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The importance of music theory

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Toaster Mantis View Drop Down
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    Posted: August 26 2014 at 05:29
Time for another "issue I've never got really cleared up but mentioned fleetingly in quite a few previous discussions" thread.

I used to play in an orchestra where I had to read sheet music, so I obviously know the basics of music theory. At the same time, much of the more advanced aspects involving things like melodic phrasing, texture, timbre, consonance/dissonance, counterpoint etc. I only have a novice understanding of patched together from music reviews written by people who know more of theory than I do. As a result, I sometimes wonder how much of the compositional content and details regarding performance I'm missing with more "out there" avantgarde/technical music.

On the other hand, I'm also kind of worried that if I learn too much music theory there'll be a lot of music I currently enjoy I no longer will because it no longer matches up to those standards set by the theory. That has happened to me on a major scale, and I've also encountered quite a few people who were really into music theory but couldn't enjoy any music whose songwriting and performance didn't fit into mathematically perfect rhythmic/melodic patterns. Curiously enough, those types I've met tend to find most "classic" progressive rock's approximation of classical/folk/jazz influences incorporated into a rock framework somewhat kitschy but are much more positive towards Beefheart/Zappa-type "avantgarde rock" as well as the Zeuhl and RIO scenes. (often also the more abstract types of extreme metal too)

Again, here I'm going by anecdotal experience but I'm curious to know how much I'm missing out on and how much analyzing music from an overtly formal/theoretical perspective in turn will actually limit your perspective.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HolyMoly Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 07:40
Originally posted by Toaster Mantis Toaster Mantis wrote:

.....That has happened to me on a major scale, ....
Nice unintentional pun there LOL

Your question/issue is pretty complex to unravel, but I'll just say that although my music theory knowledge is far from advanced, it has enhanced my enjoyment of music, whether or not the music in question is demonstrative of music theory concepts.  Knowing the difference between different types of chords and scales makes a lot of music interesting to me because I'm the sort who likes trying to understand the intent of the composer (note I said "trying to"... I realize the composer's actual intent is something I can't ever really claim to know).

However, on the other hand, lately I've been into a more avant garde type of music, and I really don't know any theory (if there is any) behind it, other than it does something pleasant to my brain.  In that case, maybe it's better if I don't try too hard to understand it.  So I guess my advice is to seek understanding insomuch as you're genuinely curious, but don't get fanatical about it or dig deeper than you really want, or some of the ineffable magic may be lost.  But satisfying your own natural curiosity is almost always a good thing.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The-Bullet Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 08:07
To me, listening to music is an emotional experience not an analytical one. Improving your music theory knowledge can only have a positive effect, whether listing to or creating music.
          Rick Wakeman has said (paraphrasing)that you need to know the rules, before you can break them.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HolyMoly Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 08:16
Originally posted by The-Bullet The-Bullet wrote:


          Rick Wakeman has said (paraphrasing)that you need to know the rules, before you can break them.
I remember Robert Fripp said something similar - that he spent half his life learning to play the guitar, and the other half unlearning everything he knew.  Something like that.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Manuel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 08:47
Originally posted by The-Bullet The-Bullet wrote:

To me, listening to music is an emotional experience not an analytical one. Improving your music theory knowledge can only have a positive effect, whether listing to or creating music.
          Rick Wakeman has said (paraphrasing)that you need to know the rules, before you can break them.

I totally agree with you.Learning theory makes you understand the music structure, in terms of composition, progressions, regressions, orchestration, arrangements, instrumentation, etc. But don't forget about the emotion, feelings, sentiments, etc around the music, that can not be expressed or limited by your knowledge of theory. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote JJMcBlaze Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 09:02
Though, I agree that music is an 'emotional journey' for the listener, it must be more a more academic process for the musician.

I've learnt (as an engineer and as musician) that immediate knowledge of theory a; saves hours of trying to explain other musicians how to play something, and b; that it helps in understanding what progression or individual chord can conjure the emotional leverage you're looking for.

The levels of theoretical knowledge depend largely on the music one plays. I guess that 'the average grunge band' with three minute/three chord songs require a lot less theoretical knowledge than a jazz-fusion band or a symphonic orchestra.

In the end, though, I am very sure that when one has learned his theory in such a way that it's like second nature, emotional baggage can come from that theoretical freedom,

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PrognosticMind Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 11:11
Originally posted by The-Bullet The-Bullet wrote:

Rick Wakeman has said (paraphrasing)that you need to know the rules, before you can break them.

This. This times all the this-es.

Music for me is like cooking. You're absolutely free to experiment with different ingredients and textures, but if you have some sort of pre-knowledge of what constitutes the chemistry of those ingredients, you up your odds of producing something not only edible, but delicious as well.

I used to feel that theory would inhibit creativity because of a certain line of thinking, but now I'm seeing how it actually enhances creativity in the long run. I think the main benefit of understanding theory is the communicative aspect, as someone has already mentioned.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Progosopher Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 12:40
If you just want to rock as a listener, you don't need any. If you want to rock as a player it helps to know some. If you are going to compose or perform anything reasonably complex or sophisticated, the level of your knowledge will reflect in your work. This does not necessarily require formal training but that can only enhance your control over what you create. As a listener, I have found that the little I know helps me to both appreciate good music of any genre. More study could only enhance my appreciation of jazz and classical. I understand what you mean about how knowledge of theory can interfere with music already enjoyed, but that is only music that is sub-standard. A former girlfriend was really into Green Day until she started to learn guitar. Then she realized they had done nothing that a first year student could not play. A similar thing has happened to me but now I have come full circle and can enjoy something that simply rocks out. Not Green Day, they are a bunch of posers, but I can get into the Ramones, and that music is not complex but boy does it rock.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The T Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 12:58
I'm of the opinion that learning something always, always helps. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Svetonio Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 13:18
Originally posted by The T The T wrote:

I'm of the opinion that learning something always, always helps. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ProgMetaller2112 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 13:36
^^^ Nah, All you need to do is play whatever comes to mind. Just  pull a KC-like  improv and you're good to go.  Tongue
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote brainstormer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 14:13
Interesting ideas, but to me the best music comes from those who learned the rules first.  By far.  Vangelis was always musical, from a very early age, and just because someone doesn't know how to write music, doesn't mean their minds are not thinking of "music theory" -- but just not in a way that is formally trained.  So, there are exceptions, but I think those are people of unique gifts and early environments. I think enough negative experiences with music teachers at colleges could probably overwhelm someone's innate gifts and directions to the point where they couldn't use them anymore because they wouldn't, kind of like a Pavlovian response to avoid the memories or introjects of pain. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sumdeus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 14:37
just another tool, do what you will with it. knowing theory will not make your music better or worse, you will. 

in my mind, I've always differentiated between music theory and general knowledge of music. To me, music theory is specifically the rules made by Western society to dictate the 'correct' way to play Western music. The main use I see of it is for easy communication to other people of the Western world who are familiar with the same terminology.
Beyond that, I think you could have a great idea of how music works and how to make the music you want to make and all the intricacies of it without knowing any 'theory', aka the 'correct' names and concepts. this is one reason why I find it so hard to motivate myself to 'learn' theory, I start it and feel like I am being taught concepts that I have known existed in music for years, but I just do not know the 'right' name for it. but I think general music knowledge is your understanding of music and that comes from just hearing it and thinking about it and playing it.
 

Originally posted by ProgMetaller2112 ProgMetaller2112 wrote:

^^^ Nah, All you need to do is play whatever comes to mind. Just  pull a KC-like  improv and you're good to go.  Tongue

well to be fair if you can do KC-styled improvs you probably have a good grip on how music works


Edited by Sumdeus - August 26 2014 at 14:52
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HackettFan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 20:17
Music theory often gives me ideas, whether it's just exploring new directions or outright breaking the rules. Music theory is a useful backdrop. Sometimes when I am playing stuff that is comfortable for me, I actually get too comfortable and stuck in a rut, and it is nice to think my way through to something different.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PrognosticMind Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 26 2014 at 20:37
Originally posted by ProgMetaller2112 ProgMetaller2112 wrote:

^^^ Nah, All you need to do is play whatever comes to mind. Just  pull a KC-like  improv and you're good to go.  Tongue

90% of the time, I subscribe to this philosophy. The other 10% of the time, I wish I understood more theory LOL.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 27 2014 at 02:54
Music does not necessarily need to be technically complex to be good and enjoyable. Once you have accepted this principle, there is no reason why knowing a lot of theory should reduce the appeal of good music which you have liked until now, even if the technical knowledge you have gained reveals that it is actually simple music following well-known rules.

As it has already been said, knowing can never be a bad thing.

It may, however, help you distinguish between music which is genuinely inspired and music which is excessively constructed 'by the numbers'. Well, that's my guess, I know little theory myself.

A bit like I may find a lot of paintings good, but someone who knows a lot about painting will be able to discern those which can be considered as genuine art and those which do not.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote prog4evr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 27 2014 at 03:06
Originally posted by Manuel Manuel wrote:

Originally posted by The-Bullet The-Bullet wrote:

To me, listening to music is an emotional experience not an analytical one. Improving your music theory knowledge can only have a positive effect, whether listing to or creating music.
          Rick Wakeman has said (paraphrasing)that you need to know the rules, before you can break them.

I totally agree with you.Learning theory makes you understand the music structure, in terms of composition, progressions, regressions, orchestration, arrangements, instrumentation, etc. But don't forget about the emotion, feelings, sentiments, etc around the music, that can not be expressed or limited by your knowledge of theory. 

^^ What they said ^^
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dayvenkirq Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 27 2014 at 03:13
Originally posted by Toaster Mantis Toaster Mantis wrote:

Again, here I'm going by anecdotal experience but I'm curious to know how much I'm missing out on and how much analyzing music from an overtly formal/theoretical perspective in turn will actually limit your perspective.
As an idea, music theory is everywhere, manifesting itself in every way possible. With that said, anything and everything is legitimate. Don't worry about music theory as an analytical method.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote infocat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 27 2014 at 22:10
I've got a theory; it could be bunnies...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kazza3 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 28 2014 at 06:48
I don't think it matters a great deal. I'm studying classical music performance at uni, and certainly knowledge of music theory hasn't adversely affected how I like listening to any music. The classical influence is probably what led me to prog in the first place.
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