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Chaos, Revolution, and Rebirth

James Adrian

      Music is an enormous world of cognition and consciousness. Both consciously and subconsciously, musical patterns become associated with other sorts of experiences that potentially have meaning. Musical patterns are perceived and processed with the assistance of distinct structures in the human brain. The association of these musical patterns with other experience provides the potential for referring to or eliciting any human emotion. The emotional intent of bugle calls, waltz music, lugubrious dungeon music, and marches is clear to most of us because of the culture-wide associations formed between musical patterns and feelings.

      These associations are not limited to the most famous seven or thirty emotions and attitudes. Ever finer distinctions and even new feelings are brought into existence as composers introduce additions to the vocabulary of musical communication. Some composers invent dramas formed from a succession of mental states. Others entrance the listener with a simple message. These associations are more highly developed in people who have been intensely engaged in music. These connections can become a major component of an individual's mental life.

      People differ in their appreciation of musical thinking and its potential for emotional and cultural betterment. Many can hear music in their head without an external performance, but fewer can intentionally adjust the loudness of these internal experiences. Many can remember a tune, but fewer can identify harmonies and describe harmonic preferences. Many have been emotionally moved by music, but fewer intentionally use music to shape their emotionality.

      Anyone who can read music and write down unfamiliar music as it is performed has acquired a human language. Whatever the notation system used, the reading and writing of music is no less a language than English or a computer programming language. As a language, its notation is highly consequential to its success and popularity. A notation system that takes years to learn is inevitably less attractive than one that can be learned in a short time. The written language of music during the last two centuries has much to be desired.

      An attitude of traditionalism is a major impediment to participation in music. The evolution of musical notation, composition, and performance is not complete. What we have today is largely happenstantial. The mistakes of the past have retarded interest in reading and writing music and has complicated the process of learning to play musical instruments.

      Technologies that have been developed for other purposes could be applied to making music composition more convenient, make playing musical instruments easier, and could substantially reduce the cost of musical instruments.

      In order to appreciate the chapters that follow, the meaning of a few basic terms must be made clear:

      Musical instruments and human voices make audible sounds by vibrating the air. Aside from the loudness of such vibrations, they have a rate of vibration that can be held constant or varied. A rate of a vibration is called a frequency. It is also called the pitch of a sound. Faster vibrations are referred to as higher pitches while slower vibrations are called lower pitches. Songs advance from one constant pitch to the next while the lyrics are being articulated.

      The pitches that belong in a song are selected from a known collection which could be sung in ascending order. One naming system calls them do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do. Another calls them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1. There are others. The name of the first pitch and the last are the same because we innately perceive a remarkable similarity between these two pitches. The last pitch in this series is not just higher, it is exactly twice the vibration rate of the first.

      In such an order, a series of pitches is called a scale. Pitches that are notated are called notes. By extension, all pitches produced for musical purposes are also called notes. The distance along a scale between two pitches of different frequencies is called an interval. The interval between the two pitches where one is twice the frequency of the other is called an octave. This is because, very often, this interval exists between the first and last pitch of a scale comprised of eight notes.

      The pitches of do re me fa so la ti do can be heard from the sound file in this link.

      The interval between the first and last note you just heard is called an octave. If the first and last note are played one after the other, you might appreciate why they are given the same pitch name. If a child who can sing songs is asked to copy the pitch of a sound sung by an adult, that child may sing a pitch that is twice the frequency sung by the adult; yet that pitch is accepted as correct by all present.

      The octave is not the only interval that is recognized and distinguished from the others. A ratio of three to two is distinctive as the interval from do to so, or 1 to 5. The other intervals of this scale are also simple ratios, although the experience of distinguishing these intervals rarely reveals their frequency ratios to the conscious mind.

      Many people play instruments and sing without ever learning how to read music in any system of music notation. This is not merely because they can detect when one pitch is higher than another, but because they can distinguish how far apart two pitches are on the scale they are using. They recognize the intervals formed by simple ratios and rank their pitches in order of being high or low despite being unaware of the mathematics.

      This point in history is an era of innovation. Both generally and in all aspects of music, there is much to be aware of. Everyone involved in music would like to see music knowledge more widely sought and valued. I feel that participation will be more widespread in the next generation if it is understood that music, as a language, can be more straitforward.

      To know the more traditional orientation to this subject there is an excellent presentation here.

      There is no harm done by becoming bilingual, as far as piano mechanics is concerned. Many people have learned to play many more than just one instrument.

      There is another excellent article here which includes a buying guide also.


Chapter  1 - Notation

Chapter  2 - Sound

Chapter  3 - Musical Instruments

Chapter  4 - Music Performed at Home