What "Music Theory" REALLY Is... imho...

walter01

Strat-Talker
Jan 28, 2022
158
United Kingdom

So you learned how to play music completely on your own without any outside influences?

Never talked to nobody? Never read a book on the subject? Figured out music by 100% osmosis?


Yes mate. In the 50’s and 60’s when I started, there were no books, internet or any crutches like you lot get these days. I found an old trashed guitar in a house we moved to. My dad rebuilt it and put ordinary string on it. No guitar strings readily available until much later on. Just before Elvis came out, my parents bought me a Hofner President (which I still have) I heard Les Paul on my dad’s record player. Impossible to copy that! (Try Little Rock Getaway!) So, I was on my own. I formed my own chords, which I still use. I never learned music theory, which in my opinion is the written notes on and in between the ledger lines. Certainly I listened to music. How can you not? In those days, guitar music was anathema to most grown ups! Guitars were taboo in my school. Since then, I have played all over the world. I was certainly influenced by various artists, but never learned to read or ha a lesson. As I say, I am 78 now and still rockin’!
 

JustABluesGuy

Senior Stratmaster
Sep 3, 2016
1,883
Somewhere
"Let's say I don't think of theory in terms of "rules" but rather as "explanations".

This is also the way I look at it, though I was originally taught it as rules.


But if you play chords AND change tonal centers, you need to use the tuning that has proven to work for this. 12 tone ET.

Let's say that I'm sorry so many of you folks have experienced music theory as a set of "rules" or a fixed thing that seemingly limits creativity.
I experienced this in my youth during piano lessons. There were lots of rules and such. Later, when I took up guitar I found that I tended to prefer self-taught players, like the old delta blues guys.

I also played with a neighbor who was a classically trained cellist for the Houston Symphony Orchestra. We were going to just jam on guitar. He had a few songs memorized, but when it came time to improve, he just couldn’t do it.

I noticed a what seemed like a correlation from other experiences. It seems that most classically train musicians are taught to sight read music and to play it “as written” since orchestras don’t often do much improving. I even had other players come out of the woodwork when I took up the guitar. I had at least two guitar playing coworkers tell me a bunch of theory they said I MUST know. Unfortunately I wasn’t advance enough to understand yet. The players who suggested it seemed to be doing so more to brag about their knowledge, than to be helpful. One was downright condescending. While fairly skilled on the instrument, neither seemed to be very creative, and I didn’t find their playing inspirational (or very creative) so I wouldn’t want to (and didn’t) emulate them.

Those are the limited, anecdotal experiences that long gave me (and maybe others) the impression that classical music training and creativity are “inversely” proportional.

As I stated before, I find music theory fascinating now that I have found a personal need for it to understand music better. I was actually an anti-theory guy for a long time, and now I finally find it useful and interesting. I think my disconnect was between “classical” musical instruction (which in my experience emphasized accuracy over creativity) and the theory itself.

Anyway, that’s my long winded way of agreeing with you that learning theory doesn’t squash creativity. The fact the my personal guitar heroes barely knew any theory and my personal experiences.

Music theory was presented to me originally as rules, to be followed “to the letter” or that was the way it seemed. I think the old lady who taught me thought of them that way.

I’m older and a tiny bit wiser now.
 

stratology

Strat-Talker
Apr 8, 2007
372
Ireland
I experienced this in my youth during piano lessons. There were lots of rules and such. Later, when I took up guitar I found that I tended to prefer self-taught players, like the old delta blues guys.

OK, this goes beyond just music theory, and into the area of teaching and learning in general.

I've come to a point where I think that figuring out things for yourself helps more, and means deeper and more meaningful learning, than taking lessons from any teacher, video or book can provide.

I've had to unlearn many things I learned from teachers, things that sounded perfectly reasonable at the time, because I found different ways that work better for me.

There is a lot of 'noise' when it comes to learning resources. Lots and lots of information, and a lot of information that is not very good, and not very useful. It gives you something to do, and something to guilt trip yourself over - 'I really should learn that'. But no more than that.

There are a few exceptions - Mick Goodrick's book 'The Advancing Guitarist' is brilliant beyond description - but it is one of the few learning resources that encourage discovery and experimentation.


In a recent interview, Steve Vai mentioned that the way to get very good at something is to see what you're passionate about - as opposed to what you think you 'should' learn - and dig deeper, and enjoy spending all the time on the things that you like to play and learn.
 

AxemanVR

I appreciate, therefore I am...
Silver Member
Feb 8, 2014
5,888
Minnesota USA
Yes mate. In the 50’s and 60’s when I started, there were no books, internet or any crutches like you lot get these days. I found an old trashed guitar in a house we moved to. My dad rebuilt it and put ordinary string on it. No guitar strings readily available until much later on. Just before Elvis came out, my parents bought me a Hofner President (which I still have) I heard Les Paul on my dad’s record player. Impossible to copy that! (Try Little Rock Getaway!) So, I was on my own. I formed my own chords, which I still use. I never learned music theory, which in my opinion is the written notes on and in between the ledger lines. Certainly I listened to music. How can you not? In those days, guitar music was anathema to most grown ups! Guitars were taboo in my school. Since then, I have played all over the world. I was certainly influenced by various artists, but never learned to read or ha a lesson. As I say, I am 78 now and still rockin’!

You are absolutely unbelievable…


 

kilroy

Strat-Talker
Jun 21, 2011
150
PA
Then you tell me...

Give a kid who has never played a musical instrument in their entire life a guitar and an electric tuner and have them tune that guitar.

No advice.

No Internet.

How do you suppose they would start?

They'd probably ask you for some more information, don't you think? And you'd most likely start with one of the "E" strings I'd guess.

Where did the concept of "E" come from?

Tip: It comes from what is universally accepted in Western circles as "Music Theory"...


`
Man, you're gonna beat this to death aren't you? Yeah they'd ask for more information - assuming they realized it wasn't in tune, that is. They'd ask how to tune it, and I'd say connect it to this tuner thing, then twist that knob for the fattest string whichever way you need to make the tuner say E. Absolutely no theory involved.

Sure there's theory behind it, but you don't need to know anything about it, nor will you learn anything about it, by simply tuning a guitar. OK, I'll give you this - the kid will learn that such a thing as octaves exist when he finds out that two strings have the same name.
 

kilroy

Strat-Talker
Jun 21, 2011
150
PA
Actually the tuning of guitars is based on the lute and 4 course renaissance guitar.

We are only taught it because it works for the music we play. However, the development of the tuning was definitely influenced by theory.

The oud, the instrument that the lute was developed from, had a tuning of mostly if not all 4ths.

The lute, vihuela and renaissance guitar all share tunings of 4ths with ONE major 3rd.

This is to accommodate the chords used in European music.
Since I wasn't there, I can't say for sure that those tunings didn't rely on music theory, but neither were you. They could have just as easily tuned the strings to 5ths, but that would be awkward because to hit an A or Bb you'd have to use the 5th and 6th frets. I believe they used 4ths because it was eminently practical and obvious that this is the best way, and if we had 7 fingers on our hands instead of 5, I'd bet that guitars would be tuned to 5ths because we'd be able to play the 5th and 6th frets.

All I'm saying is that just because you can see the music theory in the way it's laid out, that doesn't mean it was the theory that drove the design. It's the classic difference between designers and modelers. Designers will draw a design using their knowledge of the theory until they have a design they're 99% sure will work, and then build a prototype, while a modeler will just pick up the materials and start building, refining the model every time he hits a problem until he has one that works. I believe the guitar and its ancestors were designed by modelers.
 

AxemanVR

I appreciate, therefore I am...
Silver Member
Feb 8, 2014
5,888
Minnesota USA
Man, you're gonna beat this to death aren't you?

Listen Killjoy,

You beat your drum to death your way and I’ll beat my drum to death my way.

*Disclaimer: No drums were harmed in the making of this commentary

 
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davidKOS

not posting these days
May 28, 2012
16,818
California
Since I wasn't there, I can't say for sure that those tunings didn't rely on music theory, but neither were you.
No I was not around in the Middle Ages when European fretted instruments were developed, but I've read many reliable books about the subject and taken many classes and workshops presented by people that know more about it than you or I do.
 

kilroy

Strat-Talker
Jun 21, 2011
150
PA
13th is the octave of 1st. I assume you own a guitar and count the frets :)
Octaves can be denoted by a letter either in absolute terms (perhaps based on piano range?) or specific to the instrument.
"Pretty damned well" is not something that comes to mind when I see people argue on multiple pages whether a song is in 3/4 or 6/8 or the conundrum of 'what key Sweet Home Alabama is in' warrants whole articles and youtube videos. You don't have to be an coder to see that a piece of software is glitchy.


Thanks for providing illustration to my earlier "secret handshake" analogy. This 'I put 10,000 hours into mastering this cypher, why should others have it easy?' mentality is exactly why a flawed system remains dominant.
Yes, you're right. Actually I was distracted by the 8 note scale in which the 8th note is the octave and wrongly applied it to the 12 note chromatic scale. As for arguing about whether a song is 3/4 or 6/8, that is not the fault of the notation system. There's a clear difference between them - does it have 2 beats or 3? If you can't tell, it doesn't really matter, and if you can tell, then it's up to the notater to know what he's doing. If someone writes "your" when he meant "you're", that's not the fault of the English language, it's the fault of the writer for not knowing the difference.
 

kilroy

Strat-Talker
Jun 21, 2011
150
PA
No I was not around in the Middle Ages when European fretted instruments were developed, but I've read many reliable books about the subject and taken many classes and workshops presented by people that know more about it than you or I do.
Fair enough. This was fun. Thanks.
 

Roger66

Senior Stratmaster
Jun 21, 2021
1,268
Port Hueneme
"And I think that is why music is an ART and not a Science."

Well, I think it's both

But overall I see where you're coming from.

Let's say I don't think of theory in terms of "rules" but rather as "explanations".

As far as tuning and temperament, if you don't play chords and tunes that shift tonal centers, than I'd rather play in some of the non 12T ET tunings you mention....like I have with early music, Middle Eastern music, etc. folk music that stays in a couple of closely related keys...church organ with a special historical tuning. and so on...

But if you play chords AND change tonal centers, you need to use the tuning that has proven to work for this. 12 tone ET.

Let's say that I'm sorry so many of you folks have experienced music theory as a set of "rules" or a fixed thing that seemingly limits creativity.

I've always found that knowing more about music theory, history, and performance practice has helped my creativity.

I guess I shouldn't be on a rock guitar forum, except that I play rock guitar.

I'll sign off on this one; have fun!
Thank you! And yes, I should have said guidelines. Rules are meant to be broken anyway. Many great musicians have a great grasp of theory, but would not know a deceptive cadence from a Picardy 3rd by name, even though they know exactly how to use them, having never learned to read music or learn theory. Some of the musicians I like best didn't learn that way, and are unencumbered by 'the rules' which in my opinion beg to be broken anyway. I could go on, but my point was only that knowing how to tune a guitar has nothing to do with knowing music theory. Amen. (or IV I in theory! Lol.)
 

Roger66

Senior Stratmaster
Jun 21, 2021
1,268
Port Hueneme
I h
Fun fact - there is actually a key of H. And H minor - like in Bach's 'H-Moll Messe'.

In German theory - many well known classical composers were German - the note H is the same as B in English, and the note B is the same as Bb in English. So the H Dur (=major) scale has 5 sharps.

C major scale for German classical composers spells C D E F G A H C.

Circle of Fifth - Quintenzirkel in German:

41a43603e2cc85dd268a0bb46756fef8.png
I have a clock like that!
 

stratology

Strat-Talker
Apr 8, 2007
372
Ireland
Many great musicians have a great grasp of theory, but would not know a deceptive cadence from a Picardy 3rd by name, even though they know exactly how to use them, having never learned to read music or learn theory. Some of the musicians I like best didn't learn that way, and are unencumbered by 'the rules' which in my opinion beg to be broken anyway.

I remember Pat Metheny telling that's how he learned. He knew exactly what a symmetrical diminished scale is, how to play it all over the fretboard, how it sounds, how to use it in context - but didn't learn it's called 'symmetrical diminished' until he went to college. Because he learned it by listening and exploring.
 

Roger66

Senior Stratmaster
Jun 21, 2021
1,268
Port Hueneme
Fun fact - there is actually a key of H. And H minor - like in Bach's 'H-Moll Messe'.

In German theory - many well known classical composers were German - the note H is the same as B in English, and the note B is the same as Bb in English. So the H Dur (=major) scale has 5 sharps.

C major scale for German classical composers spells C D E F G A H C.

Circle of Fifth - Quintenzirkel in German:

41a43603e2cc85dd268a0bb46756fef8.png
I was taught in theory class, lol, that the 'H' came from Bach wanting to use the letters in his name to form a chord progression. I had no idea that it had caught on in Germany!
If that's what really happened.
I don't know.
 

stratology

Strat-Talker
Apr 8, 2007
372
Ireland
I was taught in theory class, lol, that the 'H' came from Bach wanting to use the letters in his name to form a chord progression. I had no idea that it had caught on in Germany!
If that's what really happened.
I don't know.

I seem to faintly remember that it had something to do with how the letters were drawn, with h being the same as a squarely drawn b with the bottom line missing.



Edit:
so that was, kind of, half right, or maybe mostly wrong.. :)

In the Middle Ages, there were two variants of the note, 'b rotundum' and 'b quadratum', so one b drawn round, which is Bb today, and one note drawn square, which became H, because that was the closest symbol in print presses of the time. The B (meaning Bb) note was introduced to avoid a tritone between F and B in diatonic parallel 4ths movements, and replace it with the more consonant F to Bb (perfect 4th).
 
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walter01

Strat-Talker
Jan 28, 2022
158
United Kingdom
You are absolutely unbelievable…


Not really unbelievable mate. Did I detact a note of sarcasm!? Ha ha! There are plenty of old guys like me keeping the rock and roll faith! Photos. Me playing in SW France. Me blowin’ in Lanzarote. My first real electric. A Futurama 3 1961, like George played. The 1954 Hofner Senator my mother bought me. Original case. My bent first finger, right hand, from picking a Tele for years! Beware out there. This is what guitars will do to you! Me on the right, in the Royal Navy, playing for the Sheikh of Bahrain. Me in the late 70’s. Les Paul Recording. Unbelievable but true mate.
 

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AxemanVR

I appreciate, therefore I am...
Silver Member
Feb 8, 2014
5,888
Minnesota USA
Unbelievable but true mate.
`
I recall you mentioning playing "chords".

Did you invent the concept of a "chord" yourself (as it relates specifically to music) or did you acquire that term from somewhere else at some point? (that was a rhetorical question of course).

What I find to be most believable is that you did indeed acquire the term "chord" from somewhere other than yourself (as well as the "concept" of what it is), so it is as clear as the azure sky on an unfoggy UK day that you did in fact learn some music theory along the way - perhaps not a lot - but at least "some".

Btw, music theory is musical knowledge that has been passed on, whether it is written down or not (how the knowledge is passed on is irrelevant)...


`
 
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