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Sunday, April 23, 2017


World Music Online And Remote Learning: Cultivating Theory Tool Diversity.

Any world music theory tools: modeled on-screen, fully configurable and driven by notation or audio. Wishful thinking - or paradigm shift, greenfield application, catalyst for online and remote music education, and key to a renaissance in musical diversity?

Of the millions of people worldwide who take up learning a musical instrument every year, only a tiny fraction will ever gain any solid foundation in music theory. It may not greatly hinder us in becoming virtuosos, but music theory lays bare the structure of a music culture, is the foundation for effective practice goals, allows us to rationalize about harmonic alternatives and provides us with the language elements allowing us to communicate profound musical ideas.

To appreciate the role of music theory throughout the learning process, it is helpful to tease out user's use of it in pursuit of various goals. Let's take a bottom-to-top look:

Theory Tools In The Learning Process
Goal Layer 1 Means Concrete Example
Virtuosity, Musicality Interworking Between Theory Tools Cross-genre modal interworking insights, 'meta-knowledge', modal landscapes.
Alternative Configurations Musical Function Changes Where appropriate, rebuilding and remapping theory models to accommodate alternative music systems or transnotation.
Musical Transformations Responses To Key And Other Changes Auto-adaptation to pitch / key / modality of driver notation. User-initiated reconfiguration ('what if' scenarios).
Chord Intervals and harmony Interval naming, chord identification. Harmonic relationships in chord composition. Recognizing chord patterns, anticipating changes. Chord properties, dynamic behaviours in theory tools.
Melody Paths Multi-Note Sequences Following and understanding modal song-lines (melodies) through structure. Simple harmonic relationships.
1:1 Note-node mappings Recognizing note (score) to node (theory tool) relationships Conceptual (music theory) basis for abstract structural relationships.
Initial Orientation Key + Base Conventions Basic colour and other pitch (node) and interval (connector) conventions.
Theory Tool Choice Relative Tool Strengths (+ Demonstration) Theoretical focus, broad tool strengths.

Though perhaps able to find a best-fit faker's chord, assimilate a tune under the lead of a good player or read a score, without this understanding, players are at risk of:
  • compromising (or even abusing) genre authenticity
  • being unable to account for the structure of even the simplest progressions
  • having no clear, mental picture of their culture's modal landscape
  • unable to suggest valid harmonic substitutes
  • are condemned to the familiar, the unstructured - and quite possibly to following
Under these conditions, the best players can hope for is musical intuition - which, though possible to develop through exposure, lacks authentic insight.

Big, brave, open-source, non-profit, community-provisioned, cross-cultural and turnip-lantern crazy. → Like, share, back-link, pin, tweet and mail. Hashtags? For the crowdfunding: #VisualFutureOfMusic. For the future live platform: #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory. Or simply register as a potential crowdfunder..

Fluency in music theory is central to genre mastery, yet many postpone it as doggedly as they would an operation or a tax return.

Clearly, many genre greats quickly developed an intuitive feeling for a limited range of these underlying musical structures. For every overnight success, though, many others took a working lifetime to reach their zenith, to discover the foundations for their sound.

Tonal structures underlie every great musical culture. Traversing these can be likened to ridge-walking on various continents. To know one is by no means to know all.

Brushing aside deep insight, we still convince ourselves of being the end of our musical journey. Conceit?

With the arrival of tools for comparative musicology, deficits are perhaps laid bare, but so too are new options. Virtuosos of the future -possibly artificial-intelligence assisted- may confront these with what seem like gleefully ignored conventions, improvised soundscapes and drama we can for the moment barely imagine. Underpinning these new musical forms? Deep comparative theoretical knowledge.

The Problem

If we think of music is an emotional language, then music theory is the language of musical structure. That language is currently in lock-down: static, tedious to assimilate, isolated from context, wordy, cerebral and, (we hope to ourselves), superfluous.

The real issue is simple. Music theory is still mostly written. Given the range of graphical models available, this is a trivial issue now readily overcome. We need only bring them to life and put them in context.

So rather: music theory is simple yet profound; abstract, fundamental and hugely liberating. Master it and we might well run where once we crept, jump where we once swam and fly where we fell..

Presented -in visual form- in parallel to notation and instrument models, music theory could be assimilated rather than learned. Taken in with the mother's milk, so to say.

Music theory needs to be absorbed dynamically with the tune, with the fingering, with any instruction. For those using notation, by the time we are comfortable with reading it and playing a few tunes, we would have assimilated -with next to zero effort- a rock-solid theoretical understanding.

There is, nevertheless, one limitation with which we may have to live. Because music theory explains pitch relations, to understand it we need conventions; a common language. Either we able to identify heard notes or tones by name (audio), we acquire sight reading skills (visual), or preferably both (audio-visual).

Theory tool configurations may of course change, but dynamically, and for a number of reasons. A score may add or remove accidentals from the key, a user may wish to use an instrument not native to the notation and seek some form of visual support, or the underlying music system itself may change. It is the job of the platform to ensure changes occur fluidly and help is offered with as little interruption as possible.

Torus (from Wikipedia)

Lissajous Curves

3D Scatterplot

Ultimately, music visualization will allow us access to the structure of every music system, with profound impact on online and remote music education. It will allow us to map, compare, translate and transform in ways natural and intuitive to our brain's formidable spatial reasoning. This is a key aim and value of the music aggregator platform in focus here. But first, it needs financed.

This is a largely open source and non-profit initiative, driving diversity and social value. Help us rise to the challenge.

Theory Tools: Abstract Models Of Musical Structure

Integration And Control: Notation, Instruments, Theory #VisualFutureOfMusic Integration & Control
Change One → Change All
Music Visualization: Reveal Structure, Build On The Known. #VisualFutureOfMusicUnlock Core Structures
Economy, Sufficiency, Elegance
Visualization Toolset: Score-Synchronised Abstract Models #VisualFutureOfMusic*OWN* The Theory
Score-Synchronised Abstract Models

Visualization Toolset: Any Theory Tool #VisualFutureOfMusic
Any Theory Tool
2- Or 3D - And Interactive
World Music Theory, Instrument Models, Community Music and Dance. aggregate().orchestrate().animate() #VisualFutureOfMusic
Set Them Dancing Together
Music Visualization: Notation, Instruments, Theory - Freely Configurable Interworking #VisualFutureOfMusic Instant Comparative Musicology
Thru Freely Configurable Interworking

Here some of the many configurations in use across world and experimental music. Often mixed, the list is far from exhaustive..

Notes Or Tones Per Octave
12, 17, 19, 22, 24, 25, 31, 41, 46,
48, 53, 58, 72, 79, 88, 96, 1420
Temperaments & Intonations
Equal, Just, Meantone, Pythagorean,
Syntonic, Well Tempered, Tempered Timbres - and many others..
Not To Mention...
Number of Courses or Channels, Alternative Tunings, Scale Or Channel Lengths, Fretted or Fretless...

Music Theory Model Visual Classification First Cut. #VisualFutureOfMusicVisual Theory Classification
Innovation! A First Cut.
Current State: Online Focus on a Tiny Range of Instruments #VisualFutureOfMusicOnline Modelling Gaps
Bring Missing Instruments & Tools Online
Visualization Toolset: A Theory Tools Factory #VisualFutureOfMusicTheory Tools 'Factory'
Theory Tools - By Family

There is a strong argument for directly learning music theory in targeted, dynamic, immersive (audio, notation + theory visualization) exercises, and having this routinely reinforced as each new piece is learned. With the basics in place, we can likely rely on our wetware's amazing capacity for assimilation - and it's subsequent application in ever new, live, practical contexts.

Score-Driven, Interactive 2- and 3D music theory models. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheoryDeep Insight and Understanding
Score-Driven 2- and 3D Theory Tools
Music Theory Tools: Distilled Visual Patterns Driven Directly By Your Notation #VisualFutureOfMusicDistilled Visual Patterns
Driven *Directly* By Notation Examples
Music Visualization: Crowd Intelligence - Stepwise To The Superlative #VisualFutureOfMusicCrowd Intelligence
Stepwise To The Superlative

Our goal is to give the user as much (for beginners, possibly mentor-guided) freedom as possible in the selection of theory tools appropriate to the music system, score and choice of instrument, thereby forging deep understanding and networked, cross-cultural thinking.

Simple Theory Tools: Tonal Deltas And Tonal Circle. #VisualFutureOfMusic
Two Simple Theory Tools

Tonal Deltas & Tonal Circle
Liberate The Virtuoso, Delegate The Banal. #VisualFutureOfMusicLiberate the Virtuoso
Delegate the Banal
Next Score-Driven Theory Tool To Be Developed: Harmonic Spiral For Just Intonation #VisualFutureOfMusicNext Score-Driven Theory Tool?
Harmonic Spiral (Just Intonation)

Why Visual Theory Tool Diversity?

Potential Crowdfunder?

Theory tool diversity has long been a reality, yet their largely static nature renders them almost irrelevant in an 'on-demand' age. These tools -of which there are hundreds- beg to be brought to life. Animated. Score-driven. Interactive. Data-driven. Synchronised and colour-consistent with notation and fingering schemas. And freely selectable in an environment tailored to one's own musical interests. Online, remote music education.

There are, of course a growing number of interactive tools (mobile and web apps, or even collections such as those of Wolfram Alpha). These, however, are NOT score or audio driven, do NOT have context, are NOT freely configurable to one's own needs, and at best only partly interactive. In these senses they are not immersive.

Were these constraints removed, though, such tools would immediately serve a wide range of ends:
  • Unlock the -sometimes multiple- musical structures underlying a musical culture or genre
  • Establish a clear, mental picture of a culture's modal landscape
  • Act both as testbed and showcase for musical experiment and research
  • Reveal genre-authentic pathways through these musical structures
  • Motivate establishment of a common language and classification for music theory visualization
  • Reveal how harmonic substitutes are found for chords in core progressions
  • Provide a vast field of free study in a workless, post-singularity society
  • Assist musicians seeking new niches in finding alternatives to the mainstream and familiar
  • Common understanding acts as a social currency and cultural passport
  • Reflect and respect the trend towards musical individuality
  • Reinforce musician's self-confidence in exposed, challenging situations - such as live, free improvisation

In Practice

Let's take this train of thought a little further with a quick look at 'what-if' reconfiguration of instrument models. Past posts have focussed on how configuration settings such as the following contribute to learning environment flexibility:
  • overall settings (music system)
  • internal defaults (notation, instrument and theory tools)
  • 'what-if' user-driven theory tool overrides
Overriding a default may well break the relationship to the current notation or instrument model(s). There is an argument for propagation of the new configuration values to these visualizations.

We can illustrate this propagation in the context of our music visualization aggregator platform as follows:

There are many Mixolydian mode tunes in Irish music, but how many players could instantly recognise one as such? I certainly can't. How many could immediately distinguish the traditional Irish Dorian minor mode from the pure, or 'classical' minor scale (Aeolian)? I certainly can't. How many could -on demand- run through a scale in one of these modes? I certainly can't.

Yet such simple building blocks are the very foundation of Irish modal music culture. One can learn a heck of a lot of tunes on remarkably little understanding. Where sticking to a known tunes repertoire, as in an Irish session, this is, perhaps, not such a big issue. Try to add to the genre by writing or arranging a tune, though, and you are instantly out of your depth. Try to play with jazz elements or mix Irish and Balkan, and you will be completely lost. Yet this is the essence of World Music: a place where challenges and complexity can seem to feed on each other.

Yet the last true genre greats are quickly dying out: people whose experience of, and connection to, their inherited culture was more or less 'pure'. With their demise, we are left with generations exposed to far better learning tools and a far more intensive and goal-oriented training, but also far more distractions .. and influences. This has a profound impact on authenticity, authority and, ultimately, identification.


Different music theory structures communicate different properties. Triangular and hexagonal matrices ('Tonnetze', from high German), for example, communicate chords and pitch class properties from entirely different perspectives. (Sorry, but for the moment I can only offer a static black and white snapshot).

There may be argument as to the usefulness of the respective diagrams, but combined, you access a sort of meta-view. Now imagine this animated by a score or exercise during playback at very slow speed.

Not only are certain core pathways, symmetries, reflections and rotations are going to be observed - very much as on a chromatic circle or circle of fifths, but you are going to see the workings of the two diagram types in relation to each other. Out of such meta-views, perhaps, meta-knowledge. Yet this is where data visualization truly excels.
Taking this to the next level, so to speak, a 3D structure (for example cylinder) may provide useful relative pitch information where a 2D structure (simple chromatic circle) leaves the observer confused. Similarly a conical spiral may help provide relative pitch information missing from a flat, just intonation spiral.

Our goal is to dramatically improve music theory's access, visibility, immediacy and context relevance. Theory goes immersive.

Alone this simple step may bring dramatic advances in music theory learning.

You can get a much better feeling for all this by looking at my Pinterest account, and more specifically the page dedicated to (currently static) theory tools. I hope these act as a call to action amongst musicians of all walks, worldwide.

Music Theory Esoterica Industry insights World Music Instruments DIY Dance Colour Color. #VisualFutureOfMusic
Screenshot of Individual Pinterest
pinboards dedicated to world music visualization
As hinted at by the image above, this set of Pinterest pinboards is very extensive, covering much of the material to be targeted by the aggregator platform for score-driven animation.


online music learning,
online music lessons
distance music learning,
distance music lessons
remote music lessons,
remote music learning
p2p music lessons,
p2p music learning
music visualisation
music visualization
musical instrument models
interactive music instrument models
music theory tools
musical theory
p2p music interworking
p2p musical interworking
comparative musicology
world music
international music
folk music
traditional music
P2P musical interworking,
Peer-to-peer musical interworking
WebGL, Web3D,
WebVR, WebAR
Virtual Reality,
Augmented or Mixed Reality
Artificial Intelligence,
Machine Learning
Scalar Vector Graphics,
3D Cascading Style Sheets,

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.