philosophy of creativity - Music vs. Music Theory - Ignore the Gatekeepers!

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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

let's discuss why music theory isn't necessary to make music, and why you shouldn't listen to the purists who try to tell you otherwise.

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bxbrkrz
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Post 16 Aug 2020

If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
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MannequinRaces
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Post 16 Aug 2020

bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
Not necessarily. People who compose by ear sometimes break the rules without even knowing they did.

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bxbrkrz
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Post 16 Aug 2020

MannequinRaces wrote:
16 Aug 2020
bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
Not necessarily. People who compose by ear sometimes break the rules without even knowing they did.
Image

The OP's video makes sense in a few cultures in the world, but it can't be a universal concept. For some cultures music is their "written" history. It may not just be about the right chord progression, or even the right tuning, or just 12 notes.



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selig
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Post 16 Aug 2020

bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
I used to believe that, but I fundamentally misunderstood one thing: Classical music theory only teaches ONE (of many) sets of rules, the rules for European classical music. In that context, if you don't want to sound like European classical music, then most definitely break those rules!

My own personal story involved believing I needed to study theory in order to learn to compose. But in my case, exactly the opposite occurred - the more theory I learned, the less music I was able to compose. In my case this was because I was trying to compose "by the rules", asking myself what chord should come next according to music theory rules. This led to some incredibly boring music, music that even "I" could not enjoy listening to the next day. And I logically assumed that if "I" didn't enjoy listening to my music, how could I ask or expect anyone else to do so?

The solution was to ditch theory for composition, which quickly led to a bulk dump of material that eventually became the basis for my first (1986) album.

That being said, if you want to analyze and chart existing music, a little theory is helpful. I see theory more as a written form of music used to communicate most Western style from one musician to another. In that light it is helpful, and in that light it is best to follow the rules, since the person reading what you wrote down has certain expectations based on said rules.

But for being "creative" and exploring your own sound, I really see little use for the theory I've learned, with one possible exception: Interval/chord identification. When I "hear" a melody/chord in my head, I find it easy to play it on a keyboard more accurately because I have really good interval training (the only part of music theory I was actually any good at). I can "speak" the intervals of a melody, which is to say I can identify the first step is a major 6th up from the first note, the second is a major 2nd down, etc.

Otherwise, music theory was more of a stumbling block to me than a compositional aid, but luckily I ditched it early on and have never looked back!
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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
MannequinRaces wrote:
16 Aug 2020

Not necessarily. People who compose by ear sometimes break the rules without even knowing they did.
Image

The OP's video makes sense in a few cultures in the world, but it can't be a universal concept. For some cultures music is their "written" history. It may not just be about the right chord progression, or even the right tuning, or just 12 notes.



placing music into a specific context (a culture), isn't much different than placing it into the context of music theory.

I would argue that it IS universal (in fact, that's what I do argue in the video). the idea that music requires the western 12-tone system is obviously false on its face, and that's directly related to my point. you can use anything to create music. banging on atonal pots and pans can be music--no theory required.

by the same token, there's nothing stopping anyone in a particular culture from making music that fits within that culture, even without understanding the theory behind it. I can point to my own experience as an example; I can easily write rock songs which fit nicely within the American rock tradition. I couldn't tell you the first thing about the theory behind why the particular chord progressions I've chosen are appropriate for that music. I'm guided by my ears.

I guess the way I look at it is...without music there would be no music theory. but without music theory, there would still be music. it's not a chicken and egg thing--we know which came first, and we know which is fundamentally more important, even if some (the gatekeepers I talk about) don't care to admit it.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

selig wrote:
16 Aug 2020
bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
I used to believe that, but I fundamentally misunderstood one thing: Classical music theory only teaches ONE (of many) sets of rules, the rules for European classical music. In that context, if you don't want to sound like European classical music, then most definitely break those rules!

My own personal story involved believing I needed to study theory in order to learn to compose. But in my case, exactly the opposite occurred - the more theory I learned, the less music I was able to compose. In my case this was because I was trying to compose "by the rules", asking myself what chord should come next according to music theory rules. This led to some incredibly boring music, music that even "I" could not enjoy listening to the next day. And I logically assumed that if "I" didn't enjoy listening to my music, how could I ask or expect anyone else to do so?

The solution was to ditch theory for composition, which quickly led to a bulk dump of material that eventually became the basis for my first (1986) album.

That being said, if you want to analyze and chart existing music, a little theory is helpful. I see theory more as a written form of music used to communicate most Western style from one musician to another. In that light it is helpful, and in that light it is best to follow the rules, since the person reading what you wrote down has certain expectations based on said rules.

But for being "creative" and exploring your own sound, I really see little use for the theory I've learned, with one possible exception: Interval/chord identification. When I "hear" a melody/chord in my head, I find it easy to play it on a keyboard more accurately because I have really good interval training (the only part of music theory I was actually any good at). I can "speak" the intervals of a melody, which is to say I can identify the first step is a major 6th up from the first note, the second is a major 2nd down, etc.

Otherwise, music theory was more of a stumbling block to me than a compositional aid, but luckily I ditched it early on and have never looked back!
thanks for sharing this story! this is precisely what I think more people should try to understand before undertaking any creative endeavor. I agree 100% with everything you say here, and I'm glad to hear you managed to figure out how to get where you wanted to be as a composer. I still find myself (~25 years into being a musician) hesitant to start learning theory, because I'm so worried that once I know these 'rules', it will be harder for me to keep being as free with my ideas as I always have been.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

MannequinRaces wrote:
16 Aug 2020
bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
Not necessarily. People who compose by ear sometimes break the rules without even knowing they did.
yes! but to get really meta, there aren't any rules in the first place, so it's kind of like...we're drawing unicorns freehand on blank pieces of paper, and then later, someone takes an outline of a pre-drawn unicorn, and overlays it on top of what we've done to use as a basis for their critique. :lol:
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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selig
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Post 16 Aug 2020

guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020
I guess the way I look at it is...without music there would be no music theory. but without music theory, there would still be music. it's not a chicken and egg thing--we know which came first, and we know which is fundamentally more important, even if some (the gatekeepers I talk about) don't care to admit it.
This sums it up nicely for me!
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BRIGGS
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Post 16 Aug 2020

Zero knowledge of theory is like blindly shooting in the dark. And, tedious trial and error.

Aka...not efficient
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Post 16 Aug 2020

Another interesting topic.

In the beginning i spent many an hour or two fumbling about trying to get something "right" only to decide that I don't like it, so I've then spent even longer trying to find out why only to read the reason. Music Theory is handy knowledge but I definitely don't see it as a rule set, it helps to explain something but can still leave so much unexplained as well.
VST 2.4 MIDI It's definitely on the list of todos
What MIDI tools are you itching to use

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DaveyG
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Post 16 Aug 2020

Don't think of it as a set of rules. Think of it as a language that allows you to communicate and understand ideas.
It's fine to go by ear, or feel, or instinct and there are many, many successful songs that did just that.
But learning the very basics of music theory will strengthen your toolkit.
It's a bit like having a basic phrase book when you travel abroad. You can get by without one but it's much, much easier if you know the words for beer, toilet and taxi. And "brothel" if you are feeling naughty.

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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020
Zero knowledge of theory is like blindly shooting in the dark. And, tedious trial and error.

Aka...not efficient
not really--unless your goal is to follow the rules. the goal in making music is to make music. you don't need to know any theory to do that. in fact, if you decide you need to learn theory before you start, that's even more inefficient.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

Billy wrote:
16 Aug 2020
Another interesting topic.

In the beginning i spent many an hour or two fumbling about trying to get something "right" only to decide that I don't like it, so I've then spent even longer trying to find out why only to read the reason. Music Theory is handy knowledge but I definitely don't see it as a rule set, it helps to explain something but can still leave so much unexplained as well.
thanks!

yes, completely agree. theory can be really interesting. I've picked up many tidbits over the years, and it's always interesting to learn about. seeing stuff get really dissected like Adam Neely might do, for example, can be super fun, but I like to view that as entertainment rather than something I might use in my own music (for example, playing a 7/11 polyrhythm is theoretically very cool, but I can't imagine I'd ever want to play one myself). I wouldn't want to get so lost in theoretical concepts that I lose sight of the music itself.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

DaveyG wrote:
16 Aug 2020
Don't think of it as a set of rules. Think of it as a language that allows you to communicate and understand ideas.
It's fine to go by ear, or feel, or instinct and there are many, many successful songs that did just that.
But learning the very basics of music theory will strengthen your toolkit.
It's a bit like having a basic phrase book when you travel abroad. You can get by without one but it's much, much easier if you know the words for beer, toilet and taxi. And "brothel" if you are feeling naughty.
:lol:

100% agree. it's just important (I think) that people just starting out know they don't need to learn a set of rules/theory before they start being creative. :)
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
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nooomy
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Post 16 Aug 2020

guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020
let's discuss why music theory isn't necessary to make music, and why you shouldn't listen to the purists who try to tell you otherwise.

It is definitely not necessary but for me it makes it alot easier to be consistence in my productions and its is also a great tool to develop your own sound

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BRIGGS
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Post 16 Aug 2020

guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020
BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020
Zero knowledge of theory is like blindly shooting in the dark. And, tedious trial and error.

Aka...not efficient
not really--unless your goal is to follow the rules. the goal in making music is to make music. you don't need to know any theory to do that. in fact, if you decide you need to learn theory before you start, that's even more inefficient.
More often then not, knowing what you're doing, always produces the best results.

This goes for any skill, in general.
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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020
guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020


not really--unless your goal is to follow the rules. the goal in making music is to make music. you don't need to know any theory to do that. in fact, if you decide you need to learn theory before you start, that's even more inefficient.
More often then not, knowing what you're doing, always produces the best results.

This goes for any skill, in general.
couldn’t disagree more. there are countless examples of musicians who don’t have a great grasp of theory making incredible music.

and there are countless examples of musicians who understand theory at the deepest levels who can’t seem to make music deeper than the thinnest puddle drying out on a hot summer day.

of course there are also plenty of exceptions on both sides.

I’m not suggesting throwing theory out the window, as if writing without it is the only way, or even the best way. I’m only advocating for the awareness that theory is only a tool, and isn’t strictly even necessary to create great music. if you’re able to use music theory to make great music, that’s awesome! but no one should look down their nose at other musicians because they don’t choose to do it that way.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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bxbrkrz
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Post 16 Aug 2020

selig wrote:
16 Aug 2020
bxbrkrz wrote:
16 Aug 2020
If you want to break rules, you need rules for you to break.
I used to believe that, but I fundamentally misunderstood one thing: Classical music theory only teaches ONE (of many) sets of rules, the rules for European classical music. In that context, if you don't want to sound like European classical music, then most definitely break those rules!

My own personal story involved believing I needed to study theory in order to learn to compose. But in my case, exactly the opposite occurred - the more theory I learned, the less music I was able to compose. In my case this was because I was trying to compose "by the rules", asking myself what chord should come next according to music theory rules. This led to some incredibly boring music, music that even "I" could not enjoy listening to the next day. And I logically assumed that if "I" didn't enjoy listening to my music, how could I ask or expect anyone else to do so?

The solution was to ditch theory for composition, which quickly led to a bulk dump of material that eventually became the basis for my first (1986) album.

That being said, if you want to analyze and chart existing music, a little theory is helpful. I see theory more as a written form of music used to communicate most Western style from one musician to another. In that light it is helpful, and in that light it is best to follow the rules, since the person reading what you wrote down has certain expectations based on said rules.

But for being "creative" and exploring your own sound, I really see little use for the theory I've learned, with one possible exception: Interval/chord identification. When I "hear" a melody/chord in my head, I find it easy to play it on a keyboard more accurately because I have really good interval training (the only part of music theory I was actually any good at). I can "speak" the intervals of a melody, which is to say I can identify the first step is a major 6th up from the first note, the second is a major 2nd down, etc.

Otherwise, music theory was more of a stumbling block to me than a compositional aid, but luckily I ditched it early on and have never looked back!
You set yourself free from the rules. You became yourself.

We are still defined within a Western type of music, by our inspiration, and by the tools we use to create our music. This is true for 90% of the artists here on RT.
Universally though, anyone's perspective is always coming from a cultural origin. Some of us are blessed. Some of us come from a multicultural background, influences, languages, etc. That's why I shared the videos from other cultures. No metronome, no conductor. A440? They are using different rules, different enough for anyone to tell the differences between cultures. To them breaking the rules would mean playing some funk guitar riffs, via an amp, plugged to an electrical outlet.

The OP talks about the "gatekeepers". He plays in a band. The band plays in a club. People expect a style of music, but maybe not gamelan for example. Maybe it is too bad. It would be fun and very creative, but most of us are locked on road rails. Paying bills, keeping our clients happy, etc. The exact reversal is true if you were a musician leaving San Fran, starting a new life somewhere in Indonesia.
New rules. New opportunities to break some rules. And new gatekeepers (mostly ourselves).

Fun thread.
Thanks OP!
:puf_smile:



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BRIGGS
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Post 16 Aug 2020

guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020
BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020


More often then not, knowing what you're doing, always produces the best results.

This goes for any skill, in general.
couldn’t disagree more. there are countless examples of musicians who don’t have a great grasp of theory making incredible music.

and there are countless examples of musicians who understand theory at the deepest levels who can’t seem to make music deeper than the thinnest puddle drying out on a hot summer day.

of course there are also plenty of exceptions on both sides.

I’m not suggesting throwing theory out the window, as if writing without it is the only way, or even the best way. I’m only advocating for the awareness that theory is only a tool, and isn’t strictly even necessary to create great music. if you’re able to use music theory to make great music, that’s awesome! but no one should look down their nose at other musicians because they don’t choose to do it that way.
You disagree?

Try hiring a plumber, to fix your car. :lol:
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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020
guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020


couldn’t disagree more. there are countless examples of musicians who don’t have a great grasp of theory making incredible music.

and there are countless examples of musicians who understand theory at the deepest levels who can’t seem to make music deeper than the thinnest puddle drying out on a hot summer day.

of course there are also plenty of exceptions on both sides.

I’m not suggesting throwing theory out the window, as if writing without it is the only way, or even the best way. I’m only advocating for the awareness that theory is only a tool, and isn’t strictly even necessary to create great music. if you’re able to use music theory to make great music, that’s awesome! but no one should look down their nose at other musicians because they don’t choose to do it that way.
You disagree?

Try hiring a plumber, to fix your car. :lol:
that’s not an accurate analogy. we’re talking about creativity, not mechanics.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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BRIGGS
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Post 16 Aug 2020

guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020
BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020


You disagree?

Try hiring a plumber, to fix your car. :lol:
that’s not an accurate analogy. we’re talking about creativity, not mechanics.
Music is art and science.

Go read some books.

Image
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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020
guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020


that’s not an accurate analogy. we’re talking about creativity, not mechanics.
Music is art and science.

Go read some books.

Image
:lol: why would I go away? you’re here in my thread. and I’m pretty comfortable with my creative output, thanks.
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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BRIGGS
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Post 16 Aug 2020

guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020
BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020


Music is art and science.

Go read some books.

Image
:lol: why would I go away? you’re here in my thread. and I’m pretty comfortable with my creative output, thanks.
You have no idea.
R11 Suite, R12 demo mode

My music made in Reason : https://audius.co/jeff40529158

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guitfnky
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Post 16 Aug 2020

BRIGGS wrote:
16 Aug 2020
guitfnky wrote:
16 Aug 2020


:lol: why would I go away? you’re here in my thread. and I’m pretty comfortable with my creative output, thanks.
You have no idea.
found the gatekeeper. 😏
I write bad music for good people

latest release—The Lake Door:
bit.ly/TheLakeDoor-Soundcloud
https://slowrobot.bandcamp.com/track/the-lake-door

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