[Smt-talk] Theorists and composers

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sat Jul 7 02:18:22 PDT 2012

Dear Prof. de Velde,

I never claimed that music theory had no science in it; I simply expressed my opinion that it is no science per se, for it is built upon three fundamental disciplines - harmony, counterpoint, and musical form. All of these subjects require both theoretical and practical knowledge as well as a great deal of creativity that is hardly seen in academia nowadays.

The scientific research on the Arabian and Turkish maqams, and the tuning system, in my view, belong to the sciences of acoustics, a branch of pure physics. You do no have to be a musician to do research in this field. 

Know imagine now a"pure" theorist would teach harmony, without having piano capabilities and without having experience in the craft if harmonizing melodies. This would be equal to someone's teaching you how to box who has never practiced that sport. The insights of that "pure" theorist are not based on idiomatic experience in the real world, but solely on verbal speculations written in a textbook. Can you smell the food by looking at a picture illustrating food? Can you fill your stomach?

My main point was this: since a "pure" theorist is no master of any theoretical discipline, for real mastership requires both theoretical and practical knowledge (both depend on each other), he/she does not make a professional theory instructor in academia. Their teaching is dry, they do not use the piano, which is very funny if you teach harmonic progressions and ear training, and they cannot serve as a model of understanding, knowledge, and creativity to the students. Therefore, it is unfortunate that such pure theorists are preferred to fill teaching positions. This happens because other pure theorists sit in the governing chair of theory departments and,of course, they will prefer to hire people like themselves. 

As a result, students do not develop practical mastery over any theoretical subject. You want proof? Turn to a random graduate student in your school and give him/her a melody to harmonize or a theme to make a canonic sequence in invertible counterpoint. Then enjoy the result; it is coming from their "pure"theoretical knowledge.

Thank you,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer 
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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