I love music. I have been studying music since I was young. I played trumpet, both classical and jazz, as well as medieval and renaissance wind instruments such as the cornetto, krumhorn, and recorder. I took years classes of at the Juilliard conservatory before going to college, where I took many music classes. Yet, I always felt there was something missing in my music education.
It didn't strike me what that was until I took a course on the philosophy of education and concurrently, a course in 20th century (Western classical) music analysis. In the education course, we learned how critical thinking skills were a prime goal of education. In the music analysis course, every time we started to study a new modern composer, we had to learn new tools of analysis. That didn't seem right to me -- I was soon to graduate college -- shouldn't I have all the critical thinking tools I needed to understand any piece of music? I went into the music library for some deeper explorations, and there, listening to Indian and Javanese musics, I sat dumbfounded, realizing, after so many years of study, just how far from having those tools I was.
Let me back track to a deeper explanation of critical thinking skills. When one is a liberal arts religion major, one doesn't learn to be a good person or how to meditate. Rather, a discipline has been developed around the goal of gaining critical thinking skills. Even in studio art, so comparable to music, one learns the color wheel (among other tools), the full palette of color available, and when a color (or form) is seen by one with such training, the tools for analysis are there, the critical mind has been developed. The study of Western music, utilizing today's standard pedagogical method, does not provide that same benefit.
Luckily, the college had just started to offer classes in Indian music, and I enrolled. In readings stemming from those first sitar lessons unfolded the system of Indian music, instrumental in my beginning to develop those thinking skills I had thereforeto sadly lacked. In Indian music, unlike Western pedagogy, the music has been finely systematized, for centuries. This was the root of the "color wheel", the master key, I had been seeking.
For an example, take the concept of musical tonality and scale. In my study of Western music I learned but 20 or so scales, and most of those only through study of ancient musics and jazz. In Indian music, tens of thousands of scales are recognized, and hundreds are in common use.
In South Indian musical theory, one of the most famous explanations of the scalar system is that of Venkatamakhi developed in the 17th Century. The following is excerpted from B.C.Deva's Indian Music For simplicity's sake I have omitted Indian names for the pitches.
The construction of the seventy two parent scales (janaka mela) is out of two tetrachords (anga). The octave is divided into to anga-s: the poorvanga (lower tetrachord) and the uttaranga (upper tetrachord) thus:
Poorvanga: C Db D Eb E F F# Uttaranga: G Ab A Bb B C
For the nonce let us leave out F# and consider the varieties of the possible first tetrachords. They will be as under:
C Db D F C Db Eb F C Db E F C D Eb F C D E F C Eb E F
By a similar process six kinds of upper tetrachords may be obtained:
G Ab A C' G Ab Bb C' G Ab B C' G A Bb C' G A B C' G Bb B C'
By combining each of the poorvanga-s with every one of the uttaranga-s there can be constructed thirty-six janaka mela-s. One example is given below:
C Eb E F G Ab A C' C Eb E F G Ab Bb C' C Eb E F G Ab B C' C Eb E F G A Bb C' C Eb E F G A B C' C Eb E F G Bb B C'
Now, in all the thirty-six janaka mela's, substitute F by F#. We then have another thirty-six, differing only in madhyama (Fourth). Totally there can thus be seventy-two scales.
To summarize the conclusion B.C.Deva's chapter, assuming a scale can have a differing number of notes acending and descending, and assuming one wishes to keep those movements between five and seven notes, each of the parent scales can thus spawn 484 subsidiary ones, yielding 34,848 scales. Obviously, if one widens the scalar parameters further to include more or less notes in a scale, and admit microtones, (the Indian system admits 22 such sruti to the octave) the number of scales one has to explore becomes astronomical.
Through the study of such a systematized, intellectually rigorous music, one explores the full palettes of scale and melody, rhythm and mood, and thus develops critical thinking skills.