Martin Agricola, Musica instrumentalis deudsch (Wittenburg, 1529)
Die art der Composition vs. Die art der Orgelischen tab.
1staff notation vs. organ tab
Music-making is, no doubt, an intricate, complex process, and even as no expert of medicine or science, I can definitely see that it is a neurologically and physiologically complicated phenomenon. Music perception and cognition is indeed a sophisticated process that provides various paths of research for psychologists and musicians.2 As performers, we notice our senses are heightened and easily affected by many different factors in the moment of performance. So as a performer, I fully understand that when it comes to a high-stress, focus-needed situation like a live performance, one may prefer familiarity and comfort over historical authenticities. Cole believes, “In notation, certain procedures survive simply because they feel comfortable and right to us, and because to change them would cause us emotional disturbance without bringing any corresponding advantage.” He adds that “even the dropping the rests from empty bars (or the dropping of bars themselves) as practiced in modern scores can inflict a slight shock on the conventional reader.” Georg Muffat (1653-1704) warns performers against horror fusae, the alarm caused at the sight of double fusae (semiquavers).3 We tend to adhere to “the practice of keeping what looks right” as the norm.4 Cole observes this is why pieces for children in method books are notated in bigger note values because the sight of faster note values will easily cause “nervous rigor.”5 Visual association of what one sees on the page is a big factor in music making. With that said, an obscure, unfamiliar notation like tablature might come across as "too daunting" at first.
The start of this research was initiated to investigate and debunk such attitudes and myths. However, in this chapter, I would like to analyze the possible causes for why a performer may reject tablature reading in performance. In the course of the experiment and sharing this topic with others, I have encountered many memorable reactions. Some said tablature looked like “an alien script”; some said the German tablature looked like “ancient Chinese.” Some expressed shock exclaiming “how can you play from this!” I have asked my current and former harpsichord teachers, if they knew of any performer, colleague, or their former teacher who could have played from tablature, and it turns out there has been a great lack and neglect of tablature playing in the HIP practice in general. After some searching and asking around and from my first-hand experience going to concerts, my observation is that even veteran performers and specialists in keyboard repertoire originally notated in tablature do not seem to play from the original notation. Indeed the challenge for the 21st-century keyboard player so used to the 2-staff notation is reading polyphony in separate lines or parts (although as discussed in Chapter 4 the tablature system is much easier and more modern-player-friendly than the partitura system). However, I would like to point out that tablature reading was also an art in its own right requiring skills even from the 16th-century keyboard player. Corrêa de Araujo asserts that it is not just visual understanding of notation that enables one to play well but rather having an understanding of musical idioms upon a good underlying keyboard technique, as he explains the technical nature of tablature in “Chapter 10 of the Observation Concerning Perfect Playing of Tablature”6 in Facultad organica (Alcalá,1626):