Partch first presents a polemic against both equal temperament and the long history of stagnation in the teaching of music; according to Alex Ross, this is "the most startling forty-five-page history of music ever written". In particular, Partch holds Johann Sebastian Bach responsible for "the movement toward equal-tempered tuning, which meant that composers could not absorb the scales of other world traditions; and the urge to make music ever more instrumental and abstract."
He then goes on to explain his tuning theory based on just intonation, the ensemble of musical instruments of his own invention (such as the "Surrogate Kithara, a struck-string, harplike instrument", and the guitar with movable frets he used to compose Barstow), and several of his largest musical compositions.
The book has been highly influential to succeeding generations of microtonal composers, including Lou Harrison, Ben Johnston, and James Tenney. A revised and enlarged second edition was published just before Partch's death in 1974.
Partch presents 4 "basic monophonic concepts":
- Consonance and dissonance: "The ear informs us that tones which are in small-number proportion, say in the relation of 2 to 1, are strong, clear, powerful, consonant."
- "Dual Identity": "Every ratio of a Monophonic system is at least a dual identity."
- "Odentity [is] determined by the odd-number ratio component of the numerator, and another one, the Udentity [is] determined by the odd-number component of the denominator. A ratio thus always belongs to two tonalities, an Otonality in accordance with its Odentity, and an Utonality in accordance with its Udentity."
- Minor: "Under-number Tonality, or Utonality ("minor"), is the immutable faculty of ratios, which in turn represent an immutable faculty of the human ear."
- History: Music has appeared to have advanced up the harmonic series throughout history.
- Genesis of a Music: Monophony: the relation of its music to historic and contemporary trends; its philosophy, concepts, and principles; its relation to ... and its application to musical instruments, University of Wisconsin Press, 362 pp., 1949. ASIN B0007DM7I8
- Genesis Of A Music: An Account Of A Creative Work, Its Roots, And Its Fulfillments, Second Edition, Da Capo Press, Paperback, 544 pp., 1979. ISBN 0-306-80106-X. 2009: ISBN 9780786751006.
- Ross, Alex (18 April 2005). "Off the Rails". The New Yorker. p. 199. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Gann, Kyle (23 January 2001). "New York Songs of the Open Road". The Village Voice. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Payne, John (27 May 2009). "Harry Partch's Boxcar Revelations". Los Angeles Weekly. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Aaron, Peter (29 September 2011). "Lou Harrison: Outsider Inside". Chronogram. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Tabachnik, Sandy (17 April 2009). "They score! Composers John Harbison and Ben Johnston Have Left Their Mark on History". Isthmus. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- James Tenney/Harry Partch (1999). "Tenney, James: Song'n Dance for Harry Partch" (in German). Lydia Jeschke (trans.). Südwestrundfunk. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Falkenstein, Michelle (16 October 2005). "Sonata for Chromelodeon". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Partch (2009), p.86-90. ISBN 9780786751006.
- Dunn, David (2000). Harry Partch: An Anthology of Critical Perspectives, p.27-8. ISBN 9789057550652.