I invented a strange instrument. Help me decide what to call it! It’s no orchestral instrument, but it’s got a cultural style about it. What do you think?
Here’s a crazy idea – though it’s not exactly a whim, since I’ve had the idea floating around in my head for about eight years now. I’ve always been fascinated with the capacity music has to communicate feelings and convey messages in a way that is often more powerful and effective than written or verbal communication. What if we were to come up with a language that was spoken through music? A system that actually uses notes to communicate detailed information. It would have to be detailed enough that someone could translate the Bible into the language, and yet simple enough that it wouldn’t take years of training to get it. Not a code, exactly, but something between a code and a language.
In a sense, what I’d like to see is someone pipe a tune, and someone else understand the detailed message.
Some ideas have been explored along these lines. Probably the biggest is Solresol, invented by François Sudre in the 1800s, which is simply a language that uses words spelled with different combinations of notes in the basic piano scale. It has its own dictionary and grammar, too.
But I would like to see a language that is more than a code that uses notes for letters. Ultimately, the ending product has to be both beautiful music and a clear message. It has to be as artistic and aesthetically pleasing as it it literary.
While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and make its written form as beautiful artistically as its sound is musically. So in other words, it would be a language that looks like art when it is written, and sounds like music when it is spoken. There would be little or no need for tongue and mouth articulation, as is present in every language I know except Sign.
Mind you, this would be a MAJOR undertaking. If it leaned more toward the side of code, then it would take very careful rules that would maintain beauty and simplicity while allowing a detailed message without taking too much time to convey it. If, on the other hand, it leaned toward the side of language, then it would need its own dictionary and grammar rules.
Just think how fun it would be to write a detailed message, and then put it to music by simply translating it into this musical language. If it was really well made and well planned, such a language could shape the future of composition in the future for thousands of people. It would completely obliterate the question of whether or not it is possible to convey a message using music alone. It would not only supply the usual feelings and subconscious patterns, but it would speak words with as much clarity and accuracy as this blog entry. And if a picture paints a thousand words, this would paint a hundred thousand words.
I have toyed with (as well as started on and off) to create this language/code, but time has limited me from really diving into it. But here are a few rules that I think would have to be kept constantly in mind for it to have any chance of being what I envision it:
It has to sound beautiful – or at least any message spoken would have the potential for sounding like decent music, and in written form, looking like decent art.
It would have to be fairly simple to learn. How many people do you know that can speak Klingon? Sorry, but complex language systems intimidate people, so this has to be fairly simple.
It has to be able to carry as detailed a message as the composer (or speaker) needs to speak.
It has to be able to convey the message in a time-frame comparable to living languages today. (IE it can’t take 5 minutes to say, “I went to the store and bought a burrito.)
It has to be able to be spoken by a single individual without the aid of others. Harmony and chord structures may be used to emphasize, expand, or provide multiple levels to the message, but a basic communication has to be able to be spoken by one person by either voice or instrument.
Just remember the most important things are that it’s spoken and written form is beautiful, and its message can be detailed.
Other elements, such as rhythm or note-length can assist in speaking the language, but they probably ought to be used more in grammar rather than individual words in order to allow the composer or speaker as much creative liberty as possible to compose a piece of music using the language.
So there you have it. Any thoughts? Ideas? Criticisms? It’s a kind of wild idea, but we’re living in an age of wild ideas, and if we pull together, we can make some wild ideas awesome ones.
I know every person out there has had a lifelong burning desire to learn to play the Australian didgeridoo, so I’m going to teach you how to do it. The best part is, all you need is a pipe – mine’s PVC. Of course, I painted it to look all cool and stuff, but you can use a vacuum pipe or thick wrapping paper tube if you want.
In my mind, reading music and learning music by ear are completely different. I do read music. I’m rather slow at it, so far. I have known about reading music much longer than I have known anything about music by ear. I have come to conclude that while the principles of both overlap some, the methods of practice and levels of skill are completely different. I say this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, one who is new at the piano will likely feel very intimidated to play in front of a well practiced, sheet-music reading, piano player. While you may hear and see incredible skill and agility in the hands of the experienced, know that some such players have not developed any of the most basic levels of learning by ear. They do have an advantage, even great advantage, because their fingers and minds have developed great capacity for movement and coordination, but they yet lack the skills necessary for playing by ear or heart.
The other reason I mention that learning by ear and reading music are different, is for the sake of those of you who are experienced in reading music. You do have an advantage, and likely you will learn much faster than if you had no experience. But if you have never learned to play by ear, then you must consider that you are learning a whole new skill, a whole new talent that has very little to do with the skill you already have.
Keeping this in mind as you are getting started will keep you from getting discouraged. There is a risk that you may try to learn by ear, find it too basic or too challenging, get impatient with it, and give up. You must not consider that the ability you have will help you develop this new talent. The fact is, it will help you, but if you have that in mind as you try to learn to play by ear, you will likely find yourself getting discouraged, and you’ll eventually give up. I promise you, the effort is well worth whatever time and energy it may take.
If you have practice and experience with both learning by ear and reading music, wonderful! Help others learn these skills, since there are so few who have confidence in their ability to learn these things.
Most of the accomplished musicians I have met have mastered both arts, ear and reading. They find it easy to play by heart. They can write music with ease. There are reasons for this that we will discuss later. I will say that those who learn to play by ear have a much easier time learning to write their own music and play by heart than those who only read music.