#1
hope i'm posting this in the right place.
as title says, i'm in need of help in getting into the theory of music and scales. for years i've been an average guitarist but i feel like i should expand my knowledge. i tried looking things up but i'm a bit overwhelmed. how would you suggest me to tackle this sittuation? thanks for the help.
#2
Music theory starts with definitions and terminology, constructing structures, then more structures (relationships between and among structures). It is critical to spend sufficient time and effort grasping the fundamentals clearly in order to understand the subsequent structures. One of the very first things one must do when approaching theory is to examine whether your informal use of a term is correct with respect to its definition. In common popular use, many of these terms are used informally and incorrectly, which makes a studied approach to theory confusing unless you clear them up right at the beginning.

For example, if one dives into music theory thinking that notes are pitches and that intervals are the distance between pitches, one encounters conceptually incomprehensible and impenetrable structures in a very short time...

- notes
The term "note" has a very specific meaning; it is the letter name given to the lines and spaces on the staff. These locations are notes, not pitches. The line or space may be accompanied by an accidental mark so that a particular note may stand for multiple pitches.

- intervals
Because of the above, the definition of interval ("the distance between notes") means intervals are the distance between spaces and lines of the staff, the distance between the letter names of notes. Since each space and line may take accidentals and attach multiple pitches, intervals are NOT the distance between pitches.

...this encounter has bounced a lot of people right back out of theory study. So, from the first steps, make sure you really really understand what each definition implies and entails.
Quote by reverb66
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#3
Music theory is a huge undertaking, but it's certainly worth the effort.  To start off, I suggest learning about standard note duration.  If you also want to learn to read sheet music, learn about the staff and cleffs.  After that, you can get into time signatures.  After that, it's time to start learning about individual notes, and how notes work together in the major scale.
Quote by Geldin
Junior's usually at least a little terse, but he knows his stuff. I've always read his posts in a grouchy grandfather voice, a grouchy grandfather with a huge stiffy for alternate picking.
Besides that, he's right this time. As usual.
#4
Yeah you gotta learn to read staff or you won't get far past labeling chord inversions. Stuff is so much easier to understand if you can grasp it visually. Just don't forget to get your ears in shape, too. 
#5
cdgraves But I'm not sure what you meant by "grasp it visually". I totally disagree with the need to read notation to learn theory.  The main reason for reading notation these days is for performance of a piece of music as wanted by the composer.  It is entirely possible to learn theory purely by visuals (not notation), examples (e.g tab, or MIDI), and of course the ear.  
Quote by cdgraves
Yeah you gotta learn to read staff or you won't get far past labeling chord inversions. Stuff is so much easier to understand if you can grasp it visually. Just don't forget to get your ears in shape, too. 
#6
My take is a little different...

I think if "visuals" is meant to mean learning to read standard notation, then I believe it is almost required to understand some of that in order to make sense grasping some of the founding canonical theory's verbal-logical definitions and concepts. If one is going to think and talk and play theory by using the named concepts and their named relationships then that becomes the currency of exchange and one needs to know these verbal-logical named properties and connections.

However, one can grasp the same objects of theory by ear without naming them... in fact that is the standard for judging whether one is doing it by ear - that one is not naming these things because they are recognized directly by their sound, not any attached labels.

Personally, I find theory interesting but totally worthless to me for listening, composing, practicing, performing, and especially improvising. I play exclusively by ear and find any thoughts about named things distracting. Rootless chords and triads don't have single names, series of notes do not have single scale names, and individual pitches do not even have single note names. None of these multiple names mean anything to me when playing; only the sound of what I am hearing outside and inside my head while I am playing.

I find it hard to believe that there are guitarists who actually are thinking of the chord names, the chord tone note names, the chord extension note names, the note names of the alterations, the interval names, the scale names and their note names, and the analytical lingo that strings it all together in order to formulate what to play with respect to the relationships of theory. I find it hard to believe that there are guitarist who use the major scale as the basis from which to derive the various parallel chord types and scale types. Why would I want to do note surgery in my mind on a major scale or major chord in order to derive the notes to play a Lydian Dominant phrase or a b13b9 chord when I already know what those will sound like in the context of the moment? Why would I want to be thinking about major scales or chords not in the song at that point in the progression in order to figure out how to play a different scale or chord that I already hear and that is at that point in the song?

If I tried to have a running internal conversation with myself about named things while playing, that would interfere with my listening, the same as if some theory teacher was standing next to me describing the chords, intervals, scales, and notes as I was playing. In performance I don't think about keys, chords, intervals, or notes. It is an internal abstract representation, but I can't explain it as named things... not a picture, pattern, or shape either... I don't know what this is, feels like magic, but I don't need to know... my ears know.

That said, I have played the guitar by ear since day one over four decades; I do not know what happens when someone does learn to play by theory and then attempts to shift into playing by ear. Maybe someone for whom that is their experience can speak to that.
Quote by reverb66
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#7
Quote by jerrykramskoy
cdgraves But I'm not sure what you meant by "grasp it visually". I totally disagree with the need to read notation to learn theory.  The main reason for reading notation these days is for performance of a piece of music as wanted by the composer.  It is entirely possible to learn theory purely by visuals (not notation), examples (e.g tab, or MIDI), and of course the ear.  

Ever try doing a 32 bar voice leading analysis with 4 independent voices on guitar alone?

You can label chords and inversions and such without writing anything down, but at some point theory involves studying music that isn't readily playable on guitar. A lot of the stuff in textbooks comes directly from orchestral scores, and there's just no way to make that material practical for guitarists learning by ear.

I'll agree that the most readily useful stuff requires no reading, but to get into the meat of theory - analysis - it's beyond impractical to try approaching it entirely by ear with only one instrument. The level of aural ability needed to pick through 4 part counterpoint texture is beyond what even most music professors could do.
#8
cdgraves No, I haven't tried that.  Firstly, that comes from an era a very long time ago, which I just don't enjoy listening to.  Sadly, my father rammed a lot of classical music down my ears at a very young age, and he successfully put me off any and all classics for a very  very long time.  It's only quite recently I've come round to listening to this ... but even now I still feel underwhelmed by it.  But I will perservere here.

As for the analysis, not sure what you mean by "on guitar"?   

I've never been into analysing every single note of a tune.  I will pick out the areas that catch my attention and (try and) work out what's going on by ear (see below) using theory knowledge to help.  I'll then log that and possibly develop it.  

I wasn't intentionally referring to guitar, by the way.  I stand by my point that it is possible to learn theory when note content is presented in other ways than notation.

To me, learning, and understanding, more to the point, doesn't mean I have to have 100% ability to hear everything in my head at all times.  But I can mostly listen, workout, and recognise sources of note choice etc (using software if need be to slow down the tune), with the explanation coming from a knowledge of theory (and hence realsiisng when theory has gone out the window).  

I absolutely can't fluently sight read, as I've never been required to do so, but I can happily improvise over many different styles, and write in many different styles, using a mix of theoretical knowledge for some ideas that I can't 100% hear internally, but know will work, along with just listening and playing what I feel suits the tune.
#9
PlusPaul As usual, I agree with some and disagree with some of your points.  

I totally agree that "naming" what's going on while playing is a complete distraction to the music of the moment, when improvising.  But I will be consciously aware of intervals (in as much as targetting a landing note at the end of a phrase).  Arpeggios, scales, are locked in as patterns for note sources (not necessarily lines or licks ... which are far more likely to be spontaneous (to a degree, but obviously influenced by previous experiences of what's sounded good).

I also agree that aural facility (linked to the ability to perform the inner sounds) is a massively important, and the stronger that facility, the better.

Where I disagree about your stance of theory is this:

Theory may provide ideas that one may never conceive of aurally ... fore example, playing a line out of F melodic minor against an E altered chord, or playing an Dm7 line over a G7.

Though I'm sure that, with no theory knowledge,  given enough exposure to others that have already acquired the vocabulary, then these concepts get passed on (either by being shown when curious, or by listening and working out by ear, and gradually internalising).  And then they can be conceived.

So, for example, you mention Lydian ... I agree it's pretty much useless informatrion knowing where Lydian derives from ... what counts is how to use the Lydian palette of sound, whereas knowing it's a mode of major is irrelevant.  But did your awareness of Lydian purely come from your own invention, or from learning from someone else, and then wanting to apply it?  In which case, theory (in the sense of theory being observations of usage in music) has affected you, but not in the sense of named entities.

I believe in a mix of the pragmatic application of musical tools (captured by theory), with a response to the music of the moment that just "is".  I don't believe in theory as rules, so I'll play any note against any other, without concern.  I certainly don't believe in being a slave to theory  (though I fell in that trap in my late teens, whihc confused the hell of me)
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Apr 17, 2017,
#10
Advice I give everyone starting out on theory:

1) learn C major scale - the actual notes and the generic construction ( WWH etc.)
2) learn how the intervals of that scale are named ( a 2nd, major third, 5th etc.) 
3) learn how chords are named in reference to those intervals ( ex.  a minor chord has a 1, b3 and 5 ).
4) learn the harmonized C major scale in triads 
5) learn how to name simple diatonic chord progressions using the roman numerical system ( II,V,I etc.) 
6) analyse songs that you know using that system to identify the key and map out the progression. 


That's a start and will keep you busy for a long time. I would suggest you research each of these points thoroughly to make sure you get it. 
#11
Quote by jerrykramskoy
cdgraves

As for the analysis, not sure what you mean by "on guitar"?   



Exactly - there's no way to do that without reference to the written music.

What people call "theory" tends to differ drastically in scope. Most people don't get beyond scales, chord construction, and Roman numerals. No sheet music necessary, but I'd say those concepts are barely scratching the surface.

Really studying theory like you might in a classroom means using concepts to analyze music in deep detail, and understanding how harmony (or counterpoint) and form work together. It gets pretty thick when you're going into, say, inner voice melodicism in secondary dominants.

It's not every guitarist who needs such knowledge, but for anyone who wants to get into jazz or otherwise complex harmony, it's really helpful to have that experience with detailed analysis.
#12
cdgraves I do have that understanding, but it didn't come from written music.  But only because that didn't work so well for me. I learned from excellent teachers, and my own research (reading and listening) and have been playing jazz (mainly) on and off for the last 20 years (roughly).  My point is that there are other representations of music that can be used to impart the same detail, such as tab (where applicable) or MIDI or other visual forms, where the relationships are exposed.  I absolutely agree that investigating these in depth is very rewarding.

Weirdly, I know of students  that have obtained music degrees that still struggle  with the practical application of musical devices presented in theory, and can't improvise to save their lives.  But they can play amazingly from notation.