Music Theory 000.1 – Part 5: Tonics and Intervals

This is part of my series on Understanding How Music Works. If you haven’t yet, you may wish to start at the beginning. This post, finally, is about how two or more notes interact within a piece of music — when there is a “home base” note and some interval relationships between that note and the others in the piece.

The most succinct and accurate definition I’ve encountered for “music” is “organized sounds and silences.” That broad definition encompasses just about everything that’s seriously regarded as music, and even most things that many people don’t regard as music. Things like John Cage, Daft Punk, Schoenberg, Stomp, turntablism, and Ke$ha. But we’re not going to deal with these outliers yet; we’re going to start by looking at one way that we humans organize sounds (and silences) into music that is so common that we might reasonably conclude that it’s physiologically hard-wired into us. Continue reading “Music Theory 000.1 – Part 5: Tonics and Intervals”

My new home is tiny – or is it?

Since moving to this area to work at Virginia Tech, my wife and I have chanced to meet at least two separate families each living in what’s been described as “tiny houses.” (One of them has been covered by news outlets such as Huffington Post; check out their blog here.) So when we came across a builder who could build us a 12′ x 28′ cabin for a very reasonable price, the idea of living in it did not seem completely unreasonable.

A bit of background: at the time, we had a couple of needs to meet. In the short-term, we needed a place to stay on a great piece of property we bought in Floyd, VA until we could build our “big house” – a 1200 square foot ranch we’ve been planning for years. In the long-term, we’ll need a “man cave” where I can put my music equipment and home entertainment system, so that it doesn’t mess up the big house. Continue reading “My new home is tiny – or is it?”

Music Theory 000.1 – Part 4: Pattern-Recognizers and Meaning-Makers

This is part of my series on Understanding How Music Works. If you haven’t yet, you may wish to start at the beginning. In my last post I said that this post would be about how two or more notes interact within a piece of music – “what happens when there’s more than one note?” But I have one more digression to take before I do. There are some ideas that form an important context to any meaningful discussion of how musical sounds work together. I’m going to try to cover them here, in just enough depth that we can get back to talking about pitch-classes and harmonies.

Human beings, you see, are pattern-recognition machines and meaning-makers. It’s not just how we understand music; it’s how we make any sense at our environment at all. So let’s be more explicit about what it means to be pattern-recognition machines, and what it means to be meaning-makers, before we talk about the patterns we observe in music and the meanings we ascribe to them. Continue reading “Music Theory 000.1 – Part 4: Pattern-Recognizers and Meaning-Makers”