Often there is a debate online as to whether you should learn music theory or not, this usually happens in forums, Facebook groups, discords, reddit etc.
In this article I will be going over why you should take up learning music theory as it can be a great boon to your musicianship.
I like to say:
“if you don’t know the theory behind what you have learnt, you won’t be able to communicate your ideas effectively to other musicians”
This will become apparent and very true once you have read this article.
In this article we will cover these topics:
First of all, let’s start off with what music theory is to clear up any falsehoods.
What Is Music Theory?
To put it simply music theory is the taxonomy (the way we categorise and label stuff) of adding labels to sounds.
Doing this makes it easier for us to recall sounds rather than creating them as a fluke.
It is also the language behind the music to help musicians communicate their ideas in a definitive way making it easier to replicate the outcome repeatedly.
Treating it like a language makes it easier to understand as a concept, the reason being is that if you want to be able to speak a language, you need to learn vocabulary, grammar and decent sentence structuring.
If you treat music theory like a language you begin to understand that when you construct songs or advanced compositions you are at the mercy to how much music theory you can know.
I like to use music theory as glue to join pieces I have already written.
I may have pieces that I wrote when I was inspired but realising that they didn’t have a way of combining with different pieces so I would draw from my musical theoretical knowledge to join them in a way that makes musical sense.
This enables some pieces I have written to be used in new and exciting ways. Which brings me onto the topic of why you should learn music theory.
Why Should You Learn Music Theory?
Learning music theory allows you to understand what is going on in the background in terms of the musical chemistry. It helps you decipher why you like something.
If you listen to your favourite record and you ask yourself “why do I like this?” knowing music theory can answer this question.
This is due to knowing what is happening within the music, so it can be replicated after once being understood.
If like a song that has a good chord progression knowing what a 1 6 2 5 is will help me associate my fondness of that song to a chord progression, which I could use later as a reference to build a song of my own.
If I want to do the same with a melody and then harmonise or reharmonise it I do need to have a vocabulary of music theory to be able to achieve those results.
What happens if you don’t, is that you may be singing or playing out of key because they don’t harmonise correctly.
The other big reason is that when you understand the language of music through music theory communicating with other musicians in a professional environment makes it easier to convey the idea you had across to them.
If you were working in a studio or within a band.
Instead of trying to clap to the drummer or mouth something that looks incoherent, you could describe the pattern in rhythmic subdivisions on each part of the kit.
Which makes it easier for that drummer to understand what you want from them.
The same is true with trying to harmonise with a vocalist, you could say let’s try this up a 4th or any interval to create a layered harmony.
Most of the time as a guitarist we will be doing a lot of transposing songs for vocalists because each vocalist is different as each of their ranges is different which means you need the ability to change keys on the fly as the guitar is a transposable instrument.
This only can be done well with a relatively decent amount of music theory.
This is what makes learning music theory super useful and practical in real world scenarios. Once its learnt it is the missing piece to gaining a deeper understanding to your own musical journey.
I hope this has been useful or insightful as to why you should learn music theory.