Music theory is wonderful, exciting, and enormously useful. But for many musicians who received any kind of music theory education growing up, the experience is usually exactly the opposite. Music theory classes can feel one step removed from strict math classes where the concepts never really seem to apply to “real life.”
But have no fear – just because you had a bad music theory education (or no formal music education at all) in the past doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself a fantastic one now. In fact, if you learn music theory as an adult with the music chops you already have, it means that you’ll be able to actually apply everything immediately.
There is a beautiful world of music theory you can discover and use. Here are a few music theory secrets from that world.
Theory Is Just a Naming Convention
First, when it comes right down to it, music theory is just a way to name sounds. It isn’t derived from a set of archaic principles. Instead, it is just a way to name and talk about how (in general) humans hear sound. There are no rules – there are only sounds with names to be explored and reveled in.
For instance, a key is just a pool of notes that sound “pleasing” and are useful for making musical ideas from. A chord is just three or more notes stacked on top of each other. A motif is just a short musical idea – exactly the same as a phrase you might say in any other language.
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You Don’t Ever Need Perfect Pitch
Second, you do not need perfect pitch to understand, explain, or play any music you hear. You just need a decent understanding of theory. For example, theory teaches you to name the function of the chords. This gives you a way to train your ear to hear these functions in any music and quickly figure out the exact names of chords being played. You can do this with any sound – chord or not – in music. Developing this skill can give you a huge leg up in all musical situations.
Theory Can Break You Out of Creative Ruts
One of the most common reasons many of us get stuck in creative ruts is that we keep running over the same musical ideas without reflecting on what they are, how to talk about them, or how to use them. Music theory provides a way to name what we are doing and intentionally to reframe and create new musical ideas.
For instance, if you learn that you are always using major chords, you can shift your focus and throw in a few minor chords instead. If you always play rhythms made out of eighth notes, you can learn about and use triplets. Once you learn music theory and start using it this way, you will never have to be stuck in another creative musical rut again.
There are so many more ways that theory can enable and empower your creative work – and it is all something you can start learning and using today. One of the best ways to start exploring music theory is through an online course. There are tons of options out there, but if you want to learn music theory with modern examples from popular hit songs, check out Hit Music Theory.