Music Theory (college level course lesson 2)
If you have not read lesson one please start there.
Lesson 2 - the A B A' / I-V-I form
In lesson one I briefly talked about the concept of "dissonance". What I didn't tell you is that dissonance is probably the most important concept you need to think about when analyzing music. Especially western tonal harmony, from Bach to Bird. The reason it's so paramount is because, at some point, composers realized they could string up the listeners emotions into a state of tension, and then when that tension was released the listener would feel a sense of relief. This is where we get the form of A - B - A(or often A')
A - at rest
B - tension
A' - at rest, but a little different
For some reason the human animal really really likes this. Maybe it's from spinning around on a globe for so long, experiencing day and night, the changing of the seasons, the rise and fall of our lifetimes and a million other smaller(and bigger)cyclic examples that make our brains respond so intensely to a good A - B - A.
Interestingly, the entire history of western music follows this process on a macro scale. The oldest music we know of is Mediterranean harp music played by ancient greeks. It's from them that we get the "modes". You don't have to memorize them but I'll list them out for you in case you hear one of these terms out in the wild you can feel smart.
Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.
What you'll inevitably notice about all this old music is that it's... boring. Or maybe relaxing is the right word? Formless? It definitely has this mysterious element though, like it's about do something.
Well give it a thousand years, the rise and fall of a few civilizations and fiiinaly humanity pops out a genius that synthesises a revolutionary musical concept:
"the V chord"
What about that lights your insides on fire?!? Damn it freaking gorgeous. And unlike the bland harp music it isn't just merely pretty, it's passionate. It reminds you the of feelings of being in love or watching a beautiful sunset or saying goodbye to a friend who's moving away. It's tense. It's alive. The reason Bach does this to you is because he discovered how to set up and resolve a V - I progression.
So Bach started a revolution that made composers start upping the ante for how much tension they could create in a piece of music. This famously jumped the shark in Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde in which the piece sets up a cycle of V chord tensions that don't resolve to a I chord for FOUR HOURS. From that point, guess where it went?
That's right. JAZZ.
V - I became passé. Just one of the many colors in the composers palette. And sneaking back in, the old greek modes getting explored and expanded with some new minor scales that Bach and Beethoven came up with. Music history fell back down to A, but forever changed by it's journey to B.
Of course there were other rejections of a "V - I centric" way of thinking that took the idea of never resolving the tension into territory that would evolve into what most people would recognize as early art film horror soundtracks.
Instead of making you feel at peace like Debussy, the atonalists of the early 20th century found a different way back to the leveled out formlessness of pre-tonal music.
We haven't really found a way to get anything more out of the 12 notes of the western chromatic scale. We'll get into that stuff some day, but for now lets get the "normal" sounding stuff into you head.
Homework: memorize and practice the musical alphabet.
Write these patterns out on paper until you can do it quickly without making a mistake. See you in lesson three!
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