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Topic: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Question Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    Discussion with a radiologist last night about studying music theory, composition, and rules of part writing. Turns out this gentlemen studied music as a double major in college and we spent most of our conversation pondering one question he presented. As such, "If one had studied theory, composition, sight signing, ear training and all that encompasses, then one unconsciously uses the rules unless the consciously diverts from what he or she studied while composing new music, yes?

    Fortunately, either one of us came to a solid conclusion yet I will say if you ponder this question you begin to question whether or not you really use or you really break the rules when composing. My feeling is one can break the rules but one cannot break them unless one has complete knowledge of how to use them and manipulate the rules. And that's just it isn't it? We actually "manipulate" the rules to achieve our goal and not really "break" them?

    Naturally, I wanted to share this with you and get your perspective. Let's Rock!

  2. #2

    Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    I don't break the rules, I make the rules!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  3. #3

    Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    Not in chronological order necessarily!

    There are the practical rules, first of all, which you do need to know about: notes, rhythm, intervals, instrumentation, etc. These are highly pragmatic and you can't really break them, unless you are Cage...

    Then there are the more musical rules. Complex time signatures, phrasing, aesthetics, etc. Here you get more options, many more choices but still there are guidelines.

    Then you get techniques. Orchestration, counterpoint, harmony, the art of fugue, composition. I repeat: Techniques!

    And finally you get to compose.

    The only thing that I can accept in composition (and probably detect it) is if someone is doing something on purpose or out of ignorance. You can get (just an example, don't kill me) 2 songs both with 3 chords. The one could be because the person writting it doesn't know any other chords (which is limiting, I would imagine), while the other might have chosen to do so (in which case it is a choice, not a limitation). (Certainly there is no judgement in any of the songs, nor specific examples. Don't get anyone going about songs with 2 chords, etc...


    I do think that the more you dive into something, the more getting used to it you... become. It boils into you, it becomes second nature. Even in a subconscious level! But you can't break something without knowing about it, can you? And even if you do it will be random and out of ignorance.

    Then again you can't know everything, can you? So, even if you think you're breaking some kind of "rule" (to which I don't believe in), it can be that someone else already done it and came up with a new set of rules to build his own theories.

    So, the point is not whether you break a "rule" or not, but why you do it!

  4. #4

    Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    A joke I used to make about music theory was that "I would be doing the same thing I was already; I'd just know what it was called."

    I write what I think sounds right, and if it doesn't, I change it. It doesn't necessarily follow the rules. It does what it ought to do.

    That's all there is to it, really: Go with what sounds right. It doesn't have to sound good, just right. Even dissonance can sound right.

  5. #5

    Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    I very recently wrote a short article that touches on this subject, On Ears And Correctness.

    Boiled down to its essence my argument was: When the rule and the ear disagree, the ear is correct.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  6. #6

    Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    Rules? There are rules?

    Why wasn't I told about this!


  7. #7

    Smile Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    This is a great discussion, one that I had during my growth while studying under the late Stanley Hollingsworth (he is greatly missed - former resident composer for Detroit SO). His analogy was that anyone can try to build a house, but without the knowledge on how to build a solid foundation, the life of the house comes into question. His views made me open my eyes over the course of studying with him on this subject, and after overcoming the formative years of "I know everything" attitude in my late teens and early twenties, I grew to appreciate this perspective.

    Pop music is a good example of this statement. Pop being from the word "popular" of course. Much pop music is written by songwriters who don't often have formal training, not composers. They definitely have their place, and many help pay my bills through their contribution (while sometimes meager) of the money that comes into the industry as a whole (sadly, the "classical" genre is not often profitable). But most pop music goes out of fashion quickly, while music based on the "craft" has survived generations.

    Counterpoint has helped me tremendously in times when I just can't seem to find the right transition, but only lasts a bar or two before I get the mojo back and use some harmony techniques, then throw all of it out the window for some wild improvisation. But it all leads back to what makes it sound good and work together. My 2 cents - thanks Stanley...
    Trevor Blu Rutkowski
    Colorado, USA

  8. #8

    Re: Manipulating, altering, and or breaking the rules?

    In my youth many times my guitar was out of tune (weed problem ). Probably I was breaking the rules somewhere but it helped me to deviate from my usual patterns. It's a lot of work to break our patterns.

    The essential rule for me is to learn how orchestral instruments interact each other in differents registries because of their physical constraints. And Mr. Adler is my best friend.


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