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Skysaw
04-19-2006, 03:15 PM
I thought I'd stir the pot here a bit today on a subject that's been rumbling around in my head a lot lately. Below is a quote from the minimalist composer Steve Reich.

I think people suffer from a misconception, not only about me, but about music theory and its relation to music practice. Whatever music theory you encounter, certainly including the rules of four-part harmony, was written after a style had been worked out by ear, and by a good musical ear. Of course its good for a student to learn the rules of four-part harmony, but with the understanding that they’re just student exercises and that parallel fifths may be perfect in another context. All music theory refers to something that has already happened, but if it is taken as a prescription, or worse as a manifesto, heaven help you. It’s interesting that the music we treasure most of Schoenberg preceded the 12 tone theory. It’s no accident that Op. 11, and “Farben” of the Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 16 (my favorite piece) or Pierrot Lunaire, and other earlier works all keep getting played. They’re “difficult” and they’re dark, but they’re more successful, I believe, than those pieces that came later with the adoption of the 12 tone system.(Full article here (http://www.stevereich.com/articles/NY-VT.html).)

I have to say that I'm in full agreement with Reich on this matter. My question to you composers is how does the notion of "theory" affect your music? Are you bound to a system? Do you sweat it out when you really want to include parallel fifths in a piece?

I've lately been looking at many of my works that I have written over the years, and I noticed a certain common thread that is a bit hard to explain (and which I won't go into detail about here). My more recent works increasingly use this device, and I've never seen it talked about before, so it may or may not be unique to my writing. I've been wondering if there is any value in my trying to codefy some of my own rules for myself, or for anyone else for that matter.

Or perhaps it is best to just continue to let my ear guide me. After all, the ear is king, and the musical buck stops there.

What do you think?

Fabio
04-19-2006, 05:01 PM
My personal opinion is based on a long (and probably still going on) evolution of knowledge and experinces, but anyway it's just an opinion:

- without rules it's nearly impossible to keep your own musical language effective and the style coherent, the amount of instinctive imitation will be frequently too much, and the invention too low and too short. The experience I had with my self, and with my pupils/students is confirming that even the most talented composer is facing incredibly high difficulty during the early stage of pure ear composition and research. After the understanding of the first set of rules, the intelligent and talented composer goes beyond rules and start creating his own method.

- the question is: why creating rules, instead of following a free flow of sounds and unchained ideas? Because every experienced composer understand how easy and effective is the organization of elements in structures, creating development of basic material, saving time and resources.

What you really learn during harmony and counterpoint study is not a set of rules: it's the need of selection and organization of material.

The second milestone in composition study is the analysis: analysing pieces of great Composers you learn how to understand why something works, and something doesn't. Then you learn to operate a kind of auto-analysis during the composition process: you stay fashinated by a chord, a group of notes, a rythmic pattern, a melodic idea...if you write by ear, after transcribing the single short magic moment, you need some more fashination-inspiration to go on, and you get frustrated by the long, frequently unsuccessful research, and the slow progression of the work.

If you are a composer, you will immediately analyse and de-compose in elements the nice idea, developing it in all dimensions and exploiting the whole potential of every element. You know also what and where to add the background or the support for the idea underlining.

Composing it's a matter of rational organization of what satisfy our ears. The simple application of rules will never produce new and intersting music, as the simple ear-writing will never produce complex and everlasting masterpieces and big structures.

As you say, even avoiding academic rules, you feel that a kind of complex and personal set of rules is driving your creativity, and it's the key of your style coherence. You are a composer.

aelliscomposer
04-19-2006, 05:28 PM
Cool topic.

I've been playing and making music for 15 years. I studied classical guitar, but I had developed a good ear from listening to my parents (both professional classical musicians in Germany - lot's of scales and practicing the classics, sitting in the rehearsal hall) and out of sheer laziness, I never really bothered to learn reading music, instead I would learn the guitar compositions from CD's instead. While in a rock band, there was no reading or writing of music, it was all by improvisation, ear and memory (burned in by repetition).

Now, working on film scores and writing orchestral music, I find that I need to be far more analytical about music... so I've now gone back and found all the 'reasons' why certain things work the way they do by learning theory. But having done it this way (essentially, learning how to speak English before learning to read or write - how it's normally done!) has given me a much more solid and real understanding of what these theories mean. They are now in my 'arsenal' - I can get myself out of difficult situations or come up with sophisticated solutions to problems by modulating, using chord colors, understanding modes/scales, good chord progressions. As well, things happening in a film can be directly translated to music - how do you create tension - how do you set up resolution - how do you create a sense of confusion, or tranquility? The psychological undercurrent of the character's can be wonderfully and subtly expressed if you know the exact ways in which music will function to do this.

Also, as my knowledge and ability increase, I find that poor 4 part writing and things like unconsciously used parallel 5ths do actually result in music that does not sound as strong; this is to say that the composer is not making decisions, they are simply being careless and/or ignorant. Knowing a few 'rules' (I think of them more as suggestions) can dramatically increase the rate at which you might improve and certainly how consistently you write and express strong musical ideas. Then, you can consciously decide to abandon or distort those rules.

I guess in music to picture, you start with the film and it's motives first, and then you must decide "How do I make music say that?"... it's a lot easier to make conscious analytical choices if you have a bit of theory in your bag of tricks.

Cheers!

Adrian

aelliscomposer
04-19-2006, 05:31 PM
Great post, Fabio, succinctly put!

Adrian

giwro_jon
04-19-2006, 07:06 PM
I have to say that I'm in full agreement with Reich on this matter. My question to you composers is how does the notion of "theory" affect your music? Are you bound to a system? Do you sweat it out when you really want to include parallel fifths in a piece?


When I was younger, (before formal study) I played whatever I thought "sounded good"

I found that knowing "rules" made it easier to find good sounds, but if I choose to break the rules, I go ahead, and no worries. I usually also do so because I really want a certain effect in a certain place...

I've also been experimenting with a couple of concepts recently, that seem a bit of a cross between instinct and knowledge:

1 - I try to write without playing it on the keyboard first... writing what I hear in my head instead of what my hands want to play. This has lead to some interesting discoveries (!)
2 - When writing contrapuntal music, I have become less concerned with where a piece is headed harmonically/chord-progression-wise and more concerned with the sounds of the individual melodies of the counterpoint. This has lead aslo to some interesting sounds.

If you can codify your process or style in your head, you are definitely coming into your own style, something that will be recognizable to you and to others. Whether writing it down is helpful or not will have to be up to you (!)

Others might find it helpful, if only for helping them understand the creative process from another composer's point of view.

Cheerio,

ChinmayL
04-19-2006, 07:12 PM
From an untrained novice composer, but a long time pianist's perspective - I come up with melodies and such in my head, but to expand upon those, I think is where theory comes in. Just banging around on the keys trying to figure out where to go with the basic theme is usually not very productive. Theory, if nothing else, can give you a jumping off point. Of course, in the end, I will always have to come back to what sounds good to my ears...even though it may not sound good to anybody else. :)

Speaking of theory, can't wait until Gary's free online course is available!

Chinmay

joaz
04-19-2006, 08:41 PM
Theory is very useful for building the foundations of your house.
A house with a level foundation, will probably stay up longer.
Personally I would advocate the study of theory.

However, Theory alone, will not help you decide on what curtains will look good in the Front bedroom.

Much of our notion of good 4 part writing comes from rules derived from Bach. But what hits me most forcefully in his music, is his incredible sense of invention. His harmonic daring. His sublime gift for haunting melody.
Sadly, the study of theory alone, will not supply these elements.

I have lived in both Camps of the Theory versus Ear debate.
I have a had a classical education, including conservatoire training in composition.
I decided to learn Jazz, the old-fashioned way. By ear.
I listened to records, tapes, and tried to figure out what people were doing.
I attended MANY performances, and tried to extract the quintessence, of what worked well live.

My conclusions. ?

I learned more about composition from studying scores, than any other method.
The ears will always have primacy, because our subject is sound.
So much depends on personal attitude. Form can be a pair of handcuffs to some, or the keys to freedom for others.

Many beginners mistakenly believe, a study of theory will turn them into a good composer.
Unfortunately, though I know all the rules of Tennis, I am not as good as Pete Sampras.

By hook, or by crook, talent will find a way to express itself.
Dont choose theory or the ear. Choose them both.

regards Joe

Stephanie Pray
04-19-2006, 08:51 PM
This topic always intrigues me since we all have our own ways of dealing with our composing processes. I have no training, so the ear rules my world (so to speak, but that's not really true either...). My pieces are already done (full complete pieces in an instant) I just have to "play" them correctly. That's the hardest part - the fingers don't always cooperate. When I think about it or try to change it, I mess things up badly :eek:. I think that a musical education may help, but for me, it may hurt as well. I'm not sure.

wrayer
04-19-2006, 09:26 PM
Since we are talking art, let's look at it from an artist (painter, sketcher, etc.) You learn the basic so you have a place to start. The painter uses his "eyes" to see what and where he needs to go. He uses his "learned" techniques to get the result his"mind eye" sees. Grandma Moses is an acclaimed artist, but she lacks the technique of let's say a Rubens. But here "mind's eye" sees and produces the art she likes through the techniques she was either taught, or picked up by doing.

The argument follows into music. Do you train the "ear" to use the techniques you are taught? Or, do the techniques you are taught train the ear to write what it hears? I think it is a combination of the two. Technique (theory and musical study) provide the atmosphere to train the ear to hear and think in a particular direction. Rules are guidelines. Drive any freeway in America, and you can see that fact put in action - Speed Limit 60 - measured speed 70. The guidleline is 60 the need to get to where you are going pushes you past that guideline, within limits determined by the road. Rule: No Parallel 5ths, the ear says, "hey I like it", thus you use parallel 5ths. The more you are trained the easier it is to think "outside the box." The less you are trained the smaller the box. I wonder how many people reading this, got this far? (test tomorrow!)

I agree with Reich!

SeanHannifin
04-19-2006, 10:22 PM
Interesting post, Skysaw! I haven't read everyone's responses yet, because I want to write down my response before I find out that somebody already said it or something... :o

I certainly agree with Mr. Reich!

Just about all the MIDIs on my website (written before I got GPO) were written without studying anything, without knowing an ounce of theory (if theory can be measured in ounces). They were composed completely by ear with the help of a really cheap MIDI keyboard and DirectMusic Producer. After showing them to a friend in high school who was (and still is) a very skilled pianist and a composer, I found that I had actually used triads and inversions of the triads for harmonies, and that one of my chord progressions was a variation on the chord progression Pachelbel uses in his canon. :eek: (Forgive my pride in that! :D )

However, just because I did not read any books on harmony or study music theory formally doesn't mean that my brain hadn't formed its own rules based on what I had heard before. People sometimes disagree with me on this (I think), but I believe that a brain is perfectly capable of following rules during composition though you may not be able to consciously recognize them or put those rules in words, but your brain recognizes them and uses them when you compose. These "rules" ("rules" probably isn't the best word, though) are formed in a listeners brain by just listening (you see, it's a feedback loop).

Yet this doesn't mean a composition student should go throw all his music theory books out the window in a wild fit of defenestration. I believe studying theory will still help you to recognize (for lack of a better word) some of the rules (again, for lack of a better word) that you could not get on paper. For example, I may have some brilliant music playing in my head and it sounds beautiful in my head, but I may not be able to get it into DirectMusic Producer or Overture because I can't figure out exactly what the harmony I hear in my head is. By having studied a bit of theory (since I myself am still very far from knowing a lot of theory :o ), it is much easier for me to recognize that I am hearing something like a simple I-IV-V-I progression.

I do not believe the essential ingredient to composing music can be taught (at least, not yet, and no time soon, unless we can recognize why exactly the brain likes music in the first place, and I certainly believe there is a reason somewhere in our weird brains), it must be inate in the composer's brain. However, it can be nurtured with theory. A student cannot expect to just read a book on theory and suddenly know how to compose like Mozart (unfortunately). The "ear" (you're not really "composing by ear", you're just using the ear as an input device for your mind, which does the composing :D ) is the ultimate guide.

Alright, now I'll go back and read what everyone else said... :D EDIT: Oh, good, I think most responses just about agree with mine. :D

dpc
04-20-2006, 03:17 AM
I also agree that Fabio's post spoke to the heart of the matter very well.

I would add that hearing the work of great composers does not seem to stir thoughts of the wonders of theory but the wonders of music, life, nature, God or whatever. The paradox is that the majority of these composers where master theorists and indeed applied the principles they learned through study and experimentation in every bar of music they wrote. Why? Because they recognized these things as vital tools that would widen the pallette of highly personal expression.

For the most part, asking why a composer must learn rules and theory et. al., is like asking them why they insist on using a quill and parchment: they are simply using the proper tools (right down to the bench in order to sit at the piano.)

folk prophet
04-24-2006, 03:59 PM
My biggest issue, I suppose, with 'rules' of theory is that I believe them to be seriously mislabled. Meaning, if you think of them as rules then you really don't understand them because they are NOT rules.

Nevertheless, the more a person understands about theory and the history and purpose behind composer thought, the more one can control one's music.

For example, to just accept no parallel fifths as a rule of harmony in general is just plain wrong. Firstly, that so-called 'rule' only applies to the 4 part choral writing of Bach. So to apply it to even a, say, 6 part piano chord change is not accurate (not to mention quite difficult). Even easier to see...try to apply the idea of no parallel octaves to a full orchestral score. That makes it easy to see how silly such a rule is outside of 4 part choral writing. Parallel fifths might be easier to avoid, but not much.

Secondly, even within the bounds of 4 part choral writing, one needs to understand that following the so-called rules create a certain sound. This is no different than how a trumpet creates a different sound than a flute or how quick 16th notes create a different sound than slow whole notes. But an implication that the sound created by not using parallel fifths is 'better' than the sound created by using them is like saying that putting yellow next to green is better than putting yellow next to blue or something like that. It may be more contrasty to do so. It may be thinner. It may be more hollow, clean, gritty, dynamic, simple, rich, etc., etc... But whether it's 'better' or not is an opinion...nothing more.

Ultimately, the ear (and one's opinion of what pleases the ear) should rule composition. Otherwise, we're nothing more than a bunch of trained monkeys. But if we don't know how to create the sounds that please our ear then we fail ourselves too. We, as composers, should be very aware of the different sound created by a parallel fifth and a parallel 3rd (for example). We should also understand how an augmented 6th sounds and what sort of flavor or color that will produce. But if we like parallel 5ths and we want to create the flavor they produce, then to not use them based on some random, supposed 'rule' would just be foolish.

Hannes_F
04-24-2006, 04:37 PM
But if we like parallel 5ths and we want to create the flavor they produce, then to not use them based on some random, supposed 'rule' would just be foolish.

-> Pink Panther Theme by Henry Mancini :D

Fabio
04-24-2006, 05:09 PM
Dear Folk Prophet, I'm very sorry you get frustrated with fifth and octaves.:o

Your teacher didn't a good job. :(
You really don't know enough about Bach, 4 parts vocal writing, or 6 part piano writing.
(e.g. wonderful modern 4 parts vocal music exist, filled of octaves, parallel fifth and free dissonances, but it's so good because educated composers made it; Bach was able of writing long 6 parts piano (cembalo) pieces following "his rules").

But it's not your fault. It's the fault of books or teachers you had.

And then all what you write is correct, from your point of view, but believe me, nobody on the eart is banning intervals!

Try a freestyle acrobatic jump without any training of skatebord or snowboard, try driving a sport car at 300Km per hours without a driving licence. You simply will die.

But to jump and to drive fast IS possible. You simply need a little of training before, that's all...:D

folk prophet
04-24-2006, 06:44 PM
Which of the 10 or so teachers did you mean?

Your response is a bit condesending. I didn't say that Bach's rules had never been applied to anything other than 4 part choral writing. Certainly there are people who have gone to the trouble to write huge scores with no parallel 5ths throughout.

Nonetheless, when a person is taught basic harmony rules in theory class it is for 4 part chorals. The fact that individuals have taken that and applied it to every kind of conceivable music there is doesn't mean that's what they were taught. And the fact that Bach wrote 6 part piano parts following his 'rules' (which rules even he would break when it suited him to do so) doesn't mean that is applicable to today's standard in writing.

Good grief...it would be like writing a book and basing your writing style on 15th century styles. Or only painting or drawing based on rules devised from how Davinci did it. Music is the ONLY art form so ridiculously archaic and stubborn in the perceived 'rules' of how 'good' music is created.

I am not frustrated, incidentally, with parallels. What frustrates me is people's biased opinions based on things they were taught instead of using their brains. I am frustrated when I write a full orchestral score and without even paying attention to how it sounds some anal professor with a music degree tells me it's no good because it doesn't follow the rules.

I KNOW the rules. I've had more than my share of theory and have studied it extensively personally. But I don't follow the conventional thinking about most of it. I just flat out disagree. My opinion is quite different about it from the standard. That doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about.

I'm not a music historian by any means, and can't say everything Bach did with every piece of music he ever wrote. That doesn't mean my teachers were idiots or that I don't know what I'm talking about.

And for every so-called 'good' book you could quote saying one thing I could find 3 more saying something different. Don't insult my education when you aren't familiar with it.

Comparing a composition to life-threatening physical activity? Really? Sorry, but I never met a person who died from writing parallel 5ths. Though the way some people react to it you'd think it was that dangerous.

You can agree or disagree. I respect your right to a different opinion. But don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about just because you disagree. That's offensive.


Dear Folk Prophet, I'm very sorry you get frustrated with fifth and octaves.:o

Your teacher didn't a good job. :(
You really don't know enough about Bach, 4 parts vocal writing, or 6 part piano writing.
(e.g. wonderful modern 4 parts vocal music exist, filled of octaves, parallel fifth and free dissonances, but it's so good because educated composers made it; Bach was able of writing long 6 parts piano (cembalo) pieces following "his rules").

But it's not your fault. It's the fault of books or teachers you had.

And then all what you write is correct, from your point of view, but believe me, nobody on the eart is banning intervals!

Try a freestyle acrobatic jump without any training of skatebord or snowboard, try driving a sport car at 300Km per hours without a driving licence. You simply will die.

But to jump and to drive fast IS possible. You simply need a little of training before, that's all...:D

qccowboy
04-24-2006, 07:27 PM
My biggest issue, I suppose, with 'rules' of theory is that I believe them to be seriously mislabled. Meaning, if you think of them as rules then you really don't understand them because they are NOT rules.


the problem is not that people think of the rules of harmony as rules, the problem is that people don't think those rules apply to the music they are composing in any meaningful way.

yes, if you are writing Mozartian classical-style music, parallel 5ths are "bad".. meaning they weaken the quality of the harmonic progression. If you are writing post-Debussy impressionistic harmony, then no, parallel 5ths are NOT "bad", since they are part and parcel of the entire harmonic process involved.

The problem is people insisting that they can use whatever set of harmonic rules they wish to apply (or ignore, as the case may be), but then can't seem to decide what kind of music they are applying them to.

How often have we heard imitation Mozart on various composition forums, which would be convincing except the particular composer doesn't even realize that he's breaking harmonic rules of that period.

there is a Debussy quote, and unfortunately, I've never been able to get my hands on it since the first time I saw it, so I will painfully paraphrase it:

A rule broken through ignorance is not "newness", it is simply clumsiness.

If you have no idea WHY parallel 5ths are bad in certain contexts, then you can't properly decide WHY you are going to use those parallel 5ths. To break a rule, one must understand WHY it exists (or existed).

There has been some lovely music composed "by ear", but in my opinion, no great music composed "by ear".

folk prophet
04-24-2006, 08:21 PM
qccowboy,

I totally agree. The only thing I worry about with the way you expressed it is using the term 'bad' at all. I know that's just semantics. But 'bad' is an emotional response to something instead of an analytical one. The feeling or perception that a musical idea or technique is 'bad' is dangerous to a composer's creativity and free thinking. A word like 'inappropriate' would be more appropriate.

If you are trying to sound like Bach or Mozart then parallel fifths are an inappropriate choice.

My problem is when teachers or theorists try and associate concepts with 'bad' and 'good' instead of 'appropriate' and 'inappropriate' to the setting or circumstance. It's based in bias. Words have meanings and implications beyond just the direct definition. Saying something is 'bad' has extreme negative connotation, even if you don't really mean it's 'bad'.

I know I'm slightly overreacting to the idea in general, and I don't really care that much. (I'm not stewing in rage between posts or something.) :) But I've seen SO many new composers come out of theory class with an idea that they, in order to be a good composer, have to eliminate parallel fifths from their writing entirely. That's harmful to the art in my opinion.

folk prophet
04-24-2006, 08:32 PM
There has been some lovely music composed "by ear", but in my opinion, no great music composed "by ear".

One other quick (EDIT: sort of) response...just by way of keeping things lively... :)

I disagree, very much. Particularly with the 'no' word. Even if this is true generally . . . of all the great composers of all time I daresay that at least one of them wrote their stuff just by ear.

Now that's not to say that certain rules of harmony weren't kept naturally. I mean, I think the rules are rules because they do provide certain emotional impact. The tonic/dominant relationship is ingrained in western thinking, and even no-nothing rock-n-roll composers (no offense intended - I love writing rock and or roll) use it without having a clue what they're doing. But they're doing it by ear even if they're following the rules inadvertantly.

I used to write 'by ear' without knowing what I was doing. Then I learned theory and started writing by theory. Now I've moved to where I 'hear' the theory (mostly) and do it by ear again (mostly). I don't need to sit down and figure out my chord progression. I can hear if it's awkward. If a string part sounds muddy, I might hunt down why...perhaps tracing it to parallels...but I don't sit down and grunt out the parts like I did in theory class. I've tried composing that way and it isn't for me. I don't like the experience and I don't care for the results. That's not to say another won't. Everyone's brain works different.

I think there are 2 kinds of composers though...both valid (well, I should say, 2 kinds of 'good' composers...) :) The kind that do it from the mind and the kind that do it from the heart. I am a FIRM believer that technique creates the art. But, for some, I believe, the technique is built into their hearts and souls. EDIT: Sorry. I meant it to be quick but I just can't shut up sometimes. :)

dpc
04-24-2006, 08:45 PM
It can't be a coincidence that trained composers/arranger's music sounds great and most untrained sounds dreadful (even if it's a Jazz guy that studied with an established arrranger as Nelson Riddle did.) Take many modern film composers: have you ever heard such drivel? The film composers of the past (from Steiner/Korngold to Herrmann/Goldsmith) were world class composers. The current crop of untrained are not on any map at all. Even the most fundamental understanding of musical constructon is not there. If they brought their score... uh I mean midi file to Haydn for his perusal can you imagine what the great teacher would say? I'm guessing he wouldn't say anything because he would be speechless.

Not aiming this at anybody btw: it's my perennial take on the situation.

Fabio
04-25-2006, 03:43 AM
I'm sorry prophet you get offended, but with your explanation you confirm my doubts.

In the post I "criticized", YOU depict a didactic that or doesn't exist, or is not aimed to what you say:
nobody teach classical harmony to put your brain in a jail. The opposite; they teach it to give you the key of centuries of wonderful music.

No good teacher ask you to apply the vocal 4 parts rules to modern orchestral music, believe me, it's only your catastrophic description: I don't offend your education, YOU describe it as the most idiot musicology ever.

Or you are wrong describing it, or it is.

Now let me know, because I really don't know you, your teachers and your friends.

But if you follow a serious and complete music composition class everywhere in the world (at least in the whole Europe, but certainly in USA also), they will drive you to writing whatever interval in whatever style, in the best way possible, and they will teach you creating your own free method.

Never confuse the style analysis (classical harmony, counterpoint and formal structures) with the study of composition. It's like confusing bodybuilding with a wrestling fighting: the gymn is just to create your ability and knowledge. The art is another thing: if you pay attention, we fully agree:) :D

folk prophet
04-25-2006, 05:08 AM
Fabio,

I think we do agree and are basically saying the same thing. My offense is only in that you seemed to jump to some conclusions about my educational experience (implying it was bad) and that being the basis for my perception. Some of my education, perhaps, was bad (there are some bad teachers out there after all) and some of it was wonderful. Really, that has little to do with my perception.

Rather, I feel that it is a general basic flaw in the current pedagogy of musicality, based in emphasis and semantics.

I don't think most teachers are trying to imprison us by teaching us theory. I don't believe studying theory is meant to imprison us. I am a theorist. I love theory.

Rather, I think the problem lays in the weaknesses of the general student and my argument is for their benefit. I want the beginner to understand that studying the rules of theory is meant to broaden their creativity and not limit it.

Certainly not every teacher on the earth is entirely benevolent in their instructional motivation. I doubt very much that some of my teachers could care less whether I broadened my mind or not. Others, on the other hand, very much did so.

And there are PLENTY of teachers who misunderstand theory and would try to apply the rules of 4 part choral writing to EVERYTHING. Well, at least a few I've met. Unfortunately one can become a teacher without really knowing what one is talking about in some cases. Fortunately there are also many very good and competent teachers out there too.

The reality is, however, that my ideas on the 'rules' of music have very little to do with my formal education. I have come to my opinions based on my own experiences with professional composition. So you throwing in a response that I think the way I do because I had bad teachers is a bit strange to me.

As to your comment, "Never confuse the style analysis (classical harmony, counterpoint and formal structures) with the study of composition." -- This is EXACTLY my point. Which goes to show, we do, basically agree. I guess that is part of my offense. Somehow you've drawn the conclusion that I hate theory and classical harmony and think we should all throw the rules out the window for good. I do not mean that at all. My point is just what you said. We shouldn't confuse analysis with compositional study.

I never said, nor do I believe in any regard, that the study of classical or other harmony is a bad idea. I support it and believe it to be very important. But I feel that (at least in the American colleges I've attended) that there is too much emphasis placed on it and not enough understanding given to the reality of contemporary composition. We spend all our time studying stuff that's five hundred years old and then call something almost a hundred years out of date contemporary (specifically, atonal writing which is SO not the "in" thing anymore.) :)

I don't doubt that the intent of these teachers is good, but from my experience discussing it with a myriad of composers over the years, there is, without question, a general misunderstanding of why we study classical harmony and when and where it is important to incoorperate it into our own musical creations.

Fabio
04-25-2006, 05:57 AM
Many thanks for the nice clear up, and yes, as I supposed we finally agree...:)

Again, really no offense, just curiosity about the source of some misunderstanding, frequently exposed in the forum.;)

Personally I like discussion, respecting others opinions, but even exposing my own.:)

(but sorry, because English is not natural language for me, may be my statements are sometime too direct or too basics...:o )

folk prophet
04-25-2006, 03:31 PM
(but sorry, because English is not natural language for me, may be my statements are sometime too direct or too basics...:o )

I realized this after my initial offended response. I apologize for taking that offense. Thanks for understanding.

joaz
04-25-2006, 05:19 PM
. If they brought their score... uh I mean midi file to Haydn for his perusal can you imagine what the great teacher would say?
.
Let me take a wild guess.......... "What the **** is a midi file. ????"

Only kidding dpc.:)
I just loved the idea of a modern Hollywood type, in the presence of Papa Haydn.

On your main point, I concur. ;)

regards Joe

dpc
04-25-2006, 05:25 PM
I just loved the idea of a modern Hollywood type, in the presence of Papa Haydn.

Perhaps they could discuss Figured Bass. Where Haydn might say something like, "I figure the bass is very wrong here."

newmewzikboy
04-25-2006, 08:51 PM
[QUOTE=dpc]...Take many modern film composers: have you ever heard such drivel? The film composers of the past (from Steiner/Korngold to Herrmann/Goldsmith) were world class composers. ...QUOTE]

God i am in lub...

49th parallel rules

dpc
04-25-2006, 11:05 PM
[QUOTE=dpc]...Take many modern film composers: have you ever heard such drivel? The film composers of the past (from Steiner/Korngold to Herrmann/Goldsmith) were world class composers. ...QUOTE]

God i am in lub...

Very clever post (I refer to the facilty with which you quoted me.)

...and you spelled lube wrong.

Olen
04-26-2006, 08:53 PM
For example, to just accept no parallel fifths as a rule of harmony in general is just plain wrong. Firstly, that so-called 'rule' only applies to the 4 part choral writing of Bach.
Your aggravation may be somewhat alleviated if you were to clear up a few of your fundamental misunderstandings of these principles. In that one sentence alone, you have revealed at least 4 meaningful errors regarding the issue.

I have never seen nor heard it argued that the avoidance of parallel P5ths is an *absolute* "rule" of harmony, regardless of context, style, genre, era, et cetera.

Secondly, the principle of avoidance of parallel P5ths was in place before Bach, not exclusive to Bach in any way, and remained firmly in place all the way up to the Impressionist period. It was furthermore not confined solely to 4-part writing, nor solely to chorales (or choral writing, I'm not sure which one you meant, but either would be false).

It is a sound principle of a *certain type* of voice-leading approach based on the fact the the P5th is very close to the fundamental of the harmonic series. It served many composers well who didn't think they were too smart for it and lots of great music was written while adhering to it. It is simply one aspect of one approach that provides a principle that is valuable to understand - even if one's own style of composition never need bother itself with the avoidance of parallel P5ths. They can be exploited for how they *do* sound, or avoided for how they *do* sound. It all simply depends on your artistic objectives. There is power in knowledge.


Even easier to see...try to apply the idea of no parallel octaves to a full orchestral score. That makes it easy to see how silly such a rule is outside of 4 part choral writing.
Wrong again. This is a fundamental misunderstanding and confusion of part writing versus orchestration. Octave doublings have absolutely no bearing or relationship whatsoever with the avoidance of perfect octaves. That's almost like saying you can't have any notes playing at all because the 2nd harmonic in the harmonic series is an octave, and so therefore whenever a single note moves from one pitch to another you are committing parallel octaves. Doubling is not the same as part writing. They're two entirely different things. A 4-part chorale could be scored for tutti orchestra spanning 5 octaves' worth of octave doubling without having any parallel octaves.


But if we like parallel 5ths and we want to create the flavor they produce, then to not use them based on some random, supposed 'rule' would just be foolish.
If someone was pedantic with you in the past regarding parallel P5ths in the absolute sense, them I'm afraid they did you a disservice. Parallel 5ths have been in common use in certain styles of composition for over 100 years now, and you're not going to be arrested by the counterpoint police for using them, nor will it be novel. However, believe it or not, practicing part writing procedures of the common practice period *will* make you a better composer. Mind you, I said "practicing" - not dogmatic adherence in all of your compositions from now till the end of time. Technique is power.


My offense is only in that you seemed to jump to some conclusions about my educational experience (implying it was bad) and that being the basis for my perception.
I mean you no offense, but based on your complete misunderstanding of these very basic voice-leading principles I would have to say that unless you weren't paying attention at certain key points, then the part of your educational experience which should have taught you these things, including the correct context and perspective, was woefully inadequate.

I'm not trying to be hard on you, but I think it doesn't do anyone any good to make erroneous complaints about something they don't completely understand.

All the best.

C J Pro
04-26-2006, 09:32 PM
I don't have enough time to read this thread right now, but based on the subject here is what I have to say.

Right now, doing music by ear is more important to me since I haven't paid much attention to music theory. I prefer to just listen to other pieces and attempt to come up with my own ideas on how music should be done. Of course, if I were to listen to the styles of the generation I am in...well...let's just say that I wouldn't be doing orchestral music right now.

jesshmusic
04-26-2006, 10:21 PM
One must remember that muic theory, althugh helpful for composers to know, is not for composers, it id for performers. Performers at a high level MUST be able to analyze the music they perform to be truly well versed on their instrument. Theory's main goal after all is not four part writing, but learning how to analyze the structure of pieces they are performing. Through analysis, they discover things they may have overlooked that need to be brought out. Composers must know theory to get an insight into the old master's intentions, but we must go further than most undergrads do and thouroughly study post-tonal theory as well. All great composers studied their predecessors.

One should look into Schenkerian analysis, Joseph Straus's book "Post-Tonal Theory" (a study on pitch-set analysis), and classic roman numeral analysis. If, as a composer, you study these things I assure you it will make you better at your craft. All great 20th century composers knew the rules of counterpoint before they broke those rules.

The error here I think is comparing ear-training to theory. These are, most of the time, separate courses and are of equal importance. Most music freshmen are thinned out by one or other of these courses. Because no matter how dextrous you are on your instrument, if you can't understand the music you are playing your performances will never be as good as someone who can.

A good music theory course will take a student through all of the different harmonic functions (tonic, dominant, augmented 6, etc.) and then apply them to analysis... not composition. As a matter of fact, when students are asked to write four-part harmony, it is not to teach them to compose, but to understand the concept of voice leading. It creates an epiphany, that music is linear, not a collection of vertical harmonies. Mozart never, never worked out harmonies before starting, they were worked out in conjunction with the melody. And, if his harmonic structures are stacked, and looked at like choral parts, one can see that the inner voices are interesting as well. They are smooth and linear, not disjunct to fit some arbitrary harmonic structure. I recommend everyone who wants to be a serious composer look further into this.

Learn the rules, then break them. Don't break them from lack of knowledge.

I do agree with Reich, partially, about Schoenberg's 12 tone stuff. The stufff before was his greatest, but after he composed a few pieces strictly following his rules (which weren't that great), he started to bend and break his own rules and created some really great stuff.

I would also be wary of anything a minimalist composer has to say...but if I was going to listen to one it would be Reich who does some really unique stuff.

So, in conclusion, remember that study of theory is mostly for performers and theorists. But it is also essential for composers to help them in score study which IS essential to make a well rounded composer.


PS... John Williams, while entertaining, is not a good composer to study scores. I reccomend picking up scores from one or two composers of every period and analyzing them... here is a random, off the top of my head, list including what is the best method for analysis (subjective):

Baroque: JS Bach, Vivaldi - - Roman numeral or Schenker

Classical: Mozart (late symphonies), Beethoven (piano sonatas, all symphonies, string quartets) - - Roman numeral or Schenker

Romantic: Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique), Schubert (lieder), Brahms (anything) - - Roman Numeral or Schenker

Impressionist: Debussy (La Mer), Ravel (Daphnis et Chloe, piano music) - - This one get's tricky - - Roman numeral, pitch set

Russians: Rimsky-Korsakov(Scherazade), Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition [piano]) - - Same as impressionists

20th century: Schoenberg (Pierrot Lunaire), Berg (Wozzeck), Bartok (Music for Strings, Celeste and Percussion, 14 Bagatelles, 6 String Quartets), Hindemith (Mathis der Maler), Scriabin (piano music) - - Mostly pitch-set, but others may serve better to study composer's writings like Hindemith's book, and Bartok's preoccupation with form and proportions.

folk prophet
04-26-2006, 11:10 PM
I have never seen nor heard it argued that the avoidance of parallel P5ths is an *absolute* "rule" of harmony, regardless of context, style, genre, era, et cetera.

I suspect you don't have a wholistic view of theory classes across the globe then. It is the first principle of harmony I learned. It was reiterated throughout my education. For ever parallel fifth I wrote I lost points toward my grade. Every teacher of theory I ever had docked me for them. Even in advanced theory. I'm sorry. But just because YOU don't view them as an absolute doesn't mean that no one else in the world does. Do a google search for parallel fifths, browse the different forums and see how many people think it's a absolute rule of harmony. A lot of people will disagree. But it IS a prevelent way to think no matter what you say. The fact that you've never heard it argued that way doesn't make it a fact that no one argues it that way.

And no, it wasn's just my stupidity and me misunderstanding and being a poor listener. But even if it was partly that, I certainly wasn't any more stupid and naive than any of my classmates. My theory grades spoke to the opposite of that. Nonetheless, the teacher who talks over the heads of his students might well re-evaluate his or her teaching methods methinks.


Secondly, the principle of avoidance of parallel P5ths was in place before Bach, not exclusive to Bach in any way, and remained firmly in place all the way up to the Impressionist period. It was furthermore not confined solely to 4-part writing, nor solely to chorales (or choral writing, I'm not sure which one you meant, but either would be false).

I did use the word 'only' and that was incorrect. I didn't say it was 'confined' to 4 part writing. I said it applied to 4 part chorale writing. I misspoke by saying 'only'. Anyhow, I don't know everything. I was taught that it was a principle of 4 part choral writing. But most of the 'voice leading' principles that we are taught in theory class - at least as I was taught - were principles that were primary to Bach's chorals. I know that is not the 'only' source or 'only' application. But it is a prevalent one. I know that there were many composers that strived to avoid parallel writing in every form of music. I wasn't trying to say you wouldn't ever see that anywhere but Bach's chorals. I was trying to generalize not speak in absolutes and I apologize if I was unclear in that.


It is a sound principle of a *certain type* of voice-leading . . . (trimmed for space). . . of the harmonic series. It served many composers well . . .(trimmed) . . . It all simply depends on your artistic objectives. There is power in knowledge.

I don't disagree. Sounds just in line with my thinking.


Octave doublings . . . (trimmed for space) . . . octave doubling without having any parallel octaves.

I was not talking about doubling and I do not believe I was wrong - no more than you at least. Timbre is a HUGE factor in this. If you are going off the ever cited 'harmonic series' argument then to have 2 extreme different timbres voids the need. The theoretical reason that parallel fifths and octaves were to be avoided is because they did not lead to a clear seperation of voices. If you use other means to seperate the voices clearly (meaning timbre or other means) then you have much less need to avoid the so-called inappropriate parallel voice leading. You can make blanket statements about your view of this theory, but I disagree. I stand by my thinking. In a big orchestra with 20 different rhythms, harmonies, counterpoints upon counterpoints, etc., etc., going on all at once it would be nigh unto impossible to avoid parallel octaves. Sure, if you take 4 parts and double them all up between the instruments you could. More importantly, even if you could avoid it, with all that going on, why would you waste the time? You'd never hear the difference in all that if your flute happens to have parallel motion for a note of it's run against the cello ostinato.


If someone was pedantic with you in the past regarding parallel P5ths in the absolute sense, them I'm afraid they did you a disservice.

Yes! This is my point!


Parallel 5ths have been in common use in certain styles of composition for over 100 years now, and you're not going to be arrested by the counterpoint police for using them,

You'll just fail part writing with no clear explanation other than some oblique reference to the harmonic series. :D Anyhow, my contention is really not meant to be about parallel fifths. That is one example. I think there are many, many conventional inferences about how good music is written that cause issues in that regard.


. . . nor will it be novel.

Is anything novel nowadays? :)


However, believe it or not, practicing part writing procedures of the common practice period *will* make you a better composer. Mind you, I said "practicing" - not dogmatic adherence in all of your compositions from now till the end of time. Technique is power.

*sigh* I did not say one should not learn good part writing. I believe that technique is power. I believe this in the EXTREME. I do not need to be patronized because I also incoorperate a broader view of pedagogical philosophy. I have never said, 'Don't study theory. It's a waste of time.'


I mean you no offense, but based on your complete misunderstanding . . . (trimmed for space) . . . the part of your educational experience which should have taught you these things, including the correct context and perspective, was woefully inadequate.

Obviously. That plays to my point as well. 'inadequate' is a very good way to describe my problem with the pedagogy of western music theory. I know there are exceptions. But yeah. Though I think 'woefully' is a bit extreme.

I do, however, take offense to the 'complete misunderstanding' expression. Particularly the 'complete' part. I disagree with a lot of what you said but would never imply such a rude thing. I know I don't know everything. Do you? Of course not. I may certainly have had . . . probably even still have . . . some misunderstandings about theory (of course) but 'complete?'


I'm not trying to be hard on you, but I think it doesn't do anyone any good to make erroneous complaints about something they don't completely understand.

I think that if someone gets into any basic research and reads what is said about a lot of these issues that it becomes clear that no one has a complete understanding of things. Books contradict each other. Composers had different motivation. Historical documents are inadequate or incomplete. And the arguments about this exact subject rages on.

I, however, am not trying to argue the good or evil of parallel fifths. I'm arguing about the lack of understanding that so many people have about them. When I do so, everyone jumps to the conclusion that I must not understand them. Well, that may or may not be true, but it really isn't relevant to the point I'm trying to make.

My complaint is about pedagogical technique concerning these 'rules'. Whether I know everything or not, (which, of course, I don't. Come on.) I think there's a problem with the system. And I think I know enough to make that complaint.

folk prophet
04-26-2006, 11:19 PM
jesshmusic,

You missed Wagner and Mahler. :)

jesshmusic
04-26-2006, 11:24 PM
jesshmusic,

You missed Wagner and Mahler. :)


For orchestration, yes... but would you want to do a Roman Numeral analysis of Tristan? :P

folk prophet
04-26-2006, 11:28 PM
For orchestration, yes... but would you want to do a Roman Numeral analysis of Tristan? :P

Actually, I remember one of my assignments was to do something of Wagner's for an Roman Numeral analysis final. (Can't remember which one.) Fortunately it was only a page. Even then, it was murder.

Olen
04-26-2006, 11:41 PM
I was not talking about doubling and I do not believe I was wrong - no more than you at least.
Excuse me, son, but I know *exactly* what I am talking about. The fact that you were and are wrong about this and pretty much everything else regarding these matters is independent of your belief of that fact. You still don't get it, you still don't understand, and after reading your many peculiar misperceptions and fallacies I am in serious doubt as to whether you ever will. Some of the time you're really not making any sense when you reveal your "understanding" of a certain subject. I think you're just one of those odd people that enjoys being a contrarian, enjoys complaining, and looks for ways to be offended. The good news for me is that I couldn't care less. I'm moving on. Bye.

folk prophet
04-27-2006, 12:12 AM
Excuse me, son, but I know *exactly* what I am talking about. The fact that you were and are wrong about this and pretty much everything else regarding these matters is independent of your belief of that fact. You still don't get it, you still don't understand, and after reading your many peculiar misperceptions and fallacies I am in serious doubt as to whether you ever will. Some of the time you're really not making any sense when you reveal your "understanding" of a certain subject. I think you're just one of those odd people that enjoys being a contrarian, enjoys complaining, and looks for ways to be offended. The good news for me is that I couldn't care less. I'm moving on. Bye.

Actually, you're the only one that's offended me in any degree by being so condesending.

I suppose I am a bit of a contrarian when it comes to music theory. Can't say I enjoy it though. At least it sure isn't pleasant to be reading your posts telling me how full of it I am. Truth is, it hurts my feelings...not something I enjoy at all.

Well, I certainly won't press the issue. At least not with you. If you feel I'm wrong about this all then you feel I'm wrong. Not much I can do about that.

Responses like this pretty much confirm my thoughts that a lot of composers are . . . what's that word you used? Pedantic? Hmmm. How very appropriate.

aelliscomposer
04-27-2006, 01:41 PM
It can't be a coincidence that trained composers/arranger's music sounds great and most untrained sounds dreadful (even if it's a Jazz guy that studied with an established arrranger as Nelson Riddle did.) Take many modern film composers: have you ever heard such drivel? The film composers of the past (from Steiner/Korngold to Herrmann/Goldsmith) were world class composers. The current crop of untrained are not on any map at all. Even the most fundamental understanding of musical constructon is not there. If they brought their score... uh I mean midi file to Haydn for his perusal can you imagine what the great teacher would say? I'm guessing he wouldn't say anything because he would be speechless.

Not aiming this at anybody btw: it's my perennial take on the situation.

WOW! Serious?

You speak of the "many modern film composers" creating "drivel" who are the "current crop of untrained" ...and yet you are "not aiming this at anybody".

Except many modern film composers!

I accept your opinion, but I'm just a little shocked - by your 'many', and your complete and utter dismissal of their work, and that Haydn would be the person you would choose to judge the work being done in film music today. Who are these composers? Whose work do you respect?

I surely understand that there is a saturation of very poorly composed music out there, but hasn't that always been the case? And wouldn't the problem lie, nowadays, more in restricted budgets, and increasingly tight deadlines, and the fact that producers have more say in the music than the composers in many instances?

This is a bit of a gut reaction to your post - I am always a little taken back by such extreme, sweeping statements.

dpc
04-27-2006, 02:10 PM
WOW! Serious?

You speak of the "many modern film composers" creating "drivel" who are the "current crop of untrained" ...and yet you are "not aiming this at
anybody".

I meant anyone posting on this thread.



I accept your opinion, but I'm just a little shocked - by your 'many', and your complete and utter dismissal of their work, and that Haydn would be the person you would choose to judge the work being done in film music today. Who are these composers? Whose work do you respect?

We are in an era where after say 5 seconds of listening to a piece of music you identify it as a film music from some big Hollywood movie (I've experienced this countless times.) The music is so trite, banal and uniformed by the most rudimentary compositional technique as to cause anguish to the listener. I can't name a single composer of major Hollywood films of the past to whom this phenomenon would apply. All those guys studied and had something to say musically.

Haydn is a metaphoric example of a teacher/master of music. I could show him my music and chat all day long about all kinds of principles at play. He would shudder at the total lack of insight and invention in much of today's film music. Conversly he would probably delight at the likes of Goldsmith and co.

I respect all kinds of people from Danny Elfman to Carter Burwell to the Newman's and so on.


I surely understand that there is a saturation of very poorly composed music out there, but hasn't that always been the case? And wouldn't the problem lie, nowadays, more in restricted budgets, and increasingly tight deadlines, and the fact that producers have more say in the music than the composers in many instances?

It's definitely a problem of producers and directors. Selznick used Steiner, Hitchcock used Herrmann, Schaffner used Goldsmith, Spielberg uses Williams. The latter combination showing that time restrictions have nothing to do with a composer's understanding his craft as Williams knows exactly what he's doing and can write circles around the folks I'm talking about.


This is a bit of a gut reaction to your post - I am always a little taken back by such extreme, sweeping statements.

It's my gut reaction to so much terrible music in an art form the boasts some of the best ever written. As far as sweeping statements there would be none if some of these sweeping movies didn't have music that should be swept into the trash. :)

aelliscomposer
04-27-2006, 04:01 PM
Dave

Thanks for clarifying. I think I basically agree with you on those points - that very many Hollywood scores are "trite, banal and uniformed by the most rudimentary compositional technique". In certain cases, for different reasons.

When you said 'film composers' it seemed far more general blanket statement, especially in the context of film composers in a discussion about (in essence) 'does theory make the music'. Carter Burwell, who I also admire, has stated in interviews that his own training is 'sparse' and consisted primarily of some rudimentary piano lessons, and a friend who taught him some blues improv. Elfman, as I recall, could barely read scores when he first began composing for film.

Williams - well... that man is in a league (speaking strictly in terms of technical ability) of his own... not a good example for the many.

I don't know if I necessarily agree that the 'Golden Age' had no crappy composers. I would imagine that they did exist, and were forgotten, as will all the 'drivel' you refer to.

Cheers!

Adrian

dpc
04-27-2006, 06:06 PM
Carter Burwell, who I also admire, has stated in interviews that his own training is 'sparse' and consisted primarily of some rudimentary piano lessons, and a friend who taught him some blues improv. Elfman, as I recall, could barely read scores when he first began composing for film.

Yes and this strengthen's my position in regard to an honest evaluation of people's music. I hardly care what the credentials are of a composer but rather his or her music. I stated earlier that it is no coincidence that the dismal music that is out there is coming from untrained composers. Happily there are exceptions. I will always come down for study however when the debate about the virtues of such resounds.

Film music is a wonderful art form that has brought a treasure of great music to the public. Now, some of the worst music ever written is being foisted upon listeners of all ages and it's just short of criminal. The more young composers that go the route of disciplined study, the less chance of this trend to continue. The rare talent that can get by without such an approach will hardly be harmed by it.

aelliscomposer
04-27-2006, 08:45 PM
Noble sentiments. I agree wholeheartedly!

Life is learning, in the many forms and paths it might take. I for one have been an "ear and gut" guy for many years, and have for the last few gone back and learned the "why's" of what I intrinsically have felt to be true all along. It has been wonderfully enlightening - it never hurts to know more about that which you love - the mystery remains, and I remain a humble student.

Cheers,

Adrian

dpc
04-27-2006, 09:41 PM
I agree and if one is too cerebral they need to go back to their gut to a certain degree. At the same time it probably isn't unreasonable to expect a fellow who's putting music in front of a hundred world class musicians (who have studied and pracised their instruments for most their lives) to do a little homework as well.

Cheers