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Is Music Theory Useful?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Mar 29, 2004.


  1. Davehenning

    Davehenning

    Aug 9, 2001
    Los Angeles
    Wes Montgomery was a player who next to nothing about theory. He had great ears, a great memory and worked his tail off to learn how to produce the sounds he was hearing.

    Pat Metheny and Wynton Marsailis are extremely knowledgable with regards to theory and application of it. They also have great ears and like Wes, both worked hard to get to their level of improvising. But unlike Wes, Metheny and Wynton used theory extensively.

    Different approaches to get the same result which is to make great music.

    Not every player needs theory, but most do. I definitely use it and need it. When I hear something I really like, I don't care if the player making those sounds knows the name of whatever chord they are playing. I just care that the music sounds great.
     
  2. I love thinking about this stuff and I'm with Howard on this one...

    Music is sound and the best sensory mechanism we have for making quality decisions on sound is our hearing- it's all about your ears. Unfortunately, for some including me our brains aren't naturally tuned to understanding what we hear (ie what note/chord did I just hear and what is likely to follow)

    Theory provides a way to organize sounds in a way to devise other sounds without really knowing how it will sound before we play it. Once I try to play the new concept, my ears get a chance to learn how the concept sounds. After I practice the concept enough, my ears can short circuit my brain and my hands know what to do.

    A good example is being able to hear a string of notes (a sound) built from an altered chord/scale. Most people raised in the western culture don't hear that sound as familiar, but its pretty fundamental to the jazz sound. A great teacher of mine showed me what an altered scale is and how to apply it in a few places, and then I began to hear it in other people's playing. Now I'm beginning to 'naturally' play the sound.

    So the whole point is theory is a great guide, but unless you hear what you intend to play you are just implementing a nifty algorithm and not honestly creating something from your brain/soul/psyche/heart.

    BTW, I really enjoy this forum! This is my first post here so don't slam me too hard... ;)
     
  3. I'm not entirely sure of what you're saying, but I'm inclined to think that musics of greater complexity (1) were begat by musicians (people) who were hearing it that way. Equal temperment was developed by musicians who understood theory (also people) as a system to accomodate those musics. Once the system was in place, it allowed for music to evolve into a still higher degree of complexity(2), but that music(2) didn't evolve from the system, it evolved from the music(1) which originally inspired the system.

    So, I guess I am of the opinion that music came first, then theory.
     
  4. "Well, I have no idea what kind of music I like, but I can definately tell the difference between good and bad." - ???
     
  5. tkarter

    tkarter

    Jan 1, 2003
    kansas
    Music had to come first or there would be no need for theory. However to me there would be no musical instrument that could produce more than a single note of music without a theoretical progression of known sounds.

    This is one very interesting discussion.

    I might add for music to be passed on theory becomes necessary as well. If it can't be written then there is no way I could hear Bethovan to learn it.

    I began making music by reading it. Have learned little of what I know by hearing it but since I started hearing music and recreating what I hear I have gotten more theory under my belt than I ever did just reading. I am not a great muscian and rightfully who should care what I think. But I am sure all the greats started some where and most likely experienced and overcame the dilemmas us lesser folks experience.

    The word theory itself describes yet another dillema and even more discussion.

    tk
     
  6. You make an interesting point, but it is not necessary to write things down, even though it does make it much easier for musicians to communicate with each other. Indian classical music is an oral tradition where everything is learned by rote, i.e. nothing is written down…

    - Wil
     
  7. tkarter

    tkarter

    Jan 1, 2003
    kansas
    Very good point. I hadn't considered a society that evolved without paper.


    tk
     
  8. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Sorry to be bursting balloons here, but Giant Steps was lifted from the release of Have You Met Miss Jones, written in the early 1930's.
     
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Isn't the point that only the bridge to this tune was major 3rd key centre movement, but that Coltrane took this "theoretical" concept and applied it to whole tunes like Giant Steps.

    So, of course - there is a whole chapter on this in "The Jazz Theory Book"

    So maybe what Howard is alluding to, is that Coltrane took a "music theory" concept and created a more "challenging" style of music, by re-harmonising standards like Body and Soul, How high the Moon etc. using major 3rd key centre motion ?
     
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think it's been mentioned before in discussions here that strictly speaking, it's not necessary to write things down but it makes the whole process hugely easier and quicker, the more people are involved.

    Indian groups are often no more than 2 or 3 people - so learning by ear/orally isn't that hard.

    But if you had to do that with a (c.) 120-piece orchestra, for complex works like "the Rite of Spring" or Messiaen's "Turangalila Symphonie" for example - these works would just never get perfromed.

    Can you imagine a conductor/composer humming or describing 90 minutes of music to each individual...how long would that take and would it sound anything like it was intended to? ;)

    Having said that - I have been involved in about 100 people - Jazz students, learning and performing and arrangement of Don Cherry's "Mopti" entirely by ear, with nothing written down - which was an interesting experience...and very enjoyable!! :)
     
  11. Would it be more frustrating to learn music theory and never use it or to never have bothered and suddenly find you need it ?



    .
     
  12. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I would even buy the idea that whoever came up with equal temperament did so because he/she was a roadie who got tired of hauling so many instruments around and had a good ear.

    Maybe then after all the fun to get that keyboard to sound decent in at least a few more keys, he/she worked backwards to some "rule" to talk about at an after party.
     
  13. I think it's more frustrating to not learn it then find you need it. If you find yourself learning all of this theory, it will only serve you as a musician no matter what kind of situation you play in. The important part is learning theory as a language, if you learn this stuff on your instrument it will make alot of sense and help you learn your instrument.
     
  14. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Nonsense. A device is a device is a device. Repeating its use is as old as music.

    I have no idea what you're talking about. But you're going to explain to me with specific chord citations and recording info how Trane reharmonized How High the Moon with major 3rd key centre motion, aren't you?
     
  15. Lovebown

    Lovebown

    Jan 6, 2001
    Sweden
    Sure the idea probably came partly from this tune, but Coltrane took it to a whole new level. Maybe he wasn't the first to improvise on these changes, but how he did it was just amazing.
    And funny thing is Giant Steps was just one of the "innovations" in his career. If his career had stopped after the release of that record he would still be considered a great musician today...

    /lovebown
     
  16. I'm just going to throw my 2wo cents in without reading any of the other posts...

    Is music theory important? Well when you learn to read a book, is it important to know what the sounds you are saying mean?

    I think this is a really good analogy. Music is a language that exists outside of any theory or notation. It's pure thought or energy as perceived by the brain, and it triggers all sorts of stuff.

    The word love, or the word rain can trigger all differnt kinds of emotions, thoughts and smells.

    A V chord can do the same, but it's true meaning comes in context.
    Now you can speak without ever going to grammer school, and you can know intuitivly that a certain sentance will end with a certain set of words. Knowing grammer can allow you to know the structure of a sentance, and appreciate a "poorly constructed" sentance, and allow figure out what makes it sound the way it does.

    You can learn to read and make sounds, but you can't say what you are reading with any conviction unless you know how to speak first.

    Intution is everything, theory is learning why you felt what you did.
     
  17. :D Humor is a Good Thing.
     
  18. basslife

    basslife

    Mar 23, 2004
    vegas
    Point taken, Dr Sherry, though on that level, we'd have to take it to the judge, Mr Buddy Montgomery in LA (lost his ph #.) Buddy would most sincerely have a keen sense of awareness as to Wes' harmonic knowledge. Anyway, why is Wes going to give it up to this young freak, Pat? Heck no!
     
  19. I can't hear Buddy Montgomery's name without making a comment about the whole Montgomery family. I don't know about brother Monk Montgomery, but Wes and Buddy were something else...I assume Buddy's still around, but these guys, like Errol Garner, Buddy Rich, Wes and Buddy had no idea what the hell they were doing!
    The first time I worked with Buddy, it was a festival and we had to back a singer who had these charts that took up two music stands. I didn't know Buddy didn't read...Buddy cut the show cold just faking it and listening a little to me.
    People like this just kill me....Talking theory to people like this is well, meaningless. Flip Nunez was another one!
     
  20. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    Oh man...Flip! He came onto a cruise ship gig I had once. The average age of the passengers was "deceased". Some old dude came up and requested some forgotten moldy oldie. Flip turned it into the most raucous, over-the-top salsa workout I've ever heard. He had the band in stitches. The audience was mostly dumbfounded, but WE had a blast.
     

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