Why You Should Learn Music Theory

So what is music theory really? Very simply, music theory is the study of how to express yourself with music. It is a set of guidelines and rules that are made to help us understand the different ways to express emotions with sound.

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First, let me list a few myths about music theory.... 1. Music theory is only about memorizing and learning notes, key signatures, chords, etc. 2. I don't need music theory, because if I learn too much, I won't be able to express myself freely with music. 3. Theory is too much over analyzing, which isn't to make great music. Just sit down and write how you feel! 4. Music theory is too hard. In order to understand it, I need to be incredibly intelligent, attend a university, etc.. 5. Learning theory will take away from my playing time, and overall experience as a musician. So what is music theory really? Very simply, music theory is the study of how to express yourself with music. It is a set of guidelines and rules that are made to help us understand the different ways to express emotions with sound. Learning music theory is essential for musicians, and certainly any truly great musicians or artists. Have you ever listened to a beautiful song and wondered: "How can I write music like that?" The answer my friend is music theory. Music theory is not just learning how to build chords, learn intervals, learn key signatures, etc. Every single concept in music theory is an idea or foundation for learning how to express your thoughts with sound and music. Some people say that music theory is not necessary because if you analyze too much, then you are not feeling the music on an emotional level.. Or, that not all musicians truly have to know music theory to make good music. Well, here is the truth: The more you know about music theory, the more you can accurately express your specific ideas, thoughts, and emotions with music. Imagine if you wanted to start exercising to build your muscles and become stronger. You wouldn't say this to yourself: "I am passionate about having big muscles and exercise! But, I don't need to know anything about nutrition, general health, weight lifting routines, etc. That will only stop me from getting stronger. All I need to do is go to the gym to lift weights when I am in the right mood, and I will get the results I want." Do you see how this doesn't make sense? After a while, all musicians, songwriters, or potential songwriters run into a mental block where they are lacking information they need in order to bring their ideas to life through music. By learning music theory, you can learn how the various sounds and rhythms of music are used to create emotion in the listener. By learning the processes and patterns that are used in music theory, you can avoid musical "writer's block." Not only will music theory help you when you are writing music, it will help you get better when you are improvising on guitar and you have to think quickly about what notes to play next. Learning why certain notes make you feel a certain way will help you to make quicker decisions in any musical situation. One of the problems that people have is that they think that music theory is too hard. Anything you are learning for the first time might seem more difficult, but as you keep learning a practicing, it becomes more easier. You don't need to be super smart to learn music theory, just like you don't need to be super smart to learn how to drive, how to read, how to play a game, etc. Learning music theory also depends on your own personal goals. What do you want to fo with music?: Learn how to write songs, be a great and expressive composer, play songs for fun, master techniques, play in a band, teach guitar, teach music, etc? Music theory will help you in any of these situations. However, if you plan on becoming a great musician or musical artist, then a great knowledge of music theory must be a huge priority for you! It is always a good idea to write down your personal goals with music. Write down why you want to follow these goals. What do you want to do with music? How will you will feel when you reach your goals? How would you would feel if you didn't reach your goals? Answering these questions will help motivate you to do whatever it takes to get to where you want to be with music. I recommend that you come back to these written goals form time to time to keep yourself focused. Your goals may also change over time, so it is important to keep track of this as well. There is one thing that is very important that many people do not realize when they are wondering whether or not they should learn music theory...Music theory is fun! Remember, you have a passion for music. It is only natural to feel excited and stimulated by learningnew things. Also, learning is and always will be "work" to some degree. However, it always takes hard work and effort to be great at something, and whether you enjoy that work or dislike that work is what will determine how far you get with it. Don't just do the given exercises that you read, and be done. Do any exercises, and then make your own exercises....do them until they are second nature! Enjoy the learning process, and do every single exercise while keeping your music goals in mind to help you stay motivated.. Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with:
  • Understanding why your favorite musician used a certain chord in his or her song.
  • Writing your own songs.
  • Making nice sounding chord progressions.
  • Becoming a better at guitar or any instrument you play.
  • Understanding why music makes you feel a certain emotion.
  • Writing songs that are incredibly beautiful, catchy, happy, sad, and everything in between.
  • Filling in the different sections of a song.
  • Helping you get past writer's block; when you are stuck and you can't think of what to do next.
  • Understanding what notes to use when you play a melody over a chord progression. And much more!! So keeping all of these things in mind, what is stopping you from learning music theory right now? If you need to improve your music theory and composition knowledge, click here where we can begin working together today to help you express yourself better and become a more complete musician. Until next time, Ysrafel http://www.Ysrafel.com Ysrafel is a professional guitarist, musician, and recording artist who has written articles for many websites to help thousands of guitarists all over the world, and has created an ongoing instructional series titled The Electric Guitar Technique Master Series. In addition, he also teaches music theory, composition, and expression from his website. He is currently working on various musical projects including his upcoming guitar instrumental album which will be experimental progressive metal. To stay current with all of Ysrafel's events, visit his site at Ysrafel.com, and sign up for his free newsletter which contains very useful guitar playing information and advice to help you improve your guitar technique.
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      beelzybub
      Gradyogle wrote: Wow. This article is very opinionated. Opeth makes some of the most beautiful music in the world and he openly admits to not knowing a whole lot about music theory. And my ears can definitely tell me what sounds good and what doesn't when I'm playing an instrument. I don't need a scale or a key to tell me that it sounds beautiful. Obviously, some knowledge will help and the more you know, the more adaptable you will be. But since when is writing beautiful music about adaptability? You know what should be in bold after, "Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with"? Improvisation and sudden music change. Fascist.
      That comment was very opinionated. Don't give your opinion unless you have seen both sides. Notice that the people who support it all know music theory? that's because as soon as you dip your foot in and understand it your opinion will change. I have never heard someone who knew a decent amount of music theory say its unnecessary. Now I challenge you to learn a fair amount and explore it in your playing, and I mean a decent amount, then comment things like that.
      Ysrafel
      Gradyogle wrote: Wow. This article is very opinionated. Opeth makes some of the most beautiful music in the world and he openly admits to not knowing a whole lot about music theory. And my ears can definitely tell me what sounds good and what doesn't when I'm playing an instrument. I don't need a scale or a key to tell me that it sounds beautiful. Obviously, some knowledge will help and the more you know, the more adaptable you will be. But since when is writing beautiful music about adaptability? You know what should be in bold after, "Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with"? Improvisation and sudden music change. Fascist.
      Thank you for being honest with how you feel! I sincerely appreciate hearing feedback. However, I am not a fascist, and in fact am very anti fascism! If you disagree with what I have written, I wish you the best of luck with writing your own articles on the subject that explain it in a more factual based manner. Please let me know if you do so I can read it. If your article debunks any of my theories I will certainly take into account any errors I have made in my thinking process and correct them. Take care
      escher2003v2
      Gradyogle wrote: Wow. This article is very opinionated. Opeth makes some of the most beautiful music in the world and he openly admits to not knowing a whole lot about music theory. And my ears can definitely tell me what sounds good and what doesn't when I'm playing an instrument. I don't need a scale or a key to tell me that it sounds beautiful. Obviously, some knowledge will help and the more you know, the more adaptable you will be. But since when is writing beautiful music about adaptability? You know what should be in bold after, "Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with"? Improvisation and sudden music change. Fascist.
      Really dude? You completely missed the point, then. You can travel from your part-time job at McDonalds to your other job at Burger King on a bike, but I'll bet you do it in car, because it's a hell of a lot easier. Enjoy making life hard for yourself ! Ignorant prick.
      Gradyogle
      Wow. This article is very opinionated. Opeth makes some of the most beautiful music in the world and he openly admits to not knowing a whole lot about music theory. And my ears can definitely tell me what sounds good and what doesn't when I'm playing an instrument. I don't need a scale or a key to tell me that it sounds beautiful. Obviously, some knowledge will help and the more you know, the more adaptable you will be. But since when is writing beautiful music about adaptability? You know what should be in bold after, "Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with"? Improvisation and sudden music change. Fascist.
      Suav Nitebeest
      Gradyogle wrote: Wow. This article is very opinionated. Opeth makes some of the most beautiful music in the world and he openly admits to not knowing a whole lot about music theory. And my ears can definitely tell me what sounds good and what doesn't when I'm playing an instrument. I don't need a scale or a key to tell me that it sounds beautiful. Obviously, some knowledge will help and the more you know, the more adaptable you will be. But since when is writing beautiful music about adaptability? You know what should be in bold after, "Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with"? Improvisation and sudden music change. Fascist.
      Yeah, and I'm sure Debussy and Stravinsky didn't know anything about theory either. Don't dismiss it just because one guitarist doesn't follow it and that's good enough for you.
      bender424
      I'd like to add that the people who say ''I do it only by ear'' are kinda dumb. Do they really think that those who know theory won't listen to what they play ?
      btbamaddict
      MrReMo wrote: I think it's a personal quest, music theory. From where I stand, music theory goes beyond the superfluous to analyse the connection between harmony, rythm and melody; as a hole embracing a new kind of thinking, layered and symbiotic. The concept of theory advocates books, closed-shell minded study and all of that crap. No way. It's you that concentrates on the medium instead of looking right through it and reach the climax of this: your objective. The blackhole codename "Objective". Do you want to be an instrument? Do you want to be a composer? Do you want to be a full powered musician? Do you want to copycat? At the end, if you answer the question, you'll understand music theory and what's its use in your way. If you want to be an instrument (guitarrist, bassist, whatever) music theory will help to understand the way your instrument works, the way harmony and melody work together, so then you can execute smoothly what're being told to execute. If you want to be only a composer, music theory is your light inside the dark dungeon. Of course you can write whatever you like, but if you're really intrested about forms, and the whole concept of theory; USE IT LIKE YOU WANT, it's not something that'll DELETE your brain cells and put you into the mental state of an ant. That's because you USE theory, theory doesn't use YOU. You USE language, it doesn't use YOU. It's the medium, not the objective, not the final outcome. If you want to be a full powered musician, you USE music theory and you FUCK it's rules, you go over them, you twist, rape, turn, explode, implode, and mezmerize musical theory as your objective goes beyond the normal, comercial paradox of music. MTV doesn't like it? I DON'T CARE. Your friends find it weird? I DON'T CARE. My objective is to turn upside down music theory, know it, dance with it and then BAM, use what I find useful, twist what I don't find quite sure about and rape those comercial intro-verse-chorus-verse-outro + pentatonic solo in C major shitload. I want to see how far music goes.
      how did u write what i was thinking?!
      vonroden
      If it sounds good it's most likely good too knowing theory have HELPED me alot, knowin' theory helps me communicate with other musicans if i say like; hey lets jam over F-blues/Bb-Blues Thanks to theory i can figure out what i can play as Bassist I can improvise walking bass pretty good thanks to theory knowledge over the Common progression like I VI IV V(7) last but not least i want to quotes something Victor Wooten said in a video on Utube "You're NEVER more than a half-step from a Good note" "There are no black keys that doesn't have white key beside it"
      MrJulius
      One overlooked thing about theory is it makes it extremely easy to communicate musical ideas to others if they are familiar with theory themselves.
      intheshadowplay
      yeah, i gotta say, for quite a while ( the first five years or so i played), theory was like a dirty word to me. i'd played long enough to know how intervals sound and what interval would produce the effect i wanted, but when i started learning scales, it really opened things open. im still learning of course, but i have to agree that theory can be a huge help. not a neccessity for everyone, but a huge help to those who give it a shot. that said, enough with the advertising articles!
      Paul Tauterouff
      beelzybub wrote: Gradyogle wrote: Wow. This article is very opinionated. Opeth makes some of the most beautiful music in the world and he openly admits to not knowing a whole lot about music theory. And my ears can definitely tell me what sounds good and what doesn't when I'm playing an instrument. I don't need a scale or a key to tell me that it sounds beautiful. Obviously, some knowledge will help and the more you know, the more adaptable you will be. But since when is writing beautiful music about adaptability? You know what should be in bold after, "Here is a small list of things that music theory will help you with"? Improvisation and sudden music change. Fascist. That comment was very opinionated. Don't give your opinion unless you have seen both sides. Notice that the people who support it all know music theory? that's because as soon as you dip your foot in and understand it your opinion will change. I have never heard someone who knew a decent amount of music theory say its unnecessary. Now I challenge you to learn a fair amount and explore it in your playing, and I mean a decent amount, then comment things like that.
      +1! Music theory gives you options you didn't even know were available to you.
      MealsOnWheels7
      Umm...I don't know about you guys, but I'm starting to get sick to death of these articles. There's only one I remember, but still: rehashing bad.
      beelzybub
      Thank you so much. I am so glad you posted this, I get those myths from everyone because I'm a student and they seem to think my studies are ruining my artistic ability without even listening to anything I have wrote. I will show this to my students as well, maybe they will see the light in this.
      IAmPat
      Does anyone know how much his lessons cost online? It says he accepts paypal, but doesn't specify how much dough.
      chrisweyers
      Great article! Very informative, this should definitely motivate everyone to begin studying theory
      Russguitar79
      I have been playing guitar for about 20 years, but I have never really thought too much about why everything works. I just go by what sounds good. This really opens up a new world for me..I think it could really help out. Thanks for the eye opener bro!
      basilbrush
      If he doesn't specify the price, DO NOT PAY! you will get ripped of, no question. This site is full of good lessons on every bit of theory
      concho_valen
      wooooow i guess i forgot something:$ ok is time to learn a little bit about music theory
      Ysrafel
      MrReMo wrote: I think it's a personal quest, music theory. From where I stand, music theory goes beyond the superfluous to analyse the connection between harmony, rythm and melody; as a hole embracing a new kind of thinking, layered and symbiotic. The concept of theory advocates books, closed-shell minded study and all of that crap. No way. It's you that concentrates on the medium instead of looking right through it and reach the climax of this: your objective. The blackhole codename "Objective".....
      Super post my friend! You are correct, music is an expression of the person making the music. You should write it for the things you would like to express, but not in order to impress an idea of music "is." To fully understand how to create music, you need to understand yourself first. What do you want to do with music (is the question)? Music theory,form, composition, analysis, these are all merely tools of expression. The more you understand these things, the better you will be able to fully express yourself with music. These things do not define objective "rules" to make everyone feel the same when they hear your music, but rather guidelines for musicians to help give them different options for ways to express themselves. Remember, the more you know, the more potential power you have in your music! Good luck.
      MrReMo
      I think it's a personal quest, music theory. From where I stand, music theory goes beyond the superfluous to analyse the connection between harmony, rythm and melody; as a hole embracing a new kind of thinking, layered and symbiotic. The concept of theory advocates books, closed-shell minded study and all of that crap. No way. It's you that concentrates on the medium instead of looking right through it and reach the climax of this: your objective. The blackhole codename "Objective". Do you want to be an instrument? Do you want to be a composer? Do you want to be a full powered musician? Do you want to copycat? At the end, if you answer the question, you'll understand music theory and what's its use in your way. If you want to be an instrument (guitarrist, bassist, whatever) music theory will help to understand the way your instrument works, the way harmony and melody work together, so then you can execute smoothly what're being told to execute. If you want to be only a composer, music theory is your light inside the dark dungeon. Of course you can write whatever you like, but if you're really intrested about forms, and the whole concept of theory; USE IT LIKE YOU WANT, it's not something that'll DELETE your brain cells and put you into the mental state of an ant. That's because you USE theory, theory doesn't use YOU. You USE language, it doesn't use YOU. It's the medium, not the objective, not the final outcome. If you want to be a full powered musician, you USE music theory and you FUCK it's rules, you go over them, you twist, rape, turn, explode, implode, and mezmerize musical theory as your objective goes beyond the normal, comercial paradox of music. MTV doesn't like it? I DON'T CARE. Your friends find it weird? I DON'T CARE. My objective is to turn upside down music theory, know it, dance with it and then BAM, use what I find useful, twist what I don't find quite sure about and rape those comercial intro-verse-chorus-verse-outro + pentatonic solo in C major shitload. I want to see how far music goes.
      Juninho2v
      Oh man, is it such a sin that when Tom Hess starts writing really helpful nice articles another shameless advertiser appears?