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Discussion in 'Guitar Lessons' started by huw, Jul 8, 2010.
Can't they just hear what to play, what sounds good or "right".....
Yeah, but sometimes not until I've played what sounds bad or 'wrong'.
This thread is all about music theory, which is something I've tried to avoid for about thirty years. However, it occurred to me comparatively recently that, whether or not I could hear what to play, I was interested in why what sounds right sounds good and why what sounds bad sounds wrong. And as I haven't been able to work that out empirically after thirty years of footling around on the fretboard, I decided that it was time to stop being lazy ('cos that's all it was) and do a bit of theoretical work.
For me, this thread is the latest tranche of information in that endeavour, and I find it very useful. More to the point, understanding the theory has had a real effect practically. I've improved more as a player in the last six months than I did in the preceding two decades.
ignorance is bliss....
I can't sight read...learned when i was little, but I can't do it....but I sure like learning about theory. It's essential....ESSENTIAL!!!!
"i play what sounds goooood man..." That's like an illiterate telling you they don't need to know how to read because they know how to talk just fine.
This thread should be a "Sticky"
That's a fantastic goal, but for many people getting there takes some work. For muself I found that I would "hear" certain things to play only after I had been exposed to them through study.
The point of this thread wasn't that people "need" this stuff; it was because those people who do want to know about this are often confronted with internet sites full of mixed up half truths, conflicting information, and stuff that is plain wrong. I wanted to put a bunch of stuff that was actually correct, all in one place, if only so that I could find it quickly when I wanted to. That's why the title was "For reference..."
Like learning a language, you can learn music entirely by ear if you want. The advantage with music over a foreign language is that we know already when something sounds wrong. We've heard music all our lives which follows the rules of "sounding right", and the grammar of that goes into our heads, so we can immediately spot when something's wrong. We just don't know what it is.
So you can learn music by a kind of trial and error, learning to "avoid the bad notes": learning (step by step) what kind of rules, patterns and formulas allow one to avoid the bad notes, and only play with the good ones.
Of course, it then becomes an issue of "how good", or "what kind of good"... Most notes (at any one moment) are "good". But some may be better than others, and that's a much more subtle (and flexible) set of rules to learn (can take a lifetime).
What theory does is (firstly) to give names, labels and written signs to the sounds, so one can start to think about them in a more organised fashion. One can read (and talk and write) about music, and therefore learn things more quickly that way.
The fact is (unfortunately for those that believe in "total creative freedom") that "good" sounds are generally familiar ones, that follow well-understood rules. A "bad" sound is one that breaks the rules, that's outside the rules. That's for the very simple reason that the rules themselves derive from what most people considered were "good" sounds. And naturally they're the ones that get used most, and so get more familiar, and so seem more "natural".
(As I've said before, it's not possible to make a musical sound that you think is "good" that breaks any theoretical rules. The good sounds are all covered.)
However, the rules have flexibility built in. That's a very important point to understand. We often say that theory is about "guidelines" not "laws". You can follow simple rules faithfully and get reliably "good" sounds. But you won't get anything very exciting. What makes music moving, exciting, absorbing, is the artistic juggling of the rules, the way they can be mixed in an infinite number of ways, and the way our expectations can be subverted. (Composers can use familiar moves, encouraging certain expectations, and then make the music go somewhere else, as a surprise. But it takes intelligence, experience, and musical taste to do that well.)
The ear always rules, of course. No matter how much theory we know, the ear is the final judge. There's always a point at which the theory stops, and creativity, personal choice, takes over. We can use theory to get us off the ground, but we use our ears to "fly"... (cue picture of Dumbo... )
One last thing: "music theory" - as generally understood and taught - deals almost exclusively with pitch and pitch relationships: notes, scales, chords, keys, harmony. What it doesn't deal with very much (if at all) are other crucial musical factors such as rhythm, timbre, tone, expression, articulation, etc. Some of these things are impossible to break down into writable formulae, that's why. (In theory, rhythm tends to be reduced to counting, duration, simplified forms of timing. Any jazz or blues player knows it's a whole lot more than that.)
Timbre is something very important in rock music (just look at how obsessive guitarists get with types of distortion...), yet theory has nothing to say about that at all.
So theory certainly has its limitations. Essentially it is just "some information". That's all. Information is good, of course; but it comes in many many forms...
Nice reference...thread stuck.
I got a sticky! Wow - thanks for that. Two years after the thread was started this seems to have gone balistic today!
Rather embarasingly I've just spotted a typo in my OP. Anyone spot it?
Last line should read "Chords: C D7 Em F#dim G Am Bm.
A man after my heart.
All keys have so many scales/positions to play - gimme a key and off we go.
A thousand thankyou's !
Thanks for this!
I'll give a fry cook's analogy that maybe only rings with me, but here it is anyway.
I'm in the middle of teaching a guy at work how to do the books. The steps are all written out in order. "Just follow the steps" Sounds simple enough. Reading all this made me think of the thing I try to get people to grasp when teaching them basic accounting. "Quit focusing on the what and focus on the why". If you just learn the steps but not the why, you'll never get it. You might can fake your way through a report and you'll probably even get the right answer, but if you don't understand the "whys", you'll never really know.
I'm a step following faker when it comes to music.
I might can keep up with you on Stormy Monday, but I don't know why.
If you change songs on me, you'll embarrass me.
I know the why's of accounting, but only the steps of music.
I really hope to change that and love that it's all laid out in this site.
It is much appreciated!