Why learn music theory?

Ask general music theory or songwriting questions, get feedback!

Moderators: khz, MattKingUSA

User avatar
aprzekaz
Established Member
Posts: 144
Joined: Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:41 am

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby aprzekaz » Thu Jan 09, 2014 5:32 pm

shimpe wrote:
If you claim music theory is only descriptive, that is probably true to the same extent that all of physics is "just descriptive" (since it's inferred from observing nature), yet I think most would agree that applications of physics keep creating mind-boggling stuff. Current machine learning algorithms work by analyzing data statistically, i.e.by inferring descriptive theories from raw data, and I expect that many people would agree that those algorithms are starting to do some incredible things. There's nothing about descriptive theories that fundamentally limits their applicability to creating new things.

I expect that learning some music theory would help nowaday's musicians to break free from those eternal I - IV - V and I - vi - ii - V progressions.
Sometimes it seems like no one knows how to write something else anymore. In a way everything starts to sound the same.



This makes sense. It's fascinating to think about how all of these things (music, physics, machine algorithms) in essence all boil down to simple mathematical principals. Yet they can also be so complex.

User avatar
aprzekaz
Established Member
Posts: 144
Joined: Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:41 am

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby aprzekaz » Thu Jan 09, 2014 8:22 pm

However.................................I am a drummer and so my knowledge of music theory is strongest in rhythm. let me give an example from my own experience that might be relevant here. I could play the drums before I could read rhythm notation. But in my quest to become a better musician(if a drummer is a musician :wink: ) I decided I should learn to read music. This was a decision I do not regret and the ability to read has helped me get gigs and learn even more. later, I took a class to learn Latin rhythms. At first, the ability to read helped me to learn and remember some of the basic patterns. But I couldn't really grasp the way it fit with the music. The "feel" so to speak. Eventually It came to me through practice. But what really helped to grasp the feel was to forget about any orientation or start or end of a given pattern. Many of these Latin patterns are handed down from Yoruba music and so I continued my learning quest and took a class in Yoruba music. It was in learning this music that my theory knowledge was not relevant and arguably hindered my progress. The teacher explained that Yoruba music has no concept of a starting point or ending point. There is no "1". It's circular in a way. As I learned more about this music I began to hear almost every contemporary rhythm I had played before seem to be contained within it. I know we could attempt to describe all of this using poly-rhythms and subdivisions and what have you. But for me that would defeat a basic principal of what the music was all about in this case.


Just thinking too much.

Aistis
Established Member
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2014 8:51 pm

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Aistis » Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:05 pm

Why learn music theory? It depends many things: what do you want from music, what are the circumstances surrounding your musical evolution, how much are you willing to invest, what are your views on music, how you hear music... You can get along pretty well without it (Erroll Garner - still you will have to work your ass out to reach that level *Oscar Peterson was of the opinion that he would have been even better if he learned how to read music), but there are certains things we have to take into consideration:

1) Music is information divided in time and humans have a limited capability of storing big complex ideas inside their heads - the score has no such limits
2) Music is in a big part cultural and traditional phenomena, ideas build upon century after century of experimentation. You cannot build, from the ground up, centuries of knowledge by yourself, that would be a godly undertaking :lol:

So if you want ot travel the solar system you might be just fine without it, you could even go a bit further than the solar system, but if you want to travel galaxy (even if your main goal is the solar system) you will get rewarded with riches of knowledge that often go even beyond music itself. HOWEVER! Music theory is not composition as much as composition is not a bunch of chords and licks. Theory is the tools, the hammer and the anvil with which you build your creations, analysis of behtoveens sonatas will not make you a composer (though you certainly won't be worse off because of it), harmonic progressions and standart forms alone will also lead you nowhere.

What you do is write down tons of isolated exercises, play them and learn why such and such things work with each other and why others don't : some diminished chords might work in one situation, while in another it will feel very akward (it might be because of voicings or because of the stuff that surrounds it, let's not forget, chords do not hang in the air by themselfs it's what's around them that gives them flavor) and by knowing the theory, experimenting with it you know why it is like that and how to get what you really want and only after that you actually start to learn to compose. You have a bag of knowledge in you now you decide how you will build the whole thing - you have ingraved into yourself the relationships between tone, tamber and rhythm and this is when you make your own rules and brake the ones that aren't needed for your vision, because you have a foundation that is leading your ear, you don't have to think as much now, because you have internalized many things leaving your thoughts free to look at the big picture without distraction. But you stil have the hardest part ahead of you - finding your voice.

Of course everything has two sides and after some time studying certain branches of theory, it will make you think in a certain way, which might lead to you missing out on some discoveries that you would have found otherwise, so have that in mind, from time to time sit at a piano and just bang some random stuff, you might get unexpected results and with the knowledge backing you up, then you can analyse how that happened, or just leave it alone like it is, up to you.

So all in all, even if you are a producer of House music, Hip Hop or other branches that don't make as much use of traditional harmony and rhythm, you will still gain much needed insight into your field if you decide to brush up upon the good ole music theory.

Thad E Ginathom
Established Member
Posts: 369
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 1:03 pm

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Thad E Ginathom » Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:03 pm

Very nicely put, and, even though I guess I knew this,
chords do not hang in the air by themselfs it's what's around them that gives them flavor

The way you put it makes it click --- so you taught me some music theory :)

robertsherwood34
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:47 am

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby robertsherwood34 » Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:57 am

When learning a song, a musical instrument, or a dance step, your child experiences the unique integration of body and mind that music provides. Sensory integration is a crucial factor in children's learning readiness for school subjects such as reading, writing, and math. Music improves spatial-temporal reasoning, a neurological process needed to understand mathematics. The best way to enhance your child's learning with music is to encourage listening to and learning music throughout the child's developmental years. Listening to music while studying helps students to acquire concentration on a particular task. Do it in a variety of ways that are enjoyable and fun, then let your child's own interest and aptitudes guide your choices of lessons and activities.

Sas
Established Member
Posts: 26
Joined: Wed Mar 26, 2014 6:28 pm

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Sas » Thu Mar 27, 2014 4:34 pm

It's useful, but theory also can get in the way. I studied music theory for one full year, every day. And didn't felt like composing at all. Whereas before I would churn out a composition a month, still slow, but still. :) I think theory is great, it is a great tool, but it's not essential. To me it explained what I was doing all along without giving it name, and why it worked the way it did. I'd say: listen to as much music as you can. Just like a good writer that reads many books...

So I guess it's good to learn theory, and then forget all you've learned! :wink:

wolftune
Established Member
Posts: 1292
Joined: Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:40 pm
Location: Portland, OR
Contact:

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby wolftune » Mon Sep 29, 2014 2:27 pm

The problem is: everything everyone here thinks is "music theory" is actually mostly "music pattern jargon". It's not theory at all. It barely explains anything. (By the way, I have a music degree with a theory focus, so I have basis to critique this stuff, I've also read lots beyond what I did in school).

Music theory as you folks think of it is like memorizing how to make chemical diagrams and calling it "chemistry" or memorizing countries and capitals and calling it "geography". The dots on paper are not theory. Naming the dot patterns is not theory. Knowing that in certain traditions, a "dominant" chord "resolves" to a "tonic" is not theory.

There is something that deserves to be called "music theory", but since "music theory" is already used as a term for the non-theory bunch of culturally-biased pattern-jargon, we can't use that term. The real theory of music is "music psychology" which is actually studying the science of what music is and how it works, which means studying how perception and cognition of music works and developing actual theory based on that. And that theory is absolutely worth learning! It's insightful, applicable, fascinating, and actually explains things.

For a great intro meant for practicing musicians (with no assumption of knowing Western notation/jargon/theory), I suggest Music and Memory by Bob Snyder http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/026269 ... 0262692376

For a more thorough and fascinating even deeper read check out Sweet Anticipation by David Huron
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/026258 ... 0262582783

I have some writings myself. A good overview is http://blog.wolftune.com/2012/09/framework.html

So, yes, music theory is great. Unfortunately you won't learn much of it from any book or class on "music theory".

In harmony,
Aaron
Aaron Wolf
Music teacher, scholar
http://wolftune.com

witchspace
Established Member
Posts: 60
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2014 7:14 pm
Location: Eindhoven

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby witchspace » Wed Oct 01, 2014 6:45 am

wolftune wrote:The problem is: everything everyone here thinks is "music theory" is actually mostly "music pattern jargon". It's not theory at all. It barely explains anything. (By the way, I have a music degree with a theory focus, so I have basis to critique this stuff, I've also read lots beyond what I did in school).

I can see similarities to software engineering here. A lot of software engineering theory is really "pattern jargon" as well. It helps communicating with other engineers, but consists of patterns that any programmer would use anyway. It gets worse when co-opted by marketing and management, which like throwing around the words resulting in buzzword bingo. It can still be useful to know the jargon, as it helps you make sense out of what other people that use the same patterns do. I imagine it's the same for basic western music theory.

Anyhow -- I think your approach is very interesting, starting from cognitive science and psycho-acoustics instead of tradition.

wolftune
Established Member
Posts: 1292
Joined: Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:40 pm
Location: Portland, OR
Contact:

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby wolftune » Wed Oct 01, 2014 7:01 am

Thanks for the note. The engineering example is very interesting and indeed a good analogy here.

Note that I'm not trying to ignore tradition. The tradition, the practice is all evidence. It's valid empirical observation (especially if we actually look at practice more than we look at the notation itself, which doesn't always match practice).

Any true theory needs to account for practice, it can't be just insisting on things because the model is internally consistent. The problem is that most "music theory" takes the observations and says that they are the theory, which is like saying that "objects fall at a steady rate" is the theory of gravity. That certain chord progressions occur commonly in practice is true and noting it is useful, but that's just the first evidence gathering. It isn't itself an explanation or a theory. And there are competing theories about why those patterns are practiced over others. Of the competing theories, the ones that account for psychology are correct, and theories that are inconsistent with psychology are wrong (because there is no such thing as music outside of psychology).
Aaron Wolf
Music teacher, scholar
http://wolftune.com

Metrophage
Established Member
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat Apr 30, 2016 6:42 pm

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Metrophage » Sun Sep 16, 2018 11:32 am

I have typically gotten nowhere with music theory. With every book or video, I get as far as the conventions of notation, what notes and chords are, the basic structures. But where it all falls apart for me is how it is supposed to work, and why. It very much relates to wolftune's remarks, that what is pushed as theory is really just a collection of conventions or protocols. The difficulty is that they are so universally accepted that it's like pointing out water to a fish. What if I don't share those expectations of tension and resolution, nor find them interesting? There is never an answer to this, so I have grown up something of a melody and harmony skeptic.

On the psychology/cognition side of things, I think that too much music is designed to manipulate the feelings of the listener. I got into audio through stuff like location recordings and sound design, which involves listening to and appreciating sounds as they are. The notion that I am "supposed to" experience them a certain way seems... well, completely pretentious. A lot of art - not unlike other human endeavors - tends to be driven to a large degree by egotism, so I think that using music's "memorability" as the benchmark of competence and/or talent is really just self-serving bias, and it gets reenforced in the attention economy of art-as-commodity.

User avatar
tenryu
Established Member
Posts: 26
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2014 6:35 pm
Location: barjac (30430) France

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby tenryu » Tue Sep 18, 2018 7:12 am

The only two reasons I find for learning music theory are fun and employement. :D
Even if you can't sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing.
"Nachman of Breslov"

Gps
Established Member
Posts: 157
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2015 3:09 pm

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Gps » Tue Sep 18, 2018 11:14 am

I think its useful to learn at least some theory.

The problem is to find interesting video' s.

I will never forget a woman, who was talking to a class.

She talked about scales , but also showed how some notes not in the scale still sound good.

And if you make a mistake playing life, do it twice so people will think you did it on purpose. :P

When I released my first track people asked if I was tone def. Thank god I am not tone deaf but my ears needed training, what in scale means and how that sounds.

After a few months of not giving up and great help from the lmms forum, I started to hear it. ( recognize it )
These days I can probably create a tune without the mark current scale tool.

At first I felt constrained by the rules, but then learned how to change chords, from minor to mayor to stay in scale, and inverse chords and such.

jonetsu
Established Member
Posts: 1399
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:05 am

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby jonetsu » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:44 pm

There are some very learned people who can spit an extremely nice progression of chords in an instant. Everything they do sounds very nice because they have learned all the 'mathematics' behind it. Those are proven recipes made to sound nice to the human hear. and they can conjure up big drama in a moment, then laughter, then tears, all the range of feelings is available to them instantly to express as soon as they sit behind an instrument. If they ever think of doing something 'odd' they will wrap it in layers of 'mathematics' so that it will sound structurally good, with the awesome factor trailing behind.

For some time I was mesmerized with such. Then progressively I found that there was emptiness behind much of this ado. And I questioned this. Who am I to find emptiness in all these beautiful expressions ? Is it that I'm jealous of not being able to do the same, of not having done all that studying ? 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 ?

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'.

There's no tldr; summing up to this text.

Cheers.

Lyberta
Established Member
Posts: 681
Joined: Sat Nov 01, 2014 8:15 pm
Location: The Internet

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby Lyberta » Thu Sep 20, 2018 1:15 pm

Well, ultimate goal is to write an AI composer so I don't have to compose myself. There is not much you can do without music theory here.

User avatar
CrocoDuck
Established Member
Posts: 1030
Joined: Sat May 05, 2012 6:12 pm
Contact:

Re: Why learn music theory?

Postby CrocoDuck » Thu Sep 20, 2018 1:26 pm

I don't quite understand why many people see mathematics and creativity in antithesis, whilst to create mathematical structures you need all the creativity you can gather. Mathematics is not about known recipes for known problems, is about crating solutions for unknown problems while building on previous knowledge.

Knowing theory and technique helps to make alive ideas that you have in your head. Otherwise, they just stay trapped there without you being able to turn them into real music. My head is full of music I just cannot make: I am not skilled and knowledgeable enough. The gap between the reality of my music and how it sounds in my head is the most frustrating thing in my musical life. Theory and practice are the only way by which I have been making the gap steadily narrower.

By the way, there are few good videos on this topic by Adam Neely, as this for example.
Check my Linux audio experiments on my SoundCloud.
Browse my AUR packages.
Fancying a swim in the pond?


Return to “Music Theory/Songwriting”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests