David Lodewyckx/Lieven Strobbe

‘Tonal Tools’: An Introduction

Particularly since the publication of Robert Gjerdingen's Music in the Galant Style (2007), partimenti have gained a still growing interest from musicologists, music theorists and performers. One of the stimulating side effects of this renewed attention is the use of partimenti in musical training programs. This is an appealing development, since partimento pedagogy is a possible way to deal with some major troubles in today's keyboard education. After all, from the beginning of the 19th century, these classes increasingly focused on the reproduction of classical literature. This kind of 'monoculture' is co-responsible for a typical pathology among classically trained keyboard players today: poor musical understanding, poor musical ear, unreliable musical memory and disproportional stage fright.
In our introductory paper (1), we will deal with the obvious question then arising: in how far could we apply the partimento approach in the music education of children? More specifically: 1) How could we incorporate this pedagogy in contemporary training of beginning musicians, who are keen on learning music from a very open-minded perspective? 2) To what extent do we then have to adapt historical partimento pedagogy, its use in current music education as well as the partimento exercises themselves?
A recent approach tackling these issues is Tonal Tools (Lieven Strobbe a.o., 2014). Its concept is based on formulaic referent play, using a kit of 9 tonal components to be composed and elaborated, guided by a few simple rules. The system is open-ended and therefore can be adapted to any style or idiom as well as to the actual physical and cognitive challenges or constraints.
In the workshop part (2), we will demonstrate how ‘Tonal Tools’ can be applied from the very start of the keyboard learning process, hereby merging different disciplinary aspects of musicianship: improvisation, composition, literature performance and conceptual understanding.