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Theory and actual playing

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by PIZZAcato, Feb 21, 2006.

  1. Im taking a theory class at my highschool right now and i was wondering how other people who have taken theory classes incorporate their learnings into their playing. Just curious.
  2. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    It sort of just sinks in after a while. It's like learning vocabulary, grammar, etc. and how it sinks into your speech.

    Depending on what theory you're learning (e.g., traditional theory or jazz theory). If you're at the level of learning how the scales and chords are built to a little more advanced like progressions and how chords and/or chord tones resolve, then you can try to incorporate that into your playing. It takes a lot of mental energy at first but after you put in the hard work you will see, hear, and understand music better. It's a never ending process.
  3. ii7-V7


    Aug 4, 2002
    Baltimore, MD
    Well, I've never had the best ear. So for me to start learning to improvise I had to really have the fretboard (Sorry, this experience comes from my guitar playing) memorized. Its one thing to know something. Like I know the state capitols, but I have to think about it. Its another thing to have completely digested somethign and it have become automatic. Thats how you have to know the fret...um...fingerboard.

    Then I had to likewise memorize, not just know, how to spell every chord and thier extensions. This allowed me to find the shortest path between two chords. From one chord to the next are there common notes, or do I have to move? If so can I only move chromatically. Exercising this with a metronome...so that you have to think of time...will do wonders. Doing this helps you to learn how to have the most impact with you note choices while make the least amount of movement. It helps you to know how to resolve a line once you've gone a little *too* far outside....

    Also, understanding theory helped me to understand and hear (eventually) common chord progressions. After a while a ii-v-i6 gets so commmon that you don't even thing about it. This also helped me to know where and how players use substitutions. So, when the piano player plays Gm, Gb13, Fm, E13, Ebmaj7 I actually know why and what he's doing.

    Theory helped me to understand synchopations, pedal notes, odd meter, etc. That way I can judiciously use them, or know at least why other are.

    I also find theory useful for memorizing and explaining passages in music. It easier to think of a line as a Bm9 arpeggio than to memorize B, C#, D, F# A.

    Thats the way I think of it...I'm sure others will come along and enlighten us both!

  4. sibass89


    Jan 29, 2006
    Cincinnati, OH
    I feel theory is essential to musical interpretation. You no longer just play a C# but you know why that C# is there and the use of that C#. You know what chords you are going to, am I going to the dominant or to the 3 chord (very important in phrasing).

    My playing improves drastically and my knowledge in theory does. Along with solfege, my rhythm, knowledge and musicality has improved beyong belief. Think about it, its like writing. The more grammar you know the better your writing and the more it matures.
  5. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I agree with most stuff already said.

    The difference in how I think about theory is this. Jazz and Classical theory are the same thing. There is a slightly different lingo but they both explain the same thing. Its like slightly different regional vocabulary.

    I think the other key is that theory helps to explain things that have already happened. While an deeper understanding of theory is very important you have to listen to lots of music and see how these concepts are applied. To use the analogy, reading an English text won't make you as great of a writer as studying the masters.
  6. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    An old story I'll retell:
    In a lesson with Michael Moore, I said how I was going to use something he had just taught me on a gig in the next couple of days. Michael spun around and said "Don'ttry this on a gig!" What he meant was, at that point, it was in my left brain, like a mechanical formula. Use of it would be mechanical and strained. He wanted me to wait until the right brain (our creative side) assimilated it. And so one night, without even thinking about it, it came out by itself, not because I thought of using a device, but because I was making music. The point is that theory should help us but not control us.
  7. Awright Chad...thanks for correcting yourownself, so I didn't have to.!!!Right on!:D
  8. This leads me to two observations - don't be dissapointed - as a lot are - if theory doesn't come out in your playing - just enjoy doing what you do BUT if you don't keep up with practicing based on theory it never will come out and you'll be condemmed to simmilar solos for ever (ok maybe) which is what happens to a quite a few people IMH & limited experience.

    It takes a long time but when it comes - as Don implies, it is a tool for you to use as and when you choose. One thing I do think is important though is to play with players sympathetic to your aims who will create the space and conditions to let you explore things. It doesn't always happen that way. You might need to get assertive. There is only so much you can play in the middle of a plinky plonky triadic chords and beat thumpling band without sounding wrong or at best out of place.
  9. Music is language. Sure you can learn it on your own, but you might develop too much "slang" along the way. By learning the proper theory, you learn how to speak properly, and when you learn to speak properly, the music truely becomes an extension of yourself. I've found recently that just after 1 month of learning theory for my AA, that its so much easier to voice exactly what I want to say through my music. At least, that's my expierience.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Exactly. It's the grammar of music, plain and simple. You use all of the different parts of speech intuitively as part of the flow of conversation. To do otherwise is like trying to talk to someone while waiting to spring some hip new adjective you just learned on them. When it's ready to come out, it'll come out. If you force it, it will sound....[Mike Tyson]Ludicrous![/Mike Tyson].
  11. Indeed, but when learning a language you practise using new words in context. You need the chance to do this yourself in a safe (from audiances and the jazz police ) space. Mind you today, they probably give you a multiple choice question and ask you which word fits rather than have yo do it yourself:( .
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    i spent a while reading loads of theory, only to find it didnt make the blindest bit of difference no matter how much i 'tried it out' or practiced it.
    so i've gone back to focussing on the basics; learning songs and playing bass lines. i figure i'll discover new theory as i hear it and play it.. pretty much as was said above. i'm finding that once you learn a song there is plenty to apply theory to.
  13. I took theory for my last two years of highschool and I'm in my first year of a really intense theory program at SUNY Buffalo. The professor, Charles Smith, is one of the leading theorists, he's basically got his own way of looking at music theory.

    Anyways, the way he puts it, and it's true, is that music is a language. Like some have already mentioned it really helps when you get to the point where you don't think about it, but things just come out. Like when I say "I'm going to the store" I don't think about every word and syllable, it just comes out. If you can get to that point with music theory, it'll help tons. You'll know what is appropriate over certain chords for things like improv, and be able to hear where the music is going after a while.

    It can drive you a little nuts though... my mid-term is this week and for the individual portion of the exam (there's written, and dictation as well) we have to go in and sing melodies (prepared and unprepared) and play chord progressions on the piano infront of the professor and TAs. The kicker is we have to be able to play the chord progressions on the piano in every key. :rollno:
  14. BillytheBassist


    Aug 18, 2005
    Good thread. :bassist:
  15. After not playing the upright (I started when I was 17 and I am almost 40) for almost 6 years since I moved to new Mexico, I just got an upright last year and my old upright back recently. For me it's simple. Simandl Method I and II, the Rufus Reid Book and the Mark Levin jbook for general Jazz Theory and just plenty of listening plus daily all keys - major, minor, harmonic minor, domimant and diminished -- plus Rhythm changes -- This is jazz oriented of course. Again listening to music is the key and if youre away from the bass (as I am with kids and business trips) a wire cheese cutter for the right fingers callouses and some grips for the left plus think bass lines all the time keeps you in shape. IThe cheese cutter thing is a trick I learned from my friend from Sweden. Just tap on the wire or pizzicato it if you are a masochist.

    The Mark Levine book really sinks if you listen to the original resordings he references.

    But when it comes to actually feeling it -- lusting for your partner or fantasy or closing your eyes helps to get away from the headiness of it all and helps you to just enjoy.

    Oh melodic and harmonic theory is nothing without time. I have learned how to play drums in the last 2-3 years (good enough to gig) -- tremendously helped me improved my time and understand the drummers. Also. the jazz ride grip turned around inward help improved my tone. I think this was an Ian Forman trick or something.

    Just my 2 cents
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