Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Music before Theory


    There is much discussion of music theory on this site, and while learning theory is crucial to developing into a good musician, it is important not to get bogged down in it.  It's very easy to get caught up in studying this kind of thing and neglect the music itself.

    What I'm trying to say is that music theory is called theory and not music fact for a reason.  It only exists to explain music that has already been composed and/or played.  It's based off of what someone else thinks to sound good.  As a musician, you are meant to compose and play music that sounds right or good to you.  Before you can do this, however, you need to determine what sounds good to you.  The only way to do this is to listen to music.

    One of the most overlooked aspects of an education in music, whether you're self-taught or studying with a teacher, is the importance of listening to music.  In fact, this is the most important part of developing as a musician.  When I say "listening," I don't mean turning some music on while you're doing the dishes, I mean using all of your energy and attention to listen and analyze what's going on in the music.  Listen to how the drummer and the bass player are interacting with each other, or to the overall form.  What kinds of things is the soloist doing to build to a climax?  Listen for anything and everything.  Play the same track over and over until you can sing that badass sax line in the middle of the tune.  Listen!

    Music theory just makes it easier to categorize and label what sounds good to you in the music you listen to.  It provides you with guidelines to work within, or you can ignore it all together.  Remember that music is art, so the only good music is the music that sounds good to you, and that is different for everybody.

    To quote an essay I wrote some time ago: "There are no rules in music other than what sounds good or not and that is different for everyone...The more ways one has of conceptualizing something, the better the understanding of the whole can be achieved, and maybe even present an element of clarity that might not have previously been realized...Remember that music is only relative to itself, so find your own way of thinking about it.  After all, art is a personal expression."

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