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Will learning music theory rob me of the ability to feel it?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  Next [all]
Author Will learning music theory rob me of the ability to feel it?
archivarius
In another thread,

calaveras wrote:

I also studied western music theory, acoustics and a bit of electronics when I was in college. One of my finals was to compose a counterpoint using the medieval rules regarding permissible intervals and harmony.
Now this is where I may lose some folks.
Somewhere along the line of learning western music theory at some point I kind of lost the ability to hear melody and just intuitively pull something out of my ass that works in that context.
I was stuck in this analytical perception of music where every note, interval and harmony had a name.
It is kind of like the difference between knowing your way home by just driving it vs drive 3 blocks, turn left on Rutledge, drive 8 blocks, turn right on Silver'.
I think what was going on was that I had a subconscious grasp of music, and learning the western notation and composition dialect pushed me into conscious apprehension of of music.
It has literally taken me about 20 years since to get to a place where I am almost in the middle of the two.


I've heard similar sentiments expressed before, and am wondering just how common is this phenomena? For how many of you has learning music theory resulted in what some might call a "too analytical" approach to appreciating music, or the inability to appreciate it on an intuitive (non-theoretical) level?

Personally, this kind of talk scares me a bit. After some failed attempts, I'm about to try picking up the study of music theory yet again. I'd like to have another tool in my toolbox for making more traditional Western-style electronic music, and be able to write down my musical ideas, and communicate more effectively with other musicians, but I certainly don't want to lose my intuitive appreciation of music.

Are my fears unfounded? Or is ignorance really bliss?
thermionicjunky
It could feel that way if you only learn to imitate past works. I find that learning a system can help you learn systems in a general way, but it takes work to avoid mimicry and "proper" behavior. You may experience growth in what it means to feel it. I find that it is best to know when you are reusing little bits of existing culture.
unclewoody
Will learning culinary skills lessen your intuitive appreciation of food?

razz
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
Yes, absolutely. DO NOT LEARN MUSIC THEORY !!!!!!
mt3
If you do, make sure to use sheepskin ultrathins.
criticalmonkey
your fears are groundless unless you get easily caught up in other peoples ideas - 12 tone, jazz and minimalism being the most common music school hangups
-improv seems to be the latest bread of academic rabbit hole

but studying music theory and your goals don't really match up - studying composition maybe
Gringo Starr
Just reading the title of this thread made me laugh. I use to think the same thing when I was 18 and going to music theory class. I was convinced that learning theory would all of a sudden put this limitation on my imagination and creativity. Now I can't believe how dumb I was. Whatever it is you do...
Learn it! Duh. If only I could have given myself a good backhand when I was a teen.

My advice though is this. Learn theory on the piano. If you don't play piano then start.
Refund
I know music theory back to front, and I still feel like I write 90% through intuition

I'm sure there are people out there that get influenced negatively by music theory, but it's a super tiny minority

It seems to be (mostly) a myth perpetuated by people on the fence about whether to learn it, or trying to justify not knowing it

I think this comes as a rejection of the perceived (and sometimes real) snobbery from people that *do* know music theory sometimes have against people that don't

Music theory is good for problem solving

When my intuition does not lead me to 'exactly' where I need to go, it's always the solid music theory that lets me reverse engineer what I've done so I can figure out what's missing
phase ghost
You gotta learn the rules...before you can break'em!

You can make music without any musical knowledge, no problem. I used to use samplers exclusively for a number of years before I ever got into synths.

That said, learning music theory in no way, shape, or form has hindered my ability to be creative. It's increased it exponentially. Once you have a basic understanding of note intervals, and why they sound good together, the sky's the limit. It's actually kind of puzzling how anyone could use synths without employing the basics.
felixer
archivarius wrote:
I'd like to have another tool in my toolbox for making more traditional Western-style electronic music, and be able to write down my musical ideas, and communicate more effectively with other musicians

electronic music was a way out of 'traditional western' music. obviously they are teaching that in some collages now (gotta keep students (=money) coming in) but it has very little to do with counterpoint or harmony, the two cornerstones of western music.
notation has been in a crisis ever since new sounds and playing technique appeared. right now you often have an explanation of the symbols that is longer then the actual composition ;-) esp notating electronic music is almost impossible. and there isn't any reason really: just play/send the tape! would anybody want to recreate that literally? because that is what notation was for: being able to play that music at a time when there were no devices to record the actual sounds ...
communicating with notation assumes that the other end also knows notation. and i find that usually isn't the case nowadays: i mostly write things down for myself so i don't forget. so unless you are working with trained professionals (usually found in the more commercial end of the music biz) there isn't much use for notation.
if you want to become a professional studio musician it is a must. if you want to compose for others it is a must too. but if you want to be creative and produce recordings i'm not sure if notation is going to be that useful.

knowing theory can be very useful. for me it was def an eyeopener to learn all those old techniques. and it enabled me to go further 'out' then before. but like with any influence you can get stuck. that depends more on what kind of a person you are ... learning things is easy, but to be really creative you have to be able to forget everything you know. that's the harder part ... but many get stuck without knowing theory or notation, so i don't think that has anything to do with it.

archivarius wrote:
is ignorance really bliss?

i don't think so. in my experience ignorant people just worry about different things. and get stuck at a level far below what they could achieve ...
Smokey
Theory is fine.

Muscle memory is a bitch though...
wsy
Go ahead and lean it. It won't hurt your imagination, it won't hurt your appreciation (in fact,
it greatly _helped_ mine), and it can be useful.

As in - *why* do two LFOs playing a power chord (exact 2:3 ratio, set it with a freq counter, NOT
a tuner) sound different than playing the same chord on a piano or guitar? (try it!) And
then, retune the oscillators with a tuner (not a freq counter!). Hint: it's a bug in the 12-tone
chromatic scale!

And I didn't get the joke in Beethoven's 9th, fourth movement, until I learned to read enough
sheet music to actually play it, then I literally LOLed (and by literally I mean literally). No
I will not spoil the joke for you. And sadly I have lost my sheet music reading chops, but I
still remember the joke.

So learn it. Get a book and just plow through, then read it again. More and more will stick.

Or even read Wikipedia articles. Some of them are really good.

- Bill
felixer
Smokey wrote:
Muscle memory is a bitch though...

yeah, that's another paradox: you need to play/practise in order to get any good, but at the same time you want to be able to go beyond what you praticed ... practising scales makes you play scales ... practising with a metronome makes you play in time all the time ...
i find it useful to practise a lot at times and then don't play for a while. i find i do the same with theory: read up and analyze whatever style i'm interested in at the time and then go out and just improvise.

no growth/development is ever lineair. in my experience you go up for a while and then hit a ceiling. hang there for a while until something unexpected happens (often a situation with others) and all of a sudden some door opens and you can slip thru to another level. sometimes the door closes behind you and you can't go back to being your old self. i couldn't possibly play the same way i did 30 years ago. luckily i think i'm better off now and sometimes remember all the trouble i used to have to make the music i wanted to make Mr. Green
Nelson Baboon
phase ghost wrote:
You gotta learn the rules...before you can break'em!


This cliché is just so blatantly false. Perhaps you need to know a rule before you know that you broke THAT RULE, but you can sure as hell avoid lots of rules if you don't study them in the first place.
UpAndDown
If you're worried, I would suggest reading a book on theory rather than taking formal lessons. You can skim read until you found something that interests you... you'll probably end up reading most of the book this way, just not in the intended order. Notation can give off a vibe of stuffiness and blokes in wigs playing chamber music, but it's just a language. I never use it, but it's kind of a handy thing to have a basic knowledge of.
When someone is learning the deep stuff when they're young in a college environment, there'll likely be a fair amount of peer-pressure...then like calaveras experienced, they were spat out into the real world and found themselves far off the place that attracted them to music in the first place.
Learning this stuff on your own, because you're hungry to, you won't be in any danger of drifting from where you want to be and want to be doing musically, you'll be closer.
GuyaGuy
Listen to interviews with classical and jazz musicians talking about the emotional impact of Bach or Coltrane then ask yourself the question again.
The Grump
Well... you can not learn the rules and sound like everyone else who thought they were breaking new ground by not learning the rules, or you can learn the rules, and figure out where the new ground is that remains unbroken as yet, and break it. it's not going to hurt you.


"I don't care how loud you roar... as long as you sniff balls, I still know you're just a dog."-Lion
Nelson Baboon
The Grump wrote:
Well... you can not learn the rules and sound like everyone else who thought they were breaking new ground by not learning the rules, or you can learn the rules, and figure out where the new ground is that remains unbroken as yet, and break it. it's not going to hurt you.



Those are the only possibilities.? I love how people who insist on you learning the rules operate under such a narrow range of possibilities. Another way of looking at it perhaps is that the danger of learning the rules might be that you might see everything in the context of these rules, and explain your newfound 'laws' without any real reasoning.
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
So, what are all these "rules" anyway? Here's one: never, ever play parallel 5ths. OK, so all those synth players who tune two oscillators a 5th apart, and all those rockers playing power chords are real rebels, breaking one of the hard rules of classical music. So what? Here's another rule: don't play a flat ninth interval under any context except a 7b9 chord. Yeah, that one exists for a good reason (it typically sounds like shit). Those are the only rules I can think of right now.

Again, I have to admit that I agree with Nelson Baboon.
SynthBaron
Nelson Baboon wrote:
The Grump wrote:
Well... you can not learn the rules and sound like everyone else who thought they were breaking new ground by not learning the rules, or you can learn the rules, and figure out where the new ground is that remains unbroken as yet, and break it. it's not going to hurt you.



Those are the only possibilities.? I love how people who insist on you learning the rules operate under such a narrow range of possibilities. Another way of looking at it perhaps is that the danger of learning the rules might be that you might see everything in the context of these rules, and explain your newfound 'laws' without any real reasoning.


Kinda like the people who go apeshit if you don't play Bach like a robot using period instruments. People who break the rules end up inadvertently creating new ones for the future. "Followers" will never get it...
scottmoon
GIACINTO SCELSI, THE COUNT WHO INVENTED DRONE MUSIC Mr. Green

His unique philosophy also stretched to music education, and can be summarised as don’t study, or at least not if you are talented. Almost entirely self-taught, Scelsi maintained that only those with no talent should study, and that by applying themselves they could at least become respectable and honest musical craftsmen. «For the others it will be the creative impulse itself that gives them shape». hihi

https://www.pixartprinting.co.uk/blog/giacinto-scelsi-the-count-who-in vented-drone-music/
mojopin
A lot of good comments here. I agree that it can be a tool for when you are stuck. I can quickly analyze what I'm doing and figure out a solution. But I'm not constantly analyzing my music. I usually don't even know what key I'm in but it takes all of ten seconds to figure it out if I need to. Also, it is great to understand what you like about someone else's piece of music. It will take away some of the mystery but that has happened with your timbral/production understanding of electronic music and you aren't worse off, no?

So yeah, I'm still very intuitive about composing. The muscle memory thing is true which is why I usually transcribe on a keyboard what I hear or am singing. I'm sometimes surprised that what sounds normal in my head is actually a pattern of notes that I know my hands wouldn't normally find. At the least, people should know their scales, how they are derived and the chords that make it..basic music theory. The whole counterpoint thing is style and composition and not relevant to modern electronic music. Do study form though because that is the essence of composition and everything must have form to exist.
kindredlost
I have seen this affect someone I truly admired. He was supremely talented at improvisation in his youthful days before attending a college which had a very prestigious jazz/music department. He now sits in his mother's home practicing scales all day and endlessly working his mechanical skills instead of writing or sharing with other people. Occasionally he will play a classical guitar piece for a small group of listeners but mostly what made him a phenomenon early on is buried deep.

Now that is a VERY rare occurrence. I do believe pedantic attention to rote instruction can lead to a loss of fluidity in emotion. I don't believe it is because of education. It is mainly due to a fear of peer judgement, a low self regard in your output or just plain burned out passion.

I also have an uncle who has an extensive music education. He is a retired carpenter and has never used his education for anything more than owning a record shop back in the 70's.

As long as you remain true to your love of music the training and knowledge is only going to enhance the fun.

Knowledge is not the key, application and passion is.
felixer
The Grump wrote:
you can learn the rules, and figure out where the new ground is that remains unbroken as yet, and break it.

that's a very intellectual way of going about something as elusive as music. learning theory showed me that you can set up any series of rules and some organized sound comes out. that's a fun game esp if you have a computer doing all the hard work for ya ... whether or not it 'sounds like shit' is a matter of taste and obviously if you like traditional music you will not like anything other then that ...
but for me it was a way to open up to other sounds/melodies/harmonies and i learned a great deal from that. after internalizing all that theory i can now play without thinking about it and play whatever i like without worries cool

in a sense i took it more like a 'systems theory' along the lines of marvin minsky. and if you study that kind of stuff it becomes apparent that no system or theory will ever be able to 'hold everything': it's always going to be a restriction. and often that is exactly the purpose: make sure that whatever comes out fits a certain 'genre'.

so maybe it was a detour to go thru 'systems thinking' and come out convinced that one shouldn't use any system at all lol
but i don't feel i wasted my time because now i'm more free then ever before and 'having been on the other side' i'm confident that i'm doing the right thing FOR ME. no doubts whatsoever ...

and if somebody wants to stick to a certain system i can still appreciate that, go along and play nice and fit into that. but i can also 'step outside', see the restrictions and come up with surprising extra's that would elude anybody stuck inside. and i can accept that some don't want to hear about that and want to stay safely inside that lil' bubble they constructed for themselves. if any i pity them as they are restricting themselves and miss out on some great opportunities/adventures ... but then, some stay at home and others go out Mr. Green

case in point, a new piece i made. and if you care to analyze it you'll find it has both traditional elements and not-so-traditonal parts. i don't think you could fit it inside any theory, but it entertains several at once ...
https://soundcloud.com/search?q=felixer%20konaloop
i'm sure some will think it 'sounds like shit' and i don't care cool
misterbunty
For some deviation from the norm, have you considered learning a classical system outside of the stock western-style? I know you mentioned that your palate is more western, but sometimes breaking orbit is a great way to see the universe.

Just a thought- never hurts to expand as the world compresses.
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