If you would like to participate in discussions, please sign in or register.
This thread is a segue to the recent thread "Blog 'Against Music Theory' Sure to Generate Discussion". The present thread is not so much against current Music Theory, rather it is for a bigger-and-better Music Theory.
Preamble: The study of Music Theory ("MT") has been nearly monopolized by "note-centric" studies (i.e. studies focused around notes and patterns of notes - e.g. harmony, melodic, contrapuntal, Schenker, ...). While note-centric study is certainly of value, there has been neglect of other areas of MT that are vast, exciting, relevant, and of high-value. Because of this over-attention to one area and relative neglect of the rest, there has been growing complaint (as per Ethan Hein and many others). It is timely for some of us to take a step back, get a broad view of MT, and lead the way to broader and deeper explorers of the total subject of MT.
I am defining "Music Theory " ("MT") simply as "theory about music", "music" construed broadly. I am allowing "Music Analysis" to be included in MT, since the two seem to be naturally intertwined. My background: I'm a Ph.D. technologist; a very good musician; and also active in the world of contemporary music (see www.MondayEveningCocerts.org). I'm avant-garde, iconoclast, impatient by nature. I run a computer software firm, think of me as a friendly outsider to the academic world. The materials below are intended to kick-start what I believe could be a very important discussion. Here goes ...
There are two gigantic areas of MT that are being neglected: Music as experienced by the listener (section [B] below); and Meta-theory about MT (section [D] below) . I will focus on these
(Another gigantic area of MT - music-as-notes - is about the same as "mainstream music theory", this area of course is being explored vigorously. )
B. Music as Experienced by the Listener
I have explored this area vigorously myself. I will outline what I have discovered so far.
I think my discoveries are good point of reference for other researches.
Listener-experience includes the following
[a] Real-time experience/reaction/behavior of listeners while listening
[b] Delayed reactions
[c] Thought processes triggered by musical experience - listeners naturally talk about, think about music, sometimes long after the music is over.
[d] "Transcendental" experiences triggered by music experience (i.e. ecstasy, awe, vague revery, grandiose imaginations, ...)
[e] Acoustic/sonic experience; theatrical/dramatic experience; networked experience (with musicians, fellow listeners, ...)
[f] Comparing, ranking, rating
Can any of the above be modeled in a robust way?
The answer is Yes.
One way at getting at the above is to take advantage of the fact that the above is *what professional music critics write about*.
If you focus on modeling what a music critic does, then you get a fairly good model of listener experience.
I have tried something like this, with considerable success.
I can use my current model to output new music-criticism which is insightful, thorough, compelling !
An emphatic observation: There is rich opportunity now to develop models for comparing, ranking and even rating music.
Some people are horrified at my observation. But I gently point out that almost everyone does some of compare-rank-rate, it's natural behavior. And there is often a feeling of (partial) objectivity when one does it. The job for MT is to analyze what is going on here (when people compare, rank, rate) , and to abstract into models, perhaps several alternative models.
C. Goals and "Responsibilities" for the MT Community
Try to explain why music is valued so deeply by so many people
Articulate all of the "Great Questions of Music", and try to shed light on them (e.g. "Does music convey emotion, or does it just seem to?" "Is music a kind of language?" ...)
As per the above, develop outstanding model(s) to compare, rank, and rate music. If there are different models which express alternative viewpoints, get this out in the open. If there are arguments that all such models are nonsense, those arguments should also be carefully developed.
Help artists to think about effective performance, effective production, and related.
Work with artists to develop models for specific genres of music. Herbie Hancock did this for Rock in his video series "Rock School", an excellent job! I would bet that Wynton Marsalis or someone from his team could develop something similar for Jazz.
Work hard on models that work apply to the widest variety of musical styles and genres. (Since "music is music" it is common sense that there be one or more rich universal models that apply to every kind of music!)
MT is not just dry research; it is also a "service profession".
It should address the interests of listeners, composers, performers, producers.
Practitioners should be inspired and focused by the needs of these constituencies.
Here are some key issues about MT:
 Develop a proper characterization of the subject of MT
In my own view: MT is a kind of scientific discipline, but it is not primarily a laboratory or experimental science.
Its methods of "verification"/"evaluation" are not primarily via lab experiments or anything like that.
It has some bone structure in common with Computer Science or Artificial Intelligence.
Not so much in common with a lab science such as Chemistry.
(But that's my view. Needs to be elaborated, debated, revised, OR ...)
Especially important: How is MT (potentially) similar to other present-day disciplines that are highly successful, and what can we learn from them?
 AI/Expert systems are destined to take over substantial portions of MT.
Prime target: Most of Section [B]; most of mainstream (note-centric) Music Theory
As this proceeds, there will be radical effects on the work that is done in MT. And in the "identity" of the profession. (i.e. [D1] above)
 Deep analysis of how vocabulary/language operates in MT
Throughout MT, language (especially vocabulary) is our principal access to musical phenomena.
("Our minds can touch music only via words")
The vocabulary in MT is of wide variety, some of it quite odd.
Some terms are simple, precise, easy to use (e.g. note, time signature, accelerando, cancrizans, ...)
And then there are terms which are annoyingly difficult to use or even understand: (e.g. gesture, meaning, emotion, semiotics, ...)
We can probably learn a lot from close analysis of how we think and write about music, especially at the vocabulary level
And we can probably improve the way we communicate about music (plenty of poor academic prose that could be improved)
 Connect MT to the most appropriate traditions in academic philosophy
E.g., I think that MT would benefit tremendously from linking to certain ideas in late-Wittgenstein.
Late-Wittgenstein can be used to characterize music as a complex of music + human behavior + language.
This in turn links with the subjects of Artificial Intelligence.; and *models* over theories
There is powerful leverage here.
To recap: The materials above are the result of extensive thought and research.
For my latest, see www.OMSModel.com
All of this is intended to help lead research into vast areas that are being neglected.
If some of what I write here (or in www.OMSModel.com) is corrected, surpassed, or abandoned, that's okay: I just want P R O G R E S S
The potential for MT is big and exciting. Not just to academics, but also to musicians and to listeners of all kinds.
Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.