Music is an arrangement of sounds. These arrangements that are present in music are the devices that relate to us and touch us emotionally as listeners, but they are often taken for granted.
Underappreciated are the centuries of development and evolution that music has undergone to arrive where it is today. The notes you hear in nearly all of today’s music are part of a 12-tone system that was slowly but steadily developed. These 12-tones are separated and arranged into keys, chords, harmonies and melodies, the building blocks of all modern music. You may feel like you don’t need to use music theory, but unknowingly, you are already making music in the systems of established music theory that took centuries to come together. When you practice and learn music theory, you will understand the relationships and patterns of music and it will become an invaluable tool for your music production. Learning Music Theory will be a guiding tool rather than restricting you!!
Advantages of Learning Music Theory
- Music theory is a toolbox. If you know how to use the tools well, you can achieve far more than you can without the tools.
- Knowing what’s possible with your toolbox, you can think more creatively. You know how to make a certain style or sound that you might not know how to achieve without theory knowledge.
- Music theory provides constraints that enhance creativity.
“It’s absolutely essential you understand just a little music theory, even if you don’t want to study it in depth.
When we don’t know music theory and we are playing guitar, piano or just clicking notes in our DAW, we are searching for what sounds good. If you spend enough time trying to make music without any guidance, you will eventually find some guidance on your own; the guidance in the form of the natural familiarity you’ve built.
You will have begun to recognize patterns whether you’ve studied music theory or not. It is unavoidable. You’re looking for what sounds good and it almost always happens to be made up of a major or minor key and a series of chords and melodies that fit into them. You may not know it consciously, but your ears do.
Instead of randomly selecting notes, you will already understand what is likely to sound good. When you apply your music theory knowledge practically to your music, everything becomes more familiar. As long as you use this familiarity to guide your creativity and continue to push your boundaries, the familiarity will not become a disadvantage to your creativity, but a powerful tool. Your workflow will improve. You will understand why certain notes sound off in your production. You’ll quickly recognize that staying in key is critical to having a relatable sound that doesn’t disorient the listener or make your music sound “out of tune”. You’ll understand how chords and melody drive an arrangement, you’ll see the patterns in your favorite artists’ music and be able to apply them to your own music.
“One common misconception about music theory is that it is a set of rules. It’s not. It’s a set of descriptions. “
Music theory does not exist to create boundaries for what music can and cannot sound like, it exists to describe the music the people have made and try and describe why something sounds good, or bad, or happy, scary, haunting, bouncy, etc. So it’s less of a GPS, and more of a map.
What many producers and musicians who don’t study music theory seem to miss is that the trial and error approach is actually them learning music theory, unintentionally, in a slow and inefficient way.
You may have the fear that you’ll become so familiar with music theory that it will lock up your creativity in the confines of “proper” technicalities and habits that are difficult to escape. Understand that the cost of having no guidance in your music production is probably far greater. Let your creativity be an extension of your musical knowledge and not a shot in the dark within a game of trial and error.
The fear that you will get locked into a system if you learn music theory is actually what usually happens when you don’t learn it. You’ve recognized patterns by experimenting and it’s common to start using those patterns over and over.
Think of a producer, guitarist or pianist who sounds really good at first and their music is seemingly very creative, but after listening more you realize all their songs and playing kind of just sounds the same. This is usually because through experimentation they slowly found a style of sound they like and it became their comfort zone. The lack of challenging themselves and learning the various concepts of music turned them into a one-trick pony.
False concepts of Music Theory
- It’s boring
- It’s a waste of time
- It bounds you
Is learning music theory mandatory for Musicians?? The ultimate answer should be YES, you should learn music theory. Music is made up of intricate patterns, shapes and flavors of sounds that we use through our creative process to shape into something beautiful.
Benefits of learning music theory:
- Improves communication :
It helps you in communicating with fellow musicians or composers. Music theory basically provides you a communication language.
If you have learned the theory, you could better express yourself; what needs to be done and how you want your fellow musicians to perform.
- Learn faster :
If you are at the early stages of learning music, its theory could really help you in this process. It will make your learning process faster. You will be able to read and understand different complex pieces. You will able to understand the whole harmonic structure of a score.
- Learn different methods :
There are many composition techniques used all around the world. Different musicians use different techniques. If you only one or two composition techniques, you could never excel as a composer. But, by learning music theory you would be able to understand and learn different composition techniques and reach your full potential
- Create your own style :
Music theory won’t just let you create your own compositions or songs but it will also help you create melodic shapes in your own style. When the foundation is strong you won’t have any problems in experimenting with different styles, you would be able to mix different genres and create a music composition that no one has heard before.
- Enables you to work with music software :
Music directors around the world use computers to create and arrange music. Different music software is used for this purpose like, a MIDI sequencer that makes creating music easier or a DJ software that allows you to create remix by combining different tracks.
Learning and practicing music theory will broaden your understanding of those shapes and patterns. Challenge yourself by learning and practicing music theory and your creativity won’t be locked up, it will be freed.