Why music theory is important -but not the usual reasons

davidKOS

not posting these days
May 28, 2012
16,816
California
David, you're a wonderfully smart guy, an engaging writer and a great player with an incredibly narrow and rather precious view of the world.
/QUOTE]

Thank you. I like my world view, though.

I'll have you know that I worked two jobs while going to school full-time to finance my music education. In fact, even the piano lessons I took as a child were paid for by money I earned, with odd jobs and teaching lessons myself.

My parents never gave me a damn thing, and neither did anyone else. I just didn't make excuses.


I too worked my own way through a State college for my BA and Master's in music. My parents did not give me anything when I went into music, I certainly was not handed it on a silver platter. I played a lot of gigs to pay for school.

Good points about music like Journey - it may be "correct" but is boring.

Hey I admit to being an old curmudgeon about this, I am tired of so many years of mediocre musicians passing mediocrity off as authenticity and soulfulness or whatever term justifies it - and being proud of it.
 

davidKOS

not posting these days
May 28, 2012
16,816
California
For instance ?

Cheers.

It's what I said...musicians using all the old excuses/reasons why dumbed down music like punk was "better" than the previous music because it expressed anger or outrage or whatever....justifying crappy musicianship as some form of folk art....the way so many guys are quick to slough off a proficient guitarist as a mere "shredder" , a machine that plays too many notes with no soul. Granted many fit the bill, but a lot of folks put the good ones down too , and the real reason is that the denigrators cannot follow the music, so it's automatically "bad" to them.

Naradajim has an interesting point:

'You can't judge expressionism, whether it be graphic or sculptural or noise/music, with the same criteria that you judge conventional art, whether it be classical, experimental modern or post modern. Expressionism, which would contain within its boundaries both punk and early grunge, is like a rant. It can be effective or ineffective in making its point, but judging it by the materials or sounds or brushstrokes employed removes it from its context and makes the criticism meaningless."

from Wikipedia: "Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.[1][2] Expressionist artists sought to express meaning[3] or emotional experience rather than physical reality.[3][4]
Expressionism was developed as an avant-garde style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic,[1] particularly in Berlin. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including painting, literature, theatre, dance, film, architecture and music."

"Music
Main article: Expressionist music
Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, the members of the Second Viennese School, wrote pieces described as Expressionist (Schoenberg also made Expressionist paintings). Later composers, such as Ernst Krenek, are often considered as a part of the Expressionist style of music. What distinguished these composers from their contemporaries (such as Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin and Igor Stravinsky) is that Expressionist composers used atonality self-consciously to free their work from traditional tonality.[citation needed] They also sought to express the subconscious, the 'inner necessity' and suffering through their dissonant musical language. Erwartung and Die Glückliche Hand, by Schoenberg, and Wozzeck, an opera by Alban Berg (based on the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner), are examples of Expressionist works.[citation needed]
If one were to draw an analogy from paintings, one may describe the expressionist painting technique as the distortion of reality (mostly colors and shapes) to create a nightmarish effect for the particular painting as a whole. Expressionist music roughly does the same thing by eschewing tonality (reality) for atonality, where the dramatically increased dissonance as a result is aurally perceived as nightmarish as well."

That's very broad-minded to include punk and grunge "artists" in the same category as Schoenerg!

The Expressionist composers were well trained - they were not working from ignorance or lack of technique.
 

mw13068

Most Honored Senior Member
Gold Supporting Member
Jul 29, 2009
6,950
Ithaca, NY
"Justifying ignorance of music theory" and elitism (assuming a musician is somehow less-than because they haven't studied theory) are two sides of the same coin.

For me, I either like the music or I don't. Whether the musician is "educated" or not makes no difference whatsoever.

It just so happens that most of the music that I truly love is, or is primarily influenced by the The Blues -- which was created mostly (but not entirely) by people without formal music education, but who could turn their feelings into words and sounds.

To me, music that does a great job of expressing emotion -- whether it's sadness, anger, joy, etc. -- in a simple way is better than music that does a great job of highlighting the proficiency of the musician.
 

stratman in va

Most Honored Senior Member
Jul 27, 2012
8,830
Virginia
David, you're a wonderfully smart guy, an engaging writer and a great player with an incredibly narrow and rather precious view of the world.
/QUOTE]

Thank you. I like my world view, though.




I too worked my own way through a State college for my BA and Master's in music. My parents did not give me anything when I went into music, I certainly was not handed it on a silver platter. I played a lot of gigs to pay for school.

Good points about music like Journey - it may be "correct" but is boring.

Hey I admit to being an old curmudgeon about this, I am tired of so many years of mediocre musicians passing mediocrity off as authenticity and soulfulness or whatever term justifies it - and being proud of it.

David, thats cool you went to college for music, looking back, perhaps I should have as well.

How about passing off high volume and lots ( way too much !!) of gain and effects as being great music / playing and being proud of it ? That really gets on my nerves these days, I guess because I have gotten into acoustic music the last few years, where there is no distortion or gain to hide behind.
 

Brillig

Strat-Talker
Nov 29, 2011
492
Philly Area
I'll have you know that I worked two jobs while going to school full-time to finance my music education. In fact, even the piano lessons I took as a child were paid for by money I earned, with odd jobs and teaching lessons myself.

Is that where you learned "all the chords"?

(Sorry, I'm probably the 800th person to make a joke on that but I couldn't help it)
 

davidKOS

not posting these days
May 28, 2012
16,816
California
"Justifying ignorance of music theory" and elitism (assuming a musician is somehow less-than because they haven't studied theory) are two sides of the same coin.

For me, I either like the music or I don't. Whether the musician is "educated" or not makes no difference whatsoever.

It just so happens that most of the music that I truly love is, or is primarily influenced by the The Blues -- which was created mostly (but not entirely) by people without formal music education, but who could turn their feelings into words and sounds.

To me, music that does a great job of expressing emotion -- whether it's sadness, anger, joy, etc. -- in a simple way is better than music that does a great job of highlighting the proficiency of the musician.

No argument with that. But do you really believe that those musicians played that way BECAUSE they were untrained? Do you really think that Muddy Waters would become less authentic and soulful if he had more lessons and knew more theory? Do you think SRV or BB would play worse if they even knew the technical terms for what they already do?

I STILL DO NOT GET why you all think that the "proficiency of the musician" limits his ability to play with feeling.

I totally agree that one either likes certain music or one doesn't.

de gustibus non est disputandum

I wonder why none of you claim actors or writers would be better if they were illiterate.

As for "elitism", if that means a striving for excellence, to be at the top of one's game, then I am HAPPILY an elitist and damn proud of it.

And I do assume that any musician that does not know theory IS less than he can be, same as if you were a brilliant speaker, could compose speeches, plays and books verbally. Wouldn't that person be an even better writer if he could actually write his work down?


How about passing off high volume and lots ( way too much !!) of gain and effects as being great music / playing and being proud of it ? That really gets on my nerves these days, I guess because I have gotten into acoustic music the last few years, where there is no distortion or gain to hide behind.

Good one! even worse with that scooped metal distortion, too.
 

Naradajim

Senior Stratmaster
Mar 22, 2011
3,868
Corpus Christi, Texas
David, George and others. I apologize for going off on you about this stuff. I agree with most of what you have to say, and wouldn't even have seen this thread if not for the Hugh's theory lessons thread, in which I've been lurking and slowly learning. Both of you have been important parts of those lessons which, IMO, has been one of the most useful threads we've had in the past two years.

I get angry when people seem to denigrate other forms of music in order to validate the music they like. I'm almost sixty, and I'm really tired of my old before their time peers talking about the good old days, and running down everything that came after their youth. All I heard from older people in the late sixties and seventies was how the music I loved was too loud and played by people who didn't know how to play their instruments. It got old then, and it gets old now.

FWIW, I was speaking of expressionism with a small e, not a capitalized E. not the early twentieth century movement, nor Neo-expressionism which showed up in the late sixties. The word means what was described in that first Wikipedia sentence, the distortion of form to express a single emotion, in this case, rage against the machine, also with small letters.

I agree that the musical part would be better served if somebody who knew what they were doing was playing it, but sometimes that person isn't available, and a guitar is.

if you didn't come to rock, then roll.
 

mw13068

Most Honored Senior Member
Gold Supporting Member
Jul 29, 2009
6,950
Ithaca, NY
No argument with that. But do you really believe that those musicians played that way BECAUSE they were untrained? Do you really think that Muddy Waters would become less authentic and soulful if he had more lessons and knew more theory? Do you think SRV or BB would play worse if they even knew the technical terms for what they already do?

I believe that the aforementioned musicians would definitely sound different (possibly better, possibly worse) if they studied music theory, because it would change the way they compose and create the music. It would change their process.

And as for actors, I have some direct experience with that. I work closely with a local theater company. I've seen hundreds of stage actors (trained and untrained) rehearse and play roles. The ones who do the best work, and get the best reviews, are the ones who either have experience and a natural aptitude, or the ones who've had lots of experience and training, but have been able internalize and overcome the weird structures that various acting schools use to train students.

An inexperienced actor who has lots of training is typically (but not always) a very unnatural actor. They are far too much in their own head.

Sanford Meisner school students, I'm looking at YOU. Acting students get better if they study multiple techniques. That seems to allow them to shake off the weirdness of their teachers a bit better.

So, the more I think about it, experience trumps both training and natural talent. If a person has two of the three going for them, they're likely going to be good at what they do.
 

davidKOS

not posting these days
May 28, 2012
16,816
California
Crow Eating Apology

Thanks to all of y'all for helping me see that although it's one thing to be an elitist, it's another thing to carry a grudge for as long as I have.
I just need to get over where music has gone in the last 3 and half decades.

So what if it's not my taste. I have no right judging anyone else's taste either.

If I don't like something I don't have to buy it, hear, or see it; If someone else loves the same thing, they have every right to be happy with it. The only thing I can do is make my own music as well as I can. Someone else's success is not my failure.

So please accept a big apology from me, so I can move on and not become a bitter old musician.
 

GuitarGeorge

Strat-Talker
Feb 3, 2011
367
Vancouver
David, George and others. I apologize for going off on you about this stuff. I agree with most of what you have to say, and wouldn't even have seen this thread if not for the Hugh's theory lessons thread, in which I've been lurking and slowly learning. Both of you have been important parts of those lessons which, IMO, has been one of the most useful threads we've had in the past two years.

I get angry when people seem to denigrate other forms of music in order to validate the music they like. I'm almost sixty, and I'm really tired of my old before their time peers talking about the good old days, and running down everything that came after their youth. All I heard from older people in the late sixties and seventies was how the music I loved was too loud and played by people who didn't know how to play their instruments. It got old then, and it gets old now.

FWIW, I was speaking of expressionism with a small e, not a capitalized E. not the early twentieth century movement, nor Neo-expressionism which showed up in the late sixties. The word means what was described in that first Wikipedia sentence, the distortion of form to express a single emotion, in this case, rage against the machine, also with small letters.

I agree that the musical part would be better served if somebody who knew what they were doing was playing it, but sometimes that person isn't available, and a guitar is.

if you didn't come to rock, then roll.

It's ok. I'm a bit cranky these days, it seems. And what I listen to (or have listened to and enjoyed at various times) might surprise you. Truth is, music doesn't have to be complicated or high-brow to be good to me. I have never denigrated anyone else's taste in music, at least not publicly. Nor do I have a superiority complex when it comes to music. I consider myself a student still. I have a MMus as well, but never for a moment have I considered myself a master.

I figure this debate over the necessity of theoretical training will continue for as long as we play and listen to music. And it's really no skin off my nose if someone chooses to go without. But for those who suspect that they might be better served by knowing a little theory, I am always eager to jump in and help. To each his own. No big deal.
 

Brillig

Strat-Talker
Nov 29, 2011
492
Philly Area
There are many aspects of good music. I agree you should strive for as many of them as you can, but don't discount those who do great things even though they may be missing a piece and somehow compensate by being even stronger in other areas.
 

nhsdpl

Senior Stratmaster
Apr 21, 2012
4,190
West Australia
The great thing about these type of threads and forums in general, is that they force a considered response. If we were standing around, drinking in a bar, where you can shoot from the lip without necessarily engaging the brain, I think this discussion, would in the end, lead to punches being thrown.

The physical act of writing, having to articulate your thoughts, helps in focusing on the essential rather than the superfluous, and hopefully makes it more clear in your own mind exactly where you stand in regard to the subject at hand.

I'm still working on my own response......too much superfluous, not enough essential......but I am enjoying the discussion, and don't feel that anybody has said anything that warrants an apology.

Cheers.
 

stradovarious

Senior Stratmaster
Dec 14, 2010
2,918
Shangri-La
Thanks to all of y'all for helping me see that although it's one thing to be an elitist, it's another thing to carry a grudge for as long as I have.
I just need to get over where music has gone in the last 3 and half decades.

So what if it's not my taste. I have no right judging anyone else's taste either.

If I don't like something I don't have to buy it, hear, or see it; If someone else loves the same thing, they have every right to be happy with it. The only thing I can do is make my own music as well as I can. Someone else's success is not my failure.

So please accept a big apology from me, so I can move on and not become a bitter old musician.

I just remember the coolest composition major I met at University, who is a well known film composer now, had a blue mowhawk '84-'89 and he had a big tattoo on his shoulder (and tattoos were not common then) and his tattoo said "F*** ART".

Except there were no asterisks.

He still has the tattoo. I can't tell you who he is, but you've all seen his films.

He told me then and still stands by his reasoning behind the tattoo:

He wanted to draw attention to the pretentiousness of what many, especially in our circles at the time, felt elevated them above the general "unwashed masses".

He feels that his tattoo is a real type of "art" in and of itself.

This is what I am talking about with respect to "anti-art".

Make a statement against the pretensions of certain elitist art forms, and there you have a new art form right there.

What IS art, if not simply a mode of human expression?

To the poster who tried to correct me about Shoenberg and Webern (he left out my favorite from that era, Alban Berg) I want to say that I did NOT imply that by "smashing" previous musical conventions and giving them the proverbial finger, that they abandoned any sense of structure.

The poster stated that there was "plenty of structure" there...

Well tht's an understatement.

Schoenberg's pantonal/atonal experiments led to his development of the 12 tone system and eventual serialization of every single aspect of a composition, right down to nuances such as dynamics and even timbral variety!

This is known as fully serialized composition, and you don't get any more structured than that.

Ironically, listen to a fully aleatoric piece and it generally sounds just as random and ugly.

Take the second most strict form of musical composition known to the western world, probably the best example in western history:

The Bach era 4, 5 and 6 voice baroque fugues.

Insane list of rigorously strict rules, laws, do's and don'ts. Musical composition does not get much more structured or strict. In tonal music, NOTHING is more constricting.

And thus the ultimate miracle of Bach:

He said that through the tyranny of this strictest imaginable set of laws, he found ultimate expressive FREEDOM. His fugues are a volcano of human emotion, despite the strictly inhibiting structures that they were created within.

He implied on several occasions there was never any "tyranny" to it; in fact, "anything goes" would be a sort of musical anarchy for him, and his tools would be gone.

Others would prosper with no tools at all; creative "anarchy" would free them. He needed and thrived with the opposite.

The man would improvise these works and notate them from his head at about the same speed with which it takes for you and I to listen to a recording of one of these.

Anyway, structure and strict adherence to "theory" results in some of the greatest musical art ever created.

And so does completely rejecting it, and starting your own brave new world of "structure" that nobody has heard yet.

This is what Shoenberg, Webern and Berg did. I never said they abandoned the notion of structure. I said they created their own new musical universe. Rife with structure, later on, structure more for structures sake, IMO.

I played their music, I premiered new works that were similar to theirs at the Schoenberg institute. One composer dedicated his serialized "Sonata for Solo Guitar" to me, which I premiered there and I have recorded on a CD of mine. I like his work a ton.

Other than his stuff and the work of a few others, such as the earlier Schoenberg piece I referred to, I can take it or leave it.

For the most part, I don't much like it.

I'd almost rather listen to grunge (well, that's pushing it):twisted:!
 

Naradajim

Senior Stratmaster
Mar 22, 2011
3,868
Corpus Christi, Texas
In support of what you guys are getting at, get a load of this. A lot of the blame for unskilled players getting so much AirPlay and, therefore, popularity, lies with hipster journalists feting the noise players over the amazing players. I've been to SXSW, and there are a lot of great players. I wonder if this guy was banned from the major venues or something.

http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazi...ed_Best_Guitar_Performances_of_SXSW_2013.aspx

if you didn't come to rock, then roll.
 

GuitarGeorge

Strat-Talker
Feb 3, 2011
367
Vancouver
To the poster who tried to correct me about Shoenberg and Webern (he left out my favorite from that era, Alban Berg) I want to say that I did NOT imply that by "smashing" previous musical conventions and giving them the proverbial finger, that they abandoned any sense of structure.

The poster stated that there was "plenty of structure" there...

After re-reading the entire thread to find what you are referring to here, I am left to surmise that the poster you are referring to - and mis-quoting - is me. I would invite you to go back and see that I was not trying to correct you (who would dare?) but rather agreeing with you. I left out Berg in my mention of the Viennese school composers because I knew he was your favorite, obviously.
 

PicknGrin86

Strat-O-Master
May 20, 2011
618
Greenville NC
The beauty of art is that there are no rules. Theory no theory.. Doesn't matter. What matters is emotion. Things in music can be labeled but not concretely. What would you call the phenomenon of the impact your life experiences have on your music?
 

nhsdpl

Senior Stratmaster
Apr 21, 2012
4,190
West Australia
In support of what you guys are getting at, get a load of this. A lot of the blame for unskilled players getting so much AirPlay and, therefore, popularity, lies with hipster journalists feting the noise players over the amazing players. I've been to SXSW, and there are a lot of great players. I wonder if this guy was banned from the major venues or something.

The (Abbreviated) Best Guitar Performances of SXSW 2013 - Premier Guitar

if you didn't come to rock, then roll.

Relax dude.........their just kids, it's a phase their going through, they'll grow out of it.

Cheers.
 

OwnYourTone

Strat-O-Master
Nov 25, 2012
801
Kansas City
Just wanted to say I'm refreshed at the humility and repentance expressed during this interesting conversation. It ate away a little of my own crabbiness and cynicism.
 


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