A few years ago I got into an argument with another arranger. In fact, the argument ran so deep that I ended up taking an informal poll among some of the other writers in town. There was a way I had been taught to write, and I was sure it was how it ought to be done.
In jazz, there’s an extremely common rhythm. I’d describe it, but that would give away my old preference for writing it. Look at the two rhythms below and think about which one you prefer. If you’re not a musician, ignore this part. Just know that wars have been fought over the answer.
Importanly, they are both performed exactly the same. The sound is no different. The dividing line is: the old school guys prefer the one on the left, and the new school guys prefer the one on the right. The argument for the left hand one is that it’s only 3 objects to read, where the one on the right is 4 objects. However, the right hand one is more intuitively matches the sound you’re making. It’s also better if you’re dealing with musicians that play less commercial music as it’s closer to how a classical musician would interpret it.
So I couldn’t come to a final conclusion on how to handle this particular issue, but I did learn something else in the process. It’s the same thing all the non-musicians reading this post are thinking.
The less relevant something is, the more energy is expended to be “right” about it.
It’s exactly the opposite of how any rational person should act. This one thing was literally one of the least important notational elements I can think of, and I managed to have long dialogues with half a dozen arrangers about it. Arrangers got fired up about it and took a stand. I really wanted to be on the “right” side of this argument. Much more than I wanted to, you know, finish writing some more music.
One of the most important things that adults know that kids don’t is that “being right” is much less useful than you’d think. This is not to say that knowing what you’re doing is bad, just that being the “winner” in any sort of argument does very little to advance your cause. Few minds actually get changed. It’s like watching Congress. Lots of energy spent trying to be “right”. Not much energy spent getting things done.
So regarding this notation element, I’ve decided that I simply don’t have an opinion about it. And as I’ve gotten older I find I have fewer and fewer opinions about everything. The number of things I’m getting done has improved a lot lately too. I wonder if there’s any correlation?