What is holistic harmony identification? According to aural training literature, it is how experts hear harmony. Unfortunately, this skill cannot be taught—one can only hope to develop it indirectly, after months or years of repeatedly recognizing and labeling particular chords. In his dissertation, Ville Langfeldt challenges this notion by exploring the concept from a range of positions.
The dissertation starts by seeking a clear definition that delineates holistic harmony identification from other approaches to harmonic listening. Through a combination of Gestalt theory and an ecological approach to perception, it continues by examining the perceptual basis of holistic harmony identification, and how it might be experienced from a listener’s perspective. Part I of the dissertation ends with a discussion of possible rehearsal strategies for the classroom, based on what Langfeldt calls a “metaphorical” listening approach.
Part II further explores “metaphorical” listening by analyzing conceptual metaphors found in textbooks about harmony. The aim is to shed light on how musical harmony as sound is conceptualized through language, and to uncover commonalities in the metaphors we use to describe it. Part III investigates one of these conceptual metaphors specifically: harmonic luminosity, or the idea that harmony can express “brightness” and “darkness.” In a quantitative study with 236 participants, musicians demonstrate a significantly higher ability than non-musicians to distinguish between “brightening” and “darkening” harmony.
The dissertation’s main contribution is the elucidation of the concept of holistic harmony identification, and the proposal for how it may be targeted in the aural training classroom. The dissertation also offers novel perspectives on the role of metaphor in harmonic listening.
About the author
Ville Langfeldt (b. 1983) is a music theorist, teacher, and composer.