Why learn music theory?

Ask general music theory or songwriting questions, get feedback!

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jonetsu
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Fri Sep 28, 2018 1:29 am

tavasti wrote:
42low wrote: 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 :-)


Well, playing keyboard is also not a given.

I'm not sure what you meant with the last sentence. You can certainly pick the notes you want on a guitar. I rarely use a pick to play guitar, I prefer fingers. Same with acoustic bass guitar.

For both or for any instrument, feeling is utmost I find. As such yes, music theory can be left a bit behind. When someone knows how to find the way on an instrument then many things can be expressed. But if playing in a band and a guy asks "please play a Dmin Sus4" then knowing what it's about surely helps.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tavasti » Fri Sep 28, 2018 5:45 am

jonetsu wrote:
tavasti wrote: 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 :-)


I'm not sure what you meant with the last sentence. You can certainly pick the notes you want on a guitar. I rarely use a pick to play guitar, I prefer fingers. Same with acoustic bass guitar.

For both or for any instrument, feeling is utmost I find. As such yes, music theory can be left a bit behind. When someone knows how to find the way on an instrument then many things can be expressed. But if playing in a band and a guy asks "please play a Dmin Sus4" then knowing what it's about surely helps.

First of all, you messed with quotations, putting my words to mounth of 42low. Maybe he does not like that :-)

And for that "with guitar you can't select notes you want" : In guitar you can't have notes of chord in same octave. If you want to play Em7, you can't have E2, G2, B2, D3. Instead, you have E2,B2,D3,G3,B3,E4. Voicings of chords depend which chord you have, and your ability to play complex chords. And for going to more complex chord that 7th, you may hit the wall that chord is not possible to play at all. Or at least with my ability to play, I definitely can't get chords from some genius composition, but instead have to check what chords I can play, and make music with them.

Sure, with multiple recorded guitars/multiple players, all possible harmonies are possible. Or doing midi with daw.
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chaocrator
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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby chaocrator » Fri Sep 28, 2018 7:33 am

Why learn music theory?

my answer: to be able to use weird exotic scales and to build chords, chord progressions & arpeggios with them.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Fri Sep 28, 2018 11:22 am

tavasti wrote: First of all, you messed with quotations, putting my words to mounth of 42low. Maybe he does not like that :-)


Yeah, the quotation header was wrongly edited.

tavasti wrote: And for that "with guitar you can't select notes you want" : In guitar you can't have notes of chord in same octave. If you want to play Em7, you can't have E2, G2, B2, D3. Instead, you have E2,B2,D3,G3,B3,E4. Voicings of chords depend which chord you have, and your ability to play complex chords. And for going to more complex chord that 7th, you may hit the wall that chord is not possible to play at all. Or at least with my ability to play, I definitely can't get chords from some genius composition, but instead have to check what chords I can play, and make music with them.


You can play quite a few chords on guitar. I do not know what complex chords are, but using chord inversions and going down the neck almost any chord can be played. I certainly can play notes in the same octave within a chord. E2 and G2 can certainly be played at the same time.

I do not care at all about 'genius composition'. I have never played full pieces made by other people. I play what I can play and what I can play is often dictated by feelings, moods, etc... and expresses itself through the current ability to play. I never think about chords nor scales. Most often I do not know what chords I'm playing nor what scale I use. I know the notes I can hit on a fretboard for a given harmonic content and I know where I can 'get out' of that harmonic content to risk 'outsider' notes which in turn can make the background content evolve.

It often a question of layering and adapting. A first background layer will receive additional instruments (also guitar) and these new instruments can 'bend' the previous layer in directions not suspected at the beginning. Thus a piece evolves in creation. Still no knowledge of chords being played or scales. But the piece evolves nevertheless, organically.

I noticed that pianoteq can show which chord is being played on a keyboard. Maybe I will be able to use the chord wheel I have gotten last year and pick up automatically new chords to play along :)

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Fri Sep 28, 2018 5:16 pm

42low wrote:Why do more difficult then it's played originally? Why compose difficult if it can be done at least the same and quicker more easy? A lot off songs wouldn't even exist if they had to be composed in full chords.


This is a great principle but although it sounds like the easy way (hey, doing less should be less effort) it turns out that it's a feeling to develop. And we all have a tendency to do more. Because more should be better.

There's a great satisfaction to remove notes, and even tracks and still find out that everything holds together. Even better with less.

Somewhere it has to do with listening to what happens between the notes. Between the notes you find the listener.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Sat Sep 29, 2018 7:59 pm

42low wrote:The best received songs, no mather which styles, are mostly the rather simple ones with great impact. To difficult composed songs don't reach majorities in public. Probably because they wouldn't sound "natural" and "comforting".


Not sure about comforting but there's something about simplicity of expression and musical waves.

42low wrote:It is a part of the art off composing too to reach the most extraordinairy results in a way which remains possible in a relatively easy way.


It's indeed one of the difficult goals. Even if you take something 'simple' like a piano and a flute, there are always ways to complicate matters. Put more piano notes, more chords calculated changes, more flute notes. Imagine with a full band or orchestra.

42low wrote:If you would dig into the most difficult classic compositions you would find out that even all those early composers found ways to reach that, to sound exeptional but meanwhile not strumble wen to play it but to keep it possible. That's exactly why they still are respected as great composers, even hundreds off years later within nowadays standards. They were the first who showed the impossible as possible.


I did not take piano lessons much, but I did take for about 6 months, by a classical pianist who happened to be one of the top mathematicians at that time. And so I worked at playing some simple Bach tunes (that it seems his wife actually composed :) ) and found out in practice what it means to get simple and to the point.

42low wrote:If you want to learn some music theory, then learn the basics like reading notes, understanding sequences and some other stuff like basic chords. But eventually try to learn those tricks. Don't try to invent the wheel again as other musicians did invent several different ones already.


Well now, this is now where I disagree fully. While I agree that knowing 'tricks' can be useful, I feel that creating (not composing !) music is one fully free activity in which creation should be the prime star.

There's a very good saying about music from drummer and 'creative composer' Christian Vander in the last link I posted in " which song is coming out of your speakers right now?" which summarizes a lot of the intent and feeling. It's after the first piece from the seventies. I'll see if I can take the time to translate it.
Last edited by jonetsu on Sat Sep 29, 2018 8:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Sat Sep 29, 2018 8:16 pm

There's one thing regarding music theory I would like to know about and it's based on a question. I can sing to most songs that are playing and hit mostly the right notes. In most if not all of the songs the vocals sit in the music being played.

Not so with XTC. And perhaps the Beatles. No matter how hard I try to sing the same notes, it's very difficult. I do that when driving the car, so there's ample time to concentrate. With XTC the vocals are not sitting in the harmonies I find like all other songs, which is what gives the XTC songs an edge amongst other things. They are somewhat perpendicular to the music and there must be some well-known theory about this.

For example:

"King for a Day"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=depsFULhqV8

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby briandc » Sun Sep 30, 2018 4:57 pm

jonetsu wrote:There's one thing regarding music theory I would like to know about and it's based on a question. I can sing to most songs that are playing and hit mostly the right notes. In most if not all of the songs the vocals sit in the music being played.

Not so with XTC. And perhaps the Beatles. No matter how hard I try to sing the same notes, it's very difficult. I do that when driving the car, so there's ample time to concentrate. With XTC the vocals are not sitting in the harmonies I find like all other songs, which is what gives the XTC songs an edge amongst other things. They are somewhat perpendicular to the music and there must be some well-known theory about this.

For example:

"King for a Day"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=depsFULhqV8


Well thanks for getting me back into listening to a bit of XTC! (apparently Colin Moulding studied bass guitar for just 1 year..!)

As for theory: I think it depends on what you want to do. Theory can give you a framework from which to interpret everything. But it can also hinder new perspectives. Currently, I'm of the idea that studying theory serves to reassure you of the needlessness of studying theory. If you don't study it, you can experiment and come up with your own interpretations. It requires attention though. I've studied a good bit of theory. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes it gets in the way. (Looking at the keyboard backwards can help break out of that though. Or just really getting into things one note at a time, finding what you like, no matter what others say or think. :) )


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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby raboof » Mon Oct 01, 2018 4:27 pm

tavasti wrote: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 :-)


It's interesting: while I can certainly relate, I've also had the opposite experience: my main instrument is the sax (tenor and baritone), and at some point I got a WX11 synth. This is a device with saxophone-like fingering, but produces digital signals that and need a separate synth to generate actual sounds. It has its own intermediate format which it can then convert to MIDI.

The fun thing, of course, is it doesn't have to sound like a sax: there are some pretty spacey synths that work well with it.

Even after some practice, though, this instrument mainly made me realize how much 'unconscious' expression I can use when I play a regular sax. Of course I could regain some of it with more practice, but mainly it'd require a ton of post-processing - to the point where just picking up a normal sax seems more effective and fun ;).

It very much depends on the kind of part you're doing, of course, though: I guess for a repetitive accompaniment thing generating something declaratively would actually be more fun and quite possibly lead to a more high-quality result. Good to have all kinds of different tools at our disposal ;).

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Thu Oct 04, 2018 3:12 pm

42low wrote:
tavasti wrote:Now this discussion has somehow turned to talking about right and wrong things on playing guitar.


My excuses if i made that impression.


In a free discussion about music theory there will eventually be references to instruments we play since we're not PhD in theory.

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Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby thetotalchaos » Wed Oct 17, 2018 1:32 am

I agree that is worth knowing music theory. And knowing it in detail can only make your life as an artist/producer easier and much richer. But knowing music theory does not mean follow music theory. Its even worse if you are afraid to break some rules in searching for original results. You want some examples of artists that like to play with the rules. How about John Cage or Claude Debussy. How about relatively modern music genres like Techno, EDM and its derivatives.
In XXI century if you play by the rules, you become nothing more than a biological music application. Know the rules, learn the rules, but compose and produce out of the box. Make mistakes both theoretical and technical. Let me know that a human produced this music. Not a bot or an application. And if you don't know music theory but nevertheless want to compose and produce music. JUST DO IT. Don't let anything stop your creativity. At the end all you need to impress with good music are your ears and your heart being at the right places.

I produced my first music when i was 11. A quarter of a century ago. One of my first compositions was me playing a particular Atari-2600 video game in sync with a drum rhythm from a Casio keyboard. And my piano teacher loved it. That one in particular. She trained me in a more jazz oriented way. And she was one of my first music fans. She gave the knowledge and the knowhow to compose and improvise music. She build a solid base to step on and improve over. Mrs Todorova was an amazing woman, amazing musician and amazing teacher.
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