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Thread: Roman numerals are for amateurs!

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Default Roman numerals are for amateurs!

    But I am one, so I use them

    Wish I had learned this in music school though, figured bass works much better for playing or creating music


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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    For a second (upon reading the title) I thought MR had returned.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    A while ago MR posted a topic where he suggested Bach was critical of Rameau's theory of harmony and he suggested Bach was old fashioned in his outlook on music. I responded that Rameau's theory was a simplification of the contrapuntal approach to composition. So yes, I have basically thought this for a long time (I don't think MR does, he views counterpoint as a more old fashioned and outdated approach to music making as far as I can tell).

    Perhaps this is also related to why Bach didn't write any books on composition but used his music as his teaching material.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    My view is just pedagogical - no higher truth here. Roman numerals, inversions and fundamental bass are reasonable concepts, but seem to be unnecessary distractions in performing, improvising or composing. ISTM the brain can process ‘6 on fa’ faster than ‘ii chord in C major in first inversion) I doubt Bach had any philosophical axe to grind against Rameau’s system, he just did not need it (and Rameau is not what the video refers to).

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    My view is just pedagogical - no higher truth here. Roman numerals, inversions and fundamental bass are reasonable concepts, but seem to be unnecessary distractions in performing, improvising or composing. ISTM the brain can process ‘6 on fa’ faster than ‘ii chord in C major in first inversion) I doubt Bach had any philosophical axe to grind against Rameau’s system, he just did not need it (and Rameau is not what the video refers to).
    All the facets of music notation are not designed for composing, rather, they are for communicating somehow what the composer hears inside their head.

    Writing down music is what happens AFTER the composing.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianozach View Post
    All the facets of music notation are not designed for composing, rather, they are for communicating somehow what the composer hears inside their head.

    Writing down music is what happens AFTER the composing.
    Begs the question on how composers learn to hear music in their head and how efficiently and quickly they can translate and communicate it. The great composers of the 18th and 19th centuries did not get these skills with undergrad theory 101 Roman numeral analysis. It was thousands of hours of training with figured bass patterns

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    Begs the question on how composers learn to hear music in their head and how efficiently and quickly they can translate and communicate it. The great composers of the 18th and 19th centuries did not get these skills with undergrad theory 101 Roman numeral analysis. It was thousands of hours of training with figured bass patterns
    You sure about that?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    A while ago MR posted a topic where he suggested Bach was critical of Rameau's theory of harmony and he suggested Bach was old fashioned in his outlook on music. I responded that Rameau's theory was a simplification of the contrapuntal approach to composition. So yes, I have basically thought this for a long time (I don't think MR does, he views counterpoint as a more old fashioned and outdated approach to music making as far as I can tell).

    Perhaps this is also related to why Bach didn't write any books on composition but used his music as his teaching material.
    MR did not have much proficiency in the music theory of any style of music, knew little about harmony in classical music and virtually nothing about counterpoint.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Nov-26-2021 at 00:37.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    No disrespect, BW1080, but I wonder if this is a thread that seems to belong in Select Appeal Central,. That said, I tried solving a long division puzzle using roman numerals and it completely blasted out my mind.
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    MR did not have much proficiency in the music theory of any style of music, knew little about harmony in classical music and virtually nothing about counterpoint.
    Bright guy, but struck me a as a Dunning Kruger poster child

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    MR did not have much proficiency in the music theory of any style of music, knew little about harmony in classical music and virtually nothing about counterpoint.
    Even I could see that, while myself having no more than a basic knowledge of theory (and having forgotten some of what I did know). I think MR knew more theory than I do, but in his case a little knowledge was clearly a dangerous thing.

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    The OP has a video featuring Robert Gjerdingen who has researched an Italian practice called partimento, which according to a Wikipedia article was used from the late 1600s to early 1800s as an efficient way of composing and improvising.

    I haven't learned partimento, but note that the Wikipedia article distinguishes partimento from figured bass. In figured bass a given bass line provided with figures is used by keyboard players to add supporting chords and voice-leading including non-chord notes when accompanying instrumentalists and/or singers (who have their own given part[s] including the melody). Partimento is more comprehensive, a way of generating from a single line an original composition or improvisation; it seldom used figured bass symbols.

    Topics like figured bass vs. Roman numerals, Bach vs. Rameau, how great composers learn to hear music in their heads are subjects that rely on a lot more time and patience than is suitable in a discussion site format. In the course of my music theory master's degree and doctoral course work I learned quite a bit that bears on this post's speculations. But to try to bring it into this thread could as easily confuse as inform. Concerning the video, all I will say here is that not everyone agrees with Gjerdingen's opinions as distinguished from his research, which is original. He says that he "preaches" on how we learn music, and I'm not joining the "congregation." As for the interviewer, I find his interjections less than convincing.
    Last edited by Roger Knox; Nov-26-2021 at 07:08.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    Begs the question on how composers learn to hear music in their head and how efficiently and quickly they can translate and communicate it. The great composers of the 18th and 19th centuries did not get these skills with undergrad theory 101 Roman numeral analysis. It was thousands of hours of training with figured bass patterns
    As a (strictly amateur) composer who began writing music before I knew any kind of theory and who made a living for over thirty years improvising piano accompaniments for ballet, I can report that we learn to hear music in our heads primarily by hearing music in our heads - hearing it constantly, trying out what we hear at the keyboard, and writing it down (or not). Intuitively, I would say that learning theory is useful for checking and evaluating one's creative impulses against tried and true norms, for spotting problems and faults in terms of a particular chosen style, and maybe for getting out of a temporary jam when the next step isn't obvious. But in my case I can't recall a single instance of having to mentally invoke theoretical terminology while engaged in making music, though I do remember that while improvising a few days ago I used parallel fifths and was more annoyed at having noticed it than at having done it. I recall reading that Wagner, who composed one of the most innovative and provocative harmonic progressions in music, the opening of the Tristan prelude, was pleased when a theorist offered him a plausible explanation of what the chord might be called. Apparently he hadn't felt the need to identify it himself. (I believe the theorist's description of the chord had something to do with sexual intercourse - seriously! No wonder Wagner liked it.)

    As for figured bass, its only real use is as a system of signs to help performers realize the composer's intentions. You don't compose with it, and with the disappearance of the keyboard continuo it became appropriately obsolete. That's my understanding, at any rate. I welcome correction.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Nov-26-2021 at 08:02.

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    I wonder about the time period referred to in the interview. Functional harmony theory was developed in the 18th century.
    Most composers learned mainly/only figured bass and counterpoint until the early 19th century. I am not exactly sure when the change took place but I think the Paris conservatoire switched to? or put more focus on functional theory in the early 19th century, no idea if this also applied to Germany, Italy etc.

    When they are referring to amateurs or people "going to college" they cannot refer to the 18th century with the latter, I believe.
    A 18th century amateur would have learned music from private lessons with a professional, not in college.
    Colleges/universities had very few subjects until far into the 19th century, mostly Classics, History, Maths, Theology, Philosophy, Law, Medicine (even the little natural science they taught was often in the Maths, Philosophy or Medicine departments).
    Music theory had been part of the liberal arts in the middle ages but I doubt that this was what 19th century musical amateurs would have been interested in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    I wonder about the time period referred to in the interview. Functional harmony theory was developed in the 18th century.
    Most composers learned mainly/only figured bass and counterpoint until the early 19th century. I am not exactly sure when the change took place but I think the Paris conservatoire switched to? or put more focus on functional theory in the early 19th century, no idea if this also applied to Germany, Italy etc.

    When they are referring to amateurs or people "going to college" they cannot refer to the 18th century with the latter, I believe.
    A 18th century amateur would have learned music from private lessons with a professional, not in college.
    Colleges/universities had very few subjects until far into the 19th century, mostly Classics, History, Maths, Theology, Philosophy, Law, Medicine (even the little natural science they taught was often in the Maths, Philosophy or Medicine departments).
    Music theory had been part of the liberal arts in the middle ages but I doubt that this was what 19th century musical amateurs would have been interested in.
    I agree on all points. The more I think about it, it seems possible that the video was poorly edited. If not, the time frame in Gjerdingen's remarks is way off, as you say.

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