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Theory or not to Theory

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by RotoRick, Jul 27, 2012.

  1. RotoRick


    Jul 20, 2012
    Most people agree that to be a successful musician you have to know theory, without it you will soon run into a wall that you can't get past.

    Sure you could learn a thousand songs from tab, but then you would be nothing more than a walking juke box.

    If this is all true then here's the question, how come some of the worlds best guitar players say they don't know theory at all. Jimi Hendrix couldn't read music.

    Slash not only can't read music but also can't tell you even what note he is playing. The original bass player from the Doobie Brothers never took a lesson, yet could school any of us who think we know what we are doing.

    So are these people lying to us, or is it true that 10 hours a day in your basement will make you great. Are these people using theory without realizing it, when you consider Eddie Van Halen his music is too complex to come out of nothing, same with Lindsay Buckingham.

    It seems to me that these players took the hours that it would take to learn theory and instead practiced their instrament and got ahead of the game, years ahead.

    So what do you day on the matter.
  2. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Jimi Hendrix and Slash could probably never get a theater gig or a union session or anything like that. Knowledge of harmony and sight reading is necessary for those of us that treat music like any other trade. Big rock stars are in a unique position. They can be great at one thing and one thing only, and not have to worry about getting that next $150 gig.

    Oh, and "using theory without knowing it" sounds pretty funny to me. They aren't "using theory," they are playing what they know, and anything that anyone has ever played can be broken down and explained and analyzed by principles of music theory, even if the one who played it has no idea.
  3. There is a difference between reading music and theory. Sure, they are commonly taught together, but you can know theory without reading music.

    Theory goes a long way to make you understand what to play and why is sounds right (or wrong). That understanding opens up the fingerboard as a huge palette of notes just waiting to be explored and constructed together in so many ways. It really is that much of a help.
  4. Knowledge is power.
  5. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Most people lie about knowing no theory for starters, like the Doors, Robbie Krieger says he thy didn't know theory. When if you look at their stuff it is pretty by the books, lots of circle of fifths, basic modal things, and to top it all off Ray Manzarek was a piano player before he played organ, highly unlikely he had no formal training.

    People told me for years do not learn theory as it won't help that much. I can tell you know that I do know some theory, they were fools and were steering me down the wrong path.

    Look at this way, if you can give me one good reason not to learn theory aside from I'm too lazy, I'd love to hear why you don't feel you need to make yourself a better player.

    Learning to read music and theory are two different things, but honestly learn to read, I wish I had earlier. It will be a useful skill and if you spent as much time reading as you do looking at tabs, you can read pretty quickly.
  6. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    Hendrix was pretty well educated by the School of Hard Knocks, he learned a lot on the Chitlin Circuit on all those gigs, definitely read a good bio on him. He definitely studied a lot of different Music on his own, jammed, etc. I love his recordings with Larry Young ( the organist with The Tony Williams Lifetime). Check out Nine to the Universe.
    Slash pretty much won the Rock Star Lottery with Guns and Roses. He is a good player in his genre.
    You can be an apologist for not learning what to do as far as reading or how music works, but it's kind of like someone trying to get by in the modern world and not being able to read and write. You can do it, but why would you want to work as hard as you'd have to when it's easier to just learn to read and write?
  7. tabdog


    Feb 9, 2011
    I think brushing up on your Basic Harmony
    is a no-brainer. What's in brain can come
    out your fingers. Why not fill it with some
    thing interesting?

  8. boristhespider9


    Sep 9, 2008
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  9. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    10 hours a day in your basement can make you great if it's focused, otherwise you could come out in 5 years having reinvented the wheel.
    Theory doesn't really take hours to learn, you just need to find a good teacher to help you. There are lots of resources out there if you look.
    Practicing is not "playing the stuff you already know over and over". That's playing or performing. Practice should actually sound pretty bad when you're starting out on something, because the goal should be learning to do something you can't do. This is different from songwriting, rehearsing, etc.
    Don't be afraid to learn something. Steve Vai, Frank Zappa, Vernon Reid and Bryan Beller are examples of Literate Rockers. There are a lot more!
  10. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    +1 This. The reality is that being a musician does not = being a rockstar/celebrity. Sure they can play the songs which they practice with their bands, but the music world/business is way larger than being a garage band and trying to be a rockstar. Unfortunately chances are you won't be that. Musicians that work day to day do different things such as studio work, theater work, teaching, sessions, film scoring sessions...etc. You need theory for all of that. Sometimes they will give you a chart and you have to sight read, you have to improvise, you gotta be able to communicate with the team (production team or other musicians).
  11. PlungerModerno


    Apr 12, 2012

    If slash or hendrix were tasked with large scale arrangement (like a full orchestra) they'd be lost. If you just have to play, you don't need too much theory or reading/writing skills... you just do what seems appropriate. If you want to communicate effectively... good luck. Modern recording helps, but there is a reason theory is taught. It allows you to understand.
  12. boristhespider9


    Sep 9, 2008
  13. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    Because most people are looking for an easy way out.
  14. 20YearNoob


    Mar 29, 2012
    Some people hear music in their heads. Creative people.
    If you play the instrument enough and learn to hear the intervals as you play, then when you hear it in your head you'll be able to recreate it on the instrument.

    Without knowing any theory at all.

    This works great for melody. Harmony requires a little more knowledge of theory to put it all together.
  15. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
  16. For me, theory inspires me to write, it also helps me identify 'cool trix' that I hear in music that I can use to write more.
    Im absolutly fasinated by the math involed!

    The key is what inspires YOU.
    Nevermind theory, stay with what makes YOU a better player.
  17. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    ignoring theory will help you become like [famousguy]
    in exactly the same way that alcoholism will help be like Jamerson,
    or biploar disorder will help you play like Jaco.
    it's a liability to overcome, not an asset to be pursued.

    It's not practice versus theory:
    theory=musical patterns and their terms.
    if you are practicing musical patterns, you are practicing theory.
    all that's left to learn is the common name for the pattern you practice.

    In short:
    [famousguy] succeeded because they practiced a lot= true
    [famousguy] succeeded because they were musically ignorant= false

    I suppose if celebrity is the only measure of success, then practice is also optional.
  18. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    A basic theory book is about 250 pages...but the application of what is in those 250 pages is a lifetimes study and would fill many many librarys, so take the time and learn the basics then pursue the application. Maybe when Jimmi went for auditions the question put to him was " Yes Mr Hendrix you can certainly play....but are you experienced"?
  19. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Do enough people drift in and out of this forum that we have to hash this about every month?
    If you are capable of learning, do so and never stop.
    If you are not capable of learning, develop a philosophy that excuses you and play on.
  20. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    But you can learn stuff that you won't hear it by yourself ... but once you know it, you star to hear it and it makes your music more complex

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