• Register
  • Help
Page 1 of 7 1234 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 64

Topic: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

Share/Bookmark
  1. #1

    Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    I've spent along time studing traditional harmony from all the best regraded books such as Piston, Kosta, Gaulding, Aldwell and Schachtner etc. But all they do is teach you how to construct four part chorals. The reason usually given for this in the texts is that all of the music under consideration is essentially just "activeated" four part chorales. But my teacher has told me that this is just not true and the principles of four part harmony you spend years learning are just never used.

    So my question is why bother learning it at all in the first place if all you do is just throw it all away?

  2. #2

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    While it is true that you will rarely use the exact practices you learn in 4-part voice writing ever again, the theories behind harmonic function, voice-leading, and line writing are things you will perpetually be using as a writer. The purpose of 4-part writing is to give us a good grounding in these practices so that we can explore out from a firm foundation.

    To make a comparison, no one ever climbed Mt. Everest without first establishing a base camp. 4-part writing is our theoretical "base camp" in the music world. You don't come back to it often, but having it there means that you have a good start to your journey.

    As is true of so many things in music, you must look past the face value of what you are learning, and discover how it applies the the big picture, and more importantly, how it applies to your vision for your music.

  3. #3

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    Well...

    While you're studying 4-part harmony, your mind also develops and develops in ways it wouldn't had you not studied 4-part harmony. Don't know if it makes sense as written, but it does make sense in real life.

    You don't get to use the 'rules' of 4-part harmony, nobody does, but you get the line of thinking and develop your own. (as jazzguy already pointed out...)

  4. #4

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    I think your teacher (having not heard the direct quote) may just be pointing out that a lot of "rules" enforced by classical music arent useful as "rules"


    The bottom line is that if it sounds good, it works. That means that parallel fifths are appropriate in certain settings. They are not appropriate if you are aiming for a sound that reflects the classical, romantic, or baroque style.


    I dont really understand the notion of "studying" principles or rules, because ultimately what you end up with is... well, rules, which dont do you any good when it comes to composition. You arent going to get anywhere fast thinking along the lines of "well, here I am on a IV chord, and I would like to go to the dominant, so it would probably be best if I held these common tones and used mainly stepwise motion. Oh, I'm in root position now, I suppose when I return to the tonic I had better triple the root so that I retain proper voice leading."

    What you need to understand is that the set of tendencies that they try to call rules is a large part of the reason that Mozart sounded like Mozart, which doesnt really take a whole lot of "studying principles." It takes studying Mozart.

  5. #5

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    Haha Ravich, well said.

    But if you have run through a phase of this

    Quote Originally Posted by Ravich View Post
    "well, here I am on a IV chord, and I would like to go to the dominant, so it would probably be best if I held these common tones and used mainly stepwise motion. Oh, I'm in root position now, I suppose when I return to the tonic I had better triple the root so that I retain proper voice leading."
    as you and I appearently did you really begin to appreciate why

    Mozart sounded like Mozart
    My interpretation is that if you try to understand four part harmony and counterpoint for a while (a few weeks is fine IMO) and also study the scores of the masters then you absorb it in a way that lets you "use the principles" instead of "following the rules".
    All your strings belong to me!
    www.strings-on-demand.com

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    Location
    www.wisemanproject.com
    Posts
    398

    Thumbs up Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    The ultimate goal of the harmony is to learn how to write for multiple voices in the style of polyphony-oriented homophony.
    So, in a sense, studying 4 part harmony is just a starting point to learn how to write for voices that are more and less than four in that style.
    Then you will learn other styles of writing, and may develop your own style of writing. Those who learned traditional harmony will not throw away the knowledge. They learn how and when to use it according to their need.
    Kentaro Sato (Ken-P)
    Composer/Conductor/Orchestrator
    www.wisemanproject.com

  7. #7

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    I'm tempted to blame the books. I really wish more books on harmony and counterpoint would describe how the principles and rules they speak of actually apply in existing orchestral works. The books either don't do it, or do it too briefly. It can make studying four-part harmony seem useless because they don't say enough about it in non-choral (or non-Bach) settings.

    Sometimes the books can seem like piano teachers who only teach scales and not much else. It might be important, but I wish they'd go beyond...
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    Location
    www.wisemanproject.com
    Posts
    398

    Smile Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    Sean. I know what you talking about.
    I wrote a web page that talks about my idea of a new orchestration book.
    http://www.wisemanproject.com/educat...ntaroSato.html

    I've got many responses, but the academic circle seems to be very skeptical about my approach. It is mainly because the application belongs not only to skill, but also to art. And there are many schools of composition that says art cannot be tought.

    By limiting examples to traditional music, we can make "agreed" rules in music and present them in a book (TEXTBOOK that I would say). Although what you want (and what I am planning to make) would be very good for self-study people, but it might not be a good textbook that are used in schools. And if this kind of books are not expected to be used as textbooks, they are very difficult to be made.
    Kentaro Sato (Ken-P)
    Composer/Conductor/Orchestrator
    www.wisemanproject.com

  9. #9

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken-P View Post
    Sean. I know what you talking about.
    I wrote a web page that talks about my idea of a new orchestration book.
    http://www.wisemanproject.com/educat...ntaroSato.html
    Very nice! That looks exactly like the sort of book I would love, and would find extremely useful. It is unfortunate there is not more interest in your approach on the academic side. To me, it looks like the sort of book the world of music books needs more of...
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  10. #10

    Re: Studying four part harmony is a waste of time.

    Hi Ken-P, I went through your link and must say it`s really amazing as to how you`ve made things so simple to understand., Your inputs are going to make a big difference to all the boring and scary stuff that`s being churned out in the name of teaching harmony! My experience with going through the William J Lovelock`s ( with no disrespect to him in any way whatsoever) books was something that made me think of harmony as the unattainable science that I wasn`t destined to understand!( I know this sounds very cynical). More on this later, but meanwhile, I really wish you all the very best .
    DR COMP

Go Back to forum
Page 1 of 7 1234 ... LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •