"Sounds" Preface

Why launch another music fundamentals book into an already flooded market? The reason is that this one bears little resemblance to others dealing with basic musical concepts. Most start out with "this is a quarter note" and end with "this is a ninth chord." Many use a simplistic connect-the-dots approach and never deal systematically with the musical perceptions and concepts that notation represents. Also, the fact that pianos and other keyboards produce compromised pitches is consistently ignored, which limits understanding of the true nature of music. This book is aimed at correcting these significant omissions.

The Sounds Of Music: Perception and Notation first deals with the physical nature of music, then with the perception and conception of its separate and combined elements, and finally with systems of representing music on paper or computer screen. The early chapters address elemental musical sounds and explore the perceptual experiences that lead to the development of practical musical concepts, not just theoretical constructs. Middle chapters show how these elements combine in simple and understandable ways to create "harmony," "melody," "rhythm," "form" and other perceptual/conceptual elements of music. Later chapters trace the development of music notation and explore both the strengths and weaknesses of our standard systems.

A possible reason that college music textbooks consistently begin with discussions of notation is that authors and educators assume that students already have experience making music and they simply want to know how to read and write it. In the past, when college students came from flourishing high school choral, band and orchestral programs, that approach may have been reasonable. Today, however, young people entering college have a completely different experience base. The recent explosion of recorded music has produced a generation of listeners. There are now more people familiar with more music than the world has ever seen.

Fascinated by music and wanting to know more, scores of college students register for "beginning" music classes. More often than not, they are confronted with and quickly frustrated by empty notational constructs and drills. Frequently, the music offered for study has little relation to the music that inspired their interest.

Nevertheless, some students intuitively figure out how music works and are successful, while others study long and hard and never discover it. This undoubtedly contributes to the popular view that certain people are talented and others simply are not.

Commonly, children who develop musical skills are considered "special." In contrast, consider our expectations regarding language skills. To no one’s great surprise, most children learn to speak, then later learn to read and write. In college music education, we tend to operate in reverse. We attempt to teach adult students to read and write in a medium in which they have little or no functional skills. Under these circumstances, one would never really know what an "untalented" student might accomplish if provided with structured experiences in the real language of music—sounds—before dealing with "notes" and "staves."

An idea widely held is that some people are simply tone-deaf and thus have little chance of joining the "talented." That view is seldom held, however, in regard to language learning. While it is well known that children learn language more efficiently than adults, we normally don’t reject the idea that adults can learn languages. Yet, many teachers abandon hope for the adult musical "ear." Sadly, many potentially musical people accept this idea and give up their dreams.

Why must this be so? Most adults have an advantage that most children do not—logical thought. Careful use of language can help adults focus on the correct perceptual information. What remains is to translate that basic information into concepts and then systematically attach appropriate labels to the results.

Once experiential concepts are secure, learning musical notation is more meaningful. Notation becomes an imaging of aural musical constructs, just as written language is an imaging of ideas. Music reading becomes more than merely naming notes on a page or pushing the right buttons on an instrument. Symbol combinations then evoke images of real sounds in real musical relationships.

The discussions of perception and conception in this book are not intended to be taken clinically, although reference to formal studies are occasionally made. Much of what is offered is the result of practical experience combined with logic. There is no intent to prove any particular psychological theory of music perception. The concern here is only for what the human ear can hear and how experienced musicians commonly organize that information.

The value of this book will be realized when the ideas offered here make practical sense to the reader. The ultimate goal of this effort will be attained whenever this book helps someone achieve musical success after believing it was beyond his or her reach.

Although much of the discussion focuses on Western music, the basic principles presented relate to any musical tradition—old or new, Western or exotic, classical or popular. Since the emphasis is on perception and conception of sound patterns in a temporal setting, these principles can be applied to most any musical style.

There is a very healthy trend in college classes toward universality and away from provincial views of the world. Some universities no longer accept transfer of traditional notation-based "fundamentals of music" classes for general-education and/or humanities credit. Hopefully, Sounds Of Music: Perception and Notation, in addition to providing information of interest to the general reader, will also provide a much-needed college textbook. It would be gratifying to have assisted teachers in developing classes that more effectively teach students how music works and how to apply that information to a much wider musical world.

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