1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

theory is arbitrary philosophy

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Wiremessiah, Apr 11, 2019.

  1. Wiremessiah


    Mar 4, 2017
    There are very few universals among music around the world, such as pitch, accent, syncronization among instruments, melodic expression based on singing, and perhaps a few more. From the truly special performances that I have been part of, that could more or less be objectively called as such (we all felt it, as did the audience) theory meant little to nothing. Tempo variations, no functional harmony, fluid/changing time signature/accent, all occurred, with syncronization/timing being more or less constant, and boldness to trust musical instinct and ears and fellow band member's were the dominant themes of these performances.

    Whenever i try to argue for these over theory and aesthetic/mathematical/metronomic "symmetry", it always boils down do the idea that my instincts are perhaps not what i think they are, but from decades of playing live music, the more I rely on instincts, the more magical, deep, and meaningful musical experiences I have. So no longer am i self conscious about my abilities as a live musician and improviser. I try to be always be aware of my playing, but I can't let anyone get in my ear anymore and try to make me feel inferior for not following what they think music should be, because that can affect you as an artist.
  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Here's where I stand on what I THINK you're trying to say.

    If I'm boiling it down correctly, you have the most fun when you have total musical "freedom".

    That's fun for YOU.... and possibly those on stage with you.

    It's a rare AUDIENCE that will enjoy music without "symmetry". Audiences want what they want. You can't force them to "get" what you're doing. Sometimes simple melodies and straight-forward rhythm is what it takes to bring an audience along with you.

    I'm not lecturing you. Play what makes you happy.

    Just don't be surprised if what you love doesn't catch fire with an audience. Most audiences don't want to think about music. They want to feel. If you can convey enough emotion without staying in the traditional music boxes, perhaps it will work.
    Fuzzbass, JeroB666, Ks68jazz and 15 others like this.
  3. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    What one should stress is that there is no uniform body of theory of music.

    Compare, for example, Riemannian Functional Harmony and Schenkerian Analysis.
  4. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    cool beans! :thumbsup:

    sounds like you've had moments when you let yourself be intimidated by some 'theorists'. theory has its place and it sounds like you don't need to care about that! i think it's a place to start, not finish. i think that if you're happy with the way things are for you = you're ahead! no need to protest. :D

    lots of folks on TB preach theory as gospel...and it's not. but without it = some musicians could not advance their game/understanding. lots of writers/arrangers depend on the benefits of a music theory background. if you don't need that understanding to do what you do = big whup! and good luck on this thread! :thumbsup:
    petrus61, sears, hintz and 4 others like this.
  5. Well, we don't have a uniform body of theory of physics either, but we have several theories that complement eachother, and they are all usefull for their purposes.
  6. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    Like anything else, it’s good to know the rules and their application, and then break them if need be.
    If for no other reason, knowing the language makes it easy to communicate musical ideas with your band mates.
  7. Wire, as you said there was some theory when you first got started, now days you no longer need to rely on theory to tell you what to play. You have played enough that you just know what will and will not work. I think that fits with a lot of us. For example:

    Right now I'm messing around with how to play a cigar box slide guitar. Saw a video about, when building your cigar box guitar think about putting the side dots on the neck to match the pentatonic scale of the scale you are tuned to. Then just play the dots. :cool:

    My point, and what I read from your post; once we learn theory we can forget most of it and just play... the dots. I agree.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2019
  8. Goatrope


    Nov 18, 2011
    Sarasota Florida
    This is a cool concept, and I like the notion that theory guided me as a beginner, and now it’s a reference as needed.

    But is this discussion in the context of a soloist, or an accompanist? Or both?

    My bassist role leans much more towards accompanist than soloist, and as such, I take a more functional (theorist?) approach, to serve my chosen role.

    I find joy in maintaining and embellishing the framework, and whether consciously or unconsciously, theory is guiding me.

    Is it mental mathematics? No. For me, it’s a response to audible input and feel, and an instinct to maintain patterns and tempo.

    I’d be advocating more for the OP in the soloist context, and less so as an accompanist.
  9. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Strange logic. If you are playing any given style of music it will pay to have some knowledge of the theory applicable to that particular musical idiom. So the "universality" of music theory is kind of irrelevant. And regardless of whether you are conscious of employing/drawing from music theory, if you are coming from years of playing experience you are doubtless utilising musical devices which conform to theoretical "rules" or guidelines.
    GregC, dtsamples, HolmeBass and 5 others like this.
  10. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Science and Music actually do have a lot in common. In scientific practice, we would say, “theory guides, experiment decides.” I believe that yin yang applies to musical performance as well. Very few scientific “discoveries” are predicted by theory and then observed in experiment. In all my years practicing, it happened once to me. The more common situation is that you are investigating something, when something entirely new and unexpected happens. Often by accident. Having the prepared mind and being able to recognize the relevance of the unexpected result becomes a discovery. Yeah, I believe musical performance is similar.

    One other thing that stays with me was Ray Brown’s advice to be come a successful bassist; which was essentially to learn a lot of songs.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2019
  11. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    Theory explains what has worked and still works. You can depart from accepted theory. And if it works, it gets added to the body of theory
  12. mcarp555

    mcarp555 Guest

    Jul 14, 2013
    Theory is not a list of "rules" you are forbidden to break; it's just explanations of what's going on (even if it doesn't "work"). Everything you're playing can be discussed as theory, whether you mean it to be or not. And almost all of it, from the well-tempered scale to harmonic dissonance & 12-tone, started as challenges to the music of the day. Theory will continue to incorporate whatever musicians can come up with.
  13. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    The issue here is that you don't understand what music theory is. It's an explanation of what was played, not a set of rules. ;)

    If anyone doesn't understand that, you can't blame music theory.
  14. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    We were posting just about the same thing at the same time. Great minds think alike.
    mcarp555 likes this.
  15. Smooth_bass88

    Smooth_bass88 Groove it

    All music theory is... is knowing exactly what you’re playing. You can be a great player that plays cool, unique, interesting music and still not know exactly what it is and why it sounds that way. On the other hand you can know all there is to know about the rudiments of music and still not be a particularly good writer or player. It’s really that simple. There doesn’t need to be all this extra deep analysis.
  16. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    I've never seen the Mona Lisa, but I'm going to guess that DaVinci's paint brushes aren't displayed next to it.
    There are tools and there is art. They both depend on each other for existence. If you make a big deal of one to the exclusion of the other, you'll miss important parts.
    That said, music theory is a 'report' of things that have worked in the past. There is much to be learned from them, but if you make a big deal of composing music that adheres to the 'rules' you end up with something that sounds like other music. If you ignore or avoid the rules, you may end up composing music that is so different and unusual that you might not get other people to listen.
    Additionally, you could write a different theory book for every 50 to 100 years of musical practice starting in 1350 to present day. In other words, things change, keep your ear open and your mind accepting.
  17. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    I totally agree with your statement above.

    I'd like to add that LEARNING THEORY, HARMONY, COMPOSITION, etc... has tremendously affected and influenced my "musical instincts".
    In short, I WILL NEVER agree that learning Musical Theory, Harmony, etc... could hamstring the musician's talents.
    Addendum. I will never(!) agree that the Metronome, Click could "damage" any musician.
  18. While I agree that a musician striving for an original sound should probably not allow someone to dictate how to play, the idea of saying that music theory is arbitrary is like saying that math is arbitrary.
    1. based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.
  19. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I find it easier to speak when I do not think of the alphabet and sentence structures.
    Linguistics is arbitrary philosophy

    I find it easier to drive my car when I don't think of torque, rotational inertia, and friction
    Engineering is arbitrary philosophy

    I find it easier to fall when I don't think of Newton's laws.
    Physics is arbitrary philosophy

    The point being:
    Theory is not not arbitrary philosophy , it is "useful patterns to know"
    The patterns are present weather you are using them consciously or not.
  20. sikamikanico


    Mar 17, 2004
    I guess theory is philosophy, but not arbitrary. But it's also not music. Don't mistake a map for the territory...

Share This Page