Know Your Craft
So here you are again. Sitting with your instrument trying to learn or create another song – but the process is taking forever! Every new song you learn or write feels like starting from square one with a totally blank slate. What can you do? Well as it turns out, theory can be a huge help in this situation.. Here are three reasons theory can help you know your craft.
Name the Sounds You Already Use
Theory is in the final analysis, a naming convention. Beyond all its talk about “rules” and “concepts” is a basic foundation of naming sounds. We name and describe intervals, chords, scales, tonalities, rhythms, motifs, hooks, melodies, textures, dynamics, phrases, and everything else under the musical sun. All of these names and descriptions just help us remember and intentionally use specific sounds.
Since theory is a naming convention, are you naming what you play? Are you aware of the function of the chords you are playing? What about the key or tonality you are in? Can you describe the primary rhythmic components you are using? What motifs is this song built on? What is the form of the piece? The more you can clearly identify and name the sounds you already use, the easier it will be to recognize and play them in new music.
Discover New Sounds That Are Exciting to You
In addition to learning new songs with greater ease, digging into theory will help you discover new sounds that are exciting to you and expand your repertoire. A new sound with its own name is invaluable when you are trying to grow musically. We often get stuck feeling like we can’t come up with new ideas because we don’t have a way to think outside of the old ones. Discovering new sounds with their own names breaks us out of our old musical ideas and can make our creative options explode.
Do you use major chords all the time? Consider learning about minor chords. Do you use 7th chords all the time? Consider learning about chord extensions. Do you use a 16th note subdivision when you create strumming patterns? Try using an 8th note subdivision instead. There are always new sounds to be discovered, named and used. You just have to seek them out and use them.
Discover the Similarities Between Songs
The more you can name what you are playing, the easier it will become to hear, name and manipulate those sounds in your music. This becomes enormously helpful when you are trying to learn a ton of songs. Consider how many blues tunes use the same three chords! Knowing this makes learning blues tunes much easier. The same is true of any other style of music.
As you internalize and use theory more deeply in your creative work, learning or writing new music will become easier and easier. New songs will begin to sound like music you already know in a rearranged form, and pretty soon your repertoire will grow much more easily and effortlessly each time you sit down to work on it.