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Every Child a Composer

Music Education in an Evolutionary Perspective

Nicholas Bannan

This book breaks new ground in drawing on evolutionary psychology in support of advocacy for music education, and the presentation of innovative musical pedagogy. The book adopts the perspective that musical experience is the birthright of all human beings through the decisive role it played in the evolution of our species, the traces of which we carry in our genes. The author draws on scientific developments in acoustics, neuroscience, linguistics, archaeology and anthropology to examine theories that have emerged powerfully during the last twenty years and which argue for the significance of the practice of music as foundational to human culture. This position is examined in parallel with research into how children learn musically, and the role that creative decision making plays in this. A series of strategies is presented that explores collective creativity which draws on vocalisation, the use of gesture, and instinctive responses to harmony to develop musical imagination.

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Chapter 18: The Pandora’s box of chromaticism: The diminished triads and other ‘portkeys’; modal variants and 12-note music


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The Pandora’s box of chromaticism: The diminished triads and other ‘portkeys’; modal variants and 12-note music

This chapter sets out the evolutionary factors involved in composers’ exploration of chromatic relationships that commenced with the kinds of colouration and inflection which emerged in the Baroque and Classical period. We have already encountered such features as the harmonic minor, the Neapolitan relationships, and new means of modulation that, together, eventually undermined the tonal system and led to alternative ways of relating vertical and horizontal pitch choices in musical composition. One way of viewing this is as a kind of morphological focus that has over time shifted from the ‘lower’ reaches of the Harmonic Series – the octave, fifth and major third – and explored, unanchored by the tonic or fundamental, the addition of harmonics 7, and 9, responsible for the 7th and 9th chords that entered the language of Mozart, Wagner, Liszt and the Impressionists – leading to the smaller intervals of the higher harmonics: the clustery harmony of Ives, Bartók, Penderecki and Ligeti; the Second Viennese school, Expressionist major 7th and minor 9th, serialism, and the introduction of quarter-tones.

While we have travelled a long way since the introduction of gestures to represent simple movement between the Primary Triads, these more exotic and complex relationships prove mostly accessible through extensions of what we have already learnt. As Schoenberg said, there is no such thing as atonal music: where pitch salience of any...

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