Music Theory - is there ever a point where you have everything in your composition under control?

Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by ein fisch, May 15, 2019.

  1. ein fisch

    ein fisch Dreamer

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    So this is a question for all the composers here that did learn music theory for a long time (5+ years), including ear training and all that good stuff;

    Are your compositions still a try-and-fail sometimes or can you make faster decisions due to it (well i bet you can, but was that speed-up worth the hours/years of practice?)? Like knowing exactly if you're gonna use this voicing after the other voicing?

    When i think of me after learning and practicing music theory for a couple years my goal would be to gain more control and not having to try and fail all the time. Like sitting down, listening to a piece of mozart and be able to sit down and instantly remake it in my daw without trying around like "hmm, did he use a 7th or normal chord there?".. am i hunting for something there which can be achieved?

    Have a good day
     
  2. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

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    Theory is super for getting you out of the 12-bar sample loop rut that a lot of young composers get into. It can help you with making your compositions longer, shorter; throw out music that just isn't working out, give you confidence in more out-there compositional choices...it helps in so many ways it's ridiculous.

    I often incorporate a freewheeling approach to composition (which in part means I'm not worrying too much about theory), but that happens mostly in the sketching stage (which is where it generally belongs). When I'm editing my graduate's degree in music really helps, no question there.

    All that said, there are great musicians/songwriters who wrote many of their masterpieces knowing only a modicum of theory. The Beatles, mid-60s Beach Boys.

    Heck, for an example of an album obviously bereft of any real theoretical-allegiance pick up Slayer's "Reign in Blood". They threw away the rules for the most part and instead went for whatever sounded good (in this case blisteringly eeevilll). And I believe that album is multi-platinum (probably better than that).

    I think it's all about context, once again. I just know I'm so glad I studied theory, and use it (or consciously avoid it, which is still using it I suppose) every day.

    I can't go without mentioned the invaluable factor of happy mistakes... :)
     
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  3. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 old school

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    yes it can be achieved, except when it can't.
     
  4. Saxer

    Saxer Senior Member

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    Theory and ear training helps a lot to get more possibilities and recognizing good desicions. Also good for transcribing/arranging jobs.
    But composing interesting stuff is like inventing good new jokes. New good jokes are hard to find and even harder to create. It remains hard if you don't just repeat standard things (which is mostly enough for media composing). Since 45 years I think I'm just starting...
     
  5. ism

    ism Senior Member

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    I call it the 'dolphin metaphor' (although I originally came up with it to describe the experience of doing theoretical physics).

    Imagine you're a dolphin swimming and leaping out to the water in flights of intuitive leap - temporarily rising above the technical details of water speed and swishing your tail in order to get maximal efficiency in your propulsion.

    Eventually you need to come back into the water and immerse yourself in these details and technicalities of the medium of water and build up some more momentum for your next leap of intuition.

    But while you're in the air, other that making sure that you don't land with a belly flop, you have a certain freedom to take in things from a larger perspective unhindered by the grindingly literal technical details.


    I'd argue that this metaphor works for listening to music to. A (well composed) piece sets up recognizable, absorbable sets of structure grounded in pattern recognition and harmonic theory such, but then once in a while it's ok to ask the listener to leap out of in off in some crazy direction.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  6. eph221

    eph221 Member

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    I was lucky to have learned most theory before I even got to college age, it's really second nature. There are three things I'm really glad I did (y) 1. learn theory 2. learn some instruments to the point of mastery and 3. learn how to teach. The latter is overlooked by some but it really takes you out of the egocentricism and into the world of others POV's. With that arsenal you can compose from 360 degrees...performers, composers, and audience. Just take jazz piano lessons and ask the teacher to explain theory to you, it's easier when there's a con-text. It's not hard to apply jazz theory to classical music.
     
  7. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

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    I should add that ear training to me is so obviously mandatory as to be compulsive. A tone deaf composer isn't going to get very far in practically any musical context.

    Uhhh, unless you're under the auspices of one of those the-producer-basically-does-everything projects (kinda like what Beyoncé, Madonna, Bieber, etc. do...excuse me, don't).

    That is, (and this probably should go without saying) if you have the youth, looks, openness to current trends and fashion, elite agent, etc. then you really don't have to know much about music at all (or even be in tune, on time...we could go on).
     
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  8. eph221

    eph221 Member

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    It's an extremely large Pie now that the business is international. please don't poo poo madonna's talent. She really is a very talented person, as is beyonce. :D:D
     
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  9. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

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    I'll poo where I please. And a special poo 'pon your poo-pooing indignity.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  10. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

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    "Try and fail" is not an option if you have a merciless deadline, which is most of the time if you are on a job. In that case, knowing how to make the brass "just do their thing" without having to peck at the keyboard for an hour is indispensable.

    Put another way, I've often attended scoring sessions and can hear what a composer is reaching for -- but he doesn't really know how to get there. Sometimes it's hopeless -- too many changes are needed. But, more often, a few revoicings of chords, or maybe a judicious doubling or even octave change can bring the music where he intended.
     
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  11. OP
    OP
    ein fisch

    ein fisch Dreamer

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    Interesting. But is that really due to theory knowledge? I thought the awareness of "what works" comes with years of practical experience. As i got often told - even by people which learned music theory - that i should just go with what sounds best (as long as im not writing complex classical counterpoint stuff).. this made me think of music theory to be kind of a waste of time for me (like learning rules which doesnt even have practical use later on in music unless the very basic ones), and i thought i rather jump straight into my daw and try and fail for a long long time until im aware of whats going on.

    Or did i miss something?

    Thanks everyone for the replies so far
     
  12. OP
    OP
    ein fisch

    ein fisch Dreamer

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    I wish i had that trendy teenager voice which i could smash onto my productions and make them shine without even knowing whats going on compositionally.
    Sadly i dont.
    Is there an online application which you'd recommend for practicing ear training on a daily basis?
     
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  13. Leon Willett

    Leon Willett Active Member

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    Theory, when done right (and more often than not it isn't!) is a tool that helps you get to get your music to sound exactly the way you want.

    Theory, when done wrong (most books, most courses) is a set of dogmas that have little or nothing to do with how your music sounds -- which is why theory gets the bad reputation to which you're referring.

    "What works", as you put it, is synonymous with, simply: "how you, the composer, want it to sound". So, if theory helps you sound the way you want, it isn't something different to "what works"; it is one and the same thing. Theory = what works.

    ... if theory is done right, of course ;)
     
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  14. visiblenoise

    visiblenoise New Member

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    I'd sooner attribute speed/intuitiveness while composing to organized and conscious experimentation/practice, rather than learning theory. It's entirely possible to learn theory without having it help much with composing... I managed it for years when I studied piano as a kid who didn't particularly even like music.

    I think the only invaluable part of learning theory lies in the awareness of the principles that people stick to, but even that in itself is worthless until you play with those ideas yourself. If you had an amazing ear, you could figure it all out by yourself and it would be just as good, except you just wouldn't know the names of those ideas.
     
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  15. Parsifal666

    Parsifal666 I don't even own a DAW, I'm just a troll.

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    This lends hope to folks who don't want the tools first, but there's no replacing foreknowledge. Without that things are going to be harder, only a fool would deny that. Get the tools and then you get to where you want faster. You can't spend your time starting with nothing and reverse engineering without stymying yourself now and again. Get the tools straight, then you know the options involved whenever you inevitably get stuck. Endlessly trying to tutor oneself on the web can lead to confusion due to too mamy opinions. If you wish to be a part of the vanguard, being relatively undereducated is your stumbling block. And it will haunt you.
     
  16. miket

    miket Team Dany

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    I know theory and I'm still an absolutely dreadful composer. Your mileage may vary....
     
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  17. Sean

    Sean I don't know what I'm talking about

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    Sure theory will not necessarily help you find a really cool melody you like, but knowing how chords work and how to make them "make sense" theory wise is an invaluable tool. With theory there are chords that lead to each other and this helps create a good progression. Sure you can find these chord progressions without the theory knowledge, but it takes longer.

    This is just one example of how music theory "can" help. Obviously it will not make you an award winning composer, but I believe it can certainly help.
     
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  18. visiblenoise

    visiblenoise New Member

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    I agree to some degree, maybe I take my earlier studying for granted and am unwilling to give it credit because I see that part of my life as a waste of opportunity. However, I've spent a lot of time only enjoying listening to relatively inscrutable music (you seem to know metal, I'm referring to Deathspell Omega and the like), and being frustrated at not being able to figure out what exactly they're doing on guitar (with no obvious music theory to guide me), yet I'm still able to incorporate a bit of those influences into original material, with some logical thought and experimentation. Then again it may be a poor imitation so I may be talking out of my ass.

    Also I just realized I am only talking from the perspective of an only-for-me sort of artist... if someone is commissioning you, I imagine that things change a lot!
     
  19. Leon Portelance

    Leon Portelance Composer | Songwriter

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    I spent 4 years learning theory and composition in the beginning of the 70’s. I really don’t think about it much anymore, it is ingrained in me. A lot of my rock and pop tunes have a lot of classical influences in them.
     
  20. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 old school

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    Clearly theory is technique too and if you have to use technique to play an instrument, or use knowledge of techniques to mix a track, then you should be using it to aid composing - it is not a separate discipline. Once learnt and applied to your work correctly, it should be as Leon says, instinctive.
    Theory is your guiding hand and if learnt properly will give you insight and help you find your own artistry....it's also bloody marvellous when the clock is ticking, because there is no need to flounce around in your silk dressing gown throwing tantrums and imploring inspiration to show up....you just go with the flow and get it done to a high standard....:thumbsup:
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2019
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