Why does this class exist? Why this research?
I often explain this class/my research project as “Why Roman numerals are silly, and what you should do instead,” with more or less forceful language, depending on the context. I am saddened by the number of musicians that dismiss Theory as something they just have to get thru in order to get on with music-making. I want performers of all types to be able to use Theory to their advantage, to find Theory undaunting, and maybe even fun.
Since many of us still deal with Common Practice Period functional tonality (and those who don’t still are often in dialogue with the CPP), I believe that making this music easier to understand on a deeper level could help many musicians of many different types.
Here are my main problems with Roman numerals as they stand:
Misdirected focus – many, many musicians hear music functionally. We are encouraged to think and analyze functionally. If we want to talk about function, let’s do that!
Figured bass short-hands – great if you’re playing, but we’re not here for detailed improv, we’re generally looking at printed music.
Extra levels of abstraction – if you mean tonic, just say tonic! No reason to add another layer of learning with labels that don’t help us remember function.
Confusion – V6/4 means two distinct sonorities in different contexts at many institutions.
What Functional Analysis can do for you:
Save time – less abstraction means easier to learn and easier to employ.
Less confusion – a given label will only mean one thing.
Show similarities that are less apparent using RNs – viio7 is really just a funny V, different phrase expansions in related sections (Variations, different setting of the same piece, etc)
Big picture flexibility – if we understand the functional relationships, it is easier to improvise your way out of a memory slip or play with a phrase structure.
More levels – help musicians focus on different aspects of their phrases by zooming in and out; handy introduction to Schenker, if desired.
This new system is based on a German system (Funktionstheorie), first described by Hugo Riemann around the turn of the 20th century. I have translated, adapted, and updated many things and I am working to incorporate aspects of Schenkerian Analysis as well as other expanded theories for later period music.