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Is there a "best way" to start learning theory.

Telewanger

Member
Messages
100
Hey Guys!

Some of you have seen some of my posts and some have not:

I have played for years, but know very little about theory. I have played in bands and have learned many songs, but never took the time or effort to learn what I was actually doing. Most everyone that I have ever played with were self taught and didn't know any theory, but I am just tired of not knowing anything.

My only theory has been, if I hit a bad note, move up or back a fret and I will be in key. It has worked for many years, but now I have more time to really learn.

When I go online and "Google" music theory, there is a ton of stuff that starts popping up and I don't know exactly where to start.

If someone has been playing for a while, do you start at the same place as a beginner? Is there a better place for me to start, so that I won't get too burned out and just quit? I hate to go back to playing Jingle Bells, if you know what I mean. A lot of times I will come up with a guitar run or lick and just have no idea what to call it. I just call it the Van Halen sounding thing, or the Pink Floyd sounding thing.

Any Suggestions?

Here is an example of the level of playing that I am at right now, if it helps any!

I don't have a clue what the scales or runs are called. If it sounds "in key", I just go with it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_98MS9IpDZc
 
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JonR

Member
Messages
15,699
Hey Guys!

Some of you have seen some of my posts and some have not:

I have played for years, but know very little about theory. I have played in bands and have learned many songs, but never took the time or effort to learn what I was actually doing. Most everyone that I have ever played with were self taught and didn't know any theory, but I am just tired of not knowing anything.

My only theory has been, if I hit a bad note, move up or back a fret and I will be in key.
:aok
That's the classic jazz saying: "For any wrong note, the right one is a half-step away." ;)

Your ear is obviously good enough to get you through so far, but what you're lacking is the names for the sounds (other than chords and notes I guess...). You can "speak the language", but you couldn't spell the words or write them down.;)
To pursue the analogy, you don't know if you're using verbs, adjectives or whatever, but you sure know the right order for the words to go in!
But now you're curious about the "grammar"... and why not?

It would do no harm to start right from the beginning (which needn't mean Jingle Bells...). As long as you recognise the concepts being discussed - you can align them with things you can play - you should progress pretty quickly through those initial stages.
But it is important to work through methodically and not be tempted to skip things or dip in the middle. You need to understand each baby step before taking the next one.

In tandem, I strongly recommend studying the songs you know in more detail. Look at the chord sequences; ask yourself what key they are in, and then how each chord relates to that key. Compare songs and look for similar changes. (Eg, you should be able to tell that E-A-B sounds the same as C-F-G, just the keys are different. Both sequences are I-IV-V, which is the numbers of the scale degrees.)

The most important thing is not to lose sight of those connections between theory and actual music. Theory is pointless unless it helps you understand music, or helps you play it.
And never let it tell you that your ear is wrong! If you find something sounds right to you, but the theory is "huh?" - then the theory is wrong (or - more likely - you just don't get its true theoretical interpretation yet).

The best theory site online (by general agreement) is http://www.musictheory.net/
It's not guitar-friendly tho, and it will help if you learn to read notation a little. Various sites will give you tips on that:
http://www.acguitar.com/lessons/notation/notation.shtml
http://www.accessrock.com/BeginningLessons/Tab_standardnotation.asp
http://www.mangore.com/music_notation.html

This site is really good on the absolute basics, starting with how musical sound works:
http://www.howmusicworks.org/hmw100.html
- you need their software to hear the sound samples, unfortunately, but the text is still worth reading.
 

Austinrocks

Member
Messages
7,020
:aok

The most important thing is not to lose sight of those connections between theory and actual music. Theory is pointless unless it helps you understand music, or helps you play it.

And never let it tell you that your ear is wrong! If you find something sounds right to you, but the theory is "huh?" - then the theory is wrong.
JonR's most important points IMO

I am self taught on piano started when I was six, my best friend taught me guitar when I was 12 he had a couple of years of lessons so I basically worked with what he was learning which included theory as he understood it, I studied Jazz guitar when I was 40. My mom forced me to read music and she did play so answered my questions when they came up which was rare after the first day, NO BANGING ALLOWED. On a piano the music theory is easy, one note for each dot, and the keys are straight forward. One # is key of G, One flat is key of F, really don't have to know the key names just that the sharps and flats never changed. Modes are just scales that start on a different note.

When I started guitar, there were no tab books, the chords were written out as notes, A major is A C# E. So for me its automatic to connect the chords and the keys that they fit, A maj is the Keys of D, A and E. Most chords only fit three keys, and they are 5ths apart.

For a tab player most theory is forgotten once the lesson is done. Unless your working up songs from a music book that does not have tabs, your really not needing to understand keys, notes, chords, and the notes on the neck.

I know the notes on the neck, keys, and how to construct chords, but that comes from my playing piano, I play key based, but its automatic, not something I have to think about.
 
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Jon

Member
Messages
1,579
I would say that the first things you need to look at are learning the names of all the notes on the fretboard, and then looking at the major scale - how it's constructed in terms of tones and semitones, and how you go about harmonising the scale to find out what chords are found within a particular key.

Although you may not be playing music which uses the major scale much, western music theory uses it as a basis to describe the scales that you DO use e.g. the major scale includes a major 3rd and a major 7th, but the minor pentatonic scale has a flattened third and flattened 7th i.e. the scale is described in terms of how it differs from the major scale.

All the notes of a scale or chord are described as intervals based on their distance from the root of the chord or scale e.g. the 3rd or 5th of a chord or scale are described this way because they are the 3rd or 5th note up the major scale from the root.

What used to confuse me when I first started learning theory is that if you look at, for example the notes E and G, they are the 3rd and 5th respectively of C i.e. if you count up the C major scale the 3rd note is E and the 5th note is G, BUT if you were looking only at those two notes without any reference to them being part of C major, the interval between E and G is a minor 3rd i.e. intervals between notes don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with any particular major scale that they belong to - if you are looking at an interval between a couple of notes, you describe them in terms of the first note being the root of a major scale and the other note being another degree (whether exactly or altered to be sharp or flat) of that scale, regardless of whether they also form part of a larger scale structure where they form different degrees of that scale.

I hope that makes sense :messedup
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,699
When I started guitar, there were no tab books
Yeah, me too! Kids these days, right?...:rolleyes:
When I started (UK, 1965) there were hardly any guitar tuition books, period. In fact there was only one to speak of, and everybody had that one (British guitarists of that age will know exactly the one I mean...). It wasn't very good. Somehow it led me to believe a 12-bar blues was C-Am-G. (Took me a while to recover from that.)

I learned almost everything from records, songbooks (standard notation) and my friends in the band I joined (after 9 months).
I think I must have been reasonably clued up on theory from the start (without knowing it) because I began writing tunes as soon as I had a guitar, trying to copy the sounds I heard on records. I knew how tunes ought to go, it was obvious. OK, they were crap as compositions, but they had sensible structures, and although the melodies weren't very imaginative they had proper shapes and rhythms. (They'd have been better if my ear had been better, not if my theoretical knowledge had been better.)
I didn't really study theory for another 15 years, by which time I'd played in several bands, including a Django-style jazz group. (Tho I do remember trying to invent my own theories, and avant garde methods of composition...:nuts)

That's why I say the secret is to always work with songs - dismantle them, try and copy them, steal the good bits, bolt them on to good bits from other songs. That's how you learn the language, meaningfully. Don't just blindly copy stuff: analyse, look underneath, turn things upside down... (I mean, if you actually want to be an original musician, writing and improvising, not just mimicking your heroes.)

I'm not saying don't learn theory. Every musician should be curious about it - same as every sportsman ought to be curious about physiology, or race driver ought to be curious about auto engines. You can do without that knowledge, but why would you want to?

You can find your way round a room pretty well in the dark, after plenty of trial and error bumping into things. But why not switch on a light? ;)
 

rwijaya

Member
Messages
2,822
Just adding JonR nice helping reply,

i am working through this book right now.

http://www.amazon.com/Harmony-Theory-Comprehensive-Musicians-Essential/dp/0793579910

and so far has been helping my playing a lots.

i have been playing for 3 years and start teaching my self guitar 5 - 6 years ago.

I am right at where you are exactly, i can play all the songs, copy them note to note and even improvise on top of it, but i have no idea what i was doing, or atleast explain it to other player exactly what i do.

I met this guitar teacher 2 months ago and that is the book we are using as a guideline.

So far what i get from theory is, i am able to move from in and out triads in most keys. it makes your playing more fun when you actually knows what you are doing.

it gives you lots more tools to be creative.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,699
Just adding JonR nice helping reply,

i am working through this book right now.

http://www.amazon.com/Harmony-Theory-Comprehensive-Musicians-Essential/dp/0793579910
Can you tell me if your copy has the same mistake in it mine has?
Chapter 3, exercise 6 (p.20) - 4th note on 1st line is a Cb.
In the answers (p.143), it says the enharmonic equivalent is B#!

My copy is a few years old, so I'm wondering if any later editions will have corrected this (to B natural).

Otherwise I agree, it's a good book.
 

rwijaya

Member
Messages
2,822
hey JonR, I think they fix that, in my book the answer says B not B natural.
Although there is still some mistakes that i found. Just one or two. i forget exactly where they are, but it kind of makes you think, which is ok with me.

Also i think, the one i have has more pages, i don't know what the differences is but mine has a complete 158 pages. since my cheat sheet for that exercise 6 are not in page 143.
 

Joe Gamble

Member
Messages
831
Sometimes when trying to teach yourself it's easy to spin off into things that maybe aren't that useful simply because they appear in a book you bought or because you hear certain concepts mentioned online or in magazines or whatever. It's not that the information in itself is bad but sometimes you can overwhelm yourself or get lost in it. For these reasons I think it's helpful to sit down for a couple lessons with a good teacher and stick to musical examples rather than pages of terms, exercises, etc.

I do recommend that MI Harmony and Theory book (that rwijaya recommended) however it does go above and beyond what you would need to analyze rock tunes. If you were to learn basic major scale harmony and then start using it to pull apart tunes you know and love (with the guidance of a teacher who is fluent in this stuff) then within one month you could feel like a "new man" in regard to understanding what's going on.

You already play well and are getting around the neck so a lot of what you will be doing is learning what to call the things you already play. Good luck!
 

MartinPiana

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
4,564
Given that being able to read music is essential to any formal or semi-formal study of theory...

In one of the high schools I attended, they had a music theory class. I found it fascinating, and went on to take theory classes in college. Based on my experience, I would suggest checking your local community college to see if they have a beginning Music Theory class....
 

Telewanger

Member
Messages
100
Hey Guys,

Thanks for your great comments! I have been reading your comments over and over.
I know the notes on the neck, I can play a major, minor, natural minor, melodic minor, whole tone scale etc. I know what a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, through 7th is. I can read notes on a staff, but very slow. There is no way that I can sight read. I can name the notes in a major or minor scale, only if I can say them out as I play them. I don't have them memorized. That is where I am at this point.

If someone told me to play a A6Add9 or Dmaj13#11, or any of this stuff, I wouldn't have a clue. I don't know what that stuff means yet. I don't know what augmented and suspended stuff means yet.
 

bigdaddy

Member
Messages
6,485
Given that being able to read music is essential to any formal or semi-formal study of theory...
How is that a given? I can use any symbolic communication system I want to communicate the fundamentals of music theory. Colors, shapes, animals, trees, pick one. That's why it's called theory. The theory part is the relationship between the tones and how they function in certain contexts. The application is notes on the staff.

The idea that the ability to read music before learning theory is bogus and prohibitive. However, one does need to be able to count to twelve.
 

stevel

Member
Messages
15,210
Hey Guys,

Thanks for your great comments! I have been reading your comments over and over.
I know the notes on the neck, I can play a major, minor, natural minor, melodic minor, whole tone scale etc. I know what a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, through 7th is. I can read notes on a staff, but very slow. There is no way that I can sight read. I can name the notes in a major or minor scale, only if I can say them out as I play them. I don't have them memorized. That is where I am at this point.

If someone told me to play a A6Add9 or Dmaj13#11, or any of this stuff, I wouldn't have a clue. I don't know what that stuff means yet. I don't know what augmented and suspended stuff means yet.
Telewanger,

As a theory instructor at the university level, I have taught "academic" theory and noticed the difficulty students have with it.

It is largely a matter of application - they're all "how is this going to help me". Now, for classical musicians, it's different than pop musicians because they don't have the need to improvise, or write, etc. as much (though they really should have those skills).

But I see theory as having three areas:

1. Terminological - like, this structure is called a C Major Chord, this interval is called a Minor 6th, and so on. This also includes the basics like, this is a Bass clef, and what it does is tell us the notes on the staff are ABC, etc.

2. Practical - like, I can use a C note over a C chord as a chord tone, over a D chord as its 7th, over a G chord as a passing tone (or neighbor tone, etc. etc.) and if I have a C note, in the key of C, I can harmonize it with a I, IV, or vi chord (or ii7, etc. etc.)

3. Analytical - the comparison of music to see what similarities it shares. Analyzing a large body of works helps us to define musical styles and, on some level, tell us if various works are "up to the standards" or "standard setting" for a particular style. It also helps us to comprehend the music on different levels, which ultimately should improve one's appreciation for the music.

(ok, there's a 4th area of Acoustical, but that's based more on science of sound rather than the art of music).

Now, academic institutions tend to focus on 1 and 3. "Players" tend to focus mostly on 2, and may or may not learn 1 very well (and completely eschew any need for 3 as "egghead" stuff). Which is OK. Charlie Parker may have incorrectly called every C# he ever played a Db. That's not so important until you're working in a context where standardization is important.

So you may need to go back and brush up on 1 before you can progress any more in 2. And both might help you understand 3 better.

There are actually some "music theory for dummies" in that whole "dummies" series (there's the "idiot's" one too). Not that I think you're a dummy or an idiot, but those do a good job of explaining the basics.

There are, as you've discovered, thousands of resources, but for basics, I'd go for a reputable publication.

Steve
 

stevel

Member
Messages
15,210
How is that a given? I can use any symbolic communication system I want to communicate the fundamentals of music theory. Colors, shapes, animals, trees, pick one. That's why it's called theory. The theory part is the relationship between the tones and how they function in certain contexts. The application is notes on the staff.

The idea that the ability to read music before learning theory is bogus and prohibitive. However, one does need to be able to count to twelve.
Me to Sax player: "Play the Green Note".

Sax player: "What?"

You distinction between "theory" and "application" is much like mine below your original post here, except that in a "formal" study of music, the "application" part of reading standard notation is taught as a necessary pre-requisite for being able to extract from written music, those more nebulous concepts in "theory" such as "deceptive", "voice-leading", "modulation", etc.

Granted, our ear should tell us all of this, but leave it to us humans to have to try and describe everything.

Peace,
Steve
 




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