#1
I have been playing the guitar now for about 6 months. I'm still learning loads of songs aswell as getting what I know already to a good level. I am wondering if maybe I should try and learn music theory too, would this help my playing? or would it allow me to write some of my own music? it's more to help my playing at this point but down the line I would like to write some of my own music. Can anyone advise on this?
#2
Music theory will do nothing but help you, as long as you understand that it isn't a set of rules, it just describes what is happening.

Go to musictheory.net and start looking through the lessons.

When you're learning theory, make sure you know the sound that the theory your learning is describing. When you know what makes a major scale a major scale you should hear a major scale in your head, know what it sounds like, instead of knowing what it looks like on paper or the shape it makes on the fretboard. (I wish I knew that when I was starting out. It seems obvious now, but what can you do?)


If you want to write music later on, you should also start learning about common song structures. Verse, chorus, bridge, ect. Wikipedia has some stuff on that, and so does the rest of the internet. Then, and this is key, listen to a song you like and try to hear which part is the verse and which is the chorus? How did they transition between the two? How long was the verse? Four bars, eight bars? Stuff like that. Eventually you'll see a lot of music is divided up into four and eight bar phrases.
Last edited by Duaneclapdrix at Apr 29, 2014,
#3
Wow, a very helpful response in a short space of time! I shall definitely start learning it! Thanks for your help!
#4
I will second Duane and say it definitely helps a lot knowing theory even if it's just the basics but don't get bent out of shape if your writing has parts that "break the rules" if it sounds good then write it
#5
Quote by drgoogs32
I will second Duane and say it definitely helps a lot knowing theory even if it's just the basics but don't get bent out of shape if your writing has parts that "break the rules" if it sounds good then write it

The thing about music theory is that it isn't a set of rules, so there are no rules to break.
#6
It's pretty much a way to put labels on sounds so you can easily recall them and hear them in music and can discuss sounds to other musicians who also know and can hear them. It's not enough to just know the sounds by the sounds, you also need a universal labeling system to organizes those sounds so they can be discussed with other musicians (so what if you know what a cup is by sight, if you can't relay that information to another person then it is useless. Same with music. If you can hear a major 7 chord and know it as "That chord that sounds like it's longing for a purpose/whatever other useless faux-description that is personal to you and does not reflect the experiences of others and therefore can not be accurately relayed.).

I also believe that it makes it easier to learn to hear those sounds as it gives order and functionality which makes it both easier to study as well as store in the synapse your neocortex.

It will not make you a better musician if you only know it theoretically. If you also know all the sounds of the theory than it will, but not because of the theory, rather because you have a trained ear. Learn the theory and train your ear at the same time.
Last edited by macashmack at Apr 29, 2014,
#7
Don't forget to train your ear as well.
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#9
I think it is more of a personal thing. For me , if I did not know theory I would have no clue what the hell I'm doing. I can see how someone can be a great musician without theory , but those people I suppose just "get" what they are doing without all the theoretical stuff, basically they just seem to have their own way of being "musically organized." I say if you are struggling anywhere in your musical endevours, to by all means learn theory.

IMO, If you are not "musically organized" you are going to have a hell of a hard time being anything great of a musician. You will most likely just end up being a "noodler" not really doing anything special and having hard time composing full pieces of music.
Last edited by Unreal T at Apr 29, 2014,
#10
A lot of my musical ideas are grounded in theory. For instance, I really like deceptive cadences (or riffs that are "deceptive cadence-like") in my personal compositions. Without theory, I would have zero idea what a deceptive cadence even is.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Apr 29, 2014,
#11
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
A lot of my musical ideas are grounded in theory. For instance, I really like deceptive cadences (or riffs that are "deceptive cadence-like") in my personal compositions. Without theory, I would have zero idea what a deceptive cadence even is.

Ahhhhh shit. That's my favorite cadence!
#13
Personally, I look at music through a lens of game theory, and see music theory as rules. The rules are a process by which composition is yielded. John Cage has a massive amount of writing on this, as well as scores that work with the idea.

There are many different systems of rules, and which ones you choose to follow is your choice. If you follow western rules, you are playing a game where the end result is a western composition.

But its really silly to think about theory as "merely describing whats happening" because there are no theory systems that can describe every musical event in the world. Closest Ive seen is Otonality/Utonality but that only deals in pitch
#14
Theory describes what's happening, it doesn't tell you what to do. It simply says "If you do X you'll get Y sound." If someone named, I don't know, let's call him Arnie Shooinbarg, were to invent a new way to compose music, then someone would invent a new way to analyze it. A "theory", if you will.
#15
Quote by Big-Al1234567
I have been playing the guitar now for about 6 months. I'm still learning loads of songs aswell as getting what I know already to a good level. I am wondering if maybe I should try and learn music theory too, would this help my playing? or would it allow me to write some of my own music? it's more to help my playing at this point but down the line I would like to write some of my own music. Can anyone advise on this?



The thing that will help your playing the most is…… playing. (and time)

6 months is really early for getting into theory. IMO you're better off playing for a while first. Develop your fundamental techniques and your ears. Build up a repertoire.
Along with that learning to read standard notation is good preparation for studying theory.


^ with that background you'll have a much easier time understanding music theory than if you just jump into it prematurely. You'll also be a better player.
#16
Quote by Duaneclapdrix
Theory describes what's happening, it doesn't tell you what to do. It simply says "If you do X you'll get Y sound."

Exactly. This does give you songwriting tools.

But don't treat theory as a rule, TS; anybody who says theory is a hard set of rules doesn't understand theory. (No offense, bassalloverthe, but game theory doesn't work for music theory. If that works as a songwriting process for you, fine. But there are ZERO rules in music, with the exception of "Does it fit the song/piece?".)


But, thinking about it, I don't know that one should be worrying about writing songs after 6 months of playing. GuitarMunky hit the nail on the head about that.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Apr 30, 2014,
#17
Here's all you need to ask yourself about music theory and what it does in relations to your musicianship:

You can learn and study perfect literary grammar, but will that help you tell a great story?

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#19
I once had a teacher who taught me: "Learn the theory, then just forget it". Also I once had the opportunity to talk to Ulisses Rocha, a classical guitar player and he basically told me the same.

Theory will help you a lot to learn your instrument, but with time your ears will work a thousand times better than any rule/principle/anything you can put on a piece of paper, if you train it properly. If you know how to get the sound you want out of your guitar at any time in any case, you don't need anything else, you've mastered it completely.

Most people forget that music is all about sound and spend countless years studying methods, scales, etc. and forget to train their ears. Beethoven had a so good ear, that even after going deaf, he would still remember exactly how each note sounded and write the 9th Symphony. Would he have made it without musical theory? Most likely no, it was necessary during all his learning and improving, but he would never make it if he did like lots of musicians do: ignoring the sound they're playing and concentrating on the "math" they're playing.

My opinion: Go and learn theory, but don't stick to it for too long. Some friends of mine often annoy me 'cause I don't know which scales they're using (Yes, scales, not even something more fancy), but I just laugh at them when we all listen to the local artist's compositions which are all composed by people who have little to none musical theory, which are really good (At least the ones that are from the kind I like) and the "musical scientists" have nothing to give. I ensure you, all you'll loose is some talk, but what you'll earn... it's just priceless.

I know people will get mad at me for saying what I said, I just want these people to know: I don't give a ****!
#20
Yes learn it.

I'm just starting to learn it after many years being a campfire Strummer.

Even within a few hours im a better guitar player, I got embarrassed a few weeks ago jamming with my father in law and he asked for a '12bar in the key of E' I had no idea what the f he was talking about... Now I do thanks to basic theory.
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#21
Quote by Xiaoxi
You can learn and study perfect literary grammar, but will that help you tell a great story?

Yes.
#22
Quote by Xiaoxi
Here's all you need to ask yourself about music theory and what it does in relations to your musicianship:

You can learn and study perfect literary grammar, but will that help you tell a great story?

It will help, but it's not the "meat and potatoes" part of writing. You need to work on writing, if you want to become good at it.
#23
It wasn't meant to be a simple yes/no rhetorical question

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#24
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
The thing about music theory is that it isn't a set of rules, so there are no rules to break.

Yeah, I've always seen it as a set of guidelines on how to describe what's being heard.


I'll +1 Duane's post. Just reread that, and you'll get the gist of my feelings on the matter.
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#26
Quote by macashmack
Yes.

If that was true, the world would be filled with good writers.

Even though it can help you not to commit mistakes while writing it'll never give you a good story. A good story can only come out of your brains and heart, just like a good sound, and not from lots of study.
#27
Quote by mp8andrade
If that was true, the world would be filled with good writers.

Even though it can help you not to commit mistakes while writing it'll never give you a good story. A good story can only come out of your brains and heart, just like a good sound, and not from lots of study.

The thing is, the best writers are the ones who know all the "rules" and literary devices and bend them to their advantage. Now, granted, music theory isn't a set of hard rules. I tend to think of music theory as a set of tools, that I can use to my advantage.
#28
Quote by mp8andrade
A good story can only come out of your brains and heart.


You mean besides ones which are adapted from history, or from previous archetypal stories.
.
#29
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
The thing is, the best writers are the ones who know all the "rules" and literary devices and bend them to their advantage. Now, granted, music theory isn't a set of hard rules. I tend to think of music theory as a set of tools, that I can use to my advantage.

I have to disagree that music theory is a set of tools.

Music is just another series of languages.

Do you actively think about grammatical rules and word designations (nouns, verbs, etc) when you're expressing something verbally or in writing? I don't think so. You just "do".

So how is it that you "do" it so naturally? It is because you have been forced to be exposed to it your whole life. You've been actively practicing the art of verbal language since you were born. You're forced to hear/read what others are saying, and forced to respond. You almost never need to think about the formal designations of the sentences you form.

Music works in the exact same way. Those who "know music theory" but "it doesn't help their playing/writing" simply do not know the language well enough. Is that something that grammar school, so to speak, can really help with on a higher level? Yes, you may be able to write a technically correct sentence, just like how you can use a scale to fill out all of the "correct" tones of a chord progression, but how does that knowledge take you to the next level?

After years of studying, I say it simply does not. There is no shortcut. There are no tools. Yes, you can say "I'm going to put a neapolitan 6th here, which I read about in a music theory book", but does this chord choice really belong at that moment? Why should it be there? How will it make the music better?

You start getting into the intangibles which are so hard to quantify and the "tool" analogy starts to break down. The purpose of music theory should be to help you become a better listener, so that you can process the information in a more effective way and ultimately lead you on a path to START learning the language of music. It can never be "used" in reality, and when it is used it sounds terrible, like a foreign language speaker trying to communicate after just learning the books.

In the end, the only thing that can empower you to create great music is to have a strong intuition and natural ability of the language. That can only be achieved the same way it goes for any other language, you have to be actively immersed in it day in, day out. Music theory can only carry to the door steps of this journey and no further.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#30
You know, that's exactly what music theory should be. A tool to help you hear things better and expand what you hear. Just like a study of musical forms should help you hear a way to logically organize musical ideas. It doesn't matter if you know sonata form intellectually if you can't hear the reason why sonata form works when you hear it. It's like studying a different language. The grammar and stuff helps in the beginning, but eventually you want to as fluent as you are with your first lanuage.
#31
Quote by Xiaoxi
I have to disagree that music theory is a set of tools.

Music is just another series of languages.

Do you actively think about grammatical rules and word designations (nouns, verbs, etc) when you're expressing something verbally or in writing? I don't think so. You just "do".

If I'm writing a speech, though, doesn't it help to know some common speaking tools? By practicing with these speaking tools, ideally, I can learn how to make better and better speeches, right?

In music, we learn chords, notes, forms, etc. to help us "speak" the language of music.

So how is it that you "do" it so naturally? It is because you have been forced to be exposed to it your whole life. You've been actively practicing the art of verbal language since you were born. You're forced to hear/read what others are saying, and forced to respond. You almost never need to think about the formal designations of the sentences you form.

Music works in the exact same way. Those who "know music theory" but "it doesn't help their playing/writing" simply do not know the language well enough. Is that something that grammar school, so to speak, can really help with on a higher level? Yes, you may be able to write a technically correct sentence, just like how you can use a scale to fill out all of the "correct" tones of a chord progression, but how does that knowledge take you to the next level?

Yes, you have to play and listen to music. Get the language of music in your head.

After years of studying, I say it simply does not. There is no shortcut. There are no tools. Yes, you can say "I'm going to put a neapolitan 6th here, which I read about in a music theory book", but does this chord choice really belong at that moment? Why should it be there? How will it make the music better?

But if you never study what a neapolitan chord is, how would you know it was even a thing? The best way to learn to use neapolitan chords is, obviously, to listen to examples of pieces that use them and then practice using them yourself, though.

You start getting into the intangibles which are so hard to quantify and the "tool" analogy starts to break down. The purpose of music theory should be to help you become a better listener, so that you can process the information in a more effective way and ultimately lead you on a path to START learning the language of music. It can never be "used" in reality, and when it is used it sounds terrible, like a foreign language speaker trying to communicate after just learning the books.

In the end, the only thing that can empower you to create great music is to have a strong intuition and natural ability of the language. That can only be achieved the same way it goes for any other language, you have to be actively immersed in it day in, day out. Music theory can only carry to the door steps of this journey and no further.

Indeed. But the thing is, if we didn't have music theory to describe these different concepts, it'd be a lot harder to gain direction in the study of music. If you know what a neapolitan chord is, then you can listen to pieces that use them, as I said earlier. But if everyone was using a different term for "neapolitan chord", then it'd confuse the hell of out people who need direction in what to listen for. So, theory is a tool, in the sense that it says, "This is X". Then, it's up to the music student to go hunt for pieces that use X and practice using X.

See, if I use a hammer, I don't "know" how to hammer in a nail. I mean, it's a simple tool, so most people can figure it out. But they have to use a hammer to really know how to pound in that nail. Similarly, you can know what a triad is, but you'll never know how to use it until they practice playing triads.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at May 1, 2014,
#32
Music theory, is IMO, an invaluable tool in understanding and organising music.

As language is arranged in sentences, so is music. As language is punctuated, so is music. With the spoken(and printed) word we express ourselves, and in chords and melody we impart the mood of the piece. Regardless of the genre of music.
#33
Quote by Killing Hand
As language is arranged in sentences, so is music. As language is punctuated, so is music.


Kind of but not really. Sentences in languages like English, French and German have things like subjects, objects, verbs, adjectives, prepositions and conjunctions, and can be in different tenses and express different points of view. You can't even translate a simple sentence like 'The cat sits on the mat' into the 'language' of music.

'Music as language' might be a useful metaphor but it's not literally true.
.