Music Theory Is Important

My thoughts on why everyone should learn at least a bit of music theory.

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Why I think everyone should learn at least basic theory, I know a lot of you will say well Guitar player X doesn't know any theory and look at how well he's doing" but I'm here to tell you that famous musicians who don't know how to read a note of music are the exception rather than the rule. Most musicians, if they want to communicate with other musicians-to play in a band or to teach them their songs-have to know at least the basics about how music works. These basics-notes, chords, and so on- are what we call music theory. Notes and chords are the building blocks of the language of music. Music theory defines the many different ways you can arrange those blocks into songs and compositions. Without theory, all you have is noise; applying music theory, you can create great works of art. Musicians apply music theory every time they sit down to play or sing-whether they know it or not. When you read a piece of music, you're using music theory. When you write down a series of notes, you're using music theory. When you play a chord, you're using music theory. When you sing a harmony line, you're using music theory. Even those musicians that don't have any formal training use music theory. When they put their hands on the piano, they might now know that they're playing a major ninth chord with the fourth in the bass; they do know that those notes together well, even if they can't tell you the strict chord construction. Now, if they did have formal training, they could go beyond that just playing the notes to sharing those notes with others. Instead of pointing at their fingers and saying "play this," they could actually write their notes and chords down on paper, in a format universally understood by musicians the world over. After all, it's a lot easier to tell someone to play a CM9/F chord than it is to say "put your first finger here, and your second finger here," and so on. The knowledge of how different notes work together also helps you expand on the simple melodies you're currently playing. When you know theory, you know how to accompany a melody with chords and how to voice those chords so that they sound good to your ears. You also can learn how to turn that simple melody into a full-blown arrangement for groups of voices and instruments, and how to create your own melodies and compositions. Without knowledge of basic music theory, you won't be able to fully express your musical ideas; nor will you be able to share those ideas with others. Of course, it isn't just professional musicians who need to know music theory. Even if you're just doing it for your own personal enjoyment, knowledge of theory will help you better appreciate the music you play or sing.

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    ewall09
    this is totally true. you can play guitar/etc without knowing any theory, but down the road you'll be kicking yourself when you realize it would come in handy. scales, modes, chords, notes, fifths, etc....they all come into play every time you pick up an instrument (especially a guitar). +1
    JBEADAM
    Hey guys, a lot of you guys seem to know quite a bit about theory, so can I ask a question? Is there a difference between scale degrees and intervals? I have looked at many different sources and they all seem to conflict...please message me this, I would appreciate it IMMENSELY!
    rockergirl1122
    What people disregard when they say "music theory can help everyone" is there are many, like myself, whose brains just don't work that way. Reading music and learning music theory used the left side of the brain. Playing it by intuition or by what "just sounds right" uses the right side of the brain. I happen to be incredibly right-brained and terrible at math, but music comes quite naturally to me because I allow my intuition and simple muscle memory to guide it. I am not completely ignorant about music theory so I can confidently say that when I do use it, the product of it is much less natural and overall not as good as when I just "go with the flow." If I were interested in joining a band, maybe I would look more into it, but I am a solo artist whose primary goal is to express myself. I respect those who believe music theory is right for them but I think it is incredibly pretentious when people say it's right for everyone. If you consider yourself a "musician," it's more likely to be right for you. But an "artist," not so much. One has to consider priorities and what type of learner someone is (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) before reciting the brainwashing bs their guitar teachers shove down everyone's throats and pretending it applies to everyone, because it doesn't.
    les-p@live.com
    theory is important however i think that when a guitar player first starts taking lessons they should concentrate on learning simple chord progressions and easy licks. im not gona lie theory can be borring. first learn how to play the guitar itself as an idividual instrument then explore the deeper aspect of what in the hell you are doing
    les-p@live.com
    i agree with rockergirl on the difference between artists and musicians. i mean artists are more oriented toward the part of music. if you take a canvas and a ball of coke and throw some paint on it...no one can tell you your painting wrong and credibally call you a moron. its simply not logical. thats why i love improv...you really cant hit a bad note. its like a taint in your soul. implausible
    E-bay777
    Theory is definatly handy. Most handy when creating a piece of art, i've learned from experience.
    Dimebag Dave
    Thanks for stating the obvious. Although I disagree with the part about written notation. You can still learn the major fundamentals of theory, and know where all the notes are without having to look at a staff. Notation is only important if you plan on transposing your music for another instrument. And seriously, you're not going to transpose your rock ballad into a trumpet piece, right?
    Paul Tauterouff
    I agree Oscar, but also agree with Dimebag Dave above. Understanding theory is very necessary, but reading and writing standard notation can be useful in some instances, but is not essential.
    Laura!
    JayLacelle wrote: HavokStrife wrote: I don't wanna make it out like I'm a complete theory retard, just a slight one. It's really important to know scales and such, but, honesty, I'm a pretty simple person, and it's a LOT easier to say, "Here, put this finger here, this one here.." Than it is for me to actually remember the name of some Cminor3rddimished7th/E/F/susG ass chord. what if you are a guitarist talking to a pianist/vocalist/anything else? if you tell someone at a piano to play a first string third fret they would laugh in your face XD
    Good point! I play guitar but my main instruments are piano & voice, i prefer playing with guitarists that know music theory because its so much easier! =)
    Clabbe
    True, so true ! I play classic music so i have to keep up with theory, but im one of those "let's just play" guys. So i dont really like reading notes but i know how f-king important it is.
    destijl
    music theory is what seperates the rather good guitarists from the fantastic guitarists.
    BlaqIc3
    destijl : music theory is what seperates the rather good guitarists from the fantastic guitarists.
    ehh not true, i only use theory as guidelines not the focus of writing music. Its all about the feel and emotion, theory just helps guide you through it imo
    j053montenegro
    Yeah, I think it's important to know how to read classic notation, mostly if you you wanna become a pro. That's why I just get into Guatemala's National Conservatorie, to learn this kinda stuff... thanx man...
    FlyingLeukemia
    I can't say I completely agree. You don't have 'noise' without music theory. It isn't as if only a few exceptions play in bands without any knowledge of music theory. Quite a few write musical compositions and sing, play guitar, play bass, or play drums without knowing how the hell to write it down. I happen to know how to read music and name chords and whatnot; however, I've never needed to. Guitars and bass have tabs, it is important for piano although piano is something you can do by ear easier (always the same tuning), and drums have no need to be done by anything but ear. If I'm in a room with someone, they can just show me what to play and if I'm online they'll simply send a tab. Music theory is NICE and may make things a bit simpler for two people that understand it, but it is not a necessity for those who are talented.
    SeanX3187
    theory is indeed very important, but i think it's possible to make decent music without it. i mean, i'm very educated in theory so it's the basis of all my work, but there are so many bands now that know nothing about theory but still make it big.
    oolon
    This is SO TRUE!!! It took me a LONG TIME to realize how important music theory and yes, even scales are! I wish some one could have convinced me years ago.
    Eebs
    If its so important, than why if you log into the Music theory portion of the forums is it COMPLETELY empty? Haha, I know its important, good article, but man, so little support for it, its hard to really get into.
    grille
    I completly agree. I know a little music theory. But im to lazy to learn more at the moment
    Ambarr
    HavokStrife wrote: ...it's a LOT easier to say, "Here, put this finger here, this one here.." Than it is for me to actually remember the name of some Cminor3rddimished7th/E/F/susG ass chord.
    Actually, remembering chord names is pretty easy when you understand how the are made.
    symbiont
    I've been playing for two years without any music theory. Actually, when I first started playing, I had a teacher, he didn't teach me any theory at all. After a few months I stopped and started to teach myself. A few months ago I started teaching myself piano and the first thing I did is learn the theory, I haven't applied it to guitar yet, at all. I still think about everything in tabs and 'feel' the timings rather than think about them in music theory. But even so, it's still good to know.
    izzizz
    true true. i played like for 2 years but i just learned music theory this year -_-
    Sudaka
    I agree. for music theory I recommend the Ultimate guide to guitar that's here in this website. made by ZeGuitarist. I found it useful
    HavokStrife
    After all, it's a lot easier to tell someone to play a CM9/F chord than it is to say "put your first finger here, and your second finger here," and so on.
    I don't wanna make it out like I'm a complete theory retard, just a slight one. It's really important to know scales and such, but, honesty, I'm a pretty simple person, and it's a LOT easier to say, "Here, put this finger here, this one here.." Than it is for me to actually remember the name of some Cminor3rddimished7th/E/F/susG ass chord.
    LaminatedPig
    Good article, you do kinda need theory to write anything much worth listening to. Not that this matters, but you said "a major ninth chord with the fourth in the bass"- if you're counting from the root of the chord, then ninth chords don't have a fourth. But yeah, +1
    pilgrimevan
    I'm a pretty simple person, and it's a LOT easier to say, "Here, put this finger here, this one here.." Than it is for me to actually remember the name of some Cminor3rddimished7th/E/F/susG ass chord.
    It might be easier to you depending on what you play and how weird of chords you are playing. Most of the people I know just play power chords. They don't understand the vast amount of chords you can use. This is why Dean DeLeo is one of my favorite guitarists, because he has so much more than just power chords. Anyway if you know your Major scale you don't have to remember those shapes, just be able to recognize them when someone says it to you and form them.
    sammo_boi
    the title didn't convince me and i expected to see a rating of 3, but it's a actually a convincing article
    vash_08
    ok....did you really need to make a whole article about it though???
    Lrn2play
    Only note on music theory is to not let it get to your head if your an aspiring guitar virtuoso. I was just getting into malmsteen, batio, ect and studied music theory and im forever cursed playing scales up and down because i tried to be the fastest at it at a point in my life.
    Inu!
    thats totally true. i have never study in a musician school or something, but after playing guitar for one year i decided to learn for myself some basic theory, and now its actually easier to write down my own music. great article
    ozy!d!ot
    very very true. a friend of mine said oh i dont do theory thats not for me. i just do it by feel. i replied with How do you know what to feel when you dont even know where everything is!? but yes he is ok. too bad hes wasting it not knowing how to solo out of nowhere. then again. i can figure out random chords these days. and i understand whats next in a chord progression all because i understand the theory and i know why and how it sounds good.
    Nulty16
    Its recommended that a musician learns music theory. It is also recommended you wear a seat belt in a car because if you crash....your air bag will probably kill you anyway lol i suppose we all communicate pretty well without language theory (grammar, etc.) i cant listen to someone with bad grammar though. it annoys me. i cant help it (off topic slightly with a bad analogy or two)
    tagyoureit
    Vocational vs. Formal training. Ok, so? Formal training is always more costly. Independent study takes time, which in theory could be used to earn money for which to pay for formal training.
    gizmodious
    At least get the basics: intervals, notes, chords. With just that jamming with other will be sooo much easier.
    bksmu
    Chords and musical notation are only a part of musical theory. IMHO, dynamics are one of the overlooked (and important) parts of theory. No matter what instrument you play, you are only one piece of the band puzzle. If you learn how you are supposed to fit into the sound of the band as a whole, you will sound much better.
    gasleak
    Uhh I write and play and it's all fine without most theory... Sure, rhythmic dictation and chords are theory, but the more complex theory such as scales etc are not really needed. Not meaning to bite you head off though, oscar.
    hd7373
    If you ever want to be a decent session musician or producer you should know theory.
    treefish
    Not that this matters, but you said "a major ninth chord with the fourth in the bass"- if you're counting from the root of the chord, then ninth chords don't have a fourth.
    It's a CMaj9/F, or a slash chord - the F is the bass and its the fourth in the Cmaj scale. Heaps of the stuff is this article are so true, thanks to oscar for writing it.
    JayLacelle
    HavokStrife wrote: I don't wanna make it out like I'm a complete theory retard, just a slight one. It's really important to know scales and such, but, honesty, I'm a pretty simple person, and it's a LOT easier to say, "Here, put this finger here, this one here.." Than it is for me to actually remember the name of some Cminor3rddimished7th/E/F/susG ass chord.
    what if you are a guitarist talking to a pianist/vocalist/anything else? if you tell someone at a piano to play a first string third fret they would laugh in your face XD
    cyborg_monkey
    HavokStrife wrote: I don't wanna make it out like I'm a complete theory retard, just a slight one. It's really important to know scales and such, but, honesty, I'm a pretty simple person, and it's a LOT easier to say, "Here, put this finger here, this one here.." Than it is for me to actually remember the name of some Cminor3rddimished7th/E/F/susG ass chord. what if you are a guitarist talking to a pianist/vocalist/anything else? if you tell someone at a piano to play a first string third fret they would laugh in your face XD[/quote] good point. theory might be slightly unnecessary if you play on your own, but with different instruments its a must, or you just make meaningless noise
    anonamouslyevil
    very true. i will definately be pointing my 15 year old guitar playing son down the path that leads to theory. i'm sure he'll gripe, but he'll thank me 5 or 10 years down the road. the guitar has been a incredible experience for me and my son. i'm very glad he picked it up.
    oscar7557
    Thanks for all the comments i think i'd like to address the idea of Envy that i think is apparent when speaking of music theory. what i mean by envy : the hatred of the good for being good. i doubt there is one person on here that would reject a full understanding of theory if it just fell in your lap. great music can be written at any level. but you limit yourself without deeper knowledge in any field. Rap would be a good example, although most of you hate it, the producers who write the "beats" and orchestrations are quite amazing, not just anyone can write captivating melodies that enslave the minds of the youth feel free to ask me any questions.