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Topic: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

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  1. #1

    Hindemith's System of Composition Pedagogy: Modern but not harsh.

    Okay, I think I want to branch out from the "Death of Classical" thread and start seeking solutions. Since this whole debate has gotten me riled up. LOL

    This thread's goal is to look into one prominent 20th century composer's theories of music and see if it could result in music that is entertaining without being "dumbed down".

    The book is The Craft of Musical Composition by Paul Hindemith. And I already know what some are thinking who have not read it: "Oh whatever, I don't want to learn to compose like Hindemith!" Well, that is not the intention of the book. The book outlines methods of composing that result in music that is pleasing to the ear instead of purposely harsh, that is structured and not chaos, and that is built on the foundations of music since Palestrina.

    The first book out of the two-volume set is where he explains how he derives his two "series". Series 1, as derived from the overtone series, is the chromatic scale... BUT... it is in the order of relationship between pitches. For instance, The fundamental C is most closely related to the C an octave above it at the top of the scale. Next is the G, then the F. What does that tell us right away? That classical and baroque composers weren't totally lucky in discovering the tonic, predominant, dominant relationship. It exists in nature as derived from the overtone series. How he derives each pitch is complex, but completely logical. Obviously the overtone series covers several octaves. PLUS the seventh overtone and those above it are practically unusable because of frequency differences.

    Several other interesting things are noted which are central to his theories:

    *The major triad shows up in the overtone series very soon.
    *There is no minor triad anywhere in the overtone series.
    *A Major-minor seventh also appears in the overtone series.

    I am not going to explain how he derives the rest of series 1, because it would take too long. The pitches are in order from left to right of there decreasing relationship to the fundamental.



    Series 2 is derived from combination tones. These are tones that are sounded when two notes are sounded at the same time and are far too subtle for the concious ear to detect. Hindemith theorizes that the "subconcious ear" does feel them, however. Series two is a set of intervals in order of there harmonic and melodic force as demostrated below. This creates a NEW set of intervals to compose counterpoint exercises with that is much broader than the standard Fux set, limited by the time period's constraints:



    From this, Hindemith creates a system of harmony and counterpoint. He also is able to make a chart of different harmonies and their level of tension:
    Quote Originally Posted by Grove Music Online
    Hindemith refers to Series 2 as the basis of a ‘classification of all chords’, which he systematizes in a ‘Table of Chord-Groups’ comprising two main sections: A, chords not containing a tritone, and B, chords containing a tritone.
    Now the question is: How can this help modern composition?

    The answer is that this system allows the composer a ridiculous amount of leeway to create their own style. The chord chart has just about every harmony within reason imaginable from the major triad to a tone cluster.

    Hindemith believes that a tonal center is essential to music "sounding good" to most people because the overtone series does infer tonal centricity by its very nature. Think of the first 5 notes of it: C1, C2, G2, C2, E2. Hindemith theorizes that the most natural 'resting' point is the major triad. This does not mean one has to put major triads at the beginning and end of every piece, it just means that it has the least amount of tension. Hindemith did not believe that atonal music was viable, because other than the obvious fact that the ear will find a pitch given more weight, it was chaotic. It has to be analyzed to be understood.

    From this system, the student's goal is to be able to do the following:

    *Compose a good two-voice framework for the harmony: This means not thinking one chord at a time, but composing the melody and bass as a counterpoint (not note-against note, either), then filling in logical harmonies between that.
    *Create music based on the way sound is in nature. And he was not alone in this theory. Many other notable teachers of composition and composers understood the overtone series' importance in music.

    Sorry I could not elaborate more, but this thread is getting long!

    So, here is what I think: (opinion time)

    Composers who don't want to compose avante garde music would benefit greatly from this system. The student doesn't have to write in ANY particular style, but at the same time they benefit from learning the basics of how Western polyphonic music is constructed. It will open up the possiblity to compose in almost any type of classical music they would like. If they want to write closer to Mozart's time, they can neglect most of the chords on the chart, but before they commit to that, they MUST complete all of the counterpoint exercises in book II.

    The student would have to go into this study with an open mind and faith that they would come out the other side a better composer.

    My proposal is this for a four year study of composition:

    The first 1-2 years are used learning counterpoint from both Fux AND Hindemith. This will create a base to work from and give the composer the knowledge of voice-leading that is ESSENTIAL to good compositions. Also a strong basis in motivic variation will be necessary to teach a student how to compose a good melody and get the most out of it.

    The next 3-4 years would focus on practicing different forms restrictively and on matters of instrumentation. The reason the forms are restrictive is to teach students the importance of structure before they can cut loose and do their own thing.

    I think this method gives the student composer the best oppurtunity to write music satisfying both to them, the performers, and most audiences. It is essential that new students realize that composers no longer want to shock and awe the audience... well maybe "awe".
    Last edited by jesshmusic; 05-02-2007 at 04:43 PM. Reason: title problems
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  2. #2
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
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    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    OK, Professor Jess, you just sold some books, contact the publishers for your commission. Link?

  3. #3

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    Quote Originally Posted by Leaf
    OK, Professor Jess, you just sold some books, contact the publishers for your commission. Link?

    LOL.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/090...848765-2208736
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/090...848765-2208736
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  4. #4

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    I read Hindemith's book back when I was at high school, and didn't completely understand the significance of it - it does offer a great systemtic approach.

    The only thing that niggles me now is its reliance on the harmonic series as the basis for Western harmonic development, and then logical extension of it. Having come through rather a lot of music psychology, particularly psychoacoustics, I'm less and less convinced that tonality is a natural phenomenon, and more convinced that it is learned through early conditioning. This doesn't necessarily detract from the practical application of Hindemith's system though.

  5. #5

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    Quote Originally Posted by Pingu
    I read Hindemith's book back when I was at high school, and didn't completely understand the significance of it - it does offer a great systemtic approach.

    The only thing that niggles me now is its reliance on the harmonic series as the basis for Western harmonic development, and then logical extension of it. Having come through rather a lot of music psychology, particularly psychoacoustics, I'm less and less convinced that tonality is a natural phenomenon, and more convinced that it is learned through early conditioning. This doesn't necessarily detract from the practical application of Hindemith's system though.

    I wasn't too convinced either until I read it in more than Hindemith's treatise. After seeing Schillinger, Cowell, and even Messiaen mention it, I am starting to wonder. Also, it should be noted that I think the major/minor system of harmony (common practice), is conditioned. That is why the Hindemith treatise gives a broader perspective.

    High school read? Wow. In high school I wouldn't have made it through the first chapter.

    I will say this: If a prospective student wants to use this they do not need to study volume one. All this does is put a theoretical basis for the practical exercises he introduces in volume two.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    Quote Originally Posted by Leaf
    OK, Professor Jess, you just sold some books, contact the publishers for your commission. Link?
    I've been planning on buying the Hindemith books, and I think Jess' little run down helped me make up my mind. I still have a stack of books to read through/study, but I'll put these close to the top of the list... I already looked them up on Amazon and they aren't all that expensive - Link to Amazon
    Trent P. McDonald

  7. #7

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    While this is interesting by itself, I'm not quite sure I see how this deals with the issue of "alienating the audience" ... I don't want to ruin the thread though...
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  8. #8

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    Quote Originally Posted by SeanHannifin
    While this is interesting by itself, I'm not quite sure I see how this deals with the issue of "alienating the audience" ... I don't want to ruin the thread though...

    Listen to Hindemith's Mathis der Maler for an example of what kind of music can result from this system of composition.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  9. #9

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    Quote Originally Posted by jesshmusic
    Listen to Hindemith's Mathis der Maler for an example of what kind of music can result from this system of composition.
    I shall when I get the chance (I think I've heard it before), but I'm not sure what any system of composition at all has to do with alienating the audience. The audience hears the composition, not the system behind it.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  10. #10

    Re: Writing Modern Music Without Alienating the Audience

    Quote Originally Posted by SeanHannifin
    I shall when I get the chance (I think I've heard it before), but I'm not sure what any system of composition at all has to do with alienating the audience. The audience hears the composition, not the system behind it.

    You are WAY WAY oversimplifying what was said.

    I NEVER said it was a system meant to avoid alienating the audience. I am telling you it is a system to write music that is aesthetically pleasing as opposed to avante garde.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

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