Sunday, July 20, 2008

Learning Something Old

I've recently been watching a lecture series from The Teaching Company entitled  "Fundamentals of Music", a music theory course.  Sixteen lectures by a great lecturer and musician, Professor Robert Greenberg, PhD., of San Francisco Performances. on how music works, why harmonies fit together (or not), the voices of different instruments (including the human voice), tonality, intervals, key signatures, all that stuff.

I'm mostly a self-taught musician.  I took piano lessons for several years as a kid and still know my way around a keyboard.  I'm not an expert, but I read music pretty well, can sight read a vocal piece with some accuracy, can usually tell if I'm sharp or flat, and love to invent harmonies when I'm singing with other people.  I'm not much on the discipline of singing with a choral group, but I do love making music.

However, I've never known how it all fits together.  My formation of chords has always been seat-of-the-pants; I've had no idea of the logic of music, just an intuitive sense of what sounds right.  When I was a kid, I learned to peck out a tune on the piano and find what bass chords or notes went with the melody notes I was playing.  I could see that there were patterns but had no understanding of why.

This course changed all that for me.  I was fascinated to learn what the structure of music is.  It's not a science, but it is rational.  It's not fantasy but it is non-rational.  Does that make sense?  Music brings rationality and non-rationality together in one place.  Like great painting, music has patterns that are highly rational and yet create something beyond rationality.

Listening to Dr. Greenberg's lively lectures, the piano examples and visuals he provided, and hearing the passages chosen for their relevance to the material presented has filled in many of the blanks in my understanding of how music works.  This has been a great experience.


LinguistFriend said...

Kit, I was lucky that in high school I had a music theory course in which we studied Paul Hindemith's "Elementary Training for Musicians" (something like that)from beginning to end, and then in my senior year of high school I read through Roger Session's very readable introduction to classical harmony
(the music teacher was a wonderful person who came out as a lesbian on national television in the '70s). From what you say, at this point you are ready to read those books or comparable ones (Hindemith first), and you will find it very rewarding, for instance, to understand the harmonic structure of the chords in a Bach chorale. I regret that I have forgotten a lot of this analytic background since I no longer do music actively. Harmony is not only rational, it is mathematically based, as the Greeks understood.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LF. I don't know that I will pursue more understanding very soon, but I appreciate the references and now know of more resources.

kim said...

Would those lectures be appropriate for the musically impaired? I can't carry a tune, and am sometimes tone deaf. I know it's weird, but it comes and goes. Other times i can tell if one instrument in an orchestra is off.
I know absolutely nothing about music except that if the note is higher on the paper it's higher. Even if I can only sometimes tell what "higher" is.
I have no sense of rhythm either.
But I would love to know more about music, so I would know better how to listen to it. I've received ads for those lectures and wondered if it would be appropriate for me. But they're too expensive to just try with no idea....

ms. kitty said...

Hi, Kim,
I think they would be helpful to a non-musical person. I got this set of DVDs on sale for $39.95 instead of the $300 or so it normally costs. You might check your local library and see if they have something like it.

kim said...

Great idea! I didn't think of the library, but we have one near us that's mostly things recorded (both video and audio). I'll check with them.

ms. kitty said...

If you strike out on that, I would be willing to lend you my set. Another friend has them right now, but when she's done, I can send them to you.