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Thread: theory: good, bad, or ugly?

  1. #1
    IbreatheMusic Author Bizarro's Avatar
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    theory: good, bad, or ugly?

    I've noticed several forum members really working hard on understanding theory and applying it to music that they're working on. Sometimes it can get overwhelming!

    I do have a major problem (no pun intended) with music theory. It's not so much the theory itself (if you're a "math" type of person, it's actually very straightforward). It's what you do with the theory, or let it do to you by imposing limitations (for example, some people don't want to leave the major scale, no matter what happens!)

    From my perspective, it all comes down to this: Theory is about music, but music is NOT about theory.

    Theory is a tool, and quite possibly the quickest path towards becoming an accomplished musician. It should not limit your options; it should open new doors. And you can't forget to trust your ears!
    -Bizarro
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  2. #2
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    I've been playing music for quite a while, Bizarro.
    Was kept busy learning other peoples songs, on the road for months at a time.
    I retired from live shows about ten years ago and since then I've come to realize that I didn't accomplish squat. I've written around two hundred songs, sure, but they were based on what I knew. Other peoples music.

    Now I'm trying to play catch up. Math has always been a problem for me but I use calculaters now.

    Your statement, "Theory is about music, but music is NOT about theory." is so very true. I was about music. I thought theory was only for classical music.

    It's people like you, szulc, Bongo, Gunni, Eric and the others here who people like me look for advice and answers to our neverending list of questions.

    I've been into recording my music for the past few years and have found that it'stinks. My music, that is.
    I've been around some theory boards for the past few months and this one is really good.
    I've learned more here than I have from all the other places.

    In the short time I've been learning theory, I've rewritten a few of my songs and am working on a classical type song now. It's opened up new insight and creativness.

    Now I'm 'trying' to be about theory to advance my own songwriting and music compostion.

    I can really relate to your post and the comment you made.
    I don't know the point of this reply, only that I want to say it. I guess I hope it does to you and Eric and szulc and Bongo and the others, what your sharing of knowledge that you guys have done for me. I feel good reading y'alls stuff.

    Yes, it is overwhelming and sometimes very confusing, but the more I learn the more the new becomes understandable that much quicker.
    I wish there were home computers and bbs' like this one back in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up and learning to play.
    I envy the youth of today with their access to bbs like this one.

    I'm done.
    ~ pant, pant ~

  3. #3
    Resident Curmudgeon szulc's Avatar
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    From my perspective, it all comes down to this: Theory is about music, but music is NOT about theory.
    This is a truly beautiful statement.
    Theory is a tool you use to extract the knowable (sp?) from a complex art form.
    Like life itself, much less is known than unknown.
    "Listen to the Spaces Between the sounds."
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  4. #4
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    Hadn't thought about it too much, but another way to view it is that what we call theory is, in a way, a nice model that's been built to understand music. It's similar to the way we build models of all our other artifacts (such as cars, airplanes, economic systems, feedback and control mechanisms, cities, etc).

    I'm not comfortable with the use of the term 'theory' in the context 'music theory'. Theories are models of how stuff works (to me that's the definition), and I'm not sure yet that's quite what music theory does (as we commonly use the term).
    Last edited by Bongo Boy; 12-19-2002 at 04:08 PM.
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  5. #5
    chewing bubble gum Chim_Chim's Avatar
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    Theories are models of how stuff works (to me that's the definition), and I'm not sure yet that's quite what music theory does (as we commonly use the term).

    Right,but it does open doors as Bizarro says and there are so many options you discover when you start advancing that perhaps the non-theorist might not otherwise be aware of or "as" aware of.
    Some days I seem to do OK. Other days I feel like just shoving an M-80 right up my guitar's butt.

  6. #6
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    This is a tough topic to leave alone...

    Right,but it does open doors
    Yes, I agree completely...it's not that music theory isn't useful. Hardly. It's that music maybe isn't a 'machine' or a 'process' that 'works', necessarily. Another way to put it: music theory as I understand it so far is just one way to understand the artifact of music--it gets you a lot, but it may not be provide the best explanation of why a particular piece of music 'works', and it may not be the fastest way to get to the desired result--not every time, for sure.

    Again I use fine art as an example: if an oil painting moves us, elicits an emotion--few of us are bothered if someone can't explain why. Conversely, if I slap some paint on the canvas, make a bunch of 'mistakes', work around them, and when I'm done it puts a huge smile on my face--it was a success. It's likely that no amount of graphic arts theory would have gotten me there.

    If the painting feels wrong somehow, feels heavy, unbalanced or lop-sided and I'm unhappy with it--imagine how useful it would be to have learned, from 'theory', that yes, of course your eye is drawn to that huge white thing on the right--away from what I wanted to be the main theme. In 7000 years of civilization, we've learned about the effects that color, size, position, shape, etc., have on our sense of balance (as an example). Let's use it.

    Bringing it back to music--at the simplest level of theory knowledge--if I wanted a serious, balald-like or somber feel and instead got something that feels light & celebratory--hey, theory would have told me that was going to happen and would have saved me a lot of heartbreak.

    So...it's all good.
    Last edited by Bongo Boy; 12-19-2002 at 06:49 PM.
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  7. #7
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    Originally posted by badgas I envy the youth of today with their access to bbs like this one.
    It's a wonderful resource, and I'm happy to have it. On the other hand--past generations in this* culture had, I think, more immersion in true folk music. Live, no-kidding, mom, dad, grampa, the aunts and uncles playing, singing and dancing as part of everyday life.

    The world of music for many seems reduced to whatever some clod at corporate decided could be produced and processed profitably with the 12 radio programming companies Thank goodness for sites such as this one and the our ability to do independent recording cheaply!

    Sorry! I wasn't trying to 'out-rant' you!!

    *By "this" culture I mean the relatively Euro-centric, or "Western" one represented by the active members, the instruments and the music discussed here.
    Last edited by Bongo Boy; 12-19-2002 at 07:06 PM.
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  8. #8
    Mode Rator Zatz's Avatar
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    Is science good, bad or ugly?

    Hi all!

    Philisophical discussion y'know... The whole issue is all about the way we perceive life.

    There is an expression "synthesis by analysis" which is an answer to the what-so-good-about-theory question here.

    It's oh so great to express feelings without ever thinking of quantum transition of notes in Powertab environment but when we get to compose, to create something new we have to base it upon what we already know (just like you can't imagine 4th dimension), what we've experienced, felt, loved, hated etc. This is where we come limited!

    Theory is just a tool enabling us to expand our view, assume, foresee what we don't know yet for sure, move forward. How can we know the mass of the Sun? Ever been there and felt enormous gravity?

    Besides that is a great communicational mean between people interested in the subject, it's a knowledge format, clue to what's been already explained and understood.

    Water can still quench my thirst despite my knowledge of its chemical formula.

    Warm regards,
    Zatz.

  9. #9
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    Very good, Zatz. Beer was brewed for hundreds of years before the existence of yeast was even known. BUT, what an enormous, wonderful world of beer can be created once you not only know about yeast, but understand it.

    Okay, sure. Water's pretty important too.
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  10. #10
    Mode Rator Zatz's Avatar
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    Yeah, Bongo Boy!
    Beer is even better than music theory and can quench thirst even faster! I worship this Nectar the secret of which is beyond my coprehension! You know it and you are really great man!

    Cheers to all at IBreathe!

    Zatz.

    PS: Damn, where did I get my last bottle?

  11. #11
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    Hmmmmm...someone's in a good mood. Perhaps the Music Theory forum actually needed a Music and Brewing sub-topic area?
    I worship this Nectar the secret of which is beyond my coprehension!
    .I'm thinking if you can handle the computer modeling of plasma dispersion physics, you can probably comprehend beer. That's what I'm thinking.
    Last edited by Bongo Boy; 12-19-2002 at 07:37 PM.
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  12. #12
    Resident Curmudgeon szulc's Avatar
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    So is your preffered brew Lager or Ale?
    "Listen to the Spaces Between the sounds."
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  13. #13
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    I'll try not to get started on this topic!!! Ale, by far. I've made what I think are some fine Pilseners and I truly enjoy them--but I'm definitely a pale ale guy.

    The water here in Colorado Springs is about as close to the analysis of Pilsen water as you could get without building it yourself (or going there), so it's just perfect for that particular style of lager. We have to tweak it with gypsum here to get good ale, especially for the stouts and porters (Burton-on-Trent water, that sort of thing).

    Damn!!!!! You got me started.
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  14. #14
    chewing bubble gum Chim_Chim's Avatar
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    abstract and disproportion

    abstract:

    if I slap some paint on the canvas, make a bunch of 'mistakes', work around them, and when I'm done it puts a huge smile on my face--it was a success.

    Jackson Pollock(sp?) theory?


    disproportion:

    If the painting feels wrong somehow, feels heavy, unbalanced or lop-sided and I'm unhappy with it--imagine how useful it would be to have learned, from 'theory', that yes, of course your eye is drawn to that huge white thing on the right--away from what I wanted to be the main theme.

    Picasso theory ?


    and...

    Hmmmmm...someone's in a good mood. Perhaps the Music Theory forum actually needed a Music and Brewing sub-topic area?

    Beer Theory ! (yeah!!!!)

    So...it's all good.

    Cheers to all at IBreathe!

    Cheers,

    Chim_chim
    Some days I seem to do OK. Other days I feel like just shoving an M-80 right up my guitar's butt.

  15. #15
    chewing bubble gum Chim_Chim's Avatar
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    theory: good, bad, or ugly?

    Conclusion: ...Beer Good
    Some days I seem to do OK. Other days I feel like just shoving an M-80 right up my guitar's butt.

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