We are continuing are discussion on the conscious design and thought behind the artistic process; specifically concerning this beautiful thing we call music. Sometimes this design in music is there even when artists are creating music and don’t even consciously know they are doing it. Of course, at other times many people have actively, creatively, and consciously sought many different ways to bring the full capacity of the human mind to bear on the wonder of creating and composing music. Let’s talk about both.
Some of this design comes from music itself. When one note sounds, actually all the other notes sound, too. Of course, most of these ‘overtones’ cannot be heard by the human ear. Through the course of different times and cultures, the main overtones have ‘played’ (ha!) a major role in the development of music, especially the root note and the fifth interval. As you get farther away from the main overtones, there has been more variation between different time periods and cultures. Think of the main ‘overtones’ as the skeleton and the variations as the ‘flesh and blood’.
Classical Indian music has a large number of ragas, or scales. These are not just a collection of notes. These ragas also contain specific note or pitch patterns that an artist is expected to play when playing the raga. Western Classical music also developed quite a set of ‘rules’. These rules govern everything from the notes selected for the very end of a piece (for example, the final cadence), to the selection of notes for changes between specific chord progressions. In classical structure, having a parallel perfect fifth interval move between two chords was forbidden.
Probably the most highly developed structural design approaches ever applied to composing music is the classical fugue. The fugue features a contrapuntal style with many different possible variations and layers. One of the best examples is The Well-Tempered Clavier I & II by J. S. Bach. (If you are interested, check out a recording by Angela Hewitt playing a Fazioli piano. A Fazioli piano is one of the largest piano’s in the world at 10 feet 2 inches long.)
Blues music has its own structural design built-in, beginning with the 12 bar basic blues pattern. This is made up of three different groups of four bars, or measures. Here is a standard 12 bar blues chord progression, or pattern; I IV I I, IV IV I I, V IV I V. It didn’t take blues players long to start adding their own substitutions and variations.
Jazz music really boils down to this simple chord progression; ii V I. Of course, you could fill libraries with what jazz musicians have done to extend the initial basic progression. The substitutions and layers of techniques they have come up with is ingenious. When you consider all of the combination and permutation possibilities, it’s also a well that won’t run dry. The musical possibilities are limitless.
Okay, I’ve briefly given some musical examples of different styles and time periods. I have tried to show that these have a common thread (skeleton) that can be traced back to music itself. I have also shown that music can vary (flesh & blood) through different styles and time periods. This is most likely due to human nature (personal tastes) and environment (culture, technology).
Some people like the Greek Pythagoras, have actively sought to explore and unwind the inherent design in music itself. Many others have followed in Pythagoras’s footsteps, and added to our musical landscape, so to speak.
Today all of us reap the rewards of this rich musical heritage by being exposed to the sum total of all of the world’s music available to us through recorded history. What’s ironic is that some teenager writing today’s pop hit might be being influenced by musical concepts that were developed over hundreds (thousands) of years of human communal effort and not even realize it. Isn’t it ironic?