Saturday, November 10, 2012

theories of music

There's a surprisingly thorough, free web site devoted to music theory at  - sure they are also selling products, but they are giving alot of information away. But as a technical writer, my theory of information is always "information wants to be free."

But there's nothing like attending a music theory class like the one I've been taking in Brooklyn the past month. Unfortunately class was cancelled in the last two weeks thanks to a. Hurricane Sandy and b. the Election. I'm looking forward to going back this Tuesday.

I do think that the most important aspect of music, though, is emotion, and that's something that's not part of music theory classes. I'm not suggesting that knowledge of pitch, scale, rhythm, etc. are not essential for understanding how music works - but it's the impact on human emotions that is what makes music so valuable to people.

Once I started playing with the fantastic free application Garageband, which comes with all recent Macintosh laptops, I had that insight - that what music is really about is emotion. And once I realized this, I was able to compose music. Prior to the insight I approached music mechanistically - I thought that if I experimented long enough with enough note combinations I would find a good melody. But once I approached music emotionally I found that the melody would appear on its own in response to emotional evocation. Here is the first, Garage-band-loops-aided piece I created, Cinco de Mayo:

A bit repetitive but still, pretty catchy I think.

And I was able to get the emotional evocation going by combining Garageband loops. But although I was initially dependent on Garageband loops for composition, eventually I was able to make the leap to creating a song from scratch. My Jane Eyre Waltz, created for the production of my play Jane Eyre, is the first time I created a piece of music from scratch.

One of my inspirations for Jane Eyre Waltz was the Who's Baba O'Riley (aka "Teenage Wasteland") - the majestic F-major piano chords at the opening - F-C-Bb - in particular, which is why my waltz is in F-major. Here it is - I'm not the best pianist so it's not a great rendition, but I still do like it as a collection of melodies:

 I gave Baba O'Riley a shout-out in the middle of the piece, at minute 2:47 to be exact, where I quote the part that's sung "don't cry, don't raise your eyes, it's only teenage wasteland."

While the music of the Who seems to be very distant from Jane Eyre, it should be noted that Jane is a teenager technically - 19 years old - when the events of the novel (and my play) occur.

But the best music theory I've heard yet is attributed to Duke Ellington:
If it sounds good, it is good.

Here's the studio version of Baba O'Riley...