Part 2: Logic
by John Anthony Martinez ’87
The ability to think critically is one of the most valuable assets any creative person can possess. As musicians and artists, we have the unique ability to use our talents to point to truths about the world around us that might otherwise go unnoticed, draw attention to injustices that might otherwise go unchallenged, or transport people through storytelling who have never traveled. Composers and musicians have been doing this for centuries; Bach’s sacred music, John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance”, and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is The Love?” are good examples. Even if one is not a composer or songwriter, the ability to quickly analyze a piece of music and create (or recreate) an appropriate part for it is a necessary skill for anyone who plans to perform music well
Logic is concerned with reasoning and ordering our thoughts and ideas in ways that lead to understanding and truth. Therefore, it follows that it is concerned with the negation of truth. Negations of truth come in two forms – falsities and fallacies. A falsity is an error in fact, and a fallacy is an error in process. In my previous article, I discussed the importance of grammar as it relates to music; identifying and naming the elements of music. Note types, key signatures, time signatures, scales, modes, and chord types all make up the language and grammar of music. If someone were to call a 3/4 waltz “Common Time”, we would be able to spot the falsity in that statement immediately because we would know that is not true to fact. But how do we spot musical fallacies? By listening and analysis.
Listening Analysis was one of my favorite classes at Berklee. It was where I really learned to appreciate form and structure in musical compositions. It was in those classes that my listening skills, arguably the most important faculty we have as musicians, were finely tuned. In addition, learning harmonic analysis further enhanced my concept of how music fits together. I learned how to spot fallacies quickly, with the added benefit of understanding why they were errors in process. Some examples of musical fallacies, or errors in thinking, might include “arguments from tradition”, “arguments from novelty”, or “the excluded middle” fallacy.
The argument from traditional is an error that arises from thinking that because something has always been done a particular way, it must remain so because it is right. If you have ever studied Traditional Harmony used in Classical music, you would have learned that consecutive (or parallel) fifths are incorrect, taboo, and should be avoided when harmonizing a given melody. If you were to analyze contemporary Pop music using the rules of traditional harmonic analysis, you might argue that the Pop song is all wrong, because music today is full of parallel fifths. The error in process here is that the rules of Traditional Harmony and counterpoint do not apply to today’s music, and to use them in this way would result in a musical fallacy. This can be compared and contrasted with the argument from novelty, which says that because something is new it must be better. This is not necessarily true, for example, some might argue that the sound of older analogue recording equipment is more pleasing to the ear than the sound of digital recordings.
The excluded middle fallacy is an error in thinking that occurs when one assumes that if something is good, more of it would be better. The excluded middle would say, “If an apple a day is good, an entire diet of apples would be better.” I hear this fallacy especially amongst younger students who learn new concepts only to overuse them in their performances; i.e., an audio engineer applying reverb to everything, a guitarist playing the same signature riff in every solo, or a drummer overdoing the use of ghosted notes. There is an old adage that states that everything looks like a nail when you’re a hammer, and we sometimes tend to wield new musical tools this way. We should ultimately rely on our ears to tell us what is appropriate.
There is a good reason why an F natural does not “work” well with a CMaj7 chord. Am I saying that playing an F natural over a CMaj7 is always wrong? Absolutely not; that would be a falsity. We have to think more critically than that. Even Mozart used parallel fifths in his day, because they sounded good to him, and served his musical purposes. Perhaps Pablo Picasso said it best when he said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Martinez, an alumnus of Berklee College of Music and Oxford University, is an in-demand drummer, songwriter, producer, and Managing Partner of Rhythm Intensive™. He founded Fingerfoot Music Productions in 1999 and is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Grammy Awards.
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