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theory over rated

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by helterschecter, Aug 5, 2011.

  1. I get the super-simple gist of your point; you don't "need theory" to be a "good player" - but when you go on to describe these so-called, 'theory' guys as if they are some sort of singular organization that you enter when you become educated in music theory - you completely screw the pooch.

    You clearly have a very negative view of a certain personality type and you've incorrectly ascribed knowing music theory to that personality type.

    Comparing being able to play your a$$ off with knowing music theory is like comparing being able to drive on the road with knowing how to build a road.

    I think you have wrongfully lumped 'a-holes' into 'theory guys' - then you go one to tackle a music theory discussion with this corrupted image of 'theory guys'.

    If every guitar player I met turned out to be an 'a-hole' I could see why I might think playing guitar makes you an 'a-hole' - it wouldn't make it right. - [edit] or true. [/edit]
  2. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    If anyone thinks I'm a jerk for knowing theory, by now I'll just have to roll my eyes and move on, realizing that they'll just never get it.

    And again, I say that there are certain rules, but only in as much as you must play certain things to sound like different genres. Wanna sound like 18th century classical, play no parallel 4ths or 5ths. Wanna sound like bluegrass, play a lot of pentatonic major leads. Wanna sound like blues, bend the b3 up to a major 3rd and throw in a b7 (for starters). Those who do not know what all this means are already at a disadvantage to someone who does. But hey, I'm not looking down on you for it. Do what you like about it, though.

    And yes, I know guys who don't know much theory who can play well, even pros. They play lots of gigs. But, they all say they'd like to understand music more, yet they never get around to studying. I had to teach one guy some stuff so we could play dinner music jazz stuff (like, ya gotta know those m7b5 chords, for instance). He's always thanked me for that, even though he hasn't gone any further with it. He still plays great anyway.

    Yet, as has already been said (JimmyM, I think it was) if you only know how to play one chord, that's theory. For any of us who can play, all that's needed is to put the names to what it is that you already understand. When you say you don't know much theory, you'd be surprised how much you actually do know. It's kinda like when someone calls out the name of a song that I don't know, but when we get started playing it, I realize I DO know it, "Oh, you mean that tune."
  3. lucas vigor

    lucas vigor Banned

    Sep 2, 2004
    Orange County, Ca,

    Right right and RIGHT!

    My example was the shredding metal guitarist who can't play a simple bluegrass 1-IV-V pattern properly.
  4. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Please show me where any of us said that you couldn't be a good musician without theory. All any of us have said is it's a lot rarer to see someone with no theory knowledge to get good at playing music than someone who knows theory. Even Jeff Berlin admits that his son, who has no formal musical knowledge nor any interest in it, can play his ass off. So nobody's saying it can't happen, and the idea that we have was invented by those who are saying it.

    BTW, I know lots of guitarists who know theory and play their asses off, too.
  5. GeoffT


    Aug 1, 2011
    I see a few common themes among those against theory:

    1. Preconcieved notions about what it is, how it is used, or the people that use it. This thread has an overwhelming number of examples and evidence from people that spent the time learning some theory that would seem to show that most of these ideas are incorrect or not accurate.

    2. The specific idea that those who know it automatically become elitists and look down upon those that don't. Those against theory often will then use a story of I know a guy or such and such a player is way better than these other guys that know theory. It seems to be mostly the the anti-theory guys who are making the judgements and categorizing people into groups where A is better than B, and then taking it a step further by saying they are better despite having none of that fancy learning stuff as if that makes the player exponentially better cause they did it their own way. While the theory guys are usually explaining their experience of how it helped them or that they know they are better players than they would have been had they not learned it.

    3 The anti-theory proponents will cite specific examples of a player who is successful and knows very little theory. Great, good for that guy but I'll bet they still spent a lot of time with their instrument practicing and playing. The majority of people making a living playing music know theory and can speak the language. And guess what, they had to work hard too. Theory is not a prerequisite to success but it sure seems to improve the odds.
  6. Going back- WAY back- to my analogy of attending a cocktail party:

    You can get so blasted drunk that you don’t care who is in the room. Conversely, a teetotaler could have a ball. Academia is full of excellent theorists/educators who can barley play a note. Then there are geniuses like John Lennon, who I doubt “knew” much theory. For guys like him, ignorance is/was bliss. The thought of some theorist telling him that this phrase has too many measures, there’s an extra beat here, or that’s a “bad progression" would have been to quash a unique spirit. He knew enough to listen to George Martin.

    The question is, how many Lennons or Dylans are out there?
  7. GeoffT


    Aug 1, 2011
    Dylan and Lennon were great and are known more for the words they used to create certain emotions and ideas as opposed to the sounds they used. Their genius was in putting good melodies to great lyrics.
  8. Fact is it's more than likely that both Dylan and Lennon employed a great many 'theory guys' in the creation of their product.

    The fact that neither may have been knowledgeable is not relevant. Even the occasional naive musical genius will end up working with theory in one way or another. They just might have to outsource some of that work.
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Trust me...Lennon may not have known how to read music, but he darn sure knew theory and how to use it. Listen to those songs and how advanced those chords he used are. You don't learn how to use chords like he used without knowing a little something about theory.
  10. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    The more stuff you know, the more places you can fit in.
  11. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I say again that when someone who supposedly doesn't know theory says, "I know that that 'THING' I do here goes with that 'THING' I do there" knows the "theory" of those two things, as well as whatever else he/she knows. They just call it "THING" instead of what those of us who have studied the standard terminology call it. The only musician who doesn't know ANY theory at all is the one who cannot play at all. Or rather, to be able to play ANYTHING, you have to know how, and to know how, you have to know something---the theory of it (or whatever you wanna call it).

    Ironically, in order to be able to say what I just did, I have to know theory.

    Ask Dylan to play a C-chord. I bet he'll know what it is because he knows something. Don't you see? It's all theory. It's all how music works. It's not a hindrance, it's knowing what to do. It doesn't quash ANYTHING. Does knowing what the notes are on the fingerboard quash any of your creativity? Of course not. But, it's theory, yep. And, just ust because some of us have studied the standard terms, etc. doesn't make us above anyone. But, it does make us ahead of many.
  12. JHAz


    Jun 29, 2011
    +1. As expressed elsewhere, a person can know theory without having been educated on it. I mean you couldn't stumble through a blues or rock tune without, at some level, understanding I-IV-V. I would not call somebody who can only play the notes somebody else taught him or her to play at the times they were taught to play them, and could not play a different tune with the same progression because nobody taught it to them, a musician. Potentially a talented mimic . . .

    Anyway, the theory underlies all of music. Or if you prefer, the theory is a way to express in words, and to think about, the ineffible magic that happens when great music is created/performed with passion.

    Sure there are folks with lots of book learning whose playing I don't admire because it strikes me as soulless. But there are plenty who understand much more than I and who can move you in 3 notes or less. That's not theory's fault. It's really the personal taste of the individual players sand listeners.

    And I have similar problems with rock players whose grasp (learned or intuitive) of theory ends at pentatonic scales who just play them suckers as freakin fast as they can all the way through their "solo" while posing appropriately. Again, soulless, if in a more blue collar fashion (being a blue collar product myownself I feel comfortable pigeonholing it that way.

    Bottom line, to me, is to take what you've learned and apply it. Eventually you'll come up against a brick wall where you know you want to do something you can ALMOST hear in your head but can't quite extract from your hands. Then return to theory and the next set of lessons will not only be of real valuable to you, they'll make more sense.

    It's a journey . . .
  13. lucas vigor

    lucas vigor Banned

    Sep 2, 2004
    Orange County, Ca,

    Without ANY theory or use of logic in music at all, what you are left with are those "singer/songwriters" you see at so many open mic nites, or in coffee houses, who don't know enough about song structure to play the right amount of bars in the song. You often see them "pedaling" on a certain chord while they get up thier steam or figure out what they are doing next.....

    the problem with players who do this, is that it is almost impossible to fit what they are doing into a band context because no one knows what they are doing except them!

    Oh sure, they are shoegazing and showing all kinds of angst and everything else the "ear only" players are bragging about in this thread against theory (and against hard work, I might add) but what these people are playing makes no sense musically. And that makes it not good.

    The best musicians who "go against the grain" might, for example, use 7 beats or 7 bars when normally it would be 8, but they are doing it ON PURPOSE. They know that it does not make sense, but they are doing it for a reason, not just because they are so musically ignorant that they can't feel or count the even 8 beats or 8 bars.

    I am speaking from some experience here, because a band I was in one time tried to recruit one of these violently anti-theory and "all heart" singer/songwriters to fill out our band.

    Turns out the clod had NO idea how to fit what he was doing into a band....so he was left, wailing into a mic and wearing old jeans and flannel shirts...while we moved on and up!
  14. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Lennon and McCartney weren't they in that band that became big after George Martin the record producer, arranger and writer, the person in charge of the Classical Music Dept of EMI/Parlophone signed them to a contract because he saw potential to work with?;)
  15. HeadyVan Halen

    HeadyVan Halen

    Jun 11, 2010
    I guess the bottom line, is there are many, many guys who say "Theory is overrated" that are complete and utter hacks...that makes everyone else who doesn't know it look like that....then there are guys who know theory and sound like they are playing an augmented 9th minor diminished chord just beacuse they know it..that also makes everyone look like that.

    Learn as much as you can, listen as much as you can and above all practice as much as you can.
  16. Slowgypsy

    Slowgypsy 4 Fretless Strings

    Dec 12, 2006
    NY & MA
    Fascinating thread. Just my $.02. My background is as a classically trained flutist. When I was still in good playing form, I had beautiful tone and could sight read most anything you put in front of me. And I could play it well, with the feeling the music was intended to convey. And I got hired and paid to play. I don't really know theory, interestingly enough. In that capacity I'm sure it would have value, but not critical to the task at hand. I guess my point is, for some folks, and the type of music they like to play, and the environments they play in, having a good grasp of theory has value. But there's plenty, tons even, of musical situations where having a good grasp of theory won't necessarily get you where you want to go. There is another aspect of music here... musicianship. And that's not something that knowledge of theory is going to automatically provide for you.

    This is not an argument... just my point of view on this topic.
  17. MegaSwing

    MegaSwing Your Obedient Bassist® Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2002
    Baltimore, MD USA
    Every language has its grammar. Period. Ignore it at your own peril.
  18. I think a mitigating factor is time management. Why else ask if it's "worth it" unless you are evaluating whether or not to dedicate time to learning it? One presumption is you only have a certain amount of time in any given day to dedicate to musical development and you are trying to figure out if it's more worth while to continue to improve your chops or to put down the instrument and focus on leaning music theory.

    If time is not a factor and you can still play AND spend some time learning music theory - and you have the desire to discover what music theory can do for you as a musician (something you really can't know until you actually learn some theory and start to use it somehow) then do it. The sooner you actually start to learn some theory, the sooner you'll know how it will factor into your life as a musician. If you rely on other people's opinions and ability or inability to sell you on music theory you'll probably never know.
  19. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    A part of music theory is tone production. You didn't have improvisational theory. You could however read complicated music, you knew phrasing, articulation, embouchure theory etc
    I'm sure you knew basic arpeggios and scales, maybe not compostition.

    I have had students with masters degrees in classical performance, they knew a helluva lot about music, just not improvisational devices.
  20. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Nor is this an argument, but my view. I understand what you are trying to say. I was trained as a classical string bassist, guitarist, and clarinetist. However, in the big picture, I think that learning to read music is a part of music theory. You did not have to understand the vaious workings of the study of harmony, but simply knowing your instrument, knowing notes and where they are on the staff, and understanding rhythm and what is meant by the various markings on sheet music are all a part of the broader view of music theory. We each have different needs, and so different parts of theory come into play. Whether or not you could analyze a chord progression, knew how to construct a m7b5 arpeggio, or fit in in a jam band based on understanding the theory of what's being played had no influence on your being able to read and play the part correctly. Your bag of tools is selective, and that's all you needed. So, in effect you're correct in saying that a wide understanding of all things theory was not necessary for you, but it would be incorrect to say that theory in general was not useful to you.

    That's my personal view.

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