Why should I learn music theory?
This article originally appeared at https://blog.doitloud.in/music-theory/
There is a startling amount of resemblance that musicians share with some animals, in their resemblance and their mannerisms. Take a parrot musician for an example; A parrot musician is a person who has remarkable memory, can learn everything note by note and can reproduce everything perfectly spot on. Just like the bird in question which repeats everything their master speaks to it, a parrot player generally follows the most experienced player in the band, his eyes going from one chord change to the other.
A parrot player hence lets others people do all the talking, and tends to hide behind the shadows of the spotlight that falls on musicians, he thinks are more talented than him. They have fast fingers, a rich repertoire of licks, rhythm patterns and solo patterns but, once again these are copied note by note and/or are just a result of them modifying these patterns to suit their needs.
However, if you are truthful and classify yourself in the category of parrot players or like to remain delusional all the while considering yourself to be a suave and ninja like cat player, who can go in and out of solos without skipping a beat and sweating your forehead, you can not deny the fact that Music Theory can make you better than you are right now.
A leopard can’t change his spots but you can change, easily through big dosages of music knowledge and a new found understanding of intricacies and the basic building blocks of our musical comprehension.
Although it’s true that a number of bands, and an unbelievable number of influential musicians are self taught and some of them advocate the idea of creativity over rote learning, I firmly believe that ignoring the single truth of music, the theory would be like chopping off your own feet. Just like physics and mathematics, if the world somehow destroys itself, I’m sure the next crop of humans that pop on the surface of the earth will discover the same rules that we have been following for so long. The circle of fifths would just be called something different, the name of the notes would be the different but after many exhausting centuries, trial and errors and scientific experiments, I reckon we would arrive at the same source of truth again, The Music Theory.
Don’t you think it is better to learn what has been already discovered and documented rather than reinventing the wheel. And it’s so much easier to break the rules once you already know all of them really well(Take cues from the latest recent discovery of gravitational waves and how it differs from our understanding of gravity).
We will be using Music Theory as an umbrella term, encompassing tools, techniques, rules and sometimes even basic music common sense to try to convince you why you should learn music theory.
For a simple music lover
A lot of music fanatics and amateur musicians freak out when I tell them, that learning the basics of music theory can make their music listening experience a tad bit more interesting and rewarding. Though it ain’t mandatory, but even a cursory knowledge of how music works can lead to a better understanding, and a fulfilling listen. You begin to hear the bass guitar riffs that were once hidden behind the imposing wall of sound, you begin to identify changes in time signature, introduction of syncopated poly-rhythmic patterns, changes in scale modes,and helps you appreciate the effort that goes into making songs and creating new melodies.
The sense of superiority you get is worth the effort you put in learning music theory, trust me!
For a budding Musician & an aspiring band
(insert random ramblings about sheet music notation)
Jokes aside,a budding musician should have in his arsenal, the ability to read and understand standard sheet music. If you are a guitarist you probably know what tabs are. But easy as they are to read and understand, they disappointingly fall short of the freedom and the flexibility the staff provides. Unlike tabs where just notes are mentioned on a guitar fretboard and is quite restrictive in terms of the feeling that needs to be expressed through those notes, staff is more descriptive and more of a universal language than tabs are.
Western Music is built around the concept of rhythm, its subdivisions and life becomes much easier if you know how to clap any rhythm back to yourself. Just like rhythm, where a strong sense can help you anticipate what your next move should be , a sense and proper understanding of scales, modes, chord construction can help you get out on stage and rip that fury laden guitar solo you always wanted to play.
Music makes you deconstruct your ideas in a meaningful fashion and gives name to abstract feelings. Have you ever composed two different songs with different chords and noticed that they ‘feel’ the same? A little music knowledge would tell you that the chords A minor, F major, C major, G major are nothing but the I-V-vi-IV progression, and the song that you made using F — Dm — Bb — C chords follow the same progression.
The 4 chords of pop
”Six and one of half a dozen
Black guitars and plastic blues.
Hide behind a wall of nothing
Nothing said and nothing new.
Four chords that made a million.”
— Porcupine Tree, “Four Chords That Made A Million”
Music has its own language, and you need to learn it to speak and converse with a real musician. Can you imagine a chinese man, an spanish man and an english man sitting in a room and trying to have a conversation without knowing one common language that everyone understands? The conversation would be fruitless and futile, right!
Hence with music theory , goes away the need of guesswork and the extra effort spent in memorizing patterns; You just need to know the key your band is playing in, and you are good to go.
Some musicians have ready made excuses about a lot of topics, and music theory is one of those topics, sadly. I’ve heard musicians say, “I play in a sufi rock band, I don’t need to learn the so called Western music theory”, missing the basic point; That music theory is the single source of truth.
Be it hindi rock, pop, reggae, rap or metal, Music theory stays the same.
For example ,here are some ragas that usually on the descent are very similar to many of the modes and scales we use in “Western Music”
1. Rag Bhimpalasi (ascending) C-Eb-F-G-Bb-C (descending) C-Bb-A-G-F-Eb-D-C
This is similar to the minor Pentatonic ascending and the Dorian scale descending.
2. Rag Bihag (ascending) C-E-F-G-B-C (descending) C-B-A-G-F#-E-D-C
This is similar to both the plain Major scale and the Lydian scale on the descent.
3. Rag Kirvani (ascending) C-D-Eb-G-Ab-B-C (descending) C-B-Ab-G-F-Eb-D-C
This resembles the Harmonic minor scale.
4. Rag Tilang (ascending) C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (descending) C-Bb-A-G-F-E-D-C
This one is the Major scale going up and the Mixolydian scale coming down.
5. Rag Pilu (ascending) C- Eb- F-G-B-C (descending) C-Bb-Ab-G-F-Eb-D-C
Similar to Melodic minor going up and Aeolian on the way down.
So, I think that you get the idea.
Though, you probably don’t need music theory to make musical masterpieces, a vast array of songs prove this point, it can help you lift that mysterious aura around the concepts of song writing and construction.
I could go on and on, turning this small article into a full blown Phd thesis, but the simple point I want to address is that music theory makes your life and music journey easy and smooth.
If you are writing music you love and don’t have a desire to learn about theory, no one’s stopping or criticizing you. But if you’re curious to learn about the depth of the musical universe, give it shot and see what you might discover.