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Music theory provokes life-changing epiphany


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#16 Eureka

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 12:31

This is all fascinating – thank you!

 

Just speaking personally, I feel learning about this is relevant to my playing. Understanding the structures at work in terms of physics and harmony theory (and more fundamentally, appreciating that a structure exists at all) is all adding to that ‘musical whole’ and seems to have actually changed how I hear and experience music. It actually FEELS different now!

 

Like Cyrilla, I perceived the different aspects and styles of music as separate before – I didn’t see the connections. Now I feel my eyes are open to connections, they seem to be everywhere! And I’m left wondering how I missed them and hoping that other people don’t miss out too.

 

Does anyone else have this experience? I guess many people on here would have understood that there are structures at work from young age, so it would feel more natural? Perhaps my experience has been startling just because I missed it for so long, and a first ‘breakthrough’ of understanding arrived very suddenly.


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#17 Splog

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 17:32

I had a similar experience once. I was in a Kodály musicianship class, and we were singing through chord progressions in solfa, when suddenly I started to hear the chords and the inversions. I remembered my piano teacher trying to explain the piece of Bach we were playing, and me not getting it at all, and it suddenly made sense. I ran out at the end of the class, found the nearest piano, and started playing the Bach fluently, listening to all the chords and modulations. I started to really enjoy playing the piano after that.

 

(I can play piano chords, but not fluently. I have experience as a guitarist of being able to play chords to accompany, but I don't really do it with piano.)


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#18 Eureka

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 09:42

That sounds amazing. I'm going to my first Kodály class soon...I have to say my expectations are rather high! Perhaps a second epiphany is a bit ambitious though...

 

I used to play the guitar a little bit as a teenager - just learnt a few chords as many people do. I find it so curious that I filed this totally separately in my brain as "guitar music" - it never even crossed my mind that I could play those same chords on the piano and sing along! And similarly, I filed classical music in general as a completely different thing - I didn't realize that this also had the (what I considered) "guitar chords" there too because it was notated in a different way. But it meant I actually didn't know the chords / harmonic structure was even there! 

 

While I'm on the subject of the depths of my ignorance, another thing I wasn't really conscious of was this:

There are 12 notes!

I mean, if I'd thought about it I could have worked it out, but it wasn't front of mind at all.

12 notes, 12 major scales, 12 major triads. That now seems to be the basis of it all - from that you can work out the minors and all the other modes. And for me the circle of fifths is the most powerful way to show this and see how the different keys relate to one another. But the scale book just seemed to go on and on, like a spelling list. It was very unclear to me that the magic number was 12.

  


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#19 Kai-Lei

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 08:52

It's always heartening to hear these stories. For me, "theory" came alongside the practical almost from the start: 4 part harmony, species counterpoint and things - so one learns about progressions, patterns, chromatic alterations and by understanding how composers got their musical dramatics, like the use of appoggiaturas, suspensions and how they used diminished 7ths. Some students find this mystifying at first - and possibly just for playing a score, doesn't seem relevant but for composition and improvisation they're a "must". (I look on improvisation as composition on the fly.)

 

An understanding of progressions makes transposing a lot easier because a given pattern is the same in every key. Even so I could never get too involved with the nomenclature of harmony - some people carry it to extremes, as I see it. My analyses are usually simple and the decorations are added as I go. 

 

Yes, it helps anyone approaching a new piece - with conventional harmony you quickly find out what's going on. And should you want to improvise it makes things that much easier. 


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#20 Eureka

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Posted 28 February 2019 - 17:21

Yes that's very true Kai-Lei - it really helps! I think I couldn't see any practical application for the theory before...and didn't really learn much in the first place. I wish I'd got it / been open to it back then.

 

I can't help wondering if there are quite a few people unwittingly missing out. As I've started talking to friends about this over the last few months, I've been surprised to find quite a few have a grade 7 or 8 tucked away somewhere. There seem to be a few common features among this group, which I also shared a few months ago (although it's a only a small number of people, so perhaps not generalizable): feeling that they aren't naturally 'musical', lack of theory knowledge beyond notation, mystified by how people play by ear / improvise, and...they don't play anymore!


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#21 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 28 February 2019 - 17:57

If you have grade 8 on something, you must have done grade 5 theory?

I don't recall it well (I guess it was around 1975/6 and it didn't interest me - my experience was probably a lot like Eureka's), but I remember cadences and having to write 4-part fugues without voices crossing over each other. We didn't study it regularly - it tended to get crammed every now and then.

Eric Taylor's two-volume book is available on Amazon for a penny a volume if you keep your eyes peeled - I bought them and read them a few years ago. Not too difficult to read them from cover to cover if you have previous experience. Also a book on simple jazz theory might interest you - it's not as arcane as you think - a lot of the changes and turnarounds are no more than circle of fourths/fifths stuff.

Something that fascinated me a while back was I was playing Satie's Gymnopedie 1 on guitar and I realised (after comparing it with the piano original) that the end of part 1 had the cadence F#13, B11, E9, A7, D (from memory) - a straightforward walk around the circle of fourths, but with ever-simplifying chords. Genius!


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#22 Eureka

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Posted 05 March 2019 - 10:51

Indeed, we had to pass grade 5 theory in order to take the higher performance grades, but as Hildegard pointed out, there isn't much harmony theory in grade 5 theory. Unfortunately what little there was in there I must have learned as written information for the exam rather than with any real understanding and insight into how it would have a practical application. (Rather like my experience in regurgitating information for most exams at school really...)

 

Of course, maybe I was a rare unfortunate and/or just a bit stupid and most people do grasp all this stuff - which is why I was interested to know if others have seen people achieve high performance grades but with little understanding of harmony theory...and if so whether we think this is a problem or not.


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#23 kenm

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Posted Yesterday, 01:31

William Sethares (see https://en.wikipedia...illiam_Sethares ) has written a book ("Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale") about the derivation of various scales from the characteristics of the instruments used within various cultures. Like Benade, Sethares divides musical instruments into two main categories: those, like the singing voice, bowed strings and blown wind, that produce forced vibrations and those, like drums, bells, chimes, plates, and the strings of lguitars, pianos and harps, that are free to vibrate after an initial impetus.  The first produce a repeating wave form, which has harmonic components.  The second have multiple component frequencies which may be in an approximately harmonic relationship ( e.g. stretched strings of uniform linear density and low stiffness) or totally unrelated (e.g. bells and drums).  Sethares describes the pitched instruments of Javanese and Balinese gamelan.  The instruments are divided into two groups, which are never mixed and each group has its own scale (pelog and slendro) the pitches of which are determined from the components of the sounds of the instruments.

 

Western music has been dominated, for at least the last 1000 years, by forced vibrations.  Therefore its ideal scales have harmonically related frequencies.  In this context, 12-note equal temperament (ET12) is a recent aberration, made acceptable by the craft of 19th century piano makers, locating piano hammers and choosing their materials in such a way as to minimise the amplitude of the fifth component; this reduces the clash caused by major thirds with upper partials about 20 cents apart.   Good string quartets play in ET12 only in piano quintets.


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#24 dorfmouse

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Posted Yesterday, 06:43

Indeed, we had to pass grade 5 theory in order to take the higher performance grades, but as Hildegard pointed out, there isn't much harmony theory in grade 5 theory. Unfortunately what little there was in there I must have learned as written information for the exam rather than with any real understanding and insight into how it would have a practical application. (Rather like my experience in regurgitating information for most exams at school really...)
 
Of course, maybe I was a rare unfortunate and/or just a bit stupid and most people do grasp all this stuff - which is why I was interested to know if others have seen people achieve high performance grades but with little understanding of harmony theory...and if so whether we think this is a problem or not.

No, It's not you. I'm sure there was no practical harmony in G5, though looking at the syllabus for 2018 that seems to have changed. I only learned a bit about chords and their relationships by picking up basic guitar and realising you could accompany practically any song if you could play I IV V and relative minor in a couple of keys. Or even in only one if you used a capo! Then the penny dropped eventually that you could do the same on piano.
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