Ear vs Theory: Opinions please

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Carl_Tone, Apr 27, 2008.

  1. Carl_Tone

    Carl_Tone Member

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    "Don't throw something in just because it works in theory. As always, trust your ear." (some online advice)

    How do we (you) make sure what our ear is telling us to play is musically correct?
     
  2. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Supporting Member

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    "Musically correct" is subjective. It boils down to your vocabulary and your sense of taste. You can come up with some theoretical reason to justify any note over any chord (and often several reasons) but whether it actually works or not is up to each individual listener. That's why you'll see the phrase, "It's not what you say, but how you say it," so often. It's all about taste.

    So why learn theory at all? Because it can help open your ears. I'm always amazed at how much many players don't hear. And it is nice to fall back on when you're not hearing anything to play or just can't focus for a minute or two or are otherwise lost. But always remember that theory is a better tool for deconstructing music, not constructing music.
     
  3. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    It's kinda bizzaarre because some scales have enherintly wrong stuff in them but don't "sound" wrong because it's been done for so long that the "wrong" sounds right. It's a personal thing too. I'll stick with what my ears and brain tell me is right or wrong, not a theory or a book....
     
  4. lannyhall

    lannyhall Member

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    I agree. It is a good practice to examine your music from multiple angles. Sometimes theory can make you aware of things that are a distraction for some listeners. It's a bit like analyzing your verbal communication. You might say that you don't need to study grammar, since if you are communicating, it's good enough. Would you be somewhat distracted by a speaker with bad grammar? For example, Earlier today when I logged on, I come here to say that it do not matter if you agree with I.

    Sometimes you send a message you did not intend.
     
  5. frankencat

    frankencat Guitarded Gold Supporting Member

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    Having a "good ear" as some say is probably more important to actually playing but theory helps us communicate more efficiently and on the same level. I like what rockinrob said as well. :AOK
     
  6. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    The answer is in the word itself:

    Theory is something unproven or unprovable in every case.

    Ears--yours and others'--are what we are convincing. If the ears are convinced, the theory doesn't matter.

    This sort-of applies to everything, even gear. If there is a 'theory' that pricey NOS tubes sound better, but in your amp, your ears prefer the cheap Chinese tubes, then which ones do you go with?

    That's not to say, however, that you will learn and develop and eventually grow to appreciate the sound of the NOS tubes more.

    That's why it pays to try and figure out why some theoretical concept exists. Don't discount it, you may learn something.
     
  7. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

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    Most "theory" is Diaotonic scale based, for a lot of people, if you go beyond diatonic to Harmonic Minor or Melodic Minor the relationships change and its really easy to lose people, the blues does not really fit a key or theory, you end up playing all the notes in the blues, so a chromatic works in all cases.

    Theory helps me understand what is happening, and I notice a lot of players who have some theory will force everything to the diatonic scale, its funny a lot of times to see how they do that.
     
  8. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    There is a such thing as a minor key, so Harmonic and Melodic minor scales are very much tonality-based, and therefore diatonic. Diatonic does not mean "within the major scale," it means "within a key." :)

    Also, everything is justifiable by theory if you learn enough theory. Blues is most certainly explainable by theory, but not your typical four-semesters-in-college tonal-harmony-plus-serial-techniques sequence. Much of the notes in blues unexplainable by your typical college theory course sequence are explainable when you look at their origin in a seventh-partial-based view of the overtone series derivation of tones in a system, as opposed to the equal-tempered-fifth-partial-based system in use in Europe since about when Bach wrote the well-tempered clavier. Many of the notes used in blues in our culture are justifiable as seventh-partial derivations of tones colliding with instruments designed for use in a European-style five-limit system. Books have been written on the subject, I could lay some titles on you if you want, or you could just ask Steve Kimock here about it on the forum, or better yet do a search, as he's explained about it many times before.

    Additionally, maybe a 'friendly reminder' is in order that "music theory" is not some sort of rule-set or dead-subject--it's a common study that's continually evolving and growing. Generally, if a phenomenon exists in music, someone has a theory about it and has written a book or dissertation on it. :)
     
  9. musicman1

    musicman1 Member

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    You need both. Learn all the theory you can but when you play, use your ear. Theory will develop your ear.
     
  10. elgalad

    elgalad Senior Member

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    +1

    I see so many people saying they don't want to learn theory because they want to play by ear. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Theory just allows you to play by ear, an then to work out why that line you just came up with works.
     
  11. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

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    Brad, keys and scales are very hotly debated subject, many people see only the Diatonic as the true key and everything as perversions of the one true system, I studied Jazz gutiar so I see the Diatonic as the least interesting what ever, and explore the more interesting aspects of music.
     
  12. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    Theory gives me more different options for my ear to pick from. Without those options I would have some serious narrow ruts. The ear still gets final say.
     
  13. The Captain

    The Captain Supporting Member

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    See, I have seen about a dozen different definitions of just what "diatonic" means, but I operate on the definition that it means "two tones" ie whole tones and semi-tones. No microtones in classical music.
    Anyway , back to teh subject.
    Is not "theory" just a descriptive means of communication ? A way of navigating the possibilities of sound ?
    Theory is descriptive, not proscriptive.
    So when is a note wrong ? We know that some sounds or intervals are nice , and some are less nice, jarring , if you will. So a flatted fifth, for example, is "right" becaused it is "wrong", deliberately inserted for it's wrongness. You can use theory later to decribe what happened, and to easily find that same effect again, or to tell someone else how to do it, but the emotional response of "wrongness" (or rightness for that matter) was never predicted by "theory".
    The emotional response comes first, the theory about it comes later.
    When the first minor scale was written, there was no theory of, "if I flatten the third, it will sound sad".
    Someone flattened the third, and a listener said, that sounds sad.
    So it's unlike a scientific theory, which pre-dates and predicts effects, such as "if I bang these lumps of uranium together hard enough, just like this, kabloomie".
    So theory is a bad name, it sounds like the cause, when really, it is the effect, and as Jackie White said, "you can't take the effect, and make it the cause".
     
  14. Jay Mitchell

    Jay Mitchell Member

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    The tritone is a naturally-occurring interval between the seventh and fourth tones of a major scale. It appears in the dominant seventh chord as the interval between the third and seventh. As such, it isn't "wrong," even in strictly traditional terms. It just creates harmonic tension that wants to resolve. The fourth scale tone wants to move down a half step to the third, and the seventh scale tone wants to move up to the tonic. These are the third and tonic, respectively, of the root chord.
     
  15. sausagefingers

    sausagefingers Supporting Member

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    Yeah, what he said.

    Thank you brad347 for the great posts on theory, philosophy and musicianship! Most often the voice of reason!
     
  16. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    It always seems my favorite players don't/didn't know a lot of theory. I'm sure Beck or Van Halen or someone don't know all that much theory but they obviously have amazing ears. Coincidence?
     
  17. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

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    Going to have to disagree here, Jeff Beck as well as Pete Townshend were students of John McLaughlin, studied jazz guitar, its odd to hear Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry refer to their music as Jazz on the amazing journey DVD but they do.

    Eddy Van Halen plays piano, that was his first instrument I remember him saying, and I played piano as well, though I was self taught, so he probably got his theory from the piano, I studied jazz guitar,
     
  18. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    Something worth remembering is this: Just because a player doesn't use the same words theory professors use to describe a phenomenon doesn't mean they don't understand it. Just because some dude didn't teach it to them doesn't mean they don't know.

    I guarantee that EVH 'knows' lots about musical theory--maybe he just didn't study it formally and maybe he figured it out on his own. Same with Wes Montgomery. People say he didn't know things, but I saw a video where he was rehearsing a band and it was quite apparent that he knew very well what he was talking about.

    Imagine some really smart but uneducated dude out in the country whose tractor broke, and he tore down the engine all by himself and using his logic figured out how it worked. Maybe he made up names for the parts he didn't know-- the spark plug became the "sparkin' thing," the carburetor became the "gas squirter" and so on. But he tore the engine down and figured out how it worked, logically, and then put it all back together and made it run like a top.

    Who knows more about the internal combustion engine, that guy or some kid who took a vo-tech class about internal combustion engines in high school?

    Music people are weird. We learn what V-I is called and all of a sudden tend become the most opinionated, know-it-all people on the planet! :) We lean what something is called and we get all pedantic on less-schooled players who 'know' way more than we do! I know I did that in my late teens/early 20s quite a bit. I cringe about it now. ;)

    In any case, sometime in the middle of the 20th century, the "innocent genius" became a very popular concept to the media. They tend to exaggerate/play the "no formal training" things up about people in magazines, television, etc. It sells. You often see artist bios bragging about "no formal training" or "self-taught." For some reason people are more impressed by that in the last 40 years or so, so it tends to get played up. I think the thinking is "if you can figure out how to make a C, D, and G chord and nobody showed you, you must be a genius!" And for someone with little musical ability, it may very well seem that way. For someone with little passion for music but a dream to be a 'star,' it lets them believe that they can avoid working at it. :) So it's a sexy concept for the media to latch onto to sell things.

    So I tend to assume accounts of "self-taught" or "innocent genius" are all exaggerated. Most cases of meeting the musicians described as such have borne those suspicions out. :)
     
  19. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    That's absolutely NOT what 'diatonic' means. Just because you "see" something doesn't mean it's correct. It's a problem with the information age in which we live - not all the information is accurate.

    The Grove or Harvard dictionaries are the commonly accepted resources for musical terminology - most classically educated musicians have one or the other - I have the Harvard right here:

    "Diatonic - The natural scale, consisting of five whole tones and two semi-tones, as produced by the white keys on the keyboard. There is, of course, a corresponding scale in each key. Music is called 'diatonic' if it is confined to the notes of this scale to the exclusion of chromatic tones."

    Completely false.
     
  20. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    Okay so when EVH did the concert with Holdworth at GIT, Holdsworth played some of EVH's tunes and not the other way around. Holdsworth's music has a lot of changes and requires a huge knowledge of theory to play.

    I can only go by what EVH says in interviews, and we all know it's not always truthful. But he said he'd play by ear and fool the teacher on piano because he wouldn't read and can't read. Reading is part of theory imo. He also said he didn't know the chords to play on Big Bad Bill and had to get charts drawn up, and practice them to try and play those "hard" chords. Knowing advanced chords is part of it guitar theory to me.

    But what gives it away to me, is how he uses a lot of "wrong" notes in his lines because he just plays something that lays out symmetrical fingering pattern instead of adjusting the fingering to stay in key diatonically. When you play some of his lines slow, there are some sour notes, but fast, it gets covered up.

    A more theory oriented player like a Petrucci or someone, would not play so many accidentals it just goes against their grain.


    "Theory" means different things to many people. Anyone playing guitar for awhile is going to pick up some theory. I was thinking of more of a music school/college level of theory.
    But I would think things that Beck said would be honest when he talked about it.


    While these guys know what sounds they want and know how to get them, I would still say they don't know theory as in the western type of labels and college studies. Like a Berklee grad or something. The "study guys" usually sound like they're playing from a book.


    Add EJ in there too. Watching his teaching videos, he doesn't seem to know a lot of theory the way I'd think of someone knowing it as far as the labels and applications. But these guys know it more intuitively and by ear so they can get their sounds.
     

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