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How much did/do the 'greats' know what they were / are doing?

Discussion in 'Sidewinders Bar & Grille' started by Martins Strat, May 14, 2019.

  1. Monkeyboy

    Monkeyboy NOT IN BAND Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I've already posted recently about Bill Nelson, who I consider to be a rare talent, even a musical savant of sorts.
    Swears up and down he doesn't know any theory, is insistent about his dislike for the very idea, and is sure he has no use for it. I tried explaining how much it helped me, and how I thought that the basic (but incredibly useful) CAGED approach could make life easier and the spectrum of available ideas at hand expanded greatly. None of it sunk in; the man is set hard in his ways , but he's one of those people that can play by ear, and somehow figured out a mental map of what works for them, and manages to do amazing things. I'm 180 degress opposite of that. I want to understand what I'm doing and I want the aid of forms and basic theory .
     
  2. Monkeyboy

    Monkeyboy NOT IN BAND Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I had an instructor that said he wished he could sometimes turn his brain off from analyzing and just enjoy what he was hearing.
     
  3. Dadocaster

    Dadocaster Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

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    That is a different issue.
     
  4. fretter

    fretter Strat-Talker

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    Hendrix studied at the Royal Academy of Music before breaking big in the US. ;)
     
  5. Nate D

    Nate D Senior Stratmaster

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    Dude, I love you and I hate to rain on your parade, but that’s musical ability/talent defined. :)
     
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  6. fezz parka

    fezz parka The Return of the Red Helmet Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I'll bet dollars to donuts he didn't even think it out that far.
    He played that A major pent (based off the A major triad at the second fret on the D, G, and B )over the I and the A minor pent over the IV and V. Just like Freddie King. IMO that's where "it" came from for him. Listen to Further On Up The Road, then Crossroads...then Hideaway off the Beano album. All Freddie based stuff. :)
     
  7. Fakenewts

    Fakenewts Strat-Talk Member

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    Yeah this is maybe what I was getting at in my jumbled first post at the top of this thread. Sort of that while people are definitely wrong to think of theory as limiting (quite the opposite), there is maybe a tendency among certain people to get overexcited at having learnt, say, an exotic scale or chord voicing... and use it irrespective of whether what they're writing/playing actually calls for it in that instance.* I've been on both sides of this in jam sessions where I, or someone else, forgot the bigger picture in favour of showing off some fancy new trick.

    My issue with Malmsteen, say, when I was a kid, is it seemed to me just like speed for the sake of speed, rather than because it actually sounded good in context. I remember someone showing me a VHS of him playing a thin sounding acoustic guitar with an orchestra and it just... sounded like garbage. Fast garbage (to my ears). But again it's not *knowing* theory, or in this case being able to play fast, that's the problem. Fast playing can sound frickin' fantastic and it should definitely be part of a player's arsenal, just... y'know, maybe not all the time at the expense of any light and shade. Subjective mebbes, but this whole thing gets misconstrued into a "theory makes you play like a robot" thing, which it ain't.

    * this probably wears off with mastery and maturity
     
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  8. Nate D

    Nate D Senior Stratmaster

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    I agree with you on both parts. Those days Clapton’s playing was pure Freddie.

    But my point was to reinforce what you said; that Clapton used theory all day long there even if he couldn’t explain it the way you did. I actually quite doubt that Clapton or any of those guys could break it down the way you did. His apprenticeship came from listen to what other people did before him.
     
  9. Bazz Jass

    Bazz Jass Chairman of the Fingerboard Strat-Talk Supporter

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    In my experience, at lot of the greats majorly understate their formal musical knowledge....
     
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  10. Alan Crossley

    Alan Crossley Senior Stratmaster

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    Play it how you feel it. Listen and interpret what you hear and the way you hear it. I hear so many players stumbling over their playing, often because they are thinking about the theory.

    It’s very much like the recent question about what books to read to become a Manager. You can read all the books in the world and never make a good manager.

    Play, enjoy, interpret and have fun.
     
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  11. dirocyn

    dirocyn Senior Stratmaster

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    Theory is descriptive, not prescriptive. We use theory to describe; theory exists in the mind. If we can describe what somebody is doing, we're using theory to do that.

    We speak English without thinking about adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, participles, gerunds and subjunctives. And we usually use the "rules" of language correctly, without thinking about those rules. Sure, people study language theory (around here it's required curriculum in the 7th grade). But most people can use all that stuff correctly without ever caring about the nomenclature. We hear it, we repeat it, and we don't need to know what it's called to be able to do that. Until we get to studying another language that has different rules for these things. Having names for all the stuff and having codified rules for how things fit together is extremely useful if you're trying to describe to an outsider how these things work. Frankly 7th grade English would be a lot more useful if it was taught in conjunction with 7th grade foreign language (and they both need to be in 1st or 2nd grade, but that's a whole 'nother soapbox). And we can play a scale or a chord without knowing its name, but we are still playing that chord or that scale. Which I think is what @Electgumbo means by "theory is present whether your aware of it or not."

    If you want to describe to another musician how a song works, it's awfully handy to have words to describe it, that you both understand. "This song is a 12-bar blues in A" is pretty rudimentary as music theory goes--but for some songs that's enough for the rhythm section to keep up. Or--"then the song goes into a D, D7, Dm progression." Or, "this song has a swing beat, with a walking bass line that's a little behind the beat, relaxed and groovy." Sometimes more important than other times, but if you're trying to work up a song it really helps to know how to describe what you want the other person playing. And if you play with a harmonica player, you need to be able to tell them what key you're in, so they can select the right harmonica.

    I also agree that there's more to theory than notes written on paper. We spend so much time on this forum talking about tone, and there are several competing ideas about tone and not really a lot of common language to describe it. We can apply theories (and sometimes actual science) to debates about capacitors and potentiometers and harmonics and types of string windings and tonewood. All of that is part of theory as well. And in this respect most of the "greats" were doing things that were extremely experimental--like Hendrix playing a Stratocaster strung left handed, through a wall of Marshall stacks with wah and fuzz and a curly guitar cable. I'm sure Jimi's sound came about mostly through experimentation, including a great deal of experimentation by his techs and recording engineers (tape delay for instance). And also, a lot of the tones we think are perfect--we think that because "the greats" used those tones. If Jimi Hendrix had chosen to play different effects, we'd probably be chasing those tones instead.
     
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  12. BallisticSquid

    BallisticSquid Senior Stratmaster

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    Passion is the key IMHO. The greats were/are passionate about it and narrow focused to the exclusion of all else...including healthy relationships. Their life was about The Music and everything else was secondary. This is outside of guitar, but look at guys like Miles Davis. He started a heroin habit because he thought it would help him be great! He then went through the pain of kicking the habit on his own when he saw how it started having the opposite effect. His family, his girlfriends and wives, they all took a backseat to music.

    I can't begin to wrap my head around that sort of laser focused passion. It seems like it would be both a blessing and a curse.
     
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  13. ajb1965

    ajb1965 Old Enough to Know Better Strat-Talk Supporter

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    They obviously knew what they were doing to create such great art. How much traditional musical education they received is irrelevant. There was not a school that taught feedback, diming a tiny amp, or 'whammy bar 101'. That all came from the creative evil genius of their collective minds.
     
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  14. 808K

    808K Strat-O-Master

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    I really enjoy these threads discussing theory. I learn a lot from them.

    Hopefully they will make me suck less as I learn more.
     
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  15. Lance Boil

    Lance Boil Strat-Talker

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    Here is a very short video of Paul McCartney talking about how they learned the chords:



    I have heard that most of the Beatles complexity was probably fine tuning by George Martin, at least in the beginning. Not to downplay their talent, the Beatles were no doubt, great musicians.

    This from George Martins Wikipedia: "Martin's more formal musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles' unrefined talent and the sound which distinguished them from other groups, which eventually made them successful. Most of the Beatles' orchestral arrangements and instrumentation were written or performed by Martin, as well as frequent keyboard parts on the early records, in collaboration with the less musically experienced band.
    It was Martin's idea to score a string quartet accompaniment for "Yesterday" against McCartney's initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available."

    So, hanging around with George Martin all those years probably was a real education in music theory.
     
  16. Martins Strat

    Martins Strat Strat-Talker

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    Same for me, it was just something I was wondering about but people have dropped in all sorts of nuggets of knowledge.

    The internet, forums and YouTube are a fantastic resource for all this stuff, it’s so much easier to glean some information these days than it used to be. I’m constantly amazed at how generous people are with their skills and knowledge too. For anyone that hasn’t seen them I highly recommend Justin’s Guitar channel on YouTube plus his lessons with Lee Anderton and especially anything by Pete Honoré (Danish Pete), very informative and inspiring.
     
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  17. nungesser

    nungesser Prolix!Prolix Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I could tell watching BB King in interviews over the years that he had to learn how to talk about how he played. He did become good at explaining it but you could tell at first he really had know idea how to describe it or put it into words
     
  18. danlad

    danlad Strat-Talk Member

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    Whoever wrote Pretty Woman (I know who sang it of course, and I kind of don't want to Google it in case it shatters any illusions) knew how chords work. Am constantly in awe of those changes when I play them.

    Was that by ear or practice? Don't know but Blimey.
     
  19. fezz parka

    fezz parka The Return of the Red Helmet Strat-Talk Supporter

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    Roy co-wrote OPW.
     
  20. Monkeyboy

    Monkeyboy NOT IN BAND Strat-Talk Supporter

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    That's what I suspect about Bill Nelson. Saying he doesn't know what he's doing adds to the mystique of
    creativity. You don't write and play all instruments without some level of knowing wtf you're doing.
    Anyway, whatever, Bill. I know for sure about myself , and my self needs theory .
     
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