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What's your opinion on music theory?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by smither12, Aug 25, 2012.

  1. smither12


    Aug 16, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    I was just wondering how many people here on TalkBass think that music theory is a great tool for understanding music but at the end of the day it really doesn't matter. For example, intervals, chords, modes, etc. are all good concepts for you to train your mind but when your playing music, and your in the moment you can throw it all away and let your ear be the judge. I mean if you think about any of the great bass players...how much did any of them actually think about music theory while they were playing? Did they actually think about what arpeggio, or scale tone they were going to play next...or is it more likely that they just used they're ear to find and play notes that most supported/complemented whatever was going on around them.
    I think a good analogy for this could be found in sports...Like when football players train before they're big game. They do various drills that prepare them for anything that might happen during the game, and while they are doing the drill they're focusing on their every move, watching their feet, etc. But when they get to the game they're not thinking of any of the drills they did previously, they're not focusing on specific movements, they just play.
    And think that's the same with music theory, it's a tool that trains us so that while we're in the moment we can just play.
    I'd love to know your guys opinion on theory as well.
  2. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Well not that this hasn't come up before, but there is a certain amount of theory that every pro knows, regardless of whether they "know theory" or not.

    Though many players make it without any theory or instruction, they are very few and far between. The average working player spends a lot of time learning all kinds of music and styles, regardless if they learn the names for it or not.

    Why deny yourself the knowledge of learning theory though? Your only short changing yourself.
  3. I've spent years learning theory so I don't have to think about it. I know what I'm doing mostly.
  4. smither12


    Aug 16, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    Hey thanks for input, but I wasn't totally dejecting against music theory, I actually love learning theory! All I was saying was theory is a good tool to train you so when your in the moment you don't have to worry about theory, and you can just think music.
  5. aprod


    Mar 11, 2008
    Music theory is the language of music. Sure, you could learn to speak English, but you have a greater advantage if you can read and write as well. Same with music. You are correct that you learn all this stuff and must internalize it so you can just play. Kinda like driving a car, at first you have to think about everything but soon you are just driving.
  6. smither12


    Aug 16, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    I couldn't agree with you more...it's like when your having a conversation someone, your not thinking about your grammar, your thinking about the idea your trying to communicate.
  7. VeganThump


    Jun 29, 2012
    South Jersey
    exactly! Its all about expanding your vocabulary, so-to-speak. The point is to learn theory and not have to consciously use it, rather just have it shine through naturally in your playing. If you're focusing too much on theory whilst jamming, you're not really "feeling it" and your playing may suffer, and so to the other way around, too much "feeling" with little knowledge of theory is like trying to speak spanish by just saying spanish words you happen to have learned from watching tv.
  8. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Many intelligent remarks.
    Knowledge of theory is always helpful and sometimes critical, BUT - it should not be an end in itself, unless your musical goal is to just answer mode questions on TalkBass.
  9. showfeet


    Jan 6, 2012
    St. Louis, MO
    Like football, you train with it until it becomes second nature. Football players do not think about the techniques, but they do them because it has been practiced so much. So although bassists may not "think" about theory while onstage, its presence is definitely subconscious.
  10. smither12


    Aug 16, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    Thanks everyone for your remarks - I'm glad there's others out there that think this way too!
  11. Would you get a builder to build you a house if he had no training, no qualifications, even if he had built one or two by guesswork? I sure wouldn't.
  12. ChetChetney


    Apr 25, 2012
    Oklahoma City
    I thank that understanding the theory is a must, especially if ones goal is to truly understand the instrument and it's function with a group of other instruments.

    I think about it like this; Albert Einstein could explain quantum mechanics and relativity, Payton Manning knows the game of football like the back of his hand, a priest understands theology on a high level, a great bass player should be able to explain the theory behind everything he plays!
  13. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    There are a lot of other things to spend your time on. Music Theory is a time wasting distraction. I focus on my hair and image, when it comes to music. There you go, Hair and Image Theory.
  14. Without spending time on theory you always limit yourself to what you know (or hear inside you, becuase you have heard it somewhere). This is basically reproduction.
    If you are happy with that, fine, but this is your personal decision.

    If you want to explore something new you can either experiment (and often enough you don't know how to put it in context) or spend time on theory, even if it means you need to find the theory behind your experiments yourself. But understanding what others found out and explained is wasting less time than finding out everything (!) yourself.
    Even if you cannot play it now, knowing a lot about theory gives you a broader knowledge of music.
    Often enough you don't need the whole thing and only pick a few things to study further to help you transfering this to the bass during the next working period.
  15. This is the crux of the matter IMO. What kind of music are we talking about? There's a big difference from a composition stand point whether you are playing or composing in real time. Or, are we talking about jazz improvisation and walking bass lines? If we are, then the idea that what's in our head is limiting is perplexing to me. What do you mean by that?
  16. I meant that if you only produce what you know and don't want anything else, then you are stuck. You might enhance your knowledge by hearing a lot of music that is outside of this, but you might then play like XYZ.

    During playing you need to work with what you know, but thinking about new aspects, check them out at home and with other in rehearsals (of course a bit of thinking would be needed then, but it doesn't hurt if it didn't work) could get you further in what you know and what you can use in your playing. It's still a personal choice to use it or not. But I'm rather sure playing will change a lot more over time than without thinking about music and music theory.

    I just feel that rejecting music theory at all is not a big help for becoming a creative musician. Theory without application doesn't help much either for playing, but it can help to understand things and make it easier to apply later.

    Maybe some reject theory, because they feel it would be expected that they always play with all the theory in mind. This can lead to playing the correct notes without much meaning, but it doesn't need to. Just understand theory as a helpful way to understand and make music, nothing more. And there are always a lot of perspectives to music. Even inside theory. The more you have the better for your playing.

    You can even use theory for your basslines making reharmonization by changed bass notes (you better check that out on paper before playing and also with the other musicians if they accept that). Other things apply more for solo playing.
    But if you walk, you should know the correct scale to choose the notes from (even if you decide to play outside instead). The chord symbol is only a subset of the notes and therefor is not precise and might be misleading in some cases.

    I only see a small difference between realtime composing and improvising, but a much larger one to non-realtime composing. Of course, in (paper) composition you can take all the time you need to find solutions and ideas.
    When playing, you only can think about switching between trained ways of playing (unless you play a slow ballad where you can think bit more).
  17. like he says...

    Attached Files:

  18. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    I'm not even sure what you are trying to say.

    I played 10 million scales so I don't have to think, "OK, I've got the third finger of my left hand on the third fret of the low E and I'm plucking it with the first two fingers of my right hand, alternating between them and now I'm using the pinky of my left hand on the fifth fret ..."

    Same thing with theory. I don't think, OK it's an A minor flat 5 and I'm moving from ... and going to ... so I play these notes. I learned theory and played these changes 10 million times so I don't have to consciously think about it. It doesn't mean theory doesnt matter, or I don't use it, or I throw it out the window when I play, or i play whatever comes in to my head. You learn the rules and then decide based on your experience when to follow them and when to break them.

    The search engine is your friend. This has been discussed many times.
  19. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I think we have very different definitions of "music theory."

    Ear training, note selection, and creating a bass line that supports/compliments the context of the song are all major parts of "music theory" in my opinion. It's not just about memorizing scales/chords/arpeggios.
  20. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Music theory is like learning to read/write in your language. Oh yes you can speak and all ... but at some point there is a lot of stuff that you can't learn otherwise.

    I also think that music theory expose you to new stuff you may never listen to otherwise and so will expend your creativity. Also it helps to go outside of the same little box so many musician falls into. If you want to compose music it is something you have to learn otherwise you will obviously always play the same old boring pop or rock progression over and over again.

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