Opinion: Reading, Rhythm, Harmony and Playing

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These are four of the elements that can be a basis for playing music on any instrument.
Reading. I've seen an adult, who learned piano as kids, sit down at the piano and play a piece reading the sheet music. The significant other told me "sounds like typing on a typewriter." It's true, the musical feeling was missing, even though the notes were there. Reading is a great asset for studying any instrument. It won't hurt your musicality, unless it is your only skill. Or, as it was famously put decades ago, "It don't mean a thing if ain't got that swing." The notion of swing comes from rhythm.

Rhythm. If you don't have a sense of time and rhythm, you must try to develop it. I don't know how, but I am guessing it has a lot to do with listening to music, tapping hands or feet, dancing, becoming a part of the music. I think you can check, and maybe develop your time by working with a metronome. Listening to the most diverse kinds of music will likely help you feel rhythms, without needing to know their names.

Harmony. As with the previous elements, I believe the key to understanding harmony is hearing it. Theory is interesting in the same way history is interesting. For a general sense of musical culture, it's nice no know about the general concepts, like definitions of scales, modes and chords. It helps if you need to communicate with other musicians, too. But, just as a drawing of a chair is not a chair and a statue of a woman is not a woman, the notions you may be able to learn about music are not music, but symbols, in effect memory aids, a framework to understand intellectually. If after memorizing the names of modes and intervals, you still can't hear them in your head, you haven't moved very far forward.

I didn't leave out melody, because it's a part of harmony in that it usually conforms to the tonality established by the harmony. A melody is an inherrent part of the tonality. You might even say that a melody is created using rhythm and harmony. The only difference is that melody occurs in series (one note a a time according to the rhythm) whereas harmony is both parallel and series. If you hold all notes in a musical composition, you'll hear one melody note and several harmony notes, (and zero rhythm; it's stopped). Harmony is also in series, because a sequence of chords is harmonic movement.

When you begin to learn about harmony, sometimes the basic notions are confusing, they get mixed up and so do we. You may learn that there are only a few possible chords in western music. This in only true in theory and the way theory is taught. Academics may well find fault with some of the above, but I speak from my own experience and that of the many great players I've known.

A chord is composed of two or more notes. Any two notes can "imply" a lot of full chords. The way to understand this is to play two random notes, listen to how they sound together and hear the harmony they can represent, major, minor, diminished, augmented. Any two different notes are separated by an interval. The distance between notes is called an interval. Intervals are important, but even if you don't know the word interval, you need to know and hear intervals between notes in your head. This all leads to calling an interval a name like "minor third", which is quite precise. But many New Orleans musicians in the birth of Dixieland not only didn't read, but didn't know or need to know those names. What they knew was far more important, they knew rhythm and they heard what to play, even if they couldn't define it.

There's no limit to the number of chords of any type. How do "new" chords come to be? It's a little like how are stars created in the galaxy. New chords are created as harmony is expanded, just as our universe expands. Notes can are added to any chord, making it different, while retaining the general harmonic sense of the moment. If one is limited to what would usually be taught about chords, creative music would sound the same and never evolve. The pianist McCoy Tyner threw a big brick in the puddle of post bebop playing when he based a new style on a distinct system of harmony. Traditional chords mostly are based on thirds. Even if you don't know what thirds are, you can think of them as every other note in the scale. McCoy chose to use wider intervals in his chords (fourths) which immediately gave a modern, innovative and "open" sound that was an important part of the John Coltrane Quartet. The open aspect allowed improvisation more freedom, too.

Long story short, Whatever Works.

If anyone has any value-added comments, I'd love to see examples of your compositions to illustrate your points.
 
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These well made "observations" reminded me of the 5 basic elements of music itself:

melody, harmony, texture, rhythm, and form
 
What are you calling "texture"? It's possible that I call the same thing density, which Schillinger defined as "the number of attacks" or the number of voices (instruments).
The number of voices is obvious. The number of attacks is the number of notes being played on the same beat. That's what texture would mean to me, but you may have a different idea? Form is of course, important, but beyond the first approach I'm suggesting. So are the two things I just said about density, but it is an important part of music.

Explain "texture"?
 
This is way, way beyond the scope. These concepts, form and what you are calling texture are in the realm of orchestration, not particularly useful for learning to play.
Please understand, it is not what I am calling "texture". The link I provided gives the "academic definition" of the term in answer to the question. I would argue that an understanding of role each part and voice plays in a musical performance and their relationships to one another ie. the "texture" is an essential part of performing all styles of music. For example in "polyphony" like "traditional jazz" a moving voice should predominate over sustained notes or in open spaces left by other parts. In "homophony" the top voice should predominate, followed by the bass line. In monophony, it is common for the dynamics to rise and fall along with the contour of the melody.
 
I'm not sure I agree with your comments about reading. What is often referred to as 'musicality' is something that people develop as their skills increase/improve. Reading per se has nothing to do with being or not being musical. I'd argue that those improvisers who think that musicality is about how many notes can be played in a small unit of time are wrong.

I was taught from my first music lessons in secondary school about music's various 'components' such as melody, harmony, and rhythm. I seem to remember we used 'timbre' as one, and 'form' was another rather than 'texture'. Timbre is obviously about 'how' it sounds, whilst 'form' covered various things homophony, polyphony etc.
 
I was taught from my first music lessons in secondary school about music's various 'components' such as melody, harmony, and rhythm. I seem to remember we used 'timbre' as one, and 'form' was another rather than 'texture'. Timbre is obviously about 'how' it sounds, whilst 'form' covered various things homophony, polyphony etc.
My understanding is that "timbre" describes the sound of an instrument itself. For example the "timbre" of a trumpet sounding a C concert is different than the "timbre" of a flute sounding the same note. Of course the "timbre" is determined by the number and strength of the harmonics present in the sound, as well as the "transient" (burst of sound) at the beginning of the note.

On the other hand, form describes the organization of the parts of a composition. One of the most commonly used forms in many styles of music is the A B A form. Another form would be A B A C A D etc. called a "Rondo" form. A form used by many composers is the "Theme and Variations".
 
I didn't leave out melody, because it's a part of harmony in that it usually conforms to the tonality established by the harmony
Some people might say it is the other way round in that melody can exist without harmony, but not the other way round. Of course we can always or often find an implied harmony to a melody, but possibly not in some atonal music.
 
My understanding is that "timbre" describes the sound of an instrument itself. For example the "timbre" of a trumpet sounding a C concert is different than the "timbre" of a flute sounding the same note. Of course the "timbre" is determined by the number and strength of the harmonics present in the sound, as well as the "transient" (burst of sound) at the beginning of the note.

On the other hand, form describes the organization of the parts of a composition. One of the most commonly used forms in many styles of music is the A B A form. Another form would be A B A C A D etc. called a "Rondo" form. A form used by many composers is the "Theme and Variations".
I’m fortunate to have played Hammond organ, which as you may know has drawbars to infinitely adjust the timbre - in addition to swell, percussion, vibrato etc and the famous Leslie Doppler swirl effect. It teaches you a lot about “tone” and what is appropriate in a performance.
It’s easy to over-play the thing, and an old band member told me early on “That’s a powerful instrument you’ve got there boy. The most important thing you need when playing it is Taste”.
 
What I'd like to encourage (besides someone showing us their musical works, because so far no one has) is that if you feel you undertstand these musical concepts, how your deep undertanding came about. What brought it to the forefront? What was the lightbulb moment? If you went to college to study music, did you finish with a full understanding of what was taught and put it to practical use, or did you have key moments later where things became clear? If you took lessons, did a teacher clue you in? Did you have a mentor that clarified the various concepts at play? I was lucky enough to be in that position. His definition of a scale was "a way up and a way down". It's a damn good one and uses no techno-babble to express itself.
50+ years ago when I was a teenager at college a drummer friend and I (playing bass) would go to the deserted College theatre stage and jam together for hours - no teacher and no guitarist taking control. Although I’ve had formal lessons and played in various formats since then I reckon I learned more about musical collaboration, empathy, timing, phrasing, scale progression, and FUN at that time than ever since.
 

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