Music as a Discipline

Upon reading the introduction to “Interdisciplinarity” by Joe Moran, I became confused as to why music as a discipline was grouped into the medieval curriculum of Quadrivium.  After all, the Quadrivium also included arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.  The other curriculum, Trivium, included logic, grammar and rhetoric.  It struck me as odd that music should be grouped in a curriculum with disciplines that it is not presently associated with.  I felt that music would be more appropriately organized as a discipline within Trivium.

Math and science are disciplines that are formulaic in nature; an individual follows a concrete procedure until they come to a concrete answer. Variables are juggled and conclusions are drawn from the organization and relationship of these variables; subtracting two numbers diminishes a resulting number in an amount relative to those two numbers. Now, in response to this, those of you with knowledge of music theory may quickly question the difference between the natures of math/science and music. You may say that scales are based off of a system of numbers, degrees of sound that differ in relation to the pitch of a root note. You may further state that the particular scale degrees within a given scale are just another kind of formula. This is all very true. A series of notes is organized into a concrete system; this system is then referred to as a scale. But the scale as we know it is a very westernized approach to organization of pitch.  In fact, other forms of music, such as Middle-Eastern music, do not use scales at all.

I recently acquired an instrument called a Saz from a Turkish family that lived down the street from me, for they had bought a house and were having an estate sale.  I found that this instrument – vaguely reminiscent of a guitar, but not closely related by any means – was played very differently from most stringed instruments used in America or Europe.  It had a body and a neck, like most stringed instruments, but instead of standard frets (markers that change the pitch of a note played), there were thin, movable frets in the neck that were placed in intervals that had no order.  After a bit of research, I found that the Saz and many other Middle-Eastern instruments did not utilize scales; they played notes in between notes.  I quickly realized that Middle-Eastern musicians played by feel, not by formula.  They played by instinct, even by improvisation.  Where perfection is the norm in the Western world, the Eastern musicians played their music devoid of any concrete system.  Therefore, certain styles of music seem to fall out of the scope of Quadrivium.

Now that music has been somewhat distinguished from Quadrivium, how could it fit into Trivium?  Well, Trivium – logic, grammar, and rhetoric – consists of disciplines that are essentially based on conveying ideas, often artistically.  Rhetoric in particular is the art of persuasion, which ties in perfectly with music.  Every love song ever written was written with the intention of persuading a significant other to love the writer.  Every empowering punk song ever written was written with the intention of persuading the subject of the song that that representative group was not to be reckoned with.  Depending on the subject of the song, the list goes on and on.  Additionally, music, in and of itself, is an art.  So doesn’t it make more sense that  it should be treated like art, not like a science?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.