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smalik 2003-06-04 00:09

Any opinions on music theory?
I am interested to know how many of the Reason users out there are actually musicians...meaning those who actually learned to play an instrument and everything that goes with it, i.e. theory, harmonies, chord structures, etc, etc, etc.

I am postulating whether there is only so far that one can go in making music before one realises that to progress further some knowledge and understanding of musical theory is required.

Of course, there are those who play by ear, but I think that perhaps to reach that greater depth of the creative person inside, one needs to be versed in some theory at least which would help.

As an analogy, one could think of speaking a foreign language. Knowing just a few words would probably get you by, but those few words backed with knowledge of the grammer would make make all the difference, and you would be able to express yourself much more faithfully.

It would be interesting to know what opinions are on this. Thx.


moorejollie 2003-06-04 00:29

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
"I haven't learned enough about music theory to hurt my playing"- Greg Allman.

amitopia 2003-06-04 00:30

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
IMHO, the more you know, the better. Like language...if you can speak, but can't read or write, you ability to communicate is limited. Knowledge is power.

- ell

smalik 2003-06-04 00:57

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
Like a lot of disciplines, you only realise how much you don't know until you study it. Often one thinks, 'well what has this got do do with what I want to do?'. And more often then not, you realise in the end, that, what was happening all that time was that you were laying the foundations!

And, one day, you realise that you go free and create freely, forgetting everything you learned in the first place! But you had to learn it to get to where you are!

Because your knowledge is always there inside of you and part of you, and works through you permeating your every creation, without you even realising :)

I believe that when you learn something well enough for you to forget about it...that's when the fruits of creativity blossom.


bighorse 2003-06-04 01:14

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
I think it can cut both ways: I was trained as a classical pianist and also learnt theory. I play all sorts of instruments, from reason to keyboards to guitar.

There are times when I am very thankful for my understanding of theory, as it can be almost like a template for the placement of ideas. On the other hand music creation, writing, arranging etc. is primarily an intuitive and creative process where it is best not to be bound by rules and structures.

Like any rules, the best at what they do know when to throw out the ideas and break some rules. It's knowing when to apply the theory and when not to that counts.

I have worked with musicians that don't know any theory at all, but their instinctive knowledge of what works and what doesn't more than made up for any lack of standard music theory.

My advice is to just keep on making music, that's the best training around. Sure, learn about different modes, scales and harmonies if you are interested. But it's not crucial. Remember, a knowledge of music theory will never make up for a basic lack of good ideas - as I know from first hand experience :-)

cheers - bh

CephaloPod 2003-06-04 01:30

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
:In general, electronic music requires less music theory knowledge than many other genres. But it depends on the type of electronic music you want to make. One can make decent sounding hip-hop, ambient, glitch, "experimental" etc with only a minimal understanding of music theory, although I think a moderate level of knowledge is better. However genres that rely more on melodies and chord progressions (like trance and pop for instance) are more easily accomplished with at least a moderate level of music theory. If you look at the best artists (define that however you like) in ANY electronic music genre, I would wager just about all of them have a pretty good knowledge of basic music theory, especially scales, key signature, chord voicings, and chord progressions. Aphex Twin can make some pretty messed up atonal music, but he can make some beautiful melodies and chord progressions as well. The two sides work well together.

But the Greg Allman quote has some merit here, I think. A classically trained pianist, for example, is more or less hard-wired into playing a certain way. I'm not talking about him just being able to play classical music, I mean he is going to play notes and chord voices that are typical of written keyboard music. However, in electronic music there is no reason for chords, note, phrases, WHATEVER to be in a format that can be played live with spacing for ten human fingers. With modern sequencers and such anything is possible, only limited by your imagination. A classicly trained pianist may not have an ear or imagination to come up with stuff that a talented novice might come up with, he is too trained.

You mentioned playing by ear. There is nothing at all wrong with that, in fact ear training is MUCH more important than sight reading in my opinion. You can learn music theory without being able to sight read well (as long as you know what the notes MEAN so that you can learn what notes make up what keys and chords, etc). Eddie Van Halen never had a music lesson in his life, but he knows a good deal of music theory I can assure you, and DAMN he can play the guitar!

Personally, I learned to sight read on the clarinet when I was in 5th grade, I played for about 4 years. In high school I took a music theory class. From there, I taught myself how to play the keyboard, guitar, saxophone, and bass. When I was sight reading, I wasn't making my own songs, and I really didn't even know what the notes MEANT. I just knew where to put my fingers when the notes told me to put them there. My music theory class, however, stessed ear training, being able to identify intervals and chords, and THAT has helped me write music tremendously (not that I'm an accomplished musician or anything). I don't sight read anything anymore, and I have no desire to do so.

I think everyone can benefit from:

1. Knowing what notes make up the pentatomic, major, and minor scales in every key (with maybe a few modes mixed in for flavor, especially Phrygian because it sounds COOL!).

2. Knowing how to play major, minor, diminished, sus2, sus4, 7th, and 9th chords in any key.

3. Knowing some basic chord progressions then adding a few of their own favorites.

4. Developing a good ear. Nothing will help you more than this.

5. Learning to play the keyboard at a moderate level. You can type War and Peace having never learned to type, by pecking out the letters one by one. Wouldn't it be easier if you knew how to type?

Damn, this is a long message. The End.

CephaloPod 2003-06-04 01:33

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
Hah! I typed my message having not read yours. Same classically trained pianist analogy! (just glad you agreed with me..)

davebull 2003-06-04 01:39

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
well i guess a synth is not an instrument then. Sorry im just a stupid techno head. Well i suppose technos not real music. listen i can play the toilet seat if i want to!!! hehehe

bighorse 2003-06-04 01:39

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
I sure do agree. Excellent post (below) - I was in a hurry, so I say "plus, what CephaloPod says"...

What you said about classical pianists being wired to play that way is true in my experience. I still have to fight the urge to start playing that way when I noodle around on a synth.

cheers - bh

:Hah! I typed my message having not read yours. Same classically trained pianist analogy! (just glad you agreed with me..)

smalik 2003-06-04 02:11

Re: Any opinions on music theory?
I agree with what you are saying...

I would like to add however, that we all work with rules on a certain level...but the point is we dont have to think about them.

Taking a simple example of a typical dance track which uses '4 to the floor' rhythm...that could be considered a rule. There are thousands of rules which we know inherently but don't consiously think about, and they do influence us and manifest in our creations.

You said 'music creation, writing, arranging etc. is primarily an intuitive and creative process'...this is absolutely true...however for someone who has never ever heard a dance track or a pop song, could never ever do one because they dont know the rules...we all work with rules in one way or another on a sub-consious level.

So isn't it possible, that by learning theory, this may enrich ones abilities on an 'intiutive and creative level'


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