When music theory is discussed there often a lot of people who have falsehoods or misconceptions about learning music theory such as it will make your playing worse or you will sound formulaic and X musician didn’t need music theory and they turned out fine plus many more.
I’m writing this article to address those points and to point out how they are misunderstood and the rebuttal with the correct answer
In this article we will cover the most popular misconceptions such as:
Music Theory Will Make Me Sound Bad
This topic comes up a lot from debates in online forums as soon as music theory is mentioned.
You will often hear from some people that learning music theory will actively harm your playing. I’m here to say this isn’t true.
From my experience and the experience of others I have taught face to face, the direct opposite of this is true.
This is due to when you have a bigger vocabulary you don’t necessarily need to be dancing around the point you are trying to make with the music.
Instead, you can know precisely what chord or pattern of notes will produce the vibe you are going for.
It makes you more accurate to describe the idea you have in your head or closer to the sound you wanted.
Insert X Artist Didn’t Need Music Theory
Another common argument, or probably the most popular argument is when music theory is being discussed and someone chimes in with “X legendary musician didn’t need music theory and look at how they turned out!”. First of all music theory had no place in making someone a legendary musician, that’s due to hard work, luck (being in the right place at the right time) and being ready for the opportunities that come along.
Music theory is a tool to be used for understanding the chemistry of music. Learning music theory is in escapable if you want to learn even the basic chords.
As you need to understand how to generate the “cowboy” chords at the first 4 frets which most songs can be replicated with.
Whether or not you are wanting to learn music theory, music theory is always happening with the interchange of notes and chords.
Learning how this interplay works is on your way to mastery of conveying your own thoughts and ideas.
I guarantee you that all these legendary musicians weren’t born with their knowledge. Even if they were self-taught, they had informal training from more experience musicians they met along the way.
They may not say the right terminology to describe their ideas but they know how to generate them from being taught by someone who did.
Music Theory Sounds Intimidating Or It Looks Too Difficult
This can be a very valid concern especially if you are starting out or venturing into the foray of musical understanding.
To answer this common misconception, learning music theory doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult.
If you can count to 7 you can do music theory, it really is that simple. By that I mean there are 7 intervals in the major scale and alterations of these intervals get you the building blocks for your chord’s scales and arpeggios.
I also think that having a great teacher can help cut down on making mistakes and having an easier time digesting the information.
It Will Ruin My Creativity
I have heard this one many times before, but it often comes across as some sort of anxiety about learning new things.
Also to add to this everything you like about music isn’t in a vacuum.
The songs or motifs you like are all inspired by something that has come before. Wouldn’t you want to understand why or how those things came to be?
I find that music theory doesn’t ruin your creativity, it enhances it by giving you more creative freedom and vocabulary to express those ideas more accurately and freely.
You are only as expressive as to how big your vocabulary is.
That’s not to say that a small vocab is bad either, some bands thrive on smaller options but why stop there if you have the whole of music history already out there? I think its good to explore what has been done to understand what hasn’t been done, which leads to more creative endeavours. You also need to learn rules (music theory) before you can break them.
It Takes Too Much Time/It’s Boring
As with learning any skill it does take time and effort but I would definitely argue it is no way near boring.
I also think that how you are introduced to the concept of music theory through good teaching will definitely shape your perspective of how exciting music theory can be.
This comes from showing a student that they couldn’t do something before that they can do now with their vocabulary of music theory being enhanced.
This approach is what really excited me about learning music theory. I would also it argue it doesn’t take too much time once you have a solid instruction of how you can practice it.
I would say that anyone if they put in 10 minutes a day for 3 months can have a good foundation of music theory if they put their mind to it.
A good foundation would be practicing the major scale and their intervals and chords for all 12 keys, writing them out daily and noticing patterns around the cycle of fourths and fifths. This is how I learnt and it has stuck with me. I may elaborate on this more in a future article
I hope this article debunks and goes over commonly heard misconceptions about music theory and I hope it guides you towards learning more about music theory too.