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How Do Cultures Create Good Music Without Reading Music?




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#1 Motion

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Posted June 11 2016 - 07:13 PM

I was checking out this video on Haitian Vodou drumming. It dawn on me that the drummers here are very good with the music they are playing but I doubt if any of them can read music. So my question is how are these musicians able to put this music together when they probably don't play using notes like most trained musicians do?

 

 


Edited by Motion, June 11 2016 - 07:31 PM.

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#2 Pressed Rat

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Posted June 11 2016 - 07:18 PM

You don't need to be able to read music to make music or even be a great musician.  Many of the best musicians never learned to read music.  Some of the best music comes from simply improvisation.


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#3 guerillabedlam

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Posted June 12 2016 - 04:20 AM

Teaching probably gets passed down verbally and through demonstration. Really in what we would call a chromatic scale, a scale that covers every note in an octave is less than 20 notes for most instruments, so even if they don't inherently understand the instruments and notes by music notation, it's not a ton of notes to learn and they likely train by ear and pick up these types of things through repetition. 


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#4 Asmo

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Posted June 12 2016 - 04:57 AM

Indeed, creating music and learning how to play just by hearing and demonstration can work at least as good as going from a basis where you use sheet music. I thought for the observational music lover this was evident.


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#5 Meliai

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Posted June 12 2016 - 05:28 AM

No offense but this strikes me as a silly question. It is almost like asking how stories existed before written word.

Music was around a long time before sheet music. Rhythm and the ability to identify different tones is ingrained in (most) humans, it isnt really something we learn only after learning to read music. Most musicians I know can't read music. Whereas I actually can read it but it doesnt really translate into the ability to play it well.

Edited by Meliai, June 12 2016 - 05:29 AM.

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#6 guerillabedlam

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Posted June 12 2016 - 05:56 AM

No offense but this strikes me as a silly question. It is almost like asking how stories existed before written word.

Music was around a long time before sheet music. Rhythm and the ability to identify different tones is ingrained in (most) humans, it isnt really something we learn only after learning to read music. Most musicians I know can't read music. Whereas I actually can read it but it doesnt really translate into the ability to play it well.

 

To be fair to the OP, Music theory, for instance such musical concepts as say  a " Perfect Fifth" date back to Ancient Greece. It seems that in the Western tradition, at least, the idea that there is a structure to music, that it can be notated or formalized in a structured way perhaps goes nearly far back as written word.

 

So I like your analogy, but at the same time I think OP highlights that we may not really have the reference point to separate Music Theory from playing Music.


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#7 Motion

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Posted June 12 2016 - 11:23 AM

Just to add on to what I'm asking. How do these musicians structure or organize what they are playing to keep it from sounding messy when they aren't playing from written music? There are several drummers in that video so how are they making it all sound "tight" like they do and not sounding "all over the place" if you know what I mean?

 

If you gave six Americans who couldn't read music those instruments used in the video and told them to play something more than likely it would sound like a mess because they wouldn't know how to structure their playing to make it sound tight and together like those Haitian musicians. So how do those Haitian musicians,who also probably don't read music,make their playing work without it sounding messy?


Edited by Motion, June 12 2016 - 11:29 AM.


#8 Tyrsonswood

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Posted June 12 2016 - 12:12 PM

People were making music sound tight long before there was written music.


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#9 Reverand JC

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Posted June 12 2016 - 03:35 PM

Can you listen and carry on a conversation? It's the same thing. If you've ever been in a band and rehearsed you will know that almost nobody reads at them but arrangements are discussed.  If you go to a drum circle you will sit listen and add your voice. It is all the same thing.

 

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#10 Motion

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Posted June 12 2016 - 06:51 PM

This seems close to answering my question. Since I highlighted some Haitian music I looked for some related west African music. This explains how the Ewe people of Ghana play their music.

 

 

 

 

Music is never written down; it is taught by elders and parents to their children. Rhythms and melodies are taught at a very young age. Songs are memorized meticulously over the years and then improvisation is extrapolated from learned knowledge...

The ensemble is able to create the intricate songs by beating different rhythms on the drums. These rhythms conflict with each other but integrate into a single form called cross rhythms. Cross rhythm is the combination of different rhythms that interact in a single piece. The Ewe can do this on drums by drumming out a 4/4 and 6/4 rhythms against each other. While using different time signatures, the rhythms combine to create a cohesive and artistically beautiful sound. Normally, drummers play a repeated pattern until given the signal to change to a different one. But when the master drummer plays, he is able to improvise during the song...

 

http://africanmusicc...drummer_16.html


 


Edited by Motion, June 12 2016 - 07:00 PM.


#11 Tyrsonswood

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Posted June 12 2016 - 07:29 PM

Glad you got that all sorted out...


"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - Jiddu Krishnamurti


"there was something big happening that night, decisions were made and destiny was cast..."~jfw~



~ I chop wood, I carry water, I tend the Earth, This is my prayer. ~


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#12 fourth wise man

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Posted September 28 2016 - 11:05 AM

I was glad to see the reference to Haitian drumming. It comes from the spirit, the soul and builds. Haitian culture is quite interesting to me.
This is what separates being taught by someone from just learning by yourself. Sure you'll get pointers online or by watching and listening to others, but training can be limiting.
I tried instruction a few years ago and it didn't work out. They taught kids and older women, as they were also.
So it was awkward for me because it was for them.
And now I'm self learning as I go. I played when I was much younger, learned on my own then.
I believe true music comes from within, from the soul. An expression of your true self.
I figure if Hendrix can teach himself then why not anyone else?

#13 The Walking Dickhead

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Posted September 28 2016 - 11:17 AM

I was going to say something, but PR pretty much summed up what I was going to say


Edited by The Walking Dickhead, September 28 2016 - 11:34 AM.


#14 The Walking Dickhead

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Posted September 28 2016 - 11:27 AM

I think a lot of people, if they were to put aside the ultimate stone of achievement they might find they can attain anything they want to by nothing more than having motivation and an open and experimental mind.

 

Often curriculum leads to more confusion than enlightenment.

 

The patterns that make life interesting are not arbitrary, they are there already before we think/thaught of them.


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#15 drumminmama

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Posted October 04 2016 - 11:22 PM

How did you learn to talk before you could read?
By learning the language of language, rather than the rules, but, if you were lucky, you learned from people who had absorbed the rules into their patterns.
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#16 Yggdrazil

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Posted October 04 2016 - 11:24 PM

How did people learn languages before books were invented.



#17 Asmo

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Posted October 05 2016 - 04:54 AM

Yeah, the question in the thread title is kind of like asking "how did people communicate before they had the internet"
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#18 Reverand JC

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Posted October 06 2016 - 10:05 AM

How did you learn to talk before you could read?
By learning the language of language, rather than the rules, but, if you were lucky, you learned from people who had absorbed the rules into their patterns.

 

Here is one of my favorite musicians discussing this concept and doing a very good job of putting it very concisely:

 

 

C/S,

Rev J


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#19 Wolf Angel.

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Posted October 08 2016 - 06:11 AM

Seems to me thatMusic is an International Language that does not require word 


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#20 penguinsfan13

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Posted October 08 2016 - 08:59 AM

Ever heard the saying, "play it by ear?"
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#21 Wu Li Heron

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Posted October 08 2016 - 09:05 AM

A cuneiform tablet discovered in Mesopotamia and dated a century after the invention of writing contains a rant of someone complaining that the new invention has made their children lazy and they no longer bother to memorize everything. The Iliad and Odessey contain some ten or twenty thousand lines of poetry the bards memorized and I'm sure they would wonder how we can make such complex music with such poor memories.



#22 Motion

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Posted October 21 2016 - 09:32 PM

I was glad to see the reference to Haitian drumming. It comes from the spirit, the soul and builds. Haitian culture is quite interesting to me.
 

To me that type of drumming is some of the best drumming you can find. I don't practice the religion of Vodu but I can appreciate the people's drumming skills.


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#23 fourth wise man

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Posted October 22 2016 - 01:27 AM

Speaking of Vodun, here's something to check out...

Vodun - "Mawu" official video- https://youtu.be/uFlPd7ERiVQ
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#24 Motion

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Posted October 22 2016 - 11:12 AM

Ever heard the saying, "play it by ear?"

Ok but when you get a group of musicians together who can only play by ear how do they play together so that the music sounds organized and not "off sounding"? How do they organize their playing together is what my question is more about.



#25 guerillabedlam

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Posted October 22 2016 - 11:48 AM

Yeah, the question in the thread title is kind of like asking "how did people communicate before they had the internet"

  

No, that's not a comparable analogy, obviously there were plenty of communicative technologies prior to the internet.

This is a better analogy...

How did people learn languages before books were invented.


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#26 guerillabedlam

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Posted October 22 2016 - 11:56 AM

Ok but when you get a group of musicians together who can only play by ear how do they play together so that the music sounds organized and not "off sounding"? How do they organize their playing together is what my question is more about.

There is what's called "call and response" utilized in alot of Western Music, which is good for genres like the Blues. This can often be seen with two guitarist, one will solo for a few bars then another guitarist will "respond" to them and solo for a few bars, creates this kind of "dialogue" between the musicians which alludes to the Music as a language concept put forth in the video Reverand JC posted.

That might provide some insight into such phenomena, however with the guitars example, obviously there is usually still a very structured supporting rhythm section which is playing calculated enough in a way that we can define such music as blues.

Edited by guerillabedlam, October 22 2016 - 12:22 PM.

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#27 fourth wise man

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Posted December 13 2016 - 04:04 PM

Ok but when you get a group of musicians together who can only play by ear how do they play together so that the music sounds organized and not "off sounding"? How do they organize their playing together is what my question is more about.

hopefully they tune together first, lol

then show one another what they are into, so they can compare notes.

it's not that hard, as long as nobody has an ego problem. 

that happened to me when I was 16. tried playing guitar along with a "friend", it was impossible. I had a 100 watt tube amp, he had his uncle's old band amp. Multiple cabs, lots of power. Drowned me out completely.

couldn't even hear myself, and his tuning method (LOL) was nothing like mine. totally fucked up times.



#28 10onpump7

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Posted January 03 2017 - 01:18 PM

the heart pounds out a tempo. the mind fills the gaps. boom, music. Scores are for chumps.


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#29 penguinsfan13

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Posted January 03 2017 - 03:34 PM

the heart pounds out a tempo. the mind fills the gaps. boom, music. Scores are for chumps.

first thought is this is a stupid ignorant comment....

 

second thought is (oh yeah i remember all those arguments i had with my friend who talked about how complex his music was and how punk is 3 chords, and i would argue, yeah but the three chords sound better than all the work your complex writing has brought to music)

i think there is a spot for both but for this thread your answer works pretty fucking perfectly.


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#30 Wu Li Heron

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Posted January 03 2017 - 05:37 PM

Mathematics, language, and aesthetic appreciation have all been traced to the same parts of the brain involved in vision. One third of the brain is dedicated to vision alone with the back of your head containing countless heuristic algorithms used for pattern matching. A bird can make music because its all based on pattern matching and we can make more complex music because our larger brains can generate more complex patterns and then compare them. Birds raised to learn another related bird's songs will still sing it with the accent of their parents. Part of a human individual's ability to make more complex music is how much memory they possess and, for example, Mozart was the first modern musician who had the equivalent of a photographic memory for music. He could write down any score he heard without making a single mistake. 


Edited by Wu Li Heron, January 03 2017 - 05:39 PM.