It’s All About Harmony

So, of course, I think most music since the 18th century has had this fascination with the power of harmony to move the emotions, and I’m interested in recovering the more Medieval technique of the power of melody. More about that another time. This time, though, is about pop music in the broad sense. Ideas have consequences. I think this is just an area where philosophy of music has had its trickle-down effect on The Black Eyed Peas and Alabama.

Experiment:

1. Listen to a whole bunch of pop songs, specifically listening for melodic interest. Try to get the melodies down.

2. Ask somebody to sing one. Somebody with a pretty good sense of pitch. How about I Gotta Feeling or If You Wanna Play in Texas. Note exactly what notes they’re singing. Are they singing exact pitches? Do you even know if they’re singing the right ones? Could you plunk out the melody on a piano? Could they? Could you write it down in a pitch dictation class?

3. Now play the song in the background and ask them to sing. Are they hitting the right notes and exact pitches now?

Here’s how I project this to turn out.

1. Melodic interest? It doesn’t exist. It’s full of repeated notes and then some strange saltus duriusculus. Many Classical music snobs would point to that as a detrimental thing, but that’s not what I’m doing here. I think it’s a technique popsters learned from CM. They’re honking on chord tones. Huh.

2. In my experience, they have no idea how the melody goes and then I realize I have no idea how it goes. They get the sense of pitch arc, but exact pitches are kind of blurred.

3. Once you put on the music in the background, they can nail the tune. They’re doing crazy leaps with good intonation. What was the missing ingredient? What was lacking in (2) that made them do so well in (3)?

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Think aloud.

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