Why is Music Theory Important?

Music is a creative art form. Many people look to it for an outlet from their troubles or pains and lean on it to find something positive. Many artists look to paint pictures with sound. Sometimes they will attempt to depict a boat riding through rough seas or to replicate the feeling of resting in a meadow. However this craft is more than just pure talent or artsy comparisons.

Many students who are starting to learn the craft of music want to jump straight into the creative and artsy aspects of music. They want to create something unique to get rich or famous. More often than not, they forget to learn why that music works. That isn’t always the fault of the student: many teachers are dry or boring and don’t give real reasons that their students should work hard to learn the intricacies of music theory. The result is that many musicians don’t have the basic skills necessary to create art at the highest level.

Why then is music theory so important? There are three reasons why music theory is vital to a musicians success. It is foundational to the rest of one’s musical abilities. Theory allows for communication among musicians, on the band stand and in rehearsals. Finally, without theory, one’s personal expression is boxed in.

What is Music Theory?

One of the most common reasons that people do not want to study music theory is because they do not understand what it really is. People falsely assume that it is incredibly complex, dry, uninteresting, and limits creativity. While these things can be true for certain situations or aspects of theory, as a whole this is not the case. Just like math, music theory starts out simple and builds in complexity as you add steps into the mix.

Music theory is not a set of do’s and don’ts, instead it is a set of guidelines. These guidelines merely explain what people in the past have done so that people in the future do not have to “re-discover” the basics all over again. The intention is not to be restricting, but instead it opens up doors for more creativity. Ultimately these so-called rules were created because someone in history followed their ear and did what sounded right to them. Other people agreed, repeated the decisions, and the world of academia wrote it down.

Foundational

Without music theory, there is no foundation to build the musical house on. Pitches become notes, notes become scales, scales become melodies, melodies need harmonies, harmonies lend to forms, and forms create songs. Having this foundation helps musicians be more proficient in learning new music and playing the music that they do know at a high level. Knowing the theory behind the music is like knowing the answers before you take the test.

Communication

Music theory is vital for communication with other musicians. Theory makes communication actually possible. Music is like any other occupation: time is money. Whether it is the bandstand or the rehearsal space, musicians cannot afford to waste time. The common knowledge between musicians that is found in music theory allows things like the Nashville Number System to be used to quickly communicate and create great music.

However, just because someone doesn’t know as much music theory as the other members of the band does not mean that they are not as important or useful. Every musician has value – it is easier to show the value that one has to offer if they have the knowledge to communicate intelligently with their bandmates.

Personal Expression

Perhaps the best part about understanding music theory is the way that it unlocks one’s ability to play personally. Expression can prove difficult in a band setting if one doesn’t have the knowledge to navigate the tune. There are a few amazingly gifted musicians out there that have the ability to use their ear almost exclusively, but they are few and far between. The rest of the musicians in the world use a combination of listening actively and the knowledge that they have about the music they are performing.

To accomplish these goals it is not necessary to know everything about music theory. Serialism and avant garde music isn’t required knowledge for the everyday musician. The next few weeks will have all of the necessary information needed to be a competent musician. If you know you ABCs and your 123s, you can learn music theory. Music doesn’t have to be difficult.

More Info

Are you looking to see where you can learn more? Check out these sources!

Just the Bassics Podcast

Just the Bassics is our very own podcast. We think that this is the best way to learn more about music theory. This blog is part of a series that will unfold over the next few weeks. Over the course of the series you’ll learn tons about music theory from a practical perspective.

You’ll Hear It Podcast

Run by Peter Martin and Adam Maneess, this podcast offers daily jazz advice. They cover topics ranging from playing over changes to learning tunes faster. They offer great information and are real pros!

8-Bit Music Theory

8-Bit offers youtube videos centering on video game music. Their videos are a lot of fun to watch and have tons of useful content.

Adam Neely

Adam Neely creates unique music lessons. His lessons on theory are extremely interesting and cover topics that most people would never think of covering. He releases new videos every week.

There are dozens more that you can find information on. What’s your favorite one? Let me know in the comments below!

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