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Topic: The Rule: What Is That?

  1. #1

    Question The Rule: What Is That?

    As usual the discussion about composition "deviate" to rules, in a kind of war "classical rules" vs. "freedom".

    My personal opinion is that every mature composer has solved this issue and understood the real nature of rules and study.

    I'm very sorry, because a lot of young intelligent and talented potential composers still find the matter a source of polemics, doubts, critics to the method and so on.

    I would like to help with the contribution of my colleagues, to fix some little concept issues:

    - everybody is more or less confident with the concept of "style", because the recognition of caracteristic elements, it's quite instinctive.

    - to recognize a "style" everybody, conscious or instinctively separate little elements of the musical language: the basics and most recognized are rythm, melody and "sound"

    - rythm is made by accent and durations, it's possible analyzing it with mathematic and timeline tools. But if you make a mathematic and timeline description of a rythm, you make a "rythmic rule". What follow the rule is inside your style, what doesn't is something different.

    - harmony and melody are based on contemporary or sequencial tunes, they have a relative position measured in intervals. Again it's possible to describe a "harmony and melody" rule, selecting chords and sequences of your style.

    - "sound" is created by the instruments and the playing technic. Again you may describe the set of instruments, and the playing technic to use for obtaining your desired effect. It's the Orchestration rule of your style.

    Doesn't matter if you are analyzing Afro music, or Mozart, Heavy Rock or Jazz, Cuban or Fusion or Chinese folk music: the way to describe, select and recognize one music is always the same.

    The study of composition is based on learning the technics and the tools to organize and analyze the musical elements.

    The reason to start with the late romantic european style, with citation of renaissance, baroque and classical music (the evil parallel fifth and octave, the evil II-V-I rules etc. etc.) is just because we live in occidental countries, where the music has centuries of history based on it, and after the approach to the great masterpiece of the past, the young composer may quickly move to atonal, modal, stocastic music, with a fine and deep understanding of all aesthetic rules.

    But you may study only Jazz or only Rock, or only ancient music if you want: you will develop a more "vertical" or specific knowledge, and you will be only focused on YOUR style of music, but maybe you save time and avoid frustrating long study of styles you are not intersted in.

    Please people, reconciliate with "rules". They are your tools, not your enemies! A good mechanic technician can't hate the screwdriver. It's just easier to screw up with it, than without...

    Contributions and comments are wellcome!

  2. #2

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?


    Apparently you aren't in touch with your inner hippie. (Meaning a hippie would never accept any 'rules', right?)

    I suppose you began this thread reacting to our banter in the other one. I debated posting here in response because I don't want this to be a personal conflict between the two of us and nothing more. But then I decided that any information we share, even in conflict (as long as we remain civil) is potentially beneficial to others who are reading.

    I might be a bit defensive about the 'rules.' True.

    Seems to me, however, that your reaction is just as much a polemic on behalf of rules as you percieved mine to be against them. (polemic, for those who may not know, refers to an aggressive attack. I had to look it up.)

    Still, if one defines rules broadly than there can be no argument againt them. Any pattern one chooses to follow can be considered a 'rule'.

    Nonetheless, to criticize the method is only combatative if you take offense to that criticism. I don't mean to be combative. But I don't wholly agree. If that bothers you I apologize. I'm certainly not offended that you believe in the 'rules'.

    I do have to wonder at your implications that those who don't see it your way must not be 'mature' and are filled with 'doubt'.

    I'm truly sorry but I will never entirely reconciliate with "rules". I despise some of them. Others I love. If that makes me immature as a composer, so be it. I don't believe it does. But if it does, I can live at peace with that.

    No hard feelings though. I don't want you to think I'm mad at you or anything. I am just sharing my opinion, for what it's worth. That may not be much.

    So here's the theory from my mind:

    Music is one of two things. It's either an artistic endeavor or a commercial one.

    Additionally, to study based on Occidental tradition is a bias. Pure and simple.

    If you are trying to be an 'artist', then you are fettering yourself with occidental bias that way. It may not be a human rights bias or anything that important. But it's still bias. It is NOT fact. It's opinion. It may be a widely shared opinion based on thousands of years of tradition. But it's still an opinion. So calling it a rule is inaccurate.

    I don't see how opening one's mind to that reality is immature. But, well, apparently I'm immature as a composer, so what do I know.

    Commercialism, on the other hand, would certainly lead you to need to study western tradition, but if you think writing like Mozart is gonna sell much in todays world you might be a bit let down. Oh, I know there are mediums for that sort of stuff. But, generally, musical intent has changed with globalization and technology. You aren't just writing for the king and his court anymore. You're writing for the masses. And the masses could care less if you follow the rules. They care about how it sounds and that's it.

    I don't believe that every advanced composer has to (or should) share the same idea of what makes good music. How boring a world it would be. I don't think that to be versitile and mature as a composer you have to accept conventional thinking. I think the implication is arrogant and supercilious.

    I don't doubt you have a ton of knowledge to share here Fabio, but there are other schools of thought that may even be 'way' outside traditional thinking that may be very valid. And I don't even disagree with you entirely. Just in principle. In practice, I accept almost everything you said. I just think that spouting it as doctrine is closed minded thinking.

    Once again, I must reiterate, I'm not just trying to be combative or come across as offended or, how did you put it? ...thowing down a polemic. But I think it is healthy for people to have a broader view of what music is and can be than what is shoved down their throats in theory classes.

    The next 'great' composer will not be someone just writing a bunch of occidentally based works after all.

  3. #3

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    folk_prophet said:
    But I think it is healthy for people to have a broader view of what music is and can be than what is shoved down their throats in theory classes.

    The next 'great' composer will not be someone just writing a bunch of occidentally based works after all.
    I always thought (when I studied music theory a long time ago) that the rules were a starting point. If you didn't understand what has gone before, how could you move forward to something new and original? Even in the universe there are rules (or else chaos would ensue - no stars, no planets, no water, no living beings). Also, in the universe there is a prevailing harmonic structure which is notdesigned by man. The overtone series was not invented, it is natural and from that overtone series music has developed from the consciousness of man (at least on this tiny fragment of the universe). Everything vibrates in the universe - from the tiniest of particles (string theory) to the largest of planets and stars (pulsars and quasars). They to have a harmonic structure. Man has merely used this overtone series to devise musical sounds.

    There is rhythm in nature. (Listen to the sound of a woodpecker seeking its next meal.) Listen to the wind moving the branches of a tree. Listen to the heart beat of every living animal. But, it is man who organizes these rhythms and presents them for others to hear.

    Music is an extension of man's desire to communicate and derive pleasure in that communication. Structure is devised and organized by man. Consequently, that structure and organization is analyzed by others and rules are developed to try and understand what makes music (that is pleasurable and emotional) work. By the way, without rules in communication, I couldn't organize my thoughts and write what is being read here!

    My college teacher once said: "Learn the rules, follow the rules, understand the rules. Now go out and BREAK the rules knowing full well what the rules are." (That is paraphrased - after all it's been 40 years since I heard him say them )

    I don't think there will ever be a concise answer to whether one should follow the rules or be completely against them. I think the proof of the matter is:

    1. Did you as a composer accomplish what you were after (did you have a plan or were you just rambling on).

    2. Did others appreciate what you produced and get some meaning from it. (No one is writing in a vacuum music is a form of communication after all.)

    3. Will others be inspired to imitate what you have done and base rules upon your composition. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. (And I don't mean plagiarism.)

    I ramble, I'm sorry. I enjoy this forum and am glad to be part of it!
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong


  4. #4

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR
    1. Did you as a composer accomplish what you were after (did you have a plan or were you just rambling on).
    Mostly I was just rambling on.

    Thanks for that reply. I totally agree. I'm not really against the rules. (Well, except those stinkin' parallels!!) (j/k) I'm just for open mindedness concerning them. I'm also for blabbing a lot, apparently.

    I don't like some traditional pedagogical language though. Like the whole concept of harmonic and melodic minor. I think it's a bunch of bologna. I also don't care for some of the voice leading stuff. I REALLY think that some of the 'rules' are just intellectuals stretching for something to sound smart about when they teach their classes. I don't feel that 'no parallel 5ths' are invalid though. I DO feel that there's math behind why they weaken a sound. And chord progressions (to an extent) are very logical. Tonic/dominant stuff and circle of 5ths are logical and mathmatical. Once again though, there are some chord progressions that technically break the rules, and that's just academic bologna. Some chord progressions that break the rules are valid though.

    This is all my perception. But that's half my argument. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And that's my (theoretical) problem with it all. I start to feel when someone else tries to tell me what's beautiful that I'm being bamboozled. That's what the rules are, after all. Such 'n' such sounds better than such 'n' such.

    It's not just theory either. You get it in composition and orchestration. "This trumpet doesn't work here. You should use a flute." Well, bologna. I like the blasted trumpet. "This modulation is too abrupt." Well I WANT it abrupt. That's what I was going for! Etc., etc...

    It's funny though, because as a commercial composer I have had to, very much, accept that whoever's paying gets their way...even if I think it's dumb. And since I am primarilly interested in being a commercial composer I have had to swallow a lot of pride in that regard over the years, and I think that's healthy. But as an artist, deep inside me, I still scream in fury when someone tells me that they think my unconventional artistry needs to be more conventional to be good. (Which is funny, because what's conventional sometimes is the unconventional and I'm not really that unconventional when it comes right down to it.)

    *sigh* I've gone and blabbed on again forever. Sorry.

  5. #5

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    A good composer will use the rules, whether he acquired them by means of theory, or by aural analysis.
    When I say "use", I mean work both inside and outside the rules.

    If in an "Atonal" piece the contrapuntal lines happen to accidently land on a dominant 7th of G, with say 8 horns blaring out a B, and the trombones on an F, The composer can go 2 ways, bye fulfilling our expectations, via the rule( B up to C, F down to E), or dramatically thwart our expectations, by resolving it to an Atonal harmony.

    Whichever way he decides to go, he is "using" the rule.

    In most (but not all) cases these rules can be learned quicker by studying theory.
    Anyone who believes that studying the rules of Music, makes the Composer become a rule-follower for the rest of his career, evidently doesnt understand how to "use" rules.

    There are conservative composers ( I am one) and radical composers, but all talented composers "play" with the rules.

    regards Joe

  6. #6
    Senior Member newmewzikboy's Avatar
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    May 2005
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    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    Geez guys how did i MISS this thread. Im laughing so hard I fell off my art stool!!
    75,000th Post Winner on the Garritan Forum
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  7. #7

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    Joaz said:
    There are conservative composers ( I am one) and radical composers, but all talented composers "play" with the rules.
    That in a nutshell is the point of RULES. Joe, great insight!
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong


  8. #8

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    Quote Originally Posted by newmewzikboy
    Geez guys how did i MISS this thread. Im laughing so hard I fell off my art stool!!
    Was it the 8 french Horns blaring out a B that did it.

    Very subtle point, I thought.

    regards joe

  9. #9

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    Prophet, I think you're simply implying a meaning on the word "rules" that Fabio is not suggesting. Perhaps it is just a case of semantics...

    No matter what music you compose, it will follow rules, whether you recognize them or not.

    If you like occidental music and hope to compose in its tradition and style, you will use its rules.

    A "rule" is not an element that is "always good" or "always bad" for all composers. Of course everyone will have their different opinions. But if you like Mozart's music, for example, you will agree with his "rules". If you hate Mozart and his "rules", that is fine; there's nothing bad about that at all.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  10. #10

    Re: The Rule: What Is That?

    Yes, it is a semantic issue. But not entirely. It is a perception issue, certainly. But the semantic side of it is an important distinction to make I think. Semantic issues are very related to communication. I would daresay that 'mature' composers do not have a problem with the semantics of 'rules'. But beginning composers might. Understanding this is an important part of sharing knowledge.

    In other words, just because a person understands that 'rules' aren't really 'rules' doesn't mean that the students he or she might influence have the same understanding. To ignore that as just "a semantic issue" and not deal with those semantics clearly inhibits communication severely.

    We can easilly say that we're just using the word 'rules' without really meaning 'rules'. But if I were a beginning composer and heard from a master that there are 'rules' I would take it seriously. It would freak me out and inhibit my creativity...which, in fact, it did when I was first starting to compose oh so long ago.

    It is easy to look at things from a perspective of already understanding them. I'm trying to look at things from the perspective of those who aren't yet mature as composers. If the understanding were really that clear, there would not be thread after thread on forum after forum asking about the 'rules'.

    I came into composition with my own clearly defined ideas of what was important -- my own set of 'rules' if you will. I immediately clashed with teachers, other students and other composers and it hurt and it set me back. I went through the process (truly believing that I was somehow deficient because of my lack of understanding) of learning the rules and excelling at them...and then, came to the conclusion that they really did not, in the end, offer me that much.

    I do not regret learning theory. Not at all. All knowledge is valuable. I just think that too much emphasis is placed on the wrong things. That's all.

    And the idea that you can't be a good composer without mastering ever nuance of theory and history is, in my oh so controversial opinion, bunk.

    Thanks for the thoughts. Hope I'm not offending anyone.

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