Sunday, 3 July 2016

Falsehoods programmers believe about music

In the spirit of Patrick McKenzie's great post on falsehoods programmers believe about names, I am trying to write an equivalent one for music. Any false assumption that might be made in codifying music is a candidate for inclusion. Suggestions are very welcome.
  1. Music can be written down.
  2. Okay, maybe not with European notation, but there'll be a specialist notation for that kind of music.
  3. Music is finite in duration.
  4. Music has a composer.
  5. Music is about harmony.
  6. Music uses scales.
  7. Music uses equal temperament.
  8. Music uses tones and semitones.
  9. Music and dance are separate activities.
  10. Playing and listening to music are separate activities.
  11. Musicians can play their part separately from the overall composition.
  12. Music is performed by professional musicians.

21 comments:

  1. Notes shown higher on the stave sound higher than notes shown lower on the stave.

    Notes should always be played reading from left to right - notes to be played simultaneously will always be aligned vertically.

    Notes on a stave always consist of a circle/ellipse for the note head and a line for the stem.

    Ok, but all notes to be played always have at least a note head.

    Ok, but at least every note to be played will be represented with its own mark somewhere on the stave.

    Notes are/should always printed with the same size note head.

    It doesn't matter whether the stems go up or down.

    The clef may safely be omitted.

    The clef will either be a Treble or a Base clef.

    The key signature is always shown somewhere.

    The time signature will always be shown in numeric form.

    All bars have the same number of beats.

    There will never be more than one accidental applied to a single note.

    All instruments use basically the same notation.

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    Replies
    1. Can you give an example of a note that has multiple accidentals?

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    2. Chromatic notes in keys with sharps or flats may have double-sharps or double-flats. For example, the flat three in C is Eb but the flat three in Gb is Bbb. While Bbb may sound the same as A, it provides the opportunity to communicate a different meaning when notated differently. Also see notation of fully diminished 7th chords (C, Eb, Gb, Bbb). This isn't used across the board, though (i.e., not everyone takes the opportunity to use multiple accidentals as a communication devices).

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    3. The 𝄫 accidental is still just one, not two.

      I’ve seen historical use of ♮♭ to dissolve a previous 𝄫 in the same measure, but nowadays (and following Gould) you’d just write ♭.

      So, yes, for music following modern notation conventions, a sole note will have only one (possibly parenthesised) accidental, but faithful representation of old music may require more.

      And then there’s the differing semantics of accidentals (things like duration) or their positions (above/before)…

      Delete
  2. A few more ones:
    - bars have power-of-two beats (1, 2, 4, 8)
    Counter-example 1: The first bar usually has a different amount of beats. Inserting silence is possibly, but not nice.
    Counter-example 2: Waltz is usually 3/4, some pieces are 6/8
    - bars after the first have "standard" time signatures
    Counter-example 1: borders of a repeated bars can be sliced arbitrarily
    Counter-example 2: some bars are "padded", e.g. the "happy birthday dear Maria-Anna-Lena" part of Happy Birthday
    - *most* bars after the first have "standard" time signatures
    Counter-example: Songs that are in 5/4 [1], and I'm sure there's even weirder stuff

    Does anyone know a counter-example for "A time signature always has a power-of-two denominator"?

    [1]: e.g. Mission Impossible theme; Halloween theme; "Missing" by Plaid

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  3. I think the power-of-two denominator is notational rather than a feature of the music itself. So it's possible it's tautologically always the case.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Making music always involves making sounds.
    (4:22 anyone?)

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  7. Examples of unusual time signatures:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_musical_works_in_unusual_time_signatures

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  8. Some that are more about audio recording and playback than music per se:

    Tracks on an album can be numbered sequentially starting with 1. (A CD can have audio placed in an extended pregap before the normal start of track 1, requiring rewinding on some players and being inaccessible altogether by others.)

    A CD will have an entry on an online database. (Obscure discs get missed and something someone burnt themselves obviously won't be included.)

    100% is the highest the volume can go. (Setting it higher will distort loud sounds but can be useful to make quiet tracks more easily heard. VLC for example lets you take volume above 100%.)

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  9. A music piece ("composition") is a "song".

    All songs are sung.

    Time signatures must be rational.

    Pianos have 88 keys.

    Keyboard instruments are tuned in equal temperament.

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  10. 1 - There will be a time signature at all - see several solo pieces, often marked `ad libitum`
    2 - There will be a key (signature) at all. IE atonal music as opposed to music in C/a.
    3 - Notes at the beginning of a bar are played within that bar. IE grace notes for the first note of a bar are played prior to the bar.
    4 - Notes that are the same key on a piano are the same frequency - in tonal music Bb, A#, and Cbb should all be tuned differently by instruments that don't have fixed pitch according to their harmonic role. For example in C Major Bb is likely part of a C Dominant 7 chord (V7/IV), meaning the Bb resolves to A and should be played flatter.

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  11. 1 - There will be a time signature at all - see several solo pieces, often marked `ad libitum`
    2 - There will be a key (signature) at all. IE atonal music as opposed to music in C/a.
    3 - Notes at the beginning of a bar are played within that bar. IE grace notes for the first note of a bar are played prior to the bar.
    4 - Notes that are the same key on a piano are the same frequency - in tonal music Bb, A#, and Cbb should all be tuned differently by instruments that don't have fixed pitch according to their harmonic role. For example in C Major Bb is likely part of a C Dominant 7 chord (V7/IV), meaning the Bb resolves to A and should be played flatter. In C Major A# could be part of a vii/vii chord, meaning it resolves up to B and should be played sharper.
    5 - Similarly, the same note has the same frequency all the time. Counter example: in F, C will be flatter than in Db, where it is the leading tone and should be sharper as it (is likely) to resolve to Db.

    ReplyDelete
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  13. Suppose music cannot be written down. To write something down is to make a record of it. Scores of Beethoven's 9th symphony exist. Therefore Beethoven's 9th symphony is not music.

    So let's add "Beethoven's 9th symphony is music" to this list of falsehoods.

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    Replies
    1. That is not at all what the author said. Claiming that "music can be written down" is a falsehood does not imply that NO music can be written down - it only means that it is possible that SOME music cannot be written down.

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    2. "Music can be written down" means it is possible to write music down. If that were false, then music could not be written down. It's not a "some can but some can't" statement.

      What you're thinking of is the statement "some music can be written down", but that's not what the author wrote.

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    3. I gave it a little more thought, and have to adjust my argument a little, because the statement "Music can be written down" actually does mean "Some music can be written down".

      It's just like when someone says "I'm listening to music". They don't mean "I'm listening to all music"; they mean "I'm listening to some music." Music can be listened to, music can be written down.

      I suspect the author misunderstood the basic identities of predicate logic or misapplied them to that natural language statement. Informally, that some music can be written down means it is false that no music can be written down. Formally,

      ∃m∈M:P(m) ⇔ ¬(∀m∈M:¬P(m))

      or there is an element m in set M such that P is true of m if and only if it is false that P is never true of m.

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    4. Depends what you mean by "written down", but it's actually impossible in Western notation to write down all the information about a piece of music. The rest we fill in from our knowledge of the style and period of the piece, the composer's other works and our own preferences. The score contains the critical core of it, but there's far more in there which isn't written down and simply can't be.

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  14. "Music can be written down" means it is possible to write music down. If that were false, then music could not be written down. It's not a "some can but some can't" statement.

    What you're thinking of is the statement "some music can be written down", but that's not what the author wrote.

    ReplyDelete