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Music Theory a must????

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Fire-Starter, Aug 31, 2003.


  1. Fire-Starter

    Fire-Starter Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2002
    MINNESOTA
    I would like some input from the members here at T/B regarding Music Theory. I would first like to say that I believe everthing has a blueprint (for lack of a better of a better word) and music is not any different, but I know people that play their basses who know much about Theory and those who know nothing but play by feel/ear, I believe Theory would make anyone a better Musician all around, but are there any that do this for a living who don't know anything but just play by feel/ear, if its a dumb question please excuse me, I like the study of music, it really puts things together for me, but man, when I hear about cats thay play who cant read music at all,or know nothing about Major/Minor/aug/dim etc... and play for a living, it blows me away, but its all good:bassist:

    Are there any well known people who play for a living that do not know Theory??? If so, are they as musch in demand as those who know??

    Thanks for you input:meh:
     
  2. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    This is a dead issue.
    Theory and ear playing are not mutually exclusive.
    So whatever the game you play, knowing the rules can't hurt.
     
  3. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I would sum it up by saying that yes, there have been musicians who have been great without knowing theory - but they're the vast minority.

    Realistically, we don't all seem to display that degree of musical abilitiy naturally, so learning theory is extremely worthwhile, as long as you don't use it as a straightjacket (not that, IME, people do anyway - it seems like a myth perpetrated by those unwilling to learn theory), and keep in mind the true purpose of learning it: to forget it. By that I mean that the true purpose is to get to the point where it's ingrained, you don't have to think about it.

    I'd also like to echo what NJL said - this whole idea that theory and playing by ear are two mutually exclusive, alternative routes. They're not, that's just complete bull****! It couldn't be further from the truth. The two go together perfectly. If you learn theory without learning how it sounds, you're missing the point.

    You can learn to play by ear without theory, or you can learn to play by ear as well as learning the theory. A Jaco or a Hendrix might be able to do fantastic things using the first approach, but from where I'm standing the second approach is still much better.
     
  4. Fire-Starter

    Fire-Starter Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2002
    MINNESOTA
    sounds good to me, Thanks:bassist:
     
  5. Obsolex

    Obsolex Guest

    Nov 17, 2002
    Yes, and no. I mean, like whoever said, there are great musicians that know jack **** about theory, but that is only a small, certain percent...
    {{_-soto-_}}
     
  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    While I do tend to agree with moley here, this is totally subjective comment.

    What is a great musician? Someone who can play anything and everything from the sheet?
    ...or is it someone who effectivley conveys emotion through their instrument?
    ...or is it something else?

    I can barely define what I believe a 'great musician' is for myself, let alone define it and decide whether it requires any theory to be one or not!

    There are probably many great musicians out there who do not know a quaver from an 8th note, or a minor 3rd from an augmented 2nd... and I cannot neccessarily believe they are in the minority.

    I just think that because music itself is so subjective, we should be more open to the fact that some (possibley many) people make great musicians without knowing sh!t from shovel, as it were.

    I do agree that it is SO beneficial to know theory - it changed my playing for the better, forever... but I dont believe it is neccessary to create great music.

    :)
     
  7. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron? Tiny minority might be a more apt description (or just 'minority'). Of course, there's a difference between knowing the difference between major and minor or between 4/4 and 3/4 and having an intellectual approach that allows you to neatly categorise and summarise all the music you hear.

    Wulf
     
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    ...and here's me thinking an oxymoron was a brand of zit cream for stupid people...
     
  9. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Haha, yes ok, point taken. Still, you knew what I meant.
     
  10. OldDawg

    OldDawg

    Jul 4, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Some people are scared to death of learning to read music and learning theory. Then there are people who spend so much time and thought into theory they never end up really playing or sound mechanical.

    I would say it is best to learn how to read and at least the basics of music theory. Knowing theory gives you a way to label and remember things you like. As you learn new bits of theory and apply them to your bass it will open you up to new ideas. It will also discover why things you like work and how to use the concept in your own way.

    The main thing is to not just learn a bunch theory the key is to get it under your fingers. It's no different than learning a new bass line. If you just learn a line off a record all you've really done is maybe gained a new technique. Then you have learned to play a line in a song. You are now a parrot for hire. But if you learn a bass line, the start experimenting with it by changing rhythms or notes, tempo and so on. Then figure out why you like the line, is it the rhythm or are there certain notes used that make for you. Then try to make up lines like it. Then you have really done something. Well learning music theory is the same way. You learn a new bit of theory, then apply it, experiment with it. try adding it to some thing you already know. See if any of what you do already is using that concept and you didn't know that is what its called. Then you have really gained.

    IMO people who are against reading and learning music theory have only done the book aspect of learning and didn't spend the time getting it under thier fingers.


    Now the only qualifier I will make is you need to find a theory book or teacher that make it interesting to you. If you're a rock or jazz player studying a traditional theory books can be boring. But there are newer books that teach theory using more modern examples. Or find a bass teacher who can work theory into what they are teaching you so it relates.
     
  11. SuperDuck

    SuperDuck

    Sep 26, 2000
    Wisconsin
    I do not know who said this- if anyone knows where it came from, please let me know.

    "You cannot transcend what you do not know."
     
  12. PollyBass

    PollyBass ******

    Jun 25, 2001
    Shreveport, LA
    I would have to disagree...

    I find that the two type of musicians are almost 50/50. Some get to a certain level by themselves, and some need to learn more theory to get where that person is naturaly. Theory is only learning about something you can already perform, and do it better. Anyone can drive a car, few can drive it fast AND well, for THAT, they would need training(theory). Some people need to learn the car by teaching, some hop behind the wheel and go, in either case, training (theory) will ALWAYS help you understand more, and improve your playing.
     
  13. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    That's why I wondered if a simple 'minority' might be better that attaching a superlative to it.

    On the other hand, are you talking about musicians or just professional musicians? If you've got someone in a well known band who still relies on a roadie to tune their bass and thinks that a Major Seventh is someone in the army, they're not really a professional musician - they're just another model, a pawn of marketing departments and media relations.

    I don't know many professional musicians but I can't think of any that have no knowledge of theory. In my experience, I'd suggest that some degree of music theory is therefore pretty mandatory unless you get one of those rare breaks that propels you to the front as the latest icon of the entertainment industry.

    Wulf
     
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Nope, sorry. There's a lot more to learning other peoples basslines/songs than just repeating parrot-fashion.

    It's not JUST learning a new technique at all. You are hearing someone elses music and working out how they expressed that vibe at that given moment. It is exceptionally good ear training for one thing (is anything in music more important than a good ear?), and you are also learning to express yourself further by understanding and feeling someone elses expression through their music.

    It's much more than just 'learning parrot fashion' IMO.

    ...of course just a bit of theory helps you write it down as you go and make learning material that bit easier :)
     
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    This is a good point.

    I know a few... drummers in two of my bands are pro, and a there's a few more I know here and there - they ALL have good solid knowledge of theory.

    One of them makes cash on the side notating arrangements for string sections... yes... a drummer! Needless to say he's a very good musician, not just a 'skin beater' :D
     
  16. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    The drummer in my band used to be semi-pro when he was back in the States and he confesses that he needs to learn some more theory... but he's hot when it comes to theory as it applies to rhythm (subdivisions, polyrhythms, clave, etc).

    If you're a bassist, then knowing things like what notes work against a given chord are going to be pretty essential, and so I think pretty much all pro-bassists will grasp that kind of thing.

    Wulf
     
  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I would tend to agree - a basic understanding of how chords are formed is absolutely essential.

    I jam with a guitarist mate regularly - he is a very creative person naturally, but he knows NO theory whatsoever!
    I'm not in any way predjudiced about knowing theory - I've only known majopr from minor fotr a few years myself, but I dont think I'll ever be in a band with someone who doesnt know andy theory again - it's so frustrating when you cant communicate about the music verbally and you have to say "like this one, but one string up" etc... drives me insane!
     
  18. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    UK
    i'd like to float the idea that music theory is something we invented to explain how music works... the idea of a 'minor 7' chord or a 'whole tone' scale is an artificial construct to bring some order to naturally occurring physical phenomena... sound waves and music were in existence long before anyone decided to give names to its various components

    there's no reason why a musician with a very good harmonic & rhythmic sense, who's constructed in his/her own internal understanding of the mechanics of harmony & rhythm, can't produce something artistically worthwhile... in fact, who's to say that an individual's intuitive understanding of the mechanics of music is any less valid than the one we've collectively constructed IF it works for that individual

    what's more important, being able to explain what (for example) a lydian augmented scale is, or being able to hear it & use it as necessary? (even if it's recognized on an unnamed, internal level)

    i'm not arguing in favour of ignorance or laziness here (music theory has been valuable for me personally), but we need to remember that music theory is only a system to help us understand and organise music, it isn't music in and of itself...
     
  19. FretNoMore

    FretNoMore * Cooking with GAS *

    Jan 25, 2002
    The frozen north
    Theory is probably not an abslute must, you can play a lot of music by ear and have succes with that. It's great to know a minimum of theory when playing in a group though, to pick up new songs quicker and to communicate ideas. The guitar player might say something like "let's try a minor 7 here", and you would know quicker what bass line to try with that chord.
     
  20. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    absolutley, i completely agree. a person can be amazingly musical without knowing a thing about theory... but when they try to explain it to someone else in a playing situation it all falls down.

    for me, theory helps me understand and learn new pieces of music quicker, write down my ideas quickly and communicate my ideas to others.