Asked • 03/13/19

Why are some people so paranoid about music theory?

Music theory is cool. However, I've noticed that a few genres of music tend to discourage it. I just read that learning music theory "seems like the antithesis" of being able to improvise. Apparently, having the equivalent of a doctorate in music can actually be a disadvantage if you want to get hired as a conductor, because they think you're too theoretical. Is there anything about learning music theory well that slows down your musical capabilities?

2 Answers By Expert Tutors


Tegan S. answered • 03/26/19

5.0 (59)

Experienced Woodwinds, Piano and Accordion Teacher

Karen M.

When you get down to it, there is basically 2 ways of teaching music: by sight or by ear. Most Western methods are taught by sight. Whatever one starts in is the one that you tend to be the best in, though an excellent teacher would teach at least some of both. Theory does allow one to understand the structure of music and how things are put together better, especially as you get more advanced, it also allows a person to become more independent and figure out new music for themselves, which is really nice. I tell my beginning students that at the beginning, theory is what you need to read the music, as you get more advanced, theory will allow you to understand the structure of the music better so that you can learn the pieces quicker and it allows you to better understand the different styles and modes over time so that they can be played more correctly. It's also critical to writing more complex music. Playing by ear does allow one to compose melodies more quickly and to improvise more easily by following the traditional patterns of that style. Of course, one must be very familiar with the style and have listened to and played it a lot. Jazz is an example of a style that really leans on by ear playing. True Jazz means that no song is ever played exactly the same twice. It is a constantly improvised and revised. In teaching, I find that many transfer students were taught to read music by using tricks like Every Good Boy Does Fine. The problems with tricks is that the multiple rules are frequently mixed up and it makes seeing how the notes fit together in logical style, just like the keyboard layout, difficult to see and understand, and thus memorize and play by intervals between notes. Furthermore, these tricks don't apply to ledger line notes, so when a student gets to them, it's a whole new set of rules instead of just more of the same old thing extended. Sincerely, Karen A M. Beginning Piano Studio Phoenix, AZ


Adam S. answered • 03/13/19

5 (28)

PhD in Music Theory with University Teaching Experience

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