In Theory.

Common-practice voice-leading conventions are rules of preference—each one a reflection of contemporaneous musical practice (i.e. “style”). Music theory is not designed to prescribe them; it can only describe them.

If your harmony teacher were to say that something about your part-writing assignment is “wrong”, it would suggest that your solution is inconsistent with common-practice conventions, not that there is such a thing as “right” or “wrong” music—a stubborn misconception about the nature of music theory.

Put another way: a 7-line haiku hasn’t necessarily stopped being a poem, it has only stopped being a haiku.

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One Response to In Theory.

  1. Preferring to remain anonymous says:

    I left behind my early and undergraduate composition teacher (no names mentioned) for his fixation that parallel fifths were not only wrong by common practice traditions, but also against the aesthetic of avant garde movements of the 20th century. When I called his attention to the parallelism in both Debussy and Vaughan Williams he was angered, and when I called his attention to Puccini’s and Strauß’ “20th century” work, he fumed. When I called his attention to Gershwin through Sondheim, he darn near threw me out of his office. But he needed me because in that small college, as I was his last remaining student before the collapse of the entire department. My graduate and post-graduate composition teachers were far less unyielding and willing to examine the many streams of modern music, but then they too would probably have irritated my old and first teacher. As to voice leading, I contend that Bach was exemplary in sometimes though rarely having very dissonant voice crossings, making sense in the linear motion while “contradicting” the harmonic rules, and contend further that there has never been a “Tristan” chord, but rather a Wagner-composed setting of very seminal voice leading which has been abbreviated into that so-called “chord,” a chord found throughout late 19th century music but never functioning as Wagner managed to make it sing. I distrust rules for the sake of rules. The ardent demand of the rule makers that one obey them — think, set theory and the like — is not conducive to thinking outside the box. Creativty needs some boundaries to be sure but they are not defined by the rule makers external to the artist, or so it seems to me. Counterpoint as a structural and inventive process remains oh so very valid, rich in opportunities and darn good fun too. Best wishes on your blog.

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