October 26th, 2012 | Published in Music & Arts
Once you’ve got a few key concepts for describing sound (rhythm, pitch, and tone), you can start talking about how different sounds assemble into music.
But let’s confront a key fact right away: some music is good–amazing, even–and some of it is lousy. Let me frame that for now purely in terms of your own gut reaction. Surely you’ve heard songs for each of these categories:
- Transportative. Exquisite. Life-changing.
- Boys don’t cry.
- #@$%ing rock and roll, man.
- Hey, that’s a great song. Love that song.
- I am totally on board with this dance craze / [evolving into] I can’t believe I let you put that on YouTube.
- Spring Break 2000!
- Sure, all my friends like this one.
- My mom said this is good for me. Wake me up when it’s over.
- Can’t. Stop. Laughing.
- Please, please, just make it stop.
(If you haven’t experienced each and every one of these reactions to a song, then you need to live a little. Go listen to some music. Come back when you’ve found something from category #1.)
What’s the difference, 1-10? Sure, some of it is individual taste–or it’s cultural, or it’s to do with the setting (that WAS a great spring break…). But there are universal principles, too; consistent threads among all the music that you like. Identifying those threads is the discipline of Music Theory. Nothing mysterious, just trying to describe what sounds cool.
Only … the rules we uncover–and the emotional impact they’re capable of producing–they do turn out to be kind of amazing. Almost mystical.
Let’s start with what happens when you string a bunch of sounds together in sequence. You can mess around with rhythm or tone, and that’ll feel like something. But the real money is in varying pitch: creating melody.
And here’s our first rule: good melodies work like little dramas. They give you a few notes that feel comfortable, that introduce you to the feeling of the song. Then they carry you off into some notes that feel dramatic, fight through tension, surprise you. And then they resolve back home. Just like a good story, in miniature.
Too predictable? Wake me up when it’s over. No drama? So bad it’s kinda funny. Notes all out of order? Please … just make it stop.
But what’s with this idea of some notes feeling dramatic vs. some notes feeling like home? That’s where we start talking about scales and key signatures.
(Trust me, it’ll be worth it.)