Why learn music theory?

Ask general music theory or songwriting questions, get feedback!

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Jack Winter
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Jack Winter » Thu Sep 20, 2018 2:24 pm

Knowledge of solfege also makes talking about music in general or specifically a song a lot easier...
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tavasti
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Fri Sep 21, 2018 1:37 pm

jonetsu wrote:Or even worse, of not willing to do the studying to be a better musician ? One that can play in an orchestra but can never come up with anything original ?


Beeing musician and beeing composer is different thing.

jonetsu wrote:I never got any interest in playing others' songs. I played the first chords to "Stairway to Heaven" and got bored. My interest was in making new notes ring together. Not to be able to show off to others that I could play that or that tune and that hence I'm a good guitar player because of that.

Up to this day I do not know much about music theory. You can hear some results in the soundcloud pieces found in the signature below. I do know what major, minor, seventh chords are but moreover I can move the fingers in such a way as to come up with a creative expression I find.

I do not feel limited at all regarding music theory. I feel limited in my willingness to express more, to go further, to be more creative with the material I create. And this has nothing to do with music theory. I would not want to use music theory as a prop, as an illusion for me and for the listeners, instead of facing the limitation within oneself and within the soul. As such music becomes an expression of something more than 'mathematics'.

Many things you say are 'me too', but that relation to theory is just opposite. Learning theory gives me possibility to get results I want much faster. I do not have too much time for my music hobby, and without studying theory, all my music would be something much less than it is now.

I've studied some course from udemy, and right now studying more, to get my composition skills to next level.

I still remember when I first time learned what scale means, and how it enabled me to play 'elevator rock' with my guitar.
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jonetsu
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:19 pm

tavasti wrote: Many things you say are 'me too', but that relation to theory is just opposite. Learning theory gives me possibility to get results I want much faster. I do not have too much time for my music hobby, and without studying theory, all my music would be something much less than it is now.


I'm wondering about that actually. So far intuitively, to take an example to try to illustrate, I know that playing a F# in a D minor chord is asking for trouble. But if one tries to sneak a Ab it might work if there's some flexibility in the D minor to support it. And this is where the 'game' is at, flexing here and there to go along other notes and chords, as the inspiration leads.

The topic of inspiration is a totally different thing.

I have a chord wheel. It's a wheel you can turn around to see what chord matches with another. When I bought it I thought this will give me a boost. I will finally be leading off to something and not only fiddling around. Thing is it turns out I'm not using that chord wheel because I do not know which chords I use. My guitar is not even tuned to the standard tuning.

tavasti wrote: I've studied some course from udemy, and right now studying more, to get my composition skills to next level.

I still remember when I first time learned what scale means, and how it enabled me to play 'elevator rock' with my guitar.


I think there could be quite a difference between European and American mentalities regarding this. As an "American" I put accent on groove. Getting a groove going is very important. Chords and solfege and theory does not matter as much.

I know, there are American classical composers. Although I use a broad range.

The question remains. Can I really get my composition skills at a higher level by studying or can I instead face to hard work of feeling it all ?

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Sat Sep 22, 2018 10:39 am

jonetsu wrote:I think there could be quite a difference between European and American mentalities regarding this. As an "American" I put accent on groove. Getting a groove going is very important. Chords and solfege and theory does not matter as much.

I know, there are American classical composers. Although I use a broad range.

The question remains. Can I really get my composition skills at a higher level by studying or can I instead face to hard work of feeling it all ?

I don't think there is such thing as European or American mentality. I suppose Finnish and Canadian have more common than Canadian and Brazilian or Finn and Romanian. Most likely things are more about your musical taste.

But for your question, I don't think there will ever be answer for that. For some people theory may give ideas, for some other not. And for theory, there is lots of it, and you can pick what you need. I did not even know what is solfege (used google to find out), and no, I don't use it or have met it in any of my music theory material.

Music theory is like map showing where are roads and paths, but you can still walk where you want. With map you can maybe find easier way to that nice scenery, but you can get there also with plain work.
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Sun Sep 23, 2018 2:27 pm

tavasti wrote: I don't think there is such thing as European or American mentality. I suppose Finnish and Canadian have more common than Canadian and Brazilian or Finn and Romanian. Most likely things are more about your musical taste.


Not entirely. There's the cultural background, what you are growing into. Europeans did not have a cut in their cultural backgrounds. It all seamlessly progressed, with the church, classical music, everything just going on their own pace. In American there was a cut. 450+ years of fiddle and guitar songs completely removed from classical music have forged a mentality and an approach regarding music. This is why I say that in America (including Canada) the accent is on the groove. What makes people move. Hundreds of years for the common people (not the rich ones) to dance to fiddle and guitar tunes

In general terms of course. Latitude and weather contributes to shape a people, but not only. Attitude instead of latitude is much more important and this is shaped by the cultural context.

As an example, this is why such an immensely popular piece such as this one can exist, based on traditional roots:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1eUMVjwuAE

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:56 am

jonetsu wrote:
tavasti wrote: I don't think there is such thing as European or American mentality. I suppose Finnish and Canadian have more common than Canadian and Brazilian or Finn and Romanian. Most likely things are more about your musical taste.


Not entirely. There's the cultural background, what you are growing into. Europeans did not have a cut in their cultural backgrounds. It all seamlessly progressed, with the church, classical music, everything just going on their own pace. In American there was a cut. 450+ years of fiddle and guitar songs completely removed from classical music have forged a mentality and an approach regarding music.

450 years ago definitely Finland did not have any classical music, first signs of it are 1790. Sure some church music, but not as a art. Folk has been singing or some fiddle music, https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... i4fjc_6M-a and https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... z_K0HKB1nG

And for my personal background, AC/DC and Judas Priest define much more my musical identity than any classical music or old Finnish folk music. And most likely that will be true for many other people in my country. We have nation wide radio channel playing only hard rock and metal. And there are maybe total less than 10 radio channels which are broadcasted to whole nation.

In Finland there is more metal bands per capita than anywhere else. https://www.gislounge.com/map-of-heavy- ... er-capita/
With that aspect, USA would be par with Spain, Canada with German.
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:31 pm

tavasti wrote: 450 years ago definitely Finland did not have any classical music, first signs of it are 1790. Sure some church music, but not as a art. Folk has been singing or some fiddle music ...


Well, every country has folk music. Although in European countries culture an classical music made its way. Not so in the 'new world'. Maybe Finland is a special case since after all written language in historic terms, is rather new.

I listen for years now to Värttinä. To Hedningarna (Sweden) with the two Finnish singers (inspired from Sami culture). I know Loituma. I know the nature of the Kalevala. I also know of Gjallarhorn. Since quite a long time.

So all countries have folk music. Because this is the most accessible to everyone to make 'some dancing noises'.

For my personal influence it was varied, but a lot of progressive rock. Some jazz, folk. I would say that folk music was kind of 'embedded' from culture. We used to gather around fires and stuff like that, so there was often nature close by. And someone would always have an acoustic guitar, sometime a violin. Even though there was a lot of European influence through prog rock, with all those chords and complex beats, there was also simple folk music not far away.

To go back to music theory, this simple approach does not need so much theory. A little bit, but certainly not complete theory courses. And this is what is driving my musical approach so far and my comments on 'why learn music theory ?'

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Tue Sep 25, 2018 5:06 am

jonetsu wrote:I listen for years now to Värttinä. To Hedningarna (Sweden) with the two Finnish singers (inspired from Sami culture). I know Loituma. I know the nature of the Kalevala. I also know of Gjallarhorn. Since quite a long time.


Indeed. I never listen them (I know Värttinä, and hate it), and then you start talking about cultural influence of your origin. No, hardrock has influenced me much more than any traditional music from any part of the world.

And making 'European' one group is really far off. East and west, north and south are culturally far away from each other. Maybe in northern America there isn't so much regional differences, beacause all over there has been people coming from all over the globe, bringing own influences.

jonetsu wrote:To go back to music theory, this simple approach does not need so much theory. A little bit, but certainly not complete theory courses. And this is what is driving my musical approach so far and my comments on 'why learn music theory ?'

Most likely, for folk music theory is pretty simple. I think in some page there was theory summarized and simplified:
- For nearly any music before 1700, you need 2 notes, 1 and 5 (speaking freats on guitar, open and 7th fret)
- For nearly all popular music after it, you need 3 notes, 1, 4, 5 (on frets, open, 5th and 7th)

And indeed, for guitar tuned to AEAEAE, knowing pentatonic minor will give lots of great rock stuff. However, I prefer to get further, and faster than with trial and error. That's why I study theory.
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Tue Sep 25, 2018 11:53 am

tavasti wrote:And making 'European' one group is really far off. East and west, north and south are culturally far away from each other. Maybe in northern America there isn't so much regional differences, beacause all over there has been people coming from all over the globe, bringing own influences.


It will depend perhaps on the density of population. In the USA there are more differences eg. between Texas and Vermont for instance. In Canada not so much, but there are some. Certainly nowhere near (many) European countries.

tavasti wrote: And indeed, for guitar tuned to AEAEAE, knowing pentatonic minor will give lots of great rock stuff. However, I prefer to get further, and faster than with trial and error. That's why I study theory.


I have stopped tuning my guitars the standard way a long time ago. I do not like it when the open strings are strummed and it shows bad. I like it when the open strings sounds good together. So that means it's a long time I have not done any standard chords on a guitar which in turns means that I have forgotten about the chords. And since the tuning can vary at anytime there's no point in learning the positions for 100 chords for each different tuning, so I play mostly by ear.

So far this 'by ear' takes place of music theory. This allows me to joyfully play and E and a F at the same time and finding that it sounds good, without knowing all the intricacies of why and simply let it happen and use it and develop on it. This said I do know a little theory, but I', not pursuing it.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Tue Sep 25, 2018 12:17 pm

42low wrote:
tavasti wrote:And indeed, for guitar tuned to AEAEAE, knowing pentatonic minor will give lots of great rock stuff.

OMG i also don't like those open X tuning. Eventually those are NOT the tricks used by famous guitarists in famous hit songs.


Oh really, what about https://www.gtdb.org/dadfad and https://www.gtdb.org/dadfsad
Even stranger DADDAD has some famous users https://www.gtdb.org/daddad

But yes, I know that most people don't play with alternative tunings, but most people who play with slide are using open tuning. And also there are plenty of blues guitarists that use open tunings even without slide.

And in metal, Drop-D is most likely nearly as common as normal tuning.

I am also doing music without guitar. I fact, right now most of the music without guitar, while trying to learn to play guitar so well that I can make music I want with it.

42low wrote:
tavasti wrote:However, I prefer to get further, and faster than with trial and error. That's why I study theory.

But does music theory cover that all? I doubt that.

No, at least I am not studying anything like 1:1 code how to write music. More ideas what sounds ok, and what not, and many times also what not so nice sounding things can be usefull to create tension, etc.

For direct 'do this' instructions for pop music Holistic Songwriting might be best place to go, but that does not intrest me.
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Tue Sep 25, 2018 12:42 pm

42low wrote: If you learn the right tricks for EADGBE you won't have that.


Look, I've been playing guitar for 25 years. I had enough tricks with regular tuning. As I mentioned, I like it when the open strings sounds nice together. That's how I view guitar.

42low wrote: This all is impossible with open tuning which will eventually limit and restrict you play and keep it flat. :( :( :(


Not at all. If one is playing flat, then flatness is in the mind :mrgreen:

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Tue Sep 25, 2018 10:36 pm

tavasti wrote:For direct 'do this' instructions for pop music Holistic Songwriting might be best place to go, but that does not intrest me.


What Findeisen describes is found in a lot of different music. To escape from this one must go maybe to Phillip Glass and such uniform, universitarian music. Everybody else has some form of passion expressed and where there's passion there's modulation of passion, of intensity. Many music like to create drama, to make people looking forward with expectation. Others will intuitively remove some instruments in a first pass to a verse and add more intensity for a 2nd chorus.

Deciding to use only drums and a guitar riff for 4 bars before the bass starts is also a modulation of intensity. Most music does not escape this.

All of these events found in music can be studied, taken apart and examined. Even though I'm not doing pop by a long call I find it interesting to know about that.

It's a bit like music theory maybe. Before reading about this it was all intuitive. Now I can observe what's going on and I can modulate intensities a bit more, sometimes to the point of just having 1 to 3 instruments carrying a full load as if they were many (with some mixing help), with room for later developments in the same piece.

I know a bit of theory, but not much. Before knowing any it was all intuitive. Now I can observe a bit better. Still, I do not think that knowing more theory now will add anything. A bit the same with the mechanisms of pop music as described by Findeisen.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Thu Sep 27, 2018 1:34 am

42low wrote: Btw. Fun anecdote i told before.


A note at the right time beats a lot of theory.

The 48 minutes of this composed by drummer Christian Vander without that much music theory. It is not difficult at all to add horns and vocals, does not need to know a lot of theory. If you listen to all of it, there's a great bass solo with an exceptional guitar solo, and also a slow down of the whole band which is great. It's all about playing the right note at the right time and each note having the weight it should have. If impatient, the 'heavy' bass solo is at 23:47. The pickup is at 25:49 for the guitar solo and notice that the bass does not slow down at all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zFDGu33B2Q

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Thu Sep 27, 2018 1:28 pm

42low wrote: (that is for analogue instruments off course, not for digital music styles although there possible too)


It's also easy with MIDI notes. Simply drag them off. Or play them off in the first place. This said music theory has a lot of mecanisms to write down notes that are not played right on the beat since it tries to capture human expression. After all classical players will only play what they are told and if the composer felt that certain notes were much better when not flush on the beat then he has to be able to write it down for the players to play it right off the beat. At a higher level classical players can put 'their own' in what they play but it comes after years and years and years of playing by the book.

Much simpler with any blues player: just play what you feel. That's it. No problem. And if a young blues player wants to learn, he learns by getting the spirit of the music, the feel of it. A little theory and lots of feeling. Right from the start.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Thu Sep 27, 2018 4:22 pm

42low wrote:Btw. Fun anecdote i told before.
I once saw a band of all university schooled musician playing famous songs. Each tone and hit was indeed exactly right. The songs they played sounded exactly like the albums.
But it didn't live. It had no charm in it. Boring to be honest. And eventually they didn't catch or grab the audience at all.
There you go with all that huge amount off music theory.

It is totally different thing to be artist and composer. Some people are both. For artist playing someone elses music, there is no need for music theory, and in fact, there is no any help from music theory for that. And it is possible to be also creative without knowing theory, you can learn everything by trial and error, or by mimiciking what other musicians are doing.

One of my friend has created something like 10 records of melodic / opera metal. Beginning of production was played with real guitar and bass, programmed synths and drums, real vocals. He says that about 5 years ago he stopped recording guitars, and started to make them with midi. He could play them with guitar, but that would mean spending much time on practicing guitar playing, many recording takes to get some rhythm guitar perfect. Now he can create those parts with 'programming'. He feels himself more as a composer than artist.

Now this discussion has somehow turned to talking about right and wrong things on playing guitar. More and more people are creating their music without any real instrument, and reason is clear: learning to play instrument is hard. However, I still try it, because it is fun. For guitar playing, theory is not helping too much, because with guitar you can't select notes you want, but you have to pick pattern you fingers can make :-)
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