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12 July 2007

Understanding the Fundamentals of Music.

Last week I finished the Teaching Co. Course, Fundamentals of Music, by Robert Greenberg. I didn't like that course very much, largely because it got too far into music theory for my taste. I'm glad that the professor is wildly crazy about the topic, I always like to see such enthusiasm, but I just couldn't drum up enough of my own enthusiasm to make the experience enjoyable. I was counting the minutes until each lecture ended.

For his part, R. Greenberg justified learning the language of music because learning the details of music make one appreciate it more. He used the analogy of appreciating fine wines by learning a new "language" to describe them. When one learns how to recognize when a wine is woody, floral, or oaken, one has more words to describe wine, can define more about the wines, and thus appreciate them more. Well, he is right. But I just don't have the interest to learn all the details, the language of music theory. (Appreciating wines better can wait for another year.)

All that said, I did glean a few great tidbits from the course. I liked the discussion surrounding beat and meter. A beat in a piece of music is "the shortest time division to which we can comfortably move our bodies." According to R. Greenberg, "sadly" there is no science or theory to identifying meter, we just know what meter we are in when we hear it. We find the beat, we do not think or reason or try to figure it out; we dance in place, we let go, we allow our bodies to tell us where the beat is.

I love that.

Again according to R. Greenberg, finding the beat is antithetical to the sort of intellectual engagement we are accustomed to when we learn new stuff, but "this is music, not statistics, and very often learning something about music is about becoming conscious of something we instinctively knew already."

I like that too.

I like to think about which things in life I know instinctively, and which things I have made a part of "me" by learning them. It came to me that we also do not really have to explain to anyone what consciousness is, we simply know it (although I took an entire course on "Consciousness and Its Implications").

I also liked the discussion of tension and resolution in music. Certain notes or tones give tension, and certain ones give resolution. He played a sequence of notes, paused, and even I knew which tone should come next, the tone that would make the music feel complete, resolved. Wow! That blew me away. I know nothing of music theory but I instinctively knew what sound should come next. How and why are humans attuned like that? The tones that cause tension and resolution are mathematically related in specific ways (that he explained to us), why should a specific mathematical relationship cause a specific instinctive reaction in all humans? Is it a trait that gave early humans an evolutionary advantage, or is it simply a fluke? (Or maybe we don't know all there is to know about our brains yet.)

I still feel a little guilty that I didn't take the time to learn all that R. Greenberg taught in the course. I do understand how learning the language of a field of study, or a profession, or a hobby, can enrich one's understanding and enjoyment. But you gotta get excited enough about something first to jump into learning the language. I am excited about foods and cooking, and I jumped into its lingo years ago, learning the scent and tastes of hundreds of different ingredients, appreciating how they stand out and blend in thousands of different dishes. I am still learning the language of cooking - it's my passion. Music? I'm happy to be a spectator in the field of music. It still moves my body and jiggles my brain, even though I don't quite know why.