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Towards a greater music principle

Towards a greater music principle

2022-08-04 10:02:14

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I appear to have touched a nerve with my rant concerning the conventional teaching of music theory and the way poorly it serves training musicians. I assumed it might be a good suggestion to comply with that up with some concepts for the way to make music principle extra helpful and related.

The objective of music principle must be to clarify frequent follow music. I don’t imply “common practice” in its current pedagogical sense. I imply the musical practices which might be most prevalent in a given time and place, like America in 2013. Slightly than making an attempt to establish a canonical physique of works and a bounded algorithm outlined by that canon, we should always take an ethnomusicological method. We must be asking: what’s it that musicians are doing that sounds good? What patterns can we detect within the broad mass of music being made and loved on the market on the earth?

I’ve my very own set of concepts about what constitutes frequent follow music in America in 2013, however I additionally include my set of biases and preferences. It could be higher to have some laborious information on what all of us collectively suppose makes for legitimate music. Trevor de Clerq and David Temperley have bravely tried to construct simply such a knowledge set, at the very least inside one particular space: the harmonic practices utilized in rock, as outlined by Rolling Stone journal’s checklist of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Temperley and de Clerq transcribed the highest 20 songs from every decade between 1950 and 2000. You possibly can see the leads to their paper, “A corpus analysis of rock harmony.” In addition they have a web site the place you possibly can obtain their uncooked information and analyze it your self. The entire undertaking is a masterpiece of descriptivist music principle, versus the dangerous prescriptivist type.

Jimi Hendrix, common practice musician

The Rolling Stone High 500 has some issues as a knowledge set. Initially, there’s no frequent settlement as to what the phrase “rock” even refers to. Temperley and de Clerq establish two important senses of the phrase. There’s the sense Rolling Stone makes use of, an umbrella time period for late twentieth century Anglo-American common music. By this definition, rock consists of soul/R&B requirements, disco hits, middle-of-the-road pop and some iconic nation, jazz and hip-hop songs. Then again, there’s the extra slender and descriptive sense of the phrase “rock” that features Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith however particularly excludes jazz, hip-hop and so forth. Taking this view, the Rolling Stone checklist isn’t actually a listing of rock songs; it’s a listing of “the best songs of the rock period.” Temperly and de Clerq don’t get too slowed down within the semantics; the Rolling Stone checklist is as full a consensus mainstream pop assortment as exists, so it’s a ok place to begin.

A number of outcomes bounce out from the research. As you’d anticipate, the tonic I is essentially the most commonly-used chord within the Rolling Stone corpus. Nonetheless, the following most typical chord is IV, and it most ceaselessly precedes I. Straight away, we’ve a battle with conventional classical principle, the place essentially the most fundamental tonal constructing block is the V-I cadence. Rock makes use of loads of V-I, nevertheless it makes use of much more IV-I. And the third most typical pre-tonic chord in rock isn’t ii, such as you’d anticipate should you went to music faculty; it’s bVII, reflecting rock musicians’ love of Mixolydian mode. These identical three chords, IV, V and bVII, are additionally those more than likely to comply with the tonic in rock, once more very a lot at odds with classical follow. Temperley and de Clerq observe:

In gentle of this information, one would possibly conclude that rock isn’t ruled by guidelines of ‘development’ in any respect; quite, there may be merely an total hierarchy of choice for sure harmonies over others, no matter context.

In common-practice music, typical principle dictates that sure root patterns are most popular over others: ascending movement by fourths is very normative (way more so than descending fourth movement); descending thirds are favored over ascending thirds, and ascending seconds over descending seconds (Schoenberg 1969). Are these ideas noticed in rock as effectively? It may be seen instantly that the norms of common-practice music don’t maintain. For every interval, the ascending and descending kinds are roughly equal in frequency. The ascending good fourth is sort of precisely as frequent because the descending good fourth; for different intervals, too, an analogous sample is seen. The frequency of intervals decreases in a really common manner as circle-of-fifths distance will increase.

Blues is a central pillar of rock, and blues violates fairly just a few tenets of common-practice classical concord. The most important one is the excellence between main and minor. The sound of blues is largely the sound of minor melodies and chord extensions over main chord progressions. The extra blues-oriented flavors of rock are equally ambiguous of their main/minor identification. A whole lot of the time, rock chords are neither main nor minor, just like the well-known power chord, which is simply root-fifth-root.

The harmonic scenario will get extra difficult nonetheless should you embrace hip-hop within the information set. The Rolling Stone checklist consists of “Bring The Noise” by Public Enemy, which doesn’t have any triadic concord in any respect. Temperley and de Clerq take care of that by simply not together with the observe of their evaluation, which is a little bit of a cop-out. An actual principle of up to date music must take care of hip-hop, which can not have triads, however does have strongly melodic vocal lines, modal harmonies and, typically, very crunchy dissonances and microtones.

To my thoughts, essentially the most intriguing thought put forth by de Clerq and Temperley is the supermode, the gathering of pitches most ceaselessly utilized in rock melodies:

See Also

The supermode

Temperley explains:

The supermode may very well be seen because the union of the Ionian (main) and Aeolian (pure minor) modes; one may additionally consider it as a set of adjoining scale levels on the road of fifths, extending from flatscale diploma 6 to scale diploma 7. In enharmonic phrases, this assortment excludes simply two scale levels, sharpscale diploma 4/flatscale diploma 5 and sharpscale diploma 1/flatscale diploma 2—exactly the identical levels which might be outdoors the “international” scale assortment of common-practice music.

I like the concept of the supermode. Classical music’s obsession with the foremost scale runs counter to most People’ instinct. Positive, we like the foremost scale effective, nevertheless it doesn’t really feel just like the One True Generative Scale that classical music holds it to be. Flat sevenths sound as “pure” to me as pure sevenths. (Truly, flat sevenths are rather a lot decrease within the overtone collection; you might make a case that Mixolydian or Lydian dominant must be the One True Scale.) I feel the very best thought can be to simply educate children the supermode, quite than hitting them with the complicated concept that it’s important to modify the foremost scale to get the sounds you’re used to.

See a followup put up: can science make a better music theory?

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