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  #16  
Old 01-19-2022, 03:52 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Originally Posted by Twiddle Dee View Post
Ok, well I had a theory and decided to see if could get some buy in. I'm not trying to put things in boxes or whatever, just trying to interact with some like minded folks and maybe learn something.
Well, hopefully you've learned some fancy jargon!

Music theory, in fact, is all about "putting things in boxes" - labelling and identifying sounds, breaking them down, categorising them, and so on.

Just don't make the mistake that music is theory is supposed to "explain" music. It's the grammar of the language, so is useful for studying the language. English grammar will tell you the names of all the parts of speech, the types of words, the punctuation marks, etc., that I'm using in this sentence. It might even say something about the etymology of the words. It will certainly assess the spelling.
What it won't tell you is why the words have to go in this order. It won't tell you why we spell words the way we do (etymology is not explanation, only history - why did the words come from there and not from elsewhere?). It won't tell you why we don't have gendered nouns the way most other languages do.

Most importantly it won't tell you how you are managing to understand these sentences. You learned to speak English (assuming it's your mother tongue) before you knew anything about grammar, spelling, or even the alphabet.

We all learn the language of music the same way - by ear alone. That's how we all understand music: by listening to it. We know what it means immediately. When we hear that chord in the Stones song, we get it. It means exactly what it says. We just don't have any words to properly translate that meaning, that feeling. If we did, we wouldn't need the music.

I'm not saying theory is pointless! I agree with you, it's good to talk about music with like minds (that's what we're here for after all), and theoretical jargon is designed for that purpose. We just have to be careful not to over-complicate things.
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Old 01-19-2022, 05:12 AM
Howard Emerson Howard Emerson is online now
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Theory can 'splain' lots of stuff and put into words what is 'happening' when music affects the brain a certain way.

But there's always this: If it works, who cares why?

And if you do figure out, musa-mathematically, what happened that SOUNDED good, that doesn't mean you've 'cracked the code' and can now duplicate it by writing something different.

I'll let James Brown 'splain it'.......



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Old 01-19-2022, 05:43 AM
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Old 01-19-2022, 07:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Howard Emerson View Post
Theory can 'splain' lots of stuff and put into words what is 'happening' when music affects the brain a certain way.

But there's always this: If it works, who cares why?

And if you do figure out, musa-mathematically, what happened that SOUNDED good, that doesn't mean you've 'cracked the code' and can now duplicate it by writing something different.

I'll let James Brown 'splain it'.......



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I’m sure that Keith Richards thinks exactly the same way.
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  #20  
Old 01-19-2022, 10:49 AM
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Theory can 'splain' lots of stuff and put into words what is 'happening' when music affects the brain a certain way.
Really? None of the music theory I've read in the last 50 years does that. I mean, music theory puts music into words, but not what's happening in the brain. And explaining things needs a lot more than just putting them into words.

I guess something like psychoacoustics, or some branch of psychology, could explain it, at least in part. And cultural history, and so on. Not the body of knowledge I understand as "music theory"
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But there's always this: If it works, who cares why?
Exactly! "Why?" is always a fascinating question - partly because music theory can't answer it. But we can understand music perfectly well - and play it perfectly well - without knowing "why it works".
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And if you do figure out, musa-mathematically, what happened that SOUNDED good, that doesn't mean you've 'cracked the code' and can now duplicate it by writing something different.
I don't quite follow that. Figuring out "what" happens in music is not too hard, given a reasonable ear and some handy software. Music theory lets us name all that stuff, which is what it's for.

But I'm not sure what "duplicate it by writing something different" could mean - it's a contradiction in terms!
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I'll let James Brown 'splain it'.......
OK...

That'll do. It's not music theory, of course (and it's not James Brown! its an actor!), but it'll do.
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Old 01-19-2022, 12:15 PM
Andyrondack Andyrondack is offline
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I think it's very unfortunate that a bunch of descriptions of how actual musicians use musical intervals to create tunes and harmony has wound up under the term ' music theory'.
It's a term which clearly leads some people to equate the subject with theoretical physics or some kind of laws based science which is absurd, but that does not mean a grounding in at least some aspects of music theory has not proved to be very helpfull to musicians from Mozart to Keith Richards.
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Old 01-19-2022, 01:44 PM
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I think that the origins of the term 'Music Theory' lie in how Classical Music was traditionally taught in Europe. The student was taught and examined in eight grades. Grade one was the simplest. There were two exams for each grade. One was practical. and the student was judged on their ability to play music, and the other was 'theoretical', not involving playing, and for grades one to five mostly about reading notation. The theory part of grades six to eight covered stuff like the characteristics of Classical Composers and had very little to do with what is now called Music Theory.

The complexities in jazz harmonies may have something to do with making modern music theory the subject it is today but really it's all just putting labels on things people notice in music.
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  #23  
Old 01-20-2022, 03:31 AM
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I think that the origins of the term 'Music Theory' lie in how Classical Music was traditionally taught in Europe. The student was taught and examined in eight grades. Grade one was the simplest. There were two exams for each grade. One was practical. and the student was judged on their ability to play music, and the other was 'theoretical', not involving playing, and for grades one to five mostly about reading notation. The theory part of grades six to eight covered stuff like the characteristics of Classical Composers and had very little to do with what is now called Music Theory.

The complexities in jazz harmonies may have something to do with making modern music theory the subject it is today but really it's all just putting labels on things people notice in music.
Thanks for your ideas,
it would be interesting to learn some more details on what you mean by the 'characteristics of Classical Composers' ?
It seems to me that Classical composers were quite aware of what we now call music theory , key signatures time signatures use of scales accidentals intervals and chord progressions are all obvious features of what we call classical music and would have been taught to young aspiring composers.
I have never formally studied this subject through grades or anything like that but it is quite clear from a few minutes study on the internet that knowledge of certain modes and the intervals they contain was a mandatory requirement for those composing music to be offered as a prayer to God in medieval monesteries. I don't think anyone needs to be a qualified historian to imagine how lay people would have heard this music and copied the scales and melodies for the secular music we now call ' traditional'.
In the 14th century plolyphony came into use in church music and no one can compose for a choir without being aware of what notes choristers must sing to form harmonious sounding intervals and chords, no one would have tollerated a so called composer who did not know this stuff otherwise the result would have been chaos.
Knowledge of harmony melody and time signatures from church music would have been the core ' curriculum' for secular students of composition in the classical era.
Several classical composers have demonstrated their awareness of what we now call music theory not just by their use of harmony but their easy ability to abandon harmony and use drones to emulate the folk music of the 'common people' so just by this they demonstrated an awareness that different genres of music are characterised by different approaches to how notes are harmonised together or not, this is all the stuff of what we mean by music theory.
Jazz music is just a development from what had come before , really what's the difference?
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  #24  
Old 01-20-2022, 08:06 AM
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Hi Andyrondack

I'm pretty sure that an awful lot of what is now considered to be 'Music Theory' didn't exist before the nineteenth century, maybe even before the twentieth century.

You could say that notation hasn't changed much over the centuries but in Manchester (UK) Central Library I came across a book of tunes published in 1730 where the key signatures were far more complex than they are today. Today the key of G has one sharp. In the 1730 book G had two sharps. The F on the top line had a sharp as it does today, but the F in the bottom space also had a sharp. Imagine how the keys of A and E appear following this convention. I don't know if this approach was common back then or an anomaly but it is a change.

Instruments have developed over the years and as a result the music that can be played has developed as well. Valves in brass, keys in woodwind and hammers in keyboards have all led to developments in the music that can be played. It's not unreasonable to assume that ideas about, and observations of music will have developed at the same time.

My understanding is that early Christian music was monophonic and the idea has been put forward that harmony only developed after hearing the effects of long reverberation on monophonic lines.

ABRSM stands for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. It was proposed in 1889 and formed by 1890. You can read more details here;

https://gb.abrsm.org/en/about-us/our-history/

Grades 1 to 5 are mostly about notation. The summary of Grades 6 to 8 can be seen here;

https://us.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/mu...labus-summary/
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  #25  
Old 01-20-2022, 12:15 PM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Originally Posted by Andyrondack View Post
I don't think anyone needs to be a qualified historian to imagine how lay people would have heard this music and copied the scales and melodies for the secular music we now call ' traditional'.
Quite possibly, but secular music would have been a vibrant culture alongside religious music. Indeed, it was commonly regarded as a dangerously profane influence on the music of the church. Quite likely secular musicians might have adopted practices from the church in order to send it up, rather than be reverential towards it.

It's known, e.g, that in the modal era, and the early Renaissance, Ionian mode was considered "licentious" because of its association with the troubadours. Ionian mode was not accepted into the "official" pantheon (along with Aeolian) until the mid-16th century, as the older modes were becoming more and more altered with chromatics which brought them closer to Ionian. So the influence certainly worked the other way: popular music finding its way into "academic" music.
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Originally Posted by Andyrondack View Post
In the 14th century plolyphony came into use in church music and no one can compose for a choir without being aware of what notes choristers must sing to form harmonious sounding intervals and chords, no one would have tollerated a so called composer who did not know this stuff otherwise the result would have been chaos.
Sure, but most of that knowledge would have been handed down in a kind of master-apprentice process. Using written works for reference, naturally (especially thanks to the new printing press), but the students would all have known how the music sounded - and therefore how it was supposed to sound. They would have grown up with it, sung it in church. A huge chunk of the learning process would have been aural.
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Knowledge of harmony melody and time signatures from church music would have been the core ' curriculum' for secular students of composition in the classical era.
Several classical composers have demonstrated their awareness of what we now call music theory not just by their use of harmony but their easy ability to abandon harmony and use drones to emulate the folk music of the 'common people' so just by this they demonstrated an awareness that different genres of music are characterised by different approaches to how notes are harmonised together or not, this is all the stuff of what we mean by music theory.
Jazz music is just a development from what had come before , really what's the difference?
Seriously? In the sense that musicians learn from what came before, obviously!

The question is how they learn it. It's a mix of aural and written, for sure, but that mix varies hugely from culture to culture - even within western culture.

The big difference with jazz - and all popular music since - is the role of African music, brought to the US with the slaves. African music has a vastly different system of education, mostly if not entirely aural. Based on known traditions, of course, but those traditions are passed on by ear, not by books. Certainly once in the USA, the African traditions would have been handed down in a completely aural way. As well as vocal and drumming traditions, there were instrumental melodic ones from Islamic cultures of the Sudan. The blues grew largely from that mix, assisted by influences from imported European folk musics - many of which had modal melodic traditions not unlike the Islamic ones. (The neutral "blue 3rd" and the flattened 7th were common occurrences in English folk music, well before any contact with the blues, well before audio recording.)

The early jazz musicians were trained on western instruments, of course, so naturally learned a fair amount of classical theory: notation, keys, chords and chord sequences. And they learned to play music written using European principles But the way they played owed more to African folk traditions.

So yes - "theory" is a crucial element, and forms part of all music learning. The differences from genre to genre are simply in how that theory is learned. Sometimes it's from books. Sometimes it's by ear. Sometimes it's entirely learned by ear. Even when books play a part, aural learning is essential for making sense of the books. You can't understand music by reading books. You have to hear it.
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Old 01-20-2022, 01:03 PM
Andyrondack Andyrondack is offline
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. You can't understand music by reading books. You have to hear it.
No but but students can make progress as a musician a lot easier by understanding intellectually whether that comes from reading or being taught by someone who knows what they are doing and hearing examples of music which correspond to the aspect of music theory being taught.
I do find it very strange that those who decry the value of learning some music theory to the musical development of students seem to not hesitate when responding to queries on how to play this chord or that scale by posting pictures or diagrams which amount to no more than instructions to put this finger there and that finger here. How does that fit with a philosophy based on 'aural' learning ?
I have yet to see
any of the people who profess to believe in the primacy of aural learning post a sound clip of a chord or scale and leave the student to work it out by ear, why is that?
But they are certainly very quick to twist words round and make out that somehow learning music theory means students can't be listening to music.
I have never sugested that learning music from books is a rewarding experience but the reality is that's exactly what most students of music are expected to do.
I had music lessons for years where I was taught to play music from books of notation and it just became an unrewarding experience for me , only when by sheer luck I encountered a teacher who taught me some music theory was I able to start the progress of creating music without having to rely on instructions in a book amounting to nothing more meaningfull than put that finger here and that finger there.
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Old 01-20-2022, 05:56 PM
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No but but students can make progress as a musician a lot easier by understanding intellectually whether that comes from reading or being taught by someone who knows what they are doing and hearing examples of music which correspond to the aspect of music theory being taught.
I agree totally.

I'm just questioning what we mean by the word "understanding" here. I've read a whole ton of music theory in my time - I like it, and I certainly like the feeling of understanding that I get from it. But really it's just that same feeling we get from learning the name of anything.

When we know what something is called - especially if the name sounds technical - it gives us a handle on it. We can talk about it and share our experiences of the thing - which is the real value of the naming, because it can broaden our experience of the thing, give us different perspectives. Music theory has certainly introduced me to music I would not normally have bothered with, and has often given me different ways to think about the music I do know.

That's all good, obviously. But what I can honestly say is that it has not helped me understand music, deep down. The way music works is still mysterious. Describing the various types of mode, or cadence, or how a composition develops, is just talking about what's happening; but not why it's happening. Other than that the composer liked those sounds. For me, knowing what's happening is not any kind of "explanation". It doesn't lead to any understanding.

I mean, except in those cases where the theory helps me play the music, and it's the playing that leads to understanding, because it helps me appreciate the sounds more. The meanings of music are all in the sounds, 100%.

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I do find it very strange that those who decry the value of learning some music theory
Well, that's not me!
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Originally Posted by Andyrondack View Post
to the musical development of students seem to not hesitate when responding to queries on how to play this chord or that scale by posting pictures or diagrams which amount to no more than instructions to put this finger there and that finger here. How does that fit with a philosophy based on 'aural' learning ?
This is a different issue.
Music theory names the sounds, and those names are used in technical instruction to help us play instruments. That's important obviously.

All I'm saying is the music theory does not explain music. The reason I say that is that we see questions all the time from beginners who expect theory to explain music. They want to know why a certain song sounds good - some of them even ask why they like a song! - and they think theory has the answers. (It's as common as those who ask if they "can" do this or that, or why a song has a "wrong" note or chord in it, as if theory is some kind of system of laws that justifies music)
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I have yet to see any of the people who profess to believe in the primacy of aural learning post a sound clip of a chord or scale and leave the student to work it out by ear, why is that?
To say aural learning is primary doesn't mean that other kinds of instruction are ruled out! The point is that the ear is how we assess everything we learn.
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But they are certainly very quick to twist words round and make out that somehow learning music theory means students can't be listening to music.
I've not seen that opinion.
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I have never sugested that learning music from books is a rewarding experience but the reality is that's exactly what most students of music are expected to do.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Personally I find learning music a rewarding experience however I do it, and that includes using books.
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I had music lessons for years where I was taught to play music from books of notation and it just became an unrewarding experience for me , only when by sheer luck I encountered a teacher who taught me some music theory was I able to start the progress of creating music without having to rely on instructions in a book amounting to nothing more meaningfull than put that finger here and that finger there.
My experience FWIW is a little different. I learned to read notation before I was ever interested in music. It was of enormous help to me when I began teaching myself guitar, because it allowed me to learn songs from songbooks: not only songs that my ear wasn't good enough to learn aurally, but songs I had never heard before. I've never found notation "unrewarding" - it's a tool that is constantly useful.

Theory - too - was something I also taught myself, as I began reading theory books after I'd been playing for a few years, just out of curiosity. (By this time I was playing in bands, composing and improvising.)

The theory was certainly interesting, but only up to a point. As soon as it started talking about sounds I hadn't heard, I stopped reading. And I found that the songs I was learning actually taught me all the really useful aspects of theory. The usual process was I'd discover a cool sound in a song, and then some time later read what the theoretical term for it was.

My advantage - all the way - was that I was teaching myself the whole time. So I only ever learned what I liked. I never had to do "lessons" that someone had given me. My goal all the time was to (a) learn songs and (b) write songs. No theory book ever helped me do that. The songs I learned helped me do that. What theory sometimes did do was helped me polish the results. E.g., if I'd written a strange and complicated chord progression, that was a little ahead of what my ear could properly assess, theory could help me focus, by offering options for conventional changes that were what my ear was really searching for. A weird chord might just need one note changed - and then it flowed the way I meant it to.

I never suffered from the notion that theory was rules that music had to follow, because I learned the music first. The music was obviously all correct; it sounded right! So if I found theory seemed to suggest something else, I knew that was only because I hadn't yet found theory that dealt with the music I knew. The music was always right, and the theory was always right - but the theory was always incomplete - because I didn't know it all - and that's why it sometimes didn't add up. (And if it didn't add up, so what? Not my problem... I know all I need to know.)

I do remember one question I had when I first started getting serious with theory: "why does a maj7 chord sound sad?" This is just the kind of beginners' question I mentioned above. I soon found out theory was not interested in such questions. But I wasn't disappointed, because the subject was fascinating enough in its own right - although it was a lot more interesting when I opened it out into musicology, history, acoustics and so on.
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Last edited by JonPR; 01-20-2022 at 06:02 PM.
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Old 01-21-2022, 05:23 AM
Italuke Italuke is offline
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I have never sugested that learning music from books is a rewarding experience but the reality is that's exactly what most students of music are expected to do.
When you say "books" you mean written notation, correct? I can't imagine that "most" students are expected to learn music from reading books. This ties into one of my pet peeves, alluded to by my earlier comment in this thread: too much "learning" of music theory is now done on the internet, with results often being that concepts are distorted and in some cases just plain wrong, without the necessary context.
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Old 01-21-2022, 05:37 AM
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We all break rules. When geniuses break rules, amazing things can happen. The rest of us, not so much….

Even though Beato’s videos are FAR beyond me, I find them fascinating, and have burned more time watching than I care to admit!
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Old 01-21-2022, 05:41 AM
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I think Beato is often interesting. But sometimes I find his pedagogical analyses annoying, in the sense that the people who write these songs probably don't think that way at all.
Exactly. Geniuses just do it. Really really smart people explain just WHAT they did to the rest of us!
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