by that is our interpretation is guided by a set of priorities and knowing if I am playing a song, I have one set of priorities, and if it is a dance I use a different set of priorities.

There are many factors at play when we play a piece of music.  We can call these factors elements or fundamentals.  Let’s say for the argument of this post, there are 10 musical elements we need to deal with every time we play a piece of music.  If I were to consider aq Sousa March I am looking at falls into the category of Dance (not Song) then my ten elements would be ranked in order of importance like this; 1, 2, 3, … 10.  Now, let’s say I turn the page and am looking at the 2nd movement of the Haydn trumpet concerto.  I consider this a Song and would rank those same elements differently, say 7, 10, 1, 5 … 10.  I would still want to address all ten elements overall, but the first few priorities would be different depending on what I am attempting to play.

I think the table below will help make what I am talking about more clear.  Please realize there are more elements or fundamentals than 10 to consider, and the order is rather arbitrary once you get past the first couple.

1 Overall Rhythm (Time/Pulse) 1 Tone
2 Rhythmic Accuracy 2 Nuance/Lyricism
3 Key Signature 3 Overall Rhythm (Time/Pulse)
4 Style (Leggiero vs Pesante,

Marcato vs Legato…)

4 Accidentals (right notes)
5 Articulations 5 Style (Leggiero vs Pesante,

Marcato vs Legato…)

6 Accidentals (right notes) 6 Rubato
7 Tone 7 Vibrato
8 Vibrato 8 Rhythmic Accuracy
9 Rubato 9 Articulations
10 Nuance/Lyricism 10 Key Signature

Making these lists was kind of difficult.  Like I said above, the first couple are pretty clear but once you get down to the last few it is hard to say a particular musical fundamental is the “least important” thing on a list.  Obviously, ALL of the element/fundamentals should be dealt with when playing any piece of music.  But hopefully, you are getting my overall intent with this article.  I think every piece of music, or phrase, we encounter deserves to have its’ own priority list and the priority of these elements should be continually reevaluated.  I believe that this becomes second nature and is inherently organically in place when the music is happening at its intended level.