What tips, tricks or advice do you have for learning music theory?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Steven Mal, Mar 7, 2021.

  1. GET TO DA CHOPPA

    GET TO DA CHOPPA New Member

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    In my case, it's not so much about "right or wrong" .. But a better understanding of theory makes it easier and and faster for me to come up with things and figure things out. It's about efficiency more than anything, plus I always kind of wanted to learn more, but just never did.

    Also, I am not not sure what you mean by: "This is pretty much 100% the opposite of how I do it."

    I was referring to how I am trying to learn more theory. Unless you mean, you're learning theory, by avoiding theory. I don't get it. You probably have a pretty good understanding already.
     
    #21 GET TO DA CHOPPA, Mar 8, 2021
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2021
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  2. Steven Mal

    Steven Mal New Member

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    Thank you for your replies.

    Believe it or not, music theory always came naturally to me and I never struggled with many concepts, and so I never had to study or use tips, or tricks to memorize or learn it. How would I help someone else learn theory if it does not come easily or naturally to them, the way it did for me? Not everyone will have my personal, individual experience, so others will struggle where I did not and I don't know how to help them, or make their studies any easier. It came easily to me in class where other classmates couldn't grasp certain things.

    For example,

    The Major scale is made of intervals W-W-H-W-W-W-H
    A Major key signature: F#, C#, G#
    A chord and A arpeggio are A-C#-E
    E Mixolydian is the fifth mode of A Major
    A Sus chord replaces the 3rd with a 2nd or 4th

    I could easily tell (teach?) any of these concepts to someone, but how could I make it easier for a student who struggles at the first step?
     
  3. DreamTheaterRules

    DreamTheaterRules Julie's back!

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    No, the "opposite" was what you mentioned first. You use theory to help you come up with things. I don't want to learn more theory because I want to come up with them on my own flow and not on "basis of theory." I don't sit and think "you know, with this chord structure here, according to theory, these notes or scales would work well here." I just play and know what it's going to sound like and know it will sound good (IMO). If there's any kind of groove or changes I can pick it up on the fly and play. That's why I mentioned never taking music on stage unless I'm the only one playing, and I normally don't take it then, except my daughter is famous for saying "we're playing a church next week and here is the song," and it's a song I've never heard before. Once I "know" a song, I rarely use music when I play it. If it's something I know, the only reason I ever take music is just to occasionally glance at to remind me of how many verses we're doing or who's solo is after which verse, or whatever.
     
  4. bodia

    bodia Authorities said.....best leave it.....unsolved

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    Could you present it to those types by relating it to something, outside of music theory, that they could relate to? You know, “it’s just like....”
     
  5. GET TO DA CHOPPA

    GET TO DA CHOPPA New Member

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    I get ya. I am mostly talking about learning though. I use theory, to help come up with things to understand the theory. It's how I learn. Otherwise none of it would make sense. My brain just hurts.
     
  6. John Beef

    John Beef Opaque

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    I learned some basics in band class in junior high in the late 1980s. Since then it's been pretty much this formula:

    Play something;
    If it sounds cool ()
    Figure out the music theory when you feel like it or have time or if it's somehow important;
    end if;
    If it sounds ugly in a bad way ()
    move on;
    end if;

    It's been a while since computer coding classes. No idead if my syntax would throw errors, I'm guessing yes, but that's just like how I do music theory.
     
  7. DreamTheaterRules

    DreamTheaterRules Julie's back!

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    I learned by playing along with a variety of players. Completely self taught and by ear. But I do know some things, having played piano for 10 years before I started playing guitar. But I was all classical on piano and was very advanced for my age when I quit, then picked up guitar and played completely by ear. When I say I know some things, I mean I'd have a friend say "what note was that" and I'd say "this one" and play it. He'd say "what note" and I'd have to stop and figure it out, so I can, but when I played it I didn't even know what note it was, just that it was the one I wanted to play there.

    I know very basic chords as well. I can play lots of chords, but only "know" the basic ones. So I may play 6 versions of a G chord and can tell you this is major, this is minor and this is G7. The others, I don't remember what they are. And I could easily learn it, but it's not important too me so I don't. But if I want to play one of the other versions of the G chord, I can play it any time it's the right one. I just can't name it without stopping and thinking about it. And what fun is that?
    LOL
     
  8. CandidPicker

    CandidPicker Energized

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    Wake,

    If it's helping you do your job....

    GOOD.
     
  9. jak3af3r

    jak3af3r Jake

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    Can you tell me what the first step you're referring to here is?
     
  10. tdarian

    tdarian Searching for the sound

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    For me stuff like this is hard to learn in the abstract. Tying theory and “how things fit together” in the context of a song I’m interested in gets me to the point of understanding much quicker.
     
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  11. GET TO DA CHOPPA

    GET TO DA CHOPPA New Member

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    I too was completely self taught and by ear. Theory is something I didn't start trying to really understand until recently, but I actually enjoy it. I now understand why the things I thought sounded good, actually sound good. It's cool to me. And theory I also pretty much learn on my own, with the help of my daughter and my friend once in a while, but im not in lessons or anything. From the sounds of it you already have pretty good basic understanding of theory, even if you can't articulate it, and that's more than I had when I chose to learn more.

    I find learning new things also keeps my brain from getting worse and worse as I get older. I had a foster kid for a while, and I did so much Grade 6 and 7 math with him, and it was a great refresh for me. I really enjoyed it all.
     
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  12. aphantomvaper

    aphantomvaper New Member

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    Making it something useable is a good method. I'm still learning everything my guitar teacher tried to show me. Inversions, triplets, modes, ascending/descending etc etc. It was all gobblygook until he gave me a structure to use it in. Theory, then application.

    The biggest light went on when we had been working on minor pentatonic sales for a few weeks (learning the blues) and then said "now we'll work on major pentatonic" and my heart sank as I was just barely getting the minor scale.

    "Now play the same e minor scale we worked on but move the root to here and then it's a g major."

    Mind blown, it all still works today 30 years later!
     
  13. Axis39

    Axis39 New Member

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    I don't think of theory as rules to live by. I think of theory as a way to communicate or describe what I just did. It is a way to communicate with other musicians.

    I'm not a note for note guy. Never been, no plan on becoming one. I, like you, learned by 'ear' (and by tabs! LOL). For years I played a game while watching TV, I had to figure out what key the ad's backing music was, and figure out the lick before the ad was up. I still play by reacting to the stuff going on in the music right then and there. Very rarely do I have anything planned out, and NEVER do I do a note for note solo (I play Blues, no Rock or Country for me). I may have general thoughts like pushing a certain tonality for the next 12 bars, but that's about the limit of my mental capacity. I'll think things like, let's play up the neck for a few bars, or play some open string runs, or let's do some arpeggio stuff.... I don't let theory cloud my thoughts while on stage.... If I have to really think about what I'm playing I'll lose track fo the rhythm and totally screw up! LOL

    The biggest thing theory did for me was to free me up.....It actually allowed me to stop worrying about what the 'proper' note to play was. It allowed me to see any of the 12 tones (and all the little microtones) as extensions of the chord of the moment. I stopped thinking in scalar form, in patterns, etc. It truly allowed me to be freer enough to trust my ear more and not question myself.
     
  14. DreamTheaterRules

    DreamTheaterRules Julie's back!

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    And this is one reason I never felt it important. I never felt the need to be able to explain to anyone else, in theory terms, what I just did. I played this because it's the notes I wanted to play over that. I knew how it would sound, the end. Not being smug. Just never felt the need to explain. I've known, discussed in forums, and played with, other guys who did. One friend I used to play with regularly was a "solid" player, big on theory. We'd be playing and he'd say "oh I loved that riff you played where you did the blah blah blah (which is what I actually heard when I talked theory :p) and I'd say "thank you. I don't know what that meant, I just played what I thought would sound good."

    I am when playing other peoples stuff. Don't take this as an insult, just an explanation of my thoughts on this. I grew up a classical piano player. You played it EXACTLY was written, notes, expression, etc., EXACTLY or it wasn't "right." And if you didn't play it exactly the same, it was because you couldn't. So when I started playing rock and roll "some of the riffs" or a similar solo wasn't good enough. To me, I wasn't playing it correctly until I had it note for note, phrasing and all. Plus, as a kid, I didn't think I was good enough to take liberties with Alex Lifeson, Jimmy Page, Michael Schenker, Al Di Meola, Jimi Hendrix or anything else that I played. Plus, if I allowed myself to not have to play it note for note, it was not challenging me to get better. That was how I got better, by making myself play it exactly like they did. Now, you might say "Ha, how did you play Hendrix note for note? He never did that himself!" And you'd be right. When I played a lot of Hendrix, I literally had 3 different versions of Red House, and several other Hendrix songs I played at least two versions of. But the goal was, play them exactly like the record.


    My friend who was the big theory guy said the same exact thing. And, he never understood how or why I didn't want to know theory. I never thought I needed too. He'd make up some chord changes, start playing them and want me to do various styles of solos over them. Do a bluesy thing, now hard rock, now shred, now melodic, now funky... He'd challenge me to do those things, then he'd analyze. He said I had to know some theory to know what to do, and I never quite got that. I just played what he asked for and whatever came out. I remember SRV in an interview saying he didn't want to know theory because every time he started reading it, it interfered with him playing what he "felt." He said it stopped the notes in his head from coming out because he started thinking instead of feeling. I think that sums up my experience with theory very well. But I understand how different everyone is. I have one friend who CAN NOT play without music. You put a song in front of him let him run through it a few times and he can play it great. But ask him to make up a solo and he's LOST. Write one out, or show him how to play one, and he can play it. (not an advanced soloist, probably for this reason...) but he can't just jam over anything. He knows theory! But I can start chording like I mentioned above and he's just lost. He CAN NOT just come up with solo's. It just does not register with him. He can learn one from tab. Learn one from sitting in the room and me showing him the notes. Learn one from a video... but he can't come up with one on his own. And that is hard for me to understand, because he plays a lot and has some skills as a player, but making up solos is just out of the question for him.
     
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  15. Uncle Bob

    Uncle Bob New Member

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    This is a really interesting thread!

    A friend of mine, who knows so much music theory that he can very easily make me feel stoooopid, recently worked with me on something. After he’d spent some time explaining his take on a particular bit of theory he said “When you figure it out perhaps you could show me how to use it”!

    The point to that little anecdote is that having been playing for around 30 years there’s obviously stuff I’ve forgotten, and quite honestly I think I’m better off without it. I look at the fret board so differently now that I’m not thinking about scales etc. But having said that I do think it was a good place to start.

    It’s a bit like driving lessons I suppose. People used to tell me “Once you’ve passed your driving test and got your license, that’s when you really start learning”.
     
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  16. Axis39

    Axis39 New Member

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    Before I respond to any of your post, @DreamTheaterRules, I have no issue with folks who don't want to learn theory. I'll explain why I did later.

    I honestly mean 'to explain what I did' in some of the simplest terms... In other words, talking about a song, and I play a certain chord... Someone says, what is that? I know to say it's the ii, or the VI or III of the key.... I know that might be simple, but that's all the theory i really hope my bandmates know. If I say, let's do a quick IV, I don't want them to have to ask what the IV chord is?

    I don't play much Jazz, so I don't worry about knowing subs, or what scale I can play on top of some wacky chord.... Like you, I play what I hear in my head, or what sounds 'right'.

    I made a conscious decision a few years ago to stop doing rock cover stuff. Before then, I would work on note for note stuff.... and was very un-motivated by it. It's not my thing, that's all. I was in band in middle school, I hear where you're coming from.

    As my mother used to say, 'That's why they make chocolate AND vanilla' yeah?

    I honestly, don't think theory ahead of time... Maybe if I'm trying to figure out some chord structure, but other than that? I don't know enough myself to even begin applying theory! LOL. So, again, 100% aligned here, my friend.

    And, by 'figure out a chord structure', I mean by simply understanding what is traditional, and starting there. You probably know this much as well, just by being familiar with songs and their structures.

    I can't spend hours talking about theory, my knowledge is really just minimal, but more than some of my fellow musicians, and possibly a lot more than a lot of bar band guys. But, I don't hold it against anyone, nor do I think what I've done in music is right! Furthest thing from the truth, probably.


    But, why did I learn theory? Part of the reason you don't want to.... I remember when I was a kid and I'd read one of the guitar rags and they'd say things like, In Back In Black, Angus is using the pentatonic minor, but borrowing notes from the mixolydian scale over the IV chord'. I kept thinking how does he know that? And, after having spent time in band, playing note for note stuff, I thought that there must be rules to tell you what notes were acceptable. I didn't get any real guitar lessons for years, so I was learning in a vacuum. Actually, I just struggled, I dunno that I was really learning anything for a few years. I had probably been playing for 20 years before I got myself in gear and figured out that theory wasn't actually gonna tell me which notes were the 'correct' ones. It just helped me to figure out what just happened.... But, by studying theory, I was given some extra tools and directions to go.

    I used to be convinced that Stevie was right... Learning theory would slow me down, keep me from being free in my playing. But, I was wrong. Every guitar player I've ever known who said theory would slow them down also had avoided learning theory. Nobody I know who knows theory ever regrets it. But, some of the most successful musicians I personally know, don't really know much, if any theory.

    If I focus on theory, then, yeah, it's gonna be stiff... But, the reality is, I think about theory when I am at home practicing. By the time I get to band rehearsal or on stage, theory has nothing to do with what I'm physically doing. I play well because I've done my homework, because I practiced, because I've played enough notes to know how they sound, because I've listened to the music I want to play (songs, style, etc), basically because I made enough mistakes to know how bad they can sound! LOL

    I have frustrated a few guys over the last number of years when they ask me, 'How do you know what notes to play?' and my answer is usually, 'I just don't play the ones I don't like'. No theory involved in that, just lots of time with my fingers on a fretboard. It's the best description I have for how it works in my brain. I've made enough mistakes, played enough notes in the 'wrong' place that I know to stay away from certain things at certain times. There is no magic bullet, it's time in the saddle... Most folks don't like that reality! LOL

    I could use theory to explain it. I could say things like 'stay away from the Major third when playing over minor chords in a Blues song'... But, even that can be done in the correct context and situation. So, it won't help anyone, including me. I know that the major third can sound dissonant, and add tension over a minor chord, and depending on the note before, after and the length of the note held will make all the difference in the world on whether it sounds correct or not.

    My thinking now is that any knowledge is better than no knowledge. Theory is not the be-all/end-all, nor is it even a requirement. But, it's another tool I can use, that's all.
     
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  17. PRSWILL

    PRSWILL New Member

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    Guitar is easy to play and hard to master. theory is the same- easy to understand- hard to master. First step for me was to learn how to play every major chord in at least 4 positions on the neck- this will help you understand where all the notes/roots are on every string. then it's math- with 2 whole notes, 1 half, 3 whole notes, 1 half per octave.
    Practice building some chords like a C# maj 7 in 2-3 positions. this is a deep hole! lol.
     
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  18. veinbuster

    veinbuster Zombie Three, DFZ

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    I rarely think of theory when I am playing - I just let my fingers go to what is in my head.

    I do use theory as a fall back when I’m trying to figure out where to take something I am composing. If I don’t know what to do next, I’ll try a few options that theory suggests would work.
     
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  19. Uncle Bob

    Uncle Bob New Member

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    @Axis39 - I’m sure you’re right that nobody who learned theory ever regretted it. I do think that the importance of it is overplayed by many though, and for those who don’t know theory it must sometimes seem that they are missing out on some kind of magical ability booster. It’s not.

    A lifetime ago, my teacher used to say “you only see what you can’t do”, meaning that once you can do something yourself it no longer stands out when others do it.

    The other analogy I use, and you’ll have to forgive me for it, is the movie Days of Thunder (bear with me). In that movie Tom Cruise’s character knows nothing about cars, but he can drive the wheels off one!
     
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  20. DreamTheaterRules

    DreamTheaterRules Julie's back!

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    @Axis39 I love talking about this stuff and hearing how other players go about it. I'm not (would never!) criticizing or saying my way is better or anything like that. I just like hearing how other players go about their process. It's all very interesting too me and I love hearing what other players have to say. Even more interesting when you have heard the guy play some and can tie the way he plays and the way he thinks and learns together.

    Heck, I'm the one people may "look down on" in a way, for never taking the time to learn more theory. I was too busy learning Van Halen and Ozzie songs to stop and learn theory.:)
     
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