Sunday, March 31, 2019

One Last Time through The Schillinger System

While I'm awaiting the additional voice cards I need for my Synclavier, I have been keeping occupied by going through my music theory library. I've been through The System three or four times since 1987, and so I decided to do it one last time. The System is ultimately a failure, of course, because no system is revealed, and many of the speculative notions Schillinger proposes are ridiculous. One reason this is so is because he dismisses the idea that the harmonic series has any influence on how we perceive music. He does this by pointing out that in natural sounds, all the harmonics present add up to a unison. I find this brief rejection of the harmonic series' potential to influence our musical perception to be humorous, because in every other thing he presents exhaustive lists of reasons. But he had to do it, otherwise most of his futurism falls apart. All you need to do is strike the nodes on a guitar's low E string up to the seventh, and you can hear how the series desires to resolve up to the A string (Or a major or minor chord on A). So this is the most fatal flaw in The System.

Another factor was Schillinger's untimely death, which makes his System a hodgepodge put together by some of his students and his widow.

But some of Schillinger's ideas are fantastic, such as the axes of melody and the circular and crosswise voice leading transformations in harmony. Both of those things have helped me greatly and have also lead to many compositions. I composed eighteen Axial Studied for solo guitar alone, and the second set of six comprised my final project for my MM degree. So it was far from a waste of time, but I've debunked all of the nonsense, while keeping the mechanics to explain how the harmonic series creates the very essence of musical context. I have written about it here, and about all of the secondary dominants here.


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