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Music theory/ear training help

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I'm not sure how you managed to extrapolate that from my post. There's an entire second clause to the sentence you quoted that you didnt acknowledge at all.

Not sure I understand, unless you were pointing out that the conjunction of following the rules and having it sound good at the same time is what you think is absurd, not either of those things individually, in which case I misunderstood you.

Generally if you follow the rules of voice leading it sounds good, and bad voice leading is distinctive to the ear. It's not about sounding "good", it's about sounding like it has independent lines with harmonic motion. "good" is subjective, but "independent" isn't as much.

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There have been plenty of musicians/composers who knew very little or nothing about theory and became very influential. Unfortunately most of them were virtuosos, so unless you're a virtuoso, best to learn from what people in the past have done, and best to do that through theory. Theory is also a language that musicians use to communicate, so unless you never plan on working with other musicians, learn some theory.

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Not sure I understand, unless you were pointing out that the conjunction of following the rules and having it sound good at the same time is what you think is absurd, not either of those things individually, in which case I misunderstood you.

Generally if you follow the rules of voice leading it sounds good, and bad voice leading is distinctive to the ear. It's not about sounding "good", it's about sounding like it has independent lines with harmonic motion. "good" is subjective, but "independent" isn't as much.

Yes, that requiring the 2 of those things together is incredibly misleading to theory students. And following voice leading rules will only sound "good" result with an extremely generous definition of the term "good." Adequate would be more accurate. If it really sounded good, computers would be writing music.

I've tutored students struggling because they have a theory assignment that expects them to "compose" (assignment's words, not mine) something following these rules, and be evaluated based on how it sounds. It's not like these are composition students either, these are just theory students.

So my point is that it's no wonder that people are confused about theory. Curriculum regularly treats it as though it is a formula with which to compose.

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So my point is that it's no wonder that people are confused about theory. Curriculum regularly treats it as though it is a formula with which to compose.

Yes, I do understand your point now. The problem with the curriculum is that people mistake demonstrating concepts with writing music; rather, the professors don't make it clear that the concepts are not a method for composing music. It should be made clear they are tasked with writing things in the confines of those concepts simply to better their understanding of those concepts, not to develop their ability to write music.

And following voice leading rules will only sound "good" result with an extremely generous definition of the term "good."

See my above post, I addressed this.

Adequate would be more accurate. If it really sounded good, computers would be writing music.

You've clearly not been keeping up on algorithmic composition research. :nicework:

Edited by Neblix

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Maybe I'm alone here, but I think being able to write proper four-part chorales with "correct" voice-leading is one of the more important skills a composer can develop. Not because you need to write chorales all the time or because you need to voice-lead all the time, but because the principles involved in keeping the voices independent, in balancing doubled tones in chords, in thinking about the resolution of dissonance, etc. can be applied piecemeal to great effect even in other contexts. But this, of course, requires abstracting the underlying principles from the textbook rules and knowing what goals to value in a more abstract and modern context, which is beyond the scope of most introductory theory courses.

Speaking from my experience grading student exercises, the "sounds good" stipulation exists to encourage students to pay attention to the big picture aspects of what they're writing. I was always surprised by how many students never thought even to sit down at a piano and play the exercise they'd just completed to see what it actually sounded like. This lack of concern for overall cohesion tends to produce things such as disjointed soprano lines, harmonies whose contexts aren't quite right, and voices that slowly wander into the wrong range. And students often notice these things about their work, too, if you play it for them, because it doesn't sound idiomatic.

But I agree that music theory curriculum tends not to make much of a distinction between writing exercises and doing "actual" composition. This is probably because music theory is generally taught by theorists and not by composers.

Edited by Moseph

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There have been plenty of musicians/composers who knew very little or nothing about theory and became very influential. Unfortunately most of them were virtuosos, so unless you're a virtuoso, best to learn from what people in the past have done, and best to do that through theory. Theory is also a language that musicians use to communicate, so unless you never plan on working with other musicians, learn some theory.

In my experience most good musicians and composers who say they don't know music theory actually do. It's just that they don't know the names and stuff, but they still definitely understand the concepts.

Like, I surely can't be the only one who discovered as a child that all of the black keys on the piano sounded good together without knowing why at the time? I recall being like 16 and a friend of mine was like, "Dude, it sounds more metal when I play like this" and all of his riffs he was coming up with were playing around with the bottom open string, first, third and fourth frets. He didn't know it was the Phrygian mode, but he knew it was something that worked and how to transpose it to other keys.

So the thing is, you can noodle around without knowing what you're really doing, but you'll eventually discover patterns and ideas that work consistently and allow you to keep composing original material utilizing the same concept(s). All of which can be explained by theory and is why I still think that if people just learned that shit outright they would be composing better music faster.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw

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All of which can be explained by theory and is why I still think that if people just learned that shit outright they would be composing better music faster.

Can not reiterate this more.

Maybe I'm alone here, but I think being able to write proper four-part chorales with "correct" voice-leading is one of the more important skills a composer can develop. Not because you need to write chorales all the time or because you need to voice-lead all the time, but because the principles involved in keeping the voices independent, in balancing doubled tones in chords, in thinking about the resolution of dissonance, etc. can be applied piecemeal to great effect even in other contexts. But this, of course, requires abstracting the underlying principles from the textbook rules and knowing what goals to value in a more abstract and modern context, which is beyond the scope of most introductory theory courses.

Speaking from my experience grading student exercises, the "sounds good" stipulation exists to encourage students to pay attention to the big picture aspects of what they're writing. I was always surprised by how many students never thought even to sit down at a piano and play the exercise they'd just completed to see what it actually sounded like. This lack of concern for overall cohesion tends to produce things such as disjointed soprano lines, harmonies whose contexts aren't quite right, and voices that slowly wander into the wrong range. And students often notice these things about their work, too, if you play it for them, because it doesn't sound idiomatic.

But I agree that music theory curriculum tends not to make much of a distinction between writing exercises and doing "actual" composition. This is probably because music theory is generally taught by theorists and not by composers.

This is a golden post right here. I can attest to this. Learning voice leading and counterpoint has skyrocketed the harmonic language in my music. I stopped thinking of chords as the "beds for my melody" and instead thought of them as overarching narrative trends for the progression of the music. I write within the framework of that, and using the voice-leading principles I know, I end up writing beautiful (I mean, to me, obviously) 4 and 5 part string sections in a matter of minutes. Taking an arranging class has taught me how to use color to my advantage, and I finally understand how to use dynamics and density now.

Before coming to school, I just did things enough. It was dynamic "enough" and it was dense "enough", and if it wasn't, someone would tell me, and I'd add more and say "is that better?" Now I'm the one who makes the decisions on, not what's enough, but what is exactly what I need. But I didn't learn that from class, I learned it by analyzing music I liked using concepts I learned in class. When something sounds bad, I just look at it in terms of those concepts. "Oh, no wonder it sounds bad, the viola is crossing the cello." Then I fix it, and it sounds great. If I like how it sounds initially, I never bother checking if it's breaking voice-leading or counterpoint. I pull voices into parallel motion all the time when I want to emphasize certain note sequences. Is it breaking independence? Sure. Do I care? No.

Edited by Neblix

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If I like how it sounds initially, I never bother checking if it's breaking voice-leading or counterpoint.

Right, so theory can be used to help determine what doesnt sound good (or what does sound good, for that matter), but it cant tell you what does or doesnt sound good, and I think that concept is lost a lot of the time when it gets taught.

I always cringe when theory students have been conditioned to wince when they hear a parallel 5th (or are just told that there is a parallel fifth and then it is played for them).

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I always cringe when theory students have been conditioned to wince when they hear a parallel 5th (or are just told that there is a parallel fifth and then it is played for them).

I like using parallel fifths in my string lines. Sounds very eastern.

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I always cringe when theory students have been conditioned to wince when they hear a parallel 5th (or are just told that there is a parallel fifth and then it is played for them).

I always think that they must have a real bitch of a time listening to rock music then.

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Oh nooooo parallel 5ths

I do actually wince when I hear them in pop vocals, however. They sound a little too blocky and disjunct for human voice. I do, however, like perfect fourths in vocals much better.

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OK, back on the original topic, I just read a book called Harmony for Computer Musicians. It's AMAZING. It goes into so much detail about different kinds of chords and chord progressions and how to use them. I'm only 1/3 of the way through, but I've already learned a lot. You'll have to know some basic stuff (like scales, chords, the circle of fifths) before reading it though.

I also found a random PDF on Reddit called Music Theory: The TLDR Version. It's short, but it gets to the point and explains a lot of advanced concepts like secondary dominants, altered chords, suspensions, etc. Just ignore the stupid memes.

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