Talk:Music theory

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The archives to this page contain the following threads:

  • Archive 1: no table of contents. Archived 15 August 2009.
  • Archive 2: 49 different threads, Archived 7 January 2015.
  • Archive 3: Geographical Imbalance (2007-2012); Musical parameters in infobox (2013); Intro (2008-2013); To do (2009-2014); Adding Confusing Language (2014); Music Theory – Main Article - Suggested major revision (2014); Major theorists (2014); Tone, pitch, and note (2014). Archived 7 January 2015.
  • Archive 4: Modes, scales, tonoi, and thingimajiggs (2014); Conflict with article "Chord (music)" (2014); Notation Systems (2014). Archived 7 January 2015.
  • Archive 5: Clean up of the intro (2014); Quarter tones (2014); You said "scales"? (2014); History of Music Theory (2014); Theories of Harmonization Problems (2014). Archived 11 August 2015.
  • Archive 6: Alternative Outline (2014). Archived 15 August 2015.

Most of these archives, especially archives 3-6, remain important for the ongoing discussions and should often be reread.

Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 16:24, 15 August 2015 (UTC)

Cultural globalization?[edit]

Jacques, I open this new section because otherwise it becomes difficult to find one's way in our dialogue.

Your last posting makes it clear, I think, that your position is an ideological one, one of cultural globalization. You would like the music theory article to treat all cultures on the same level and, to this effect, you would want it to stress that music theory arises in all cultures with (the "composition" of) music itself. Such an ideological stance deserves all our sympathy, especially in these troubled times (and in those to come).

The problem, however, is that cultural globalization cannot apply in the case of music theory. Once we agree that "theory" involves not only the simple fact of making music but, at a more specialized level, the production of theories, it soon appears that all cultures are not equal in this respect. This is not a value judgment, because I don't think any specific value could be associated with the production of theories. It merely is a judgment about cultural differences.

If you consider the fragments of the history of theory that are at present assembled in the article, you'll see that music theories may have appeared before 3000 BCE in Mesopotamia, 2500 years ago in Greece and possibly in China, about 2000 years ago in India – and that's it. The corpus of theories is scant in Mesopotamia, not extremely large in China or India, and quite enormous in Greece. Greek theoretical logorrhea appears to have affected Arabic countries (to an extent that is not yet fully evaluated, as too little is known about Arabic theory after Safi al-Din) and the West. This probably is because in these cultures philosophy and music were considered interconnected disciplines, with music in addition making a link with science. The enormous corpus of music theory produced in the West during the last 25 centuries is without equivalent in the world.

Once again, this is not a value judgment: producing theory does not mean one is more clever, or whatever. You write that the music theory article "need not attempt to cover all cultures or become involved with details and differences between cultures." I don't see why, because these differences do exist and must be described and discussed. You say that "We should rely on dedicated articles to discuss [sub]topics and where appropriate, point to them." There are two problems here: first that doing so would not really reflect the varying importance of theory in the different cultures; and second that these dedicated articles often don't exist and probably won't before some time. I at least would not dare write dedicated articles on the music theory of many specific cultures. But I would never endorse a music theory article that does not mention the differences between cultures. — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 10:32, 11 January 2017 (UTC)

I agree with much of what you say. The sentence of mine you quote reads, "I do think a brief history of the development of theory around the world is important, but it need not attempt to cover all cultures or become involved with details and differences between cultures." (emphasis added) Attempting to cover all cultures, as the current article does, is unnecessary to make the point that theory is found around the world. By "point to subtopics", I meant subtopics such as pitch, melody, music analysis, and others now in the article, rather than explaining them here. As we once concluded, I still think the best outline for the article is: definition, history, subtopic links. I think the links are necessary to avoid duplicating existing articles and making this one voluminous when it should be restricted to "music theory" in general as outlined. Its details or subtopics need their own articles, as many already have, where they can be discussed thoroughly. Discussing them in distilled form here seems unhelpful and needlessly redundant. Since some readers will likely come here looking for those particulars, it does seem helpful to point them on their way. RE: "the varying importance of theory in the different cultures" and "the differences between cultures," is that important or necessary here? Even if it were, I think such a discussion is far beyond the scope of this article and digresses from the article's purpose. I also doubt we could find any references that were anything more than opinion and dubious value judgments. Seems to me the article should simply strive to make clear that music theory is a world-wide phenomenon and give some general examples: Greek modes, Chinese pentatonic scale, and the like. Again, I recommend linking to "pentatonic scale" or "Music of China" rather than discussing here. Discussion of the relative importance or sophistication between cultures seems unnecessary in an article intended to explain what theory is and provide an overview of its development around the world. The New Grove definition of theory is an example of what I think we must avoid. It describes a set of characteristics that are, in sum, distinctly those of Western european music, often stylistic, and arbitrary. In my view, that's not only mistaken regarding a definition of music theory, but completely unsupportable given the unmistakable evidence of theory, both written and otherwise, across the ages and around the world. I think a generalized history/development section is also important to make clear that theory is not a fixed body of knowledge, but a continuously evolving attempt to understand how music has been, and can be made. That's not a cultural endeavor. It's a human endeavor. - Jacques Bailhé 19:45, 11 January 2017 (UTC)

Jacques, are we alone discussint the future of this article? I thought there was a Wikipedia:WikiProject Music_theory that might have shown some interest... I am quite in agreement with most of what you say, and I do believe we come closer to a consensus – but I keep thinking that we should be joined with others in this.

David Fallows, quoted early in the lede to the article, quotes three meanings of the term "theory":

  • (1) the rudiments or, better said (because this is the term we chose after some discussion) the Elements of music; this is covered in the second section of the present article, of which the title, Fundamentals of music should perhaps be changed for "Elements of music". I agree with you that most of the contents does not really belong here, if only because it is also found in the main article, Elements of music. On the other hand, I think that we might stress here the theories, if any, concerning these elements: theories of pitch; of scales and modes; of consonance and dissonance; of melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre; of forms; of notation; etc. I am convinced that there are properly theoretical aspects that may not belong to the specialized articles and that should better be dealt with here, the keyword being Theories of ...; let's leave this open for further discussion.
  • (2) the study of the writings about theory. This is or should be covered in the first section of the article, History. You rightly argued that this section should also say some words about theory before writing (what I keep thinking of as the prehistory of theory), and the article indeed includes that. But the organization of this section obviously needs a thorough rethinking. I think to be responsible for much of its present organization and I admit today that my choice is not the good one. By dividing the section first in chronological periods (Prehistory, Antiquity, Middle Ages, Modern and Contemporary), I had hoped to put all cultures on more or less equal level. But the chronological periods may not exist in the same way in all cultures, and the various cultures did not have equal share in each. I wonder now whether it would no be better to arrange this section by Culture: say, Greek, Chinese, Indian, Arabic, Western, etc. We will keep disagreeing on this, I am afraid; but I do believe that the bulk of theories produced first in Greece, then in the cultures directly influenced by Greece, i.e. Arabic and Western, is without comparison with anything produced anywhere else, and I keep thinking that the article should reflect this fact. It is one of the points where I'd very much like to have the opinion of others.
  • (3) "An area of current musicological study that seeks to define processes and general principles in music". I am afraid I am at loss to understand David Fallow's opinion here. He wants to stress the study of "the fundamental materials from which [music] is built", but that already was covered in point (1) above; and he want to oppose it to the analysis of music, being the study of individual works; but analysis necessarily is about such aspects as melody, harmony, counterpoint, form, and the like, which again leads back to point (1) above. The articulation between theory and analysis is a point often discussed in professional circles; it again is one about which we may need the opinion of others, even if I don't think that question to be of such importance here.

The article has a third section, on the academic discipline of theory, which partly covers the questions raised by Fallows in his point (3) above and which I think remains necessary. Its present content has little to do in an article on music theory, though. It is a mixture of points which may or may not concern theory properly speaking. It fails to mention the existence of scholarly societies dealing with theory, not only the American SMT, but also the European Societies and some non Western ones.

I won't say more now, I'm too busy with other matters. But I hope we'll see reactions from members of the Wikipedia:WikiProject Music_theory – I'll leave a message there. Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 21:16, 18 January 2017 (UTC)

I agree it would be good to have some others join the discussion -- especially people who actually make music. It's so easy to get lost in books and lose sight of how theory is thought about and used to actually make music. I'd especially like to hear from people who are now studying or just completed their studies, as well as people who never studied formally but make music. I suppose one way we'd certainly get input is to write a draft and put it up! A thousand voices are then sure to be heard. I'm joking, of course. I don't think we should put anything up until we have a solid draft here. I do feel like you and I are finding some common ground and beginning to winnow the wheat from the chaf.
RE: an outline, I'd like to see this article short, tight, and crisply focused on what theory is. Once we venture off into pitch or other particulars, we not only duplicate other articles, but also invite the kind of ballooning that I think isn't helpful. More than unhelpful, I think it gets confusing. I we have one subtopic on any specialized area we'll get a hundred more--as the current article demonstrates. A person comes here to get a grip on what theory is and finds themselves weeding through all sorts of discussion about uses or other digressions. All of that information is, of course, important, it just doesn't belong here. The more focused we can make it, the better -- not to mention it'll be a more manageable task. - Jacques Bailhé 08:12, 20 January 2017 (UTC)
Wikipedia really is here to describe how other sources discuss topics. See Wikipedia:The perfect article. Discussing how other books, journalists and writer have already defined music theory is the way to go. Show mentions of any notable writers about music theory. Mention links to composers who wrote commonly used texts. I'd also be in favor of bold live editing. Especially deleting all of the unsourced, vague, and unrelated sentences and even full paragraphs. Sections that currently have their own articles (Genre and technique, Music perception and cognition) seem to not make any justification for being related to music theory. Other than being related to music? Pitch, fundamentals of music, etc are subject that music theory itself discusses... but then those not talking *about* the concepts of music theory introduced at the top. None of that is necessary here, is it? Simiilar to how cellphones use electricity, and so if we're being specific the cellphone article would be better linking to electronics instead of attempting to describe more. Those topics have their own articles that do that better. Hope this helps! =) Sketchee (talk) 19:59, 20 January 2017 (UTC)
Sketcheee, thanks very much for your thoughts. I agree, as you can see above, especially under the section "This article has once again become a hodge-podge." About 90% of what's now in the article could be cut. A couple years ago, I and others had the article down to size, but it has since ballooned. It really doesn't need to be so complicated, but it seems people are inclined to want to include subtopics that are of particular interest to them. Good of them to contribute their ideas, but as you say, most of that should be put into articles on the particular idea. This article should focus on what music theory is as a body of knowledge and speculation about music. Set Theory is an intriguing aspect of music theory, as are thousands of other aspects, but here, I think they're unhelpful digressions. And as you say, they are, or can be, better handled in dedicated articles. RE: writers on music theory, we will definitely discuss, either in the body or as I would recommend, as a list under "Further Reading." THanks again for your input and I hope you'll feel encouraged to contribute as we begin to work out a new draft. - Jacques Bailhé 20:33, 21 January 2017 (UTC)
I'm not sure why you think performers' input would be particularly insightful here, but I've been following this discussion with interest. As a composer and performer, I think of music theory as providing a vocabulary to talk about music, useful but not essential, like measure numbers. Mozart didn't know anything about Roman numerals or Schenkerian analysis, but he understood their principles intuitively, and performers can render Mozart's music beautifully via intuition alone as well. Pop and jazz performers are perfectly capable of doing without theory (or even measure numbers), but there's no doubt that theoretical concepts apply. When we go to talk about music, however, we need the vocabulary (and implied analysis) which theory provides. It's the difference between saying "The middle section of that song sounds different" and saying "The bridge of that song is in the subdominant." The same goes for world music: obviously some theoretical concepts apply to most types of music (e.g. tuning systems, meter), but it's not essential to music-making, and whether a literature on theory has been developed varies by culture.
IMO this article should focus on the existence and development of music theory as an academic (using this word in its widest sense) discipline, covering whichever cultures have developed such a discipline, and I agree with comments above that detailed discussions of theoretical concepts should be delegated to other articles. —Wahoofive (talk) 17:45, 23 January 2017 (UTC)
Hi Wahoofive. Glad you chimed in and really appreciate your thoughts. I agree that knowing the terms of music theory isn't essential to making music. Mozart might not be the best example since, beside his natural talent, he was tutored extensively by his highly skilled violinist and author father, as you probably know. I do, however, agree with the point you make and to a large degree, that's why I'm interested in hearing from performers. My ex-brother-in-law was principal Horn for the LA Philharmonic. Obviously, a very thoroughly trained and highly skilled player. Whenever I asked him a theory question, he'd always say didn't think much about that stuff. But of course, performance practice is part of the wide field of theory and Lord knows, he thought about how to play his horn constantly. It interests me how players think about and apply theory - often very differently from composers, arrangers, etc. I like your thought about theory providing a vocabulary and I agree that's certainly one of its uses. Anecdotally, in my the sitar lessons I took in Nepal, the teacher simply sang to me and occasionally grabbed my fingers because I spoke no Nepalese and he spoke no English. Nevertheless, theory was communicated. Regrettably, I don't know of any authoritative source that discusses the "vocabulary" aspect of theory specifically so I'm not sure we could discuss that in the article. If you know any source for that, I'd love to look it up. That's not a challenge to what you say, it's because I think it's an extremely interesting aspect. Chomsky, for one, has written extensively on how vocabulary affects understanding, perception, and the ability to think about a subject. It's certainly difficult to teach theory without a vocabulary. If you have a copy, see Harvard Dictionary of Music's discussion - not the older editions, but 2003 or later. I think it does an excellent job of covering the breadth of the field of theory. It also mentions categorization and classification, which seems to me related to your thoughts about vocabulary. Theory also seems important as speculation. Not only do academics speculate and propose theoretical ideas and possible solutions, so do composers, performers, critics, and players. It may well be that the larger portion of theory has been and is generated by writers explaining what composers have proposed in their compositions. It seems that style, genre, new structural forms and uses of pitch relationships, etc. are, more often than not, first proposed by composers, then classified and categorized by theorists, as most definitions of theory mention. There's no question the academic use of theory is important, but from my view, focusing on that would overlook the multitude of other important ways theory is used and generated, and paint a misbalanced picture. In gross terms, it seems to me that around the world there are vastly more composers and players using and developing theory than academics and theorists. No? Thanks again for your thoughts. I hope you'll feel encouraged to contribute as this moves along toward a new draft. - Jacques Bailhé 17:16, 24 January 2017 (UTC)
Jacques, and Wahoofive, what you seem to say is, for instance, that composers wrote sonata-forms long before the theory of sonata-form began to be written by Reicha or Marx – and that therefore, in a sense, they produced the theory of sonata-form before theorists became aware of it. This reminds me of one of my colleagues who, during a study day in our university, told us that she had been able to find early Rigaudons (the French baroque dance), but unable to discover which of these was the model of the Rigaudon. And indeed, composers may produce pieces which cumulatively create a form. One may wonder what would have happened of the Rigaudon if one or several composers had written them in triple meter instead of duple. One answer could be that what they wrote were not Rigaudons, but what if they named them so? Is the name determinant? And how many rigaudons were written without being named so, and how come that we nevertheless know that they are Rigaudons? Sonata-form, oddly enough, is not a form of the Sonata, in its early history at least: the form probably originated in Symphonies. Haydn and Mozart wrote sonatas; they wrote their first movement imitating forms that they also used in symphonies. So what? How many Rigaudons, or Sonata-forms, do we need before their theory can really be said to exist?
What I mean is that even if one must recognize that such forms (or, for that matter, any music-theoretical concept) inductively arise from instances produced by composers or musicians, to call these instances "theories" is stretching the term beyond what is useful or acceptable. As in any scientific or logical reflexion, theory arises when the results of inductions are transformed in a hypothesis open for deductions – it is this shift from induction to hypothetico-deduction that is meant by the word "theory". To call Chomsky in the discussion is interesting, because language obviously is of paramount importance here. Composers may produce pieces that they name rigadoons, or sonatas, or whatever, but the theory of these appears only when these names are understood as meaning something specific, as defining what a Rigaudon or a Sonata-form is. We can suppose that Mozart was aware that many of his sonata's first movements (not all of them, though) were in roughly the same form; but we cannot be sure. He may not have been fully aware that, of his sonatas, some did begin in something worth being termed sonata-form (if he ever had needed to give them a name) and others not. And this situation remained until someone stated the difference between a sonata-form and other forms – that is, until someone produced a formal theory of Sonata-form. What is interesting in the theory of Sonata-form may not be that it defines the form, but that it explains why other forms mus be excluded from it.
Theory, in short, is by no means the same thing as practice. In a way, any form of teaching, even without words as with your sitar teacher, Jacques, is a form of incipient theory. But you must be aware that much oral transmission happens through stealing (the students stealing what they think they can understand of their master's practice, and the master refusing to demonstrate everything). That is to say that transmitting an oral tradition may involve no theory at all. Theory arises when concepts are formally named and the names understood as distinctive.
(Well, I don't really know why I wrote all this, but it might perhaps be of use in the discussion.) — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 18:37, 24 January 2017 (UTC)
I think the atomic theory of matter was developed in the late 19th/early 20th century, but electrons had been happily orbiting their nuclei for billions of years before that. Theory only happens when theorists write about it, not when the phenomena they're describing first occurred, no matter how widespread. —Wahoofive (talk) 06:16, 25 January 2017 (UTC)

shouldn't there be drums in prehistory?[edit]

The prehistory section doesn't mention what is probably the first instrument, drums! I'm assuming that rhythm is part of music theory. Pb8bije6a7b6a3w (talk) 14:11, 27 July 2017 (UTC)

Drums are definitely part of music history as are other instruments (for example, those in the Bible). But are they part of music theory? According to the article lead, music theory is about general understanding of how music is put together, in the broad sense, independent of its practice in various instrument. Based on various early treatises I've read, drums are not mentioned in any significant manner, so I don't see a need to include mention of them here. - kosboot (talk) 15:55, 27 July 2017 (UTC)
The section on Prehistory says that "Preserved prehistoric instruments [...] implicitly reveal something of a prehistoric theory of music". This is a concession made to an earlier contributor to this article, and the idea of "implicitly" revealing something is odd, to say the least. The statement, at any rate, makes no mention of any specific type of instrument, neither drums nor any others, and rightly so, I think. There is a link refering to Prehistoric music, where one can check that there is no credible evidence of the existence of drums in prehistoric times. Whether they existed or not in any case has nothing to do with music theory: it is true that the theory of rhythms is part of music theory, but from this does not follow that the existence of rhythm denotes the existence of theory.
The question whether drums existed in Prehistory is no concern of music theory. However, let me add that it is extremely unlikely that drums may have been present among the earliest devices producing rhythm. The membranes of the earliedt drums, most probably made of hide, would have involved quite developed techniques, first to raise the cattle, then to produce the membranes, that must not have been available before quite late in Prehistory. And in any case, this concerns the Prehistoric music article (and possibly a few others), but certainly not Music theory. — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 19:33, 27 July 2017 (UTC)
It would indeed be difficult to establish the (IMO dubious) proposition that ancient rhythmic activity entailed a contemporaneous theory of rhythm. I do have a quibble regarding your comments on hide drumheads, though: I suspect paleolithic people used hides for things such as clothing and shelter, long before the introduction of animal husbandry. In more recent history, the traditional material for the covering of a tipi came from wild buffalo. Traditional techniques for preparing rawhide still remain in living memory, and would have been practicable with the limited technical resources available to bands of paleolithic hunters, i.e. sharp flakes and roundish hammer stones. Just plain Bill (talk) 20:32, 27 July 2017 (UTC)
Irrespective of whether they had drums, I think it's safe to say prehistoric people could have had other percussion instruments, made of, say, wood or bone, which from a music theory perspective would be equivalent. Interesting, but still largely irrelevant for this article. —Wahoofive (talk) 16:24, 28 July 2017 (UTC)

As a matter of fact, we didn't resolve the dispute as it can be read in earlier discussions on this page, whether the theory of music can exist "implicitly" in any musical usage, or results from a discourse about musical practices. Prehistoric musicians certainly had rythm, and most probably intruments (mainly percussions, one may suppose) for the purpose. So what? Is to "have rhythms" (and rhythmic instruments) the same thing as having a theory of rhythms? At some point, the article should give an answer to this question. But the very principle of a collaborative encyclopedy doesn't make this easy ... — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 20:55, 28 July 2017 (UTC)

Prehistoric people may have used mnemonic syllables to render or classify rhythms, but I believe we are unlikely to discover a credible ur-syllabary which made up their "theory" in the practical sense given above. Any claim to modern knowledge of prehistoric academic theory would stretch credulity, to put it kindly. Unwritten discourse tends to vanish in the wind, unless extraordinary efforts are undertaken to preserve it, as in the case of some Scandinavian sagas or the oral phase of the Pali canon of Buddhism. Anecdotally, I believe less than a dozen centuries is a wildly optimistic upper bound for somewhat accurate oral transmission of such "texts," even with diligent error correction. Paradoxically, the written forms may not last as long without errors accumulating.
Hucbald, If I understand your question here, it need not be limited to a prehistoric context. Do reliable sources discuss a continuum including practice, practical theory, and academic theory? I am not well enough read to have an answer to that, if it is indeed the over-arching question. Regards, Just plain Bill (talk) 23:44, 28 July 2017 (UTC)
Just plain Bill, if you browse through the sections above this one and through the archives of this page, you'll see that these questions have been in discussion here for months, if not years. Let me only say that (written) theory certainly is much older than twelve centuries – at least twice as much. The question of accurate transmission does not arise, because the original texts exist. Aristoxenus, the Greek theorist still much discussed today, wrote twenty-four centuries ago and reliable secondary sources, e.g. the Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, and many more specialized modern writings, do peruse his original text. — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 09:17, 29 July 2017 (UTC)
OK, this discussion has strayed far from prehistory, mea as much culpa as anyone else. Whether having rhythm entails having a theory of it is a fair question. Has anything been written on that? Just plain Bill (talk) 15:09, 29 July 2017 (UTC)
When ancient people dropped things, they fell down. Does that mean they had a theory of gravity? —Wahoofive (talk) 01:50, 30 July 2017 (UTC)
The question "whether having rhythm entails having a theory of it" does not concern the theory of music, it concerns the definition of theory itself. The example given by Wahoofive is a good one: the theory of gravity did not appear with gravity itself, it appeared with the earliest attempt at explaning gravity. Similarly, rhythm does not entail a theory of rhythm, which requires an explanation of rhythm. — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 08:11, 30 July 2017 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Wow. Music theory and a theory of gravity inhabit two different universes of discourse. There may be some overlapping areas, but conflating them serves better as a playful jocularity than any kind of dispositive argument. The claim that gravity is a social construct has been made, but that was a well-known bit of subversive "performance art." Music, often practised and performed in group settings, has a large social component.

Effective transmission of musical content and style is aided by a coherent linguistic framework for expressing musical forms, ideas, and techniques. That, in my perhaps naive view, ought to form a major part of any working definition of "music theory."

One aim of this discussion might be consensus regarding whether it is appropriate to say, in Wikipedia's voice, that the existence of prehistoric musical artifacts and artwork "might implicitly reveal something of a prehistoric theory of music."

That is my context for the question of practice entailing the existence of theory. It may be entertaining to imagine elders guiding the musical efforts of others; one may just as easily speculate about exuberance, sorrow, or reverence spontaneously giving rise to song, dance, or pounding on hollow trees. I favor getting rid of the "might implicitly reveal" language until a reliable scholarly source is offered to support it. Just plain Bill (talk) 15:44, 30 July 2017 (UTC)

The mention of gravity was a metaphor. With one exception (Schoenberg's serial technique), the history of music theory has always been that the theory derives from practice. Just because practice exists doesn't mean there's a documented contemporaneous theory. I would strongly advise you to do as historians of music theory have done which is to focus on existing texts. - kosboot (talk) 17:32, 30 July 2017 (UTC)
It was not a very good metaphor, given that "theory" is a word much subject to abuse by equivocation. N.B. my use of "may be entertaining to imagine" and "may just as easily speculate" is emphatically not meant to indicate approval or endorsement of including the associated ideas in the article. If you know of an existing text which would support the "implicitly reveal..." part, kindly offer it here. Just plain Bill (talk) 19:58, 30 July 2017 (UTC)
[What follows was written before Just plain Bill's addition above. I have the odd impression that we may basically be in agreement, despire the appearance.]
Even although we certainly agree about this, kosboot, I would be more agressive. Sokal's attack against "postmodern" editorial practices should not be mistaken for an attack against human sciences at large. This, besides, had not been Sokal's purpose. (I'd be less benevolent for his accomplice Bricmont.)
The mention of the theory of gravity as an example of what a theory is cannot be reduced to a mere metaphor (and I cannot suppose that you suggested that gravity itself could be a metaphor for music). Theories in human sciences are of the same nature as those in "exact" sciences: hypothetico-deductive statements formulated on the basis of inductive reflection. The important point is that theories exist only once stated. The very idea of an "implicit" theory is a contradiction in the terms. Language is of paramount importance here: there is no theory, neither of gravity nor of music, without it being uttered in some sort of language. And we cannot say anything of a theory, either of gravity or of music, if its utterance is not somehow recorded. No theory can exist without some form of recorded language – and the only possible recorded language to be considered here is writing. This also is why there is a period in the evolution of mankind called "prehistory" and another one called "history".
"Effective transmission of musical content and style", as Just plain Bill describes it, needs not have anything to do with theory. This kind of transmission can be performed by entirely different means. This also has been discussed above, e.g. about musics of oral tradition and more precisely about the various means by which they may be transmitted. Note that "tradition", in "oral tradition", means "transmission"; it often explicitly is done without verbalization, e.g. on the basis of examples, and this cannot in any reasonable way be equated with theory.
I begin to be fed up with this discussion. One cannot be asked to justify the claim that no theory exists before it is uttered – one cannot be asked to justify the meaning of words. If anyone wants to claim that a theory exists "implicitly", or that theories can be proved to have existed before the advent of writing, it is up to them to justify their claim, because it largely contradicts what the words mean. Prehistoric people may have had theories, but we will never know because we have no record of what they told to each other. To claim that they had is mere nonsense.
I suggest the replacement of the phrase "... might implicitly reveal something of a prehistoric theory of music" in the article by "... might indicate the possibility of prehistoric theories of music, about which however we won't forever know anything", or something of the kind.
[This being said, I must add, to answer Just plain Bill's comment, that indeed the usage of the word "theory", in the case of music, to account for the "elements of music", makes the word quite equivocal; I merely dislike this usage. As to a text which would support the "implicitly reveal..." part, I very strongly doubt that any could exist, and if we agree that none exists, we should remove this statement as soon as possible.] — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 20:19, 30 July 2017 (UTC)
Thank you. I have trimmed the text in question, without adding further speculation. That leaves the little section looking a bit bare, without any content relevant to this article... For now I'm content to leave it as a place-holder, in case someone finds something useful to fit into it. I may have over-prolonged this discussion with some of my own flights of fancy, for which I here express both regret and apology.
Well, one more fanciful item for your amusement: It would be interesting if linguistic analysis could be applied to the mnemonic syllables of various percussion traditions, to find a proto-rudimental drumming "language." I've been exposed in passing to some from western Africa, Turkey, Japan (thanks to Prof. William P. Malm) and, of course, the rudiments of drumming in English. I suspect the data set will be too skimpy to develop any definitive conclusions, but who knows? Cheers, all. Just plain Bill (talk) 22:20, 30 July 2017 (UTC)William P. Malm
Been done already, at least with western music: Generative theory of tonal music. The article does not contain any criticisms of their work, but, today, 30 years hence, I don't think anyone takes it seriously because most people recognize that music has its own rules which are not those of linguistics. - kosboot (talk) 23:37, 30 July 2017 (UTC)

Linguistic analysis and music theory[edit]

I open this new section because the discussion opened by Just plain Bill is somewhat different from the preceeding one. The question is particularly interesting.

I don't think that the mnemonic syllables of percussion traditions would be amenable to a true linguistic analysis. They do not involve a linguistic syntax, they merely stand for the music – but not for its sounds. More specifically, they do not "mean" the sound music for which they stand, they are not merely metalinguistic; their meaning (and their syntax) is largely the same as that of the music.

I must confess that the only such tradition that I really know is the dum–tak of Arabic music: it certainly does not represent the sounds of the music for which it stands. A percussionist singing these syllables may form an idea of the music represented, but no listener would recognize them as the sounds of the music to be played.

This situation is to some extent comparable to that of music notation: written music does not represent sound music. Busoni writes that the notation and the performances of a piece of music are all transcriptions of the work. The same could be said, I think, of the mnemonic syllables – all the more so that the music for which they stand probably is of oral tradition – that is, it is not fixed as a Western musical work is.

One main difference of course is that mnemonic syllables usually have the same temporality as the music itself, while notation switches off the flow of time. Another aspect, however, is that the syllables are more easily notated than the music for which they stand, using the standard writing of the language to which they correspond.

As to the general comparison between musical and linguistic rules, I do think with kosboot that GTTM is not a good example, because what it emulates is the cognitive turn taken by Chomsky in his later writings, not the linguistic one of, say, Syntactic Structures. Better examples of the comparison include works by Powers ("Language Models and Musical Analysis", 1980), Monelle (Linguistics and Semiotics in Nusic, 1992), Agawu (Music as Discourse, 2009), Molino (in Musique en jeu, 1975, etc.), Nattiez, and others.

I suppose that the question of music as language should somehow find its way in Music theory... — Hucbald.SaintAmand (talk) 09:29, 31 July 2017 (UTC)

If memory serves, tabla player Zakir Hussain devoted a track (or several?) of a CD in the early nineties to a Bol rendition of an extended call and response drum sequence. in that case, the syllables did indeed seem to stand in for the tempo and voicing of the drums, a musical performance in their own right. In one of his lectures in the mid seventies, Prof. Malm mentioned a similar sequence of Japanese syllables as impromptu performance (perhaps in a film) but I have no way of tracking that down. These things do tend to vanish in the wind, and memory is fleeting. That being said, the external links in the Bol article may reward perusal. Just plain Bill (talk) 11:51, 31 July 2017 (UTC)