Book Review :: The Elements of Music

I ran across this unassuming little book (only 60 pages) in a used bookstore in Eugene, and after reading the first four pages knew I had to finish it!

The Elements of Music is one of the best overviews of music I’ve ever read. Even as someone who has studied music my whole life, I found fresh ideas and perspectives on tired subjects like melody, harmony, and rhythm. Surprising in its communicative power and simple approach, The Elements of Music quickly distills the essential nature, function, and reality of music into easy-to-understand, compact essays.

Here are two examples of the poetry/textbook hybrid style that Martineau uses:

“Music is carried by the vibrations of molecules of air, like waves upon an ocean. It perhaps uniquely captures and conveys the interior landscape of one human mind to another, holding our tears and sweat, pain and pleasure, packaged as paeans and preludes and etudes and nocturnes. It is the texturization of the deliquescence of time, the ebb and flow of mood and meaning. It ruminates, vacillates, contemplates, and stimulates.” – from “What Is Music?”

“A melody is created by the succession of tones through time. Step by step, note by note, and outline is formed, a path carved. Gestures appear, like the inflections used in speech, or the dialectic of rising and falling tones, or the contrast of high and low notes. A distant leap feels large and grandiose, a small one more fluid and gentle. […] Silent pauses, or rests, are essential to melodies. They allow time for breath, reflection, and interaction with the music. Listeners wait for the next event, suspended, anticipating.” – from “Basic Melody”

I think even the non-musician will find this book a fascinating glimpse past the mysterious magic of music and into the nuts and bolts of how it works, goes together, and moves the human spirit.

To check it out on Amazon, click here.


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