Greg's Music Theory Page
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SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL HAS BEEN
SHOWN TO INDUCE A HYPNOTIC STATE OF BOREDOM WHEN TAKEN IN
HIGH DOSAGES. SMALL DOSAGES ARE RECOMMENDED. DO NOT GIVE TO
ABOUT THIS MATERIAL
This material will attempt to cover the basics of music theory
as well as some of my unique personal insight into the subject.
This site will not cover reading music. Reading music is important,
(especially if one wants to play other people's music, but
can't decipher the composition) but I will refrain from covering
it since it is already a widely covered subject and I'm sure
there are plenty of resources available.
This material is divided up into sections which can be studied,
independently of the other sections.
The order inherent within music
Music, within the heart of man, is unique in that it is naturally
ordered. Music theory is simply that intrinsic order stated
in a series of "guidelines".
Music theory should not be taught, or thought of as a list
of unbreakable "laws", but rather as a list of "patterns".
These "patterns" are best learned and then deviated from (at
the individual musician's discretion) in order to prevent
the music from becoming monotonous. Music which strictly follows
music theory, can sound very stale and predictable. The other
extreme is dangerous also. Deliberately violating all the
"guidelines" or "patterns" of music theory (which would be
difficult to do unless one first understood them) can sound
chaotic. This chaos is not always "bad". Sometimes the "mood"
of the music may call for some "chaos", but in most listener's
opinions, this method should be used sparingly.
Ultimately, the musician is not discarding the patterns inherent
with music, but rather substituting specific patterns for
a "broader pattern". For instance, after learning that a key
, is a group of notes in which a song or progression is
derived from, a musician can "rebel" by choosing to play notes
that do not conform to any one key. This alleged "musical
rebellion" takes on the appearance of an "oasis within a dessert",
because it is seen to really be the musician deriving his/her
music from the chromatic scale, therefore the music conforms
to a "broader pattern", granted a less obvious one to the
untrained ear. But ultimately, the music should be composed
at the discretion of the musician/composer to achieve his/her
Destroying the "mythological criticisms" railed against
Many musicians mistakenly attribute knowledge of music theory
to be an impediment to musical creativity. This stigma exists,
because many musicians who have a high degree of technical
knowledge about this subject, play music which many people
view as "emotionless, lifeless", etc. But this is clearly
not an inherent quality. I suspect that the reason this stereotype
exists, is because it is tempting for the musician who knows
music theory, to exercise all of his/her acquired technical
skill in an effort to be "challenged" or "creative". Or perhaps,
it is because this musician prefers technical music. A third
option is that the person who is naturally predisposed to
music theory tends to be more analytically minded. This can
come out in the musician's music, dominating the "emotion"
side. The good musician is able to evaluate his predispositions
and his limitations in order to find areas for improvement.
Once acquired, music theory is something that one needs to
learn how to apply. There is no objective, "one size fits
all" teaching on this. This will depend upon the subjectivity
of the musician. Also keep in mind, what one listener calls
"emotionless", another will call "awe-inspiring". And thank
God for variety and diversity! What a boring world we'd live
in without them! Knowing music theory will help any musician,
regardless of the musician's skill level or musical aspirations.
Many musicians obviate the need for music theory with an
attitude that goes like, "I play what I hear in my head. I
play what sounds good. I don't need music theory." But what
this musician misses, is that what "sounds good" usually conforms
to the patterns, or "guidelines" set forth in music theory.
This pattern is so natural that even the unknowledgeable musician
will follow it unknowingly. Such a musician can expedite the
learning process by taking advantage of music theory. I have
observed many musician friends, who had as much talent as
I have, who were uninterested in music theory. One friend
in particular, was a better guitarist than I was when I first
met him, but because I knew and applied music theory, I ended
catching up to him and later playing better than him. This
is because my friend improved on the guitar by playing what
sounded good to him. Over time, he'd eventually recognize
patterns and learn to incorporate them into his playing. I
on the other hand, instead of stumbling upon patterns or "guidlines",
acquired them through music theory. This is a much faster
method. I covered more ground in less time.
Unlocking the "fountains of creativity"
I personally believe that the best musician is he/she which
has the "broadest boundaries". In other words, the less limited
a musician is, the better he will be. Therefore, music theory
is another tool which takes away some limitations. I also
believe that the best musician is the one who applies creativity
to technical knowledge (music theory). It is here that the
musician unlocks originality and creativity.
Compositionally, music theory can also be a "well of ideas"
to be drawn from when the "well of inspiration" has dried
up. Many musicians will say, "I play by ear. I can play what's
in my head so I don't need music theory." But what a person
hears in their head is influenced by mood/emotion and influences.
And what does the musician do when this type of inspiration
is gone or waning? What if the musician is emotionally exhausted?
Why limit your creativity to either your mood or what you
hear in your head? The knowledgeable musician can draw from
his technical knowledge. There is a potential advantage of
this method because the results may yield material that the
musician would not have come up with, if left only to "hearing
it in his head". I can't tell you how many times that I've
been inspired with a great melody, chord progression or riff
but couldn't think of how to complete the song idea. This
is when I might say, "I wonder how this riff would sound if
I were to put it in 7/8 or if I were to put a C 9 chord in
it and thus play a C mixolydian over the top of this chord
progression." The results can be exciting because using this
method, the musician can play an idea that he has not even
heard in his head and thus, his hands can surprise his ears!
And keep in mind, I can also play by ear so I don't use this
technique out of necessity. I am also not diminishing the
importance of playing by ear what comes from the heart. I'm
just suggesting some balance.
Music theory gives the musician a resource of material to
practice. It has been said that "practice makes perfect" (actually,
practice makes permanent) but practice is useless if one doesn't
know what to practice. Practice, in part, involves playing
that which the musician can't do or needs to improve upon.
But how does the aspiring musician practice that which he/she
can't play? Music theory provides the means to do this.
Finally, a musician who thoroughly understands music theory,
will have his eyes opened to patterns within music that cannot
be seen by the person ignorant of it. It will literally open
the eyes of the musician to a world previously unseen, or
Before proceeding to the next section, I found a web site
that gives some great insights into music theory. Click here
to open the site in a new browser window.
If you're ready, and you've read this far, thank you for
your patience.......let's begin!