Improving the practice and performance of contemporary music

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Situation: the classical - contemporary paradox

Used as an adjective to the noun “music”, “contemporary” applies to the timeframe in which the music was written and describes a vast collection of musical expressions since the 1950’s. A lot of different poles can be defined within this collection, depending on the chosen categories. Thus, a large contemporary field is constructed, in which all contemporary art expressions are equally juxtaposed. This opinion implies that the combination of contemporary and classical forms a paradox. As a timeframe, “classical” implies that the expression lies in the past. Traditional study methods – based on the classical repertoire – do not fulfill the specific difficulties found in contemporary scores. Specific problems that ask for a different approach arise both in analysis and the practical modus operandi.

Melody and harmony often rule in the history of western classical music. Other musical parameters are an important part of the music, but are always inferior to the two overruling parameters of melody and harmony. The evolution of community singing leads into the development of the tonal system. Due to this tonal system, the importance of melody and harmony remains strong through the further development of western music until the 19th century. Composers start to move away from this tendency beginning in the second part of the 19th century. This implicates the emancipation of the remaining musical parameters from the start of the 20th century onward and leads to drastic innovation of western music in the second half of the 20th century.

All different possible parameters are manipulated independently in the compositional process of contemporary music. A multiplicity of parallel styles and currents occur which each have their influence on different composers. The personality of the composer is often formed by the synthesis of those different influences. This implies different consequences for the analysis by the performer. The starting point in traditional analysis was often melodic and harmonic material. The interpreter himself now needs to point out a starting point to conquer the score. Every composer and his synthesis of styles and currents demands a specific analysis to understand the scores. A large amount of analysis methods are conceived that correlate with specific currents and composers.

The exchange with science and technology has generated quite a number of possibilities to compose and perform contemporary music. Composers use external tools that support the process of composition (such as Computer Assisted Composition or CAC). Technology is applied during the performance itself by using live-electronics or tapes and sequencers. Computer Assisted Music Instrument Tutoring (CAMIT) searches for possibilities to implement computers in the studying process of young musicians, focusing on learning how to play an instrument.

Need for Innovation

A traditional approach is still utilized to assimilate contemporary music both in the artistic field and in the education at the School of Arts and Conservatories. This leads to problematic situations:
  • The applied analysis methods are not sufficient to process a large segment of modern scores.
  • The studying process is slow due to a random approach that is not tailored to the specific composition.
  • The practical tools that should support the studying process are not adapted to the complexity of the contemporary compositions.
  • The auditory frame of reference is mainly based on the tonal system.

The traditional metronome was invented in the 19th century as an aid to help studying music. This metronome is based on displaying time in equal time parts in one tempo. In contemporary music though, the parameters of rhythm and meter have become more and more independent and very complex. This often leads to complex and irregular subdivisions of time, complex rhythmic patterns and thoroughly stipulated tempo correlations. A traditional metronome simply does not satisfy the need to display this correctly. Both examples show how traditional tools are outdated for the specific needs of contemporary scores. The absence of correct tools leads to a strong regression in output and efficiency in the studying process. Technology can and will be a strong aid to resolve certain kinds of problems. LS Learn wants to stimulate this by committing to Computer Assisted Practice: applying modern technology to develop tailored tools that will enhance the studying process.

Beginning in the 20th century, composers start to walk away from the tonal frame of reference. On the one hand – for example in dodecaphonic music - the same twelve tones form the basis of the harmonic and melodic development, but this time the tonal system is not present anymore. On the other hand, many composers divert from these twelve tones, opening the way for spectral analysis or serial subdivisions of the octave, which use microtonal adaptations. In both cases, the tonal frame of reference is not sufficient.

Performers and students have already been applying the computer in their studying processes to study contemporary scores. However this happens mainly on an individual basis by using (parts of) various programs and tools. This results in a fragmentary studying trajectory that is often constrained to personal use. Different performers working on the same score often follow the same trajectory and come to similar solutions for certain problems. Other performers, wanting to work on a score from a similar style or composer, have to start from scratch and mainly have to work out the same output. A lot of time is wasted on work already done elsewhere.

The insufficiency of traditional studying methods and the inaccessibility of certain alternative and innovative methods prevents a lot of students and performers to pass the threshold of contemporary scores. Due to the great diversity in the contemporary art field, it is also impossible for teachers to work out every single one of these complex scores. Of course a lot of time and labour is needed to construct a complete studying trajectory and the necessary tailored tools to tackle the problems of a specific score or composer. The threshold to start to work with contemporary music remains high, even though a lot of knowledge has been amassed and solutions have been found for specific problems. This is mainly due to the fact that the necessary knowledge is not accessible and thus not ready to use as an inspiration.

Innovation by LS Learn

As a platform, LS Learn wants to provide solutions for these obstacles performers and students encounter in their search for a method to perform contemporary scores. The platform bundles individual experience and studying trajectories of contemporary scores and at the same time provides theoretical background and practical tools. Both students and performers can use this to perform these scores or to build up their own studying trajectory for another composition based on the accumulated knowledge and experience on the platform. The new studying trajectories that will be added to the platform provide new methods and insights, which can then become an inspiration for even more trajectories.

LS Learn provides an accessible format for performers that have worked out individual studying trajectories and want to publish it. Both the theoretical (analysis and background information) and the practical side (tools) should employ a recognizable and simple-to-use format. In case the performer has only established the theoretical frame, LS Learn provides the possibility to help establish the necessary tools to convert the analysis into practical applications for the studying process. To provide this, LS Learn wants to develop new general software that can accelerate and simplify the development of specific tools. Individual performers and students will thus in time have the possibility to develop their own tools.The development of the analysis into practical tools improves the link between the theoretical frame and the actual studying process. The incorporation of different programs and procedures into the studying process is made superfluous by developing the click tracks and sequencer as stand-alone and easy-to-use software. This, together with diverse tailored tools, strongly enhances the efficiency of the studying process. A sufficiently powerful laptop or computer and Internet connection is at the disposal of almost every performer or student these days. This provides the possibility to develop tailored tools and to spread these easily, avoiding the necessity to purchase different devices. Specialized music software is often expensive and demands quite a lot of studying to use it properly, next to the fact that it contains a lot of non-relevant functions. On the contrary, smaller programs (Apps) are much easier to use and directly at one’s disposal. Tailored tools are thus a good solution to incorporate technology into the studying process.


The tools within LS Learn are a the result of a practical application of analytic research:
  • Annotated scores: The composer transfers his ideas and philosophy through the score. The development of the score thus translates the artistic ideas of the composer as authentically as possible, although the result is not always the most practical reproduction in terms of the studying process. A new development of the score, improving (a part of) the studying process, is often found starting from analytic research.
  • Click tracks: A click track is a tailored metronome for a specific composition. Starting from an analysis of the rhythmical and metrical course of the composition, one can develop a tailored metronome that displays all nuances of time organization (irregular measures, interpolar measures, complex polyrhythms, etc.). Subdivisions to point out phrasing and tempo relations are also part of the click track. In this way these musical elements occur at the very beginning of the studying process and in every studying tempo.
  • Sequencer: A sequencer serves as an auditory illustration of the score. Complex rhythmical structures and non-familiar harmonic and melodic elements are displayed in different tempi. The performer or student can also use the sequencer as a “checklist” of the score to enhance the auditory reference frame.
  • Analysis Software: software that combines functions coming from image processing software to enhance the analysis of the score.

The knowhow to develop tools for enhancing the practicing process provides the possibility to work out projects for ensembles and orchestras as well. They can develop tools to improve their individual members' practice in collaboration with “LS Learn”.


The setup of the platform LS Learn leads to innovation in both the education of musicians and the artistic practice of individual performers and ensembles. LS Learn judiciously applies technology to support the studying process, based on a creative approach. LS Learn wants to stimulate the use of Computer Assisted Practice to enhance the efficiency and output of the studying process next to the use of existing applications. LS Learn creates specific and general tools that are easy to use in the studying process of contemporary music. Next to this, LS Learn wants to stimulate individual performers to integrate innovative thinking into the studying process and to use all the possibilities the technological progress provides.The platform will act as an archive for studying trajectories for specific compositions. Students as well as performers will have the possibility to use previously conducted research and the appropriate developed tools that support the studying process. The platform provides support to current education of the Flemish School of Arts and artistic practice. The studying process of contemporary music will benefit immensely in efficiency and output through the support of the platform. This leads into a broader interest in the contemporary field that will enhance both the number of performances and the performance quality. Contemporary music culture will flourish not only in Flanders but also in an international context.The development of the platform and the studying trajectories are focused primarily on the support of the studying process of complex contemporary scores. However, these results can be relevant for the application on studying processes of other musical styles and other educational institutes and studying practice.

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