#1
Hey guys. This is the forum for 'musician talk' so here's a little one for you to ponder over.

Background:
We have a band, two guitarists/songwriters, drummer and vocals (currently looking to recruit a bass player).

Me and and the other guitarist share the songwriting responsibilties, each coming up with full songs and introducing them into the band. We now have a total of 6 songs.

It's always been the case that I was the technical player, and he was the 'by ear' player. We openly respect each others skills and would both like to improve in these areas (I'm actively 'training' my ear to able to pick out melody, chords and ideas as freely as my friend).

So here are my observations for your consideration.

All of the 3 songs that my friend has written simply do not conform to theorectical rules regarding music. I'm a bit of a theory nut myself (I don't know a great deal, but I'm incredibly interested in it and practice it often within my music) so this idea is hard for me to comprehend. However, let me make this clear; my friends songs are catchy, driving and have great vocal melodies! He doesn't see any need (and I agree here to an extent) to learn theory, about notes and keys etc because he can do it so much faster by ear.

Now, whilst this approach has served him well so far, and whilst all you anti-theory lunatics are foaming at the mouth, let me reasure you all that it has some MAJOR draw backs in the real world/band situation.

Here're a few examples (bear in mind, my friend is an incredibly talented musician)
1. He cannot perform a Major Barre chord shape with the root note on the 5th string (you know, with your ring finger barring the three strings)

2. Alternate picking is simply a no no

3. We cannot communicate ideas without showing hand positions on the neck (I find this one incredibly frustrating)

etc etc. This little list of snags goes on on and on.

These may seem trivial or even irrelevant to some, but in a band situation their impact is amplified.

Now, on the flip side, when he has a brain wave and comes up with a new riff or chord progression I'm slow at picking it up straight away. Maily because I'm focussed on what chord he's playing as apposed to the more important issue of what it actually sounds like...

Also, whenever I sit down with the ol' six-string and start playing around looking at ideas, I find I am always locked into key. Whilst this has it's benefits (namely finding resolution to my solos :P), I find myself wondering, would my ideas be more free-flowing without the musical knowledge that I've obtained over the last 3 years?


When sitting in a bedroom, noodling, being anti-technica l& anti-theory is fine, but there may come a time when you find your self in a band and your narrowmindedness might hold the collective back. Similary, for all you theory nuts, and technical wizzs, sit back some times, close your eyes and play your instrument for what it sounds like.

Have a think guys, before you berate anyone whilst on a mission of self reasurance.

Let's all unite on a mission of technical know-how combined with creative freedom. Let's put a stop to all the defensive attitudes and lets all accept the truth. We can all make better music if we adopt all existing ideas and never dismiss a new one.


Thanks for listening to my rant, it's just one of my view-points at the moment.

Feel free to add your comments or stories.

Ozzy
#2
Yeah, I definately think its good having a balance, so you can communicate ideas better like you said. It makes the songwriting proscess much easier when writing with others.As long as it doesnt consume you its fine.

I sort of have a similar problem, my friend doesnt know any theroy whatsoever, and we have the same problems.
#3
Train ear.

I had it in my old band too, and I just went play the song, and I figured it out by ear.

Or I just let my band members record it, and I'd figure it out at home. For me this was faster, but in the end (now) I learned theory to help understand more. Although I have no problems with both.

I dunno what music you play. If you play like DT kind of stuff, then I can imagine theory would be easier to tell each other what to play.

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#4
You made me curious about these terribly catchy driving songs with great vocal melodies. Any chance of hearing them? I'd be surprised if noone here on UG could analyse them.

Theory is great, but it's a bunch of conventions. Sometimes you can throw a lot overboard. If it sounds good though, there is always some trace that can be explained with the known conventions.

I know it's not the point of your post. That's cool too. I just want to hear your friend's songs. I'd like to hear yours too by the way. So, tape'em and post'em please.
#5
if you think music theory means play only diatonic notes you don't know a whole lot about it
#6
I think that because your friend never learned theory, he has to rely on his ear to determine what sounds right. This has forced his ear training way beyond yours. Just spend some time actively memorizing the sound of each interval and chord change and your ear will catch up in no time.

The theory will prove very helpful as a means of learning music and communicating.
#7
Theory is great, but it's a bunch of conventions.


Conventions are conventions. Theory is a framework that describes and communicates musical structure.

TS: The problem is that you don't know what music theory is, which strongly suggests that you don't know as much of it as you think you do.
Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
#8
Quote by Archeo Avis
Conventions are conventions. Theory is a framework that describes and communicates musical structure.

TS: The problem is that you don't know what music theory is, which strongly suggests that you don't know as much of it as you think you do.


Hey man, I'm not sure if that was dig at me, if it was then I think my post could've been clearer.

Anyway, the point wasn't to claim my great knowledge, it was only to state I'd learnt more than my friend as regards to what I believe to be music theory whilst trying to highlight the benefits and draw-back that it has caused us.

How much, or what I know, is actually irrelevant unless compared to my friend, which was the original point.

Also to the guy who asked to hear the songs, if you like I'll link them up in here.

I think I was unclear again in my original post because I actually meant that my friend 'used no theory' in his songwriting. Simply meaning he didn't think about the specific notes he was using. Very simply, my friend would not think something like 'If I drop the E in my C#m to a D# it will become a sus2, and that's still within the Emajor scale. He would just lift his finger, like the sound, and use it.

That's all I meant guys. Take it easy, we're all here to learn.
#9
Learning theory wouldn't change your friend one bit, save for allowing him to communicate his ideas to other other musicians - if he has a knack of coming up with things that don't tend to mirror more conventional, common ideas then that just makes it even more crucial. If the stuff was straightforward then it'd be easy enough to pick up, but from a band point of view it's slowing things down and making life more difficult than it needs to be for everyone else in the band. That's why he "needs" to learn theory, for the benefit of the rest of the band, it's his call really but if he won't then he's lazy and kind of selfish.

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Last edited by steven seagull at Mar 29, 2009,
#10
i don't think you should write songs using musical theory

it is only for describing what you are playing, any songwriting should really done by ear, because then you're playing the music that actually comes from you
most of the time this will actually fit in with music theory, since the music you imagine is what sounds good, and this is what the theory attempts to describe

so really, you should improve your ear, because it will undoubtedly improve your songwriting (not that it's bad at the moment or anything) and your other guitarist should learn some theory to describe his ideas better


i feel obliged to tell you that i'm generally retarded and i'm probably completely wrong about absolutely everything

also i'm pretty sure i sound like an asshole in this post, sorry about that it's not intended
#11
Quote by yourface?
i don't think you should write songs using musical theory

it is only for describing what you are playing, any songwriting should really done by ear, because then you're playing the music that actually comes from you
most of the time this will actually fit in with music theory, since the music you imagine is what sounds good, and this is what the theory attempts to describe

so really, you should improve your ear, because it will undoubtedly improve your songwriting (not that it's bad at the moment or anything) and your other guitarist should learn some theory to describe his ideas better


i feel obliged to tell you that i'm generally retarded and i'm probably completely wrong about absolutely everything

also i'm pretty sure i sound like an asshole in this post, sorry about that it's not intended


How would it "fit" with music theory when music theory is a descriptive system?
The notion that there is somehow a choice between composing with theory and composing by ear is ridiculous. The difference between someone well versed in music theory and the friend described in the initial post is that the former has the knowledge they need to structure their music in a way that achieves whatever they're trying to accomplish, and can communicate that structure to other musicians. The latter is limited to fooling around until they find something that sounds good, at which point they can't even explain what it is they're playing.
Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
#12
When I was talking about playing by ear I didn't mean fooling around on the instrument until something sounds good, I meant imagining a piece of music and then working out how to play it once it is formed in your head. This will usually conform to music theory, since it is influenced by what you hear everyday.

When I was talking about composing using musical theory, I meant the way in which some people will, when looking for a good chord progression, simply start with the tonic, throw in some IVs and Vs, maybe a minor or two and leave it at that. The progression will probably sound ok, but it's hardly original is it? It hasn't come from their imagination, it's just a formula.

I do consider musical theory very important though in terms of understanding and communicating ideas, but in conjunction with aural skills.

I should have been more clear in my first post.
#13
This will usually conform to music theory


That doesn't make any sense.

When I was talking about composing using musical theory, I meant the way in which some people will, when looking for a good chord progression, simply start with the tonic, throw in some IVs and Vs, maybe a minor or two and leave it at that.


What does that have to do with music theory?
Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
#14
Quote by ozzysworld

Have a think guys, before you berate anyone whilst on a mission of self reasurance.

Let's all unite on a mission of technical know-how combined with creative freedom. Let's put a stop to all the defensive attitudes and lets all accept the truth. We can all make better music if we adopt all existing ideas and never dismiss a new one.


Thanks for listening to my rant, it's just one of my view-points at the moment.

Feel free to add your comments or stories.

Ozzy


+ 1

good reasoning there.
shred is gaudy music
#15
Quote by steven seagull
Learning theory wouldn't change your friend one bit, save for allowing him to communicate his ideas to other other musicians - if he has a knack of coming up with things that don't tend to mirror more conventional, common ideas then that just makes it even more crucial. If the stuff was straightforward then it'd be easy enough to pick up, but from a band point of view it's slowing things down and making life more difficult than it needs to be for everyone else in the band. That's why he "needs" to learn theory, for the benefit of the rest of the band, it's his call really but if he won't then he's lazy and kind of selfish.

Creativity is creativity...people either have it or they don't, it can't be taken away.

In a pathetic attempt to get sigged: Steven Seagull your the ****, always put things into perspective.

But ya, I have in the last year started learning theory. I am not in a band, but I jam pretty regularly with the same couple guys. I have not lost the ability to just pick up the guitar and feel out a cool jam. The difference is now I can tell other people what I'm playing, what would sound good with it, and where to go from it. Pretty key things to know when jamming.
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#16
Okay, I'm getting the feeling that Archeo knows a lot more than I do about this, so maybe anyone reading the thread should ignore all of my advice.

To Archeo, to try and explain what I meant there (I'm starting to realise just how bad I am at explaining things), when I said it would usually conform to music theory I meant that any music you compose in your head will usually be something that agrees with what theory would describe as sounding good. If it is a happy piece it will probably be found to be based on the major scale and won't have many minor intervals.

So, if you want to compose a piece that sounds Spanish, you could decide to use the phrygian mode and by playing around with it, and emphasizing the important intervals of that scale, you would end up with what you want.
But if you have a good ear, then just by imagining something which sounds Spanish, you could work out how to play it without knowing that the phrygian mode exists, though it would probably turn out to make use of the phrygian mode.

That was basically what I meant by the difference in using music theory and using your ear. I figured I should at least explain myself before i leave this thread in shame. I have a feeling I'm kinda clogging it up at this point aren't I?
#18
Quote by ozzysworld
Also to the guy who asked to hear the songs, if you like I'll link them up in here.
Thanks man. I appreciate it.

In regards to your post, there's no doubt your friend learning theory will help you understand his music. It'll probably help him too, but that's not certain. Just as there are incredible craftsmen (and -women?) that are not engineers. They can build amazing spiral staircases but they couldn't explain the Pythagorean theorem to save their lifes.

Take it easy, we're all here to learn.
Absolutely.
#19
music theory doesnt mean only play diatonic notes. you can noodle around and use your ear, and apply theory very simply