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Re: On the Grammar of Music
Reply to Martin Braun:
I am afraid that the point you are missing here is that the rules we are talking about in music are not rules you go to jail for when you break them; You are right when you state "break that habit - to keep your audience awake". This is what the good composer or improvisor attempts at. However, from that to the claim that there are no rules at all governing e.g. chord-progressions in a given style is a capital mistake.
From years of education in composition and music theory I have learned that each style is consistent in its own way; it may not be the hord-progressions that are peculiar to the style in question, but any style has a set of musical parameters that is typical to that style.
But let's stick to chords; The types of chords and chord-progressions in the music of Hindemith, Messiaen, Bach, Bartok, Stravinskij, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis in the 50's, Sex Pistols, Oasis, Nirvana, Destiny's Child etc., etc. are in their own way peculiar to that composer/artist.
As I mentioned earlier I choose to denote such peculiarities as "rules" in accordance with the dictionary which states that "As a rule" can be read as "Usually; more often than not."
Martin Braun wrote:
"There are no such rules. If there were, we could buy books which list the
chord-progression rules, ordered by all styles that ever appeared in
European music history. Such books, however, do not exist and will never be
You might like to know that my bookshelf contains several books about the chordal treatments in Bach, Hindemith, Bartok and Oasis to name a few. Are you saying that all of these books either are wrong in their statements, or that what is written in a book that deals with the harmony of Bach's music could as well be about the harmony of Oasis?
Martin Braun wrote:
"There may be one general rule, however, one that existed at all times. This
rule appears to say: "Whenever you suspect that a musical habit might
develop into a rule, break that habit - to keep your audience awake."
THAT's how our nerves work."
What an excellent example!
This demonstrates the necessesity of rules - without the recurring element - how could you do something noticeable different? Also, it is interesting to be aware that the way in which certain composers "break their habits" may also follow some sort of pattern and can therefore be named - a "habit".
This also shows what I suspected in the first place - in the quote above there is a distinction between "habit" and "rule"; I never claimed certain musics to have unbreakable rules, but, exactly, habits - peculiarities - manners - methods - modes - techniques - styles ......
What remains to be explored is to what degree a certain habit is present in the style of a composer. I suspect that Martin Braun may demand 100% consistency to allow a habit to be regarded a rule - this is not my understanding of rules neither in language nor music.
I still believe that the interpretation of the term "rule" is what is at the bottom of this exchange of views.