am 14. August 1999
As an undergraduate music major interested in music theory, I happened upon this book by accident while browsing through the theory section of the music library looking for a good book on harmony. All I can say is that the book impressed me so much that I ordered my own copy three days later.
What impressed me so much? Well, for more than a year now I've been trying to sift through music theory texts (as well as acoustics and other math-heavy texts) trying to understand why music sounds good. Why did music develop the way it did? Why did tonality and other parts of classical music break apart in the early twentieth century? Is it purely explicable by artistic means, or is there something about the physical world of acoustics (or psychoacoustics) that effected the development of Western music?
My search led me to the area of tuning, in particular, and to numerous other areas of musical acoustics and theory. In any case, this book explains the basics of everything that I've distilled out of scores of books. Most theorists and general musicians have no clue about how music really works--it took me a full year of reading to get some clue. But, this book presents the basics in such a way that the beginner feels at home, but also puts everything together for an advanced reader in such an incredible way that all I could say was, "Why didn't I find this book last year? It puts together everything I've learned in 18 months to produce the theory that I always knew had to exist!"
Mathieu has written a different kind of music theory book, and one that more theorists should read. He systematically derives Western harmony, starting from simple improvised melodies against a drone, and ending with a theory that encompasses jazz theory as well as traditional tonal harmony. Along the way, you learn more than you ever need to know about the tuning problems that led to modern equal temperament (and without the endless mathematics that scares many musicians away).
But, more importantly, you learn to sing intervals--in tune and pure. The beginning (and most important part) of "Harmonic Experience" is about singing--it is about FEELING why music makes sense to our ears, and slowly figuring out how that evolved into modern Western music.
I recommend this book to three groups:
(1) People who want to know why and how music works (i.e., beginners in music theory) - you won't be able to digest everything in this book in one gulp, but, studied along with traditional harmony, this book will enrich your understanding of music in so many ways. It's written at a level that anyone with the ability to read music and play keyboard a little will understand.
(2) More advanced musicians who have some theory background - if music theory always turned you off, or if you ever wanted to understand more of the "why" rather than the "how" that most harmony courses focus on, this is the book for you.
(3) Music theorists - Even if you have a Ph.D. in music theory, I think you can learn something from this book. There are a few places where the author goes a little far out in his way of explaining things, but you often have to do that when presenting an alternative viewpoint. WARNING: this book may change the way you think about theory. I'm not saying this is a new Bible for theorists--but I think it addresses issues that are not adequately considered in current theoretical research. It provides a fresh perspective in a simple, constructive way. Also, it provides a new set of analytical tools based on some already used in theory--but the background the book gives allows you to use the tools in new ways. It is not so much a new theory as it is a new basis for theory and a new way of THINKING about theory.
In general, if you are a musician and want to understand why music is structured the way it is, this will start you off on the right track.
am 13. August 2003
Beautifully balancing precise technical language with evocative poetic passages, illuminating analogies and practical singing exercises, W.A. Mathieu plunges into the depths of musical harmony. Starting out with the overtone series, he sheds light on the different intervals and the numerical ratios they represent, suggesting to the reader singing over a drone to physically experience the universal acoustical phenomena of resonance and wave interference. He discusses just and equal temperament in depth and goes on to develop a harmonic theory of his own encompassing classical as well as jazz harmony.
To me as a reader, it's a rare experience to be guided through a fascinating field and the author's thoughts about it in such a respecful, highly fluent and eloquent style of writing as Mathieu's. I truly respect the author for what he's created.
A pleasure to read, highly educational, alive with unique insights and perspectives, packed with musical and everyday wisdom, this book is a rare gem in the field of music theory. Highly recommended!
am 25. August 1999
I am so glad to see jzmckay's excellent review of this book, posted here. He said many of the things that I feel about this book.
I have studied music, including theory, for thirty years, and nothing has expanded my understanding (and perception!) of music as much as the information in this book.
I have studied music with the author of this book -- he's a great writer about music and an even better teacher! I know that this work is the result of a lifetime of profound consideration of what is at the very heart of the musical experience, and of why music affects us as it does. W. A. Mathieu's highly intelligent exposition is a great gift to all who wish to deepen their understanding of music.
I would like to express my personal thanks to the author for this book, which has enhanced my sensitivity to music.
am 23. April 1998
Here's the book for the musician who is eager to explore music's inner workings. The author, an accomplished composer and pianist who knows jazz, classical, and world musics, writes with humor in a conversational, accessible style. He begins by showing how to sing basic intervals REALLY in tune, then progresses from the simplest music over a drone to the most far-out harmonies. Because his approach to music theory is startlingly new, the book is useful and informative for both relative beginners and advanced musicians. You do need to be able to read music fairly well and to pick out notes at the piano. Apart from that, though, all that's needed is a curiosity about why music is capable of moving us so deeply. This is a book that will change the way you hear music--forever and for the better!
am 6. Januar 1999
What a great book! This should perhaps be the very first required reading for any music education. Mathieu first steps back from our usual musical assumptions and examines how sound works. The physics of sound is integral to our experience of it and western music uses a tuning system which is arbitrary (if advantageous in many ways). This is the book that answers so many questions I couldn't even identify - Why does music 'work' the way it does? How do overtones work and what implications do they have for music as a whole? Why does a minor third sound 'sad' and a major third 'happy' (is it all cultural conditioning)? Mathieu definitely addresses the spiritual side of all this, of sound and music and intervals, but never presumes to have answers to such questions. I've only explored a part of the book - it goes on to look at so many facets of the structure and possible organizations of sound and music, really advanced theory. Oh, and throughout, exercises are given, singing the pure intervals at hand, for instance, which serve to hone the ear and the voice and to make all of this sink in to where it counts. Anyone interested in music and theory should check this one out, a definite classic!
am 4. Januar 1999
As a string player, I am very opinionated about what constitutes proper intonation; fine adjustment of intonation is an integral part of my understanding of music theory. Mathieu's book is possibly the best guide to this subject that I have ever seen.
Mathieu builds up a system of scales, musical intervals, and chordal music theory based on building from a small set of resonances and the overtone series. Unlike other technical descriptions of this process, Mathieu makes it practical as a tool for everyday use, giving many musical experiments and examples, to be played at the keyboard or against a drone.
I recommend this book to anyone who has been turned off by a mathematical approach to music, to musicians (especially brass and string players) who want to build an intuition about proper intonation, and to keyboard players who want a better understanding of music theory.