Music: Unique (2)

Continuing my discussion of music’s uniqueness: the rules of harmony don’t stop with regulations about the order of triads. What if you flatten the top tone of the triad and create a diminished chord? Or sharpen that tone to create an augmented chord? What if you add in other tones to produce an added-sixth chord, a seventh chord, a ninth chord, etc.? The result is that the rules addressing the use of chords in music are numerous enough to fill heavy volumes. Books on the rules of harmony are plentiful, but my preference goes back to Walter Piston’s venerable Principles of Harmonic Analysis. (Boston: E. C. Schirmer, 1933), later revised and republished by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. as Harmony in 1941.

I am again struck by music’s uniqueness: none of the voluminous sets of rules cited above apply to anything but music, and the rules of no other discipline apply to music. And yet I am persuaded beyond doubt that my study of music (I have a BA in it from the University of California, Berkeley) and learning to think in music greatly bolstered my facility in English—I have six books and 17 short stories in print. None of that would have been possible without my knowledge of music.

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