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Thread: Thoughts on Textbooks by Walter Piston

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    Default Thoughts on Textbooks by Walter Piston

    Walter Piston has written three textbooks regarding music theory--Harmony, Counterpoint, and Orchestration.

    I just wanted to hear everyone's thoughts on these textbooks, as I see very mixed reviews, e.g. "This is a classic" "This one is worse, compared to the other books by Piston" "The newest edition is terrible"

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    All I recall about one of these texts is that the Harmony book is what I used in college.

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    I have the harmony book, and the counterpoint book, and consider them essential. I especially like the Harmony book, as it concurs with my (and Schoenberg's) idea on the derivation of the so-called diminished triad on vii. They both consider it to be an incomplete V7 chord (B-D-F of a G7) with no root, and is to be resolved as if it were exactly that.

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    Well, if the vii is an incomplete chord, though I wouldn't consider it that way, then one might imagine that it functions in a different manner than a V7, and instead vii does have a root, as in the root progression of B (half dim) to Em to Am to Dm to V7 to C within the key of C. It looks to me that its ideal function is within the context of moving to or resolving to the Em chord. But it can of course be used more feebly and less powerful as a V7 without a root. If one is talking about tonal harmonies, surely the root progressions are important and are worth looking at in how they can most effectively be used related to each note within the scale, keeping in mind that rules can sometimes be broken and not everything has to be resolved according to its root movement.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Nov-02-2017 at 02:11.
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    Piston's books were forced down my throat in school, and I hated them. Of course, I pretty much hated anything that I was forced to study. I guess I need to dust them off and see what's really in them.

    I remember also hating Grout's History of Western Music. Of course, now that I read it from my own volition, it's pretty interesting.

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    I learned everything I know from Piston's three books. They're essential.

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    Parts of Piston's harmony book are useful - I do like his descriptions of chord functions. But, overall, I wouldn't recommend the book. He neglects the importance of counterpoint. He doesn't address the relationship between contrapuntal lines and vertical sonorities. When analyzing pieces (or excerpts), he tends to apply a Roman numeral to almost every chord, even the passing chords that are by-products of the underlying counterpoint. He seems to think that every chord is structurally significant, which is a false assumption.

    For a book that examines vertical and horizontal aspects of music, I recommend Harmony and Voice Leading by Aldwell, Schachter and Cadwallader (whew, that's a mouthful!) Here's a link to the Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Harmony-Voice.../dp/0495189758

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettina View Post
    Parts of Piston's harmony book are useful...

    For a book that examines vertical and horizontal aspects of music, I recommend Harmony and Voice Leading by Aldwell, Schachter and Cadwallader (whew, that's a mouthful!) Here's a link to the Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Harmony-Voice.../dp/0495189758
    So if I went with Aldwell et. al. would I be missing much not going with Piston?

    How are these books for self learning - at home - no classroom - no teacher.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    So if I went with Aldwell et. al. would I be missing much not going with Piston?

    How are these books for self learning - at home - no classroom - no teacher.
    You wouldn't be missing much. Piston has some useful charts listing the most common types of chord progressions, but you'll be able to get most of that same information from Aldwell et. al. and you'll get much more contrapuntal information as a bonus!

    All of these theory textbooks are intended for use in a classroom setting with lectures and graded assignments to reinforce the concepts. But I think you could adapt them for independent study, as long as you supplement them with some additional readings if you get confused. Wikipedia is always a good resource for that!

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    Self-study of theory rarely ends well. The student, no matter how bright, will misunderstand sequential miscellaneous small things which then adds up to serious, larger miscalculations.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    Well, if the vii is an incomplete chord, though I wouldn't consider it that way, then one might imagine that it functions in a different manner than a V7, and instead vii does have a root, as in the root progression of B (half dim) to Em to Am to Dm to V7 to C within the key of C. It looks to me that its ideal function is within the context of moving to or resolving to the Em chord. But it can of course be used more feebly and less powerful as a V7 without a root. If one is talking about tonal harmonies, surely the root progressions are important and are worth looking at in how they can most effectively be used related to each note within the scale, keeping in mind that rules can sometimes be broken and not everything has to be resolved according to its root movement.
    This, from Wik, does not concur with your reply:
    A diminished triad occurs in a major scale only on the seventh scale degree; in the key of C, this is a B diminished triad (B, D, F). Since the triad is built on the seventh scale degree, it is also called the leading-tone triad. The leading-tone triad also occurs in the seventh chord built on the fifth degree; in C, this is G dominant seventh (G, B, D, F). For this reason, it has dominant function. Unlike the dominant triad or dominant seventh, the leading-tone triad functions as a prolongational chord rather than a structural chord since the strong root motion by fifth is now absent.[4]
    On the other hand, the diminished triad in a minor scale occurs on the second scale degree; in the key of C minor, this is the D diminished triad (D, F, A♭). This triad is consequently called the supertonic diminished triad. Like the supertonic triad found in a major key, the supertonic diminished triad has a predominant function, almost always resolving to a dominant functioning chord.

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