Controversial view on music theory?


Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
03/17/2010 9:18 pm
Hello,

As the title states, I sort of have a "middle of the road" view of musical theory. And I blame it on my friend who I consider a genius when it comes to music.

I was initially very intrigued with music theory when I started guitar 8 years ago or so. To me it almost seemed like music theory was "key" to unlocking the door in becoming an amazing musician.

But when I met my good friend, he kind of crushed that idea for me. All he did when he started the guitar, was learn just one key. The key of C. Once he knew his way around the fretboard in C, you move those same patterns up a whole step and now your in the Key of D, easy enough. He didnt need anything else. He writes these most amazing melodies in minutes. He is one who doesnt need to know "how" the music he writes sounds good and fits, he simply just does it.

So with me very interested in theory, yet seeing a friend capable of writing beautiful music with ease and not knowing jack about theory, I get very discouraged.

Overtime I start having the opinion that music theory was something people created to try and explain and solve the phenomenon of Music. But music cant be explained. You cant put a science or math equation on emotion.

I cant stand to listen to "experts" on musical theory (Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, Dream Theater). Its dry. Sounds like it was an emotionless robot who simply put in notes into music equations and called it music.

I understand the importance of knowing what key your in and what not. But going further into it such as Modes? Ick, i cant stand the concept of Modes. I am in the Key of C and have my root note be E. So what good does it do to call it E Phygrian? Why name it? What difference did it make? Supposedly (as I have read) a lot of Irish/Celtic/folk songs are written in Dorian? Well, so what? Does that change anything? I grantee half of those Irish guys didnt know what Dorian was and were writing in it, they simply just liked the sound! It fit their emotion at the time, and thats all there is to it.

Sorry if I seem sour but I am just frustrated. Music is something done from the soul, and music theory seems like the attempt to solve "why" or "how" music effects people the way it does. And once you know this theory, you too can create beautiful music. I just dont think so.

Views?
# 1
JStewart
I Walk the Line
Joined: 07/10/08
Posts: 76
JStewart
I Walk the Line
Joined: 07/10/08
Posts: 76
03/17/2010 10:32 pm
I think the more relevant question you should be asking yourself is if you dislike it so bad why are you trying to learn it? You have to know after 8 years of playing that you do not need to know theory to play the guitar. Theory was never written to explain why music affects emotion, it was created to explain music logically in a set of common terms or language.
God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”
# 2
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
03/17/2010 11:14 pm
Originally Posted by: JStewartI think the more relevant question you should be asking yourself is if you dislike it so bad why are you trying to learn it?[/QUOTE]

Sort of an interesting paradox. I wouldnt have these views if I didnt know anything about the theory. Its because I started to learn it, that I decided I didnt like the idea behind it.


Originally Posted by: JStewartYou have to know after 8 years of playing that you do not need to know theory to play the guitar.


Of course.

[QUOTE=JStewart]Theory was never written to explain why music affects emotion, it was created to explain music logically in a set of common terms or language.


I guess I simply disagree. I think people use it more than just communication. That's what my point was about Dream Theater. I'm just not a fan, sounds very artificial to me. And that to me, is an example of a band that solely uses music theory to create music.
# 3
RickBlacker
Full Access
Joined: 10/08/08
Posts: 1,971
RickBlacker
Full Access
Joined: 10/08/08
Posts: 1,971
03/17/2010 11:40 pm
Originally Posted by: JarsewThat's what my point was about Dream Theater. I'm just not a fan, sounds very artificial to me. And that to me, is an example of a band that solely uses music theory to create music.


Ouch! I love DT.


Other than that, I can agree with what you're saying to some degree. I personally will probably never delve deep into modes. But, I think it's important to at least have the basics when it comes to playing with others.
[U]Ricks Current Mystery Video[/U] - Updated Monday March/02/2015
# 4
electric circus
Registered User
Joined: 02/23/10
Posts: 87
electric circus
Registered User
Joined: 02/23/10
Posts: 87
03/18/2010 3:17 am
sounds like you might be over looking your friends natural talents.
you said he only learned the key of C and transposed everything from there. what you fail to realize is that hes still APPLYING music theory in his playing.
nope, you dont have to learn music theory to play guitar, but man it sure does help. i dont think that you will ever find anybody that will say
"yeah sure i know music theory, but it didnt help me any".
is it possible that you tried to learn it and maybe it didnt come natural, so you said that there is plenty of good players that dont know theory, so you gave up on it?
another 80s metal fan.
# 5
JeffS65
Registered User
Joined: 10/07/08
Posts: 1,602
JeffS65
Registered User
Joined: 10/07/08
Posts: 1,602
03/18/2010 4:45 am
Any discussion of whatever talent I had notwithstanding, I picked up the instrument in 82 and by 88, I was a full on shredder by way of a very blues oriented path. I was much like your friend, unencumbered by theory.

Is theory right or wrong? Not the way to look at it.

Music does not have a 'way'. Music is by its very nature, subjective. John Lydon (Rotton) can hate ELP but ELP sold lots of records. People liked their rather ponderous approach. I'm guessing the ELP lads didn't much dig the Pistols.

Short of it being, music isn't a path of right or wrong but a path that is right for you. I was fully convinced that I did not need theory and that I had a good enough ear. I had people that reinforced this idea by being very complimentary of my playing at the time.

I stopped playing for a good few years to start a business and get 'life' going. Well, life is going and a few years ago, I decided to start playing again. I found that I played the same old stale stuff I always did. So, I started digging in to theory and learning some very cool things that have expanded my playing.

A creative player will never be limited by theory but will include that in their playing arsenal. Your friend is creative and that is a blessing. Theory has nothing to do with that and maybe your friend could even be better than he is with this knowledge.

You only limit yourself by how you think and not by what you know.
# 6
electric circus
Registered User
Joined: 02/23/10
Posts: 87
electric circus
Registered User
Joined: 02/23/10
Posts: 87
03/18/2010 5:04 am
wow jeff!
man that was well said.
another 80s metal fan.
# 7
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
03/18/2010 6:56 am
Thanks guys for the replies and very well said indeed.

As Jeff said:

Originally Posted by: JeffS65
Is theory right or wrong? Not the way to look at it.


That little phrase couldn't have been said better. At first I viewed theory as: If you need (need being the key word) to use it, than your creating "artificial" music. If you dont need to use it and are creating amazing music, than you are creating "genuine" music. Which after reading your replies, that's not the way to be viewing it.

But non the less, whenever I hear a band using obscure time signatures that don't flow with a song and they are in a million different keys throughout the song for no other reason than to brag, it sounds very pompous... literally. Very skilled, sure, but pompous. I can hear their ego bursting through the speakers.

So perhaps that's specifically what gets under my skin in the end. When instead of music with emotion, I'm hearing something that sounds like some huge math problem.

Thanks guys once again, you opened my eyes up a little more.
# 8
drf46
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 11/22/01
Posts: 527
drf46
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 11/22/01
Posts: 527
03/18/2010 2:04 pm
"You only limit yourself by how you think and not by what you know."

Well said sir!!!
# 9
Lilbiker
Strung Out
Joined: 03/03/10
Posts: 56
Lilbiker
Strung Out
Joined: 03/03/10
Posts: 56
03/18/2010 5:27 pm
I have to agree with Jeff on this one totally. I am by no means musically gifted, it doesn't really come natural and I sometimes have a hard time with theory. I will never be famous, but I do know that I enjoy playing and I need this knowledge to help me better myself.

I can't write music either and don't claim to, but when I play something, to me it is REAL music from my heart. I just need help to be able to do that.

So while not everybody needs this, some of us really do!

I will never say no to learning anything..knowledge is power. Though I envy those to whom it comes naturally I will never be one of those people and music makes me feel good. That is all that matters to me.

So in a nut shell...theory is necessary for some of us to make sense of it all!
# 10
deadlynumber7
Registered User
Joined: 02/28/10
Posts: 52
deadlynumber7
Registered User
Joined: 02/28/10
Posts: 52
03/18/2010 8:38 pm
you cant avoid music theory. you use it even if you dont think about it.

its like gravity , you may not understand why it works, but it still holds you down.

also just think how much better your friend may be if he did study theory. it could unlock even more.
# 11
ChristopherSchlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 08/09/05
Posts: 8,406
ChristopherSchlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 08/09/05
Posts: 8,406
03/19/2010 2:16 am
Music Theory is the set of concepts that describes the nature of musical events. It is the process of mentally identifying the sounds that occur in music. We do this in order to build a consistent set of ideas to describe what happens in music.

http://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=495
Originally Posted by: Jarsew
To me it almost seemed like music theory was "key" to unlocking the door in becoming an amazing musician.
[/quote]
Music theory only tells you what is happening in a piece of music. It is a set of concepts that identify what happens, frames it in a common language & makes mental integration of musical events possible.

But, then you have to apply the ideas; you have to put the ideas into actual, physical practice on an instrument.

Consider, if you call the furniture store and say, "I want one of those things you can sit on."

And they deliver a couch. But you wanted a chair.

So you learn you have to be more specific in your conceptualization (identification, description & defintion) in order to be more precise in you communication.

You call them up again and say, "I want a chair."

This time they deliver a very nice wooden chair. But you wanted a metal one.

Do you see where this is going? :)

The more precisely you can indentify an object in reality, the more precise and powerful your concepts become. And the better you are able to think about your ideas and successfully act upon them.

Your talented friend obviously sees and hears fretboard patterns quite well & understands how those pattern result in sounds. He might not know phyrgian dominant from a 2-5-1 resolution, but if he hears one of these, he might be able to mentally classify it as "that particular shape on the fretboard" or "those three types of chords together".
Originally Posted by: Jarsew
But when I met my good friend, he kind of crushed that idea for me. All he did when he started the guitar, was learn just one key. The key of C. Once he knew his way around the fretboard in C, you move those same patterns up a whole step and now your in the Key of D, easy enough. He didnt need anything else.
[/quote]
As has already been pointed out here, the key of C major is music theory. And more, the knowledge (mental integration) that one can move this pattern around is yet another concept that forms part of music theory. In fact, it is a relatively complex one at that.
Originally Posted by: Jarsew
Overtime I start having the opinion that music theory was something people created to try and explain and solve the phenomenon of Music. But music cant be explained. You cant put a science or math equation on emotion.
[/quote]
Music does not equal emotion.

Music is an auditory art consisting of very organized (pitch-specific, melody, harmony, rhythm, & timbre) types of sounds.

Emotions are your mind's reaction to things you encounter based upon your values.

Music does not contain emotion. Music is highly, specifically organized sound moving through the air.

Music can evoke an emotional reaction in your mind.

So, when you hear a certain type of music that matches your values, you are pleased, you like it. And conversely, a piece of music that does not match your values, you are displeased, you don't like it.

And further, to simply say "there is emotion in such and such music", begs other questions.

The first one that always occurs to me is: which emotion? Joy, hate, hilarity, anger, envy, pleasure, pain, sadness, triumph?
[QUOTE=Jarsew]
I cant stand to listen to "experts" on musical theory (Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, Dream Theater). Its dry. Sounds like it was an emotionless robot who simply put in notes into music equations and called it music.

You "can't stand it". That is an emotional reaction. You see? :)

Further, any piece of music can be analyzed by the principles of music theory. It sounds to me like you simply dislike certain types of complexity in music.
[QUOTE=Jarsew]
I am in the Key of C and have my root note be E. So what good does it do to call it E Phygrian? Why name it? What difference did it make?

So that you can better organize your thinking about music.

Why learn to read & spell if you can already speak? To better organize your thinking about language.

Suppose you are playing with another musician. You say, "Play some notes."

He plays some notes. You dislike them and say, "Hmmm, play some different ones, maybe some sad sounding ones."

He plays some other notes. It still isn't what you are after. You say, "Play some different ones, make them more sad sounding."

This goes on for a while until he plays a couple of notes that sound sad kind of like you want. You say, "Stop! Those notes! Play more like those." he plays more, but they aren't quite right.

This trial & error could go on for hours. But it could have been as simple as, "Hey, dude, use notes from the phrygian mode. They sound kind of sad in the way I am after."

Job accomplished. Make sense?
[QUOTE=Jarsew]
Supposedly (as I have read) a lot of Irish/Celtic/folk songs are written in Dorian? Well, so what? Does that change anything? I grantee half of those Irish guys didnt know what Dorian was and were writing in it, they simply just liked the sound! It fit their emotion at the time, and thats all there is to it.

That does not change the fact that they are playing in dorian. Obviously we started with sound, then the identification of the sound & system of naming the sounds comes after that.

The point here is that conceptualization is a good thing. Music theory is forming concepts about the sounds that are music.
Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory
# 12
compart1
Registered User
Joined: 06/27/09
Posts: 1,410
compart1
Registered User
Joined: 06/27/09
Posts: 1,410
03/19/2010 2:59 am
Thanks Guys..
A very interesting conversation.
Music psychology 101..
I hope more people read this segment.
Gordon..
# 13
Razbo
Full Access
Joined: 03/02/09
Posts: 1,562
Razbo
Full Access
Joined: 03/02/09
Posts: 1,562
03/19/2010 11:50 am
Interesting thread - and some interesting furniture analogies! :)
...so ever since then, I always hang on to the buckle.
# 14
JStewart
I Walk the Line
Joined: 07/10/08
Posts: 76
JStewart
I Walk the Line
Joined: 07/10/08
Posts: 76
03/19/2010 3:59 pm
I was waiting for Chris to chime in! Well said Chris!, theory is an ongoing struggle for me but I am working on it and you always describe it in ways that allows me to figure it out! I particularly like the "why learn to spell if you can talk" part.
God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”
# 15
SlickString
Full Access
Joined: 05/31/09
Posts: 156
SlickString
Full Access
Joined: 05/31/09
Posts: 156
03/19/2010 5:22 pm
Great thread and once again a superb contribution by Chris!

Like everything it's all about balance. I've got a general tendency to get side-tracked and for now I'm trying to concentrate on the physical skill involved in playing guitar, something that's compromised my learning in the past.

What I like about this site is that musical principles are linked with playing right from the word go and this is one of its great strengths. It's possible to not want to get side-tracked by too much theory but then realise that along the way you've learned more about theory than you thought you had!

Being able to play expressively is definitely where I want to be but I'm learning music on the way :D
[FONT=Franklin Gothic Medium]Youtube Channel - Jim47ww[/FONT]
# 16
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
03/19/2010 8:18 pm
Well! Thanks for everyone who has replied. I knew it was a subject people could get into.

Thanks especially to CSchlegel. Very insightful. This is exactly what I needed, different perspectives from an array of people educated in the theory.

This especially caught my attention the most:

Originally Posted by: CSchlegelMusic does not contain emotion. Music is highly, specifically organized sound moving through the air.

Music can evoke an emotional reaction in your mind.[/QUOTE]

Its so obvious yet I never thought of it that way. Which leads me to this:

[QUOTE=CSchlegel]You "can't stand it". That is an emotional reaction. You see? :)

Further, any piece of music can be analyzed by the principles of music theory. It sounds to me like you simply dislike certain types of complexity in music.


Like you said, music envokes emotion; music itself does not "contain" emotion. So yes, whenever I would hear music from very skilled musicians and the music didnt "turn me on" sort to say emotionally, I dubbed it "artificial sounding" and was blaming music theory because of it. When the music just simply isnt for me.

At the same time, I enjoy plenty of artist who probably do benefit from music theory knowledge, they just use it in the way that does "turn me on" emotionally i guess. I happen to love Jason Becker, one of my favs. And my main love in "genres" typically is progressive or classical based; A lot of those artist are probably very aware of theory...

So yes, I was blaming music theory for music I didnt like, which doesnt make a whole lot of sense : p

I would call Vai and Satriani the guitarist doped up on music theory, when its just their style that I simply dont like (Vai's "now we run" truly makes me want to vomit, sorry!).

Thanks everyone once again for all the insight.
# 17
Douglas Showalter
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 09/15/08
Posts: 817
Douglas Showalter
Guitar Tricks Instructor
Joined: 09/15/08
Posts: 817
03/19/2010 9:39 pm
This is something that I hear all too often, and in one way or another I can very much understand the frustrations. Something that I have routinely posted on this message board is how I came to understand music theory, and how it clicked it with me. In short, I played guitar long before I knew anything about what I was doing (whatever that means.) About 5 years ago, I was teaching guitar lessons, still not knowing much of anything about theory other than a few scale patterns and the notes on the neck of the guitar. When I started to really dive in, it came quickly simply because I LOVED TO PLAY! I had already been playing for a while, and now I wanted to know what I was doing. Why? Because I wanted to play with other people, and be comfortable in every musical situation that came my why. It made sense to me that in order to do that, music theory was what I needed. That mixed with a wealth of playing experience.

From there, I went to school; and blah blah blah. While in school I soaked up all the theory I could, all the while playing, playing, playing. I wanted to work with the best musicians I could find, and also hone my skills as a producer and songwriter. Since graduating from school, the knowledge I gained from playing experience and music theory has made it so I can COMMUNICATE with as many musicians as possible. Communication is the key factor here. I have always stressed to my students and fellow colleagues that the role of music theory is not to over intellectualize what you do, nor strip it of any "emotional" content. Are there people who do this? Perhaps, but who are we to say that Steve Vai, Dream Theater, or more technical players out there are simply exercising their theory jocks. Have you sat in a room with them and asked them about this? I haven't, and I don't really care too honestly. All I care about is how it has helped me, and continues to help me better communicate with other musicians so we can make music quickly and focus more on the production aspects and overall message. You should focus on what you are trying to say musically, and if music theory has no role in that; than fine. There are plenty of great musicians that don't know the first thing about theory yet touch people's hearts daily. Whatever it is you choose to do, do it honestly and make it good.

Also, consider the source. Who is your friend and what has he done for the musical world? This is not a backhanded question. I really want to know, and if you could include any links to where we can hear his playing and music, I would love to listen. It is very easy to become influenced by those we look up too, but we also must think about who those people are. I used to worship my hometown heroes and think all they thought and said was the way to go. As I continued to grow, they didn't. Take the guidance and insight of your peers seriously but make sure whomever you are seeking wisdom from is active in making great music and does so in a positive way. Their are many, many opinions out there that simply don't carry weight and I would suggest you choose your wisdom wisely. Anyone that tells you theory is this and that I feel is somewhat disgruntled and if given the chance to understand it better would. I have always felt you needed you needed to know the rules before you break them. If you don't know them, than what you do is your own art, and that is great as well. But, don't degrade what you simply don't know or understand.

The music very much came first, and I ask of you to make good music and if that involves theory, great. If not, that doesn't mean it's not great. The key is to stick to what you do, and don't make great measures or use negative energy to try and stress how un-useful something is. It's all in how you use it. I have talked way too long. My point is overall, make good music that is honest and consider your sources before you let them influence you too much. Do what feels good to you and let your music be heard. Now go practice! :eek:
Douglas Showalter
# 18
SlickString
Full Access
Joined: 05/31/09
Posts: 156
SlickString
Full Access
Joined: 05/31/09
Posts: 156
03/23/2010 7:57 pm
That's a great reply Douglas. I think it came in below the radar and didn't show in the 'new posts' tab because you edited your previous post!

I like the philosophy and especially the 'choose your wisdom wisely' bit, that definitely applies to life in general!

Your reply combined with Christophers make a good case for knowing music theory, especially if your living depends on it, but for me I'll still skirt around the tough theory stuff and concentrate on the playing side at least predominantly ;)
[FONT=Franklin Gothic Medium]Youtube Channel - Jim47ww[/FONT]
# 19
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
Jarsew
Registered User
Joined: 03/16/10
Posts: 140
03/25/2010 6:10 pm
Originally Posted by: Douglas ShowalterAlso, consider the source. Who is your friend and what has he done for the musical world? This is not a backhanded question. I really want to know, and if you could include any links to where we can hear his playing and music, I would love to listen. It is very easy to become influenced by those we look up too, but we also must think about who those people are.


What has he done for the musical world? Well, in his case it doesnt really matter, thats not his goal. He writes this music for himself, almost as self medication honestly. He doesnt write this music for other people, but his method of emotional release.

As requested I have uploaded some of his stuff onto myspace, I have left the link below.

Mind you, this is his electronic music. If you guys are familiar with fruity loops, he makes all this stuff on a similar program. All the melodies are written on a virtual keyboard sort to say, so clearly you have to know your way around the piano to get anywhere with it.

If none of you are familiar with this kind of program, its nothing easy to use to create music. Its very intricate, a lot goes into it. Its very easy to make awful music if you dont know what your doing haha.

http://www.myspace.com/jghfruywit
# 20

Please register with a free account to post on the forum.