#1
The way I've always written is simply grabbing my guitar, picking a tuning, and jamming away until I find a riff that suits the mood I'm looking for. I know very little about music theory. Would learning keys, chords, scales etc. help in song writing? How important is it?

I'm writing punk rock, for those curious.
#3
Quote by Nietsche
For what you want to do, probably not relevant at all.

He's probably right.

Learning some theory could make your punk more interesting, though. It could also make you realize that punk is (mostly) a terrible genre and to move on.
#4
Quote by Elintasokas
He's probably right.

Learning some theory could make your punk more interesting, though. It could also make you realize that punk is (mostly) a terrible genre and to move on.


I'm sorry. I forgot that anything that isn't classic rock is considered noise. I should just give up punk rock and grow out a pony tail, throw on a jean jacket, and buy a fender like every other rock 'n' roll enthusiast. You're right.

Now, if anyone could give me a sincere answer without the all the attitude, music elitism, and judgment that comes with posting on this forum, that would mucho appreciated.
Last edited by JJ1994 at Dec 10, 2014,
#5
It'll help you if you know scales, and chords without a doubt.

I certainly hope you have some grasp of chords, but I'm assuming you're talking about more obscure chords.


Get acquainted with the major and minor scales, or get your bass player to do it because this is absolutely necessary, unless the bassist wants to be playing root notes his whole life.

The pattern is literally the exact same for any major or minor scale, respectively, no matter what key it's in. All it takes is the memorization of a pattern.
#6
Quote by Milan999
It'll help you if you know scales, and chords without a doubt.

I certainly hope you have some grasp of chords, but I'm assuming you're talking about more obscure chords.


Get acquainted with the major and minor scales, or get your bass player to do it because this is absolutely necessary, unless the bassist wants to be playing root notes his whole life.

The pattern is literally the exact same for any major or minor scale, respectively, no matter what key it's in. All it takes is the memorization of a pattern.


Egad! Someone actually answered my question without being a smart ass and expressing some sort of inferiority complex!

Thanks for the advice. Would learning keys and such be of any use?
#7
Quote by JJ1994
Egad! Someone actually answered my question without being a smart ass and expressing some sort of inferiority complex!

Thanks for the advice. Would learning keys and such be of any use?

Why so serious?

And yes. Of course learning about keys and scales would be useful. Very, very useful. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
#8
Quote by Elintasokas
Why so serious?

And yes. Of course learning about keys and scales would be useful. Very, very useful. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.


Punk Rockers. Lots of angst and anger. Angry at the world. Stick it to the man.

You know how it goes.
#9
Quote by JJ1994
Egad! Someone actually answered my question without being a smart ass and expressing some sort of inferiority complex!

Thanks for the advice. Would learning keys and such be of any use?


What do you mean by 'keys'? Like finding out which key a song is in based on what chords and notes are used? It'll help but it's in no way necessary; any musical knowledge is always of use when you're making music, but you don't necessarily need the knowledge of theory in order to make good music.

Chords would be the only one that's absolutely necessary.


EDIT: Think about it like this; you're playing a riff or chord but don't know the name, you tell your rhythm guitarist or bassist that you're going to be playing this lead so he needs to play something behind it. You can't name the chord that you're playing, so they'll have to keep guessing until they coincidentally hit something that sounds good.


You tell your bassist that you're playing this chord, whose name you don't know, and you tell him to play you a bassline underneath it, but he doesn't know scales. He has to try through trial and error to figure out which chord you're playing, and then he has to figure out which other notes he's allowed to play behind that chord through trial and error.

If you know chords, and he knows scales, you tell him "I'm playing a G Minor here", and he'll know that at the very least, he can compose a bassline using any note in the G Minor scale.

It saves a lot of time.
Last edited by Milan999 at Dec 10, 2014,
#10
Useful theory things to learn:

- At least the minor (natural, harmonic, melodic) and major scales
- How chords are built from these scales.
- Chord function. Tonic, predominant, dominant. Chord progressions.
- Chord inversion
- Modulation
- At least some basics about voice leading could be useful
- Harmonizing melodies
- Modes if you want to add some interesting color (but posting on UG about them isn't recommended, lol.)
Last edited by Elintasokas at Dec 10, 2014,
#11
Yes. If you're writing music with notes and chords and stuff that falls at least mostly into equal temperament, yes.

Before I knew theory, I'd do what you do, except I'd get stuck 9/10 times. Like really really stuck. I would be unsure of how to continue a song, or how to put a vocal melody or a bass-line to it. It'd end up just being a recorded file that never went anywhere. Eventually it'd get deleted or lost. I've had 100s of 'songs' like that.

Now, when I get stuck, I can look at the chords or the melody that I'm working with and come up with a number of different things/ideas that I know will, in all likelihood, 'work' within the context of the song.

Knowing theory pretty much makes it so you have no reason not to finish a song aside from laziness or boredom.

I'm not saying that you can't write great music without knowledge of theory. You can. But why not use all the tools you can to write music? It's like not ever using your pinkie when you play because you can't be bothered to waste time incorporating it into your playing. It's just silly and misguided...

Theory isn't hard.. You can probably learn all the bare-bones basics in about a week if you take notes, and I guarantee you'll say to yourself: "How in the hell did I get by without knowing this stuff before?!"
Last edited by mjones1992 at Dec 10, 2014,
#12
Will it make you worse?

I see no reason not to better yourself.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#14
Absolutely some theory will be helpful. What it helps you do, is quickly and easily find what you are thinking. It is helpful in any genre.

Obviously, if you are writing punk, some things won't apply so much, like big beefy chords don't sound so nice with a lot of distortion. But certainly it will be useful to know some theory.

Ideally you would learn the most pertinent things for your genre. This can be difficult. You can hear a lot of opinions about a lot of things, but you and your goal is a unique situation, and has its own ideal learning path.

I believe for every genre I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio is really important. I mean you can make great music by trial and error, but to really do what you want when you want it, with little limitations, it is important.

I think taking any genre to the next level, is really cool as well and knowing what you are doing will help with that.

It comes down to naming stuff basically. What hobby would you get into without naming things? Naming stuff and organizing it logically always makes you more powerful.

But like I said, there will a number of concepts that you will not find suitable for your style.

But theory will not give you ideas. It will name stuff, and give you power to wield concepts. But it will not tell you what concepts to use. I mean, you could use it that way, but IMO you can't make good music that way. I personally believe the odds of someone writing good music with no knowledge of theory are greater than someone using it as a means to tell them what to write, because the former is using their ears and feel to write, whereas the other is just relying on the theory.

So definitely it will help you to wield music for songwriting, but it is not the power of writing songs that you can read from a book, if you know what I mean. So, you can know no theory and write good songs and know all theory and not be capable of it. But IMO, no matter what, you should learn, at the very least, some of the main important things for the style of guitarist you want to be.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Dec 10, 2014,
#15
Theory doesn't really tell you what to do. It explains things. By knowing theory, you can analyze other people's songs. If you like a song, you can figure out what's happening in the song and maybe use something similar in your song.

There are of course common practices like V-I. But this doesn't mean a V chord couldn't be followed by any other chord. But by being aware of all these common practices, you have more tools to use. For example if you have a melody and want to figure out chords that go well with it. That's when theory helps. And there are definitely chords that don't work that well with the melody.

For example if you listen to the demo version of "Rocket Queen", the chord progression in the end doesn't sound that great. They fixed it in the album version. They just changed one chord. In the demo version the chord progression is E-D#m-C#m. In the album version it is E-B/D#-C#m. The D#m chord sounded out of place. They clearly had an idea of the chord they were looking for but they didn't get it right. It had the correct bass note but they clearly didn't know about inversions and chord functions. If they had known they needed a V chord there, it would have sounded better. And as I said, they did fix it on the album version and used an inversion of the V chord.

Figuring out the chords that work with a melody was just one example. Theory also helps with harmonizing a melody. For example if you want to write a second guitar part. Of course trust your ears but sometimes it's hard to figure it out. If you know what scale the melody uses and the chords behind it, you could harmonize it by using notes in the scale and chord tones. By knowing theory experimenting also gets easier. The notes you try out aren't as "random" any more.

Of course trust your ears. But I also think that theory knowledge can make your ear stronger. When you have the explanation for the sound in your head, it is easier to figure out what sounds you are hearing - I think the "Rocket Queen" demo is a good example of this. As I said, they knew what they were looking for but didn't get it right. The D#m chord, at least to me, sounds out of place and replacing it with B major in its first inversion sounds much better.

Also, if you know theory, you aren't limited by your instrument. You can figure out stuff purely by using your ears. You don't necessarily need an instrument to help you figure it out.

But yeah, you still need to use your ears when writing songs. Theory knowledge doesn't replace your ears. Actually, you need to use your ears to really benefit from theory knowledge.

Don't treat theory as a set of rules. That will only limit you. And that's also misunderstanding theory. Theory can explain anything in music.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#16
Quote by JJ1994
The way I've always written is simply grabbing my guitar, picking a tuning, and jamming away until I find a riff that suits the mood I'm looking for. I know very little about music theory. Would learning keys, chords, scales etc. help in song writing? How important is it?

I'm writing punk rock, for those curious.


Learning them as abstract concepts? Probably wouldn't help you at all.

Learning them to the point where you can recognize them when you hear them in practice?

Probably would help you. It will expand your creative palate, and put you more in control of your songwriting process.

Personally, I find that people who songwriting "by accident" - just sort of wailing away until, "oh, that sounded cool," rarely write songs I find interesting. But I think a lot of punk is written that way: that's why so much of it is three-chord rock - that's a sound that nearly everyone has internalized by the time they can play halfway decently.
#17
Quote by JJ1994
I'm sorry. I forgot that anything that isn't classic rock is considered noise. I should just give up punk rock and grow out a pony tail, throw on a jean jacket, and buy a fender like every other rock 'n' roll enthusiast. You're right.

Now, if anyone could give me a sincere answer without the all the attitude, music elitism, and judgment that comes with posting on this forum, that would mucho appreciated.

No. Punk is terrible. The sooner you realize this, the better.


But Punk is kind of supposed to be terrible, so whatever.


Anyway, learning basic scales, chord construction, song structure, intervals, etc. would help you stand out from the "3-chord standard (read: BORING) Punk rock" crowd.
#19
Quote by JJ1994
The way I've always written is simply grabbing my guitar, picking a tuning, and jamming away until I find a riff that suits the mood I'm looking for. I know very little about music theory. Would learning keys, chords, scales etc. help in song writing? How important is it?

I'm writing punk rock, for those curious.


Oi mate,

My influences draw a bit from punk as well, and I agree with most of the other folks. It can't hurt to know what you're doing, and for those times where 'just jamming' doesn't produce anything useful, knowing some basic theory can help you get something down anyway. Like, "Oh, I can't think of a riff, let me just do straight eighths over a I-IV-V and then massage it into something useful." (I've written two solos that way.)

Also, it will help if you ever decide to actually sit down and plan out a solo, to harmonize notes over your chords, and (speaking as a sometimes-bassist) know what notes to play on the low end, as well.

Here's the thing; you may not need it, but you won't know if it's useful until you know it and can make an educated opinion. I probably don't use half of the theory knowledge I've picked up when writing my own music, but it's there if I need it.
#20
Learning some about how music works won't destroy your creativity, despite what loads of people claim. It can open up new ideas for you. You really don't need to learn lots of theory if your heart is in punk and similar. What may help is learning how melody goes with chords (so writing hooks), and especially how to use rhythm and phrasing (which don't require any real note knowledge, but can still make all the difference between an average tune and a great one.

cheers, Jerry
#22
its not important at all unless you consider it to be. its a tool, use it as you see fit. ive never needed it but thats just me.
banned
Last edited by deadsmileyface at Dec 11, 2014,
#23
Quote by JJ1994
I'm sorry. I forgot that anything that isn't classic rock is considered noise. I should just give up punk rock and grow out a pony tail, throw on a jean jacket, and buy a fender like every other rock 'n' roll enthusiast. You're right.

Now, if anyone could give me a sincere answer without the all the attitude, music elitism, and judgment that comes with posting on this forum, that would mucho appreciated.

i like you
banned
#24
Quote by JJ1994


Now, if anyone could give me a sincere answer without the all the attitude, music elitism, and judgment that comes with posting on this forum, that would mucho appreciated.

LOL, that would be nice, but that sort of thing just doesn't happen here.
shred is gaudy music
#25
Here's the way I see it. Music theory serves two purposes.

1) Communication. This may or may not be relevant to you depending on how your band's writing process goes, or what kind of projects you'll get involved in in the future, but it is immensely helpful for one person to be able to simply suggest a scale or chord progression and the other person to know what to do with that information.

2) Writing, of course. Now here's the thing. A lot of people will point out their favorite musicians who claimed to have known no theory and got by on their ear alone. Some of my own favorite musicians claim to be stunted in theory. It can work out... but those musicians also created unnecessary hurdles for themselves. When they've gotten ideas in their head, they've had to do guesswork to figure out what scales, harmonies, etc, would get the results that they want, until eventually with enough experience their ears figured out what theory would have told them years sooner. Point being, music theory doesn't tell you how to write... but it does tell you how your notes are going to sound before you play them. Why leave this to guessing?

Bottom line is, you can get by without theory, but you're holding yourself back unnecessarily without it. The idea that music theory is bad for creativity is a myth, and anybody who claims to have learned theory and not gotten any better at writing because of it didn't actually learn it. They memorized some stuff they read off the internet or out of a book and never actually tried to apply that knowledge.