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Why Music Theory Doesn't Suck
The idea that studying music theory should be required to be considered a good musician is offensive to some. But intellectual approaches to music can't be better than the guidance of your own ears, right? While Charlie Puth's description of George Michael throwing jazz chords into an arrangement might seem too clean-cut for some people's tastes, there are famous rockers out there — who know how to get both sonically nasty and enjoy what music theory has to offer — that are making a case for why you should at least consider giving it a try.
One GRAMMY-winning ambassador for serious music study is Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You might not think of him as an educator, but he founded the Silverlake Conservatory Of Music in Los Angeles in 2001. You might not picture him playing student, but in 2008, while the band was on hiatus, Flea signed himself up for theory, composition and jazz trumpet studies at USC.
"My whole musical life has been an educational process and I'm just furthering my education and filling in the blanks," Flea told Musicradar at the time. "There's stuff that I want to know that I don't know." He explained how his ear and intuition had inspired him but that there was still room to grow in understanding how different notes fit together and how musical tension and resolution are created.
Some musicians think of #MusicTheory as a chore. No matter your style or instrument, you will become a better #musician through studying it. Here's an interesting article on the importance of music theory: https://t.co/jGg2iQbV4B pic.twitter.com/9eb8GNXdNL
— Cardon Studios (@CardonStudios) December 5, 2018
Whether seen as too academic, too focused on the past or on classical music, music theory has been seen as a study that is boring and may harm creativity or knowledge of music itself. As music critic, Greg Sandow, states in his blog: "If music theory is only classical music, then we don’t learn the things that give other kinds of music depth and value. And so we’re encouraged (implicitly, but strongly) to undervalue them."
A recent essay by Trey Xavier published on Metalsucks.net, who also offers an online course, made the pitch for why you should look past music theory's reputation and why heavy metal musicians need to learn music theory. Besides better learning the power behind power chords, Xavier points to an array of leaders like Metallica's Cliff Burton and Randy Rhoads whose work might motivate people to give some theory-study a fresh look. "I'll start your journey by saying this: music theory is just names for sounds," he said. "That's it." He also compares it to a painter learning the names of colors and being able to combine and use color more dramatically.
Another unexpected educator is Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess, who started the Jordan Rudess Online Conservatory, where he also answers questions and gives advice. Rudess was a child prodigy, and that early facility helped give him a head start and confidence. But music theory is not just for whiz kids.
Xavier makes the point that there is now so much information online about music theory, for free, that anyone can jump right in. Whether fundamental or advanced, the names and numbers are there to help you appreciate the sounds and ways they work together. Why not get past the unfair reputation music theory was branded with and give your ears a fresh chance to tell you how they feel about it?