Theoretical and Analytical Method

Theoretical and Analytical Method

Music theory has been around for thousands of years in some form or another. It is impossible to know when or how it started, but it can be traced back at least to ancient Greece. The field of music theory and analysis is very wide and diverse but The New Grovesubcategorizes it into three parts: speculativeregulativeand analytictraditions.

             The Speculative Traditionis arguably the oldest form of music theory. It is the study of basic music elements such as sounds, intervals, rhythmic proportions, scale systems, modes, etc. Regulative and Practical Traditionsdeal with music notation, vocabulary, structure, scales/modes, etc. Some of the early important speculative traditions began in the 9thand 10thcenturies and were developed to systemize and notate the Church’s growing musical needs.  Analytic traditionsare mainly concerned with structure and individual features of a piece of music. This normally involves identifying certain components and/or explaining the importance, disposition, or relationship of the components.[1]

            The study of music theory, in its most basic and superficial sense, is based on patterns and set rules of tonal hierarchy, harmonic progressions, voice leading, form, meter, etc. Analyzing these basic components is essential for any music theorist, or anyone in the music field, but one can go much deeper when analyzing a musical work. Theorists and musicologists, such as Peter Burkholder, study other composers to enrich their own compositional style. Burkholder claims he wants to know why the composers he studies made the choices they did and why they preferred those choices over other possibilities.[2]Other theorists, such as Brian Hyer, have a more abstract approach. Hyer notes that “an objective account of what is ‘in’ … music is … impossible, because what is ‘in’ … music varies according to the subjective interpretive pressures that constitute perceptual contexts.” [3]

            Theorist Benjamin Boretz practiced “attributive” theorizing as opposed to more common “descripitive” methods. In his view, an attributive theory “isn’t descriptive or explanatory of anything; what it does is ascribe properties to and thereby determine what there is.” Attributes such as melodies, rhythms, harmonies, are treated as ideas and not facts. Boretz notes the involvement and complicity of the listener in determining the “shape and content of reality.” Theorist Robert Morris notes that “music theory, taken as the study of structure, could be considered a kind of science, analysis is clearly a form of criticism.”[4]In other words, the notes and markings should be the same on the score of a specific work. That should not change no matter who is studying that score. The analysis, interpretation, and meaning, however, will vary immensely from person to person.

Music theory, especially the analytic tradition, is a grey area of music where anyone with a compelling argument could put forth their thoughts on a specific piece.  Music can be full of patterns, rules, and trends. Theorizing and analyzing all of those simpler things can turn out to be very abstract and there is no limit as far as how deep or surreal one can get.


[1]The New Grove p. 494-497

[2]Burkholder, Peter

[3]Pearsall, Edward 

[4]Morris, Robert

             The Speculative Tradition is arguably the oldest form of music theory. It is the study of basic music elements such as sounds, intervals, rhythmic proportions, scale systems, overtones, etc. Pythagoras was an important theorist in this field. Regulative and Practical Traditions deal with music notation, vocabulary, structure, scales/modes, etc. Some of the early important speculative traditions began in the 9thand 10thcenturies and were developed to systemize and notate the Church’s growing musical needs.  Analytic Traditions are mainly concerned with structure and individual features of a piece of music. This normally involves identifying certain components and/or explaining the importance, disposition, or relationship of the components.[1]

            The study of music theory, in its most basic and superficial sense, is based on patterns and set rules of tonal hierarchy, harmonic progressions, voice leading, form, meter, etc. Analyzing these basic components is essential for any music theorist, or anyone in the music field, but one can go much deeper when analyzing a musical work. Musicologists, such as Peter Burkholder, study other composers to enrich their own compositional style. Burkholder claims he wants to know why the composers he studies made the choices they did and why they preferred those choices over other possibilities.[2]Other theorists, such as Brian Hyer, have a more abstract approach. Hyer notes that “an objective account of what is ‘in’ … music is … impossible, because what is ‘in’ … music varies according to the subjective interpretive pressures that constitute perceptual contexts.” [3]

            Benjamin Boretz practiced “attributive” theorizing as opposed to more common “descripitive” methods. In his view, an attributive theory “isn’t descriptive or explanatory of anything; what it does is ascribe properties to and thereby determine what there is.” Attributes such as melodies, rhythms, harmonies, are treated as ideas and not facts. Boretz notes the involvement and complicity of the listener in determining the “shape and content of reality.” Theorist Robert Morris notes that “music theory, taken as the study of structure, could be considered a kind of science, analysis is clearly a form of criticism.”[4]In other words, the notes and markings should be the same on the score of a specific work. That should not change no matter who is studying that score. The analysis, interpretation, and meaning, however, will vary immensely from person to person. 

Music theory, especially the analytic tradition, is a grey area where anyone with a compelling argument could put forth their thoughts on a specific piece.  Music can be full of patterns, rules, and trends. Theorizing and analyzing all of those elements can turn out to be very abstract and there is no limit as far as how deep or surreal one can get.

Carlos Barba

References

Burkholder, J. Peter. “Music Theory and Musicology.” The Journal of Musicology 11, no. 1 (1993): 11-23. doi:10.2307/764148.

Morris, Robert. “A Few Words on Music Theory, Analysis and about Yours Truly.” Intégral 14/15 (2000): 38-48. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/40214076.

“Musicology” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and
            Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan, 
            2001. xvii: 494-497

Pearsall, Edward. “Mind and Music: On Intentionality, Music Theory, and Analysis.” Journal of Music Theory 43, no. 2 (1999): 231-55. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/3090661.


[1]The New Grove p. 494-497

[2]Burkholder, Peter

[3]Pearsall, Edward 

[4]Morris, Robert

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