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.
@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: https://www.quora.com/How-did-Western-music-%E2%80%9Csettle%E2%80%9D-on-a-12-tone-scale?share=1
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