When we were children, our parents and teachers told us things about life and the nature of the world that we absorbed into our "body of truth" with innocent and uncritical faith. And, for the most part, the ideas they instilled in us were pretty good ones. Most of us have a solid concept of "private property" and a healthy respect for the "rights of others" and things like that. Usually we were encouraged to develop a strong faith in something--God, truth, friendship, ourselves--or some combination of these.

We were also told some "temporary" truths that would serve us while we were young but could later be discarded or modified when we grew up to be responsible adults."Don't go into the street" later became "look both ways before you cross the street." When we got a drivers license we were told, "Don't drive faster than the speed limit," which later was modified by the phrase, "unless everyone else is doing it, too." Actually, our parents and teachers didn't really tell us about that modification. We learned it by watching them.

Sometimes I wonder whether they had any doubts about the things they taught us. When my parents said to "always tell the truth," I know they wanted me to do that. However, they also wanted me to "be kind to others," and sometimes that's pretty hard to do and still be truthful. I suspect that they were aware (at some level of consciousness) of the logical conflict in some of these matters, but hadn't really worked it out in their own mind so they never brought it up.

Usually, we manage to sort out the things we were told as children. We cherish the good sense of values we were given, we give "Santa Claus" an appropriate intellectual definition, and, when we discover that our sense of morality is somewhat different from that of our parents, we learn to handle the resultant inner conflicts with a minimum of guilt.

Now I can live with all of that. What really annoys me is when one generation recycles to the next generation a load of plastic concepts that have little relation to the real world, especially when passed on by people who are supposed to know better. I suppose it's excusable and understandable that scholars in the middle ages propagated the idea that the world was flat. They didn"t know the facts. But, I have discovered a culprit who passed along to me concepts that should never have been absorbed into the corpus of human knowledge -- MY MUSIC TEACHER.

To be fair, I should probably entertain the possibility that I might have misunderstood him. And I might be inclined to do that, except that when I look at many of the textbooks that are being written today by authorities in music education, I can see that THEIR MUSIC TEACHERS LIED TO THEM, TOO.

My reasons for making this brash accusation are given on the remaining pages of this book. I know it is somewhat presumptuous of me to challenge the learned scholars of musical academia and the well-established traditions of respected music educators, but --what the hell.


The world is rich with beautiful music. Composers down through the ages have provided an enormous treasure of musical masterpieces, and these are performed today by thousands of talented musicians, and recorded for our convenience with remarkable fidelity, thanks to fantastic advances made in sound technology during the past few years. The quality and artistry of pop, folk, country and jazz music has reached new standards of excellence. The standards are so high that "stars" without considerable talent don't last very long.

But the world is also full of not so beautiful music. Who is responsible for that? Does it all come down to "natural talent"? Are some people chosen to be musical artists and the rest relegated to the ranks of the "untalented" by some cosmic decision maker? What can one do to join the ranks of the music makers as well as the music consumers. Take music lessons? Go to college?

I wish I could answer with an unequivocal "yes," but I'm afraid I can't. My three and a half decades in musical academia has convinced me that music instruction today is missing the target. Students who developed a musical ear before they began formal studies seem to do very well. Those who begin studies "without an ear" tend to drop out in frustration. The major reason this happens is very clear to me. Music teachers tend to start out by teaching notation rather than MUSIC. While most college music programs do have classes in ear training, the concepts taught there are usually so naive and removed from the facts of human musical perception that more frustration than enlightenment is generated.

I'm sure you've heard the old saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." This probably is more true in the arts than in any other field, since artists create their product largely through intuition. While I have known some fine performers who are also great teachers, I have noticed that many super performers have a very difficult time communicating the basics of their craft to beginners. So, even many of the "great ones" tend to teach by parroting the party line of notation. But then, some say that an artist can't be taught; he has to learn his art on his own, largely by experimentation.

Well, whether that is true or not, I think music teachers are passing on some very fuzzy, misleading, and sometimes downright erroneous information about how music works. They undoubtedly got that information from their music teachers. So, through the generations, the "talented" students find success and the "untalented" ones find frustration. And teachers probably have basically little to do with either outcome.

To be sure, good teaching inspires success. I'm not talking about that. I'm focusing here on the communication of specific ideas. Can descriptions of artificial musical constructs which ignore the facts of human perception of sound lead students to develop a keener musical awareness? I don't think so. In fact, I think those who do show progress, probably do so in spite of the handicap of being filled with theoretical fiction.

But, could we teachers be more helpful in cultivating the talents of the students who come to us? Yes, I think we could, if we re-examine some of the ideas we have been regurgitating to our students, and would base our educational programs on a sound (in both senses) foundation. I know that asking musicians to reconsider the major scale is like asking a southern preacher to reconsider the Bible. But that's exactly what I am about to do. (The scale, not the Bible)

The "truths" presented here are practical ones. I am quite familiar with the literature on these subjects, but this is not an academic treatise on music theory, nor is it a textbook. I am simply sharing some ideas that have made sense to me, and which I have used with success. But, as you will see, I do call on the great historical authorities from time to time for their theoretical support. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), they are no longer available to express an endorsements of my ideas, so I guess you'll just have to make up your own mind as to their validity and practicality .

The first part of this book deals with the pitch aspect of music and the latter part with the rhythm aspect. Each part has a logical continuity, so I suggest you read the chapters in order, rather than thumb ahead to a "lie" that looks particularly interesting. I'm afraid it may not be as clear if read that way.

The book is directed primarily to those who, out of an enthusiastic curiosity about this fascinating art form, began a program of formal study, only to give it up in frustration when the empty rules and artificial constructs failed to reflect the organic lifeblood of music itself. But also, I hope my professional colleagues in music will consider these ideas, and that this effort might contribute toward making music studies a more successful and satisfying experience.

Close this page.