For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been devouring books on music. All kinds – from books on practicing (“The Art of Practicing“, “The Inner Game of Music“), Music History (“The Rest is Noise”), Music Appreciation and Enjoyment (Bernstein’s “The Joy of Music“), Composition (Messiaen’s “The Technique of My Musical Language“), but I have never found a book that is as eminently practical and eye opening as the book I’m reading now. In my opinion, this is one of the few books nearly all serious musicians should own.
Ron Gorow’s “Hearing and Writing Music” is a book that attempts to give the amateur musician many of the tools of the trade: the ability to hear chord changes, transcribe music, compose, arrange and orchestrate music, and even the basis for improvising.
The basis for these skills is knowledge of the musical intervals and the tuning systems. Essentially, Gorow believes that by training the ear to recognize the qualities of the different musical intervals, and being able to use one’s “mental recorder” to slow down the music, one can easily gain these essential musical skills. Before you start rolling your eyes and think this book is esoteric; it isn’t. He clearly articulates the qualities of the intervals and relates them to music. For example, he writes of the fourth:
Everyone hears the lower tone of a fifth as the root. However, a fourth may be perceived with the root above, as it appears in the harmonic series, or with the root on the bottom, independent of harmonic context. This ambiguity has caused theorists to disagree for centuries over the function of the fourth. However, we need not be concerned with the role of the fourth. Our goal is to recognize the sound of the interval in any situation.
Building on the skill to recognize intervals, Gorow moves on to recognizing scales and modes. He believes that by learning the scales and modes and chords, the right brain is much more free to do the more creative parts of music:
While your right brain is composing, improvising, intepreting, your left brain is busy with the nuts and bolts of music – intervallic relationships which are transformed into notes. This transformation – the process of hearing and writing (or performing) depends on your ability to manipulate music.
This view is clearly the opposite of what many musicians think: The more theory you know, the more limited you are. Not so – by learning these nuts and bolts of music, you free the mind to use these unconsciously and increase the limitations of your music. I think this is refreshing to think that knowledge can only help you, not hurt you as so many of us think in music.
From here, Gorow moves on to transcription and understanding musical phrases – by understanding the intervals and their relationships underlying the chords and scales, Gorow believes you can really own the music. He champions learning transcription for many reasons, one of the most compelling which is to be able to “notate your own songs, and well as transcribe songs that intrigue you to discover the the secrets that attracted you’. Music becomes something that you can manipulate and own and vary to your own liking.
The book ends with discussions on how to go from “perception” to “notation” – communicating your musical ideas clearly to others, whether it is for arranging, or orchestrating, as well as discussions on preparing music for publishing and copyright.
Anyhow, this book has gotten me excited to learn and relearn the fundamentals of music, and I think it can fill in the gaps for many musicians who’d like to learn more about theory and the underpinnings of music.