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    Generalized Universals and Music Theory Education

    I am sure to be lambasted for this post.  My interest in this topic, direction, is a way to look at teaching music theory education from a more generalized perspective.  Specialization in any given topic would follow and is ubiquitous throughout music education and dependent on coursework, needs, area of specialty, essential training, etc.  A string player does not necessarily need to study conducting and why "conducting" is not listed as Universal - but on the other hand the way in which musicians communicate the start, flow, intermittent points, ending of music may be included.  A specialist in Western music topics does not need to study Ethnomusicology if their focus is elsewhere.  However, regardless of interests, specializations, cultures, genres, style, geography, there are some universal aspects inherent in all music and would this not be a good place to start for introducing musical concepts as an educational strategy and basis for further study?  I encourage anyone to add to the list, contribute, edit, agree, disagree, comment, elaborate - all input and perspectives are welcome.

    List of Universal Elements Necessary For [Any] Music:

    pitch, rhythm, timbre, instrument types, orchestration, articulation, types of linear/vertical motion (oblique, parallel, contrary, silence), silence, melody, harmony, counterpoint, scale/mode, temporal placement of elements, modulation, contrast, meter, pulse, form, consonance/dissonance, temperament/tuning, repetition, variation, character, predetermined or improvisational forms, language, social meaning, dynamics, intervals, acoustics, technology, organizing concept, musicianship, voice leading, symbols/notation, group communication and direction . . .

    Some universals cross categories and are interrelated and most should be universal (notation may not be used in every culture of music, but most major musical philosophies have symbols and notation and why I have included it). 

    How is this all valuable?  Instead of teaching music theory as an element of the Western canon, it might be useful from a more generalized perspective to see how any of the above Universals can be compared across a wider spectrum, scale for example - how is it used in classical, jazz, Japanese music, Native American music, experimental music, etc.  If one can start from a perspective of generalization, insight into that aspect of function in music could be illuminated in a more comprehensive light.  


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    • 27 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Logistics of curriculum aside (what to include and for how long...what gets omitted, ETC.), an important barrier is that the instructors themselves aren't experts in all of these areas. With cost cutting these days, there isn't even a trend toward hiring a surplus of full-time whizzes of "all music," but unfortunately heading into an adjunct / temporary faculty culture for core classes. At SDSU, I'm the only full-time theorist (and even this is unusual at many schools); there is only one full-time professor for aural skills, and we disseminate the curriculum to our colleagues.

      On the other side of the coin: in schools / departments with doctoral programs, graduate students are charged with covering the core classes, and it would be well above their pay grade to deliver this sort of wide-ranging expertise. 

    • The problem with "Universal Elements Necessary for [Any] Music" is that one first would need a universal definition of music – which does not exist.



    • Carson, some of the elements in your list...:

      Pitch. It is by no means obvious that pitches (i.e. more or less fixed, stable and recognizable frequencies) exist in all musics (see also my quotation hereunder). Or to put the question otherwise, is pitch an element of all musical systems? (Simha Arom described his experience with Aka pygmees who didn't mind the slates of their xylophones being mixed up, and still played the same positions, not the same pitches.)

      Instrument types. One cannot exclude the possibility that some musics of the world are (or were) exclusively vocal.

      Orchestration requires orchestras, which may not exist everywhere.

      Types of linear/vertical motion (oblique, parallel, contrary, silence). These appear to concern the motion of two or more voices with respect to each other. Most musics of the world do combine simultaneous sounds, but they may not combine lines – nor consider these combinations important.

      Melody. See above: the Aka pygmees apparently consider their melodies as arrangements of gestures, not of pitches... (But the story told by Arom isn't entirely credible.)

      Harmony. All harmony, in my opinion, is necessarily tonal (as in Dahlhaus' Harmonic Tonality). But not all musics are tonal. Western music today proves that music may exist without harmony.

      Counterpoint. See above, about types of motion.

      Scale/mode. I am quite positive that some musics have no scale. Let me quote a recent publication of mine (the references, 2005 and 2007, are to the Italian and French versions of Nattiez Encyclopédie; my paper can be read at http://www.gatm.it/analiticaojs/index.php/analitica/article/view/126/134):

      Nathalie Fernando, discussing musical scales, stresses from the outset that she will discuss theoretical formulations [2005, 924-925; 2007, 945-946]. The concept of scale, indeed, is first of all one of description: it may be more universal in music theory than in music itself. All written musical theories (from China to the West) do include a theory of pitch systems; but there exist musics which rest on scales without knowing it – if only because they have no theory – and, certainly, musics without any systematic discretization of pitch. One may in fact wonder whether this is not the case with what Nathalie Fernando describes as the “complex dynamic models” that she identifies in the music of the Bedzan and Ouldémé, «evidencing always new properties, which cannot be studied at the single level of their constitutive elements, and functioning from a coherent network of relations established in the moment. In the space formed by the sound continuum, the intervallic categories organize themselves from moment to moment and renew themselves constantly on the basis of reciprocal constraints established by the collective norm» [2005, 953; 2007, 977]. But then the quality of pitch, filling a continuum and constantly moving, escaping classification as a syntactic parameter, can no more be defined in terms of a scale: it becomes statistic. To say that Bedzan and Ouldémé pitches «organize themselves from moment to moment in the space formed by the sound continuum» forces them into a another type of discretization, that which views the continuous flow of time as a succession of “moments” – during which the sound continuum might perhaps organize itself in distinct pitches.




    • Carson,

      • The Britannica writes:

      Musical instruments are almost universal components of human culture.

      "Almost universal" is not at all the same thing as "universal". The term "universal" (especially with a capital, as you wrote it in your first posting) by definition allows no exception.

      • Pitch, as defined in the Americal Standard Acoustic Terminology, "is that attribute of auditory sen- sation in terms of which sounds may be ordered on a scale extending from low to high." It is "cultural" in the sense that not everyone orders it on a scale.

      • Orchestration: "The arrangement of a musical composition for performance by an orchestra" (Merriam-Webster). You probably meant "instrumentation".

      • Linear motion: there are only two types, ascending or descending. As soon as you speak of "oblique, parallel, contrary" (your terms), you imply a comparison between two simultaneous motions.

      • Harmony is the science of chords and of their successions, not merely of simultaneous sounds.

      • Scale refers to organized pitch collections, whether explicit or implicit (intuitive) – you cannot oppose "organized" to "intuitive", as if the latter meant "not organized". A scale presupposes the existence of pitches and of their ordering (see above).

      But I think that even chosing other terms will not produce universals. A universal is a characteristic, or a quality, of something. Universal elements of music are not elements that generally exist in music, they should be characteristics, qualities, defining music itself. Pitch, melodic motion, harmony, scales, may exist in many musics, but they do not define music.



    • Carson, you should read further than the first and the last sentences, and you should not trust anyone's blog. This one says:

      But is music really a universal language? That depends on what you mean by “universal” and what you mean by “language.”

      and that is the whole point of our discussion,



    • Correction - I apologize for errors in my posts, grammatical, spelling and otherwise.  My interface has been very buggy lately substituting words not of my choice, posting while I am still in the editing phase, deleting my contents, etc.  Currently my spell check feature is not even working!

      I wanted the last line in my last comment to read:

      I like to discuss music with my students, not lecture them.


    • What Carson has outlined is a model for analysis of all music (any genre, style, origin, ...) in a uniform manner. The model is simple, natural, comprehensible, allows rapid and deep insight. It allows comparison of any two pieces of music (How about Yanni "Santorini" compared against Boulez Piano Sonata #2? With Carson's model, this can be done!). And it is extensible: Add to Carson's List of Universal Elements as you wish.

      This model can be taught to virtually anyone rapidly, only brief explanation required to get someone started with the model.

      Oustanding work, Carson !!

      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Thanks for your perspective Nicolas.  I believe (and I could be wrong) that the anthropological record shows musical instruments albeit of more primitive types have been found on every continent (inhabited by human species and their predecessors), in every culture and society around the world throughout history.  I will research that more . . . however if indeed it is true it is certainly permissible to say that music in some form is inherent, intrinsic to human nature as are other forms of art like the Neanderthal cave paintings in France.  In that regard I think it possible to classify fundamental parameters of music that are common or universally found across the spectrum.  The term is not important and not intended as a philosophical argument, but rather a mundane attempt to classify primal elements used and necessary for anthropological music reference.  

    • I think that Carson's "first draft" of a model (in the first post of this thread) is a good start. But it does need refinement and development. And to that end, all of Nicholas' comments are pertinent.

      A few top-level comments:

      - For most instances of music, most of Carson's attributes will apply to some degree. That is all that can be expected. The good news is that this is sufficient for a model like this to do some useful work.

      - I think that Carson's list of attributes is a good start, but it needs some editing and expansion. The goal should be something like this: "A list of high-level attributes, each of which applies to most instances of music to some degree". The criteria  high-level  and to some degree are somewhat flexible.

      An attribute such as "instrument types" should be tweaked to allow for voice being included as an "instrument"

      The "magic" in Carson's model is that it is simple, comprehensible, but also highly useful. It allows comparison of any two pieces of music, and it can be deeply insightful. Also, it has a good academic foundation, consider: Late Wittgenstein; Marvin Minsky "Society of Mind"; current developments in AI/ExpertSystems. 


      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Thank you for your comments and interest Isaac and Nicolas.  I appreciate the feedback and clarifications.  Some interesting notes - after doing a bit of research last evening on the subject of music and anthropology, there seems to be separate emphasis by anthropologists and musicologists.  Anthropologists tend to consider music as a universal trait of human and pre Homosapien species.  Instrument fossils date to more than 50,000 years and even found in the Paleolithic Age more than 2 million years ago. Musicologists tend to focus on the particulars of sound definitions (as you correctly point out Nicolas).  Anthropologists, or at least the material I read last evening freely toss around the word "universal" when addressing music in human and pre human cultures according to the known fossil records and physical artifacts.  

      So I am clearly pointing towards the anthropological definitions.  Having studied ethnomusicology, I believe it is safe to state no human society now or in the past has been discovered that did not have "music." Some theories even suggest that music predates language - so if language is a universal aspect of Homosapiens, and music might even have predated language, I think it is safe to say that music is "universal" small u.  


      While it is true that some music in certain cultures is, or can be vocal or instrumental only, you would be hard pressed to find any group that did not include both even if used separately.  There are African drum ensembles, but those groups have other music with vocal and other instruments.  Amazon tribes have both percussion instruments and vocal chants as does Native American music, which also includes wind instruments (flutes), rattles, and in the Pacific Northwest in North America - wooden percussion instruments such as masks that make percussive sounds

      Regarding motion, you are correct about reducing the number to two Nicolas.  I would tend to think of Oblique as a specific movement used in many cultures around the world - Austrailian aboriginal music, Mongolian throat singing,the music of India, Scotland, music of the Middle Ages, Eastern Europe, and many others.  I would add silence/rest/space as one of the possible [negative] motions.  

      The musicological definition for harmony is certainly more specific and Western music oriented than the definition I am using.  In some African music the polyphonic chanting or singing aligns in the acoustical sense as vertical pitch events of a harmonic nature acoustically, even if not organized as compositional harmony.  

      My intention is not to suggest an official definition of music Universals/ universals - it isto suggest that we can look at the larger picture of music to understand and compare with specific musics.  


    • Hi Nicolas, I did read the entire article and many other anthropological and musicological sources for a statistical perspective not based on a single source . . . or blog.  Apparently there is discussion and disagreement by various experts on the subject of the universiality of music and/or music as a language.  

      I mean that language and music are ubiquitous in anthropological terms.  One synonym for universal is - applicable in all cases.  To my perspective, music and language are applicable in all cases in relation to the human species.  Of course there is variation.  But on the other hand that variation does not negate the fact that birds of different species and characteristics inhabit the entire globe.  

      I have beaten this topic to a pulp and it was helpful.  Thank you for communicating your thoughts and ideas on the subject.

    • Whenever I read stuff like this, it makes me think of Guido Adler, and his classic 1885 "manifesto" on the "Scope, Method, and Aim of Musicology" (available here). It's one of the early academic attempts to lay out a blueprint for wide-ranging music study.  To Adler, "musicology" wasn't just the "historical musicology" that is often implied in American music circles today, but included stuff like "systematic musicology," sort of equivalent to our music theory studies, and within that "systematic musicology" you had stuff that included ethnographic comparisons of musical practices and structures.

      Anyhow, I'd recommend having a look at that if for nothing else to see what someone else came up with in terms of studying music.  As Nicolas notes, the very definition of "music" is problematic, as is what constitutes "music theory."  Adler saw music theory as a collection of several categories under different branches of what he called "musicology," and arguably trying to isolate the "theoretical" elements from some of Adler's other categories will automatically create some distortion in understanding in many cultures.

      I'm not at all saying an attempt at making lists like this isn't valuable -- obviously it is.  But the making of the list is often not so much about "universals" for the entirety of music or for all the human race, but more about the aesthetic priorities of the person making the list and what that person is most interested in.  And the vocabulary we use (as Nicolas points out) is grounded in our specific culture -- many of the assumptions that undergird even the use of the terms in questions are not universal, or if we wanted to apply them to another culture, we may need to radically alter the concept.

      Heck, I just look at some of the discussions we've had in recent weeks on this forum about meter and rhythm, for example.  We've had various posts saying that our common Western teaching of meter is fundamentally wrong or flawed in various ways, given recent cognitive studies about how we perceive meter, or that other theories have logical or pedagogical problems.  We can't agree on these things even when we get mildly technical in Western culture.  So what does the word "meter" even mean when appied "universally" to all possible human cultures or musics?

      Again, I'm not discouraging the making of such lists.  I would, however, discourage the attempt at "universals."  All cultures will have their own priorities.  Even within "Western" music, the priorities of classical, pop, jazz, etc. are very different -- and practitioners of some genres of music may not even have terms to describe or think consciously about some of these supposed "universal" categories, while others are foundational to the cultural practice of music.  (For just one example, I find it interesting that "language" and "social meaning" make it to the list of "universals," though pretty far down the list.  In most world musics, language is FUNDAMENTAL to the conception of music; differentiating the text of a song from the "music" would be a bizarre and artificial distinction, even though music theory in Western culture frequently studies even vocal music as if the words were secondary.  The very act of separation of concepts there can lead to a distorted view of how "the music" works.)

      At best, I think we can encourage examination of various kinds of music and try to make connections WHERE APPROPRIATE between different genres or repertoires or cultures or musics.  To me, the quest for "universals" is less useful than for terms that will help to understand a particular type of music on its own terms, which will generally require translation into a language of "music" I can understand.  Those connections are fruitful to make.  At other times, we may find more disparities in the concepts than comparisons.  That too is learning about music, and -- I would argue -- even more productive because it teaches us to look beyond our own concepts and understandings, rather than seeking "universal" accord in parameters or whatever.

    • Hi John,

      Thank you for the reference and thoughts.  I look forward to investigating the work by Adler.  I'm finished with this idea as discussion since there has been so much thought provoking response and argument [in the philosophical sense].  I'll end on two points, one humorous, the other regarding astrophysics:

       "It depends on what the meaning of is is." 

      Having watched a program on PBS's NOVA series about the Hubble Telescope launched in 1990 - any small black space of sky examined by the Hubble telescope reveals an astronomical amount of galaxies and stars in every direction, which extend to the limits of visible light and calculate the age of the universe as approx. 13.9 billion years from the point of origin, or Big Bang.  As science examines these new frontiers what is revealed is a universe of similarities - that is: stars, galaxies, gravity, light, dark matter, hydrogen, dust, black holes, particles, etc., EVERYWHERE.  

    • Carson's model can be restated without using the term "universal", and it would be better without that term. That term carries a lot of baggage, it's a distraction.

      Basically what Carson has done is to present us with a preliminary list of important attributes, each of which applies to most music in some degree. This list - if it is refined and expanded - can provide a high-value way to profile individual items of music and to do comparisons. (It has additional merits: Simple, comprehensible, easily extended, can allow deep insightsl).

      So there: I have described Carson's model without using the dreaded "U" word.

      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Isn't it interesting that physicists are looking for a unified theory as in the Standard Model,  General Theory of Relativity, String Theory, Supersymmetry.  Isn't the natural inclination of science the search for order and sublime laws that explain larger phenomenon?  Why is that so blasphemous when the topic of music is mentioned?  Yes Isaac I agree, and will certainly use another term that originally I tossed out matter of factly as a kind of impulsive slang.  Maybe the Standard Model for Music?!  Don't quote me on that one . . . 

    • Carson, you have raised a profound question which is rarely examined and which a lot of people continually get wrong. The question is:

         [a]  What kind of subject matter is Music Theory?

      Is it ultimately a hard science that is the domain of brain scientists? Or is it a science of sound? Or is it a study of note-patterns? Is it a science at all? Is the true subject of music ineffable (inaccessible via language, as per the famous quote from Mendelssohn)? Is Music the kind of subject that potentially could be grasped by a Grand Theory? Or is it only accessible via partial models? And so on.

      Musicians, listeners, theorists rarely think about [a] with care. I myself have investigated it extensively (my academic background is Logic / Philosophy /Methodology of Science, so I am naturally attuned to this question). Here are my current findings:

         [i] The subjects of Music and Music Theory are complex, even messy in places.

             So not likely to find a Grand Theory or Unified Model.

         [ii] Music/MusicTheory does lend itself to being studied via large partial models

             An example of a model is: "Music modeled as notes and patterns of notes"

             A very successful model, although only a partial model

         [iii] I think it is useful to think of Music Theory as a "science"

              But not all sciences are lab/empirical in the way that say Chemistry is

              Different sciences operate in different ways

              e.g. "Computer Science" is a science, but it is not developed via lab experiments

           [iv] One aspect of MusicTheory is certain parts of HumanIntelligence

                HumanIntelligence is a vast and somewhat mysterious subject

                One difficulty with that subject is that HumanIntelligence is partly a networked phenomenon

                Humans are networked with other humans, and also with other things (but what other things??)

            [v] Because MusicTheorists fail to keep [a] in mind, they make a lot of mistakes. E.g. the belief that the analysis of a score can provide comprehensive info about a piece of music.

      What kind of science is Music Theory? It's not a science like Chemistry; Sociology; Compuer Science; Cosmology. It has its own set of characteristics. I think it has a lot in common with the branch of Computer Science called "Artificial Intelligence"; but still trying to work this out.   (How does Verification operate in Music Theory???)

      To respond directly to Carson's speculation above, I am dubious that there is anything like a Standard Model for Music. It's not the kind of the subject that allows for that. But thanks for bringing this issue forward.


      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.




    • Immediately my answer is music is sound first.  Because physical sound can be measured and described in acoustical terms.  Trying to tackle other aspects of meaning should be separate (perhaps my bias).  We need to talk first about the composition of the stars, not the beauty or poetry of the stars . . . the physical reality comes first.  The meaning apart from the acoustical reality is subjective at best.  Music is part of human ritual and social interaction, I don't think it is necessarily expressed to be understood - how it is made to produce the necessary sounds is not subjective on the other hand:

      1. Does it have/use musical instruments and what kind?

      2. Are there human voices and sung or vocalized by whom?

      3. Is it monody, homophony, polyphony, cacaphony.

      4. Is it a soloist, a small group, a large group.

      5. Is there a vernacular language being used?

      6. Is the sound consonant or dissonant?

      7. Is the sound amplitude quiet, soft, loud?

      8. Are the sounds short or long in duration?

      9. Is the speed fast or slow?

      10. Is the sound in a particular frequency range: low, medium, high?

      I think you could pose any of these questions for any music without getting into further semantics.  I never claimed this idea to be a threat or alternative to music theory.  To be honest I teach this method as a result of my experience with music theory.  And like your OMS model Isaac I do discuss other meaning: emotional, how does it make you feel, do you imagine or associate anything with it, do you like it, is it old or knew, what do you think the lyrics or text means, etc. 

    • Carson, You may be amused to know that for decades I have been sharing this listener's checklist with my Music 10100 students so they can react effectively when presented with a musical experience in and out of my classroom. Too many theory teachers teach what they were taught without realizing what they are doing or how it helps or hinders their students. Very few theory textbooks discuss the problem of studying music before they delve into harmony and voice-leading. Students get lost in the minutaie without seeing the big picture.

      Musical Parameters

      Below are the aspects of music that help to determine the emotional message transmitted to the listener.

      VOLUME              Soft (piano)  ...................        Loud (forte)

      MEDIUM              Acoustic       Electronic

                                 Instrumental:      Strings        Woodwinds

                                                            Brass          Percussion

                                                            Keyboard    Special effects

                                       Vocal:  Soprano   Alto   Tenor   Bass

                                                   Ensemble       Chorus  

      TEMPO                Slow  ...................        Fast

      REGISTER           Low   ...................        High

      DENSITY             Thin  ...................        Thick

      RHYTHM             Regular       ...................        Irregular

      METER                Non-metrical       ...................        Metrical

                                    Duple     Triple     Compound    Mixed

      DURATION          Short          ....................       Long

      PROPORTION      Chamber     ....................       Large

      TENSION             Consonant  ....................       Dissonant

      ARTICULATION    Separate (staccato) or Connected (legato

                                    Conjunct  or   Disjunct

      FORM                  Binary     Ternary     Rondo     Theme & Variation   Complex

      TEXTURE            Monophonic         Homophonic   Polyphonic      Heterophonic

      SCALE                 Major    Minor    Pentatonic   Other____________



    • Thank you Stephen.  I also use a list similar to yours when discussing music with students in a generalized manner.  It allows us to have a conversation about music in a comprehensible investigative manner.  Even my youngest students can identify many of the elements (included in your list) and it allows them to use their senses and imagination with respect to their experience and viewpoint.  It would be funny to say that language is not ubiquitous (I won't use the word universal) since no human culture has ever been found that does not use language.  And the same can be said of music since the archeological record of primitive musical instruments has been found on every continent and in every culture on the planet.  I still believe there are general parameters common to all musics and inherent in acoustical sound itself.  And this is the right place to start with musical education before specialization and gives a student of music the necessary fundamental understanding to comprehend more complex subject matter.  

    • Carson, you write:

      It would be funny to say that language is not ubiquitous (I won't use the word universal) since no human culture has ever been found that does not use language.  And the same can be said of music since the archeological record of primitive musical instruments has been found on every continent and in every culture on the planet.  I still believe there are general parameters common to all musics and inherent in acoustical sound itself.

      Do use the word "universal": language is universal, and so is music. What I meant only is that it may not be universal in the definition that we give to the word "music". Let's agree that all humans do utter organized sounds (vocal or instrumental) that cannot be considered ordinary verbal language because they do not refer to the surrounding world. Let's even admit that these non linguistic sounds may be subsumed under the term "music" in a most general sense.

      After that, however, nothing is sure. We would too often consider, for instance, that these sounds must have some kind of aesthetic value. But that is not at all certain in all cases. There exist work songs that may have no other purpose than facilitating collective work, and to which the workers would hardly recognize any aesthetic value. (This also has to do with the idea of "beauty", which we might consider universal, but which could be shown a Western idea, developing particularly in the 18th-century Enlightenment.)

      You believe that because musical sound is a physical phenomenon, it must have physical properties that would count as universal. This, however, would entail some identification of what we call "music" with "physical sound". Of course, all sounds share physical properties. The sounds of which we are speaking all fall within the auditory range, for instance. They have intensity, timbre, and they may even have pitch – the squeaking of your bathroom door also has intensity, timbre, and even possibly pitch, but that does not make it music (or does it?).

      This should show that intensity, timbre and perhaps pitch cannot enough define music: what they define merely is sound. The whole point is that music is something more than mere physical sound. And it is that "something more" that may not be universal, that may differ from one type of music to another.

      I am afraid that your list of parameters can only answer the question: "does this sound utterance qualify as music for us?" It may qualify so for others as well, but that is another question which your parameters may or may not permit to answer. The only point I want to make, from the start, is that we should be extremely careful about that. I never meant that your list was useless, I merely wanted to warn against any idea that it might mean more than what it can – in particular, that it might be universally valid to define "music".




    • Dear Nicolas, thought provoking comments and points.  I found this article of interest on anthropology and music I want to share with you. 




    • It has dawned on me that there may be some confusion about my original post on this topic.  The cliché that "music is a universal language" was never my position or purpose in supporting for this post.  My original intention was to state that music is (from the cultural anthropological perspective) ubiquitous among human societies including prehistoric humans as is language. That is - music is found in every human culture, region, geography and is therefore an ubiquitous or "universal" feature of human culture as language is.  I apologize if that was not clear or confusing.  I certainly agree that the statement "music is a universal language" is confusing to me, abstract in meaning, even pretentious.  With that clarification I concur with Stephen Jablonsky's list as a generalized way to survey music "as a starting point" before specialization levels are approached.  I think that what we are able to identify at the outset of an experience (regardless of education) is important and most trained or untrained human beings are able to discern certain features of sound as related to music (regardless of its aesthetic meaning).  If we were to decode an alien transmission (should that every happen) we would have to start from the perspective of pattern recognition and observations based on our own knowledge of logic and mathematical comprehension.   

    • Carson,

      There is also a third perspective: to break music theory down to speacialized courses in harmony, counterpoint, musical form, ear training, orchestration, jazz harmony, arrangement, etc. which will be more beneficial and will require specialized professors in each of those disciplines. This will raise the bar to all who want to become music instructors and will stimulate creativity in both teachers and students. Those who major in composition, conducting and musicology will study harmony, form and counterpoint longer than those who major in performance.

      I think that general education in music theory (without specialization) nourishes mediocrity. Look around and see how many working professors in music theory can harmonize melodies and modulate through tonalities; how many of them may devise a canonical sequence applying a double counterpoint, improvise a little melodic line as needed, etc. As a result of these gaps in education, their students suffer too, for one cannot sell what one does not have, right? I would not hire as theory teacher such a person despite the school they have graduated from, despite their eloquence in "theoretical matters" or the number of their publications in "prestigious journals". It seems as if snobbery and mediocrity have made their way onto very high levels, and students often pay a lot of money at a "prestigious institution" to learn nothing practical that would serve them later.

      Best regards,


    • Pitch is a manifestation of sound, not specific culture practice.

      With regard to instruments, the anthropological record is fairly clear about their ubiquitous existence.

      Orchestration refers to what combinations of instruments and/or voices are used, not a reference to the orchestra - hope that wasn't lost in translation.

      But motion of some type is not avoidable.even if not all types are used.

      Harmony refers to vertical alignment of sound, not cultural aesthetic.

      Scale refers to groups  of pitch collections or differentiation whether organized or intuitive.

      Thank you for your feedback Nicolas.  I am quite open to using other terms that are more appropriate, deleting others, adding any suggestions.  I did provide a link on musical instruments from the anthropological perspective that reinforces my argument of musical instruments as an ubiquitous feature in most of not all human society, including predecessors to Homosapiens.  


    • If an instructor is going to focus on the Western Canon, I think a minimum (and reasonable) expectation of any instructor is as follows:

      [a] [s]he is well-acquainted with topics and approaches that are outside the Western Canon

      [b] [s]he communicates to students the limitations of what is presented in their class. And "here are a few resources to further your studies far beyond what is presented in this class"


      Isaac Malitz, Ph.D.