PDA

View Full Version : music theory...the necessary evil



ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 06:20 AM
I can't stand just reading music theory...it's like doing math...it's driving me nuts. I understand that I need to learn it in order to put together chords solos, transpose etc...but isn't there a fun way to learn it? Isn't there a video game or something that teaches music theory? Help!!! :deadhorse:

wearymicrobe
11-30-2009, 06:29 AM
I can't stand just reading music theory...it's like doing math...it's driving me nuts. I understand that I need to learn it in order to put together chords solos, transpose etc...but isn't there a fun way to learn it? Isn't there a video game or something that teaches music theory? Help!!! :deadhorse:


Not really but if you get a piano theory book it will make more sense. I played guitar and uke for years never could wrap my head around it. The piano being so linear in structure just makes it easier.

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 06:37 AM
I just set up a session with a guitar teacher. He mentioned something about keyboard...we will see how it goes...

Uncle Rod Higuchi
11-30-2009, 07:08 AM
It would be interesting to find out how beneficial knowing Music Theory is to those who really do know/understand it. Also, how did you come to learn Music Theory?

I played saxophone in Jr Hi, so I could read music... then. But I never learned Music Theory.

I thought I wanted to learn so I tried the book route. It was confusing without a mentor/ teacher to help explain the relative significance of all those facts.

I tried to learn to play the piano in college, but that didn't last too long. I ended up memorizing the pieces instead of really reading the music. I didn't learn Music Theory then either.

OK, so here I am, basically a play-by-ear ukulele player, and it's serving me well. My concern re: Music Theory is that it seems descriptive vs prescriptive. That is, when I'm trying to figure out the chords to a song/melody, it seems to me that Music Theory can describe what the composer had done, but it doesn't necessarily help me figure out what the next chord should be.

Anyway, what I've found to be helpful is to play with others, learn from websites like doctoruke.com, and see how others have used chord combos and progressions to support various melodies. Once you learn how they sound and what you might be able to do with them, you'll have developed a mental treasury of chords and chord combos that you'll be able to transpose and use for your own purposes.

ukantor
11-30-2009, 07:15 AM
Music theory was invented by nerds, in an attempt to explain what musicians do.;)

John Colter.

SailorQwest
11-30-2009, 07:18 AM
When I decided to learn Music Theory,
I got Music Theory Made Easy by David Harp,
http://www.davidharp.com/non_har_musicbooks.html

and the Complete Idiots Guuide to Music Theory

http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781592574377,00.html?The_Complete_Idiot's_Guid e_to_Music_Theory,_2nd_Edition_Michael_Miller

I went through MT Made Easy a few times till I was at the Idiots level, then I started on CIGMT. It's still reading but it is the simplest way I could find. It really helped me understand what was happening in music and in comunicating with others about music.

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 07:20 AM
Music theory was invented by nerds, in an attempt to explain what musicians do. Oooo K...... :p Um...I do play by ear...What I really want to be able to do is listen to a song and know what chords are being played. Then I want to be able to form a solo based on those chords....Don't I need to know chord composition to do this?

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 07:23 AM
Thanks for the links Sailor.

SailorQwest
11-30-2009, 07:29 AM
MT helped alot with knowing which chords are being used. Esp The Idiots Guide.
Diff styles use diff sets of chords and certain chords sound better after others. I'm still a novice at MT but that's good enough for me.

The Pinneapple Pirate
11-30-2009, 08:01 AM
Music theory was invented by nerds, in an attempt to explain what musicians do.;)

John Colter.

ain't that the truth

in my opinion music theory isn't necessary, it just helps
music's more about spontaneity and feeling then it is about theory and structure
those are just kind of guide lines

again, just my opinion

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 08:22 AM
Doesn't anyone have a magic wand they can just tap me with and make me a chord solo genius?:anyone:

seeso
11-30-2009, 08:50 AM
What I really want to be able to do is listen to a song and know what chords are being played. Then I want to be able to form a solo based on those chords....Don't I need to know chord composition to do this?

If all you're looking to do is solo, you need to know your scales. To understand scales, you've got to know theory.

Have you seen Howlin' Hobbit's beginner guide (http://howlinhobbit.com/docs/cheater_theory_v2.pdf)? Or the guide right here on UU (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=11264)?

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 09:01 AM
LOL...that's what I thought....:bowdown: yes, thanks for the links...i just wish there was some other way to learn it besides reading theory...wouldn't it be cool if there was some kind of software that would teach it to you in a fun way?

seeso
11-30-2009, 09:07 AM
LOL...that's what I thought....:bowdown: yes, thanks for the links...i just wish there was some other way to learn it besides reading theory...wouldn't it be cool if there was some kind of software that would teach it to you in a fun way?

There's a great online resource that I always use. It involves animation and stuff, so it's not just straight reading, but I don't know how fun you'd think it is.

http://musictheory.net/

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 09:21 AM
Excellent!!! Much better...at least it's interactive,Thanks!

SailQwest
11-30-2009, 10:32 AM
Another great resource for learning how to do solos is Aldrine's new DVD from the UU store.

Fun, interactive and informative, it's a nice way to start learning some theory while learning how to solo.

GrumpyCoyote
11-30-2009, 11:19 AM
These might help (http://ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=22071)with practicing scales... I agree with Seeso though, a little theory goes a long way. I love musictheory.net

Dibblet
11-30-2009, 11:27 AM
OK, so here I am, basically a play-by-ear ukulele player, and it's serving me well. My concern re: Music Theory is that it seems descriptive vs prescriptive. That is, when I'm trying to figure out the chords to a song/melody, it seems to me that Music Theory can describe what the composer had done, but it doesn't necessarily help me figure out what the next chord should be.



That's absolutely untrue. I don't know what theory you've been learning but for help in figuring out chord sequences you need to be looking at something called functional harmmony. Google for it.

Ukulele JJ
11-30-2009, 12:17 PM
I can't vouch for it personally, but this looks like it would be a good book from which to learn:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0739036351

JJ

ukulelegal
11-30-2009, 12:29 PM
Yippie Skippie, I knew there was a reason I liked this place! ;) I have tons to look up now thanks for all the great information everyone.

Thumper
11-30-2009, 02:37 PM
My concern re: Music Theory is that it seems descriptive vs prescriptive. That is, when I'm trying to figure out the chords to a song/melody, it seems to me that Music Theory can describe what the composer had done, but it doesn't necessarily help me figure out what the next chord should be.


That's absolutely untrue. I don't know what theory you've been learning but for help in figuring out chord sequences you need to be looking at something called functional harmmony. Google for it.

:agree:

Dibblet is right on the money.

Knowledge of music theory makes it SO much easier to figure out chord sequences of songs you're trying to learn, as well as coming up with logical and intuitive chord progressions for your own music.

Seems like the most vocal critics of music theory are the ones who know the least about it. :rolleyes:



.
.
.

ukestang
11-30-2009, 02:46 PM
Just me, but I know too many people who have been turned off to playing instruments by teachers teaching theory for months without ever teaching a song, you can only play scales so long. But it also depends on what you want to do with the instrument. I like to strum and sing, got my uke, learned C,F,G,Am. Instant 1000 songs. Just depends on what you want to do.

mds725
11-30-2009, 11:20 PM
People who are theory averse might try buying a DVD called "Play Ukulele by Ear." I don't have it (yet) but it has gotten some good buzz. It's available here:

http://playukulelebyear.blogspot.com/

joehempel
11-30-2009, 11:41 PM
The way I started to learn theory was after I learned from chord sheets and and tabs for guitar, I started wanting to write my own stuff.

Then I started to need to know why things went together etc, so that I didn't spend 20 minutes trying to figure out what chord I should use after Bm and had sort of a "roadmap" if you will.

After that theory became fun! It does get easier over time for sure.

buddhuu
12-01-2009, 02:25 AM
If all you want to do is learn each song parrot-fashion by copying a video, then you don't need music theory. You just learn the picking and rhythm parts that way.

That's fine if you are happy with that limited horizon.

If you want to be able to do much more, including learning to play by ear, then a little theory, learned as and when appropriate, is a wonderful thing.

We're not talking about learning to sight-read music here, we're talking about learning just a little bit about how the music works.

We're talking about how your buddy knew that the E major chord you've been playing in that song you just learned should actually be an Em.

We're talking about being able to join in with songs you don't know rather than having to sit them out because you don't know the chords or the picking part. About still being able to play that song you know in the key of C, even though the other guys all vote to play it in G.

There's fun to be had just learning the chords to each song and strumming happily away.

There's MORE fun to be had by also learning and using just a little basic music theory. :)

You don't have to swallow the theory thing whole. Take it in little nibbles that you can chew at until you feel you've digested them.

[/:2cents:]

YMMV

ukulelegal
12-01-2009, 02:55 AM
I understand where Ukestang is coming from. If I was stuck only learning theory I would never play an instrument. Fortunately that is not the case.

About playing by ear...I thought everyone just does it naturally? Don't they? :confused:I have never heard of learning to play by ear. I just do it, sometimes better than others. :p I am sure I have room for improvement and will be looking into those links as well. Thanks for all the advice/links/opinions!

buddhuu
12-01-2009, 03:08 AM
[...]About playing by ear...I thought everyone just does it naturally? Don't they? [...]

Yes and no. Ears benefit from training. I can tell the sounds of major, minor, dom7 chords etc. That took practice and a bit of understanding about what made the sound of those chords.

The lead guitarist in my band can ID any chord I have ever thrown at him, including bizarre extended chords.

When I improv licks and stuff in songs I do it partly by ear (like I can sort of hear in my head the note I'll get if I play the next note just there), but I'm more confident doing it by ear with the help of a little knowledge of scales, just to confirm that the note I'm after is, indeed, just there! :D

ukulelegal
12-01-2009, 03:28 AM
lol, well it sounds like it would be a good idea to train my ears. I was listening to the different scales yesterday and didn't have a clue as to which I was listening to! Definitely need training....

Uncle Rod Higuchi
12-03-2009, 02:07 PM
Hi Dibblet and Thumper, sorry if I offended your sense of propriety with my comments and concerns re: Music Theory. I truly don't know much so I was sharing my thoughts from my ignorance.

I did Google Functional Harmony and found an article that spoke about classifying sounds/chords into 3 basic groups. The article was short so somewhat "cryptic" filled with MT terms that I'm sure I don't understand fully.

Anyway, thanks for the lead. I probably won't pursue it much further. I'm sure if I did, in earnest, I might come to see things as you do. I'm glad you, among others, have already paid the price to learn the intricacies of MT. Please use your knowledge to assist those of us who are truly ignorant of the nuances and especially the jargon/vocabulary musicians use from time to time to explain what's happening when we play.

Is there a helpful summary of essential Music Theory concepts and vocabulary, specifically related to Uke playing, that could be created or disseminated for our benefit?
I hope so. It seems that whenever this topic comes forward there is true confusion re: the practical benefit of learning Music Theory... at this point, from scratch.

Some people have had the benefit of years of specialized training precisely in this field. How long did it take them to grasp the concepts that are helping them make sense of making music on the ukulele? If it doesn't take long, then it would be truly beneficial if something could be produced to spread the wealth that knowledge of MT could bring.

I think that it might be more complicated than that, however. Not to put a wet blanket on it, but it seems to me to be a pretty steep learning curve. If it's worth it at this stage, then we should be encouraged to go for it. But if it requires dedicated training and concerted effort/study, how realistic would it be for the uke player who simply wants to strum and sing?

Sorry to ramble. I'll end now.

But, please, thanks for your information and contributions to this thread.

Humbly yours,

ukulelegal
12-03-2009, 02:39 PM
I don't want to just strum and sing. I want to be able to compose chord solos and write songs and to do so I need to know theory so for me it is beneficial. I just wish someone would develop a fun way to learn...there are tons of video games out there why hasn't anyone come up with one to teach music theory? If anyone comes across anything like that I would love to hear about it. That was the main point of the thread to find a fun way to learn theory. ;)

buddhuu
12-03-2009, 11:06 PM
I think the problem with a lot of theory resources is that they teach just that - the theory. If every learning point were illustrated by examples of how the principle is used in the real world I think it would be easier to understand and retain the information.

There is a small subset of theory that I would personally classify as totally invaluable, indispensable and real-world useful.

There is a heap more that is interesting and can be handy to know.

There is an even bigger heap that is utterly beyond my understanding and which I probably will never really need.

Another problem is that a newbie doesn't know which bits of this monster called music theory he/she needs to learn. There may be a mistaken belief that the whole subject must be conquered. It's no wonder people run screaming for the hills.

The main things I personally consider useful to learn are:

Keys and Scales


An introduction to musical keys and to the major and minor scales
Learn shapes for the major and minor pentatonic scales at the very least. Full major and minor scales are a good next step, but the pentatonics will give you plenty to work with early on. There are lots of other scales and modes (kind of scale variations), but those are best tackled once one has found good use for the basic scales
Scale intervals and their naming and numbering


The stuff above starts you on the road to understanding how to compose or improvise melodies and solos in the key of a piece of music. The scales help you to find notes which integrate nicely and don't clash.

Chord Shapes and Arpeggios


Instead of learning the chords individually, learn the basic shapes for each of the main chord types. With a library of simple shapes in your head, and the knowledge of where the chord tonic (name) note occurs in the shape, you'll be able to play chords in any key.
Arpeggios are the notes from a chord spread out into a pattern that looks a bit like a scale pattern. These are used with scales to provide a framework for solos.


Chord Theory


Basic chord stuff:

The "flavours" of various chord types
Chord numbering system
Common chord progressions

This will help you to follow chord progressions and accompaniment. It will also help you to know how to transpose the chords of a song to a different key if you need to. For example, if you have to back up a singer who can't quite make the high notes in the key you usually use for the song.


And then the next step chord stuff...


How chords are built (there are rules and formulae - it's not just random mixtures of notes)
The various intervals within chords
Chord relationships
Inversions and substitutions


These will help you to understand the chords you see used in songs. They will help you to vary your chords to make them more interesting and jazzy. They will help you to understand how to use chords to achieve effects such as movement and tension.

That is the stuff I would concentrate on first, and pretty much in that order, I think - except I'd probably learn the chords shapes (for Major, minor, dominant7, diminished and augmented) and the chord numbering system first, as those quickly give you the tools to at least strum a heap of songs.

There's plenty of work in those basics, but it's work that can be useful in practical terms, especially when the beginner starts to play music with other people.

[/ :2cents:]

.

Ukulele JJ
12-04-2009, 02:16 AM
I totally agree with buddhuu. How chords are made (why a major is a major, why a minor 7 is a minor 7, etc.) is a great thing to learn.

And learning chord numbers--what the "one chord" is, what the "six minor" is, etc--is probably the most practical part of theory, as it helps you transpose, memorize, communicate about, and analyze songs. (It also helps you read the Nashville Numbers system, which I'm surprised more ukers don't use.)

But learning those two things does mean that you'll have to learn about scales (major scales at least) and intervals. So add that to the list.

Musical notation is actually part of theory too. While you can probably put off learning that for awhile if you're a uker, if you do learn some of it, it will definitely help with learning other parts of theory (being as it is the "language" most commonly used). I will say that basic rhythmic aspects of notation--what a measure is, what the difference between 4/4 and 3/4 is, straight eights vs. swing--are quite handy.

Music theory actually is "fun" if you can actually apply it to the fun you're already having on the uke. No video game needed.

JJ

Thumper
12-04-2009, 02:30 AM
Music theory actually is "fun" if you can actually apply it to the fun you're already having on the uke. No video game needed.



:agree:

Amen to that! Instead of dreading it, try embracing it as something that will enhance the fun you'll have playing your uke!

buddhuu
12-04-2009, 02:52 AM
And once you've learned a bit, people who haven't learned even that same small amount will think you're a genius - or even a real musician!

After hearing me talk about music, people often think I'm a real musician - until they hear me play... :rolleyes:

Harold O.
12-04-2009, 07:14 AM
And once you've learned a bit, people who haven't learned even that same small amount will think you're a genius - or even a real musician!

I've memorized a few chords, can strum a decent rhythm, and don't have to look at my fingers too much when singing/playing. That's where I'm at. It's miles ahead of where the guys who didn't start a year ago are.

With this level of play, all is good. What I want now is to strum while working in a picked melody. This will involve learning some theory.

The internet will help some, but it's mostly words. And this is where actual lessons come into play. You can talk all day about circle of fifths, scales, structure, fret board mapping, yadah yadah yadah. You lost me at circle. But if you are sitting across from me and can show me with actions how to bring the words and motion together, I can understand. You need a real person to do that.

Next time buddhuu is in LA, I'm going to get him over here and see if some of his geniusness can find its way into my playing.

SailorQwest
12-04-2009, 07:55 AM
That was a great write up by buddhuu!
One benefit of learning some basic theory for me when I started, as I learned I was able to ask better questions, and figure out alot of the answers on my own. I agree that many theory courses are way to broad.

freedive135
12-04-2009, 08:39 AM
When I started playing Uke I wanted nothing to do with learning more theroy!!! I had enough of that in High School Band 20+ years ago....

I was glad that my Uke Instructor didn't teach it, we just worked on learning chords and playing songs.

Now... I am learning Guitar and am being forced in to learning some theroy and I can say I am glad but the problem is you can learn all the theroy in the world but if you don't know WHY you are learning it it does you no good.

Sure I can now CAGED a guitar fretboard but what do I do with it??? At least my next group of classes is "Beyond the CAGED, applying what you learned".

As for learning to do single note melody lines you can cheat your way thru that.... all you need is the sheet music, the right scale and a fretboard map...

This note on the staff is here on the scale and there on the fretboard so now you have your melody line to pick out.

I guess my point is Learn Why and How to apply not just Learn...

GrumpyCoyote
12-04-2009, 09:23 AM
The dichotomy between the “how” and the “why” is exactly the bottom line here.

You don’t need any theory to learn the “how” of music. “One tune at a time” is a perfectly viable and respectable method, and is just as challenging and rewarding in most cases as any other. That said, the “why” part – theory - allows you to construct and de-construct tunes pretty much on the fly. If you have no need for that, then theory will probably feel like work, or worse, a waste of time.

For me (and admittedly I’m a “how” guy most of the time), the “why” of theory didn’t become important until I started playing with others in large jams, and of course writing. Now that I know a little more about why things work the way they do, I can predict (most of the time) what others are up to, and more importantly, I can break those rules with intent and purposeful design.

As for video games – that’s a pretty cool idea. I work with a few developers, I’ll see if one of them has some time for a “uke fretboard minesweeper” or some-such…

SweetWaterBlue
12-04-2009, 09:26 AM
And once you've learned a bit, people who haven't learned even that same small amount will think you're a genius - or even a real musician!

After hearing me talk about music, people often think I'm a real musician - until they hear me play... :rolleyes:

That reminds me so much of something that happened to me in college. I had a freshman roomate that really didn't want to be there, and preferred strum his guitar all day. One day, I saw him with fake book (he knew the book told him the chords and lyrics) trying to work out a new song. He was really struggling with it, so I asked him if I could try. Since I didn't have a guitar at the time, and he had never seen me play (even poorly) he sort of laughed and said, "Sure."

Since I could read music, it wasn't too hard to muddle through the song. He seemed amazed, and asked if I had ever heard the song before. I said, "No."

"How did you ever play it then?", he asked.

"I just read the music," I said.

He was amazed. After explaining to him that all those funny symbols on the page could be converted to music by someone who had never heard the song in his life, he vowed he would have to learn to do this himself. I had to laugh at how someone could get all the way to college and have no concept of what it meant to "read music." He did flunk out that quarter, so it is questionable how much attention he was paying to anything.

buddhuu
12-04-2009, 02:45 PM
Confession: I read standard notation REALLY slowly. So slowly that I have to pick the tune out over several minutes. I cannot play a tune cold by sight-reading. Nowhere near.

But don't tell anyone.

ukulelegal
12-04-2009, 02:45 PM
I am really enjoying all of your stories and advice, would love to hear more. btw Grumpy...don't you think I should get a cut on that game deal if it works out? After all I planted the seed... :D

buddhuu
12-04-2009, 02:54 PM
[...]Next time buddhuu is in LA, I'm going to get him over here and see if some of his geniusness can find its way into my playing.

Dude (as I believe they say in your country), do not confuse my duping unwary beginners into thinking I know what I am talking about with real geniusness. ;)

Seriously, theory can open doors, but it doesn't fill your fingers with the ability to actually play. Despite a basic understanding of the nuts and bolts, my fingers are still depressingly empty of talent.

We all have our level. As long as I know I've put in the work to try to get good, I can live with being cr@p. :D

Harold O.
12-04-2009, 05:38 PM
We all have our level.

Duke (as they say in your country), my goal remains one of being a bit better today than yesterday though not quite as good as tomorrow. That'll only come if I played yesterday, today, and then again tomorrow. In a word - practice.

I talked about practice with some middle school kids the other day. Their eyes rolled back into their little heads. Then I asked them about video games and asked how good the kids are at them. Excitement and stories abounded. Then I asked if they are better at a given game today than they were a week ago. They all said yes. I asked how they got better. "Kept playing" was the predominate answer. I told them that old people refer to that sort of thing as "practice.":eek: I can only guess that a few of them got my point. But hey, that's a few more than yesterday...

buddhuu
12-04-2009, 11:59 PM
Absolutely, dead right.

'Practice' is a whole music lesson in one word.

buddhuu
12-05-2009, 12:03 AM
BTW, Harold - love the www.westhillswood.com site. :)