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Disregarding Music Theory. Is it just me? Change my mind or provide your insights.

ryans

Senior Member
But your improvisation is still guided by theory and a number of learned shapes and mnemonics (for lack of a better word), unless of course you’re writing completely atonal music. Which is what truly free improvisation would result in...
This may be getting into semantics but I ..think.. I disagree with "guided by theory" at least in my case. Improvisation for me is mostly just muscle memory(based on my own internal musical vocabulary) with zero conscious thought. I don't think about music at all. I just hear it my head and let it flow out.

I see musical improvisation EXACTLY like speech. I don't think about each word, or sentence structure, or which verbs to use I just talk and then react to what the other person says and improvise a response. A solo in a jazz setting works exactly the same way, at least in my brain.
 

Bman70

Senior Member
I feel like part of the reason why some people are reluctant to study theory is because other people sometimes say stuff like this, which sounds really snobbish, and is also simply untrue for an awful lot of music in the genres mentioned?
At the same time, other people being snobbish doesn't make the theory-reluctant ignorant of what theory is. And, if they knew more about theory, they'd be able to objectively see the inaccuracy of the snobbish comment, by identifying an add-9 chord in that song at the rave last night. Being uneducated about at least basic theory is what makes all the superstitions and suspicions about it possible.
 

Dewdman42

Senior Member
I think all musical styles can benefit from some music theory even if it’s very simple songwriting theory, song structure, some common chord progressions, chord extensions, etc. There are many layers to this onion.

Speaking of the Beatles I was once in this Beatles cover band and I was working out all the vocal harmony parts for everyone, which I printed out in the most simple of simple music notation just to communicate and keep track of all the parts. When I brought them to band practice you would have thought I had kidnapped their mother the way they reacted. It’s a strange aversion to music theory out there…
 

thesteelydane

Bunker Samples
This may be getting into semantics but I ..think.. I disagree with "guided by theory" at least in my case. Improvisation for me is mostly just muscle memory(based on my own internal musical vocabulary) with zero conscious thought. I don't think about music at all. I just hear it my head and let it flow out.

I see musical improvisation EXACTLY like speech. I don't think about each word, or sentence structure, or which verbs to use I just talk and then react to what the other person says and improvise a response. A solo in a jazz setting works exactly the same way, at least in my brain.
Well, that's sort of what I mean, just not very good at expressing it. My point is that unless you're playing completely atonal Avantgarde music, truly random stuff, you have still trained your inner ear and muscle memory to follow the theory of music, you have just internalised it the same way we all internalise our native language.

We don't think about whether the sentence we just spontaneously blurted out has the correct syntax, but if we recorded it, we can pick it apart, analyse it, mark all the verbs and nouns and whatnot and see that they are indeed there, put together in a specific order that follows the rules of that language. We have internalised the theory of the language, so that other people can understand us.
 

Dewdman42

Senior Member
Just for the record, completely atonal music is not random, it is using music theory too!! It’s just that many people don’t understand that particular theory and it sounds random only because you’re accustomed to different things
 

SupremeFist

Senior Member
It also produces the result a lot faster than studying harmony, which not the tool for every single problem.
Oh of course it isnt! Just saying there's a lot more quite sophisticated harmony in popular music than you seemed to be crediting. And also "theory" isn't just harmony: as I'm sure you'd agree, to understand how to build an idiomatic three-chord trance track is also to understand some "theory" (beyond just production).
 

Martin S

Discount Bassy
This may be getting into semantics but I ..think.. I disagree with "guided by theory" at least in my case. Improvisation for me is mostly just muscle memory(based on my own internal musical vocabulary) with zero conscious thought. I don't think about music at all. I just hear it my head and let it flow out.

I see musical improvisation EXACTLY like speech. I don't think about each word, or sentence structure, or which verbs to use I just talk and then react to what the other person says and improvise a response. A solo in a jazz setting works exactly the same way, at least in my brain.
I understand exactly what you mean, but your intuitive improvisation is still based on music theory, whether or not you’re aware of it/deliberately utilizing it/consciously thinking about it.
 
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Bman70

Senior Member
This may be getting into semantics but I ..think.. I disagree with "guided by theory" at least in my case. Improvisation for me is mostly just muscle memory(based on my own internal musical vocabulary) with zero conscious thought. I don't think about music at all. I just hear it my head and let it flow out.

I see musical improvisation EXACTLY like speech. I don't think about each word, or sentence structure, or which verbs to use I just talk and then react to what the other person says and improvise a response. A solo in a jazz setting works exactly the same way, at least in my brain.
Just because you become fluent in grammar / sentence structure, either by extensive reading or study, doesn't mean you're no longer guided by it when you write a novel. You are, you've just reached that ideal goal where it's become second nature, no longer requiring intellect but operating subconsciously.

People in the jam session wouldn't let you play a solo if you didn't play within the right key / meter etc. :)

When "jamming" in the sort of jam-band genre, I'm not thinking about music either, but I'm aware what key we're in... If it's in G and Em primarily, I pretty much play anything but I won't hold a prolonged G# note.
 

Ben E

Active Member
I strongly suspect that the theory/no-theory divide gets the attention it does because it’s easy to sort the participants into the two groups: simply ask, “Do you know theory?” and you sort the sheep from the goats. But something that may be even more correlative to compositional style than theory/no-theory is how one listens to music. Right? I mean, if being a good music writer is one’s wish, then there are “good” ways to listen and there are “not so helpful” ways to listen. And it’s not easy to sort people by listening styles (or, more frankly, listening skills.)

Of course everybody loves music and so everybody thinks they’re listening just fine. And they probably are for whatever purpose music serves them. But I’ve had occasions to talk about a particular piece of music — while it was playing — with a Normal Music-Listener. I was astonished that they had never thought to separate the instruments. The piano and the tambourine, say, were a glob of sound, and it was only after I had them conceptually separate them were they able to hear each one alone. A little time at a mixing console could do wonders for developing this ability.

For me it happened in 4th grade when the teacher played Handel’s Water Music during rest time. The harmonizing horns presented themselves to me as two distinct things working in tandem — like two giant brass birds swooping and climbing in unison. The relations between the two birds seemed almost visual. And this required attention to the whole sonic palette. I’d always “heard” harmony — just like anyone with ears, but this was the first time I really got a good picture of what was going on. I can easily imagine the Normal Music-Listener scrunching their nose at this way-of-listening. To them it might seem like I’m “preoccupied” with relations and tonality and that I’m missing the whole picture. Poppycock.

I sometimes wish I had a Food Mixing Console built in to me. I could take a bite of your tiramisu and then “mute” the sugar — you know, in order to see what work it’s “doing.” Or I could dial up/down the coffee. By this means I could learn so much about composing flavors. However, as it is, I taste food like the Normal Food-Taster. I taste your tiramisu as one big, delicious glob of yummy goodness. I’m also pretty much a Normal Movie-Viewer and a Normal Fiction-Reader. I’m the Normal variety in most things. But I think I have some pretty good listening skills with certain kinds of music. I think most of us on this forum do.
 

thesteelydane

Bunker Samples
Just for the record, completely atonal music is not random, it is using music theory too!! It’s just that many people don’t understand that particular theory and it sounds random only because you’re accustomed to different things
Of course, especially if it’s serial. I’m talking about cat walking on a keyboard kind of random here...
 

youngpokie

Senior Member
Oh of course it isnt! Just saying there's a lot more quite sophisticated harmony in popular music than you seemed to be crediting.
Can't we just say this depends on the benchmark? I listen to several hours of classical music every day and I'm sorry but it's not easy for me to agree that harmony in pop music is sophisticated. It's not.

To come back to the larger point - the study of music theory is liberating. It's not a series of prohibitions as the OP sees it - rather it's a series of discoveries, some quite subtle, and a stream of new techniques.

But let's also get real - to study it systematically, comprehensively, as an adult, without some basic preparation - and on your own - is very very hard. It's a real commitment. And this is not even touching the subject of which "school" of theory to choose to study, since there's books available for each one. And what about a complete beginner going straight for the conservatory-level book like Korsakov, which I've seen some people try here?

And then again, I'm not so sure it's the theory that's the lowest hanging fruit right now for the OP, based on the SoundCloud.
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
I think the entire premise of music sounding sage and predictable being at the feet of music theory is completely false.

What you're hearing is people simply producing what is safe and pays bills.

You wouldn't disregard architect schooling because modern houses look the same. Most get paid to make generic stuff, one way or another - and that's due to consumers, not the technique used to make it.
 

3DC

Active Member
What's with this almost shame of knowing music theory? o_O
It like the painter would feel ashamed for knowing colors and perspective theory. Imagine Nikola Tesla working with electricity with no theory.
I am really sorry, I know how intervals and scales are constructed. I accidentally read the music theory book. I am now lesser musician. :crying:
Is this poor attempt to distance yourself from "regular" or "mortal" musicians as God created talent? I hate to point to the obvious but even Mozart was well educated in music theory. :rolleyes:

I will not comment Paul McCartney no music theory total bullshit. :sick:
 
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ryans

Senior Member
I understand exactly what you mean, but your intuitive improvisation is still based on music theory, whether or not you’re aware of it/deliberately utilizing it/consciously thinking about it.
I should clarify I'm not taking an 'anti-theory' stance here. I can't possibly understand why a person would be opposed to studying the architecture of music, if they love music. I love studying theory and have been doing it for many years.

At the risk of being combative :) I have to maintain that I don't use theory when I solo. Not because I don't want to, but because I can't. I can't think that fast. I can't think of which scale to play over E flat minor 7 when the chord changes every beat and the tempo is 330 bpm.
 

Martin S

Discount Bassy
I should clarify I'm not taking an 'anti-theory' stance here. I can't possibly understand why a person would be opposed to studying the architecture of music, if they love music. I love studying theory and have been doing it for many years.

At the risk of being combative :) I have to maintain that I don't use theory when I solo. Not because I don't want to, but because I can't. I can't think that fast. I can't think of which scale to play over E flat minor 7 when the chord changes every beat and the tempo is 330 bpm.
Neither do I, my mind is completely blank when I solo. I can’t think that fast either ;) Just playing a walking bass line at those breakneck speeds makes my brain explode, so I also - like you - resort to muscle memory obtained via practicing for decades. But the things I play and hear in my head is nonetheless based on (jazz) music theory.

Just because I/you don’t consciously think about theory when soloing (or comping) doesn’t mean that what we actually play isn’t based on music theory ;)
 
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