For those who really want to read more. . . What follows are the Preface and Introduction from The Audio Dictionary Of Harmony and Melody.
There are two paths upon which one may progress in music. While they intertwine, with most people progressing on both simultaneously in different measures, they are nevertheless unreliant on one another. Nearly all methods of study are derived from the first path: Listening to music through our ears and deriving sensibilities and generalizations from the experience. There is nothing wrong with this approach. This is the path of commonly heard phrases and analysis: “that sounds familiar”, “this sounds like the type of voice leading Chopin would use”, “her first solo sounded like something Miles would play”, etc. While listening is also the basis for The Audio Dictionaries, the underlying method is an extension of the second path: Listening to the inner world. This is the path of deep listening to one’s own mind. Sure, it’s influenced by what one has heard; but is it nonetheless an entirely distinct pursuit. It is most commonly “practiced” in its natural form: composition or improvisation. But even there, the influence of physical and mental patterns can easily—and mindlessly—upstage the inner voice. The only way to systematize such a practice is to methodically present the basic tools to the ear and mind absent preconceived notions and patterns. That is, presenting a dictionary to the ear, absent the literature. So, it’s partly a lack of what you might think of as musical grammar that gives these works the name Dictionary. It’s also because a dictionary presumes virtually nothing in terms of usage or contextual meaning. The Dictionaries are a comprehensive presentation of the fundamental spectrum of harmonic and melodic possibility. For a pilgrim of the second, less-traveled path of musical progress, they are somewhat like a mirror for your musical soul: Face them with your ear and your mind, listening for the reflection of your own artistic voice in its harmonic or melodic disguise.
The works embody three characteristics: Simplicity, Comprehensiveness, and Effectiveness.
As one illustration of the first characteristic, Simplicity, I’ll say this now: There is no need to continue reading if you don’t wish to; just start listening. As much as I’ve loved studying music theory and just thinking about music in general, this work had to be direct: No detours through theory required. 12 common names are used for the notes presented, based on each note’s relationship to the bass. Each note name is used for 2 notes because each note is presented in two octaves. But no need to know this—or even what it means—in advance. Just listen. There are, of course, many other benefits of simplicity: The course becomes very convenient. You can listen anytime, wherever you wear headphones. Or you can play along with an instrument.
You could say that the second characteristic, Comprehensiveness, is an extension of the first. Comprehensiveness is enabled by avoiding the tangential concerns of historical context, theory, and rules. It simply lays it all out there. And the benefits are thus far more important: This work will not “tell you what to hear”. There is no discussion or added weight given to “common progressions” or “typical melodic patterns”. Nothing wrong with those, but the intent here is to get out of the way of your inner voice by obfuscating ingrained patterns. A complete palette of harmonic and melodic building blocks are simply presented to your mind’s ear.
Finally, Effectiveness. Given that it’s entirely based on the most consistently proven method of instruction—actual listening—that it is effective should hardly be in question. Regardless, it’s guaranteed: A large portion of each work is freely available for download—14 of the full set of 24 notes and all of their permutations across two octaves. These are the notes of the major scale, relative to the bass drone. They are laid out harmonically or melodically in every possible combination across two octaves just as they are in the full set. If it’s not effective—or if you only want to study the major scale—then move on, nothing to see here. But not only is it effective, it’s specifically effective at bringing out your direction in music. This is amplified by the inclusion of playlists so that you can focus on certain note sets or scales as well as the ability to build your own playlists through the use of tags in, for instance, iTunes or wherever you prefer to manage your files. Lastly, for something to be consistently effective it must be easy to integrate into your life. In a world where wearing earbuds has practically become acceptable every waking hour, this course couldn’t be any easier to use.
TADOH and TADOM are fundamental to the evolving artist in two ways: 1) They are the basis for a full spectral feeling for and understanding of harmony and melody; and 2) They are comprehensive abstractions of two of the primary elements of music.
It’s been said that you don’t learn to write by reading a dictionary. But, in some ways, wouldn’t it be nice? Contemplating the materials that make up the entirety of the form, without prejudice or bias as to how those materials have been used or are to be used. The avoidance of influence.
Fortunately, unlike the situation for writers of literature, writers of music can learn by listening to a “dictionary”. A single conceptual element exists in the experiential realm of TADOH and TADOM that don’t exist in a written dictionary: Context. In a written dictionary of words, there are two basic elements, the word and its definition. There may be some contextual usage of the word but it doesn’t maintain relevance from one word to the next. In contrast, in The Audio Dictionaries there are three basic elements to every piece of audio. To continue the metaphor, the three elements are the “word”, its definition, and the context. The “word” to be defined is notes played simultaneously (TADOH) or in succession (TADOM). The “definition” is that the notes are then played successively at a slow rate and defined by degree in relation to the ever-present context. This context is a droning bass note. The droning bass note provides a context in any given moment, as notes played on the piano are addressed relative to the bass.
How does a musician use this type of dictionary? The real answer is that the artist will find their own way with any basic tool. Just shuffle the audio files and listen. But another answer is both simple and complex and will be left at that for now: Every file, every moment, is an emotional snapshot in the form of harmony. And every next moment is this too; and it has also become contextually indebted to the previous moment.
But maybe that was all a bit too abstract. And, of course, no dictionary is complete. What I’ve done in The Audio Dictionaries is extract the essence of harmony and melody, with each chord or note succession followed by the announcement of the notes’ names. It’s for ear training, a reference work for the mind’s ear.
TADOH and TADOM are self-explanatory, by design: You’ll hear a droning bass note; then other notes on piano will sound and be named by degree, relative to the bass. There are 24 notes used, two of each of the twelve notes of the equal-tempered chromatic scale, in two adjacent octaves. This reveals the essence of every note combination as well as encompass the sounds of voicing chords across octaves (TADOH) or note movement across octaves (TADOM). TADOH will use 1, 2, and 3 notes. Every possible combination of 3 notes is here and there are no repeats. There are 2,324 unique audio files in TADOH. TADOM presents every possible pitch succession or movement between two notes within the two octave range. Every possible two note succession is presented equally, four times in order to draw in the dimension and influence of rhythm or note length. These qualities are abstracted and represented by their extremes: Long note followed by long note, long note followed by short note, short note followed by long note, and short note followed by short note. There are 2,208 unique audio files in TADOM.
While I often prefer listening to The Audio Dictionaries in a full shuffle, I would also recommend exploring playlists and focusing on certain note sets or scales or even arranging them into song structures to listen deeply and repeatedly to a specific harmonic progression. I’ve included a sample of scale note sets as a primer.
Just listen. And if anything feels wrong or “off” in your musical life, try listening closely without thinking. Again, just listen.
Kevin Martin McCoy