A part of me is tempted to write some sort of western music theory textbook, but with the concepts re-imagined to work better with the computer medium.

· brutaldon · 4 · 0 · 4

It would begin with what I consider to be music theory first principles. I think this is taught incorrectly in institutions. This causes people to fixate on the wrong things, which leads to poopy-sounding computer-generated music.

Western Music Theory is centered around one instrument. Piano you say? BZZZ! WRONG. Don't let Big Piano fool you. It *all* starts with the human singing voice.

It all begins with melody + plainsong/gregorian chant. Intervals, step-wise motion, etc. Basically, what goes into a making a good melody.

From one melodic line comes multiple melodic lines running at once. This is known as counterpoint. The challenge to solve here is how to get many monophonic sounds playing well together.

From counterpoint, the concept of harmony and harmonic structure naturally falls into place.

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So, how does this relate to computer music?

Western Music theory, up until the late 20th century, naturally assumed human performers and human audiences. With computer music, it's computer performers and human audiences.

The trick with this translation is decoupling the audience from the performer.

Perhaps, it starts with these series of questions:

What does it mean for a computer to compute?

How does the nature of computation relate to musical performance?

How can computational musical performance be relatable to our collective human perception of sound?

Then, it's just a matter of retro-actively applying voice->melody->counterpoint->harmony with this new context.

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@paul I think you would love James Tenney's Meta-Hodos and Meta Meta Hodos if you haven't read it already. It was his pass at creating a music theory text from first principles:

Excellent. I was quietly hoping you'd come up with something for me.

@paul This is the only thing of his I've read, but Denis Smalley also has some interesting ideas on the subject:

@paul Also I'd love to read this. Maybe you could serialize it in blog-like-form as you work on it?

If I do get around to working on this, it'll definitely be done in an incremental and informal way.

I may work it into my sndkit project. I think it can fit inside the scope. I'd want supplementary code to go with the ideas.

@paul I found it surprisingly hard to find music theory writeups which clearly explained why there are 12 notes. I’d have thought that would be lesson one, but apparently not.

@mathew It's a hard one to answer definitively. The scale in Western music, as well as the intonation of those scales, evolved quite a bit over the centuries. Most of what we consider to be music theory just comes from musical trends seen in 18th century Europe, and at that point the notion of a scale was very much an established axiom. The division of the octave into 12 parts comes from the invention of Equal Temperament, which is what we still use today.

If Quora is to be trusted, this answer provides some interesting historical insights into the matter:

@paul What I mean is, you can start from "frequency f and 2f sound good together because of how the ear works" and the concept of harmonics, and get from there to 12 approximately evenly spaced tones existing that will sound good in various combinations. Then you can discuss temperament, and subsets of the 12 to form specific keys.

Sure, that's a common way to derive it. IMO it's a bit of an oversimplification compared to how it works in practice (especially for fretless instruments).

@paul there's a line for that book already, and it starts behind me :o)

@paul I know some music theory, but I do have audio studio, so it will be perfect upgrade of my knowledge. Feel free to ping any time!

In the early 20th century a lot of folk music (being based on voice) contained notes and which evoked emotions which don't exist in modern music. Many are in-between notes in the 12-note scale. The traditional blues scale is the most notable example. The third is in-between a major and minor.  Blues guitarists have been trained to "stretch" the minor third just a smidgen to compensate. Country singers of 30-40 years ago who learned to sing traditional music from their relatives often sounded out of tune with a backing band - because they were. They hit all the right notes, but the rest of the band didn't.

For sure! Thanks for the examples. I didnt know about the country singers.

In practice, intonation in western classical music is actually very fluid. When I played in orchestras, we were always told to play major thirds a little bit sharper, and minor thirds a little bit more flat. It's pretty natural to make leading tones a bit sharper before hitting the tonic.

It's also pretty common for orchestras to tune to concert As that are sharper as they are "brighter". 442hz is pretty common.

Equal temperament is still a relatively new concept. One that was primarily invented for pianos and other keyboard instruments.

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