Why Are We Afraid of Silence?

Posted By: ryan On:

Photo by Dawid Huczyński

Although I mostly speak for myself, after working with many students over the years I know I am not alone on this.

We are afraid of rests. I have heard countless rambling melodic lines that never seem to stop, the equivalent of run-on sentences. The music never seems to know what it’s trying to say because it’s saying everything.

We are afraid of silence. Not just a rest in a melodic line, but allowing the music to completely stop for a moment. Without rests, the music doesn’t breathe.

Why does this happen? One reason might be that we have so much to say, and it’s difficult to restrain ourselves and stay on topic when there is so much to get out.

But I think a deeper reason is fear. Fear of the silence, because it is in the silences that we are completely exposed. Naked. It’s the same reason that I hear so many tracks that might be well written or thought out, but then the composer slapped a big loud drum loop on top of the whole thing. They fear that it isn’t full enough, that it’s thin or lifeless, and so they make up for this by layering their track in a constant bombast of noise.

It brings to mind an amateur chef who, uncertain of the quality of the dish, drenches the thing in sauce to make up for any underlying inadequacies.

Silence is such a valuable element in a composer’s toolkit, it’s a shame we don’t use it more. Perhaps we forget that music is sound (odd as that might be to forget), and that absence is obviously an inherent quality of sound. Rests are the white-space of music, the emptiness that allows us to fully appreciate the shape and form of the content within.

How much more life and energy could you get from your music if you stopped trying to say so much?

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