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Theory or Not?
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DanielB
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February 9, 2013 - 12:59 pm
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I'll start this off by saying that I have known some very capable musicians over the years, and some had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of theory, and some wouldn't admit to knowing any at all.  So I don't think that it is a reflection on how one actually plays so much as "Different folks are different" in how we conceptualize and understand things.  Since I've known fine players on both ends of the spectrum, it seems logical to me to think of it more as a difference in how people conceptualize and understand than considering it an actual requirement for proficiency.

The question is "How important is theory to you personally, as a musician/player?"

Personally, I studied it a bit in books and magazine articles and took a couple semesters of theory class back in college.  I feel I do probably apply it, since I'm usually aware on some level of things like when moving from one note to another, I may note that I'm moving up a 5th or down a minor 3rd, and I sometimes will make a mental note of if I am shifting mode.  But mostly, I conceptualize music as sounds when I am playing.  I'm not thinking "Ah, and here I'm moving to the 4th degree mode of the scale" or even "Oh, hey, that's an A note" when I'm playing.  The exception to that would be if I'm working out some accompaniment to a piece, where I will make mental note of at least the notes of a melody that I want to build the accompaniment around.  

But most of the time, I don't make an active deliberate use of what I know of theory while actually playing.  I focus more on the sounds and how the melody feels as it moves from one note to another.  That may be at least partially due to having learned by ear before studying any theory, so theory became sort of a framework for understanding what I do more than a set of rules to do things by.

I'm wondering how many folks here have made some study of music theory, and whether you feel you apply it when playing and if so, how you apply it.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Steve
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February 9, 2013 - 1:44 pm
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Forty five years ago I took a first year course in music theory in college, and actively used it for some years afterward, mostly for the piano which was my main instrument then. But now as I'm attempting to relearn violin after 15 years off, I find it's mostly trying to get the mechanical aspects down with not much for using theory at this stage. Possibly I'm oversimplifying for the violin and possibly I am applying theory such as hearing intervals and such that I don't much think about.

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StoneDog
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February 9, 2013 - 1:52 pm
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I learned music by ear as a guitar player > I have read a lot on theory and have tried to teach myself to read music, etc. Reading music as I play just won't work for me. I would love to do it but its not gonna happen. The theory aspect > scales, intervals modes, etc I studied more intently. I don't think it is imperative to know theory but it sure helped me a lot. It makes possible the creation of my own music easier to create and more fun. It opens up doors of musical expression I would not have available to me. One can teach oneself almost anything now with the internet and the desire to learn such things. When I started playing (guitar) the internet etc was not out there so the way I learned was from direct contact with others. Theory helped me extend my scales and mix them up > Gave me more colors to paint with. I don't think about the theory when I am playing but do dissect when I am trying to figure something out.

If one has the time to study theory I would suggest one to do it. > It ROCKs!!

 

 

 

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DanielB
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February 9, 2013 - 4:53 pm
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@Steve:  Yeah, I think I may use theory more than I'm aware of doing on the conscious level as well. 

@StoneDog: "More colors to paint with."  I really like that analogy.  Well put!

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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