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Book Review: Music Theory For Computer Musicians by Michael Hewitt

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Music Theory For Computer Musicians is geared for those DJs, musicians, and electronic music producers who understand how to play their instruments or create music on the computer, but don’t really have an understanding of the musical theory behind what they are doing.

It doesn’t matter what kind of music that you are into, the fact is that underneath all music are certain fundamentals that are the same. To write better music, you must have an understanding of these fundamentals and this book will provide them. Music Theory For Computer Musicians is 320 pages and is divided into 26 chapters.

Chapter 1, “Musical Sound,” begins by examining noise versus musical sounds. This is where you will learn about pitch, intensity, tone, and note names. Chapter 2, “The Notes,” now looks at the notes based on a MIDI keyboard and how they relate to both the white and black keys.

Chapter 3, “The Major Scale,” examines how, through the use of scales, you can begin to create music through a linear progression. You will learn of the types of scales and intervals. Chapter 4, “Rhythm, Tempo, and Note Length,” now looks at the duration of sound and how it affects music. This chapter focuses on the lengths of notes in a composition.

Chapter 5, “Score Editing,” looks at editing your music within musical software through the piano roll or score edit view. Chapter 6, “Intervals,” shows you the relationship between notes and how they are used will determine how they sound to the listener.

Chapter 7, “Meter,” now looks at how beats are combined into larger units through various methods so sounds can make sense to the ear. Chapter 8, “Chords,” are made up of intervals and are used to create musical harmony. You will see how chord progressions work.

Chapter 9, “The Natural Minor Scale,” now looks at the other side of the coin – the minor scale, and will give you a better understanding of the main features of the tonal system of Western music. Chapter 10, “Melody and Motives,” examines the pitch axis and time axis that make up the melodic lines in music.

Chapter 11, “The Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales,” will take on two more forms of minor scales to advance your musical knowledge. Chapter 12, “Augmented and Diminished Intervals and Interval Inversions,” looks at another family of intervals called the augmented and diminished intervals which will build a foundation for a future chapter of triads.

Chapter 13, “Chordal Inversions, Octive Doubling, and Spacing,” takes on the task of harmony within your music. Here you will look at inverted chords, doubling, and spacing. Chapter 14, “Additive Rhythms,” are when a short beat is multiplied to produce various grouping of beats and looks at how to get other types of rhythms to your music. Chapter 15, “Expanding Your Knowledge of Keys,” will show you how to get comfortable working within different keys.

Chapter 16, “The Pentatonic Scale,” now shows you how to work within the key system on a five note scale that is global in its musical use. Chapter 17, “Major, Minor, Augmented, and Diminished Triads,” looks at the wide variety of triads that are available for you to explore within your music.

Chapter 18, “Chord Progressions and Root Movement,” are what give the music its identity and being comfortable with the chords that belong to a key will allow you to string chords together in a logical manner. Chapter 19, “The Cycle of Fifths,” gets into details of the relation to and importance of the Circle of Fifths – how keys are related within a circular scheme.

Chapter 20, “The Seven Diatonic Modes,” diverge from the main key system and looks at some alternatives to the system. Here you look at Modal Music and the seven Modal scales. Chapter 21, “Chords of the Seventh,” now looks at seventh chord harmony or triadic harmony to expand your musical knowledge.

Chapter 22, “Exotic Scales,” are scales that are pulled from outside of Western traditions. Here you will experiment with various types of exotic scales. Chapter 23, “Complex Harmony,” shows that by adding a seventh to a triad you can get a much more complex harmony and adding a ninth, an eleventh, and so on, makes it even more complex.

Chapter 24, “Arpeggiation,” looks at a common technique in modern electronic music of using arpeggios of various sorts and the principles behind this concept. Chapter 25, “Intonation,” concerns the fine points of how a scale is tuned. Here you will look at the history of intonation, tuning other scales, and tuning overtone melodies. Chapter 26, “Conclusion,” finishes up with a brief closing of this book.

Music Theory For Computer Musicians is a really well written and well thought out book. Since it was created for both tradition musicians as well as computer musicians, you don’t have to know how to play an instrument for it to have enormous value. For those who are self-taught, it will demystify that what is music theory and will give you the ability to really understand the music that you are trying to create.

With so much music that is being published on blogs and places like MySpace, every bit of musical knowledge is important. If you are a novice musician, a computer musician, or even an old pro who learned how to play on your own, then I highly recommend Music Theory For Computer Musicians.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.