I’m studying harmony at the moment, which is a brand new field for me. I have been listening to and playing classical music in one form or another for most of my life, but I’d never gone beyond a cursory study of ABRSM Grade 5, and I’d never seriously considered the question of how composers compose. I suppose I’d always assumed it was 99% inspiration and left it at that. But inspiration can’t speak to you unless you know its language, and I now realise that harmony is the language of musical inspiration. Obvious really. But then I’ve always found that the most important and transformative truths seem blindingly obvious once they’ve revealed themselves.
Studying harmony feels a bit like code-breaking. Previously hidden universal truths gradually reveal themselves as you learn to hear in a new way, and I’m really looking forward to finding out where this journey will take me over the next months, years and decades.
In particular, I hope I will find the beginning of an answer to a question that is conspicuously absent from the books I’ve read so far, whether written in 1932 or 2009. Namely, why is one person’s harmony everyone else’s harmony? Why do we universally agree that some chords are happy and others are sad? What makes some chord progressions resolve to a musical full stop, others ask a question, and others leave you feeling uncomfortable? So far it’s an elephant in the room, a glossed-over simply-stated fact which on the face of it really doesn’t seem to have any business being a fact at all.