Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
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Rognvald
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Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rognvald » Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:02 pm

For the more advanced players on this Forum, I want to believe that they understand that Music Theory is critical to advanced playing. But, I am always amazed how some fairly advanced "players" have no concept of Music Theory and merely play the black dots on the page. I also find it interesting that many CG's who study with a competent university trained teacher never deal with how a piece of music is constructed but rather, only, how it should be played. Is this a failure of CG education, in general, or do you believe understanding Theory is not really important for the CG in the Y2K? A very simple introduction to theory is beginning to play chord changes and understanding where the music begins and ends in its journey. What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

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AndreiKrylov
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by AndreiKrylov » Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:10 pm

Rognvald wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:02 pm
For the more advanced players on this Forum, I want to believe that they understand that Music Theory is critical to advanced playing. But, I am always amazed how some fairly advanced "players" have no concept of Music Theory and merely play the black dots on the page. I also find it interesting that many CG's who study with a competent university trained teacher never deal with how a piece of music is constructed but rather, only, how it should be played. Is this a failure of CG education, in general, or do you believe understanding Theory is not really important for the CG in the Y2K? A very simple introduction to theory is beginning to play chord changes and understanding where the music begins and ends in its journey. What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
how do you know?
did they show to you their test results?
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Rick Hutt
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rick Hutt » Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:52 pm

I studied theory in college (with Walter Piston's wonderful text) while I was still a raw beginner at guitar. I found the whole study fascinating, and when I started studying Classical with Len Novy 8 years later, it all began to really make sense. When I started teaching, I stressed theory. Even if the student was not interested in classical guitar, I still taught scales, intervals (the fretboard is great for this) and how chords are constructed. I never got any complaints, and hope my insistence might have made a difference somewhere along the way. I studied form and analysis at the old American Conservatory in Chicago, and still do a complete f & a on every piece I play.
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Rognvald
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rognvald » Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:26 pm

AndreiKrylov wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:10 pm
Rognvald wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:02 pm
For the more advanced players on this Forum, I want to believe that they understand that Music Theory is critical to advanced playing. But, I am always amazed how some fairly advanced "players" have no concept of Music Theory and merely play the black dots on the page. I also find it interesting that many CG's who study with a competent university trained teacher never deal with how a piece of music is constructed but rather, only, how it should be played. Is this a failure of CG education, in general, or do you believe understanding Theory is not really important for the CG in the Y2K? A very simple introduction to theory is beginning to play chord changes and understanding where the music begins and ends in its journey. What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
how do you know?
did they show to you their test results?

Andrei,
When playing in ensembles with other guitarists, I would say, for example, "Let's start from the Em7th chord and build slowly to the A diminished" and they would look at me with a blank stare. Also, many CG's I know have admitted that they have never studied theory ergo, my original question. Playing again . . . Rognvald
Last edited by Rognvald on Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Rognvald
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rognvald » Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:31 pm

I studied form and analysis at the old American Conservatory in Chicago, and still do a complete f & a on every piece I play. Rick Hutt
Rick,
We might have crossed tracks if you were there in the 70's. I studied classical flute/saxophone with Thomas Sternik and Jazz improvisation with the famous Willie Pickens(pianist). It was a great school. Didn't they merge with the Roosevelt University School of Music? Playing again, Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Rasputin
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rasputin » Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:54 pm

Rognvald wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:26 pm
AndreiKrylov wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:10 pm
Rognvald wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:02 pm
For the more advanced players on this Forum, I want to believe that they understand that Music Theory is critical to advanced playing. But, I am always amazed how some fairly advanced "players" have no concept of Music Theory and merely play the black dots on the page. I also find it interesting that many CG's who study with a competent university trained teacher never deal with how a piece of music is constructed but rather, only, how it should be played. Is this a failure of CG education, in general, or do you believe understanding Theory is not really important for the CG in the Y2K? A very simple introduction to theory is beginning to play chord changes and understanding where the music begins and ends in its journey. What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
how do you know?
did they show to you their test results?

Andrei,
When playing in ensembles with other guitarists, I would say, for example, "Let's start from the Em7th chord and build slowly to the A diminished" and they would look at me with a blank stare. Also, many CG's I know have admitted that they have never studied theory ergo, my original question. Playing again . . . Rognvald
I can see how it might be useful to be able to use terms like that but at the same time, I don't really think you are going to end up with a different performance that way than you would if you went "let's start here [point or play] and build slowly to here [point or play]". I am more interested in the question of how theoretical knowledge can inform interpretation and performance (and, importantly in my view, vice versa). I thought that was the question raised by the original post.

Even playing the dots does involves some theoretical knowledge - pretheoretically there is only a sound "that goes like this". Plenty of people can reproduce a complex rhythm intuitively but be totally unable to give you the note values that make it up.

Personally I am a big fan of theory in the service of musicality but believe that the ear - and not some theoretical commitment - must always be the final judge. At the same time many people are just closed to theory and I think you have to accept that we are all different. There are many ways to skin a cat and I can well believe that there are excellent players out there who know next to nothing about theory (and are not just pretending so they don't look like spods). Theory after all is only a formal description of processes that are intuitive to us. By working it out we can perhaps develop capacities that would otherwise have remained latent, but I can accept that there may be other ways of doing that.

We work on technique a lot but we don't spend as much time working on our own musical abilities. The study of theory can be a way of doing that, but sometimes it is just a matter of learning a lot of chord names and scales - which in my view does nothing to deepen understanding and puts people off. When I played electric I came across a couple of teachers like that - to them theory meant being able to name things. To me it means having a framework for understanding how music works. After I started classical I took lessons for a while and of course my teacher did know the labels - the difference this time was that that knowledge was inseparable from her understanding of the sound of the piece and how it worked musically. Whether that should be called theory or musicianship, I don't know, but I think it is a very good thing.

mainterm
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by mainterm » Fri Feb 09, 2018 5:56 pm

Rognvald wrote:
Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:02 pm
For the more advanced players on this Forum, I want to believe that they understand that Music Theory is critical to advanced playing
I would suggest that advanced playing on guitar and guitar-like instruments has been around a lot longer than the bulk of what is being taught in theory classes today.

I think perhaps your assertions could be more nuanced in reality than your message implies.

Rognvald
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rognvald » Fri Feb 09, 2018 6:14 pm

I am more interested in the question of how theoretical knowledge can inform interpretation and performance (and, importantly in my view, vice versa). I thought that was the question raised by the original post. Rasputin

It was, Rasputin, and I hope we don't get sidetracked with thread drift. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

D.Cass
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by D.Cass » Fri Feb 09, 2018 7:19 pm

Depends on what you mean by advanced player. Granted, one can play the black dots and still sound good. However, those who do not study theory need more guidance when it comes to interpretation. With theory I have an idea of what the composer intentions are before I play the piece and thus avoiding a lot of trial and error, not to mention it speeds up the learning process. With theory one can deduce what notes are important do to the harmonic and voice leading functions before even playing it and not have to listen to it first.

In my opinion, if a person aspires to stand on their own then studying theory is a key to achieving this.

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joachim33
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by joachim33 » Fri Feb 09, 2018 8:04 pm

Knowledge of musical theory helps - it is neither necessary nor sufficient to know musical theory to be a musician.

I don’t think the issue is specific to guitar playing. It concerns amateurs practicing all sorts of instruments.

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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by soltirefa » Fri Feb 09, 2018 8:35 pm

Music theory is not necessary for advanced players. And medical school is not necessary for surgeons.

Rognvald
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by Rognvald » Sat Feb 10, 2018 12:37 am

Those of us who are in the "Arts" whether it be Music, Writing, Dance, or Visual Arts are really no different from those in the practical trades: carpenters, bricklayers and electricians in that in order to gain true competence one has to master levels of accomplishment that are real, provable and repeatable. And, whether it is done formally in the case of a classically trained musician or on the job, as is still the case with some Jazz players, the levels must be attained nonetheless. Because to play music at a very high level, one cannot rely on intuition, instinct, perspiration and inspiration solely unless you were born Beethoven, Bach or John Coltrane and even these luminaries followed the tried and true path of a tradesman albeit with much faster and profound results than their contemporaries. So, if one attempts true artistry, it is more than heart and soul but rather talent, experience, and the hard work of a tradesman who knows every aspect of his work. It is only then that we have the ability to communicate something special: not mundane, cliche, soppy, or theatrically gymnastic but the essence of a sentient human being that communicates through Art. Music theory . . . necessary . . . absolutely in every instance. Playing again . . .Rognvald
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ronjazz
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by ronjazz » Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:52 am

The study of theory from the jazz perspective really works well on the guitar, since most theoretical examples can be played on the guitar, most likely the same with "legit" theory. I feel that it helps interpretation to be able to utilize the theory to shape a phrase or choose the dynamics. It can also assist in memorization, knowing the architecture of the structure from a tension-resolution point of view. And how can it hurt to know more than less? It's also fun the hear the "changes" in a tune or piece.
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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by CactusWren » Sat Feb 10, 2018 4:44 am

I don't really know the state of CG pedagogy. The advanced players I know, the giggers and the guys with the doctorates, know it fine--although not like a composer or a jazz player.

That being said... it may be that theory is a bit lower on the list for CG than other instruments. So many pieces are fairly inflexible. A jazz player or pop/country guy can look at a lead sheet and make an arrangement on the spot. The improviser can jam, the pianist can comp, the bassist can play basslines. While knowing what you are playing is helpful in so many ways, theory-wise, there is a strong aspect to CG that is based on arrangements which really have very few ways you can play them. The sheet music consists of technical instructions as opposed to blueprints, if you catch my drift. I think it's the nature of the discipline, where the arrangements are very complex given the instrument they are being played on.

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Re: Music Theory . . . Necessary?

Post by MaritimeGuitarist » Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:00 pm

Andrei,
When playing in ensembles with other guitarists, I would say, for example, "Let's start from the Em7th chord and build slowly to the A diminished" and they would look at me with a blank stare. Also, many CG's I know have admitted that they have never studied theory ergo, my original question. Playing again . . . Rognvald

It sounds like you are attempting to communicate using a lead sheet approach. While skilled pop/jazz musicians would be familiar with this system, classical players usually approach theory through figured bass. I know at least a few very intelligent classical musicians who would give blank stares if you asked them to play an E7#9 chord. It's not that they lack knowledge of theory, but rather they've learned to label and explain what the hear/play in a different way. There are some newer university level text books that mention lead sheet analysis, but usually only as a footnote rather than a detailed study. Is it possible that when you were communicating with the 'advanced' guitarists in your ensemble that you were simply describing the music using a theoretical framework from that differs from the one they were taught?

*edited for grammar*

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