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Experienced working composer who wants to finally learn theory.

Headlands

Active Member
Hi all, I make a great living doing score work, songwriting and producing, and if I didn't tell anyone otherwise they would think I know music theory very deeply in an advanced way even though I do it all almost entirely by ear -- I'm not saying that to boast at all, but to give you background to a question: I'm looking for a great online method to learn theory and am looking for recommendations. I know the very basics and that's it. I need something that teaches in a way that's modern, interesting and musically-related (i.e. not dry textbook-style isolated from real music).

Any recommendations? I've seen a lot Googling but am looking for opinions and recommendations from people that aren't the companies selling the products.

Thanks!
 

NoamL

Winter <3
some questions :)

1. "I know the very basics," does that mean you can read sheet music? Understand basic harmony? where are you starting out from.

2. What are you aiming to learn, that is, where do you feel limited currently in writing music? Theory is all about liberating your musical language so your writing can be more flexible, nuanced, and diverse, but there are different sub fields of theory. If for example you feel that your music is limited to too small a set of moods/tones and that you're writing the same kinds of music again and again, then study harmony.... etc.. we can point you in the right direction.

If you want a resource that actually engages where you're at as a composer & your musical goals then private lessons might be the best. It depends what level you're currently at and where you want to go!
 
OP
H

Headlands

Active Member
some questions :)

1. "I know the very basics," does that mean you can read sheet music? Understand basic harmony? where are you starting out from.

2. What are you aiming to learn, that is, where do you feel limited currently in writing music? Theory is all about liberating your musical language so your writing can be more flexible, nuanced, and diverse, but there are different sub fields of theory. If for example you feel that your music is limited to too small a set of moods/tones and that you're writing the same kinds of music again and again, then study harmony.... etc.. we can point you in the right direction.

If you want a resource that actually engages where you're at as a composer & your musical goals then private lessons might be the best. It depends what level you're currently at and where you want to go!
Thanks for the reply.

1. I know basic major and minor scales and triads and I know seventh chords, but I don't know them in depth, i.e. if I sit down at the piano I'm extremely slow and can't really write. I know that practice is what it takes, and I'd like to find a method that is connected to actually making music.

2. I don't feel too limited in my writing but I do feel limited in my execution of it when writing, and also in my communication with other musicians. I feel that learning theory would definitely help my expression, speed, and expand my palette and what I reach for, even though I already write with a very big variety often with unusual voicing and harmonies...just doing it all by ear.
 
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ChrisSiuMusic

Senior Member
Hi there! Do you get the feeling that when you start writing, it’s at times difficult to continue and expand on your ideas? How comfortable are you with chord progressions, modulation, etc?
 

Paul T McGraw

Senior Member
I majored in music theory and composition way back in the 1970's. It would be great if there was a totally easy and painless method of learning, but in reality, there is not. When I went to school, all music majors had two years of music theory. And even at that point, towards the end most struggled with secondary dominants. Chromatic alteration, modal mixture and other techniques of romantic era harmony were a closed-door most would never open.

You have a distinct advantage in that you have developed your ear to a very high level of proficiency. If you can make yourself work hard to learn traditional theory, you will be unstoppable. But it will take work.

Your best avenue, especially since it would be tax-deductible from your other music earnings, would be to engage a private teacher and work page by page, chapter by chapter through a standard college text, such as "Tonal Harmony" by Kostka. Any other method would most likely leave holes in your knowledge that will limit your ultimate mastery. I know this is not what you want to hear.

I particularly recommend the Kostka because you can purchase CDs for the examples, plus workbooks for practice. If you submit your work to your teacher, you will get honest feedback regarding your mastery of concepts. And yes, you really will need to read the book, do the exercises, and take tests. Fortunately, with a private teacher, you can move at your own speed, and cover everything in far less than two years.

Good luck,
 

ChrisSiuMusic

Senior Member
Paul is absolutely right. In my classical program they were teaching tone rows and atonality in the later years, stuff I had no interest in. My base came from years of tonal theory study from when I was a child.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn the basics, and the intermediate concepts should come naturally as you incorporate the basics!
 

marco berco

New Member
Hi all, I make a great living doing score work, songwriting and producing, and if I didn't tell anyone otherwise they would think I know music theory very deeply in an advanced way even though I do it all almost entirely by ear -- I'm not saying that to boast at all, but to give you background to a question: I'm looking for a great online method to learn theory and am looking for recommendations. I know the very basics and that's it. I need something that teaches in a way that's modern, interesting and musically-related (i.e. not dry textbook-style isolated from real music).

Any recommendations? I've seen a lot Googling but am looking for opinions and recommendations from people that aren't the companies selling the products.

Thanks!
Hello Headlands,

It sounds really great you have done all your works by ear as it means, especially if you are making a great living, that you already developped your musical creativity. Learning other tools and devices won't replace what you already are able to do but will add to your knowledge.

Working professionaly in my country as an arranger-orchestrator-composer, I studied the main musical methods at Berklee and in the Conservatory and those were purely diatonic, sometimes going to a bit of atonal. Then after turning around into the diatonic system and feeling I was stuck somewhere and that somrthing was missing, I went to EIS to study the theory of intervals, it was a nice beginning for me into the interval writing but not enough as I wanted to go more into the orchestral symphonic side, especially for writing music for films, animations and video games I ended up taking the whole "MITA (Music Interval Theory Academy)" course and after two years and preparing my graduation soon I found this course terrific for my goals.

No more writer's block and a system which permits to go from diatonic to intervalic (not really atonal), from simple to complex and vice versa (generally one tends to write too simple or too complicated), this method really gives you the best of both world. I think you should perhaps go to see what's up there, and more, they have a very nice community of composers who share their works and help each other, so as a very well done site with many videos and explanations, you can suscribe as a member without taking private lessons and if you feel happy with them you can start to take private lessons.On the first page you can listen to many MITA composer's works to get an idea of what's going on.

Hoping that my reply will help you.

Cheers
 
OP
H

Headlands

Active Member
I majored in music theory and composition way back in the 1970's. It would be great if there was a totally easy and painless method of learning, but in reality, there is not. When I went to school, all music majors had two years of music theory. And even at that point, towards the end most struggled with secondary dominants. Chromatic alteration, modal mixture and other techniques of romantic era harmony were a closed-door most would never open.

You have a distinct advantage in that you have developed your ear to a very high level of proficiency. If you can make yourself work hard to learn traditional theory, you will be unstoppable. But it will take work.

Your best avenue, especially since it would be tax-deductible from your other music earnings, would be to engage a private teacher and work page by page, chapter by chapter through a standard college text, such as "Tonal Harmony" by Kostka. Any other method would most likely leave holes in your knowledge that will limit your ultimate mastery. I know this is not what you want to hear.

I particularly recommend the Kostka because you can purchase CDs for the examples, plus workbooks for practice. If you submit your work to your teacher, you will get honest feedback regarding your mastery of concepts. And yes, you really will need to read the book, do the exercises, and take tests. Fortunately, with a private teacher, you can move at your own speed, and cover everything in far less than two years.

Good luck,
Thank you, I'll take this to heart.
 
OP
H

Headlands

Active Member
Hello Headlands,

It sounds really great you have done all your works by ear as it means, especially if you are making a great living, that you already developped your musical creativity. Learning other tools and devices won't replace what you already are able to do but will add to your knowledge.

Working professionaly in my country as an arranger-orchestrator-composer, I studied the main musical methods at Berklee and in the Conservatory and those were purely diatonic, sometimes going to a bit of atonal. Then after turning around into the diatonic system and feeling I was stuck somewhere and that somrthing was missing, I went to EIS to study the theory of intervals, it was a nice beginning for me into the interval writing but not enough as I wanted to go more into the orchestral symphonic side, especially for writing music for films, animations and video games I ended up taking the whole "MITA (Music Interval Theory Academy)" course and after two years and preparing my graduation soon I found this course terrific for my goals.

No more writer's block and a system which permits to go from diatonic to intervalic (not really atonal), from simple to complex and vice versa (generally one tends to write too simple or too complicated), this method really gives you the best of both world. I think you should perhaps go to see what's up there, and more, they have a very nice community of composers who share their works and help each other, so as a very well done site with many videos and explanations, you can suscribe as a member without taking private lessons and if you feel happy with them you can start to take private lessons.On the first page you can listen to many MITA composer's works to get an idea of what's going on.

Hoping that my reply will help you.

Cheers
Yes, definitely helps me -- thank you.
 
OP
H

Headlands

Active Member
Paul is absolutely right. In my classical program they were teaching tone rows and atonality in the later years, stuff I had no interest in. My base came from years of tonal theory study from when I was a child.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn the basics, and the intermediate concepts should come naturally as you incorporate the basics!
Thank you!
 

D Halgren

Senior Member
Interesting! Can you elaborate on why you like ScoreClub? I checked it out and would like to hear from someone who has done it.
It is comprehensive and builds on each lesson. I find it a great program, you just have to put in the work. Plus, it was built for people just like yourself, that are working composers, who just want more knowledge and control over their process.

Just search on here for ScoreClub reviews, or reach out to Alain/ check out his free samples, etc. I think you'll find that sans private lessons, it's the best the internet has to offer.

@alainmayrand

Cheers!
 

musicalweather

Active Member
Here's something that may help with self-study: Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro. It's an app (Mac or iOS) which gives you a visual representation of music theory concepts. I wish I had had this when learning music theory for the first time. Having a visual representation makes it easier to understand the relationship of chords and keys and how to move about into more interesting harmonies. I bought the first workbook, but honestly, it's not as helpful as simply watching all their videos.

I'm using this app because I'd like to expand my harmonic skills and write with more sophistication. I think this app will eventually help me do that, more readily than the some of the chord progression generator apps I've been looking at.

Link: Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro
 

coffeecomposer

New Member
I acquired a sophisticated technique too by obsessing over, playing and listening to music while knowing nearly no theory. About two years ago I decided to learn all the basics on Wikipedia. More recently I bought counterpoint by Fux, harmony by Tchaikovsky, composition by Schoenberg, and orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov. The old treatises by the greats are invaluable gold mines of information which don’t mess around with modern garbage. So yeah. Treatises: a great resource. Also Wikipedia.
 
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merlinhimself

Active Member
I've been off and on with the same hopes as you for awhile! I think im going to sign up for score club, see how it goes timewise for me, and if i can finish maybe consider doing berklee online or maybe one of the local universities here!

same boat here @Headlands , I never went to school for music, a lot of self teaching (Im a terrible instructor) and figuring it out with my ears, but I feel like having a solid foundation would build confidence, obviously make work more enjoyable and easier, and give myself some sense of accomplishment in music!
 

robgb

I was young once
My fear is that it may hinder you more than help. Learning that you're doing it the "wrong" way can freeze up some composers. For me, it's like writing fiction, which is what I do to pay the mortgage. I've never taken a writing class in my life (other than high school English), yet it has not kept me from success in the field. I suspect if I actually took a class it would be detrimental.
 

mducharme

Senior Member
Learning theory is never a bad thing, as long as you have the clear understanding that just because a set of rules may say or may seem to say "this is wrong", it doesn't mean that it is always wrong in every case in every style of music.

When you learn harmony in general it is based on a set of rules for what is normal for a particular style - common practice harmony for reproducing pseudo-Bach, pseudo-Mozart, pseudo-Haydn or Beethoven, etc. Then Jazz harmony, which tends to be more open, but still reflects Jazz practice.

Usually if you can't explain something or if something seems wrong based on the "rules", but it sounds good, it is usually just that you are intuitively using a concept that you haven't learned yet, or you are writing outside of the style that the "rules" are designed to reproduce.
 

Dewdman42

Senior Member
Learning theory could be liberating for you, if nothing else it will open you up to some ideas outside the box and help you understand what you’ve already been doing intuitively by ear. In my opinion there is no perfect one road to music theory proficiency. There are many paths and basically learning anything at all is better then nothing and there is no real rush, just get some books and strart using them. Don’t just read them, you have to work through the examples and make yourself write something every day using the theory you’re learning as you go.

speed will come not so much from understanding theory,but rather from rote memorization of certain things as you merge your creative right brain with the left brain during these studies. The understanding part may open you up to some new musical ideas and enable you to make write in many styles on demand, arrange properly and I submit that voice leading and counterpoint theory will improve the stuff you are writing but listening the typical musical audience is not hard to impress without that.

i am personally a fan of the Berklee approach which would be a good place for you to start but not their online courses. Just buy their text books, if you google around they can be found in pdf form on the net but years ago I just called their campus bookstore and ordered their harmony and arranging textbooks, I told them i was preparing to go to school there.

Berklee method is very tonal, practical and focused on commercial music, in other words you’re not trying to impress the composer world with some atonal work of art but actually make music that most people want to hear. Private lessons with a Berklee grad would be the best imho. I think Berklee approach will line up closely with what you’ve been doing by ear so far and extend you into more depth with modal interchange and tensions
 

Assa

Active Member
Hi all, I make a great living doing score work, songwriting and producing, and if I didn't tell anyone otherwise they would think I know music theory very deeply in an advanced way even though I do it all almost entirely by ear -- I'm not saying that to boast at all, but to give you background to a question: I'm looking for a great online method to learn theory and am looking for recommendations. I know the very basics and that's it. I need something that teaches in a way that's modern, interesting and musically-related (i.e. not dry textbook-style isolated from real music).

Any recommendations? I've seen a lot Googling but am looking for opinions and recommendations from people that aren't the companies selling the products.

Thanks!
Hey Headlands!

I can warmly recommend studying with Leon Willet to anybody who is looking for compositional or orchestrational tuition
( http://www.leonwillett.com/leonwillett.com/Skype_Lessons.html )

He offers Skype lessons which are totally worth it. I currently have the pleasure to study with him - he really is a fantastic teacher ! (And rightfully so, you can find a lot more praise regarding his lessons here on VI-Control)

He offers a very unique way of teaching things, which are very practical, and quite the opposite of "dry textbook style" you mentioned - so maybe this is exactly what you are looking for.

If you scroll down in this thread, you will find a good description of what he has to offer, written by himself:


Cheers ! :)
 
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