On the list of things that you want to do when you get off work, where does learning about Sus9 chords rank? How about augmented 5ths?
Yeah, me neither.
Following an interesting discussion over at the twitter yesterday, I’ve decided to give my two cents about music theory for electronic musicians and why I think you SHOULDN’T waste your time with music theory if you are an electronic musician.
First, full disclosure: I have a HEAP of music theory learnin’. I went to school for classical and jazz bass performance and took all the requisite theory classes up until I was about 18. I still read, in my spare time, books on jazz harmony and 20th century experimental music.
Thus, I’m able to offer you this informed definition of what classical music theory is: Music theory is knowing the “safe way” to put notes together.
Let’s face it, making music is about problems. I put a whole bunch of notes together and then I have to ask myself, What’s next? And, then: What’s next and so on. That’s basically how this works. Well, music theory will provide you a whole bunch of safe answers about what to do next.
But, unfortunately, like all theories, music theory is both a tool AND a method of analysis. As the saying goes, “when you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail.” So it goes with music theory. And, if you’re not careful, the safe answers are going to be the only answers that you see when you look at a problem. It will tell you what the only “possible” next notes for your bassline can be. It will tell you what notes “have” to be in the chord. And forever and ever, amen.
So, I can tell you from experience that music theory, knowing the “right” way to put chords, melodies and rhythms together, has probably prevented me from coming up with as much music as it has enabled me to come up with. Whenever I do something or hear something that sounds “wrong,” I try to fit it into my little theoretical system. If it doesn’t fit, I disregard it, or I make up some exception to the rule.
And that is why I think, sometimes, that I would be better off with a lot less theory. Because then, I would have learned everything by trial and error and, even if it took triple the time, I’d be more in tune with what sounds good than what is “right” by the standards of music theory.
Of course, you know what my next post is going to be: Why music theory is the most important piece of gear you’ll ever own. I couldn’t decide how I felt about the issue, so I decided to give a post to both sides of the argument. How’s that for indecision?
Let me know what you think in the comments or on the twitter. I’d really be interested to know what people from all over the musical spectrum think about the value of theory!