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CONCEPTS OF MUSIC DEVELOPMENT AND THEORY

By Romaine Chip Fitzgerald, 1984

The origin of music, and thus the proliferation of music theory, began with the primitive Homo sapiens initial conscious effort to reproduce the same sound or an approximation of the same sound in succession. Therein the basic time signature of 2/2 – not unlike a complete cycle of a life sustaining heartthrob – was the seed of contemporary music theory which germinated, and evolved into a grand art form of beauty, spiritual depth and immeasurable human sensitivity.


The foundation of music is sound. Sounds, by virtue of its nature, presuppose the unity of matter in motion; e.g., sound is the absolute direct result of pulsations and vibrations occurring from the movement of reality itself, and cannot exist as separate, isolated entities. The unity of matter in motion is the cornerstone of sound because matter can be in motion without producing any sound that is audible to the human ear; but on the opposite hand, sound as we define it cannot possibly have an identity distinct from the combination of matter and motion – just as mathematical law dictate that a whole is the direct result of combining two halves.

Since long before humankind could understand and define itself in relation to its habitat and the awesome forces of nature (but never beyond the long reach of one’s imagination), the ear of the human being and his/her primordial sensibilities was exposed to the symphonies of biological and natural phenomena which one can logically conclude inspired in humankind a crude form of emulation/reproduction of the sounds that were heard. Consciousness which is the soul of intellectual processes, grappled with the mystique of sound until crude rhythmic concepts began to crystalize.

The first beginnings of music perhaps lie deeper in historical obscurity than those of speech, the relics of which are undoubtedly older. A possible means of throwing any light on the origin of music is afforded by the observation of musical development in children and the music of primitive peoples. To the people who in prehistoric times perceived musical sound as it originated in the beating of hollow objects or by the swing and whirl of a staff or plucking of a string, it was something incomprehensible and, therefore mysterious and magical. The mere sound of percussive instruments excited them to the pitch of intoxication which is clearly in evidence today among many remaining primitive cultures. It is very probable that from those percussive sounds the power of rhythm was discovered, which inflamed and ordered the elaboration of ritual dance and also coordinated the movements of labor and, as if by magic, lightened the toil.

Considering the fact that necessity has proven to be the mother of invention, many have acquired percepts of simple rhythmic patterns reinforced by way of repeated practice in the use of notes (sound) of a definite pitch; e.g., signals of advance and retreat in war; the approach of life threatening elements to the community, ad infinitum. To tone and rhythm appeared primitive melody in combination with more or less intelligible words, probably as magic initiation rites, in the song of a chorus leader in dancing or while performing community labor. Certainly at some point individuals were stimulated to satisfy through musical sounds their emotional needs, pleasurable or otherwise. (Even as we approach the 21st century, the therapeutic of music is immeasurable!)

A characteristic of the conception of primitive music is monotony, the incessant repetition of the same short melody, just as the alternation of solo and chorus, improvisation and a regular refrain are among the oldest elements of music.

Finally, natural science has attempted to connect the pre-human origin of music in the song of birds; and comparative musicology, which deals with the prehistoric development of music, has supported the postulate that humankind may have been attracted by bird-song, and have continued to use it as a model of imitation. What is certain however, is that the practice of music among primitive peoples underlie a continual movement between two opposite extremes, i.e., between excitement and repose; its common form is therefore melody, that begins on a high note, and then sinks or drops to a definite final or tonic.

Music owes its existence to and is a direct reflection of the dynamic forces of reality which appears to permeate the entire universe and everything in it. The pulsations of life, rain drops, biological vibrations of plant and animal life, the violent disintegration of distant stars manifested by the supernova and celestial bodies dancing through infinity, do so to the tune of cosmic rhythms and melodies being orchestrated by the wand of some omnipotent maestro.

However, the basic concept of excitement and repose in music reflects the color, modes and movement of our multi-dimensional reality that seems to be without a beginning or end. (The Yin has no dynamic without the Yang and vice versa.) And in order to express the emotions and the sense perceptions/interpretations engendered by the human experience in musical form, fundamental principles govern its creation and orchestration.

Different tones and pitches primarily express the feelings, the sentiments and statement of the musician; to the listener, the different tones and pitches fill the imagination with color and texture, and excite a number of emotional responses in one’s soul. To capture and master the flavor, range and intensity of musical expression, a theory of musical composition has been developed.

Cultural refinement does not presuppose music appreciation. Music is indeed a universal language which soothes the heart and invigorates the soul!