[Smt-talk] Theorists and composers

Marcel de Velde marcel at justintonation.com
Sun Jul 8 17:26:10 PDT 2012

Dear Dimitar,

> 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.

Sorry, I must have misinterpreted some of the things you said and quoted 
Btw, I am not a professor.
I do work on music theory full time but do it in my own home and do not 
get paid for it and have no experience teaching music theory to others.
So I'll refrain from the more subtle discussion on what makes a good 
music theory teacher.

> 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.

I do not study tuning systems from a cultural, acoustic / physics point 
of view, but from a functional point of view.
My research has shown me tuning can be pure according to function (how 
our brain interprets / quantizes the pitch space / pitch relations), any 
tuning which deviates from this is an additional "coloring".
This pure tuning is often referred to as just intonation, however I've 
found that just intonation is in fact Pythagorean tuning, not a tuning 
system with 5/4 major thirds or something like that.
This is where all the physics, mathematicians and music theorists of the 
past centuries have understandably gone wrong, which is a pity as this 
is probably the most solid foundation for a more scientific 
restructuring of music theory and one that can lead to many new insights 
/ ways forward and new musical styles and colors.
I am writing a paper on my research in which I will present a fairly 
solid proof for Pythagorean tuning being true just intonation, even 
though what I'm researching is ultimately taking place in the brain and 
direct measurements are not possible.

The important part is that this does tell musically significant things, 
and one does have to be a musician/music theorist to understand it.
For instance that an Ab is not the same as a G# to our brain, irrelevant 
of the tuning system used (even for 12tet, there is no true enharmonic 
Following this line of thought, if one tries to harmonize an 
arabic/turkish neutral second by seeing it as either a differently tuned 
half tone or whole it will not work. It will simply end up sounding like 
a very out of tune half tone or whole tone to our brain. (this is what 
has actually happened with all attempts up till now)
Yet, once one understands that a "neutral second" is most often really a 
diminished third, one can see how to use this interval in polyphonic 
music that our brain can understand / interpret as intended.
(a justly tuned diminished third is ~180 cents, which actually 
corresponds to measurements of the neutral second most used in practice, 
the 150 cents often stated does not)
Another charismatic interval of maqams is the use of the chromatic 
semitone / augmented prime instead of a regular half tone.

Only a small part of tuning is about physics and biology and what takes 
place in the ear, most of it is about what takes place in the brain and 
here it becomes about music theory, physics can't say a thing here (take 
for example Helmholtz who did wonderful studies the ear and the effect 
of tones in the ear, and then gets lost and draws hopelessly wrong 
conclusions when he tries to link his findings to actual music).

Kind regards,

Marcel de Velde
marcel at justintonation.com
Zwolle, Netherlands

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